Written by James Elson - http://runthroughtime.blogspot.fr
April 6th – 15th 2006
Jim and I set off from Balham with a poor nights sleep no curtains in my room. Have to wear trainers with gaiters to Balham Station where we get the overground to Gatwick. Check in with lots of other strange looking footwear. Mcmuffins at airport. Bought water bottle. Wait in departures for an hour. Rob from BOMFunk introduces himself. Get on charter plane. Sat next to Phil from Singapore, CEO of multinational insurance firm seems nervous, Has done a lot of trekking around foothills. Jim sat behind. Off at Ouazazarte first and get on the bus. Rab Lundie gets a cab. Already looks like he knows best. Five mins to hotel. Check in to nice room, unpack stuff everywhere. Go for dinner sit with army boys who have been training in the Ascension islands. Chaz and Brummie.
Up to get breakfast an hour earlier than we needed to because the pilot had said the wrong time on the flight in. Welcome to Monaco its 5:30. Sat next to Phil the goat on the bus. Stopped after four hours for packed lunch. Kids took all of our unwanted food. Some guys had bought pens for them. Two more hours then we are shipped onto army trucks for the final twenty minutes into camp. Goggles on as it is dusty. Make our way to tent where we are later joined by Simon and Nigel, then Esher and Katherine Sweeney Reed. Get fuel and see Jack Osbourne with his trainer and his trainers bird all in another tent with the army boys from dinner. Get in the dinner queue early. Good food then back to tent and have to sleep early because its lights out when the sun goes down around 7: 30pm. Bogs pretty disgusting over behind us.
Breakfast then back to tent for more sitting around. Sandstorm kicks up and spend most of the day trying to pin down the fragile berber constructed cloth tent. Everything filled with sand. In the afternoon we register. Guy doesn’t check any of my stuff because of the storm. Give in my ECG and get asked all questions on my training by the medics. Passed ready to go and get back to the tent. Dinner and try to sleep early again.
April 9th: 28 km
Berbers take down the tents at 6am. Left out in the open to deal with all of our kit. Learn quickly to keep the Thermarest inflated. Two shits, a powerbar and some jerky to kick off the day. Feel good and ready. Already holding back extra water back in the camelbak on top of the 1.5l morning ration. Head over to the startline and Jim takes his time. Pissing all the time so super hydrated. Next to Osbourne on the startline. Playing Jumping Jack Flash as we kick off. Chopper heading back and forth over our heads low and angled to get footage. Running ten minutes on and ten minutes off for the first hour and a half. Sand thick in places. Pass Osbourne looking like his kit doesn’t fit his body. Talk to guy who has cycled and canoed down through France and Spain. Took him 5 weeks. Dried river beds etc also. Not too many coming past but feeling pretty competitive from the off. Get to CP1 in about 1h 50 and stick the water into PSP bottle and camelbak and bolt off in a hurry. To CP@ takes us up a high Jebel (Mountain) which stops a lot of people. Still running in patches but Jim not keen on blowing it too early. Head up the mountain quitre easily and Jim behind by a couple of minutes. Press straight on and there is another pass to work up and some dunes. Down the other side quite steeply to CP2. Jim comes in 5 mins later and looks woozey, says he should have laid off of the Stella the night before. Don’t want to leave him bnut keen to press on. Nigel turns up and so leave Jim with him while he tends to his feet. Run for a couple of minutes and then power walk over the next hill. Onl;y 7km to the end of the day but when you see the End you realise how far you have left to go. Seeing it is agonising. Hard walk through the flats. One guy goes down on an IV drip. German guy 305 keeps running past then slowing down and going backwards in his green gaiters. See Nicky in the fluorescent top going off ahead again. About 1km feel like I can run so nail it in past her and pip another English guy who has done it before on the line. As we come across he says it was 27.7km. Pick up 4.5l of water. Time is 4:45. Not bad. 364th which I am pleasantly surprised with. Go back to tent and it isn’t up. Check feet and gaiters and all seems in order. Jim comes through twenty minutes later. Can see the finish line from the tent and the final 3km. Tent not up for three hours. Esher looks whacked and comes in last. Nige and her asleep on outside of tent. Rob comes over and asks if we put the tent like that on purpose. Idiot. Three hours later it goes up. Enduralytes still going in and banana rego clearly going to be a challenge to drink. Have a Cod dinner which is ok but only a bit of the second meal. Clear I am not going to get through all of the food I have with me. Feel ok as we go to sleep but people still coming in right through the 10 hour cut off point in the dark. Shocking that it has taken them that long. Osbourne makes it in over 6 hours. His trainer had blisters at CP1.
April 10th : 35km
Tents down at 6am again. Sit out and air feet. Fill bottle and camelback with 1.5l again. Across to startline for day. Find out one of the guys at the hotel who wanted to finish top 100 and walked around all day in his camelback bag finished 71st and then collapsed on the startline through dehydration. Fucking idiot. Set off and Jim doesn’t want to run but I am keen as it is only 0.8km to the start of a big climb up a mine path. On the path get caught in queues but go round the outside up and over past the mine shaft and down the other side. Running and walking across plane all the way to CP1 and feel quite strong. Enduralytes still doing the job. Only on PSP though and no food. Over some small dunes and onto a flat plane where the wind whips up into a sandstorm. Sand coming in the side of the parachute goggles. Everyone is overtaking me towards CP2 as I am walking slower than they. Break into a jog about 2km out and take them all back. Some guys sitting down already under and shade they can find. At CP2 it is really busy but I am unawares as to the reasons. Rab is there so assume he has finished and got on a jeep back to help out some of his team (ie Nicky). Turns out he has abandoned. Feet and Knees are fucked. People filled in tents and under tree. Sandstorm kicking up and the next section is dunes so presume people are scared off by getting lost. Bolt straight through the CP but leave my hat behind by accident. Drop my thermarest and roadbook and some guy calls out. Dunes are difficult but not impossible. Over them within an hour then up the otherside. Still haven’t learnt to judge things on time by this stage and just hoping not far to go. Completely desolate plane. Few people out there with me. Sandstorm is heavy and there is nothing to be seen anywhere. Stop taking Enduralytes because I have run out of those in my shorts pocket. Still only drinking PSP for energy. Begin to go through it. Feel like I could break down as it is so fucking hard. Grit my teeth and sing through the Foo Fighters One By One album to stay sane. Times Like These features heavily. Struggling not to cry. See in the distance a camelfarm and a big tent and assume it is the end. Push on and realise it is simply a farmers tent. Push on another km or so and some people starting to jog by so must be close. Jeeps around and that. Guy in fluorescent gaiters nails it past so must be close. See the finishline but am not happy. Am not even happy 10 feet from it. Problem of not believing I can reach it until I am over it. Feel fucked but get my water and head over to tent. Have finished 232nd in just over 6 hours which is obviously better than I should be achieving. Few people seem to be back. Phil the hoof invites me to his tent whilst they put mine up. Dave Proud comes in collapses and his muscles are in spasm in his legs. Looks like there are eels under the surface of his skin fighting to get out. Have to take his shoes off for him and he can’t move. Back to my tent. Jim comes in as was waiting outside 92 wondering where I was and why the tent wasn’t up. Looks and sounds terrible. Tells me has cried when he came over the line. The others make it back hours later. I start to feel really sick. Try to eat but feels awful. Push down some nuts and makes me chunder almost pure PSP/ Water right by tent. Get it all over me and my sandsuit. Some guy asks me if Im ok and I tell him fucking great thanks. Back to tent and try to eat agaiu. Throw up halfway through the meal. Selof diagnose myself as rejecting everything because I have taken on no solid calories since 7 in the morning. Lie down and collapse. Katherine banging on about how much shes eaten drives me mad. Jim has a go at her. Sleep pretty much right throughn however wake up and pass out on side of tent when I try to piss. 99 people dropped out today.
April 11th: 38km
Get up at 5am go to the toilet. Nearly chunder. Know that if I do it could be over for me. Hold down half a meal and a tiny bit of power bar but struggle. Get ready and feel really weak on the startline. Try to fight through the first flat 10km and make it. Take on a tiny bit of power bar but it is enough. Across the salt flat to big dune/ mountain. All the way up it. See Brummie collapsed on rock on the way up. Just as we get to top sharp turn left up a 25% slope which ios horrendous. Power up and get to the top where loads of people are crashed out at CP2. Not feeling good but have enough water. Plough on down the otherside of the slope and through the valley. No one passing us and guys looking like they are in trouble. People collapsing and flare goes off ahead between two big dunes. At top of second one we see CP3 maybve 3 – 4km off. I expected this but a lot didn’t, are out of water and can’t believe how far it is. Many start to scramble down the hill to get there asap. Jim storms off but realises we arwe no where near and reigns it in. Pass some guy who looks fucked. He says he has a little water and can make it. Get to check point and agree with Jim to rest 15 mins. Have to as I am knackered. The same guy comes in collapses next to the jeep dry retching and passes out. Drag him to Doctors where they put him on an IV. Both pissed off that he wouldn’t let us help him. Jim gives me his dried apple rings which he hates. I love them as they are the only things I haven’t yet been sick on. Press on to the end and the route is quiet. Make it to a solar powered well which one of the competitors has raised money to build. Damp our heads and carry on to plane. Can see the end but know it is a long way off. Both feel a bit emotional I think but together it is easier. Reach it less than an hour later. Seems very desolate where we are. Esher and Simon make it back announcing they have both pulled out. Esher is pissing and shitting blood and Simon has blown his knee (cartilage). Both upset but take it well. Esher gives me her lucotape and Melonin and Simon his loo roll. Sleep better tonight.
April 12th: 57km
Get to the startline and Patrick Bauer announces that as a result of 124 people already dropping out he will be giving out extra water at all check points and cutting this long day down from 72km to 57km removing the beginning loop up a Jebel and sending us instead straight through a pass in the mountain. Looks to me like this has been set up and always potentially on the cards as a point to cut the race back if it was getting out of hand. It is. I am relieved but Katherine says she is annoyed and feels cheated, Twat. Jim and I now know we can nail the route in a day rather than having to plan to stay overnight on route and not get a day off the next day. Set off and walk the whole way but at good pace. Have a stick from one of the Berbers tents today and feels helpful. CP1 is fine. To CP2 becomes a challenge over big dunes. The top 50 including the goat have started two hours behind us and come past between these two. Jordanian guy winning is out of control fast and looking behind him for the Ahansals. They follow shortly after. So does the goat and then two other Brit lads that look strong asking some Korean guy if he is ok. Stop at CP2 for ten minutes near Myles Mcnulty then press on over a massive plane with dunes and areas of flat. It is 12km however we don’t know this until we eventually reach CP£ which they call CP4 on a dune side. Get interviewed by some guy and tell him the hardest thing is not the conditions but being able to see the CP or startline and being so far away still. Next from here is 10km, then 9.5km, then 4km. The next 10km take fucking ages as we go over dunes, I have a dump, get the glowstickss and headtorches out and head on into the night. Big lazer at CP5 which I am convinced is the end but isn’t. Jim starts to power walk but I don’t feel like it. Do it anyway and then break into a jog. Collpase at checkpoint onto back and have feet in the air to get blood away from feet and legs. Can stay here tonight if we want as the cut off is 16 hours. Here in 11. Decide to push on after some English guy comes in and asks stupid fucking questions about the tents at the end. Nail the next 9.5km in an hour and a half as we power walk past runners and walkers on a mission. Some guy collapses in front lets off his flare and gets rescued. Wonder it he has lost his mind and doesn’t realise how close he is to the end. See a camel spider running between us. It looks big in the torchlight. Feel like I could go down between during the last 3km as I hit a weak patch but make it in and collapse in the tent again. Guy giving out water takes his time and nearly smack him as I can hardly stand up. Freezing cold and wonder if I’ve fucked it but then realise it is actually freezing cold outside. Now have all my clothing on. Get up for the last 4km. Head over the dunes at a horribly slow pace. Struggling to walk at all. After 2km realise we are close. See a Touareg sitting out on his own in the dark. Make it over the last few dunes in a small sand storm and onto the path. Following the glowsticks at night should be beautiful and enjoyable but only becomes so when I know we are close. Pass a guy forty feet from the line who is throwing up everywhere and looks like he maybe cannot walk another yard. Two guys with him so carry on. 14 hours it took us. It is midnight. Back to the tent where I manage to consume a little rego before I pass out. Wake up in the night delusional and looking to piss anywhere I can. Get up at 6 for the toilet and then sleep on and off till 7.30 ish. Eat, sleep, eat, sleep. Turn tent round and then slowly wake up to the day off. Never really fully awake all day. Get some e mails, backlog of all the previous days as mine have been going to tent 98 not 88. Make me laugh as there is a lot of hero chat. I think Jim and I both now thinking we have broken the back of this thing. Get some sleep before marathon day.
April 13th: 42.2km
Set off over the dunes. 146 have now dropped out. We are walking all day no matter what. It isn’ worth going out over running. Loads are running and we overtake them again. CP1 ok. Trek to CP2 we meet Jerry from Ireland who takes my mind off things for a while. CP3 the other side of some really serious but beautiful dunes. Tired but ok. Press on to CP4 and during this 1 hour 40 minute section I get close to the edge again. Don’t know why as we are nearly there are I have been eating properly. Leave Jim behind as I just need to get there. Cross CP4 and stop for Jim. Press on over the last 3.5km to the end. Feel good as we do it in 8 hours. Slow but don’t care today. Nige has beaten us. First time I am not the first one back. Oh well. Concert in the evening but I sleep through it and couldn’t care less. No one dropped out today.
April 14th: 11.8km
Final morning and everyone knows it. As the start kicks off we run and we run for 50 minutes and 8km until we reach the dunes. The biggest in North Africa. 3.8km later and some time spent with the guy we met right at the start who cycled and canoed down and it looks like things have come full circle. Jog the last km or so and make it in in 1 hour 20. Doesn’t sink in yet. Still hasn’t as I write this I don’t think. Queue on finish. Coming across Pat Bauer is on the phone so don’t hug him. Get a medal and some lunch. Get on the bus. 7 hours to Ouarzazarte. Guy is sick on the bus on the way back. Driver is a mentalist. Amazing Casablanca beer when we get there. Two more later on then collapse.
Spend day not up to much. Just pissing around by pool. Get t shirt and some pizzas. Don’t last long in the evening either. Finish 366th overall. 13 places ahead of Jim. The goat finishes 29th. Legend.
Up at 5am for flight. Get back to reality.
Written by Michael Carraz - http://mickrunningliving.blogspot.ie
Written by Kevin Plummer
The seed is sown.
The Bob Graham Round is a Fell running Challenge, you have to run a round route which takes in 42 of the Lake District highest peaks, at total distance of 66 miles if you don’t get lost and includes 27,000 feet of climbing, you must complete it with 24 hours.
I guess my friend Nigel was the first to mention the Bob Graham round to me, then he lent me a copy of “Feet in the clouds” but while I enjoyed the book it didn’t make me jump up and attempt it. In May 2012 while training for the Saunders Mountain Marathon Nigel pointed out Yewbarrow and told me that it was one of the big killer climbs of the Bob Graham round. Looking up from the bottom of Wasdale head it did look formidable. If anything, that put me off wanting to have a go. It then came to my attention that Rory, one of our club members had not only completed the Bob but also did an extended round of 61 peaks instead of the normal 42 (Rory’s round is mentioned in the book “42 Peaks” the history of the Bob Graham round). Both of them ribbed me at every chance about having a go, but I wasn’t interested. Rory told me that if I didn’t do the Bob then I had to do 50 at 50 (climb 50 peaks at 50 years old) but still I wouldn’t do the Bob; although I had in my mind that an attempt in 2014 might be an idea. That all changed in November when my friend Martin said he fancied trying it - he had already done the Highland fling, a 53-mile ultra-distance run along the West Highland Way. I thought on it for a day or two and reasoned I was running better now than I ever had and who knows what might happen in the future. Strike while the iron is hot, or at least, the legs are working. Also it would be a great advantage to have somebody to train with.
The 4 Musketeers.
I talked to my friend Andy who had been my partner in the 2012 OMM (Mountain marathon) at the end of October and he said he would join us. Then Graham, another good runner with a lot of experience in the mountains said it was something he would like to do also. So we started with a team of 4 of us training together.
Down to 3.
In the December I went down to the lakes to support a winter attempt of the BG, with some of the lads and girls off the Fell Running Association website. I had already had a lot of advice and encouragement from members on the site including some I had met during the Saunders Mountain Marathon. Phil’s winter BG attempt was unsuccessful due to horrendous weather, so I never got to run on the route that year.
Due to starting a new job on 1st of January Graham had to drop out from the training so that left us down to 3 contenders. We tried to make sure that we did a long hill run every weekend. I had planned a trip to the lakes every other weekend, but bad weather and a lot of snow meant it was pointless travelling a 3 hour round journey to the Lake District and back to train as we would learn nothing of the little trods (small paths) we would need on the day when they were covered in snow, and running in low cloud when visibility was less than 50 metres would teach us little either. So when the weather was bad we ran our local hills. I was also still competing in our Club’s Winter League - a series of cross-country and trail races, which in the end I was the winner of. When the club’s road championship started at the end of winter I had to drop out of competing in it as I couldn’t find the time to race at weekends and travel to the lakes. Then, in the middle of March, I was hit with an Achilles injury. I struggled with the Achilles for 5 weeks, once over this I picked up a hamstring pull, then the final straw - I tore the muscle on the front of my right shin. This was while on a recce run of legs 3 and 4. What should have been a 7 hour run turned into a 10 hour one in very bad weather; poor visibility, high winds and heavy rain. The three injuries meant that I had been unable to train consistently for 12 weeks. On the plus side, being unable to run meant that I turned to Andy’s sport of Triathlon, or at least the swimming and cycling part of it.
Down to a duo.
The loss of 12 weeks of training meant that my original plan to attempt the BG around the 23rd of June was not going to happen. I had worked out that this was the shortest night and that also it was a night of a full moon so the conditions were ideal for running nonstop though the night. By this point, due to injury and work commitments, the instigator of our adventure, Martin, had dropped out just leaving me and Andy out of the original four.
As the weeks passed Andy’s running and fitness had improved markedly, to the stage where he was a faster, stronger runner then me. When we first started training I was the better runner.
Into June we were doing support runs of other contenders’ attempts, starting with leg 2 then onto the longer leg 3, with recce runs of leg 4 thrown in. By this time Rory was running with us. Before this he had been out for many months with injury. His help was very welcome as he knows so much about the challenge. I had said to Rory that once I could run 3 legs back to back at BG pace I felt that I would be ready to try an attempt but he said two legs back to back and I would be ready. I compromised and said if it was two legs then it had to be what most consider the hardest two - Dunmail to Honister via Wasdale. One thing I changed for our runs in June and July was the pace, if we were not supporting a contender we tried to run the legs at proper BG sub-23 hour pace. I reasoned that if we couldn’t keep this pace during training with a rucksack and carrying all our food and drink for 1 or 2 legs we would have no chance of completing all 5 legs on the day. I think people forget that the Bob Graham is a race, a race against the clock, but a race nevertheless. You can break it down into 5 big races, each leg, which is made up of a lot of smaller races, the time it takes to reach each peak. You need to win most of these races to complete the BG in under 24 hours, start losing too many and even if you complete it you will not be in the club.
By now every support run we had helped had ended in failure. I noted that a lot of the recce runs with others were run at a leisurely pace. It was only when running with Andy and Rory was the pace at or above what would be required to complete the BG in my opinion. It was at the end of July, while doing leg 2 out and back, (the same leg twice, once in each direction) that Andy had trouble with his knees; this was to rule him out for our planned double attempt.
It’s all about the Money.
In the back ground of the BG training two things happened that would make me raise sponsorship for the Brain Tumour Charity. Around Christmas 2012 my closest work colleague Ray was diagnosed with a spinal cord tumour and my friend’s wife Helen was diagnosed with a Brian Tumour. Helen’s Husband Gordon had been my training partner for the London Marathon in 2010. Helen passed away in March of this year, the great loss of a fantastic lady. Previously, a close member of my family had been treated for a brain tumour in 2008.
Time to Man up and take the plunge.
The first weekend in August I supported Richard, an ex-New Zealander, on two legs of his BG attempt. I went through a bad patch at around 9 hours but finished the 11 hours on the hill still running well and felt I could have run more if I had to. (Unfortunately his attempt was cut short by bad weather on the next leg). With this done the decision had to be made. I talked it though with Rory and he was convinced I was ready. In the back of my mind I didn’t feel I had trained enough but with the summer coming to an end and with it bad weather and shortening daylight, I had to make my call. I said I would attempt the last weekend in August. This gave me 4 weeks to taper down my training and get together a team to support me. Rory asked if we could involve Len Prater, Len had been with Rory when he did his Bob Graham and had himself tried 6 times to complete the round but luck was never with him. At nearly 80 years old his presence and advice was welcome.
A week later I crashed my road bike in a hedge and knocked my knee. I thought little of it at the time but on my final big run, a recce of leg 1 two weeks before the planned BG attempt, it was giving me trouble on the descents. Two trips to the physio and a knee support would see me at the start line of Moot Hall.
What I found surprising was the amount of time it took to do the administration of schedules, e-mail everybody, and sort out road support. I seemed to be on the computer every night. At times it looked like I might be short of a supporter or two but in the last week I had a number of guys come forward to help. In the end I had premiership quality supporters on every Leg.
I decided on an 11 pm start, the theory being that this would mean leg 1 and the first half of leg 2 would be in the dark, and as the last part of leg 5 was on the road, I would lose little time running on the road either in the dark or light. The Navigation on leg 1 should be relatively easy in the dark, it was just the first half of leg 2 that would be run in less than ideal conditions. I had decided to run the route clockwise, all my training and recce runs had been in that direction although towards the end I was coming round to thinking going anti-clock wise had its plus points, but I stuck to the direction I knew best. For the next 4 weeks I prepared myself mentally to go to “Dark places” I had heard stories of failed BG attempts where the contender sat down and just would not move, even crying, falling out with pacers, being sick and worse. I didn’t want to cry or fall out with anybody that was for sure, if I failed, well it is better to have tried and failed than not tried at all I thought. I also thought about a Ultrarunners saying, “If you can’t run, walk! If you can’t walk, crawl! If you can’t crawl lay in the dirt until you have to energy to crawl! But never give in!````````````
Call it off?
The afternoon of 29th August I came down with a sore throat. I thought a good night’s sleep might clear it and the problem was nerves. I didn’t sleep well and on the morning of 30th the throat was worse. I mentioned to Louise that perhaps I should call it off and she said if I was going to I needed to do it now before people set off travelling. I decided to go for it but in the back of my mind I had my sights set on getting to Wasdale, and seeing what happened after that.
On the evening of my attempt I had a meal with some of the friends who would be supporting me at a Hotel in Annan. I couldn’t help thinking of it as my last meal before the hangman! While having the meal a lady came over and gave me £40 in sponsorship. I can only assume she had seen my charity T shirt and overheard our conversations. It was a lovely gesture on the eve of my attempt.
Afterwards, Louise drove down to Keswick as I tried to get some last minute rest in the car.
The adventure begins.
We made Keswick with time to spare and I got ready in the car park. I had spent much time thinking on what shoes I would wear on each of the 5 legs as the underfoot conditions vary, with it being much rockier on legs 3 and 4. Luckily I have a collection of fell running shoes which would rival some ladies’ shoe collections in quantity - mind you, none have high heels! In the car park there was Nigel Priestley and his wife Janet. He hadn’t planned to be there because farming duties were looking like keeping him at work, but earlier rain had stop the harvesting and freed him up to support me. (Nigel gets a mention in the book ‘Feet in the Clouds’ as he was badly injured competing in the Borrowdale race, which led to a route change of the race). It was a mental lift to have Nigel with us he is such a great guy and fan of the Bob. I knew I was carrying a little of his dreams with me to do the Bob that night. My planned pacers on the first leg were Roy and Phil. I had run a lot with Roy and had helped support his own attempt. I didn’t know Phil but I knew he had completed his own BG in 2010 so felt he would know what was required. As it turned out, he was more than qualified as he had achieved top 5 places in both the OMM and RAB mountain marathons.
Leg 1, let’s get this party started.
At the steps of Moot Hall we counted down to 23:00pm, my start time. I had a tracker which I had been lent by James Thurlow of OpenAdventure and this would track my progress, or lack of, and relay this on to a website so everybody could watch my progress at home. My original plan was to descend off Blencathra via the most direct route, Hall fell, but due to heavy rain that evening in Keswick I told my support runners we would come down Doddick Fell. This would be slightly longer, but on Halls fell there are quite a lot of rocky scrambles at the top and once the rocks are wet they are very slippy. A fall on there in the dark could bring my BG to a rapid end.
At the hall steps I stood, counting down. My watch and Nigel’s were synchronised to the second. We hadn’t planned it, they just were so we used them as the correct time. We counted down to 23:00 - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and we were off, up the little allyway between the shops like rats up a sewer pipe. Roy and Phil were my leg one support runners but Nigel was going to go to the top of Skiddaw with us then run back down. In typical BG fashion I walked the up hills and ran the flats and downhills. The night was clear and we could see the stars above us. As we got to the car park somebody said we were making good time. I didn’t know the split to there so I couldn’t judge. Towards the top of Skiddaw the wind increased. It was feeling quite strong but I was not unhappy about it - the direction was North-Easterly and I knew after great Calva that it would then be on our backs for the next 6 hours and would, in fact, be a help (little did I know it wouldn’t last). We hit the top of Skiddaw bang on schedule at 01:23hr. Somehow we overshot the point on the fence where you pick up the quad track. My two pacers ran back and forth along the fence and one of them said it was back the way we had come, where the reflector was. This struck a chord with me as I had read that a member of Keswick AC had put the reflector there. I ran to it myself and sure enough there were the 4 fence posts, close together and just over the other side was the quad track. I shouted I had found it and set off leaving the others to catch up.
Once we got below Hare Craig it got quite boggy but not as bad as two weeks before on my last recce of leg 1. We got to Great Calva 10 minutes down on schedule. Phil and I went to the summit while Roy went straight down the fence line to find the gate. We caught up with Roy and continued on the well-worn path, then through the gate and passed the sheep fold on the way to the River Caldew. With the river safety waded and we picked up the trod the other side. Crossing Mungrisdale common we lost the trod in the dark and drifted too far west. Once Blencathra ridge came into sight against the starlit sky we headed for the left-hand end. Phil skirted ahead and found the quad track. We picked this up and headed for the summit making it 19 minutes down on the 23 hour schedule.
We launched off down Doddick fell. At the bottom of Doddick I have always gone through the 5 bar gate over the field and pick up the road though the small gate, but the pacer who was still with me said he went along the path and though the farmyard where Halls Fell came in, so that is the way we went. A small check in the farmyard as I took a wrong turn cost us maybe a minute.
We were back at the cricket club car park at 03:12, 23 minutes down. I wasn’t too worried as I felt fine and had expected to be a bit down on this leg due to coming down Doddick. The only trouble I had was nausea; this had been with me from after my evening meal, nerves I thought. At each changeover point I had Louise waiting with food I would really like normally and at Threlkeld she was waiting with Pizza rolled up into wrap, but I couldn’t stomach it; all I could manage was a couple of small bites. I did drink a big mug of tea though. Had a change of shoes and socks and helly-type running top.
Leg 2, them bloody Dodds
I left Threlkeld at 03:23 am cutting my stop down by 2 minutes - as I wasn’t able to eat there was no point hanging around. We took a route to the left of the old railway carriage, almost direct over the field rather than up the old coach road. We then headed straight for the scree before turning west to head for Clough head, arriving at 04:18. At this point I was only 16 mins behind my set time. However the clear night sky had changed and we were into low cloud with little visibility. I had Rory, Olly and Alan, all Annan and District Athletic club mates, with me. I remembered Rory telling me that on his first attempt at the Bob he made the Dodds 1 hour up on his anti-clock wise round only to lose it all and more in low cloud, meaning his first try was unsuccessful. By the time I got to White Side I was 33 minutes down in total. However the mist had cleared, the daylight was up and we were on well-marked paths. Up until this point I guess I had been going through the motions of doing the Bob still thinking, well get to Wasdale and we will see, but it started to occur to me that this throat thing was not really slowing me down and I was warming to the idea that I could do this - in fact I started to get very determined to do it from this point on.
We met some Mountain-bikers pushing their bikes up Helvellyn Lower Man. They said they had already ridden up Snowdon and had Ben Nevis to do after Helvenllyn. At the top of Helvellyn there were more MTBs sleeping in bivi bags and I think we may have woken them as I shouted to my pacers while they were taking in the views “come on lads, we haven’t time for sightseeing, I have schedule to keep to!”. The MTB lads shouted “you guys on the Bob Graham?” ”Yes” we shouted back.
By now I was feeling good. At the bottom of Fairfield I suggested that somebody wait with the bags while one came with me to the summit, but all three stuck with me. We came into Dunmail at 07:49 am, 19 minutes down. If it hadn’t been for the low cloud we could have made back almost all the time I had lost on leg 1, but the Bob is full of what-ifs.
Leg 3, splints!!
Once more I struggled to eat but did change my shoes and socks again. I was wearing a thin pair of liner socks inside my running socks. I am sure the fresh socks; dry shoes and use of liner socks saved me from any blisters at all on my round. Another mug of tea was drunk though. We hit the top of Steel fell 2 minutes ahead of my planned time for that climb and by Thunacar Knott we were only 15 minutes down.
Ian, Jack and Andy F were my planned pacers for this leg. Both Ian and Jack had completed the BG and Andy was my training partner from the start, I felt in good hands. We were joined at the last minute by Adnan who had also completed the BG this year as well and Roy who had supported on leg 1. Jack and Ian commented on my disciplined eating and drinking. From the start of leg 1 I made sure I had a few roasted potatoes, Jelly babies, flapjacks, etc in my hand at all times. Due to the nausea I could only nibble at them, eating ½ a jelly baby at a time, but I tried to do it constantly. If I didn’t have food in my hand I had a bottle of drink. I started my round drinking a sports drink that had been diluted 50/50 with water but I noticed that I was urinating a lot and it was clear so I swapped to drinking pure sports drinks and flat coke. The weather was cooler than I expected with frequent heavy rain showers but the winds had dropped. If the weather had been hotter then I think the 50/50 sports drink/water would have worked better.
In my pre-BG challenge e-mail to my navigators and pacers I had requested that navigators kept 100 yards ahead, then if they had to take bearing or check themselves I would catch them but would not have to stop moving. Support runners were to write down my times and stay by me, giving me food. This worked like clockwork. Jack and Ian, who both knew the route well, worked at the front while Adnan and Andy stuck with me. For a lot of the time it seemed I was taking off my jacket and putting it back on as the rain showers came and went.
From Harrison Stickle to the start of the Bowfell climb I went through a bad patch. I don’t like the slog through Martcrag Moor at the best of times. On the start of the climb up Bowfell I had some Kendal Mint Cake. I had not used it before but I remembered how well it seemed to work for a teammate who was struggling when I did the National 3 Peaks race almost 10 years ago. After a few bits of this I flew up Bowfell, the mint seemed to settle my stomach a bit too. I knocked 6 minutes off my allotted climb time for Bowfell and towards the top I commented to my support that “it wasn’t much of a climb was it?” However, coming off Bowfell I started to get pain in my left shin; shin splints had started.
At Ill Crag we met up with Graham. He was supposed to be roping Broad Stand for us, but told us that it was like a waterfall at the minute on there and too dangerous to try and climb up (I found out later that he fell trying to get a rope to the top for us on his own). That was a bit of a blow, I was hoping that time saved by going over Broad Stand would have put me back on schedule. It was to be Lords Rake and the West Wall Traverse; I much prefer this route to Foxes Tarn. Graham said we shot up Lords Rake so fast that we would have lost little time anyway going this route. Best be safe, the Mountains will always be there for another day.
We made Scafell only 16 minutes down, however I was struggling with my shin splints. Every footstep on the flat was painful, going downhill it was very painful, only when climbing was there no pain. This was a real blow for me as I class myself as an average climber but a good descender. At the Tinto Hill race, a Scottish Hill Runners championship race last November, in a memorable downhill on a course that suits somebody that can let go downhill, I picked up 14 places from the Cain at the top to the finish. I felt this advantage had now been stripped away from me with the injury. Adnan, one of my pacers, commented afterwards that he could see I was leaning to the right while I was running. I was desperately trying to keep the weight off the left side I guess. This action was to give me more trouble as time went on.
I came down off Scafell trying to angle my left leg as best I could to ease the pain, I knew, waiting in Wasdale, was Roger, our club sports masseur and a very good hill runner himself (better than me when he is fit). We got into Wasdale in 5:57 hours, a bit down on my time for that leg but Jack and Ian seemed impressed saying by this time a lot of runners struggle to do this in less than 6 hours. Roger worked on my leg trying to get some of the inflammation down. I had already taken ibuprofen tablets and applied gel on leg 3 before I got into Wasdale. Again I couldn’t eat but did drink. It started to rain heavily and my wife produced an umbrella - she thinks of everything. More tea, more Ibuprofen tablets followed by more gel and another change of shoes and socks and off I go. My official pacers are Rory, Alistair who had completed his own BG last year, and Graham who was roping Broad Stand. At the last minute Dave had asked if he could join us to learn a little for his own attempt which he was thinking of doing next year.
Leg 4, stop moaning!
Yewbarrow first, I had heard a lot of people hated Yewbarrow. It comes at a time in the round when most are suffering and it is a direct frontal attack of a climb straight up the front face. With this in mind I made a point of liking this climb. It is a mind technique I have used in fell races - if there is part of a course most runners hate I learn to like it, that way, on race day what they are dreading I am looking forward to. I have always timed my climbs of Yewbarrow in training as part of this discipline to learn to like it, and my best was 36 minutes. I hit the top in 44 minutes on my BG. On the climb Graham was struggling a little. He had already done a lot that day and due to a change of job he had little time to train hard for 12 months. Before the top where we headed left for the summit I asked Alistair to wait for him, as me Rory and Dave bagged the peak and then meet us in the col. At the col I went down the trod cutting west under Stirrup Crag. Once we got to Dore Head Graham said the pace was too quick and we were to leave him as he would slow us down, he would find his own way back. I had no worries about Graham, he is a first rate navigator and more at home in the mountains than many a man. The thing was if he had continued with us he would have found that my pace slowed.
By the time we got to Steeple we were 17 minutes down, but from here on I struggled. My left shin was giving me real pain on the downhill’s. If I accidentally kicked a stone I winced in pain and would let out a little yelp and, to compound things, I was in pain from my right hip/IT band. I think this was because of running leaning to my right. I was now taking stops to apply more gel and take painkillers. This seemed to dull the pain a little but it came back. I remember thinking to myself, this is not doing me any good and I am going to pay for this afterwards. A thought that I would be out for 5 weeks passed in my mind but I thought this would be a price worth paying to get this done in time. I was getting no sympathy from Dave who just keep saying “stop moaning and get on with it!” Thanks Dave! A little later I and Dave spoke of the ultra-runners saying, “If it hurts to run and hurts to walk you might as well run.” I tried to keep running.
My time from Kirkfell to Great Gable was bang on schedule. I think I must have made up time going up Great Gable as I surely lost time coming off Kirkfell. After Green Gable I was sick. Not sure if it was from the pain or the nausea; the shin splint was giving me pain in two areas, at the bottom and the middle of the shin. The descent of Green Gable was very painful although after being sick and answering the call of nature I felt a little better for the last two peaks of that section. I got into Honister Slate Mine for my change of pacers 53 minutes behind on a sub 23 hour schedule.
LEG 5 in now or never.
With me struggling in the second half of leg 4 it was looking like the graveyard of the BG, as it is sometimes called, was about to get another headstone. Sitting in the chair I was pretty done in. Roger worked on my leg. I still couldn’t eat but again was able to drink. I was leaning my head on the side of my 4X4 while sitting in the chair with my eyes shut. Somebody kept saying “Don’t sleep”. I wasn’t tired, I was trying to block out the pain as Roger massaged the swollen limb. While theoretically it was still possible to complete, it was hanging in the balance. If I didn’t man up it could have slipped from my grasp. I couldn’t afford to drop time like I had on the second half of leg 4. I had to keep more or less to schedule. I had 3 pacers and a Navigator for leg 5.
My planned team for leg 5 was Roy nav’ing, John, Shirley and Gordon as support for the hill section, swapping to Andy R and Steve, my brother, on the road as John and Shirley are not big road running fans and Andy and Steve were not hill runners of choice. Knowing I was in trouble towards the end of leg 4 I asked Rory if he would do leg 5 with me too. Looking back it was perhaps a little unfair of me but I knew Rory and trusted him. However when I got to Honister others had plans unknown to me. Like the cavalry to the rescue, club mates as well as pacers that had already done one or even two legs stepped forward to run the leg. Some had only planned to go the top of Dale Head, or just stop at the road. In the end they all stayed with me to the end.
I set my mind to it, still trying to work out if I could do it. I said to one of my pacers going up Dale Head, “I am not going to do it”. He said “You will complete it” and I said “Not in 24 hours”. He didn’t answer. I just thought to myself, I am not going this far to fail! I dug deeper than ever before, pushing myself as hard as I could. It was now or never. Running in the dark Roy and Rory ran in front route-finding, while John, Shirley, Nigel, Gordon and Andy ran with me, lighting the way and picking the best path, feeding me gels and mint cake. At Robinson one of the pacers shouted “We have 2 hours left to complete, I had pulled back 8 minutes on a 22:30 schedule on the last 3 peaks, and ran in the dark. Instead of losing time as per leg 4 I was pulling time back! !” I had noticed the atmosphere change as we pulled back time with my pacers and the realization that I might complete it after all, you could almost touch the excitement in the air. Next we had the descent off Robinson; this was one part of the Bob that I have never recced. I had done out and back from both ends but not this part of the round. After the rocky bit at the top was cleared we hit the steep grassy slope, I slipped and slid down on the wet grass, I thought this is OK sliding down, it took the weight of my leg which was a relief, and although some of my pacers were concerned I would hit a rock I keep sliding. In the end I must have slid more than I ran down that grass.
Before we got to Robinson I had noticed while running on the grass that it looked like long grass but I knew it was short. I thought it was just shadows and got on with it. Coming down Robinson I thought my head torch was playing up as I had a strange shadow at the bottom of my eyes. Hitting the grass farm track I realized that my eyesight was going. I had a black line like a blind slowly working up my eye cutting down my vision (I had read about the phenomena in a book by a USA Ultra runner, The Confessions Of an All Night Runner. It is caused by lack of a chemical called rhodopsin). I knew I had to reach the gate before the tarmac while I still had some vision because running and picking my way on the rutted farm track while being guided would slow me down too much. I pushed as hard as I could, even telling one of the pacers to get out the way! Once I got to the gate I shouted “My eyesight’s gone! Somebody hold my hand to guide me”. With John holding on to one hand and his partner Shirley holding the other I ran with my eyes shut. I found that after running with my eyes shut for a while the line restricting my vision receded a little, but as I ran with my eyes open it started to come back. I guessed at this point that it wouldn’t be permanent and only a temporary thing.
I got to Newlands Church where I was going to change to my road shoes. Also here waiting were my “road runners”, Andy and Steve. I said “I am not stopping”. I was wearing my old InoV8 318 trail running shoes and knew these were good on the road. I was worried that if I stopped I might cramp up or something else not good would happen and with the end in sight, I just thought keep moving.
Now Andy and Gordon took over guiding me (Gordon lost his wife Helen this year to a brain tumour, so it was apt that he should help guide me home). Somebody said “We have 70 minutes” and I thought then, I can do this! By now Graham and Dave and others from legs already run had joined us. At each hill the lads gave me a commentary - downhill coming, the road’s flat, uphill now! At the first uphills I opened my eyes and said run it or walk it, but after the first two hills I didn’t even open my eyes, I just said run it. We headed down the fenced footpath over the field. Somebody held the gates open for us but with three of us running abreast Andy kept getting nettled, much to Gordon’s amusement. Over the bridge and now a straight run to Moot Hall. Somebody had shouted that we had been clocking 8 minute miles. My brother had only taken up running 10 months ago after I asked if he would pace for me on leg 5. I remember hearing his breathing being labored as he ran behind me on the road, maybe with my eyes shut I was more in tune to my hearing, I checked my own at that point and it seemed as I might as well been walking for how hard I was breathing, if it wasn’t for the splints I surely could have gone faster. Afterwards he said he did a personal best for 5 miles that night running with me, achieving it in 40 minutes, I was pleased for him and hope he keeps to the running as he could be good at it if he tried. So, into the high street I picked up the pace and kicked for the finish, the late night revellers were milling about and I think if any of them had got in the way they would have been lynched by my supporters! Up the steps, kissed the door of Moot Hall, job done. I had pulled another 5 minutes back on the road to give me a time of 23:30 dead. So 42 of the Lake District peaks climb at 48 years old in under 24 hours.
One of my supporters, a man I respect, said “I am proud to call you my mate” that was just reward for me.
Afterwards in the pub somebody said it was like a Rocky film. At Honister I came in out for the count, hardly able to keep my eyes open, my left leg wrecked and my right little better. As I sat on my chair my crew worked on me to get me out for the final round. I was behind on points and the 7 foot Russian was laughing at me. I needed a knockout punch to win. The crowd was going mad cheering me on (my supporters) and I ran myself until blind to knock the Russian out!
The after effects.
In the pub afterwards when I sat down I still had my tracker on in my back shorts pocket. I turned it off and had a pint of orange Juice and lemonade. Rory told me this year was the 25th since the first Annan and District Athletic Club Member completed the BG, the following day I got a message of congratulations off Peter, our first member to complete it. After the pub in the car park I was sick twice and again once we got back to the B&B. I climbed the stairs to our room at the BB then collapsed and asked my wife who she was as she helped me to my feet. One more collapse in the night when I went to the loo.
Because of the shin splints in my left leg, I visited A+E as a precaution (see photo). The doctor shook his head and said "Amazing what the body will do if the mind is determined enough". A week and a half later I still have numb toes. The leg is still swollen but its normal colour, I am icing it as often as I can and although it is painful to walk on it is getting better every day.
My Physio says I got off surprisingly lightly considering what I did but it looks like I could be out of running for 5 weeks. I don’t suppose I can complain as I was happy to pay that price at the end of leg 4. In the week following I had inspired two of my pacers to set a date next May for their own attempt at the Bob Graham Round, also John and Shirley are training for the Joss Nailer Challenge, I will be there for you guys too.
I owe a big debt of gratitude to a lot of people, all my pacers and road supports, members of Annan and District Athletic Club, but I will single out 3 people for a special thank you, Louise, Andy F and Rory.
I thank you all.
Written by Jack Casey - http://jackcaseyrunner.blogspot.fr/
50 miles, 13500ft of ascent. A loop starting and finishing in Keswick, taking in Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw.
11:02, 9th place
As with any race, a huge thanks to the people that make it happen- High Terrain Events for organising a great event, and the marshals out on the route and at feed stations; it would be a lot harder and a lot less enjoyable without people giving up their Sunday mornings to watch you suffer!
|Courtesy of High Terrain Events|
This was my 3rd ultra and first 50 miler, and the biggest elevation profile of any of the races I'd done, so it was always going to be tough and always going to take me a long time. Going in to the race and after a recce weekend, I'd estimated finishing in anything over 10 hours, knowing the winning time on a slightly altered course last year was 8:30. On the full course, Ricky Lightfoot won in just under 9 hours, with Sarah Morwood winning in 10:30 for 1st female and 5th overall: both very impressive athletes.
Training had featured one solid block of 5 weeks of high mileage, high amount of elevation and a good amount of specificity, with a couple of weeks at home in Yorkshire, a training weekend in the Lakes and a couple of weeks on placement in the hills of Abergavenny. Other than that, I'd spent a month in East Africa, getting some running in, ranging from a long run in the heights of Iten, to doing 6x3 minutes up and down the only car-free dirt track I could find in a Kenyan city, so it wasn't exactly consistent. And before that, exams had got in the way and I was confined to running on the flat roads and paths of Cardiff. Still, I felt pretty good going in to the race, especially on uphills.
One of the things that excited me about the race, aside from the stunning course, was that some pretty big names were entered into the race, including Ricky Lightfoot and Donnie Campbell, who have some incredible results internationally. It was exicting to be in the same race as these guys for a few seconds; About 30 seconds into the race and they were out of sight...nice whilst it lasted anyway!
I'd broken down the presumed 10 hours of running into chunks to mentally deal with the distance. Basically, it was a 2 hour run in the dark, a total of about 3 hours climbing, and the last two hours were always going to just be a suffer fest. By these calculations, it was therefore only a 3 hour run, which is less than my weekly long run, so it was pretty straightforward really!
The first couple of hours passed with the help of a couple of guys; one of them, Matt, had his dog with him- she ran the whole race and when I saw them at the finish line she looked like she'd barely done anything and was ready to go all over again. For comparison, my black labrador has inadvertently been conditioned to hide from me when she sees me in running shorts, such is her fear of hill repeats, so I'm a fair bit envious of this!
The section in the dark was one of my favourite parts of the race. I knew the section well so didn't have to worry about the terrain, and I think it being dark allowed the time to pass by and before I knew it, we were nearly 2 hours in. It also meant I didn't get sucked into looking at the mileage- I knew roughly the mileage of each point of the course, but I actually didn't look at the distance on my watch at all during the race. (If that makes you wonder why I even bothered using a watch, then you clearly don't have Strava- after all, if it ain't on Strava...). I turned my headtorch off on the climb towards Scafell Pike, and got into a decent rhythm climbing upwards. The gap to the guys ahead wasn't changing, and although a couple of runners behind me were getting a bit closer, I was in no rush. I had no idea what position I was even in, and deliberately didn't want to know- I found out shortly before the climb to High Raise that I was in 8th- I don't think my position altered by 3 places all race, so in general my pacing was fairly consistent- I've just got to get enough strength in the legs to actually attack in the last 10 miles of a race and try and move up the rankings. Small steps, though. (Or bigger steps in a quicker stride).
A couple of runners I spoke to after the race said they think the descent to Wythburn is one of their favourite bits of the route. I'm clearly not as sadistic as these guys, as I didn't enjoy any of it! On paper, it's a rolling 4 mile descent after the first major climb, so should be fun, but I think the bog makes it frustratingly slow, with every step forward also being a foot down into the soggy ground. Coming from Yorkshire and living in Wales I'm used to these conditions, but it doesn't mean I have to like them!
I knew from running parts of the course previously that this was the hardest bit underfoot, and that it marked the half way point of the course, so I felt after a beast of a climb up High Raise and then a boggy descent that it was all downhill from there to the finish, psychologically anyway. In reality, what that part actually marked was the start of a very very big uphill- switchbacks lead you all the way up to Helvellyn in just a couple of kilometres. Still, ultra running is all in the mind!
Since Scafell Pike I'd been running in 8th or 9th, in the middle of a group of 6. For a good 20 miles or so, I was continually within eyesight of 4th place, a few minutes ahead, and no more than a few minutes ahead of 10th place. It stayed this way for most of the ridge running along the Dodds, though maybe 4th and 5th had pulled away by the time we got to Clough Head. The gradient of the descent off Clough Head is ridiculous at nearly 50% in places, so you've just got to let gravity do the work for you and hope you make it down with your quads intact.
From there, there's a few miles of flat running before the climb up to the checkpoint at Latrigg at mile 38. I'd agreed to meet Chloe, my mum and my dogs here, just in case I needed some moral support at this point. I'd roughly worked out I would be passing through this point at 8 hours, and ended up passing through in 8.15- not bad estimations on my part! Obviously, British politeness made sure that the first thing I did was apologise for being late! At this point, if we turned left and down the hill into Keswick, we'd be done and finished in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the reality was that we had to complete a 12 mile loop of Skiddaw beforehand.
The first few miles of this loop were horrible, all ran at a gradual incline- Chloe said she could see it in my face when I looked at the path that I really didn't look like I wanted to go that way. On fresh legs it would have felt like a nice easy jog on smooth easy terrain. On tired and battered legs, it's a completely different story. The final steep slog up to Skiddaw was slower than I would have liked, but I still felt like I had a good rhythm going up. By this point I'd been running in 9th place for nearly half the race, and was still running with an equal gap to the runner ahead and behind. I was almost convinced it would stay like this, so it was actually a surprise when I caught the guy ahead of me, who had a low spot just after the top of Skiddaw and stopped. I stopped to check he was OK and if there was anything he needed (he said he'd run out of water but unfortunately so had I as I'd accidentally left a bottle at the last aid station, so couldn't help) and I was surprised to find myself suddenly in 8th. That position lasted about 5 minutes, however, as the runner who had previously been in 10th finished impressively on the final descent and overtook me just before Latrigg. I felt reasonable coming off Skiddaw, but a fairly innocuous collision with a stone on Scafell Pike was finally taking its toll on my big toe nail and I could feel it separating from the nail bed, which made for a fairly painful last few miles on the downhills.
The final mile into town from Latrigg was straightforward. I passed Sarah Morwood walking the other way having finished, and appreciated her cheer of support as I rounded the last corner and in to the finish line at Moot Hall. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how the race went, as it isn't the easiest race to make your first 50 miler. I'd quietly hoped for a finish in and around the top 10, and I never had any real dark moments during the race, so I definitely think I am managing the mental side of ultras better with every race- there was no point during the race where I felt like I wouldn't get across the finish line, and I think each race I finish breeds confidence going into the next one.
Next for me now is a short break, then a winter of hard training in the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons, with a few shorter races thrown in, then my next ultra should be the Kathmandu 50km next spring, during an 8 week stay in Nepal...if that doesn't make me better at going up and down mountains, then nothing will!
Written by Caroline Gilby - http://runningawayfromthebigc.wordpress.com/
Sometime around my birthday, the idea of running 50 miles in the year I turned 50 popped into my head. I had actually attempted to walk 50 miles earlier that year on a scout challenge hike in February, and bailed at 34 miles. Circumstances were against us that day, and I say us because it was a team challenge and no team, no finish. I had spent the previous fortnight on antibiotics for a chest infection, my husband was in hospital on a drip, another team member was nursing a long term knee injury and then a broken head torch early in the night section finally did for us. So definitely unfinished business.
I picked the Apocalypse 50 because it was in nice part of the country (the Shropshire Hills) and I thought May would be a good time of year to tackle an ultra. I guess the name should have warned me – not the easiest 50 miler I could have chosen with 2,600m of climb on rough tracks and self navigation to deal with too. Training did not go quite according to plan – long runs never went over 20 miles in spite of best laid plans – but I did manage several weeks of 50 to 60 miles until I crocked my calf muscle so badly I couldn’t run 50 metres, just 4 weeks before the big day. I took this as my body’s way of telling me to taper and actually rested (well stopped running for a bit). Milton Keynes Half on 5th May was decision time. In spite of my doubts, I finished this in my third best ever time for a half marathon, setting a new age group club record (1.40.21), so it was time to book a B&B in Church Stretton.
For most people, a sunny weekend in May is a cause for celebration, and an excuse to burn meat on the BBQ, but I watched the weather forecast with increasing trepidation as Saturday 17th May drew nearer. I’m northern and never did cope well with the heat, but one of the crap side effects of my cancer drugs is hot flushes, and ironically these are so much worse when it’s warm. But as my husband pointed out this race would only be as long as I wanted to make it, so off we went to the start at Carding Valley Mill.
Just after 9 am, we set off on a stony slog up towards Shooting Box and then Polebank for the first check point. Everyone else looked super fit and hard as nails, and I was sure I would be last, if I even made it. It turns out that ultra runners are friendly breed and tend to be running slowly enough to chat on the way round, and even if it was the hottest day of the year so far, this meant the views were fantastic. Corndon Hill was the next high point with a very steep drop off the side and my quads were already complaining. The course was cleverly designed with loops for each of the four Horsemen ( though I was only running two of these) and it was a nice boost to see my husband at checkpoint 6 (19 miles) with homemade flapjack in hand. Next came a ten mile stagger over the ankle twisting terrain of Stiperstones, but by now I had found myself running with a great guy called Andy, who happened to be running around my pace. All those regular girly gossip runs I do came into their own – I always say that if you can’t talk and run you are going too fast. We met an Italian guy Camino hoping to do the 100 along this stretch but by Pulverbank, we were all struggling with heat and had drunk all our water. We happened upon a handy pub, where the landlord greeted us with a hint of admiration, tinged with the clear belief that we were utterly bonkers. This kept us going until checkpoint 7, the Red Lion, at 30 miles came into sight. First aid ( aka husband) repaired my blistered feet as best he could, while I chugged down iced apple juice, more flapjack, banana and a double espresso. I thought leaving the 30 mile checkpoint would be the turning point – if I set off on the next leg there was a good chance I would make it. Mile 30 to 40 involved quite a bit of road work, plodding along quiet country lanes and across fields. We made our first nav error on this bit as unhelpfully the route was marked in green on the course map – exactly the same shade as woodland. Ten minutes later, we realised the road in front of us was too main and got ourselves back on course to face a steep climb up Earl’s hill, and then another quad-wrenching drop back down. We thought we were only a mile or two from the pub for our next checkpoint – but what endless miles. Only another 10 miles to go. Salty chips and couple of mouthfuls of cider fortified me this time, and Andy and I set off again with the aim of trying to get back to the finish in daylight. Our next nav error cost us a few minutes while we tried to work out if “opposite field corner” meant diagonally across the field or straight on. I persuaded Andy to retrace our steps rather than scramble over fences, ditches and brambles, and we were back on course. By now it was a question of one foot in front of the other till we got there and our running pace had slowed to a shuffle, but we kept moving forward ( though I must admit my co-ordination with opening gates was failing) and the joint navigation effort helped us not get lost. Back on the moorland, light was failing but rather than stop for head torches we actually picked up pace, hurtling down the steep rocky track back to Carding Valley Mill, trusting to luck as I really couldn’t see where my feet were going. We crossed the finish in 12 hours and 44 minutes for joint 11th place, and even more to my surprise, I was handed the trophy for first female finisher. So 50 at 50 – done
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