An Ultra Runner Prepares…

Posted on: 22 Oct 2017

Hi all you lovely realbuzzers, some fantastic work as always been going on on this site, sorry I have been quiet, but this blog has been six weeks in the making and I guess it’s got a lot of miles to cover so it might go on a bit…

In November last year I was captivated by the exploits of two fellow buzzers; Chairman Jim and Hobbs Cowboy, as they took on a challenge that seemed so beautifully simple and yet so terribly hard at the same time. Along with 98 other intrepid runners they decided to take on Escape from Meriden, a 24 hr race from the centre of England, to… well, to wherever you want to go. This was the beauty of the race, you can run in any direction you like, along pretty much any route, it’s up to you. There are no checkpoints, no water stations, no supporters lining the streets, it’s just you, the road and the clock.

Of course, there were supporters, all linked by the interweb thing, following the movements of these blobs as they fanned out from the centre of the map along pathways we could only guess at, updating every two minutes, those blobs made their way. Jenny and I were hooked! We followed the blobs on and off all day, we watched them set off at midnight, caught up with them when we woke, checked in with them throughout the day and were glued as night fell. How far could they get? Of course, Jim and Hobs made it home, or to the pub in time for a pint.

And that day I decided “I can do that!” Well, I hoped I could anyway. I signed up and drafted a friend to join me and set a course for home. I guessed it would be 80 something miles to run from Meriden to Manchester but I knew it COULD be done, a certain man named Riccardo managed it last year, so why not?

Two blogs ago I mentioned that my mate Stewart and I did our first recce run, the last 15 miles from Macclesfield to Home. 'Start easy' I thought… And I reported on here that the run was pretty uneventful…

Little did I know at the time but Stewart picked up an injury on that run, we ran 12 miles together then split for the last three. I later discovered that Stewart walked as soon as I was out of sight, he’d done something pretty nasty to his knee. That was early July, Stewart hasn’t run since. I was suddenly contemplating running alone…

Thankfully Chairman Jim heard about my plight, he was signed up to do Meriden for the third time anyway and he had planned to run home again. The mark of the Gentleman then showed itself as Jim binned his plans and offered to join me in my attempt to run to Manchester. I can’t begin to explain how grateful I am. I already knew this man was a legend, now he has attained god-like status. So I will not be running alone. And to make things even more perfect, Hobs has offered to support us for the first part of the challenge. I could not have put myself in the hands of more dependable people. I know that if I stand any chance of success at all, it is because I have the support of these two remarkable men. I also have the support of a rather remarkable woman who I happen to have married since I began this training. I’m a very lucky man!

So come November the 17th I will set off from a sleepy village in the heart of England, at Midnight, and head off into the unknown…

I have tried to make it a little more ‘known’ in recent weeks; I split the route into 4 sections and decided to run them each week for 4 weeks. It was only roughly the route as it relied on public transport, so I was going to run from train station to train station. Each section roughly ended up being 23 or 24 miles long. (wait a minute, 4 x 24 does not make 80! So I’d been a bit optimistic at first!) I spent hours working out the route using g-map pedometer and ordinary maps. My big idea was to run the canals as much as I could, hoping they would be flat and safe. I decided running by canals in the dark wasn’t wise so I planned road running till daybreak, joining the canals till dusk then back on the roads for the last leg. Simple plan. What could possibly go wrong??

Section One. Meriden to Lichfield. 24.4 miles. Elevation gain 633 feet. Easy right? Actually I really enjoyed this recce. I felt like a bit of a tourist when I turned up at Meriden and saw the stone that marks the ‘centre point’ of England, on the village green. It was a sunny day and I had all my kit, I was happy. What really pleased me was that the route I had chosen was so traffic free, I ran the first few hours without seeing a vehicle, apart from a tractor. Lucky, as for a lot of it there were no paths, but I figured these roads were safe enough, especially as we will be running them in the wee small hours. So I made it to Lichfield in 5 hours 19 minutes, moving time was 4 hrs 40. Happy with that. No big problems.

Section Two. Lichfield to Stone. 25.6 miles. Elevation gain 597 feet. This was where I first hit problems. After 9 miles I joined the canal and at first it was lovely, just as I had hoped; flat, peaceful, beautiful… but then the path ran out! It had been raining a lot and for the next 16 miles I wished I had worn trail shoes. I was slipping around in the mud and my pace nose-dived. What was worse was the thought of doing this section in late November when the best that I could hope for was a hard frost to firm up the ground but no snow, or too much ice.  I realised that day that I needed to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan B. This was depressing as my whole ‘big idea’, to use the canals, seemed like a very bad one. I almost missed my train too, I got to Stone with minutes to spare! 5 hrs 26, moving time 5hrs 4. Running total 10hrs 45.

Section 3. Stone to Congleton. 23 miles. Elevation gain 528 feet. I decided not to change the strategy mid run so I stuck to the canal for this section. I wore my trail shoes. But what a contrast! The canal north of Stone is obviously looked after by a different council or something because this section had nice paths almost the whole way. To the point that I rather regretted wearing my trail shoes! This was much more like it, maybe my plan wasn’t so bad after all. The canal was beautiful, with lots to see too. I was thinking points of interest will be important on the day, we will have enough to worry about without getting bored too. I did this run with a smile on my face. Almost the whole 23 miles was canal, apart from one horrible section where the canal hits a very large hill! The canal takes a 1.5 mile tunnel through said hill but I can’t, instead I had to run over the hill, which, in about 2 miles, is where all 528 feet of elevation came in. That won’t be nice after 13 hours of running. I asked for directions at this point and the man said “Don’t go that way, that’s Gypsy country...” I wondered if I’d stumbled into an Enid Blyton novel. I went that way anyway and believe me, the Gypsies were the least of my problems! I could quite happily never run through Kidsgrove again! Although of course I will… This little hill put a dent in my schedule again and again I only just made my train at Congleton by a few minutes… 4hrs 29, moving time 4,07. Running total 15 hrs 15.

Section 4. Congleton to Home. Heaton Chapel. Manchester. 25 miles. Elevation gain 425 feet. The last leg. I got back on the canal again, all the way to Macclesfield, where I stopped at a MacDonalds and had the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten! Before hitting the road home… 5hrs, moving time 4.41. Running total 20 hrs, 15 minutes.

So I was home, it had only taken me four weeks! I had learnt many things. I knew that each section felt like a marathon, at the end of each section I was knackered and the thought of doing that four times in a row on one day scares me to death! I also learnt that I needed to rethink section two…

Section 2 #2. Lichfield to Stone, without canals. This week I went back, I started from the point at which I’d joined the canal, Rugeley. This time I was going to try to do it on roads. Unfortunately there was only one road to choose, the A51. Jim had told me to avoid A roads at all costs, but there was nothing I could do, I had to take the risk and hope there were paths…

Rugeley to Stone. 15 miles, Elevation gain 380 feet. This was a mixed bag, mixed in that one moment I was thinking “A roads are great, perhaps I should do more of them…” the next “I don’t like dual carriageways in the rain, I want to die, in fact, I may well die…” It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, I missed my train home by 20 minutes, I had to buy a new ticket (which never got checked,) I wasn’t happy. 3hrs 5, moving time 2.49 I think this is a hard one to call, my moving pace was much better than the same section via canals and on the day we would be running this around seven in the morning on a Saturday so I think it will be ok. However running along the hard shoulder of a dual carriageway at four in the afternoon on a filthy wet Thursday should never be repeated!

SO, to sum up, it’s a bloody long way! I will knock a few miles off here and there without diversions for train stations, and the A51 section saves us 2 miles so I think I’m looking at around about 91 miles. When I did Hadrian’s Wall with Hollywood I did 72 miles in 19 hours, is it possible to do another 19 in 5 hours? Well it’s possible, but the Wall almost broke me completely, am I capable of another 19 miles on top of that?

Right now my running is a mess, it doesn’t matter what distance I run, 24 miles or a parkrun, I feel completely knackered by the end of it, so I can’t say I’m going into this confident!

Snowdon next week and Hollywood’s lap of honour, I’ll try to keep up with him, then turn my attention towards Meriden…

 

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