Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Caesar's Camp 100

I first looked at doing the Caesar's Camp 100 last year but because of the Commonwealth Champs it just didn't fit in, so, when I heard that the Tooting 24 hour race had been moved to mid September thus making it too close to UTMB I decided to go for it. Am I glad I did!

Victor and I drove down the day before and spent the entire 8+ hours journey eating and eating and eating some more. I think I've got the carbo loading sorted now, I start to up the sports drinks through the week then the day before the race eat as much high calorie/high carb food as I can stomach, i find this way i don't feel like a big fat bloke by the time i reach the start line. We reached the Travel Inn and carried the portable fridge in (for keeping the mashed tatties fresh) and the microwave (for porridge on demand). Us guys are organised! The first thing we noticed was the heat in the place, it was like the Bahamas, so we opened the windows the full inch that they would go, making no difference whatsoever. A bit of time spent sorting kit and eating pasta then it was off to bed. After about 4 hours of lying listening to my heart thumping in my chest and feeling the half kilo of chocolate brownies fermenting in my stomach the party boys across the hall arrived back to their room to shout, bang doors and giggle loudly. Victor soon sorted this out with his teacher skills(!) but the fact that I'd only slept about 5 hours the previous night to make sure I got a good night sleep before the race didn't seem like a good idea anymore!

The heat of the room had us both up far too early and we met Carrie and Ray at breakfast and chatted nervously about the race. Carrie and I were doing the 100 so nerves were part of the deal, Victor was doing the 50 but it was his first ultra since his stress fracture (which he got HERE... oops!) and Ray was just doing what Ray does, running another ultra (17 he ran last year!!).
The start area - pics Carrie Craig

We drove into the start area and immediately got excited when we saw the sandy trails snaking off everywhere, it looked amazing! There was a real atmosphere about the place, it reminded me of some of the campgrounds in California, really peaceful apart from the cows which were gathering to watch and moo-ing aggressively, with trails that just made you want to get your shoes on and run. Dave and Mrs Mac (fast becoming my lucky mascots!) arrived as we were listening to the race brief then Henk the mad Dutchman race director sent us on our way.

After about half a mile the trail plunged down a really steep descent, only about 50 feet but it was STEEP then up an even steeper, very rough and stoney climb of maybe 250 feet. This set the tone for the first 4 miles which were like a rollercoaster then some nice runnable stuff with lots of twists and turns until the aid station at 5.6 miles then some lovely singletrack which just made you want to fly, twisting and turning through the woods, down by a lake, through some mud then a real bugger of a climb at 9ish miles followed by a steep descent and a flat run in to begin the next lap. I took a couple of wrong turns losing the route but soon learned to keep my eyes open for the course markers.
At 20 miles - pic Lee MacLean

The thing which was most noticeable was how warm it was once I got running, I had my shirt off by halfway and was sweating buckets, I was going to have to watch my hydration here. After lap 2 I started on the mashed tatties but by the halfway aid station I was feeling really rough, only 75 miles to go I thought to myself... I had no idea of positions or anything until I went through 40 miles and someone said there was maybe 3 in front of me and the leader was 30 mins up, I wasn't too concerned with what was happening though as it was much too early to start pushing. As I went through the aid station at 45m they told me I was 2nd, 10 mins behind the leader who looked "fit as you like". It was confusing because I was lapping people now and didn't know who was doing what lap, or race for that matter, so I was just running my own race but I'd pulled this guy in significantly so thought to myself lets put the foot down a bit and try and catch him. I ran hard all the way to the end of the lap and as I went through people were saying I was the leader, then I saw Victor who had just won the 50 and realised it was him I had been chasing! Because he had originally entered the 100 he still had his 100 mile number so the marshalls thought he was first 100miler!

I was through 60 miles in 10 hours and it had been dark for the last 3, pitch dark since there was no moon, I was well into my stride feeling like I had found a good groove but the long night ahead was certainly intimidating. I told myself from the start 70 miles was halfway, I've always found this is the case in terms of effort and I wasn't far wrong. I went through 70m in 12 hours and mashed tatties were off the menu, solid food wasn't going to go down so I mixed up a complan and drank it then headed off into the darkness. Within  about 3 miles I knew this wasn't going to stay down, I was wretching and stumbling about feeling awful so I sat at the side of the trail and threw up until nothing else would come up. I was in a real state but a good puke had me feeling slightly better, I needed to get running again since I was now shivering and cold with my wet, sweaty clothes on and I had no jacket to put on. I felt very lonely out there in the dark. Another runner who I was chatting with earlier came past (I think he was a lap behind but moving well) and told me I'd pass him again no problem and disappeared into the darkness. I knew this was crunch time.

"Here we are, wheels off, it's getting tough and you can't handle it..."

" If you think you're an ultra runner nows the time to prove it, you want to walk then walk..."

" you don't need to puke, you're just looking for an excuse to stop, you can't handle it..."

these were some of the thoughts going through my head, questions were being asked but could I provide some answers? I started to think only in the "now" a few good steps of running then a few more then the torchlight of the runner who passed earlier, he was moving well still but I was getting closer. I was back in the groove as I lapped more runners, all of them encouraging me on and providing me with targets to chase in the dark. I went through 80 miles, ate a banana and took a gel and some water and looked at my watch as i hit the lap button. It read lap 9, LAP 9, yes! If i could pace this nicely and not red line it preserving something for the last lap then the adrenalin would carry me to the finish. As I ran that nasty first 4 miles of the lap I knew the next time i would be here would be my last if I just hung on, the end was becoming a reality. Up that nasty, nasty climb with the big step halfway up and the big juicy red mushroom near the top, relaxing my aching quads on the descent to the 90m point, through the aid station with a couple of gels, half a banana and more water. I'm heading for home!!

Lap 10 was amazing, the feeling that I'd got it right, I'd pulled myself out of that huge downer, i'd had to completely re-think my eating plan at 70miles when my body was trashed and my brain was barely able to keep coherent thoughts going, I was flying again. Can you believe it, after 90 odd miles I was hammering it, then disaster struck. My torch was getting dim, very dim, then the warning light flashed to say it was about to die completely and i had no spare and no batteries... Damn! I put the beam onto its lowest power and tripped a few times unable to see the detail of tree roots and stones but got to the 95m aid. I asked if they might have some AA batteries i could steal and to my surprise the chap pulled out a huge strip of Duracells and said "help yourself, we thought they might come in handy" I almost kissed him. Off again into the never ending darkness, every twist, turn, climb, descent for the last time, that fence at 8m, 18m, 28m... now 98m then the finish. Relief.

A huge thanks to Henk for this mad, mad race. To the helpers who were all brilliant especially the man with the batteries and to all the other runners who gave me so much encouragement on the way. 100 miles/15 000ft in 18 hours 41 minutes, 11 and a half of which were in the dark. 1st place and new course record, it couldn't have went better than that... or could it??