Woefully Underprepared!

This was going to be a race with a difference.

I knew I had not done enough preparation for it, but thought I’d give it a go anyway, with the proviso that I would bail if things got “too tough”

TP100_SmallWaaa-haaaa-haaaa-haaaa! 😆

Define tough, for a 100 mile ultramarathon?

Before I launch into the tough guy clichés and superlatives which abound around some of these events (e.g. “Make friends with pain and you’ll never be alone” or Rule 1 – “No whining” and, of course, the near apocryphal Marathon des Sables inclusion of a “corpse repatriation fee“) let me just say this event was NOT one of those. Indeed, the organisers pitched it as giving

… runners new to the 100 mile distance, the opportunity of completing 100 miles on foot where significant elevation changes and difficult navigation are removed as major obstacles.

No problems, methinks! Just a long training run 😉

That thought would come back to bite me many times before the end of the 100 miles – indeed, there were times because I was in a mindset of merely doing a training run, and logically I could drop at any stage, I had to fight the urge to pack it in many times, especially halfway heading into the night with temperatures dropping and the thought of 12 more hours of slogging through the most picturesque part of the course… in the dark…

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The TP100 by the Centurion running crew was indeed billed as one of, if not the, fastest 100 mile race in the UK. It was  structured as an introduction to the distance or for those doing 100 mile races with more challenging profiles, to test themselves against the distance. Nothing about training runs then.

Richmond Bridge - Go that way...
Richmond Bridge – Go that way…

The race starts in Richmond, very close to the centre of London and then meanders westward along a rarely straight path to Oxford, taking in such well known places as Kingston, Hampton Court, Windsor, Henley, Reading and Pangbourne, but during its general westerly course also picks up major settlements at Twickenham (home of English rugby), Staines, Runnymede (where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215), Egham (where Marenello Ferrari, the main UK Ferrari importers are based), Chertsey (where I worked on the banks of the Thames for a good 6 years), Maidenhead, Marlow, Abingdon (Where they used to make MG cars) and, close to the end, Wallingford (where many of my relatives used to live).

I had done much of the course in the past, in fact the best part from Oxford to East Molesey, but no more than around 50 miles at a time, but given the route is as beautiful as it is steeped in English history, I was looking forward to doing the whole thing in one day.

Richmond Town Hall - Mulling about 1
Richmond Town Hall – Mulling about 1

I arrived at Richmond town hall in good time, travelling by train as the family had normal activities booked for a Saturday, but I was hoping they would join me for the end. There was a briefing booked for 9:30am with the race due to start at 10:00am. Other than a kit check for compulsory items, the fixing of the number to my shorts, and handing in my half-way and finish drop bags, there was little to do for the best part of the 30 minutes I had to spare, but I had grabbed a coffee and croissant for breakfast, so walked about chatting to others about their last minute preparations. Plenty of time to mull over my insanity.

There were about 300 people at the start and the weather, which had been looking ominous all week, was uncharacteristically gorgeous for a UK public holiday weekend and predicted to remain so throughout the rest of the race.

The short briefing took on a comic turn when it was initially punctuated by the fire alarm being triggered by the opening of an emergency door due to the confined nature of having 300 people in a room designed for about 20. Eventually though, the minimal route diversions were discussed (the weir at Benson was under repair, apparently) but indicated mainly that people should look after each other out there. Good advice indeed.

We all made our way down the 50 yards or so to the riverbank, and after a momentary pause while the assembled mass worked out which way we were supposed to be going, a countdown began and we were off.

Early days, - just after start
Early days, – just after start

Start, Richmond

I tried to heed my own advice of many other races, recognising there was a long way to go and it was already warmer than I had anticipated, and so I set off at a gentle pace so for the first twenty miles or so my pace was nicely consistent. I was acutely aware that the race does not start until 50 miles though, but either way, I travelled through the first fifth of the race without major incident. I enjoyed the scenery as I had expected, and the banter along the way, remained light-hearted and positive.

Compared to some of the races I have done, where you really are out in the wilderness, this route was highly populated with other users, mainly walkers and the occasional cyclist, so of course there were frequent curious questions regarding the extent of the race, which were invariably met with increasing levels of incredulity as the day, and the race progressed.

The aid stations were quite well spread initially, as one would expect for fresh runners. The first at Walton-on-Thames was at about 11 miles and most of the other runners and myself who were making up a small group at this stage, stopped only briefly – even for this early in the race though, the station was well stocked and I hoped this indicated a trend which would continue throughout the day.

Chertsey Bridge - Factory gone!
Chertsey Bridge – Factory gone!

The weather was warm, but progress was good along the paths which were largely tended compacted gravel of the towpath followed the river, but which also seemed to leapfrog back and forth across bridges and I quickly decided not to keep count, since having started on the south-east bank at Richmond, crossed the town bridge at Kingston, then back again at Hampton Court, over again at Walton, by the first checkpoint at Walton-On-Thames we had already crossed 3 times.

As we progressed, the group of runners I was with slowly changed – some left in front, and some behind, and some we caught. The landscape slowly changed from suburban to flood plains, as I rounded the river opposite Chertsey Meads. I was stunned at the sight at Chersey Bridge, where I worked at a Defence Contractor firm for the best part of 6 years (nearly 20 years ago!). The factory buildngs have been replaced by plush riverside appartments – and the opulence of the area along the riverside was clear. It seems the Thames adds a premium to the desirability of any location 😉

Looking back to Windsor Castle
Looking back to Windsor Castle

I carried on with the route marvelling at the change to the area that I had once known relatively well, like trying to remember a half forgotten dream when you first wake in the morning. It served to pass the time though and I soon found myself passing through Laleham, Egham, crossing the river again at Staines and finally to Runnymede where the next checkpoint was located, before entering Old Windsor and crossing again to the north-east bank.

Runnymede – 22 miles

I had walked through Windsor around the middle of last year, while on a team retreat. This time there were masses of people around, but I quickly crossed over the town bridge and, given that it was about 2:30 by this time, I tried desperately to ignore the glorious smells emanating from the local pubs and food stalls, while on my way. I made a mental note to try to avoid populated areas at any time I was hungry 🙂 No chance there then.

Salted Caramel GU at Windsor
Salted Caramel GU at Windsor

After all the excitement of the centre of Windsor, I realised I had not had one of my salty caramel gels yet, and decided now was a good time, so walked for a bit during the process of extracting and forcing the gloopy liquid down, since normally if I try this while running, I end up in a sticky mess reminiscent of a 3 year old eating a giant Easter egg.

It was about here I was caught up by Mari Mauland (#234, from Norway). She looked a bit tearful and explained she was having problems with her knee and was obviously in some pain, so we walked together for a while, and I came up with my best ultra-running small-talk to try to distract her mind from the pain. After a bit, she was feeling a touch better so suggested that we try run / walking for a bit, and we actually maintained a good steady pace from the outskirts of Windsor, past the Olympic boating park at Eton Dorney, where despite missing a turning under the A4 at Maidenhead, we made it through in good time to next checkpoint.  She met up with her ‘crew’ here and we said goodbye as she explained she was not confident enough in her knee holding out for the entire race and so was wanting to drop out at this point.

Cookham – 38 miles

I continued on my own again through Marlow and a number of other small villages with a checkpoint at Hurley, where shortly afterwards I encountered a small ‘uphill’ – Hope Pass, this was not, but the difference on my legs was noticeable and it was ironically nice to have a small variation in muscle use, if only for an instant. The fields through which we were directed were clearly private property, and there were strict instructions to stay on the path. After turning back down to the riverbank, I caught up with Simon McIntosh (#240) and we chatted for a bit on our way into the midway point at Henley. As we passed the Temple Island to the north of Henley, he mentioned this marked the 2km point to the town, from his recollection of the regatta and where the rowing races start. It turned out Simon is also doing the UTMB in August so we chatted about training for that, the approach to the race and other ultras in general.

Henley Sunset
Henley Sunset

Mari caught up with us, to my surprise, just before reaching Henley, explaining that her crew had not let her drop at the previous checkpoint (tough crew!) and even though she appeared to be going well, she was planning to ‘limp’ into Henley 😉 and finish at the halfway point. She looked to be going well to Simon and myself, so we let her go on ahead.

At this stage I was still considering whether to bail at Henley myself.

The Sun was thinking about doing a disappearing act as well, as we made our way into Henley, with the last few rays disappearing behind the trees and skyline of the renowned rowing town. Henley was evidently preparing for a regatta judging by the half finished constructions of marquees we passed along the riverbank, long before we reached the bridge to cross to the other side before the temporary relief of the halfway point.

Henley – 51 miles

I had a drop bag organised here, but there was little I could use in it. I had a Goodness Shakes which I could have made up, but neglected to remember a bottle in which to mix it. I sufficed with a change of top, some hot pasta and something approaching Bolognese. Whatever it was, it was MOST welcome. Simon made a move quite quickly, so I said I would try to catch him up, but spent the usual amount of time procrastinating – at least having decided I would try, purely for logistical reasons, to make it to Reading where I might then see how I was feeling about traipsing through the night.

I left after about 20-30 minutes (the time at the stops always seems to go significantly faster than you expect) and I had my head torch at the ready for the rapidly approaching darkness.

Towards Shiplake - Ian Hall ahead
Towards Shiplake – Ian Hall ahead

The last time I had done this part of the journey was Feb 2013, along the Thames Trot, but that was approaching the end of the run at Henley and at that time we were diverted completely away from the river due to flooding, so I had little memory of this part of the course from early in a race some 5 years previously. I quickly caught another chap (Ian Hall, #109) and we continued on our way, running, walking and chatting. Interestingly, Ian said he had done the MdS and also the 6633 350 mile arctic race (which my tent comrades from the MdS last year had mentioned in passing) in which he had come a worthy second place in 2013 – This race goes from From Eagle Plains, Yukon to the banks of the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, Canada and sounds pretty hardcore!

We continued to do a periodic run / walk process, walking for 200-300m then running for the rest of a mile. We debated the virtue of using kilometres as a measure since they tick down a lot faster 🙂 but there are clearly a lot more of them over 100 miles (i.e. 162!). We were by this stage well into the twilight and there was a solitary headtorch up ahead we were tracking, and one behind following us from a distance. It seemed we were all keeping a consistent pace in relation to each other as we briefly diverted away from the Thames through Lower Shiplake to the south of Henley. After making our way into the village, we were away from the natural navigation provided by the river and missed a turn in the fading light but were rescued when the torch behind us shouted we had missed the turn, and we reciprocated the assistance to the torch ahead and we all remained on track towards Sonning.

Ian stopped to sort out his head torch and for the call of nature and said he would catch me up, but unfortunately he didn’t and I was across the bridge at Sonning and suddenly on the outskirts of Reading, with only about 2-3km to go before the checkpoint. The bridge was where the route I had covered previously had diverted ‘inland’ to higher, drier ground, so I was back on familiar ground and knew now that the sights, sounds and smells of Reading on a Saturday evening, would provide a distraction in the darkness. The checkpoint was located in a modern boathouse, but up a flight of stairs which the majority of the competitors around me, were light-heartedly grumbling about having to ascend.

Temptation....
Temptation….

I gratefully grabbed a few handfuls of food and a warm tea before continuing on my way. Even though I was only briefly inside the warm elevated structure, I had obviously warmed up considerably as I felt the cold immediately when stepping outside and had to get moving quickly to warm up again.

Travelling on my own for a bit, continuing with a walk / run strategy, I passed the live music coming from the ‘Camra Beer and Cider Festival’ we had been warned about half a day earlier in Richmond – the temptation to ‘pop’ in for a swift half was succesfully resisted and I continued on my own through the concrete paths of the river through the noisy yet strangely lonely city centre.

I soon reached Caversham, on the west side of Reading and left the noise behind. I was beginning to feel like I would be able to get this finished without too much difficulty now, although I was still only about 2/3rds distance.

The temperature was beginning to drop rapidly, and the first signs of mist were starting to show on the river on the way through to Purley and Whitchurch. There is one particular part of the route heading west into the village of Purley where the trail is sandwiched in between a mound on the left where the train track runs between Reading to Oxford, and the river behind trees on the right. In the dark, the tunnel of vegetation and lack of external distraction may have caused anxiety in some, but for the one head torch I could see a little way ahead and I concentrated on catching this point of light.

It seemed this runner was doing a similar strategy to me, as we kept overtaking each other throughout the couple of miles into the village.

The route now took a diversion up several flights of steps to cross over the train tracks to the main road before disappearing into a housing estate with no river to be seen. The undulating urban streets were more reminiscent of the furthest extent of a city marathon (albeit dark) than a trail 100 miler, but after no more than a couple of km through the houses we turned away from the sodium streetlights and made our way once again back to the river.

There was a small group of half a dozen or so of us who had collaborated together to ensure we spotted and identified our way through the route of the ‘pathway’ away from the river, and it was then only about 4km further, through increasingly longer and wetter grass to the next checkpoint at Whitchurch village (just a smidgen after Pangbourne), where we crossed over the river yet again. It was just before midnight, and I’d been on the go for nearly 14 hours, with 33 miles still left to do.

Whitchurch – 67 miles

The checkpoints were now dangerously warm and welcoming, and each restart was becoming increasingly colder as the night went on, so I left as quickly as I could after another hot tea, some grabbed sausages and scotch eggs (that well known ultra running food!?!?)

After the checkpoint there had been about a kilometre through the streets of the village, before picking up the trail along the river again. As luck would have it, Simon McIntosh who I had lost earlier on, caught up with me just after I left this checkpoint.

I had obviously passed Simon at some point since Henley, possibly around Reading where there were a few people around who had been run / walking intermittently and there was consequently a lot of confusing leap-frogging and churn of positioning in the dark. We had a chat about continuing strategy and decided both of us were now at the stage where walking the final 30 miles would be the best option. Interestingly, he had been walking since Henley and although he had set off before me and I had passed him, his walking pace was clearly faster and (depressingly) equivalent to my run / walk pace with a couple of stops included.

Compared to earlier on, the terrain had morphed slowly from manicured lawns and opulent riverfront properties, which had been gradually reducing in frequency since Henley (although that may also have had something to do with the departure of the Sun from the realm of the day affecting my visibility of said properties). Now, the only observable environment, picked out by a small ellipses of our headlights ahead, had a distinctly meadow like appearance to them. The grass had been growing steadily longer and wetter and upon discussion, we now agreed that our shoes had reached a point of maximum soddenness, which would have been made worse only by wading into the adjacent river!

We passed through the countryside, with little in the way of landmarks to signify the passage of our journey, with only the odd railway tunnel and an increasingly larger number of trail gates to get through to break the monotony.

I had been contacted by a good friend, Daniel Mullen, who lives a few miles away. He was here to support a friend (James Wilson) and was waiting at the Wallingford checkpoint for us both. He had kindly offered to get anything which I needed from the local shops (earlier in the day!) but as usual I was not sure of what I wanted at even the present moment, let alone in 10 miles time. I was in touch with him to keep him appraised of my progress which, by this stage, had slowed considerably, i.e. from slow at the beginning of the day to a snails pace at this stage 🙂

The next aid station was only 4 miles away at a village hall, the like of which was to become a feature of the nighttime checkpoints and we were in and out of The Morrell Rooms at Streatley in no time and (with apologies to the crew, who were fantastic at ALL the  aid stations) I do not have any memory of this place – it was about 12:30am on Sunday morning by this stage.

The next stage was more of the same, and Simon and I set a good pace together. With the exception of about 1km through the village  of Moulsford (which we optimistically, but mistakenly, thought was on the periphery of the next checkpoint, with another 4 miles still to go!) the entire stage was on the west bank of the Thames which was now definitively heading north to Oxford. The Thames, as one might expect, meanders all over the place from London to Oxford, sometimes going south and east, away from its final destination; in fact, as the crow flies, London to Oxford is only about 50 odd miles in a north-west direction – which just goes to illustrate the winding and tortuous nature of the river.

We eventually arrived at the Wallingford aid station. The course measurements had this at 77.5 miles and my Garmin was already reading at least 79 miles, so I gathered I had already done an extra couple of miles with the additional ‘detours’ I had experienced along the way.

Daniel was waiting happily outside the boathouse at the rowing club at Wallingford and it was good to see a familiar face. He generously offered to help me with anything I needed, but as normal I could really only stomach a warm tea (for liquid and warmth) and a handful of scotch eggs (for protein) and crisps (for salt). Simon wanted to get on, so made his way off, but I stopped briefly to chat with Daniel.

I downed the tea and said my goodbyes and was given instructions as to how to proceed, remembering there was a diversion around the river because the weir at Benson was under repair.  Now, the crew at the exit to the boathouse were being quite explicit about where to go to avoid the repair works and pick up the diverted route around the streets. Clearly at about 2:40am though, I was not 100% with it, and so did not listen perhaps quite as much as I should have done and as a consequence got the first half of the instructions sorted (down the end of the lane, turn right over the bridge) but then both I, and in fact a number of other people spent quite some time milling around looking for the next part of the route.

We all eventually settled on going on further than I think any of us had anticipated, before finally spotting the red and white bands, with reflective tape, on a lamppost, confirming we had indeed made a good decision.

A little frustratedly, I continued now on my own, trying to make up for probably 5-10 minutes of lost time wondering around in the  malaise of confused exhaustion.

The route stayed on the road heading towards Preston Crowmarsh (I love the names of English villages; they are just wonderful, often unusual with an old english etymology you can usually guess at and yet still not quite understand) and I had soon caught and passed everyone up ahead as we went up a slight rise.

I was quite surprised to be approached and caught by another runner, Olly Butland (#165) and we chatted a bit about the day and the usual ultra marathon small-talk. We were looking for a turning to the left to take us back to the river, and eventually we spotted the silvery tape through a field to the left. Yet again the trail was long grass and it is amazing how much water can be held, and subsequently deposited, in the shoes of a night runner. We were grateful to join a lane briefly before entering the village of Benson but then darting back and finally reaching the river again at a local riverside marina, where we unceremoniously had to pick our way through an unusual amount of boatyard detritus. Olly explained she was a personal trainer and had for a number of years been assisting people with endurance training, so was doing the TP100 to give her advice a greater degree of credence. However, she had done the London marathon several times in the last few years having been able to get in consistently through running a good pace.

We were at 82 miles (on my Garmin), so I was confident we had less than 20 miles to go at this point, even taking into account a couple of earlier detours, but in ultra marathons, you should never count your chickens, as after another brief period of trail we diverted through the village of Shillingford, and the numbness of our brains was starting to tell as we missed a right turn up a narrow lane and then walked around the garden of a house looking first for the trail markers, and subsequently, the way out – we became increasingly worried about waking the occupants of the house with our searing head torches like lighthouses sweeping the horizon, and in fact all that was missing was a bag marked SWAG and we would’ve been in real trouble if discovered!

We eventually retraced our steps and found the marked trail through the village. The route settled down again after the excitement of our impromptu diversion, and making our way through the village, we were then back to traversing meadows, often in single file, with only the gates delineating the fields providing a break to the monotony in the dark.

We started to notice the first breaking light of dawn, and yet knew it would be some time before our head torches could be relinquished and stowed ready for service in another ultra marathon – for me, that is. Olly said she was hanging up her boots after this race; a statement I’ve heard a number of times during races before, but the rose-tinted spectacles of success can act convincingly on the memory of hardship to change the mind of many an ultra-runner.

With sodden feet from walking through the meadows, which were becoming more visible in the early morning light all the time, we made our way around probably the most tortuous part of the course, having to think twice about hallucinations of cows (which were actually hedges) in the misty fields, before finally reaching the next checkpoint. With the Sun rising, as if on cue for our arrival in Clifton Hampden officially at 85 miles, although my Garmin read a good 89 miles, we were clocked in at 19:19.

Clifton Hampden - Sunrise
Clifton Hampden – Sunrise

Clifton Hampden – 85 miles

Olly thanked me for pacing her through the night, and after the now customary grab of food I was on my way, not wanting to stop too long in the warm environment. With renewed energy, but feeling the early morning chill more starkly than I had all night, I retraced my steps to the riverbank and then continued off in the direction of Oxford once more.

From Shillingford earlier on, the river had almost done a 180° turn, initially taking a northerly course, it now going south again (so my assumption I was heading to Oxford was somewhat premature), but it gradually made its way back in a northerly direction with the change being far more obvious now the reference of the Sun had become a welcome sight in the glorious morning sky.

I’m sure my current state of consciousness had nothing to do with this gradual meandering, but I was nevertheless starting to nod off while walking along although, surprisingly, I had not yet tripped over. It is probably just as well as I would no doubt have just settled down for the a cat nap in the lush morning dew at the drop of a hat. I could’ve slept on the proverbial clothes line at this stage.

I soon realised I had slowed down in my somnambulistic state and there was a runner approaching from behind. Olly had caught me up and so we started to chat again as I needed the stimulation to keep me going.

Bridge over the River Thames
Bridge over the River Thames

The route continued in its now familiar passage through meadows and riverside flood plains, but the view from the night was incomparable and there was, at least, a path worn most of the time which made things easier. I don’t remember all the rubbish I was talking at this stage, but we continued on our way and I discovered Olly had 2 children, Luke and Jessica, and so we chatted about families, schools and bringing up children.

As we approached Abingdon after about 10k (91 miles / 94.5 Garmin), and the final checkpoint at which crew were permitted, 2 young children started running towards us and I smiled as it finally dawned on me they were Olly’s. Her husband Jonathan, was walking towards us with a big smile on his face; they were clearly delighted to see each other. I’m not sure at which checkpoint they had last seen her, but they were pleased she had made it through the night and was so close to the finish. It was not even 7:00am in the morning, but they were full of energy, although it is entirely conceivable that was just in comparison to our current state 😉

Not for the first time during the day I missed my family supporting me. It is a tough call when such a lot of travelling around between checkpoints is required, with (dare I say it!) not much for the children to do, although on reflection, the weather had been great and they would’ve just enjoyed being outside. I often feel it is not fair to drag them along to these events, but I missed them nonetheless and seeing Olly and their impromptu family reunion was bittersweet for me as it suddenly brought my loneliness into sharp relief. Hopefully in a few years they will consider doing this sort of thing themselves and they will understand the appeal.

Jonathan was the perfect crew and after taking requests, ran ahead to the checkpoint to get tea, etc., which was duly handed to us as we arrived. I’m not sure what i was eating by this stage as I was passed hunger so was just grabbing a sandwich or two and a handful of sausages – high protein and salty seems to be the way to go! As the children discussed what they were going to have for breakfast at Starbucks, we made ready to depart and were soon back on the trail, with only 4 miles to the penultimate checkpoint and 5 to the finish.

Seeing her family had clearly given Olly a massive boost, and this had spurred me on as well, and we were now confident that we would be able to get to the finish well within the 24 hour time for the ‘100 miles – 1 day’ buckle.

The route continued its slow meandering route, now heading east briefly (into the sun) before taking a final and definitive turn to the north and Oxford was at last straight ahead and in our sights. That was not the only thing that was in our sights. Simon McIntosh, who I had lost earlier, was up ahead and was clearly going significantly slower than the previous evening, some hours ago now. He was having problems with his vision (not a good sign) so we gave him gels and electrolytes and as he perked up with the company as we ambled along, we nursed him through to the next checkpoint at Lower Radley (Predicted 95 miles, Garmin 98.5 miles).

Simon was feeling much better after some water and the other usual fare of the checkpoint and so our little group continued being joined by Karl Gordon (#102) as we made our way onto an island in the middle of the Thames at Sandford, at the Garmin measured 100 mile point after 22:28. The signs of coming into the city were now all around, the wider road bridges, the better maintained towpath, the rowers out on a Sunday morning practice. The finish line could not come soon enough and we were all maintaining a good pace.

Finished!
Finished!

Karl and Simon dropped back a bit as we entered the city but Olly and I sensed we were on the home straight and so we both pushed on, chatting to dog walkers, joggers, cyclists and rowers, who were even more incredulous about our having started in Richmond the previous day. I guess its not an achievement to be underestimated after all!

With the Sun almost behind us again, we made a final turn into the Queen’s college recreation ground, where as is traditional we were encouraged to sprint to the finish line; unlike the SDW100, we were thankfully not made to carry out a final ‘victory lap’ of the field. We said our goodbye’s and Jonathan thanked me for helping Olly through the night, and I explained that she had helped me just as much!

Finish, Oxford – 100 miles

It was great to finally stop for good, and the race crew were fantastic with photos, collecting bags and arranging the all import tea and breakfast bacon buttie; Never has food tasted quite so good as that first instant when you know you don’t have to rush it and get moving again.

Simon and Karl arrived shortly afterwards and were also delighted to have finished, although Simon had clearly pushed himself over the last few miles and needed some assistance from the medics to rehydrate.

Epilogue

It was great to do a race with a bit more of a relaxed attitude. Normally I have quite tough deadlines set for the longer races, which invariably goes to pot as the reality of the day, the event and the vagaries and unpredictability of ultra running come into play. This time though, I was far more relaxed about time and although I got in under 24 hours, it was more about doing the distance and getting some time on my legs for later in the year. There were a few scary moments when I was considering throwing in the towel, so it was by no means easy, but at the end of the day, I carried on because I didn’t want another DNF against my name – especially for no good reason.

It was good to chat with a few others as well. Like I always do on the longer events, I chat and you get to know people and their interests a lot more than you might, for instance, on a road marathon, where you are pushing yourself hard for a (relatively) short period of time and talking is a secondary pursuit to not dying. With the ultras I find the pacing is totally different and so you have plenty of opportunity to discuss a huge variety of topics, although obviously things generally gravitate around running and ultras in general.

The route was fantastic. It was so good to cover some of the routes I’ve done before, but in the daylight and also in the opposite direction (for a change!). To see so much of the beautiful English countryside in one day, from the banks of the Thames in London to the idyllic counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire which I know so well from my youth is just a privilege and amazing opportunity.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and despite my complaining that it was too hot during the day and way too cold during the early morning, I have to remember in these races, there is no such thing as bad weather (as the marketing for some clothing goes) only bad equipment, and despite only having a couple of layers, I was really quite comfortable while I was moving. If I had fallen down a mountain, or got stuck in a peat bog, or down a well, it might have been a different matter, but my two base layers and my waterproof were actually more than sufficient.

I missed my family, both during the race and especially at the end. I felt guilty about dragging them round on another weekend so suggested they didn’t need to come to the start as it was easy for me to make it to the centre of London on the train and they had their normal activities anyway. The difficulty with the finish was not knowing what time I was going to be getting through and in the end I couldn’t justify waking them all up for such an early start, just to come pick me up. The train back to Reading and Guildford was also simple enough, and I was so sleepy I wouldn’t have been much company anyway 😥

As far as a ‘training’ run goes? Well, if a normal training run involves blisters, exhaustion, loss of toenails and a belt buckle – I’d say it was a success 😉

 

 

 

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