Sarah Salt and I finding it funny what we are about to put ourselves through!
So, my last race was the Arc of Attrition in February. This race had been a step up for me in Ultra running. I knew it would be tough and I felt I needed to prove to myself I could do a hilly winter 100 miler and survive! I absolutely loved it but found it extremely tough. So happy to have managed to finish first lady and in a time I was happy with. The next race I had booked was the Devon Coast to Coast and I knew I needed to let my body recover properly to be ready to take this one on 3 months later. This would be the longest race I had done – meant to be 117 miles but more like 112 miles from last year’s finishers. This was another step up – many many hills on the unpredictable Moors of Exmoor and Dartmoor and I wanted to be able to do a good job at it. So after my recovery from the Arc I started to train again.
I learnt from the Arc that I really do drop off at the end of a 100 miler. I know this is pretty normal, it’s hard to maintain pace as fatigue sets in and all the aches and pains but I really wanted to try to finish my 100 milers a bit stronger and not drop off so much. I felt with the Arc that maybe my time could have been a bit better if I had been a bit stronger in the last 20 miles. I have felt this with all my 100’s to be honest and am trying to work out a way to not lose the pace quite so much. So I decided to up my weekly mileage to try to give me extra strength in my legs. It is all trial and error for me. I don’t have a coach so I just have to try and see if it works! So I decided I would have a long stretch of over 70 mile weeks which is normal for me when training for 100 miles. But this time instead of a 6-7 week stretch I would do 9 weeks and instead of 70 mile weeks I aimed mainly for over 80 mile weeks with one 95 mile week. I just wanted to see if this would make my legs feel stronger to the end. It did – I have to say although, annoyingly my pace dropped a lot again, my legs felt the best they have felt in the last 20 miles of a 100 mile race and this was the longest race I had done and the best my legs had felt. They didn’t cause me any problems or make me want to slow but unfortunately it was absolutely awful blisters that made me slow. Which I will go into later! And which is entirely my own fault!
The night before Race Day
I was nervous as always but particularly nervous this time. I don’t know – I always feel I have to prove myself to me more than anyone else. I know if I have a bad race I will struggle to be kind to myself for a while and feel I am no good at this. I struggle to believe in myself and having good results has really helped my confidence in all areas of my life. So the pressure is always there for me. But also I want to do well for my Club – Mudcrew – as I think it is a really special club run by such lovely genuine people – friends. And the usual, I want to make my boyfriend and family proud it’s so important to me. Having won the Arc, should I be winning this one? If I don’t am I not as good as some people say? pressure pressure! I know I am no elite but I just want to keep doing as well as I can and do the best I can and improve all the time. That is pressure but i know I put it on myself. And it is not a bad pressure to have! So we ate a tonne of pasta all week leading up to the race because I know I cannot eat throughout so it is important to bulk eat in the lead up so I can cope. I went through the race with my partner who was crewing for me. We knew our friends were going to be there Dan and Sarah Salt. Sarah won it last year in hideous conditions and we had recce’d a the first half with them. Dan had crew points listed for Jean to make it easier for him. So we didn’t have a lot to prepare really. I worked all day then got my bags packed – Tailwind was my main nutrition source i didn’t even bother packing any other food apart from custard and rice pudding (which of course i didn’t touch!). I packed a few SIS gels and Clif Bloks. And of course coke.
So the night before it was nice to be able to sleep in our own bed as the race was only an hour away. My nerves were really high still though! But I managed to have a really good sleep and also managed to eat a moderate and usual pre race breakfast of toast honey and marmalade! Not great but my tummy starts resisting food the morning of the race – nervous wreck that I am! So I double checked we had everything. I knew my kids were all fine and off to their dad’s so just to make sure I had all i needed and set off. I had no idea what to wear as the weather was not boiling hot but not freezing cold – so had a minor battle with my mind about shorts or tights! This went on a considerable amount of time – in fact right up to the start of the race!! I did, however go with shorts, as Jean and Sarah recommended numerous times – and they were actually very right!
So we got to registration where we were greeted by Sarah and Dan Salt (Sarah was first lady last year and is a really good friend) which was lovely and eased my nerves. And then saw the lovely Justin Nicholas, race director. We both ran the Arc this year and actually spent quite a lot of time out on the course together so was really nice to see him again. My nerves were immense now! Poor Jean! But I just wanted to get going. It was really well organised. I saw Michael Robinson who is part of the Climb South West team and who I also spent some time on the Arc with. He helped get me all checked in and then it was the pre race briefing. I had no plan – just keep going and do my best but what did I want to do. Only I had a little idea in my head but it was hard to know. I knew the conditions under foot were awful last year and as the race was in March but now in May I knew we would have better conditions. However, Alex Lockett ran a superb race last year in just over 26 hours and that would be hard to beat but I guess I had that a little in mind as an aim it would be nice to get around that time. But other than that I had no idea! And like always just see what happens, run my own race and never look at pace.
Me with the lovely Sarah Salt – showing my mascot from my children!
So Jean drove me down to the start. We had a few photos – Justin then said can anyone get a sub 24 hour or beat Alex’s FKT. Nerves really kicked in again! I didn’t know where to stand for the start either and no one really went up the front so there I found myself heading off at the front – not where i wanted to be! As soon as I started I said to the guy just behind me – i don’t want to be here you go in front! Which thankfully he did and little did I then know what a massive part of my race he would be – that was the first time I met Adam. And we would spend a lot of the race together. Beside him was a fellow Mudcrew member, Sy Powell who I knew of from my team but mainly from him running the Arc when Jean ran it. He was also to play a massive part in my race. Then behind him was another guy called Rob. We set off and it seemed to be just us for the first mile or so. We were in good spirits and then we came to a field and my watch told me we were going wrong so i decided to go back and met Justin Montague – the others carried on (cleverly!). From now Justin and I made some ridiculous navigational errors! It’s probably the worst start I have ever had to a race! In the first 10 miles I went wrong 3 times! I was nearly crying it was so frustrating. I really wanted to do well at this and I kept making stupid errors. Following my watch and missing a gate then going round and round a field! Twice I ended up behind 4th, 3rd and 2nd lady! One being Sarah Salt who couldn’t believe my errors especially as we had recce’d this bit! It was truly awful and I even managed to go behind 2nd lady (Justin Montague’s wife!) 3 times! It was so embarrassing but she was super lovely about my uselessness! It was maybe nerves, maybe looking down at the wrong point and a bit of being a sheep and following when I should have looked at my watch with the route on. I won’t go into it too much but it was so frustrating. I thought I had blown the race really and then ran my heart out to make back the places I had lost. So actually my first 30 miles wasn’t too slow. I was constantly thinking why didn’t I just stick with Adam, Sy and Rob and I was desperate to find them so I knew I hadn’t lost anything! It took me just under 30 miles to find Sy! And I was worried I had run too hard and would struggle with the rest of the race. I just had to relax now and see what happened.
At the start with Sarah and Justin Nicholas (race director)
So before I found Sy – I got to the first checkpoint where Jean was and Justin Nicholas was there too. I said my god I have gone wrong so many times! They reassured me and said the leaders were only 5-10 mins up ahead and Justin Monague had caught up with them. I knew now I could just let the race start and try to put the bad start behind me and the wasted energy and just use it to spur me on. I had coke and tailwind – it was lovely to see Jean and be reassured. Then I met a lovely guy who was walking up onto the Moor to encourage people. Was great to chat to him as I walked – the hill out of Ivybridge onto the Moor was immense! This was good for getting myself together and stop thinking about my mistakes! I got up to the Moor, which is a place I always feel calm wash over me and it did have this effect. The space and the views it’s just mesmerisingly beautiful. I let the space and the clean country air wash over me as I headed out over the puffing billy track which is a very slight incline but very runnable of about 7 miles – it’s actually quite hard work but I just pushed hard here to get it done. I could see Justin in the distance and that felt good. I knew I was making good progress now and actually felt good and started to really enjoy it. It’s such a stunning route. At the end of the puffing billy track (an old tramway) I saw the lovely sight of Jean who had run up there and delivered me coke and tailwind. Perfect. He said I was running really strong and just was so encouraging. This area is a place we know well as Jean used to live here and we ran a lot near Avon Dam so it was nice to be here. So I went on my way and as we dropped down into Holne that is where I saw Sy. It was so nice to see him finally! We ran in together to the checkpoint. I think I left on my own. I didn’t eat as I simply can’t! So had coke and went on my way.
As I headed back to the Moor there was another pop up checkpoint and this is where I saw Adam and Rob – finally! Not sure how many miles in that was maybe just over 30. It was so good to see them. They left just before me and walked up a very long hill which i did too but we all finally joined together back on the Moor and then it was lovely that Sy joined us too! This was the beginning of a really special journey with Sy and Adam. We were all chugging along quite nicely now and it was nice to have some company and the nerves of getting lost and wasting time were now easing. We knew Justin Montague had gone off ahead now – brilliant running by him to hold his nerve after all our slip ups in the first 10 miles! The views were absolutely stunning on Dartmoor and I always feel a sense of freedom and peace when I am on the Moor and this really helped with me mentally. We had ascended 260m over 3.5km! It was a tough section beautiful – passing four Tors in the Dart Valley. This section was so stunning and such beautiful running and I was feeling good – my tummy wasn’t that happy but I felt good about how I was running. We reached the highest part of the route at Hameldown Tor at 529m! Simply amazing views which now I was more relaxed I was taking in more although I have to say I have a habit of falling over so had to keep looking down a lot!!
The beautiful Moor – thanks Kate Stone for the photo!
We reached our next checkpoint on the Moor which I think was called Metheral – we had to go back on ourselves and as we did so we were amazed to see Justin heading off. He wasn’t that far in front and that felt good. I never stop long so neither did Sy or Adam. We cracked on and came to a section of easier running now. Off the actual Moor and onto country lanes and fields – more runnable. We were heading towards Chagford which is where I knew my mum and my step dad would be. This was so exciting! They are such incredible supporters and used to come to all my races but since they have become ultras it hasn’t been as easy for them to come. But as this was so near to home mum could come along. I said to Sy and Adam that I was going to get emotional when I saw mum which of course I did. I think we were at about 45 miles here roughly and this was just the boost I needed. I always find that between miles 35 – 50 of a 100 mile race I have a dark time. This is because you start to feel aches in your body but you know you have more than half the race to go. The aches go and you get used to them but in that time it is hard to remember that. With this race I knew there was even further to go as this could be 117 miles! And I have to admit that this did mess with my head a lot. So we crossed the field and in the distance I could make out my mum and my step dad! I got emotional immediately! At the time Sy, Adam and myself were in second place and running really well. It was so nice to see my mum and give her a hug and it gave me a real boost – Jean was there too and I had more coke and Tailwind and then we headed off straight away. We were going much faster than I thought we would reaching 50 miles under 10 hours which I knew for that course was pretty good going we were in Hittisleigh in 10.04 hours which was about 55 miles in. At Hittisleigh Village Hall Justin was there, he told us we were ahead of last year’s first place time. Which was encouraging. This is where we also found Justin who was eating. Jean said you are altogether now. It felt good to know we were running well but my tummy was not being kind to me. My mum also met us here too which was such a treat and boost. I tried to eat a potato wedge but had to spit it out – nice! Then I managed to eat a slice of water melon which was caught on camera!!
I ate something! Thanks for the photo Justin Nicholas
I felt in good spirits but it was still very much on my mind that we had more than 100 miles to go. This I will have to work on if I want to go further. I have got used to 100 milers now and can break them down easier now. Anything over really messes with my mind. So I was feeling a bit low about that. I left the checkpoint first and couldn’t believe I could see Justin not too far ahead. However, I had not been able to have a wee up to this point as I don’t like wasting time on this so normally go on route but with 2 guys with me this hadn’t been possible yet! So i quickly dashed behind a bush!! Quite funny when I look back I didn’t have much time before Sy joined me! And then Adam. We were feeling good we had all seen our families and Sy’s cute son! All our families encouraging us all. It was so lovely. We could see Justin around each corner but he was brilliant at just chugging on up the hills where we took the opportunity to walk and recover he still ran. We thought he may pay for that but he clearly didn’t. Amazing really. This section was a lot of road but i quite liked the change and not needing to think too much. Apart from when we tried to cross a field of cows! Now I never normally worry about cows so thank god I had the boys with me. There were about 400 of them no exaggeration! And they were very excited. We had to cross the field to continue. So Sy and Adam said lets go round the edge and stupid me said let’s just go straight through, cows are harmless! Little did I know! I did my usual clapping of my hands and Sy and Adam just said Laura please come behind us we have poles to protect you – what gents. I finally saw I didn’t stand a chance as they came towards me bucking and rearing and we all screamed ‘run’!! We literally found our fresh legs there and then and ran for our lives and made it just in time under an electric fence to the road leaving 100’s of cows screeching to a halt right behind us!! Unfortunately during this Sy rolled his ankle. He was in a state thinking his race may be over. I told him no way – I had done the same just before the Arc but it wouldn’t stop him it would just hurt for a bit whilst we walked it off and then he would be okay but it would not be pretty after! Maybe not good advice but he was thankfully okay.
So Adam called Justin the race director who then diverted everyone onto the road for this section! We always wondered how Justin Montague got through! Shortly after this excitement we met with Jean – I was feeling it a bit now – my tummy hurt a lot and there was a lot of road and I hate to not run when it is so runnable so it felt a lot of hard work. I was so happy to have Adam and Sy with me as I just feel we all brought our own qualities to each other. Adam was just always fine and never complained! they were both total gents holding gates open for me, we had a system where with their poles they were far quicker uphill than me so I would push myself harder up the hills and run the end part to be with them again and I would always push us to run again when maybe we weren’t feeling like it! It worked well for us and as night came it was even nicer to know I had these companions. It made navigation so much easier too as we could simply check we were all in agreement and not over think or waste time. A long shot for me had been in my head that I would like to not put my headtorch on until 70 miles in and I believe it was actually at around that time that we got them out! I knew we were making good time far better than I had anticipated so this felt good.
We had another encounter with some slightly friendlier cows and headed to Witheridge village hall checkpoint. Justin was probably here again as he was so good at being everywhere! And Jean I was struggling with anything really and just wanted lemonade. It is so difficult when you are running so far and being unable to eat. Tailwind is my go to source of help but for some reason my tummy was not happy for a long time on this race. I think about this time it had started to ease as I had stopped having anything apart from water and a bit of lemonade kindly got my Jean. I had that for about 40 miles. Then I tried Tailwind and coke again after my tummy felt more empty and less upset. This seemed to work thankfully. Adam was great at eating and his lovely mum was offering me his food too which was so kind. Sy was better than me at eating but he struggled I seem to remember him taking ages to chew anything it would be in his mouth for miles!!
So here is what not to do. Because I wasted time so early on by going wrong, I felt on a total mission to not lose anymore time. I wanted to keep my position as first lady and I wanted to do as well as I could overall. So I refused to change my shoes or socks, not once and maybe I changed top once. So stupid of me, because during the Arc I changed my shoes twice maybe three times and got fresh socks. Changing my shoes stopped any hot spots developing further and I had no blisters at all after the Arc. So as you can imagine, running on Dartmoor, getting wet feet and mud, grit etc and not changing shoes or socks at all, by 80 miles my feet were in bits. I had the most awful blisters and rubs on my toes but now it was too late I didn’t want to disturb them so i just carried on. I also had a foil pack as mandatory kit in my backpack rubbing against my back and still refused to do anything about it. My back was raw at the end! I just hate wasting time but i feel now my time may have been improved if I had taken the time to change my shoes and not be in such pain for the latter stages of the race. Big lesson learned.
Drinking coke and Tailwind again!
I have to say there was great food available at checkpoints and hot food at various ones but I just am not mentioning much about it as I just couldn’t eat! So I am afraid I don’t have much detail (could be a relief after this waffle!) for this section as I was so tired and it has all become a bit of a blur! I know I kept asking Jean along the way how close second lady was and I did feel panicked as always! But everyone kept telling us we had nothing to worry about second lady was now over an hour away but there was a man that had been not far all along but was making up time. I felt bad for Sy as it would have been so lovely for him to podium and I didn’t want it to slip away but we were all starting to fatigue and hurt. And in the dark over rocks etc we slowed a bit. Howard John overtook us at some point in the dark but not much before daylight I think. He was on a mission and apparently to catch first place! So cracking effort by him. We had slowed now and I was worried I didn’t want to walk it in ever. We got to about West Anstey in 17,13 hours which was about 87 miles in and it was very much still dark and the middle of the night. As we headed up on to Exmoor at about 88 miles it was actually nice to get in the Moor again and we knew that the end was getting closer. It just messed with my mind again as we weren’t sure how long it was until the end – we knew it was more likely to be 112 miles than 117 as that is what a lot of people from last year had but we just weren’t sure so not knowing when the end was was a bit difficult! As I said this bit is all a bit blurry! I know we did the lovely Tarr Steps near Withypool on Exmoor but it was dark which was great for time but not so great for pictures and views! Although none of us took any photos we kept saying this is so stunning but we just couldn’t muster the energy to get our phones out to take a picture! I know that we were looking forward to the light coming and seeing our crew each time – it was lovely they were all our little unit of loveliness and lifted us all. So to whizz on through the night and I have to say poor Sy had had to say goodbye to his family as his son needed to sleep for the night but we were greeted by them as a surprise very early morning – I wish I could remember where but it was so lovely Sy was so happy to see them!
So the final checkpoint was Simonsbath. This was in daylight! Our crews were there and we knew the end was near now. Poor Sy was in a lot of pain, my feet were killing me (my own fault!) and Adam was just quietly getting on with it! This aid station in the daylight (lovely!) had vegan banana cake and wow that was so good i actually ate! Took about 100 miles but wow that was good! So it should be about 9 miles from here I think. That seems such a long way at this point! It’s mad you think you run all that way and this bit should seem easy but my god it was so hard! I loved how the three of us every now and then would say you okay? Or well done guys you’re doing great. We were all so supportive of each other. I did think we may cross that line together in 3rd but the next last few miles panned out differently and we just had to go with it. Adam had a walk of a man on a mission! And Sy and I were holding him back. What a gent he was holding gates for us and waiting at the top of hills but we had to tell him to go. It was his race and he was wrecking it for himself he could finish stronger so we told him to go get that podium place. Sy and I were hurting my feet just were so sore. So annoyed with myself for this. But I wasn’t going to walk it in. We shuffled on but by this point Sy was really struggling with downhill which was where I was really able to get some pace again my legs were still pretty good. So I really feel my extra high mileage weeks had helped me get stronger and had it not been for blisters I would have had a much stronger finish, easy to say now I guess. I so wanted to stay with Sy and I was battling so much about what was right to do. He was telling me to go on when I waited at the bottom of hills. I wanted to finish together but the next hill I did I didn’t see Sy for a while but saw Jean with 2.5 miles left to go. I just wanted it done, I was hurting and I know me if I hang around too long I get like I do at the end of races and pass out! So I had to keep going. I told Jean to tell Sy he would catch me on the many uphills we had coming and truly believed I would see him there but that wasn’t to be.
My god the hills – I had been warned about them but nothing could prepare you for them after 110 miles! They were switchbacks so you just kept going up and up!! To be honest the views were truly incredible at the top and Lynmouth is a place we used to go to for family holidays so it was an emotional view at the top. It brought back so many happy memories and I couldn’t believe I was here. I could see the finish and I just wanted to get down and shake that statues hand! So I went down a switchback and another lovely surprise had to go back up again!!! It was relentless but an interesting finish!! I finally made it to the bottom and to Lynmouth. I saw Sy’s dad and hugged him saying how sorry I was that we weren’t together. He was so lovely. I saw Jean and Adam and all their families it was so lovely and there was Justin and the statue! I had made it I was so so happy I can’t tell you. That was probably the toughest race I had done unless I have just forgotten how tough the Arc was! But I did absolutely love it – such a challenge. I managed 25 hours 12, first placed female and 4th overall with the new women’s FKT (fastest known time) for that route, which I am absolutely delighted about.
This race is one I thoroughly recommend. It was so tough but just so beautiful. The hills are pretty incredible! But still doable and what an incredible journey you go on. It is so well organised and had a really special vibe to it. It really did push me to the brink at times but partly through my own stubbornness and fear of not achieving what I want to. Well done to Sarah Salt on another incredible race and knocking about 4 hours off her previous time and special thanks to my running partners Adam and Sy – it was an absolute pleasure running all those miles with you both. Adam finished in 3rd place in 24,36 and Sy in 5th place in 25, 30. Huge congratulations to Justin Montague too on a new FKT and sub 24 hours in 23,22.
Thank you everyone for all your support, to Climb South West for putting on such a special event and looking after us so well. And thank you Jean for being the best support, boyfriend and crew I could wish for. It may be his turn next!
Me with my partner Jean – the best crew ever!
Thanks also to Tailwind for keeping me going when I can’t eat.
Next race is just 3 weeks away – Jean and I will be doing the Last One Standing in Suffolk on the 8th June