For what seemed like years I had been surrounded by people knocking out 100 mile ultras on a weekly basis and yet here I was, still having not completed one.
I’d chosen the Cotswold Way Century on the basis that the area was picturesque and not very hilly. I thought this, despite never having been there, or even knowing anything about the area. Famous people get married there, don’t they? In my mind this conjured up images of picturesque towns and a forgiving landscape. My friend, Dave, went to check out the area and came back describing the Cotswold Way as ‘easily marked’ and the hills as ‘rolling’. I allowed myself to feel smug about my race choice.
But then reports started coming back from people who attempted the race last year. Extremist time cut offs were mentioned. Ah. Wandering 10 miles off route having lost the trail. Hmm. How that person went on holiday as a child and the severe hillyness had been burnt into their psyche even years later. Oh.
I checked out last years race results: only 25 out of the 58 entrants completed it. Needless to say the smugness was fading. My complete lack of knowledge of the area was suddenly a glaring weakness, and so I frantically printed out maps and altitude charts, diligently highlighting checkpoints, cut offs and mileage. Annie sent me advice to go slow and push in the last 20 miles. This was my only game plan.
I don’t want to bore you all with the lengthy blow-by-blow description of what happened so I’ve broken it down by highlights and lowlights. Not all of which are mine.
start- Chipping Camden
Nice sunny day. I’m at the back of the pack and taking it slow as we’re going straight up a hill but the views are lovely and I forgot that I actually like hills. I’m enjoying myself. After a while I start singing to myself. People give me lots of space.
My right Achilles has started hurting. This is a low point. I can’t believe I’m having such a nice time and now this has happened. I realise that I may not have allowed enough recovery time between my ultras this year and now I’m paying the price. Shit. I’m not quitting now. And then I think: ‘Well, if I’m not going to quit because of this now, I’m not going to quit because of it at 30, 50, 60 or 100 miles in.’ I realise I just have to accept it, but ease up a little in order to avoid any worrying snapping noises.
Despite my Achilles hurting I find it’s not getting worse and I can still run so that’s ok. Feel a bit better and start taking an interest in my surroundings again. It really is very beautiful here: not the rugged landscape I prefer but scenic none the less. Other runners aren’t talking very much. I realise that a lot of people are back again for a second year with a score to settle, or they’re like me and it’s their first 100 miles. I go back to my little solo singing session.
20 miles- Belas Knap
The worst thing has happened. I’ve stopped for a sneaky pee to discover that I’m having a cystitis attack. I’d been feeling the dragging sensation in my lower abdomen for the last half an hour, and when I pee’d it was accompanied by the severe burning that didn’t go away when I had stopped. Sorry if that’s too graphic. Just to prep you: this race recap is going to get a lot worse. Cystitis and kidney ache is a recurring issue for me since I had a kidney infection in my early twenties and the only way of dealing with it is to flush it out with lots of water. Trouble is, I don’t have that amount of water. It’s so early in the race for things to be going wrong. I can’t face the idea of dropping out now, after just twenty miles. I mentally slap myself around the face a few times and pull myself together, and set about looking for a water source. Fortunately there is a stream at the bottom of the hill where I can fill a bottle and it just means I have to take it slowly for 30 minutes while the purifying tablets kicked in. I walk it out and then down the water. After a bit I feel much better and am able to run again.
27 miles- Aggs Hill checkpoint
The first cut off. Things must have come together because I have loads of time before I hit the 7 hour cut off. I meet a girl named Emily and kept pace with her for a bit and discuss my low point. She’d had a low point even earlier with blisters but had sorted it out and was back on form again. I like her a lot but lost her at the checkpoint.
Meet a guy who had done loads of awesome races abroad including Leadville (altogether now-ooooh!) but he was impressed with me as he had done the 10 Peaks short route and I had done the Xtreme. Feel all buoyed up with my own athletic prowess.
Nearly go the wrong way in the dusk, but am shouted back in the right direction by a local runner, who is with my friend, Dave. Thank them and say my hellos, but my pace is a little bit faster so I lose them again. Somehow manage to get lost in some woods so give in and check my GPS since I don’t have a bloody clue where the trail is. Vince has sent me a text asking how I am and, as I’m standing in the woods in the dark doing nothing, I text back to say I’m fine. Small lie. My GPS says I’m on the trail which is obviously bollocks. I stand still and in the distance can make out what looks like pin pricks of light spiking though the trees. I make my way toward them, climbing back down the hill. When I hear their voices I call out ‘People!!’ And I hear them say ‘There’s a person up there!’
‘Yes, it’s me!’ I forget that they would have no idea who ‘me ‘ was.
It turns out it’s Emily and some others who I decide to stick to for the foreseeable future. Emily is using a superior GPS which actually keeps her (and us) on the trail. Phew.
38.5 miles- Birdlip Car Park checkpoint
This car park is apparently a renowned dogging spot but we don’t see anything. (If you don’t know what dogging is and your curiosity is piqued try Googling it!) I see Dave again at this checkpoint, who is highly confused as to how I have ended up behind him. God knows how long I was lost for but I think it was only about 15 minutes. I look around and Emily is gone, which is a reminder for me to get my arse in gear.
Lots of cool wood running. Meet a nice girl named Michelle and a local guy named Craig. I vow to stick with Craig since he has some idea where he is. Sadly Michelle drops back but Craig and I fall into a companionable silence with him knowing the way and me pushing the pace. Bump into another runner I know, Ferg, and someone else. Hellos are exchanged. All is good.
47 miles Painswick checkpoint
Change my socks and eat chilli. I had chilli at the indoor checkpoint on the 10 peaks Xtreme as well. Whoever thought of this as checkpoint food needs to be applauded. We’re about ten hours in now and the cut off for Painswick is 13 hours so I am pleased with how things are going. And then my filling comes out of my tooth: oh no! Still, there’s no pain and there’s worse things than only having half a tooth. My new buddy, Craig, and I leave together after about 15 minutes.
We’d been told that there would be a person taking our number on a golf course to make sure everyone followed the trail all around and didn’t cut off 3 miles by going straight over. Craig and I get lost a bit and then find the tent with a Cotswold Running T-shirt hanging on it.
‘Cooooeee!’ We call. ‘We’re here! Do you want our number?’ No response.
We go up and shake the tent for good measure. As we do this I suddenly realise the t-shirt isn’t a Cotswold Running shirt after all. I point this out to Craig, and it slowly dawns on us that this is just some poor person out camping. We guiltily run off as quietly as possible and find our chap half a mile on, but I wonder now how many other runners did the same as us. Oops.
53 ish miles
Bump into Ferg and his mate again and run through cornfields. I point out to everyone that it’s a bit like in the film The Signs, (which was a rubbish film, to be fair), and there was the cool bit where they were running through corn at night and there were aliens running through them as well. Anyone? No? No one else is interested either so I just have to pretend by myself. I sense that I’m in a better mood than the others at this point.
58 ish miles.
Still pitch black and Craig and I have lost the others. We’re in the woods in the middle of nowhere and have stumbled onto an illegal rave. We first knew of it by the persistent ‘doof doof doof’ of the bass and the white light streaming through the trees (‘Aliens!’ I thought). Now we have come across people stumbling around like it’s the night of the living dead. I make Craig walk so they won’t realise we’re different and stick us with knives. We start running again and suddenly turn a corner to find a group of ‘yoofs’ who seem pretty wasted. One of them is a girl crying, mascara tracking down her face.
‘Excuse me, guys, can you take her back to the main road?’
‘No!’ I shouted back as we run past.
‘We’re lost!’ shouted Craig.
In the background I can hear the girl wailing ‘Why don’t you love meeee, Stan?!’ Or whatever his name is. We leave them in the darkness. Very surreal.
F@*#ing torch not working. Cue panicked exchange of batteries from broken torch to other head torch. Bastard thing. Bring on the daylight.
Daylight! Praise God. I’ve spent the last two hours running through woods trying to see by the light of Craig’s torch. Craig has had a couple of low points, but I’ve paid him back for his local knowledge by pushing him forward and keeping up the pace. I’m pleased both of us have come through the night, 12 hours of darkness: yeeesh. There’s an unspoken agreement that we’ll stick together. I keep pushing the pace.
80 miles Horton checkpoint
I’ve told people about a bacon butty rumour I had heard about Horton. Turns out it’s the next checkpoint. Sorry, guys. Change my socks again and push on. I’m having serious, serious issues with chafing between the buttocks. Yeouch. This has been a problem for a good while but I had been keeping it at bay with liberal coatings of Vaseline. It’s now got to the stage where Vaseline isn’t even touching it. Just 20 miles to go. We set off again and I push hard to cover as many miles as possible. I remember what Annie said: push in the last twenty miles. So that’s what we do.
87 miles – Tomarton picnic area checkpoint
Yes! The bacon roll! Plus a marshall gives me a giant piece of his wife’s homemade cake. It’s bloody amazing. Yum. We have a little sit down in the sun with a cup of tea before moving on to the next checkpoint 5 miles away…
92 miles Cold Ashton checkpoint
Now, I’m sorry if I seem a bit gloating here, but Craig and I covered the last five miles, in the heat, over the hills, and with my chafing ass, in an hour. That’s pretty gosh darn fast. At the checkpoint is Nicky Taylor, a super speedy ultra runner. She’d pulled out earlier due to injury and is now cheering everyone on. ‘Are you Becky Morgan?’ She asked. ”Yes, are you Nicky?’ I ask- as if I didn’t know. I’m very chuffed to meet her.
Ok, so I can’t run down steep hills anymore. And for the love of God, will someone tell me how to stop chafed buttocks. I know about Vaseline. Craig, who has never met me before, now knows all about vaseline and the various graphic details in which it can be applied. Vaseline doesn’t work after 80 miles on a hot day. It just doesn’t. I’m seriously considering taping my bottom next time. Consider this point a definite low.
School children. Blocking the stiles and the path. ‘Stand aside for the nice runners!’ They don’t. I will smite you down. I despise small children and their grubby getting in the way-ingness.
Craig: ‘How much further?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘What mileage are we at?’
‘I don’t know’.
Neither of us have any real idea how much longer this is going to last. We are still overtaking people. Other than general fatigue I feel ok, except for the burning shards of glass that someone has apparently snuck into my pants.
We’re at the final checkpoint in Bath. As we leave Craig tells me that the marshalls said we looked a lot fresher than some of the other runners. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Good joke. Now we’re near the end Craig is coming up on a high and sets the pace going up the hill (with steps. Steps!!). He’s talking about running at the finish and I’m like: ‘Mate. My ass. It’s too much.’ He tells me its a running race and we should run at the end.
We’re trying to cross a road. The lights are red and the green man is on but a car still insists on trying to drive through the pedestrians. There is gesturing and swearing on my part. He stops and looks like he’s going to try giving it back, but I’ve already moved on. Tosser.
So many people. We’re running through the centre of Bath now -running! With my chafed bottom! And there’s about 8 million people getting in my way. I hate them. Can’t they see how far we’ve come?! God tries to balance out my severe negativity by sending Henry Winkler aka The Fonz to the people of Bath (he’s sightseeing, apparently). I don’t see him. It’s probably just as well.
Finally, finally, we see Bath Abbey, and I can see Vince and Daisy the dog! We’ve done it! 102 miles. We get our medals and Vince takes a photo of me and Craig and I thank Craig for the company for the last seventy miles. Then the pain kicks in proper. Then I start crying.
Turns out the race headquarters is quarter of a mile down the road. Weep. Stumble. Turns out the gym and showers are up a flight of stairs. (‘Nooo! I can’t do it!’ More crying). Turns out the shower is set a foot up from the floor. Yes, I get in it ok, but there follows more crying and ungraceful crablike positions as I try to get out of the flipping thing. Then I attempt to go back down the stairs to Vince and Daisy. Turns out Vince came in on the Park and Ride and it’s a mile’s walk back to the bus stop. Cue me shambling through Bath with tears tracking silently down my face as the pain increases its vice like grip on my lower body.
We get on the bus back to the van where I can lie down. Finally, it’s over.
Still, all in all, except for a few low points, it was great. The checkpoints were every ten miles or so. The marshalls were lovely; I’m going to marry them all, and each table was a full on buffet. The whole race was like one long street party. Or trail party. I was 30th overall and came in at 26 hours 45 minutes- well within the 30 hour cut off. Also I was 4th female and remember Emily? She came in third female, just over half an hour before me! I liked her, she was cool. 32 people didn’t finish it though so I suspect there’ll be a few more returning again next year to finish the course.
Thanks(again!) to Vince- another pricey trip away where he has to hang around doing nothing for a day waiting for the inevitably broken and weeping girlfriend.
Well done to Craig, who also finished despite having to hear about my chafing issues for the last few miles.
And thanks to Cotswold Running- it was a great event. If you’re looking for a 100 miler do this one!!
To be honest I still feel completely overwhelmed by the fact that I have ran over 100 miles. I know it’s not a big deal for everyone but it is for me. Would I do another 100? At the time I said no, or maybe only one a year. Now I’ve had a few days recovery I’m already looking for the next challenge. For the time being I’m going to take a month off running before I start my gruelling endurance training over the winter so things may go a bit quiet on the blogging front.
Take care everyone!