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.