Autumn 100, Agony & Ecstasy
I was talked into this race, quite convincingly, by Naomi Newton-Fisher. A formidable runner who seems to be part human, part bionic. “It will be fun! You are so ready!”
Buoyed by her confident sales pitch I signed up with 4 weeks to go. This would not be my first 100 having run the Thames Path 100 back in 2014 with Naomi. Unable to remember large chunks of it I came over the line in 24hrs 57 minutes. (Naomi beasted it came 4th lady and went on to turn 100 mile runs, and further, into her forte.) This would be my second attempt.
I set myself one goal and one goal only, to come over the line in under 24 hours and claim the “100 miles - One Day" buckle.
Autumn 100 is four out and back 25 mile spurs from Goring-On-Thames.
Advantages: You get to see lots of your fellow runners as you pass each other. You can be as indecisive as you like with your kit as you return to Goring every 25 miles (I brought enough for twenty 100 mile races). Ticking off each 12.5 miles is appealing.
Disadvantages: Prolonged length of darkness (12 hours). Running past the car that can easily take you home seven times.
“You’ll be fine!” “No problem for you Susie!” Lots of encouragement and faith in me before the start, but the truth was it was the most nervous I have been for a race for a very, very long time. There is no such thing as an easy 100 miles. I had put a lot of pressure on myself for the sub 24. Some of the “Grandslammers” looked nervous too. These hardy runners do all 4 Centurion 100 mile races. For them they were 1 race and 100 miles from eternal glory.
Fake bravado and seeing so many familiar friendly faces helped. The weather and course underfoot could not be more perfect. James Elson, Race Director, gave us all instructions (“don’t start off too fast!”) before handing over the klaxon and joining us at the start line. He would be running one of his own races for the first time.
Spur 1. Thames Path – to Little Wittenham. The spur where I went too fast, didn’t eat anything or drink that much either.
I can get through 25 miles without eating anything and the pace felt quite comfortable. It was slightly too fast, but it is hard to tell as the pace feels sedate. It was early days though. It was to be my undoing later on. I could not shift the niggly ankles and feeling of unease within myself. At only the 18 mile point I was doubting everything. Lots of people to chat to helped me distract myself in this flat 25 miles. Back at Goring I changed my trainers and realised I had not eaten or drank anything. A terrible strategy for a long race…
Spur 2 Ridgeway – to Swyncombe. The Spur where I ate jam tarts, felt better and got a bit lost and the best text ever.
After taking on some electrolytes and drinking I felt a bit better. The ankles were getting worse, but nothing that I hadn’t muddled through before. Still feeling uneasy the prospect of another 75 miles seemed quite awful. At some point I ate some jam tarts and received a text;
"Dear Susie, you don’t know us, we’re Tim’s daughters, Daddy has just told us what you are doing, we think you are awesome, we wanted you to know, Keep going x"
This was so uplifting it made everything better. Rejuvenated by the text and jam tarts, I enjoyed some good head space and hilly running. Despite it being an out and back and extraordinarily well signed, I managed to get a bit lost on a golf course. Not to worry, from 50 miles there would be the company from my pacers.
Goring - 50 miles in, 9hrs 11min. I forced half a Pot Noodle down my neck and drank a recovery shake. Selfless pacer, speedster Andy Cooney would see me through the next 25 miles at a pace so slow and unfamiliar to his legs; they would have no idea what was happening to them.
Spur 3 – to Chain Hill. The spur with the hills, stones, a lot of sweary words and a mobile disco.
This leg had the biggest climbs and now it was dark I was so very grateful for Andy’s company. I’m scared of the dark and it would be 12 hours before the sun came back up again. The pace had reduced to walking stints on the hills and kicking huge stones as my legs got tired. Kicking stones REALLY hurt. My entire lexicon of swear words exhausted, I started making some up for Andy’s benefit every time I managed to stub my toe again. Choosing not to stop at CPs for very long Andy would get me a cup of tea and catch me up. Running along with a cup of tea in the dark is not easy. It is safe to say Andy’s gloves got more tea than me. At some point a runner dressed in fairy lights ran with us. He had a mobile disco, blasting out some classic tunes from the 80’s. It was surreal and wonderful. Despite being an out and back route the whole thing inexplicably seemed to be uphill. It was like running in an MC Escher picture. I had been slow and terrible company for poor Andy. Kissing him goodbye at mile 75 where Shaun took over. It was a long time until sunrise and a long time for poor Shuan to listen to me vocalising all my doubts and worries.
Spur 4 - to Reading. The Spur where it was like being really drunk, I fell to pieces, and finally, 88 miles in, pulled myself together.
You know when you are really drunk and your legs go in a different direction to the one your head is telling them too? Or when you are drunk and you are talking slowly and deliberately, slightly slurring your words? So drunk you could fall asleep leaning on something? So drunk you’re mad hungry but think you might vomit at any moment? This was me! Except I was not drunk, I was 80 miles into a race. My focus on sub 24 became an obsession asking Shaun every 10 minutes if I was going to make it. My declining speed meant at times it was close. I started seeing giant trees in front of my eyes (not actually there) and felt rather hopeless. Shaun was an absolute rock in the face of my pathetic wailing. Food still an issue, in the last 35 miles the only things eaten were fruit and milkshake. Upon reaching Reading at mile 88, for the first time in the whole race I finally knew it was in the bag. This was the best bit by far. Pain, anxiety, sickness and fatigue were replaced with pure joy... As the miles picked up quicker and quicker, the goal moved from sub 24, to sub 23 to sub 22,30.
Crossing the line in 22hrs 28 minutes race director Nici handed me my buckle. Instantly all the agony was forgotten. The other race director, James Elson, won in a staggering time of 14hrs 35 minutes. Some of the performances during this race were astonishing, from the 66-year-old Grandslam winner, to the outstanding female leads. All of the Grandslam entrants evoke huge respect. In this race amongst such greatness, I’m distinctly average and it was a real honour to be part of it. A100 had stripped me right back. It was like being at the beginning of my run journey again. Standing at my first ever start line wondering if I could make it. No confidence, unprepared, worrying that everyone else is so accomplished. It wore me down and then built me up, made me realise what I COULD do rather than could not. It made me stronger. It was the biggest race high I’ve experienced since my very first race ever.
What a journey. Centurion races really are the best in the UK. 73 fantastic volunteers. 22 Grandslammers, 156 finishers. 156 superb performances.
1 great race.
THANK YOU’S Everyone at Centurion, especially Nici who told me straight what I needed to do. Naomi N-F for making me do it, Sophie R for the early morning call of support, all of Twitter – I read every single message and they helped so much! My Ma for driving for ages to see me run past her. Andy Cooney, what a great guy you are Andy. Apologies for the terrible language, thank you for all the tea. Fellow Runners; ray of Sunshine Emily F, Alex C, Sarah B, Iain B, Warwick, Grandslammers Bryan & Louise (cake queen) and of course husband Shaun for the unrelenting support and making a bedside picnic for me post race. Xxx
Photo credits: Stuart March Photography, Sarah Booker, Sharon Bareham