Thames Path 100 Race Report

Posted by Chris Foulds on 29 August 2019

Here's what happened when Chris ran the TP100 this year.  There's lots of background to the race at https://www.centurionrunning.com (under "Our Races"), but basically it's 100 miles from London to Oxford along the Thames Path.  You've got 28 hours to do it.

 

The night before’s pretty relaxing with a wander round Chiswick and the usual last minute kit faffing.  To save time in the morning I put plasters on all my toes before going to bed.  This means instead of worrying about blisters I spend all night worrying about cutting off the circulation in my toes and having them amputated at the finish.  Still, at least I’d still get a buckle that way.

There’s a rather nervous wait for the bus to Richmond the next morning.  The local buses have possibly heard of timetables in theory but don’t seem to put them into practice so it’s a relief when one turns up.  I still arrive at registration really early, present my lights / waterproof / emergency thermal layer for inspection and pick up my number.  That leaves an hour or so before the race briefing once I’ve dropped off my drop bags (50ish and 75ish miles) and finish line bag for Oxford.

There’s the usual mix of experienced runners, first timers, locals and people who’ve come from abroad to do the race.  Eying up people’s kit (Bloody hell fire they’re hardly carrying anything, must be really fast / I have too much on me, it’ll slow me down / no wait that bloke’s got more than I have / ooh they’ve packed really efficiently, how do they manage it?) is always enjoyable.

Once the race starts it’s a pretty easy jog along the riverbank to begin with.  Just a nice run/walk with a few hundred other people.  And that’s how it goes for the first 27 miles or so.  The Walton and Wraysbury checkpoints come and go according to plan – fill water, stick an electrolyte tab in one of my bottles, grab a bit of fruit and clear off.

Pace is pretty good, easily on track for a sub-24 hour finish.  For a sport where the runners don’t talk that much about times (at least at my end of the field, in contrast to marathons) it’s maybe odd that if you finish a hundred miler in less than one day then the buckle reads “100 miles – one day” rather than the “100 miles – finisher” everyone else gets.  TP100 is probably my best chance at a sub 24 hour finish this year, of the other 100 milers I've got planned the SDW and NDW100 are too hilly and by the time it gets to the A100 I’ll be shattered.

It’s rather irksome, therefore, that somewhere shortly before CP3 (Dorney) my right IT band decides it’s going to be stroppy.  This has happened before, and is why I do rather a lot of ITB strengthening exercises.  Pretty soon it’s too painful to run and I have to resort to a brisk walk.  At Dorney there are 70 miles to go and it looks like I won’t be doing much more running.  To say the least this is annoying.  Someone comes in just after me and retires with what sounds like a similar problem.

Not long afterwards the spring weather decides it’s going to tip a hailstorm on us, which makes for an interesting half an hour.  Doesn’t take long to dry off though.  There’s a quick stop in Maidenhead (where the local dope smoking club have apparently been not long before) to replace a few of my toe plasters and then on through Cookham and Hurley.  In the few miles before Henley (and the half way point) I manage to generate a bit of a shuffling run which encourages me no end.

This is accompanied by a one sided discussion with my IT band: “Is that all you’ve got?  Make it hurt more, I love it” (only with a lot more profanity).  My mental plan for the race had four points:

  1. Smile
  2. Good technique
  3. Enjoy your surroundings
  4. Enjoy the pain 

The rather sweary discussion with the IT band is just executing point 4. That makes it relatively easy to deal with.Bit hurty?  You already decided you were going to enjoy the pain so it’s not a problem.

In fact I’ve got a tolerable pace going by Henley as I go past what looks like the beginnings of some marquees for the regatta.  And then I have to stop at the checkpoint which breaks up my rhythm a bit.  Henley’s the first drop bag point and there are lots of runners sitting down to change clothes and talk to their crews.  I don’t have a crew but I do have the Centurion Army of volunteers who’ve got my drop bag and given me hot food as soon as I arrive.  I change shirt, replace plasters again and change shoes.  Then decide the new shoes don’t have enough cushioning and change back.  Pretty soon one of the checkpoint team is shouting “If you’ve been here for ten minutes you need to get moving before you get cold” and she’s right.  It’s getting dark so it’s headtorch time as I set out on the second half.

Despite the ITB problem I’ve still got to 51 miles in 11 hours 7 minutes, which is better than my 50 mile PB so can’t complain.

Reading is the first target and I’m looking forward to the section beginning there because I know it from the A100.  Mentally it should make life easier.  The night’s quiet with nobody around, in fact hardly even any other runners until I cross the bridge at Sonning Eye.  We arrive at Wokingham Waterside Centre and the first climb of the race, which is the steps up to the actual checkpoint on the first floor.  In the toilets I rapidly learn that trying to use the paper when your hand is covered in gel residue is not a winning strategy.  On the up side, one of the volunteers had posted on the Centurion Facebook page about making some vegan balls and there are still some left.  A quick nibble on the balls and back out into Reading :)

Reading is very quiet apart from the bit where the beer festival is chucking out, which is very not quiet.  Everyone ignores me though and it’s not long before I’m approaching the next climb, which is the steps up to Tilehurst station.  These hurt quite a bit but it’s short and sharp, then down into Purley on Thames where all the roads look the same when it’s dark and you’re tired.  This is where the experience makes things far more straightforward, and it all looks familiar from the A100.  At this point I work out that if I can manage 15 minute miles to the finish then sub 24 hours is still on.  I try to speed up a bit and quickly decide a sub 24 hour finish is not on.

Then it’s off into the meadows of doom on the way to Whitchurch – a series of fields all split by hedges and trees so you don’t know where the last field is until you’re practically in it.  Plus my personal favourite of vehicle tracks which are fractionally too narrow to get both feet down next to each other.  Whitchurch itself is a nice little village with the second hill of the race as you leave it (and the final one not long after).  Before that I have a few minutes in the village hall with a cup of tea, mainly to warm my hands up as it’s started to get a bit cold.

Between Whitchurch and Goring it gets very chilly indeedI   wonder why I can’t see more than a few feet and then realise its mist coming off the river.  Or into the river.  It’s cold either way.Goring is a welcome sight, then over the bridge into Streatley and the second drop bag point at 71 miles.  Another layer goes on and I don’t feel too bad.  I’m still moving and it’s only 6.5 miles and a nice easy section to the checkpoint at Wallingford next.  It’s a really fun bit, just me on the riverbank with a few headtorches visible in the dark ahead.  Very quiet and peaceful as the sun comes up just before I reach Wallingford.

The checkpoint is a small rowing club on the edge of the village, everyone’s quiet so as not to disturb the locals.  Another quick change of plasters, filling water bottles, nibbling fruit and then off again.  Of course, about a mile and a half after an indoor checkpoint I feel the requirement for a UBM (Urgent Bowel Movement) on a section of the course which has no privacy whatsoever.  It’s still early in the morning so there are only other runners around, but their day is unlikely to be improved by watching what’s required here so it’s fortunate some bushes turn up before too long.

After Little Wittenham my knowledge of the course is exhausted so it gets a bit harder mentally.  I keep expecting the Clifton Hampden aid station to come into sight but it doesn’t.  There are half a dozen runners about a mile ahead who should be disappearing from view as they cross the Thames into the village…and eventually they do.  By this stage it’s warmed up quite a bit so I turn down the offer of tea at the checkpoint, take a few nuts and get going.  I exchange a smile with a runner coming in as I’m going out.  Neither of us needs to say anything because we both know what we’ve done to get this far and what needs to be done to finish.Just keep moving forward.

Onwards to Abingdon, past the swans guarding the bend in the river just before the checkpoint.  One of the volunteers insists I take some fruit, which turns out to be a good plan.

The last nine miles become a bit of a slog as it warms up.  There’s half an hour expecting to be mown down by the motorbikes I can hear in the distance, but it turns out to be a huge motocross event on the opposite bank.  Plenty of cutoff maths going on in my head, as there has been for a lot of the second half.  Someone with an injured ankle asks me if we’ve got enough time and I’m pretty confident we have.  I feel like I’m swaying a bit at Lower Radley, the final checkpoint and five miles to go, but a gel soon sorts that out and it’s straight on to Oxford.  It’s now the time of day when people are out for a morning walk so that means plenty of encouragement and odd looks.  Someone tells me I must be really fit, and about 26 hours ago that was true.  Not so much now

I’ve got no idea what the last bit of the course is like so I don’t know when the finish is close, my watch is no use because it’s overestimated the distance by quite a lot already, and every other person has been telling me it’s the last mile for what feels like an hour.  It’s a bit of a relief when a Correx sign appears against a gap in the bushes to point out the finish, and then there’s the inflatable Centurion arch, a seat, vegan hot dog and a buckle.  Doesn’t matter that it took me 27 hours, or that the last 70 miles were a lot more walking than running.  Got the buckle :)

Because stats are fun:

  • Shoes: One pair (Altra Paradigm 4.0)
  • Flapjacks:  Five ish (until they started making me feel sick)
  • Gels:  A lot (especially Strawberry Banana flavour - the aid stations had loads left, presume nobody else like it)
  • Suspicious looking white pills in a freezer bag:  One an hour (S!Caps)
  • Time: Just under an hour inside cutoff
  • Buckles:  One

TP100 buckle

 

 

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