On the weekend of the 7th – 8th May 2022 I conqured a fear. I have wanted to take on the challenge of running 100 miles for a long time, but as with all challenges, it takes a lot of courage to just sign up. I have spent years saying I wanted to run 100 miles, and always leaving it too late to enter. So, in 2021 I decided it was time to push myself, I decided to enter the Centrurion Thames Path 100 2022 as soon as soon as entries opened. I was looking for a new challenge, after running 11 marathons in 11 days in 2021, and it just felt like the natural next big challenge would be to conqure that fear. To stop putting off running 100 miles, to stop making excuses, to go and push my body to its limits, and see if I could come out the other side. I am raising money for Cancer Research, and this gave me the push to press that enter button, I had a reason other than my own desire, and this made the difference.
I may have ran a lot of events, and I have ran 7 ultras previously, between a double marathon and 100k. But 100 miles is something else entirely. I think back at how I feel after every ultra, thinking how I am glad its over, and that I could not possibly go any further. 100 miles took me 37 miles further than I have ever ran, so I did not enter into this lightly, and I knew it would be tough. As always I had goals, and I always think targets are important, to keep you focused and have something to work towards. Although, it is always good to have a range of goals, so you maintain motivation if you don’t achieve what you are really aiming for. For me, my goals were simple. I wanted to finish a hundred miles, I have been so nervous about this challenge, I just wanted to get finished within the time limit. Then my target was a sub 24 hour finish, you get a separate buckle, which instead of saying 100 Miles Finisher, says 100 Miles in a Day. This is what I really wanted, but who knows what will happen when you take on something for the first time.
Centurion are a fantastic organisation. I have heard much about them, but the Thames Path 100 was my first experience. All information needed was on the website, with an email a month and a few days before with everything you needed to know. There is a lot of information about pacers and crew to ensure you keep to the rules. I didn’t need to look at this, as I took on the 100 miles by myself. Honestly, I didn’t have anyone I could think of to ask to come and meet me in the middle of the night that far away. Again, this was my first experience of this distance, and I think that pacers especially make a huge difference, and everyone who went out to support friends and family are just heroes. The main stress for me prior to the event was making sure I had the right mandatory kit. It wasn’t a huge list, but you could get penalties or disqualified if you were found to not be carrying anything at any time. I had my kit checked once half way through, I think many would have not been checked. The reality is, these checks aren’t to catch you out, but to make sure you will be safe if something goes wrong. I had to borrow a jacket from a friend, as I don’t own a running jacket that met the water resistant criteria.
Race day was a pleasant one with a later start for an ultra, beginning at 09:30 in Richmond. It was a warm day, and Sunday got hotter, but lets be fair, better than rain. Check in was quick and easy, and I had my tracker strapped to my hydration vest shoulder. I have never had this before, and it did not look secure, I was convinced it would fall off, but I was surprised how they stayed secure the whole event. I then met up with a running friend, James. We run similar paces, but he is far more experienced at the longer stuff.
I had a clear plan in my head in terms of pace. 9 minute miles is usually very comfortable for me, and I usually end a marathon feeling like I could carry on going. As the Thames Path 100 is predominantly flat I thought it would be fine to set off at this pace, and I would slow down if it began to feel more challenging. I then thought I could try to be averaging 12 min miles by half way, including walking breaks and stopping at aid stations, and I would most likely have slowed down by half way, and I would be able to slowly keep my average pace ahead of 13 min miles by mile 75 and 14 min miles by 100 miles. I knew I wouldnt be able to keep a steady pace throughout, so I wanted to balance not going off too fast, with the knowledge that I would slow by the end, and wanting to keep enough to ensure I could finish within the time limit.
It was a great moment getting together with over 300 other runners, and hearing the race briefing. We were told the course would be a couple of miles long because of a detour on the Thames Path (great), and before we knew it, we were off. I ran comfortably with James, but noticed our pace was faster than I wanted. I had thought 9 min miles, but between 9 and 10. However, we were running between 8 and 9 min miles. Whilst we were running he said he wanted a sub 24, but a sub 19 would be a PB, and to achieve a sub 20 we would need 12 min miles. In these early miles I then created a new goal, I thought that perhaps I could hold on for a sub 20, lets take it a mile at a time, but who knows what’s possible.
No matter what your goal is, it is important to keep reevaluating it. I can run a marathon at under 7 min miles, yet today, at 10 miles, my legs were screaming at me. I really enjoyed running with James, and we were at a comforatable chatting place, but my quads were not happy. I think that it must be the recovery from Boaston Marathon 3 weeks earlier, I certainly felt my legs. We got to the first check point at mile 12, and it was good to be able to snack and top up supplies. Shortly after this we ran past a very familiar section around Walton on Thames, where we usually run the Phoenix Running Events. Rik and his family, along with some of the regulars, were there to cheer us on, which was lovely. A couple of miles later I let James pull away. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up this effort for longer. I decided to act early, with a plan to get my average pace to around 10 min miles by 25 miles, and in my head I had thought I could keep to 12 min miles for 50, 13 for 75 and 14 for 100. This would usually be a 23:30, but with the extra distance would just about be sub 24. I am pleased to say that James went on to finish in sub 19, absolutely thrilled he made it, and one day perhaps I can stick with him.
The first 25 miles went really well, my legs were tired, that wasn’t going to go away, but I was now in a good rythem. I also want to shout out the volunteers at the aid station. These guys were a new level of awsome. It is clear that most have taken part in these events before, everyone was so supportive, and so helpful. Every aid station I went into I was met by someone who filled up my bottles and got anything I needed. These individuals make an impact to so many people, and would have kept people going.
It was so hot throughout the day on Saturday. I was drinking 500 mls of Tailwind, and 500 mls of water between every aid station, which were on average around 8 miles. I also had about 500 mls of coke at every aid station, along with crisps sweets, fruit and savoury snacks. I stopped eating sandwiches and sausage rolls after about 50 miles because I just couldn’t chew and swallow, it was just too thick.
Miles 25 to 50 went pretty perfectly. I wanted to save my energy, and I got into a more consistent pattern of forced walking. I passed an Ice Cream van and purchased a calippo, which was heavenly. Then at every aid station I started to sit for a couple of minutes, and taking fuel. I then walked for a couple of minutes after I left the aid station. Then every 5 to 10 minutes I would walk for a few minutes. I was feeling so hot, but I kept it going, and I stayed on pace. The plan was to get to mile 50 with an average pace of 12 min miles, and I was at 11:48 average. At this stage I thought that I could end on an average of 13 min miles, and perhaps a 22 hour finish. I just felt good, and there were no signs of slowing less than 14 min miles, so I thought this was possible.
Henley checkpoint was at mile 51, and I remember getting here feeling so hot. I was still feeling good, but in hindsight I probably had the start of heat stroke, I could have done with eating some more salts at this stage. But after a short while I carried on, and was soon at the detour. Considering this was a mostly flat run, apart from the bridges and a couple of hills, the detour was really hilly, we went around through woods, and it added a bit of incline to the mix.
As the sun started going down, it began to get a little cooler which was welcomed. The next 10 miles went really well, it was hard, but I was maintaining my desired pace, and I was staying positive. It started getting dark really quickly, and it was getting towards the time to set up my head torch. I left it too long to get my torch out, because it was very dark, but I knew the aid station was just ahead, and I wanted to get organised. I got safely to the check point at mile 61, and I remember the aid station being at the top of lots of stairs. I stopped for a few minutes and got my kit sorted. It was here that a volunteer came to check my mandatory kit, as I was getting it out anyway. There seemed to be a fair few people dropping out at this stage, and I can understand why, when it is already tough and you are about to run into the night it is easy to call it a day, but I was determined to get to the finish. After refreshments and a quick rest, I got my head torch on and ran into the night.
As I left the aid station there were 4 other runners (legends) who were having a beer and kindly gave me a Brew Dog, a lovely gesture, and good way to toast moving into uncharted territory. Not only have I never ran more than 63 miles (100k), I have never had the need to use a head torch. I have had one for years, and tried it on in the dark, but thats just about it, I have never ran in the dark, and never ran through the night.
I got to to around 65 miles and things were going well. My pace had slowed, but not by much, and this was mostly because I was taking regular walking breaks, and being careful. Althought the route was very straight forward and well marked, there were a couple of sections that I got confused over direction, trying to see the next marker to make sure I was going the right way. When it is pitch black it isn’t as clear as it would be in the day, so I took time to make sure I was going the right way. I got to mile 65 just after 23:15, and I thought the 24 hour cut off was going to be tight, but still achievable, but its around this time that I started to struggle.
I think there was a combination of reasons. This was my first 100 mile race, and although I do lots of marathons, my general training hasn’t been geared up for this. You always learn a lot from experience, and as I always say, this is the best advice. You never really know what something feels like until you have done it. My legs had been tired since mile 10, perhaps I set off too fast, but mostly I think my legs were fatigued from insufficient time for recovery since Boston Marathon. I was running alone, and from seeing others with Crew and Pacers, I think they made a huge difference. The biggest factor for me was the lack of experience with a head torch and running through the night.
It started off fine, but I found myself running through woods with solid uneven mud, and tree roots creating hazards. At other times I was running through various terrain, alongside the river, and concentrating to make sure I was on target. I got so incredibly tired, and between miles 65 and 80 I found it so hard to stay awake. I literally found myself falling asleep on my feet, which when you are looking out for hazards is not ideal. At this stage I slowed down to a walk / suffle to keep myself safe whilst I was so tired. At the time I tought the tiredness was just because of the time on my feet, and overall fatigue, but now looking back I think the natural body clock has a huge impact, and the dim light from the torch also has an impact. Whatever the reason, I found it hard. I slowed down when my body was still capable of running faster, but I was not able to stay awake and alert.
At 75 miles I knew I was definitely not going to achieve 24 hours. I needed this to be around an average of 13 min mile pace, but it had fallen to an average of 13:29 and I knew it was going to get worse from this point. A 15 min mile pace would have been enough to get me the time I wanted, but this speed felt like an impossible task when I could barely keep my eyes open.
The check point at around mile 80 gave me a well needed boost. I had a sit down for a fair few minutes, and a marshal gave me a can of Redbull. I told them I was struggling to stay awake, and it was reassuring to hear of similar experiences to know I wasnt alone. As I left this aid station I all of a sudden felt the cold, it was around 02:30, and I had still felt warm, but I felt the cold as I started moving again. I stopped and got my waterproof jacket out, and then carried on going. I will be honest, I dont usually notice the boost from Redbull, probably because I drink too much, but I felt it then, for the next two miles I felt more alert and awake. But this didn’t last long, so I carried on shuffling forward.
At the last check point I had been told that it would get better when the sun comes out, and I would wake up. I didnt understand this at the time, I thought it would only end when I went to sleep, how would I start feeling awake when I was so tired at the time. But it’s strange, as the sun came out around 05:30 I did start feeling more awake. The grass we were running on was wet from the condensation, and there was a mist in the air. It was beautiful, and I was waking up, and feeling stronger. I took my jacket back off around 06:30 because it felt too hot, and by around 07:00 it felt like a heat wave, it certainly felt hotter than the Saturday.
I had been shuffling all night, hardly running at all, and I broke into a run walk strategy as the sun came up. Unfortunately this did not make a huge difference, and the sheer fatigue in my legs was clear. The pace from the tiredness had turned into my pace. If I just walked without trying to push, my pace was around 24 min mile. It is hard to comprehend if you dont do it yourself, but my walking pace was painfully slow. I ran so much more, but my run pace was between 16 – 20 min mile pace.
Honeslty, I was happy with this. Once I knew that 24 hours wasn’t going to be possible, I focused my mindset on finishing. I didn’t care about time, but wanted to keep moving forward and feeling strong, and as the sun came out I felt much better. I didn’t stop, or feel like I couldnt keep going at any point. It may not have been fast, and I am sure it didnt like pretty, but I kept moving forward as fast as my body would let me. I worked out what I needed to do and kept moving forward.
I had told my wife I would be closer to 27 hours, especially because of the extra distance. I knew I had it in me to finish, but also knew that I couldn’t take anything for granted, and still had a long way to go. I was appreciative seeing all the messages of support, and this kept me going, although I couldnt respond as I didn’t want to run my phone battery down, and probably wouldn’t have made much sense anyway. As the day passed, it got much warmer, the Sunday definitely felt warmer than the Saturday. Until about mile 90 my feet were fine, but we moved onto a section with narrow trail paths. With tired feet on a camber, with trainers that had got damp with the morning dew, I felt blisters and sores forming, this got progressively worse, but all I knew is I had to keep moving. My legs were sore, but at least I had woken up. Now my run and shuffle / walk was very similar. I didn’t stop, I didn’t feel like I was going too slow, I just kept moving forward, ensuring I was going fast enough, but not wanting to push to the point that I couldn’t finish.
Then there was the finish. I think it was slightly more psychologically difficult not knowing for sure when it was coming. I knew we would be running close to 103 miles, but once I got to 100 miles I found it tough. The last check point was at 98 miles, and we were told it was 4.5 miles. That doesn’t sound like much, but that was 90 minutes at the pace I was running. The finish line felt amazing, and I felt good crossing that line. I was met with my well earned buckle and top.
I then made my way to the hot food. As a runner we were given a hot dog, and family could buy them, and it was amazing. Often when I finish an event I can’t eat right away, but that hot dog went down so well. I got myself changed and then started looking into public transport. At that point I got a phone call from my wife. My family surprised me by coming to pick me up, and 5 minutes later they were with me. We all had a hot dog, and that second one tasted better than the first. It was such a lovely surprise having my family come to pick me up and take me home. Family is everything and having them there with me at the finish meant so much.
When I got home the impact started to set in. I hadn’t felt too bad until I stopped, and was a little stiff after sitting down for my hot dog. But when I got out of the car I had completely seized up, and it got worse from there. I felt cold, even after a hot bath, even though my body was really hot to touch. I suspect I had heat stroke, but my family did a good job looking after me, getting me lots of food, and giving me plenty to drink to hydrate me. I stayed up until about 20:00, which surprised me, but I wanted to spend the day with my family. I struggled to get up the stairs for bed (and my wife has video evidence) and was sweating all night, but I think the good nights rest is what I needed. When I woke up my legs were fine (apart from the obvious aches) and I could move around pretty fine.
So thank you again for everyone who has supported me, and those who have made a donation. As I am writing this it is a year to the day since I started my 11 marathons in 11 days, raising thousands for Cancer Research. The reason I finally plucked up the courage to complete 100 miles was to raise more money for Cancer Research. So, if you have read this far, and are able to, please pop over to my page to make a donation, and maybe add a suggestion for my next big challenge.
If there is one thing you take away from this blog, it is anything is possible if you want it. With any event, the hardest part is entering, and having confidence to take in the challenge. Please dont look at my speed on shorter distances and let that put you off if you are thinking about this challenge, as it’s in no way comparable. Also, dont look at my training as a perfect example of what to do, we are all different, and we know what our bodies are capable of. I did less training than I should for this, but I have years of experience running marathons and ultras. The basic rule is, the more training you do, the better prepared and easier it will be on the day. However, I don’t agree that you can only achieve these things by spending all your time training, and it is possible to find a good family / work life balance, and still train enough to finish. Again, the more training you can do the better, but don’t let this put you off if you don’t feel you have enough time to commit. I may not be the fastest, or the best, but I never claim to be. To complete this sort of event you need the courage to keep going, so if you want to take on this challenge, and you have the heart to enter, then believe you can do it. Make sure you train as much as you can, and not just the distance, practice with all your kit, and if you can, do some night running. I would strongly recommend getting a crew or at least pacers to run sections with you, as the hardest part could be so much better with support.