WHITE ROSE 100 RACE REPORT - Mental anguish, but always making progress!

To get a place on the start line of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is one of the most coveted accolades in endurance running and that was one of my big goals for 2017. You have to earn ‘UTMB Points’ over a series of races throughout the preceding two years and if you do, then you can enter your name in the ballot for the following year. 

For the main event, the UTMB itself, ou need 15 points from 3 races, which typically translates to completing 2 one hundred miles races and a fifty. For me it was Race to the King (4 points), Thames Path 100 (5 points) and then the White Rose 100 mile Ultra (6 points) 

So lining up on the start line in Marsden was the final part of the jigsaw, finish the race in under 30 hours and I’d get my place in the ballot and the chance to run at UTMB in 2018. Simple right?! 

The preparation had been pretty good, two solid marathons and I was starting to feel some shape coming back to my running. The course was three 30 mile loops, then a final 10 mile loop to finish. Mentally challenging no doubt, but I was prepared for that. At the end of each loop you could get access to your drop bag, some hot food and a sit down in the warm. There were also other runners there completing 30 and 60 mile options, then around 35 runners in the 100 mile category. 

Everyone set off together into the crisp autumn sunlight and I soon mellowed into a rhythm up the first climb. The total elevation was around 3500m, which is of course quite a high amount for a Londoner like me, but in the grand scheme of things, tame for a 100 mile ultra. 

The miles gently ticked away and I finished the first loop in around 5 hours. I was feeling strong, but was about to make my first mistake of the day. For some reason I never went to grab more supplies from my drop bag, I just checked in, filled my bottles with water and left. So went back out with ZERO food! 

Heading out on the second loop, it was quite a shock as I didn’t see a single other runner for the first 6 miles, but it was time to get the head down and crack on. By the time I got to the first aid station it was getting dark and there wasn’t much on offer that was appetizing and now I was realising the mistake I’d made. Still, at this point the marshal said I was in 4th place, so that lifted my spirits. I got down the food I could and went on my way. 

Darkness was now in full swing and there were bonfires glowing with fireworks all over the place, it was quite a sight when you were up high, I must have counted at least 20 separate bonfires! The rain was starting to come down strong, so I decided to change into my waterproof trousers and was all warm again. It was only about 3 or 4 degrees, but I was warm, happy and laughing to some podcasts on my iPod. Life was amazing! 

But then it all went very wrong. It’s hard to write, as it’s just to ridiculous, but I always want to be completely honest, so here goes. 

My girlfriend Sarah was also running, she was tackling the 60 mile and I’d predicted she’d finish about 9pm. Trouble was the course was harder than we’d anticipated, so she was going to be finishing far later. We’d of course been messaging throughout the race, so I knew exactly how she was getting on. The hotel we’d booked by the finish closed at 11pm and she wasn’t going to be able to finish and get there in time, so I was worried she’d have nowhere to stay after her race. 

I was getting low on energy and couldn’t think totally straight and couldn’t get the fact out my head. Try and I might, I had this image of her wondering round, tired with nowhere to go. I was getting more and more worried and was just visualising her sleeping on the street (I know this sounds mad, she’s a very clever young lady and would have been fine sitting things out!), but when you’re running on fumes your mind can play evil tricks on you. 

As you near the finish of the loop, you get very close to HQ before circling out and round a bit further out. I had about 3k of the loop left, but could see on my phone I could walk straight to the HQ cutting the course in about 800m. 

All I could think about was getting back to HQ, getting to my car, driving to the hotel, checking in and getting back in time to watch Sarah finish. At least then I knew she’d be safe and have somewhere to sleep. How else could I solve this problem?? 

So in my confused, semi delirious state that’s what I did. I cut the course, back to HQ, withdrew in a blind panic, handed in my tracker, had some food quickly. Actually jogged to the car (which was 1.5 miles away!) drove to the hotel, checked in and drove back to HQ again. I’d sorted the problem of course, but as I ate more food, I was starting to fully realise what I’d done. 

Sitting there back at race HQ, with the hotel key in hand, I felt 100% fine. Like I hadn’t even ran at all, I was full of energy and ready to crack on with the final 40 miles. But I’d withdrawn in a moment of madness, what on earth had I done?? 

Sarah was obviously completely oblivious to all this, she finished her 60 miles strong for a great time of 15:36 over such a tough course.  

You can plan, plan and plan these races, but you just never know what curve ball is going to come out the wood work and test you. When you’re so low on energy as everyone will be at points, it’s certainly not the time to problem solve and try to sort out life’s problems. In every race your mind will take you to places you never knew existed, throw you challenges to overcome.. anything to try and get you to stop. 

It’s of course 110% my fault, Sarah’s plan was to stay and sleep at race HQ anyway and wait to for me to finish. 

Needless to say I had a pretty sleepless night in that dam hotel room that night, I was lying there, full of energy, raring to go, but somehow found myself trying to sleep when all around me in the hills runners were carrying on. 

It’s incredibly tough to accept what happened and why I did what I did, but I’ve certainly learnt a lot about the need to be completely utterly selfish during races, it’s just not very me, but it will have to be if I’m going to conquer this distance. I need to improve my mental strength, as only then I improve over the distance.  

Next year will see me take on all 4 of the Centurion running 100 mile events, plus I’ve entered Grand Union Canal (145 mile) and Western States 100 mile in California. And I’m sure I’ll be back to finish off this race again, as I couldn’t fault it, it was so well put on. 

So the 2018 UTMB dream has died, but of course there are so many other races and goals to aim for. I’m not going to rest, I’ve had my day of sulking, being miserable and generally acting like a spoilt child and now it’s time to man up, accept it and move on! 

Next weekend I’m in Ravenna, Italy, for the marathon there and the weekend after I’ll be lining up in Valencia. I’m hoping to in sub 2:45 shape again by then, so got lots to work on before the sub 2:30 training plan kicks in mid December. 

In terms of this race, I can’t change the past and it’s pointless living in a world of ‘what ifs’. There is a famous quote that says ‘When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do: admit it, learn from it and don’t repeat it.’ 

So I’ve admitted it, learnt from it and I sure as hell won’t be repeating it. I’m packing Sarah a tent and sleeping bag in her final drop bag next time, then she’ll always have somewhere to stay!