In 2010, aged 30, I ran the Casablanca marathon in a time of 03:59. In my apparent peak years for endurance running, motivation and form had reached an all time low. I was regressing and it was a monumental struggle to get under 4 hours. It was simply unimaginable that nine years on I would run sub 4 hour marathon pace for 100 miles.
Training for the event had gone particularly well with an average weekly mileage of 110 over the eight weeks leading up to the race. Due to my love of the hilly trails, I had probably neglected the flatter, faster terrain, however I hoped this would help with stamina towards the end of the race.
My previous best 100 mile time had been 16:01 in Berlin in 2017. This was a similarly flat course, however primarily on tarmac, unlike the Thames Path which has significant grassy/field sections, especially in the 2nd half. In Berlin I had faded badly towards the end and almost had to death march the last few miles. The plan for the TP was simple, get to 50 miles in 07:10 – 07:20 then the 2nd half in 07:40 – 07:50. I have learnt over the years, a race plan is absolutely critical and you need to try and stick with it as much as possible. Clearly it is important to run to feel. however you must run your own race. It is irrelevant how many people are ahead or behind you, you can only perform to your best and hope it is good enough.
At 09:30 we left Richmond and I slowly eased into the race. The first aid station at Walton came around particularly quickly and then it was onto Dorney where I met my crew for the first time. The miles between Dorney and Henley were some of the best I can remember during a race, everything was working like clockwork with the 08:30 miles being churned out with ease. I treated myself to some Brooks & Dunn and then Toby Keith on the music box and had a little sing along.
As I approached Henley and mile 51, I felt fantastic and was exactly on plan, arriving to meet my pacer David Ross in 07:21. I had steadily moved through the field from 16th at the first aid station to 2nd by this point. Dave accompanied me for the next 7 miles before handing over to Adrian Savery at mile 58. Up to mile 61 I had pretty much maintained the same pace from the start. However at this point we both missed a right turn over a bridge, instead choosing to follow a pink ‘breast cancer walk’ arrow! Thankfully, the mistake was quickly corrected and I had only lost a few minutes. The miles were flying by and Adrian handed over to Tremayne Cowdrey at mile 67.
I was steadily gaining ground on race leader Ian Hammett and the gap had closed to 9 minutes at Clifton Hampden (mile 85). However as this information was relayed to Ian, he showed his true class and pulled away to increase lead back to 17 minutes by mile 95. I was still running strongly and on plan, however the uneven ground was starting to take its toll and I had pretty bad blisters on both feet. This was due to running the whole race in road shoes, clearly a benefit on the first half of the race but meaning I lacked stability on the true off-road sections.
Nutrition continued to go well with a GU gel every 30 minutes and the odd bit of solid food thrown in. As is always the case, things started to get really tough towards the end and the pain in my feet rapidly became excruciating. Ultimately, it all worked out and I managed to maintain a reasonable pace to squeeze in under 15 hours. Ian took the win in an amazing 14:36 with my 14:58 being good enough for 2nd. I cannot thank Tremayne and Jacque Cowdrey enough for their support in both pacing and crewing and big kudos to both Dave and Adrian for their pacing miles also.
So as Hanibal would say “I love it when a plan comes together’. Two days later, reflecting on the race, I still have to pinch myself that I actually ran that time. It is amazing what the human body is capable of with hard work, dedication and some self-belief. Next up is the South Downs 100, race number two in the Centurion Grand Slam series.