Stouty and I played a small part in the Thames Ring 250 race as we were crewing Friday night at Checkpoint 8 (Heyford Station).
We arrived at about 7pm and relieved the day crew as we were joined by Graham, Kevin Mayo and Drew Sheffield who had also been supporting/marshalling.
Our Checkpoint consisted of a few tables packed with a variety of food and drink, some chairs, blankets, a first aid kit and a gas stove and gas lantern.
Not long after we got there, Angela and Fiena turned up who were supporting Javed who was due in first and for the first couple of hours or so there was some general chat and banter between the group as we waited for the first runner to arrive.
At about 9pm, our first runner (Javed) arrived in good spirits and there was a sudden rush of activity as we had something to do. Javed didn’t stay long and headed out at 9.30pm as the second and third place runners (Stephen and Steve) arrived.
The guys decided to have a couple of hours sleep and they settled down in a camper van parked in the station for a couple of hours rest before heading out just before midnight.
Our next runner Sam, arrived at 12.55am and looked worse for wear. The rain had been hammering down and he came in soaked, shivering and shaking. We threw some blankets over him and gave him some hot food and drink although he wasn’t warming up. The bridge didn’t really give us much protection from the wind as this whistled under the bridge and so we decided to take him to my car which was parked in the station, get the heaters on and warm him up. Sam then decided to sleep for a few hours and during the night to get some rest which was a sensible decision.
With the rain hammering down, we sat and waited for the next runner. Drew and Kevin along with Javeds supporters had left us by them and Stouty, Graham and I settled down waiting for the next runner. We had a little routine worked out between us now with Stouty sorting the bags (which had been arranged in number order), Graham would get the hot drinks going and I would be “Mr Clipboard” and record check in and out times.
At 2.00am we were all called into action as we saw the next runner coming in looking quite erratic, as he got closer we could hear him breathing very very heavily and we could see he was visibly shaking and looked in an absolute state to be honest. When he arrived, he wasn’t looking good and was appearing to be suffering from hypothermia. We had to physically lead him to the chair, cover him with towels and started to rub him to warm him up as he was cold. We learnt he had fallen into the canal and was suffering the effects of tiredness, the cold and being wet.
There wasn’t much space under the bridge and he was sitting in cold and wet clothes and we suggested he changed into something dry. Unfortunately, he was shaking so badly that he couldn’t manage this without assistance and Stouty and I stripped the clothes off him (he kept this leggings on as these were dryer just in case you were wondering) and dressed him, covered him in blankets and fed him some hot food. He decided to settle down for a few hours sleep as it was still raining. To be honest, we probably wouldn’t have let him continue on in the state he arrived.
Peter J arrived with a walker at 4.52. Unfortunately, Peter had been suffering from extreme tiredness and became disorientated. The lone walker (an spritely 70 year old ex-marine) had spotted him and kindly agreed to walk him into our checkpoint. Peter was a little incoherent at first but looked better after he had sat down for an hour and had something to eat.
It was starting to get light and still raining but Denis, Sam, John all surfaced between 5 – 6am and headed off with Peter leaving about 6.30am.
We were running low on milk at this time and as Joan and another guy (whose name I’ve forgotten) arrived with bags and had decided to stay with us for a while, Stouty and I drove to a nearby garage to get some more. Unfortunately it was shut but we managed to acquire an extra carton from Dicks van and some more milk later so we were ok for supplies in the end.
David M arrived at 6.30am and had a 45 minute sleep, some hot food and drink and then headed off about and hour or so later. As he left, he wanted his calf support and we agreed to find it and bring it to him as he started to get his legs going. I collected the support and jogged up to catch him and then decided to walk a mile with him before returning to the checkpoint. I think he was glad for a bit of company not having spoken to many people since Wednesday morning.
Graham headed off at this point to get his train home as he had travelled down from Birmingham to help out.
By the time I jogged back to the Checkpoint, Andy I had arrived and was having something to eat. He looked in good condition and stayed with us an hour and attended to his feet before leaving around 9.30am.
Peter and Jess arrived around 9am who were taking over the marshalling from us as did Anthony and there was a nice group of us. At this point, I was starting to think about breakfast as Stouty and I had decided to visit the Bistro/Cafe opposite the station for a well deserved fry up once we had finished our “shift”.
A few minutes after Andy arrived, Ernie came in to the checkpoint and announced he was retiring. We obviously ignored his comments as Stouty tended to his needs and we patched him up and sent him out an hour later.
We did our best to try and raise the spirits of the runners and we would announce when someone was coming in or out and give them a round of applause and cheer them.
Our last arrival before we departed was Robert who was very talkative and in good spirits. He left about 9.43 jogging out of the checkpoint.
I checked my phone at that point as despite patchy mobile coverage had been managing to tweet updates (#thamesring). I had a missed call from Dick and rang him back to hear that Peter J had been passed by David and wasn’t looking good, he asked whether one of us could run out and find him and check he’s ok.
As Stouty and I were finishing our shift, we agreed to drive ahead and then I would run back down the canal path to find him. I armed myself with some drink and food and we drove to Tackley Station and I started to search for the canal path route (I should have taken a map in hindsight) and was relying on my mobile phone and some passers by for directions. I called David who had phoned in to report Peter was not looking to good to check where he had passed him. It was about 10.30am by now and it looked like Peter had only made 4-5 miles of progress and may have headed back the wrong way.
Luckily I had been wearing my GUCR t-shirt as I asked someone for directions and asked him for directions back to Heyford which he started to give me. He then glanced at the t-shirt and said “oh you want the canal route, it’s 50 yards further” and I was on my way. I passed Robert and Andy a few minutes later who both said Peter was a few minutes behind them and was now waking up. A short while later I caught up with Peter who wasn’t looking as bad as I had expected.
We stopped for a while as I made sure he drank some water and ate some food and I started up an easy conversation to check how he was. He explained that his body just shut down as he was so tired and he fell asleep in some bushes. I wasn’t sure how long he had slept but he was moving, coherent and appeared ok to continue. I decided to walk/run with him for a mile or two just to confirm he was ok and I reported back his status to Dick and Stouty who was waiting in the car for me. I estimated there was another 16-18 miles until the next checkpoint and whilst Peter looked just about ok to continue suggested someone come out and check on him half way to the next checkpoint so we could keep a watching brief on him.
Peter said he was going to make it to Abingdon and then sleep for a few hours before finishing the last leg as we walked along together for a little while. I left him to continue as I met Stouty again. By this time, we both had to head off so skipped the cooked breakfast option and headed home for some sleep.
I checked twitter/Runners World forum for updates after I slept and understand that 16 people finished with the first five as follows:
Joint 1st Steve Charleston and Steve Thompson 75 hrs 26 mins
3rd place Javed Bhatti 79 hrs 45 mins
4th place John Poole 79 hrs 58 mins
5th place Denis le Conte 82 hrs 19 mins
Unfortunately, Peter J had deteriorated again and was pulled out at Abingdon but the others we saw (Sam, Dave, Robert, Andy) all finished so massive congratulations to everyone who took part and especially to those who finished as they had some really poor wet weather and finishing was a tremendous achievement.
Stouty and I quite enjoyed marshalling, it’s good to give something back to events where I am often the runner and I felt a sense of responsibility for each runner we saw through our checkpoint and wanted each and every person to finish.
If Dick or Anthony ever read this though, we would very much appreciate an “upgrade” to a nicer Checkpoint in future perhaps with a tent or just a bit more shelter next time :). It was cold, wet and tiring (although I felt quite alive when it got light and I had done a little jogging) but that’s nothing compared to what the runners went through so I shouldn’t complain.
Anyway, well done to all participants whether you made it all the way or not. It was a pleasure to get involved and help out for a bit.