First Contact Day Run was race 24 of my 1000 race miles for MS challenge.
So, I was going to have a weekend off from whilst I was down south for my mother and nephew’s birthdays. Last time I was near London I found a great looking race last minute but it was sold out. Phoenix Running Ltd do a number of races over a mile and a half stretch of the Thames near Walton-on-Thames. There is no set distance, instead you as many 3.2(ish) out and back laps as possible within 6 hours. The medals are generally themed after old school movies and are pretty big, I’ve been a little obsessed since I came across them on Medal Watch. I’m still a little bit gutted that I missed the Breakfast Club themed race (not enough to do a marathon next year though, still 5k and 10k only) so when I found out I could fit a Phoenix race in this weekend I had to go and do it. Turns out that the next race I could do was Star Trek themed. I haven’t seen Star Trek for years but used to love it when I was younger so what better way than to release the inner geek.
I did plan to get the train from London and actually contacted the race organiser to say that I might be late for the start. The entire race is gun time only so starting late just adds the time everyone has ran already to your race time. Phoenix Running has its own facebook decision group (a brilliant idea that more race organisers should do) so I decided to just post on there to see if anyone else was going from near Bedford and I ended up meeting Colin. Colin kindly agreed to pick me up from Leagrave at 6 in the morning (turns out that he is the brother in law of my other running friend Rebecca, very small world) and I ended up getting a new friend out of it. It was nice because I entered the race not knowing anyone but by the time I started running I had Colin there to cheer me on each time we passed each other. I know there is a risk involved with getting a lift from strangers but I figure if they tell you how much they really want the race medal then they’re probably not going to bother trying to kill you until after the race (most people want to kill me after they’ve ran with me anyways).
Pre-race organisation was pretty effortless. There’s a leisure centre about five minutes from the start where you can park and use the toilets and then registration was in The Weir pub, also with toilets. We were all race number 1701 (trekkie joke) but there was a smaller number in the corner of the bib that was actually our race number. After the usual race briefing (“there’s mud, hope it doesn’t Klingon”) we were off. The route is mostly all on path except for a very small section where you go through a pub car park. It’s around 80% concrete and 20% mud. There was a lot of big puddles in the mud section so it did become like a swap towards the end but it’s nothing that road shoes can’t handle. It’s pretty much completely flat too except for the bridge that you have to go over twice each lap. You never leave the river so you have a nice view pretty much the entire time although there is one section where you have to watch out for geese (I’m scared of birds but just ran on the grass to avoid them). You run 1.6 (ish) miles with the river on your right until you reach the turnaround point (A very lovely lady was here for the first few laps to tell when to go back but there’s a big sign telling you too) and then you run back to the start with the river on your left. It’s a pretty simple course really, I’d be seriously shocked if anyone managed to get lost. Each time you get back to the start you either collect a hair band or ring the bell to say you are done.
The race has a very relaxed atmosphere, after a while you never know what lap everyone is on so it’s very easy to do your own thing. The same people lap you but it’s not that noticeable. The people you do notice are pretty inspiring. A lady named Cass did 40 miles (actually 39.36 officially but she added on the extra) in under six hours. I actually started looking forward to her running past because it was pretty amazing to see. There was also such amazing people at the other end of the scale who you keep running past including a guy named Kevin who was doing his first race because he wanted the Star Trek medal and Peter who never stopped going (or smiling) even though he was at the back. It was actually a pretty perfect route (except the bridge). There’s even a block of toilets just after the bridge and before the turn around point at the other end (they came in very handy 8 miles into the race). I also managed to do my good day for the day too. The men’s toilets were out of order so I stood guard at the door of the ladies so that two men could use them. Never been a toilet lookout in the middle of the marathon before. It worked out well because I saw the two men later as they were hiking down the path. They wished me luck when I was struggling and it gave me a push.
Half way through the fourth lap I was really starting to feel it. My feet and legs were really starting to hurt, I think mostly because my shoes had done too many miles and no longer wanted to play ball. I watched Colin head off for his final stretch to complete the half marathon and so wanted to be him but I knew I couldn’t quit. I had words with myself and thought of all the people who had sponsored my 1000 race mile challenge. My legs might be hurting but it was a good day. I could walk and talk so therefore I had to run otherwise I would have just got angry with myself the next time I can’t move. The first thing to go was running over the bridge. If I describe the bridge the way it felt running over it for the 8th time it would sound like this giant thing (By the 16th time it was comparable to Everest). The bridge isn’t actually that big but it is steepish on both sides and not very solid so it felt like running on planks and hurt the knees after a while. If I’d done one more lap I would have been knocking the thing down on the way back because I hated it that much. I am therefore not ashamed to say that by half way I was walking the bridge. I kept finding myself walking when I wasn’t on the bridge though so I had to give myself a plan (thanks Chris Wills) and stick to it. Walking for a quarter of a mile then running the rest of the mile seemed like a good idea so that’s what I did for the rest of the race. Regardless of how I felt I just stuck to the run/walk plan (even when I felt cheated cos the walk section overlapped the bridge walk) and the miles starting moving a lot faster.
Some people don’t like lap races because they get repetitive but I actually don’t mind them (I like running 60 laps of the track). Yes I had to go over evil bridge 16 times but the route along the Thames was so pretty. The water was so still and it really was a picture perfect day complete with baby ducks that we also got to go past again and again. Laps also mean that you don’t have to carry loads of junk with you either. I left my drink and gels on the table and just went back to them at the start of each lap. I even got to stop at mile 20 to change my socks (feet were in serious pain at this point) and got my raincoat for a lap when the heavens opened for a very short period. There was always people at the start to give you encouragement too whilst you collected your next hair band and then ran off for the next lap. After the first few laps though we, the runners, became our greatest support. You’d see the same people over and over again and so you tried to give everyone a few words (or a smile that you hope didn’t come off like a grimace when you’re suffering) and in return they supported you too especially as the runners thinned out. I don’t know the names of many of the runners (names on top, brilliant idea) but they all helped me get through the second half of the race.
8 laps is a marathon, anything beyond that is an ultra but you have to get them done within the six hour deadline. I decided by lap 5 that I was just going to get through the 8 (it gave me permission to slow down really). It was a good decision because by the time I ran down the path for the 15th time my legs and feet cramping a lot. I seriously hated running and as far as I was concerned I was never running again (I’d been sulking pretty much for 3 hours really, I even phoned James and sulked over the phone mid race). Just before the last stretch a man in front of me starting forcing himself to run and it was one of those well if he does it I have to moments so I started running too. He was keeping me going so when he stopped I told him he couldn’t, that we had to get to the end and I ran the last mile faster than I’d ran all day. It was the first time I felt I ran well all day too ignoring the pain (should probably get a leg massage booked at some point because it’s been hurting quite a few months now). After we ran past the finish to the little turn around and back (that bit is evil on the last lap) we finally got to ring the school bell to say we were done. Turns out that the guy next to me had actually done ten laps so I made him go fast at the end of an ultra (I said sorry). We exchanged our bands for medals and finally got to eat some of the sweets and crisps that I’d been eyeing on the table every lap. The medals are seriously big and so heavy (almost the same size as my head so just slightly smaller than Cakeathon).
Marathon number 6 was complete. It was only a short taxi ride to Walton-on-Thames train station and then a 20 minute train to Waterloo so it’s actually not a bad location to get to. By the time I got to central London I wasn’t feeling well. Movement disorder combined with marathon brain (it’s a real temporary illness I swear) was not good so I avoided the underground and walked by to Euston and I got to see a nicer side of London along the way. It also made me very thankful for self-service tills, you can still buy stuff even when you can’t talk. Overall though it was a great race, although I might have spent most of the time sulking I thought the race organisers Phoenix Running were brill and I really liked the course. I’m going back for my first double marathon in November (The medal is a race bib and it’s the same size as a race bib) but I want to go back and do a few more if possible before that.
Miles raced = 291
Next race is Manchester Marathon