And so onto the morning of the race. Despite it being a very peaceful hotel I had a fitful nights sleep. Clearly what lay ahead was on my mind, but I was also very worried about sleeping in. You know how it goes, you wake up and turn to look at the clock in the corner of the room only to realise it’s no more than 20 minutes since the last time you did this. At 4.30am I decided to get up and start to get ready.
(note the girl standing in the photo above, right …. she would end up being the eventual winner)
Despite making kit preparation part of my training regime in the weeks leading up to the event you would have thought I had never done this before. I kept loosing things and managed to forget to put my compression skins on before taping up my feet. I also managed to turn the innocuous task of squirting a small amount of talc in my socks into covering the room (and myself) in a thin layer of white powder. By the time I left the place looked like it had hosted, not a runner, but some B List celebrity cocaine fuelled after-show party. (the empty tube of Vaseline just added to this look)
A quick taxi ride to Carlisle Castle, first bag drop and then onto the start line. The place was already awash with runners. It was again at this point that the “you are that YouTube bloke” comments started to come thick and fast – having since checked it would seem I was one of only a handful of people who had posted a video of last years event.
I got talking to a few people including a brief conversation with who would turn out to be the eventual winner, Sonia Bracegirdle. Man I now regret with every inch of my body of jokingly offering her a bit of my morning fuel – a pork pie.
As the time approached 6.50 we were all asked to take our positions in the pen which marked the start line. This was it. 12 months after my last attempt the Wall Run was here. More folks talking to me about my video, but I was gone. My head already filled with memories of last year. The biblical floods, the pain, the heartache of my DNF. This was it. I was pulled back sharply from my thoughts .. 10 …. 9 …… 8 ….. ….. 3 …. 2….. 1 …… and we were off ….
Stage1 – 15 miles (3 hours 13 minutes)
The first few miles of the race are through a park and beside a river. It was at this point last year (although I didn’t know it at the time) that things started to go wrong. Thankfully this year the river stayed where it was supposed to (between the banks) and we passed through the park and out onto open roads.
About 6 miles in I realised how much I was missing my running buddy Alistair. Normally by now we had set the tone for the next 20 hours by talking complete rubbish. I would make conversation with a few folks (and more .. Hey the YouTube guy) as we slowed to a brisk walk on the up-hill portions of the course but it just wasn’t the same.
(I was surprised how quickly crazy fever set in – this was only mile 10 or something)
The weather couldn’t really make up its mind on what to do. Within one 30 minute section it went from blazing sunshine (and heat) to a complete down pour. I decided, even as the temperature rose, to keep my jacket on. Despite it getting quite hot at times I really couldn’t be doing with the hassle of stopping and taking it off, only for 10 minutes later to be faced with putting it back on again. I passed many runners who were going through this ritual every hour or so.
Typically when running a long one I have my running belt which has room for two bottles – these position themselves just above my arse. For some reason they were “acting up” and felt quite heavy and cumbersome. I started to think already about ditching them at the half way point, which then lead me to remember just how far even half way was away. I realised that despite not yet clocking up 10 miles I had already suffered a few low moments. This concerned me so I made an effort to strike up a conversation with two lads who were discussing the metris of having sex the night before a race. It did make me laugh that one of them, after discussing the obvious metris and how it wouldn’t put him off, declared that he hadn’t had a shag in 6 months.
As we approached the first check point (Lanercost Tea Rooms) my mood had improved dramatically and I was back to enjoying the run. We had already run across some off-road sections and this had helped. I stopped for around 20 minutes here and took on some food. Flapjack, croissant and some juice. I avoided the Jellies having watched Alistairs turn to brightly coloured mush during the run last year.
Stage 2 – 17 miles (5 hours 30, which included my 20 minute pitstop)
As I left the pit stop I was in a very good mood. A change of socks felt nice and I knew the next part of the course offered some spectacular scenery and would also see us get up close and proper with Hadrian’s Wall itself. The terrain was was a mixture of gravel tracks and roads. I love how on this section you pass the marathon mark without really noticing (well I don’t). It’s at a point out in the wilds. It was at some point during this section that a bit of a pattern (in terms of the same faces) started to settle in. Some groups were employing a complete (ie for the full race) run / walk strategy (run for 5 minutes, walk for 1). This would mean (with my let’s run for as long as my body lets me) we would be continually passing each other. Conversations were spread over many miles and I looked forward to the sections where we would cross paths as I continued to miss the company of my Alistair.
The last 5 miles or so of this section (before reaching the final bit of road) is, for me anyway, quite a slow portion of the course. The terrain is at a slant which has you moving with one foot higher than the other. Despite it being reasonably dry under foot (we had had the worst so far rain storm during this section) I was still worried about slipping and twisting something so I maintained a brisk walk.
Reaching the 32 mile marker and the second check point I felt good and knew mentally I was in a much better place than I was 12 months ago. Seeing the familiar faces of my wife, Alistair and Lauren was really nice as well. I had planned to stop for no more than 45 minutes and this allowed me to change my socks, trainers and top as well as re-pack my bag with kit which would be required for the night sections. I also had some food (ignoring the carrot filled soup this year) including some salty chips and a can of coke – result. I also kept to my pre-race plan and after 45 minutes pretty much on the nose I was on the move again.
I looked out to what lay in front … okay Nigel, 13 miles get these over you and it’s game on !