Thames Path 100 – Brutal Battle!

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MK marathon went here.All looks peaceful waiting for the start

I’m actually trying to cut down on races this year.  I’ve got my 100th marathon done. I managed a GFA marathon for London (for a whole month before they moved the goal posts). Plan was a few races and some fun stuff.  I signed up for TP100 having enjoyed the SDW100 and A100 last year and wanting to work towards the set of four buckles without the pressure of a grand slam year. Then I got ‘lucky’ in the ballot for the Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR145). Adding in the MK Marathon that I’ve run every year and I’ve expertly managed to book all my keys races in one single month in May.

I reasoned the TP100 and the MK marathon the day after would actually be great training for GUCR145. Then the sensible voice pointed out I was referring to a 100 miler as a training run. I am not Killian Jornet. I’m a duck-footed plodder.

Race day comes and I’m checked in and ready to go. Nerves are slightly reduced by friendly faces at the start. Seems I know a lot of idiots who think running 100 miles on what is predicted to be the hottest Bank Holiday ever is a great idea.  The great crew from Bad Boy Running are there for mutual support/piss taking.

After the usual debate I’ve binned off the idea of trail shoes and have Adidas Supernova on. They’re my favourite go-to trainer. Cushioned for a fat lad and never given foot issues. They may lack grip for the odd mile of the course but for the remaining 100 will look after me. I hope.

Plan A – Last week I had an ambitious plan to go sub20 hrs. I’d managed 22h22m at SDW on a hot day over a hilly course as my first 100 miler, including getting lost. On a flat course in typical May weather (so cool and cold) I thought this target was an ask but not impossible. Stood on the side of the Thames sweating in the shade this plan was soon binned off.

Plan B – Keep effort low in the heat, come the cooler night sections I would unleash my inner beast and tear up the course. Let’s ignore that I death march from halfway and hadn’t run over 28 miles in training. Also I suck in the heat.

One runner makes a great point – this is a beautiful day, the sun is out, the route along the Thames is gorgeous. We’re lucky to be out running today. Let’s hold that focus, time to start.

I’m holding back but pass 10k in under an hour. My first ever 10k race was slower. Look how far I’ve come. Happy thoughts. That probably means I’ve gone too fast. Sad thoughts.

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First of many many pubs I passed!

11 miles comes just as we hit Walton-On-Thames. I know this section from Phoenix Running events. It’s all runnable. Aid station at 12 and Dan from BBR is on the aid station to refill bottles. The first few aid stations are very spread on the course so really make sure you start with full bottles.

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All three of these fulfil mandatory kit rules. Only one is actually of use as a cup. It’s also about £1 from Deacthlon.

HOT DAY RACE TIP 1 – I took the last minute decision to bin off my stupid collapsible race cup and clip a £1 camping mug on instead. The weight difference of several gram is unlikely to be an issue at my size and being able to drink real sized refreshment is worth it. Also a handy size to fill with food and eat on the walk back out.

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Mile 18 is ice cream time. Guy doesn’t have much change so forced to buy a callipo as well.

HOT DAY RACE TIP 2 – Bring cash and card. If you get hot stop and buy whatever will get you through the day. A Callipo ice cream shoved in the bottle pocket of the race vest cools you, the water bottles and once slushy can be drunk.

Mile 21 and I score another ice lolly (third of the day), am reminded by the wonderful Lorna from BBR to actually take some salt tablets rather than just carry them, and get some ice as well. In my excitement I miss the bridge crossing so have to backtrack a few metres after being shouted at by a fellow runner.

HOT DAY RACE TIP 3 -Get some ice or cold water in a ziplock bag, stick under your hat.  It’s awesome. Mine had a slight leak so a cooling tricky of water ran down my back.

Mile 30 I pass Windsor Castle and seemingly the millionth pub. The queues at the bar look massive. I debate begging or borrowing a pint from one of the patrons.  25 miles passed somewhere around 5hrs, nearly 1hr slower than planned. Given the heat this seems a sensible reduction of pace.

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Mile 38 at Cookham and amazing Dan is on aid duties again. Coke, fruit and a slightly melted lolly (4th of the day).

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Maidenhead comes at 41 miles. Plan is to hit halfway aid station and be out on the path inside 10 hours, in the end I hit the 51 mile point at just over 10hrs and Lorna is there waiting to pace BBR host Jodie on the second half so fusses over me as I force down pasta. Opening up the drop box I neck the sports drink, can of Monster and pack some food in bag. My ipod is waiting too. Need some company for the later stages so been looking forward to this. Only it’s gone flat in the box. So now I have to carry a dead ipod with me. Great.

Sat on the chair in the evening sun by the river is lovely.  I could stay here. I could drop. I certainly wouldn’t be the first. Spending 10hrs running for nothing would be stupid though. Plus I have my secret inner beast to unleash once it cools. Even though I need help to get out the chair. Still running in just one tee I stash the dry one from the box in the bag and push on.

Whether real or imagined a lovely lady gives me ice somewhere in a forest which I add to the ziplock head cooler. Or maybe I don’t….

58 miles is the familiar site of the Watersports centre at Reading and the steps of death to the aid station. This is the turn around point on the final section of the A100. For the SDW100 I only ever sat at an aid station once. Today I need chairs more regularly than even ice creams so I drink coffee and take the load off, hoping the guy laying on the floor with the medic is going to be alright. I recognise one of the aid station volunteers from somewhere but baked brain is struggling to remember where from.  They seem lovely though.

Descending the steps in a controlled fall I join with another runner Jon and we run through Reading together. Both having done the A100 we’re aware how bleak this section is so push on. Just before Wallingford he wisely suggest we stick on some layers. It’s not cold yet but everyone warns about the night chills along the Thames. In the curious way of runners we chat about everything from past races to family. He’s down for the double slam this year (4×50 milers and 4×100 milers) so is clearly mental although he feels the same about my plans to run a marathon on Monday.

We’re chipping along well and the horrible section through Reading seems almost pleasant with company and without 90 miles in the legs when run on the A100. Occasionally I check pace and see we’re making 12min/miles easily. Race pace for Monday when I pace the 5h15 runners. Seems achievable.

We stick together through Wallingford and to Streatley aid station for drop box 2. Beans and cheese necked, extra top, gloves, hat and buff on and he’s ready to go. I’m staring wistfully at the can of Brew Dog beer I’ve been looking forward to all day but now is as appealing as drinking actual dog pee, resolving to leave with volunteers for any thirsty runners following. Jon is keen to get going and I’m just behind but never catch him. The cold as you leave the aid station is striking and I’m shivering in three tops, debating going back to the warmth and dropping. I could run to warm up. Except my legs don’t want to play anymore. Maybe the marathon isn’t going to be OK after all. Time to march.

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Photo courtesy of Kamil Pelikan.

HOT DAY RACE TIP 4 – everyone says it gets cold along the Thames even on a hot day. Laugh at them.  Fools. Pack two extra tops just to humour them. Then be thankful as hell because they weren’t fibbing.

The march takes me to Wallingford at 77 miles and a cute aid station in a rowing club. The volunteer on duty is amazing and berates anyone for staying too long. One runner is refusing to leave and he employs all skills to get the guy out. With 7hrs left for the sub24 and 11 in total we both have time but need to get moving. The next aid station is 6.5miles away. A training run you wouldn’t even notice. Today it seems like an eternity. Why the hell am I doing this again. Ultra running is stupid. The ultimate in delayed satisfaction. With a deep breath I ascend the humongous steps out the aid station and get going.

Dimly I’m aware my right calf has been feeling awful for a while and I can’t really bring my leg forward. As with most ultras I’m wearing calf guards, as much to protect from undergrowth as any medical benefit. Should I take it off? It really feels like it’s squashing my calf. But it could be the only thing holding it together. If I take it off then I might not get back the perfect sock/shoe fit I appear to have. Many experienced runners have told me never to mess with shoes on a race if they’re doing OK so I keep it all on.

Trudging the next 6.5m miles is grim. Think misty fog, dodgy ground to run on making any attempt at a ‘run’ seem futile. The route leaves the river to aid station at Clifton Hampden. It’s up a MASSIVE hill from the river. In and out quick and it’s starting to warm. 6am and already the heat is coming. 15 miles left. Lets get this done before it gets even hotter.

Just along the trail I spy a familiar face, Jon has stopped for a phone call and I’ve caught him up. It’s great to have the company again but even better to learn he’s sorted my transport issues back to Milton Keynes. He lives in Bedford so has re-arranged breakfast plans to drop me home on his journey saving me a massive taxi bill after my lift fell through, which has been weighing on my mind. We’re now 15 miles and an hours drive from home and bed.  The sooner I can get home the sooner I can rest and recover for tomorrows marathon.  Get it done.

Jon is a wonder of motivation and keep me running through to Abingdon. The flatness of the course is mentally hard. In the early stages you force in walk breaks, in the later you force in run breaks as there is little downhill to make it come naturally.  BBR Lou is on the aid station and the “Fuck You Buddy” is as glorious as the motivational half-truths “you look well, keep going”. Coffee and orange segments for me and Jon downs milk supplied by his wife who’s doubtless still reeling having met the sweaty stranger she’s been convinced into giving a lift to.

Time to go. Two five mile sections left. We could walk it and get under the 24hrs for the buckle. There’s an outside chance of sub23 depending on course length (everything has been coming up long so far).  One day I dream of enough pace to get 10 miles done in an hour. Today I’ll settle for more like three hours.

I’m flagging far worse than Jon and he thankfully bullies me around to the next aid station whilst I dream of how nice my bed will feel. I also wonder what moron decided 145 miles would be a good race to enter when this thing has nearly broken me. The heat is building and I’m back to tipping water over my head at aid stations. It’s still early morning. I pity anyone with big miles still to come, battered by another relentless sun.

Walking out the aid station ahead of Jon I can’t really run anymore so need a headstart. I presume he scored some quality illicit drugs as he catches me and goes past. I can’t keep up anymore. He needs to get his sub23. I’m just aiming for the sub24.  5 miles left and 2h15 to break the 24hr. Lets ignore the calf that screams at me and go.

As the miles pass the confusing series of distances the last marshal gave are playing in my head. 2km to a lock, then was it 1.5km to a bridge? After that it was 1800 to the finish.  1800 what?  1800 swans?  1800 steps? 1800 yards? How many feet in a yard? (depends how many people are standing in it would have been my Dad’s answer). Probably he meant metres, so a bit over a mile. A mile from the bridge. Here’s a bridge. One mile to go. I could just about go sub 23hr.  A nice trio of sub 23hr results. Here’s another bridge. Is it one mile from here of the last one? Or the next one? WHY ARE THERE SO MANY BLOODY BRIDGES!!!!

All to my left is empty fields. To the right is the Thames and Oxford (and lots of bridges). Where is the finish?!  Finally I see a group on the tow path ahead and see the welcome inflatable arch through the trees. It’s over, 22h51m. Sub 23hr again but to still be 61st finisher out of 314 shows how brutal the race has been.

Cheered over the line I’m congratulated by Stuart who I first met at SDW50 and handed the buckle. After numerous attempts at phrasing the simple question of “What size t-shirt” I realised what he’s on about and collapse in a chair next to Jon and roll down my calf sleeve.  It feels solid and inflamed and sore to the touch. When I walk to the car I realise I can’t really put weight on it as the foot won’t straighten out. I suspect I’ve properly buggered my calf and will be supporting from the sidelines tomorrow.  25 hours is not enough time to grow a new leg. Read how the MK marathon went here.

Final timings against the laughable plan.  Pleased to have held a consistent rank throughout.

Walton on Thames (12) Cookham (38) Henley (51) Streatley (71) Clifton Hampden (85) Oxford (100)
Time 01:54:31 07:06:01 10:03:43 15:13:03 19:16:57 22:51:42
RANK: 68 RANK:75 RANK: 73 RANK: 61 RANK: 62 RANK: 61
Planned 01:39:00 06:09:00 08:45:00 12:58:00 16:00:00 19:58:00
Behind 00:15:31 00:57:01 01:18:43 02:15:03 03:16:57 02:53:42
Pace (min/mile) 00:09:33 00:11:13 00:11:50 00:12:52 00:13:37 00:13:43
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