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.