Sunday 22nd 2014 5:30am, Day 2
Woke up to the lovely alarm clock of sheep which were about 100m away in another field. They wouldn’t stop making noise so I just gave up bracing myself for day 2 and got up. Some runners were up, some were still hibernating. Started to dissemble our tents which for me was another bout of crawling along the grass. DOMS had well and truly settled into my legs and back. Sorted the tent out, now I had to pack my bags correctly which took a while as I had to fight off midges around my face with my sleeping bag. I was a bit cranky after having 8.5hrs sleep since Friday 6am.
Got dressed, ate some flapjacks and headed to the main part where runners were congregating. I took the opportunity to get my peak flow checked and find out if there was an inhaler spare. The paramedic said it was normal as I imagined it would be, but I didn’t want this becoming worse through the day.
The Brutal Warm Up 8:35am
So the start of Day 2 was a 150-200 ft hill climb…a rough guess by looking at the terrain map. We travelled down this lane where my drinks bladder started leaking again, had to stop and sort this out which I did. Just didn’t tighten it up enough at the screw top. Walked down this lane and the sun was ‘out-out’ so could feel the heat. Up another little hill as we got closer to the nice warm up and realised how steep it was.
We had to queue a few minutes to start the ascent due to a gate. The path wasn’t straight up it was diagonally across to the right, you can see it just to the left of the left camping flag. With the path going diagonally right you did have to balance and make sure every step was solid and safe, a clear trail was left by runners and walkers. Eventually we got up to the top. Even though it was a warm up that I wouldn’t have chosen as my legs were in bits from 2pm the day before, it got the blood pumping, decent sweat on and really woke your legs up!
Got to the top and there was a memorial which a lot of runners took the opportunity to get a photo. The view was stunning everywhere you looked, so had to take an opportunity for some photos before running along the plateau then a very long, hard, straight road. The scenery was one of the reasons why I did this event, and it was so worth it! The photo below you can see the Vindolanda campsite, a collection of white tiny objects in the middle. Along with the previous photo from the campsite you can probably gauge the range of hills along this entire route.
So off we went along the plateau of the warm up hill, decent trail and soft ground. Arrived at a gate, turned right and plodded along a very hard and long road with almost no shade. Although this would have been a preferred warm up, I wasn’t a fan of this road. It just went on, and on and on! Breathing was fine after a quick assessment from the driving paramedic. Just before this happened my buckle of my hydration pack broke. The clip from the buckle had come off the frame of the arm strap. Spent a few minutes trying to fix it, but gave up, the lower buckle was good enough to prevent the bag from bouncing around on my back.
The long flat road turned into an undulating road with a bit more shade. Through a shaded road, checkpoint for water and then through another village. Then on the horizon you could see a few bobbing heads go up a hill. I was still maintaining a good pace for what I wanted to do. Decided to walk up the hill due to the heat and it just seemed neverending. Then finally onto the soft stuff, grass! But I had issues with my knee, possible issue with my ligament (MCL) getting tight. Bit of work on it (perks) and it did get better eventually, about 25 minutes! The trail was great, lots of hills but very scenic and wanted to push on to see what was around the corner and enjoy the shade!
Back onto hard road but couldn’t resist taking a photo of this river. More hard path along a train track which was neverending, and the sun was showing its presence. Neck was now starting to ache which wasn’t great but I started to make more conversation with runners to keep mind of things. This was something I wish I had done more of as these little chats did help a lot with keeping your mind off the pain. By now the pain was really kicking in. It felt as if I had extra, extra hot chilli sauce rubbed into my legs, back and neck followed by a decent beating with a hard wooden stick. This was absolutely brutal. But I had thought about this experience for a very long time. Having DOMS and just pushing myself mentally to get through it. Although I hadn’t had the best of times training, I had to trust what I’ve done and trust my knowledge and get through it.
Pit Stop 1, 12 miles in on 2nd day, 45 miles in total
Firstly, I don’t remember much from here, but what I remember probably isn’t in sequence.
The past few miles were along a river, no idea which one. I saw some rowers and got very jealous but it was nice to see something moving faster than me other than cars. Got to the pitstop, packed my pockets with chocolate, flapjacks and got a cup of coffee, which was free! I sat down to turn on my phone and rested my elbows on my legs which wasn’t a good idea! I drank and ate as much as I could and applied some Biofreeze onto my knee just incase it would flare up. Went to stand up and it was absolute agony. Sitting down for too long wasn’t a good idea but it had to be done to rest and gather my thoughts.
Another 24 miles to go, started to walk to warm myself back up again which eventually after about 8 mins. More road, some hills, ran over a motorway, something something something and I can’t remember what happened next. I remember a checkpoint which apparently was around the 2 marathon mark I think. At this stage going downhill was agony, really fighting through the pain barrier. I saw lots of runners just walking for a long period, so decided to focus on getting a rhythm and building some kind of comfortable pace. Lots of runners were asking about how far we had left. I decided to use my Timex GPS watch as I just wanted to get a grasp of distance so it wouldn’t give me another unknown statistic to think about. The route did start to get a lot flatter, so I thought it would be great to listen to music for the first time. It was amazing hearing something other than nothing or footsteps or animals. Another little hill by Corbridge, nice little village which had a bakery which was screaming at me! Wonder how much I could have spent in there!
Again a big space of no memory, but somewhere there is a weird hill which I was curious about. On the map it just looked like a wave. Looking back I don’t even know where it is but didn’t bother looking at the map for too long, it got soaked as my sweat soaked the whole of my t-shirt and started going into my shorts. Bit gross but nevermind! Another checkpoint, no idea how far to go. More sweets and water then I trundled on. More flat hard ground, searing legs and a fair bit of heat. I think we went through a caravan site around this point, or earlier.
Nice support from some sunbathers and had to run past a bbq which was frustrating. But we got a nice little surprise, a family had left a load of water and cups for us with a motivational message. Ran along the river and past some poppy fields then onto more road. I remember walking through a few roads and roadworks, along a rocky path and then running under very noisy bridge and thought I’m glad I don’t have to get over that. I was wrong, an arrow pointed left showing a load of steps. My legs were on fire, insane amount of burning climbing up about 30 odd giant steps. Then down a few more aided by a wall. Then along a noise bridge, stopped to take these photos.
Pit Stop 2 56 Miles
More hard road and then some shade with long paths which was nice. I remember there was a checkpoint at 56 miles and around 54 miles I stopped to ask a young family where the checkpoint was as I thought I was lost. This was one of my best memories, their 3yr old boy in the pushchair was laughing at me hobbling down a small slope in pain.
I don’t remember this area very well but it was flat, quiet, hot and hard ground. Was nice to run past a playground where there was some noise and a few rounds of applause. Got to Newburn for the last pitstop, only 10km left! Was as quick as I could be refilling water and eating chocolate and sweets, by this time I just had enough of sweet food. I knew now that this was going to be the hardest 10km I will ever do. Pain was very intense and back was stiff. I needed help to get my hydration pack on as I was a challenge of its own, but was nice to get the weight off my back for a bit and get some air through my soaked t-shirt.
Sorted myself out, tried to eat some more flapjacks and couldn’t be bothered. In hindsight I should have taken my time to eat it but all I could think about was the finish, the crowds, the applause, the finish line and completing this enormous challenge. I remember thinking about all those tough days of training, working and juggling to fit it into one week. I just wanted to get there and finish it, but my legs and back had other ideas. Right now it felt like my legs were completely separate to my brain and just not responding. It took a big effort mentally and physically to get going if I had to walk or stop.
I normally run at 8-9 min/mile and can feel comfortable. During training I felt good at 10-11 min/mile on long runs and could hold a conversation well. I was out of breathe at 13 min/mile at some points in the last 4 miles. It felt like my energy was exuding from my legs but I didn’t hit the wall. I focussed on getting a rhythm with a run and get to each marker. Now markers were spread about even further & there was almost nobody about, mentally it had an effect on you. No idea what this must have been like at night for the runners who did this in one day.
Had another issue with my bladder in my hydration pack, it was leaking at a quick rate. I drank as much as I could until it was dry. It wasn’t the best scenario but I still had my 4 10 fl oz bottles with electrolytes which I had overloaded on purpose, very salty! Clearly I wasn’t in survival mode like Bear Grylls, but there was nobody about and no shops. I had to rely on the little water I had left and a critical stage. Slightly worrying but I had got so far I wasn’t going to quit.
2 miles to go I gave up trying to run as I had enough of the pain. I started to walk and spoke to a couple of other runners for a while, one of which had done the event 2 years ago in cooler and wetter conditions. It was humbling to know that I wasn’t the only one really suffering with conditions. The same runner gave me a 500ml bottle of water which was precious as I wanted to finish the run strongly, thank you to whoever you are! Got a few text messages from a friend saying I had to finish running over the bridge. My iPod had stopped working, best guess was due to the sweat. For a bit of inspiration for the last mile I got YouTube on my phone and played ‘Kasabian – Fire’ for the last stretch. I went for it, I got to 11 min/mile and just focussed on the finish and keeping the momentum with Kasabian on full volume.
It was an awesome feeling with the music as I saw the first bridge round a bend. I knew I was close. More bridges. But I remembered at mile 29 on the 1st day that this route isn’t straight forward and thought this bend could go on and on and on. After a minute or two I saw the Millennium bridge, big Cheshire Cat smile on my face! There must have a been a couple of hundred people walking along, drinking, applauding and walking up to give me a a high five as I got closer.
Then I saw a load of hands crazily waving on the other side, it was my family and friends. Heard my name on the microphone and thought, ‘great I’ve got peer pressure to keep on running over this bridge’…only joking it was a great feeling! Just one more tiny hill which was again painful going up the bridge, and more applause crossing over. Then finally getting past that finish line. Huge sense of relief and some sense of achievement. The whole weekend was surreal, and as I’m writing now it hasn’t sunk in. Got my medal, then had to do a shot of tequila for another £20 towards my fundraising. Got rid of the taste by drinky my salty electrolyte water.
Got my photo taken with my finish time, collected my luggage and went to get showered. I didn’t bother with food that was offered, I just wanted a pint of Guinness to be honest. Took shoes and socks off which were soaked! Only one blister throughout, that’s quite impressive. Sorted myself out, got dressed and went to drink and eat as much as I could and just chilled out. Went to sleep at 1am Monday morning as adrenaline was still pumping.
DOMS was unreal the Monday morning, everything I did was in slow motion and grabbing onto objects to take my weight. I wanted to explore Newcastle as it seemed like an amazing city, but it was best to get to the train station so not to miss the train. Got 1st class on the way back and made the most of food and drink.
Since the event many have asked me what my next challenge is. Some have mentioned a 100 miler, Iron Man and a Triathlon. My next goal is to enjoy the gym and enjoy running without the pressure of having to eat and drink constantly and rush to fit a run in. On my bucket list is Dublin & Valencia marathons, maybe another ultramarathon.
Would I do it again? Yes and no. It was a stunning course, met some amazing people and experienced event which not many people will be able to. This event is the longest Ultramarathon in the UK, and it is an event many ultrarunners want to do. The amount of time spent training is a deterrent, you have to be 100% dedicated to every single run and injury and make sure you get the hours in without fail. Otherwise you start to worry, and it’s not good worrying about your fitness leading up to an event like this.
Was it worth all the hassle of training? Juggling work, training and normal lifestyle? Rushing to beat traffic to time the run with your food? Waking up early to cook breakfast and your food for the whole day? Putting on 6lb of bodyweight in 12 days of tapering? Getting injured and having to cope with pain and fixing myself on a regular basis? Having to slowly get up some mornings because me knees were stiff? Not getting great sleep at times? I beat my fundraising target so yes, and it is slowly sinking in as I type now…finally! It was worth it and definitely something I will never forget.
I always promote a natural and fresh diet to anyone (for those who follow me on Twitter I’m sure you know about this), with this you get a solid foundation for a healthy lifestyle. I could never have done the training let alone the event without a diet which supplemented the physical demands of training and deal with injuries. I felt run over every single week after long runs but by looking after myself with regards to food around training & my injuries, I was able to get this medal and enjoy this pint of well deserved Guinness. I can see the irony of speaking about a healthy lifestyle and nutrition with this photo. But I’m sure having 8.5 hrs of sleep, running 17.5 hours and expending 12,000 calories warranted a pint.
Thinking about doing an Ultramarathon, marathon or half marathon? Or any other fitness event/goal? Don’t think about it…Go for it!!! The sense of achievement afterwards is amazing, the atmosphere is what you would sparingly get in a stadium but constantly in some events and it’s personal to you. The applause and comments are for you. I think every person wanting to achieve a fitness goal should experience that. Despite the sacrifices and commitment, the moments of finishing were worth every step and effort taken to get there.
I have enjoyed a week back at work, and plenty of spare time! I can now push my career and look forward to achieving something new. A lot happened over this weekend lots of runners will want to know about the experience. Lots of people who want to change their lives with fitness will want to see what it takes to achieve a goal.
Thank you for reading my blog, I did say it wouldn’t be a quick read! Hopefully you’ve got a grasp of what Ultramarathon runners go through & be inspired to take the steps towards achieving a goal yourself.