Even the best of plans can fail

Here is the story of how a good solid couple of months of training went wasted on race day.
After the Denbies 10 mile race I had just over two months to prepare for the South Downs Way 50 miler. Things were all planned.

I did two more weeks of interval training with some longer runs in the weekends (for a total of 88k and 104k) and then started the tempo runs block. I loved them. I did one solid week of 108k with a nice long run in the snow with Craig in Wimbledon common, then took it easier by skipping two days to do a very tiny tapering before the February race, the Hampton Court Half Marathon.
I wanted to do well and see if I could beat my PB. I had not done any flat half marathons in years, so this was a good occasion.
Things went fine for the first 13k. I kept an average pace around 3:50/3:55 min/km and felt ok, but I could not hold the pace long enough and did the rest of the race just above 4:00 min/km. I finished in 1:24. My target was 1:23, so I was not too far off, but still, I was a bit disappointed. Here is the Strava of the race.

Hampton Court Half Marathon February 2017 by #SussexSportPhotography.com 10:30:19 AM #racephoto

The week after I did a couple of easy days and then resumed the tempo runs sessions. Here is an example if interested. In the weekend I did a longer tempo run session up and down Richmond Park and then went for 30k on the NDW (saying that it was muddy is an understatement), completing a 96k week.

The last week of February I was feeling a strange pain on the soleus and Achilles tendon in the left leg, so I took it a bit easier but still managed to run 33k with Craig which is always fun. And that was the end of the tempo runs block, time to start the Steady State Runs part. Here is an example.

On the 11th of March I ran the Thames Meander Marathon with almost no tapering and with the left leg still a bit sore. I was not sure whether to do it or not as I was afraid to get even more injured but I went anyway. Good thing I did as I enjoyed it a lot. I started slow to see if the left leg would behave, but when I saw all was fine I just kept running at a steady pace actually accelerating quite a bit in the second half.

I suffered in the last 5k and slowed down a bit too much, but overall I am happy with the result: 3:17, which is also my marathon PB. I think I can do better than that, but probably not break 3 hours like I had planned at the beginning of the year.

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At this point there was only one month left before the South Downs Way 50. I really enjoyed the Steady State Runs even if it meant waking up at 4:30 in the morning to be able to run 20k before going to work.

The week after the marathon I ran 127km. On Saturday I killed myself by running 1:30 easy and then do the usual SSR training, for a total of 35k with a massive negative split and then, not tired enough, on Sunday I went on the North Downs way for 26k of pure joy.

The week after I did even more, 138k. Concluded with 40k on the river on Saturday and a killer SSR session on Sunday. You know when Rocky runs up the stairs and knows he is ready? I felt the same. I reached the top of Richmond Hill with many km in the legs and still sprinted up like crazy. I felt invincible, ready for the SDW.
And invincible I was not, sadly.

I started 2 weeks of tapering. First I did an easy 67k week and then disaster struck. I got ill!
The Tuesday of the SDW race week I was in bed with a fever. Months and months of training, rigorous every week, I probably just skipped 2 days, woke up at silly hours, killed myself in the weekends. Did everything right, foam rolled every evening, fixed minor injuries, kept a relatively good diet, I did EVERYTHING right for four months and I end up in bad 3 days before the race?
I was sad, very sad. I hoped it was going to go away quickly and I actually thought it might have been good to sleep for days before the race, but on the Friday I was still feeling like my head was going to explode and my legs were made of rubber. I went to the office to convince myself I was fine, but I was not.

On Friday evening I packed all the race kit with the plan to see how I felt the day after.
I really did not want to miss the SDW50 again. Last year due to the shin splints injury I missed it and lost the chance to do the Centurion 50 mile Grand Slam. So even if I woke up a bit energy-less I went to the race anyway.

The weather was amazing, not a single cloud in the sky. The South Downs are some of the most beautiful hills and when I got to the starting line and sucked all the excitement from the other runners I forgot about being ill and I really looked forward to racing.

After a couple of miles my head cleared and the legs seemed ok, so I decided to race it as I had originally planned, which was quite fast. I reached the first aid station at Botolphs (11 miles in) in just over one hour and a half. Almost 17 minutes faster than planned. Was this worrying me? No, because I am not smart enough.
I reached the second aid station at mile 17 in 30th position. Now only 8 minutes ahead of the race plan. Maybe it was time to get worried as it was clear I could not keep the pace.

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Then things started going horribly wrong. My legs decided it was time to go in flu mode and everything started aching. Even my knees were painful in the downhills. As if that was not enough my stomach felt upside down.
I painfully reached Housedean Farm (26 miles) hoping to find a toilet. When I was told there was none I felt lost.
The South Downs are not like the North Downs. There are no trees or bushes big enough to allow people to hide and do what they do when there are no toilets around! I had 7 more miles to run before I could find a toilet at the next aid station and this is where the worst part of the race started. I could hardly run uphill and I was super slow.

Even after the long toilet break I still felt bad and the long climb after Southease was a long death march. At the top I felt better and actually ran 5k under 5 min/km but when I left Alfriston (mile 41) my stomach was not having it.
Luckily I was joined by Tim, who kindly decided to wait for me and finish the race together. I am sorry I made him do the last 8 miles so slowly, but every time I tried to move faster the stomach made sure I knew I was not in charge of the day.

We finished in 9 hours and 18 minutes. 48 minutes slower than I was aiming for. I was actually convinced I could do it in 8 hours. I have the excuse of the flu but I was really disappointed with my performance. Less than 4 hours to run the first half, more than 5 hours to run the second? Not good!


It was an amazing day, beautiful vistas, plenty of nice people to meet, but not the race I wanted to do. I will have to go back next year and do it right.

Now I need to concentrate in keeping the form and not getting ill for the NDW50 next month. I will not have any excuses there and I will try to race smarter. I always say that!

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Chiltern Wonderland 50

After pulling out of the first two Centurion 50 milers I finally felt fit enough to tackle my second ever 50 mile race, the CW50 (Chiltern Wonderland 50). Training this year has been pretty poor due to the never ending injury and only in May things started looking normal or at least bearable for my shin and ankle. Since then I tried to get back into running seriously. I paced Manu for the last 55k in his epic SDW100 in June, I then ran the NDW Marathon and Chiltern Challenge 50k Ultra in July. In August I had my ass handed to me while pacing Davide on the NDW100 and again racing the Intro to Ultra Peak District 50k. Coming into September I was feeling pretty good. I did some long weeks, culminating with a 40k Saturday followed by a 30k Sunday two weeks before the CW50 that gave me confidence. Especially the run I did on Saturday where I tried to keep my heart rate very low and see how I felt. It felt good and after 30k I was fresh and accelerated happily.

I therefore decided to base my effort on the CW50 on my heart rate. I was going to try and keep it under 140bpm for at least the first 50k and then see if I could accelerate a bit towards the end. Instead of starting too fast and then crawl at the end like I usually do.

Last year I did my first 50 miler in exactly 10 hours (NDW50). At the time I was a lot fitter than this year, but a lot less experienced, so the plan was to try to finish at least under 10 hours.

I love the Chiltern Hills and as this race does not follow any particular national trail we were promised an especially beautiful route and we were not disappointed. Those hills are fantastic and the whole race went up and down beautiful hills, many woodlands and very few boring road or open fields. The views when popping out of the woods were some of the best you can get in the British countryside and definitely kept your mind away from the effort at hand.

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As planned I started slow, keeping an eye on my heart rate. The first 5k were mostly flat on the river side so I needed to stop myself from going faster.

The first real hill came and to keep the heart low I started walking bits of it, eating the first gel of the day. That was basically what I did the whole race, as soon as I felt it was too much effort going uphill I was walking. Walking with intent, but not killing myself. At the same time if the trail was flat or downhill I ran it. No excuses this time. In previous races I always misjudged the pace and ended up having to walk some bits on the flats too towards the end. Not this time. I am very pleased with my performance. I never felt like I wanted to kick myself for starting the race and loved every second of it.

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At the first aid station I basically did not stop, just grabbed a cookie and kept going. I was feeling a bit cold and I did not want to slow down too much.

I ran a big chunk of the race between the first aid station and the second with a very nice guy and we chatted away. Before we knew it we were at Bix’s aid station, 18 miles done, eating watermelon and feeling great.

The real hills started there and I was glad I saved some energy. The steepest one was the one going up to a windmill. It was so steep you could not even walk it up in a straight line.

 

I stuck to my tactic of keeping the effort level, eat every 40 minutes or so and just enjoy the day. I even started overtaking people and at the halfway aid station at Ibstone I had one of the best cake/cookie/whatever it was. I was not cold anymore and I was actually running out of water before arriving to the next aid station which was a bit of a problem. Especially as I was using Tailwind this time so my liquids were even more important towards the end of the race, when I have trouble eating gels.

I had promised myself as a reward/incentive that I would have started listening to music after 50k. I waited a bit longer and only put some music on after the Swyncombe aid station. It was probably the best moment of the race. I realised my legs where still almost as new. I was not tired at all, I was enjoying the day out and I was just moving forward, almost without thinking about it. The music made it even more amazing and I found myself singing.

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I realised I had paced it right when I started overtaking a lot of people. I think I passed almost 10 runners at the golf club in Nuffield. I was pretty excited there as I had run there twice already and I knew how much fun was running down to Grims Ditch.

I got there pretty broken up by the downhill, but I was 41 miles in, only 9 left to go! A couple more watermelon slices at the aid station and I was off.

It was hard to keep running at that point but the excitement kept me going. The last 3 kms I just let myself go, no point in saving energy anymore. When I entered Goring village I felt supersonic, I even high fived some kids. I had done it and I did not suffer too much. 9 hours and 22 minutes. Not amazingly fast but much better than I expected. Now I know that on a good day, when I have no stomach issue, no injuries etc I can run at that pace without too much pain. Now all I have to find out is how much faster I should go and still not crawl too much at the end. That’s what I will find out in November at the WW50. I cannot wait.

As all of Centurion’s events it was perfectly organised, the aid station volunteers were amazing, the route was perfect and the Chiltern hills are my new favourite place.

Here is the Strava log if anyone is interested.

 

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Digdeep Peak District 30 miles

I finally managed to spend a weekend in the Peak District. I am a big fan of the English mountains, even if I come from places where we would call them hills. I meant to visit the district for a long time, finally taking part in a race gave me the opportunity to go there.

I was looking for a longer run to do in August between Davide‘s NDW100 (post coming soon about that) and my September’s CW50. The Digdeep Intro Ultra 30 miles was perfect. It is part of a whole weekend of races so I was also tempted by the social aspect.

I left on Friday after lunch thinking I had plenty of time to get there, set up camp and see the talks that were in the program. Unfortunately the M1 was a continuous single traffic jam and took me over six hours to drive there (instead of three). The weather got worse and worse and when I finally arrived it was raining, I missed the talks and it was getting dark already.


I built the tent in the field near the Whirlow Hall Farm (the race headquarter). The first impact with camping life was not the best. The tent my good friend (and vegan apparel designer) Petr lent me was smaller then I expected. The field was muddy and full of cow poo but most of all it was not flat. I built the tent, had some food at the farm and then since it looked like nothing social was going to happen I went to try and sleep. It took me ages to fall asleep. Once I had to get up and take a walk as I felt too cramped inside the tent but that gave me the chance to see the sky at night with an almost full moon. There was quite a lot of wind so the day ahead was going to be interesting.

At 5am I was woken up by the noise of people getting ready to race the longer 60 mile race that was starting 2 hours before mine. It did not look like it was worth trying to fall asleep again so I got ready for my race too. The air was freezing cold and when we finally started running I was glad.

The course is a 30 mile loop around some of the best looking hills on the side of the Peak District near Sheffield and from the get go it was clear it was going to be a very good looking scenery.
After the painful final I had on the last two races I decided to take it relatively easy at the start. After a bit of fields and woods we arrived at the top of a beautiful hilly area full of Houndkirk Moor.

 

I felt a lot better and started accelerating a bit and at the first check point at Fiddler’s Elbow I was probably going too fast and that made me forget to check were I was going. I had the gpx file on my watch but I kept ignoring it and looking at markers and following people. We took the road and then realised we should have been on the path above. We went back and got on the right track. Good thing we did as that trail was the one following the top of Stanage Edge where it would have been impossible to get to if we had stayed on the road unless we were in for some rock climbing.

At the end of the ridge there was the unmanned checkpoint 2. We dibbed in and kept going. Less than 800 meters later we saw another dibber. I thought it was a checkpoint for the 60 mile race and kept going. That was a mistake. It was our checkpoint 3 too. Time penalty number one.

We ran down up and down a road for some more kms and then reached the checkpoint at the base of Win Hill. Going up the hill was a tough climb. The gnarliest of the race. Not a chance to run that one (the photo below does not do it justice).

Once at the top the view was amazing. The wind was crazy too and I did not envy the marshal waiting for the runners all day long at the top. This was just a bit after 20k and I was feeling relatively well. The climbs were harder than I am used to, but I was doing ok. Eating one gel every thirty minutes (even if I hated them, I will go back to my usual make) and drinking regularly. I made the mistake of not filling up the water bottle at any station yet but I thought I had enough to get to the next.

This is were disaster struck. Coming down from the other side of Win Hill the wind was so strong my eyes were watering and I had to use my hands not to fall on the steep rocks. At that point I might have missed an important sign and kept following the markers and a couple of guys ahead. After a while I saw that everyone stopped and looked at the map. I instantly looked at my watch gpx and realised what an idiot I had been not to look at it earlier. We had been following the 60 mile race markers for at least 3km.

We run back trying to cut down the hill and avoid going back up. We were going to miss checkpoint 6 at Aston but the time penalty (second one for me) was nothing compared to the time it would have taken us to go back. For fear of being lost alone I ran with those guys and not at my pace. By the time we joined the correct route at Hope village I had run 30k, 25k were still to be ran and I was feeling dead already. Mentally I was also a bit down as I hated myself for having run 5k more than needed. I was also out of water! I felt the gels stuck in my throat as if they had clogged my insides and basically felt a bit crap.

I put some music on (as always I waited until I was halfway through the race) which helped and continued running (I also managed to smile for this selfie).

The trail around a massive cement factory felt like lasting for ages but I finally reached the big aid station at Bradwell. I was so depressed to think I lost so much time. I had some real food, filled the water bottle and went out.

A long bit uphill was quite welcome as I had a chance to walk it and talk with other competitors. I ran down the other side feeling like I could not stop even if I had wanted to.

From then on it was an alternating of walk the hill, run a bit, walk again.

Then an endless bit along the river Derwent felt like it lasted an eternity. It was a very nice part of the trail, with the river down on the side, but it was flat and at that stage I would have preferred a bit of walking uphill and running downhill.

My wishes were soon granted and the final 10k of the race arrived, with a very long climb. I never felt so low in energy. I could not eat anything and my head felt light and my legs like made of wood. It lasted forever.

I finally recognised where I was as we got back from the same trail the race started on and when I realised it was actually skipping some parts we did in the morning I finally got out of the low point I was in. I even managed to run the full last 2kms and crossed the finish line completely knackered. Here is the Strava file if you are interested.

It was a beautiful place. The weather had been variable, sun, rain, mostly windy, but it was beautiful being out there. I am not too happy for having taken the wrong path and even less happy for having crawled the last bits. It was definitely a good lesson. I need to do a lot more long runs. The injury from last November really affected my fitness. Last year at this time I was so much stronger. Next month I will do my second 50 miler ever but I don’t think I will have much time to improve my fitness so I will have to be very rigorous in taking it easy and eating regularly. I cannot wait.

After the race I had a sort of shower with a water bottle in the middle of the field under the rain and in the wind. It was even more painful than the race.

Then I waited to see the first people finishing the 60 miler and then went in my tent. Spent the time from 7pm to 7am sleeping. I only woke up at 1:30am to watch Mo Farah win gold at Rio’s 5k race. Amazing stuff.

The day after the weather was slightly better and I went for a hike. I saw from far away places I had been the day before and I was amazed in realising how much terrain we covered.

I then drove back home to finally have a real shower.

I enjoyed the weekend in the Peak District a lot. Shame there was not much social interaction happening at the farm. I guess the weather did not help much. I will definitely go back and do it right next time!

High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail

Sunday morning the alarm clock went off at 4:20am. My second ultra was waiting for me, exciting. After the usual breakfast I drove to pick up @craigjmcelroy and together we went down in Kent for the High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail.

I have been preparing for this race quite well with a lot of climbs while on holiday and quite a bit of long runs the month before. So I felt pretty confident and was aiming for 4:30 (ah ah ah!). Once we arrived at the beautiful Groombridge Place we picked up our bibs and in the freezing morning prepared for the challenge (with a visit to the portaloos).

At 8am the race director walked us to the start line and we were off.

We ran most of it together. Took it relatively easy at the beginning. Walked most of the uphills, speeded up a bit in the middle part, but in general we were trying to save some energy for the end.

I did not eat anything strange this time at the aid stations. Only drank water and ate my own gels. The day got warmer and we got into a nice rhythm. We even managed to chat a bit.

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The course was really nice. Not too hilly, something like 700mt of elevation in the whole 50k, so not too bad. The trail was muddy here and there, but nothing compared to the last time I was there (see my first marathon), but it was still quite a tiring terrain with very few fast runnable bits. Most of it was on uneven tiny trails on fields or in woods with plenty of roots and branches. A lot of fun.

Even if it was not marked particularly well (still better than expected) we managed not to get lost too much, either following someone else or looking at the navigation tool on the watch. Which is great by the way, the Fenix 3 is proving to be the best piece of kit I could buy. Luckily we did not need to look at the 20 page long road book given to us at the start.

Check out this video to see how wonderful the course and the day was. You can see me and Craig at 4:55 in one of the best downhill bits.

In the last 12k I struggled quite a bit but did not crawl, I just ran slower. Craig went ahead as he wanted to do it in 5 hours (and managed to do it). I went as fast as I could. The stomach was fine, the legs too, but they felt like they were coming off the hips. Every time I got into a rhythm I had to stop and climb over a stile. There were probably 25 stiles in the whole race and after a while they were really a pain!

I finally got to the end in 5 hours and 9 minutes, 24th place. My target of 4:30 (as always) was a bit too optimistic. Check out the Strava stats here.

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Overall I loved the race. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice 50k, especially on a sunny day like last Sunday. The scenery from the hills is beautiful, the forests are fun to run and you get to cross Winnie The Pooh bridge too.

I felt good for most of it and even the bits I suffered were nothing compared to previous races. I just regret not pushing a bit more at the end, but I think it was a good test for the Druids Challenge.

The only negatives, as far as I am concerned, are that the course could be marked a bit better and that there were no refreshment at the end. No bananas! Nothing, just some water. Strange as the aid stations were very well stocked, plenty of water melons, my favourite ultra distance fruit! The ceramic mug received with the medal was quite nice actually.

We went to the pub for a quick beer and pie and then drove back home. It was a good day and going to a race with someone you know is definitely more fun than going alone.

The days after I felt fine, no pain anywhere, which is also a good indication that I should be able to run the second Druids day. Not sure about the third!

I decided not to go to the Cardiff Half Marathon next Sunday as I have not heard from Brooks about the bib I was supposed to get for free. Plus it is a bit too far and I would need to dedicate the whole weekend to it. I will instead do the Kingston 10 mile race that is just outside my door. I can do it and get back home as if I just went for a training run. I am aiming for a 10 miles PB. We’ll see.

Have fun!

North Downs Way 50

After months of training and thinking about this crazy adventure the day finally came. Saturday was race day, my first ultra marathon, the North Downs Way 50. I chose to try that particular race as it is quite close to home and I knew friends were doing it. Some people said it also was quite good for a beginner as the elevation gain is not too extreme.

The day before the race was spent (half of it as I only took half day off) preparing the pack and spent with two friends from Italy who came to run the race, Davide (@unknowndest) and the man known as “Cinghiale”. We spent the afternoon discussing their various racing experiences and I kept on asking for hints and tips. I was pretty excited/scared.
I checked for the final time the race pack and then we had an early dinner.

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I tried to go to sleep early but the excitement was too much. I slept very little and when the 4:30am alarm clock went off I was already awake. I had my usual pre-race breakfast (tea and two toasts, one with jam and one with peanut butter), spent a lot of time in the toilet (everything was going as planned), prepared the water bottles (one with just water for the race and one with salts for the pre-race snacks) and left the house. I picked up the two pros and off we went to Farnham.

As usual (for me) we arrived super early for registration. The race pack check went very quickly and we had our bib numbers. More waiting, chatting with people, more toilet breaks, a banana and energy bar, more waiting and then Emanuele (@manuontrail) finally arrived. I had been waiting to meet him for a long time. We sort of prepared this race together, from two different countries, via the power of the internet. It was time to see how ready we were. He had already run the SDW50 so at least he knew he had the distance in the legs, I did not.

We walked to the start line and had a quick briefing from race director James and then boom, we started. My race plan was to take it easy and save energy in the first half and get to Box Hill still full of energy and then see what I could do in the other half. I had run 50k in training and I knew I still had plenty of energy at the end if I did not go too fast, so I planned to run at a pace just below 6:00 min/km. In my dreams I thought I could do the whole race at that speed, slow down uphill and make up time downhill. I was dreaming of finishing it in just a bit more than 8 hours. How wrong I was!

Davide and Cinghiale disappeared in front straight away, like missiles. I ran 2k with Emanuele and then went on my own.
My confidence was shattered pretty quickly. I realised straight away that it was going to be a lot harder and that I should have done more hill training (mistake number 1). By the 20th km I was already walking uphill and I was feeling as tired as at the end of a marathon! I realised I was not saving any energy for the second half. I was already burning everything to get to it!

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While I did not stop at the first aid station I did a quick stop at the second. Took one of the gels available there and had my water bottle filled again. The gel was a caffeine one and it worked quite well. I got into a rhythm. If going up was too hard I would walk and run the rest. I really struggled and started suffering even on flats and downhill. I kept telling myself that once I was at Box Hill and half of the race was done I would feel good and as a prize I would start listening to my mp3 player. I really was looking forward to the music. It became the reason why I wanted to get to Box Hill as fast as possible. I suffered like crazy going down the private vineyards road near Guilford (I cannot remember the name) and I was telling myself “if you are struggling going downhill in the first half of the race, what are you going to do in the next 50k?”.

I arrived at the Box Hill’s aid station (24 miles) in 3:49 minutes. If I think about it now it was not too bad, but at the time I felt so tired it seemed like it took me ages.
Fortunately the friendliness of the volunteers at the aid station helped a lot. They gave me more water and words of encouragement. I started eating different things from what was available. I really appreciated the peanut butter sandwich and loved the water melon. I left pretty quickly but very happy.
The day was amazing, blue sky, sunny but not too hot. Plenty of people around cheering us, beautiful vistas from the hill tops, amazing single tracks in the woods. It was a perfect introduction to ultra running.

I was halfway through. I felt tired, but happy. The river crossing on the stones and the water melon gave me a boost. I walked up the Box Hill steps thinking that they were not that hard and then started running again with an extra spring.
I took out my mp3 player and all excited I told myself it was time to kick some asses. Mistake number 2: check the batteries work! Disaster, I had no music. I had to carry an mp3 player for no reason and I was not going to have any help from the music. I soon got over it and started running well. That was the best part of the race for me. I felt good. I ran quite fast where I could and walked pretty well uphill. I overtook a lot of people. Someone coming the other way told me I was in the top 50 and that gave me an extra boost. Even the killer Reigate Hill did not discourage me and I arrived at the next aid station (50k) quite comfortably. Unfortunately there was no water melon, ever again. I was definitely slower than my dream plan but not too bad. The GPS was playing tricks so aid stations arrived earlier than I expected, which was a bonus. I had more fruit from the station, some crisps and filled the bottle with an energy drink.

Then the real trouble started. I had been very good at eating a gel every half hour, drinking a lot, a salt stick every hour and so on, but I probably did a mess at the aid stations. The more I got tired the more I started eating random stuff and drinking coke (mistake number 3), which is something I never do even in a normal situation as I get terrible hiccups. So I started having nausea and belly cramps and really struggled running. I alternated a quarter km walk with 1 km run, but I was getting slower and slower and when I realised I still had hours, probably more than 4, to go I had a real low patch. There were some bits on the road that seemed endless, I remember a very bad bid in the middle of a golf course and then between houses. It seemed infinite. I would have lost the path at some point if a lady with a pram had not shouted me where I had to go. I was spent. The legs were hurting, but the real problem was the belly.

At the Caterham’s aid station (61k) I did the biggest mistake, I had ice cream. Disaster. The belly problems got worse and finally I had to stop and hide behind a bush and … But then I felt a lot better and when I got to the last aid station I started thinking about the end. I was going to make it! The nice volunteers made me a hot tea and it went down so well I was almost in tears with happiness.

The next 12/13k went a bit blurry. I kept on running where I could and walking were I could not, including downhill, which had become a pain. A guy in front of me was even more in pain and did the downhill steps backwards. The GPS was unreliable so I could not know if I was almost there or not. A 2k difference at that point seemed a lot.
Then there was an endless stream of potato fields. They never ended! Luckily it was all flat and as it was almost the end I started smiling inside. I went into machine mode. I was talking to myself loudly, counting the step, 1 to 10 and then again 1 to 10. I became louder but I kept running. I overtook people (that probably thought I was crazy), but I kept going. The legs where almost to the point of explosion (funnily I never had any cramp, which was my most feared scenario), the knees wanted to come off, but the belly was under control.

At some point I entered another potato field and saw the finish balloon at the other end. I could hear people screaming, but the path was not taking me there. Painfully there was still one mile to run around the field and then in the village of Knotholt. CR-NWD50-2015-725But finally I saw it in front of me and people started cheering, I saw my super fast friends there waiting for me (they had finished in 3rd position together, heroes), shouting, I had to resist the temptation to cry. I was so happy when I crossed the line. An indescribable feeling, 10 hours and 1 minute.

If you put together all the happiness I felt at the finish lines in my 40+ half marathons and marathons you do not get even close to what I felt Saturday.

It had been an amazing day. Amazing people, weather, location, pain, happiness, self discovery etc. I sat on the grass, in the sun, with my medal and everything was perfect.

resultsWhile waiting for Emanuele I had a sausage sandwich and a recovery drink and felt like new. I checked my phone and found many many messages from friends and family that had been following me on the live website. It was very nice to know people had been thinking about me all day.

We took the bus back to Farnham (wonderful organisation by Centurion by the way) and we had a fish and chip dinner. I could not eat much due to a killer hiccup that had finally got hold of me. I did not even sleep much during the night, too much adrenaline and hiccups.

We spent the next day in the pub, in front of beers and a Sunday Roast reminiscing the events of the day before. Then it was time to say good bye and I finally felt very tired. By 9.30pm I was sleeping in bad.

If you are interested, the official results are here. My Strava of the race is here (but my watch lost 2km somewhere).

Thanks to everyone who helped during the day. You made it special.

CR-NWD50-2015-726  CR-NWD50-2015-887