A weekend with Hollywood, conquering the Wall!

Posted on: 21 Jun 2017

Hello all you inspirational Buzzers! Well I have just had a wonderful weekend. As I write it is Wednesday afternoon and my body has still not forgiven me for what I put it through on Saturday, the left foot is swollen, right thigh is dead and the whole body is feeling completely drained, BUT, this will pass, the PRIDE will last forever!

Apologies now for the length of this blog, it’s a bit of an UltraBlog!

Back to the start, with weeks to go I was losing confidence that I would be able to complete the Hadrian’s Wall Ultra; my legs were so stiff I felt like I could snap at any point. Then I discovered YOGA! I went to a ‘Yoga for runners’ class last Saturday and it was the best hour and a half of exercise I had done in months! I came away feeling refreshed, stretched and relaxed. My last 10 mile training run the following day felt better than I have run in months. BRILLIANT.

So come last Friday I had another one-on-one yoga session in the morning, Kettlebell Shell, my instructor referred to it as my ‘secret weapon’ and I agreed, I was now armed and dangerous! Ready to rumble. The last 16 weeks of training, all the horrible back-to-back runs, the months of planning, the days of kit packing and checking, the hours of over-eating, all lead to this moment, as I headed with excitement and a little nervousness towards Carlisle!

As soon as I saw Hollywood the nerves were gone. We have run together before, we know how each other tick, we also drive each other on, together we never fail. There is a link I have with this great man that makes me proud, settles my mind, makes me smile. We laugh a lot together. Laughing in the face of adversity. What that gives you as a runner is priceless and hard to describe, but it gives a certainty that the job will get done. I love this legend of a man.

The night before we chatted, drunk, ate the most massive mixed grill I’ve ever seen, plotted and planned our attack, then got an early night. Oh yeah we also got lost twice in the space of an hour in Carlisle, this didn’t bode well for the following day!

After a broken night we were up before five. The hostel we stayed in was full of runners so we chatted to a few of them before we set off just after 6am, the sun was already up and it was warm!

At the start we laughed about how fit and serious everyone else looked, I guess we didn’t notice that, as Jenny McC told me, we look like fit and serious runners too, inside I still feel like the novice I was just 7 years ago when I first took up running…

Setting off just after 7am we enjoyed about ten minutes of cloud cover, which was the last of the cloud we would see that day. We slipped into our pattern of 15 minute run, 3 minute walk. Surprising ourselves that at times in those first few miles we were doing 10, 11 or 12 minute miles even with the walking, Hollywood said ‘That’s my Marathon pace!’ We tried to slow it down a bit but we needn’t have worried, the hills were soon to do that for us! Anyway the first 13 miles passed by very quickly and we made the PS 1, 15 miles in 3 hours. I was very hungry by now and the food didn’t disappoint. A pulled pork roll, crisps, cake, chocolate raisins, another roll etc. Then off we went.

IT WAS VERY, VERY HOT. Of course I happened to be attempting my longest ever run on the hottest day of the year! But you know what, I was loving it! The heat wasn’t too bad. We drunk loads, dipped our hats in any river we passed to keep cool, ran in any shadow we saw, slapped on the sun cream and carried on. I was very grateful for the sunglasses I was wearing though, don’t know how I would have coped without them.

The next 14 miles to Crawfields PS2 seemed to be ALL UPHILL! Every incline was greeted with the words ‘Bolty Hill’ and we stopped running. (Later, in darker moments, even downhills were greeted with ‘Bolty Hill’ and we walked, there was even one ‘Bolty Flat’ that was particularly tricky and walked!) We couldn’t believe the hills, they just kept going up and up. Hollywood said “Soon we will actually be walking in the sky!” Everyone was walking. Hollywood had his darkest moments from around mile 12 to 16. He needed to keep stopping for breath, he had pain killers, strapped himself up on the shin…

Once, just once he said to me, “if I need to pull out I want you to keep going”. I refused to enter that conversation. Of course I knew I would keep going, but I knew Hollywood would too. This was getting done.

But those hills and that heat were ridiculous. The running was becoming less and less, the walking more and more. But I didn’t like the walking, it was done because we just couldn’t run the terrain, but my feet wanted to run; it was less painful to run. I’m a forefoot runner, but all this uphill, back foot trudging was taking its toll. I couldn’t keep up with Hollywood’s walking pace either. It became a recurring mantra of mine “shall we have a little jog?” and Hollywood would respond, sometimes reluctantly! We hit PS 2, 28 miles in 6 hrs 45. After about 30 miles I decided it was better that I ran on ahead and so that became the pattern for the next 30 miles; I would run ahead to the next big hill or the next checkpoint and then wait for Hollywood to catch up. It never took him long, his walking was super-speedy!

The gap between CP 2 and 3 was huge; 18 miles, with 8 to go I was out of water and worried, I didn’t know what to do, then, like a mirage I saw before me a yellow hose, coming out of someone’s house, with a sign next to it saying ‘Fresh water, help yourselves’ Bless them! It was a life saver, I filled my camelback and stuck my head under the hose, a small queue formed behind me. Thank you whoever did that, wonderful!

We had set ourselves the target of hitting CP 3, Hexham, 44 miles, by 6.30pm (writing this now, it has just hit me, 44 miles! Listen to yourself saying that! At the time we discussed it like it was an ordinary kind of target, no point scaring yourself.) The run into Hexham was lovely, beside a beautiful golf course, under trees, supporters sheltering in the shade, clapping and shouting words of support. I noticed that anyone still running from now on got extra support, this made me feel great as by now the running was feeling really good. I was confident. I hit Hexham at bang on 6.30, I had to sprint the last half a mile in order to do that but it was worth it for the boost in morale! I messaged Jenny and other Buzzers then sat down with a hot cup of soup to wait for Hollywood who turned up after 20 minutes. He was much better now. 44miles had been a real target, we knew if we made it there we would make it home. Make it there by 6.30 and we would make it home at a reasonable time. We now plotted the next section. 18 miles to the next PS and we wanted to be there by midnight. We also wanted to try to be within a half marathon from home by nightfall.

This is where I made my big mistake. My feet were in a bad way, very sore. I was on my second sock change and I checked the feet. Hot points but no actual blisters. I decided not to waste time with plasters but head off. MISTAKE! Within five miles I was in a lot of pain and ended up sitting at the side putting Compede plasters over the top of newly formed blisters. With over 20 miles still to go this was not good. The light was fading, my phone battery was dying, my Garmin had died at mile 38, runners were dropping like flies, it felt a little like a war zone. I was now in a lot of pain, but I still had Hollywood, I still had Jenny and the other Buzzers willing me on, I was not going to fail!

Along the way we chatted to other runners, you would come across them again and again, we got to know each other, encourage each other. During one section where I just had to run to stop the pain I met a young man who had never run an Ultra before, in fact he’d only ran one marathon before now. He was struggling a little. We talked about our aches and pains then we decided to run together to the last CP, those 3 miles were great, running along chatting in the dark. We hit CP4 at 11.50, ahead of schedule! Hollywood turned up bang on Midnight.

Nobody was in a good way by now. Sitting in that food tent with a really horrible hot chocolate, I began to suffer. I was shaking, my feet were in agony. I asked for medical assistance as I didn’t have the energy to take my own socks off, afraid too of what I might find. But the medics were busy attending someone who had collapsed so I managed to get my trainers off, my top sock, but left my compression socks on and just wrapped a bandage round each ankle before getting ready to go. Hollywood was a rock at this point. He had enjoyed me running ahead of him earlier because he said it gave him a ‘target’ to aim for. With seven miles to go now he was going to be my target as he strode off ahead, I limped after him, not letting his flashing red headlight get out of sight. It was agony. But I knew I’d be better off walking shoulder to shoulder with the big man so I upped my pace and caught him up. We were following the Tyne now into Newcastle. At this point I felt a sharp pain in my left foot and said “now I’ve got a bloody stone in my shoe” Hollywood asked me if I wanted to stop to get it out, I said no, it was taking my mind off the blisters! Little did I know that this was in fact a new, Mother of all blisters that would stop me walking at all the next day!

Those last few miles were hell, but we were happy! We laughed and joked, we were overtaking people (nobody was running by now) We laughed at the bad signs that told us we had 4 miles to go when it was clearly further, we laughed at the fact that there seemed to be 100 bridges over the Tyne and none of them ours!

Then we saw it! We crossed the Millennium Bridge and could see the finish line, we started running, we held hands and saluted the night sky as we crossed the finish line in 19 hours, 20 minutes and 48 seconds.


Now all that is left is to recover and repair, and then remember… our finest hours; a weekend I will never forget


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