Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Untamed Thames Ring 250

Date : Wed, Jun 24 - Sun, Jun 28, 2009
Race : Thames Ring 250 mile race
Where : Start and Finish in Streatley, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Distance Covered : 183.14 miles (CP#7) in 63 hours

Pre-race http://rajeevtherunner.smugmug.com/gallery/8992499_QbQHu#597869674_EtKj8
Race http://rajeevtherunner.smugmug.com/gallery/8858686_yNG7R#587155722_ko9cg

I have divided my race report into 3 sections.

Part I covers the days leading up to the race and the first 55 miles.
Part II details the sections from CP#2 (55 miles) to CP#5 (130 miles).
Part III focuses on the remaining 2 Checkpoints (#6 & #7)

I received an e-mail from the newest member, Christian Hottas, of the Ultraholics Yahoo group back in November, 2008 about the inaugural Thames Ring 260. It immediately appealed to my desire to see what lay beyond a race of 100 miles, not that I had sated my appetite for 100 mile races.

I spent a few weeks doing research on the race route and the Thames Ring. The minute I saw names like Henley, Reading, Marlow and Milton Keynes I was hooked. I had to give myself the gift of running a race in the UK. I have always been intrigued by that country and continue to be so even after spending 2 weeks there before, during and after my unsuccessful attempt to complete the TR250 race.

(The Morrell Room)

The race started in Streatley, outside the Morrell Room, and passed through Reading, Henley, Windsor, London, Milton Keynes, Braunston, Napton and then onwards to Oxford on the way back to Streatley. I am hoping to go back in 2011 and complete what I started last month.

Goring & Streatley are quiet little villages that have a few surprisingly famous personalities living there. George Michael, of WHAM and "Careless Whisper" fame, has a home right next to the bridge that connects the 2 villages.

(The back of George Michael's home)

(High Street connecting Goring and Streatley)

Goring is the one with the train station, the library and a host of small shops and restaurants. Its quiet beauty, so English, charmed my heart no end. The Goring side of the Thames is lined with stately mansions. One of them is shown below.

(An estate on the Thames)

The various checkpoints are detailed below.


Leg dist
Leg time
Tot dist
Tot time
CP opens
Closes (hrs open)
Streatley – Hurley CP1
GR = SU828842
18:00 Wed (4.5)
Hurley – Chertsey CP2
GR= TQ054666
18:00 Wed
02:00 Thur (8)
Chertsey Yiewsley CP3
GR= TQ066800
23:00 Wed
12:00 Thur (13)
Yiewsley – Berkhamsted CP4
GR= SP997077
05:00 Thur
20:00 Thur (15)
Berkhamsted – Milton Keynes CP5 GR= SP880364
11:00 Thur
04:00 Fri (17)
Milton Keynes – Nether Heyford CP6 GR= SP644591
17:00 Thur
15:00 Fri (22)
N. Heyford – Fenny Compton CP7 GR= SP430532
24:00 Thur
03:00 Sat (27)
F. Compton – Lower Heyford CP8 GR= SP483246
06:00 Fri
15:00 Sat (33)
Lower Heyford – Abingdon CP9 GR= SU498967
13:00 Fri
03:00 Sun (36)
Abingdon – Streatley Finish
CP10 GR= SU594808
18:00 Fri
14:00 Sun (44)
Red = guesstimations!! Green = good sleeping spaces.

Bon voyage! :-))

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Untamed Thames Ring 250 - Part I

Saturday, June 20
I spent the morning running about 9 miles or so with Anu and Raj. We ran down Hwy 9 to Los Gatos, took a left turn on Santa Cruz Ave. which soon became Winchester Blvd. A left turn onto Knowles took us back towards Anu's home. A wonderful, warm day and an equally wonderful run with motivated friends.

I went back home to shower and pack and return to Anu's home in my car which I had planned to leave there. My flight was at 7:15 p.m. and I wanted to be in the airport before 5 p.m. Anu and Lily drove me there and I reached with ample time to spare. The airport was deserted! I was checked in and on my way to Security 10 minutes after I had walked into the Terminal!

(With Lily and Anu outside the San Francisco airport)

I eventually found my way to the gate and spent the next hour and a half reading the turn-by-turn race route details and tracing them in the Geo Projects Thames Ring map I had bought a few months ago from Amazon. It was so exciting to find the various small details like Pub names or street names on that map. I did manage to sleep for a few hours on the 10-hr long flight.

Sunday, June 21
I landed in London about 15 minutes early. Immigration and Customs were fast and I was out by 1:45 p.m. Time now to head for the Underground. The 3 bags were heavy with race stuff and it was quite hard lugging them down to the Underground. After asking around, I bought a 1-way ticket to the Gloucester Road station (about a mile from the hotel) on the Piccadilly line. The train came in soon enough and I stashed my bags by the door and sat down to enjoy the 45-minute trip to Gloucester Road.

The walk from the station to the hotel was very hard. I was going up a bit of a slope all the way lugging the heavy bags and I was thankful for the hotel (Best Western John Howard, next to The Royal Albert Hall) steps when they swam into view! I quickly got my room and put the bags in a corner. That's about when I received a text message from Engel Martin, my BMC ex-manager who had moved to Ireland a month ago and who was visiting London for the weekend, asking me if I wanted to meet up with him in Harrods.

I freshened up and headed out the door with my camera to make my way to Harrods which my map showed me to be on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge. It was about between a mile to a mile and a half from my hotel. I decided to walk through Kensington Park where a concert was going on. The music was fantastic and I stood for many long minutes enthralled by the sounds and the people enjoying a sunny London late afternoon.

Engel and his family were in the toy section of the store. I must have spent 10 minutes or so talking to him before we were asked to leave since the store was closing at 6 p.m. (Sunday and all that).

(With Engel and his daughters)

We decided to take the party to a pub next door and soon found ourselves enjoying a glass of wine and eating pub fare. It was a walk in Hyde Park after that before we parted ways. I wanted to get back and sleep so that I could be rested for the trip to Streatley the next morning.

Monday, June 22
I had breakfast around 8 a.m. the next morning in the restaurant's dining room before checking out. I had 3 choices - call for a cab to take me to Paddington station, (b) take the Underground from Gloucester Road to Paddington or (c) walk the couple of miles across Hyde Park to the station. I chose the last option.

What a hard walk it was! The bag I was pulling was heavy and the castors were not the best. My two shoulder bags were heavy as well making for many stops along the way to rest my weary shoulders. I finally reached Paddington Station where I quickly bought a one-way ticket to Goring/Streatley station (16.50 pounds). I hauled my luggage onto the luggage rack in the compartment and sat down by a window to enjoy the scenery going past. I was curious to see if I could even spot the Thames Path! I did not but was fortunate to see the Oracle building when the train pulled into Reading. Adding to my woes for that day, I had, unfortunately, not taken a direct train to Goring. I was forced to haul my heavy bags from Platform 3 to Platform 9 using a tunnel below the tracks. Man, was that tough!!! The Goring train eventually arrived and I scrambled on it.

Goring station was another problem. I was faced with the prospect of taking my luggage up a flight of stairs and down another on the opposite side. This is when I had my first slice of luck for the day. :) A tall young man named Robin asked me if I needed help. I gladly accepted. When he learned that I was going to walk the 0.75 miles to the Swan Hotel, he offered to drop me off. Thank you Robin!

The room I was given in the Swan was right on the water. What a lovely view I had from the balcony. The hotel itself is a very old one and the plumbing supported that fact! :) Nonetheless I decided to head out for lunch. With my faithful camera in tow, I decided to first check where the Start was. To my utter surprise, it was right next door to the Swan (50 yards or so away!). I then headed the opposite way to check out where the Thames Path was. I found it soon enough and stood there examining it as a boxer might his opponent! :)

(Pretty signs in Streatley)

Lunch was in the Miller of Mansfield pub. A glass of wine and a delicious pizza. Out I went again to the Thames Path for a short walk along the first few hundred yards. I ate dinner that night in the Swan dining room.

Tuesday, June 23
I woke up early the next morning and spent the morning lazing around and buying last minute stuff like water and a few more batteries and bandaids.

I went back to the Thames Path again and was sitting there talking to an Underground train driver named Steve when a couple pulled up in their canoe right in front of us. They were obviously headed to town for a quick bite to eat. They asked us if their stuff was safe in the canoe. I then offered to help them lug their stuff to my hotel and have the hotel staff put it in the back office. We were soon walking towards the hotel, talking about my race. They were excited at the prospect of, maybe, seeing me out on the course as they were planning to camp overnight 6-7 miles down the river and were not planning to start rowing again until after 10 a.m. the next day. Mike and Mary made for a striking couple.

I spent the next few hours making my drop bags.

Alicja Barahona, one of 2 women to start the race (she eventually finished 3rd overall in 79 hrs! What an athlete!!), and I had met earlier when she was checking into the hotel and we decided to go look for rice or pasta to eat. After trying a couple of pubs in vain, we decided to eat in the Swan that evening. We ate an early dinner with a couple of other runners. We were all champing at the bit.

I went to bed early but could not sleep for the next 2 hours, nervousness and jet lag keeping me wide awake.

Wednesday, June 24
Race day finally! Gosh what an adventure it promised to be!! I was excited to say the least. I made my last minute toilet calls before checking out and lugging my 2 drop bags to the Morrell Rooms next door. A lot of the other runners were already there. I picked up my bib number and paid 5 pounds as deposit for a toilet key for the Grand Union Canal section of the course. I safely put that key in my waist pouch.

(The Start)

(With Alicja just before the Start)

(Doing my customary dynamic stretches)
Alicja and I had a couple of pictures taken outside and before I knew it the race had started. The others sprinted off like they were running a mere marathon or 50K! I walked to the start of the Thames Path, about 0.2 miles from the Morrell Room, and had a chance to take pictures of the frontrunners from the bridge.

Morrell Rooms, Streatley -->> Hurleyford Farm, CP #1
Segment: 27.2 miles; Total: 27.2 miles; Time Limit: 8 hrs.
Very soon I was the last runner. I had my camera in my hand and the laminated map cum instructions for this first section of the course in the other along with my bottles. Clicked a bunch of pictures before putting the camera away to tackle a few climbs, one of which included 10 or so stairs at a steepish angle. The right Achilles tendon was a tad tight owing to the impinged sciatic nerve in my back. That tightness eventually disappeared and never came back the rest of the race.

I kept looking at the directions on the map and making the correct turns as directed. I soon spotted a runner up front. He had slowed down to talk on his phone. I passed him and asked after his wellbeing (I always do that in a race). He said he was fine so I continued. Very soon another couple of runners showed up in front of me. I caught up with them and very soon there were 3-4 of us making our way along the Thames Path that soon wound its way away from the river into a residential neighborhood. That's whan a runner named Carl Sommer (he went on to finish in 91 hours!) called me back because I had missed a turn. Destiny! He was to be my savior on more than one occasion in the next 70 miles.

We made our way through the town of Whitchurch and were back on the Thames Path. It was reassuring to see the sign pointing in the direction of Reading! This was a section that ran right next to the river (on the left) and the railway line (to London in the direction we were moving in) on the right. I vaguely remembered seeing this section on my way in a few days ago.

By now there were 3 of us running together - Carl, Gary (a policeman) and I. Gary had completed a 205 mile one-off race a few years ago and he was looking forward to taking on this monster. It was fun running with these 2 Englishmen.

During one of our deviations away from the river, I espied a small convenience store and we were soon drinking chocolate milk and the local Gatorade-like drink. They really hit the spot.

It was just after Pangbourne, going past one of the locks, that I happened to look between a couple of boats in the lock and noticed a couple paddling their boat. It was Mike and Mary from the day before. I excitedly hailed them and took a couple of pictures of them before wishing them a good trip to Reading.

(Mary and Mike)

Carl and I soon found ourselves running through a big open field on the right and the river Thames on the left. I could see for miles off to the right and it was a sight to warm the heart.

We soon approached Caversham and the bridge across the Thames I had seen pictures of over the past few months. Wow! I had to slow down (not that I was running that fast!) to absorb the sight and let it all sink in. WOW!

The river was lined with wonderful homes on the far side of the path. Homes that had "garages" for their small boats! I was very captivated by the passing scenery.

Through Caversham and onto Reading. The path was lined on our right with apartment buildings, office buildings and an occasional restaurant or two. We rounded a corner and I was overjoyed to see a familiar sign on a couple of buildings on the right. Oracle. My old employer. I had interacted with a bunch of people from this Thames Valley Park office during my years in HQ in Redwood Shores in the Bay area. Carl took a picture of me with Oracle in the background.

We soon put Reading behind us and got on with the task of pushing on to CP#1.

(Henley Church off in the distance)

I soon spotted a church off in the distance. It was Henley Church. The number of people on the path had now increased substantially. Into Henley-on-Thames rolled the caravan of 2 runners. I was a tad behind Carl taking pictures. Henley was a hive of activity with intense practice and preparations going on for the annual Henley Regatta that was to take place the Tuesday after i.e. June 30. It was one of the nicest towns I had seen in a while. The Thames was very wide here and the rowing lanes had been set out for more than a mile. Rowers were practicing with their coaches yelling out instructions on megaphones. We passed through Henley, after sucking down on an ice cream cone each, around 3 p.m. or so. That was 22 miles in 5 hours of running. Not bad.

(Carl going past people enjoying the afternoon sun)

(Lovely Henley)
CP#1 eventually came at 4:07 p.m. (6:07 hrs. into the race). I spent 20 minutes there replenishing my gels, having my bottles refilled and eating some food. I joked around with Anthony and the other volunteers and left at 4:27 p.m.

Hurleyford Farm, CP#1 -->> Chertsey Bridge, CP #2
Segment: 27.8 miles; Total: 55.05 miles; Time: 8 hrs.
Carl had left 3 minutes before me and a combination of his slowing down for me and my speeding up meant that I soon caught up with him. The past few days in the UK had told me that it stayed light until just past 10:15 p.m. or so and got light again around 4:00-4:30 a.m. I was looking at around 6 hours of darkness. Another 6 hours before it got dark. Maybe we would make it to CP#2 just around the time the day gave way to the night.

Onwards we trudged along the Thames Path. Past homes and apartment complexes. On cement and asphalt roads. Past houseboats and other boats in the river. I kept asking Carl about Windsor Castle. The 6 hours to the sight of Windsor Castle are a blur. All I remember is that we spent quite a few miles going through neighborhoods, some of them rich ones, and shaded country lanes.

We soon moved from the right bank to the left side and stuck to this side all the way to Windsor. The castle was soon spotted off in the distance and very soon we were in a clearing with the huge bulk of the castle looming across the Thames on the right. Pictures of the castle were the last pictures I took in this race. I put the camera away in my drop bag for the night and never took it out the next 2 days! No idea why!!

In Windsor, Carl and I walked into a pub and bought a couple of bottles of water to refill our hand bottles.

Night was upon us now and we had on our respective headlamps. The laminated maps had great mileage notes. We soon caught up with Andrew Ferguson a.k.a Fergie The three of us ran together for a few miles. We passed under M25 and soon were joined by Paddy Craig. Paddy and Fergie took off ahead of us and Carl and I stayed together. We eventually passed them a mile or two before CP#2 which we reached at 11:31 p.m. or 13:31 hours into the race. Carl and I left the AS together at 11:59 p.m. after eating, replenishing our gels and picking up extra flashlights and batteries.

(to be continued ...)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Untamed Thames Ring 250 - Part II

Chertsey -->> Yiewsley, CP #3
Segment: 27.2 miles; Total: 82.25 miles; Time Limit: 10 hrs.
We started from the Checkpoint a minute before midnight and went up a slight slope onto a wide field to the left and a sloping bank on the right. About a quarter mile out I decided to stop and pee by the side of the trail. That's when I felt a slight coolness in the air. I quickly took out my sleeveless cycling vest, arm warmers and thin gloves. The arm warmers came off a little later and the gloves some miles later but the vest stayed on. My legs were covered by my running tights. Pretty soon we were off the grassy area and running through a small town.

(LEGEND: TP=Thames Path; TR=Turn Right; TL=Turn Left; RD=Road; RT=Right; BR=Bridge; LK=Lock; STON=Straight On; TJ=Trail Junction)

"After Anchor Pub on RT continue on LHS of road and then TR through car park at TP sign. TL at small TP post (easy to miss) to return to RD where TR. Just before mini roundabout bear right on path to join RD at TP sign. Cross RD to follow TP sign over large grassed area with ivy covered wall on RT. When houses on RT end TR at TP sign. At RD TL. At RD junction cross main RD and TR to cross Walton BR on LHS and take steps down to towpath."
Carl had been superb until now with navigation. Even he got confused a bit here. He and I had been using just our headlamps until now but I took out my powerful hand flashlight just so we could see small signs that we might miss in the less powerful glow of the headlamps.

The "TR through car park at TP sign" led us into some woods. We went in for about 200-300 yards and finally, after some hard searching, found the small Thames Path sign and quickly found ourselves looking for the next marker, the ivy covered wall. The town was soon behind us.

Back along the towpath.

"...At approach to Molesey LK WC on RT. Cross Hampton Court BR 63.85 mls. Continue on LHS of river. Cross Kingston BR 66.75 mls without crossing RD over BR. On far side of BR (upstream side) follow TP sign down to riverside and TR alongside river. At Teddington LK ignore TP sign over pedestrian BR and follow TP sign STON continuing on RHS of river. At Richmond BR continue under BR then TR up steps on far side of BR. Cross BR and take first right down Willoughby Street which becomes Duck Walk..."

Carl stopped around 1:30 a.m. or so to answer Nature's call. I sat on a rock drinking and eating for those 5 minutes. He is an amazing runner and I was very impressed with his consistent pace and superb navigational skills. Back in Egham we had passed a few hooligans who were eve teasing a few women across the road and probably spared us because there were 2 of us. We learned, at CP#3, that a runner had been beaten up for his cell phone. Ouch!

As expected it started to get light around 4:15 a.m. Carl was a little bit ahead and I decided that it was my turn to answer the call of Nature. It was around 4:45 a.m. and a slight chill was in the air. The Thames had no raised bank as such and it lapped among the plants a few feet away.

Hardly had I started up again that I was faced with an impasse of sorts. The Thames had overflowed its "unraised" banks onto the towpath. There was no way for me to go around it on the right. I was forced to wade through ankle and mid-shin deep water to continue. A bit further up I was totally unable to follow the path. I could see the river curving off to the left and a bridge off in the distance, about 0.5 miles away. The path had entered the town of Kingston-Upon-Thames a few miles back and I soon chose to veer off the Thames Path into a neighborhood, navigating by the seat of my pants. I found myself walking along on Petersham Road past quaint little row homes with cute doors and flower boxes in their windows.

Across the street, almost at the intersection of Petersham and Bridge Road (I did not know the names of these roads then. I only found out later when looking up Google maps a few weeks later), a couple of Indian gentlemen were opening up their store. It was around 6 a.m. I asked them where the Richmond Bridge was. They smiled and pointed to my left, down Bridge Street. I thanked them, turned the corner and saw the bridge right away.

Across the bridge and a quick turn into the first lane on the right on the other side of the bridge put me onto Willoughby Lane which became the Duck Walk. The Thames was on my right and on my left were condos. I could see straight ahead for almost half a mile and so decided to put my head down, so to speak, and run.

"... Soon pass under Twickenham BR and reach Richmond LK. Follow RD away from river to join A3004. TR and cross road BR over River Crane. At TJ with mini roundabout TL into Lion Wharf Road. At river TL. At Town Wharf Pub TL at TP sign then TR at TP sign. STON. Just past London Apprentice Pub RD turns left...".

The problem became apparent as soon as I got to the other side of Twickenham Bridge. The Thames had overflowed and I could see the left turn that was the road away from the river but there was water, mid-shin deep, between me and the road and there was no sense in wading through it. I was in a quandary. Where should I go? What should I do? I turned back to see if there was another way around and I spotted Carl. He too had been turned back by the water and, like me, was looking for an alternate route.

I was glad to see him. He and I soon found a parallel road that went away from the river. 20 minutes later we passed the point where the original road would have connected to the road we were walking on. I guess we added a mile or so to our odyssey.

"TR into Syon Park. (If park closed, continue on RD to reach A310 where TR. At junction with A315 TR. Continue until BR over Grand Union Canal). Follow path to RT of RD through park. Near Garden Centre TP signs indicate walled walk to main RD. TR to reach Grand Union Canal. Cross RD to reach LHS of canal. Sign indicates Grand Union Canal Walk Birmingham 139 miles 74.15 mls..."
Carl and I decided to check if Syon Park was open. It was and we were glad to be able to go through it instead of around it. Carl decided to answer the call of Nature here again as did I. We were soon on the move again and found ourselves quickly navigating our way to the northward turn onto the Grand Union Canal.

I was disappointed with the Grand Union Canal (GUC) in this section where it passed through London. There were factories lining it on both sides and the canal was filled with effluent from these businesses. Sad. Very sad. This state of affairs lasted for a few more miles before the canal's appearance began to improve.

Carl had wisely pointed out the fact that it was the GUC sections of the race that had the longest set of instructions. This was because of the numerous bridges we had to cross to follow the path as it made its way north. I would hazard a guess and state that there must have been a bridge every 0.5 miles or so if not sooner!

I was feeling a bit sluggish at this point and Carl moved ahead to eventually disappear from sight. Now it was a constant checking of directions to make sure I had not missed a bridge crossing.

"... Cross canal on BR 207. At BR 201 Grand Junction Arms serves breakfast from 0700. At Bull’s BR continue STON over Paddington Arm. 79.45 mls"

The next 9 miles were spent passing bridge numbers that decreased from the initial 208 or 209 all the way to Bridge 193. On the way I passed Three Bridges, the Hanwell Locks and Norwood Lock.

(Running into CP#3. Photo courtesy of Ken Fancett)

I reached the checkpoint at 8:20 a.m. Thursday (June 25) morning i.e. 22:20 minutes into the race.

I was happy to see my friend Ken Fancett volunteering in the CP. He quickly had me sit down and helped get my drop bags. I dumped my camera, my arm warmers, my headlamps and flashlight into them while taking out replacement gels and other food items.

This is when the runner who had been attacked in Egham made his way into the CP. His hamstring pain, where he had been kicked, had worsened and he was considering dropping from the race. I don't know if he did or not. Poor man.

The Thames wading had resulted in wet socks and shoes leading to a blister on the outside of my left heel. I decided to get out of my size 9 Brooks Cascadia trail shoes and into a slightly larger pair (size 9.5). In hindsight this might have been a mistake!

Anyway Carl offered to wait for me but I waved him on. I thanked him for his help.

(Talking to Ken Fancett)

(One last drink before leaving CP#3)

I eventually left the CP at 9:08 a.m.

Yiewsley -->> Berkhamsted, CP #4
Segment: 23.6 miles; Total: 105.85 miles; Time Limit: 8 hrs
"At Malt Shovel Cowley (WTR) cross canal on BR 188. At BR 184 Uxbridge cross canal to RHS. Immediately after A40 cross to LHS on BR 183. Café at Denham LK (Open 1000-1630). Just before BR 174 WC at car park BR 173 Lock Centre 92.45 mls Bear RT to cross BR over LK. Cross to RHS on BR 166 96.25 mls. Cross to LHS on BR 163. Cross to RHS on BR 158 100.15 mls. Cross to LHS on BR 155. Cross to RHS on BR 154. Water tap at LK 66. Cross to LHS on BR 153 101.55 mls. Cross to RHS on BR 143"

It was a nice warm morning. The sun was out and I settled into a nice rhythm.

A few bridges later I lay down on a bench by the side of the path (it was 9:45 a.m.), set the watch alarm for 10:15 a.m. and tried to sleep. I lay there in that state between sleep and wakefulness and finally got up when the alarm went off. I started trudging forward and in 10 minutes or so had come back to life.

This section must have had 50 or so bridges that I either went under or crossed over following the path. The canal was constantly lined with boats. It was fascinating observing the variety of boats and their names.All I can say is that this section went by in a blur, bridge after bridge and lock after lock.

The path started to be lined with homes and restaurants soon. I remember going past a restaurant that had people sitting out under the warm afternoon sun enjoying lunch. It must have been just 3:30 or 3:45 p.m then. Soon I got to a lock that had a slight slope and before I knew it I was in CP#4 i.e. 105.85 miles. I arrived there at 4:11 p.m. on Thursday i.e. 30:11 hours into the race. I was so happy to have passed the 100 mile mark without any major problems.

(Coming into Checkpoint #4)

I ate a bit, had the volunteers, who were superb as usual, fill up my bottles and decided to use the restroom in the pub next to the CP to brush my teeth and use the toilet. The volunteers, as I mentioned before, were superb. One of my drop bags had been swamped by ants. They were wonderful in dealing with it. They emptied out the bag and got the last ant out before stuffing the contents back in.

I decided to sleep for a bit on a picnic table. I plugged the phone into my portable charger. I had been texting my progress continuously to either Anil Rao or Anu Singh. I needed that phone for emergencies if they were to occur so having that phone juiced up was a priority.

Hardly had I laid down to sleep that a shadow (I was in the sun with my visor pulled down) fell over me. I opened my eyes to see Mike (the guy in the canoe back in Streatley and Pangbourne - it felt like a lifetime away!). He introduced me to his Dad. It was wonderful seeing him. I decided that sleep was not coming and that hitting the road would be a good option. I left the CP at 5:57 p.m. I had spent a good 1 hour and 46 minutes there but had gotten no sleep of any note.

Berkhamsted -->> Milton Keynes, CP #5
Segment: 24.35 miles; Total: 130.20 miles; Time Limit: 8 hrs
"Cross to LHS on BR 141 near Berkhamsted Station. Cross to RHS on BR 138 108.45 mls. WTR just after LK 46. Cross to LHS on BR 134 111.35 mls. WTR just before BR 133. Grand Junction Arms Pub on BR 133. Bluebells Café just before BR 132 and White Lion Pub (Open from 1000 until after teatime (unspecified)). Cross to RHS on BR 132. Cross to LHS on BR 131 113.25 mls Cross to RHS on BR 116 119.25 mls. WTR just before BR 114 121.25 mls. Leighton Buzzard Tesco after BR 114 no longer has a café. At BR 107 cross to LHS 124.75 mls. After the 3 Soulbury LKs WTR. At BR 106 cross to RHS. At Fenny Stratford LK 22 WTR 128.8 mls."

The map for the section showed 35 bridges to put behind me. I truly had never seen so many bridges in my life!

As instructed I crossed Bridge 138 to the RHS of the canal towpath. I stayed on this side for the next 3 miles or so.

As instructed I crossed Bridge 134 to the LHS. This was mile 111.35 according to the notes. I texted Anil Rao and Anu Singh about my progress. This was certainly the farthest I had ever run.

The path on this section, maybe a mile to a mile and a half long, had a different feel to it. I remember seeing these 2 men in a rowboat going past me in the direction of my travel. Their 2 dogs ran past me keeping pace with their rowing. They soon passed me going the other way.

It was as I was nearing Bulbourne that I sent Anil Rao a text about my location and asked him to check out the place in Google maps. He sent me a text, with a smiley, asking me to enjoy a beer in the Grand Junction Arms that was coming up soon. :)

I had a quiet laugh at that remark.

There were quite a few people out for an evening walk along the path, enjoying the balmy temperature and the wonderful views of the canal.

A scant 45 minutes or so later I started to feel low. This always happens to me in some races when night falls. Night running excites me but it is the gloaming, that period (also known as twilight) between day and night, that seems oppressive to me. I sent a text to Anu about my state of affairs and she, the angel that she is, sent me a message about how she was with me in spirit as was (she read Tony Fong's e-mail) the entire Asha community. That perked up my spirits so much that the feeling of gloom was dispelled and did not come back again until that fateful 30-40 minutes at the end of my race just before I quit. Thank you, Anu. Thank you, Anil. Thank you, Tony. Thank you, The Asha Family.

I ran past a young couple sitting on a bench a few miles from Bulbourne romancing in the setting sun. They paid me no notice at all. Why should they??? :-))

I ate a Cliff Mojo bar and downed a gel along with a Succeed salt tablet. I had been taking these every hour since the start of the race. I finally criss-crossed the canal on Bridges 132 and 131. After this it was a sustained journey on the LHS of the canal until Bridge 116 where I had to swing over to the right side. Those miles are again a blur. I do remember power walking them (16 min/mile pace or so) and enjoying myself.

I knew I was at mile 119 when I crossed Bridge 116 to the RHS. Getting closer to Milton Keynes where I could, hopefully, sleep. I had taken a couple of caffeine tablets, one in the afternoon and one in the evening and they were to prove fateful.

I was now passing through Leighton Buzzard. Maybe a mile or more after going under the A505 bridge, I started passing apartments and a few parking lots on my right. There was a bench on the side of the path that I dearly wanted to lie down on for 10 minutes but I could hear voices and laughter in the parking lot. Not wanting to tempt the fates (I remembered the story of the assaulted runner back in Egham) I decided to push on until I was out of town. I passed apartment after apartment on the right while the canal to my immediate left was lined with boats.

I went a bit further. It must have been either on or before the Leighton Lock that I saw a bench on the right.

Getting closer I noticed a pillow on one side of it. Reckoning it to be the sleeping place of a homeless person, I moved the pillow aside and sat down and turned off my headlamp (it must have been 11:30 p.m. or so). Just as I was about to sit down I saw headlights coming up from a ways behind me. I realized that it could only be another runner. I closed my eyes and waited for him/her to show up.

It was a woman runner. The only other woman in the race besides Alicja Barahona. I had heard Fergie mention her name during our Tuesday dinner and remembered it to be Brigid. She made for a very cute sight! She had her space blanket wrapped around her waist. On her right forearm she carried one of those reusable cloth bags. It was a Tesco bag. Tesco is one of the world's largest retailers. They are ubiquitous in the UK. She sat down next to me and turned off her headlamp too. She started talking about how she had had no headlamp (??) and how she ran into the Tesco store a mile back to buy a couple of headlamps and batteries. Her throwing up miles before Leighton Buzzard had necessitated an hour long nap in the fields wrapped in her space blanket. Hence the said blanket around her waist.

She had also picked up ice lollies from Tesco to help soothe her upset stomach. On hearing about my mild nausea she promptly took one out and plonked it in my hand. I partook it gladly. Very soon we were on our way, sleep forgotten.

I felt an instant bond with this amazing woman. Just talking to her I knew that this was a kindred soul. She was a superb fell runner and this flat running was killing her. We spent the next few miles talking non-stop about this and that. We finally came upon Bridge 107 (mile 124.75) where we had to cross over to the LHS. I sent off a text message once again to Anil and Anu with my status and they promptly posted it on Facebook like they had been doing all along.

Until now we were running together. Maybe it was the sugar in the ice lolly that gave my feet wings but I felt that I had to run and run fast that too. I sped ahead of her doing 7 minutes a mile pace or so. Very soon I came upon Bridge 106 where we had to cross to the RHS.

I crossed over and shouted out to her after peeing and waiting for her for a few minutes. I told her I would see her in the CP and asked her to be safe. I took off like the proverbial bat out of hell. I was revelling in the feel of my muscles working hard after many miles. I must have run 70 miles out of the first 105 miles of the race and had been power walking most of the course since then.

I soon passed a few runners including Javed Bhatti whom I had last seen in CP#3 (mile 82). When I finally got to the Fenny Stratford Lock I knew I was at 128.8 miles and the CP was another 1.4 miles away.

I briefly debated filling up my water bottle but postponed it for the CP which was only 10-12 minutes away. I started running hard again and reached Bridge 90c under which was the CP.

What a relief. I quickly texted Anil and Anu the fact that I had reached CP#5, 130.2 miles, at 1:35 a.m. on Friday, June 26 (39:35 into the race). I also let them know that I intended to sleep for a few hours.

Somehow I had gotten the impression that the cutoff for this CP was 4 a.m. I asked the volunteers to wake me up at 3:30 a.m. and tried to sleep in the back of a station wagon. Both my bags were in the back and I was using my sleeping bag to cover myself. I could hear other runners coming in and I drifted in and out of a light, very light sleep. Not enough to do me any substantial good.

I kept looking at my watch and noting the passing time, all the while ruing my inability to get sleep. I got up at 3:25 a.m. or so and was within 5 minutes of leaving when I heard another runner ask to be woken up at 4:30a.m.! Huh?? I inquired about the closing time for the CP and was overjoyed that it was 5 a.m. and not 4 a.m. as I had mistakenly thought. Delighted I crawled back into the car after asking to be woken up at 4:30 a.m.

Still no sleep. I tossed and turned for the next hour and finally decided to get up and leave. The blisters were causing quite a bit of discomfort so I decided to see how a pair of Tevas and Injinji socks would handle the next section. Since I was planning to walk most of it I figured that Teva would at least not rub against the large blister on the outside of my left heel.

After eating baked beans and a few other goodies I left CP#5 at 4:59 a.m.

(to be continued ...)

The Untamed Thames Ring 250 - Part III

Milton Keynes -->> Nether Heyford, CP #6
Segment: 26.95 miles; Total: 157.15 miles; Time Limit: 11 hrs.

(Showing off my colored Injinji socks to Anthony, Kathy and the others)

(Leaving CP #5 at 4:59 a.m. on Friday, June 26)

"At BR 71 next to Wolverton Station (no toilet) 138.4 mls there is a 24 hour Tesco 200 yards beyond the BR on the far side of the canal from the towpath. It has an in-house Starbucks Café open from 0730 to 1900 (approx). BR 76 Black Horse Pub 135.85 mls. After LK 21 WC (locked) and WTR. Cross BR 65 to LHS 140.6 mls Cross BR 64 (Navigation BR) to RHS. WTR just before BR 55 146.15 mls.

Cross BR 55 to LHS. At Stoke Bruerne cross BR 53 to RHS. WTR beyond LK 14. Take path to RHS of Blisworth Tunnel. At RD STON for 1.5 miles. TL into Car Park (at Bridleway Finger Post) and down steep track to towpath. At BR 48 WTR. Cross BR 48 to LHS and then, after entrance to Northampton Arm, cross BR 47 to RHS 151.05 mls. BR 36 Bugbrooke The Wharf Inn 154.4 mls "

I left the CP wearing my yellow rain jacket, my tights, my Lean Horse cap atop which were my Ryder sunglasses and, most importantly, Tevas on my feet.

Christian Hottas followed me and soon caught up with me. He introduced himself and I was so happy to see him! I had been a bit disappointed to note that his bib had not been picked up when we started the race. He was the one who had sent me information about this race and I had wanted to meet him and thank him in person! Turns out that he had arrived late to the Start and thus had been playing catch up with the rest of the runners.

We talked and we talked for the next many hours. Approximately an hour or so after we had left the CP, I needed to answer Mother Nature's call. I went by the side of the trail while Christian patiently waited. A further hour later we both decided to lie by the side of the trail and get 15 minutes of sleep. I remember being in that state that's between sleep and wakefulness for those 15 minutes. I got up at the same time that Christian did. A couple were walking their dog and we must have looked a strange sight indeed!

We trudged on. We were soon joined by a couple of other runners. I had my heart set on the Starbucks at mile 138 but could not, for the life of me, see the steps leading up to the bridge. Not wanting to disturb the rhythm I was in I continued on as did the others.

We were passing abandoned and derelict warehouses with broken windows and plants growing wildly inside, all the way up to the top row of windows! One of the runners even cracked a joke about this. :)

We soon reached Lock 21. The laminated map mentioned that there was a toilet here and I soon found it. The key I had taken at the start from the race staff now came in handy. It opened up the restroom and I sat down on the toilet in great relief. Outside was a water fountain which I promptly used to fill up my hand bottles.

I looked around and could find no trace of Christian. It was like he had dropped off the face of the earth!!

I continued on thinking he would soon catch up if he was behind me. The day was beautiful and it must have been around 10 a.m. or so when I rounded the path and could see the view of Stoke Bruerne that I had seen pictures of on the Web for many months now. How wonderful!

Beyond the canal, up ahead, I could see building on a hillside. I was approaching Blisworth and the tunnel I had read so much about.

I had crossed over to the RHS of the canal over Bridge 53. The towpath was geting more and more crowded now. I remember a bunch of school children going past in the opposite direction. I finally reached the tunnel. It looked smaller in real life than it did in pictures. At 3076 yds. (just under 2 miles) it was pretty long. As instructed I ascended the trail going up on the right of the tunnel. The last view I had of the South tunnel entrance is shown below as is the path leading up the hill. I power walked this hill.

Now the story gets interesting!

"Take path to RHS of Blisworth Tunnel. At RD STON for 1.5 miles."

This bit confused me! The top of the trail soon reached a road that climbed at a gentle slope slightly to my right and went downhill slightly to my left. Straight On would mean crossing the road and pushing through a tall hedge beyond which I could see a field.
I chose to go right. It was right then that it started drizzling. Earlier in the day I had put my rain jacked inside my backpack. I quickly took it out and put in on. I had hardly gone 0.2 miles when I came to a crossroad. The name on the left read "Bridleway". Could this be where I was supposed to go left? However I could see no car park beyond. Just the path curving off to the right and going downhill. I was puzzled. I looked behind me at the trailhead I had come up. That was my anchor point. Leaving it could mean getting lost!

I saw a person on a bike approaching. I flagged him down. He was riding a Royal Enfield Bullet! I had once owned this bike in India (in the late 70s). I asked him about the other end of Blisworth Tunnel. He did not know where it was but he did tell me that I was headed in the direction of the town of Blisworth. Reassured I set off again walking up the now increasing slope.

It was still drizzling. I soon saw a car coming round the corner slowly. I stopped it to get a second opinion on my choice of direction. The lady too confirmed that Blisworth was indeed in the direction I was going and that it was about 1.5-2 miles away. That was indeed great information! I continued on. I passed at least 3 side streets, a couple of which had names beginning with "B" but none were Bridleway.

Very soon I crested the hill and started running downhill. There was construction going on and the normally narrow road had been narrowed further to a single lane that switched from Northbound to Southbound. Into their midst ran this apparition in yellow on Tevashod feet and a backpack bouncing on his back. My cell phone rang. It was Pallavi. 12:30 p.m. 4:30 a.m. in San Jose. What was she doing up so early? Later. Got to find my way to the other end of the tunnel first.

To my relief I soon spotted the name Bridleway on my left. A car park on the right confirmed I was on the right path. I confidently headed straight on for a hundred feet before noticing that the path veered left and uphill! I had this stinking suspicion that it would go uphill to the same Bridleway road where I had stopped the biker earlier!

I turned around and ran back to a construction vehicle parked in the parking lot. The worker knew nothing about the path I had come from but did point out that a small path to our immediate right in the parking lot led down to the canal! Indeed this was the "down steep track to the towpath" in the instructions. 100 feet later I was happily running along the Grand Union Canal again! I quickly texted Pallavi with my status.

I cannot remember much after this other than the fact that I soon caught up with Christian and Javed Bhatti. We spent the next 7 miles together. It was soon after we had joined up that I remember sitting by the side of the path and fixing my blister [lancing it, draining it and putting antiseptic cream on it. All in 3 minutes. I had become an expert. :) ].

I seem to remember the rain finally coming down heavily around 1:15 p.m. or so. It rained on and off for the next 60 minutes. We were soaked. With about 2 miles to go I took off. I started running at a steady pace and I soon got into a comfortable rhythm. Checkpoint #6 soon came into view around the corner after Bridge 27.

I entered the Checkpoint at 2:23 p.m. I had 37 minutes to get into dry clothes, consume enough calories, get more gels, have my bottles refilled and pick up other stuff like lights, batteries etc. Those were hectic 37 minutes. I took out a bunch of gels and put them somewhere and forgot to take them when I left at 3:00. Not wanting to decide on what to wear, I just got into old tights, shorts and a new shirt. It was here that Anthony told us that we had 11 hours to complete the next section. Both Javed and I pointed out that the document he and Dick had sent out few weeks before the race stated that we had 12 hours to cover the 25.99 miles to Fenny Compton. Anthony insisted it was 11. I left promptly at 3:00 with the hope that Javed and Christian would catch up.

Nether Heyford -->> Fenny Compton, CP #7
Segment: 25.99 miles; Total: 183.14 miles; Time Limit: 12 hrs.

"WTR between BRs 26 and 25. At Norton Junction 162.82 mls cross BR over Leicester Line of Grand Union Canal and then at once over main line canal to LHS. At Braunston Tunnel leave canal, take path bearing RT to join metalled RD where TL to reach A361. Cross RD and STON up path. At path junction STON to steps on RT. Descend to rejoin canal at mouth of tunnel. Shop on left by locks serves hot drinks. Before A45 BR over canal 2 WTR taps about 100 yards apart.At junction with Oxford Canal cross canal on BR 95 to RHS. DO NOT TURN UP OXFORD CANAL Next BR should be 97. At Napton Junction 172.42 mls cross BR 17 over Grand Union to continue on Oxford Canal. DO NOT TR UP GRAND UNION CANAL. Folly Pub WTR At Napton Top LK No 16 WTR."

My lack of any kind of sleep for 53 hours was now playing havoc with my body and mind. The intense humidity after the rain stopped had made the air feel extremely muggy and dense. It added to the feeling of intense lethargy. I stopped a half mile out of the CP to redo my laces. I looked behind me and could see no sign of the others. I continued on. A half mile later I saw a small clearing on the right. I must have been close to a motorway, I believe it to be M1, for I could hear the steady sound of cars moving at high speed.
This clearing did not help either. I got up in 10 minutes to continue on. Still no sign of the others! The next mileage check was at the Norton Junction which was at mile 162.82. I remember thinking that I had enough hours to cover the 25.99 miles and that hurrying was not an option. Compounding my other woes was the state of my cell phone battery charge. It was almost down to 0%. In fact it reached 0% almost right after I left CP#6. I would slow down, plug in the battery operated portabe charger and continue on. After 5-7 minutes I would check the charge level. It stubbornly refused to move from 0% leading me to believe that the portable charger was not working. Now I was concerned. I HAD to have a working phone. What if I had an emergency and needed to call for help? Anthony and Dick, the RDs, had printed their phone numbers on the bib but what good were the numbers if I could not call?

I passed a home with a young man standing right next to the canal. I asked him if he had a mini-USB charger I could use for 10-15 minutes. He was so helpful. He led me around the side of the home to the kitchen where his mother sat smoking. He brought out a big basket filled with chargers but none of them were a mini-USB one! I was disappointed. The Mom however, bless her heart, advised me to cross the lock coming up to the opposite side (I was on the RHS) and go to the hardware store and ask Steve for help. She stated that he was tech savvy.

I did as instructed. Steve indeed knew what he was doing. He brought out a new mini-USB car charger (I bought it for UK Pounds 16.99) and he managed to plug it into a device that was, in turn, plugged into a wall outlet. My cell phone was soon happily gulping down sweet British power! :))
I sat on the floor of the hardware shop from 5 p.m. (Yes! I had probably traveled 3 miles in 2 hours!!) until 5:35 p.m. which is when I decided to get on with the business of running the race. The Blackberry Pearl now showed 40% power. Good enough for at least a day.

Now I started moving with some urgency. The cell phone had been taken care of. Time to put miles behind me. I soon came to Norton Junction which I negotiated carefully (did not want to go off on some other canal and get lost). I was soon on the LHS of the canal headed towards Braunston.

I took out one of the few gels (remember I had forgotten to pick up a fresh supply in the previous CP) I had in my backpack and wolfed it down. I got into a wonderful rhythm during those 2-3 miles to the Braunston tunnel.
The tunnel soon came into view. The instructions had me going up a short climb on the left of the tunnel. I reached the top and got stuck again.

"At Braunston Tunnel leave canal, take path bearing RT to join metalled RD where TL to reach A361. Cross RD and STON up path. At path junction STON to steps on RT. Descend to rejoin canal at mouth of tunnel. "

At the top of the canal I was faced by an asphalt road that curved off to the left and ended in front of me. It gave way to a very narrow trail that went through tall nettles. On the right was a similar trail. I confidently took the straight trail. It soon curved to the right. The nettles and plants were at least shoulder high, if not higher, and it made for a difficult 100 feet. I lost confidence. I could see, over the top of the plants, what looked like an endless field on the other side! Where the heck was the metalled road? I retraced my steps. I went off on the trail to the right but that one did not feel right. I had no idea what to do.

I decided to follow the asphalt road to the left. Within a 100 feet I saw a small trail to the right. It came out into a huge, really huge, clearing through the middle of which was a walking path and on the other side of which were apartments. Ah! People!! There was a woman walking a bit ahead and I asked her how I could get to the Braunston locks. She professed ignorance of the locks but pointed to my right, far off to my right, as the direction where Braunston was. A couple of young kids too confirmed this. I lost confidence. I chose to go back to the top of the tunnel.

I took the trail that went straight ahead again. I lost confidence at the same place on the trail and came back to the top of the tunnel again. Now I was getting distraught and a bit concerned. Getting lost in a strange land is no fun at all.

I decided to go back to the clearing. This time the young kids told me about a road that lay on the other side of the apartments. Emboldened I started powering up the walking path. The path, for at least 200 feet or so, was alive with tiny frogs. It was around 6:30-6:45 p.m. and I could see them but not so well and I was a bit concerned that I would kill some of them. I gingerly made my way up the hill and soon found myself in a roundabout!

Gosh! Why another problem?? The roundabout had 3 choices - road off to my left, road straight ahead or one to my right. I have a very good sense of direction so I knew, instinctively, that the left and the straight ahead should be ruled out. That left the road on the right.

I crossed over and started walking. To my surprise, I soon saw a brown-orange road emerging from the field on the right. Directly across it, on the side of the road I was walking on, was a trail, beyond a gate (next to which was a home), that led steeply up a hill. I was sure this was the metalled road in the instructions and that the road I was walking on was the A361 in the same instructions.

I confidently power walked up the hill expecting to find steps at the top that would lead me to the canal. To my utter disappointment, the trail continued down the other side and had 2 branches that went left and right at the top to add to my woes. I continued straight for maybe 50 feet before I lost confidence again.

I quickly ran down the 0.25 mile long hill back to the gate and the home on the side. I rang the doorbell and, after what seemed like an eternity, the door eventually opened. The couple knew exactly where the canal was! It was indeed on the trail I had just come down. They gave me more valuable information - the steps were a mile to a mile and a half away. In fact, as it turned out, they were less than a mile away. I ran up the hill like a demon and continued to fly down the other side to the steps. I had lost 40 minutes or so in finding the right path!

I was happy again to be back on track. The trail right by the canal here was very muddy. I soon got past without any major soaking. A mile or so ahead I soon spotted Andy, Christian and Javed. I was happy to see them. Turns out they had spent an hour in a pub while I had been busy getting lost. I guess you know the course if you have run the Grand Union Canal Race, a 145 mile behemoth, before.

We now negotiated the next many miles as a team. I even got a few English gels from one of the runners. At 172.42 miles, Napton Junction which was the junction of the Grand Union Canal and the Oxford Canal, Javed, Christian and I decided to lie down and rest for 15 minutes. It was 9:00 p.m. and I texted Anu with my status. Javed checked his own phone for messages. Christian tried to sleep.

Down towards CP#7 we now headed. Javed and I were ahead of Christian. We alternated between running and walking. This we kept up until we reached Folly Pub. The 3 of us trooped in to buy food. Javed bought some Mars bars while I bought potato chips. This is when the world started tilting for me. I felt like I was on the deck of a ship that was listing from side to side! It was a scary experience.

I ate the 2 packets of chips and also had a bite from the Mars bar. We were soon on our way. Very soon after this Javed took off running. Now it was Christian behind me as we made our way to CP#7. It must have been around 10:00 p.m. that we both decided to lie down on one of the locks. We set the alarm for 10:15 p.m. and lay down. I still could not sleep. Neither could Christian. It was also getting a bit chilly. I took out the thin jacket and put it on. We soon started walking on. The bridges kept increasing in number. I kept consulting the laminated map again and again to get my bearings. CP#7 was near Bridge 136. It must have been a few miles from the CP that I mentally gave up. My brain was feeling the effects of sleeplessness. My blood sugar was low. The blisters were hurting. I had lost the will to fight.

How I still tried to fight. I hated giving up. Eventually I told Christian that I would probably drop at the CP. He ran past me advising me to fight and that it was only pain. I knew it was more than just pain. Everything that could go wrong had come together in those last few miles. It was like the Perfect Storm.

I was alone now. I texted Anu that I was probably going to drop. She was heartbroken and devastated. She advised me to get to the CP and then decide. She so wanted me to finish 250 miles! I did too but deep down I knew that I would barely make the 2:00 a.m. (11 hours from CP#6 remember?) cutoff. How could I gather all the stuff I needed for the next section, eat, change clothes etc. in 5 or 10 minutes?

I must have been at mile 181 at 1:00 a.m. Those last 2 miles were the toughest 2 miles I have ever travelled. I would sit under a bridge, turn off my headlamp, set the watch alarm for 15 minutes hence and would get up in 15 seconds to continue the fight. With a mile to go my headlamp started flashing. Low batteries. One more sign from the Universe! Everything was starting to fail. My system felt like it was shutting down. I replaced the batteries and continued on.

Kathy was standing outside the CP. I saw her and felt happy that I had finally reached. It was 1:48 a.m., 12 minutes before the CP closed (or so I thought). I could hear Javed and Christian talking. I put my backpack in a tent and lay down. Kathy brought me baked beans which I gladly wolfed down. Soon after I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

Curiously Javed and Christian continued to eat and do their thing and did not leave until 2:20 a.m. or so. I thought that was strange since the CP should have closed at 2:00 a.m.

It is only recently that I found out that Christian, who had come into the CP 20 minutes before me, took out the same CP mileage doc that Anthony had sent us a few weeks before the race and showed Anthony that the CP was supposed to close at 3:00 a.m. and not 2:00 a.m. Anthony agreed and that's why they left at 2:20 a.m.

Gosh! Would I have stopped had I known that I had an extra hour? Probably not. I would certainly have slept for 30-40 minutes before making up my mind. In fact I was planning, had I made it into CP#7 with some time to spare, to leave as soon as possible and sleep on the trail somewhere! Whatever future race I run I am going to make sure that I confirm the cutoff time in every Aid Station.

I finally woke up around 5:45 a.m. Kathy was going about the CP putting stuff away in her car. She had loaded my drop bags too into the car. She is a beautiful human being. A wonderful poet and runner. She drove me all the way back to Streatley where I got myself a room and, after a shower, lay down to sleep.

It was around 6 or 7 p.m. that I went to the Morrel Room. I met Jonathan Kinder, the winner (just under 60 hours) and spent the next couple of hours talking with him, Dick Kearns, Alicja and Neil Kapoor who had finished together in 79 hours. Wow!

Hindsight is a curious thing. It glosses over our pain but makes us treat that self that decided to make a certain decision with no respect. I did so for the first 2-3 weeks. It is only lately that I have accepted that I did not fail in this race. I fought as hard as I could for 64 hours and 183 miles. I had fun every step of the way. I was grateful to be alive and to be able to cover such a huge distance and not be in any real difficulties except during the last 3-4 miles.

The nettles and the narrow GUC trail on the Oxford Canal between Napton and Fenny Compton finally got to me. I am going back in May 2010 to run the 145-mile GUCR as a means to coming to terms with the GUC towpath. This is so I can go back in 2011 and finish the Thames Ring 250.

The race was fantastic. I cannot even begin to imagine what kind of planning went into the Checkpoints and how to transport runner bags from one CP to another. Kudos to Anthony Taylor and Dick Kearns for putting on a fantastic show. Thank you both and your amazing band of volunteers who kept us fed all through the race.

Congratulations to all who started the race. You folks rock! It took a lot of courage.

Congratulations to the amazing 12 who finished. I doff my hat to you ladies and gentlemen. You do us proud! Christian and Javed finished in 96 hours.

I will end this race report with a poem. Not mine but one written by Kathy.

The Ballad of the Thames Ring 2009
The Start; StreatleyThe runners set off as the clock strikes ten
Aiming to get back to Streatley again
But this is no ordinary river run
Along the Thames in the morning sun
They set off at a conservative pace
Two-fifty miles is the length of their race

Checkpoint 1, 27.25 miles
At Hurley Lock they approach at a run
After suffering the heat of the midday sun
A short rest, refreshment and good natured banter
And set off again at a brisk canter

First Night
Kingston and Staines
Will be remembered
For causing runners pain
Not from sore feet, aching muscles, we find
But injuries of a more sinister kind
From sad, bad people whose idea of fun
To assault endurance athletes on the run
In that one thing our race was marred
By “happy slapping kicking” from society’s scarred.

Checkpoint 3, Horton Bridge , Yiewsley; 82.25 miles
Early hours of the morning, find my way to West Drayton
Checkpoint three’s somewhere near, but I’m at the station!
To find the location, I phone up Dick
Hope he’s not in his van, having a kip.
In ones and twos runners arrive by headtorch light
Looking just like they’ve been up all night!
Refreshments are given and blisters are dressed
Some nip into tents on the side for a rest
The canal side gets busy as we slip into day
Walkers, runners and cyclists pass on the way
A normal working day is their destination
Our retiring runners are given lifts to the station

Checkpoint Five, Tinkers Bridge, Milton Keynes; 130.2 miles
The Fiends, The Fiends of Milton Keynes
Whose roundabouts are so confusing
Strangers to this place drive around for hours
And the locals find this amusing!

Runners are lucky, the canal is their guide
To their little oasis by canal side
Tim’s rigged up lighting and stoves under bridge
China cups, kitchen sink, but alas no fridge
Tired runners come in and crashpads are found
Tents and cars or a blanket laid on the ground
Rajeev arrives, he’s desperate for sleep
Then spends hours on his phone, and he’s not counting sheep!
Bridgid runs in, a shopping bag has she
She’s been to all-night Tescos for retail therapy
With pub tales of borage, lemonade and brandy
To calm upset stomach, Immodium’s more handy
As morning dawns our closing time is nigh
We gently wake runners and send on their way
Take down electrics, pack food in Dick’s van
Then onward to the next stage of the plan.

Checkpoint Seven, Wharf Inn, Fenny Compton,; 183.17 miles
“The towpath is overgrown”, they said
“We nearly ended up in the canal bed!
On the path were these great big gaps
Covered by undergrowth like runners’ traps”
With nettles and wet grass up to their necks
No wonder the runners were getting quite vexed
With sympathetic words we sent them on their way
“It’ll be better from now on”, some of us did say
We didn’t know what lay ahead
But they looked a bit happier as onward they sped

On expenses Anthony bought us a meal
Cleaning moats and duck houses weren’t part of the deal
But maybe next time instead of our dinner
Anthony will buy us all a strimmer!
With strimmers, secateurs and hoe
Along the towpaths we will go
Of rivers and canals across the nation
Taming rampant vegetation
Making the paths smooth and neat
Respecting the runners’ weary feet

Under the bridge I waited with a lamp
For the last few runners as tired they tramp
Guided through the pub garden to checkpoint seven
A seat, food and drink may seem like heaven
But don’t hang about, no time to repose
This checkpoint is about to close!

After a sleep in our little camp
Saturday morning dawns, misty and damp
Rajeev is delivered safe and well
To the lobby of his Streatley Hotel

The Finish, Morrell Room, Streatley
The first runner arrived back on Friday night
Just before ten Jon’s goal was in sight
So round to Morrell Room this runner to see
He’s up and about, drinking cups of tea
And walking quite normal, looking just like
He’s been out on a few days leisurely hike
Not running the towpaths at a cracking pace
Four and a half miles per hour was his speed for this race

So respect due to those who have guts to compete
Even though in the end not all will complete
Whether you finished at Streatley or some other place
You’ve covered more miles than most runners would race
To run this race next time, a dream, do I dare?
But whether runner or helper, I plan to be there.