Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A race of two half's Thames Path 100 2015.

Having run the Thames Path 100 last year I found it to be a fairly straight forward route and a well organized race offered by Although beautiful and scenic the flat nature of the route, its tarmac path and compacted trail is unforgiving on the feet and body over long distance. Also having run the Thames Path a number of times in different races I had thought I had had enough!

However I had signed up after seeing 20 places come up one Sunday on the Centurion Facebook page. I had already signed up for SDW100 and NDW100 so I thought I would go for the Grand Slam. It had not been my intention this year but I was lacking a target and goal to work for this year. So this was ideal. The Grand Slam is to complete all 4 of Centurion Running 100 miles races in that calendar year!

My Training had been fairly good, I had had my eye on the Viking Way in April so I had been logging some miles. I had to take two weeks off coming into the peak period of training with a chest infection. This proved to be a wise decision. My endurance was good when I started to run again. I felt confident at finishing and doing better than last year’s time. I travelled up the night before and stayed near the start line in a little hotel in Richmond. I did not feel too rested after my sleep however. I met Ben Scott down at breakfast and said hello and had a chat about the day. It would be Ben's first 100.
 After breakfast and final kit check I made my way to Richmond town hall, feeling full of excitement. I registered and I said hello to some of the usual suspects before I then went down to the start line.

I wanted to compose myself before the race started. The weather was good with some light then heavy rain forecast for later. I was not too worried about the weather. I run in all weathers and I use montane waterproof tops and leggings. Which do as they should, keep me dry!

There were 265 of us on the start line as we set off down the Thames Path. The field was tight for the first 11 miles heading towards Walton on Thames. My plan was to avg 10 -12 minute mile pace for the first 50, with the hope of getting to Henley at 51 miles between 9.30 - 10.30 hrs. The going was good with the usual bottleneck a mile down the path to get through the kissing gate. 

I was running easy and feeling ok. I soon found myself at Walton, the first aid station at 11 miles. My pace was averaging around 10 min/miles. I had been drinking plenty of water and refilled both of my soft gel flasks. I had run out of water so it was good to get a refill. It was a quick in and out. I had taken an S-cap as I had been caught out last year. The weather had been pretty similar and I soon became dehydrated and sick. 

Wraysbury aid station mile 22 was my next port of call. The field had started to spread out. I was eating and drinking fine. I was running alone but soon caught up 

with a guy I have met on a few ultras from Wales. We chatted for a while before I headed off after a while as my pace had slowed. I was glad to get to Wraysbury as I had run out of water again. The weather was not overly hot, but running with little wind and no shade in parts of the course, I was sweating quite a bit.

 I was feeling fine and not finding the running a problem. I had on some road shoes for the first half. I had some niggles coming into the race. My sesamoid bones in my right foot were a bit bruised and both peri formis had been playing up since last year and have been quite painful. I had been stretching and strengthening for a couple of months. So far I had no issues. I was soon at aid station 2.

Again I did not hang around in Wraysbury aid station. I made my way to Dorney the next aid station, mile 30.5. After a few miles I started to feel sick.  Running through Windsor I spoke to another runner, he was having an issue with his foot. He kept running and stopping, we chatted for a bit. He was confident we would make halfway in 9.30 hrs.  I was less confident and had put this thought of time out of my head. 

 I made it Dorney mile 30.5, I had some coke and grabbed some food, eating on the go. It was a bit warmer now.  Cookham was the next aid station at 38 miles. I was not feeling great and I was not where I wanted to be in the race. I was feeling a little sick but not a big worry. I needed the loo a couple of times. My pace was generally a bit slower. 

My main concern was running out of water quickly. I will go back to a bladder I think for water. The gel flasks 500 ml each were not sufficient today.  I was introducing a few walking breaks now as my legs felt a little tired. On my way to Cookham I was feeling pretty sick . I decided to eat a bit of cheese, my stomach rebelled. I was soon vomiting. A runner stopped to ask me how I was and if I needed in any help. I was fine and thanked him for stopping. I was sick once more then started to run again. I did not fancy any cheese for the rest of the race. I arrived at Cookham and I did not hang around too long, time was punching on. 

Henley was at 51 miles and I had Hurley in between at 44 miles. The running was pretty much the same. Getting to Henley was a relief, I had put my headlamp on just before arriving. I had got here in 11hrs 11. Quicker than last year when I had ran this race. I changed and sorted my feet out. They were starting to blister. All the aid station staff were great. I ate and then moved on in 20 minutes. My legs were stiff from the stop and it had started to rain. I put on my Minimus race pants. 

The next aid station was Reading, mile 58. My running friend and elite ultra marathoner, Luke Ashton, was waiting for me. I was grateful to see him. My pace always slows at night and also because of the distance involved in ultras I was getting tired. I got to Reading in 13.35 hrs. As soon as I came up the stairs to Waterside centre I saw the lovely Jackie Byrne, another ultra runner and one of the many kind people who had given up their free time to help out. I then saw Luke. It was great to see him. I went in, to try and eat something but did not have the stomach for much. I ate what I could. Jackie tried to find me a cuppa soup. Paul Ali was also here and asked how things were going. The aid station was great and decked with humorous posters an ultra runner would relate to. 

Luke was going to pace me. The plan was he would meet me at Goring, mile 71. He would then run from there with me. But also he would meet me at Reading just to see how I was doing. I had started to feel despondent before arriving at Reading; I was not feeling any real soreness. The only problem really was feeling a little ill, and my head. A 100 for me is always a race of two halves. The first 50 is with your legs and the second half is with the head.  I was walking more, I was feeling tried and my head was telling me to stop. I knew Luke would ask if I wanted him to join me. I knew I was struggling and if I said no I would be out there for longer. Although I knew things were going to get uncomfortable the decision I made was to get this done as quick as I could. Luke started to pace me with 42 miles to go!

We headed off out of Reading at an easy pace. I felt good in myself. I knew this part of the course well and knew what was coming. Luke was chatting to me which was good. It kept my thoughts focused and not thinking about the job at hand. After talking for a while, Luke asked what the best way to pace me was - either run beside me or run up ahead. I said to run up ahead. This would give me a focus to keep an eye on where Luke was and make it more of an incentive to keep running. We were soon out of Reading and running along the Thames, we seemed to be making good time. I had to stop and tend to a hot spot on my heel before it got worse. I rubbed some Gurney goo in. I was using this for the first time and it was working well.

We then ran through Purley on Thames, a small village by the Thames. We then joined the Thames again and were running through fields. My feet where getting wet and I was not sure if I had spare socks in my next drop bag. We soon found ourselves at Whitchurch aid station at 67 miles.

Just about to lance a blister while eating a sandwich!
 As last year it was the same at Whitchurch aid station, warm and inviting. There were a few runners that looked like the race had taken its toll. I needed to tend a blister and did so while eating a sandwich and drinking a cup of tea. I tried not to sit for too long. After lancing a blister we were off. Stepping out into the cold was a shock. My legs had seized up from sitting down, trying to run again was hard like this. Luke ran off, with me shuffling behind him. I soon warmed up and was happy with the prospect that Streatly, the next aid station, was only 4 miles away.

After some road work we were soon on trail again, a sharp descent down some steps then up a sharp hill to bring us into some woods with rolling trail. I think the wood is called Hartstock Woods. As we rounded the corner a runner was on the side of the trail in a bad way. Someone else's pacer had kindly stopped and was covering him with a space blanket. I stopped to see if there was anything I could do but all was in hand. Later reports was the runner was fine, just required a short stay in hospital, and some fluids getting into him.

We soon arrived at Streatly; Luke was doing a superb job. I spent too long at Streatly. I had a nice drop of soup and some bread. Luke wanted to get moving. I put on my spare socks that were in my drop bag. I think I wasted 25 minutes here. 10 would have been enough. I was feeling really tired and fatigued by now. You're cold and not thinking straight, aid stations can swallow up your time. I am guilty of wasting time like this.

We headed off again, the cold was unpleasant after the warmth of an aid station, my feet were feeling pretty sore. The next 10 miles is part of the course I am not fond of. This consisted of fields and rutted trail, also some road. As we were heading to the next aid station, Wallingford 77.5 miles, night turned into dawn and then daylight. Luke kept running ahead. I must have been shuffling by now! Luke kept me moving efficiently and watching him up close was interesting. He was doing things while running that I use as an excuse to stop and walk. Texting, you name it, he can do it while running. It was a real lesson in how to run an ultra more efficiently.

We arrived at Wallingford, I was feeling fatigued mentally and physically. Times like this you can easily give in and say 'I have had enough'. But a simple gesture from one of the volunteers can change that. I was well looked after here. Two of the volunteers helped me with my backpack and made me a cup of tea. A simple 'good luck Shawn' as I was leaving the aid station lifted me. We were off and running again. The day was starting to warm up, but whenever I stopped moving I got cold. My top was drenched in sweat. 

We were now heading to Clifton Hampden; this Aid Station was at 91 miles. We did not stop here too long. The trail from here is narrow and rutted and full of holes. It makes it difficult to run on with tired and sore feet. Luke kept moving forward and making sure I was not far behind. I felt like death warmed up. My head kept telling me my body was tired and that I needed to stop. I knew on some level that I was capable of running. But every now and then I would give in and start walking or put my hands on my knees. Now with hindsight and time to think about the race, I know I can run at these times. And it's just about managing those thoughts. Hard to do when fatigued. 

Pictures Courtesy Luke Ashton
The last 5 miles.


Arriving at Lower Radley was a relief. This aid station was in a big open shed. There was a lovely spread of food. I ate a couple of cheese straws and had a cup of tea or coke. I cannot remember which? I asked Luke if I could sit down for a minute he said no. As soon as he turned his back I sat down. But not for too long. I soon got up and we headed off and this must have been the longest 5 miles, but my pace did pick up. Luke took some great photos of this section. He was pushing the pace. When I stopped he came back and was waving me forward with a stern look on his face. Almost saying 'come on, move it'. It was raining again and humid, the mud underfoot was getting claggy and sticking to our shoes. Midges were bothering the hell out of us. It made the going hard and tiring. I did ask if we could walk at one point. Running in the clag was hard work and demoralizing me. 
A picture tells a story, 3 miles to go!

Once back on compacted trail we started to run again. We reached a sign that said Oxford 2 miles. I just kept moving. Throughout the time of Luke pacing me the focus was to keep me moving and go up the rankings. Even right to the last mile he said 'come on, move it, there is two more we can overtake'. 

The last 2 miles were a mixture of emotions. I held it in until I was running up the field to the finish line. I saw Donna my partner and her daughter and I had a little tear. Crossing the finish line on a 100 is always an emotional one. These races can take a lot, but they give so much! With the help of Luke I had gone from ranked 191 to 122. And I finished the race in 25.38.09 a new PB of 2hrs 03 minutes. 


  1. Well done Shawn! Fantastic running and was a pleasure to get you on your way quicker! That sub24 doesn't look so out the question now...

  2. Well done Shawn,great achievement and an enjoyable read on your race.Jamie Gomm.