I can’t remember when David slipped into the conversation that he had entered the Centurion Thames Path 100 for 2015. I probably wasn’t paying too much attention. It’s entirely possible I was asleep on the sofa at the time; I’m sure this is the moment he chooses to let me know about most of his races.
I’ve often likened the whole running 100 miles thing to childbirth, for a number of reasons:
- It seemed like a good idea when you signed up months ago
- You have to make a few sacrifices along the way if you’re going to be properly ready (in my case, mostly gin)
- Packing your bags for the event is complicated
- The actual thing takes a long time
- It hurts
- It’s not glamorous
- It takes a while to recover
- You can’t do it on your own.
I’ve given birth twice. David was by my side on both occasions, encouraging me, keeping me focused and feeding me Marmite sandwiches. So crewing for him in ultra marathons is just a bit of role reversal, or payback time, although I’m not sure who’s paying who back!
So imagine my delight when, en route to Richmond, the news broke that the Duchess of Cambridge was in labour. What perfect timing. I’d be able to think of her and William going through it while David and I were going through it on the Thames Path. Let’s just ignore the fact that she’d given birth and emerged looking immaculate in a white dress and high heels before nightfall.
This was David’s third Centurion event after NDW100 in 2012 and SDW100 in 2014. I’ve crewed for all of them and done a bit of pacing in the last two (more of that later). I don’t normally go to the start of the race. 6am is a bit antisocial and there isn’t much in terms of a crew role at this stage. But with the later start for Thames Path I thought I’d take the opportunity to come along. It was great to be able to meet people I’ve known on Twitter for ages; Ashley, Richard, Bryan and Allan, and to say hi to the lovely Nici again. And it was good to feel the buzz of the start, the atmosphere was amazing!
I sent David off with my usual motivational words, “Don’t be shit!” (with acknowledgement to the legend Steve Way) and then headed off for a well-earned brunch. Crew life gets tough later, so it’s important to look after yourself when you can!
My first planned meeting point with David was Aid Station 2 at Wraysbury, where I expected David at around 1.20, if he was on target for his ‘A’ goal (under 17 hours). He was slightly ahead, rocking up with a big smile just before 1.15pm.
A replacement soft flask for the one that was leaking in his pack, and he was off again. In the meantime I’d been chatting to a lovely lady from Ireland who was crewing for her husband and a couple of other runners. I’m rubbish at names and tiredness screws with my short term memory, but I think she was called Nicola. I hope your man got in ok.
There was a café at Wraysbury (as well as a proper toilet) so I took advantage of the opportunity to have a wee and get a hot cup of tea before moving on to Windsor, which was a ‘crew station’ rather than an aid station. Crew stations are basically just places along the route where it’s possible to meet up with your runner. Crew are not allowed at a number of the official aid stations because of issues with access, so the crew points along the route are pretty useful.
There’s a castle in Windsor (you may have heard of it), so it’s quite a popular place to stop. It wasn’t brilliantly clear from the crew instructions I had where to meet the runners, so I just kept driving to what I thought was the end of the designated car park. After spending at least five minutes trying to put change in the pay and display machine, a kindly soul pointed out that parking at weekends was free (Kent County Council please take note). I quickly stocked my rucksack with food and water and headed towards the river. Here was my first encounter with Mimi Anderson’s crew. Mimi’s crew know what they’re doing when it comes to supporting an ultra runner. You could probably live in (and out of) Mimi’s crew bus, which they had managed to drive all the way to the water’s edge, for several weeks if you needed to.
To add to my feelings of inadequacy I thought I’d somehow managed to miss seeing David. I was using the “Track my iPhone” app to see where he was. The app is useful, but it only shows where your chosen iPhone is, and not where you are. My orienteering skills are, let’s say, ’emerging’ (some days I find socks with L and R on a bit complicated) and so despite me looking at a map showing David’s iPhone and another runner’s crew member looking at the same map with our location on, we weren’t sure if David has gone through or not. I think I managed to pull off the ‘totally in control of this crewing thing’ look when he ran past a minute later.
After this I had a bit of a low point. And you thought it was only the runners who experience emotional black spots. Windsor Castle was cool and I had no one to share it with.
The race was only a quarter of the way through and I missed the kids. It was going to be a long day.
A firm word with myself and it was in to the next crew point, Boulters Lock in Maidenhead, where I explained for the umpteenth time to bemused passers by that it was a 100 mile race, yes, it was a long way, and no, I didn’t really know what they were all doing it for.
Marlow’s a nice place to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon. And as a consequence the world and his flippin’ wife were there and there was nowhere to park. As luck would have it, I’m not generally known as a shy individual, so I drove straight into the car park of the Compleat Angler, parked the car and helped myself to the facilities (nice Molton Brown soap & hand cream) before packing a little bag of ultra runner goodies and walking over the bridge to meet David. I’m sure their Michelin starred chef couldn’t have done better.
David had been worried that stopping at crew stations as well as official aid stations would slow him down, so there wasn’t much chat before he was on his way again. Note: must go back to Marlow one day with a little more time to spare.
My next stop was Henley, the superheroes aid station. I arrived just after the leading runner had handed in his race number and I realised David was now comfortably inside the top ten and a fair few minutes inside his A goal. Eek!
I’d been looking forward to the next aid station, Reading, all day, because I would get to meet Susie Chan who was running the station, and because it was where I’d arranged to meet our friend Beks, who was going to pace David from miles 78-91. We spent quite a while chatting and watching news footage of the Duchess of Cambridge leaving hospital, and it was good to feel a little less lonely.
David arrived and had his longest stop of the race here. His foot was hurting so he changed socks and I rubbed in some Tendoneze. From the look on his face I’m not sure it helped!
We then didn’t plan to see David again until Beks joined him at Wallingford, but we spotted the Tilehurst crew point en route and pulled in to see if we could see him. I’m glad we did, because those steps over the railway line were a bastard and I’m sure our being there helped him over them. Just as he headed off I realised it would be dark by the time we saw him again and shouted after him to grab his head torch. He was carrying two in line with the mandatory kit requirements but just lightweight ones and not the ones he wanted to use.
On reflection, this is the point at which Beks and I should have gone to get some decent food in anticipation of our pacing duties later. Instead I grabbed a petrol station sandwich and a coffee which I ate in the car on Goring High Street while Beks ate a couscous salad she’d brought from home. We saw David again who was by now getting confused by seeing us where we hadn’t planned to meet him, but nonetheless looking strong and in control.
On the other hand, Beks and I were feeling a bit apprehensive for our runs. Neither of us is particularly quick (hence only pacing in the last quarter of the race when David has slowed down enough) but he was going so well we were nervous of not being able to keep up! Anyway, Beks got ready
and after David left the Wallingford aid station and rounded the corner to where we were waiting, I watched them jog off back towards the river.
Beks had been feeling nervous so I’d promised to be at the Clifton Hampden aid station in case she wasn’t happy. I wasn’t expecting David to arrive at the aid station on his own though. Beks had started to feel ill and sent him on his way while she and the couscous salad parted company. So while he worried about her and she worried about him, I booted him out of the aid station and set off to find Beks. And all this rather distracted us from the fact that David had left Clifton Hampden in second place.
After picking up Beks, who was shaky but fine, it was on to Abingdon, where I was due to set off to pace David through the last nine miles.
Cursing the wisdom of a local council that closes its public toilets until 6am, I got ready and went to say hi to the Abingdon crew. The lead runner had just gone through, so they weren’t expecting David for half an hour or so. But the lead has narrowed considerably, and before I knew it, there he was, and it was time to go.
David and I don’t run together often. He has a sub 3 hour marathon PB. I completed my first marathon last month in a little under five hours. So I can only run with him when he’s really, really tired. Miles 91-100 are that time and I bloody loved it! David continued with his run/walk strategy which suited me perfectly. The running pace was quick for me, but I was able to recover in the walk breaks. I was even able to run up the slopes of the little bridges, prompting David to yell ‘show-off’ as I went. I think that’s what he said; the second word was definitely ‘off’ anyway.
And so we continued, chatting occasionally, stumbling frequently on the uneven path in the dark, and scaring the odd duck and boat-dweller out of their peaceful slumber. We trotted through the final aid station where they told us we weren’t far behind the leader, and David mustered every ounce of strength he had to push on.
On the basis that my stretch was 9miles, when my Garmin told me I’d nearly done 6, I started to get David to visualise our local Tonbridge parkrun route. ‘It’s only a parkrun from here!’, ‘We’re at the furthest point of Haysden lake; only 1.5mi to the finish’ etc. I couldn’t believe it when I turned round to see two people (a runner and his pacer) tearing up behind us and flying past. Bugger! I could sense David’s disappointment. He always prides himself on not letting anyone pass him in the second half of a race. I just kept telling him to stay calm, it was ok, it was never about winning. I’m not sure how convincing I was.
And then I saw some bright lights ahead and to the left and the conversation went something like:
Me – What are those lights over there?
David – Dunno
David – The finish isn’t on the path, it’s off to the left somewhere.
Me – Like over there? Where the lights are?
David – Dunno
Me – shall we go and see?
Me – What does your Garmin say?
David – Ah, 16:50 something.
Me – What does that sign say?
David – Shit! It says turn left for the finish. COME ON!
And so we did. (Those with any aversion to Public Displays of Affection please look away now).
We just legged it under the finish arch hand in hand, whooping (mainly me), David’s A goal achieved (16:53:57), in third place and still not divorced (even after I posted the video of him bottom shuffling down the stairs the following day).
And I am nearly as proud of these moments as I am of the moments when our children were born, because they are about teamwork and determination and love. And a little bit of swearing.