The Wall Ultramarathon 69 miles – 23rd June 2012

On Saturday 23rd June 2012 I ran the furthest I have ever run, 69 miles and 4,700ft of altitude, and I did it in my Luna Leadville Pacer Sandals (https://www.lunasandals.com/), and with the weather on that day they turned out to be the best footwear choice I could have made.

The race was called “The Wall” (http://thewallrun.com/) and was a 69 mile Ultra marathon along Hadrians Wall, a 2,000 year old wall which was the most northerly permanent component of the Roman empire.

(The race finished in the middle of Newcastle but alas my garmin battery died after 20 hours)

I set off from Kings Cross station on the day before, nervous and wishing I had some “magic” to help me complete the distance, but alas this is as close as I got (Harry Potter fans will understand).

The start was from Carlisle Castle at 7am on Saturday (there was another start 1 hr later for those runners completing the race in 2 days, but the thought of running 32 miles, camping, and then getting up next day knowing I had another 37 miles to run didn’t appeal!).

I was staying at a hotel close to the castle so after a light dinner (no exotic or spicy food for me that evening…….) I headed up to bed after setting 4 alarms on my iPhone and booking a hotel call for 5:30am (they had laid on an early breakfast for 6am as there were quite a few runners staying).

RRRRRRRRRiiinnngggggg

Ugh, my various alarms went off and I pulled back the curtains to see …….. rain!

I showered (whilst thinking why am I doing this, I’m going to be getting wet for the next 20-24 hrs?) dressed and went down for some toast & tea.

The topic of conversation amongst the runners was….you guessed rain, and what to wear / carry.

On return to my room I surveyed my 3 bags, my running rucsac, my drop bag, roller bag.

I was running in my Luna Leadville Pacer sandals (traditional leather laces), shorts and a short & long sleeved technical top with my OMM waterproof on top. I was in trouble if it did stop raining as I had nowhere to put all this stuff as my bag was already full!

My running rucsac had food (Clif Shot Bloks & Clif bars), 2 litles of Nuun in my Camelbak, mandatory first aid and safety kit, spare warm top and waterproof trousers for when I get cold in the early hours. I had also packed my headtorch, just in case my drop bag (with spare clothes and more food) didn’t make it to the halfway pitstop at Vindolanda. I was also carrying a pair of Mountain King “Trail Blaze” running poles (http://www.mountainking.co.uk/) which were so light I intended to run with them folded in one hand, getting them out for any steep climbs (I did an ultra earlier in the year where I was picking up bits of wood to help me up steep climbs in a forest, so I was not doing that again) and when I slow to a walk for the latter stages of the run.

I grabbed my bags and headed down to the start at Carlisle Castle.

It was pretty miserable at the start with around 200 people (around 200 are running it in 1 day and 600 are running over 2 days) muttering about the rain and unpacking waterproofs.

Fortunately I had bought my Aquapac waterproof iPhone case so I should be able to take pictures, even if the quality is sometimes not that hot (see below).

As usual I got lots of strange looks due to my footwear, but I did see one person in VFFs.

The start was delayed for around 20 minutes but we eventually got under way (after some “stuff our lawyers make us say” type talks by the organisers) by around 7:20am.

The first few miles wind around streets and parks next to the river, which I got my first inkling as to what was in store. Water, lots of water. The river had flooded (and was about to break its banks again), the result of which was all the paths near the river were under 8-9 inches of water.

I had great delight in running through these flooded areas whilst all “shod” runners queued and tried to thread their way around the water trying not to get their clean trainers and socks wet.

It wasn’t long before the looks of puzzlement at my strange footwear turned into looks of envy as I ran through the water, shook my feet dry, and continued running on the paths (accompanied by cries of “stop rubbing it in!” ).

Here are a few videos taken during the run.

My nutrition and fluids seemed to work well (I was drinking about 0.7 litre per hour and eating 6 shot bloks per hour) from all indications (I’ll avoid further details you’ll be glad to hear).

In the latter stages when the paths were alongside the river we were wading knee deep through the flooding (when we told the staff at the next aid station they said that the first runners through earlier in the day had to wade through water waist deep!). I was almost using my poles as a depth gauge as knee deep water was ok but I didn’t want a swim.

I managed to last until 10pm before I had to get out my headtorch at which point I put on my warm top as I was slowing down and starting to get a bit cold.

I reached the 62 mile pit stop at around 3:00am by which time I was consuming anything with caffeine in (Gu’s, shot bloks I mean anything to stay awake). I had a wonderful slab of chocolate flapjack and nearly fell of the chair with sugar rush. In fact I really did fall off the chair(I think I fell asleep for a second before the sugar hit). A quick cup of tea and then I and another runner who was continuing (we left several “youngsters” behind who were dropping out) left together to cover the last 7 miles that seem to take forever. Boy was I glad I had poles now.

It even started raining again as the sun came up so I stopped to put on the waterproof trousers to fight off the cold for a few more miles. It was ironic that the warmest part of my were my feet, and they were bare!

I crossed the finish line in Newcastle at just after 6am, exhausted, hungry but grinning from ear to ear at what I had accomplished, and very impressed with the organisers of the event (http://www.ratrace.com/run/) who had to cope with some appalling conditions on their first Ultramarathon along “The Wall”.

Now this event was entered with one objective in mind, to prove that I can run over 50 miles, and why? Because I want to travel to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico to run the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (CCUM) in March 2013 (made famous in Chris McDougall’s book “Born to Run”).

I met the main character in the book “Caballo Blanco” in London last year and he referred to me as the “2013 guy” (he tried to get me to run it in 2012 but I declined as I needed more training). Regrettably Caballo Blanco (Micah True) died whilst running trails several months ago, making it likely that the event in 2013 will turn into a celebration of his life, the native Tarahumara people and place that he loved.

Now to sell the idea to my Wife…………

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Last 8 mile run before Ultra and an admirer with antlers – 19th June 2012

So here we are at last, my last training run before my ultra on Saturday.

My Ultra kit is now in piles on the bedroom floor waiting to be sorted into:

  • What I’m running in on Sat
  • What is going in my drop bag
  • Everything else

So once I’d extracted enough gear to wear for my last training run I got a lift with Theresa who was taking Oliver to Scouts (I’d have to end up back home afterwards to get the car to go and pick him up later).

Outside Bushy park I checked my Luna laces, grabbed my bottle of Nuun and headed off into the park.

I had run perhaps half a mile before I saw a herd of deer near the path and as they all had velvet covered antlers I stopped to take a photo.

Whilst I was getting my iPhone out one of them took an interest in me and started to wander over. I stood my ground for a bit until I took the following photo and then carried on running as I didn’t want it to turn into a fartlek session pursued by something with antlers!

They are beautiful creatures.

It was a lovely evening which made me think about the advance weather forecast for the location of the Ultra. Basically it sucks.

To quote the BBC Weather website for Carlisle where the run starts:

“Further rain or showers are likely during the weekend, some heavy with a risk of thunder. Temperatures remaining below average.”

So pretty much my entire run was spent wondering if I was I fully prepared for running in waterproofs, do I need to change anything, shall I start in Luna’s and carry my VFF KSO Trek, or start in VFFs and carry Luna’s, do I need a warmer top as a spare, should I put more stuff in my drop bag etc etc?

It would be such a shame if it is raining as it won’t do the scenery justice, in fact as most of it is exposed it is more likely to be horizontal rain, in which case I won’t see much at all.

Fingers crossed the weather guys have got it wrong, after all they have before (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Storm_of_1987).

Anyway back to my run, it was a gentle run round Bushy at around 10:20 min/mile just to stretch my legs, admire the scenery and (as you can see above) not fret too much about the impending Ultra.

I was shaken out of my musings by a female runner heading towards me at some speed. Judging by her form and physique (and six pack!) she was probably in one of the Olympic teams training at St. Mary’s college round the corner. She was certainly fit (in both meanings of the word).

I reached Teddington Gate and headed back home by road, sorry to leave the scenery of the park and now my thoughts turning to Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richmond – Kingston 12 mile circuit run – 17th June 2012

Well it’s Fathers Day today and after what seems like days of non stop rain and high winds we have sunshine this morning, so I’m off for a run.

I decided on my usual midweek run of Twickenham to Richmond along the Thames, cross the river and back along the other bank to Teddington Lock, except this time I’ll carry on to Kingston bridge, cross the river and return home via Bushy Park. Should be around 12-13 miles.

I tied on my Luna’s as usual, grabbed shot bloks and a bottle of Nuun and set off.

The view across to Richmond Hill was impressive.

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I reached Richmond Bridge, crossed over the river and turned right and started along the other bank towards Kingston.

The rowers were out in force and You can see a 4 just in front of Marble Hill house, an 18th century villa in 66 acres built by King George II for his mistress Henrietta Howard.

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I carried on along the path running easily at around 10:15 min/ mile before reaching Ham House a 17th century house supposedly haunted.

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I had run this path several days earlier in the dark so was surprised to see a tree had fallen and been cut up to clear the path. It shows how windy it had been.

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As you can see by my Camelbak bottle on top it was a fair sized tree and a real shame.

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I crossed back over Kingston bridge and joined the parkrun course in Bushy park at about half way, but running it in reverse taking me round to Teddington Gate.

The last few miles along streets were a poor substitute for the great trails I had been running along the river.

One more training run left before ‘The Wall’ ultra on Saturday.

Richmond – Teddington Lock circuit 10 mile run – 13th June 2012

It was 9pm last night before I got out of the house for a run, so it was back to using my head torch again. Oh well I may end up having to use it on my ultra if I slow up too much in the latter stages, anyway so good practice.

I wore my Camelbak, more to carry my waterproof as the sky still looked like it could decide to rain at some time in the next 2 hours. Stuck some tape on the top of my feet (to prevent knot rubbing), tied on my Luna’s grabbed a bottle of Nuun and set out.

I was doing my 10 mile circuit, through Crane Park, along the river to Richmond, over the bridge and back along the river to Teddington Lock where I cross back again and then head back home through Teddington.

I was aiming for around 10:00 – 10:20 min/mile pace which I seem to settle into almost without thinking these days. That level of “autopilot”  is what I’m going to need a week on Saturday if I’m to run farther than I have ever run before, 69 miles!

As it was starting to get dark I wasn’t listening to my usual diet of running podcasts (UltraRunnerPodcast, Trail Runner Nation, Talk Ultra) , though I reckon I can recite Sunny Blende’s (from Chris McDougall’s “Born to Run” book) nutrition interviews (http://www.eat4fitness.com/) on running Ultra’s from memory!

I saw a couple of runners on the way to Richmond, but none after that point as it was getting dark and the path to Teddington is very dark in places and wooded. I was grateful for the incredible light from my headtorch (http://silva.se/products/sport/trail-runner) which gives a powerful central beam and 2 wide side beams which is very useful when you need to see outside of the usual “light tunnel” you get with some lights.

Alas the river had been high recently (and we’ve had lots of rain) so I was having to negotiate my way round lots of mud & puddles, trying to keep from getting mud between my feet and my sandals, as it is the one thing that makes running in them nigh on impossible, as you just slip and slide around on top of the sandal. It is the one reason I will be doing the ultra with my pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek in my pack, just as a backup in case my Luna Sandals become unwearable due to mud.

Don’t get me wrong I love my Luna’s, and have done trail runs where I have had to run through mud, but I’ve been able to wash off the mud quickly by standing in a puddle (boy do you get some funny looks) or using cups at a water station to wash your feet clean (funny looks there too), but if it is just miles of muddy trails then I’ll switch to VFFs.

I finally got home at 10:45pm, hungry (only had 2 shot bloks) but feeling like I could keep on running.

One week tomorrow I’ll be on the train to Carlisle (I’m taking the slow scenic route over what is considered the most scenic railway in england, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Settle-Carlisle_Line), starting The Wall 69 mile Ultra at 7:00am the next day.

Only a week to go, almost time to start laying out my running gear!

Chelsea to Barnes Bridge and back 14 mile Thames Path run – 10th June 1012

Having dropped Sam off at judo I had around 2.5 hours to kill so I headed off over the River Thames to join the Thames Path towards Barnes. I reckoned I’d be able to get to Barnes Bridge before it would be time to turn back which would give me a good total run of around 14 miles.

It was quite warm, though rain was forecast later. There was more runners than normal on the trail, probably due to the expected weather later.

A surprise, I passed a runner going the other way and we both smiled, pointed at each others footwear and exclaimed ‘nice sandals’, yes we were both running in Barefoot Ted’s (BFT) Luna Sandals! It was the first time I have seen anyone in the UK wearing them. I shouted to him that BFT is in London later this month and we both headed off our separate ways.

I was carrying my Camelbak and was determined to drink my 2 litres of Nuun during the run, along with eating a few Shot Bloks.

My Ultra is 2 weeks away and I’m starting to taper my run distances, 10-15 miles on Sundays and 2×10 mile runs in the week.

Today was a test of the ASICS Trail (lots of storage for food and non slick shoulder tops) top I intend to run the ultra in, so it was good not to find any issues with it.

I finally got to Barnes Bridge and turned around opposite the composer Gustav Holst’s house (according to the blue plaque).

A lot more people had come out for a Sunday walk along the river by this time so I had a lot of dodging and weaving around people trying to walk whilst ready Sunday papers and buggies.

I finally crossed back over the river and made my way back to the car, 14 miles completed and only one more 14 ish mile run next Sunday before the ultra.

I’m fighting the temptation to start laying my running kit out on the floor and deciding what goes in my running rucksack and what goes in the drop bag. Tomorrow I’ll stock up on my nutrition for the race, Clif Shot Bloks and Clif Bars.

I’m starting to suffer from surpressed excitement!

Richmond – Teddington 10 mile circuit – 7th June 2012

Having woke up early and planning to work at home today I grabbed a bottle, tied on my Luna’s and headed out the door to get in a 10 mile run before sitting down to work at 9am.

It had rained during the night hence the ground was still wet so I was wondering how wet and muddy the path would be once I crossed over the river at Richmond and headed back to Teddington.

The roads were getting busy with commuters on their way to work with dozens of them hurrying to Twickenham station, most of which were oblivious to a runner in a bright orange top trying to thread his way between them.

I was soon running alongside the river by Marble Hill park with only the odd cyclist avoiding the traffic and cycling to Richmond station along the river.

A lot of sticks had been washed up on to the path which indicated it was a high tide last night, so I could well be dodging muddy sections after Richmond Bridge as the section of the path from Richmond to Teddington lock can flood quite badly.

I crossed over the bridge and turned right on to the Thames Path and avoided the very rocky path (I don’t want to break a toe at this point in my training by stubbing my foot on a rock) by hopping into Petersham Meadows and using the grass path on the photo below, and continuing the path off to the left towards 17th century Ham House (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house/) which is visible from the path.

I was still averaging around 10:30 min/mile which is slightly faster than my intended ultra speed (aiming for around 11:00 min/mile) but it was still very comfortable and felt like I could keep it up for hours , which is just as well really.

Having avoided quite a number of flooded sections of path I reached Teddington Lock and crossed over the river where I could see some of the boats that took part in the Queens Jubilee pageant, generally in the Dunkirk little ships category.

I headed back along the pavement through Teddington and back home after an enjoyable 1:45 minute run.

Same again on Sunday I think, tide permitting.

Bushy 11 mile training run – 4th June 2012

With the combination of the Queens Diamond Jubilee weekend activities and starting my taper I didn’t do my usual 20 miles on Sunday, and instead opted for an 11 mile on Monday morning as it was a Public Holiday (thanks HRH). I’ll probably drop my mileage down to 3 x 10 mile runs (two during the week and one on Sunday) for the next 2 weeks but still keep my Kettle bell sessions up to work on my quads for the hills!

It was nice doing my Bushy run in the morning for a change, and I saw more runners than usual as Thames Triathlon were running a Triathlon with the Cycling,Pool, Running changeover being Hampton outdoor pool. Hence the stream of cyclists turning into the entrance and wet runners exiting.

Bushy was fairly quiet, with just the Britmilfit people running about in their coloured teams doing press-ups etc. I ran part of the parkrun course but then went off on paths to get in the extra miles. My Luna’s were great as usual, although I forgot the tape on the top of my foot (I sometimes get the skin under the knot rubbed off) I had no problems. I will tape the top of my feet for the Ultra however.

The deer looked impressive with their “velvet” covered antlers getting quite large.

My 1 litre of Nuun just about lasted and I didn’t have to take any bloks during my 2 hour run, but I will during the Ultra.

Next run will be a 10 miler on Thursday night I expect.