And I quote … ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it’. W. C. Fields
I gave up the Thames Gateway 100 because I tried and I tried and I tried but to carry on would have been foolish. Let me roll the clock back several weeks and try and give a bit of a background to this sorry story which starts at about 1am in the morning, late in June stood on the edge of the River Tyne crossing into Gateshead having completed Rat Races The Wall. I was elated but with destroyed feet and I knew that my recovery was going to be significant but with that I felt I could more than happily sign up for my first 100 mile race – this I did just a few days after finishing The Wall. Then the problems began, one week passed with no training, two week, three weeks and then a month and still no training – I was now in late July. I kept telling myself that my body would carry me through but how wrong can you be?
Anyway, August arrived and I finally started running again but no more than about 6km per day and not at any great pace. Mentally I wasn’t in the right space for racing and certainly not for ultra running but I did a bit of RRT (running retail therapy) and felt much better about things and having tested out my lovely new Hoka I thought I’d give it a go and see what happened.
Race day arrived at the end of what can only be described as a very hot August and I had hoped for a little bit of rain or I might struggle (as I don’t really enjoy hot weather). But on the day of the ultra the rain settled in on us and stayed that way for the whole of the race that I ran. The first thing to note was that people I was running with were top notch and I can’t praise Mike and the team at Ultra Trails (Saxon Shore) highly enough. The second thing of note is that the village hall that they were set up in was brilliant – warm, dry and well segmented so that those who needed sleeping and/or changing facilities could do what they needed.
I signed in to the race and discovered that there was no race number for me, though this wasn’t such a problem as they simply prepared a new one for me but it turns out they then gave me a number that someone else had. But these things happen and in the grand scheme it was relatively minor that I had to explain at each checkpoint that I was the duplicate 113. Anyway with a small field of only about 15 runners we set out in the damp morning air armed with nothing more than our wits, the race directions and enough jelly babies to sink a battleship.
I felt surprisingly good as I raced along the North Downs Ways, the lack of training and succession of injuries seemed not to be getting to me. The first five miles were filled with delightful chat and even a bit of laughter as we kicked forward. I stopped briefly to add compeed to my feet as I could feel that they were already succumbing to the rigours of there damp conditions and the fact I was wearing my oldest pair of Injinji socks (the fact I’d only done 3 miles in my Hoka probably didn’t help either). Anyway with my feet patched up I set off again and actually for much of the second checkpoint held a leading position but by about 15 miles in my thoughts were already heavy.
The rain had joined us and it was torrential, the ground was then heavy going and worse, the north downs way was incredibly over grown and very step was either biting into your skin, making your blisters sting or filling your already soaking shorts with even more water. Despite this I ran into checkpoint 2 feeling pretty joyous, changed my socks, ate some food, had a bit of a cup of tea and thanked the lovely chaps at the checkpoint, I even met Ian Braizer ( @bibo_boy ) which was absolutely lovely, a great guy from Essex who just had that capacity to keep you going when things felt a bit grim.
But from about mile 33 I was on my own and it was pretty lonely, especially given that my navigational skill isn’t amazing and the directions, while not as bad as the White Cliffs 50 weren’t much better. The one thing about the course was that it was very scenic and I was able to enjoy parts of Kent I had never seen before and this lightened my mood. But as I approached Gravesend I knew that the blisters, lack of training and the weather had drawn my race to a close. Possibly the actual killer was the problem before I came into the Gravesend checkpoint, I had gotten quite seriously lost on the checkpoint prior to my withdrawal and ended up running (according to the GPS) at least another 7 miles. In terms of the ultra this meant I was going to be behind time and also done an extra portion of distance I didn’t need to.
Arriving into, what for me would be, the final checkpoint with only half an hour to spare before the cut off meant that I wasn’t going to be ready for the next challenge. I needed a full set of clothing change, to dry off, new footwear, medical treatment to my feet and food and drink – I just couldn’t face it. I called Mike, the race director and informed him of my decision and headed home. Mike was full of sympathy and I’m grateful I was able to be picked up by my partner and simply sulk all the way home, as Mike sounded like he was having a busy day.
The killer to this event, where just three people finished, was twofold 1. the lack of directions on the course and 2. the weather. Ultra trails have a really good series of events not their hands and deserve to be praised and better attended than they are. But the course description this time, while an improvement, was still not much use, although the GPS files were appreciated and pretty accurate.
The lack of an easily release for the course description was also a bit of a letdown. But let’s not get caught up on negatives – this was a great event in a beautiful place with good support. Each of the checkpoints was well stocked, the people who were manning the checkpoints were pleasant and as helpful as could be. Even when disaster struck and the checkpoint blew away at Gravesend the chaps manning the post stood firm (well under a bus shelter) and saw us in.
I think we just got a bit unlucky with this one and I’m hopeful that the event comes back next year because it is amazingly good fun, great value and with a little tinkering it could be an event people think about as a first choice ultra. I failed this ultra and it hurts that I failed but I’m not done with the TG100 and I’ll attempt it again in the future.