The Arc of Attrition 2019

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I have been meaning to write a blog about my training leading up to this race, after the Centurion Grand Slam ended but with finishing my post graduate studies, training and looking after my three children it just hasn’t happened! So I shall start by giving a quick update since the Grand Slam

The lead up to Race Day

So after the Grand Slam ended I was really happy to have the focus of the Arc of Attrition as the Grand Slam had been a focus all year and I was so elated that it had gone so well and then to be nothing was quite a scary thought! So I thought recover and then plan for the Arc.  I gave myself more recovery time after the A100 because I knew my body had served me well to keep up with 4 100 milers in really 6/7 months rather than a year! And I had not really allowed it to recover enough between them, so panicked that I should get back to training like others I could see around me.  This did actually prompt me to get off Strava, well, only use it for me – so no following others or being followed so I didn’t let my training be affected by others.  This was a really good move for me.  So I actually had 3.5 weeks off running after the Grand Slam with just two 4 milers somewhere in there.  I had a little niggle in my left hamstring and this had been for quite some time and I wanted to try to give it time to recover so I could prevent an injury.  I also felt this would be good for my body.  Not good for me mentally, as I tend to be a bit of a nightmare when I don’t run – as it is my emotional and mental stabiliser so without it I become rather unbalanced or unhinged should i say!! But it was worth it not to be out for potentially months with an injury, that would not be good for me or anyone around me!!

So mid November, I started to look to the Arc and think about training.  I don’t have a coach and I don’t have a training plan.  This is mainly due to finances but I have found that I just run on feel.  I try to get long runs in where possible and on the terrain the race is on and include runs with hills in and on days I am feeling great I will up the pace.  I am sure my training plan could be a lot better but this is just what I have been doing so far.  So I decided 8 weeks of 70+ mile weeks mixed with some recce’s of the Arc course and then a 3 week taper 50 miles, down to 35 miles down to just 6 miles on race week.  I know the course is really tough so those recce’s were really important.

The Arc of Attrition is a 100 mile race along the Cornish Coast from Coverack to Porthtowan.  It is known to be a pretty brutal race as it is in the middle of winter along some of the trickiest terrain in the country with 13 hours of darkness to contend with, hills that go on forever and whatever weather you could imagine possibly being thrown at you!  Why did i want to do this?! Well when I met my partner at the end of 2016, he was planning his first Arc of Attrition in February 2017.  I had never done an ultra then and I remember thinking it sounded totally crazy and unimaginable! I ended up joining his crew for that and I was totally inspired to try ultra running and I knew one day I had to do the Arc.  I crewed for him for the Arc, again, in 2018 with the same other crew members and it didn’t disappoint! It has everything and my passion for it grew further.  So I finally said I have to do this one.  After being asked to join the Mudcrew Ultra Team in 2018, which was something I felt so honoured to be asked to be a part of, this made me feel even more drawn to the race.  I knew it would be a totally different 100 miler for me with the different terrain and in winter the time on my feet would be something I had never experienced and it would be a real challenge.  Also, after seeing the incredible performances my partner put in and finishing in amazing times, but what he endured to get there I just felt I needed to push myself and see if I could cope with this sort of race too.  There’s many races I look at and think I want to give that a go, even the Spine these days! But could I actually cope with one such as this….I really had no idea!

Training had gone well, and my legs were feeling good.  During taper time I was getting eager to run and go for it so I knew I was ready and resting well.  In the week leading up to the race I spoke to one of the Race Directors, Andrew Ferguson (Fergy!) who told me it was the strongest field of female runners they had had at the event, which did absolutely nothing for my nerves!!  He also told me I had Number 1 on my bib because of seeding and my Grand Slam result, which although, I felt hugely honoured to be given it, it made me feel unimaginable nerves!  Now I really do not consider myself up there with the top runners and I really do struggle with nerves leading up to a race! So this was an interesting feeling leading up to race day.  I have always dreamed of being one who makes it to the podium and of being at the top – so anything like this just makes me feel in total disbelief and well really have they made a mistake! I knew of the other female runners and the amazing achievements they had previously and I didn’t want to put added pressure on myself.  I always make the decision before a race to just do my own thing – don’t worry about those around you, or it could mess up your entire race so I decided that is what I would do.  Just run, do my own thing and see what happens and what I can do on this course.  No one will think any less of you if you don’t do so well, most important thing is to enjoy it.

The Journey to the Race

I live in Devon with my partner, Jean and my three children, Finley, Archie and Lola, so we were not too far from race registration.  We decided to work on the Thursday with the race starting at 12 midday on the Friday.  We both did half a day of work and then headed off around 3.30pm.  This was a great plan to register the night before the race, but unfortunately the weather was not our friend! As we approached the A30 I could see on my phone a few comments about the snow in Cornwall.  I thought this can’t be right there was nothing in Exeter.  So we carried on.  As we saw lorries coming the other way with snow all over them we started to worry.  We soon were hit with heavy snow and to our disbelief it turned into total mayhem.

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I couldn’t believe what was happening.  We ended up in a stand still for about 3 hours.  I was frantically looking on Facebook to see what other participants of the race were doing.  The A38 was bad but not as bad.  People were up ahead of us stuck in the same conditions.  I was starting to think after all this training am I not even going to make the start line.  My lovely planned calm relaxing evening was not going to happen! That i can cope with but not making the start that would be awful.  So my partner, Jean, decided to take his chances and turn around onto the other side of the dual carriageway – there happened to be a gap in the barrier and we managed to get through the snow and start going the other way following the sat nav.  It ended up being the best decision ever! But it was the most frightening drive of my life.  We even went up onto Bodmin Moor with overturned cars and could barely make it up the hills without skidding all over the place.  But we got there after 7.5 hours of driving! We were there by 11.15pm.  I was so relieved and felt so awful for the people still stuck where we had been, some still there in the morning who never actually made the start of the race.  So sad.

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We were staying in a lovely holiday let ‘It’ll do’, in Porthtowan.  The owners were so kind to us even offered to go and get us food on our arrival after our awful journey! We had come prepared and had a late dinner.  I prepared my bag and what I was going to wear and we would now head to registration in the morning.  I was just so relieved to be able to get to the start, I felt incredibly lucky to get six hours sleep in a comfortable bed.

Getting to the Start Line

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Image by No Limits Photography – Nerves from us all at start line – stood with Matt Hart and Kim Collinson

So that morning we went to register.  I was greeted by the lovely Jane Stephens, Race Director (and now friend) who helped me get organised.  I collected my race number, my tracker in case of emergency this must be on at all times and I had my mandatory kit checked.  It was all getting very real now.  Thankfully then our good friends Sarah and Dan Salt arrived.  This was lovely, Sarah is someone I train with and always eases my nerves, she’s a fantastic ultra runner.  We listened to the race briefing and then made our way to the bus to take us to the start 1.5 hours away.  I had to say goodbye to Jean here and still couldn’t believe I was actually doing this, after crewing for him two years in a row I knew this was going to be tough and I knew the weather may throw anything at us.

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Image by No Limits Photography – Nerves!

The start was incredible.  Such a show.  There was music, the banging of drums, blue smoke! Amazing such an atmosphere.  Before we headed off Andrew Ferguson (Fergy), another of the three Race Directors, asked for the top 10 numbers to come forwards.  This was so scary – a lovely way to enhance the race and build it up but I stood with Matt Hart, a brilliant runner who went on to finish in an incredible time and position.  He was just as nervous as me and we both felt like should we be standing up here with all these amazing runners!   My nerves were eased when Fergy introduced me he had to whisper in my ear that he had momentarily forgotten my name!!  Think sleep deprivation had got to us all!! I said goodbye to Sarah at this point and we both just hoped to stay warm.

The countdown started and we were off….

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Image by No Limits Photography

The Race

So I had to start from right up at the front which was quite intense but then quite useful for not getting stuck on any of the single tracks to start with.  The atmosphere was incredible, the sun came out and I felt really good.  It was amazing to see all the support and to just be there I felt incredibly lucky.  I knew I had been stood with Anna Troup, an incredible ultra runner who completed the UTMB in an amazing time of 32 hours.  And Kim Collinson went off ahead at great pace as did Matt Hart.  From this moment I decided to just run my race and not worry about those behind me and as I had started at the front try very hard not to go off too fast.  This was difficult!

The first section from Porthtowan to Lizard Point was so lovely.  Really runnable and the underfoot conditions were lovely.  I was worried about if it would be really slippery after the snow and wet conditions but I was wearing Hoka Mafates and these have incredible grip as well as cushioning so they felt just right.  Last year it had rained for months leading up to the race and my partner had really found the conditions underfoot quite unbearable as did many runners.  Just so muddy and hard to run through so I felt really lucky that we hadn’t had much rain leading up to race day.  It was wet underfoot but not horrendous.  I was trying to take in the scenery as well as trying not to fall over, which I am very good at doing so i looked down a lot!

Image by No Limits Photography

I got to Lizard Point in 2hrs 6 this is 10 ish miles in.  I was met with the most wonderful cheer of support which made me totally emotional! It was so lovely to be met with such support and cheers.  I knew I was first lady at this point because of how the race had started.  For me this is hard to put out of my head! I didn’t want to put pressure on myself but I also couldn’t help thinking how lovely it would be to finish in that position.  But the race was long, I just had to keep going and see what happened.  At this point I was met by my partner and his friend Don, he had very kindly come to support and crew too which was great and so much nicer for Jean.  They would also be joined by another friend, Nick, later on.  These are Jean’s friends who crewed with me for him for both years he completed the Arc and I found it totally overwhelming that they wanted to join me for my race too.  This gave me a real boost.  I didn’t stop long, I just wanted my usual, a coke followed by Tailwind.  I struggle to eat at these races.  So I heavily rely on Tailwind, which I am proud to be Ambassador for this year.  It got me through all my 100 milers of the grand slam last year and I know as long as I make myself have a cup of that at every aid station and crew stop my body can cope with no food.  Amazing really to have something that works so well for me.

So I left Lizard Point pretty quickly.  I was not taking in at all when I would next see my crew.  I am not sure why, but I felt on a mission from the very start, i had a job to do! But I knew it wouldn’t be long until I saw them because I knew we saw Jean a lot last year.

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Image by David Miller at Mullion Cove

I was very aware of navigation and how easy it is to go wrong on this course.  I am not the best at navigation anyway – I had done two recce’s of the course but just along the most tricky section at Zennor and one from Cape Cornwall to Godrevy.  Otherwise I didn’t know really if I could get it right.  I had the route on my watch and tried to remember to keep looking at it and not just follow others.  All advice from Jean which i found to be very useful.  I was running with a few men at this point and we shared a lot of jokes about the pressure of my race number and how it is like a target! I tried to put it out my mind, ‘just run your own race Laura’.  I think i managed this once I eased into the race.  I saw a few familiar faces at this point – Michael Robinson and Justin Nicholas, Race Director for Climb South West, who passed by with ease but it didn’t bother me I was happy to see them and know their friendly faces were around.  They ran it last year and I was excited to see what they would do this year.

I was feeling good, actually a little hot which surprised me.  But I decided not to take any clothes off I didn’t want the wind to get to me as I know a risk for me is getting cold.  So I just kept going.  The miles seemed to fly by and I loved that whole first section to Porthleven.  I did see my crew at a few stops between Lizard Point and Porthleven but it was just quick stops for coke and Tailwind.  I thought about getting changed at Porthleven into a dry base layer and changing my socks but on entering the check point I found it really hot in there.  It was again, lovely to reach that checkpoint to a wonderful cheering crowd and the lovely Jane Stephens, who wanted to get me chips but I knew i couldn’t stomach any.  So Jean came with many clothes and all I did was get out of the checkpoint quickly as i was feeling dodgy in the heat and have a Tailwind and head off! I did see Justin and Michael at the checkpoint and thought i would most likely see them again very soon, I wasn’t wrong.

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Image by No Limits Photography

I don’t like to stay in checkpoints for too long as I know it can be a huge time waster (although I would if I needed to) but also because I can’t eat it always seems pointless.  I maybe am a bit silly at times, when I can feel something rubbing me and I don’t take the time to sort it out.  So I did end up with a massive chafe on my back from the foil body bag rubbing against me for 100 miles! Another lesson learnt.  I must say I also got my headtorch out at this point as the light was fading.  I was looking forward to the change up with a bit of darkness but 13 hours was going to be the longest I had ever run in the dark and that i was not looking forward to and I felt I would be on my own during a very tricky section at Zennor. I tried to put these thoughts out my mind.

I can’t remember this section that well for some reason – but I know Justin came passed me again and then Michael, we ran together for a bit I think it was this section! I know Michael had issues with his ankle I think but he was running really well and I wasn’t sure I would see him and Justin again.  I think it is at around this point that I met Stephen Mitchell properly but we had run a bit together in daylight as well.   He proved to be a brilliant running companion for a lot of my race.  Stephen aka pole man! He had poles and it was at a point when him, Michael and Justin would go off up hills with ease ahead of me that i thought should i have tried poles! We kind of yo yo’d back and forth all of us but the poles on the hills seemed to help a lot and I was quite envious of them but only on the up hill, something I will consider for next time.

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Image by No Limits Photography – Me with Stephen

So I found myself alone again in the dark.  I knew that I would see my crew at Marazion as Jean had advised I change to my road shoes, Hoka Cliftons – i love these shoes and there was a 6-7 mile stretch of road and gravel paths coming up all the way to Mousehole from Marazion.  So Jean changed my shoes and socks, another item of clothing i can’t recommend enough – Stance Socks – just the best running sock I have had.  It was so so nice to put on my road shoes and new dry socks – thank you Jean for that tip! I was worried to waste time but it was so worth it.  I actually felt the miles ticking away on this section – easy road running.  I got to Penzance – checkpoint 2.  There I saw Stephen and I am not sure if anyone else was there that I had been running with.  I felt like a hot chocolate which is odd for me! So I had one which was lovely.  The wind now was bitterly cold and blowing hard, it was nice to have a bit of relief from it.  But I was so aware of not wanting to lose my position now that i wanted to push on.  I went off on my own and did enjoy the simple running for a bit more of road.  When I got to Mousehole my crew quickly pulled up beside me on the road! They had been ordering a curry and had to leave it as i had passed by quicker than they thought – that was a real boost.  Jean changed my shoes again back to the now dry Mafates for the tricky section coming up.  I had rolled my ankle twice in the last 2 months and badly and it was a bit swollen but no pain at all and it didn’t really worry me i Just remember seeing it and Don commenting on it but strangely no pain at all!

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Image by No Limits Photography

I do now know Michael and Justin were behind me at this point and caught me up a bit later on.  The stretch at Mousehole was really technical and rocky and a bit annoying as i found it difficult to get any pace up.  My legs were feeling really good and I remember being really happy about this but I couldnt run much here, the terrain was just too technical to get the pace up much. As I passed Minack Theatre Stephen’s lovely crew, Mark, was there and I was running out of water – I asked if he had any which he didn’t but he had some Tailwind the remainder of Stephen’s from his last bottle, so he gave me that which was like nectar! So thank you so much for that! Coming up to Lands End I don’t remember that well apart from it being really really windy and bitterly cold.  I believe Justin and Stephen had gone off and I was with Michael coming up to Lands End but he headed in before me I just found the wind such a force and hard to stand up against.  I was so happy to see Lands End though.  Although i was feeling good, I know I always feel a lull between miles 35 and 50 you start to feel things in your body but know you have more than half the race to go and it is always a darker time for me.  I also knew Lands End was a big point to get to, over half way.  I did however feel like I was running so slowly.  I kept saying this to my crew, Jean kept reassuring me but I just felt like I was super slow and felt chased.  I am not sure why, maybe i was just realising how important this race was for me.  Also leading into this race I felt immense pressure like i needed to prove to myself that i could do a tougher 100 miler not that the Centurion ones aren’t tough but they are very different – different time of year, different terrain.  This one was known for how tough it is and i needed to prove to myself I could cope with that.  And I guess I wanted to prove to myself that the A100 wasn’t the only 100 mile win I could do.  I was feeling pressure and trying so hard not to as I didn’t want to affect my race.

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Image by No Limits Photography – lights of runners leading up to Lands End

At Land End I was greeted by lovely marshals – I should have mentioned all these lovely marshals before – the incredible Arc Angels.  They honestly are like Angels! They meet you before the checkpoint, show you where to go have a little chat with you to make sure you are okay and try to take a food order from you! I let the side down with the food order although I did have another hot chocolate at Lands End – and it was delicious.  I had such a lovely round of applause as i entered Lands End.  Michael was there and he was having trouble with his leg and I knew he was going to try to get a massage.  It had been great running with him for a bit as he had been showing me sites in the dark which amused me.  He told me about St Michael’s Mount – that dark blob over there, you know a bit darker than everything else around us!! This makes me laugh when I look back but it’s great distraction from the task you are pushing yourself through.   I remember thinking I want to get out and get on with this section now.  I knew what was coming as this section was what I had recce’d a couple of times and I knew it was tough especially at Zennor.  I wanted to get it done.  I am afraid I always feel this at these long races from the moment I start it is like I have a job to do and I am always pushing forwards to the end maybe that is the point I don’t no! Or maybe I think of the end goal too much.  For sure, by Lands End I was certain I did not want to lose my first position female, it really had become very important to me to keep it.  I wonder if it was the thought of Jane and how it would make her feel, doing it for my children it’s always so nice to bring a trophy back to them, for my partner who introduced me to ultra running and this race, for my club, Mudcrew and really for me to try to prove to myself that I can do this sort of race the more technical stuff I can do it and hopefully I can do it quite well. So I was asking where second lady was and Jean said not to worry but about 2 miles away that felt close and I did feel a bit panicked but I had a slow section coming up so I just had to grind on and do my best.

I left Lands End and was hit with strong wind.  It was so strong and so so cold.  But I was warm in my body just my hands were cold.  Thankfully my lovely friend Sarah Salt, on a training run had given me hand warmers to put in my gloves when I was cold.  It was amazing.  Having cold hands can cripple me on a run so to be able to keep them warm made the rest of me feel okay.  So Jean had given me some and they felt amazing.  And when I changed them I had a genius idea of stuffing the other used pair down my bra for added body warmth! This is a new top tip everyone!!

Now I am not sure if I left Lands End with Stephen or if I caught up with him but we were together again.  Is this the point he told me I was relentless!! I am not sure but we were together and I was so grateful for this for the night time.  I do love running in the dark but it was so much of darkness and mixed with the cold and the wind that became relentless.  I was sure before I did the race that I would be doing Zennor by myself and i wasn’t looking forward to it.  You have a lot of rock climbing to do and incredibly technical sections where you can barely run.  It feels slow and frustrating for about 14 miles before St Ives and you feel quite vulnerable out on the coast path edge in the dark being battered by wind and later on by massive hail stones! To have Stephen with me was so nice.  Now this bit is all a bit blurry but somehow I found myself with Stephen and Dan Masters.  I didn’t realise it was Dan at all.  But I felt so bad for him as he was suffering with stomach issues.  He couldn’t be sick but he felt sick and it’s just so crippling on your race when it’s like that.  Dan is such an incredible runner and I just felt for him, to not be able to run like I know he can.  We all got a bit confused at a section here and I nearly went up a cliff I shouldn’t.  But thankfully we got back on track.  The hills were a bit relentless here and nothing was fast.  I kept thinking am I going to be caught soon.  My legs were starting to feel tired and I was longing for daylight.  I did have very happy memories of this section as I had run it with a friend, Steph Wade, and her daughter so she could complete her Arc journey from 2018 which sadly ended for her at Cape Cornwall.  So we had all gone out to finish it off and it was such a great day.  So I was filling my mind with these good thoughts and thinking of Steph willing me on as I knew she would be.

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Image by No Limits Photography – With Justin Nicholas

Stephen and I carried on together and I warned him about Zennor.  I said we will be slow now and there’s not a lot we can do about it.  It got really tough now – my wonderful crew came out to see us on a section just before Zennor in the hail and freezing cold wind.  I didn’t want anything but was so happy to see them it was a real boost.  My partner knew this section – he’s better at this bit than me really! – and i knew he understood what we were feeling.  One foot in front of the other and just keep moving forwards.  That’s what we did.  The hail kept coming and it was brutal.  Massive hail stones hit my face and i was trying to cover it up and my hood wouldn’t stay up which really annoyed me! Poor Stephen fell over a couple of times, which is normally my job! And we were both feeling battered, cold and tired and longing for daylight and a runnable section.  I think i was a bit annoying by this point I kept saying St Ives will be here soon.  It took bloody ages for it to appear! Daylight came first and that was just wonderful.  We kept saying it looks like the sky is getting lighter and then there it was light! After 13 hours of darkness it felt amazing.  Still no St Ives – just over this hill – oh no it’s not there! Poor Stephen! Now a funny thing happened which has never happened to me before; I hallucinated! I saw two lovely marshals dangerously close to the cliff edge just waving at us.  I then saw Jean up on another cliff, wondered what he was doing there to be honest but he was happily waving at us too!! I told Stephen who promptly told me he had also seen some marshals a while back but they weren’t real and we were simply hallucinating – very matter of fact which amuses me now at the time I did feel slightly concerned but decided to just not think too much about it.  At this point it hailed again and the wind was so strong I think this is what then made me lose proper sight in my right eye.  Now this did scare me a bit.  I kept rubbing it but it was all blurred.  I told Stephen and he had similar in his left eye so we thought between us we would have perfect vision!! Again I felt so grateful to have Stephen’s company.  I made the decision not to worry about my eye nothing was going to stop me getting to the end of this race so I just had to put up with it.  I admit now, it worried me and I told Jean at St Ives and said please don’t say anything as I don’t want to get pulled off the course.  I knew I was okay and Jean did ask a medic who believed it was the cold wind and in future I should wear protective goggles.  Shows how bitter the wind was and how strong it was.

So we did finally get to St Ives – the lovely big stones i remembered that led to St Ives, appeared before us and I was so happy to be there.  I knew now that the rest of the course was pretty runnable if I could just keep my legs moving.  Jean met me and showed me to the checkpoint.  I didn’t want to stay long at all.  I know what I am like at the end of races – I tend to pass out.  And I didn’t want this happening prematurely with getting comfortable in the warmth of the checkpoint.  So I had another hot chocolate, more Tailwind and Jean changed my shoes.  I had decided it would be lovely to wear my favourite Hoka’s for the last section.  I knew my pace would have slowed and that it was less slippy for this section and that my Challengers would feel so lovely after all those miles.  So we changed my socks again.  I was panicking again about being caught Jean was trying to find exact times for me.  He believed second lady, the lovely, Anna Troup, was about 4 miles back now and everyone was saying you are fine.  I never believe that until i am near that finish line! Stephen and I left at about the same time I think.  He had got to St Ives just before me as I had been faffing with my dodgy hood and dodgy eye! So about 25 miles to go I thought.  Just keep moving run as much as I can.  So that’s what I did.

My new socks and shoes felt incredible.  I think I had new hand warmers too, my body felt warm – I still hadn’t changed any item of clothing apart from socks and shoes.  Stephen and I ran sections together here and I loved the Dunes of Doom! I found them such a distraction from any pain or my eye or the terribly strong wind (I think it was up to 45mph!!).  It was like a treasure hunt looking for the next piece of slate to direct us.  I found it really runnable here too and kind on the body.  It was in this section that Stephen went on one side and I went on another and then I bumped into Justin who appeared out of the dunes! He always had a smile on his face and looked so strong.  He told me it’s only about 13 miles now and that we could make it in under 26 hours.  Now, probably stupidly,  I make a point of never looking at my time or pace on races so I was feeling I was going so slowly that i was going to go over 30 hours.  I couldn’t believe what he said.  Of course I knew I couldn’t do that distance after the mileage we had covered in just over 2 hours but I was happy that I was making relatively good time from what I thought I was at.  It did make me think should i have checked my time before now and tried for the female course record seriously.  But I just didn’t think, I didn’t know what to expect or how I would cope with the course and I didn’t want to scare myself with targets so I guess I left it a bit late for all that.

Justin went on – looking super strong and I didn’t think I would see him again.  I ran with Stephen some more.  We saw our crew I think just passed Godrevy and they said see you at Portreath.  Every time I saw my crew I could feel the energy of them knowing the end was near.  I saw the lovely Anna Hatton who told me I was first lady and safe in that position and was so encouraging and lovely.  I saw my lovely crew lots throughout this section just popping up and saying come on nearly there – it felt great and I felt really buzzing.  They did, however, think I seemed a bit drunk! And i look back at video and think I do sound drunk too! Even felt it – i was a bit delirious.  This was the longest I had been on my feet for a run the second longest 100 i’ve done was 23.5 hours so I was concerned how I would cope with that extra time, knowing I can’t eat as well.  So I think I was in an odd place! But I felt good so happy the end was near and I knew I was going to make it now.  Still doubting i could hold onto first place! At Portreath I think it was just after then – well Stephen had told me to go on he couldn’t run anymore and would walk it in.  I was still trying to keep running – a sort of shuffling jog i suppose! And that is when I caught up with Justin who was walking it in too.  He still was smiling and looking super strong.  The wind at this point was so harsh I was leaning into it with my full body weight and struggling to stay upright! I carried on and knew I had these brutal steps to face before Porthtowan.  Oh for poles then!! As I came to the second ones I saw Alex Lockett ahead, an incredibly talented ultra runner.  We were all suffering now.  He jogged a bit and let me pass – i just wanted it done, it was lovely to see him and congratulate him as I knew he had made it too.  Then those final steps they went on forever.  I had to haul myself up them literally!! But then I hit Porthtowan.  I have never been so happy to see a village before! And also never wished for the previous year’s finish so much! I had to run passed that Blue Bar at the bottom of the lovely down hill to go onto to face this mammoth last hill up to the Eco Park! It was such a tough hill which I know Fergy would have been proud of!

At this point I was nearly crying I saw my crew all cheering me at the top – I couldn’t move any faster! But got to the top and this time I knew I had made it!! I was so happy to see my partner and crew and in the now glorious sunshine I ran into the finish line to be greeted by my friend and race director Jane Stephens.  Two years previously I had witnessed my partner get that famous finisher’s hug from Jane and I had not contemplated running ultras at that time.  It totally grabbed me, this race, that buzz at the end that hideous pain you go through the wondering why you are doing this, feeling you will never do something this ridiculous again! I remember Jean going through it all, the tears the doubt, the fear of not finishing – pushing through unimaginable pain to push your body to extremes you never thought possible – to get to that finish line and get that hug.  I couldn’t believe I was there and I couldn’t believe I was first lady, 7th overall, with a gold buckle and in 26 hours 48 minutes.  I hugged Jane as tight as my weary arms would let me and then my partner – without him I just couldn’t have achieved all those things.  I may have shed a tear or two now! Then I promptly lay on the floor for a long time trying not to pass out! This is fairly standard for me after 100 miles of running.  The lovely medics checked I was okay and thought my eye problem was the cold wind.  After about 20 minutes and a cup of tea it was fine again.

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At the top of the hill of hell!!

Reflecting on the race.  It is so easy to think oh I could have saved time here I could have done this or that and to be hard on yourself.  But I feel so happy with how it went.  It was not the easiest of conditions in fact the weather was really challenging.  The course, although absolutely stunning is really very brutal! I loved it, loved the challenge and loved that I was actually able to complete this monster of a race.  I still can’t quite believe it.  I can’t believe I got that beautiful slate trophy to take home to my children (they love it by the way!) and I just can’t believe my body allowed me to do this race.  We were able to stay for the incredible awards ceremony the next day because a wonderful man Chris Walker and Jane Stephens made it possible for us to have a bed for the night.  Being called up to collect my trophy and stand on that podium is a feeling I can’t find enough words for.  These moments are honestly moments I thought I could only dream of.  After the Centurion Grand Slam and winning at the A100 I really thought I must just have been lucky maybe, enjoy this it may never happen again.  To go out and complete the Arc and win it i just can’t believe it. When I started running I said to my sister imagine being one of those runners up there on the podium – that is something I can only dream about.  To be stood there living that dream – well I will never ever take it for granted and appreciate every single second up there and of that moment crossing that finish line.  And I thank everyone of you who played a part in getting me there.  It is such a special race and I will most definitely be back.  I also want to thank Tailwind for making it possible for me not to pass out during the race through having no food for nearly 27 hours!!

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Pictured here at the end so happy to see Jean

Congratulations to everyone who took part in this race.  To get to the start line after months of training for something like this is a big ask – if you didn’t finish you gave it a good go, it was tough out there so be proud of what you achieved.  Kim Collinson got an incredible course record under 21 hours which is just amazing.  My friend Matt Hart who did this race last year in around 28 hours completed it in just over 23 hours!! Getting a black buckle which is amazing.  There are so many people I could mention but everyone who managed to complete this epic race congratulations.  To the Arc Angels thank you so much for standing the conditions and always being there to smile and do anything for any of us.  Stephen thanks for the company! To my crew you were amazing the best crew ever! My partner, Jean, you started this journey for me and I couldn’t be more grateful for everything you do for me in every race and for helping me find my passion for ultra running and for believing in me.  And my amazing children who encourage me to train as they know what this means to me and are always so proud.

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My super crew – Don at the front, Nick and then Jean and a really healthy looking me with my cup of tea!

If you ever consider doing this race – go for it.  It is so well organised, Mudcrew put on such great races.  The checkpoints are amazing – although I can’t eat I have seen the menus and they supply everything you could imagine and you are so well looked after.  There is just a truly magical vibe about this race and it is an absolutely stunning course – it’s certainly one I feel pulling me back for another go.

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Image by No Limits Photography – I love this photo of my hug with Jane Stephens

This is very waffley I know but it is very much an account from the heart, if you make it to the end of this I think that deserves a medal! My next big race is the Climb South West Devon Coast to Coast in May, which I am really excited about.

 

Image may contain: 3 people, including Andrew Ferguson, people smiling, outdoor and textPhoto by No Limits Photograpy – The awards Ceremony with second place lady Anna Troup – what a genuine and lovely lady she is

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Jean caught me being a little bit happy to have that trophy!!

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Well here it is – First Blog – Finally! The A100 Race Report and Finish to The Centurion Grand 100 mile Grand Slam

The lead up to the race.

This race felt like it had been a long time coming but yet it was upon me really quickly.  This was the last race of the Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam and one that I couldn’t wait to get to as I knew it would mean I had completed all the others and this would be the final journey towards that great big buckle.  What started as a dream in my head over a year before, at my first 100 mile event, the North Downs Way 100 in 2017, was soon to become a reality.  I was so incredibly excited but also incredibly nervous.

I always get nervous before races, to the point where the night before I struggle to eat, but with this one a week before, every time I thought of the race I felt sickness and lost my appetite.  This was not good for someone who relies heavily on carb loading and extra fueling the week leading up to a 100 mile race because I cannot eat anything during the race!  I managed to eat a lot more than I would normally though and even forced some meals down! The nerves were huge for this race, more than ever, it showed me how much it meant to me.  There were many reasons for it being so important.  I only started ultra running last year and after doing my first Centurion event the NDW100 I said to my partner, I need to do the Grand Slam – I want that big buckle! That was the main aim here but along the journey to this buckle more targets came into play and I wanted to finish with as many of them as possible.  I didn’t know if I was setting my targets too high, I have never been one for being too confident in myself but I had met so many people along this incredible ultra running journey that gave me this new belief and I started to wonder if things that I thought were never possible could be.

My partner, Jean, and I stayed in a b&b near Goring the night before – we live in Devon with my three children.  So we dropped them at their father’s with the call of my eldest following us as we drove off ‘you are going to win this one mummy I know it’! If only, I thought if only I could come back home with that trophy for you.  I have looked at that trophy since last year and said to Jean can you imagine winning that – what an incredible feeling that must be – something I could only dream of, along with podiuming at one of these events.  Something that seemed totally out of my reach but that did come true – I came 3rd at NDW100 last year in a time of 23,31.   At the TP100 I wanted to beat my 100 mile pb I did in 19,36 and was 2nd lady, 2nd lady at SDW 100 in 18,45 and 3rd lady at the NDW100 this year in 21,08 I had podiumed and each time I had to pinch myself that that dream had come true, could I ever actually be top of the podium though? I thought that was impossible – that trophy felt just out of reach but every single training run I went on between NDW100 and A100 I visualised it and tried to find this belief I kept getting told to find.

So that night in the b&b we went for dinner and we talked of my aims for the race the targets I had – from most important to more out of reach and not to focus on too much but wonderful if they came true – it was like this:

  1. Get that big buckle – that was what this journey started from – that was the main goal – finish the race and get that buckle
  2. I was amazingly, first lady on the grand slam standings – keep that position – it was one i felt really proud of and in shock to be in so keep it
  3. Get a 100 mile pb – at the moment it was 18,46 from SDW100 – maybe I could better that if I had a good day
  4. Get a podium place – I knew this would be tough – there were many good female runners at the A100 – Hoka sponsored Mari Mauland who won the Grand slam in an incredible time last year, Wendy Whearity and Sharon Law GB runners, a very experienced runner Annabelle Stearns, Rachel Fawcett – a real strong female runner and other strong contenders. I knew being on the podium would be tough this race.
  5. To keep my position over the whole grand slam table – I was second overall but knew that would be difficult to maintain as Alexander Whearity was wanting to get his position back!
  6. To be first lady – a dream come true this would be and low on my list as I knew the competition I was high but it was one very much in my mind.
  7. To get a Spartathlon auto qualifier – this is only on here from the sheer belief my wonderful new friends had in me – Sarah Sawyer and Ian Hammett – they will be mentioned a lot in this! I have met them on my grand slam journey and believed I could join them at Sparta next year by getting an auto qualifier of 17,36 for 100 miles!! One I knew I was not ready for but a tiny little hope I had because of their belief in me so it has to go on here!

 

So Jean and I had the plan – stop panicking Laura, you just need to finish – main aim get that buckle the rest is a bonus.  So we had dinner and got an early night – after I packed my bag.  Jean is a great grounder for me and my pre race panic! He totally gets it as he is an ultra runner too, in fact he introduced me to it.  He knows how anxious I get pre race.  He lets me go through mandatory kit over and over and checks the list with me.  I also had to pack a drop bag for the first time, Jean could not crew at the A100 as there are no crew allowed due to it being an out and back route and getting too congested.  So he had volunteered to help out and would do that for the first 10 hours then spectate.   I was extra nervous due to this, as he is such a support and knowing I would not see him at every checkpoint and crewing station scared me.  He would be on the second leg at miles 29 and 46 at North Stoke aid station.  This was helpful as I always have a low at miles 35-50.  He told me not to worry too much about my drop bag as I never have any food, never stop to change and I would not need anything but I still packed a load of stuff ‘just in case’!! So all was packed and ready to go – weather checked 100 times – and we went to sleep.  I slept an incredible 8 hours – and woke refreshed – quite amazing for me pre-race!

Race Day

I woke up so relieved that I had slept so well.  I felt nervous but I also felt calm.  It was a new feeling of calm, I can’t really explain.  But then I looked out the window, rain – lots of it and lots of wind! Compared to the scorching other 100 milers of the grand slam, this was going to be so different, would I cope okay with this change? What to wear now?! I put on my running tights and long sleeved top.  Thank god when we got to Goring I decided to change as I felt too hot and put on shorts and tshirt.  It turned out to be 24 degrees that day and 18 degrees at night.  I had made the right decision to change.  Jean dropped me as it was raining and went to park the car.  I immediately bumped into Jane Stephens, who is Race Director of Mudcrew who have incredible running events in the South West of England and are also a running club and who, earlier this year, invited me to be part of their Ultra Running Team which was such a great honour.  I always feel proud putting on my Ultra Team running kit. Jane has become a good friend this year, she is so kind and always makes me feel at ease.  I really felt for her, as she had attempted the Grand Slam and we had been on this journey together but unfortunately, the heat had prevented Jane from completing the NDW100 – as it had done with so many, it had been brutal conditions and she had done the right thing to stop but that doesn’t make it any easier.  It was so nice to see her and have one of her legendary hugs before I had my bag checked for mandatory kit.  And this was done by the wonderful Ian Hammett, another person I feel lucky to call a friend – who I have met along this grand slam journey.  He has been such a support at these races and helped me at the end where I do suffer greatly – i will go into that more later! Ian is such a kind person, has had a bad injury and yet has been helping out at these events all year and puts 100% into it.  Nothing is too much trouble.  I have talked to him a lot about my nerves, and wanting to believe in myself and he has given me so much advice.  I had even considered a pacer for the first time – always been too nervous to have one in case it didn’t work for me and would only have had my partner but he was injured unfortunately.  But I felt that Ian would understand all my mood swings and really push me to finish as fast as I could.  Unfortunately he was already taken! But understandably! And he helped his friend finish in amazing style, so I am really happy it worked out this way.  It was great to see Ian and he told me to just focus and run my own race and that I could do this. I felt really positive after seeing him.  I just seemed to bump into everyone I need to before this race – it just gave me the most wonderful positive feeling on a day I was so nervous about.  The next person I saw was Sarah Sawyer.  I had not even met her before we had just started chatting after she paced Sarah Cameron to a wonderful victory at the SDW100 this year, where I was second.  I just could not close that gap.  Both Sarah’s have become friends and are such lovely ladies.  Sarah Sawyer is so humble and such an incredible runner who has also given me such helpful advice.  I think we are quite similar.  And it has taken us both a while to find belief in ourselves.  It was so lovely to meet Sarah properly and she was such a support this whole race, I can’t thank her enough.  She was there supporting her husband and would  pace him later.  Little did I know he would be a big part of my race too.  I also bumped into Sarah Salt, a really wonderful friend from Devon and her husband Dan – both fantastic runners and Sarah is someone I love to run with – we have shared some lovely training runs on Dartmoor.  Jean joined Sarah, Dan and I and we listened to the race briefing from James Elson.

I couldn’t believe I was here and he was asking who was doing the Grand Slam – it was such a lovely feeling – the last one – I had to do this, it had to be completed no option.  I knew I had a slight niggle from so much training and in all honesty probably not enough recovery after each 100 miler.  So my left hamstring has been bothering me.  But I have kept it under control and stuck to off road.  It was just a slight niggle but was in my head – but nothing was going to stop me finishing this race, but I wanted to finish it in good style.  We set off for the start line some 300 metres from Goring Village Hall.  I was near the back at this point and I don’t like to start near the back as I knew there were places we could be held up so I walked quickly to get near the front not getting to say bye to Jean properly but I tried to put this out of my head knowing I would see him soon.

At the start line I saw Rachel Fawcett, who I have also become good friends with.  She won the CW50 last year and is such a strong runner.  She has been plagued with injury this year but has toughed every race out, some in a lot of pain, but still she has finished strong in 4th place and in great time – she is so determined and such a lovely person.  Always willing me on and here she was again telling me to go and get this – she wanted me to win! She was second on the grand slam standings for the women – so impressive with an injury too.  I saw Wendy Whearity and her new husband Alexander Whearity, both incredible runners and Alex was the one who wanted his place back on the grand slam standings and told me he was out to get me! This was funny and eased my nerves.  It was only once we started that I realised I had not really looked around for Mari Mauland or any other women – that must surely mean I was more relaxed than normal – I had not thought about where I was standing or who was in front of me.  I would never have started in front of Mari, knowing how strong she is but I had done so without meaning to. I knew with this race that the pace can start really fast and that I needed to be careful.  I didn’t want to blow up, also the rain had stopped and the sun was out and it was a lot hotter than we had imagined for October.  I felt very aware of everything.  I was wearing Hoka challengers for the first time during a race, a shoe i wished I had found before as they proved to be amazing for the whole race.  They have totally changed my ability to run for longer without pain and blisters – like running on springs! I was thinking of my hamstring which I could feel immediately.  I knew I would just have to block out the pain if it increased.  Remember the goal.  We went off quite fast – I don’t know how fast as I do not have pace on my watch I like to run on feel and don’t like to know what pace I am running at as it can put me off or make me run out of my comfort zone.  But I think it must have been around 8 min miling as we set off – that was too fast and I let Rachel go ahead – It was then that I saw Mari pass me I had not noticed her until this point.  That was less than a mile in.  I decided her pace was good and to stick with her I imagine it was around 8,30 min miling but can’t be sure.  Peter Windross was with Mari too and I knew he was a super fast runner, the first in the grand slam some 8-9 hours ahead of me! So I didn’t want to go any faster than them.  Rachel eased off and we went passed her, her always telling me to go for it.  Soon Wendy Whearity came passed and she made a bit of a gap but after about a mile or so she eased off and let us pass.  I think we were all just trying to gauge our pace and not go too fast but it was so hard not to.

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Picture by Stuart March

It was at this point that I realised something was different – I had something new within me, I actually believed, I didn’t want to let Mari go too far ahead like I would normally do, I wanted to just stay with her as long as it felt comfortable.  I didn’t feel afraid to do this, like I was not good enough to do that, I felt I could and the pace felt right if it hadn’t I would have eased off.  But normally the sight of a better runner than myself would have made me ease off even if the pace felt okay.  This time I didn’t.  I went with it, I felt good and I wanted to finish this grand slam as best I could.  Tom Sawyer, Sarah’s husband, joined this little group of runners and I knew he had a pace chart for 17,15 hours and this did unnerve me a bit as I knew that was not my aim but I tried not to let it bother me, just go on feel and keep going – remember the goal.  Tom was lovely company and we would share much of the race together.  I chatted to Mari for a bit which was lovely and eased my nerves.  She has done the Western States this year, a dream of mine to complete.  It was great to hear her experience.  At the turn around point it was so lovely to see Ian Hammett there who knows I cannot eat anything and that I survive off a ‘coke and tailwind chaser’ at every checkpoint! It is just what works for me.  Food just doesn’t, it took a while to learn this but I have a good system now.  So Ian got the coke and followed it with tailwind so quickly – at which point this was feeling like a lot shorter distance than 100 miles as the pace wasn’t that slow and we all turned around so quickly to head back to Goring.  I didn’t want to let the distance get too much between Mari and I.  But I also knew it was early in a very long race and that I should concentrate on me and not worry about anyone else.  I thought it would be hard on the out and backs seeing who I was being chased by but actually it didn’t worry me too much I just thought focus on me – remember the goal.  Rachel wasn’t far behind and she just high fived me and told me to go for it.  Mari increased the space between us a bit – the wind was strong going back and Tom left me with Mari but I could always see them ahead but my hamstring was quite painful by now.  I think this was my worst stretch of the race mentally.  The wind was hard and I knew other women weren’t too far behind.  It was early in the race but I nearly lost a bit of belief here.  Then I just remembered this is my race not to worry about others.  It is a long race and to just keep going and not to doubt anything especially not now.  I also saw Jane Stephens and Sarah Salt who gave me a massive boost.  Plus Dave Brock who is also doing the Grand Slam and has struggled with his ankle.  It was great to see them all looking strong and happy and willing me on.

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Picture by Stuart March – Feeling really great on the first leg out – enjoying the day

I didn’t stop at the aid station in the middle of the first leg – I just wanted to keep the momentum and didn’t feel I needed anything at this point, I just took a SIS gel instead.  I got back to Goring, I think about 3 mins back from Tom and Mari.  They were still there and left as I got my coke and tailwind.  Sarah Sawyer and Ian greeted me and were so supportive – I didn’t stay long.  I was running on the second leg and the Peter Windross came up beside me I didn’t realise he was behind me.  Oh dear, had I gone too fast.  He agreed the back route on leg 1 was horrid and windy and he had used a few people as wind shields! Clever tactics! He then told me a joke which amused me and said he would pick up the pace now and go have a chat with Mari who I could see up ahead.  He had such controlled pace and finished in an incredible 15,35 with what seemed like such ease – what an incredible runner.  4 miles later on the second leg I was met by Jean at his aid station.  It was so lovely to see him.  I told him my left hamstring hurt and I was worried about it but I would have to just put it to one side.  He rubbed the back of my leg for me and let others fill my drinks as he was on food duty.  I get such strength from seeing Jean and although my leg was hurting I got so much positivity from seeing him, I always want to make him proud – it spurs me on having this in my mind.  He told me to remember the main goal not to go too fast and just think of me and my race.  Wise words.  I had a coke and tailwind and carried on.  He told me to remember the main goal and just keep strong.  I would see him at 46 miles.  At this point I had gone into first lady position as Mari had stayed at that checkpoint a bit longer.  I left that checkpoint and found myself with Tom again.  I kind of felt I had Sarah with me a bit, having her husband with me, it was really comforting.  What was also nice was that we both said that we weren’t big talkers when running and we could both have a little chat and then be happy in silence – no awkwardness or forced conversations and what a gent he was running on to open gates for me, picking me up when I fell over (I am very clumsy!).   I told Tom I would make the most of this moment, I was first lady at a Centurion race and that hadn’t happened before so I would enjoy it whilst it lasted!

A few miles on, I suddenly felt really good again, the wind had gone and I loved the route on leg 2.  I felt really strong and just pushed forwards.  I thought Tom was with me but he was a bit further back now, so I found myself alone, which I did for the rest of the race.  I got to the turnaround point and just felt really great and realised my left hamstring pain had gone.  I was so relieved.  On the way back the next lady I saw was Rachel who told me to keep at it, always willing me on.  This leg back felt so good.  To see wonderful friends so happy that I was leading in the ladies race felt so incredible.  Even people I didn’t know, saying first lady and clapping me, it felt amazing – this was the dream.  Jane Stephens looked so proud and happy to see me in the lead which was so lovely, she looked strong and it was great to see her.  I didn’t think I could possibly keep this place but thought I would enjoy it whilst it lasted, continue to run my own race and see what happens.  I thought it would just be so nice to get back to Jean’s aid station and at least for him to see me first there would be great.  Just before getting there I saw Dave Brock – I had wondered where he was, he had slipped behind and I was worried about him.  He said his ankle injury was hurting as was his whole body but he had been kicked out the aid station by a French man (Jean!!) who he was grateful to for getting him to carry on.  I told him he could do this and to remember the main goal, get that big buckle – I was worried about him but Dave is strong and I just hoped he could stick with it.  I can say he did amazingly and did get his big buckle and an incredible negative split!  When I got to Jean’s aid station he was so happy to see me and that my leg was feeling better.  He told me second lady was about 12 minutes behind and that I was doing great.  I had a coke and tailwind, I had also had a couple of SIS gels by this point and a couple of Cliff Bloks to keep my energy up.  And had had my water filled at the turnaround point.  I felt really happy, I was not panicking and was loving the scenery.  Leg 2 was definitely my favourite leg.  I wouldn’t see Jean again until he had finished up at his aid station and could come and spectate that would be in the middle of leg 4, that felt a bit scary as I am so used to having his regular support.  I got back to Goring in 7 hours 57, a 50 mile pb for me.  I was really pleased with that, not that I knew it at the time – I was not focusing on time at all just still sticking with going on feel.

At Goring I saw the lovely Sarah Sawyer and Ian again, a lovely man always there ready with my drop bag too, which again I said I needed nothing from.  Ian ran to get my coke and tailwind.  I was asking how far the second lady was, Ian reminded me to not worry stick to my own race.  I think I was just starting to think – could I do this, could I?! They told me second lady was over 20 minutes behind now.  This really does mean nothing in a 100 mile race though and they were right I just needed to carry on and do what I was doing.  They were so supportive and it was just lovely to see them at Goring each time.

On to leg 3 – the hilliest leg.  By now light was starting to fade.  As I got into more wooded areas I put my headtorch on.  I forced another gel down – I start to not want gels after a while and only take about 5 during the whole race but I wanted to make sure I took some as without eating I know energy levels drop.  I was feeling good still, I knew the next checkpoint was bang in the middle of the 12.5 miles and that was a nice feeling.  I was met by a lovely aid station who were in the middle of nowhere it seemed! in a van.  They were so full of excitement and willing me on – taking a picture of me and saying keep going, I was doing great.  They would see me in a bit! It seemed to take a while to get to the next aid station – lots of hills passed but it was good to have an excuse to walk.  I don’t really like to walk unless I have a reason to, like a hill! Something I found tricky at TP100 as I didn’t walk until 75 miles because it was all flat and then I really felt it in my legs for the last 10 miles.  So walking at points is good but I still need an excuse to! Leg 3 gave me the most excuses!

At the end of leg 3 in the distance I could see some lovely, welcoming fairy lights and it looked like a disco in the middle of nowhere! It was great, a real boost and I turned around after my coke and tailwind and headed back to Goring.  It was great again to get back to the van in the middle of nowhere and see this lovely lady, Kate Hayden who took a picture of me (below) again giving me a massive boost, saying such lovely words of encouragement.  They told me 2nd lady was about 40 mins behind me and this did feel good.  I was trying not to make it a focus but the more miles went by the more belief I started to feel.  Just keep going, keep doing what you are doing.  It was odd in the dark as you couldn’t see who was coming towards you the other way – but I still managed to make out Sarah Salt who was having an incredible race, but I hadn’t seen Jane yet, I wondered where she was and I was a bit worried – I also hadn’t seen Dave.  I saw Tom who was lovely and encouraging as was Rachel, both running so well.  I also saw Ian pacing his friend, Michelle – it was so nice to see him out on the course, he really pushes me and gave me a massive hug and told me to keep at it, this was my day, what a boost.  I was just heading into Goring and saw lovely Jane heading out – she told me she had got heat stroke and had to stop – I was so gutted for her, that was a real low – she told me to go get it.  I swear this pushed me forwards I had another reason to do this now.  I wanted to win for so many reasons but Jane became another one.  At Goring I was greeted by Sarah again and I got a couple of gels from my drop bag – the only thing i touched from there! It was packed I had 3 pairs of shoes in there too!! I should have listened to Jean!  At this point they told me I had a good lead on second lady and to go and get that trophy.  James Elson was there and said, so are you going to go and turn second into first – I still said there’s still a lot of the race left but I want it so badly.  The feeling – I cannot describe, just to say everytime I thought of holding that trophy I would cry! Which is how I began leg 4.  The lovely Sharon Dickson lead me to the start of leg 4, i’ve seen her at lots of these races helping and she is always so kind.

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Photo by Kate Hayden – I think I am looking a bit tired here!!

I had been told leg 4 was very flat which i didn’t want but actually there are a few little hills which in normal circumstances may not have felt like hills but 80 miles in felt like a good excuse to walk! I didn’t want to walk too much, I knew by this point my pace had slowed a lot.  My legs were tired and they ached a lot.  My hamstring was no problem at all thankfully.  But I had general pain.  I normally get blisters at about 40-50 miles but the Hokas kept my feet comfy until about 85 miles when I felt my first blister but this was nothing like normal.  What a relief.  But I was feeling the desperate urge to walk and slow down.  I was tired and I hurt.  The first checkpoint on leg 4 at Whitchurch was only 4.5 miles out from Goring which was great in one way but not so great to have 8 miles to the turnaround point.  It feels such a long way by this point in the race.  I was missing seeing Jean now too, it felt ages since I had seen him on leg 2 and I didn’t know when I would see him again.  The aid station was off the path and up a hill which I really felt on the way back! At the aid station 4.5 miles in I was greeted by some lovely people including Paul Spooner who was so encouraging.  I was forcing coke and tailwind down by now and actually went for some orange squash instead which was just what I needed.  I continued and just had to keep that trophy in my mind.  I was remembering the main goal but now I had a real chance at a total dream goal – one I never thought possible and I could not let it slip away.  This out route on leg 4 was so hard.  I saw Alex Whearity having an absolutely storming race – I am so pleased for him and he got his place on the grand slam back from me but it was so deserved.  He ran a massive 1.5 hour pb and finished in 16,21 hours – amazing.  It was nice to see him and it spurred me on.

My watch ran out of battery and I had to start it again so I could not check miles very easily and had no idea how I was doing on time, I am not sure if this helped or hindered me! I had the best surprise in that Jean suddenly appeared out of the dark, after this not incredibly nice section towards Reading in a built up housing estate where it had rained a bit and I put my coat on.  It was so nice to see him.  I am not sure he thought I felt that at the time! I cried and just wanted to stop and be held by this point.  I was so emotional, at the thought of possibly winning this incredible trophy and starting to imagine my children and their little faces seeing the trophy and how excited they would be.  Then seeing my man, total rock and support and him telling me I had my mum, sister, step brother and friends all following me – it was so overwhelming.  I couldn’t talk by this point and I think he thought I was grumpy! I just had not a lot left and knew I needed to turn around and that would spur me on.  He let me carry on and met me at the turnaround point.  I got to the turnaround checkpoint in Reading and I was greeted by a lovely lady who works for Runderwear who said she was so happy to see me in the lead after seeing me at a few races – ‘go and get it’ they were all saying.  I had more squash, maybe a tailwind and carried on my way back.  They told me second lady was just under an hour behind.  This was a real boost.  Jean walked with me as I finished my drink then told me this was it ‘you just have to finish this’.  I then found some speed within me.  It wasn’t that fast by this point but it felt fast. I was on my way back – I could do this.  I still felt I could get caught.  And I didn’t want to finish badly either, so I kept running, it was so nice to pass people going the other way as I had been running alone for so long, we were all willing each other on and that felt so good.  I saw Sarah pacing Tom she gave me a big hug, that was just what I needed.

I got to the last checkpoint back at Whitchurch and didn’t want to go in but had to, that’s when that out of the way checkpoint felt hugely out of the way.  Paul Spooner told me it was literally impossible to get caught now.  I still felt you never know! I don’t know if I had anything at that checkpoint I just wanted to get back.  I walked a tiny bit but kept running as much as possible.  I can’t even remember who I saw, I just know everything was starting to hurt and I just wanted to finish.  I am sure I saw Ian at this point or maybe it was earlier – Michelle was doing great and it was so lovely to see him again.  4.5 miles to go.  These tiny miles always feel like forever but finally I saw light, the light of the village hall.  I knew I was nearly there.  I could not believe it.  Had I actually done it – I had no idea at all what time I had done until I looked at the clock at the village hall – turning that corner to see everyone is a feeling I will never ever forget.  Jean came running towards me – he said you’ve done it, he was crying, everyone was clapping and cheering and I nearly went the wrong way – i had only retuned there 3 times already!!! Jean led me to the finish and I ran in to everyone clapping.  I just cried and cried in Jean’s arms! I could not believe it.  James gave me a massive hug and handed me my trophy – that trophy, the one I have seen as this untouchable goal something I was not worthy of.  I had said all that time ago imagine the feeling of getting that and there I was with it in my arms, I never wanted to let it go.  I think the picture Stuart March took shows it all – the relief of holding that is clear to see.

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Photo by Stuart March – I think this says it all

I normally get really faint and quite ill at the end of a 100 mile race, it has happened at every one I have done.  It is like my body just shuts down and I go white and just need to lie down.  But for some reason, I was the best I have ever been at the end of this race – the relief of reaching so many goals, completing the Grand Slam, finally being first at a Centurion race? – I don’t know but it was so nice to be able to enjoy this moment without feeling like I was going to keel over!

So I had completed the Grand Slam and the goals reached go as follows:

  1. I got my big buckle
  2. I kept my first place lady in the grand slam in 77,57
  3. I got a 100 mile pb in 18,27
  4. I got a podium place
  5. I didn’t keep my second place overall in the Grand Slam but was 3rd overall and I can honestly say Alex deserved that place – what an amazing run he had
  6. I was first place lady – wow wee!
  7. I didn’t get my auto qualifier for Sparta but that was a real long shot! And hopefully one to work towards in the not too distant future

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Photo by Stuart March – Grand Slam Buckle in hand

So I set many goals I didn’t think I would reach.  It was honestly the most amazing experience, this race and the entire Grand Slam.  I have learnt so much about me and my ability.  I have also learnt how important the mind is in all of this.  If you don’t believe you can do these things how can you make them happen.  But also if you don’t train hard it won’t happen either and I am lucky to have such incredible support around me, in people I have known for years and also in the lovely friends I have made recently.  They gave me that belief in their belief in me and I am so grateful for that.

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Photo by Stuart March – The trophy belongs to Jean too, I couldn’t have done it without his support

Thank you Centurion for the most incredible experience.  And thank you Stuart March for capturing that moment so perfectly.  Thank you Jean for being my rock and putting up with me through it all and to my children who had unwavering belief in me always and totally understand my need to train.  If you are contemplating the Grand Slam go and do it, I never thought I could and I did and it’s such a wonderful experience and you can do it if you work for it and you believe.  As I have now told my very proud children, dreams really can come true and yes I am still hugging that trophy!

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Photo by Stuart March

There are so many people I think I should mention as helping me out there – you amazing volunteers and I am so sorry if you are not mentioned but that certainly does not mean I am not incredibly grateful for your help along the way.