My final warm-up event before Spartathlon was the T50. This was a new event (albeit a bit of a ‘test event’ this year) and takes place along the Thames Path starting in Oxford and finishing at the Stone Marker at the source of the Thames. The event is held on the T184 weekend (and runs within that race) meaning the race-organisers could use existing Checkpoints for runners.
This was my 3rd ultra event in four weeks and I had also been maintaining a reasonably high mileage so the plan had been for a nice steady training run on a nice summers day along the picturesque Thames Path. I don’t mind running in low-key events with a small number of participants, these make an ideal, no pressure type training type events and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to support smaller races where the people are putting on events for others enjoyment.
Pictured with Kevin at the start
As a test event this year there were only a handful of entrants and with a few DNS’s, the start line consisted of only 3 people, probably the smallest field I’ve ever run. I should add that one of the competitors Kevin Mayo had run the T100 the day before so was attempting to complete the full-set of T-Series races (T50, T60, T100 & T184).
The T-Series races are self-supported events with runners having to carry all mandatory kit and food with only water provided at Checkpoints (although the race entry fee also covers things like trackers, medals, t-shirts, bag transport, race support etc). As a note, there is dispensation to purchase additional water supplies if needed (as we don’t want people to run out of supplies and be caught out especially on a hot day like today). Despite this being a day race on a warms summer day, the kit rules were unchanged so it meant carrying a bit more kit than I would normally expect to for this type of event but the rules are the rules. I should add that I made some contribution to establishing the T184 race during the Benzie years (now taken over by Gareth & Liz) so was pretty familiar with the race ethos and setup.. although I had never finished a T-Series event much to my chagrin.
Mass Race Start (Photo courtesy of T-Series Racing)
The three of us set of promptly at 9am and what promised to be a super hot day. I set off at a reasonable pace and was out in front by myself after a couple of miles and pretty much kept my own company for the remainder of the day. The course was 54 miles in length, involved some navigation (following the Thames Path signs) which wasn’t difficult in the day as the path is reasonably well marked. At a steady pace I had been hoping to just about make the 6.30pm train from Kemble to Reading but had an 8.30pm train as a backup which allowed a bit more time to chill out at the end.
… At 6pm I was still 10 miles away from the finish. I was completely devoid of energy, had been walking for several hours and was feeling completely spent. I wasn’t going to make the 6.30pm train and the 8.30pm train was cancelled (and was going to be touch and go) and the next train was 10.30pm meaning an unexpected late night.. this wasn’t the plan!
The first checkpoint was 25 miles away which was a fair way to go carrying your own water and what was turning out to be a very hot day. I had two lock points marked and carried 1L on the basis that I would stop and top up twice meaning I could break this leg up into 3 water stops (start, lock 1 and lock 2). In addition, I had brought along sufficient snacks so I could eat something at each lock stop. The first 20-25 miles were ok, I was running steadily, eating as planned and using the available lock points to drink plenty, soak myself and top up my water supplies. It sounds like an oxymoron but the ‘taste’ of cold water from a lock top on a hot day was simply heavenly and these stops were great opportunities to tip out warm water (not helped by having bottles warmed on your chest I suppose) and both drink and re-fill with cool water.
Photo courtesy of race photographer Ben Lumley
I had been using an eTrex 20 as a navigational aid although the Thames Path was pretty straightforward at this point. I normally always put new batteries into my devices (head torch, e-Trex etc) and was surprised when the batteries died after a couple of hours, these should have lasted the day. I put some brand new spare batteries in that I had been carrying but these also died an hour later. What gives? A heat issue with the batteries or a dud set? Thankfully, I am a man of many contingencies and also had the route on my GPS watch and switched this on so I could follow the trail at a glance… we all know that actually reading a map is always the last resort, right?
I passed Alan Cormack who was running the T184 before the 1st checkpoint and walked with him for a few minutes, it was probably nice for the T184 runners to actually have a small amount of company on the route so the least I could do to check up on the runners doing the ‘proper event’ 🙂
Photo courtesy of race photographer Ben Lumley
I arrived at CP1 and topped up my water supplies before trotting on, the guys from the Guernsey Ultra who were supporting the CP captured my fleeting appearance on film about 5mins 30in (thanks guys). The only issue I had was the lumpy ground was making my piriformis niggle feel a little uncomfortable. It was absolutely roasting with little shade but I had been soaking my hat/buff at lock points to cool the skin, drinking plenty of water and running at a steady pace so all manageable.
‘Supporting the T-Series Races You Tube Video’ courtesy of Guernsey Ultra team (Check out 5:30 for 30 secs).
After leaving CP1, I continued on for a few miles at the same steady pace and then I found myself totally devoid of any energy and unable to run. I had ‘hit the wall’. I ate and drank some more (although I felt my fuelling should have been fine as I had been working my way through my planned snacks eating something every hour) but I just couldn’t find the energy to muster a single step. Ah, this isn’t good… Oh well, good old ‘Deathmarch Ali’ can come out to play and I started walking the miles as best I could.
I would normally write something along the lines of ‘I stomped along as fast as I could in a miserable mood..’ but actually, it was a lovely hot day, walking felt ok and I just decided to enjoy the time out by myself. Some of the lock points were very colourful and well maintained, the scenery was gorgeous, the weather was beautiful.. you known it might be quite nice to walk this route one day… oh I already was.
I was running out of water supplies pretty quickly during the hottest part of the day and with a slower pace I was sipping my water periodically but not getting anywhere to top up. Thankfully I found an extra tap I was unaware of at Buscott Lock after speaking to the Lock Keeper although this was positioned around the back of the lock and not easy to find if you just walked past the lock but one to note for the future.
I arrived at CP2 outside a pub to find a Lazy-Boy chair outside. The guys explained the pub was being renovated and this was left outside.. it would be rude not to give it a go.
Lazy Boy (me or the chair?) Photo by Gareth Fretwell
I topped up my supplies water and then pressed on for the final leg, I thought after a few miles of walking I should try and run and see how I feel. The mind was willing, the body was not and I couldn’t get going again at all. I’ve marched on loads of occasions during ultra races but never this early on in a race. Was it simply the heat? or my personal curse of the T-Series races? I think it was probably an accumulation of number of recent races, mileage, no tapering and the heat so decided that after I finish this I would start a steady taper down for Sparta. To be honest, this wasn’t going to be much of a confidence booster at all so best just get it out the way and forget about it.
12 miles is a very long way!
I marched ever onwards and had my only navigational issue just after Cricklade when I entered a field but was unclear as to which of two exits I should take but managed to work my way back onto the correct path in a roundabout fashion after a few glance at the GPS on the watch to figure out my intended direction. Once again my water supplies were running low but through some fortuitous circumstances I bumped into a random dog walker (who had some awareness of running and ultras) who lived a couple of minutes walk away in Ashton Keynes and (very) kindly invited me to pop to his house to top up my water supplies (only) and so five minutes later I was standing in this guys kitchen with his family, quashing cold water like it was going out of fashion and expressing my profuse gratitude for kindly allowing me to top up my water supplies in his house.
I left my new best friends house and worked (walked) my way back onto the Thames Path with only a few miles to go. It was now settling into early evening and starting to feel noticeably cooler, I was way outside my expected finish time earlier in the day by a few hours, my original train time was missed, my backup train time was cancelled and so my backstop train time was the final option until my ‘amazing/generous/genius’ wife (these terms were part of the deal) kindly offered to drive up and collect me from the finish. Bonus!
With the last couple of miles to go I made a final effort to try and run and my legs finally responded resulting in a slow trot through the final fields to the finish in what was quite probably a personal worst time ever for the distance! At least I’ve managed to finish a T-Series event now… just.
I touched the stone marker (which sits in a field and is only accessible on foot) which represents the finishing point and we then headed back to the Thames Inn Pub where the small campsite acted as a Race HQ. As all runners carry GPS trackers then the team could use the campsite as a base of operations and then meet and greet the runners as they arrived at the finish.
By the time we had walked from the finish to the campsite darkness had pretty much descended (yes, it took me that long to finish) and then my ‘amazing/generous/genius’ wife arrived a few minutes later to collect me and we headed back home. Overall, I’d like to say it was ‘good time on feet’ and ‘good heat training’ but I didn’t run half of it and so it ended up being a very long walk in a slow time and nothing to write home about. At least my mood wasn’t too bad, I just shrugged my shoulders to adversity and marched to the finish whilst trying to enjoy the day out.
Thanks to Gareth, Liz and all the T-Series team/volunteers for organising this event which involves a small number of people spending a lot of their time over 4 days providing support for a small number of runners. Well done to all the T184, T100 and T50 runners who completed their respective events on a very hot weekend.
PS – 2 days after the event, I suffered from sickness and diarrhoea and was unwell for a few days. Although I’m not sure this was related to the heat or something I ate as I felt ok immediately after the race.
You can find further details about T-Series races here