New entry to the list of hardest things I’ve ever done. Possibly the hardest thing physically.
My plan was to write this out before bed so it was all still fresh in but by the time I’d sat at the finish to rest, driven an hour back to the airbnb (with a fuel stop), done all the things: showering, wash the clothes, make the food eat the food, figure out how to get the GoPro to switch on again, social media updates, it was quite late and I was tired.
Preparation for the event had included studying the course profile and photos of past events then reaching a steady state of panic about how insufficient my training had been especially in the last few weeks. On the drive to the event on the morning of the event my poor little car could not manage the hills in anything over first gear and that’s when I knew for a fact it was going to be as hard as I’d feared.
The slower than expected drive plus a queue for the loos meant a rush to get over the start line before they started letting the ‘Long’ route runners through. Paused to get a selfie and one of the other runners offered to take a photo. Then it was over the line and off. Luckily, although it was sunny and very warm while I had been having breakfast it felt much cooler being by the sea.
The very first bit of running felt great but within 10 mins was heading quickly downhill. That meant the legs were doing what I was least well trained for. Quads starting burning very quickly so I was feeling sore even before the first climb which is when it started feeling much warmer. It didn’t occur to me until later on in the race that descending at the beginning would obviously mean having a climb right at the end to get back to the start. It did.
The slower pace of an uphill is when they say to eat as that’s harder to do at a running pace. Quite a few of the climbs felt too steep for that, as the hard work putting one foot in front of the other was making it hard to breathe and therefore chew. Even though I found the downhills more painful for the legs and uphills just hard work it was on the going up bits that the mental energy would waver. Starting to question life choices such as: ‘I’m driving half way (not quite) across the country for a run so I should get my money’s worth and do the maximum option’. Somewhere on the fist or second climb I decided that was a stupid policy and that even a half marathon option somewhere like the Devon Coast or the Peak District would be enough of an experience worth the travel and mean I would have more time to see some of the touristy spots in the area. Having resolved that at the time, since finishing I have said I would happily go back and do the same, longer route, again.
Every mile of the route was absolutely stunning. It helped that it was a mostly sunny day but even on grey day it would have been impressive. The sheer scale (pun intended) of every scene. Having been too far behind everyone else at Peak District event I was happy to be papped by the race photographer early on and now have that as a desktop wallpaper. A friend of mine lives in Porthcawl and I amused myself while on the coastal sections with waving over the channel. I could see land on the other side but not entirely sure it was the right spot.
Past the split to the ‘middle’ half marathon distance route and there was no question about continuing on. Until not more than ten minutes later following a very precarious ‘path’ wedged into the side of a pile of rocks. I imagine that is what it would be like to walk over a huge pile of loose Lego bricks but at a seriously unsettling elevation. Loose. I mentioned to one of the other runners that I could hear the phrase ‘Don’t. Look. Down.’ from a yeaaars old Alton Towers advert repeating in my head but that you have to look down to see where to put your feet. Then we had to contend with a marshal coming up along the path towards us (I think to see to one of the other runners we passed suffering an injury) suggesting we be careful. Good idea! I joked that I wasn’t sure if my legs were shaking because of the climbing (down at this point) or the views. It was probably both.
After getting round to solid, concrete, road everything was starting to feel really sluggish. A deep breath, ‘right, let’s keep going’ moment. And then, around the corner, the holy grail. The first aid station. Fruits and water and smiley people not broken by the heat. It was heaven. Following that a friendly lady was offering to take photos of everyone who stopped to snap the view. Around a few more curves of the coast, into some shady stretches and back to the sea, we were surround by wild rhododendrons. Beautifully distracting.
The next big highlight was during a longer section rambling around under the trees I had the urge to rinse my hands in one of the streams trickling past and then soak my buff and hat. Genius may be stretching it a little far but it felt so good. And the coolness lasted longer than expected. A lot of this stretch through the trees was quieter in terms of other runners. Those I did see easily passing me. Luckily, at the point where there was a fallen tree in the path, there was someone give me a hand climbing around. Not long after that was my lowest point. Feeling broken and exhausted by how difficult it was. That didn’t last long. And one of the things I appreciate about doing events like this, with that route being an extreme example, is there’s literally nowhere else to go except onwards. If I decide I couldn’t go on I would still have to get back from the middle of the trails to somewhere I could be rescued from and neither direction is any easier going than the other. So you go on.
The next sign of life other than the runners was the next course split onto the ultra or the long route. I’d been debating this in my head, not just since that first descent but also for a few weeks leading up to the event when I’d realised my training wasn’t what it needed to be. Perhaps I set myself up to ‘fail’ as most of the energy needed after the legs have started hurting is mental. As I’d gone through the first aid station I noticed that it was only 40ish minutes from the cut off time and that had been playing on my mind as well. Although reasonably confident I would be able to get all the way round within those times there was still some uncertainty bothering me about the difficulty of the rest of the route and how much more I would be able to keep pushing so a DNF seemed like a possibility. In the end I decided the long route was ‘enough’ and the prospect of being able to get back to where I was staying a little earlier won. As I turned the corner and started following the long route, walking and crying a bit at this point, I started to feel every single muscle fibre in both VMO muscles ready to POP and I wondered if that was the end of my race but I managed to walk it off and soon running a relatively flat section.
The nice thing about this split point (and it’ll be different depending on the course) was that it was at around 13 miles in so as the long route was marathon distance that meant I was on the way back and only had to cover the same distance again. That and suddenly not having the noise in my head of deciding what to do helped so much. The route changed as we headed back via a more inland path and the change of scenery, more similar to near home, was really uplifting. Until the pain of more down and up hills started in again! But then it wasn’t far until the next aid station. More refills and boiled, salted potatoes. Those tasted so, so good even cold. The aid station volunteers were friendly and had some decent music going. I think it was at this stage I started to see some of the faster runners who had done the ultra route coming back up from behind again as the routes round back into each other.
A lot of the later part of the route has blurred in to a green haze. There were more hills and some very narrow paths cut into the side of a hill which was tricky trying to overtake big groups of walkers. There was a long section that was shaded and alongside a river, again streams to cool off with, wider paths and more opportunity for running albeit slowly. There was a moment of pause when I considered whether skinny dipping would be worth giving up a finishers medal for but I did continue and a little later on saw a group of people dressed appropriately for a swim.
Fairly sure this was just before the final aid station. There was one more. Again being overtaken by much faster runners coming through. That stop was allegedly around 12-14 kilometres from the finish. Which meant that within an hour every time I started to climb even slightly I started thinking ‘this is it, the final climb back to the top’ only to be disappointed two minutes later eased off again. Eventually there were more signs of life. More marshals in high viz directing us over a junction I recognised from the drive in that morning and finally the last big climb! With 20 minutes more running after that than I’d counted on but then the FINISH LINE. Too relieved think about posing for the camera. Disappointed to see the pizza van driving off into the sunset while I was collecting the finish line goodies.
One of the nice features of a Maverick Race event is the TrailMix food tent selling coffees and cakes. Having eaten a lot of sweet food already I did buy cake (of course) but to take with and instead had a fried egg brioche bap with a black coffee. Anything would have been appreciated at this stage (even cake to be fair) but this tasted so good. I wouldn’t normally drink coffee that late in the day but I figured I wouldn’t have much trouble sleeping and I think it actually helped bring me back to life enough to drive myself back to the Airbnb.
That was that! I’d planned to sit and write this all up on the evening but it took more time with everything that needed doing that I didn’t get round to more than a few notes to help me remember. Interestingly though, that has meant I’ve been through the recovery process. My legs were so, so, sore up until the Tuesday – Wednesday afterwards. Apart from a BodyBalance class on the Monday, which I had worried about but actually helped more than it hurt, the Wednesday was my first workout (half an hour BodyCombat) and two mile run following the event and both were absolutely fine. The Sunday afterwards was my next run, 5 miles, and that was great too. It’s been really different than previous marathon efforts. In the past I’ve wanted to run more and then found myself get more tired more quickly than usual. This time I was happy to just rest. Overall it felt more like recovering from a really brutal leg day than a really big run. Soreness rather than fatigue. I guess perhaps because there weren’t (for me anyway) very long periods of continuous running it was broken up a lot by the hills. And even though the climbing up is aerobically taxing it’s not the same stimulus as running (?). Interesting! I’ve been saying to people all week if you told me I had to go and do it all again the Saturday afterwards I would happily have given it a go (provided I didn’t have to drive again!). I mean, the views…