Guest Blog : Thames Path 100 miles – Richard Hill

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Run report for Thames Path 100 miler – May 4/5 2019 Richmond to Oxford

Forward

This is the first time I’ve posted a guest blog. My friend Richard Hill ran 100 miles last weekend. The length of the post my be a challenge in its self but I heartily recommend you make a cuppa and read it all. Very few of us will ever achieve 100 miles, I take my hat off to you Richard.

Before
Starting location is quite a distance from where I live on the South coast so I stayed in a Travelodge in Teddington on the Friday night and had a lovely dinner in the Ribs & Burgers restaurant on Teddington high street. Good nights sleep and a few train stops in the morning and arrived at the Old Town Hall for kit check and number collection etc. Got there quite early as I don’t like queues.
Didn’t really know anyone there, a couple of names on the entrants list I knew of but not that well so just hovered about for an hour or so people watching which I quite like. People have some funny routines before long runs.
Whilst I was stood watching the world go about its thing a very friendly chap asked me how I was feeling about the run. He wasn’t joining in himself but was planning to pop over to Hungry in a few days to run 100 miles a day for 6 days around a caravan park on a 1km loop. You don’t have these kinds of conversations every day! The excitement in his eyes was quite palpable.
It was a nice chat as we had something in common which I don’t often find in runners. We both love the heat and hot sunshine. I find the cold just saps me but the sunshine and hot weather is so energising. Not often you find runners with that same view. He was also the guy that started the run at 0930 with a bloody awful airhorn, locals must have loved that.
This was to be my second 100 miler having completed the Autumn 100 in October just gone. As I finished that event below 24hrs, which was my goal, I approached the TP100 in pretty much the same way and hoped for the same result. One thing that had been stuck in my head since the end of last Summer was something I heard on a Bad Boy Running podcast that had an interview with the Race Director of Centurion.
I can’t remember if there were any stats but essentially he said there is a high DNF rate among second time 100 mile attempts (having successfully completed the first). I found this quite alarming and it stayed with me since. The reasons for this DNF rate will be numerous but a big factor I presume is knowing you have a buckle already and when at a low ebb perhaps it’s that bit easier to bin it. I’m grateful for the Centurion RD to have shared that as I think it was significant in mentally preparing for TP100.
Just a quick note on why I chose to do this (everyone has their own different reasons). First off I think these events are called the wrong thing. Anything further than a marathon is an ultramarathon. The term ultra usually means beyond normal or extreme and I don’t think that’s the right description, it’s just another distance but not so uncommon anymore. Maybe its ultra for the people at the front that compete but then that’s same as those who can routinely run sub20 5k.
In fact for me, if I could routinely run sub20 5k I would perhaps consider it a greater achievement than hobbling through 100 miles. I can hobble 100 miles but I can’t routinely run sub 20 5k, in fact I haven’t even done it so go figure! As there are so many people enjoying longer than marathon distance events it isn’t beyond normal anymore and personally I’d be happier for the sport to drop the Ultra term, it just doesn’t fit in my view.
But anyway, reason why I entered is quite simply that 100 miles fascinates me. I have done lots of running in the past few years and I heard about Centurion on a social run one evening in the woods and that they had a qualifying system to get in. So I go look at their website and lots of things were different and a bit odd. For 100 there is no medal but a belt buckle (why is that?), they have a stats page that just didn’t make any sense. Some people have completed many 100 mile events and they are all logged on there.
Couldn’t really believe it at first but obviously there is no reason for it not to be true. Delve a little deeper and there are quite interesting chunks of info about various things like safety issues. One that caught my eye was the risk of muscle breakdown and release of myoglobin into the blood. Combine that with poor hydration and you can expect renal shutdown. Ok then! So I head off to the Western states website to find out about belt buckles and read endless Wikipedia articles about kidney issues among others.
Essentially the seed is planted and the fascination has just grown with time. So that’s the why, an event in which running is by no means the key factor. For a bloke that doesn’t enjoy the sensation of hard running but really enjoys long jogs in the countryside with likeminded folks and a reasonable touch of challenge it fits pretty well.
Having just read what I’ve written I realise it sounds a bit flippant. To complete 100 miles on foot non-stop in under 24hrs is a huge challenge that will inevitably end in failure without meticulous planning and preparation. But it is profoundly rewarding to successfully complete.
That wasn’t a quick note.
Forecast for the race was cold, northerly winds and possible showers with close to freezing overnight. So I stayed in the Old Town Hall to keep warm. When I eventually got outside for the race brief the sun was shining and it was lovely and warm. Typical.
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During
Plan for this event was the same as A100. Finish the race within cutoff and if it looks possible go for a sub24. So I started off with 6 minute km pace which for me was far too quick over this distance but I didn’t really want to go much slower as it feels unnecessarily slow. That was a mistake. I should have started much slower, maybe 6.30 or 6.45 km pace.
I had a bit of knee trouble at the start of the year which meant five weeks off running and I hurt my calf once I had got back into it in March by pushing too much too early. The calf had been a bit of an issue since and sure enough it cramped up after the first check point at Walton at about 20k.
I honestly thought I might have to bin it (not a whimsical thought it really did feel that bad). I was up against trees stretching it and trying to heel strike as I ran as I couldn’t run the way I normally do. I was feeling pretty low and despondent. 140k to go and I was already in a lot of discomfort.
A guy I chatted to before the start came alongside and really lifted my spirits and encouraged me to keep trying to find a way and he helped enormously. I didn’t know his name but I cross matched his bib number from the event photos to the results list and this was Patrick, it was his first 100 and he did really well to finish. Thanks Patrick, you likely won’t know it but you really helped me out.
Couple more check points further on and at 50k the muscles had softened a bit and I felt ok to go on. I was cursing the Altra shoes for having no heel though. I’m a huge fan of Altras, this is the second 100 miler with not even a hint of a blister and I don’t use tape or Vaseline, just socks and Altras. But they are flat with no heel and with a tight sore calf a shoe with a heel lift would have been wonderful.
Between here and Henley I don’t remember much. There were a few showers and I remember being amused by the runners fumbling frantically to sort out their rain jackets. The showers didn’t last much more than a few minutes at a time. There was one guy (in a green grand slam teeshirt) who didn’t seem to give a toss about the rain, just carried on regardless. He was also listening to the football on the radio (only just audible so not at all annoying). He looked like he was in a very happy place, good for him, he made me smile.
I got to Henley 51 miles at ja little over 10hrs. As this was the half way point I was feeling pretty good as a finish was still possible and a sub24 was achievable too. As the forecast was for chilly temperatures I changed my tops for new dry thicker ones so I wouldn’t get too cold.
I used the drop bag service for here and Streatley. Chose not to have a crew or pacer as that would add extra stress for me and I like to be as self-sufficient as possible.
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Having got settled for the second half and made good time against my plan I started to enjoy things a bit more, the Thames Path trail is quite beautiful with lots of interesting landmarks, Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, Lambs etc etc. It didn’t feel samey at all even though there is 100 miles of it. Probably because every childhood summer holiday I ever had was on a canal boat somewhere in England I felt quite at home on the towpath.
I had no headphones with me, I almost never listen to music when in a race (almost always when  out on normal runs to work or wherever) so there were plenty of nature sounds to enjoy along with a bit of banter from Joe public pointing out a few times that there are things called trains.
I’m not a running blogger although I did write a run report for my A100 finish last year (which was more as a keep sake for me personally) but my friend Roger who is a blogger suggested I do a blog for his blog (if that makes sense) so I’m trying to jot stuff down that might be helpful for anyone thinking of trying for a 100 or maybe of interest to anyone that might bother to read. Trouble is though I can’t really remember much from here so that’s a bit rubbish for a run report but I’ll try to dredge up what I can and sorry I didn’t bother to take any photos.
Between Henley and Reading it got dark at some point and according to strava my pace slowed up a bit. Two things that feel important to me to get a finish are only ever focussing on the next check point. I have a little laminated timesheet that tells me how far to the next one and that is all I think about in terms of distance. The second is pork pies. I have a completely unfounded theory that when we start running our stomachs shut down (flight or fight response perhaps) and that if at the start you simultaneously begin eating real food the stomach tends not to shutdown.
It seems to work for me but this might just be me, who knows. I received these two tips from the RD of the GU36 in Guernsey. So thanks again to him and by the way the GU36 is probably the most enjoyable running event I’ve completed so go check it out, it sold out in 9hrs last year so be quick.
Reading to Wallingford via Streatley is the 4th & 1st leg of the Autumn 100 course so was a bit familiar. I don’t bother to reccy a course as they are so well marked by the Centurion team, it’s too logistically difficult to do a reccy for me and its nice to discover stuff as you go. I’m not likely to ever enter a self-navigation event so I’m just not that fussed. This section was a bit of a haze, was mostly focused on the next stop and maintaining my hydration & nutrition plan.
On that I keep to a pretty simple plan that works for me. Breakfast was a pot of instant porridge, coffee, protein shake, and a banana. Once the race started I ate a large pork pie over the first 10-20 km (they get a bit warm and manky if you leave it any longer). The rest is a combined drink/eat plan based on Tailwind. One sachet in a 600ml bottle every 10k and did this throughout. Also scoffed sausage rolls, pork pie quarters, and fruit here and there at check points.
That’s it and it seems to work out fine for me. I was a bit worried at one point (before Henley I think) as I swallowed a bug (about the size of a ladybug) and it got stuck in my throat and caused me to cough so much I started wretching and thought I was going to puke up all my tailwind but thankfully it was just a bit of dry wretching that eventually dislodged the bug and all was good again. I use my own tailwind sachets rather than the free stuff at checkpoints because then I can control the strength and type.
Up till about 9pm I used naked flavour zero caffeine and then from 9pm till sunrise I alternated between naked zero-caffeine and green tea caffeinated. This seemed to work out well for me. Just as a bit of context, each sachet of green tea tailwind has about 70mg of caffeine and I was taking one about every other 70minutes or so, about 4 or 5 packs in total (total caffeine of 350mg). Go check out how much caffeine is in a medium costa, it’s about 280mg in one cup! I’m sure this is a news scandal in the making. There must be some serious costa addicts out there.
At Streatley there is another drop bag opportunity so I put on some loose fitting jogging bottoms as I could tell it was going to get chilly, also picked up the remainder of my tailwind, had a quick pee and I was on my way. I try quite hard to minimise time at check points. It’s wasted time that needn’t be lost. If I missed out on sub24 by 30mins and I had fannied about at the checkpoints I’d be pretty hacked off so I grab and go. Surprising how many folks linger around nibbling away.
Between Streatley & Sunrise (a little before Abingdon I think) I have only one recollection which was the check point that deviates from the towpath (possibly Clifton). Only reason I remember this one is the people who either don’t know how to focus the beam on their head torches or for some unfathomable reason prefer them on flood mode! Its horrible being blasted by a 1000 lumens right in your face. I always try to be careful with my beam as I know how bright these things are and also a small focussed beam on the ground is surely the best way to light your path. That really did irritate me so I remember that bit.
Actually two other things of note from this section, first I discovered that I can walk faster than some people jog. By this point I was reduced to a fast walk as I was in quite a lot of discomfort and had lost the will to try and even attempt to run. There is obviously an overlap between a fast walk and a slow jog. According to the results I picked off 23 places but as I walked most of it I wasn’t alone in my discomfort! The second thing of note, and a new experience to me, was some mild hallucinations. Nothing extreme just occasionally I found myself being startled by what I thought were deer or badgers only to find they were bushes or gates or tree stumps. This happened quite a bit but I got used to it.
Sunrise came and then into Abingdon which is a very pretty place. I’d like to go visit there one day for a run.
From here to the finish was very unpleasant. The relentless flat course had trashed my leg muscles and my mind. Thankfully it was only 10 miles or so to the finish. Had it not been a race I would have instantly stopped. I could sense damage in my body and my mind was really unsettled. I really don’t think there is anything in this world that could have lifted my spirit at this stage. The towpath was rough and I had truly had enough. I once considered entering the GUCR 145 miles along a canal towpath. That will not be a consideration any longer.
I run because I enjoy it. Between Abingdon & Oxford it was not fun and had the event been the TP90 I would have had a much nicer day out.
Didn’t even bother to stop at Lower Radley check point I just grumbled by and gave a cursery nod at the utterly wonderful volunteers. Those folk at Lower Radley check point (the last one) will probably never enter another running race after seeing the state of us all! It must have been like a zombie apocalypse..
Eventually I could see the finish line. As I entered the field the guys behind the line were shouting at me to run as I was close to getting under 22:30. To be honest I couldn’t give a toss but I did try to run and nearly fell over so I walked across the line in 22:29:39. 15mins or so slower than Autumn 100 but I am very grateful for that time nonetheless.
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After
The after bit is the bit that is very different from my experience at the Autumn 100. The weather towards the end of the A100 was heavy rain and so I think the weather caused me to slow to a walk rather than physical and mental exhaustion. Here however I was walking at the end because I was more drained and uncomfortable both mentally and physically than I can ever remember in the past 44yrs on this chunk of rock. At the end of A100 I had a coffee and a roll and went home without incident. According to the strava log I was back to a normal running routine the next Thursday.
TP100 was different.
After crossing the line someone gave me a teeshirt and a buckle and took my picture. The photographer then asked me to hold the buckle in the air. I just refused and walked off. I am so sorry for my rudeness (I think he might have chuckled a bit, hopefully). I sat down in the pavilion thing and drank a coffee and then called a taxi. When I got up to walk to the taxi I nearly fell over and the next thing I knew I was being supported by two medics into the back of an ambulance. That’s where I stayed for the next hour or so. My blood pressure had dropped through the floor and I couldn’t stand by myself anymore. Blood sugar was perfect though (thanks Tailwind). I have since sent a message of thanks to the medics. They were amazing to say the least.
Lesson learnt is not to try too hard. Next time I’ll take it a bit easier. Talking of next time. I sent a text to my wife that said: ‘I will not be running100s ever again. It’s too damaging. I’m done and I’m happy about it.’
Eventually, again, I called another taxi and struggled into it and headed for the station. Being unable to walk in any normal way the prospect of the journey home wasn’t good. Got a train to Southampton and then had to change platforms for one to Fareham. This was not easy.On the Fareham train I ended up sat next to the lady who had just won the Southampton marathon that afternoon so the conversation to Fareham was really nice and fun. A fitting end to the day.
Once home and showered I had virtually no appetite and felt rough on and off till Tuesday. Don’t know much about muscles but the ones that allow you to lift your leg when sat in a chair didn’t start to work without intense pain until Monday evening. Obviously had no sleep Saturday night and Sunday night I barely slept again, not tired and legs too sore. Monday night got a full sleep, thankfully.
It’s now Tuesday evening and still not much of an appetite. Apparently I burned 11,000 calories during this event so I guess I’m going to get hungry at some point soon.
So that’s that, still knackered but I have a buckle I will treasure for ever.
Finally I want to say something about Centurion. Put simply they just care and it really shows. It’s a slick and nurtured operation with attention to detail at a level I haven’t seen elsewhere. There is no bullshit about being the hardest or the most extreme blah blah blah, they just give objective straight honest information and they really care about every aspect and everyone. Impressive.
Kit stuff
Start to Henley:
Started with a buff over my ears (bit of earache of late) with a baseball cap to hold it in place and keep the sun out of my eyes.
Light compression top (to stop nipple rub), tech tee and fleece top. Used a lightweight windbreaker at times.
UD race vest to carry stuff, mandatory kit etc.
Sealskin gloves (not real seals I don’t think).
Naked belt to carry bottles and phone.
Kalenji lycra shorts to stop chaffing thighs (and plenty of body glide in the crevices…..).
Calf sleeves to try to help my knackered calf – nice and warm too!
Injinji socks – same pair throughout.
Dirty girl gaiters – I really don’t understand why more people don’t use these. Not one bit of grit got in my shoes the whole race.
Altra Olympus 3 shoes – kept them on the whole race. Never touch my shoes once on, just let the feet bed in. No blisters.
Henley to finish:
Changed headwear to a warm beanie
Used a LED Lenser NEO10R & a spare battery that I swapped out at some point. Magnificent light and comfortable. Also carried a SEO7R and spare battery as back up and a crappy petzl emergency light. This is more than mandatory kit but I feel it’s really important to guarantee a good light source if going overnight. To be stuck with a faulty main and only an emergency backup may well end the race and that would be gutting.
Changed into a merino wool baselayer with a thick kalenji cold weather top.
At Streatley I put on some cold weather kalenji jogging bottoms.
I also have a Naked running vest that I wanted to try out but I didn’t wear this as my wife says it looks like a ladies croptop!
Thanks very much Richard for your insight into a 100 mile race.
Fantastic !!