Monday, 4 May 2015

Thames Path 100 2015 Race Report

It was all going so well. Leading up to the race I had avoided any niggles from training, had managed not to horribly injure myself, and had even managed to avoid the stinking cold that had taken my wife out the week before. I was feeling pretty confident, so you can imagine my annoyance when I spent Thursday passed out in bed with some weird stomach bug. Shit. 

Pun intended.

As an aside, can we please fuck off with the idea of "man-flu"? The point of man-flu is that the guy is not that ill, but makes out like its the end of the world like a huge pussy. I am completely the opposite, and my wife usually tells me off for refusing to accept that I'm ill. I ain't got time to be ill dammit! So she was genuinely concerned to hear that I had gone home from work - she knew it must be serious.

I felt awful, and there was no way I was going to make the start line if I carried on feeling like this. Miraculously however, I woke up on Friday feeling miles better. Not perfect, but I didn't feel like sleeping next to the toilet was my best bet any more.

TMI? I'd stop reading now if I were you...

Anyway, by Saturday morning I was feeling much happier. It was obviously a 24 hour thing, and I was back in track. If anything, the extra sleep I had over the past few days might in fact prove to be a bonus.

I spent the night before the race with two of my best friends; Dan Park who was running, and Nick Hill who was crewing me. It wasn't quite like the Friday nights I remember from a few years ago, as we decided against the late opening bar. What happened to us man, we used to be cool?! I didn't have much of a race strategy, as I tend to prefer to just run on feel and go with the flow. I'm generally not too much of a diva with these things, so really it was a case of Nick handing me gels and water, and having some of my other kit on hand just in case.

After a good night's sleep (thanks to snore-proof earplugs...) we were up and ready to go. A quick breakfast of sausage and egg roll (sans the roll) and we arrived at registration at Richmond Upon Thames. It's always good fun catching up with everybody in the Centurion Running extended family, and it was great to catch up with some of the many people I have met through the years at races and on social media. We lined up on the river, and after confirming with a few other people which way we should be going (could have been embarrassing) we were off!

Yay I'm winning! C/O Nick Hill
I felt pretty good at the start, and headed out at a comfortable but sprightly pace. Whilst I had no fine-scaled pacing plan, I was hoping for a good time, hopefully one less than 16 hours, and was hoping to get to the halfway point in about 7 hours or so. I feel like I've done enough of these things to know what pace is right, and was just aiming to run comfortably and see what happens. I passed the first aid station at 11 miles but didn't stop. I was due to meet Nick at 20 miles for our first meet up, and thought I had enough water and gels to last me.

Flying about 15 miles in. C/O Richard Felton
All in all those first 20 miles went great. My legs felt great, it was a fantastic day for running, the path was perfect and not muddy in the slightest, and overall I was having a great time! I slightly misjudged the heat, and found myself drinking a bit more than expected, so ended up running out of water at about mile 18. No worries though, in 10 minutes or so I would see Nick, and from then on we'd be meeting more regularly.

So you can imagine my confusion when I didn't see him. Apparently I was too bloody quick. Grr.

I rolled into the 23 mile checkpoint feeling thirsty, nauseous, and pretty pissed off. After shotgunning water and having a bit of a moan, I set back off. But I was struggling to get going with the water and coke sloshing about in my stomach.

My previous positive mindset had gone, and I knew I needed to get my head straight - especially so  early in the bloody race! Cheer the fuck up, it's not the end of the world, you've only just started etc. Unfortunately my stomach wasn't easing, and was in fact getting worse. I was struggling to run as my guts were feeling... unpleasant. 

I met Nick at our second planned meeting point about 28 miles in, and had at least worked out a good way to avoid feeling nauseous. Unfortunately, not eating or drinking is not exactly a sensible long term 100 mile plan. I stocked back up, tutted at Nick about the previous cock up (I'm British - tutting is the harshest criticism I can bestow), then headed back out again. And it just got worse. 

Finally meeting up with Nick. Can you see the anger in my eyes?! Grr. C/O Nick Hill
Clearly whatever had hit me on Thursday had not cleared, and I found myself slowing drastically, losing places, and basically alternating walking and stopping for the loo, with running becoming very much a rarity. There was a lot going out of my system, but not a whole lot going in, and Nick was starting to get very concerned. 

A fast time had gone out of the window a long time ago, and now even a reasonable time was looking unlikely. In fairness, I had wanted to get to Henley in 7 hours and it was looking like it would be about 9.5 hours which was still pretty good all told, but I was already slowed to a crawl with no food or drink going into my system. It wasn't a sustainable plan.

I resigned myself to walking and at least was able to enjoy the surroundings listening to my latest audiobook. Approaching the halfway point at Henley, I was suffering with serious cramps and needed another toilet break. By that point I had already sullied the beautiful countryside enough, so as nice as it was to see friends like James and Karen, I just wanted to be pointed towards the nearest plumbed facilities. And fucking bollocky fuck - the bloody things were closed! Ah shit. 

Pun intended. 

Pictured - resignation. C/O Nick Hill
Nick had to drive me to Tesco, and after partaking of the amenities I ran out of the door before the next poor sucker had to go in after me. We went back to the aid station, and I was given very strict instructions from Nick that I wasn't allowed to leave until I had eaten to his satisfaction. Now Nick isn't a runner, so his views on what runners eat is a little off. So I made my way through the middle class smörgasbord he had laid out for me, including humus, chorizo, smelly cheese and caviar. Just what you need to settle a dodgy stomach! 

My plan was to try one more section and see how I felt, but when it became clear that I already needed another trip to Tesco (every little helps...), and my stomach felt as if it was eating itself, it became pretty clear that another 50 miles was going to be a tough ask. Walking had been fine up until now, but with the sun going down and rain on the way, not being able to run was going to become a serious problem. 

Now, my own philosophy in these situations is that if I'm not having fun, I'll stop - unless there are some extenuating circumstances. Like, for instance, the Grand Slam of running - finishing all four Centurion Running races in one year, of which this was only the first event. By dropping out now, I would forfeit this accolade right off the bat. But I could see how worried Nick was about how shit I looked, and I most definitely was not having fun. But I already needed to find some more facilities, and goodness knew how much worse it would get. It was pretty clear that whatever had hit me on Thursday was not out of my system. My immune system was fighting it pretty well, but for some reason running for 10 hours kind of put a dampener on that...

There are worse ways to end a race. C/O Nick Hill
So that was it. I handed in my number, and headed home. The rest of that evening made it clear to me that I had made the right choice (it definitely got worse). I'm not entirely sure who I'm trying to convince here, but trust me when I say that this was not just a stomach ache, and certainly wasn't bloody "man-flu". 

So yeah. Not in any way how I saw the weekend going, but there was nothing I could do about it. It had nothing to do with training, or badly managed injuries, or any kind of stupidity on my part (In hindsight stopping at the first aid station to fill my water would have saved the slight dehydration, but in the grand scheme of things that really wasn't the main issue) - it was just one of those things. 

It's still fucking annoying of course, and I am starting to get a bit pissed off with the regularity of these occurrences. I know it looks like I'm always injured or ill, but honestly 98% of the year I run perfectly happily with no issues. Those other 2% just happen to always coincide with races. 

Right. Okay. Whatever. Stay positive. Here are 5 positive things I have taken from this experience:
  1. As ever, the people involved in this race - the organisers, the volunteers, the other runners, and everybody following along at home - were incredible as ever! It always makes me smile to see how incredibly awesome this little community of ours can be, and race day always solidifies this in my mind.
  2. Those first 20 miles were pretty tasty. I used my watch for navigation, but not for watching my pace, so this was done entirely on feel, and was a comfortable pace for me knowing that I had another 80 miles to go. This bodes well for when I finally pull my finger out and try and run a decent marathon time, and makes me feel happy about my current fitness levels.
  3. There's now no pressure on the other three races in the grand slam, so I can take them all as they come. That's a bit of a shit one though, as it basically means I don't have to worry about failing as I've already failed...
  4. It meant that I got to have an absolutely lovely day with my family on Sunday.
  5. Other than my stomach, I have no issues so can crack straight on with training for the next race in 6 weeks.

So yeah. Let's stay positive, and focus like a friggin' laser on getting a great time at the South Downs Way 100 in 6 weeks time. With four 100 mile races planned this year, statistically speaking I should be able to hit one of the start lines in good shape right? Right?! One way or another, I'm coming out swinging! 

The race was won by Max Willcocks in 16:35:11, with Nick Greene second and David Barker third in a nail-biting finish, with only a minute and a half between them! Sally Forde won the women's race in a new course record time of 17:33:42, with the previous CR holder Mimi Anderson coming second in 20:06:41 and Wendy Shaw third in 20:34:49. Dan managed to finish in 27:44:16, setting himself up to complete the Grand Slam with the SDW in 6 weeks. Well done to everybody that ran, and to everybody that pushed on and made it into Oxford. It's a lovely city I'm told!

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