Phoenix 10-in-10 Race Series – 13th to 22nd April 2019 (Recap)

The 10-in-10 Finisher’s Medals and Shields

Intro

I wrote a review of Day 1 – the “Fortitude” Half Marathon, on the day of the event. That review can be found here. The following day was Brighton Marathon (booked before the 10-in-10 was announced, and at which I’d agreed to pace Naomi for her first marathon). The Race Director for the 10-in-10 agreed when I entered that I could count Brighton as Day 2 of my 10-in-10, as I’d be far exceeding the minimum distance.

I wrote a review of Brighton Marathon. That one can be found here.

And then came Day 3 when I realised that writing a review each day wasn’t really going to work. The races were lapped events, starting at the same point each day, with each alternate day heading off in the opposite direction. 4 laps for a half marathon, 8 laps for a marathon, 10 laps for a 53km ultra. And how do you write 10 reviews of the same 2 courses, each day being multiple laps of the same? You can’t really. “Lap 9. The rock I passed last lap is still there.”

Instead, I’ve opted for a short summary of each day, more how I was feeling than a blow by blow account. My next race is the Centurion Thames Path 100 Mile in just under two weeks. That will be the next proper review. And likely to be a long one.

Day 1 – “Fortitude” Half Marathon

My review of Day 1’s “Fortitude” Half Marathon is here. In summary it was my birthday so I felt like doing something a little special. Despite there being another 9 days to go, I set a fast pace to finish in 1st place for the half marathon distance. 1:31:21. 10 minutes slower than my PB but that was never the intention. A good stretch out of the legs before the real work began.

“Fortitude” Medal and Shield

Day 2 – Brighton Marathon (and “Gauntlet” Shield)

My full review of Brighton Marathon can be found here. It was Naomi’s first marathon and I paced her around for a 4:42:08 finish. I couldn’t be prouder.

Brighton Marathon Medal

Day 3 – “Dauntless” Half Marathon

Day 3 was a half marathon to shake out my legs after Brighton. Running conditions were perfect. The day was sunny but not too hot, with a gentle breeze blowing in off of the Thames to take the edge off of things.

I had no specific time in mind. In the back of my head I wanted to keep all of the week’s half marathons to sub-2 hours. In principle, that should be easy. My PB is 1:22:50 so I would have just under a 40 minute drop-off window. But at the end of 10 days… who could say?

I decided not to pro-actively pace the race. Rather, I would just let my legs take up their natural pace and see where it took me. The answer was a 1:50:09 finish. My legs had seemed to absorb the distance comfortably, which was good news for the following day – the first of the 53km ultras.

“Dauntless” Medal and Shield

Day 4 – “Resolute” 53km Ultra

The first of the week’s ultras. I always forget how much of a mind game lapped ultras are. The first couple of laps fly by, lulling me into a false sense of security. From there on in they seem to get longer and longer.

Whenever I run lapped events, I count up the laps for the first half (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), then count down the last half (5, 4, 3, 2, 1). Counting up the first half makes it feel like I’m making progress, counting down the second half makes it feel like there isn’t so far to go.

It was a mental struggle for me, which was concerning given it was the first of the ultras. At numerous points I wanted to drop down to 9 laps. It would still count as an ultra. But a persistent part of my brain kept telling me that if I compromised at this point, I would compromise later. So the end of lap 9 came around and I forced myself back out.

10 laps done. 5:41:39. It had felt harder than it should have at this point. My confidence was slipping. But tomorrow would be a “recovery” half marathon. Get through that and I’d be halfway.

“Resolute” Medal and Shield

Day 5 – “Perseverance” Half Marathon

The temperature was starting to rise. As the heat goes up, energy levels go down. Once again I let my legs set the pace. They came and went. At times I would stretch out my stride and the speed would come. At others, they felt like they were made of lead.

And yet I crossed the line in 1:47:15. Faster than Day 3’s half marathon. And I’d broken the back of the 10 days. The countdown could start.

“Perseverance” Medal and Shield

Day 6 – “Adversity” 53km Ultra

Back out I went for another 53km ultra. Another 10 out-and-back laps. Meaning another 20 times passed the same scenery, over the same ground. It’s impossible to overestimate how much of a toll it takes on your mind.

The pain really had started to set in. My legs were aching and at times I felt like I was just shuffling forwards. The sun had come out in full and was beating down. The faster I ran, the more the sun would sap my energy. The slower I ran, the longer I would be out under that sun. There’s no right answer when trying to balance that equation.

I ran on. Receiving encouragement from other runners, trying to give the same back. Towards the end I would repeatedly count the number of wristbands around my arm, to be sure of how many laps were left. Sometimes the number hadn’t changed. Sometimes it had. The laps had blurred into one.

At some point I counted 9 and could see the checkpoint up ahead where I’d be given my 10th. A part of my brain woke up and told me that meant I could stop. I rang the bell and went for a sit down, taking on fluids. I realised I’d become dehydrated and would need to be more careful going forwards.

“Adversity” Medal and Shield

Day 7 – “Intrepid” Half Marathon

As well as the dehydration, I’d let myself get sunburned on my shoulders on the previous day’s ultra. I love running in a vest when it’s hot, but with another four days of running to go and the temperature still rising, I couldn’t risk it. So I made the decision to switch over to a t-shirt and cooling arm sleeves for the remainder of the days.

The day almost didn’t happen. The first leg of my train journey was cancelled, resulting in a rail replacement bus. Fine. Then I got to Waterloo and all trains were either cancelled or indefinitely delayed. Having ran 10 ultras in 10 days last year, I knew the greatest struggle was often getting to the start. Cross the start line and your legs will carry you the rest of the way. But your mind will grasp any opportunity not to even get to the start, looking for anything that can be used as an excuse.

So I dragged myself onto a different train, to somewhere in the vague direction of the race and then got a long taxi the rest of the way. In for a penny, in for a pound.

The race began and… in all honesty I can’t remember much of it. It was a slog but the miles dwindled away. I knew it was a short race for me, so my focus was on keeping my head up and ticking off the laps. And then it was done. Nothing dramatic. My slowest half marathon time of the week in 1:54:56 but still sub-2. I went home content.

“Intrepid” Medal and Shield

Day 8 – “Indomitable” Marathon

The final pure marathon distance of the week and Naomi had come along to give support. The heat had found a whole new level. The sky was clear and the sun beat down, with no cover or shade.

I wasn’t racing. I had no need to. I just set out at my own pace. Lap one went by and I was feeling ok. Lap two finished and my legs were… feeling good. Not fresh, but up for a fight. I pushed a bit more and they kept on giving. Half marathon distance in under two hours. A sub-4 marathon seemed on the cards, despite the heat.

The next three laps took their toll. I was spending longer in the aid stations trying to keep my hydration levels up. A handful of crisps for a little energy and salt, before heading back out for the final lap.

Heading back from the turnaround point with a couple of kilometres to go. A glance at my Garmin. I could probably squeeze in a sub-4 if I pushed it. But why would I push it now. “Because”, said my brain, “you could do a sub-4.” Alright then. A last sprint along the final km and I crossed the line in 3:57:38. One half and one ultra to go.

“Indomitable” Medal and Shield

Day 9 – “Unbreakable” Half Marathon

Day 9 and my final half marathon of the week. I turned up at the start line and, against all odds, my legs felt good. I’ve had this before on multi-day events. There comes a point where my legs go through tiredness and come out the other side.

I set off and my legs just carried me. Three of us ran side by side for the first lap, one doing a half, the other a marathon. We chatted as the first lap flew by. When we reached the aid station at the end of that lap they stopped to take on water. I headed straight out, not finding myself in need.

And then just kept going. My speed increased without intending to do so. My legs found a natural rhythm and didn’t seem to tire. I pulled ahead, up and down the tow path and before I knew it found myself on the last lap. A few high fives from people on the way back and across the line. 1:38:26. A first place finish for the half marathon distance and a time second only to that of my day 1 half.

“Unbreakable” Medal and Shield

Day 10 – “Invincible” 53km Ultra

The last day had arrived. One final push and it would be done. Naomi had come along and was intending to run a half marathon. I would run with her as it was her first run since Brighton Marathon the week before.

We set off and my legs were aching but still moving. The first lap disappeared as Naomi and I chatted. I love running with her. It combines the two things in the world that make me happiest. The day was cooler than previous days, but not for long. By the end of the second lap the heat had returned and we stopped for a drink.

Back out, slightly slower. My legs were aching. Naomi’s legs were aching. 30 seconds of walking on lap 4 to recover and back across the line for the end of Naomi’s half. “I think I can do another lap”, she said. Yay! Back out. By the end of lap five she was a bit dehydrated and rang the finisher’s bell. I sat her down, gave her a bottle of salts and headed back out for my final five laps.

I sprinted the next lap. I knew it was silly while doing it, but I wanted to have a lap of just having fun before being sensible. I dashed out to the turnaround point and back to the start. By the time I went back through the checkpoint my throat was dry and my legs were sore.

Out again and so much slower. I felt like I was shuffling. The next few laps were the same. Trudging forwards. I was going faster than I thought but it felt so slow. I was spending longer at every aid station, taking on more and more water.

Eventually I realised I was on my last lap. I reached the turnaround point and headed back for the final 2.5km-ish to the finish line. With a km to go I realised that once today was done, I didn’t need anything left in the tank. So I sprinted.

I’ve spoken with a lot of people doing the 10-in-10 and so many have said the same thing. Sometimes the faster you run, the less it hurts and the better you feel, despite the exhaustion. And it’s true.

That final km sprint was the best I’d felt all day. My legs stopped hurting, my breathing came naturally, the pain in foot disappeared and my mind cleared. I came out of the narrow path area on to the road outside the pub, where the finish line is located and was met with a a roar of sound and applause. I talk about it more in the summary below, but it was honestly the best finish line I have ever crossed.

Somehow I had managed to make day 10 the fastest of all the week’s ultras. 5:39:57.

Rik placed the medal around my neck, shook my hand and I hugged Naomi. All done. Nothing left but the photographs, the hugs and a well deserved takeaway.

“Invincible” Medal and Shield

Summary

What an amazing 10 days. I’ve done a 10-in-10 before (and that time 10 ultras) but this was something different. I’ve had more fun than I thought possible. I’ve run with the most amazing group of people, some old friends, some new.

10 days. 348.9km. 34 hours, 32 minutes and 42 seconds of running.

And that finish line. The most enthusiastic, supportive and emotional finish line I’ve ever crossed. Runners staying long beyond their own race finishes to cheer and clap everyone else in. Marshals hugging the finishers. Visitors to the pub joining in with the support. People achieving things they never thought possible. I have no words for it.

And a final thank you to Rik and to all the volunteers, without whom none of this would have been possible. You’ve all been amazing. Thank you.