This is about draft eight of my race report. The others are lying around, in various stages of completeness, abandoned because they’re too long or so dull that I’ve lost the will to write them. For me, Autumn 100 was not a battle against the elements (conditions were perfect), or against the terrain (both the Ridgeway and the Thames Path were as benign as I’ve ever known them). It wasn’t about gritting through pain (I got through the whole race without any major niggles, avoided the crippling blisters I’ve been plagued with at other races and staved off general foot ache with a well-timed change of shoes at mile 83), or pushing the boundaries of my physical ability (I was niggle free, had run the race before, and knew I was well trained and capable of a finish).
Instead it was a collection of stories, some just fragments, some a little more fleshed out. Stories which kept my mind from dwelling on how much I wanted this finish, and all the things that could possibly go wrong.
Grand Slam Stories
After a year of racing together, I’ve put faces to a fair number of fellow grand slammers. Some, like Shawn, I knew before the Grand Slam started. Others, like Mark, I’d played leapfrog with at one or other of the earlier races. A few, like Ash and Jo, had stumbled mid-journey, but were back at A100 to see the year out. Roz, Mel and Peter had ended up near me on the Grand Slam table and had unwittingly become my in-race markers. Playing spot the Grand Slammers (Were they ahead? Were they behind? Was I gaining on them? Were they pulling away? Were they heading for a sub-24? Were they skirting cut-offs?) kept me entertained for hours.
Family and friends
In addition to the grand slammers, I also had any number of friends and family on and around the course. Ellen, Sarah and Susie were racing, familiar Centurion Army faces were at Goring, North Stoke, Reading and pretty much every Aid Station in between, and my family had driven up to Wallingford to say hello, where they’d been joined by a parkrunning friend. That meant I was rarely more than a couple of hours between hugs and hellos, and anticipating those helped to break the race up into more manageable chunks and kept me on an even keel.
This was one aspect of the race I could have done without. A face plant on leg 1 left me with nothing worse than a splinter in my hand (I’m sure I’ve had more bizarre running injuries, but none spring to mind). Then on leg 2, about three miles from the turnaround, I caught my toe on a tree-root as I was running downhill and jarred my left shoulder quite badly. I sat on the ground and took stock. Wrist? Fine. Elbow? Fine. Shoulder? Not dislocated. Did move. Dull rather than sharp pain. I got up and carried on. By the time I reached the turnaround point, my arm was still swinging well from back to front, but the Chicken Song was out of the question. Heartened that running was still viable, I headed back to Goring paying special attention to tree-roots. It was all going so well… and then I moved to the side to let a couple of runners past me and promptly face planted again.
Hello, My Pickle
The first part of leg 2 has a few gentle inclines. They’re easily runnable when fresh, but with 25 odd miles in my legs, I found myself dropping into a hike as I went up them. At one point, I noticed a runner up ahead who’d stopped to tie a shoelace or something, and realised that the path had flattened out. “Right, my pickle,” I said out loud, “this is NOT a hill!”. A nearby bush laughed. Ah. Not tying a shoelace but waiting for another runner. A few miles later, as I was sorting my feet out at a crew-stop, two runners sailed past me calling out “Hello, my pickle!” as they went. They passed me again before the end of the leg (witnessing the third and thankfully last of my face-plants), and although one of the pair dropped shortly after halfway, I got another three “Well done, pickle”s before the race was out: one as he overtook me on leg 3, one towards the leg 3 turnaround and a final one somewhere on leg 4. Each one made me smile.
Go, James, Go!
I’m coached by James, and I have volunteered at a fair number of Centurion Events, so he is on my ever-growing list of ultra-runners to stalk. If he’s running in a race, there’s a good chance I’ll be following live updates, willing him on. About fifth place on leg 1, in the lead on leg 2, out on leg 4 before I’d started leg 3. As I headed back into Bury Downs on the return half of leg 3, I realised that he’d almost certainly have finished. “Any news of James?” I asked as I reached the Aid Station. “Yes! He won. New course record. 14:35.” So basically, he runs 100 miles in the time it takes me to run 100km. And yes, that little bit of maths did take me about 30 mins to do at 2am in the morning.
As with TP100, SDW100 and NDW100, I’d decided to run the race without a watch. Every time I reached Goring, I’d look at the clock on the wall to see where I was relative to the 24-hour pace. At the race last year, I’d been 50 mins ahead of time after leg 1, had held that for leg 2, had haemorrhaged time on leg 3 and come with less than 10 mins in hand and had then taken another 7 hours and 15 minutes to finish. This year, I’d finished leg 1 with 80 minutes to spare and had held on to that on leg 2. But by the end of leg 3 my cushion had dropped to 50 minutes, 40 by the time I’d congratulated James on his win and pressed poor Donna into service re-lubricating my bra line. As I left the hall, I knew I had 6 hours and 40 minutes to complete the leg. The leg that had taken me 7 hours and 15 minutes last year. The sub-24 was mine for the taking, but was far from in the bag. By mile 83, my feet were screaming, and I was running less and less. I took a gamble and swapped my trail shoes for my recovery pillows – shoes I’d never run more than 6 miles in at a stretch. By the time I reached Reading, I’d had to loosen my shoes 4 times, and I’d hiked more than I’d run, but I’d beaten the dawn and my feet felt better than they had in ages. I bounded up the steps (my story, my verbs), gave Alma a quick hug, and glanced at the clock. Shit. It was 6:45am, and I’d used over half my remaining time. How much did I want that one day buckle? I ran away from the Aid Station. Three and a quarter hour half marathon pace. It was doable if only I could run. I walked. I’ll run at the bench. I’ll stay running to the bridge. I’ll run at the tree. I’ll stay running to the corner. I’ll run at the twig. I’ve passed the twig. Why am I still walking? Run from the gate. RUN, YOU LAZY LUMP, RUN! YOU ARE NOT MISSING OUT ON THIS BUCKLE! YOU. WILL. BLOODY. WELL. RUN! Just as soon as you’ve reached that runner. AAAAAARGH!
Fortunately for my dreams, the runner was Phil, another Grand Slammer who was also trying to motivate himself to run. We gee’d each other on for a bit, before he dropped back, but by then I had the bit between my teeth. At Tilehurst, mile 92, I ditched everything in my bag that was not part of the mandatory kit, and tried to push on to Pangbourne. I got there and grabbed Andy.
“What’s the time? Tell me the time!”
“Shit! 85 minutes for 6 miles. With a hill. I’m screwed!”
“It’s 5 miles. You can do it. Go, go go!”
I went. I stopped at Whitchurch just long enough to call out my number, hiked up the hill as best I could, ran down the other side, praying that I wouldn’t trip on another tree root. A runner came flying past me at 4 min/mile pace. I tried to syphon off some of his energy, but he’d vanished into the distance before I’d got my hosepipe out. I reached the bottom of the hill. 2 miles to go. I reached the Please Be Quiet signs. 1.5 miles to go. The bridge. Just under a mile and a half to go. I flagged down a passer-by.
“Time! Do you have the time?”
“Are you sure?”
He gave me a strange look. Yes. He was sure. 35 minutes. Less than a mile and a half. For the first time since leaving Goring, I started to relax. The mile point came and went, and Shawn went sailing past with his pacer Luke. Yes! Shawn was on for his sub-24! I tried to stay with them, but they were on fire. I emerged off the mud path and onto the paved towpath where Andy was waiting. Half a kilometre to go. We ran along the path. Shawn looked back and said he’d wait. We turned the corner together, but when it became clear that he had a final sprint in his legs, I sent him on his way. I ran, with Andy, to the hall, turned the corner and crossed the line.
I bounced around the room squealing and hugging everyone.
100 miles. One day! Done!
And I have the buckle to prove it.