The Autumn 100
After the great season I’d had the Autumn 100 should have been the icing on my "Grand Slam" cake, I felt great, my training had been very consistent and I was really looking forward to my last race of 2015. With two weeks to go my mum unexpectedly passed away in Brazil, I travelled home for the funeral and spent a few days with my brother and sister, then flew back to the UK to finish the Grand Slam.
The Autumn 100 is a series of out-and-back spurts along The Ridgeway and Thames Path, with the race HQ being in the lovely village of Goring. I had raced this course last year when the race was called Winter 100 so I knew what to expect on race day.
There were lots of familiar faces at the starting line and after a quick photo with my kids we were off. My body was fresh having done hardly any training in the previous two weeks, but as the miles ticked along I felt emotionally drained. My mum had been following my progress during the Grand Slam and for me it was hard racing knowing that when the Autumn 100 was over I wouldn’t be able to ring her and tell her all about it.
I finished leg one in just under 4 hours which was a good time and decided to change into road shoes, the trail was so dry that it felt uncomfortable wearing trail shoes. Leg 2 started and my mind wasn't in the right place and I wasn’t really enjoying any of it yet, although my running was fine. It wasn’t until I was about 8 miles or so from the end of leg 2 that I had a good spell mentally, I shared some of those miles with Emily Foy and the great conversation took my mind away and I started to enjoy the race. We overtook each other a few times but managed to finish leg 2 together in just over 8h50 without having to use a headtorch.
Leg 3 was probably the one that cost me my second sub20, I started off well but then felt so sluggish with countless walking breaks, now it wasn’t my head that was causing me problems but my legs! You couldn’t fault the weather though, I thought I was feeling cold and exposed at the top of The Ridgeway and decided to put my jacket on, but within 30minutes I was sweating and really didn’t need it. Emily and I kept overtaking each other and again finished leg 3 together. That was by far the worst leg for me arriving back at the headquarters in 14h38.
I was desperate to leave Goring on my final leg, I had ½ a cup of hot soup and left for Reading. That tiny bit of soup made my tummy a bit dodgy so I walked for the first mile to let things settle. Emily caught up with me again and I started feeling better and we ran together pretty much all the way to the Whitchurch aid station. I had a glass of Coke and left quickly. I had a really good spell all the way to Reading with hardly any walking and picking up a few people along the way. Reading Aid Station was great, the stairs were decorated with personalised posters spurring us on to the finish, mine read ‘Grand Slam buckle 12.5 away’. I topped up my bottle with a mixture of water and Coke and said goodbye to the ace volunteer Alma Botes.
With the format of this race you more or less know how far people are in front of you when you reach the end of a leg, three runners had just left Reading aid station as I entered so I turned my racing mode on and decided I wanted to catch these guys. All I thought was that if I minimised my walking I would have a great chance, I passed two guys before we left Reading town centre with only my friend Rich Stewart in front, Rich looked good so I wasn’t sure I could catch him as I couldn’t spot his headtorch along the fields on the way to Pangbourne. But to my surprise just as I crossed the Thames into Whitchurch I saw Richard walking, he told me his legs were shot to bits and he wished me luck and said ‘I’ll see you at the finish Rod’.
At the last station, with only four miles to go, I threw away the excess food I had, glugged some more Coke and left. I ran the best I could all the way to the end and crossed the finish line in 20:31 with a course PB for me of 38min and in 37th place, finishing the race in much better shape mentally than when I started. I’m now a Grand Slammer. My mum is not here, but I know she would have been very proud of me and that is all that matters.
The Grand Slam and End-of-Season Report
Back in November 2014, I set my season goals for this 2015 and they were:
Complete the Centurion Grand Slam in 85 hours or less
Complete one 100-miler in less than 20 hour
Do a 5km ParkRun with my wife and eldest daughter Bella.
How did I get on?
My season started off in New Zealand where I lived for three months this year. I raced the beautiful Tarawera 100k and ended up with a PB for the distance which was great. Since I didn’t have to work for three months except a bit of DIY for my mother-in-law, my training had been immaculate and I could afford the luxury of lots of recovery. I arrived in the UK in great shape for the Thames Path 100 and I smashed my goal of sub20 hours for 100 miles with 19h14.
|Great season opener at the Tarawera 100km|
I am always telling others not to race too much and but failed to listen to my own advice and booked myself a place for an off-road marathon in Cumbria just two weeks after Thames Path and ended up picking up a niggling calf injury.
After lots of physio sessions, I made it to the starting line of the South Downs Way 100. I ran well to the 30 miles mark and then my injury reappeared and I simply could not run. I saw the Grand Slam dream disappearing before my eyes, this was my lowest point during the Grand Slam. After a few miles of walking I calculated that I had still had plenty of time to finish the race walking. My friend and co-Grand Slammer Mark Haynes also picked up a foot injury and joined me at 50 miles for a really long walk. We crossed the finished line together in 26h05 with our heads held high. That is my proudest moment of my entire season; I fought through adversity and discovered a bit more about myself that day. When you want something bad enough you will do anything to get it.
|With Grand Slammer Mark Haynes - NDW100|
We had 8 weeks to recover and be ready for the North Downs Way 100, so I spent most of that time cycling and as the weeks went by I managed to run a bit more each week. I felt in good shape again but a bit conscious of my calf injury. In the end, the calf didn’t cause me any problems and I had a good race finishing in 22h28.
My total Grand Slam time was 88h19 min, so I missed out on the sub85 hours and it’s entirely my own fault for going against my own advice and doing a marathon so soon after Thames Path.
What about getting my family to exercise more? Well, I got my wife trail walking and she now loves it, but she's still not keen on running (yet, or walking in the rain) but she is walking regularly on our local trails, with some weeks covering over 20 miles.
My daughter Bella has really got the bug , she is now an official triathlete having completed two races this season. A few weeks ago we completed a local 5k Park Run together, so we now have a shared family PB as that was the first time I have ever raced 5k. She is a member of our local swimming club and I take her swimming, biking and running on a weekly basis. It’s been so great to watch her confidence grow. She has also been a great influence on her little sister who often demands to go for a run with us.
|My favourite triathlete!|
My top tips for wannabe Grand Slammers:
- You have already got a lot on your plate with the Grand Slam, so there is no need to do other races;
- Recce all the routes, it will give you a great advantage knowing any obstacles you may encounter and will save you precious time not having to look at a map during the races or getting lost!
- Train for the first race, the Thames Path 100, and after that it’s a case of recovering and listening to your body, I definitely didn’t do big miles.
- Be consistent in everything you do, in training, in healthy eating, sleep pattern, etc.
- Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to do much speed training, I trained aerobically all season.
- Become a good fat burner; it will make your race nutrition a lot simpler. I follow Bob Seebohar’s metabolic efficient concept, which I have discussed many times in my blog.
I’m now taking a well-deserved two week break and already have big plans for 2016. I’ve entered the ballot for the classic 145-miles Grand Union Canal Race in May. I’m also dreaming of the double-Ironman triathlon, with a few options in Europe and UK available and whilst I’m on the right side of 40 and have a bit of speed left in me, I want to enter the ballot for the Spartathlon, a 250km ultra in Greece later in the summer.
I need to thank my friends Glyn Raymen and Allan Rumbles who inspired me to do the Grand Slam this year. Obviously, my family for putting up with my obsessive hobby and being hugely supportive. I want to thank race director James Elson and his army of helpers and volunteers, Centurion Running rocks. And I also want to thank everyone who helped me raise funds for Eaves UK - https://www.justgiving.com/braziliangunner/