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Our personal trainer in Reading (he is also our personal trainer for the Winnersh, Woodley and Theale areas) Phil Chalmers deserves a massive well done for his tremendous effort in completing the Thames 250, the longest non-stop running race in the UK. Here is his race diary..
In February of this year, I decided I needed a fresh challenge. Having just competed in the European Indoor Rowing Championships in Paris, two weeks of relative relaxation was enough for me and I scoured the internet for something new. I generally spend autumn/winter training for a specific rowing championship and the spring/summer months aiming for a trail running goal. This year was no exception and I discovered the Thames Ring 250, an event that had only been hosted once before, in 2009. I eventually registered on 22nd Feb 2011, leaving me exactly 4 months to train for the event. I had not been running very much over the winter but had been covering 26 miles regularly up until November and did have a 100 mile ultra under my belt from July 2010.
This event is believed to be the longest single stage race ever held in the UK and is now the longest regular race held in Europe.
The details/rules of the race are as follows:
The Distance: Approximately 250 miles
The Time Limit: 100 hours (starting at 0900 on 22nd June at Streatley-on-Thames)
The Route: Follows a loop of the Thames, Grand Union Canal and Oxford Canal
Time-outs will be applied at each of the 9 intermediate checkpoints (approx. 26 miles apart)
Each participant must be self-sufficient between the checkpoints
There is no provision for overnight sleeping
The route is self-navigational
No outside assistance is allowed throughout the entire race
No hiking poles or similar are permitted
Bags containing additional clothing/food/medical supplies will be made available at each checkpoint
An event of this magnitude requires special preparation so all the usual running plans for events from 10k to marathon were not considered.
I identified four main personal challenges and my preparation attempted to address them all.
Foot-care: I have always been prone to blistering (so I often wonder why I still compete in ultra-marathons!). During my training sessions I experimented with many potential solutions. I concluded that, to minimise the damage due to blistering, I would need to strap the vulnerable areas of my feet with Leukotape (an advanced adhesive taping) and apply Hydropel (a moisture-resistant gel) to the remainder.
Navigation: The Thames Path deviates awkwardly away from the river at a number of locations and it had been identified by the organisers as the most likely section to get lost, especially in the dark. Fortunately, I live in Reading so I was able to recce the whole length of the Thames route during my training,
Sleep Deprivation: I had experienced this when I completed last year’s 100 mile ultra in the Lake District, during which I had two complete lost nights. I would need to effectively lose four nights during the Thames Ring 250. It was impractical to practice this but I performed single overnight training sessions to get my body acclimatised to overnight running/walking and loss of sleep. I also planned to minimise the use of painkillers and caffeine as these were likely to have a detrimental effect later in the race.
Distance Conditioning: Again, training anywhere near the race distance was impractical. I decided to cover, on a weekly basis, around 52 miles in a single session so I was at least comfortable with the first two stages of the ten. These were predominantly covered on the Thames Path so the terrain was typical of that experienced during the race. This is known as specificity as I was training specifically for the event. Above all else, this was the most important aspect of my training.
Stage 1 – Streatley-Hurley: Felt confident at start. Ran with fellow competitor for stage. Torrential downpour at Sonning for 1½ hours. Feet saturated and more prone to blistering. Morale still good!
Stage 2 – Hurley-Chertsey: Continued to run for most of leg but predominantly alone. No rain and fairly uneventful. Arrived at checkpoint well ahead of cut-off. First signs of wear-and-tear on feet.
Stage 3 – Chertsey-Yiewsley: Set off in dark. Mainly brisk walking interspersed with jogging when visibility was good. Developed blisters on the soles of both feet. Departed Thames. Slept for 30 mins.
Stage 4 – Yiewsley-Berkhamsted: Blisters becoming painful. Rained again. Lost navigation map but copied details from competitor into Blackberry. Pace dropped dramatically. Considered pulling out.
Stage 5 – Berkhamsted-Milton Keynes: Checkpoint volunteers patched up feet well enough to continue. Encouraging messages from my wife, Sue. Into dark again. Better stage. Slept for 60 mins.
Stage 6 – Milton Keynes-Nether Heyford: Managed to pick up pace to keep ahead of cut-off. Witnessed a cow jumping into Grand Union Canal! Tiredness becoming an issue.
Stage 7 – Nether Heyford-Fenny Compton: Heavy downpour on narrow stretch of Oxford Canal. Severe camber on bank caused swelling in right ankle. Hallucinating in the dark! Slept for 90 mins.
Stage 8 – Fenny Compton-Lower Heyford: Set off in rain (in dark) exactly at cut-off. Linked up with fellow racers, Stefan & Niall. Feet/ankle painful but tolerable. Picked up pace and starting to recover.
Stage 9 – Lower Heyford-Abingdon: Positive section. Still alongside Stefan & Niall. Companionship is a big lift. Got lost just outside Oxford but well within cut-off at checkpoint.
Stage 10 – Abingdon-Streatley: Set off again in dark. Shortest section but last 10 miles felt like 100 due to fatigue. Finish alongside my companions and assist another to the finish in 95 hrs 26 mins.
Entering this event was a bit of a long-shot for me but being alongside other like-minded individuals helped me complete the race as one of only 16 finishers (of 37 starters).
It was an incredible experience, with many real highs and lows. I doubt I’ll ever have another adventure like this in my life, but I will be looking out for one!
Even more remarkable than finishing this event was the contribution of the organisers and the checkpoint volunteers. Their dedication and understanding of the needs of the runners was unbelievable. As a way of paying back some of the enormous debt I owe to them, I will be a support volunteer during this year’s 85 mile Ridgeway Challenge staged by the same organisers, the Trail Running Association (UK). If you’re at all interested in trail running, join them at www.tra-uk.org. They are a small organisation that achieves incredible results given their limited resources.
It may seem like an extreme event but I’m an average athlete so there’s no reason why it can’t be achieved by the majority of casual runners. It was only 6 years ago that I entered my first ever competitive run, the Reading half marathon. I had no vision of what lay ahead.
Hope this inspires you.
Every so often a “new” diet is featured in the press, followed by Hollywood endorsement and praise for it’s ability to make you slim and healthy. Many of these are fads that are only successful in the short term, many are highly suspect and ineffective and some are actually dangerous as they omit essential food groups. One of these “new” fad diets touted in the press a few years ago was the glycaemic index. It’s not actually new though, and has been prescribed by doctors to help those suffering from diabetes since its creation in the early 80s. It also happens to be extremely effective in making non diabetics slim and healthy. So what is it, and why does it work?
The glycemic index or GI is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have a high GI; carbohydrates that break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, have a low GI. The concept was developed in 1980–1981 at the University of Toronto in research to find out which foods were best for people with diabetes. A lower glycemic index means slower rates of digestion and absorption of the foods’ carbohydrates and creates a lower insulin demand after eating. In effect if you eat lots of sugary (high GI) foods the pancreas releases lots of insulin (a chemical messenger) that instructs your body to store glucose in the liver and muscles (your fuel tank). Over time you become resistant to this insulin onslaught and the messages don’t get through; you are now insulin resistant, and on the road to diabetes. Sugary (high GI) foods also get used up quickly, so that after the initial energy burst you get a trough in blood sugar levels, and a craving for more sweetness. In effect a sweet vicious cycle. High GI foods are also so easily digestible that you are much more likely to have a surplus of blood sugar – this excess energy will then be stored as fat!
Foods with a low GI have the opposite effect; they take longer to digest and so fill you up for longer, making it easier to avoid the chocolate gateaux. This means that you get out of the sugar craving cycle, so it’s easier to be good. They also contain more fibre, vitamins, nutrients, and are still in their natural state, so prevent heart disease, cancer and other killers. Most importantly for the dieter they are less calorie dense, so you can eat lots of them and not actually take in too many calories! To boot, low GI foods help to improve cholesterol and promote physical endurance. In short, great for weight loss and health!
What now? All you need to do is swap high GI foods for low ones; there are no complex calculations or calorie counting, no deprivation or hunger. Five tips to success are:
There is a list of common foods and their GI on the nutrition fact sheet on the Knowledge page, have a look. Remember that block bookings at Diets Don’t Work Personal training (London, Windsor and Maidenhead) include detailed nutritional assesment and help with eating.