Jul 2015

Thames Ring 250


"Don't worry I'm not racing! I'm just in 5th place accidentally... As soon as I stop being able to run I'll start sliding backward rapidly"
Text from me to the OH, ~27.5 hours and 106 miles in.


Preparation

In the past two years, the Thames Ring has slowly moved from 'that's batshit insane' to ‘I quite fancy a go'. And when entries opened I was one of the first to throw my hat in the ring.

Training went OK, not great, but not too awful. I started the year by having a go at the 'Run until you drop' (RUYD) challenge in February. The main challenge was fitting 4-5 hours a day of (very slow) running around work and commuting. I thought I had it nailed, when out of the blue injury struck on day 26 and I had to drop. Thankfully the injury cleared up after a couple of days and I got back to 'normal' training. At the time I thought RUYD wasn't great training. I'm already very good at running long distances very slowly. But in retrospect I think running lots of slow miles on tired legs might have helped.

In April I ran the Taby 100 in Stockholm. I never felt great, and the course was more technical than I was expecting. However I kept running the runable bits until the end and was fairly satisfied to finish in 24h 41. Time to ramp up the training. However we bought a 'new' car, with a headrest at a very silly angle which screwed up my right leg/hip. The headrest position was sorted out with a mallet but it took a while for my leg to recover.

In general I was getting the miles in, but they were a bit slow and more effort than I would have liked. About 3 weeks out I came down with some sort of lurgy, which had me in bed for 24 hours and feeling crap for the next week. Time for an early taper, during which I continued to feel sluggish. And then work started kicking my arse. The last few weeks of term are like a wac-a-mole game. Every time I put my mallet down another bunch of grinning rodents would pop up. Come race-day I was glad to escape and not have to think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other, sleeping and eating. However I was worried that I wouldn't have the mental or physical strength to push through the bad patches I'd inevitably encounter.


Goals


i) Finish
ii) Finish without getting as bloody miserable as I did at
T184.
iii) (if I get to 200 miles feeling fairly comfortable)
a) get as close as I can to 90 hours
b) finish 2nd woman

After the Spine last year I got cocky and went into T184 with some over-ambitious goals: sub 60 hours and in the first 5 women. The time goal was always unrealistic. However I gave up on running for no good reason, got really miserable and walked it in far slower than I could have done. It turned out to meet the position goal all I had to do was finish, but I wasted a lot of energy obsessing about where the other women were.

So my main aim for the TR was to avoid a repeat performance. I'm a slow runner and an even slower walker. But I can usually keep up a decent run-walk for longer than the rest of the back of the pack. What typically happens is that I'm right at the back up to 20-30 miles, work my way forward while I'm still run-walking and then slip back again once I stop running (usually somewhere between 80 and 125 miles). So when and where I'd finish at TR would depend hugely on how long I could keep the run-walk going. I was hoping to push it out beyond 125 miles.

Position in the women's field is a bit of a silly thing to focus on; it depends hugely on who's entered. However having finished 2nd woman at both the Spine and T184 I quite fancied adding TR to the collection. It wouldn't necessarily be easy, or even possible. In the 3 previous editions of the race only 2 women, in total, had finished. However this year there were 5 of us entered. Karen Hathaway was one of the favourites for the overall win, and the other 4 of us all had decent prospects of finishing.


Stage 1: Goring to Hurley (27 miles)

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photo: Paul Ali

I took up my usual place at the start: at the back. Despite running ~11 min miles, the bulk of the field disappeared into the distance, and the other back markers passed me when I took my first walk-food break 30 minutes in. I'm not sure if I was ever DFL, but if I wasn't, I wasn't far off. I kept repeating the mantra '5mph is quite fast enough at this point'.

Somewhere during the first stage I teamed up with Henrik, one of the Swedish runners. I'm pretty anti-social (under-statement of the decade...) and usually prefer to run on my own. But, having spent two years living in Stockholm, I'm also a big fan of all things Swedish. Henrik was happy to go along with my 25:5 run walk routine and we chatted intermittently about various things. Including the Taby Extreme Challenge, a 100 mile race in Stockholm which we'd both run and also the very different approaches of Brits and Swedes to pacing in ultras.

It was pretty hot and even 5mph was a bit of an effort. Although I was at least (unsurprisingly) moving faster than when I'd done this bit on the T184. I was rattling through my water supplies faster than I'd have liked and was very grateful for the water station that Paul Ali had set up in Reading, ~11 miles in. Definitely preferable to topping up from the toilets at Sonning lock.

Over the next few miles we began hauling runners in. People were clearly suffering in the heat. I was desperately looking forward to getting to Henley and finding a shop to get cold water and ice-cream. However several miles before, we came across the oasis of the village shop in Shiplake. I bought a Calippo and ran on with it in my hand until it was warmed up enough to eat/drink. It was so good I got another just before CP1 at Hurley. The field was pretty bunched up at this point and there were quite a few people at the CP. I restocked my rucksack with food from my drop-bag, grabbed some fruit from the CP and was off again pretty quickly.


Stage 2: Hurley to Chertsey (55 miles)

The next stage was again familiar from T184 and also the 2013 Thames Path 100 (the flood year when it got rerouted onto an out and back route). I had an unscheduled walk break through Marlow when I caught up with Javed (who was on his 2nd loop of the course...) and we shared Spine Race war stories. After passing the scene of one of my multiple failed naps at T184 (the porch of the church at Cookham) I detoured to a garage to buy more water. I had some left from the CP, but it tasted funny. In retrospect this seems a bit princessy, later on in the race I'd be happy with anything vaguely wet. At Eton I stopped and bought more water. Other people were buying food, but my stomach wasn't up for anything more substantial than the snacks I was carrying.

On the run in to Windsor I went back-and-forth with various people, and moved forward a bit through the field. Some people seemed to be walking more than me, but walking much faster than I can. From Windsor to CP2 at Chertsey I was on my own, arriving there just as it got dark at ~10pm. There were a handful of fast-looking blokes there and I had a bit of a 'wowh' moment. What was I doing up with them? Had I gone out too fast?



Stage 3: Chertsey to Yiewsley (82 miles)

I'd been planning to keep up a 25:5 run-walk routine for as long as it felt comfortable, hopefully 70 or 80 miles. But given the hot day, and my worry that I'd gone out too fast, I decided to switch down to 10:5. Over the next few miles I first caught up with Spenser (who'd passed through CP2 while I was there) and then Marcus. We chatted about how we were surprised to be so far up the field, and he broke the news that we were in 7th and 8th place. Wtf!? We went back-and-forth a couple of times as I switched between running and walking, and eventually I pulled away.

I was trying to keep at least one full bottle of water at all times, but during the night was struggling to find taps to fill up from. In desperation I filled up from a pipe provided for canal boats owners to clean stuff with. It wasn't 100% clear what the stuff was (washing up? toilets??) and even though I replaced the water soon after I got a bit paranoid that I'd contaminated my bottle with sewage.

Just after Teddington the route passed through some woods, which felt a bit odd in the midst of London, and not an entirely comfortable experience (especially when I passed a car load of teenagers parked at the end of a road). The route through Isleworth, and off of the Thames Path and onto the Grand Union Canal, was a bit fiddly. So I slowed to a walk to make sure I got the navigation right.

The beginning of the GUC was a bit grim and I struggled to get back into my 10:5 run-walk. I eventually got to CP3 at ~6am, feeling pretty crap. There were a handful of people here, several of whom had, or would, drop out.

I'd been vaguely planning to get through to night two (and hopefully Milton Keynes) before sleeping. However a quick nap now seemed like a good idea. I'd done a bit of reading about the science of sleep and, also following advice from Joe Falconer, had decided to sleep in 45 min blocks. I found a space on the small, sloping, patch of grass and crawled into my sleeping bag.

I didn't sleep properly, but did at least managed to doze a bit, before one of the CP helpers came to tell me my 45 min was up. In the shade it was pretty cold, and I sat in my sleeping bag shivering while I tried to eat, drink coffee and restock my rucksack.

Cold dominos pizza is usually one of my favourite running foods. However I hadn't touched the two slices I'd been carrying since the start and they were smelling pretty rank. So I decided to ditch the lot rather than risk food poisoning, but this left me a bit short of savoury calories.



Stage 4: Yiewsley to Berkhamsted (106 miles)

I set off with my insulated jacket on, but soon warmed up as I settled back into my 10:5 run-walk. This section, which I knew from GUCR, went pretty smoothly. Apart from a deviation off route to go to a toilet, for no good reason other than I fancied having a wee somewhere other than a bush.

Part way through I passed another runner asleep on a bench. He seemed fine so I kept going (the last thing I'd have wanted if I was him was someone waking me up to ask me if I was OK). It put the idea of a snooze into my head though, and shortly after I found a comfy looking piece of grass and set my alarm for a 5 min nap.

I arrived at CP4 a bit over 27 hours into the race. This was an hour or two faster than I'd vaguely planned, but I was feeling fine so wasn't particularly worried that I'd gone off too fast. However I was shocked to find I was now in 5th place. And worried that the OH would be following the tracker and wondering what the hell was going on. So I sent him a text message, telling him not to worry: it was an accident and normal service would be resumed later, when I stopped running and the faster walkers behind marched back past me. [It later transpired that he’d checked the online tracker for the 1st time that morning. And (based on my position relative to the rest of the field) had initially assumed that the route went in the opposite direction, and was a bit concerned that I appeared to be a long way behind the main pack...]

My usual CP foot routine (remove socks, air feet & relube) revealed one small blister on one of my toes, which I drained. I was surprised (and happy) that my feet were holding up so well.


Stage 5: Berkhamsted to Milton Keynes (130 miles)

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photo: Dan Connors

This stage started well, apart from a brief stop to tape the blister which was sore. Things then got tougher. I had another 5 min nap at Grand Junction Arms and then wasted time trying to find an ice lolly. The grass was harder to run on than the previous gravel paths. However I was spurred on by various people on canal boats telling me that I looked better than the two blokes in front.

It was initially a relief to hit the better path at Leighton Buzzard, but this also meant more people and therefore more badly behaved dogs and impatient cyclists (stopping or changing direction quickly is hard when you've got 100+ miles in your legs). On this part of GUCR I'd been running quite well and I'd forgotten quite how long the run-in to Milton Keynes is. The Sun was low-ish in the sky, straight ahead and I was broiling. I stopped running, had several 'sit-breaks' and generally felt a bit sorry for myself.

Eventually I was relieved to see someone in a green TR hoody waiting on the tow-path. He'd walked out to see what I wanted getting ready food-wise. What I wanted first was another sleep. The guys at the checkpoint set my sleeping gear up in the tent and I settled down for another 45 min snooze. It was a bit noisy (the CP was under a road-bridge) but with ear plugs in, I did actually manage to sleep OK-ish. They told me that the run-away leader had dropped out, so I was now in 4th place. Que more 'wtf, I'm just happy to have a cushion on the cut-offs' on my part.


Stage 6: Milton Keynes to Nether Heyford (156 miles)

After a pasta-pot, coffee, yogurt and fruit I set off into night two, feeling a bit better. This didn't last long. I got back into my run-walk, making use of the cycle path that runs mostly parallel, but close, to the tow-path. At one point I had a minor panic when I realised that the canal wasn't on my left, where it should be, any more. But clearly the solution was to bear left until I found it again. Which I did a few minutes later, but after that I played it safe and stuck to the tow-path.

Just outside Wolverton I decided I needed a quick nap, but actually I wasn't that sleepy (just lazy...) and couldn't get to sleep. My next bright run-avoidance idea was a trip to the 24 hour Tesco at Wolverton. Thanks to a closed bridge it took a while to find it. Then I wandered around the aisles aimlessly, failing to find anything which appealed to my slightly unhappy stomach and that I could also carry. Eventually I settled on 3 (why 3, I don't know...) yogurt pouches. At the self-service check-outs there was a minor kerfuffle. Security had stopped someone on suspicion of shop-lifting. He claimed he'd paid for his shopping and started trying to find the receipt in the midst of my shopping. This made me a bit uncomfortable. Especially since I was holding a zip-lock bag with my cash and cards in. I escaped to the toilets, which were at least a nice place to do a poo.

The next challenge was to get back onto the canal. I'd identified 2 bridges which crossed the canal, but forgot that just because 2 objects intersect in 2d projection it doesn't mean they do in 3d (i.e. there weren't any stairs down onto the tow path). After a circuit of the Tesco car park I ended up retracing my steps. I've no idea how long this escapade took. Quite possibly a large fraction of an hour.

The rest of this stage was a bit of a struggle, with lots of unnecessary sit-breaks and not a lot of running. I was expecting people to start streaming past me, but to my amazement no-one appeared. By the climb over Blisworth tunnel I was really sleepy and desperately looking for somewhere for a nap. None of the hedges looked particularly appealing, especially since it was now light and there were a surprising number of cars on the road. I had a ten min nap once I got back onto the canal. This perked me up for a bit, but it was still a long haul in to the checkpoint along uneven paths. And I wasted even more time putting on and taking off my waterproof jacket when it briefly started raining.

Hitting the road into the CP perked me up and I started running again, until I met the person who'd come out to guide me in at least. The village hall was the one indoor check-point, so it was a good place for a much needed sleep. I decided to try for 2.25 hours (i.e. 3 times 45 min). There were two blokes sleeping in the back room of the hall (one drop out and one of the two blokes I'd been trailing). At this point I'd long since lost any sort of modesty/self-consciousness and stripped my damp running gear off and crawled into my sleeping bag in my underwear.

I managed 2 hours of fitful sleep before being woken up by music from what was supposed to be a pilates class taking place in the village hall. By then my earlier sleeping companions had been replaced by Javed. Having been over-taken by Mimi Anderson on her double GUCR two years ago, I was fully expecting Javed to pass me at some point.

With the class in the hall the CP was temporarily relocated in the alley-way outside. I sorted my gear and ate lots of beans and sausages, and yogurt (there's possibly a mis-placed comma in that sentence..). This was the biggest ‘meal’ I'd managed so far. While I was doing this the massed hordes behind me began arriving at the check-point. I was expecting people to catch me, but it was a surprise how many of them were close behind, given that I'd essentially been on my own for the past 24 hours.

The final job before leaving was to drain the 2nd blister (which had appeared between my toes) and relube various sore parts. After watching me smear Sudocrem across random bits of my back one of the blokes manning the CP offered to do it for me. Normally I don't let anyone within touching distance of me unless I've known them for years, but I didn't think twice before saying yes. He then walked me back onto the canal. Which I was very grateful for, it was a surprisingly long way and on my own I'd have turned back, thinking I'd gone wrong. On the way we chatted about various races. Including why I was doing the TR and not the Dragon's Back (I'd have got timed out on day one). I also broke my 'no thinking about position until 200 miles' rule and asked about the whereabouts of the other women and revealed my half-goal of adding to my collection of '2nd place woman' finishes in long races.


Stage 7: Nether Heyford to Fenny Compton (183 miles)

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photo: Jools Gala

I managed to get back into my run-walk routine. And, probably thanks to the food, sleep and chat, was feeling better than I had done at any point in the race. In fact running felt better than walking. But I decided to play it safe and keep taking the walk breaks.

I made good progress up to and through Braunston, with several ice-cream and crisps breaks along the way. Braunston was busy, with a canal boat festival. This wasn't a problem though. The boat people were typically good at sharing the tow-path and friendly and encouraging. Apart from the bloke who asked me if I'd had a head-start on everyone else... Which I interpreted as 'what's someone who looks like you doing not far behind the fast looking blokes'. But maybe I was projecting...

A couple of miles before Napton the path got narrow and uneven (which I don't remember from GUCR) and I decided that walking was better than running and falling in the canal. It also started raining. I hummed and hawed about whether to put on my rain coat. The rain was actually nice and cooling, but I didn't want to get too cold. I put it on. The rain stopped.

At some point I dug out my iPod, ignored my carefully constructed playlists for different mind-sets, and set it on shuffle. A random mix of late-80s indie, 90s riotgrrl, metal and cheesy chart & dance music eased the passing of time.

I stopped briefly at a pub for coffee and crisps and it started raining again and the wind got up. I'd read that the Oxford canal was hard going so I was expecting the narrow uneven path to continue to CP7 at Fenny Compton. However in fact it was wide and grassy. The only down-side was the grass was now wet. On this section I encountered a couple from a canal boat who appeared to be doing an interval session. The first time I met them I moved to the side of the path. But they didn't say thank you so after that I stood my ground.

One of the blokes who was at Milton Keynes walked out from the CP to meet me and we discussed how I was still managing to run-walk. He parroted back at me what I'd told him, in bumpkin-ese, back at CP5: 'Oi've neverrrr managed to keep running beyond 125 miles beforrrrre'. Other people start hallucinating when sleep deprived. I morph into a member of the Wurzels...

The trick to keeping run-walking seemed to be i) accepting that the first minute of running is going to feel uncomfortable and ii) not worrying about speed. Even though I was 'running' for up to 2/3rds of the time I was only averaging 3mph. But this was significantly faster than I'd have been moving at this point if I was just walking.

It was early evening and I was feeling quite perky. However given that I'd struggled through the previous night, and the next CP apparently wasn't great for sleeping, I thought I should try and sleep. I settled down in a tent, but couldn't nod off. Partly because I was too alert, and part because of the noise. I initially thought it was the worst snoring I'd ever heard, but eventually I realised there were pigs in the adjacent field.

After 30 mins I gave up. I was a little bit frustrated at wasting that time, but the rest probably did me good anyway. I'd rattled through all of my pasta pots so I dug out the big gun: an 800 calorie expedition meal. I wish I'd brought a few more of these. The food at the CPs was good, great even given that they were all but one outdoors and often under bridges. But my stomach is a bit fussy when running, and I'm not good at making decisions when faced with too much choice. While I was eating and sorting myself out, Steve, one of the peleton from CP6, arrived at the CP.

Along the way I'd had various aches and minor pains come and go. So I'd hadn't worried much about my left ankle/lower shin being a bit sore. On closer inspection the sock/gaiter had been irritating it. It was a bit swollen and when I put my shoes back on the tongue felt uncomfy. So I ditched the gaitor and laced my shoe underneath the tongue.

Would the ankle hold up for the remaining ~70 miles? There was no point worrying about it. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.


Stage 8: Fenny Compton to Lower Heyford (206 miles)

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photo: Brian Finlay

The first section through Cropredy to Banbury flew by. My ankle was a bit sore, but I was still happily run-walking. As I'd been warned, the path got a bit sketchy around Cropredy. The edges were crumbling, and sometimes there were holes down to the canal. Coming through here in the middle of the night while sleep deprived would not be fun.

Banbury night-life was in full swing. I switched my head-torch off and slowed to a walk to avoid drawing attention to myself. I tried and failed to find some water at a strange circular toilet block. Once I was back on the other side of the canal, I spotted that the tap was on the one section I didn't look at.

Not far out of Banbury the temperature plummeted and mist started rolling off the canal. This section should have been runnable but I was struggling to see my feet, and the canal. And then it got worse. Miles of windy path and wet over-grown plants which literally had to be fought through. It was unpleasant. But the challenge made the night easier to get through mentally than the previous one. I sat down once to eat. But otherwise I told myself `Your sleeping bag is waiting at the next CP. Will sitting down get you there faster? No. So lets keep pressing on'.

Kathy walked out from the CP to meet me, and I was happy to discover there was actually a sleeping tent. I settled down for (I think, my memory's a bit fuzzy) 90 min of restless sleep. When I surfaced someone else had arrived at the CP. I initially assumed it was Javed, however it was actually Ellen, who I hadn't seen since the afternoon of day 1. We chatted and moaned about cyclists and dogs. It looked like 2nd place woman might be slipping away from me, but I was genuinely happy that we were both so far up the field. One of the baggage guys told us that Karen had finished, smashing the women's course record and winning overall (by a huge margin, 2nd and 3rd were only a few hours further down the tow-path).


Stage 9: Lower Heyford to Abingdon (230 miles)

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photo: Lindley Chambers

I left the CP at ~7am and it was already scorching. I kept run-walking, but with regular stops at taps to soak my wrists and buff in water. As Oxford approached the tow-path got busy, and the impatient 'ting-ting-ing' of cyclists started again. Even though I was moving to the side as much as I could and there were big signs saying that pedestrians had right of way!

I'd been looking forward to stopping at Oxford station for some food for hours, however it was hell on Earth. Heaving with posh people who acted like I was pond scum. Yes I look (and smell...) like death, but I'm still a person. The lowlight was the 'gentleman' who thought saying 'excuse me' entitled him to push me out of the way so he could exit the M&S till queue the wrong way. [It possibly wasn't that bad. My reaction was probably triggered by the memory of how I felt, aged 18, when I arrived at one of the Sloanier Oxford colleges to study physics, with very short bright orange hair, multi coloured hippy clothes and a broad Somerset accent.]

I sat on the floor outside the station to eat my food. There was an unpleasant, meaty smell. I'd sat down next to the mobile bacon sandwich cart (I'm veg...). I couldn't be bothered to move though.

I got back moving, and my irritation with the population of Oxford continued. Looking on the bright-side it inspired me to keep moving, to get the hell out of there. [Later on, at home, when I was telling the OH about this bit his response was: 'You didn't really like Oxford, did you?'. Which sums things up pretty effectively.]

I, slightly cheekily, filled up my water bottles in a pub toilet and kept plodding my way past Lower Radley towards Abingdon. The woods before Abingdon had seemed like a labyrinth on the T184 (at one point I even thought I'd got turned back on myself), so I was very glad to come across Ian who'd come out to run me in to the CP. We chatted about various races, including Spartathlon. Which he's doing this year, and I would love to do. If it wasn't for the fact that I'd get timed out early on, as the early cut-offs are inside my PBs.

I spent about half an hour at the CP, eating (including some of the cookies which were intended for the finish...) and relubing body-parts. I'd asked the OH to text me at this point with the whereabouts of the other women. 'Karen won, you're 4th, maybe no. 13 could catch you... Great progress :)' was what he'd sent. OK, but who is no. 13? Without me asking, Lindley shed some light on the situation: Rich Cranswick was on a bit of a mission a few miles back. And I broke my 'don't obsess about position' rule and asked about Ellen's whereabouts, but didn't really register the answer.



Stage 10: Abingdon to Goring (248 miles)

I plodded off on the final section. The end was close, but there was still a long way (18 miles...) to go and the long sweeping bends really dragged. My undercarriage was a bit sore (I hadn't tested the pants I was wearing in hot weather and they didn't do a good job of wicking sweat), but there were too many 'normal people' around to whip out my mini Sudocrem pot.

Just before Shillingford I made my one significant navigation error, which unfortunately involved crossing a busy road unnecessarily (twice) and briefly going back along the path in the wrong direction. Through Benson I was really struggling and sat down and ate a Mars bars and a couple of gels, which got me back run-walking again. I was trying to do finishing time estimates. Sub 84 hours (i.e. 3.5 days) was in the bag provided the wheels didn't fall off completely and even sub 83 might be on.

While I'd been expecting to be overtaken by people for several days, I hadn't actively worried about it. Just after Wallingford I looked back, I don't know why, and saw a figure with a number on closing on me rapidly. It was Rich. We had a very brief chat, before he charged off in pursuit of the 2 guys in front.

I had a very brief 'wah, but I've been in 4th for nearly 2 days' moment, before remembering that things were in fact going far better than I could ever have dreamed. [Rich in fact had 2 hours of time credit from stopping to help several runners, so even if he hadn't physically over-taken me, he would still have finished in front on time.]

Rich was moving fast and there was no question of me trying to hang with him, but I did misguidedly think that maybe I could drop my walk breaks and just run. 20 minutes later I felt like crap, and switched back to the tried and tested routine.

Just after Moulseford my 'car head-rest induced' hip injury twinged but, since I thought it was touch-and-go whether I could break 83 hours, I kept pushing. A mile or so out from the finish I met one of the guys from way back at CP1 and was very grateful for a water top-up. He then kept on running back along the course, which made me paranoid that Ellen and/or Javed were close behind. Losing 4th wasn't a big deal, but slipping back to 7th at this point would have been gutting. I kept `running', the Swan Inn came into sight and I rounded the corner to the finish line. Where I pulled silly faces, and announced that my finishing time (82h 38 min) and position (5th out of 40 starters and 19 finishers) were beyond my wildest dreams.

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photo: Gill Elomari


After

Gill had put on a fantastic spread of hot food and cakes. I declined Glyns' offer of a beer (he'd dropped out a long way into the race, but had come back to support) and ate multiple jacket potatoes and lots of cake. I phoned the OH and burbled over-excitedly.

One of the Thames Ring traditions is a white board with a list of finishers. I'd imagined my name appearing towards the bottom of the board, so couldn't quite believe seeing it there with lots of space below.

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photo: Rich Cranswick

I hadn't expected to finish on Saturday night but fortunately there was sleeping space at the finish (all the hotels in Streatley were fully booked, and I was probably too manky for a hotel anyway). I interspersed bouts of sleeping with more eating (and unfortunately managed to sleep through Ellen and Javed finishing). The pack who were tailing me in the middle of the race came in just outside 90 hours and the leader board filled up.

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photo: Lindley Chambers

Come 9am, apart from a sore swollen ankle, I wasn't feeling too bad and got my stuff together and walked to the station for a fun journey home. 3 trains, 2 of which were standing (or in my case, sitting on my North Face holdall) room only, and a 'sprint' to make a connection.

At home the OH fed me even more food, and we watched the Spine race DVD, which had arrived while I was away. And I got some over-ambitious ideas for future races. 'Perhaps I could have a go at JOGLE?' 'Or go back to the Spine and sleep less, and move faster?' I could even try not finishing last at the (not very...) Long Tour of Bradwell.

A week later I'm still in shock. I'm obviously not in the same league (or even on the same planet) as Karen Hathaway. But I didn't think a plodder like me (with a 4.18 marathon PB, and a close relationship with sweepers and time cut-offs) could finish in 5th place with a time in the low 80 hours.


So how does it compare with the Spine and T184?

The Spine is still far and away the hardest thing I've ever done. It sounds melodramatic, but if you screw up on the Spine you could die. Post-Spine I had a week of disturbed sleep and eating everything in sight before I felt half-way human. Post TR (and also T184) I was back to more or less normal in a couple of days. TR is possibly mentally harder though. On the Spine you're so focussed on navigating through peat bogs and over hills (and not dying...) that hours can slip by without you noticing. On TR I was painfully aware of every canal bridge, and every hour.

The comparison with T184 is trickier: 65ish extra miles versus not having to carry all your kit. I definitely found the TR easier, but that was largely because it went much better for me.