I’d run this race before, in 2015. In fact it was my first 100 mile finish, and I had managed a sub 24 hour finish. It starts in Goring, which is just 20 minutes up the road from me, so it’s local, and
is was one of my favourites. All four legs of the course I know quite well, and I love the out and back format.
After the North Downs Way 100 I was adamant that I would get some decent high mileage weeks in and really make a go of this final race of the year. Of course that did not happen. I struggled with motivation, not helped by a busy period at work. In the end I’d only managed 4 or 5 long runs in the 10 weeks.
It was what it was. This was the final race in the series and I told myself I’d just have to get on with it.
I live 15 miles away. The plan was to get dropped off by my good lady at 8am (ish) in plenty of time for the 9am start. That did not go to plan either. We were a little late leaving, and then half way there I realised I’d forgotten my phone.
A bit of a panic and some throwing the car around country roads (at the speed limit of course) ensued. Home, collect phone, back to Goring. I got there with about 15 minutes to spare.
The Autumn 100 Start
I think I was pretty much last to get kit checked and registered. Then while I was attaching my race number the race briefing was going on. I handed in my drop bag just as we were all heading over the bridge to the church for the start.
I had a quick chat with John Melbourne as we walked over the bridge. John went on to place third in the race and to smash the record for the grand slam. He finished all four races in a combined time of just 61 hours.
I also managed a quick hello and good luck to Graham Carter, fellow Grand Slammer, and to another friend Karsh.
There was the usual countdown, the horn sounded and we were off.
Leg 1 – Thames Path North
The start of the Autumn 100 is quite congested for the first half mile. There’s a little path and gate that take you to the river and a narrow path for a bit. The weather wasn’t too bad. Rain was forecast all day, but so far it was just drizzle really. Not enough to warrant a waterproof. The ground was a bit wet and slipper with plenty of mud around. The first few miles past easily. 9:30-10:30 min/mile pace.
Along the river to Moulsford, through the town, down past the sports fields, under the railway bridge and then more paths along the river. There’s a couple of fields to get through and then along the bottom of garden that back onto the river, past the boating place and into Wallingford for a small aid station.
There’s a boring section next to Benson, over the weir, past the cafe and into the fields again. This section is okay for a bit then your through Shillingford, along the road and back into fields by the river. A little further it’s over the bridge to the first turnaround point.
I quickly grabbed some food and then headed back the way I came. This is where it gets interesting as you start to see people coming the other way. Lots of ‘Well Done!’ and ‘Good Effort’ passing back and forth.
I got back to Goring in around 4:25, about 30 minutes slower than the first time I’d run the Autumn 100. However I was happy with that given the mud / weather. I grabbed some food, changed the blocks of mud on the end of my legs for some clean socks and shoes and put on a dry top.
Leg 2 – Ridgeway East
This leg is the least known to me. I’ve run it a couple of times, but not as many as the other legs. It heads North out of Goring on the East side of the river for a few miles before hanging a right and heading out towards Nuffield. Then it’s over a golf course, avoiding balls, across the road and into a wood that heads downhill quite steeply.
The next section is across some hilly fields and an opportunity for one of Stuart Marchs’ iconic photos
36 miles covered, there was only a mile and a half to the second turnaround point at Swyncombe. Quick change of socks at the aid station.
Heading back is a bit easier to start with as it’s downhill. I caught up with a guy in an Irn Bru top here. Told him I had a can in my drop bag and was looking forward to it at half way.
I also met Graham Carter who was on the outbound leg. He mentioned he was suffering and just not feeling it.
I took a small detour as I got back to Goring, missing a turning, but I got there in the end. 10:40 on the clock, about 50 mins slower than last time on the Autumn 100. Regardless I was happy with that given the mud.
I spent about 30 minutes getting changed and grabbing some food and tea. I bagged up muddy shoes, wet socks and top and put on clean ones. The clean top was a bit thicker (knowing that the night section was coming). I hung about a touch longer than usual just to get an extra cup of soup and coffee.
Leg 3 – Ridgeway West
I’d run most of this section in 3.5 hours a couple of weeks before. That would not be happening this evening. By now the heavier rain that had been forecast started. The start of this leg is on road and uphill mostly before you get onto the chalky Ridgeway proper. I marched most of this and was trying to jog a bit on the downhills. However some were so wet and slippy it was impossible.
Once you get around halfway it gets a bit easier as there’s grass to run on rather than chalk. Up the incline by the gallops, hang a sharp right on the concrete road and there was the aid station. It was cold, wet and exposed. I huddled under the gazebo for a bit. Had a cup of coffee and then just cracked on. No point hanging around.
Round the corner, down the hill, under the A34 (traffic free for once) and up the other side to Bury Downs. The next bit got a bit slower. I was suffering by now. Mostly just plodding on, head down, through the mud, in the rain. Such fun !!
Stuck In The Mud
After Bury Downs I spotted some orange flashing lights. As I got closer I realised it was a car. Hazard lights on. Very odd for the middle of the Ridgeway. When I passed it the occupant just clapped and said well done. The car was at a 25 or 30 degree angle. Passenger side wheels in a lower rut, drivers side in a higher one.
I later heard that the occupants were supporting another runner and had driven a little down the Ridgeway from Bury Downs car park. Then they realised it was getting risky so pushed on to try and find somewhere to turn around. Apparently they were there for some time until the AA came to rescue them.
Leg 3 – Back
Chain Hill, the turnaround point on leg 3, was crazy as usual. They had a rave going on, lights, music, the whole works. I had a cup of coffee and changed my socks. I was getting really cold sitting around for the 3 or 4 minutes, so I just cracked on.
For some reason my Garmin died here. I had been charging it on the go since half way. I think some water may have got in to the bit between the charger and the watch. I noticed after about 8 miles, and turned it on again, managing to catch the rest of the race.
Anyway, it was just a case of getting back as quick as possible (even though that was probably 3 hours). I was cold and soak and had to keep moving as quick as I could. I also started exaggerating my arm swings too. Just to try and keep myself warm.
By the time I got back to Goring I was freezing. I quickly got out of my wet kit. Bagged it all and put on clean socks, shorts and top. I also switched waterproofs for a dry one.
Leg 4 – Thames Path South
Autumn 100 75% complete. The final section. Clean socks and top. Let’s get this done. I left Goring feeling positive.
Within 2 miles that had passed. This was a particularly muddy section and my feet we covered. This section is along the river for a mile or so then uphill. There was also a half mile diversion that throw me. I hadn’t heard the race briefing so didn’t know about it.
Up the hill through the wood. Down the short steep bit, up the steps on the other side. Along the road. Down Whitchurch hill. Detour up to the aid station (which is a pain). Back down and over Pangbourne bridge.
The section through the field from Pangbourne to Purley was very wet and muddy. I was still trying to avoid the worst of it, but I was definitely losing the battle. Up through Purley, over the railway and down to the river.
The Bit By The Office
Home territory for me. I run this section at lunchtimes. Past the lane that leads to the office. Past the bridges, through Reading. Over the blue horseshoe bridge who’s steps are too big for 1 step but too small for 2 steps. Up the steps to the aid station.
Indoors. Coffee and some food. I thought about changing my socks but deciding it wasn’t worth the effort. 12.5 miles to go, I could suffer it out. When I left the aid station I had 4.5 hour to get it done. 3 miles per hour would do it.
The Last (Half) Leg
This was it. 12.5 miles of the Autumn 100 left. Under 2 hours running on a good day. 4.5 hours on the clock to do it. A nice sit down at the end. Get this done.
Shortly after leaving the aid station I saw Graham again. I was pleased, as I hadn’t seen him on the past 2 return legs so was worried. We gave each other a bit of encouragement and carried on.
A bit later I passed a very dejected looking lady. I knew she was a Grand Slammer by the Black race number. I later found out this was Sharon Dickson.
I was moving as best I could, which was not fast. This was a struggle now. Me against the click. I was making okay time, but it wasn’t as fast as I wanted. I was continually doing time calculations in my head.
The section past the office and up to Purley seemed to drag. The fields between Purley and Pangbourne seemed endless. I was annoyed at having to detour up to the Whitchurch aid station (I just got my race tag beeped and headed out again). I cursed the steps down and the short steep hill up. I hated everything about the Autumn 100.
The Home Straight
Somewhere around here, or maybe before Graham and his pacer caught up with me. They seemed to be moving well and I tried to hang onto their coat tails. A bit of chat and friendly faces / encouragement help. I managed to keep up.
I remember asking what he’d do with his huge buckle. “Just stare at it for a few days” apparently 🙂 I think I said I would just put mine in a drawer with all the others.
We descended the wood to the river side again. 250 runners worth of churned up mud on the paths. This is where I gave up on skirting round what mud and puddles I could. Straight through the middle. I’d be done in a few minutes anyway.
I was doing okay, shuffling along then I got to the diversion bit again. My brain was a bit foggy and I couldn’t recall how far the detour was. Time was running down on the clock and I got a bit panicky. I couldn’t do much more than shuffle anyway. Eventually I got to the concrete path bit and managed a jog along there and up to the finish at Goring Village Hall.
Autumn 100 completed in 27:44:10. Just over 15 minutes inside the cut-off. Not great, but a finish.
Centurion 100 Mile Grand Slam completed. Four 100 miles races in 5.5 months.
I mentioned, above, seeing a dejected looking Sharon Dickson on her way to Reading. Sadly she missed the cut-off at Reading aid station (87.5 miles). Instead of taking a seat and complaining / waiting for a lift back to the Autumn 100 HQ, as many people would have (myself included), she removed her race number and (out of the race officially) walked back to Goring anyway just to finish the distance. That is an incredible spirit and unbelievable display of mental strength.