The reason for entering the Autumn 100 was to complete a long distance run the year before my ArchtoArc where I will be running 89 miles from London to Dover.
I started the A100 a few years back and dropped at 50 miles… I had entered on a bit of a whim(maybe subconsciously to find my limits) and I found my limits that day!
Fast forward to 12th October and I was once again toeing the start line. This time failure was not an option. If I walked for 50 miles, then I walked for 50 miles but I was going to complete 100 miles on foot. For the days leading up to the race I was SO nervous. I would be stepping into the unknown and I just didn’t know what to expect from myself. Most people would probably have done more weekly mileage in the lead up to this race but juggling 3 sports, a job and a family I had a 5 week ramp up of mileage culminating in a 60 mile week(which is a lot for me).
Working through sleep deprivation was another reason for doing this race and the long hours of October darkness would ensure that I felt the full force of manipulating my body clock! A few weeks back I rode 180 miles around Brands Hatch overnight(followed by Reigate Half Marathon in the morning) and was surprise at my adaptability to cycling through the night- hopefully this event had helped.
The Centurion Autumn 100 is 4 x 25 miles legs(12.5miles out and 12.5miles back with a checkpoint at around halfway and at the furthest point). The route takes runners along the Thames Path for legs 1 and 4 and The Ridgeway for legs 2 and 3, creating a sort of cross shape on the map.
The forecast was fairly straightforward. It would be wet. The chances of rain for the entire 28 hour allowance was high. On the upside, the temperature was set to stay in 2 figures so at least it would not be freezing cold.
At first, I was adamant that I would not use the allowed ‘pacer’ from 50 or 75 miles as I wanted to race independently and without distraction. As time got closer to the event, Mark suggested he needed to do a long run and that he could be my pacer for the final 50 miles. Best decision we ever made!
Starting lap 1 I felt relaxed and ensured that I didn’t push forwards at any point. 9.30-10 min miles would be fine and with lots of gates in the first few miles, the pace was naturally restrained. The ground underfoot along the Thames Path was muddy and this was a continued theme for the rest of the run. The more it rained, the muddier the ground became. It was energy sapping but because it was a constant for the entire race, it became our normal.
My hips started to hurt worryingly early- I think before 10 miles. By the end of the 25 mile lap I was feeling anxious about the rest of the race… there was no way I was DNFing so the only option was to work through the pain! I grabbed my drop bag from Goring Village Hall and put my lightweight rain jacket in my bag. I was still in shorts but had put a long sleeved top on and would soon add another layer as the rain soaked through. I didn’t spend much time in the checkpoint and grabbed a few jam sandwiches to eat on the way out to lap 2. I knew Mark was meeting me at the end of this 25 mile lap and as I headed out I decided to put an audio book on(Vassos Alexander). Suddenly it was like someone had flicked a switch; I felt great- relaxed and calm. I stopped to check a sign and paused my watch- a sign that I felt more like I was on a training run and not in a race(I never pause my watch in a race). The Ridgeway leg was great- more mud but more hills to walk up and jog down. Each leg had a halfway checkpoint(and the same on the way back) as well as a turnaround checkpoint. They were all brilliantly stocked with sandwiches, cheese, sweets, chocolate and enthusiastic volunteers ready to help with anything. I generally had rather a nice time and was happy with my pace. The sky started to darken with about 3 miles to go. I kept jogging, too lazy to get my head torch out of my bag. With 2 miles to go it was getting pretty dark. I caught up with a guy I had seen earlier in fantastic pink calf guards. We both agreed we would be tuning into our night vision and continued running. Thankfully, just as it was getting too dark to see the path in front of our eyes, another guy I had been running with earlier approached with a headtorch on. We all stuck together(or myself and pink calf guard guy stuck with him) until we entered Goring for the second time. Mark was there and it was so lovely to see him – before the run I was adamant I wanted to do this on my own and take whatever the race was to throw at me. The idea of a ‘pacer’ made me uneasy… sometimes in a long race you get into your own head and when someone comes into that bubble it can disrupt everything. That didn’t happen. I was SO excited to see Mark and SO happy that he would be running next to me for the next 50 miles.
We headed out into the Ridgeway again. It was dark and I was quite cold but we started running. My heart rate was at its lowest even though we were jogging uphill. I was happy, catching up on the day and what Mark had done with the boys. I felt great. The first checkpoint came at around 6 miles into the leg. The little tent in the middle of nowhere was blaring out Groove Armada’s ‘I See You Baby’. I had a jig, top up of tailwind and a chunk of cheese and was ready to go. Heading out onto the next section which would be 6.5 miles out and 6.5 miles back I started to feel really weary for the first time. We were still travelling uphill and the terrain was unforgiving. The beam of light from my headtorch revealed an endless path of mud and being on a ridge meant the wind and rain was driving at us; it felt never ending. Every step I took towards the next checkpoint was spent dreading the steps I would have to take back along this churned up track. Eventually we got to the checkpoint- more colourful fairy lights lit up the tent and the warm faces of the volunteers welcomed us.
A few bites of watermelon and a top up of tailwind(never had this before but drank litres and litres of the stuff – easy calories) and we turned to face the 12.5 miles back to Goring. At the midway checkpoint I stopped and put on my waterproof trousers. My legs were really cold and it was affecting my core temperature- an extra layer on my legs made a huge difference and I suddenly felt a lot better. Although the way out had felt all uphill, so did the way back- how was this possible?? We trudged and jogged, I was now desperate for the miles to tick over and made a huge effort to run down some of the longer descents. We finally reached the road that would take us into Goring. The pavement was bliss compared to the mud. I had doubts at this point though, I kept voicing that I didn’t know how I was going to run the last leg- I had no idea how hard I was going to have to dig.
As we jogged into Goring we were met by friend Hedley who had just paced a competitor for the final 25miles to the finish. He was a huge help replacing my headtorch batteries and topping up my bottles whilst I took off wet layers and put on dry ones.
I had a quick coffee whilst sorting my stuff out and we quickly left Goring for the final time. I worked out that we had just over 7 hours to complete the next 25 miles in order to make it back under 24 hours and went out ready to smash it. 400 metres down the Thames Path and the enormity of the task in hand hit home…I couldn’t care less what time we finished in- I was done and ready to fight for survival!
The first checkpoint came far too quickly considering this lap was meant to be around 27miles(there was a detour in place to avoid an unsafe bridge). I went to the toilet and heard Mark talking to the marshals. When I came out he told me to make sure I had enough fuel as the next checkpoint was 9 miles away. 9 MILES! The next 9 miles was by far the hardest of the entire race. I was so tired that my eyes began to close and as much as I tried to keep them open I kept falling asleep whilst running. All sorts of funny noises and whimpers kept escaping my mouth and at some point a few miles away from the checkpoint I just broke down in tears. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. Mark kept reassuring me that it would pass but conversation was limited. We stopped and he told me to put my head on his chest and close my eyes. He held me really tight and I felt my body go limp within seconds. 15 seconds later and I lifted my head off his chest- he told me to do that as many times as I needed to and we jogged on with a renewed grit. I struggled on, tiredness overtaking the pain in my legs. We went past a few benches next to the river and I finally gave in and told Mark I had to sit down and close my eyes. I sat and instantly fell asleep, still aware of a few people who passed asking if we were ok. A few minutes later I felt the cold creep into my bones and jolted awake- I knew I had to get moving. I was freezing and had to get jogging. I slapped my face a few times, trying to keep awake. Funny whimpering noises and lots of face slapping later and we finally, finally caught sight of Reading. It seemed like an age but we saw familiar faces coming back in the other direction. One man told us it wasn’t far to go-2.5km. It took forever but finally we reached the checkpoint (which was up a flight of stairs!). Just before we arrived I burst into tears again- I couldn’t bear to think about doing the return journey. Once inside the volunteers looked concerned as I walked to the furthest chair, sat down and closed my eyes. All I wanted to do was sleep. There were others in the room that looked like they were DNFing but I wasn’t really paying attention to much else around me.
A lovely lady went and made me a black coffee and pulled a table over to the chair I was sitting in. I put my head on the table and felt myself falling into unconsciousness again. When I woke, probably only 5 minutes later,I felt a little better and drunk my black coffee. I spent time nibbling at bits of cake and eating some grapes. The mile before and including the stop totalled 43 minutes so we were clearly there for around 25 minutes although I had no real concept of time at that point. As we left(I was wearing all of my layers and 2 of Mark’s) I was freezing cold. We walked and didn’t do anything but walk for the next 13 miles. I somehow felt much happier. The coffee had worked and I felt more alert. I was happy that the pressure of time was no longer there and that the mileage was slowly ticking down. The sky had begun to lighten and slowly night turned to a grey day. The next battle came after we had left the final checkpoint. My feet started to really hurt. Mark’s feet were also hurting. I just wanted it to end but walking at about 3 miles an hour meant that miles were going slowly. Step by step we got closer and closer. Finally we saw the bridge into Goring. I felt the emotion build up and just before we round the final corner into the village I turned and gave Mark a huge hug- no way could I have done that final 25 miles without him there. Composing myself, I said we should jog the final 100 metres to the finish. We did and it was such a relief to get there. I made a little joke about sprinting across the timing mat and then entered the hall where it was kind of like any other finish of a running race. Autopilot kicked in and I received my medal and tshirt, had a quick photo and ordered a coffee. I grabbed my drop bag and got changed quickly- Mark had to drive us home and needed to keep going on adrenaline!
We drove home and passed out for an hour before my mum brought the kids back. We then visited Mark’s parent with the kids where we got fed and had naps!! My mum was amazing and did the school runs on Monday as well as looking after our lively 3 year old!
My legs are slowly returning to normal but I don’t have much recovery time as 6 days after finishing the A100 I will be on the start line of OtillO Swimrun Cannes(apologies in advance to my teammate Adam Wade for being slightly off peak!!)
Many congratulations to all who finished the A100 and to all the amazing volunteers who selflessly sat in the middle of nowhere for an entire day.
Massive thanks to our family who looked after the children and generally took care of everything else.
To Mark for always saying the right things at the right time- it’s rare to be able to put your full trust in someone when times get pretty desperate but I know I could do just that.