It’s been a long time coming.
I ran my first ‘100km’ event in 2017, at Race to the Stones. I chose to do it over 2 days as that seemed much more palletable and a whole lot of fun to camp over and stay at base camp eating all the food and hanging out with friends.
It didn’t bother me at all that I split up the distance, I did back to back ultras that weekend (and the following year) and I fully embraced my medal at the end. ‘100km’ the ribbon proudly pronounced.
It wasn’t until I’d run my first straight through double marathon that my brain started to question if I could comfortably say that I’d run a 100km race. The distance was covered, just the same as the people truckin’ through the night but doing it across 2 days now wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be one of those who had done it all in go. I needed to step up from 53 miles, to 62.
It was supposed to happen in July. It was supposed to be Race to the Stones that took that honour.
However, the middle of 2019 didn’t seem to be on my side. After a press trip to Loch Ness in June went a little horizontal, I ended up with a split knee and a sprained ankle and niggles that forced me to make a difficult decision and drop down to the 50km. It was really a long game plan, as I already had another 100km race booked in for September, the Thames Path challenge with Ultra Challenges. I couldn’t risk losing another attempt at the distance and I knew I wasn’t ready to tackle it at RTTS.
Summer came round as it does and life was flung into chaos, with work deadlines, kids desperate to destroy anything in their wake, spend all your (non existent) cash, and never happy with the plans you try so hard to come up with.
My mileage for the year at this point was so low compared to the previous year, I began to worry that actually I wouldn’t make the start line at all.
Up to this point, my main races had been London Marathon in April, Dulux Trails 50km in May, Race to the Tower 85km in June and then the compromised Race to the Stones 50km. I had a few ultra distances in my legs but I felt completely out of routine, focus and motivation.
I messaged Jordan my coach (and friend!) and asked her to PLEASE put me together a plan (I had 5 weeks to go) that I could follow to get my mileage up and get me to the start line feeling like I deserved to be there. I wanted to feel like I could actually smash out 62 miles well. She was incredible as always, gave me runs that were 85% focused on time on feet, and I followed it to the letter. I’m much more of a short term goal put me under pressure for results type of personality (which also is awful for my anxiety levels, urgh.)
September 7th, 2019.
After staying the night at Jordan’s (15 mins from the start in Fulham) we got up, bleary eyed, around 4:45am for the necessary porridge/coffee/prep, before meeting our taxi about 5:50am.
When we arrived it felt really exciting – my first ultra event that wasn’t a Threshold run one, I was keen to see how other organisations run these type of events. It felt bigger at the start, more like a London Marathon vibe with plenty of charity stands and people bustling around. Less of the family feel i’m used to at Threshold. Registering was easy though, and luckily we didn’t have much of a wait to get our numbers and our lanyards* (Jordan was running the 50km, and came 1st lady and 2nd overall).
*In Ultra challenges races the chip timing is done by scanning in to each checkpoint with the lanyard you have to wear (I ended up storing mine in my vest and pulled it out when I got to checkpoints, it was quite bulky) instead of a chip on the back of a bib. With Threshold, I like the fact you can go past an aid station if you don’t need or want to stop, but this way meant that you HAD to go through the checkpoints, even if you didn’t want to do so.
We dropped our bags and said a few hellos to other runners and people from ig, and after a short warm up, we set off for a long old day, at 6:50am.
Jordan flew and I was on my own until 50km, which was where I’d worked out I could meet Andy for the first time. I knew I could get through 50km, it was the distance I’d done the most, so it would be ‘simple’. I ran the first 14km reasonably fast to get it under my belt. The whole course was basically flat as a pancake so I knew I’d have to force myself to take walk breaks, as there were no natural breaks in the run (i.e massive hills to climb). I wanted to do as much as I could earlier in the day to get as much into the run as possible. I was fretting about finishing in the dark, and if I could, I wanted to try and finish before sunset (which was around 8:30pm). This would mean aiming for a time of under 13 ish hours – something that I should have easily managed had I been coming out of a normal 10/12 weeks training cycle. I’d just come out of 4 weeks though…
My tactic for the run was sort of based on what my friend Krysia had done for her Thames Path 100 miler back in May. I knew I need to set myself walking breaks, so my plan was (after the first strong 14km!) to run 0.80, and then walk 0.20 of each mile. If I was feeling good I’d try and do a whole mile or 2, but for the most part, this was what I’d try and stick to, to break up the running.
The week before I’d been suffering a little with a dodgy tummy. It had settled the day before the race but I’d taken an Imodium just incase. Unfortunately, it started to give me some chat and around 20km I knew I’d be in for a little bit of an adventure…
After constantly monitoring the bushes for over 6 miles, I made it to checkpoint 2, 28km in, and proceeded to make a most favourable visit to the wonderful green plastic room. Nothing really happened though, and I cursed the Imodium I’d taken for not allowing me to get it out and move on…. I composed myself, in complete disbelief that this was going to compromise my attempt at a decent time in this race, and pushed on with a view to make it to the next portaloo, in another 9km.
I promise the whole race recap isn’t about my toilet visits – and thankfully, by the time I’d made it to checkpoint 3, things did move in the right direction and I was able to feel a little lighter and much less tense. It was here that the aid station excelled itself (I’d not been at all impressed by them up to this point) with a whole row of pic n mix. Not feeling in the mood to eat any, I filled up a bag for later on (I fuel well with sweets) and tentatively pushed out of the CP.
Another 13km and I’d be at Runnymeade Pleasure Ground, and the 50km point. I’d see my husband Andy and I’d also be seeing my friend Andy VDB, who was tag teaming crewing me from halfway, with my Andy. He knew I was having tummy issues and he brought me more Imodium and ginger biscuits, and from here on out, let’s just say was my trail angel, going from point to point, stopping off at shops on the way to get me crisps or flapjacks, coke and water etc etc. As I said, I didn’t think much of the aid stations, they weren’t awful by any means, but if you’ve ever done a Threshold event then you’ll know those aid stations are hard to rival…
Because I’d been struggling with my stomach, my race tactic had slowed somewhat. I was still trying to keep as much running going as I could, but my breaks were more like 75/25, and then 50/50 walk/run.
A nice man who was there for another ultra/marathon/lap event took my picture by the 50km sign and congratulated me. All I wanted to do though was find my Andy and have a cuddle. I saw him walking across the grass and I grabbed him and tried not to completely break down, having been on my own for the last 6ish hours, struggling with feeling ill.
He brought me my halfway bag, and I changed my clothes and socks. Nothing was rubbing but annoyingly my underarm had chaffed early on – thankfully the weather was a little on the chilly side so I made the decision to wear my long sleeve to try and patch myself up a bit
I wasn’t hugely hungry so I didn’t really have much to eat here – I much prefer to snack on an ultra and find that if I eat little/often it’s enough to fuel me, paired with sweets and Tailwind.
From a personal side, I was so excited to be at this pitstop. Being a Berkshire girl and growing up in Maidenhead, I knew these places, or had at least driven through them many times. This was the first time I’d been into this park, having always been past and never been in; and for the last few years thinking how nice a run it would be by the river that curves out from Runnymeade towards Eton.
My Andy drove back to Maidenhead to meet up with my parents and kids, who were going to meet me by Maidenhead bridge in another 12 miles time (that felt like an absolute AGE) and Andy VDB drove on to meet me near the next pit stop, which was through Windsor up to Eton FC.
I realise I haven’t said loads about the route up until this point because, well, other than a few nice bits likes Richmond, it’s all a bit much of a muchness. It’s lovely, and if you enjoy running by water and the occasional stately home and Castle, then bob’s your uncle. I was all about getting it done, and to be honest it was just one park to the next, through a lock here and over a bypass there, trying not to crap my pants.
Running past Home
Andy VDB met me at Eton CP, and then again just before I met up with my family; around Dorney lake. It was so good to see him, and he ran a couple of km’s with me each time which I massively appreciated. It was super lonely out there – I didn’t really see that many people so to have him for company at a few points was really great, and he really made me laugh too, which I desperately needed!
When I was mentally preparing, I’d felt like going through Maidenhead was going to be tricky. It’s my hometown, but I’d be nowhere near finishing. Maidenhead bridge was 45 miles in so I’d still have another 17 miles ahead to push through. I’d also have to see and then leave my family, which at this point in an ultra is huge. By this point I’m slower, tired, mentally I’ve switched on to auto pilot and doing my best not to engage any emotions that will compromise the goal of finishing!
With all this in my mind, I pushed on to meet my family. And all maths at this stage is absolutely pointless because you get it wrong and miscalculate everything. I knew this part of the TP because I’d run it a few times when I’d been home, but this particular day with 41 miles in my legs, I underestimated how far I had left to run to meet my little crew. Those extra bends in the trail that didn’t amount to the faces I love the most was a little soul destroying.
It was 3 LONG miles from where I left Andy VDB to finally coming out from the wooded river path to see my littles down the road ahead. When they realised it was me coming, they ran to me shouting “Mummy!” and I squeezed them into me, as if they had some sort of supernatural energy I could harvest to see me through the next 17 miles.
We walked together for around half a mile and then said goodbyes. I wouldn’t see my parents or the kids again, but I’d planned to see Andy at the finish.
Cookham to Marlow
As I passed Boulter’s Lock, a place I used to spend a lot of time as a kid, I met up with VDB again and we jogged for a few km’s. My phone was dying and to help me out he took it for me to charge, and then he then met me with it a few miles down the road, just before the next CP in Cookham.
Like I said, I was so grateful he was there. It really makes all the difference, especially if the person crewing you has previous experience in events like this before. You just have an intuition/know the right things to ask etc. I was really indebted to him for helping me out that afternoon.
My biggest boost then came as I left to move on towards Marlow (another place I grew up around). Plenty of people were ending their days by the river, and a man stopped me, having obviously seen a distance marker, to ask “Have you really just run 75km?”. Not being one to pass on a mini gloat moment, I told him that yes that was true, and that I had started in Fulham at 6:50am, but still had to make it to Henley. “Massive respect to you!” he said. “That’s really incredible. Well done!”.
Things like that, make me realise what I’m doing isn’t actually that normal.
Shortly after, I hit 50 miles as the sun began it’s journey down. I wasn’t on for the time I wanted, but I was feeling strong, so I carried on, running as much of a mile as I could. Each time the mile ticked over I’d have a walk break, sometimes for a whole mile.
I noticed that my Garmin needed a bit of help – having had it charged a little at 50km, I thought I wouldn’t need my cable again so I’d put it in my drop bag and left it with Andy. But the panic set in and I did NOT want it to die on me during what was my biggest race to date. I messaged Andy and we arranged for him to drive to Marlow with the cable and meet me along the path.
I’d been struggling since Cookham and seeing him was exactly what I needed. We walked together and I told him it was all BS and I wanted to finish now yadda yadda yadda…
Once I’d got all that out of my system, he reassured me I was doing excellently and I left him for the last time before the finish. I ran through Marlow, remembering fondly back to May when I’d run my birthday ultra through these same wiggly alleyways, although this time signage was adorned by glow sticks as the evening drew closer and closer! I made my way over Marlow bridge and past Higginson Park, memories of my teenage years a far cry from the person I was at this moment, and approaching the furthest distance I’d ever run.
53.77 miles had been my furthest distance until I reached Hurley that evening. It felt good to know I was now further than I’d been before, but in reality I was hanging. The river path felt long and unforgiving. I kept passing through places I used to be taken as a child. Sunday afternoon walks repeating in my head and feeling so sad that I’d missed the beauty of the place as a child, but now, as an adult, wasn’t really that enamoured with either!
Mentally the battle was rife. Each mile felt like a new war with my mind, staving off thoughts of failure because I hadn’t done it in this time or I wasn’t managing that mile. I had to constantly bring my thoughts into line and tell myself that I was actually doing the best I could IN THIS MOMENT, and that was enough. I was losing the will to run, and I knew if I let myself, I’d probably have just walked for the last 8 miles.
The last checkpoint was nothing to write home about, although it was the last time I’d meet up with VDB before the finish line which was needed. Through a fence in a field, I took a packet of crisps and ate those, had one last wee, and then made my way back to Andy and onto the path. He walked up with me to where he’d parked his car (aaaaaaaaages away) and en route we walked past a place I used to come to as a kid, with a rope swing into the river.
As he left me, he wished me all the best, and congratulated me on my first 100km. It was a really awesome moment. I couldn’t quite believe I was only about 10km from finishing this thing!
The light was now fast disappearing and I went as far as I could without stopping and reaching for the headtorch. When I started to go across a field the wrong way, I realised it was time to get it on! A section through some sort of estate/fields then woodland meant the torch was definitely the right move, and I finally came across the 90km sign. Just 10km more. I tried to do a bit more maths and work out how long I thought a 10km at this point would take me. Easily over an hour, probably more like 1.30hr left to go at my lacklustre run/walk pace.
The one thing I have to mention is how lonely this specific part of the race was. The 100k-ers were so spread out now that I was pretty much out there alone, not to mention the fact it was now completely dark, and there was a noticeable drop in temperature (in fact that night it dropped a lot and there was even frost on the ground so kudos to those going all through the night!).
At 58.5 miles I ran past a few supporters I’d seen a couple times along the route and they cheered for me and reassured me there wasn’t much longer to go, but it just felt like an age still. The river was beautiful in the moonlight, and I was glad of being out here rather than through a dark covered forest where it would’ve been much scarier and harder to see. I could hear a house party happening and thought hard about the glass of prosecco I’d be getting as soon as I crossed that finish line (they provide this – YASSSSSS QUEEEEEEEN!).
It’s hard to judge distance in the dark – each slow mile felt like an age, all my energy went into my senses being in a heightened state from the little light I had, and desperately not wanting to end my race a couple of miles from the finish line with a broken ankle.
I turned the last bend towards Henley, and finally I could see the lights of the town.
I literally just kept running and walking. Just wanted to finish and all I could do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. Up came the bridge looking glorious all lit up. Across the bridge I go. Last bridge to cross. COME ON!
I know Henley, so I knew where I had to get to, and feeling like my body temperature was dropping rapidly, I kept going until at last that finish line came into view and I heard the Andy’s shouting my name. I’d actually done it! Finally, I’d run 100km.
Time: 14 hours 16 minutes 53 seconds of the Thames Path.
(moving time was 12:34 damn those toilet stops)
Avg moving pace: 12:13
Calories burned: 5,851
And the most annoying thing? It was 61.81 miles. Which meant I didn’t earn a damn Garmin badge for 100km. And you can argue that I didn’t actually run 100km then, but if you do, I will kill you.
Until next time, 100km. I’ll be back.