Charlie and I were running at a nice pace that I was happy with so we stayed together. There were two other chaps who pulled a little away with us from the rest of the field Riccardo and Paul Dickens. It was damp but I was warm now, even my hands which seem to have really poor circulation. I was only wearing my thin silk gloves so the temperature can’t have been too low! Riccardo wore glasses but because of the light rain he didn’t have them on and could therefore not read his map. In fact he didn’t even have it out. He said he will follow people. “A recipe for disaster” I told him. My experience has told me that you should never rely on following others unless you know them well and are happy that their map reading skills are reliable. Even then I would like to follow my progress on my own map. It is just so easy to go off course and get confused while following others, pull your own map out but not have a clue where on it you are! Lots of frustration and wasted time. Exactly what you don’t need in a 147 mile race!
I stopped briefly to use a bush and watched everyone continue without me. Excellent, now I can do my own thing. I feel more in charge of my race destiny when alone. My pace is not affected by others around me so easily. Charlie seemed to be going well. I was interested to see how Charlie would get on at this distance. He has an incredible amount of speed, but was unproven at this distance. I got the impression that he’s mentally pretty tough which is what these things are all about. We’ll see. As we progressed the drizzle halted which improved my outlook on the whole thing immensely. I was starting to feel nicely warmed up now. The course was very runnable with lots of gentle slopes but nothing too testing. I was in my rhythm. It was now just me and Riccardo. We passed over a main road and dropped down into our first village, Barnetby Le Wold. It was here that Javed caught us up. I had seen Javeds name on many start lists but had never met him so it was good to finally chat. We missed the turn through the village but finally got through, spotting Charlie as we got back on the trail just 300 odd metres ahead. He looked strong. Riccardo, Javed and I were just cruising along chatting about running and kit (of course). We would soon be at the first cp at 15 miles. As we passed through a kissing gate, there it was across the road. There were a load of crew here as it was the first. Our time seemed quick but I pushed that thought out of my mind as I had faith in my pacing by feel.
I wear a Suunto Ambit watch (my new toy) which of course tells me everything I could ever wish to know and some, but I have never really raced to a pace plan. I just run for fun. If it feels right it often is. Over time my feel for the optimum pace has certainly improved with burn out due to too much speed rarely happening. I used to religiously use a heart rate monitor and stay within a particular range. I feel no need for this now as I think the years that I was doing this has honed my rate of perceived effort monitoring. I think this has added greatly to my enjoyment and feeling of liberation while I run now.
The cp table was well stocked with GU gels, 9Bars (which I had tonnes of in my bag!) cake, sarnies, sweets, crisps etc. It was a welcome sight as Mark had said that this was going to be largely self-sufficient. If they are all going to be this well stocked then that will be excellent. All I need is plenty of choice. I just get bored of absolutely everything no matter how great it is if I have to eat it all day, so the variety was great. Good work Mark. Drew topped up my bottles, and we were off again. I took a handful of malt loaf for the road. Fortunately we staright away started climbing so we begun walking making it easier to eat my chewy loaf. I can generally eat anything on the run, which I see as a real strength in this game! We kept getting sightings of Charlie up ahead. He didn’t seem to be going any faster than us. I was now running at the front of the three of us and could tell that the pace was possibly a little too quick for the other two. Sure enough, I slowly was pulling away. Everytime things like this were happening something in my head would ask my body whether I was at a sensible pace. Every time, my body would respond yes. This was sustainable… I think.
I soon caught Charlie as he stopped and was adjusting his kit. We now ran together again. We were moving at a comfortable pace as the miles were slowly ticking by. This was a long way though so I had to keep just focusing on the next cp not the whole task. Just keeping the immediate task in manageable chunks makes it all seem so much more achievable. It’s so easy to be pretty knackered at the 50 mile point and to get overwhelmed with the fact that there are nearly 100 miles left. break things down. Everyone has there own way of doing this. I keep things pretty simple by using cp’s. Though the gaps between cp’s was pretty large in this race.
Soon enough we were into another picturesque village, Tealby, and spotted the flags that signified the cp. There seemed to be quite a few people here. I wanted to be quick. I have so many times left a cp and realised that I forgot to top up my fluid, grab some food or picked up some more clothes, so now as I get close I talk through what I need to do to try and hammer it home. I needed to drop off some map that we had used, top up my bottles, put a gel or two in my bag and eat some of the lovely home made cake that was appearing at each cp! We were pretty quick and were off again crossing the footbridge over the ford at the bottom of the hill while stuffing some cake in my mouth. As we were leaving the cp, we saw Chris Rainbow entering. He looked smooth. I had never heard of Chris, but knew that he had ran JOGLE and had a Bob Graham round (This is slowly working it’s way to the top of my to-do-list at the moment), so he was pretty handy. He had obviously sped up to almost catch us so was expecting him to be with us soon. We were now working our way through the Wolds which was pretty, but nothing too dramatic i.e. difficult. It seemed to be a very gentle incline which carried on for half an hour or so. And which eventually had us walking up the final part which ramped up to a road.
We turned right before very quickly realising that we were supposed to going left! That could have been interesting. Never mind all was well. I was feeling the strain in my quads. Nothing unexpected though. It was nice knowing that the terrain didn’t seem to be pulling any surprise punches. It had been gentle rolling hills all the way so far. We had passed through a field that had a sign warning that there was a bull present. I was wearing a bright red top, but I wasn’t forced to sprint for the gate fortunately. We now ran down a quiet country road that was slowly winding it’s way down. I remember noting here that we had very good visibility from here. There didn’t seem to be any weather fronts coming in for a while.
The weather over the last few weeks had ranged from the freakily warm to just-below-zero temperatures. It has been a very dry year so far, but there had been some very heavy rain the night before. There had been forecast temperatures as low as -6 at one point apparently. I hadn’t followed the forecast until the last week as anything longer than that is too inaccurate. There was light rain forecast later on, but I was quiet happy to enjoy the current clear spell.
As we passed through the next village and came out the other end we realised that we must have passed the junction we needed to take. We stopped and checked our maps. We had literally only overshot it by about 30 metres, but this pause in our progress was enough for Chris Rainbow to catch us up, He turned straight down the road we had just realised was the correct way. He slowed a little to let us both catch up. We ran together for a few miles chatting a fair bit. Chris was local, and seemed to have a fantastic knowledge of the footpaths. He had set himself the incredible challenge of running the full length of every footpath that crosses through Lincolnshire during 2012. I can’t remember that stats, but it was something like 40-50 paths. The Viking Way being the longest, which was partly his reason for entering (If you read this Chris, get in contact, it would be good to hear how you get on).
We were chatting and running down another quiet road. We didn’t see a single car. Just how it should be. After 20 minutes or so, Charlie stopped to hide behind a bush. We carried on running expecting him to catch us back up. This was the last I would see of Charlie who would put in a really strong effort for the full duration. Chris and I continued together. I felt like I was really finding my rhythm now. We were approaching 50 miles, the location of the first point we would have access to our drop bags. I needed my drop bag for three things. The next set of maps, bottles of Lucozade and a Ginsters pasty. I had put two pasties in my bag. One for the 50 mile and one for the 100 mile. Yes I really know how to treat myself don’t I! Chris had some friends and family who we kept seeing out on the course. This was a nice boost for me as well. They soon learnt my name and would wish me well too. As we crossed a field, I saw the yellow Viking Way t-shirt of Drew running towards us. He informed us that we were around a mile out from the cp. Next we saw Chris’ tribe. We all ran in to the village together before spotting the black gazebo that contained our bags. Everyone was really positive and in a good mood here. I was feeling pretty good. We had done the first 50 miles in 8.5hrs. This was faster than I imagined, but I told myself that it was ok. My pace felt good. Have faith.
I ate a lot of the budget delights that were on offer, while sorting out the next 50 miles worth of maps, renewing my Lucozade and finally preparing the pasty for speedy eating. Chris had put his headtorch on already. I asked if he was ready to move and he starting preparing for the off. We said our goodbyes and slowly eased off down the road, with me cramming pasty into my mouth. I seemed to by staying on top of my hydration at the moment which is unusual for me! After a short while we were off the road and back into the fields. Chris had stopped to adjust his bag or something so I continued alone. Within 5 minutes I was presented with a fork in the path I was unsure of. I waited a minute for Chris to catch up, who confirmed my first choice, before continuing together again. I was now aware that Chris seemed to have stopped chatting. I got the impression that he was going through a bad patch. Slowly the elastic stretched until 30 minutes later he was no-where to be seen. I was now in the lead! Blimey, that wasn’t supposed to have happened! I kept checking on all the signals my body was transmitting and was as content as could be that I was still within my limits. I will continue with my same pace and adjust as necessary later on. The weather was perfect for running now and I was enjoying running alone at the head of a very strong field. I wasn’t sure how long it would last, but didn’t care as I was enjoying the run. With no-one in sight, I suddenly felt really good. I now passed through Honcastle and picked up the footpath that followed the river. After 15 minutes or so, I looked around but saw no runners.
I crossed over a bridge and was then on the Spa trail which is a disused railway that is now a nice flat smooth footpath that would take me into Woodhall Spa. This was good to push out a few ‘speedy’ km’s. Also, Woodhall Spa was of course where I had stayed with work for a couple nights when I was unfortunately ill, so I would soon be on the only very short section of the Viking Way that I was familiar with, even though it was all on road. I’ll take every little positive I can get.
It was actually really nice to be running through the town and to know where the turning would be, but within a heartbeat I was back on unknown trail. I had heard that this part could be tricky. Must stay focused! As it happened, this part seemed really easy. Maybe it was because I was obsessively following every little twist and hedge I was passing with the map. As I passed through a field I had to climb over a stile. Always a good test of what state your legs are in. The legs were really starting to feel the exertions of the day! I was a little stiff as I begun running again. After a little more road I turned a corner and saw Al from 9Bar madly waving one of the flags. I arrived at the Stixwould cp which is the 64 mile point. I topped up my bottles and chatted with the lovely crew while eating some of the lovely home baked lemon drizzle cake. Yum it was great! I tried to be as quick as possible.
As I made my way through the village and beyond I came to a fork in the road. When I looked at the map I thought I should go right. After 5 minutes of running, I realised that things didn’t look right. When I looked at the map I got confused. Then I realised my error. Nearly all of the trail heads in a southerly direction. That is except for the section I was on now which heads back North to eventually take you through the heart of Lincoln, then South again. So I was getting confused with the fact that I was now heading in a different direction on the map! Idiot! I’ll blame that one on being tired.
I was now back on the trail. I looked behind a few times but saw no-one even though I’d wasted 10 minutes in confusion. I saw that the sun was dropping out of the sky quickly now. There weren’t many clouds in the sky but what there was hid the sun. Just for a few minutes, I was awestruck with the beauty of the beams of sun that shone through the clouds over the patchwork fields below. Occasionally the joy of the run, the beauty surrounding me and the exhaustion, create moments of euphoria, and this was one of those times. I welled up feeling lucky with my life. I had put my headtorch on my head at the last cp so was ready to go. As the night drew in I found myself in a field full of inquisitive cows running towards me. What would they have done if they the electric fence wasn’t there? They seemed like a friendly bunch. I then turned my light on. I was roughly following a waterway and should soon come to a footbridge. I soon hit another waterway. Hmm this wasn’t right. The second I switched my light on, I get lost. I ran around trying to make sense of the situation before finally running back where I’d come to find the last Viking Way sign. I then saw the unmistakeable bouncing light of another runner. It didn’t look any further than a half km and was heading towards me. Was this Chris or had someone passed him? As I continued to head towards the light, it darted off to the left and disappeared. I guess it had just turned over the bridge I had missed. Sure enough, within 5 minutes I was there a the bridge with now familiar yellow sign signifying I was back on track. I guessed that this had cost me 20-30 minutes. Never mind. I was grateful that it hadn’t gone on any longer and that as far as I could tell, only one runner had passed.
I guessed that the runner was Chris because I knew what torch he had, and it was a really powerful one. Occasionally, I kept thinking I was getting a flash of light ahead as though the runner ahead kept turning to see me. I also would turn looking for chasing lights bus saw nothing. We were soon on the long flat section of the North Delph drain. This seemed to carry on for longer than it actually was, and before we left it, I caught the new lead runner. It was indeed Chris.
We then saw the glow sticks which the crew had put out for us to signify the point at which we left the path and headed towards the next cp just before entering Lincoln. This was the 81 mile point. There was a horrible damp rain that was getting a little heavier as we approached the Bright lights at the cp. Chris had dropped back a few hundred metres. I grazed all the party food at the cp and had my bottles topped up by Drew. James made me a cup of coffee. I added some cold water to it so I could drink it quicker and just before I left with Chris with a handful of jelly babies the crew pointed out two or three lights bouncing along on the path behind us. They told us that this was something like 15 minutes as they watched us approaching for ages. It was probably Cliff, Pat and Mimi. I knew it was just a matter of time before Pat would catch me and no doubt carry on at his metronomic pace that has served flawlessly for the Grand Union Canal Race. I drank my coffee really quickly and Chris told me to go on without him.
Next up was the only other bit I was concerned about. Getting through Lincoln quickly and trouble free. Mark had given each of us a close up map of the city to help us through but I chose to attempt it without that just using the main OS maps. I headed towards the beautiful, lit up cathedral up the cobbled streets. It was the witching hour on a Saturday night. As I ran down the steep cobbled street I was obviously getting closer and closer to the madness of the nightlife. It’s always funny when you’ve been running for ages and you pass through busy areas with people who are unaware of what you are doing.
After a few jeers from the revellers and a few twists and turns I was successfully through and was back on soft ground. Excellent! After an unusual bit of climbing on some really nice trail, I was back on a ridge. I followed this in the dark for quite a while and after passing through many kissing gates I passed though a village.
I don’t normally hallucinate in races. In fact, I’ve never experienced this phenomenon. I was feeling pretty tired at this stage and had been living in the headlight bubble for a fair while now, so when I saw what looked like worms on the trail ahead of me, which there were many of, shrinking then disappearing like they had had a spell cast on them. I blinked and rubbed my sleepy eyes, but still they were there. After what seemed like an age of this, I worked it out. The little rascals were feeling the vibrations caused by my footfall, were rushing back to their holes and diving down giving the impression that they were shrinking. Awesome, so I still hadn’t hallucinated!
After more robotic, ever stiffening running, I turned a corner and there exactly where the map said it would be was the 97 mile cp. I was there in 18 hr 20 mins. Christ, that’s loads faster than I expected. Mark and Alex helped me swap my maps around get two more Lucozade bottles from my bag and grab the second and last pasty out of the bag. I didn’t hang around too long, and pushed on. Only 50 miles to push! Only a complete disaster now would mean a DNF. Could I hold my place? Top three maybe? I tried not to think about it and just carried on at my own pace. My feet were really sore but never mind.
The next cp was a tidy 16 miles. Easy! I was now in a bit of a tired daze. I kept watching the worms and focused as much as my tired mind allowed on keeping the pace up. I occasionally passed through villages, mostly deadly quiet, though occasionally passing the thumping bassline of a house party making the most of the bank holiday weekend. I was tiring a lot now, but knew that it was just that time of day. Soon there would be signs of daylight, and with it a renewed energy, though admittedly little and short lived. It was also pretty amazing to have passed the 100 mile point. The miles were just passing by now and I was still managing to sustain a reasonable pace. I spilled out of a field and there was the next cp. It was chilly and the van windows were steamed up as the crew were inside sleeping. I didn’t want to wake them, but I needed more water, so I tapped lightly on the window which caused them to jump out of their skins anyway. They jumped into action and really helped me as much as possible. I felt touched by their generosity. I ate more cake and moved on shuffling down the road. It was now that I spotted a bouncing headlight of another runner. No mistake here. Who was it? Chris, Pat? Yes surely it must be Pat…? Maybe it was Charlie? What about Mimi? Never forget Mimi. I will just continue at the same pace. There were well over 30 miles left so no need to bolt. I had removed my light at the cp and was feeling good. I was half glad that someone was about to catch me as it is pretty tense at the front. Who was it though?
As I slid across a really muddy field where my shoes seemed to collect half a tonne of mud on each one, I turned and got a sighting of the runner. I still couldn’t tell who it was. I kept going and entered a village trying to keep my pace sensible. There was now a little more road. I didn’t see the runner for a little bit. Then a long straight came up. There he was. He had me in his sights and appeared to be catching me pretty rapidly. Soon enough he was there. It was unsurprisingly, Pat Robbins. It was actually good to be caught for the company. We hadn’t spoke before so it was good to get to know each other. We were chatting about what he knew about the situation behind. I learnt that Cliff had pulled at the 97-mile point. Mimi was still going strong but was probably a fair way behind. After running and chatting together for around 30 minutes, the topic of race tactics came up. The simple question, was do we work together or not. If we worked together, we would finish together. Of course, if we raced each other we would possibly go slower and maybe third place would enter the mix. I was happy to work together. If we could work as a fairly well matched team then we would be difficult to catch, and Pat checked his Garmin saying that a sub 30 was on the cards if we could keep the pressure on.
So, with a new target, some fine company, and the prospect of winning this thing, there was a new sense of urgency about me. But then we turned a corner in the path and hell presented itself to us. We were on a pretty wide section of path, and it had obviously been used by loads of 4X4 vehicles, as the trail was totally torn up and was very wet and muddy. Often when trails are like this you can find a slither of runnable trail down the middle or on the edge, but these guys had done a fine job of eliminating all runnable and often walkable sections and transforming them into muddy, incredibly slippery, slicks that were really frustrating. Especially as you would look ahead and see the hell continuing ahead as far as the eye could see. Then when you finally made it to a corner in the path and could see another long section , your heart would sink as you could just see plenty more of the muddy mess. Just to make things even more frustrating, on the right was a bush, but the other side was a field that looked just amazing to be running on! So near yet so far!
Fortunately for us, we were staying together, and we agreed that had we been covering this section alone, there would most likely have been a sense of humour failure. We were working well together as a team. The sub 30 looked possible before the hellish mud, but now it looked like we would make it by the skin of our teeth or fail. How much more of this mud would we have to deal with? Neither of us knew, so we would just push and hope that it would ease off soon. There was probably about 5 miles worth of this mud, but we got through it without losing too much time because of our team work. My feet were really sore now and Pat said his felt pretty badly blisters. All the sliding around can’t have helped matters!
We both then had a moment that is uncommon for us. We saw a tarmaced road up ahead that we would soon be running on and were happy about it! It would be good to get some speedier miles under our belts, and get that bit closer to the end.
The next cp should be here we both agreed as we scanned our maps. We kept running around the corner. “There are the flags Pat” I said as I saw them fluttering in the morning breeze around the kink in the road. What a sight for sore eyes. After this there was only one cp left, and it was only 10 miles away. From there the end in Oakham was just under 10 km! We were fairly quick at the cp making sure that we did all the essentials, before creakily taking off down the trail in the beautiful morning. We were back in the fields now. Hopefully that would be the last of the hell. Unfortunately we had a little more of a slightly different hell. We crossed a field and instead of the wet slippery variety of mud, we now had the sticky clumping mud, and within just a few strides it looked as though we had moon boots on due to the masses of mud stuck to our feet! This of course turned our light weight trainers into lead divers boots, which on our tired limbs was difficult to keep moving. Fortunately this was no-where near the same length as the last hell. It was bliss to exit hell part two and scrape the tonnes of mud off of our feet and for a few seconds have the effect of having light feet!
As we came over the top of a hill and begun heading downwards, we sighted Rutland water for the first time. What a sight! We painfully jogged down the hill. My knee was sore as well now, but ok. We approached the final mini cp which had a little crowd surrounding it. Everyone told us we had a big lead, but we were determined to leave asap as the sub 30 was still on! They looked a little surprised when we told them our aim. But within 5 minutes we were off, threading our way through the footpaths through Rutland water. There were many hills, but we knew that once we were through this part, we would be on a main road into Oakham that we could hopefully run all the way in on. Sure enough once we had got through the woodland and were out on the road, we calculated the remaining distance and how much time was left before 30 hrs ticked by. We had ages! Awesome. We ran most of the final distance though I wanted a little walk just before the end, before our final dash together across the line. The mayor was there as well as a number of the crew. I felt great, but awful. Pat seemed to be really chatty, but I just needed to get off my feet. After a little while, with the help of Drew I made the small walk back to my hotel and checked in. As I was earlier than I ever imagined, my room wasn’t ready. Fortunately they quickly sorted it out and then I was straight into my shower, before passing out on the luxurious four-poster bed.
The carnage behind was proof alone of what a tough race it had been. There were a mere seven finishers out of 28 starters. That’s a perfect 75% drop-out rate! Considering that this was a selected field, really shows the difficulty. Mark and Alex really have created something awesome here. I get the impression that it is almost exactly as Mark wanted it. Well done Mark, it was a fantastic event and I look forward to any future plans.
As of my performance. Well, over a week later as I write this, I still am a little dumbstruck with it all. I keep thinking that it would have been slower without Pat there and if he wanted to go it alone then I’m not sure I would have been able to race him. But then I remind myself that the time was really good (better than I thought possible at the start!) and I was out at the front for the whole thing. I had a good day to say the least. I’m overjoyed and I had a great weekend meeting up with some great people of new and old. The race organisation was basic, and amazing. Just how I like it. I was sad to be leaving it all, but happy that I will probably see everyone again, in the middle of nowhere for some other silly race.
Next up is the Fellsman in a few weeks. I don’t plan on doing too much between now and then as I have to keep reminding myself about my main target this year, Trans-Europe. I believe I have the fitness for it already, so as long as I hold onto that till August all will be good. The other races I’m doing are just fun things leading up to it. Not to say that I’ll just be bumbling around of course!
Well I should really finish with this one as I have possibly beaten my own wordcount record!
I’ll try and get another kit review out before the next post.