It was another early start as Adrian kindly collected me and drove me to the Ferryman Inn which was yesterday’s finishing point for the Cotswold Ultra (See report here) and the start of the Oxford Ultra.
The Oxford Ultra was the second of 4 back to back Ultra Marathon events which made up the Thames Path Challenge, a series of events which saw competitors covering the 184 mile length of the Thames Path from the source in Kemble to the finish at the Thames Barrier.
Competitors readying themselves for Day 2
As I mentioned in the previous report, each day operated as a separate event and I had elected to run the first two events as long back to back training runs.
Having completed 44 miles the previous day coupled with an early start I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a 65 mile day knowing this would be a slower effort on tired legs.
Runners setting off at the start of the race
There was an even smaller field taking part today with about a dozen runners taking part as we set off at 8am picking up the Thames Path. Today’s route was essentially the Thames Trot with some extra mileage at the start (as we began before Oxford) and extra mileage at the end (as we finished a few miles after Henley). Apart from the first 10 miles or so, the route was pretty familiar to me and the one ray of sunshine for the day was the fact that I could actually ‘enjoy’ the Thames Trot route in the summer and not on some cold, wet miserable weekend in February.
After the first slightly uncomfortable couple mile where I worked out the stiffness in my legs, I was able to run (a good starting point!) although my legs certainly didn’t feel like they had much energy in them. As a result, I had decided quite early to ‘jog’ today at a steady but comfortable pace and see out the day. I wanted to have a decent days running but not over do it… this was a planned training run day after all. Yeah I know, excuses, excuses for a minimal effort day 😉
Arriving at CP1
Unfortunately the thought of a summer Thames Trot wasn’t to be, as over the first 12 mile section as I headed towards Oxford and beyond the weather turned from a bright start to overcast and after the first CP it started rain lightly and then more heavily.
The first section of the Thames Trot route covers a narrow path section with overgrown bushes either side, rutted footing and with the heavy rain making the surface slippery.. it felt like February again, not what I wanted. This section was a bit of downer to be honest.
It pretty much rained heavily the entire leg from CP1 at Oxford to CP2 at Clifton Hampden 24.5 miles into the race as I paused at the Checkpoint to top of my water and set off again towards CP 3 at Wallingford (32.5 miles).
Topping up supplies at CP2
The rain stopped on this leg and it started to brighten up again which gave me a chance to remove my rain jacket and start to dry off. My knees were starting to feel a little sore with the odd twinges here and there and I started to manage this by breaking each leg down into 2 halves with a steady jog to a ‘half-way’point where I had a short walking break (and used this opportunity to eat/drink) before jogging the second half.
Progress was pretty slow if I’m honest but I was ticking off the miles and as the weather brightened, I dried out and once I got closer to Reading (my home town) then everything seemed to be ticking along just fine.
Greyhound Pub CP4 – 44 miles in
I had been running by myself from the start as I passed through CP4 at Whitchurch (44.5 miles) mid-afternoon and carried on towards Reading. This was very familiar territory as I crossed Whitchurch Bridge and headed along the path towards Mapledurham Lock where I stopped to buy an ice cream and drink before plodding onwards. After navigating the section in Pangbourne where the Thames Path comes away from the river we re-joined the river and I ran past a couple of my work colleagues leaving the office.
The final Checkpoint before the finish was at the Wokingham Waterside Centre where I stopped to fill up my bottles and grab a snack before marching on to eat the food before picking up a slow trot. It was quite a nice feeling to get past the last Checkpoint and knowing the next point would be the finish.
I was still running by myself having not seen anyone all day apart from the start. I understood the leader Rob was way ahead and there were 4 drops at CP1 from people who didn’t (or couldn’t) manage a second day but everyone else was doing ok. With the worst of the weather behind us now, it was starting to feel like a really pleasant evening.
The next few miles was that section after Sonning Bridge to Henley which in Thames Trot terms is usually a muddy trail but it was far more enjoyable at this time of the year. Adrian (who was my pickup at the end of the race) was going to see me at Shiplake for morale support but I was through there before he arrived but ended up seeing him at Henley. It was around here that I felt pretty low on energy with the second days effort on my feet starting to catch up with me (and realising 65 miles is a fairly long way in a day) and I walked a section here and ate a few things from my pack and then had to mentally force myself to start jogging again.
I was now down to the final few miles and whether it was the energy from the food, the desire to finish, a second wind or whatever I started to feel more comfortable running. Glancing at the watch I had a few miles to go and would finish the 65 mile around the 12 hour mark.
Running the final few yards to the finish
This wasn’t a great time to be honest and probably an hour slower than I thought I would be. However after yesterday’s effort, having to manage a few twinges in the knees and wanting to get some decent time on feet it was an ok effort and at least I was still running those last few miles. The final couple of miles as you head away from the river and through the Deer Park was probably the best section of the race with a lovely summers evening and at that time was just starting to cool. I really enjoyed those last couple of miles but was relieved to see the Orange Landrover at the end as I approached Hurley Caravan & Campsite which was todays finishing line.
Despite a last effort, I finished just over the 12 hour mark (by 19 seconds) finishing 2nd in today’s race (well done to the winner Rob) having covered 65 miles. A good couple of days effort overall.
Pictured with RD Steve at the finish
Once again thanks to Steve and the volunteers for hosting the event and standing out in the sun (and rain) for many hours to support the runners and well done to all the runners on their 4 day challenge. After 2 days of long runs, I was quite pleased not to run the next day!