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 🙂