Friday, 17 August 2018

Berlin Wall 100 mile race


Last year I got to half way before having to pull out (my first ultra DNF) due to a hip flexor injury. This meant I was more nervous than usual.  I have done the distance before but always as part of 24 hour races on flat track or tarmac loops so was worried that maybe I was just not capable of going long on different terrain.   I partly put my injury last year down to the terrain being a bit uneven and different to what I am used to.  It is not technical by any stretch of the imagination but as I am so used to roads and this has forests/wooded areas then I was just not prepared for it.  There also seemed to be a fair few inclines. I wanted to be better prepared this year so once I was recovered from Crawley 24 hour race I did my first hill session in a long time.  My achilles was not happy after this so I had to stop the hills and ended up just doing lots of steady flat miles rather than speed and hills which I had planned! Despite lots of heel drops and calf stretches my achilles never did get better before the race although it was manageable by running easy.

Pre race

We arrived in Berlin on Thursday.  Number pick up was Friday 12-7pm. We had 3 drop bags which we handed in at the start then they were taken to 59km,  90km and 128km.  I put some food and drinks in each and my night time gear (head torch and high viz) in the 2nd bag.  My portable charger went in the first one as if I needed to use my phone (unlikely) then the battery probably wouldn’t last until 90km unless I turned off the data - I didn’t want to turn off data as Phil was tracking me on find my friends so he could see where to meet me.

Race briefing which is compulsory was at 5pm followed by the pasta party.  We were warned that we must wait for the lights to turn green before crossing the road and that not doing this would lead to a time penalty and possible DQ.

Race start was 6am.  There were shuttle busses provided from hotel H4 in Alexanderplatz which is where the race HQ was based.  I got the 5.10 (last ) bus as I don’t like getting up early.  I had a carton of chocolate soya milk in my hotel room and took a banana with me to eat before them start but forgot about it.  At the stadium there was breakfast provided so had some coffee and a waffle.

After my DNF last year it was more important to me to finish this than to race/get a good time.  That doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about time as I needed to have something to work to and Phil needed a bit of an idea of where to meet me.  In addition to a medal for finishing there was a belt buckle for sub 24 so ideally that’s what a wanted.  I felt that 22 hours should be realistic based on what I did at Crawley 24 (around 19.30 for 100 miles - that was on a track and I had crew so time bound to be faster but also my lack of speed hills meant I was not as fit for this).  So a rough plan / guide was to split the race into 25 mile sections then taking into account fade do something like 4.45/5.15/5.45/6.15 for each section.  I was running on feel/effort rather than trying to hit a pace but would then check in to see if I was on target.

Mile 0-25

We started on the track with about 3/4 lap.  I started too far back so was held up a bit and probably for about the first mile as it was a bit narrow/congested but it didn’t really matter; in fact it was probably a good thing as it stopped me setting out too fast.  There were lots of traffic lights for about the first 10 miles.  Mostly I had to stop but I got lucky with some of them.   Due to all the stops it was hard to know what pace I was running at because each mile split had at least one stop in it!  This was a good thing as it stopped me thinking about how I was doing and worrying I was running slowly - I remember last year (the race was the other way round so not as many stops) seeing the pace I was running and thinking how slow I was and that I must be having a bad day.  I am sure that then has an effect on me for the rest of the run.  So not knowing my actual run pace (current pace on the Garmin tends to be inaccurate) worked in my favour. 
Part of the wall

Check points were every 3-5 miles and well stocked with lots of different drinks - I had a lot of coke, sparking water, fizzy apple and fizzy grapefruit.  Food wise there was a good variety but mostly I ate banana and apple (in addition to some of the bars I was carrying).  As it was quite warm I decided to carry 2 bottles in my rucksack as 5 miles on tired legs on a warm day might be quite slow!  It also meant that I had to stop less often for bottle top ups.  I skipped the first couple of aid stations as they were busy but after that I stopped at each one and had usually 2 cups of drink and some fruit then used my own bottles between the aid stations to keep my fluids topped up.  I ran much of this section with Izzy so time passed quite quickly.  I was keeping the pace nice and steady in the hope that a steady start would delay the death march.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that when my Garmin hit 25 miles the time was 4.24.  Faster than the vague target but not so much faster to be worried.  My left hip flexor was a bit tight and as that was what had been the problem last year I was keeping my eye on it and trying to concentrate on running form. It was tight at Crawley too but then went away so I wasn’t too worried.

Miles 25-50

There were still traffic lights from time to time.   Now I was doing squats if I got stopped to try to stretch out my hip flexors.  Quads felt totally fine which I pleased about.  The first drop bag was at 59km.  It’s very easy to waste time at these places! I had a carton of chocolate soya milk in my bag,  my hands were so sweaty I couldn’t open the straw!
Front of my new raidlight bag
I noticed the small bag of coconut mushrooms had split so I quickly ate them as I don’t like waste and also the bag with my drinks powder in which I had been carrying from the start had split (these small zip lock bags from the pound store are going in the bin and I shall be back to my amazon ones). I had powder in one my bag pockets which was spilling out making a right mess so I needed to try to tidy up a bit.  Grabbed the other things  I needed then was off eating my crisps (from drop bag) which I had been looking forward to.  That was a mistake!  Having eaten the coconut mushrooms (which were meant for later) I shouldn’t have tried to cram the crisps in as well because I then had stitch for about the next hour!! I felt like my running was really slow and laboured due to feeling so full and having stitch but it couldn’t have been too bad as I got to 50miles (on the Garmin) in 9.20.  This meant that I was 40minutes ahead of the vague sub 22 plan.  I was not celebrating though as so far I had not had any toilet stops and I wasn’t sure how much I would slow down in the dark.

Miles 50-75

Back of my new bag
I had been drinking loads but not stopped for the toilet so thought I best go as athough I didn’t really need it I felt quite full.  With so many miles in my legs it’s much better to go at a portaloo than to have to squat somewhere in the bushes!  Around here I met a British guy I ran a bit with last year.  I had been having a few minutes walk at each aid station and sometimes another little walk until this point.  As I was well ahead I had a much longer walk as it was nice to have someone to chat to for a while and he was wanting a walk.  We started running eventually and ran together for a few miles but his run pace was a bit faster than I wanted to be doing so I let him go.  It was good to get past the place I dropped out at last year as that meant I had competed the whole course.

One thing I noticed is that the course had been pretty flat and easy underfoot.... not at all as I remembered it from last year.  This meant that it was going to get harder.  I think this worked better for me as there is less running in the second half so it’s a shame to waste the nice flat smooth stuff by walking; might as well have the harder stuff when you are walking anyway.

I noticed my phone battery was draining quite quickly so I plugged that in to charge about 10km before the 90km drop bag so I could then unplug and pack away properly in my bag when it was open anyway at the drop bag.  The 90km stop was outside so lucky it wasn’t raining,  There wasn’t a great deal of seating either - it’s easier to sort bags sitting down.  Had another carton of chocolate soya milk and as I hadn’t used much of my own food or
many drinks powders didn’t take any  but did pick up my night time gear.
I had arranged with Phil to meet me at around 8pm ie before it got dark.  He was going to Cycle the rest with me - cycle support is a big thing in this race.  You can have a bike with you from 58km.  However some people felt this rule didn’t apply to them - needless to say they were the only bikes which got in the way!  The first thing on Phils instructions when we met was to plug in my Garmin to charge.  I remembered that last time he did this he messed up and reset it.  I hadn’t given him training since then so to avoid argument and another mess up I decided to spent a few extra minutes sorting it out myself then at least it was done and as I was well past half way if I charged to 100% it would last until the end unless I had a disaster.

When it got to around 7.30pm I started looking out for Phil.  I wasn't sure if he would wait for me at the checkpoint or cycle back along the route to meet me - met me at the checkpoint.  I arrived at the 116km one just after 8pm..  Now I wouldn't need to stop long at the checkpoints as Phil would be dealing with my bottles.  Although in reality I still stopped at every one for a drink of something fizzy and a bit of fruit but tried not to linger.

Next time check was at 75 miles in 14.43 - approx. 5.30 for the last 25 miles so again about 15 mins up on my 22 hour plan.  At this point, as I had gained 15 mins in each section I thought that sub 21 might actually be possible.  However, I was not going to be pushing to get it.  A finish was the most important.

Miles 75 - 100

At 9pm we had to have on our high viz and head torch.   128km was the final drop bag so Phil got rid of all the things we no longer needed and picked up some more batteries but no food as I wasn't eating much of my own and still had enough left in my bag.

When I got to 80 miles I knew I was going to finish even if I had to walk to the end.  I was tired and running slowly.  I don't think I was even managing to run a mile without a little walk break! My hip flexor from earlier was fine.  Nothing hurt in an injured sense I was aching and tired and finding it hard to move at more than a shuffle!

Hire bike
There seemed to be a lot of forest/woods/slightly difficult stuff underfoot.   All of this would have been OK in daylight but with 80+ miles in my legs I was worried about tripping over something.  This meant I walked a lot more than I would otherwise have done.  The sub 21 was in the back of my mind but I didn't want it enough to risk running on anything that wasn't smooth - finishing was more important.  If I fell over I might not finish.  Plus, walking was easier than running and I was feeling a bit lazy! There were also quite a lot of inclines which I walked.  I don't often say this but there seemed to be more down than up....that cant be true as the start and finish is in the same place!  It was obvious when there was a down as Phil was free wheeling and it hurt my quads more!!

At each checkpoint there was a sign telling you how far you had come; how far to the next checkpoint and how far to the finish.   All of this was in km so throughout the race as I had been leaving the checkpoint and would convert the distance to the next CP into miles then work out what my garmin ought to say at the next CP.   As I got more tired this took longer!!! At around halfway I did the conversion for total distance to find that my garmin was more or less measuring accurately   - always handy to know if you are going to be doing 100 or 103 miles when you are nearing the end.  With 12.7km to go I did the conversion to find my garmin was now 0.5miles long.... better to find that out now than at the end I suppose!

Phil kept offering encouragement and handing me my bottles.  He also kept saying how he was really enjoying it and how next year he would meet me earlier so he could see more!!

I was finding it hard to run for very long at a time, think about 5 mins max and there seemed to be lots of cobbles which I didn't fancy running on so progress was slow.  If only the cobbles were a few hundred metres every half mile that would have worked out nicely but there must have been nearly a mile in one go which I had to walk.  I glanced at my watch from time to time and sub 21 was possible but tight.

With half a mile to go I got to some traffic lights and couldn't see where to go.  The signs had been really good.   There were white arrows on the ground and high viz blue arrows on trees/lamp posts which you could see really well with the headtorch.  I stood for a while shining my torch looking but couldn't see anything.  Phil went back to look for the last arrow and I walked back.  He found where we had gone wrong.  Not sure how it had happened as the arrow was quite clear! Not much distance was added because I was so slow but probably about 5 minutes.  Soon after taking the correct turn we were in the grounds where the stadium was then sooner than expected we arrived at the track.  Phil went ahead so he could park up his bike.   I did a very slow almost full lap of the track to finish in 21.03 with 100.7 miles on the garmin.

Finishing was a strange feeling.  Not like finishing other big races.  It was more relief that I managed it this time.  Finish time was irrelevant.   I think Phil was more annoyed than me about those 3 mins over 21 due to getting lost.  I was just grateful my body held up and got me to the end.

I was given my T shirt and a print out of all my times at the checkpoints.  I was 13th lady and 73rd overall (I think there were around 450 starters).   As I had finished under 24 hours I got a belt buckle but the medal and the buckle were presented to everyone the next day at the ceremony at 2pm.

There was food at the finish.  Not sure what it was but it looked like hot food.  I didn't fancy anything though.  Phil went to get the bag I had left at the start and drop bag 1 which had found its way back already.  The other 2 drop bags had to be picked up before the presentation the next day.

I then got the shuttle car back to the hotel.  Phil cycled back; he was only a couple of minutes behind.  Luckily we had been given a disabled room (we didn't request it but it was the only double left!) so there was a walk in shower and rails on the toilet!! Think I was showered and in bed within about an hour of finishing but didn't really sleep!
Medal, buckle, T shirt and spot (who ran with me)

What would I do differently?

Its always good to learn from races, similarly its quite satisfying when you feel that you wouldn't have done anything differently and did the best you could on that day.
The only thing I would change is those stupid pound land bags which split and I wouldn't have eaten the crisps straight after the coconut mushrooms which I only ate because the bag split!! Yes I could have gone faster.  I could have run more at the end but it would have hurt more and this race was about finishing reasonably happy and minimising suffering! There is always going to be a lot of suffering in a race this length though!

The race

I would def recommend this race if you are looking to do a straightforward 100 miles.  Yes there are hills and it is not all smooth tarmac but its a lot easier than a most 100 milers.  The race was really well organised.  26 aid stations in total all well stocked with plenty of variety even though I stuck to the  same things.  Unless you are really particular about what you eat you wont need to carry too much.  Next year it will be the opposite way round which means fewer traffic lights early on and lots when you need the rest! It also means in the dark it will be a bit easier as I think the surface was better in the first half.

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