Monday, 2 November 2015

The Autumn 100. A Grand Slam and a One Day buckle!

This will be my third year of turning up on the start line for Centurion Running’s last 100 mile foot race of the year. It will be the fourth annual 100 mile race of Autumn 100, formerly the Winter 100. It is hosted by Centurion Running at the village of Goring and Streatly. Originally hosted in November it was moved to October last year. I have a fond affection for this race as it was my first completed 100 mile race and is a firm favourite for the many people that run this. It is headed by James Elson, Race Director and his first class team. As with all events it has a very loyal band of volunteers and runners like me feel really looked after and supported.

This was to be the final big hurrah of the year for me! I had gotten myself into the Grand Slam sooner than I had planned. Funny how these things happen. I was down for the downs double having DNF'd ( Did Not finish ) on both the South Downs Way 2013 at 50 miles and North Downs Way 2014 at 75 miles. The North Downs Way DNF haunted me as it was my head that had stopped me from finishing. I do not like to leave things undone so this year I was coming back to unfinished business. I was sat in the kitchen with Donna my partner and we had just been talking about getting a balance between running and family life and having fun. I agreed I needed to make some changes and get out the door a bit earlier at the weekends for my long runs.

At the same time I noticed Centurion had released some places for the Thames Path 100! I don't know if it's the same for other runners, but if I see a race come up my head goes into a spin with a mantra in the background going 'enter, enter, enter!'.  "Donna," I said "they have some places come up for the Thames Path 100..." we spoke about this and agreed it was a goer. But then my head was soon on 'well 3 out of 4, why not go for all of them?!'  It was agreed it would work and I signed up for the Grand Slam. I love to have a focus and something to work towards, it keeps me happy.  I am not driven by my work and running is what gives my life that edge I need. Thank you Donna for being understanding and most supportive of me. 

Walking down the High Street in Streatly on Friday 16th October around 5.30pm felt pretty awesome. Seeing the hall that would be HQ made me feel good. James was there with some of the other Centurion guys waiting to set up. It was good to see James, we had a chat for a while. It was good to know he was running tomorrow and would see the race from the runner’s perspective. I was staying at the Swan hotel, a little treat that meant I could just saunter down to race HQ in the morning.

I had a restless night but never the less I woke up very excited! I ate some breakfast and met Hugh, another runner, who would be running his first 100 today. Glad to say I saw Hugh at the end and he came in just after 23hrs I believe. It was a nice day and not  cold, the weather had been good with little rain. I was expecting the conditions underfoot to be good. As I arrived at HQ it was buzzing. I checked my kit and made sure I had everything I needed. I saw Louise Ayling, another runner who is in the Grand Slam and someone I have come to know and admire. She gave me some instructions for today which where as follows 'I don’t want to overtake you today. I do not want to hear about blisters or you being sick, I only want to see you as you pass me on the switch backs!'  This was delivered with kindness and I took it on board.
I walked down to the Morrell Rooms where the race would start. I found myself a space and sat on the floor. I listened to the buzz of everyone talking. I take this time to compose myself and collect my thoughts and think about what is about to happen.
Before the Start on The bridge at Streatly. 

The start line 9.55 am. James delivers the race brief and tells us that the race is in the safe hands of Nici and James. 

At just after 10.00am we set off. I follow the crowd and we soon bottle neck at a kissing gate. My Garmin is playing up and not working. I turn it off and back on. It works after 10 minutes. I am going a little fast but feel comfortable. The field is bunched in, I want some space and look forward to when the field spreads out a bit. I talk to a few people. The course is familiar and I know what is ahead. I settle and am running comfortably, the going underfoot is good, the ground is soft with no mud sticking to my trainers.  We are making our way to Wallingford Check Point 1 at 6.5 miles.  To get here is mainly trail beside the river. The rowers are out and being instructed as they go up and down the river. After a while we come upon the Beetle House Boat House this will bring us onto some road for a while before we head back onto trail. 

As we run through Moulsford I think about the other times I have run this stretch of road. Back onto trail this is a section that if it is going to be muddy, it will be here. But it is all fine. The runner in front goes through a gate and gets his running vest caught on the latch, I help untangle him. I soon find myself at Oxford University Women’s Boat Club. I know that Wallingford is near. I am not going to stop. I have plenty of water and do not need to eat yet. I see Brigitte taking runner’s numbers. I shout mine out as I run through the CP. Across a busy road and back on the Thames path. Things are going well. Running to the next CP, 12.5 Little Wittenham, I see the race leaders coming down the road. Into the fields and James Elson appears and says 'hello' as he bombs past, it is great to see him out on course. At Little Wittenham I top up my water and grab some stuff to eat on the go. As I am running through the fields towards the A4074 I pass Louise and we high five each other. The field has now spread out, my pace is good and I make my way back to Goring for the first time. I stop at Wallingford briefly for water and food on the way back. I say hello to Brigitte who asks how the race is going, as does Lisa.  I then head off again and I arrive back in Goring in 4.10hrs, average pace 10.01min/mi. I am bang on target and had aimed for 4.10 for the first leg.  I do not hang about. I take on more water and food, get another layer of clothing plus my head torch and I am off for the second leg!

North Stoke will be the next CP and is at mile 29.  Graham Carter will be there.  We met on SDW 100 and it’s always good to know someone at an aid station that you know. I am glad I have put on an extra layer as it is getting a little cold now. There is a bit of road work and some fields before I arrive. I am making good time.  I need my first of many loo breaks, it will be the first time I sit down today. Graham looks taller than I remember but it’s good to see a friendly face. Everyone is most helpful, I do not hang about as I know what lays ahead and I want to get as much done as I can in the daylight. The next section is little more technical. I come out of some corn to see Grims Ditch before me, this will lead into part of the Ridgeway that is covered by trees either side.
Grimms Ditch 32+ Miles.
Stuart March is here and snaps a photograph and gives me encouragement. In the past I have lost toenails on the Ridgeway through lack concentration when running. The Ridgeway is a path than runs through trees that are either side and is narrow in places. This time of year tree roots are hidden by the leaf fall of autumn. I take care, my two big toe nails are just hanging in there after the NDW 100. I put some music on for this section as a treat. I am moving well and enjoying myself. I took a goody back from North Stoke and I feel a little sick so I eat half a peanut butter sandwich. This settles my tummy after a little while. The race leaders pass by then I do not see any others for a while. A game of the usual cat and mouse unfolds with me and a number of other runners. Soon I am out of the woods and running down a hill. Sywncombe is near. I hike a slight incline while I text Luke to let him know I am about to arrive at Sywncombe, 37.5 miles, and turn around. I arrive just before 5.00pm I have been running for 6.59 hrs. I get a cup of tea to go and nibble on a few bits. Two of the volunteers here were at Jevington CP on SDW100 this year and I will see them again later. I am told I am looking good.

I quickly drink my tea and am soon running again, then up a steep incline I hike. I see Dan Park running down and we say hello. On I go up the hill and back onto the Ridgeway. I am feeling good and loving that it is still daylight. I am aware the sun is due to go shortly and I am well ahead of my time last year. A little later I stop to take a picture of the sun setting from the Ridgeway. 
Sunsetting form The Ridgeway.

It looks glorious and fills me with gratitude. I soon find myself running back across the golf course. Daylight starts to fade so before I get back to North Stoke I put my head torch on. Luke  sends a text asking how it is going. The plan is he will pace me on the 3rd and possibly 4th spur. I let him know I am not far from North Stoke and things are going well. Luke lets me know he is already at Goring. I am soon back to North Stoke, the tables have moved in to the hall. Graham tells me I am making good time. I press on, my legs feel a little stiff when I start to run again and I have got cold from stopping. I keep going. I am on target pace, I had planned to be back to Goring for 50 miles in 10hrs. As I run long back by the river I can feel the chill of the air from being near the water. I cover the 4 odd miles easily and am buzzing to be back at HQ.

I see Jon and Natasha Fielden, regular volunteers from when Centurion started to put races on. It is great to see them sitting there. I spot Luke, it’s great to see him. I get my drop bag and tell Luke I do not want to be long here. I have in the past wasted so much time sitting down in aid stations. I have made a decision that I am only going to put a fresh top on. My feet are good and I want a quick turnaround. Luke is really good and gets what I need. It feels funny to have one of the elite guys looking after you. I have a quick wipe down with wet wipes and put a fresh top on while eating and drinking. I think we were out of HQ within 15 minutes. 

The 3rd leg takes in Bury Down and Chain Hill. I find this section slows me down. Apart from it being dark, the trail is rutted and pitted in places and once on your way to Bury Down and Chain Hill this part of the route is quite exposed. I also for some reason really get fatigued on the return leg and on the two previous occasions have really had to fight not falling asleep. So when Luke said he was free to pace, I took him up on his kind offer. We ran up through the village. As we came to the corner James came haring past with his pacer. The next couple of miles are on road, we ran and chatted until we came to the trail, this section is more uphill. I was feeling tired by now. We hiked up the hill. Luke was soon ahead of me. This is how we work, he gets ahead and this spurs me on. I like to keep him in sight, it is a good way of keeping me moving. Once up the hill we start to run again. The wind is blowing and it’s a little colder. I can see the headlamps of other runners ahead on the brow of a hill that we will soon be reaching, it’s an old tank track. I keep thinking Bury Down cannot be far now, it was 8.3 miles from Goring and we have been running for some time now. I am feeling hungry now too. After what seems an age we reach Bury Down, I sit down for the first time that day. Luke passes me sausage rolls that taste good and mini eggs and a volunteer fills my water bottles. Roz Glover appears. We have been passing each other and coming into aid stations after each  other for most of the afternoon/evening. We have nodded as we are familiar with each others face but we have not been introduced. Luke introduces us and we say hello. I ask Roz how she is doing.  Luke tells me as we leave I used 10 minutes at this Aid Station. Too much time! After a mile or so I feel sick, I want to be sick but it’s just dry heaving. I stick my fingers down my throat to try and get something up. Nothing comes up. I run through my head what is going on. I know I just have to keep running and hope it comes up. Luke later tells me it was not nice to have to continue to push me after seeing me like this. It is 4 miles to the next aid station Chain Hill, we soon find ourselves here. I cannot eat but I try. I am feeling a little reluctant to start moving again. It’s windy and I am feeling cold and sick.  
We leave and I start to run. I start to enjoy myself, it is more downhill now, I am not thinking about time. I have got to the point where it has become irrelevant. My focus is on getting this done. Again I sit at Bury Down but not for too long we have 8 miles in front of us. It seems a long way in my mind and I am struggling mentally and feeling despondent. I try to focus on the now and keep moving. I walk for quite a bit due to sickness and fatigue. Luke tells me how long we have been on this section. I am pissed off, he reminds we have walked quite a bit. This motivates me to move, I find my strength and we start to move forward. It feels easy and I run the hills, wanting to make up the time. We start to pass other runners, this spurs me on and keeps me going. I have to stop as nature calls - it wastes time! We hit the road, that means we are no more than 2 miles from HQ, it’s a slight incline but we run it we run level I am feeling good and looking forward to getting back to HQ. I arrive back and it's alive with a buzz. James Elson has broken the course record and greets me once back in the hall. I am absolutely chuffed for him. I congratulate him and then get ready for the final leg. I know what is coming so I change my trainers. James advises me for a quick turnaround in the aid stations for a sub 23 hr. 

We headed out into the dark and were soon back on the Thames Path into the fields. Luke was running ahead, I was feeling good and excited to be on the last leg. I was not really thinking of time, of a sub 24. At some point on this sort of distance after 50 miles, time and pace becomes meaningless because of the ability to comprehend and think straight. We were soon into the woods and we hiked some of the inclines. Luke was pushing through and I kept running as much as I could. We soon found ourselves at Whitchurch. It was really good to see John Fitzgerald at this point, a fellow runner. We did not stay long. I ate a little and had one of my copious cups of tea. John offered some words of encouragement which were well received and  motivated me for the next jaunt, which was 8 miles to Reading. 

We head off and through the fields. I have only been through in daylight before, feels strange to be on this part of the course in the dark! The bit I am not looking forward to is the housing estate that we have to cut through, Purley on Thames I believe. I try to eat before we get there but am sick again. Back on the path towards Reading  and I start to walk for longer bits now. My head is working against me and in the postmortem of the race I am aware that has been the case for a lot of the second half. I whine to Luke I cannot run anymore, I have nothing left. His response is short and just what I need to hear. "We are not walking back!" It puts a rocket up my arse. Luke is right and I decide I want this again and I commit myself to finishing this as quickly as I can.  We finally get to Reading and we go up the stairs to the boat house. We meet Alma and she is pleased to see Luke and I, as we are to see her. Such great support as always and Alma gets what I need. 10 Minutes later we are off, but not before negative self says 'I do not think we will get a sub 24 today!'

I run a bit more on this section following Luke. We power walk for some and are soon back into the fields again, I find my strong and start to run, Luke opens the gates and I run through, making my way to Whitchurch. I keep up a good pace and find it has been my head that has been working against me, telling me I am tired. 
About mile 93 and wanting it! Picture Luke Ashton.

I focus on my stride length. This is something I have been working on lengthening over the last couple of months. We arrive back to see John, he takes a picture of me and Luke at mile 95. We had done the same on TP100. Today I look fresh and strong!

Luke and I at Whitchurch 95 miles.
It is great to see John we have a quick turn around here, Luke is not aware that I have gone but soon catches me up, we have 4.5 miles to go. The day is starting to warm up. I am looking forward to seeing Donna. We run and I move as efficiently as I can through the woods and the ups and downs. I see Tom Farasides, another Grand Slammer. Like me he has found the last 24 hrs hard simply due to coming to the end of the Slam. Every now and then I feel my emotions come up. I hope Luke does not turn around and see my boo face! There are loads of fishermen out by the river as we get to within the last mile. I am feeling good and will run this easy. I see Louise in the distance. As we pass I ask to her finish with me, she tells me if I have a sprint in me to carry on. I see Donna ahead calling me on. 

Louise and And I nearing the end!

I normally get emotional and shed a tear as I get to the finish line on a 100 miler. But I did not this time. I think I was just glad to finish what I had set out to do, which was to become a Grand Slammer and at some point I will be back to do better. I am very happy after 9 attempts with 2 DNF's and 6 previously completed 100 mile runs that I have finally got a '100 miles in one day' buckle. That means so much to me. But it also leaves me knowing that I can do better. Luke's comment to Donna, "I think Shawn listens to his head too much" is so true. 

After the race I was buzzing and so was Donna, Luke and John. It was strange being at the finish so early! 

I want to thank my friends who have supported and those that have given their time freely to pace me over the past year Luke Ashton, Nick Jones and Gary McKivett. And the many others from BOSH run for thier support, Also thank you so much everyone who sponsored me to raise funds for Crohns and Colitis UK, we raised £732.00. Thank you.

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