Monday 17 October 2016

Centurion Autumn 100 - Orion's belt, belt buckles and a lovely lady in a blue tutu

Centurion Autumn 100

The Centurion Autumn 100 is the 4th and final Centurion 100 mile race of the year. It is centred in Goring & Streatley and has 4 out and back legs of (roughly) 25 miles. First and fourth legs are flat runs along the Thames Path and the second and third are a bit lumpier on the Ridgeway.

I didn't have the best Friday before the race. I had a pretty busy afternoon which meant I forgot to eat lunch. I ended up eating a flapjack at about 5pm before joining a mate over from Australia for a glass of two of red wine before heading over to Paddington for a train to Reading and my hotel. I ended up with a the traditional pre-race meal of a sandwich meal deal with guest ale in my hotel room (Sainsbury's and Doombar). I drifted off to sleep after watching Britain's best bridges and the end of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic "Commando". Living the dream.

Good morning Reading!

I ended up waking up fairly early so made my way over to the start. The legendary Ken Fancett was on my carriage and he led the way to race HQ. Many people doubted my strategy of following Ken including Roz "canal specialist" Glover and Nicola Hoy who I shared the walk to HQ with. After the lovely Louise Ayling checked through my bag, I was all set to go. Only about 2 hours too early. I headed over to the start and was one of just two runners there. We decided to head back into town for a cup of tea to settle the nerves and wait for the start. Very civilised.

A great briefing by James "the rain whisperer" Elson who had promised rain at 5pm and 7am. I finally got the raise my hand when the question of "who had done 5 100 mile races" and also put my hand up for the grand slam question. It was all get very real now....

I lined up near the front as the start is quite narrow and has a few bottlenecks and after the slow start of the North Downs Way, I wanted to get started quickly. I started quite well and was ticking over well but had the nagging sensation I was doing a "David Hellard".

I ticked off the first few miles running with fellow  'slammer Mark Farthing. I looked behind me and noticed Paul Ali was just behind me and probably suggested I was starting a bit quickly so made my excuses and took my first walking break. Ken Fancett came past a few seconds later which confirms I had gone off a bit quick. The first section went very quickly with a Formula 1 style pitstop from the excellent pit crew at Wallingford before heading on towards the turn around. Despite the rain, the course was generally firm with a few muddy puddles (no fall this time) and a random bit where we ran across straw bales.
A lovely touch from the Lonegan parents who had taken a print out of the entry list and were cheering everyone's name - assuming the could look it up fast enough.
The out and back nature of the course means that before long you have the leaders coming back towards you. Intially I thought Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee was sprinting towards me. Then I thought it was a jogger out on a Saturday morning run. Then I saw the race number and assumed it was someone who had gone out way too quick but it turned out to be the eventual winner (2:47 split for 25 miles for goodness sake!). It was quite some time until second place came past.
It was an uneventful few miles and I made it to the turn around in a bit under 2 hours. A quick stop and I was heading back towards Goring. Quite a few high fives on the way back for people who have been part of the Grandslam journey #MIBUltra. Flavien Bascoul was chugging along in his usual ridiculous shorts. He had last been seen with a large glass of wine in the pub so this may have taken the edge off his speed.
I shared some miles with a Polish man (not from Warsaw!) and a German chap. Soon enough, in just under 4 hours, I was back at HQ where the lovely Sarah Sawyer was on time keeping duties. Her plan was to volunteer and then pace Tom for the last section. I had seen Tom flying in roughly 5th place but would sadly drop out through injury between here and the North Stoke CP. My parents had came along to watch in South Stoke and had told me there was someone in front who was struggling with a bad back and sadly it was Tom hobbling along.
Leg 2 is by far my favourite of the 4. It has some lovely singletrack sections with undulations and some gradual climbing to the turnaround point. You cross a Golf Course and I have to say running across fairways is an absolute joy with soft springy grass. On the way back, it started to rain. At 4:57 it started - James had warned there would be rain at 5pm and was spot on with this one. The rain wasn't too bad but I had the waterproof out which would stay on for the rest of the race. The rain eased and I hit my favourite stretch. This is definitely a hero section of running as you have the gradient on your side, 40+ miles are in the bag and there are dozens of people coming the other way giving encouragement (and reminding you how far you are clear of cut-offs). The sun was setting with views over Oxfordshire. I had hoped to make it back into Goring without a headtorch but failed a mile short when I went past the Rossini restaurant and the bright lights made me realise just how dark it had got.

Two down - two to go...

Shortly after leaving Goring, I paired up with fellow Grand-slammer Peter who I shared most of the second half of the North Down Way with. We made good progress on this section - weather was almost perfect for a night section. Mainly cloudy which kept the temperature up but the clouds cleared to show a full moon and a great view of Orion's belt on the way back. I have a special gratitude for the volunteers staffing the two Ridgeway CPs. They are holed up in a tent and keep the tea flowing and really take care of everyone. Apparently Police had been called as there were reports of an illegal rave. To be fair there were people smashing down Coke, taking white tablets and a few hallucination as well as flashing lights and dance music. Easy mistake to make.

I was starting to get cramp in my hamstrings and stopping to stretch every half mile. I was also getting a weird pain just above my ankle on my shin where I think in hindsight my Injinji undersocks and compression socks were combining to cause an issue (I didn't have blister problems though). Moderately painful but not a game breaker.

Three down - one to go.

Back to Goring for a quick refuel of chilli con carne. The "Saturday morning jogger" had won the race about 2 hours before I got back - an unbelievable time of just over 14 hours.

Next time I come back here I will be a Grand-slammer... I was about 40 minutes down on last year but hoping I wouldn't fall apart quite as badly as last year.

I started making progress out of Goring but the chilli was taking a bit of time to settle. I soon found myself on my own. I have to admit I was cracking up at this point. It was roughly 2.30am and I had been on the go for over 16 hours. I was in the woods on my own and starting singing and whistling on my own. I think I was part way though signing "Jerusalem" when some runners came round the corner. They (deservedly) took the piss out of me but I carried on through the section as there weren't any people around. I love this section to Whitchurch which had a roller-coaster feel to it but could definitely have an axe murderer feel to it on a bad day.

The Witchurch crew were awesome - particularly the marshal who took my empty cup off me on the way out to save me a couple of steps. Really nice touch. First job was to tick off the 5 miles to the "Welcome to Reading sign". Early on, I cracked the outside of my knee on a gate (one of many). To give an idea of my mental state, I wasn't upset about this. I was actually quite pleased as my shin and hamstrings weren't the things hurting the most and figured when my knee stopped hurting, I wouldn't notice the other ailments. Sadly the gate had upset the delicate balance of my knee and it was quite sore when I ran but was ok when I walked. And so started the 18 mile march.... 

Last year the stretch towards the Reading aid station had really, really dragged. There is a sign which says "welcome to Reading" which is a long way from the Reading Richmond-On-Thames checkpoint. I had planned ahead and noticed there was a Strava segment which showed the distance to be 3.5 miles. This year I would be prepared for the distance and just tick off the 3.5 miles. This however relied on me being able to count to 3. Unfortunately I miscounted and after 2.5 miles (3 beeps of the Garmin) I started looking for the checkpoint about a mile early. Yet again the Reading section dragged....
The Reading aid station was a good stop including a chat with the Russhards. Paul raced this last year dressed as a bear and is a fantastic runner who I'm sure will win at least one of the Centurion races next year. Back down the stairs and 12.5ish miles to go.
I had come to terms with a slow finish but just wanted it over now. I was longing for the sun as it meant I would be closing in on a finish. The next ailment appeared which was abdominal cramp. I couldn't tell if was digestive or the actual "six-pack" that was cramping. It seemed to ease when I burped or if it stretched backwards. Really quite painful.
I had started to cry without warning every so often on this section as it started to dawn on me that I was finally going to achieve the grand slam dream. Part of me had hoped for a real grinding painful battle against injury and the elements and at 6:57 the rain started. Seeing the people coming the other way shows just how mentally tough and determined my fellow Centurions are. I would love to mention everyone as you were all amazing. I briefly chatted to Graham Carter and Rodrigo his pacer. Kate looked to be struggling but she is tough as nails so I had no doubts. Before long Tutu Tinu came past follow shortly after by Dan the sweeping superstar. A quick chat with Dan and that was the tail end of the race. Next stop Whitchurch for my final Centurion aid station of the year.

Back over the rollercoaster woods and Goring arrived. I was desperate for the pain to stop and as a bonus I nearly threw up but just held it together. Getting congratulations from fishermen and boat owners was really nice and I even managed a hugely painful jog finish. 

I had finish just under 24 hours and enough under 24 hours to break 96 hours for the slam. I got through the door of the hall and slumped by the timekeepers table.

 The journey of 400 miles in 4 days was over. I had a famous hug from Nici and a bonus one from 2015 Grand slammer Louise which may have prevented everyone from noticing just how sweaty my eyes were.

It was great hanging out with fellow runners and volunteers post race. It makes me feel really lucky to have discovered this by accident.
My parents had come to watch me finish and gave me a lift home. I had got home and a quick bath and later there was the small matter of watching the end of race countdown. That lovely lady and her blue Tutu had crossed the line and Dan the sweep gets to live another day. A little fist-pump and it was time to have a nap.....

All the best and thank you to everyone who has been a part of it. I think Vinny Jones sums up my 2016 running year quite well...

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