First things, first. The course at Caesars Camp is epic. It’s got lovely runnable sections, it’s got some sharp up hills and it’s got some steep descents. For a ten mile race it would be a brute, but fantastic fun. For a 100 mile race, it was always a risky choice for my first 100 miler.
We all know the shocking misfortune I suffered in the summer, though it happily provided me with even more time to train and perfect my chances. That time was quickly filled with more injuries and more attempts to fix the many biomechanical troubles I seem to have enjoyed this year (my physio was shocked I can manage 10 miles, let alone the fact I did a 50 mile race in May.) Caesars Camp is a legendary race, if only because of its creator Henk, and it was always a risky choice for me because of its profile. As first 100 milers go, this is perhaps one of the more stupid ones to pick. But everything kind of fit perfectly for me to make this the ideal race to go for.
The forecast hadn’t been great leading up to the race, and as Mum and Dad arrived at our house in preparation for crewing me, we stocked up the two cars as if we were going for a two week safari.
Having made it to the start line I breathed a sigh of relief and signed in. We set about transferring stuff between cars and getting my kit together. Henk’s pre-race speech was motivating; before long, it was midday and, with little fanfare, we were off!
Robbie had briefed me on the opening section of the race and I set off at about my pre-decided pace. The first major hill was a beast; quite a baptism of fire!
I settled into a comfortable routine walking anything that went up and jogging everything flat and downhill (where it was safe to do so), and chatted to fellow runners as we jogged along. I spent much of this lap with Allan Rumbles which was pretty cool for me as an ultra-noob to run with someone with so much experience. At about 7 miles Allan dropped back to wait for Spencer who he was pacing to his first 100 finish. I plodded on by myself and only a few hundred feet down the track I got a little downhill section. Almost instantly I felt an uncomfortable pain in my knee.
My lower back was tensing up, my hips and glutes were sore and my knee was feeling like it did in Chamonix when I bust it earlier in the summer. Needless to say I was not very comfortable. I was confident I could shake it off though.
I came through the first loop, much to the surprise of my super crew, about 15 minutes early. I was a little quicker than planned, but definitely felt the pace should be maintainable. I refueled and restocked from Lynds and Ma & Pa before setting off on the next lap – conscious that I should be trying harder to hit my 2:20 pace plan.
I was feeling sore. And within a few miles of this lap my head started going away from me. My knee hurt and my lower back was feeling especially tight. I’m not going to lie, I basically switched off at this point. Mum, Dad Lynds and Robbie were all a little concerned as I got back into the checkpoint. Didn’t dare look Robbie in the eye – I just didn’t want him to see how weak I really was. I wanted to throw the towel in there and then, but I wasn’t allowed as I was marched out the tent and on my way.
At this point a rain shower begun, and I wondered what more luck was coming my way?!? Within a few more yards I realised I left the aid station with only half a bottle of water as I’d drunk half of it when trying to eat the crackers on offer. Henk really is a miserable git, they were so dry!!!
By now though I really was pretty much only walking. The drizzle stopped quickly and I soldiered on, basically not wanting to stop for fear of my temperature dropping now I was wet again. A little while later I got an amazing surprise as I got to the halfway checkpoint. I didn’t realise at first, but suddenly there in front of me was Gav, Andy, Bok, Rajiv and Al from my club, cheering and clapping as I got to the tent. Oh, and brandishing a camera or two. I got my bottle filled as they asked how I was doing and I knocked back a coke. I was feeling pretty low having walked a tough 5 miles to that point. I left with a great big smile on my face. So I decided to soak that up and jog along a bit.
It didn’t last long.
Back at the point where my knee had gone pop 20 miles ago, I saw, approaching in the gloom behind me, Kevin, who was looking really good as he caught up to me and we had a quick chat. Off he went into the distance as we were all donning head torches now One minute it was daylight, then as we came out of the wooded area it was very dark. Not long after this Allan caught me again, and it seems Spencer had struggled and sadly dropped out already.
This section in the dark was pretty awesome under headtorch-light, but also a little treacherous on the downhill bits. I was unable to bend my leg now and was practically hopping down the slopes and swinging my leg through in front of me rather than anything even resembling proper running motion. As I came down the slope to the campsite, I knew it was for the final time. I checked in and Mum and Dad made me go back to the tent to get sorted out for my next lap.
I was hugely grateful for a cup of tea and some sausage rolls (even if they were the second driest items of food I’d put in my mouth all day). Dad set to work on my knee with some ice gel and a massage but it was really painful even to the touch. I took painkillers and ibuprofen, though I was concerned about my lack of weeing (1x in 7 hours and 2 litres of water) and mixing that with drugs. The guys from the club had made the trip here too, but they struggled to gee me up very much. I’m sorry for that guys, I was truly heartened that you had all come out, but my mind was well and truly out of the game by this point.
When I finally did try to stand up I couldn’t put pressure on my leg, and another 10 mile lap was just going to prolong the agony. I limped back up to the tent, took a little abuse from Henk, and handed my number in. I was sad that it had come to this, but actually had peace with that quite a while ago, recognising that I went into this event far from in top condition. Instead I just felt bad that my 33-week pregnant wife had been stood in the cold all day and that Mum and Dad had gone to the effort of changing work shifts and driving up from the south coast to support me.
Today I just feel sore. My knee still hurts to put pressure on it, but perhaps of greater concern is my lower back and glutes which are really quite painful.
What’s next? Rest, definitely rest! Take stock of where I am at. Strengthen up everything that is going wrong and redress my running goals. And maybe take a year or so before I head out on another 100 mile jaunt.