Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Thames Path 100. The High's and Low's of Ultra Running.

The Thames Path is a point to point race that starts in London. Along side the River Thames at Richmond.  The starting point is at Richmond Town hall. The race follows the Thames Path all the way to Oxford  where the race finishes at Queen's College Recreation Ground part of Oxford University. The route has two minor diversions.It is a well signed course that is easy to follow by Thames Path sign with the Acorn symbol. But also its very well marked by race organizers Centurion Running. The aim set by Centurion is namely to give participants a fast flat race and a well marked course that will give runners an opportunity to try a 100 mile race to test themselves for more taxing 100 mile races and 100 mile mountain marathons.

I had been training hard and working with James Elson as my coach. This was to be my third attempt at a 100 miles. I had DNF at South Downs Way 100 last year. This is how I came to end up working with a James. I am not that great taking in information and putting it into practice.James set me a bespoke training plan to fit in with a busy life. This has worked well and saw me complete The Winter 100 last year. But it also helped me get PB's at different distances.

I arrived the night before staying at a Travel Lodge nearby. I had a sound sleep and woke up at 6.00 am. A small amount of porridge and  cup of tea and I was ready for the off. I was meeting up with friends I had made via the BOSH run group. Luke Ashton a fellow ultra runner and Sunday O and Helen G. Also fellow runners. We were soon at Race HQ and made are way into Richmond Town Hall. I checked in my mandatory kit in and I was given a gaming chip to collect my race number. The chip is to confirm you have had your kit checked . I saw Katharine a new friend who is one of The Grand Slammers. She looked relaxed and said she was feeling good. Louise another friend came over and said hi. We had met on other races. I was feeling relaxed and James popped over to see how I was doing. We had a quick chat and I said I looking forward to the start. I then went out to sort out my drop bags and I found Luke. Andy Nuttall and Dill Cowdry  came and said hello Mark another Bosher also came by. I really like the fact that ultra racing community is so realxed friendly and supportive it is a real social community.

L-R Andy Nutall Luke Ashton ShawnTimmons
After the race brief we were directed outside. It was a warm day already. The  race was starting at 10.00am. A good crowd had gathered to see us off. We soon set off  with a sound of a horn. Running along this section of the course was mainly paved I had the Thames to the right of me and I take time to take in as much of the scenery as I could. My pace was around 10 minute mile. I had planned to be 9 min/mi but for some reason I did not feel as strong as I had in training. I was unconcerned as I wanted to save my legs for later in the race. My plan was to run for 30 minutes and then  walk 50 paces and run again. This was so I could rest my legs and save them for as long as I could.

I soon found myself running with Jay McCardle of one the guys behind Sussex Trail Events. I have run a couple of their races. We chatted about these and generally got to know each other a bit. I split off from Jay when I need a loo break and spotted a toilet that was not a bush! After this point I started to feel not a 100% I seem to run out of energy and my head started up! Just that negative voice that you cannot get away from. Thoughts of dropping where predominant. I cannot remember much of the first aid station at Walton on Thames. I think I may off hit this point at 1.45 minutes. However I would not of hung about.

The next 20 miles where horrendous with the thoughts of dropping that where going on in my head. I had also started to feel sick. I kept going. I did not know at this point it was the sun/heat that was causing an issue. I use dyralites and salty foods to keep on top of my sodium levels. But today this was not enough. I got to 26 miles and I thought that is it, This is going to be one miserable experience. I am dropping. But there was part of that just did not want to let myself down. I run for me, its a personal challenge. And one thing I do in life is not to give in! So I phoned a friend Midgie Thompsion of Bright Futures Coaching We spoke through what was going on. I was convinced I had pain in my foot. I have been having problems with bruised sesimoid bones in my feet. She asked me if my mind was playing tricks on me. And to think about how I would feel tomorrow if I did not finish. That stirred something in me and I carried on. My head was still chatting sh*t though.

Wraysbury Aid station Mile 22 was situated the other side of Staines. There were boats to the side and the food was in a chalet like hut. I went in and grabbed some food got some  water and carried on my way. I had got here 3 hrs 55 mins. A little slow but of no concern for now, I carried on much the same the sun was shinning still feeling a bit sick. Andy Nutall came along and we ran together for a while. It was great to be running along with someone else. I asked Andy how he was doing. He said he was doing good. I said I was struggling. I told him what was going on and Andy pointed out the issue could be the sun. I had a little dizziness going on to now and again. 

I remember crossing a bridge at Eton and seeing Windsor Castle in the background. The sun was shining and there was blue skies with a slight breeze.  We got to Dorney to be greeted by a giant chicken. One of the volunteers had dressed in a chicken costume. Maybe this is why I remember this aid station more clearly. I got a top up of water and some food in. I said a hello to a few people and headed off again. Andy was on his target and set of ahead of me. I was grateful for Andy running with me. It gave me a break from my head which had now shut up. I was going to finish this race. I carried on feeling better mentally to just carry on and do the best I could. I had gone from being miserable to having a race head on.

The next aid station was Cookham 8 miles away. I was feeling better and the sickness has subsided. I had some scaps with me and had taken one. I had not tried them on a run before. But I had nothing to lose. I did start to feel better and got some more prolonged running in. I took an opportunity to take a picture and let people know how I was doing.

I try not to take myself to seriously and I was feeling good here. A few miles after Eton Dorney I crossed a bridge back on to the left side of the river. The route had been on path not much shade. After 35 miles the route follows a little bit of A4094 here. As I got to to Lower Cookham Road there was some spectators who asked me how far had I completed so far. I said 35 miles. They wished me well and I carried on. A lot of people along the route seemed to know of the race and there was lots of good lucks along the way. Running in the shade of trees and wood was nice after the glare of the sun which was very deceptive today. I had to run through Cookham before getting back on the path the stopping at the Aid Station there. Mile 38. I did not hang around again to long. I ate some crisps got a sandwich and carried on out. There was a park so I walked and ate some food before starting to a run again. There was a young couple who asked how the food was. It was a little dry now but still edible. I saw the same couple a few more times. They must of been supporting someone.

The nest Aid Station was only  6 miles away. The aid stations where now grouped closer together. Better psychologically as it made it easier to break the race up. A mile of so further I had to cross another bridge. A lot of the route was track or tarmac road and paved. It was taking its toll on the feet but not to much at this time. There was lots of locks on the way and for some reason I took a dislike to these. I think it was to do with the hard surface and my feet hurting. As I was heading to Marlow I needed my second loo break. Luckily I found one.  I remember  passing an older guy and saying hello. He said there was loads of good pubs in Marlow. I said thanks but I did not have time to stop. I ran through Marlow and carried on. I reached Hurley. There was an Island in the middle of the river. I remember thinking how beautiful this area looked. And that I would not mind living on an Island like that. I stocked up on water and food and carried on. 

I had some more periods of sickness. I was dry heaving and trying to bring something up. But it was not happening. It had really started to slow me down. I had a walk run going on now. The plan was to get to Henley get into my night gear eat and rest for half hour and hope the sickness would pass. It was getting cold now and the gear I had on was not going to keep me warm for much longer. I kept moving as efficiently  as I could. I did not want to get really cold at this point. I arrived at Henley mile 51. At 11hr.27 minutes after I had started. Not to bad considering. It was good to see the lovley Karen Webber a fellow Bosher and a regular volunteer for Centurion. It was nice to get a hug. 

I ate first changed into my kit for the night. I was glad to get some leggings and warmer tops  on and and then I had some chilli and pasta. I think? I had two cups of tea and set of about half hour later feeling much better and energized.  Due to feeling sick a lot I had not been taking on enough food. So when I did get some in. I soon aware of the difference it made. I felt good leaving Henely.

It was just before 9.30 and I was heading off to Reading with a spring in my step. This was a period where my stomach was ok and I ran at a nice steady pace. I really enjoy the night running something about it that is hard to be put into words. It just brings the best out in me and makes me want to get the job done more. It was good to see the lights of Reading coming into view. I arrived at Reading still feeling good. I knew this Aid station from Reading. It was around 11.50 pm. When running this distance a state on confusion can occur I am ok running but I noticed that  people where starting to look the same. I was chatting to a guy who I was thinking is that Andy. He looked very similar but I just felt so unsure. Part of me wanted go its Andy isn't it. But luckily I did not. I had a warm soup some snacks and changed the lights in my head torch. Just after 12.00 pm I announced it was my Birthday and I had turned 47. One of the volunteers took my photo to capture the moment. Last year I had ran the Malvern Hills Ultra on my Birthday.
A smile at turning 47.
I headed off from Reading. It had gotten colder now. I felt good  knowing this part of the course. It was the last leg of The Winter 100 and it had been difficult when I ran it back then. It brought back good memories doing this time spent with my friend Darren Chillcot who paced me. He had phoned me whilst on route to Reading and it gave me a lift. Heading towards Whitchurch I remembered this part of the course being particually painful on The Winter 100. But there was some comfort in knowing where I was going and being able to know when the next aid station was due. On route I had to go through a housing estate. At one house where a party was going on. Some guy who was worse for wear. Came staggering towards me and said are you my taxi. I was quite polite and said do I look like a taxi. I felt like saying something else!I found my way into the Whitchurch Aid station mile 67. I was buzzing to get here. it was 2.45 am I walked into a hall that warm and had about 6 other runners who looked like the race had taken its toll on them. One would join back on course later the rest had sadly dropped. I tried not to stay to long it was to warm and cozy. 

 I headed off to Streatly at mile 71. I remember on this part of the course there was some woods to navigate and that if I did not go of course some nice downhill. It did not take to long to get to Streatly. As I crossed the second bridge someone said a well done as I passed them. It was around 4.50 I guess I am not sure. I met Alma here who had kindly made me two corn beef sandwich's that where just fab.It was nice to see another friendly face and Bosher, they get every where do Bosh. I stayed for 20 minutes here and headed off. It was coming up to 5.30 am and I was glad to have gotten through the night. I had a few of my chocolate coated coffee beans I had made myself. I had felt some fatigue during the night. I had another bout of confusion when a female pacer told me I had gone wrong. As I was talking to her I was convinced I had been speaking to her at race HQ the previous morning.
Dawn Chorus 2 miles outside Streatly and the birds were singing.
As I made my way to Wallingford my legs where starting to feel it. I was now forced to start walking and trying to run. It was not that bad. But the footpath made it hard with sore feet. It was rutted and dry and was difficult to run. I started to run on the grass and my feet were soon wet. On route I met Shah and we ran for a bit. I got a second wind and headed further on while the going was good. To keep my focus and not listen to my my head I took some advice from Midgie and did some mind distraction. I listened to the dawn chorus. It was amazing I had never heard so many birds. It was like stereo in my ears. As the sun was coming up I wanted to take some pictures. But my battery on my phone was low. It was breath taking and I felt alive and full of gratitude.  Even though I was tired and I was feeling it in my legs. 

Craig Usher  a friend and fellow Bosher was going to be meeting me soon. We met last year when we were both running London 2 Brighton with Extreme running. We had stayed in touch since then. Craig had agreed to pace me from Streatly. But mix up on my part meant Craig would have to join me at mile 85. This was the furthest I had run under my own steam. Craig had been great as my anticipated pace had been slower than I had wished. He had a couple of hours sleep in his car while waiting. I met Craig however at mile 82 around Benson Lock I think. It was good to see a friendly face and have some company. Craig would run with me for a few miles  then rejoin me at Clifton Hampden. Craig really had gone the extra mile. He would be running back to his car then rejoining me. At the end of the day he would have to get a taxi back to his car. 
Around the 85 mile point.
 Talking to Craig helped keep me going. Some of the trail from here to Oxford  dry and not much fun to run on feet that had covered 80 miles. I was looking forward to getting to the 85 mile check point. It would mean not far to go. Craig left me to carry on towards Clifton Hampden. Arriving there I felt pretty good. James was there and we had a quick chat. I explained the on and off sickness and he said it sounded like it could of been the lack of salt in take. He also reminded me as I sat down that I had a salomon soft cup to put my hot tea in so I could walk instead of wasting time siting in the aid stations. So I got up and walked off. I had managed to waste nearly 2 1/2 hrs in aid stations when I looked at the splits from my Garmin. To much time. 

Off we headed to Abingdon the sun was up and it was getting warm. I had to start taking layers off as I did not want to over heat. Its the little things the pacers do that really make the difference Craig had been opening the gates for me to run through. But also were I was tired he  helped me with my race vest and sort out my layers. I had a job to pull my compression top off. So Craig helped with that. I was fatigued and the sun was not helping. I was walking to much now and time was pressing on. All I wanted to was to sit down but I resisted doing this. I did  have a sit down at Abingdon Aid Station at mile 91. I was feeling a little sick. And I was now in a confused state again. I could not figure out how much further I had once I reached Radley at 95 miles. I just could not work it out and had to ask! We soon headed off. Craig being aware I was walking to much structured the last 9 miles. We ran a 1/4 and then walked. It was not easy to do this and running those 1/4 seemed to go for ever and the walking was over too quick.

Just as we was coming to Radley I got emotional and was welling up. Ruth Finnie another Bosher and friend was volunteering at Radley with her husband Martin. I got pretty choked when I saw Ruth as it had been one hell of a journey. But she had a Birthday card for me and a candle. I bent over and put my hands on my knees to hide my emotions. Ruth came over with candle and I blew it out. She gave me a Birthday card and a packet of cola bottles. It was great to see a friendly face and meet Martin. We chatted before heading off. We were running again and it was not long before we arrived in Oxford. I knew we were pushing it time wise so I ran for 1/2 mile at this point. We were by The Thames and there was lots of people walking and enjoying the day. A lady said not far now just to the end of those buildings on the over side. We kept running and soon I could hear cheers and clapping. Craig step aside to let me run through the gate, I could not hide the emotion from my face. I felt a deep sense of gratitude for Craig having helped me. Pacers are the unsung hero's. I need to mention Darren Chillcott also who paced me at The Winter 100. And the drove me home after. Real selfless guys. Thank you fellas.

I was running to the finish line. I could not see James but Nici Griffin was stood there with my 100 miles Finisher Buckle. It was very emotional and I had a little sob and a hug. James came over and congratulated me.It was great to see him. 10 days on I am still feeling awesome. Within a day I was looking forward to getting on the NDW100. In between I have a few marathons lined up and plenty of training. In June I will be realizing a long held dream to Run With The Gods. The Mount Olympus Marathon. It will be tough, but am so looking forward to it.



  1. was wonderful to see you at Streatly - I was so proud :) and totally honoured to be the second person to give you a hig after you crossed the line! Looking forward to NDW100 x

    1. Thanks for the corn beef sandwich it was most welcome.

  2. Superb determination finishing this race Shawn it's amazing how you looked better than when you started! :-) x

    1. Thanks Helen and well done on your recent hard work on the L2B x

  3. *very* well earned buckle and t-shirt.

  4. Thank you, I wore my T shirt on a run yesterday with pride :-)