Thames Path 100 2013 – DNF

When I ran my first 100 miler, the NDW100 in 2011, I was completely exhausted after it.. scarred in a way. I had no intentions of running another 100 miler any time soon, and in fact with one thing and another, that was to be my last ultra for 18 months.

2012 saw many things, including a lot of marathons. I got a lot faster and stronger, and I decided it was time to dip my toe in the waters of ultra running once again. I entered the NDW100 again, but ended up with lots of plans and then got a late entry into the TP100. I train often on the Thames Path as it goes past my workplace and I run at lunchtimes, often with Ultra Tales’s Paul Ali.

In the run up to this, I ran the St Peters Way ultra, a 45 mile race across Essex. That went really well and I finished in 7:31, with plenty of energy to spare. That was also my girlfriend Sally’s first ultra, and she managed to get a place in the TP100 too.

The forecast was for a lot of rain on Friday, and the course was already massively waterlogged and indeed totally flooded in places, resulting in a route change from the original Richmond to Oxford to an out and back route from Richmond to Cookham, back to Walton, Cookham again and then back to Windsor to finish. We spent a lot of Friday looking out of the window and not seeing that weather and worrying that we’d have it all throughout the race. It became clear that it was going to be very cold, a bit windy and we’d have snow for a large part of the race.

So Saturday morning, lots of layers on and more in drop bags, we set off on the train from Reading to London on a lovely warm train. We popped into McDonalds in Richmond to use the loo, but ended up bumping into Allan Rumbles and a few others there, and stopped for a coffee and McMuffin.. breakfast number three! We got to the old town hall to register shortly before 9 and it was very busy. Lots of the usual suspects and great to see everyone. We were still walking down the steps to the riverside when we heard the hooter start the race and so we set off from the back, trying to take it easy but passing a fair few. We chatted with Traviss Willcox for a bit before pressing on, still passing people. We started walk breaks for a few minutes every hour, making sure we ate something and the early miles went by pretty quickly.

CenturionTP100-82-(ZF-6114-51773-1-001)We got to the first CP at Walton, about 11.5 miles, in 1:46. Allan and Lelia Rose were manning the CP here and Lelia had brought some amazing cheese scones which I happily tucked into. The towpath up til now had mostly been very runnable urban stuff – some tarmac, some hard packed path stuff. All good. Setting off again, we went over the bridge at Walton and away from the Thames a bit, through Shepperton. Back by the river again and on some fields near Chertsey and then under the M3, heading towards Staines. Leading to Staines the path was along some roads, and then on a good surface on the towpath, but after crossing the river at Staines the path got very muddy and slippy. Bad enough here in the daylight, but this was going to be very hard work i the dark. By now my left hip was already feeling a little tight – a bit worrying this early on.

Not far after Staines we got to CP2 (22 miles, 3:33), listed as Wraysbury but actually just by Runnymede Park. This was the only indoor CP on the whole route so we knew it would be interesting to see how people got on here later in the night. I had a few ham and cheese wraps here whilst Sally took advantage of the indoor ‘facilities’ and we pressed on. The trail turned really muddy and slippery again, which was getting pretty tiresome already. The Hokas that Sally and I had opted to run in were great for comfort, but not wonderful on slippery ground. When it was basically sloppy mud underfoot, we weren’t getting much traction. Still, onwards.. There was a really bad bit around Old Windsor, before we climbed up to a bridge and headed over the river. Straight back onto more sloppy mud before cutting away from the river and on to a stretch of road for some relief!

9A773450-188C-4244-8D03-5BBB63B36941-3699-000002C535167206_zps424fc84fThrough some nearly flooded woods, across the road and over some fields into Home Park, Windsor and the main CP at 28 miles, 4:49 on the clock. The volunteers here were telling everyone not to bother changing socks etc yet, as there was a “damp patch” just along the path.

Hmm. Just a little damp then. There was nothing for it other than a bit of wading. On through Windsor and over the bridge to Eton where we were accosted by a hen do. “Are you runners?” We admitted to it. No point denying it. One of them asked to have a photo taken with us. Odd. They seemed sober too. We headed along some side streets and out onto a field by the river. This next section I know well, past Dorney lake, Bray and Maidenhead and on towards Cookham, from running it in both directions a few times in the Down Tow Up Flow half marathon which used to be a favourite. The path comes off the river near Cookham, along another nice muddy bit of trail before getting to the village. We’d been seeing runners coming back the other way since a bit past Dorney, where we’d first seen Dave Ross who was looking strong in the lead. More and more runners coming back at us and as we went through Cookham on the roads (and Sally was miffed to find the public loos closed and locked), someone said the CP was just round the corner. Actually it was round a corner, through a graveyard, along a path to the river again and along the towpath a little. The 10 miles from the Windsor CP was actually more like 11.. CP4, 39 miles in 6:59. We ducked into the large tent here and had a bit of food.. I think I had a coffee here too – first of many!

Off we went back towards Windsor with some hot food to look forward to. It started getting dark as we’d got past Maidenhead and we thought we might just get to Windsor before needing to get the headtorches out, but we ended up putting them on a couple of miles away from the CP. Still running well, where it wasn’t too slippery. We got back to the CP, officially 48 miles but actually more like 50 with 9:27 on the clock. I’d switched garmins after about 41 miles so was doing sums when working out times and distances now.. Another coffee and some lovely pasta and a meaty sauce and then into the bag tent to get changed. It was really cold now.. ok, it had been cold all day, but I was now really feeling it. I decided to have a complete change – new pants, a pair of tracksters, new socks (although I rushed that and didn’t properly clean my feet), new merino baselayer, back on with my windproof jacket and another jacket on top.. new buff, new gloves. Off we went again, back over the field and into the woods for an extremely muddy section.. it was definitely getting wetter and more churned up. A bit of road was lovely but we both knew there was a very slippery bit to come.

Back to the indoor CP at around 56 miles in 11:23 and another coffee. Had some lovely tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches here and some amazing chocolate dipped strawberries – yum! Whilst I’d promised myself I would eat more during this race than my last 100, and I was doing so, I still wasn’t really getting enough down me. Luckily Sally had packed a full (and buttered) Soreen loaf, so we were sharing that along the way too. My chocolate covered kendal mint cake was good too. Off we went again and going through Staines we caught up with Foxy, who was struggling to wrap a foil blanket around him underneath his jacket. A mix-up at Windsor with someone helping him meant he’d ended up having some warm gear removed from his pack – not good! We plodded on. One of the car-boot aid stations was around halfway through this section and they were there all night – top effort. We had a few bits of food here and pushed on. We were doing less and less running now though, which was daft, as that bit was on road.

By the time we got to Walton for the turnaround (67 miles, 14:26), I was starting to feel pretty rubbish if I’m honest. I was still very alert, but my left hip/groin was increasingly sore, my feet were feeling battered and I had a bit of chafing elsewhere that could only be slightly relieved with liberal applications of vaseline. Still, it was lovely to see Rachel here and have yet another cuppa and some amazing flapjack. Why I didn’t grab more of this to take with me, I do not know. It felt good in a way to be heading back towards Windsor again though, but it was slow going now. Somewhere along this section I decided to get my ipod and a portable speaker out and we had some tunes for a few hours 🙂

Somewhere along the way we saw Karen who’d been helping out at Windsor earlier and was now crewing for Foxy. We’d been concerned about him since we saw him earlier, but he’d been sorted out with some warmer kit and was apparently all good. We got back to the indoor CP at Wraysbury (78 miles, 17:46) where there were a few people who’d pulled out trying to keep warm. I shoved some more food in and Sally invited me into the ladies! Wahey! Ok, maybe not – it was just lovely and warm in there. There were two guys in there, one of whom was looking mighty rough – just trying to get his head together I think. After a bit of warming up, we set off again. Despite the pain I was in, the thought of dropping out hadn’t even crossed my mind at this point. I was still very alert, surprisingly so – almost expecting some major sleepiness at some point.

The next 6 miles or so were horrific for me. So much mud, and sliding around all over the place really didn’t help my sore hip/groin – in fact, it was gone from sore hip to very sore groin, and it was hard to even left my knee properly now. I was cold, miserable and sore and a bit worried tbh – I’d already taken 4 doses of painkillers and it wasn’t making a dent any more. By the time we got to the road heading towards Windsor, I’d pretty much already given in. It was daylight now, but this didn’t help my mood at all. Sally obviously knew I was suffering and was doing a great job but my spirits had sunk. When we got to the CP and went into the tent, I all of a sudden just felt done in. I sat down and had a coffee and just couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t decide whether to try and eat something or what. At no point was I thinking ‘what do I need to do to be able to carry on’ – I was in a bad place, and sore. I pulled out and Sally went on. 82 miles in 20:14.

After Sally left, Claire Shelley made a really good go fo trying to talk me into getting going again. I nearly changed my mind, but the thought of potentially another 6-7 hours to finish was just more than my brain could handle given the way I felt, so I stuck to my guns. I put some extra layers on and got back into the CP tent just as some bacon was cooking.. oh wow, that was a good bacon butty. I had thought about waiting for Sally but I was so cold (and she’d told me to go home and get sorted) so I got my stuff together and trudged off in the direction of the town centre. Of course, this being before 8am on a Sunday morning, nothing was open. I got to the train station and saw I had a 40 minute wait for the next train but did find a cafe where I got a coffee and saw down for a bit. I’m convinced I saw Brian McDermott, the sacked Reading FC manager, sitting at a table.. in a Reading FC training top. Maybe just a looky-likey.

tp100I eventually got home around 10 and quickly set about showering and sorting my blisters out, before heading back out in the car to Windsor to see Sally finish and giving her a lift back. I didn’t want her to have to repeat my journey back to Reading after being out there for longer than I had. I made it back to Windsor about half an hour before Sally finished and it was fantastic to see her do so, and with a smile on her face!

After a couple of days, caught up on sleep and the pain starting to fade, it was inevitable that I started questioning my decision to quit at 82 miles. I was in a lot of pain, but I know I could have finished the race. Looking back, there are a few things I regret:

  • Not taking the time to properly clean my feet when changing halfway through.
  • When I had that really bad patch in the 6 miles before pulling out, I should have shoved some food down. That might have helped with the next thing..
  • My attitude and general state of mind when I got to the Windsor CP at 82 miles – I was so negative. Wrong mindset completely.

There were a lot of good things though and it wasn’t a wasted experience in any way. It’s certainly fired me up a lot more for future races.

I can’t finish this without a word for Centurion Running. James and his team are just fantastic. It was under very difficult circumstances that they were able to put on a really, really good and professionally run event, particularly after having to re-route the course after the flooding. Just hanging around at Windsor for a while, I got a very small glimpse at the effort and care that James and his volunteers put in. Bravo.


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