Completing a 100km Ultra Marathon in Your Sixties and What it Feels Like

By Alison North originally published at Queen of the Mile.


They say you cry at the finish line, well I was certainly emotional. It was around 4 am, pitch black, cold and very damp and I’d just finished the 100km Race to the Stones. It had taken me 20 hours 16 minutes and 24 seconds and as I reached the glaring lights in the farmyard I was very glad it was over. The last 15km I was alone and in the silent dark and damp. I hadn’t really prepared for that. I am slightly familiar with the Ridgeway for about 25kms at the Avebury end as I did three practice walk / runs there over the past three months and I must say that really helped. I knew it was ‘gently’ uphill for quite a time, I knew when the trail would become very rutted and quite tricky and I knew, when I turned right off the trail, it would be downhill to the finish line just about  three km away so I “sped up”.

I am a complete novice at this having never run competitively, except as a schoolgirl, and never jogged more than eight km in my life before I started the training in March 2015. But it was for a good cause and that spurred me on. How could I stop before the end when people had given our charity, Friends of Charing Cross, their hard earned money in sponsorship?

Highs and lows

There are definite highs and lows in a race and I had it on good authority, from both my eldest daughter Lorna and Sophie Woods, a friend and an experienced ultra-runner, that you “feed your face” to help with the lows. I found eating very difficult and often had to force myself knowing that if I didn’t I might hit “the wall”. I managed to avoid that experience although I think I came close to it twice but just forced a gel down in time.

Learning about yourself

The funny thing was I never once thought, “why am I doing this?”, for most of the time it was just one foot in front of the other up and over the Chilterns then onto Wiltshire not that the scenery held my attention for long but I did enjoy the wonderful 4 am early morning birdsong just before the finish line. I hadn’t really set myself a time target although when I submitted my entry for the race on New Year’s day I confidently put 22-24 hours as my prediction.

A month later and I still can’t quite believe what I achieved. You learn a lot about your strengths and weaknesses in an event like this, especially in the loneliness and silence between midnight and 4 am when not even an animal scurries across your path. You feel very small and you have to banish all fears and phobias as you move steadily towards your goal. At one point I did feel as if no-one else existed, there were no stars or moon visible in the sky and the relentless British drizzle dripped down my rain jacket luckily only for about 30 minutes and then my mood lifted and I was back on track again and gaining on the finish.

Would I do it again?

You bet – I feel so pleased with myself. I’m almost 65 and I completed a 100 km run /walk in under 24 hours and we raised £2000 for the hospital charity – RESULT!

Thanks to everyone who helped me get there. My very able support crew led by my wonderful husband Geoff and including daughters Lorna and Isla and their partners Andrew and Stephen and Emms our friend. My trainer Jason Battle, my physio Amanda Marsh, my hairdresser and ultra-marathon runner Sophie Woods, Sorrell Walsh and all the crew at Women Run 100. The charity trustees and staff, especially Mike Beckham, who turned out on the day to take photos at three different locations as I ran past.

Things I learnt along the way

  • I can’t stress enough that you must have the correct (previously worn) footwear including shoes and socks. Your feet must be tough and your toe nails short – if you feel any rubbing during training then check out what is wrong and fix it before the race
  • If you get a blister get it sorted out right away, the minutes with the medics may save you time and pain later on
  • You must train using a recognised training programme or if you can get a virtual coach like Jason Battle all the better, as a comprehensive training regime is really important
  • If possible practice on the actual route or at least similar terrain and climate
  • You must understand your nutritional requirements and you may feel nauseous at some point along the trail – just keep eating and drinking
    and practice eating and drinking as you train
  • You probably won’t use everything you put in your vest or backpack so pack essentials only as the pack seems to get heavier as you progress (the organisers give good advice on this)
  • Check out the pit stop provisions before race day – chances are there will be lots of food and drink and believe me you will take the “cuppa soup” and “white sliced loaf” even if you banish it in your daily life
  • You need flip flops at the finish (thanks Women Run 100 for giving me this tip) and something warm to put on.

And finally….

If you want to run, no matter what age you are, just get up and try – you will be amazed at what you can achieve.

Recommended read: The Benefits of Running and How to Get Started