I ran the inaugural HOBO PACE Robin Hood 100 (RH100), organised by the amazingly positive Ronnie Staton in 2016 (the man simply exudes positivity – I wish more people were like him.) Me and my long-time ultra-running buddy Dean had entered together after reading about it earlier that year, and deciding it would be ideal for a first 100 mile finish….. unfortunately, 10 days before the race, Dean was knocked off his bicycle in a hit-and-run incident ,which left him with quite nasty injuries at the time. He ‘gave me his blessing’ to carry on with the run, and even came to support me through it, depsite being on crutches, and obviously in pain from his injuries (Dean is one of life’s all round top blokes, and a good mate)
I’d managed a 25hr 47 minute finish, and placed 20th out of 56 on the start-line. It was such an enjoyable run, that I signed us both up for the 2017 version as soon as entries opened!…..however, Deans recovery hasn’t gone exactly to plan this year, so the sensible decision was made for him to defer entry again (next time, my friend) – I decided to carry on regardless, and was intending to improve on my 2016 finish time.
September rolled around quickly again. I had tried a second attempt at running the TWO’R in late August, but had ‘only’ reached around 75miles on the course this time (not a good day for me – I will get ’round to writing a blog post about it in due course) and had only left 4 weeks between the Two’r and the RH100, which my brain was telling me wasn’t really enough recovery time for me. I decided to just ‘tick-over’ with training in those 4 weeks, as I knew I had little to gain (other than potential injury) by increasing mileage any further.
Saturday 16th September: Race Day
I’d driven up to Nottinghamshire the night before, and stayed in a cheap and cheerful travelodge near-ish to the race. I went there solo this time, with no support crew of my own, as I knew from experience how well stocked and manned the checkpoints were at the event, and you get to access your drop-bag 3 times during the run (22 miles/52 miles/82miles) which was brilliant. I woke nice and early; had some breakfast (Muesli and a Banana), got my running gear on and set off to the Race HQ a few miles away. I’d decided to start the run in my Hoka Challenger 3 ATR’s, and had tried to keep my race-vest as light as possible (but in reality that hadn’t worked, it still felt too heavy!)
I registered in good time, leaving myself well over an hour before the 0800hrs start; Time that I used to sit down, grab a cup of coffee, take in the surroundings and get myself mentally ready to go. I enjoyed watching other people trickle in to register; seeing different stages of nervousness/anticipation/excitement on other peoples faces passed the time very quickly. Knowing the route had definitely made me feel more at ease about what was to come – don’t get me wrong, 100 miles IS a long way, but I knew it was certainly acheivable as long as I just kept moving, and I felt strangely calm and collected!
15 minutes before the start, Ronnie gathered everyone for his pre-race briefing, before we headed out of the warm village hall to walk the short distance to the start-line. Bang-on 0800hrs, we set off. 86 like-minded people, all with the same intention, starting steadily, knowing that we had many hours ahead of us until we returned to the village hall to cross the finish line.
The first 6 miles or so consist of muddy tracks and fields, before winding down toward the Chesterfield Canal and the first checkpoint. This passed quickly, as I was running faster than I intended at this early stage (sustaining a 9 minute mile average). I was running with the ‘front pack’ of 5 or 6 runners, chatting to a chap from Cornwall (Stuart) who had also run the event last year. We both kept commenting that we should slow down, but didn’t actually do so! The miles passed quickly along here and it seemed easy, enjoyable running. 2 further checkpoints, and we then left the canal, at around 19 miles. A change of terrain and scenery was welcome, and we made our way away from the canal, and added some ascent to our legs. Still maintaining a 9 minute mile average, although I had dropped back a little from the front pack ( I could still see them ahead of me!) I arrived at checkpoint 4, which had our drop bags waiting for us. Although I had planned to be as quick as possible at the early checkpoints, my feet had become soaked from the long grass alongside parts of the canal, so I opted to change shoes and socks, (opting for my faithful old Hoka Challenger 2 ATR’s) even though I was only around 23 miles in. This was definitely a good decision.
I quickly grabbed some food, and pushed on to start the first of the 30 mile ‘Dukeries’ loops. Thankfully the forecast rain hadn’t arrived, and my legs still felt relatively fresh, so I continued to make good progress. The stretch along Limetree Avenue is really pretty, even though it seems to go on for a long way (is only about a mile in reality), before re-joining the muddy fields – a nice undulating section, which was sweet relief after the first 25 miles being predominantly flat – I’d made it a quarter of the way, in only 4 hours! I was continually checking my watch, thinking I must be moving too quick, and worrying I’d burn out too soon – “still 75 miles to go/ slow down Pete/ You’re going to regret this later” – The thing is, I was actually feeling ok, and still felt like I could have been moving quicker (but I’m glad I didn’t!)
The next checkpoint came and went, whilst I continued to keep pushing, and I was soon at checkpoint 6 (30 miles in). From here, was a 10 mile loop, including passing the well known local landmark ‘Major Oak’. Is nice forest trails through here, and I passed a couple of other competitors (as well as a couple of others passing me at one point here too). There were lots of people on the trail by Major Oak, so I had to weave my way through, explaining to a few why/how far I was running (and I still get a kick out of it when people look at you like you’re crazy when you tell them how far you’re going!) Again, I managed to maintain momentum, and reached the end of the loop in good time – a little over 40 miles in, and just over 7 hours time elapsed, which I was quite happy with.
A very quick re-fuel (I shoved a couple of Peanut butter sandwiches down, and devoured some Watermelon, which was was fantastic, and is definitely something I’d want again at any distance event I do) and I set off again. A mix of tarmac and grassy trail for the next 6 1/2 miles. I was still running, although my pace had slowed to a much more sedate 11 minute mile average by now. I was constantly doing the mental arithmetic; working out what speed I needed to maintin to acheive a sub-24 hour finish. It was becoming a bit of an obsession, but I’m sure it heped motivate me to run, when the easier option would have been to walk for a bit. I reached Cresswell Crags, the next checkpoint, and flew in-and-out, trying to keep moving (I grabbed a packet of salty crisps to eat along the trail, which were like manna from heaven!) The next few miles went by in another blur, although I do remember phoning my wife Ginny somewhere along here, just to check-in with her, and let her know I was loving it, and feeling good still
9 hours in…. 50 miles covered…. HALFWAY!!!
In my pre-race planning, I’d worked out that as long as I reached half-way in around 10 hours, I stood a chance of finishing just under 24 hours (allowing for natural slow-down over the second half, due to general tiredness, and ‘running’ in the dark), so I felt pretty awesome to have done so under my target. The weather was still good. My legs still felt ok. I was eating and drinking without any issues. So far, a textbook run!!
Before long, I was back at the drop bag point, having completed the first 30 mile dukeries loop. I sat down for a couple of minutes, and had a coffee, which was very welcome. I changed my socks, to freshen my feet, and put another layer of clothes on in anticipation of the impending night. I grabbed yet more peanut butter sandwiches, and set off. I was pleased how quick I was moving through the aid stations.
The light was starting to fade a little, and the temperature had definitely dropped as I returned to Lime Tree Avenue, so I was glad I had dressed appropriately! I saw a couple of other runners appear not far behind me along here, so I guess I must have slowed my pace… this gave me a kick up the ass, so I pressed on a little, and gained some distance between us again – I was running my own race, but no-one likes being passed do they!!
Reaching the next checkpoint, dusk had arrived, so it was time to turn on my headtorch. The marshalls had been fantastic all day long, but as it turns dark, they seem to up their game even further, and form here-onwards they were just superb – although I imagine it just felt that they were more helpful because in truth I was becoming tired!
60 miles in, and another checkpoint arrived. I felt ok, so only took on fluids and a couple of biscuits here – my first real mistake of the day…. It was 10 miles until I would return here, so in hindsight I really should have eaten something more. 65 miles in, and I started to fade; with another 5 miles to go until an aid station….. I had reduced to a fast hike now, as running felt like I was going through treacle. I was kicking myself, as to date It had all gone according to plan…. a stupid mistake of mine.
A couple of people passed me along here, and my head had definitey dropped. I perserved though, and ground out the miles. This is where having already been along the path earlier in the day paid-off, as I knew exactly how far it was until I reached the checkpoint, so I focused on that.
70 miles, and around 14 hours in, I reached the checkpoint again. This was the longest I stopped during the whole of the race ( I was there for over 10 minutes I think) and one of the fantsatic marshals made me the biggest triple-decker Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich I’ve ever eaten….I devoured it in record time. I downed a sugary cup of coffee, and grabbed some peanuts and a handful of biscuits to take with me along the trail. Only 12 miles, and I’d reach the end of the forest loops, before I returned to the canal section (which I knew was going to be a long and slow section for me!) so I focused on moving as well as I could along here. A combination of run/walk was adopted (I felt pleased I was able to start running bits again – the food was ‘kicking-in’ thankfully) I didn’t see any other runners until I was approaching the next aid station, and I passed a chap who was having to walk/hobble the remainder (his words) – I wished him well, and pushed on to the checkpoint. It was around midnight, but there was very little moonlight to be seen, due to cloud and tree cover.
I sped through the checkpoint, stopping less than 2 minutes, and taking yet more peanut butter sandwiches and biscuits (I do love peanut butter when on a long run!!) to eat as I moved along the trail. I recall talking to myself a fair bit along the next section; Mainly to pass the time, but also to motivate myself to keep moving if I’m honest. After midnight , my body naturally wants to sleep (as I’m sure most peoples do), and I could feel myself flagging a bit here – One last push, so I could get back to the drop-bag checkpoint.
17 1/2 hours in. 81 miles covered. 19 miles to go.
I again changed my socks, and thought about moving on, but I admit it was nice to spend a few minutes sat down, enjoying some hot soup. I got back out there after a few minutes, eating yet another sandwich, and tried to run/walk as much as possible. There was only 4 miles to go, so I wanted to ‘make it count’…. Running downhill into the next checkpoint felt good, and I was greeted by yet more friendly marshals, who told me I was in 15th Place – how the hell had that happened?!??!
I tried to be quick at the aid station here – I felt the canal section ahead of me was my nemesis, as last year I really hadn’t enjoyed it…. I’d expereienced hallucinations, took a power nap on a canal bench and nearly given up altogether last year! I was determined to not have the same experience this time around…..I got hold of myself and moved on.
The grass was long and wet as I started along the 15 mile stretch. The skies were cloudy, and it felt really really dark. My headtorch batteries seemed to be fading, so I stopped briefly to replace the batteries, but it didn’t seem to make a huge difference – I imagine it was mainly my tired eyes making it seem worse though. I did my best to adopt a run/walk routine, but it was definitely becoming a lot less run and a lot more walk (albeit at a reasonable pace – I was still averaging around 4.5 miles an hour, which I felt at this stage was acceptable). There was a definite drop in temperature again, and I put on another layer. The canal at night can certainly be a lonely place, and the terrain becomes very similar, very quickly. I did my best to focus on counting down the miles, rather than spending too much time feeling sorry for myself about being tired/alone/cold/dark etc…. I saw a headtorch appear in the distance behind me, which spurred me on again to keep moving. I was determined to not lose position at this late stage!
After a couple of hours of trudging along, the next checkpoint came in to sight – almost 92 miles down, and around 20.5 hours in. I stopped, grabbed a chair, and sat for 2 or 3 minutes. The marshals told me it was just over 9.5 miles to the finish, which made me smile inside! I grabbed a cup of coffee, and a banana, which I ate and drank along the trail as I moved on. The headtorch I had seen in the distance was actually 2 more runners, and they arrived at the checkpoint as I was leaving – 1 of them went straight through, and came running (slowly, admittedly) past me. Amazing, given the distance covered; well done that man!
The trail had turned in to a mix of shorter grass, and sections of tarmac for the next 3 or 4 miles, until the final checkpoint. I’d like to say it meant I could run, but I admit my legs were feeling exhausted now. I ‘power hiked’ as best as I could, to maintain progress. Still averaging 3.5 miles an hour, which would see me well under my 24 hour target.
There was still no sign of sunrise, as I wound my way along the final part of the canal section, when nature called, and I needed to pee! I found a suitable piece of hedgerow and stopped….. OUCH!!! – As I went to move off, I experienced sharp pains in my right knee, and couldn’t put weight on it…. I had been ‘hobbling’ a bit for the past couple of miles, and I imagine stopping had told my tired body enough was enough! Panic went through my mind (not helped by the extreme tiredness that was setting in) – “I cant DNF at 96 Miles; What do I do??”…. Another runner came past me, checked I was ok, and carried on. I told myself to stop being such a wet lettuce!! Grabbed my trusty Brutal Buff from ’round my neck, and put it tight around my knee, as a bit of compression. Whilst this didn’t remove the issue, it certainly meant I could move forwards. I got to my feet and started limping on!
A mile or so down the track , I saw the runner that had passed me, with one of his supporters, stopped and having a quick food/drink stop, so I pushed on. The final mile or so along the canal seemed endless! I thought every ‘exit point’ I was approaching was the route I was going to be taking, but was left dissapointed 6 or 7 times, before finally hitting the checkpoint and leaving the water behind me. Another banana, and I moved straight on.
Less than 4 miles to go, and around 21hrs 40 mins passed. I finally knew I would be smashing my target and I could afford to continue at the same pace now, and finish under 23 hours! There was a bit of a climb up from the canal, and it was nice to vary the terrain again from the past 15 miles of flat towpath. I reached the top of the climb and suddenly had a renewed enthusiasm. I did my best to run down the other side of the climb, but it was quite stony and wet, and I was tired and clumsy, so better judgment kicked-in and I decided I ‘d fall over if I carried on! I was paranoid about losing position now too, as I understood I was in 15th place, and wanted to keep that placing! I kept looking over my shoulder for the dim shine of a headtorch, but it was quite misty, and I couldnt see anything behind.
Dawn was beginning to break. I crossed a main road, and knew this meant I was just over a mile from the finish. My tired eyes/brain/legs/head felt the surge of excitement that always comes toward the end of an event, and I picked up my pace a small amount…. still walking, but definitey doing so a little quicker.
I descended the last small climb, and the turning in to village hall came in to sight. I hobbled along the road, and down to the finish. Greeted by a round of applause from the marshalls there (and Stuart that I had ran with in the early stages too – he’d had an amazing quick run), I crossed the finish 22 hours and 55 minutes after starting….overjoyed to have beaten 23 hours, and smashing my time from last year by almost 3 hours. And just to top it off, I’d actually placed 14th out of the 86 starters!!!
I really couldn’t have anticipated how much of a ‘textbook run’ this would be for me. Barring the couple of very minor incidents I recounted above, everything went as well as it possibly could have for me. Ronnie, and all his marshalls truly made the route as runnable, and stress-free as they could, and I can’t thank them all enough for their efforts throughout the day and the night. If you’re looking for a fast, runnable 100 mile race, then this one is definitely for you.
After the dissapointments of not finishing challenges earlier in the year, the personalised medal/trophy I received for finishing felt extra special.
I have a few shorter races planned during October and November, but my next big challenge will be the Mudcrew ARC OF ATTRITION Winter 100 Mile in February 2018. It’ll be a very different race to this though!
Onwards to lots of winter training!