Mental Strength or Just Mental – Autumn 100

Mark Barnett with his 100 mile buckle

Our amazing Mark Barnett recalls his epic day out at the Centurion Autumn 100

Words Mark Barnett


The Centurion Running Autumn 100 is a 4 Spur race, 4 out and backs of 25 miles each.  2 spurs on the Ridgeway and 2 on the Thames Path, starting and finishing at Goring on Thames.

I awoke on the morning of the race with a funny stomach, I assumed it was just nerves, so ate some breakfast and headed to Goring for the race start.  My watch kept buzzing on the way to Goring but I ignored it until I got there, this is when I realised it had decided to turn on all apps and had drained the battery down to 67% left, so I knew it might not last the whole race.

On entering the village Hall, I was informed of my race number and told to go straight to the kit check area.  Centurion Running are very strict on the kit check, so even though I double checked I had the required kit I was still nervous.  The rules state that, if there’s any kit missing, 1 hour will be added to your finish time.

I got out the relevant kit they asked for and was told I’d passed the kit check, given a token and told to go and get my race number. Number collected, and token handed over and told well done on passing kit check, I then got ready for the race and handed in drop bag.

It’s always a long wait when you’re all ready and waiting for the race to start, unfortunately mine was broken up with feeling nausea and being sick twice.  I told myself this must just be nerves so I ignored it and sat there sipping water and re-assessing the times I had planned for each spur.

By the time the race brief had finished and we all headed to the start I was feeling human again, so all was good. So back to original plan to get the first Spur done in about 4 hours.

As usual everyone seems to start off way too quick and you get dragged along for the first mile.  2 miles in and I dropped back from the pack I was with and joined up with a more sensible group.

I started chatting to one of the runners I was with and we both dropped back a little to hold back a bit, as 100 miles is a long way and a lot can go wrong.  I soon found out that this runner was also from Wiltshire (Ed Knudson) and he was an Avon Valley Runner.  As I’m a Chippenham Harrier, AVR are our local rivals so we both had a good chat about some of the races we had both done for our running clubs.

By mile 6 I was starting to feel nauseous again, so I told Ed I would be slowing down from the first check point, so I would try and catch up with him later, knowing that the pace he was going at and the time he was after it wasn’t very likely I would run with him again.

First check point came, and I re-assessed what I was going to do, the selection of food, tailwind on tap, coke and water was great but I didn’t feel I could stomach anything, I’d managed half a bottle with Tailwind in it so far so I didn’t feel I needed anything, and I headed straight out.  The plan was head out more gently for the next few miles and see how I was feeling after.

1 mile later and I had to stop and be sick, I then started walking the next 200 metres as my stomach wasn’t feeling good.  I called home to let my wife Liz know I wasn’t feeling too good and not to panic when tracking me as I was slowing down a bit, I also told her to inform my Running Coach Michelle Maxwell the sub 20 hours that I’d planned for wasn’t going to happen, it was looking more like 23-24 hours, at least getting under 24 hours I would get the Belt Buckle with 100 miles in 1 day on it.

I started gently running and I was starting to feel a lot better, so I kept up a good pace till the next check point.  I looked at what food I was going to eat, I knew I had to have something, so I grabbed a few salted crisps and a slice of melon then started running again.

The melon wasn’t sitting too well in my stomach and by the time I got to mile 14 I was sick again, another runner caught up with me and checked I was ok and we both ran together, I was starting to feel a lot better again and we managed a good pace to the next check point.  This time I chose 2 satsuma segments and 2 crisps, this seemed to work as we ran the rest of the way back to Goring and I was feeling good.

I finished the first Spur in 3:38, I was planning on 4:00 so I was under target and my stomach was holding out.  I headed out on the 2nd spur feeling good and managing a good pace for the 1st couple of miles then the nausea kicked in again, every time I tried to drink any Tailwind or have any Electrolytes or took any S-caps I felt like I was going to be sick again.  I decided to just stick with sipping water and small snacks if I could at the aid stations.

Before I knew it I was at the next aid station, I ate 2 crisps and 2 satsuma segments, this was working out well so I topped my water up and I was off.

I soon met up with another runner Annabelle Stearns, who knew my coach Michelle, so we both had a good chat till the next aid station.  2 crisps and 2 satsuma segments and I was off again, on leaving Annabelle had just been informed that she was now 3rd lady she looked at me and said we need to push a bit on the way back as she had 2 pacers for the next spurs and she might win something, heading back was a lot quicker and more down hill so before we knew it we were at the next Aid station.  2 crisps and 2 satsuma segments and a cube of chocolate that tasted great and we were off again, keeping up a good pace all the way back to Goring.

Spur 2 finished in 4:44 (8:22 for 50 miles just under the 8:30 I’d planned for).  I sat in the hall and planned the next run, and checked my phone messages as Michelle had been leaving lots of encouraging messages telling me to keep going and to make sure I was getting lots of fluids and eating when I can. I sent Michelle a text stating how I was, drank a flat coke which tasted great and then I was off.

I followed Annabelle and her pacer for the first mile, Annabelle was walking a hill and another runner caught me up and I ran with him over taking Annabelle and her pacer.  We both ran/walked the next couple of miles as it all seemed to be up hill, at least on the way back would be a lot easier. We soon caught up with the 2nd lady (Rachel Fawcett).  The other runner pushed on and I ran walked with Rachel and had a good chat, she was worried that she was going to get caught by Annabelle during this spur and needed to stay 2nd lady going into the last spur where she also had a pacer.

We took turns of being in charge of when to run and when to walk, this consisted of either a distance marker we could see, a runner coming towards us or just a 1-2 minutes of running.  The next aid station came and went quickly, 2 crisps, 2 satsuma segments and a flat coke and I was feeling good, so we pushed on to the next aid station (Chain Hill).  You could see the lights and hear the music from half a mile away before you even got there.  By this time nausea had crept up again so this time I just refilled my water and we were off.

Half a mile later we saw Anabelle and her pacer heading towards the aid station, we both said well done. Then we looked at each other and smiled, Rachel now knew she was a mile ahead of Annabelle and we both kept up the run /walk we were doing.  We soon caught up with another runner, Andrew Stevens, who joined us on the run walk to the next aid station.  This came and went quickly, I ate half a cheese wrap and I was feeling a lot better, so we pushed on back to Goring.

Spur 3 done in 5:23 (13:45 for 75miles), maybe I could get under 21 hours if I kept up a good pace.

Both of my quads were feeling tight, my watch had finally died, and my right calf was starting to lock up so it was a quick in and out at Goring and out on the last spur.  Suddenly my right calf went solid and I couldn’t run. I tried to stretch it but it didn’t work so I thought I don’t care I will just have to walk, hopefully not the full 25 miles but as long as I kept on power walking I might still get under 21.5- 22 hours.  By this time the sky had opened, and it was torrential rain was coming down, wearing road shoes for this race was great for the first 75 miles but now it was a lot more challenging as I was slipping and sliding, in a way I think this helped at it kept me staying focused on foot placement.

4 miles in I hit the aid station, I couldn’t stomach anything, so I topped up my water and I was off.  8 miles to Reading I’ve got this, and I will do it?  These miles felt like forever and I didn’t see another runner for 7 miles, till I was nearly at Reading,  when someone caught up with me and checked I was ok as I was walking. 

I told him I was alright, and I would finish.  1 mile later and I was at the aid station.  I nearly cried when I saw all the steps I would have to walk up to get to it, the aid station was on the second floor.  Sideways shuffle up the steps and I was in, water topped up and I needed food, I saw fruit pastels in a bowl so grabbed some of them and I was off again, happily munching away on to the next aid station.

I saw so many runners heading to the aid station that I knew I would lose lots of places but just kept on speed walking, I wanted top 30 and under 22 so I kept on power walking back to the last aid station.  A good friend of mine (Mark Hooper) was marshalling at the next aid station.  He told me I was doing great, he topped my water up and said to keep on power walking for the next 4 miles and I would get a great time, he informed me that I was on for a sub 21 hours.

I headed straight out focused on getting this sub 21.  Andrew Stevens caught up with me again, I moved to one side to let him pass, he informed me that he was struggling and wanted to follow me in power walking all the way to the finish. 

3 miles to go and we were both over taken by another runner.  The route was getting more and more slippery and Andrew was laughing at me saying watching me was like watching Bambi on ice as I was constantly slipping and sliding.  1 mile to go and I could see a runner 2 fields behind us and catching us up, I looked at Andrew and said we have to walk as fast as we can as I don’t want to lose another place.

We power walked as quick as we could, and I skated at times, suddenly I felt both of my feet slide out over the edge of the river bank, I reached up and grabbed the branch by my head and swung my self back on the bank and kept on going.  Andrew asked if I was ok and told me how close I was to falling into the river, I replied I don’t care I have to push, and I have to finish.

We both rounded the last corner to Goring Village Hall and finished the race.  I finished in 20:47:38 and Andrew in 20:47:42.  We were both handed our Buckles and T-shirts and told to have our photos taken.  After photos were done we both hugged relieved that it was over, and we had finished.

At that point the runner who was catching us up came in 2 minutes behind us both, he was obviously more careful than me when walking on the river bank.

I then texted Liz and Michelle to tell them I’d finished, and it was all over.  My target time and place for this race had always been top 30 and sub 20 hours.  I’d finished in 20:47 and 22nd place, after the day/night I’d had I was happy to get a good time and good finish place. 

I would recommend this race as the support and aid stations are great with good food and great route markings.

Due to not feeling well during the run my drink/fluid intakes were:

1 packet of ready salted crisps

2 satsumas

2 small flat cokes

3 full bottles of water

Half a bottle of water mixed with Tailwind

1 cube of chocolate

Half a packet of fruit pastels

Half a cheese wrap

During this race it never once occurred to me that I wouldn’t finish it.

What did help a lot was the constant messages from Michelle keeping me focused on what I needed to do.

Like I always say: run when you can, walk when you have, to just don’t stop.

I just didn’t think I would have to walk the last 24 miles.