So today was the big day, the long run that I have been working up to for the last couple of months: the Thames Path 50 mile run. In the end it would be just short of 50 miles but it was a great run and a great way to explore the immense city that is London. There were a couple of points that were frustrating and a couple of points where I wasn’t feeling all that good, but overall it was a perfect run and I finished, uninjured, in a time that I was happy with.
Dad was nice enough to drop me off at the bridge between Eton and Windsor where I would get started. I took a couple of photos of the bridge – it is a rather pretty place – and then strapped on my hydration pack, cued up Ten Junk Miles on the iPod and set off down the Thames Path.
The Thames Path is really well marked and, as long as you trust the markings, it is hard to go wrong. I only ended up getting off track once and it was in the final 10 kilometers where road work and parts to the trail being closed meant I had to be a little creative with how I kept moving forward. Besides that, though, it was easy to stay on track during the whole day.
Early on I was making sure that I didn’t go out too fast and I was trying to stick to somewhere between 5:20 and 5:30 pace. This was working well, I was drinking regularly, and I was enjoying what transitioned from a footpath in Windsor into some soft trail, meadowland, and grass trails as I moved away from the start. I stopped to snap a photo of a sign (note that on the map above the Polaroid shaped images can be made full-size on Strava) announcing the signing of the Magna Carta near Runnymede about eight kilometers, and shortly afterwards I slowed to a walk for 500 meters so I could take on some calories without bouncing all around. I was feeling good and I laid down the first ten kilometers in 53:44.
There was plenty happening on the river as I passed along, and I couldn’t believe the number of people who were out rowing. It seemed I couldn’t go more than a few minutes without passing a club, a team, or just some anonymous people without a coach rowing up and down the river. This continued until I was very close to the center of London, so it seems that people who live near the Thames take good advantage of their proximity to the river.
Just before the 20 kilometer point I had my first encounter with wildlife – well, with wildlife that wasn’t a squirrel or a dog, that is. A herd of cows were happily grazing in a meadow where the path passed through and I stopped to take a picture of the largest one which was, predictably, right in the middle of the trail. The cow didn’t seem too worried about me and didn’t get spooked as I snapped a photo and kept on moving. The second ten kilometers was done in 53:19 so I was still moving well after about two hours on course.
A couple of kilometers later I came to a decision point. There was a choice to be made before crossing the river on a small ferry and continuing on the path, or taking the alternative route through a village or two and then cross over a bridge to continue down the route. I didn’t want to stop so I followed the alternative route and kept things nice and steady. I was taking on water, keeping the calories on track, and enjoying the run. I didn’t see all that many other runners but there were plenty of people out walking the trail with their dogs or enjoying time with family and friends. A couple of kilometers later and I was back on the southern side of the Thames and continuing forward, and I brought up the 30 kilometer point soon after. The third ten kilometer section was again consistent 54:17, but of course the hard parts were still to come.
The next 20 kilometers were the hardest of the lot and my pace dropped as I started to add in longer walking breaks as I was moving forward. I figured I would stop for lunch about the 40 kilometer point and I wasn’t worried about moving too slowly through this middle point as I was good for time and still on track for something around the 8 or 9 hour time I thought would be a good effort. Between Kingston and Teddington I brought up the 40 kilometer mark with a ten kilometer split of 1:07:35, and I stopped for lunch about five kilometers later in Richmond.
Lunch, as far as it went, consisted of candy I had packed from the start along with a bottle of Coke and some water. I was trying to stay hydrated and I probably should have had some coffee, but after a short break I was happy to get moving again and continue on down the path. This 40 to 50 kilometer part was a little difficult but I was laughing along to Cabin Pressure and just focusing on moving forward. I never really thought about giving up – what would be the point? – and I knew that as long as I could keep moving forward I would be fine. As they say, if you are feeling bad don’t panic, it’ll pass…and if you are feeling good, don’t panic, it’ll pass, too. I closed out the ten kilometers (including the lunch break) to the 50km point in 1:21:09.
I got a text from my parents soon after letting me know that they were near the Putney Bridge at about the 60 kilometer point of the run and would say hello. It was nice to see them, especially so as I was starting to find a rhythm again. I had run four kilometers and walked one, then run another three kilometers and walked one again during this section, meaning I was finding the form again. By the time I arrived at the Putney Bridge and greeted Mum and Dad, I was feeling good again. That ten kilometers went by in 1:06:58 which I was pretty happy with, to be honest. At that point, keeping up something about a 10 km/hr pace is pretty much where I was hoping to be.
As I was leaving the Putney Bridge Dad said he thought there might be about 14 kilometers to go. This sounded positive to me and I set about jogging again. Shortly after I got started, though, a woman passed me running a little bit faster and I thought, why not latch on for the ride? I lifted my pace, caught up, and soon after we started chatting. She was doing a 22 mile run in the build up for a marathon, and I was happy to tag along and have a little company. The only problem for me was that she was dropping some fast 5:00 and 5:15 splits which was about as fast as I had run all day! I hung in there for about five kilometers talking about all sorts of things, and then said I would be dropping back to take on some more calories. It was nice to run a little bit faster at that point and I have stored that ability away for the next time I think I don’t have it in me because, well, I do.
Not long after I dropped back and with the final jellybeans helping me through the last few kilometers, I managed to get lost. The Thames Path moves away from the river and I didn’t take the turn, leaving me turned around and a little geographically unaware, so to speak. I went back to the last sign I saw, followed a different route, and eventually got back on track as I swung through the city. It was perhaps the least interesting part of the course as it was running on sidewalks and not very close to the river, but eventually I would return to the river and move closer to the end I had identified: the Tower Bridge. That 60K to 70K ten kilometer split was 1:10:05, especially nice as I was stuck wandering around in circles and getting my bearings for a little bit of this section.
The final five or six kilometers to the end were fine. I ran most of it where I could, but was forced to walk in places as the crowds of tourists were just too thick. I set myself the challenge of hitting the 75km point in 8.5 hours (including the breaks) and I managed this, and then less than a kilometer later I was done. I jogged into the finish, met Mum and Dad and clicked stop on the Garmin.
I was really happy with this run, happy to spend time with my parents, and to explore the Thames Path which is really just fantastic. I think I’ll be back to run more of it one day, maybe try and use it as the basis for a 100K or something even longer. Considering the Saintelyon is the next big challenge and it’s about the same length, I am not worried at all about the distance there. What I’ll have to work on, though, is hills and descending and I think, if I do, I’ll be able to run a nice time. Now that the flat running is out of the way, I’ll also have to think about slimming down a couple of kilos to make the hills a bit easier. Keto: here I come!
All in all it was great run and though I made a couple of mistakes – I’ll go into these ‘lessons’ in the next couple of days – none were major or slowed me down too much. I’ll be taking a few days off this week to recover and as I am looking after Jamie alone, but I’m ready to start preparing for the Saintelyon.