Thames Path 100 (a walk beside the river)

Was I tired or did I just have very sore feet?Thames Path finishers buckle

It has been a couple days since I finished the 2015 Thames Path 100 mile ultramarathon – a running race from Richmond (near where I live) to Oxford along the Thames Path – and I honestly cannot remember why I slowed down so much over the last 20 miles.

They say that you quickly forget the pain of an ultramarathon and only remember the good parts, and that is how you end up entering the next race – because you can’t remember the pain, the swearing, the absolute exhaustion of the last race, and can only remember the new friends you made, the generosity of the volunteers and organisers who helped you in your hour(s) of need and the amazing scenery (this last part doesn’t apply to all races – I’ve done two 100’s on a 400 meter track and the scenery in a track race can become is a bit repetitive).

So I am writing this race report now, before I forget any more of what was a great weekend.

Pre-race preparation

The TP100 was my fifth race of 100 miles or longer and my first trail ultra longer than 40 miles.  It was also my first 100 miler without an aid station at least every 2 miles (two of my previous 100’s had been on a 400m track and two had been on short road circuits) and the first in which I had had to carry anything with me (see mandatory gear list).

So the first thing I had to do was ‘preparation’.  Something I am not overly keen on.  I have always preferred to just get stuck in rather than plan anything in any real detail and I don’t particularly like to spend money either, so having to buy a compass that I may never need, a map of the Thames Path that I may never need (surely it is just a case of following the river from Richmond to Oxford) and a Goretex jacket that I may never need, as well as a spare head torch and various other things seemed to me to be a bit over the top.  Read on and you will find out that it wasn’t ‘over the top’ at all.

I also didn’t really put any thought into race-day nutrition.  When I did my first 100 miler I went overboard and bought heaps of food for myself and my support crew (my three sons) and then fed myself as I went past the food tent on the far side of the track every 400 meters, and in my next three 100’s I pretty much took a relaxed approach to nutrition with a combination of some food that I took with me to the race and some that I picked up as I went past the aid station every lap.  It was only at about the 5 mile mark that it suddenly dawned on me that in the TP100 the first aid station was at 11 miles and the next one was at 22 miles followed by 30 miles (there were 13 aid stations in total) and that maybe I should have been a little more prepared than I was!

The first half

Because the race start was only a couple miles from home I had the luxury of driving down to race registration, doing the pre-race check-in and then going back home for a second breakfast.

I then caught the bus back to Richmond with my wife, Ruth, in time for some pre-race chat with some of the other competitors including Louise Alying, Christian Maleedy and fellow UK Centurion race-walker Mark Haynes (Mark was planning to run the TP100 which meant that I was probably the only person that was planning on walking the whole 100 miles from start to finish).

Shortly before 10am we listened to the pre-race briefing, and then we were off.

Thames Path 100 start
And we’re off!

In all my previous 100’s I had gone out fast as I was racing for a time, but I had decided before I started that the TP100 was going to be more about walking from Richmond To Oxford and adding a new route to my ever-growing ‘Richard Walks London’ map than going for a specific time – although it would be nice to keep to my record of never taking longer than 24 hours to walk 100 miles.

My Map as at 3 May 2015
My Map after completing the TP100

So I started at the very back of the field and in the early stages I had company from Catherine Marriott (who unfortunately withdrew at 38 miles) and Welshman, Alan Mann who was using the TP100 as a part of his training towards the Grand to Grand multi-day race in the USA in September.

Because I hadn’t thought through my nutrition strategy I had to make some immediate changes (to the nutrition strategy that I hadn’t thought through) when I realised that I wouldn’t get any food or water until the first aid station at 11 miles (2 hours 20 minutes from memory).  My basic plan was to alternate between a sachet of Generation UCan every 2 hours with fruit and biscuits every other hour.  But I ended up going through to 11 miles with nothing and then finding that the first aid station didn’t have any fruit!  They may have had fruit earlier but I was still in about 255th place out of 265 starters at this stage and they had run out.

no cokeFortunately I love chocolate chip biscuits and every aid station had heaps of these.  I started on the UCan at about 3 ½ hours, and this and water was the only liquid I consumed during the whole race.  The first time that I have gone more than 12 hours in a race without coke.  In fact, possibly the first time in a very, very long time that I have gone more than 12 hours without coke fullstop!

Apart from getting lost at about 23 miles and losing about 8 minutes as I backtracked to find the correct turnoff, I felt good throughout the first half of the race. I listened to a couple podcasts and a bit of music, chatted to a few runners and reached the half way checkpoint (actually 51 miles) in Henley after 11 hours and 27 minutes just as it was starting to rain.

At half way I had moved up to 207th place.  35 runners were behind me and 23 had dropped out.

The night section

The Henley checkpoint was checkpoint number 6 and was the first time that I actually stopped.  At each of the previous checkpoints I had been in and out within a minute.  On arrival at each checkpoint the fantastic volunteers refilled my bottles whilst I put some biscuits into my pocket and grabbed whatever other food I thought I might like to eat during the next mile or so – often my cupped hands were fill with a combination of crisps, chocolate, biscuits, fruit, etc.  I pretty much ate the same thing at each of the 13 checkpoints.

But at Henley I stopped for a total of 15 minutes to change into some warmer night clothing (I had only been wearing a long sleeved running shirt up until now), re-apply 2Toms Anti-Blister powder to my feet (which were still in good condition) and also put my head torch on.

I absolutely loved the night section and powered through the course. It took me 5 ½ hours to cover the next 20 miles through to Checkpoint 9 at Streatley and during that time I passed 54 runners!  That is pretty much one every 6 minutes minutes!

In fact I passed some runners twice because after leaving checkpoint 12 I went the wrong way and ended up in a graveyard at 2am, losing about 12 minutes in total.

I would have got lost many more times throughout the race but whenever I was about to go the wrong way I would hear someone behind me call out.  And I did the same a couple times when I saw runners in front of me about to go the wrong way, or noticed a turnoff that the runner behind me might miss.  At one stage I was under a bridge and I asked the runner next to me which we he thought we should go.  Before he could answer a “voice from above” called out “up here”, and we headed up the stairs onto the bridge that crossed the river.  (I have since found out that the “voice from above” belonged to Graham Smedley – thanks Graham).

I arrived at Streatley (71 miles) just before 3am.  It wasn’t the end of the night section yet, but the results page doesn’t have split times again until 91 miles – by which time I will be telling you a different story about the race!

Flying – 71 to 83 miles

A selfie at 100km
A selfie at 100km

I had passed 100km in just under 14 ½ hours – my slowest ever 100km but based on how I felt I thought I should be able to complete the race in under 24 hours, and this thought was driving me through the night.

According to the results, out of all the runners in the race (182 finished) I was the 86th fastest over the segment between 58 and 71 miles and then, incredibly, my fast walking was faster than all but 46 runners between 71 and 91 miles.  I was on fire!

Until 83 miles that is.

The long slow slog to the finish – the last 17 miles

The sun had come up and I was still feeling good.  I caught up with my friend, Louise Ayling, at around 80 to 81 miles and suggested to her that we had a good chance of getting under 24 hours.  She was probably struggling a little at that stage and kindly gave me some credit for her incredible finishing burst when I saw her again at the finish.  Her last 17 miles were a  show of absolute mental willpower and determination that saw her beat me by 53 minutes over the last 17 miles (to save you the maths, that is 3 minutes per mile faster than I would manage).

Struggling
Struggling!

I don’t really know what happened.  It started to rain a little heavier and that is when I realised why the organisers insisted we carry a Goretex jacket – if I hadn’t of been able to put that on I suspect I may not have finished.  The terrain was not would I would call ‘friendly’ either.  In many places we were walking in long grass, and when we weren’t on grass, because of the rain we were walking on mud – and I was wearing road shoes with no grip.

I could make lots of excuses, but at the end of the day I just didn’t have the mental strength that I expect of myself.  Whilst I only lost one place between 91 miles and the finish, after being the 47th fastest between 71 and 91 miles I was only the 133rd fastest over the last 9 miles.

The finish

It is always a relief to finish a long race.  I had nothing left and whilst it had stopped raining and the sun actually came out, I found myself shivering even after a warm shower.  I put on all the spare clothing I had and sat in the sun watching the rest of the runners finish, but without really seeing anyone.

Mark and Christian who I had spoken to before the start both finished while I was watching (probably) but I didn’t see them.  And I didn’t see Alan (the Welshman) finish either.

I called Ruth and she offered to come and collect me rather than me having to catch the train home.  That was a real relief because I hadn’t really put any thought into the logistics of getting home after the race – other than to take a credit card with me.

My feet hurt like hell.  The last few hours on the uneven and muddy ground had caused them to blister badly and they were also swollen (like every other runners feet were).  Don’t worry. I was too ‘out of it’ to take any photos of the blisters – but if you check out some of the race reports I have listed at the bottom, you will find some nice photos.

I commented to a few people that I couldn’t see how I could possibly line up on the start line at the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles from Birmingham to London) in three weeks time.  I was using my blisters as an excuse in the hope that someone would agree with me and I would feel that I could politely withdraw my entry.  I can’t remember whether anyone did agree with me but I do remember Louise telling me in no uncertain terms that I was definitely not to withdraw from the race!

So, there you go.  I now have three weeks to rest and recover, and then I will be doing it all over again – plus an additional 45%.

One final comment

If you are looking for an adventure, then despite what I might have said in my ramblings above, I absolutely recommend that you enter the Thames Path 100 next year.  The volunteers and the organisers did a fantastic job, and it was worth every penny.

And if you want to buy a cheap Thames Path map – still in its original packaging….

I almost forgot…

I ended up finishing in 25 hours and 2 minutes. My slowest 100 miler to date – almost 3 hours slower than my PB.  It was a very tough course, but as the only person in the field of 265 starters that walked every single step, I think I can feel proud to have finished in 113th place out of 182 finishers.

My split times are below and you can click here to view full results on the race website.

My race split times

And being a bit of a ‘stato’ I have downloaded all the results into Excel and done some analysis that shows each runners time and relative placing for each separate split.  You can download my spreadsheet here:  TP100_results_analysis

My own analysis looks like this:

My race split analysis

Other than the last nine miles I was completing each segment faster and faster compared to the other competitors.  I have always said that when an ultra-runner walks due to to tiredness, they will walk slower than a race-walker, and I think the above stats confirm this.

 

Other peoples race reports

A number of other competitors in the race have also written interesting race reports so having read my report, why not click on the following links and read these:

 

A few more photos

The Thames Path - 100 miles from Richmond to Oxford
The Thames Path – 100 miles from Richmond to Oxford
Me - before the start
Me – before the start
One last wave to Ruth as we leave Richmond
One last wave to Ruth as we leave Richmond
Walking with purpose!  At Hampton Court - photo credit Nigel Rothwell
Walking with purpose! At Hampton Court – photo credit Nigel Rothwell
We saw plenty of very nice houses along the Thames
We saw plenty of very nice houses along the Thames
This one belongs to the Queen - Windsor Castle
This one belongs to the Queen – Windsor Castle
The race even went though the middle of a cemetery (Church yard).
The race even went though the middle of a cemetery (Church yard). At least this one was in daylight hours. The next cemetery I ended up in when lost was at 2am!

 

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