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Melissa Venables | NDW 100 (5th overall & ladies winner)

I hated running at school and wasn’t very good at it. In my 30’s, I decided I wanted to run a (just the one) marathon and wanted it to be London! Eventually after 4 unsuccessful ballot attempts In 2010 I got an automatic place!! In those says you always got in on your 5th entry and suddenly the realisation dawned that I’d better learn to run!! As a fitness instructor (part time in between night shifts as a full time children’s nurse) I had a good level of fitness but definitely not running fitness. I trained myself from an online training plan and managed 3hrs 34. I realised I was actually ok at running, joined Spa Striders running club (Leamington Spa) and set myself faster times to aim for. In 2015 disillusioned with chasing a sub 3hr marathon I treated myself (as a 40th birthday present) to Marathon des Sables,  finished 7th lady and took the premier vet title. I then discovered the further I ran the better I got. Ultra running became my thing and later in 2015 I ran a time that met the qualification time to run for England at the British road 100k championships. I was selected for the team and went on to win the British championship the following spring. Since then I have continued to compete in ultras of various distances and across many different terrains such as track, road and trail.

How did you prepare for this race?

As I had been training for races (24 hour track race in April and the Grand Union Canal Race in May) which were then cancelled due to covid, my endurance base had been maintained but my focus and motivation a little depleted.  I thought the NDW would also be cancelled but about 10 weeks out realised I needed to pull my finger out because there was a good chance I would be running my debut 100 miler and I had work to do if I was going to run it well!! 
Under the guidance of my coach Nathan Flear, I built my weekly mileage up over those weeks and managed to get some Consistent training in with weekly mileage of 70 - 80 miles. With covid making my day job more challenging, stressful and tiring I was really having to force myself out the door to run and there were several weeks when I didn’t quite get all my planned runs in. I focused on quality not quantity and made sure The runs I did do were the key ones. I got the long runs in and backed them with consecutive miles on tired legs. I also tried to always do the speed sessions as they really help my mental strength as well as physical. For the long runs I tried to get out on the trails and hills so that I was training on the kind of terrain I would be racing on. I went into the race in good physical shape (although a few niggles) with some decent long training runs behind me and this in turn boosted my confidence and fed into where I was mentally when I crossed the start line. I felt excited for the race and ready to see what I could do in my first 100 mile race. 

What wad the best/worst part of the race?

I had a long period of feeling quite deflated and fed up between around 35 miles and the halfway checkpoint. I think I was overwhelmed by the distance I still had to run, the heat and the thought of trying to drink carb drinks and eat enough to run for the next 15 odd hours!! Despite being lead lady, I battled with lots of ready to quit demons during this time, willing injury or sickness to give me an excuse to stop. When I first started feeling bad mentally, I wasn’t running badly, I wasn’t particularly hurting, I just felt rubbish mentally. Leaving the halfway checkpoint I had to have stern words with myself and drag myself out of that mental defunk as physically there was no reason for me to be there. 
- I love the solitude of running trails at night. There is a certain tranquility about it and I find it really peaceful. I was hitting the brink of a hill as the sun set which was also pretty amazing. In these races where you are running alone at night along these trails, I feel quite privileged as it is something many runners don’t get to experience.
My best part though was hitting the last CP as from there you know you are home and dry. It is also quite a kind 4.5 miles to the finish, mainly road with 400m on the track. Running round that track to the finish archway knowing I had finished my first 100 miles in incredibly tough conditions, in my “B” target time and first lady was incredible. Seeing Paul at the finish having also smashed his debut 100 miler made it even more special. 

Did you use any products pre, during & post race?

I relied a lot on carb drinks to fuel my race. I used a mixture of mountain fuel, tailwind, moonvalley and unived. It sounds like a lot of mixing and matching but tailwind is especially good for calories and moonvalley for salt (which I knew I’d need lots of in the weather). The others I enjoy drinking and because of the distance I wanted a good variety. Mountain fuel flapjack and jellies are also really good especially for someone who struggles to eat )hence relying on drinks for fuel as well as hydration). Up until 60 miles I found it to be a good mix, but I then just wanted water to drink and so Did just that but also increased my intake of salt tablets and relied on coke plus a few solid bits to keep me fuelled. I wish I had had more gels (high 5) and mountain fuel jelly with me as these would have been helpful when I couldn’t face the carb drinks any more. Recovery I use for goodness shakes recovery drinks - I also had one of these at 82 miles. 

How hot was it during the race, and what attire did you wear?

I think it was around 34 degrees in the hottest part of the day. We had cloud cover a little longer than I was expecting which was great but once that burned off, in the exposed areas it was brutal particularly the long stretches of chalk. Right from the offset at 5.30am it was humid and even at 2 am in the morning, tired and depleted of fuel I was still running only in a vest too and shorts!! Due to the humidity the sweat didn’t evaporate off your skin like it would in the dry heat of MdS instead it sat on your skin / dripped off you which made it much more difficult to manage particularly from a chafing perspective!
I wore new balance hot shorts, a much loved old Rockwear vest top, Halo visor, montane race vest and the most amazing socks by thurlos. These are normally great but as it had been so dry, I chose to run in my Brookes ghost road shoes rather than trail. I don’t find trail shoes comfy despite trying numerous brands. I have one pair that served well for 50 miles but was worried about running 103 in them. My road shoes on the other hand are really comfy and on various training runs I had recced the whole route in them with no problem. However, running the whole thing in them just battered my feet. For the rocky sections I needed the toebox protection that you get with trail shoes and for the uneven terrain, the additional stability around the ankle. I finished and my big toes were trashed as were my heals - definitely trail shoes next time even in the dry!! 
My COROS apex watch Saw me through the distance with lots of battery life still left!! 
Would you make any changes next race?
  • Trail shoes!!!
  • I also need to work on my hydration and nutrition. I did ok! It stayed down, I was hydrated, didn’t get cramps but, had lots of high and low dips. I never really stayed consistently on top of my nutrition and discovered I would feel low, take on some additional fuel, feel better and then run well again. On a couple of occasions later on, going into checkpoints I also had a really foggy brain which I think was glucose depletion. I remember desperately wanting one checkpoint to come as I was feeling low and craving coke. Physically being low on fuel also reeks havoc with your mental state so it’s something you really need to get right! 

What & when is your next race?

I have been invited to run for Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the IAU 6H Virtual Global Solidarity Run on 28/29th August. I plan to do this on the athletics track where I live as it makes fuelling easy and allows me to be flexible and run the 6 hours when the weather conditions are optimum. Its quite a quick turn around to recover and get some speed back but at least 6hrs will feel short after running for 22!
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