We can call Thames Trot Number 9 another “muddy” one. Despite almost perfect weather conditions and temperatures (particularly for February), the rain over the past few weeks had meant it felt like another slog in the mud which pretty much characterises this race for me.

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The Hoka Fan Club (minus Wendy)

I met up with my fellow “Hoka Fan Club” members Paul Beechey and Alex Whearity at the start as Race Director Steve kindly mentioned my ever present streak which resulted in some good natured booing from the chaps. This mock hero-worship (p*ss taking) was then continued all the way to the start line.

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Garmin set.. check… Hokas on.. check.. over-shorts on to cover the compression shorts… Beechey? (Photo Ian Berry)

We lined up at the front and Alex led the runners off as I made an initial dash over the lock and then settled into a steadier pace. There was no firm goal today, it was the usual pre-season warm up run and simply a tactic of head down and steady running the whole way.

The first severn or eight miles were pretty muddy as we made our way along the Thames Path. I had elected to wear my Hoka Speedgoats (which are now reaching the end of their life… don’t worry Hoka Fans the next two pairs are ready to go) and had made a conscious decision to take comfort over grip. This did result in a few slips here and there but thankfully I managed to avoid completely falling over.

The line of runners spread out with no more than 20 people ahead and I ran largely by myself leap frogging Duncan Cornish from time to time.

The ground conditions improved after the lock crossing near Abingdon as we headed into Checkpoint 1. I grabbed a slice of cake, had some water and moved on pretty quickly.

The route is very familiar to me by now having run races in both directions at different events and it was good to tick of the usual markers and have a pretty accurate sense of distance between points. I could use different Checkpoints from different races as little goals to keep the mind occupied as the legs trudged on. I crossed the river at Days Lock and noticed they have now fenced off the field, followed the field around and then onto the road at Shillingford where I spotted Ian Berry out and about taking photos a few of which I’ve used here (thanks Ian).

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A running advert for Ultimate Direction today (Photo Ian Berry)

As I headed towards Checkpoint 2 at Benson Café, I realised I needed a ‘comfort break’ and took a few minutes to use the facilities at Benson before heading through the Checkpoint and onwards.

I had planned to run no quicker than 8.30-9.00m/m for the first half and then try and stick to that pace in the second half! Despite the muddy conditions and constant opening and closing of gates on the route I was on this pace. Although ‘pace’ seems the wrong word for a steady plod in the mud.

A quick hello to Phil Hoy who I had seen at lots of races previously but never spoken to, so it was good to put a name to a face and I’m actually running one of his events later this year. As we got past the morning towards lunchtime the sun had come out and I was feeling a little warm having worn a few layers in the morning so decided to strip a layer off at the next Checkpoint.

The next major goal was the Streatley Checkpoint which is approximate 27-28 miles so it’s considered the half-way point but technically more than half-way distance wise. I had worn some injinji socks and Sealskinz to keep my feet dry as I suspected it would be wet on the route. There were a few parts where you got your feet wet but not too bad overall. However, the old pair of Sealskinz I have are quite thick and abrasive (hence the Injinji liner) and my feet felt a little cramped so I had decided to change my socks at Streatley to my Drymax pair I was carrying as the worst of the mud would be over by then.

A couple of miles before Streatley, I saw a figure walking. Unfortunately, it was Paul Beechey who was struggling with a back injury and had decided to call it a day at the next Checkpoint. Hoka down.. Hoka down.

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Leaving Streatley CP (Photo Mark Saunders)

I arrived at Streatley around 4-4.15 hours I think and took a few minutes to change my socks, layer, top up my bottles with water and Tailwind and grab a few snacks. I jogged out of the Checkpoint and over Streatley bridge munching on a banana before picking the river bank trail. The feet felt a little better from having a bit more breathing space with a thinner layer of socks now.

The next section was the Whitchurch hills which was a mix of a run and march up the hills. I knew it was only a few miles to Whitchurch Village (where the Centurion Team stage an Aid Station) and jogged there. The overall pace had slowed slightly with a few marching breaks up the hill but when I was running I was maintaining the same sort of pace.

After heading through Whitchurch and that peculiar little section by the houses just before the Toll Bridge I arrived at riverbank again and started passing through the wet (but not too muddy) fields. I was pretty much running by myself at this point with the odd person in sight far ahead from time to time.

In years gone by this section of the fields had seemed to take an eternity but I knew it was just over a couple of miles long and I just told myself “You can run a couple of miles can’t you?”. Mentally, I probably flagged a little here as the usual questions started to surface in the back of my mind “Why are you doing this again?”, “If you’re flagging now, how are you going to get through the next 145/248/145 miles in a longer race” (bonus points for knowing the races I am referring to). It wasn’t a major wobble just a note to say that I got my head down and worked through those negative thoughts as I headed into the penultimate Checkpoint before the finish.

I arrived at the Purley Checkpoint. From this point it’s job done as the route then follows my lunchtime run route through Reading and it’s all pleasingly familiar. There were a couple of guys just ahead now as I grabbed a drink and a few jelly babies marched up the road and then picked up the jogging again. I decided it was time to put the headphones on and try and ‘zone out’ and I would like to thank Taylor Swift for making this section more bearable. I ran the few miles to my workplace overtaking one guy, had a brief walk for a minute near the new footbridge as I felt myself lacking a bit of energy and ate some food and the one gel I carried before running to the final Checkpoint where I caught up with another guy.

From the final Checkpoint there were only 6 miles to go although the first two from here are usually pretty muddy, so I was expecting to slog through a couple of miles and then it’s plain sailing. I walked over Sonning Bridge with another guy who had been at the Checkpoint and then picked up the running. Thankfully, the proposed ‘muddy section’ wasn’t that bad and perfectly runnable and I trotted on. Knowing there were two people just behind me was also a bit of an incentive to keep running aswell.

I ran through the fields towards Shiplake where I eventually spotted someone else ahead. I was probably running marginally quicker and eventually caught up with him just by the last field before the long bridge at Henley and we spoke briefly.

I moved ahead and knowing there was a mile to go and reasonable footing all the way meant it was a good chance to do a decent last mile and ‘look strong at the finish’ which I had joked about with Alex and Paul before the race. As soon as I hit the bridge, it was foot down and I ran strong for the last mile until the finish.

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Finish line photo (Photo Adrian Howes Photography)

My finishing time overall was 7.17 which was my quickest in all of the 9 years. I had also finished in 8th position overall (although the field probably wasn’t as strong as it had been in previous years to be fair). So happy days, especially for “just a training run”.

Huge congratulations to Alex Whearity who came 2nd overall with a 6.39 finish, so a fantastic run from him.

My legs didn’t feel too bad as I had followed a steady pace the whole race (aside from the first and last mile) but my knees felt a little sore after the miles and I had a couple of minor blisters. I got changed and a few of us headed to a local pub for a drink and burger before we headed back to the race finish to watch a few of the other finishers before eventually heading home.

Thanks to Steve and team for another good event and one where we actually had some good weather conditions on the day (to be fair, we have been owed more than one good year). I will see all you Trotters next year for the 10th anniversary of the event.

PS – Thanks to Zoe/Rusty/Wendy for the lifts today much appreciated guys.

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