Despite another 30 miles left to run, weeks of worry and nerves along with 16 hours of running so far evaporated. I knew I would finish this.
I’ve run the White Rose Ultra 30 mile (1 loop) in both 2013 and 2014 but as Team OA expanded the race from a 30 and 60 mile event to include a new 100 mile race I felt I had to give it a go as it’s on my doorstep and a race I know well. I’ve always wanted to try and do a 100 miler to test myself so this was the perfect “easy” option in terms of location and course familiarity.
I just had to haul myself around 3 loops (+ an extra 10 miles at the start) of a course I’ve already run around 4 times in races and training.
I ran the Hardmoors 60 in September after having some knee issues but I just about recovered in time for that race thanks to a physio visit and some rehab. I got around that in decent shape and then basically maintained what I’d got in the 6 weeks from then to the WRU100.
Long runs always prove tricky to schedule and I didn’t manage any between Hardmoors and WRU but my thinking was that I was fit – my shorter parkrun times were good and I always use that as a marker for general fitness. It’s not specific for ultras but at least I know where I’m at. I was still running 50-60 mpw at least.
I had originally planned to be entirely self sufficient around the course relying on only the checkpoints and drop bag at race HQ and not having a crew or pacers because my wife Ally who normally supports me was helping with supporting the race itself working a massive 30+ hour shift.
My kit – the same as usual, just more of it!
The 100 mile race started at Team OA’s offices at midnight on Saturday – not the nicest time to start a race I must admit – and was a 10 mile loop added at the start followed by 3 loops of the 30 mile 4000ft ascent White Rose course. It works out to around 15,000ft of climbing and descent on mixed road and trail terrain with some particularly steep climbs and quad trashing descents on each challenging loop.
The race is made extra difficult because you come through the race HQ after 10, 40 and 70 miles. It gives you a chance to change and get a brew but if you hang around too long the prospect of doing another lap gets pretty grim!
The warm up loop – 0-10 mile extension
About 65 people stood at the start line at midnight ready to take on the 100 mile race. Plenty of nerves (from me), lots of chatter among the more experienced runners and before long we were off. This extra mile loop was added to create a 100 mile event as I’d said to Wane at Team OA a while back that a 90 mile race probably wouldn’t appeal to many people so it was quite a functional loop down into the valley, along the canal and back up to where the last checkpoint would be on the normal course then the final 5 miles of the race loop itself.
– Sam and I ready for a midnight start
It was a totally functional run in the dark and as a warm up for the main loops wasn’t very exciting in the dark but was good for settling the nerves and getting going. I think I went around that in about 1:45 while my stomach churned away with nerves still.
Loop 1 – “Get it done” (10-40 miles)
Mentally I’d broken this race into 4 main blocks (warm up loop then the 3 loops) and so after briefly stopping at HQ to visit the toilets (they were grim) I just went straight back out. I was dry and felt fine so not much point hanging around after only 10 miles.
My race strategy was a pretty simple set of goals:
- Finish in sub 22 hours
- Finish in sub 24 hours
- Just finish!
Splitting that down into smaller goals I wanted to get through 40 miles (extensions loop + 1 big loop) in less than 8 hours so that when I got back to HQ I’d have the mental boost of seeing all the 30 & 60 mile racers before they set off and ideally I’d get back out onto the course before they set off so I’d have company during the second lap.
I pushed a reasonable pace through the night where the weather was practically perfect. Considering it was the 1st of November it was warm enough to run in a lightweight jacket and shorts the whole time. It was pretty misty on the moors with visibility down to a few meters in places and my head torch simply reflecting back off the mist meant I couldn’t see much of anything but I’m so familiar with the route I didn’t need to worry for once!
It was difficult on the first lap because it was unsupported by the race organisers apart from there being water jerry cans every 5 miles. Luckily for me I had Meltham AC clubmate Nick moving around the course supporting myself and Sam who was also running the 100. More on them later as both played an important part in my own race.
For the most part, the first 40 miles were pretty uneventful. I saw an incredible shooting star streak across the sky at about 4am and the sunrise coming up Wessenden Trail to where CP 4 would be located was beautiful. Nick had said before the race to just get through the night hours and when the sun came up I’d get a boost. He was absolutely right.
My feet were giving me a lot of pain though. I’d opted to start the race wearing my S-Lab Sense Pro which are pretty minimal and while I’d comfortably finished Hardmoors 60 in them I think the amount of road on this course led to my feet feeling pretty pounded and I had to text Ally to bring my old Speedcross along with some gel heel inserts I sometimes use to give me as much cushioning as possible. I regretted not buying the Hoka Speedgoats I’d had my eye on a few weeks back.
Lap 2 – 40 – 70 miles
I got into race HQ with about 10 minutes to spare before the 30 & 60 runners started their race at 8am so my plan to get out before them wasn’t going to happen as I needed to tend to my feet, change my shoes and socks and swap shirts so I’d allowed myself about 20 minutes to chill out and focus on the next lap. The restorative powers of a sugary cup of tea never fail to amaze me.
With the other races starting, all the checkpoints would be open for the remainder of the day so I also had this to look forward to as it had been a lonely night without much sight of anyone on the course but I’m not that bothered about running alone anyway. It was however good to run the trail in the day and what a day it turned out to be. I actually got sun burnt it was so warm. 1st of November and it was about 20 degrees!
– Saying hi to Sam & Brett who were running the 30
For the most part, the second lap went by pretty easily (relatively speaking) – my feet felt much better, I was eating regularly and getting enough hydration although the checkpoints only had water which is alright but I’d have killed for a bottle of coke. Ultimately lap 2 was pretty uneventful running wise. It was great to see so many friends and family out on the course during the day though.
The value of seeing people you know shouldn’t be underestimated, I saw Ally’s mum and dad between CP3 and 4 and they had a flask of sweet coffee which hit the spot and then seeing Sam & Brett who (photo above) about to head up Wessenden Trail along with a load of our friends who were supporting them but also had plenty of encouragement (and Matthew with a bottle of ribena) for me too!
I always felt if I could get through the second lap and nothing was significantly wrong I would be able to finish the race even if I had to hike the last lap.
Lap 3 – 70 – 100 miles
I’d passed a fair few of the 30 and 60 milers during the second lap which was pleasing as I’d set off 20 minutes after them so I got around in race HQ in reasonable time and felt good although the unexpected heat of the day had taken a bit of a toll and the midnight race start meant I was a little tired heading up to the first CP on loop 3, I was practically dozing while walking.
The great thing about having a tracker was that friends and family could follow my progress and meet me on the course without too much hassle. Heading up to the CP I had the unexpected surprise of one of my friends Matt Pierson appearing around a corner to say hello and offer encouragement as he’d been following the tracker and popped out to see me. It was also very kind of him to go home and get me a can of coke and some crisps which was a big boost at the right time.
At this point darkness was coming around once again most of the trails were pitch black and I was running in my own little world that existed in front of my in the light of my head torch. I was starting to get a little cold despite the heat of the day and I was desperate for something to eat and drink that wasn’t checkpoint water and sweets so had to arrange to meet Ally at CP4 with a brew.
I’d hiked up Wessenden Trail for the final time. It’s one I run all the time living on the other side of the hill and it’s funny taking an hour to do it when I’ve run up it in the King of the Hill race in 22 minutes but I’m glad I decided to get my head down and just take a hiking break to get up there. For the first time this lap I sat down at the CP for a little bit to have a slice of pizza and a cup of tea provided by Ally. Mentally and physically I picked up massively and wanting to just get the race done I had to be helped out of the seat and I hobbled off down the road counting down the remaining 10 miles.
Ally had offered to run the last 5 miles from the next CP with me and I can’t say how much of a boost that was and I managed to run most of the way to that CP ready to share the last stretch of the race with her.
The last stretch!
When I reached the final CP (via a small diversion to avoid a field of cows blocking the path) I checked the time and it was only 22:40. I knew the last 5 miles were very runnable apart from the final climb back up to race HQ and with 1:20 to cover it I felt the sub-24 hour goal was very much possible so we didn’t stop at the cp at all. In the end we ran the last stretch in an hour flat and got back to race HQ at 23:38 to comfortably dip below the 24 hour goal.
– 23:38 total time, I did it!
I’ve wanted to try running a 100 miler for a while and the WRU was a great option for me. I know the course inside out, it’s local so there’s plenty of support and I know the organisers who do a great job running the race so effort wise it’s a bit of a no brainer. It’s also a lapped course so support is reasonably simple should you need it.
I felt before the race that shorter ultras up to 40 miles were perhaps more where I could focus my efforts if I wanted because the time and effort to train for and then run longer races takes such a heavy toll on family time. It’s difficult to reasonably find that time so I wanted desperately to finish this race because I didn’t want to have a DNF that would mean unfinished business and the brooding that would mean having to do another 100 one day.
I can’t say the race was “easy” – it absolutely wasn’t – I worked my arse off for nearly 24 hours. I was however surprised at how relatively uneventful it turned out to be for something where everything has to go right to have a chance. Looking at the finish rate (only 27 of more than 70 starters) this is a challenging race with a lot of punishing tarmac, the difficulty of it being 3 loops and the midnight start all combining to tempt a DNF or downgrade to one of the other race options.
On the day though, apart from my shoe choice being wrong on the first lap – I should have known better – and some issues with the lack of coke and more actual food at CP’s – everything went my way on the day. The weather was incredible, seeing friends and family at just the right times and coming into the race with rested legs following my various issues that caused my worry pre-Hardmoors meant it all clicked for me.
Kit & tips
The weather was incredibly kind and the forecast accurate so it wasn’t a taxing race in terms of kit. I got my shoe choice totally wrong and I think the S-Lab Sense Pro actually aren’t for me generally. They’re too minimal, especially with so much road.
All my other gear is my normal stuff which is tried and tested.
- AK race vest
- Inov8 Storm shell race smock
- Salomon Speedcross shoes
- Tech tees and shorts
- LED Lenser SE07 headtorch
- Anker power pack
- AAA batteries x12
- Torq gels x10 (topped up with a couple of mars bars, egg mayo wraps and crisps from CP’s)
- LED handheld torch (£5 on Amazon)
I had a drop bag with some food and changes of shoes (Adidas XT4 and Nike Lunar Glides) which I would have used if needed but I only change if there’s a need and the Speedcross were fine. My watch (Suunto Ambit 2) rather disappointingly only lasted about 10 hours despite me changing it before the race to the middle battery setting which should have given me at least 12 hours.
Normally I carry a small power pack and the cable so when the battery dies I put the watch on charge in my pack and although I did this, I must have knocked it as the battery died at some point so I don’t have an accurate track of the whole race sadly.
The other thing that was massively useful was the little handheld torch. I knew that running for 12 hours in the dark would require at least a couple of battery changes and I didn’t want to be fumbling around in the dark with batteries when the head torch died so I had the little backup torch. Well worth buying one or carrying a similar little one if only for battery changes.
I’d planned on being basically self-sufficient for this race and carrying what I needed then relying on support from the normal CP’s and at Race HQ because Ally was marshaling and helping with the race organisation so I couldn’t rely on her to crew me and I didn’t want to ask anyone to because it’s such a big commitment. I always had enough food and drink at any time to get around the course so in that respect I was self sufficient.
That said, in the end many people played a part.
Nick who was primarily crewing for Sam (who unfortunately had trouble with his feet battling to an epic 82 miles before having to retire) gave invaluable advice from his own experience of running 100’s – two bits specifically stuck in my mind and helped break up the race into manageable chunks for me
- You’ll get a boost when the sun comes up. That helped get the night lap done and when the sun did rise it was sensational, the weather played a big part for sure.
- Just focus on the next CP – nothing more. That helped break the last lap down into less scary blocks of 2 hours or less.
Not only did he help out with a great deal of pre race prep, he was out on course meeting both Sam and me at various road points during the night and following day. It was comforting to know he was tracking us.
Ally as ever for letting me sign up and pacing me over the last 5 miles but also because she put in a monster shift helping all the runners over 36 hours of registration, race HQ jobs and then being out on course.
Mums and dads for looking after Felix all weekend and being out on course during the day and night providing encouragement and cheers! All my other family, friends from Meltham AC, parkrun and on Facebook for your messages of encouragement and support before and congratulations after.
Having taken up running in 2012 I feel this finish was the end of a long chapter for me. I’ve gone from a 16.5st smoker a few years back to someone who thought running for 24 hours would be an enjoyable experience. To say my life and that of our entire family has changed over the last few years is an understatement.
I’m glad I can retire from 100 mile racing with a 100% finish record ;)
Thinking of doing the White Rose Ultra?
In the weeks and months before the race this year (and last year) I tend get a fair few messages asking about the course, the race and various other things from people thinking of taking on either their first ultra or experienced runners wanting a little more specific course info and I’m happy to help out if you’ve got any questions about the race please do get in touch any time.
Sadly my Suunto died early and the only gpx I could get was from my tracker which is significantly less accurate than a watch as it records only once a minute or so.
The tale of the race for reference:
- 100 miles
- 23 hours 38 minutes
- 14th place (27 finishers, 42 DNF)
- 15,000ft ascent/descent
- Average pace 14:10/mile