With the help of Strava I have spent this afternoon trying to work out what happened last night.
It appears that I left the final checkpoint at 10:50pm and the volunteers have confirmed I was Ok then and didn’t think I needed any sleep before commencing the final 20 mile leg through to the finish. I remember being at the checkpoint, having something to eat and repacking my kit for the final leg. I was there for an hour and didn’t feel too bad considering that I had been walking for over 84 hours by that stage. I was definitely confident that I would finish the race – finally, on my 3rd attempt.
Strava says I walked about 6.6km in the next 2 ½ hours sticking to the route which followed the river, but my recollection is that I was lost and walking around in circles and I couldn’t find my way out. I kept seeing things I had already seen – Google says “People who are exhausted or stressed tend to experience déjà vu more” so that probably explains why I thought I was walking around in circles.
So it was now about 1:30am and I think I still knew I was in a race but I also started thinking that I had been abandoned in this field and that it was something to do with covid – some sort of outdoor covid detention or quarantine centre.
I then thought I saw some German farm workers in the distance and I waved my torch to get their attention but couldn’t, so I clambered through stinging nettles shouting out for help and eventually they saw me. They weren’t actually German farm workers (I have no idea why I thought they were) but were railway workers replacing the line which also explains why they were up high above me and there was a barbed wire fence between us.
I told them that I had been abandoned in this field for two days and needed them to help me. They hauled me over the fence and walked me back to a road and called an ambulance. They probably thought I was an escaped mental health patient or something. I remember they asked if I had had anything to eat or drink and I said I hadn’t eaten anything for two days. My race number was under my over-trousers and while I was wearing my running vest with water bottles and food in it, they probably didn’t know what that was, or they were just going along with my story.
While waiting for the ambulance Maxine (one of the race organisers) rang me. That was the first I knew I had a phone with me but while I knew who Maxine was I didn’t think I was in a race and she explained to the railway men that she would come and collect me.
The ambulance arrived and I was checked over and Maxine explained the situation to them and assured them that I was now withdrawn from the race and would be taken to the race HQ to have a sleep – not that I had any interest in re-joining the race at that stage anyway. The ambulance team asked me to sign something authorising my release to Maxine so everything was done by the books and I want to thank both the ambulance team and the railway workers for their help – if anyone reading this knows anyone that was working on the railway line near Appleford station last night, please pass my thanks on to them.
Thanks to those of you that have messaged me asking if I am OK, and I’m sorry if I caused any concerns. I also want to apologise to Maxine and Lindley (race organisers) and all the volunteers for any embarrassment I may have caused. I have suffered minor hallucinations in races before but over the last four days I had some major mind-altering experiences that would cost the average drug user thousands of pounds to experience.
And lastly, this means that the Thames Ring has beaten me three times out of three attempts. But if I wanted to do something easy it wouldn’t be a challenge.
“If you want to run, run a mile. if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. if you want to talk to god, run an ultra.” – Dean Karnazes
Before lockdown I never thought I’d do a virtual race. I mean why pay for the privilege of recording your mileage/time on a random website in return for a finishers medal that I would just put in the drawer with all the other finisher’s medals I have received over the years. Virtual races seem to have become popular in recent years and for many people they are actually a great pathway to ‘real’ races. But not for me. For a start, as an accountant, why would I want to pay for something that I can do for free? I pay to do real races, but that is different. Or at least that is what I thought.
That was until Covid-19 came along and all races worldwide were cancelled.
I found myself competing in my first virtual race, the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, in early April and not long after that I heard about a virtual race across Tennessee which would be starting on 1st May. Runners and walkers would have four months (May through August) to complete 1,022km (635 miles) from the bottom left corner of Tennessee and finishing to the top right corner. For those who wanted a bigger challenge, there was the option of the double crossing of Tennessee within the same time period.
The race was being organised by the famous Lazarus Lake, founder of events including the Barkley Marathons and Big’s Backyard Ultra. He initially thought that a couple hundred runners might be interested in virtually crossing Tennessee. Little did he know that over 19,000 runners and walkers (including me) would toe the virtual start line and the event would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help feed the homeless people of Tennessee.
With no actual races on the horizon I decided to enter the double GVRAT – there and back – rationalising that walking approximately 500km per month for four months would be great training for when races do finally resume after lockdown (I’m still hopeful that we will have the opportunity to do a real race before the end of 2020). 2,000km would give me about 50% of my normal annual mileage in the space of four months, and recording my daily mileage and watching my runner icon slowly move across a map of Tennessee would give me the motivation to keep going. I’m the sort of person that needs a race goal to motivate myself to train, and with no upcoming races I wasn’t sure how motivated I’d be during the summer.
Of course, staying healthy and social distancing during the Covid-19 crisis was always going to be number one priority.
The race started at midnight on the 30th April local time. This meant it started in New Zealand first and for us in England it started about 11 hours later, and for those in the US, even later. But when the race finishes on 31st August, it also finishes at midnight, so everyone has the same amount of time to complete the distance unless they happen to change time zones.
Because of this it meant that race times would only be recorded in full days but that didn’t stop a few people starting their race immediately after midnight in their local time, and the first people to finish treated the race as if it was a real race, running as much mileage as they possibly could each day. The first person to finish the race took just 12 days!
For me, my initial aim was to take eight weeks for the first 1,000km (actually 1,022km) across Tennessee and then eight weeks for the return journey, and treat the event as high mileage training. I also had a full time job to fit the race around.
The race started on Friday 1st May and I started at 5am with a 37km walk before work. By the end of week one though, I had completed 162km (101 miles). A 100 mile training week. The last time I had walked 100 miles in a week that didn’t include a race of 100 miles or longer was in 2014! I have never been a high mileage athlete when it comes to training, but this race was enticing me to walk farther than I normally would, and also farther than the 125km weekly average I had planned for the race.
But surely this was a one-off. My weekly distances would now settle back to my required average of through the summer. Just enough weekly mileage to get me through 2,000km in four months.
Week 2 – another 100 mile week. Another great week of training. After just two weeks I’d completed just under one third of the one-way journey across Tennessee and I was in 304th position out of 19,000 athletes. I’d started checking the online results on a daily basis to check my placing and had even started graphing my daily mileage and analysing how my average daily mileage since 1st May correlated to my current position in the race.
In week 3 I purposefully reduced my mileage as I had never walked back to back 100 mile weeks and I was concerned that a third 100 mile week could bring on an injury. I was purposefully keeping my average speed to a above 8 minutes per kilometer (12:50 per mile) due to my shin injury from the Thames Ring 250 last year but in the first two weeks of May I had already walked further than my average monthly mileage for the first four months of the year. Even so, at 133km week 3 was still longer than any other training week (non-race week) in over a year!
By the end of week 3 I had dropped to 448th place and with a rest day for day 22 I dropped another 100 places. I started to think about ‘racing’ through to the finish. Lockdown restrictions in England were being reduced slightly and I was able to walk farther and farther away from home.
The 23rd, 24th and 25th May was a long weekend in the UK so I walked 165km in three days, starting between 4 and 5 each morning. Week 4 mileage was 198km (123 miles) which coincidentally was the same distance I had completed in the Quarantine Backyard Ultra. I was now just short of two thirds through the one-way trip across Tennessee and started thinking seriously about two more 100 mile weeks to finish in 6 weeks total – or at least make it to the half-way turnaround for the double crossing.
One of the things I really enjoy about ‘real’ ultramarathon races is walking through the night. There is something special about walking huge distances while everyone around you is asleep, and I was missing this. So the following weekend I decided to do an overnight walk through London. It turned out to be a 104km walk starting at 10pm on the Saturday night, walking from home up through London and through towards Stratford (where the 2012 Olympics were) and then across the top of London before heading back home.
I started using a website called CityStrides a while ago which shows streets you’ve walked previously on a live map so that you can identify which streets you haven’t been on previously. I’ve spent the last six years exploring areas all around greater London and the website makes it easy to see whether you have ‘been here before’ – although quiet often I will recognise a street that I might have walked down months or even years ago.
The website shows how many completed streets you have walked/run along and has a leaderboard for different cities around the world as well as showing the percentage of each city/borough you have completed. So in a way, it is a little like a virtual race in its own right. After each walk the website would show how many new streets I had walked. During the whole GVRAT event I completed 902 new streets including 161 new streets during the 104km overnight walk.
Week 5 mileage ended up at 173km and I was now in 368th place with just under 200km to go. One more big week to get to the finish.
The race had started on a Friday meaning that each of the above weeks are Friday through to Thursday. Week 6 started with a rest day, my ninth rest day since 1st May. Over the weekend I walked 32km and 52km on the Saturday and Sunday respectively leaving just 112km to finish the race and five days to do so if I wanted to complete the race in six weeks.
Throughout the race I had been working fulltime from home which meant fitting the race around work hours. All of my rest days had been on workdays during which I would work longer hours so that I could work shorter hours on the days I wanted to walk long. I decided to have a tenth rest day on the Monday leaving me three days to walk 20km, 30km and then 62km to finish on the Thursday. The plan was that the Tuesday and Wednesday walks would be before work and I would finish work early (3pm’ish) in order to get the final 62km completed before midnight on Thursday, day 42.
After the Monday rest day the results showed me as being in 398th place. 20km on Tuesday and I slipped to 401st place. I now had 92km to finish the race and decided that I would do all of that on Wednesday, day 41 of the race.
The only problem was that Wednesday was a workday and I had several meetings to attend (virtually) with the first starting at 9:30am and the last finishing at 3pm. So it would be a short workday sandwiched in between a 35km morning walk starting just after 4:30am and a final 57km after work.
The 35km went fine. I had to message my manager just before 9:30am to tell her I would be a couple minutes late for our meeting, but that was fine. I had woken at 4am and had breakfast before my walk and I had an early lunch straight after my 9:30 meeting. A second lunch a couple hours later before an early dinner straight after my workday finished at 3pm, and then I was off out the door again.
For the whole of the last 41 days I had managed to avoid rain when training. It had tried to rain on the 1st May during my first walk of the race, and I had carried my jacket on one other day, but other than that, the weather had been perfect. Now, at 3:45pm as I was preparing to head out for my final walk of the race, the heavens opened, and it started raining. But this wasn’t going to stop me. I had set my mind to completing this race today and I needed 57km before midnight. My average pace for the whole 41 days had been a shade over 8 minutes per kilometer so if I left home before 4pm and maintained that same pace then I would finish the race before midnight, before the end of day 41.
And that’s what happened – I completed the 57th kilometer at about 11:45pm and then walked one last kilometer, crossing over the Teddington footbridge across the River Thames, the same bridge I had walked over at the start of the race on the morning of the 1st May, and back to my home where I recorded my daily mileage for the last time.
Or at least the last time for the one-way race across Tennessee. There is still the return journey to do.
I finished 305th and took 137 hours to complete the 1,022km. I did 32 walks at an average of 32km (20 miles) each, in 31 days with 10 rest days. Great high mileage training. The virtual race is giving me what I wanted from it.
During the last 41 days I’ve taken a few photos as I walked the streets of South West London, London and North London. These are some of my favourites:
And one last screenshot. I posted on facebook in the GVRAT facebook group after I finished the race. This was by far my favourite comment, and also one of the reasons I write these race reports.
It’s now time to head back to the start in order to complete the double crossing!
Today is the 1st of April and after struggling with injury for the last six months, I’m back training again and looking forward to a huge summer. After missing the Belfast to Dublin Ultra this weekend, I’ve spent this afternoon making new plans for 2018.
My main focus of 2018 is still the Privas 6 day race in August, but I’ve changed some of my plans for the rest of the year. I won’t be doing the EMU 6 day race in Hungary in May as I can’t get fit enough over the next 4 weeks to do that race justice, and it is too expensive to use as a ‘training race’. The EMU was going to be a major part of my preparations for Privas though, so rather than doing EMU, I will bring forward my Paris to London fundraising walk for Limbless Association forward and do that in July rather than October.
I’m also going to do two 24 hour races over the next two months as well as Last One Standing UK in June. So my plans for 2018 now look like this:
21/22 April – French national 24 hour championship race in Dijon. This will be a training race with the aim of covering 100 miles in 24 hours at a steady pace. I just want to spend 24 hours on my feet as I haven’t walked 24 hours since Roubaix in September last year.
19/20 May – Continental Centurions Race in Schiedam, Holland. This is on a fast, almost dead flat 4km circuit in the trees within Prinses Beatrixpark in Schiedam near Rotterdam. I set my current 100 mile and 24 hour PB’s at Schiedam in 2016 and this will be my first serious attempt at racing a 24 hour race since then.
9/10 June – Last One Standing UK race as planned. I’m really looking forward to this race. The idea is that competitors have to run (or in my case walk) a 4 mile loop every hour, starting on the hour. If you don’t finish within the hour, you are out. The winner is “the last one standing”. I thought this might be a bit of fun and good training, and I think that I can perform well against the runners in this event.
16 June – 2nd annual P&H Scouts walkathon
I’m not competing but am organising a walkathon for the local scout group. Last year they raised £2,250. This year we are hoping to exceed that.
1 to 4 July (Dates to be confirmed) – Paris to London
I’m really looking forward to this and will use this as my final preparation for Privas which is 6 weeks later.
I’ve mapped out a course which is roughly 400km in total (or at least it will be when I add ‘getting lost’ miles to the planned route) with 270km in France, a short ferry ride form Calais to Dover, and then another 126km through to London.
I have had a look at the routes that other people have run or cycled between these two cities. They usually go from London to Paris and they either start at Marble Arch and finish at Arc de Triomphe, or they start at Tower Bridge and finish at the Eifel Tower.
I’ve decided that I will start at Eifel Tower and then go past the Arc de Triomphe on the way out of Paris, and will cross Tower Bridge on my way in to London before finishing at Marble Arch. I’ve chosen to go from Paris to London rather than vice versa as I would prefer to be on roads that I am more familiar with during the final day (and a bit).
I’m going to take 4 days to cover the distance at 100km per day which is a little less than the distance I will aim to cover during the first four days at Privas, but will be great training for the race.
19-25 August 2018 – 6 jours de France
My third attempt to break the NZ 6 day record after going close in 2016 and failing miserably in 2017. My goal is still to exceed 700km during the six days.
Mid-September – Roubaix 28 hour race (again)
I’ve done this three times with two 200+ kilometer results (2015 and 2017) and will probably finish my year this race again.
That’s six walks of 100 miles or more. The same as last year. I can’t wait to get started 🙂