A little under a year ago, I hadn’t run properly for a year since doing a PB in the Derby half in June 2016. I was getting a little bit tubby, as I often do between races. I was having a few beers at a family barbecue and decided to do something for my sister’s new charity, GRiT. A few more beers later and with the help of Google, I discovered The Wall. And here I am now, officially, an ultra-marathon runner. And how I loved it.
I arrived in Carlisle early on Friday afternoon and after watching Uruguay scrape a win against Egypt from my hotel room, I wandered down to registration, taking my mandatory kit for inspection. I was happy to provide my waterproofs, my first aid kit and my headtorch, but was horrified when the lady asked to see my water bottles. I’d left them in the hotel (“surely they won’t ask to see them, it’s too obvious”, I thought) and I had to look her in the eye and promise I was not intending to run 69 miles without water. Common sense prevailed over my idiocy and I got my race kit and brand new tracking device, and headed back to the hotel. I’d accidentally left my breakfast in Derby so popped out to get replacements and also met Abbi, her running friend Kirsty, husband Will and dog Tash. I saw Will and Tash regularly through the run as they made their way to cheer on Abbi, and Will provided welcome words of encouragement. (Abbi is doing 30 endurance events to raise money for charity this year, check out www.abbinaylor.com/blog/)
I had a pasta dish in the hotel, then a decent night’s sleep before the 4am alarm. I was quite nervous when I woke up and not hungry at all so I force fed myself porridge and bananas. I packed and re-packed my various bags as I kept changing my mind about what to send where, before going to the bag drop around 6:15am. They thankfully had portable urinals at the start so I didn’t have to queue for the toilets much and then had the race briefing, before at 7am exactly we were on our way as the rain began to fall. My first blog touched upon the problems I was having with pacing but I was very disciplined at the start, although on 2 miles the nerves and extra water told and I had to run off to the bushes to pee again. I’ve never taken on a huge amount of water during races, but I didn’t expect that to be my final pee until I reached Newcastle…
The next 13 miles to the first pit stop were fairly sedate – a few mild hills, but I was doing consistent mile splits and well on track. I didn’t fancy eating at that stage so just refilled my water bottle, felt sorry for people needing the loo as there were only 4 portaloos, took a selfie and then cracked on. The hills started to become more frequent and with fiercer gradients, and I soon changed my running tactics. Instead of breaking the run down to 5-mile sections, I treated each mile as a single event. If it was hilly, I walked. If I was exhausted, I walked. If I felt good, I ran. Mile 26 was possibly the hardest of my life – we went up what seemed like a mini-Everest, and the descent over rough terrain was even tougher. I thought I’d trained on hills, but I really, really hadn’t. Not proper hills like this. My right ankle was taking some punishment as I tried to negotiate the slippy downhill trails, and I could feel the first stages of a blister or two coming. Even with the downhill sections, that 26th mile took me over 15 minutes, and I was grateful to get to the 27-mile pit stop. There I saw my mum and dad, had a flapjack and some sports beans and put a blister plaster on.
I set off again as the rain got heavier and the hills didn’t seem to end. I sent a message to my family saying I was having a bit of a wobble and was hugely grateful for the morale-boosting replies. During mile 33, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it – it seemed uphill for almost the entire time, taking me 16m37s, I was wet, more blisters were forming and I still had over 36 miles to go. I also received a worried phone call as my tracker had stopped working and someone thought I had collapsed near a Roman quarry. I took on some more food and between miles 37 and 40 I was running at sub 10:30 pace and met a few nice people to talk to along the way. As we wound our way through woods and more farmland towards Hexham, the heavens opened and it actually became difficult to see. The heavy rain was getting sweat into my eyes, my glasses were proving about as useful as a chocolate teapot, and my blistered feet were now soaking wet. I needed all my mental strength now and I was reminded of my mantra for this run and the quote I gave in the previous blog: “There’s another side of pain that’s called effort, that’s called glory, it’s called if you can find a way to push through pain there’s something greater on the other side of it.” I was determined to push through and find something greater.
At Hexham my parents were there but this time with my wife and some good friends. It really lifted my spirits, and I spent a good 20 minutes with them where I dried my feet, put some more blister plasters on, changed my running socks, changed my trainers and changed my running top. My wife produced a pack of Krispy Kremes, and I had one with a few Pringles which were most welcome. Then the sun finally came out and I set off for the final 25 miles feeling like a new man. The hills became less frequent and less severe, and Phil, a friend who lives locally to the route and a finisher of The Wall previously to boot, joined me on 47 miles. He accompanied me for around 7 miles, and I enjoyed his company – my 52nd mile was my quickest of the day at 10:02 and we got into a nice rhythm. Once Phil had turned off for home I still had 15 miles to do but my confidence that I was going to finish was increasing with every step, although the fatigue was doing likewise. I eventually made it to the Newburn pit stop after 62 miles, where my wife and friends were again waiting. A friendly marshal made me a cup of tea and I had another Krispy Kreme, and then set off for the final leg.
I bloody loved those final seven miles. I knew, with absolute certainty, that I was going to finish. I knew, with absolute certainty, that I’d raised a tremendous amount of money for my sister’s charity, the reason I’d done this. I knew, with absolute certainty, that the pain was going to be worth it. I knew, with absolute certainty, that all the months of training was going to pay off. I was like a one-man mini-running disco, in my own head at least. I felt like I was floating over the pavements of the Newcastle suburbs, albeit floating with blister-sized razor blades attached to my feet. I was sending selfies to my friends and family and still getting encouragement back. My pacing was still proving to be spot on by the fact that my 66th mile was within 0.6 seconds of my 8th mile. My 68th mile was within 0.5 seconds of my 13thmile. My 69th and final mile, at 9:30pm, was just 6 seconds slower than my first mile at 7am. I had anticipated crying as I got towards the finish line, but I simply couldn’t stop smiling. When I’d imagined the final seven miles on my training runs, I never thought they’d be that much fun. 14 hours, 40 minutes and 20 seconds after I started, I was the 92nd solo finisher as I crossed the finish line with the sun setting over the Newcastle skyline. 14 hours and 42 minutes after I started I was having a glass of Champagne and still smiling. I’d gone over The Wall to the other side of pain, and it was something greater. It was glorious.
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