On the 5th May this year I undertook my biggest endurance racing challenge to date, the Thames Path 100. Like the same suggests this is a 100-mile foot race, done in a continuous single stage.The race sells out and I had to sign up nearly a year before, which gave me plenty of time to get training, but also to question my own sanity. When I mentioned I was doing the race to others their response was typically the same, a look of bemusement and a single question “why”?
When you commit to put yourself through a challenge like this, you have got to have a strong “why” as you need to keep coming back to it to keep on track, not only during the race but during the long training sessions, many of which were done over the winter months in all weather. I asked myself “why” when running around Strangford Lough in horizontal rain in January, or when I ran up Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons in -8 degrees wind chill in February and also during the race itself when record high temperatures were hit.
Like Finnebrogue Artisan, I knew my “why” and it kept me focussed, purposeful and motivated. Finnebrogue are the clearest example of any company I have worked for that not only set out their purpose through their “why” but also live it every day and take guidance from it. My personal “why” for this race was threefold.
Firstly, there was the achievement of the event itself. Over the last few years I have done events such as IronMan and run ultra-marathons up to a distance of 50 miles. As I have completed each I’ve looked for longer, tougher races to keep challenging myself. I enjoy the training, planning and preparation process and then the buzz of the race day itself. Secondly, through completing the race I earned points for qualification for the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc event, which means I can now apply to race in what is basically the world’s most sought after (and toughest) trail running event. Thirdly, and most importantly, I was raising funds for a cause which is very close to me, the Matthew Treadgold Remembered Trust.
Matthew Treadgold was my cousin and was a great example of someone who lived their “why” through their work and deeds. Matt was an engineer and was dedicating his skills and career to providing clean water and sanitation to developing countries in Africa and Asia. His belief was that access to clean water to drink was as basic a human right as access to clean air to breathe. Matt was taking a year’s sabbatical to study an MSc Degree in Water, Sanitation and Health Engineering at Leeds University to improve his skills when he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, aged just 32. Not only was this devastating to his family and friends, it also meant that decades of his purposeful work was to be denied to people who would really benefit from it. Therefore, his parents, Leeds University and work colleagues founded the trust to continue his work. This was the cause I would be supporting for my race through asking for sponsorship.
When race day came I felt really nervous, as I had been in the days leading up to it. I felt a weight of expectation from myself to race well but also I had received such generous support in sponsorship that I didn’t want to let anyone down by getting a DNF (Did Not Finish). I received generous sponsorship from colleagues at Finnebrogue, friends and family and also many people I didn’t know but were friends of Matts and his parents. In addition to this I received a generous donation from Finnebrogue through Denis and Christine, who voluntarily offered this when they heard about the race and the cause. Anyone who knows Finnebrogue, their ethical approach and the development of the Good Little Company range will understand how much focus is placed on helping people in developing countries. It makes a huge difference to work for a company who not only have set out their ”why” but also have such a strong and meaningful approach to corporate social responsibility.
The race started in Richmond, South London at 10am on the Saturday morning of the first Bank Holiday in May. It followed the path of the River Thames and the finish line was at Queens College in Oxford, with a strict 28 hour cut off time. As you may remember, record temperatures were being set that weekend for the time of year. This was great weather for BBQs and sausages sales, however not so good for running 100 miles in. There was very little shade and the sun shone until around 8pm when it started to cool off. I was prepared for this as I had a visor and suitable clothing, however what I wasn’t prepared for was the sun rising again the following morning as we ran throughout the night with head torches on. A second dose of clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid-20s when very fatigued from zero sleep and continuous running was not too welcome!
The toughest parts of the race were dealing with the temperatures, muscle fatigue and getting the balance right on nutrition. I was wearing a heart rate monitor and could see my heart rate was much higher than it would normally be for the pace as I was running as my body was working extra hard to keep cool. Running the distance on mainly hard surfaces was tough on the muscles and on the feet and ankles. I tried to eat every half an hour, a mix of Chia Charge flapjacks and sandwiches and fruit from the checkpoints. In a race of this distance you try and avoid ‘bonking’ or ‘hitting the wall’ which happens when you run short of glycogen, the carbs stored in the muscles and the liver. By about 2am I began to feel nauseous though so I decided to stop eating for a few hours and I gradually began to feel better.
Though there were tough moments I never felt like quitting. Overall 42% of the 340 runners who set off got a DNF and didn’t finish the race. I paced myself well and regularly returned to my “why”. My legs ached, I was tired and I felt sick but this pales into insignificance compared to the suffering of the many millions of people who don’t have access to clean water, or who have totravel over great distances every single day to collect and carry it themselves. I had an image in my head of someone taking a drink of clean water for the first time as a result of the sponsorship money and this was all I needed to snap out of my self-pity. When you run or work to serve a purpose greater than yourself, the sense of perspective you get is very powerful. I think a great example of this is Finnebrogue’s Naked Bacon, which has set out on a clear mission to improve the health of the nation. I was proud to wear the Naked and GLC logos on my race shirt.
I finished the race in just over 24 hours and was met on the finish line by Matt’s father, mother and step-mother. The finish line brought a great sense of relief and achievement and it was great to share it with the people to whom Matt meant the most. I got a text from Rob (Matt’s dad) at 4am during the race saying “however long you take it will be a truly remarkable achievement and the monies that you have raised will make an everlasting improvement to real people’s lives”. Now all is said and done, that’s the answer to the question of “why” I did it and I hope to do more races like it in the future.