7 Dec 2013

Piece of String 2013 Race Report

This was one of the more epic weekends we’ve had at Centurion Running. Handling two races covering about 230 miles of trail and 103 runners spread up and down the countryside was hard work and required a big team to handle, but it turned out to be worth every ounce of energy. First, the Piece of String….

James Adams (co - RDs) blog posts on the event are here. You MUST read the relevant posts if you are at all interested in this event. In fact, just read his whole blog anyhow, it's worth it. The report below is a more factual approach from my perspective. James’ contain the creative line. That’s how we roll. It’s a good combination….

After the 2012 Piece of String, Adams and I wanted to up the ante a little, not on distance but on misery. On our regular Thursday night meetings in Welwyn Garden City (home of UK ultrarunning) we devised a plan to throw some rather larger curve balls in to this years race equation. We selected our 15 ‘valued idiots’ having made them go through the usual entry process of submitting an email and misery photo application, before applying for postal orders from the RSPCA as entry fees.

On Friday morning we met the 13 starters at Streatley, and James allowed Ian Brazier, late on payment, to select the string from his magical machine, in order to determine the course/ distance they’d all be running. We promptly dispatched them on leg 1 up the Thames Path, which turned out to be a 100 yard dash where they were herded unannounced on to a minibus. Some were shocked, some looked unfazed, but from a rowdy bus, the volume got lower and lower the further we drove down the M4 and away from our meeting point. After an hour and a half we made the turn off towards Bath and so predictions of our being headed to Wales or banking around to drop them on the Ridgeway, became predictions of running the Cotswold Way. Neither were right.

Instead, we took them to an industrial estate and gave them maps headed to Bristol and on to the coast. 4.5 miles down the road, Drew Sheffield, Claire Shelley and I interrupted their leisurely jog and turned them back on to the Kennett and Avon Canal. As this started here and ended up in Reading, one or two began to think ahead as to what might be happening….

Checkpoints managed by Nici Griffin and Justin Horrocks in Bath & Devizes, then Lee Briggs and Andrew Jordan in Avoncliff & Pewsey, saw the runners pass through the 50 mile marker and the 10 remaining were already well in to the first night of running, still headed east. Remembering that the race could end anywhere at anytime, Sam Robson led the way initially before Tim Landon began to stretch his legs in what was quite an impressive run to this point. Through the night pop up checkpoints manned by Jany Tsai & Rob Westaway, and Paul Ali and Paul Stout jumping in where required, led runners onwards and eastwards as far as Reading. Duncan Anderson met them there. Duncan volunteered only the week before the race for this spot at mile 92. His brief from me was ‘i’ll text you sometime late Friday and let you know where in the Berkshire area you need to be but it’ll be somewhere around 2am to 8am Saturday morning for an undicslosed amount of time’. His response ‘no problem, looking forward to it’. The volunteers are as crazy as the runners at this one.

James Adams kept pulling the strings with his creativity running wild whilst I tried to keep a handle on reality and reign his genius in to a remotely feasible race format, where we could at least ensure everyone wasn’t going to die. That combination has worked well until now and the ideas flowing for next year are ‘next level’.

At Reading, Tim Landon was beasting the course. 90+ miles in he was in danger of earning himself a buckle as we turned him towards Streatley. The most incredible part of this wasn’t Tim alone, but that 9 of the 13 were still going. James and I were quite frankly blown away by this. We didn’t actually have enough maps to hand out at Streatley we were so taken aback by the performances. By Streatley, mile 100 - 110ish, we had Tim out in front by almost 3 hours, Terrence Zengerink behind, Sam Robson, then a group of three including Rich Cranswick, Tom Forman and Steve Mcallister departing out on the next leg, up the Ridgeway. The last runner to this point Chris Edmonds missed the cut off by 15 minutes at 104 miles, but was otherwise fine.

Up the Ridgeway I got a call from Tim Landon who had fallen and needed evac. A cruel twist of fate having done so well. Dave Merrett drove off to find him, while James Adams and I had a meeting at HQ and went over the final logistics of the next phases as the runners became intermingled with the Winter 100 starters. After Sam Robson, the only returning finisher or starter from 2012, dropped, 6 runners all made it through the 120ish mile CP and were on their way up the Ridgeway towards Princes Risborough. Well in to the 2nd day and now night of running, Terrence arrived at the CP first. Behind him, Rich/ Steve/ Tom went off course and decided to call it a day, but again were surprisingly chipper and pragmatic about it all. Unphased by 120 miles of running? Yep, good enough for the Piece of String. As Terrence arrived he was handed another significant section of Ridgeway running by Adams. He didn’t know it, but this was the final test. Stop here and drop. Or take the next stage and be met just 100 metres up the trail with the finish line. DNFing 100 metres from the finish would be miserable, but then that was the point.

Terrence took the map and although hallucinating fairly badly, left that CP and less than a minute later, entered in to glory, going down in history as POS finisher number 3. Not far behind him and upbeat all day, night, day and night again, Benjamin Hall came in and faced the same decision. As Adams hid Terrence in the back of the car, something Terrence later described as acutely painful on 130+ mile legs, Ben too made the bold decision to go where only one had gone before, and finished the race.

Some of the best of this race was summed up by Terrence 24 hours later as he returned to ‘thank us’ after a nights sleep. He mentioned that he’d been hallucinating for much of the race about seeing James or I in a bush or in the trees ready to jump out and tell him to head somewhere else. I can only hope that this years entrants spend many nights dreaming about that happening, enough for it to fade and their wanting then to return next year to do it all again.