The Thames Trot 50 is an annual 47 mile race from Oxford to Henley, following the Thames Path. It has been put on by the folks at Go Beyond for several years now, and I’d heard from a few people that it was a good, early season ultra.
Based on the good things I’d heard, and the fact it’s pretty local for me I though I’d use it as a tester / training run for this years Thames Path 100.
Thames Trot Prep
To be honest, my (admin) prep for the Thames Trot was pretty poor. For some reason (because it’s in the title – ‘Thames Trot 50’) I thought it was 50 miles, and it wasn’t until I got to CP 5 (42ish miles) that I found out it was 47 miles. I could have kissed the aid station volunteer who told me it was only about 6 miles remaining when I said ‘only 8 and a bit to go, right?’.
I had not done any specific training for the race, and although I had an easy week prior, I didn’t do any kind of proper taper. The weeks and month before had simply been training as usual – 40 to 50 miles weeks with a couple of long runs and sometimes back to backs.
One of my objectives for this year was a 50m PB (sub 9 hours), and I loosely thought this might be the race to get it at.
I had planned to get the train to the start, and home again, so it was an early start for me – up at 5:30, parked at the station and left on the 6:34 train, which got me to Oxford at 7:30ish. Go Beyond had laid on a shuttle bus to ferry people from the station to the start, so I grabbed a coffee and a croissant and jumped onto the minibus with 5 others for the 5 minute ride to the start.
Registration, back drop and timing chip pickup was all very smooth. I spotted a bunch of people I knew and had a few quick chats as I was getting changed/ready. I also bagged myself a lift home with Stouty, but only if I could finish in under 9 hours, which given the weather I was thinking was unlikely.
A quick 5 minute race briefing at 8:25 and then we were off for the Thames Trot 2016, no rain yet…
The race takes you quickly to the river, and over a couple of bridges that are quite narrow, so there’s a bit of a people jam for a couple of minutes, but once past this people have spread out enough and the congestion is over. It was clear from the moment we hit the path by the river that the Thames Trot was going to be a muddy affair. A short time later the rain started just to reinforce the fact.
It’s that sticky, slidy mud where it’s tough to get any real traction to push off from, so things slowed down (for me at least, the 9 minute miles I had been planning were more like 10 minute miles). Shoe selection wasn’t great – I wore my Race Ultra 290s, and in hindsight I should have known better as I run on muddy bits of the Thames Path quite often.
After a few miles the wind picked up, right in our faces, and I knew that sub 9 hours was out the window. Still there’s a certain enjoyment to be had running with your face turned to one side to avoid the rain/wind, hadly seeing where youre going – pitting yourself against the elements…
The first 10 miles were mostly new to me, not having run that section before, but shortly after the first checkpoint we hit familiar territory (from the Autumn 100) and I could switch into auto mode, with little need for staying alert on the navigation side. I was still feeling good by the second checkpoint (Benson), at 19 miles. I was jusat grabbing some cake and jelly babies at each CP and just continuing through, as I try not to dally at aid stations – it is too easy to waste 10 minutes with no real benefit.
A few miles later I began to slow a bit, the effort of trying to stay upright in the mud, and adjusting for all the sliding had taken more of a toll than I expected. Luckily I buddied up with another guy we pushed me a little and kept me jogging all the way to CP3 at Streatley.
I grabbed a few bits of fruit cake (which the Thames Trot and GoBeyond team are ‘famous’ for), a big handful of jelly babies and treated myself to a bit oif a walk/eating session for a bit, then I remembered that this was uphill for a good bit, so I pushed on a little until I hit the wooded area where it starts going up – then settled into a walk. That was me (except for a few short jogs) until I hit the downhill at Whichurch/Pangbourne. After the bridge, I mostly jogged through the open fields towards CP4 at Mapledurham.
More fruit cake, a water top up and I was out of CP4 – a few people had bunched up here and as I headed out there ware probably 6 or 7 people around me. Navigation does get a little difficult here if you don’t know the route (and are tired after 34ish miles), so I helped a few people out with directions and we all made it through Purley and back to the river at Tilehurst with no drama. This section is well known to me, as I run here at lunchtime 2-4 times per week. Good to be on ‘home’ territory.
Next CP was number 5, which for some reason I thought was the Watersports centre at Thames Valley Park, but was actually at Sonning Bridge – my apologies to all the people I told the CP was ‘just a little past the blue horseshoe bridge’ … I pushed on to Sonning Bridge running as much as I could, as I knew that the section after this, to Shiplake, is a real mudfest. It was at Sonning Bridge that I said to the volunteers ‘only about 8 miles to go right?’ and they said ‘no, only about 6’ – which cheered me right up !! 🙂
As I thought the next few miles were mostly fast walk/march, as it was so muddy. It was a relief to get to Shiplake, where you hit the road again for a bit – by now it was dark and headtorches were on – I could see a few people milling around at gates, not sure of where to go, so I pointed them in the right direction and cracked on.
I knew how close this was to the finish, just a field to cross then onto the wooden bridge that curves out into the river and back. I was pushing the pace as much as I could by this stage. There were a couple of spectators at the start of the bridge telling me ‘less than a mile’, so quickly off the bridge, along the path and then spotted the lights and finish funnel.
Thames Trot 2016 – 47 miles in 9:25:59.
All in all, the Thames Trot was a great event, and I loved it (despite the weather). It was reasonably well attended – around 300 starters I think – but still small and friendly. The aid stations were well stocked with gels, jelly babies and fruit cake, as well as bottled water (which is great for just grabbing and going). The volunteers were all very helpful and always smiling (also, despite the weather). All very well organized I think. Added benefit is that you get a finishers photo included in the price (£47).
9:25:59 was a good bit slower than I had hoped, but given the conditions I’ll take that. there’s also a few take-aways / lessons learned:
- I carried too much kit (2* spare socks, spare top, spare jacket) – didn’t need any of it.
- Should have researched a bit more before the race (find out the ‘actual’ distance, where the CPs are etc)
- Should have made better shoe choice.
- Bit of a pain trying to keep my rain hat (baseball type hat) on my head in the wind – need to get a decent rain beanie.
- Montane Minimus continues to work well in poor weather/rain – wore it the whole way.
- Maybe pushed a bit too hard in the miles to Streatley – which caused a bit of a lull after Streatley.
So, Thames Trot, I’ll be back next year – hopefully for a PB this time around !!