2019 Thames Path 100 – Dealing with my First DNF

Us with Centurion RD – James Elson

Last Saturday I lined up at the start for my third 100 mile race. It was the Centurion Thames Path 100 which was a new course for me. This 100 miler was going to be very different compared to previous races. The TP100 is a very flat and runable route from London to Oxford. Unfortunately, I dropped out at the Streatly check point, shortly after 70 miles. It was my first DNF in a race. I’d contemplated it happening at some point as so many things can happen in 100 mile races. What I hadn’t thought much about was how it would affect me. It hit me really hard just a couple of days after the race once the dust had settled. I ended up asking myself so many questions over the next week. Do I have the strength of character finish these events? Surely I do, I mean – I’d done it before and got through some very rough patches? How was this any different and why did I need to stop at the time? Could I have just carried on – I mean, I feel fine now? The questions went on and on inside my mind.

 

 

 

Thames Path does have some amazing views all through the route

Now that enough time has passed and I’ve processed events to death in my head I can safely look back on it as a lesson and with a sort of smile too This was a huge learning experience. The only missing item in my life is that finish line experience and medal. Everything else I still have – the training, the experience, the friends –  but that is now driving me on to want the next race finish even more. I’ve entered three big events this year and to start with a DNF isn’t ideal but it does mean that I go into Grand Union with more drive and experience. Grand Union was meant to be my race this year with the question marks around it because it’s the longest distance I’ve attempted, but there’s a bit more pressure now to finish, or at least get the hundred miles out of it. Obviously I want the finish badly. Dealing with failure to reach the finish line in a race has been a real struggle but an interesting experience in itself. Those questions I wrote above just kept circling around my head like birds flying over a dying animal. The thought swooped down and kept pecking at me. I’m glad I managed to shake that all off. With time it goes away. So, I’ve changed the acronym DNF to – Do Not Forget, or Did Not Fail. Yep, I can do that if I want to. 1 – I will not forget the event and next time I end up running a flat course and through cold temperatures I will be coming with more experience. And 2 – I didn’t really fail anyone else or myself. I still tried my best and I will be back next year to try again.

 

So how did the weekend and the race go and where did the wheels come off?

 

Lift from Lisa to the station – good luck boys!

 

I have a reputation for booking crap hotels. This time however, the opposite!

Jason and I travelled up together in usual pre-100 miler fashion. We spent a night in the Novatel Hotel just north of the start. My favourite part of the race preparation is staying in hotels. Love it. We had a good night sleep apart from having to call reception for the room next door who seemed to start to have a party after 22:00. What party poopers we are! I had a better night sleep than I have done in the past before these long events. We got ready and did our normal morning routine. A quick taxi to the start line and registration and kit checks all happened easily and we were good to go. It was great bumping into Matt, Louise, Lee, Ian and seeing a lot of recognisable Centurion family faces. James, Nici and even Dan who I’d spoken to but never met in person before. There was a fantastic vibe all morning and was great to stand around outside in the sunshine. There was a chill in the air when the sun was covered by the cloud but a beautiful morning by the river indeed. Stuart and Ross were out snapping photos and it was lovely to see them both again after the SDW50 a few weeks back. Before long, James was going through all the race briefing details…. and it was quite a funny one too! Then Dan hit the horn and we were off.

 

 

 

Great to see Ian at the start of the race

We probably started too quickly (wow, never heard that one before!), but about two miles into the race we took a wrong a turn and ended up missing the very first bridge! A large group of people were running ahead and there were lots of screams and shouting for people to turn back. So funny. Early on in the race it was ok to deal with that but what was funny was that we were running with a friend Russell who had done this course before and even volunteered as sweeper on the this section. He spent the next hour cursing himself and swearing about it. We couldn’t stop laughing. The Thames is actually really interesting while running. So many boat clubs and huge mansions that you could only dream of owning. Rowers doing their training sessions and families enjoying meals and wine in lovely boats. Time does fly by and it wasn’t long before we reached the first check points. Crisps …. coke …. and Tailwind refills done. Back onto the path. At one of the check points it started to absolutely chuck it down. The weather was really changeable during the day. We put our jackets on at that point and beyond that we ended up running through a storm and hail later too!

 

 

 

Stuart and Ross get to be in a photo!

It was during the mid thirties that I began to feel a bit ‘unwell’. I knew things weren’t going to plan in my stomach and energy levels were dipping really fast. I think Jason could tell as I was being a lot more quiet than usual. This is what happens when I start to feel sick. Still, I ran within myself and continued on, drinking when I could and eating bits along the way, although the Tailwind was not going down well. When we got to mile 51 we were so excited! Half way! Warmth and a change of clothes to pick us up. We were used to the course along the SDW100 when at half way you stop at a hall and have space and warmth to move around. When we approached the check point we realised it was a tent with not much room inside at all as everyone was hiding from the wind and rain. This really deflated my spirit. Completely my fault as I just assumed we’d be indoors. It was hard to change with not much room and absolutely freezing. All part of it though and probably my first lesson – know the course better and never expect any comfort because I will only be destined for disappointment. Always take a positive lesson 🙂

 

 

 

Finally get to meet Dan the man Lawson

After mile 51 it was a real slog for me. I was ok for a while but any prolonged periods of running were making me feel horrendous. My energy levels dipped so badly that I was having problems getting energy to talk properly and the nausea on top of it was horrible. Short walks were fine though. In the end I decided not to jeopardise Jasons race any longer and asked him to go ahead without me. It was hard to call to make, but with the goal of trying to get under 20 hours, it was time for him to go for it as he was running well and feeling good. It was also time to run my own race. Jason and I have done two of these before, plus a few other ultra races together. This was the first time we’ve had to separate. He was worried and really didn’t want to leave me however I convinced him it was the right thing to do. Eventually off he went (and ended up finishing well – what an awesome ultra running dude!). We kept in touch for the remainder of my race via text. I called my wife and kids when it got dark and had a little near tearful moment. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Any running was making me feel really ill. I felt heavier than usual and just couldn’t get any pace on. My throat was burning all day with the cold air as I’d had a head cold and cough which was still with me from mid week. I didn’t really factor that in at all but it may have contributed towards the bad day.

 

I reached the aid station before Streatly (can’t remember the name!). Relief – it it was indoors and warm! I was getting COLD now. I knew Jason had been in and out already and I kept hoping he was having a good run. It was getting freezing cold outside and now dark. I sat there for ages and the volunteers were great. Andy(?) I think was his name offered me some ginger biscuits which were great although I didn’t feel like them at first. Amazing how getting food and drink in you helps, even when you don’t think you want it. Lesson 2 – eat and drink and just take the things that you feel like you want. Roll with it (Ian offered me this advice after the race as his fueling plan had to change on route to jam sandwiches and Coke!). What kept me going at this point was the thought that a friend Michelle was waiting for me at Streatly. I just wanted to make it there. When I decided to get up and go I noticed Stephen from Film my Run who looked to be struggling a little bit like myself. I walked over and asked if it would be ok to go out together and try to get a few miles in side by side. This was a good idea for both of us as it was fresh conversation and we helped each other run some good 1 – 2k portions. Stephen eventually went off ahead as my nausea came back and when I got to Streatly ABSOLUTELY FROZEN, he was just leaving and looked like he was doing better.

 

This is where my race came to an end. It was so great to see my friend Michelle but I was in a bad way and not myself at all. Michelle was super charged up with all the goings on at the aid station, and was super supportive telling me that there was no way she was taking my number. Centurion volunteers will try their best to keep you going. I’d do the same. I just knew that with 8 miles to the next stop, I’d be in a whole load of trouble with the kit I was wearing as the cold was unbearable. I had not prepared for that level of cold at all, despite being told about it before hand and reading about in other blogs. I’d have ended up calling in I think and having to curl up in my space blanket. I couldn’t have got any colder. I had a base layer and t-shirt from the day running which was still a bit wet, with a wind proof jacket. It just wasn’t enough – even as three layers. My gloves which I thought were good enough were not either. My beanie wasn’t warm enough too. With the amount of walk breaks I’d had, I was trembling cold and feeling sick during the running bits. Not a great situation. Lesson 3 – get better kit and prepare for the cold! I’d never had to do this before with both previous 100 milers as it had been pretty warm on the SDW in June. My kit had been fine for winter training for a few hours at a time, but to be out there jogging slowly and walking as best I could was no longer possible. Handing in my number was so hard but at the same time I was in a dream like state of fatigue … even after being in the aid station for a while. I felt terrible but it was the best decision at the time. I’d have been a massive liability out there in the cold at 1am and could have ended up in my space blanket somewhere. Michelle kindly lent me a jacket and let me sit near an oven in the kitchen where I drifted in and out of a dream like state, trying to get warm leaning over a stove plate that was heating up beans. I spoke to a number of the kind volunteers there but really couldn’t do too much else. I was there for a good four hours or so until the van picked us up.

 

Jason just crossing the finish line

My good friend Colin drove up from Portsmouth when he saw my name crossed out on the results early that morning. He wanted to to pick Jason and I up so we didn’t have to get a train. What a super star. And such great timing to because he arrived at the finish in time to see Jason come through the end. It was nice to see Jason finish the run. I felt I had let him down earlier and was just so happy he’d powered through and got the sub 24 hour finish. It was such a relief to get a ride back home too, although once the sun was up I did wake up a bit more and felt much better. We were also treated to some food and drink offered by Dave from Portsmouth. Dave is another awesome ultra runner who will be joining me on the start line of Grand Union this year. Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone I spoke to on route, including supporters, runners and volunteers – you are all amazing. Centurion running – thank you as well for putting on this event and allowing us all to come and test ourselves. Thanks to my family for putting up with my early mornings too. I sacrifice my sleep to keep the weekend running mostly away from the family life, but it does mean missing out on time with my kids early morning when they get up. Running can be self serving and selfish in this respect but I do what I can to minimise the impact. Hopefully one day my children will enjoy taking part in an event with me whether it be running or crewing. I want them to see and experience this great sport and community first hand and if they like it I hope we can build some stories in the future together on the trails xxx

As always, thank you to Centurion again for putting on this event and looking after us through the process. The awesome runners, supporters and most importantly the volunteers – you are all amazing and I’m going to help at a 100 miler event in the future having now experienced a Centurion 50 mile day out volunteering. Thanks Jason for putting up with my energy issues and nausea during those mid stages. It seems these are almost a certainty for me in these events so I need to be better and managing them for sure. Here’s to some more of theses events in the future together. Thanks to Stuart and Ross for taking all the photos and going above and beyond that in the love and support they give us through the event. You guys are amazing.

 

And finally, as always, happy miles everyone! xxx