Fuck, fuck, fuck…fuckity fuck….
I’d missed my alarm and was now in a state of mild panic. Last felt as an under prepared, over partied student, except I couldn’t balls this up…I was a (first time) Centurion volunteer (at their Thames Path 100 race) and there were expectations to be met.
The email from HQ said ‘Arrive 6:30am at the latest’, with Registration first up. I would sacrifice brekkie, I was bollixed if I was going to handle the A to Fs unshaven.
With no FaceBook Ultrarunning group active to check my footwear choice, I sucked in my cheeks, nervously donned my Brooks Defyance and gunned the motor towards the A243.
I got to Richmond Town Hall with ten minutes to spare, introduced myself to Nici and was given my Marshal’s t-shirt to wear.
Nice one Centurion.
Heading for the Griffindor common room to set up, I spied some familiar faces with Captain Rumbles (unshaven) and Matt Dunn manning Kit Check. The steely glint in their eyes conveyed their intent to show no mercy with the mandatory requirement to carry a lint roller at all times.
Nici gave myself and my fellow Registrars Krista and Nina a quick briefing. We taped our lists to the table, fiddled with pens and chatted idly. Jeez knows how we got there – but Nina nonchalantly recounted the (jaw dropping) story of surviving driving over an IDE whilst on overseas duty. I will never complain about a pothole again.
Registration went in a blur. Everyone seemed in high spirits and the banter in the room was excellent though I’d like to apologise to those runners, whom on name recognition I would squeal ‘Hey X..you’re @blanketyblank on Twitter?!!’
Just time to see the start, a quick clear up and on to Wraysbury – CP2. Being the Missus’ car, I couldn’t remember how to put a postcode into the SatNav but felt confident that my selection of ‘Riverside’ (correct road) and ‘Wraysbury’ (well that’s what the bleeding CP was called) was foolproof.
About 40 minutes later this fool hailed down a passing Postie Van in said Riverside, to be told the post code was in fact in Egham – as outlined on the Centurion website.
Still, the lovely Fiona McNelis was all smiles as we said hello again in the car park (she had also put in an early shift at the Start) and we unloaded the last of the nosh. All the team (Fi, Sam Broad, Jenny Hawksby, Ian Walker, Rich Gagg and Dave Ross) got to work buttering, peeling, slicing, and generally being super-efficient whilst I fannied around with the plastic cups. It was good to chat with Dave (he truly is UltraWikipediaMan, this is one dude worth listening to), whilst Ian tried to persuade me that running up and down a hill (x 60) in Bath until the cumulative ascent approximated that of Everest was a good thing. This Social Ultra event would cover 112 miles all told. He smirked, I winced. Of course Rich Cranswick is doing it too. Probably dressed as a Flower Pot Man.
The first runner came through at about 3 hours or so and it soon became apparent that the unexpected humidity was beginning to play a part…as galluminous amounts of Pepsi and water disappeared in short order. Dave rolled out the GU Brew….
“Complex and simple carbs in optimal balance, vital electrolytes at the proper levels for intense exercise, and all-natural flavours”.
Our fine spread was taken advantage of in varying degrees by the Thamesians – though the cherry tomatoes went down a belter and I made a mental note to take a few of the little beauts on a future training run. My guilt at stuffing my non-running face with an excess of ham and cheese wraps was to linger. I’m Catholic…I can’t help it.
The well being of the runners at this relatively ‘early’ stage (22 miles) was also interesting to observe and I looked out in particular for some of the Grand Slamees arriving. Sam Robson looked a little distressed, he’d missed his crew and by his pallor and demeanour you could see he was going to have a tough race. Rod Freeman on the other hand looked in great shape (thanks for bringing me a coffee at Richmond) and didn’t waste too much time at the CP. Dan Park rocked in amongst the later runners but looked totally unflustered…a man most definitely on that mission. Didn’t see the Caterham Comet mind…
The bulk of the runners came through in a ninety minute period and a big thanks to a couple of other roving volunteers, whose names escape me – apologies, for pitching in. I think we got it about right and hopefully nobody with a soft flask was too put out as they dealt with the consequences of my constant overfilling.
A couple of folk dropped here…with previous injuries rearing their heads. Total respect for crossing the Start line but even more so for taking the decision to stop.
As I’d also put my hand up to sweep (from Dorney to Henley) I sheepishly ducked out of hoovering duty (sorry team) and a quick change and kit load up and I was on my way. I’d be arriving at Henley post midnight so decided to leave the car there and I organised a lift back to Dorney..
I arrived to spot that my fellow sweeper, Simon Welch had just finished his shift. Under the solemn gaze of Natasha Fielden we performed the traditional TP100 Sweeper Handover Ceremony. James Elson, velvet robes, burning incense…? Nah…just don’t lose the effin’ Chicken had been the Griffin First Order of the Day.
I swear by all that is good and true…I shall protect The Chicken
Loaded up on a few sausages and Coke, I set off some 10 minutes behind the back markers.
I jogged along at no particular pace but knowing that the folk in front of me were walking it wasn’t long before I caught them up. I asked the two runners at the back if they were happy for me to accompany them. We chatted for a while but I let them go as I stopped to remove the various markings from the course.
The sun was sinking as I left CP4 (Cookham) with the back of packers five minutes in front. 38 miles in and only thirty minutes or so in front of the cut-offs and I knew there were some struggles ahead. I had rather enjoyed the walk…the river and its environs are a thing of beauty and at one point I nearly broke into a skip, Little Red Riding Hood style.
One of the runners got detached and I again asked if she was ok if I walked with her. She told me that she was glad for the company, especially as we were heading into the night. She chatted about past Centurion races and we both blissfully missed the footbridge at Bourne End. We ambled 400 yards before spotting another runner up ahead but on the other riverbank. No real harm done but I was cross with myself. As I was again some 3 miles later as we headed over Marlow Bridge having failed to spot the reflective tape and TP sign. Gawd I’m shite at this I thought (I hadn’t been running for 10 hours!) and had visions of The Chicken being unceremoniously ripped from my pack at the next CP.
We made it to Hurley with less than ten minutes to spare and the runner was out after another three, fully aware that you have to exit the CP before the dreaded cut-off tolled. I took the opportunity to have a bit of scoff and get the old Montane properly on as the rains came down more heavily. I knew she wouldn’t make it past the next CP at Henley (mile 51) but it was her race and I wasn’t going there. We carried on nagging away to each other and she very kindly pointed out any markings that came into her view. With 4 miles to go and about 45 minutes to the cut-off it wasn’t looking great and we both knew it. To her eternal credit at just past mile 48 she started running…fantastic! She didn’t manage it all the way to Henley and about twenty minutes after the cut-off time I received a call from one of the Centurion crew asking if she (and I) were ok. As it happens we were three minutes away and without blowing any smoke, it was great to know that the support was there.
I clambered into the car and reflected on the day. It had been a total blast. I got home just before 2am, hungry, and judging by my cats’ reluctance to come anywhere near me, obviously a smidge pong whiffy. The fridge was replete with sausage rolls, scotch eggs and pork pies…not a bloody cherry tomato in sight.
Three hours kip later I suddenly sat bolt upright, grabbed the iPad on the bedside table and found myself logging on to the Live Tracker….