Apocalypse 100

This website isn’t my personal blog, but we’re always interested in ultras any member’s been running, and we’re happy to post any race reports. This one’s from me!  It was written in a great hurry, so apologies for the typos.  Nigel Aston’s written up his race too, and his has got some photos in it.  His report (pdf) is here.

Andy’s report

For a while now I’ve been thinking that I ought to enter a 100-mile event. I’d never done one, and really it was time to step up to the mark. I didn’t fancy the Lakeland 100 – all those mountains and I don’t get to the top of them? The LDWA Hundred is in Lancashire this year, in an area I know and have raced in before, but it was on the bank holiday weekend, when I’d rather be with my family. Then I came across the Apocalypse 100. The race is organised by Richard at Beyond Marathon, and he has a reputation locally (Cheshire) for putting on well-organised good-value events, such as the Gritstone Grind. The Apocalypse 100 is in neighbouring Shropshire, one of my favourite running areas. There are plenty of hills, lots of great views and plenty of fast running too. It didn’t clash too badly with the Runfurther events, as I couldn’t run Marlborough anyway, although I’d be running the Ox with tired legs. So I entered.

After I’d entered it struck be that this might be a good race for next year’s Runfurther Championship. It would be good to have a 100 in again, and the advantage of this one is that there’s a 50-mile race as well, which is the first half of the 100-mile race. That means we could let Runfurther racers choose which they entered, so we wouldn’t have to force any Grand Slam contenders to run a 100. Of course it would have to be a good race as well…

The design of the route is ingenious. The start is in the middle of the route, and there are also 4 manned checkpoints. Each of those 4 has a loop of about 10 miles attached. So the route goes out to CP1, round a 10-mile loop with self-clips, back to CP1. Then you run to CP2, round another 10-mile loop and back, then back to the start, your 50 miles done, with checkpoints every 10 miles. Then if you’re running the 100, you do the same through the night, visiting each of the other two checkpoints twice and doing the other two loops. Hence you have a 100-mile route, with manned checkpoints every 10 miles, but you only need marshals in 5 places.

So I got up at 5:45 on Saturday and drove down to Church Stretton, to park up in the National Trust car park in Carding Mill Valley, in the shadow of the Long Mynd. The weather forecast was perfect for running – just as well considering what happened last year. They’d had 20-degree heat, and only 12 finished from 41 starters. Only Charlie Sharpe got under 24 hours. To be fair they also changed the route this year, reducing the amount of climbing by 400m to a mere 4300m.

I registered and chatted to a few people – Charlie Sharpe, Nigel Aston, Alison Brind and Carmine de Grandis among them. I changed my mind about running in a t-shirt and shorts and switched to thermal top and shorts, which turned out to be spot-on. And at 9am we were away, straight up the Long Mynd.

I had to concentrate on not going too fast, particularly uphill and downhill. I was pretty sure I could manage 50 miles, but I’d no idea whether I could do more than that. So I decided to try to go just a little bit slower than I would if I were running 50 miles. Does this sound realistic, or does it sound like I was just playing mind games? I’m pretty hopeless at pacing myself, so often going off too fast. Anyway, I couldn’t hang around, as I had to be at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall for a 7:30 concert the next day, so I pressed on, soon falling in with Nigel Aston, which worried me a bit, as he’s usually significantly faster than me and had run hundreds before. And when he implied I was going rather faster than he was expecting me too, that worried me a bit more. But I felt fine, so just kept pushing on, west round Black Rhadley Hill to the first checkpoint, steeply up Corndon Hill, then round the rest of the first loop (Conquest) on tracks and minor roads back to the checkpoint. So far, so good.

From here we went on NNW and the climb up onto and along the Stiperstones ridge. This was pretty hard going, on a very stony path. If you know the path above Stanage Edge in Derbyshire, it was slightly worse than that to run: the chances of tripping were high. We walked most of it – you can’t afford to tire yourself on difficult ground with 75 miles to go (that was my excuse anyway). After 3km of that we were glad to get off the hill, scenic as it was. It was easier going now, down a track to Pulverbatch, then minor roads to the second checkpoint, in a beer garden at Longden Common. There was a friendly gang of helpers here (hi Anne, hi Vaughan), with a wide range of food, so I drank some water and we set off round loop number 2 (Famine). This loop was mostly easy running on roads and field paths, with the sting near the end of the climb up Earl’s Hill. By this time, 35 miles in, I was starting to tire, wondering whether I could keep going after the halfway point. It was good to be running with Nigel, particularly for the next few miles, as I was struggling a bit mentally as well as physically. We got back to the beer garden, then headed off south, climbing slowly on tracks in the main, over the Betchcott Hills and back up the Long Mynd before heading back down the narrow valley to Carding Mill again, 50 miles done. We were there in 10 hours 19 minutes, nearly 3 hours faster than Nigel’s schedule. I’d no idea how long it would take, but I suppose I’d hoped to get the first half done in under 12 hours. Charlie and Carmine were there to greet us, but I just wanted to get out and get moving again. I got more food and my hi-vis tabard from my drop bag, drank more water, then headed out into the evening. Nigel wasn’t ready to go, and I assumed he’d catch me up, but I didn’t see him again.

Shortly after leaving the halfway point I had to stop to retch, my stomach finally starting to revolt at a constant diet of sugar. After retching I felt a bit better, but for the rest of the run I couldn’t really take on as much food as I wanted to. Still, got to push on eh? I ran through the streets of Church Stretton, up a long climb on a track eastwards over the shoulder of Caer Caradoc Hill, and down to join roads through Cardington, Gretton and Plaish. Wenlock Edge was looming ahead now, and it was starting to get dark. As I plodded up the road to the checkpoint at Easthope, on the Edge, a runner overtook me, running up a steep hill after 60 miles of running! Then I realised he was actually doing it after 70 miles of running: he was just finishing loop 3 (War). A couple of minutes later and we were both at the checkpoint, shortly to be joined by another runner finishing the loop. I struggled into my reflective tabard and crammed my headtorch on, drank about an inch of cup-a-soup and some water and headed northeast along the Edge through the gloom. Soon it was pitch dark, and the loop now headed off the Edge, to cross about four fields and join a good track. Unfortunately two of those fields were full of oilseed rape plants, and there wasn’t really a path, or rather there were loads of different tractor lines across the field, only one of which was the right one. Anyway, a bit of cursing and 10 wasted minutes sorted it out, and I found the reflective tape and glowsticks, and got back to something that might have been recognised as running again, if I’d been going a bit faster, and if there’d been anyone there to notice. And so back to the checkpoint, loop 3 done.

More water and I was off again, along the Edge again, but this time southwest. Approximately forever. After 10 miles, just when I was beginning to think I was on an endless loop, I got to the last checkpoint, which was being manned (and womanned) by heroes who’d run the 50 mile race before marshalling. Another inch of soup, more water. I was pretty doollaly by this time. Hey ho, on we go, off into the night, steeply down off the Edge on the most horrible muddy track I’d seen in a while. This was actually a stretch I already knew, but I didn’t recognise any of it. On to the next self-clip by a footbridge, but where was it? I searched for a while in the dark, before finding it at the other end of the footbridge. Don’t ask. And on round loop 4 (Death). It went by in a haze. It gradually grew lighter, and turned into a beautiful morning. The long wet grass was at freezing point, turning toes numb in minutes. And I wasn’t really travelling very fast at all. I kept making silly navigational errors, my judgment was seriously impaired, and I had to keep willing myself not to fall asleep as I “ran”. I thought I was still running, but it probably didn’t look like that. And I was still retching from time to time, unable to eat much. Eventually I rolled up at the final checkpoint again for another inch of soup – minestrone this time. And then, after not seeing anyone all night apart from one distant headtorch near the rape fields, two more runners came in behind me. It looked like I was going to be overtaken at last. I was hardly surprised, given the speed I’d been moving. And how many more were just behind them? I made my excuses and left.

90 miles done, 10 to go. For the first 6 of those 10 miles I was expecting those two runners to come up behind me and sprint past, but it never happened. The going was hilly but a lot of it was runnable, apart from the stiles. By this time I couldn’t really bend my knees much so my struggles must have been a comical sight. As I climbed back up the Long Mynd, I thought maybe I could hang onto my place after all, and I pulled out all the stops, running most of the way up the hill to the last self-clip on Pole Bank, on the most glorious sunny morning you could imagine. And then it was down down down as fast as my legs would go down the valley to the finish. 24:09:14, fourth place, and those two runners (Mark Brooks and Ian Hall) didn’t come in for another 17 minutes. I think they were as surprised as I was that they hadn’t caught me.

Race winner was Daniel Hendriksen in 20:15:14, 2nd Paul Collier in 20:56:00, 3rd Ian White in 23:26:18.  First woman was A Paque in 27:08:56.  58 started and 39 finished.  Full results are on the Beyond Marathon website.  The 50 mile race was won by Charlie Sharpe in 8:01:29, 2nd Janson Heath in 8:43:51.  First woman was Rachel Fawcett in a great time of 9:02:48.  That was my best run of the year so far, and it was a great race. Thanks Richard! Thanks Clive! And thanks to the rest of the team!