Welcome again after a while! In case anyone has been wondering, I am still alive :). After a great Grand Union Canal Race in May I was resting for a few weeks. In June and July, I was doing a little running, mainly short and intensive VO2max workouts to improve my breathing efficiency. On the 29th of July my wife and I welcomed our third child, so naturally August was a little busy with family affairs and there was no running. I started running somewhat regularly in September in order to have some minimal preparation for two upcoming ultra races: the Centurion Autumn 100 on the 13th of October and a 100 km Harpagan, taking place just 6 days later, on the 19th of October.
Why two such races one after another?
Good question. Running a 100 miler and then just 6 days later a 100 kilometres, with no consistent strength and endurance training (I had just six weeks from the beginning of September to train and prepare) doesn’t sound like a good idea. I was fully aware of that, so do not doubt my sanity. The logic here was that I needed to finish Autumn 100 to have my Western States Endurance Run (WSER) qualifier. When I had signed up for Autumn 100 I thought that I would give Harpagan a pass. However, later I knew that I would heavily regret not running my favourite race. Eventually I decided that I will run Autumn 100 conservatively, so as not to abuse my body too much. Afterwards I’d spend a few days on recovery and be in a half decent shape for Harpagan. Of course I anticipated not to compete with the race leaders like I did in a couple of recent editions of Harpagan. Instead, I would aim just to finish the race and enjoy my time out there.
I knew, that doing these two races one after another will be a huge challenge and a test for my body and mind, as never before have I done two ultra races that close to each other. The fact that my preparation was sub-optimal didn’t help. Three little children and frequent waking up at nights, here a cold, there a night with little sleep and skipped training session- not an easy situation. Between the 6th September and 10th October I managed to run 173k (108 miles), plus did a little legs and core strength training.
Autumn 100 (13/14th October 2018)
The race has an interesting formula. It’s based out of Goring-on-Thames. It’s run along four spurs, each 12.5 miles long. You run each spur there and back, giving a total of 100 miles. After each spur you’re back in Goring with access to a drop bag and a feed station. There are also feed stations on each spur, generously supplying the runners with water, electrolytes and food (sweets, crisps, fruit, cakes etc.).
I came to the race with a tiered target:
- plan minimum: finish under 28 hours and get my WSER qualifier
- plan optimum: finish under 24 hours to get a ‘One day’ buckle
- plan maximum: finish under 22 hours and 35 minutes, which is my current PB for 100 miles
I devised the following 24-hour schedule:
- 1st spur in 4 hours and 45 minutes (there and back)
- 2nd spur in 5 hours and 45 minutes
- 3rd spur in 6 hours and 30 minutes
- 4th spur in 7 hours
Here’s a short recording from the race briefing:
1st spur (Goring-Little Wittenham-Goring)
A few minutes before 10 am on Saturday I was at the start line, somewhere amidst 235 runners, ready for a moderately-paced run. The first 12.5 miles to the turnaround point took me 2 hours and 5 minutes and I thought I was running easily. It was quite warm, over 20 degrees and sunny. I was sweating significantly, but I was drinking a lot, eating well and feeling in control.
On my way back to Goring I realised I was very tired and couldn’t keep the same pace any longer. I think the temperature got me, I felt dehydrated and my muscles refused to run continuously. The return to Goring was a mix of power walking and jogging and took me 2 hours and 43 minutes. I spent 16 minutes at the race HQ in Goring: changed my shoes, packed food for the 2nd spur, ate, drank and simply rested.
2nd spur (Goring-Swyncombe-Goring)
I started the 2nd spur 5 hours and 5 minutes from the start, so I was 20 minutes behind my 24h schedule. I still felt tired and no longer expected an easy race. I needed 3 hours and 6 minutes to get to Swyncombe, with a lot of walking as a significant part of this spur was uphill. many competitors overtook me which wasn’t particularly uplifting. I was 40 minutes behind my schedule In Swyncombe and said farewell to my 24h plan optimum.
It started to get dark when I left Swyncombe, the temperature dropped and I came back from the dead. I could run more, I felt stronger and better and I started to think that I can make up some lost time and get back on my 24h schedule. It took me 2 hours and 51 minutes (15 minutes faster) to get back to Goring. At HQ I dressed more appropriately for an expected colder and wetter night, ate a tomato soup, resupplied. Having spent 14 minutes there I set off. I left Goring after 11 hours and 16 minutes from the start, which meant I was 46 minutes behind the schedule.
3rd spur (Goring-Chain Hill-Goring)
I anticipated this spur to be the best, as I’ve run this bit of Ridgeway many times and I really enjoy it. Indeed, en route to Chain Hill I power hiked and ran efficiently and kept overtaking other runners. I gave myself 3.5 hours for this stretch and did it in 3 hours and 5 minutes so I was pleased with the progress. It started to rain at some point but I had my waterproof jacket, so the situation was under control.
It was after midnight when I was heading back to Goring and it felt quite hard due to tiredness. As it was downhill to Goring I expected a better time, but I was moving slower and despite the final, long run down to Goring it also took me 3 hours and 5 minutes. This time I spent at the HQ just 5 minutes to refill my bottles, eat a soup and put some food in my running vest. I left Goring 17.5 hours from the start, so I had 6.5 hours for the final spur, versus 7 as I had planned. Still, I was convinced 24 hours is within reach!
4th spur (Goring-Reading-Goring)
I jogged and power walked the first 2 miles nicely, after which the heavens opened. It was a proper downpour. I naturally was wearing my jacket and could continue, but a terrible thing happened. It transpired I had dreadful chafing in my groin and each step became a torture. My motivation went down the drain, tiredness clouded my perception and I gave up pushing to reach my target. I hardly ran anymore to Reading and consequently got very cold. I stopped under some awning and put on a Buff and waterproof gloves. This reinvigorated me slightly and eventually, after 3 hours and 45 minutes from Goring, I reached Reading.
Thankfully the checkpoint there was indoors. I needed rest and spent there 20 minutes. I changed into a dry base layer which I carried with me as a part of the mandatory gear specifically for such situation. My friend Bogdan, with whom I ran bits of the race, lent me his Sudocrem so that I could get some relief for the chafed, delicate parts of my body. I warmed myself up with tea and coffee, took some food to go and set off for a long and tough trip back to Goring.
I left Reading at 7:35 am, so a positive thing was that it was no longer dark. On the other hand, it was still raining heavily. The 20-minute rest in Reading certainly helped and I was moving faster, perhaps driven by the desire to end this misery sooner. Indeed, I entered the race HQ at 11:04, so the way back from Reading took me 3 hours and 29 minutes.
Autumn 100 summary
I did my plan minimum. I was short by 64 minutes to my plan optimum. I think, that if not for the downpour on spur 4, I would have made it, but there is no point speculating. My time of 25 hours and 4 minutes placed me almost ideally mid-pack: 110th place, out of 235 starters, of which 168 runners finished the race.
The result is quite unimpressive, but I got the job done. I am a bit worried, that I keep failing to beat my 100-mile time from 2016 (22 hours and 35 minutes). But I explain this to myself, that I am nowadays able to do very minimalistic training. So, I am happy that I finished the race and let’s leave it there. Anyway, the main challenge now is that I have a 100k race to finish in 6 days’ time!
Recovery for Harpagan
I finished Autumn 100 at 11 am on Sunday. I immediately started the recovery process: stretching, hydration, refuelling. I was back home in Oxford just before 2 pm. Before 3 pm I was fed by my lovely wife, showered (this by myself) and ready for a nap. The groin chafing was horrendous, but at least the legs felt all right.
On Monday the groin was OK and luckily I didn’t have any significant muscle soreness in my legs. I of course was tired and to be honest, wasn’t particularly keen on running Harpagan. I left the decision whether to run or not till Friday morning.
On Wednesday I flew to Gdansk, Poland and spent a couple of days running errands. My legs felt very good, except for a slight stabbing pain in left hip. I was concerned that this could turn really bad during the race. Still, on Friday I decided to take part in Harpagan, but that I would start slowly. The aim would be to finish the race, and not fight for the podium, like I did at the 54th (2nd place) and 55th (5th place) editions.
Let’s wrap this post up here. You can now move to part two, my report from Harpagan.
All the best,