The message I received from the organisers of the Thames Trot earlier was not the best news, but not entirely unexpected either.
Although the weather is expected to be relatively good on the day of the race itself, it has been so dire over the last few weeks that the towpaths and flood plains are, well, flooded.
Even if the water subsides to the extent that runners were able to find it possible to navigate the edge of the river bank without taking one step too many to the left or right and finding the footing distinctly deeper than one would prefer, the ground and paths next to the river’s edge is likely to be far too waterlogged to be passable.
So, as a result, the organisers have decided to determine an alternative route along the side roads and back streets following the route of the Thames in what I can only gather will be little more than spirit.
So although it will probably be easier on the muscles, it could be harder on the feet and is not likely to be anything near as picturesque.
This time last week I was revelling in the joy of the North Downs after snow had blanketed the countryside during the previous 36 hours, and I found myself in the still beauty of the English countryside in the reflected torchlight of the pre-dawn hours.
This morning, the weather had become mild enough that the snow had disappeared and the precipitation falling from the skies was once again the more familiar liquid variety. This had been happening for the last 24 hours at least and I laid in bed for some time, just after 5am this morning, contemplating the noise which the volume of water cascading down the gutter implied was falling from the heavens.
Eventually I got up and tried to decide what to do, as I’d arranged to run with Tim and John. I was a few seconds away from sending a cancellation text when I changed my mind and checked the forecast. The deluge was due reduce by 7am and stop around 8am, so there was still hope.
I delayed my exit as long as I could by procrastinating over which clothes to wear, but by 6:30 I was out the door, and thankfully the forecast was, for once, entirely accurate. The last few drizzles of rain were dying out and by the time I got to John’s in Merrow around 7am, it had stopped completely although there was still a lot of standing water to dodge around.
John had just taken his dog, Ollie, out and returned at the same time as I arrived. As he was putting his faithful cocker spaniel back in the house, I took the opportunity to take off a layer of clothing having vastly underestimated how cold it was, and we then set off for Tim’s.
John had apparently done some speed work yesterday; 1km intervals, and was more fatigued than previous weeks, so our average pace was slow – of which I was quite glad 🙂 and we made our way through the damp streets towards Tim’s to meet him as well.
We took the long route through the University of Surrey campus grounds to do the final kilometre to Raymond Crescent. When we got there though, Tim explained he was not feeling 100%, probably related to something he had eaten the previous night and wouldn’t be running, so after chatting for a few moments, we wished him well and went on our way.
John was by this stage adamant that he should not be doing much more than running back home, so we found a different route cutting through the estates to the north-west of the town not quite as far as Worplesdon or Jacob’s Well, but not quite a direct route either and eventually we popped out at the northern point of the river Wey navigation, where it slices underneath the A3 as both make their way to London.
We agreed to go our separate ways when opposite the Spectrum leisure centre and I made my way across the wide expanse of grass that is Stoke Park, which hosts Guildford answer to Glastonbury during the summer months, but today was merely host to the remaining snow, compacted into giant snowballs, which had been rolled up the previous week, but which by now were looking decidedly the worse for wear.
Only 14 miles or so of streets covered, but a good run with a pack and John and good preparation for next week, when I have my first official Ultramarathon race, the Thames Trot, in nearly two and a half years, although if the forecasts are right again next week, I’ll probably be swimming rather than running along the Thames.
I had taken Friday off as my Dad was coming up to visit; clearly he had not had enough of us during the three weeks we were together on vacation in America recently 🙂
I had got a run in early on Friday morning before he had arrived, and as this was only 40 minutes or so, the children, who were still on half term, hardly even noticed my absence!
Saturday we had had a quiet time, in preparation for some fireworks we planned to attend in the evening for Guy Fawkes night. Although chilly, the evening was quite clear, so as we went to sleep, I was hopeful it was going to be a nice run on Sunday morning.
The rain battering down at 2am on the velux window in the loft where we were sleeping, told another story; it must’ve woken me up another two of three times during the early hours of the morning before I finally got out to get ready to run about 6:15am. I had laid in bed for some time thinking I could hear the showers subsiding, but I was sadly deluded.
In anticipation of a wet run, I wore a couple of layers and my lightweight windbreak jacket, then I went outside and sought shelter under a tree while my GPS found the satellites, but I could put things off no longer and it was off into the elements.
To have thought that anything I was wearing would have protected me from the deluge I stepped out into was a bit optimistic, to say the least! Within about 20 paces, my top was soaked; after no more than a couple of km the brim of my hat was dripping, like the porch of a southern Mississippi homestead during a hurricane; my shoes, or rather my feet, fared a little better and I managed to avoid the standing water by the side of the road for at least 5km. After that, the ‘puddles’, mostly fed by cavalcades of tributaries from driveways, road sides, or simply torrents rushing down the kerbside unable to filter into the already bloated storm drains, unfortunately got the better of me, as evident by the squelching I made with every step.
Once wet, it mattered little, although I did get colder a lot more quickly than I might otherwise have done, and although my muscles were stiffening constantly I had to remind myself that stopping to stretch or God forbid, walk, would have been suicidal, especially in the back of beyond on the lonely roads where I saw little more for two hours than hedge row birds fluffing up their feathers to keep warm.
After my loop round the outskirts of north-east Guildford and approaching the town and my final few km, the rain began to lighten, as did the skies and my mood, until the point where I had to negotiate a real swimming pool at the bottom of Boxgrove lane. Thinking the water across the road could not possibly be that deep, I foolishly tried to run across and landed ankle deep, testing the water expulsion capabilities of my already sodden shoes; I guess I’ll not be adding ‘walking on water’ to my miracle list anytime soon 😉
After 10 minutes without rain I was actually starting to warm up and dry out, but I was soon home and so it was not sufficient to erase the tell-tale Christmas tree wrinkles where my prints would normally adorn my fingers.
The family had all had breakfast already, but Liz furnished me with a cup of tea and as the children hugged me, I realised I had neither dried out nor warmed up!
We went to church and then had a very decadent day watching movies and rounded it off with a nice roast beef and Yorkshire pudding supper with a couple of glasses of wine!
It is significant, not in the distance it entailed, nor really in the ‘blistering’ pace in which I completed it!
The major point of this race was that it was the first race I have completed since my DNF nearly two years ago.
It was more memorable for other reasons though 🙂
I did not have high hopes for the J.P.Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge this year, but you never know what is going to happen when the adrenaline starts to course though your limbs and anyway I had made a commitment to my work colleagues. In previous years the best time I had managed for the short 5.6km run around Battersea Park was 22:13 – a shade under 4:00 / km. this year I was not expecting to be able to run much under 5:00 / km, with a lack of speed training and a rather more intense desire to guard my left leg from any further harm for the sake of what is effectively a training run.
So, imagine my surprise when, at 5 km I glanced down and my watch registered less that 22:00 – expectation is a funny thing 🙂 I had set out to take things really easily, but in the end this had been a better ploy than if I had gone all out to beat some of my previous times, in which case I would have failed at the first hurdle, so to speak. The run was muddy, but nothing compared to some of the boggy races I had done in the past, and anyway, I had trail shoes on, so maybe that helped a touch 🙂
The other reason for the race likely to take a place in the Pomeroy ‘Hall of Infamous Races’ is that it was the worst weather I remember for some time – great for running in, but pretty awful when you stop, and although I changed into the freebie tee-shirt and put on a dry long-sleeve top as well, I very quickly started to get cold and left soon after the rather damp picnic had started.
Everyone had fun, but this damp and cold summer is starting to get even the most stalwart of us Brits down!
I had lost count of the number of times I wanted to abandon this race.
In fact, I could hardly believe, after suffering exhaustion in the early hours of Saturday morning, such that I was falling asleep as I was running (not advisable) and also after later in the afternoon lying down on my own in the middle of an exposed fellside for forty winks as it was starting to rain (definitely not advisable!), that I had actually made it to the final major checkpoint at Ambleside, 88 miles into the race.
[singlepic id=339 w=400 h=300 float=right]The Lakeland 100, Ultra Tour Lake District (UTLD) was always going to be a tough one – any ‘100’ mile event is likely to be for sure, but it is the distance I have trained for, so it was not that that was intimidating. Not really…
The Cotswolds 100 Ultrarace I completed a mere four weeks ago, although the same distance, was a flat, dry, forgiving, tow-path in comparison. Although the cumulative ascent of 6,971m (22,871ft) is short of the total for Mont Blanc, the vagaries of the Lake District micro climate and the self-navigation aspects around unmarked trails all added to the challenge.
As a result of this, I was stressed at the start. Seriously stressed.
We had travelled up the day before to have a relaxed time in Coniston, where the race began, and although the journey, arrival and registration were easy affairs, there were nonetheless constant undercurrents in my mind regarding the forthcoming trial.
The start was planned for 5:30pm Friday, 23 July and after a mandatory safety talk from the organisers and a motivational speech from the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor, we were left to our own devices for a further hour, but there is only so much time you can spend packing and repacking a rucksack so as the children played I tried to collect my thoughts.
My run of luck with both Tim and John and our long Sunday runs has, to date, been exceptionally dry in terms of the weather. We have been lucky that we have been ‘leapfrogged’ by any inclement weather that there has been around, and as a consequence the skies have been clear.
The weather gods must have been in hysterics as they got their own back on us this morning though.
As I lay in bed in a semi-conscious slumber after 6:00 am, I listened to the noise of the torrents of water flooding down the cast iron drainpipe outside the bedroom window and I considered my exercise for the day over.
Nevertheless, the downpour abated and as I stepped out the door at 6:45am, the skies were surprisingly clear.
As I ran up Guildford high street to meet John, there was little motion in the flags on the churches and the air was fresh. I was still optimistic that the run would be dry.
I did not have to wait for too long for the reversal of fortune to begin however, and although at first it only began to spit with rain, by the time I had made it to Burpham 2km to the north east of the centre of Guildford, where I met John it was raining fairly substantially.
With 16km to do, we decided to make it a round run up to Newland’s Corner and as we made our way from Burpham through to Merrow on the outskirts of the city, the dawn had strangely receeded and the standing water was only evident from the ripples we were each making on the surface of the tarmac as we progressed.
The rain turned to a deluge and the deluge turned to hail as we crossed over the Epsom Road to Newland’s. Ironically the last time I had been party to the experience of this type of meteorological event was on my late night run home in August, where I had travelled along the same road at the end of my journey.
The rain subsided shortly after we started our way up to Newland’s but the hail remaining on the surrounding vegetation was testament to the volume of the outburst. We also began to realise the temporary damage the water flowing down the slopes had impaired to the trail ahead as we skipped awkwardly from one side of the path to the other on our way up to avoid the gushing streams.
The summit was reached and the tarmac surface was reattained temporarily as we turned back along the road to Guildford and Pewley Down. We had learned our lesson with the moistness of the ascending trail so decided to traverse the grassy slope to the start of White Lane. This provided us with a new experience as we slipped sideways on mud-sodden shoes most of the way.
The tarmac of White Lane was again a welcome relief, and gave us the opportunity to comment on the opulence in the area – the large houses on this all but private road with their views over the downs must surely command exorbitant prices, even in the current housing market.
Back on the narrow, enclosed trail on our way to Pewley Down, we were eventually spat out into the open countryside and after a final few hundred metres of muddy grass, were back for good on the tarmac and running down past first Morgan’s school (Pewley Down) and then Joshua’s (Holy Trinity) before rejoining the Epsom road to complete our circuit.
The final indignity, but a divine insult to which we hardly paid any attention, was that at the end of Epsom road the rain changed back once again to deluge from the indifferent drizzle it had maintained after we left the same point some time earlier.
As I left John back in Burpham we had had a relatively good run and although my legs were quite tired, the final 4km of puddle dodging and flood avoidance passed relatively quickly.
A rather damp runner returned home 2 hours after starting, with a greater than normal ‘I’m glad I’ve got that out the way’ smug feeling and the croissant and coffee I had later with my family more than made up for the dampness I had had to endure.
The thing about ultra marathon distances is that one is forever looking for ways to cover more distance, or more hills, or simply be out on the road for more time, while fitting into the ‘normal’ routine of work and home life.With commuting, the work aspect is not easy, and with four children, the home aspect takes a lot of understanding from one’s partner.
So when I suggested running home from work, I was not met with the perhaps expected guffaws of laughter from my understanding and long suffering wife, but rather the simple question, “So, when are you thinking of doing this?”
I had it all worked out in my mind; With the Classic Cliffs coming up, which itself would be four ‘tapering’ weeks from Mont-Blanc, I had only two weeks in which to fit a substantial long run.The Sunday before the Classic Cliffs I should be taking it ‘easy’ though – running two long runs within one week is a recipe for injury, so my only real option was to run a midweek long run.As the idea crystallized in my mind it took on a life of its own and seemed more and more sensible, the more it became my considered plan.
Having mulled over the logistics of the exercise I decided running home with a laptop was NOT the best plan, meaning Friday was out and with some arrangements (which escape me at this stage) still to make during the early part of the week, Thursday quickly became the firm candidate for the adventure.
As the big day came I had everything in place – sports energy drink, ‘nuun’ hydration tablets, jelly beans, chocolate coated coffee beans, various energy and cereal bars, and a watchful eye on the weather.The forecast was good to start with but there was a band of thunderstorms moving up from the south-west.I should learn to actually take more notice of the weather forecasts.In addition to the ‘calories’ I had for my rucksack, I packed wet weather gear, head torches and my Garmin, into which I had already preset a route to follow.
At 5:00pm I could contain myself no more and got changed into my usual dri-fit tee-shirt and shorts; optimistically, only one layer.
As I waited outside for my Garmin to locate it’s satellites in order to show my route home, I fumbled with the constriction of my rucksack with all the buckles tightened – a necessary evil to prevent chaffing, but something to which one never really becomes accustomed.
Starting out from Exchange Square I followed my normal route through Bank and along the north of the Thames all the way to Chelsea Bridge, taking in the sights of London on the way, St. Pauls, The London Eye, The Houses of Parliament and all the Bridges in between.Over Chelsea Bridge I wended my way through Battersea Park where I had run 3.5 miles in the Chase Challenge the previous Thursday.The irony of now planning to run ten times that distance was not lost on me.I adjusted my sunglasses as the sweat began to bead on my forehead, although luckily I had remembered to fit the sweatband to them which helped considerably.
Leaving behind the greenery of Battersea Park, it quickly became a distant memory as I ran steadily first through Battersea itself, then Wandsworth before joining the A3 for the next four km or so, while skirting the edges of Putney and Wimbledon.