The Winter 100 was the first ultramarathon that I volunteered at, two years ago. It’s a miracle I ever volunteered again, after storms blew in and five of us spent all night shivering in the back of a transit van.
But I returned to the same spot in 2013 and again this last weekend. Only this weekend I wasn’t a volunteer but set to pace my good friend Chris Mills the last 25 miles.
Chris stormed the first 50 miles and I left home sooner than planned in order to meet him and get him home. I estimated based on his pace to date, but slowing down a bit, that I would start running sometime between 1am and 3am Sunday morning, but arrived for midnight just in case he was on a flyer.
Whilst waiting for Chris, I can only describe the evening as a surreal experience of true friendship. Before I even entered the village hall which was the event base, I was stopped by Simon Edwards outside and had a good hello. Quickly followed by Gary Dalton (who is much more softly spoken than I had expected for a grumpy copper) and was ushered inside. Here I met Ashok, another social media friend, for the first time and really felt his enthusiasm for the race.
I then met Chris’ (slightly) better half, Nikki Mills who was sat with James Adams (book out) and Natasha Fielden, who was also set to pace the last 25 miles with her husband, Jon, who was running stride for stride with Chris.
And on went an evening with some people I am fortunate enough to call great friends. I few years ago I was truly lost, but with this odd band of brothers is where I truly belong.
In many ways the winner here is James Elson. He is fortunate enough to have some amazing friends and volunteers at his races, but at the same time we are the winners. These events, whether running, volunteering, pacing or simply just hanging out, allow us all to congregate away from social media and really get to know one another.
Even if Mr Elson did constantly refer to me as ‘crying boy’. I’ll let him have that one.
We started to hear worrying reports from the far aid station that Chris had walked there and had taken longer than expected. This isn’t unusual in ultras and he could have been having a bad patch so didn’t really concern anyone. I still remember distinctly how awful I felt 60 miles into the NDW100 so I knew he could bounce back.
Then, later in the evening as more runners arrived who were with him earlier in the day, the news got worse. “Chris is walking and looks pretty green, maybe he just needs some food”. Then “Yep, he is about two miles away but walking with a stick”.
At this point I knew he was in trouble and if he couldn’t walk without aid, he either might not finish or would be taking it to the wire of the 30 hour cut off. But I also remembered Sam at the GUCR and how he dealt with his knee issues and was ready to tell Chris the same.
Chris arrived around 4:30am with his pacer, John, and was looking pretty down mentally. Aside from the knee pain on his ITB he felt good, strong even, but one thing knocking him down had affected his state of mind and he was, I would say, more frustrated than anything else. He made it clear he would leave with me for half a mile and make a decision, having changed his shoes. He wasn’t prepared for an eight hour walk just to finish. From my first NDW100, I could relate to this as well. There are always other days.
Sadly, as everyone knows, that walk didn’t help and Chris drew the line. But he will be back and it won’t beat him next time.
It did make me realise what little things can do for a race and if he had stashed some poles in his 50 mile drop bag, it may have been a different story that night. If you are entering your first 100 soon, just think about what can go wrong and what you can do to remedy that. For me, it was getting cold and shivering, for Chris it was support for his weakened right knee.
Once Chris made the decision to drop, my adrenaline also dropped and I realised it was 5am and I was tired. I said my goodbyes to everyone, grabbed an hours sleep in the car and drove back home.
Chris- you will get your revenge and in turn, I will get my revenge pacing blog. I have never wanted anything as much as I wanted the NDW100 in August, mostly because I failed the year before and you have the fire in your belly to finish a 100 sooner than you think. And coming back makes the finish all the more sweet. I have hit save on the images and anecdotes I planned for this weekend so I need you to finish as much as you do. That work in progress is a keeper.