The Ham & Lyme 100k follows the stunning Liberty Trail which runs from Lyme Regis in Dorset to Ham Hill Country Park in Somerset, before turning around and heading back to the start line to finish on the promenade.
I went into the event both physically and mentally unprepared. On-going Achilles and knee issues meant I couldn’t follow a particular training plan and the furthest I’d run in the build up to race day was 18 miles. I was also 5 weeks into a stressful home extension project so my head wasn’t really in the game.
Despite not being in a good place, I was determined to give it a go and try and enjoy a day on the trails – my go-to happy place!
The logistics also changed last minute. The original plan was to camp with the family in Lyme Regis – but a combination of the house build and unfavorable weather conditions meant that I travelled alone – staying with Maria and her family in a quaint little Airbnb in Lyme Regis. Maria was also running the 100k whilst her partner Darren was running the 50k – which was to be his first ultra. It actually worked out perfectly and I was extremely grateful for their hospitality.
Registration was from 6am with the race starting promptly at 7am. Despite being a 10 minute walk from the Airbnb to registration, we arrived fashionably late – during the race briefing to be precise – but the Race Director ‘Dave Urwin’ promptly sorted out our race numbers before we headed off with the other 25 brave runners taking on the 100k. With over 220 runners attempting the 50k (they started at Ham Hill), the 100k had a relatively small but experienced field and the nerves and adrenalin were starting to kick in.
The first couple of miles were mainly on roads as you meander your way our of Lyme Regis. The field had already started to separate at this point as we settled into a comfortable pace – with the majority of the field disappearing into the distance. Not an issue, we were there to run our own race and not worry about what those around us were doing.
By mile 3 we found ourselves climbing up through some woods and noticed some runners heading towards us – they’d gone off course. Maps checked, we got back on track and continued the climb through the undergrowth. This would be a common theme throughout the day – the GPX file we were given to upload didn’t always match the route markings on the ground which led to a few navigational issues – and not just for us but for many others after speaking to them throughout the day.
The forecast leading up to race day was cloudy and overcast with the occasional shower. The reality was, it started raining at 7.30am and didn’t really let up all day – with it being torrential at times. Not having a change of footwear (or even socks on my part) would be detrimental later on in the race – but at the time is was rather refreshing as the temperature was still warm at 15 degrees.
We reached the first checkpoint at mile 7, both in good spirits. My Achilles and knee issues weren’t causing me any issues – in fact, they never caused me any issues all race – and the terrain – a mixture of bridleways, country lanes, farmlands and woodlands was varied enough to keep you focused – the views were often spectacular in places. We refilled our soft flasks, grabbed some fuel and continued on towards the next aid station at mile 12.
At mile 10 we had a logistical decision to make. The GPX file was telling us to head off through some fields whereas the road markers were laid out suggesting we stuck to the road. Despite noticing a runner in the distance heading through the fields we went with our gut and followed the diversion. It proved to be the right decision as we later bumped into said runner who had to track back as the fields were full of rather inquisitive cows and a grumpy bull – adding 4 miles onto his overall distance.
It was here that we met Emma and Melissa – who subsequently we would run on/off with until the turnaround point at mile 31. It was great to have some company and sharing tails of existing races and accolades certainly helped pass the miles. Emma also let us in on a secret that Melissa’s boyfriend would be waiting at the finish line to propose – I think she was more excited than he was! (We later found out that she said yes so a massive congratulations to the pair of them – not only did Melissa complete her longest ultra-to-date but she also got engaged! – what a day she had!)
Knowing that the 50k runners started at Ham Hill at 9.30am, we’d done some basic calculations and worked out that we would probably expect to pass the 50k race leaders at about mile 18 – which turned out to be the case. Between miles 18-22 we passed the 220 or so runners – often on single file tracks or through corn fields – and were greeted with smiles, accolades and words of encouragement throughout. It was one of my favourite sections of the race. We also passed Darren at this point who was running extremely well for his first ultra – the guys a speed machine.
A few miles later, we passed the 100k leaders – who were simply flying and were an inspiration. Kudos indeed to those that make it look so easy.
We reached Aid Station 4 at the turnaround point just before 2pm – just shy of 7 hours to do 31 miles.
It was all going to plan.
We took some time at this aid station to refuel, use the facilities and regroup. Unfortunately Emma and Melissa didn’t hang around so we wished them well as they headed back out on the trails.
We rejoined the trails shortly after and it wasn’t long before our troubles began. We had both been suffering from blisters and hot spots on our feet – caused primarily from the wet conditions. Our trainers and socks had become saturated and despite Maria changing her socks, neither of us had thought about leaving a spare pair of trainers at the drop bag. It went from being uncomfortable to excruciating relatively quickly and got progressively worse as the miles ticked along.
We were still able to run – that was the frustrating part – but every step was painful and knowing that we had potentially another 31 miles to go – another 7+ hours on our feet was becoming a mental battle.
We retraced our steps, back through secluded farmlands, beautiful corn fields and woodlands as the rain came lashing down – often going hours without seeing another sole on the trails.
Ticking off checkpoints and crossing off milestones was the new target, knowing every step forward meant that we were one step closer to the finish line. We were still running the flats, hiking the hills (of which it felt endless) – the same strategy we’d been adopting all day – just now, everything took more effort. The hills seems steeper and the conditions underfoot were more challenging now the ground had become saturated.
Maria had adopted a shuffle – using her arms to propel herself forward – similar to that of a professional speed walker – much to my amusement!
She took my ‘critique’ in the way it was intended… 🙂
We reached the final checkpoint at mile 57 – just 5 miles to go.
For the first time since 7am we could see Lyme Regis in the distance and a glimpse of the English Channel. After a few words of encouragement from the marshals (although I’d question their reassuring words of ‘it’s all downhill from here’ – it bloody wasn’t!) we left the aid station in good spirits knowing we were on the final push to the finish line.
The final climb of the day eventually took it’s toll as I started to feel nauseous and dizzy. Maria powered on ahead whilst I struggled to maintain any momentum – slowing the pace and stopping to collect my thoughts every 5-10 metres or so. It was the first time I’d struggled physically all day – other than my foot issues, I’d felt physically strong. Summit reached, we regrouped for a few moments whilst I took some food on board – which seemed to do the trick as I felt instantly better – (need to work on fueling for RH100) – before pushing on ahead.
What a day!
62 miles with over 8,800ft of elevation in 15:56…and probably one of the hardest medals I’ve earned given that elevation.
Darren greeted us at the finish line. He’d smashed his first ultra – finishing in 22nd place out of a field of 220 runners.
Another superbly organised event from Albion Running who are quickly becoming one of my go-to event organisers for challenging, yet stunning location ultras.