But, none the less what a great first ultra for me!
We decided to stay in Oxford on Friday night so we wouldn't have to get up so early Saturday morning to get to the start. We woke at 6am and set about finalising our kit. Mine, my bag of food and mandatory kit, Fay, sorting my spare kit and where the check points were to meet me at. We then headed to the Golden Arches for some much important breakfast. Undecided on what was best I had a bit of porridge and pancakes. Washed down with the standard pre race latte! Once full it was off to the race HQ. the Prince of Wales pub in Iffley. It's one of those ironies I'm starting to see in ultra running. 300 odd people descending on a pub at 7.30 am like some kind of harden drinkers who need there hit. But this hit is of the running nature and naturally produced endorphins. So rather than indulging in beer and wine, it's the place to pick up your race number, map and shirt. Fortunately I got the rather easy number 456!
Once I had my number pinned to my shorts ( no point doing top, as I knew I would be taking layers off or putting them ) I went in search of my running buddy for the day, Michael Sartorius.
I meet Michael back last August when we were both sweeping the North Downs Way 50/100 ultra. In fact it was Michael who recommended this race.
We had a quick scan of the route, which due to the flooding had changed a fair amount.
We were ready for the off. After a quick brief from the race organiser we were off!
Start to CP1 Cullham Lock
We headed straight out of Iffley to the river Thames. Immediately seeing the flooding that has forced the change of the route. We crossed the river so we were on the west side of the river and heading south. We followed the river for a little while and came across what would be the first of many flooded paths. Less then a mile and wet feet! We soon came off the tow path and picked up the road to Radley. Once through Radley we skirted around the housing estates of Abingdon, past the football club, and into Abingdon town centre. There we picked up the A415 heading south. During this time Michael and I were running with Michaels friend Jim. Averaging just under 9 minute miles. A pace which proved to be a little to quick for me. As we came out of Abingdon, we were being cheered only the local Parkrunners. No doubt thinking we were completely mental! And who could argue that? We eventually made a right turn towards Cullham Lock, CP1. 7.5 miles in 1hour 10.
CP1 Cullham Lock to CP2 Benson
After a quick dumping off my jacket and a quick change for Michael and Jim, we were off again. Heading south we picked up the B4016 heading east. We were on this road for a while, eventually coming into a village. Here we came across a large group of people running towards us, they had obviously taken the wrong route. Which helped us make the right choice. After following a track for a while we entered a field and where the first days fun in the mud began! I was starting to lag behind Michael and Jim. Michael letting me know that I should just inform him if the pace was to quick. Being stubborn and wanting to do well I didn't. But it became obvious that I couldn't keep up and Michael and Jim kept stopping and waiting for me. After a pretty miserable slog up a muddy track up a hill I really started to suffer. This was where I had my worst part of the day. My legs felt heavy and I started to question my own ability. Just at a half marathon point and I wondered if I could even achieve the marathon distance let alone full race distance. After coming out onto a half decent track Michael was again waiting for me and Jim had continued on his own race. I was thankful of his early support but I knew he needed to run his own race. With a bit of walking and running Michael and I picked up the A4074 and headed south to Benson and CP2. 16.3 miles in 2hours 45
CP2 Benson to CP3 Goring
After a quick drink and a hello to the wife we were off again. We decided that now was a good time to get some food in, so set off walking. Immediately we got confused with the course direction along with another group. Maybe the same group from earlier? After heading down a track for a 100 yards the guys I front of us told us to turn back. 2 minutes wasted and no nearer the finish! Oh the joys of ultras! At least I had my food and Michael for company. We headed off now in the right direction. Heading south on a road parallel with the A4074. My first food pack I made myself consisted of, Funsize mars bars x 2, some cocktail sausages, packet of cheese Doritos and an Egg and Bacon sandwich. Was we had finished with our runners picnic we got back into the swing of things. We eventually came off the path we were following onto the A4074 at the roundabout with the A4130. We followed the A4074 south a little further, until we picked up the B4009, our route into Goring. This was one of the most enjoyable stretches of the route, all be it on a road. It was very picturesque. We followed this all the way to Goring Train station, CP3. 23.76 miles in 4hours 30
CP3 Goring to CP4 Mapledurham
Immediately after leaving this checkpoint we had to pick up the towpath again. After coming into a cluster of houses and stables we got a little confused to where the path was and again wasted a few minutes trying to find the right route. No dramas. Eventually we found the route which was pretty hilly and muddy. But the views over the Thames made up for the difficulty under foot. Time for some sweets! We knew there was going to be some up hill work though here so we decided as we were walking, we may as well eat. Michael deciding on mini eggs! Why didn't I think of that? We eventually made our way through the woods and onto the B471 at Whitchurch on Thames. We followed this south towards Pangbourne and over the toll bridge. Free to us pedestrians! Again we saw how flooded the Thames was and that the route that would normally have been taken only possible by kayak! So we followed the road into Pangbourne. We eventually picked up the A329 and headed east towards Mapledurham. We followed this for a fair while chatting with a few other trotters. We eventually came to our next turning onto New Hill and CP4. 29.65 miles in 5hours 52
CP4 Mapledurham to CP5 Sonning
After picking up more food and putting my hi viz on we set out back upto the A329. Michael assured me all was good now. He knew this area well! We followed the road for a short time until we came to an old pub and our route back onto the Thames path. This wastage only stretch of the race that hadn't changed. I was feeling stronger and had managed to have more food while talking to some other trotters. Michael and I liked the pace up and started to make good progress towards Sonning. We soon came across more flooding on the path. I knew running The Grimm and Brutal 10s would pay off! Nothing we could do but go through it. As I joked to Michael, my feet were getting to hot anyway! We continued along the path towards Sonning. Arriving in Reading and I was feeling good and strong. All though conscious that it could all change round the next bend. The going was good here and eventually we meet up with Michaels wife and two young boys. A nice stop and time that was well worth wasting! I've had my wife meeting me at every cp, and I'm sure Michael was slowly getting sick of my chatter and sight. ( I forgot to do my hair that morning). We eventually said goodbye but would see them again at Henley. Less then a mile away and we were at the final cp. CP5. 37.03 miles in 7hours 36
CP5 Sonning to Finish Henley on Thames
After a quick kiss from the wife we were off again. I was still feeling strong so we made some good progress heading along the B478. The sun was starting to go down and the road had no path so we ran the whole way until we picked up the Dunsden Way road. Being a hill we decided to walk and conserve some energy. Well mine to be more precise! Once it flattened we got going again and had to find a bridal way across some fields. We found this with ease, helped by the two female trotters in front of us. We really started to shift now, helped by some downhills. But while the going was good, we went wrong again. Again a group of us continued down a track instead of heading left. We eventually came out onto the Henley road to far south. Bugger. We found ourselves on a road with our paths and I decided to run on the grass verge. Harder work but beats being run down. We eventually came into Henley. All we had to do now was follow the signs to the station. Michael started to open his legs and I struggled to keep up, not that I minded as we were there. I rounded the corner to seethe lights of the finish. A good crowd cheering and I felt myself starting to blub. I'd been sniffing all day, so managed one more sniff then gave it all I had left. I first saw the wife for high fives as I then crossed the finish line with my arms in the air! I'd managed to do something I never even knew about two years ago, I completed and ultra marathon!! 43.66 miles in 8hours 58
The feeling of that finish was amazing. I had some tough times, but I had far more good times. I was amazed how strong I felt at the end and I know I still had the legs if I had needed to run 7 more miles. All the hard hours spent training in some pretty awful conditions paid off!
I can now look forward to my next ultra race, the North Downs Way 50. But before the I have a fair few races and another 38 mile sweep back on the Thames Towpath.
I'd like to thank Michael for sticking with me during the race. He committed his race to help me through my first ultra! What a top man! Hopefully I'll be able to repay him one day!
I also want to thank my wife for being my crew on the day, having to navigate herself to each checkpoint bringing me clothes and food! No doubt a long day for her.
And finally I want to thank Go Beyond Ultra for a great race and all the volunteers that helped out on course!
Thank you all