Tuesday 21 October 2014

Race Report : The Winter 100

Kit check and registration
This past weekend was Centurion's Winter 100 event starting and finishing in Goring-on-Thames.  A quaint little village in leafy Oxfordshire that is the meeting point of two national trails, the Thames Path and the Ridgeway, providing a perfect location for this 100 mile endurance event.  

But before I get stuck in to the details of the weekend, I thought I'd change things around a little.  Almost every blog post I write, I end up saying thank you to a load of people right at the end, last and not least my ever present wife, Nikki.  So I thought it was high time I dedicated a little more [digital] ink and put some more effort in to the thank yous up front.  

Nikki gave up another valuable weekend to support me through what ended up being a particularly tough event. Not only was she there to help fetch, carry, etc before and during the event but even more so afterwards, when I was doing my very best John Wayne impression.  As if that wasn't enough, she also volunteered at the start/finish doing the timings for all the runners coming in and out during most of the day and night, putting in, I'm guessing an 18-20 hour shift.  So from me and I'm sure the rest of the Centurion family, thank you Nikki for everything, especially this past weekend.

And back to the race...which was slated to be a very, very wet day according to the forecasters.   At kit-check at 7am on Saturday morning, it was drizzling and the BBC and Yahoo weather were predicting heavy rain from about 10am right the way through to 4pm.  As I headed back to the hotel after collecting my number (#3), Nikki and I headed down to breakfast overlooking the Thames as the drizzle and cloud cover continued to build.  As an aside and although a little pricy, the Swan in Streatley/Goring is a very nice location if you fancy a weekend away somewhere with your significant other.

The start of the race was just up the road from Goring Village Hall, to prevent 150 runners having to cross the main road without causing traffic issues.  This was the same start point as the previous years and so very familiar to the majority of people running.  After the short briefing in the hall, we all headed up to the start line with about 10 minutes or so to spare.  At this stage I was keen to ensure I was near the back of the field to prevent getting too giddy and tearing off far too fast and killing myself in the first few miles.  

Handing over my wavier in case of death
The hooter went off and I was perfectly positioned in the back 3rd as we set off on the first of four 25 mile sections, each of them a 12.5 mile out and back.  This section heads North on the Thames Path snaking it's way through beautiful Oxfordshire.  I had a time of 4 hour 20 minutes in my head for this loop and was very happy to arrive at the turn around point in 2 hours 10 minutes almost exactly.  This checkpoint had 2 of the most wonderful food items on offer, hard boiled eggs (with salt to dip in) and some kind of rice and egg wrapped in breadcrumbs which were divine (I need the recipe if anybody has this).

The rain was holding off which was great and the return leg to Goring went by really quickly.  I stopped at CP3 for a top up of water.  I'd been getting through a lot of it but the weather was really hot considering it was October; the humidity levels must have been very high indeed.  I had to keep my pace in check as I passed a few people on this return leg I'd seen earlier and knew to be quicker than me.  I was determined to try and keep my pace steady and not go too fast too soon.  This appeared to be working as I returned to the Goring CP in 4 hours 30 minutes...nearly bang on schedule.

After a quick hello with the wife, I picked up the map for the next section on the Ridgeway and got out of dodge, whilst wolfing down a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and topping up my bottles and changing my shirt.  This was one thing I'd not expected to have to do but I was soaked to the skin from sweat and so I switched to my spare top to prevent getting cold later on.

The second out and back is along the Ridgeway, which tracks North up the Thames (on the opposite side to the first spur) before heading off East towards the turn around point at Swancombe.  There is an early CP at North Stoke around mile 29, where I bumped into Steve and had a quick natter before heading out again in to what felt like a mid-Summers day, although considerably overcast.  The longer section out to the Swancombe CP went quite well, walking quickly on the up hills and jogging all the flats and downhills, I was keeping to schedule.  

The bling
With 4 out and back spurs, the Winter 100 gives you a unique insight into the condition of the runners whom I would not normally see during a race; the speedy guys and gals at the front of the pack.  This is wonderful to see and helps you appreciate that they are human too and go through good times and bad over the 100 mile sections.  That said, without fail, everybody running in the opposite direction to me, put on a smile and said hello and passed on some level of congratulations or encouragement.  This is what makes this sport so much fun. The people are just fantastic without any elitism or egos getting in the way.

At Swancombe I tried to be quick, top up the bottles, grab some food and a cuppa tea and get out of the door again.  It was nice to see another friendly face again, with some words of encouragement from Paul Corderoy although briefly.  The return leg to North Stoke seemed quicker mainly due to being slightly more downhill than the outward journey I suspect.  I had hoped to get back to the North Stoke CP before needing my head torch but it wasn't to be and I had to stop about a mile out to put on my light.  Another cuppa sugary tea, a cheese sandwich and some abuse from Steve and I was on the last 4 miles in to Goring.  It was at this point I felt a little twinge on the outside of my right knee, a light pain I'd never felt before.  I took a couple of walking breaks and it appeared to ease and I thought no more of it.

Arriving in to Goring again at the 50 mile mark, I was 9 hours 45 minutes in and bang on schedule.  I'd allowed myself 10 hours for the first 50 and 14 hours for the back half, which I knew I'd be slower on and I'd hoped I could get in under the 24 hour barrier.  A wonderful welcome awaited me as I entered the hall with  Nikki, James Elson, James Adams and my pacer for the next 25 miles, the infamous John Volanthen, all there to pat me on the back and tell me how well I was doing.  At this stage of the race, I actually felt better than I've ever felt before 50 miles in.  No stomach issues, no real fatigue other than expected, I was ready to get the back half of the race completed.  

I gave Nikki (and James Elson) a peck of the cheek goodbye and headed out with John for another 25 miles along the Ridgeway, this time heading West out of Goring.  This section is uphill to begin with, nothing too steep but the pathway along here is cut up in places due to it being a Byway, it gets cars and bikes along the track which really doesn't do it much good in my view.  As we headed out of town I'd said to John about my knee giving me a bit of jip and how a good walking break up the hills would probably really help.  We jogged a few of the downhills but otherwise continued a fast-ish (4 mph?) walking pace as we put the world to rights.  I think a few people caught us on this outward journey as my pace continued to tail off and my knee pain got worse.  

At the turnaround point I think I knew I was done for but John kept me in good spirits and we headed off back towards Goring.  The wind was picking up and we got a bit of rain although the temperature never really dropped off and it was unusually warm.  After passing through the CP and seeing Ultra Chicken (again) my knee got worse and John ended up fashioning a crutch for me from a tree branch.  This helped quite a bit although my co-ordination was somewhat out of whack as I couldn't figure out if the crutch should go in my left or right arm and which foot I should move it with.  It reminded me of being a kid and trying to pat your head with one hand and rubbing circles on your stomach with your other...(you can stop trying it now).

I can't have been a very chatty patient at this stage, 3am and almost 75 miles in, I knew I was done for but John was ever positive and told me to think only of the CP @ Goring.  This I tried to do but I did have to keep stopping as the pain was considerable, even after taking a few aspirin.  As we dropped off the Ridgeway on to the road, the downhill caused a lot of pain and I slowed even more and at one point considered quitting and asking John to call the medic to come and get me.  With some determination I kept going and got to the CP, hobbling in with my stick to a somewhat downbeat Nikki and James and my next victim (a.k.a pacer), Tim Lambert.  

I changed shoes, took on some water and after 10 minutes or so Tim and I set off out the door with me hobbling along very slowly.  The first 50 miles had taken me less than 10 hours, yet the section from 50 to 75 miles had taken me 8 hours and I'd dropped significantly in the overall standing.  I still had plenty of time to get out to Reading and back inside the 30 hour cutoff but I was now not sure I could tolerate another 8-10 hour painful walk.  After going no more than about 400 metres I told Tim enough was enough and I'd have to call it a day.  I knew in my head and my heart that this was the right decision.  Right at this time I wasn't sure what was causing the pain and I didn't want to continue to aggravate something that would put me out for a long period.

At mile 75 with my LOTR stick
With that, Tim told me it was probably the right call and we headed back in to the hall and called it a night.  I was angry of course but I know I wasn't let down by a lack of preparation or fitness and I was mentally in the perfect place, in fact I'd go as far as to say I was in a better position than I'd ever been in before.  My body had just decided that enough was enough and I needed to stop, which I dutifully did.

My sincere thanks go out to John and Tim for their help.  I know first hand pacing isn't always fun and the 8 hour walk John ended up with must have been challenging to remain positive for.  Tim, my apologies for dragging you from Bath to Goring for an 800 metre walk.  I promise to ensure you get a full outing next time.  For there really will be a next time, certainly I'm in for the Winter 100 in 2015 but I suspect they'll be another event in the calendar beforehand that will need a good pacer for.

Finally I wanted to thank James Elson for his support this year.  I've found his advice and friendship to be motivational and without which I'm sure I wouldn't be at this level of physical or mental fitness.  If anybody is looking for a coach, talk to James, you won't regret it!