Tuesday 11 November 2014

Thames Path: So...?

So, I ran the Thames Path.

So what?

Snippets... memories...

"The threads of ten thousand spiders" - the first couple of days: starting out in the morning, wading through dewy grass and getting soaked feet, and breaking the threads of ten thousand spiders as the first living thing to cross the path in hours, the first human to set foot on it in days.  Sticky threads that collect on your bare skin; arms, legs, face... at the end of the day I'd be scraping them off the rubberised parts of my TomTom and run pack.

What you can't see it the thousands of micro-fine spider threads that drape across from the bushes and plants
"The smell of the purple wildflowers along the path" - there's a really distinctive-smelling wild flower that grows near rivers. It's a strong smell and the flower blooms for a few months; I first smelled it out on my training runs in August.  It's all around along large sections of the route and the scent takes me back.

"The solitude of the trail" - for much of the first 5 days, and almost all of the first 2 days, I didn't see another human being.  I didn't have to talk to anyone for hours and hours.  Just me and moving forwards.

Just me, and this.
"The incredible beauty of the countryside and the river" - dearie me, the Thames is pretty.  Sometimes on the path you don't get to see much of it, but sometimes it's utterly stunning and you get views that just look like old masters paintings.

"A slightly odd feeling" - I know I ran 184 miles over 6 days.  I know that's a long way for me.  I know that's not a long way for a good number of people.  I have no medal or t-shirt to show for it.  I know multi-day works for me.  I don't know what any of that means.

Sunday 9 November 2014

Thames Path: the daily admin side

One of the great successes of the trip was the lack of injury and damage.  This was mainly down to preparation, testing kit out, doing 2 days a week of specific strength & conditioning for months beforehand, and a daily regime on the tour itself.

Each morning, I used Sailfish anti-chafe/skin protect lubricant all over my back.  I have suffered in the past with bad chafing on my back, that I still have scarring from now.  It's painful and if it can be avoided, it should.  The avoidance, for me, is limiting the amount of stuff that causes ridges on my back; so not wearing a heart rate monitor strap any more is a great start.  Having a race pack that fits closely and doesn't move is essential.  And using lubricant, just to be sure, was extremely effective.  I didn't use it on the first day and I had a slight abrasion long the underside of where my sports bra ends.  I used lubricant every day after that and there was no more chafing.

I also used a stick lubricant on my feet - Compeed anti-blister stick (10ml) - small, light and plenty in a stick to last a couple of weeks if need be.  I smothered the arch and ball of each foot, along with the bits of my toes that are in contact with the insides of my shoes.  I got zero blisters in the 6 days.  Not even a hot spot.

Each evening, I massaged Sudocrem into my feet and back, I also used it on the bramble scratches and wasp stings I got, after a good hot shower first.  I also made sure my socks were free from any solid grit or mud and hung out my race pack, shorts, t-shirt and sports bra to dry to make sure they were completely dry again in the morning.  Occasionally, they got a rinse with some washing leaves, but I stopped bothering with that after a couple of goes.  I checked out my toes and feet and made sure there was nothing stuck in them, no grit between my toes or down the sides of my toe-nails and that the nails were not catching on anything.

The results of this - no blisters, the chafing from day 1 cleared up by day 3 and no further chafing, no blood blisters, no lifted or discoloured toe-nails.  The only injuries were scratches and a few stings.  Yes, my feet were pretty swollen by the end of it, but that's from hitting them with my bodyweight a bajillion times over the days and that subsided slowly over a week or so.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Thames Path: Day 6 - Hampton Wick to the Thames Barrier

For a number of reasons, day 6 was always going to be the tough one.

Firstly, it's the last day.  Secondly, it's the last day... Thirdly, it has a large section through quite a touristy part of town.  Fourthly, it's the last day and that's psychologically hard.

I'd decided to set off later than usual today, to make sure I hit the end at a time to be sociable with people in a pub afterwards and not just want to go home and lie down quietly.  So I set off at around 9am, with a plan to stop for half an hour at about half way for at least some tea and then whatever else I fancied if I was hungry by then.

Starting at Hampton Wick, after a brief breakfast of tea and some mini cheeses (no cooked brekkie available at the B&B :o( ) the legs started up nice and quickly again this morning, but the brain was already not happy with the prospect of the awful building site section for miles around the O2 arena area, and the warning of heavy touristyness around Waterloo to London Bridge.

Pretty much from the start of the day, my stomach was unhappy.  I think the deviation from my normal very low carbohydrate diet was hitting it and it was struggling with dealing with that with a reduced blood supply due to the running going on.  I felt low-grade nauseated from the start and it didn't really get any better all day.  My legs were totally fine, but my belly and brain were checking out.

Not very helpful when I have a 31 mile day ahead of me.

The terrain and views are pretty much familiar at the start of this section, but the fully paved part isn't that far off so I needed to enjoy this softness and pleasantness underfoot while I could.

I whined at MrTOTKat via text message that I was worried today was going to end up being a longer distance than I'd thought as I'd got it a bit wrong earlier in the week and I was in a bit of an unhappy place mentally about it by now.  He assured me it was 31-32 miles, and I really really hoped that 31 was right.  I decided at this point that I was not going to be in a great place by the end of today, and too emotionally tired to be sociable.  So I cancelled the Facebook invitation to a pub near the Thames Barrier and instantly got lots of messages from concerned people who worried it meant I wasn't OK.

Passing through Richmond there were a few familiar signs attached to street furniture that made me smile a little.  The London Ultra of February 2013 seems such a long time ago now.   My stomach was starting to quieten down, which made it easier to stay running at a reasonable pace rather than start slowing down this early in the day.

At least the ground was still mixed paved and dirt paths and there are a good few pretty bridges to look at in Richmond...

...and Barnes.

And the weather, although quite nippy, was being kind and making the river nice to look at, despite the tide being out.

But once you hit Wandsworth, that's it for the soft surfaces to run on.  It's tarmac and paving stones to the end now.  And that made me a bit miserable.  Too early to be miserable!  More than half of the day's running still to go I pushed on, passing closed pub after closed pub.

Weak-willed by the time I spotted a place with cakes in the window, it was time to take a break and have some tea.

Today was the last day and I didn't want to be miserable all day, so I had a cookie and a pot of tea and took my time.  There didn't need to be any time constraints today and it was only just midday, so this was fine and a good way to make sure any later melt-downs happened much later rather than sooner.  Thankfully, I think the tea settled my stomach to being completely fine, which was great news for the overall comfort level.

Tea drunk, cookie munched and it was time to suck it up and hit the un-fun section.

Having recced part of this bit before with MrTOTKat a few weeks earlier, I'd decided to detour to the Northern route option at Albert Bridge and back South again at Lambeth Bridge, to avoid the ugly building-site mess around Battersea.  This was absolutely the right thing to do and possibly I should have stayed North a lot longer than I did, but hey I really didn't think it'd be all that touristy in the week before half term.



Passing Hotel Verta and the London Heliport...

...it was time to cross over to the North side of the river to avoid the large development work around Battersea.

Crossing back over again at Lambeth Bridge...

...on through past Blackfriars Bridge

...past views of most of the London landmarks and skyline features

...the tourists started to get more and more frequent.  And it became utterly impossible to go in a straight line at all.

Despite the great views of beautiful bits of architecture, both buildings and bridges, my mental state was really not fit for dealing with people on a much more leisurely and unfocused mission.  And I got angrier...

...and angrier that it was close to impossible to actually run any more.

At Tower Bridge I finally gave up.  Having managed to maintain my strategy of run for 8 minutes, walk for 2 for the majority of the previous 5.5 days, I gave up and started to just walk without any running at all.

And managed to take a very tiny detour (the third of the whole trip) away from the river for a few hundred meters.  (In hindsight and looking at the Google Earth view, it looks like this was not a detour and there's no way to actually be along the river for that section on foot.)

Once you're past the shopping area of Butler's Wharf you hit lots of housing estates and a very much lower skyline with a much wider river.  It became apparent that part of the reason I was so cold was because it had got windy again and the river was pretty choppy.

A lack of tall buildings around this area meant no shelter from that wind and as I was walking, I got cold.  Thankfully I had packed well and I put on both of my Salomon jackets, which really helped a lot.

This next section is simply cruel.  You can see Canary Wharf ahead of you and it never gets any closer and it looks like it's always ahead of you as you're on the deep bow in the Thames.

I was pretty crushed and tired and this really didn't help.  Still walking and with really really sore feet I needed to see the O2 arena looming pretty soon.

You can see that there were attempts to regenerate around here, but a while ago and things are starting to look a bit shabby.

 And then it gets really shabby.

Diverted away from the river and through some pretty rough areas, Greenwich seems so horribly far away.

When I reached this sign I almost cried.  I expected it to be about 4 miles to the barrier; it being over 5 was a horrible prospect.  My brain was in no state to do simple arithmetic, but I knew that even if I could average the pace I had been doing from run:walk, it'd be over an hour to the barrier and I was now fully walking.  Over 2 hours left then.

Thankfully, the banks around Greenwich village are actually quite nice, with the foot tunnel entry and exit points.

 The Cutty Sark.

And the Royal Naval College, which had people celebrating their graduation ceremony that day, so it was full of young things in caps and gowns looking happy and with proud family around them.

Shortly after this, the lies start... 3.75 miles to the barrier! Yay!

And a few hundred meters further along; 4 miles to the barrier.


Perfect for a very very tired person who is so close to the end of something that requires a lot of concentration and mental/emotional energy at this stage. No really.  Perfect.  So how about some inspirational building sites to lift the spirits now?

Awe-inspiring views!

Hey, that just wasn't cool enough apparently.  What about a working crane across the path?  That better for ya?  I had to run at this point.  Well, actually sprint as the crane driver saw the cyclist by not me.  The upside?  I proved to myself that running wasn't impossible, though it really hurt my feet.

Yes, at this point I was losing it.  There were many more signs that would say one thing and then add 1/4 mile to the distance to go at the following sign.

Finally! Hello O2 arena!

Hello Emirates Air Line!

And either 1.5 or 1.75 miles to go.

The locals obviously decided that things aren't pretty enough around here, so there's a lovely sculpture on the beach to brighten things up a bit.

1 mile (or 1.25 miles) to go!

And this time, the next sign agreed!  Somehow, this gave me the emotional energy to start running again, so back to 8 minutes run 2 minutes walk.

Past the, quite frankly grim, famous Anchor and Hope pub which should really be called the "Abandon Hope" as it's just so hideous and run down and in a hideous and run down area.

Half a mile to go and I could see the barrier.

Ignoring the 8:2 I now just ran all the way to the barrier.  It was pretty much over now.

Once at the barrier, there really isn't any clear marker of where the Thames Path actually stops (or starts).

There's a sign with a "Thames Barrier" location marker on it, but if you go through the underpass...

...with its lovely depiction of the elevation of the Thames Path from source to barrier...

...there's another sign on the other side of the barrier with the same "Thames Barrier" location marker on it.

At this point I was beyond caring; I was done.  It was 16:45, the visitor centre cafe closes at 17:00 and I *needed* a cup of tea.

The cafe was empty and as I pushed open the door, the lady yelled at me that she was closing.  I lost it a tiny bit and managed to persuade her that I really did need a cup of tea and it'd be quite upsetting for me if I couldn't now have one given there was 15 minutes before the cafe was supposed to close.  I got my tea in a takeaway cup and sat outside on the benches so she could carry on locking up even though it still wasn't 17:00.

I sat at the bench, posted the Tweet "Done. TP#184" and finally let go of all the emotion.  Proper, snotty crying for a good ten minutes before I had to pull myself together and work out how to get home.

I walked out to the main road to the nearest bus stop and the bus I needed arrived in seconds.  Less than an hour from there to home (or rather to a pub near home as I had no house keys and it was too early for MrTOTKat to be home).  I'd apologise to the Jubilee Line commuters of that day for being a stinky, muddy mess, but...