Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Getting the Itch – Thames Trot (45ish)

It had been a while since I last raced so I had a sudden urge to enter something. A quick search online and I was on the waiting list of the Thames Trot 50.

As with most ultras thanks to a couple of last minute injuries / drop outs I managed to secure a place. My aim was to roll up, get a feel for racing again and see how the winter training was going. I had only made up my mind to race a couple of days before the race so there was no time to taper.

The event is organised by Go Beyond and they describe the race as A tranquil run along the Thames from Oxford to Henley. Ever changing scenery on the river and Red Kites frequently seen soaring overhead. One of the best way marked routes we have come across”. Great a way marked route. One for me!

Unfortunately, as you may have noticed it had dropped a little snow and rain of late and the Thames had decided to take a little more territory than usual by way of most of the towpaths – i.e. the entire “way marked” bit!

The Thames had flooded badly but amazingly Go Beyond had managed to find an alternative route at short notice. We would still run which is great but it would be around 45 miles and would involve reading the map a bit more. Game over! Too late to back out now – I would need to ‘hang’ with my fellow running companions to avoid ending up in Manchester or Scotland…

The race starts at a nice warm pub in Iffley, Oxford (which serves warm breakfast) registration, pick up a very good quality race long sleeve tee and have a pee or three. I took out my Kinvara 3 shoes from the box (yes brand new!) and slipped them on. I would strongly advise against this approach, a) because you should break your trainers in before racing; and b) 45 miles is a long way to go if they don’t fit properly. That said, I get on very well with Kinvara so I knew they would be ok for me.

Standing waiting for the start line I started to lose feeling in my fingers but thankfully it was not long before the countdown and the off.

We did intermingle with the Thames for a short period at the start on the way to Kennington. It took me all of about ¾ of a mile before I was wading up to the ankles in water followed by some marsh like terrain which nicely led us onto the road section. The key here of course is to avoid too much dirt getting into road shoes as you will inevitably get hot spots, rubbing and blisters.

It only took a mile or two before my navigational skills were spent. Rather conveniently a chap who I now know as Scott Forbes was running alongside me with a smartphone and route mapped. Excellent! We began talking and it turns out that Scott is a truly inspirational character. A serious mountain biker, I learnt he was hit by a car on his bike and was paralysed 12 months before the race! Here he was running alongside me at 6.30mm pace in his first ultra. I did explain to him on learning that this was his first ultra that this pace may be a bit too much but he certainly held on for the first 20 miles before actively deciding that dropping the pace was probably a good idea.

Another character worth a mention here is someone who was running in the Vibram fivefingers. Not sure what his name was but about 17 miles in Scott and I got a little lost in a field and it was only a minute or so before Fivefingers caught us up! He had been running at a reasonable fast click in those extremely minimalist shoes on road! We watched him for a bit and his form was superb - certainly a student out of the school of minimalism. That said, after around mile 18-19 we lost him and I think he must have started to slow down from here.

With Scott dropping the pace a little I started to worry about my navigation – this was when my luck was in again. A fella had slowly caught up with us (or was not that far behind us anyway) who I now know to be Craig Holgate. He had run this course before and knew the way (including the revised course). Rather cheekily I decided to tag along. We got chatting and it wasn’t long before I found out Craig was training to get into the English team for the Anglo Celtic Plate a race I would be running for Ireland at the end of March.

I was keen to use this race as a tester to see where I stood on the 100k front and wanted to maintain an average 6.30-6.35mm throughout the race. However, Craig explained that he was not on form at this stage and I could not get to the finish without his navigational knowledge. I resigned to the fact that I would have to hang back and be in Craig’s line of site to direct me. This is by no means a reflection on Craig - as mentioned he was not really on form and was not using this race in the same way as me.

It did however mean that I waited at each junction, roundabout or corner for Craig to shout out ‘left’ or ‘right’ or usually ‘straight on’ so I could then run a good pace until I hit another section of the route which had ‘options’ only to turn around like a dog waiting for orders from Craig. After a while this was stupid so I ran alongside Craig until the last checkpoint. To be honest, the course was ideal for 100k training. Nothing too aggressive on the hills, perhaps a couple of rolling sections but a lot of road.

Once we got to the last checkpoint and out of the forest clearing I pretty much shot off to the finish asking locals where the train station (and finish line) was. I was a little frustrated at myself as I feel that I could have ran the race a lot quicker but I only have myself to blame for being an arse and an idiot and not learning how to use a map properly.

I felt fresh at the finish line having passed the 45 miles or so in 5hrs 11mins. I certainly felt fresh and strong enough to have completed the course in well under 5hrs. But that is not really the point. The point is to get from start to finish solo in the quickest time. It is for this reason that I asked that Craig be given the same time as me as he actually deserved first place. Without his navigations skills and the fact he was kind enough to show me the way and my continuously (and what must have been annoying) attention seeking to head in the right direction I would not have finished and probably ended up in a completely different county, if not, country!

I owe Craig a beer! It will be good to race against him at the ACP where I will not need navigation around the park in Perth! J

That said, all in all, a very well organised and friendly event.  


1 Dan Doherty 529 5:11:50
2 Craig Holgate 557 5:11:50
3 Scott Forbes 505 5:40:50

Kit wise I wore the Irish flag buff, Newline tee, Newline high vis gillet, North Face Better Than Naked Shorts and the Kinvara 3 trainers. I took the Ultraspire Spry vest and Ultraspire handheld.

Nutrition, 9Bar flax and 9Bar Nutty, and despite being on a Paleo diet I also indulged in a piece of the legendary fruit cake that is offered at the CP. Do not enter without having a piece.

A Trip to the South West – Endurancelife CTS South Devon Ultra

This was my second ultra in 8 days. The Endurancelife CTS South Devon is one of a handful of races in the coastal trail series with many of the routes found in my favourite places in the UK, the South West http://www.endurancelife.com/.

Unfortunately, it being a last minute decision the race was full. Luckily I managed to purchase a place off a chap who was unable to attend. The folks at Endurancelife were happy with this arrangement. Easy enough. I was in.

Now, the endurance actually began way before the race itself! Mainly in my car. Firstly, with my wife in America, I needed to drop my son off to Brighton the night before. This resulted in just under 4 hours of driving there and back with some frustrating and stressful moments in a traffic jam. Not great for the legs – pre race.

I scoffed down my dinner and managed to get to bed at about 10pm. The alarm went off at 2 am, time for a coffee, shower and the long 5 hour drive to the start line. I rolled in at Kingsbridge an hour or so before the start, enough time to get ready, have a cup of tea and ensure my kit was all there and ready.

Most of the coastal series runs accommodate a mix of athletes. There is a 10k, half marathon, marathon and ultra. The ultra would entail running the marathon course and then tagging on to the 10k route.

Due to a landslide the course would change this year, which is a shame. Having compared notes with a few of the other guys our GPS confirmed that we ran around 36.5 miles (give or take). This is around 2.5 miles or so longer than the original course.

Endurancelife require the following compulsory kit for the ultra-event. Water, Food, Waterproof jacket, whistle, mobile phone, money, foil blanket, first aid kit and hat.

It was great to see some familiar faces hanging about the large marquee tent including Neil Bryant, Oliver Sinclair and Tom Wright (a chap I speak to quite a bit on Dailymile) who were running the half marathon or ultra.

Kit wise I wore the Irish flag buff, Salomon short sleeve tech tee, North Face Better than Naked shorts, Salomon Sense, Ultraspire Spry vest and the Ultraspire 8oz Handheld.

Nutrition wise, I took my trusted Elete electrolyte (http://eletewater.co.uk/) and a couple of 9bars (Peanut and Flax) http://www.9bar.com/ . It wasn’t going to be a quick race so there was no need to take any gels.
Those who have done Endurancelife events will know that there is no mass rush at the start line as runners have to ‘dib’ their dibber before they can shoot off. So, I dibbed away and I was off. I went off reasonably fast as I always do.

One thing you can expect from the SWCP is that there is little respite of running on the flat. The hills are not as harsh as those found in Wales, Cumbria or Scotland but there are plenty of them and they are all generally runnable.

Many ultra runners will tell you it’s a long way so walk the hills if you have to. I cannot resist running up these hills - they call out to me J. In addition, as I have developed my training as an ultra runner I have found I can usually take many of these hills on without expending too much energy provided I go at a consistent pace and watch my form.

I pretty much ran on my own for the rest of the race which meant I ran in silence, quite relaxed and really enjoyed the experience. The route took us along the coastline towards East Portlemouth. There is nothing better than running along a single trail with countryside to your right and the crashing waves of the sea to your left. It’s a truly a great running experience and something I would thoroughly recommend to runners of all distances and levels.

I immediately noticed my biggest mistake – my trainers. I love my Sense so much that I seem to wear them in most of my races not really thinking about terrain. The Sense are about as useful as a pair of stilettos in the mud, and this course offered a LOT of it. Mud on the uphills. Mud on the downhills. deep mud, wet mud, mud mud.

In fact in some places it was so muddy my feet were slipping from underneath me and I looked like one of those cartoon runners who ran on the spot without moving! That said, my most proud achievement of the day must be that I did not fall on my arse for the entire 36 miles! Winner…

Essentially, the race went by in somewhat of an uneventful manner. However, it offered a great deal of varied terrain. Coastal trail, farmland, forest, hills, mud, grass and (a bit too much) road!

Thanks to Tom for pic!

The toughest section has to be hitting about 29 miles in where you essentially pass the finish line, run past the marque, the food and hot drinks, spectators and finishers only to have to hit the trail again so you can complete the 10k route. Looking at the results it is clear this is a great mental challenge. I can see that many of the ultra runners decided to throw in the towel at this stage and settle for the marathon distance instead. A good bit of evidence that training yourself mentally for such events plays a very big role in succeeding!

As usual, even with a VERY well marked out route, I did question myself from a navigational point of view several times. In particular, I was not sure I was following the 10k route but rather I had tagged onto the half marathon route. Despite asking several of the runners whether I was running the 10k or half marathon route, I was none the wiser. Oh well, more miles for my money J

Thankfully, I saw the Ultra/10k route sign which diverted runners off to the right and to the finish. I knew this point would be tricky as it is single track and there were a lot of 10k runners to pass. Despite shouting well in advance that I was coming past these runners, some did not move to the side. I was not sure whether it was a “push” or simply I did not slow down, so put my hands in front of me to protect myself, but I did manage to nudge a few runners into the bush. I apologised at the finish line as it was not very sportmanlike despite us being in completely different races!

I hit the finish line in just over 5hrs bringing me in at first place. A little slow with the added mileage and recent battered terrain, but still I am happy to feel fresh and strong having raced a 45miler 7 or so days beforehand.

All in all a great day to be had.