Saturday 10 February 2024

100 tips for the Thames Path 100

I finished the Thames Path 100 last May for the 7th time. Only 4 people have finished it more times than I have (Tremayne Cowdry, Ed Catmur, Ken Fancett, and Markus Flick). I’ve also been fortunate to finish all 7 of my attempts in under 24 hours. There isn’t a 700 miles / One week buckle but I do have the 500 one with the 1,000 mile one in my sights for the future

I’ve written a race report for five of them plus a related blog for the first one. I haven’t got round to writing a blog for the 7th so figured I would write a listicle on it with my hints and tips. Takes these on your own merits and they are just my opinion.

 There will always be the guy who has never run it who knows better than I do… and the person who had a hot year who questions the need for warm clothes at night

So let’s go

1) Almost everyone starts too quickly. Don’t be put off by the nob heads who fly off at parkrun pace 

Photo of me leading the 2023 edition

2) If you see someone in a Bad Boy Running vest, shout “Fuck You Buddy” at them (or FYB if you aren’t in appropriate surroundings). You can buy them in the bad boy running shop if you want one. I was on the podcast recently where I mention this race a few times

3) Registration is one of my favourite parts of the race. For me it is a chance to catch up with friends but if it is your first time, relax and you will be made to free welcome. Being the first 100 of the centurion year, it tends to attract a lot of first timers - many who think a flat course should make it easy (hahahaha)

4) There a couple of potential bottlenecks early on but they make sod all difference to your time so just relax. One is right off the bat so start at the front if you really care. The second you will only hit if you don’t follow the course markings at the start. The straight route goes through a kissing gate which is fine if you are first but not so if you are 15th. Stay on the marked path and you avoid the gate

5) Don’t use a camelback or similar bladder. The aid stations aren’t that far apart and a litre should be plenty. If it is really hot, take an extra soft flask and carry it for the first mile or two after the aid station until you’ve drunk it. A camelback take ages to fill and volunteers (unless they are extremely nice) will leave you to it as they are a nightmare to get right and not cross thread.

Bonus reason not to - you have no idea how much you have left in it. The first year I used one and filled it at home. Just before the start I drank some and it was empty. I panicked it had leaked so rushed inside to refill it and picked up a spare bottle. Turns out I had been nervous and had sipped my way through 2 litres since I left home.

6) The race briefings are very helpful to listen to. Everything you need is on the superb website so read that a few times but there are sometimes late diversions or things to be aware of.

7) Start eating and drinking early on. It can feel easy in the early stages but you don’t want to deplete reserves unnecessarily. I start with my first gel after about 30 minutes

8) Unless you are elite, you will do some walking at some stage. It is better to start walking early on - I typically take my first one after about an hour. Lots of people run until they are tired and then it goes pear shaped quickly 

9) First aid station is after about 10 miles and the first few are relatively far apart. However this works out well as you only need basic supplies early on so don’t waste too much time but it can get a bit emotional later on

10) Try to run the last bit to an aid station. You will get a rest while you refill so ok to get in a bit tired. Plus photographers often hang out near aid stations

11) Be organised arriving to checkpoint. Get your bottles out early and unscrew them as you get there. Saves a bit of time which adds up.

12) There are usually three options for drinks early on. Coke/Pepsi, Water, and Tailwind. Don’t be afraid to ask the volunteers for which one you want. They usually carry jugs of it and aren’t mind readers 

13) My usual approach is to have a bottle of tailwind, one of water, and some coke in my carry cup. I then have two options of going pure tailwind (brave but can be good some days), or the water plus proper food/gels. 

14) Buy a Light My Fire cup - they are excellent and good for a cup of tea/coffee later in the race. Usually available from the centurion store

15) Don’t use the speed/soft cups. They are great unless you actually want to drink from one - it is like trying to drink tea out of a condom. You are better off using a sawn off capri sun (which would pass kit check if you are stuck)

16) The centurion store is a great resource. You can order online and pick things up on race day. They bring all the stock and set up shop at registration which is handy if you forget something 

17) Thank volunteers when you leave the aid station. It wouldn’t happen without them

18) Consider being a volunteer for the race. You get a free place so there is a financial incentive plus you will meet a bunch of people who might be doing the race next year too. It is lots of fun and you might learn something seeing the race from the other side

19) Take a few photos along the way. You might lose a few seconds but it is nice to remember the early bits are quite pretty - Hampton Court is a nice early landmark as well as Windsor castle. 

20) The photos are handy for writing blogs afterwards. There are loads out there ( ). Also increasing numbers of vlogs too (shout out to Film My Run). Reading/watching them might help you if you can’t recce the route

21) Take some Vaseline/body glide etc with you from the start. I once forgot to grease my nipples and realised about 5 miles in. Would have been a disaster if I only had it in my 50 mile drop bag. There is an argument to have both as Vaseline can reach parts bodyglide can’t. The small versions hardly take up any space

22)  I keep all the things I hopefully won’t need until the finish in a big ziploc bag. Wallet, emergency base layer, blanket, spare torch, and gloves - nice and dry if I need them

23) The kit list gives the option of buff or hat. The buff is a good opportunity to show off - my western states one usually wins the top trumps. Typically I will just have the buff until Henley and then grab a proper hat from my drop bag. If it is a cold one, you will appreciate both.

24) There are lots of options for bags/race vests. I ran my first one in an Osprey talon 11 backpack which is used by many commuters. A bit big but did the job. Since then I’ve used the Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek. I bought it in 2015 and it is still going strong. I’ve worn it for all my 100s - I use the bigger one for the longer races. I ran with it at Western States where I met it’s creator 

25) Use the GPX if you can. The course is very well marked but it can be possible to miss a turn in one of the villages. I treated myself to a Garmin 6X Pro about 4 years ago and it has been magnificent with the 60 hours battery and good mapping. For bonus points, add waypoints so you know how far to the next aid station 

26) Marathon mark is a good point to celebrate being in ultra marathon land. However you are probably less than 20% through by time.

27) I’ve had a few damp races. In 2021, it was fairly mild with moderate rain. I ended up running in a long sleeve cycling jersey I got from a charity shop of a fiver. It is not particularly waterproof but does enough to keep the worst of the rain off without overheating. For me, I view waterproofs more as temperature regulation rather for keeping me dry. When it is 17c or warmer, you will get wet from the rain or from sweating. If you wore two layers in the dry, you would expect to sweat - let alone when it is 100% humidity on the rain. This Andy Cole article explains it really well

28) If it is raining, wear a baseball cap. It is really annoying when you get rain in your face

29) Cooling arm sleeves are amazing if it is a really hot one. They keep the sun off (less sun screen to apply) and can be soaked in water or have ice in extreme conditions. They also mean you can last a bit longer before the base layer needs to go on at night

30) 30 miles in starts to give a steer on how your race is going. The cut off here is 9.5 hours as the schedule allows for even splits but in practice almost everyone slows down a lot so if you coming through here close to the cut off, you are in trouble. Based on past results, 5h30 is par for a sub 24 and 6h30 is a good benchmark for a 28h finish.

31) Watch out for Windsor Castle from about 50k/30 miles in. Hard to miss it unless you have your head down. In 2023 there was all the coronation stuff going on.  It is on the left hand side

32) I’ve had great success with the combo of Hilly compression socks and Injinji toe liners. The double sock combo seems to work well for me. Can be a bit hot and potentially heat rash when finished but seems to do the trick for blisters. I add some body glide foot stuff in addition. 

33) I’ve done 4.5 Thames Paths in Road shoes and 2.5 in Trail shoes. The best for me was light trail version of my usual Mizunos. Was ok on the road/hard trail early on but enough grip for later on. Trail shoes on wet tarmac can be sketchy but not as bad as road shoes on wet trails. I reckon for about 75% of the course, road shoes are usually better.

34) The kit list requires a whistle. There is a good chance your backpack or head torch has one on it already 

35) There are some less than picturesque parts of the route. To get onto Maidenhead bridge to cross the Thames, you have to go through a multi-storey car park. It definitely confuses a few people. Easy for the mid packers as you will see runners ahead of you on the bridge so less likely to mess up the turn.

36) The first time I ran the Thames Path, I packed two emergency blankets in case I needed to use one so I had a spare. I’ve never used one in about 20 races so one is enough - I suspect I would only use one if I DNFed or needed to help someone

37) There is usually (Facebook) chat about the spare base layer and when you can use it. I figure you should carry two spare layers if you are worried about being cold. It can get very cold and I’ve had races where I’ve ended up carrying two base layers. Nobody DNFs because they carried an extra layer but a few get very cold and drop

38) At 38 miles is Cliveden. I stayed there at Christmas and you can see the holiday cottage just before you turn left. If you have crew, I can recommend a visit there for them while they wait for you to get to Henley. It has remarkably good trail running (walking) on site and excellent scones 

39) I’ve had problems with running in compression calf guards. The gap between them and my socks felt like a stress fracture - the knee high socks give a more even pressure. I learned this after the 2015 A100

40) Runderwear and Rockstar shorts has been my answer for the last 5 years for relatively chafe free middle regions. Rockstar stopped production a few years back but runderwear are still going strong. Add in a bit of body glide to keep things from catching fire

41) It is unlikely Nordic walking poles will help you on this race. However I’ve seen the legend that is Sandra Brown power walking with them on the flat Thames path so it works for her

42) Make sure you’ve done a chunk of fast walking in training for this race. Practice run-walking in training rather than trying it for the first time on race day. I have less need for this as I get my training in race walking across London Bridge on the way to and from work

43) Use churchyards/graveyards as a chance to take a walking break. It shows respect and makes you appreciate that you are still alive and able to do this bullshit that you signed up to

44) Be strategic crossing the road. Cross early if you see a marker on the other side. Leaving it late might mean you have to wait or worse, take an unnecessary chance crossing the road. 

45) If you haven’t seen a marker for a while, take stock  and make sure you aren’t lost. If you think you might be lost, it can be worth waiting a bit for another runner to catch you up rather than wasting a big chunk going the wrong way. 

46) I’ve done some races with a desert style sun hat with the cloth bit round the sides. They are more “proper runner” style but I’ve got on much better with a wide brimmed England Cricket hat. It doesn’t have the flappy bits which start to piss you after a few hours.

47) On the canal races, you are next to the water for pretty much the entire time whereas rivers have a lot of private land which means detours. There is a great detour between Hurley and Henley where you go through the private estate of a very rich person. It has its own cricket ground and you get pretty close to the Mansion. It has its own Wikipedia page,_Berkshire

48) Drop bag is at the next aid station. I try to keep things to a minimum as having too much stuff can waste time and result in not picking things up. Divide into electricals, food, and clothing. I pick up my big dog head torch, and few gels, and a warm hat and stick my base layer on here. Also put in a plastic bag to for anything you deposit (eg if you change top or socks)

49) If you are aiming for sub 24, Henley in 10 hours should be your goal. For cutoff dodgers, 12 is an upper bound here

50) Henley used to be listed as 50 miles but now is down as 51 and possibly is close to 52 on Garmin. It is a really long drag to get to Henley aid station. You can see the town from far away but it takes ages to get there. The aid station is on the far edge so takes even longer. Also weaving through people on a night out is a pain and doesn’t help the frustration of an aid station which is further away than expected.

51) This is the most important aid station of the course. It has a drop bag and some hot food (usually pasta). It is a good chance to regroup and prepare for the night. There is a bit of buzz here which is nice but be careful not to spend too much time here

52) There is a lot of chat about changing shoes here. I’ve done it once and massively regretted it - I switched from high drop highly cushioned road shoes to low drop trail shoes. My hamstrings didn’t like it and I ended up walking it in from Reading

53) Don’t eat too much at Henley. There can be a temptation to trough down multiple bowls of pasta to fuel up for later but it can take hours to digest

54) I really don’t get on with the Marsh Lock. It looks cool but it seems to get me. That is the case for many of the bridge of the second half which aren’t vehicle ones - the weirs at night feel particularly sketchy.

55) Halfway by time is roughly 55 or 56 miles - when you get to the Reading aid station, you are probably past halfway by time

56) I usually have my base layer for the night on by now. I try to put it on a bit earlier than I need to (ie Henley) as I’m often a bit lazy and find myself cold but don’t want to stop in the middle of nowhere

57) Head torch goes on about here too. I have made it to Goring when it was the 730am Covid start.

58) The steps up to the Reading aid station are legendary. They are more interesting at mile 87 of the Autumn 100. Then next 25 miles are shared with that race

59) There is the turn off here for the Kennet and Avon canal shortly after the aid station. It is a lovely route but you don’t need bonus miles (people have taken it in the past)

60) Headtorch strategy… I start at Richmond with a reasonable headtorch which would pass as my main one (petzl tikka) and a small spare one. I then pick up a massive one (Petzl Nao+) at Henley so the reasonable one becomes my backup and the spare on becomes third string. At Goring I pick up a spare battery for the Nao+ . If I’ve gone through 3 head torches, it isn’t my day (but my phone could be 4th choice). 

There are folks who DNF (or massively struggle) because their main headtorch goes and they are left with something they got free with a packet of cornflakes and put their DNF or poor performance down to “bad luck”.

61) Reading town centre is a bit meh - there is one weird bit where is a place with loads of Swans sleeping. Feels a bit weird but probably sensible to let sleeping swans lie - a broken arm would probably lead to a DNF

62) 100k in now. This can be a slightly sketchy section at night. There can be some people out smoking “waccy baccy” huddled around fires next to canal boats with electronic dance music. I’ve never had an issues and had some fun interactions with folks here. Buddy up if you are worried on this section

63) The crux of the race is the Reading (58 miles) to Clifton Hampden (85 miles). It can make or break your race. There some longish gaps between aid stations which feel much longer in the dark and moving slower

64) The “Welcome to Reading” sign is here. It is a key landmark on the Autumn 100 (note the distance to the Reading aid station)

65) This is the start of another detour. This feels quite surreal as you make your way through a suburban housing development which feels like someone has been messing with the signs. There is a nice bit of elevation which helps give some variety to the legs

66) The start of the gates and potentially the first mud. It starts to get boggier here. If you are lucky and it is a dry year, this won’t be relevant but on the wet ones, it begins here 

67) Pangbourne and the bridge into Whitchurch. This was once yarn bombed which made for a very surreal crossing

68) Some years, the route went straight up the high street but the official route goes through some gardens and a church before rejoining the road. A bit of navigating to do but easy enough

69) Mount Whitchurch - this is another weird section where you go inland away from the river. There are the only two notable climbs on the route on this section. They are maybe 25m high at most but are steep with steps on some parts. Can be a bit weird on legs that have been flat for almost 70 miles

70) Goring is the second and final aid station with a drop bag. People overestimate how much they need here. I’ve never really used much from this drop bag and now just put a spare head torch battery in it and an extra base layer plus some gels.

71) Halfway through the Autumn 100 section now. Goring is a bit of trail running centre with loads of races going through here as it the intersection of the Thames Path and the Ridgeway

72) One of the great things about the Thames path 100 is that pretty much all the aid stations on the second half are indoors and have tea & coffee plus often hot food 

73) cheese and beans is ultra food of the gods

74) This section is actually quite nice when you run it on fresh legs at the start of the Autumn 100 - less so in the pitch black on tired legs. Some of the wooded parts can be quite muddy

75) Less than a marathon to go is a massive psychological boost. This section can take a lot out of you mentally as each light in the distance turns out not to be the aid station

76) The 76th mile is typically the point with the highest drop out rate in 100 mile races. There is still quite a long way to go and the even cut offs start to bite runners who are fading (ie all of them)

77) Wallingford at last. There are two aid stations used here - a small rowing club and a gym over the road. The rowing club was a rough place in 2015 as the cold and rain took a lot of people out when folks with inadequate rain gear suffered.

78) One of the other challenges with the Thames Path is lots of indoor aid stations. It is tempting to sit down and have a cup of tea and lose a chunk of time. But sometimes a few minutes rest can pay dividends later on - make sure you use the time rest properly rather than standing around and faffing

79) It can also be tough to get going again after being inside. It is often extremely cold for the first few minutes after leaving - try to push on to get some body heat generated quickly. You will be fine after a few minutes 

80) Benson weir is quite an experience at night. The sound of millions of gallons of water rushing beneath you while you jog across a metal grate and be unsettling for some. There was a diversion in 2023 which avoided this but added on a chunk - I wasn’t entirely upset about the extra distance

81) Benson Marina - a bit of a funny feeling as you skirt through a holiday park in the dark. This is more fun in the A100 as people are awake and cheering you on

82) Shillingford has some Road bits which give you a chance to pick up the pace - particularly if it is a muddy year 

83) You come off the Henley Road (watch out for the gap on the hedge on the other side of the road) and enter a microclimate. It is usually the coldest part of the course with freezing fog and frost quite common. There is often long grass so the combination of mud and frost leaves your feet very cold

84) and so begins a 3 mile bend to the next aid station. It is entirely featureless without lights. This could take you over an hour and leave you questioning your life choices

85) If you are on sub 24 pace you should get sunrise about now. It can be truly glorious but your hands will be too cold to get the phone out

86) Clifton Hampden aid station is a bit of detour of the Thames Path. It feels like a mountain that you need to climb through the village to get to the aid station. The hard work has largely been done now. It is usually a bit over the official 85 miles but the next section is usually slightly less than 15 on GPS

87) Time to get your head down and finish things. If you can to Clifton Hampden with anything under 20h30 you’ve got a chance finishing under 24. Power walking can get it done

88) Time to start thinking about how to get home afterwards - I can highly recommend the Oxford Tube. It is a lovely bus service which takes you to London all through the night so ideal if you finish at 5am or similar. The year with engineering works where I had to stand on the way home from Reading on the train still stings

89) It is only about a fiver to get a taxi to the train station from the finish. If you call one and let fellow runners know there is one coming, you will be a hero and might be able to split the fare (or just be generous and pay the fare and get eternal gratitude)

90) There are showers at the finish. Pack a small towel in your finish bag. The faster you finish the warmer the water. If you forget a towel, your emergency base layer is a good substitute 

91) The team are brilliant with drop bags. The halfway ones will beat you to the finish unless you are going sub 15. The Goring cut off is 19h50 into the race so if you are sub 20, your drop bag might still be there when you finish unless they do an interim shuttle. In 2021 I fancied my chances of going sub 20 (20h35 in the end) so I had a small drop bag (battery, gels and extra battery) which I picked up and left nothing behind so didn’t have to wait. 

92) There used to be an aid station here by the bridge. Probably didn’t need this one and the last one as people tended to skip the last one. In 2023 I ended up recreating the aid station by siting on a park bench to take a breather from the mud fest and imagined there were people there to talk . Sometimes you crack up a bit at the end of races.

93) After being on the right bank since Clifton Hampden, you switch over at Abingdon weir for the rest of the race.

94) Barton fields is the worst mud of the race and is bad even in a dry year. You just need to laugh and swear your way through it

95) Last aid station. You might even be able to skip it if you loaded up at Clifton Hampden 

98) The big power lines are the marker to know that I’m almost done. I had a “helpful” runner who told me very enthusiastically that I only had two miles to go one year. My Garmin was about to hit 100 but I still had a chunk to go

99) The last section is on tarmac and firm trail. Watch out for the gap in the hedge on the left and you are done

100) Always run the last bit. Nobody knows you’ve spent the last few hours walking when you sprint for the buckle

Hopefully you’ve learned a few things from here or jogged some memories. I’m hopefully going for my 8th buckle in May. 

2015 - my first buckle. A horrific experience but I’ve come back many times since

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