This is a brief report of the Piece of String Fun Run from James E and James A. A report and results page with links to James Adams' (co-RD) more detailed report will follow under the results section in the next fortnight.
Wouter Hamelinck, Belgium.
Sam Robson, United Kingdom.
(10 starters. Distance approx 115 miles)
The inaugural Piece Of String was designed to test the limits of the mind. When the idea of the 'finish' is removed, whether that be a certain distance away or a point in time, how long cane one remain motivated to continue moving forwards? We wanted to see just what would happen under such circumstances. This was more than just an experiment, however. It was a race. How do you pace yourself correctly when you have no idea how far you are going?
The applications we received for the event were beyond outstanding. We truly believe that never before has the average calibre of athlete we had line up to start, been seen before in this country. The accolades shared out amongst the starting group are too numerous to mention. We were not disappointed with their efforts during the race.
We had a predetermined set of distances to which the race would adhere. At around 11:45pm on Friday, we presented the runners with 5 envelopes containing 5 different race length options. Sam Robson was penalised with having to select the distance for all, based on him being the last person to send in a photo of him looking miserable - a crucial part of the application process. James and James as co-RDs were the only two people aware of the race distance.
Starting group minus Tom Jones out of shot
In planning, we had devised a series of loops around the Goring and Streatley area in Berkshire. Due to severe flooding along the Thames we were forced to make numerous adaptations to the course immediately before and during the event. The runners of course, would have no idea whether we had or hadn't done this as they had no idea where they were going or what they were doing.
The first instruction issued to the runners was to head west on the RIdgeway National Trail. They were told to keep running until they were met and given a new instruction. This was the overall flavour of the race. Each time the runners were met, either back at HQ or on route, they would be given a new set of directions/ map to follow, arriving each time and never knowing if they were finishing or being handed a map containing the next 5 - 35 mile section of the route.
As first light came around, 9 remained in the race. By early afternoon, only 5 remained. Those 5 looked unbeliebably strong and totally unphased. Wouter Hamelinck began the race by going off hard. He was clearly in the competition to race, not just to be tested by our lunatic plans. Sam Robson also looked like he was on a mission and was moving very well. Mimi Anderson, Mick Barnes and Chris Ette formed a group of 3 for much of the race.
The race began to split up gradually, before one incredibly difficult stretch of 13 miles from Goring down to Reading which took place for most as night fell, after 17 hours of the race. Wouter, who has competed at the Barkley Marathons twice, described the section as Barkley-esque, with much of the route under ankle deep water or mud and with some points that became tricky to navigate in this, the second period of darkness in the race. Before they had made their way back to Streatley after that leg, each of the 5 had received quite a punishing time out on the course.
Waterlogged patch of the course
Wouter and Sam ran on ahead, again down the Ridgeway from earlier. Mimi Mick and Chris followed gallantly later on but their race ended together up on Bury Downs, 9 miles west of HQ as they were simply too cold to continue on.
Eventually, both Sam and Wouter went on to finish the event, being met out on the course in the small hours of the morning, completing the undisclosed distance in horrendous weather conditions.
The exact distance, finishing times and awards are all irrelevant here. These two proved that it is possible for the very strong to continue to push towards an uncertain goal, even when that goal is an exceptionally difficult one of it's own right. Wouter is a running machine who quite clearly has the ability to do anything he puts his mind to. Sam battled fatigue to stay in the fight to the bitter end and should be commended for an extremely strong run.
As organisers, we learned a lot and enjoyed every minute of it. The race will be back in 2013. Stay tuned for almost no information to be sent out about it.
(note: I don't have enough time to look up a lot of stats and figures so some of what you read might be accurate and some pure speculation or rumour for which I make no apologies. if you feel you should be in the preview and are missing, or someone you know, the same, please leave a comment as usual. Thanks. James).
Although there are a relatively low amount of runners taking part in this weekends events, vs some of the preceding races this year, there are a vast number of feats and stories behind the competitors, many with significant achievements just 100 miles (or more) away....
The Winter 100.
We capped the field for this event at 100 runners (entry list here) due mainly to the conditions a 100 at this time of year in the UK, will throw at runners. We wanted the event to be safe and sustainable, but also a little more intimate than the other bigger sister races that have gone ahead of this one. Inevitably a few have dropped away as the big day approaches but the field remains full of talent from the front to the back.
The most notable runners in the pack are the 5 who are hoping to complete the Grand Slam by finishing this weekend. Kenneth Fancett, Tremayne 'Dill' Cowdry, Allan 'ogee' Rumbles, David Bird and Andrew Miles have all successfully completed the TP, SDW and NDW 100s this year. The buckle they stand to earn for finishing the Winter 100 will hopefully make all of the pain, worth it. Each of their journeys has been an incredible one with some very low moments alongside the ultimate highs along the way. Leading the standings currently for overall time is Ken. I interviewed Ken recently (transcript here) and at 62 years of age is looking to complete all 4 x 100s in under 24 hours becoming the first and only person to date to do so.
(Very poor photo, apologies. It looks much better in real life, and it's huge)
There is one other runner in the field who has focused specifically on the 100 mile distance. It's certainly not for anyone to feel undermined by the statistics behind Scott Brockmeier, finishing any 100 miler is a lifetime achievement and an exceptionally difficult proposition. Scott, however, will be attempting to finish his 24th 100 miler of 2012 at the Winter 100. Heralding from the US, he is in town especially for the race and to continue his path to completing as many 100s as he can within a 12 month window. His Blog is here.
As for the elite end of the field, we welcome back a few speedsters from previous events as well as a few new faces.
In the mens field we're honoured to have Richie Cunningham back down to race. Richie is a 2 time winner of the West Highland Way Race, perhaps the most prestigious and beautiful of Scottish Ultras which draws a superb field each year. A member of the Pearl Izumi team, he has scores of additional accolades to his name including holding the current CR at Caesars Camp 100 (a time which no runner has come within an hour of). He ran the NDW100 this past August but was unfortunately derailed to a 6th place overall by some navigational issues. One thing is for sure, for a runner used to training through the Scottish winter, the conditions at the Winter 100 will not worry him.
Also toeing the line in the men's field is Martin Bacon. Martin finished 3rd in the inaugural TP100 in a sub 18 hour time. He knows the terrain, has recce'd and raced on the TP and Ridgeway extensively and has plenty of experience in going long with a 30 hour GUCR to his name.
Nick Weston finished 3rd just yards ahead of 4th place as they rounded the track at this years SDW100. Earlier this year he also won the Kennett and Avon Canal Race ahead of the Montague brothers, no mean feat.
My other dark horse pick for a good finish is Terrence Zengerink. Terrence blasted through the TP100, his debut at that distance, in sub 20 hrs this past March. He was kind enough to run with me during Comrarades earlier this year, his 6th or 7th finish, and has a wealth of talent. He will certainly be one to pick up the pieces if things blow up at the front.
Finally there are of course a number of other runners with the potential to compete at the pointy end who we just aren't aware of. With athletes coming from the US, Italy, Germany and Sweden it could be a very different story on race day.
The ladies field was dealt a blow this week when Sandra Bowers had to withdraw due to injury. We wish her all the best in her recovery. With a score of fine performances behind her at the Ridgeway 85 and the TP100 she was almost certainly the favourite. The door is now somewhat open.
Lucy Clayton, one of our Centurion Coaching clients is going in to her first 100 with a string of fine performances behind her this year. She has won numerous off road marathons and ultras leading to a second place overall in the runfurther series and was one of the few to finish the Canadian Death Race over the summer.
Wendy Shaw had a very solid run at the TP100 and with experience at the distance behind her is certainly one to watch.
My wild card is Annie Garcia. It all depends which Annie turns up on race day, the one looking to enjoy the outing with friends and take her time, or the one looking to race it. If it's the latter then she has the potential to run a superb race here.
The Piece of String Fun Run
It isn't really possible to place a preview on this race for two main reasons. 1. Nobody (apart from James and I) has any clue how long it is going to be, so how can you possibly say it is going to play in to one persons strengths over another. If Usain Bolt was in the race and it turns out to be a 200 metre dash through Goring on the road, then he would obviously be favourite. If it turns out to be a 500 mile epic finishing in the Scottish Highlands, well then he'd be bang out of luck....
All that we can say (james and I) is that the calibre is absolutely incredible (entry list here). We're fairly certain that a group of runners as distinguished as this, without exception among them, has probably never been seen of an overall event field. Deca Iron, Triple Iron, Double Channel Swim, World Record holding, multi day and single day long ultra champions abound. We might just get a chance to see what they're really made of when there is no finish line in sight....
Follow both races live and potentially interupted, at the website here.
For those that don't know Ken, it is necessary to include a brief introduction to this interview. He probably wouldn't appreciate an overboard intro, however he most certainly deserves one. I contacted him recently as I was personally fascinated to gain more of an insight in to his running background, experiences, treasured running moments, training and plans for the future. With the Grand Slam on the horizon for over a dozen runners in 2013, this will provide some food for thought. Most importantly however, it shows us all that age doesn't have to be a barrier to successful ultrarunning let alone running in general.
Ken is one of 5 runners who are looking to complete the Centurion Grand Slam in 2012. That is the 5 runners still in the running to complete all 4 of our 100 mile events within the same calendar year. In fact Ken's finish at the Winter 100 this coming November will leave him as the only person to have completed all 5 of our 100s to date.
Ken at the SDW100 Finish 2012. A new PB and an incredulous organiser.
I often say it in race previews and he would perhaps not thank me for it, but the most remarkable thing about Ken is the level at which he is running given his age. His finishes at our races include 3 top 10's in 4 attempts, all 5 at least 80 minutes under the 24hr mark. His times are below.
NDW100 2011: 22:31. 5th Place
TP100 2012: 20:33. 18th Place
SDW100 2012: 20:32. 9th Place
NDW100 2012: 22:39. 10th Place
At the moment he heads the Grand Slam standings by over 8 hrs going in to the final 100.
He competes over the complete range of distances, from 10km to 150 miles - and his results remain consistent irrespective of how far he is running, or what terrain he covers.
Truly, I believe Ken is one of the most inspirational runners on the UK circuit and at 62, is undoubtedly competing at a level nothing less than world class.
The few questions I asked him and his answers are scripted below.
- What age did you start running?
I started participating in walking challenge events in the Mid 1960's organised in the first instance by the YHA groups. Then, after having a time out in the 1970's and returning in the 1980's, by which time the LDWA had taken over as the principal supplier of challenge events, I gradually progressed to running them. In those days the standard minimum length was 30 miles so they were mostly all ultras as we now define them. In fact my first event, the Ridgeway Marathon was 40 miles.
- When did you run your first ultra and what event was it?
My first event was the Ridgeway in 1966 (not completed) and my first finish was also the Ridgeway in 1967. They were both walked in leather walking boots. By the 1980's I was experimenting in lightweight sports boots, finally making the transition to trainers, but I have no record of when. The first event I completed that was unambiguously a race may have been the South Downs Way Race in 1994. (Nominally 80 miles)
- How many 100 milers have you completed to date?
I've completed 15 in the UK, 2 in Europe, 11 in the USA. Add to that one 150 mile in the USA. Then, if you count 24 hr races, 7 on 400M track, one on 1KM circuit in a public park, and one on a quarter marathon circuit on farm tracks. That makes 38 in which 100 miles or more have been completed.
- What has been your proudest running achievement?
Its really difficult to say but getting the award for being the first family (Father & Son) on the Javelina Jundred was important to me, although most people would be dismissal of it as an achievement in conventional athletic terms, it being considered one of the easiest 100 mile races in the USA, notwithstanding the warmth of the Arizona desert. But such a moment is precious because it is unlikely to be repeated, and actually is not as easy as people imagine.
I'm also pleased with the time I ran a shade under 144 miles on the track at Tooting Bec, with a near constant 6 mph. Also, I suppose, running a sub 24 hour on the WSER.
I'm proud to have been selected to represent England, but didn't deliver on the day, so I don't talk too much about it.
- Which is your favourite race (100 miler but also shorter distance)?
I haven't run the same 100 mile race twice, unless you count the Centurion NDW Race, and even there it was only the first half that was the same. So I don't have a favourite, but every single one has left me with some very special memories..
Of shorter distances I like the Ridgeway because I suppose it was the first event that I did, and I've now walked or run 24 of them, and I find the pacing very easy, because I know where the hills are, and I don't have to navigate.
I also liked the no longer existent YHA Peak Marathon starting at Crowden In Longdendale, and finishing at Ilam Hall.
- Of the 3 events, the Thames Path, South Downs Way and North Downs Way, which have you found the most difficult?
I suppose the NDW race in its re-creation as a linear race.
- Which one section of all of those races have you found the most difficult?
The section on the NDW race from Detling to Hollingbourne I found very tough both physically and mentally. Although it got easier from Hollingbourne I never really recovered and other runners were overtaking me.
In a different sort of way I found the section up to Abingdon on the Thames race to be wearying with lots of gates that were fiddly to undo in the night with hands getting numb. I can't exactly say it was difficult, so much as I was getting low.
- In terms of fueling strategy (nutrition/ hydration) when it comes to the 100 mile distance what do you use/ rely on to get you through?
Ideally I would eat real food wherever possible with gels as a back up. When its warm it can be extremely difficult to swallow dry food, so anything like rice pudding that can slide down the throat easily is good.
As regards gels I find the SiS gels the most palatable but heavier than GU etc to carry around.
- When you are training for a 100 mile event what is the greatest weekly mileage you reach?
I probably run about 50-60 miles a week average, but the amount will depend on what racing I am doing, more than what I am training for. I did step it up to about 70-80 before the Cumbria Commonwealth championships, and in retrospect was probably a mistake and I didn't perform as well as I hoped.
- Do you do much shorter racing and do you find that it acts as speedwork/ a help towards running 100s?
My instinct is that speedwork must help with running a hundred, but it is only an instinct, and I don't claim to know more than anyone else. I run in quite a mixture of different lengths. The races or organised challenges that I have run so far this year (as of 15th October) are as follows:
100 x 4
50 x 2
40 x 3
30 x 2
26.2 x 10
25 x 1
20 x 1
18.67 x 1
15 x 1
13.1 x 3
10 x 1
7.5 x 1
6.21 x 2
It has been proposed that those who specialise in ultra running let their speed drop, and that the best ultra runners are not ultra runners. However, the argument is sustained by study of track times, and it is possible that it overlooks a shift in talent from track to trail. I keep an open mind.
- What's the hardest part about racing 4 x 100s (or more) in one year?
If the races are evenly spaced out, and the runner remains free from injury, I can't see that it's any harder than running them individually.
- What goals do you have for the future/ Is there a race out there you've always wanted to run but never had the chance to?
I'd really like to complete 100 x 100M but I'm not likely to live or remain fit long enough. I would also like to compete in more overseas races, but I don't feel the need to compete in a specific race simply because it is famous.
There are some interesting races that are practically difficult for me to compete because of logistical difficulties in making travel plans, but I'm inclined to focus on ones that I can easily compete. Moreover, it seems likely that a lot more races will be created in the near future both at home and overseas.
- In your opinion how much does age count for in ultra running and particularly 100 mile running?
I have it on good authority that as runners age they have less burst, become more aware of their hearts being stressed, and tend to adopt a less heroic approach to climbing hills. This may mean that they find it easier to pace themselves and are less likely to be suddenly overcome with exhaustion in the later stages of the race. At some point the advantages of age must be outweighed by the disadvantages though defining that point may not be easy. At one time the greatest 100 mile talent appeared to be in the 30-40 age group, and more recently that appears to have shifted to the 25-30 age group.
I think what is really important is to see people of all ages competing, and that age does not become a barrier that exists only in a persons mind.
Also, I personally don't think its necessary for older runners to have special concessions in terms of pacing. That appears to me to presuppose that a person in the defined age group isn't going to achieve a podium finish and which I regard as negative.
Our thanks to Ken for taking the time out to be interviewed.
Before I start, I just want to add the usual disclaimer. I don't know everybody running by name, so apologies if I miss you out or you feel 'over-looked' by not being included here, perhaps it will be a blessing in disguise if you go on to win in style!!! Feel free to comment below on anyone else you think should be included here.
We have a really great field for this years NDW100. As we all know, ultrarunning is a wholly inclusive sport with amazing stories from the very front of the pack, to the very back. Before I roll down the list of who I think could be in with a shot at the titles, I wanted to mention one or two others who stand out in particular. Firstly, we have a group of 4 soldiers from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit running as a group together and supported by an army team throughout the race. What makes things slightly different for them, is that they'll each be carrying a 30lb Bergen Pack and a dummy weapon for the whole of the 100 miles. Here is a note from Adam Kurzeja who we have been communicating with in order to get this to happen:
The lads on tour are working very hard at an extremely difficult job. Since March, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Task Force have sustain some casualties including 3 deaths and many more injuries.
They are raising money by taking part and everything raised will go towards helping those injured and the families of those injured and killed. They have a just giving page for people to donate at this link.
On the Grand Slam side we have 4 runners still in with a shot of completing all 4 x 100s within the same calender year: Allan Rumbles, David Bird, Tremayne Cowdry and Kenneth Fancett. Ken leads the standings at the moment with 2 x 20:30 finishes this year to date and as a finisher of the 2011 NDW100 looks set to continue his streak of finishing every Centurion 100 mile race to date.
So on to the front runner of both fields.
The NDW100 mens race is deep with competition. With a couple of late drop outs the womens field is wide open. Unfortunately Gemma Carter who led the SDW100 until late in the race before dropping with an injury & Nicola Golunska, the 2011 winner of the SDW Race have both had to drop due to injury. We wish them both the best with their recoveries.
There are a host of ladies in the field, 17 in fact making up 15% of the expected start list and there is a huge space for someone to come through and stamp their mark on 100 mile running down here in the southeast.
In the NDW50 I expect both the male and female CR's to be pushed by talented runners at the sharp end and what look to be ideal conditions for the weekend.
ONES TO WATCH
NDW100: Richie Cunningham
Where to start on Richie. Richie came storming past me in the Highland Fling this year early on, floating up the hills and generally making it look all too easy. As a member of the Pearl Izumi Running team, Richie has a back catalogue of finishes and results that any runner would be proud of. He is a 2 time winner and multiple time finisher of the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, one of the most prestigious events in the UK. In 2010 when I fell asleep in the car during the race, Richie went on to break 19 hours at Caesars Camp 100 and still holds the course record there by almost 2 hours over the next fatest ever finisher. I expect Richie to make us work out there all day to keep up with him and it's a real honour to have him in the race.
NDW100: Justin Montague
Justin joins us on an entry he won by taking 1st at the Extreme Energy Round the Island event back in June. He's also ammassed wins in 2012 at the Severn Challenge & Enduranclife Coastal Trail Series Portland and I'm sure there's a lot more I'm not aware of. If it's his first 100 it'll be interesting to see if he can hold his undoubted pace together to push Richie at the front.
NDW100: Drew Sheffield
The dark horse. Drew has trained flawlessly throughout 2012, building up from a good base through January to May, cuminating in a 5th place finish at the Hardmoors 110 in June. He knows the course, he has plenty of 100 mile plus finishes to his name and his strategy of 3 Gu Gels an hour could just see him pick up the pieces if the others blow up.
NDW100: Martin Bacon
Martin featured in our odds for the last 2 events. He stormed through to a 3rd place sub 18 hour finish at the Thames Path 100 in March, following some excellent past results in longer ultras including a 2nd place at the SDW Race in 2010. Having led the SDW100 in June until Harting Downs setting a blistering pace at the front, he suffered a rolled ankle which forced him out of the race at Bignor Hill. If he has recovered and is back to full fitness, he'll push the pace early on and has the experience to hang with it all the way through to the finish.
NDW100: Wouter Hamelinck
Wouter is an ultrarunning legend. He's finished most of the worlds hardest 100's. I first read about Wouter in 2010 when I heard reports of a Belgian guy going over to the US on holiday to run Super Sawtooth 100, then cycling cross country to the Cascade Mountains where he proceeded to run the Cascade Crest 100 before returning home. He has been nursing an injury in 2012 which he picked up earlier in the spring (he ran the Barkley Marathons) and had to bail from the SDW100 at the 3rd to last aid station having been in the top 3 all day. The injury is the only reason he is not higher up the list. If he's fit again, he'll be one to watch moving through the field.
NDW100: Ed Catmur
We've featured Ed on the odds twice before. In 2011 he walked away with 2nd at the NDW50, so he knows the first half of the course and what he can do there. He also picked up wins at the Adventure Hub 100km and holds the Course Record at the Greensands Marathon. In 2012 he has raced a lot. He ran the TP100 in March, won the Picnic Marathon (britains hardest) in June and has recently picked up a top 10 finish at the SDW100 and a finish at the Lakeland 100. He has the talent, the only question is whether he is rested enough from a very difficult 100 miler just three weeks ago in the Lakes.
NDW100: Ross Le Blanc
Ross is the sleeper in the pack. He has been training hard and has the determination and drive to execute a great race. He knows the course off of the back of finishing the NDW50 in 2011 and his coaches believe he can go all the way ;)
NDW100: Alice Hector
I believe this will be Alice's first 100, however she has built up a pedigree of ultra running following a career as a professional Ironman Triathlete. She has already picked up wins at the Wye Ultra, Cardiff Ultra, Norfolk 100km and in 2012, the London 50km. It will be fascinating to see what she can do over the full 100.
NDW50: Darryl Carter
Darryl is the man to beat. An ex pro and sub 9 hour!!! Ironman, just a few weeks ago he broke the FKT for the 100 mile Cotswold Way running from end to end in 20 hours and 36 minutes taking 1:47 off of the old record. In 2012 he's also taken home wins at the Green Man and Malvern Hills Ultras. He has been running ultras for a few years now and Martin Kennards stout record from 2011 will be under threat with the conditions looking good for the weekend.
NDW50: Tracey Horne
Tracey has an Ironman pedigree that makes mere mortals shudder. She brings 6 months of hard work to this race. The pressure is off of her, having converted to trail running only recently but she has all the talent to go fast here. She placed 3rd at the Three Forts Marathon in May on route to this race and had plenty in the tank at the finish. The experience of 'going long' will count for a lot making her one to watch.
Following on from the Q&A with our mens TP100 winner Craig Holgate below are answers to the very same questions from our ladies champion Mimi Anderson. Mimi's experience in ultras is vast and if you have the chance to take a look at her blog you can read about some of the other epic adventures she has undertaken in the name of endurance running.
Can you give us a brief summary of your running background and previous ultra experience?
I started running at 36 because I wanted thinner legs and as I had never run before I taught myself to run on a treadmill.
Over the last 12 years I have been extremely privileged and have raced in some stunning locations around the world. My main achievements to date are:
Female World Record Holder John O'Groats to Lands End - 840 miles
Course record holder for 6633 Extreme Ultra Marathon - 352 miles non-stop in the Arctic
1st and only woman to have done Back to Back Comrades in South Africa.
Fastest Female to run Double Badwater - 292 miles
3rd Female in Spartathlon - 153 miles non-stop
Female Course Record Holder for the Grand Union Canal Race - 145 miles
What was your average training mpw coming in to the TP100?
My average training week is less than 100 miles per week. I find this distance works well for me and helps prevent injuries.
What do you think is the most important element of running to include in training towards a 100 mile race?
The most important element for my weekly training is the long run, its time on your feet and gets you used to running for hours on end. However, unless I'm racing my longest weekly run is no more than 30 miles. I also do double sessions which are tough. An example of this might be that I run 30k in the morning and then 20k in the afternoon.
What was your pre-race plan and did you manage to execute on race day?
I always have a time that I work towards and will work out my pace between checkpoints, but I never tell anyone what my goal time is as it puts me under too much pressure and I do enough of that by myself!! Did I execute my plan on race day - no! I was pleased with my time, although I had aimed for 18 1/2 hrs. I went off too fast at the start which wasn't the plan, but as I felt good I just kept going. Perhaps if I had gone out slightly slower I might have managed a better pace at the end, but who knows!
During the race did you have any particular low points and if so when/ where?
My first low point was at about 30 miles when I was feeling dehydrated as I hadn't been drinking enough, but after popping a Nuun into my water I recovered quite quickly.
The second low point was coming into Streatley. During races I really struggle to eat as everything tastes so revolting, so basically I was running out of steam, forced some food down me, some more at the next CP and a gel and was fine again.
What was your nutrition/ hydration plan for the TP100 and did you stick to it?
I never have a nutrition plan as I find eating difficult. I had taken some food with me which I ate and nibbled at a few things at the Check Points, mainly bananas as I can eat these without being sick. My hydration plan was to put a Nuun tablet into my bottle every other Check Point, this I did, but didn't drink enough going through the first few checkpoints.
What has been your proudest running achievement to date?
This is such a difficult question to answer, I am extremely proud of all my achievements for lots of different reasons and still can't believe what I have done.
My World Record has to be one of my proudest moments and even now when I talk about it I can still feel the emotions I felt finishing my 840 mile journey and it still brings tears to my eye. Double Badwater and Spartathlon also rank pretty highly!
Where will you be racing next and which key races do you have planned for the remainder of 2012?
On the Easter weekend I will be taking part in the Viking Way Ultra, 147.9 miles non-stop along the Viking Way which I'm looking forward to, then the Highland Fling; in May I go to the Jungles of Peru for a 7 day staged race which will be just amazing and on my return hopefully run the West Highland Way Race.
I have a big event planned towards the end of the year but I am still finalising the plans so this will be announced later in the year! Watch this space!!
I asked Craig Holgate if he'd be kind enough to answer a few questions for us following his 15:11 winning time at the inaugural 2012 Thames Path 100. His responses are listed, un-edited below. Hopefully a great insight into running at the pointy end of a 100 mile race and proof that hard work leads to success.
I hope we'll see Craig back in 2013 to defend his crown and significantly better his own time, there is no doubt that that is possible reading through some of his answers.
Can you give us a brief summary of your running background and previous ultra experience?
Before a full post race report is written I wanted to make sure we got a message out about the late abandonment of the race, why we made the impossible decision to pull runners out so late in the day and the events that led to that decision. There are no doubt a lot of questions as to why a race going perfectly smoothly up until that point was pulled during what were harsh but not abnormal conditions for a March day in Southern England.
Each of the runners who were stopped at the final 2 checkpoints have been contacted. I want to thank each and every one of the people that were stopped, for the unbelievable level of understanding and co-operation they displayed on Sunday once they learned of our decision to pull the race. I have personal experience of being pulled from a 100 mile race against my own wishes and whilst my experience did not come as late as 91 or 95 miles (just 57) it is an extremely bitter pill to swallow. All of those runners who were pulled will have a chance to race again next year and finish but they will each be listed as official finishers of this race.
A brief timeline of events:
The rain began at the finish line at 6am or just before first light on Sunday but the wind (10mph) and temperature (8 Degrees) were not significant factors at that time. During the morning, the temperature dropped to 1 degree celcius, it began to sleet and then snow and the wind speed raised significantly which gave a wind chill temperature of -4 degrees. That change occurred dramatically quickly - in a period of just 2 hours. We began to receive calls reporting very cold/ shivering runners from some of the aid stations, it was to my bitter disappointment that Little Wittenham and Lower Radley had both gotten through all of their butane canisters by that stage. Neither were slated for hot food or drink prior to the race, but we endeavored to make sure that every aid station from Cookham (mile 38) onwards had access to hot water or facilities for making it for both safety and runner comfort reasons and this was mentioned to runners at the briefing. Between 10am and 12 noon on Sunday we started receiving runners that were suffering from cold related illnesses in at the finish, and reports from both Abingdon, Lower Radley and the course sweepers that runners were in great difficulty. Clearly the issue was that the ground was being soaked through and going was extremely slow in thick mud and water making un-runnable for anyone left on the course. The slower going reduced runners' ability to retain core temperature and that led to a very dangerous situation. We included survival blankets in the mandatory equipment for this very reason, but the conditions deteriorated so much that this measure was clearly insignificant. Many did not have wet weather gear because the conditions to that point had been relatively moderate.
Between 11am and noon we had two runners collapse with severe hypothermia, requiring immediate assistance from two of our three ambulance crews and both were taken to hospital due to the severity of their condition. Both runners are now ok and recovering at home. One in particular was extremely disappointed having had to seek medical help just 2 miles from the finish. The finish line medical team treated or helped over a dozen runners suffering cold related injuries.
I would personally like to thank any runners that remained with those suffering from the cold and staying with them in very very tough conditions, sacrificing their own finish time and energy in the process. Stuart Shipley is the only name I have of somebody who did this, but I know that there are more out there and I would love to hear from you if you were one of those people.
By 12 noon we had received another dozen runners who had been moving through the very worst of the conditions we saw and each one finished wrapped in as much clothing as they had access to/ bin bags and or survival blankets. Some runners were quite incoherent on finishing and had to be immediately escorted inside Oxford Ice Rink whom had opened a warm bar for us, given access through the emergency doors and made provision for us in the way of hot drinks and survival blankets beyond those that we had at the finish line tents.
At 12:05pm we made the decision that any runners still on course were in critical danger of suffering from hypothermia/ cold related illness. At that point 48 runners were still out on course. Our decision was to stop all remaining runners at the next aid station and to get any others that could get off of the course more quickly elsewhere, to do so. Of those 48 runners, everyone was brought in to safety by 2:26pm when the race was closed.
The key factor in the reason for the abandonment, was the speed in the change in conditions. Because runners had been treated to warmer temperatures and dry conditions throughout the day and night on Saturday 3rd March, the huge drop in temperature, increase in wind speed and heavy rain/ sleet caused many to be caught off guard, short of necessary waterproof gear. Drop bags were available at Abingdon (mile 91) but things changed so fast that many simply couldn't get access quickly enough to sufficient extra clothing, or had passed the point where they could have picked up extra clothing to stay warm enough. We felt that the risk of somebody becoming dangerously ill on an inaccesible part of the course, leading to collapse and potentially a fatal situation had reached critical. At that point we had to make the extremely difficult decision to abandon the race with our sole remaining aim, to bring all runners in to warmth and safety as soon as possible.
Of the 48 runners on course when the race was abandoned, 32 were between Lower Radley (95) and the finish (100), 8 between Abingdon (91) and Lower Radley (95) and 6 between Little Wittenham (82.5) and Abingdon (91). In total 114 runners finished the full course including those between Lower Radley and the finish and 14 runners were stopped by race officials - 8 at Lower Radley and 6 at Abingdon. Each of those runners would have gone on to finish the race under their own steam and will therefore be listed as official finishers of the race and be given awards as such. The inaugural Thames Path 100 therefore had 128 finishers.
I would like to thank the Aid Station Teams at Abgindon and Lower Radley for dealing so efficiently with the situation and for heading out on to the course in atrocious conditions to help runners to safety. To GB Emergency Medical Services and Dave Weeks our medical director for managing runners requiring medical support so well. To Sarah Thorne our course sweeper from Streatley to Abingdon who assisted the final runners to safety. To Lower Radley College for opening the boathouse up to us and to Oxford Ice Rink and the management there who acted so quickly to allow us into their bar area open up their doors to runners at the finish. Our number one priority will always be runner safety. Given the situation in the future, we will make the same call once again. The two big changes we will likely make for 2013 are that we will insist on wet weather gear as mandatory equipment, and that any outdoor aid stations in the final quarter of the race (Little Wit and Lower Radley) have a more extensive supply of butane for hot drinks.
My biggest thanks of all go to the 14 pulled runners for their understanding and support of the decision we made.
A full race report will be posted shortly.
Any issues or questions regarding the abandonment decision can be sent directly to me at [email protected]
Firstly, I apologise profusely to anybody who feels they have been 'missed out' from this preview. I have included only those people which I am already aware of from the UK ultra circuit. Those of you that have been 'skipped over' will I'm sure right that wrong on race day and hence write yourselves into the history books with a bang. Remaining a dark horse is no bad thing....? Please also excuse any slight errors in the information present. Whilst the US has an incredible range of databases for results and a magazine dedicated to ultrarunning alone, we are obviously not so fortunate over here so I am forced to go off of snippets of info picked up along the way.
Corrections and additions gratefully received in the comments field below this post!
I thought it would be fun to have a look at a few of the potential front runners at the upcoming TP100 in order to highlight some of the calibre we have in the field. I am looking forward to seeing how the race plays out and have a feeling there will be some super fast times laid down this first weekend in March.
Ed Catmur - Ed has enjoyed a stellar start to the 2012 season with a 5:20 something win at Go Beyonds Country to Capital 44 miler. Whilst relatively new to the sport, his results to date have been seriously impressive, capturing 1st place at the Norfolk 100km and a 2nd place at the inaugural NDW50 last August. He also holds the Course Record at the Trionium Greensands Marathon. Look out for Ed later this year also as he steps up to the full 100 on the NDW on August 11th.
Robbie Britton - A man who has spent time out on the course recently with yours truly and who has, undoubtedly got a very bright future ahead of him in the ultra game. Robbie has built up a good amount of long distance experience in the past 18 months with finishes at Caesars Camp (twice), UltraRace 100 and the GUCR but his best result came in last years NDW100 when he overturned a huge deficit at 50 miles to win in 19:47. He recently ran the TT50 in 6:40 and knows what it is like to go long. Look out for a fast second 50 at the TP100.
Craig Holgate - Until recently, unknown on the ultra circuit, having not run any before the back end of last year, he has won his first two ultras, the latter being a very creditable 5:56 victory at the Thames Trot 50. This won't be a suprise to those that have seen him post extremely quick half and full marathon times over years of top level running. This will however be his first 100 miler and there is no substitute for experience. On paper, perhaps the fastest man in the field and it will fascinating to see if he can put together a great first 100.
Graham Booty - A man at home racing cross country as he is finishing strong at 100 milers. I've had the pleasure of witnessing him run just outside of a 20 hour time at Caesars Camp, as well as chasing Ian Sharman hard for the win at the Jurassic Coastal Challenge in 2010, falling just shy. His run at Caesars, which is an extremely challenging course, is proof that he can go on to record a super fast 100 mile time at the TP100 if he has a good day. Maybe a little early in the season for a man focusing this year on the UTMB but he will be in the hunt for sure and is as strong as they come.
Martin Bacon - 2nd place at the 103 mile SDW race in 2010 and with a sub 7 time at this years TT50, another man with experience of going long and capable of holding a very strong pace for the duration. Again perhaps another one to pick up the pieces if others go out too hard in the early stages.
David Ross - Dave probably wouldn't put himself in the mix for this race, but he should do. Having suffered at the hands of a really unfair DNF at Western States last year, his first 100, he came back to record a 5th place 22:39 which included getting lost for a considerable amount of time, a habit which those of us who know Dave has caused him problems in the past (he gifted me 7th instead of 8th at the C2C by adding on a few extra miles - thanks Dave!). In his second 100, a man who runs marathons and ultras every single week will be fighting fit and ready to push himself to the max. If everyone has their best day, Dave will be in and around the top 10. If others fade, I think Dave will pick off places all the way to the line.
Cliff Canavan King - Cliff ran a 19:59 at the 2011 SDW Race for second place. He is a man with plenty of speed at all distances from marathon and upwards and will be in the hunt from the start.
Ken Fancett - Ken won't win this race but is perhaps one of the most remarkable runners we have in the field. At the NDW100 he finished in 5th place in 22:31. I don't know his exact tally but Ken has been racing 100s and 24 hr track races for many years and I believe has over 30 100 mile finishes to his name. He recently also snuck in for a super time at the Benfleet 15 showing that he is still doing it at all distances. The amazing thing about Ken is that he is 62.
There are a host of other runners who could go fast on the day including Paul Acheson 4th at the NDW100 in 2011, Richard Webster who has a big year ahead - another man to have gone sub 20 at a 100 in the past and Dale Staton and Stuart Blofeld both late entries and sub 24 hour runners the NDW100 in 2011. It is shaping up to be a great race.
Erica Terblanche - Erica and I ran the first 60km of the Sahara Race long stage together in 2009 and I discovered somebody who is 1. as tough as they come but more importantly 2. totally and utterly has her pacing down to a fine art. Those subtle adjustments that allowed her to go on and win that event and kept her running almost the entire duration were gained from years of adventure racing, often where Erica would be the only female in a team. Steady pacing at 100 miles is crucial and Erica has that skill as well as plenty of experience of going long in abundance.
Mimi Anderson - Where to start. A lady who has been winning ultras for years, who regularly beats the men as well as the ladies, who has set records at the most difficult ultra running challenges around the world including but not limited to: Bawdater, Double Badwater, the MdS, female record holder at double Comrades, female record holder for John O'Groats to Lands End, until recently the world record holder for a 7 day treadmill run, fastest Brit at the Spartathlon in 2011, winner of the Seni-Extreme 200 mile race the list goes on and on. Mimi will start at her own pace and indeed finish at her own pace. The one thing that's for sure is that she will finish as strong as she starts.
Sandra Bowers - Sandra was this months female winner and new course record holder at the TT50 and has the pedigree of representing her country multiple times. There is no doubt that she is on form and whilst a late entrant, will be one to watch after her show of recent form.
Jen Bradley - Perhaps not entirely focused on this race with other goals in mind for 2012, Jen won the 12 hour hell on the humber last year and has the potential to go fast here.
In amongst the others Trinity Booth and Wendy Shaw both had great races at the C2C, showing that they are coming to form at the right time.
All in all both races are lining up to be fascinating at the front end. Where ever you are looking to finish, finishing is the number 1 priority and the aid station teams will do their best to get you to that line.
Please feel free to add yourselves or recommend others I've missed into the comments section below.