Alastair’s 50 mile Thames Trot

Thames Trott – 1st February 2014

With Lanzarote getting close on the horizon, I entered this race hoping to achieve 2 things. Firstly this was my first Ultra-marathon and therefore I needed to find a pace that I was comfortable with that I run at when I was tired. Secondly I wanted to work out a nutrition plan for long distance events whilst running and find what worked and didn’t work for me in a tired state.

Pre-Race

There was one big effect leading up to the run – the weather. We had been given the race route guide several weeks ago and told around 3 days prior to the event they would be inspecting the route for floods and announce any diversions. A couple of days before the event the diversions were announced and we had a diversion booklet alongside the race route booklet. Then on the night before the run another e-mail was issued with further diversions. By the time we started the race we had 3 sets of instructions on the race route. My plan was simple – bin the paperwork (it was too complicated) and follow the people carrying route maps and especially those who were continuously down at their maps.  I know this meant my fate was in the hands of others but with a rucksack (full of items I would later find I didn’t use) the last thing I wanted was more equipment to carry. I was happy to risk this and go with the popular majority on the route. This would later come back to haunt me. I met up with Ian and Ashley at the start. We all wondered what on earth we were doing, but at least the weather was holding back for the run. The wind would pick up through the day but at least it wasn’t raining.

The Run

With the diversions, the run was basically a combination of the Thames towpath, cross country and road running. The route started in Oxford and went via Abingdon, Wallingford, Goring, Reading, Sonning and finishing in Henley. There were 5 check points which were well stocked with food and water. The check points also gave a good breakdown to the course, splitting it into 6 phases.

At the start the atmosphere on the line was very different to every other runs. There was no-one running up and down and no warming up. Basically everyone got changed, put on their rucksack and waited by the start line. It was far more relaxed and as a result had a friendlier feel about it. There were some last minute diversions at the start that needed marshalling (more flooding) and we had an announcement that one of the participants was running his 100th ultra-marathon!

Eventually we got going some 20mins late. Now from the start it is very clear it is a run and not a race. This was good as it would help me with disciplining myself to a consistent pace. We set off slowly, around 6:15 for the 1st km and over the first 5 km just went about relaxing into a comfortable pace. After about 3km Ian and Ashley has disappeared and started my race plan of finding and following someone with a map.

The 1st hour or so to the 1st check point was all road running. I had settled into a comfortable pace and when I found my km split was too quick forced myself to slow down over the next km. At the first CP I grabbed water, fruit cake some jelly babies and stored a few gels which I would eat at regular intervals between the CP’s. This was the basic plan for the whole race. Soon after CP1 we started the cross country sections, where the fun really started. In the first section of mud 2 people fell and we had our first wading of water soaking our feet. 17km in to the run, 60km to go, and soaking wet feet. I just accepted the inevitable blisters and carried on. What could you do after all! I did have a small towel and spare socks in my rucksack, but it was clear this wouldn’t be the last time this would happen so I carried on. It turn out we were to go shin deep through water on 5-6 occasions. I found on the cross country sections others around me were running easier through the mud and I had to work harder. At one point I fell but bounced back up, no harm done. When we got onto harder surfaces I would then catch up. There was a group of about 20 of us with 3 or 4 keen to keep their maps open and guide the rest of us. I was happy with this, my game plan was working out, and chatting away to a few of them meant a distraction from the running. This continued through CP 2 (more cake and sweets) until around 5km before CP3 where we started to separate. There were 2 guys ahead who clearly knew where they were going so I latched on to this pair. Around the same time I saw a cyclist who looked a lot like Mark (DK). It turned out it was Mark who had come to give some moral support. Thanks Mark for making the effort.

CP3 was a little different as it had savoury snacks. I had a pork pie, crisps, sausage roll, and muesli bar, stuffed some gels in my ruck sack and headed off as my 2 new guides had left. It turned out these 2 had done 20+ultra each so were talking to each other about their MTMB and MdS adventures. They had also done this route before. This was ideal, a guide and a podcast to Ultra running all rolled into one. I had little to contribute, so just concentrated on staying with them. At this point the field was so spread out I realised if I lost touch with these 2, I really would be lost. We went through CP4 and carried on towards Reading. Coming through Reading I had to work harder than I wanted to keep up and the pain was starting to set in. As we went through Reading we got a bit lost and at one point ran though Reading Rugby club with Rugby games going on either side of us. We found our way to Sonning and CP 5. (more cake) At this point, the elastic had broken with my trail guides and in struggling up the hill to Binfield Heath I was just trying to keep them in sight. They stopped heading into Shiplake Wood which allowed me to catch up a bit but in the woods I lost them for good. I also lost myself. There was a lot of stopping and starting, but eventually I made my way into Henley. I was here at last, I felt tired and ready to finish. I saw someone ahead and followed them through Henley. I made my way to the river and bridge and started wondering why there was no sign of any runners or the finish line. So I carried on running. It turned out I had run past the entrance to the car park where the finish was (in fact within 50yrds of the finsh) and done some extra running around Henley. I eventually found the finish, much to my relief and started getting annoyed at myself as I had wasted around 5mins doing a running tour of Henley. But I had finished (most important part) and learnt a lot from the experience.

Post Race

My objective for the race was to establish a running pace I could maintain and a nutrition plan for running. I certainly managed to a large extent keep consistent pacing and with a bit more strength training through more cross country runs could keep this going until the end. I am generally not a fan of cross country running as I like the flow and pace of road running. But it was clear during the race cross country training will increase strength and stamina and not tire me out so quickly, so I need to put some cross country runs into my training. This would have helped in the last 10km where I slowed down and lost touch of my running guides. The result of this and my Henley detour turned out to be 13mins (and up to 15 places) which is a lot of time to loose in 10km.But on the more positive side, it was my first ultra so I am please that I went 65km without having any real issues.

As for the nutrition, I found I could almost eat anything. I think I ate too much as my stomach was full at the end. I also found the certain foods increased my energy better than others – so again this was a success.

Ultra-Marathon – would I do it again? Probably, but next time I would do it differently. I wouldn’t be so keen to use a rucksack. If there are well stocked check points there really is no need. I ended up carrying 3kg on my back and apart from a couple of powerbars used nothing, so was a waste of time. I like the friendlier feel to the run, everyone was interested in what you had to say and help each other through the event. Although it’s a long way to run, in many respects its ideal core training, increasing stamina and strength. You can get to experiment with your pacing in a less competitive environment than a road race so overall it has many advantages.

And lastly the statistics;

Overall time 7hrs 30mins 38secs

Overall Position (Age Group Position) 32/262 (8th in 40+) inc 28 DNF’s

Split Times at Check Points (Age Group Split Positions)

CP1 1:16:26 (18th)

CP2 1:17:06 (8th)

CP3 1:15:38 (2nd)

CP4 55:32 (3rd)

CP5 1:41:09 (15th)

Finish 1:04:47 (22nd)

Finally – 1 club championship point well earned.