So you’re thinking of doing the Centurion Grandslam. This is what you do if you complete 4 x 100 mile races during a calendar year – Thames Path, South Downs, North Downs and Autumn 100 within each of the cutoffs along the way for each race. If you do this, you get an amazing HUUUUGE belt buckle with each quarter of it signifying one of the four races, plus a coveted red Grandslam shirt. You can find out more here – http://www.centurionrunning.com/section/grandslam
I am a fairly ordinary runner. Oh, I have got a couple of good times for me on some races and a couple of times that I am unhappy with, but I genuinely believe that if you take your training semi-seriously, take hard lessons and learn from mistakes, and if you learn good self management and apply it then, with a little bit of lady luck on your side, doing the Grandslam is not beyond the reach of most people who are excited enough and undaunted enough to enter the Grandslam.
Look, just to be clear, I am not being a complete penis by saying that ANYONE SHOULD, or COULD do it…. Because it really is a huge commitment for anyone during the year, and lots of things can go wrong. I’m not saying that you can walk off the street and knock out 4 x 100 mile races having done a few parkruns, but it really is not something that you should believe that you are not capable of. I’m not the best runner in the world (I run alot and enjoy it but that doesn’t make me better than anyone else), and there is alot of luck involved and lots of things that need to go your way……
Only you will know, in your head and in your heart whether completing the Centurion Grandslam is enough for YOU …. Enough for you to want to complete, when you are fatigued and throwing a bloody strop with your pacer because you can’t be bloody arsed with this shit (for me that was on NDW100 at about 80 miles….. Before I MTFUd – because my wife told me to stop being a fucking baby). Only you know whether you truly want it.
So, you can read the four race reports (links at the end) but I have also set out some of the things I have learned that are specific to completing the Centurion Grandslam. If there are any questions you have – please drop me a message or a comment below.
I managed to finish the Slam in 102 hours, 5 minutes and 37 seconds in total. With my proudest achievements from each of the four races:
- TP100 – my fastest one – Thames Path 100 – in 22h26m15s.
- SDW100 in exactly 1 day, 1 hour, 1 minute, 1 second (how the absolute shit did I make THAT happen!)…..
- NDW100 – managing to have a meltdown while my wife was pacing me and us still being married at the end of it!
- A100 – going super well for the first half and then falling over at 68 miles and walking the remaining 32 miles without going completely fucking nuts! (I HATE walking!)
Anyway, here you go. Hope it is helpful.
1. Volunteer and give something back!
Volunteering on the Centurion Grandslam races is both a great way of helping to make sure that you have plenty of money available to buy loads of food while you are training, and to indulge your love of gadgetary, kit and other junk that won’t actually help you…. OR …… more helpfully it is the best way of getting a great understanding of each of the four races of the Grandslam, to appreciate the ways in which the races feel different, to learn from the runners the bits that seem to be a struggle for some, and of course you get to give something back to the other runners taking part in these races. Also, you get to know the deal at each of 4 (or more) checkpoints!
I volunteered on TP100, SDW100, NDW100 in 2016 (I ran Autumn100 in 2016) so I bought my ticket for the Grandslam with three volunteering places plus a paid ticket for the Autumn 100. While Centurion races don’t cost the price of a McDonald’s burger with extra chips, they are still good value for the amazing set up and the amazing volunteers and the race organisation during the races. By Ultrarunners for Ultrarunners. So, get volunteering! Or pay for the Slam. I think if you just pay though then you are really missing out, and you’ll get to know other runners too who might be doing the slam (and that’s always good to know others!).
2. Recce the race routes
Yeah, just turn up and bang out the races. You could do that…. Or you could give each of the races the respect that they deserve.
Each of the four races are very different in character, terrain, and feel. So take the time to find out about the races. Do sections of the route as you get close to the race day so that you can at least have one less thing to get worried about (getting lost) and so you can concentrate on all the other things that could possibly go wrong.
I recce’d the SDW100, NDW100 and A100. So that I had run all of the routes – either as a race, or as a training run on a recce. I had run part of the Thames Path as I was pacing a friend on TP100 in 2016, but I made up for the rest of it by poring over the map. Also I had run part of it during Autumn 100 in 2016.
Why is this relevant to the Grandslam specifically? Well, remember, if you fuck up a race by getting lost, and you really mess things up, then you mess up not just one race but the whole series. Don’t be a muppet. Go recce the race routes and get into the mood. It also means that you’ll be using some intelligence when deciding on your race shoes rather than just following the herd in discussions on the week before the race.
3. Know when to train and when not to
Right, so training. Training actually works. There…. I said it. After years of just turning up to races and having a go, I actually trained and trained consistently before my grandslam attempt. The fact is that you will look at the timing of the races and you will shit yourself. Because there is something like 4-5 weeks inbetween the Thames Path and South Downs…. And 7 weeks from South Downs to North Downs, and then about 11 weeks until Autumn 100.
Don’t know about you, but I take 2 weeks off after a 100 mile race, and taper in the last week before the next race, leaving in some cases, just a couple of weeks of any meaningful running. Don’t fret, the key thing is to turn up on the start line as rested as you can on SDW100, and then do some more hill training before NDW100, and then after you’ve past the bitch of a test on NDW100 then you’d got a good period of training before the last 100 miler of the year. Awesome.
Trust the process and don’t fret. Keeping injury free is hard and you have to be so careful, and of course there is an element of luck. You’ll get used to wrapping yourself in cotton wool and making absolutely sure that you are minimising all risks in your life as possible (kids on scooters on the pavement have never seemed so hazardous!)
4. Packing and kit
Become really intimate with your kit…. No…. not like that, but really get to know it. Train with it. Run with it. Test it all out. Get to know what really works for you. Move things around. Get to know how you want to use it. Work out for the races where you want your collapsable cup. What you need, what you can do without, at what point you might need your headtorch (e.g. on Autumn 100 there is a better than evens chance that you’ll be pining for your headtorch for the return run of leg 2 as you head through Grimm’s ditch. You really don’t want to be having a conversation with yourself about whether you should get a torch out. Cut that out and just have stuff available that you need.
During the slam you will have the opportunity to tailor your kit choice to the style of racing on the centurion events. And that you’ll often want to carry two baselayers (one sealed in a dry bag, and one for using – particularly overnight on the A100, and the TP100.
5. Know the aid stations and find out who is working them
It is a great idea to know the names of the aid stations and hang out regularly on the Centurion Running Community facebook page so that you can discover who is helping at each of the aid stations. It can be handy to know that there is a friendly hug waiting for you!
There are some amazing aid stations – whether they are in village halls, or in a marquee in the middle of nowhere!
6. Get to know the other slammers!
The chances are that you will know some of the runners, but if you don’t get to know them. You’ll probably spend some miles with friends and other slammers during the races. You’ll also get plenty of encouragement from other runners during each race.
Keep an eye out during race briefings when James Elson asks the slammers to raise their hands. Have a scan around and you are likely to already recognise some of the others. Have a blast on the trails and of course because you are all in the same place you’ll each find each other a great source of support.
I enjoyed spending some miles with other slammers. And I’m grateful to Georgina Townsend who let me use her as a standing post while I had a cramp in my ankle! Thanks fellow Slambitch! 🙂
7. Don’t obsess over the weather and shoe choice.
You’ll stress yourself out in the week before each of the races because after perfect running weather you will find it rains heavily (and probably unseasonably) and then the perfect road shoes that you had chosen for their additional cushioning will no longer seem the “shoe in” (geddit!?) for the race. You’ll stress and stress and stress…. And then go on Centurion Running Community and then stress each other out all the more.
If you have recced the route. You’ll know what will be the best compromise.
- On TP100 I wore road shoes (Pearl Izumi N3 road It was dry and the thames path is hard on the feet for some of it anyway. Right choice.
- On SDW100, it is chalky and flinty and grassy for much of it. It was dry. I used the same Pearl Izumi N3 road shoes. It rained a bit during the week before but the SDW drains fast.
- On NDW100 I wore the same road shoes. It was dryish, but had rained on and off. There was a rain storm forecast. I wore Pearl Izumi N3 Road shoes…. But came a cropper around 30 miles when it pissed it down and turned fields in to a chalky muddy claggy mess. I couldn’t be arsed to change my shoes. So I lost some time, but just cracked on. Wrong choice.
- On Autumn 100, I checked the route over the previous weeks, I had friends local to the area too. I had lots of boots on the ground… and I raced it in 2016 as well. It was a finely balanced choice because it had been so wet. I decided to go for my Pearl Izumi N2 trail. They were PERFECT!
So, the weather will be the weather. Just get on with it and if you have checked out the routes and you know your body and how you run then you will be well placed to make the right choice.
8. Those little extras that make the grandslam that little bit more comfortable.
- Take some cash for ice creams and know where you can get them (tips: there are ice cream vans or shops available on TP100, a farm shop at cocking aid station on SDW100, Box hill and Reigate Hill on NDW100, and a shop on A100 – if you can be bothered to go a little out of your way at goring (I couldnt!)
- Crew Briefing. If you are lucky enough to have crew, then really look after them. And the same goes for pacers. If you have recced the route you will know where you will benefit most from pacers. Also, take time to tell your crew how you want them to deal with you, and also just be bloody nice to them. They are there to help you, but there are also just lovely lovely friends or family – so be as lovely as possible and them some more (and apologise in advance if you are snappy – it happens – no one is perfect). Discuss in advance where you might want McDonalds (other fast food joints are available!) and where the nearest ones might be at specific parts of the route. Think where you want to see the crew too – and know that it might not make sense at every possible crew point.
- Practice eating and drinking regularly during training. You know when the aid stations are. You know the distance between them. You know what is available at each of the aid stations (mostly). So, practice. Know what you want to take with you. Try it. Train with it. Practice. Reduces the chances of stomach issues. Only the risk – it can still happen.
If you want more ramblings / race reports…..
Thames Path 100 race report
South Downs Way 100 race report
North Downs Way 100 race report
Autumn 100 race report