“It’s OK, just stay there. Don’t move – see how you feel in a minute.”
Perfectly normal instructions to hear from your pacer in a 100-mile race. Thing is, the race had finished five hours ago and now I was lying on the floor in the hallway of his house. The last thing I remember was going to the toilet for only the fourth time in 24hrs.
I gave this race everything. At this point, I was just happy I had finished peeing before passing out.
The Centurion Thames Path 100 gets billed as ‘the easy one’. It’s far from it. I had a plan that went a little something like this: get to Henley (51 miles) in around about 7hrs. Historically, a fast first half split on this course has paid dividends. It’s generally flatter and has significant paved sections that lend themselves to fast running. I had no plan for after Henley, but I had told myself that I was willing to go through a lot of pain to see this one out.
Fast and furious
Kit check is always fun. It’s like turning up at the airport with a Centurion buckle and trying to skip through the metal detector to see if you can get away with not having to undress. Naturally, I had to buy everything from the Centurion store. I have an unused Thames map if anyone wants a discount for 2016…
For some reason, the pace at the start was a little ridiculous. I had 8:24min/miles in my head to get to Henley in 7hrs. However, the front guys shot off at a nudge over 7min/miles – inside course record pace. Annoyingly, myself and Matt Ayre decided to run the first couple of checkpoints a little faster, knowing that there were others pushing the pace. In fact, we were chasing Martin Bacon for a good 35 miles before being told he had dropped a while ago. Lesson learned: run your own race, kids, and don’t chase ghosts.
OK, so full disclosure: this race sucked. The running part, anyway. The Centurion family, on the other hand, were out in full force and there’s really nothing like it. It’s truly amazing to be apart of these events when so many people care. It’s a real shame that after 30 miles I was already struggling to talk. I ran passed my teammate’s crew at Cookham and mustered a little “it’s really beginning to hurt now”.
Pretty much anyone at the aid stations will testify to the state I was in. I always look back at the photos and the food that’s on offer and wish I could do it all again, slower and with a massive plate. For the best part, I spoke to no one and ate as much fruit as possible. Luckily I get brilliant little nut balls hand made from Press, which I fuel off for as long as possible. These kept me going for much of the race; I’m pretty sure the mini pizzas at mile 85 were responsible for the rest.
My crew were awesome, particularly ProFeet’s Rich Felton who paced me for 40 agonising miles.
Still, the back end of the race was awful. I stopped eating and drinking after mile 85. I had only peed once all day. I knew people would be chasing me down. To win this, I knew I just had to run. When I say ‘I knew’, what I really mean is Rich kept telling me that I had to keep running.
Some of the footing on the back half is tough going and made me realise how smart a fast first 50 is if you think you can handle it. Anyone fancy running this race backwards?
When we finally hit pavement near Oxford, I had expected a good couple of miles till we got to the finish, having run the race back in 2012. But this year the finish seemed much closer. I don’t remember being happy at all. I think I had spent so long telling myself I wasn’t in pain, that in fact I was just numb. I had seriously considered stopping several times and I had definitely wanted to walk for much of it. As usual a lot of people won’t understand the mystery and misery of ultra running and are quick to call us mad. But as Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland: “I’ll tell you a secret: all the best people are.”
Twitter: @maxwillcocks Instagram: MaxWilko