September 15th, 2020

All the gear but no idea

Race Morning 5:00am:

I’d had quite a restless night sleep, I opened my eyes feeling as though I’d literally had a single blink of sleep. I was on a strict schedule so made a move to ensure my kit was ready, breakfast was my first priority and I needed lots of it.

I arrived at South Wheatley at around 6:15am. The race was going to start in a staggered way allowing me to start anywhere between 6:30 & 8:00am. My aim was to set off as early as possible to get it done sooner rather than later (not that I was going to make it to the pub that night).

Check in was quick, it was a case of getting a Covid gun aimed at my head to ensure my temperature wasn’t too high then grabbing tracker and number. Part of me hoped my temperature would be too high and I’d get sent home to get back into bed, although what a waste that would be. I’m never usually nervous about events until the very morning of them. I went to the toilets and stood at the mirror staring at my reflection puffy eyed and blubbering, I splashed my face and reassured myself I’d get through it, I always do.

I was all kitted out and ready now, number pinned and tracker attached, I looked like a real ultra runner. I think the term is usually ‘all the gear and no idea’ this could be a good blog title! I marched out of the carpark and to the start line. What I loved about this event is the minimalism of everything, there wasn’t any fancy inflatable archway or masses of supporters clapping, instead it was an empty country road with tractors parked along the edges.

I hugged my parents one last time before setting off into the unknown....

Mile 1

I made my way up the lane, following the directions I’d learnt for the route. I made it to the first field and caught the sunrise peaking over the treeline. The air felt fresh and the grass slightly wet. It felt like the perfect morning to be starting.

I was mindful about my pace, not to set off too fast (which I’m usually bad for) the whole race was going to require constant tactics and strategy, I couldn’t make any mistakes. I met a fellow runner within the first mile, we kept a good pace and chatted away for the first 6 miles. These 6 miles in my eyes were the hardest of the whole route. Lots of uneven grass and rocky ditches, plenty of opportunity’s to trip. However, we reached the canal in good time I made a conscious stop to take a stone out of my shoe and waved goodbye to my first ultra friend, unfortunately we didn’t cross paths again but I’ve since found out they finished.

The canal stretch would get me to the 20 mile point of the race. This would start with decent trails for quite a few miles up until Retford, from here the trails became more grassy and uneven, this didn’t phase me at this point until the realisation my final leg of the race would pass here. I didn’t want to linger on thoughts of the later stages of the race so I kept my focus on the now, the first aid station passed. I’d kept on target for hydration and eaten what I needed to get me started. A quick water refill and I was off again. It was a nice sight getting to the end of the canal, although I felt good I think ideally I just wanted to get into the woods. I feel that mentally this made me think I was making progress.

Alex making sure I kept pace on the hills

I reached the second aid station just off of the canal, I followed the same process and refilled my bottles and had a quick freshen up. I had a huge boost at this point after seeing members of the running group out to support me. It’s the little things that make a massive difference to events like this. I left the Manton our aid station and set off to the next which was on the outskirts of Clumber just a few miles away. I bumped into my parents half way to the aid station and had a quick brief on how I felt and what I needed to eat, roast potato’s were on the menu.

I was making good progress at this point, maintaining a rough 12.5 minute pace feeling comfortable. I’d ran around 25 miles by this point most of it alone and as luck would have it a new runner joined me, we shared a few stories about events we’d done. Him covering several 100 mile races each year and me contrasting with this being my first. He told me about different tactics he was testing out and how it felt compared to different races. I found this an interesting topic throughout the race as each runner I kept with had a completely different way of aiming to finish but again me and the runner parted ways when I stopped to make an emergency toilet break, luckily at this point the Clumber Park toilets were open... phew!

I kept my pace moving, ticking over the miles one by one. My own tactic was a mix of both running and walking, I didn’t have a set time to run for which maybe would have benefitted me in the long run but at this point it seemed good. I had reached the back of Clumber now and was almost about to head into Sherwood Forest. I had a walking stint here and overheard a group of three runners behind me, they were having a laugh together so I asked if I could join them for a bit, little did I know I’d stick with these guys for about 30 miles! We reached the next aid station and I was surprised by Julie the first of my pacers.

We left the station and set on our way through Sherwood Forest, the same strategy stuck, bits of running followed by walking. Keeping as a group made the miles tick by nicely and we all kept each other motivated. I was feeling a bit of pressure around my feet around this point and felt a little bit worried about it being early in the race, this was around 35 miles. However, someone from the group then shouted “is anyone else’s feet completely knackered yet” and to my surprise we all said yes, I felt a little bit less alone then and knew I’d be able to push on if they could.

Creswell crags was the next major landmark at around mile 46, this was a big eye opener for me on what was to come. I made a hobble up to the carpark where I saw my dad, Jacqui & Jo. This was my first major stop, and where I wanted to change my shoes and socks. The pain wasn’t unbearable at first but the blisters were bad! I took my socks off and it wasn’t pretty, I sacrificed a pin from my race number and popped them, drained them and with the help of Jo got them bandaged up. (I’m so sorry you had to do that Jo!) I spent a good 30/40 minutes here sorting myself out and prepping to carry on, I’m not going to lie it was very emotional knowing I was in this much pain with still over 50 miles to go. I shed a few tears here and got back on the trail.

These were nothing compared to the finish

I’m still not sure how I managed to eat my sandwich while this was all going on.

The first few steps were complete agony but as I kept going the pain faded and I felt much better. I’m not sure if the bandages soothed the pain or if my feet just went numb. We’d lost the others from the group at this point but I just wanted to focus on getting myself and Julie around rather than catching anyone up. We carried on through Welbeck until we reached Clumber to finish the first of the two loops. I was greeted by Tracey, Jo & Sarah. Sarah was about to start pacing me for the next 10 miles. At this point there was me Sarah and Julie. I only had a brief stop at this aid station and then made some tracks down Lime Tree Avenue. The night soon drew in and the torches came out. Luckily we’d dropped on with the weather and although it was dark it was still really warm. We made our way through to Clumber Lake for some photos, it was crazy seeing the lake so dark and quiet with just a few faint head torches in the distance.

Following the route we then reached Clumber Park Hotel, this is where Julie parted the group after a massive 26 mile effort - thank you so much for pushing me and I apologise for the horrible things you must have seen whilst running with me haha! Another aid station down, me and Sarah headed down the long path to the back of Clumber, I did a lot of walking at this point but Sarah managed to keep me chatting and moving - I’m so happy I was able to run with you Sarah, it really made the event for me!

Mile 60(ish)

Sarah finished her section here and Chris took over. My plan was to try and get as much coverage done as possible during the day so I could maintain a steadier pace during the night. I was walking a lot at this point with bits of running here and there but Chris kept me going, pushing me to run when he saw I was slacking. We ticked off the aid stations one by one, we’d got into a good routine at this point of filling up bottles and then grabbing what I needed and setting off, not spending more than a couple of minutes at the station, we caught back up with the other 3 runners at each station. We’d arrive just as they were leaving but we’d have a quick brief on how we felt...I think we all felt pretty broken at this point.

We were covering a little loop section of Sherwood Forest and for me this was one of the worst parts of the run, it was only a 10 mile section but for some reason it got into my head in a very negative way. Chris pushed me to walk and then run for a quarter of a mile each time. This felt a good way to get through. I was told earlier in the race that hallucinations are common in races of this distance but I didn’t think anything of it. Although thinking back I remember thinking I’d picked up satsumas at certain aid stations when in reality I’d never picked anything up, I was hoping for some better trips than that but I guess things could have been a lot worse.

We reached Creswell Crags again where my mum and dad met me again. I’ll be honest I don’t have much memory from this point until I was on the return leg to the canal, I believe this would have been from mile 75 to 80. One memory I do have is walking up Drinking Pit Lane from Welbeck towards Clumber and seeing spooky faces painted on the trees as my torch hit the trunks. We finally reached the end of the second and final loop. A lady offered me a chair to sit down for a few minutes, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do at this point in the race but I had to sit down and assess the situation with my knee. It had been giving me a lot of grief in the past 10/15 miles. I had a quick leg massage and packed what I needed and set back on the route.

The time was around 4:40 at this point at 82 miles.

It was only 3 miles until the next aid station in Manton Wood. I had quite a rough night it terms of mental strength, my mind was playing tricks on me constantly. I feel as though every 15 minutes I was trying to reassess how long I had before cut off. Although Chris constantly reassured me we’d make it I couldn’t add up the times and I felt as though I’d made it way too far to fail.

I got out of the chair and set back off making tracks up towards Manton Pit it was quite hilly here but I knew it was only a few miles before we reached the canal. It felt like a weird time at this point, it was early morning and really quiet, a runner was a little bit ahead and I saw him stumble to the right where he then plonked himself down, we asked him if he was alright but he insisted he wanted to sit down and charge his phone. I felt bad for the guy, I knew how easy it would be to lay down and go to sleep at this point for anyone still going, he never passed us after then.

We kept moving onwards where I found my mum and dad again we even kept up a decent running pace. Kamila had just finished work and came over to see me after seeing me earlier on the day before, I’m really grateful for how thoughtful everyone was in supporting me. We didn’t stay here for too long so we had a quick picture and then set off for the final 20 miles.

Initially Chris was going to depart at this point but decided to stick with me, I’ll be forever grateful for this, I think If I’d have been left alone I’d have either fallen into the canal or curled up and gone to sleep somewhere.

I had a strange boost after setting off and I think we kept a constant run from the start of the canal until Osberton, this probably doesn’t seem like much but after walking for such long amounts of time I felt good. We made good progress, the sunrise had risen again and we reached Ranby, then Retford. I was really struggling by the time we got to Retford. My ankle has swollen to an abnormal size and my right knee was double the size of my left.

We had a small incident involving a wasp which stung Chris and then flew straight over to me and stung my neck, at this point every single part of my body was in pain. We reached the second to last checkpoint for a quick refill to then find we had longer than expected to run. I think we were at around 94 miles and the volunteers at the aid station said we had 8 miles left. I was completely spent now, my knee was burning and my head was fried at the thought of having to run more than 100 miles but I wasn’t ready to let it stop me.

Again we set off, any running from this point was very very slow and it may have been faster to walk but we kept moving, each step was a little bit closer to finishing. We met with Sarah and Jacqui again a little bit further into Retford for some more photos and words of encouragement and then carried on. My dad had parked in a carpark for one last refresh. This was a tough point for me, I was 3 miles away from reaching 100 and 6 from what ended up being the finish. I was so close yet so far. I needed a lay down in the car and I knew it was another bad choice. I laid along the backseat where my mum then looked at my knee, I can’t say it did much to help but those few minutes laying down felt like heaven. I was forced out of the car and shoo’d on my way. Here the hobbling continued. It was getting to around 9:00am at this point and dog walkers were out wishing me good luck for my last miles. I threw a few ibuprofen and paracetamol down and kept pushing on, a few times I had tears in my eyes both from the pain and the thought of how good the finishing stretch was going to feel. I had time on my side and it put my mind a bit more at ease ready for the final aid station, this was mile 98 or 99 on my watch. I wanted to get straight onto the final leg of the race but had a quick word with the people at the aid station and grabbed a satsuma (I actually had one this time!)

These final miles were awful and the terrain was the worst I’d ran on. My feet we’re battered and bruised and every step felt like I was walking on lego. Steep inclines and uneven hard dirt ditches paved the way of the last miles. The heat was building up so I pushed for a bit of a run. Walkers were congratulating me and reassuring me there was only one road left. I was back, back to the country lane. I could see my dad on the corner pointing me to follow the road. The finish was in sight, a finish like nothing I’ve ever experienced. An empty carpark with nothing but a small sign saying finish and a table with a man to give me my medal. I’d done it. I put on my medal and fell onto the grass. I was accompanied by Chris, Sarah, Jacqui and my mum & dad. I couldn’t hold in my tears anymore, 103 miles of trail and pain was done. I could finally lay down without any worries.

This was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced...until I needed to get back up.

What a crazy few days it’s been, I’ve been resting up since the finish. I’m still not quite able to walk properly but I’m not far off.

I’m so thankful for the support I received during this event. The GetFit.Run team and Run the Wall team will forever be my hero’s. Without those people I’d have never finished this event. This has been an experience I’ll never forget but ultimately I’m so happy we’ve managed to raise the charity donations to £32k, that’s unbelievable. Thank you for everyone who has donated and shared messages of the event!

I’m not sure if I’ll be on the start line of this event next year but we’ll have to wait and see.

Thank you again for everyone involved!