“You’re not very good at this race, are you Daddy?” stated my Daughter after the race… “No, I guess not”.
Well two years after my first DNF at the T184 Challenge, I was back to have my revenge, fitter, stronger, leaner, better prepared mentally and physically… well… um… er… not quite.
Due to an injury hit summer it was totally the opposite, I was lacking fitness, weighing 10% more than I did the same time last year, lacking long runs, under prepared and not really motivated at all. A couple of weeks before the race I was seriously considering not starting but as I had travel and accommodation arrangements booked and a few friends were taking part I sort of drifted into the “I will see how it goes” camp.
Unfortunately the T184 Challenge is not an event where you can just ‘wing it’. It’s long (184 miles covering the length of the Thames Path from the Thames Barrier to the river source in Cirencester), competitors have to carry their own kit and food (except for water) and it ends up being a 2-4 day run/hike with a 8-10kg on your pack with minimal sleep on the way and camping outdoors. Whilst it may fall more into the ‘adventure race’ category it’s definitely a challenging event as evidence by the low finish rate each year.
Full race support is provided with GPS trackers allowing those at home to follow peoples journey, Checkpoints, Volunteers, Pick up van. It has all of the things you would expect from an ultra event aside from the provision of food at Checkpoints.
At the race start the night before with Alex Whearity
I arrived at the ‘Pasta Party’ the night before and met up with a few competitors before going back to my hotel for the night. I was rooming with Alex Whearity who was running the T100 Challenge (the 100 mile version of the race) and woke up earlier than I wanted. I was still tempted just to stay in bed and not bother turning up at the start but eventually headed down to breakfast to meet up with a few other competitors and then heading to the start.
Start of the race
After kit checks and race briefing it was time to set off and I waited at the back and trotted off with Ernie Jewson bringing up the rear. I ran/walked a bit and caught up with Kevin Mayo and we settled into an easy conversation. We both admitted that we didn’t really enjoy the ‘London’ leg of this race. Despite the Thames Path passing various landmarks we were both keen to get out of the City and could then start to enjoy the event at from this point.
I asked Kevin what his race strategy was and he gave me a detailed explanation of his run/walk strategy and his timings and planned stops. He asked me what my plan was “I don’t have one I replied… so we will follow yours!”. From the man who loves his excel spreadsheets with race timings and pacings this was a shocking admission from me. I genuinely had no plan and was just going to take it easy and see how it went.
We kept leapfrogging Dave Cox, James Allan (doing the T184) and Jason Whipp (doing the T100) for a little while and we shared a bit of banter. I particularly liked the fact that they were all wearing the same kit, same buff and had the same backpack. It was almost the ultra running equivalent of turning up in your favourite teams football kit head to toe. Dave, James and Jason all had brilliant runs with Dave and James eventually finishing joint winners of the T184 and Jason finishing third in the T100.
About six miles in I had a comedy fall. I don’t recall what I tripped over but I took a forward tumble, held it for about 5 metres before eventually falling face down. I managed to get the palms of my hands out in front to avoid the full face plant but managed to cut and graze both hands which were stinging for the new couple of hours.
Kevin Mayo pictured
Kevin and I continued on and spent most of the day together following Kevins run/walk plan. The weather was extremely warm and we took the opportunity to soak ourselves at a few of the taps along the route. We had one slight ‘incident’ when visiting a public toilet. After fishing out some 20p’s to access the toilet. We entered only to find that we couldn’t see the urinals and so we used the cubicles. After heading out of the cubicle we noticed a lady doing her hair next to the wash basins and we quickly realised that we had entered the ladies by mistake! We swiftly left and apologised to the lady on the way out and made our escape.
The London leg was warm but thankfully after a recent holiday (with a bit of running) in Crete it didn’t worry me too much and the walk/run approach meant that we were not pushing ourselves too hard. My legs had the usual ache after being out on your feet for several hours but the back of my neck felt the worst with a constant pain almost from the start with having to carry a heavy pack (and admittedly not having trained with the pack due to injury).
It was early evening when we arrived around the Walton on Thames area which I knew reasonably well from running the Phoenix Marathons along here. I had planned to have my evening meal (a self heating meal pack) before it got dark and as we got to Sunbury Lock decided to stop here and eat whilst Kevin carried on ahead. At this point, I had been on my feet for 8 hours and I stopped by the river, took off my shoes and socks to allow my feet to breathe and had a little lie down as my meal cooked (sausage and beans). I ended up stopping here for about 45mins and a couple of people passed me during this time. I was fairly relaxed as I had decided to take as long as I needed.
Time for tea
As I was packing up a Dutch runner Francois caught up with me and we tagged along together on and off for a few hours into the night and chatted generally about running, work and family along the way before eventually separating and heading off at our own pace.
My knees were starting to ache as we went into the night and I had a couple of blisters on the toes forming now. I had worn some heavy duty knee supports which felt like they had helped with the weight bearing but I hadn’t realised these were cutting into the back of my legs (see picture below) and were feeling a little uncomfortable.
Yes, the supports were a touch uncomfortable
Once again during the night phase, I settled into a sombre mood and once again (as usual) questioned why I am actually taking part in these sort of events. For the past year or two I have to admit that (aside from one or two races) I haven’t really enjoyed the long ultras. I don’t mind putting the miles into the training (more time and volume than quality if I’m honest), enjoy catching up with people before and during the race but don’t really enjoy the race itself and tend to focus on all the negative aspects (the aching legs, blistered feet, tiredness), get to the finish and then feel ultimately disappointed with my time because I walked a % of the race/was tired etc. At that point all I wanted to do was be at home and lie down on the carpet in my lounge.
During the early hours, I became more sleepy (as usual) and at a couple of points stopped at a park bench to close my eyes for a couple of minutes before carrying on. Unfortunately at one point I lay down on a park bench for a 5 minute nap and was awoken by Tom Garrod who was passing me and asking if I was all right. I asked him what time it was (it was around 5am) and I then realised that I had no idea how long I had slept as it was starting to get a light by now. I could have been out for anything between 15 minutes to over an hour!
Thankfully the short sleep had helped with the tiredness but I had been laying on the park bench on my side and my left leg and thigh felt stiff and awkward as if it had been locked in a position and I trailed behind Tom as he marched on ahead.
I bumped into Javed and Allan as they caught up with me and marched on ahead a little while later.
I was getting closer to the Checkpoint at Henley some 80 miles in and was mulling over whether I actually wanted to or should carry on. Physically, I was getting to the point where things were starting to become uncomfortable and mentally I was never invested in the race at all. Ultimately, if I wanted to carry on it would have meant a 3 day uncomfortable march and even then there was no guarantee that I could physically complete the race in my current condition and level of fitness. Mentally, I wanted the easiest option.
I bumped into James Bennet just before the Henley Checkpoint and we walked in together. Stouty was running this Checkpoint and I arrived, sat down and told him I had decided to stop here. I didn’t fancy trying to walk another 3 days and I quit. When I had DNF’d a couple of years ago, I was really disappointed with myself, this time I wasn’t bothered by the decision at all.
Happiest DNF ever
So both times I have entered the T184 I have started the event untrained and under prepared. If I enter this event again then I must make sure it is an ‘A’ race otherwise it will simply be a case of the same result.
Congratulations to everyone who took part and completed the T100 or T184 events and thanks to Shane and team and all the volunteers and marshals who helped put the event on.
I was sorry to hear that Kevin who had got himself into the lead position by an hour or two had to quit through injury but delighted for Dave Cox who finished first with James. I should also mention Tom Garrod who not only completed the T184 but also did the ‘double’ by going back t London on foot the next day and well done to Paul Beechey and Alex Whearity who were joint winners of the T100.
My next planned event is the Autumn 100 and I need to try and get in some sort of shape to be able to just complete this event.