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.
The start of the race (Photograph by Paul Ali)
At the start of the race I was nervous but happy and confident. I had planned to run the event with Jane and she had put in a gruelling 5 months of training leading up to this event including Lots of travelling to do Reccee’s with full race kit and tough gym sessions. By the time the event arrived,she was more than capable to ‘hold her own’.
As the race started we settled into a slow pace and got into our 12 minute on / 3 minute off run/walk plan which would see us cover 5 miles per hour. We made our way through the busy streets of London ignoring the stares of the crowds and passing some of the landmark sights.
Through the Cutty Sark tunnel (Photograph by Paul Ali)
There was a water point at 13 miles when Jane accidentally put her foot powder in her drinks bottle thinking it was her carbohydrate powder which we was amusing. Slightly less amusing was when I tripped over and fell into the road, which I knew would happen at some point!
We stopped at the first proper Checkpoint in Brentford for a 15 minute stop before pressing on. Around 35 miles into the race and the excitement of the start of the event had long since been replaced by the stark reality of the distance and monotony of putting one foot in front of the other mile after mile.
Around this point the ‘tapping’ of my phone case that had been annoying me, was now annoying Jane and when she commented, I had a ‘mardy’ Coxy moment (I lack patience and can be hard work at times) and threw the case in the river!
It lightened the slightly sombre mood as I mentioned I didn’t like the case anyway. At the 40 mile point unfortunately Jane started to feel unwell and was reduced to a walk at that time.
At Checkpoint 2 with Jane still not feeling 100%, she came up with the smart idea to change our plan and take a hot meal/sleep break earliar than planned to hopefully force some recovery into her body. This proved to be a very important dicision because after a hot ready meal,foot care and 75 mins sleep,she was feeling good again. We were met by Dave Brock who popped out to give us some morale support.
After this break, we got up and Jane felt a little better and we settled into a 3 minute run / 2 minute walk plan to Checkpoint 3 in Henley where we were met by James Allan (who I ran 2014 T184 with) and family (this was first time I had met his new baby girl ‘Poppy’).
We adopted a strategy of running slightly ahead of each other and then settling into a short walk to encourage the other person to catch up, overtaking before setting a gap ahead again. This worked well and we leap frogged each other and we had a good leg between Checkpoints 3 and 4 including battling our way through the Reading Festival crowds.Jane was now back on form and running very strong again.
We did have a minor falling out around this point when I confronted Jane with my thoughts on why she had felt ill. I had suggested it was because she had run all day with no shade to head. She snapped a bit and disregarded it, but I knew I was right. However I didn’t want to push it any further for fear of really upsetting team morale between us.
Approaching Checkpoint 4 – Day 2 (Photograph by Paul Ali)
As we approached Checkpoint 4 in Streatley we bumped into my masseuse Leslie. I stopped briefly to chat but noticed Jane was pushing on, I liked that because it showed she had grit and strength after 100 miles. We then saw Paul Ali out crewing and taking photographs. We arrived at Streatley and had a toilet and food stop for 20 minutes before pushing on. Paul welcomed us into the Checkpoint with a huge “Coxy” roar which was quite uplifting!
Streatley Bridge (Photograph by Paul Ali)
The next section to Clifton lock was a lonely, boring leg which was mostly grass. There were a few nervous moments for Jane with the approach of some cows but we bypassed them without too much of an issue.
We stopped at Clifton lock for a 2nd hot meal and sleep for a couple of hours (including a 75 minute sleep) and started again as the clock approached midnight on the second day. The next 25 hours would be hell with no more sleep. A thank you to Ashley Hurd who surprised us when he showed up at Abingdon which lifted our spirits.
We fell out near Oxford, argued with each other as tempers frayed due to the mental and physical demands of the race. I told Jane not to speak to me for 2 hours as our tolerance levels for each other were decreasing and it was looking like we would go our own separate ways. A this point I think we were both thinking whether or not we could survive each other for the duration of the race because tiredness was making us both ‘narky’.
As we got to the Oxford Checkpoint, we went through the usual process of refilling our bottles and I changed my GPS batteries. We were still not on speaking terms not to long after we got back on speaking terms. An event like this really tests people’s patience and emotion.
I could tell Jane was really digging in and I told her she just needed to just keep moving. I had been feeling very strong but unfortunately it wasn’t to last as the ‘oedema’ in my feet and toes had been increasing and unknown to me my toes were getting ‘strangled’ by the taping as my feet had started to swell. Out of the blue, one of my toes started to feel extremely painful. I stopped to remove the tape and hurried to catch up with Jane as I felt the blister on my toe ‘pop’. Jane looked back at me in amazement as my running style at the time made me look like the “The Hunchback of Notre Dam”
I explained what had happened and commented that “We are both in the same position now. We both have to grind this out. I want this type of challenge, I want to suffer too.”
Things were looking bleak as we approached Northmoor. We were arguing, my feet were killing me and Jane was suffering blisters and it seemed unlikely that she could keep going for around 20 hrs more. The emotions of the race really got to me and I ended up shedding tears. When asked “Why are you upset?” I replied “I don’t want to fail. We have trained so hard for this, it can’t all be for nothing.”
That admission of doubt helped bond us again and we were once again firm friends and voicing those fears openly had strangely made us both more determined and focussed
We had been leap frogging Jerry Hunter for some time and arrived at Checkpoint 6 in Radcot. We had a brief 5 minute stop as we needed to push on as much as we could before it got dark again. It was great to see Paul Stout and Nige Webber crewing here who gave us plenty of encouragement. Jane was in and out of Checkpoint leaving me in her wake as I fumbled to sort my snacks in to my side pouches for easy access and I had to work hard to catch her up.
We tried to run as much as we could but Jane’s blisters were causing problems and giving her obvious pain. However, running felt less painful than walking. My ankles were feeling pretty ‘destroyed’ at this point.
Checkpoint 7 (Photograph by Jamie Woods)
It felt as if we were making good progress through to Checkpoint 7 where we were met by Jamie Woods and daughters. I had a note on me from my Daughter Amber (who is 12). I had asked her to write me something motivational that I could read when it got really tough. The note read..
When you open this you probably want to quit but I know you won’t.
You have worked too hard to give up now so keep going.
We’re all supporting you so don’t give up you Weirdo!
You’re an amazing Dad.
Love you so so so so much.
To the moon and back.
Love from Amber, Sam, Mum and Chloe(Our dog)
Reading the note brought tears to my eyes and filled me with emotions…this was just what I wanted. Feeling determined we cracked on and made progress running with painful feet through to Cricklade and the lakes and then the worst thing happen… darkness came and we were into night three. After Cricklade and around the lakes it was evident that Jane wanted to go for sub 60 hrs as she endured alot of pain to run as much as her feet would allow and she made my ankles ‘pay’ around there.
We were both very very tired, confused and experienced some tricks of the mind. We discussed the fact that we needed to put our ‘vacant’ brains together to try and make a half decent brain!
There was only 8 miles to go but everything got really tough, be it searching for a Thames Path sign or a gate whilst trying to ignore the hallucinations. We worked from sign to sign, suffered some rainfall and despite the close proximity to the finish, the monumental physical and effort started to feel too much and the thoughts of failing returned. We were both at a low point to the extent that we almost had to bag down for sleep to recover enough sense to continue,
I remember saying to Jane “This can’t end with us calling Shane to pick us up.” However, Jane was still very determined, despite being in a lot of pain and that helped me focus.
We made slow progress (with incoming calls from Ashley Hurd and James Allen who were tracking us) and I recall seeing a bungalow and somehow remembered that part of the Thames Path. It led us to a gate I had been searching for and memories of sweeping this part of the T60 came back. Memories of accompanying Debbie Gibson brought clarity to my brain and memories of Paul Ali waiting at gates to take photos of Debbie also helped me figure out where we were.
We made it to the road crossing before last 3 fields and a I stupidly got curious as to how tender my blistered big toe was. I touched it with my heel and it exploded and was extremely painful I yelped in pain and instantly walked like I had been shot.
Jane had been digging in for miles and shuffling behind me but now it was my turn to be at the back Those last three fields took so long . I honestly wanted all this to be over. My mind flicked to memories of a video of Paul Stout in last mile of GUCR when he was limping along and I then understood how he felt.
However we were nearly there, nearly about to complete this journey. We passed the last wall and road crossing, I swayed and fell forward almost pushing Jane into the road and we both limped up the last field, both of us in real pain.
We were met by Shane who I think couldn’t quite figure out how I had deteriorated so quickly. It was because my toe had exploded! Rob Bateman walked by me to stone and seemed amused that I was in pain and mentioned ‘payback’ for me training him in my gym last week! He was also laughing at my hallucinations!
Finally, we arrived at the stone and took those.. last… few steps. We had made it, it was finally over.
All I could think about was the relief that this agony was over. When Jane had her shoes removed, I almost cried at the shocking sight of her feet. When she accepted a wheelbarrow lift to her room I smiled and thought “Fair play”….you earned it.
The wheelbarrow incident!