Reports

Thames Path 100 2018

John

At 9:50am on Saturday 5th May I stood on the Thames Path next to Richmond Old Town Hall in the already strong morning sun and listened to the pre-race briefing, writes John Witton. I was about to run over 100 miles along the river, following the Thames Path National Trail North, all the way to Oxford. This race is one of four 100+ mile ultramarathons organised by Centurion Running. I did the North Downs Way 100 in August last year, and though I finished inside the cut-off of 30 hours (28:19:16), it was truly brutal and, after my legs seized up at 75 miles, I was forced to walk the last 25 miles which took me 11 hours! I finished 103rd in that race out of 147 finishers and was dropping back through the field dramatically from the half-way point. I was under-prepared and knew I could do better. My next attempt at 100 miles was the Cotswold Way Century at the end of September 2017. After a difficult journey to Chipping Campden with my son throwing up on the way, I suffered stomach issues myself in the race and had to pull out at 72 miles after being sick. Ironically, I'd done 90% of the climbing and run through the night, so the hard work was all done, so it was rather frustrating and meant I didn't quite have enough points for UTMB.

The Thames Path is pretty flat, certainly next to the North Downs with only 560m of climb, compared to 3050m on the North Downs Way (that's what did my legs in!), though it's technically uphill all the way. I was confident that I could complete the race in under 24 hours and get the coveted '100 miles - one day' finisher buckle. I was running the race with my friend Tim and we set off together at an easy jog in the sunshine, passing Hampton Court Palace on the way to the first aid station at Walton-on Thames. Unfortunately, Tim tripped on a root around mile 3 and fell on his knee which later gave him difficulties. He came into the second aid station at Wraysbury after me and told me to go on ahead as he was struggling in the heat.

The first marathon passed fairly uneventfully and I arrived into the third aid station at Dorney just over 30 miles in, feeling OK, if uncomfortably hot. The mercury had reached 25 degrees in some places along the route and it was turning into a repeat of the London Marathon 2 weeks ago, weather-wise! The volunteers at the aid stations were great, and at one I soaked my buff with water from a hose and had an ice lolly! I tried not to spend too long at the aid stations, just long enough to grab some food and refill my bottles, around 3-5 minutes. The spread is always pretty good in these races and I helped myself to peanut butter wraps, flapjack, bite-size sandwiches, tomatoes and lots of fruit: watermelon (my ultra race fave!), grapes, oranges and bananas.

At Henley aid station, just over half way, I took a little longer and had a brief sit down to eat some pasta and have a cup of tea (2 sugars, obviously!). I got a message from Tim here to say that he'd had to pull out at mile 46 as his knee was giving him trouble. He was gutted and I felt for him, after having a couple of DNFs at ultras before myself. It's all a learning experience though and he's already entered the 'Autumn 100' for October! I had a 'drop bag' at Henley with spare clothing in it and changed my sweat-drenched T-shirt and enjoyed a Muller rice and Weetabix in a bottle! I found out as I left Henley that I was in 27th place (314 started the race), which buoyed my spirits considerably and I started to think that I was doing OK.

The thing with ultra-races is that they are always a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute your brain is saying 'What am I doing, I'm not an ultra-runner, this is ridiculous, why would ANYONE do this?' and the next it's saying 'YES, I can DO this, I'm an ULTRARUNNER!'. You flip flop between these two states throughout the 100 or so miles, but learning I was reasonably near the front of the field help keep me more in the latter.

It was still hot by the time I finished the second marathon just after Henley and I was looking forward to the sun going down! One thing that made the race even harder, as well as the heat, was seeing people all along the river in beer gardens, having BBQs, picnics and garden parties and messing about in boats, while I slogged along. It really made me question my life choices – 'I could be that guy with a cold pint of cider, what am I DOING?' (but perhaps he was thinking 'I could be that guy, running 100 miles up the Thames'!!).

At Streatly (71 miles) I had another drop bag so it was time for another Muller rice and Weetabix bottle. The volunteers also did me a cup of beans with some cheese. I sat down here too and messaged friends and family to let them know how I was doing but I knew I couldn't linger too long as I'd start to seize up. It was getting dark now and so I changed into a base layer and long sleeved top and kept my gloves and head torch handy. It wasn't long before both the gloves and torch were on and I was plodding though the night. Some sections whizzed by, others seemed to take forever. One section of wet grass thoroughly soaked my feet and thick mist made it very hard to see with my torch, so that slowed me down a lot. Eventually I found myself approaching Clifton Hampden at 85 miles. This aid station was a bit annoying as you had to turn right and go up a hill to the aid station then come back down the hill when you left, adding a few hundred metres to the route.

After a cup of tea, I was out again, having been told by one of the volunteers that I was in 21st place – a top 20 finish was possible! My brain was a bit addled by this point and I was getting confused, and nearly went back the way I'd come once I came down the hill from the aid station, until I was stopped by a marshal. I didn't want to be running 85 miles back to Richmond!

The last section was surprisingly pleasant and I was able to tap into the last of my energy reserves in the dawn light and power through to the finish. I found myself overtaking a few people along the last stretch of river into Oxford and then, suddenly, I could see the inflatable blue arch of the finish! I picked up the pace and loped in, feeling really comfortable and ecstatic to have made it. I finished 17th out of 314 starters (182 finished, 132 dropped out – largely due to the heat) in a time of 20:29:04. I got my '100 miles - one day' finisher buckle and sat down in a chair in the sun for a bowl of chilli and a can of cider from my finish drop bag. Great feeling. I had to wait for my other drop bags to arrive and after a shower, got a taxi to Oxford station and the train back to Sevenoaks via Marylebone.

All in all, a great day out! My next ultra will be the TDS race (part of UTMB) around Mont Blanc which will be considerably more lumpy!

Milano Nord Parkrun - Christmas 2017

Milano Nord Parkrunners

I was in Milan over Christmas and I thought I couldn't miss the parkrun of the city where I was born, writes Grazia Manzotti. It was a nice experience.

It is in a  big park in the North of Milan. They all meet in a running shop, where there are toilets lockers and showers. Very impressive organisation, but it would not work at Tonbridge with 500+ runners. I got there and they immediately made me feel very welcome. There were 8 more parkrun tourists, 4 from England including myself, 2 from South Africa and 2 from Ireland. Considering the total number of runners was only 54 that was a high percentage of tourists. We all walked from the shop to the start together and there they took out the flag.Flag A massive Italian flag they use to start the parkrun and to take photos with tourists.Tourists They immediately got some photos with me and the flag and the other tourists. Apparently it is not just a flag - it was the flag which was used to start a 100 miles world motorbike race where Italy won.

The start should be at 9 but I was told it is like well around 9.00. They always take a group photo before the start, they give some briefing both in Italian and English and then they start and it was around 9.10! The course is definitely a PB course 2 laps around a flat park, but they did say it was really icy as it was -4!

It was very icy indeed, you could see thick ice on the path so it wasn't the day to try for a PB! I enjoyed the run and as soon as I finished, I was presented with a massive slice of panettone (the Italian Christmas cake) and a full glass of prosecco! Well that was a surprise. It certainly doesnt happen in Tonbridge! I really enjoyed the atmosphere, such a friendly parkrun. I got dragged away by my dad who had been freezing to death waiting for me. He said to me how come you were talking to them as if you had known them forever? and I said they are runners… us runners, we are a friendly bunch! I shall be back next time I go to Milan! Oh and my time was like 20 seconds off but they did tell me sometimes the time is kind of approximate as it is not the Olympics!

Josie at GNR 2017

Josie beforeJosie duringJosie after

Great North Run day started overcast but dry, writes Josie Neale. As promised from the world's biggest half marathon, the atmosphere was brilliant and the whole race well organised.

Brendan Foster started the race and 43,000 of us waited patiently in our starting pens, watching Mo Farah on the big screens. As I crossed the start line, we were well spaced out and shortly after, the Red Arrows soared overhead with their characteristic display of red, white and blue plumes of smoke.

After crossing the Tyne Bridge, the first few miles went well, with frequent water stops and lots of crowd support. The course is generally flat (compared to the hills of Sevenoaks) and the road course was wide enough to accommodate everyone without too much weaving around.

I was still feeling good at the half way point, but without my trusty pacer (Stephen is suffering from a nasty retrocalcaneal bursitis) I lost my rhythm around the 8 mile point. The crowds kept me going and I was so relieved when I could finally see the sea at the top of the hill in South Shields, where the race finishes after a short stretch along the coast.

I finished in 2:07:34, which I was delighted with, knocking 21 minutes off my previous half marathon attempt!

Shetland Simmer Dim Half Marathon 2017

Simmer Dim StartSimon at Finish

I ran in the Simmer Dim Half Marathon which took place in Shetland on 11 June this year and I feel sure clubmates will be agog to hear about this singular event, writes Simon Hallpike. The name simmer dim is a reference to the absence of darkness in this part of the UK in midsummer - it just goes a bit dim for a short while. This was the tenth running of the race under Race Director Paul Woods who will be stepping down with no replacement lined up yet. To commemorate the occasion, a special t-shirt was given to participants, which, as there were just 74 finishers, has additional rarity value. Expect to see one at a club event soon!

It is a very hilly course, mostly into the prevailing wind along the main road from the capital to the airport. The wind can be very strong, which explains the treeless landscape and the sense of novelty engendered by my Sevenoaks vest - surely that many oaks is a forest? This was my third time running the SDHM and probably the one I enjoyed most. There are some fine views and the EU-funded road surfaces are pothole-free.

The race starts with a bus ride to the race HQ in a community hall nine miles down the main road from the finish on the track at the Clickimin Sports Centre in Lerwick. So there is a four-mile loop from the start until the runners pass the community hall on the way back to the finish. Then there are three big long hills with the top of the last one coinciding with the 11-mile marker. After that it is downhill or flat all the way. That's where two runners passed me even though I thought I was running quite well. Luckily, they were younger runners and no-one else came past before the finish on the Clickimin track. By that time blustery showers had given way to warm sunshine, with runners and spectators sitting around chatting on the infield.

I was twentieth overall in 1:43 which was good enough for 1st M60 - and three minutes faster than my first SDHM ten years ago.

The results are here and here.