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