WINNER WINNER 🐓 DINNER!!!
After getting lost finding the moved aid station last year and coming fourth as a result, I made sure I wasn't going to get lost this year. I also went in with a plan for a time of about 3:40 and planned to keep a consistent pace and heart rate and that's what I did.
From the start things got interesting. One chap shot off like he was running a 10k. He had all the gear and looked the part and I thought we had a ringer - a pro brought in to up the pace and set an insanely quick course record. For the first time ever, I was not tempted to go with him… if he could keep that pace up, I most certainly couldn't so I stuck to my guns and ran to my planned pace and very quickly dropped into fourth just behind two other chaps.
We got to the first checkpoint, THREE minutes behind the first guy. I grabbed a cup of water, made sure my time was registered and headed out again closely followed by the other two. The three of us then switched places a few times over the next few k's until about 18km in when the two of them picked up the pace quite considerably and I let them go. They soon pulled a good lead on me and they were in and out of the second check point well ahead of me. At this point I thought a top three finish was off the cards, but I'd probably be the first V40 so that'd do nicely and carried on as planned.
As we joined the A33 I could the the two chaps ahead of me, but not too far ahead of them was someone with a race number on the leg of his shorts and my mind started playing over the scenarios: "Has someone cut the course and jumped ahead of us? Has the second place chap pulled such a commanding lead and I'm seeing a guy with shorts which happen to look like they have a race number on the leg? Had the leader just blown up spectacularly?". Now I was intrigued and thought things were about to get interesting again. I however stuck to my plan.
As we headed towards the third checkpoint I realised the guy with the number on his shorts was the guy who went out like a shot and he and the third place chap seemed to be going backwards ever-so-slowly. I was gaining on them without trying. At around 30km in I found the third place chap dousing himself in water as the unmanned water station and he joined the race just behind me. Less than a km later I couldn't see him behind me anymore… he'd clearly blown up and wasn't coming with me. I was now in third and I couldn't see the other two ahead of me. I stuck to my plan.
I entered the third checkpoint in third place and was informed I was five and three minutes behind the guys ahead of me. That's over a km for the first and about 3/4 of a km for the second - I could probably reel in the second place if I picked up the pace and he remained constant but the chances of catching the first chap we slim and whilst tempted to do this, I stuck to my guns and ticked over the km as planned. It wasn't too long before I realised I was gaining on the chap ahead and a lot quicker than I was expecting. He nearly took a wrong turn after crossing the road ahead of the arrows which allowed me to gain more ground on him and I passed him about 39km in. The chances of catching the leader were slim - a five minute lead is quite a lead - so I carried on with my plan.
Just over 2km later I entered the fourth checkpoint FIRST 😮. How the fuck did that happen? I explained to the peeps that I really shouldn't have been as there should have been someone at least five mins ahead of me, at which point he came into view and entered the checkpoint. Being the good sportsman that I am, I held off heading back out just a little bit by having another cup of water before leaving the checkpoint in the lead, but only about 10s ahead of the guy that was leading. I slowed my pace a little to give him a chance to join me and we could then have a good battle for the last seven km, but he didn't join me and in fact I was pulling away from him. I gave him about a km before deciding he wasn't coming with me and so I went back to my plan, though bouyed by the excitement I was now in the lead and pulling away.
I was now at the point in the race where I could tell my plan was working and I was on target for my 3:40 goal, though may need to pick up the pace a little once on the tow-path so I stopped concentrating on my pace and started to run by feel, regularly looking behind me just in case I needed to really pick up the pace.
On entering the grassy area of Thames Valley Park, I took a look back and couldn't see anyone behind me. I then looked again after rounding the bend and still now one. I looked a moment later and there was this old man on my shoulder. "WTF!? Where'd he come from? Where's his number? Ah, no number, not a threat." I ended up having a nice chat with him over the last two km with him sneakly picking up the pace as we chatted and I went with him. I felt great. My legs were taking this all in without too much effort. The finish line was in sight with no competitors. I'd done it. I'd just won my first competitive race and it was an ultra marathon, and my legs felt like they could have put in a few extra km. I also finished nearly a minute quicker than I planned and in what I think is a new course record.
On reflection, I think I know where the leader got lost… at the same point the second place chap at the time nearly got lost, and this would come from crossing the road ahead of the directional arrows and not at them thus missing the arrows that sent you back on yourself on the other side of the road.
This year's run was much better sign-posted and the organisation was really good too. I'm chuffed to bits and am now off to the pub to celebrate.
– Taken from my Strava entry for the race.