Written by Paul McCleery
I first ran an official ‘ultra’ back in 2012 after taking part in a local relay race that covered 36’ish miles. I ran the first leg but wanted to see if I could continue to run the whole thing, fortunately I did and that was my Ultra career started.
Having run race distances of 36, 50, 69, 84 a 100 and the MDS multi stage I found myself really enjoying the Centurion Community and the races they provide. Mainly because I live in East Sussex and therefor local terrain always feels nice.
Forward winding to late 2016, I had conquered a few races and had heard of the ‘Grand Slam’ that Centurion offer of either the 50 or 100 mile series, this appealed to me but I really wanted to do more. After a brief process of thought I decided I’d enter myself into both the slams In 2018. Fortunately Centurion offer a place for volunteering so I committed to as many races as I could do guarantee some entries and before I knew it I was entered into all 8 races and a plan had to be made.
I’m a PT and run coach so I was fairly confident in getting myself ready for the line, but this was to be a much bigger and respectful challenge and this I knew I would need help. Late 2017 I made contact with James Elson at Centurion about coaching and he introduced me to Neil Bryant and we had an initial exchange and I covered my reasons and intentions for the year ahead and goals. A plan was formulated and training started in Dec 2017 giving a good few months before the SDW50 in April. The training was enjoyable and much easier to adhere to than just my own plan because there was accountability and specifics to achieve with each section of the plan. Long runs, pace work, tempo’s were all part of the plan and all ticked off by the time the 1st race arrived.
Having run the SDW50, 100, NDW100 and A100 previously there was the temptation to run quicker times on these races. However I had to be mindful that completing each race was essential to complete all 8. You simply could not entertain a silly mistake or injury early on. That said, my SDW50 opener was a flyer and I came home in 8.24 which was quite a bit ahead of a previous attempt. This filled me with confidence and showed me that training had worked and I had pace. At the time I was also still competing with my local run club and so did the Brighton Half Marathon in Feb as well as a few other ‘short’ distances.
Next up, TP100, a race that I had not ran previously and I was aware of the low ascent and a hopeful fast race and time that could be on offer. I’d decided and accepted a kind offer from a good friend and fellow lady ultra runner to pace me on all of the 100’s. This wasn’t an easy decision, by my own admittance I’m not the happiest bunny in the depths of the night between 80-100 miles so was unsure a pacer would work for me.
The weekend arrived and being Great Britain, the weather could do what it dam well liked and well it did and it baked the hell out of everyone and made it such a difficult run. Training through the winter is never good prep for 30+ degrees of sunshine, so hydration and nutrition had to take priority. A sub 24 goal was plan A and thankfully I came home 23.16 and this was definitely to the benefit of having a pacer.
This is where it started to test my recovery process and prep for the next race which was the NDW50, this followed very quickly (2 weeks) so I made sure I slept, ate, had a sports treatment and readied the head. I had not run the NDW50 before, but having run the 100 and not remembering it fondly I was a little worried about a, the heat and b, the legs going into a hilly course. It wasn’t an easy race, but I decided to have my wife and two young girls meet me at the end and this really helped bring me home and although it wasn’t the best of races, I still came in 9.30 and 45th and enjoyed running to the line with my daughter who was so proud of her daddy.
Following this we had the SDW100 and NDW100 the first back to back 100’s but fortunately a healthy break in between them. Just for good measure I had entered Ironman Bolton which sat in the middle of the break. SDW is my favourite race and I ran it well, it was also very warm but a healthy course PB of 21.35 was very pleasing and nothing needed to change in terms of recovery, prep, planning or training.
Then the second half of the slam was upon us and things got hard. NDW100 was such a tough race, we had again very hot weather and by the time I had reached Bluebell Hill to meet my pacer (around 73 miles) I was dead on my feet and barely able to keep awake. I was refused a sleep stop, and dragged myself around the last 25 miles and refused to run another step. Looking back, I remember how tired and fatigued I was and even now don’t believe I would have been able to run, so had to be satisfied with the 28.25 finish.
I had listened to many ultra running podcasts and I remember Ken Fancett commenting on the need for sleep. I also had a chat with Neil at this stage as I was feeliing unsettled and now in a low patch where I wasn’t sure about how to pull things back together for the remaining races. We talked it through and changed to a weekly FaceTime call which gave a better opportunity to discuss various points and thoughts. This definitely helped me realign my head and focus on the next three races. The one ability I have is mental determination and I’ve never failed to finish a race, so onwards we went.
Chiltern Wonderland 50, a race I hadn’t done and didn’t know - a steady game plan, cooler weather and as always many familiar faces on the start line. A thoroughly enjoyable race, but the body was just not working as well as the start of the series and I remember stopping for a coffee at one of the latter checkpoints and walking too much. That said a time of 10.03 wasn’t too bad, it’s definitely a race I’d like to return to at some stage.
A100, a race I’d done before and sub 24’d. Maybe I was too confident, maybe the cooler weather and wet forecast lured me into a false sense. This one felt the toughest of the year, it threw the lot at me and by now it was clear - I was knackered, the body was done and everything was just giving up on me. I remember walking most of the ridgeway and on the way back to Goring I fell asleep walking down the road and almost fell in a ditch. I needed a sleep at Goring so sat down and got 20 mins - this threw me out of sync and it was such a battle to get out the door and finish I ended up confused and no idea on time. Reaching the turn point at Reading with about 10 mins to spare, it was peeing down and I had about 4 blisters. I decided I needed to finish so head down and jog through the pain for as long as I could to make up as much time as possible and guarantee I was able to finish. Finish I did, but with a sweat on and just under the time out in 27.38 - 22 mins to spare !!!
This meant 7 done and one left - the infamous 5x laps of doom in Wendover Woods. Game plan was simple, keep eating, keep moving and use walking poles. The race went better than the last and although a slow time I was supported by family and close friends and there was no way I was going to cock it up so I pushed on and finished to claim my 50 slam and final 8th medal in a time of 11.36.
I recall a conversation with James Elson and he said “I don’t advertise or reward the double slam specifically” he also said “people underestimate the challenge and distance” I remember replying “I’ve underestimated it and although confident I’ll complete it, it’s not going to be easy”
In 3 years only 12 have entertained the double slam, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Given time again I would attack both slams individually and give them the time and respect they need. The 100’s are challenging enough, so you have to determine what’s important for you. For me time was initially, then it was just pure attrition and get it done no matter what. So I sit here now after just finishing the Arc of Attrition and I have no medal or t-shirt that says I ran 600 miles and 8 events just 5 buckles and 5 medals and 10 T-shirts and lots of amazing photos .
Very soon the 2019 centurion season will be underway and my achievement will fall into history. But I know that I did it, and that I had the drive and determination to finish it. If I decided to do it again what would I do differently ?
I wouldn’t have entered an Ironman, I would have made sure I ate and drank more on those hot races. I would have definitely had my family and friends at more races to pull me around and most of all I would have still continued to believe it was possible and maybe have run those sections that I went on strike and walked on.
My advice to anyone who may be tempted.
“Don’t be blinded by the bling, understand what is required of you, ask yourself if you can deliver it and then put in place everything you need to ensure you do - deliver”
Remember - Smiles make miles so keep smiling and all will be fab !