It's the day before the day I catch a train to Kemble, to the start of the river Thames. And I'm feeling apprehensive. There are a good few unknowns and the weather is being unkind.
The last couple of weeks have been very light, training-wise, busy and stressful work-wise and having made an error at the Clapham Common race last weekend, I'm even lower on miles than planned. The last few weeks have seen 38 miles, 20 miles, 28 miles, 17 miles... so, of course, I feel under-fit right now. The usual fears are surfacing, but it's madder than usual as this is not a race. There are no cut offs. I've run a reasonable chunk of the route recently.
Conversely; I've not run the section from the source to Cholsey and the earlier sections seem like they're going to be tougher navigation-wise. The first large-ish section there's not even a river to follow, there are sections that are just running across a field, then there's a bunch of streams and lakes to get confused by. I've not run more than three days in a row before and certainly not averaged 30 miles a day for even three days in a row, or even two. So I have no idea how my body is going to respond to that, but my gut feeling is that it'll actually be pretty OK.
I've not run with my full pack for over 3 weeks now either, so that'll be sub-optimal when I start on Saturday morning with it on again. But, I ran my fastest 10K to date this last weekend, so I think underlying "stuff" is pretty strong, so I should be OK.
Let's see how many cycles of "yay" and "argh" I go through in the next 40 hours to the off from the rock in the field in Oxfordshire!
I was really conflicted on Friday and into Saturday morning about the race. I felt really good and "race head" was in full swing. I wanted to target sub 6 hours and just really put the effort in.
Come the race start I was set on trying to keep MrTOTKat with me, despite knowing his fitness isn't there and the longest he's run in months is the Wales Marathon in July. That, and the fact he's never run a trail race or off-road beyond the gravel paths on Wimbledon Common, was always going to be a bit of a stretch.
I fully intended to stick to 8mins:2mins run:hike apart from hiking up steep hills and running the downs and set off pretty sharpish. I ignored the comments from MrTOTKat that we were going too quickly and was pretty relentless with pace, partly to keep the lead pack in sight to keep navigation easier (little to no route marking) and partly to just get a move on.
It was pretty successful and for the absolutely awesome section in the woods, along the river I led a pack through at a cracking pace (for me) and loved every second of it. If the whole race had been like that it would have been a perfect course for me. Anyway, it wasn't and once we hit a dead straight rolling path which turned into road and MrTOTKat ran into big trouble with his knee.
Running was not possible and as we hiked onwards, it became harder and almost unbearably painful for him. We took the call to withdraw both of us at the next checkpoint - there was no recovering a fast finish for me and neither of us fancied a death-march to the end to finish just inside the cut-off. Nothing to be gained for me and we didn't want MrTOTKat's first ultra finish to be under these circumstances.
We retired after around 20 miles at checkpoint 3, which happened to be next door to a glamping site - The Bivouac - which had a lovely little cafe. A nice pot of tea, some cake and a lift back to the start from the chairman of the Ripon Runners running club (thanks Chris!) and I could think of worse ways to drop out of a race.
Sore ankles for me at the end; very uneven underfoot for around 15 of the 20 miles covered. But they were fine again on Sunday morning. Same for hips & glutes. I tried a little jog from our B&B barn to the farm house for brekkie and everything felt fine in terms of mobility. Good news for my Thames Path journey run in 2 weeks time!
As courses go, I'd love to have another go at this one and see how the lumpier section in the second half goes. The section along the river was truly perfect and I'd love to run it again, but just me next time.
All in all, a mixed race and in hindsight I did the right thing by MrTOTKat and don't regret that for a second, but I think I will run my own races in future unless we're much more closely matched in fitness and conditioning.
Raring to go for TP now; just gotta get through two weeks without injuring myself!
Now that I am confirmed in doing this unsupported, I have a couple of tweaks to make to the packing list as I need to carry *everything* I'll need except for bed, breakfast and dinner. I've weighed the pack without water and it's a smidge over 2kg, around 3.5kg with water. Which is pretty blimmin' awesome!