Some video footage of this years Wall Run .. I also note the entries are open for 2014 😉
So there you have it. I managed to go back to The Wall and put my demons to rest. It felt great finishing. It also felt really good taking part (i.e. mentally so much better than last year). Now that I’ve had a few weeks to recover (back on the running this coming weekend) I’ve also had time to reflect, not just on the event itself, but on my own relationship with running and moving forward.
Now before I get started, if you are reading this a word of caution. I am no expert (perhaps the fact the word Pork Pie appears in one or two posts you may have already realised that) and the opinions reflected here are my own and I don’t necessarily endorse any of them for you. Perhaps though something will help in one way or another.
So first in regards to the specifics of the event;
Training – Despite putting in lots of miles in the first four months of 2013 I slackened a bit too much in the build up to the race itself. I had run a few long runs and almost used this as an excuse to stop my early morning runs over an extended period. I also had a business trip to Houston a mere 10 days before the event and so once again running took a back seat. Looking back I need to make sure that despite the longer runs I need to keep the mid week shorter runs going as well. (the data below is miles per month). On top of the miles I also realise that I need to change my training a bit to incorporate a few extra bits including;
- Mixing up my longer running with speed work, hill work (especially) and more back to backs to ensure I’m used to running on tired legs
- Include other elements including biking, swimming and cross training (that last one is going to be tough as I’ve never much been a fan)
- Core work and better stretching
Kit – I had changed my kit a bit since last year including a full change of clothes. I made use of most of this so not too much to tweak there. One thing I do run with is a waist belt where I can put water bottles in. This remains a bit of a love / hate relationship as while I can carry extra fluid I do find myself struggling with keeping it comfortable. Now in the UK I don’t think we are ever going to have to worry too much about dehydration, but I still take comfort in the fact that I have a few extra bottles on me.
Feet – Last year wasn’t pretty. This year, while a huge improvement, I still ended up with a few massive blisters. I need to continue to understand what is causing these. Taping up my feet worked well I think and Talc Powder in the socks and around the feet at various points. I’m sure the fact the course was much dryer helped as well. On top of this I invested in a number of pairs of really good running socks and this I’m sure was a major reason for the improvement. As I’ve said I still got blisters but perhaps this is just something that happens after 50 miles?
Fuel – Although I significantly reduced the amount of spare food I carried in my bag I still took too much. Over the past year I’ve been focused on my training runs to eat more sensibly. (sorry folks not a single pork pie was consumed in the making of this run). I need to find an energy gel that I can get on with – the ones I used on the run (I only could stomach 2 across the whole race) tasted like the inside of a 3 week dead badger … it almost made me vomit upon each and every drop. DISGUSTING ! They did help though so I know I need to do a bit more searching around and find something that works. For me what works still is focused on a few different types of food (something sweet, something savoury, salty etc … )
Technology – I carried 3 GPS watches in total and just about managed to get across the full event with at least some battery life left. I really wish they made these to last at least 24 hours. The course itself was very well marked out so I had not planned to import the GPS information although I really need to give that a go soon (I know a lot of Ultra runs expect you to navigate a lot yourself and I’m not that good at that). On that point I need to get better at map reading. Finally although I carried my shuffle I only listened to it for about 2 hours in the second half of the race. It was still a welcome break allowing my mind to wander.
And so what about just in general going forward;
My Weight – I’ve struggled with my weight for many years. Over the past 3 years I’ve lost close to 3 stone (currently sitting at 187 lbs) but I still look at myself (and others) at races and realise I’m still carrying too much meat. I’ve got 3 more races planned in 2013 ending with the Round Ripon in October and I’m setting myself a target to try and get under down to 175lbs. Tough going I know but the less of me to carry around the miles the better.
Beer – I’ve had a love affair with the hop for quite a few years and while I don’t batter it anywhere near as much as I used to I still find myself using the excuse “well I did a big run today so I owe myself a few beers or a bottle of red”. The more I get into the running (and just fitness in general) I realise that I need to seriously reevaluate my diet (read above) and that includes alcohol intake. I find when I make the bold statement “going dry for xx weeks” I immediately get myself craving a beer (even at times when I normally would not). While I don’t think I’ll ever tee-total (I actually love the taste of a really nice ale) I’m going to have a significant reduction in my in-take. That alone should also help with my weight plan.
Photography – for those who know me know that I love photography – it’s my number one passion in life. Now that Ultra Running is running it a close second I find myself in a constant battle to get enough time for photography and training while also fitting in a very demanding day job. Quite often I’ll be out running and wish I had my camera, while others when I’m out with the camera I can feel guilty that I’m not running. I typically run in the morning – perfect time for sunrise photography. I’m still struggling to balance this out but I’m getting better. Perhaps as Google Glass gets better I can have both 🙂
So there you have it … The Wall 2013. I remember listening to Ryan Giggs talk about winning medal after medal after medal. As I sit here and look at my medal from The Wall I find myself with a similar attitude to Ryan, that is the medal is now hung up with the rest of them and pretty much forgotten about. For me after completing a race (even half or full marathon) I find myself often turning my attention to the next event.
And for me that’s the 24 Hour Thunder Run ….. More on that in future blog posts ..
Stage 3 – 13 miles (3 hours 24 minutes)
Leaving the Half Way point I felt pretty low which was a quantum shift to how I felt 45 minutes previously upon arriving. I think it was seeing my support team and knowing that they were about to jump into the car and take a meer 45 minutes to get to what would take me at least 3 hours. I also knew I had the monster hill which would have me scrabbling up on hands and knees. I’m sure the folks who do this event over two days have a pretty nasty shock as this will be about 10 minutes into the second half of the course.
Upon getting to the top I recorded another video on the GoPro. This put my mind back to 12 months previous as that was the last video I recorded. The pain and mental anguish last year meant the last thing on my mind was video recording. Today was different. I knew the next 7 or 8 miles was mostly down hill and once again my mood had shifted. It was in a good place as I started to make my way back of the hill and onto the open (and very straight) road. I came across a couple of folks, one of whom was struggling to run (severe pain in his hip). He was however keeping quite a good 4mph pace while fast walking so I decided to walk with him for a bit. He had completed parts of the West Highland Way, another run I’d like to do at some point, so it was great to get some further insight into that particular race. We chatted for about 30 minutes and then as we approached another down-hill section I said my goodbyes and started to run. We had now passed the 40 mile marker and my legs felt really good. I stretched out a bit on the downward section, reaching the dizzying heights of 6mph … the sun was on my back (as was the wind), the scenery was fantastic and I felt good – this is why I love to run I said to myself.
Another key point to compare myself with last year was the last 1 mile before the check point. Last time out this again had become mental torture as I anxiously looked for the Race Race flags that would mark the check point. I believe (Alistair can confirm) that there was quite a lot of swearing. This year however I shuffled along (not at 6mph now) and reached the check point (and my support crew) with a smile on my face. Some more food, filling up the water bottles and a further change of socks and I was ready to hit the next section – all 17 miles of it.
Stage 4 – 17 miles (5 hours 25 minutes, including a 30 minute pitstop)
Leaving the pit stop I decided to stick on some music. I wasn’t going to let myself think about the distance and my pace (which while currently hovering around 4mph would I knew drop below that). In my normal life I’m not a big trance fan but when running I love it. I must have looked like a throw back to the 80s with my florescent colours and spandex, while throwing some never-seen-before dance moves.
About 6 miles out from the check point I met up with another runner (well shuffler) who again looked like he was struggling. I myself was starting to really feel it in my legs and so started to walk with him (it would turn out we would stick together for the remainder of the race). Keeping an eye on our pace (to ensure we didn’t get too slow) we set about trying to maintain a brisk walk on the uphill and level sections, breaking out into a trot when possible on the downhill bits. While I felt I still had some running inside me I felt we both needed a bit of company to keep us going. I’m so glad I made this decision as with the banter (he was from the South of Ireland with me from the North) flowing the miles (despite the slower pace) started to tick down. It did make me laugh that he kept trying to do mental arithmetic, failing miserably. It would go something like … so we are running 4mph … so in 3 hours we will be … okay so we left the last check point at 7.30pm … we should arrive at …. Oh hang on .. so we ran ..
We passed the 1st of two pit stops on this section and took on some more water. At this point, despite it still being quite light I decided to get into my night gear. It would save having to stop later in evening. We were also going to be passing through some forest areas where the light would be much worse. Onward and forward, from time to time a shout of “hey You Tube guy … you can do it” would echo over the course …
Reaching the final check point we were told it was 6 miles to go. I argued that this could not be the case as the course stated it was 5 miles from this point. I then remembered that this was the same check point we were told it was 12 miles to go rather than 7 (that we had mis calculated) last time, so I took the 1 mile increase with a smile and moved on. A few blisters on my feet had started to give me a bit of bother but again nothing like last year. Mentally I was feeling strong although tiredness was certainly kicking in. As we ticked into the last mile before the final check point I dreamt of warm coffee .. something to kick me back into gear. 1/4 mile to go read the sign. It lied. It was still about a mile. Perhaps this was the extra mile the folks at the last pit stop were talking about. Arriving at the final check point felt good. I had made it though that last 17 mile section in reasonable shape. The check point however resembled a scene from World War Z. Given we were now 17+ hours into the race it was never going to be full of athletes ready to bounce through those last 7 miles. There were groans, people being sick, laying around and generally in a pretty bad state. I did what I could to encourage, going around each of the worse for wear folks and offering a word or two of encouragement. Some acknowledged, others just stared out into the distance. I knew what they were feeling. I was there last year and those 7 miles may have well have been 700. As I hitched up my pack for the final time and stepped out into the darkness it had started to rain. There seemed to be a bunch of runners heading off at the same time so this would be a good group to run (or get lost) with. This was it … the last 7 miles. Let’s do this shit.
Stage 5 – 7 miles (2 hours 37 minutes, including a 30 minute pitstop)
I started to think about last year again. We would soon be passing the point of my DNF. Running past it I recorded a short go-pro (a frame of which you can see below). I felt quite emotional and my thoughts again turned to Alistair who had unselfishly decided to DNF at the same point. Despite the pain in his shins he could have finished if he had wanted to but confirmed we started together we would finish together – no matter where that was. A true friend and his unselfishness at this point both shows the his true character and will forever live with me. Thanks Buddy.
We passed that point and then I realised from here on in it was all new. I’d not run this part before and I was looking forward to the moment when we dropped down beside the Tyne and the bridges were in sight. A few of the group were from the area and were able to confirm when we would see the bridges, how many there were etc…
As the first of them appeared from around the corner a huge feeling of relief rushed over me. Okay Nigel, just keep on plodding, nothing silly. It was at this point that 3 of us realised we were going to be cutting it very fine if we wanted to get under 20 hours. We started to pick up the pace. As we entered the last half mile I picked up the pace even more. It was a strange sensation. I couldn’t feel my legs but I was moving forward and that was all that mattered. Under the Tyne bridge, the Millenium bridge was in view. As we crossed it a few finishers from earlier gave us support. The finish line in sight along with the support crew who were cheering me home. Over the finish line …. I had done it.
69 miles, 2 pairs of trainers, 5 changes of socks, blisters, chaffing, tiredness, pains, over 8k calories burnt and 20 hours 58 seconds (dam you 58 seconds) on the clock.
Alistair once again came up trumps with a cold beer in a proper glass – despite it being 3am I gulped it down. The folks taking the finishers pictures did look rather confused as to where I had managed to get this from. (or perhaps it was just the sight of a a 69 miler ultra marathon finisher drinking a cold beer at 3am on a rainy morning in Newcastle)
I hobbled across to pickup my bags, said my goodbyes to the folks I’d been shuffling with the last 5 hours and headed for the car. A short journey back to the house and into bed (okay I’m not including the 20 minutes it took me to drag myself up the stairs at his house – Ultra Runners need to live in bungalows I thought)
As I lay on the bed, and despite the pain and tiredness, I had a huge smile on my face. I had come back to bury my demons from 12 months previous. And this I had done.
Indeed, The YouTube bloke had done it 🙂
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 !
I took part in last years event which didn’t quite go according to plan. This year I felt better prepared having not only put in extra training but also focused on trying to keep my feet in one piece during the event.
I did however feel so much more nervous than last year – I think a mixture of actually knowing what the event could and most likely would entail, but also the fear of failing AGAIN. I didn’t realise how much it was playing on my mind until the train passed by those famous Tyne Bridges – this was it, no turning back now. (well I could have but it was a long run back to Cambridge if I did)
It was also at this point that it hit home that I would be doing this without my running buddy, Alistair. It would later hit me (hard) how much I missed his company. As I left Alistair, his wife Lauren and my own wife Nicola (who once again would be spending her birthday chasing down her husband across muddy fields) I felt sick. I felt excited and if the truth be told quite emotional.
The train across from Newcastle to Carlisle was packed full of other runners – it was however difficult to strike up a conversation to pas the time. I tried with one girl who looked like she may be running it, but upon me asking “you running?” .. she looked confused before answering .. “no I’m on the train !!”
As we arrived in Carlisle the first thing that was (very) different from last year was the weather – it was dry. It was actually sunny. As we arrived last year we could have charted a small fishing boat to take us from the station to the Castle. A rather uneventful registration (apart from some bloke trying to feed me some kind of flapjack which to be honest tasted like 3 day old socks wrapped in pine nuts – I tried to be polite and swallow but couldn’t stomach it and proceeded to yak it back up into the one thing that was in my hand – my hat. The poor bloke looked shocked and moved away)
It was as I was leaving I got my first “Hey, are you that guy from YouTube?” comment … This made me smile as I nodded. “Good luck this year, you can do it” he followed up …. Made me smile even more …
I was staying outside of Carlisle .. which after last years events (read 4am no sleep due to clubbers outside my window) was a godsend. The Taxi driver, after hearing me chat about the following days events, proceeded to inform me that there was a really nice 6 mile run around the hotel if I fancied it …. err no thanks. Strangely the receptionist also made this recommendation and also how well equipped their gym was.
No thanks …. just show me where I can eat the animals !
Dinner and my usual pre race pint of the Black stuff and it was time to hit the sack – but not before another chap asked me if I was that YouTube bloke ….
Right time to get some sleep …. they say today had been the Longest Day but as I my head hit the pillow (or rather some flimsy excuse for a pillow) I had sneaky feeling tomorrow would run it a very close second.
I also realised my hat still smelt of pine nuts ..
Well actually just over 1 week, but this time next week I’ll be about to board the train up to Newcastle and then from there over to the Race registration in Carlisle. Yes, it’s just over one week until I go back to attempt The Wall Run.
Training has gone well – although I’ve not been running as much as I’d have liked in the past few weeks due to first a vacation in Mull and then a Business Trip to Houston. Still I did manage my 40 mile training run a few weeks back – felt good actually (completing in 10 hours).
This weekend I plan a few short runs, just to keep the legs ticking over (I find the week before an event I get imaginary injuries so it’s always nice to confirm my legs are still working). Both runs I’ll be out with my full race day kit which always brings in the odd look or two. The weekend will also be spent confirming my kit, packing, checking and re-packing again.
As you may know last year I had to pull out at mile 67 (out of 69) …. to this day I’m still not quite sure what happened. I’ve found it playing on my mind more and more as race day gets closer. This year I’ve simply set myself a target of finishing … I don’t care if its 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds …. I actually found myself earlier checking my splits from last years event and thinking to myself – well if I can make up a few minutes here and a few minutes there ..
STOP IT NIGEL !!!!
For me I start at 7am on the Saturday .. and I run … (and run) until I finish …. it’s a simple as that.
Simple … oh okay then 😉