I was stood at the Swincombe checkpoint as Terrence went through. He was looking in great spirits despite the fact that now he was running further and further away from the centre of the race. I can't imagine what he was thinking. We started at Streatley, drove them 100 miles away and told them to run back, now we were telling them to run away. Could it be another 100 miles? More than that? Who knows.
Terrence came through before Ed Catmur who was running at a blistering pace in the 100. I missed him and the leaders come through as I had to go back to the start and pick up the drop bags of the runners who were going to run up this way and take them onwards. I returned to Swincombe and waited around to see lots of the 100 runners coming in. I got a few interesting comments from them such as "you evil bastard". Clearly they had seen some of the runners on their journey up these hills.
Because Terrence now had a commanding lead Gemma and I had to go to the next point in Princes Risborough in order to give them further instructions.Not long after we left Ben went through the Swincombe point.
Unknown to the runners and most of the crew we were going to end this thing at Princes Risborough but not without a final twist in the tail. Gemma and I spent some time driving around the town trying to find a suitable place to finish. As we did we parked in a driveway leading the the trail and were promptly questioned by a Policeman as to what we were doing. We managed to look like we were not dogging and then went ahead explaining what we were doing.
You'd be suprised by how hard it is to explain to someone that you took 13 runners and said you are going to tell them to run until they are told to stop and that as it stands 6 of them have completed more than 100 miles and area headed this way where they would have completed around 130 miles and they do not know whether this is the end or whether they have to carry on into a second night having been on their feet for more than 30 hours.
I don't get what's so difficult to understand about that?
Dumb Down Britain.
I blame Ed Balls.
Anyway we found a spot and Drew and Claire joined us with a bigger car and the stuff for the checkpoint. We pitched up and waited. While doing so we got a message that Sam had pulled out with a busted knee. This was a shame as he's dropped from a couple of 100s this year with the same problem, now more than 100 miles in he had to drop again.
So then there were 5.
It was more than 3 hours and their was no sign of Terrence. We thought he might have got lost and so phoned him but his phone was dead. We looked at the path we were on and realised that the sign leading into it had been knocked down so we put a Centurion flag there. In the darkness we waited and waited until finally we saw the flickering of a headlight coming in. It was time to do this.
James Elson wanted to be here at the finish but was now fully committed to the 100 miler. It's a shame as he was not present at the end of the last race.
Terrance was looking in great form considering and I wondered whether he thought that he was stopping here. It’s a strange interaction when meeting someone at a checkpoint in this way. Any other race you can say “only 20 miles to go” or whatever, you can at least imagine how they must be feeling knowing they have a certain distance to go.
That is the comfort I wanted to take away for this race, the comfort of knowing how much is left. Whatever race I have done I’ve always known the approximate distance and time to the finish. Even if you are 24 hours from the finish you will at least know, “this time tomorrow it will be all over”. If I have a few hours left in an evening I can at least start to visualise finishing and then what I’ll be doing later that evening.
These guys currently have no such comfort. Perhaps they will be getting a train home in the evening, perhaps they will finish in the middle of the night and have to sleep in a car somewhere. Perhaps their entire Sunday will be wiped out too. I was really pleased that this was going the way I wanted this year by pushing the runners in this way. Last year was so much more difficult with the weather and flooding that navigation and cold became the big issues.
However I have had a thought about the kind of people who sign up for this event. Like I said before we once again achieved a 100% selection success rate, every single runner was well into the spirit and the idea of the race. I did think though that the people who would really struggle with this are probably the people who would not sign up in the first place. I know so many runners who are physically capable of running any distance they are given but those who will be properly ruined by not knowing would probably not apply in the first place.
The runners here were coping very well, these are probably the kinds of people I’d like to have around me in a crisis. No complaining or being vexed by uncertainty they just get on with it.
Idea for next year – Random selection of 20 runners from the Winter 100 to run the Piece of String race. They don’t get a choice.
Terrence was not one to hang around at checkpoints. We had his drop bag here which was the smallest drop bag of any of the runners. He was just keen to crack on and get as much of this done before he was told to do more. I described the next part of the route which was to head further out east on the Ridgeway. I am not sure what the runners would have thought about never returning to the same place twice, they were just doing one huge line that went right through the place where they were bundled into a van.
It was very dark, Gemma and I were just parked at the side of a small road with only a few houses on that led into the menacing looking darkness of the rest of the trail. We told Terrance we will next see him somewhere in Wendover on the high street which was another 10 miles away or so. Without much fuss off he went.
Further up the road Drew and Claire were hidden in their car and about to pounce on Terrance to say that in fact he had finished. In total he would have run around 130 miles but that was not the finish line, it was the intention to do another stage at least that finishes it. I don’t know exactly how we would have reacted if he had just said there he’d had enough. However he didn’t and seemed quite thrilled when Drew and Claire walked him back that he was finished. He was the first finisher of the LONGEST PIECE OF STRING IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD EVER.
The five of us relaxed for a while until we got a call that Tom, Rich and Steve had missed the cut to Swycombe and were pulling out. (I can’t remember whether they had a collective name, maybe Tom, Dick and Steve or the Three Amigos, Snap, Crackle and Pop). We had quickly gone from thinking we'd have 6 finishers to only having two. That of course would only happen should Ben decide to take the long run into darkness.
Drew and Claire had to go and pick up Alvin, Simon and Theodore which gave us a problem, we had no car to jump out of at Ben after he passed our fake checkpoint. We had another problem, Terrence was here and if Ben saw him he'd know something was up. Ben had closed the gap quite a bit as Terrence had got lost in his section and came in only about an hour later. He was also in great spirits and keen to carry on however he wanted to sit down for a while and eat. Before he arrived we had to bundle Terrence into the back of Gemma's small car under a load of bags.
Ben sat for a while and had some of his hot food while we discussed the fake next stage with him. Every now and then Gemma and I looked at the car and wondered if Terrance was ok, he could be cramping or suffocating and we expected to hear a yelp or something that would give the game away. He remained perfectly silent. How many situations are there where you have to bundle the winner of a race into a car and hide him? If the police came now and saw us with a body in the back of a car and another runner about to be sent into the wilderness I am sure I wouldn't be here writing this.
Ben sat for some time to ready himself for the next stage and shortly before he left he asked if there was a place where he could sleep. This is something we had not thought about. We were just sending them further and further away from Streatley and obviously we could not use the car that Terrence was hiding in. We quickly mde up a story that Drew and Claire were at Wendover with a bigger car and he could sleep there. He'd been on his feet for 30+ hours now.
And so it happened, Ben stood up and marched on, disappearing into the darkness before I jogged up behind him and called out his name and said "You don't need ot go any further, you've finished". He didn't quite believe me at first and I can't imagine whether he thought I was joking. How mean would it be to say he has finished and then say "just kidding, you are nowhere near".
Idea for next year... No. That's too mean
So after the confusion and a few more questions Ben just asked if he could have a hug. I obliged, it was a pleasure and we walked back to the car where Terrence was fortunately still alive and the two Piece of String Champions from 2013 were able to greet each other having not seen another runner for nearly a day.
Terrance got a lift home with his girlfriend and Gemma and I drove Ben back to London. He texted me the next day to say that his body was ruined but he was constantly grinning. That is exactly how it should be. Apart from the grinning.
So in summary I think this was a very successful event and more importantly I have lots of ideas for next year :)
There are a few thankyous I'd really like to make for this race.
Firstly all of the runners who took part. The satisfaction I get from hearing someone say that they really enjoyed the event, would like to do it next year and to thank me for my time and effort is better than most of the race finishes I have. I can see why James Elson loves this so much. If I had any organising capabilities I reckon I would do this more. For now I'd be the ideas man.
James Elson thank you for humouring me in putting this on in the first place, and then the second place and still hungry for more next year. Centurion Running could perhaps be the best thing that has happened in UK ultra running in the last two years. Yes even better than Hokas.
Nici Griffin you are a proper ultra volunteering superstar. If there were a prize for volunteer of the year you'd certainly be in the running.
Justin, Lee, Andrew, Duncan, Jany and Rob thanks so much for manning the stations. It is humbling to know that there are people out there who are willing to just stand in the cold in the middle of nowhere in the name of physical and psychological torture. Paul Ali and Paul Stout thanks for your help too and all the late night canal banter.
The rest of Team Centurion, Drew, Claire, Robbie and Paul. Always a pleasure dicking about with you guys in the name of race organisation.
Dave Merrick, I can't believe some of the small gaps you got that bus into but you were a joy for the whole time you were there.
And of course my lovely wife Gemma who I lovingly write about in this other blog. I didn't mean to make you stay so long in Reading surrounded by birdshit but you did it anyway and you suffered my tiredness for staying up for 40 hours.
SO until next year. Who's in?