Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Lightning, Yoda and a bacon baguette.

Not long after finishing the Lightning run, I sent a text to my mate Simon..."Proves that it's not all physical  If you want to do it; it's there to be done".
I didn't mean to get all Yoda or sound like Confucius (the bloke from the Chinese takeaway) but it sums up how I felt and what I had achieved.

I arrived on the Saturday nice and early (second person there!) and got my tent up and sorted in no time at all. It was nice to sit and chillax watching people arrive and striking up some running related banter.
Because I was running as a soloist; we have our own area to camp in.

It was proper warm so it was a blessing when the ice cream van pitched up. I'm not sure of the nutritious values of ice cream but it tasted good.
I was wary of just sitting around all day so I walked a tiny bit of the course. I'm sooo pleased I walked the course in reverse because 300 metres after the start there's an almighty hill which would have put me on the back foot even before I had started!

I'll quickly describe the course now but go into a smidge more detail later. One word Brutal. As mentioned, the course turns right up a very steep hil shortly after the startl. The only people I saw run up it were those in 5 man teams where they might only be doing 1 or 2 laps during the whole day, so could bust a gut to get up it.
The hill entered one of the wooded areas and here the route consisted of 1/4 mile of very narrow, twisty sections. Tree stumps and branches were just waiting to trip you up or twist ankles plus in parts the organisers had to cut back bluebells and general grassy green stuff, so it was also very slippy.
The course had a couple of flatish sections but because they were over slippy grass early in the day, they still required special attention. In contrast, there were a few sections of extremely hard baked tractor paths (is that what you call them? Tractor roads) which were rutted and again were a fantastic temptation for weak ankles.
No matter how hard I try and describe the course, without you being there, you can't appreciate how tough it was. It makes Kielder look like the Newcastle Town Moor Parkrun.

The night before was bloody freezing. You know it's cold when you use a portaloo after someone else, sit down and think "oh, that's lovely and warm".
Before I knew it, my alarm was going off for 4:30am. Race day!

A sandwich from the catering tent and a cup of tea was my pre-race food of choice. This was followed by a safety brief at 0530 and we lined up at 0550 ready for the off.

Lap 1

As a soloist, I took my place at the very back of the course with my fellow nutters and at 6am a rather feebler hooter sounded, and we were off!
Runners in teams of five powered off (I believe the fastest lap of the day was 38 minutes) while the nutters set off at a more leisurely pace as we were potentially going to run for another 11 hours and 59 minutes.
The first 200 metres ran through the campsite with the sound of cheering, clapping and words of encouragements. We continued for another 300 metres-ish on the relative flat before taking a sharp right up an incredibly steep hill which, after 3 laps, I named it ‘Twat Hill”.
Almost all soloists walked up this hill and that was my plan for the rest of the day.
Once Twat Hill was overcome, the route twisted through one of the wooded areas. This was a very twisty section with very slippy parts due to the organisers cutting a path through the undergrowth for us to follow. Ankle snapping tree routes, branches and random holes were all dangers to be wary of but apart from a few stumbles later on in the day, the trips and falls didn't affect me although I do know a few people came a cropper.
My plan even on lap 1 was to walk any kind of uphill and run downhill and the flat sections. It was chilly at 6am so I was wearing my tights (running, not fishnet), long sleeved Skins compression top, long sleeved shirt and Wallsend Harriers club vest.
There was a drinks station just after 3 miles which you passed again at the 5 mile point. Both times I drank 2 plastic cups of water. As the finish of Lap 1 was approaching I had to plan on what my strategy was to be. I toyed with the idea of running 2 laps back to back but discounted that as being bloody stupid so I decided to pause for a drink and gel.
With half a mile to go there’s a very steep descent which snakes towards the start/finish area. Rounding the corner, the chap on the tannoy gave me a shout “Soloist Mick Stringfellow, finishing his first lap”
Me…a soloist :)

The soloists don’t go into the main handover area where the soft runners go (soft = teams of 5), instead, we peel off after the finish line and enter our camping area. Here we can grab some food or drink or change shirts etc. There’s no stipulation on time spent in this area so if you wanted to, you could finish lap 1, have a 4 hour break and run another lap. You could even cross the track and go the main area for a massage or to the catering tent. The choice is entirely yours. I went to my tent, took a big glug of Lucozade and an energy gel.

Total Miles - 6

Lap 2

Within a mile, I started to get a hot spot on the heel of my right foot. I can count on one foot how many blisters I've had during my illustrious running career but here am I with a goddam blister in the making and I could also feel a hot spot on my pinky toe! I think it was just due to the unnatural movement of my foot in the show due to the changes in terrain.
The only real change in this lap was the amount of runners had thinned out so I was running by myself for quite a time. It’s fab when someone running the hills gives you a “well done solo”. Nice boost and feel good factor.
A mile into my second lap (7 miles) was a nice achievement. My longest run since the Great North Run back in September!
At the end of Lap 2 I peeled off towards my tent and did some work on my feet. A couple of compeeds on my heel and pinky and a change of socks were welcome relief. I also ditched the Skins top. Half a bottle of Lucozade and another gel and I was off for more.

Total Miles - 12

Lap 3

Much slower was the theme here. Feet were ok but it was getting warm now and I was desperate for a drink. I realised that my drinking strategy was letting me down. (Note to self – buy a camelback for next year)
Another achievement; once 13.1 miles was passed, it become my longest run for 4 years!!
At the end of lap 3 I changed into short sleeve top, club vest. I kept my tights on in the belief they might hold my legs together.
I was hungry now so more Lucozade, gel and half a ham bap.

I was chatting to an experienced ultra runner who was pitched opposite my tent and he said “its difficult to get the eating strategy right without overdoing it and spewing”

Total Miles 18 

Lap 4

I took half a bottle of Lucozade with me and a gel. My plan now was to drink the half bottle before the 3 mile water station, have a gel at the water station and a couple of cups of water.
It must have been the motion of running, the gels and food that caused me to throw up around the 23-ish mile mark. Nice.
Back at tent I took an extra long break of 3-4 mins. Gel and water, no Lucozade

Total Miles – 24

Lap 5

Tough. No other words required. (apart from maybe prefixing tough with fooking)

Total Miles 30 

Lap 6

When I arrived back in the nutter area there was no doubt in my mind that I would do another lap. No brainer.
I wanted 36 miles.

Unfortunately my mate Vixx pulled out of the run earlier but was on hand to give me some encouragement and to take my photo before I took a step into the unknown…over 30 miles.

There was a lot of walking, a lot. No matter how hard I tried, I really, really, struggled to run. I was aching all over.
Due to dehydration my head was aching, my neck and upper back were stiff. My lower back which has given me nothing but problems over the years was amazingly fine!
My ITB (side of legs, running to outside of knee) were sore to touch and caused pain. My quads were shaking and my lower leg at the front (no idea of technical term) were shot. I had hotspots on blisters and blisters on hotspots.
I was well and truly knackered. I’ve never been so bolloxed in my life.

The week before I asked my Son; Thomas to pick a number. He picked 32.
My plan was to phone him at 32 mile and speak to him. My thinking was it would give me a mental boost and push me on. I had my phone in my back pocket, so just as my Garmin battery packed up at 31.5 mile, I phoned him.

Me   “Hi, Tom…it’s me. Y’allright? Remember when I asked you to pick a number? What was it”
Tom   “32”
Me   “Guess what, I’m just passing 32 miles now mate”
Tom   “ok, arr right. Ok, see you later”

Not the most encouraging conversation but it was nice to say Hi and it still gave me a boost. Cheers Tom!! :)

I tried to take a gel at 3 miles into lap 6 (33 Mile) to give me a final push but I spat most of out as it was close to making me throw up so I ditched the gel and plodded on.
Entering the finishing straight was such a relief.
I knew, just knew that there was no chance I could do another lap; no way. I was done in.

Vixx took my photo as I crossed the line which was cool. Cheers mate.
As soon as I got to camping area I lay behind the car to escape the sun. I felt relatively ok lying down but as I sat up after 5 minutes I felt extremely nauseous. Vomit number 2 was on its way; watery mouth and everything going on; nice!

I kept it down and hobbled to my camping chair. Vixx said I went grey and Christ I felt it.
After 10 mins I started to feel better so I grabbed my kit and hobbled to get a shower and change. Sorry to mention this but chaffing….OMG…never had chaffing like it.
I was walking like a 95yr old man due to blisters on the sole of left foot, together with chaffing in places I didn't know existed and legs which felt like they were cast from iron.

Total miles - 36
Position - 39th of 50 soloists
Total vomits - 1
Total blisters – Many
Total gels taken - 5 and a half
Total Lucozade - 2 bottles
Total water - approx 1.5 litres
Total food during race – Half a ham bap.
Pre-race breakfast  - Sausage sandwich (Mo Farah had one before the VLM), one cup of tea
Post run food – Meatballs and slice of garlic bread with loads of salt within 60 minutes.
I also bought a Bacon baguette and had it much later, about 4 hours after finishing and it was the best baguette ever. One thing is though, following these stupid races any food with any kind of salt content stings the roof of my mouth like crazy. I guess it's the salt deficit.

I stopped over night as driving home would kill my legs and there’s always a danger of falling asleep at the wheel. So, in slow time I packed away most of my stuff in the car and hit the camp bed around 8:30.

I really enjoyed the weekend. It was the toughest race yet but the banter with fellow runners on the course and before and after is great. Although only speaking for a few minutes you have a bond and an appreciation of how tough it is but you always part with a "good to speak to you", "good luck" etc.

I will 100% do this again next year. I've got some ideas and plans already. I need to look at hydration and that other thing that I never seem to do...train.
Oh yeah, I should really get some miles in before doing these races.
But, as Yoda would say "Proves that it's not all physical  If you want to do it; it's there to be done"



  1. Great report Mick :D It was a shade of grey I have never seen before I must admit....

  2. Nutter you are but well done. Great blog. Tear in my eye at the phone call at mile 32...

  3. Good write up. Never done one of these timed events but you actually made it sound quite attractive. Well done on your achievement