29 minutes in & my watch beeps at me. I stop & slow to a walk as a steady stream of runners pass me, several pausing to ask if I’m okay. I guess they’re not used to seeing someone walk quite so early on in a race & I appreciate their concern.
My walking is intentional though as I have a plan.
I glance down at my heart rate (HR). Checking it’s within target. It is. I look at no other data on my watch screen as I tear open & swallow the first of many gels.
60 seconds later, another beep & I ease back into a gentle run.
This is my plan for the next 20-odd miles. Run for nine minutes, walk for one. Eat every 30 & keep my HR in check.
In my mind, this is all I am doing. No more, no less. Although I have a goal, I refuse to chase distance, pace, or time. I’m simply running – and walking – 25 miles. Not even a marathon.
Autumn 100 by Centurion Running is made up of four 25-mile legs, each one starting & finishing at a central point in Goring, a small town alongside the Thames in South Oxfordshire.
Each leg is different. Each leg varied. 12.5 miles out to a turnaround checkpoint, 12.5 miles back. Legs one & four head in different directions along the flat Thames Path. Legs two & three along the undulating Ridgeway.
At the end of every leg, you return to the village hall, aka race HQ, where there is the usual array of food, drink & support from the Centurion army, and also your own personal drop bag.
But in my head, I’m not running 100 miles. I’m running four 25 miles.
A new run, a new race, a new challenge & a new goal each time I leave Goring.
Leg 1. Thames Path, Goring to Little Wittenham. Miles 1-25
The morning is bright & sunny as we gather outside the Parish Church of Saint Mary just across the river from Goring Village Hall. The race briefing is short & to the point. 100 miles, four out & back legs. It might get cold at night so wrap up warm. Don’t be a dick towards other trail users.
With the briefing done, the final few minutes drag on. Knowing the path narrows pretty quickly, I deliberately position myself towards the front of the crowd. Near to – but a little behind – Debbie Martin-Consani & Mari Mauland, the race favourites.
As James Elson the race director finishes the countdown from ten to start the race, the Church bells chime at 9 am & we’re off. A buzz of anticipation in the air.
I am calm. I am ready. I know what I need to do. Splashing through puddles, the narrow path winds around the back of Streatley & through a small woodland before popping out alongside the glorious Thames. With more space riverside, people quickly begin to spread out.
It’s disconcerting as runner after runner passes me, some sprinting as if it’s the final mile, not the first. I put my hand up, I am competitive & it takes a lot of restraint not to let my ego get the better of me & chase after them.
With difficulty, I ignore my ego & everyone around me. Reminding myself that 100 miles is a very long way & a lot can, and will, happen over the course of the race.
I have a plan & I will stick to it.
This was a learning from the TP100 in May. On paper, it looks like I had a great race & I am not unhappy with the overall result. However, the race did not go how I wanted it to. I over-planned. Focussing too much on the outcome & not enough on the process, I gave myself no room for flexibility. When I was thrown a curveball within the first 20 miles, my pace dropped & my mind faltered.
In ultra running, mental strength is as important, if not more so, as physical strength. 30 miles into that race, I knew I wasn’t going to hit my target time & I wasn’t mentally strong enough to deal with it. I put myself under too much pressure & I have only myself to blame.
This time around it is different.
I still have a goal & a plan; start easy, run-walk & fuel well, but it is fluid & flexible with a buffer should there be any curveballs. I’ve removed the self-imposed pressure & allowed myself room to adapt as needed. I am not obsessing over time, distance or pace. The only stat I am monitoring is my HR. Get my HR & effort levels right & everything else should fall into place.
All I need to focus on is running 25 miles.
The golden autumnal sunshine sparkles on the water & I marvel at how beautiful the morning is. Running conditions for mid-October are pretty near perfect. Temperatures in the mid-teens are warm but not too warm, with sunshine & blue skies. Bar a small amount of mud in these early miles, the trail underfoot is as near to perfection as it can be.
The path peeling away from the river & through the small town of Moulsford coincides with my first walk break.
This is the first time I have used such a frequent run-walk strategy in a race. I trialed it on a couple of long training runs & I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. Over 22 miles, my overall pace was no slower than if I’d run continuously whilst my legs felt fresher & far less fatigued at the end.
In this first leg, I am religious about my minute walk breaks. I stop conversations, abandoning those around me & slow to a walk the moment I hear the alert. This early in the race, I don’t need to walk, however, I know that I will feel the benefit in the latter miles.
It helps my mind to know that every nine minutes I have a small break. I don’t stress when my HR is slightly high because I know I can bring it back down when I walk. A higher than normal (aka training run ‘normal’) HR is one of the things that threw me on the Thames Path.
It’s warm & I’m excited/nervous/drank lots of coffee pre-race. I can feel the race-day adrenaline pumping around my body. It will affect my HR. I have my minute to chill, and we go again.
Checkpoint one in Wallingford, I don’t stop. Along into Benson & over to the other side of the river. I run, walk, run, walk, run, walk, snack, run, walk…
I see the leading runners coming towards me & this tells me I can’t be far from the turnaround. There’s a small group of them fairly close together & I give a cheer as they pass. I try to count the ladies as I see them coming towards me & work out I must be around 10th or 11th.
Before the race, I didn’t know how I would feel about the out & back nature of it. I prefer running somewhere & as a rule, am not a fan of out & back. However, the further into the race we go, the more I grow to like it. I like crossing paths with other runners; seeing the strength & speed of the leaders whilst cheering on those behind me. It’s rare in a race to see so many of the other runners which also means I get to see the friends that I said goodbye to on the start line.
Not long after the Little Wittenham turnaround, I see Kerry, Jaco & Paul. A high-five across the trail along with their shouts of encouragement act as a little pick-me-up! Part of me wishes that I was running with them, enjoying chat & trail gossip with friends!
Saying that, on the return leg, I avoid running with others. I find it easier to stick to my plan & my effort level when it’s just me. Surrounded by other people I get drawn into chat & before I know it, my pace has quickened & my HR shot up.
I am quite happy & content just me, myself & I. It stays like this for most of the first three legs.
Back through Wallingford & soon I’m on the approach to Goring. In the final mile, I catch up with several of the runners who sprinted past me in the first mile.
Over the river & across the bridge. I run into the village hall & am handed my drop bag. I swap my pre-filled bottles over, refill my race vest with snacks, grab a couple of peanut butter sandwiches from the table & go.
No fanfare, no ceremony, in, out & ready for leg two.
- Leg one: 3:56:38, average pace 9:45 min/mile (Plan: 4:10:00, 10:00 min/mile)
- 62nd overall, 9th female.
- Time spent in Goring checkpoint: 4:31 (Plan 10:00)
Leg 2. Ridgeway, Goring to Swyncombe. Miles 25-50.
I press the lap button on my watch. Leg one is done. Forgotten about. I’m starting afresh on leg two. I’m running 25 miles. My Garmin lap resets to zero, my mental clock resets to zero.
A new run. A new race. A new goal.
I leave Goring looking forward to leg two. In my mind, this is my favourite one as it is the hilliest trail section. The kind of terrain that I thrive on.
First, there is a rather dull & flat part along roads & through the villages of South Stoke & North Stoke, the location of the mid-leg checkpoint. Deceptive as at 4 miles from Goring, it is not mid-way.
On the way into North Stoke, I have a mini wobble. My legs are sore, my right abductor is grumbling & my left lower leg aches. My wobble wonders if my legs ache now, how are they going to get through another 70+ miles? Momentarily I forget my trick of looking at how far I have come, rather than how far I have to go. I’ve already run nearly 30 miles. No wonder my legs ache!
I put on a podcast to distract myself. Bad Boy Running talking to Sophie Power from She Races. As a woman in ultra running, her campaign for equality on the trails is something I’m always keen to hear more about.
A few miles later the aches & pains are forgotten as I hit upon Grim’s Ditch. This is my bit. My trail. Undulating & uneven single track with roots & rocks to skip & dance over. Through woods, around trees, up & down ditches & over a fallen log. At times I forget that I am supposed to be walking up inclines as I run up them with a smile on my face. The tedious tarmac & aches & pains of North Stoke are long forgotten!
I walk a long incline in the middle of a nine-minute run block. I run down a hill during the one-minute walk break. I adapt my 9:1 run-walk ratio to the ebbs & flows of the hills. I leave Grim’s Ditch behind for now & head towards the field of dreams, not quite so dreamy in October as it is in the full bloom of summer but still a photo worth taking.
I forget my whereabouts in this leg when I begin to cross paths with the race leaders. Grim’s Ditch, the Field of Dreams, or somewhere in-between. The trail becomes busy & I’m enjoying running alone but surrounded by others, sharing the occasional word here & there.
I’d expected the litre of fluids that I picked up in Goring to last me the whole of this leg. But it’s so unseasonably warm that I have drained both bottles by the time I reach the turnaround at Swyncombe. I refill them & grab a couple of sandwiches.
I hadn’t planned on stopping for more than a few seconds at the CPs out on the course. But I have enough of a buffer in my race day plan so that I don’t need to worry about a few unexpected minutes here & there. Refilling my bottles & staying hydrated is more important than saving two minutes 37.5 miles into a 100-mile race. Another learning from TP100.
Whereas the peanut butter sandwiches (aka running food of the gods) at Little Wittenham & Goring went down like a treat, I find it impossible to eat these ones. I chew & chew & chew. And chew some more. But I just cannot swallow. Nothing wrong with the sandwiches, just my usual inability to eat solids the further into a race I get. This time, I don’t force it. I don’t make my body take on food it doesn’t want as I have done previously with disastrous results. I’ve done my best, I can do no more. I know I have enough easily digestible gels & sachets of baby food to get me through the remaining miles.
Back across the Field of Dreams, I wave at Kerry coming in the opposite direction. I’m looking forward to the upcoming treat of Grim’s Ditch, but my feet are becoming tired & in the early stages, I stumble several times on the uneven ground. A deep breath to keep me calm & relax my body. I walk a few more of the inclines but can’t resist flying down the hills!
I keep step with a guy called Nick for a while. We chat whilst riding the Grim’s Ditch rollercoaster Up, down, up down, round the corner & up again… We continue to cross paths numerous times during the rest of the race, eventually finishing just a handful of seconds apart.
Running out of Grim’s Ditch & back towards the monotonous tarmac of the Stokes I flick another podcast on. I remember little of what I listened to with the inane chatter in my ears acting more as a distraction than entertainment.
Looking back, if I was to pick out a low point of the race it would be now, approaching halfway. As these things often are, it is entirely my own doing. I didn’t enjoy this part when I ran it with Kerry & Windsor Andy in June & the negative feeling from that day is stuck in my mind today. I expect to find it dull & tedious, and surprise, surprise, I do.
I wonder what the difference would have been had I gone into those last few miles of leg two with my positive pants on?
Reaching Goring again is a relief. I run into the village hall & steal a quick glance at the race clock. 8 hours 21 minutes. If that is indeed correct & halfway is 50 miles, I have just run a 29-minute trail 50-mile PB… (I count 7:55 for a track 50 as something completely different).
A fleeting look at the clock as I rush into the hall at the end of each lap is the only time indicator I have as to how I’m doing. Having found the last few miles challenging, seeing this time in big red numbers gives me some much-needed reassurance. I walk into the main hall with a smile on my face to be greeted by Spence, Stu & Zoe.
In anticipation of the upcoming nighttime drop in temperature, I change into a long sleeve t-shirt whilst Spencer swaps my bottles over for me & stuffs my race pack with new gels & baby food. ZF’s given I strip off in the middle of the hall to save time. I have my first cup of coke & sit quietly for a few minutes.
Half way. 50 miles done. 50 to go.
I’m told that one of the ladies in front of me is dropping out. This means that without taking a step, I move into fourth place as I start leg three.
- Leg two: 23.94 miles, 4:22:28, average pace 10:59 min/mile (Plan: 4:35:00, 11:00 min/mile)
- 30th overall, 5th female.
- Time spent in Goring checkpoint: 11:31 (plan 10:00)
Leg 3: Ridgeway, Goring to Chain Hill. Miles 50-75.
I press the lap button on my watch. Leg two is done. Forgotten about. I’m starting afresh again on leg three. I’m running 25 miles. My Garmin lap resets to zero, my mental clock resets to zero.
A new run. A new race. A new goal.
The coke instantly works its magic & I leave Goring with a bounce in my step. I still have no idea what the actual time is, but the sun is sinking fast in the sky ahead of me & I wonder if I can make it to the top of the Ridgeway before it sets.
Before the race, I was expecting this to be my least favourite section but during the 11 minutes, I spent in Goring I had a complete change of mindset. I went in on a bit of a downer. I have come out on a high. There is something very magical about seeing the start or end of a day & the possibility that I may see the sunset is an incentive to get moving.
I find myself running up the early inclines with an enthusiasm I thought was long ago lost. I don’t want my walk breaks, I just want to keep going. I do make myself walk for those 60 seconds, knowing that I may regret it later if I don’t. As with leg two, I slightly adapt the 9:1 run-walk ratio to the ebbs & flows of the hills.
I just miss the sunset. Not quite making it high enough on the ridge before the sun slips silently below the earth’s edge. It leaves behind a vibrant blanket of pink & orange in the quickly darkening sky. I’m all alone. The runner in front is now just a tiny silhouette on the horizon. The runner behind is lost in the darkness of the shadows.
It’s quiet & peaceful.
I know some people don’t like nighttime running but I love the silence & solitude of running by myself at night. Tonight the sky is clear & visibility is still good. Waiting as long as possible before putting on my head torch, I look up & see a scattering of stars twinkling above my head. The route is simple, essentially a straight line of rolling & runnable hills with little need to worry about navigation.
Just after I’ve passed the first checkpoint, I see the head torch of the leading runner coming towards me. Pretty soon, there is a long line of lights meandering my way.
Apart from this. I have little to say about the section between East Isley & Chain Hill. With just the lights from nearby towns glowing brightly on the horizon, the darkness of the night has stolen the views. All I have to look at are the dancing shadows on the path in front of me.
I see the lights of the Chain Hill checkpoint in the distance & know I don’t have far to go until the turnaround. Both checkpoints on this section are outside & with the wind up in the ridge, the volunteers are going to have a very chilly night. They really are the superstars of the race, especially those out amongst the elements on this third leg. Without the volunteers, there would be no race. Their selfless acts of kindness enable us to run.
I reach the checkpoint & quickly down a couple of cups of coke, my rocket fuel of choice for these latter stages. I politely decline the shots of vodka they have lined alongside the Tailwind, (although also, very slightly tempted…!). As with all the checkpoints, I’m in & out in a minute or so. As I leave, I put some music on, deciding I need something lively to accompany me on my return ride to Goring.
Between the two checkpoints on the way out, I overtook the lady in third. A minute or two after the turnaround we pass each other again. I work out that I may now be three or four minutes ahead of her.
It is the most random of playlists & I apologise profoundly to anyone who heard my dulcet tones singing along to Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake or Stormzy (told you, random…) as I have a bit of a one-woman Saturday night party on the Ridgeway!
It’s funny how music can affect mood. With an uptempo playlist, the whole section from Chain Hill back to Goring is a blast. I feel good. I feel strong. I feel happy. I feel as if I can take on the world. At times I am flying & I’m not sure I actually have enough words to describe how amazing I feel.
There are tunes in my ears & a beautiful orange half-moon rising in the sky in front of me. My legs have a spring in them & I am full of energy. 65, 70 miles into the race & I feel better than I did at 25 miles.
I’m running out of superlatives.
With the field now spread quite far out, I run most of the second half of this leg completely alone. I am in my element & this doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
As I come back down the hill towards Streatley I snatch a quick glance at the time on my phone. I still haven’t looked at my watch. From what I can remember, I’m ahead of my rough plan. Considerably ahead. I may be not far off being an hour earlier into Goring than I planned.
I panic that if I’m too early, Nikki, my leg four pacer, may not have arrived. In a most unlike Ally move, I realise that there is absolutely nothing I can do about this right now so I put the worry to one side & carry on.
I fly into Streatley, pass the pub I stayed at last night & across the bridge to Goring. I pass several runners on the bridge just starting leg three. Into the village hall, I forget to sneak a glance at the clock because there is Nikki, ready & waiting.
Instantly a crowd surrounds me & there is a rush of activity around me.
My pack is taken off. The empty bottles are swapped for the last two pre-filled full ones from my drop bag. The pockets are stuffed with fresh snacks.
I’m handed my flask of coffee. Made when I was last in Goring & left to brew whilst I was running leg three. I sit. I stand. Drink. I sit again. Stand again. People talk to me. At me. About me. Apparently, the second lady isn’t that far in front of me. I begin to feel a little overwhelmed & am unsure of what is going on. I say things & am told things I don’t now remember. I sit. I stand. I drink a bit more coffee.
After just seven minutes, my pack is put back on my back. I’m ushered out of the hall while shouting I’ll see them in 25 miles. A glance from Nikki as she asks if I’m ready & presses start on her watch.
- Leg three: 25.47 miles, 4:45:22, average pace 11:12 min/mile (Plan: 5:00:00, 12:00 min/mile)
- 22nd overall, 3rd female.
- Time spent in Goring checkpoint: 7:02 (plan 10:00)
Leg 4. Thames Path, Goring to Reading. Miles 75-100.
I press the lap button on my watch. Leg three is done. Forgotten about. I’m starting afresh again on leg four. I only have to run 25 miles. My Garmin lap resets to zero, my mental clock resets to zero.
A new run. A new race. A new goal.
Whilst I’ve enjoyed the solitude of the first 75 miles, happy & content in my own company, I now relish having someone running alongside me.
Nikki & I have shared 100s of miles over the past few years, many in the deep depth of lockdown when we were only permitted to run with one other person. In my mind, this was going to be just like those runs; a lovely long chatty jog with a friend…
In reality, I have no energy to say more than a few words. My mind is more tired than my body & I struggle to form sentences. The conversation is pretty one-sided as I listen to Nikki chattering away.
I’m always humbled by the sacrifices that those who crew & pace make. Nikki, our club’s cross-country captain, has missed the opening league match of the season to spend the night running with me along the Thames Path.
She crewed me at SDW100 & TP100, seeing me fly on the South Downs & crash on the Thames Path. She’s seen me at my best & at my worst & knows me better than most. A super strong & disciplined runner in her own right, she knows my loose race plan & knows exactly what needs to be done. She takes charge.
She tells me to run. I run.
She tells me to walk. I walk.
She tells me to eat. I eat.
I do as I am told.
She allows me to walk up the hill just outside Whitchurch. We run down the other side as the race leader passes us in the opposite direction. He’s just a few short miles from the sweetest of victories.
Across the bridge over the river & into the Pangbourne checkpoint. I wasn’t planning on stopping here but I desperately want some coke. In the rush, I forgot to have some in Goring & I have been craving it ever since.
We’re swift. In, coke, two boiled potatoes (a solid food win!), and out… a minute at the most before our feet hit the ground & we’re crossing Pangbourne Meadows. I feel an almost instant energy boost from the caffeine. Next stop Reading…
On route, we pass the fabled “Welcome to Reading” sign. The sign that raises runners’ hopes & breaks their spirits all in one.
It is not in Reading.
It is nowhere near Reading.
It is still approximately 34276 miles to the Reading checkpoint.
I know this. I am prepared for this. I stick my finger up at the welcome in defiance & carry on.
A little before the actual checkpoint & the turnaround, we see Debbie & her pacer Kirsty running towards us. I realise that she must have overtaken Mari. It spurs me on knowing that as the race leader, she is not that far in front of me.
I tell Nikki that I want to claim back the three minutes I saved in Goring for a brief sit down in Reading. I feel like a child asking permission.
The steps into the checkpoint that I have heard so many complaints about don’t bother me. I’m focusing on the sit-down I get at the top. In the back of my mind, I am wondering where Mari is. I grab a coke & slide gratefully into a chair. Ian Robertson has his usual array of vegan bakes but as much as I want to eat some real food the thought of it turns my stomach.
As I’m drinking, Mari comes back into the main room from the ladies. I greet her & ask how she is. She tells me she’s not enjoying this section. As she is handed a cup of hot tea, I catch Nikki’s eye. I haven’t had my full three minutes rest but I say to her “I think I’m ready to go now”, knowing that if I leave whilst Mari is still in the CP I will move into second place… a concept that literally blows my mind.
The coke & this knowledge gets me out of the chair, down those stairs & back onto the Thames Path quicker than I thought possible. I’m not sure how much time I have, but if Mari is drinking a hot drink, I should be able to get at least a small head start on her.
Nikki knows me well enough to know what I am thinking without any words being said. She takes control as we ease back into a run. When the walk alarm beeps a couple of minutes later, she decides that we are skipping the walk break & pushing on to the next, I mean, I did just have a 30-second sit-down!
Moving into second place has given me such a boost. I can’t get my head around it. Me, in second. Third was a crazy enough notion, but second? My goal is 20 hours, anything more than that is an added bonus. This is now an incentive to keep moving, to keep pushing. I’m on the home straight & I don’t want to lose it now.
I am tired & my whole body hurts. There is a deep, deep ache in my legs & my feet feel like heavy weights tied on the end of them.
I’m digging deep. Nikki runs in front of me setting the pace & reminding me to focus on form & technique. I follow, imagining a rope between us pulling me along. Head high, shoulders relaxed, hips high, knees high, using my arms to drive me forward. Focusing on good running form takes my mind off of the pain & discomfort.
Nikki does my thinking for me.
She tells me when to run.
She tells me when to walk.
She tells me when to eat.
This is the first 100 that I am still “eating” in the final miles. It is also the first race that I haven’t had embarrassing stomach issues – no urgent diving behind bushes today! Like my whole race day approach, I removed the fuelling pressure & kept it simple.
I ate ‘real’ food for as long as I could. When my body told me it had had enough of solids (the sandwiches at Swyncombe), I didn’t force myself to eat food I didn’t want. In previous races, I have done this with detrimental results.
I have one 500ml flask of strong Tailwind for each leg. I sip throughout using my walk alert as a prompt to drink. I have a gel or baby food sachet every 30 minutes & drink coke at checkpoints in the second half. I’m not monitoring or counting my calorie & carb intake. I simply make sure I have a little something every half an hour.
I never once run out of energy & I never once feel nauseous. This is a first for me over this distance.
Nikki counts down. Three minutes. Two minutes. 90 seconds until I can walk… I live for those fleeting walk breaks. 60 brief seconds of respite that is over all too soon.
We stick as religiously to the 9:1 run-walk ratio in leg four as I did in leg one. The only exception is the occasional small incline. I marvel at my body. At how strong it is. 90+ miles & running for nine minutes at a time at what still feels like a reasonable pace.
I say reasonable pace. I have no actual idea what pace I am running, I base this judgment purely on feel. I’m still not looking at my watch. I’ve slowed down enough that my HR is easily within range so I don’t even check that. I still have no idea how far I have run, how long I have been running, what pace I am running at, or even what time of day it is.
I’ve found not knowing the distance/time/pace quite liberating as it has removed all (self-imposed) pressure.
As we move further away from Reading, the twinkle of head torches coming towards us becomes more frequent. Sometimes just one solitary light, a runner without a pacer. At other times, a line of lights snakes its way along the path towards us. In the darkness of the night, the lights are blinding & it’s hard to see faces until we’re almost on top of each other. I nearly run right by Kerry but Nikki spots her just in time.
We don’t stop at Pangbourne on the return journey. My need for the finish line is greater than my need for coke. I volunteered at Pangbourne last year & spent most of my time telling runners it was less than five miles to go.
Crossing the river for the last time we climb up through Whitchurch. We walk the hill & my feet are momentarily thankful for the ease of the tarmac. A small respite from the uneven, grassy path across Pangbourne Meadows.
The final decent. A wonderful winding & twisty woodland trail. I would fly down a hill like this on a normal day with reckless abandonment. Today is not a normal day. Not trusting my fatigued feet, I tip-toe gingerly down one tiny step at a time.
Out of the woods & back alongside the river. I know I’m close but I don’t know how close. My run has become more of a shuffle & my moaning is a little louder. I use anything that remotely resembles an incline as a reason to walk a step or two.
Under the railway line, I can see lights up ahead. Maybe a mile to go. Nick, who I met on leg two & last seen a few miles back, appears behind us again. One moment he’s in front of me. The next moment I’m in front of him. Around the fields just outside of Goring. My headtorch gives a final dramatic flicker & dies. I don’t want to waste time rummaging around in my pack for my spare so Nikki lights the path ahead for both of us. There’s a bridge up ahead. I confidently tell Nikki it’s not the bridge between Streatley & Goring. It’s another bridge.
Turns out it is the bridge between Streatley & Goring…
The slight incline up to the road feels like a huge mountain but now it’s one I climb with enthusiasm. The village hall & a gaggle of hi-vis-clad volunteers are mere metres away. Smiling, I pick up my pace for a “sprint” finish… Through the side gate, down the alley, a timing beep, an arch of twinkling fairy lights, round the corner, in the back door of the village hall & done.
A very unceremonious finish.
Music is playing. The room is full of people. I have no idea who. I sit. Someone hands me a buckle. Someone else gives me a t-shirt. There’s chatter all around me. Stu tells me I’ve run sub-18:30. I don’t believe him. I can’t focus on my watch to see.
James checks the official timing. Second lady in 18:27:25.
I can’t comprehend this. How the absolute f**k have I just managed that? Not just my 20-hour goal, 92 minutes quicker than my 20-hour goal! WTAF.
- Leg four: 25.38 miles, 4:59:44, average pace 11:48 min/mile (Plan: 5:25:00, 13:00 min/mile)
- 15th overall, 2nd female.
I must mention Nikki’s pacing on leg four here. She knew my rough goal was 5:25:00 for this section. Her goal, (based on what she knew & I didn’t at the end of leg three) was 5:00:00. She brought me in with 16 seconds to spare! She was like a metronome. Bang, bang, bang. Consistent, steady pacing.
- We ran from Goring to Pangbourne on the way out in 58:50
- And from Pangbourne to Goring on the way back in 58:14
- From Pangbourne to Reading on the way out in 1:36:44
- And From Reading to Pangbourne on the way back in 1:35:38
- Goring to Reading – 2:35:34
- Reading to Goring – 2:33:52
This consistency blows my mind. As she said, it’s what you get when you ask a road runner to pace you on the trails!
- 100 miles
- 15th overall
- 2nd female
- 2:44:50 100-mile PB
In some ways, it feels very strange writing this blog. As a typically reserved Brit, I am not used to talking about my own successes. But here, there really is no way around it. It’s taken me six attempts, but finally, finally, I have had a race where everything came together. A race where everything, and I mean everything, went right.
I have worked bloody hard for this. Not just for the finish time & position (which is an unexpected added bonus!). I have worked hard for the whole positive race experience. I trained physically for this race, but I also trained my mind & learned from my previous five 100-milers. You could almost say that this result has been three & a half years in the making.
Everything that I did at A100 came about from learning from when things didn’t go right in other races. In the words of Elizabeth Day; “Learning from our failures is actually learning how to succeed”.
At TP100 I put myself under too much self-imposed pressure to perform. The biggest win for me at A100 was removing that pressure. The only thing I monitored during the whole race was my heart rate.
I did not look at the time, pace or distance. I ran not knowing how fast or slow I was running, how far I’d gone, or how far I had to go.
I put trust in my training. Focusing on the process, not the outcome. I was aiming for 20 hours. I knew I was capable of this & that if I ran easy on the first leg, the rest should fall into place. Not obsessing over numbers was liberating & made the race so much more enjoyable!
And it worked. At the end of leg one, I was 62nd overall & 9th female. I finished 15th & second.
Start easy, finish strong.
At my first 100-mile race in 2019, I crashed, burned & walked the final 35 miles. Adopting a run-walk strategy from the start at A100 was a game changer.
I didn’t need the 60-second walk breaks in leg one, but taking them enabled me to run the 9-minute blocks at the end of leg four. Even when tired, I knew I could keep running for ‘just’ nine minutes. In previous races, I’ve adopted a much more reactionary run-walk strategy & inevitably ended up walking for longer. Run walking is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength & discipline.
I have had digestion issues & bouts of nausea in every other race. Not getting fuelling right was the reason for my DNF at WW100 in 2021. My legs felt great, my stomach did not.
Again, at A100 I kept it simple & took away the pressure. I didn’t try to force myself to eat ‘real’ foods because that’s what I thought I should do & what people told me I should do. I listened to MY body & the difference that made was staggering. It was by no means perfect, I mean, 18 hours of Tailwind, gels, baby food & coke isn’t exactly good nutrition, but it kept me going throughout, my stomach was happy & I never once ran out of energy.
The simplicity of my fuelling helped in other ways. It removed the temptation to waste time. It’s very difficult to make decisions when you’re tired at 75 miles & the time wasted trying to decide between peanut butter or jam sandwiches, adds up.
My drop bag at Goring was my main checkpoint & I had everything lined up for a quick turnaround. Pre-filled bottles with my favourite Tailwind flavour mixed to my preferred strength. End of the leg, swap empty for full. 10, 20 seconds max. No faffing.
I had a labeled bag of things I’d need for each leg. Gels & baby food sachets. A clean buff, a long sleeve top & pair of gloves for leg three. My watch charger for leg four. When I got to Goring, I didn’t need to think. I didn’t need to make any decisions. It was there, labeled, ready & waiting for me.
I was aiming for no more than 10 minutes in Goring between each leg. I took a combined time of 23 minutes and 4 seconds. During the whole race, I only had 31 minutes & 10 seconds of elapsed, non-moving time. I find that pretty incredible as I’ve been known to spend that long in one checkpoint before. In fact, I think that’s about how long my temper tantrum at Henley was at TP100… I was moving for 17:56:15 of my 18:27:25 race time.
The biggest learning? I am stronger than I think I am.
I thought I could run a 20-hour 100 miler. Turns out, I can do so much more than that.
I finished my TP100 blog with the line: “…Because you never know what you are capable of if you don’t try. I tried. Today I didn’t fly. But perhaps next time I will soar like a bird.”
At Autumn 100, I tried again & I did indeed soar like a bird.
And you know what. It feels bloody amazing!