Friday 31 October 2014

Thames Path: Day 4 - Streatley to Cookham

This was the day of Serious Wind.

Starting from the pub in Moulsford, I'd run today's route as far as Reading with Louise and then as far as just past Remenham as a recce trip but ended up having to short cut onto the A4155 to Marlow to get picked up - a good 5 miles running down a national speed limit road with no pavements.  That was quite a learning experience that day.  Anyway, it meant that I hadn't actually run the section from Remenham to Marlow before and having recced then from Eton Dorney onwards, there was a good chunk of today's route I'd not seen before.

I'd decided I was going to break up the longer days into two sections.  This is a holiday, you see, and not some sort of enforced torture-march, so I'm supposed to be enjoying myself.  Today's planned stop was at the cafe at Sonning lock.

This was not only the windy day, but also the hilly section.  For a path that follows the river, there's a reasonably hilly bit up through Goring and Streatley which interfered a little with the continuing run: walk strategy of 8 mins:2 mins.  I've trained for flat, so the slightest incline is really hard right now.

That may not look steep, but see how high I got quite quickly...

Another pretty, tree-lined section again today, and despite the wind there was a good bit of sunshine too, to lift the spirits.

More hills.

Mmmfuzzy (sweaty lens again)

And then a long, long, long private road section that leads into Whitchurch.

See the leaves being blown right off the trees in the winds.

Some lovely flat meadows again on the approach into Reading, but they belie some quite uneven ground underneath the grass.  It *looks* soft and flat, but it's pretty hard on the ankles and feet.

Yay. Mapledurham lock has a really useless distance sign on it.  Where does "London" start exactly? Is it to the edge, the middle, the City...?

A more useful sign seen a few times through this area was the leftovers again from the Centurion Winter 100 race.  One of these gave me a great heads-up on a sharpish left to cross railway tracks at Tilehurst, thanks guys!

This bit of the path has a quite long section through a housing estate.  It's steepish in places and you feel like a right idiot hiking through a housing estate in full long-distance running kit with running vest/pack loaded up and soft water bottles flopping around like cow udders on your shoulders.  Well, I did anyway.  And this was the second time of doing it, having run through here weeks earlier with Louise.  I was very glad of that recce run, otherwise I think I might have been quite disappointed by this section.

Popping out of the other side of Tilehurst/Purley-on-Thames, brings you into the Caversham-ish area and some really pretty bits of path again.  This section is concreted and that makes for a nicely dry run even if it has been raining quite heavily.

Wow!  London just got 20 miles closer in less than 5 miles of running; magic!  And soon, Sonning Lock hove into view.  It was shortly before 11am and the cafe opened in 10 minutes, so I sheltered in their lovely little riverside garden until the lady opened the cafe and apologised for lack of hot food.

No mind; there was shelter, tea, cake and power for my devices.  Perfect.  Two mugs of tea, half an hour of device charging and a slab of Victoria sponge later and it was time to get back out and brave the gales some more.

Heading out into the pretty fierce wind again, part two of day four took me out towards another new section and one with some of the route away from the river.  Stopping always runs the risk of it being hard to get going again, though the day I ran 34 miles with a break in the middle for lunch, I really didn't have any problems with that at all.  Today, it was definitely harder.  With 3.5 days of running already in my legs, my hamstrings were creaky and my feet really very sore and achey.  It takes a while for things to warm back up again and the pain of my feet to get backgrounded by my brain.

I love these little alleyways, especially when it's windy!  Though this little bit really feels like you're going through someone's back garden...

Again with the long private road through Lower Shiplake and onwards towards Henley.

Some of the bridges and weirs are utterly spectacular.  This one outside Henley has to be my favourite.  It goes on forever!  And last time I ran over it, I came across a little spaniel about 1/4 the way to the end, lying on it's belly with all four legs outstretched and trembling.  The poor little fella was terrified of the big gaps between the planks and had given up in a shivering heap, so I called his owners to come and give him a lift to the end of the bridge.

The river was very high through Henley and the wind still pretty fierce, mostly a head wind which was starting to get really boring.

Henley - a section I'd not done before
A long concreted section gave way to another field *yawn*.  Pretty though as the sun had broken out for a few hours and despite the wind, the weather was making things look all picturesque.

There are stretches of the Thames both yesterday and today that have some utterly enormous river-fronted houses.  Lord alone knows how much they cost or, indeed, how anyone actually gets to work from them to anywhere sensible.

Another awesome-looking mansion
After a while it gets a bit grating, seeing enormous mansion after immense manse, especially when you're a good 30 miles into a 35 and a bit mile day.  I was starting to get a bit weary by now and wondering how far away Marlow was, as that would mark the final couple of miles to Cookham and the end of the day's running.

Thankfully, around yet another of the bends in the river, Marlow's distinctive skyline came into view.

I was pretty confident in the day's mileage, so I knew it was only a couple more miles from Marlow to get to where I was staying that night, just off the river in Cookham.  And as I ran into Marlow, the heavens opened for the day's predicted rain, and for the first time I actually put on my fabulous Salomon rain jacket, put the hood up and trotted through town for as long as the rain lasted.  A whole 5 minutes!   Rain had been promised for the entire day's run and I was pretty pleased that it only came pretty much right at the end and very briefly.  The jacket performed beautifully and I was dry as a bone on the inside; smugness ensued despite the tiredness and wishing for Cookham to come.

And come it did.  A trek through yet another riverside meadow, almost to the marina in Cookham, before hitting stop on the TomTom for the day and cutting across a field to The Crown for the night.  35.2 miles done and wondering, yet again, how I was going to manage the next day of 35ish miles again.

What was really good about getting started this morning was that it was getting easier to crank up the legs in the morning.  Day one had been rubbish, which was "hilarious" at the time seeing as it was only day one.  Day two was not too bad but hamstrings were quite tight and took over an hour to warm up.  Day three was about the same as day two, but this morning it took almost no time at all and that was pretty heartening.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Thames Path: Day 3 - Oxford to Streatley

Day three would see the first bit of the path I've recced before.  A few weeks ago, I ran a section with Louise and it was a pretty awesome run that day.  And because of yesterday's mess-up with the distance, today would be a really short day.  It was supposed to be 27 miles, but with the extra 4 miles yesterday, it'd be 4 miles less today.  Yay!  (sort of)

This was one of the prettier sections of the Thames, with plenty of locks (with toilets and taps; see the fabulous National Trail website or Environment Agency website for full details of what is where).  It was, however, another muddy section with plenty of nettles.  Having slashed my thigh on the first day with brambles, I didn't really feel the nettle stings any more.  The Romans had it right with nettles.

Yay! Mud! And nettles!

Nice, steep-sided track there for my ankles.
A lot of the path looks like this photo below.  And this is really the bits that I love.  Softish ground, layered with dryish leaves and a lovely canopy of trees, with a view of the river in between the plants.

Trotting in to Abingdon, quite near the start of today's run, I came across some Police tape across the path going under a bridge.  Annoying, but oh well, up and over it is instead.

Except I was stopped by a local newspaper reporter asking me about "the murder".  Eh!? What murder?  Apparently someone had been stabbed to death along that section of the river the night before and the Police had cordoned off a section of land to investigate the scene.

When I got to the top of the steps, I was stopped again by a local BBC TV reporter, who I had to stop mid-flow to say I didn't live there and had only just then heard about the murder.  I thought I'd pop straight back down onto the path on the other side of the river, not really knowing how big the taped off area was.  The Police said; "no".  And that I had to divert down the main road as far as Culham Lock.

Diverted from the bridge at Abingdon to the lock at Culham. Plus detour due to lack of signs to the river.
Where I got really really angry as there was no indication of how to get back to the river.  Cue melt-down number two of the trip.  I threw a full-on strop and swore a lot.  I think I was a bit tired even though only a few miles into the day's run.

River found again, I carried on.

Along the edges of fields again, where you really can't see the river at all.

Then along beautiful meadows with the river stretching out to one side of you.

Alley-ways between houses is another cute feature of the Thames Path.

It's more common than you might expect.

Weirs that stretch across hugely wide sections are pretty awesome and bear stopping for a few moments to watch and listen to the water rushing over.

Hello there big fella!
Some of the villages are rather pretty too.  Though shortly after passing these cows, I was repeatedly stung in the calf by a wasp that I had to yank out of my leg as it got stuck on the fourth sting.  Having been stung quite recently, the best thing I could do was leave the stings untouched and grit through the itchiness of the next 4 days.

And then there are lots of sections that give you the impression people haven't passed through in quite a while.  Where the vegetation is tall, thick and so close together you get whipped by it as you run through.

Luckily, this is where I picked up the section I'd done previously with Louise and that meant I was close to the end of the day and the lovely Beetle & Wedge pub where I was staying.  Of course, true to the previous two days it also meant that I was due a really muddy and wet section to make sure I had drenched feet as I came in for the day.

And lo! There was more mud.
Shortest day done.  Wet and muddy feet.  I hove into the pub just as they were finishing lunch service.

The bar at the Beetle & Wedge
 So, having started the day with 2 cups of tea and run 23 miles since, I just about managed to persuade the pub to give me some cheese and biscuits, a pint of ale, a pint of soda water and a pot of tea.

My room was really rather lovely as it had A. this enormous bath in the bathroom, and B. would have MrTOTKat in it later on as he was dropping by for family dinner with me and my parents that evening.

Third day done, half way through in terms of time but under half way in terms of distance I was a bit deflated and down.  My ankles were sore and my feet were sore.  I had amused myself by tidying up the final few bits of course marking the sweeper for the Centurion Winter 100 race had missed a couple of days earlier...

A short day, but an eventful one with a murder scene, wasp stings and seeing my family for dinner.  But 3 more days and a smidge over 100 miles to go.  I'd still stuck to the 8:2 mins of running vs. walking, but I was seriously wondering how I was going to get through the next two days at 35.5 miles each day before the last day of 31 miles.