I’m not sure if skimpy running shorts are ever appropriate to wear in public, but the prospect of 30 degree heat without wind, meant all modest thoughts were discarded along with my usual “100 mile” leggings.
Christian agreed, so at least I wasn’t the only one flashing gleaming white thighs at the Farnham locals at 5am on Saturday morning.
Given the race started at 6am I didn’t have much choice other than to go down the night before and stay in a hotel. I had dinner with Zoe and got the train from Waterloo. All fine and easy.
I’d booked a twin room, as I had before the South Downs Way, so that I could use the other bed to put kit on and faff around without having to put everything on the floor. The hotel was … horrible. Everything looked dirty and very old and worn out. I could hear people chattering in the next room, and it was also about 29 degrees with (obviously) no air conditioning. Needless to say I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I did sleep, eventually.
In a bid to have a half decent breakfast (at 4:30am, well before the hotel started producing edibles, if it even did), I’d packed a dehydrated meal. Great idea in principle, but the chilli was surprisingly spicy, and whilst it was an unexpectedly pleasant breakfast, it wasn’t really what my stomach was calling for.
Having got all my kit shuffling out of the way the night before, it was easy to fill water bottles and wander slowly to the race HQ, where I quickly got my pack checked, dumped my drop bags and got in the queue for another coffee.
Christian was there, sporting an impressive beard and looking very trim and much fitter than I felt. It was nice to chat to a friend whilst waiting for the actual start, rather than my usual routine of standing around failing to find someone to shoot the breeze with, and generally feeling a bit left out. One day I’ll just start talking to someone who looks just as lost, and maybe we’ll have enough to share to fill the dead time before James gets his megaphone out.
I fell in with Christians pace at the start, and we spent some very nice hours talking about … everything. We often have lunch together, but never really talk about the Big Important Things. Time went by quickly.
Given my lack of training (virtually non existent), I kept up much longer than I probably should have, until the rapid temperature increase forced me to peel off and try and sort myself out.
Christian loped off looking confident and relaxed, while I walked and jogged and slowly found a pace I could just about maintain without overheating.
Marissa, the ultra-junkie that she is, had set up a mini aid station on Reigate Hill (32 miles in), with bags of ice, cold coke and frozen calipos. I could have spent an hour there easily, getting my core body temperature down to some sensible level, but race pressure exerted itself and I was on my way quick-sharp, body packed in ice, brain finally working again.
That was easily the nicest part of the entire race, the relief of ice cold water and lollies after feeling that I’d been transported onto a desert was exquisite, and I really had to drag myself away, thankfully it was down a hill.
Many more hours and miles and water and gels passed. There were some ups, some downs, the occasional chat.
One or two dark moments where I was reduced to a sullen trudge, over rocky paths through endless featureless fields.
Eventually it got dark and I didn’t feel that I was going to be sick on my shoes, or that my heart was going to escape, every time I moved from an amble to a slow jog.
Staggering alongside the M25 as it bridged something too far away to distinguish, I lost the valve of a water bottle. I went back to try and find it among the litter and bits of car and lorry that had collected in the gutter. A quizzical text from Olly roused a sliver of rationality and pulled me out of my foggy stagger.
Blinking, I pointing myself the right way, and annoyed with the loss of time, picked up the pace and headed for the Bluebell Hill checkpoint where my exogenous brain / pacer / all round awesome looker-after-er type person waited.
Have you eaten anything?
Thought not, right, what do you want?
Anything that doesn’t look like it’s been rummaged through by someones arse scratching hand
Still fucking weird, aren’t you?
Is it cold? I can’t tell, I might need sleeves…
Cheese and ham thrust into my hand, fine.
My stomach didn’t think that much of it, but the rest of me did and off we set into the darkness for the final 26 miles, with Ashford and the finish line slowly pulling us in.
Everything was just so much easier now. My brain was fully functioning, and was managing to instruct my legs to keep up with Olly, whilst simultaneously talking about all sorts of shite (and also listening to much of the same).
I didn’t worry a jot about the trivialities now. Navigation, how far there was to go, whether to eat or not (not, generally). Delegated, the lot of it.
The trail went through some surprisingly technical sections, plus lots of steps and tangles of brambles. Sub 24 hours was starting to look worryingly out of reach.
Suddenly the uncomfortable trail relinquished us onto beautiful smooth paths and we flew past people as picked up pace for the final push.
Down through some fields then barreled our way into town, with only an occasional moan about sore feet, and crossed the line in 23 hours and 40 minutes.
Slower than I’d hoped, but the main goal was less than 24 hours, so very happy with that.
Christian was waiting for us, very relaxed and stately in his armchair and showing way too much leg for this time of the day. Turns out he only beat us by 5 minutes, so my “I’m coming for you Gnodtket” mantra had obviously magically slowed him down and sped me up. It certainly stopped me from dawdling.
Looking back, it was a really hot day, and I’m quite frankly amazed that I managed to keep up the sort of pace I did. There was a big section where I was feeling a bit gloomy and wasn’t really up for it, but generally I had a really good day out and, apart from my feet, nothing really hurt.
The lesson on food for me was that gels and tailwind don’t bother my stomach, but aren’t very exciting. I know, from lots of experience that when food is boring then it just doesn’t get eaten, but if I can get my head around that, then I’ll have enough energy and my stomach will be fine, which should be a good combination.
The organisation was, as ever, really slick and professional, and I recommend all Centurion events unhesitatingly.