2015 T184 CHALLENGE REPORT BY JANE BENSON

The T184 Endurance Race is a 184 mile self-supported Ultra Marathon event covering the length of the Thames Path from the Thames Barrier to the source of the Thames within 80 hours.

It had been a difficult week emotionally. We lost a dear friend suddenly on the Sunday, and my father-in-law was very poorly. It was a hard decision to start the race, part of me felt selfish and guilty, but the other part of me thought what about what I wanted. I needed to feel more than just a mum to our five children, and I knew running had saved my life on many occasions. Running isn’t an addiction as some may see, it’s my passion, my freedom and my medication.

After last year DNF at 80 miles (blisters), I felt totally gutted that I’d failed to finish to be honest, and looking back it was a race that I shouldn’t even have started. I came into training too late after being out with injury and was always playing catch up.

I knew in my head, I wouldn’t settle until I came back at the event and got what I wanted, but I also realized I had to think very carefully and manage a plan to get me to the finish.

My friend and training partner Dave Cox had said I shouldn’t do it and I should consider doing the 100 mile version with him. I agreed, and came to Shane’s workshop in March. At the Workshop I sat and listened to Dave, and Nina and Ernie and heard their inspirational stories on how they managed the race. I wanted to be like them. I felt quite emotional sat listening to their stories. I knew I had that race in me if I could manage the blisters.

Shane gave us time out for a coffee break. I sat opposite Dave and said “I have to tell you something Dave, and I’m not sure you’re going to like it”. I explained I couldn’t do T100 it wasn’t what I wanted to do, I needed T184 and that I was sorry. I thought he was going to shout. Instead he just calmly said “Ok, we’ll do it together”.

Prior to this, I’d set off to London starting in November catching the train to Woolwich and checking out the first section of the course. Then I’d get the train back home again. As I live in Lincoln it took a little while to work out the logistics of it all but I managed with the help of a dear friend Graham, and my lovely dad Tony (both in their late 70’s).

My next recce would be train from Lincoln to Kings Cross, then on the underground and onto Brentford. From Brentford (Cp 1), I ran along to Cp 2. Finishing here I’d get the train back into Brentford, back into Kings Cross and then the train back home to Lincoln. My 3rd recce once again I took the train to Brentford, I went from Cp 2 to Cp 3 and my Dad drove over three hours to meet me where we stayed together at Datchet. The next morning I ran to Cp 4 (having to take a wide diversion due to flood water), and once again, my Dad met me at the finish and drove me home. This was inbetween trying to manage a 40 mile Ultra and Endure 24.

Six days after London marathon, I met up with my training partner and friend Dave, and we ran the first stage again as he was less sure of this section. Finally I did one more recce where Dave’s friend kindly drove us to Streatley so we could run from Cp 4 to Cp5. I’d already done T60 and Dave was happy he knew the back end really well so I left feeling fairly happy with the navigation side of T184.

Dave put together a great training plan for us to share and we would regularly message, or chat to see how things were progressing. I would be training in Cyprus or Turkey and he would be training in Florida so you get the picture. We weighed our food, our clothes I even cut all labels out of my clothing (bit extreme but it all helped). Tried and tested food, sleeping arrangements. We left no stone unturned.

The Night before T184

Dave, Lee Alan Chris and Nina and I enjoyed our last meal together. It was lovely to see these Guys…my running friends. We chatted excitedly about what lie ahead. We all retired early and met up for breakfast in the morning.

I hadn’t slept well. My room was located near the car park so unfortunately I had a restless night’s sleep, but I knew there was no point in worrying about that.

We took a short taxi ride to the start. My kit was inspected to check I’d got all the mandatory kit and Paul Coker from Rocktape kindly pre-taped my hamstrings and glutes (that tape made a huge difference by the way Paul).

I chatted to friends old and new, and it was lovely to see Shane and Paul. I even told Shane I wasn’t sure he’d remember me from last year as he gave me a welcoming hug.

2015 T184 Jane Benson 05

Jane and Dave at the start

A beautiful day weather wise and the start was under way. Dave and I had a great plan that we’d practiced many times in training so I really wasn’t nervous at all. I remained totally focused on the job in hand.

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Start of the race

Mile 13 – drink station. First big error – my clearly labeled foot powder (and the only one I had by the way) somehow managed to find its way into my drinks bottle. User error I think, but trying then to swill the powder out with water seemed to make it worse. Eventually it was replaced with Tailwind and we continued on our way. I’m not sure the Guy in the petrol station was amused when I asked him if I could use the toilet quickly.

Dave and I had a good plan going, and it was working really well but then we soon realized that Dave’s running was faster than mine and I was suffering early on. I said I needed to slow down and he said we were only doing 12 minute miles but still I was getting hot. I should have taken his advice earlier and worn my sun hat. Sun hats and I just don’t go well together as I always seem to overheat more but eventually I just stuck with it.

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Proceeding through London

Dave suggested we run/walk separately and the other catch up then over take and drop into a walk. This was one of the best ideas ever, and it worked really well. Thanks Coxy.

Cp 1 Brentford came and went and we were running strong. As I know with Ultras one minute you can be going great guns then the next you are just lifeless. I’m not sure on exact times or distances but certainly a good couple of hours before Cp 2 I told Dave I was struggling to take on food and I just had this sudden urge to sleep. We discussed options and Dave hinted that if it continued I may have to consider pulling out. I felt angry that he was even thinking about me considering that, but I didn’t say anything for deep inside I knew there was no way I was pulling out and I suggested we sleep at Cp2 early where I could also take on a pasta meal.

I shared my sleeping bag and bivvy with every insect you can imagine, but just having a good hours sleep seemed to settle me. I woke up early, finished the other half of my pasta meal. I then woke Dave up and we packed up quickly and carried on. I was running strong again. Game on!

I can’t remember exactly where it was, but through some park, a dog came bounding up to me, probably wanting to play, biting me on my arm, fetching blood. It’s owner was very apologetic and there wasn’t much really we could do. Dave wasn’t very sympathetic at this stage and said we couldn’t stop as we were in a race. I thanked the lady and carried on.

The race continued with many people asking us how far we were going etc and it amused us to see their faces when they couldn’t quite comprehend the distance.

I remember asking Dave what this tapping noise was, thinking it may be coming from my pack. I’m sure because we were both becoming tired he thought I was complaining, and he ripped the phone case from his phone and threw it into the river Thames. Apart from the fact I saw it as littering, I felt hurt that I was misunderstood and we became distant for a while. Infact, he told me I couldn’t talk to him for 2 hours. I can’t repeat what I called him, but you get the idea.

The race progressed and Dave kept reassuring me why we were doing it. I hadn’t really prepared myself to spend so much time with somebody who I didn’t really know and in such extreme conditions but we battled through. My patience was wearing thin and I continuously asked Dave to go on.

Dave is super hardcore and I’m probably a female version of that, but I do lack confidence at times and often doubt my ability to run. I remember one point that there were a couple of runners in front of us and I knew Dave wanted to get ahead of them. I struggled to fill my drink bottles due to my swollen hands and Dave snapped. I burst into tears I really was trying so hard. Not long after that Dave said sorry and he too got emotional. Our bond returned.

We played many games along the way to kill the miles, and the miles did pass. I even asked Dave if I could wear his Garmin and him my FitBit as I could use it as a distraction. This was a massive help to me having some kind of knowledge of how far we’d come and more importantly had to go. The FitBit by the way recorded over 480,000 steps!!

I didn’t suffer the normal stomach distress I can only put that down to Tailwind. Thank you Duane for that tip! I highly recommend this product if finding it hard to eat solid food.

The miles progressed and I must have told Dave ten times to go ahead, I was confident on my own and by running my own race I knew I could still finish within the time limit. Dave had got us hours of time in hand so missing cut offs wasn’t an issue here, and I started to realize I didn’t want the pressure anymore.

At some point I said I need to put my feet in the River Thames. We found a suitable place….. I can’t tell you how therapeutic that was and how beneficial I think it was to my well being. Sorry Dave for holding you back but I did tell you to go on. Thank you for being patient ( I really wanted to swim in it but I thought that would be taking it a bit too far).

Again I can’t remember exactly at what points things happened but I remember the crowds at Reading Festival being a distraction if nothing else.

I also remember the great support from Jamie, James, Ash and Rob and all the crew that went out of their way to support us. I love you Guys….you do not know how much of a lift you gave me and kept me in the race.

Streatley – I left Dave briefly as he chatted to his Sports Therapist. It was into Streatley woods that I met a fellow runner in trouble. This was the steep steps down section when I was actually sprinting but I just managed to ask if he was okay.

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Heading towards Streatley Bridge

Cp 4 Streatley 100 miles and no major issues I was feeling very strong at this stage. It was lovely to see Paul Ali out on the course, thank you. All the crew were amazing, I loved my hugs from Janine, and seeing Stouty and the gang really uplifted me.

The race progressed without too many issues and Dave and I continued to rub along nicely together. I noticed a hot spot and stopped to address the issue.

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Closing in on Checkpoint 4 at Streatley

Dave and I were discussing when to take our next sleep and meal break. It was hard to find the middle ground, but I genuinely felt the need to sleep sooner rather than later so I asked him would he be able to sleep. There was no point one of us being able to sleep whilst the other being awake. We both agreed on Clifton Lock and it worked perfectly. I said wouldn’t it be a nightmare if somebody texted you when we were asleep. Sure enough they did. As I sat up I saw Jerry Hunter sneak past. Race on I thought. Not long after I woke up Dave and we packed up quickly.

Cp 5 – Oxford appeared and we had our GPS exchanged. I remember being a little annoyed inside that it took so long but this was later to be what felt like a life saver.

Not long after Oxford I asked Dave if he could hear the noises. I could hear the ducks quacking on the river Thames, but this strange noise in the background which kept circling around my head. Dave reassured me not to be afraid and said I was hallucinating. I didn’t feel afraid because Dave had told me not to be scared.

The miles went, and I remember asking Dave if he could see this giraffe lying on it’s side on my left. Again he said don’t worry you’re just hallucinating. I’m thinking has he spiked my drinks or what. I felt a little vulnerable at this stage, but kind of safe with Dave by my side.

The miles came and went. We listened to Dave’s music which was a huge motivator to be honest and he kept reassuring me. I was sad when the battery went dead.

I remember getting to Cp 6 Bampton, about mile 155 and thinking now I’m seriously thinking my feet need attention. This was my biggest mistake not taking time out. After all a hotspot I know is your last chance to sort it. I mentioned it to Dave, but he’d suggested nothing would stick and I thought the same to be honest. What I know now is that I should not have carried on until something did stick. I take full responsibility for my error. This was to cost us dearly later on.

There was a section then when Dave stopped to sort out his pack. I knew there was no point me waiting as he would catch me up. I actually thought at this point I wouldn’t mind just going off and doing my own thing. My escape to freedom. I was really in pain now with my feet. Every step was hurting. I reached a point where it was less painful to run than to walk.

It wasn’t long and I heard him calling me. I stopped to turn around and he was in agony. I felt really sorry for him as he looked in agony and I wanted to make his pain go away, but equally I wanted him to feel and understand that I’d also been experiencing it for a while, I actually giggled to myself and thought “Get in”.   Our bond deepened for a while.

Just after leaving Bampton I remember going into a field with sheep in and stopping to look back towards the check point. It took a few seconds for me to move forwards and not back towards safety.

My phone wouldn’t work at all. I could get only emergency calls. Dave’s phone had pretty much died as in he couldn’t call out. We were both on limited light as in no more spare batteries. I was limping now I was aware I was holding Dave up and I kept telling him to go off but he wouldn’t. I was pleased he was with me because he made me feel safe.

Darkness came as did the rain and the pain increased. At no point though did I feel I’m going to quit. I said to Dave I wish my Dad would turn up at the last Cp I needed to see my Dad. He asked if I thought he would and I said I doubt it because of the logistics of it all but I clung to hope.

Cp 7 Castle Eaton and 13 miles to go!

Dave and I were both struggling by this point, his toes were obviously causing him great distress. I suggested we take painkillers and more caffeine which helped a little. I reminded him we had to keep grazing because the next few hours were crucial to us finishing. It’s fair to say at this point I personally was struggling. I still had absolutely no plans to quit. Dave kept reassuring me why we couldn’t quit. I suddenly realized we needed each other.

I remember seeing a couple of other runners who had light, for a while we followed them but we couldn’t keep up so we decided to let them go.

We must have been so close to the finish and I remember saying we have to really agree on signs now as we are not thinking straight and we don’t want to be making any mistakes.

We agreed on this one sign and I struggled up the hill. It seemed to take ages. We reached the top and Dave said we’ve gone wrong and started working his way back down. I could have cried. I hadn’t done enough on the last part of the course as Dave was confident, but I was beginning to regret that.

At the bottom I said please lets just check the sign again. Sure enough there was the Thames Path sign. Dave then commented on how he’d seen the little pink and yellow bunny rabbits and I realized he was hallucinating, I can’t tell you what I said but you get the picture.

On seriously low lighting now, Dave suggested I stay put until he finds the right track. I sat down in a bed of nettles. I started to shake. I knew I had to get into my bivvy otherwise I was going to be in big trouble. I also knew I was being tracked so that if I did collapse somebody would atleast find me, hopefully still alive.

I also knew I could dial 999 on my phone. I took out my phone to try and find the torch on it when a taxi turned up. It must have been close to midnight I was sat what seemed in the middle of nowhere and I hit an all time low. The driver asked me if I’d ordered a taxi. I touched my pocket on my pack knowing I’d got money in there and a card to get me out of trouble. It took me what seemed 10 minutes to say no it wasn’t me. The taxi drove off and I cried.

At this point my lowest point, I felt maybe somebody was looking down on me. Maybe our friend who we lost in the week. Maybe there was a God afterall. I felt this huge inner strength to carry on. I felt of all the people who doubted me, who wanted me to fail and who didn’t support me and I thought F*** Average, a motto Dave and I shared. Out the blue Dave appeared and said follow me (should have been wearing Superman pants).

A couple of fields from the finish I saw two headtorches coming towards me. I thought it was other runners and so I became quite competitive and quickened my pace. I wanted so much to get Dave’s target of sub 60 hours for him to be honest, but if I couldn’t do that getting him into a better finish position would have to be good enough. I suggested he could go off and race them.

I soon realized it was Shane and his team coming down and we stopped briefly and hugged. Shane told me he was so proud of me and how emotional he felt that I was going to finish. I thanked him and asked if he could please check my feet when he returned to check on another runner, and I asked if I was still first lady. Yes don’t worry about that was his reply.

It was pure agony then for us both, but I knew then I could completely trust Dave. The fields were flooded, and the ground was heavy going. Just before the finish we were met by Rob and his friend. Rob was my T184 friend from last year (we both dropped at 80 miles), it was emotional seeing him.

It was like a death march getting to the stone from there. I wasn’t sure how I would feel reaching the stone, I certainly didn’t feel emotional, just a huge sense of relief to be honest. Dave had gone on ahead and reached the stone first. When I got there, I bent down and placed my hands on top of it kissing it gently.

All those lovely people waited for us in the cold and wet at 1am in the morning. I can’t say how highly I rate you all in my life right now.

I received my medal with pride and will cherish it forever.

Afterwards

I’ll keep this brief I promise. Within minutes I began shaking and Tim kindly gave me his coat and walked us to the HQ (God that took forever). I was dreading let anybody look at my feet but didn’t want to be alone when the shoes were taken off. I knew my feet were bad. Trenchfoot and blisters (one big mass).

Once the shoes were off I was given some soup (it was lovely thank you). I felt a little sick and could only manage a little. I chatted to a friend Tom who’d finished in 2nd place, and to Dave briefly but I needed to go to my room. I knew I couldn’t get my shoes back on and somebody suggested they had a wheelbarrow in their van. I didn’t even feel embarrassed. I loved it, it was the best transport ever infact I loved it! The final push and I was carried into my room.

I couldn’t even shower, I was so sore and exhausted. I quickly updated facebook then fell asleep. I woke up naturally a few hours later and managed to hit the shower and dress my feet.

I rang home as soon as I could and spoke to my mum on the phone. I felt very emotional. My Dad then drove three hours to see me. It was such a special moment seeing my Dad. When he told me he had wanted to come to the last few checkpoints I burst into tears. We both cried as we hugged.

My thoughts turned to Dave who came to visit me in my room. We chatted about the race and how we felt it went. We came to the conclusion that we were both under a huge amount of pressure and that although we had our moments during the race, we actually needed each other.

It’s been almost a week now and my recovery has been slow but progressive. My Doctor weighed me. I lost ¾ stone and was underweight, my Bp was 168/87 at the highest and my wounds and swelling are all getting better daily. I told him about the hallucinations and he sat me down and said “Jane there was no taxi”.

I felt traumatized by it all to be honest, and feel like I’ve been in a coma all week. I’m sorry for putting my loved ones under so much pressure, but please understand I had to do it. The feeling I had having 4 boys then wanting desperately a girl, it was the same pain that just wouldn’t go away.

I got my T184 finishers medal and I also got my girl. I’m not sure why I’m wired differently but don’t like it when people try to change me.

Thanks go to, My Mum and Dad who have been my absolute rock this week. I love you so much. To Dave my T184 partner who tolerated me, and who believed in me when others doubted me ( I love you as my brother). This guy gave me the courage to follow my dreams and he and I will always share a special bond. To Shane (who openly admitted that he felt very emotional about me finishing….God I love a man who speaks from the heart). To all the helpers who made this race possible, including crews and friends who came out on the course. My clients and class members who have accepted me as I was able to work (seated). All those lovely people I may have forgotten I thank you too.

You have changed my life forever. Impossible is nothing.

Advice……Don’t try this at home.

Will I do this again? …. I don’t need to. I finished first Lady and 5th overall.

F*** Average

Jane Benson