The Piece of String Fun Run

First up.... I hadn't written anything for a few months didn't want to pre-empt/jinx doing the POSFR by saying everything was awesome, I was ready etc. and then it all going wrong...

Going good

But now it's done... so (briefly) it *had* indeed been an excellent couple of months, I'd been feeling much better and finally fit at last.
2nd and 1st
Firstly running a local 10k trail race - the "Titsey Trail 10k" - coming 2nd place (my goal for the day was top 5, perhaps 1st vet) so was really really happy with that and I didn't mind coming 2nd to Hugo who stormed back in 1st (must remember not to enter him next year.)
Serious bling!
Then an SVN (Saxons Vikings and Normans) run in the Ashdown Forest, conditions weren't ideal with all the rain and Traviss the RD *had* announced at the start that it wasn't going to be a day for more than 7 laps. My plan had simply been do this is a mental test, just keep running for 6 hours straight, with no other goal... but, well, now I had a definite target.

8 laps later, 42 miles in slippy mud. 1st place. Big grin.

Then, two weeks before race day, no sleep, headaches, on the whole awful (oh and for good measure hit my head badly on a low beam), and one day of being sick all night.

In Bruges

Eenie meenie...
Although, I had been relaxing physically and mentally - having spent the week up to the race in Bruges drinking too much beer and eating too much food. Superb. 😁
Just wow.
Back home on Thursday afternoon, kit sorted, half a nights sleep and up and away to Goring Friday morning.

History

This was the fourth running of the Piece of String Fun run, 2012, 2013, 2014.... then nothing. I had read about it the years it was on and really wanted to have a go myself if I could find out just how to enter (details were all rather vague) but then it wasn't run again.
Oh well, write that off as *another* event I wasn't going to be able to do (like "Caesars Camp" which I'd also read about when I started running and imagined doing in future) but then there was a post! 2019 *would* be a POS year!

There was a rather 'interesting' non-standard race entry process to follow to apply.
Right. I'm having that, off went my parchment with quiz answers.... then weeks of watching the Centurion site waiting for updates until one day, a start list appeared, with our code 'stripper' ultra names rather than real names, and there I was! I'd "made the cut" (whatever that was). I tried googling and searching to work out who else was in but didn't get very far apart from a couple of names.

Ready, set...

OK. now to get ready for it.

How do you prepare for a race with no (published) route, no length and no time limit? Obviously just read everything that had been done before and expect the unexpected, and try to be vaguely fit.

Preparation.

How had training evolved, basically I'd given Cara instructions - just give me random shit to do.... "be my Cato".
Image result for cato panther
aaarggghhhh
Some sessions were really interesting to do, one was a North Downs run with a tracker, following instructions by text: ("head west, stop, turn around, retrace your steps" with unexpected stops along the way) another was to be told to repeat the Titsey 10K race route after the medal presentation, then another getting into bed one night to be told to get out for a 10 mile run.
Night running..
I'd got in a decent block of night runs too, early (3am) runs and so on.

At the Ridgeway 86 Ultra I had bumped into James Elson and did try teasing out any clues or tips but to no avail, although I suspected this may actually be because there was still no plan anyway.

I also prodded James Adams once or twice on Twitter with no joy. Oh well, worth a try.
Map reading
On the pre-event email, the kit list had required a compass and when chatting to Allie and James at the Autumn 100 (not running, I'd been out putting up arrows) this had come up again with map reading mentioned in passing as going to be required. Hmmm. I can't read a map properly... So a few orienteering sessions were carried out, and I'd like to say I now felt pretty comfortable about following a map running.

Goring-on-Thames

Friday morning. Into the Morrell room in Goring to meet up with everyone else, pass kit check and find out what on earth was going on. There were 9 idiots lined up, we had our mugshot taken.
The Usual Suspects
We all get GPS trackers taped onto our bags so the team will be able to monitor our progress and enjoy the day's sport of "dot watching".
To describe the briefing as terse would be an understatement, I think it was along the lines of "don't die".
Briefing. Don't die
We were all handed a copy of a map, route marked on and told this was to be the first part, outside we went at 9am, ready... and "ok off you go then".
Right, who know's what's happening?.... we proceed en-masse together - we're all suspicious, previous runs had started with the group being bundled into a van and indeed, at the very first corner we're redirected down to the train station.

OK here we go. James hands out train tickets to Reading and Thames Path maps, the orders are "get to Reading, and run back here however you want to 'but you you've got your Thames Path maps'"

Surely that was a clue/hint/tip/suggestion? I checked the map and reckoned there was a faster, more direct option, but wasn't sure since some of the detail wasn't entirely clear. This would either be a master stroke, or humiliating failure.

At Reading I thought everyone would chat before heading off and I was trailing at the back since I'd been fiddling with my bag and trying to find where I'd put my ticket... but everyone just shot off. Oh OK. Well lets see how this idea works then...
Almost immediately I was worrying I'd made a dumb choice when I got trapped by a high wall next to a churchyard that had looked like a short cut on the map, but soon I was on my way again....
The course, path and terrain was excellent, mostly quiet road or good bridleway. I suspected the Thames Path route would be quicker initially since the surface was good, and I had an uphill diversion to start, but that soon changes to fields and trail which should then play into my hands.
Nearing Goring I couldn't actually recall exactly what James had said (I still have some memory problems) was it "back here" or "back at the Morrell rooms" I fire off a quick text, but don't get a reply so guess train station.
Back at the station there's the gang, and I'm feeling pleased, no sign of anyone else yet, apparently GPS "dot watching" for the organisers had been compelling and they'd wondered how I would do seeing my alternative route....

I was hoping to be given the next orders and head off again immediately, but nooo, apparently we were to wait for everyone else to get back. Oh. So no point getting back first then... cue sarcastic comments, photo and post from James Adams. Bastards.

James Elson asked what I wanted now? I said "hills and mud PLEASE!"
As the other idiots return to the station, no-one looks impressed that I'm there, there's discussion as to whether I'm a "mole" to mess with everyone's heads and I actually just got the train back.

We're handed another set of train tickets, this time to Maidenhead - instructions: "get onto the Thames Path and run towards London", James points out the lock at which we'll get the next instructions.
Then looking at me "no diversions or shortcuts stay on the path". Oh joy. Flat. Path. Bloody hell.

We all chat on the train, as Allie records more updates into her phone for something to do with her "Faceybook" whatever that is. The two James's are also on the train with us so we're all suspicious of what's going on here but they hop off at Reading as we proceed.  We wonder whether James is still hiding further back and is going to give different orders at some point.
Off at Maidenhead we thread our way to the path and as we trot along spread out a little into a few small groups, after a few miles Matt starts to pick up the pace so we run together speculating on the distance to go.
We think we've got about a half marathon to go and the pace makes sense to me for that.

Runnymede

Runnymede seems to take forever to arrive, we wonder if there could be a route change there or we'll need to wait for everyone else but when we meet Nici and Nina we get told 'make sure you've got enough for 5 hours and keep going'.
Oh. Hmm. I've refreshed and restocked so decide to just head straight on and trot along at my "I can do this forever" tempo, although I'm still half expecting to be stopped and told otherwise at any second, but that doesn't happen.
Just past Staines Matt trots by at a breakneck pace, nah that's not my "all day pace" I need to keep it cool if I've got another day of running.

Running flat

I had started the day with my waterproof over-socks expecting to be routed into a muddy off road trail but since that hasn't happened my feet are now overheating and feeling sore so I stop and change into my thin "toe socks" by "pharaoh island" and keep on keeping on. Flat. flat. hate it. bored. flat.

Getting hungry now and wondering what to get somewhere, pondering a pie and a pint.. just as I pass a rather nice cafe near Walton. I drop in and get a large coffee and cake and have a chat to the owners about what I'm doing.
Strolling on munching cake and sipping coffee it's not long before John, Andrew and Tremayne pass by me just as I'm finishing up my coffee. I think some company would be nice so I pack my cup and coat away (it had felt like a downpour was starting but nothing happened), tag  along, and we run together, randomly chatting about general topics for miles and speculating what could be coming next.

Guestimating the time, distance and location we think Richmond is a likely next stop and we assume this will be at the TP100 start location, but passing through nothing. oh well. 😞 We swear a little (ok quite a bit) we all need refreshments now, and contemplate nearby pubs or shops but decide the meeting point must be close and press on.

Indeed a little while later there's James Adams and Nici looking like they're having way too much fun. After running out of water on that leg, I guzzle down several mugs of coke and I overcompensate and max out my Camelbak, which gives me backache afterwards.
New instructions... (please be a diversion, please be a change, please)... keep going, but go around the south of Battersea park. oh for F*** f*** f***.

Onwards.

I do hope we're not just heading to the Thames barrier, that. would. suck.

Tremayne declares he's not feeling good and is dropping here, we try to talk him into waiting a while, getting dry clothes on, and reconsidering but he's determined this is it for him. We all feel bad, but time to get going again.
We now get into a fairly steady rhythm of alternating running and walking to break up the monotony and tedium (have I mentioned I hate flat runs?)

We gauge our progress by the bridges we pass, and I decide we need a Calippo, a quick google - a nearby service station located - and I declare that I have a plan, a route and will be getting a Calippo, this is agreed to be a most excellent idea by all and off we trot. That really hits the spot and lifts my mood. As we get towards Battersea, Andrew really shines and leads us around all of the path diversions so we just follow on autopilot, I did this section a few weeks before and found it infuriating having to keep checking a map.

Arriving at Battersea park we meet Drew who tells us we are now heading off to Balham station and he's going to mark up our maps with the route, we say 'just do one because we're all sticking together' and he draws a route on the map.

Superb! away from the Thames Path! We chat and ponder, what could be next, where can you get to from Balham?

I'm hoping we're heading to the North Downs for a night of mud and hills. Balham can take you to Epsom? Crystal Palace? that has some options.... hmm, but could also be up to Victoria, then up to the bloody Grand Union canal and back out - that would be a nasty James Adams touch but I wouldn't put it past him. I'm looking forward to a break and time to rethink and regroup.

Around the park we go, but as we get to Lavender Hill, James Elson intercepts us and tells us to go up the next road across. I briefly remonstrate and say I thought we were crossing over the common, not giving anything away James says 'yes you still are but go this way', hmm ok. Odd.

I grumble to my "team" as we go, I don't understand why we'd do this etc... and then moments later James runs up behind making trumpet sounds, "you've done it, this is the end".
We look at each other, then at James, and say no, what's next. We don't believe him, it can't be over. surely?
James laughs, really this is it, this is Matt's house the end, again we question this - there's no trust here.😁

Finally we accept this is it and apparently that was indeed Matt's house, but he's in a pub on the corner waiting for his keys to arrive.
So we head down relax and John buys us all a beer. Thanks John! We chill, drink and chat waiting for our bags to arrive.

No night running. No mud. 😠
Odd. It feels like a letdown, we were all mentally geared up for running through the night (and the forecast rain). I'd been "reserving matches" for the past 30 miles (albeit having a lovely run with great company).

In total 8 of us 9 starters finished.

Now I just need to get back to Goring where Cara, the car and a nice shower and bed are waiting (we had a room in the Miller of Mansfield inn) a mad dash back to Clapham junction (making the train with 20 seconds to spare) I had hoped to find something to eat on the way, but it's too late by the time I get to Reading.
Changing into dry kit in the Reading toilets I discover I have a cheese sandwich I'd forgotten in my bag after all! It tastes of heaven and hits the spot, waiting on the platform for the Goring train bump into John again (we split as we raced through Clapham) and we chat, decompress and relax.

Back at the hotel, clean and bed, but I can't sleep for more than a few moments so spend the night listening to my Edward Snowden audiobook.
Breakfast is perfect, I consume several cups of tea, a considerable amount of cranberry juice and everything else on offer.

I'm happy, but annoyed - feeling like I could have done something different, could have gone faster didn't get any opportunity for mastering, and doing well, from navigation skills. There was no way to judge what was going to happen from previous versions of the race. I had been expecting a long drawn out run of attrition - that was what I'd mentally geared up for and was ready to attack.

But I guess that's the point, I don't think it's supposed to be "fun".

It's a piece of string. There's no way to "run it right".

I want to do it again now. I've emailed James.

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