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…………

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.

Paris EcoTrail 80k Ultra – 24th March 2012

Well its finally here, my first Trail Ultra.

Having already entered a trail ultra (69 miles) running the length of Hadrians Wall in June 2012 I found this one in Paris that looked challenging (alas I didn’t realise how) and incorporated running through some great countryside. A great test to see what I need to improve for the run in June, and would give me 3 months to fix it!

I flew into Paris on Friday afternoon, picked up my number and headed to my hotel that was a couple of Metro (underground) stops from the Eiffel Tower (crawling distance).

The next morning I joined the train by the Eiffel Tower and headed out to Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines south west of Paris and the end of the C7 RER line, along with a few thousand other runners.

I knew it was going to be pretty hilly, but little did I realise exactly how hilly!

I got to the start with a couple of hours to go found a comfortable tree to sit against and sat back in the sunshine to watch runners arriving and the final preparations for the race unfold.

The important stuff is in the following video:

Breakfast at the start

I had been undecided as to whether to wear my Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek or Luna Sandals for the race, but decided to wear Luna Sandals, but with socks to give me a bit of protection from nettles etc as I didn’t really know how rough the trail would be.

Getting ready

The Start

I was carrying a Camelbak with 2 litres of water and other mandatory kit (waterproof, warm top, headtorch, food etc) and had decided on a fuelling strategy of 1 Shot Blok every mile which would at least give me around 200 calories an hour (you can only absorb around 240 cals an hour anyway) as against the 600 cals I was probably burning. That should hopefully stop me bonking, and not cause any stomach “distress” (polite term).

22k Aid Station

Now the bad news, alas I got to Meudon at 50k and was timed out as I had missed the cutoff by 30 minutes! I had been watching my time closely but the hills had really killed my quads, they were so steep that not only did I have to walk up them (expected) but I had to carefully walk down them as well using even more time and hammering my quads again.

I was with a crowd of runners so we all walked to the nearest train station and travelled back to the Eiffel Tower, picked up our bags and headed back to our respective hotels and a shower. After which I just went to bed as I wasn’t hungry having eaten a Shot Blok every mile for the last 7 odd hours.

Next morning, having gone straight to bed without any dinner last night I decided to treat myself to brunch in a nearby (a key requirement) Paris cafe as my first real food after a day eating only Shot Bloks. Wow did it taste good, and I didn’t care about the calories having burned 3,000 the day before!

In summary it was a great first Ultra, my Luna Sandals were great (aside from where I kicked a 1 inch iron rod on the path and will lose a toenail), and overall it really helped me understand where need to focus for the Hadrian’s Wall Ultra (http://thewallrun.com in June.

Hill training and quads of steel here I come!

P.S. The highlight of the whole run was when a stunning blonde girl on a handsome horse came galloping out of the forest wearing a low cut top. The French runner next to me (who knew I didn’t speak French) thought for a minute and commented to me in broken English “nice orse”. “Oui” I replied and we both exchanged knowing looks!

If that is the sort of hallucinations you get on Ultras, then bring them on!