Tuesday 30 October 2018

Centurion Autumn 100 race report

Running 100 miles is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get...

My race season had started with a much better than expected SDW100. I ran it in 21:41 (a 45 minute PB) including a fast finish down "death gulley". KACR145 had gone fairly well too - my 100 mile split was 22:55 which would have been one of my better standalone times for 100 miles. I came into this race with fairly high expectations.

The A100 has the potential for very fast times with the average time of 23:32 the fastest of the 4 races (TP 23:48, SDW 24:02, and NDW 25:43). The average is 30 minutes faster than the SDW and if I could knock 42 minutes off my time, I would scrape under the Spartathlon qualifying time of 21:00.

This was my third time at the A100 with times of 22:41 in 2015 and 23:25 in 2016. It is has 4 out and backs on the Thames and Ridgeway with a central race HQ so it is easy logistically and for navigation.

I booked a hotel in Reading which works well for the Autumn 100. It was quite a bit cheaper than the Goring options and just a short train journey in the morning. It was a big soulless hotel which is ideal before a race. I picked up dinner from the M&S at Paddington station. Normally pre-race dinner is a cheese and onion or egg and cress sandwich but there were slim pickings so it was ham and cheese.
Reading Sunrise

I woke up at about 7am so had plenty of time to get ready and catch the train. My hotel was about 2 minutes walk from the station so I set off just after 8am and was getting off at Goring station by 8:30. There was a snake of people making their way off the train most of whom where part of the race.  
The weather when I left Reading was a lovely morning but it was starting to rain as I was queuing to get into the hall. I was chatting to James Adams who was getting a lot of attention on his much heralded return to the ultra race scene. 

Breakfast of champions
Check in was smooth with Ian Hammett checking my kit and my number was pinned to my shorts. The hall was packed with people and kit so after a few hellos, I went off to find a cafe. There is an excellent one just over the road from race HQ.I went for a flat white and croissant. The cafe was quite busy so I joined a table of runners including Lorna Spayne who is the custodian of the Bad Boy running merchandise.
It was getting toward 10am so it was time for a the pre-race briefing. It was my 10th race briefing and I could almost give the talk myself now. However there are always a couple of gems. 

Firstly James made a point of telling everyone to hydrate well as it was warm, and a warning that bad weather would be coming at 3am to make the last leg unpleasant. There was the usual hands up for first timer and grandslammers. Then it was "hands up for anyone if it is their 197th 100 mile race". The legendary Sandra Brown put her hand up. She has a 100 mile PB of 19:00:47 and has the women's all time second fastest 1,000 mile time (14 days 10 hours 27 mins 20 secs).

We all made our way down to the start. It was a few hundred metres down the trail compared with previous years to allow for a different turnaround point on leg 1. Soon we were off. It was quite narrow at the start so it was slow progress to begin with. If you are desperate to make a fast start, you are probably best watching the briefing from the back of the hall rather than front row like me as I was near the back of the field.

It is a 100 mile race and losing a minute or two at the start is irrelevant. My first mile as 10:59 compared with 9 something without the crowds. The first two or three miles were slow going but I was happy enough to pace myself. I chatted to a few people around me including Roz Glover and James Adams again. I bumped into Macca who I shared a few of the later miles of the SDW with.

Stuart March photography
First aid station came and went with a top up of tailwind and some jelly babies I think. I seemed to be the only person taking walking breaks but was still making up a few places. 

I made it the turnaround point in just under two hours and pretty much on schedule. More tailwind topped up by Hammy and some jelly babies and I was making my way back. (105th place / 1:59)

I hadn't noticed the following wind on the outbound section and now it was quite a stiff headwind. It was warming up and the later half of this section seemed to drag. I made it back to the start in 4:04 and Goring HQ in 4:10. In 2015 and 2016, I had made it here in under 4 hours. I had probably gone off too fast previously so hopefully this year was better pacing.

I first stopped at the gents at Goring and I was a bit dehydrated already. I need to make sure I upped my drinking. I didn't bother with my drop bag and was out reasonably quickly. I didn't realise this at the time, but our Goring stops were being timed. The timing system has been upgraded with timing chips. My stop was 2:18 helped by Sarah Sawyer F1 style bottle refilling. My Goring stop was 46th fastest and I had made a remarkable 11 positions up while people were faffing about in the village hall. The average time was 8:30 so I had made up 6 minutes here.

Graham Carter photo
I didn't think I was having a great day but I had managed to catch Ken Fancett coming out of Goring. We traded places on the way to North Stoke. Graham Carter and Peter Lemon were amongst those running the aid station. I had a top up on food with a few bits of fruit and some more tailwind. Ken left the aid station a few seconds before me.

Mark Thornberry/ GC Photo
The section to Swyncombe and back is my favourite of the race. I met doubleslammer Maria on this stretch. She was having some stomach troubles but making good progress.

One of the great things about the A100 is that you get to see the entire field including these incredible yellow shorts belonging to Mark Thornberry. Another quick stop at North Stoke and it was the stretch back to HQ. In 2015 I had made it back without using a headtorch but this year I needed it with 2 or 3 miles to go. That year I made it there in 8:47 but this year was 9:20. I had a fairly good pitstop with Sarah Sawyer helping me out. I thought Ironbru would help me out but unfortunately I hadn't opened it in advance so it exploded everywhere. This wouldn't have been so bad if Sarah hadn't kindly opened it for me and refilled my bottles.

Allie Bailey was waiting to pace Dan Barett and she gave me a bit of stick for changing out of my BBR vest. However it absolutely honked after 9 hours of sweaty running.  I was pretty much ready to go when Phil asked to tag along. Having company is particularly great on leg 3. He lent me a USB charger as mine failed so it almost makes up for me missing out on a top 50 time for Goring 2 Exit. I had made up 8 places as my leisurely 9:48 stop (including lovely pasta) was 8 minutes faster than the average of 18:15 and good for 59th fastest stop.

Ken Hughes photo
Ken Hughes photo
Leg 3 is basically 3 hills and the first one is a bit of a plod as witnessed by this action shot. Chain hill was very cool with some disco lights - a rapid stop here with just enough time to grab some of the amazing ginger cake. I had dropped down to 60th place which is one better than when I arrived at Goring.

I missed Lou Fraser at the outbound intermediate aid station but definitely made up for it on the way back with hugs and tea. Shortly after the aid station disaster struck. I had been a bit more adventurous on the food front and ended up decorating the Ridgeway. Maybe Irnbru wasn't such a good idea. I nursed myself back to Goring which was a shame as I was hoping to make the most of the downhills on this section.

Last stop at Goring and I took advantage of the pasta again. I think I caught up with Dave Kind on this stop. In and out in under 10 minutes and back in the top 50 for my stop (average was 17:23). I walked steadily out while Phil caught up. I can't remember when the rain set in for good but it might well have been by now. I had just under 8 hours to get a sub 24 buckle - this wasn't a slam dunk as I had taken 8 hours or longer in 2015 and 2016. The last leg is roughly 25.7 miles - you make up for the slightly short first leg.

My time goals had been somewhat downgraded. My goal now was for leg 4 not be an utter sh!tshow. A lot of time can be gained or lost on this leg. It is flat and really dull. Phil and I kept up a run/walk approach and after an eternity made it to the Welcome to Reading sign. A lot of people get excited by this sign but it is a bit like getting to West London when you have a flight from London Southend. It took another 45 minutes of slogging to get to the turnaround. 

The weather had really set in and it was some of the worst conditions I have ever experienced. Lon Las was probably the worst but had the advantage of being on roads. This was on increasingly boggy paths including a torrent near Tilehurst station. The fact the railway bridge makes it as the highlight of this leg tells it all. Another slog through Pangbourne meadow and it was starting to get light. It was amazing how many people still had their headtorches on full beam in the daylight.

There were a few more people to say hello to including the girls with matching stripy socks, the amazing Sandra Brown, and Dan Park the sweeper. We crossed paths just as I made it Whitchurch. A very quick stop here - I was going for peanut butter and jam wraps which are a good option when the sugar train derails. The last sting in the tail of the A100 is the rollercoaster last section.  Phil wasn't amused by the step section. Maybe if we all chip in, we can get a viaduct built to avoid this bit?

I had the bit between my teeth and sensed a sub 23 time. Some decent jogging (actually 12 minute miles) and I snuck under 23 alongside Phil. I was 33 minutes down on my 2015 time at halfway but had pulled it back to only being less than 20 at the end. Leg 4 was a pretty solid time considering the conditions and my stomach. A good exercise in damage limitation. The crap weather also encouraged me to speed up as more time running meant less time out on the rain.

Joint 66th place out of 235 with my best sections being 25m-37.5m, Goring entry to exit 1, Goring entry to exit 3, and Whitchurch to the finish. Worst was the two digestion impaired running sections between mile 62.5 to 79. 

I am pleased with the result despite my prior expectations. I have finally qualified for UTMB - I needed this race to get my points and I have been unlucky in the past 2 draws. I finished in under 23 hours in a race where a lot of people dropped and most people missed their time expectations. This race was one of those chocolate covered toffees that gets stuck in your teeth and takes longer than you think to finish.

I collected my buckle and t shirt. This was my 10th Centurion finish and my 10th race of 100 miles or more. It was great to sit in the hall afterwards and shake the hands of the newly minted grandslammers. I was in the same place in 2016 and it is great to sit there in the famous red top. There are some pretty special runners who have finished the GS and also some great runners who have failed to get there. 

A goodbye for 2018 to the wonderful team including Nici and Louise who were both looking fabulous, and a finishers photo with Stuart March.

And it was great to have the help and support of the Centurion volunteers.  I only spent 22 minutes in HQ compared with the average of 45 minutes! Sarah and Dave K can definitely take some credit for that as I would probably have missed out on sub 23 otherwise.

Stuart March photography
James Adams post race

Phil still wearing his headtorch

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