When Threshold approached me and asked if i’d like to take on their newest trail, of course my answer was always going to be a big fat yes. Having previously completed the Trail series (Stones twice) I knew it would be class and there was no way I wouldn’t be joining in (for clarity, I was gifted the place, as an ambassador for the Trail series).
This event, new for 2019, coincides with Dulux London Revolutions, which sees cyclists take up to a maximum of 300km over one long day or over a weekend (much like the trail series options on foot). We didn’t see anything of the cyclists until we all pulled into the racecourse at the end.
Another bonus was that it was only on my BIRTHDAY, and looped around the Thames path literally around where i’m from and grew up. It was perfect.
It was also perfect because in September I am taking on the Thames Path 100km, and so it was great to be able to train a little on some of the route I will be doing then.
I wasn’t ever going to try and race this, but was going to just use it as training miles for the trail series, starting on the 8th June with Race to the Tower. Andy and I said we’d start together and then see how he was doing, and Emma (@jersey_girl08) and I were planning on running the whole way together, as we had done for day one of Race to the Stones last year.
I’ll be honest – I touched on this in a previous post so I won’t go into detail again here, but I woke up that morning having a bit of a panic attack. We got to the start at Marlow Rugby club, a small matter of 10 mins away from my parents, parked up and walked into the start area, breathing deeply to try and wish away the feelings I had about myself and the race and a trillion other things! I really just wanted to enjoy myself and this anxiety was SO NOT WELCOME. It was my birthday after all!
I found my friends and they were so sweet. I got a few cards and a badge from Em, and Chris and Kate from Threshold gave me a bottle of prosecco. Thankfully my Andy and the kids saw me off so I didn’t have to run with it…
We were joined by Lisa (@weesmileyrunner) and lined up at the start with Emily and Hannah from Twice the Health, who are training for Race to the Stones. It was my first time meeting all these lovely people and Sarah (@daisymayw) too from back home. Everyone was exited to get going, and in typical English weather style, we were debating outfit choices right up to the start. I had a vest, and a long sleeve, and a rain jacket… it was freezing at the start though. Just before they counted us over the line, the sun started to appear so I whipped off the jacket and wore the long sleeve for the first part.
9.15am we set off over the line, out through Marlow, weaving through streets and out past Higginson Park. I found it really weird as I grew up here. All my past boyfriends and friends live/d here so my memories of Marlow definitely weren’t of ultra running. It made me laugh comparing the 16 year old me drinking at the regatta in that same park, to the ultra runner me whizzing past it now.
Just after 2 miles, we headed out to trail across fields and through some woodland. I always excitedly enjoy the start of an ultra race, but soon we found our stride and a comfortable pace. There were 6 pit stops on the ultra route which was loads! and the first one came up at mile 6 on the dot.
This stop counted for Pit stop 1 AND 2, as this was where the routes split (there was a half, full and ultra marathon option)
The marathoners and ultra marathoners both came to pit stop 1 (the half went out the opposite way from the start line) the only difference being the marathoners doubled back from here, but ultra runners carried on up some hills to add the extra 5/6 miles, and then came back through making it also the ultra pit stop 2.
I decided i’d take off my long sleeve now as i had my vest underneath. The sun was out to play and I was trying to keep up with the changing conditions.
It’s worth just noting, if you’re a frequenter of the Threshold Trail Series (Race to the Tower, King, Stones) the pit stops here weren’t as well stocked (as it’s a smaller event). I didn’t really mind at all as I had what I needed and to me the distance was manageable on not too much food, but if you’ll need more substantial food, it’s worth noting there isn’t any of the lunch type foods provided. What they did have were sweets, crisps, watermelon (THANK THE LORD!) bananas and a few snack bar type jobs. At two of the pit stops there was also just water provided (which again to me was just fine).
The route out here was a really nice mixture of country roads which were all pretty quiet, cute little villages and fields. As expected, there were the odd few ascents up the Chiltern hills, but only a couple really stick out in my mind as being ‘tricky’. We did pretty well at getting up them together, and at this stage we were all still together (not the TTH girls, they’d whizzed off on the marathon option).
There was a few beautiful moments up near Hambledon. Coming to the top of the climb (bottom left above) was so beautiful to look over the hills around us, and after a romp through Culden Faw – which I recognised from Tough Mudder-ing, we came out of some woods to a beautiful valley. I’d say this would be the ‘field of dreams’ moment from this race.
We came across a muddy section we’d been prewarned of, and realising i’d chosen my brand new WHITE Zeropoint calf sleeves today, I wasn’t sure how i’d emerge from it…
Sadly, nothing really happened, no mud was particularly forthcoming and I made it through unscathed.
We came out of this section back down through pit stop 2, grabbed a couple of snacks and started to make our way out back towards Marlow. The weather was turning again and had clouded over and was spitting a little. It was still better than the showers that had been predicted for the whole day!
The next section we were waiting to be reunited with the river, but it was another 5 miles before we found it, and in that time, Andy had begun to struggle with cramp. Knowing that I wanted to get a decent sort of time, he kindly told Emma and I to push on ahead, and Lisa stayed back with Andy, so around mile 13 we went separate ways, and I kept texting him every so often to check in on how he was going.
In this next section we also came across a ridiculously steep footpath, taking us up away from the river, through a scary murder worthy passageway that was pitch black apart from a few light holes littered through the passage, and then safely down hill again back to the river! Then just after we’d hit 20km to go sign, we found a lovely bridge complete with stairs to climb!
Eventually we came back through Marlow and past the bridge i’ve driven over so many times, and headed out along the Thames towards our next pit stop, back past the Rugby club where we left from.
We clocked up a good few river miles from here, passing through Bourne End and Cookham, admiring boats and houses backing onto the river, and being quizzed by curious dog walkers as to ‘What are you girls running for?”
A brief section across Cookham town and we were into Pit stop 4. This was a really little one, but Emma was struggling with cramp in her calf, So we took a little bit of time and I tried to keep things upbeat and be encouraging.
On the path as we left the pit there was a bees nest in the hedge! We gave it a wide berth and began on the path heading towards my hometown, Maidenhead.
This was absolutely so special to me, sure it’s a bit cringe maybe but there was something incredible about doing an epic race through where I grew up and spent so much time.
We did a fair amount of walking at this point, but slowly Emma started to lose the cramp and she found a third wind! We managed to pick up the pace for a couple of miles to take us over Maidenhead bridge, across the river and on the approach out to Dorney Lake – and eventually to the finish at Windsor Racecourse. We also ran past the cutest little family of geese, and obviously stopped to take a pic of the goslings.
I knew this part of the river path having run on it a good few times when staying at home, but it felt different today. I felt really strong but I knew I needed to help Emma through too, so we set ourselves mini goals, and would try to run up to the next mile watch bleep and then have a little walk to break it up a bit.
When we got to pit stop 5, we took a bit longer. Emma had a quick loo break and I grabbed some freddo’s for the kids for when I finished. We had already clocked up 27 odd miles, and the board told us we had 5.8 left to go. I was also trying to do some maths as though I didn’t want to rush Emma, I knew if we tried to keep moving we could be on for a sub 7 hour 50km.
They also said there was another pit a few miles ahead, but we agreed that we didn’t really need to stop again, so unless anything big changed in the next few miles, we would carry on past.
They had watermelon there so as we ran through I grabbed a bit and posed for the photographer.
I love watermelon on an ultra.
Anyway, we were now so so close. From this pit we had about 3 more miles left to run! 30 miles on the Garmin and I was eager to get it over with and see my little family.
The cruel ending of the course however, was that my family were across the river on the racecourse. Andy had checked where I was on ‘find my friends’, and my little dot had come up literally across the river from where they were. So as I emerged from the trees they clocked me and from the other side of the river my kids started shouting for me – ‘MUMMY!’ ‘I LOVE YOU’ ‘GO ON MUMMY!!’
This was amazing and it boosted me to get it done even more! But at this stage of mileage, 3 miles is FAAAAAAAAAR, and the last 3 miles from the pit was a big up and back to where they shouted for me on the racecourse. It took such a long time to reach that bridge to cross the river. I tried to run as much as I could to close in on the time.
Emma told me to push on and go ahead to get the sub 7 (which she actually also got – she was only 7 mins or so behind me in the end!), so I left her to finish her race and dug deep to finish mine.
I felt stronger than i’d expected and although the road along and into the Racecourse felt like forever, I ran my fastest mile of the race as my last at 8:58, which to be honest, after 32 miles, to run a sub 9 minute mile may have been my biggest achievement of the day!
As I rounded a few million corners, wondering when i’d start to see the finish line, sure enough, lined with so many colourful flags, there it was.
I kept putting one foot in front of the other, alongside cyclists coming in from their ride and actually congratulating me, one even said she felt like she was cheating! (other people didn’t have so many nice comments from cyclists!). As soon as I came round that last bend though, my kids saw me and shouted for me, and ran up to meet me so we could cross the finish line together.
The medal didn’t disappoint either – just as colourful as the finish line experience, and another beaut to add to my Threshold stash.
Another great thing is that the ribbons had the different distances on them, while the medal itself was the same, the ribbon showed the three different distances, which made it much less generic, especially if you’d taken on a longer distance – I want that to be written on my prize!
Emma made it through not that far behind me, and as she text me ‘i’m done’ I ran back over to the finish and grabbed her for a teary hug! I was so proud of her on her second ever ultra, she absolutely smashed it.
A cup of birthday wine later and we were reunited with ALL of the others, Andy, Lisa and the girls running the half, who now had joined the festival fun. The basecamp felt just like the other trail series camps, all the usual food stands and yoga going on, for the exception of a whole bunch of kids activities, bouncy castle, climbing wall etc, which was perfect. They were FREE firstly – parents can I get an amen? – and there was so much to do that my kids weren’t bored there while they were waiting, and we managed to stay for a couple of hours after too.
Yes – I was gifted this place.
Would I have entered if I hadn’t been? ABSOLUTELY.
I wholeheartedly recommend this as a great training run if you’re taking on summer ultras, whether they’re Threshold or not, doesn’t matter. This one had a 1/4 of the elevation of Tower, at around 500-odd m, so there’s a few meaty hills to get in on, plus you have monotony of the parts where it’s just river for miles. These are all great things to train yourself on for a longer ultra.
Even if you weren’t training for an ultra, the fact you can also choose half marathon or full marathon too makes this event an all rounder. Use it as training or use it as a standalone event, you’ll be getting a new bit of metal for your collection, and what a gem it is.