The Thames Trot 50 for 2016 was the first of my nemesis races for this year. It beat me least year quite substantially and I was returning to finish the job. The race is pretty straightforward, starting from the Hawkwell House Hotel in Iffley and running around fifty miles along the Thames Path to Henley. The race is organised very efficiently with appropriately stocked checkpoints, spectator advice and almost zero event signage (self navigation required along the Thames Footpath). The racers simply follow the official Thames Path signs until they get to Henley. The organisers, Go Beyond Ultra, do provide a handy route book for runners to carry just in case they do get lost as well as advising entrants to carry a compass.
This year the route was as advertised, with no diversions due to maintenance or flooding. We set off just a couple of minutes late and I watched folk dash off into the distance. The Go Beyond Ultra marshals were very friendly whenever I encountered them. They were extremely useful at the checkpoints and were pro-active about refilling runners bottles and dishing out food. It sounds obvious, but I’ve run in plenty of events where marshals stand around like lemons at the checkpoints will runners struggle with bottle tops, electrolyte tabs, gels etc.
Don’t let the race description fool you. As I mentioned in my write-up of last years run (here) it is no easy course. The trails are pretty clear, but are extremely muddy. I’m not talking a puddle here and there, but miles and miles of uneven muddy terrain where your foot sinks in a couple of cm with each step and then tries to slide out from under you. Even I had almost had my fill of mud by the end!!!
The race attracts an interesting pedigree of runners with many high quality long distance folk in the field. Some using it as prep for the MDS, some just for a dawdle as a break away from their routine of 100milers and for others it is their first attempt at an ultra. All interesting folk and happy to chat when you bump into them.
As for my race I started near the front of the field to get through the twisty bits at the start and then slowed to ultra pace when the terrain opened up. People started cruising past me and the next few fours were spent sliding about on mud and repeatedly passing people as we all peaked and troughed. To combat the monotony of the flat I adopted a policy of running for twenty minutes and then walking for 1 minute. During the walking minute I would take onboard some food and drink to keep my energy levels up before cracking on again. This worked really well for me on this event and for the most part I maintained it to the finish.
There was one other factor that made this years Thames Trot rather more brutal than normal. The head wind! We had a headwind for about the first 30 miles of the race and it was powerful, gusting to speeds that would bring runners to a standstill on the exposed sections. Now add that to the slippery ground and the level of difficulty multiplied rapidly.
I got to the Swan at Streatley at 27.35 miles in a little over 5 hours. I was craving savoury at this points, so I shovelled in some cocktail sausages and a bag of crisps while the marshal was filling my bottle. This was where I packed in last year, and the feeling of leaving the checkpoint and continuing with the race was lovely. I then walked for a bit to let the food settle in. By this time the muscles and tendons around my hips were beginning to scream in their efforts of trying to keep my legs from sliding out on the mud. Fortunately my brain had checked out at this point and time and the miles were drifting by.
The 34 mile checkpoint at Mapledurham came and went, then we were into Reading and a long stretch of paved path. This was deceptively hard work and it took some concentration to keep up even a 10 min/mile pace in a sort of running shuffle. It did get rid of a few miles pretty quickly though, then we were into the 41 mile checkpoint at Sonning and the final leg. It was getting dark now, so head torches were coming out. The course wasn’t going to let us finish easy with much of the last 7 miles being muddy and slippery again. It made me smile this time though, with the mud forming the final barrier between me and the finish. I kept trogging onwards. I had picked up some good company at this point in the shape of Liam, a local who knew were he was going and didn’t seem to mind the fact that I had turned into an utter gobshite!
I had a massive smile at the finish as the heavens opened and the rain soaked everything. It had been dry for quite a lot of the afternoon, but the weather had to have the last say!
109th overall, in 9 hours and 40 minutes, out of 209 finishers. A lot more than that started though. The winner finished in less than 6 hours. I guess they forgot to tell him about the mud and headwind!
I would definitely recommend the Thames Trot 50 to anyone wanted to have a crack at an organised, fun and challenging race. Go Beyond Ultra are also a nice bunch of people and provided cocktail sausages and crisps at the price moment I needed them 🙂 Do your research though so you can navigate the course. If you get lost, it isn’t the organiser’s fault as they make the rules perfectly clear in the race info!
Final thanks to my Mum and Aunt who were along to support me. They would occasionally pop up screaming, cheering and being embarrassingly enthusiastic. It was lovely to see them each time.