Tag Archives: Centurion

The Centurion Autumn 100

I entered this race in a surge of enthusiasm after my run at the Thames Path 100 in May. When I started running ultra distance races I thought one hundred miler in a year was enough. However, I ran a 16:54 for third place at the TP100, which came as a massive surprise, so I wanted to see if that was something I could repeat or if it had been just a chance alignment of perfect conditions and fitness.
Pacing is critical in all endurance races but with a 100 miler if you get it wrong you can really pay. That last 25 miles can take 8 hrs if you overdo the first half. My best races have all been where I start slow. While I still slow down at the end of the race, if I have saved my energy, I will slow down a lot less than many others, and get a huge boost from catching and passing runners in the last 10 to 15 miles. As a result I am a firm believer in having a pacing plan. However during a race I will happily deviate from this if conditions dictate, but when I do it is a conscious decision, and not an accident. So in the weeks before the race, I spent a lot of time planning my strategy. I looked at the excellent climbers.net site (http://climbers.net/race/Winter-100-2013) which aggregates the results of finishers, as well as individual results from 2013 and 2014 from Centurion Running’s own results page. Using these numbers and my own splits from TP100, I started building a pacing plan.  So the plan was for a steady pace for the first three legs, slowing a little in leg 4. However I then factored in the elevation gains and what knowledge of the terrain I could get from other race reports, and it came out looking like this…
100 mile pace chart

Pacing Plan

This race is not a point to point, but a set of 4 out and back sections on the Ridgeway and Thames Path national trails. This makes it a lot of fun as you get to see the leaders running back towards you after each turn, and when you turn at the end of each leg you can see the runners behind you. You also return to the same aid station (Goring village hall) at 25, 50 and 75 miles so can access your bag for a change of kit or your own favourite food if you want. This also meant I decided to run without a crew or pacer. When I told Sarah, she and Beks decided to volunteer and join the fun anyway.
Route map

Route with elevation

I drove up to Goring early on Saturday morning, and found race conditions were perfect. There had been no rain so the trails were mostly dry, and the weather was cool and overcast. Kit check and registration was done in just a few minutes and I was soon catching up with friends and chatting about the day ahead. James Elson gave the pre-race briefing, and then in a change from normal form, joined us on the line for the 10 am start. After organising the Centurion Running races for 5 years we wanted a different view of the event so had decided to run it himself, and hand over control for the day to Nici and Drew.
There are always a few people who start like it’s a 10k race, but I ignored them and started nice and slowly. I had decided to reuse my “run 9 mins, walk 1” strategy that served me so well on the Thames Path in May, but held off my first walk break for 20 minutes to warm up. This strategy helps keep my pace down early on, and also gives the muscles a chance to relax and recover. On flat courses I would definitely recommend it:
  • Eat little and often
  • Walk little and often
  • Start both early
Despite trying to go slow, I arrived at the first checkpoint nearly 5 minutes ahead of schedule. I didn’t need anything, but paused for a few seconds to take a drink and then carried on. I had now settled on race pace, and felt very comfortable. Somewhere around here my Garmin Fenix malfunctioned. It randomly rebooted, and when it finally restarted, the race time and distance were both way out. At least it could still tell me the time of day!
Before too long I saw 3 runners heading back towards me, closely followed by James who was shouting out encouragement to everyone he saw. A few minutes later I arrived at the aid station, where the volunteers topped up my flasks, and I turned back towards Goring. I was still a few minutes up on schedule, but this margin was steady and not increasing so I felt I had control of my pace and was very comfortable.
I then enjoyed seeing a number of my friends running well and even had time for a high five with Ash – I’d missed him at the start.
Back at Goring I stopped to apply extra vaseline. It was more humid than I had anticipated and I didn’t want any chafing to ruin my race. Leg 2 on the Ridgeway was totally new to me as I’ve not run here before. I had to ask a marshal where to go as I left Goring, and I was joined by another runner, Paul, also running the A100 for the first time. I think he was a bit shocked when I told him I was on a 16:30 race schedule, and he quickly backed off his pace, leaving me to run alone.
Initially the Ridgeway is flat following the Thames and I stuck to my 9 & 1 routine, and even as the course headed onto Grim’s Ditch and there were a few rolling hills it was easy running, so I stayed with the routine. Although the route was new to me it was well marked and I was feeling good. Sarah and Beks would be at Swyncombe where Leg 2 turned back. I saw the race leaders heading towards me about 10 minutes before I turned. They all took the time to say something encouraging, and after counting them through I worked out I was in 13th place when I arrived at Swyncombe.
Swyncombe aid station

37.5 miles done

While Beks refilled my flasks and Sarah took a few photos, I grazed at the buffet, and then started the return to Goring.

The return to Goring felt really good, and I could see how spread out the field was getting. I had a brief chat with Dave Ross when I caught him. He was clearly feeling the effects of all the racing he has done this year, and had slowed a lot, but was very cheerful about it. I arrived back at Goring at the half way distance after 7:20, which was still a couple of minutes ahead of schedule. So when Allan Rumbles offered me a cup of tea I gladly accepted. I knew it would get cold on the Ridgeway after dark, so changed to a long sleeve top, and was quickly back out the door.

Leg 3 is very different from Leg 2 although both are on the Ridgeway The first half hour was on a road, and then there was a long climb up a gravel track that seemed to last forever. However I was then rewarded by the most stunning sunset. I really should have stopped for a photo, but I was feeling strong so kept on running and walking (9&1 still). It was starting to get dark, but my head torch was in a zipped pocket in my pack that I couldn’t reach without stopping, so I chose to run on in the gloom. The tunnel under the A34 was ridiculously dark, but I was committed now so carried on. The Ridgeway up to Bury Downs is very exposed to the wind, but the weather was still good fortunately. I arrived at the checkpoint in the dark, startling the volunteers who had not seen me coming. However they cheerfully refilled my flasks while I put my head torch on before setting out towards Chain Hill. As I crossed the road  I saw James and his pacer flying down the trail. It is only 4 miles up to Chain Hill where Leg 3 ends and you turn back to Goring. This section of trail must run through some exceptionally beautiful areas for wildlife. There were a surprising number of cars parked and people strolling around the woods with torches. Looking for moths perhaps?
The return from Chain Hill is mostly downhill, and feeling good I started to extend my run / walk to 14 & 1. In the dark it was hard to recognise the runners coming towards me, so I just put my head down and concentrated on running well and not tripping on any rocks or tree roots.
Back at Goring I swapped the battery of my Petzl Nao for a fresh one, and grabbed a bag of chocolate coated coffee beans from my drop bag (top fuel for the night stages). I was surprised to find I was nearly 15 minutes ahead of schedule. For the first time I started thinking about a sub 16hr finish. Maybe it was possible if I could keep my pace up. Leg 4 is back on the Thames Path, but also includes just about the only hill you’ll find on the trail, as well as a few evil stairs up bridges over train lines and canals. Although my Garmin had now recovered from its earlier malfunction, the race time and distance were way out. However I tracked my time to the next aid station at Whitchurch (43 mins from Goring). As I arrived there I saw three runners just leaving, and decided I should be able to catch up with them before Reading.
I stopped for less than a minute at Whitchurch, and then ran down the road through the churchyard and over the bridge to Pangbourne. The run over the fields was a little eerie, with the dew and a light mist reflecting my headlight back at me. In places the path is poorly defined, as it it just a strip of grass that is slightly shorter than the rest of the grass in the meadow. However I could soon see the glow from the headtorches of the runners ahead and that gave me a point to aim for. I caught and passed them – two runners, one with a pacer who graciously waited for me, holding a gate open. He told me I was flying and wished me luck.
I was really enjoying running over the fields, but all too soon I was at Purley-on-Thames, where the path leaves the river, diverting up a hill and through some residential streets before crossing the railway line and down the staircase to the river again. Not long after this I saw lights on the path heading towards me. James and his pacer were cruising along looking very relaxed. Somewhere along here the dirt path becomes paved and you run through a park through the outskirts of Reading. I knew from TP100, that there was still at least four miles to the checkpoint, but it seemed even longer. I saw the 2nd runner, then five minutes later the 3rd and another ten minutes behind the 4th place runner, all well behind James, and also well apart from each other so it didn’t look like there would be a change. It was Sarah Morewood running in 4th and clearly on target to smash her own course record.
As I reached the footbridge that climbs over the Kennet & Avon canal I saw Peter Kaminsky walking up the steps, so I jogged up and paused to chat. He looked like he was very well placed for the Grand Slam title, and was still moving well. Catching and passing him also meant I was now in 5th place. I stopped for five minutes at Reading to chat to Sarah, Beks and Mark who were volunteering there, and to drink a coffee. In the Thames Path 100 this checkpoint is at mile 58, and I had been in some pain when I arrived here. However today I was still feeling good. Peter had arrived just after me, but wasted no time and left before me, so when I left, I set about trying to catch him again.
My heard torch battery had nearly run out on Leg 3, and I was concerned the replacement might run out on Leg 4. I didn’t fancy running the last 4 miles , a hilly trail through the woods, in the dark so I turned my torch off as I ran along the tow path in Reading. I must have looked like a strange sight running by the river at midnight in the dark. In hindsight I’m surprise I wasn’t stopped by the Thames Valley Police.
The steps back over the railway line at Tilehurst were a killer, and I was very tempted to stop when a stranger offered me a slice of pizza. I assume they were crewing a runner, and enjoying a late dinner. They certainly looked a lot less suspicious than the people I’d seen hanging around at the car park near Chain Hill.
With about 6 miles to go, I caught up with Sarah Morewood. She was looking a little tired but was dominating the women’s race, and certain to set a new course record. She was walking, and I stopped for a scheduled walk break, so we chatted for a minute before she urged me to press on. I charged across Pangbourne Meadows at what felt like my 10k pace. My Garmin tells me it was 7:41 min/mile, so some serious speed. However this nearly destroyed me. By the time I reached the car park at Pangbourne I felt ruined, and limped across the bridge with considerable pain in my right foot. I arrived back at the Whitchurch aid station at 1:22 am. I had 38 minutes to get to the Goring if I wanted to get a sub 16 finish. It had taken me 43 minutes on the way out, so was looking unlikely.
At this point I saw Richard. I’ve worked with Richard for years, and we had spent all week in the office discussing race plans, kit choices etc. I told him my foot hurt, and a sub-16 was out of reach. Giving voice to my doubts and weakness had am amazing effect. My inner voice started arguing with me. This was not the usual negative prompting, Instead it told me to MTFU! “If you don’t try, you won’t know if you can do it!”. “You come this far, you can run another 4 miles”.
And so I did. Sadly the first half mile of this section is uphill through the village, so I was forced to walk, but then I was flying down hill through the woods and back onto the river path. Runners coming towards me, starting their final leg were all cheering me on, and jumping off the trail to let me through. One well meaning runner called out “you’re twenty minutes from Goring”. I looked at my watch at it read 1:50. Only ten minutes to get there!
Soon I could hear the water rushing over the weir at Goring and I knew I was very close now. I charged up the path from the river to the village hall like a wild eyed maniac, and over the finish line (the doorway into the hall itself).
Finished

What’s my time?

“What’s my time?” – I could have been a little more polite, but for an hour I had only one thought on my mind, and I really needed to know. The timing system took a few seconds to confirm my time, but then Natasha said the magic words… 15:58:52.
A massive PB, 56 minutes quicker than my TP100 time.
James, looking remarkably fresh despite smashing the course record himself, presented me with my 100 mile buckle, and the remarkable volunteer army ensured I was comfortable, and served me tea, chilli then more tea.

Finished

Finished

I changed into some clean clothes, and then sat down to chat to some of the other runners. Goring was busy with a steady stream of runners finishing leg 3, and readying themselves for the final 25 miles.

Hold on a minute… I may have finished my race, but this blog is not over yet, and neither was my night.
After a couple of hours recovery time at Goring, I was starting to get cold, so went to my car where I had a thick jacket and hat, and then drove the 15 miles to Reading to find Sarah at the Wokingham Waterside Centre.
She told me I had just missed Richard, but there were plenty of other runners arriving at the checkpoint. For a while I just sat there, watching the volunteers do their stuff’: timing runners in, refilling flasks, making tea and coffee etc.
Distance running is very much an individual sport. You move at your own pace, and can go hours without seeing anyone. However Centurion events are in fact the largest team sport I’ve ever experienced. The sense of shared community is so intense that you have no doubt you are part of a team of 300 people all working together with one goal: to get the 205 members of the team who have a race number from the start line to the finish line. Watching the amazing volunteers at work, I realised that although I had done part of my job, there was more to do.
Everyone at the aid station had a role, and I needed to find my own. I saw one guy who was clearly struggling. The physical challenge of running 100 miles is immense, but the mental challenge is even greater. You hurt, you’re tired, why not just stop and go home?
I sat with him for a while and told him what I’d told myself at Whitchurch. “If you don’t try, you won’t know if you can do it”. Most people who Refuse to Continue come back again, and have to run 87.5 miles just to get the opportunity to run the last 12.5. Isn’t it easier to just start the 12.5 now? My first 100 mile race ended with a slow 18 mile death march to the finish. I had a fractured meta-tarsal, but a massive grin and sense of satisfaction that lasted weeks. I’ve had a couple of DNFs too, and they haunt you for weeks.
Seeing him get up and leave Reading, and then later on finding out he had made it back to Goring was my favourite part of the weekend. It confirmed that I need to volunteer at these races a lot more. It is just as satisfying and a lot less painful.
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Thames Path 100 2015 – The Crew View – Guest Blog by Sarah Barker

I can’t remember when David slipped into the conversation that he had entered the Centurion  Thames Path 100 for 2015. I probably wasn’t paying too much attention. It’s entirely possible I was asleep on the sofa at the time; I’m sure this is the moment he chooses to let me know about most of his races.

I’ve often likened the whole running 100 miles thing to childbirth, for a number of reasons:

  • It seemed like a good idea when you signed up months ago
  • You have to make a few sacrifices along the way if you’re going to be properly ready (in my case, mostly gin)
  • Packing your bags for the event is complicated
  • The actual thing takes a long time
  • It hurts
  • It’s not glamorous
  • It takes a while to recover
  • You can’t do it on your own.

Continue reading

The longest nine minutes

For the fourth time I looked at my watch, but it was still only 27 minutes past.

Keep on moving, keep on running.. Just three more minutes

The numbers changed, but the mantra was the same.


The Plan. When I entered the Centurion Running Thames Path 100, I figured I would need a new race strategy. In my previous two 100s, I’ve had a simple plan of walking the steep bits and running the rest. The Thames Path is pancake flat apart from a few bits (more about them later), and I know non-stop running isn’t realistic. Continue reading

SDW100 – Consistency Pays off

The Centurion Running SDW100 is a trail race along the 100 mile length of the South Downs Way national trail from Winchester to Eastbourne.
I’ve only run this distance once before (the NDW100 in 2012) and although I finished it with a reasonable 23:27 time it left me broken, and I’d hobbled the last 18 miles to the finish.
My training since that race has been far more consistent. Not only have I logged more training miles, but they have been better quality. I’ve achieved PB’s at shorter races already this year (5k, 5 miles and 10k), so I knew I was fitter and faster. I’ve run a couple of marathons and the excellent Weald Challenge 50k just a few weeks earlier, and had strong finishes at both. So I lined up on the start line feeling nervous, but confident. I had an A goal of sub 20hrs, a plan B of sub 24 and plan C ‘finish’.
I didn’t have a detailed plan, but my wife had offered to crew for me, and a couple of other friends were also going to join later to pace me, so I’d worked out a couple of schedules to give them an idea of when to expect me. Fortunately my wife also has an app that can track my phone’s location (great in a race, but perhaps not so good on a lads night out), so would be able to stay a few miles ahead of me, meeting me at various points.
Since starting running ultras, I’ve developed a habit of making a huge wall chart of photocopied maps before long races. This gives me an opportunity to study the route, but more importantly, my two children can see the route, and use the app to track my progress on race day if they’re not actually watching.
The wall chart

The wall chart

I’d stayed in Winchester the night before, so got up at 4, had a quick breakfast and took a taxi to the Chilcombe sports ground for 5 am. After registration, kit check, and chatting to a few familiar faces, we had a short briefing from James Elson (race director) and then at 6am we were off. The 240 runners had a loop of the playing fields to spread us out a bit before getting on the path, and while I didn’t sprint off the line, I did make sure I got into a reasonable position so I could run well and not get held up.
There had been rain the night before, and during registration, but it had stopped before the race start. However after only a few miles the aim of keeping my feet dry had gone as I splashed through ankle deep puddles that completely covered the path.
I knew it would be hot, so I’d decided to run with the bladder in my race vest rather than just the bottles, as I thought I’d need the extra capacity. This did mean that I had to spend a little extra time at checkpoint 1, taking my pack off, but the volunteers were very helpful and soon had me on my way again. It was now getting quite warm,  and very humid, so i decided to take it easy on the next couple of hills.
I arrived at cp 2 feeling good, refilled my water flasks and set off with 4 other runners. The route is simple: follow the finger posts. To make it idiot proof the Centurion team marks all the junctions with tape and arrows. We still went the wrong way. It’s compulsory to carry a map and compass, so after a few stops to work out where we were, we found our way back, but had lost about 20 minutes and probably run an extra mile or more.
To keep my mind off the overall distance I’d broken the race up into sections.  My first major target was to get to Hill Barn Farm near Cocking. I’d volunteered at the aid station here last year and then run the next 25 miles as the sweeper, so would be on familiar territory. More importantly I knew my support crew would be waiting there. Sure enough, as I ran into the field, I saw Sarah parking the car, so with barely a pause to say ‘good morning’ I shouted at Sarah for a clean top and swapped it for the sweaty one I’d worn for the first 35 miles. The humidity meant it was soaked and I could already feel some chaffing on my back.
Cocking Aid Station

Cocking Aid Station

I grabbed a handful of food and walked up the steep hill, but the next few miles were along the ridge line on a great path, so easy running, and knowing the route made it feel so much better. There are official aid stations every 8 miles or so, but also a few other places where the trail crosses a road, and Sarah was parked up at many of these, making sure I had everything I needed.
There was a very heavy rain shower at one point just before the half way mark, but it was a welcome relief as it helped me cool down, and reduced the humidity a lot. In fact the weather for the second half of the race was perfect. I tried to get in and out of the Washington Aid station as quick as possible. The offer of hot food was very welcome, but I decided not to, and just grabbed my head torches from my drop bag, used the toilet, and was off.
My next major target was to get to Pyecombe (68 miles), as my amazing crew chief had arranged a team of pacers to run with me from there until the finish. However all the mud from earlier, and the rain meant my feet had been damp for hours, and I could feel a blister forming.
Fortunately Sarah was at the Devils Dyke with a bag of kit, so I changed into dry socks and shoes. Actually she pulled my filthy shoes and socks off as I was struggling to reach my feet. Fortunately there were no blisters, but dry socks and shoes felt fantastic.
Three miles further on we met up again and ran together up to “Jack & Jill” the Clayton Windmills and then a few more miles to Ditchling Beacon. It was great to be running with Sarah and was a beautiful evening on the Downs. After 12 or more hours of steady running I was feeling like I was on cruise control, ticking off the miles while gazing at the view and chatting away. We met up with Rebekah who took over the pacing while Sarah sorted some other logistical miracle, involving getting our car to the finish.
It was still daylight, and there were great views down to Brighton and north to the weald. We ran along the ridge line and then down to the aid station at the A27 crossing. The Centurion aid stations are like an ‘all you can eat’ buffet with volunteers encouraging you to stay and fuel up, but also pushing you to carry on running and not spend too long resting. Runners don’t need their own support crew, but mine were fantastic. We left the aid station and seemed to fly up the next hill, but I struggled on the downhill and had to walk the steep descent. A couple of runners and their pacers ran passed us, but promptly missed the next turn and we had to shout to call them back. We then ran with them for a while and followed them into the Southease aid station (mile 82). Sarah and Claire were both there, and helped me change into a warmer long sleeve top, before Claire and I set off for the next 10 miles.
I remember when I ran the North Downs Way, I reached the Detling Aid Staion, a similar distance to Southease, at about midnight, and had basically walked in from there. This year though I was still feeling good, and it was still daylight.
We ran for a while but soon had to walk up another seemingly endless hill, as it finally started to get dark. We briefly stopped to put on head torches, then carried on. I love night runs. There is something about the way the torch beam illuminates just the path ahead. Perhaps it’s that you can’t see how big the hills are, but it does help you focus on the simple task of ruuning. Soon I started recognising the route, as we were running part of the Beachy Head marathon route, but in reverse. We ran down to Alfriston and another aid station where I finally sucumbed to temptation and sat down for a cup of tea and a ham sandwich. However with only 10 miles to the finish, Claire and the race marshalls booted me out into the night. The next half mile was hideous. A flat path by the river, but with four stiles to climb over, and I could barely lift my foot six inches off the ground. I don’t like stiles at the best of times, so these were particularly unwelcome.
However, soon we back to a more sensible hill and then a car park where Sarah and Rebekah were waiting. Only 7 miles to go, and Sarah was running the final leg with me.
We climbed up the hill to the top of the Long Man of Wilmington, and promptly took a wrong turn. I still don’t understand how, but I missed the SDW turn and ended up running down the wrong hill on the Folkington path. I spent a couple of minutes staring at the map trying to decided whether to hike back up or find another route when another runner and his pacer showed up. One of them had a GPS device with OS map, and quickly plotted a route to Jevington so we decided to followed them. First we ran down a steep technical path, squeezing passed an abandoned car, and running around a spooky farmhouse complete with drunken irate football fan shouting at us: “can’t you just watch the game like normal people!”. I’d promised Sarah this would be the fun bit…
However we finally reached the road, and ran a few hundred yards down to the last aid station at Jevington. Less than 5 miles to go, and only 1 more hill.
The finish line is not at the trail head. It’s at the sports centre near the hospital, so at the trig point at the summit, you have to ignore the SDW finger posts at take an unmarked trail down into Eastbourne. Fortunately a brave volunteer was camped out at the summit with a dozen glow sticks, directing runners down the correct path to the town, and the final 2 miles was well marked with arrows and paint on the road. When we arrived at the finish, Sarah stopped to leave me to run the final lap of the track before crossing the line, while she and the rest of the crew cheered me on.
It felt great to finish a 100 miler, running well and not just shuffling in pain, so I had a huge grin on my face as I ran to the line, for hugs from the Nici and my crew, a 100 mile buckle from Mimi Anderson, and the best bowl of spaghetti bolognese I’ve ever eaten. The better training had enabled me to run more consistently and although the walking breaks got longer, when i did run, it still felt comfortable and i could move at a steady 8:30 min/mile pace.
Race Stats
103 miles (I had 2 detours!)
19th place
19:02:09
A PB by 4hr and 23 mins

Photos by Jon Lavis, Sarah Barker and Rebekah Rand