What I learned as a pacer at the Autumn 100

I’m a back of the pack runner. Last year I completed my second 100 mile race, the Autumn 100, and in doing so maintained my 100% finish record at this distance. Unfortunately, that record now stands at 67% (2 finished out of 3) after my DNF at this year’s North Downs Way 100 in August. I’m determined to get that NDW100 buckle in 2019 after volunteering again (if chosen) in 2018 and was yet again bowled over by the wonderful trail running community when I received four offers to pace me and one to crew me in the 2019 NDW100, all from friends I’ve made since my ultra marathon debut in 2013. You know who you are. Thank you again.

I am thankful to my running friends Ashley Hurd and Rodrigo Freeman for their help as pacers for leg 3 and leg 4 of the Autumn 100 in 2017. I chose to run my first 100 miler, the South Downs Way 100 in 2015, without a pacer and was delighted to get hold of that buckle on my own, although the company of fellow runners Cath Rooke and Dan Park for large parts of the race were a much needed boost. 

As I was a little wary of the Autumn 100 (correctly anticipating that I wouldn’t get around to recceing any of the course) I was relieved when Rod agreed to pace me for the final leg, especially as he is a much faster runner. When Ash later contacted me to offer his pacing services for leg 3 I quickly accepted. Those guys helped save my race.

Fast forward to 2017 and I offered to pace my good friend Phil Hall for the second half of the SDW100.  Unfortunately, he had to withdraw before half way for health reasons so my first time pacing at an ultramarathon would have to wait.

Cue Zoe Norman messaging me after my finish line volunteering stint at the Chiltern Wonderland 50 miler in September. I had the absolute pleasure of handing over the medals to all of the CW50 finishers that day and was delighted to see Zoe cross the line. She had brightened my day at the NDW100 with the requested M&S Iced n Spiced bun thrust into my hand (and quickly consumed, pre Calippo) at Reigate Hill aid station. Star. 

Zoe finishing CW50 – a lovely shared moment 

[Photo credit: Liam Gibson]

I was taken by surprise by Zoe’s request that I pace her for leg 3 of the Autumn 100. The night section, up onto the very exposed Ridgeway.  I was also thrilled that this wonderful lady, who I’d only met a year ago when we both volunteered at the Reigate Hill aid station for the 2016 NDW100, clearly trusted me enough to do a good job and get her on the way to her second buckle. I quickly agreed and got some essential supplies….

Zoe also got me some to say thank you, not just M&S Iced n Spiced buns but also the race saving jelly snakes!

So what did I learn when pacing Zoe?

  • Pay attention – I forgot to check that Zoe’s water bottles were topped up at the first aid station, something I quickly remedied at the next ones
  • It’s rewarding – focusing upon another’s needs (as with volunteering) brings its own rewards, in thus case seeing how Zoe transformed from lacking energy on the way out to pushing and on a mission on the way back to Goring

Ready for action – hamming it up for the camera before the Ridgeway wind!

[Photo credit: Liam Gibson]

  • Mental strength matters – having the self belief and determination to keep moving forward after more than 50 miles is a true show of character, especially when you feel sick and lack energy as Zoe did on the way up to Chain Hill

That JD fudge!!!

[Photo credit: Lou Fraser]

  • JD fudge is simply superb – thank you Lou Fraser for powering me up the nasty little stretch from Bury Downs to Chain Hill, then giving me a boost on the downhill (and more uphill than I remembered from the way out!) back from Bury Downs to Goring
  • I can run without getting lost sometimes – mainly thanks to the consistently good course marking at Centurion Running events
  • Jelly snakes really are just the tonic in long races – they not only helped me at NDW100 but in pacing duties too

    I was also reminded of the following through my experiences at this race:

    • Centurion Running set the bar very high for all ultra marathon events – volunteers and organisers alike 

    Chain Hill aid station – glowing awesomeness on a blowy Ridgeway!

    [Photo credit: Gareth Allen]

    The Bury Downs volunteers – it was a little bit darker by the time Zoe and I reached them!

    [Photo credit: Lou Fraser]

    • The Ridgeway is hilly and exposed – thankfully, I remembered how cold it was last year and was waiting enough in 3 layers and a waterproof jacket even as Storm Brian continued to work its windy way across the country overnight

    The Ridgeway elevation profile and route for leg 3 – I’m planning to run it in daylight sometime to see it properly!

    • A friendly face can make such a difference to a runner during an ultra marathon – despite the difficulties posed by running in the dead of night with  a head torch lighting  the way, I spotted several runners I knew as they passed us on the way out and or we passed them on the way back, made a point of saying hello and smiling, and noticed how such a small gesture gave them a lift
    • There is almost always more that you can give – barring injury, which I know affected some of the runners (notably the guy who completed the race after breaking his foot 40 miles in, ouch!), if you can just keep running for a few minutes at a time it really makes a dent in the miles in the later stages of the race 

      I’m delighted that Zoe got her buckle, and a new 100 mile PB which is 2 hours quicker than her SDW100 finish time. Superb running Zoe!

      The smile that makes running 100 miles worth it – and it’s lovely to have played a part in that

      [Photo credit: Liam Gibson]

      In summary:

      I enjoyed pacing Zoe so much that I’m certain I’ll be doing more pacing in future events. Running, volunteering and pacing are all worthwhile and rewarding aspects of this sport I’ve grown to love. Now if only I could learn how to crew…..