So I did it! The last day took me over 11 hours but I finished all 3 days, covering 78.6 miles, or 126.4km in just under 25 hours!
The day wasn’t very eventful to be honest. I set my alarm for half 5 to see how my knee was, and woke up after a restless sleep with two locked out knees! Made the decision of leaving with the walkers an easy one at least. A quick trip to the medic to get blisters drained and taped and have my knee iced and we were off to the start in the dark.
Starting off I quickly ended up the back of the walkers group, making slow going up the first big climb. My knees were stiff and my feet were in agony so the only thing to do was plod along slowly and hope things improved. I soon lost sight of most of the walkers, but kept in touch with a few at the back by shuffling along on the flats. After about 45 minutes I could start moving a bit better and slowly made my way to the first checkpoint, only 6.7k in at 1 hour 20. The next hour was another slow moving plod, with the only exciting bit of being caught by the walkers again! Apparently the lead had taken a wrong turn and taken the whole group on a big diversion. They soon moved passed me on some very muddy downhills and I lost sight. After 2 hours, the first runners started to come past, flying along looking very relaxed. I did attempt to try and keep them in sight for a bit, but my foot was too painful to do anything other than a shuffle.
After 3 hours and about 12k of painful hobbling, I got fed up and sat down and put the Vibrams back on. Instant relief! I could actually walk normally, without any pain, so soon made progress, catching a few of the walkers in front of me, as I shuffled along. They are actually quite good at scrabbling over rocks as you can grip the edges with your toes!
Just before the 2nd checkpoint, I caught up with a walking wounded group, containing a couple who were pulling out at CP2 due to injury and one other guy, Kevin, who was limping along. After an hour of running, my knees had decided they had had enough, so stuck with them for a while. Not long after Kevin and I broke away and plodded along to CP2. A quick stop and dosing up on ibuprofen, and we were moving again. The next few hours were just a nice Sunday walk in some good weather!
We hit CP3 after 8 hours or so, and with 2 hours of light left, were pushing the time. However, having come this far, we were not about to stop, so moved on quickly, with just 10.5k left, but what would be a long 10.5k!
Just before darkness, with about 5k to go, 2 of the walkers caught us up, and we stuck together from then on. 3k left and we joined back up to the road where the minibus had just pulled up, as they were about to send the sweeper out for the last walker, who was a couple of miles behind us. We continued on, with it getting darker and darker. There were some scary moments when you shone your torch to the side to see a cliff edge, and it certainly dragged on. However after 11 hours, we hit a bank, looked down and saw the finish line! Slowly making our way down a very muddy descent, we hit the finish not soon after, in a lot of pain, but relieved.
Since then, both my knees have packed in. The drive back was not a pleasant one, as it soon started raining, and was all windy single a-roads until Chester. It took me 4 hours to get onto a dual carriageway! I am know reduced to hobbling around on crutches, with knees that won’t bend, but had a fantastic time.
Lessons learnt from this include:
- If it is off-roading, get some off-road shoes!
- No matter how fit you think you are, you cannot wing 3 marathons in a row!
- It requires more than 2 weeks of training to be able to sustain 7 hours of running a day…
- It is still possible to tan in November…in Wales
- The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is a lovely area
- Even after 6 hours, I can still run pretty strong… if fresh
It was a fantastic event, and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. Very well organised, and hugely enjoyable and rewarding… just make sure you train and practise off-road!
Tough day today. I had a good 9 hours sleep last night and woke up feeling a bit stiff and sore but nothing too major. A shorter transfer to the start today meant we were ready to go at 10.20 and in the sun as well, just as well with a long 43.5k to do today! Still wearing the same kit as yesterday, and with a big climb to start us off, I soon had to stop to take my long sleeved layer off and was running in the sun, in shirts and a vest, in November!!
The climb was pretty brutal and the pack soon thinned out and I found myself towards the back of the middle third or so. The ground today was a lot better, quite rocky and sandy so plenty to grip on, nothing like the mudbath of yesterday. It was also nice to be able to descend at a reasonable pace, though I’m not sure my knees would agree!
With a long 15k to the first check point, I didn’t reach it until 2 hours were on the clock, but I was feeling pretty good. I had a nice blister forming on the heel and my feet felt a bit cramped from being forced into shoes but other than that, nothing major. I did have moments where I was tempted to put the fivefingers back on, and could have easily got away with it in the 2nd hour, but I need a bit more cushioning from the rocky ground. After about 3 hours, my run fitness started to show, and I began to tire, with the 10k to the next checkpoint seeming to drag on for ever, and I didn’t reach it til 3:40 was on the clock. I stocked up on some food and set off, beginning to feel a bit better, but knew I was in for a long slog to the next checkpoint with 16k to reach it. We hit a big beach and I must have had my head down just concentrating on my footing as next thing I know I’m in the middle of a garden with some guy telling me I’ve made a wrong turning! Oops! Annoyingly this added on a few hundred more metres and I was back behind a walker I had just caught, which took me another few minutes to catch again. We reach the end of the beach and had a big climb up to St David’s head, where the path disappeared. I clambered over some rocks looking for somewhere to go when I was caught by a couple of runners who had been about 500m behind me. They cut up heading for another hill top and so I navigated my way around the rocks to follow them. However by the time I got to something resembling a path, there were already at the top and soon over and I didn’t see anyone for another 2 hours. Climbing up to the top took it’s toll, and then once over that it was a horrible rocky descent where I was forced to walk. By the time I reached the bottom my knees were shot, and despite being flat, was still a rocky marshland. Yet more walking. I hit a big low here, not seeing anyone else in sight, having lost more time losing the path and feeling knackered. It wasn’t until about 6 hours that I felt better and started running again. I caught a few people and some walkers and finally saw checkpoint 3, though it took 20 minutes to reach it after a nasty climb and a ridiculous descent where I was basically sliding down a rockface, but coming down the road to the checkpoint i felt great, and soon found myself running 10k pace!
Had to tone that down with one more day to go. I arrived after 6 hours 45 just as it was getting dark, and with just 3k to go, didn’t want to hang around. Quickly refilled my bottles, grabbed some sweets and set off catching some walkers on the climb. We carefully made our way over a hilltop but I lost them on a descent as my knees were too sore. Some nasty steep steps down to the harbour and I hit the finish line after 7 hours and 10 minutes. One long day!
My legs aren’t actually too bad now, but my knees and feet are pretty beat up. I have some nice blisters (ironic as I was in ‘proper’ shoes today!) and some bruised toes, and general soreness from being cramped in shoes all day. My knees are sore and stiff and I think my ITB is tightening up, but the main problem is where I knocked it on a fall yesterday (managed to stay upright today!) and it has swollen up a bit and is painful to bend. I’ll get up early tomorrow to see how it is, if it’s ok I’ll start normally, but if it’s bad I can start with the walkers earlier, and go slower until it loosens up.
Final day tomorrow, and as much as I am enjoying the off road experience, I am looking forward to a rest!
I have to say I think that when I decided to run in my vibrams I really didn’t think about the terrain! They were great fun when it was grassy but when I was descending on the mud, it was chaos, and I had more than my fair share of falls. A lot of people were having problems, but my shoes have no tread in them what so ever so I didn’t have a hope. I would have been much better off in the trek versions, or even some proper off-road shoes(!) but it was an interesting experiment to try and my body has held up well, despite all the questions I was asking myself whilst sliding over in the mud a metre away from the cliff edge…
After a long journey through a storm and some dodgy, single track a roads, I arrived yesterday evening to a rather empty HQ! But there was still food being served so I had some tea and got shown to my accommodation, a lovely little cottage, just a short walk away from the HQ.
A usual restless pre-race night ensued where it felt like I hardly slept. I got up about 6 and started sorting my stuff before I remembered I didn’t need to be up til 8! Another couple of hours snoozing and it was time to grab the kit and get breakfast. We had a long transfer to the start and didn’t get going until 11, but it was nice to finally start.
The first hour was pretty much a procession as it was a narrow track and too many runners to pass, but it eventually filled out. I had the first sign of things to come just before the first checkpoint with a questionable downhill, some mud and my first fall f the day. I arrived at checkpoint 1 in around 1hr9, which was just after 10k so a fairly good pace considering. I refilled my bottles, grabbed some food and left.
The next hour was great, the terrain was good, my legs felt great and I was flying in the Vibrams, despite the rain. However, after about 2 hours (coincidentally my longest run since July!) I started to tire and the mass of people treading the ground and turned it into mudbath. I lost count of the number of times I slipped, including one where I landed on some rocks and knocked my knee, forcing me to walk it lose for a bit. It was a long slog to the next checkpoint and I didn’t arrive until just before 3 hours on the clock.
After some food, and setting off again, I was feeling a bit better and the ground seemed a bit grippier and then next hour and a half passed quite quickly despite some tough terrain and not seeing anyone else in sight. I had a couple of moments where I had to stop and check the map, but I think I managed to navigate pretty well, all in all! I arrived at check point 2 with 4hr30 on the clock and 32k done with just 9 to go. Excellent, should be done within an hour.
However the terrain got worse and worse and I fell more and more. I hit a low patch at 5 hours 30 when I looked at the map to see how far I had left and realised I hadn’t covered nearly as much as I thought. But I was catching people so I can’t have been doing too badly, despite losing lots of time as people flew past me on the downhills and I might as well have sat down and slid to the bottom.
After another 15 mins of a ridiculous descent which I did far too slowly, we hit a little village and had 3k to go. ‘just over than rock there and it’s on the other side’ apparently. ‘That rock’ however was a massive up and a massive down. I caught some of the walkers going up just as it got dark so I just followed them down, praying for some stones in the mud to provide a bit of grip. Finally we hit the road and I left them for a shuffle to the finish to come home with an official time of 6 hours 30.
I appear to be feeling ok! My knee is a little sore from a fall, and my feet just feel tired, but my legs certainly don’t feel like I’ve been running for 6 and a half hours! I had a massage to work out some of the tight spots, but looked in better shape than most at dinner, at least I can walk! Tomorrow will be interesting. Hopefully after a decent sleep I won’t be feeling too bad, but if today was the flat day then tomorrow will be brutal! I will be wearing my Newtons I’ve decided as apparently it is very rocky and I would like to try to run it rather than tentatively walk it in the vibrams! Hopefully my fee will have recovered in time.
Total time so far: 6:30
Total distance: 41.9km
So, 3 marathons in 3 days…. I must be nuts! Especially after my run training of late, which has been severely hampered by a foot injury. First things first, I am going to finish. I don’t have any goals other than that, no time goals and certainly no plans of breaking any records.
I am feeling very underprepared at the moment, partly due to training, partly due to the fact I have just been running around the house looking for bits of kit, hours before I need to leave, I partly because I don’t have any experience of this kind of thing, what so ever! I am going to be the 22 year old triathlete, rocking up to an ultra event, standing out from a mile away, with the shaved legs, looking completely lost, and silly shoes (see below). As crazy as it sounds, I am looking forward to it, I want to see how far my body and mind can go, and how I survive. I know I am young and recover quickly, so hopefully I should be able to put together 3 solid runs. I also know however, that I have not run more than 2 hours since July, and if I am out for 6 hours, I may well fall apart… only one way to find out.
I have had lots of discussions about kit with people. I will be running in a base layer with a thermal vest on top and gillet, and normal running shorts. If the weather is worse, I have plenty of tights, knee warmers, jerseys and fleeces to keep me warm, or even a running vest if it gets really nice (ha!). After a little experiment earlier in the week, I found that my IM Switzerland rucksack makes a great running sack, so will use that to carry my kit. I am going to wear my fuel belt, with 2 bottles in, and carry a normal sized water bottle in my back. (Did plan on using an old camelback I had lying around, but just discovered I would probably be arrested by the Environment Agency for the new species of mould growing in it!). As per the rules, I will have waterproof tops, warm kit and spare food/emergency supplies and a compass and whistle dangling off a strap to whack me round the chest every time I stop running smoothly.
My shoes have caused the biggest amount of contention! After listening to a lot of advice, I am listening to it carefully, then ignoring it! I plan to run in my Vibram FiveFingers, and reactions have ranged, from complete horror and outrage, to intrigue. From the running I have done in them off-road, I love it! They are a lot more comfortable then my other option, my Newtons. Unfortunately I am not in a position to be able to get some proper off-road shoes, due to time and money, but although I may be slipping around in the mud a bit, they perform a lot better in than normal shoes, and aggravate my injury a lot less than my Newtons, something that will be important after 120k! The only problem I am going to have is if it gets extremely rocky, and lots of little sharp rocks, which hurt due to the lack of protection. So I will be carrying my Newtons with me for that reason, and in case my feet pack in! I would be interested to hear if anyone has any experience of running extremely long in minimalist shoes or Vibrams. I do anticapate that if my form goes out of the window, then I could run into problems. Hopefully, running in Vibrams will stop this, but if I run into trouble then it will be Newton time. I have been told it is impossible, and there is no way I will be able to do it in the silly shoes, but there’s only one way to find out!
Hopefully if I can find some internet (or signal, it is the middle of Wales after all…) I will get a daily blog up after each stage. For now, it is time for the long drive down to Pembrokeshire. It should be a nice drive, lovely scenery etc, better than driving back in the dark on Sunday night after 3 marathons!
So yet another long break between posts! Mainly due to the combined incompetence of myself, BT and O2, I know finally have internet in my new house, nearly 2 months after moving in!
It has been a time of ups and downs since the last post. I have had a spate of bad luck. First of all, I got a foot injury about 4 weeks caused by running in my FiveFingers with absolutely dead legs and doing a tempo run. For some reason my leg just didn’t seem to want to work, and 25 minutes in, my foot started slapping against the ground. Being and our and back run, only way home was to run, so 25 minutes later, I hobbled home with a foot strain. This now appears to be a 6 monthly occurrence as I had one the exact same time, this time last year! Though that one was from standing on a plug… With 6 weeks to prepare for an ultra-marathon, it wasn’t exactly the best preparation!
The other bit of bad luck was a bike crash. As part of my training regime (more later) I was out with University Of Manchester Cycling Club and there was a touch of wheels in the group, someone went down in front of me, and I went over the top. Thankfully, I escaped with only a bit of road rash, but unfortunately my beloved Specialized didn’t fare so well, with a crack straight through my downtube:
I am looking at getting this repaired, and hopefully I can, but in the meantime, it means I am training on my old commuting bike, which is proving to be a great winter trainer, as it is bombproof, as also weighs a ton!
Tour of the Peak
So last weekend I set off in the dark, and freezing cold to take part in the Tour of the Peak, which I did last year. However, with my ultra less than a week away, I opted to go for the short version, as I know how I felt at the end of the long one last year! I had a great ride, and really showed my improvement on the bike from 3 big rides a week. I rode constantly within myself, didn’t walk (and that was TOUGH lugging the brute of the commuter bike up Winnats Pass!) and had an enjoyable day. I finished in 4:45, which put me 36th out of 350! Not bad for a rusty bike! It was also nice to do a sponsored ride, as I enjoyed stuffing my face with Soreen at the food stop, and finished the ride with more gels than I started the race with!
Despite my foot injury, training of late has been great, and I am really enjoying being back in Manchester. Despite being the off-season, I am putting in consistent big weeks, and feeling fine for it. My weight is also much better than it has ever been at this time in the season, which is encouraging. In cycling and swimming, I am surrounding myself with better people so I have to up my game. I have joined the Uni Cycling Club, which gives me 2 hard rides a week on Wednesday and Saturday, which generally involves smashing each other for a few hours, and I am seeing the benefits of another year in my legs. Average speed and endurance are all up, and the amount I eat on rides is all down! I also ride with the Tri Club on Sundays, which is more controlled and a chain gang effort, giving me the option of having another hard ride, or switching to a recovery ride.
If you include commuting, I haven’t had a day off the bike since sometime in September! Thankfully I feel fine, and am just enjoying being back in training.
In swimming, I am enjoying being back in squad swims, which really forced me to sort out my technique and up my game from a year of plodding up and down the local leisure centre. Whilst there is still a lot of work to do on my stroke, yesterday I got 500m into the set before I was told to move up a lane. This now puts me in the same lane as the winner of the Outlaw and in the lane next to people who were basically born into a pool and professional triathletes! I have basically as many swims a week as I want, and will put in an endurance set once I switch back to triathlon training after my ultra, which should see me go close, if not under the hour for Roth.
Despite the fact, I have the Pembrokeshire Coastal Challenge in 3 days now, my run training hasn’t been as much as I would have liked. I did however manage nearly 2 hours, half off-road yesterday, so I am confident my foot will hold together. With being used to 2 hard, consecutive days on the bike now, I know my legs recover fairly well, so maybe there is hope after all! I will put another post up just before, outlying training, aims and kit.