Monday, 29 June 2015

Thames Ring Double - Part 1

Saturday 20th - Tuesday 23rd June 2015

5am Saturday morning and the alarm dragged me from sleep. I had already checked, re-checked and packed my kit so all that was left was to tape the toes and drag my bags to the start at Goring Village Hall where I met Lindley, Maxine, Keith Godden, Martin Pether, Debbie Gibbins and my fellow doublers Ernie Jewson and Javed Bhatti.
 
Three Amigos - Ernie, Rich & Javed

We took few photos, wished each other luck and at 6am started lap 1 heading out along the Thames towards London. The weather was perfect and we made good time, reaching Reading around 8am (too early for parkrun though I had brought my barcode just in case).  As we got back out to the fields I was aware that I needed to maintain a 5.3mph average and so pulled away from the others as I was sticking to “the plan” to meet my night-time kit drops. Javed was running unsupported with just a credit card, a smile and the Force to see him through, whilst Ernie was being supported by Debbie. So 3 runners and 3 very different plans. It would be interesting to see which would prove the most effective.

Keeping the pace comfortable, I met Debbie at CP1 (Hurley 27.3 mi) after around 5 hours of running. She’d been following on the tracker and got there early to be able to provide me with food and water, which was very much appreciated as my original plan of using shops and stores to restock would have taken away valuable running time as I’d have to go some way off the track to find them. At this stage Ernie was about 10 mins behind me and Javed 7 mins behind him, so all fairly close.

The stage from CP1-2 went by fairly uneventfully and at CP2 (Chertsey 55.1mi) Jon Gillott, Rich McChesney & Paul Reader were waiting for me with pizza, sandwiches, coke and fresh coffee. This was definitely a high-caffeine day. I was on target for “the plan” with 11:19 for the first 55 miles, though was now just starting to feel the effects.

I put on a base layer as it was starting to get colder as I crossed Sion Park and joined the Grand Union Canal for my trip up north. I’d been able to fill up with water pretty much when I needed it, though was carrying a lifestraw in case of emergency as one of my concerns was a lack of water taps. I’d also been a bit nervous of the London sections after Javed told me about a couple of runners who were mugged in 2009, so kept my senses about me as I ran and jumped a couple of times as animals rustled the bushes or ran across the path.

Further on up the very boring lower sections of the GUC, I met Nina Smith at CP3 (Yiewsley 82mi) who’d waited on a dodgy canal bridge for hours with food & water. I took a brief rest in her car and then moved on with an Ikea bag full of goodies which I planned to have as a midnight feast before sleep

I’d stashed my kit behind a hedge at bridge 191 and thankfully it was still there. As I retrieved my kit two young lads walked towards me. It was past midnight and I’d taken off my backpack so was just dressed in black baselayer & leggings and on the ground were a series of large torso and limb sized objects wrapped in black plastic. They yelped and ran off back down the path. No idea why.

No Free Beer for me (pic by Keith Godden)
After my first night’s sleep (where both Javed and Ernie passed me), I realised the race was going to be more about my mental condition than physical. I was going fairly strong, and knew I could stick to the 60-mile days as planned  but the huge blocks of sleep were eating into my running time and I wasn’t speeding up after the rest as I’d expected. The problem I had was that I relied on my kit-drops which were at fixed locations, so I had no chance to change the schedule. I’d made my plans and had to stick to them.

I met Keith at CP4 (Berkhampstead 106mi) and by now I was walking at about 4mph. The pub had a “Free Beer” poster but I’d decided that beer was out of the picture for the race, so I had to decline. This was the one picture on the whole run that I looked sad, and for good reason.

At CP5 (Milton Keynes 130mi) I met Glyn Ramen who provided a superstar lunch of hot hotdogs and relish, pot noodles, deserts, coke and pretty much everything you could ever want to eat on an ultra.

Lindley 21-Jun 9am “All three amigos have left Milton Keynes a while ago all in good shape. Heading towards nether heyford with cut off there at 156miles of 11am I think. That allows for more rest time before pushing out the last 100. All well on target for 80 hour finishes which will give them time for a good rest before repeating.”

It was shortly after MK that the wheels started to come off. “The plan” called for me to cover the 18 miles to Blisworth at 4mph, a speed which I’d averaged all day, though the fast first 50 miles were beginning to tell on me as was the tiredness. I was finding it hard to stay awake and my pace was dropping steadily. The section from Navigation Bridge to Stoke Bruerne saw me staggering around like a Saturday night drunk. Around 1am I sent a text to Lindley to say I was sleeping for a few hours and curled up on the ground only to shiver myself awake 40 minutes later and feeling no better.

As I wandered around Stoke Bruerne a car pulled up and I was very glad to see the concerned face of Keith Godden who had seen me stop in the middle of nowhere and had come to check up on me. I could barely string a sentence together but he must have seen I had enough wherewithal to get myself to Blisworth and so he pointed me in the right direction and off I stumbled.

When I finally crawled into my tent I was 3 hours behind schedule and a physical and mental wreck. I just wrapped my sleeping bag around me and fell off the cliff of consciousness into the welcoming pool of sleep, but all too soon my alarm dragged me back to the race after 4 hours of sleep. I stashed my overnight kit and started hiking out. A few minutes later I had a call from Keith reminding me that I had to get moving as I was close to the cut off for Nether Heyford. Not only was he supporting Javed but also providing alarm calls and checking up on me, for which I’m very grateful. (Going through the Facebook photos I realise he even walked down the trail from Blisworth to check I was OK while I was asleep as he took a picture of my tent – he really did go above & beyond looking after us on the first lap).

Lindley 22-Jun 10:30am “All three amigos still moving well. Javed still on for 80 plus hours and heading towards Fenny Compton well inside cut offs. Ernie cracking on well too and moving ok not too far behind javed. Rich a little slower bringing up the rear after another good sleep and a small wobble but cracking out the miles again and moving better.”

I only had 90 minutes to spare at where I’d planned to have over 3h in hand, and the previous night’s sleep-addled zombie march left me with very little left in the mental bank. Zoe was out at Fenny Compton to meet me, but I’d not managed to shake the apathy that had set in the previous night and as I joined the Oxford Canal things got worse.

My head got the better of me and I intentionally started walking slowly and taking breaks in an attempt to be timed out before I got to the next CP. I sat under bridges and tried to work out a plan.. My feet were too blistered. The old knee injury was playing up. I’d been in a to-the-death fight with a hyper-aggressive duck. But none of it washed. I was just fed up and my heart wasn’t in it. I called Lori (The Mrs) and told her that I wasn’t having fun anymore and that I was going to come home. Her response was to ask what I wanted for tea. Normality. That was what I needed. Just a small slice of the real world.

I asked a few guys on a barge if there was a decent pub nearby and after 170 miles of canal I hiked along a local A-road to the village, only to find the pub was shut. So after stocking up with pasties and drinks I planned a bus/train route home and called in my DNF to Lindley and Keith and told Lindley I’d come to pick up my bags on Weds and see the race proper start. I also let Zoe know I wouldn’t be coming through and she very kindly offered to drive me to Cheltenham to get a train from there. I was in fairly good spirits as we drove, as I never berate myself on my decisions. I’d given it enough thought and I was quitting.

Once I got home I showered, filled my face with chinese takeaway and fell asleep in front of my laptop watching the tracker with half a beer in my hand. That was it. I was out of the race and could relax and watch this and the main event unfold online.

The next day (Tuesday) I woke up before Lori and walked downstairs for a coffee, then realised I’d just walked stairs without any aches or pains. I’d quit because I’d given up mentally. Physically there wasn’t a thing wrong with me. So I sent a text to Lindley:

“Hi mate. Sorry to be a bloody drama queen yesterday. There’s nothing wrong with me that a few MTFU pills won’t sort out, so can I muck you around again and get my main tracker back online? I fancy going for round 2”

When Lori woke I was bundling my kit into the washing machine and booking train tickets back to Goring. I told her my plans and she didn’t seem surprised. She's used to the way my mind works, and she's promised she'll explain it to me one day.

Lindley 23-Jun 7am.” Javed Bhatti is about an hour out from the final CP at Abingdon. With about 20+ miles to go.
Ernie is a couple of hours behind him and Rich Cranswick has been home and had a plate full of man up pills for tea and has decided to start the main race again.
See you all in the morning.
Lindley”
 
Javed finishing lap 1
Once I’d got back in to Goring I wandered down to meet Keith and a few others who were waiting by the Village Hall for Javed to complete his first lap in 81:03. With all the pictures and handshakes complete, we retired to the Miller for a few pre-race beers and then to the Swan to meet Javed for dinner before we all retired to prepare for the next day.

Ernie on his way back to Goring
We'd been following Ernie on the tracker and Debbie had been with us at the Miller. He was progressing very slowly due to injuries and though he'd complete the first lap, it wasn't looking good for lap 2. I met them on the bridge after Ernie completed (taking 8 hours off his previous best time) and he was wiped out. I wished them both a good night's sleep & recovery and said I'd see them at registration tomorrow.

So that only left Javed with the chance of the double, but it meant I was in the main race, and was feeling strong with a couple of days R&R behind me. The next part was going to be exciting..