Monday, 2 December 2013

Piece of String - Part 1 of ?

Part 1 - Where to start?
James E handing out pointless maps. Made Chris run & get a spare too ;)
That was the question that James Adams & James Elson unexpectedly answered on the Piece of String Fun Run by starting the race, stopping it after 100 meters and bundling 13 willing victims into a minibus, then jollying them along with rounds of “99 bottles of beer” as we sped round the back lanes of Streatley. 

Road to Nowhere
Initially we suspected a drop-off point somewhere on the Thames or Ridgeway, though as we swung on to the M4 my offhand comment that “we’re off to Wales for hill reps up Pen-y-Fan” was looking increasingly realistic.

The anticipation was tangible as we sped past each turnoff, with the more outlandish guesses as to our final destination looking like they may become a reality. It pretty much turned into a school trip with us kids in the back being cheeky to J&J in the front seats and making a “woooooh” noise in anticipation of each turn and an “awwww” as we sailed past. After what seemed like hours a cheer went up as we finally turned towards Bath and headed off across Lansdown Hill. 

At this point I thought the Cotswold Way was on the cards and started mentally preparing for 100 hilly miles.. prep that suddenly stopped when the minibus turned in to an industrial estate at the start of the Bristol/ Bath Railway Path. I run this almost every weekend and must have been the most surprised participant there. After all the travel, prep & hotel we were only a few miles from my house.

We gathered together for the second briefing of the day, (but possibly not the last). Received a reinforced message that the checkpoints would be a maximum of 6 hours apart, collected a couple of dodgy A4 sheets by way of a map, and were told to run towards Bristol until we met “someone”. That someone turned out to have a slightly more substantial map and directions to follow the river back into Bath. This is an area I know well so I navigated a couple of tricky cross-overs and headed up to the start of the Kennett & Avon Canal. Unfortunately the race favourite Sam Robson and 3 others did what I had done many times before and missed the turn back to the river, adding 5 bonus miles to a 6 mile loop - an impressive error by any standards.

I had settled in to a good 10 min/mile pace with Tom Forman, whom I’d chatted to on Facebook a few times & met the night before during pre-race Guinnesses. I’d originally agreed to run with Chris & Kate, though they had decided the race would be 140+ and so settled in at 12/13 min/mile pace. We had been told any time limits would be “generous” and I’d caught the phrase “you could walk it”. Doing some basic maths with the clues we had, it worked out at checkpoints every 14 miles and an average cut-off pace of 4mph, so getting a good buffer in early without trashing the legs seemed a good plan.

We jogged through the not-so-nice bits of the canal path to Bath and our first meeting with Nici where we were told to stay on the K&A until further instruction. All to plan so far. Tom & I toyed with the idea of taking some time off to go clubbing in Bath since we were both many shades of fluorescent. But we had a Fun Run to do, so didn’t.

It was at this point around 4pm that Sam and the other bonus-milers sped on through to the next CP, which contained the minibus & drop bags. I changed into my heavyweight top ready for a cool night as it was already starting to get dark.

Disco's that way lads...
Steve Macalister had been running about 20 mins behind us with Jackie though I think she dropped at this CP as Steve caught us shortly after and we formed a group that was to stay together for the next 24 hours.

Another factor that J&J didn’t know was that I’d planned a canoe trip from Bristol to London & so knew the K&A fairly well. I also knew that it meets the Thames at Reading, around 10 miles from Streatley. So that was the next 80 miles sorted then. Head down & jog on.

At the 45 mile checkpoint just after night had fallen, we met a fairly motley crew which I realised contained some of the best ultra runners I was ever likely to meet. Everyone knew Tom and the banter started. I stood awkwardly by the side & tried to look like I knew what I was doing. I failed miserably, though my comedic alter-ego leaped to the rescue and managed to amuse a few by adopting Knobcheese’s new nickname for the next 10 miles.

A shiny arse
One of the down sides of running for this length of time is a certain level of boredom that builds up, so in addition to commenting endlessly on Tom’s shiny Merrell backside, we played “FOUR LEGGED ANIMAL”, applied the Hill Rule ruthlessly (the majority could force a walk on any gradient less than snooker-table flat), discussed possible future twists in the race and we followed the path. We followed the path,. We Followed The Path. I was so glad I had my compass.

At 6am, having no idea what the mileage was as all batteries were dead, we were greeted by a bright-lights-in-the-eyes interrogation-style welcome. I think this was for photos but at the time I was just waiting for a hood on the head and a helicopter ride to who-knows-where. By now James A was looking like the Michelin man in every warm coat he owned, and the minibus was warm and inviting, which was good as we’d already decided on a 30 min stop to refuel & warm up. Sam was just leaving as we arrived so I shouted over that I’d see him at the finish and we climbed aboard a lovely warm minibus and I drank the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.