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That great moment where you pause for thought and realise what you're capable of

by Editor
Thursday 29th October 2015

Race report: Melissa Arkinstall reports from the Centurion Running Autumn 100

100-miles is a reasonable distance to drive. It's certainly a long way to cycle... but to RUN?! Our regular ultra-running reporter Melissa Arkinstall may be small in stature, but she is tough in mind and body, and wasn't going to let 'sense' stop her from taking on her first 100-mile challenge, the Centurion Running Autumn 100. After five years of ultra-running she was ready (she hoped!), to take on the '100 miles, 1 day' challenge and earn one of the coveted Centurion Running buckles.

Will she ever do another? She's already entered several more! Here's her superb report on a milestone day in her athletic career.

Melissa Arkinstall reports from the Centurion Autumn 100

Official Results

Centurion Running Autumn 100 - 17th October 2015 Centurion Running Autumn 100 - 17th October 2015

About four and a half years ago, I said what I consider to be one of my stupidest '"yes's". I've always enjoyed hiking and agreed to enter the 'Housman 100-mile long distance walking event'. The friend who I said 'yes' to doesn't do running, no way! He does however walk a lot faster than I do. I thought that I'd not have an issue with fitness due to many years of triathlon and running and besides, all I had to do was walk, right? Big mistake...huge.

The first 53 miles went well, but then I started getting stabbing pains in my hip from over-striding and eventually it locked up making progress slow significantly. Suffice to say that by the time we were going into our second night, I'd had enough. Stubbornness made me finish, but the last nine miles were spent cussing my stupidity under my breath and with tears in my eyes... I vowed that I was never doing 100 miles ever again. But there was small print under that statement, it read 'unless I'm running it'...

Fast forward to 2015 and after five years of ultra running, the insatiable challenge monster in my head got the better of me. I need to face up to this, it's a milestone for ultra runners, a real test of limits... let's face it, stupidly far! So with that and a discussion with my coach which went '"I want to have a go at 100 miles. What would you recommend?" "A100" was the answer, two minutes later..."ok. I'm entered". Not undertaken however on a whim. I had a good few 100-110k races under my belt and completed the fabulous Ridgeway 86 at the end of August as a stepping stone to the big one.

The Centurion Autumn 100 seemed like an ideal event for my first attempt. Centurion Running's reputation precedes itself as an excellent event organiser and they certainly didn't disappoint. Running 100 miles non-stop needs to be your only worry, and I can definitely say that all the rest were fabulously taken care of by tireless organisers, volunteers and medics. Aid stations are approximately midway and at the turn point of every leg, as well as in Goring village hall. All are more than amply stocked with a sweet and savoury banquet, hot and cold drinks and manned by bubbly, super helpful volunteers. This event was within an hour's drive of home, so I could get back easily (once I got off the floor, as noted later!).

As the route consists of four out-and-back loops on the Ridgeway and the Thames Path, both of which I have raced on, there would be some benefits of familiarity. That said, the course was superbly marked with reflective tape and the friendly 'good luck' signs outside the local cafe and support of the locals seemed to be reflected by the fact that the runners nightmare of 'public tidying up the countryside' (aka tape removal), didn't seem apparent!

The course is out-and-back loops that converge on Goring Village Hall, meaning that we were spoilt with access to our drop bags and a roof over our heads every quarter. This year we were blessed with mild, dry weather, however at this time of year, we could easily have been battling the elements; so it was reassuring to know that potentially, we had three chances to get hold of dry kit!

The event started after a brief briefing at a civilised 10am and we set off on the first, relatively flat loop, along the Thames Path to Little Wittenham. Everyone seemed in good spirits and although there were over 200 runners, the field typically, soon thinned out. It could have been a long and lonely day, but another great aspect of this course is that you get to pass the rest of the field on each return leg, share lots of encouragement... and keep an eye on your competitors! My kudos of the day went to the runner who ran all the way in a Scooby Doo onesie... and boy was he one devastatingly fast dog!

The second leg is a bit more challenging and follows the Ridgeway to Swyncombe Farm. I'd set myself a target to try and reach halfway in daylight and I was pleased to be heading out on the third leg, also on the Ridgeway before having to switch on my headtorch. Bizarrely, I ended up running exactly the same stretch of the trail at sunset as I had a month and a half before on the Ridgeway Challenge!

From 50 miles in, pacers are permitted. Having only once before had this kind of support in an ultra in February, this made me feel very spoilt! My awesome and superfit buddy Jo had offered to come and run leg three with me. However, as I'd managed to complete the first two legs somewhat faster than anticipated, a series of puffy phone calls and badly spelt texts from me meant that we finally found each other just after the turn point. This was perfect timing for me. After running for a good 10 hours, I was glad of some chat and giggles on the way back to Goring for the penultimate time. I had been starting to feel my temperature dropping but had been reluctant to stop and faff around with layers. However, soon after finding Jo, we were ticking along at a decent pace and my arm warmers were rolled back down around my wrists.

Another fantastic surprise was my coach suddenly appearing in the darkness just before the mid-leg checkpoint cheering me on. I have to at this point say another thank you to both Jo and Steve. I really am blown away by the fact that anyone would give up their time and come out in the middle of the night to support me doing what I love; I'm so grateful. I'd almost forgotten that I'd run about 75 miles until we hit the final section of the trail, which suddenly kicked up and gave me a sharp reminder.

I quickly gave Jo a hug goodbye at her car and carried on down the long stretch of road that I know very well from various events back to Goring. It was at this point that I realised how tired I was. Suddenly I saw Scooby Doo leaning against a hedge, arms folded, staring at me! It was almost a look of 'what took you so long?!'. Of course as I got closer, Scoobs disintegrated into a clump of branches and I was alone once again.

A cup of coffee, fresh head torch batteries and a handful of peanuts later; I was finally out on the final leg of the trail. This was it, survival and I knew that unless I fell down a rabbit hole, got abducted by aliens or ravaged by a very lost Grizzly Bear; I was on target to get my '100 miles, 1 day' buckle. I'd recce'd this section of the course as I wanted the advantage of not having to worry about navigation when I was tired and it was dark. It also taught me that the Thames Path isn't flat! Someone has added a little roller coaster course and a railway bridge with several flights of stairs, just to make sure that, as in all good ultras, you go out on a high... or at least a decent 'up'!

The recce plan to some degree worked, except that I'd estimated that we would reach the turn point about a mile and a half before we did. That long, straight mile felt like the longest of my life and I was so glad for words of encouragement from the leading lady and to be caught by another runner, Sam, and have some company to reach the turn point. The aid station in Reading was awesome (they all were), but especially for me, with an array of yummy vegan goodies. However, to get to them meant climbing a serious flight of stairs. I'd read about these stairs on the Centurion community facebook page and the genius idea, that you could submit wording for your personal sign to be displayed on the stairs and give you some brilliant and hilarious motivation to get to the top...and more importantly as runners will appreciate...back down!

After a final mental battle with the trail, I was at last back in Goring to a fantastic home coming, happily holding my first Centurion 100-mile buckle and being attended to by the tireless volunteers asking me what I needed. I admit that at that very moment, I had absolutely no idea. However, after wrestling into warm clothes and staggering back to my drop bag, I figured it out and announced "um, I'm not feeling too well, do you have a bit of floor that I can lie on?!". Immediately, my volunteer genie designated me a prime corner of floor, complete with blanket under the watchful eye of the medics and there I lay for about three hours, feeling decidedly nauseous and very pleased with myself, because that must mean that I 'tried hard enough'.

Two and a half days later and following a number of friendly jibes such as '"What happened, did you lose your licence?", it's finally hit home... 100 miles, it's 'far' and I hope that every single person who has ever raced an ultra has that great moment where you pause for thought and realise what you're capable of and what an amazing 'family' that you belong to.

So this weekend, A100 and everyone who has supported me along the way have completely changed my tune. Will I do another 100? I think it's better to ask me "how many more have I've already entered?"!


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