After completing Rat Race The Wall 69 miler in June 2017, it seemed that the obvious progression was to set a new target of 100 miles. After completing a couple more ultras that year, I felt ready to take my training to the next level. In addition to this I’d ran Race to the Stones 100km with my good friend Caroline, it was her first taste of ultra running and luckily she’d been bitten by the bug, so it was decided that we’d run 100 Miles together in 2018.
Fast Forward to May 19th this year and with five months of tough training under my belt, Caroline and I found ourselves at the starting area of the West Country Ultra, along with just 20 other athletes, four women in total. This event organised by Albion Running, is still relatively new to the ultra scene but with 11000 feet of elevation, it’s fast becoming reputed as the toughest 100 mile race in the UK. Entrants have an option of the Flat 50, Hilly 50 or the full 100.
After a countdown by the Race Director we were off and soon found ourselves settling into a nice comfortable pace alongside the canal. The first few miles passed quickly and we were soon at CP1 which was well stocked with snacky type foods, but no toilet, bush squat it was then.
The next section was a 10 mile stretch along the river where the grass had grown quite high, so by time we’d reached CP2 my legs were already starting to feel tired.. not a great feeling with 79 Miles still to go! They did eventually ease off with regular stretching and I started to feel strong again. CP3 came and went and we were now approaching the coastline so the scenery was really starting to pick up.
At this point it had become quite apparent that the check points, although supported by some really friendly volunteers, had quite a limited range of food - lunch time had been and gone and I was yet to see anything other than crisps, nuts or a peanut butter wrap.. no proper toilets either so squatting had become quite the norm - not a problem for the time being but with 24 hours of running ahead of us, I couldn’t help but wonder how this would work later on.
The next stretch was a beautiful coastal path with some lovely undulations. I knew that my husband and two children were going to be at the next checkpoint which gave me a huge lift. I was starting to feel the early signs of an ongoing issue I have in my left foot where one of the tendons over stretches which can become quite uncomfortable after a few miles. I was concerned but knew there wasn’t too much I could do other than tape it at the next checkpoint and hope for the best.
To pass the time, Caroline and I played games like trying to name all of the American states in alphabetical order (I’m yet to check if we missed any of them) and even got Instagram involved in naming animals which begin with Q and U (Quagga, Uakari). CP4 at Kilve Beach was a warm welcome and much needed hugs from my family... the support crew had arrived, including Helen who was going to pace us from 70 miles - spirits were high and both Caroline and myself felt strong.
CP5 was only a short while after we left the previous one so we had a reasonably quick stop here. My foot at this point was really quite painful and now my knee had started to hurt too so I applied someRock Tape and off we went.
The temperature that day rose to 23°C so it was a welcome relief as the sun started to move towards the horizon. It was also the day of the Royal Wedding (Prince Harry and Megan Markle) so it was a little torturous having to run past garden parties where everyone was drinking and having fun in the sun!
We reached CP6 at Dunster Beach Car Park where our families were once again waiting for us. There seemed to be even less choice of food at this check point than any of the previous ones. The same old peanut butter and jam wraps and crisps. I was starting to get a little wound up by it but looked forward to the hot food we’d been promised at the next checkpoint at 56 Miles
he next stretch was along the beach before starting the first of many brutal ascents in the second half of the race. After a tough slog uphill we finally reached the top and onto a lovely ridge of undulating terrain. The views from here were spectacular and the sun was starting to set, it really was incredible!
CP6 was at Bossington and finally we could have a longer rest and get changed into night gear. Prior to the event I had emailed the organiser about a hot meal and this checkpoint and was told that we could expect a good hearty meal. The checkpoints until this point has been stocked with the same range of snacks and we were yet to have a substantial feed. So when we were offered half a can of vegetable soup and a bread roll, although delicious, barely touched the sides. I always carry around 500 calories of nutrition on me but I stocked up with extra at this checkpoint as I was really concerned about the lack of calories we’d had so far.
Although we’d had a good long rest and had freshened up, we were now heading into the night and we wouldn’t see our families until the morning. It would also be the first time I’ve ran all the way through the night, and I was feeling a bit nervous about how the next few hours would pan out. Our pacer Helen was meeting us at Webber’s Post, around 70 Miles, so at least we had that to look forward to.
P8 was only 4 flat miles away so we had a very quick stop to grab some food on the go. At this point our good friend, Liv, put in a phone call to say how proud she was of us and that my running group, a women’s only group called Run Like a Girl, were all rooting for us and asking for updates. In addition to this, my phone had a steady stream of messages coming in through various media channels and it was reassuring to know that so many people were backing us and sending virtual cheers.
We started off well but things soon took a bad turn. The GPX file that the organiser had sent out prior to the event was wrong and had put us in the middle of a forest with no clear footpath. We backed and forthed for over an hour trying to figure out the directions but we were making no progress. It was cold and we were genuinely starting to worry. There was a glimmer of grace when Caroline fell down a badger set which raised a bit of a giggle. Eventually we called Helen who was already en route to the meeting point at Webber’s Post - we sent her a pin drop of our location (thank goodness for smart phones!) and she was soon with us. Helen was a breath of fresh air as she was full of energy and had a clear mind. It meant that Caroline and I only had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other whilst Helen navigated and kept us moving forward.
By time we’d reached Webber’s Post, my spirit was just about broken. It had been over four hours since the last checkpoint and all I wanted was a good cry and a cup of tea. The volunteer at CP9 was happy to put the kettle on but then asked us if we had a tea bag for him to make a cuppa with! At which point I cried, again.
Onwards and upwards the next section was a 10 mile loop which brought us back to Webber’s Post, but not before we faced the steepest ascent of the entire course. Just prior to this we’d taken a moment to appreciate the stunning sunrise which with it brought new energy - the long and hellish night was over and today was the day we would complete 100 Miles.
The next few miles were technical underfoot and a fairly steep ascent. I was more frustrated than ever that my knee just couldn’t cope with anything beyond a certain degree and I became increasingly aware of slowing down the group. Everything else felt okay; my legs were strong and the new day had given me fresh energy but at this point, with 25 Miles still to go and knew that we were running out of time.
CP10 was a second stop Webber’s Post (we’d done a loop) and we didn’t stop long, we had to keep moving. Helen had already put in a phone call to my husband Richard to let him know about the food situation so just a few miles later he popped up with a McDonalds breakfast .. never before has a sausage and egg McMuffin tasted so good! .. washed down with a hot cup of tea, we had new energy!
What happened next is something that didn’t come easy and believe me when I say that for mile upon mile I battled with myself until I knew there was very little time left and the decision had to be made - I told Caroline that she had to go on without me because I didn’t want my injury to cost her the cut off time. I knew I’d make it to 100 miles at some point that day, there was no question of would I or won’t I, just when. So we agreed that Caroline would run ahead and Helen would stay with me until we got to the finish. It was pretty soul destroying to see Caroline run off until she was out of sight but I had to keep reminding myself of how strong I still felt after 85 Miles and it was just my injury that had slowed me down.
CP10 and 11 were a blur. All I really remember is my husband telling me that time was tight but I could still make the cut off time, I just had to dig deeper than ever, get my head down and move as fast as I could for the last 7 Miles. The lady at the final check point who had won the Hilly 50 the day before told me that it was going to hurt anyway so just push hard, get the job done and they’d all be at the finish to help me deal with the pain. I’ll be forever thankful for those words because they really did help power me through those final miles.
I was like a woman possessed ascending the final climb which was Bossington hill. I can honestly say that I’ve never had to dig as deep as I did in that final uphill push and once I reached the top I was utterly exhausted. Helen was brilliant and knew exactly how to handle me at this stage. She made allowances for me to have small recovery times when the pain in my foot became too much but then she also gave a gentle nudge when she knew I could push on a bit.
We walked the majority of the last 2 miles as it was a steep downhill and my knee just couldn’t cope. Once on the flat we managed a run/walk until the last 0.3 mile at which point I was absolutely clear in my mind that I wanted to finish the race running.
This was it! 103 miles clocked (65 of which I was in pain) 11,000ft elevation, 31.5 hours on my feet. 22 runners had started and only 10 of us made the cut off. I could see my family and friends in the finishing car park and hear their cheers. Helen and I briefly stopped for a hug and I thanked her for keeping me going. The tears were streaming down my face but I was beyond elated to finally finish the race within the cut off time.
My husband and children rushed over to give me hugs and hand me my medal, which incidentally is a decent bit of bling. I was reunited with Caroline and we had a good cry together (tears of joy!) .. the relief of it all finally being over was overwhelming.
We did it. We ran 100 miles of incredibly tough terrain and brutal elevation. We are Centurions.
A huge thank you to the unsung heroes in all of this; our families and the lovely Lina who were pretty much at every checkpoint after CP4, cheering us along, and ferrying around us to make sure we had everything we needed. Helen, our pacer who led us through the night and to the finish, clocking a whopping 37 Miles! The volunteers who give up their spare time to man the checkpoints and offer encouragement. All of our supporters who kept us going with incredible messages and phone calls, it really made a huge difference. Thank you everyone!
As a word of warning to anyone considering doing this race, I strongly recommend that you go prepared to be self sufficient (including tea bags!) as there is a distinct lack of food throughout the entire course. Make sure you’re well acquainted with the route and take an OS map. This race is NOT for the feint hearted!