Thames Path 100

Since last September when I ran 91 miles in the 100 Miles of Mors (and was stopped as the race was abandoned in a storm) I had been thinking about ticking a trail100 off my list and was lucky enough to get a waitlist entry for the Centurion Running TP100; Richmond to Oxford down the Thames, lovely. And coming two years after my first Ultra it was also James Adams’ birthday weekend so a lot of the familiar ultra-crowd had signed up.  I’ve run various stretches of the Thames Path before so Friday afternoon helped mark out the course from Reading to Streatly; though 24 hours later running through there I was pretty devastated to see much of my taping and glow sticks had been taken down! I hadn’t run a Centurion running event before but had heard good things from friends and race director James Elson has a reputation for putting on a great race.

Getting to Richmond Town Hall Saturday morning it was lovely to see so many familiar faces, and meet a few new ones. Ultra-running really has grown recently and the community are incredibly welcoming. As well as old-hands there were quite a few people attempting their first 100 – a good mix looking forward to the mainly flat route. We set off at 10am, just after those who really should know better ran the Richmond Park 5k as a warm up!

The weather was chilly and cloudy and as we set off there was a sprinkling of rain, it looked like it would be on and off all day but for most of the afternoon it was dry and warmed up a little. The forecast threatened heavy rain, even snow for Sunday afternoon in Oxford so there was not just the incentive of a buckle for a sub-24hr finish!

I set off steadily and chatted to a few people before getting into a decent pace with a chap called Paul.  The organisers had agreed to set up a timing point at 100km for those wanting to try for a sub-10:30 100km, which, amongst other things, is a qualifying time for the Spartathlon. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to run 250km on Greek roads but I thought I’d give it a crack anyway; and I don’t like night running (can someone please remind me of this before I do it again!) so getting the lions share of the miles out of the way early on would make up for a slow jog/walk later. Paul was also trying for the time so good for pacing with. It also turned out we knew the same people so easy chatter about various races like the ONER over the Jurassic coast kept us entertained.

Mile 39 - eating a peanut butter sandwich after leaving a well-stocked aid station, essential practice for the US! Photo: Ian Berry

As I passed James just before the first checkpoint he said he might regret the 5k at 97 miles, I expected to see him again later when I lost the pace. All was going well, most of the route looked familiar and it was nice to run through little villages remembering events like the Green Belt Relay which pick up a bit of the Thames Path at Cookham. Then we hit a section I was les familiar with, in fact I didn’t recognise Dorney Lake until I’d done one lap of it! Then getting back to a familiar spot… where I’d started… I met a group of about 10 guys all similarly lost and looking for the Thames Path. I left a quick voicemail on the organisers phone to say a sign seemed to be missing and that we were going to climb a fence – not sure why but thought best to tell him in case he got a call from the police! So off we went through the undergrowth and over a barbed wire fence at xx miles, knowing we were on the TP but not where it would lead. About a mile on and we scooted round another fence with a sign telling us the path was closed owing to works for the olympics and then were rejoined by fellow runners who’d clearly found the shorter, planned route!

I’d lost Paul by then and decided that 10:30 was going to be tricky for me (especially with the 20 mins wasted at Dorney) and rather than push it I’d just try to keep up my pace and see; thinking I’d miss it by about 30 mins – as I then did! Good to know that I should make the qualification if I wasn’t running another 38 miles after the 100km!

I got to Henley (51 miles) in about 8:40 (need to wait for race website to be back on-line to check times!) and felt good for getting near 20 hours. Finding my head torch, batteries and some warmer clothes I set off into the night section. I’d been running near a fireman called Lee for a while and he was into unknown territory having run 53 miles before; we walked and jogged through the night, his fast walk meaning I had to jog to keep up, it was good to share the route-finding and get through the low points with someone. I hate running through the night. One of the main reasons I enjoy trail running is looking at the scenary etc and in the dark (and usually accompanied by rain) it’s just miserable. Also it seems a sure-fire way to injure yourself, on uneven trail in the dark, and I can fall over in broad day light without much trouble! I remember when Ian Sharman set his Rocky Racoon record of 12:43 thinking how great it would be to be that quick if only so as to not run through the night! As we’d walked quite a bit and Lee said he just wanted to finish in under 24 hours, then just finish, I began to get worried as I just couldn’t get going so just after 87 miles I let him go on, unable to keep up with his fast walking without feeling stressed.

Then the sun started coming up, and my mood lifted. I also knew I’d see Neil from Xnrg events at 91 mile aid station and then Claire and Drew at 95 miles so started to get back into a jog, well a shuffle. Seeing Neil I moaned at him and told him I just wanted to do multi-day events then seeing Claire I asked her to remind me how much I hate night running; she said how lovely it was to see me… So I left with 5 miles to go and a spring in my step, also conscious I thought James shoud be appearing any minute and possibly the 4th woman – a sprint finish wasn’t in my plan. So I stuck in a couple of 9 minute miles, felt like I was flying and overtook 6 guys in the last 4 miles; the 7th was Lee who’d made great time and also came in under 22 hours.

Seeing the finish tent I knew I’d be getting my sub-24 hour buckle which was presented by James Elson, who was pleased to have the 3rd woman in – Mimi Anderson finished in 18:50, Sandra Bowers in 19:54 and I was 21:3x. Looking forward to the race website recovering to check out how others got on and I heard the race was abandoned about 13:00 as snow came down, about 3 hours before cut-off which was a shame but necessary. So another good training weekend in the Hokas, no injuries and feet (and me?) getting tougher. Roll on the US trip… when there will be peanut butter sandwiches like this weekend but no night running, yay!

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