The Wall

The day before

In its the second year and billed as the UK’s most iconic ultra, the Wall [Ultra] looked accessibly appealing for yet another challenge in my running calendar and there were still places available at late decision making. The marketing behind it was top notch. A shiny website with all the right photos and marketing spiel. The route followed Hadrian’s Wall disappointingly not next to the wall but on adjacent paths and roads with a few quick and dirty glances at the iconic structure. But that’s preservation for you; we can’t have 800 plus runners tramping through a preservation area no chance – so route accepted off we went, friend – Shaun and I intact ready to run 69 miles – hell why not? It’s better than just being another brick in the wall. Technology aside; (apart from the garmins, mobile phones, tablets and power chargers) there is no app for this you know.

So I am going to take you on a little two day journey , bear with me as there is lots to tell. To keep this short I also made 30 second-ish videos of random bits of the run. Delve in and watch at your own risk. The video’s have not been edited they are as raw as carrot and beetroot still growing in the ground.

One step at a time, I get to make positive choices to fulfill my dreams! – Deena Kastor

The journey up from Sheffield to Newcastle was typically M1ish. We arrived in Newcastle in plenty of time and caught our £4 bargain train to Carlisle, with views of rolling hills whizzing by but nothing to scare us. We were both remarkably amazed how little hllage there was as the little slopes rattled by.

Carlisle was baked in sunshine with a sky blue topping when we arrived. First we had to register to pick up our numbers and chips and dump our overnight bags and tents which would be transported halfway for us. Registration was seamless. A pop up Rat Race shop had been established to entice all those hungry runners into buying kit, nutrition and other bits and bobs. It kind of worked as we found ourselves purchasing some Chia Charge Running Food packed with 9% of Chia seeds all after a free tasting sample. The power of free samples and gullible runners.

Pre race dinner was of course pasta, maybe for luck, maybe just because. The pasta houses were busy but we eventually found one that was still full of runners but tucked away in a small corner of the Italian quarter of Carlisle. We sorted out our kit and had our bags almost packed ready for an early start the following morning.

A run has never returned me exactly the same. I go, I grow. – Kristin Armstrong

Day 1: 32 miles

Ding dong; ding dong. I awoke to a 4.44am alarm. Breakfast was set at 5am thanks to very kind man at the B&B. Fluffy scrambled eggs and lots of toast, and a good luck sausage for extra protein, a long way from my usual race breakfast but hey hoo why not. Another poor soul was running the whole 69 miles in one go. I almost felt a wimp doing it in two days. I didn’t so much doubt myself that I could do the distance as I had completed another ultra of the same distance almost 12 months previous and during this time I never once thought that I would never do an ultra again so I was back to conquer the same distance but different terrain and different distances throughout the two days with better company than just myself this time too. The only thing that would stop me completing would be injury with a slight tweak to my outer knee and left foot (excuses aside excuse me) but I also knew it would be tough 32 miles on day 1 and 37 on day two. That 37 miles on day 2 was going to be the biggest challenge. I also knew this meant the world to Shaun – his first ever Ultra,; hey people if your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough.

Why would anyone want to do this a second time? – Sue Haupt

The idea was that we would wave goodbye to what were classed as the experts – those doing all 69 miles in one go. At 7am a short briefing was given and they were off. We were remarkably surprised that there were so many experts, the front runners really looking professional with their bibs on their shorts or shoulders. Better than chips on their shoulders anyway. A big cheer went out as they all left the castle.

Then reality hit, we were next. Gulp! The non-experts aka challengers gathered ready for their go. Weather watch; slightly cold, drizzly but just enough for t shirt and shorts. Toilet stop, faff with the rucksack, toilet stop and another faff another toilet stop then we were scanned into the start area to go. A bit like being on a conveyor belt at a supermarket, beep beep beep.

We lined up almost 3/4 the way back in the pen, unsure of pace or pro. Everyone around me looked real pro’s, I have an inferiority complex at the beginning of every race I do. I never think that I should belong here, amongst what look like professionals. I need to overcome this confidence barrier. One day oh one day. After a quick briefing we were off. Hey it’s only a marathon with a 43 mile warm up over two days; no problem.

The more of us that do it, the harder it is for them to dismiss us as just a bunch of really weird people. Especially when we otherwise appear so normal. – Dan Hawthorne

Through the castle drawbridges, we went what a magnificent start – and two days later we would hope to finish at millennium bridge in Newcastle. I broke into a gentle jog trying to dodge other runners but being careful not to go out to fast. The pathways through the parks of Carlisle were rather narrow so it was impossible to go any faster nestled between 101 other runners. I took this opportunity to shoot a very silly little video of the start. Enjoy.

1 mile in, only 31 miles to go. Are we there yet? Can you see the sea yet? A peek at the watch told me we were doing around 10 minute miling, no need to go out too fast in Ultras however I did wonder if farting was allowed in ultras? If it was I would do one – that would push people on. Patience my friend; patience.

Within 2 miles Shaun had a wet backside, couldn’t he have gone before the start? – Really! So really his water from his rucksack was dripping. We stopped and I threw away half his water in a very aggressive ‘you have far too much water in here’ type attitude; tightened up his valve faffed for nearly 5 minutes then started up a jog again. We must have been nearer the back by then as all those people we had just passed glided past us whilst we were faffing. But that was soon resolved as we jumped and meandered around people trying to get into our ultra pace.

Remember during the first half of an Ultra don’t be stupid during the second half don’t be a pansy. – Author Uknown

Soon we hit the road and were able to open up and pass more runners. I felt refreshed and happy, three miles in, four miles in, we were zooming through the concrete country roads still knocking people off, saying hi and enjoying the general chit chat like you do when you run an ultra. This is a 10km isn’t it? Perked Shaun, err yeah 11 times over my friend. We were informed by a group of 3 runners that they were on their second lap, I perked up “well we are on our third lap”.

Within 5 miles or so we began to pass some of the ‘experts’ who were conquering this all in one. They were rightfully walking. We were allowed to run as we were only doing 32 miles today what a load of wimps we are. Regular eating was the name of the game. If you can call eating gels on the go eating. A Torc gel for breakfast, really…

The first water stop seemed miles away – that was because it was 10 miles away, just as I had commented that there should be a checkpoint one appeared in a schoolyard. Water, chocolate raisins and jelly beans were all on offer, so I took a handful of each experimenting to see what I liked and a cup of water. I wasn’t really drinking to thirst on the run so far as I wasn’t to keep hydrated and ample checkpoints meant I could easily stock up on liquid. In addition to my baldder full of water I also had coconut juice which is supposed to have as many electrolytes as an energy drink. 29p from home bargains my friends – 100% coconut. Nutter. The event was perfect for the newbie Ultrarunner. With a mix of both checkpoints and pit stops. Checkpoints supporting basic water chocolate raisins and jellybeans and pit stops having lots more substantial stuff including flapjacks bananas, crisps, bread and Sunday carvery. Almost.

If you start to feel good during an Ultra, don’t worry – you’ll get over it – Gene Thibeault

Across a couple of busy roads we went, plenty of friendly marshals directing us and down country lanes through some little hamlet type villages. The route was excellently marked meaning we didn’t have to carry a route card. Another great bonus for newbie Ultra runners, demanding less stress on the old brain. After lots of country tarmac it was finally time for a few miles of luxurious trails. The route at this point was full of both the experts and challenges. A number of people made comments about being in love with the trails, I joined in and danced my way down the fields to the next gate, stile and trail putting one foot in front of the other in a lovingly way. Finger blinkingly lickingly lovin’ it.. and the foot.

The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art – Leonardo da Vinci

Pit stop 1 was finally in sight at around 15 miles as cheers from the crowds guided us into the zone. Here we had to scan our chips and then were allowed to eat drink and get merry. In hindsight, I did not need any food and we really stopped for too long, taking in the juice picking flapjack, bananas, crisps, breads, sweeties etc., how much food can you cram into your mouth / rucksack at once? Really! I looked at my watch; we had done the first 15 in just over 2.15, quite fast for an ultra my dear.

Off again, this time with an exclusive glimpse of the wall that is Hadrian’s Wall. We were running alongside the road with the wall adjacent to us. I would question how iconic it felt, if I am honest but the route itself was pretty. Myself and Shaun had decided to stick together, and we were both doing well, supporting each other, chatting, taking photos and little video snippets and enjoying the Ultra experience. There were no limitations, limitations only exist if you believe they exist.

More off road and more wall. Perfect. Another checkpoint supported jelly beans and rabbit droppings aka chocolate raisins. The novelty of free sweets was beginning to wear off already as the checkpoints were now just used to down a cup of water and grab a handful of the nearest sweet as emergency tuck then be on our way. Feeling good, feeling strong and loving the trails especially the sections where we got to run alongside the wall in all its glory. Beautiful. I was beaming.

Trotting through villages I commented to Shaun that there was no point in running up the hills as one guy ran past us whilst we were walking up it chatting and taking on some food. I was proved right as once on the flat said guy had slowed down as we opened up and overtook him, and another him and another him and her. Sensibleisimo. Boom.

Approaching 22 miles I was had a bit of a blip, after running on a busy road I wanted to be back on the trails, I took a gel in hope it would perk me up, my head wasn’t in the right place; unfortunately I then threw up in my mouth and felt even worse. A few gulps of water and a mouthful of my 100% 29p home bargains coconut juice soon saw to that and I was back on my way.

I was starting to hurt, but then I burped and took a crap and am feeling much better – Unknown, heard during the 1997 AR 50

Down a narrow lane and across a railway line we went. Much more picturesque thank you. Suddenly I came across a human wall – almost; almost all the blokes had stopped for a wee in the same place. Shaun stopped to join them (if you can’t beat them join them I guess? – male ego or something?) So sod that, I can have female ego too you know; so I jumped over a wall, threw myself across a cattle grid and did the same. Wee wee all the way.

You know you are an ultra-runner when peeing in a clean toilet is unnatural – Marathon Talk June 2013

Unfortunately, after Shaun had done his business he couldn’t get going again, his knee had given way. We had to walk for a few minutes until the pain eased; he then broke into a shuffle, a bigger shuffle and then a jog then we were off again. This was the method that he used to get himself around the rest of day 1. Result! Securely powered by determination

Another hill beckoned us. Another excuse to take another silly video. If this had been a marathon or half marathon I would have run up it but no gain in ultras so I took the opportunity to do a quick video of the hill instead. Only on Ultra’s.

Just around 25 miles and another checkpoint to beep in and out of. We had done around a marathon in about 4 hours including lots of pit stops, walking and sorting out bladders of various kinds. Not bad really? Looking good feeling good. 26.2 miles isn’t a marathon it’s a warm-up; come on folks. They do say the first 20 miles of a marathon you run with your legs and the last 6 miles with your heart. Which body part do I use for the next 43 miles?

You know you are an ultra-runner when 26.2 is the next aid station – marathon talk 2013

Back onto the trails, and through fields, over more stiles and up farmyard lanes, this was blissfully beautiful. What a gorgeous route. Put those initial roads to one side, and here you have the bright side of running. Marshalls supported us at the stiles and told us there were only 5 short miles to go most of it all off-road. I couldn’t wait as I felt my body ease forward ready for the challenge. At this stage we were overtaking everyone picking off people like plucking at a bunch of grapes. Both the experts and the challengers, one, two, three, I felt good, I didn’t know what had come over me but I was blissfully buoyant, like I was scuba diving in the clear blue sea surrounded by natural beauty. Go where the run is, follow the run.

At around 28 miles Shaun was beginning to feel the mileage. I could see the pain on his face as he grimaced at every step. This wasn’t his knee pain this was the start of the wall. Yet we had passed the wall way back. I persuaded him to take another gel or some sort of instant food to give him a kick. Eventually, he gave in to my persuasion and got some food down him. I then proceeded to motivationally talk him through the next few miles to the finish. You can rest when it’s over mate; you won’t make your goals if you give up now.

Determination. Determination do not stop or you will never get there

Come on I spurred on – only 3 miles to go that’s only like running down Rivelin or round Redmires or a Park run. Only 2 miles to go that’s like running from Meadowhall to Don Valley – easy peasy lemon squeezy. What’s stopping you? That’s right, nothing.

Just over a mile or so from the end in view was a massive white marquee in a field up yonder – the finish for day 1. I was determined to get Shaun to the finish line in one piece, giving him a ‘pet’ talk as I told him I would pull him up the hill on an imaginary lead – not sure what people thought of me as I was shouting back at him to power on up the hill. His knee was hurting on the downhill’s but he was so full of determination that I knew he would just not ever give up. Ever.

Cause sometimes, you just feel tired. Feel weak. And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up. But you gotta search within you. You gotta find that inner strength, and just pull that shit out of you. And get that motivation to NOT give up and NOT be a quitter. No matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse. – Eminem

I am almost glad I had my blip at 22 miles as I was feeling as good as you can feel after 32 miles. Despite Shaun’s anguish and pain we were still going strong passing everyone. Most people were either walking or shuffling very slowly.

As I approached the last section before the finish someone shouted “sprint girl” so I ran as fast as I could to the finish line with cheers all round. Shaun came in just seconds behind me, and that was 32 miles my friends.

The true runner is a very fortunate person. He has found something in him that is just perfect. – George Sheehan

Day 1: The evening after and the day before

After composing ourselves we helped ourselves to free sandwiches and crisps. I even put extra salt on my crisps. Hell I needed it. We were given a token for some free soup and a bread roll too. That was well needed hot food even though portions could have been a little more generous. Tea, unfortunately, was not free and I had to dig deep into my pocket to fork out £1 per cup, the plastic spoons and forks and knives were free, however. Free tea and coffee would have topped off today but we can’t have everything us runners you know.

Love the sport. Running is what you do. Runner is who you are. Be good to yourself. – Debra Morrow

After chit-chatting and feeding ourselves with tea, coffee, cola, more crisps, egg sandwiches and my homemade malt loaf, we looked at our print outs which we were given when we stepped over the finish line. The tickets said 9th and 10th in a total time of around 5.27. The Garmin said 5.25, the discrepancy being was when we scanned into the pen at the beginning I assume? We found out the following day that we were actually 12th and 13th but I won’t turn that down either. Thank you very much. I also found out that I was 2nd female that day, the first female coming 2nd overall a good half hour ahead of little old me. I am frightfully distressed at positioning so high up.

Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles. – Alex Karras

Our bags had been transported all 32 miles and our tentages were intact as we pitched up and flopped down. Top marks for the free posh showers with perfectly steaming hot water. Yes posh they were making Becks and Posh look like working-class citizens, Well hello very impressed. Hot hot hot! That was worth paying £1 for a cup of tea. Oh yes!

A massage had been booked for 7.30pm a relief and a half. I thought myself rather lucky as I saw the feet of a guy next to me supporting a massive blister right across his foot. My feet had come out unstaffed. Amazing considering.

Time for some more grub. The catering I will admit was a bit ropey and not cheap at that. Jacket potato with a topping of brown stuff that they called stew for £4 or some chopped up mushy potato with some frozen ham in it wrapped up in a posh name, or dried out pasta in a polystyrene tray. Luckily I did have supplies of my own including malt loaf, chocolate peanuts and rice pudding anyway. Boom, boom! Improve on the food and this would be a top-notch event.

An early night for the campers, as the rain began to gush around the campsite, blowing the carefully pegged tents; gashing the sides of the canvas structures. Thunderstorms rattled the campsite and lightening flashing high in the ultra skies. Thoughts went out to those out in the field doing this all in one day. Nutters. Wet ones at that. I curled up in my little sleeping bag checking that the tent wasn’t letting water in, my bags next to me contemplating the next 37 miles and cursing the snorer in a next-door neighbour tent (Shaun I hope that wasn’t you?)

Day 2: 37 miles

Beep beep, as the alarm went off at 6am. I shuffled out of my sleeping back and sorted myself out, today I would run 37 miles. That’s all Folks. It will hurt the dear body, it will take the time it will require dedication it will require willpower it will require sacrifice there will be temptation but I promise dear body it will be worth it when you reach the finish line. Yours faithfully, little me.

Meanwhile, we still had the arduous task of breakfast in the mizzle. Not rain not drizzle just mizzle. (Copyright of Marathon Talk 2013). We walked down to the catering tent to find out they were charging £3 for a spoonful of porridge. Being the tight-fisted northern that I am I had come supplied with my 49p porridge tubs, just add 30p. Yes that’s right just add 30p – 30p for some hot water. If I had known I could have brought my own milk and tea bags and also saved myself £1 for a cup of tea. Make that £1.70 as I had two cups of tea. However, I had done some home cooking and we scoffed down my delicious banana oaty breakfast muffins too. I could have sold these for £3 each. Run longer energy muffins, oh yes! Bring it on! ‘Helenergy’ – Runmoor: the new world of muffintatsicness.

If there is one thing I would fault with this event it’s the price and organisation of food. Have I mentioned this already? If other Ultra events can do free catering then why can’t these guys? Such a shame as the campsite was adequately supplied with portaloos which were clean, posh showers and a decent pitch. There was a bar and the pop up shop had made an appearance too. Even the nice man at the cold water taps station was helping to fill our bladders with water for the run. Sort out the food midway and this could be a top-notch event. Don’t create grumpy runners they do not make nice runners.

Apparently, we could set off any time between 8-10am. We just made it to the 8am honking announcement after quickly packing away the tents, bag dropping, bladder filling and faffing to find that everyone else was setting off at 8am anyway. Due to our lack of organisation, we were very near the back not that it mattered in the game of Ultra’s. Good job we didn’t decide on at 10am start else we would have been running The Wall 2014.

My head was a little bit all over the place as I had not composed myself nor quite ready for this as I chipped in at the start and off I went down the field. The concept of today was however just the same as yesterday with an extra 5 miles thrown in for fun; just run. Simple.

Believe in yourself, know yourself, deny yourself, and be humble. – John Treac

Just run did I just say…hoo humm and bang. Within less than half a mile I took a tumble down a rocky lane, what was I playing at? My head was stressed, I wasn’t focused, I wasn’t composed. I was all over the place. A grazed and somewhat blood swept knee and hand grazes were not going to stop me from running 37 miles, hell no and I had a proper hill to conquer first too. Understand the demands of the event girl and get a grip. I composed myself and out came my phone to do another little video clip.

I dusted myself off and strolled up the lane, slightly annoyed with myself. Already we could see the front runners power walking up the fell-like ‘mountain’ of rough terrain. Through the gate we went and followed them. There was no path the only way was up, scrambling through the heather. At times it was easy to lose balance, sometimes on all fours sometimes clinging onto a wild plant or two. I forced myself up leaning on my quads for extra power, forcefully determined to get to the top. My knee was throbbing but I was to ignore it. Unlike Shaun who’s knee was causing him problems this morning and the hill had just killed it off.

Once on the flat, we broke into a gentle jog, we were around mid-pack by now, enjoying the stunning views and making the most of the gorgeous off road terrain. Within another half mile Shaun’s face was full of painful determination, I could tell he was suffering, I slowed down and jogged by the side of him for a while, asking how he was, On a scale of 1-10 how bad is the knee? 9.5 he replied.

Like stones rolling down hills, fair ideas reach their objectives despite all obstacles and barriers. It may be possible to speed or hinder them, but impossible to stop them. – Jose Marti

Then we had to have the conversation. ‘It’s time for you to go’ he said, ‘ go and chase people down’. He could see the electric in me but I didn’t want to leave my partner in crime, we had run 32 miles together the day before, I wanted to run another 37 and support each other but I knew with the look on his face right now that there was a slim chance that he was not going to make the 37 miles. Now that was such a hard decision to make; to leave Shaun behind suffering and for me to run the remaining 35 miles alone. We shook hands, wished each other luck, promised to text each other and see each other at the finish, in one piece.

Today I am in a long distance relationship just me and the miles – Author Uknown

And I was alone, running down the road, alone in my head but surrounded by lots of other runners. Thoughts running through my head to whether I should have stayed with Shaun. Was it selfish of me to go ahead? Or did I do the right thing? My watch beeped, and beeped again far too soon and another beep. I glanced down at it to find that I had been running just over 8 minute miling, this was too fast but I felt that I had the energy to do this as I passed runner after runner with a ‘good morning’ ‘hiya, and wishing them the best of luck. Perhaps I was pushing the pace a bit too much. There was a great comrade today, everyone was really friendly although they must have thought I was going out way too fast; another silly little girl they probably thought, they thought they were probably right. However, keep with me readers and I will take you on a journey to the finish.

The country roads were bliss, beautiful scenery stretched ahead of me, I was enjoying this, but knowing that Shaun was way back may be struggling just to put one knee in front of the other. A wave of guilt washed over me and I remembered what he said before we left and ploughed on. Actually, I am alright I am going to run today, Runmatic. That’s what matters.

It’s your road and yours alone. Others may run it with you but no one can run it for you – Author Uknown

The first checkpoint was at the side of the road, it appeared unexpectedly. A pop up checkpoint. I didn’t realise how many people I had passed in the last 6 or so miles after leaving Shaun, but apparently, I was around 10th holding 2nd or 3rd female position. Gulp! How did that happen?

I passed onto a main road and through a quaint village with ample scarecrow type stuffed characters hanging off every gate or wall or positioned in every garden. There was even a couple sat on a bench, a dog, and a workman half way up an electricity pole. Wish I had taken a photo, what a sight to see on an Ultra! I was feeling ok but still doubted in my head whether I would reach Newcastle in one piece. I am sure everyone goes through this on an ultra, you doubt yourself and your surroundings.

You can be transformed. Not overnight, but over time. Life is not a race. Neither is an ultra-marathon, not really, even though it looks like one. There is no finish line. We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters is how we move toward that goal. What’s crucial is the step we’re taking now, the step YOU’RE taking now. – Scott Jurek, Eat and Run

Back on the trails and through lovely farmland, a farm track took me up into some deep cool woods. I took on an energy gel – breakfast; but it wasn’t muesli or marmalade and toast flavour even though it was courtesy of Torc the brand of delicious flavours.

I glided around the well-marked trails and over many stiles. I could see one runner in front of me, well in front of me, useful for a marker but unable to catch him. I was really enjoying this. Ultraness! Running to my happy pace.

The first big pit stop was at the end of a park with a golf course, big cheers as I came in went into the tent grabbed some flapjack for the journey, a handful of jelly beans filled up my water bottle and got on my merry way. I then noticed that about 4 or 5 people had gone straight through the checkpoint and overtaken me including one girl. I knew I had done the right thing by stopping off and this benefited me later on as I knocked them all down with my high flying flapjack. It doesn’t half come in handy even if you don’t want to eat it.

A couple of beastly little hills meant walking was a must and I took this opportunity to stuff food down me and compose myself. Through a pretty village where the locals were supporting us, go girl they shouted, keep it up. I thanked them with a big grin on my face and soldiered on. I was feeling ok, yes I said I was feeling ok, OK?

By this time some 20 miles in the rain was coming down heavy. I got my waterproof out, whilst running I may add, hurled up the hood and kept on running. The shower subsided so the coat went back in the rucksack, then another downpour. The silly black clouds decided to play this game with me for the next half hour or so, in out in out came the raincoat do the hokey pokey that’s what it’s all about. During this game of hokey pokey, I passed the girl who had swarmed past me at checkpoint one and a couple of other guys. Thank you flapjack.

The basics of the Ultra marathon

left foot forward
right foot forward

The next checkpoint was on another busy road, with two friendly guys chatting to one of the runners who I had just caught up. They asked if we were enjoying ourselves, hell yeah I replied, it’s great. They informed us that there was one more hill before hitting the flatness of Newcastle. Oh that’s ok then, no problem only 18 miles to go. I have it checked. Tick.

The route meandered around an interesting cult-like village of wooden hutty houses surrounded by an eerie ghostlike presence. Not a person in sight, well I thought that was the case so let out a little burp, then someone made me jump “Well done lassie” he shouted; a local looking bemused at a little wee lassie aka me running past his garden burping in the most unladylike fashion. Gulp how embarrassing! At the end of the cult-like village a sign “Free water for Runners” err thanks but no thanks as I ploughed on through the trails in it for the long run, pushing through my limits just being in touch with nature and freedom. Crazy girl!

I prefer to be crazy and happy rather than normal and bitter – Paulo Coelho

This was such fun – even beats watching the DVD box set of Miranda on a Sunday morning (since when have I ever done that? Bear with!) It became even more fun () as I slid down a bank (where the arrows pointed) and through a river, yes there was an arrow in the river, yes really – was this Man V Horse version 2? Such fun such fun, as the lyrics from the band ‘Fun’ go:

If you’re lost and alone
Or you’re sinking like a stone
Carry on
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground
Carry on


Around mile 25 another checkpoint appeared and I kindly got informed that I was now 2nd female and only a handful of runners were in front of me. They failed to mention the large lake like puddles which were also in front formed from the rain the previous night. Nice but hell I already had wet feet so it really didn’t matter. I could feel my toenail coming loose, almost dangling, it must have been the wet that set it off, and it felt like I was getting a huge blister across my foot, was I paranoid or was it a blister? I thought if it got worse I would check it out at the next checkpoint. Check. Just get comfortable with uncomfortable and deal with it.

I felt like I was running slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, but it didn’t matter, I was still running and that’s the nature of the game in an Ultra. Just keep going. Not far to go, not far to go all I have to do is convince my mind that it’s not far. To. Go.

Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part – Author Uknown

25 to 30 miles was hard going, it was about producing positive energy vibes which would make me feel stronger. Talking myself into the next 12 miles. Minimal Hillage was maybe not always the best thing; the flat trails were flattening the mind. Sunday walkers merely strolled on by, kids on their bikes oblivious to what my body was going through. Once it had quieted down from the Sunday rush-hour dog walking; I stopped for an obligatory wee and ate some more energy (not at the same time I may add) Not that I can even remember what it was by this time, I was just running and it was called energy now. Nothing more nothing less.

The last checkpoint could not come sooner just under the 30 mile mark not that the course was marked but my Garmin did beep at me so I was guessing around 30ish miles, give or take 10 or so. Accuracy on Ultras? Pah.

Find the level of intolerance you can tolerate and stay there – David Horton

Cheers went up once again as I came into the last pit stop just behind a couple of other guys. We all got offered hot drinks but I declined. Yes you read right I declined a cup of tea. I must have been delirious to decline a cup of tea. Instead, I swigged down some juice and swallowed a bit of flapjack. I got asked if I was ok, ‘yup just tired’ I replied, well hello you have just run 60 plus miles of course you are going to be tired, and with that I was on my way with a mere 7 miles to go. My body hurt; my mind more so, but just 7 miles that’s just a 10km and a warm down that’s all. That’s all folks. It suddenly became a reality that I could place in the top 10; which still sends shivers down me.

Don’t run to beat others. Run to beat yourself, while beating others. – Author Uknown

Overall I wasn’t sure but I knew that I had overtaken a hell of a lot of runners. Yes I was hurting but there were people out there who were suffering so much more. Could I really run this last 7 miles, my quads were burning like London in 1666, the state of my wet soggy feet were unknown, my tummy not wanting to see another ounce of flapjack, another jelly bean or another chocolate-coated raisin but hell there was some sort of nice food waiting for me when I finish. A Sunday carvery for starters, and for mains and pudding….? Oh boy I had better run faster.

Just when you think you can’t run another step… You remember you’re still 4 miles from home so you suck it up because that’s where the food is – Runner’s World

The route followed the river down to Newcastle City Centre. The pathways were not the most picturesque but I was grateful for the flatness this far into the run, although it became a little monotonous after mile 31 and mile 32 and mile 33 and mile 34. I passed a guy who was now walking and could see another in the far distance. Nearly there – yes nearly there! 3 more miles to go as I threw down a couple of dextrose tablets in hope they would power up my brain and I could find the extra bit of energy to finish. However I was still running, yes even after 64 miles I was still running.

Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic. Tim Noakes, Lore of Running

After meandering onto a road for a little while I was soon back down on the river path again. I recognised this path from the C2C bike ride I had conquered over 2 years ago, not far to go not far to go as I overtook a gentleman who was part of a relay team who commented how strong I looked. Strong at 67 miles? Really? I told him not to give up now and that we were only 2 miles from the finish, maybe that was me trying to convince myself really. Deep down, I just don’t know how to give up.

Finally the Tyne bridge came into sight, an iconic structure in itself where I have ran over it 3 times at the Great North Run. The Great North Run I hear you chirp – blimey I have just run that nearly 3 times over twice over on two consecutive days, whoops! A flash of a camera lens stared me in the face at 36 miles and led me to remark at a photographer – ‘are we really supposed to be photogenic at 36 miles?

Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself.. – John Binghami

Then suddenly in sight came the blow up black arch with the printed words “FINISH” on it homed at the other side of the river. Little street market stalls buzzing with Sunday shoppers swept across the pathways in the near distance. I was getting faster, as I pounded through the busy pedestrian stalls with unsavoury smells of Thai and Indian wafting down my throat making me feel dreadfully sick. Though cheers from the general public just made me go, girl. Nothing was going to stop me now as I let out a big grin; took in the millennium bridge and powered up it with all the strength I had. I could hear the guy on the big fat mic shouting as I whizzed down sprinting to the finish with a massive grin on my face. I had just run 69 miles, and I had just come 4th today they announced. Oh and I was 2nd Female, today, yesterday and overall, with a total finishing place of 6th, beaten from 5th place by 2 little minutes. Holy dancing pink cows with purple spots I was rather emotional.

because the further I run the bigger my smile

Immediately some guy rushed up to me and stuck a mic in my face, and asked me some random questions. I couldn’t focus, how did I feel being 4th? 2nd female? How was it yesterday? How were you this morning? How are your cats? Hell I am missing them ok? How many toenails have you lost and what is pin number of your credit card? Once I had been scrutinised for all of Newcastle and beyond to hear I was funnelled around to pick up my medal have my photo taken and pick a t-shirt. I was gasping as I made my way into the tea room, a cup of tea a cup of tea that’s what I need a cup of tea. Bang… it was 50p. Oh please just give me a cup of tea. I composed myself routed around my rucksack and managed to find a mere £1 coin for my cup of tea or two. I was happy but sore. Sore and Happy – the most satisfying feeling even if I did have to pay 50p for a cup of tea.

Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. – Muhammad Ali

My thoughts then switched to Shaun, how was he doing? I hoped he was on his merry way back enjoying every step. I was right and any little doubt in my head that he would not finish vanished. I had faith in my friend I knew he would do it with gritted teeth. That Sunday carvery awaits you my friend. After I had showered and grabbed a quick massage and sat down again, I heard a “Helen”. Shaun was sat opposite me looking spaced out. very spaced out, I immediately asked how he was but he was unable to focus. Asking if he wanted anything I got him a coke and helped him come round by singing a David Bowie song to him:

This is ground control to major Shaun, you’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

(Note readers: I did not really sing this, I was not that spaced out)

Once we had both composed ourselves it all became reality. We chatted about our experiences, drank coke ate ‘sandwiches on the go, even though we were going nowhere. They were serving what looked like a stew but to be honest the smell was enough to put even the hungriest of runners off at this stage in the game. All I wanted was a pint of salt and a cup of tea. I had lost the little token that they gave me to get it for free anyway (found a week later in the pocket of my running top) So I ended up still munching on their free egg mayo sandwiches on the go instead. Eggtastic.

Reality hit we had just run 69 miles, Shaun came in just an hour behind me an amazingly stunning effort with dodgy knees and fatigue on his first-ever Ultra. I never really doubted that he would make that finish line as I knew he was full of determination, and he walked away with the fantastic position of 17th, and 10th solo male. Enjoy your pain, you’ve earned it mate.

So if you have got this far reading all this, I promised you earlier I would take you on a journey to the finish and now that leaves me with one last thought:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?


Day 1: 32 miles – 5.27 – 2nd Female / 12th overall
Day 2: 37 miles – 5.53 – 2nd Female / 4th overall
Overall – 11.19 – 2nd Female / 6th Overall

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