Autumn 100 is the last race of the Centurion 100 Grand Slam. Often shortened to A100, it is race 4 of a series of 4. I needed to complete this after the disappointment of Spartathlon. This post is my vague recollections of the race, how I overcame Spartathlon to complete the ‘Slam’ and a bit about how the other races went, as I have not posted about them (yet). Hopefully, I can be more succinct than my rambling Spartathlon report.
Spoiler Alert – I Did It!
The picture at the start of this post may have given it away, so before I get into the details of the A100 and the build-up, I should say I smashed all my public expectations coming home in 21:40:58, 33rd overall and 3rd in my age category M50. This also completed the 100 Grand Slam at my first attempt, finishing 15th overall. My Canalslam last year was definitely harder, but the Centurion 100 Granslam was a great achievement and a high to end the year on. Although, I do have one more race, one week after the A100, Abingdon Marathon! More about that in my next post.
The A100 Course
The A100 is an unusual format, as it is has one central main checkpoint at Goring in Berkshire with four out and back legs to form a cross. The first and fourth legs are on the Thames Path and the second and third legs are on the Ridgeway. You have timing mats at each end and at the main checkpoint at Goring it has a mat when you go in and when you come out, so you can scrutinise your detailed splits afterwards.
Previous 3 Slam Races
I finished the previous three races in respectable times. First, in May there was the Thames Path 100 (TP100) where I went off too fast in the heat, it all started well, running with Cat Simpson, until 2 or 3 hours in I realised she was aiming for a 17-hour finish. Then when night came I really suffered with heat stroke symptoms such as vomiting and shivering. I hung on with the help of my pacers, Ali and Ila, for a time of 23:30:30. At least it was under 24 hours and I got my first ‘100 miles in a day’ buckle. Actually, my first buckle. Job done, if a bit messy.
The next one up was the South Downs Way 100 (SDW100) in June. After what I put my pacers through on the Thames Path, I decided to go it alone on this one, with Lucy dropping me off at the start and meeting me at Eastbourne at the finish. Another hot day, but this time I paced it better and enjoyed the running. I found that despite the 12700ft of ascent it is really runnable and I completed the race in 20:54:19. A 100-mile pb. I was chuffed to bits.
After SDW100 I was on a high, especially as I had also completed an 85-mile training run at Endure 24 at end of June. Come August I felt confident for the North Downs Way 100 (NDW100). This has the reputation of being the toughest race of the four. The first half went really well and I actually revelled in the steep sections with loads of stepsm, apart from a fall in the woods, but then my race fell apart in the last third as I suffered from nausea again. I then stopped too long at checkpoints trying to get it under control with multiple cups of tea. I should have forced myself on and ran more. With all the lost time at checkpoints I struggled home in a disappointing 25:29:44
Recovery since Spartathlon
I was determined to finish the Autumn 100 despite (maybe because of) running 121 miles of Spartathlon only 2 weeks before. Those that have read my previous blog post will know that I crashed out of Spartathlon with an Achilles injury and damaged feet. The Achilles injury turned out to be tendonitis, which I have had before and the swelling of the outer sheath subsided within a week along with all my ankle swelling. The feet also healed in that week after Spartathlon and by the following weekend I was walking normally again, so on the Sunday, 6 days before the A100 I went for a testing run and found I could run at a decent pace. I relaxed and did no running for the remainder of the week to ensure everything had healed and to give my body the time to recover from Spartathlon. Privately, I was thinking that all my training for Spartathlon should pay off as long as I had recovered enough from running 121 miles only 2 weeks before.
Morning of the Race
Come the morning of the race (13 Oct 2018), I was feeling quietly confident but apprehensive whether my body could take the 100-miles. I chatted with Alex Whearity and his new wife Wendy (née Shaw) on the train, walked to the registration with them and Markus Flick. I felt really relaxed, as we had plenty of time. It started to rain and I decided at registration I would put on my rain jacket for the start.
I spotted a few familiar faces including Ken Fancett, who always runs around my pace on these 100’s apart from he is 18 years older! Ken is a legend and holds many Centurion records including the most miles run and most events run. I bumped into Sarah Booker with a friend running his first 100-miler. I wished them all luck. After a classic briefing from James Elson, Race Director of Centurion Running, we had a short walk to the start down by the river.
After leaving the village hall I spotted Dick Kearn, original RD of GUCR and Thames Ring 250. Dick is still active on the ultra scene and organises the canal races with Keith Godden (RD) and Wayne Simpson. Dick was looking like Gandalf as usual. Dick and I chatted as we crossed the river and then James Adams joined us. Three years previously, when I read James’ book about running across the USA it was a key inspiration for me. I had a brief chat with James and he mentioned it was his first proper ultra for three years since the birth of his twins. James wanted to catchup with Dick, so I left them both and joined the throng wending our way down to the river, feeling good that I was now on chatting terms with two of my heroes!
My plan was to start at the back and then work my way through the field, so I hung around at the side of the path taking off my rain jacket and stowing it in my Salomon race vest. By this time everyone had walked passed me on their way to the start and I was definitely at the back. All good so far.
I had planned to run slowly to test my legs in the first leg and if they felt strong then to push on in the third and fourth legs. I was also looking forward to getting to the last leg because my old friend and very experienced ultra-runner Rob Treadwell was to meet me at Goring to pace me for the final section from Goring to Reading and back along the Thames Path.
1st Leg – Thames Path to Little Wittenham
The disadvantage of starting at the back is that it can be a bit frustrating for a few miles, but you do get to say hello to everyone as you work your way through the field. In this section I ran with Peter Johnson, who I had met many times on canal races. Jason a fellow slammer, in fact Jason is going one better than me by completing the double slam (all the 50 mile races and the 100 mile races). I ran and chatted with Roz Glover, an experienced Centurion, Spartathlon and canal race runner, who seems to run a lot of the same races as me. Roz was even going to be at Abingdon Marathon the following week (I later found out). Roz mentioned she had gone off too fast with Wendy Whearity and had dropped back to catch her breath. I wasn’t helping Roz keeping her chatting, especially as she also has asthma, so I said goodbye and setoff to try and catch Wendy.
Soon I saw the familiar figure and running form of Wendy in the distance. I have a lot of respect for Wendy ever since we had a bit of ding-dong battle for the last 40 miles of the GUCR in May 2017, before she pulled away and eventually beat me by 38 minutes. Since then Wendy has gone from strength to strength, this year she has won KACR and LLCR and a GB team bronze medal at the European 24-hour Championship. Wendy topped all that by marrying Alex shortly before the A100. Wendy and Alex are two of my inspirational heroes, despite me probably being to old to ever aspire to their performances. But never say never, especially as I am still achieving new pb’s in my 50’s. I will write a blog post about that one day and my theories why. Anyway, back to the A100…
Having caught Wendy we chatted and she said she was concerned about her tummy and had slowed down, as she had gone off too fast. I shared my Spartathlon injury woes and said I had also planned to take it slowly too, which is why I started at the back, but I was feeling good and had been working my way through the field. Wendy said I should go on and I left Wendy thinking her pacing was probably more sensible. I should have listened to Wendy and my sensible inner voice, not something I do very often.
I carried on and before long I was running through the fields and meadows before the turnaround point. The fast lead runners were starting to pass me going in the opposite direction. I actually think this is one of the good things about this race. You get to congratulate the leaders and shout words of encouragement to the people behind you. I saw Alex Whearity in 4th or 5th place only a couple of minutes behind the leaders and gave him a high-five.
Very soon the first turnaround point at Little Wittenham came up where I crossed the timing mat, filled my water bottles and said a brief hi to Nikki Mills on the checkpoint. I had not seen Nikki since Spartathlon and she commented on how well I looked to be running. Sorry Nikki, no time to chat… I was on a mission. First 12.5 miles done in 01:51:27. So much for taking it slowly.
Running back to Goring was a bit of a blur. I remember it was warm and humid. I ran for a bit with Markus Flick and Vladimir Zalesskiy, both veteran Centurion runners, before powering onto Goring. I started asking myself, ‘Was I going to fast in the heat?”. I didn’t stop at the intermediate checkpoint at Wallingford again and shortly after that caught James Adams. We ran together for a bit and chatted before I ran on ahead.
As I came into Goring I started to feel like I had maybe pushed it a bit hard on that first leg, crossing the timing mat in 03:49:40. It was a lovely surprise to see both Sam Adatto and Cat Simpson helping out at the checkpoint. I had forgotten Sam was going to be volunteering, as he wants to enter A100 next year and it will be his first 100 miler. As I write this, Sam is competing in the OMM with his partner Roberta. It was also lovely to see Cat, as last time I saw her was in Greece after her 5th place in Spartathlon. I didn’t want to mess around, so I was in and out of there in less than a minute after filling my bottles, leaving at 03:50:37. Now that is how not to lose time at CP’s.
2nd Leg – Ridgeway to Swincombe
I was feeling down and tired for the first time as I left the Goring CP, so I decided to walk for a bit. It is then I started getting cramp in my legs which carried on for the next 30-50 miles! Even though we were on the fairly flat part of this section along the Thames, I was really having trouble getting going again and James Adams came running past me at this point. I struggled on running when I could and walking when the thigh cramps and later the calf cramps came on strong. They threatened to end my race, but I hoped they would wear off.
It is a shame about the cramp, as I love this whole section of the Ridgeway having run it a few times before. I knew I was losing time but tried to grit my teeth and keep some sort of pace through the long flat section through the North Stoke checkpoint and past the golf course. I knew that once we hit the main road it is a long uphill stretch following Grim’s Ditch. The cramps eased here enough for me to power walk all the way up accompanied by Vladimir Zalesskiy again. Once at the top I knew there was some runnable sections across another golf course and over open fields where Stuart March would be waiting to take iconic photographs, like the one below.
After a few steep up and down sections, I eventually got to the turnaround checkpoint at Swyncombe in 06:21:54. 37.5 miles done!
One of the checkpoint volunteers said my shorts were the best yet, but I assumed he was taking the piss. I did get some respect after mentioning that I had run most of Spartathlon (milking it) only 2 weeks previously. A short stop just to fill bottles, although for the first time the row of chairs looked tempting.
I couldn’t wait to get back to Grim’s Ditch because I love running fast downhill and that is a rollercoaster. I passed Rebecca Lane in this section, we would see each other many times throughout the race. I recognised Rebecca from earlier Slam races. Unfortunately, Rebecca said she was out of the Slam as she had dropped late-on in the NDW100, so only 3 races out of 4. The run down Grim’s Ditch was so much fun and I did not have much cramp, although I was concerned I maybe trashing my quads. As soon as I hit the flat section as we got back to the Thames river valley the cramps returned with a vengeance. Wendy Whearity passed me here eager to get to Goring to pick up her pacer Paul Beechey. I breezed through North Stoke CP again trying not to be tempted by the chairs.
My only thought was to get to Goring, so I could have some food and a sit down. I was feeling dead and the cramps were really getting on my nerves. I arrived back at Goring after 08:51:10, not bad for the first 50 miles, but it looked like sub-20 was now fading. The sub-20 finish was my secret personal goal and why I had gone fast when I felt good in the first 25 miles. I think it was also to blame for my cramps though. It was getting dark and I didn’t want to stop to get my head-torch out of race vest. By the time I got to Goring dusk had disappeared and it was night.
Sam was there again and I asked for some pasta to revive myself. Another very kind and generous CP volunteer offered me some salt capsules when he heard about my cramps. Now I have read all the research and know that your body does not need salt unless it is really long or a multi-stage race, but I was desperate. He told me his name, but my brain does not retain names and especially after 50 miles, so a big thanks to whats-his-name (see Thanks to section below). He went out to his car and came back with about 20 capsules, which I put in an empty Peak Pinole wrapper (thanks James Ellis). I had been eating the Peak Pinole balls that I had left over from Spartathlon. I think I will buy some more before my next big race. I downed a couple of salt capsules and headed out of the CP after losing 22 minutes mainly due to eating pasta and drinking tea.
3rd Leg – Ridgeway to Chain Hill
This was probably my lowest point, I knew what was coming on this next Ridgeway section and we had been told the heavy rain would arrive too. I decided to walk out of the aid station and through Streatley to let my pasta settle. For some reason, I decide to carry on walking up the road, when I should have run that section, especially as I knew when we reached the chalk and flint track that I would have a long walk up to the ridge. Anyway, I did a lot of walking and not enough running while taking regular salt tablets. The cramps were abating, maybe salt isn’t an old wives tale. Who cares about science and research at this point. It was working. So once I got back on the ridge I started running again and felt good for the first time in about 30 miles.
I ran all the flat, downhills or slightly uphill bits and walked the steep uphills. This was the pattern I kept to throughout this section to and from Chain Hill. Soon I was at East Ilsley Down checkpoint and I only stopped for a bottle top-up. If only I could be that fast at the main checkpoints. After leaving East Ilsley Down the track becomes very rutted due to it being a green way for motor vehicles. I cursed all those 4×4 drivers all the way to Chain Hill. I can’t remember much about this stretch apart from seeing Wendy and Paul running the other way and some to-ing an fro-ing with a French guy and his pacer. A pacer definitely would have helped me along here and I was a bit envious.
Concentrating really hard so I did not twist my ankle on the deep ruts before long were approaching Chain Hill, or a scene from Close Encounters, as the checkpoint was decked out in loads of flashing lights, visible from about a mile away. It looked like a spaceship floating above the ridge. As I got closer it became clear it was the checkpoint and I was not going to be abducted by aliens. They were also playing dance music, so after consuming two cups of tea (yes, I stayed too long) and having a dance, I reluctantly headed back along the the rutted Ridgeway or The Rutway, as I was now calling it.
I wound up the speed again and felt good. In my own little world avoiding ruts and runners coming the other way. It was at this point the rain started to arrive fairly light at first but then heavy showers. I put on my OMM Kamleika jacket and carried on. Around this time I remembered I had promised to call Rob Treadwell and wake him up so he could meet me at Goring, as he was pacing me for the last 25 miles (turned out to be 26 miles).
Soon I was back at East Ilsley Down and noticed that Kate Hayden was one of the CP volunteers. I know Kate from the canal races and after I mentioned my cramps for the last 30-40 miles she suggested a quad massage. Kate’s magic hands worked their wonders and that was the last time I had cramp. Amazing! Before I had a chance to thank her. Ken Fancett came running past. I have spent a lot of time running with Ken over this years Slam races and fancied having a quick catch up with him.
Ken and I ran together for a few miles and chatted. He is an inspiration to me. I hope I am still running at his level when I am 69! When we got to the long downhill back to Streatley I opened up and left Ken and another two guys behind. I just kept running until I hit the road and then I walked for a bit and carried on running again. I saw Rebecca again here on the road and suggested we both jog into the Goring checkpoint.
I arrived in a time of 15:06:16. I was keen to see Rob, but I was early and knew he would not arrive for 30 minutes, so plenty of time to get some food and change into my Montane Spine jacket, as we were expecting really heavy rain in the next section. Rob turned up after 20 minutes, so after watching the winner arrive (a bit demoralising for me) and eating more pasta we left Goring with the clock saying 15:31:57.
4th Leg – Thames Path to Reading
I was amazed that Rob was doing this pacing stint for me, as he had a bad fall on a trail marathon the weekend before A100 bruising his coccyx and other bum related injuries. I wasn’t sure he should be running but he is a machine and assured me he would be fine. He also should have been resting and recovering before flying out to the Kalahari desert on the following Wednesday for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM), a 7-day, 250km multi-stage, self-sufficient foot race.
I think it was not raining at this point but as we chatted away we motored towards my favourite section of the Thames Path, Hartslock Woods before you get to Whitchurch. We saw Alex Whearity here two miles out from Goring and we high-fived, as he was on course for a Spartathlon auto-qualifier time (sub 16:48 for 100 mile race). Alex finished 4th place in 16:21:51, a comfortable AQ. It started to rain here and would rain heavily for the rest of the race. But, after I had run in this years Spartathlon all rainfall seems mild in comparison. After 50 minutes we arrived at Whitchurch CP in 16:22:00. We did not stop long, as I wanted to get this done now.
After crossing the toll bridge over to Pangbourne you rejoin the river and follow miles upon miles of fields until we reached Mapledurham lock. We saw Wendy and her pacer Paul heading back to Goring in this section. Wendy finished 3rd lady and 13th overall in 19:46:46. A lesson to me in how to pace a 100-mile race.
Next section is very familiar from running the Thames Path 100, Thames Ring 250 and all the Thames Trot races. We headed away from the river through Purley Village and a housing estate before crossing a railway footbridge (ouch, the steps) to get back to the river. This section you run between the river and the railway and once past that you are into Reading parks before reaching Reading town centre. We saw lots of people coming back here including James Adams who seemed pretty low and Rob and James had a quick catch-up, as they are both ultra veterans.
I knew we only needed to go out the other side of Reading to reach the boathouse checkpoint, but it seemed to be getting no closer and the rain was really coming down heavy now. We were both glad to see the checkpoint eventually. Time elapsed now 18:24:27 with 12.5 miles to go. As this was an indoor checkpoint and at one end of the last section when people are moving slower and are colder, I assumed it would have hot food. I was pretty disappointed to find the only thing hot they had was tea, so I had a cuppa, grabbed some fruit and left. The lack of hot foot probably saved me a good ten minutes on my finishing time, so not all bad.
When we left the Reading CP the rain storm was now biblical, but still nowhere near Spartathlon conditions. As we ran back through Reading along with an increasing feeling that we were in the finishing straight, there was also an increasingly ill/sick feeling from my stomach. I am not sure if it was the tea or more likely the fruit I ate, but a few minutes later and I was projectile vomitting. After three little episodes it seemed to be cleared out. Jason Mccardle and his wife came past us here.
After being sick I started feeling better almost immediately and we started to chase down Jason catching him just as we got to the railway footbridge (again). I kept a strong pace through the housing estate but as we crossed the fields heading back to Pangbourne I had to take a some walking breaks and Jason caught us just before Whitchurch CP. The streets of Whitchurch were like rivers.
No hanging about now, so after we had phoned Lucy and Jan to tell them to come and meet us at the finish we headed back out there. I could smell the finish. I knew that once I got up to the top of Whitchurch I could run the mostly downhill section back to Goring, so opened it up. We passed Jason Mccardle, Ken Fancett and a few others as I motored through the woods and I even left Rob behind as he had road shoes on and it was slippery. We soon reached the last flat bit through some fields to Goring and we saw James Adam’s walking in the dawn light in the distance and quickly caught him. We asked if he wanted to tag along with us but he declined, so we carried on running into Goring. We were now on the wooded path alongside the river and after the hard running of the last 30 minutes I said to Rob we should walk so I could get my breath back.
It seemed like we had dropped everyone that we had passed, so we walked along merrily chatting. We were just entering Goring and we could see the bridge when suddenly Rob looked behind and said there was a couple of runners, Tomasz Skokowski and Darius Przedwojski, coming up quick behind us. I looked back and said damned if I was going to let anyone pip me on the line, so I sprinted for the finish. It was probably only 8 or 9 minute mile pace, but at the end of a 100 mile race that is sprinting. I finished 17 seconds in front of them in the end for a final time of 21:40:58, 33rd place overall and 4th in the M50 category.
The Finish and
Job done! Four 100-mile races finished to come 15th in the 100 Grandslam, with a cumulative time of 91:35:31. I can see how I can do it faster, so maybe I should come back in 2020. I would definitely like to run SDW100 again.
After crossing the line I have to admit I did feel a bit emotional and that was the heavy rain dripping down my cheeks. Most of all I think the performance so close to Spartathlon was also my best 100-mile performance, despite being my only my second fastest ever 100-mile time. I am constantly being amazed at what my body is capable of, as I push it to do more and more extremes.
Was good to see James Elson, Nici Griffin, Chris Mills and of course my pacer Rob at the finish. Dick was strangely doing a garden gnome impression sitting on the radiator in the corner of the room, all he needed was a fishing rod. Jason arrived and I congratulated him on his 100 Grandslam. James Adams came in looking a bit defected, but a good solid performance on his first proper ultra for 3 years. I think we may see more of James out on the trails, as his kids get out of the toddler stage.
I thought to myself I have only been part of this friendly ultra running community (similar to care in the community) for 3 or 4 short years, but I now feel like I belong and I am looking forward to my next challenge and hanging my buckles in a presentation case on the wall at home.
Completing the Slam has definitely helped put the Spartathlon DNF to bed. My running at A100 (and Abingdon) has encouraged me to have a go at a Spartathlon AQ at Flitch 100k in January. I just need some rest first before I start an 8-week training block for that.
But first I will need to run Abingdon Marathon, due to a failed attempt to transfer my place. I also don’t like anything going to waste, so look out for my next blog post on my attempt to beat my marathon pb only one week after running the Autumn 100 and only three weeks after running 121-miles of Spartathlon. Like I said earlier, I am constantly amazed at what my mind and body can do.
Rob Treadwell for being a great pacer and keeping me distracted by chatting through the night despite the heavy rain
Stuart March Photography for the photos
All the volunteers at the Centurion checkpoints with a special thanks to Ian Hammett ‘what’s-his-name’ at Goring CP, Kate Hayden for her magical quad massage and the disco/rave checkpoint at Chain Hill, you are all stars.
Thanks to James Elson for not only putting on all the Centurion races but also for sending my Montane Spine jacket back to me after I left it in Goring Village Hall after I finished.