Thames Path 100, 2017, part 2: the details

Photo: Stuart March

The promise of gory details and body fluids in this race report seemed to excite a lot of people. Well, read all the way to the end and you might find what you are looking for 😉

In 2011 I ran a trail half marathon, my first race ever. Then followed my first marathon in 2012, my first ultra in 2013, my first 50 miler, 100k race and a failed attempt at a 100 miler in 2014. In 2015 I did get my first 100 miles buckle, at the NDW 100. My main goal these years was to get to the finish line, do something I had not thought possible just a few years back. However, I did get quite a few podium finishes along the way too, and at the end of 2015 i was told I was considered for the Norwegian team for the ultra trail world championships. In 2016 my focus therefore shifted from personal accomplishments to results and every race became an A-race. The result was DNFs, injuries, fatigue and me nearly quitting the sport of ultra racing. The exception was the Thames Path 100, which I signed up for almost on a whim when returning from a DNF at Transgrancanaria and got an email saying the wait list had opened up. It ended up being the race I enjoyed the most and did best in in the whole year.

Choosing a goal for 2017 was easy : this year I am grandslamming – running all the four Centurion 100 mile races in a calendar year. One of the reasons why I chose this goal was to get focus back to personal accomplishments, not podiums.  The other reason was of course that the Centurion events are extremely well organised, the atmosphere fantastic, and you are made to feel like a family member by the hordes of volunteers. My plan was to just relax and enjoy myself and take in the scenery at each race. I say was, because when Centurion Running published their race preview I was one of just two women namedropped as potential winners in the women’s race (the other one being Sarah Sawyer, a friend of mine).

At the registrations I met James who had written the preview, and conveyed that I was slightly annoyed to be expected to do well in individual races when I am taking part in the grand slam. Truth is I was really unsure about my fitness. When starting my training last autumn I had to start more or less from scratch after feeling extremely fatigued last summer.  Previously I have also signed up for 50k-50 mile ultras and used them to test my fitness before my main race, this year I have chosen to run the grand slam only (and a few local half marathons). My longest training runs this winter were around the 45k mark, my last proper ultra was August last year (Ultravasan – 90k). On the other hand, I have trained diligently, hardly missed a single workout or run, stayed healthy, and been really conscientious about strength training and prehab exercises.


My favourite 100 mile shoes: New Balance 980 Trail. They no longer make them, and I am worried my stockpile will run out before the A100. Any suggestions for my next favourite shoe?

The registration was quick and efficient as usual. Most of the remaining time before the start was spent faffing about with my pack. I had tried to be really strict and realistic about how much food to bring with me, but as usual ended up carrying enough food for the whole field, a record 297 runners. I had a quick chat with Sarah Sawyer and Kim Olson, one of the other Norwegians taking part, and then suddenly the race briefing had been held and the gun went off.

Sarah Sawyer wearing pink, me thinking hard about race strategy in the background (or more likely, just spacing out) Photo: Stuart March

For the first half mile or so I had Sarah Sawyer and another female runner near me, it could have been Naomi Moss who ended up as 3rd lady. Then I pulled away from them and was in the lead (of the women’s race). My original plan had been to go for sub-19 hours, but I had heard Sarah say she hoped for 18 hours 30 min, and so I changed my goal to 18 hours. I had not planned on winning, but if I was to win I wanted to do it with a respectable time to avoid comments afterwards that I came first due to a weak field.

When I first started running ultras I read a blog post along the lines of  «You know you are an ultrarunner when…» and of of the items was «your training runs are faster than your race pace». That did not hold true for me. My pace for the first 12 miles was around 5 min per kilometer. When training this winter I have usually held a 5.45 pace when running on tarmac, and this has often felt like really hard work. Here I was running a 100 miler at a substantially faster pace, and my legs felt great. At around mile 13 my glutes started to ache a little. My mood sank, was this going to become a major issue? Then I told myself that it was at a tolerable level, and that in loads of races and long runs before aches and pains have come and gone. So did this, and the only other aches and pains I felt for the rest of the race were my feet getting sore from the pounding they took, and a couple of bruised toes resulting from my landing awkwardly after jumping a gate when I could not figure out how to open it.

One of my tactics for beating my time from last year was to keep stops at aid stations to a minimum. I tried to only stop long enough to top up my bottles, use the toilet when necessary, or grab a piece of fruit if I felt hungry. It is very tempting to stop and hang about at aid stations, especially at such friendly and well catered races as Centurion’s, but spend 5-10 minutes at each aid station and the time really adds up. I thought I was really clever to have thought of this, but reading race reports from others it seems to be a very common tactic. At Cookham I checked my phone, and found a message from my sister (and crew/pacer) Sara saying that Sarah Sawyer was 28 min behind me at Dorney. In an ultra, 28 minutes is not comfortable lead, it only takes a slight detour off course for it to be gobbled up by the runner behind. Guess what happened next! I was running along with a smile on my face, enjoying the warm sunny weather and the beautiful scenery, and being quite familiar with this part of the route I engaged autopilot and thus missed a bridge I was supposed to cross just after Cookham. It was only when I noticed that the signs said «public footpath» instead of «Thames Path» I started suspecting something was wrong. A couple walking their dog confirmed I was on the wrong side of the river. I upped the pace as I backtracked to the bridge, and then kept speeding along the Thames Path towards the next checkpoint at Hurley, a surge of adrenalin making me feel stressed and rushed. I was annoyed with myself, my sloppy mistake had added around 3 miles, and I was sure my lead over Sarah had all but gone.

Before my detour I had estimated I would be at Henley 17.30, and my plan was to leave no later than 18.00. I did not want to deviate too much from my plan so I ran quite hard to get to Henley in order to get a decent break, only taking in calories in the form of Tailwind, and therefore arrived at 17.53 feeling slightly tired. Cola and vegan pasta seemed to work wonders for both energy levels and mood, and I  switched non-caffeinated gels for caffeinated ones for boost during night (this plan did not work as I forgot to use them). I left at 18.09 – later than planned, shorter than last year, though long enough for my legs to get stiff and make running slightly awkward. A couple of blisters on my feet also slowed me down, but they burst when I started running again, and changing from Injinji to Drymax socks also seemed to help.

After Reading the course gets more hilly. It was here that I started feeling really good again, the slightly subdued mood I had suffered from since Cookham lifted. I also caught up with the only other runner I had had a proper conversation with all day, I have since identified him from the race photos as Rhys, recognisable by his gingerness and beaming smile.  He seemed ecstatic to be passed by me for the third time that day, telling me he knew I would pass him, that I looked strong and that I would nail this race. Thanks for the pep talk Rhys, your smile and friendly words was just as big as energy boost as the pasta and cola at Henley, and it was nice chatting earlier in the race too. I’m always impressed by the fact that guys in the ultra running community seem happy when female runners do well rather than feeling threatened.

Despite running mile after mile side by side with 4-5 other runners in the first few hours it was a strangely quiet race, no one except Rhys seemed interested in talking. After Cookham I had also been running alone, so when I met up with my sister/pacer Sara at Goring my most pressing need was for conversation. We nearly missed each other as I was ahead of schedule. We had agreed on meeting at 22.00, but Sara said she would be at Goring half an hour early just in case. I arrived around 21.35, and Sara was nowhere to be seen. Another runner’s crew knew where she was though – in his car, keeping warm.

Sara could tell me that I was lying in 18th place overall, and had done so all day, and my lead over Sarah had extended to one hour at Henley. I still did not feel that my lead in the women’s race was comfortable. I knew Sarah was being paced by her husband Tom from Henley, and told Sara he is a strong runner and for all we knew they could have been gaining at me steadily since Henley.

Last year it was really cold and foggy during the night at the Thames Path. This year the temperature did not seem to drop much at night, I did not put my long sleeeved shirt on until close to midnight and really regretted wearing long tights instead of half tights. As whenever I’m in doubt about how much to wear I had opted for long Skins A400 tights, the thin fabric usually makes them comfortable even in quite warm weather. The conditions made the night running more pleasant than last year, and navigation much easier. The latter was probably also helped by familiarity with the course, me feeling much less tired than last year, and the fact that we had both invested in new headlamps, Black Diamond Spot. I have been using this headlamp through the winter, and have been really happy with it. It delivers a lot of lumens and battery time, up to 50 hours at 200 lumens, 200 hours at the minimal setting, for a very reasonable price. (No, I’m not sponsored by them, whenever I namedrop a product I have paid for it, usually full price too.)

Sara and I quickly seemed to settle into a routine. She would push me to start running again immediatly upon leaving a check point, then at some point she would hold a gate open for me and I would end up running ahead. After a couple of checkpoints I could hear her getting somewhat out of breath. She had been slightly worried about pacing as she was afraid she had done too little training this winter and would not be able to keep up. I had assured her that since I would have 70 more miles than her in my legs keeping up with me would not be a problem. I guess I lied. Sara’s main job became to keep track of the time since leaving the previous check point and the distance until the next, so that I could figure out when I needed to eat or drink. Strangely enough my energy levels seemed very stable despite me not eating much. After Henley I only had one or two gels, one or two pieces of banana, and 3 crisps. Other than that I fuelled with smoothies that Sara carried (her other main function – my smoothie mule) and Tailwind. Lots of Tailwind!

Some of the food I had planned to eat. I ended up just using the performance smoothies, one bag of Goody good stuff, and the flavoured raisins. I need to tweak my fuelling strategy before the SDW.

Coming to the last two check point I wanted to run straight through, but Sara asked if we could stop for a minute or two. I had got a bit muddled up due to the discrepancy between the mileage on my watch and the official distances, and thought we were at Lower Radley when we arrived at Abingdon. Usually when I get told I have five more miles to the finish than expected I feel like lying down in the grass and crying. However my legs felt so fresh and running felt so easy at that point that I was not phased by the mix up at all. I had started thinking I could get a finish time in around 17 hours, as the volunteers at the last couple of check points repeatedly told me that I would, and just thought to myself that I just had to run a bit faster.

At Lower Radley I had a coffee with lots of sugar. Mainly because I had given up coffee for two weeks before the Thames Path and I did not want all the headaches to have been for nothing. My plan before the race was to have a strong coffee when my energy was flagging during the night, and hopefully get the full ergogenic benefits of the caffeine. Then I kind of forgot about both the coffee and the caffeinated gels I carried.

I don’t know if it was the caffeine or just the fact that the finish was just 4-5 miles away, but I really went for it after Lower Radley. I could hear Sara breathing hard behind me for a while, and then silence – I had managed to drop my pacer. This of course gave me another boost, so did the fact that a sub-17 hour finish seemed within reach. The last mile seemed long, my heart rate was then at half marathon intensity, and so was my speed. Incredibly, my legs still felt really good. With half a mile to go I overtook Steven Lord, last years Hardmoors slam champion and one of the favourites in the men’s race. Looking at the splits from Abingdon to Oxford it seems that I was going faster than any of the guys in front of me in this section, and I was running at 4 min/km pace when I entered the Queen’s College sports ground and sprinted towards the blue Centurion goal thingy.

Photo: Stuart March (I have gotten lots of questions about the shirt – it’s a special edition for Helly Hansen by Moods of Norway. Seemed appropriate, and it matched my race vest)

I had done it, my first win in a 100 miler, and at a very respectable 16.55.43 and 5th place overall. If you haven’t read my previous post that is the second fastest time by a female in the Thames Path 100, the fastest 100 mile time ever by a Norwegian female, and the 5th fastest 100 mile time by any Norwegian. Most impressive though, in my opinion, I did so without trashing my legs or feeling completely exhausted. (Also, I ran 4 miles too much due to navigation errors, and did not fuel optimally. There is room for improvement yet.) I am also very happy that I ran a 1 hour positive split for the second half, meaning I did not slow down very much. In my first 100 miler I had a 5 hour positive split!  I guess I have done the right things in training this winter.

For my efforts I was rewarded with a big ass trophy, which I have never even laid eyes on before, having always finished so far behind the winner that they have disappeared off home with their trophy by the time I finish. I also got my finisher buckle, t-shirt, a £50 voucher for the Centurion shop (to be spent at Injinji or Ultimate Direction products), and my photo taken by the lovely Stuart March. My finisher photo is the only thing I am not completely happy about when it comes to the race, I forgot to take off my headlamp and look completely manic. Must practise in front of the mirror before the SDW100.

Photo: Stuart March

Sara showed up about five minutes later,  and we retreated inside to stay warm and refuel. I still had not much of an apetite and therefore decided to continue drinking my calories in the form of soya milk and sugary tea. I was chatting away with other runners and pacers, updating Instagram, and feeling really happy when suddenly I felt my stomach lurch and my mouth filling with vomit. I tried to sprint for the toilets, but did not make it quite there before the fluids I had just taken were returned. I wish I could say I dumped my stomach contents on the floor, but unfortunately my vomiting coincided with me running past the poor medics. They had set up camp just outside the toilets and were trying to grab a bite to eat when I sprinted past. Yup, I sprayed the race medics. More precisely, I vomited straight into their laps. There were no time to apologise though, as my stomach also decided to also give up the coffee I had drunk at Lower Radley, most of the Tailwind, and a handful of raisins. This time most of it landed in a toilet…

After this incident I found it best to retreat to our b&b across the street, if nothing else to shower and change, as some of the vomit had also splashed back onto my socks and shirt.

Having finished three 100 milers I can now conclude that trying to sleep straight after is hopeless. I always think that if I just lie down in a soft bed my muscles will relax, aches and pains will go away, and I will go out like a candle. In reality every muscle tightens up and it’s impossible to get comfortable. Walking around Oxford for hours  was much more pleasant, except for waves of nausea that had me fleeing several shops fearing another projectile vomiting incident. Maybe I’ll just go for a jog after the SDW?

Last year my legs also felt ok after finishing the TP, but during the day my left ankle stiffened up and became painful, and the day after it had developed into full blown tendinitis. This year my legs feel great, there are no signs of inflammation in my ankle or the crippling knee pain I experienced after the NDW. Bring on SDW! (I guess there is no hope of my name not being mentioned in the preview for the SDW100 now?)

Finally, a big thanks to my sister Sara for supporting me both before, during, and after, the volunteers and Centurion staff for putting on such great events and looking so well after the runners, and all the crews for not just looking after their own runner, but cheering and supporting every runner going past them (and other crews). See you (at least some of you) in 5 weeks!

More reading:

Kondis.no: http://www.kondis.no/mari-nustad-mauland-vant-thames-path-100.5985979-127695.html (in Norwegian)

Bryon Powell’s (irunfar.com) thoughts on running a 100 miler for enjoyment: http://www.irunfar.com/2017/05/discovery-and-the-casual-100-mile-run.html

irunfar.com weekly update: http://www.irunfar.com/2017/05/this-week-in-running-may-1-2017.html

Centurion’s race report: http://centurionrunning.com/reports/2017/tp100-2017-race-report

Results page: http://centurionrunning.com/raceresult/5757e3077f0e093c3df18b17

From my running club’s website: http://www.spirit-friidrett.com/1294-mari-mauland-vant-100miles-tp-london-oxford

 

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