Same Place, Different Race
Last year I ran the Stour Valley Path 100km (SVP100). I found it tough going. This year I went back for more. There was a slight twist this time round – I already knew other runners and I’m far more experienced (where as the SVP100 2017 was my 2nd Ultra, the SVP100 2018 was my 5th of the year!). I Met Chris on the course last time out and we were both going back and we’d been in touch about running it together from the start. I also knew Ged (when we met at Race to the Tower) and had talked him into joining us (he was way too easily convinced!).
Prep wise, I knew I was ready after a few months of Ultras and that the distance was a given. But I remember the course being tough and my mind has jumped forward to The CCC in just 3 weeks time. I didn’t want to get injured!
Much of the day had blurred into a few memories. The three of us started together and ran 13 hours together to the finish line together. Naturally there was a hell of a lot of chat and laughter as well as silence and the low points. Over the course of 100km you pass many sites and trees (and along the SVP route also churches and bridges!!) and it becomes difficult to process them apart. So I thought, as this is the first time I’ve completed the same event twice, I’d revisit and compare the memories from last year to this….
Why I ran the course
(2017) Post RTTS I had the craving, I’d sampled something I liked and I wanted more. I wanted it soon. I started looking and I found this local(ish) 100km and didn’t hesitate to sign-up. Race day just 3 weeks away.
(2018) I enjoyed last year, I want to work towards a black t-shirt (as I’m a simpleton!) and as part of my 12 month challenge the race slotted nicely into the month of August without too much hassle or cost.
(2017) The SVP100 had under 100 competitors – that said, the amount of effort and input to organise such an event is still mammoth undertaking. There is no doubt a greater reliance on support and volunteers to make the event go to plan (which a number of local running teams support). The team did a great job with information, route planning, training guides and support throughout the day.
(2018) Somethings had changed, there were close to the limit of 200 entries this year. In addition, for the first time there was the SVP50. This meant that there was a single starting wave for the SVP100 and far more runners (and grouped together along the course). Despite all this, the organisation remained slick and ran perfectly. Without the volunteer’s enthusiasm and support this wouldn’t be possible!
(2017) There was pretty much no training for this one. I was counting on the fitness I’d built over the past few months and the fact that I’d continued running since RTTS.
(2018) Again there was no specific training, although over the year I’ve run further, fast, harder than ever before and had already completed 9 races ( 5 marathons and 4 ultras), so I was in great shape. More importantly, I’m more experienced and wiser to the challenge of ultra running.
(2017) Once again I met a fellow runner, Andy, on the train out to the starting point. Andy and I set off together, both with the intention of making a certain train we’d booked back to London later that evening.
(2018) Whilst Andy wasn’t here this time, I was already setting out to Run with Chris and Ged. More people, more fun. I’d still booked a train home, although I was more calculated this time with a 13 hour target and enough time to wash and eat afterwards!
(2017) I started out with a little niggle in my right knee felt from a run the week before. Whilst I felt comfortable starting the race, within 10 miles I could feel some discomfort as a result of the hard ground and grooves from tractor ruts (there was plenty of ankle rolling this day!).
(2018) I was ready for the terrain this year. Having been through it before I knew what to expect. The scorching summer was going to make the ground very hard and challenging, but two days of rain before the day was a blessing! Limited ankle rolling this year as I’m now more accustomed to my foot placement when running!
(2017) As the miles ticked by, Andy powered on, I was now out on my own, head down, miles to go until the next checkpoint. This race was a real learning curve for me. There were long, lonely stretches where I went almost whole check points without seeing other runners.
(2018) this time, whilst the miles ticked down, there was no loneliness. The company was ever present and besides running with Chris and Ged the course was constantly peppered with runners. Through the early single track paths, to the gradual scattering of the field, after halfway through the course, on leaving Sudbury we ran into (literally into) a large group of runners from the SVP50. This added to the vibe and atmosphere and gave us all plenty of opportunity to chat away the miles and take out mind off the run.
(2017) It dawned on me that I entered the SVP100 with preconceptions. Incorrect expectations even. I had the mind set of “I did the RTTS in 11 and a half hours, I’ll beat that time here”. Wrong. Different race, different place. No two are the same as I was about to find out. I realised that the course was flatter (I think) than the RTTS so without noticing I’d spent more time running and less time walking and recovering. I’d exerted myself more and thus tired sooner.
(2018) No preconceptions this year. I knew the race was tough. I knew the challenge it would bring. I did however learn once again that it is probably tougher than I think. It is a very very flat course with minimal elevation gain (just c 2,000ft) over the 100km. Whilst that means there are few hills to force you to walk, rest and eat, it also means you are for long stretches running and using the same muscle groups. The fatigue is more noticeable!
(2017) I also didn’t adapt as I ran. One example that came back to hurt me after the race was when I felt some discomfort in my back, something had shifted in my pack and instead of stopping and addressing it, I decided to continue to the next checkpoint to sort it out, some 7 miles later. Mistake, I was in agony for days afterwards and it was only two months later on a holiday that a friend (qualified physio) noticed the lump in my back and massaged it out!
(2018) History almost repeated itself here. Once again I felt something in my back. My hydration system was causing me hassle (sometime after the 4th Checkpoint). This was the first time I’d experienced it. Whilst I was too stubborn to address it straightaway, I did eventually sort it out before it was too late. I decided to drink all the water and remove the bladder. There was some discomfort as a result from the content of the bag but I’m not expecting any lasting pain this time round!
(2017) Later in the day I met Chris shortly after the half way checkpoint. We ended up sticking together for the rest of the course, both tiring and relying on each other to get through what was left.
(2018) Well you know what happened here! I met him before the start and crossed the line with him! Impressively Chris received his 5 Star black t-shirt this day!
(2017) Come the final check point the sun was setting and the temperature dropping. we’d slowed to a hobble and decided that we were both happy to walk the final 4 miles (it was probably faster than we were running at this point).
(2018) The final checkpoint was a little demon for me. I didn’t want a repeat of last year. I wanted to know how we went wrong and to run it in the day light. We reached the checkpoint with the sky starting to darken. An attentive Pierre refilled my bottles, received a sweaty hug and sent us off on our way. The last five miles were covered in day light, with what felt like a strong pace and desire to get to the finish. There were no wrong turns this year but I still couldn’t understand how we ended up going so wrong last year!
(2017) Eventually we reached the finish to a great welcome from the volunteers still working through the night.
(2018) The finish didn’t feel like an “eventually” thing this year but an “inevitable”. We started together, and we finished together. We came in just under 13hrs, a target I had in my mind before we set off. This couldn’t have gone any more to plan!
On reflection, 2018 was more enjoyable than 2017. Not because of the faster time, the better feel of the run, but because of the company. It is so corny to say it, but it makes a difference. I enjoy running, but I’m not competing with anyone (the winner popped a sub 9hr time!!!). The achievement is the completion and the journey you take to get there. It is such an amazing thing to share with someone and I enjoyed every moment of the day spent with Chris and Ged. It was challenging, it was tough, but together we got through it. At different points in the day we all felt great and we all felt low (I hit a particular dark place just before we reached 30miles), but the camaraderie of each other dragged us out of those holes each time.
Besides those two, there were a plethora of familiar faces around the course. From Matthew (the race Director), Mark Parry (whom we ran with shortly after checkpoint two before I vanished into the distance), Steve Skinner who came bounding past with a smile on his face later in the race, Clair on the SVP50 who was fighting her own battles and wining, Pierre the bearded wonder manning the final checkpoint, Lenny who popped up in a field with his camera at hand to snap some race photos and also James Poole who I got to meet for the first time – whom casually popped out a 50km after smashing the NDW100 last week and then preceded to appear at every single checkpoint supporting through the 25+ Advent Runners out on the course! (not to mention those familiar faces of Coren, Dan and Sophie who I didn’t get to see on the day).
The memories of last year came flooding through thick and fast as I recalled the wrong turns we took, where something happened, where I met chris and so on. The corn field I remembered so vividly was missing though, nothing but a waste land of spikey bastard foliage this year. A shame. Chris was determined not to get us lost this year and expertly navigated us through the course with the occasional subtle acceptance of “off course” before we strayed too far in the wrong direction.
The one concern I took away was the amount of chaffing and discomfort I experienced in this race. My inner thighs, my waist, my nipples, my watch rubbing on my wrist and the awkwardness of my bladder in my pack all raised concerns in my mind. They were dealt with, but I don’t understand why these all caused me hassle that I’ve mostly never experienced before. A slight concern I need to think about before the CCC!
Towards the end of the race, as the comments of “not far to go2 and “Last mile” were muttered by passers-by, I knew we could stil achieve that sub 13hr. It was meaningless really and second to us all finishing together. But the determination we all pulled out to step up and rise to the challenge was incredible. Crossing the line together was the finishing touch to the achievement and personal victories!
My final thoughts, the SVP100 is tough. Very tough. You get 4 UTMB qualifying points from this race and they are very much earnt! You run endlessly, the terrain is hard and uneven (not rocky, ridgeway uneven, but dried mud uneven) and your legs take a pounding. I definitely ache more after this event than many of the others I do. Don’t under estimate the Stour Valley Path!
Kit I wore:
- Salomon Slab Ultras
- Montane Via Fang Zip / Wild Trail Runners T-shirt
- Montane Razor 15 Pack
- Inov 8 All Terrain Cap
- Puma Split 5″ shorts