Early morning at Richmond riverside. Not many runners here yet, it's a staggered start. The first guy sets off at 7:30 sharp, I'm off 20 sec after him, so it begins. We get passed by Samantha just a few minutes in, she holds the course record here, from 2016. "You guys up for a lonely race?" Looks so. It doesn't take long till I'm on my own.
Last year, I finished two 100k races and loved every minute of it (well now I think I did anyway). I decided to have a go at a flat 100 miler. I love some hills. In my head, an ultra-trail is synonymous with mountains, technical paths with some tasty elevation profiles. But I've never done a flat ultra, I was intrigued; can I actually run such a distance?
I'm consistently averaging 5:20s. That's slightly faster than planned, so I'm consciously trying to slow down a bit. But it's not happening, so I let go and roll with it. Over the first hour, I'm getting passed by heaps of runners at a pace ranging from impressive to suicidal. I know some of them will finish strong, some are in for a treat at night. I run through the first aid station, not stopping, I'm lucky enough to have a crew following me. Well, a crew of one so far. Howard waits for me at the first crewing point, at 32k. He refills my bottles with Tailwind, sweet delicious Tailwind, and hands me some Gu gels. Yum! Off to the next crewing point. Passing the marathon distance, that's a milestone, right?
On it goes, running on a cycle of around 13k from one crewing point to another. 53k, third of the distance; a milestone. Still keeping the pace under 5:30s comfortably. Until I don't… 6:00, then 6:10, it feels really laboured. Is this really happening before I even cleared halfway? After a few painful splits, it somehow starts feeling easier again. Just a rough patch, thankfully. This never stops to amaze me; to come out on the other side of it, as strong as before, one only needs to keep running, nothing else. Half the way, a milestone. Jana gives me a hug, she made it up here from work, doubling our crew size. Big boost, in the next section I'm hitting 5:30 again. Until I don't. Again.
100k in a tidy PB, a milestone. Another one at 104k, two-thirds of the way. But I'm struggling, barely hitting 6:10s. "Guys, I could do with some pacing, if the next stretch is not too long?" It is long, 20k. Howard drew the short straw, he hasn't run that kind of distance since the word 'furlough' has been invented. I'm taking forever at the crewing point. Gu gels are absolutely disgusting and even the smell of Tailwind is making me sick! I force down a couple of potatoes and some pasta and we set off.
We’re taking it easy, chatting, I feel really comfortable again—that’s refreshing. 110k, furthest I’ve ever run. A milestone. And another, 119k; a marathon to go. Seriously, that’s nothing. For the first time, I know that I will not fall apart. I start stopping briefly at the aid stations as well. “Do you want a refill of Tailwind?” Ha, you joker. No, I’m here for Coke. Delicious Coke, it tastes like heaven. Coke is the new Tailwind. Why is my crew not stocking it?
After dropping Howard, I pull out the last two 5:30 k’s before settling at around 6:00s. The rest of the way went on in the dark without many emotions. It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t a struggle, it was just slow and uneventful running. Jana joining me for around 3k is one of the few things to recall. That, and the milestones, they just keep coming towards the end! Just four parkruns to go, then 90% done, only three more parkruns, then two to go, last 5%, last parkrun… My brain activity is fully taken over by the mental arithmetic of figuring out what the next milestone is. I see the last bridge and I know the finish is just on the other side of it. I hear loud cheers, turns out that it is Samantha, finishing just two minutes ahead of me.
And then it comes, the reason I like running these kinds of races, this huge explosion of emotions at the finish line. Some good old-fashioned sense of pride and achievement. But also, a love for those awaiting me there. And for all the organisers and the volunteers giving out smiles along the way. Finish photo with the buckle, then with Jana and Howard. They did all the hard work, driving around for the whole day and half a night, without even a chance to grab a decent meal anywhere. I have never bought a race photo before, but I'm buying this one.
16:30 and the 8th place is not something I can be too disappointed about with my first 100 miler. And there's always next time for that sub-16. Or maybe the next after that, I don't want to see a flat course like this for a while.