There have been a lot of blogs over the past week from people who completed – or didn’t complete – this years A100. Blogs from experienced and first time 100 competitors. It’s taken a while for me to get my thoughts together, mainly because I had Abingdon marathon 7 days later and was trying to get my head round how I was going to get through that.
This was my first “proper” 100 mile race. In June I did the 24 hour Trackathon and completed 101 miles but this was something different – all trail and no drink station every 400 metres.
There was an option to have people crew for you and to pace in the last 50 miles but, due to the nature of the course (4 out and backs) and that I’m a pretty unsociable chap, I decided to go it alone on both counts.
I got into Goring unfeasibly early for a 10am start (as I’m wont to do) got my kit checked and basically hung around til the start. It was all a bit intimidating with tall, angular, prominent cheek-boned types wandering confidently around or taping feet in a professional manner. My only crumb of comfort was that I had the same race vest as a lot of the others and it was as beaten up looking as theirs. Small things…
Eventually we all walked towards the start. It was cold and I wished I’d brought a long sleeved shirt with me as most of the others seemed to.
No time for what ifs though as we were soon off on the first 25 mile out and back.
Leg 1 – the one with the dead deer
I made sure I wasn’t near the front at the start and quickly fell in with a train of about 10 people. The tracks were narrow and only allowed single file running so we were dependent on the lead person to force the pace. We were 10 minute mileing which seemed pretty good for the beginning so I sat in and enjoyed the countryside. Soon people ahead were stopping to take off their extra layers, hats and gloves.
Making a brief detour onto the main road I saw a young deer stretched out on the side of the road, a proper deer, not a muntjak. It seemed like an omen, that maybe I should take a bit of care.
Thankfully the rest of the leg took care of itself and I could enjoy running the long stretches of river bank, the pretty villages and town without any issue. The sun was shining there was plenty of activity on the river to distract me. Life was pretty good.
I got into Goring in around 4 hours, about half an hour quicker than I would have liked but it was a mile shorter than I expected and totally flat so I wasn’t too worried.
My plan, such as it was, was to try to do the first 2 legs in around 9 hours leaving me 15 hours to complete the last 2 (I had told people I just wanted to finish in the 28 hour cut off but secretly really wanted a sub 24).
I had a very brief stop at Goring, just to fill up water bottles and got under way
Leg 2 – the one with the dead Suunto
Leg 2 went out in the same direction as leg 1 but on the other side of the river. More bucolic views, picturesque villages and sunshine. The first checkpoint came quickly, only 4 miles in and all was good with the world.
Then it all got a bit nasty. I’m not sure if it was the trees, the hills or the fact that, to save battery I’d changed the settings on my Suunto to pick up gps every 5 seconds instead of every 1 second, but the next checkpoint never seemed to be getting any closer. It should have been 8.5 miles from the first feed station to the next one, which should have been at around 37.5 miles, but I kept running and my watch kept ticking over and pretty soon I was at 40+ miles and no checkpoint in site. I hadn’t gone wrong, I was following the signs and there were other runners around me. Eventually I reached the turn with my watch at 46 miles. I was a bit demoralised but as most of the last half had been uphill at least I had a good bit of down to come.
At the pre race briefing we’d been told it would start getting wet at around 5pm. 4.50 came and so did the rain. It was still pretty warm though and my waterproof did the job. I ran into Goring for the second time with just under 9 hours gone.
Definitely tired now, but happy I’d achieved my halfway target. It was gloomy when I got to Goring, dark when I left which added another dimension. I lingered too long at the checkpoint, changing top, socks and adding a long-sleeved base-layer before heading out into the dark.
Leg 3 – the one with all the cake
I’d recce’d this leg a few weeks before and really wasn’t looking forward to it as the “out” lap was pretty much all uphill. I’d been told at Goring by one of the volunteers that it was better in the dark as you couldn’t see how far uphill you had left to go and so it proved. There was a lot more run/walking on this stage and I started to struggle about 6 miles in (56 in total). I was determined to beat my 100km time though (11 hours 57minutes from Race to the Stones). The first checkpoint was 8.5 miles out (52 miles) and I was pretty battered by now. However, knowing the turn around was only 4 miles away got me going (along with a decent cup of coffee, lots of Coke and some salt tablets)
As I approached the checkpoint I saw what looked to me like a spaceship, all coloured pulsing, throbbing lights. The hallucinations would come later, this was the party tent! 62 mile checkpoint arrived as I crested yet another hill (ok a pretty gentle slope but by this time they all counted as hills) in 11 hours 30 something.
I was done, exhausted, finished. I slumped into a chair (stupid), took of one of my shoes (stupid) and sat in a daze. Out of nowhere I had a piping hot coffee and a slice of ginger cake put in my hands. The disco lights and pumping music, and another piece of ginger cake got me out of my chair and I was back on my way. I tentatively started running. And didn’t stop until the next checkpoint 4 miles away. I suddenly felt great again.Not sure what was in that Ginger cake but I want the recipe. I knew it probably wouldn’t last so raced through the checkpoint and headed back to Goring and the final leg.
I stayed too long. True, I needed to change tops, socks, eat, and drink but something told me I had been there too long. Actually, someONE told me I’d been there too long. Quite vociferously too.
And they were right. I’d read on a Facebook page someone say that checkpoints are evil and I knew what he meant. It was 1 o’clock in the morning, dark, cold, a bit drizzly. Why would you want to leave a warm community centre filled with not only coffee and food but also, demoralizingly, runners who had finished, who were TWENTY SIX miles ahead of me!
Leg 4 – the one with the melon and the lube
The final leg was out to Reading and back and I expected it to be the same flat terrain as leg 1. And for the first two miles it was. And then it wasn’t. At all. Relentless climbing resulted in a plunging descent and then a wall. It was so steep some altruistic person had cut steps into the slope and put a handrail next to it giving us the slightest chance of making it up. It probably wasn’t very long, possibly not that steep but 77 miles in it was the north face of the Eigar.
Down the other side into the midway checkpoint and I took on some much needed coffee and even more necessary Vaseline. One of the downsides of being kicked out of Goring was I’d forgotten to address a certain “downstairs” problem. Always one to multitask I took the tub of Vaseline and a slice of melon into the toilets accompanied by a few choice suggestions.
The next 17 miles were a nightmare. Most of it was flat, with the exception of the stairs (!) over the railway but my specific training for Berlin Marathon two weeks before showed on this last leg. I had nothing left, but the prospect of walking the next 22 miles was horrendous so I devised a fun game. There were people occasionally running back towards me so, when I saw the light of their head torch, I started running and wouldn’t stop until I’d got just past then, then walk again. Depending on the strength of the lamp or the curve in the river, it could be a few hundred metres or far longer.
By this time I was getting pretty weak and dizzy. I could feel I wasn’t exactly walking in a straight line and started to get a bit worried. I forced down a good portion of my remaining jelly babies but the sugar wasn’t helping. I was crashing badly.
And then I remembered the coffee beans. Chocolate covered dead posh coffee beans in an assortment of flavours. I chucked them, in not tasting anything but coffee, and washed them down. Almost immediately I felt better, soon I felt wired! I have never felt so awake at 4 in the morning. Not since the early 90’s raves anyway.
The rest was a formality. Run to the head torch, walk the rest, out to the 87 mile checkpoint, turn round, do it all again.
Soon enough I was back at the final checkpoint and 4 miles to go. If I walked it I reckoned I’d be back by 7.30, which I was more than happy with.
So I did. Nearly.
There was this other runner. We’d been overtaking each other on and off from the second leg. A nod or a smile of recognition when we saw each other, a raised eyebrow at a checkpoint as we passed. And as I left the last checkpoint he arrived.
As competitions go it wasn’t the most important but exhaustion and lack of sleep made it imperative that he didn’t overtake me.
And so we battled. At least I battled, he had no idea any of this was going on. I marched to the top of the hill and marched back down the precipitous wall I’d struggled up some 5 hours previously, crawled up the final hill and started running. True this was a long gentle downhill but running felt great. Especially when I was the one running back and others were coming towards me.
I soon stopped when I reached the flat but I only had a couple of miles left.
Then I saw the light of a head torch behind me getting brighter with every step and he passed me. Wait though, wrong shape, too short. Not him. I don’t care if some random passes me, he had no knife in this fight. I let him go.
But looking behind I did see another torch in the distance. So I did what any right-minded person who had just run 99 miles would do. I ran, as fast as my hobbled legs would carry me, along the river, up to the bridge and up the final slope to the finish.
And that was that. 21 hours 17 minutes after starting I was sat with a piping hot chilli con carne and a One Day Finishers buckle. And looking on as my nemesis came in after me.
There was only one thing left to do. Hobble to the car, drive home, get a quick bath and go out for lunch for my daughter’s birthday meal.
Because some things are more important…
If you care about such things (and I do) here is a quick kit list
2x ashmei running jerseys
1x ashmei shorts
1x ronhill shorts
3x more mile socks
1x hoka challenger shoes
3x head torch (1 petzl reactik, 1 alpkit + 1 emergency petal E lite)
1x foil blanket
2x long sleeved tops 1x berghaus 1x no idea (very old)
Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek race vest (v2 I think, not the latest) + 2 UD bottles
1x salmon bonatti waterproof jacket
haribo tangfastics, jelly babies, whittards chocolate covered coffee beans