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Thursday, 14 February 2019

Autumn 100: Poo Tourism and REALLY Appalling Knock Knock Jokes

Every time I run 100 miles, I swear it’s the last time. And then I remember the feeling of finishing – of how amazing it feels to be able to stop bloody running – and enter it again. Forgetting, of course, that the reason that stopping running feels so great is because I’ve been running for 24 hours.

Sigh. I never learn. 

The cat bitching about not being allowed my food

So … as a massive surprise to no-one at all, I entered Autumn 100 for the third time. I remembered how gorgeous the trails are on leg 2 – how beautiful it is to run on winding trails and on autumn leaves and fly down the hills … and totally forgot how utterly soul destroying the route is to Reading. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One tradition was eschewed. No M40 Travelodge this year as extremely conveniently my sister and her family had moved recently to Wallingford which is 6 miles from the race start. As a result I got to have lots of cuddles with my 2 year old nephew, read him lots of stories about staying up late and waking up early and then promised him a drum kit for his birthday. My sister LOVES me staying over. 

I didn’t feel nervous for this race. I knew the route, the race start and even where I was going to drink my pre-race coffee and have my pre-race poo … but apparently my brain had decided that I was still going to get pre-race nerves. And my brain’s way of doing this was to stop me being able to read parking ticket signs. Yes really.

I’m a fairly smart girl. I went to uni, I hold down a job, I get through life. And I can read. Well apparently not at the start of Autumn 100 I can’t. 

I mean there was a ticket machine. And I had money. But my brain wouldn’t let me process how much of one to insert into the other. Great. I hope the legs could hold it together today because apparently the brain wasn’t on board.

Luckily there was another runner parking at the same time who advised me that his strategy had been to keep feeding the machine until it spat the ticket out at him. This sounded a reasonable strategy to me so I went with it. Thanks Richard. Stuck the ticket on the dash of the car, picked up my bag and started the walk to the registration at Goring. 

I would later find out that I left the ticket blank side up on the dash. Yep. Can’t brain today, 

Got to registration and saw my lovely Northbrook run buddy, Liz and got a hug. Kit checked, bag dropped off and number picked up. All I needed now was about 3 cups of coffee, 4 poos and a snack. 

The lovely Liz

We’ve all got race strategies. Mine is drink coffee until I’m practically incontinent, use the loo until previous point is no longer an issue, then rely on the legs to keep running. And keep eating. That’s the strategy. All these other people have really complicated race plans: stick to x pace, eat at x miles, drink x gallons of water by x point … I’m all about the ‘don’t poo yourself, don’t get hungry and keep moving’. 

With Richard in the cafe drinking ALL the coffee~!

Holed up in the cafe with Richard and started phase 1 and 2 of the race strategy. I was most impressed that Richard and I had matching, laminated checkpoint cards which obviously made us race buddies so we decided to run Leg 1 together. Saw Alex (Duesbury) and Alan (Li) at the race start which was good. They were a complete contrast. Alan was, as usual, massively chilled out and Alex was flapping. She was so determined to finish this race after having a horrible run at TP100 so she wanted everything to go to plan. I could understand that. I plaited her hair for her and we walked to the race briefing together. I promised Mike  the lend of some running gloves but he’d done a disappearing act so I had a bonus pair of gloves.

Me, Alan and Alex

Leg one - The Thames Path
The start of the race had changed since I last ran it in 2016. Previously we had started on the 10 o’clock chimes from the church tower which seemed quaint and very English. Now the runners walked past this point, further down the Thames Path - parting every now and then for a dog and his walker – and starting on a narrow muddy track listening for the “-8,7,6...” and the countdown to 1. At “1” the race started with a walk, then a shuffle and eventually a half-arsed trot which is a standard ultramarathon race start pace. 

I started the run with Richard as we’d decided in the cafe. It’s nice to have a run buddy on a long run, but the narrow-ness of the Thames Path makes chat difficult and there had been torrential rain an hour before we started which meant the path was very muddy and slippery in places. The road shoes which I’d decided on before the rain fall meant that I was sliding around like I was on rollerskates – and I am a BAD skater – so it wasn’t easy to chat and run as I had to concentrate on which direction I was sliding. 

This section also has a lot of gates with varying degrees of ease to open. It’s like the Krypten Factor for endurance runners. The quicker you are at opening gates, the better chance you have of getting to the checkpoints and getting the good snacks before the other buggers get at it. It’s the human equivalent of rats in mazes. But with trainers. And jam wraps.

Got a shout of “Hello Sarah!” at Wallingford from Pip and his son who were directing runners to the tunnel which goes between houses in Wallingford. It’s an easy section to overshoot and get lost so this was a really nice idea. Grabbed a handful of snacks at the checkpoint and was back out onto the course. 

It was still fairly early in the day, so we weren’t seeing many people except for the occasional dog walker and fisherman. Running over the white bridge which is usually where the turnaround point is, I passed two fishermen with roads and empty tackle boxes. Obviously not used to a horde of runners disturbing their Saturday fishing, one muttered to the other “Huh. Why are they running? Why don’t they just give up?” Cheeky sods. I flashed them a massive smile and said cheerily “If you’re not going to catch any fish, why don’t YOU give up?” I got a wry chuckle out of them.

The turnaround on leg one wasslightly different to the last time I’d run thisandinstead of just after the bridge, it was by thechurch at Little Wittenham and in the back of a horsebox. Luckily no horses in attendance.I had a quick pitstop and filled up my water bottles and headed back out again. 

One of the lovely parts of this event is that I get to see all the race leaders and run buddies at the turnaround points. I spotted a few friendly faces including Jon, Thorners, Sara, Alex and Alan. I look forward to seeing people at this section as there are SO MANY fields before and after you get to the bridge. I have a selective memory as I always forget how many bloody fields there are. At least if I’m busy looking for people, I’m not bitching about the fields. And how many there are. 
When you FINALLY leave the fields, you cross a busy road heading back into Shillingford. 
It’s like Frogger. But if you get squashed by a car, the other ultrarunners loot your kit and snacks.

I was so intent on watching for a space in between the cars, that as I crossed the road, I put my foot into a deep pothole and turned my ankle over. It made a horrible crunching noise and at that point I wondered if that was the end of my race. I was only 14 miles in, I’d crossed all of those bloody fields and now I’d put my foot into a hole. If this was the end of my race why couldn’t I have done it BEFORE all of those fields?? 

As usual, it turned out I was being a little bit dramatic and ankle was actually fine. I mean they’re meant to make crunching noises occasionally aren’t they? It’s good for them. I’m sure it is. Step, crunch, step, crunch...

After the torrential rain earlier in the day, the sun had really come out strong now. It was drying the mud out on the trails, but this was making the mud stick to my trainers so each foot looking like I wearing grey boots. I don’t know whether it was having to concentrate on every step or whether it was the heat hitting 24*c, but it felt like a hard run. This is not good when you’re only 20 miles into 100. I checked my watch and I was hitting my threshold heart rate 171BPM and I was only running 10:30 min/miles. This wasn’t good. Chatted to Richard about it and he was getting a similar reading off his watch. Ok. At least I knew it wasn’t just me, that I wasn’t coming down with something or that I was doing something wrong. But it was going to be a tough day out at this rate. Better eat some more snacks.

Coming back over the dam, I saw 2 red kites in the sky. I love seeing them and it’s amazing to think that a few years ago there were hardly any. A dragon fly zipped by too. It seemed that a lot of creatures were enjoying the last hurrah of summer. I wasn’t. It was too bloody hot. 

Got back under the trees for the last section back in and it was a relief. There isn’t much shade on Leg 1 and it was nice to feel a bit cooler. A quick dash back into the village hall and shoe and sock change as the wet grass and trails had meant wet feet for almost the entirety of this section. Got my socks off and wished I hadn’t. The skin on the bottom of my feet was hanging off. Brilliant. Not had this before but assumed it was due to wet feet from the trails and then the sudden rise in temperature making feet swell. Well. It was what it was. Can’t do anything about it now. The next 80 miles might be a bit uncomfortable but it’s not as if I’m missing a toe or anything. 

Saw Cat and Louise in the checkpoint and was then unceremoniously kicked out by Louise (thank you!) as I was fannying about. Richard had already grabbed his supplies and left and it was time for me to get my arse back on the trails. 



Leg 2 - The Ridgeway
Section 2 on the Ridgeway is my favourite part of this race. It’s hilly, unlike leg 1 which is almost entirely flat, and hills mean there’s a break for your legs and snack and drink breaks as you take the slopes more slowly. It’s also beautiful with shady tree-lined sections and views across the valleys. However, I had forgotten how insanely steep some of those hills are. It’s not helped by the fact you‘ve got a few miles in your legs by this point and you’ve already eaten most of your good snacks. I decided to have an avocado wrap. After carrying it for about 35 miles, it looked like roadkill. Have you seen the film Tremors? Well that bit where the creature throws itself off a cliff? That. My food looked like THAT. 

Yum.

Yum, bloody yum.

Ate the roadkill food, got really grumpy and did an instagram story about “How I fucking hate fucking running” at mile 35. 

Got to the checkpoint, got a hug from Liz, got some NICE snacks and did an instagram story about “How I like running” at mile 40. 

Seems like there MAY be a little link between food and happiness for me. Possibly a link. A tiny link. Mmmm food.

Hooray I like running again!

Picked up a run buddy and had a good chat with Nigel for a few miles but ran out of the checkpoint on my own. I was a bit worried about my heart rate as it hadn’t really come down from being too high on leg 1 and it was running about 20BPM too high which is a massive amount. However decided I couldn’t do much about it and it was probably the unexpected heat so may as well crack on. Had a chat to Holly and Phil about it who were both amazing and told me just to chill out going up the hills and to slow it down. Love you guys. Good advice. 

I decided to put some music on and stuck in my headphones. I’d made a playlist for A100 in case I was running on my own and it was awesome. However I did get a bit emotional at around 45 miles when the “Lava” song came on and I was all “Awwww he won’t find his volcano wife”. I’m clearly just an emotional mess when I get too hot and hungry.

I ended up with a massive negative split on this leg as it’s mostly downhill on the way back. **I** had a lovely run back singing along to my play list but it was probably horrible for the runners I passed. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t in pain, I was singing. It’s just how I sound. 

I ran the next bit with a lady who was great company and we had a nice chat. There was an amazing sunset painting the sky and I reached the final checkpoint just in time to pop my head-torch on before heading back to Goring again.


Leg 3 - The Ridgeway
I’d been looking forward to this section as I was being paced by the legend that’s Phil Bradburn. I’d promised him knock knock jokes and good snacks in return for the pacing.

I didn’t make a good start though when I shoved the Garmin on charge while getting changed and the bloody thing promptly lost 50 miles of run data. Sweary? Me? Yep. I also lost some snack points when I realised that quite a few of my snacks were slightly past their best before dates. Only a couple of years. That’s fine, right? However the dark chocolate ginger was well within date and I’m sure my tummy would be fine with the rest of it. I mean, it’s not as if I ever have tummy issues on runs, right?

Things started out well and Phil was brilliant company. We did ‘Poo Tourism’ - Phil pointing out all the places he’d taken a shit while doing this race a couple of years ago, ‘Canal Adventures’ (he did the Canal-Slam in 2018!!) and I particularly enjoyed “Shitty Buff” story. And it reminded me never to borrow kit from Phil on a run. 

I’d like to tell you my Knock knock jokes were on point. But I’m not sure Phil would agree with you:

Knock knock...”
Who’s there?`’
Europe”
Europe who?”
No YOU’RE a poo!”

It started raining cats and dogs coming, but I was fairly warm and in good spirits thanks to Phil, the jokes and the poo tourism. This section is mainly on grassy chalk trails and follows a ridge and you run it almost entirely in the dark with your head torches lighting the way. As we passed through one of the lonelier sections, with the woods on our right, a massive scream rang out. It didn’t sound like a fox (they sometimes sound like a woman screaming) and it didn’t sound like a person. If I had to try and give you an analogy for that scream, it sounded as if Pennywise had stepped on a lego. Phil and I looked at each other and started running UP the hill. 

I was keeping an eye out for the monument that is one of the landmarks along this section. It’s a very tall, marble column with a cross on top, built on top of a barrow and commemorates the service of a local man in the Crimean War. It’s the sort of thing you can’t really miss. But we missed it. Somehow. Probably snacking. Or pooing. 

At the Checkpoint

Along this section, the trail was mostly dry but there were slippery sections and the flinty stones sticking out of the trail meant it was easy to catch your toes and trip if you were distracted by snacks or potential poo spots. I tripped a couple of times but was thoroughly outdone by Phil who managed to not only trip over but fall straight into a bush. Pretty much the only bush on the entire ridgeway which is fairly barren. It probably wasn’t as funny as I found it. But I found it hilarious. Sorry Phil. 

I usually start struggling to eat on leg 3 of this race. My stomach goes on strike and I just can’t get food down, but I was counting it as a win that I was still eating when we got to the Chain Hill turnaround point. I was trying to eat a peanut butter and jam wrap which my stomach really didn’t want, but this was probably because my eyes were telling my stomach that it had been carried for about 12 miles and looked like roadkill. Shitty roadkill. 

My tummy was ok but I wasn’t trusting farts. Fairly standard at about mile 65 in a run I reckon. I like to think I’m just getting my mind ready for when my body hits 80. It did mean however, that I did spend rather a large amount of time on the return leg in and behind bushes. See Phil – all those poo spots you pointed out on the way up came in handy!

I do think that Phil thought I might just have been disappearing for a nice sit down and a rest and was getting a bit impatient. I was tucked in behind a bush – with my head-torch off in case another runner appeared over the top of the hill and my bush wasn’t as bushy as I’d thought it was - when I heard massive rustling from inside the bush. I leapt about 2 feet in the air from a crouching start convinced a weasel was about to leap out of the foliage and attack my nether regions, when from my airbourne vantage point I realised it was Phil about 15 metres away standing on the trail sorting out his snacks in his running vest. 

Apparently rodent-paranoia gives me super-sensitive hearing. And the ability to win high-jump while pooping. 

Thankfully, apart from a few more toilet stops, Leg 3 was uneventful. It was all looking good for final leg and I was on for a sub 24 hour finish with a solid margin. 

Thanks Phil. Looking forward to more poo-tourism and knock-knock jokes another day. 

Leg 4 - The Bloody Thames Path AGAIN
This was the tough section. It’s flat apart from the INSANE section through the woodlands and incredibly boring. I’d asked Simon, my long-suffering husband to run this section with me as if history was anything to go by, I’d probably be moaning and pooping for most of it. I bet he’s glad he married me. 

A quick change at Goring and we ran out of the town and down onto the canal path. I was running well and it was flat in this section. I was slightly concerned about 2 miles in when Simon asked “Are we going to be running this pace the whole way as I’d thought you be tired?” Ah. Better not break the pacer this early in the leg.

We ran the flat section out to the woodland and then walked as the path wove up through the woods. It was raining heavily now without let up and the path was full of deep puddles. I tried to avoid them initially, then there was no point. I already had wet feet and it appeared they were going to stay wet. I tried to avoid thinking about what state the soles of my feet would be in now, 75 miles after the skin had first starting coming off the bottom of my feet.

And then things went wrong. I went from coming off of Leg 3 with a nice margin and in a positive state of mind to rock bottom within the space of 10 minutes. It didn’t help that my jacket despite being the recommended 10,000m and with taped seams leaked. Badly. The rain was just so heavy, it couldn’t cope. Every other runner I saw appeared to be in a similar situation, their hair and wet clothes plastered against their bodies. I was soaking wet, cold and miserable and I still had to get to Reading and back.

And it was going to take FOREVER. My legs wouldn’t run. Just wouldn’t. I can usually force myself to run no matter what. But they wouldn’t. I’ve never had this before. EVERY race ends with a sprint finish, right? No. Today I couldn’t even muster a jog for any distance.

The path was flooded. The fields going towards Reading appeared to be on a dull treadmill – they just never seemed to finish and that bloody towpath lasted FOREVER. Imagine the dullest treadmill session you’ve ever done. Right, got that pictured? Now imagine you are wet to the skin, freezing cold and have 80 miles already in your legs. I couldn’t even muster up the strength to tell an appalling knock knock joke. It was that bad.

On the plus side, my stomach was ok. Had only one wild poo on this leg. No doubt because I had been so organised that I’d actually carried a 20p piece for the public toilets at Reading. Therefore, it wasn’t required. Had I forgotten this no doubt it would have been Shit City.

Finally after the dark and rain and dark and rain we hit the turnaround checkpoint at the Reading Yacht Club. Climbed those steps. And didn’t want to leave. I knew I would have to go back into that cold, into that rain, wading those flooded river banks but I didn’t want to.

And then I did. Because I had to. 

There was no sunrise that morning. Because of the rain, the night just went from black to grey. And then a slightly lighter grey. It was like an accountants wardrobe.

I kept trying to run but there were no springs left in my legs. There was nothing left in any of me. Just a well of misery and drenched skin.

I kept looking for the bridge. The bridge that as you come into Goring from the Thames Path and when you see it, you know you’re done, that it’s nearly over. I couldn’t see the bridge. I kept looking and couldn’t see the bridge.

And then I saw it. I was so relieved I cried. I actually cried. 

Some days you celebrate when you finish. Some days you are just relieved that you did.





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