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Brian Feldman 85 Miles on the Thames Towpath

The dreaming spires of Oxford were a mirage in the distance as we set off to run 100 miles along the Thames Towpath from Richmond, and for me they remained a mirage because I was unable to complete the race.  The course embraces much of English History with significant landmarks along the way, which added to the interest as we plodded our increasingly weary way up the river writes Brian Feldman.


But to begin at the beginning, the day started brightly with the promise of sun throughout the daylight hours, fine for the Bank Holiday weekend but in reality a little too warm for a long distance run. The original forecast a week ahead had suggested temperatures of 11-13 degrees, but on the day it was up to 20 in the sun.   My daughter Charly and her husband Richard would be my support crew for the first 50 miles to Henley and were there to see me off.  Previous 20 mile races and training runs had led me to think of getting to the 22 mile mark in 4 hours but I had slowed to a 4:15 time.  By now I was running with Giles Rhodes and we would stay together for much of the race.  The first 30 miles, to Eton Dorney, are on a firm surface of tarmac, or shale or pavement and it is possible to build a steady pace. In order to pace myself I had planned to run for the first hour and then walk for 5 minutes and continue to do so for each subsequent half hour.


Accompanied by Giles I managed to keep to my schedule for a 24 hour completion for much of the earlier part of the course.  After Richmond we passed Kingston, so named because Alfred the Great and other Saxon Kings were crowned on the Coronation Stone there.  Hampton Court and its palace were soon in sight and on to the first checkpoint, 11 miles, at Walton.  Chertsey The second at Wraysbury appears insignificant until you know that in 1215 Magna Carta was signed just across the road.  (There was less traffic then)


Windsor Castle came into sight and then onto the Eton Dorney rowing lake, at 30 miles, site of the 2012 Olympic Regatta but then on the way to Cookham cramp set in and I had to walk for about ¾ hour, but my companions agreed to walk with me which helped because after Cookham the cramp disappeared.  I was now slowing down and my aim of 24 hours had long gone.  Coming into Henley, at 51 miles, I was walking more than I had intended and feeling very tired having been up since 5 am that morning and it was now after midnight. However, a fireworks display lit up the night sky and welcomed me into the halfway point where Charly and Richard handed over to my clubmates Tony and John.


Running in the dark is not a problem with a headtorch and having reconnoitred the route, which was flat for most of the way.  Unlike the South Downs Way 100, which I completed last year there were no herds of cows or sheep to negotiate at night, but falling into the river would have been an inconvenience.  I reached Pangbourne at about 3.20 in the morning.  Whitchurch, just across the bridge is the site of the only hill on the route but it is not too taxing even at 67 miles.  Then on to Streatley, where it began to get light. However at that point recent flooding and rain had made sections of the path horribly muddy and difficult to run on and slowed me up even more than I had anticipated. I had changed into shoes with studs but the mud was so glutinous that I nearly lost my shoes on several occasions.


Dawn began to break across a misty morning river in rural Oxfordshire, an idyllic scene and accompanied by a lovely dawn chorus.  The night had been chilly but not too cold and now the day started to warm up.  Wallingford, at 77 miles, is where King Stephen and the later Henry II made peace in 1153 negotiating across an inlet of the river.  From here onward I started to feel short of energy and motivation.  I had been drinking enough for most of the run but perhaps I had neglected to drink enough overnight, and also had not eaten sufficiently well, and the beginnings of dehydration had sapped my strength.  It took me a long time to reach Clifton Hamden at 85 miles where I realised I just would not be able to reach Oxford before the cut-off, so I stopped.  In retrospect I might just have made it in time but could not think straight.


The race organisation, by Centurion Running, was excellent and the marshals and volunteers at the check points very supportive and helpful.  My two support crews: Charly and Richard, John and Tony, could not have done more to keep me going.  I tried to survive on rice pudding, which I hate, but felt so nauseous early on that I could not even think of eating it there was nothing else I wanted, but I will have to find another source of nutrition, because that scuppered me as much as the dehydration.  Some people have gently tried to suggest that at 67, and the oldest competitor, I cannot expect to complete these races as quick as the young bloods racing along, but I have to rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas, again)


At the end I was saying to myself “never again”, but have already begun to pencil in next year’s 100 miler!  I might even think about the Winter 100 in November since there is no Luton Marathon this year.


This year I had a wonderfully generous sponsorship for Alzheimer’s Society and the Genie Networks Trust, which supports deaf people and their families in Manchester, raising over £850 in total, so a big “THANK YOU” to everyone who sponsored me.


Brian Feldman