The Thames Path 100 is a point to point race from Richmond on the edge of London to Oxford. This was the 7th edition of the TP100 and my 4th. It is the first Centurion race of the year and has a different atmosphere at the start to any other race. It attracts a higher share of first timers than the other races by virtue of being the first in the year and also a perception that being a flat race makes it easier...
I arrived at about 8:30 which was the peak of the registration rush. I had my kit out ready for check so was given my casino chip from Nici while still in the queue so saved a few minutes. I collected my number and noticed all the emergency contact detail was pre-populated. I complemented Nici on the way the race organisation gets a bit better each year, She then pointed out that the number also has your t-shirt size written on it so the volunteers don't have to ask you when you cross the line. Nice touch.
I had an hour or so to kill so wandered around the steps by the river catching up with people. In 2017, I had chatted to Dan Masters in the queue for the toilets and he finished second that year. This year, I was chatting to John Melbourne who finished second this year...
I caught up with lots of people and suddenly it was time to go. There was a detailed briefing from James. I've done this race several times and am a Centurion veteran but it is always a really good idea to listen. He warned us of some other events and to only follow the red and white tape.
I started near the front to avoid the slight bottleneck under the first bridge but it wasn't really necessary. I enjoy being up front at the start to see the leaders streak away. I ended up chatting with Stephen Cousins - I think the footage he filmed has hit the cutting room floor. Before long, we can to a slight right bend. The marking show you should go to the left but the racing line is straight on.
I know from experience there is a swing gate which slows everyone down so took the path to the left. I looked back and no one had followed me. The path loops round and I looked to my right and half the field were stuck behind the gate. Very satisfying to pick up about 15 places through local knowledge.
I was jogging the early miles just under 9 minute miles with James Moore. I had planned to start the run-walk early and after 30 minutes, I noticed I was just behind the lovely Wendy Shaw and Debbie Martin Consani so figured I was a bit ahead of pace and due a walk. I took my first walking break and nobody else did. I was going to stick to my plan no matter what everyone else was going to do.
I soon came past Hampton Court Palace which is a lovely land mark and the first hour was out of the way. I noticed Run DMC was still behind me - it is not often you are ahead of running royalty - here is a screenshot from Strava to prove it actually happened. She would go onto finish in 17:40.
The next few miles are very familiar from the Phoenix events - I was half hoping Rik's tuck shop at the Weir Pub would be open for business. I was less pleased to the TFBB (the f**ing blue bridge) but it meant the aid station was just round the corner.
The Walton Bridge aid station was a hive of activity. I had my bottles filled by Janette and Pompey Paul. James Elson and Dan Lawson of the BURP podcast were also helping out. I was in and out fairly quickly and on the bridge before 2 hours were on the clock. Nicely ticking along under 10 minute miles.
I hit the first of a few low patches on the run. I'm about to go off on an introspective diversion so feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.
A lot of people ask what time you are after and if you had asked at the beginning of April, I would have said sub 21 and if it all goes well sub 20 but I had a last minute spanner in the works. I am entered for UTMB and needed a medical sign-off. I went for a Nuffield 360 checkup and initially everything seemed well. I was recorded as having high blood pressure but I think it was a combination of white coat syndrome or the measurement done with the earphones and a cuff. I purchased on Omron M40 to measure it at home and I've not go close to a high blood pressure reading since.
I got my sign off for the UTMB via a GP as Nuffield wouldn't sign the form. All good with a week to go before the TP100 and the taper was underway. I then got a phone call from Nuffield telling me I have Left Ventricular Hypertrophy (LVH) and recommended I see a cardiologist.
While ventricular hypertrophy occurs naturally as a reaction to aerobic exercise and strength training, it is most frequently referred to as a pathological reaction to cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure. It is one aspect of ventricular remodeling.
While LVH itself is not a disease, it is usually a marker for disease involving the heart. Disease processes that can cause LVH include any disease that increases the afterload that the heart has to contract against, and some primary diseases of the muscle of the heart.
Causes of increased afterload that can cause LVH include aortic stenosis, aortic insufficiency and hypertension. Primary disease of the muscle of the heart that cause LVH are known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathies, which can lead into heart failure.Long-standing mitral insufficiency also leads to LVH as a compensatory mechanism.
And advice from the Mayo Clinic:
- Monitor high blood pressure. Purchase a home blood pressure measuring device and check your blood pressure frequently. Schedule regular checkups with your doctor.
- Make time for physical activity. Regular physical activity helps to lower blood pressure and keep it at normal levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
- Eat a healthy diet. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat and salt, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Avoid alcoholic beverages or drink them in moderation.
- Quit smoking. Giving up smoking improves your overall health and prevents heart attacks.
When to see a doctor
Seek emergency care if:
You feel chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes
You have severe difficulty breathing
You have severe light headedness or lose consciousness--- ---- ----- ----- ---
So not ideal news just before attempting to run 100 miles. A couple of running friends of mine have had brushes with heart issues - one had a stroke and the other spent Christmas in hospital with pericarditis so I wasn't thrilled. After speaking with my wife and given my absence of nasty symptoms (plus the exercise ECG came back clear), I decided to race any way. I promised I wouldn't die (spoiler alert: I didn't die).
Anyway as you were....
Next aid station came and went and soon I was past the marathon distance. I have a vague recollection about a hailstorm which was not much fun in shorts. Weather otherwise was excellent.
I made it to the 30 mile aid station in 5:17. I was about 10 minutes behind my 2017 pace and was running nicely. I had buddied up with Alex Lee - a fellow do-badder and all was good. Julius and Allie were on this aid station so it was good to get an FYB!
The first 50 miles of the TP100 would make a great race. There was a detour near Marlow which knocked the momentum somewhat. I know it is stupid but running a bit of extra distance is a bit dispiriting. Cookham aid station was nice to catch up with Janette and Paul again. I had predicted I would be there in 7 hours and arrived in 6:53. I had hoped to be there a bit quicker but I wasn't unhappy. My best race I've ever raced was the SDW100 where I had started steadily and slower than previous years so was hoping for that again.
Before too long it was Henley. I got there in 9:45 which is the slowest first 50 of my 4 attempts. I had been quite slow between 38 and 51 and sub 21 was looking ambitious now. I was looking at somewhere nearer 24 hours now.
I made it to Reading before dark which was nice. As were approaching Reading, a Finnish guy was coming the other way who had seen a turnaround sign from the Saturn marathon and we sent him back towards the checkpoint. It was quite a while to the checkpoint so he must have added a mile onto his race... Remember James's warning at the start.
As the sun sets, the darkness begins... The section from 58 to 85 is pretty tough going. It kicks off with Reading town centre and then into the darkness. I made it to mile 60 before needing my headtorch. I was Sarah Sawyer briefly here as she speeded off into the distance. I could have done with Team Sawyer's pacing that night.
I ran nicely through the Whitchurch to Streatley section. I really enjoy this bit - especially as my legs were capable of running. I dropped Alex on this stretch but his soldier legs pulled me back on the flat. He spent quite a while in the 71 mile aid station but I'll let him off as he shared his can of cider. I think cheesy beans appeared at some point. I pushed on as I was getting a bit cold. Within a mile of the aid station, I regretted not picking up my waterproof trousers. It got really cold very quickly and Alex caught me up again.
Wallingford came and went and the meadow after the aid station is one of the coldest places on the route. It was covered in frost with banks of fog being reflected by the headlamps.
The section from Streatley to Clifton Hampden is enough to crush anyone's spirit. I was 144th on this stretch compared with my next worst stretch of Henley - Streatley were I was 108th. My overall position had dropped from 86th to 102nd (I exclude DNFs from my placings).
In 2017, I had got to Clifton Hampden in the dark but the sun had come up and I had started an hour earlier. This triggered another low point when it should have a been a real high. It was a beautiful sunrise and morning. We eventually made it to the aid station. Apparently it is a beautiful village.
Someone made me laugh here as they asked if I knew why it was called Clifton Hampden. Apparently it is because you are kept in suspense as to when it will arrive. Alex stopped to fix his feet and I sped on as I didn't want to get too cold. I need to get my act together as I wasn't sure of a sub 24 buckle. I saw Dan Barrett who was also in contention to getting a sub 24.
Never has Didcot ever looked so beautiful
My paced picked up nicely after sunrise and I pushed on to the finish, I really didn't want to finish outside 24 hours and starting to make inroads. Last stop was Abingdon with a hug from Lou. I was warming up nicely and getting my act together. Previously I had struggled to use my hands in the cold and found it difficult to even put away my cup at times...
Photo -Lou Fraser
My main goals were to do with time but me secondary goal was to finish strongly. The first time, I had horrendous blister, and the last two I had things go funny in my legs which meant I had to walk it in. This time I was finishing well. I pulled back 6 places between Clifton and Radley (70th on the stretch) and pushed on. I skipped the last aid station but made sure to thank the volunteers.
I have left it quite late to write my report so can't remember everyone but there were many stars out there.
I pushed on really well towards the finish. I was moving well and picking off zombie runners. My watch ticked over 100 miles at 22:40 and hoped to sneak under 23 hours. A lady then came running toward me saying "well done - only 1.8 miles to go - I've just measured it on my Suunto and it really accurate". I could have punched her in the face (obviously I didn't). No chance of sub 23 but I was going to see how close I could get.
I kept on pushing and overtook Rusty and Paul (thanks for putting my cup away in the night) and picked off one more as I came sprinting towards the finish (sorry about that). I crossed in 23:06. I got my press-ups in and post race photo with the lovely Stuart March.
I finished with a slightly hollow feeling. I had my WSER qualifying race, and my 10th Centurion 100 mile finish but the heart diagnosis thing was in the back of my mind. I might finally qualify for Western States but have retired from ultras...
Alex and Dan came through a bit later both safely under 24 hours and 225 of 297 made it to Oxford.
I caught up with David Harvey and Tim Lambert at the finish. I probably wasn't as talkative as normal as I wasn't quite in the mood to talk about my next race. However I did keep my promise not to die...
I managed to get an appointment with Professor Sanjay Sharma at Tooting Hospital. I had an ECG which showed signs of LVH so followed up with a full ultrasound. Everything is working perfectly and I have a slightly large heart because I exercise a lot. I'm all set for UTMB and to return to the Centurion family for my 11th 100 miler with them in 2020.... It might even be my 5th TP 100 despite swearing 4 times it would be my last.
Whilst mine was a false alarm, have a think about getting your heart checked. Most injuries you can get over but your heart is trickier one. You can get subsidised ECG checks with CRY if you are under 35.
Next stop UTMB...