News Pam Philpott, Our Centurion Ultra athlete Pam Philpott, Our Centurion Ultra athlete


Report by Ian Lockyer
2017-11-23 22:26:03

Pam Philpott, Our Centurion Ultra athlete

Strong personalities come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes it is the most unassuming and humble of characters that achieve the most significant things in this world.  This is best exemplified by Pam Philpott who over recent years has developed as not only an accomplished athlete but also as a determined and dogged ultra-athlete who this year ran and completed the Marathon Des Sables (MDS) desert race.

Pam is 57 and has been working for the NHS for 40 years, as a midwife for the majority of this period.  Her current job is at Kent University where she works in their minor illness/injuries drop-in centre.  She said, ‘It is a 24-hour service. No other university in England provides this service to the same level, so I have a pretty unique role. It is a lone worker post.  The work is very varied, and the students always keep you on your toes.’

Pam started running for three years in the mid-eighties.  She said, ‘I wanted to give myself a challenge, so I trained for the London 1985, achieving a PB of 3 hours 37 min 48 secs.  Since then together with husband Michael, they have both become addict runners and are now active members of Thanet Roadrunners AC.’

Her more recent exploits involved her tackling ‘The Centurion A100 mile race’ which had a difficult time limit of just 28 hours.  The course profile wasn’t the most challenging, but, due to weather, the terrain became a bit tricky for Pam. The race unlike their other races was an out and back four times, starting and finishing at Goring village hall near Reading. This meant Pam could access her kit bag every 25 miles.  

Pam had started training for the Centurion about 12 weeks before the race. In that time she practiced hot yoga, which she believes prevented and soothed aching and tired ligaments, tendons, muscles etc.  She said, ‘the last five weeks to the race was in truth wasted.  It was supposed to be the “build up” with long back to back runs. There was some good training with an orienteering weekend in the Pennines, and a decent 50 mile run in June, with some back to back marathons and as long walks for extra bonus.
However, truth be told I had been suffering from a chest infection eight weeks before the Centurion which left me breathless and fatigued on exertion.

Whereas in some ultra- marathons you can have a great level of support,  in the Centurion, there were strict rules to adhere to!   Pam said, ‘Under no circumstance can anyone help, assist or even carry my bag or even change head torch batteries …try doing that with sausage fingers.’  She added, ‘However, someone could run the last 50 miles to the finish with me, but was not allowed to assist me.  Luckily I had the support of fellow ultra athlete and Thanet Roadrunner, Bob Wild who gave me so much help and encouragement.  His help and just being there allowed me to switch my brain off and concentrate on the running!’

The first 25 miles along Thames path and back were straightforward.  However, as some Thanet Roadrunners will know, it was a bit like the Winter Tanners event, with slip-sliding ankle mud, jarring the back nicely.  I possibly went out too quickly, something I pride myself on NOT doing.

The second 25 miles were from Swyncombe Farm on the Ridgeway and back.  This was a gradual two miles uphill, then out onto the Ridgeway. This part of the course included undulating woodland, going through some beautiful fields to the farm and returning. However, by the end of this section, the light was fading.  What was a once beautiful, undulating wood became quite scary for a woose like me.’

‘When I got back to Goring Hall, Bob was waiting. I changed clothes, had something to eat and changed my torch batteries.  I somehow manage to cut my finger on the nail bed.  A volunteer asked if I would like to see a medic.  I told her forcibly no and carried on with the run.’

‘The third section of the event was from the Ridgeway to Chain Hill.  The Ridgeway for the few who have run it is merciless. Running along the rutted and muddy trail was not easy.  I was exposed to the elements with no shelter…it was simply one foot in front of the other.  I reached the checkpoint with 1 hour and 15 minutes to spare.  On the way back my head torches started to fail, so I borrowed Bobs which lost me time.  Even worse was that I was feeling my gait alter to compensate for the pain of running.   However, I still got back to Goring Hall with 40 minutes to spare.

The last section was the Thames path to Reading out and back.  The sun was starting to rise, after 12 hours of darkness.  It was wonderful but unfortunately did not give me the “boost” I was hoping for. The weather had settled, and it was going to be a lovely day for running. It was flat with some woodland “bumps”.  Then some person decided to put steps in the woods.  By this point, I was relying heavily on my poles to take the weight as my back now had a right-sided tilt.   I reached the turn point with 2 minutes to spare. I had been taking paracetamol but gave in and took ibuprofen (and yes I do know the consequences).

She added, ‘Bob was a great help, especially in the last leg. He boosted me along feeding and giving me fluids, which did look a bit strange.   Bob also had the idea of reading out Facebook comments every 30 minutes and phoning people every hour which was a great morale boost.  Thank you to everyone for their kind words.‘

‘At one point I kept losing balance and was tired, so Bob suggested I lay on a park bench to stretch my back.  It was bliss, and I think I said I want to live on the bench.’

So how did you keep yourself going in what was both a physical and mental battle?   ‘I think it became a mental race rather than a physical one at mile 50ish. I can “change gear” in my brain and override most issues. I think all ultra-people can do this. I know I have some mental bottle (covering 40 miles in pain and with a viral infection)’

‘I experienced a range of emotions from being elated that I was finishing (until I realised I would be out of time) almost a high to a deep low of wanting to curl up and sleep. But that’s just normal.’

What was your final time and distance?   Unofficially, I completed the 100 miles in 29 hours and 5 minutes…officially I was an hour over the time which meant I was a DNF (Did not finish).    I did hear of others dropping out because they would not achieve their desired time, or just gave up.  I could not / will not do that.  I would get to the finish using every part of my being, even though the village hall was locked up and everyone had gone home.’

Asked how proud she was of her achievement, Pam said, ‘Yes I was for 24 hours. Now another day another dime. I do not let myself be proud of an achievement, as I enjoy running. But I am very happy to have finished and it has shown to me I have mental capacity in the face of hard times. But there are so many more great runners out there.’

So you have any tips for anyone following in your footsteps?  Pam said, ‘Enjoy what you do. Do not be too hard on yourself if things do not turn out as you wish; there is always a plan B, C or  D.  Also, core training is important.  Learn how to fire up your muscles to do the work even when you are tired.’

Pam is now resting from her exertions.  Asked what plans she may have for stretching herself she said maybe a vague possibility part of Team on fire, doing Gobi Desert in July 2018, similar to the Marathon Des Sables in style, however, much harder terrain and higher climbs, some consistent training ahead.  She can count on the support of her club if she does.



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