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As I ran to the train station this morning for the first part of my RunCommute I thought about all the damage I was doing to the grass verges and pavements I ran on. Those same verges and pavements I run on every day, the ones that are run on by lots of my local community every day, the ones that help keep me and my local community fit and my thought led me to wonder what the hell Stoke Gifford Parish Council are on about.

I’m sure you know by now that Stoke Gifford Parish Council want to ‘tax’ runners for running at Little Stoke Parkrun – yep that’s right – we might already pay for the upkeep of our roads, parks, etc by the taxes we pay but this parish council think we should dig deep once again to take part in a community, volunteer led initiative.

I don’t want to lambast the council too much because that’s not going to help but I thought I’d tell you about my Parkrun experience and why I believe it’s important that it remains free.

Sadly I don’t Parkrun every week because of the amount of racing I do but I do it a reasonable amount, especially with my daughter, who loves the early morning get together and seeing people congregate around a love of community running.


She has no siblings so Parkrun is a great way for her to meet other babies while I get to do some running with her. I’m trying to encourage both her participation with and her understanding of people and the diversity and the positive energy that emanates from Parkrun is an easy win. I don’t go to Parkrun to annoy other park users, I don’t go to get a PB, I don’t even go on the off chance there’s a bit of cake or chocolate floating round as a reward for running 5km, I go because it’s good and I go because it’s free running with new and interesting people.

Is Parkrun free?
Parkrun isn’t really free – to the individual there’s the cost of transport, possibly accommodation, the cost of running kit, the cost of tea and cake afterwards – all worthwhile though. On my last visit to a Bristol based Parkrun I stayed in the city for the weekend and ate out, went to the zoo, did touristy things, perhaps I should have saved my money and put it elsewhere? I’m not the only one who does this – just look at Parkrunner and ultrarunner extraordinaire @abradypus who has racked up this weekend 250 Parkruns – I’m sure she’s kept the entire British economy going on her outlay!

Benefits
There are so many benefits to doing and having a free Parkrun, these are some of my favourites;

  • Parkrun helps brings to life (sometimes underused) green spaces
  • Parkrun is a community event drawing on people from all ages and backgrounds – important when as a country we need to build bridges in community not divisions
  • Parkrun gets people who might not normally exercise, exercising
  • Parkrun allows you to run with your child (something very important to a buggy running parent like myself)
  • Parkrun draws in tourism and these people can and do contribute to the local economy
  • Parkrun is good PR for any council
  • Parkrun will perhaps be the lasting legacy of the Olympics, I wonder how many of our greatest athletes have started here, will start here or have been to Parkrun – imagine if Kelly Holmes had rolled up to Little Stoke – would you have charged her to run?
  • Parkrun as an initiative does more to help the nation remain healthy both physically and mentally than any other

So if there’s so many benefits what the heck are the council on about? Let’s look at the response from Stoke Gifford Parish Council.

Why should Parkrun UK contribute towards Little Stoke Park Maintenance? 

  1. Parkrun are an organised group with paid directors and staff and attract over 300 runners using the park & facilities each week.
  2. There is no limit to the number of runners that use the park.
  3. They are sponsored by national companies.
  4. They monopolise the park paths and car park between 0830 & 1030 each Saturday and Sunday.
  5. They use the parks toilets and washing facilities.
  6. They use Council storage space.
  7. A large number of runners are from outside the Parish of Stoke Gifford and come from all across South Gloucestershire, Bristol and further afield to use the facilities in this area 
(which are financed by Stoke Gifford Council tax payers).
  8. Little Stoke car park is too small for their parking use.
  9. Complaints have been received from local residents relating to pavement & grass verge 
parking, park users and hall hirers regarding a number of incidents involving runners over the last three years.


The response from Parkrun is well worth a read but I’ve got some responses, not as fact and figure filled but still …

The the bit from the council that gets me the most is the ‘runners from outside the area’. I’ve run at Little Stoke and Ashton Gate in Bristol but I live in Kent and I’m from Liverpool – I travel a reasonable amount and where I lay my hat, well that’s my home. So which Parkrun should I go to? Come on Stoke Gifford Parish Council perhaps you can advise me? Am I supposed to stay at home and not go to events all over the country? Hmm.

I was amused by ‘they use the toilets’ – well yes I do and I’ll be honest you don’t want me leaving my case of GI distress all over your park do you Stoke Gifford Parish Council?

As for complaints I’m curious about this – as a runner I’ve been subject to unwarranted verbal abuse, being pushed into the road and other unpleasantness. However, I’ve never bothered to complain in any meaningful way – maybe some people are complainers and some of us just get on with life.

Then there’s monopoly – there were about 250 people in my train carriage today – we monopolised that, however, stood on the small concourse area we didn’t. I’m not sure 300 runners have the volume to monopolise an entire park.

The council are overreacting and blowing a half hour run out of all proportion. 

However…

…it’s true runners use the park, it’s true it’s an organised event, your car park probably is too small but maybe rather than complain about the car park size you could promote car pooling, cycling and running to the event itself more vigorously. I’m not convinced that your arguments are good enough to warrant discrimination against this free running event.

The Bigger Picture
Then there’s the bigger picture and this is what it’s all about really. Parkrun gets people up and about – inspires them to fitness, keeps them off NHS waiting lists, make them feel good, therefore keeping them out of the shrinks office and off the happy pills. If it disappears it’s sad to say but people will suffer.

I met an older retired lady at Ashton Gate Parkrun last year who told she had met many wonderful people since she joined Parkrun after her husband passed away. That she looked forward to her Saturday morning jaunt and catch up with people she would not have met in her normal day to day life. I wonder – will any of the six councillors go round to this lady and keep her company when her council too decides that they’d rather runners paid?

The funny thing is I’ve met lots of people like this – with stories to tell – about how Parkrun, a free, community event made life better.

Don’t ruin this for the people of your Parish and ultimately anywhere a Parkrun runs.

I’ll be writing to the individual councillors over the next few days if only to ensure that my voice is heard and to express my dismay at this act of vandalism to the health and wellbeing of the people you claim you want to support.

You have an opportunity to back down, to consider the corner you’ve backed yourself into and realise you’re wrong. Stoke Gifford Parish Council do something positive today and reverse this decision.

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  ‘I’ll DNF at mile 58 and just party down with the awesome volunteers there’ I said this to several people and I meant it.

I knew before the TP100 kicked off that I was not ready for it, I knew that it was likely to give me a bloody good kicking and I knew that this would be me final Centurion event for a year or two while I explore other event providers and therefore potentially my final opportunity to nab one of those buckles that I have been coveting for the last year or so.

I prepared much of my kit on Monday as I was off work waiting to start my new job on the Tuesday and this afforded me the luxury of a bit of time, new shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.0) also arrived in the post – but too late for any significant testing. I’d learned lots of lessons over the last few ultras, finally got my food strategy roughly right and trusted most of my kit.

   

  

  

 Oxsitis Hydragon 17 litre was my first choice vest, my favourite old Ronhill vizion long sleeved top, Salomon compression shorts (teamed with OMM Flash 0.5 tights) and Runderwear thundercrackers  covered my legs and my Snowdonia Marathon tech T-shirt was in play as my awesome base layer. I opted for Altra running shoes as I felt the width of the fit would play well with the constant pounding I believed my feet were about to take. Optional kit like compression calf sleeves and hiking poles were also added because I felt I needed to go into this race as secure as possible to ensure I finished.

So with kit sorted and nutrition done (mainly pulled pork pastries, chocolate milk and beef jerky) I felt in control.

Then the week started to unravel a little, the new job was excellent but exhausting and the 10hr days were a rough introduction to the company but I’d expected it to be a little bit like that, what really caught m off guard was the test run of my Altra LP2.0 – on the Wednesday (on a 3.5km run) I was thundering through Soho and while throwing fairing glances toward my reflection (to check out the Altra) I punched a street sign for a shop – and I really hit it. The sign lurched backwards, hitting and cracking the shop window and I in my cowardly way just carried on. In my defence the sign was taking up most of the pavement and it was an accident, however, the sign had the last laugh as it broke my finger! The worst thing though was the return of constant pain in my glutes – this was the most worrying because I’d never tested running above 50 miles … If it came back then this could be the W100 all over again …

Basically it looked like my good prep work would be unfurled by my own stupidity, however, I managed to get some sleep in the run up, UltraBaby managed to get some through the night sleeping, injury calmed down with extensive battering by my rumble roller and I was even sensible in my food choices up to race day.

I woke up on Saturday worried only about the race and nothing else.

The UltraTeam packed up the car and we headed over to Richmond once our youngest team member was fed. I’d had Weetabix and chocolate milk which was the breakfast of champions in my opinion but I topped this up with a Cadburys Twirl and some diet coke.

Arriving in Richmond I jumped out the car and the GingaNinja went to find a parking space. I darted into the check in point and looking down to my left I saw the legend that was Sarah or @mia79gbr – we’d never met and she didn’t know what I looked like – so as I approached her with a ‘Sarah?’ she looked at me with a pleasant suspicion, ‘hi, I’m ultraboy, just thought I’d introduce myself’. The suspicion was replaced with recognition but unfortunately I didn’t have time to stop and chat and given she had companions this didn’t seem the right time, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be disturbed.

I ran up the stairs and joined the first queue of madness … Centurion had a great location but it was much too small for the runners never mind the bevy of volunteers, crew and family who had come along to help or hinder, but this was put from my mind by seeing the awesome Dan @ultrarunnerdan – both a gentleman and a bit of a legend in my eyes given his grand slam attempt. The queue moved swiftly and when James Elson joined in to move it along and thankfully my kit review was swift and problem free as ever.

With my ‘Permission to Race’ chip in hand I joined the queue for my number only to be joined by the awesome Louise @abradypus – another potential grand slammer and we chatted about stuff – mostly me apologising for being a dick at SDW50 – again. Finally I reached front of the queue and grabbed my magic number and darted out  to see the sunny streets of Richmond and of course deposit my vitally important drop bags.

Outside I caught up with @RozGlover who introduced me to (at long last) @no1blakester and I caught up with the awesome Traviss and Rachel as well as meeting my potential duet partners in a ‘Wicked’ tribute medley @toks and @jillydavidson – I had intended to terrify them by approaching them singing but I didn’t want to make them shit themselves. Instead the start was a rich of meeting people, being nervous, having a pre-race dump and kissing your girlfriend and the baby goodbye.

I turned at this point to the  GingaNinja and queried, ‘can I actually do this?’

To note, the ginger one is always honest about my race chances – for example she told me that Winter100 looked way to much for me given the way my training had gone and the way that my injury was, but today she simply said, ‘you got this’.

I stepped into the crowd and looked over the runners and thought, ‘maybe’.

We set off down the rather bright towpath and swiftly found our rhythm only for a small gate to prove our undoing. Hundreds of runners trying to squeeze through a tiny gate, many of the sensible ones drifted over to the side and either jumped the gate further down or went around. I was in no rush but in the midst of my moving  the awesome @naominf managed to clip my heel with gate – ouch. She shouted out an apology but I wondered if I’d cut it open, thankfully my brand spanky new Altra had enough on the heel that they had taken the impact – phew.

  The view along the towpath was actually really rather nice and as we passed through locks, weirs and little towns I could feel a really positive energy swelling inside of me. The positive feeling was enhanced at seeing ultra runner extraordinaire @cat_simpson_ on the course accompanied by what I assumed was her trusty Triban 3. The running was going well and I was running at a slightly too speedy 10kmph and so slowed down a little bit knowing that CP1 was still some miles away.

The speediness though had allowed me to make up a little bit of ground on other runners who hadn’t been quite so unlucky at gate one and feeling fresh I allowed myself to get involved in a conversation or two. What I realised pretty quickly was that the TP100 was going to lack variety in elevation and that it was going to be a slog rather than a test, you could feel that TP100 more than any other ultra I’ve taken part in, would be a test of mental mettle.

I came into CP1 feeling surprisingly tired, but the well stocked aid station was full of good cheer and laughter and I loaded up on Pepsi (5 cups) and reloaded the bladder (from which I had been sipping consistently) and also used the first of my quarter tablets of High 5 isotonic liquid using a 150ml Salomon soft pack. Pre-race I’d decided that on the whole I wouldn’t be eating the food that Centurion provide, I was trying to avoid sweet things as they make me feel sickly and the savoury selection is a little bit too tasteless. Therefore, I’d be reliant on my own supplies and as I left CP1 I allowed myself some beef jerky, a mini toad in the hole and a delicious cheese and bacon bite.

I was also looking at how much time I could build up, because I knew I might need it later in the race.

Aid 2 22m 16:10 Aid 3 – 30m 18:30 Aid 4 38m 20:40 Aid 5 44m 22:25 Aid 6 51m 00:15 Aid 7 58m 02:30 Aid 8 67m 04:45 Aid 9 71m 05:50 Aid 10 77.5m 07:45 Aid 11 85m 09:50 Aid 12 91m 11:30 Aid 13 95m 12:40 Finish 100m 14:00.

Between CP1 and CP2 there were two lovely things that happened, the first was that UltraBaby and the GingaNinja were on the course at the crew point. It was lovely to see them and it a nice viewing spot in Staines, I also got to meet several of the other crews (whose cheering and support through the night section was invaluable). At Staines I was able to refuel with chocolate milkshake (lifesaver) and Lucozade, which helped to lift my slightly flagging spirits. I also met for the first time Lynne, we only spoke briefly but it was cheery and lighthearted and I had no idea how influential this lady would be later in the race. Anyway I cantered off without her knowing that CP2 was nearby and so feeling energised I ploughed on. Arrival into CP2 was quick and leaving was equally swift with just a few words of flirting for the volunteers and then off to CP3.

  I was keen to ensure that I was making up time on the cut-offs and so with each checkpoint I reached I made sure I knew when the sweeper was due. I was building a commanding lead over being timed out and my resolve was strengthened further when the route to CP3 and Dorney looked rather pleasant, rowers, walkers, hikers and bikers adorned the route and everyone was interested in what the hell we were doing. I continued to come across runners from previous races and this provide a different dynamic to normal, one pairing remembered me from my misery at the SDW50 and were pleased to see that I was in a much better mood and infinitely better form.

As the checkpoints fell one by one so did the daylight and one my way to Henley and CP6 the light was finally lost. It was a long slow road to Henley, the path looked gloomy and as I was concerned about my timings I chose to run without my headtorch. On the other side of the river was a large mansion or hotel and in it music was blaring out and was audible for most of my journey down the river to Henley – seriously kids, mind your ears.

I dipped on to the bridge crossing the river and was greeted by the drunken revellers of Henley at around 9.20pm and they offered a helpful suggestion that the route was ‘down der mate, keep going’ and I did as instructed finally pulling into the halfway point after 11hrs 31minutes – however, someone at Centurion must have been trying to predict my future because on the live timings somebody decided that I’d had enough and put me down as a DNF. Hmmm, naughty Centurions.

I was rather desperate for the hot food that had been promised but all that as available was vegetable chilli and I’ll be honest I’m an ultra runner that isn’t a friend of the vegetable and so despite being offered it by Batman, I had to turn it down.

Dejected I picked up my drop bag and looked for the chocolate milk and Lucozade. Swigging swiftly I began dreaming because I knew that if I could keep up this pace then I was looking at a sub 24 time. I looked at my food options and opted for some pulled pork pastries, beef jerky and dry roasted nuts – delicious, but not the hot tasty feast I was hoping for. Finally at Henley was checklist 1) are your feet fucked? 2) Are you wet? 3) do your socks need changing? 4) is your Suunto still charged? 5) is your phone still charged? 5) do you need to restock front pocket food supplies? I answered all my questions, threw out some general thanks and I was off – Lucozade in hand.

I’d plugged in my headphones for a bit to keep me amused in the dark – Smokey Robinson, Glee, Foo Fighters, Katzenjammer, Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim, Blur, Michael Jackson, James Blunt, Paul Simon, Elvis Presley ABBA … Songs from every generation and all super upbeat. I pulled my headphones out only when I needed a jimmy riddle, lucky I did as I only just whipped my cock back into my awesome Runderwear when Joanna came around the corner.

‘Ladies first’ as I held the gate open.

Joanna or Jo as she introduced herself was a young lady on a mission, not only did she make me look sane by virtue of the amount of long distance ultra she ran but she also made me smile at a time in the night when that as kind of obligatory. We covered lots of topics on our way to mile 58 and CP7 but the thing that will stock wi me forever and a day is out open and frank conversations about ‘turd’. Oh Jo … and I apologise for sharing this, it only got mildly weird when I ended up hanging round for you as you went and deposited your solid state number two into the undergrowth. The journey from mile 51 to 58 was a speed walk, Jo wasn’t in any condition to run as she felt pretty sick and I needed some respite from the running to try and conserve some energy for a pop at the second half of the race. It made sense that we would buddy up and it was a truly awesome part of my race, I hope Jo can say the same. As we departed the wooded area we came back to the river bank and in the distance we could see the steps that Susie Chan had been threatening us with but I was feeling cheeky.

 
 I bounded up the steps in haste to see Shaun and Susie to offer my congratulations but also to offer my number up – 58miles was the furthest I’ve managed in a centurion race.

As I entered I slowly took in my surroundings – there were a lot of bruised and battered bodies and lots of sitting down, but I was feeling pretty okay, mainly buoyed by warm welcome from the volunteers, who to me appeared to be in slippers and PJs (deny it if you like Miss C). All of a sudden the crazy shit just happened, I started dancing with one of the lovely female runners, I was wiggling my bum in the air and I was leaving messages via Periscope to goddesses of running Susie Chan and Kate ( @borleyrose ). Between them Shaun and Susie were able to tell me that @UltraDHC and @naominf were running awesomely. @mia79gbr had pulled out early on due to illness and they hadn’t seen @ultrarunnerdan @toks or @jillydavidson.

  They also insisted I wasn’t allowed to DNF – certainly not yet.

So I left, it was a great CP, it was lively, it was fun and it was everything I could have wanted and seeing the worlds best MdS running couple only made it worth the journey.

I left 58 feeling like the following 42 would be a challenge but ultimately very achievable and that with about 15hrs left I should have nothing to fear. But I could feel the first blisters arriving on my feet and I could feel them underneath silicon gel caps – I decided that removal would be the worse of the two possible options and moved on. Just outside 58, having lost Joanna I picked up Lynne and I think James. I’d met both earlier in the day and we decided that this would also be an easy section with running happening between the further checkpoints.

James was a youngish chap, desperate to finish, being ruled by the timings on his watch and not the faith in his ability and you could see he was chomping at the bit to get us moving but also didn’t want to lose us as he wasn’t sure how long his battery would last and he was very unsure about following the very simple and effective Centurion markers. I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t be affected by other peoples running this time out and for a while I stuck to my guns but my new young companion had a way of making me feel uneasy and panicked.

Lynne was the polar opposite and when asked if she was too warm replied that ‘I’m of an age where I generate an inner warmth’. Lynne was laid back and pragmatic, her approach to ultras was brilliant and I very much enjoyed yomping through the grass and the trail with her. We discussed Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock and every kind of topic and it eased the tension I was feeling from my other companion. To be fair he was a lovely guy but I didn’t want to be racing someone else’s race.

However, we all hit the hall at Whitchurch with relative ease but James indicated that ‘according to my calculations if we don’t pick up the pace we won’t make it, we need to be running’. He was of course correct but I decided to give him some rather stern advice, ‘listen fella, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, run your race and your pace, not somebody else’s. If Lynne and I can’t keep up then you’ve got to leave us behind’.

Whitchurch allowed me to reacquaint myself with several runners including the awesome Matt (may have his name wrong but don’t think so) – his knee had gone and was covered in a warm blanket. ‘You’re looking great fella, keep going’ he said. I wished him well, offered a few dirty words of encouragement to the volunteers about the power of masturbation and then off.

Lynne, James and I had agreed that this being a short section we should try and pick up to a running pace in the approach to Streatley but the hills were making this more challenging. For the first time since the W100 I cracked out the Black Diamond Ultra poles and used this strategically to get ahead of the other two and act as pace setter. Lynne quickly dropped back but James for a while kept pace and with me a few metres ahead we thundered along the dark and narrow path. Here it became a little more daunting in the dark with upended roots and slippery rocks underfoot, but my Altra coped with this brilliantly, I felt sure footed in my steps and happy to have my Lenser at full beam.
In truth this was probably the most exciting stretch of trail on the whole route and it’s a shame it didn’t last longer but then I saw a sign of what happens when things go wrong and in the darkness I saw a runner covered in a foil blanket with his or her pacer by their side. I called out ‘do you need anything?’ But his reply was ‘fine thanks mate just waiting for the medical support’. I asked again to make sure he wasn’t being polite as this was a very isolated spot and it might take the medics some time to reach them but he was categoric and so I set off again at pace – James now nowhere in sight.

  The 5km and a bit into Streatley was a good run and I’d made up a bit of the time I had been eroding by walking. Crossing into the town itself was filled with slit lay distressing memories as this was where the W100 ground to a halt for me – however, I dropped into the CP and I was simply grateful for the opportunity to sit down and grab some more chocolate milk. As I sat there pondering the rest of the race I could see the procession of runners that I had been leading here – Lynne, James, Rob, Jo and more all came in with differing tales to tell but there was a look of determination on their faces – no drops here.

At this point I waved goodbye to Lynne, little did I know though that our story was far from over. James though – I couldn’t shake. He wanted to continue running and after my sterling efforts up to Streatley he’d picked me as his buddy. I did as I did before and set at the fastest pace I could manage. I was largely invigorated by two things here, the first was the knowledge that I still had good energy in the tank and my legs, nor my head felt fatigued at all. The second thing was that daylight was just around the corner and I’d be able to feel daylight breaking and that feeling is a good one. Despite being a night person when the dawn comes I know that I’m likely to make it. This was especially good news as there are a couple of points here were you had to take care because of the winding nature of the course, thankfully my W100 experience paid dividends and I was thundering along – even stopping for a few photographs along the way.

What was troubling me was that James was nowhere to be seen, I turned to look for him but I had clearly lost him further back at one of the turnings. What if he had missed a turn? I considered turning back a little to look for him but knew that time was against me and so continued forward.

Then something awesome happened: thick mud. Well yellow Altra here we go.

In seconds my beautiful Lone Peak 2.0 went from sparkling yellow to shitty black.

  Thunder, thunder, thunder, I raced through the trails as quickly as I could then I had a ‘fuck me’ moment. A runner who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are) was perched over a branch, naked from the waist down having a poo. Wow, I never want to see a milky white arse and cock perched again, in fairness I didn’t want to see it the first time. As I flew by I decided to leave a little comment to his pacer, ‘well at least we know he doesn’t suntan down there’.

Thunder, thunder, thunder, at the moment I was in good form and when I came across some runners who were DNFing I felt smug, the pacer who was waiting there with them told me to keep going as I as looking good.

   

But I was picking up problems with every step and was discovering now that the Altra where not built for thick mud and in the grip the mud was gathering up. By this point I could feel the variety of blisters that now adorned my feet, on my toes, between my toes and underfoot, I made the call once again not to risk taking my shoes and socks off (as my support crew was safely in sunny Wiltshire) and decided that with not much more than a marathon to go that I could probably just drift this one in.

How wrong I was.

A little earlier I had been hearing the pinging of my telephone and so now took the opportunity to see what was going on in the world. The GingaNinja was showing signs of worry and Twitter was too – I had been pretty silent through the night. I didn’t reply as my panic about not finishing in time was growing and I was desperate to get to the next CP. With a bit of a thrust I pulled into Wallingford with the early morning, the volunteers here were awesome despite the cramped conditions and they had something magic that no other checkpoint had contained – houmous! Eureka! Smell the houmous! Finally savoury food at a Centurion CP that I could actually stomach. I had a couple of big juicy dollops of houmous and wrap with a hot, sweet tea. This was the breakfast of the gods, this was ambrosia.

I stayed here for a few minutes, just long enough infact for a couple of my fellow runners to catch me and then with a cheery goodbye and a check on the distance I set off for mile 85 and the home straight.

I returned to trundling down the course and prepared an answer to earlier text messages when a ‘supporter’ told me to ‘get off the phone and get running’. Cheeky fucker. Despite the advice I finished my call and cried down the phone to the GingaNinja – big weepy tears but she told me to get my poles out, eat some paracetamol and hold on in there, I was going to make it.

I hung up, I unfurled my poles and I started tracking down the runners in front of me. Bang, lift, shift, bang, lift, shift – this was the process I went through as I used the poles as my point of impact and not my feet – trying to save them for the final 15 miles. But I was now going faster than I had for around an hour and I was gaining on the other runners.

I continued to make headway through the fields but the mud was taking its toll on my speed walking and the poles became as much a hinderance as a help. I was churning up the pathway like so many of my fellow ultra runners over the last few hours and I was finding it heavy going. Without the support of the poles I was reduced to painful, tiny steps and I knew that with each slow movement forward the sweeper was moving to time me out.

For several miles the ground remained much the same, wet, churned and with long wet grass and my feet were in agony and then the first disaster came. Inside my beloved Drymax sock I could feel the hot bloody liquid seep under my foot – one of the blisters below my feet had burst. Raging, blinding hot pain erupted around the base of my left foot and I stopped moving. I looked around the great green expanse, there were no runners either in front or behind that I could ask for help – I simply had to decide whether this was game over or not.
In the now heavier rain I could feel the droplets forming the letters DNF on my Montane Minimus, I was going to have to retire, I wasn’t going to make it to Clifton Hampden.

However, after a few minutes I took a few steps forward and gingerly moved on, worked with the poles – even in the dense mud. This was a tough section and it was made worse by the feeling that the record of the distance was wrong. The distance said about 6 but my Suunto and several other peoples GPS devices read this as significantly more than that, or at least significant enough to make it soul destroying when the CP is where you are most desperate for it to be.

As I came into the town I was probably a bit rude to the lady giving out directions when she called out ‘well done’ but it felt far from well done and I told her so, but that was a mistake and when I finally went past her again to rejoin the race I apologised profusely.

Prior to me getting to Clifton Hampden there was a surprise for me and parked just outside was the GingaNinja and UltraBaby – while they were a sight for sore eyes they immediately made me burst into tears. I whined, ‘I can’t stop, I’m not going to make it’ and ran past her and straight into the CP. I called out my number – loudly and then ran straight back out, no new supplies, no coke, no nothing – if I was going to make this I needed to push harder than I had been.

Down the hill, speedy turn to the towpath and off and even when blisters 2 and 3 burst (one between my toes and one on a toe end) I didn’t stop, I just kept moving forward. Runners were starting to amble past me as my speed eroded further and in my head I was working out the calculations for speed and distance I would need to achieve to finish within the 28hr cut off.

As with much of the Thames Path 100 very little happened on the route, the path thankfully dried out a little and I was able to gather up some pace using my poles but it was turning into something of a final slog. Only the turning up of the sun made  for a change and it was a burning sun, so the Minimus finally disappeared into the back of the Hydragon and there it would stay. I finally came into Abingdon with the GinjaNinja meeting me a few metres ahead of the checkpoint and she wished me luck, telling me I had ample time to do the remaining 9 miles. The problem was my head was a now a fucking mess and my feet were 100% fucked

I put on my best showing for running as I came into Abingdon and the crowd responded with the kind of cheers reserved for winners. Here as with the last checkpoint I called in my number and then ran straight back out again but my body was rebelling and once through the tunnel I stopped, started crying and then started hyper ventilating. Breathe UltraBoy. Breathe.

Managing to regain control of my breathing I set off and for the next 9 miles I prayed for the end to come, I looked long into the face of a DNF and contemplated it even as I passed through the final checkpoint. But I could now smell Oxford, I crossed a couple of small bridges, I admired the scholarly and middle classness of the people on the towpath and I cried slow super heroic tears as I realised I would finish.

Only one more thing happened that I need to mention and that’s my final on the course encounter with Lynne – it went like this.
‘I just won’t make it’ I said, ‘I’m done and in agony’
‘You’ll make it, we’ll make it’
I got the feeling Lynne was going to see me in and so I needed to push her on incase I didn’t make it.
‘You’ve come all this way … I will not carry the guilt of making you miss out on a buckle too. You need to go and go now, you need to tell the ginger haired one with a cute baby that I’m on my way’
‘Promise you’ll finish’ came her reply
‘I can’t promise that but I’ll do my best, now go and give them my message’

Lynne did give my message and her words to me, some of which are not transcribed here were the thing that would see me reach Oxford.

400metres before the end I was greeted by @abradypus – a lady with a magnificent track record at Centurion events and ultras in general and she calmed my desire to DNF at 99 – probably a Centurion first had I done it. She told me that the GingaNinja and UltraBaby were coming and in the distance I could see them, the pain drained away and was replaced with relief.

I smiled a little bit – though the photographs suggested I was grimacing and I asked if I could carry UltraBaby from the start of the home strait to the finish line. I passed my poles over for the final hurdle and replaced them with an inspirational bit of kit – my daughter.

  We strolled down the finish line having very smelly hugs and kisses and to huge cheers. In the distance I could see Traviss, Rachel, the GingaNinja, Nici, Stuart (armed with his camera) and lots of amazing runners. I crossed with a baby and I’d done it.

Thanks Centurion.

Course Tough, flat, unending and despite the overall pleasantness of the surroundings a little bit dull. Perhaps that’s part of the challenge – forcing yourself to complete this when your body is crying out for a hill. The course was well marked and well marshalled in the places that it needed to be and you would be head pressed to go wrong. For my liking there’s a little too much tarmac and I felt it would be easier on your feet if the trail was real trail but then I understand this is the Thames Path and not the middle of nowhere.

Checkpoints The checkpoints are pretty evenly spread and the quality of them is generally very high in terms of locations, venues, volunteers and facilities. The food is a little ‘meh’. When I first started Centurion ultras I was told I was in for a feast of kings – well it’s not quite like that and it does vary considerably between aid stations. I’d urge more dips at checkpoints as they were brilliant and perhaps a slightly higher quality selection of sandwich filling and savoury. My other food gripe was the lack of a meat option at Henley for those running at a slower pace. However, these are minor grips and the Centurion remain pretty damn good.

Support and Volunteers You can’t really fault the 90 or so volunteers and you can’t fault the countless supporters who lined the course for up to 28hrs supporting their runner and every runner that went past them. Special mention of course goes to Susie and Shaun and mile 58 for being awesome but the truth is that every single volunteer was awesome, they all went out of their way to make sure that we did something spectacular with our bank holiday weekend.

Fellow runners I loved my fellow runners, I loved the conversations I had with them, I loved the stupidity, the poo stories and the shared experience. Everyone from Lynne, Rob and Jo right through to James all provided me with memories that stay with me until I die. Centurion has a kind of big family vibe to it and I hope as they get bigger and even more successful they don’t become more faceless and anonymous – that would be a shame

Goody Bag The revisions to the buckle made it one to have and the T-shirts are always reasonable quality from Centurion Running, although that said whatever the process they u for the graphic transfers means that as far as I’m concerned these aren’t shirts you would want to run in – but I’ll be proudly wearing mine this summer alongside my SDW50 shirt. Aside from that there is nothing else (bowl of chilli at the end?) but I’m not convinced you need anything else. So while the goody bag isn’t exhaustive I’m not sure it hurts the reputation of the race.

Conclusion The TP100 is a good race, I think it’s one that people underestimate because they think a flat 100 is easy – let me assure that the monotony of the flat is draining both mentally and physically and takes a lot to simply keep going. The route is a little too tarmac for me but it would suit lots of people and I think this makes a great introduction to the hundred mile distance. Centurion make excellent hosts and are well oiled as a team and keep things going even when it isn’t as smooth as they would like, it is easy to understand whey they are often people’s first choice for an ultra. If you decide to enter the TP100 then prepare properly for it, don’t take it for granted and accept that you might not finish – drop out rate was reasonably high – as it is on every hundred but if you apply yourself and have the stomach for it then you’ll have a great time here. I have no problems at all recommending the TP100

What have I taken away from TP100? 1. I’m a very ordinary runner, but if I could get my feet right then I might be an ordinary runner who runs much better times 2. I’ve finally figured out my nutrition and what I need to do to stay in the race 3. A support crew and pacers are so useful, you really miss them if you don’t have them 4. My body wasn’t tired even after the full distance but my feet were wrecked 5. The most severe aspects of my long term injuries is being brought on by hills 6. I need to have more faith in myself 7. I was better for mainly running my own race this time out and trying not to worry too much about what other competitors where doing

And finally thanks to … every single person who turned up, in whatever capacity you came, in whatever capacity you saw.

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It’s Monday morning and I’m still a little bit tired, yesterday I spent my day painting an awesome new dinosaur mural for UltraBaby in the UltraCave or as my partner likes to describe it – the baby room. I woke up around 8.45 and threw myself almost straight into the haze of paint fumes and the cleaning of paint rollers, but that isn’t what I’m here to talk about – because a mere 18hrs earlier I was at one of the most wonderfully epic events I’ve ever done – the North Downs Way 100.

Most people who will read this are now probably imagining a tale of woe filled with grim images of my feet, complaints about the weather, underfoot conditions and all manner of technical hiccups I encountered but fear not, it’s not about that at all. Infact this is a tale about a guy who wanted to give something back to those who had supported him over the last 18 months of ultra running, this is a story about volunteering.

Now let me roll back about 8 weeks to my anguish at pulling out of the NDW100, that was one of the best and also most horrible decisions I’ve had to make as a runner – this hundred was my ticket into the UTMB, it was also the biggest test of both my physical and mental prowess but injury and having run too much on that injury have proved my undoing and I simply wasn’t going to be ready.

So when Nici at Centurion put out a call for people to help volunteer at CP10 Bluebell Hill I knew that this was the thing for me. I arrived therefore on the Saturday about 3.30pm and awaited the arrival of the chaps from Centurion so that we could unload the wagon and begin the process of setting up. gazebo, tables, hundreds of litres of water, tonnes of food and a team of excited and experienced runners all wanting to help provide support, solace or a kick up the arse to these hundred mile legends.

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Set up was reasonably quick and within an hour we were well on our way to being ready but Bluebell Hill is a notoriously windy spot and the gazebo didn’t look like it would take any kind of battering, this combined with the addition of walls to the gazebo meant that it simply wouldn’t stay down. But these are ultra runners and this is a highly regarded Centurion event. With the wave of a magic wand a new tent arrived with James Elson – lower to the ground, sturdier and bigger, this would be ideal and even with the attached walls this felt more secure and so in the wind we did the switch over – secured her down and knew we were ready ahead of time.

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Then came two lovely surprises, the first was some of the most amazing ‘Chocolate Crack’ from the equally amazing @abradypus and the second was a visit from the lady herself. My most kind thanks to you as ever my sweet! Your confectionary delights kept the crew going through the night!

We had heard rumours that some of the checkpoints had themed themselves as pirates and Christmas and while this wasn’t the case for us we were no less enthusiastic about the task at hand. We had a wonderfully energetic team of six – Sharon, Ellyn, Ronnie, Paul, Chris and myself. Ronnie as station manager was the one we looked to, but his calm was perhaps his best quality, which meant that we could simply set about making the food, getting up the seating and awaiting the first runners while also offering our conversational services to the crews and supporters of the runners.

Sharon took up her allocated position as time keeper atop the mound just outside the checkpoint, while the rest just waited for that very first runner. I’ll admit that I was a little bit nervous – I’d never really met the super fast ultra runners and had no idea how quick they’d want water replenishing or service etc. but as Duncan strode in to CP10 to a very warm and rousing round of applause life became much simpler – he like every other ultra runner stopped, had a chat, ate some food – filled their water supplies. The thing I learnt very quickly was that the super fast ultra runners want the same thing I do (generally) help, support and a bit of respite.

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It was a bit of a battle of the titans at the front and we saw the first three runners in reasonably quick succession but then there were the inevitable lulls – but this allowed me the opportunity to get to know some of the crews and supporters and even the marshals I was sharing the evening with. This was one of the things I was very happy to do because I know from my own crews experience that a friendly face and a friendly conversation can make all the difference to those waiting for loved ones.

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As more runners rolled in it became a busier job but actually it was never so hectic that we struggled. We welcomed each runner with a big smile and as best we could a humour filled heart. We knew that the more traumatic tales would start rolling in just in after midnight and this was very much the case – runners tired, sitting down, desperate for respite. It was now our job (as Ronnie reminded us regularly) to get the runners up and out. It was a combination of ‘you’re alright, keep going’ and ‘get off your arse and move’. It also started to become vital that we reminded runners to eat and drink, something I’m guilty of avoiding at the latter stages of an ultra. The saddest part though was the DNFs – boys and girls who had no choice but to retire and for them I felt every sympathy. But for every shattered dream there were a dozen other runners smiling and bouncing onwards – it was a glorious sight to behold.

It was about 1am (ish) when the heavy rain came down and therefore got even worse for the runners – lots were soaked to the skin but equally many remained jolly and the spirit of the ultra runner was in evidence the whole way round.

 

IMG_2319.JPGIMG_2326.JPGInside and outside the tent we continued to give the best support we could – I dried and compeeded several runners feet but I thankfully managed avoiding having to lance any blisters. There was one lovely French chap I helped dress in bin bags for the next leg, when I asked him if he wanted food he told me he was quite picky – ‘being French’ he said. However, I think hunger may have gotten to him and the wonderful array of fruit convinced him to eat.

CP10 started to wind down it’s operation at about 4.00am for a 4.45 cutoff – we had about 10 runners left to welcome, some very tired support crews and lots of fingers crossed they would make it. Volunteering had felt like the hardest type of fun you could have and I think (well from my perspective) that we had a well bonded unit that worked really well together and I hope all the runners felt that they received the support they needed. It was an amazing experience, a great honour and a challenge but most of all it was something I will most certainly go back to given the opportunity.

Next year I intend to run the NDW100 not because of volunteering and not because of having to pull out this year – I’m going to run it because it’s awesome.

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