26 Hour Picnic - by Karen Bennett
It’s been just over a week since I set out on Saxons, Vikings and Normans 100-mile Viking Challenge. Now that I’m back into the day-to-day routine of secondary school teaching it seems like a lifetime ago, although my right foot is keen to remind me otherwise. More of that later.
Despite training have gone fairly well, it seemed such a ridiculous distance, that I had no real idea whether I stood a chance of finishing. At 45, I figured it was now, or never, though. Give it a go, or break myself trying. I was surprisingly relaxed in the days leading up to, in part because work was busy, although my early hours of the morning thoughts revolved around what food to take and the inevitable getting the start time wrong ‘nightmare’. In the end I squeezed enough food into the boot of my car to sustain a family for a week and clothes for every eventuality.
I woke at 05:00 on race day, berating myself for wasting an hour’s sleep when I’d be up all night. The days of late night partying are a distant memory for me; anything past 23:00 classes as pushing the boat, never mind staying up all night. How was I going to stay awake? I threw some extra coffee sachets in my car for good measure.
After setting up my space in the base camp barn and repeated ‘where did I leave my coat/water bottle/sanity?’ trips back to my car, Traviss and Rachel, the Race Directors, set us on our way. Sixteen 6.25-mile laps lay ahead. After a couple of hundred meters we turned off road and onto a mudslide of a field edge track. Most of the 100 (ish) starters were in road shoes, as a majority of the route would be on hard track/cycle path. For the first few laps it was amusing slip sliding our way up and down the track, clinging onto other runners for support. Ten hours and eight laps in, though, the novelty was wearing off. After one head torch lap, thankfully the RD’s changed the route, skipping out all bar half a mile of mud each lap. Normally I love a good muddy route, but I hugged Traviss when he announced the change.
At 19:00 I was joined by the Keeler family, with Lizzie as a nighttime pacer, while her sister and mother cooked us dinner in their camper van. None of this midnight snack business for me, I hovered down food every lap. My picnic started off with cake (okay, so probably not the best running fuel, but it looked so good), swiftly followed by roasted sweet potato, energy bars, cheese crackers, pizza, porridge, rice pudding, peanut butter sandwiches and risotto. I may well be the only person in history to finish a 100-mile event without losing weight.
Around 70 miles in I had a bit of a wobble, convinced that there was foam spilling over the track, swiftly followed by a ‘I’m going to be sick’ bend over at the side of the track moment. After a slow walk back to base camp, I collapsed into my car and closed my eyes. Lizzie woke me half an hour later with a pot of porridge. The temptation to curl up in a ball and go back to sleep was oh so appealing, but she dragged me out and within five minutes I was feeling full(ish) of energy. My legs weren’t quite as keen on running anymore, though. We jogged at least part of each lap from then on, but there was a whole lot of walking during that final marathon!
The race volunteers were amazing, offering hugs, kicks up the backside and food (lots of it – including pizza as the sun went down and bacon sandwiches as it came up). That’s one of the many things I love about SVN events. The aid station is essentially a tuck shop and volunteers are always fantastic.
By sunrise, with the rain steadily falling, I knew I was going to finish, albeit outside 24 hours. In the end I crossed the finish 26 hours 42 minutes, a mere 9 hours behind the winner. Seriously, how is that even possible?
I still can’t believe that I got round and, even more surprisingly, that I really enjoyed majority of it. I also can’t believe that I didn’t have the common sense to loosen my laces during the night, as my feet swelled; my right foot still hasn’t forgiven me. At the time bending down seemed like far too much effort.
Whilst a lapped route may not be to everyone’s taste, it meant that the atmosphere out on the course was fantastic, with the fast and slow encouraging each other. With my buckle proudly displayed on my mantelpiece I am already planning my next one, SVN’s Sapphire Hoe Challenge. If any one fancies joining me, I’ll supply the peanut butte sandwiches.
Thank you to everyone that sent messages of support on Twitter; it really did make a big difference! If any of you have even vaguely considered giving a 100-miler a go, stop thinking about it and get yourself signed up. In the end, crossing the finish line is almost irrelevant; it’s all about having the belief to give it a shot.
Huge well done to Karen. Running 100 miles has been on my bucket list for some time. Hopefully this will give me the courage to dream big.
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