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Thursday, September 5 2013

Thames 3 - Julien 0

It's been a while. If you are still reading the rare posts on this blog, it might not be the race report you expected now. The third attempt to run the Thames Path solo, non-stop, and unsupported on the 21st July 2012 is now over a year overdue! Not that I want to forget about it, but I just couldn't find the energy to put it in words. So this post is what I recall from the 40-hour attempt. Tweets as block quotes.

Charlton, Friday evening. A hotel room with wet carpet. I don't want to know what the previous occupiers have been up to. I don't want to touch the floor either. Antigallican means anti-French by the way.

D-3. It's only after booking the Antigallican hotel for the 3rd time that I realise I might not be welcome there...

An early start as usual, ahead of the Olympic torch relay in Greenwich the same day.

Ready to go at high tide!

Starting on Saturday morning means party goers still out there.

Tower Bridge, 6am. Clubber on his way back chasing me. In a nice way. Asking what I was doing. Running 300km! To what he replies he's just been climbing the crane ahead of us. I thought he was high. He probably thought the same of me. Offered Vodka. Refused. Have a good run anyway.

Westminster. feeling a bit quizzy from the start. hoping to get better soon.

A new landmark has emerged along the river.

Central London. Special forces patrolling on the Thames ahead of the Olympics

Richmond, one marathon down. feeling a bit better

First extraction of Thames water under walton. not looking too bad

Not much running since hampton court. feeling sleepy and no energy... can i complete it just walking?

Shepperton at last...

Staines. Been doing timer 2min run - 1min walk from shepperton. worked well

Windsor. not feeling too bad

Eaton rowing lake. Soldiers hidden in bushes. Again ahead of Olympics. Weird.

As usual on boats all barbecues firing at 6pm.

Bourne End, Saturday evening. Could go for a hot meal before dark. That would help, but would also not be unsupported. OK, let's carry on then... In retrospect, wrong decision.

Bourne end. sun getting low and legs tired

Very cold and wet night. The Thames dampens everything. Shoes soon soaked.

Chased by a 4-wheel drive in the middle of the night. Farmer asking me whether I was alone. Second time I am mistaken for a poacher while night-running in less than a year. Eventually let me go. A weirdo, oh yes. A poacher, certainly not.

Quiet approach to Henley with the Regatta done and dusted, so feeling very lonely this year :)

Henley, in a cold and humid night

Just past Henley in the middle of the night. Feeling too cold and tired, so sleeping in survival blanket for 3 hours. Not non-stop any more. Got offered beer by party-goers. Thanks, but I'm running... Not right now obviously, but I am. OK, whatever.

Just had a nap, but was too cold even with survival bag

Passed reading. had a hard time with sleepiness, but better now

Purley: half-way in 27:30...

Trying to...

Sun hitting strong and legs mashed. making very slow progress since goring...

Wallingford. feet and legs quite painful now, and rather late. not sure what to do

Wallingford, midday Sunday. Leo suggesting to drop a piece of his specialty sticky toffee pudding in a bush, so I can find it "naturally" without being supported. Just had it without fuss, knowing I would drop out anyway.

Culham lock, Sunday afternoon, 38:38 after starting, not able to run any more. No point. Finally dropping out... Arg!

Culham, 8:40 behind... Decision time

I won't be able to make it before tomorrow night, so i've decided to leave it here.

Thames 3 - Julien 0

So what's next? You might or might not know I now live in Grenoble, surrounded by the French Alps. I may come back to England just to run it. Not impossible at all, and would force me to focus. Probably fully supported, or at least self-supported.

Ultra long river

Tuesday, July 17 2012

TSQ 2012: it is on (sort of)

OK, so I'll give the Thames Source Quest a third attempt starting on Saturday (exact time still TBC), with a hope to reach the source by Monday evening (which would make it 64 hours). I'm looking at a reasonable 56 hours schedule (PDF) this time, as opposed to 50 last year.

Conditions are not ideal this year, but I'll do with it. First, I thought I would just escape the Olympics. That will be tighter than I thought: the torch will be carried around Greenwich/Charlton/Woolwich the very same morning I plan to start!

Secondly I am currently on a residential training course for 3 days, which is not ideal for resting. But certainly ironic that it takes place not that far from the Thames source... On top of that, I have been drafted at the last minute to help with some work on Super High Vision recording during the Olympics.

And third, it will be tough because of the weather. Hopefully it won't get more flooded than last week-end, but it won't dry up either. And the Thames will still look brown. With a bit of luck though, the weather will finally get better. Who knows?

No major changes on the plan compared to last year, except that I will try to take it a bit easier this year, a bit more relaxed on timing, and we will see.

You should be able to follow me on twitter @ThamesSource. As usual, the map is available online for GoogleEarth or for GoogleMaps.

Ultra third attempt...

Tuesday, July 10 2012

Thames Path recce 2012: Oxford - Rushey Lock

Leo had warned me it was a hard stretch, and I was not to be disappointed during this last Thames Path recce!

The original plan was to recce from Oxford to the source, but I decided to run to Rushey Lock and back to reduce a bit the distance and to leave me something to discover during the actual attempt.

All water companies have now lifted the hosepipe ban. And the reasons were obvious: the Thames at Oxford was fast, high, and dark. Too fast for most boats, which stayed moored all day, leaving the lock(wo)men idle. Too high for Thames Path, frequently flooded. And a bit too brown to my liking, but I drank from it anyway.

A number of meadows were partly flooded, sometimes with water up to mid-calf, which I tried to avoid a first before giving up. Looking at the current floods in the UK, it could have been much worse, though.

If the section up to Newbridge is still manageable, the path then becomes even wilder. First, a section with relatively dense shoulder-high abrasive vegetation to tenderise the meat from the ankles to the thighs. Then, fields of stinging nettles taking advantage of the soreness. Typically on the side of a narrow, muddy, crossfall path to make sure that gravity will make you slip into them. Just like with water, I tried to avoid them for the first 100 meters, then gave up. To ensure my skin was kept nicely abrased, thistles and brambles also featured in between nettles. I might consider wearing leggings for this final section. I can still feel them 48 hours later...

To celebrate my run in the middle of the British countryside, HM The Queen was kind enough to send me the Red Arrows, although they only passed by in V formation, and did not leave a trail of smoke on seeing me...

After turning back at Rushey Lock, I filtered 2L of turbid, brown water. A lot of particles in suspension could clog the filter. This is not a major problem, but it means I might have to clean it more often on the long run. It also means that the riparian meadows hosting grazing cattle and sheep have been washed straight into the Thames, increasing the concentration of parasites in the water... So it was by far the dirtiest water I drank with the MSR filter!

The path is not very obvious for some sections, cutting across meadows, and very few people were to be seen. Nevertheless, the afternoon was not as quiet as expected, as 5 large military airliners (including a Hercules and a Globemaster) circled at low altitude for more than an hour. Occasionally deploying and retracting landing gear for fun.

It is a very nice part of the countryside, though. Newbridge, actually the oldest one on the Thames (built 1250), is also the best looking Thames bridge I've seen to far. I also found Pinkhill Lock particularly cute (and visibly so did the grass snakes).

Calf next to the river Thames
I didn't pull this calf :)

Overall, it was a tough 67km run. I had planned a bit over 7 hours, but it took me 8:20. Much longer than anticipated, but I spent quite a bit of time and energy figure skating on mud rather than running. Whilst this time I still managed to mostly run, I am not sure how I would feel about that after 200km... At least I know what is waiting for me. Hopefully the path will be in better condition by then, but hopes are thin, as the coming week appears to be no different than the previous months. But at least my calves were fine, which is the most important.

Ultra last recce

Thursday, June 7 2012

Thames Path recce 2012: Richmond - Maidenhead

I went for a 57km training/recce run on Saturday to check out the status of the route between Richmond and Maidenhead.

To put myself into the Queen's Diamond Jubilee mood from the start, quite a few boats between Richmond and Teddington were getting ready for the Pageant the next day, including an actual royal barge and steam engines whistling. It was quite clear that these celebrations were the primary concern of most people given the number of Union Jacks floating at countless street parties, boats, and even picnics. Amusingly enough, I happened to wear one myself on my back-pack, albeit coupled with a French one. Nothing to do with the Jubilee then, but a souvenir from the PTL team.

As for the Thames Path itself, a new diversion will probably be set downstream from Walton-on-Thames by the time I set off for my third attempt. I could not check it this time, though...

The long diversion upstream of Staines-upon-Thames (formerly Staines) which was in place last year has been lifted, which is great news.

However, as expected, a new major diversion has been laid around Dorney Lake, between Windsor and Maidenhead, in order to build a temporary bridge for the Olympic rowing and canoeing. Whilst the diverted path is generally pleasant and not too much distance has been added, the South section of the diversion is badly signed, so I'm glad I had a look beforehand.

A good run all in all, especially after a month of not so great feelings during training.

Ultra recce 2

Monday, May 28 2012

TSQ: what changes for take 3?

Obviously I would like to maximise my chances this time once more.

Start date

Last year, I stopped partly because I thought I would finish too late on Sunday, and not be able to recover for work before Monday morning. I will arrange to have 4 consecutive non-working days this time. That is 3 days + 2 nights for running (60 hours), and 2 nights + 1 day of recovery after the run. Since I'm now pretty sure I will take more than 48 hours to complete (if I do complete!), there is no point in starting too early, aside from avoiding the crowds/traffic in Central London, so I might start at 5 or 6am, instead of 4am the previous years. I might miss the early, lonely start though.

It is not as easy as the previous years to find a suitable date given the events in London this summer.

I was hoping for June again to maximise the amount of daylight. The first week-end of June looks good on paper (and in the sky), with the additional Spring and Diamond Jubilee Bank Holidays on Monday and Tuesday, making it a 4-day week-end. But that's also a potential issue, since "one of the largest flotilla ever assembled on the river" will go down the Thames in London on Sunday. Whilst I hope to be far from London by then, it might cause disruption, as platforms and large screens will be installed on the river banks beforehand.

Furthermore, this is the Hardmoors 110 week-end.

Later in July, the Olympic Games will be organised in London. In particular, a cable car is being build not far from the Barrier, and the rowing lake next to Windsor will be used. These might lead to path diversions as well, if not already the case.

Therefore, I'm now looking at the end of June / begining of July like the previous years. This will be adjusted based on how my training is going, since I've been feeling rather unfit for a while now.

Moon and tide

A tricky one, since I want a full moon to help at night, but a low tide coefficient to avoid floods in the Chiswick and Richmond areas... These two are obviously incompatible, but with the right timing, I can go through the flooding areas during low tide. The potential full moons week-ends are on 2-3 June, and 1-2 July.


The recurrent tricky question... Unsupported again, or self-supported? As mentioned earlier, as self-supported I could allow myself to get water and food from nearby sources (but not from a dedicated crew). That would mean carrying a lighter bag, and crucially allow for better physical and mental recovery if I can indulge a warm fish&chips on the go :)

Fully supported is not an option so far, but that might still change.


The direction suggested in the walking guide book is from Source to Barrier (downstream). The only technical advantage (aside from the minor gradient) is the dominant winds, which are sweeping from West to East.

Mentally, it might also be easier to be finishing towards London. Last year, had I run the same distance the other way round, I would have stopped near Windsor. This might have felt "nearly" in London, and I knew all the way from there. When I ended up in Oxford, the thought of an extra 90km in the middle of endless meadows was tough. I chose nevertheless this direction (and this name for the challenge) because I saw it as an escape from London, and I didn't feel like finishing in dodgy East London in the middle of the night in a near-fainting state.


I might follow a forced run-walk pattern from the start as I did in 2010 (but not in 2011) to save my legs for later. Should I choose to do so, I will probably follow this strategy during some long training runs too.

Other changes

The nights are chilly due to the humidity, wind, tiredness, and lack of food, so a light jacket is necessary. Caffeine in the form of supplements should help for the night. I will also need to sort out some blister and chaffing issues.

Ultra small changes

Monday, May 7 2012

Thames Path recce 2012: London

This morning I went for a recce on Thames Path from the Barrier to Hammersmith. Quite a few changes within a year!

Firstly, the cable car between the O2 and the Royal Docks looks nearly ready. The cable and cabins are already there, but the terminal building is not finished yet, thus leading to yet another path diversion...

Secondly, the north section between the O2 and Greenwich has been diverted, whereas the South section is now open.

In Greenwich, the Cutty Sark has now being repaired and is open to the public again.

That said, another boat stole the show in Greenwich today. HMS Ocean, a large assault ship, has now docked in Greenwich after a very close encounter with the Thames Barrier (video) a few days ago. She's there to flex muscles before the Olympics, and is actually pretty massive. Today she was open to Greenwich residents only. And judging by the ~500m queue, it was successful!

A bit of a shame, the Traffic Light Tree in the docklands has been removed.

More centrally, the Shard, the new tallest building in Europe has now reached its fully height.

And a last, smaller but appreciable change: the underpass at Wandsworth bridge is now open, avoiding stairs and road crossing. A nice map of the Thames Path has been displayed on the wall too.

The Thames banks in London are ever changing. I just hope it's for the best, and that millennia of varied history won't be replaced by a single generic type of building within 50 years.

Ultra recce

Monday, January 30 2012

Year of the Water Dragon

Following a question about the Chinese New Year on the BBC Quiz of the week's news, I discovered that Chinese years are not only associated with an animal, but also with an element, which in 2012 is water.

That somehow started me thinking about the Thames Source Quest (TSQ) again. The Dragon is arguably the luckiest animal, and the Water element is a fairly good omen to run (and drink) the Thames. Digging further, I learnt that years alternate between Yin and Yang. Like all Dragon years, 2012 is Yang, which is associated with fast and focused, so that is pretty optimal too! That said, water would typically be Yin (which is slow and passive). The next occurrence of a Yang Water Dragon year is in 2072, following a 60-year cycle (12 animals times 5 elements)...

But it goes even further! There is apparently an "energetic high point" during the year, which is the Dragon moon in the lunar calendar. This year, it starts on the 20th May, and finishes on the 18th June. The dragon full moon will be on the 4th June, that is currently my exact planned TSQ completion date! You just cannot invent these things :)

Now, whether a Yang Water Dragon will let a vulgar Yin Metal Rooster achieve his goal remains an open question...

Ultra water dragon

Sunday, July 10 2011

Thames 2 - Julien 0

Thames Barrier at 4am.

Second time unlucky... But whereas last year was a disaster, this year was at least half-decent. I completed nearly 5 marathons out of 7.

Tower Bridge.


Things went generally as planned until Staines, where I pulled out last year. I had my first hard time "only" a bit before Windsor. Nothing alarming, a bit of time lost, but I managed to pick up the pace until Bourne End. I could see it would be a difficult one, but to keep hope, I decided to focus on getting to Oxford, and think about the source later

A new landmark has emerged since last year: The Shard.

Battersea power station.

The night

From 5pm, I could see all the boats stopping for the night, their occupants having chilled out apéritif and starting barbecues. It was hard to see that, while knowing I would have to go through the night. And indeed the night was pretty difficult. I was not only feeling rather chilly given the humidity near the Thames, but I also wanted to sleep all the time (some would say, as usual). A big surprise at Henley, the Regatta parties were going on next to the Thames. One kilometre of loud music and colourful lights, walking amongst thousands of drunken people in rowing blazers, after hours on my own in the dark. Surreal. A bit later, I had a quick nap on my backpack mat, wrapped in my survival blanket, in a effort to relieve me from both the cold and the tiredness. Not sure it worked out.

Sunrise near Sonning Bridge.


As the sun rose, I picked up speed, but I carried on losing time on schedule at a rate of about an hour per half-marathon. Partly due to my running speed, and partly due to longer breaks than planned. I even managed to get a bit lost in one of the three hilly sections of the course, as the path leaves the Thames for a few kilometres.
The path was certainly less and less busy as I moved upstream, and some long monotonous and lonely sections felt hard on the mental side. I finally reached Oxford, a fundamental milestone in my mind at nearly 9pm, 10 hours behind schedule. I calculated that I wouldn't make it to the source before Sunday night, and decided to give up.

Speed (km/h): planned (blue), actual (red), with "planned" rest time removed (green).

Things that went well
  • Food was well chosen, and the pre-packed mini-meal concept developed with Leo worked well.
  • Water filtering worked as planned. I had a short anxious moment, as I was pumping when a boat came passed. The water turned cloudy with the turmoil, and the filter clogged up nearly instantaneously. I followed the on-field cleaning procedure to remove the silt, and the water flew normally again. Pfff. In total, I drank 11 litres of purified Thames Water for 28 pit stops.
  • Recovery was surprisingly quick.

Thames Water inlet. Where do you think your tap water comes from?

Things that could be improved
  • Blisters under the feet. As I carried two spare pairs of socks, a change half-way might have helped.
  • Chaffing. I could have sorted out something with the Nok cream I carried.
Things that went wrong
  • Sleepiness at night, could be managed with a caffeine-based product and an even stricter sleeping pattern on the week before.
  • A light waterproof jacket would have been useful to insulate me against humidity during the night.
  • Book more time off, to remove completely the time constraint.

A sign I've seen countless times...

A third attempt?

My mind has slowly drifted on that matter:
Saturday: I'm happy about what I've achieved today. I won't try again.
Sunday: Reaching Oxford is good, but it would have been better to finish. I might run the remaining section on its own one day.
Monday: Why didn't I carry on? I might try again, but maybe with support.
Tuesday: I'm so stupid I stopped. I should try again solo and unsupported.
Wednesday: Why the f*** stopping "so close" to the end? I should try again in September.

I certainly gained a knowledge of the challenge which should allow me to complete it on another attempt. But it's a big commitment in terms of preparation. We'll see.

Should I stay or should I go? A recurrent question.

A big thank to all of you who supported me. I'm sorry I didn't make it to the source, but solo and unsupported is mentally very hard on such a distance.

Ultra river

Tuesday, June 28 2011

Follow me!

I plan to leave on Friday morning at 4am from the Thames Barrier.

Detailed schedule is the following: TSQ 2011 (PDF, 59KB).

You will be able to follow me on Twitter @ThamesSource, hopefully with live pictures this year! As usual, the route is available on GoogleMaps and on GoogleEarth.

If you haven't done so yet, please consider donating a small amount to WaterAid, and bet on my finish time!

Ultra second chance

TSQ final preparation

The mental aspect of the TSQ is fundamental, as it will be run solo and unsupported.

I've now fully realised that whilst the flatness of the Thames Path appears to be an advantage at first, it might not be such a good thing overall. Indeed, long trail races such as the UTMB are typically cadenced by a succession of climbs and descents, and every low and high point creates a tangible milestone. These natural milestones are of great relief for the mind, and on races without checkpoints such as the PTL, every high point is mentally ticked off with joy. There will be no such milestones on the Thames. Aside from the psychological aspect, it might well be that the regular changes between downhill and uphill stages help to rest some muscle groups while others are working.

The flatness of the course is even more of an issue because I will attempt it solo and unsupported, so there will be no psychological support from a team mate, and no milestones other than the ones I will create in my mind. These milestones will not be as prominent as the Col d'Enclave, so I will have to find a way to materialise them. For this reason, I have not considered purely virtual milestones such as arbitrary points in distance and time. Instead I will use towns on the way, but not all of them, as this would defeat the point by overloading my mind. Roughly one every half-marathon, so 14 in total seems a fair compromise: Westminster (first half-marathon), Richmond (1 marathon), Weybridge/Shepperton (1.5 marathon), Windsor (2 marathons), Bourne End (100km/3.5 marathons), Henley (4 marathons), Purley-on-Thames (half-way), Wallingford (4 marathons), Culham (4.5 marathons), Oxford (5 marathons), Newbridge (5.5 marathons), Lechlade (6 marathons), Cricklade (6.5 marathons), The Source (finish).

This leaves a few key places such as Hampton Court, Reading, or Abingdon aside, but I have to trade-off between the distance covered and the importance of the place. Furthermore, since passing by a town will make no difference to my body, I need to increase the significance of these milestones in a way or another, probably by the means of food rewards.

Ultra ready... hopefully

Thursday, June 23 2011

It's all about water

On Saturday, I ran my last long training session, a nice 64km on the Thames Path. Despite my muscles being relatively tired, the pace was adequate, and most importantly, I felt generally strong.

I was greeted by a rather powerful thundery shower from the start, leaving me soaked for the remaining 6 hours. To make sure I didn't dry up on my way back, a spring tide forced me to run in the overflowing Thames.

It was also an opportunity to test the MSR SweetWater filter in real conditions. It took me about 10 minutes to filter 2.75L of water, including unpacking, setting up, and repacking. In terms of taste, let's face it, it's like drinking from a swimming pool, but it's reassuring in a way. I hadn't intended to use my water bladder, but the provided filter adapter just happens to fit well on it, and the refilling worked pretty well. In the light of this experiment, I've decided to take a water bladder and a bottle (for various additives such as rehydration sachets) on the TSQ. With 3L of water, I can run up to 4 hours if it's hot, and more during the night. I guess it's a matter of trading off between the the time to filter, and the water weight to be carried.

All in all, the water element was rather keen on communing, with or without my consent, which is a good omen.

Now, it's relative rest, increased nutrition and hydration for the next 7 days.

Ultra water power

Thursday, June 16 2011

TSQ take two: D-15

As you might have guessed, I have decided to give the Thames Source Quest (TSQ) a second attempt. I will try to run the whole length of the Thames Path (184 miles / 294 km) non-stop, solo, and unsupported. I will start from the Thames Barrier in East London on the 1st July and hope to reach the source in the Cotswolds on the 3rd July. Non-stop means that I am not planning to sleep on the way, although this might happen accidentally :) . Unsupported means that I will not pick up any food or drinks from human sources on the way. In practice, I will carry all the food required for the entire event from the start, and will drink purified water collected from the Thames river itself.

I hope to be better prepared than last year, both physically and mentally. As planned, a few changes have applied, including:
  • This is my only major event this year.
  • I will take it a bit easier on the target time. If I need 60 hours, so be it!
  • MSR Sweetwater purifier (pump-based microfilter + chlorine) and two Camelbak Tritan 750mL in a hope to increase my water consumption, but heavier in the bag.
  • Less food (3 kg for 11,000 KCal), as I don't think I can eat more than 5,000 KCal/day whilst running anyway.
I will however not start much earlier in the year than for the previous attempt, but this was necessary to ensure a decent training.

This year, I have decided to raise money for WaterAid. It seems a fairly obvious choice. Whilst I will be fortunate enough to carry a purification system that will (hopefully) provide me with safe water from the Thames, "one in eight of the world's population does not have access to [clean water]. This, and lack of safe sanitation, result in over two million people dying from water-related diseases every year." Please consider donating at this page. Donators might want to place a guess on the time I will take to complete, and the distance covered if I don't finish. Small prize for the closest guess. Thank you!

The planned scheduled is based on a 50 hours finish time, as opposed to 48 hours last year.

Ultra ready for take two.

Thursday, May 26 2011

Chemical water purification

During last year's quest to water purification, I mostly looked at microfiltering options, neglecting chemical and UV methods. I've not looked properly into UV yet because of the need for batteries, but I have dug further into chemical water treatment. There is actually a whole range of products on the market, based on no less than 5 different chemicals: It is rather difficult to judge which one is best. And as you can see, the type of chemical seems highly dependent on variable country regulations. Since LifeSystems sell both Chlorine and Chlorine dioxyde on the same market, you would expect them to clarify this. Well, it's not very conclusive:

Chlorine is the most widely used disinfectant.
Chlorine Dioxide is the most effective disinfectant.


Whilst checking the product differences between countries, I've also noticed a bit of confusion around the Katadyn MyBottle capabilities. There is a significant difference between the fact sheets on the American and on the European websites. The European one features a single bottle called "MyBottle", eliminating protozoa, bacteria and viruses with "ViruPur". This is the one I bought. The American one however, features two bottles: "MyBottle Purifier" and "MyBottle Microfilter" (*). The former eliminates viruses with "ViruStat", but the latter does not. Problem: the latter looks really similar to the European one, which is supposed to filter viruses! All this starts to look rather dodgy to me...

Reading the product manuals is rather off-putting. For example, the MSR Purifier Solution manual starts well with:

Harmful if swallowed.

And carries on with a lot of warnings like this:

This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.

But my favourite is:

If swallowed:
* Call Poison Control Center or doctor immediately for treatment advice.

This is supposed to purify filthy water into "drinkable" water. How the hell are you supposed to use it if you cannot swallow it?

There is also a variety of chemicals to remove the taste of chlorine/iodine, but it starts to make the whole process a bit fiddly on the run: pump 1 minute to get your liter of water, add chlorine, wait 5 minutes, add neutraliser, wait 3 minutes, and finally drink.

I guess Chlorine Dioxide might be the best choice, as it appears to have less after-taste than the others, thus avoiding the neutralisation stage. Silver ions are tasteless, but apparently more for conservation than actual treatment.

Ultra chemical water...

(*) Whose names are by the way somehow consistent with the MSR terminology, with their "SweetWater Microfilter" and "SweetWater Purifier". Only the latter eliminates viruses.

Friday, July 16 2010

TSQ equipment and food list

This is the exhaustive equipment and food list I have carried with me on my Thames Source Quest attempt.

  • shorts (Raidlight/Ufo)
  • T-shirt (Hardmoors 55)
  • socks, underwear
  • shoes (Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra)
  • Buff (Hardmoors 110)
  • spare long sleeve T-shirt (Millet)
  • backpack (OMM Classic Marathon 25L)
  • purification bottle (Aquapure Traveller)
  • 45 route cards
  • time table + small pen
  • first aid:
    • Compeed
    • Ibuprofen
    • Paracetamol
    • 2 disinfectant wipes
    • 2 rehydration sachets
    • 2 Coalgant
    • Vaseline
  • head torch
  • hand disinfectant
  • survival bag
  • whistle (on the bag)
  • tissues
  • mobile phone
  • Muvi Atom camcorder
  • ID
I'm pretty happy with this equipment list.


Item Q.KCal/ug/uKCalg
SiS GO gel 10 90 70 900 700
Creme de marrons 4 200 85 800 340
Elevenses 4 204 50 816 200
Snikers 10 296 58 2,960 580
Bounty 5 268 57 1,340 285
Tuc 2 783150 1,566 300
mini Babybel 12 61 20 732 240
hazelnuts 2,000 300
rye bread 2 985500 1,9701,000
Total 13,0843,945

Plus 4x750ml water bottles for the non-tidal Thames section.

In the event of a further attempt, I might take a bit less food. Indeed, the bag was rather heavy and I don't think I would have eaten it all. For example if I just remove 5 gels, one creme de marrons and one rye bread, I would end up with about 3kg and still 11,500Kcal, increasing the overall energetic density from 3.32 to 3.8KCal/g.

Ultra food.

Thursday, July 15 2010

Thames 1 - Julien 0


As you probably know I've attempted the Thames Sources Quest, 296km from the Thames Barrier to its Source last week-end.

Thames Barrier
Thames Barrier at 4am

I left on Friday at 4am, carrying a bag loaded with 4kg of food (13,000KCal), 3kg of water for the first 50km of non-tidal Thames, and not much else.

Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf at 4:30am

The London section was a bit hectic, as the Greenwich foot tunnel was closed (just for the one night I was running...) and I had to follow the South Bank that I hadn't recce'd. Also, a number of the path sections are on private grounds and closed at "night", that is until 7am. I got lost a few times and made a lot of detours. Sometimes unexpectedly bumping into known places (see below). But London before 7am is relatively quiet for a change, with only a few dog walkers and (rather fast) runners.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The Circle
Known location :)


Battersea power station

Things went relatively well until Hammersmith, where I started to feel a bit weak, and even had minor cramps in the quads. Maybe I didn't eat enough, as my stomach was not in a great mood? I decided to push until Richmond anyway (44km) to complete the first marathon and have a brief rest there. Unfortunately, I had to stop a few kilometres short from Richmond to sit down and I even fell asleep... until a dog woke me up by licking my face :) I had a bit of food and felt better, ran to Richmond, sat down and ate again. Things went a bit better from Richmond to Hampton Court (57km).

As I reached Hampton Court at about 12 noon, the sun was getting pretty hot (30°C, native Englishmen would say scorching), and again I was running very little. Walking more and more, and even sitting down from time to time. Passed Shepperton Lock (67km), I was walking most of the time. The day was gorgeous though, and the Thames looked great. I really felt like diving in.

The Thames near Staines

I had my first sip of purified water from the Thames just passed Teddington Lock as my spring water bottles ran out. I have to say the water didn't look amazing at that point, but it became much better upstream from Hampton. The purified water tasted good, but felt a bit heavy. I'm not sure whether it's the nature of the Thames Water, the iodine or my stomach. In the end, it was easy to integrate the Aquapure Traveller 15 minutes dwell time into my rythme: I just had to count three periods of 4 minutes run + 1 minute walk. I thought I drank a lot at the time, although my log sheet later told me I only took water 4 times, ie. only 2 litres in 7 hours... I also passed water a total of 4 times if you're interested, but only once in these last 7 hours...

Aquapure Traveller
Sampling the Thames Water

Considering that I hadn't enjoyed much of my day, that I was walking most of the time and stopping often, that I was already late by over 4 hours and therefore that I wouldn't be able to reach the source, I decided to give up at Staines (76km). I also had the PTL at the back of my mind and didn't want to jeopardise my and Leo's chances on a project that I would not be able to complete anyway. Essentially, during and after this attempt, I felt like I had run twice as much... (which would still be only half of the TSQ).

As for the "guess my time" competition, John Kynaston got the closest bet with a DNF at 200.5km. Yannick gets the best water in and water out guesses. Congratulations!


There are numerous reasons, which combined together led me to give up. First of all, I was not well prepared physically and mentally. Especially on the latter, I had done a lot of visualization in the past, but not close enough to the actual attempt. Secondly, with the PTL only one and a half month later, I was not properly focused on the Thames.

And there are a lot of other minor reasons, such as the heat, a poor nutrition during the first 4 hours and a poor hydration towards the end. Also, running by Hammersmith (where I live and train) after 35km is a bit demotivating, as it essentially felt like I hadn't covered any ground when reaching the first marathon. More generally I've been relatively tired over the last few months for various reasons. Finally, I might no be such a good runner on flat courses, as I found the UTMB flat sections boring for example?

I also might have been overestimating myself. Thinking I would be able to run any distance at any time, without much training... It might be true up to a marathon distance, but certainly not much further.

Anyway, this is a good wake up call before the PTL!

I think the TSQ remains a great challenge, and I still want to complete it one day. Next year maybe...

Ultra fiasco

Wednesday, July 7 2010

Thames water purification on the run: a solution

After a brief survey of what nasties are waiting for me in the Thames, I tried to find a suitable water purification system. And it's not easy. Ideally, it would be a all-in-one integrated system based on a hydration bladder with two pipes: one regular pipe for drinking and another connected to a pump+microfilter that could be stored in the backpack side nets. No need for extra chemical and no need to remove the bag to either drink or re-fill. I actually know of one such system, the Lifesaver Hydrocarry, which is only available to the military. Otherwise, you would have to build it yourself (*).

Back to reality now. I've considered the following purification systems:

System Main Viruses Carbon Flow Weight


L/min g


Katadyn MyBottle + ViruPur 0.3 yes yes 0.2 260
PureHydration Aquapure Traveller 0.2 yes yes ? 128
PureHydration PureLink (inline) 0.2 yes yes ? 120
LifeSaver Bottle 0.02 yes yes 2.5 635

Ceramic only

MSR Hyperflow microfilter 0.2 no no 3 209
Katadyn Mini 0.2 no no 0.5 210

Ceramic + carbon

MSR Sweetwater microfilter 0.2 no yes 1.25 320
Katadyn Hiker 0.3 no yes 1 310
MSR Sweetwater purifier 0.2 yes (chem.) yes 1.25 397
Katadyn Vario EU 0.3 no yes 1 460

There are a lot of contradictory opinions on all filters. I need to make a few trade-offs on weight, what is filtered, and the flow. I've decided to make no compromise on water quality and therefore filter everything, which is debatable, since the viral risk is relatively low in the Thames. This means I need a 0.2 to 0.3 micron filter for protozoa and bacteria (every system has got that), activated carbon filter for chemicals and taste, and some form of virus elimination. I didn't want to put extra chemical after filtration, which makes the whole process a bit fiddly.
Besides, all the systems with a nominal flow under 1.5L/min put me off a bit. Indeed, this is the highest achievable flow and could be much worse depending on turbidity. Users have reported flows down to 0.2L/min with some systems, ie. 5 minutes to fill in 1 litre. This is not suitable on the run.

So I was essentially left with the all-in-one bottle systems. With such systems the flow is less of an issue, as the filtration happens whilst drinking, ie. during the run and not during the filling-in breaks.

I had decided to get sponsored for the purification system. This decision was not only driven by the financial aspect, it's also to make sure that the system is actually going to work. Manufacturers want good publicity, not the story of a runner who either had to stop due to a filter malfunction or even got poisoned using their product. So I assumed they would accept only if they trust their system to filter the Thames water appropriately. I've contacted the three short-listed manufacturers. Two of them didn't bother to reply and the third promptly accepted to sponsor my challenge, but then didn't follow up for some reason.

Therefore I've decided to buy the Katadyn Mybottle Purifier and the PureHydration Aquapure Traveller, the LifeSaver being much heavier and bulkier. My original idea was to carry both, as if one system fails during the run for whatever reason, I won't be stuck with no water. Given the weight and volume they take, I might actually take only one in the end. In order to choose, I've tested both of them using some fresh Round Pond water from central London. I have to say it looks rather green at the moment and the dense population of ducks/swans/geese doesn't help with the water colour.

Round Pond
The Round Pond during the water sampling

I've put side-by-side the untreated water and the two others. The untreated water had a green-yellowish taint, but didn't actually smell. Both purified waters looked clear. The main difference between the two systems is how they eliminate viruses. The MyBottle relies on eletrokinetic filtering, whereas the Traveller is iodine-based. This technical difference leads to a number of very practical implications:

Weight 260g 128g
Flow very slow slow but easier
Taste clear iodine
Delay instantaneous 15 min iodine dwell time

Obviously, the weight and flow are in favour of the Traveller, but I'm not sure I can see myself waiting and timing 15 minutes. Or maybe I can turn this downside into a feature by setting a routine: fill in, wait 15 minutes, drink half-a-liter during the next 15 minutes, repeat? As for the iodine taste, it can be removed using vitamin C, but I'm not sure how to do that in practice, as that would probably mean transfering the filtered water into another container.

Ultra water.

(*) This could be done rather cheaply using for example the Aquapure inline filter and a bladder, but you would face some watertightness issues when incorporating the second pipe in the bladder.

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