A hard end to a hard year.
Autumn 100 is a trail race held in the UK based out of Goring & Streatley that takes you along the Thames Path and the Ridgeway national trails. Lets have a quick look at the numbers:
- 100 miles of fully marked trail
- 4 x 25 mile spurs
- 1170m elevation gain
- 16 fantastic aid stations
- 73 incredible volunteers –> thank you all SO much for coming out and helping
- 302 runners entered; 205 started; 156 finished
- 28hr cut off
- 8 friends = 1 amazing support crew
As far as these races go, its quite flat and fast course, and as my last race of the year I was hoping to nail a fast time and place highly. I’d had a great build-up to the race, was in the shape of my life with a lot of speed and endurance in my legs, but come the day, I just didn’t have it.
I was emotionally spent. Its been a very long and painful year. My Dad had been suffering from bladder cancer, and became very unwell last winter. I moved home in February to spend some precious time in his final weeks with him. Like the trooper he was he fought on for an incredible amount of time, passing away in late May. He was an inspirational man and I truly miss him. He was my original and biggest supporter, crewing all of my early races, and I spent a lot of Saturday’s race thinking about him.
The week before Dad passed away, our dog of 10 years and my running buddy suddenly became very unwell one morning and passed away that evening, most likely from a brain tumour.
Just after Dad passed away, Mum was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. She had just dedicated her life to looking after Dad whilst he was unwell, so this felt even more raw. She is currently having chemotherapy and handling it all really well.
Cancer and I aren’t friends.
The week after Dad’s funeral I had to move into a new flat to start my final year of medical school, when one of our race team members, Katie, was tragically killed in a car accident.
So its been an awfully draining year, and between all this suffering and trying to become a doctor, I’ve been using running to keep me sane and keep enjoyment in my life. So in hindsight, its no surprise I was pooped for this race, but still love running and all the great it brings.
Anyway, heres how it went:
Exciting start to the race, James Elson, the race director, would be running the race too. The field was already deep with some extremely talented runners, and with James joining us, we all knew it would be a great race.
As always, some runners shot off the front of the race at a very fast pace, most of which we knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for. Predictably, most slowed a lot. I settled into a comfy cruise and spent a lot of the leg running with James; I was running with a celebrity!
Although I felt like I was cruising, I didn’t feel particularly springy or energetic. My right knee had started hurting that week as I swopped bike for trainers in my commute (damn cycling!), and was already quite painful. It was like having a screwdriver being driven into my knee. Not the best.
Heading back on spur 1 was great as, due to the out-and-back nature of the course, you got to see all of the runners in the race. Makes for a great atmosphere!
Back into Goring at the 25mile point I was feeling quite comfortable. Saw my crew of Gail and Goose and set straight out for the next 25.
This is where the suffering began. I just felt rubbish and couldn’t get my head in gear. Nothing was particularly wrong: I wasn’t vomiting or having diarrhoea, my knee was hurting but wasn’t that bad; my legs just felt kinda stiff and I was pretty grumpy.
I slowed the pace down and just concentrated on eating, drinking and cruising. I was running by myself for this and just wanted to settle into an easy rhythm, and practice some damage-control for the second half of the race. I saw James heading back, who’d picked up the pace and had already overtaken the front runners and looked like he was flying. This guy’s running was incredible all day. He flew in to set a new course record in a epic masterclass in ultrarunning.
Met more of my friends who’d come to support, got handed a double espresso, and wanted to enjoy this running party. Pacers are allowed after 50 miles, so from now I was always going to be running with a good friend. Hopes of getting a fast 100 were pretty much out the window, and I just wanted to enjoy it as much as I could and try to get a reasonable time in the process. Night fell, the temperature dropped, wind picked up. I felt flat; no race in me at all.
Turning round at 62.5 miles I started really suffering. Everything hurt. A lot. I’d intended to get to this point in great shape, and let if fly back to Goring, attacking the last marathon. I wasn’t sick, the knee was hurting less (amazing how powerful the brain is), had great company, but no race in me. Demons had started haunting me, telling me to drop. I’d had enough suffering, and just wanted it to be over. I’d been a very long year of suffering, and I wanted it over.
When I got to 75 miles I told my crew I was dropping. A second DNF in a couple of months. I was done for. Not physically broken, just emotionally completely exhausted.
The only problem was they wouldn’t let me drop. Point blank refused, fed me red bull and shoved me back out the aid station. I begrudgingly agreed and put a game face on, but felt a bit miffed at the time. In hindsight, its all quite funny and I’m very pleased they did! Gail was the main orchestrator of this, saving herself me moaning and sulking no end for months if I’d dropped.
‘Running’ to Reading was more of an awful hobble. My conversation was dropping off completely. I was telling myself 100 milers just weren’t my distance and to only do shorter races. I wanted out.
Hitting Reading was a bit of a lift. The final ‘out’ section done, and now all I had to do was run 13 miles home.
The pace on the way home started picking up. I was searching deep inside the hurt locker for the will to run faster. Just get back to Goring. Completely non-verbal. It was a very painful slog home.
A lot slower than I wanted, and a hell of a lot more painful that I wanted. Of course it was going to be painful, but I thought I would at least have enjoyed some of the running and felt like I could race.
I shouldn’t be disappointed with this race, as its still a pretty reasonable effort, and is a personal best for me. With time from the event I feel better about it, and I think I’ll feel quite happy with it in a few months. The part I am most proud of is that I survived slogging it out for such a long time. The urge to quit was overwhelming, and I obviously got pretty damn close. This will be a memorable race, maybe just for the wrong reasons.
It only took a couple of days for me to be tempted to crack another 100 next year for redemption, but I won’t allow any decisions like that to me made so soon. I was telling myself shorter and faster for next year, maybe I should listen?
Rest for now, then time to switch focus onto training for the Polar expeditions. That should give me a decent break from running 🙂