So where does this all begin, especially for someone who ran his last London Marathon in 2008 and basically someone who sticks to Parkruns & 10k’s. Well of all places Waterstones in Guildford. I was looking for some reading material for an up and coming holiday in October 2016. I was looking in the sport section when I stumbled on a book by Ira Rainey called Fat Man to Green Man, and it’s his story about being an overweight couch potato to now a seasoned ultra-runner. Anyway the book was a great read and when I got back from holiday I pitched up to the Thursday night tempo run and saw Dave Ayling & Katie Herrington (both multiple ultra-runners) and told them about the book and jokingly said that I wouldn’t mind having a go, quick as you like Dave retorted “Thames Trot 50, a nice flat ultra to break your duck”, “ok” I said “I’ll take a look”, and I did for 2 weeks until I did the dirty deed, I signed (gulp). Dave then sent me a 12 week training plan based on a minimum of 4 runs a week.
So w/c 14/11/2016 I started my training, and everything went bang on course until my last run on the 7th of January when I started to come down with the flu, great just what I need. Things still weren’t great a week before the event. During my training I had bumped into Max Woods at Parkrun & the SJ’s tempo run and told him what I’d signed up for, he had generously loaned me a race vest/back pack to trial and also said he would drop me and Dave at the start on the day of the race. Two days before the race he text me to see if I was up for it and at that time I was still not 100% and was going to sack it. Max & Dave both told me I would be ok, so there then I said I would do it. Race eve and Max popped round so I could pick his brain about certain things. First thing he said was “what shoes are you running it in” I showed him my Inov8 Race Ultra 270’s which bearing in mind I’d done all my training off road in, “you’ll be sliding around like Bambi in these, got anything more aggressive ?”. So I bought out 2 pairs that I wear for the TVXC league, “they’re better, I’d use them. Great so not only am I 100% race fit but now I’ve got to wear a pair of shoes that I’ve only run up to 6 miles in. Checking the weather forecast the day before it said it was to be dry with sunny spells, this after a few days of rain, excellent I thought, and went to bed that night thinking about what was in front of me.
I awoke at 5:15, and got out of bed ten minutes later, Max had said he’d be round at 6:10 and we would pick Dave up along the way. Max was round bang on the dot and guess what it was drizzling. I hope they got that bloody forecast correct, I thought to myself, I don’t want to be running in rain for most of the day. Anyway that was short lived as when we arrived at Hawkwell House Oxford it was overcast but dry. Race brief was around 8:20 and after that we made our way outside for the start. Bang on 8:30 the race started and we were away, at a fast pace 10:30 minute mile, Max told me 5mph would see me ok, Dave and I ran together having the odd chat and it soon became apparent that the shoes Max had suggested was the right choice. This was a right mud fest ankle deep in mud and water and slipping and sliding in most places. My training runs along the Basingstoke Canal which I foolishly thought would mirror this race were completely wrong. We both reached the first checkpoint in 1:47:55, and that was the last time I saw Dave, because whilst I was filling my face with jelly babies and fruit cake and also filling my water bottles, he was gone and the next time I would see him would be at the finish. After refuelling (stuffing my face) I jogged on feeling good, after a mile and a bit I needed a comfort break, found what I thought was somewhere discreet when all of a sudden I heard a shout, I looked round only to see my running and cycling mate Pete Skilton who decided to come along and ride nearly all of it on his cyclo-cross bike (mad) he then kept me company for the next hour or so which was nice as this ultra-running malarkey can be quite solitary at times.
At 3 hrs 42 mins I arrived at the CP2 Benson on Thames, again I was welcomed by the CP staff that couldn’t do enough for you. Again this was all about stuffing my face and filling up the bottle(s). After a few minutes there I pushed on where I was joined by a few other runners but as I said previously it becomes solitary again because 1 or 2 will drop back whilst the others will push on quicker. I was still feeling good and the weather and countryside was stunning, but by the time I got to CP3(in 5hrs 23) which was in Streatley I was starting to feel it a bit, a longer rest than usual but still eating this time sweet & savoury, mini sausages, scotch eggs etc., very nice, but I had to get going. This time though, I’d only started to cross the bridge when I saw my partner & daughter who’d come to cheer me on as well, I quick stop and chat and I had to be off again, can’t stand around with this type of event. Things started to get better as a group started to form only for a few miles though. It started to get tough here I was near Lower Basildon and believe it or not it became quite hilly. Around this time my mind started playing tricks with me and I was thinking about how long it would take to walk the remainder of the course and whether I’d finish in the cut off by doing so, but I soon put that to bed. I once again bumped into Nicki & Alex (partner & daughter) at Whitchurch and I was bloody hurting by then. A quick chat and whinge and I were off again. Over the Toll bridge and about 400 yards before you’re back on the path and there in a car park was 2 friendly faces in Max & Sacha Woods. Max offered me a coffee which I duly accepted with a couple of paracetamol, as I was aching. My socks were also a bit damp so it was at this point I decided to change them as I was carrying a spare pair.
Soon as this was done it was time get off again. I felt fantastic, it’s amazing what all the above can do for you, but it was short lived about a mile and a half down the path a mini stream appeared, and one that couldn’t be jumped, so I sloshed through it. There go my lovely dry feet. Soon though CP4 was to be upon us, coming off the lock at Mapledurham and approaching CP4 I saw Sacha cheering me on whilst Max was there ready to help out with bottle duties etc. A quick stop and I was on my way again. I started to walk because just after the CP it was hilly for a little while, but once on flat ground it was time to jog. Through Purley and it was back on the path again. I saw Max & Sacha again this time at Scours Lane fields (although I might be wrong) giving me encouragement. Pete had also joined me on his bike by this point for more moral support. A few miles on from this I got to Caversham Bridge where Nicki & Alex were waiting with Jelly Babies. A quick stop again and I was off to the final CP.
Sonning Lock (CP5) came soon and the penultimate CP. I reached this in 8hrs 44mins, Max & Sacha were there and helped with the bottle filling duties. I popped a few Ibuprofen which Max gave me and went on my way. I felt good as I realised the next CP would be at the finish (yes). This was the last time I would see Pete until Henley, he decided to get to there by road (sensible for once). Once I crossed the bridge at Playhatch Rd, it was back on familiar stuff, MUD. I started running with a guy but he was having problems so it was off on my own again. My Garmin soon gave up the ghost at around 9 hrs. A couple of girls who were running together came past me again (we’d been leap frogging each other for some time) they started to pull away but something inside me said try and stick with them even if they’re 15m ahead, which I did. Soon we picked up a lone runner and we all started to run with each other having a chat along the way. We soon hit Shiplake College and picked up a straggler who’d got lost, and then there were 5. Into Lower Shiplake and we turn left at the rail crossing and three runners were up the road, and now there were 8, this soon turned into about 12, and I seemed to be getting quicker. Three of us picked up the pace with around 2 miles to go.
Now we were in Marsh Meadows about ½ a mile left. A guy who I’d been toing and froing came past us, I thought I’d dropped him well before CP5. Anyway we decided to sprint the last 100m, I took him but eased off and he took me on the line. We both had a laugh and shook hands. Yes!!! it was over I can now call myself an Ultra Runner, 10hrs and 3 minutes it was all over, I was buzzing. Max, Sacha, Pete & Dave were all waiting at the finish to congratulate me, a minute or two later Alex my daughter came over as well (as she was to chauffer me home) a quick hug with her, and it was time for a cuppa and to get into some warm dry clothing. I have to a say massive thankyou to Max (who drove me and Dave to the start),Sacha, Pete, Nicki & Alex for their constant support, you 5 got me round believe me, seeing a friendly face gives you a massive lift. Would I do it again? Never… until the next time… I definitely think I’ve got the bug.