A night self-supported 60 mile race on Thames path – starting in Oxford and finishing at the source of the Thames in the Cotswolds. This is the final section of the T184 which for me was one of my favourite races, so definitely wanted to go back and be part of the T60.
I left it till the last moment to confirm my entry www.tseriesracing.com I hadn’t done very much running at all since Turin, I was nicely rested at least, the legs seemed to be fine, and mentally I needed to be out there again enjoying racing.
It was a lovely welcome at registration; seeing faces I hadn’t since the T184. As I signed my waiver I was asked if I was going to beat last years winner Ollie, honestly the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. This was more about myself, and making sure I was back on track in the best way I could think of.
The T184 was monumental in terms of self-discovery and lessons learnt, I came out of it stronger than I went in, and will always look back on it with thanks to everyone involved.
19:00 at the Bowers Arms on my birthday, drink of choice - SOS courtesy of Ian Hough who had sent me a selection of sachets following Turin. Hydration is key, I’ve learnt this the hard way, and from what I had read this looked a great product and was very happy to try them out.
Once I had registered I collected maps (A4 size, water resistant, 5 in total) my number 39 (with 40 entrants I certainly had left it late to sign up) and went through the mandatory kit check with Paul Ali.
One reason for the T60 is a way to prepare for the T184 so there were some packs set up as though it was the full race. I raced light in the T184 and did again for this one, just the mandatory kit, and a few additional items such a foot care – my toes were not starting in a great condition.
Race briefing done, 34 on the start line, a clock counting down to 20:00 and then that’s the T60 kicked off.
I now found out who Ollie Stoton was, we were running alongside each other at the front, I didn’t expect to be here, but just went with it, the pace felt good, the weather was glorious which was the complete opposite it seemed from last year.
Half a mile and we were on the Thames path, I thought I would recognise where I was, but no. You can use GPS in the race, as you could in the T184, I didn’t have one, so relied on maps and recceing the course, I hadn’t been out this way since last year, where to be fair was 120 miles into the race. I was sure some parts would come back to me, for the moment though, Ollie was leading the way and as lazy as it seems I was grateful for that.
Mark Denby caught us up, incredibly he had run the TP100 the weekend before! I couldn’t believe it, put my four week rest to shame. Both Ollie and Mark were brilliant to run with, and not just because they opened and closed pretty much every gate for me, they were great company, and I wanted to keep up with them as long as possible.
There were three checkpoints, roughly 15 miles apart, we could get water there, so I carried x2 400ml soft flasks with me, that was plenty, I had snacks, gloves, torch, hat, everything to hand until Checkpoint 2, where I would swap maps and restock the pockets with food.
Paul Ali was at checkpoint 1, we came in all together, and then back out, head torches were on by now, I enjoy running at night, and it was still really warm, for a moments thought wished Id worn shorts but stopped that thinking right there.
I was awaiting one particular section which I had in the back of mind as a tough spot from the T184. The nav wasn’t difficult, but I had been a little disorientated , thinking a row of trees along fields had been the river and starting following that, I had realised my mistake ran back to where I thought I had gone wrong, then was convinced I was now following the river in the wrong direction. That had been a worrying 30 mins during the T184 thinking I would come across runners in opposite direction.
No such problems today. It was a stunning evening, a joy to be out running.
Ollie was in the lead, and was starting to pull away. Mark got in front of me too, but then stopped for a comfort break and didn’t catch back up. I had lost sight of Ollie, luckily I had sensed that was happening, so made every effort to find where I was on the map, and started consciously following it, rather than just following the leader. The gates were all mine now, ah well, in a weird way I quite liked the fact I was finding the Thames Path signs by myself, almost like a treasure hunt, small victories which kept me going.
I got a bit complacent running in a straight line, and hadn’t looked at the map for a while, my own fault, through a gate and 2 obvious paths off…I looked back at the gate definitely an acorn on this side, so at least I was correct in where I was, I went back through it to try and work out what direction the arrow was pointing in. It wasn’t clear enough, it was down the centre of the two paths.
No prizes for guessing I chose the wrong one. Embarrassing. Anyone watching the tracker, rather everyone watching the tracker would know I’d messed up, I should have guessed when the grass became long this was not the Thames path. The field did not lead to one of the gates I'd been used to seeing, there was no acorn or victory here, just a corner of a field. I went left and found an opening but still no Thames sign, I decided to see if I could see a torch from the direction I had come in. Nope. Back to the gate I'd started at. Checked the arrow again, definitely could be either path, I tried the other one, and within 30m a gate with an acorn. Thank you!!
I saw no torch because Mark had passed me as I was running in the wrong direction. I caught him up, checked he was okay and ran on, I still couldn’t believe 100 miles last weekend and he was so cheerful. Amazing.
Checkpoint 2, where Shane Benzie was dishing out the water, there was lots of great support from everyone. I couldn’t hide my navigation error, the trackers were too clever for that. I love the trackers, they are light, didn't need to be recharged, and with 5 second live updates, you never feel out on your own, they certainly add an incentive to keep pushing on.
I was told Ollie wasn’t too far ahead, I was definitely in a race now. My legs were good, I was running with what I thought was good form, and I was feeling positive about everything – ah except cows. Not my fondest memory of the T184 being stalked by a herd of them, and that was right towards the end.
I was remembering pieces of this section, some of it has to be said all looks the same, but as I headed across a field towards a road I knew exactly where I was; I’d gone wrong here (shocker..) before during a recce.
Quite a long road section now, which was slightly uphill, I knew this would feel like a drag, so worked hard to get a pace going, difficult sections are going to be difficult for most, so I was trying to use it as a test, testing myself and what I had to offer. Every step was getting me closer to the next checkpoint, which would be the last one, then it was just 16 miles to the finish.
I knew the road turning I needed to take, it wasn’t obvious as I’d missed it before, which wasn’t going to happen this time, I charged down the road and found the gate at the end, Yes, the Thames Path, I remembered the next couple of miles clearly too, make the most out of that.
The course changes from here on, not alongside the river, but more field crossings, and through villages, with lots of twists and turns, which helped the miles pass quicker.
I was following the map closely, the next Checkpoint was just down the road, I remembered the pub from last year as it was the last checkpoint in the T184, here I remembered ditching the food I didn’t need. I asked how far ahead Ollie was 2:39 - I can do that!
I was hesitating at road junctions, I definitely didn’t want to go wrong, I couldn’t wait until the light was good enough to take off this head torch and in my head start a fresh race.
I started to see a light, I'd been fooled before with lights thinking it could be a head torch, but this one bobbed in a way a torch would, occasionally got brighter, and paused, I'm guessing at gates, that was definitely Ollie.
Ollie was the winner of last years race, such a nice guy and had been running well, he admitted training hadn’t gone to plan this year, but catching him up gave me a huge lift. The torch vanished, he had spotted me, and was pushing on hard.
So something did happen, 4 extra miles of it!
I missed a turn, it was through Ashton Keynes, I was so silly as I knew it wasn’t right, the road should not have gone on this long, the turns were not feeling how they should from the map, and at the t- junction I was certain there should have been a way marker, there wasn’t, but for some reason I still turned left hoping it would suddenly become the right road and I had been mistaken. It didn’t. It just got more wrong.
2 miles later I made the inevitable decision to back track to the last correct point. I moved on quickly from the frustration, giving it a single thought of ‘damn’ then all eyes locked down the road making sure I was back on track as soon as possible. I worked out where I was , and took a bit of time making sure I found the Thames path again, once I found the turn I'd missed, it was obvious, I shouldn’t have missed that one, I was telling myself (maybe fooling myself) I was still in second, and I just had to keep going to catch Ollie.
I was four miles out I guessed when my watch read 60 miles. That was a unnecessary reminder I had messed up.
I knew this last bit very well, after what Id just been through the upcoming field of cows I'd crossed paths with before , held no fear.
A few more fields, 2 road crossings and I would be at the stone. It couldn’t come soon enough. I was starting to feel the miles, and 10hrs of running.
Last field, just a gate to go, and I could see the finish, last push, thank goodness for that, touch the stone, thank everyone for their help, then ask that question, how many exactly had passed me during my detour.
Answer, no one, Ollie was the only finisher ahead of me, we congratulated each other for a fantastic race, I had held onto second, first lady, and set a new ladies record.
I don’t think they will incorporate my extra bit into the race next year; the T64 isn't quite as catchy, but I will return I had such a brilliant weekend, and a fantastic birthday.
Thanks have to go out to Shane Benzie and everyone volunteering at the event, all the runners for making it such a great event, especially Ollie and Mark for their inspiring runs which pushed me along.
Feedback on the SOS sachets they tasted great, and were easy to add to my flasks when I took on more water. http://sosrehydrate.com/
Gotek7 trackers add another level of excitement providing live updates of our progress. It certainly keeps you moving when you know the world could be watching!
What's next?...Well Thames Ring 250. Better recce as much as I can, Id like to avoid adding extra miles onto that one.