September 16th 2017, was a day I found myself at the start line to fulfil a dream. I have wanted to run 100 miles, since the seed was planted in 2013 watching the pros run over 100 miles in 24 hours at the Irish Championships in Belfast. I was in awe and inspired.
My journey to the start line of Hobo Pace 100 miler on 16th September had not been smooth. In November 2016 I had attempted to run 100 miles and found myself facing my first DNF at 60 miles, the frozen temperatures, hilly course were not for me that day. For two months after this race, swearing never to run over 30 miles again. 2017 appeared, the pain of that experience disappeared and having time to reflect I could see where I went wrong, mentally I just hadn’t been there. My training hadn’t been as good as it could have been. By March 2017 the 100 mile drive and motivation was back as I found myself signing up again for another 100 miler.
I trained harder not just physically but mentally, this was especially important for the two weeks leading up to the race visualising the journey, the pain I might face and most important that no matter what happened I would make it to the finish line.
I got to the start line and as is typical the nerves were stirring mainly in my bladder as a standard five trips to the toilet in half an hour!! The race director Ronnie gave us a great pep talk, at the start line there were friendly, nervous conversations that so often happen at Ultra races the community always so welcoming and friendly.
My mind-set for this race was to just have fun, to keep moving one foot in front of the other and to enjoy the scenery. The start of the race was running through muddy fields, and off road tracks, chatting to some of the runners hearing different stories and motivations for running 100 miles. There was a near moment of getting lost but thankfully a fellow runner directed me back on track. I hit the canal which was beautiful to run along, there were more conversations about life, running motivations, where everyone was from. Jokes about what state we would be in next time we saw the canal on the other side of the race.
I settled into just a gentle, steady jog, slowing down to for the odd peanut butter or avocado wrap. I was in my flow, enjoying the freedom and beauty that is running especially off road. Before I knew it I got to my drop bag at the 22 mile point, I was feeling good in high spirits and mentally this was where the race started or that is how I had broken it down. I joked with the marshals as everyone looked fresh and was raring to go at this check point, what we would all look like when we got here after 81 miles!
I got myself going and into the forest, admiring the beauty of it, keeping my eye out for the markers, didn’t want to get lost, the course was well marked and thankfully I never got lost after the minor blip near the start. At about 24 miles in I found the corn fields we had to run through, it was a moment of joy and excitement, running in wonder through them like an excited child. The scenery through the forest loop was beautiful, there were the corn fields, streams, purple heathers, the Grande Oak (the oldest Oak tree in England) which was pointed out to me thanks to a fellow runner. There was an inquisitive three old who was out walking with her family who made me smile asking me why I was running? Why I had a race number on? Where was I going? It all brought moments of joy to the run. Running always reminds me of the magic of being present, taking in the world around me and how magical simplicity and the beauty of nature is.
I had chosen to stick to fats like avocado, sugar free peanut butter, houmous, and nachos for the race having had a great race fuelled this way at Endure24 in July. It seemed to be helping me this time as well as my energy levels were good and my stomach seemed to be more settled than it normally would be.
The forest loop had check points every 10 miles which again made it mentally easier to break the race down. I got to my drop bag again at 51 miles in 11.5 hours and while I was starting to hurt there was no doubt in my mind I was making it to the finish line. My reward for getting there was checking my phone for the first time in the race, my friend’s messages gave me a boost. The darkness descended and the head torches came out. The next 10 miles went smoothly, finding myself with others runners for a fair part of this which I was grateful for in the darkness of the forest. The next twenty miles after this, the pain began to hit me, particularly my feet but I charged on and I had the company of another female runner we chatted lots which helped distract me from the pain and drive me on. I was so grateful to her for her company.
At 81 miles I rewarded myself with a trainer change, blisters on the balls of my feet were really beginning to scream at me along with every part of my body now seriously hurting. After fresh trainers, Bakewell slice (thanks to my wonderful friend who had made me diary free ones) soup, coffee and a marshal helping me get up, got me on my way.
20 miles to go and plenty of time to be in the 30 mile cut off, I was alone now going into the dark of 4am to head for the canal. I was hurting, I was tired but I knew I just had to keep moving nothing was going to stop me getting to that finish line. The last 20 miles I couldn’t explain to you how I got through it, the pain everywhere felt unreal, everything hurt, my whole body was just screaming at me, from the balls of my feet, my ankles, my calves, my quads, glutes, hips. I felt sick, I was grateful for my friend’s bakewells and jelly beans as my nutrition plan went out the window and became about what was easy for me to face eating. Twenty odd hours carrying my rucksack and my back and shoulders were really feeling it. I hobbled onwards hoping to not fall in the canal as I felt unsteady on my feet. Darkness faded as the sun rose and daylight reappeared.
The canal felt like it went on for hours, the morning dog walkers asked how long I had been out? Some commented how tired I looked. At 96 miles the tears came as I felt like I would never get off that canal, I was really feeling fragile, but I swore to myself I never had to run again if just kept going to the finish line. The canal did finish as I saw the checkpoint at 97 miles and was directed to the last 3 miles. I was greeted by what felt at that point to be a big hill, I took a deep breath and I just hobbled up it, for the last two miles the iPod came out and little mix got me to the finish line. The last 3 miles felt like forever, I could barely walk by this point, I was literally hobbling it was all my body could do. When I reached the drive to the village hall, hobbling up it the emotion overwhelmed me as the tears fell and wouldn’t stop. I hobbled into the finisher’s room in the hall and continued to cry just asking “have I really done it, have I really finished.” I looked around at my fellow finisher’s everyone looked tired and worn out but we had all just achieved something, we had completed a 100 mile Ultra Marathon. I hadn’t known if I would be able to do it, especially after my DNF in 2016, during the last 20 miles I had just been in so much pain, there had been mud, blisters, sweat, tears but I had never given up and got to the finished line. One of the crew asked how I felt my response was “numb, can’t quite process it.” The crew and race director were phenomenal, they looked after us all so well, kept us going, made sure we were fed and watered. When I finished I felt sick and didn’t want to eat, they encouraged me to eat some soup knowing my body needed it.
The recovery after the race was hard, I literally felt like I had broken my body, I shuffled for two days unable to walk, the stairs were tackled by going down on my bum, my hands, feet and body was swollen. I felt sick and had to force myself to eat, I felt emotionally stripped bare and fragile. However the day after the race I laughed at myself as I plotted what challenge was next, I laughed as the day before I had promised myself I would never run again but there I was thinking there would definitely be another challenge!
After a week the pain was gone, there was still fatigue but as the fog cleared, I realised I had done it, finally fulfilled my 100 mile dream. My love and passion for running had only deepened. The race gave me a stronger sense of focus, of belief that anything is possible. Anything is possible when we believe in ourselves and never give up. Running has been my saviour through my darkest times, it has been my friend to guide me, it has given me freedom to explore new beautiful places, running has helped to heal my body, heart and soul from trauma and heartbreak. Most of all running has shown me that when I believe in myself and never give up just what is possible, that we can make our dreams come true!
I want to say a massive thank you to the race director Ronnie, his amazing volunteer race crew, who made the race happen and their smiles, friendly faces and conversation kept me going to my fellow runners to also kept me doing, all of you that entered the race are amazing! And to my friends who have supported me and my crazy running adventures as it all brought me to this moment! Thank you!
To check out the Hobo Pace 100 miler check out the website: www.hobopace.co.uk