This year hasn’t been particularly good in terms of running so far. The plan for the year had been quite simple. Do 8-9 weeks of consistent running training, gradually ramping up the weekly mileage. Starting from mid February that would get me in a decent shape to compete for a top 3 place in Harpagan (100k navigational challenge in Poland) in mid April. From there, considering Harpagan a long training run, three weeks later I would run the Centurion Thames Path 100 (TP100) to gain my Western States qualifier for 2020.
The reality, unfortunately, was different. In February, due to work and family commitments, I was unable to run regularly and consistently. The second week of March was my best running week (48 km), after which I got down with a cold and had to take some rest. This turned into a three-week-long stretch of feeling under the weather and not running. Just one week ahead of Harpagan my health deteriorated. Subsequently, I was diagnosed with bronchitis and got a course of antibiotics. Regretfully, I had to pull out from Harpagan. I hoped to devote some time for recovery to be in some sort of shape for TP100. I did a couple of runs in the week preceding TP100 and that was it.
Thames Path 100
TP100 is a 100-mile-long foot race from Richmond-on-Thames to Oxford, organised by Centurion Running. Although the course is quite flat (as one would expect from going along a river), it’s still 100 miles to cover on foot. And I was attempting it after an illness and having hardly run in the two months prior to the event. Actually, from 1st January until 3rd May I ran around 150 km, which is hardly anything.
Unlike my preparation for last year’s Autumn 100, where I had various targets and 100% confidence I would finish the race, this time I had just one target: finish the race within the overall cut-off of 28 hours. More worryingly, for the 2nd time ever (1st was the 2017 Viking Way escapade which I didn’t manage to finish) I didn’t have confidence I would finish the race! I knew I was severely under-prepared and there was a high risk of failure. Still, I worked out that if I keep a slow but steady pace, implement a walk-jog strategy, and nothing breaks in my body, I will finish the race.
With that unambitious yet positive mindset I toed the start line of Thames Path 100 on a sunny, but chilly morning of Saturday, 4th May 2019. Unlike most of my race reports, where I’d like to get into detail about each section of the race, analyse times and progress, I have tried here to be quite brief. This was not a brilliant performance so doesn’t deserve too much analysis :). Instead, it’s more of a story of alternating highs and lows.
Off we go
I positioned myself at the rear of the pack of 309 runners. I didn’t want to get myself caught in the adrenaline rush (and burn out 10 minutes into the race). For the first 12 miles I plodded ahead using a jog-walk strategy (9-minute jog, 1-minute walk) and going was pleasant. I felt quite peaceful being in the rear of the pack and not feeling the pressure of the race. I was relishing the surroundings and enjoying myself quite much, passing through picturesque locations such as Hampton Court.
Once past the Walton checkpoint (CP) at 12 miles, the lack of preparation caught up with me. My jog-walk strategy went to shit and I was mainly walking with infrequent stretches of jogging. I remember a moment when I looked at my GPS watch. It showed 26 km (16 miles) and I felt infinitely tired. The realisation of how much is still left was daunting. Anyhow, I plodded on.
Past the Wraysbury CP (mile 22) the weather also went to shit and there were a couple of showers, including a nasty hailstorm when passing through Datchet. I hit the Dorney CP (30.5 miles) in 6 hours and 34 minutes. Somehow refreshed, managed to increase my pace and steamed through Maidenhead at what felt like a fast pace.
I reached the Cookham CP (38 miles) in 8 hours 21 minutes. A few minutes after leaving the checkpoint I got soaked by a lashing, cold rain and my spirit sank again. Going through Bourne End, Marlow and Bisham felt slow. Only past Bisham, while approaching the Hurley CP (44 miles), my spirits rose. I calculated in my head that I can clear the halfway point under 12 hours and that gave me stamina to push hard (in relative terms to my performance so far). The picturesque bit from Hurley to Henley felt really good and I checked in at the CP (51 miles) in 11 hours and 27 minutes. The time was 20:57 and it was getting dark.
There I spent 15 minutes, my longest CP stay so far, by far. I used this time to change into a clean shirt and put on a down jacket in anticipation of the cold night. Having eaten some hot soup and refilled my bottles I set off into the night.
Through the cold night
I left the checkpoint in high spirits, feeling fresh and motivated. A thought has got into my head. The last few miles have been so great, that I stand a chance of smashing a sub-24 finish! This kept me running quite well and I whizzed through the Reading CP (58 miles) in no time. Going past Reading, Purley, Pangbourne I kept overtaking many runners. My strength waned just past the Whitchurch CP (67 miles) and I again slowed down. Tiredness and the need for sleep hit me hard and the few miles to the Streatley CP (71 miles) were slow.
After a short rest in Streatley and a cup of coffee I felt I’d be alright. But 5 minutes later I was not alright. Fighting off the desire to sleep was super tough. I couldn’t stomach any more caffeine gels or coffee beans. It felt as though I was done. The 6.5 miles to Wallingford CP (77.5 miles) were very hard. I had another coffee in Wallingford and quickly proceeded, as I had to keep moving. The time was around 4 am and it was freezing cold.
The 7.5 miles to the next CP were even worse. I had to resort to slapping myself to keep awake. Lowering my down jacket hood and taking my hat off at regular intervals also helped for a few minutes a a time: the cold was piercing. I felt pathetically weak and tired. Obviously, I knew that sub-24 is no longer within reach, but accepted it- finishing the race the one and only target.
The sun came up on my approach to the Clifton Hampden CP (85 miles). When I finally reached the CP, I informed the CP crew I need to lie down for a minutes. A very helpful volunteer led me to a room where I could lie down on a floor. I rested for 15-20 minutes and I think I drifted off a bit. This clearly helped- I was refreshed and could continue. I took a hot tea with me and proceeded.
I knew the last 15 miles would feel like a home stretch, as it’s close to where I live. I’ve run there many times over the years, so I knew this would be a mental boost. Indeed, going from Clifton Hampden was ok. I no longer had to fight the desire to sleep and even managed to do a few jogging stretches. I reached the Abingdon CP (91 miles) in good spirits and without stopping there continued towards Radley. This stretch felt again slower. Perhaps it was the fact that I was getting there but still had many miles to go!
I hit the Lower Radley CP (95 miles) in 23 hours and 47 minutes. While the next mile towards the Sandford Lock was slow and I had trouble pushing hard, once past Sandford, my energies rose. I knew the path very well and I knew I was getting close. The last 2.5 miles I mostly ran/jogged with short walking breaks. Having noticed two runners ahead of me just before the finish line I even managed to do a sprint finish to overtake them! I finished in 24 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds as the 138th competitor. Job done, mission accomplished. How happy I was, that what stood between the finish line and my home was just a 10-minute taxi ride!
The first three days after the race were tough- I could hardly walk due to extreme muscle soreness. But I completed the race and got my WSER qualifier so I am happy. Actually, I think I did better than I had expected. I was not far from a sub-24 finish, despite my lack of preparation. That means to me that I have the core fitness level built up over the years. That’s reassuring.
My pacing was decent, but for from brilliant. I am often a victim of setting off too quickly, but this time I started slowly and enjoyed my time in the back. Then, as others were slowing down, I was consistently advancing in the rankings. Here is a table showing my progression:
|Checkpoint||Distance (miles)||Race time at checkpoint|
|Walton on Thames||12||2:20||269|
Admittedly though, my progression in the rankings was not due to a brilliant pacing strategy. Analysis of the above numbers shows that I was gradually slowing down throughout the whole race. But hey, others were slowing down more so that’s where my progression came from.
On a final note, I have to praise Centurion Running for putting on this well-organised event. With frequent and well-stocked checkpoints, super helpful volunteers and easy to follow and well-marked flat route, it’s a great event for those who want to taste what a 100-miler is.
All the best,