A Centurion Adventure

One of our long-time clients, Jan Strachan, uses our healthy eating plans to fuel her endurance running and keep her body robust, healthy and in great running shape. Jan has transformed her body composition and greatly enhanced her sporting performance whilst using our bespoke nutrition plans. Jan is vegetarian, which is a fantastically healthy way to eat when it’s done right, and we do it right!

Jan recently completed the 100mile running event, The Centurion Autumn 100, fuelled naturally by fitnaturally. We followed her through the event with great inspiration and excitement whilst people posted pics of her on social media, looking happy and fresh! She tells us all about the experience here.

Remember, “Be inspired not in awe.”

Last year, a Facebook ‘suggested post’ caught my eye and got me thinking, which is always a dangerous thing. Some say I need little encouragement to do something a little bit crazy!!

Centurion Running, an ultra-running events company in the South East were looking for volunteers to marshal at one of their events, the Autumn 100. The A100, as its better known is a 100 mile continuous trail race based in Goring & Streatley on the River Thames.  The village hall becomes the focal point and hub of the event with runners taking on 4 different 25 mile out and back spurs using the Thames Path and The Ridgeway national trails. The race has a series of cut off times at each checkpoint with an overall time limit of 28 hours. Centurion Running give out buckles as medals and if you got under the 24 hour mark you got a medal inscribed with ‘100 miles in a day’ as opposed to ‘100 miles finisher’. I had my eye on the former.

The added bonus of volunteering, if I gave more than eight hours of my time and had a 50 mile qualifying time from a recognised event (which I did), I would be eligible for a ‘free’ place to the A100 in 2016.  So, without a second thought I had signed up, later to find out I’d be posted to the final aid station at Whitchurch, where runners would come through at 79 miles and then 95.5 miles on their final return to Goring. My volunteering stint ended up being a 16 hour marathon shift through the night. I loved it. I met some incredible people, fellow runners who were only too pleased to share their experience. Most importantly of all, I got to see the runners during the final stages of their race, displaying a whole range of emotions and in all kind of states from the fresh’ish to those in the depths of pain and despair but had the courage to keep going. If this didn’t put me off, nothing would. Inspired and awestruck, I was hooked and so to my year long journey to get to my own A100 start line on Saturday 15th October 2016.

My journey……..great start, injuries, making the best of things!

With my coach, Ollie, we mapped out my year with some key events, nicely spaced to build towards ‘The Biggy’. Great start to the year with the Country to Capital in January (45 miles); Glasgow to Edinburgh in April (55 miles) and then it was meant to be Shires and Spires in June (30 miles) and Race to the Stones in July (62 miles), both of which I had to withdraw from due to a pesky calf injury that just took an age to heal, testing my patience in the process, 3 months on the side-lines – ARGH!! In August I was finally fit enough to take on The Hangman Ultra (35 miles) and the St Albans Stampede, a 12 hour event where I racked up 56 miles and placed 2nd Lady (get in!!) Everything was back on track albeit I was seriously short on leg conditioning but the engine was fine.

The running experts would advise that you should increase your weekly long run by a maximum of 10% at a time. Hmmmmm I just didn’t have that luxury, my mileage seriously ramped up and I was going to have to rely on my endurance base built up previously in the year. July had seen me run the grand total of 12.5 miles then August saw me plod a whopping 135 miles and September a staggering 183 miles. Most of these miles were run/walk so, therefore manageable and I was under the watchful eye of Ollie who crunched the numbers and tweaked my sessions accordingly. I train to heart rate and perceived effort rather than pace as with ultra-running at my level is about managing the effort from A to B. And of course throughout all of this Khara planned and took care of all of my nutritional needs. She never once questioned the craziness of some of my training sessions, which were often 5 or 6 hours in length back to back of a weekend. We made a great team.

Cut to the chase……..

Two weeks before race day, various bits were niggling, lots of massage, trips to the physio with a grumpy knee and some tendinopothy in my left ankle, so rest was all I could do. I was told it was not a show stopper but going into a race with niggles is never great and especially one as big as 100 miles, which would see me go 44 miles into my unknown!!

I used this time wisely planning my race, working out what I needed from kit to food, pacing plans and briefing my crew. Hey, I even had a spreadsheet that included ‘poo kits’!! Thankfully my crew knew me well and I’ll come back to them as without them there would be no happy ending!

The night before, everything got packed, unpacked and packed again, probably several times over. Oddly, I had a good night’s sleep, up at 6am, being picked up at 7am for the hour or so drive to Goring. Pre-race brekkie was a hearty bowl of porridge and honey and a couple of cups of Yorkshire Tea. Next up was taping both Achilles, just to be on the safe side.

Goring was a hive of activity with lots of runners centring on the village hall. Having volunteered at 4 Centurion events I knew quite a few people and lots of hugs were shared. This time I was to be on the other side of the table and was the runner. Next up was kit check and without passing this there would be no race number, therefore, no race. All was good and I picked up my number, #11, which I referred to as ‘Legs Eleven’ each time I entered an aid station. I could have done with eleven pairs of legs as the race went on! After final stages of faffing, umpteen loo visits it was off to the start line along with about 270 other fellow Centurions, old hands and newbies alike.

Race start: 10am. Leg 1 – Start to 25 miles. Thames Path – Goring to Little Whittenham and back.

Standing at the start line full of nervous chatter, in the back of my mind was the big question, how was my ankle going to hold up? My race could be over in a flash if it played up. Pushing that aside, it was time to wave to my crew, best mate Bob and his girlfriend Bex, shouting I’d see them at the next check point. Despite Centurion events being renowned for their aid station food, it’s not what I had trained with so Bob and Bex had all of my nutrition and fluids. This also meant that I could have swift passage through the check points, however, if needs be I could pick up additional food or if I fancied something different as the hours passed by.

The plan was to run slowly and not get carried away. I had had trouble running slow enough at the start only to feel the pain and slowing of pace later on in previous races. It was mentally tough to watch most other runners speed off into the distance. My plan was to be the tortoise and to slowly reel in the hare as the race developed. It was a good plan but it wasn’t going to work out that way.

Leg 1 is actually very flat, and flat is not easy…

…I did start off slowly and deploying a run/walk strategy of run 15 mins walk 5 mins from the off. I’d also walk the hills and run the downs.  There’s not much variation in scenery on this leg and I found this part the biggest challenge mentally; it was also painful for me, as after a few miles I was really aware of my ankle.. That said, my senses were heightened and never one to plug into music on a run, I listened to the countless Red Kites that were enjoying the morning sunshine. On the return leg I was obviously not running normally to preserve my ankle and as a result my entire left leg felt tight, it was seizing up and was aggravating my back. The thought of dropping (ultra-running term for withdrawing) entered my head as how the hell was I going to run another 75 miles once I had finished this leg. I phoned Bob, said that the going was tough and I’d reassess things when I got to them. I had also text Ollie who had said that he thought Leg 1 was likely to be my biggest challenge and that Leg 2 had much more variation and I’d fair better. Still doubtful, I text Rob ‘Socks, T shirt, Food’. Leg 2 was a goer.

Arriving at Goring I got on with changing socks, T shirt, spray of some smellies, food, cuppa, wee and I was ready for the off.

Leg 2 – Miles 25 – 50. The Ridgeway – Goring to Swymcombe Farm and back.

This was by far my favourite leg in training and once I got underway I had a complete mood change. A huge smile had developed over my face, I was loving it. Niggles had lessened and I was getting some great support out on the course. As it was out and back the front runners passed you coming in the opposite direction. I was met by the leaders early on, which meant that they were about 20 miles ahead of me already. Just incredible running. Even though they were at the competing pointy end of the race, they were really encouraging and supportive.

The Ridgeway rolls along and takes you up Grims Ditch, prehistoric earthworks through some stunning woods, my favourite section. It had started to rain by this point, bang on the race director’s prediction, although it wasn’t cold I tried not to have to put my rain jacket on but I had to give in. It was also around 5pm and I knew that I would be returning in the dark so it’d soon be time for the head torch.

I saw my crew who gave me my goody bag, fluids and off I went and whilst tucking in to my fitnaturally-prescribed food. I was pleased to see they had given me a treat, a custard crème. I had said to my crew to surprise me with my favourite biccie. Also in the goody back was a cube of cheese, do not underestimate the power of cheese and also there was a bit of paper which nearly brought a tear to my eye but it certainly brought a smile to my face. Bex had printed out motivational messages which she would give me throughout the race.

Powered by the custard crème, cheese and quotes I was, in my world, flying along, smiling like a Cheshire cat. I dropped down into another wood, and met a friend coming in the other way so hugs in the woods were had. I was soon at the turnaround, head torch on and I was off on my way clambering back up the hills to get up onto the ridge and then onto Grims Ditch. I thought I would be freaked out by being in the woods in the dark on my own but I loved it. Listening to the sounds of the woods and creatures going about their night business was amazing. My head torch lit up my way like a beacon and with all the tree roots I was constantly checking out the ground. I was struck by the beetle activity; it appears that they are night time creatures as there were loads of them having a bit of a Beetle Bash.

Listening to the sounds of the woods and creatures going about their night business was amazing.

I started to feel it heading back into Goring but hey, I’d just run 50 miles in 11.5 hours, so that was to be a given. I was half an hour behind my intended schedule and it was also the point where I’d hook up with Ollie who was to be my Pacer for Leg 3. Centurion allows runners to have a pacer, someone who runs with you from 50 mile onwards.

Leg 3 – Miles 50 – 75. The Ridgeway – Goring to Chain Hill and back.

Change of socks and time for long sleeve top sorted; tucked into some tomato soup dunking this with a cheese and marmite sarnie, HEAVEN. Nibbled on a few other bits, swig of tea (tea is always the answer. Ed) I was ready for the off again.

The majority of the outward section is up hill to the turnaround point, so there as a lot of walking. It was great having Ollie with me and we chatted as we marched it out. He then coaxed me to run where I could and think about a ghost like version of me who I’d leave behind as I just increased the pace. I managed this a few times but as we carried on, the path became very stony and hard underfoot. I began to feel the dreaded hot spot and knew that this was the start of a blister so at the next check point it needed some attention. By the time we reached it I was now very much in my unknown territory of around 62 miles. Ollie is an ex paratrooper so was well versed in foot care. I removed the sock to discover are large blister on the side of my inner left foot. I said to him ‘leave it or burst it’ to which he said ‘burst it’. After a few attempts with a safety pin, foot surgery was done and I managed to drain it for Ollie to then apply a single layer of zinc tape. He said no to plasters or more than one later as it’d create more problems so I went with it. Getting going again was hell and the air was blue as I swore my way into a shuffle. Ha, but after a short while, I had forgotten about it as other achey bits had taken over. I really started to suffer now and it as more of a walk but trying to keep up a decent pace. Got to the turnaround point and it was like a neon rave taking place. Centurion marshal’s literally ROCK. fitnaturally had planned soup, cheese and Marmite sarnie and flapjack, which I downed then I growled at myself to keep going. 67.5 miles in at this point.

Now on the return leg it was mostly downhill, which you’d think would be a relief but hell no, it just started to get more painful with each step. I couldn’t run. The first onset of tears arrived as I swore like a trooper with each stepThe return leg seemed to go on forever, it probably did and I started to feel a bit low. I loved being out at night, I was surprised that I was wasn’t sleepy tired, there was a stunning full moon but I wasn’t feeling it and I’d started to think about the next leg and that I had another 25 miles to go. I tried to just think about the next aid station but it was hard not to think about what was to come and it was really quite overwhelming. Anyhow’s more tears and swearing were had but we made it back to Goring. Although I had been nibbling on fitjack and other bits and pieces I think I had hit the wall and energy reserves had long gone. My crew had a good feed ready for me, which in essence was just a small handful of stuff but hot soup, a cuppa, sarnies, cheese, a few crisps pepped me up.

I couldn’t run. The first onset of tears arrived as I swore like a trooper with each step

Leg 4 – Miles 75 – 100 miles. Thames Path – Goring to Reading and back.

The final leg. Waiting for me at Goring was Jamie, a mate from my running club who was also an ultra-runner. He had the glory leg or maybe that should be gory leg of getting me through the last 25 miles. Leg 4 was also renowned for being a bit dreary as you headed out to Reading, which never seems to arrive. Again I was doubting whether I’d make it, I had 8 hours left to do the 25 miles. Ordinarily this would fine but having just gone 75 miles it was a complete unknown. Bob, Jamie and Ollie assured me it as doable and I COULD do it. Hmmmmm I seriously wasn’t sure but somehow I found myself walking out of the hall like a bit of a lemming and off we went.

The first part of the leg is lovely, through the woods and I actually managed a shuffle until I reached Whitchurch, where I had volunteered the year before. I didn’t go in the aid station but wearily shouted ‘Legs Eleven’ as they checked me off their list and carried on a few hundred yard to where my crew were. It was chucking it down with rain by this time and still dark. Quick stop with my crew and we’re off. We didn’t have any time to waste. Once we got to Tilehurst rail station we had to cross the railway which meant stairs. Evil things at this point and they hurt like hell as my legs struggled to bend. The rain continued to come down, thankfully it wasn’t too cold but my hands were feeling it. Struggling to eat but Jamie was great and forcing me and reminding me to eat and drink, little and often. Eating was becoming a chore. (this is one reason we prescribe easy, tasty foods during endurance events! Ed)

I really was in a world of pain at this point. Each step I let out a groan. My core had collapsed and my back was so sore. I kept apologising for the racket I was making but it seemed to be the only way I could keep moving forward. Think Chewbacka from Star Wars with tourettes and that was me, but not so hairy!!

Eventually we got to the Reading turnaround where my crew were waiting along with my boss, Russell who had come out to support. Russell had been so supportive of my training and provided me with a lot of flexibility so I owed him a lot. In return, I blubbed like a baby on his shoulder! I had really hit the depths mentally and the pain, well I’d not experienced anything so sustained. Even after my motorbike accident 20 odd years ago didn’t match this but maybe that was to do with the drugs. I could have done with some of them now. Alas, I had a couple of paracetamol, tomato soup, made a pathetic attempt and eating a sarnie and swig of tea. Bob and Jamie were calculating how much time I had to make it back through Whitchurch, which was 2 hours 35 mins to cover 8.5 miles. Sounds easy but after 87.5 miles it was a massive challenge.

Think Chewbacka from Star Wars with tourettes and that was me, but not so hairy!!

I waved a weary goodbye and off we went. There were a few other runners around along with the back marker. Worryingly the back marker was ahead of me which psyched me out but when we caught up with him he stated he was ahead of schedule. He stressed that we just need to keep moving as we were, stride it out and we’d make it. He said that keeping to 20 min miles would do it and I was currently doing around 15 min miles. Jamie, through his watch was able to broadcast live tracking and he got lots of updates from Bob who was recalculating my time as we went. All was good but we had very little time to spare.  I was also aware that lots of friends and family were following me on Facebook and tracking me, sending me hundreds of messages, which I would read later overcome with emotion.

I recall saying to myself ‘how much do you want this Jan?’, ‘yes it is hard but if you want it enough you’ll find a way’, ‘ it’s just 3 hours of pain, 3 hours of pain, dig deep, just keep moving’. No idea why I picked 3 hours as it was to be nearer 4 (2 to Whitchurch and then 2 to the finish). I don’t know where I summonsed the energy from but I tabbed as fast as I could over the next 8 miles. Chewbacka was a constant companion.

Eventually we got to the crew point and another club mate had come out to support. I felt a bit rude as I walked on by, I wasn’t stopping but Jamie picked up my fluids and more gels. I had hoped not to take gels at all but needs must on this last leg. I really didn’t feel like eating but I knew I needed to get some fuel in. I powered on (probably more of a geriatric shuffle) and got to Whitchurch, which is actually off the path but you have to be seen at the station, get checked in and pick up food if you wanted to. Again, I just showed my number, didn’t go in and kept on going. There was no cheery shout of ‘Legs eleven’ this time around. Jamie caught me up as I painfully headed up the steep hill out of Whitchurch. This was absolute agony for my back and I was done. I couldn’t stand up straight, I actually felt quite sick with the pain but I knew I only had 4.5 miles to go, there were lots of tears. I had gone through Whitchurch with 45 mins to spare and given how I was feeling I had no idea if this was going to be enough time. I had around 2 hours to make it to the finish line.

The next few miles rolled up and down and both were excruciatingly painful. Jamie by this point was holding my hand trying to keep me going and keep me upright. As we shuffled slowly onward it was then a case of him supporting me by the arm as I was doubled over walking like Quasimodo. I can laugh about it now but it was the only position that was sort of bearable. Jamie earned his Hero status here, he was just AWESOME. I knew this section well and knew when we got to the meadow section it wasn’t too far. There were still a few runners around and the girl in front of me had a pacer who said that we’d make it and not to worry. Ha, easy for him to say.

We got to the meadows, and there were lots of Sunday walkers and fishermen around and what a sight I must have been. A hunched up delirious woman, swearing and moaning and I signed up for this!!

Eventually we were onto the path by the river and when it turned to concrete then I knew there was only a few hundred yards to go. I couldn’t let Jamie hold me up as technically I was not meant to receive outside assistance but it was me that was still moving forward and we were just holding hands! We reached the right hand turn leading to an incline with the village hall in sight. I was blubbing like a good’un that I was going to make it, crying in pain as I crab walked my way to the finish line, it was emotional.

The reception was amazing, seeing my crew, fellow marshals and the Centurion Running team was the best sight ever. I had done it. I crossed the line into the hall where I received the obligatory Nici and James hugs and after a short sit down and more tears it was time for the finisher’s photo. I struggled to stand up as I was presented with my finishers buckle, I wanted that finisher’s pic. I had earned it.  I wasn’t looking my best but who cares, I bloody well did it.

Finishing time: 100 miles in 27 hours 40 mins and 34 seconds.


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