The toughest of Centurion’s four 100-milers. “Expect to add at least 2 hours to your TP100 finish time” James Elson had said when I mentioned I was signed up. “And I make no apologies for saying that” he said again at registration Friday evening when I asked him if he really meant it. “It’s a tougher course. It’s also longer. And tomorrow there’s the heat.” Gulp. Having gotten around TP100 in 22hrs 38mins, suddenly my sub-24hrs ambition seemed, well, too ambitious.
And the heat. To be honest, I didn’t feel it until maybe Boxhill. Starting slow and at comfortable pace, Puttenham came and went, and Newlands came and went. Enter Jasmine – having made our acquaintances shortly after Newlands, the section to Boxhill sped by as Jasmine and I chatted about anything and everything, much like a couple thrust into a blind-date might, I suppose. Perhaps even talking too much, both of us tripping over tree roots at different times and Jasmine letting out a stream of expletives at a near-miss, to which I had a quiet chuckle. Had the section not been familiar to both of us through frequent training runs, there would have been a good chance of a wrong turn or two. As it was we even helped reassure a pack of back-tracking runners that we were indeed on the right track. And then it was Boxhill.
It was a nice surprise to see Russ as we exited the vineyard onto A24, as he literally marshalled us onto the underpass. Then water and ice from Natasha, and food and encouragement from Brigitte and Janette at the aid station. Although it was great to see Brigitte again since TP100 (Streatley, mile 70), it was also a bit strange to see her not flanked by fellow angels Anne and Michele. May you all be united soon for the next one! Having opted to not have a crew or pacer, the familiar faces – as indeed the rest of the volunteers and supporters – enabled me to draw some much needed positive energy from them.
Personal highlights: Seeing Claire at St Martha’s and Reigate in her now standard cheerleading outfit and pom poms. At Reigate Dan had joined Claire after his work shift, so a good chance to get some crude comments out…man, did you see her shorts? etc etc. Alma at Caterham where I half-jokingly bemoaned the absence of ice cream, only to feel genuinely ashamed once I registered the amount of home-made goodies on offer. Rachel at Botley Hill who I had a quick chat with (“what a smart man Michael is for choosing the footie”). The Craig family aid station set up halfway between the long 10 mile stretch from Knockholt to Wrotham, which came as a complete and wholly welcome surprise. The crew girl with the cowbell whose runner I assume must’ve been minutes behind me for I saw her at least 4 times, each time with enthusiastic ringing of the bell and shouts of “you’re looking awesome”. You, cowbell-girl, were the awesome one. Barry “Western States” Miller at Holly Hill for a quick catch-up post his epic adventures State-side. Detling for the transformational pasta and tea and pep talk from Joe. Markus – who I shared the trail with for a bit after Detling, and his incredulous look when I told him he was still on CET and that we still had 4 hours and not 3 to 6:00am and sub-24! Jacqui at Lenham who I almost didn’t recognize for the lack of swearing. The last time I saw her it was at SDW50 where she was in near tears and going on about that “horrible yellow brick road”. The random runner, crew, supporter, volunteer, who I may have shared a word, glance, and smile with, thank you all.
Low points (for there are bound to be some): Actually, not that many, to be honest, but the section from Bluebell to Detling, the 5.8 mile of mostly downhill that I had enjoyed so much during a training run few weeks earlier, had suddenly decided to turn nasty on me. Running out of energy after a day of fueling mostly on watermelons and other assorted fruit only, I was bonking and bonking bad, to the point where I couldn’t even run the downhills and where for a while even my eyesight was failing under the torch beam. And this brought home the perils of running in heat, where one can not sustain on what one can/want to eat only – one must also be disciplined in refuelling. Oh – and discovering there were no showers at finish!
To be able to say that was pretty much the extent of my low point suggests I had a good race and, looking back, I believe I did. I achieved sub-24hrs (23 hours 30 mins exact), which had been my Plan A all along. I did not drop too often or too deep into that “dark place” and, having somewhat satisfactorily proved to myself that TP100 was not “just a fluke” I am already excited by the prospect of the next 100-miler that I can sub-24 in order to preserve my short but perfect track record. Much of the credit goes to friends and companions who have given me advise, kept company during training, and otherwise given me encouragement.
We do this because it enables us to meet new people, make new friends, create new memories, and live new experiences. In other words, to live.