The Samphire Challenge is a set of timed races (6, 12 or 24) that run alongside the Samphire 100, and is organised by Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The route is a lapped course around the Samphire Hoe nature reserve: an area created from the rock dug out during construction of the channel tunnel. A large out and back section is along the concrete path by the sea wall, with a shorter trail loop via race control at the visitor centre.
I’d entered the 6hr race and chosen to start at midnight, finishing at 6am on Sunday. My plan was to have a long night run as training, but I was also intrigued to see how I would find running multiple laps. I’d set a target of 40 miles (11 laps), which would require an average pace of 9 mins per mile.
In the two weeks before the race I’d been trying the Maffetone 2 week test, as well as run the North Downs marathon, and logged another 50 or so miles in training. If I completed the 40miles, I’d have done 120 in total for the two weeks, while eating a diet of mostly protein and fat, so I knew this would be tough.
The weather on Saturday was scorching, and I was concerned about how the 100 mile runners were coping (their race started at 8am). The forecast for the night was warm and humid, with an overnight low of 19C at 2am!
Vest and shorts weather was not what I’d been expecting.
After dinner at home, and sorting my kit I drove down to Dover. Vehicle access to Samphire Hoe is not permitted after 8pm, so I parked on a nearby road and walked down through the tunnel to the visitor centre. After registering, getting my number and sorting my drop bag for later, I was off. The Challenge runners can start when they choose, so there was no fanfare or pre-race chat, just sign in and go. I immediately met up with Jon Fielden who was on lap 20 of 27 (the Samphire 100). He looked fine, but tired, so I explained I was just starting, and then ran on. It was a strange felling, running on fresh legs at midnight, on a trail surrounded by runners who were 16 hours into a 100 mile race. Unsurprisingly I was the fastest person out there at that time, and I probably confused a few tired runners by looking so fresh and relaxed.
The first lap was really about getting to know the route. The first section was on an undulating trail, and then when down a steep section to the sea wall. There is then a long out an back on the flat concrete path by the sea wall, before back up the steep trail, and then back to the visitor centre. I decided I’d walk up the steep section from the sea wall, and use my run 9min, walk 1 on the rest of the circuit. In races I always try to eat something after 30 mins and snack regularly. However after my first snack I felt rubbish. I’d had a decent meal only a few hours ago, unlike races which start at 6am, so I guess I just didn’t need more food.
I settled into a comfortable pace and started counting down the laps. The first 5 laps were done in 2:50, so I was slightly down on my target, but feeling good. During the next lap or two we were treated to a glorious sight of the moon setting. It was not quite a full moon, but as it sunk towards the sea it turned an amazing orange colour, which made the few clouds glow spectacularly. I wished I’d brought a camera, but as the checkpoint was every 3.7 mile I was only carrying a small flask of water and a bag of nuts and chocolate covered coffee beans – great nighttime energy.
By 4am it was getting light and I could see the faces of the 100 mile runners, rather than just the glare of head torches. I know that weary but determined look. I chatted to a few whenever I paused for a walk break. The looped nature and the out and back section meant you see people regularly, which is a great help. On point to point races you can go for hours without seeing another runner.
By lap 8 I realised I was too physically tired to push hard and make up time, and wouldn’t manage an 11th lap in the time available. However I was enjoying the sunrise, having no problems, eating and drinking enough, and happy to keep going. I’d noticed that the race organisers were giving the 100 mile runners a flag to carry on their final lap, so everyone who saw them could give them a little extra encouragement and support. I was on my 10th lap when I saw Jon, running towards me and looking like Eddie Izzard with his flag! A high 5 as we passed each other on the sea wall, and then I ran on to make my final turn before the run back.
I completed lap 10 in 5:58:48, so I could have set off for an 11th, but I was ready to stop, and happy with how it went. There were a few other finishers sitting at the visitor centre, so hung around for an hour while eating and getting myself ready to drive home.
What did I learn :
- Lapped courses are fine. I might get bored with the scenery after a while, but having other people around makes up for it
- Having a CP every 3.7 miles can waste a lot of time if you always stop
- Running 37 miles is a lot easier than running 100!
- SVN hand out some serious race bling for finishers