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Race Reports

T184 Report

(184 miles along the entire length of the Thames)

By Ernie Jewson

Thames Source Sign

It is less than 24hours since the finish of the T184 Endurance Race and it has been said that Race Reports are best written as soon after the event has finished while the memories are still fresh  - we will see.

Firstly a little about the Race itself , the T184 is a non-stop unsupported race from the Thames Barrier to its actual source, a field in the Cotswolds. By being unsupported this means you carry everything needed to support yourself for the duration, you aren’t to accept or buy food, shelter , clothes, medical care from anybody or your race is over with one exception water which there are no estrictions on. Your position is tracked with supplied GPS trackers. The original plan was for myself and Kate Hayden (who I finished with at the Thames Ring 250 last year) to run this race at a leisurely stress free pace and also to use the race as a sort of Training Race for the 284 mile Spine Race next January.

T184 start
At the start with Kate

Day One - Friday

9:15 am and we are at the Thames Barrier and Race Registration getting gear sorted checked and they even had a guy there from ROCKTAPE taping problem areas for free, I had my right Quadricep to help support my Patella and shin taped which I was pleased about. Saw a few people there that we knew the very fast Paul  Ali who had pulled out of the race around the 110-115? mile mark with Achilles, feet ,blistering problems but as he says himself he mentally gave up, it was his 1st DNF but I would not be surprised if he is back next year, Paul Stout who as a Race Official I saw at a couple of places during the event and Chris Edmonds who started the race with Achilles problems only to pull out at the 2nd Checkpoint and at 52miles with a much serious one, to his credit he stayed with the race to the very end helping out in a big way as a Race Official. 10:30am and we are racing with Kate and myself at the very back as planned. Running through London was a new interesting  experience passing all the well known Landmarks, navigating diversions ,dodging crowds. We had made one big mistake in the west of London as we were just following GPS waypoints that I had pre loaded on my Garmin and not the supplied maps as well as talking too much we ended up having to ask people how to get back to the Thames as well as ending up on the other side of the River following a diversion which cost us a little time although the path we used was shaded from sun which was a relief. We only really stopped for a break at Hurlington Park 24 miles into the race where we ate some pre boiled eggs and pre cooked veggie sausages and although we were running well although not fast to the 1st checkpoint at 26miles and I was starting to be concerned that I was drinking too much so slowed my intake with no problem from then on. Checkpoint 1 at 26miles was just a short water and toilet break but I did notice other runners there looking fatigued and with red faces, Paul Stout Race Official  commented that we looked good and were doing it right by not pushing too hard at the start. The next section was mostly at night and the route along the Thames I knew well from previous races. By now we were starting to get tired and spending more time within our own thoughts but moving steadily onwards. Caught up with a few runners just before checkpoint 2 at 52 miles of which Chris Edmonds was one of them, he was suffering badly with Achilles pain and had to pull out here. Had a quick cup of coffee here treated some sore spots and we were off  into it again.

Day Two -Saturday

By now we were into the early morning hours of Saturday. The next section to Checkpoint 3 seemed long  and tiresome and around Boverney after getting confused at a diversion we lost maybe up to half an hour around the Eton Dorney rowing Lake. As night became day Kate managed to get 10 minutes sleep and I stopped for a good hour working on the newly formed blistering on my toes that was starting to worry me. Kate ran on ahead and it took me a good 1  hours +  to catch which was no concern since I knew where she was and since we were using trackers all I needed to do was phone Debbie at home and she could tell me how fast and how far ahead she was, there was a phone APP i could have used if i was more tech minded.
Catching up with Kate before Henley she had said that she was not 100% and a little nauseous and although a little slower still moving fine, I ran ahead to the Checkpoint at Henley and started work on my feet patching and draining blisters ,Kate arrived had something to eat, slept for 20 odd minutes all while I was still faffing around and as it turned out I just managed to get out of the checkpoint minutes before her only to have her catch me up a little later when I stopped to get something out of my bag. She looked much better now and although a little slower than the previous day we were moving fine and well ahead of any cut offs. During the Saturday afternoon we stopped in Reading  on a grassed area just outside a fenced off grassed area of the Reading Festival and had 15 minutes of much needed sleep and my first since the Thursday night before the race start. I think it was around this time that Kate lost heart in the race and started to think about pulling out and consequently after meeting her family just before the Streatley Checkpoint at 100 miles she felt she needed to be with them although I did know later that she nearly changed her mind once again and get back into the race.
I was on my own now, my race agenda had changed and the only thing I had in mind was to finish. I was tired really tired and it wasn’t long before I started to search out a place to sleep and in Moulsford I found an old Bus Shelter and slept in deep sleep for an hour there only waking to my alarm I had pre set on my Mobile phone. Later on in the night I came I came across a girl teenager walking towards me in the darkness in a remote and heavily vegetative area, she asked me if I had a spare torch but I couldn’t help her but there were fortunately some fishermen camped just minutes back along the track who could help her, I asked her where she was going and she said Benson which must have been at least 6 miles away.

Day Three - Sunday

It was a really cold night and one of the main tipping points for many in the race to give up. In Wallingford I felt tired once again and starting to stagger so not bothering to get my Bivy Bag out I crawled under a bush for another hours sleep and remembered that I shivered badly as I woke up causing me to have a minor asthma moment and throw up a little. Still I was fine and warmed up as I walked/ran onward. A couple of hours onward I came across the only competitor I had seen during that night who was a young Canadian Woman who had bivied out in a low lying area who was awake and stirring and I think a little less scared knowing there were other competitors around. I pushed on but soon tiredness overcame me so I stopped by the path under a tree, brewed a hot coffee and used my Bivy Bag for the 1st time to catch another hour’s sleep. It wasn’t long before I heard Simone the Canadian woman pass by me and I continued with the rest of my sleep. On awakening I felt a little refreshed but really cold so I quickly got going and it wasn’t long before I caught up with Simone who said that her mother was concerned that she was out in there on her own so would have been relieved to see another runner linking up with her on the Tracking system. I stayed with her for the next hour as the open fields that seem to go forever and follow the River as it makes a wide circle can be quite disorientating and an area I know well from an experience I had during the Thames Ring 250 miler some years back when in a terrible hallucinating state 230 miles into the race I became lost.  As dawn came and we left these fields the route became clear and defined following the River and I told her that she would have no more trouble I left her and started a mixture of running walking on my way to Oxford, I heard that shortly after I left her that she had pulled out. I arrived in Oxford and after getting just a little lost met Chris Edmonds just before the checkpoint who led us in. It was about 11:42 am and I stopped for 1hour 11minutes where after washing my feet and sterilising a needle I set about draining quite a few nasty swollen blisters, this was not one of my most pleasurable experiences but one we must do ourselves since the race is TOTALLY unsupported and I would say that one of the reasons runners  in the Race gave up. After my minor surgery I quickly cooked up one of those pre packed dehydrated curried rice meals and a cup of coffee and headed off along the noticeably much smaller Thames. I felt good and just walked not worried about time or racing just enjoying the countryside but within 1-2 hours of leaving the checkpoint I was drifting in and out of wakefulness so I stopped just for a 10 minute cat nap. On awakening I noticed 2 competitors had just about caught me up and by the time I got moving I was only metres ahead of them. They were running to a specific schedule of run walking and something that  I am not good at since I run when I feel like it and walk when I feel I need a break. The next  few hours was spent leap frogging with them as when I ran I ran faster than they did and I stopped more often  having food breaks as well as sorting out my pack trying to work out if there was a leak in my Bladder system since my back and running  tights were soaked through wet  but fortunately it was only that the opening wasn’t tightened enough. Then I became for the 1st time in the race competitive and I started running faster only stopping for short periods before taking off again. I was in Race Mode finally and loving it, my toes were hurting and the pain was at times close to unbearable but I kept pushing myself and met once again by Chris Edmonds as it became dark we ran into the Checkpoint on the opposite side of the Thames from the Swan at Bampton to the deafening sound of a Hard Rock Cover band complete with Flaming Light show. Some other competitors were there but only one was carrying on, although he was unable to run anymore, another was badly injured with some shin damage. I was fine and after a few words of encouragement from “Stouty “ Paul Stout I was off into the dark. I passed another Runner Bivied out beyond hearing of the Rock Band and pushed on along a well made path all the time thinking that another runner was just behind me as I would turn around at times and see what I thought were headlamps but could have been street lights or farm houses ? It wasn’t long before I became lost again and although I knew from my GPS how far and where to go I could not clear electric, barbed wire fences, swamps, cliffs etc and had to follow the Race route. It was my fault since I had been just relying on my Garmin and although I had the supplied maps I wrongly thought that such an iconic National route such as the Thames Path would have been clearly marked and on a good trail but this was often not the case. I rang Shane Benzie Race Director and with him utilising the GPS tracking system he was able to put me back on course.

Day Four – Monday

Further along it started to rain and just what I needed for my Blistered toes, the path became indistinct rutted and a lot of the time I was walking through long wet grass. I had waterproof socks on but although I have had some success with them this pair let the water through. It was pitch black as I left a wooded area only to be confronted by a newly ploughed field I had not expected and had thought I was off track but that was not to be so on I went across the field onto another badly rutted  but wide track that eventually started to climb uphill. I became tired and started to crash staggering from side to side as I made my way up what looked like a Farmers Road so I eventually stopped under the shelter of a tree and brewed myself another Coffee and had a little to eat sometime around 3:00am on Sunday night  my 3rd night on the race. Recovered enough I moved on a little faster without the staggering from side to side and it wasn’t long before another runner caught me up and shortly afterwards we were in the last Checkpoint at Castle Eaton where we were met by Cliff who I knew as I had met him when he as a Sweeper on my Debbie’s  South Downs Way 100 a few months back walked Debbie into the 70 mile checkpoint of that race where she pulled out.  I only stayed there long enough to load up with water and brew myself a quick cup of hot chocolate before being shown to the start of the route out of the village the other Runner needed to sleep and decided to stop for a couple of hours. Straight away I was confused I was confronted by 3 gates and the 1st 2 didn’t match the way point heading on my etrex  and the indistinct paths away from them  the other one had to me in my muddled tired mind seemed to be a private Property path but it was because I had read a sign wrongly and this gate turned out to be the one I needed. On I went in the darkness through flocks of sheep and soon was off course again with an electric fence blocking my way so I back tracked and as dawn started to break on my last day I soon found my way again although I made yet another  time consuming error with the tiredness getting to me now causing me to make what I normally would call a stupid mistakes. On I went trying hard to focus map in one hand etrex in the other following and struggling to follow what probably must have been one of the easiest marked out part of the Thames Path National Trail route. I kept blanking out and struggled to focus on where I was what I was doing and even how to follow a simple route.  I would go in and out of this state and once while I was drifting off trying to find where I was a couple called out my name and ran towards me, I thought they were Kate and Chris Edmonds but they were another couple Peter and Michelle who lived directly on the course itself who had been tracking my progress  and Peter himself was actually in the race but had pulled out in Streatley I think. Amazingly with my mind mashed and disorientated I could remember their names  and they helped to wake up my mind showing me where I was on the map. Somehow I came out of the stupor I had been in and worrying that I would lose my race position I started once again to run but only until the pain in my toes became unbearable before taking short recovery walks and running again repeating this somewhat sick and torturous system over and over again. Self mutilation lovers should try it but although I was really enjoying the race with the Thames something between a dried up creek with an occasional pond and the superb scenery pain on this level is believe me not my thing. Soon I was within a mile of the finish and Debbie and Kate ran out to meet me with big hugs and we all ran up the Hill to the finish and applause of a small but dedicated group of Officials and supporters.  I then touched the stone Monument being the recognised source of the Thames and after photos thanked everyone received my medal and Shane Benzie told me I could have anything I wanted to drink so I asked for a cold beer but no luck I then said to him and meant it that “ IF I DIDN’T LOSE ANY TOES THEN THIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST ENJOYABLE RACES I HAVE EVER DONE” he seemed pleased with that as he said that he had had some criticism and that I seemed to get what the Race was about.

T184 finish
At the finish - source of the Thames

I finished in 11th place out of 16 Finishers and incredibly 75 Starters in a time of 73 hours 24 minutes.

From there we had to walk about a mile from the finish across fields to a pub where after getting changed I settled down to a cooked meal and a couple of beers with Debbie, Kate, daughter Holly and Chris Edmonds.  Then the long drive home where I slept most of the way.

Truly a great race and I am sure that it will become one of the greatest Ultra races in the country and the Organisation and support from the Volunteers was second to none. Out of 10 I would give it a 10 and I have never done that before.

T184 Debbie & Ernie