The Games 100
[Sat/Sun 2/3rd Jun]
What better way to celebrate the Jubilee than to run/ walk/ crawl 100 miles from Stratford to Windsor via a route that takes in ‘The City’, urban towns and villages and various long distance paths through Surrey on a big loop south of London before finally exploring Windsor Great park.
10 a.m. Saturday morning found me lining up, with trepidation, with the rest of early starters (3 start times available) in what was supposed to be ‘the shadow of the Olympic Stadium’ – it would need to be a bloody big shadow to reach us! The early part of the route went through some very pleasant park areas and canal towpaths which have been ‘upgraded’ (cleaned) to form part of the Jubilee Walkway before leading into the Canary Wharf area. At 1 Canada Square, it was necessary to go through a restaurant – the organisers were obvious expecting problems with over 500 sweaty, scruffily dressed runners/walkers going through and had set up an alternate route – I was lucky in being in the early group and just got strange looks. Soon the first of 17 checkpoints arrived. The important thing about events of this nature is to have a race target and stick to it. Mine was 15 minute mileing and I reached this 6 mile checkpoint averaging 10:45 – bugger! Onwards through the Greenwich foot tunnel (2 years renovation at a cost of £11M for the Olympics – if they delay the start until 2022 they may have a chance of finishing) , past the Cutty Sark, the O2 dome, the Thames cable car (that looks fun) and down the Thames Path to the Thames Barrier.
At this point the route turns south, away from the river and London, following the Green Chain walk/ Capital Ring and through some attractive (and presumably horrendously expensive) villages to go deep into Surrey. Also went past Biggin Hill but didn’t see any Spitfires!
Good time was still being made at this point and all was well – until about 8:30 in the evening. It started raining. And didn’t stop until about 5 in the following morning. All night it was either rain or heavy rain (and very cold). Now on the North Downs Way, the tracks became waterlogged and treacherous. The pace dropped to a walk because it wasn’t safe to go up/ down hills that were rapidly becoming mud chutes any faster. Boxhill (advertised as part of the most challenging section of the route of the 2012 Olympic Road Cycle Race) came and went in the night. Wet and bedraggled I dragged myself into the breakfast stop at 63 miles and was cheered up by a full English (at about 5 in the morning).
Off again, up and down hills in overcast weather praying that the miles would go away. Although there were many ups and downs still to come, the climb up to St Martha’s Church – described as a hilltop downland church (?), the climb felt near vertical at times and I seriously doubted my ability to get up. Why build up there – no wonder people stopped going to church! The event was advertised as having ‘over 10,000 ft of climbing – by the time my Garmin ran out of battery power it was showing over 13,000ft and there was still plenty to come!
By the time I reached the checkpoint at Old Woking (82 miles) I was having serious doubts about finishing. Suffering from blisters on the soles of both feet and with knee problems, I wasn’t sure if I could finish. Thanks to the marshal’s and their enthusiasm and assured that it was ‘a lot flatter’ from now on, I decided to continue. Through golf courses, fields and wonderful sounding roads like ‘Gracious Pond Road’, Horsell Common, Chobham Common – the day passed. By the time I reached checkpoint 16 at 92 miles, I was not in a good state. My feet were extremely painful by now, I was exhausted, struggling to find the checkpoint (it was raining and nobody around – rescued by a kind man in Domino Pizza’s who had no idea where the village hall was but Google mapped it for me), and travelling very slowly. Didn’t want to continue and even rang Mrs B to tell her I was calling it a day. She quite rightly pointed out that I would regret it later and should consider struggling on if at all possible.
Cup of tea, deep breath and it was off (slowly) in the general direction of Windsor Great Park, reached after just 1 mile. Then started what is probably the most miserable 7 miles of my running career! By now the heavy rain had returned and the organisers had designed a loop of the park (to bring the total to 100 miles) and put 2 checkpoints along it to ensure that nobody ‘cut corners’ and just went straight through the park. In some ways, the hardest part came at the end – the Long Walk. This is a straight line road of 1 mile, into the wind and rain, heading up towards the castle. It seemed to go on for ever – every time I raised my head from staring at the ground, it seemed to be no closer (the weather was nothing like this picture!).
Eventually I got to the end and was ‘collected’ by a marshal and walked to the finish (I think that they realise how exhausted people are and are concerned about our ability to cope with traffic). Every finisher is greeted into the finishing room with a great round of applause (quite an emotional ending) and a hot cup of tea is pressed into your eager hands. Hobble round to the showers and face the prospect of removing socks that have been worn for the last 100 miles through rain, mud and god knows what else. Hardly daring to examine the damage to the soles of my feet it was heaven just standing and letting the hot water pour over me. Dressed, packed and off to the station to get back to central London and my hotel bed.
Next morning it was a real struggle to get off the bed and move. Some serious padding of the blisters was needed to enable me to move at a hobble – must have looked strange walking along stiff-legged and with a look of pain on the face. Stairs were a particular problem and there were a lot of them as we spent the day sight-seeing. Had a quick look at the Olympic Park – must have a different definition to the phrase ‘work has been completed’ because it didn’t look it!
Final results show that 488 started and 105 of these retired before the finish – I eventually came in 56th. My original plan was to try and finish in 30 hours – in the end I took 31 hrs 43 mins. Was I disappointed? Not really because I know that I’d given it absolutely everything and had to battle to overcome the desire to abandon. Would I do it again? Not a chance – given the pain and discomfort involved I would be mad to put myself through it again.
Mind you, it’s in Cornwall next year ----------