Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go. If you think about quitting think about why you started. Look in the mirror, that’s your competition. Ask yourself can you give more, the answer is usually yes. A few of the motivational quotes from the K markers placed round the 5 mile course which would be my home for the next 24 hours. People ask why and I think these quotes help summarise it. Having raced every standard distance going I got fed of PB chasing and wanted to see what my body was really capable of.
My body may have had other ideas though and having fought off multiple injuries and still carrying a few niggles I then went down with a stinking cold the week before race day. A few of you shook your heads as there was no talk of a DNS despite by Wednesday still coughing up a lung and having virtually no voice. The whole year had been building up to this weekend and I wasn’t ready to give up all the hard work but I was sensible enough to readjust the goals. My 100 mile in 24 hrs target scrapped I settled for a C target of 6 laps (30 miles), another ultra ticked off, a B target of 10 laps (50 miles) and an A target of 15 laps (75 miles) which would be a distance PB.
Friday and feeling better but far from 100% I set up camp with the help of Catherine and Gareth. After registering and getting my number it all became a bit more real and we set off to recce the course but due to a lack of markers got a bit lost. Saw enough to know it was going to a be a road shoe job though then had a mild panic as I realised I’d only brought old knackered road shoes with me, for use in an emergency, along with my decent trail shoes. Never mind, what would be would be. A meal out on table 24, fate, and it was back to camp to enjoy the festival atmosphere, drink some beer (medicinal of course) and catch up with other solo nutters who I’d managed to pitch near. Very little sleep was had that night, maybe not best prep for staying awake for 24 hours but I was still fairly relaxed as I was joined in camp by Kerry (running) and Rob (support). Photos with Kerry and fellow strider Emma who was running as part of a team and it was time to get ready to go.
Saturday 12 o’clock on the dot and we were counted down, 3, 2, 1 and a hooter went to go. The relay runners went flying off but the majority of us solo runners went for the more relaxed approach although on fresh legs that still involved a sub 30 min first 5K, I’m blaming the rested fresh legs. Once out of the race village we were onto hard packed gravelly trail which made up 95% of the loop and would result in the trashing of many a foot. A downhill to the 1K marker was followed by a gradual 1K ascent nicely named Temple Drag. Downhill past the camper van pumping out tunes at Temptation Corner came the second climb up to the 3K marker and start of the woods, which quickly became my second least favourite part of the course, we’ll get onto my least favourite part later, due to the random stones sticking out which could easily trip without concentrating and became an even bigger nightmare in the dark. Get out of the woods and you could see the main checkpoint with endless supplies of magical pink electrolyte drink and shot blocks, I don’t even like shot blocks but the sugar was greatly appreciated. Down a gravelly path to the only tiny steep hill, it grew longer the more laps we did, on the course then over a short grass section before hitting my least favourite section. A K long v slight incline which unfortunately was being blasted by an evil headwind rendering it much harder to run up than it should have been. The next downhill section was lovely, sweeping and not too steep and then there was the little molehill named Bramhall Climb and you could see the race village. Still 800m away but an achievable target even on knackered legs as it was predominantly downhill apart from a little kick at the end of the lap. I didn’t see the point in the K markers on the first lap but later in the race they were absolutely fab, even when knackered it didn’t take long to get to the next. You had 7 distinct points to work towards on each lap and each marker had a quote on to motivate you.
Having run the whole of the first lap I had already decided on where the walking was going to commence from the second lap on. I could have run a good few more laps but energy preservation is key, it’s all very well running strongly for a few hours but in the grand scheme of things you will go further if you are sensible from early on. Coming down the hill at the 5K mark on the second lap I felt the horrible right quad twinge that I’d first noticed at Windermere marathon earlier in the year. Surely I couldn’t have managed to flare old injuries 8 miles into a 24 hr race, well yes I could and had. By the end of the lap the quad was joined by my hip flexor and groin in a competition as to which could shout loudest at me. Just as well I wasn’t in the mood to listen as this would have been a rather short race report.
Somewhere between 25-30 miles I first became aware that my left ankle was jealous of my right thigh and wanted to join the pain party. I’d been having trouble with this ankle for weeks but had hoped that I’d done enough to settle it, obviously not. Slowing down I had my first wobble of the run, I was only just into ultra territory and my legs didn’t want to play ball. Luckily I knew from past experience that if you refuse to quit and keep moving your head will eventually back down and let the legs do their job and soon I was moving well again. My stomach however was having none of it and other than a slice of pizza when back at camp later I don’t think I ate anymore solid food after the end of lap 6. Luckily I had pre-empted this and packed plenty of high calorie fluids so the rest of the race was fuelled on smoothie, milkshake and of course coke. Not a fuelling strategy I would recommend for anyone but needs must.
At 8 o’clock we all had to have headtorches on so after 40 miles I headed back to the tent to search it out, change into something long sleeved and decided to change my shoes to super cushioned ones which I’d never run more than 5 miles in, what could possibly go wrong? The hard surface was playing havoc with my legs and the B target of 50 miles was looking unlikely. I was slowing down and everything was hurting. At last minute I decided to chuck my race pack on with front bottles so that I didn’t need to worry about water. What a mistake that was. I’ve never run without the pack loaded up with the kit on the back and hadn’t thought about how much the bottles would move without the counterbalance. Result was that miles 40-45 were mainly walked as the swinging bottles were going to cause yet another injury. Ditching the bottles at the end of the lap some running could start again but while my legs were starting to understand the game my head rapidly giving up. So what do you do when the wheels are coming off, you message our ever cheerful enthusiastic captain who will provide you enough memes to brighten the darkest of moments, thank you Catherine and Gareth for chipping in too, I must have sounded properly miserable! 50 miles done in 10:38, somehow a 50 mile PB. At some point Dave Toth appeared as well, super encouraging and a much needed friendly face who having experienced the ultra pain knew what we were going through, thank you.
Lap 11 was the first one in complete darkness and I remembered why I only run with a headtorch when I absolutely have to. The swinging light makes me feel sick and I hate the loss of your peripheral vision. I was convinced that one of the super quick relay runners was going to come crashing into me as they seemed to come concerningly close before swerving. Unnerved I headed back to the tent at the end of the lap to retrieve my spare headtorch, maybe the spare would be brighter, and bumped into Kerry. Out we went, lap 12 for me and the magic 10th lap for her to take her to 50 miles. The woes of the previous lap forgotten we chatted and weaved, neither of us seemed capable of going in a straight line, ticking off the Ks until finally we were done. Massive distance PB for her, she went to find food while I decided rather unwisely to get another lap done before resting for a couple of hours. In hindsight I’d have been better stopping then and restarting at daybreak but wanted as many miles ticked off as possible.
End of the lap and I managed to find my tent, not difficult but my brain was a bit mashed, and settled down for a couple of hours of shivering, getting into a sleeping bag after 65 miles isn’t the easiest task in the world so I gave up and just threw it over me, and attempting to snooze. 5 o’clock and I was back up having forced some more fluids in, I’d given up eating hours earlier. I persuaded my legs that they did want to move and dodging guy ropes I managed to make myself back through the camp site back to the course. Bumping into my friend and 3rd lady at the start point of the lap I had company from 65-70 miles and that helped massively. She was falling asleep on her feet but had 100 miles fixed in her head, had worked out precisely what she needed to do each lap in to achieve her goal and went on to nail it.
Maybe stupid but as I started each lap I mentally ticked off the next 5 miles as I knew I wouldn’t quit mid lap so as I set off on lap 15 I knew I’d have achieved my A goal for the weekend of a distance PB. My legs by now were majorly protesting, I couldn’t move my ankle and my entire right upper leg was throbbing but nothing was going to stop me unless I was pulled off the course by the marshals and fixing a smile on my face was going to prevent that. Each K seemed to be getting longer but eventually the 7K mark appeared and once at the top of the hill the sight of the race village and finish line spurred me on. Finishing the lap on a high and having posed for another photo, smiling of course, for Dave I insanely decided to push the distance PB a little further, how hard would another lap be when you’ve already done 15?
Very very hard and immensely painful would be the answer. The first K was okish but then it rapidly went downhill. Simply putting one foot in front of the other on anything other than the flat, which as I’ve already mentioned there wasn’t much of, was absolute agony. Any sane person would have quit but I’m far too stubborn for that. After everything I had overcome to get to the startline and get that far one more lap wasn’t going to do that much harm so I again recruited the aid of our captain to keep me amused from a distance by messenger. I’m sure every K marker was moved further apart, every hill had grown but finally 1:55 later I dragged myself over the finish line.
80 miles, distance PB, further than I’d ever dreamed I’d get at the start of the weekend and a total that from early on when injuries decided to rear their ugly heads seemed impossible. Even my lack of ability to walk wasn’t going to wipe the smile off my face, already entered for next year, anyone else joining me?