Thames Path Challenge 50k race recap

My first ultra is in the bag and I’d have to say I’m mighty pleased. All in all it was a steady, normal race where pretty much everything clicked into place nicely. B. O. R. I. N. G. I know. No tales of superhuman feats, no stories of crawling over the line with shredded feat, no fable concocted about channelling my spirit animal to push through adversity…
But maybe, just maybe, for a first ultra ‘uneventful‘ is where it should be…

Sure, my legs were trashed on the Sunday, and Monday was spent trying (and failing) to move faster than grandma on a winter morning, but I’ve been worse after shorter races.

Yes my ITB played up and I needed 20 minutes of physio at the half-way point to get it working, but I was able to keep running so it wasn’t that bad.

And no, the toilet paper I’d (cleverly) stashed in the outside pocket of my backpack didn’t remain unused…

But, it pretty much all worked. I say pretty much because the only thing that went awry was the battery going flat on my heart rate monitor. Real schoolboy error that, not replacing a HRM battery before a 6+ hour run. Sheesh! Luckily I was already well and truly in the zone when it went flat so I just ran on feel.


A lot of my night was spent with this for a view. Trail seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Luckily my Petzl NAO reactive headlight has a mean output…

All of this leaves me in a unusual position – I don’t feel like I have a race to recap? Certainly not in the blow-by-blow sense. Instead, I thought I’d list out some of the highlights, lowlights and tips I learned throughout a thoroughly enjoyable, but uneventful, 50k nighttime ultra:

  • The Thames Path Challenge is a multi-distance, ‘single effort’ event, built around a 100km walk from Putney in London to Henley in the West. Participants can choose to undertake 25km legs, 50km legs or go all out for the 100km leg, and can walk or run their chosen section. And the best part;
  • You have to be raising money for charity to enter, with minimum sponsorship amounts, so the whole event is about supporting others while achieving a personal goal.
  • As a runner used to half and full marathons where water and energy drink is about all you can expect, being presented with aid stations complete with hot food, snacks, tea and coffee, first aid and dedicated blister and physio stations was just something else.
  • Sitting around before my 10pm start time I’d got a bit cold, and consequently misjudged my attire, so there I was at 5km stripping off in order to remove my base later. Not an uncomplicated affair when wearing a backpack and head torch, and no doubt bemusing for the walkers I had passed just seconds before!
  • A nighttime trail requires a lot more concentration than daytime. A few stumbles in the first 10k taught me to pay attention. I was on trail afterall. Mentally it was a lot tougher than normal trail just because of the lack of light…
  • When your ITB blows out 20k into a 50k race it is a godsend to find a free physio station at 25k that will work on it for 20 minutes to get you back into race-completing shape. And when that starts to fail at the 40k mark you chew even more ibuprofen and thank your past self for popping the two Solpadeine tablets in your first aid kit.
  • If you know that every junction is marked by two reflective arrows and confidence markers before and after, do NOT continue to run across the bridge and into suburbia for a kilometre when there are no confidence markers. Instead, take the trail to the side of the bridge which does have confidence markers. D’oh!
  • It’s really eerie to round a corner and find yourself in a cemetery, past midnight, with only your head torch lighting your way. Funnily enough you increase your pace…

Yes, this is a cemetery. Yes, it really is on the trail. Confidence marker can be seen in the left of shot. Slight increase in pace through this section…

  • Cows that are eating at night do not like having their photo taken and will shy away. Jog away slowly.
  • Cows that are sleeping at night definitely do not like have their photo taken and will stampede. Run away quickly.
  • No matter which way you look at it, running 50k at night after an entire day of eating high-carb, high-fibre food is going to leave you needing a ‘comfort break’. Unfortunately it may not come anywhere near an aid station and making like a bear could be your only option. Always take toilet paper on big runs like that
  • Remembering to take toilet paper on the big run
  • Being given a glass of bubbly at the finish, to go with the beef, cheese and bacon burger inside the kitchen tent. So much better than a Gatorade and protein bar!
  • Packing my sleeping bag into the backpack I sent to race finish…


Anyone for seconds?

Would I run this race again? Yes?
At night? Maybe…

Running at night was pretty cool and a great change from normal ‘dark’ running (like pre-dawn or after work). Starting close to 10pm and running well into the early hours of the morning brings with it a different sort of fatigue and pain level, but also being in the dark with only your personal bubble of light, and virtually no crowds, provided a freedom of ‘spirit’ like no other race I’ve done before. It was literally six and a bit hours of solo time. I finished the race feeling completely zen. Spent, empty, centred, but at the same time full of energy. I know I’ve just slipped well and truly into ‘new age’ but that is truly how I felt…

But would I run another night race? I’m not sure. I really loved the solitude, but it also missed the ‘racing’ component of normal daytime races. But it was still awesome.


Happy finisher. Prior to rapid champagne consumption…

Anyway, moving on, I’m now recovered from the race and trying to focus on building my strength and pace back up. I’ve still got another week of so of easy running, then it’s into preparation for the Ragnar Relay. Gulp…

Happy running everyone!


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About getgoing-getrunning

Hi, I’m Bernie and I’m a just guy who writes about the things which get me going and get me running, even though my running is never going to result in me standing on a podium!

Posted on October 13, 2014, in Blog, Thames Path Challenge 50k. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great un-eventuful re-cap. Every story isn’t dramatic, but that’s not so bad when it is you experiencing the drama. 😉 Running through a cemetary in the middle of the night must have been a little freaky. Especially since you weren’t expecting it.
    I always carry TP with me, even on long training runs. I actually carry paper towels or napkins as comfort is not my main concern while scooching in the woods!

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