I entered the Thames Path 100 last Summer with one eye on a sub-24 time. Being fit enough for that in late March was always a bit over-ambitious. Spending the Autumn plodding through peat-bogs with a big rucksack on my back preparing for the Spine Challenger rendered it impossible, and I’d downgraded my aspirations to ‘GUCR training run’.
Race week arrive and I got a cold and it rained lots (and the race was rerouted to an out and back) and snow was forecast. I didn’t run at all all week and was wondering whether it was worth going down to London. But my cold faded and, since the train down and hotel were already booked, I decided I might as well give it a shot.
Lying in bed on Friday night with the rain lashing against the window, and heavy snow forecast for Saturday I thought
there was no way the race would go ahead. But come Saturday morning it wasn’t too bad, a bit chilly, and constant drizzly rain/sleet, but much better than I was expecting. I stuck to my planned ‘run 25, walk and eat 5’ plan from the outset. Despite setting out slightly too fast, at sub 11 minute miles, I was close to the back of the field, with only a handful of people behind me at the first checkpoint.
For the first 20 or so miles the mud wasn’t too bad, but my legs were stiff and achy (probably due to the cold induced week off). Just before Windsor there was the first stretch of really gloopy mud, but at this point it was still runnable, and almost fun. Just after the Windsor checkpoint there was a choice between running through a huge puddle of indeterminate depth or climbing along a fence. I followed the blokes in front and inched along the fence, trying to keep my feet as dry as possible.
Out to Cookham and back I stuck to my run-walk-eat plan, cycling through Mule bars, gels, hula-hoops and pizza, averaging 150 calories an hour, and steadily overtaking people. Increasingly I had to walk through patches of mud but, for now at least, I was subtracting it from the walk breaks. A blister became apparent on the ball of one of my feet. A bit worrying this early on. This was the first time my feet had blistered since discovering Hydropel and Drymax socks, and in the past with wet feet one blister quickly become completely trashed feet. Somewhere along the way a marshal asked me how I was finding the conditions and was surprised by my ‘not that bad, could do with less mud, but I was expecting far worse’ response. I refrained from reciting my hard-core Northerner list of ‘races I’ve done with far worse weather than this’: 2008 Lakeland 50 and Round Rotherham 50, 2010 Hardmoors 55, 2012 Fellsman, 2013 Race the whippet (in a flat cap).
I made it back to Windsor (officially 48 miles, but 50 according to the GPS) in just under 11 hours. A bit slower than I’d have liked, but not surprising given the mud. I changed socks, drained the blister and put on a warmer baselayer. Leaving the checkpoint I was suddenly ravenously hungry, so I quickly ate several large slices of pizza. Mistake number one. At the next checkpoint I decided to have a coffee, thinking that it’d help me keep warm through the night. Mistake number two. Black instant coffee is pretty rank at the best of the times, poured into a stomach that was struggling to digest pizza it made me feel very sick. I like the independence of running without a support crew, but I’d love to have an ‘espresso wizard’ to provide me with coffee on demand.
Setting off again I kept retching and thought the pizza and coffee were going to end up in a bush. Eventually, aided by some crisps from a ‘car boot checkpoint’, it settled and I kept the run walk strategy going through to Walham at ~65 miles.
At this point a ~25.5 hour finish wasn’t out of the question, but the wheels were about to wobble. I’ve never had problems running through the night before, but I was getting decidedly sleepy and (due to the lack of past problems) didn’t have any caffeine gels or tablets on me. The run-walk schedule became ‘try and run as much as I can’ and, generating less body heat, another layer was needed.
I had some pasta and sauce at Windsor at ~82 miles, but my appetite had gone astray somewhere. Having eaten well for most of the race this didn’t seem to affect me too much though. By now it was clear that my finish time was going to be outside 26 hours whatever I did, and I made a deliberate decision not to push hard. 26 or 27 hours really didn’t make much difference in the grander scheme of things. The out and back to Cookham had got really churned up (with ~100 runners going back and forth on it) so I was walking lots. The original blister gave me no more problems (I’m guessing it was due to grit or something in my shoe), however another larger one appeared on my other foot and needed draining. Just after 100 miles passed on my GPS I felt really cold, as if the temperature had dropped lots, although I suspect it was actually just me not moving fast enough. I put on a 3rd layer plus warmer hat and gloves. And from somewhere summonsed the energy to run most of the remaining 4 miles (partly motivated by the urge to keep 2 blokes who’d short cut a dog-leg in the route behind me).
It didn’t occur to me that with the finish around the corner I didn’t need to worry about my feet getting wet anymore. So, like a gert big numpty, I inched along the fence a final time, rather than splashing through the big puddle. I thought I was going to be just outside 27 hours, but in fact finished in 26.58 in 58th place out of 90 finishers, having moved up 99 places since checkpoint one (165 people started).
27 hours is a lot slower than I envisaged when I entered, but given the mud, my cold and the extra miles I’m not too disappointed (and 12 months ago I’d have been ecstatic with that time).