Thames Path 100 – Attempt 2 and a DNF

If you want to read about how to run Thames Path, then click here for my previous attempt.

Photo from legendary Stuart March who makes anyone look good running

Despite finding the race a struggle previously and being bullied by newfound running mate Jon for much of the back half, I was overtaken by serious race envy when a bunch of mates entered for 2021. This was back in August last year when races were coming back after Covid and I was getting some form back. Hell yes, let’s join them!

Then I had a lacklustre end of 2020 including my first proper DNF at the Track 100 when I mostly couldn’t be arsed to run in the awful weather for a medal and my 7th 100+ finish so went home for dinner. Like a boss.

Plan was to train properly from January and run the TP100 with some enthusiasm.

Then I tore my calf in January, then a knee issue in February left me with 2 months to go from zero to 100 mile ready. I nearly made it.

Easter Monday I managed a marathon, my longest run on the year. The following Saturday I finished the Rose of The Shires 54 miler, my longest run since 2019. It left precious little time to do any more training in between so managed some 20 milers and a couple of harder sessions. The Tuesday before TP100 I had my first decent ‘woah that was fast but fun’ run in months.

I stood at the start line for the TP100 in Richmond feeling damp. The weather forecast had gradually improved over the week from ‘rain forever’ to ‘rain most of Saturday’. I hate running in the rain. I’m soft.

Photo stolen from Jen

I set off with Jen and Matt and we mostly stuck together for about 10 miles before I decided to back off. They’d both had perfect training with multiple weekends of back-to-back 30 and 20 milers. I’d managed one decent week of 90 miles so staying with them any longer would be foolish.

Then I started to get passed a lot, first by the legendary Richard McDowell who went on to win in a ridiculous time of 13h42m42s and then Bad Boy Running mate Lorna who also went in a blur and didn’t stop running until she crossed the line and won her first 100 miler in 20h02m31s.

Somewhere around 30 miles after finishing off my Costa I’d purchased on route I was caught by Stuart, Spencer and Helen which was good to have company but when I learnt they started nearly an hour after me and had made that gap up in just 30 miles it’s hard not to think ‘fuck’.

Knowing I’d be on my own for a fair bit of the race (the covid-safe rolling start ensures an even more spread field than usual) I’d packed headphones but managed to flatten them by the time I rolled into Henley to be greeted by Kerry on aid station duties. Pacing wise I wasn’t doing too bad and not far off my previous TP100 go but that had been in the 2018 ‘Hot as Hades’ special edition. Spender was already out on course before I reached Henley and Helen and Stuart were both far enough ahead they headed back out whilst I was still sorting kit. I never caught any of them again.

Photo stolen from Kerry

I forced down some rice pudding, opened my cider and tried to push on but never really felt in the groove. If I pushed I managed 11-12min/mile pace but it was hard work and that section of the course is largely awful. No podcasts, few runners around, I was having dark thoughts. It’s also the section that leads into Reading which is a low point of the course.

One of the positives of the race is I’ve got much better at packing food and drink in drop boxes so was able to sail straight past the aid station at Wokingham Waterside Centre at Reading. If you’ve done TP100 or A100 before you’ll know it as the bastard aid station up a million steps. Being able to run straight past is a good mental boost and it was still daylight. When I’d last run TP100 I’d come down the steps in the dark although started later so not all that difference was performance based. This did give a perk to my spirits though and I almost looked forward to the noise of trains as I knew that meant the line was gradually converging with the Thames and I’d soon be squished into the bleak path between the two which somehow felt a lot less likely to be the scene of a murder than previously. I made it up over the railway line and into the village of Purely On Thames in daylight only needing headtorch as I dropped back onto the Thames.

Sadly this is where my race ended. Physically I was fine. At 67 odd miles I certainly had some stiffness in my legs but I could feel my eyes closing. I’ve managed multiple 100s and raced for as long as 38 hours without sleep but for some reason I was struggling to stay awake. A couple of times I closed my eyes and carried on marching, almost hoping some inbuilt defence mechanism would be awakened and jolt me alert with a blast of adrenaline. It didn’t happen, instead my brain went ‘Mmm that’s nice, let’s keep our eyes closed and have a nap’. It wasn’t even 10pm.

I resolved to push on and get a coffee at Pangbourne which is when I realised the familiar sound of my cup banging against my pack had gone. Somewhere since Henley I’d lost it and I really needed coffee. I was also conscious that the RD could impose a 1hr penalty for missing mandatory gear. Whether they would do so for someone so far down the field as a result of a genuine accident I wasn’t sure but more importantly I was now unlikely to get coffee.

I was 13 hours down, with 33 miles left. The cut off was 28 so I could pretty much stroll in a finish at a little over 2mph. If I pushed and misery marched for the next 11 hours I could probably get a sub24hr buckle. It would sit next to the sub24hr I already earnt on this race. I didn’t really need another one. I certainly didn’t want an over 24 buckle if it meant 11 hours of misery. When a marathon starts to fade you can buckle down and endure a couple of crappy hours. When you’re on a 100 and you’re looking at over a full working day of misery it’s a little harder to stomach.

I began to wonder on the logistics of dropping. One drop bag was on route from Henley to the end. I could probably get Jen or Matt to collect that and my final drop bag. I had one more drop bag at Goring. If I could make it to there I could try and bother someone for a lift home. A few texts to mates had the amazing surprise that Gary and family had come out to meet me at Pangbourne.  I resolved to make it there before making any decisions, but I think I’d mentally dropped by that point.

It was great to see them and be offered a cold beer and it did lift my spirits but I was weighing up being home in bed before midnight or a misery trudge along some of the worst parts of the course, largely on my own until I got to the new headphones at Goring. When you realise the only thing keeping you in the race is looking forward to listening to Bad Boy Running podcast in the dark and cold at 2am you question why you are there. I could get the finish but I had to want it. If I made it to Abingdon I knew Lou was on aid station duty and would bully me on to the finish. The issue was the 26ish miles in between.

So I dropped. Handed tracker and bib to the friendly marshal and headed home in the car via Goring to collect drop box 2. I was in bed by midnight where I laid awake for hours as I WASN’T TIRED AFTER ALL!!!!

Well done to all those finished, many seemed to smash PBs and achieve their goals. I had leftover pizza for breakfast so that was my goal.

Notable mates in the race –

  • Jen Sangster, 2nd 100 finish, 3rd female, 21h38
  • Matt Clements, 1st 100 finish, 21h38
  • Helen Wyatt, 5th female, 22h36m
  • Stuart McLaughlin, 22h55m

Things I learnt –

  • You probably can complete 100 on 2 months of training, but you have to REALLY want it.
  • I didn’t REALLY want it.
  • Going back to have another crack at a race you did pretty well at the previous attempt is not hugely motivational. Now I’ve got a DNF on this I can go back determined and stamp on every crappy step on the railway bridge.

Positives –

  • I’m much better at taking on food and fuel than previously. A massive benefit if you can avoid needless aid station stops.
  • Dressed better for the elements and was never cold. Whether I’d have been cold at the awful Clifton Hampden section in dead of night I don’t know but had several more layers to go if needed.
  • Much better paced with plenty of early walk or Costa breaks.
  • 68 miles on very little training is pretty good. I wasn’t even too broken the next day. If there was another 100 in a couple of weeks I’d be tempted.
  • Having previous course knowledge helps and hinders. You realise the crappy bits will pass but also know the crappy bits are coming. It does at least avoid the ultra tantrum of being stood in what is undoubtedly (at the time) the single worst square meter in the whole of the UK shouting at the moon “Why James? Why? Why here? In the name of all that is good why have you taken me here? I’ve been to sewage plants that were more welcoming.”

To improve next time –

  • Try not to get injured and take most of two months off. Duh!
  • Headphones. I’m not a fan of them when running events normally but over 100 miles with the covid-safe staggered start you will be on your own a lot with your thoughts and need something to take your mind off. Have a backup pair.
  • Given above, maybe sort some pacers as you can’t assume you’ll fall in with someone at a similar pace.
  • Not to lose my coffee mug.

Next up? Going to try a parkrun. Reckon I can finish that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s