If you are looking to read about a glorious 100 miler finish …I’ll save you some time, I broke in every way and had to pull out the race after 77.5 mile

Saturday morning saw me meet up with a bunch of Mas Loco that I’d previously shared trails and beers with in Urique Mexico for the Caballo Blanco Ultra Marathon last year. Four of us were aiming at completing the Thames Path 100 mile ultra. Nice start to the day was also meeting folks that I had only previously known from various online forums and social media.

Race briefing complete and dead on 10am we were off. The route starts in Richmond and follows the Thames Path out west to Oxford. All started well and I didn’t get caught up in anyone elses race just keeping the pace to the target which was to finish just under the 24 hour mark. First 11 miles done and arrived at the first aid station at Walton on Thames. The plan had to be to eat at every Aid station regardless of whether or not I felt like it – great spread of real food matched with the usual gels etc … filled my camelback and headed back out onto the course. By some point shortly after the aid station at 22 miles my guts started to complain. Found a toilet right beside the path and had a wee sense of humour failure when discovering it needed 20p to access. Tight clench and onwards …was elated to find a “Slug & Lettuce” pub close by and smiled at the bar staff as I made a rapid movement towards the toilets !

Feeling significantly better, I met pal Susie on the approach to the third aid station at around 31 miles. On the approach, heard an excited shout indicating that new pals Rhalou and Lamb were there with supplies for both Susie and myself – brandy for Susie and whisky for me. Added bonus, salty chips to share. We stopped laughed, smiled, ate and drank together. Not sure what folks made of it but didn’t care …a very special moment indeed. Hugs and a wee smooch on the cheek and it was back onto the course. With morale restored, Susie and I chatted continually to the next aid station at 38 miles where I decided that we were far enough into the race to warrant a longer stop to refuel and check things over. Susie disappeared into the distance as I considered the situation. The reality of exactly how long 100 miles began to sink in. Nice surprise was getting a wee shout from my pal Wayne’s family who were out to support his efforts – again, morale lifted. I dropped my pal Peter Smith who had planned on pacing me from the 58 mile aid station a text to let him know where I was and continued.

 

Short 6 mile hop and I was at Marlow and the 44 mile aid station. By now, I had settled into a planned 4 minute run / 1 minute walk repeat cycle. The reason for this was to simply change the cadence and muscle use. The Thames Path is almost entirely flat and you don’t get the breaks usually provided by hills so for me, the planned walks were part of the overall strategy.

Approaching the Henley Aid Station at 51 miles the last of the daylight was fading. I was slightly behind the 24 schedule and it was clear that things weren’t going to improve pace wise. The target was revised to simply completing in under the 28 hour cut off. At that point, I had about three hours up my sleeve and not at all concerned. Approaching the aid station I made plans to get some hot food and prepare for the night with an adjustment of layers and get my headtorch on. Peter sensing a little extra support had come back to Henley to join me 7 miles early …was over the moon to see him. Got myself sorted and back out again. Continuing along the path, I was loving my new Petzl Nao – the variable focus switched from where my feet were to a long distance beam to pick up course markings easily. We were still managing to keep a steady four miles an hour and the main risk was me getting too comfy in the aid stations.

My previously “nippy” right foot (had gotten it wet by carelessly stepping in a puddle) was now sore. I should have inspected it and attempted some kind of repair but stupidly decided it wasn’t too bad and kept the laces on. Leaving the 58 mile aid station at Reading I struggled initially and had to walk a bit before a return to run / walk – the initial 4/1 ration was quickly becoming a 3/2 which whilst impacting on pace was about all I could manage. Think we might have managed a bit more running but not by much. Peter did an awesome job keeping things all positive but I was starting to hurt more than I would have liked.

We had a nine mile section to the next control at the 71 mile mark and Streatley. Big lift for morale was meeting pal Sean and Josue who was pacing him coming out the aid station. Inside a reality check kicked in with one of the runners being treated for hypothermia (it had gotten down to around 3 degrees). Peter did his best to make the stay short since we were losing more time but I had to eat and get some hot drink into me. Same as the previous aid station, leaving was at walking pace …and a slow walking pace at that. Maybe after around 15 minutes, a shuffle of sorts occurred but by 74 miles, I was gubbed and simply couldn’t run. My right foot was no sore to the point of limping (I didn’t realise …Peter told me later) and the battery went on my headtorch. The sinking feeling started and I realised I had kept it on full power without actually considering the battery time – an obvious mistake now but now was too late. I had a “technically compliant” spare Petzl elite but Peter kindly shared his spare LED Lenser hand torch which was much better.

Approaching Wallginford and the 77.5 mile aid station I told Peter was must have been starting him in the face …I couldn’t go on. Entering the aid station, I initially didn’t pull out but moments later ..withdrew …I was broken in every sense of the word. Felt horrific for everyone who had supported me with messages and especially guilty for Peter who had given up a lot to keep me going. Marshalls asked if I was sure and even typing this …totally sure it was the right decision.

Lots went well in terms of pace, walk break strategy, nutrition, hydration, clothing and the head torch opps was just that and recoverable. Lack of attention to my foot was stupid. The root cause of my failure to complete became clear over the remainder of the day and journey north – I hadn’t trained to run a 100 miler. I’ve gotten away with a very general approach with a mixed bag with nothing specific. Just my own thoughts but reckon to complete, I would have had to be comfortable up until around the 60 mile point – sometimes, holding on isn’t an option. In hindsight, it hard to be completely disappointed since at 77.5 miles, it is the furthest I have travelled in one push by foot so can raise a wry smile of sorts.

I will have another shot at a 100 …not this year since I’ll be making the training specific this time !

Hopefully, I’ve thanked everyone who supported in many ways privately but it’s worth repeating here …a very humble thank you.

You may be curious as to the choice of event being in the deep south …for anyone who doesn’t know the story  …ask me in front of a bothy fire, in the highlands, with whisky. All I’ll say if I now check all major decisions with Manny and Brenda to avoid similar situations !

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