Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Viking Way 2014

On Good Friday, 22 intrepid ultra-runners began to converge on Hull for the start of the 3rd running of the Viking Way Ultra; 147 miles in 40 hours, from Hull to Oakham.

It was great to see so many familiar faces at race HQ, Premier Inn Hull West, in the evening – Mark and Alex Cockbain, Riccardo Giussani, Ben Davies, Jon Steele and Shirley Colquhoun, Allan Rumbles, Colin Fitzjohn, Andy Horsley, Cliff Canavan-King. Many others I knew by reputation.  After a communal dinner and with the race due to start at 7am, we all settled down for a good night’s sleep.

Or so we thought.

We were to woken to fire alarms just after midnight. Personally, I ignored them, although I did immediately think of the conch shell which is blown to announce 1 hour to the start of the legendary Berkley Marathons. The alarms sounded again and we were told to evacuate the building. Great.

I decided that the only tactic was to remain cheerful and see the funny side. After all Mark does call his events “The Hard Stuff”. In fact we wondered whether he had arranged for the alarms to sound just for a laugh! Some of asked if we could start now!

After over an hour outside in pajamas in very chilly conditions, we were finally allowed back to our rooms. For a final hurrah, the alarm sounded a few more times before allowing us to sleep at around 01:30.

At 5am, my alarm sounded. I didn’t feel like I’d slept at all. At least I’d be getting an early night that night. Oh, that was it….I wouldn’t be getting any sleep at all.

Viking Way 2014 
We sauntered down to the start and soon enough we were off on our journey. I started very steadily, having a good chat with Jon. Before long I found myself in a lead group with Ed Catmur, Luke Ashton, Cliff  Canavan-King and Andy Horsley. Cliff and I nattered away, whilst the others could barely get a word in edgeways.

Soon we were at Bilby, CP1, at 15 miles. Ed appeared to eat his body weight. He is very fast (15:44 at NDW100) so I decided to copy.

The next couple of legs through the Lincolnshire Wolds are the prettiest and most interesting part of the route with a few hills. Please bear in mind that the high point in Lincolnshire is the imaginatively named Wolds Top at 168m so I use the word ‘hill’ in that context!

Cliff, Ed and I seemed to be running fairly much together as we approached Tealby, CP2, at 30 miles. Luke was ahead of us but must have gone wrong as he entered the CP just after us. He was soon through with Cliff & I following.

Apart from pausing briefly in Donnington-on-Bain for a very therapeutic ice-lolly, we kept up a good pace through to Fulletby, CP3, at 50 miles. Here we had access to drop bags so we had a longer stop, changing socks and picking up gear for the night. Mark had outdone himself this year, providing hotdogs, rice pudding (with jam to accompany) and even cream eggs. Real Cadburys ones too, not home brand!

Living the dream!
Replenished it was down through Horncastle and then the long, flat, straight run to Woodhall Spa. Just before Woodhall Spa, I began to feel very tired and lethargic. I knew I had been eating and drinking well so thought it was one of ‘those phases’. Coming out of the town, I suddenly felt very lightheaded, and strangely emotional and tearful. With the next checkpoint only a couple of miles away, Cliff pushed on to warn them I was struggling. 

It was time to call Jenny!

Jenny and Jade were on their annual Easter break; this time touring Ireland. Jenny was driving but Jade was amazingly supportive and generally lovely. Our 2 girls really are wise beyond their years. Jenny pulled over and gave me some loving advice. With my resolve strengthened, I made my way towards Stixwold, CP4, 64 miles.

The checkpoint was manned by Drew Sheffield and Claire Shelley and well stocked with goodies. A couple of hot cross buns with lashing of jam seemed to work wonders, so I guess I must have been a bit low on fuel, or perhaps it was just the sugar hit. Or perhaps it was just one of ‘those phases’.

Off I trundled towards Lincoln. On the section towards Fiskerton I managed to go completely the wrong way. It was absolutely ridiculous to go wrong here as I live in Lincoln and know this bit like the back of my hand. Fatigue, pure and simple. Not wanting to end up back in Bardney, and seeing headlights, I opted for the cross-country route to the road. Lincolnshire really is very flat and featureless so although I was fairly sure where I was, I decided to wave down a car and check that I was actually still going in the right direction. Amazingly the first vehicle to pass was Mark and Alex Cockbain – I was on the road to Fiskerton. Happy days.

Back on route, I made my way along the 2.5 miles of riverbank, to CP5, just before Lincoln, 81 miles. A cheery welcome was waiting and I was soon on to Lincoln where it was great to see my son, James, who had come out after midnight to cheer me on. This was so good of him and it really lifted my spirits.

I really do know the next section well which is good because I can't remember much about it. I do remember the temperature dropping markedly. However, I arrived at Wellingore, CP6, 96 miles at 03:40. This was an almost identical time to when I had done the race in 2012, but I was in much better shape. In 2012, Mark had had to virtually force me to continue but this year he just told me that one of his goals for the race this year was to see me finish which meant a huge amount to me.

I was surprised to see Cliff here. Apparently, he had come into the CP with Luke, but had been passing blood in his urine and was in a lot of pain. He wasn’t sure if he could continue.

It was getting really cold now. Drop bags were available for the final time before the finish so I grabbed my veteran Montane Fireball smock and took plenty of time making sure I had everything I needed for the rest of the race. I had packed individual mini-bags for the 2 drop-bag CPs  with food, electrolytes, kit etc. This made life a lot easier. I also changed shoes and socks. After a good feed, and another cream egg, I was ready to go.

Cliff then decided he was going to come with me. I wasn’t sure that he should from a medical prospective but I think we both wanted the company. I was getting quite cold so we were quickly off.

Dawn soon came which always lifts the spirits but unfortunately, after crossing the A17, Cliff was obviously struggling and in a lot of pain. He made the sensible decision to stop. I was sad to leave him; he was great company and we’d been getting on really well.

I then steeled myself for the trek to the next CP at Foston. I was getting really cold and was shivering a lot despite base layer, t-shirt, OMM Cyber smock, Montane Fireball and OMM Kamleika, hat, 2 pairs of gloves etc. I really do feel the cold! I was also struggling tremendously to stay awake and at one stage was seriously contemplating sitting down for sleep. That would have been a very bad idea!

It was time to mobilise my support structure! Had a nice chat with Jenny who told me to keep on going, and then checked in with my Mum & Dad whom I was looking forward to seeing at the finish.

After a brief (ish) heavy shower. I approached Foston, CP7, 113 miles. I had dropped out here in 2012 and that certainly was not on today’s menu. Feeling much better, I set off on the long 18 mile section to Sewstern.

I was heading south towards Oakham now, it was getting warmer, I was feeling pretty good all things considered and I was going to finish.

This was a REALLY long leg and seemed to go on forever.

Going around Grantham, I popped into the Rutland Arms on the Grantham Canal and grabbed the best available food, a couple of pepperami’s and a Mars Bar, and filled up with water. This pub is in a great location and is sadly missing an opportunity.

The long, long, long Sewstern Lane was rife with cross-country and quad bikes, and nicely dug up into a veritable quagmire in places. Not fun.

I nearly bumped into a couple of people out for a walk who turned out to be Archie Stewart, fresh from his successful MdS, and his daughter Sophia. It was great to see them and I met another brief heavy shower with spirits lifted. Not for long, as I hit even worse sections of slippery mud, easily the most unpleasant bit of the whole event. I wasn’t having fun and I wanted to go home.

A graveyard for ultra-runners? Pretty much how I felt.....broken

Eventually, I got to Sewstern, CP8, 131 miles. I was feeling really tired and suddenly the remaining 16 miles seemed a very long way. Just before the CP I spotted my Mum and Dad with James.  My Mum insisted on ‘running’ the last 200m to the CP with me which was rather comical at the time. She then tried to help me with my bag. I asked politely to be given a little space! Once a Mum……

It was good to see them though and they were particularly amused by the number of chocolate rice crispy squares that I was able to eat in one go! Why do you think I do these events?

As I got up to leave another runner approached. It was Steve Gordon who must have been reeling me in all day. I wasn’t particularly bothered if he caught me. I had been walking almost all of the day and although I didn’t have much left, I knew I was going to finish. To me these long races are events rather than races. The race is 99% against oneself and I was winning that one.

Five minutes out of the CP, I suddenly decided I was bothered about finishing second. I had been in 2nd all day and I deserved to be 2nd! So I tried to run and it seemed to work so I kept on running. At this stage, I really didn’t want to go wrong so I very much had map in hand and was double-checking everything. 

I kept on running and I couldn’t believe how good I felt.

I was soon through  Exton and then down to the final checkpoint at Rutland Water.

141 miles done. 6 miles to go.

Pausing quickly for water and a couple of hits of cake, I ran along Rutland Water pleased that I had recce’d this bit.

A selfie after 143 miles of running felt appropriate.

Then it was along the main road into Oakham. It started to drizzle but I didn’t care. Mum, Dad and James were waiting just before the final corner so I stopped quickly to thank them.

As I rounded the final corner and saw the finish, I suddenly felt really emotional, and then it was over. I’d finished. I was happy.

147 miles, 36 hours and 9 minutes, 2nd place.

Mark and Alex gave me my t-shirt and medal. We’re talking serious bling here! The Mayor of Oakham was also here so I had a photo with him too. I was a bit excited now of course and called him “Your Excellency”. Mum insisted on an obligatory family photo.

And I went home.

And I was in time for tea (see here!)

Big thanks to Mark and Alex for all their tireless efforts over the weekend and for giving such a good vibe to the event. A real family feel. Thanks also to all those who gave freely of their time over the holiday weekend. Events like this just wouldn't happen otherwise.

Congratulations to all runners. Whether you finished or didn't, you toed the line. He who risks nothing......


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Viking Way Ultra - take 2

Right, lets get this blog started again!

Next weekend, I will stand on the start line of the Viking Way Ultra; 147 miles from Hull to Oakham with a cut off of 40 hours. This will be my second attempt at this tough event, and yes, it does pass very close to my home in Lincoln!

This time 2 years ago, I competed in the first Viking Way Ultra. Note the lack of an 'L' between the 'P' and the 'E' in the word 'competed'.From memory, I had to pester and beg race organiser, Mark Cockbain, to give me a place. I had a good run, met some great people, but ultimately DNF’d at 113 miles.

On Facebook I posted, “So 113 miles in 27 hrs continuous running - I was a broken man when I stopped. Disappointed to score a DNF but still proud. Not a failure - failure, for me, would be not being prepared to give it a go and put body & mind on the line”.

Many people sent me messages. “Well done……A valiant effort……Proud of you

Yet the more I thought about it, the more it niggled at me.

I also received this message from a runner that I rate as one of the absolute mentally toughest I know.

Just read your last post. Grrrrr

I'm sure you have loads of friends who give you soft, cuddly feedback.

Good mileage but that wasn't what the race was about. It was to finish a 150 mile race.

And you fucked it.

A lot of average peeps can do 110 miles in 24hrs.  So why are you piling in after your shift?

Lesson 1: Know your enemy.  What does it take to finish the race?  Were you disabled? Visible or physical injury? I say this because it’s the only thing that could have stopped me finishing. A MIND SET! What was the cut off that stopped you?  Mentally you had less than 30 miles to go.  Even at a slow walking pace you.should have finished in 12 hours? These are just numbers.  I know this is very different from doing the distance in any discipline. Know thine enemy.

Take a breath, and build up with successes and finishes..  And from there you can build into longer  and longer ultras.  I think from your shape you have huge potential in long distance ultras. Give you self a chance”.

And that was the truth. It was harsh but it was the truth.

I was tired, very tired but I wasn't disabled. I was hurting but I wasn't injured. Ultimately my head had stopped me. The internal conversation went something like this:

“113 miles done, only 30 to go. Definitely getting there”
“Bloody hell, another 30 miles! That’s more than a marathon……that’s another ultra”
“Just 30 – I can walk that if necessary. Lots of time to spare”
“But I’m really tired. Really, really tired. And it hurts”
“Think of all the ice cream in the freezer. So much better if you finish”
”Ha……if you finish now, you can get home for tea and have a curry and have the ice cream tonight!”

And there you have it.

I stopped so that I could be home for tea.

Since then I have become much tougher mentally. At least I have when it comes to running ultras! I have finished the Spine, the MdS, Hardmoors 110, Lakes 10 Peaks. I now know what it takes to finish these biggies – physically and mentally. I know the places they take you. The highs and the lows.

I know that similar thoughts will go through my mind in this year’s race, and probably some new demons, but I will be ready for them. I know that these thoughts are usually transient – each event has it bad spells and each has its good spells. Enjoy the good, deal with the bad. I also know to cut it up into manageable chunks – not 30 miles to go, but 10 to the next checkpoint.

So, I am ready to put this baby to bed. It’s been in the back of my mind for 2 years because I really should have finished it the first time. Physically I feel in great shape and mentally I am as good as I have been for a while.

I’m ready to get on that Highway to Hull

One further message after the race, from someone rather close to me, also stands out:

“One day, my darling you will realise that you have nothing to prove. You run because you enjoy it, and you are good at it, and you are very fit as a result of it. We all love you just as you are; you don't have to run 150 miles to be worthy of that love”

Food for thought indeed.