The Thames Path 100 is an ultrarunning race put on by Centurion Running in March each year. Normally it starts in Richmond, London and follows the Thames Path all the way to Oxford.
I got a place confirmed in this years race as part of the early opening program for volunteers (I marked the Marlow to Reading of the course last year). Having run 40 miles a number of times and 75 miles at the Endure24, I thought it would just be a case of carrying on the same, for a bit longer – I was wrong.
This race was a number of ‘firsts’ for me:-
- First hundred miler
- First DNF
- First race I have underestimated
I had recce’d the second half of the route with @UltraAvon about 5 weeks before. I hadn’t run on that section and figured it was going to be overnight by the time I got there, so wanted to make sure I had some clue about the route. On that recce we found the Thames had flooded most of the route. The next few weeks saw drier weather and the route dried out a bit, until a week before the race when it got wet again.
James Elson, the RD, kept us all updated via email in the last few days before the race, but ultimately the race had to be rerouted. We would now run from Richmond to Cookham (38m), then turn round, head back to Walton on Thames (65m), turn round again and go back to Cookham (92m) before turning round again and heading to the finish at Windsor (102m).
I had the usual nerves the day before – had I prepared enough, had I packed everything, what if… – and didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before. Anyway, the alarm went off at 5am and I had some breakfast and pottered around with the last minute bits before heading to the train station for 6:15. This got me to Richmond in good time, around 8:15 I think, where I did the registration bits and spent some time adjusting kit and shoes.
At 9:50, after a thorough race briefing, we all headed out to the start and at 10 the horn sounded. I started at the back as I wanted to focus on managing my effort correctly (and I’m too easily led into starting off too fast…). It was still snowing in flurries at this stage and I had Ronhills, a thick base layer and my Minimus waterproof on – this kept me warm as the initial miles started to get ticked off. The pace felt slow (about 9:30 – 10 mins/mile) which was exactly what I wanted. I purposely chose not to wear a watch or GPS as I figured I just had to keep running till ‘tomorrow’ (this worked in some ways, but not in others).
Anyway, the first aid station (Walton on Thames) at 11 miles seemed to arrive pretty quickly, and I still had the sense of being in the back 10% of the field, I refilled my water bottle and grabbed a couple of snacks and carried on. It was all going fine, I was running my own race and chatted to a few people (lots of people seemed to be on their first 100 miler like me).
By the time we got to the second aid station (Wraysbury, at mile 22) my thick base layer was drenched and my feet were soaked and muddy. This was an indoor checkpoint, so I took the opportunity to quickly change my top and my socks – this energized me a bit and I headed off for the next 6 mile section to Windsor. This section was particularly muddy and I was sliding all over the place, even with my Inov8 Roclites on – I felt sorry for those in road shoes, couldn’t have been much fun.
The Windsor checkpoint was on Home Park, a food tent and then 3 big tents with all the dropbags. I was doing fine in the kit I had on, so I just dumped my wet top and socks from the last checkpoint, filled my bottle, grabbed more food and carried on. Coming out of Windsor was good – a couple of places I was familiar with, a view of the castle and I was feeling good. This next section was 10 miles (to Cookham) then turn around and come back. I don’t remember much of this part – we ran past Eton Dorney and through the outskirts of Maidenhead, lots of people milling around. I passed UltraAvon about 2 miles short of the checkpoint, he was ahead of me, on his way back and looked to be doing fine.
Not sure I remember much about the aid station – a quick stop, top up my bottle, grab snacks and head out again. It was still light by the time I was heading back to Windsor, but I knew it wouldn’t last. About halfway here it was dark enough to warrant a headtorch, but I had a warm baseball cap on and just couldn’t be bothered stopping, changing hats and digging out my headtorch, also it was getting too cold to stop moving – so I just cracked on back to Windsor.
By the time I got back to the Windsor aid station it was fully dark and way colder. I grabbed some hot food, a cup of tea and headed to the drop bag area, where I got changed into night gear – same kit, just dry versions, as well as sorting out my torches and what have you. By this stage it was 9:30pm and 48 miles, so I was about 1-2hrs outside my target of 50 miles in 10 hrs.
I was starting to feel it as well by this point but the change of clothes buoyed me up a little. That only lasted as far as the first muddy section, where I was all over the place and couldn’t get a decent view of what was mud, what was water, what was path – the light just reflecting off everything. It was probably around 11pm by the time I got to Wraysbury (54 miles) again, but I was past the half way point and it was an indoor, warm location so I was pleased to get there – a warm tea, a few snacks and out the door again before I got too comfortable !! Just as I was leaving this checkpoint the race leader cruised in, only 22 miles ahead of me and bouncing around full of energy…
This next section was pretty hard, 11 miles through the dead of night – we skirted some residential areas as the pubs were chucking out – a bit of entertainment was had listening to the singing and senseless debates I was mixing walking with short shuffly runs by this stage, and I think there was an ‘ad hoc’ aid station out the back of a car boot half way along this section.
As I got to Walton on Thames (65 miles) it must have been around 2:30am – there were half a dozen camping chairs set out and 2 or 3 were filled. There were also some halogen heaters, which were very welcome. The aid station crew here were fantastic (in fact the crew at all stations were fantastic), getting me coffee, offering porridge etc. After being here 5 mins another runner came in, stood for a second and then promptly collapsed and started twitching. He was only ‘out’ about 10 seconds or so, but then just got up, said it had happened before and didn’t stop him, had a quick tea and then set off again – I took that as my cue to crack on, and left the aid station for the next section, 11 miles back to Wraysbury.
By now there was less ‘ultrarunning’ going on, I was mostly walking and half asleep – closing one eye at a time in an effort to rest a little. I had to keep reminding myself to lift my head up. My mind was wandering all over the place, but I kept dragging myself back and trying to focus on the moment, the race and what was left. I knew that by the time I got back to Wraysbury I would only have 26 miles left, and given the current time it was looking like I’d have over 10 hours to do it – an easy stroll at 2.6 miles/hour if needed. Although I was feeling confident I wasn’t really relishing having to go at it for another 10 hours. I was hoping that the morning light would perk me up a little and let me get back to a mix of walking / shuffling to reduce the 10 hours.
What felt like every 30 minutes I was trying to do a full assessment of myself – energy levels, pain levels, pain locations, each bit of kit, mental attitude, what I would need at the next aid station, what I would do at the next drop bag etc. This worked quite well and I was feeling quite good, but I was starting to get annoyed with myself for not having a watch or GPS – I couldn’t accurately measure passage of time, or distance and this leg seemed to be taking forever. I couldn’t quite remember the milestones along the route so I had no idea of how far I’d come or how far still to go.
About 2 miles out from the Wraybury aid station I started to feel a sharp pain in the ligament at the back of my right knee, after a short time this prevented my from bending that leg, so I was reduced to a hobble/limp. The last 2 miles to the aid station took over an hour and I had no option but to drop out at that point – 6:07am and 76 miles done. I’m definitely not chalking this DNF down to injury – it was simply the fact I was underprepared – I just don’t think I did enough to train and toughen my body to the level needed. Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail, and all that…
I was feeling pretty weird at this point – real disappointment as my race was over, frustration as I still had sufficient energy and time to time, but a strange elation as my ultra / race was over and I didn’t have to walk/run another step.
Although, overall I count this as a failure, there are a few positives for me to take away from it:
- New distance best (76 miles, 1 mile more than my previous best).
- New time best (76 miles in 3.5 hours faster than my previous 75 miles).
- Snacking at every aid station (supplemented by hourly gels) worked well – consistent energy levels.
- No blisters.
- All my kit worked well.
- Changing socks and tops every 25ish miles gave me a good boost.
Here’s a list of what I’ll probably do differently next time around:
- Take a watch, and GPS/tracker.
- Longer efforts in training – it’s not energy/speed that I need to work on, it’s being on my feet for a long time.
- Be better prepared for darkness – headtorch in an easier accessible pocket/pouch.
- I probably had too much kit in my rucksack – the official doing my kit check just laughed at me and said “You’ve obviously got everything”…
Well, from 6:07am, I sat in the toilets at the Wraysbury aid station (warmest place) for an hour or so, then was taken in a mini bus to Windsor to pick up my drop bags, then dropped at the Windsor train station. A 8:30 train took me to Slough, and from there I got a train to Reading which saw me just miss the 10:44 to Newbury, so I hung around Reading station for an hour and then eventually got home at 12:16, having been awake for over 30 hours.
After getting home, I had 16 hours sleep by the next morning and then had a massage. The next couple of days saw me with swollen feet, but feeling physically okay.
The whole week I have been in a bit of a black mood, not sure if it has been disappointment, or just tiredness. It was only relieved with a fast effort 5 miler today.
Finally – I have unfinished business, I will be back next year…