Saturday

| 2015 | 06 | 27 | my first ultra |

Myself and Ross have been preparing for this race for months now. It wasn't our first choice - we originally wanted to participate in the 180 mile MTB race - but my graduation got in the way. Instead we had to settle for this, and I'm kind of glad we did.

Genuinely, this is the culmination of just over 6 months of training, planning and quite a few tears. 

The photo below was taken at around 6.30am (awake since 4). Please excuse the lack of face. I couldn't bring myself to contour at 5am.





Our fitness.
I think Ross would agree with me - we have never been better prepared for anything. We were both injury free, fit, mentally strong and had all the pre-requisite kit.

My only criticism for both of us would be lack of running. We aren't primarily runners, so running was an 'add on', rather than our training to then be supplemented. Our longest runs were around the 20-25 mile mark, and we instead had spent a lot of time in the gym doing squats, deadlifts and all other types of strength training ( + yoga).

To be honest though, I think if we hadn't built up that muscle strength, we wouldn't have even stood a chance. But I have a feeling this lack of running left us open to injury...

The day before.
We drove to Carlisle late afternoon and got registered. It was starting to sink in how real it all was when we started to see some of the other runners. They looked like real runners. We turned up in double denim and were pasty white (which I take to be an indicator that we spend our time indoors rather than running) in contrast to their weather beaten slender frames.

Dinner was meant to be a fairly carb heavy affair (Ross got steak...) before an early night. Alarms were set for 4am.

Pace
We wanted to stick to 4mph average as much as possible. Whilst that seems fairly slow, that would give us a finishing time of 17ish hours. The hills are what drags the average down, you physically can't take them fast.

Plan
Little bit of winging it never hurt anyone. We were going to see what everyone else did for the first stage and then throw our own plan into the mix. Most importantly we needed to eat regularly and drink sufficiently to just keep plodding. There would be absolutely no running uphill, and attention paid to any niggles or hotspots. 

Race day.
4am - I could hear my alarm bleeping from the other side of the room, but I was in no rush to turn it off. A strong coffee later I was counting out my gels for the first leg (15 miles) and double checking my mandatory kit. On top of that, I was carrying various medical items (many, many blister plasters, painkillers and tape) and the outer layers required to satisfy the kit checks.

The weather was overcast, quite warm and threatening to rain. Best bit though - no wind. 

6am - leaving the hotel. That was the last of any form of comfort for the next 24 hours. I wished I could take it all with me and slide back into bed. I was tired already. We arrived at Carlisle Castle and had nothing more to do than wait. Everyone was nervous, you could feel it in the air. No one was talking - the three of us (plus my mum remember) were probably providing the most commotion there.

7am - we were off. That was it for the next however many hours. It was the strangest start, no one was in any rush to get running, more of a stroll out of the gates and down the road. Slowly, the pace was raised to a trot, but there was little sign of spreading out which was actually quite nice. I guess, if you're only running 0.1mph faster, it's going to take a little while to get ahead. 

Stage 1 - 15 miles
For the first few hours we were ridiculously excited.

Ross - 'I feel like a knight marching to battle. In Newcastle - castle get it?! I have all my kit. I love having a back pack. I'm really cool. I have a snap back!'

 I genuinely believe we have annoyed more competitors during our 16 races than we realise and we're sufficiently recognisable to be identified again. But I do know that we've helped many people finish races they didn't think were possible - so there's an upside to our noise, I guess.

It soon became apparent the 'yo yo' nature of the pack. There were around 6 groups cycling through. I insisted on saying hi to everyone. Ross gets cross when I talk to strangers cause he thinks they want to join our gang and he doesn't like more people to make nice with.

We settled. Every half hour we had our gels. Every hour we had a short walk to sort out any niggles and issues with bag straps. As always it fell to me to sort out timings and pace - but that's okay because Ross gets confused and counts backwards. 

We had our first argument which I guess got out of hand. It was over who's b**** the hill was, whether or not trees had it easy and how many gels we'd actually eaten. We even stopped at one point and had a full on row over if we were running up or downhill ('don't make me get my marble out Ross!) before laughing, and just running - still not sure whether we were going up or down. [ It was up. Ross claims that by living in one of the flattest parts of the country he's not particularly accustomed to ground that changes altitude].


The ten mile mark came sooner than we expected, but there was a horrible hilly section not long after - because we hadn't dealt with any of those before. Eventually (I was approximating timings) I decided we had a mile to go before the first stop and it didn't take long to see the fluorescent marker sign. 

My mum was waiting with a hug and a big grin. One stop down. 4 to go.

Stage 2 - 17 miles
We left the pit-stop full of sandwiches and bananas. Trevor may have overslept and hadn't quite made it, but we were just happy to be out there, and running. There were already some unhappy individuals and I just wanted to pick them all up and carry them with us. No man left behind.

We hit another set of horrible hills almost immediately. Aware that we had to last 17 miles, we took it steady, still managing to overtake some strugglers, but not pushing too hard. 

As we neared the end of that section, conversation turned to the distinct possibility we could actually do it. We had a long conversation about how even then, at mile 30, we'd come further than we'd ever imagined. That first spartan race felt so long ago, our body's nowhere near their current state and the idea of running more than 10 miles a distant dream ('I used to be such a roll filled lump of lard' may have been uttered by one of us).

Honestly, we were still having fun at mile 30. We made a pact to cross the line (or something similar)... who knows. Maybe we jinxed it.



It got hot. The sun broke through the cloud cover that had been with us since the beginning, and with it, the temperature rose. 

I turned to Ross and grunted 'hot', to which he replied 'Ross hot'. Then a little bit later 'drink now'.

'Tasty'.

It was around 400m down the road that we both started laughing. One word sentences were all we could muster, and this lasted for around half an hour. The hills were starting to hurt, and we watched more than one competitor stop, turn around and head back down (towards the nearest checkpoint). It's sad to watch someone give up - you just hope it won't have to be you.

Ross ran out of water on a long downhill jog, and I wasn't far off. Having to ration fluid intake adds another mental burden to an already complex set of maths and approximations. The gels were starting to make us feel sick and I just wanted to have a quick lie down. For a few hours.

We turned one final corner and could see the next pit stop in the distance. I have never been so excited to see a tent. We were greeted by a lovely man who insisted on serving us soup, sandwiches and sweets. I could have hugged him. I ate around 6 freddos (proven runner fuel) and packed a load of haribo for later on. Free food.

By this point Trevor had managed to catch us up, and he and Mum waved us off. This was a big deal, from here on in it was a complete unknown.

Stage 3 - 13 miles
I could feel something wasn't right as soon as we left Vindolanda (the pit stop), but I was stubbornly ignoring things and enjoying myself. The sun was finally fully out; myself and Ross had filled up on a various assortment of carbohydrates and we couldn't see a reason to stop. We'd even whacked out the iPods and were throwing around some incredible dance moves (an unfortunate side effect of it being half way down a packed bag is the inability to change songs. As a result I got stuck on a two hour dubstep mix....). The hill we were climbing was supposedly one of the worst, but it wasn't proving too much of a struggle. After a mile and a bit the top was in sight (I was still throwing my sweets everywhere) and it began to level out.


Still climbing, I noticed a much sharper twinge in my right foot. It was intermittent and not too much of a problem (the pain in my quads was still the worst) so we just kept pushing on. Eventually catching Ross 2 (another competitor called Ross), and the three of us settled into a good pace, waiting for the inevitable downhill section.

Ross gave me the nod and we picked up pace, the horrifically heavy plod jarring every joint and muscle. I started to notice the pain in my foot again, and this time it was getting worse. One particular step was awful and stopped my in my tracks. This was at mile 35. I took a deep breath and kept on going, adamant the pain would go away. 

For two miles I bit my lip and carried on. I didn't want to stop. Looking back I don't know what the hell I was doing. You shouldn't ignore that kind of pain, but there was only particularly nasty step that took my breath away.

By that point I'd run 37 miles. I knew I could finish if my foot just eased up a bit. The tears started involuntarily running down my face - and the pain intensified further. I just couldn't go on. Suddenly, everything came crashing down. The prospect of another 3 hours until the next pit stop was inconceivable - let alone 24 miles after that.

I called mum (as you do in times of need) and she told me to sit down, massage it a bit and try again. Unfortunately when I stood back again it was worse. I looked like a bedraggled, limping hippo; stubbornly crying and frowning.

I got pulled out. There was no way they would let me carry on. The minibus drive was horrible. It was full of tearful runners (two were being sick) and you could just feel the disappointment. That was not a fun job for that driver.

Being split from Ross was heartbreaking. We were a team and unfairly unable to finish the race together. 

It was an awful contrast to the conversation we had made in the stage before. It suddenly hit me very hard that for me, the race was over. I couldn't will this one to go away. I couldn't close my eyes and ignore it. It was too much. I genuinely stomped my feet in frustration; I was probably having the worst year in terms of racing possible, and the best with regard to my training. My fitness was so ready but it was never my day.

I was reunited with my Mum and Trevor at Hexham, and all we could do was wait.

And that's where my ultramarathon effort ended.
Ross went on to finish. Please understand that whilst I'm incredibly proud of him - it's still quite painful to talk about. I felt bad when he rang his mum to tell her about the race and I started crying.

Ross's account of the bit I missed
'I moaned like a god damn pansy until I got to Newcastle. Then my legs broke. Then I slept and moaned some more because I'm a princess. I never want to run without Sophie ever again because she's so awesome.'


What I learnt.
One day I want to be able to not have to learn from my mistakes and just cross the damn line. But that's only going to happen when we stop entering stupidly difficult races and turn up underprepared and over-confident. 


My heart drops every time I think of how I didn't finish, how I had to be pulled off the course (probably literally kicking and screaming) and how Ross got the medal I so desperately wanted. 

It's just made me want it more though. I want to get out there and run - but I'm currently confined to the limits of my pain threshold and my crutches. 

Sunday

| 2015 | 06 | 21 | the ultra marathon in brief |

I'm going to be posting a much more in depth account of my experiences, but I just wanted to jot a few things down now because I have seriously been neglecting my blog...

My ultramarathon attempt was thwarted by injury alone. I was still skipping at mile 37 (to the annoyance of all the tired people around me) and having a blast. Making the phone call to be picked up was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But it was the right decision.




- I'm okay. I lived to tell the tale (and wow what a tale)

- I'm struggling to experience both happiness and disappointment at the same time. So if I seem elated one minute, I could easily turn to tears the next. Bear with me.

- My foot is excruciating, which is devastating because all I want to do is run (but also because I can't walk and it hurts).

- I met some of the most amazing and interesting people out there.

- Sitting here blister free with only a slight niggle in my calf (aside from my foot) it's dawning on me that I'm going to have to start running longer distances....

So. I ran my own ultra marathon this weekend. I didn't get a medal, I didn't get to experience running at night (I was so so excited to use my head torch, so if you see me running round town with it on - you know why) and I didn't run a stupid distance. Just a fairly average one.