The route was split into 10 mile chunks, which sort of went like this:
0- 10 miles: Ok, no drama, but was it was a bit hilly and warming up.
10-20 miles: I filled my 2 water bottles up at the first manned CP before setting off on the “Conquest” loop, where things sort of started to go wrong. I got covered in grease climbing over a fence, started too quickly up Corden Hill which went on forever and took me ages to recover from, slipped going through the woods and grabbed a barbed wire fence which sliced my finger open, and ran out of water 5km before the next CP. It wasn’t especially hot in the grand scheme of things, about 24*c at the hottest, but that was a good 10*c than anything I’d run in so far this year, and the sun kicked my ass pretty early on.
20-30 miles: Gasping, I downed a litre of water at the 10 mile CP and filled the 2 bottles on my race vest, as well as the spare handheld I’d brought. I was really dehydrated and suffering at this point, and just walked and drank for about 20 minutes until I felt a bit better. I let the small group I’d been running with go ahead which took a bit of pressure off me too. In my head, I quit at this point, just trudging up a hill through a field of sheep. I could barely imagine getting to the next CP, never mind running another 20 miles. I mentally drafted my DNF race report, and honestly didn’t care if I ever ran or raced ever again. For about an hour. I finally got up past Brookshill Marsh to Devil’s Chair, choked down a gel, and felt a little better at the prospect of a nice flat stretch, which was stupid. Running through Stiperstones was kind of flat in a topographical sense, but it was just a rock-strewn path, melon-sized rocks, but pointy and impossible to run on. I stumbled through, ripping both my shoes on the rocks and swearing a bit, but the slower pace was making me feel much better. Things are kind of a blur from there, but all of a sudden I was at the next CP in the Red Lion beer garden.
30-40 miles: I had a cake, a sausage and some sweets at the CP and another load of water, topped up my bottles, and headed off on the “Famine” loop feeling quite a bit better. I’d caught the group I was running with before, and 4 of us ran together for quite a while, me, Michelle (who won the Women’s 100 mile) a guy called Billy, and another guy who dropped back before I could get his name. We were all doing ok relatively speaking (despite missing a self-clip CP and having to go back for it) until we hit Earls Hill. Michelle bounced up it like a mountain goat, but Billy and I really struggled. I finally got to the top and collapsed on the ground. It felt pretty good down there and I might’ve nodded off if my calves hadn’t started cramping like hell. The three of us plodded on, but Michelle was in so much better shape and cracked on ahead. Billy and I shuffled along for a bit, then perked up a bit on the descent back to the Red Lion CP.
40-50 miles: Michelle was gone before we got to the CP, and Billy was weighing up whether to drop to the 50 mile route (an option for the 100 milers at this CP). I was too sick to eat, nausea hitting me in waves, so I filled up my bottles and headed off. A short while later I was in a field being attacked by bulls. The cows and bulls along the route had been a bit inquisitive to say the least up to this point, but in this field they sort of went mental. About 1/3 the way through the field, about 12 adolescent bulls charged me. My only options were a barbed wire fence I could never have jumped, or shouting and waving my arms, so I shouted and waved my arms. The bulls stopped and backed off briefly, then charged me again. I did the same, but this time they just stopped, without backing off. I shouted and screamed at them again, but they seemed to have worked out that wasn’t going to do them any harm and charged me again. All I could do was leg it for the gate, which I made with about 3 metres to spare before they ground to a halt behind me, all snorting and angry at not having managed to gore me to death.
Once the adrenaline had worn off I carried on my shuffle, knowing there was just one more long shallow-ish climb to go before the descent back to the finish. At that point another runner caught me up. We’d chatted a bit earlier (but I’d forgotten his name), and we staggered along chatting for a few miles up to the top of Wild Moor from where we re-joined the trail we’d come up in the morning. Knowing it was only 2 miles or so of downhill to go I perked up no end, but I was deliberating the etiquette of burning off and leaving him. We’d not run for long together in the grand scheme of things, but we were quite close to the finish and I didn’t want to be a dick and burn off just for the sake of a place. Just as I was thinking that, he told me to go on as he was going to walk in from there, so I did, and I’m really glad I did. Not because I somehow in all the chaos of the day managed to come in in third place, but because the slightly technical descent down to the finish was the only part of the whole race I actually enjoyed. It felt amazing to know it was nearly over, and that I was going to make it, and that I could run knowing that it didn’t matter. It felt like I was flying down the hill for a sprint finish (despite the fact I was probably 9 minute miling), and I’d have missed that if we’d just trudged down together.
I was astonished to find I’d come third, in 11hrs 35mins. I’d thought there were loads of people in front of me, 50 and 100 mile runners, but most of them had been doing the 100 and some must have taken wrong turns along the way in that final leg. I think I must also have inadvertently passed more people than I thought when I went through the last CP and they were resting or refuelling, but to be honest my brain was fried so god knows.
This was supposed to be the final warm-up for the SDW100 in 4 weeks, but I’m really starting to wonder if I want it badly enough. I know this route was way tougher than the SDW will be, but I got my hydration and nutrition wrong AGAIN, and made a tough race a million times harder for myself as a result.
As a race it was amazing. I think a lot of people will have been surprised by how tough it was, and I have no idea how the 100 milers got around – the winner Charlie Sharpe came in in 22:30 or thereabouts, and the finish rate for the 100 was about 30% which shows how tough it was. The organisation was fantastic though, the support at the checkpoints was great, and the organisation before and during the event was spot on. It was my first Beyond Marathon event and I’d definitely do more. Maybe not for a week or two though.