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.