Last week I'd been good. I'd studied the maps of the original course from Oxford to Henley-on-Thames along the Thames Path, asked the organisers for info I couldn't find and generally tried to swot up, knowing Go Beyond Ultra's tactics of giving PDF maps out beforehand but not providing any signage or marshalls along the way (bar a couple at each check point). Then on Thursday night all but 9 miles of the route was changed due to extensive flooding along the Path. New maps were sent out in part, then in full on Friday before I flew south. The new route was complex and so I knew it'd be a challenge, not just for me but even for those who'd run the race before.
My lovely Auntie & Uncle looked after me, driving me out to Iffley from Wycombe to be greeted by a registration queue that snaked out of the pub and around the car park. With over 250 runners and 20 minutes to go to the start, it was tight, and we ended up being delayed by 20 minutes or so. Setting off eventually, the stream of high viz runners immediately bottle necked to single file over a narrow footbridge, and we then all at once we were faced with flood water on the first stretch of Thames Path before diverting out to the roads. Even wading through freezing shin-deep water and knowing this would mean foot issues later on didn't deter me - the sun was shining beautifully and it was brilliant to be outdoors and on the move.
I felt powerful and full of energy but ran steady over the first 20 miles, which were mostly on road with a few extremely muddy fields thrown in, making me reflect on just how many mudbath races I have run over the last year. We passed through a number of quaint little thatched Oxfordshire villages and I was filled with nostalgia remembering visits to this part of the world as a small child with Mum, who grew up nearby. I thought of her strength and decided to try and channel this into the next 25 miles.
|The Thames Path in Henley (completely under water)|
|Found the finish.|
Afterwards, I was a muddy mess and predictably my feet felt like toast. My blood pressure must have been low as the rest of the day brought quite a few episodes of dizzyness and seeing stars. But by Monday I was feeling almost fully back to normal, bar slight remaining stiffness in the quads - healthy servings of venison, greens and protein shakes have truly sorted me out! Reassuringly I feel like my recovery from every ultra now is getting swifter and easier.
So, whilst the Race Directors did brilliantly to perservere and ensure the race went ahead I am not sure I will run either again. Yes, ultras do involve a bit of navigation and all runners should be do their homework but these two ended up being so close to orienteering that I didn't feel I could run consistently and to the best of my standard due to the need to stop/check/start continually. But every experience is a valuable one and onwards now to the next few months of Western States training before the Fling at the end of April...