Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Thames Path 2018

When I booked this up for my 6th attempt it was to serve one purpose, that being to provide me with a fast hundred, a pb and if everything fired correctly a Sparta auto. Little did I know that after a manic 2017 race wise what was about to happen to my body in 2018. So really this is a report of two halves as half the battle was just to get to the start line.

There I was happily running round the track at Barcelona in December at the annual 24hr race. This on the back of running the Arc, Western states and Lakeland 100 in the same year. I was nailing it and bang on schedule for a Sparta auto. I hit 75 mile and was ready to push on into the second half. Then it hit me, my hamstrings started to seize up followed by my quads and within an hour I was unable to move my legs it felt like my body was shutting down. I subsequently stopped before the 24hours were up and shuffled back to my hotel.

All smiles now. 
From that day nothing seemed right with me. I rested for two weeks then ran the headtorch marathon which in hindsight was a monumentally bad decision. I couldn't run, my legs just wouldn't have it. Again I rested for a couple of weeks then ran the Tanners, again I felt like death and my legs were completely dead. I didn't run a bad time but I was definitely not right. Then came the difficult decision to ditch this years Arc. I love that race but no way was I able to run it. During January I developed a lump in my throat and in my true stubborn style I totally ignored it. My leg power wasn't improving and I'd now developed breathing problems and chest pain but still I carried on entering stuff and ran the Brecon to Cardiff ultra to take my mind off the Arc. During that race at the top of the massive climb I developed the worst chest pain ever and really thought the worst. I carried on though like an idiot. I finished and the very next day finally carted myself off to the docs. Upshot was a viral infection probably caused by a completely shot immune system this had lead to bronchitis. The lump was a viral cyst.

What I should have done back in December is just took some time off but I'm so hopelessly obsessed with fitness and running that I just carried on regardless. I already work in a physical job which is not dissimilar to 8 hours of heavy cross training every day and being self employed means no time off. So the work load, the constant training, the racing and the lack of recovery had finally caught up. The complete shut down in Barcelona was a warning shot that I ignored so followed my immune system failure. By March I was a complete wreck, I gave myself false hope that I was feeling better and ran the Steyning stinger and back my bronchitis came. So still instead of total rest I decided to reel it in a bit. I put the gym on hold, training runs were only to be 10k, no more and I'd just chuck a couple of longer races in but just jog round if necessary all to get me to the start of the Thames Path. I'm not going to lie the last few months have been hell but things have got slowly better and in the last three weeks I have been without chest pain. I'm still under the doc and am still undergoing some tests but all seems well. The last month made my mind up that although my fitness isn't quite there and a pb was probably a pipe dream I would be able to start the Thames Path 100. I'd made the start line.

Dream team
My plan was very simple, my 100 milers seem to be defined in the first 30 miles and given the hot weather forecast I would run a very conservative but precise first 30 then just see how the race panned out. There would be no pressure on myself just go about your business and be thankful you are out there. As we milled around waiting for the start I could feel the suns piercing rays tingling my skin. It was 9am and today was going to be a scorcher. I know from experience that the best way to deal with direct strong sunlight is to cover up. Hat, sunnies, arm sleeves. In fact the only exposed parts were my face, hands and knees. I felt pretty comfortable on the start line and stood well back from the front. I mustn't go off too fast!

We started and I quickly settled in to 8:30 min miles. Just as planned. My food strategy was a gel every 45 mins and topped up with Tailwind/Mountain fuel or whatever I fancied en route. The plan was to meet my crew at Wrasbury 22 miles and it worked out I would be there in 3hours 17min. I reached Wrasbury with little drama and I stopped for seconds at the aid station knowing my crew would only be a little further on where I would be able to switch bottles. I met my crew within a minute of my predicted time. The Thames was gorgeous, people everywhere, so much going on. All this lead to some heavenly trail running. The heat wasn't really bothering me yet, I was keeping my sleeves damp and my hat wet and that was enough to stay on top of the temperatures. I ran into Dorney at 30 mile feeling surprisingly fresh and my slow start was paying off. I had run the 30 in about 4:40 so I was exactly on pace and now was time to start a more strict walking plan. Up till now I'd walked for 1 minute after an hour and a half and then a subsequent 1 minute every 45 mins.

Bang on time
The run to Cookham was pretty uneventful. Most of the early position changes had taken place, the field was well spread out. Runners were dropping like flies though and I had passed some very good athletes. All you can do in those conditions is your own thing and crack on. The heat was beating on us and keeping the core temperature down was key. I refilled my bottles at Cookham, damped everything down and took an ice lolly. I walked along the river eating my lolly, all was good in my world. Somewhere in the next couple of miles I came to a busy road and was trying to avoid pedestrians but as I skipped to dodge one I tripped and face planted in the main road. Soo lucky a car wasn't coming! My pride was dented as people expressed their concern but I was fine. I sheepishly jumped up and ran avoiding all eye contact.

Another crew stop at 42 miles, I'd slowed up considerably but was still running. My feet felt good but I took the time to remove my shoes and socks, powder my feet and eat a couple of fruit pots. It was a good stop well timed. My next crew stop would now be 51 miles. I ran but I was just about to have the mother of all bad spells. From the 44 mile aid station I felt like death. I was eating right but felt violently sick, my head was spinning and I felt dizzy. The sun was about 45 degrees up in front of me and there was no shade. It was relentless. The heat was finally getting to me. I started a 10 minute to 1 minute run walk strategy, this was so tough. I really started to question my reasons for being out here. I had nothing to prove, no time to chase, what was I doing? Why put myself through this shit? I'd had enough and I was definitely dropping at Henley. Boats full of people partying passed me by, Henley seemed an age away! I reached the bridge and crossed, the amount of people out and about gave me a slight lift as did the applause as I ran into the aid station.

I set about sorting my feet with fresh socks and powder. I couldn't eat though, I felt really sick. Runners were coming in behind me looking fresh and full of beans. A couple barely stopped just went through smiling and eager to press on. I felt hopeless, my mind was spinning. James and Jacque were speaking but it went in one ear and out the other. I often feel I'm letting people down when I consider dropping. When you mention it everyone just looks at you like there's a massive spot on your nose then carries on caring for you. I'm always left just getting up and carrying on even though 5 minutes ago it was over.

Ok I thought I'd kind of left Henley for no particular reason lets get to Reading and drop there at least it be a good 100k covered. Although I felt awful I was still running, I hadn't really lost any places although a couple of lady runners were really running well and it was taking everything to keep them in my sights. None of it mattered because I was dropping at Reading anyway but there was certainly no issue with my running. I wasn't walking for prolonged periods, I had no chest pains and the sun was dropping fast. Reading appeared and I spotted my crew from a way back. Excellent i'll get over there and drop out. I bumped into Sarah Sawyer on the way over and said Hi I'm dropping. Not a lot was said but it was enough to reconsider my postion. In 30 seconds I went from finished to finisher. If nothing else I'm up for a challenge. I only had 40 to go. It was cooling down, lets have a go. I saw Jacque and restocked and loaded up on gel the only thing I was able to eat now. I poked my head in the aid station door and left. It all seemed possible again.

Feeling rough?
It started to get dark on the next section and my headtorch came out on the long section along the river towards Whitchurch. I had a light jacket which I put on too. I started doing some decent running again kept the other two runners in sight. Scott was one and Laura Swanton the other . They were running well and I was doing well to keep up. At the carpark at the far end I met my crew again and decided on waterproof socks. The grass was getting wet and this would only get worse so to avoid foot failure they were a must. Whitchurch was a flying visit , I was a bit delirious and felt quite faint so it was probably a good move to just keep going.

Buckle happy
I don't mind the next section. It's probably the best stretch of the second half. I leap frogged Laura several times and we were both enjoyed the trail sections and varied terrain. All was good in my world again. I quick stop in Streatley aidstation and I was off and running again. I left first followed by Laura then Scott. They soon closed the distance and passed me. Scott was not seen again till the finish but Laura and I ran some together, some apart but was never too far away. This 20 mile section to Abingdon is definitely the toughest. Its bleak and featureless. It just goes on and on! I was having my own private battle with sleep demons and was totally incoherent . A sunk a few caffeine tablets and just kept on run walking. I sent Jacque to the finish so I could just crack on and get it done. The aidstations came and went. I was passed quite convincingly around 85 mile by David Thompson. We are friends but he said nothing as he passed , he was obviously on one. I was a little pissed off as this put me in 10th place and Laura who was just behind was like a robot she just didn't stop running! My competitive side came through and I was determined to either catch David back or at least hold my top 10 place. I ran well into Abingdon and there was no one behind, the aidstation staff said there was a runner ahead who I may catch so I ran my heart out to do so, In hindsight I think they were telling me porkys.

I got to the last aid station ate one last gel and committed to running hard in. I did in fact run one of my best splits of the evening and walked very little. I felt like I was running 7 min miles but in fact I think they were 10s but boy it felt fast. I soon got to the gate and it was just light enough to see without my torch I ran to the line and crossed with a big sigh of relief. 10th place and 18:54:18.

Six of the best
I'm so happy with this race. Although it wasn't a pb or anything particularly out standing I ran one of my best 100 milers ever. I ran pretty much all the way, my feet management was perfect, fuelling was good even though I was nauseas for hours, my plan worked out really well and I reckon another 20 miles and I would have made up places but best of all I had no chest pain. This was my 20th 100+ miler and I cannot recall anyone going better. My only negative would be my slight mental weakness at the end of the first 50. The heat caught me slightly and I almost dropped but I'm really glad I gutted it out.

I've always said this race is my nemesis and should I conquer it I'll leave it be and not run it again. Well balls to that it's really just an annoying old friend who I have a love hate relationship with. We will get together whenever possible and duke it out. Got to run at least 10 of them and then I'll reconsider.

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