Piece of String Race II - Part 1

"You know we should set up a seperate company name to do these events; for insurance purposes"

James Elson said the first part of that sentence. He didn't explicitly mention the last three words but I suspect they were on his mind. James through Centurion Running has built a well earned reputation over the last two years of putting on immaculately organised 100 and 50 mile events. His events have become the standard in Ultra Running organisation in the UK, filling up quickly with runners of all abilities, being recongnised as qualifiers for Western States and UTMB and often having people travelling from abroad to run.

So I am still to this day a little suprised that James would agree to stage my idea of a race. One where the distance is unspecified. One where the exact route is not known until 5 minutes before the start. One that prides itself in being "The world's most pointless race".

I am however imensely grateful that James took this on. I am not an organiser and whenever someone refers to me as a "Race Director" I cringe a lot at the thought as I can barely direct myself out of a car park. I am good at coming up with silly ideas and writing silly things on the internet but I am by no means an "organiser". I owe a huge debt to James for taking a risk and putting this thing on. If there were to be a vote for the person who had the most positive impact on UK ultra running in the last 2 years then you would definitely have my vote.

Anyway, enough of that shit.

For me the weekend really got exciting when I was on the train to Streatley. I bumped into someone who "clearly looked like a runner" though I have made the mistake before of getting trapped in coversation with the cast of the rocky horror show. It was Ben Hall and I was delighted when he showed me the special map he had created which showed an area of around 50 miles around Streatley.

That is going to be about as useful as a bottle full of beetroot extract.

I got near the start area and wandered around picking up runners who were gathered outside the Morrell room which was the HQ for the Winter 100 Race that would start in another 24 hours. We had told the runners to be "ready to run" when they arrived, meaning that we had not yet booked the room. There was a yoga class inside and some of the ladies actually tried to drag us in to their bendy lycra class.

Idea for next year - start the race IN a yoga class. First Checkpoint will be just after you escape the horny milfs.

James and Drew turned up as did most of the runners we were expecting. I knew most of them and it was great to catch up.

Ian Brazier was chosen to select the race distance as punishment for being the only runner to not pay for the race properly. He pulled out a string from the Magic Randomiser Device and picked a bit of string that was about 6 foot long. Was that long? Was that short? Who knows?

It was just gone 10am when we started 13 runners on an unknown route of an unknown distance. Their instructions were simply to stick to the Thames path until told otherwise. We did a similar thing last year when they were told to stick to the ridgeway path. Then they ran about 8 miles until they were told to turn back.

This time they ran 100 meters before being bundled into a van.

I had concerns before today that some of the runners would refuse to get into the van. However when we arrived at the scene there were 13 grinning guys and girls in the back that reminded me of school trips to legoland. Actually that's a lie, I grew up in Leicester and our school trips were not to legoland but to poundland. And only 12 runners got into the bus at first, Gary needed a piss.

So off we drove in convoy to a secret location. There was genuine confusion not least from James and Me as the leader of our convoy Drew seemed to be taking us meadering all over the place on some back streets. Even Dave Merrick the bus driver didn't know where we were going. We made sure there was no sat nav for the runners to read off. Eventually we got on the M4 and headed west. Every possible turn off was met with anticipation and then a little groan as we passed it (apart from Swindon). Finally we did make the turning, towards Bath.

It was about 2 hours later from the official start that the runners gathered again at the start of the Bath-Bristol cycle path and were given instructions to run. Basically having been taken 80 miles from their starting point they were then told to run even further away until told otherwise. We'd said we'd intercept them before they got to the sea. Probably.

The Most Useless Map in the World

The elavorate plan was to intercept them only 4 miles into it and turn them around and tell them to follow the Kennet and Avon canal path. The turn around was a success, all 13 accounted for which meant we could enjoy a nice breakfast in a cafe before the carnage started. 

The first point we were due to see the runners again was at a point in Bath. Nici Griffin and Justin Horrocks were manning this point until all the runners were though. Nici is a true hero of ultra running. She prolifically holds races together like this and does so out of pure enjoyment of the sport. Having people like her around makes it much easier and better for everyone.

There is a funny story attached to Justin. Or rather his other half Jackie who was running the race. I was at work the day before when an email was sent to most of the UK team about my Movember attempt and she replied saying she recognised that face as the guy who was organising the Piece of String race. I was impressed she had even heard of it and it took a while to twig that she was actually running it. Shit. I need to be careful what I say now.

It was such an amazing coincidence that a POS entrant started working at the same smallish company I do the week before an even smaller race I was organising. Obviously I will embellish this story for next year. I will say that people went to desperate levels to try and find out the nature of the race, one even quitting their job and starting to work for the same company as the RD.

We dragged Robbie Britton away from chatting up Eleanor Robinson and then headed off to the next point next to a lovely pub in Avoncliff. This was around 22 miles and it was already getting dark. Last year we started the race at midnight and that gave the runners a good few hours of darkness to get them going. Ben Hall was leading at this point, a fact that was new to him. Sam Robson, Tim and Terrence seemed to be going off course a lot. We tried to take the navigation aspect out of the race this year and thought that putting them on a canal would fix this however some ultra runners have an inbuilt abiility to get lost in any situation.

Idea for next year - just stick all the runners in a phone box for the first day or so. They could not possibly get lost in there. Could they?

I was here at this checkpoint with Lee and Andrew who I spoke to at length about other silly race ideas I had. As the darkness came the other runners came along. Richard, Steve and Tom had formed a group (mostly because Richard knew how not to get lost on a canal). Chris and Kate were running together. Ian looked a bit ill. Jackie looked like she was suffering early. Gary quit at that stage and Dave Baker was propping up the rear. 1 down, 12 to go.

Nicky and Justin were ahead at the 35 mile point in Devizies while I went with Dave to go to the 50ish mile point at Pewsey. This place was a mobile phone black hole so it became difficult to keep track of the race. At the 35 mile point Ian dropped out with stomach problems and then there were 11.

It was a really nice pub which we all ate in. Paul Navesey came along for the show. The race was starting to Seperate now with Tim taking a fairly long lead with Terrence, Sam and Ben coming in fairly close. Runners were told that their drop bags would be available "occasionally" and we tried to make sure they were there every 25 miles or so but obviously could not guarantee anything.

Rich, Tom and Steve had formed an alliance that was hillarious to watch. Rich was being very scientific in his running and eating one snickers bar per hour, as it states in the recommended dose on the packet. Tom had some injury problems but was not letting them affect his enjoyment and Steve looked far to comforable. Richard delighted me in saying that he ran past his house in the first miles of the race. He was not expecting that having driven all the way to Streatley.

Kate and Chris were still together and spent some time with their bags getting re-supplied. It made me laugh that they were running together but both wearing headphones. Was the conversation that bad?

There is not much to the "selection" criterea for this race. I guess some people might think it is a combination of scoring and spreadsheets when in actual fact James and I just meet in a grotty pub in Welwyn Garden City and look through the list of applicants and say yay or neigh. If something amuses us then they may be picked but I think the overiding factor is that we ask ourselves "are they a whinger"? I had the idea for this event as something for runners who have done "everything" to do something completely different. It wasn't for moaners. Last year we had 100% selection success, no moaning whatsoever and this year looked the same. I was really pleased about this.

Dave came in later and was still looking well and we were out of the checkpoint before midnight which was great as it gave us plenty of time to get 30 miles down the road to the next but one point before the leader came through.

Sometime earlier in the evening James, Drew, Claire, Robbie and Paul all left to head back to Streatley. James was a little hesitant about letting go of the show to me but he really needed to get to sleep before he organised for 100 runners to run 100 miles. His reluctance was well grounded though. Leaving me in charge of runners was like leaving Nigella Lawson in charge of a chocolate smack cake. There was a clear plan on what to do and it should all go smoothly.

Right this blog post is going to be long and I am having problems staying awake so am going to publish this in bits. Good night.