Base Camp

It's now been several weeks since the Autumn 100 and I am back out running daily. Well I say daily but I didn't run yesterday so perhaps not quite back into the old routine yet. For the first 10 days after the race I didn't run at all. I took the opportunity to rest completely.. In retrospect this seems to have worked quite well, the immediate body aches and pains went fairly quickly and mentally I was ready to come back to do some 'jogging' but I knew from the last 100 that the first few weeks back running went fine but i didn't listen to my body. I have been using that approach to not push things until the recovery process had run it's course.

I've taken it slowly to rebuild the miles and with each run I've been tracking my HR data closely (as I often do post run) to see how my body is recovering. It's often the case that I am running MAF for pretty much every single run and have felt better with each passing day. I've been using MAF as tool within my training for several months and it's served me well given my recent performance at the A100. However as I'm now building up the miles again for spring racing and I am consciously aware that given a lack of faster running during my last training cycle perhaps it's time not adhere so strictly to this and actually look to run more based on feel.

Of course there is a long way to go before my next race and rebuilding base miles is about recovery not getting fit. With future plans now set for the spring with the London Marathon I have put together a loose training guide which of course starts with a good chunk of base mileage over the winter before moving into a hill phase in the new year. With this weeks weekly mileage on track for 40-45 miles I will be looking to increasing this a tad over the coming weeks compared to previous training cycles. I am aiming to be running anywhere from 9-11 hours when up to peak base mileage. I really want to give London my best shot and the only way that is going to happen is through hard work, sensible diet and smart training.

I would love to run another 100 miler next year but at the moment I am focusing very much on the London. I don't know when I will get another shot at it but as so often the case with runners we must always have something lined up otherwise our other halves I don't think would survive!          

Smiling through the Centurion Autumn 100m

Last Saturday I had the great pleasure of joining around 200+ ultra runners for the Centurion Autumn 100 mile race. The route is a series of 4 x 12.5 mile out and back sections along both the Thames Path and Ridgeway national trails. This was the final race in the Centurion series this year and due to the format of the race was looking forward to seeing for a change the front runners doing their thing (including Race Director James Elson) in near perfect race conditions.

X marks the spot

After the Thames Path 100 in May I had said that doing a single 100 miler in one year would be enough and so after spending time recovering from this and planning ahead I was going to focus on going for a autumn marathon PB attempt. However as fate would have it I received an email on September 2nd that a space had become available for the Centurion Autumn 100. Without hesitating I signed up. What possessed me to do this? To be honest I haven't a clue other than I felt that I needed to finish the 2015 racing season with a bang. Although I didn't feel in the same shape as I did earlier this year I felt more relaxed, confident and wanted to go through the emotional journey that comes with running a hundred miles.

We begin and finish the race in Goring, West Berkshire. It was the first race I had seen a Race Director run their own race and with the field featuring some great runners plus near perfect race conditions the anticipation was for a fast race and possible course record. James Elson RD gave us tips and suggestions during the race briefing while standing outside Race HQ before handing over to Nici and Drew who were in charge now. There was a healthy number of newbies who were running their first 100 mile race and given how they must be feeling I did envy them a little as life will never be quite the same again afterwards.

Anxious Start Line
Race strategy wise I was going to start out running very easy around 9.45 min/mile pace and then after a couple hours settle into a 9 mins run 1 min walk plan. On a relatively flat course this would work well and would try to maintain this as long as possible before adjusting the amount of running as the race progressed based on how I feel. I felt good as I arrived at the first aid station, paused for a few seconds to take a quick drink before moving on. I was running with Iain Bareham who was running his first 100 who commented that he was finding it a little difficult to hold back. I said you just want to get the half way point of the race feeling like you have hardly been running at all. If you feel like this then you have given yourself a great chance to get it done in the second half.

I had settled into the running by the time we hit the main road about a mile or so before the turnaround point on the section and could see the front runners heading back towards us offering encouragement to everyone. A few minutes later I myself was turning back running with Susie Chan who is always smiling and knows pretty much everyone on the course I think!

Life is good
On the way back to Goring I settled into my run / walk strategy and got talking to quite a few people including many peeps on Twitter who I didn't recognise on the day but realised who they were post race! I apologise again for that! By the time I got back to Goring I took the split at just under 4 hours. That was a little quicker than I anticipated but I felt really good and had been eating little and often at the aid stations. A quick refill of my bottle and I was off again.

I had been looking forward to running on the Ridgeway trail for sometime and although I didn't know the route the race markings made it easy not to get lost. I swiftly moved through the checkpoint and after traversing forest sections with some steep ascents and muddy fields the front runners were streaming and in some cases hurtling downhill towards us smiling and offering kind words. Gotta love it. I on the other hand was hiking the ascents and skipping downhill. Must try harder next time!

On approaching Swyncombe where the Leg 2 turnaround is I bumped into Sarah Sawyer who I ran for a bit with at the South Downs Way 50 miler earlier in the year who always brings a smile. She let me know that the check point was just a couple minutes away with some great goodies. Upon reaching the checkpoint I immediately went over to say hello to David Barkers wife Sarah and team who were supporting the runners here. I have worked with David for years and have met Sarah many times at races including three weeks before at the High Weald 50k. I said I had been looking forward to the home baked chocolate brownies here and of course I wasn't disappointed they were very good. After saying my good byes it was back down the hill to start the journey back to Goring oblivious to where I was place wise but still feeling good.

Heading back to Goring although my overall pace had dropped due to the walking up the hills I was still skipping the downhills with conviction. I passed Bryan Webster and Dan Park who were coming through the golf course who then asked "How long until the aid station?", I said that it was probably 15 minutes or so although I wasn't sure really as it's difficult to gauge the distance time wise, I'm sorry guys if I was wrong!

Usain Bolt would be proud
After enjoying the downhills and I stopped momentarily at the last checkpoint before Goring to refill my bottle and some food mostly bananas. The sun was setting and my energy levels were really good. Having glanced at my Garmin I could tell that I was on for a decent time for 50 miles. I had hope for around 9 hours at the halfway point pre-race and having done some quick calculation I was looking to be well under that time. Things can change quickly of course so I didn't push any harder. I seemed to be picking off a few other runners who had gone off rather quick to begin with and as the time seemed to flow quickly I felt like I was completely immersed in moving forward effortlessly. I have only experienced this two or three times before. The mind is clear and feeling of calm resonates throughout the body. This is where you want to be when running.

Just before the amazing sunset

Glorious sunset

 It started to get dark just before getting to Goring and although I didn't need my head torch yet I was concentrating on not kicking or falling over. I noticed on my way back to Goring that I was picking up a few very small stones in my shoes. It didnt take much to shake them out but could do without the stopping. This is a theme that continued throughout the race.
Runners settling in for the evening

As I saw the lights of Goring HQ I could see my friend Johnny waiting for me outside. He was going to be pacing me for Leg 3 and I had been looking forward to seeing him since we arranged this. He is an accomplished ultra runner in his own right having done the Grand Union Canal 145, MDS a couple times, several 100 milers and Spartathlon finish to boot. He is busy building up to tackle the Hardmoors 160 next year and with nothing better to do on a Saturday night he was more than happy to come down to pace me and also get the benefit of some night running in the bank.

I took a quick look at my Garmin after I checked in and had run the first 50 miles in 8 hours 37 mins. I was a little gobsmacked to be honest. That was a new PB by 20 mins and it was halfway through a 100 miler! Buoyed by this I asked for my drop bag and guzzled some chocolate milk and went about getting myself ready for the night time running. Allan Rumbles commented to me "Rich thats a bloody marvellous first 50 miles, impressive mate". After thanking Allan I grabbed a fresh top, headtorch, bottle refill etc.

So bad but so good
Johnny asked me "How you feeling mate? All good? I've brought you a Mc'Donalds". My face lit up and I laughed. We had talked about this before the race but I had completely forgot about it. So while other runners around me had a mixture of envious looks as well as disgusted faces I demolished a double cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake. I rarely eat this but it went down a treat. I didn't even think about what this might do to my stomach later but it felt good none the less. I must have spent 15 mins at the halfway point but felt ready to go out and run as strong as I could over the second half.

Leg 3 is also on the Ridgeway but it's completely different to Leg 2. Johnny and I were on the road for the first 30-40 minutes and it's a winding one up a very gradual incline (or at least it felt like it). I hiked for a fair bit of this interspersing with a jog for 5 minutes and time was ticking by quite quickly. The road then turned onto a gravel track and with the heard torches on full brightness things were really getting dark out here as it's pretty much away from the local towns.

Johnny and I talked for ages as I settled into a 4-5 mins run 1 min walk as the path flattened out talking about various things including what was on the racing schedule for next year and how badly Newcastle football team had been playing (I am a West Ham fan). After heading through a tunnel that you wouldn't probably want to run through during the day the Ridgeway headed up to Bury Downs. This section of the course is very exposed to the weather conditions and if it's blowing a gale or raining heavily up here it could make things very tough. Fortunately for us the weather had been very kind all day and that was set to continue, small things like this can make you feel so much better about the race.

A good few miles before reaching the next checkpoint I saw James Elson coming towards us with his pacer who was clearly in front now by some way now. He was smiling and said well done to us as he motored along down the hill. The course record must have been on I thought! A few runners had steadily passed us on the way back also including David who I work with all saying hello and offering words of encouragement. After reaching the next checkpoint I had a quick cup of tea and grazed on a few items of food before moving on, bananas seemed to be my most popular choice today.

The next checkpoint was 'only 4 miles away' up to Chain hill and it's at this point you turn around again and head back to Goring. The ground was rather cut up heading up the trail but I was still being successful in applying a 5 min run 1 min walk plan and still felt good. In fact I hadn't felt bad at all today come to think of it which did reinforce my positive attitude that I had. Johnny and I wondered what the surrounding area looked like during the day as its just countryside for miles around. Definitely a run in the future to be planned.

After reaching the checkpoint and having another cup of tea with again some small bits of banana we turned back to start our return to Goring. As we had been mostly going uphill and on the flat to this point I relished the return on the downhill section and had felt strong on the previous legs heading back to Goring. As we moved on I was walking less and running more to the effect that I was overtaking quite a few people despite the darkness. Johnny commented that he was impressed that we were moving strongly and overtaking people some of whom looked to be slowly walking and in some extreme cases swaying across the fields due to tiredness. That's a place you don't want to be at this early stage of the race.

On the way back we caught up with Ken Fancett who in my eyes is an ultra running role model. At 65 years old Ken has run 100's of marathons and ultras including many big US and European races with dozens of sub 24 hour finishes. We ran and chatted with him for a bit as he was moving well although he did say he had felt nauseous during this third leg. It was then I thought about the McDonalds I had ate earlier, thankfully I hadn't felt that way. Iron stomach? More lucky I guess.

A lot of runners were still coming towards us and you could see the headtorchs from quite a way out, such a cool sightt. Navigational wise we didn't get lost at all which is testament again to the great race markings but also I kept reminding myself to concentrate on whats in front of you at all times. Having gone back through the tunnel and made it onto the road Johnny and I were saying how quickly time had passed. We had chatted and laughed for a good few hours without really noticing the time. That's how I wanted to feel at this point of the race.

What you can discover running in strange places

As we descended into Goring I was still feeling good although of course at this stage of the race the overall pace is slowing compared to the first half. I checked in with at the aid station, 14:22 on the clock for 75 miles. Leg 3 had taken me 5 hours and 45 mins including of course my 15 min stop at the 50 mile point. I grabbed a quick refill of my water bottle and grazed again on some food, said my goodbyes and thank you to Johnny for pacing me and sharing the journey before heading back out the door for the final leg. I thoroughly recommend a pacer if you can and have a good friend do it. It's helps a lot psychologically. At least thats how I view it looking back on the race.

Now there had been a lot of discussion inside the Goring HQ that James Elson was nearing the finish and was well under the course record. With a bit of luck after just 2 minutes of leaving Goring again  e was coming towards me with his pacer looking relaxed and smiling again. Awesome stuff. I'm sure it was a very emotional finish for James in more ways than one. Well done to James! Now it was my turn to get the job done and enjoy the last leg as much as I could as it will be a long time before the chance comes to run a 100.

I had calculated that had plenty of time to beat my PB of 22:11 but you never know in a 100 what is going to happen no matter your preparation. The next section on the Thames Path includes what I call the evil forest section and the only hill you will find on this trail. I remember it well from the Thames Path 100 back in May and it can really break you if your not prepared for it. A nice steep hill to march up, a good few stairs up bridges over train lines, plenty of tree branches to take your head off and canals! I shiver at the thought of canals ha ha. It was during this section that I overtook a guy who was dressed as a teddy bear. Now I know what your thinking I was hallucinating blah blah blah but no he was dressed as a teddy bear and he is a good runner actually but he must have been suffering in that outfit today.

Just before getting to the aid station at Whitchurch I saw David again running towards me. He'd had an excellent race so far but said his foot was hurting him and with just under 4 miles to go still had a chance of a sub 16 hour finish! Incredible. He wasn't confident about that but having said good bye I know that he is not the type of person to miss an opportunity like this!  I reached the aid station and stayed for a minute to grab a tea, biscuit and banana of course as it was going to be 8.5 miles to Reading. Just as I got my tea the teddy bear came in through the door. He definitely didn't look like he had been to a teddy bear picnic. I'm sure he was fine but from the look on his face I knew he was in a dark cave. I wished him luck before leaving. This is what 100 milers do to you. Don't you just love it!

Having left the aid station I pulled out some dark chocolate coffee beans which I was hoping would perk me up heading into the final 20 miles and headed down through the churchyard over the bridge to Pangbourne. The run through the fields was a little spooky to say the least and with the path not being well defined in places it definitely can slow you down and although I still felt relatively good I knew this was impacting my speed through here. I could see ahead of me a solitary runner opening a gate and kept hearing it slam within a minute of getting there. This stretch seemed to take forever to the point that it was probably better to count how many fields I had crossed to ensure that I knew on the way back how far I had left to go.

I caught the runner ahead me not long after who was uncomfortably. I said hello and offered words of encouragement before moving on. Not long after that I saw Tom Sawyer coming the other way who said he wasn't feeling great and would be looking to walk it in. That's gutsy and many of us have been there. I applaud Tom for this as he did gut it out because he wanted to finish it and after that many miles you don't want to come back next year just to see what decision your going to make at the 90 mile mark. Only his pride was injured.

I popped out of the fields and was in Purley-on-Thames where the path leaves the river, diverting up a hill through a residential area before having you cross the railway line using a staircase to the river again. I didn't see any runners ahead of me but knew from my previous time here that you reach a paved path not far afterwards on the outskirts of Reading. This section seemed to drag like it did crossing the fields in Pangbourne but I was still feeling very alert and moving enough to be running and walking along the path albeit not as efficiently of course as before

Just before reaching the footbridge that climbs up and over Kennet and Avon canal I saw Sarah Sawyer again who was still moving well and smiling. Having seen her husband Tom marching just after Pangbourne I knew she was in with a good chance of catching him. Go Sarah! It wasn't long before I hit the Reading check point at 87.5 miles in 17:25. Sarah Barker was there again who said I looked fresh and smiling. She made me a cup of tea for me and again more chocolate brownie consumed. I said I felt pretty good although the fatigue in my legs was beginning to make running difficult. I said I had seen David on my travels and she responded that he had finished in 5th place in a cracking time of 15:58! Absolutely amazing and happy he got that sub 16.

Smile your on camera
Before leaving I sampled the gin cake (must have that again). Just as I was leaving some ladies who were sitting down asked me if I had seen the 'teddy bear' guy on my travels. I smiled and said I had and that he was fine albeit a little tired at the Whitchurch aid station. The look of relief on the ladies faces was evident. It turns out he won the High Weald 50k race I did 3 weeks ago. I said not to worry as I am sure he will pick himself up. After saying goodbye it was time for the final journey back to Goring.

A mile or so down the road from the checkpoint my Garmin Fenix 2 watch died. I wasn't fussed to be honest but annoyed that I hadn't turned off the non-essential functions for recording the race. There is always next time I guess. After reaching the staircase over the trainline my legs definitely were telling me enough is enough. My hip abductors were sore and could feel my right quad feeling a little more achey than normal. I could still power walk OK but running had become little more than a minute or so at a time. The battle and the race had begun! I bumped into a few other runners I knew on the way back including Dan Youds who I ran with at the South Downs 50 in April. He was going well and positive. Navigating back was straightforward and I came across several runners on their way to Reading through the residential area. I even saw a few guys using poles to climb the gradual ascent up the hill. I am not sure whether that seems sensible but each to their own I guess.

By the time I reached Whitchurch again I was mentally feeling strong but the body was definitely feeling the days effort now. A quick something to eat and I was out of there. No hanging around now I wanted to get this done. I was dreading the evil forest but as it was the last time I didn't feel overwhelmed by it. I had no sense off what time it was but knew that I must still be well under PB pace as it was still very dark outside. After crunching through the forest section and moving through a stream runners coming the other way through Pangbourne a solitary figure over took me. Low and behold it was my friend Rodrigo Freeman who was looking really sharp and moving really well. He said well done and said to come with him but I explained that my legs were a little shredded. I told him that I will see you at the finish. 

I was relaxed in knowing that new PB was on the cards and with little under a mile left in the race I was keen to get things done. It was then that I could sense someone was running fast behind me. Out of nowhere I saw a pacer come through with a runner who turned out to Paul Reader who apologised as he came hurtling through. No need to apologise I said you go sir! Fantastic effort. It was then that I saw the turning onto the road by Goring HQ but with nothing left in the legs I merely mustered jogging the last 60 meters into the finish. 

Everyone clapped me as I ran into the finish. It was only then I realised my friend Richard Quin who had arrived 10 minutes before to pick me up was standing there in front of me. He congratulated me and followed me into the final time through Goring HQ's door. 

Jon / Natasha Fielden congratulated me on my finish and told me I had finish in 39th place with a time of 20 hours and 40 minutes. A new PB by 91 minutes! I was chuffed. 

One happy man with a buckle
I received my sub 24 hour belt buckle and finishers t-shirt, quick finish photo before being offered some hot chilli and tea for breakfast. I sat there at the end and congratulated the other runners including Rodrigo who had completed the Grand Slam! Fantastic achievement. I still felt good in mind and chatted to Richard, Nadia who is Dan's Youds wife, Rodrigo and Ken Fancett who looked very jolly with a big cup of coffee or tea in his hand. I then decided it was time to go and got changed into some fresh warm clothes. It was mission accomplished.

Looking back on the race what surprised me the most was I achieved a big new PB but wasn't focused on this race until 4 weeks before hand. Although I  was on the waiting list I had forgot about it really and despite not specifically training for it like I did previously for Thames Path 100, on the day I managed dto focus on and pretty much held together. 

The mental aspect here is therefore very important even more so than the physical. There is no right way to train for a race of this distance but certainly having the experience of previous ones I think puts you into the mindset that the physical training cannot. With that thought in mind it's important to recharge therefore I have been rather enjoying the week off so far and have recovered so far without a problem. What lies ahead in 2016 I hear you say? Well in typical style I haven't signed up for any ultras as of yet. Let's see where fates leads me this time.

Big thanks to everyone at Centurion Racing, James Elson, Nici Griffin and the army of volunteers it takes to make this successful. I'm sure I will be back for more after three Centurion events this year and I recommend that all you runners out there go experience one.

Happy Running

High Weald Challenge 50km Race Report

Wow it's been a long time since I last blogged. I seem to go through phases of this have not really identified a root cause for the lack of writing. Never the less I think it's time to write up about a few things that have been happening over the summer and the upcoming final race of the season. Over the summer I have battled with injury since the Thames Path 100 (different calf problem) and with a marathon PB attempt lined up in October this didn't bode well. I started to rebuild the body and mind to see what I had in the tank after a whirlwind first half of the year.

So what did I do about it? Well I went and entered my second 100 mile race of the year after getting in via the waiting list - Centurion Autumn 100. As I went about re-building the body and mind over the summer I thought it prudent to enter a 50km or so nearer the time to get a decent long run in as I don't get a lot of chances to do this. This had previously worked well at the South Downs 50 just 4 weeks before the Thames Path 100. Having talked to David he mentioned that he had signed up for this new race that he was going to use a 'training' race called the High Weald Challenge 50km event organised by Stuart Mills. We made arrangements to travel to Groombridge together as it was a local race for David.

We arrived around just after 7am, swiftly registered, picked up race numbers and then promptly sat back in the car as it was feeling very fresh outside despite the gorgeous sunshine beaming! I intended to run with just a water bottle and be back within 5 hours or so. Other than that it was just a case of putting one foot in front the other and enjoy the day running on some lovely trails with like minded people. Route wise I had the GPX track loaded onto my watch and was 'hoping' that I wouldn't need the map despite the fact my map reading skills are sub standard. If I had bonus miles ahead then that was just fine with me. I must say I didn't even think about the route ahead! Follow the track line and run, period.

After getting out of the car at the last minute before the race briefing I bumped into Rob who was running light like myself. After all runners had gathered for the briefing Stuart said a few words and wished us well before we all crossed the field to the start line some 300 yards away. It only took a few moment for us all to line up at the start line and before you know it were we off.

After charging off up the road it was safe to say I didn't want to go out at suicide pace so I just settled into a pace that was going to be enjoyable. This was a 'training' run and wanted to make sure I didn't do anything stupid. I kept flicking to my watch to ensure I was on the right path and thankfully for the first few miles I didn't put a foot wrong. After trotting along for a bit I had a few runners tail me asking 'glad you know the way mate'. I replied to them 'I don't but my watch does'. If it failed I had the map of course but I would hope others running would do the same as it's all part of the preparation.

Just starting out on the trails

After reaching the first checkpoint I didn't bother to eat or pick up a drink so I just had to call my number out before heading up the Weald Way. Up until now I had not taken out my map of the course and the GPX track was really paying off. I couldn't switch off completely but it made the need to navigate with due greatly reduced. As I headed up to the Ashdown Forest I caught up with a gentleman who had just come back to running after several months. A quick chat with him and it turned out he had attempted the Dragons Back race earlier this year. "If your scared of heights and find navigation difficult then it's an event that might well challenge your fears unlike any other" he said. It's not something high on my list but a challenge it is and something I wouldn't necessarily not do.

As I reached the summit I said goodbye as we turned onto the Vanguard Way. I have run here before and let myself flow down the hill. I felt so good in this moment and it's something I just love to do although not all runners do love downhills. I don't like the uphills so it's a good trade off. After reaching the road and moving through Gills Lap car park I was feeling and moving well. I passed 'The Enhchanted Place' from Winnie the Pooh's stories which made me smile as the sun was overhead shining down. Feeling like this is why I love running.

After crossing the 'The Pooh Bridge' I came into CP2. "Would you like me to fill your bottle sir' a kind volunteer offered. I love touches like this and I gratefully said yes and thank you before being directed down the road. It was between here and CP3 that I ran with  another runner called Robert. As we passed through the Royal Ashdown golf course he had some great fascinating running stories to tell. I won't share those stories here but they spanned almost 30 years and included pretty much every situation you can think of. Incredible given I have only been running for 6 years. Robert was running his 248th Marathon / Ultra. I said you must have one understanding wife! Although he loved running a race like this every 2 weeks he did say it had impacted his performances as he said he didn't really focus on training anymore.

After hitting Forest Row at CP3 we said our goodbyes before I headed up a 'gentle hill' and through a camp site. I'm sure they had directed a few runners already as they were kind enough to say 'It's over this way!' Having crossed the field I was still feeling good and with about 20 miles or so in the legs I had really enjoyed today so far.

Having reached around 22 miles I came to a field and a runner in front of me who looked lost. I felt confident about the path ahead and after chatting with him for 30 seconds or so we moved forward. Within literally a minute though I realized that we were now off track! Suddenly my confidence dropped but I kept calm and got the map out. We back tracked some of the way then came back to where we stopped. I spotted a stile in the cornet of the field and noted that the direction we were heading would bring us back onto the right track. We had lost some time but to be honest it didn't matter and actually within half a mile we somehow got lost again as I took a wrong turn down a path. Now this was no fault of the Stuart and his team and the markings / way points are easy to follow. It didn't take long to resolve this and was back on the path running with Robert again.

Before I could say hi to him again Robert told me to push on as he would only slow me down. I had caught a handful of runners on in the last 3-4 miles and was still feeling rather good so I took heed of his advice and thanked him for that before moving ahead. As I reached what would be the last climb I caught a handful of runners, exchanged pleasantries before hiking up the hill as fast as I could. I was still feeling good and didn't want anyone to pass me in the last few miles. I reached the last checkpoint at Fordcombe and knew by looking at my watch that a sub 5 wasn't on the cards today. Not a problem because this is a training run and with the detour I took earlier I didn't mind bonus miles! As I was just leaving the checkpoint I glanced back and saw the the handful of runners I had passed. This sent off alarm bells and ran off as quickly as I could.

The next section had what seemed like more stiles and gates than the rest of the route put together. It was either that or I just couldn't run as smoothly as I had earlier. I kept thinking about the runners behind me and focused on just running as relaxed as was possible. After what seemed a fair amount of time my Garmin had hit 31 miles. I knew I had gone off track but as I moved swiftly through the final section which was a lovely single track through the woods I caught another runner whose quads said had been shot since 18 miles. Blimey they must be if I caught you this late. Perhaps I was a bit rude rushing past him as we were talking but he wished me well as I flew down the downhill which I absolutely loved and wished I had more of these today. In quick time I hit the road and dropped back into Groombridge.

After trotting down the road past a few cyclists who were competing in a triathlon despite a few of them walking their bikes up the hill! Outrageous behaviour. It wasn't long before I saw the last sign to turn left onto the final field before the finish. I caught the camera man unawares as he was laying down as I ran towards Groombridge Place. Thankfully I think he got a few pictures of me.

The finish line came soon after and I crossed the finish line in 25th place overall with a time of 5hrs 11mins. It wasn't bad for a training run really and despite getting lost I didn't lose all that much time and enjoyed the great route. After collecting my medal and pottery mug (which I love) I saw David who asked "where have you been?".  I laughed and said that my navigational skills went a little awry despite having the bloody GPX track on my watch!!! Some things never change.

The Big Finish!

After getting some free coffee I sat down for a while to chat with other finishers including Rob who finished just after me. It had turned into a beautiful warm and sunny day. Days like this are all the more enjoyable when running long. With this being my final long run before the Autumn 100 I feel in reasonable shape despite not having the consistent build up I had going into Thames Path.

My mental strength this time though feels significantly different. I don't feel overwhelmed or panicked by the thought of the distance. I've learnt a lot since the start of the year and and cannot wait to get started this saturday. I'm more concerned about coming out of it in one piece, enjoy some downtime before focusing on spring marathon training.

Happy Running!

Ace of Base

It's been over two weeks now since my last race and it's finally time to get back to running.

I took the first week completely off after the Thames Path 100 miler and enjoyed indulging in eating what I wanted, sat on the sofa drinking some beer and not thinking about running at all. It was bliss to be honest however after 7 days of slouching I started getting twitchy and was thinking about running again. I had made a pact with myself that I wouldn't think about running until day 10.

So on the ninth day I decided to run, oh well I did try. It wasn't efficient or easy. I felt sluggish but glad to be back out running and I had new shoes to try out. In the end I ran 30 miles last week and felt much better by the end of it.

So with two big races done and one A race left in October (Abingdon Marathon PB attempt) I am looking forward to an summer of running without a specific training plan other than the purpose of looking to run everyday and building a solid base. I am going to be entering a few more events but I will be not racing them flat out. I am going back to HR training as it worked so effectively in building up to the South Downs 50 miler in April. I am hoping I can build on the successful races I have had so far this year and make this year the best I have ever had.

I sometimes still cannot believe how this year has gone so far given what it looked like 6 months ago. Sometimes the best things happen spontaneously and unplanned so I am looking forward to what will happen over the summer.

Surviving the Thames Path 100-miler

"How did that feel?" As I thought about the question I took one look around me trying to absorb the surroundings, the sounds, the smell (hmm maybe not that) and then the memories came flooding back.

I still can't believe it...I lived through my first 100-miler! Last Saturday (and Sunday!). I joined 274 other runners at the Thames Path 100 mile race that starts in Richmond and finishes in Oxford. Although the weather was definitely not optimal there were extraordinary performances by all the volunteers and race direction. We had a fun-filled day full of smiles, tears, and breakthrough performances. This was my first 100 and I can see now why those belt buckles are so cherished - it's hard not to get too emotional thinking about what an adventure it was and the support given by everyone involved.

We're all going on a long run

I had raced the South Downs 50m four weeks ago as a qualifier for this race as it had been 4 years since my last 50+ mile race so given that I came through the unscathed and happy with a new PB I couldn't wait to do this race. Although I hadn't recce'd the course I was hoping the "glimpse of heaven" and "taste of hell" feeling ahead would settle some of the pre race nerves I had. I know I'd done the training and a solid fifty mile race but seeing my pack and drop bags laid out I started to think, What had I got myself into?

Happy Smiles early on - photo C/O Sarah Barker

It was great fun to see everyone at pre-race registration on Saturday morning, and I found comfort in the fact that there would be some familiar faces out there with me racing the distance. I bumped into David Barker who I work with, Rodrgio Freeman, Bryan Webster and Ashley Hurd who were all running the Centurion Grand Slam and David's wife Sarah who had the pleasure of crewing for. It was the first time I had gotten the chance to say hello in person so that was nice as well.

Sorry your going how far? - photo c/o Sarah Barker

As we made our way down to the 9.45am race briefing there was constant chatter about the weather forecast but for now it was dry and bright with a little bit of a chill but better than what it would be like later. Allan Rumbles came over and wished David and I the best of luck with a beaming smile. No sense in being nervous now - we were either ready or not and the 100 miles between us and the finish would soon tell us, there was an eerie calm and lots of people wishing people a good journey. Then James Elson sent us off!

The anxious wait to start the journey - photo C/O Sarah Barker

The front runners flew off the start line like a rocket, with Max Willcocks and Sam Robson leading the front line. The first few miles were fast and furious and I was feeling very good but knew that this early crazy pace would slow down (at least for me).

How does one pace the first 11 mile of a 100-miler? After deciding to slow down I was going to run based on my heart rate. I had done this countless times in training and it had help gotten me into shape however with the fact that this race was more or less flat the whole way I had to introduce walking early on. However for the first 90 minutes I didn't feel comfortable at all and glancing at my HR monitor on my garmin I could see my HR was not settling plus the strap was not comfortable.

The day was proving to be very warm indeed and I decided to go bare chested and put my t-shirt in my bag as well as my baselayer. I must have looked a little strange as I was the only one doing this but I felt much more comfortable and began to feel a whole lot better.

Ultra Tarzan coming through!

After another 10 minutes I reached the aid station. The volunteers at Centurion races are amazing and had us in and out very quickly. I stopped for about 30 seconds to grab a Gu gel and a water bottle refill. One of the volunteers commented on giving me a belt buckle if I still looked like that at the end! I laughed and said I would do my best. This section felt tough  so I made sure I would focus on getting fluids down along with some S-Caps over the coming miles After 30 minutes or so I started to feel a little bit cooler yet not 100 percent so decided to break into a walk and put my t-shirt back on.

CP1 - Walton on Thames - 11 miles

I was plodding along before and then heard a familiar voice behind me and turned around to see Rodrigo who was coasting along nicely. He asked me what time I was aiming to be at Henley for and said that possibly around 9 1/2 - 10 hours. Rod was aiming for a sub 20 hr race and knew that if he hit Henley in around 8 1/2 hours he had a cracking chance. Before I said to Rod to go on without me he said to me "Rich I think you are going to smash 24 hours". I thanked him for that confidence in me before he ran on ahead.

Feeling a bit better now! 

I ran into the aid station at Wraysbury in around 3 hours 45 minutes, had my water bottles refilled, grabbed some mini sausages and a cheese wrap which went down really well before moving out of the station back onto the towpath. Keep it simple.

CP2 - Wraysbury - 22 miles

A couple of miles after the aid station turned into one of my favourite parts of the race. I started talking to another runner pretty much for the first time since the start of the race. His name was Bob and we got on really well. I found out over the next few hours that Bob had done a few Ironman races, the Grand Union Canal 145 in 33 hours and was using this race as a warm up for the Thames Ring 250, WTF! Bob shared my affection for Doritos and Red wine and we had good chat about all kinds of thing and had banter for pretty much the next 3 sections of the race. The miles ticked by and I hardly noticed it.

CP3 - Dorney - 30.5 miles

Just before the aid station we caught up with Sarah and Tom Sawyer who I had talked to at the South Downs 50 briefly and on Facebook leading up to the race. Sarah was in despair about how flat the route was "I want my hills of the South Downs" she cried. At this point I completely agreed with her although I must admit it suited me a great deal as I live and train on the flat all the time.

We arrived at Dorney not knowing the exact split time since the last station but it was around 5 hours 15 mins. I felt really good and full of energy. I stuck to refilling my bottles with water, more sausages and cheese before leaving the station pretty quickly. I meet Bob while coming out and we jogged on.

CP4 - Cookham - 38 miles

As Bob and I moved on at a comfortable pace mixing in some fast walking I had a knack of spotting the Thames Path signs from some distance off which helped with navigation. It was all going so well until we took a wrong turn along a path which we thought the sign and race tape indicated towards but in fact we ended up in the middle of a street where there was no tape or signs! A few other runners joined us including Sarah / Tom and I thought it was probably best to trek back or get my map out. Just as I was about to do that a motorist pointed us down the road to get back onto the path as she had seen a group of runners only a minute or so ago. We were literally on top of the Cookham aid station and yet we had made a silly mistake. Oh well a couple minutes here and there was no big deal.

The aid station was fairly busy with all of us there but we didn't stay long with pretty much the same approach as at the last aid station and moved out quickly once done.

CP5 - Hurley - 44 miles

The next section went by again pretty quickly and apart from kicking my left toe a few times on rocks and stones our pacing had been consistent for the last 20 miles. We were in and out of the the Hurley aid station with my current winning formula.  I still fancied eating the sausage and cheese and not much else to be honest. My stomach felt good. Bob's advice race strategy from the start had been to make sure to walk fast for significant chunks of the race and this was working also. It's a good point to mention because later on in the race so many peoples legs had completely gone. Not only does this give you a break mentally but also it uses other muscles and gives some of your muscles used in the running motion a rest and he was damn good at it which helped me move along as well.

During the next 7 miles to Henley I was looking around at the beautiful houses along the towpath with a few people standing on the balconies enjoying their evening drinks before kicking the night off. Bob mentioned that he was going to address the blisters he could feel cropping up on one of his feet as well. As we entered Henley there were lots of people buzzing about clapping us in and before we knew it we had arrived at the aid station, mile 51 at approximately 7.40pm.

CP6 - Henley - 51 miles

James Adams was on drop bag duty when I arrived and asked me my number and whether I had a drop bag which I replied to yes I do and it's a small Karimoor Orange bag. After 30 seconds I had my bag in my hands and made my way to the nearest chair to sit down and get a few things sorted. A volunteer offered if I would like some pasta bolognese and a cup of tea which sounded absolutely brilliant. I had always planned to sit down and change my socks and shirt and to eat a bowl of whatever was served. When I had changed my socks I got my phone out and rang my my wife who said I was doing great and in abouut 85th position but David was in 5th place! Way to go Dave! She wished me luck and to try and speak to her when I could. After finishing the call I checked the football results. Surely West Ham can beat Burnley!? After devouring the bowl of pasta bolognese I waited for the 4G to kick in on my phone and could see that West Ham had indeed won 1-0! The small pleasures of hot food, fresh clothes and a trivial football result reinforce my positive outlook on the race. I felt recharged and ready for what lay ahead.

I stood up with ease and put my pack back on before marching out with refilled water bottles and a couple extra snacks for later. I saw Bob on the bench dealing with his feet and asked him if he wanted to wait for me. He said not to worry and that he would catch me up later. It had been great running with him for the last 25 miles or so and I was a bit sad to be leaving him at this point but we'd had a great innings. I said that if I didn't see him later that I would catch up at the finish line although I would have no Doritos to share by then! I left the aid station at 7.55pm so I was still under 10 hours for the first 51 miles and pretty pleased with that.

CP7 - Reading - 58 miles

After reaching a footbridge that traversed the river I burst into a jog, I just felt so good so I went with it. I started to pass other runners as I moved along saying hello to a few but I wasn't intent on hanging around as I knew this good feeling wouldn't last. After a couple miles I returned to walking and noticed it was getting dark so pulled out my head torch in preparation for the sun going down. I spotted a runner all in black walking along and after pulling up alongside him started a conversation. His name was Thomas (Thomas Garrod I found out later post race). He was looking to smash his time from last year having done the race and smash his PB all being well. Thomas was walking fast and I was able to keep up. As we marched along we had other runners yo-yo'ing forwards and backwards. Thomas said that he was going to push on and we said our goodbyes and I wished him luck.

By this time it was very dark so I switched my head torch on. I still felt good and knowing that I had covered more miles than what lay ahead made a big difference mentally. For the next couple miles I had a brief conversation with another runner called Phil who was looking forward to meeting up with his crew at Reading. Not long after Phil saw his wife and crew with a big smile on his face so I headed on up to have a drink and grab some food from the aid station. I marched up the stairs which surprised the volunteers on the door but I replied saying that "I was looking forward to a walk uphill with all this flat!".

The aid station was being managed by Susie Chan, Sean Marsden and Paul Ali. As always the guys were asking what you needed as soon as you entered the door. I wanted a cup of tea and although I didn't feel like eating I knew that I had to have something. I grabbed a ham and cheese wrap plus some watermelon. Wow! That really hit the spot. It was so refreshing that I had 3 pieces before I left with my tea. I said goodbye to everyone and headed back down the stairs. I hadn't a clue what time it was but knew I hadn't too badly yet.

CP8 - Whitchurch - 67 miles

As I was moving down the towpath another runner jogged up beside me just as I was finishing my cup of tea. He was a little bit taller than me and was moving well. We exchanged pleasantries and asked each how we felt up to this point. His name was Steve and this was his first 100 like myself. The next leg of our journey involved taking a detour through Reading town center albeit for 0.5 miles so we agreed to buddy up until the next checkpoint. Although my legs were feeling the miles my stomach, mind and soul were doing great.

Having navigated the detour successfully the remaining miles of this 9 mile section were the toughest yet. Steve had commented how fast I was walking when we stopped jogging. I had always assumed that my walking was quite poor however that tends to be on the hills and yet my legs felt really good fast hiking on the flat. I knew from Bob earlier that this was key to a good solid time today. To help things over the next few miles I pulled out the dark chocolate coffee beans David had provided me in the office earlier that week. They are fabulous.

After navigating successfully through residential areas and back onto the towpath it wasn't long before the rain started falling. Although it was only drizzle I immediately put on my waterproof jacket to avoid being cold. Steve also grabbed his jacket and asked me if I could hold his bag while he put it on. "Jesus Christ" I said "what do you have in this bag?". It weighed perhaps 3-4 times heavier than mine and was amazed he was running it that heavy."Probably too much" Steve said which made me laugh.

As we neared the aid station Steve said he was going to sit down and get his shoes off as he felt blisters with particular focus on his right foot. I said that was good idea to nip it in the bud now otherwise it might compromise his race later and we had a long way to go yet.

I couldn't believe we were moving well and as we headed into the aid station again the amazing volunteers greeted us with smiling faces. I was told that I was one of the few runners still smiling as I entered the station which was nice to hear. I asked for a cup of tea, grabbed some more watermelon and a cheese wrap then sat down next to Steve who had removed his shoes. Wow there were indeed some big blisters! I assisted in helping him take care of a couple before I said "You better do it in case I wreck your feet and your race!". He laughed and said no problem.

After finishing my food I headed out the door and said to Steve I will march on. After drinking my tea I made my way back onto the route asking a marshal which way I was supposed heading towards. After being kindly directed I plodded on best I could.

CP9 - Streatley - 71 miles

The rain was still drizzly so I kept my jacket on regardless as the air temperature had dropped and I didn't want to feel cold. The next checkpoint was only 3.6 miles or so and a chance again to change my socks if required. The night time miles ticked by and it didn't feel like a long time before I got there. I grabbed my bag at the aid station which seemed awfully quiet then  realised that it had gone 12.30am by then and that with the runners spread out there were going to be gaps in traffic.

I was asked and was grateful for the hot pasta with tomato / basil sauce which a volunteer offered me. It tasted pretty good and again helped lift the spirits. I changed my socks before standing up and grabbing a couple of ham / cheer wraps, some crisps and another cup of tea for the road. I must comment that the spreads are so good you should never miss a chance to eat at them!

Now the stretch to the next aid station is a bit of a blur but I do distinctly remember sharing a few miles with a guy called Alex. This is why I love running these type of events because you get to go places you wouldn't normally go, see things that are just so random (there was a boat earlier with loud speakers blurting out country and western music) and speak to some great people. Alex was telling me that he had done the Autumn 100 last year and knew this part of the route as there was overlap. Our chat's were not frequent but definitely helpful in making sure we kept moving forward. After some time had passed I wished Alex well as I slowed to a walk and he jogged on ahead.

Walking breaks are always useful to take stock of how the body is feeling and how fast I was moving. I knew that a sub 24hr finish was definitely on but anything could still go wrong at this point. It was a relief to see the Centurion flags as I tip-toed my way up to the aid station. I was asked if I needed anything and again asked for a cup of tea. One of the guys on the station had said that someone was lying down as they felt so awful. With that thought I didn't stay any longer and grabbed something to eat I think but cannot remember for sure what I ate! They warned me that there was a noisy pub preparing for the Boxing fight. I was preparing for a fight of my own with the last 20+ miles of the race ahead.

CP10 - Wallingford - 77.5 miles

Into the first couple miles of the next section I knew I needed another boost despite not feeling tired but the tiredness in my legs and feet was becoming harder to embrace. I stopped to think of the next tool in the arsenal to use. The thought came to me..time for music. I hooked up my earphones and I instantly recognised a song I love - Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive. I felt goosebumps radiate down my skin. It was time to move on and get this journey moving again. The rain was coming down but I loved it, I started thinking about everyone at home who would be tracking me, my wife and my kids faces smiling at the thought of Dad doing what he said he would do. I could hear the words come through and I sang them at the top of my voice without a care in the world. I was on my own but that's exactly where I wanted to be for the final 20 miles.

The time passed and although my jogs had pretty much come to a 1-2 minute effort now I was still overtaking runners as my fast walking was still eating up the ground. As I passed them I could see that they were alone with their thoughts and walking slowly. My good friend Allan Rumbles always warned me that the 100 mile race starts at the 80 mile point and it either breaks people or they pull something out they never knew they had. For me mile 80-85 was the hardest but also the most invigorating time of the day so far.

After getting onto the road again I entered Clifton in the pouring rain and I spotted a marshal with an umbrella who gave me directions to the aid station. I didn't hang around long again taking a cup of tea (as per usual) and walking out the door.

CP11 - Clifton Hampden - 85 miles

I worked my way back to the the kind marshal who warned me not to run down the slope to the path by the river. I laughed and said I would hang onto the rail and slide down if I had too :-) The pain in the legs, ankles and feet were on a level I had never experienced before but I embraced it. I had worked so god damn hard to be here and I was feeling such elation that no matter what happened I had taken so much already from this race. I think Frodo must have felt like this as he entered the final stretch of his mission to destroy the one ring to rule them all in the fires of Mount Doom. As the light of morning returned I was nearing Abingdon and I felt strong mentally despite a lot of hiking now and my legs just wouldn't work like they did before.

CP12 - Abingdon - 91 miles

After what felt like an age I reached the Abingdon aid station with my feet, lower back and ankles beaten up but felt very happy. I turned off my music and chatted to the volunteers for a minute or two saying that the last section had been hard work especially as it was very wet on the trails and grassy fields which in road shoes is not ideal. They said that it gets better from here and that with only 4 miles to Lower Radley the realization that this journey would soon end became very apparent. I could no longer raise my legs to jog but I could still walk strongly despite the painful feet so after getting my cup of hot tea I marched on.

I was beginning to consciously focus on the surroundings in an effort to remember and feel the moments I had left. Of course in no way did I want to DNF now but can see that with one false move you could get yourself in trouble.

CP13 - Radley - 95 miles

I reached Lower Radley knowing that this being the last aid station I wanted to spend as little time again here as possible. I hated thinking this because despite wanting to reach the end and achieve a goal I once thought beyond me the journey had been so special that I wanted to capture it for all time.

When at the checkpoint the team there were superb and I have to say had the best cake anywhere. For once I didn't have a cup of tea but I made sure I ate the cake. The guys reminded me that with only 5 miles to go breaking 24 hours was going to be a given but I could get near 22 hours if I really pushed it. With that thought I moved out as fast as I could with what must have looked funny as my legs were stiffening up. Then again at this point few people are running!

Those last 5 miles the trail was not the best to tackle in road shoes or any shoes to be honest packed with earth, stones, large broken twigs and more stones in places. I could still walk fine but with every step now my feet hurt. When I was back by the river side I could see people out for their morning rowing, runners skipping along (god how I wanted to do that) and others out on bikes. I said good morning to everyone that passed and managed to smile pretty much the whole time. I passed another runner who was not looking too good travelling very slowly. I asked him if he was ok and he said that he was fine but the legs were shot and that it was all about finishing now. He wished me well as I marched on. Those miles seemed to go on forever and pretty much every step was painful.

Just then I noticed on my left that there was field and there before me was the finish line! Sadness filled within me but I wanted to sit down now! I didn't want this to end but my feet and legs had other ideas and I broke into a jog with the biggest smile I could muster. This was it this was the finale. I could see Nici clapping, other people were clapping. I pumped my fists as I crossed the line.

Finish Line

"How did that feel?" Nici asked me. I couldn't believe it. It was over. It felt like a lifetime ago since I was standing on the start line. I tried to recall the moments I spent with other runners and volunteers during the race. How I felt when I clicked on the "congratulations you have a place via the waiting list" email back in January to enter the event and then entering the South Downs 50 to qualify.

The journey was over and how did I feel? I almost let out floods of tears and Nici could see it in my eyes how much this meant to me, I didn't know how to put all feelings into words and I am actually welling up just writing this. Nici gave me a hug and my sub 24 hour belt buckle before having a couple of finish line pictures.

Priceless moment

I saw Rodrigo at the end and he hugged and congratulated me on a fantastic finish. I thanked him for telling me how I would smash it as that helped me during the race. I was taken to a seat in front of a heater and Rod sat down next to me looking very fresh and dry. Sitting in that seat the relief washed over me. I had finished in 22 hours 11 minutes and 8 seconds. I smashed 24 hours for my first 100 and I was so close to a sub 22.
Looking fresh but tired

I was offered a bowl of hot chilli which I devoured and of course washed down with a cup of hot tea. I rang my wife who was ecstatic that I had finished in that time and my eldest daughter Facetime me to have a chat. Nici came over and showed her the finishing board where it showed I had finishing in 46th place saying that she should be so proud of her Dad! Things just got better and better.

My friend Andy who was here to support me and drive me home arrived a few minutes later happy to see that I had finished in one piece although he did say he would have loved to see me cross the finish line. I said I don't think I can get up and walk over the finish line again! Bryan joined us only a few minutes later and then Bob came into the tent to congratulate me as well before leaving on his drive home! Sitting there among everyone the feeling hadn't sunk in but I was feeling amazing and as runners continued to finish we all clapped each and every runner who crossed the that line.

My new best friend the following morning

I had started the day in good company and I had finished it in even better company. I was so pleased that those last 5 miles were tough as I had to dig deep and find the courage to move forward. There were also many other moments of the race that captures the spirit of a 100 that we all embraced.

I can honestly say in responding to Nici's question that during that race I had a "glimpse of heaven" and a "taste of hell" and both were amazing.

The prized belt buckle

To the RD's, volunteers, Nici, friends, fellow racers, Andy, and all involved, my deepest thanks for helping me find the finish line. I can honestly say that I am a changed man, and learned so much on the way to getting that belt buckle. I don't care how nerdy it is to actually wear it (of course I have already). And although I don't think another 100 is on the cards this year it certainly will be next year.

Congrats, everyone!


2015 South Downs 50 - More Up than Down

Back in the early part of the year I had no intention of running an ultra until later in the year as I was preparing for a spring marathon (PB attempt). However things had changed quickly when the opportunity came up via waiting lists clearing for some of the Centurion waiting lists and one of them had been the Thames Path 100.

Stupidity and fast broadband speeds enabled me to sign up quickly and then realised I needed to have a 50+ mile qualifying race. while I am here I will enter the South Downs 50 as well just 4 weeks before it. With that it was job done, well apart from actually running it.

So over the last 2-3 months I have been putting in some good consistent weeks of miles and a handful of long runs with the focus very much on getting through the South Downs 50 in good shape, not injured and qualify for the Thames Path 100.

Nerves building

I travelled down to the start of the race after a 6.15am departure time, arrived at the destination at around 7.40am which thankfully turned out to be just before the mad rush for kit check and registration. It didn't take long to go through the checks, said hello to Bryan who was on kit check before walking over to the registration desk to receive my race number 464. I plonked myself down in a chair had a cup of tea and chatted to various people who were looking forward to the day.

As discussed in my previous post plan A was to finish the race in 8-9 hours and I was going to stick with that. First rule of racing is to have a game plan and stick then assess throughout the race how I was feeling.

I started near the middle of the pack at the start line waiting in anticipation for the final countdown by James Elson when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said "Hi Rich, how you doing?". It took me by surprise albeit a nice one as it was Matt Wilson who had travelled down from up near Windermere. He wished me well and headed to the front line (he is a good runner and so he should). The countdown had finished and we were off with a bang or in my case and easy plod without getting steamrolled over.

The first part of the race heads out of Worthing for a few miles before joining the South Downs way. I used this time to ensure that I was moving along easily and not go out hard. So many times I have run out hard in races not fully understanding the impact, its a silly thing to do unless you are looking to win from the front (certainly not me). Game plan brain was in gear and the journey was about to begin.

When the sound of the horn went and the cheers of the crowd had gathered we were under way. The legs definitely needed warming up and in the first 3-4 miles I definitely did not feel all that comfortable, I had planned to keep things aerobic (I can talk most of the time without a problem) and fun. This was anything but fun as the breathing was hard and my legs felt heavy!

The first checkpoint was at the 11.2 mile point at Botolphs in a lay by. I put my slow start to warm up down to some initial undulating hills in the first few miles and that I had been up since 5am. I reminded myself to smile and relax as it's just a game. Again keep it fun and enjoy it.

Around about 7 miles in a runner settled in beside me and started chatting. As everyone knows chatting to other runners throughout an ultra race is definitely one of the many positives I like. His name was Dan and after exchanging some initial small talk we both had in common similar goals racing wise today. Dan was aiming to do the North Downs 50 in May in 6 weeks time and was using this race as a  good primer for the South Downs 100 in June in order to get enough points for the UTMB lottery for 2016.

South Downs glorious scenery 

Botolphs CP 11.2 miles

We hit the first checkpoint with a few other runners in tow. I drank a couple cups of coke, a GU gel, took an S-Cap and had one of my bottles filled with water. Dan and I then marched out of the checkpoint straight into a tasty climb ensuring along the way not to rush anything being eaten or drunk. The miles ticked by and I began to feel a lot better, I put it down to the fact I will still waking up from my early morning The weather remained grey but quite cool which was ideal and I refused to put my spare base layer on as I felt still warm enough despite the wind being quite blustery up on the ridge but had to keep gloves and hat on as those ends always freeze!

Saddlescombe Farm CP 16.6 miles

Having passed through the Saddlescombe Farm aid station taking on board more coke, GU and S-Cap it was obvious to see that coming out of each aid station there would be a nice climb for us to march up. The next CP was around 10 miles away and this would be a longer section because of that so I made sure to relax, kick back and enjoy the ride especially as we were going to take in one of the highest points on the course at Ditchling Beacon.

A bit grey but a great day to be out there

Feeling good at Ditchling Beacon

Just after hitting half way point in around 4 hours 20 minutes the sun came out just as we came down off off the ridge. It was fabulous to feel the warmth and I felt pretty damn good at this point. The pace picked up a bit and I didn't hesitate to take a photo. Of course this was a race but you got to take photos.

Absolutely stunning trails

Housedean Farm CP 26.6 miles

The next aid station was at Housedean Farm. Just before the CP I was feeling so good that as we hit a steep downhill before the CP I decided to just let myself go and get down as quickly as possible. I love running downhill and this steep descent before the road was just sheer joy, I must have looked off saying "good afternoon" to a couple just about to tuck into a sandwich as I shot passed them. I entered the CP with a smile on my face but didn't stay long other than filling up on water, GU and S-cap. I didn't wait for Dan but knew he would join me as I as started jogging up the road.

Quick note on Centurion Volunteers

I have to point out that the volunteers were fantastic at the aid stations. Whether it was filling your bottles, friendly chat, no task to small and wishing you encouragement to move forward you just can't ask for more than that. James and team should be immensely proud of what they have created.

The next section ticked by without a problem really but with another nice climb in the middle of it and a toilet break my average pace did drop a little bit off. Coming into Southease we had been told to take the bridge over the train station track to avoid any unnecessary accidents. Of course you always get some people who ignore that advice (and they did on this day) but for the sake of a few seconds it's rather pointless to be taking those risks.

Southease CP 33.9 miles

Having come into the Southease aid station I was feeling a little fatigued and with a big long climb up onto the ridge again I made sure to take on board some additional food besides the GU and coke I had been sticking too since the start of the race. Looking back now that climb out of Southease felt endless and definitely the most taxing but still enjoyable as the views were pretty cool.

Once back up on the ridge I started to feel cold so I decided to put on the spare base layer. My lower back and arms began to ache a bit from fatigue and I vividly remember lacking energy around the 35 mile point. The next 5 miles were definitely the slowest of the race for me but nothing horrific as such but definitely more walking than I would have liked as my right hip abductor began to say "hello Mr Stewart remember be", Ouch!  Fortunately although sore my legs didn't feel bad at all. The next stop Alfriston CP.

Alfriston CP 41.6 miles

A friend of mine had pre-warned me that the climb out of Alfriston will definitely zap the legs after having run 40+ miles but with just over 8 miles to go I didn't worry too much about this.  Having briefly stayed at the check point eating some crisps and sausage rolls as I couldn't face gels Dan and I began our march up the climb and what a climb it was.

I didn't know whether I would hit my race finishing time of 8-9 hours as the climb was definitely taking anything I had left out of the legs but this didn't matter as the scenery was absolutely beautiful. Some lucky folks get to train here on a daily basis! About halfway up we caught a few other runners who we had seen in the distance at the previous checkpoint. While Dan chatted to them I stood still and enjoyed the moment, and course you guessed it took some photographs!

Don't forget to take in the moment

Days like this don't come around often
After catching up with the other runners I had a brief chat and found out one of them is running the Thames Path 100 so I said I will see you there before trotting off after Dan who has carried on ahead.  I found that could run more freely now and although the legs were tired and the hip abductor still reminding me not to put my foot down (as if I could) I continued to enjoy the running. I caught up with Dan just before descending off the hill into the final CP at Jevington.

What I would give to run here on a daily basis
Jevington CP 45.7 miles

I checked my Garmin as we entered the checkpoint and showed 8 hours 15 minutes. With about 4.3 miles to go I was doubtful a sub 9 was on but there was a still a chance if I pushed myself. Dan wasn't so sure either but with this chance we didn't want to waste time. I didn't bother to refill the bottles and quickly left after having my number checked.

The climb out of Jevington up to the trig point although not as severe as the others was still steep but again so much fun especially as you know the finish is not that far away. As Dan and I crested the top of the hill and Eastbourne came into view a gentleman pointed us into the direction of the final turn and descent to down the the streets of Eastbourne.

Dan took off at this point and I followed but I was not coasting the downhill as quickly as hoped and was more intent on staying on my feet. Just before I hit the bottom my Garmin ran out of battery!!! Aghhh. Well almost that feeling but to be honest I put my head down and just kept running. I turned into the street following the Centurion marking tape. Keeping my up I felt like I was running at a good clip although not catching Dan. It was then that someone pulled up beside me and said "Hi mate, do you know where the finish line is?". I just said it was less than 5 minutes away.

After providing directions I realised in those final moments of the race that the end of the journey was nigh and I was feeling quite sad about that. I had thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and I still felt good despite the quads being a little unhappy. I tried to take in all the sights and sounds as I headed down the path to the running track, I honestly didn't want it to end.

Finish Line

As I made my way into the final corner I entered onto the track giving high fives to the kids there. It was a great atmosphere and could see Dan just about to cross the finishing line so I picked up the knees and ran as hard as I could without looking like a complete twat.

I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face and Mimi Anderson congratulated me and put a finishers medal around my neck. She asked me if I had enjoyed it and replied with "It was a splendid day on the trails".

I had no idea on my final finishing time but knew I was going to be close to 9 hours. I spotted Dan who was with his wife and friend Henry. I congratulated him on a great race and thanked him for the miles we ran together today. His wife checked my final time and it was 8:57:26 and 61st place. I was absolutely stoked with that. I had paced it well despite a low point around 35 miles pulled off plan A.

Yes I look like I have been swimming with my Ashmei hat

I rang my wife to let her know I was OK and that I had finished the race. I got changed into spare clothes as I began to feel a bit chilly. Dan and Nadia (Dans wife) offered to take me back to Worthing to get my car instead of the bus which was fantastic. The journey didn't take long back to Worthing and we chatted in the car about the race and future races coming up. It was a shame the day was over. I thanked Dan and Nadia for the lift back and I'm sure we will bump into each other again

This was my first 50 mile race in 4 years and I felt like it pretty much went to plan and I felt a lot stronger than in any event I have done so far. With the focus now on recovering this week the Thames Path 100 is just over 3 weeks away and I just cannot wait.

Happy Running!