I have decided that the Thames Path 100 is a gem of a race and it held to all its promises this year with drama at the front, the back and the conditions treacherous in places. I had a very small part in this event as the daytime Sweeper which obviously started at night!
The Sweeper's view.
The important thing as a volunteer in an event of this size is to be flexible and just go with the flow, after all you volunteer to help the racer for one day the roles may be reversed and they will be assisting you.
This held true this year when I received an email on Thursday asking me to change my start times from Saturday to Sunday and what is more from the planned 13 miles (21 km) to a rather larger 40 miles (65 km) something I was totally up for but probably forgetting it was frigging cold out there at -1 C before windchill factors being added.
So at 3.15am my alarm called me from my shallow slumber and I got down stairs to dress in full winter kit:
- Thermal underlayer
- Long and short tops
- Waterproof jacket
- Windproof jacket
- and my Injinji socks
I made the decision to wear ordinary road shoes which I felt was the best choice.
The start (for me)
After a very comfortable ride in the car in which I was forced to listen to 1980's power ballads I turned up a side road and stopped at the end to see in the gloomy street lights a sign saying Thames Path then stepping from the lovely road onto a wet, muddy and puddle filled path, my friend for the next 11 hours. I was probably heard swearing as I tripped and stumbled along it calling and whistling to the Aid Station staff who were busily packing their van and were startled as I clambered out of a nearby bush saying "Hello, I am Jerry the Sweeper" to be met my cheers. So kitted up and a blue rubble bag handed to me for rubbish collection I stumbled off up the path along a route I last did in the daytime not really knowing where I was......it was COLD.
|My "Only 3 hours sleep face"|
This was a surreal part of the run for me, I was on my own, in unknown territory and within the first 2 miles had taken the wrong turning where the Thames Path splits and my only excuse was that the runners had done this in day time and the markers were spaced for good light and the DayGlo sticks had lost their glow. I cared not a jot and after discovering there were no markers at junctions turned around after a half mile being put back on track after a quick phone call. I was having my own personal adventure as I cut down strips of tape and signs.
Dawn broke above a cloudy sky which made the world around me a little greyer the path made muddier by the patter of (100 x 3)+1 runner's feet traipsing over it adding to my obvious delight. For 2 hours I saw and met no one until a lone dog walker crossed my path and we chatted for a few minutes about the last 24 hours activity and then stepped into his palatial riverside mansion not getting my hint about hot coffee! As I pushed on my "Dog Walker" spies appraised me of any runners ahead and I was now aware that there were 2 stragglers, one described as "Out of it" and another staggering, this did not bode well so I stepped up the pace to get closer and as I got to the outskirts of Runnymede I met one sitting on the floor being tended to by a female companion checking he was OK I found he had withdrawn and was now getting dressed to go home with her. Moving onto the Aid Station I found the other one had withdrawn, face covered in mud and miserable, it transpires that he had fainted earlier!
Jeez, only 13 miles into my run and two people had dropped even before my breakfast it appears I was in for a busy day.
Assured that the back marker as about 30 minutes ahead I headed out again having grabbed some potato crisps, Mars bar and a cup of black coffee knowing that a warmer breakfast was on offer about 6 miles ahead and with daylight now apparent I enjoyed a nice jog at my proposed GUCR pace to get my legs and mind set together after all I was also using this as a training run and it was after a tricky and very muddy section I was glad to see the Windsor Aid Station in the distance. Here was a blur of activity as it was acting as Finish line and Aid Station, here I watched runners coming in, taking their medal and much deserve hot food and coffee. It was here I was asked if I wanted to get in the car to Cookham and run back the 10 miles....the thought hadn't even entered my mind as I had the full distance mindset and so before I was tempted to change my mind I ran out of the tent for the aid station.
Cookham was10 miles away and I was informed that there was an unofficial stop half way along at a place called Pigeonhill Eyot (An eyot is a thin island found on the Thames formed by the build up of silt) which comprised of 2 volunteers in a car with a boot full of sausage rolls, bottles of Cola and peanuts.
Just before then my Dirty Girls and I stopped and waved to Monkey Island knowing that my Monkey Feet would like to stay at the beautiful hotel on its banks
My "Dog Walker" spies informed me that there were a few runners ahead so it was now slow down time for me and so took the opportunity to stop and chat with anyone who was willing as there was a lot of interest from passers by who had been watching the antics of the TP100 runners over the past 24 hours.
Ahead was my soon to be companion, Jack from South Africa, who was stumbling forward in run/walk/shuffle mode and funnily at exactly 10.00am we both received a phone call, apparently his from his wife and mine from my friend David H who had fallen that night during the run and pulled out at 50 miles. A fine 10 minutes of laughing and joking ensued in which that time I saw Jack pull away to a run into the arms of his adoring family who gave him big hugs and pulled a big thermos of hot chocolate for him to drink.
Entering Maidenhead I lost sight of my Jack as I ran about collecting signage and had the opportunity to chat and ensure all the passing runners coming in the opposite direction were communicative, warm enough and capable, they all seemed smiling and answering my questions ( I was secretly checking for hypothermia) but all seemed OK as they either limped or strolled in their own personal worlds. Leaving the outskirts of town we entered probably the muddiest section for a while which was almost cruel as the chance of hot soup just seemed that little further away but as we stepped into a churchyard in Cookham I realised it was the resting place of my Father-in-Law so I raised an eyebrow to his grave as I passed through. To reach the checkpoint where I had hot soup, some bread and snaffed some carb gels reminding Jack that he shouldn't get comfortable...his wife and children took the hint and they chivvied him along and walked with him whilst I dropped some rubbish and lost property into the back of the van.
Back to Windsor
Out and back, the chance of a run drastically reduced as Jack was stumbling along, his fasted pace now was a slow power walk for me so I stopped and chatted to walkers and had a lovely chat with two ladies who were doing the London to Brighton walking challenge this year so we swapped tips and joked such that 10 minutes had gone by and we waved goodbye, I now had some distance to run gently and collect some tape and signs that were left up.
People were up and about for sure now no doubt tummies full of some delicious roast beef lunches but no boats were apparent, Jack was safe ahead and I just tried to jump between the shelter of trees out of the bitter and cutting. I chose not to walk with him as he was lost in his little world a place I had been in many a time, it was a case of not wanting to communicate just not being able.
Passing Eaton Dorney, the site of so many UK Gold medals last year I could hear the loud commentary of the races taking pace along the water a wonderful distraction but the wind coming off the lake could cut you in two causing a little speed from Jack so we were able to power through the muddy section and to the final stretch out to Windsor and as we got through it we were met by James, the Race Director, who welcomed Jack and the two of them ran at pace to the finish line even catching another runner who joined the run, I stuck to the back and watched them clamber along the fence to navigate the now very large and deep puddle between us and the finish line. I cared not a jot and ran through it, all I wanted was a hot coffee and a sandwich.
There we have it, 40 miles run (about 10 walked), everyone safely through and of those who completed the full distance before the cut offs...a great day's running. Now when can I do it again