This last weekend we were out with friends from the Brighton Tri Club, supporting the most amazing Kat Ganly in her final extraordinary challenge: the 100 mile Centurions' Winter 100.
Kat was going for what the Centurions call their Grand Slam: four 100 mile races within the same year. She'd already done the Thames Path, the South Downs Way and the North Downs. Only one other woman had managed to do all three and remain in contention for the Grand Slam title.
She ran the first of these on her own and afterwards rather shyly wondered if anyone would mind helping pace her on the next - just one pacer at a time allowed after the 50 mile mark. A whole bunch of us stepped forward only too pleased to help in her epic challenge. Team Awesome as she calls us and Ganfan as we call ourselves, was born.
How she did it, I still don't know. I ran with her for the penultimate leg - from around 3 to 6am at mile 74 through to 87. It was raining, dark and she was clearly really struggling, every step hurting. We walked up the hills but otherwise kept up a steady constant pace, passing people who by then were reduced to weary walking. I tried a bit of diversionary chatting but quickly realised the only thing to do was to keep quiet and run by her side.
At mile 87 I handed on to Rachel for her to do the last leg. As dawn broke Mark, another member of Ganfan, and I drove over to the final aid station just 4 miles from the finish. As she came in she looked absolutely shattered. As if there'd been any doubt she quietly said to me "I'm broken" before somehow finding it in herself to shuffle on up the hill with Rachel.
What happened then will now pass into legend: just half a mile in and someone called out to her that she was close to breaking the magical 24 hour mark. According to Rachel, Kat suddenly picked up the pace and practically stormed those last few miles. Coming into view, Mark and I went bonkers at the finish line realising she would make it, running strong and with a massive grin on her face: 23 hours 47 minutes 45 seconds. Both Rachel and I couldn't stop the tears - even now I feel emotional just remembering Kat's extraordinary act of determination and resilience.
What an achievement! Her combined time for all four 100 miles was 99 hours, 43 minutes and 32 seconds (can you believe ultra runners count the seconds?!). She was first female and 9th overall out of 41 who started and only 16 who in the end completed all four runs. What an amazing and inspirational experience to be there.