Well it was the morning of the race and ....... and all well! Everything I'd worried about all week had gone and I'd even managed to sleep well.
I got up a 5am and had a bowl of porridge.... Kelly got up at 6am (love you) and in getting ready I lifted what was the heaviest kit bag in the world into the car ready for the ride to the station.
Joking aside, I was actually slightly worried about pulling my back again it was that heavy but managed to man-handle it around London just. The train was on time (it's a miracle!) and I carefully chose a seat nearest to the toilet "just in case".
I had to change at Stratford and it was here I met Darren Coates a friend who was also running who had got dropped off and we took the overground via all what seemed like 100 stops to Richmond and the start. By now I was starting to feel the pressure of all the fluids I'd taken on. I'm a nightmare at the best of times but now I was bouncing off the walls dancing around trying to avoid an accident!
Just as I thought "wee'd" nearly be there, the train would stop in-between stations and just sit there as if to tease me. Finally we pulled into Richmond I ran to the loo's which were of course closed. I ran up the stairs out of the station and straight into Costa kicking down the door with the sign "toilet for customers only" on it.
After what seemed like an hour my bladder returned to its former size and we got to the start venue. There were runners everywhere in different stages of readiness. I had my kit check then picked up my number saying hi to some friends and some "virtual" friends but needed to sort kit and hand in bags so cracked on.
It was here that the organisers commented on my size (not a good thing in this case) of my bags. I'd asked about bag size and really had pushed the limits but they were ok once they'd stopped winding me up (deserved) and soon I was ready as I'd ever be.
I had a rough plan of slowish first half followed by an even slower second (well this was my plan). Darren would probably end up faster as he's the quick one but I planned 51 miles to Henley in as close to 10 hrs as possible then hike the rest through the night if I had to.
Ultra guru Traviss Wilcox's words of wisdom were ringing in my ears though.... "no one has ever finished if they get to Henley slower than 12:15. So step on it Ian (relatively).
Well after a brief chat from James Elson RD, we were off... Well until a gate stopped almost the whole field but we were soon off again on what was a perfect day along the Thames. We were all laughing and joking but before I knew it we were doing 8:xx minute miles and alarm bells were ringing for me. I decided straight away to ease off but Darren carried on as he seemed in the groove but I really wanted to "pace not race" as someone had told me previously.
I was forcing myself to run approx. 10 minute miles and I bumped into Colin Barnes from myracekit.com, I told him I was going too fast and he totally agreed as we jogged slowly along the river. Even Colin's slow pace was a little quick for me so I said bye and backed off even more. We were moving with no issues and there were little to no need for nav. checks yet as I had recce'd the whole route so many times on the internet and I knew we were going to have to cross the river for the first time shortly (later found out some people didn't?).
First crossing complete as we approached Hampton Court Palace and I said hello to another "virtual friend" "Luna" Peter G Smith from FB... He's now elevated to "real friend" status! (this would happen a few times). As I crossed the river again I was impressed how good the paths were and made a mental note to take the family back here another time as the backdrop of the river with it's rowers and wild life was impressive along with the local architecture, everyone goes to the centre of town when visiting London but this was impressive.
After a few more miles, I could see Darren ahead walking? I guessed that he'd realised finally what pace he was running and decided to slum it at the back with me for a while ;) I told him I wasn't going to push it and he agreed and we ran together into the first CP at 11 miles.
This was stocked in usual Centurion fashion with wraps, fresh fruit, gels and as usual anything would be no trouble. These event are nearly always manned by fellow runners and not just by mere mortals like you and me but often you'll find your drink being topped up in the middle of the night by the person who'd won the race previously and everyone is treated the same. Several times during the event we questioned why we do this and I think this is one huge part of it.
I asked for my single bottle to be filled and added a hydration tablet. I refilled my "roo pouch" a small bum bag that I fill with nibbles and use to graze until the next CP, downed a few snacks then we were off again. Probably in and out in less than 2 minutes?
I turned on my phone and updated FB with "CP1 done" and turned it off again. The fact it was beeping mad told me something was happening in the social media world. The weather continued to be glorious, I fact maybe a little too warm really and I was wondering if my decision to only carry one 500ml water bottle to hand was the best? But like a lot of things that were to happen, I wasn't going to stop to sort it.
We kept the pace even as the views along the river continued to be impressive. We approached yet another bridge and the group we were in insisted the path continued on the same side we were currently on. I was sure this was a crossing point and said this but they carried on taking Daren with them. I turned right over the bridge but had a hunch I would see them again soon. Well a matter of minutes later I turned and the whole group were crossing the bridge and catching me up. I thought I'd make it a little more interesting for them and every time I lost sight of them on a twisty part of the course I'd up the pace slightly, this actually opened up a small gap.
Eventually I settled back into a steady pace as I joined the river again and eventually I could hear Darren talking to another guy approaching. He was with a guy called Rashaad from Bangladesh. Rashaad was running really well and trying to be the first person from his country to officially complete a 100 mile race (he smashed it).
Soon me and Darren settle down again and we jogged along the riverside as the capital disappeared replaced by larger houses complete with private jetty's. We passed under the landmarks that were the M3 motorway and eventually the M25 (not so impressive) so I knew we couldn't be far from CP2.
Soon I could see then Centurion flag in the distance and spotted the lovely Fiona McNelis controlling the clipboard. Once again I followed my usual routine of quick in and quick out of the aid station and we both walked out with food eating like we'd discussed previously for a few minutes. On this day which was now pretty warm and sunny, many others looked like they were taking the chance to cool off a little too and for a moment several pairs of ultra runners strolled along the river, slightly surreal.
Before too long we all set off again running and I was surprised that Darren looked to be suffering slightly. Nothing serious but he did look like he wasn't in a happy place. We ran though a small village and soon we followed a string of other runners back to water as now we were passing Windsor Castle in the distance as if it was a backdrop in a medieval movie. We crossed a bridge and ran through a crew area with people waiting for their runners to pass. Everyone cheered all runners though as we passed and occasionally I even got offered some refreshment which as really nice. It was also I'm slightly ashamed to say nice to see we must have been in front of someone still.
As we passed Windsor Race course and came close to CP3 at Dorney at just gone 30 miles we met up with Traviss Wilcox. Traviss has not only run more marathons than most of us but he's probably run more 100 milers than most people have run marathons! What he doesn't know about the 100 mile distance probably isn't important so where I can, I tend to listen to him if that's posting on FB or directly on his website http://traviss.co.uk/. Traviss recognised me which was cool and we ran together into Dorney CP which was outside a rowing club.
Again time was important and soon we were walking along the water again finishing our supplies. So far everything was going to plan. The pace was still decent running at 10 mm's but with now a few walking breaks thrown in that meant the average was still under 12mm, bang on plan for us to get to Henley CP and the 51 miles point in 10 hrs leaving 18 hrs to cover 49 miles in the dark which worst case could be walked if it all went wrong.
It was just after 30 miles that Darren said he thought he needed to run faster as he was struggling. I know this sounds strange but he's a quick runner that is comfortable running fast so this pace for him was difficult. I said I was fine and he said he'd see me soon anyway but I honestly didn't think I'd see him again as we said our goodbyes again.
I focused on where I was on the route I tried to guess the landmarks that were approaching to help tick the miles off. Another bridge to cross, another chance to say hello to the crews of other runners and then more water to run next to.... rewind and repeat... Soon it was difficult to pick out where I was at all?
I was now just running on autopilot, chugging along the river bank trying to keep with the few runners I could see around me as even at this early stage there's safety in numbers and it's easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the water. Eventually the path finished and turned left inland sharply as we entered some woods? This didn't happen very often and I guessed we were approaching the village of Cookham and the next CP. Yes, we left the woods and turned onto a road and soon we were approaching CP4 and 38 miles.
I ran into the CP feeling good with a chap called Peter who I'd recognised from the start due to Darren pointing him out. Darren had said he was some kind of ultra guru and even though this guy looked a little older in years (sorry), well looks can be deceiving as he was running this, then a short 40 miler next week, a marathon the next .... oh then the 150 mile Grand Union Canal race the following week!
As we ran in I could see Darren leaving and we waved. I was quite pleased by this as I knew he would be stepping it up but I couldn't have lost too much time to him if I was seeing him still. At this stage I'd like to say THANKS in case I forget later. Thanks to everyone that volunteers for these events. Nothing special really happened here for me, was I going to throw in the towel and got talked off the cliff? Noooo but they were just so friendly every time. They made running to the next CP enjoyable and something to look forward to. Even though they probably started in the day earlier than me, I never saw one person not smiling and I never heard any of them say no for anything to anyone. So if I forget, thanks!
I left rapidly and was getting excited as I knew that we were getting close to halfway and that there were a few places I would recognise off the map. We were soon running into Marlow and here the Thames Path diverts into the village through a series of tall walled alleys and soon I was walking as if in a maze as you had to really look to see the the red marker tape on the course. I was now joined by another runner who was equally confused and we swung left to the river only to find no path? Suddenly a small crowd outside a pub shouted, "here guys", so we walked over and they pointed to another hidden alley with a piece of tape tied to a post next to it. We thanked them and soon we were back on course.
We ran through another crew section in the village with everyone cheering again and before you knew it.... yes more river bank! Before the start in the race briefing James the RD mentioned two diversions on the course. One at Reading just past the halfway point and the other just west of Marlow where we were. This was a minor detour due to a footbridge repair but I was determined not to get lost so tried to keep within view of a couple of other runners just in case. Well I waited for the path to be closed ready to take action...... Then waited a little longer, and a bit longer getting ready to divert right.... Nothing? Result!
Before I knew it I was running into the next CP at 44 miles. This was a small aid station set in what looked like a large tent but it had the atmosphere of a campsite at a mini festival on a summer evening. Everyone again was full of positive energy (apart from the handful of runners sat on chairs) and it was nice to see Colin again briefly. I refueled and purposely took another minute before setting off to eat some lovely fresh fruit and take in the surroundings. I'd been so focused so far that I hadn't looked around for more than a few seconds for the whole race so far and this was almost too perfect and to not take it in would have been a crime.
I left the CP and as I did I overheard on of the staff saying "we're now starting to see the main field coming in". On these events you need to take the positives out of anything and I told myself that I must be doing well if they were only just saying that now? (they probably said that to everyone all night lol).
As I crossed a metal footbridge I jogged past a father taking his young child for a walk in a stroller. As I skipped down the the steps on the other side I thought I should really ask if he needed help carrying his pushchair down so called out to him but he said he was ok and I pushed on somewhat relieve as I was getting a little tired now.
More grass and more paths along the river and occasionally we'd cut inland for a short while. At one point we ran through the grounds of a house that I decided must be owned by royalty? It had everything boathouses, tennis courts and even a full size cricket pitch! (later found out if was owned by a Swiss banking billionaire!) I was slightly impressed.
I normally quite like running on my own but I'd noticed my pace was starting to slow slightly so just as a fellow runner passed me I decided to try my best to stick with them. We ran together for a while chatted about nothing special before we both said this was our second 100 attempt and that nothing was going to stop us but never again (spooky). We laughed and we both agreed that running long distances was as silly idea and we couldn't understand why people want to do it. I likened it to wanting to climb Everest. It's amazing but would you want to climb it every week?
My pace quickened as I wanted and I was feeling better as we started to see more civilisation and that could only mean Henley. I looked at my watch and as the 50 mile point ticked over I said to my new friend whose name I can't remember (funny we both said we'd forget) that I'd just run a 50 mile PB!
Finally we passed a large house on the far side of the river with what sounded like a rave going on in the garden? This was slightly strange in the middle of nowhere but hey, if you've got the money, why not! Once again we crossed the Thames as we entered the famous town and within a few minutes I'd be reunited with my first drop bag.
Woooooah, we're halfway there!
Actually not quite as it looked like the CP would never come as I ran out of Henley without seeing the aid station? But finally I could see it and I ran into it shouting my number to the staff.
Well up to now I'd again followed the advice of wiser people than me and never sat down at a CP ever. Well I knew I was going to be here for a little while so I fell into a tent which was just full of seats and slumped into one, it felt amazing and I soon realised why chairs were the work of the devil as I could have stayed there forever.
People I knew started to come up and say hello including "Mr Piece of String RD" James Adams (he's got a book you know). It was nice to see him again even if he did refuse my request for him to narrate his book to me as I ran as the audio book wasn't available.
I was then approached by another fellow runner/helper Glyn who I knew from many events and who'd even ran one of our Frolic events. He asked if I had a drop bag and went to collect it for me. (still can't knock the service) and as I looked over there was Darren! It was great to see him and I wondered how long he'd been here? (less than 2 mins I'd later find out).
In my drop bag I had everything I thought I'd need for the long night section. I also had new shoes and socks in case I needed them. The feet were a little sore with I remember one small hot spot so I decided to change socks only along with a new baselayer and put on my heavier rain jacket ready for what I saw as the long march ahead. Also an important factor was the weather. Heavy rain was forecast but so far we'd had nothing and I wondered if we would get lucky but no one wanted to say it out loud.
I tired to eat a couple of things and also picked up a charger pack for my GPS watch and got out my meal I'd prepared, left over Chinese take away from the day before (crispy roasted belly of pork and rice, yum). It was also getting dark now so I removed one of my small torches from my pack and replaced it with the new Icon. In hindsight I now know I don't need half as much stuff and my drop bag should really have been a lot smaller.
Another runner came up to me and said hello (sorry this is really, really bad as I couldn't remember his name either but I was sure I knew him). For the purpose of this tale he will be referred to as "Bob". My new friend asked how I was and I said not bad considering and he said was it ok if he stuck with us for a few CP's as it got dark, I told him more the merrier as we again walked out of Henley into the night with me eating Chinese.
Darren was now back with me and "Bob" and we started to jog again trying to use the last seconds of twilight to good effect. I reminded everyone that as I got to Henley in the time I wanted I was ready for my long walk but no one seemed to listen and we started to run again but every now and then we would stop and walk a little but only for a short while and before too long we'd be skipping once again.
Thinking back, the next few miles were a bit of a blur? We'd jog into a town then we'd be in the middle of a field next minute? "Bob" led the way and I think me and Darren were more than happy to follow.
By now the one hot spot was two large hot spots on each foot. I could feel the pads of my feet squelching like water bed and I knew this wasn't going to end well. I'd had bad blisters in the past years ago so I knew what was to come and I also knew they would never get better. I'd missed the opportunity to sort them out earlier and now I was going to have to live with that decision. Oh well push on....
Thanks to our new formed gang, the miles flew and in the distance I could see the lights of Reading and we were soon climbing the stairs into the aid station at 58 miles. This was the furthest I'd ever run in one hit and only a few miles until I hit the magic 100k which is the longest I'd covered walking/running in a single event (Trailwalker years ago).
In the CP were lot's of people and was staffed by virtual friends Paul Ali and Susie Chan (both super runners and now real friends). I refueled as quick as possible and again I could see a line of the dreaded chairs which were fully occupied and I really hoped that this warm haven in the night wouldn't claim them as I found this last time was the kind of distance you would think about giving up.
"Bob" thrust a coffee with about 12 sugars in it and I followed this with a couple of full fat coke chasers. I'd not had caffeine for over a week in the build up to race day on purpose and now I was downing it like a junkie and high as a kite!
We left pretty sharpish as all the indoor CP's were dangerous and it started to drizzle heavily as the expected weather finally hit us. Within a few minutes we passed an even louder beer festival with live music that I remember mentioned in the previous years race report, we all decided that next year we'd all go to the beer fest and cheer runners as they went past. This was also location of the second detour. The path stopped and we headed into town and it was here I was kind of grateful of the heavy rain because it meant the ravers weren't hanging about.
Things were starting to get a little tiring now. I was still eating and drinking continuously but I was shattered and also I was feeling a little sick. Nothing bad but enough to make eating not enjoyable and I was taking a mouthful spending and hour with it in my mouth chewing then finally forcing myself to swallow. This was hard work but I knew I couldn't stop as that would have serious implications later.
Eventually we crossed a field into a car park after what seemed like the longest leg ever and turned to cross the river and I recognised this as Whitchurch and the next CP. I also knew that the path into the CP wasn't obvious as I'd tried to follow it on Google maps and got lost then and the real world wasn't much better as we entered someone's drive and were joined be a bunch of others looking for the right way (included local top Essex female ultra runner Naomi Newton-Fisher).
Within minutes we were in the aid station and "Bob" was again making sure we were ok and I was starting to feel that this "arrangement" was looking slightly one-sided but he didn't seem to mind and it was less than 4 miles now until Streatley CP and my pacer Brian Poore would be there I hoped. I had an issue on my previous attempt where I was worried about meeting times for pacers etc. Well this time if he was there then great but if not then it was carry on.
Once out of the warmth again we hit the only hilly section of the course and had to walk up the hills so the pace was dropping again. People who say the Thames Path is easy as it's flat haven't run it before a like other flat events I've done, you don't get the natural walking breaks you'd get on hills and also the muscles get no rest as you negotiate as the terrain, it's painful!
Anyway, after what seemed like days I saw the bridge that meant Streatley and Brian! Brian was in good spirits considering it was nearly 01:30 in the morning and lord knows what he'd been doing while waiting and I didn't care, what was important was that he was there. This sounds harsh but this was something I'd learnt that worrying about crew and pacers wasn't allowed. racing is selfish from the time spent training to the actual event. Everything needs to revolve around you during that time and there would be plenty of time to readdress the balance later post-event. I'd obviously briefed Brian on this before hand so he knew to expect grumpy Ian.
As I entered the building Brian grabbed my second drop bag and once again I noticed how little of the stuff in to I actually needed. I turned around to thank "Bob" for the amazing effort he'd done for us over the last 20 miles keeping us in check and moving when we were on an obvious low but I couldn't? "Bob" was nowhere to be seen? He'd directed us to safety and then gone? I asked the staff but they knew no "Bob" and there wasn't even a "Bob" in the results I'd later find out? Was he real? or did I imagine the whole thing? Was he "Saint Bob"? The Patron Saint of Ultra Runners? Anyway, whoever you are, thanks!
Brian took the lead and Darren decided to forge ahead again as I had told him I was definitely walking from here and he was meeting up with his own pacer later on. I had told Brian that I was due to get to meet him at 3am as this was what the Centurion sub-24hr plan said. Well what I hadn't realised was the plan simply took the whole race distance and the cut-off time and gave you a flat steady pace for each CP. Trust me there wouldn't be many people that would run the same pace from start to finish. As a result I was an hour and a half ahead of schedule but I was going to slow before the event finished.
After a bit of run/walk I told Brian that I'd really wanted to walk soon. Unknown to me Brian had slightly increased the running sections we were doing and was slowly building my time in the bank in case we needed it later. My issue was 2-fold was I was running on empty even though I would struggle to eat more than I was and the feet were a real mess. Both feet were fully blistered as were the toes and I could feel where my feet had swollen the big toes were now smashed too. The bubbles had literately burst hours ago and the pain was significant now and the smooth going had been replaced by the first bit of mud on the whole route and was also rutted.
I was now at the stage where I honestly didn't think they could get any worst and stopping wouldn't help now and as I hinted to before, there was nothing that was going to stop me unless something went snap or I was timed out and the latter looked like it wasn't going to happen. We trudged into a town and the next CP which as a tiny rowing club again staffed with some of the friendliest people you'd meet. At this time it was almost annoying as I didn't understand how anyone could be so upbeat but I forced a smile and thanked everyone again. We also bumped into Darren and pacer friend as they left and after another bottle refill and cup of coffee we set off too.
Brian led a small group of us now as we came to a dead end as it looked like we'd managed to miss the turning onto the river. I could have been frustrated as I didn't need bonus miles but I was too tired to moan which was good as in reality we'd missed the turn by about 5 metres (man I was losing it big time). A few minutes later I said to Brian I'd got a stone in my shoe and I needed to stop and sort it. I did this and after poured my foot back into the shoe but the stone still seemed to be there. I decided that I had worst things to worry about so continued and I did wonder if it even existed?
This next section I described later to someone as living in "Ground Hog Day". We were running/walking just about on a curved grassy river bank that never seemed to never get closer to anything? Also this wasn't helped by the fact that the distance to the next CP ticked over on my watch and still nothing, not even the bridge? Eventually the bridge appeared seemed to just appear from behind a hedge and I knew we were close as we jogged past a smiling marshal directing us up the road.
We followed in another couple of runners into the hall and one of them said his feet were also blistered and and asked a medic to have a look. I again decided I couldn't fix anything now and just refueled. I looked around and tried to take in the fact we'd covered 85 miles with only 15 to go and I had to laugh when I noticed the communal large pot of Vaseline complete with disclaimer standing on it's own table in the corner!
I stumbled downhill with Brian leading and he was now updating FB for me to record where we were as I couldn't even manage that. We rejoined the river path and I saw Ultra legend Peter once again in front I gave everything I had and passed him and I wanted to try and see if I could flip a switch and power the next few miles to Abingdon then we could almost see home from there. Well that was the plan. Brian commented that he was impressed with my new found speed but it wasn't to last. Within minutes I was burnt out and on the next walking section I told Brian that was it, I had nothing left. Brian checked his kit and started to feed me with energy gels to try and keep me going. I knew we'd finish now as I was still moving forward and nothing would stop that but the wheels were falling off.
Ultra Peter passed me followed by a handful of people that looked like they had timed things a little better than me (this included virtual/real friend Kate Jayden). I even started to look at a map for the first time in the whole event to try and see how far I had next stop which was a huge no no but I was desperate. I even did this without Brian seeing as I knew he'd tell me off. Yet again eventually we did get there.
This was the penultimate CP at 91 miles and the staff sorted me out and told me if we ran for it we might get sub-24 (21 hrs 19 minutes to here). With 9 miles to go I couldn't imagine being able able to run this and I told them I was happy with any time as long as I get a finish and even if I crossed the line in 24:01 I'd be happy.
We ran off as I thought maybe it was mental and I still had something left in the tank but after 400 metres I knew it was real and as the going got sloppy we were back to a march for the 4 miles to the final stop. Looking back I actually think we walked this whole section in the mud and all I could do was try and increase the marching pace to as quick as possible and after another age we walked into the last CP at.... yes a rowing club!
The people here again were amazing, they said once my bottle were filled that we needed to "bugger off sharpish" as sub-24 might still be possible. By now I had no idea about times and just wanted the whole thing to be finished. We walked out of the CP but within a few metres we were met by a runner limping back in the opposite direction? Confused we asked what was up and he said he needed to pull out as something had gone snap. Ouch, we were absolutely gutted and asked couldn't he struggle the last 5 miles but he knew what was best and later said he'd be back (top man).
Brian kept telling me that the path going soon going to be flat as we entered Oxford and as we approached a lock in the river we were greeted for the first time in ages with flat tarmac and I ran! I'd like to say this inspired me to sprint all the way in but as the lock went it took the tarmac with it and we were in the mud again and the pace dropped.
As we passed under a large road bridge Brian again said that the finish wasn't too far and now the path did actually get better. Psychologically I wanted to see signs of the finish but there was nothing? No people, no balloons, no banners and definitely no blue finish arch! This continued for every corner when I expected to see something but then nothing. Brian now wasn't saying anything and I was starting to worry that we had miles left?
Then I saw two people in tracksuits walking towards us in the distance. I knew we had time for sub-24 if the finish was close. As we approached them they said the finish was 800 metres from the bridge? Suddenly it was game on and I upped the pace. But then I thought "800m from what bridge?" I asked Brian and he like me wasn't sure? We'd just passed a bridge just before we saw the couple but was it that one or was it another bridge around the corner as we couldn't see anything?
We turned the corner and.... again nothing? No people no signs and my heart dropped a little but then something through the trees caught my eye? Was that really a flash of Centurion blue? YES! There on the other side of the fence was the finish, we'd made it! even then though I couldn't see the entrance to the field and I told Brian I bet it's a mile up the path! Finally I saw a banner and we took the left turn following the tape to the finish. 23 hours 41 mins. 100 miles One Day buckle in the bag.
I gave Brian a hug and shook the hand of James Elson and got hugs from the lovely Karen Webber, Nici and it was great to see Fiona and with Sue Albison who were crewing. I did feel a little emotional but I think most of all I felt relief.