It’s been a long year. It’s a year which has shown me cuts and bruises from numerous falls, big hills, small hills, down hills and lots and lots of miles. It has also been the year of uber hot 100 milers for Centurion Runners so I couldn’t help feeling a little bit anxious as I arrived at Goring in the pouring rain with forecasts of high winds and more rain to come. The atmosphere was different; relaxed, jovial, full of laughter, a characteristic lack of warming up and a coming together of many stories from the previous 3 Centurion 100’s. It felt as though everyone knows that this is the last one, even those for whom it was not the last one. I had been looking forward to this race for a number of reasons but mainly because it wasn’t a usual A to B race and was intrigued as to how the star, out and back route would make a difference.
When the starter went off, there was the usual fast pace which always makes me nervous, I was conscious that my pacing is utterly rubbish but that I had managed to feel ok on NDW100 due to a slower start. Maybe I have grown up a bit, maybe I have learnt that smashing out the first 50 and surviving the second isn’t the greatest tactic. So I fell in next to someone who I knew usually ran a similar pace to me; we had run part of every race together and he was very much part of my Grand Slam. He is also brilliant at pacing so was looking like a safe bet for me not hammering off too fast. Half way to the turn around point of leg one, I felt ok, I felt like I could move a bit faster. So I upped it a little bit and moved on. After the turn around when I faced a wall of wind, I questioned the wisdom of this as I felt a bit tired coming back into Goring having run against 12.5 miles of wind. However, the difference in this race when compared to the usual A to B was apparent from before the turnaround. Watching the leaders come past me, giving them a cheer and then seeing people behind as I turned back and having a bit of banter with them emphasised just how much support there is out there in a race like this.
Then onto leg two, the magical and beautiful leg two. I was a bit tired and questioning whether I had, yet again, gone out too fast and then we turned off the slightly boring Thames path and up onto the Ridgeway. The run up was brilliant; proper ‘where do I put my feet’ trail, gorgeous woodlands and lovely hills. It was, without a doubt the best part of the race for me, I suddenly felt less tired, had a spring in my step and couldn’t give a damn about the race at all. I had that feeling which I had had in NDW, that love of running which has been absent in so much of this last year combined with a fabulous feeling of being totally in control of myself and the situation. I heard a few people mention that the run back to Goring was tough going, but I didn’t feel that at all, it was a feeling of complete freedom and I loved every minute of it.
Back in for another turn around in Goring. Was it my imagination, or had the guys in Goring been literally pushing me out of the door with a full pack and a handful of jelly babies before I could even draw breath to say thank you. They really knew their stuff and were not letting anyone enjoy their hospitality for any longer than was necessary. Up more hills, they felt great. Although I’m not used to having a head torch on at 50 miles, I enjoy the isolation a head torch gives me; a comforting bubble of light which seems to keep the real world out. This is when I bumped into a couple of guys who were going way too fast for me, but we settled into a sensible pace and kept each other going for nearly the whole leg, all of us pushing each other. My Editor Evie tells me that she was at Goring as I came in and gave me a hug, I’m embarrassed to say that I have no recollection at all of being hugged by anyone but I guess that is part of the game which is 100 milers.
Leg four and my amazing pacer Jim turned up for the final leg on the dreaded Thames Path (I fully vow never to run on this part of trail again). Jim is a legend, a pacer who knows how to push me without out breaking me. I’m not all that convinced he believed me when I tried to explain that the nausea had arrived and was enveloping me by the minute, but we pushed on. Finally I stopped to throw up. A look of ‘oh so you are nauseous’ came over Jims face (I look forward to paying back the pacing in his now-planned 100 so that he can also experience this!). Nausea always slows me down, every time I try to push on I find it overwhelming. Jim’s robust but instinctively caring approach to looking after me taught me that pushing harder is the answer as that clearly leads to me throwing up and suddenly feel better again. Eventually the last two CP’s were done and dusted and we stumbled back into Goring for the last time. I wish that I had had the push to turn around quickly in each one, but, by then I needed a minute in each CP to catch myself, something which I hope not to do if I ever return to this distance.
Yes, it was great to finish the Grand Slam. However, yet again Centurion proved that there is way more to an Ultra than just running the race. Again I met fabulous people, been hugged by members of the CP crews when they saw that I just needed a hug, been looked after people who bothered to look up my name as I came in so that they could talk to me like a person not a number, I have experienced yet another brilliantly organised and co-ordinated race. Beyond all of this, this has been another race where I have felt like a member of a big family. Everyone who runs, crews, paces, manages CP’s or simply supports a runner is wrapped up and becomes a fully signed up member of this special gang which is the Centurion Family. Another great race to recommend to others and another great race which leaves me with happy memories and a reckless desire to start googling other 100 miler.