A 100 mile running race, all in one go? What kind of loon would think that sounded like fun? Apparently me. The Thames Path 100 (TP100) runs from London to Oxford, and is one of four 100mile races put on each year by Centurion Running. 100 miles in a single day is a huge undertaking, far exceeding anything I’ve done before with a few 40-50 milers under my belt. The long stage of the MDS was 56 miles in 2015, but I had a 4 hour nap in the night during that! For this, the terrain should be slightly more forgiving and I’ll be carrying less on my back.
I had been looking around for a 100 mile race to do, and ideally end of April as this would be the end of 6 months “unbanded” at work ie. not working weekends/nights/12 hour days, and so having more time than usual to train. I found this one on the last day of April, and being fairly local to me, couldn’t ask for more. Except it was full! I saw a post on Facebook from Jack Snell, with whom I had done my first ever ultra, and he was looking for pacers for the race. I said I could but would be very jealous as I’d wanted to race it myself. Then he contacted me saying his dad, Sean Snell (another member of our team for that first ultra race) had received a place on the waiting list but was now booked into a different race, and did I want it? I was in!
My preparation perhaps wasn’t ideal with a marathon 6 days out, but the lead up week looked like so:-
Sunday: London Marathon in 3:14:26!
Monday: Recovery run totalling 6 miles averaging 10 minute miles; legs felt good but stomach not happy after Sunday, so actually significantly faster for the majority of it but walked the middle 1.5 miles to a pub for a toilet trip!
Wednesday: Sports massage and club off road 6 mile run
Thursday: 2600 metre swim
Friday: REST + stretch + foam roll
Saturday: Race day
The race starts in Richmond with registration in the town hall. I had a major panic when my coat didn’t meet the regulations for kit check but luckily they had coats available for rental – very entrepreneurial but such a massive relief for me. They seemed to have all the compulsory kit for sale or rent, as if they were really for the runners being able to start the race.
Race briefing was by the river in glorious sunshine and went by in a bit of a blur. I didn’t really know where the start line was or where I was in relation to the rest of the pack when I tucked myself into the throng of people. I set off quite far back in the pack and just fell into a steady pace with those around me, not forging through and overtaking as I’m more usually inclined.
I fell into pace with Danny, who I’ve met before at Druids. It’s hard to tell what my pace was as I had my GPS set to the lowest accuracy, only updating every 10 seconds to save watch battery life. This means my watch by half way was a couple of miles down on mileage, and also that my instantaneous pace wasn’t to be trusted flipping from 30:33/mile to 0:00 to 7:55, but I think we probably went out doing 9s and ran for the majority of the first 20 with occasional walking breaks of around 1 minute, and spent a couple of minutes at each aid station. After 20, we continued in a similar fashion but more frequent walking breaks and as we went on, the running speed slowed too. We were aiming to walk at 15:00/mile so 4mph. But that’s pretty strenuous. We encountered a snow shower and a few brief rainy spells interspersed with blazing sunshine. Over 50 miles, I regaled Danny with summaries of the lectures from the marathon medicine conference I’d attended the previous weekend and he kept trying to point out Kingfishers and herons, all of which I missed.
At 51, I changed my shorts for fleece lined compression leggings, and tshirt for a long sleeve tshirt but it had been completely dry underfoot and the first half mostly paved, so I didn’t need to change my shoes or socks yet. I ate a small bowl of pasta with veggie bolognaise type sauce, but I’d been feeling nauseous for a good 25 miles by that point, so a tiny portion only. I’d imagined having pizzas/McDonald’s delivered along the route to my whim and people had takeaways at mile 51, but the thought of that in practice was not remotely appealing.
Danny and I were joined by my pacer Luke, a member of Bearbrook Running club and we headed off at a sort of half run/half walk pattern for the next 7 miles to aid station 7 in Reading. Luke was a good pacer, announcing our pace as we were switching between running and walking, and was giving up a big birthday night out to run/mostly walk for five hours in the middle of the night, but he wouldn’t sing to us, which lost him points. At the aid station in Reading, I succumbed to my hamstring pain and gratefully accepted a massage from Danny’s twin sister, a sports masseuse and massage instructor. My left hamstring had felt tight for a couple of days but now felt like a tennis ball right in the muscle belly. When I sat down to take my shoes off, the pressure of the seat of the chair on my hamstring was unbearable.
While, I was having my rubdown, Danny headed out with a friend we’d caught up with a few miles back. Luke and I left, and from this point onwards there was no more running. We must have almost immediately gone wrong. Turns out there’s another river in Reading, the Kennet, and we accidentally headed off down that. I was thinking that it seemed far more paved and built up than I remembered from doing the Thames Trot race in February, but there were headtorches behind us so thought we were going ok. Turns out, they were just following us, so out came the maps and we headed back to the Thames, having gone about 2 miles off course. We were now joined by another runner (walker) who had followed us off course.
I was cold and shivering, nauseous, and hadn’t taken on enough fluid, and probably not enough calories, my tongue was swollen at the back and rubbing on my left back teeth, I was struggling to regulate my breathing despite only walking, and felt generally awful. I wondered if I had a touch of hypothermia and also sunstroke. I really felt like I’d had enough, but was so loath to quit because I didn’t want to ever do this again, and I didn’t want to feel like I had to come back to complete it. I didn’t want a DNF to my name and to tell all the people who knew I was doing it that I’d failed. I made up my mind I’d be stopping when parents next met us at 70.6, but decided to push on to 71 (next checkpoint with timing) so the results would give me a time for 71 miles rather than making it all that way but no time recorded since 58. I was worried about my hamstring and what damage I was going / how long I could be putting myself out of the game. Though, in retrospect perhaps the damage was done and the last bit wouldn’t have made any difference. 29 miles didn’t sound too far, just over a marathon, and easy under normal circumstances. But at the rate I’d slowed to, I’d be going another 8/9/10 hours. Someone tried to reassure me I’d feel better when the sun came up, but I had thought I was going to be finishing soon after sunrise around breakfast time, not carrying on til lunch and I couldn’t face that, another whole half day of painful walking. I reached 71 miles at 16:58:57, handed back my bib number and my rental jacket and clambered into the back of the car. Immediately my sciatica and back pain were excruciating, and I just didn’t know how to arrange myself to avoid putting any pressure on my left hamstring. I was writhing around like a woman in labour, probably confirming that dropping where I did was the right decision. After stopping, I also discovered chafing around my sports bra and a blister on my right heel I’d previously been ignoring. I don’t know how much different it would have been had I not run a marathon PB 6 days previously, but I was spent.
Overall the race, was fantastically organised with a nice route; nice terrain; friendly and well stocked aid stations; and better weather than I’d hoped for with much better footing than in February. However, the lack of hills, made it hard to break up the running with walk breaks early on as is usual in an ultra; and I’d suggest road shoes for the first half to anyone doing it again. In a couple of weeks, I may be reconsidering and looking for another race to try again, but for now, I’ll continue to lie on my sofa bed, icing my leg and trying not to move. I think inevitably I will want to go back to finish what I started, but for now, I’m sticking to shorter distances!
Massive congratulations to Jack Snell, beating his previous 100 mile time by over 6 hours to complete in 20:20, and to Danny De La Hay to beat his by 3.5 to finish in a shade over 23 hours.