Four 100 mile race entries, three starts, two DNFs and finally one, sub 24 hour, finish.
I entered the Autumn 100 as a backup to the Thames Path 100, which was supposed to be my A race for the year. Unfortunately that didn’t go as planned. After that DNF early in the year I planned out a good training block for the summer to get me in the right kind of shape for this race. I also got myself a stand-up desk at work, as I wanted to make sure I was spending lots of time on my feet, and as part of the training plan I had entered a couple of local marathons (Saturday Night Marathon in July and then again in September).
Things started okay in training, as I spent a few weeks getting ramped back to 50+ mile weeks, but then after the first Saturday Night Marathon I had a bit of foot pain, and we headed out to Greece for a family holiday, which curtailed the long runs. The next few weeks didn’t really go much better, as I just couldn’t get any consistency going. I used the second Saturday Night Marathon as a long training run and it went really well – with me keeping a steady 9:15 m/m pace and finishing in just under 4 hours (and feeling like I could easily carry on).
However, given the limited training mileage I’d run I really wasn’t expecting much of myself in this race. I was talking myself into excuses the few days before. I think this might have helped in a strange way – as I went into it comfortable with the fact that I might not finish, and therefore zero pressure on myself.
So, on Saturday morning at 8am, my brother picked me up and drove me the 20 minutes to Autumn 100 Race HQ at Goring. I went through the usual kit check, waiver signing, handing in drop bag and picking up my race number, then made my way over to the start. After the race briefing I started the race with a plan of 4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours and 8 hours respectively for the four 25m legs to get a finish within the allotted 28 hours (and leaving some margin for error).
The first leg of the Autumn 100 goes north on the Thames path, and I’d run most of this section in training already, so I took it steady at around 9:30 m/m pace. This section is pretty flat and the weather was almost perfect, so the going was good and I made it to the aid station in Wallingford after an hour or so. The next 6 or so miles to the turn around point were pretty uneventful, and I was feeling good. On the way back I managed to get myself stung, I think a bunch of people did, as I heard someone say they had taken an antihistamine tablet and had wanted to stop and sleep (??).
Anyway everything was going to plan, and I got back to Goring in almost exactly 4 hours, spent 5 minutes changing my top and headed out for leg 2.
This leg was all new to me, I hadn’t run any of it before. It follows the Thames north (on the opposite side to the Thames Path) for 4 or 5 miles before heading east (and up hills). I really enjoyed this section, there are some really nice single tracks through woods as well as routes across open fields with some spectacular views. A few of the hillier sections needed walking, but the majority of this leg was run also. The final part of this was done in the dark, so headtorch was dug out and donned. I got back to Goring at about 7:30pm (9 hours 30 elapsed and 5:30 for the leg), so just a little behind schedule. I spend a little time getting changed, reapplying Vaseline and changing shoes (from Inov8 Race 290s to Hoka Stinson 3 ATRs). I had to leave my Garmin at race HQ (charging) as it had run out a few miles before the end of this leg.
I headed out for leg 3 before 8pm – again I had recced this section in training already, so I knew where I was going. Just as I’d crossed the bridge I met the race leaders who had just finished this leg that I was starting !!. There’s a bit of an uphill trek to start this section and get yourself up onto the Ridgeway so there was a fair bit of walking/marching going on for the first 4 miles or so, but I was trying to run little stints every couple of minutes just to keep the average speed up. I had no watch now, so I was just trying to keep things going as fast as I could.
Most of this leg was spent alone, which didn’t bother me, in fact I think it helped as I wasn’t really in a talking mood at this stage. I was pretty much blasting through the aid stations with 2 cups of coke, refill of the water bottles, a handful of food and a cup of tea then out the other side – probably no more than 2 minutes. It’s a long section (8.3 miles) from Goring to Bury Road aid station, so it was great to get through the A34 underpass, climb the other side and see it a short distance away. The next section is runable, with easy rolling terrain for 4 miles or so and on getting to the Chain Hill aid station I checked the time – 11:05 (so just a touch over 3 hours for this section) which I was very pleased with. The route back was a bit more runable as there is more downhill and I made decent time of this also, getting back to Goring at 02:30 ish for a new 75m PB and almost exactly 7 hours for the leg. I was now 90 minutes ahead of plan and still moving very well. I began to think that a sub 24 might be possible.
A quick cup of tea, and a final change of top and jacket and I headed out for the final leg to Reading and back. I know this section very well have run it multiple times, I was also a little concerned about the Goring to Whitchurch section as it’s a bit of a rollercoaster, so I didn’t know how that would affect speed – but that seemed to go okay, and I knew that the next section to the turnaround point in Reading is flat – it is also a long section (8 miles) – by this stage I was walking a fair bit, but I was keeping in mind something that the great Paul Ali told me – “when you’re walking you have to keep asking yourself if you could run” – I was doing this pretty frequently, as well as looking at my watch every minute or two. I knew if I could do another 7 hour leg I’d be sub 24 – I couldn’t quiet believe that it was going so well – from slim chance of finishing to possible sub 24….
Anyway, I was still pushing the pace through the flat section from Pangbourne to Purley, then through the residential area, over the railway footbridge and I was on to my home turf (I run this section several times a week at lunchtime from work). Past Caversham bridge and Reading passing the northern turnaround point of the Saturday Night Marathons, over the brutal blue horseshoe bridge and the final half mile to the Watersports Centre where the aid station was. All I could think of at this stage was the time – I spent as little time as possible in the aid station, just grabbing a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits before heading on my way again. By now it was just after 6am, it would be getting light in an hour and I had 3:50 to cover the 12.5 miles and get a sub 24 hour finish. I think it got light enough to dispense with the headtorch somewhere near Tilehurst.
This section was spent mostly clock watching and doing mental time calculations. I knew I was still moving well, I was still ‘asking myself the question’ and getting good answers mostly, but that Maple Durham to Pangbourne Bridge section seemed to take a lifetime. Heading up Whitchurch hill to the aid station I met Paul Ali who was sweeping the course – we had a quick Hi 5, and he gave me a few words of encouragement. I had 2 hours left to cover 4.5 miles. I knew I could do it. Once I was the rollercoaster section I only had the couple of miles along the flat river section – I ran all of this last bit, Goring bridge took forever to come into view, but it eventually did and then it was a short run along by the mooring posts and up to the race HQ.
2015 Autumn 100 : 100 miles completed in 23:34:08
Autumn 100 Race Experience
In terms of the race itself, this was the first time I’d run the Autumn 100 but the organisation of Centurion events just gets better and better. Registration was slick and efficient and the race HQ at Goring was very well organised, every time I got back there there was someone checking my number off, someone going to get my drop bag for me and someone making me a cup of tea. All of the aid stations were well stocked, well organised and staffed by friendly volunteers. Nothing was too much for any of the volunteers – filling bottles, making tea, cutting food up and all with a smile and a friendly word.
It’s also a very scenic race (although I’m probably biased) following the beautiful Thames Path and Ridgeway.
Only positive lessons this time around:
- Sorbothane insoles in my shoes worked well – keep doing that.
- Changing to Hokas after 50 miles worked well – keep doing that.
- Have a race plan in mind (4hrs, 6hrs, 8hrs and 8hrs) – keep doing that.
- Chocolate covered raisins and nuts (for each leg) in drop bag – keep doing that.
- Spending very little time in aid stations – keep doing that.
I do think I was a little too cautious (given the ITB pain suffered on other 100s), so I could have pushed a bit more. With a more consistent training block, renewed confidence and pushing a bit harder I think I could knock a good chunk off this time.
All in all a great day out, that I’m very pleased with.