My Birthday race this year was the Thames Path 100. I am now making a tradition of doing a great event on my Birthday that has seen me over the years running fabulous events such as the Trans-Gran Canaria race, the Glasgow to Edinburgh double marathon and the Berkhampstead Half Marathon. It seemed rude to have a 100 mile race starting so close to where I live and not run it.
And given that it started at 10 it would also be rude not to run the Richmond Parkrun 5k beforehand? What is an extra 5k on a 100 mile day?
SO we drove down to Richmond to register early so that I had enough time to get over to run the park run. The only other takers for the Park Run were Paul Ali and Paul Stout (Avon and Stouty) who were making it even more of a challenge by dressing up as Batman and Robin for both races. They are raising money for a the Cruise Bereavement Care Charity and tried to get some publicity from Guinness World Records for "longest run in costumes" but they would not recognise that over much more worthy feats as "fastest marathon dressed as a character from a childrens audio book".
Anyway the plan was to get a park run time of around 22 minutes and then conformtably beat that in the 100 miler (in hours of course). I ran the Park run in just under 22 but was confident I could run an 18 hour 100. I've run 19 hours twice in splits from longer races, the Thames is flat and there are lots of aid stations. Seemed like a realistic target.
It was great to see so many familiar faces at the start and the promise of more at the checkpoints made this race feel like a long day of little reunions. I was really looking forward to it.
James Elson has built a great series of 100 mile events in the UK and this was the first one I was going to run. In fact it was my first 100 miler. It was great seeing James at the registration area along with Mimi Anderson, Sam Robson, Dino, Phil Smith, Robbie Britton who was one of the favourites for winning and so many others. It was the first time I have seen Nick Lewis since we shared a room in Athens after the Spartathlon and watched Dwarf porn. David Miles was also there having one last blast before a hernia operation. That'sexactly what I was doing this time last year. He told me it was his birthday tomorrow and mine was the next day. This was great news except that now I was worried that he'd finish ahead of me and eat my cake.
It was great to meet Keith Godden who runs the fantastic Ultramarathonrunning.com website which is the biggest single source of ultra marathon races and articles out there. It was great to see Richard Webster there too, disappointed at not getting into Badwater recently but he'll more than compensate by running the Spartathlon later in the year. It really was a great reunion of ultra runners on a damp saturday morning in Richmond.
From the very first steps I sort of regret running the park run. They hurt a bit. I got chatting to some people who wanted to know whether I had scoped out the McDonalds on the course. The path on the first few miles of the Thames is fairly hard and I had decided to wear the minimus trail shoes which are not at all comfortable on hard surfaces. I was looking forward to some mud.
There were a few guys here going for a 100k in 10.30 Spartathlon qualifying time and I got chatting to one such person (Paul?) on the way and really pleased that he wanted to be part of such an amazing race. I always thought 10.30 for 100k was a bit of a soft qualifying critera for such a hard race however I was soon to discover that it wasn't going to happen on this course.
Jen Bradley passed me with ease after about 10 miles and then I lost her while having to do a Benedict in the bushes. About 200 meters after I emerged I ran past a lovely looking toilet block. Doh.
For the first 30 miles or so I was running quite close to Batman and Robin who were rightfully getting loads of attention from those we passed. I bet people had no idea they were running 100 miles, probably just out for a fun run in the woods. Somehow we got diverted from the river and onto Dorney Lake and had no idea where to go. Batman and Robin arrived and said "sorry we only fight crime, we can't help with directions". Austerity is biting hard.
I ran a little way with Trin who was about to run her first night run and is training for the GUCR. She was looking in very good form. As well as the multitude of runners I knew here there were a lot of friends marshalling too. Tim Adams was the first I saw (he didn't enter and so didn'tget no 1 as I did. Actually I got no 1 by entering the race as soon as it was announced, not because I was any good). At 38 miles I saw Mark Cockbain and Alex at a CP making tea. It was great to see them again and Mark was keen to remind me about how I was wasting my money in 4 weeks time and that I'll see him at the easter weekend for his Viking Way race. I said I will run and mark the night section which I will do unless I finish Barkley in which case I'll be doing no such thing. Mark took that as a guarantee that I'll be marking his course.
There was a hail shower quite unexpectedly and then a beautiful rainbow near Bray. I was suffering with the shoes and really loved it when I got to a soft grassy bit. I got chatting to Tim Oliver who is one of the entrants for this years JOGLE ultra and he was looking in very good shape and is putting in a lot of miles. It would be great to see a lot more people finish that this year. Really looking forward to Rainer tearing up the roads in England.
Shortly before Henley at half way I saw Nick who said we were going to miss the 10.30 100k time by some way, not that I was too worried about it, I was just looking forward to changing out of these slippers and putting some proper shoes on. The minimal stuff is great for short distance and soft trail but I forgot the Thames path is mostly tarmac and it was hurting a bit. I stayed at the checkpoint for a while faffing about, it had just got dark and I was trying to put new batteries in my light.
We headed off into the dark, here the Thames Path deviates a lot from the Thames and goes through some nice posh villages like Shiplake and Wargrave. As soon as more tarmac came I felt pleased about my change of shoes. I really should recognise this part of the path as I did run it last yeat though in the opposite direction in the Thames Trot. However that did not stop me having to stop at someones house as confirm I was still on the right path. The villiages were not that big but it was clear that some of the people out were preparing for a "normal" Saturday night. Time like that make you really crave a nice warm pub with a fire and nice beer and a cosy chair.
It felt a bit easier now that I was in new shoes and since these are the ones I intend to crawl the Barkley in 4 weeks I figured it would be good to break them in a bit. It rained a bit during the night and I wasn't really trying too much now, a decent time was now long gone and I just wanted to enjoy the experience of running through the night. I got chatting to a chap called Jay and I asked whether he had run into sunset and then on into sunrise before. He hadn't and I told him it was a magical thing.
Gemma came out to see me at reading at about 60 miles, the miles were going slowly at this point. It was great to see her and she had a pepparami in her hand which was very nice. I loved the food at the checkpoints, hotdogs, sausage rolls and ham in wraps. I can't believe I hadn't thought of that before. I plodded on into the night through Reading and parts of the river that seemed less familiar.
There were a few diversions off the river which felt like a pain to navigate but I don't think I got lost from here on in. I felt tired and a bit sick but always thought that if I am complaining even just a little bit about a flat 100 miler on the Thames then I am absolutely going to get eaten alive in a month. I can't moan even a little bit about this. Around 13 hours into the race and will something like 32 miles to go I realised that I was not going to get near Ian Sharman's 100 mile time of 12.43 last year. I blame the shoes.
I arrived at Streatley where the river cuts through the Ridgeway trail and is going to be the scene of some ultra running evilness later on in the year (watch this space). Dick Kearn was in the room washing the dishes and chatting away. That would be a lovely place to be a marshall. Nick Lewis was just leaving as I arrived and Allan Rumbles turned up here just after me. It felt so cosy and I stayed there much longer that I should have.
At this stage the gap of 8 miles seemed like a marathon each time. I was not going fast at this stage, not much more than 4mph average and trying to keep moving and preferably running but the ground was a bit slippy underfoot and was hard to do so. All I thought about when finding 8 miles in some slightly muddy fields was "you are going to get fucking eaten alive in 4 weeks, pussy". MUST NOT COMPLAIN.
At 91 miles there was a checkpoint at a cricket club where Neil Thrubon on XNRG events was and it was great to see him. I said I was going to try to get down to the second half of the Pony Express race and then hopefully on his Round The Isle (of Wight) race in the summer. 91 miles into a 100 mile race and I am arranging future races. It doesn't even occur to me that it's weird anymore. Around this time I passed David Miles who was sleeping on his feet. He looked very tired but was going to finish it off. I wished him a happy birthday and was pleased that I looked like I was going to make it to the end and get the cake first.
I left that place as the sun was rising and then onto some more muddy path. At 95 miles was the last checkpoint and here is where I saw Claire Shelley and Drew Sheffield who immedaitely mocked me for getting beaten by Jen. I said what did they expect when there are hotdogs at the checkpoints? You'll notice that most runners I have mentioned here I have put a link to their blog. Claire and Drew don't even have blogs which makes me wonder whether they are proper ultra runners at all.
Anyhoo, it was great to see them and being only 5 miles from the end felt good. It took a little longer to get there than I thought and was hoping to finish in good time to get some sleep for some hardcorre drinking later on. The last few miles were painful though, I got shin splints and bad chaffing and had to walk the last 3 miles. If only I had not done that parkrun in the morning. I joked before about falling apart after 97 miles and not being able to finish, it seemed that was almost true.
So I staggered into the finish in Oxford in 22.22, slower than my parkrun time but I was pleased with the effort. It was great to see James at the finish and get the buckle for the sub 24 hour finish. I think this is going to be a great race in the calendar for future years and was superbly organised. Unfortunately later on the race had to be pulled as the conditions were too bad which was a shame but the right decision. Poor Alex Pearson got to 95 miles and got pulled out of the race though speaking to him he did say that he shouldn't have been allowed to continue as he was in a state. I was in a car home as Matt Mahoney turned up at the finish and said he was driving to London. That was the most awesome news ever.
So in summary this was an awesome race, not run particularly well by me but I am pleased nonetheless with some training in suffering. I have forgot loads already so apologies for that. I was great seeing everyone and a particular well done to Avon and Stouty for both breaking 24 hours in Batman and Robin costumes and it's a shame the Guinness Book of Jokes won't recognise this. Anyhoo, I am going to make a claim as the first person EVER to run a 5k race and a 100 mile race in the same 24 hour period. I will add it to my "I am awesome" page.
And at least I'll get another stab at a 100 mile pb in a few weeks.