Race Report: The Wall, June 2013

Posted: 26/06/2013 in Ailments For The Runner About Town, Event, Injury, Running, The Wall
Tags: , , , , ,

And no Pink Floyd jokes so far, so I think we’re doing well…

After a year of what we’ll fancifully call “preparation”, it finally came around. I know, I can’t believe it either. Goodness knows what I’ll have to talk about now…

On Friday morning I packed my bag. Well, bags, as I had a 65 litre overnight bag (that’s a lot of overnight), a 10 litre race pack, a small chest pack to balance me up and a tent. And two hands, which made for some fun. I got the bus to Newcastle, because I like that working-class-hero feeling, off to face down the world and give it my plucky all against the aliens a long run.

Coffee at Starbucks, meet up with my erstwhile running buddy Jon, and then off for the train. There were a remarkable number of people in similarly sporty gear, with similarly huge packs, and a lot of knowing “I know where you’re going” nods.

Over to Carlisle on the train then up to the castle to register. Ooh, it all seemed a bit real now, was I really going to do this? Off to the Travelodge, which was well, we all know what a Travelodge is like, don’t we? Only this wasn’t. A former telephone exchange, I think, with huge windows. I got a wheelchair-friendly room, which was roomy, and had what I am going to call a wet room – that was really nice. What wasn’t so nice was the oven-like temperature from the huge windows and no curtains. Still, I could cool down in my mansion-sized wet room, eh? I cracked the windows open the mandatory maximum 2cm, to stop even a waifish haddock from throwing itself to it’s end, closed the blinds and headed off with Jon for a meal with the Runners’ World forum folk. The restaurant was directing runners upstairs to the room they’d roped off for crazy people, and managed to pick up a couple of people who had wandered in an had no idea they’d been involuntarily added to the party. 🙂

Then to bed, the room being down to a griddle-temperature. Fast forward what felt like five minutes and it was four in the morning and I was wide awake. Get up, unpack, check kit, re-pack. Shower in the warship sized bathroom and then hang about a bit until it was time to set off. I caught up with Jon in reception and we ambled up, both with a huge bag and a tiny pack. We arrived at the castle, watched the Expert one-day runners set off, I discovered the battery on my GoPro camera had run down (guessing it had turned itself on in the bag, grr!) then dropped out overnight bags, met Jon’s friend Cathie. Now we were there and ready to run. Crikey!

This is the nervous bit, you’re ready to go but waiting for the whistle/bell/gun/bulls to get you underway.Luckily it was a jarring klaxon rather than bulls, which was a relief.

And we’re off!

A nice jaunt through the park while we got warmed up, and out through Carlisle towards the hills – it was a joy to get underway after the best part of a year waiting for this to come around. Pack felt good, legs felt good, it wasn’t raining. Brill.

Fifteen lovely miles of running later, and I stumbled into Lannercost Priory, the first Pit Stop. I grabbed a bit of food, said hi to Jon’s family and got my toe stepped on. That really hurt, and I managed to make no actual sound as I silently swore in front of Jon’s family. Sorry Jon’s family, it really did hurt.

Back out of the Priory and it was a mere 17 miles to the end of Day 1 – that’s like half way through the first half, right?

I bumped into CrashBangWallop from the Runners’ World forum, and ambled along having a laugh and switching between walking and running as the mood took us. We were a bit tired, but kept plugging away, over stiles, over cattle grids, over lava fields, well, maybe not the last one so much. At long last the finish tents came into view. Then the track headed off the opposite way. What! Down the hill, along the bottom of the hill and then up, up, up and up the hill to get back. That’s properly taking the mick, giving us a look then making us run around for a bit and up a hill. Finally, back into view of the tents, but it wasn’t over yet, they made us climb over a stile to get there… youch!

Hang on, we’ve done for today? Wow. In a frosty 7:39 as well, which is not bad so far as I know anything, which isn’t much. I was happy with it, though.

Hooked back up with Jon, got our kit, set up our tents, ate some stodgy pasta from the food stall, ate some canny chips from the food stall, had some soup from the food stall. Are you getting the gist yet? A beer in the beer tent then off to bed at about 8pm. Sleepy, sleep, sleep – I actually slept pretty well given I was in a tent in a one-season sleeping bag.

Day 2

After Day 1, I was expecting to be unable to walk. However, as the next day dawned and I emerged like a crotchety caterpillar from a pupa that hasn’t quite turned into a butterfly, I felt surprisingly good. A tiny niggle in the knee, but no problem, eh? A few bananas and a coffee later and I was ready to go, waiting for the 8am start.

Off went the runners! I thought Jon was behind me, he thought I was in front, we were both wrong and got separated again. Down the road, up a quite steep tarmac hill and onto a short road to a kissing gate. And a queue to get through the gate to get onto the hill. The hill was big. The hill was steep. The hill had no path. The hill DID have heather. And mud. Did I mention no path? Everyone started making their goat-like way up, and I did likewise, striking forth like a be-shorted goat. You’re not quite getting the image, are you, the hill was like this:


Well, exactly like that – as it’s a photo from the top of the hill.  See the white smudge towards the back? That’s where we started the day. Now somewhere up the hill I twisted my knee. I didn’t really notice it to be honest, but when I started running at the top there was a bit of a niggle, a bit of a sharp pain and a bit of an owie.

Cut to a lot of walking. Every time I tried to run it was a knife of pain through my knee. So I walked. Well, I plodded, as my left foot started to ache as I over-compensated and it did significantly more walking that it’s used to.

There was a village. The village was full of scarecrows. Scarecrows mowing the lawn, Scarecrows up ladders. Scarecrows barbecuing runners. Well, maybe not the last one, but it may have been – it was hard to tell. A bit strange, to be honest.

I stumbled into the Pit Stop at Hexham, wandered around a bit with a spot of food, picked up some water and headed off, walking towards the next stop.

Also the rain. It rained. Quite a bit. With a bit of energy. On the way out of Corbridge it rained harder than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I got soaked on my bottom half, though my top was OK as I was all wrapped up in my waterproof.

It was more than a little frustrating, I had the energy to run, the excitement to run, but every time I tried it my knee felt dreadful.

Through the shacks at Whittle Dean, and I came across four runners with ice-creams. How did that happen? Around the corner and there was an ice cream van!

I had an ice lolly.

It was the nicest ice lolly I’ve ever had.

It did everything an ice lolly should do, at exactly the right moment.

It was possibly my happiest running moment ever.

If the van hadn’t driven off I would have had another.

At Ovingham, someone had stolen the path – it simply disappeared into the river with an arrow pointing down into the water, and another pointing back up at the other side. I started hopefully stepping on stones, realised there was no clear way across and waded. To be honest the freezing wet feet took my mind off my knee.

On we go and I eventually reached the Newburn Pit Stop, just seven miles from the finish. I’m almost done! OK, so I couldn’t stop shivering and the medical lady was looking at me funny, perhaps sizing me up for a stretcher? There was an industrial heater, so I stood in front of that until my bum burnt.

Off I headed again, still chattering in the teeth department. With an added thermal later it faded after a bit and I limped along. Until the signs ran out – in Scotswood it looked like someone had half-inched the arrows. A bit of discussion with a group of runners passing me by and we headed off in what looked like the right way, following cycle route 72. It turns out Hadrian was a busy lad, as this was his Cycle Path. We only need to find his Wendy House and we’ll have the lot.

After about forever I hit the Quayside. The drag down to the finish is a couple of miles, I think, but it felt like an extra marathon. I’m not a competitive chap, but I got worried about people up behind me. I have no idea why, it must have been hunger / tiredness / stupidity.

Eventually, I glimpsed the bridges, and stumbled along until I made it to the Millennium Bridge. Somehow, and I have no idea how, other than the remaining shred of ego I had, and I managed to plod over the bridge at an almost-jog. Into the closing straight, saw my lovely wife with a huge sense of relief and stopped for a kiss. Over the line and we’re done.


Medals all round, well, here’s mine:


And a finish line photo – looking surprisingly chipper. That’ll be a race time of 18:15 then.


Look at them knobbly knees – that takes 69 miles, that does.

Would I do it again? Probably, though I’d like to try other things first.

Knee is sore, but other than that I’m on the mend, I reckon.

I’m happy to say that I think I enjoyed it – I’d like to do it without the knee problem, as I think I could have cut an hour or two if I could have run like I wanted to.

Now for a week off and a bit of a recuperate.

Did I mention I’m an Ultramarathoner now? 🙂

  1. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment! I’m totally intrigued by that race and might have to put it on my “bucket list” of races I want to do. I likely wouldn’t be ready for it for a couple years though 🙂 Enjoy your well deserved rest!

    • Thank you! It was a grand race and I’m so glad I did it. Some lovely countryside if you make it over sometime, and the people and organisation were fantastic. 🙂

  2. thebriars says:

    Well done DaP you met your demons on this one and you defeated them! congrats from me too. The course sounds a bit random but i bet the views were impressive. Enjoy your new-found ultramarathon status!

    • The course was good – a couple of surprises, mainly the river crossing, but I would recommend it to anyone. Just take it easy on that hill out of Vindolanda… 🙂

  3. Dash says:

    Congratulations! What an awesome achievement. My knees were twinging in sympathy by the end of your recap – hope you had a good few days to rest afterwards?
    Love the bit about the ice lolly too … more long events should have ice cream stops I think.

    • Thanks Dash – haven’t run since, figure a week off to rest my knee is called for – once it stops hurting I’ll have an easy jog and take it from there. If I ever see another run that has an ice cream van part way ’round then I’m signing up for it – it was far more energising than any of the pit stops, other than maybe the one at Newburn where the marshall at the gate gave me an impromptu hug as I tabbed in – I though he must have noticed I looked a bit desperate, but a straw poll of other runners suggests he was passing out hugs indiscriminately (or we all looked desperate). Either way, it gee’d me up immensely. Just goes to show, it’s the little things, a hug or a lolly, that get you through the big things, eh? 🙂

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