Monday, 19 January 2009

Thames Towpath 54 miles - Race Report

I originally applied for this event in April 2008, as I was keen to add it to my scheduled races in the lead up to the MDS.

But this was not going to be easy. Just getting there was a nightmare. The first train of the day, from Colchester to Reading left at 4.45am, and with a change for the London Tube and then other main line change I was due to get to Reading at 7.24am, 6 min before the registration desk closed. I had already warned the organisers that there may be an issue, regarding my possible late arrival and I had to cross fingers etc to hope that there would be no delays.

The race itself followed the Thames Towpath from Reading to Shepperton in London, so would be fairly flat (apart from the lock gates and bridges), although I wasn't expecting it to be on paths all the way. This race also had a mandatory kit list, with 'essentials' similar to the MDs, and was therefore touted as a good trial for the MDS itself. However the thought of carrying a 9kg pack for the whole race was a bit off putting, not that I was worried about the weight, or finishing the run, but more about the extra strain that it would put on my body ahead of the MDS and I didn't want to risk the chance of injury. So I took a lighter pack weight, which was still 4kg and took a basic change of clothing as well as a compass, map bag, space blanket and head torch and hopefully enough food to get me through, including an expedition Foods Chocolate Mousse (which I didn't use in the end).

Water would be available at 4 checkpoints so I needed to managed my intake between points, and therefore took an extra water bottle as well as having a camelbak bladder in my back-pack and as the weather was forecasting light rain I also took a lightweight jacket and hat.
Saturday came and, apart from a minor panic when they changed the platform that the train at Paddington was leaving from , which made me charge across to the other side of the station that was the only incident. I was up on time, although had only slept a few hours, as is my normal pattern of sleep the night before a race, and everything else fell into place and I arrived to join the back of the queue and registered safely. I had decided to take my camera with me on this run, to test it out before the MDS, so started with a few snaps of the Thames and our point of departure, although none of this could be seen due to heavy cloud and a sudden very heavy downpour that drenched everyone. Thankfully the rain only lasted 10 minutes and that was the last we would see of it for the day.

After a quiet race briefing (which was heard by only the front few runners - why won't race directors realise that mega-phones are there for a reason), we made our way to the start and were off. The field, of about 150, soon thinned out and the sun was up and already I was starting to over heat. I had my light rain jacket, a thin reflective top and an Under Armour Long sleeve shirt on, so within 2 miles I had to stop and remove the jacket. Then I could try to fall back into my rhythm and get a constant pace going. However the footing was very poor and the towpath disappeared to give way to sloppy mud. We stuck with this for few miles before returning to a proper footpath, giving time to admire the very expensive houses we passed in the area.

The first checkpoint (and I use that word loosely) was in Henley-on-Thames where I was born 41 years ago, so it was a return to home. It had taken 1 hour 36 min to get to the first checkpoint at 10 miles, which is slow for me but this wasn't a race that I was trying to win, just finish.

The second checkpoint at Marlow was under a main road flyover (who said Ultra running wasn't glamorous) and was at eighteen miles, which in total had taken me 2hrs 56 mins to do, but after a few more miles the scenery led to a gorgeous stretch of Thames

and so off to the next checkpoint. By this time I was starting to feel uncomfortable. My right thigh was throbbing and once I got to the 3rd Checkpoint at Bray, near Maidenhead, it was time for a good break and some nurofen tablets. A restock on fluids and a few bites to eat and in 10 mins I was feeling a lot better. I had started with a run 15 mins and walk 5 min strategy, but it now dropped to run walk as felt comfortable. This seemed to work most and would be my strategy for the MDS.

We now approached Windsor and Eton and the Queen was in today and the tourists in the town were treated to a procession of mud covered, sweaty and tired looking runners from across the world (French, S African, German and even as far as Scotland) traipsing through the town. It was here that I met up with Mark David, another MDS runner for this year and between us we covered the last 20 miles helping and talking to each other, and in the last 10 miles picking start and stop points for jogs. His policy was the same as my own, having spent a weekend with Rory Coleman on one of his seminars and learning the best way to do the MDS.

Checkpoint four (at Runnymede) saw us hitting the final leg and with the temperatures dropping I had to stick my jacket back on and warm up a little. We headed for home and in the fading light had to resort to head-torches for the final hour. Apart from getting lost in the last mile (due to a poor map description, we finally made it to Shepperton, coming in at 17:47pm and taking a total of 9hrs 41 mins (8hrs 59 min running and the rest stopping at the checkpoints). 20 mins inside my target time, and very pleased to finish.
3 hours later I arrived home having made my way back into London and then out, smelling not too sweetly, but I did get a seat on the train to myself, and within 10 mins of getting in I was in a bath and in bed by 10pm. Only sleeping for 3 hours when cramp set in and I had to get up. Cereal and a cup of tea at 3am never tasted so nice.

Would I do it again?, without doubt and would recommend it to anyone who wanted to do an Ultra, I wouldn't change anything about my kit or food I took and learnt one good thing from it and that was I was running right and sensibly, setting my targets correctly and timing things at the right pace.

Next up, a trip to Great Ormond Street Hospital on the 21st Jan and then 2 weeks in Florida on a much needed family break. Won't be doing much running (if at all) but will probably be carrying Freya on my shoulders and walking a lot so the exercise will still be coming.

Once back I have the Grantham Canal run to plan for, which is a 30 mile run from Nottingham to Grantham on a Saturday and the back again on the Sunday.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Stansted Stagger 26 miles (Dec 08) – Race Report

The last LDWA event I plan to do before the MDS, and one with a local group. After missing out on the Gatliff run, this was the first real test since the start of November, and following on from weeks of low level training and then the interruption of Christmas I didn’t know how it would turn out.Thankfully very well! The weather had been very cold and frosty, which was a good thing at the start of the race, as the ground was hard enough to stop the mud sticking to my trainers. The route was again laid out as a description on paper, and walkers had already left an hour before I started, along with 20 runners. Once into my stride and after an unplanned detour (lost in first mile) I found the going very easy. Out of the village of Stansted Mountfitchet, and into the fields and nearby lanes. This run had only one checkpoint so I decided to take my 10 litre back-pack and carry a few extra goodies, than I normally would on a marathon, spare jacket and socks, spare hat, gel, mint cake and a cliff bar, was well as a full camelbak bladder.
Once out in the countryside I found myself alone quite quickly, having left a lot of other runners behind, and despite not taking a MP3 player, so I could concentrate on the directions, was enjoying the run. As I went I passed other runners who had started before me, and reached the 13 mile checkpoint in 1hr 51 min, and was the first to arrive. Stopping for a drink and snacks provided at the checkpoint, I changed hat and long sleeve top and headed off, just as the next runner arrived.

The route now became a bit obscure in its description and at a number of turns I took a gamble, which thankfully were the right decision, and with the ground now giving in the winter sunshine the mud stared piling up on my feet, slowing me down and adding to the effort. I was eventually passed by another runner, but managed to trail him all the way to the finish, and although we were passed by another runner in the last mile I was happy to finish in 3rd place in a time of 4hr 9min. A lot of the second half of the run was very much a run/walk stage mainly due to my lost fitness, but I finished with no injuries or pain, and the time was very pleasing as the winner (in 3hrs 42), was the reigning UK Montrail Ultra champion, so no shame there.

Next up is the Thames Towpath, which despite being longer at 50 miles won’t have the off-road hindrance that the Stagger had. Not that that will make it any easier.