Tag: 100 mile Ultra races

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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South Downs Way 100

IMG_5519On the bus to the start line of the Millennium Way Ultra, my first long long race, I sat next to a guy who was telling me about how he had recently done a 100 miler.  What a ridiculous idea, who in their right minds would run 100 miles.  But a little thought had entered my mind and I just couldn’t shake it off.  That ultra and the subsequent 50 miler and couple of 100 k’ers seemed like the hardest things in the world but the thought just wouldn’t leave me.  Do I have a 100 miles in me, can I do it?

Last year saw hamstring tendonopathy enter my life along side a patronising physio who told me that I was always going to get injured if I ran ultras, rapidly replaced by a physio who misdiagnosed and wouldn’t listen.  A self designed rehab program followed, linked in with a feeling that I had missed a summer despite managing a team 100km race at the end.

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This year would be different. Which is why I found myself on the start line of the SDW100 with the Green Man and a fair few miles under my belt. At that point, it was already feeling like I had found something special.  Centurion had organised a kids 1 miler the night before which had set our weekend off to a great start watching the next generation of runners bound around the field.  One medal already gained, could mummy bring home a buckle.

I stuck to my race plan from the start.  Amazingly for me, I didn’t try to keep up with the racing snakes who legged it up the first hill and, as I found myself chatting to someone who remarked that this was probably a 15 hour pace, I suggested he ran on as that was certainly not on the cards for me. I wanted to try to crack 80 miles by sundown and accept that the last 20 would be a case of survival but didn’t want to burn myself out; I walked up hills I could have run up and tried to relax going down.

The first two check points flew past, I was well within a manageable pace and knew that I could easily run 60-70 miles doing what I was doing and chose to forget that I needed to run a few more than that.  Supportive Husband and Enthusiastic Son were waiting for me at QE park which was a great boost, quick hug from the small boy then up through the woods on a familiar route.

The next few check points were a bit of a blur, I knew I could cope with what I was doing at the time but was questioning whether I had gone out too fast when I met up with Annabel who was clearly having a great time and was up for a bit of a chat, even though we were both clearly running our own races.  By Washington, I knew that a crash was not far off, I hadn’t run out too fast, I was just running in a totally new type of race, but no time to think about it, head torches stowed and I was off.  The nausea was kicking in pretty badly at this point, I think a mixture of too many calories too early on and the hot sun were playing havoc with me but I reached the piggies feeling ok. For the record, putting a dog leg of down a massive hill into Washington and then up another massive hill out of it seemed pretty damn mean at the time but gave myself and another runner something to laugh about.

By Saddlescombe Farm I was pretty spent, nausea was almost overwhelming and the downhill version of my legs were not working.  But the ladies at that aid station were just what I needed; I was told to drink some water, told I had 10 miles until the next aid station and that, if I couldn’t eat then I would just need to take stuff with me.  Which is why I carried a plastic bag of watermelon for the next 10 miles!

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Left foot, right foot, repeat kept me going from there. By the last two check points, I was conscious that I was not necessarily running in a straight line and I don’t think anything I said made sense but, yet again, amazing CP staff seemed to know what to say and what to do to help me out.  I had convinced myself that I would be running with someone by the dark hours, but I wasn’t which wasn’t as scary as I imagined.  The last time I saw Supportive Husband he told me that this was supposed to be a running race and perhaps I should get running which not only got me running but made me smile.

And then, almost suddenly, the most beautiful trig point in Britain was in front of me along side a couple of very cheery guys showing me the cheeky, ankle twisting route off.  After getting lost at the end of that long path (I know, what was I thinking) I got back onto the route marked by massive reflective tape and chalk on the ground which only a total fool could have missed.  Then onto the track and through the finish line to a massive hug from Supportive Husband and the distant snores of Enthusiastic Child.

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When people ask me about running ultras, they focus on the distance but its not so much about that I don’t think.  Its about Mari holding a gate open for myself and another guy and telling us to go through first, its about Matibini patting my back as he ran past whilst giving me a massive smile, its the guy who asked if I needed him to walk with me for a bit when I was struggling, its getting a big well done from Annabel at the end and about every single runner who ran past me asking me if I was okay.  The distance part of it allows me to compete against my fears and push to see what I can do but within the amazing community which is Ultra running and, for this race the very special community which is Centurion.

This race was easily the hardest thing I have ever done, and i’ve done quite a lot of hard things. But it was a brilliantly organised event with fabulous volunteers at every check point, helping to turn a brutally hard event into a magical one.  It has highlighted many weaknesses, these races always do, and has given me a project of sorting out my weak downhill legs before my next 100.  Sorry, did I just hear myself say, next 100………..

IMG_5523First photo by Stuart March Photography