As I approached the final stage of the Grand Slam journey, the realisation of what could be achieved started to set in. The road to Goring & Streatley had started back on the Leeds-Liverpool canal in January when I laboured to victory in a field of 7 runners at the Titus Salt 50K race. Having been injured for 3 months after Spartathlon in September 2018, I had a lot of work to put in to be ready for the Thames Path in May.
The ultimate goal had been to take the Grand Slam record set by Pete Windross the previous year. Previously this had been held by esteemed runners David Ross, John Stocker and Dan Masters, who along with Pete I have always admired and looked up to over the past few years. I knew early on in the journey that it would be an honour to be up there alongside these great athletes.
After 3 races I was well ahead of what I thought possible at the start having run two PB’s in consecutive races at the TP and SDW. After disappointment at the North Downs 100 where I let myself down with nutrition, I knew a solid run on leg 4 would see a significant chunk being taken off the overall record. The plan was simple, halfway in around 7 hours and a 15 hour overall finish. The weather conditions on the day were actually better than expected, however the trail conditions were far from ideal due to the recent heavy rainfall.
As we set off on Leg 1 from the village hall I was once again content to sit back and ignore the early pace setting. I quickly settled into a comfortable 08:30 min mile pace and trudged up the Thames Path in the mud, quickly becoming rather frustrated with the conditions but managing to stay at the comfortable pace. I was desperate to get the first leg out of the way and even turned to music as early as mile 20 rather than saving it for later in the race which is my normal strategy.
Mentally, getting up for a 4th 100 mile race in a 6 month period had taken its toll and even the change of scenery in Leg 2 out onto the Ridgeway didn’t seem to motivate me. On the return from Swyncombe emotions then started to take over. The realisation that I was on the verge of achieving something, only a a couple of years ago would have seemed impossible, had sunk in. The choice of music didn’t help with this either and Garth Brook’s classic ballad “More than a Memory” started to bring the tears. This was quickly followed by “Amazed” by Lonestar and it all started to unravel. However a quick change of playlist brought Cliff Richard and “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and I quickly regrouped. I managed to make up a couple of places and arrived back at Goring in 5th place.
Waiting at Goring for pacing duties at mile 50 was Tom Sawyer. Having some company for the next 25 miles really helped me push on and before too long I had claimed 4th place from Paul Russhard and was neck and neck with Steven Marks for 3rd as we arrived at Chain Hill. This hillier section of the course really suited me and was by far the most enjoyable. Tom was great company and we chatted about his earlier career as a croupier and my love for the blackjack tables.
Waiting back at Goring for the last leg was good friend and fellow NDW100 finisher Hedley. The end was now in sight and all that was left was another 25 miles of mud alongside the Thames Path. My pace did start to drop slightly as we approached Reading however I was managing to eat every 30 minutes with a solid diet of energy gels and Sainsburys vegan brownies.
After leaving Reading, still comfortably in 3rd place I had a costly faff with my headtorch which ultimately would cost me another sub 15hour finish. I pride myself on losing as little time as possible at aid stations and this annoyed me. I had been in and out of Goring HQ in under 60 seconds on each occasion then wasted near on 2 minutes repositioning the torch on my head! I had seen both Henrik and Geoff come back past me as I went towards Reading so knew realistically, given the gap that any better than 3rd place was out of reach. Both Henrik and Geoff put in fantastic performances and I was really pleased for Geoff to lay to rest the ghost of the SDW earlier in the year.
As is often the case, the last 10 miles seemed to go on forever. I was humming Spacman John in my head after hearing it at an earlier aid station (can’t remember where) and then just counting down the miles and chatting inane nonsense with Hedley from time to time. Finally we were back to the diversion on the river and I then knew we were in the last mile. Goring Village Hall and a new Grand Slam record awaited. I had used up most of my emotions earlier on in the race and it was simply a case of relief when I crossed the finish line in a time of 15 hours and 1 minute.
A big thanks needs to go to the following people, without which this wouldn’t have been possible. My pacing crew at each race were simply fantastic. Take a bow Tremayne Cowdrey, David Ross, Adrian Savery, Danny Ocean, Paul Russhard, Ed Melbourne, Tom Sawyer and Hedley Humphrey. Also special mention to Nellie, my long suffering wife who has heard nothing but ‘Grand Slam’ for the last 12 months. The 04:30 alarm calls to get up and train tend to disturb the whole house.
It was also nice to meet Canal King Alex Whearity for the first time as he helped undress me and wrap me in a shroud as I collapsed shortly after the finish. When you end up in the foetal position feeling like death at the end of the race you know you have left nothing out on the course.
It has truly been an amazing year, one I never thought possible not too long ago. It really shows what can be achieved through hard work, determination and mental toughness. The 100 milers are real leveller and I can say after initial scepticism about whether I was suited to the distance, I have really fallen in love with these races. Thank you to everyone at Centurion for putting on such amazing events. I can see why people keep coming back to race again and again.
With various niggles which have accumulated through the year its now time for a decent break. Maybe I can improve my 1 mile swimming time and prevent the pensioners from overtaking me in the medium lane at Tadworth baths. In 2020 the inaugural North Downs 153 awaits then maybe another crack at an elusive Centurion trophy.