#318 Thames Path 100 Race Report

TP100 done, 17th buckle earned! Well I finished and about three hours quicker than last year but that's really the end of the redeeming qualities of this run. I felt oddly disconnected from the event very early on, legs were dead from about 15 miles, sick from about 30 on and off and I think the only reason I didn't DNF at 67 when Rachel met me for a switch to the night gear was that I couldn't really think of a good enough reason. Nothing that wrong with me, just didn't fancy it and didn't put the effort in... so after a disappointing first 50 in 10:10 and knowing a good time was out I successfully managed to spend the next 16 hours dawdling about like a lethargic three legged sloth swimming in treacle, really was a pretty poor exhibition. It's an odd feeling to be disappointed in yourself for hour after hour, and then basically just not being bothered enough to do anything about it! Far happier for all the other guys and girls that had cracking runs, some huge PB's and some fantastic first time performances at yet another class Centurion event, the true benefit of being so hopeless is that I got to run with just about everyone for a while when they passed me and kindly slowed down for a while to chat with me which by far was the highlight of my event. Many thanks to Lisa for the ice creams and especially to the incredibly hard working Rachel for her crewing, volunteering and pacing efforts, probably butt kicking efforts too if I'd said I was going to quit whilst upright!

Pre-Race

It had always been in my plans this year to do the Centurion Grand Slam of 100s, and with the revised scheduling of them with Thames Path being in May rather than March and Winter being in October rather than November then potentially they would be in more favourable conditions than had certainly been the case with Thames Path last year! But despite the heavy flooding over the winter a pretty dry April had dried things out pretty nicely come race day. Well, aside from a few bits which I will come to in due course...

Rachel has aspirations of running this one next year and I wasn't too worried about a crew or pacer, but we came up with a kind of hybrid solution where she would volunteer at 44, meet me after than for the night gear swap and then find me at the back end to meander in the last 15 miles or so. The advantage of this was that I didn't have to worry about drop bags and could have three times more kit than I needed, just in case. Otherwise I have to say my race preparation was fairly minimal, I took the time to take the GPX traces and redo them to my satisfaction with the diversions that were in place (typically race GPX files aren't always 100% bang on the route, I go over them with the satellite image to pull them right on to the line, can be a pain to do this, but its no fun getting lost in the night! Its not a perfect science as you can't see under trees and that kind of thing but it does familiarise myself with the route, what to expect, where EXACTLY the aid stations are and so on, its a couple of hours well spent anyway. My food box is getting refined too, I got everything in a little air tight box about ten inches by five inches, I no longer need banana boxes of things I'm never going to eat! Forecast was good, some rain a few days before wasn't welcome but otherwise all good to go!

Race

We arrived at Richmond best part of two hours early as parking is a bit of a pain there to say the least, not much street parking and wanted to be sure of not being in a rush. Kit check, number, sort things out and then its just chatting to folk and taking photos mainly till its time for the race briefing. I as usual am surprised by how many people are standing up, I take every opportunity to sit down that I can!

At the briefing James Elson asked how many runners were doing their first 100 and an awful lot put their hands up and when he ask who had done more than five I think I only saw a handful. i think the TP100 is certainly gaining the reputation of being the most straightforward of the "proper" 100s there are around in the UK, probably in Europe really. Pretty flat, point to point, earn a buckle.

Time race start came along I found myself right at the front for no particular reason other than not many others appeared to be standing there. I may actually have led for about one yard as think I jumped the gun (feel free to dock me a second James!) but we were soon in to it and the first bit is nice wide concrete paths along the Thames and after no time at all we'd all more or less settled in to a rhythm and I was going way too fast. Evidenced by the fact that I spent the first mile chatting to Dave Ross!

But I soon sent him on his way and I settled in to more sensible 8:xx pace, not pushing at all, just going at the pace my legs felt like going at and then had a whole succession of nice chats with folk as they ran with me for a while over the next dozen miles or so as they gradually caught me up and sooner or later dropped me behind. This is very much my plan though, go out fast, get to 50 miles basically as quickly as I can, as many miles done before the lights go out, survive the night... finish.

I have discovered that no matter how quickly I go out, or how steadily, basically I'm worn out after 15/16 hours, it's a lot more fun to be worn out at mile 86 than it is at mile 54. Anyone who is thinking that running steady state 100 milers is a good idea had probably best stop reading now!

The Thames in the sunshine is really rather pleasant, not too many people about, the course is in good condition. OK there are some bits of mud, some puddles and its not all nice smooth stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but with a bit of weaving and the odd careful bit of paying attention where the feet are going all is good. Total contrast to the mud fest of 2013....

The first aid station at 11 comes and goes and I'm feeling all is well, I've marginally slowed to 9:xx something now, but that's fine, no pushing, legs feel good. Music on, head down, trot along.

I'd say its about 15-18 that things just begin to start to unravel a tiny bit, a few little slopes that are walked up rather than ran up, a bit of a wander in a little wooded bit with a fork and can't see any marker tape and my trace has me on the right line, but its turned around, so I stop, zoom out, zoom in, check that I'm not about do to anything stupid and then another runner comes along and points me left. Long experience has taught me to not always pay attention to what other runners say (LDWA walkers have a saying of never follow runners!). But I can see that all is well, and off I go again. The course marking I noticed for the first 100k or so wasn't up to the usual Centurion standard and have to say I was glad I had the GPS trace on. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't as fool proof as normal, especially nothing on the floor, and if you're me and you generally are looking at the floor its a bit slowing to be checking higher often for the tape, which in a few places wasn't in obvious places I felt, down a turn for example rather than on it. Might have been people removing it of course which is why I am always a fan of floor marking.

But generally the route is clear and its well waymarked anyway, its just where in places there are two alternatives. One place especially up some some stairs to a bridge there are Thames Path markers left and right! Having done the event last year I knew the way was right, but two runners standing there looking puzzled were grateful!

By 18 I'm having distinct little walking breaks now and getting passed fairly frequently, real deadness in the legs. Mmm... I was hoping to be much further in to the game before any sign of leg fatigue cropped up and this wasn't boding well. It was getting quite warm by now too, not that it was ever hot, but was rationing fluids a little bit, which probably wasn't a good sign either. In an act of stunning cleverness I hadn't got any money with me either. I pass a couple of ice cream vans!

At 22 bumped in to Lisa Hewitt who kindly filled my bottle with ice and donated a couple of ice creams to "Keeping Trav cool" campaign, they went down very nicely thank you! Ellen her partner passed me here too and sadly didn't get to see them again till the finish as had been nice seeing Lisa pop up on the course a few times already.

I think in retrospect where it all went a bit wrong was in the 22-44 area. I'm in to 22 at 3:40, so bang on 10:00 pace, which is fine. I'd been hoping to get to halfway in about 9:30, that's my bench mark area I want to be for 50 miles, and it just didn't happen. The walk breaks got longer, the running got shorter and slower.

At some point I began to not be feeling so great, I threw up a little bit at 42, but nothing much and it wasn't bad. Just a general not really feeling well feeling, I'd a head ache too which didn't help. Headphones came out and in fact never came on the rest of the event, which is a little unusual for me, but just didn't fancy music either.

During this phase I discovered something about the Thames Path 100! Basically the event has 2500' of up, which by 100 standards ranks it basically as flat as a pancake. But that's basically all it is, a very gradual up hill for 100 miles, there is one mildly lumpy complex around 70 miles but basically just a very slight gradient. But if you look at that another way, each 25 miles has an average of 600' of up. If you did a nett uphill marathon with 600' of up I bet everyone would be touting it as this mega tough uphill marathon. Or if in reverse, this lights out quick course. I think my main problem was the lack of any downhill to just trigger off a bit of decent running. My run/walk was becoming more jog a bit walk a bit.

I started having a lot of negative thoughts about finishing. Now in the 60s or 70s you can understand that, but in the 30s on a nice sunny day it's not a good sign, in fact everything came along about 30 or 40 miles sooner than usual! I could see the 50 mile goal slipping away and what was worse I just didn't care either. Miles were slipping by at 13/14/15 minute pace when they should have been 11/12/13.

Now I wish I could write something inspiring or motivational or something but frankly I'd had enough and now I was looking for an excuse to quit. Rachel was volunteering at Marlow, mile 44, car was there. Now that's tempting. What's wrong with me sufficiently bad that I can justify it as an excuse to call it a day, everyone would understand wouldn't they? I've got nothing to prove, I did a 100 just three weeks before, not recovered, I've nothing left to prove etc.

The problem was, I just couldn't think of anything. So I plod in to Marlow, see Rachel, grab some food from the car, munch some cake and other bits and bobs, am tempted to just have a sit down and watch the world come by, but a few minutes later off I go. My aid station discipline was good and off I went. In fact I think I was so not bothered that I couldn't even be bothered to quit either!

10:10 for 50 miles was disappointing, I'd hoped for an hour less. Had a bit of a sort out at 51, head torch was out, but didn't bother with the jacket yet as wasn't cold despite the night beginning to come in. Probably overtook 10 people here as this was one of the major aid stations and not too many people seemed in a hurry to leave, but I didn't want to get comfy there so off I went.

Now my speed really started to fall off and what running there was, well, it was short, slow and plodding. Mileage times were now in the 16/17/18 range, which really is just purposeful walking. The lights went out, soon got a bit chilly so put my jacket on, was carrying a Montane Minimus as its as light as can be and that was enough for the time being but could feel myself getting a bit cold and Rachel and I were planning on meeting either at about 67 or 71 depending on how I was going and we agreed on 67 as I was going so slow.

Meeting Rachel again was nice as by then was a bit cold and fed up, lots of negative thoughts, but I was just annoyed with myself mainly, well, not even that, i couldn't be bothered to be annoyed with myself even. i was just indifferent. I was at least experienced enough to know that despite a forecast of a low of 6 or 7C that it would feel much colder than that, so switched to a thick base layer, long sleeved shirt and the thickest jacket I had. Whilst I was a bit cold in the night, was never remotely bad.

Very oddly at the 67 aid station I met Gary Kelly, Denzil Marthin and Lee Kelly, all of whom were "behind me" and now somehow just in front! No idea how that happened as I was 100% sure I was bang on the route, maybe they'd just wandered past at some stage when I was checking on the bears or getting in to the night gear.

Gary Kelly and I did the next section together which helped me no end as his walking pace was quicker than mine and we chatted about this, that and the other and that helped with the tiredness that was kicking in around then and get over the hilly bit, which in overall terms isn't hilly at all, but for this route, its the hilly bit.

Streatley is the second major aid station and I messed around a fair bit there I must say, Gary was getting something hot and I found something they called "Scottish Tablet" so ate about a kilo of that, its probably pure sugar, but hit the spot.

Gary soon left me for dead as I just couldn't keep up with his fast pack walk pace and I couldn't be bothered to jog along to catch him up. By now I had pretty much given up thoughts of quitting as it was too late and there was still nothing really wrong with me. But I was just blegggghhhhhhhh....

I think had I known what was ahead I might have had more thoughts of quitting! Up till now the trail had been good and I'd been able to keep my feet dry, it was a very dewy night, but Hokas are great for just lifting you up an extra tiny bit so dewy grass doesn't get your feet wet. But the muddy patch was ahead and it was a nice reminder of 2013. There were three or four bits of unavoidable slop. It was clinging to barbed wire fences, branches, tip toeing and cursing. I at least managed to stay upright, but on two or three occasions my feet got wet and I think that really compounded the general misery I was in at that stage. Standing in ankle deep mud, clinging to a branch to retain balance at 4am in the morning, tired, cold and fed up and basically wondering what am I doing there and why am I putting myself through this? This ultra running lark is less fun than you think you know!

The good news was that James had cut the limit on the course to 28 hours from 30 before and it was just as well he had as my speed was hopeless by now and it was just a plod to the finish. If I had more time, I would have taken longer, but I was 90-120 minutes inside it and I am now returning from 100s anyway so don't want to be timed out of my last one.

The real sleepy patch hit me somewhere, I was so sleepy I am not sure now I remember where! But Rachel happened to call at that time and chatting to her about life the universe and the wet grass shook me out of that, oddly it hit me again right around day break which is weird as that should be waking me up not sending me to sleep!

Rachel was at 85 and she walked a way down the trail to find me and then instead of dawdling along on my own, I dawdled along with some pleasant company! There was the odd little attempt at a jog, as much as anything to just get it over with, but it didn't last, the miles drifted by rather too slowly. The aid stations at Abingdon and Lower Radley came along very, very slowly and hung around at the latter for a while as it was a nice sunny morning and why not?

Eventually the finish came around and I managed about a 2 foot jog over the line, but zero sense of any accomplishment at all. I'd even considered DNFing at a foot before the finish line for no reason I could think of!

Didn't really fancy anything to eat, had a chat with whoever was around and that was it really. Was just disappointing. Two days later and I'm still not sure what went wrong, if its fatigue, fitness or indifference. I'm in pretty good shape, my feet survived a billion times better than they did last year, but in ideal conditions on a flat course, 26:32 wasn't what I was hoping for at all and its a long, long way to go being fed up with yourself! I could probably have chopped off 90 minutes I'd think, but didn't want to enough, but I couldn't chop off 150+ that I was looking for as a B goal of a sub 24 finish. Was a PB at a Centurion event by 3 hours+ which was something I suppose!

But after a run of 8 100s that I was reasonably pleased with this was rather a crashing come down, it wasn't dreadful, it wasn't a disaster, it was just bad. What's worse is that I can't explain it, even to myself, a year ago I would have been over the moon with that time, at Taby whilst I was hopeful of 22 hours, 24:30 was decent given the conditions and the course, but here I just couldn't force that, and I think what's worse is that from a very long way out I didn't even try, which isn't what I want to be like at all.

Was surprised afterwards to learn that the finish rate was only 64% as the conditions were decent, bit warm in the day, bit cold at night, but nothing to worry about, course was 99% decent, I had two moments off course for a combined extra yardage of maybe 30 feet although some folk seemed to get themselves astray at different points that I had no difficulty with.

As ever its a class event put on by Centurion, volunteers all universally excellent, friendly and helpful. Really are the premier outfit in the UK for ultra events. Eventually I hope to do one of them justice!

Things I Learnt

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