Centurion Grand Slam – a great year

This was always going to be a busy year, a year where I looked to train for and tackle the Centurion 100 Grand Slam. It was never going to be sensible to try to combine that and all the other things I had going on. I knew that from the outset, but I also recognise that there is never a perfect time to get these things done and that perfection is the enemy of good enough.

When I first started ultra running, I assumed that my first ultra would be my one and only long race. I didn’t imagine that I would be sucked into this community and that the desire to explore new opportunities would be so all consuming. Since completing my first 100, the Centurion Grand Slam has been staring at me, I knew after crossing that line on the first SDW100 that I had to come back and do all 4, I also started to recognise that there would never be a perfect time to get it done, that I just needed to get on with it. So this has been my 2018; training for and completing 4 x 100 milers alongside all the other bits and pieces of life, battling hamstring tendonopathy and meeting some of the most fabulous people I could hope to meet along the way.

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It all started on a blisteringly hot day in May when the weather suddenly changed from a cold spring to a heatwave and I found myself on the start line of the Thames Path 100 for a 10.00hrs start. The start time is hugely relevant; SDW100 starts at 0600hrs so previously I would already have four hours running under my belt, the heat was also building up by the start making the first 25 miles far more uncomfortable than I would have liked. My plan was to run to 50 mile point then run / walk from there. I didn’t even manage 25 before the unrelenting flat and the heat bouncing off the trail and the river almost broke me. I staggered into Henley at 50 miles to be greeted by my Dad and two buddies from my massage course.

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Brilliant support crew

I then just survived the final 50, hugely helped by Jodie my wonderful pacer. It was a brutal race. The hamstring tendonopathy had forced me to cut my training down to 3 runs per week so I was massively undertrained, a fall at about 30 miles caused something nasty behind my right knee and heat exhaustion was in full operation by about mile 35. The heat exhaustion was something which I managed to get through but the effects of it were obvious the next day when I found myself shivering, fully dressed under a winter duvet while the rest of the country basked in glorious May heat, I’m not too sure getting to that stage is all that good for anyone. All in all I would happily never ever see the Thames Path again. A flat course doesn’t equate an easy course and I found the lack of terrain variety combined with quite a lot of hard road underfoot made for a hard race. Not recommended for a first 100 miler certainly.

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Jodie, life saving pacer

And so onto the South Downs Way 100. The nasty thing behind my knee meant that I was unable to straighten my knee or fully weight bear on it until a week before the race. The sensible thing was to drop out and heal. Supportive Husband, knowing what a complete pain in arse I am when I can’t achieve what I set out to achieve, told me that we are in our 40’s now and most things hurt when we run, that I should stop being so daft and get on with it. So there I was on the start line of my second 100 on what promised to be another hot day but at a far better time in the morning allowing us some cool running before the sun fully hit us. I flew around the first 50, I knew I was going too fast but I just didn’t care, I was loving it. I had a new support on my hurt knee which seemed to be holding me together and I was on a trail which I know and love. Then I got beyond 60 miles and my body refused to function normally, my usual nausea was with me, clearly I had my customary fall and my legs just wouldn’t work. The big downhills had taken their toll, I could hardly eat or drink and the early speed gave way to plodding. I realised that all was not well with the world and made the call to walk the last 15, later my kidneys showed me that it had been a pretty close call and, on reflection, my body was beginning to shut down towards the end of the race.

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Once I had made that decision to walk,I was fine, I knew that I could get to the end but just hated the toll which it had taken on me. The knee brace had worked but had clearly restricted full movement of blood around my lower leg resulting in a massive bruise covering most of my shin, my hamstring was severely unhappy and my kidneys were crying. I love this race, but this iteration of it pushed me quite close to the edge and I needed to take a long hard look at myself. The South Downs has a special place for me, it makes for a good, albeit challenging entry level 100 miler and is very achievable for most people with a few Ultras under their belt.

 

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Third race, North Downs Way 100, the one I had been dreading the most. Tales of steps, hard hills and tree roots lurking to trip unwary runners are often seen on ultra social media sites. None of this boded well for this undertrained runner who falls over easily. My foreboding was increased when my six year old kindly gifted me a vomiting bug the Monday before the race. So I changed tack, abandoned my ‘let’s just run and see how it goes’ tactic and arrived at this start line on another hot day with a bit of a plan. I would ignore the racing snakes and potter out, enjoy the scenery and the general chat of fellow runners and look to keep a constant pace throughout. I started the race assuming that this was going to be another epic, my legs were wobbly from vomiting a bit too much earlier in the week and I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind. How wrong could I have been.

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It was a fabulous race. I didn’t perform particularly brilliantly but I loved it, every step of it, most importantly I felt a reconnection to the sport I love. Yes the trail was pretty tough, it was burning hot and nausea caught up with me like an omnipresent shadow. However the route was stunning, varied and interestingly challenging and I had company for large sections of it; fellow runners enjoying the same journey. My fabulous pacers who witnessed me slurring my words and muttering nonsense may not recognise my positive recollections but for me it was a totally different experience to the previous two races, it was nice to actually over take a few people. Many runners say that this is not a race for first time 100 milers and I’m not too sure that I agree, purely because I fell in love with the North Downs on this day. However, expectation management is key and people would do well to accept that it’s not an easy route and plan accordingly.

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So glad to see Sarah 23 miles from the end!!

Before I knew it, it was October and we were all standing around for another 10am start, this time in Goring-on-Thames looking out at the lashing rain knowing that more was promised. There was a buzz around as the village hall as we all caught up with people we had shared the previous races with, knowing the Grand Slam was in reach. This race was always going to be different, four very separate out and back legs, no crews but a consistent gang of volunteers in Goring urging us on and I was very much looking forward to it.

The sections on the Thames Path were as painful as TP100 as first leg was fast and, on the way back, against a brick wall of wind.  The final leg was nausea, nausea, a bit of vomiting and then slightly less nausea but I have blanked them from my mind.  The middle two legs were glorious; beautiful trail, lovely views, warm sunshine and fantastic people to chat to.  On the third leg I joined various groups of guys who pushed me and supported me in equal measures and was pure ultra running joy.  I had wondered if I should have had a pacer at that stage but I didn’t need one (boy did I need Jim on the 4th leg pacing and pushing me but I was ok on leg 3). It was a great race and a worthy finale to the Slam.

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If , like me 100 milers are staring at you then I recommend you extend those thoughts and go for the Grand Slam.  It was, as ever, brilliantly organised but it was far more than just good races.  It was made into an event, a triumph for everyone who stepped over the start line wrapped up by a huge sense of community.  The volunteers on the check points looked after and cheered the guys at the back as much as the guys at the front; we were all winners in our own way.  Coming second female over all in the Grand Slam made it all worth while for me and seeing Laura win first female was the icing on the cake as we had shared so much together.

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A100 – The Last One

A100 – The Last One

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.

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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.

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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.

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NDW – My New Favourite Race

From start of the Grand Slam, the North Downs Way was always the one which I was dreading the most. I had run ten miles along it last year, just after the SDW100, I was still tired and shouldn’t have really pushed myself like that; I cracked my head on a branch, fell over scraping myself everywhere and generally struggled up the hills. My memories were of overgrown trail and trip hazards, not great for someone who falls over a lot.
So it was with trepidation that I stood on the start line on a baking hot day in August. I had spent the previous Monday being violently sick due to a bug passed on from Child #2 and had spent the week sleeping and trying to force food and water down. That start line was an anxious place but at least I had had lots of sleep as Laura’s ‘glass half full’ boyfriend tried to reassure me.

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James, the RD rightly pointed out that it was due to be a hot day, take it steady and remember it’s a long way. I thought that was pretty good advise and, still feeling a bit wobbly from the puking earlier in the week, was keen to keep that in mind. I was clearly in the minority as the front pack legged it off when the gun went off leaving me feeling a bit dazed and confused in their dust, Laura had the decency to run a little bit with me but my plans were to run with a guy who I had shared bits of the previous two races with as he always set such a sensible pace but I didn’t see him for more than a few seconds as he hammered off down the trail. Bloody hell! I settled in with a couple of great guys setting a solid pace and worked thought some of the wobbly-ness in my legs. My husband (who had spent the previous day throwing up but still managed to pull his sorry arse out of bed to crew me) pointed out that I needed to pick up the pace so I stretched my legs and gave it a go.

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The first third of the course was hot but under the shade of a lot of trees through some beautiful forests. I grew up daughter of an extremely useful orienteer so my childhood memories are of running through forests with a map in my hand. So I love forest running and the woodland trails of the NDW did not disappoint. Yes, there were a few cheeky hills and steps but the comfort of the forest made those worth the effort. The biggest worry at this stage was the ever present hamstring tendonopathy. I was hoping that a week of sleeping a resting would have put my hamstring in a good place but it was the most painful it’s been in a race this year which had me worried. After my trip to Switzerland with Lizzy Hawker I had put some poles into my crew kit not thinking that I would ever consider using poles in the U.K. Long Suffering Husband saw what was going on and I found him at a crew point holding my poles asking if that’s what I needed. They were a lifesaver, suddenly I could get my right leg up hills without contorting my whole body (and the compensation injuries which follow) and I felt that the race was do’able.

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The middle third was tough but it also covered the 10 miles which I knew. No more tree cover, just open fields and way, way too much tarmac. The trail bits were amazing, the tarmac was torture. Between 50-60 miles I had the cover of two wonderful pacers: Evie and Grant, my editor and her husband and I cant tell you how good it was to see them. I thought that Tailwind was good at hydrating but it wasn’t covering the huge amount I was losing through the heat but two bottles of squash were gulped pretty quickly at the top of a nasty hill which cleared my head and gave me the kick I needed.

Once I was through that I felt ok, I just knew that I needed to shuffle forwards wherever I could, I needed to make sure I minimised my walking where I could. Yes, I had a ‘lost 5 minutes’, what’s a 100miler without one, but after a good out-loud burst of expletives, I pushed on. By this stage I realised that my chilled out start was paying off, I have become accustomed to being over taken as I smash in but this time I realised that I was passing plenty of people who looked far worse than I did and it was quite heartening as I knew exactly how they felt after the hardships of SDW.

One maaaaaaaaassive Hill then into the final 20 and Sarah, my complete lifesaver pacer. Sarah is a strong and experienced runner, she knew where to push me and where to let me be, most importantly she kept me moving forward. Two more brutal hills were made easier with her there encouraging and checking on me. It was at this point I became conscious of Elmer who dropped behind us, not because he was suffering but I think he just enjoyed the company and shared navigation, eventually he cruised past us bouncing up all the hills (how the hell was he running so well at that point).

The leg into the last CP was the longest 7.5 miles of my life, the hills had really taken it out of me, but fruit pastilles and a bit of a chat with Elmer and it was the last four into the finish. The last three of SDW went on forever, but these miles didn’t, actually they flew past and I couldn’t believe how fast the track appeared. Around the track and in over the line, always an emotional moment but made that much more emotional sharing it with Sarah and Long Suffering Husband (kids were fast asleep by this stage).

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My Support Crew

I have always loved the SDW, it is one of my favourite parts of England but now I’ve discovered the NDW and there is no going back. This is a tough course of that there is no doubt but the beauty of the NDW brings this race up to the top of my favourite race list. The forests of the start, the corn fields, the long sweeping downhills which allowed me some recovery (as opposed to the SDW where the downhills are steep and jarring) and the tricky little over grown trails. I now wish that I had taken the time to get my phone out and captured some of these moments as pictures.  All these elements came together to make an interesting and exciting course; a trail course for trail runners.

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Sarah, legend

This was combined with the ever brilliant organisation of a Centurion event. The passion with which people follow Centurion events always translates into fantastic CP’s and I never manage to express just how grateful I am. The ice shoved into a buff around my wrist, the ice pop, the guy who nodded when I told him I couldn’t eat who then produced a plate with one crisp, one nut and one piece of fruit which I duly ate. Such care, such compassion and such concern about every single runner, there are no adequate words to reflect much we all appreciate it. As ever, there were celebrations for the guys and girls at the front and as many congratulations and cheers for the guys and girls at the back; reflecting the enormity of the achievement of everyone in the pack.

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I think that there are 34 if us left in the Grand Slam. It’s good to be part of something and I now can’t wait for the last one; I’m well adapted, I have no real expectations if myself and I’m grateful to be running despite a winter if uncontrollable chronic pain. Most importantly, I’ve met some fabulous people and now feel like a true member of this eccentric group called ultra runners.

SDW100 – Loved It

Challenge two of the Grand Slam, after my big trip and fall on TP, I honestly didn’t think that I would get as far as the start line of SDW100.  Tendonopathy in both legs and now a hurty bit behind the knee (more tendon issues apparently), I’m managing too many injuries, I’m stupid if I don’t just take some time out and mend.  On the other hand, the Grand Slam is looking at me, taunting me, it will still be there next year if I don’t crack it now; I never ever want to run TP100 again so it’s now or never.  When I voiced the idea of quitting and not completing the other three, my friends were hugely supportive (sensible), they saw me limping and knew that all was not right.  Then I spoke to my husband and one of his army mates, they just gave me a slightly Disappointed Dad look and told me that no-one runs totally pain free at 43 (suck it up cupcake). So ‘suck it up’ overruled sensible, I sat on a bike in between the two races, put no pressure on my new hurty bit at all, put my Big Girl Pants on and got myself to race registration in Winchester. 

Instantly I knew that I had made the right choice, sitting on the bike meant that the hurty bits hurt a little less, the buzz of competition weekend was infectious and, most importantly, it meant that I didn’t have to go to Cub/Beever Camp with the kids.

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I had planned to run hard around the first field, get out of the choke point and then chill out like last year but something went a bit wrong.  I was having a ball; fabulous runners all around surrounded by glorious trail and freedom from the bike.  I flew around the first four check points, I knew that I was going way too fast, but maybe this time it would be ok, maybe I was just banking early miles so that I could chill a bit more when it got really hot.  

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T’was not to be, by Washington I was struggling more than I had last year. Just before the pigs on a gravel track I finally had my race fall.  Why oh why can’t I pick my feet up.  This time, I didn’t even feel it happen I just found myself on the ground, blood coming out of knee, hands and shoulder.  It’s only a few scratches and, compared with the tendon buster of the TP100 it was nothing, but it still shook me up.  

The next few check points were a bit of a blur, I remember an amazing guy before the nasty hill leading up to the YHA hostel who sorted my pack, made sure it was back on properly, shoved something sugary down me and gave me a positive pep talk, all volunteers on Centurion events are dedicated and caring but this guy focussed in on where I was deficient and sorted it out, love him.  Then it was Nasty Hill, brutal climb up to the YHA, I know it well and it’s not pretty.  I felt positive, up beat and better on that hill than I had last year but by the top, I just couldn’t get my legs working again.  This is where a pacer would have made a difference, I lost loads of time trying to get my legs to run on perfectly runable track when they refused to function, why wouldn’t  they work. The desire to lie down next to the track and just sleep was beginning to pass but the nausea was in full swing, Devils Dyke came and went, still beautiful, still a painful hill down. On TP I used tea, this time I tried coke my logic being that at least it as calories in it but I was struggling to get anything down at all.

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By the Farm I had been caught by some fab people, more pep talks and running banter and on to the way to the railway crossing via the most horrible downhill stretch of all. I can never remember the proper names just pictures in my head which reminds me about them.  Steps up, steps down and into the CP, full of people and positivity and it was that point I realised that I was finding life far harder than last year; most importantly I knew that I was extremely dehydrated despite drinking and drinking all the way around. It was this point that I realised that I needed to walk it in.  Yes I could have pushed a run, perhaps if I had had a pacer then I would have, but something told me that pushing any harder would end in me keeling over, walking (and I can walk pretty fast) was the way to finish.  It wasn’t ideal but I was totally at peace with the decision.  The realisation that even a gentle jog is faster than a walk became pretty apparent after people cruised past me and disappeared in no time at all.  Normally this would have bothered me, but not this time.  Evil, evil hill into the penultimate check point and then I knew that I had it nailed.  I checked into the final CP, didn’t bother to stop and started up the final hill.  This is a great hill, bit steep at the start but not in the middle and the ridge line is almost immediately visible making the trigg point feel close and achievable. I remember it from last year, ploughing up the hill and then the trigg point is suddenly and unexpectedly there. A friendly voice and a head torch greeted me, I clearly told him that I loved him as he sent me down the horrible overgrown rock fest which is the route off.  A short road, a never ending path around the hospital and there it was, the finish.  The longest 400m in the world which I managed to rustle up a jog for and the finish line. 

It was two hours slower than last year, I completely bombed as I struggled over the railway bridge,  yet I am left with the feeling that I’ve had a great race, why?  Centurion races are always great, the organisation is second to none and the loyalty to the Centurion Army is infectious.  The guys on the check points seem to emotionally give more and more every time I step onto a Centurion race, or maybe I just need more and more, but this race there were certain characters who saw where I was struggling and said the right thing at the right time to keep me going.  But it was more than that.  Before the race I had a fabulous email from sports psychologist Evie Serventi.  I had already discussed with her my change of goals for the year; just getting to the start line of each race was going to be an achievement, but Evie’s email this time around put me in the right place mentally and kept me there.  In fact, the biggest achievement in this race was just how positive I was with everything.  Running into Washington I was dreading the steep down and then steep up, but once there I found myself saying ‘well that’s the down done, only the up to go’, then I was ticking the checkpoints and nasty hills off ‘well that’s a hill I never have to run up again’. By the end it was ‘only three sets of five miles to go’. The walk in decision turned out to be a good one, my kidneys told me that in the days to come, our bodies are pretty good at telling us the score v I beat myself up every time I run because I perceive that I could have done better, maybe this time I could have done better but I remembered to congratulate myself for even getting to the start line, for every hill climbed and for every difficulty overcome. 100 miles is a bloody long way in anyone’s language so, whether I could have changed the course of the day or not I’m just proud to have crossed that finish line.  Only two more to go, how hard can it be……

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Thames Path 100 – It Was Brutal

 

The morning of the Thames Path 100 dawned blue and warm, inevitably we got to the start just after registration had opened and waited around for the 10 o’clock start.  Hours for me to change my shirt, change my shoes, change my shoes back again, worry about water oh, and worry about the 100 miles ahead.  I also had to worry about the hole which had appeared in my trail shoes a week before and the bold call to wear new trial shoes for the race, and I decided to buy a new race vest the week before, at least I had done one run in it. 100 miles on one of the hottest days of the year in new kit, how hard could it possibly be.

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By 10 o’clock I was on the start line ready to find out.  Crowded into a small area with some random punter on a bike pushing through (no, he couldn’t wait the one minute there was time for a quick last minute chat with the people to the left and right, a good morale boosting chat from James ‘if your garmin shows 103 miles, don’t bother sending us a photo, we just don’t care’ (brilliant) and a last minute dose of the butterflies before we were off.

There was a real mix of people, most were like me, wanting to play it safe and adhere to the constant advise of ‘go slow early’, people who seemed to be a fair amount of effort and those who were clearly sticking to their plans of run/walk from the start.  I arrived at CP1 to see quite a lot of people who had run hard past me stocking up, but I was ok, bit of Tailwind and I was off again.  Then CP 2, a quick stumble as I ran in but I was ok but that was all, ok.  I’m used to feeling better than ok early in a race.  

I was after CP two that I had my second stumble but this time I didn’t manage to catch myself and smashed into the path with my right knee leading.  I always feel a bit shaken when I fall on the trail (I really need to start picking my feet up) but this time I also felt annoyed at myself and at the two people who just stood and stared at me. Luckily another centurion was hot on my heels and slowed down to check on me, listen to my swearing and give a few words of sympathy. Yes my knee hurt, there was blood and everything, but more worryingly I could feel that things were not all good at the back of the knee. Please don’t let it be my cruciate ligament. 

By the time I got to CP 3 I felt like I was already at mile 70. I pride myself at being good at running in the heat, perhaps grabbing the black t-shirt in my hasty change was a bad idea or perhaps it was just bloody warm, the nausea was already kicking in and my leg hurt. I was determined that I would run all the way to Henley and not start a run/ walk until then, a plan I was confident in as I continued to over take the guys already adopting this strategy. That was until Andy over took me. I had gone past him a mile or so previously as he walked enjoying the shade, he was clearly in good shape, far better than me so I reckoned that it was time to join him which was a great move. Eventually there were three of us run walk/running along a beautiful trail through our amazing countryside. The pace was pretty rapid and I knew, a bit too fast for me during the running bits but it was worth it; the chat was brilliant and the three of us were looking out for each other, Centurion style. 

By Henley I was in a fair amount of pain. There I met up with Jo and Shelley from my Sports Massage course.  Shelly pointed out that she had power walked from that point onwards the previous year. That made me feel like I had options. I could run (nor really an option), I could run/walk or just walk. I felt stronger for it, still a sharp pain in my leg but felt ok. 

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One of the things I struggled with on SDW100 was the amount that I ran on my own but this race was different. There was always someone nearby, whether it be someone right in front or a head torch in the distance. With the amount of weed being smoked on the trail and piss heads staggering around enjoying the sunshine, I felt happier knowing that there was always someone around. 

Eventually it was head torch on time. I would love to remember the CP’s but I generally didn’t have a clue where I was. My only real memory of anything between Henley and Wallingford was  someone offering me cheesy beans whilst trying to understand me through slurring words, beans were clearly going down well with everyone else but not for me. I saw Andy again who gave me the stats on what was coming in an upbeat positive way, making over twenty miles sound like a trip around the corner. 

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Finally I got to Wallingford and Jodie, my fabulous pacer. I can’t believe what a game changer having a pacer is. My spirits lifted and I found a bit extra in my tank. The miles ticked past slowly but steadily through fog, mist, a beautiful dawn and then, finally I saw a field I recognised from my limited recce.  The white bridge appeared and I knew that all I needed to see was some boat houses and I was there. 

Crossing the finish line was emotional. Which ever way you look at it, 100 miles is a long way. On this course, with lots of concrete, sun blazing off the trail and the river and with a hurty leg and high temps, I found it brutal. But as ever, the Centurion army both in the trail and in the CP’s made it a special event. Again, I’ve learnt so much from this race, so many things I would like to do differently but, as ever, it’s all about finishing for me and I achieved that.  Jodie was a game changer for me, in an emotional race, she held me steady, made me laugh and gave me lots and lots of small goals to get me through. Hopefully, when my kids try to drop out of their next triathlon or find their next spelling test hard, their times tables unachievable or the bullies at school unbearable, they will remember what mummy does and that working through problems usually works out in the end.

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Ultra running is great. For me it involves quite a lot of miles, a few dark early mornings and a lot of time on my own. There are advantages to taking in the sounds of nature and enjoying a solitary retreat into the mud and tree roots of my local trails. But at times it can be dull; there are only so many conversations I can have with myself, any constructive thoughts are often washed down the drain of a post-run shower and motivation is occasionally an issue.
How excited was I when a friend suggested a bit of a muddy run the day after a Burns supper. A whole, glorious 10km, three other people to run with, some weird sculptures to run past and some technical trails thrown in; my version of legoland.

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So, bleary eyed, feeling a little bit red wine’d, four of us set off for a Relish Running race just outside of Bath.
Relish Running organise a great, small scale, friendly race. Everything we needed was provided from a change tent, wonderfully upbeat volunteers, through to decent post race snacks. In addition, they provided lots of things we didn’t need; quite a few medics, mountain rescue and mud…lots of mud. Oh my goodness, the mud. It was billed as a muddy run and in that area, the race organisers delivered with excessive exuberance.

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It was a day for fell shoes; trail shoes didn’t cut it, nor did the flat trainers our road running team member braved it all out in.

D7907413-6E51-41F0-A1EC-0E935E8CD590The other element guaranteed was absolute hilarity at every turn, we laughed so hard that one of our team couldn’t get up some of the hill, doubled over, tears streaming down her face.

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It didn’t matter that we took our time and soaked up every slip and stumble the course threw at us. The marshals were as upbeat and encouraging for the us at the back as they had been at the for those at the front and seemed to enjoy our smiles and jokes.
As is so common on good trail races, the runners were loving the experience and enjoying the banter. I’m always struck by people who make this an inclusive sport, celebrating all abilities and this race had those people in bucket loads. 31F8296B-4174-49B5-9743-2F6347D24AE1
After 1 hour 58 mins, we found the finish with a jovial medic and race official cheering us in. We passed on the hog roast, changed our mud soaked kit and found the bus which the organisers had sorted to get us back to the park and ride.
What a great race. Well organised and friendly.

77C32F95-EEC4-401B-8510-7927C027489AMost mportantly for me, I got to run with three fabulous runners who slipped, squished, encouraged and laughed for 10km. It’s recharged my ‘needing-company’ batteries and got me ready to get back into the trail a slightly less lonely soul.

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La Sportiva Running Top Review

502D5021-5BC3-4EF5-961C-B28DF5AACBDAThe winter is well and truly entrenched now; skies are grey, everything feels damp and mud permeates my trainers, leggings, kitchen and car. But this year doesn’t seem as bad as last year, I don’t seem to be feeling it all quite as much.
I’ve always been a bit tight on kit. My money goes on race entry fees, gloves and decent trainers. It had never really occurred to me just how important a running top is. I’ve got a few, they seem to be ok, if I get cold I just layer up a bit.
That was until I finally got a La Sportiva Neptune 2.0 Base Layer from the Centurion Running Store. When it arrived, if felt like it was going to be comfortable but also felt thick so I was worried that, on some days it would be too warm. You know those days, not quite cold enough for winter kit but too cold for summer stuff.
It was one of those days when I first went out in it and I immediately thought ‘this is brilliant’. I didn’t get too hot at all, as soon as I felt myself warming a bit too much I just pushed the sleeves up and they stayed there. This sounds like a daft thing to be excited about but, I find with running tops, the sleeves are either so tight that it’s impossible to push the sleeves up or so loose that I am constantly pushing them up to cool down.
Then there are the thumb holes. Look like a bit of a gimmick but they aren’t at all. The reason that I spend proper money on gloves is that my hands get debilitatingly cold in no time at all; once they are cold, I just can’t warm them up and which is painful and annoying when I can’t do the basics like turn my phone on or do up a zip. The thumb holes mean that, on those in between days I just hook my thumbs into the thumb holes and there is no need for gloves at all. I have been told that the key to warm hands is warm wrists but this has been revolutionary for me. So much easier to move my thumbs in and out rather than put gloves off and on. I wouldn’t have thought that a top could replace gloves, on a really cold day, it doesn’t but often it’s enough. On those really cold days, gloves and the thumb bits work a treat.
Most importantly, it’s warm. Last year, heading out for a cold 20 miler meant 20 miles of struggling to get warm or over heating because I had too many layers on. This top just keeps me at the right temperature. Occasionally I have put a buff on (another great bit of kit), but that’s largely been it. I get cold ridiculously easily and am often seen at the school gate wearing two puffer jackets, yet I can confidently head out in just this top and know that I will be fine.
With all things long distance running, it’s the small things which make a massive difference and this top has made this winter and, presumably the spring a little bit easier to cope with.