The race is described as:
“A tranquil run along the Thames from Oxford to Henley. Ever changing scenery on the river and Red Kites frequently seen soaring overhead. One of the best way marked routes we have come across.”
What is not to like?
A few months passed and I decided that I am not really cut out for long distance running and so turned my focus towards getting quicker at the shorter stuff. So with 3 weeks to go and having just completed Stubbington 10K my ultra training started. I start to run home with a group of marathon runners, all very nice and easy, until about 14 miles, when the wheels fell off I hit the wall big time and walked and shuffled my way home for the remaining 4 miles. Thanks to Rich for sticking with me, as I would have called home for a lift otherwise.
I convinced myself it was good training and then did another 17 mile run the following week and with an 11 miler the week after I am all set.
You could say I was slightly undercooked, but I tried not to think about this, it is only 50 miles, what is the worst that can happen?
Anyway we got to the train at 6:00am, via a lift from my lovely wife and made are way to Oxford. We arrived in Oxford and got the shuttle bus to the start.
It is a strange feeling head off from the start of a race in the knowledge that you will be running for the best part of the day. So I forgot about what lay ahead, chatted to anybody who looked interesting, tried to not get carried away and just stuck to my plan. Which was: Run 22.5 mins, walk 7.5 mins, I didn’t worry about pace but just went at a pace that was comfortable.
I would see Tiernan every 15 minutes or so, as he was running for longer than I was, but I was running a bit quicker. We would have a quick chat and then get back to our own plan.
At 22 miles I made another newbie mistake, when half dozen runners came back down the road towards me while crossing a bridge. They had gone the wrong way, I queried them but one of them showed me a garmin with a map, ah he must know what he is talking about. So we headed back and along the river again. Luckily Tiernan spotted us heading off in the right direction but on the wrong side of the river and managed to call out before we went too far. I probably lost 5 minutes, which is nothing, but mentally it took me a couple of miles to get over it.
I continued quaffing cake at every opportunity and felt pretty good even after passing the 5 hour mark, which was longest time I have been out running for previously.
I got to 37 miles and the penultimate aid station and had some good fun with the spectators ‘flying’ my way down the road. I left the aid station with another runner called Nick and we stuck together for the remaining 13 miles. He was an experienced ultra runner, but he was having a tough day, so we worked together to get around the remainder of the course. He bought one excellent skill to the team, the ability to map read! So I would generally push the running, while he made sure we headed in the right direction.
Going through the last aid station I don my head torch as the light is fading and we head out for the final 6 miles. Plenty more mud, for the next 3 miles, with one of those miles resulting in an 18 minute mile. It is pitch black, with plenty of opportunities to go in the wrong direction, but Nick did us proud and we made it back without putting a foot wrong, unlike a number of other runners who headed in the wrong direction.
The official race report summarised the race:
With 68 runners (over 21% of the entire field) failing to finish the course within the 11 hour cut off, it is easy to see just how tough this race was; this truly was survival of the fittest. Miles upon miles of leg sapping slippery mud certainly took its toll. It doesn’t get any tougher or muddier than this. In this light the performances of those 259 ultra runners who made it to the finish line are all the more impressive
Will I do another ultra?
I do feel like I cheated a bit with not doing any training and I am pretty sure I won’t go down that route again. But, I could be convinced to train and race with some Hedgies in the future. The Thames Trot has plenty more to offer and I could be convinced to head back again one day.
It was a brilliant experience and I wish to thank Tiernan for convincing me it was a good idea and Sarah and the girls for putting up with my daft ideas and being my biggest supporters.
As Nelson Mandela said "It always feels impossible until it is done. "