The first of 4 races in the Centurion 50 Slam, I was in two minds about the logistics for this one, briefly considering a hotel stay on the Friday night. In the end I decided to drive down on the morning, a nice run on the back roads as the sun came up. I arrived at registration in loads of time so there was plenty of opportunity to chat to folks that normally live in my phone.

In a return to Centurion SOP there was a mass start which was fun, returning a bit of buzz to proceedings compared to the “just rock up” experience at A100. It did mean the narrow trail up to the downs was a bit congested but it was mostly uphill anyway so helpful to be slowed down a tad. I felt well rested, having not run at all for two weeks due to giving my ribs a battering in a training run faceplant. I was worried they would not settle down in time, but with judicious application of codeine they didn’t give me undue grief on the day.

These events are a foot race, of course, but being firmly a mid-pack runner I’m not competing for places. I did have an arbitrary round number goal of 10 hours or less for the race that I thought I could manage if I paced it sensibly. Ahem. From fairly early on I ran with Helen who was organised enough to have a pace plan on her person, aiming for roughly 9 hours. Tossing my own vague 10 hour plan I readily agreed to run along with her and see how I got on. I’m clearly easily led, and there is a lesson here about running your own race, not someone else’s. Still, I was happy to jog along at her pace and chat.

We hit the first aid station (Botolphs, 11.2 miles, 1h52) a minute or two over her plan, but there or thereabouts. So far so good. It became apparent that my long legs and cheat stick combination was too quick for Helen on the ups, so we agreed I would crack on and she would catch up on the downs. This worked for a while but there was a sequence of big hills with insufficient catching up time which created a significant gap. That was the end of our race partnership, unfortunately, I didn’t see Helen again until the finish. It was fun while it lasted! I hit the half way mark at about 4.5 hours, roughly on track for Helen’s 9 hour pace plan. Time would tell if that was sustainable…

At Ditchling Beacon I was amused to hear cries of encouragement, “great running Jon, well done Jon, go on Jon”, that type of thing. Coincidence, must be someone behind me called Jon? I’d forgotten that my coach said she would be out on the course and I almost ran right past before realising who it was. A brief chat was had, the pause long enough for me to realise there was an ice cream van in the nearby car park. Hmmm, a cheeky Calippo for the ultra-needy? Oh boy. Whilst not hot hot, it was fairly warm in the Spring sunshine and the Calippo worked its magic, a fantastic pickmeup.

A little while post-Calippo, I tripped over and hit the deck, a recurring theme in recent long runs. My initial thought was shit, my ribs, but my brain had already decided I would roll and land on my left side. I had superficial but impressive looking damage to one hand and a bit of a dead leg from hitting the ground hard. My thigh took quite a long time to settle down, getting quite stiff.

My general demeanour took a bit of a hit at this point and the next section became a painful slog. I thought wistfully about the para gliders I’d seen earlier on, so graceful and requiring no apparent effort. That seemed like it was fun, no nutrition challenges, no blisters, no falling flat on my face. Could it be that I’ve picked the wrong mid-life crisis?

I made it, somewhat grumpily, to Southease aid station (33.9 miles, 6h26) and grazed on the available food. I usually use double strength Tailwind to see me through an event, catering for a decent chunk of my nutrition needs but also electrolytes. I brought 2-scoop sachets to add to my flask when topping up from Centurion’s weaker mix. Reader, I was too bone idle to get them out my pack. I think I did OK on the nutrition front, partly making up the shortfall by noshing on fruit and sarnies, but I think I suffered from not getting my usual dose of the good stuff. I had a few episodes of severe cramp in my left hamstring which was briefly totally disabling, not something I usually suffer from while running. I couldn’t move or do anything other than curse loudly until it passed.

The conditions were largely perfect throughout, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds the main weather features. I shed my long sleeve top at the first aid station, making do with a tee-shirt from then on. After my fall, it got cooler, the breeze picked up and larger clouds obscured the sun. I was a little cold for comfort, but with the sun poking through from time to time I didn’t want another layer on. Time for a recent birthday present to make an appearance: arm warmers. They’re great! A quick slide up when it got cool, a quick slide down when it got warm. I was very pleased with them.

Having recced the second half of the course a few weeks back, I knew what was in store for me in the final 20 miles or so. Hills, and more hills, sneaky false summits and other debilitating terrain. I bought the aforementioned cheat sticks (trekking poles) a couple of months ago and have been practicing my hiking pace with them. I think they help me go a little bit faster with a little bit less leg effort, especially on the ups. However shaky my running became in the latter stages, I was able to maintain a pretty good uphill hiking pace throughout the race. I’m hoping this bodes well for the 100k I have in the Lake District in July. I’ve heard it’s hilly up there!

At the 35 mile mark I jammed my earphones in to help the time pass. I’d saved an interesting 2 hour interview with Mark Zuckerberg for the final 15 miles or so, taking my mind off the relentless slog that the tail end of these things inevitably become (especially if you go off too fast in the first part. As if!)
By the time I got to Alfreston aid station (41.6 miles, 8h01, excellent Marmite sarnies!) it was clear I wasn’t going to threaten 9 hours, and even 10 was looking a bit iffy. I marched up the hill and trotted back down again to Jevington (45.7 miles, 8h56), skipping that aid station with an eye on the clock. One final big hill to climb. I didn’t object, it was a good excuse to walk for a bit.

Trig point reached, then came the Gully of Doom off the downs into the outskirts of Eastbourne. The GoD isn’t all that challenging really but on tired legs, slippery chalk becomes a hazard worthy of careful foot placement. I nearly slipped and fell but managed to stay upright. The flat pavements that soon followed were a relief, but I knew that the last mile or two would seem to go on forever. I was watching the ETA on my watch, it was hovering around 9h52. I’d noticed it didn’t change much whether I walked or ran, the damage had already been done over the prior 48 miles so I hiked it in from there. Click clack with my poles, lurching into a shambling run only for the final circuit of the running track to the finish.

I finished in 9:51:52, under my 10 hour arbtirary goal and 150th of 353 finishers, firmly mid-table. I definitely struggled a bit for energy in the latter stages, I suspect a combination of an overly punchy start and a lower fuelling rate than I’m used to – I don’t think I compensated sufficiently for the weaker Tailwind mix. Overall, a good race, mostly enjoyable. I am now in a repeating 6 to 8 week cycle of ultra-recover-train-taper-ultra until Wendover Woods in November. Eek.

I’ll be back in a few weeks with tales of the North Downs Way.

150/353 finishers
cp1 botolphs 1:52:34 (11.2)
cp2 saddlescombe 2:57:53 (16.6)
cp3 housedean 4:54:34 (26.6)
cp4 southease 6:26:48 (33.9)
cp5 alfriston 8:01:33 (41.6)
cp6 jevington 8:56:54 (45.7)
fin eastbourne 9:51:52 (50.0)