Monday, 18 September 2017

Thames Path 100 - Training Blog 1

Anything worth doing starts with a bad idea.  Leigh Bardugo

As a mid-pack ultra runner, much of this blog could easily come across as pretentious but I write for myself and people seem to enjoy it.  It is written in the hope that others will see beyond their mental barriers and learn that comfort zones are way too dull.

The Race
For some bizarre reason running 60 miles on Race to The Stones was not enough, I had finished strong and with the adrenaline (and good fuelling) could have continued.  Somewhere in my mind I had decided to take on a bigger challenge, something that would push me to my real limits. The Ridgeway 86 was looming over the August bank holiday, but was too close to other booked races and eventually I decided to take on a 100-mile race in 2018.  So where to start?  I searched around for races that may be achievable for a mid-pack runner like me and affordable.  I finally narrowed it down to Centurion Running's Thames Path 100.  So I booked up and started looking at training plans, then it hit me - it's flat, not just a little flat, completely flat.  There will be no hills to create natural walk breaks and few changes to the scenery, after spending the best part of two years training on hills I would need to adjust my distance training plan considerably and work out the best run/walk ratio for me.

The race starts in Richmond and follows the meandering Thames through Surrey, past Weybridge, Staines and Runnymede before passing into Berkshire and past the iconic Windsor Castle.  The river continues up to Maidenhead before looping south through Henley and Reading, then north again through the idyllic towns of Streatley and Goring before passing through Wallingford.  From Wallingford to Abingdon is a long stretch with little or no change of scenery, but once through Abingdon, you are already on the outskirts of Oxford.   The route is 25% paved and 75% trail, getting very "soft under foot" the further from London you get.

It gets muddy!  (pic c/o Liz Tunna)

In previous years the paths have been flooded near Henley and the race becomes an "out and back", passing Windsor castle 3 times - it's a nice castle but I don't like it that much.  I love point-to-point routes, the feeling of progressing to the finish rather than just looping for the extra mileage.  I hate looped races, even out and back courses start to grind me down after a short while.

Running by the Thames in May has a few hazards once you get out of the M25 area.  Reading blogs and race reports many runners reported the near freezing temperatures, fog, flooding and many junctions that can lead the runners astray, adding unneeded extra mileage to the race.

Doesn't look far on the map....

After getting over the initial shock of signing up I needed to seek some information, where else to start but my very good internet friend Nicholas Thick.  He immediately offered to pace me from 51 miles, I could not have asked for a better start to my planning.  Races of 100 miles and over normally allow pacers, if nothing else to keep your mind focused on fuelling, keeping up the pace and help chase the hallucinations away.  Many runners have extreme morale dips during the longer races and having someone around who knows you, is just concentrating on getting you to the finish, is worth their weight in gold.

During the Butcombe Trail Ultra I spent some time running with a guy that had returned to the TP100 in 2017 after a DNF in 2016.  His advice was simple, train on flat and train on the course as much as possible.  So alongside the few nocturnal training runs, I started to plan to use the extensive local canal footpaths and the last 30 or so miles of the TP100 course from Goring to Oxford.

Training for the race will need to start in November, starting at around 40 miles a week and peaking at 75 miles in a week by March/April.  Having never stuck rigorously to a training schedule I may also have a life to live for the next 6 months and mileage may slip here and there.  I had already booked a few races into 2018, Brecon to Cardiff Ultra in February and the Manchester Marathon in April and adjusted the training schedule around them.  I'm still tempted by the Green Man Ultra or Imber in March but holding back right now.

Some Early Planning
Unlike most solo races I've run this race would require some in-depth planning, not only for myself but for the crew, however, the experience of managing a team for the London to Cardiff Realy three years in a row has taught me a lot about race planning.  Being flexible and staying positive are big requirements not only the planning but the race as well, so many minor factors can screw up the best-laid plans.

Trying to recruit a crew may also take some careful persuasion of a few friends with experience and knowledge of myself, knowing when I'm bluffing or too tired to would help in such a race.  The crew need to be able to read you and react to your requests during the race, all a big ask from friends giving up their own spare time to fulfil your sporting whim.

I have purchased Harvey National Trail Map - Thames Path from Dash4It.  These light, waterproof and tearproof maps are ideal for planning on the ground in all weathers.   Although I tend to use GPX, and charge my watch on the go, it's always good to have a last resort in the backpack.  Although the route is marked every blog I have read has made a comment about getting lost.

I found a useful tool on a and although developed for the 2012 race it should still give a great indication of the pace required for a given finish time.

Let the training commence!!

I believe it's just as important to allow the dark feelings as it is to focus on the light.
We learn the most in the dark moments.
We grow the most.
I am who I am because of the moments, days and years of failure that fuelled and tuned my successes.
And so I dance with my demons, and I live to run another day. 
(author unknown)

Liz Tunna - Muddy Path pic from

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