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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.
Let’s get this out of the way first: the weather was not ideal. It rained from dawn until gone midnight. The only solution to this was a good sense of humour. This isn’t about who can run the fastest, it’s about who can laugh the most heartily at their soggy pants.
My priority was to finish the race. My hope was to go under 24 hours. I roughly needed to do 10k every hour and a half. I knew I would go faster than that for the first 50k or so, which would be time banked for the back half of the race. I would make my own contingency for when the trail got sloppy, the vertical ascents were nature’s own slip ‘n’ slide, and the night crept into my soul. As darkness falls and fatigue creeps, there are strange shapes in those woods.
My God, it was beautiful. In May of this year, I had a shocker of a time failing to run the Thames Path 100 – that flat terrain couldn’t have been further from my comfort zone. But here, with vertiginous climbs, rolling, technical single track and sprawling fields, I was home. In the latter stages there are some uninspiring sections on single carriageways, but then you reach a McDonald’s on a roundabout where a woman asks you, “Are you runner-Barbie?” and you are confused back into joy.
I craved the uphills where others swore at them. When I realised I was easily picking people off on the ascents, I reassessed my goals. About 20 miles in, a woman at an aid station told me I was the 4th woman to come through. I smirked and said, “I’ll work my way up.” I don’t know where that came from. The words just fell out of my mouth. But a fire had been lit. Shortly before that aid station I’d seen legendary ultra runner and sheRACES founder Sophie Power running in the opposite direction. This might have been the kindling I needed.
But hey. 100 miles is a long time. Generally, you don’t turn the screw in any meaningful way until the end, unless you want to blow up. You’ve just got to hold strong.
The women’s race was really exciting. The top 5 women were close, but with Charlotte Fisher in 1st leading from gun to tape. The aid station at mile 71 – Detling – was probably where the race took shape for the rest of us. I changed clothes completely because I was soaked through and knew that I’d be able to do my best work if I felt fresh. There were about three other women in the toilets. I think we all clocked each other and got out of that aid station pretty sharply. I was monosyllabic with a volunteer who wanted to chat, and ate my cheesy beans on the move.
The woman who ultimately came 2nd – Rachel Gillings – ran an astonishingly smart race. It looks like she hung back until Detling, then put the hammer down. I left that aid station in 3rd and she overtook me when I went the wrong way shortly after leaving. But looking at the splits, that wouldn’t have made a difference. I had a colossally tough time in the mud but she bossed through it.
Cat Hicks who came 4th also paced her race really well. Her, Rachel and I didn’t overtake Megan Davies, who had been in 2nd place for the majority of the race, until mile 94. She was walking up a short incline and I knew I just had to run up it, overtake her (saying “well done!”), and keep turning the screw for the last 10k.
This is what is so fascinating to me about pacing 100 miles. You don’t know when you’re going to blow up, fade, peak or thrive. You can hazard a guess, you can use previous experience to a certain extent, but so much depends on the conditions, the terrain, how your fuelling goes, other people in the race and what’s going on in your life.
Miles 82 – 92 were probably my lowest point. I employed ultra runner Devon Yanko’s mantra – “Tomorrow is Sunday.” I thought about my sofa a lot. I gazed up at the stars and the moon in wonder. Then the sky started to hue into blue – the sun was coming up. I thought this experience would make me feel hungover, but actually it did what everyone says it does – it gave me a new lease of life. The sooner I got to the end, the sooner I would be on my sofa. (I haven’t had one since 2021, hence the novelty.)
I needed to get pragmatic. Walking was too easy, and I wasn’t here to take the easy way out. I didn’t know how close the next woman was behind me (very close, actually), nor indeed how far ahead the next woman was (again, very close.) I decided to run for 4 minutes, walk for 1, and do this until I felt better. I only did it for about half an hour, but it got me through a chunk of the 10k I was currently running in. I was still within my target of 10k every 90 minutes. This fact made me feel better – I had clawed myself back. I could run continuously again.
At the last aid station – aptly named “Dunn Street” – a volunteer met me on the road and asked if I was running straight through. Yes. Yes I was. “You’re moving really well. Almost there now.”
The sun coming up over the next field was one of the most beautiful sights of the past 23 hours. Given the context, I would categorise it as one of the most beautiful sights of my life. I could see men further up ahead running gently between the crops. We were all so close to the end now.
I was absolutely caning it for the last 10k. Strava would tell you I was hovering around 6-6:30 minutes per kilometre, but it felt like my 10k pace. I was wheezing. I wanted to just empty the tank and see if I could catch the next woman. I had absolutely no idea where I was in the rankings, so I knew this could be my only chance to podium. But I was also rinsing it just for myself. This was my first 100 mile race, something that had been an impossible dream for a long time.
The run through Ashford to the finish line went on forever, and I had to dial back my enthusiastic pace. I walked with a group of men for a bit and we dithered in the middle of the road, laughing. One of them pointed out the peaks of the tents at the finish line and I kicked into my final sprint. I turned into the Julie Rose Stadium, saw the track and saw the finish arch. I cried to see it. My previous experience of Centurion races had only been a DNS and a DNF, so getting under that arch was an epic feat in itself.
300m. 200m. 100m. Finish. 23:06.19.
I don’t actually understand how I did this. Any of it. Not the distance, the execution, the sub 24 hours, not the podium. I don’t know how. I know in very practical terms, but not in any real way. It’s a very simple thing to do, but it is not easy.
After my Thames Path 100 experience, I’d been thinking a lot about Freidrich Nietszche. (Go with me on this.) One of the biggest stumbling blocks during that race was the pointlessness of it all. People often find Nietzsche to be depressing, but actually, his writing is incredibly life-affirming: he sees the meaninglessness of life as a liberating thing. This is something I had somehow forgotten. His oft quoted “God is dead” is not a void of negativity, it’s an opportunity.
…I promise I’m not going to make this race report an in-depth philosophical analysis, mainly because I can’t remember a lot of it from my English Lit dissertation, but I do remember that Nietzsche’s writing on the Will to Power is about using that meaninglessness to create meaning; to be a better version of yourself every day, das übermensch – “the superman”. Running is the epitome of that. During the race, when my brain tilted towards pointlessness, I actively tilted it back this way; here I was, creating meaning with each step, being a better version of myself than I was the day before.
I will leave you with this, my favourite quote from Martin Heidegger’s writings on Nietzsche:
“Life lives in that it bodies forth.”
100 miles. One day. A day in the life.
I will also leave you with this astonishing film. Completing this race was significant because it means I can enter the Western States 100 lottery, and start what will likely be a decade long process to get in. But it starts here.
First off, apologies if my race blogs seem a bit self indulgent and pity seeking. They’re not meant to be. I like to write these for bigger events, as a record of my experience, good & bad, for reference and for something to look back on. A bit of running nostalgia for when I’m no longer able or willing to do these types of things. To also remind me to think very hard before entering such silly events again, especially after the aches, pains and funny walk have been long forgotten. I’ll try to keep this fairly balanced, as ultimately, it’s easy in the early days following an event, to focus mainly on the mistakes and adversity. Especially when they feature heavily in the event, as was the case here.
First off. Why this distance & race? I’ll admit that having done a few 100k races, I always considered 100 miles to be too far. I’m probably not cut out for these longer endurance distances and the stress on your body cannot be good for you. However, being mindful that I’m not getting any younger and some close runner friends have completed this distance, it’s something I’ve not been able to get past. To complete 100miles. Just for the sake of doing it. To ‘put it to bed’ and to know that I’d ticked that box. After all, it’s often considered ‘the’ distance for an ultra runner to complete. And I appreciate that lots of runners have done this distance many times and even further. Sometimes much further. But that’s not for me. I’m content to draw the line at 100 miles. As for this particular race, I’d heard great things about Centurion Running and know of a good number of runners that have done this event as their first 100. And to top it off, the South Downs Way reminds me of my younger years in Portsmouth and family trips out to QECP and Butser Hill. Nothing mountainous, but rolling hills.
In terms of preparation, things had gone relatively to plan. Not that I tend to have much of a plan, but this was slightly more focused than most of my training. Some longer runs, London Marathon, a night run on Imber and some back to backs. A lot with Mark, my running companion on this particular adventure. Thankfully, I’ve had no real injuries to contend with, just the usual niggles.
Race day came around quicker than expected and after a late night finalising food and kit, standard procrastination, I eventually settled for about 3-4 hours of light sleep before the 2.30am alarm. Peter turned up to collect us in his Bongo van, after very generously volunteering to be our chauffeur and crew man for the event. As well as being a superstar for offering his services, after not being able to race this event himself, Peter is also a seasoned ultra guru and all round top bloke. Great to have on your team. The drive down to Winchester was a blur with some banter, plenty of anxiousness and a lot of tiredness. Once registered, trackers strapped to our packs, potions applied, last minute kit checks, etc, etc, it was time for the race brief and then the 6am off.
After several laps around and through the natural bowl setting of the race village, and a few rounds of slightly premature clapping and encouragement by the spectators, we headed off to join the South Downs Way. The start of our 100(ish) mile challenge. Whilst the first 10 miles should have been fairly uneventful and ideally a bit slower, perhaps a lot slower, the good ol runners tummy issues took hold early on. I put this down to the early start and a bit of stress, but by the second check point at QECP, at around mile 22, I’d already had several unpleasant evacuation stops (the most savoury way to describe events) and I was starting to feel very sick. From there in, things went downhill for me. I felt completely washed out and my energy was rapidly wavering. It was only when looking through some pics Mark took, that I remembered stopping at a medics car to seek some help. The diarrhoea tablets they offered didn’t really do much, especially considering the loss of fluids I’d already suffered.
From around 30 miles onwards I couldn’t stomach anything, a horrible situation to be in, given the need for hydration and fuel. I felt more and more sick and had to be chaperoned through some of the toughest miles I’ve endured in a long time, through to the next aid station at around 36 miles. At times struggling to string a sentence together. I just wanted to curl up on the side of the path, as I felt I had nothing, and I’m so grateful for being pushed on, quite literally at times, to get through this very low point. As you do, you just think about all of the potential scenarios & outcomes, and I was certain that this was the end of my race, if I could just get back to Peter and his van. It was during this period that I was given much encouragement and offers of support by runners passing. One in particular chose to stay with me and Mark through to the next aid station, recalling his similar experience two years prior, where he DNF’d. I really hope he completed it on this, his second attempt. Support & community, something you come across routinely within the off-road and ultra scene.
One of the mistakes I made was looking to complete this first attempt at an 100mile ultra within a specific time. After all, there was a generous 30hr cut-off. But dragging this out would also impact the others in our team and would eat into the next day, so expectations were settled at a time of around 24hours, which seemed easily achievable. There was also the most significant issue, aside from the distance, the heat, something I’d not focused enough on preparing for. Perhaps as the original forecast was for drizzle and thunderstorms. In turned out to be an almost cloudless day with temps suggested to be up around 30C on the often exposed chalk Downs. Even through the night it remained in the late teens, with constant humidity and little breeze. Whilst I enjoy a sunny run, and had a few weeks to train in higher temps, this wasn’t the best combination with my hydration issues.
I’m still not sure what caused the S&D which led to dehydration. Something as simple as poor meal choices the night before (which included several days old left over rice), lack of electrolytes and possibly some heat stroke. Seeing other runners being sick throughout the event, Mark included, wasn’t uncommon, and I really struggled with my electrolyte drinks after the first 50k or so. Getting to Pete at mile 36 was a huge relief, but not until I’d suffered another set back with a small stumble causing my calf to lock up in cramp. A stint on the ground getting this stretched out meant I could finally carry on. What I do recall about this incident, aside the pain, was how the cramp seemed to distract or divert slightly from my other symptoms. I could start talking a bit more, moved a bit quicker and even managed a few laughs. Sitting down back at the Bongo, trying to find shade, Pete was straight with me. I wasn’t dropping out, I should take the time needed to get some drink and food down to see how I felt before making a rash decision. It worked, I managed to drink some water and coke, ate some sandwiches, pretzels and a yoghurt. I was starting to feel more human. Ice on my neck also worked a treat. Mark was keen to move along, so I decided to give the next section a go, using the uphill start to go steady and to see how I felt. There was no turning back, Pete was clear that he was off to the next location, around 12miles on. Tough love?
Initially I was feeling good. A fast paced walk up a long hill and I was keeping my temp down. However, as I pushed when running, or on harder hills, the stomach issues and nausea returned. Finding a balance between keeping my efforts and symptoms tolerable, whilst not ruining Mark’s race was a challenge, especially as he started to suffer fatigue and was experiencing a nerve related pain in his thigh, which worsened whilst walking. Chatting with runners as they came and went, some past us, and some slowing behind us, many were aiming to be more conservative with their efforts during the hottest daylight hours. This seemed a good plan, and then to push on in the cooler evening and night, wherever possible. Each section between aid points felt like a never ending grind as we were moving much slower than we were used to, which also meant taking on-board and carrying more water than you should ordinarily need, in an already heavy pack. As I was still struggling to take on fuel whilst moving, I also decided to make better use of the supplies at the aid stations. The supporters and volunteers were all fantastic, so cheerful even during the silly hours. Being prepared to do what they could for you, to save you a bit of energy. We kept moving and remained fairly consistent through to the point where we met our pacer at around mile 65.
Ben, aka Mr Motivator brought a new energy to our efforts, along with an infectious positivity and plenty of enthusiasm to help take our mind away from the remaining miles. At least for a while. The banter output increased and morale improved into dusk, where we were greeted by an amazing blood red half moon. It was at this point I could have sworn I had a thorn between my toes. But after taking off my shoe and socks twice to locate it, nothing was found and the sharp pain continued. It turned out to be one of many blisters that made themselves known in the latter stages of the race. Especially on the downhills. Whilst we were by no means moving fast, we were moving faster than many others. Catching the light of head torches ahead and passing runners as they were slowing or resting at stops. We agreed to minimise the faff time at aid points by avoiding sitting down, although the rice pudding and jelly at the 66.6m mark was worth the exception, along with some amazing salted potatoes. We must have passed about 30 other runners during the night and into Dawn.
The final stages included a tough couple of bigger/longer hills to climb and ascend. The final one, after passing the trig point at the summit, had a nasty and often narrow & technical gulley to ascend. Not want you need on fatigued legs and with painful feet. But we knew this led us down into Eastbourne, which gave us some motivation to pick up the pace. Eventually hitting the tarmac of civilisation, we pushed on and picked up another chap that had gotten lost on top of the hill. With the motivation of the finish line ahead and having someone else to push us along, allied with some adrenaline and my first gel, we managed to get a good pace through the deserted roads, with a two mile loop taking us to the finish, on an athletics track. Just a 400m lap of the red track to go and we felt like we were flying, pulling this poor runner around with us. It’s amazing how 8-9min/mile can feel like sub 6min/mile at this point in a race. And there it was. Our journey complete. 24hours and 7mins after we started.
Luckily and thankfully, we had a Bongo, Pete & Mark’s folks on hand to bring us home whilst we slipped in & out of consciousness during half finished sentences. Job done. What an adventure.
Of the 350 odd starters, only 55% finished, with the rest pulling out or failing to meet cut-offs. This long standing events’ highest ever DNF rate. As for Mark & I as a team. I’m not sure how we stuck it out together, but we did. It’s such a personal experience going through some dark places during the course of a race of this length/time, and this can really challenge the boundaries of teamwork. Inevitably one person’s low won’t coincide with the others, and likewise for energy, so you have to push each other along and have some patience and tolerance. Luckily Mark had both and I’m very grateful for us seeing this through together, creating some amazing memories and finally achieving the coveted distance in a footrace. And finally, as already highlighted in the report. What a crew we were fortunate enough to have with us. Both Peter and Ben went above and beyond and we’re so grateful for what they individually and collectively brought to our challenge. Superstars.
Red Wave Nine
Quick check of the time
Porta loo queue
Dodge the stink and spew
Head to the start
Feel my racing heart
Tell my mind to calm
Don’t raise the alarm
You’ve got this Chris
No chance you’ll miss
Crossin’ that line
Don’t sweat the time
Out on the street
Crowds are loud
We’ll make them proud
Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge
A man running with a Fridge
Keep it cool, Keep in check
Can’t be running like a wreck
17.5, My Family –I’ll survive
Go over give em a High Five
Miss my boys -where are they?
Feeling gutted the rest of the way
Pick it up Chris
No chance you’ll miss
Crossin’ that line
Don’t sweat the time
‘Super strong, amazing effort’
The crowd pull me through the hurt
This race ain’t gonnabe cruel
I just need to get some fuel
I see Paul at Big Ben
Find my little zone again
Chin up, knees up, arms pump to the end
I just ran a Marathon my Friend.
It’s been a long time getting to this point. I originally entered at the end of 2019 for September 2020 (obviously postponed). At the time I was looking for somewhere flat to get a good time (I’d just done Chippenham half in 2hrs 1min), and Tallinn seemed the perfect choice. Thinking of my Granny escaping from Tallinn during the Russian invasion as a teenager in WW2 would be added motivation. She was the only person in her family to escape, her aunt was going to round up other family members to get on the next boat, but the Russians shut the port and there were no more boats out. My grandad was also the only person in his family to escape (separately, they met in UK) although I know his story less well.
The last few months have not been ideal preparation as I got injured and couldn’t run at all during June/July. By the start of August I was doing a couple of kilometres, half running, half walking and it seemed unlikely I would make it. But when I saw the medals of the Estonian flag on the top of Pikk Hermann (tower where Estonian flag was first raised when it became independent), I knew I had to get one. Even if I walked round most of it.
Walking to the start line today, we went past the town hall where I just found out my grandad worked in the accounts department before WW2 had other ideas for him. I’m not surprised he struggled with his mental health as an adult in England as everything about his identity had changed in an instant.
I didn’t have high expectations for how I’d get on today. Didn’t run for a time, just to reach the finish. But I’m pleased to report it went way better than expected. Somehow I didn’t walk at all, just kept on running. Adrenaline, and some friendly ghosts cheering me on.
There were so many ages and nationalities taking part. We started (and finished) by Pikk Hermann at the edge of the old town walls. With a “kolm, kaks, üks” we were off and ran out through Kalamaja district with painted colourful houses, then further west through a woodland park, out to the main road by a shopping centre then another wood, down to a marshy area by the sea and along past Stroomi beach. By this point, around 8.5 miles, it started to feel a very long way. But we turned a corner and had a stunning view across the Baltic sea in the sunshine across the town skyline and port. I briefly cried at this point and thought of granny getting on the boat as a 17 year old. I wondered if she would have got on if she’d known then she’d never see her mother again. I don’t know the answer to that, but she always used to say in her older years that she’d had a good life. She never had much, but she was very proud of us grandchildren. So anyway, kept on running round another corner where there was a drinks station (never seen so many on a course, I think there were 5 for a half), had some spordijoog (energy drink), chucked some water over my head and sped up. Angry running.
The next moment Tallinn gave me a much needed boost was at 11 miles, turning back in towards the old town and seeing the spires above the tree line. The last couple of miles hurt (not my injury but just tired legs). The very worst bit was up to the finish line – you turn the corner to the finish and have to run up Linda Mägi to Pikk Hermann. Why design a route that finishes up a steep hill? But at least I reached the finish, just behind a Ukrainian runner.
Getting a medal from a lady in Estonian national costume was cool. And being cheered on all the way round with shouts of ”väga tubli” and “hästi hästi hästi” made me smile! I’d like to be cheered on in Estonian at every race.
Strava may tell me it’s my “third fastest” half marathon (I’ve only done three). But it’s the medal I’m most proud of (and have you ever seen a medal that stands up by itself, how cool is that?) I will keep it on my desk to remind myself that nothing is impossible. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The other reason I had to do this race this month is that I’m taking part in a virtual Lands end to John o Groats challenge with some team members to raise money for cancer research uk, in memory of a colleague who passed away in July. So my steps were doing good too. I know money is tight for a lot of people right now, but any kind donations would be gratefully received. https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/…/dymag-team…
Oh, and one more cool thing about taking part in any of the Tallinn marathon distances is three days free travel. Made the most of lots of sightseeing, including relaxing at the beach after the race.
This morning, I got to enjoy the full marathon over breakfast, as the runners passed right under our balcony. A much easier way to enjoy a race. The winner ran it faster than my half! (We also saw the last runners in the 10K yesterday on our way back from the beach – one of them was casually smoking a cigarette as he made his way round!! Never seen that before…)
If you fancy a friendly autumn race of any distance between 10K and a full marathon, come to Tallinn….
(Finish time 2hrs14:37 gun / 2hrs12:55 chip time)
We are delighted to announce that we are taking applications for our next beginners group which starts on Thursday 22nd September 2022. If you would like a place on this program then please e-mail us with your details and we will get back to you with the next steps.
Please see our Beginners Group page for more information on the course itself. Beginners Running is designed to get anyone from having little or no running experience to being able to run a 5k at the end of a 10 week course. It is also useful to those runners who may be coming back from injury, or time away from running.
So get your applications in and your trainers on! We look forward to welcoming you all later this month.
Silva – Great Lakes 3 Days (GL3D)
This was a challenge that Dave had heard about in his marshalling of the ‘Dragon’s Back Ultra’ and he managed to convince me to enter with him, as it was shorter than 50 miles(a day) and very relaxed.
I can confirm that it was both those things, but so much more. My training had not really gone to plan post Lakes in a Day (fallen off a cliff edge), and the USP of GL3D is that you can choose the course on the day, which meant in my head I had a get out of jail free card. They also transport your camping gear, allowing you to run with just the mandatory kit.
We had had a few mountain days where Dave had tested my navigation and route-planning by setting me challenges to practice the ‘orienteering’ aspect of the event. I was to find that invaluable due to the weather that came in at the end of day 1 and persisted into day 2. We also decided that the lightweight nominal 2 person tent wasn’t really going to be big enough, so used a larger 2-person tent we already had.
Each day has 4 routes and sets of checkpoints that give varying degrees of distance and elevation, with the final day being generally shorter and flatter than the first two, to allow an earlier finish.
· Café – 60km and 3,000m of elevation
· Wainwright [short] – 80km and 4,500m of elevation
· Wainwright [long] – 100km and 6,000m of elevation
· Expert – 120km and 7,500m of elevation
Dave and I arrived at the start point after a lovely meal on the Friday with my Mum and brother and our registration was dealt with swiftly, meaning our packed kit bags (mandatory size and max weight) were deposited, safety tracker attached to running packs(with mandatory safety kit) and we got our map to look at ready for the next days’ adventures. We returned to mum’s figuring that we could get a better night’s sleep there and despite a 30 minute drive in the morning we would save by not having to pack the tent and deposit our ‘camp bag’ then. Also we had noticed in the final briefing that dogs were welcome for the event and even got a 5kg allowance (We decided that might me taking the mick as Willow is only a shade over 5kg when wet!)
After some faffing and planning the ‘best route’ for day 1 we finally got to bed for 11pm ready for an early start. We both decided to start with the Wainwright Long and see how we went.
The morning was clear and we woke up and were out of the house by the allotted time, ready to tuck into the breakfast Dave had pre-ordered. Driving along the side of Thirlmere Dave swore and said – “Gosh darn, all our cutlery and plates are packed!” We pressed on and turned into Keswick to see if we could find some early on a Saturday morning, the Gods were smiling on us and a service station that was just opened meant we had a hot coffee and buttie to go.
All that was left was to arrive on the start line, punch the clock and the event began! There was a fair crowd going up to the first checkpoint and Dave kindly ran with me, so we chatted and stayed together up to just below the summit of Sail, where I could see DM was chomping at the bit, so said I would see him at the end of the day. There were various route options to Hindscarth, but all of them involved losing quite a bit of height. It was possible to see the view of the days finish at Buttermere, with the camp set up. All the courses coalesced around lunchtime at the Honister Mine Cafe, and I spent 40 minutes getting food and water, which was to prove costly as the day went on, but competitors were happy to dogsit and I gave them tea and cake in recompense.
The trod up to Great Gable started fairly easily, but mist descended, and despite having a gpx file on my watch, a compass was needed to check the descent, which was clagged in. I started down the scree slope, managing Willow, who sensibly stayed above me, and I tried to avoid sending rocks down on my own ankles. I have never liked Great Gable, and I am no more enamoured of it now. The mist made navigation more difficult, but I reckoned I had enough time to make the cut-off at Kirk Fell, which I did – but there was still Haystacks CP and another CP to find, in the mist.
Haystacks is reputed to be ‘Wainwright’s favourite place’, and where his ashes are scattered, all I can say is that in the mist and rain its charms were lost to me. One more CP to go and the downward run to the end. I reached where I thought the CP should be, but no sight, of it and I spent a good 1/2 hour searching around, before giving it up as a bad job and descending to the finish with under an hour to go before the course closed and about 2km to cover. On my way down I found the final CP and Willow and I had a relatively easy canter to the end, with me thinking…. I wonder how I’ll find Dave.
He was there at the finish, as I’d forgotten that although he had the tent in his bag, all the food and cooking items were in mine! As he generously looked after the nutrition side whilst Willow and I sorted ourselves out he said, “Did you get my text?”
“Did you come down the front of Great Gable?”
“How was it?”
Dave also pointed out that the tent, (which had seen 25+ years of service) had a ‘bit’ of damage, ie Sun and rain had taken it’s toll, and as I slid inside I noticed that he’d put our cooking pots to collect the drips. We were quite glad of our mandatory bivi bags that night.
The camp was set up so that there was a token for a free piece of cake and a hot drink, and another for a beer at the end of each day. There was also hot water in abundance for dried meals. We made it to the beer tent at about 9pm, to study the map for the next day. I decided that I would shift to the Short Course and started looking at possible routes. At 10 we went to get some water for a bedtime brew… Dave “Do you know where the tent is?”
“Yes, I’ll get the water and see you there” I said with a degree of confidence that was entirely mis-placed…
40 minutes of looking in the dark for a tent in approximately the right area, but I couldn’t remember if it was green or grey….
I went back to the beer tent that was now deserted and wondered how warm I would be snuggled up in the bean bags in there…
I thought I’ll give it once last try, and Dave deciding that I had perhaps had a large degree of mis-placed confidence had fortunately come to find me. No one else was moving.
The next day I started slightly after Dave, after getting a welcome latte from the on-site caravan, the mist was still there and the rain, so the day started with full waterproofs. A trot back along the track I had come down the night before was the most obvious and then the trigpoint at Brandreth, it was navigating in poor visibility and I dutifully used my compass to measure the distance, took a bearing and kept not quite hitting the features I thought I should. It took me a few bearings to realise that I was measuring using a 1:50,000 rather than 1:40,000 scale.
I decided that given the weather conditions it was probably easier to drop into the valley at Black Sail and join the C2C path, rather than spending a day in the clouds. Willow and I started running along, and I thought that to make it a ‘nicer’ route, we use one of the exit points and ‘contour round’ the edge of the inbounds area, as the C2C was a gravelled track, and I was worried about her paws. I know from previous experience that traversing along boundaries is seldom easy, and the time I took to cover 4km was ages. I found myself pushing to make the cut-off at red pike, and was about 30 minutes adrift, so headed back to the finish along the banks of Buttermere – which was delightful. I finished again about 1/2 hour before the course cut-off. I had some lovely views and really enjoyed the trot along Buttermere and the support from all the team on the final run in was immense and the evening had turned into a fine one. There was a mandatory kit check at the end – which I passed, as I was still wearing most of it – but there were a lot of DQ’s due to not having full kit. Beer and pork scratchings on completion with a brilliant sunset was a perfect end to the day.
For the final day I had already decided that I would do the ‘Easier’ cafe course route, (which on still had 1000m of elevation.) Our start window was later than Dave’s so once the course opened it was straight up to Robinson’s, down to Little Town and up to Barrow.
On the way up my phone pinged with incoming messages, including a voicemail from Dave, I duly listened to it and realised it was the advice I needed two days before about not coming down the face of Gable! I met some folk, who were local and also had a terrier in tow and ran/walked with them. They were route setters and fell-runners, and the final day took in part of a route of a fell race they marked so I continued with them. They dived off for a wee, so I continued on and caught up with some Dutch runners. The climb up Barrow was relatively benign and the route off it was a delightful runable gradient down, pretty much all the way.
In the final field before I reached the underpass back to the start point I heard a ‘Sue’ and coming in from the left was Dave, so we were able to cross the finish line together.
I had a fantastic three days and would definitely recommend this event, you can choose your own level of challenge each day and the organisation was fantastic, ability to read a map and use a compass, is however, crucial. It improved my confidence no end. As an add in the lack of mobile signal was refreshing…
Willow and I : 84km and 6180m Dave: 101km and 7,358m ascent
I’ve run 3 Tokyo marathons at 3:52, 3:44, 3:43 and last time was in Dublin at 3:40.
The Manchester marathon was the first time since Dublin 2015 and I haven’t been a good runner for the last 5 years so I was a bit nervous if I could run such a long distance and beat my previous PB, however as I already paid so I had to start training.
I had a chat with Clive at the club and he decided to run his first full marathon with me. Chris was also planning to run Boston at the same season as us and we planned some long distance training together.
I’ve achieved only 65% of the original training plan due to work/family/tiredness/mood.
However additional circuit training, off- road races and 20miles races gave me strength during the 16 weeks training period.
On the race day, start was very smooth and people ran reasonably speedy but Clive and I tried to stick with the plan, we have learnt from the 20 miles races that we tend to run over paced by exciting atmosphere. Our pace was average 8:20/M. But suddenly Clive’s watch became very chatty and repeatedly telling us wrong pace at 5:00/M! So I trusted my watch and Clive’s written pacing memo.
Half point: 1:49:46.
I started to feel on my legs but still managed at consistent pace. But just before 20 miles my watch stopped!! Both of us lost reliable tools to know our time/pace, and after 20 miles a few people around us stopped or walked due to cramped legs. However I just avoid feeling/seeing anything as if I was in a shell, wearing sunglasses worked well for that. I knew my body would react in a bad way if I felt something.
Big brother Clive became my son at this stage.
Last 1 mile was the hardest, it’s nearly there and it gave me more pressure and I came out from the shell and started feeling very miserable. My face was like a gorilla. Probably Clive’s even worse! We crossed the finish line finally.
Jon has finished ONLY 2 minutes before us and was waiting there. We didn’t know our results due to the watch issues.
Official result is 3:40:45.
My previous PB was 3:40:47 (2015)
2 seconds improved!
Full marathon including training is hard but sharing the same experience with mates gave me extra power.
Yuka’s pace against the average for the race.
Yuka in full flow.
It’s the green light for go, but I don’t have a clue what mile we are on. I’m sure it’s written down here somewhere…..Help me Yuka!
Clive, Yuka and Chris in a practice race for their respective marathons.
For those that don’t know me, I started running in April 2020 during the first lockdown, mainly to lose weight to reduce the health risk should covid strike (it hasn’t yet). At first, I couldn’t run 3km without having to stop half-way and walk a bit. As the running got easier, further and faster, I found I was really enjoying it. Just over a year later, and 3 stone lighter, I joined Corsham Running Club. I entered the Manchester marathon in April 2022 (my first, and so far, my only marathon) having been told a few people from the club were planning to run it. At that point I only had a vague notion of what I was signing up for, particularly the amount of training required.
I started training in mid-November last year, broadly following a plan spat out by a spreadsheet Chris Hunt gave me based on the “Advanced Marathoning” book written by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas (I couldn’t find the “Rank Amateur Marathoning” edition).
I stayed as close to the plan as a full-time job and life allowed, using club sessions as a proxy for some of the planned, faster runs. The plan called for one to two long runs most weeks and I was fortunate to have Yuka (who also ran Manchester) and Chris (who was running Boston two weeks later) to run with on some of those longer runs. As race day got nearer, we used two local 20-mile races as long run/tester runs. These confirmed to me that I could hit around the 3:40 mark that I was chasing in Manchester. The training was hard and needed real commitment, although teaming up with my friends made it a fun and rewarding experience. From mid-November to the day of the race I ran over 850 miles in training (my wife said I was getting obsessive, so I told her this was a “one-off”). I went into the marathon with a 1:39 HM PB achieved at the end of February and 2:48 for 20 miles, feeling that I had put the requisite effort in and with a reasonable level of confidence. I was however, wondering how I would cope with the unknown of the last 6 miles, never having run further than 20 miles.
The race in Manchester is well organised and the course flatish (although not as flat as I was expecting), through built-up areas on wide, closed roads. As this was my first marathon, it’s difficult to judge its relative merits. Suffice to say it seemed well organised, the pre-race information was great, the organization on the day ok for an event of this size and the toilet and bag drop queues fine. The support on the course was excellent and you never were running without somebody cheering and clapping from the pavement. My only gripe is that the pacers were few and far between (at 15-minute intervals) and didn’t seem to logically align with the wave you were running in. We paced ourselves, and did ok with this, although had to wrestle with “watch issues”; at one point I fell back onto a pre-prepared piece of paper.
I had been told, but didn’t fully believe, that the race only begins at twenty miles and at twenty miles I was still feeling ok. Then with about four to five miles to go, I was suddenly hit by a tsunami of fatigue and voices in my head telling me to slow down and jog in (“you’d still be under 4:00” ….). From that point on the race was more a mental than a physical thing for me – my breathing was fine, my muscles and joints felt ok except for a pain in the lower back (which I figured wasn’t going to stop me running) yet the urge to stop/slow-down was incredibly strong. I managed to win the mind over matter battle (“don’t throw away 4 month’s work for 40 minutes of pain” ….), though it does take a lot of mental strength. I got into a state of mind of just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping previous pace. I was also conscious that alongside me, Yuka still was running strongly, and I thought if I stopped or slowed, she would too, if only to see what was going on, and I didn’t want to let her down or compromise her race. That provided an additional impetus.
Having trained, focused, and anticipated this race for so long it’s perhaps odd to say that the finish line can’t come a moment too soon, but it can’t. The time of 3:40:45 was under my 3:45 minimum target and I’m told you can say you’re a 3:40 marathon runner with a 3:40:45 so I will take that. We more-or-less even split, two 1:50 half marathons, and despite the physical and mental struggle I was going through in the latter stages, were reeling people in during the second half of the race. The relative pace chart (below) tells a nice story. Could I have gone faster? Maybe yes, although only if I had been faster at mile 20; after mile 20 I completely emptied the tank. There was nothing left by the finish, and I was wobbling like Bambi.
I now know that a marathon does start at twenty miles, and I also now know what to expect in those last few miles. I’ve been told you can’t train for those last few miles. However, I am trying to find specific training for this aspect of the marathon, so any advice is most welcome. I will also be working on nutrition in the days immediately before the next race as well as during it, as I think this could have been better. Given the watch issue, I’ve already invested in a more fit-for-purpose watch.
You may already have inferred from this write-up that the race venue seems irrelevant. I’ve hardly mentioned Manchester or the course. At least, that was my takeaway. The overall experience, including the training, is about so much more. Having said that about the venue though, I’ve allowed myself to be talked into targeting Valencia in December as it sounds great. All I need to do now is to find a way to tell my wife.
Clive and Yuka sprinting to the finish of the Manchester Marathon.
Clive at around halfway.