Normally I start these reports with something going badly or something unpleasant happening, but this was one of those oh-so rare races when everything came together in a really good way.
Sometimes it happens in training, and when it does you always desperately try and figure out what the magic formula was.
Sadly I don’t know – I never manage to work it out – but I did have a great day, a much better day than I expected and definitely made the most of it.
It still feels strange to think that I ran 100 miles and can honestly say that it didn’t feel like that much of a big deal, even more so given I’d pretty much missed the entire previous year of events from injury.
I hadn’t prepared for this race specifically. Had no real idea of the terrain or elevation, and had just thrown a load of stuff into my bag the night before, in the hope that by this stage in the Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam I should subconsciously know what I’d need.
A slightly nervous shuffle of kit and food on the train to Reading, but happily everything I needed was present and correct. All I needed was to pick up my pre-booked Tailwind from race HQ (what a great service from the Centurion online shop!) and I was all set.
The format of this race was a bit different. All the others I’ve done this year have been point to point, which are nice as you get to see (or maybe just experience) a decent stretch of the countryside. This was 4 out and backs, which meant less variation, but with the bonus that your whole drop bag was accessible every 25 miles. It also made calculating how long it was until the next checkpoint joyously easy.
About 20 minutes before kickoff it started pouring with rain, but thankfully it decided to give us a break just before the start and a blazing hot sun came out instead.
It was October, so I’d quite sensibly packed warm and waterproof clothes (which I was very glad of having later on), but getting sunburnt before lunchtime most unexpected.
Walking to the start line I had a good chat with Jon Fielden, outside of Strava I think this was the first time we’ve actually met in person, though I did see him at the Tooting 24h when I was lap counting for Jamie Holmes and a couple of others. Nice to meet internet friends in person!
I had some weird pacing plan, not based on reality, but instead on a 20 hour finish, and so I set off at a 4h marathon pace into the increasingly warm day.
This was not sustainable, and even with frequent water refills it was a “bit” of an effort to get back to Goring in a smidge over 4 hours At that point I pretty much ignored my plans and set off with the idea to run as fast as I could at a pace that I thought I could probably sustain, allowing for a bit of a slowdown, and hopefully a final kick in the last few miles.
This was how I’d run the other events this year, and I really don’t know why I’d decided to try something different.
Cat Simpson (winner of so many races) filled up my water bottles, I was too shy to say anything, but this is a great example of how nice the running community often is, where champions turn up to events like this and help others out where they can.
The lovely lady who not only told me where I could buy a nice coffee but also gave me some money deserves a special mention too.
Leg 2 was quite hilly and a little bit technical in places, the wide open fields were quite soft though and some time was made up there. Plenty of chatty people on the first half of this and time went by quickly.
Can’t remember if I had anything hot to eat back at Goring, but it was a pretty quick turnaround, and munching a bag of crisps I headed out into the dark (?) and towards the Ridgeway. Bit damp in places, but having my waterproof jacket in the big pocket of my pack meant it was on and over everything before I got cold (I saw James Elson do this at Country to Capital a few years ago, great trick). Somehow managed to do something weird to my headtorch just before the halfway point, so lost a few miunutes faffing around with it, before setting back off downhill to Goring, again.
I swung into the aid station half way for a quick bit of chat and to top up my tailwind supply, it was raining again and we all wondered why we were wearing shorts.
As I left I heard them say “that’s the way to do it”. In and out in under 2 minutes, very unlike the van full of people I could see huddling together out of the wind. I don’t move all that fast, but I reckon must gain a few places at every CP just because I don’t hang around (or eat anything – I have a deep suspicion of any food that might have had someone else’s dirty hands on it).
Back in Goring I briefly spoke to Debbie Martin-Consani (who was there to pace Sharon Law who finished in 19:24 and second lady), but I was a bit ultra-addled by that point and didn’t manage much more than a brief smile, such shame to waste another rare opportunity to say a proper hello to an internet friend.
Turbo was all set to pace me for the last marathon, and by this point I was really glad of some company. I hadn’t had any dark spots, and had been quietly trundling along, but after 15 hours mostly inside my own head it was good to have a friend to share the hardest part of the race with. We had lots to talk about as we set off along the Thames Path to Reading – the last out and back.
Also a lot of mud and rain. A huge amount of rain.
Turbo was great, she kept my pace up, took care of timings and as Olly had been doing, just became my brain for the next 5 hours.
I was getting cold just before the woods outside reading, but a brisk uphill hike sorted that out. It had got light by this point and someone was coming up behind us. With Ollys competitive spirit ringing in my ears I bounded off into the mud and picked up a few more places before slowing down into a steady jog. Turbo caught me up with a “don’t worry, you broke them, you can take it easy now!”. We laughed but with furtive looks over our shoulders kept the pace nice and chipper for the last mile.
Over the finish line in 21:36, in 30th place overall (out of 230 starters).
5th hundred miler of the year, the final piece of the Centurion Grand Slam, and a PB to boot. Lots of smiles.
Even though I didn’t eat much more than gels, a packet of saucisson and a couple of bags of crisps, the tailwind from the CPs along with the extra 4 sachets I’d bought did me perfectly well. Not once did I feel lacking in energy and nothing hurt or complained (apart from my shoulder, a swimming injury which I don’t think had any right to make a fuss on a run).
My stomach must have shut down though, as it instantly rejected the finish line hot dog, too much too soon maybe.
I probably could have gone faster with hindsight, but feel very happy that everything came together well, and recovery was equally smooth. Slightly sore quads for a day or so (my training didn’t involve any hills, I really should study course profiles a little better). Even my feet were fine, mostly because of the nice soft grass, compared to the gnarl of the North Downs.
The race was organised very well, and everything certainly seemed to go very smoothly. No fuss, helpful and efficient volunteers, excellent markings and fair and reasonable cut off times.
Everything we’ve come to expect from Centurion events, and if anything they just keep getting better. Really impressive.