Well, what can I say? It wasn’t along the Thames (mostly) and it wasn’t quite a 50, but I did it!
Due to flooding after the melting snow and further heavy rain, much of the Thames Path between Iffley (just south of Oxford) and Henley-on-Thames – the planned route of the Thames Trot 50 – was dangerously flooded/impassable. In the last days before the race, the organisers rapidly sought alternative routing, and started e-mailing us new directions.
Unfortunately most of the new route was on road (rather than trail), and was unmarked (rather than following a permanently waymarked route) and was somewhat shorter than the original. So not quite the easy-to-navigate trail 50-miler I’d signed up for to start the year!
After being told we were diverting I had rather naively assumed we wouldn’t be going through any flooded sections. How wrong I was! The first stretch of ankle-deep, very cold, water came within the first mile, and my feet never dried after that; I was very glad I had Vaselined my feet before putting on my twin-skin socks (no blisters!). The deepest water came a mile or so before Checkpoint (CP) 5, where a meadow was flooded, with a stretch of painfully cold water with probably 20 meters at mid-calf depth followed a few metres later by a 10-15 metre stretch reaching to just below my knees and feeling even colder. I was unable to run for several minutes after that because I couldn’t feel my feet and ankles.
I’d set off at what would normally have been a fairly sensible pace, but due to my ankle injury was too fast. After a stretch along an extremely muddy and slippery bridleway in the second section, my posterior tibial tendon inside my left ankle started to hurt and my speed dropped. As my running form collapsed I started putting too much weight on my heels and, with most of the course on roads and other hard surfaces, my heels started to hurt and my pace dropped further.
I was rather concerned about following the directions, but in the event, for the first half of the race that was fairly easy as I was able to simply follow the runners in front. Otherwise, I regret to say, I would have been well lost, or spent large amounts of time stopping to map read. My recce three weeks previously was not totally wasted, as part of the section between CP3 and CP4, and all of CP4 to CP5 (including that flooded meadow) followed the original route. From CP5 to the end (new routing) I really had to navigate, not only using the directions but doing some careful map reading, as we followed a poorly-marked path across fields and through woods – in the dark. Thankfully both I and Matt, a runner I teamed up with for this section, had reasonable headtorches, so with aching knees (Matt) and feet (me) we kept going.
Finally Matt and I limped together into the finish area, where his wife and children were waiting for him, and clocked in. An appallingly slow time, but not, thankfully, a DNF (did not finish).
Next: rest, recover, then start training for South Downs Way 50, 13th April. I’m looking forward to it!