Tuesday 2 April 2013

Thames Path 100 race report

Windsor Castle. Picture by Stuart March
Organiser's race report here
Full results here
Race pictures here

My stats:

Final distance 104.2 miles
Time: 19:19:20
Result: First lady, 4th overall

My first ultra-race for 2013 was Centurion Running's Thames Path 100.  As the name would suggest it's 100 miles from London to Oxford on the Thames Path.  Unfortunately due to severe flooding in the latter stages, the course was rerouted to two out-and-backs.  Not ideal, but still considerably better than cancelling the event.  Although I still poised for the cancellation notice to appear. 

Here's a snippet from the race report...The danger presented to runners of course has nothing to do with the depth of the water sitting on the path, but rather the inability to distinguish between the path and the bank of the river itself. During the event particularly at night, a runner unable to tell the two apart could easily step off in to deep water and be carried downstream. With the current as strong as it was in the river, anyone falling in would have been swept away in an instant. ...gulp!  You know I have history.

Arriving in London on Friday evening, I must have checked my phone every five minutes for race updates and weather forecast changes. Just pleading for the wind to die down.  Gusts of 30mph, snow showers and temperatures of "feels like" -8C were on the cards. I noticed on social media sites that races all over Britain were being cancelled, but I knew - based on the reputation of Centurion Running - that it would be the absolute last resort.

Picture by Stuart March

With no news on Saturday morning, it was full steam ahead.  Sonic, Brother Sonic and the gorgeous Gillian were on crew duty for the day.  After my antics at last year's GUCR Sonic refused to assume sole responsibility for me :-) Imagine.

Leaving the Twickenham Travelodge (I know I totally spoil them) it was pretty grim and pouring down, but certainly not as windy as the nighttime howls would have suggested. We arrived at the packed Richmond Hall to register, get my gear check and listen to the race briefing.

The original route from London to Oxford
The altered route was Richmond - Cookham (39 miles) - turn around - back to Walton on Thames (66 miles) - turn around - back to Cookham - turn around - back to finish in Windsor for the fourth and last time (104 miles).  Are you still with me? To some, this might seem torturous, but to gain some perspective I had to remind myself that I had run around a one kilometre loop in a housing estate for 24 hours before.
Race Director James Elson gave a fairly comprehensive race briefing, but I'm not sure if I took anything in.  Actually I'm pretty sure I didn't, as all I could think about was getting to the ladies for a last minute "make-sure" and get lubbed-up.  Ah the glamour.

Bang on 10am we were off, en route to the first checkpoint at Walton-on-Thames.   I pretty much ran the whole way there with a chap called Ben.  Just chatting away, so the miles zipped by.  Up until that point it was wet and mucky, but not too slippy.  And every bit was runnable.  Ben stopped to stock-up and I pushed on to meet the team a short distance away...trying not to think that I would be back at that point in 50+ miles time.

The route was fairly easy to follow and very well-marked by the race organisers, but I had to keep vigilant.  There rerouted course made it easier, because the runners covered the full route in daylight and there was generally always someone else around.  There were a few points that I could have gone wrong on, until I caught site of a runner at the corner of my eye.  Thanks to the chap with the high-viz jacket at the bridge before Wraysbury. 

I was also following Wouter Hamelinck, who must have been having flashbacks about me tailing him at the last year's GUCR. Thankfully the winter conditions meant was wearing slightly longer shorts this time ;-) His summer wardrobe would even make the GM blush.

The section between Wraysbury and Windsor was the worse.  I passed the uber-super Mimi Anderson aournd 25 miles, who said she was "flatlining". We did the girlie thing and hugged, before I pushed on to face mud, mud and more mud.  I may a mentioned a few (million) times that "I don't do cross-country" mainly because I cannot run on mud. Not only for it's shoe-sucking ability, but it also sucks the life out of me.  Knowing that you really want to run, but can't, is pretty soul destroying. But I just had to keep telling myself that everyone was in the same boat.

Picture by Peter Heald
Arriving in Windsor (28 miles) I needn't have worried about the mud accumulating on my shoes, as there was nice big foot bath waiting for me.  As I stopped at the water's edge the lovely Marshall looked at me apologetically and informed me that there was no two-ways about it.  Just man-up and get it over with.  Holy Moly, it was freezing!  And knee-deep.  And something that I would have to do another three times before the end of the race.  

On to the turnaround point at Cookham, it was fairly uneventful. The vast majority was runnable, but there were large sections of slippy muck, which seemed to last for miles. I was playing leap frog with Wouter who I always thought was in front and then he would creep up on me after a few comfort breaks and a detour at Maidenhead.

Heading towards the Cookham aid station, a few runners were starting to come back the other way, so I could gauge where I was in the field.  David Ross was the first to appear a few miles out, so I took it he had about a four mile lead. 

Into Cookham, passing through a graveyard (nice touch) and I checked in at the aid station, picked up some supplies and then headed straight back.  My race plan was not to stop, just to keep chipping away.  There was a group of people, bracing the cold, who cheered me on.  I tried to say something through a mouthful of Soreen malt loaf, which must have looked lovely.

So back the way I went...all the way back to first aid station at Walton on Thames.  And as suspected, the course was getting churned up.  I knew it would only get worse.  Especially with the rain and snow during the day.

It was really nice passing the others.  Not in a smug way, it just perked me up to see other faces.  Plus, everyone was really supportive and encouraging.  I passed the second lady, Wendy Shaw, a couple of miles into the return leg and she looked really smiley and comfortable.

I sat behind Wouter for the best part of 10 miles, but passed him just before Windsor.  He then overtook as I met my crew and I passed him for the final time when he stopped at the aid station.  I later heard he was also entered the Viking Way the next weekend. Ludicrous, but true. 

I'd picked up my headtorch as I knew it would be dark before I met the crew again at Wraysbury.   On the return leg I was passed a few times by a runner I now know as Luke Ashton - who had spent far too long in the aid stations.  Which I took the liberty of telling him so later on.  He could have easily won the race if it wasn't for that.  I told him that too :-) Actually, I even told my crew to tell him too. I was referring to him as "twinkle-toes" as he was so light on his feet I never once heard him coming.  Good job I wasn't talking to myself. 

I was then just focusing on the next chunk, rather than the bigger picture.  Just get to Walton-on-Thames and that would be two legs down.  Again, I just shouted my number - noting Luke was still in there - and headed straight back.  Then I only had 10/11 miles before BrotherSonic would join me for six miles from Wraysbury to Windsor aid station. Not only was a looking forward to the company, but I secretly giggling at the prospect of him experiencing the REALLY mucky section and THAT puddle ;-) Cruel, I know.  But I wanted them to see what I was whining about. 

I warned BrotherSonic not to wear new trainers - he's a bit of a shoe-inista - but didn't think to tell him not to wear lock laces.  He managed to lose his shoes four times in the mud.  When we left the Wraysbury aid station and cut straight across a field, he did question my navigation.  I don't think he quite expected the mud to be just as bad and kept asking if it was like this the whole way.  I did lighten his spirits by telling him there was at least half a mile of road just outside Windsor ;-) Thankfully it was to be the last time I had to squelch about in that section. BrotherSonic phoned Sonic prior to Windsor to "give him a heads-up on the conditions". Surely that's just cheating ;-)

Heading across the field to the Windsor aid station for the third time, I was 83 miles down and people were still leaving at 48 miles to head back down. As with all ultra races, the back of the field participants are always the true hardcore ones.

Then it was in and out of the aid station - through the shoeshine puddle  - where we met Sonic and the gorgeous Gillian. Sonic was then going to join me on the out-and-back to Cookham until the finish.  A total of 22 miles.

Sonic opted for Inov-8 studs, but it made no difference in the mud.  Sonic actually likes mucky conditions.  His friends call him "bog boy", so it must have been frustrating having me refusing to run on it. My legs were just too tired from the slipping and sliding and my enthusiasm for mud was rapidly diminishing. I guess like most people at that point in the race, fatigue really impinged on balance, so I knew I couldn't stop myself if I tumbled.  I was going to mention to Sonic that I couldn't believe I hadn't fallen, but I knew that would tempt fate.

Passing over the bridge at Maidenhead we passed David Ross who was going the death march.  My vision was so blurry, I thought he was coming in the opposite direction on his final stint. He was shivering from the cold and looked really close to hypothermic.  Sonic stopped to try to help and David Shouted at me to keep going. He didn't need to ask me twice, I was off. Sonic sent BrotherSonic back and I looked back to see them running together for a bit.

Then Martin, Luke (twinkle toes) and Richard Ashton passed going the other way.  I'm not sure in which order, as headtorches are just blinding.  Plus, some had support runners, so it was hard to tell what position I was in.  Not that I cared.  As long as I still had the lead in the ladies race, that was all I wanted.

It seemed to take forever - mainly because it DID take forever - to get to Cookham.  Sonic questioned my navigation when we went through the graveyard.  On the way back, I must have running so slowly as Sonic stopped to read the gravestones.

We met David again who looked pretty disorientated and pointed him in the right direction.  I wouldn't have been surprised if he was pulled from the race, but I'm glad to see he battled it out. What a trooper! Such a shame, as he was leading for so long.

Running back to Windsor into a head wind in the early hours of the morning, I was FREEZING.  I couldn't stop my teeth from chattering.  Sonic donated his hat and called ahead for my diva demands on ski mitts and an ice-breaker sweater.  Gillian had thought ahead and put hand warmers in the mitts.  Sometime it really pays to have a girl in your crew.  It's the little touches that make it.

To be fair, up until that point the weather didn't bother me one bit.  I was fairly comfortable with the clothing I had on, even in the rain/snow/wind.  Considering the forecast, it wasn't that bad.  Or maybe it's because it's what I used to training in.  Good ol' Scottish weather came good.  It was just the mud that got to me.  Although regardless of how bad the mud got, it was still 100% better than a cancelled or postponed race.

The last 10 miles were a real slog. I never at any point in the race wanted to quit, but by this point I really wanted it to be over. We passed Wendy Shaw heading towards the final turn around.  I figured I had at least a 6 mile lead, but she looked so strong and chipper.  So strong in fact, that she put the shitters right up me!!

Again, there was lots of passing other runners who were heading in the opposite direction.  Most were encouraging, but some looked - understandably - down right p*ssed off.   The path was just a churned up mud bath.  There were few cheers of  "well done, lads".  I hope that was down to headtorch blindness and not me running like a man.

Heading over the bridge to Windsor, I was quite disappointed that the castle wasn't lit up.  I know it's not Disneyland, but I expected more. I joked with Sonic that the Queen, who was in residence that weekend, had asked for the race to pass by her four times and throw in some miles on for good measure.  Just like the 1908 London Olympics' Marathon when the Queen requested that the official distance be extended to (what is now the official) 26.2 miles, so that the race started at Windsor Castle and finished underneath the Royal viewing box.

Then I was only half mile or so, until we reached the ice bath at Windsor.  BrotherSonic has warned Sonic, so there wasn't the same level of fun when he saw it.  Still, his face was a picture.  We were greeted at the other side by Drew Sheffield and guided to the aid station for the finishing time.

It was my first time inside an aid station all day.  Wow! Talk about kitted out.  No wonder Luke spent so much time there.  Heaters, shelter, a lovely spread, hot drinks...fit for a queen it was.   I'm glad I waited to end to witness it.

The lovely James Elson presented me with the first lady's trophy.  In the picture I may seem ungrateful, but my first thought was how I am going to get it on the plane.

Happy, but knackered.  My legs were destroyed.  My right hip flexor was in agony for the last 20 miles.  I was really worried that it was a genuine injury, but it seems to have healed.  I never really knew how much you use your hip flexors for.  Getting up the steps to the plane was a riot.  For days when ever I had to lift my leg up, I literally had to lift my leg up!

I cannot put into words how thankful and grateful I am to Team Consani, who were truly awesome as always.   Thanks to James & Co for putting on a great race, under extraordinary circumstances.  Everyone I met spoke so highly of James, and now I know why.  He really cares about putting on a good show,  And what a show it was.  Although I'd be interested to know who eats cherry tomatoes during an ultra ;-)

1st Martin Bacon 18:10:53
2nd Luke Ashton 18:14:18
3rd Richard Ashton 18:35:21

1st (4th overall) Debbie Martin-Consani 19:19:20
2nd (10th overall) Wendy Shaw 20:58:15
3rd (43rd)  Ellen Cottom 24:19:45

I know you will all be waiting with bated breath for an update on my feet, as per my previous blog posting.  I can confim that I followed my step-by-step process and NEVER GOT ONE BLISTER.  Not one.  And my feet were soaking the whole time.  Being blister-free is a first for me.  I was full on great intention of changing my socks half way, but I knew what was coming up so didn't see the point.  Still, it seems to be working for me.


Andy Cole said...

Just too good Debs, really well done! But a second year of running on the flat?

Austin Blackburn said...

Great report and well done! Did this one last year and enjoyed it, can't say I would have in those conditions though! Good luck at Steenbergen, I will be there in the open race and looking forward to a crash course in 24hr running!! SDW 50 next weekend, hoping its not too close to the 24hr race and I recover in time - only one way to find out :-) Good luck for the rest of the year.

Santababy said...

you just make it sound so easy, i want more falling in the water and feelings of despair ;) Well done, was great following your progress online x