Two weeks on from the Stour Valley Path 100km (SVP100), and I now feel ready to write a report that’s not incredibly negative. I have battled with my huge error in this race, but am now hopefully moving on from the ‘what might have been’ to ‘how do I push this forwards now’. Hopefully this recall of the events won’t be quite so miserable than if I’d written it on Sunday straight after the race.
The Stour Valley path 100km starts in Newmarket and follows the Stour Valley Path all the way to Manningtree in Suffolk. The route is described as undulating, but not mountainous like many ultras I’ve done recently, and therefore I was looking to get a quick-ish time for the 100km. Although I did have to remind myself it was my first 100km, having only run up to 50 miles before in the Gower. The lack of ascent is replaced by a pretty tough path underfoot and the prospect of getting lost, as this is not a waymarked national trail. Although having lived in Cambridge ourselves for 10 years and being familiar with the areas I was going run through, I’d not been able to recce any of the route as we live 3 hours away from Newmarket in Wiltshire, with 3 young kids and a business to. This was not a race to be underestimated, as I was soon to find out.
The start is split between 7am and 9am, with the faster and more competitive runners starting at 9am. It seemed very late compared to other events I’ve raced recently. I had my usual rubbish nights’ sleep and we were there and registered well before the start. Chris was great to have around, with his usual calming presence.
The first section of the race started alongside the main road, and a quick pace was set from the off. Soon into the stunning Devil’s Dyke following a very narrow path, the pace slowed down and we got a bit congested. I felt this was good though as the pace was too quick. It became very spread out very quickly and I began to realise how tricky it was going to be to navigate the route. My Garmin was not working very well at guiding me the way, and I was relying a lot on others who knew the route and on my paper map. Soon into Checkpoint 1 though near Haverhill, I was first lady. Great to see Chris and my kids, and our fabulous friends who’d put us up for the night.
Onwards towards Clare country park. A couple of tricky points where the marking was unclear, I noticed my watch wasn’t helping me. I was very worried about whether the route would work on my old Garmin 310xt, it usually beeps when I’m off course, today it was telling me nothing
The second checkpoint at 23 miles was fabulous, lovely efficient crew to help out with a smile. I knew I still 1st lady so I didn’t linger once I’d filled up I was off, but so great to see my kids waving enthusiastically. Chris was great with grabbing new cliff shot bloks for me and off I went again, totally buzzing. Then disaster struck, I went running off down the disused railway line, totally missed the turn off. Still buzzing from the last checkpoint. My watch didn’t beep at me, so I kept running.
After a mile I realised my mistake, no tape or arrows and no signs! OMG! Much swearing, I did what I always tell my athletes not to do if something goes wrong, I legged it! I ran 2 x 7:30 minute miles! Bad idea, as then although I was then past all the ladies who’d got in front, I was now out of fuel big time, and very into carbohydrate burning and not fat burning territory. However, I was now up with the 2nd lady. A big ploughed field was not really what I needed at this point! I had to stop and walk! Coming into the 3rd checkpoint, Chris was distraught as he wasn’t sure what had happened. I explained and I could see how sorry he was for me, I was feeling tired from running too fast to make up time, but too hot to eat properly and rather down. I have never been so thirsty in a race that I’ve drunk all my liquids between checkpoints and get to a checkpoint and down liquids. Food wise, watermelon was all I could get down, and I tried to plod on towards Long Melford with some enthusiasm. At this point Sam Lewsey, the 1st lady, was only 10 mins ahead of me, so it wasn’t unachievable and I had the fabulous company of Maryann Devally from Serpentine Running Club.
I ran along with Maryann and chatted for a good part of this section of the race into Long Melford, and was now resigned to finishing 2nd or 3rd as the gap wasn’t decreasing now, in fact it was increasing as the heat, my inability to eat, the undulating terrain and non-stop stiles were starting to wear me down. Some of the scenery though was just stunning, rolling hills of fields in so many different colours, textures and I remember the smells of harvesting.
From check point 4 in Bures I don’t recall too much, it was the ultra-runners’ mantra of ‘Just keep on putting one foot in front of the other’. I was going through a very bad patch when Maryann said she was going to push on. I had nothing left at this point, so had to let her go, and go she did. What an honour to run with such a talented and experienced athlete. I learnt a lot from Maryann during our few hours together. This section was very tough underfoot and overgrown, my legs were very badly scratched and blood was running down legs. It was finally starting to cool down when I arrived at the final check-point in Stratford St.Mary, looking rather dishevelled but with only 7k to go. I had started to up the pace after managing to finally eat something more solid than watermelon, and started overtaking slower runners again. I went from 16th to 12th during this last section, if only I’d managed to push it a bit earlier on. I went through 100k in 10:45 and cursed quietly to myself as I knew I still had 5k left to run in the race. This last 7k was however my favourite part of the race, beautiful meadows next to the River Stour, couples having romantic picnics, and I chuckled as I ran past in my smelly, dusty and bloody state as to what they might be thinking as I ran past them!
Coming into the finish at Brantham, 400m to go, 200m to go. These last two sections went on forever. How far can 200m be?! Then there it was in the twilight, music playing, my amazing support crew, always there to cheer me in. A mix of emotions when I collapsed across the line, pure elation from finishing my longest race ever and anger with myself for ruining my own race. 3 ladies in the top 12 and all of us had broken the course record, which goes to show what a high class race it was this year.
My son Joshua was brutally honest at the 50 mile feed station in Nayland: ‘Mummy you aren’t doing very well!’. He was right to a point, but it just goes to show what my kids’ expectations are like, and I will be kicking myself forever for taking that wrong turn. However, I did run knock 35 mins off my 50k PB and 48 mins off 50 mile PB during the race. I did finish and push back to get a 3rd place, so I’m hoping this has shown my 3 very talented kids how to recover from a mistake in a race and not to let it pull you down too much.
I decided there and then at the ripe old age of 43 I was going to retire from competitive running and ultras. I’m just not sure how much more I can give, and I really don’t think I can run a 100 miles. Now, us Maxwells do have a habit of retiring, Chris has retired 3 times already, but this was my first retirement, and now two weeks later I’m not sure I can leave my ultra-running on the sore note.
So probably onwards to 2017!