The Thames Path 100 – ultra blog; get a brew
The Thames Path 100 (TP100) is 100 miles from Richmond in South West London to Queen’s College Oxford and it’s something I’ve fancied for a while – if you’ve run an ultra of 50 miles you’re always going to want to have a crack at 100.
My first over marathon distance run was the Keswick to Barrow walk at 40 miles and since then I’ve done 4 Lakeland 50s. I’ve reccied the whole of the Lakeland 100 course so I know how big a challenge that is (it’s actually 104 miles as well) so the TP100 seemed like a sensible option. The definition of sensible changes when you get into this stuff.
My Lakeland 50s have given me the experience of running on rough terrain for over 10 hours with a night element. I’ve also seen the 100 runners and understand what they’ve been through often covering 2 nights and clocking 40+ hours. The TP100 is pretty flat and has a 28 hour cut off and a special buckle medal if you do it in less than 24 (the buckle idea is nicked from a the famous Western States 100 – read Dean Karnazes book or see the film Unbreakable (not the Samuel L Jackson one)).
I registered back in July and got the lucky number 100. Nice. I didn’t really train much until 2016 but the enormity of what I’d signed up for (and paid £130 for) hung over me like a cloud until I backed off the faster stuff and started thinking about distance, walking and some sort of plan of attack.
Hilly ultras force you to walk and rocky terrain gives all your joints a good range of movement – blogs I’d read about the TP100 said the endless flat was a killer and the lack of hills meant that people went too far before walking. My training had to include walking and time on feet as well as general strength and flexibility work which I’d normally avoid.
In the end I clocked 524 miles running, 240 miles cycling (love that Guild Wheel) and endless eccentric heel raises and Sworkit sessions (it’s an app). I did 3 marathon or over days, the longest with Ben Smith at 36 miles for the day. A bit of a test was the Manchester marathon which I set off at sub 3:15 pace for and imploded at 18 miles – had to have a go but the result was obvious as I’d not been training at 7:20 per miles pace for ages. Manchester wrecked my hips which on top of a pain in the sole of my feet from the previous week , started the worries. The final couple of weeks were very light with just parkruns to test the feet and hips and that’s it. Not much you can do in the last week so why bother?
Race day was cold but bright and the weather forecast had improved all week. There was going to be heavy rain but in bursts and it was going to be freezing overnight (I’d bought some new gloves and disposable hand warmers for that). After a brief mandatory kit check (taped seams jacket, emergency food, hat, gloves, headtorch and backup) I got my number and Jak and I watched Jess run around snapping with a disposable camera until the race started.
After a quick pre race briefing (emergency numbers, dropping out, dodgy types on the course etc.) we were off and really all that needed to be done was to get from checkpoint to checkpoint. I’d not reccied the course so everything was new and unknown which was good because if I had known where I was it would have allowed far too much over thinking and clock watching. I just needed to do the whole 100 in less than 14:30 min miles for a sub 24.
The first checkpoint at 11 miles came pretty quick and I’ve learned not to hang around but I did eat real food and avoid the jelly babies. People say that ultras are as much about eating as running and food is important but you need to eat before your body needs it so I was ham and cheese wrapping it from the start. Same for the next checkpoint at 22miles where I saw Jak and Jess which really put a spring in my step.
30.5 miles was Dorney Lake and the first official time stamp – I got here in 5hrs 25mins so 10:40 per mile ad well under the required pace. I know you can’t bank time in a race but there was no need to do 14:30 and I knew that my pace would really drop off especially at night.
The checkpoints were every 6 or 7 miles and around Cookham at 38 the skies opened first with hail and then rain – coat on and get to the checkpoint to shelter.
For me everything up to 51 miles (9hrs 57 mins and average of 11:42 per mile) had felt like I was getting started probably because I’d done that distance before and it was a known. Halfway at Henley gave me Jak and Jess for the last time, hot drink, hot food and a change of clothes and freshen up. Jak convinced me to change into my winter running tights which I’m so glad I did – why was I thinking of staying in shorts? And that was it, off into the twilight and the furthest I’d ever taken myself on two legs.
It got dark very quickly and cold in noticeable steps. When I absolutely had to I got my headtorch out of its case and it was already on which meant that it had probably been knocked on ages ago (LED Lenser H7). I put it on and tried running but it was useless. I had to really slow down to do a battery change in the dark which was tricky but the difference was incredible. Obviously.
Reading at 58 miles was odd – you could hear party boats and clubs blasting away and I was running past people out on their Saturday night. A last call to Jak to say good night and it was just a matter of keeping going but the walking had overtaken the running by now.
I never really buddied up with anyone but you do meet the same people over and over as you run ahead and walk then they run ahead and then walk. As it got colder and the trail turned to rutted but pretty firm mud people started to just stick together – no one was particularly chatty but it was 75 miles in and 3 in the morning and freezing.
The course uses Thames Path acorn markers, and the organisers has also put tape and sprayed orange arrows where these were scarce. Around 80 miles I and a couple of other guys got lost on a diversion away from the river. Don’t know how long it took but using old fashioned maps (iPhones die in the cold) we found a way back and saw headtorches.
Apart from the cold the night is just a matter of keeping warm and keeping going until the dawn starts to break which is beautiful but also the coldest time of all. The hand warmers became cheek warmers and nose warmers. Tiredness didn’t really bother me but post race my body clock is a bit of a mess.
The first proper rays of sunlight and clearing of the mist meant that the layers could come off and a last 15 miles fast walk would mean it would all be over. A couple more checkpoints and that was it, just fast walk with the tiniest of runs to keep the pace down. The end couldn’t come quick enough but as I didn’t know the course and I’d had a detour and a change of Garmins I had no idea if I had half or 1 or 2 miles to go and I was convinced there was a bridge to cross.
Then I saw the huge blue finish arch and suddenly I could run again. I surprised Jak and Jess who were expecting me much later and as I ran into the sports field Jess joined me and raced me to the finish.
And that was it. Glad it was over and I was back in the real world.
Stingy eyes and some great hugs and I was just enjoying sitting there with my family. I had my buckle and was done. One giant blister under my left big toe would need seeing to back at the hotel but I’d got through this unscathed – no sickness, stomach cramps, falls, tiredness and pretty good weather. Lucky.
The achievement hits you a while after but all the support and sponsorship kept me going through the race and for that I’m so grateful. Good mobile coverage meant that I could see all the Facebook comments and posts so I was never really alone. Thank you everyone.
I’m glad I did it and proud that I stayed positive and determined but the jury’s out on another 100 for now.
Final few stats: 344 entrants, 295 showed up at the start, 207 finishers (30% drop rate) and I was 105th in 23:11:49 and my final Garmin miles were 102.27. That detour!!