This is an event that has caught my eye a few times over the last couple of years due to it's quirky nature and I finally snagged myself a place for it this year. Leading up to it I have really struggled to motivate myself not because of the event itself, but because of the year I have had. I am never sure just how much to give away, will people bother to read, will I embarrass myself, will it damage the coaching business. I would hope it is none of these, I would hope people will appreciate that I do understand it isn't always easy, that it isn't always fun and that sometimes you just need someone to listen and nothing more so I am telling it as it is, although a very abbreviated version and even that is long.
So lets go back a little, after the Wildhorse 200 back in April I sensibly backed off the training a little but found my anxiety that I have always suffered with really starting to escalate and to cut a long story short ended up seeking medical help to deal with depression and anxiety, this seemed to open the floodgates and by the end of June I hit the point that putting my running gear on led to panic attacks and emotional breakdowns and I had to take a complete break. I would normally be running anywhere from 40-80+ miles a week but couldn't even face a mile and didn't run at all for around a month and when I did get back out they were very short gentle runs, any effort at all reduced me to tears. I wouldn't even have managed those very few gentle runs without the support from a couple of friends who found themselves unexpectedly having to drag me out of a very dark hole and literally provided me with a shoulder to cry on, I have leaned on them far more than is fair, so a huge thank you to them.
Eventually after a few appointments, a diagnosis of Social anxiety Disorder and Depression and a few weeks of building the medication up to an effective level I started to run again, very sporadically and still emotionally challenging but a step back to functioning at least and after a few weeks managed to complete a few runs of 2-3 hours. My mileage was still very very low, training completely unstructured and very much a mental battle and this is when I made a slightly mad decision. I was booked to run Leeds Liverpool Canal Race as a Spartathlon qualifying attempt. I was clearly never going to hit that time after running maybe 150 miles in 4 months but I genuinely believed that if I didn't start that event I would never run in an event again so I set my first running goal since falling apart, start LLCR.
This blog isn't about LLCR and it is already waffling on somewhat so I am not going to detail that run other than to say I turned up, started, met some wonderfully understanding and supportive people and somehow managed to complete the 130 miles in the time limit relying pretty much on fitness that had been build up training for Deadwater and the Wildhorse 200, with a sprinkling of stubborness thrown in. Fingers crossed I will be back for LLCR next year, hopefully in a better frame of mind and in shape and highly recommend the event.
Following LLCR I continued to battle the mental demons, only managing sporadic runs and then at the end of September was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer caused by my anxiety/depression medication resulting in me being ordered off the meds. In a rapid space of time this led to a severe decline in my mental health and being totally open an honest leading me very much to borderline crisis point. After much conflict with my GP I was eventually offered an alternative medication and after a week or so started to get back to the point of just about coping with the world.
So now we are in October and I am finally able to string 3-4 weeks of running together building from next to nothing up to about 35 miles of running per week with only minor side effects from the medication and the first sign of me getting on top of things mentally. Then November arrives, I finally start making it to the top of the waiting list for all the medical tests, screenings and therapy sessions and running is very low down on the list of priorities so again drops away to next to nothing. At the same time I receive my blood test results showing I have a vitamin B9 deficiency which in itself can contribute to mental health issues as well as dizziness, tiredeness, problems concentrating, shortness of breath and all sorts of other things that really don't help either running or your state of mind and I seem to be getting all of them. Escape from Meriden is fast approaching and I am once again finding any reason I can not to run, have no interest at all in planning my route or getting my kit together and am generally avoiding anything that involves me running. All things that anyone who knows me will tell you I obsess over.
So with 2 or 3 days to go I finally sit down and spend a couple of hours creating a route and tweaking it each evening before deciding it will do. Then I start getting my kit together throwing just about all the gear I own on the living room floor before deciding in about 30 minutes I will have that, that, that and that and the rest can stay. I then spend 4 hours trying to find my running shorts, fail miserably and give up packing a pair of running leggings instead and fed up with the whole idea put it all to one side and try to forget about it and go to bed. At this point it is just as well I had arranged travel and accommodation months in advance or it would have been another reason to drop out. As it turns out the travel and accommodation all went too smoothly and I ended up in Meriden far earlier than expected and twiddling my thumbs so next year note to self, arrive on the day.
Race day arrives, getting ready before checking out of the hotel I discover the seam on my running leggings has failed and they go in the bin leaving me with my Ron Hill trail joggers to run in so on they go and I spend the day pub crawling, drinking lattes and eating far too much food just to kill time. I have booked a table for dinner an hour or so before registration with Hayley and Steve, a couple who are running the chained event (yes, chained together for 36hrs) who I have bumped into once or twice and have spoken to in running groups on facebook as well as Sean, a runner who had only a week or so prior finished a 24hr obstacle race in the States, reassuring to see that we all make silly decisions on what to enter.
All nice and relaxed so far and over to registration a few minutes walk away with us being the first to arrive so calm and now crowds to negotiate before back to the pub for a drink or two and charge devices back up before heading back for the race briefing. It's at this point that the hall started to fill up and I found myself struggling a little, so much so that about half way through the briefing I sloped off to the toilets purely to get out of the crowded room, calm myself back down and then go back to the remainder of the briefing. At this point I noticed a few familiar faces bumping into Gareth and Jo from my previous running club, Gordon and Sean from Deadwater as well as Rachel being the super volunteer that she always is but managing to miss Dylan finally saying hello just before the start.
And there we are, somehow at the start of my final event of the year, after all the turmoil of the past few months I am still standing, I have still made the start line and I am going to keep doing what everyone knows I do, I am going to keep moving forward. Without any fanfare a quiet voice says go and a couple of hundred runners all look very confused and start moving in various directions, then turn around and go the opposite way as their GPS devices finally register which way they are moving and correct us. This is the only time when I feel calm, the only time the anxiety goes away and I lose my fear of the world. For every other moment of the year I feel like everything is a test, the simple task of going to the shop to buy bread sets my pulse racing, my lips tingling and the world spinning, even training runs, all the emotional turmoil goes into overdrive but in a race, tell me to get from A to B under my own steam and a switch is flicked and I function!
The first few miles are uneventful, coasting along at a very sedate pace chatting to a few others going my way including Hayley and Steve who I shared a meal with and are going in the same general direction, a nice gently 3 miles before diverting through a kissing gate, down a couple of steps carved into the banking and onto some nice track alongside a field. My route goes all the way from Meriden to Barry, a total of around 115 miles and includes about 3 miles of trail in total so this trail isn't going to last long. Through a second field and onto some sticky clay mud with large tyre marks in it, noticing a sign I stop to have a read but it is nothing to worry about, just a warning of high pressure gas pipe so no heavy vehicles so I carry on and my route kicks to the left, after about 20ft I hit a rather large problem, it seems that despite not having crossed any barriers or passed any warning signs I have found my way onto the HS2 construction and instead of a trail across a field I am confronted with a huge valley that has been dug out and filled with water, absolutely impassable. Retracing my steps I head back to the muddy track before suddenly realising my leg has just disappeared, the mud I had walked over was a crust covering a quagmire, it has now broken and the water under has come gushing up turning the whole thing into slosh and sinking me past my waist.
I somehow manage to drag myself up out of it, however my left trainer stays right where it was and is lost somewhere in its gooey muddy grave. Being the stubborn person I am I spend a good ten minutes rolling about in the mud sticking my arm as far as I could reach searching for my trainer with no joy before some headlights come in my direction and I warn them to stay away as I have lost a shoe. Like all intelligent ultra runners Hayley and Steve immediately came over to laugh and document my plight, sorry I mean help. I could probably tell this bit of the story for hours but in short another 10 minutes of fruitless searching, hysterical laughing and photos that will go down in history and I made the only possible decision.
Time to carry on without the shoe!
Now it seems some people think this is not the only choice, and I will admit you are right. I did very briefly consider a few other viable alternatives but none seemed to have a good chance of ending well. Idea one was offer a crazy amount of money to buy someone's shoes, the issue with this is I don't have silly sums of money and also I am tight. The second option was mug someone for their trainers, morally questionable and almost certainly a disqualification so discarded that thought leaving carry on with one shoe. Now somebody did mention stopping at that point but I couldn't quite grasp that, the first option finish point was 30 miles, I was at mile 4 so why would I stop, stupid idea!
Escaping the Bog
Climbing out of the quagmire and looking like the feature creature from they came from the swamp Hayley and Steve navigated a route back onto firmer land while to any bystanders watching a terrifying creature from the mud slowly stalked after them from behind leaving a slimy trail in it's wake. Eventually we found our way onto some road and carried on, with them keeping a suitable distance in front as the mud was just starting to get rather fragrant. I did attempt rolling around in the grass but it was an utterly lost cause, no matter how much mud transferred onto the grass I still was absolutely caked in mud, the pictures really don't do it justice. At some point, I don't recall when I stopped to put a second sock on to provide a little padding and then carried on as best as I could contemplating how to save the situation later on. It was only about 01:00 in the morning, the local Tesco's were not 24hr so no chance of picking up footwear there so my first thought was to stop at a garage, buy gaffer tape and tape my foot and ankle creating a shoe, arriving at the garage I got a look of horror from the cashier and assured they did not sell gaffer tape, I gave up on that idea.
So lets skip along a little, for the next 25 miles I lopsidedly plodded my way along, running whenever the ground was forgiving enough to allow me to, catching up and then dropping behind Hayley and Steve on a regular basis and having a chat with a few other runners who I confess their names escape me, shouting ouch on a regular basis when it turned out the ground wasn't as forgiving as it looked and narrowly avoiding a few smashed bottled. I received some messages from Heather who was busily shoe shop hunting on my behalf but I kept reaching them a few hours too early, then about 06:50 a message reply from Rachel with an offer of a spare pair of Dylan's trainers was accepted and we arranged to meet at Droitwich.
Now a confession here, for a split second I was actually disappointed that this was before I would have completed a one shoe marathon so I did briefly consider delaying delivery, but I am a wuss at heart so shot that thought down. Reaching Droitwich I stopped at the first place that had obvious parking and some steps for me to sit on and do some foot admin, the local methodist church. Socks off, talc liberally applied and feet left out to air, just as Rachel arrived the minister came out to check what we were up to and said it was OK as long as we cleaned the talc up, I could have understood if I was indoors but it didn't seem very charitable in the outside carpark but hey ho. First pair of trainers didn't fit at all so slight worry, all the rest were trail but a pair came out of the boot of the car and I had to have a little chuckle, a nice white pair of Nike Pegasus 38 Flyease (initial review here) exactly the same as the half a pair as I was wearing (half size smaller but who cares) and on they went and after not close to enough thank yous, off I trotted.
It was amazing how much better it felt to have cushioning under both feet but I was fully aware that some damage had already been done, the sole of my left foot was very tender which didn't concern me too much but there was the start of some visible bruising on the left shin and it was becoming very painful, the same pain I experienced on the last day of Deadwater and I had to really grind through that to finish Deadwater and I was far more motivated for Deadwater than I was for EFM so I started the realistic re-evaluations immediately and decided unless my pace was clearly quick enough for the 90 mile target I would call it at 60 and prevent further damage to my leg. So realistically about another 35-40 miles to go, I did 30 in more pain at Deadwater so in my mind there was no doubt, 60 was a given, so I let the wife know I was going to reach the 60 as the crow flies and then call it a day, I had no interest in beating peoples mileage as to me it was about the most efficient route so the lower the mileage the better to hit that 60 and I just wanted to get it done.
While stopped I had managed to clean myself up a little so my first priority now I had shoes was to get some food and fluids. Something I hadn't mentioned up to this point is that I got into such a mess my drinks bottles were also covered in mud and 2 of the 3 zips on my bag (as well as the zip in my shoe) wouldn't unzip so in the 7hrs I had drunk about 750ml and eaten 3 gels and a snack bar, not even a fifth of what I had planned and it was showing in my energy levels. There was no point dwelling on it but at least now the mud had dried, I had clean hands and shoes and so could buy some sandwiches and water and clean my bottles which I duly did and carried on trying to hold a decent pace but quite content that anything around the 15minute mile mark would get the job done.
Now given how long it took me to get to this point in the blog it seems almost cheating but the rest of the event was pretty much uneventful. My plotted route after mile 4 turned out to be as good as I could have hoped consisting of quiet roads or roads with pavements and a few short sections of trail. There was one section of a lesser A road that was not ideal but far from dangerous and had room to step out of the way if need be so the final 40 miles turned out to be rather uneventful, it was just me moving forward and occasionally popping in to buy some drinks and snacks. The views going over the Malverns were stunning and worth the climb and as seems to be the norm the public rights of way had generously been protected by the farmers with fencing, bramble hedges and barbed wire all considerately attached to the public footpath signs to help hold them up around Ross on Wye so I started to feel right at home.
My original route had meandered a little from Ross on Wye to avoid the A40 heading into Monmouth as I had no idea if there is pavement on the A40 but know it to be a very busy road so had avoided, however while glancing at my route I noticed a name that stood out, Crockers Ash, it was just on the edge of the 60 mile marker and I was on a road heading straight to it but about to divert off to avoid the A40, the A40 was at 60 miles! Instead of avoiding the A40 it now became my main target, follow the road straight to the junction with the A40, 800ft down the hill 400ft down another hill and past the 60 mark, wait for the GPS tracker to update, swear at the GPS tracker, curse into space, shake the GPS tracker and it finally updated and 60 miles as the crow flies done. I am pretty sure if not for that disaster at mile 4 90 would have been well within my grasp but I think to pull out a 60 from that you have to be happy and in a decent enough time as well all things considered. Text sent to say I was done, tracker turned off and brain switched off.
A quick phone call to the wife and a slight issue, a misunderstanding meant that she thought I would hit 60 miles in Monmouth which was still a good way down the road so she hadn't left the house yet and would be about and hour. I took my waterproof off and sat down on the floor, pulled out my down jacket for warmth and put that on and switched off. After a little while realised my phone was ringing and it was Hayley calling with an update, unsurprisingly the cold was getting to them and a few other issues meant they were seeking warm shelter and calling it a day, after suggesting they use their foil blanket I hung up and realised I was freezing so pulled my foil blanket out, wrapped it around me and over my head with just the headtorch poking out and set about staying warm. After what felt like at eternity a car pulled off the A40 and went straight past me, I recognised it as ours and waited for it to turn around but it didn't so I call my wife and explain she just drove straight past me. "Where" she asked and I responded "at the junction to the A40 where I said I was waiting come back down the hill". She came back down bringing a procession of cars with her who all checked I was OK huddled up at the side of the road wrapped in a foil blanket. Turns out she thought I was a Christmas tree!!!
So the aftermath. I am actually recovering quicker than I thought I would. I was concerned I had done some damage that may take a few weeks but I think a week and I should be good to go. I am happy with my effort, I never really believed beforehand I was in shape for 90 but think my performance indicates I still have the engine, I just need a new clutch so I can use the gears again. I think you can see from the photos and the people who spoke to me after will vouch to the fact I can see the funny side of how it turned out, the shoe incident didn't phase me, didn't spoil the experience and has reinforced my belief to some degree that I can face the unexpected and deal with it, if I can carry that over to my non running life things will be so much easier and I am more than happy that my misfortune was able to lighten the mood for others even if just for a couple of days, it was all very good fun!
Thanks you to Richard and Mark for coming up with these adventures so that we can all play for a day, Rachel (especially for the shoe delivery) and everyone else who volunteers for making these events possible and importantly for making us feel super important for a while, I am not sure how many runners mention it but the attention you get from volunteers, even just for those few minutes can be incredibly uplifting and I am not sure that we give enough credit for that.
Thanks and well done to all the other runners, always a great friendly bunch who will literally give you their spare shoes to help you through, not sure what more you can ask for (half a size bigger maybe), and thank you Dylan for your shoes, I have broken them in for you.
Thanks to all the friends old and new who tracked my journey and supported along the way, it's always extra motivating to know people are watching your little dot on the map waiting for it to update.
Finally, thank you Carol for putting up with all the inconveniences that running these silly adventures and being married to me brings.