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Race Report: UTS 100M (Part 1/3)

34 hours, 50 minutes and 9 seconds of suffering. The full story.


Friday - 06:30 - Adjusting To A Late Start

The races I’ve done in the past always started early in the morning, so I had a well-calibrated routine. But this time, with a 13:00 start, I'm not sure how to approach it. The pressure and excitement had me waking up early, and even though I planned to stay in bed longer, I'm out of bed around 6:30. After doing my breathing exercices, I have my usual breakfast - porridge oats and toasts - and head outside for a short walk. We're staying in a nice appartment on the waterfront, and it's a very peaceful and bright morning. I perform some mobility and strecthing to wake up my body. OK, it's 8am... What do we do now? We head to registration to get my kit checked and collect my bib number and tracker. It's only 10am, and the morning drags on as I try to kill the remaining 3 hours and deal with my nerves. I feel good - physically and strategically prepared - but I can't quite get in the zone like I usually do.


At 12:45, after waiting for 30min in the start area, I say my goodbyes to my friends and family who came to support me, and join the other 259 runners on the start line. There's a great energy, hundreds of spectators are here, making some noise. It's the first time the start of a race is so exciting for me.



13:00 - An Hectic Start

The race starts right on the dot at 13:00. It’s an unusually hot day in North Wales, with the thermometer reading over 20°C. I've been reharsing the race strategy in my head dozens of time over the past weeks: start slow, don't get too excited, find your pace, and climb the rankings throughout the race. Of course, I did the exact opposite.


The race begins with a 900m climb up Snowdon over 6km. I'm feeling good, powerful, and I know that uphills are my strength. Every time I overtake a runner, it pushes me to overtake the next one. I know this isn't smart so early in the race but it's hard to fight against my competitive nature during races. As I reach the top, I realise that my heart rate is through the roof, nearing 175 bpm. It's obviously way too high for a race of this duration, and with the heat, I can't manage to bring it down. I'm clearly overheating and already struggling to eat. On top of that, my watch decides to erase the GPS course I had meticulously prepared. To make things worse, my quiver partly unzips and hurts my back on the first downhill when I take out my poles to get faster. Not a great start when you have more than 30 hours of racing ahead!


My strategy changes for the worst: survive until the next crewed aid station.


17:09 - Let's try to cool down - 32km


As I reach the first aid station, my partner Beth is there, ready to help me sort out my issues. We swap watches, detach my quiver, and put on my pole belt. I'm always prepared for the worst-case scenarios and this proved to be useful. But I wasn't prepared for the heat, and cooling down is taking much longer. As I leave the aid station, I'm still overheating and struggle to maintain my pace.


After only 5 hours of racing, my brain starts playing vicious games on me, trying to make me quit. "Oh look, if you slip on that rock and break your leg, that'll be a great excuse to stop the race"; "If you swallow a bee and get stung in the throat, it'll be fine, nobody will be mad at you if you quit". It's the first time I have negative thoughts like this during a race. And I don't like it!


At this point, a mindset change is needed. I have to accept slowing down dramatically and being overtaken by other competitors, sometimes even taking 10-20 second micro-breaks in the shade to try to cool down. It's hard seeing the other runners feel much better than me, especially so early in the race. But ultras are long, and I know I'll have time to make moves later.


A few hours later, as the sun finally starts to set, I feel like I'm finally finding my pace. I don't feel great, but I'm definitely more positive and even manage to overtake a few competitors. When I arrive at the aid station in Capel Curig at 21:53, it's chaos. Everyone seems to be feeling bad... but I surprisingly feel pretty good. No time to waste, I need to take off before them. Bye, guys!




Saturday - 00:05 - 62km


The night is doing me well. I manage to overtake 10 runners and to make my way back in the top 20. I still feel good and positive, but I'm really struggling to eat. The only food that's going down is fruit - not exactly the most calorific option. I do my best to eat at the aid stations, but I simply can't swallow anything while moving. I feel big drops in energy as a result, but decide to continue pushing and take advantage of the cool night.


As I reach the top of Moel Siabod, at 872 metres, a volunteer on safety duty signals that we can see some northern lights. Even though it's a race and I’m competitive, I can't let that opportunity slip. I stop, turn off my head torch and take a few moments to enjoy this rare phenomenon. It's wonderful, what a time to be alive! I'm so excited, I can't help but send a voice message to my team: "Northern lights, I repeat, northern lights". I thank life and return to running. There's still a long way to go.


An hour later, I arrive at the next aid station and meet my crew. I'm now 73km in, approaching the half way mark. My quads are starting to suffer from the repetitive steep and technical descents, but otherwise, I feel good. I sit for about 10 minutes, eat what I can, and get going once again. I need to cover as much distance as I can during the night because I know that once the sun is up again, it’s going to be a different story. To be continued...


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