Ultra running most definitely isn’t my thing! To be honest I don’t really know what my thing is … but I remember as a teenager, my main event was pentathlon and I always dreaded the 800m. On one such event, I had to come 4th in the 800m to win overall but at the 600m mark I was literally ready to lie down and die! However, standing by the side of the track was my dad, a lawyer in his pinstripes and bow tie, brandishing his walking stick and with the look of a mad man in his bespectacled eyes as he bellowed ‘RUN… Faster … run’.
Without giving my age away, this was nearly 30 years ago and in those days there was no chat back. I was from a very prim and proper all girls schools so I merely flashed a defiant raised eyebrow at my dad whilst thinking ‘golly – better get a wiggle on then’. I came second!
It’s funny but not much has changed. The Windsor Ultra is 70k along the Thames Path from Hurley to Kingston upon Thames. It is just one section of the Thames Path race that takes place over four days and is 185 miles / 297k long.
The sections breaks down down as follows
Chilterns – 47 miles /75k
Oxford – 63 miles / 101k
Windsor – 43 miles / 70k
Richmond – 31 miles / 50k
Jane, my personal trainer and crazy friend, persuaded me to join her in our first ever ultra. And of course I immediately set to work enrolling others. It transpires that everyone thought I had gone a bit loopy as part of a mid life crisis or something and so they all respectfully declined … apart from Lee – who is a Geordie! Need I say more?
We had never done an ultra before and as my strava friend Izzy pointed out ‘I love the way you go straight for the extreme without even doing a marathon first’! Perhaps I should have considered a marathon first but hey ho – with 12 weeks to go I just had to hope I was fit enough.
I’ve written a separate blog about my training and all the things I did wrong here but for now let’s just say that none of us really trained as we should. I only seemed to manage 30k long runs home from work at silly o clock in the morning and these only ever happened after my virtual kick up the arse from Jane as she posted her regular 30k long run on strava. Lee seemed to be doing lots of walking and short 6k runs on Strava? Had he forgotten about the ultra perhaps?
About three weeks before the event I walked into my training session with Jane who greeted me with ‘I think we have bitten off more than we can chew’! She had a bad run and just felt really down with no inclination to run at all. Having just completed my first ever half marathon with hills (Scott Snowdonia Half) I was buzzing and not really paying any attention. However, just one week later I experienced exactly the same? I just felt I had lost my mojo and so I did exactly what my head told me … I stopped everything, chilled out and got plenty of rest!
It worked a treat! The day of the race arrived and I was all set with the required kit, nutrition and hydration! I had tried and tested lots of gels and protein bars but it always felt like I was slurping snot or chewing sofa stuffing enhanced with the aroma of Eau de B’Ottom.
I’ve done lots of events and was super excited at the start. The day of the ultra was here and regardless what happened, it would all be over tomorrow. I gave Jane an excited hug but she was having non of it – she had her serious game face on measuring up all the other competitors. Lee had a somewhat unusual face which resembled a cross between a grimace and a happy hiccup. It transpires he had a ‘nervous’ tummy and was actually gripping and sucking his teeth if you get my drift.
We all set off and after just five minutes of jogging in the glorious sunshine, Lee and I peeled off to use Hurley Facilities. We would like to suggest a tip box be installed as we were so grateful for such clean and well stocked toilets we would happily contribute to their upkeep. It was nice to use the ladies on this occasion for my previous visit during training saw me attempt an acrobatic feat whislt trying to use the use the urinal without touching the edge. Some bloke had quickly nipped in front of us into the ladies with a newspaper – looked like the Sunday Times to.
Back on track again, Lee and I merrily chatted and laughed as we gently jogged along. Surprisingly we arrived at the first feed station in good time and met up with three other runners.
One of the guys was on his third day and appeared to be in energy conservation mode. Not one unnecessary muscle on his face moved whilst he talked and he appeared emotionally ‘flat’ but what the heck … he was my hero! He had already run 130 miles at this point and he was still running at a good pace. What an amazing achievement!
We continued down ‘our home stretch’ of the Thames Path around Dorney Rowing Lake and into Eton. We had completed about 30k at this point and needed another pit stop and as luck would have it … there was a lovely little Costa with clean facilities! Well they said that in an ultra you have to fend for yourself … so we popped in and had a quick coffee (actually needed to use the loo but felt guilty doing so without buying anything).
The caffeine boost was just what we needed to take us onto the next feed station at Ham Island – which again seemed to appear relatively quickly. It certainly makes a difference running on fresh legs as I still felt very strong.
The marshal at the feed station tapped his foot in mock annoyance and with his arms folded and shaking his head in disbelief he said ‘I’ve been standing here for hours with not a soul coming to visit and then eight of you arrive all at once causing a bottleneck’. Sure enough – we seemed to have caught up with quite a few people and considering there were only 14 of us at the start we were pretty chuffed with ourselves.
As we approached Runnymede we came across one of the ‘Thames Path’ ladies dangling her legs in the River Thames. By this point she had run 140miles and was struggling with tight calves. I wished I could have helped her but I was praying to get through just 40miles let alone 140 miles. She did get there in the end and I think I’m right in saying she won the ladies category for the whole Thames Path challenge! Total respect for this incredible woman! I’m very proud to have been running alongside such amazing athletes!
We started to feel a little tired at this point and as we arrived at Staines we decided to walk. The Robster and Paul had kindly volunteered to be our support crew although Jane was speeding ahead and was about 10-15k away from the finish at this point. In the far distance we could see the shape of a person on a bike and heard the familiar shrill whistle. ‘It Rob – and he’s got coffee’ I exclaimed and we both started a jog walk towards him.
Rob had his back pack loaded with all sorts of fantastically yummy food but all I could think about was an iced latte and an apple. I’m glad I knew all the pit stops along route as this was my next way paint at Laleham. Again, another pretty little toilet with lace curtains and real loo roll. And what’s more there was an ice cream van. Lee bought a coke .. only because I laughed in disbelief when he suggested an icecream. I think he was being serious and perhaps next year I will have a 99 with strawberry sauce. Apparently they are no longer called 99’s – shows how long it’s been since I bought an ice cream.
Just a couple of kilometres on and we came to the next feed station. We were starting to struggle a little now with painful ankles but we still felt great. The station master (what do you really call them I wonder) was waving and cheering us as we approached. He tried to give us cakes, jelly beans or sandwiches but I just couldn’t eat anything. ‘How about an apple’ he said and my eyes light up. ‘It’s actually my lunch’ he told me and I felt so guilty but the thought of an apple was to tempting. As I greedily devoured the apple, we cheerfully waved goodbye telling the station master that despite walking we still felt good and would see him at the finish.
My arch of my foot had started to ache and I was limping but Lee and I were both chipry chatting away like lunatatics about all sorts of fascinating subjects like Thames Water Engineering, Herschel’s Telescopic, Sports Science and Business Management. Never a dull moment.
Rob was meant to meet us half way between to the next feed station and we were starting to flag a little. We managed the occasional jog but desperately needed a little pick me up to push us through. In the distance we saw the outline of a person on a bike. ‘It’s Rob’ I yelled and both Lee and I started to jog, limp, hop towards him. ‘Rob, Here we are Rob’ I called waving my arms in the air ecstatically. The guy on the bike slowed down with a puzzled look on his face. As he stopped I stared at him and with a look of annoyance exclaimed ‘who are you? You’re not Rob!’ and I waved him on his way as Lee and I resigned ourselves to further ‘relentless running’.
Thankfully it wasn’t much longer before the real Rob turned up with iced lattes which tasted like heaven and mentally signifies the last 10k. I also managed force down a kit kat. We sent the Robster off in search of a toilet but the best he could do was two portaloos in a car park. Needs must so we ventured into them making numerous gagging, choking and spewing noises in protest! They were truly vile! Thank goodness for hand sanitiser wipes!
We approached Hampton Court and new that that we only had about 5k to go. Crickey – we could run a slow 5k in 35 mins and even though we were now doing pretend running (bouncy walking with arms) we were still moving forward and the end was in sight. I actually got a second wind and felt I could run at this point but we were in this together and needed each other to finish. Lee had got me through some of my lows and now it was my turn to return the favour.
We saw the bridge and lightly skipped over it. Lee went down the steps sideways, one foot at a time as I gingerly took one step at at a time.
Rob met us at the bottom and told us t was just around the next building. We walked around that building and then Rob told us it was just through the park. So we walked through the park starting to lose confidence in Robs navigation skills but as he pointed out the flags we saw the finish and started to run.
We were grinning and chatting excitedly with just a few meters until the finish line when a girl in pink sprinted past us? I don’t know where she had come from but felt bad that she has run alone when she could have been running with us for company.
The station master 3 was at the finish and gave me a big hug as I finished! I was absolutely ecstatic! We had done it – 70km! I couldn’t believe we had actually managed and now I was buzzing and couldn’t calm down. We got out finish photos taken and then Rob and Em bundled us into the waiting cars. My legs wouldn’t stop running even in the car and whislt I must have been exhausted I was wide awake and had so much energy. I chatted non stop to Rob all the way home as I told him how I would be better next year.
But before this story is done, can I just remind you about the day Jane told me in training that we had bitten off more than we could chew? Well how do you think she did? I bet you can’t guess! Jane, who had been filled with self doubt and nerves about complying her first ever ultra had only gone and won the ladies challenge! The organisers and station masters said she was both laughing and crying at the same time as she was absolutely overjoyed! And so she should be! What a truly amazing feat. Well done 2018 Ultra Winner Jane Cacchione.
A big thank you to the organisers at www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk. It was a great event and we all really loved it.
Thanks also to Rob and Paul for the support on the day and during the training.
Finally, thanks to Lee and the other runners for ongoing encouragement during the day. Hope to see you all next year.