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When it's not your day - there's help at hand

by kirsty
Wednesday 5th February 2014

Race report: Run247 columnist Kirsty Reade battles her demons and gets a helping hand from her friends at the Thames Trot 50 - February 1, 2014

I’m not sure who said it but I read a good running quote the other day which, for me, sort of sums up ultras: ‘first you feel like dying, then you feel reborn’. As much as you try to stop your brain (or sometimes, maddeningly, fellow runners) doing the maths – ‘only’ 40 miles to go! – there’s always that little voice in your head saying ‘if I’m this tired/if my knee hurts this much/if I’ve got blisters already then how bad will things be in another 20 miles?’. 

But then somewhere along the way you reach some sort of tipping point and you find reserves you didn’t know you had, and you know that the elation you’re going to feel when you finish is going to far outweigh the sore feet.

During longer runs your frame of mind has such a massive effect on your running. A 15 mile marathon training run might feel really easy one week and a complete struggle another week. Your sleep, eating, and running during the week before might have been exactly the same but if you’re stressed, down or anxious and not feeling up for it then this can make things feel so much harder. But running can also so often be a mood changer. You can blast out an angry 5k to get rid of some frustration; you can head into the hills for a long run to resolve a problem; you can snatch some much-needed time alone to get away from all the noise; you can seek out the comfort of friends or strangers and forget about everything for a while by geeking out on easy run chat. I know that very often the mood you’re in at the start of a run isn’t the one you’re in at the end.

Which brings me to the Thames Trot. I’ve been in the doldrums lately and I have to admit that I wasn’t really feeling up for it at the start. I’d done it last year when the promised ‘tranquil run along the Thames from Oxford to Henley’ was a flooded out concrete-fest, not helped by my own poor navigation skills. And of course this year the weather ensured more of the same. In fact, most times you ran near the Thames you were up to your knees in it. The organisers did a great job in making it happen at all, with reroutes taking place while the race was in progress, and they also delivered a lot less concrete. But as we set out I was envisaging a lot of mud, cold water and roads and not the meandering Thames Path I’d hoped for.  

Thames Trot 50 - February 1, 2014

Photos © Eileen Naughton

I started off with my friend, Bill, who was running his first ultra and it was a great feeling to see him embark on his big adventure. But he was following a run/walk strategy from the off so soon we went our separate ways and it was quite a while before I got into conversation with anybody else. My foot hurt from the off and I’m ashamed to say that from very early on I started to entertain thoughts of dropping out. When your heart’s not in a 5 mile race it’s not a big deal to see it through, when it’s a 45 mile race it’s a different matter altogether.

After about seven miles the route took us past my local parkrun and it was a nice boost to see my club mates who’d hung around to cheer me on. Thoughts of dropping out were shelved momentarily. Then we got to the first checkpoint and the Go Beyond ultra cake also spurred me on a bit. We hit a long stretch of hideous mud, a field to wade across and a mud mantrap involving sloping slippy ground with barbed wire on each side and I could soon feel my spirits on the wane and my wet feet getting sore. The DNF demon was upon me again.

At checkpoint two I met my crew for the day (though this was a surprise to me at this point) of Julie and Eileen from my running club. Julie is the best mum in the world and so took care of making me eat, drink, change socks and most of all not letting me be an idiot and Eileen is the smiliest person in the universe and so took care of all matters motivation. This was game changer number one.

Game changer number two was fellow runners. Firstly I got into a nice chat with an American who had moved to the UK not knowing what a footpath or stile was but was fast becoming badass in all matters ultra. He was a lovely and cheerful man and the miles ticked by quite nicely for a while. But then I met my nemesis – a long stretch of freezing cold water to wade through. I don’t know why but I really struggle with freezing water. I get what can best be described as an ice cream headache of the toes and find it really painful. This stretch of water was up to our thighs and went on for about 50 metres and it made me want to throw my toys out of the pram in a big way. DNF demon was firmly back in control.

I made it to the next checkpoint and this was my grumpiest point in the whole race. The most motivation I could manage was that I would just aim to make it to the next checkpoint but privately I was really hating it and all I wanted to do was stop. However, a bit further on was where I reached my tipping point. I think it was a combination of a few easier miles, the realisation that I was over marathon distance (always a nice feeling), the fact that there were fewer miles in front of me than behind me, and the fact that I was determined not to let my crew down when they could have been doing a million things more fun than standing in the cold, waiting for a grumpy person. When I run ultras I seem to get better (in terms of running and mood) as I get on and the Thames Trot was a prime example of this.

From checkpoint four until the end (about 14 miles) I ran with an inspirational woman, Anne-Marie, who’d only taken up running three years ago and in that time had amassed some impressive PBs (3.30ish marathon I think), got on the Women’s Running magazine project ultra, and lost 7.5 stone! What a fantastic running mate for the last couple of sections (which involved a lot more painful cold wading and therefore swearing on my part) and what an honour to finish what was only her second ultra with her. My friend Bill also did amazingly well, finishing his first ultra and smashing his expectations despite getting lost on the last section (Go Beyond could have done a lot better at either signposting or mapping that bit).

So the Thames Trot wasn’t really my day but it was definitely Anne-Marie and Bill’s day. It was also a day for awesome supporters. And it was, as ultras so often are, a race where many lessons were learned. Firstly, hang in there because things will come good again in the end. Secondly, don’t just keep your head down and go it alone because supporters and fellow runners can make all the difference to you if you let them. Lastly, avoid me in the first half of an ultra – I’ll only be miserable.

Thames Trot 50 - February 1, 2014

Photos: fighting the demons © Julian Moore. The finish line © Eileen Naughton

Men's results

1 Craig Holgate 05:23:16
2 Edward Catmur 05:41:45
3 Daniel Weston 06:10:31


Women's results

1 Sarah Perkins 06:38:05
2 Emily Canvin 06:38:05
3 Bonnie van Wilgenburg 07:04:49


Click here for full results


About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 


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