Thames Path Challenge Ultra Marathon

I did it, I actually did it!

I completed the Thames Path Challenge 100km Ultra Marathon! 💯 🏃💨 🏅 🙌

A few days of recovering on the sofa and it’s slowly beginning to sink in as to exactly what it is I achieved!  Such a huge feat.

I spent the week leading up to it, lightly jogging out my taper and furiously refreshing the weather forecast.  But alas, rain was imminent.

How wet would I get?  Very.

The morning started well enough, well, as well as any morning with a 4:30am alarm can.

I’d packed everything the night before so it was just a case of having breakfast, putting my race kit on and heading off to the start.  I arrived in plenty of time to register, get myself sorted out and managed to have another cup of tea and a banana calming the butterflies in my stomach in the countdown to 7am.

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The start line – registered and all set to go!

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I just wanted to get started!

I was nervous just to get started as Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Know faded bizarrely into LMFAO’s Party Rock for the mass warm up and before I knew it we were off!

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The start line – counting down to 7am!

I resisted the urge to go too fast having learnt that peril in training no matter how good you are feeling at the start.  A few people flew off at a rapid pace but I seemed happily in the middle of the pack even though it took me a few kilometres to settle into my pace as we all found our way over Putney Bridge and down to the river path.

I was just focusing on one section at a time, the next checkpoint was always my target.  My first goal was 28km to Hurst Park with the plan being to run at my intended pace the whole way there (no walking breaks just yet).

I had friends and family waiting for me there to cheer me through the first section and waiting with supplies – Coconut water, PB&J sandwiches, fruit and such.  I did not realise how well stocked the checkpoints and aid stations would be from the event organisers Action Challenge, and even though I had pre-packed bags of supplies being shuttled by family to each checkpoint I probably could have got away without them.  Still, it was reassuring to know exactly what I would have waiting for me in case I didn’t fancy what was on offer.

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Checkpoint 1 – 28km – all going well so far!

A drinks bottle refill and off I went again search of the 50km halfway point at Runnymede.  Contrary to popular belief Ultra Marathons are not 100% running, they are also a mix of walking and hiking (depending on the terrain), and this is where I now started to alternate my running with walking.  My aim was 25-30mins running and then 5-10mins walking which I generally managed through to the halfway point, though in the second half of the race the running sections got shorter and shorter as I got increasingly tired!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the route is relatively flat, I had thought it was (and even been told as such) but what they don’t tell you is that, well, it isn’t.

Over 280m of elevation across the whole route, from gradual leg-sapping inclines that you don’t notice until you realise how much harder your legs are working to steps and ramps up and over bridges.  I’m sure each climb onto a bridge was cursed by every runner that went up it.

I think I got stung by stinging nettles a couple of times along the more overgrown pathways of this section and it was a weirdly welcome distraction from the aches creeping into my legs.  I was tempted to deliberately do it again later in the hope of further distraction but, probably for the best, I didn’t.

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Checkpoint 2 – 50km – wet through and starting to feel tired!

I’d not really struggled with any blisters in my training (looking after my feet and plenty of vaseline!) but the wet weather had decided otherwise for today.  Socks and shoes wet through meant my feet were rubbing badly.  I dried my feet, covered the necessary areas with Compeed Plasters and put on some dry socks which felt amazing!  Do not underestimate the power that fresh socks can give you!

My sister had very kindly offered to join me on the third section from 50-78km of which I was extremely grateful for the company and the support.  All the runners had really thinned out to the halfway point and actually along this third section to Cookham we only saw seven other runners!  It would have been a very lonely stretch without her.

Although this was a great section for some company, it was not a good section for the weather.  Already very wet from the persistently intermittent rain all morning it really came down during this section.  It felt like every type of inclement weather from fine drizzle to heavier rainfall that whipped you in the face from the wind in every direction.  Not fun!

64km was a mini landmark for me as I surpassed my longest ever run, I was into the unknown now!  Then came the mental realisation of hitting 66km.  Two thirds of the way through was a mini triumph yes, but all I could think was that half of what I had done I still had to do all over again.  Demoralising doesn’t even come close to how I felt.

I got quite tearful around the 70km mark.  My ankle was in a lot of pain and after a short walk break I went to start running again and just couldn’t.  My current state of fatigue and the pain and fear of not finishing was overwhelming and I just stopped and welled up.  This was one of those points where had I been on my own I’m not sure how I would have coped, instead my sister helped me work through it and gradually start moving off again.  I don’t remember exactly what she said but it worked!

My Garmin gives me an alert every 5km and I used this as a little boost, counting it out loud every time it went off.  It went off at the 75km mark and I should have proudly said “fifteen”, but for some reason I just stopped.  The five times table had alluded me.  Sheer exhaustion was taking over and I’d lost the ability for even relatively basic mental arithmetic.

Despite the continuing rain and mud underfoot we progressed and made it to the 78km checkpoint.

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Checkpoint 3 – 78km – starting to really struggle!

By this point I was really struggling to take on much food.  I was trying, but I’d almost thrown up three times so far and my body was just saying no.  I reasoned that hungry and tired was better than vomiting and I was at least keeping fluids down (a mix of High5 energy, Coca Cola and High5 Zeros) but even my proven snacks and food from all my training runs were becoming very difficult.  I ate what I could (a mini pork pie and ready salted Hula Hoops since you asked), made a quick toilet stop and was off again.

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Extremely grateful for my sister’s company and support along the route!

All the other runners were really great and encouraging every time they passed me, or I them.  Kind and reassuring words made you feel like you weren’t the only one suffering as we feigned pained smiles at each other and plodded on.  It would have been great for some company to run with others during some sections but the reality was that we were all running at very different paces.  We all seemed to be taking walking breaks but the runs/walks were differing speeds and durations making it impossible to sync with others.  Often you just have to run your own race even if it is the lonely option.

Onto the final section and I had new targets: first the drinks station 10km away and then the finish line a further 12km on.

Every step was agony at the moment.  Physical pain coupled with both physical and mental exhaustion had me close to breaking point.  I couple of times I genuinely thought about stopping, just giving up and calling it a day but my stubborn determination won through and I persisted.

I didn’t want to let anyone down, including myself.  In relative terms I didn’t have *that* much further to go and it seemed a more painful option to give up.  I wasn’t going to give up because this was getting hard.  It was always going to be hard (that’s why not many people run 100km!) and it been hard for a while already.

No, I would need it to become impossible for me not to finish (whatever I convinced myself that that meant).  The next step reminded me of my swollen ankle once again and I thought even it was broken I’d try and crawl to that damn finish line!

I managed to continue on and rise up from my low point, my average pace somehow not actually slowing that much, until I hit the mud.  The consistent rain had turned the ground underfoot into slippery mud and it was all I could do stay upright on much of the next few kilometres.  Power walking and shuffling it was, no chance of me running across this.

The ground turned back to it’s typical stoney, gravelly self and I managed to get back running.  I must have been getting even more tired than I realised because I soon stopped and realised I hadn’t seen a route marker in a while.

The pink arrows, now accompanied by glow sticks as it was getting dark, had been so frequent and now there were none.  Had I gone wrong?  Surely not.  I thought I saw a glow stick hanging on a branch further down so continued on to check, but turns out it wasn’t.  It wasn’t even a light, I don’t know what my tired eyes thought they had seen!

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Detour – missed the turning!

Cold, wet and lonely, I felt very worried and so got the map out and what was left of my phone battery to locate myself.  Yes I had indeed veered off course.  Not by a huge amount fortunately (around 550m total), but enough to feel very alone and be really angry with myself cursing every painful step back towards the course.

Then I saw some other runners!  People!  I was so happy to see other people!  I saw the split in the path that I had missed and rejoined the route to press on.

A brief stop at the 88km drinks station saw me catch up with a group of three who I’d been close to the whole time.  I considered joining them for some company and support but their pace was just too much for me and we soon said our encouraging farewells.

As I passed over the 90km point I picked up a second wind.  Ok, probably my eighth or ninth wind, but it was a boost nonetheless!  I was now able to countdown single figures to the 100km finish line.  I donned my headtorch and headed into Henley as the sun set over the river.

I’d have taken a photo had it not seemed like a waste of precious energy at this point, but it definitely looked something like this one from Baby Routes.

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Image credit to babyroutes.co.uk

I was back managing longer run sections now that the rain had stopped, though what I discovered was just how many insects reside alongside a river when your head is a light source.  I was running with a constant face of midges and flies!  Not fun when you really want to be focusing on your breathing and avoiding a spluttering cough.

Coming up over a bridge and briefly into Henley I turned back along the river for one final time.  I could see the finish line!  The flags, the lights, the inflatable banners, I was so close!

I squeezed everything I could on that final push and as I turned up onto the grass fist-pumped my way through the finish line with my family, friends and supporters cheering me on!  Utter indescribable elation at finishing!

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The finish line – medal and champagne!

I was given a medal, event tshirt and champagne, and was just overcome with emotion.  It is such a blur when I try and think back to it, I didn’t know whether to sit down or walk around, laugh, cry, eat, or just crumple into a pile of the broken person I felt like!

My moving time was 11hrs 52mins (average pace 7:14/km) and a further 1hr 50mins spent at checkpoints, aid stations and toilet stops for a total time of 13hrs and 41mins from start to finish.  Perhaps somewhat hampered by the relentlessly wet weather but I don’t think I could have done anymore regardless of the conditions and at least it wasn’t sweltering heat!

The next morning I woke up to discover I’d actually finished 44th out of all the runners!  Completely gobsmacked!

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Confirmation of 44th place!

I was told that there were around 250-300 runners and a further 2,000+ walkers doing the route. Weirdly no one I spoke to seemed to know exactly how many there were!

The full activity is on my Strava profile here.

I have to give a huge thumbs up to the organisers who were excellent throughout.  Of all the events I’ve done this has to be have been one of the best organised, supported, supplied, friendliest and well-stocked I’ve ever seen.  Bravo, Action Challenge and Ultra Challenges.

I must say a huge thanks to friends and family that have all supported me over the past six months or so as well as on the day itself.  I’m taking a short break from running for now, and from Ultras forever (probably).

Following the Ultra I’ve spent my time eating, napping and watching Netflix on the sofa, and working my way through just over 8,000 calories in two days alone.  Though still at a 1,000 calories deficit of the Ultra estimate’s 9,000+ calories burned.

Be under no illusion the Thames Path Challenge is tough, very tough, but I’m so happy to have done it!  I’m part of the Ultra 100 Club!

It’s not too late to still make a donation to my Just Giving page in raising money for Millie’s Trust if you are able to.  As ever, anything you can spare is very gratefully received and will make my pain that little bit more bearable.

Ultra Marathon Update

With less than one week to go until my Ultra Marathon the nerves are starting to set in.

I  banked my longest run (64km/40miles) a few weeks ago and I’m now halfway through my two week taper so I am well rested come race day (though I’ve unofficially been taking it easier for a week or so more than that).  Two more light runs and that will be my training complete.

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Around 22 weeks and 950+ km of training has brought me to this point, over which I’ve covered all manner of runs and efforts to increase my fitness, endurance and (hopefully) general ultra running ability.  Short runs, long runs, even longer runs, easy runs, fast runs, hill repeats, sprintervals, and a number of PBs to boot over recent months (at 5km, 10km, half marathon, 30km, full marathon distances).

Plus, technically speaking, two “ultras” already completed (any distance longer than traditional marathon distance) with my 50km and 64km efforts which will hopefully stand me in good stead.

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This 100km is the big one though.  Maps, kit and pack lists are stuck up in our hallway so as not to forget anything and to remind me of the route (surely you can’t get lost following the river?).  All my kit and equipment has been refined down over my training to leave me with the mandatory kit required by the event (like a headtorch) to the basics I hope to survive on.

A lot of it comes down to weight.  Most items I’m going to be carrying probably weight no more than a few hundred grams each, but they soon add up and indeed will start to feel a lot heavier having carried them for 12+ hours.

My race vest is the Kalenji Trail Bag – small, light, comfortable and fits two bottles up front.  I’ve tried more expensive brands and hydration bladders before but, personal preference, I don’t like not being able to see how much fluid I have left.  Two bottles allows me one water with electrolyte tabs and another of High5 Energy mix.  Carrying enough liquid during training often meant a heavy bag or refill stops, fortunately in the Ultra there are water stations every 12km or so.

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In my bag I’ll be running with my two bottles, phone, ID/bank cards, head torch, spare socks, spare underwear, blister kit, mini vaseline, wet wipes, lip balm, sun cream, electrolyte tabs, medical tape, energy gels and food snacks.  It sounds like a lot, but I’ve whittled this down from what I used to take and I hope it will cover all situations (or at least allow me to get to an aid station should the need arise).

I’ll be wearing a typical running base layer, tshirt and shorts, plus Compressport quad and calf guards.  Oh and my lovely New Balance Revlite 870V2.

I still use elastic laces (time saving in transition zones from when I started duathlon) but even when just running I find they tend to flex a little more than regular laces when pulled tight, which prevents any soreness digging in across the top of my foot.

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Organisers will take a bag to the halfway point for you, and I’ve got family meeting me at the first and third checkpoints with supplies to top myself up so I don’t need to carry absolutely everything from the start.

If you can spare anything then any last minute donations for Millie’s Trust will be very gratefully received on my Just Giving page.

Here’s hoping the weather isn’t too hot, wish me luck.  Once I’ve recovered from the event I’ll write a post-race review!

The Man Behind The Ikea Catalogue

The most important person in producing the 211 million worldwide copies of the Ikea catalogue?  Furniture impersonator Torbjörn Lundberg of course.

“I can be a sofa and an hour later I can be a lamp…”

Such versatility, what would they do without him?

Hilarious ad from Swiss agency Wirz Werbung Zürich.

Google Cardboard Plastic

Google have put a rather amusing spin on their own VR platform Cardboard and it’s excellent.

For all the serious and hard work that they achieve, it’s always good to see their more tongue-in-cheek side that keeps them both appealing and endearing as a brand to people (not to mention a regular feature every year on April Fools Day!).

What’s realer than real?  Probably nothing.  Or maybe something…

Forget virtual reality, this is the first headset for Actual Reality.

Fully immersive, lightweight and waterproof.  What more could you want?

Cardboard Plastic.  Well played, Google.

Ultra Marathon Update

As my training for the rather ominous sounding Ultra Marathon is ramping up I thought it was about time I provide an update. In fact I’m due a blog update full stop!

July alone saw me total up 263km in training, culminating last weekend when I banked my longest run yet – 50km (31miles)!

Yes it was tough, very tough.  But to mimic what I’m aiming to do in the Ultra itself I didn’t run it all non-stop.  I ran the first 25-30km and then alternated 5km runs with 5 minute walks.  This allowed a small amount of recovery for my legs, kept my HR within a reasonable zone, and gave me a chance to eat.  One thing I’ve learnt is that, whilst I’m not good at eating while running (is anyone?), I do need to take on board fuel – Malt Loaf and Jaffa Cakes reign supreme!

50km before and afterBefore and after my 50km, I’m sure you can work out which is which!

If you follow me on Strava you will see that my runs of late have tended to get slower and longer.  An Ultra Marathon is all about endurance and building that up is my aim.

Bar a calf strain a few weeks ago that gave me a week or so off with just some light cycling as my only exercise, training has broadly been going very well.

By and large I’ve stuck to my schedule, it doesn’t look like it from the amount of crosses and corrections to my wall chart but these distances were deliberately rounded up when I planned it so that if I wasn’t able to make a run it wouldn’t impact too much.

Ultra training logClick the image to view larger

Mapometer has become one of my best friends in planning almost every route that I do, the elevation feature is particularly handy in avoiding hills on my longer runs!

A lot of people have a skewed view of how much training for an Ultra can take over your life.  Yes it does involve a lot of time, but with some careful planning it hasn’t impacted my family or social life too much.  Short interval or hill sessions are very beneficial, and I’m fortunate enough to work near some scenic routes and off road trails that have allowed many a lunchtime run from the office to add some variety to my schedule.

Hill trainingDiscovering local hills and off road routes

I even worked in some “doubles” by running to work in the morning and then running home again!  Surprisingly only slightly longer than my usual commute time door to door.

Of course my longer runs do mean I can be out for hours at a time, but leaving early can mean I’m often back my lunchtime, or if we are going out somewhere I can leave a couple of hours early and run there to meet people.  It’s all about planning!

I’m under no illusion that this challenge is going to be extremely difficult physically, but the mental side of it is what I am still struggling with.  That 50km activity was a huge effort, yet that distance would only just about put me halfway on the actual day.  HALFWAY!

Getting my head around doing that all again is something I am not yet sure about!

Granted on the day there will be more support, regular drinks stations, and hopefully even some company from other runners that are aiming for a similar pace to mine.  I’m hoping all these little extras add up and pull me through!

The weather of late has been getting very warm.  Planning water stops and spots to refill my bottles has become a key factor in determining routes after I got caught out in a long run up in Lincoln.  The temperature was even warmer than forecast and with barely any shade over the whole route I virtually collapsed at the end with severe dehydration and on the verge of heatstroke.  That is something you really want to avoid!

HeadtorchGoofing around with my head torch – a mandatory item for the Ultra

I’ll detail all my kit, food, drink and bag drop contents in another post nearer the race.

My current training total over the past 18 weeks now stands at over 750km, and with not that many more to go the butterflies are starting to appear when I think about race day.

Of course at the core of this, and making it hugely worthwhile, is the ability to raise money for a very deserving charity, Millie’s Trust.

You can read the full story and my reasons for choosing Millie’s Trust here and any donations that you are able to spare would be incredibly gratefully received on my Just Giving page.

All being well this weekend will see my training hit its peak and I’ll hopefully complete my longest run of 65km.  Wish me luck!

Like Ice In The Sunshine

Following a weekend of beautiful Summer-esque weather that has actually continued into Monday I’m beginning to believe that Summer is well on its way.

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What better way to celebrate than to feature Simone Rosenbauer’s deliciously simple Like Ice In The Sunshine series which takes an artistic look at slowly melting ice lollies set against a complimentary block colour background.

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Inspired by melting “bodies of different shapes and sizes” whilst sunbathing on Bondi Beach, Simone has captured that essence and translated it into something that everybody loves.  The saturated colours of the ice lollies so reminiscent of childhood summer holidays and the inevitable dripping and melting as the sun beats you to eating them.

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Nothing says summer like a Twister melting all over your shorts.

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Check out more of Simone’s work here.

Transparent Wood

Yes, you read the title correctly, transparent wood!

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The same block of wood before and after treatment

A team at the University of Maryland has developed a process to remove the colour and light blocking properties that wood has, rendering it not only stronger and more insulating than glass but also more biodegradable than a lot of current plastics.  Wow!

To turn the wood transparent, Dr. Hu and his team boil the wood in water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals to remove the lignin (an organic polymer that gives wood its colour) to leave behind the colourless channels of the wood’s natural cellular structure.  They then pour epoxy over the block to increase the strength.

Video from New York Magazine

Ok, it doesn’t have the optical clarity of glass but for a material that is inherently opaque the transparency is impressively high.  And don’t forget, this is only a recent discovery.  I’m sure that with more research the process can be refined to improve the clarity beyond the current maximum of 90%.

The natural channels that remain in the wood have more than just an aesthetic quality to them.  They actually guide light waves along the internal structure, focussing them rather than dispersing them.  This means you could not only get more light in through “wooden windows” but you could also improve the yield of solar panels with a coating of transparent wood!

The potential for use as windows and in other building areas is incredible, particularly when you consider that it has the conceivable ability to surpass steel’s strength to weight ratio for structural elements.

I look forward to being able to build a transparent tree house for my daughter one day!

 


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