Monday, 29 June 2015

Thames Ring Double - Part Deux

Wednesday 24th - Saturday 27th June 2015                                             (Part 1 here)

Same B&B, same room, same bed. The alarm woke me at 5am and I had a Groundhog Day moment. I had to face the same challenge as Saturday, but this time I knew the way out of this cycle. I had to complete the race.

After my now traditional full English with toast, coffee, muesli and fresh blueberries I packed up my race vest and snack pouch and made my way to registration. Everything had been put together to allow me to move forward at all times. Eat and run. Constant forward motion and all that.

As I entered the hall I said hello to several familiar faces, and picked a seat next to Brian Robb, a fellow Bristolian who I'd met at several events recently. We discussed our approaches to the race and it became apparent I was the tortoise to his hare, though I do prefer to go slow and use the cut-offs to pace myself (something which I hadn't done on leg 1 and paid for dearly).

Maillot jaune

Lindley gave a briefing to the assembled crowd, presented medals to Javed and Ernie and we made our way to the start. Some of the elite runners already had their chauffeur ready, but I was happy to walk, as one extra mile wasn't going to make any difference. We lined up just off the side of the bridge and then had to move as an aged driver attempted to mow us down at 2mph. Luckily an accident was avoided and we set off along the river and over the fields once again.

The run in to CP1 was very much like the first day, though the temperature and humidity were higher and I found I was out of water by Reading (11 miles). I made a mental note to fill up my bottles at every opportunity and also drink 500ml before moving on as I tend to perspire freely and didn't want to end up dehydrated. I'd also switched from peanuts to cashews for their slightly sweeter taste, but ensured that they were salted which made sure I was replacing the salt removed through sweating.

I passed CP1 in 5:16 at an average 5.2mph and realised from a Facebook comment by Zoe that once again I'd gone off too quick, so decided to walk the next section to Chertsey which I did with Bob Wild and Dave Fawkner. Dave was having trouble eating due to D&V through the night, and was looking for somewhere on the route where he could get pizza as Bob had already ordered a delivery to the Chertsey CP. I grabbed 2L milk and a couple of packs of sandwiches from a shop at Windsor and pressed on.

At CP2 Bob had ordered an additional pepperami pizza which he shared around the group of runners. Exceptionally kind and it was gratefully consumed to fuel the next night-time stage. Kate Hayden had reached the CP ahead of me and had been having problems with vomiting throughout the day but was keen to press on, so I quickly packed up my drop bags and joined her for the long trek through London and on to the next CP at Yiewsley.

Kate is an exceptionally tough runner, and held a special position as the only British woman to finish the race. We hiked out an impressive 3.5-4mph though as the night progressed we were having to take more and longer breaks as she vomited what little water and food she'd managed to consume over the last 30 minutes. I was becoming increasingly worried and it was lucky that Javed caught up with us, as he knows Kate's condition well. He talked to Kate and made sure she sipped at her water, while I carried her backpack to give her some relief from the weight and constriction.

We carried on this way for a couple of hours and she did seem to improve, even breaking out into a run at points, though it all ground to a halt at Hampton Court as she rapidly deteriorated. We decided to call Lindley and meet him further up to get his opinion on her condition, and so walked slowly to Kingston Bridge. I'd like to say a huge thank-you to every runner that met us during that time, as every single one stopped and offered help. Luckily Javed and I had things under control and were able to get to the meting point without any further incident.

It must have been fate or something in the air, as just on the other side of the bridge Knut Kronstad had collapsed and was in convulsions. As we'd already called Lindley we directed him to the other side as Knut's condition was far worse and with 30 mins of rest and warming up Kate had improved considerably. Lindley took Knut off to the CP and we agreed that Javed and I would look after Kate and keep going so long as she continued to improve.

Unfortunately this wasn't the case and around an hour later Kate was vomiting and close to passing out. Again I called Lindley and we sat on a bench with Kate laid across our laps and a foil blanket over her. He arrived after around 45 minutes and pretty much carried Kate to the van, saying that he'd take her to Berkhamstead and we could meet her there (as we were both very concerned about her condition).

So now we were possibly last in the race, but neither of us were tired and we'd benefited from several hours rest, so we ran. And talked. Lots. We talked about running, about life, about our families, about dancing and about the Force. I listened and I learned. We ran through the night and through the next day, making up perhaps a dozen places, our feet dancing out many steps to many tunes.

After a while I started to slow. We had been running with Phil Smith and David Allan and had also caught up with Chris Edmonds, but the pace was beginning to tell on all of us, so we switched to walking while Javed continued ahead. By now we'd made CP7 and were all exhausted, so we took 2 hours to sleep and woke at 1am with 1 hour left on the cut-off. We packed up, had a meal of potatoes, beans and sausage and headed off into the dark once again. 

I was feeling increasingly weary and struggled to keep up with the group. I had to concentrate hard on keeping my walking pace high and I was constantly dropping off the back and having to jog to keep up. Chris soon joined me and we split into two as Phil and David marched on ahead, always keeping the pace high and pushing on. Through the morning Chris pulled away from me too and now that I was alone I was walking slower and slower. I took a break on the shaded side of a bridge and started to think. I thought about the pain I was getting from a few blisters, about how much further I had to go, and then I though about dancing.

Javed had explained to me that when things get tough, imagine you're not running but dancing with the person you'd most like to dance with in the world. Waltz, Tango, Maddison, it doesn't matter, but the act of converting the slog of getting from A to B into the joy of dancing changes your whole take on what's happening. I changed my Hokas into ballroom shoes and I started to dance.

And it was superb.

I caught up with Chris just before CP8 and I was grinning like a cheshire cat. 

"Chris. I've got a mad plan. We're going to run it in from here. If we make it by closing time I'll buy you a pint".

"OK, let's do it"

Sprinting out of CP8 (Tim Mitchell)
So we set off at a flat out sprint. I'd told Tim we were going for it and as he'd seen me sprinting in to Nether Heyford with Peter Bengtsson (England 1 - Sweden 0) he took a picture of the start.

Shortly after I screamed, jumped in the air and hit the floor. It felt as though I'd been shot in the foot. A series of blisters under my toes had all ripped together and burst, making one long raw wound on the ball of my foot. I patched it up tightly with gauze and tape and started to hobble on, but with the blisters gone, the pain had eased and I found I could run again shortly after.

Then it was Chris' turn. He'd been overheating as we ran and eventually had to slow to a walk, so it was just me and the last 40 miles. I had plenty of water, food and energy, and no reason not to run it in, so I kept running.

As I passed Phil and David saying Hi as I went, then a couple of others who were also walking, I started to work out the pace difference. Depending on how far other runners were ahead I thought I was probably running at double their pace, so long as they were within 20 miles, I could catch them. I checked the tracker and was amazed to find that all but the front 2 guys were within range, so that was my mission. 4th place.

I also had an ace card to play. Due to the time we had lost looking after Kate, Lindley had given me and Javed 2 hours credit. Meaning that as long as I finished less than 2 hours after another competitor, I would have beaten them on time. Afterburners on. Time to fly.

My average pace from CP8-9 was 3.8 mph. I didn't catch any more runners but I got closer to those ahead. Not wanting to waste any time I grabbed some fruit from the last CP and pretty much sprinted away. #5 was in my sights and I was closing in. I passed Ellen Cottom about 4 miles from the CP and again said hello, then chased down Anne Green, catching her 5 miles out from the finish.

I'd realised the leaders Andy Horsley and Pete Summers seemed to be walking, as they had left CP9 at midday and hadn't finished when I checked at 5pm. I began to have thoughts about catching them close to Goring and upped the pace again, diving through gullies and pushing on across the fields, I was now averaging 4.4mph. It doesn't sound a lot now but I felt like Usain Bolt compared to my previous sub-2mph walking pace.

As I approached Goring I checked the tracker and saw that the leaders had sped up and crossed the line, so I slowed. Their finish time meant that I had 90 minutes to cover the last mile. I jogged it in with Ian Thomas and gratefully accepted the half-ton finishers medal from Lindley. It was all over, and after nearly not starting the race I'd finished joint second.

Glyn "guardian angel" Raymen handed me a cold can of lager and I finally relaxed after 420 miles on an emotional roller-coaster. Job done.

If it wasn't for the herculean efforts of Lindley and Maxine in putting on this event, the support from Keith Godden, Debbie Gibbins, Glynn Ramen, Jon Gillott, Rich McChesney, Paul Reader, Zoe Thornburgh and all the exceptional volunteers at the CPs, I'd just have been sitting in my pants watching TV and drinking beer, so thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to spend a week seeing it it was possible to do the double. It wasn't for me, but it was for Javed. 

He's superhuman.

And so is Karen Hathaway who won by 12 hours !

See you all in 2017 for more dancing.



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