Written by John Hunt - https://johntrac.wordpress.com
I suppose I better start with my reasoning for entering such a stupid event, 250 miles? Running (and crawling) along rivers and canals That is really stupid right? After completing the arc of attrition in February I fell into a bit of a post race depression,I had no other races lined up and was just not really enjoying my running even though I’d recovered and was running rather well so I had a meet up with Bob (the guy I done arc of attrition with) in a local pub to discuss what our next big race should be, after a while we both agreed that there really was only one logical race for us to do that would provide a big enough challenge to us both with Bobs dnf in 2015 and my need to challenge myself further than I have before it was to be the Thames ring 250 mile race!
My reasoning for entering something so extreme is that I think it’s pointless entering something that you know you’ll finish what’s the point? Where’s the challenge? I love the feeling of not knowing if you’ll finish and this race the numbers are stacked against you from the start over the years less than half of all competitors have finished so the odds of two guys from the same club finishing were very very slim so with just over 4 months til race day on the 28th of June I signed up.
Just to explain a bit what the race is all about its a 250 mile looped route that follows the Thames path and various canals starting and finishing in goring, there are 9 checkpoints along the course spaced about 26 miles apart which supply food and drink but between checkpoints you have to be self sufficient ie: no help from crew,pacers etc but you are allowed to make the most of shops,pubs ice cream vans etc.
We are also provided with laminated maps with route description on at the start and at each checkpoint after that, there is a 100 hour overall cut off for the race and progressive cut offs at each checkpoint we’re also allowed 2 drop bags that would be ferried to each checkpoint so we’d have access to them
https://johntrac.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/4614092220_280x288-1.jpg?w=146 146w" sizes="(max-width: 280px) 100vw, 280px">Hmmm that’s quite a long way isn’t it
So with the race entered it was time to get training I still had a lot of good miles in my legs from the arc and although this is a completely different type of race it’s all training in the bank right? And because of where I live being flat as a pancake it would be ideal training for the dead flat canal paths that I’d be spending 4 days on in a few months time. I didn’t have any ‘b’ races lined up in preparation for this as I wanted all time/money spent concentrating on this as it would be the biggest race of my life so I done the usual training I do for any 100 miler really with lots and lots of early Sunday morning runs with Bob at 4am we also had a couple of all night runs pencilled in just to remind us of how bloody awful things get at night.
Now on our first attempt at an all nighter it just went to shit! We both felt like crap and binned it about halfway through,what a disaster but a few weeks later we attempted it again and it went really well and ended up doing 50 odd miles in a fairly decent time great stuff!
Looking back I probably had more bad training runs in this training cycle than I’ve ever had before I’m not sure why though… possibly the enormity of the task ahead just constantly in the back of my mind or the fact I’m just a bit rubbish (I think it’s somewhere in between the two)
Ah a training run that went well! If it ain’t on the garmin….
So with training almost completed I did manage to get in a couple of big back to back weekends of 20 miles Saturday and 30 miles Sunday, a lot of people are a bit indifferent on the back to back runs but I find they work for me.
I’ll just add that we were doing this without a crew for the first couple of days but on Friday (the 3rd day of the race) our fellow club member and local ultra running legend pam philpot fresh off of a mds finish was coming to help us hopefully get to the finish even though she would only be able to help us at the checkpoints it’d be nice to see a friendly face every 8 hours or so.
The race started on Wednesday 28th so we’d booked a couple of rooms in the YHA in Streatley just down the road from the start at goring, there was also a planned meet up at the bull in Streatley for carb loading and some pre race hydration
We travelled up on Tuesday courtesy of a good friend of mine volunteering to drive us up cheers Glenn, we checked in to our rooms (with bunk beds)
Luxury! They even provided a box for me to sit on
After chilling in our rooms for an hour we decided to walk to the pub because I was feeling quite peckish at this point, we noticed a few other runners sat in the corner with the obligatory GUCR the shirts on so took a seat on the next table it was great to see so many runners that I’d only previously seen on social media among them was a very interesting character by the name of Javed who’s a bit of a legend in regards to this race and spoke of some very interesting philosophies about running and nutrition.it was great to be surrounded by so many experienced ultra runners and to be honest I felt a little intimidated and out of my depth, what the hell gave me the right to be here with these people with my vast inexperience why the he’ll did I enter this race,what chance did I have against these guys with bucketloads of experience nerves were definitely getting the better of me now
As the night wore on I felt more relaxed and we were all sharing stories about previous adventures and was a really good night.
After leaving the pub for an early night I was laying in bed trying not to think about the race and the next 4 days but inevitably you start running various scenarios through your mind and none of them are good.
I woke up at 6:30 after a pretty decent 8 hours sleep (which was to be the last sleep I’d have in quite a while) I gave my long suffering wife mandy a final call and she wished me well and see me in 4 days and
me and Bob headed to race hq to register and hand off our drop bags of which mine were a fairly sensible size and bobs could fit everybody else’s drop bags inside his they were massive! Had a quick chat with paul Mason who was running this just weeks after completing the gucr!!with kit check done,numbers collected and less the weight of our drop bags we headed back to the YHA for a full English breakfast,I think it’s always better to start the race with as many calories inside you as possible and it went down a treat! There were a couple of walkers at breakfast who were walking the Ridgeway over 3 or 4 days and we’re suitably impressed when we told them what we were about to embark on, but not so impressed when I mentioned the Ridgeway is a bit ‘lumpy’
We all said our good lucks and headed off to the start we were stood around with lots of nervous excitement flowing it was time to walk to the village green over the road for a short race briefing by race director and facial hair aficionado Lindley chambers after that it was time to head to the start line, oh shit this is real this is really about to happen I along with 54 other stupid people are about to attempt to run 250 miles within the 100 hours allowed shit shit shit!!!!
5,4,3,2,1 and we were off
Now I’ll just say my memory will be very hazy over a lot of this race especially early on as it seems a lifetime ago I will try to remember what I can but some locations,distances, events etc will be a bit muddled
Goring to hurley cp1 27.25 miles
Even though me and Bob both agreed it would be better to run our own race I had a feeling that some of the earlier miles would be spent together and we were happily plodding along at about 10:30 minute miles feeling fine and leapfrogging other runners only for them to take over again 20 minutes later it was good to chat to other runners and in the early stages got talking to a guy called rich Cranswick who had just got back from a 1000 mile hike along the appalachian trail what a fantastic taper for this event I thought, a really interesting guy that seems to be living the dream at the moment globetrotting and running great stuff.
I remember me and Bob moaning a bit about our legs hurting and feeling a bit tired (what a great sign early on) this section follows the thames path which is always quite pleasant,the weather was cooler than it had been recently and all was well and running well within myself.
Henley regatta was on at the same time as this race which is a massive gathering of rich people wearing stupid clothes,drinking champagne and watching boats (well that’s what it looked like to me) it was a bit frustrating trying to weave in and out of the masses of people and it was very stop/start but luckily me and Bob hooked up with Javed and rich and Javed leading,cutting a route through the middle like a knife through butter!
I remember stopping at a shop at about 18 miles for a nice cold can of lemonade that went down a treat,I had it in my head to make use of shops whenever you go past them because later on especially at night they’d be few and far between, so with me and Bob fuelled on fizzy pop we cracked on.
After the Henley regatta section me and Bob got separated from the other guys and we reached cp1 in 5 hours which was pretty much bang on target it suprised me to see so many people sat down at this cp as I wanted to be in and out (maybe my inexperience showing) Bob had to change his shoes and have a sort out, I grabbed some food and coke and made my way out of the cp saying to Bob I’d be walking a bit and to catch me up, that was the last I’d see of him for a few days but more on that later.
Hurley to Chertsey 27.8miles (55.05)
Leaving cp1 I bumped into Paul Mason who was having some foot trouble and looked in a bit of discomfort I hoped it wasn’t serious(I found out later he dropped due to illness)and after a brief hospital visit he returned to help out and cheer the remaining runners, I wished him well and pushed on I can’t remember much about this section other than bumping into rich again as he was stood chatting to Alan rumbles who was in his canal boat and had an impromptu aid station with hob nobs and jelly babies so I grabbed a hob nob and a glass of water,Alan is another guy I’ve never met but know his name through social media and was great to finally meet him,i then thanked Alan and continued with rich who had plans for a fast finish time and was utilising a 25min run 5min walk strategy so stuck with him for quite a while sticking to his pace until he started having problems with his knee so had to drop back I learned later on he had to drop because of the problem. When we were on the 5 minute walk sections I was pulling ahead of him and he did comment on how fast I was walking which was a good confidence boost at the time
A lot of this section is a blank to me but remember I was feeling pretty good and about on my planned arrival time to cp2 but was aware I was getting some hot spots on my feet which is very annoying as don’t tend to get blisters I arrived at cp2 after 10 hours 49 minutes which was 8:50 pm so made sure I had my head torch and put a long sleeve Base layer in my bag,switched my peaked cap for a buff and if I remember rightly my bag was chaffing my back and sides so one of the awesome cp staff taped it to stop the rubbing, I also had some sweet and sour noodles and a cup of tea to get me through the night leg. I remember looking around seeing other runners getting stuff sorted and was thinking these guys look like real runners one guy had a viking way tattoo on his leg and the others just looked like they belonged here I still didn’t feel I did, self doubt is a horrible thing when it creeps in especially when there is no reason you should be doubting yourself as I was doing just as well as any of the guys I was sitting with.I think the longer a race goes on for ability, speed, experience etc means very little and mental toughness eclipses all these things but we were still very early on in the race and moving well,So with everything sorted onwards to cp3
Cp3 Chertsey to Yiewsley 27.2 miles (82.25)
I think it was just after cp2 I hooked up with Gary Warmington and decided to stick together for the night section it’s always good to buddy up at night and the company helps the time go quicker and chatting to him about previous races he’d done lakeland 100 8 times and utmb 3 times as well as cockbains The hill and various other mental races (was I the least experienced runner at this race?) But we worked well together running when we could, hiking when we couldn’t. We were playing leapfrog with a couple of other runners at this point and one of them had run out of water so was looking for a tap to fill his bottles with,when we eventually found one we all made use of it but rather hilariously he was trying to fill a bottle up that had a massive hole in the bottom of it, we carried on to syon park where we were told earlier the gate may be locked so may have to go round it but when we got there it was open but decided to go around anyway just in case the other end was locked it would be very frustrating having to double back and add another half a mile onto the already stupidly long race I’m not sure if that was the correct decision or not…
We arrived at the checkpoint at 4:26am so I’d been on the go for 18 hours and it was now light again,there was a chance to sleep here but I was planning to wait until Milton Keynes to grab an hour and Gary was thinking the same so I had some hot ravioli and mopped the sauce up with a cheese sandwich(breakfast of champions) and another cuppa. I was suprised i hadn’t suffered any kind of nausea or stomach issues so far as it’s usually a given in any long race but I wasn’t complaining,as i was getting ready to leave i noticed just above the horizon some iridescent clouds which is quite a rare meteorological occurance so pointed it out to the checkpoint staff and think they were quite impressed,me and gary both headed out of the checkpoint for the next leg which would see us through the 100 miles which is a big milestone to tick off, speaking to some other runners they found the first night really tough and cold as well but I had no such problems and spent the night in shorts and t shirt,my Garmin had stopped working after 75 miles and my portable charger wasn’t working either so would be without a watch for the rest of the race although I did have an old watch just so i could see the time of day.
My blisters were also starting to give me quite a bit of discomfort and probably should have stopped to deal with them before they got any worse but thought I’d be OK until the next checkpoint which was 25 miles away(idiot)
Cp4 Yiewsley to Berkhampstead 23.6miles (105.85)
If I remember correctly me and Gary were together for a good few miles on this leg and moving really well but I pulled ahead of him with a really solid hiking pace and managed to catch up to another runner a George guy by the name of Ian?? Who I’d spoken to in the pub the night before the race and was staggered to learn the furthest he’d ever ran was 60 miles!! So just another 190 to find then! (For the record he finished in 90 hours dead and looked very comfortable every time I saw him) I chatted to him for a minute then pushed on. My feet were really starting to hurt by this point and was having quite a low moment as I wasn’t even half way and my feethoughts were killing me,my feet felt blistered and the soles felt bruised how the hell could I deal with this for the next 60 hours? But I was gritting my teeth and still moving forward but I was conscious I had slowed down now, I wanted some company bit didn’t want to wait for Gary as that would mean sitting down for 10-15 minutes wasting valuable time even though I could have done with the rest, there were a lot of cyclists and other people on the canal path now so thought I’d ask one of them if there was another runner up ahead for a bit of company luckily a cyclist told me there was another runner sat on a wall up ahead, brilliant! So finally caught up to him and it was the Brazilian superstar rodrigo! He told me him and two other runners had popped to Tesco (he seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of shops on the route,which turned out to be really handy later on in the race) but they’d managed to lose them so was waiting on the wall for them, I told him I hadn’t seen another runner in hours so in all likelihood they’d raced on ahead Rodrigo said he’d wait a few more minutes and push on we wished each other well and then I cracked on and my feet were now becoming a big problem and it’s all I was thinking about I was just moving forward trying to get to the next checkpoint to get my feet sorted.
It was when I was feeling particularly shitty I saw a couple of people that were out for a run heading towards me so I stepped to the side to let them pass but they had been watching the tracker and decided to come out and see some of the runners he introduced himself as Ryan and but i can’t remember the young ladies name but they had some really kind words for me and was a much needed boost when I was at a low point so if you read this thanks guys it meant a lot, they wished me luck and they headed back to find Rodrigo.
Just after they left Gary caught up to me and it was bloody good to see him I told him my race was wrecked and I’d slowed right down and my feet were smashed to bits woe is me woe is me… to which he replied “we’re on for a sub 24hour 100 miles” I couldn’t quite believe it and that cheered me up considerably so we decided we’d run on until we get to 100 miles then reward ourselves with a rest so we steamed on and finally got to the bridge at 100 miles and we’d done the first 100 miles in 23hours 15minutes which in the grand scheme of things was very quick and a 100 mile pb for Gary!I was feeling quite tired which was suprising as I thought I had about 30-32 hours before I’d feel tired so was debating a 10 minute power nap at cp4,We had a sit down on a bench for a couple of minutes I had a pepperami and a drink then we pushed on to the next checkpoint which was outside a pub so naturally I arrived at the wrong pub walking in expecting to find loads of food and sweaty runners bit nope just a couple of people having a quiet pint so me and Gary doube checked the map and it was another few hundred yards up the canal, it’s amazing how easy it is to make your surroundings fit the map and vice versa.
We arrived at cp4 at 11:15 am and decided to try and get my head down for 15 minutes but I layed down for 5 minutes and there was no way I was sleeping on a grass verge outside a pub so got up and walked back to the checkpoint where I was offered a bacon sandwich and a cuppa lovely! Lindley also had a look at my feet and drained the blisters he could but the deeper ones on my soles by the toes he just taped up as there wasn’t much else he could do with them he also sprayed them with some very expensive iodine spray and then proceeded to show me his defibrillator……
I noticed a guy had dropped here and it was the guy from an earlier checkpoint who had the viking way tattoo it’s never nice to see someone drop but gave me a boost if some really high calibre runners were dropping and I was still trying to tough it out and dropping out has never once entered my mind in a race and even though I was struggling with my feet I wanted to continue
I changed my socks and shoes,ate my bacon,had my bottles filled by the ever amazing checkpoint volunteers made use of the pubs toilets to slap a fistfull of vaseline on some really sore butt crack chafing(sorry) and we’d be on our way
Cp5 Berkhampstead to Milton Keynes 24.35miles (130.2)
After each stop it took 5 or 10 minutes for the legs to start loosening up so was a bit of a hobble leaving each checkpoint but I was in a fairly good place after achieving a distance pb of 105 miles at the Berkhampstead checkpoint and looking forward to a sleep at milton Keynes me and Gary were working well together any time I moved ahead he’d trot up behind me and this was a routine we were getting into we were chatting a little and time was going OK, the thing I remember about this section was the on the map and route instructions there were massive stretches with no instructions ie:something like ‘cross bridge 37 continue on right hand side until bridge 56′ we were using a tactic of counting down bridges to give us small targets to look forward to which was fine when there were 6 or 7 but when there were 20 or more it was getting a bit tedious, especially when you think you’re nearly there and up pop’s your bridge number with a letter after the number 56c,56b,56a!!! I was suffering a massive sense of humour failure at this, I was also finding this section of the canal very boring it didn’t seem as busy as the other parts we’d been on but my feet felt a bit better so all was ok I was tiring a few miles from the checkpoint so stopped to get an ’emergency’ can of coke out of my bag and I downed it in one and it worked like rocket fuel,my pace picked up and i was running and feeling pretty good I pulled away from Gary again but knew we’d catch up again at the Milton Keynes checkpoint I also got also phone call from Eddie Forster who I met on the Ridgeway challenge last year and he was going to meet me at the checkpoint with a massive pizza it would be great to see a familiar face and stuff my face with pizza,almost 130 miles in and things were brilliant moving well,pizza soon,feet behaving themselves and a little sleep soon.
Then after about 10 minutes of running my left foot hit the ground and I felt a tremendous pain in the sole of my foot it was absolute agony it wasn’t a bone/muscle/tendon type pain but a skin pain if that makes sense? What happened is the thick skin on the bottom of my foot had torn away from the foot and I could feel it bleeding I had to stop running and walk with my foot at a ridiculous angle as I couldn’t put any pressure on it was too painful, I was trying to pick my pace up but I was in a lot of pain I thought my race was over how could I run another 120 miles with a mangled foot? I was feeling very low and was trying to convince myself it was OK to drop at Milton Keynes, 130 miles is pretty decent isn’t it? People would understand wouldn’t they? This is the first time I’ve ever wanted to quit a race I wanted to stop I wanted the pain to end,I just wanted to go home I was sick of running I was sick of being in pain I was sick of fucking canals and fucking bridges
I was almost in tears when I arrived at Milton Keynes I was very emotional doing things like this can strip your emotions down to the core,I slumped in a chair and had another bacon sarnie and a cuppa my stomach was still fine so that was one little plus I could take,I needed to get some sleep so hobbled over to a tent and layed down but my legs and feet were screaming at me I was in quite a bit of pain was this normal after running 130 miles? Now I feared I wouldn’t be able to sleep and I was 100% right I layer there for 20 minutes but sleep wouldn’t come it was very frustrating so pulled myself out of the tent to see Eddie stood there with a giant pepperoni pizza in his hands what a sight for sore eyes! I devoured 2 slices of pizza and checked my feet over which were a bit of a mess but not quite as bad as I thought they’d be,
Gary was now at the checkpoint and offered me some paracetamol which I accepted I don’t usually take pain killers in a race but then again I don’t normally run 250 miles!I chatted to Eddie about his recent ultra in the Welsh mountains and it was taking myin off of the pain.it really was again none massive boost to see you so thanks Eddie, I asked if anyone could sort my feet out but there wasn’t anybody really qualified to patch me up here so changed my socks again and said our thankyous and hobbled out of the checkpoint
Cp6 milton Keynes to Nether Heyford 27.7 miles (156.2)
After leaving milton Keynes it took a while for the legs and feet to stop hurting it was a painful hobble for about 30 minutes and we were heading into the second night now which is uncharted for me and not sleeping at Milton Keynes was probably going to come back to haunt me later on, I knew this was going to be a slow leg because of the accumulated time and mileage in the legs,the tiredness and the inevitable night time slow down that comes with 100+ milers.
It was starting to get dark but it was a really nice part of the canal and the paracetamol had kicked in and we’d slowed but it wasn’t to bad, a few hours had passed and I was beginning to feel very tired my eyes were feeling really heavy and couldn’t concentrate and was weaving all over the 4 foot wide canal path really not good Gary seemed ok but I think he managed 30 minutes sleep at Milton Keynes, I dropped behind him and let him take charge of navigation as I was very tired and judgement was probably not at its best.
I arranged to have people sporadically ring me through the night to break up the monotony of the night sections and must say a massive thank you to anybody who took the time to ring me it really helped and was helping keep me awake on that second night, but even with the phone calls I was struggling to stay awake I tried getting Gary involved in some conversation but he was having his own problems. It’s fair to say neither of us were in the best of moods but slowly we kept plugging on I think somebody overtook us on this section which really didn’t bother me at all this section was a massive battle just to get through I was literally slapping myself in the face to stop myself falling asleep it was a tough tough night. We got to a part of the map at Blisworth tunnel that required us to follow the road for 1.5 miles but in our sleep deprived state we were finding things hard to judge and were second guessing everything making things seem more complicated than they actually were,instead of following the road for 1.5 miles we followed it for about a mile and thought we’d missed though the turn off so we ended up scrambling across a disused grand union canal trail and ended up in a farmers field in the arse end of nowhere this was definitely not right! I was getting incredibly frustrated and we must’ve spent 2 hours trying to work out what to do add with this the tiredness and some groovy hallucinations including seeing bunches of cooked chickens hanging from trees I was not in a good place
Where we went wrong!
While I was stood halfway up the long road a police car pulled over and asked if I was OK he replied he thought I’d been hit by a car! Shit how bad did I look? I explained I was in a 250 mile race and was looking for a turn off but he didn’t have a clue and they drove off. Eventually another runner caught up to us and said he knew the way so we stuck with him for a bit and if we’d just carried on up the road we would have reached the turn off I was extremely pissed off! But these things happen and we eventually found our way back to the canal path and continued ahead with the other runner just ahead I was keeping him in view just so we didn’t go wrong again I then heard Gary call me so ran back to him and he was convinced we were going wrong again thinking we should be heading the opposite direction on the canal path,I wasn’t so sure though as the othe guy seemed to know the way and I checked the map and everything seemed to be OK but Gary wasn’t convinced, tiredness was now really effecting both of our judgements I finally persuaded him to continue the way we were going and we carried on and i was glad to see the back of that section as it turned out to be a complete clusterfuck!
I knew the next checkpoint was indoors and I HAD to get some sleep if not my race was effectively over,by this point it was now getting light again and a couple of miles away from the checkpoint my feet were really painful again so decided to get a move on so picked up the pace and pulled ahead of Gary again who was probably glad as we were both very tired and pretty miserable, I finally arrived at the checkpoint after an 11.5 hour’s to run 28 miles which is just ridiculously slow it I went inside and sat down in a chair and asked if anybody could sort my feet out but maxine was asleep so I had to wait so I decided to grab 30 minutes sleep if I could so took my shoes and socks off and was greeted with some terrible looking things that could have been described as feet but could also be described as a mummified necrotic mess!
There was a designated sleeping area behind a curtain on a wooden stage and was completely dark back there so I layed down on the cold wooden floor for a few minutes and I wasn’t going to sleep this was a nightmare if I couldn’t sleep here I’m going to be good for nothing luckily I managed to drift off and got about half hour before one of the ever helpful guy’s at the checkpoint woke me up at an agreed time, during my slumber one of my blisters had popped and noticed the ‘aftermath’ sprayed up the curtain when I left the sleeping area…gross!
I noticed another guy had dropped here, they were now dropping like flies and it’s no wonder it’s a ridiculously tough event even in the unlikely event everything is going your way it’s still not likely you’ll finish. It was like watching entropy in all its destructive glory.
I sat down and Maxine had a look at my feet and insisted they were not that bad but the pain I was feeling told my mind that no feet have ever been as bad as my feet were at that moment in time (such a drama queen) in all honesty they weren’t that bad compared to others but doesn’t mean they were hurting any lessential, Maxine done a fantastic job draining the blisters and strapping my feet up again only this time I smothered both feet in a huge amount of vaseline before putting new socks and shoes on, I also took this opportunity to brush my teeth and have a wet wipe wash (yes that’s a thing) I put a new t shirt on snd felt quite refreshed which after 156 miles was pretty damn good it was almost like pushing the reset button and starting again…almost
I had my now obligatory bacon sarnie and cup of tea and also had 2 mini Mars bars I really wasn’t eating much between checkpoints now so was relying on checkpoint food and just having food in my pack ‘just in case’ I also had pam meeting me at the next checkpoint and was really looking forward to seeing her.
Me and looted Gary got all our gear together and as we were leaving the hehe checkpoint Pam pulled up In her car and it was an amazing moment she ran over to me and gave me a big hug,had a quick chat I asked how bob was doing (remember him) and it turns out after a big wobble early on he was now doing really well all was good in the world and more paracetamol was keeping my foot pain down to a dull ache I said goodbye to pam then me and Gary pushed on
Me and my partner in crime Gary outside cp6
Cp7 nether heyford to fenny Compton 26.99miles (183.14)
After leaving fenny Compton we had our usual 30 minute shuffle until the legs started working again and was suprised to find us both in very high spirits we were laughing and joking,the mood had certainly lifted since the rest at cp6 it was like a brand new race now a complete 180°turn from what the previous leg was like we even managed to laugh about the previous nights shenanigans getting lost on that bloomin road we were even talking about our celebration meal when we finish and both agreed double egg and chips would be the order of the day.
I can’t remember much about the early part of this leg other than we were moving fairly well albeit slowly,even putting in some stretches of half decent running I remember it warming up a bit and having to take the extra layers off that I had put on at the previous checkpoint, I remember getting to 172 miles and thinking of Bob as this was roughly where he dnf’d 2 year’s ago through injury (or as I like to call it being a massive wimp) I also remember passing the 2015 winner Karen hathaway who was really struggling with an achillis injury it’s really bad to see something like this happen because like every other competitor she must have put so much into preparing for this race for it all to go wrong due to an injury must be incredibly heartbreaking, we asked if she had enough food and drink which she did and we pressed on as there was no help we could have given her anyway.
There’s not much else I remember from this section but went by without incident and we arrived at the fenny Compton checkpoint at 6pm Friday so would be soon heading into the 3rd night within the neXT few hours but I was feeling good and confident we’d make the next checkpoint by 2am then grab an hours sleep,have some breakfast which by then it’d be getting light again so we’d have the rest of the race in daylight,it was an awesome plan that was only to be outdone by the the even more awesome nature of my race collapsing around me through the next section….
But anyway before we get there… I hadn’t been eating between checkpoints so was pretty hungry by now and this was the first proper chance pam had to see me so I placed my order by phone 20 minutes before we arrived for a ginsters steak slice,a blueberry muffin and a can of lemonade. I devoured the lot plus 3 reeces peanut butter cups and a slice of chocolate Swiss roll I was on a mission! I couldn’t believe my stomach was still fin so I was making the most of it
Me at Fenny Compton
Pam was an absolute star feeding me and looking after me she even smothered my sore knees in some kind of pain killing wonder gel! My left knee was really sore I think mainly because I was changing my gait because of the blisters on my feet, I also stole 2 more paracetamol off of Gary which really hit the spot. This was also the first time I met Louise tildbury who was waiting for her partner Chris to arrive but more on him later.
So with a belly full of food,a plan of attack for the next leg,feeling relatively good considering already covering 74,000 miles (well that’s what it felt like) we exited the checkpoint full of hope…
Cp8 fenny Compton to lower heyford 22.84miles (205.98)
So with a 2am target to aim for for the next 23 miles we strode out of fenny Compton like bloody heroes! Not long aimer it started raining so we took cover under a tree and waited for it to subside,I had my waterproof coat on but we all know these coats are good for a while but eventually soak through but I had a backup! I had a fold down plastic poncho in my pack so I took it out and put it on it covered my entire top half and was brilliant I stayed bone dry (well my top half did anyway) I remember everything going really well and we were counting bridges like we’d been doing since the start, it was now dark again but I was still feeling good I think we were at Banbury and I really liked this section as it was more built up and busier than the other canal paths and made a really nice change,the bridges were also coming thick and fast we were ticking them off,getting to the next section of the map I felt almost invincible then the rain got heavier then my feet got wet then I started to feel tired..
We reached a bridge that we had to cross but it was one of them drawbridge type bridges and it was lifted up so we couldn’t cross and I didn’t have a clue what to do, the obvious solution would have been to follow the canal and cross the next bridge but this was the 3rd night of next to no sleep and I wasn’t thinking straight so I decided to phone Lindley and maxine answered I explained my problem and she suggested continuing to the next bridge duh! So that’s what we done and found the correct way, we decided to take shelter under the bridge and put on some warmer layers, my feet were agony again due to them getting wet,I was struggling and was exhausted physically and mentally so we had a rest under the bridge to get ourselves a bit more composed. We continued on into the darkness and I was on another planet I can’t explain it but I was so sleep deprived that it was like nothing seemed real I was floating through a surreal alternate reality where it was just me another nd the canal path inside a little orb of light and just blackness in all directions at this stage I was trying not to completely lose my shit! There were massive lilly type plants either side of me and they were morphing into skulls and tortured faces mocking me,reaching out trying to grab me nothing existed apart from me and these tortured skull faces either side of me (it turns out I don’t do very well on no sleep) I was trying to find any traces of anything man made to try and bring me back to reality but there was nothing, just skulls and blackness and the pain now pulsating through my feet I was truly having a torrid time until we came across a race Marshall who was out on course making sure the runners were OK or that’s what I assume he was doing, me and gary were both assumed bit wasted by now and we saw assumed headtorch rapidly approaching from behind and it turned out to be my club mate Bob and he was motoring he looked so good (the absolute bastard! !!) I tried to stay with him for a while but I was a bit concerned about Gary as he was really tiring and his head torch was almost out of power so I had to let Bob go but I was more than happy for him to push on (the absolute bastard) and I was equally as happy to make sure Gary got t the checkpoint safely as he was hunched over almost falling asleep and trying to use a headtorch that was virtually useless so I was running 10 meters ahead then turning around and shining the headtorch to light the trail for him it was very slow progress but knew if the roles were reversed he’d do the same for me.
It started to get light and we were at least 2 hours behind what we originally wanted to do this section in and my feet were throbbing and Gary was doing his best to chuck himself in the canal so I stayed right next to him so it was me between the canal and him even though my feet were getting even more soaked from the long wet grass it was a close call at times but we both got to the next checkpoint in time to see Bob leave and that was the last I saw of him.
Gary collapsed into a tent for a much needed sleep and pam was on hand to sort my feet out,for the third time in this race I was having blisters drained and my feet strapped up which probably added another couple of hours onto my time,I managed to eat something while pam was sorting my feet out and I found myself nodding off as she was doing it so when she finished I decided to climb into a tent for a bit of a sleep I was completely exhausted and it wasn’t long before I fell asleep I think I got a much needed 30 minutes here but when I woke up I was shivering so put some extra layers on with hat and gloves I also put on a pair of sealskinz waterproof socks as I really didn’t want my feet to get wet again as it made by feet a million times worse
Just as we were leaving the checkpoint we saw Chris kay leaving,he said hello to us and sped into the distance,so me and Gary hobbled out of the checkpoint and begun the penultimate leg to abingdon very tired and a bit banged up.
Cp9 lower heyford to abingdon 23.55miles (229.53)
After a while me and Gary decided to try a run/walk strategy and something very strange happened, when I tried to run it didn’t hurt and not only did it not hurt it felt amazing but every time I started the run section I was pulling further and further ahead of Gary so took this opportunity to pop into a bush for a toilet break (there are not as many places to go to the toilet on 250 miles of canal as you would think!) Gary had pulled ahead of me but it didn’t take long to catch him up with my new found running legs. I think what happened is I spent so long power hiking which uses different muscles to running that all of my running muscles were well rested and it felt amazing to run but I was pulling further and further ahead of Gary and I really wanted us to finish together it just made sense after spending so much time together during the race and we helped each other so much over the last few days I felt a kind of loyalty to him and that we’d see it through together,I think Gary could tell how well I was moving and told me to go ahead and that he’d catch me up like we’d been doing all race so I pushed on and fully expected Gary to come trotting up behind me but he never came, I looked back and couldn’t see him anywhere so made a choice to run on I felt really bad leaving him but I had to make the most of feeling good and also knew Gary was a tough cookie and would be fine.
I just want to say it was great to meet you mate and a pleasure to run with you and hope to see you out on the trails again some day.
So I started running and felt amazing so started running faster, I must have covered the next 5k in less than half an hour which at that point was very fast. I then remembered Chris from the checkpoint and wondered if I could catch him while I was running well, I asked a passe by if they’d seen another runner ahead and they said yes about 10 minutes ago so I turned on the afterburners and finally caught up to him whill he was layed on the grass resting,I possibly could have snuck past like a ninja and gained another place but positioning was the last thing on my mind I just wanted to finish!
I promptly told him to get up and stop sunbathing cos we had some running to do! He duly obliged and off we ran and again we were both running so well which after over 200 miles just made no sense we were chatting away talking after boutique past races we’d done and how we got into running and the miles were ticking away nicely and we’d be at abingdon before too long,I remember crossing a road then going under a low metal bridge that I smashed my head on and nearly knocked myself out cold I was seeing stars! To be fair to chris he didn’t laugh (much) and it woke me up its hard to feel sleepy when you’ve just tried to uproot a 25 ton bridge with your head!!
We were now following the Thames path again (I think) and a lot of it seemed really familiar from when I done the tp100 last year and it was turning out to be a really warm day so stopped to take my top layers off and was back in shorts and t shirt, I also took of the waterproof socks as it felt like my feet were slowly being bakedeveloped and it was making the hem very sore again so after a bit of faffage we continued on and abingdon never seemed to come we had a few times where we thought we were nearly there but nope nowhere near,
We came to some woods and while running through them I kicked a tree root with the bottom of my left foot where I had a really sore blister and I took a big fall,my foot was now really hurting and I was laying on the floor just gritting my teeth.
Chris helped me up and we exited the woods and we’re met by a few of the guys from the checkpoint including pam and Louise, it was great to see them as it was another very tough section but we were now at abingdon the final checkpoint!! If I remember rightly I ran into the checkpoint with a black labrador that belonged to one of the cp crew? Or may well have been hallucinating again? We sat down placed an order of another bacon sarnie and a cup of tea thank you very much,pam was rushing about being awesome as usual sorting everything out that I needed there were a few people at this checkpoint including Paul mason and his partner Caroline? Sorry if that’s wrong and at few older guys who seemed to be veterans of this race and knew what they were talking about one of them checked my feet and declared “they’re in really good shape” I wish they felt in good shape! All of the checkpoints were an absolute joy to be at and the people were the absolute best!
I was told to dump all non essential kit out of my bag to lighten the he load for the last 18 miles and attlso decided theorem put road shoes on for a bit of extra comfort I also remember scoffing also load of chocolate shortbread stuff that Louise had got for Chris thanks for that! I was still eating really well at checkpoints but eating nothing in between so again I was making the most of checkpoint food.
We were now ready to leave the checkpoint for the final 18 miles, the shortest leg of the race we would be finished (hopefully) in daylight so we said our goodbyes and started the final part of this epic journey a nice easy 18 mile plod
That would infact turn into a 7 hour death march into the mouth of hell…
Finish abingdon to goring 18.83 miles (250)
Me and Chris headed out of the checkpoint to cheers from all of our 4 fans,we were really upbeat at the prospect we’d soon be finished it was almost like starting a lap of honour I remember those earmy miles well, we were having such a laugh,talking about the last 3 days I can’t remember ever laughing so much during a race I was really happy to be running with someone as upbeat as chris and he didn’t seem to mind me babbling on in my sleep deprived state. I recall at one point telling him about my idea for a new running shoe which was essentially a Hoka with the cushioning from another Hoka shoe glued to the bottom!double the cushioning! (At no point in these conversations did I think ‘John what the fucking are you talking about) I was spouting an incredible amount of nonsense all good fun!
It was also getting really hot now it must’ve been in the mid 20”s and from what I remember it was mostly fields next to the river that we were going through and we stumbled across a family havin a riverside picnic and asked us what we were doing, when they found out they were offering us food and drink and tried to get us to have a paddle in the river which would have felt very nice dipping my ravaged feet in the cool river. We declined the dip but accepted some fresh cherries and a capri sun what a lovely family we were both very grateful for their generosity.
We continued on and I was feeling very tired again,Chris phoned Louise to say we were now in single figure mileage, 9 miles to go so near but yet so so far I was really flagging but chris’ positivity was keeping me going.
With 10k to go we found a pub and popped in for a coke and discovered the landlords brother was an ultra runner (we get everywhere don’t we)
I was stood at the bar and had the vague surreal feeling coming over me again which meant my mind was about to go off to la la land again,we pushed on and we’re crossing never ending fields, I kept asking Chris how far? When will we finish? I was struggling with tiredness and exhaustion again but we were having good periods of running just simply to get finished quicker we were on a field heading into a woods right outside goring Chris warned me it would be quite dark in there and was full of tree roots so be careful but I was so out of it it was taking every ounce of energy I had to keep moving forward and I promptly tripped over a tree root and nearly lost my shit again! I took it as a personal attack on me from this tree root! (Did I mention I was really very tired?)
Chris was talking to me keeping me going he really dragged me round the final few miles, he mentioned about getting the medal when we finished And I was trying to work out why we were getting a medal, my brain was in such a state I couldn’t figure out what was going on, in my mind it was just me and Chris (who was a complete stranger until today) doing this epic run I couldn’t figure out why we were doing it or why we were getting a medal for it.
It’s very hard to explain my mental state at the time everything just seemed very strange. We turned a corner and heard cheering and in the distance there were a group of people jumping up and down shouting I turned to chris and said ‘are they for us?’ He said yes and I was just wondering how they knew we were here (I was really tired)
We were crossing a bridge and all these people ran over to us and joined us for the final few hundred yards, a couple of people were recording videos on their phones asking us how we were feeling I had no clue what the hell was going on, was this a TV crew filming us? Like I said my body was here but my mind was orbiting fucking Pluto! !
I noticed pam running with us oh my god what was she doing here? I can’t believe she came all the way out here to see me finish! Even though I had no clue where I was or what I was finishing!!
Looking back now I find this absolutely hilarious!
We were now nearing the finish with our little entourage (including a random eastern European guy who was out for a walk but stumbled upon this sideshow)
The finish came into view,there was cheering and clapping and shouting and we were there at the finish line, it was over I could stop running I was in a bit of a daze I was trying to process everything but I just couldn’t, I saw chris get a medal hung round his neck then Lindley came and congratulated me and hung the biggest slab of metal you’ve ever seen over my neck and hugged me,I thanked him then noticed bob stood there we shook hands and congratulated each other, Bob had a storming run and finished 7th in just over 80 hours fantastic! Me and Chris finished joint 10th in 83 odd hours out of 54 runners that started the race I had to be happy with that.
I couldn’t believe how fresh chris looked in comparison to me,he looked like he’d just run a slow 10k and I looked like I’d run 250 miles on next to no sleep!
After some photos and handshakes etc pam and Bob took me inside for a sit down and to try and sort myself out I noticed Rodrigo the Brazilian sat down and congratulated him on his finish I sat down on a chair a bit broken but not beaten, I had taken on this absolute beast of a race and even though it kept beating me down over and over and over again I kept getting up,I took everything the tr250 threw at me and managed to beat it with no small help from the guys i ran with mainly Gary(who finished about an hour after me) and Chris,the one and only pam philpot who really looked after me and probably saved my race and also all of the checkpoint staff they were superb,What an amazing experience this has been and challenged me in ways I’m not sure I will (or want to) experience again. The toughness of this race cannot be exaggerated it almost took me to my very limits physically and mentally. I didn’t feel the elation or relief at finishing that I thought I would because I think over the course of the 4 days I was just mentally drained.
There is a lot I have learned from this race about myself and my capabilities especially when things are going wrong, I need to work on foot care and try to sort out my sleeping tactics on long events as the sleep deprivation really got to me but my nutrition it seems was spot on, I had zero stomach issues so that’s a massive plus.
I’d like to thank everybody for the support they have given me (when I switched my phone on after the race I had so many Facebook notifications that it drained my battery) it was very humbling to know so many people cared about me doing a little run.
I’d also like to thank race director Lindley chambers for putting on a truly special race,all of the cp staff for just being excellent even though you were probably more tired than the runners. Also thankyou Bob wild for planting the seed in my brain 2 years ago when you first attempted this race
Pam philpot for being an absolute lifesaver and just an awesome person to have as crew
And as always my lovely wife mandy I always say I could never do these things without you in my corner and I really mean it.
I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet what an achievement this is I’m sure it will at some point but for now I have some amazing memories of an incredible adventure and meeting some amazing people that I’ll never forget.
What’s next for me? I’m not sure but I’m thinking something with mountains….
Thanks for reading
See you out on the trails
Thames ring 250 finisher 2017