Friday, 5 May 2017

Centurion Thames Path 100 2017 - Stella, yarn bombs and JD fudge

So I was back in Richmond for my third Thames Path 100. The first was the wet one, the second was the frosty one. Hopefully this would be the surprisingly mild uneventful one.

I made my way through the usual kit check and quick stop at the excellent Centurion shop to pick up a few bits and bobs. I caught up with a few familiar faces and met a few new ones. Ultra running's power couple - the Sawyers to start with.Sarah would have a "dreadful" race and finish as second lady. I had a quick chat with Dan Park who started his Grand slam journey with a controlled sub 26 hour finish. I finally met David Tarbuck who I have spent lots of time on Facebook with but would be finishing his the Thames Path at the second time of asking after succumbing to the cold last year at Whitchurch. I had an amusing chat in the queue for the portaloos with someone who would turn out to be Dan Masters. He had got stuck into a microwave Tesco's curry the night before and was still settling his stomach...

I had a quick chat with the lovely resident photographer Stuart March about his step into full time photography ( offering commercial, lifestyle, wedding and of course sports).

James Elson did his usual excellent briefing - although he has now upped the criteria for putting your hand in the air at those with 10 or more 100 mile finishes rather than the previous 5. I am only on 6 so far... It is quite rightly a serious briefing with a bit of humour and he made a point that every finisher is important whether they are first or last which really sums up the event.
Soon enough it was time to get started. James was on megaphone duties and Nici very excited to have the air horn. Now James - if you are reading this - please could you start the next one like this...

How the TP100 start is in my head (Gladiator - On Nici's signal unleash hell)

I started fairly near the front to avoid the dash for the bridge. I sensibly took the route round the kissing gate and made up about 5 places on the two people in front of me who went straight on. Shortly after this Ken F went past me. It is one of my ambitions to beat him but it wouldn't happen today.

 I went out reasonably steady and bumped into Chris who is a friend and physio of my running buddy after a couple of miles.. He finished in just over 20 hours last year and we shared the first 25 miles or so. The first few miles were uneventful with some walking breaks and we made it to the first checkpoint. I bumped into a fellow fetchie who was volunteering at CP1 ( ) and my carefully planned nutrition strategy was amended when I spotted a lovely cheese scone. I tried to avoid caffeine so for the first time in about 60 checkpoints, I didn't grab a cup of coke. I saw Jim Vince - an exclusive member of the 600ers who was marshaling one of the crossings I think.

I have few memories of the first 26 miles and before long I was up to the marathon point in 4:16. This was pretty lively and was a person best for running a marathon while eating a cheese scone. In absolute terms it was pretty quick too and whilst good to have some fast miles under the belt, it also meant I had gone out a bit quick. I had planned to get to Dorney in 5:15 and got there in 5:03 so was very pleased and had a celebratory Pepsi (black gold). 

I had a zip lock plastic bag which I was using to break each leg in two with a virtual aid-station at halfway as I dug around in my bag for a snack. I can highly recommend this and it avoids the cycle of slow depletion of energy followed by gorging and nausea at the aid stations.

I made it to Cookham to be greeted firstly by "Steph the legs" who even has it on her top now. I was quite surprised to see Mark Denby in race kit topping up water bottles. He absolutely smashed the A100 but had to pull up with an injury on the TP100, He had stuck around to help out which is a really nice touch and I wish him a speedy recovery.

I ran for a bit with Ryan who is the youngest person ever to run 100 marathons. A very impressive achievement and must be one of the youngest Centurions too due to the 21 year age restriction. At 21 I was mainly drinking beer and playing computer games.

I struggled a bit with rhythm between 38-51 as I was conscious I was going out a bit quick and need to get some walking breaks in. I'm not very good at running slowly so either run at 10 minute miles or power walk at 14-15 minute miles.  I traded places many times with a guy with a pink head scarf thing - at one point he did say "not you again you bastard" as I went past for the 5th time which I took to be good natured...

The is a bit where you run through someone's front garden. It is someone who has a Cricket pitch in their front garden though...

It was very warm and I had been sweating quite a lot. My skin was disgusting and covered in salt. I took a toilet break just to check everything was ok hydration wise. I had made it to 45 miles which was about 6 miles short of my pee bee but I didn't want to take any chances today in case something was up so checked everything was ok. My bladder is one of strengths as a runner as it saves me a lot of time in ultras :)

Henley was the usual smooth operation. I didn't have a cup of tea for a change and had some coke. Now the Centurion running shop do some fantastic kit ( ) including my Injinji socks and bodyglide but the hydra cup wasn't great (although fine for a 50 miler). It is a bit like trying to have a drink from a condom which is fine for coke but not so great for hot tea. As it turns out this was a very good thing as it meant I didn't lose much time in aid stations in the second half as I wasn't faffing around waiting for tea and then drinking tea. Also good for the environment so can't complain too much.

As I came out of Henley I was a guy in quite a bit of trouble. He was walking badly and not in a great way. I checked up on him and he was fine - just getting his legs back after the break. I was about 50 yards ahead but he was still only a bit behind. He was still close at Shiplake so I slowed a bit and he caught up. He was soon back on form and we shared the miles to Reading. We were battling with Red Jacket Walking man and Yellow Jacket (Calvin) with places swapping a lot.

Amazingly we made it to Reading before head torches were needed which was a massive bonus. The previous two years it was dark well before Reading so I knew I was having a good day. However the tough part of the race (at least for me) it the next 27 miles to get through to Clifton Hampden was still to come. I had a good refuel thanks to Joe Delaney and Paul Ali amongst others.before setting sail for Whitchurch. I managed to drink a coffee out of the cup and was on my way for the start of the fields...

I was well ahead of schedule getting here in less than 11 hours. My benchmark is doubling your Reading time to be your finish time so I potentially had a sub 22 in me and that would be a dream finish. But then you sit back and think there is a whole night of pain and 11 hours of graft to get there. Probably best not to dwell on these things...

Just before the Tilehurst Railway station stair mountain, an American guy came past at a rate of knots. I asked where he was from and he said he was from Utah. I asked if he was Byron but he said no - Bryon. It was definitely Byron Powell as I have his book (relentless forward progress) and read why would he call himself Bryon? Turns out after many years, I have been reading his name incorrectly. I did wonder what he had been up to as he is very quick runner as was travelling quickly.

There are seemingly dozens of gates between Reading and Whitchurch and we briefly had a gate bitch for part of this. "Gate bitch" was a pacer originally from Oregon and we had a bit of a chat before he worked out his runner was much faster than us and he disappeared up the trail to catch him up and we were left opening gates ourselves. Before long the walk across the Pangbourne meadow and crew car park was upon us. The aid station is just across the river...

I have crossed the Whitchurch Bridge 6 times in Centurion events and several other times. It is a toll bridge with nothing special about it. Except tonight where a "yarn bomb" had erupted and the left hand side of it was an amazing crochet display which ran the entire length of the bridge. It was fabulous to look at all the things that had been made and escape from the running. I did wonder if I was dreaming or hallucinating. Bryon's photo is here proving I wasn't:
and the BBC South Today video

I love the Whitchurch to Goring roller coaster but ITB had tightened up so I was struggling to run. I could walk fairly quickly but trying to run the downhills which is normally my strength was painful. This was still quite enjoyable with alpine style switchbacks and Mount Whitchurch was safely negotiated.

Goring was drop bags and if I remember rightly some lovely potato wedges. They hit the spot perfectly. My drop bags were packed with warm clothes for an alpine climb but I didn't even have my waterproof on as the weather was very mild. However in 2016 it had been sub zero in places.

The usual trudge to Wallingford was done fairly slowly but safely. I had fallen in a muddy puddle during 2016 so it was great to get here safely. Bryon was sat outside with a pack of parma ham and looking a bit out of things as we left the aid station. He had flown past us by Reading but had stalled here for a bit.

We were making it across the weir which I'm not comfortable with at the best of times let alone at 2am when Bryon catches us up with a bottle of Stella Artois in hand. He finished what was left, put the bottle in the bin and then took off at what seemed to us like 8 minute miles. Certainly a different pacing and nutrition strategy to me.

The usual mind numbing drag to Clifton Hamden was under way. This section is 7.5 miles long but it feels like about 13. The sun rose the first time I left this aid station in 2015 and was well in the sky in 2016 but it was still quite dark this time. I had a rare cup of tea which I nearly scalded myself with. It is worth using this as a stop to regroup for the final push but be careful not to get too comfortable. The race should be almost in the bag by now but 15 miles is still over a half marathon to go. This is where the mental side of ultras come into play. It was mostly done but I would still need to push myself hard for potentially another 4 hours.

Marco and I had shared many stories along the way and one of the marshalls you go past twice must have overheard one of them as he asked about Marco's lawn mowing skills. The story of Marco trying to mow the lawn the day after the TP100 2016 was quite funny. It took him over an hour to mow a small patch of grass while his girlfriend laughed and did the rest of the garden.

If you ran or paced the NDW100 last year, the chances are Marco used his barista skills to make you a cup of tea or coffee. He was working at the Lenham 90 miles checkpoint and thinks he made roughly 350 cups of tea and coffee. The Lenham aid station is a grassy layby just off a country road with no creature comforts but Marco did a massive shift getting some very broken runners back on track. I remember thinking and hopefully telling the aid station people that it was the most important aid station of the NDW and it was great to be able to tell Marco in person. 

I dragged Marco along for some of the sections and he pulled me along too - it was a great partnership which helped us both get to the end. Marco also did a shift at the A100 under an umbrella pointing people into the village hall. He would have been the last volunteer I saw before I officially became a grandslammer. Marco has signed up to the races to be a grandslammer but was talking about dropping out and saying  there was no way he would be able to run the SDW100 in just 6 weeks time. However I last saw Marco asking for Winchester hotel recommendations and pacing charts which would suggest he had changed his mind.

The stretch to Abingdon was endless fields but at least had a lovely sunrise to go with them. We met up with Michael who seemed familiar. It turned out we had shared a few miles on the 2015 Vanguard Way marathon - it was a marathon for me but Michael had turned in the an ultra by adding a few bonus miles.

I was going to say before long but it was well after long, we arrived at Abingdon. There were some very cute goslings on the path with fortunately not particulary protective parents. I wouldn't have fancied a fight with a goose at this point. There were also swans which were well off the path thank goodness.

The highlight of the Abingdon aid station was the legendry JD fudge. Having seen the impact of alcohol on Bryon, I was well up for some JD at 6.30am. It didn't disappoint and Louise hadn't skimped on the alcohol. I had 2 hours 20 to get the last 9 miles done for a new PB so I needed to keep pushing myself. I had done it in 2hr 15 and 2hr 18 the last two years so this was definitely a possibility.

We bumpbed in to Phil (Bradburn)and his pacer shortly after Abingdon. Phil was one of the many and varied names his pacer was using as "encouragement" during the final few miles. There are many different styles of pacer and Phil's pacer provided us with some amusement.

As always, I get a lift after sunrise and the pace picked up a bit. Marco was struggling a bit and we went parted shortly after the final aid station. I figured he would get home safely under 24 hours from here. The last few miles dragged a bit (you may be sensing a theme) but before long the famous left turn was here. I had managed to painfully jog some of the last few miles and came across the line for a 7th 100 miles finish in 22:27:02 for a 13 minute PB and my fastest TP100 by 36 minutes. I was very pleased having been slower in 2016 than I was in 2015.

I had a quick chat with Dan Masters who had finished second in 15:30. Maybe my race strategy next year will involve microwave curry and Stella Artois. I caught up with a few people including the Queen of the Trig Point Sharon and the lovely Louise.

About 15 minutes later, Marco crossed the line. Marco was taking no risks about missing on a famous Nici hug by doing his best impression of a sack of potatoes and collapsing on the finish line. It looked quite serious as everyone ran into look after him but he came round quite quickly and was ok.

I made my way home via a taxi, 3 trains and a tube. I was hoping to get the Reading to Clapham junction via Richmond train but this wasn't running due to engineering work, I had to stand and was looking at the sign saying "please give up your seat to those less mobile". There can't have been many who were less mobile but I was to tired to talk. I then had the bonus of a trip on the circle line (at least I had a seat) before one last train and the 15 minute trudge (normally a 5 minute stroll) home from the station.

However I had made it home safely with another finish in the bag. I was delighted with this for many reasons. Finishing any 100 is special and a PB was great. It was under the old Sparta qualification time of 22:30 which might seem like a stupid thing to be proud of but it is cool to know my performance would have been good enough to get to the start line up until 2015. I'm up to 4 Western States tickets too and I'm keeping the UTMB points ticking over for 2019 if I don't get in this year.

I also had a Thames Path 100 which I wouldn't describe as horrific. The 2015 has a monsoon with horrific blisters and the 2016 was freezing and involved lying down in a muddy puddle. The 2017 was dry and warm. It might even persuade me to come back again...

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