2016 UK Centurions Race – The Redcar Blast

Redcar Blast UK Centurions 100 mile raceThe plan was to walk 70 miles on Friday from Leeds to Redcar, arrive in Redcar at about 3am, get 4 hours sleep, walk the Redcar parkrun at 9am, and then walk somewhere between 85 and 100 miles within 24 hours at the 2016 UK Centurions Race – The Redcar Blast.

That was the plan.

And if all had gone to plan I probably wouldn’t have learnt as much as I did last weekend.  They say that the only failure is the failure to learn from your mistakes, and whilst I wouldn’t call last weekend a ‘mistake’, it definitely didn’t go as well as I had expected.  It turns out that I am not invincible and don’t have the unlimited endurance that I was beginning to think I had 🙂

I arrived home from work on Wednesday night to find that someone had posted a message on the facebook page for the Redcar Blast race wishing me luck for my walk from Leeds to Redcar, and this had resulted in a few people commenting about the route I was planning on walking.  My plan had simply being to use the Google Maps app on my phone to guide me but that would have taken me along a busy duel carriageway, the A19, for about 7 miles which could have been dangerous.  So I used Google Maps on my computer to plot a new route which would avoid the A19.  This added about 3 miles (maybe 40 to 45 minutes) to the journey, but this wouldn’t be a problem.

I was intending to arrive in Leeds by train from London at 9:46am and hoped to be walking by 10am.  Even with the additional 3 miles I thought I could walk to Redcar in around 16 to 17 hours so would still arrive at about 3am’ish.  I would still get to sleep for 4 hours, do parkrun, and be in a reasonable condition to compete in the 100 mile race starting at 12 noon.

Walking from Leeds to Redcar:

About to walk from Leeds to Redcar
About to walk from Leeds to Redcar

It was a beautiful sunny day when I arrived in Leeds.  I took a ‘selfie’ outside the railway station and then sorted out my gear.  I had my camelback (without the bladder) and this was fill of stuff I might need if the weather deteriorated.  I wasn’t prepared to take a risk on the weather in an area of the country I didn’t know, so I had a lightweight rain jacket, a long sleeved top, a change of socks, two head torches (which I would need overnight), spare batteries and USB charging sticks for my phone and Garmin, and a few other bits and pieces in my camelbak.  And I had my waist belt that holds two 500 ml water bottles as well as two small waist belts to carry my food (chocolate, raisins, dates, and fruit) plus a small amount of money for purchasing replacement food as required, and my map (my cellphone).

Once I had all that sorted out I started walking at exactly 10:15am.

The first few hours were uneventful.  The pace was reasonable at a little under 8 minutes per kilometre (13 minutes per mile) and I was enjoying walking somewhere new and listening to podcasts interrupted every now and again by Google Maps telling me which way to go.

After a few hours I decided to save battery power and turned off Google Maps as most of the journey appeared to be on long roads with only the occasional need to change from one road to another, and I had a printed version of my Google Maps route which I could refer to when I needed to ensure I was going the right way.

Sometime around mid-afternoon I had run out of water and was looking forward to arriving in the next town where I thought I would both buy replacement water and also shout myself a Coke and a bag of crisps, but when I arrived in the next town there were only a few houses, some businesses that weren’t shops, and three pubs!  There were probably shops in another street but rather than going searching, I stopped at the third pub and had a quick Coke while the bartender filled my water bottles.

Stopping for a drink at the pub
Stopping for a drink at the pub

So far, so good.  I had been walking on footpaths since leaving Leeds about 25 miles earlier but now the roads became narrower and for the majority of the next 40 miles I walked on the right hand side of the road facing the traffic and being careful as I rounded hedges so as not to be hit by any oncoming vehicle.

It was around 5 or 6pm that I started to wonder if I was going the right way as I had expected to see the railway tracks on my right but they were on my left.  I was also running out of water again as it had been a hot afternoon and the litre of water I had collected at the pub was almost all gone.

I turned Google Maps back on and found that I had missed a turnoff but was only a couple miles off track and I managed to work out how to get back on track without having to go back the way I had just walked – I hate going back the way I have come and would prefer to walk extra distance that do that.  Anyway, it was a fortunate mistake to make as whilst making my way back on to the route I needed to follow I came across a small town that consisted of a church, a school, and a few houses, and within the school was a hose which I used to have a cold shower (fully clothed of course) and to refill my water bottles again.

Soon after that I arrived in Thirsk which had plenty of shops and I was able to replenish both my food supplies as well as buy Coke and water to get me through the final 30 odd miles to Redcar.

It was obvious by this stage that there was no way that I was going to get to Redcar by 3am, but I wasn’t concerned as I was enjoying the walk and had heaps of energy.

Ten miles later, though, and it was a different story.  It was now dark and I was on the detour to avoid the A19.  This meant walking through hills along often narrow country roads/lanes and I was struggling.  The bad patch only lasted about two hours as I seemed to come right again as soon as the hills finished which was some time after 1am.  I don’t know whether it was getting out of the hills and back on to a main road that made the difference or the scare I got when I looked up and saw two people standing in front of me about 100 meters before the main road – at 1am.  I know that my heart jumped when I saw these two people.  It was the middle of the night.  I hadn’t seen anyone for over two hours and I got a real fright.  Fortunately they were harmless.  Just two people out for a walk.  They probably got just as much of a shock as I did.

I was feeling good now and the last 17 or 18 miles was just a process of walking towards the coast.  I started thinking ‘this time tomorrow’ type thoughts, wondering how I would be getting on in the 100 mile race.  This was a big part of my weekend – getting my mind around the concept that all I will be doing for six days in October is walking.  Nothing else to look forward to other than walking.  In 24 hour’s time I will be doing exactly what I am doing now – walking.  And 24 hours after that …

The six day race in October is going to be as much, if not more, a mental challenge than a physical one.  Continuing to move forward (at a decent pace) when the body just wants to sit down, and doing that day and night for the best part of a week is going to be a huge challenge.  The only way I know how to prepare for that is to do what I am doing now, and walk for two days solid.

And as it happened, due to the detour to avoid the A19, my slower than anticipated average pace, and getting lost, the total distance I walked from Leeds to Redcar ended up being 79 miles (127km) and it wasn’t until 5:45am, 19 ½ hours after leaving Leeds, that I finally arrived at my destination.  This weekend really was going to be a test of my mental endurance.

Finished Leeds to Redcar walk
Finished Leeds to Redcar walk – 79 miles in 19 1/2 hours

My friend Sarah (who would be competing in the 100 mile race) and her husband, Leon, had set up their tent at the ‘race village’ and left some chocolate biscuits, water and Coke for me to consume when I arrived.  I didn’t actually feel hungry or thirsty but knew that I had a big day coming up so I ate half of the packet of biscuits and also rehydrated with water before trying to get some sleep.  For some reason however, I wasn’t tired even although I had been awake for over 25 hours, and after trying to get to sleep for 90 minutes I decided to get up and go to the local McDonalds for breakfast where I met Suzanne (who was also going to be starting the 100 mile race, and will be competing in the six day race as well) and her son, Jamie.

I had two breakfasts and then walked down to the local park to meet Leon at the start of the Redcar parkrun.  I figured that I was in a town that had a parkrun that I hadn’t done previously (today was my 108th different parkrun) and I had three hours until the 100 mile race started, so why not walk an easy 5km.  Two years ago, before the start of the 2014 UK Centurions Race in Southend I had done the same, but on that day the parkrun was cancelled 5 minutes after we started as an unexploded bomb had been found near the course several minutes earlier!  So this was the first time I had attempted a parkrun/100 mile double, but it was all a part of my big weekend of walking.

I felt relatively good at parkrun given that I had just walked from Leeds and hadn’t slept since 4:30am the previous day, and ended up with a time of 38:45.

After parkrun I went back to McDonalds for a third breakfast, visited the local supermarket to buy some food for the race, and then walked back to the race village via the hotel that was being used for race registration.

The Redcar Blast (2016 UK Centurions Race):

It was at the hotel that I met Rob Robertson from the USA.  Rob is already a US and Australian centurion (C78 and C68 respectively) and was aiming to become a triple centurion at the UK event before heading to South Africa in October for the first South African centurion race.  Next year he intends to complete the set by also qualifying as a centurion (someone who has walked 100 miles in less than 24 hours) in Holland and New Zealand.  Centurionism is currently only recognised in those six countries although there also used to be a qualifying race in Malaysia.  I won’t tell you how Rob’s race went (because this report is all about me 🙂 ) but his race report is well worth reading.

There were a few other athletes that I met for the first time having only read about their achievements, as well as many other friends whom I really only get to see at events such as these.  The field for the race was very strong.  Rob has full detail in his race report.  In total there were 20 centurions racing in the 100 mile event plus another 11 walkers aiming to achieve the ‘centurion’ title, and there were another 10 centurions walking in shorter races and 9 centurions acting as race officials.  I don’t know how many 100 mile, or longer, events we had between us but Sandra Brown (C735) has completed the distance over 170 times herself!  I was attempting my 12th walk of 100 miles or further, but I didn’t expect to complete the full distance due to my efforts of the previous day.

The race started at 12 noon in warm and sunny conditions.  The course was an out and back walk along the Redcar Esplanade which had its pros and cons.  The pros were that we got to see our fellow competitors regularly as we passed each other heading in the opposite direction every 15 minutes or so, and we got to go past both our own support crew as well as the official feeding station every two miles, and the drinks station twice per lap.  The downside was that on the Saturday afternoon we had to constantly dodge pedestrians and the top part of the course was extremely busy.  From my point of view this didn’t make a difference but if I had been chasing a PB I may not have been too happy with pedestrians getting in my way.

100 mile course map
My Strava map of the course. The race village is at the right hand end.

Right from the start I struggled.  Whilst I wasn’t expecting to walk 100 miles I can’t deny that it wasn’t something that I would have chased if I had felt better than I did, so it is probably better that I didn’t feel good.  Right from the start I was off the back of the field walking by myself, and it was many, many hours before I actually passed anyone.  Instead it wasn’t too long before I was being lapped by the walkers in the shorter races and then by the leading 100 mile competitors.

One of the lessons I have learnt recently is ‘don’t think about how far you have to go’.  If I had done that, given the way I felt, I would have dropped out of the race early on.  But this race was more about spending time on my feet and replicating what I will be putting myself through for six consultative days in October.

Another lesson I have learnt is that feeling bad is not permanent and eventually you come out of bad patches and have good patches.  Feeling good isn’t permanent either though 🙂

Anyway, I just took it one lap at a time.  I started off with a few laps of just under 30 minutes but gradually slowed down as the afternoon progressed.  I enjoyed seeing the other competitors and also watching what was going on around me.  Near the top of the course there was a boutique movie theatre and every few hours a queue would start to build outside and then would disappear inside the theatre. A couple hours later we would see them all come back out of the theatre after the movie finished.

At one stage I decided I wanted an iced lolly (ice block for overseas readers).  There were plenty of shops on the opposite side of the road but none other than the movie theatre on our side of the road so I stopped at the movie theatre but was told that their freezer wasn’t working.  I had already visited all the shops that might cell iced lollies but couldn’t find any.  I had seen some pedestrians eating them though but don’t know where they came from – probably a shop down one of the side streets.

There were also two fish and chip shops on the opposite side of the road near the top end of the course.  One of them had a big queue outside all day and the other was busy but nowhere near as busy, so I decided that when/if the queue diminished at the popular fish and chip shop I would go and buy their hot chips for my dinner.  Unfortunately both fish and chip shops closed at 7pm and I missed my opportunity.  Fortunately there was a third fish and chip shop down a side street and Suzanne and I decided to visit that sometime shortly after 7pm.  The chips were the best I had eaten in a long time but I still wasn’t feeling any better and decided that I would walk through to 10pm before taking a two hour break for a sleep.

Eating dinner on the move
Eating dinner on the move

Before the race I had planned on having a 1 ½ hour sleep at around 12 hours in to the race to test how much of a difference that would make as regular short sleeps may be a part of my strategy in the six day race.  Because I wasn’t having a good day I decided to bring that sleep forward, but I didn’t want it to be too early as, the way I was feeling, I didn’t want to have to walk for more than 12 hours after my sleep.

Unfortunately the wind started to get up at about the same time I stopped for a sleep, and the tent I slept in was getting a battering.  I also felt very sore around the hips and couldn’t get comfortable sleeping on my sides or back.  When my alarm went off I didn’t think I had slept at all so I turned the alarm off and the next thing I knew, Sarah was trying to wake me.  She had withdrawn from the race at 50 miles and I’m not sure, but I think Suzanne had also made the decision to withdraw by that stage too.

I wasn’t in any rush to get started again, but I put more 2Toms Anti-Blister powder on my feet, changed my shoes, and resumed the race shortly before 1am.

The Esplanade was now relatively quiet other than a few pedestrians and about 30 walkers spread across the course.

I still felt bad but figured that I would just walk up and down the Esplanade for 11 hours without pushing it.  Just time on my feet.

By now, a lot of the other walkers were struggling too.  This meant that I often had company for periods of time as there were many others walking at my pace, and I had some good conversations with a number of other competitors.  I had two long conversations with Richard Brown about his experiences racing six day races and he gave me some good advice which will help me both in my buildup as well as the race itself.  He convinced me, and I wasn’t hard to convince in my current state of mind, that my plan to repeat this weekend in three weeks time (when I was planning on walking 50 miles on two consecutive days followed by the 130 mile Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race) wasn’t a great idea.  I have since withdrawn from the race.

At some stage I remember hearing a lot of women screaming and looked up a side street to see a group of maybe 20 or more men fighting.  As I continued walking I could hear sirens and when I walked back past the side street a few minutes later there were a number of police cars trying to calm the crowd.  A lap or two later I saw police bringing a women on to the Esplanade from behind one of the shelters that were between the beach and the Esplanade.  I remember seeing the women handing her cellphone to one of the policeman and saying something like “…can you ring them … I’m not in trouble am I…”.  It looked like she had a broken jaw and her face was swollen.  A typical Saturday night in Redcar?

At 3am the predicted gale-force winds arrived.  The problem with walking beside a beach when it is windy is that you get sand-blasted.  It wasn’t daylight yet so I couldn’t put my sunglasses on to protect my eyes.  At times the wind was so strong that I thought I was back home in windy Wellington, New Zealand!

Again, I was thankful that I wasn’t chasing a PB and kept plodding on through the night.

Daylight eventually arrived and around 7am I finally started to feel reasonable.  It had only taken 19 hours!  But that proves my point that bad periods don’t last forever.  By this stage though, so many people (supporters, competitors, and officials) had told me that I wasn’t doing any favours to my body by pushing through the race and I had agreed to stop once I got to 100km.

Last week I was interviewed by a podcaster (more about that in a week or two) and at the end of the interview he asked me for a final comment.  My comment was “never give up” and I felt that if I completed 100km I wouldn’t be ‘giving up’.  I don’t know why I thought it had to be 100km.  50 miles would have been much easier 🙂

I eventually got to the end of my 31st lap which meant I had completed 62 miles, 100km.  I told the timekeepers that I was stopping.  The only problem was that the start/finish of each lap was about 300 meters from the top of the course and the campsite/race village was at the bottom of the course.  So I decided to walk up to the top of the course and thank the two people that had manned the sponge station at the northern turn-around point for the previous 22 hours, and then walk down to the bottom of the course.  This gave me another 2km meaning that I had completed 102km in 22 ¼ hours, and in total I had completed 239km (149 miles) in exactly 48 hours from the time I left Leeds on Friday morning through to now.  This included my Leeds to Redcar walk, Redcar parkrun, plus my walks to/from parkrun and from the campsite up to the start of the 100 mile race.  Not a bad 48 hours.  6km further than my official best distance for 48 hours but hopefully about 30km less than my target for the first 48 hours of the six day race in October.

On Sunday afternoon I caught the train home, and whilst I am taking this week off training, I feel 100% recovered other than a sunburnt bottom lip.

The focus now is 100% on the six day race which starts in just 11 weeks.  I can’t wait!

A few more photos:

Redcar wind turbines
Redcar wind turbines
Sand sculptures at Redcar
Sand sculptures
Timeskeepers at the Redcar Blast
Some of the timekeepers
Sunday morning in Redcar
Sunday morning in Redcar – quiet now but this area was crowded yesterday

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