December 30th, 2020, I had the idea to run 100K. I have always been fascinated with how the body can adapt to these types of endurance challenges. It would be my longest run ever… and during my training I decided to go for a sub-10-hour attempt. This was a S.M.A.R.T. goal, based on my running experience and training I knew it was achievable, but who knew how my body would hold up running for that long at the speed required.
This blog post will cover my 100K attempt, but the real story is how a community came together in just two months to virtually run, walk (and a few bike) half the way around the world in a weekend. It is a story that inspired many to donate to FareShare and several other good causes during a time of national lockdowns when charities are struggling to survive and provide for those who need it… and it is a story based on the premise that growth happens when you push yourself outside your comfort zone, magic happens when you do it with others (even when we can’t be together in-person).
Perhaps a cliché quote, but I have found it to be true, it is a STRIVE philosophy that I was introduced to when being privileged to take part in two Virgin Strive Challenges. These challenges aim to push human endurance, not as a competition, but together as a team while also raising money for youth charity Big Change. Both events pushed us outside of our comfort zones, but it was doing it as a shared experience that really created amazing memories and stories.
Therefore, when I had the idea to run a 100K ultra I thought I would put it out to some friends….
Inviting others to a challenge with the Wolfpack was not a new idea, indeed we had been organising virtual challenges since 2016 (including pull-ups, burpees and elevation running challenges). However, after I first posted this on my Facebook wall, the initial reaction was somewhat muted, a few people showed interest, but I did feel a little bit disappointed that the idea I had was not gaining the interest and traction I had hoped for. We thought if we could get 50-100 others it would be a fun way to kick-off 2021, but I was worried I might be on my own. This said, in fairness signing up to 100K does sound a little daunting… and not an instant decision for many!
A book I was reading inspired me to give it another push, and not stop until at least one person signed up to the challenge. So I followed up with a second post, this time on the UK Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) Facebook group and this was where things snowballed. That evening, on New Year’s Day four people registered, the next day 10 more…. game on.
I do love the obstacle racing community. Always up for taking on a new challenge.
As the news of another national lockdown came people needed something to train for so more people signed up. We now had a good number of what we coined Lone Wolves, those who were up for running 100K on their own in 48 hours. Although it did concern me slightly that some of those signing up had never even run an ultra or marathon before! Talk about jumping in at the deep end.
Teams were also starting to be created, the first were our next-door neighbours aptly called the Khakter Leg Ends – two parents, three young children (between 7 and 10) making a weekend of the challenge.
Some of the other teams included:
- Coolmines, a rugby team from Ireland
- RPMMA Team Alphas – a mixed martial arts team
- Goodgym Slough & Ealing
- OCR teams from my team Nuclear Phoenix, Rocket Races, Team Nuts, RAW Fit, Obstacle Mud Runner Magazine and Viper OCR.
- Tech N Teach – taking on 50K each for charity
- The Ultra Wolves, a Primary School team that included Miraya and Jayan
- Father and son duos like Team Bennett & Team Dodds
- La Fit Familia – a team comprised of 20 members of family, raising money for Parkinson’s UK a disease my father suffers from.
- My old football teams Denmead United and AFC Battersea
- Plus some great team names like Chafing the Dream, Tik Tok & Cache and Smutpack.
We had so many other teams join (over 100 teams in fact)… apologies I didn’t include you all on the list above. We also created what we called house teams to allow individuals to get involved and team up without the need to create their own team.
What made me happy with the Wolfpack 100 concept was that it was a very inclusive event, anyone could take part as long as they could walk 1K and we had teams’ range in size from two to 26 and and we had an 83 year age range from our oldest to youngest participant.
I love taking part in endurance events, ultra-running / obstacle races have a strong feeling of camaraderie with everyone united in the common challenge and I really wanted to create the same sense of a real-world event with the Wolfpack 100 virtual challenge. To do this, we mimicked some of the things you see in a real-world event. For one, we ensured that everyone would be taking part during the same weekend, we organised personalised running numbers to connect everyone, and we created branded race photos so that entrants could share their planned adventures with friends via social media.
Most importantly real-world events raise a lot of money for charity, so we wanted to do this with the Wolfpack 100. It started with a portion of the entry fee being donated to FareShare. For those who do not know about FareShare they tackle the problem of hunger in the UK by redistributing food that is perfectly good to eat but would otherwise have gone to waste. Tackling food waste is incredibly important for our planet, and it is also an incredibly economical way of feeding people with good nutritious food. Every £1 donated contributes to 4 meals being distributed by the charity. We hoped this would provide a nice donation to the charity, but we also knew that people would be willing to donate for the incredible challenge people were undertaking so we encouraged everyone to set up their own charity pages for FareShare or another worthy cause. The response was overwhelming and as we approached race weekend we had over 700 entrants and were closing in on £10,000 raised for good causes.
The challenge was quickly approaching, we had sent out the running numbers with ‘DO NOT OPEN’ medal envelopes. This was creating a nice virtual buzz for the event. Indeed, we had several sign-ups in the last week as a result. On a personal level I was starting to get some nice pre-race nerves for the challenge. Again, this was something we wanted to try and create, emulating real world events, and it made us happy that others had this feeling too as we saw Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp messages come in during the week!
As the event started at midnight we planned a live feed to kick-off the event, I also decided that I would start at this time with around 30-40 others also making the same decision. I did this for a few reasons, one I was buzzing to start, I would be up any way for the live feed of the start, I love night-time running and it would mean I could focus on supporting everyone else when they were taking part.
I had been so busy with the event that my race prep was not as organised as it should be, and with an hour to go until we started I was finding my missing kit…. this was a little stressful… perhaps organising a virtual event and running 100K at the same time was not a good idea! Either way, just before midnight I was ready to go.
Here was my kit list:
- Nike Run Free 3 (these are not typical ultra-running shoes, but they felt comfortable and I would be running on the road).
- Stance running socks
- Nike 2 in 1 running shorts
- Nuclear Phoenix race vest
- Nike running gloves
- Ron hill full length running top
- Black Diamond Spot head torch
- Virus Performance beanie
- Harrier 5L Curbar pack/vest with
- Emergency blanket (just in case)
- Water bottles
- Mobile phone
- Airwaves chewing gum
- Veloforte gels
- Veloforte bar
- A cheese sandwich in a zip-lock bag
I also had an ‘aid station’ in my front garden with additional Veloforte nutrition, water, fresh berries, and more cheese sandwiches, plus some additional kit should I need it, such as a warmer running jacket.
It was a clear night and the full moon was shining. I was certainly glad I had got others involved, you could feel the presence of the virtual community and it made me very accountable to my goal of running a sub-10 100K.
We set up a live feed to kick-off the event and at 12:06 (after a little faffing) I was off. I did not have a clear route planned but had loosely decided to run some local loops increasing or decreasing the size of the loop based on how I felt.
I have documented my eventual route below:
Loop 1 (2K) – short single loop of village to warm up. I did this without my Harrier race pack.
Loop 2 (12K) – feeling warm I decided to do a larger loop again without my Harrier pack. This was great and I was feeling good
Loop 3 (39K) – this was the big loop to chalk up some distance without wasting time back at basecamp. I decided I would run around Heathrow airport (now a Strava segment if anyone wants to give it a go). I had never done it before, so it felt like a little micro-adventure, and it was a nice easy route, with only a few road crossings. I was feeling great, no niggles and my pace was on point. The best thing about it was the full moon – I felt like it was guiding me throughout the night toward my goal and made the whole run such an incredible experience. I was buzzing and felt the feeling of flow while running that I had not felt since winning my Age Group at the OCR World Championship back in 2018. It was a great decision to take a cheese sandwich with me too, as I ate this on the run when I got hungry.
Loop 4 (3K) – This said, and perhaps caused by the cheese sandwich I had an annoying stitch around 50K, for this reason I decided to do some short loops of the village until it passed. I was over halfway and had got there in 4 hours 15 minutes, so I knew I had a 45-minute buffer to play with in the second half. Thankfully, the stitch did pass relatively quickly, and I was on my way for loop 5.
Loop 5 (15K) – Feeling good I went out without my Harrier pack and just a gel and water bottle. Perhaps a small risk, but I wanted to lighten the load however I could and keep on target. I was planning to take my distance over 70K before I got back, but around 65K I started to feel very tired, so I cut the loop a little shorter and made it back to base. This was a great decision, it was 6.30am and Harsha was up again, this gave me a mental boost, especially as she told me about some stories of others out on the course overnight.
Loop 6 (17K) – I needed some additional energy so in addition to refuelling I plugged in the headphones and listened to the Wolfpack 100 Spotify Playlist we had created. This really helped and it got me through the last part of the race. Although my pace had dropped, I now knew that unless I got myself injured I could hit my goal. I made sure I adjusted this route to get me to 85K by the time I was home again… I was on the finishing straight.
Loop 7 (2K) – A quick 2K loop of the village waiting for breakfast to be served. Thank you Harsha!
Loop 8 (10K) – I was hungry so although I didn’t have far to go I made sure that I had a bowl of porridge before setting off again. The sun was shining, and I felt good, although it was becoming a challenge to turn or cross roads without walking, I had no problem running in a straight line… hitting 6–7-minute Ks. The whole night I had ran on the roads with a focus on my time, but with the glorious weather I chose one of the local trails (The Colne Valley Way) and I ran on for part of this loop. It was as beautiful as ever.
Loop 9 (3K) – The final 3K was some classic Strava running around the village to get me to 100K and over the line. With 500 metres to go the kids joined me and I was even able to put in a little sprint and beat them to the line! Haha.
I had run 100K. It had been an unbelievable experience.
My nutrition went really well, I think partly because I didn’t use much on my training runs and my body had held up to the challenge. The second half of the race had taken me an hour longer than the first half, but I did not care. I had done it. It felt euphoric to finish, and now I had the rest of the weekend to follow everyone else’s adventures.
It was awesome to see how everyone was getting on with their 100K attempts, in addition to the clear night and full moon we were blessed with superb spring weather in the day.
We tried to share everyone’s stories on Facebook & Instagram including Facebook live recaps on Saturday and Sunday. The volume of content being shared was pretty mind blowing (especially after no sleep) and was difficult to keep up with – so apologies if we were not able to share or comment on every message.
Over the weekend, it was heart breaking to hear that 9 Lone Wolves did not finish the challenge and had to DNF, but equally to run 100K is not to be scoffed at, so it made the event more credible that the challenge was as tough as it was. Credit to everyone who stepped up to give it a go, and we look forward to supporting those who choose to reattempt the challenge later this year.
We had some wonderful Lone Wolf stories of competitors pushing their selves for almost the full 48 hours, and some like Matt Smevs and David Zidane who added an extra sense of difficulty by climbing over 4,000 metres of elevation over the weekend.
Equally there were some fantastic stories coming back from the teams too. Lots of fun was being had in the sunshine and we received messages of teams enjoying the chance to reconnect, even if it was virtually. Many in teams were also pushing their selves outside of their own comfort zones with people running their first 10K, half marathon, marathon and ultra running distances.
However, what warmed my soul the most from the weekend is the collective sense of community that was created, everyone encouraging and supporting each other. It truly felt like we were a team with a common mission – even if most of us were running the challenge on our own without someone running by our side. This bore out in the feedback we received:
For being a virtual event it never once felt like you were alone. There was so much encouragement and support via the WhatsApp group and social media pages it was amazing.
The shared stories made the hard work that went into the event 100% worth it, while this was a massive, massive team effort, especially the fundraising, I do feel immensely proud to be the catalyst for it.
The Wolfpack 100 in summary:
Top 10 fundraisers:
A big thank you to everyone who took part, and to everyone who donated to one of these great causes. You really made it a weekend to remember for me.
If I were going to finish this blog post with a few key takeaways for those who want to push themselves or those who might want to create something similar.
- As mentioned, “growth happens when you push yourself outside your comfort, magic happens when you do it with others”.
- Do not over think it, when we set up the event we did not have everything worked out and we certainly were not expecting the numbers we got. If we planned everything it would never have happened. Just do it.
- Make it inclusive…. not everyone can or wants to run 100K, we were very happy that the team concept worked so well – everyone taking on their own personal challenge or just out staying fit and having fun with friends.
And for those thinking of an adventure… just say YES!
We are looking forward to putting on another lockdown event March 27th-28th and then spending the rest of the year planning for our 2022 Wolfpack 100. We have set the objective of running the whole way around the world next year and raising even more for good causes, so the pack is going to have to get even bigger!
I am excited to make this happen and have time to dedicate to it. After 12 wonderful years I have left my job at an advertising agency in London. I loved my job and was fortunate enough to work on many world-class brands, but I had come to the realisation that I needed to leave to push myself further and step outside of my comfort zone from a work perspective too.
Here’s to the next adventure.
I’d love to hear from you:
- Did you take part in the challenge? Tell us your story in the comments.
- How can we make 2022 even better?
- How have you’ve been going on your own adventures during lockdown? We’d love some more ideas.