BVR Crew the Centurion for Lisa Spratling

About 6 months ago we were approached by Lisa to see if we were up for crewing with her to do the Centurion 100.  Some were happy to run with her some just happy to support her.  Several messages later and we had a crew.  Runners included, Linda, Steve, Deb and Richard with myself being crew leader, a task I took very seriously!  Ed Bailey was to support Lisa in the first 50 miles from a distance, rules state no assistance until mile 50 at Knockholt.  The following experiences have been shared by the crew…….

5 plus dog go crewing in a Honda – Karen Jones

Prior to the day I did 2 recces, one with Deb and Richard to cover the section Deb was to run, then the second was for Steve to run his complete section and Deb to run the second of her two.  Recces complete and all crew points checked off we were ready for the day.

4 August is here, we see Lisa off at the start of the North Downs Way with promises to see her in 50 miles.  Ed went off to meet her at a pre-arranged meeting point and we all went home to get ready for an unknown experience, nearly 24 hours in a Honda!!

We picked up Bryony, oh you may be saying why Bryony…… well sadly Deb was unwell and not able to run her section, instead she was our very important home contact.  Back to Bryony, all picked up and excited about what was to come we travelled to the finish at Julie Rose Stadium Ashford to meet Linda and Steve, sadly the Honda only has 5 seats and we were a final party of 6 plus dog.  We meet up and travel back to Knockholt the 50 mile point to meet Lisa.  We were there early so in true BVR style went to the pub and ordered 5 shandies, rock and roll!  Thankfully we were able to track Lisa which meant we had a better idea of her progress.

Lisa gets to Knockholt and the crew are buzzing round her like bees, feet are professionally restored, she is refuelled and continues with Linda supporting her.  We are off in the car to meet at Otford Station, then to Wrotham Cricket Club where Steve was the next to support Lisa.  Lisa takes the offered running poles, refuels and off.  We then travel to Ranscombe Car Park, what a seedy place, couldn’t get in the car park so parked down the road a bit.  The banter in the car is good and we all know we need to sleep but the thought of the guys out there keeps us awake, the sky is ink black, we brew up a hot drink and wait…….. We get a message from Steve, Lisa is in a bad way, had fainted and finding food hard to eat, we are starting to worry now.  We managed to move the car into the car park giving us better visibility of them approaching.  Some runners were coming through completely drained and unsupported, we offer food and drink and guide them up the road.  Lisa and Steve appear, Lisa is exhausted because she can’t get any fuel into her body, legs were fine.  No time to wait they need to get going and so do we.  We miss out the next point and wait at Bluebell Hill.  Great, time for shut eye.  We doze, then sleep, then something makes me wake with a start and look at the tracker, OMG they are here.  We are very alert, Richard shoots out of the car at the same time Steve’s message comes through, we feel terrible we weren’t there but we were so tired sleep had to happen.  Richard replaces Steve and we were on the short trip to Detling Village Hall.  I can’t sleep and am rabbiting to Steve when he goes quiet, I look back I am the only one awake!  Might as well walk Archie, off we trot and give him a well earned run round the local park.  We are waiting for Lisa and Richard wishing them to get in before the cut off point at 6am, she comes over the bridge with 4 minutes to spare, phew.  No time to wait they need to get going.  We all get back in the car and park up at Hollingbourne.  Time to stretch our legs, Linda wanted to see the pretty house shrouded in the low cloud, off we go with Archie for a walk.  Ed contacts us, ‘How is Lisa doing?’, Linda responds, she is doing ok.  Next contact was from Richard, Lisa has had enough can you pick us up from the pub.  We go into panic mode, what has happened, is she ok.  We get to the pub and Lisa is there smiling away and very pragmatic about pulling herself out of the race.  She has run out of energy, legs fine and she knows she has 100 miles in them.  Lisa completed 85 miles, truly amazing considering the heat that weekend.

Poor Bryony, she didn’t get her run.  She sat in the car for 20 hours waiting for her turn.

Back to Deb…….. She wasn’t able to join us but she did a fab job of tracking Lisa and keeping our spirits up with her phone calls even at 2am, not sure if she slept either.

Life in a Honda, certainly gives you the opportunity to get to know people better, we had such a laugh with great camaraderie.  We shared stories, laughed until we ached about Ranscombe Car Park (not for publication) and our faithful hound Archie was the bestest, most patient Patterdale Terrier in the world.  Would we do it again, yes of course.  What would we change? Have another car that can share the crew points, sleep deprivation was the worst experience as a driver.

50-60 Centurion – Linda Folley

So I had the easy bit they said, me awaiting anxiously at the 50 mile Knockholt checkpoint, Lisa bouncing down the road after running the first 50 miles solo in the blazing 30 degree heat, was a sweltering afternoon to say the least, it was all hands to the deck to see to her every need, the other fellow runners looking very jealous at her Crew all around her tending to her feet, trying to force feed her refilling her bottles, only thing missing was mobile hairdresser!

We set off at 7pm to tackle the next leg of the journey, Lisa started with a brisk walk to get the legs moving again and just went at the pace she felt comfortable with, scenery was beautiful, and continually chit chatting to keep momentum going, reminding her to drink and eat but she was not feeling the love for food at this point, she managed to nibble at a Hob Nob bar but not enjoying one bit of it, we challenged the downhills with me as a support as her legs were tight.

Running through the woods, daylight running short by now we put on the head torches, it was a long haul ahead to Wrotham the 60 mile checkpoint at which I was relieved to handover to Steve Low, mission accomplished, was going to be a long night ahead, I was buzzing and wanted to run more…..

Wrotham Cricket Club – Bluebell Hill Car Park

Linda handed Lisa over to me at the Wrotham checkpoint (60 miles from the start). We set off at 10pm. It was dark by then, so I was thankful that I’d had a chance to recce the route in the light a few weeks earlier.

The first mile was fairly flat and joggable, but then there was a long climb up to the top of the downs, which we walked. This was followed by two miles of easy flat trail through a country park which we jogged. At the end of this section Lisa really struggled on the steep downhill back to the bottom of the downs (quads hurting). In the end I went in front of her with her walking poles under my arms, and we slowly walked down the hill in tandem.

The next problem came at the bottom of the hill. “Steve, I think I’m going to faint!”.  I moved Lisa over to the side of the track where she could lean against a handy bin. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough. “I need to lie down”. There were quite a few ants crawling around on the floor around the bin, so I moved Lisa a few yards away onto some tarmac then she sat down. It looked like she’d completely run out of energy so I fed her a gel then got her to eat a Tribe bar. While she was down, I put some k-tape on her quads, but the damage had already been done. Meanwhile, other runners were coming past us in singles and groups, and asking how we were.

After around 30 minutes Lisa felt a lot better and we set off again. Immediately up another climb to the top of the downs again. Halfway up we found a runner curled up on some steps. He said he was OK so we left him. A couple of miles later we reached Holly Hill checkpoint, where Lisa tried to eat some food and we both had a coffee. We’d been there about 20 minutes when the guy said we only had 45 minutes before the cutoff. This spurred us into action and we set off again.

The next 5 miles were less eventful. We went through a wood where I showed Lisa where she’d gone wrong on her recce some months earlier. After that point, most of the way to the next checkpoint was new to her. I tried to feed Lisa Pringles along the way, but she wasn’t impressed with “El Nacho Cheese” flavour. There were another couple of steep downhills that we struggled down. At one point we saw lights behind which Lisa was worried were the race tail runners, but when they caught us it turned out that they were just other competitors. On the outskirts of Lower Bush we collected another runner, who’d just got back on the course after a wrong turn. He was worried about the cutoff time and said he’d been 2 hours faster to that point when he’d done it 2 years earlier. Which shows the effect that the afternoon heat had on everyone. Eventually we got to Ranscombe Farm checkpoint (70.6 miles) where the BVR crew were waiting for us.

We were worried about the cutoff so didn’t spend long at the checkpoint. The next section began with a 2 mile footpath alongside the M2 as it crosses the river Medway. This was much more scenic in the dark than it had been when I recced it in the light. We jogged/walked across the bridge and whenever Lisa walked I made sure she had another bite from a Tribe bar. She finished it by the end of the bridge.

We jogged/walked the next mile along a road to Nashenden Farm. At this point my headtorch started warning me that the battery was low. But I thought it best to use my torch battery up so Lisa switched hers off for a while. Just before the farm I forced Lisa to eat a gel, to get ready for the long climb up to the Bluebell Hill checkpoint. We walked the entire climb. I was hoping Lisa would be able to jog a little along the flat road at the top, but she was very tired so we walked most of that as well.

Eventually we reach Bluebell Hill checkpoint (76.2 miles), 15 minutes before the cutoff. But where were the BVR crew? I was supposed to hand Lisa over to Richard at this stop. The checkpoint people explained that the car park gates were locked, and they were probably parked on the road. I went looking while Lisa had some food and drink, but couldn’t find them. So I sent the BVR crew what I thought was a very restrained message in the circumstances. “We’re at Bluebell Hill. Where are you?” I then bagged up some checkpoint food for Lisa. At this point my headtorch died. I had a spare torch but it wasn’t very bright, but I reckoned I could share Lisa’s headtorch on the next section. We were just heading out of the car park when Richard appeared…

Bluebell Hill Car Park to Hollingbourne (via Detling Village Hall)

All sleep deprived and crunched up in the car, I’m sitting fully kitted up waiting to go, a little worried as this is the section that can catch you out with the navigation (omg Lisa is relying on me and I have not done this section, I can’t let her down, she has done so well so far) – the carpark is shut and the sky is ink black, you can’t even work out who’s head torch is who’s….Karen tells me to go, they are here! I jump out of the car over the carpark barrier and see Steve, he hands me some small bits of kit and I grab a few handfuls of food for Lisa – we are off again, along Blue Bell Hill and off toward the North downs/Pilgrims way forest section.  To get there we have to manoeuvre/up/over and down many many steps which is slowing us a little.  Having negotiated these, we are up and running at a very steady pace, Lisa is looking pale or is it the intense light from the head torch, needed in this very very dark night?  We keep chatting, but occasionally it goes silent (not like Lisa, is she ok? Do I ask?) keep sipping the fluid Lisa and try and have something to eat as we go, you’re doing great…I would run ahead and check the navigation before doubling back to run with Lisa

That’s it we are now in the ancient wooded section, significant climbing and tree/forest everywhere and very very dark, we slow to a quick walk…a light appears ahead of us, another runner sitting on the ground looking in rather a poor way – are you ok? Yes ish…my race is done, last year I did 63 miles, I’ve managed to get to 73 but that’s it! Come with us, join on (the guy was dead on his feet, he was from Azerbaijan) he stayed with us for about 1.5 miles and then stopped, I said sorry we can’t stop.  I was worried as time was slipping away and Lisa was slowing up, no matter how hard she tried, food would not go in, you could just see the energy draining – “Lisa come on you’re doing great, we have got this”…along the ridge and field edges we go, dawn is almost upon us…down the hill and into Detling Village.  “Lisa we are nearly there come on run with me”, we ran the last ½ mile hand in hand over the bridge to be greeted by Linda, Steve, Bryony, Karen and Archie ‘well done keep going’ as we headed to the Village Hall the organisers where cheering keep going keep going…I sent Lisa on without stopping, Steve filled the water bottles and I grab as much food as possible – looking round the Hall there were runners just strewn around waiting to be looked after or picked up, we had made the check point with only minutes to spare.  I ran down the road to catch up with Lisa – a new lease of life – we ran for 1.2 miles at a very good speed, and turned off to gain significant height again, we slowed to a walk, Lisa said this is not good – I could see she was calculating everything out in her head, we are not going to make the next cut off, we are doing fine, just keep doing step by step.  We are about 84 miles in and hit ‘the steps’ by now it was dawn and we could see without our torches, the view across Kent was amazing (although I suspect that was the last thing on Lisa’s mind) “Richard, I’m going to stop, I can’t do it, I know my body, my legs are fine, but I have no energy and I don’t want to spend months recovering”. “We can do this Lisa, the guys are only a few miles down the road, we can refuel there, you’re doing so well”  We carried on for another ½ mile, Lisa looked round and the tail runner was in sight (I knew this was the end, but did not want to suggest it) the tail runner caught up with us and suggested as I did that she could get there – but it was a step to far, this great lady knows her own body and knows what can be done, it takes a special person to make an informed decision and one that is right.  We stopped, had a hug, apologised to each other and smiled.  This was a PB for Lisa and she was the last lady to stop, it would have been all to easy to stop at 60, 70 or even 80, but she carried on until she got to the point of no more.  We strolled down to the nearest pub and was met by the rest of the crew, still smiling and talking we all hug, whooped and had a few photos taken….85.2 miles!!

Run report by Linda Folley, Steve Low, Richard Jones and Karen Jones