Ok, with 9 weeks to go until the MdS,I had hoped the Thames Trot would go much more smoothly. As I’m lying in the sofa thinking about where things went a bit pear shaped and how I missed my target by so much and ended up slower than C2C (where I was wearing a 6kg pack).
I finished- that’s the important thing! But, it took me 9 hours (target was 8) and my last two sectors were horrifically slow – I’m waiting to see the results to see how much time I lost and how my pace averaged out.
So where did it go wrong. I can think of three things I fell victim to:
1) Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
2) Never use food/drink for the first time in a race
3) In a self navigation race, don’t blindly follow the person in front of you
So here comes a dissection of the race. I’ll spare you the usual checkpoint by checkpoint story. Other than to say I felt like I was having a great race all the way from Oxford to Abingdon, Benson, Goring, Purley… It felt like I was strongly in the middle of the pack! Then boom – doors off! catastrophically!
So what was the cause? I hope thinking about this, whilst it might be a bit boring to read, will help me prep for the desert and will help me mentally when it gets rough in Morocco!
#1 Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
I probably didn’t have enough rest going into this race- it’s only 3weeks since the last ultra. I also did quite a bit during the week – 1500m swimming, 14miles running (inc hill reps) and yoga. Great MdS prep in the long run… But not ideal prep for the Thames Trot. Also, the day before the race I got my planning all screwed up- I accidentally skipped lunch as I was on a conference call and I didn’t have a proper, carb load meal in the evening!! I was meeting friends in London so ended up with a KFC for dinner! Not a great meal at the best of times, but definitely not a pre-Ultra meal! Stick to the Pasta!!! Then after a good evening in London I ended up on the last train home, then had or fetch my car and so don’t get into bed until 1:30am!!! I’m normally in bed at 10pm pre-race! With the alarm going off at 5:30 meant, I only had 4 hours of broken sleep! Urgghhh! So, not much sleep and low on calories. A lot of gels, carb drinks, fruit cake and nuts were needed on route! My poor planning also meant I didn’t have my usual Nuun tabs and high calorie savoury snacks to balance out the gel/sugar overload!!
#2 Never use food/drink for the first time in a race
Ok this is ridiculously stupid and something I always bang on about to people who talk about gels for race day – Never use a gel/bar/drink that you are unfamiliar with during a race! At the Purley CP, I stupidly forgot this age old rule. The marshal kindly offered me a Gu electrolyte tab and I happily dropped it in my bottle (instead of getting my usual powder out of my bag- I had three left (one for each CP) in a very easy to access pocket- I didn’t even need to take my pack off!).
Anyway, I set off on this penultimate sector and within two miles of the CP my stomach was in knots- the drink tasted fizzy and wasn’t sitting well. Three miles after the CP I was violently sick! I’ve never been sick like that from exercise- ever! It was like a bad hangover. It was bad- I spewed my guts everywhere twice in the space of 200m! Thank you to the runner who stopped and kindly offered to help with his drinks and some “proper food” – fellow runners are awesome!
#3 In a self navigation race, don’t blindly follow the person in front of you
I knew the middle 30 miles of the race like the back of my hand! I have run/cycled/driven all of those sectors countless times since living in and around Reading. No help needed with navigation- bonus! At the start there are always a enough people to play ‘follow the leader’ with a reasonable amount of confidence! And if someone goes wrong there are plenty of people to debate it.. And if you are all wrong… It has not significant impact on the positions. The final sectors is always much more sparse. When running with Mike we are usually pretty hot on our Nav- usually Mike more than me, but we always have the course in hand and have never been lost (well, there was one adventure race… But that’s a blog entry on its own!). However, after a spate of vomiting and simply plodding my way to CP5 (with the company of Luc and Ruth) I wasn’t really thinking clearly. I followed the bunch in front who had it about 90% right.. Up until the last 2 miles…. We found ourselves knee deep in the Thames on the footpath in Henley! We had taken the old route…. Not the updated, diverted route! Bollocks! I had to back track half a mile, cut up to the road and the run hard to the finish. After the 8 hour goal had slipped through my fingers, I was desperate to hit 9 hours! I think I clocked 9:04! Bugger! Without the detour at the end I might have just made it – note to self, trust your own Nav! The group I was with had decided to walk along the flooded path using the benches as markers- braver than I am! I was too knackered to risk tripping up in the Thames 🙂
I have never been so pleased to see the finish line of a race! And the best part- Lucy was waiting at the finish (she had been stood there for a good hour – based on my original target of 8hours! Ooops!). It’s the first time she has seen my finish an ultra – she now questions this bizarre “hobby” even more!
Finally, I owe a seriously big thank you to Ruth and @lucjolly! They are both training for London and decided to meet me on a stretch of the Thames near where we live. Unfortunately for them, they joined me about 10 mins after the vomiting episode! I was running on empty! Luc did a sterling job of keeping me company whilst Ruth clocked some marathon training miles in the opposite direction before looping back to chase us down! Luc had already knocked out 20miles by meeting up with various different racers that he knew and was happy to keep my company at 11min miles rater than his usual 5:30-6min/miles! My request that he should “just talk at me – I haven’t got the energy to reply… But I am listening!”… led to some good chat and MdS motivation! I can’t remember much of it, but I’m sure it was good! Ruth hunted us down much more quickly than I had hoped- the training is paying off Ruth! We knocked out a few miles as a trio, before Luc departed for a shower and to spruce up or the six nations. I was so close to DNFing myself and joining him! A burger, chips and a Guinness would have sorted me right out! Ruth and I plodded all the way to Sonning bridge, navigating many stretches of shin deep ice cold water! As we hit the final CP, Ruth was at 14 miles on her training run and was “only” planning to do 18-19. So when the marshal told us that it was 8 miles to Henley… I’m not sure who was more gutted! The re-routing of the race, due to all of the floods, meant that last leg was a lot longer than the planned 5! Ruth VERY kindly joined me for the last 8! Legend! She could have easily popped home and had her planned 18/19 in the bag! Instead she got an insight into the final leg of an Ultra! So that’s both Lucy and Ruth well and truly convinced that Luc and I are both stupid for entering these ultras!
I was so close to DNFing myself after spewing up- the company and motivation to meet Lucy at the finish was key! Huge thank you to Ruth, Luc and Lucy!
So, all in all, it was my worst outing at an ultra! By a long way! I had an awesome first 30 miles but the final 15 were pure hell! I was probably a little complacent going into it and let some basics get in the way!
Right time to rest and recover- a quick power nap before Super Bowl tonight – I’ll be making sure I recover well and replace all those missing calories!!
Another huge lesson in ultra running! But I think I’ll be stronger at the MDS because of it!
Well done on not DNFing. What do you usually put in your bottle? Guessing it’s not Gu…
I usually run with High Five carb powders. Typically their “energy” and sometimes “4:1” towards the later stages of long races. For electrolyte I like Nuun- nice simple taste and not too strong. I tend to alternate between Nuun and High5 carb at each checkpoint- mainly for variety (rather than science)
It may not have been the drink that made me sick, but it was the only major difference to my normal races. Well, that and the lack or carbo loading.
Sure the KFC didn’t help either…
Great write up!! Well done on such a hard last few miles – not sure I could have run on after throwing up – well done. And … sorry for the navigation!! We were the group you almost followed into the Thames on the final mile! p.s. We didn’t drown!! 😉
Haha..I’m glad you didn’t fall in! How long did it take you to finish the last stretch? I was the guy with the phone out that doubled back to check on a friend, I figured the road was an easier finish…. having said that, it took quite a while! I think I would have sneaked in under 9hrs, if I had followed you along the path! What was your finishing time?
I don’t suppose you were wearing a GPS were you? For some reason I can’t get the “official” GPX they sent out to sync up with Garmin connect!
I think you’re right, it’s good you made some mistakes in this one as you definitely know what not to do when you’re doing the MDS. Plus I’m pretty sure you won’t have the problem of shin deep icy water!!