Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thames Path 100 2015 Race Report

Finally I've written a race report!
Why the delay?  Well, you'll find out if you read on.

It was an early enough start on Saturday morning as we headed to the starting area in Richmond, we wanted to beat the crowds at registration as we knew they'd be checking out mandatory kit prior to the race.

Once that was all sorted and checked out we were able to relax before the start, having a bit of a chat and of course take a few photos before the start.

Ready at the startline, David Sheridan, Marie Chapman, Ray Lanigan, JP Tierney & Myself

As the 10am start time approached we were all requested to file down towards the start area for a pre-race briefing about some minor changes to the course route and also any safety issues to be aware of.   

Throughout you could feel the nervous energy from everyone building up as everyone just wanted to get underway, finally the countdown started and we were off!

0miles - 30miles:
So we were off and the aim was to run at around a 11min/mile pace for as long as possible with the aim of running the first 1/2 - 1mile after each aid station while taking on food....or at least that was the rough plan.

I decided to put the head down and enjoy the easy feeling miles during the race.  Within the first 8 miles we experienced our first crossing and it became clear that if you weren't going to pay attention at these crossings as the miles went on and as the mind got tired then this was going to be a a very easy race to get lost in.

I continued my run out of London, passing Hampton Court and other tourist sights.  Just before the 1st aid station at mile 11 I met up with Marie and we decided to put in a good few miles together to help pass the time.

It was also at aid station 1 that I saw Ray, unfortunately he had to drop out at this early stage in the race. Given that Ray was well capable of finishing top 3 in the race it must have been a hard decision to drop out like he did.

After a very quick stop at the first aid station myself and Marie carried on. I must say its a credit to Marie as she was maintaining a solid constant pace throughout the time I ran with her.  But I managed to encourage her to walk on occasion, we even stopped at an ice cream van and got some HB Calippo's to enjoy since the weather had warmed up a bit.
Time for a sock change!

The miles continued on and we chatted about this and that and we finally started to approach Windsor and we could see the castle off in the distance. We finally hit the aid station at mile 30.5 and it was at this point that I lost Marie as I had decided to take a few minutes to change my socks as I felt I was starting to experience a blister on my left foot.

After a few minutes break and a new pair of socks I started up again passing another few miles.

30miles - 60miles:
The miles after Windsor were pretty uneventful for the most part, the blister on my left foot was causing me problems now and then. Thankfully, it stopped bothering me after a while....it just seemed to have been beaten into submission.

The miles eventually switched to farm land and there were some slight climbs along the fields, at one point I passed an area that seemed to be hosting a party and could hear the music drifting along the river.

As the final miles counted down towards the aid station at 51 miles and I could still hear the music floating along the river the darkness started to set in. I held off putting on my headlamp as I figured I'd wait for the aid station at mile 51 when I could get a full change of clothes and sort out my headlamp, hat etc.

I met Ray & Nicola and my drop bag was quickly located.  I moved into one of the tents to sort my full change of clothes and to make sure everything was re-greased up.
I also opted to get some food into me in the form of wraps, crisps and pasta.

Initially I had opted to leave the aid station just in my compression top (which Ray wasn't happy about) but I had kept my long sleeve top tied around my waist.    I'm glad I kept it within easy reach as within 300metres of walking I could feel the cold starting to set in so I put the long sleeve top over the compression top and I kept on walking for a little while. 

What I didn't know at this point was I was about to enter one of the lowest parts of the race. During the next 7miles or so I went through an awful low patch as I started to experience a blister problem with my right foot.   This was to become a major problem as the race progressed.
But I kept on running, by the time I hit the next aid station at mile 58 I was so very close to just calling it a day.

My energy levels had dropped to an all time low and I must have looked awful as one of the aid station volunteers suggested I eat some black cookie thing that was very clearly laced with tonnes of sugar.   Still I knew this was just a bad patch and I knew from experience that it would eventually pass.........even if it took 1-2hours.

As I left aid station 58 in the darkness the rain started to pelt down and this did nothing to lift my spirits, I was on my own for the next few miles and I was still at a serious low point as I headed into the detour near the center of Reading.

60miles - 84miles:
Just after Reading my spirits started to lift as I started running in the fields on the softer mud/grass surface. This started to give me much relief compared to the concrete or gravel track where I could feel every little stone on my right foot.   I'd imagine the sugar from the aid station at mile 58 had also finally kicked in. I decided to up the pace from walking and run as many of these miles through fields as I could and it felt fantastic! I felt like I was starting to make progress again and every so often I'd reel another runner in as I passed them running.  

Some of the runners for some odd reason had red lights on their back, one chap had two red lights (one at either side) which for a while I was convinced must be a car or a quad bike driving through the fields.  When I eventually realised it was actually a person walking he made an easy target to aim to pass.

Eventually the fields ended and I came across Nicola & Ray again at the crew stop just before the aid station at mile 67. At this stage I figured switching from my road shoes to my trail shoes might be the best plan as they'd give me some relief from stones/gravel underfoot. I was also mindful as I'd heard from a few people that the later parts of the race can get pretty muddy if it rains. So I switched them over and headed to the aid station.

The aid station location and Thames Path signs were somewhat confusing at this stage and I met 1 or 2 people coming back towards me who shouldn't have been walking towards me at all. Eventually after chatting we all figured out the aid station location and were able to check in.

Once checked in I must say I felt in a better mood and I was determined to make some progress in the trail shoes and I got the perfect opportunity to do just that!   About 1-2miles after the aid station at mile 67 the trail surface returned and the trail type became far more technical with a lot of small climbs and twists and turns.   I was glad as hell I had switched to trail shoes for this!
Throughout this entire section I ran and I felt great but eventually the pains from the blister in my right foot returned and I was forced to walk more and more.  

The next few miles were once again a period where a low point returned with a vengeance but I kept moving forward, it was around this time that I remember mentioning to somebody that when I cross the finish line the first thing I want to do is just lie down....the simple pleasures! 

During some periods I'd get the occasional boost and was able to run a mile or two but eventually the pain would become an issue and I'd have to walk again.   In addition to the pain the rain decided to lash down on and off which made the running more difficult to manage in the mud.

When it came to trying to run in the rain my only way to manage this was to wear my rain jacket as a sort of cape to keep the bulk of the rain off; if I wore it as a normal jacket I'd start to overheat when running after only 100-200metres. I may have looked silly but it did the trick.

It was at aid station 10 (mile 77) when I knew my foot pain could put me out of the race, I hobbled into the aid station and did my best to try sort something with the blister but to little relief.
In addition to this the section after mile 77 was awful as I found the trail surface seriously painful with each footstep, at this point it was about 6.30am on Sunday morning, I knew I could finish this but knowing I had hours and hours of walking ahead of me was not a very uplifting thought.

It was around this point that JP passed me, I hadn't seen JP since the start and apart from Ray telling me at a previous aid station that I was around an hour ahead of JP but I didn't know how his race was going.  

Just after passing Benson Lock I met JP coming towards me, at first I thought we had all made a wrong turn.      As I found out later unfortunately JP and the guy he was with had made a wrong turn a number of miles back and they had completely missed aid station 10 at mile 77.  They now had to run back approx 2miles to the aid station and then run back 2miles just to get to Benson Lock.

Unfortunately Eventually JP ran into difficulties and by mile 85 he was unable to keep down food or water and he had to make the difficult decision to drop out. I'm dead certain that had JP not made the wrong turn he would have finished the race well ahead of me as he looked in good shape when he initially passed me.

The next few miles just seemed to be endless fields, they seemed to be never ending and while I had initially hoped that the surface might be kind to my feet it wasn't as my right foot was in agony with almost every-step.

85miles - 100miles:
By the time I hit the 85mile aid station I was in a bad way, my foot was in complete agony and I wanted anyone to do anything they could to try give me some relief, I met Nicola and Ray before I went inside and Ray checked to see if anyone might be able to help.

Luckily there was a nurse on hand so he taped up my foot while I was trying to hold back tears of tiredness, frustration and pain. When I arrived at the 85mile aid station I was convinced that I had actually done 87miles so when somebody mentioned I had only 15miles to go my heart sank.

Then off I went again into the pouring rain.....shuffling forward. I must have looked as miserable sight.

The first few miles after the aid station really didn't help my feet, the path was very very narrow and many parts of it had two levels. The mud was also being an issue as it was just clumping at the bottom of my shoes which meant I had no grip what so ever and I just kept slipping from time to time.

As bad as the mud was with my trail shoes I was very glad I had switched from my road shoes and I had my gaiters on as I'd have been taking off my shoes all of the time to remove mud and stones from inside them otherwise.

I went through some awful low points before I hit the next aid station at mile 91, at which time I found out I had only reached the aid station with 30min to spare!!  

Now I was getting really worried, I had kept going for hour upon hour and now the only thing that might take the finish away from me was the cut-off time and ironically not the pains in my feet!!
With this new information in mind I decided I was going to push things as much as I could towards the finish, what I didn't know was that basically all of the route between mile 91 and mile 95 (next aid station) was very sticky mud, and some of the route also had some small climbs especially around the 92/93mile mark.

By the time I hit into aid station 95 the place was almost deserted with the exception of one runner who had decided to drop out and was just being collected, as I entered the aid area they informed me I had 1hour 45min to complete the last 5 miles...plenty of time according to them.  Ordinarily I'd completely agree with them as most of my training runs are 5miles completed in around 35-42min......so plenty of time! However, on this occasion between exhaustion, and blister issues, I wasn't sure that I would be able to complete the race before the cut-off time.

I wasn't planning to stick around and wanted all the time I could to cover the last 5 miles so I filled up on water, grabbed some gels and soldiered on towards the finish.   Once again the surface underfoot was agony!  It was full of sticky mud and lots of twigs and branches which seemed to be left over from recent tree cutting.   Eventually after about 2miles of this the surface finally changed to a field and then onto concrete.

Once I hit concrete I knew I was on the home stretch as I kept meeting more and more people out for walks and the Oxford boat crews were out training; but I wasn't taking any chances so I kept pushing myself. Urging myself to try keep some sort of pace faster than the slow walk my body and feet wanted to do, it must have been worked as I passed perhaps 3-4 runners in these final miles.

Finally after what seemed an endless time I finally caught my first glimpse of the blue finish line and I knew I was safe to finish under the cut-off. So I decided to try up the pace and finish the race the way I had started it...running.

I finally crossed the finish line in an official finish time of 27hours, 35min and 43sec, cutting it pretty close to the 28hour cutoff limit. 

I was never so happy to just lie down on the ground after a race, this was something I had promised myself and my feet over 14hours previously. I can honestly say that this was by far the hardest race I've ever ran both physically and emotionally. But it was worth it!

So why did I take so long writing this race report?
Well, I didn't start it until almost two weeks after the race as I've been absolutely floored by a seriously bad chest infection and fever.

While I was pretty okay after the race and on Monday morning (outside of the expected sore feet, legs etc.), by the time I eventually got home on Monday evening to Ireland I knew something was starting to set in.

In all honesty its been a very long time since I've been floored by such a bad chest infection and fever.  The fever meant that if I wasn't roasting I was shivering like mad. Over the time I was sick I also lost an additional 8lbs below the weight I was two days before I ran the 100mile.

As I write this report right now I'm still not 100% as my appetite is only coming back to normal, in addition my energy levels are completely shot and I'm still finding I get tired during the day. All in all its been great fun the last few weeks!

It goes without saying that I've not done any running since the 100mile race.


  1. Well done Barry. A act of pure insanity. Recover well and take it from there. Fair play. I reckon had you ran on a all road surface you would have got under the 24 hours. A lot of runners dropped out - a testament to how tough it was. Hope to see you get back to shorter races intime.

    1. Thanks Cathal, I remember telling a person at the start that one way or another I was going to finish the race as I'm a stubborn bastard!. I think I proved that. Not the most enjoyable experience once I was reduced to walking but I'm sure as hell glad I finished.

      I'd actually be interested to see how a 100mile on race event would go for me, the trail surface certainly made things hard at times and around 75% of the Thames Path 100 was trail.

  2. Great report Barry. Fair play for pulling through the low points, when it could have been so tempting to throw in the towel. Take your time with the recovery as you put your body through hell.

    1. One thing I've certainly learned from doing other events especially the 100km last year is low points can and do happen but I know that that generally speaking they pass after 1-2hours. Still it can be mentally hard going at the time thats for sure,

      I'm certainly taking my time recovering, only did my first run on the 20th May which was alot of effort for the pace I was moving at. Day by day I'm improving and getting stronger after the bad chest infection.

  3. Congrats on finishing out the race Barry!
    Sounds tough but you'll be back running the LSRs soon enough no doubt.
    TP could be one for the future for myself yet, despite the sheer agony on display above!

    1. Thanks John, I'd certainly recommend the event anyway. Well organized and plenty of stuff at the aid stations, I found I didn't actually need maybe half the stuff had in drop bags or carried with me. Infact I dumped some as time went on to save weight.

      One thing I'd certainly recommend is consider switching to trail shoes after the half way mark, especially if there's any rain! Also I was glad as hell that I had gaiters on.

      Did my first LSR of sorts today by doing 10miles, best run I've had so far and felt atleast for awhile that my body was returning to some sort of normality. Refreshing considering how I felt for the two weeks after the Thames Path.

  4. Well done (again) Barry, I didn't know about your chest infection but presume you're recovered by now. In any case, keep taking it easy for a while.

    1. Yeah unfortunately I started to get sick Monday evening and by Wednesday I knew the chest infection was set in and I was floored after that. Spent the next week and half after that in bed. In all honestly I've never had a chest infection floor me so badly, not a pleasant experience at all.

      Started back to work last Monday and am certainly feeling alot more like myself as the week went on, energy levels are returning to normal at last thankfully.