1st Place at the Autumn 100 Mile Race - My Preparation, Race Review and A Free Checklist!

This blog is an overview of my win at the Autumn 100 mile race

This was my second 100 mile race after the North Downs Way 100 in August 2018. 

And it was an important milestone in training for my attempt to break a world record - by running from Land’s End to John o’ Groats in 9 days in May 2019.  

This post includes:

  • An overview of my training and preparation - Plus you can get a copy of the pre-race checklist that I use for FREE

  • My story of the race - The Ups, the downs and the exciting finish!

  • Tips and advice - To help you improve your own running

Autumn 100 Mile Overview

The Autumn 100 mile race is a trail race starting from Goring in Oxfordshire.

It’s 100 miles long, with 1,500 metres of elevation.

That’s the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. And then going another 150 metres.

The Autumn 100 mile course is made up of 4 different out-and-back 25 mile sections. So the shape of the course map is a cross (see picture below).

The men’s course record is 14 hours, 7 minutes, 39 seconds by Mark Denby in 2016.

And the women’s record is 15 hours and 22 minutes, by Susie Chester in 2016.

 The Autumn 100 starts and ends in Goring. And is made up of four out-and-back 25 mile sections

The Autumn 100 starts and ends in Goring. And is made up of four out-and-back 25 mile sections

What Were My Goals?

In my first 100 mile race I was focused on the logistics and process of getting through the race. 

And not so focused on my performance.  

So it was a very pleasant surprise that I finished 4th.

But that strong performance meant that I had bigger goals for this race.  

In my head I set myself a goal of between 16 and 17 hours

How Did I Prepare?

Almost every aspect of training had gone well.  

From a running point of view, I had achieved almost every session that my coach, Mimi Anderson, had set.

You can read about my specific training in September’s Monthly Mileage blog.

Intentional Bonking

I tested out a new training technique on long runs where I tried to intentionally ‘bonk’ or ‘hit the wall’.

This is where I didn’t eat or drink before or during runs of 37k, 42k and 52k.

This was to try to replicate the negative situation that I might get into in a race.

I think that it worked really well for me.

But it’s an advanced technique which new runners should not try.

Preparing the Mind

From a psychological point of view, the build up was also good.

I’d worked with my with sports psychologist, Evie Serventi, on a number of techniques, including: 

  • Focusing on Process Goals - Rather than focusing on the outcome (e.g a sub-17 hour finish), I was taught to focus on the processes that would lead me to achieving that outcome (e.g having a solid pacing and nutrition strategy)

  • Visualisation - Visualising the end of the race or other positive moments

  • If/ Then Strategies - Thinking about potential negative situations that could happen and listing out specific things to combat them

  • Positive Self Talk

  • Trigger Words - This was a word that I could say to myself if I was starting to feel negative. My trigger word was ‘bullseye’. This was to make myself remember that I was well on track with training and overall preparation.

 ‘Bullseye’ was my trigger word that I used for when I started to get into a negative place in the Autumn 100 race.  But the race was going so well that I actually ended up saying’ triple-20’ to myself (the reason is because triple-20’ is a higher score in darts than bullseye!)

‘Bullseye’ was my trigger word that I used for when I started to get into a negative place in the Autumn 100 race.

But the race was going so well that I actually ended up saying’ triple-20’ to myself (the reason is because triple-20’ is a higher score in darts than bullseye!)

There were also some other, more basic psychological techniques that I used... 

  • Music - I have a Spotify playlist which only includes upbeat, happy pop songs. Think Spice Girls, Five and a number of Disney film songs!

  • Surprise Motivational Notes and Videos - In previous races Catherine has collected motivational notes and pictures from friends and family and put them into my drop bags. And I take them out whenever I need a little boost. But for this race, Catherine had secretly collected videos from a huge number of people, which she sent me during the race. They were incredibly funny and motivational. And I need to say a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who sent one!

If you want to send a note of support or a video for future races, then please get in touch on the contact page, on social media using the buttons below, or on the comments at the bottom of this post.

And if you’ve got any awful pop songs for my playlist, then please let me know.  

The cheesier. The better.  

My Race Prep Checklist

One of the best things that I used to prepare for the race was my very comprehensive pre-race checklist

It includes all of the kit, nutrition and admin that I need to think about.

And I split it down for what’s needed before, during and after the race.

You can see what part of this looks like below

 My  pre-race checklist was one of the most important bits of preparation  for the Autumn 100.  And  you can get this checklist for FREE  - Simply use the button below to sign up

My pre-race checklist was one of the most important bits of preparation for the Autumn 100.

And you can get this checklist for FREE - Simply use the button below to sign up

Grab Your FREE Race Prep Checklist

To help you plan your own races, I'm going to give you my checklist.

For FREE! 

Simply click the button below to send an email to me to get it.

You’ll also get a FREE training plan template - which will save you time, money and effort when planning your own races! 

 The kit and nutrition needed for the Autumn 100 mile race was extensive! The piles from left to right are; my starting kit, drop bag 1, drop bag 2, drop bag 3 and then kit for after the race (including flip flops).  The  pre-race checklist  that I used helped me feel confident in my organisation and preparation.  I’m  giving it away FREE  so that you can use it for your own races.  Simply  send me an email to James@JamesRunsFar.com  to get it

The kit and nutrition needed for the Autumn 100 mile race was extensive! The piles from left to right are; my starting kit, drop bag 1, drop bag 2, drop bag 3 and then kit for after the race (including flip flops).

The pre-race checklist that I used helped me feel confident in my organisation and preparation.

I’m giving it away FREE so that you can use it for your own races.

Simply send me an email to James@JamesRunsFar.com to get it

How Did the Race Go?

The race got off to a flying start!

There was a group of about 10 running at a pace which would have obliterated the course record by over an hour!

This group was led by two world class athletes.

  • James Stewart - Winner of many ultra marathons across the globe, GB 24 hour athlete and hilarious writer

  • Craig Holgate - Another world class talent with multiple victories

Fortunately, because I had a pre-race strategy mapped out of aiming for between 16 and 17 hours, I forced myself to drop off their pace. And I settled into my own rhythm at about 10k.

This meant I dropped to about 10th place.

But it wasn’t long before I started making some good progress through the field.

Despite taking some pictures of the scenery along the way…

I finished the first loop in 6th position.

And then heard the news that Craig Holgate, one of the favourites, had dropped out.

So that put me up to 5th.

I passed 4th quite soon after that and at the 37.5 mile turning point I was about 2 minutes behind 3rd place.

Again, I benefited from other people’s misfortune as I overtook him on a steep uphill as he was suffering from cramp.

I gave him one of my salt tablets and offered to help him stretch it out. But after he said not to worry, I continued on my way.

And I was now in 3rd

I was then extremely surprised to see James Stewart (the other race favourite) walking.

After asking what I could do to help, it was clear that he couldn’t continue.

He had twisted his ankle in the very early sections of the race.

Which I found upsetting for a number of reasons.

First, I had been running for about 40 miles. So I was in a slightly sensitive frame of mind anyway!

Second, he works at Sky, like me. So I felt like we had a special bond… Although I’m sure I was the only one in our relationship who felt that way…

Third, I find it worrying that all the hard work that goes into a race like this can be unravelled by one tiny bit of bad luck.

And that those tiny slices of bad luck even happen to someone as talented as James.

Finally, James is a fantastic human being.

And I like to think that those bad things shouldn’t happen to fantastic human beings.

But despite an upsetting end to his race, James had an incredibly positive outlook.

We can all learn from how he has dealt with this setback and how he framed it.

Shit happens. Racing ultras is brutal. 100 mile races are not for the faint hearted. That’s why we love them. I am gutted but not defeated.

But don’t feel sorry me. I’ve had a blast.
— James Stewart and his amazingly positive outlook after his DNF at the Autumn 100 Mile race

After realising there was nothing I could do to help him, he gave me some motivational words, and I was on my way again.

And now I was unexpectedly up to 2nd place

The rest of the 2nd loop was uneventful, until the end, where I changed my trail shoes to road shoes (which was one of the best decisions of the race!)

And then I met my pacer for the 3rd leg, Grant Pirie.

 Looking very happy as I came into the 50 mile checkpoint… Perhaps I’d forgotten there was another 50 miles to go!

Looking very happy as I came into the 50 mile checkpoint… Perhaps I’d forgotten there was another 50 miles to go!

I still can’t find the right words to describe Grant’s sacrifice for me. 

He drove for 2 hours. On a Saturday evening. To come and run 25 miles in the cold and wet and howling wind to help someone he’d never met reach their dreams  

He even chatted cheerily to me throughout the entire time he paced me.

And this was despite me farting for the entire 4 hours we were together…

Often forgetting that pacers sometimes run behind you...

(Sorry, Grant!!!)

So there aren’t enough words in the Oxford English dictionary or thesaurus to say ‘thank you’ to Grant!

But it was during this leg, leg 3, that I started to have the first wobbly signs...

Despite thinking that I was running really well, I was getting further behind the leader.

  • 6 minutes at mile 50

  • 11 minutes at mile 63

And then I had my first real disaster...

I stubbed my big toe on a stone and stumbled.

I managed to save myself from falling.

But one of my water bottles flew out of my pack. And the entire lid fell off.

After looking around for a couple of minutes, with the help of some others, I decided it was a lost cause and headed on.

So I was down to one bottle of water for the rest of the 30 miles.

I ran the remaining 5 miles of that loop and got into the Goring checkpoint for the third time. This time at mile 75.

I got my kit bag and saw the incredibly friendly face of Patrick Kingston, who was getting ready to pace for someone else.

I was already in debt to Patrick for a number of things.

  1. For lending me a head torch for the North Downs Way 100 Mile race

  2. For lending me a super lightweight waterproof jacket for this race

  3. For writing an awesome review of the Grand Raid des Pyrénées - a 100 Mile Race, with more climbing that Mount Everest!

And now I owe him even more...

After noticing that I had lost a bottle, he gave me his. Without the blink of an eyelid.

Then he said that 3rd place was 25 minutes behind.

Great news all round!

Except that the leader was 18 minutes ahead...

So my race changed from attempting to win in a blaze of glory, to running a very boring, solid last leg to make sure I kept 3rd place.

With this new found sense of contentment, I left the checkpoint prepared to run/ walk a boring last leg.

There was one final, amazing highlight of seeing Catherine (my wife), Lottie (1 year old daughter), Cynthia (mother-in-law), Bill (father-in-law) and Evie (sports psychologist and Grant’s wife), before I ambled out for the final 25 mile loop in the pitch black dark…

… Although ‘ambled’ is far too generous for what I did for the next 4 miles.

On arrival at the 79 mile checkpoint I was told that I was more than 20 minutes behind the leader.

And after I optimistically asked ‘how does he look?’, the volunteers paused for a moment before saying ‘…really good. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news’.

The leader is 20 minutes ahead. And he looks really good. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news
— One of the amazing volunteers at checkpoint 79

I reminded myself that it was now a case of making sure I didn’t lose 2nd place who was 25 minutes behind.

So I was a little surprised to see 3rd place entering the checkpoint as I left...

3 minutes behind me.

it was at this point I said to myself what every young boy says the first time they have sex...

Fuck it. I’m lucky to be here. I might not ever be in this position again. So let’s go as hard as I can and see how long I can last
— Me - Running scared from 3rd place at the 79 mile checkpoint

With this new found motivation, I set out of the 79 mile checkpoint with a renewed pace.

It’s amazing what a change in motivation and perspective can do for you. Even when you’ve been running for 79 miles

I kept up the blistering pace that I left mile 79 for the whole time I was running along the River Thames on my way to Reading town centre on a Saturday night.

The occasional waft of weed probably didn’t help me run faster.

But the high probability of getting chased by a drunk Reading chav (which I was about 15 years ago, having lived in Reading until I was 20), was a great incentive to run faster.

As the course was an out and back loop, I passed the leader and exchanged an obligatory ‘you’re looking great’ pleasantry. Despite both of us knowing that the other had been running for 85 miles. And we stank like a mixture of sweat and faeces (a blend of our own faeces and various animals’ faeces from the fields we’d been running through).

And I got another surprise when I got to the turnaround checkpoint 4 minutes after seeing the leader.

Which meant that I was roughly 8 minutes behind.

Which meant that I had gained 12 minutes in about 8 miles.

Following a very quick turnaround, which involved accidentally smothering a volunteer’s face with my sweaty armpit (sorry to the very nice girl that experienced that!), I was back out and my motivation was stronger than ever.

A volunteer told me that I had gained an additional 2 minutes in the checkpoint.

The gap was down to 6 minutes!

The race for 1st place was back on!

And little did anyone know, I still had my secret weapon!

 I used my ‘secret weapon’ on a number of occasions during the race - an Almond Butter low carb smoothie! Concocted by my wife over many weeks in her laboratory!

I used my ‘secret weapon’ on a number of occasions during the race - an Almond Butter low carb smoothie! Concocted by my wife over many weeks in her laboratory!

If you’ve competed in long distance events before, you’ll know that it becomes incredibly difficult to eat solid foods.

To combat this, Catherine had been using our kitchen as a laboratory for the past few months.

And she had been concocting a smoothie bursting full of calories and goodness that I left in my drop bag for exactly this type of moment.

Like Popeye with a can of spinach, I downed my Almond Butter low carb smoothie and was on my way!

Feeling more motivated than ever, I saw 3rd place about 5 minutes after I left the checkpoint.

Which meant he was 10 minutes behind!

I continued to receive more psychological boosts from runners coming the other way. Because they would give me rough timing updates to how far I was behind the leader.

Keep going mate, you’re 5 minutes behind
You look great. He’s 4 minutes ahead
The leader isn’t looking good. You’re no more than 3 minutes behind

But then there was silence from everyone I passed.

And no matter how long I ran, how far I looked ahead or how fast I thought I was going, I couldn’t see a head torch in from of me.

It looked like the dream of first place was over...

I approached the checkpoint at mile 96 (which was the same one as at mile 79) where I was previously given the news I was 20 minutes behind.

And I prepared myself for the worst news.

And the massive negative impact it would have on my mind at that point in a race.

And then I saw him...

1st place was in the checkpoint too!

I filled my water bottle halfway and turned out almost immediately.

One step behind the leader.

And then I overtook him!

After being in 2nd place for about 60 miles, I was now in the lead!

And I started to run the fastest section of the race. Even though I had 96 miles of running in my legs!

It’s funny what running scared can do to you.

My sweaty body, muddy legs and stinky demeanour must have looked gross.

But as I passed runners heading out for their final loop, each one cheered me, which lifted my spirits even higher.

The final 4 miles was spent looking back nervously and expecting to see the glow of a head torch gaining on me.
— Me - Running scared from mile 96

Or it was spent asking the runners coming in the other direction ‘how long until the end?!’

Each one gave me differing lengths and different measurements.

  • ‘It’s 2.5 miles’

  • ‘Only 4.5 kilometres’

  • ‘6,659,172 inches’

OK, nobody gave the distance in inches. I may have hallucinated it.

But my mind couldn’t make the simple calculation between kilometres and miles at that point.

So instead I just put my head down and made the decision to run every single metre.

And then I saw the light!

The light of people with their own flashlights.

The light of the little town of Goring

And the light of the race HQ.

Where I had started, ran into 3 times.

And now where I was finally finishing.

I saw my wife and mother-in-law before they saw me.

And after one quick, but huge, hug, I crossed the finish line in 15 hours, 18 minutes and 42 seconds.

That was a PB of more than 3 and a half hours compared to my first 100 mile race 2 months before.

And I was 11 minutes ahead of second place.

Which meant that I had gained more than 30 minutes in the last 21 miles.

 An awkward photo with the impressively huge winner’s trophy. I’m still not sure why the runner is holding a knife

An awkward photo with the impressively huge winner’s trophy. I’m still not sure why the runner is holding a knife

After finishing, it was time for the mandatory kit check, some awkward photos with an incredibly elaborate trophy and time to eat one of the best sausage and bacon sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

Plus some Cadbury chocolate squares…

Plus some lemon drizzle cake…

Plus some pizza…

 That’s the face of someone who has just remembered that they can eat carbs for the first time in weeks! A delightful sausage and bacon sandwich!

That’s the face of someone who has just remembered that they can eat carbs for the first time in weeks! A delightful sausage and bacon sandwich!

And although the win was special, I was actually more pleased with my time, my performance and the fact that I felt like I could have run more.

 Although I felt like I could have run the next day, the temptation of relaxing on the sofa with Rosie watching Aladdin, eating Coco Pops and popcorn was too big!

Although I felt like I could have run the next day, the temptation of relaxing on the sofa with Rosie watching Aladdin, eating Coco Pops and popcorn was too big!

I even woke up the next day feeling pretty good and like I could have run again.

Which is the most important part.

Because that means I’m beginning to get adapted for my world record attempt in May 2019.

To run more than 800 miles in 9 days from Land’s End to John o’ Groats!

Follow My Journey

I’d love for you to follow me on that journey.

So if you want to stay up to date with my progress. Or if you want to get hints and tips to help you achieve your own goals.

Then simply sign up with your email address.

You’ll even get a FREE training plan template that will help save you time, money and effort when creating your own plans.

My Key Race Stats

  • Overall Distance - 154.8km (according to my Suunto, which I forgot to press start at the beginning of the 3rd loop when I switched watches - I promise I didn’t take a shortcut!)

  • Overall Time - 15 hours, 18 minutes, 42 seconds

  • Average Speed - 10.1 kilometres per hour (6.3 miles per hour)

  • Average Pace - 5 minutes, 56 seconds per kilometre (9 minutes, 32 seconds per mile)

  • Calories Burnt - 13,300

  • Calories Eaten - 3,500

  • Number of Farts - infinite

  • Number of Baby Food Pouches Eaten - 1 (thanks Lottie)

  • Number of ‘Thanks’ Given to Volunteers - not enough

What Tips Do I Have to Help You Prepare for An Ultra?

1) Get A Dedicated Support Team

I couldn’t do any of this without having an extremely supportive bunch of people with me.

First and foremost, Catherine, my wife.   

 Catherine (my wife), Lottie (my 1 year old daughter) and Cynthia (my mother-in-law) were the best support team I could possibly imagine.  Seeing them at various points on the course made a huge difference to my motivation and performance

Catherine (my wife), Lottie (my 1 year old daughter) and Cynthia (my mother-in-law) were the best support team I could possibly imagine.

Seeing them at various points on the course made a huge difference to my motivation and performance

Not only does she sacrifice her own time to come to races.

She also gives a huge amount of time and effort when I’m out training.  

No matter how early I get out the house for a run, or how often I do runs when the children are asleep, Catherine has to make huge sacrifices for me.  

Second, to my two beautiful daughters Rosie and Lottie.  

Lottie gets dragged out to these races and it’s amazing for me to see her beaming face out on the course.

Rosie is lucky enough to avoid the boredom of watching these races and gets to go to have amazing fun with her cousins. So a big thank you to Rosie (and thanks to the Gould’s for giving her such an awesome time!)

And in this race, I had an even bigger support team.

Most in-laws don’t even like their son-in-laws.

And even fewer choose to cheer for them during 100 mile races!

But Bill And Cynthia are the first in line to support me.  

Although they might have questioned that decision if they knew they would need to pick me up from the finish line at 1am!

Then I had Evie Serventi and her husband, Grant...

Evie is my sports psychologist and so there was absolutely no expectation for her to be at a race which was so far away from her home.

And there was even less reason for her husband to be there. And yet he volunteered to pace me from mile 50. 

An unbelievable show of dedication, which I definitely have to pay back at some point.  

Next, all of you who sent motivational videos which I watched during dark moments.

Some were funny.

Some were inspiring.

And one was very surprising! SJ, you know what I’m talking about!

Finally, a huge thank you to the magnificent volunteers and organisers

I count them as part of my support team, because, without them, I couldn’t have achieved the result I did.

They supported us runners during the cold and the wet. And they all did it with huge smiles on their faces! 

 2) Get the Right Food and Kit 

Having the right kit and food is one of the most important parts of these long races.

Here are some recommendations that I personally use and that have improved my performance.

Please note that if you buy anything using these links I will make a tiny amount of money. But it will not cost you any more than usual. For a full explanation of how I use affiliate links, please click here.

  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Vest 3.0 - This bag is lightweight, but has a huge amount of storage for all your race gear. There are some really accessible pockets for getting stuff whilst on the move. And it fits really, really well

  • Petzl NAO Headtorch - It’s definitely worth investing in a good head torch, rather than going for the cheapest one possible. I’ve switched to the Petzl Nao headtorch recently and it gives you a very strong beam of light, which means you’re much more confident when running

  • Saucony Kinvara Road Running Shoes - These are a minimalist, lightweight running shoe that is great for everyday training. But I actually used these for the majority of the Autumn 100 mile race, after switching from the Saucony Peregrine trail shoes at mile 25. I love these shoes so much that I’ve had more than 10 pairs over the past 3 – 5 years!

  • Saucony Peregrine’s - These are my trail shoes. They are really lightweight, yet have great grip for some of the muddier, tougher trails

  • SuuntoAmbit 3 Run Watch - I’ve had this watch for more than 5 years and I love it. It’s got all the key features you’ll want from a running watch, like very long battery life and an easy-to-use interface. It’s so good that I just purchased another one as a backup for the longer distance races I take part in

  • Plantronics Backbeat Bluetooth Earphones - I’ve tried a lot of headphones in my time running. And these are by far the best that I’ve ever had. They’re perfect if you don't want the hassle and annoyance of wires. They're a great fit and stay in place even when working out at higher intensities. Plus, they are really great value. 

  • Pip And Nut Nut Butter Sachets - These are a great alternative to gels and come in a variety of very tasty flavours

  • High 5 Electrolyte Tablets - A great addition to your water bottle to ensure your electrolytes stay topped up

You can see more of my tried, tested and personally recommended kit here.

3) You Can’t Over-Prepare

In ultra races of this nature, it’s very difficult to prepare too much.

You have to consider race strategy, kit, nutrition, logistics, travel, accommodation and lots of other things.

And you have to think about this for before, during AND after the race.

To help you plan for your own races, I'm going to give you my personal race preparation checklist...

For FREE! 

All you have to do is send an email to me using the button below

4) Create A Race Plan

If you have a target time for a race, you should break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks

For the Autumn 100 mile race, my target was between 16 and 17 hours.

Which meant that I knew I needed to get to...

  • 25 miles in between 4 hours and 4 hours 15 minutes

  • 50 miles between 8 hours and & hours 30 minutes

  • 75 miles between 12 hours and 12 hours 45 minutes

I usually try to give a range, because then you can adapt you race strategy based on how you’re feeling on the day.

Or how conditions are impacting you. 

You can apply this approach to any race. No matter how short. Or long.

To help you plan your race strategy, I’ll give you another FREE tool! 

My race pace calculator allows you to:

  1. Work out exactly what pace you need to get to achieve your goal

  2. Break down your race into segments

  3. Easily adapt your pacing by each segment - E.g. you can adapt it so that you aim to run certain sections slower. For example, a hilly section, or if you want a negative split

To get it, simply sign up with your email, below.

And remember, you’ll also get your free training plan template, by signing up.

What’s Up Next?

My next race is the Wendover Woods 50 miler on November 17th.

Although this is a shorter race than my last two, it’s going to be a tough one. 

The race is a 10 mile loop entirely in forest trails, which you do 5 times.

And there is quite a lot of climbing  - 3,050 metres in all.

Which is the equivalent of going up Mount Haleakala - the tallest island on the Hawaiian island of Maui!

I’ll be treating the event as a big training run.

Because the day after the race I’ve got a 25 mile run planned too!

So it’ll be a tough weekend! 

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