I was a mixture of nervous and excited ahead of Autumn 100. I did this race last year, and it is what inspired me to aim to complete the Grandslam of 4 x 100 mile races organised by Centurion Running in one year.
We headed down on the friday and stayed with our friends Vanessa and Mark. Vanessa was also going to pace my wife Susie for the last 50 miles of the 100 and had been training specifically to do that. Amazing. This was Susie’s first 100 miler (having only been running for two years) and was to be my final 100 mile race of the year to make the Centurion 100 mile Grandslam.
After checking out the state of the Thames Path for the purposes of making a decision on shoes (I went trail!) we enjoyed a meal of lasagne and garlic bread cooked by Vanessa. Samantha (my usual 4am partner in running crime!) joined us for some excited pre-race chatter. This was the first time during the races this year that Dan Park did not have to save my bacon by letting me have the spare bed in his hotel room
After a really good night sleep, and some packing and unpacking of our bags, and breakfast of croissants, porridge and tea we headed down to Goring for the start of the race. We did our kit-check and collected our numbers with no issues (getting quite slick at these!) and spent time getting a hug from Nici Griffin, Lou Fraser, and having a quick catch up with Mari Mauland (an amazing Norwegian ultrarunner and fellow Grandslammer) and friends and other racers – Samantha Mills (her first 100), Zoe Norman (her second 100) and her boyfriend Liam, Lee Kelly (he’s done multiple 100s!) and the amazing Tracey Watson (double 100, 50 slammer) and Pete (who was volunteering), Jo and Steve Turner (Grandslammers) and Georgina Townsend and Ryan Holmes (also in the Slam).
It’s almost like being at a wedding at the start of these races because everyone knows everyone else and it’s almost impossible to remember everyone who I bumped into (sorry if I forgot – I was in a complete state of nervous excitement before the race).
Spur 1 – Goring to Little Wittenham and back
After the usual race briefing we headed down to a slightly modified start line to avoid some roadworks and we soon set off. It was a slow walk for about a quarter mile before the congestion cleared and I was able to get into my stride. No bad thing, 100 miles is a long way after all.
I felt good. My plan was to go out easy paced, but with some urgency. I wanted to complete the Grandslam, but also aim for sub 22 hours. I felt really good, the only issue was a bit of acid in my throat, but on the whole it wasn’t too much of an issue. I barely paused at the first aid station (spotted Liam there) and headed off again for the turn around point.
The path wasn’t too much of a mud bath, but it was definitely a good choice to wear my Pearl Izumi N2 trail shoes. On sections I would have really suffered in road shoes (I am like bambi on ice) – and I fell over on the first spur out to Little Wittenham. Luckily no damage and I was surprised not to be coated head to toe in mud. As the front runners headed back towards me I counted out my position. I could sense I was close to the front (and I found I was around 70th position). I soon spotted Mari Mauland who was looking like she was loving the race and was absolutely flying along – shouted hi – and we hi-fived (though I slightly mistimed it).
Soon at the turnaround point (aid station in the back of a van) I grabbed a ham wrap and headed back to Goring. I shouted words of encouragement to the runners streaming past the other way, and spotted Samantha, Georgina, Zoe, my wife Susie and others including Spencer and Alzbeta among many many other friends. Me and Stephen Turner ran along a bit together – taking turns at being #Gate******.
As I got closer to Goring my stomach started playing up and I was suffering from stomach cramps (I have had issues every time I run along water over this last couple of years, and specifically over the last few weeks too). So imodium to the rescue and a quick pitstop at Wallingford aid station where I spotted Liam Gibson.
Feeling a bit better (but feeling pretty nauseous) I headed back to Goring getting there in a reasonable 4h13min (85th position).
Spur 2 – Ridgeway – Goring to Swyncombe and back
A quick loo stop and more imodium I headed back out on to the second spur – the Ridgeway up to Swyncombe and back. I pressed on. I didn’t waste effort running up the slope, I have recced and run the route before so I knew which bits were most runnable. I was in a bit of a state with my stomach and ended up having to stop at the aid station and deal with things again. This was all costing me time, but I was still in a good place and still only a little behind my A-race goal of sub 22hrs. My plan was to get through Grimm’s Ditch and back through it before it went dark. So I remembered that and pushed on. I spotted Mari Mauland again – and this time we timed the hi-five right!
Spotted the amazing photographer Stuart March in a field and tried to look less like death for the camera.
I had a brief moan about the state of my stomach and then soon I was at the Swyncombe aid station (back of a van, having my bottles filled by kids with halloween costumes on – brilliant guys!) I headed back towards Goring. I spotted Tracey Watson, Susie, Zoe and Samantha on the way back.
Stomach was still in knots and it was cramping badly, but I pushed on anyway. As I came to Grimm’s ditch for the second time, it was getting a little dusky so I took the precaution of getting a headtorch out and holding it in one hand to help with depth perception. I reached Goring in the dark just 9h50 minutes into the race. So 50 miles in less than 10 hours was only 37 minutes behind my race plan. Quick turn around at the aid station and off I went again.
Spur 3 – Ridgeway – Goring to Chain Hill and back
I headed out with my pacer for this section – Jonathan Boucard. My stomach was feeling awful, and while I wasn’t having an “issues” it was clear than my stomach was building pressure. That made it difficult to do much running, and as I planned to walk all the up hill sections I wasn’t too bothered as it was against headwind anyway. Again just as we entered the trail section of the Ridgeway, I spotted Mari again – we exchanged greetings and I carried out. Soon I had to retreat to a well hidden spot off the trail to have an “evacuation”. Feeling better I was able to jog a bit after that. We were soon at the aid station at Bury Downs where I saw Lou Fraser who was doing a great job with the others of looking after the runners. Sweaty hug (me not her!) we headed off with a coffee in my collapsible cup. We were soon greeted by the disco lights of Chain Hill aid station. Quick turn around and then back again toward Goring. I spotted Samantha Mills and her pacer Paul Pickford on the way back and Susie and her pacer Vanessa. I couldn’t be bothered to grab anything at the bury hill aid station on the way back, I just wanted to crack on while it was down hill and I could get out of the horrific wind (Storm Brian!). I was thinking… “All I have to do is finish this race and I get my grandslam buckle for the 4 x 100 mile races”… but that must have distracted me and seconds later as I was running past the race course and I tripped over a rock and pulled my groin / hamstring. So much pain. That was my running over.
There was no way I could even jog on it and I really didn’t know if I could physically walk fast enough on it either. I mentally calculated the time available and figured that if I could keep a good walking pace for the remaining 30+ miles then I should be able to finish in time and get my buckle. I was furious with myself…… I screamed at myself “I want to stab my leg with my cheat sticks!”. I didn’t know whether it was possible, but I figured the only way to find out would be to try. Another stomach evacuation up on the Ridgeway, it was starting to turn into a race that I was just going to have to tough out. Soon we reached Goring (feeling really annoyed that I had not been able to take advantage of the runnable downhill section) and as we got into the village Samantha and Paul passed us. I had been amazed that more runners didn’t go past us as I had been moving pretty slowly. I was really grateful to Jonathan for distracting me from my pain by telling me all manner of stories, things that had happened, what he did during the summer. I couldn’t reply but I told him I couldnt and that I appreciated him talking to me.
I got into the aid station. Saw the medic who gave me an ice pack and recommended no strapping etc…. And off I went again for the fourth leg. 75 miles in 16hr 58minutes (101 position). Slower than planned due to stomach issues but holding up reasonably well – in part due to my good start for the first 50 miles.
Spur 4 – Goring to Reading and back
I know this section well, and I know how soul destroying the section is through Reading. It’s fair to say I really wasn’t looking forward to walking the whole section. But that’s all I could do, so we got on with it. Mark Boyce had clearly drawn the short straw in the event…… while this was supposed to be the glory leg, it was actually going to be the longest slowest effort known ever!
On the Thames Path we saw Mari Mauland returning to Goring for the finish. I knew she was still first lady and she had a well deserved win! Well done hardcore lady!
I pressed on. I felt really sorry for Mark having to endure this whole section with me being in a huge pain cave and it not being a particularly pretty section either. He was a trooper though! I’m not going to say a huge amount about this section because I was in so much pain, and feeling so tired that I was finding it tough to concentrate. I kept thinking that if only I could run then it would be over and done quicker. But I couldnt. I could only walk. I kept adjusting my walking style so that it was reasonably high cadence, but short steps to avoid pulling my muscles even more. Whitchurch aid station came and went, and soon we were in those fields of doom through Mapledurham. We didn’t see many other runners and I was still surprised I wasn’t being passed by everyone in the race. Soon we did the death march section through to Reading. I knew this was a long leg and I didn’t get too dispirited by it. At one point I felt really sleepy so I had to get mark to talk at me for fear of me ended up in a bush asleep, or worse…. In the Thames. We saw Samantha and Paul – who gave out hugs and then Samantha gave me a little pep talk. Soon we were at the Reading Aid station, up the steps (those bloody steps!) and met Phil Brannigan who was helping at the aid station. A milky sugary coffee and a few minutes of an ice pack on my leg, I headed back towards Whitchurch. It was now light and I changed my top to my lovely merino because my pace was getting slower and I was getting cold.
I would like to say it didn’t take much time to get to Whitchurch…. But it felt like an eternity. It really did. I did get a lovely cuddle from Susie as she was heading towards Reading. And my legs were getting really painful through all the walking. And my left leg and foot was getting sore carrying too much of my weight to prevent more injury to my groin/hamstring on the right. Loved the flapjacks at the aid station and then it was the final 4.5 miles to the end at Goring. A few runners went past, but I couldn’t do anything about it and then finally I saw the bridge at Goring…… up the slope and finish!
Thank heavens for that. Thanks so much to Mark for bearing with my slow progress (we had this joke that every so often he would shout at me “Hurry up slow coach!”
Tough…… not the race I had planned….. But I managed to complete it in 26h 14 minutes and 129th position out of 236 starters, and 178 finishers. More importantly, it meant that I had earned my Centurion Grandslam Belt buckle and shirt!
A big cheer from the volunteers, a hug from Nici and photos by Stuart March at the end, followed by a hot dog and a coffee (thanks Roz!). I found it difficult to walk afterwards at all, and definitely couldnt drive so we ended up staying over at Vanessa’s and driving back on the Monday.
Thanks to everyone involved and especially all of the amazing volunteers!
Now, I’ll just bask in the lovely glow of earning this Grandslam Buckle. 19 / 30 by rank of the 2017 100 Grandslam finishers with a total of 102 hours 5 minutes and 37 seconds. Which in 2017 puts me at 65th position of all time Grandslammers So happy I could cry :-p