T184

Date: 28th – 31st August, 2015

Location: Thames Path

Navigation: Thames Path signs/ Harvey map given by organisers

Distance: 184miles/ 294km

Time limit: 80hrs

I first saw this event last year and I thought, mmmm, The self supported part of it seemed to jump out at me and being 184 miles too it seemed like my kind of race, I had never competed in a race of this distance before and to be self supported makes it that little bit tougher as well.

Self Supported means that competitors must carry all of their clothing, equipment and food for the duration of the entire race from the start to the end of the race, Competitors will not be permitted to purchase, acquire or receive food supplies or receive external assistance during the race.

In addition support crews or pacers are not permitted during this event (although supporters were welcome to cheer on competitors at the designated checkpoints),However, competitors will be supplied with additional water supplies only at each checkpoint.

This year has been very tough for me on a personal level in many ways and since I DNF’ed at my last event The Grand Union Canal Race, a 145 mile race were I dropped at 85 miles due to suspected injury, that race was also only 3 weeks after the Thames Path 100 too. I was so focused on this race in a big way and I really wanted to do well and I was in no way going to fail, even if it meant crawling to the finish, YES I really mean that !!!.

My pre race training had gone really well, Brighton was my place of choice to do lots of my heavy pack runs, I love it there and the routes that I took were along the sea front and along the cliffs towards the Seven Sisters and Eastbourne, these routes were very hilly and very open, this was a great help for me mentally as running in complete openness gives you such a lovely sense of freedom.

I weighed the pack down using rice and made sure I wrapped it in a number of black bags as I didn’t want it to split or get wet and it would have turned into risotto, MMM yum, yum NOT,

So I was happy with my pre race training, I had also done a number of heavy pack runs in London (where I live) some of my sessions in London and in Brighton where double run days, the ones I did in London I would get up at 2:50am and run for 4hrs in the before starting work at 7am then after work which finished at 4pm, I would run for 2hrs, both runs being with a 7kg pack, Thank you to Nicolas Vallon who joined me on some of the after work runs, even when It was pouring with rain,Thanks Nicolas !!, some of those runs in Brighton were 4hr runs with 7kg pack then 2hrs rest to eat, then running for another 2hrs to Eastbourne and Beyond.

I was also on annual leave from the 24th August and so it was perfect to use that time to prepare everything for the race, I had ordered 2 race packs online that I thought would be suitable for this event and they both arrived in good time, The Salomon Skin Pro 14+3 set was the pack I decided I was going to use, I had also ordered the Raidlight Ultralight OLMO 20L with the front pack, but I found that to be too fiddly and I wanted to use a pack that would be as simple to use as possible and with no faffing around, so I went with the Salomon one and a North Face Roo II Bumbag.

The idea was to use the main compartment in the race pack for all the mandatory kit, (first aid kit, Bivvy bag, head torch, back up torch, waterproof map case, waterproof trousers and jacket, thermal base layer, hat & gloves, hydration pack, map & compass, food, mobile phone, survival blanket, running kit) and use the front section for my food, this way it would be simple to access and not be fumbling around wasting time, something of which I was not prepared to do, I had trained too hard and spent hours traveling to training sessions to lose precious minutes faffing around.

My nutrition for this race was going to be all homemade and plant powered as I’m vegan and have been for five years now, so there would be a bit of time before the race that would be dedicated to preparing all of my food that I thought I would need, I thought of 4 main food ideas, 1st would be homemade energy balls with Madjool dates, cacao nibs, fresh strawberries, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, sunflower seeds, coconut milk, agave syrup and oats all blended together, rolls into balls and then rolled in pea protein powder, then placed in a dehydrator to harden up slightly but still be moist, this way it would be easier to eat as I wouldn’t need to drink too much water with them, the next food idea was homemade wraps with 2 different fillings, The 1st was with avocado, basmati rice, sweet potato, ginger and caramel, 2nd was lentils, sweet potato, mushrooms, ginger and caramel, my other food idea was roasted sweet potato wedges with smoked garlic, rosemary and sea salt, all of these were put into vacuum bags (this is so they stay fresh and the bag doesn’t split while I’m running)

So with all my food sorted I only needed to get one or two things more and I would be ready to start packing, I only had to get a pair of gaiters and a backup torch and I was set, so I headed into town where I managed to pick up both items, I had ordered them both online but Royal Mail had let me down again, funnily enough though since the race they had both landed in my post box, hey ho, So I’m sorted for everything and can now start to think about packing my bag, it’s the night before the race and I’m pretty relaxed and I know if I pack my bag now I will only unpack it again race morning to double check everything, So I get to bed at a good time and only wake up once during the night.

Race morning and I’m still surprisingly relaxed which it really good as I’m normally nervous at this time and in the run up to races, but for some reason I’m pretty confident I’m going to do well.

I sorted my race bag out and my finishing bag (this is a bag that contains everything you’ll need when you get to the finish, like a fresh change of clothes, etc, I had my breakfast and I’m happy that i managed to finish it all, I had already ordered a taxi the previous day to take me to the start in good time, so far so good then, my final pack weight was 7.3kgs

With the taxi arriving on time I was on my way, it’s always a funny conversation with a taxi drive on the way to races when they ask you “what are you up to today” ?, lets just say he was a bit shocked by what I told him.

I arrived at the Thames Barrier just after 8am and registration was already open, I wanted to arrive there early as time seems to fly at registration, I was one of the first ones there and finally I met Shane the main organiser, I got my race number, map and tracker (this a a device enable friends and family to track your progress in real time minute by minute during the race), then I met Paul “The Hat” Ali who checked my race bag to see if I had all of my mandatory kit, with that done I just had to sort my feet out, I don’t tape my feet up, I just put some foot cream on them that softens them ready for the 2 pairs of socks I use, I did my final checks and I was set with plenty of time to spare, HAPPY DAYS.

I knew a few people that were racing and I managed to chat with some of them before the race start which was at 10:30.

I had cut my caffeine 3 & 1/2 weeks before and also lowered my sugar intake around the same time so when I took any caffeine or sugar during the race it would have a greater effect on me.

I decided not to have a coffee before the start which in hindsight was probably a bad decision as you will fine out later on.

It was getting close to 10:30 and there was a race briefing where Shane went over the rules and any possible diversions during the race, there was another race starting at 10:30, the T100 which was from the Thames Barrier to Streatley, also self supported, so I knew there maybe people going off a bit quicker than the ones in the T184.

Before the briefing I met a fellow runner Matt Beaven and his wife Louise, Matt looked very chilled out as he was still wearing his jeans with only 25 mins till the start, we spoke for a bit and it seemed we were both aiming for the same finishing time of 55hrs (or much less if all goes to plan for me), so we decided at the start to stick together at least for the first 2 checkpoints and see how things went from there.

So with 10:30 nearly here it was time to head to the river side, I never seem too go to the front in races not to sure why, lack of confident ? or just the fact that this is a bloody long way and 5-10 meters isn’t really going to change much in advantage terms.

We started a little later at 10:35 and the sun was shining which was nice, the starting pace was nice and easy, I told Matt about my plan for the first part of the course, it was to run for 1hr then walk for 5mins, he was good with that plan and we stuck to it, interestingly enough I had Reeced the course in London many times as I live here……but on the South side, I only realised the race route crossed to the North side of the river going through Greenwich foot tunnel 2 weeks before hand, A route that in all my years of living in london I had never run before, well that’s all part of the fun isn’t it, most of the runners where still together at this point anyway so if you went off course it wasn’t a big deal,

We headed through the Isle Of Dogs and through Wapping and Limehouse before hitting Tower Bridge, here to the 1st water station was the busiest section of the route as it was full of tourists who always seem to get in the way especially now there are bloody selfie sticks everywhere.We seemed to negotiate this part pretty well though and with no dramas, we kept the run 1hr walk 5 mins plan and as the temperature was pretty warm we were happy with this, we got to the first water-station/checkpoint (13 miles) and I filled up my water bottles which were both empty and had been about a mile before hand so It was well timed, In the first running of this event they didn’t have this first water stop, the first water stop then wasn’t until 26 miles so it was a great idea and a sensible to have one earlier on.

We headed out and continued our nice steady pace, I took advantage to go to the next pub to use their loo, as finding places to go in London are challenging.

About a mile or so after the first aid station my legs were on fire and I thought to myself, How on earth are you going to run 184 miles when your legs are like this at 17 miles and how have you even run races of 100 miles before ?, I know this feeling very well and it seems to crop up in everyone of my races, you see the first section of any race for me isn’t good but I know that past the half way point I seem to get stronger and that pushed me on knowing that.

We continued on towards the next water-station/checkpoint and I decided that this would be a great time for the first proper intake of food, we both agreed that we would only spend 10-15 mins there, as it was a warm day I thought it important to take fluid on as in the form of “little and often” and the same with the food, this was to not get bloated as that would make running very uncomfortable.

I made sure I left with full water bottles and carried on the way, at this point I asked Matt if he was happy to change our plan to a 50min run/5 min walk and he was good with that, as I was very warm indeed, plus the first section up until Teddington Lock was all on pavement.

I was pretty impressed with the signage on this section and we didn’t have to use the map once.

Matt was feeling a bit low at this point and I talked to him for a while with words of encouragement, you see In all of my races I have always run by myself and never used a pacer or had any crew helping me and in training its the same, I’m a very social guy but if I run with someone else they have to be aware that I will have to go on if they slow me down or if they go too quick I will back off, we both agreed that earlier on, I spoke to Matt again just before we got to Richmond Bridge and  apologised to him but I had to go on alone, he was ok with this and ran about 20 or so meters behind me until Marble Hill Park where he caught me up, we entered the town of Twickenham which is where I grew up and lived there until 2002, it was there that I saw my Mum and Dad and that was a wonderful surprise, they both are very supportive of my racing even if they do think I am completely bonkers.

I caught up with Matt again just before Teddington Lock were I made a stop to fill up on water, as did Matt, we ran together again until just before Hampton Court were I could see Matt was dropping off the pace again so I wished him all the best and I ran on ahead, at this point a chap from Summit Fever media who were there to cover the race for a film, started to interview me, pretty random during a race but I’m always up for a chat.

I was relieved to be off the concrete at this point and be on much softer ground and now I was in The Zone, it normally takes me around 10-15 miles to get into my running during a ultra but since I have been doing more speed training that distance had come down to about 7 miles, but then again each race if different and this race proved that as with in the first 17 miles my legs were on fire as I have already mentioned.

I was in my zone, in my element and running free, this is what I love to do and it is at times like this were I feel amazing and in complete zen, some peoples reaction when I explain this to them is pretty funny, ” how can you be in zen ?, relaxation when running ? Don’t you get board ?, what do you think about ?”, These are probably some of the most common questions you would ask an ultra runner, I always reply, to get relaxation when running you have to enjoy it first, build up a base fitness and just lose yourself in your session or race how ever long it may be, I don’t get board either, I never listen to music when I’m running as I enjoy the noises around me, this is especially the case when I’m deep in the countryside and at one with nature, I would find music would ruin the sheer bliss of this element, I think about many things while I’m running, normally all of my life issues in the first section of a run, then they come back to me one at a time during the rest of it, along with long sections of complete blankness, something of which is pretty hard to explain but my mind during this time is pretty much empty and I’m on autopilot, I have broken down a few times in some of my recent training runs because of the personal issues I’m going through in my life right now, but knowing how much this race means to me and the reasons I compete in them in the first place I have powered through, they have also  been very emotional indeed when I have finished them, I also knew this race would at some point be an emotional journey too, with 184 miles to cover I had a lot of time to think about things and too assess them, I’m a true believer that races are run with your body and your mind, if at one instance your body is not willing your mind will get you there and vice versa, never under estimate the power of the mind, it all sounds very spiritual and in a way I suppose it is, but it will get you to that finish line and to a better place.

The week running up to race week I had started to compile a list of all of the water station/checkpoints and locks that were on the course, the distances between them and the facilities at each lock (water, toilets) I also had 3 columns with 3 estimated finishing times, 55hrs, 65hrs and 80hrs, that last one was my Mums idea.


This was a very tricky process as you had to work out what time you would arrive at each section by finding the minute/mile pace for each estimated finishing time, that multiplied by the mileage between each section then converting that into time, pretty tricky stuff, so I enlisted the help of my much more mathematically intelligent Mum, even for her it was a challenge, but we got there Thanks again Mum, it was great to have a plan to aim for, as I mentioned before my aim was to get sub 50hrs at least and I knew I was more than capable of this.

I was on familiar trail now as I had competed in the Centurion TP100, a 100 miler from Richmond to Oxford, also along the Thames Path, so after Teddington lock where it joined the same route I knew exactly where I was going.

As I mentioned I had run the sections before but at a different time of day, it was very odd running a section that you have run during the day when it was starts to get dark, the first night section was approaching, I love this part of the race as it’s much cooler and my pacing is still pretty good during this time too, I was slightly concerned however with my tiredness, as I was power walking along the path I fell asleep, yes while I was walking, I drifted towards the water, I was about 1/2 meter away from the waters edge when I got stung by a stinging nettle which woke me up, I realised where I was and pulled away from the water, at this point I said to myself, “right, as soon as you see the next bench lye down and put your feet up and set your alarm for 5 mins, as soon as 5 mins is up get up, splashed your face with some water and run, ok ?” “ok”, I did that and again 1 hour later, that was all the sleep I had for the entire race, I mentioned earlier I cut caffeine and sugar out of my diet about 3 1/2 weeks before hand so when I took any during the race the effect would be so much greater, I hadn’t had any coffee before the start either and that was the reason for me feeling sleepy, I had some caffeine earlier but decided that having those power naps was the right thing to do, after both of the 2 x 5 mins power naps I was wide awake, so happy days were here again.

During the race the volunteers manning each water stations would ask me, “are you ok” ?,”how are you feeling” ? “Do you want to know what position you are”?, “haven’t you not been tracking yourself on your mobile” ?, I tell you I was more in the zone during his race than during any other race I have ever done before, I have no idea why, but I would love to have that feeling back for all of my other races, I didn’t want to know my position or where anyone else was in the race, I was just so focused on moving forward, doing my own thing and keeping things a simple as possible.

From Teddington thru to Oxford things were pretty much plain sailing as I knew the course and remembered it well, my watch was loaded with the route which I had started it at the beginning

but 24hrs in to the race the battery had died..BOLLOCK (I say it like this as I’ve only got one)

I had bought a cheap Casio watch to use during times like this so I still knew if I was on track for a good time.

I only looked at my watch in the early stages of a race as to not go off too fast, I think a lot of people get a bit carried away In that moment of the race start and set off at a very fast pace and maybe cannot keep that same pace for the remainder of the race.

The great thing is my memory is really good when I have been to places before, I can remember the exact turnings to take and when to take them, all was going really well and I was happy with my progress, my nutrition and hydration were all working really well, when I was even the slightest bit hungry I would eat and before I was thirsty I would drink, the little and often approach was working a treat.

I was really happy about this because I have a very big event planned for 2017 and it’s just under double the distance of this one, so knowing that my nutrition/hydration is sorted makes me very happy indeed, I always think that is the hardest part of any race for a lot of people, you see this is the first race I had done where you carry all of your food with you, so you have to know how much to take, what you like and roughly when you plan to eat it, of course it can change depending on how your feeling at any particular time during the race, so if you plan too much and unexpected happens in the race then that is your whole plan out the window, I think you have to go with how your feeling at the time, take what food works for you and if possible test out the food during a few of your pre race training sessions so you’ll know what works for you and your stomach, I stuck with savoury foods as I tend to eat more of this and it also agrees with my stomach more than if I eat a lot of gels and shop bought energy bars, these tend to upset my stomach and I also tend to eat less when I eat sweeter foods during races, during most of my 100 mile races I burn around 7000-8000 calories and it is very hard indeed to put that back on during a race, I think I eat between 2000 to 2500 calories during a race, I’m finding the more races I do my nutrition is getting better as I have guineapigged quite of few ways of eating and trying different food options, some people think I’m crazy trying out things during races and not training sessions, I do of course try them in training sessions but then again when are you ever going to simulate a 100 mile race during a training session, my kit choice however has sometimes only had its first outing during this  race, crazy again you think, well not if you research to product carefully, I have done this quite a few times and there has never been any problems, in fact for this race I had never done a training run with the race pack I was going to use, I had no real issues with its and those that arose during the race were just pimped and sorted straight away, I used Ultimate Direction bottles with the pack too as I prefer them to the collapsable Salomon ones, I have heard a lot of people do this kind of thing as it is hard to find a pack that is 100% perfect for you.

So up until Oxford all had gone well and I was happy with my progress, it was this section that I had not covered on any training runs, so it was completely unchartered territory for me, the maps we got given at registration were Harvey maps, they had been mandatory kit for most of my previous 100 mile races but because the course was fully marked with red tape on those, I had never used them, as we only got given them race morning we had no time to pimp them with additional information to assist us during the race, you would think is would be pretty simple to follow the Thames Path and you would think you would just have to follow the Thames the whole way from start to finish, right ? Wrong !, very wrong !, you see even in the first 26 miles the path goes away from the Thames and after that even more so, as I mentioned before there are of course the Thames Paths signs to follow and the acorn symbols that are the markings of a national trail, these are sometimes very hard to spot though and you have to be so on the ball, sometimes they have even been pointing in the other direction from what they should be and sometimes the plastic acorn signs have been broken or even taken off the wooden post which makes it even harder to follow the correct route, but that’s all part of the fun right ?

AT 168 MILES

Normally I would be happy and just go with this but I was at times getting pretty frustrated and cursing at the map as it didn’t mirror the route properly GGGGRRRR, I had trained so bloody hard for this event and a simple matter of signage and the map were the things that was stopping me from going onwards 100%, that kind of thing gets me pissed, you see when I finish a race I like knowing that I have left everything on the trail, meaning that I couldn’t have given any more, but in this case if your not sure of the route it puts you in a tricky situation as you don’t want to waste any energy going the wrong way, so you have a lot of excess energy that could be used more productively, but each race is a learning curve, so you take that experience and move on.

I used a very different strategy in this section by which as soon as I worked out the correct route I would go at a very good/strong pace, (7-7 1/2 min/miles) this would work really well as it kept me on a more positive edge, There where some sections however that would look competed identical from ones that I thought I have covered already, the gates even looked the same and this is were you become unsure that this was the correct way to go, as I’m writing this report as hindsight is a wonderful thing I am kind of finding this funny, but at the time it can tell you at first I was laughing but further on I was not, another thing about this section is that the Thames is pretty much non-existent and would just be a dried out river bed, mmmm so much for just follow the water then.

Lots of this section was pretty thick we heavy grass and reeds which were very wet from the rain that had come the previous night and the last few days, this didn’t worry me as my feet were in good shape, I had major issue with them in 2013/2013 but since going to Pro Feet in Fulham and being fitted with the correct shoes and insoles, thankfully this issues have slowly fazed out which has probably been the best news in my ultra running life since I took it up in 2012

THANK YOU AGAIN PRO FEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You see if your feet are wet for a long period of time you can get what’s called trench foot, very similar to what happens to your skin if you stay in the bath for too long, it becomes shrivelled and this can be very painful indeed and can make your skin very tender, one of the best bits of advice my coach has taught me so far is, if your feet don’t hurt don’t touch them.

As I continued on my way I was constantly checking the route and making sure I was on the right path, it was really hard as the signage was so sh*t and I kept getting lost, eventually I found the next two checkpoints and that is of course very comforting, with each checkpoint apart from the first 2 were I was pretty much in and out within about 3-5 mins, I would fill my water bottles up, drink a little more and have a quick chat with the volunteers, then I was off, as there were so many locks with drinking water taps on the route where you could fill up your water bottles, I didn’t have to spend valuable time at the designated water stations.

The weather continued to be nice and overcast which for me is perfect running weather as it’s not too hot and not too cold.

I eventually arrived at the town of Kemble where a pub called the Thames Head is, this is where the event crew were based so I was closer to the finish, however it wasn’t that simple as the maps were not as detailed as one would like, this made it harder when you got to the town sections.

I must have tried to find the correct route for about 10-15 mins, I  made my way in what I thought was the correct direction and found the Thames Head pub and the railway bridge that was apparently next to the field, I ran through it to get to the field with the finishing stone in it.

After going the wrong way a number of times I found the correct path and crossed the railway line and found the field that was before THE finishing one, yippee at last !!!!!,I met one of the race volunteers who said “well done, your nearly there, how are you feeling ?”, I remember just saying,  “hey, I’m ok thanks, just a bit pissed about the navigation side of things but hey, there’s always next time to make it the perfect race”, so I entered the final field, saw the finishing stone, there were a number of people that had come to the finish, I was still running strong and I reached out and touch the stone…YES YES YES..I’D DONE IT.

I do remember the first thing I thought about when touching the stone was, How I could I go quicker next time and how would you do a double version of this race, one for the future for sure.

I’m also pretty sure that me and Shane (race organiser) where discussing this and the rule of it.

 

Conclusion

You would think what with getting a 2nd place and a time of around 55hrs I would be happy, right,?

Not really, when I finish a race I like knowing that I could not have given any more and that I have left everything on the trail, in the case of this race, there where too many times In my opinion after Oxford where I was standing still and trying to figure out the correct route.The next time I compete in this race the only thing I would do differently would be to start my Suunto watch at the section just past the Oxford checkpoint, apart from that everything went perfectly, yes there where a few tweaks I made to the race pack but that was it.

STATS

HERE IS A LINK TO A LITTLE VIDEO OF THE RACE http://tseriesracing.com/video/

HERE IS A LINK TO THE ORGANISERS RACE REPORT http://tseriesracing.com/2015-t100-t184-challenge-reports/

I would like the thank all of the volunteers that made this race possible an the Shane and Paul for organising it, Also a BIG THANK YOU all so much for all of your messages of support before, during and after the race, as soon as I turned my phone on in the pub after it went crazy.

And of course and massive THANK YOU to my marvellous coach Mimi Anderson.

Please remember the main reason I compete in these gruelling events Is to raise awareness for bustinyourballs.org, a testicular cancer awareness website I set up after beating the illness myself in 2005, when I was originally diagnosed with my chances of survival being less than 5%, so I hope competing in these events inspires patients that are going through the illness to realise there is a light at the end if the tunnel and to not lose hope and to always think positive and never never give up.

Next up for me is the Centurion autumn 100 on the 17th October

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