Stood in a waddle of ultrarunners. Everyone geared up to the hilt. Some with beards – the majority without (obviously the trend for big beards has moved on).
It was the start of the Autumn 100. My second 100 mile race I had entered. I had first bumped into Zoe Norman who was volunteering and she took the opportunity to take a selfie of us three. That’s Zoe on the left and Susie on the right.
“I didn’t have the pleasure of running with you unfortunately but when I saw you at the start you seemed so calm and collected.”
Zoe Norman – another silly running friend of mine – and Volunteer at the HQ
We had arrived in the area the previous evening and our friend Zbysia had gamely looked after me and my wife Susie in typical Polish style. Great food. Great chat. Great company. Even cooking a full english breakfast for us both at 7am before seeing us off for the short drive to Goring and Streatley for the race. It makes such a difference not having to get up at stupid o’clock to start a 100. It is hard enough to get to sleep the night before with the worry about oversleeping.
So, there I was at the start line. Well, obviously, not right on the start line – I stationed myself some way back for feel of getting a) trampled, b) caught up in the excitement and going too fast. I spotted Kate Jayden – colourful in both language, outfit and personality – and had a bit of an excited chat.
James Elson did his traditional briefing. I never take any of the information in. I remember “blah blah tape, blah blah signposts, blah blah blah. Then the horn and we were off. Bit of stop start to begin with and to the whooping cheers of the family and friends of the runners and the cacophony of the cowbells that seem to have become a fun staple of cheer at these events.
Spur 1: (Thames Path): Streatley to Little Wittenham and return
I wanted to keep to around 12 min miles. No need to go off fast. So I kept it steady. Happy for the most part to listen to conversations, nod, contribute a few words but then settle down into my own race plan. I say “race” in the understanding that I am only ever competing with myself…. and that is usually just to make it to the end in one piece. My plan is below.
At the first aid station (6.5 miles in) I bumped into Kate and Garry. I didn’t stick around grabbing a few pieces of fruit and some scotch eggs and pressed on. A mile or so later. Around 8 miles in my stomach made threatening noises and I felt in some pain. It felt uncomfortable. I ignored it. It soon got really bad. I asked a couple of faster runners returning on the leg whether there were toilets at the aid station at Wittenham. “Nope….” Was the answer. It was a tent. Luckily I spotted a footbridge and instead of crossing I disappeared underneath and cleared my bowels while hoping no boats would go past, and that no one would see me. Luckily I had plenty of paper with me (See – I do learn sometimes!).
I pressed on and was feeling instantly better. But it didn’t last long. I was struggling again at the aid station and by this point I was already almost last having lost so much time already. I set off on my return leg.
I don’t remember very much at all of the remainder of the leg. I spent most of it ducking into bushes or perching out of view on the side of the river to purge myself of the brown junk. (TMI!) From what I remember, the ground was reasonably firm despite rain for a few days before and I could easily have run it in road shoes.
“I saw you at Goring after the first leg, you said you had a bad stomach, a lady gave u Imodium and I gave you a hug and off you went!” Zoe
Eventually I arrived back at Goring Aid station and checked in. I was encouraged back out for the second spur – but I scuttled off to the toilet for a while instead. Shortly after, and having seen Susie, and Vanessa who I know from a running group on facebook, I headed out having stuffed a couple of Imodium (Thanks Vanessa), and a bottle of delicious tropical Rubicon juice.
Spur 2: (Ridgeway): Streatley to Swyncombe Farm and return
I recced this section a few weeks previously with Susie. I soon bumped into Graham Carter and we jogged some of this leg together. We unfortunately soon came across a very injured Tom Sawyer – his race was over. He had been in 6th place I think going out on that leg. It’s always disappointing to see anyone have to drop through serious injury.
Thankfully my stomach had settled down heaps and I was finally able to concentrate on getting this race completed. I was glad that I had recced this route because it meant that I could just relax and enjoy it without worrying about navigation or missing a turning. I ended up running a little slower and soon Graham pulled ahead and I was running on my own – which I don’t mind too much at all. I often seem to end up running at my own unique pace – with hardly anyone around me. I passed quickly through North Stoke aid station (29 miles) and carried on up the rest of the spur.
I really enjoyed this section, running through slightly chalky rutted sections of the ridgeway and finally getting to one of the highest points on the spur. It was there that I met Lee Kelly and Paul Pickford. Two great friends of mine that I met through running. Paul gave me a bear hug and Lee offered some coke and haribo. On grabbing a handful Lee asked how I was.
Lee Kelly: “How are you mate?”
Me: “Feel ok now, but was bad earlier…. stomach, bowels, explosive!”
Lee: “Oh, I see, which hand did you use?”
Lee: “Ah……………” as he quietly put the half eaten and mauled bag of haribo aside.
Off I trotted and by now it was pretty dark. I took it easy through the knarly tree root strewn sections of the woods and then eventually made it to the turn back point at mile 37.5 (Swyncombe Farm) and having seen Lee again with his trusty bottle of coke. There was quite the party going on there and I bumped into Kate again. I sorted my headtorch. I spotted some apples…. I really fancied one – so I chanced my arm and asked if I was being greedy if I had a whole apple. The friendly volunteer said “Yeah, fine – go ahead – you’re running far enough”. I texted Vanessa to warn her I was running ahead of plan (she was joining me for mile 50 – 62.5) and quickly headed out.
This next section involved some steep up…. which somehow surprised me, having already run down it, and also having run it on the recce. I pushed on up and eventually ran into Lee and Paul again and a girl in a pink jacket (which for all the world looked to me like a flamingo!). With their encouragement ringing in my ears I carried on and eventually came onto the really gnarly section “Grim’s Ditch” with the tree roots that seem to rise out of the path and try to strike you down.
I’d already bashed my feet, and tripped several times so I took this carefully. It would have been so much easier to run this in the light – and I can see why some people swear by running the first sections of this race hard to get past this in the daylight. Eventually, I found myself back at Goring and met with Susie and Vanessa, Lee and Paul.
So that was 50 miles done and after some refuelling I was out again. Vanessa had agreed to join me so I would have some company for this next section.
Spur 3: (Ridgeway): Streatley to Chain Hill and return
I warned Vanessa that I would be slow – having already done 50 miles – and she seemed to be worrying she would slow me down. No chance. I was in walking territory. I see no point running up hill and wearing myself out. My plan was to leave the running til the route back down the hill.
It was already pretty cold, and eventually it started to rain on this section. It was lovely to talk to Vanessa and share some stories. I had started to worry about whether she would ever find her car again (she had to dump it in a random spot when I had called her to say I was running ahead (on spur 2 – but then ended up being on time). I was sure that we were pretty much near the back. But I didn’t give a stuff. I had my plan and I was sticking to it. I had built in that I would hike up the hills already.
Eventually we spotted a coffee cup on the floor and we were with Rachel Hessom and her pacer (I think). I was initially confused on why spotting a coffee cup was a good sign of an impending aid station. It took me a good ten minutes to cotton on.
“[You were] like the Duracell bunny whose batteries were running dry as we approached the aid station… gradual winding down in quantity and volume of speech… then springing back into it after a coffee with some almost gazelle moves for a few minutes! I can’t take the piss much, my batteries did actually run out, which was crap of me”
Vanessa Armond – Pacer – 50-62.5 miles
We soldiered on through the aid station (I drank coffee, ate stuff, changed batteries, got very cold, put on three layers and then cracked on). We eventually ended up at the Chain Hill turn-back aid station. I didn’t stick around – despite the amazing music. I felt bad about leaving Vanessa there in the middle of nowhere in a marquee in a big field. I was pleased to find that she retrieved her car when she sent me a text later on.
I made good progress on the way back. This section is super easily runnable and I put in some decent-ish pace. I hooked up with a few other runners on the way back and we were all wondering why we were having to run so much uphill as we don’t remember any down-hill on the outward spur. Anyway, just one of those things.
Soon I was putting the pace in and pushing on. This section has lots of tarmac and good quality runnable sections and so I was able to pull away having saved slog in my legs earlier. I soon came within a mile of the aid station, called ahead to Susie who confirmed she was ready to pace me and then focused on getting in and out of the aid station as quick as possible. I ran in so hard into the HQ at the end of spur 3 that everyone seemed to think I must have finished….. “Nope… I have another one to do!”.
Spur 4: (Thames Path): Streatley to Reading and return
I headed out with Susie. At the HQ we had bumped into Tracy Watson – another runner – and my mate Paul Pickford who was pacing her. They had headed out before us – but we were keeping with them.
Despite my legs and feet being fine on the last section, I was starting to feel the pain. No getting away from it – I was slow and getting slower. I had a few sit-downs to stretch my legs out and my calves (they were leaden!) but each time I did that I was able to push on (so definitely the right decision).
Soon we came into the aid station at Whitchurch and were greeted by a beaming Jo Turner and Steven. I took the opportunity to lie down for 5 minutes (They’ll say it was more like 20!) before pushing on.I seemed to have lost my mojo. I refused all offers of food. Then I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“.. the mention of pizza was like saying “Walkies” to a dog….you suddenly perked up ”
Jo Turner – Whitchurch aid station – 79 miles
The route continued along the thames, it started to rain quite heavily, and I was started to get super pissed off with the weather already. The remainder of the section can be summed up by three things. 1. Reading is huge – so when you see “welcome to Reading – there is like 3 miles at least to go to the turn around point. 2. There was a huge lake of a puddle that once I had waded through it made my right foot instantly macerate. 3. Don’t believe other runners when they variously say – “it’s only 2 minutes, it is only 0.5 miles, it’s only a mile, it is about 30 mins”.
It is none of those things. It’s the most soul destroying section ever. The monotony and the mindgames were only over when I reached the turn back point at Reading (it was actually the boathouse where I volunteered on TP100 earlier in the year). On the way back it was slow. Really slow. My legs hurt. My feet hurt and I lay down several times in the middle of slightly muddy fields.
Me: I’m fucked. My legs are fucked. I can’t do this. Everything hurts.
Susie: Come on…. let’s jog a bit.
Me: I am lying down. Here. Now. In this mud.
Susie: Come on……
Me: Give me 5 minutes. I promise.
Susie: You’ve got 2 minutes and you can pull your big girl pants up and finish this.
Eventually we got to Whitchurch to be greeted by Jo once more. She made a cup of black coffee (they ran out of milk and sugar).
“Your face was priceless when I told you had less than 2hrs to cover the last 4.5 miles, the look of “oh shite I better get a move on …”
Jo Turner – Whitchurch aid station 95.5 miles.
This was enough to make me want to get moving and quickly. I had a super fast couple of gulps of coffee and I headed off again with Susie. The rest of it was a case of keeping moving forwards. Susie suggesting points to jog to, and me mostly obeying her commands.
Eventually a bloke said “1 mile to go”. I rarely believe these proclamations but in some ways I felt with one hour to go, I could slow down. That’s what I did. I went slower and slower. Treating it almost as a victory parade.
My feet hurt. My legs hurt. I could see other runners gaining on me. I didn’t give a shit. Because I knew I was finishing this. I was putting behind me the awful feeling of my DNF at the Liverpool Leeds Canal Race at 90 miles in August. I was getting closer to the end.
Graham Carter flew past me with his pacer. Then Kate Jayden flew by almost as if I were standing still. As I rounded the corner from the River I put a jog on up to the aid station, and did my best run at the end into the checkpoint.
Then I was finished. My time recorded. I could finally stuff my face with chilli and a bread roll and anything else I could hoover up.
Medal. Photo. Blah blah. That was it.100 miles in 27hours. 23 minutes. 13 seconds. A distance PB. A course PB. A season PB.
Thanks so much to everyone.
Centurion Running for putting on an amazing event.
All the volunteers – who really make the event what it is – runners who understand what we are all going through.
My friends who were out on the course – as volunteers or as supporters.
Zbysia for being an amazing host.
Vanessa for responding to my call for Imodium and pacing me from Goring to Chain Hill.
My amazing wife Susie for pacing me for 25 odd miles and putting up with moans!
What I learned?
About the race
- Taking it easy works well – meant that I could still run/jog parts of the final spur.
- Reading aid station is a sodding long way and a half!
- Getting out of grim’s ditch before dark would save a shed load of time.
- It was not just a fluke that I ran 100 miles last year. It is a double fluke!
- Sometimes a little sit down for a few minutes works wonders.
- It’s lovely having so many friends volunteering at aid stations.
- For the first time, I used a pace plan and I liked it – I didn’t feel I was losing time.
- It’s not necessary to eat my own body weight in food during an ultra.
- It is still true that things start going wrong after around 80 miles.
- Blisters are a total shit and I still can’t be bothered to sort them out when I get them.
- Imodium works instantly. Never leave home without it boys and girls.
- Ultimate Direction SJ 3.0 race pack was perfect. Comfortable. Light. Spacious.
- Inov8 290 Ultras were amazing (but I could have got away with road shoes).
- I’m vindicated in my obsessive carrying of clingfilm wraps of toilet paper.
- Wet gloves are really unpleasant.
Centurion Running Race Report and Results – http://centurionrunning.com/reports/2016/a100-2016-race-report
Strava link – https://www.strava.com/activities/746939325