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Two Camino Champions - Thames Path 100

CAMINO - It is incredible to think that this year represents the fifth year that Camino & Anna (Brown) have worked together. When people ask what are the secrets to ultrarunning - the best answer is five years of dedication....and still going.


We've done some extraordinary things together. A podium finish on day one of MDS followed by 50 degree heat exhaustion and a DNF - to be captured in the explosive NetFlix series Human Playground - is high on that list. The long list includes an unofficial Thames Path 100 to complete and unofficial Centurion 100 Mile calendar Grand Slam.


Weaved into Anna and Camino's story is Kallum (Pritchard).


Again Kall has been an intergral part of the Camino fabric for well over three years and like Anna this has seen exceptional performances and wins in some of the UKs premier ultramarathon events.


Lining up for this years Thames Path there was a strong feeling that this would be another top finish for them both....but you never know if the stars will align to turn those performances into coveted wins.


Behind Anna & Kall are always friends, family and the Camino Ultra community. For Anna there was the opportunity to be paced by Camino Coach Jess - and for us to benefit in some upto date status updates. So we are grateful to include in this 'Champions' Blog an insight from Jess and the powerful role of the wider team vibe.


With Spartathlon in the Calendar and a strong feeling that there are 'no limits' with these two - we are beyond proud of the constant dedication and community support shown by Anna and Kallum in everything they do. Grateful that they have shared their race reflections with us all.


Thank You Pierre for the official Centurion Pics - To Superstar Jess - to the Camino Big Dreamers for shaping 2024 to be iconic xx


BIG CAMINO LOVE xxx




ANNA:


"After struggling through Arc training with a crazy work schedule, I’d expected work-stress to drop a lot, leaving me several months to work on specificity for a long, faster, flat ultra. I planned to do gym sessions, plyos, speed work and much higher mileage. Thames Path was going to be great - I’d be in the shape of my life and after 3 years of trying to get to this event, and the multitude of hurdles I’d had to overcome, it would be the best ever…


Sadly, things didn’t quite turn out like that and rather than all this amazing training I found myself squeezing in quick runs home from work to return to my desk and stare at a screen checking chemotherapy regimens until often after midnight, fuelled on a diet of ready meals and Candy Kittens. I’m actually really proud of how I managed during this period of my life to get in the training I did, but it did mean I arrived at race day at least 3kg over my ‘optimum’ race weight and having done little to help the inevitable impact pain I was going to get 100k into the race. Oh well, it’s rarely ever perfect and for once I didn’t feel any niggles or bugs come taper time so I took that as a win.


After several nightmares about missing the start (completely unfounded as it was going to be my easiest travel to a race ever!) I was relieved to make it to Richmond Town hall with no issues. It was straight away just a lovely day, bumping into loads of old friends and familiar faces. I mustered with my BBRC crew where I met Bonnie for the first time as we hadn’t crossed paths before. We all headed down to the start where I found Kall and there was a very poignant moment while Ed Catmur’s parents Richard and Ginny said a few words about their son. He had been one of Centurion’s most prolific runners and had very sadly died while running in the Lakes on NYE. It was a really beautiful moment where everyone present, whether they had know Ed or not, was united in mutual love and respect for him and the applause that followed Richard’s speech went on for a really long time. Something about that made a lot of us feel were running for Ed, who had been meant to be there with us on the start line. A sombre but appropriate start to the day. 


When 9am came, we set off under the bridge. A lot of people (as predicted) shooting off way faster than was sensible. I didn’t see Kall again after about the first 30 seconds! 


I was very determined to stick to my plan for the day, with an aim for a target time, regardless of placing. Spoiler alert: my final time was nowhere near my target (I blame the Kittens…) The plan involved a fairly decent paced first 50km trying to stick around 6min/km with then some allowance for progressively more slippage over the rest of the race. I found myself running with Dave Stuart who is one of my BBRC buddies and we had a great first 10 miles to CP1 running together with me gleaning as much Spartathlon (and Western States and UTMB!) intel off him as I could. All went smoothly other than when I tried to nimbly hop over the central reservation on Hampton Court bridge, caught a toe and found myself flying through the air landing in the path of on-coming traffic. Hmm. I pulled myself up quickly so as not to get run over and was relieved that the worst damage was a slight graze to my knee and that even my hands had escaped unscathed - phew!






Slightly shaken but undamaged we trotted off arriving into the first CP to the smiling face of Rich Phillips which was a nice boost. I somehow managed to lose Dave at this point so set off alone, leap frogging and running a bit with Bonnie who was moving at similar speed. We gradually separated as I remained determined not to overcook my planned pace. It was also getting warmer, which while a nice change from our never-ending winter, was a bit of a shock to the system. I got myself to CP2 at 22 miles with no drama, still on pace and was happy to see so many familiar faces at that aid station. The team sorted me out with refills as quickly as they could, although sadly couldn’t provide me with a new safety pin for my flapping number (I’d clearly left a gift for an unsuspecting cyclist somewhere on Hampton Court Bridge…) onwards to Dorney… as I neared Windsor I came across a huge horse show that we had to pass through. The ground was so churned up and muddy they’d even put straw down to make it slightly more crossable but the mud was unavoidable! I did feel a bit bad at this point that I’d told Kall road shoes would be fine for that section after my recent recce and felt sad for his beautifully clean alphaflys which clearly would no longer be that colour! There were actually quite a few patches of mud around due to the heavy rain the day before the race, but on the whole road shoes were still a good decision. 


Coming towards Dorney I closed in on Bonnie again. We’d worked out that we were 1-2 quite a while before but I’d happily been keeping behind. I was on my target pace though, so I passed her shortly before the aid station and arrived there first to a nice hug from another BBRC buddy Graham. Bonnie joined me there and left before me while I faffed a bit and lovely Graham provided the much needed safety pin and sorted out my number for me (it had started to get really annoying!) I wasn’t stressed, I was still totally focussed on my own race - I had no desire to be in the lead at 50k as that bore far too much resemblance to NDW 2022 and that did me no good at all. I was already starting to feel the aching in my joints from the impact, so since I’d hit my 50k target I eased off the pace a little and allowed myself more walk breaks.





I was entering very familiar territory and was looking forward to hitting Henley and running down the rowing course. It was absolutely stunning coming across from Hurley to Henley passing fields of so many sheep and lambs and of course the famous white deer at Culham Court. I was already tired but I’ve had worse days than running through sunny green fields full of buttercups! I approached my home turf - the Henley course - with 100% focus. I have literally rowed that stretch hundreds of times and know it like the back of my hand so I was going to cox myself though the landmarks. Start line - push for the end of the island - the barrier - Barn Bar -  Fawley - Remenham Club - Regatta enclosure - Stewards enclosure - Grand Stand - finish. It had a lot of significance for me and I was so happy to be there, but the job wasn’t done - I was barely half way! (Why did I give up rowing?!) I passed Leander (slightly jealous of whatever lovely event they were currently hosting that involved sitting by the river in the Sun), rounded the corner and headed over the bridge into ‘Oxfordshire’.


Thats a nasty joke for anyone who is doing this route for the first time - not even halfway and the sign suggesting you might be close! Someone helpfully told me ‘not far to the aid station!’ Very lovely of them but I literally could have (and probably have) found that place with my eyes half closed at 3 in the morning after an entire day drinking pimms in 30 degree Sun. I was ok! The support coming through Henley though was something else - so many people cheering me on and saying how well I was doing, I felt like a celebrity!  As I neared the aid station I was looking out for my crew, Claire and Sarah, who had strict instructions to have a bench near the aid station and my trail shoes out and ready for me to jump into. They did not let me down. It was a relief to finally have my crew, but I didn’t stop for long - I knew Tamsin was hot on my heels and as I left munching on some hula hoops I could see her in the aid station. I set off to discover what the Henley detour had in store.


The Henley detour seemed a bit unnecessary. We’d been told it added 1.5 miles to the overall distance, but we hadn’t been told it was basically directly up a very steep hill into the woods. Considering previous detours for the same section have just taken runners up onto the Reading road I felt a bit hard done by! I was probably off the Thames path for most of an hour by the time I’d made my way through the (admittedly beautiful) wood and back down the hill through lots of residential roads. Finally I rejoined the towpath and then just had to get myself through the last few km to Reading where my superstar pacer Jess would be waiting to help me with the rest of the race.


As I arrived at the CP, my crew were waiting for me, pre-ordered Huel pot in hand, ready to decant it into my cup. I was a bit confused when I heard someone almost whispering ‘Anna….Anna…. GO… Go now!’ and followed by ‘First lady is inside!!!’ But I was in the middle of trying to decant Huel and work out what drinks I needed and by the time I was ready, I saw Bonnie trotting down the ramp with her pacer. It was fine - it was still too early. We gave each other a friendly wave and then Jess and I left Reading at a walk while I ate my Huel, watching as Bonnie disappeared into the distance ahead. I wasn’t stressed, I had to race my own race and I was happy with how I was doing and I couldn’t push much harder as the impact pain and stiff muscles were starting to bother me. 67 km to go… It was lovely having Jess with me and I’d told her she needed to be bossy and not go easy on me. She followed my instructions! It was still light, but the light was starting to go and we were treated to a beautiful sunset as we came through Caversham, another of my former rowing haunts.





Before we got to Pangbourne we’d lost all of the light but we decided we could manage on just Jess’ head torch until the CP as mine needed unpacking from the back of my vest which seemed too much hassle. As we had been approaching we had seen 2 head torches ahead getting closer and closer and we had worked out it was Bonnie and her pacer - still too early… They hit the checkpoint a couple of minutes before us and as we went inside we realised they hadn’t even gone in - they had pushed on to Goring. Somehow I was ok with this though - yes they were making up ground, but I needed to go inside and it turned out the most important reason for this was so I could vomit! I’d been feeling queasy on/off all afternoon and something about coming into this warm room sent me over the edge. It wasn’t pleasant, but I felt better afterwards and was able to finish my tea and even swallow a few blocks of chocolate before we set off to Goring. We knew there was a hill coming once we crossed the toll bridge, so we were able to head through the village and enjoy the forced walk up the hill.


I know this section pretty well as well from various recce’s, my winter TP100 and my Autumn 100 race in 2022. Its normally the hilliest bit of the course but it was nothing like the wood in Henley. We jogged through the rooty path and down the Hartley steps, weaving along, high above the water until we hit the last few fields coming into Goring. We finally turned right off the river to get to the aid station and as we approached the door, we saw Bonnie and pacer setting off over the bridge - still very close. I didn’t really need anything at Goring and my stomach wasn’t happy so I nibbled a bit and downed some tea and off we went, heading for the mud-fest that awaited us for the rest of the race. Not long after leaving Streatley, we came upon the ‘lake’ in the path. It was a section of probably 50m completely submerged in water. Rather than ploughing through it, we opted to try and go round it which meant picking our way through bushes and boggy grass and just hoping that it would rejoin the main path again and that we wouldn’t have to retrace our steps. Luckily it did, although I’m not sure if we were any drier than if we’d just gone through! The path continued like this with sections that were ok and sections that were just bog, most of the way to Wallingford and somewhere along the way we caught up with Bonnie. We had a bit of a chat and I was sad to hear she was struggling with her hip flexor.





If there is one thing you don’t need after 14 odd hours running and now with a sore hip flexor it is trying to run through uneven muddy puddles where you are slipping and jarring your joints on every other step. We went past them and continued on our way and at this point I knew I needed to race. Now it was time. We set off for the longest continuous run I’d done for several hours trying to extend the gap as much as possible, although having no real idea whether it was working. Finally I was relieved to see the OUBC boathouse looming into sight as I new that from that point it was mainly paved/tarmac right the way through the town and at the Wallingford aid station we’d be able to get a time split of the interval between myself, Bonnie and Tamsin (never discount Tamsin for a last minute surge!). We didn’t really stop as we had a crew point just 2 miles ahead, so we pushed on over the bridge, following the next road-based diversion on the course (this one adding about half a mile).


We met up with Claire and Sarah at Benson where there was quite a crew gathering and I managed to get a rice pudding down but not really anything else. I still felt a bit sick and had already vomited again since Goring. We checked the tracker and found out I’d been 7 minutes ahead at the CP which was not loads, but had built up over a very short distance so we were happy. We headed off, the next support being Clifton Hamden at 88 miles. By this point it was all a blur of some running, some walking, some vomiting and a lot of mud, but we eventually made it to the CP to be met with a friendly FYB from one of my BBRC club mates on the bridge before making the miserable (its the only word for it) trudge all the way through the village and up the hill to the aid station. The team there were lovely, as were all the others but we again didn’t stay long. I tried to eat a bit but nothing was appealing so left, pushing on to the next crew point in 4 miles. We found Claire and Sarah a bit earlier than we expected in a slightly dubious park area with some slightly dubious people hanging around - and they were the only crew so I’m very glad they had each other! We weren’t really sure whether I’d need them at the next point in Abingdon as it was only 2 miles further, but we decided they should go there as by this point I needed small targets to keep moving.


More mud, more jogging/walking and we arrived at this last crew point. I always find it hard near the end of the race when you are taking so long to get between points, and this was no better when they waved us off with a ‘see you at the finish’ even though we still had 9 miles to go. We headed off towards Lower Radley. This was quite a low point for me as it seemed like there was just so far to go.The mud situation in this part of the course is always bad, even on a ‘good’ year so I’d been dreading it, but add to that the low level fog that had descended, mixed with the light from the head torch and you couldn’t actually see the ground at all in places. This made taking the best course through the puddles and bogs a bit tricky. I’d long since worked out the easiest way to tackle them was straight through the middle as at least at the bottom of the puddle you had nowhere to slip - on the sides, you inevitably slipped towards the bottom and often lost your balance! A couple of guys we passed even commented on our tactic ‘ooooohhh thats how you are meant to do it!’ The worst bit of the bog running was when the muddy puddles splashed all the way up my legs and hit the slight chafing round the rim of my shorts - ouchy (and also eugh - bacteria!) All part of the glamour that is ultrarunning!


There were a lot more grim, uneven fields and muddy tracks in the woods and more vomiting and finally we saw the outline of some racked rowing boats (there is a theme here!) which signified the arrival of Lower Radley aid station. Finally. This meant only 5 miles/8km to go. Sadly it was getting light which made me feel a bit rubbish as although I was leading the race I was way off my original target which I was sad about. It did mean it got easier to see the ground though which is a massive bonus and as we finally made it through those last few muddy fields, we counted down the km to the paved path to the finish. Finally we hit the path and I started forcing myself to run specific distances before being allowed to walk - it kind of worked. We eventually saw the sports ground through the trees and a couple of people on the path ahead. And there was the turn. We went through the gate and I started running as hard as I could towards the gantry to the gathered group of people including Clarie and Sarah. I dropped to the ground to attempt a few pathetic (even for me) press-ups before a big hug from James who I had bored enough with my dramas in the past for him to know what this meant to me - it meant everything. 





The thing I was most proud of in this race was how I’d had the confidence to stick to my own race and not get sucked into caring about what others were doing. Also how I kept going despite really being very low on nutrition and hydration - maybe that was my Candy Kitten stores finally proving useful! I’m very grateful for Jess and her bullying and cajoling to make me keep going, keeping me up to date with the support that was streaming through Whatsapp, and most of all, putting up with the revolting sound of me throwing up for the last 30+ miles! That's a real friend! Also for Claire and Sarah who stuck out the whole night, even though I’d never billed it as a whole night job! Thank you crew! And finally Kall and my Camino Ultra family - knowing he had smashed it made me so much want to do the double to repay them for all the faith and confidence they had in me throughout. Reading some of the mid-race messages after the race genuinely brought a lump to my throat. Thank you!





I hadn’t realised until afterwards, that this was the 10th time I’d run 100 miles (or more). I guess I’m finally learning something, but the most important thing I’ve learnt, is that the lows can last a really long time, but if you walk them out, they will pass and the race isn’t over! It will always get better. Lets hope the same can be said for 250km races in Greece....

"


PACER JESS:


"I was very honoured when Anna asked me to pace her at TP100 – I clearly hadn’t put her off in previous races, or she didn’t know anyone else who fancied a night-long run! Knowing Anna wanted – and deserved – to win the race had me swotting up on checkpoint locations and her competitors, and hoping my legs were going to keep up. It’s a privilege to be asked to be a small part of someone’s race as a pacer, and I needed to make sure I was a small benefit rather than a hindrance. I knew it wouldn’t just be about the running, but also some strategy and a lot of dot-watching on the move.


I met Anna at the Reading checkpoint, just shy of 100km into her race. She looked as fresh as a daisy and was only moments behind first place. We set off speedily, and sat just behind Bonnie all the way to Pangbourne, not wanting to take the lead and be chased all night long. As a hanger-on, I was so touched to be so well cared for at the aid station (and all of them going forwards), and for a brief moment I considered one day entering such a long race. However, watching Anna’s stomach slowly churn like an ice cream machine for the next 9 hours rather put me off!


Anna soon ended up in first place and rapidly put a good chunk of time between her and any other women in the race, skipping over the swimming-pooled sized puddles and mud patches more nimbly than I could ever dream of doing with fresh legs. Before I knew it (probably felt like a lifetime for Anna), I was bullying Anna out of the last aid station into a beautiful sunrise trot/plod/march approach to Oxford. 


Anna won the women’s race convincingly. I was in awe of how determined and resilient she had been throughout the race, and I couldn’t be more proud to have watched her win. All credit goes to Anna for an amazing performance - I’m not sure how much I added, apart from gentle bullying and opening of gates - but it was such a privilege to have a front row seat during the race. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, once my legs recover, as I’m actually quite tired.

"


KALLUM:


"This was the third year in a row that I had signed up to the TP100, and the first time I had been on the start line, due to various injuries, so I wanted to give it my all and go big early on. At the start line I quickly caught up with fellow Camino Ultra Runner, Anna Brown, who later went on to finish as 1st lady! Before the race began, the RD, James Elson, paid respects to the late, great, Ed Catmur, a man who needs no introduction when it comes to these types of events. Ed’s parents also made a touching speech about their son to all competitors. 



With the sun beaming down (as of writing this I have some terrible tan lines), the race soon started. For the first ~4miles I ran as part of a small group, which included Mark Innocenti and Adam Kimble, which was nice as the chat was flowing. Despite the pace being a sensible ~7:20mm, I decided to set off on my own around 4 miles in as I wanted to ‘bank’ some time early on. Also, I’m a big fan of going hard early and then regretting it later in the race (terrible pacer).






For the next 46 or so miles I visited most of the check points, which I must say where crazy efficient, with most of the stations filling my water bottles, topping me up with gels and motivation all under 30 seconds! At the first ‘Crew Point’, my partner, Danielle, was waiting, ready to swap my bottles for Precision Hydration mix, fresh gels, and most importantly, trail shoes! 



The first half of the race was flat, fast, and runnable, which is why I opted for AlphaFlys until mile 52. The second half of the race, particularly the last 30 miles, was very boggy from recent flooding, which would have made for an interesting experience if the better half would have missed me for a shoe change at the crew points!

In terms of race strategy, I decided to run the first 30 miles at 7mm, then slowly reduce the pace as the fatigue creeps in. This strategy really helped myself segment the race, as rather than looking at the whole distance remaining (which can be daunting), I simply gave myself small targets to aim for… e.g in 5 miles I’ll reduce the pace, and in 7 miles I’ll get to see the partner! Breaking the race (whole distance) into smaller chunks is something that really helps myself, especially when it comes to the mental challenge of races like this too.



The latter part of the race I was under no illusion that the course record was not achievable, and that I had a decent lead of approx. 6 miles, so I made the decision to relax the pace through the latter, muddier part of the race, rather than risking the legs blowing up. I guess this isn’t the most exciting strategy, but sometimes its good to play it safe!






This was my second Centurion event, on both occasions the course markings, volunteers and general organisation have been great. I believe this is the first time that I have not made a wrong turn on a race (normally an expert in being navigationally challenged), which is a testament to the course markers! During the race, I received a lot of supportive messages, especially from the Camino Ultra family, my better half, and close friends. All these messages were coming through to my watch, which was a nice touch to read as I was solo running for ~95miles, albeit some of the messages were abuse from friends regarding how slow I was running in the later miles! 

"






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