This is a brief report of the Piece of String Fun Run from James E and James A. A report and results page with links to James Adams' (co-RD) more detailed report will follow under the results section in the next fortnight.
Wouter Hamelinck, Belgium.
Sam Robson, United Kingdom.
(10 starters. Distance approx 115 miles)
The inaugural Piece Of String was designed to test the limits of the mind. When the idea of the 'finish' is removed, whether that be a certain distance away or a point in time, how long cane one remain motivated to continue moving forwards? We wanted to see just what would happen under such circumstances. This was more than just an experiment, however. It was a race. How do you pace yourself correctly when you have no idea how far you are going?
The applications we received for the event were beyond outstanding. We truly believe that never before has the average calibre of athlete we had line up to start, been seen before in this country. The accolades shared out amongst the starting group are too numerous to mention. We were not disappointed with their efforts during the race.
We had a predetermined set of distances to which the race would adhere. At around 11:45pm on Friday, we presented the runners with 5 envelopes containing 5 different race length options. Sam Robson was penalised with having to select the distance for all, based on him being the last person to send in a photo of him looking miserable - a crucial part of the application process. James and James as co-RDs were the only two people aware of the race distance.
Starting group minus Tom Jones out of shot
In planning, we had devised a series of loops around the Goring and Streatley area in Berkshire. Due to severe flooding along the Thames we were forced to make numerous adaptations to the course immediately before and during the event. The runners of course, would have no idea whether we had or hadn't done this as they had no idea where they were going or what they were doing.
The first instruction issued to the runners was to head west on the RIdgeway National Trail. They were told to keep running until they were met and given a new instruction. This was the overall flavour of the race. Each time the runners were met, either back at HQ or on route, they would be given a new set of directions/ map to follow, arriving each time and never knowing if they were finishing or being handed a map containing the next 5 - 35 mile section of the route.
As first light came around, 9 remained in the race. By early afternoon, only 5 remained. Those 5 looked unbeliebably strong and totally unphased. Wouter Hamelinck began the race by going off hard. He was clearly in the competition to race, not just to be tested by our lunatic plans. Sam Robson also looked like he was on a mission and was moving very well. Mimi Anderson, Mick Barnes and Chris Ette formed a group of 3 for much of the race.
The race began to split up gradually, before one incredibly difficult stretch of 13 miles from Goring down to Reading which took place for most as night fell, after 17 hours of the race. Wouter, who has competed at the Barkley Marathons twice, described the section as Barkley-esque, with much of the route under ankle deep water or mud and with some points that became tricky to navigate in this, the second period of darkness in the race. Before they had made their way back to Streatley after that leg, each of the 5 had received quite a punishing time out on the course.
Waterlogged patch of the course
Wouter and Sam ran on ahead, again down the Ridgeway from earlier. Mimi Mick and Chris followed gallantly later on but their race ended together up on Bury Downs, 9 miles west of HQ as they were simply too cold to continue on.
Eventually, both Sam and Wouter went on to finish the event, being met out on the course in the small hours of the morning, completing the undisclosed distance in horrendous weather conditions.
The exact distance, finishing times and awards are all irrelevant here. These two proved that it is possible for the very strong to continue to push towards an uncertain goal, even when that goal is an exceptionally difficult one of it's own right. Wouter is a running machine who quite clearly has the ability to do anything he puts his mind to. Sam battled fatigue to stay in the fight to the bitter end and should be commended for an extremely strong run.
As organisers, we learned a lot and enjoyed every minute of it. The race will be back in 2013. Stay tuned for almost no information to be sent out about it.
(note: I don't have enough time to look up a lot of stats and figures so some of what you read might be accurate and some pure speculation or rumour for which I make no apologies. if you feel you should be in the preview and are missing, or someone you know, the same, please leave a comment as usual. Thanks. James).
Although there are a relatively low amount of runners taking part in this weekends events, vs some of the preceding races this year, there are a vast number of feats and stories behind the competitors, many with significant achievements just 100 miles (or more) away....
The Winter 100.
We capped the field for this event at 100 runners (entry list here) due mainly to the conditions a 100 at this time of year in the UK, will throw at runners. We wanted the event to be safe and sustainable, but also a little more intimate than the other bigger sister races that have gone ahead of this one. Inevitably a few have dropped away as the big day approaches but the field remains full of talent from the front to the back.
The most notable runners in the pack are the 5 who are hoping to complete the Grand Slam by finishing this weekend. Kenneth Fancett, Tremayne 'Dill' Cowdry, Allan 'ogee' Rumbles, David Bird and Andrew Miles have all successfully completed the TP, SDW and NDW 100s this year. The buckle they stand to earn for finishing the Winter 100 will hopefully make all of the pain, worth it. Each of their journeys has been an incredible one with some very low moments alongside the ultimate highs along the way. Leading the standings currently for overall time is Ken. I interviewed Ken recently (transcript here) and at 62 years of age is looking to complete all 4 x 100s in under 24 hours becoming the first and only person to date to do so.
(Very poor photo, apologies. It looks much better in real life, and it's huge)
There is one other runner in the field who has focused specifically on the 100 mile distance. It's certainly not for anyone to feel undermined by the statistics behind Scott Brockmeier, finishing any 100 miler is a lifetime achievement and an exceptionally difficult proposition. Scott, however, will be attempting to finish his 24th 100 miler of 2012 at the Winter 100. Heralding from the US, he is in town especially for the race and to continue his path to completing as many 100s as he can within a 12 month window. His Blog is here.
As for the elite end of the field, we welcome back a few speedsters from previous events as well as a few new faces.
In the mens field we're honoured to have Richie Cunningham back down to race. Richie is a 2 time winner of the West Highland Way Race, perhaps the most prestigious and beautiful of Scottish Ultras which draws a superb field each year. A member of the Pearl Izumi team, he has scores of additional accolades to his name including holding the current CR at Caesars Camp 100 (a time which no runner has come within an hour of). He ran the NDW100 this past August but was unfortunately derailed to a 6th place overall by some navigational issues. One thing is for sure, for a runner used to training through the Scottish winter, the conditions at the Winter 100 will not worry him.
Also toeing the line in the men's field is Martin Bacon. Martin finished 3rd in the inaugural TP100 in a sub 18 hour time. He knows the terrain, has recce'd and raced on the TP and Ridgeway extensively and has plenty of experience in going long with a 30 hour GUCR to his name.
Nick Weston finished 3rd just yards ahead of 4th place as they rounded the track at this years SDW100. Earlier this year he also won the Kennett and Avon Canal Race ahead of the Montague brothers, no mean feat.
My other dark horse pick for a good finish is Terrence Zengerink. Terrence blasted through the TP100, his debut at that distance, in sub 20 hrs this past March. He was kind enough to run with me during Comrarades earlier this year, his 6th or 7th finish, and has a wealth of talent. He will certainly be one to pick up the pieces if things blow up at the front.
Finally there are of course a number of other runners with the potential to compete at the pointy end who we just aren't aware of. With athletes coming from the US, Italy, Germany and Sweden it could be a very different story on race day.
The ladies field was dealt a blow this week when Sandra Bowers had to withdraw due to injury. We wish her all the best in her recovery. With a score of fine performances behind her at the Ridgeway 85 and the TP100 she was almost certainly the favourite. The door is now somewhat open.
Lucy Clayton, one of our Centurion Coaching clients is going in to her first 100 with a string of fine performances behind her this year. She has won numerous off road marathons and ultras leading to a second place overall in the runfurther series and was one of the few to finish the Canadian Death Race over the summer.
Wendy Shaw had a very solid run at the TP100 and with experience at the distance behind her is certainly one to watch.
My wild card is Annie Garcia. It all depends which Annie turns up on race day, the one looking to enjoy the outing with friends and take her time, or the one looking to race it. If it's the latter then she has the potential to run a superb race here.
The Piece of String Fun Run
It isn't really possible to place a preview on this race for two main reasons. 1. Nobody (apart from James and I) has any clue how long it is going to be, so how can you possibly say it is going to play in to one persons strengths over another. If Usain Bolt was in the race and it turns out to be a 200 metre dash through Goring on the road, then he would obviously be favourite. If it turns out to be a 500 mile epic finishing in the Scottish Highlands, well then he'd be bang out of luck....
All that we can say (james and I) is that the calibre is absolutely incredible (entry list here). We're fairly certain that a group of runners as distinguished as this, without exception among them, has probably never been seen of an overall event field. Deca Iron, Triple Iron, Double Channel Swim, World Record holding, multi day and single day long ultra champions abound. We might just get a chance to see what they're really made of when there is no finish line in sight....
Follow both races live and potentially interupted, at the website here.