Tag: centurion running

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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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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Chilton Wonderland 50

The school holidays dawned, I had recently completed SDW100 and was therefore completely indestructible, I put myself onto the waiting list for the CW50 to give me a summer holiday goal to train towards, I got all place; all was good with the world.
….then I went training with the local athletics club, a really good half mile interval session with some great runners. I was indestructible remember, so when my hamstring tendonopathy started to play up, it didn’t matter because I could take on the world: I didn’t stop, I had to finish the session. As a result of those intervals I couldn’t walk properly, run properly do anything properly.  I am clearly an idiot. I tried to give the place in CW50 back so that someone else could run this incredible route, but it was too late. At this point I had a proper girly strop at Supportive Husband who made appropriate noises to try to make me feel better before I looked properly at Nici’s response to my request to give the place back…it was too late, but she was sure it would all be ok and that she would see me at the start line. Right, strop back in its box and determined head back on, rehab, here I come.

Before I knew it I found myself in Goring Village hall happily absorbing the greetings, running banter and general positive vibe which Ultras seem to bring. I was facing 50 miles of Wonderland; muddy paths, woodland trails full tree roots, some stunning views and a few obligatory hills. The weather was looking good allowing me a bit of stretching in the Autumn sunshine knowing that rain was due in by the afternoon. Standing next to the Thames (the hilly bit apparently), I decided that I don’t much like rain so had best get as much of the course done before it came in, the starter horn went off and I committed to keeping up with what can only be described as a cheeky pace.

I felt surprisingly relaxed, I hadn’t done any of the planned training, I hadn’t done my usual build up to a race but I had done something I don’t usually do, I had rested. I was puffing like a steam train, probably because I hadn’t stretched my lungs for a while, but my legs felt strong. I soon became aware of Charley behind me, the pace was pretty tough and I was willing her to just get it over and done with and overtake. Half way to CP1 a bunch of us found ourselves simultaneously shouting to the pack in front that they were going the wrong way leading to us all confessing that it was quite a tasty pace but we were all chasing the rain.

IMG_1112.JPGCP1 arrived surprisingly fast, hamstring felt like it was about to explode but somehow I knew it would ease. Centurion events stand out with their well stocked stations and unbelievably encouraging crews, I imagined all Ultras would be like this but my small experience has shown me that they aren’t which is what makes the Centurion CP’s so special. Before I knew it, my water container had been stocked, I had shoved some food in and was off.

It’s at this stage where I would love to give a blow by blow account of where I went and what point I arrived at which CP. The truth is that it all has all blurred into one, I’ve seen photos with me in them and have no recollection of where they were taken. The pictures I have in my head are of tree roots, a windmill at the top of a stinker of a hill, some views which we all said ‘wow’ at the same time, the back of Jim and James’s trainers, some steps which none of used words to describe (just lots of ‘ouch’ ‘ooh’ and ‘aghh’) and an extra hill.

Yes, an extra hill, thrown in totally for free….and we weren’t the only ones. The brilliant things about Centurion events is that the routes are really well marked, so a lack of markers should be an indicator that all is not well. It took us to the top of a nettle infested hill to figure it out, but it was a mark of just how we were carrying each other along when we shrugged it off and cracked on trying to find the right route.

But this day wasn’t about where we went and how I felt at each point, it was about two things for me; the magic of trail running and people. The route was fantastic, how on earth did they find these glorious twisting paths linking the Thames Path, the Chilton Way and the Ridgeway. I love nothing more than running through woods and on muddy paths where I can lose myself in my thoughts and feel a bit more connected to nature. This route had that in bucket loads. The nettles were in autumn mode and couldn’t really be bothered to sting properly, the hills were so scenic that they were worth all the climbs, even the mud felt manageable.

And then it was about the people. Charley, Jim and James. I couldn’t tell what we chatted about but we chatted for about 45 miles. We laughed at downward steps and me confidently turning right having been told ‘it’s left here’. We all took a tumble at some point and we checked on the tumblee. We got over the extra hill and congratulated ourselves on our extra milage. We waved heartily at the lovely supporters who weren’t there to support us but cheered us anyway. This is the Centurion Army, not just the people who refuse to let you stand on your own at the start and insist on chatting to you, but also the people on the trail who look out for you. These are the strongest memories for me.

Coming into Goring we realised that it was actually a race and so Charley and I upped the pace only to hear a shout from behind ‘you need to turn left’, luckily I got it right this time and we embarked on the dog leg around the back to the village hall. We had clearly gone off too fast but Charley can shift rapidly and still find the energy to chat positive words. The sprint in was brilliant, not what I expected to be doing in a 50 miler but to come in with under a second between us was incredible.

I always learn something from races. This time I learnt just how far I can push myself when I am surrounded by hard runners who don’t take prisoners. There were lots of opportunities to lose the route on this race and I knew that, if I dropped back, I was liable to get very lost and disheartened so motivation was high to stick with this incredible group of people who just kept driving hard. I stupidly asked near the end if the upward slope we were on counted as a hill (and therefore could we walk) and was told in no uncertain terms that we were too close to the end for much to be counted as a hill and that we just needed to run hard from there on in. Yup, they were a tough crowd.

In summary, it’s the best race I’ve ever been lucky enough to be part of. It was such an enjoyable day due to the route, the organisation and obviously the people; running, supporting and volunteering. Anyone looking for an Ultra, this is definitely one for the list.

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