Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Thames Trot 50

Much like the Country to Capital, the race ended up being comprised of two distinct halves - a strong, positive start then a bit of a muddy, blurry slog to the end.

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)
The first half had us running through Abingdon, Appleford, Goring and on to Reading, with checkpoints every 8 miles or so. Reading was the scene of the first navigational crime. After running with a few friendly chaps for miles I'd lost them by running straight through the last CP, and ended up following a distant runner bobbing way ahead of me in a high viz vest. We were supposed to run through Reading for a few miles - definitely the least scenic of the race, featuring a seemingly never ending drag of retail warehouses - and then turn left down to pick up the Thames Path again for the one section that could still be run along the river. But I must have missed the turn by following this runner straight on, and couldn't work out why we hadn't come to CP 4 yet. A detour down an industrial estate and a few questions to pedestrians later I saw a sign for boating tours and headed down left to meet the river. I was relieved to see another runner and asked him how far we were from CP 4 - he shook his head and said I'd missed it, 3 miles back along the path. Timing chip or not, I wasn't about to add 6 miles on to my race so carried on regardless that I was out of water and the next CP wouldn't be with us for 6 miles. Due to the mishap, I was beginning to feel a bit low on morale which only seemed to enhance the emerging physical aches and pains. I'd developed a raging thirst that had me contemplating the Thames, so a mile or so later when I spotted a Tesco to the right I dashed in to purchase water. One occasion where I could definitely  have done without the self-service checkout and its helpful advice to place item in bagging area.

Found the finish.
On to the final CP, manned by a couple of marshalls and the usual stand of fruit cake and gels - the cake had served me well but I could stomach no more so ran right through, being told the finish was 4.5 miles away. I was on my own again so map in hand I navigated up a few pretty busy roads with one too many 4x4's beeping their annoyance at having to wait for runners. Confusion came again 3 miles later when the map route appeared to veer off into fields which seemed to go on and on. A short, sharp hill greeted us on the other side before a junction of small B roads which was absolutely impossible to cross reference on our maps, which only had a few of the major roads named. Two guys had appeared behind me and we asked some walkers who pointed us up to another busy main road which led stright into Henley. This again went on for 2 miles and can't have been right but we gritted it out and soon enough the town appeared. A few turns had us at the finish in a heap. I 'fessed up to the Race Director about my CP 3 bypass, explaining where I'd gone wrong and that I'd added a few miles on to the race's shortened 44 mile distance. My chip time ended up being 6.44.

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...

1 comment:

  1. Nice race report thanks. I'm planning to do it this year.

    ReplyDelete