A rocky build up to the Autumn 100

I first heard of the Centurion Running Autumn 100 mile race back in 2016.  I was several months pregnant at the time and helping on one of the checkpoints along the South Downs Way 100.  If you are thinking about getting into long distance running I would 100% recommend going along to a few ultra events as a volunteer before taking the plunge and running one yourself.  You learn so much from talking to other runners at events, and by volunteering you get to see an event works from both sides of the table.  In 2016 I already considered myself an ultra runner, having run a number of ultramarathons by this point, including two 70 mile events.  But I had not yet attempted the elusive 100 mile distance and this fact was beginning to become a little niggle I couldn’t quiet every time I spoke to someone about my running adventures.

That day in 2016 I was the only volunteer at the checkpoint who had not already gotten a 100 mile event under their belt and so I made the most of quizzing the other volunteers whilst we set up the food station.  All of them had previously run the Autumn 100 and spoke highly of the event and the organisation of it.  The Autumn 100 is designed as a ‘crosshair’ course.  There is a central checkpoint and four 12.5 mile (ish) tracks head out from this checkpoint in each direction.  You run out to the furthest point of each spoke and then return to base camp before heading out along the next spoke.  This setup appealed to me as I wouldn’t need to rely too much on a team of crew out on the course.  I’m very independent when it comes to running and usually prefer to race alone.

The following year I focused on a strong return to running following my pregnancy, and I went on to beat many of my race times from before having had Oscar.  Although having a baby leaves you with very little time for sleep or training, it somehow toughens you up.  The training you do take part in is much more worthwhile – you need to make every run count!  And you become able to push through barriers that once seemed much harder than they originally did once you have a baby in tow!

By 2018 I knew I was ready to tackle my first 100 miler and so signed up to run the South Downs Way 100.  I’d run the 50 mile version of the event twice before; once in 2017 when Oscar was just six months old and again in 2018 – taking more than an hour from my time (although to be fair, I didn’t have to stop on route with a breast pump at that second race!)

It wasn’t meant to be on the day of the SDW100 and I ended up retiring after 78 miles.  Allowing myself a few weeks of recovery I soon picked up training again to give the 100 mile distance another shot at the Robin Hood 100 in September.  Oscar would nearly be two by this point and I hoped feeding would have much less of an impact.  (It did.  I was no longer breast feeding by then.)  The Robin Hood 100 was the first 100 mile event I completed and I was so happy and proud to cross that finish line in September 2018.  However, despite having told Dan that I only ever wanted to run one 100 mile race, just to tick it off the bucketlist…I already knew I would be back and vowed to strip some time from my 29:48:11.

100 mile Hobo Pace Robin Hood 100 medal

I had a rough 2019, suffering through two miscarriages and knew that I needed to focus on me for a little while before trying again for any more children.  Putting all of my focus into training for a long distance event gave me a sense of purpose and enjoyment and so, remembering the volunteers at SDW100 back in 2016 I decided to sign up to the Autumn 100 in October of 2020.

Training began in the January.  I was at running club during the week, fully involved with the parkrun community on a Saturday morning and running long with friends at a weekend.  I was really enjoying my running again.  I enjoyed discovering new routes, getting lost along muddy footpaths, testing out all the snacks and even climbing over all those stiles along the way!

January, February, March…they all went well.  My endurance improved, my speed improved and I even set a new half marathon PB at the Stafford Half in March.  But that’s when the world began to change.  Talk of a new virus which had come over from China had begun to sweep the country by this point and as I stood on the start line at Stafford that morning back in March I nervously looked around me to see runners trying to get a little more space around them, glancing up at anyone who coughed.  Other races had been cancelled for that day and the Stafford Half Marathon Facebook page was filled with messages from runners saying that they would not be taking part.  It was the last time I raced before the country was thrown into Lockdown and all that followed.

Within days I had gone from working a regular job at a local race company, having a secure seasonal job for an exam board and several freelance projects lined up for local small businesses to having no work at all.  I’d only left my job at Tesco at the start of the year in order to focus more on working at the race company and following other freelance projects, but I gave my manager a call and he instantly offered me my old job back on as many nights as I wanted.  I took four nights to begin with but then often also worked a fifth when staffing levels were short.  The start of 2020 had seemed so promising – I had a new job doing something I loved, worked normal daytime hours, we were going to up Oscar’s nursery days from one full day to one full day and two half days in preparation for school the following year.  I would have a lot more free time…  Then all of a sudden I found myself back working nights, – more nights than before, and keeping an incredibly active toddler entertained during the days.  There was also that stupid exercise rule where you were only allowed to leave the house once per day for exercise.  My mileage dropped from 50 miles per week to one run each week if I was lucky.  I was exhausted all of the time and in order to stay awake during the day I needed to get outside and let Oscar burn some energy off!  If I didn’t use my exercise allowance to take him outside he would not have gotten out.  Things were so hard.  Made even worse by the fact that as a normally very social person I was now also unable to see friends or family.  My Dad lives alone 100 miles away from us.  Since my Mum died I don’t think I’d been longer than 2-3 weeks without seeing him.  Times were tough.  I believe though, that however tough working nights whilst having a toddler during the day was, it gave me a sense of purpose and a reason to keep going.  I had no time to stop and think.  I just had to keep doing.  For a while I gave up on any sense of training when it came to running.  I just couldn’t realistically run more than 15-20 miles in the week.  There wasn’t the time.

But then things did begin to get easier.  Lockdown lifted slightly before the Summer began and the very first weekend we were allowed to travel and stay over elsewhere we made our way down to stay in Norfolk with my Dad.  The lighter nights gave me hope and as the restrictions lifted and races began to go ahead once again I knew I needed to make a decision about Autumn 100.

I’d entered the Stour Valley Path 50k which was due to take place at the start of August and when it was announced that this was definitely still going to go ahead I decided to throw every spare moment I had back into running again.  Even though my running had seriously lacked in mileage during lockdown, I had begun to really focus on my core work following the Joe Wicks plan during this time.  As a result I’d lost a fair bit of weight (unintentionally) but was also so much stronger which made it easy for me to quickly get back to where I had been running-wise.


From the moment I decided to train properly for the 100 I made a real go of it.  Running club returned in the September and nursery started up again, allowing me to catch up on some of that much-needed sleep I’d missed out on over recent months.  I handed my notice in to finish a few weeks before race day and drew up a training plan for the following three months.  Mondays would be a rest day, or a jog down with the running buggy to collect Oscar from nursery.  Tuesdays I’d run for a few hours in the morning and then another hour at running club in the evening.  Wednesdays would be another double run day.  Thursdays – as a Tuesday.  Friday I’d run whatever I’d felt like as I would be one or two days into my night shift pattern by then.  Weekends would depend how tired I was but I would usually try to get a mid-length run in during one of the afternoons.  The bulk of my runs were run during the week over 3-4 days, but I made it work for me.  My step count was never under 15,000 steps as my job was fairly manual each evening – lugging heavy cages around the store each night and shifting boxes up onto high shelves.  I like to think that by working night shifts it helped me to understand just how well my body could function on certain amounts of sleep.

Race week rolled round.  My race number didn’t arrive until 3pm on the Friday the day before the race.  A cause of anxiety I did not need!

Race number for Autumn 100

Dan had been ill since the Wednesday and by Friday afternoon my head began to feel fuzzy and my eyes felt itchy.  I hadn’t slept properly for days – a combination of Dan being restless and poorly and me being up in the night with Oscar.  I demolished my usual pre-race half a large vegetarian Dominos pizza and was tucked up in bed by 9pm, terrified that I would wake up feeling worse and fail the temperature-gun check the following morning.  Luckily the full night of sleep left me feeling well-rested and raring to go.

Kit list for the Autumn 100 mile ultramarathon

We’d prepared everything the evening before and loaded the car as soon as the alarm rang out the following morning.  Last to be loaded was a very sleepy Oscar – still wrapped up in his pyjamas for the ride down to the start line.  Dan had offered to drive down so I left my contacts out and attempted to doze on the drive down, but it wasn’t really happening.  In the end I just shut my eyes and reassured myself with the thought that at least by staying still and quiet I wasn’t expending any of the energy I would need for later on that day!

We had been told to work out our own starting window based on predicted finishing times.  With a 4:39 marathon PB I was due to make my way to the start between 8-8:30am, and so planned to kick things off as close to 8am as possible.  Dan and Oscar weren’t allowed to join me either to check in my kit or to see me off at the start line.  So they walked me down as close as they could to the hall and we stopped to take a few pictures.

Autumn 100 pre start Autumn 100 pre start with Osc

And then I was on my own.  I’m not very good at adulting and hoped I would make it from the hall where I had left my drop bag to the start line without any problems!  Luckily the start line wasn’t too far away and I could see another runner heading in that direction not too far ahead of me.

Autumn 100 walking to the startI stopped to take a few pictures from the bridge.  Goring is so pretty.

GoringAs soon as I turned back to the road again I realised that the man I had been following had completely disappeared!  Luckily I spotted the Centurion sign tied to a post and headed in the direction of where I could now see James Elson stood with a temperature gun.  Once we had been temperature checked we could make our way down to the start line about 30 metres further onto the track and begin our race.  The chap I had been following had already been gunned without problem and stood to the side fiddling with something on his bag.  As soon as the gun had beeped to say that I would be allowed to start the event (huge sigh of relief!) I just wanted to be off, and I had to really resist jogging to get to that start line!

Part two to follow over the next few days…


Less than four weeks to go and a possible parkrun return

It’s just 26 days now until the Autumn 100.  Another 10 days or so before I start to taper.

I’ve decided on my strategy for race day – a run/walk strategy, something I’ve not purposefully used before, but something I’ve heard and seen nothing but good words about.  I’m planning on starting the race with a 13 minute run, 2 minute walk technique.  Holding onto this as long as possible, then dropping down to a 12/3, 11/4, 10/5 as necessary.  I’ve spoken to lots of people over the past few weeks about how they chose their run/walk distance/times and I think that sticking to a 15 minute block will work well for me – I don’t want to be working out mileage or random minutes when I’m 23 hours into a race, whereas four blocks across the hour should be relatively easy to keep track of.

I’ve practised 13/2 a few times now and have found that it really helps me to keep my focus when running long runs alone.  Hopefully this will remain the case come race day.  I’ve been out for a couple of two hour blocks and my overall pace (including both the running and walking sections) has remained below 11 minute miles, so I will need to be aware of slowing the running sections down slightly come race day!

Testing out a run-walk technique

Dan is going to drive me down the morning of the race and then come back and collect me the following day, keeping an eye on the tracker to work out my rough finishing time.

No crew are allowed at Autumn 100.  This isn’t a Covid-thing, but an event thing.  Apparently no crew were allowed at last year’s event either.  Pacers are also only allowed for the last 25 miles, so from miles 75-100.  I will not be having a pacer this year.  I think I would benefit most from having a pacer during the night – so at mile 50, the point pacers are usually allowed to join on a 100 miler.  But that’s not allowed.  After getting attacked last year I’m not the most keen on running alone in the dark, but I’m just going to have to man up, get my head down and run like crazy until morning!  It’s one night.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.

I managed 51.7 training miles last week, including two complete rest days:
* MON – 3.4 mile buggy run for the nursery pickup (half with a three stone toddler, half without!)
* TUES – 4 mile easy run (AM) and 6.1 mile club run (PM)
* WED – 5.4 mile chatty run with Dan
* THURS – 11.1 miles testing out the run/walk (AM) and 5.5 mile club run (PM) which ended up being a speed session in places as I had to take a much faster group than usual out
* SUN – 5.2 mile chatty run with Dan and Oscar (in the buggy) down to the park for a picnic breakfast, immediately followed by an 11 mile run/walk (13/2)

I’m hoping for similar mileage again this week, although spread out a little more evenly this time!

Oscar is definitely too big for the buggy now – and it’s also incredibly tough going on us having to push him – especially when we reach a hill!

Oscar is too big for the buggy now

We’ve run down to Stanwick Lakes for a pancake breakfast a few times now though and I’ll be sad when we really cannot squeeze him in for the ride anymore!  Parks were just too busy for comfort over the Summer holiday, but completely empty first thing in the morning.  As long as the pancakes were cooked and we managed to get out first thing, then there is plenty of time for a run down to the playpark, to demolish the pancakes and a good couple of hours of playing before things get too busy!

Pancake breakfast Oscar eating pancakes for breakfast

One of the biggest stressors for me this week has been the possible return of parkrun.  On Monday afternoon our team at Irchester Country parkrun received an email stating that parkrun intended to return before the end of October.  I really miss my weekly parkrun – we’ve now actually had more weeks away from parkrun than at our event, since starting up last November – and totally agree that there are a whole host of mental health and physical benefits to those who take part or volunteer.  Personally though, I felt that the timeframe to return was too short, and with restrictions still in place regarding gatherings of people I didn’t understand how parkrun could return;
a) When not everybody brings along a barcode, so not all runners are known (for tracking and tracing purposes).
b) Taking the temperatures of 500+ runners at every event each week would be impossible.
c) By announcing that Wales and Scotland would not be returning in October, adding immense pressure to events bordering the country line.
d) By relying on landowners giving permission for the events to take place.  Again, if a landowner refused, parkrunners from that event would descend on other local events, increasing numbers further.
e) Without a chip timed start, it would be bedlam on the start line with no social distancing – 2 metres apart?  Some events would see the first runners finishing before all had crossed the start line if that was the case, and runners would be adding 10/15 minutes to their overall time!
f) Asking for enough volunteers each week to put themselves forward in roles such as barcode scanning and finish tokens – where they would come into contact with every single runner at the event.

Personally, I still feel uncomfortable walking around a supermarket, never mind being crammed into a starting pen, coughed on and jostling for a place out on the course.

The following day it was announced that Government restrictions were changing – groups of no more than 6 people were to be together, either inside or outside.  I relaxed slightly, assuming that parkrun’s statement would be retracted.  Only it wasn’t.  It was then clarified that this new limit didn’t apply to parkrun – that parkrun would be allowed to go ahead.

And that’s when I began to get abuse.  How was I allowed to start up parkrun again when groups of friends were no longer allowed to meet up together for a run?  Obviously not my decision, but people were clearly feeling frustrated and angry about their time being directed for them by the Government once again.  I went to bed on Thursday evening feeling very sad and unhappy over the amount of angry messages I had received, simply because I volunteer my time as Co-Event Director at a parkrun event.

Luckily(?!) on Friday, the situation was eased for us when Public Health Northamptonshire issued a statement to all parkrun EDs in the county saying that they would not be sanctioning the return of parkrun at the end of October.  I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders!  I would absolutely love to see parkrun return, but when it is safe to do so.  I feel that setting a date 5 weeks away with the current rise in cases, and with children returning to school was reckless.  As much as I would have loved to have run a parkrun on my birthday at the end of October and for Oscar to start joining in once he turns four in a few weeks time, I believe that we shouldn’t be looking at a return until at least 2021 now, however sad that may be.

Do you intend to run/volunteer at parkrun next month?  How do you feel about parkrun returning at this point?
Have you tried a run/walk technique during a race before?  How did it go?

No more nights!

I am no longer a night-shift worker!  Yay!

No more night shifts

The last few months have been tough – working full time night-shifts, trying to parent Oscar successfully during the days whilst Dan has been working (albeit from home), trying to be there for family who were struggling during difficult times and also attempting to train for the Autumn 100.

My last night shift was Saturday and this week is all change.  Dan is back in the office today (although just two days a week now going forward) and Oscar has picked up an extra morning at nursery from this term onwards to prepare him for school next year.
I’ve woken this morning feeling motivated and energised – ready to tackle the world again knowing that I haven’t got to try and fit everything into just two days before juggling fitting sleep around work and life.

I slept for maybe twenty minutes on my return from work Sunday morning and then woke up feeling dreadful – sore throat, headache, feeling sick.  Just generally run down from a lack of sleep over the previous months I think.  It’s always the way – reach a holiday or some time out and my body decides to fall apart!  But the difference is, this time I won’t be returning to night shifts so my body will hopefully be able to completely recover.

Due to the pandemic I lost a big freelance contract and there was no coursework moderation role for me over the Summer this year, as exam boards did not ask for any to be submitted for the season.  But, by working full time hours in a well paid job and being savvy with our spending Dan and I have still managed to put away the money we would have saved across the year in just six months, so I have a bit of leeway now for a little while with the time to investigate further a few projects which I currently have in the pipeline.

I’m not sure what my options would be to return to full time work anyway – basically impossible with a child I imagine?  How do full time working parents work around school?  When Oscar starts next year I will need to be able to take him to school for 9 am and pick him up at 3:15 – 37 weeks of the year.  We don’t have family in the area to help with school runs so the responsibility of school drop-off and pick-up will fall solely on me.  I don’t want to put him into before and after-school clubs for hours on end if I don’t have to (although I know this works for many) and so working for myself is the only real option I have unless I want to return to working nights again (I don’t!)

The things I’m looking forward to being able to do now that my shifts have finished include; catching up on life admin, not having to struggle to fit all of my runs in across just four consecutive days, being able to raise my sleep average above 5 hours each night, feeling alive enough to enjoy Oscar during the day, my knees no longer getting a battering from kneeling for hours on end each night, not having to break my sleep up into three naps of 1-2 hours each day, removing the duvet that has lived in my car since March, there no longer being deep cuts in my fingertips from opening boxes 8 hours every night…

I will however miss; the extra money making its way into our bank account every four weeks, the discount on my food shop, the guaranteed 15,000 steps every night and the strength work I get from lugging cages of heavy cheese off the lorries and onto the shop floor, watching the beautiful sunrises from the car park roof at leaving off time and the feeling of being able to provide for my family.

Weston Favell sunrise from the roof

I did make epic use of my last day of discounted shopping yesterday – two full trolleys filled with enough store cupboard items to last another three month lockdown!  Good job we have a big kitchen!  I was super organised, – armed with a long list Dan, Oscar and I managed to get the whole shop done and to the car within seventy minutes!  (I still need to pack most of it away in the cupboards though – a task I saved for today!)

It’s just under five weeks now until the Autumn 100 and my training is well underway.  I’m happy with how my running has been going over the past few months – I even managed a new 5k PB time of 25:46 back in July!  My running club has begun meeting for training sessions again and I am lead coach for one of the groups from this term – something I’m really looking forward to.  I have lots of ideas for the runners of Group 4.

30 minute time trial

The year is looking up!

Has your life begun to return to some kind of normality again yet following the pandemic?
Ever worked through the night before?
If you’re a working parent, how do you juggle the school run around work?

A running update

Running at the moment is hard. I’m sure I’m not the only person who is struggling to fit runs into their new weekly schedule. I’ve got friends who have lost their running mojo completely – without races to train for and with no idea of when the lockdown will be lifted they’re struggling to know what runs to add to their plan.

Some friends however are actually running more often and more consistently because they’ve either lost their jobs or have gained a lot of extra free time.

Somehow I’ve wound up with a lot less time. I’m back working four nights a week at the moment. Thursday-Sunday. But I still have Oscar to look after on Fridays and Mondays following my shift, and odd bits of freelance work to complete at the weekends too. So the amount of sleep I’m currently able to get is incredibly limited. Dan remains working full time hours. Although he is now working from home he often has to work past 5:30pm. He didn’t finish until 8pm last night! As soon as he finishes work I head up to bed for a quick nap to catch up on some sleep before I head off to work myself just after 9, returning back home a little after 6:30am. On the nights I’m not working, Oscar insists I put him to bed (and I want to). He also wakes at least once a night now to call out for me, I think because he’s worried I’m not at home so much at night time.

Lack of sleep

Not only am I exhausted but I also share my one outdoor exercise a day (Government guidelines) with Oscar as obviously at age three he can’t head out alone! He likes to head out for bike rides and nature walks and so I’m trying to fit in a couple still a week, as well as a couple of days of runs for me to help me stay sane. Before the lockdown, I would have taken Oscar out pretty much every day.

Oscar on a scavenger hunt

The races I had lined up for this year were the Shires and Spires 35m in May, Nene Valley 20 in June, Sandlings 55m in July, SVP50 in August, Norfolk Marathon in September and then my goal race, the Autumn 100 in October.

Shires is not going ahead, with no current plan to postpone, etc. Nene Valley and Sandlings – my entries have been transferred across to 2021, SVP is currently still going ahead, as are the Norfolk Marathon and Autumn 100. Although I’m doubtful that all three will continue to stay in the 2020 calendar, even if they do, I’m not sure I’ll be able to maintain enough fitness to rock up to the start line for my 100 in the Autumn if the lockdown continues.

I know in the grand scheme of things when so many people are dying or risking their lives my problems are so small and insignificant, but I’ve allowed myself to feel a little sad this week. 2019 was such a rubbish year for me and I had such high hopes for 2020. I don’t want to run those races next year. I had different life plans for 2021. Training for a 55 miler that’s still 14 months away is not how I roll. I’ve laid out a lot of money for these events this year, and worked hard to consistently train since the start of the year, building up my strength and adding distance to my long runs each week. I’m left feeling like I’ve not achieved anything.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody does at the moment I guess. The world is in such a funny way right now. I find it so scary. Despite being so tired for working nights I’m incredibly grateful for my boss letting me have my old job back and for the feeling of normality heading out to work several times a week gives me. It makes me feel like I still have a bit of purpose for the year.

Obviously Oscar remains my main focus. Ensuring he is happy and healthy and learning and continuing to develop. I come up with a new idea for us to try each day and he knows that when we head outside there are a lot of very poorly people so we need to stay on the other side of the path if we see anybody. But I know he misses his friends and our usual adventures.

Oscar throwing balls at his shark

Here’s hoping we start to see a decline in Coronavirus cases soon and the world can catch a bit of a break.