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 ...)


Anonymous said...

Cool report Rajeev. Liked the pics with the text. Most of the pictures you have in your reports tend to be of runners; this is one where there are hardly any.

Looking forward to the final part.


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

definitely a lot of bridges. but much more trail than I had imagined.

Rajeev said...

@Darshan - thanks! I was understandably more interested in taking pictures of the countryside. The report is now complete.

@Mark - It was primarily trail. Asphalt or cement where the towpath went through towns or villages.