Wow, what a weekend & what an experience! Just wish I had a Go Pro to take photos with along the way to help me remember the course! Firstly I’d like to thank all of the support I got via Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, texts and calls from friends & the support from my family & friends who travelled up to Newcastle. I’ve been overwhelmed by the messages during and after the race. My favourite ones are from a talented MMA fighter and the hardest man I know calling me ‘an animal’, a very experienced marathon runner saying he has ‘total respect for anyone who has a crack at ultra running’, & a professional footballer’s reaction to running 69 miles.
Secondly but just as important as the first mention, thank you to those who have helped me with the fundraising & those who donated your hard earned money. Seeing the donations go through in the last week really helped with motivation & gave me less stress as I was worried that I wouldn’t reach my target. I made a bold and brave decision behind the prizes and it has paid off, lots of money being donated to amazing causes. So thank you to those who have sponsored me! I can now start describing to you this surreal & amazing weekend, it’s not going to be short!
Rate Race ‘The Wall’ Ultramarathon 69 miles/2.7 marathons in 2 days (challenger) along Hadrian’s Wall. From Carlisle Castle to the Millenium Bridge in Newcastle, camping overnight at Vindolanda the halfway point, 33 miles.
Friday 20th June
6am woke up instantly in robot mode. Wired and buzzing, ready for the weekend after 6hrs sleep. Quick shower & made breakfast and flapjacks for during the race and halfway point. I had been eating flapjacks during the week but not actually eaten any during a run, which is bad practice I know but with the erratic training I’ve had it wasn’t easy. I have used this recipe before in the London Marathon 2013 training.
Breakfast was Mornflakes superfast oats with blueberries, raspberries and shavings of dark chocolate, plenty of water & Green tea. If there was CCTV in the kitchen, it would show me proving my multitasking skills. Making, baking, planning, measuring, cleaning and packing! I made sure I packed smartly just to reduce space, packed comfortable clothing for the end of the race. Headed off for my first train at 12pm. I wanted to get something to snack on for the train, so I bought 300g of biltong from the South African shop in London Bridge. Felt like a tourist with all my luggage, all I needed was a digital camera to run wildly & aimlessly through crowds to take random photos of bins, lamp posts and maybe the odd pigeon.
I booked the 13:43 train from Euston to Carlisle. I read on the screens the stations we would go through, Crewe, Warrington, Lancaster…I was going to a completely new place. The further north we got, the closer the stations reminded me of the one in Harry Potter. Sat down, had the Metro with me and read it within 20 mins. I tried to look for other runners on the coach just for a chat but no luck. I had travel monopoly with me but no one to play it with…I was very bored! Little sleep, then woke up and watched the scenery as the sun goes down. I noticed my reflection in the window, and realised how much weight I had put on during the tapering by looking at my neck! What a shocker! So I then finished the rest of the 300g of biltong haha.
A guy boarded at Warrington & he was running the wall, the hydration pack he had gave it away. He had done a few marathons & one Ultra at 30 miles, but nothing like ‘The Wall’. We spoke about the race, training, running experience, tactics etc. And spoke about how shocking England were and how interesting the World Cup was. Time flew by which was what I needed. As we spoke we both got distracted at the terrain, seeing so many hills we had to move position to see how high they were. But this conversation really helped calm me down.
Arriving at Carlisle, 6:15pm
Got off at Carlisle and met Alec, the other half of the team I was in. We dropped our luggage at our hotels. My hotel was the Langleigh BnB and I was very impressed with it. I booked a roof room as it was light, which I usually sleep in. Nice welcome & found out there was another 8 runners staying there. Room was comfy, en suite and was just right. I just dumped my luggage there and met up with Alec to go to Carlisle Castle. Was about a 15/20 minute walk, Carlisle was bigger than we had anticipated. Signed in easily, got the race pack and our free t shirt .
I found out on the Facebook group that we got 20% off at Nandos. We jumped at the chance to eat food, an easy decision of full chicken & 3 sides of sweet potato mash. Ate it all and thought let’s go for one pint then head home. Had a pint of Guinness as people of Carlisle were ‘out’ & ‘out-out’ and just relaxed. Lots of people knew about The Wall and gave us a good luck comment along with ‘you’re mad’. On the way back I described Carlisle as a ‘Posh Dartford, the people speak the same just with a northern twang, but its slightly nicer than Dartford’. This isn’t a dig, just the best way to describe it.
Got to the hotel and got all my running gear out and set my alarm for 5:30am. I was as ready as I could be. Did get a few text messages which woke me up but I just couldn’t sleep. My brain was over thinking about random things. Was weird. I felt a bit uncomfortable, sweating and just a bit awkward.
Saturday 21st June, Race Day 1
I woke up at 4:30am with about 3hrs sleep and sounded like Barry White. I uploaded a short video of me just saying how I was and tried to make it a bit funny to lighten up my mood too. Showered, dressed, unpacked and packed again with all the stuff I needed and didn’t need. Hydration pack had First Aid according to the Mandatory list, electrolytes were in my 2l bladder & my ‘water grenades’, Clif Shot Blox & homemade energy bars…I was ready. Got downstairs and ate a portion of porridge and an omelette, just for some more calories. Had enough of porridge.
Walked to Carlisle Castle, nice cold morning and chatted to a few runners along the way. Dropped my bag off at the lorries who would transport it to Vindolanda the halfway point. I filled up my 2L bladder, but stupidly washed the electrolytes out as I tried to get rid of the new bladder’s plastic taste, nevermind! Took a few photos and warmed up in the starting pen. Didn’t want to do a full warm up like I normally do in training as I would waste needed calories. Bit of a rallying call from the guy on the megaphone, told us that the clouds are breaking up and it would be hotter…it was! So we started, and it was a light wrestle through the gates, small crowd cheering us on with camera, I felt like a superstar!
Now here is the tricky part for me, piecing together the course from my memories of it. I can remember the first 4 miles well, but from there on its bits and bobs so what I write may not be in the right sequence. As we got further into the course crowds dispersed more and got to have a chat with a few people. Scenery was getting better the further we got away from Carlisle. Next memory was Lanercost, the first pit stop roughly 15 miles in. Damn was it hot! It was nice to see a crowd there cheering you in. The pit stops were great as they has a little marquee for shade and food (flapjacks fruit, cakes, sweets and biscuits) and a station where you could fill your bladder up and any other water reservoirs you had. It was well run with staff pouring cups of water constantly and helping with any other issues. I posted on my Facebook about my progress and found out that England had lost the final test to the All Blacks which gave me something else to think about.
So off we went towards the halfway point, another 17 miles or so. I remember this stage being very hilly, with a huge population of sheep and cattle with the odd human and vehicles. It was hot, any sort of breeze or shade was a luxury. I did however had my first issue of the event I think around 20 miles which set me back 15 mins. I just didn’t feel well, I thought it would go away but it didn’t so I took 15 mins to sort myself out. I got to the next checkpoint and drank plenty of water which they supplied well, but not allowed to fill up bladders. The next few miles were very undulating but lots of hills, trail, road and tarmac path.
Lots of paths which reminded me of Brighton beach, tiny rocks everywhere. We ran over some train tracks where one of the stewards were, ran down a path and turned into a tiny mountain which was hidden by trees. This hill was very long and steep at 15.5% gradient I was told, you would have to be in 1st or 2nd gear to get up it. A few cyclists stopped to walk at some point due to the incline. Another checkpoint, some more decent scenery. And then the fields of cattle and sheep which were annoying, not because of the animals but the cattle grates. Once you got into a rhythm, you had to stop and walk over them and then start again as it wasn’t worth risking getting your foot trapped.
Around here I could feel my legs getting slightly heavy so it wasn’t ideal. Almost forgot, the stiles! The walls in between fields were about 5ft tall and some had a line of barbed wire which was nicely covered by insulation tubing. In the walls some rocks were turned around so you could step on them, with some wood arranged as a frame to use as leverage to get over the wall. Legs did not like the stiles at all, used my shoulders most of the time just to save my legs. There was a stunning little lake which I had to take a photo of, and then trundled along fields of undulating fields but essentially it was all uphill.
This went on, and on, and on, and on for ages. Fields, hills, cattle and more hills. Then we saw some white in the distance, it was camp at Vindolanda, huge feeling of success! I assumed it would be about 5km, and we were told it was 5km by the stewards who told us to walk on a certain side of the road due to traffic. It wasn’t 5km, it definitely felt more like 8km. I learnt that this course wasn’t as the crow flies at all as it would twist and turn. Walking, running and power walking my way through, the scenery was amazing, well it should be at 750ft above sea level. I asked every random person how far camp was, some guy said 100m, he definitely spends too much time in his car. Up another little hill and there it was, half way! I spent the last 5oo-600m walking as my cool down and was greeted by some applause which was really nice.
3 photos above I took standing in the same position
Half Way point, Vindolanda Camp Site, 3:09pm
Got into the first marquee where you had water and food. I’ve never been so excited to see Tunnocks Caramel wafer bars, I took about 4 with me! I looked to the other side and there was a table with sandwiches, great! But then a bit of disappointment as I noticed a yellow ‘£1’ sign on the sandwiches, I didn’t fancy them at all. Met Alec who had got my luggage from the van and we set off to camp. The campsite was well organised, lots of toilets, big camping area which was quite clear of animals. Marquee with bar was nice and warm. So, my next challenge was to pitch up the tent. This was funny.
Alec threw his pop up tent into the air and it was done. I started on my tent and decided it was easier to crawl along the floor to set it up, the long grass was annoying as the groundsheet wouldn’t lay flat. Alec headed off to freshen himself up and I miraculously pitched my tent up to almost perfection. I ended giving up on making it perfect and crawling. My tent was sorted, I went for a shower. As I queued up, had a chat with a few people and got bitten by midges. For a random reason, yet again I felt unwell but I sorted myself out and felt better. Nice long shower, no more itchiness from the sweat and feeling refreshed and good, well apart from the battle of changing clothes.
Got food from the kitchen and I wasn’t impressed to be honest. Tea and coffee was £1.50 which I thought was a complete rip off for 1 PG Tips tea bag & a tea spoon from a £3 jar of Nescafe. I just got the pasta with bolognaise and a load of grated cheese, it wasn’t great to be honest but I didn’t care. No coffee or tea. Headed by to the tents, and I refilled my hydration pack, I had the intentions of drinking 3l at least. Lots of runners had their own camping kettles and fires, cooking baked beans etc which I thought was a great idea and wish I had thought of it.
To my surprise my family arrived in their car, they were staying in Newcastle, didn’t expect them at Vindolanda. They took me on a tour created by the shocking sat nav and rejections for food by pubs. We eventually got to Hexham (which the signs for high street were confusing) and had an Indian. I had 3 chicken kebabs which were nice, boiled rice and chicken tikka. I didn’t want anything which would upset me. Got back to camp at 9:30pm-ish and it was so quiet. I jumped out, and headed off to bed which was interesting.
Face got attacked by midges as I got into the tent. I was warm and snug as I had to keep my luggage inside the tent. I did struggle to sleep. Changed positions etc which did work but, it was my breathing that was difficult. Hayfever and asthma were culprits, feeling wheezy and the noise was annoying. I walked out and tried to find out if someone had an inhaler, luckily one of the staff did, thank you! I did feel better and thought it was best to get my peak flow checked out in the morning.