The Centurion Running Autumn 100 is a 100 mile ultramarathon beginning in the villages of Goring and Streatley on the Oxfordshire and Berkshire border. The race consists of four out and back legs of approximately 25 miles each which combine to make up the 100 mile distance. The route is varied with a near even split of Thames Path and Ridgeway with the village hall in Goring acting as the central hub and race HQ. The race appealed with its format mimicking that of my first ever ultra, Winter Cross Ultra, back in 2017. Additionally, one of my coached athletes completed the race in 2022 and recommended it.
This would be my 3rd attempt at the 100 mile distance following a DNF at 90 miles through the Cotswold Way Century in 2018 and eventual revenge with a successful completion of the same event in 2021. There’s just something special about this distance that has me wanting more!
Leg 1 – North on the Thames Path 03:32:37
It was a beautiful autumnal morning, pretty chilly early on which was most noticeable on the walk from the car to the village hall for registration. Laura and the kids dropped me off in Goring and watched the start of the race to see me off. Registration was speedy and well manned with volunteers and in no time I was changed, race vest packed and ready to roll. There was a short walk to the event start and race briefing over the bridge in Streatley and after a few formalities and a round of applause for a gentleman named Ken Fancett, who at the age of 74 was embarking on his 100th 100 miler, we were off.
I managed to get quite close to the front for the start despite my best intentions of holding back. I have a tendency to go out fast and I knew that with the first 25 miles being flat I needed to be careful. We set out heading North along the Thames Path and I managed to get fairly close to the front of the pack. Once the early nerves dissipated I found a rhythm and felt pretty comfortable even though I was running slightly faster than planned. Gradually the runners naturally separated out and I found myself running in a small group of 3.
I started chatting to the lead lady Sarah Page and her training partner Rob and we remained together for the duration of Leg 1. It was a pretty unremarkable leg really. In terms of terrain, there was a moderate amount of tarmac which was tempered by open fields and some beautifully shaded trail alongside the Thames. I managed to keep my footing over the abundant tree roots whilst enjoying watching the rowers tear up and down the Thames. We sailed past the mid-way aid station without stopping and before we knew it, started to meet runners coming the other way moving fast! We hit the aid station and turnaround point and after a very quick snack stop and water top-up we were on our way back to Goring, greeting all of the runners now coming towards us. It was lovely for those remaining miles to see everyone in such good spirits sharing a smile and a wave.
Leg 2 – East on The Ridgeway 07:40:56
We arrived back into Goring as a 3. Rob and I faffed about a little (I’d brought some macaroons and I was darned well going to eat them! ) and Sarah headed off out ahead of us. I was definitely feeling the earlier pace in my legs but the sun was still shining and overall I felt pretty good. Fuelling was going well, eating every 20 minutes aiming for 75g of carbs per hour (plus bonus macaroons…). We caught up to Sarah again but the group started to split shortly after. I was running at the front of our group and again quickly fell into a comfortable pace and slowly pulled away from Sarah and Rob. It was lovely to have company over the first quarter of the race but the next 50 miles turned out to be a head-down solo shift.
As the Thames Path wound through villages and then finally on to The Ridgeway, I was a little disappointed to see it confined to predominantly tree lined paths. I imagined the view was fantastic around me but couldn’t see past the trees and hedgerows. It did occasionally open out into fields, and eventually through an active golf course (twice!), but overall it was fairly straightforward undulating trails with the occasional barrage of tree roots to keep the mind on the job!
All of the elevation was in the middle 50 miles of the route although there was nothing particularly steep on this leg, just long gradual climbs and fast flowing descents. I again sailed through the mid-way point aid station without stopping and ploughed on until the turnaround point and aid station where I grabbed a few snacks and drink top-up and was swiftly on my way again. I’d even managed to pick off a couple of runners ahead of me during this section, much to my surprise. I tried to calculate my rough position based on the number of people that passed me on the return but was unable to fathom basic math and gave up trying.
Fuelling was still going well at this stage but my legs were definitely beginning to feel it. As I neared the village hall in Goring I have to say I began to feel terrible, legs felt dreadful and I’d been having issues with my right sock and toes for a while. I knew I needed to get this sorted as I’d ignored a foot issues during the Cotswold Way Century and paid the price with horrendously painful blisters during the latter stages and a true foot armageddon afterwards. I took my time at Goring, applied Vaseline to my toes and changed my socks. Also ate more macaroons… and then it was on to Leg 3.
Leg 3 – West on The Ridgeway 12:32:05
Mentally the sock change and short rest at Goring seemed to help, the mind overruled the body and I felt marginally better. I also made the decision for the first time in an ultra to wear headphones for this leg. I knew it would be tough – heading out into fairly exposed areas in the dark where the temperature was due to drop to low single digits and thought music might provide a welcome distraction. It worked a treat, so much so I wish I’d had it for leg 2!
There was a fairly large section of uphill tarmac heading out of Streatley before reaching The Ridgeway which was draining on the legs. Once back on the trail the views were spectacular, it was a shame that darkness was quickly on the way and I’d have limited time to take them in. As the hard-pack turned to rutted gras, I watched a beautiful sunset as it rained in distance in front of the sun. I knew I just had to buckle down on this leg as my good friend David Warren would be meeting me at Goring upon my return to pace the final 25 miles with me.
I hit the half-way aid station and stopped briefly to put on an extra layer and get my head torch out. As I got moving again I could see someone up ahead but couldn’t tell at distance whether they were a runner or hiker. As I closed on them I saw it was another runner who’d been ahead of me but had slowed and I gained another place. I kept a steady pace and was feeling okay although fuelling was not now going to plan. I’d had to switch to liquid calories in my flasks and solid food from aid stations but was thankfully still regularly taking in calories.
As I neared the turnaround point I was surprised by a runner coming past me, we had a brief chat and he said he’d had a second-wind and to be honest he was flying and I was a little demoralised. I hit the turnaround point where I got kit checked and offered Vodka. I politely declined as my stomach was doing backflips and I didn’t think adding alcohol to the mix would help… who knows though, maybe it was just what I needed. I told myself only 12.5 miles to go and I’d be back in Goring and have company… so as I set off on my return I was surprised to come across the gentleman that had recently passed me – I think his second-wind had blown through and he was now walking.
It was certainly an experience being out in the middle of nowhere following a stream of head torches coming towards you. At least there was little chance of mis-navigation even if the responses from saying “well done” to nearly every runner had all but dried up.
Leg 4 South on the Thames Path 18:03:40
I arrived back into Goring to a smiling and chirpy Mr Warren. I tried for a quick turnaround but ended up faffing more than I’d like again which ultimately wasn’t a bad thing as I was offered pasta and bolognaise which was swiftly despatched. I snaffled some more savoury snacks and inhaled a macaroon or two and was off with David towards Reading.
As we reached around the 5K mark, we saw a head torch coming towards us and concluded it must be the race leader. After a quick reality check that the he was around 22 miles ahead of us we gave a round of applause as he passed. Second and third passed before we reached the half-way aid station at Pangbourne. I decided not to stop. Although it was inside I had enough fluids on me and there were steps up to the refreshments – this was a novel stressor I didn’t feel I needed to introduce to my body at 81 miles deep. We kept moving forwards but at this point, things were really starting to hurt. My hip flexors were painful when I ran and the post-tib issue in my foot that I’d had for months prior was now raging at me. Safe to say I don’t think I was particularly great company at this point but huge credit to David for putting up with me, motivating me and pushing me on.
We hit the Reading outskirts quite quickly but it felt like it took forever to get to the turnaround point. There was so much tarmac although we were fortunate that there wasn’t too much in the way of Reading late-night wildlife (anyone who’s run through Dursley at one in the morning will know what I mean). I was run-walking now, we were doing a mini-fartlek… run to the next bridge (so many bridges!) and then walk for a bit. We hit the turnaround point and went into the aid station. The volunteers were lovely and I had some soup and a few snacks. We asked how close the runners behind us were so that we had an idea of what the return journey was going to be like. They told us that I was currently in sixth place and that according to the trackers, the next runners were around 10 minutes away and running as a pair. Imagine our surprise as we left the aid station and almost immediately saw two head torches coming towards us! Honestly, I’d kind of given up any hope of fighting at this point – I don’t like being hunted and certainly didn’t feel that I was in any real shape to hold them off. But yet again, David somehow managed to gently motivate me into deciding whether I’d truly be happy to give up or fight for my position… so fight we did.
Most of the journey back to Goring was a blur but the reassurance of a route recently travelled meant at least there weren’t any surprises with the course. I’d managed to get running freely again which meant we managed to stay ahead of the chasing runners. We occasionally looked back and the sight of pursuing head torches kept us honest, especially so as we headed back in to Goring with just over a mile to go. The head torches seemed really close – so we ran as hard as we could. Probably my most impressive performance banging out a near 8 minute mile at 99 miles in. I also had a sprint finish at the Marlborough Downs Challenge earlier in the year, it’s a worrying trend! It was surprising then to see on the results that 7th place was 10 minutes and 8th place was 20 minutes behind – maybe the mind was playing tricks on me?
And so I finished, in the early hours of Sunday morning, with 18:03:40 on the clock and in 6th position. My A goal for this race was to try and sneak into the top 10, not knowing if it was possible with it being a hugely popular and competitive event. I was delighted to tick that one off.
Summary (i.e. TLDR)
Overall a fantastic event from Centurion Running, well organised and with some very enthusiastic and supportive volunteers at the aid stations. It wasn’t the most scenic ultra I’ve run and probably ultimately a little flat for my tastes but it definitely had its moments. My fuelling was on point until 50 miles with a combination of Precision Hydration products but beyond that I tired of the taste and texture and was glad to have packed Active Root drink and SiS gels as backup alongside the well stocked aid stations. Music was my saviour for miles 50 – 75, so much so that I wish I’d taken my headphones from mile 25 so that I at least had that option available. I’m hugely grateful to David for pacing me over the final quarter of the race. I’m not sure I’d have been able to fight anywhere near as hard if he wasn’t there to motivate me and I definitely hope one day to be able to return the favour.