This race is a slightly unusual one. A GPS tracker is mailed out to you beforehand, and you start from anywhere you want, at midday. You then have up to 24 hours to ‘converge’ on the specified finish line. Each participant makes their own route. You can start any distance from the finish line, but the further away you start, the better your medal (provided you make it in time). All distances are measured “as the crow flies” from the finish. If that doesn't make sense, more here.
I knew from the beginning I wanted to go for the Gold medal, which requires you to run 60 miles "as the crow flies" towards the finish line in the Peak District. I asked my coach Matt to find me a route that wasn't too hilly and his suggested route started in Lincolnshire. The weekend before the race, Ian and I had spent hours poring over Google Street View looking at whether there was pavement and working out all the tricky junctions, then the Sunday before we drove the entire route in the car, with me getting out and running the trail sections where possible. I wrote a gigantic packing list, ordered all the food, wrote a km-by-km list showing where Ian and I were meeting up and which sections needed extra care and charged the batteries on all my devices.
I like to take a photo at the end of all my marathons, and this was no exception. Here I am - 5 hours in - definitely not breaking any speed records today! As you can see it was getting quite warm...
Shortly after this, I stopped for my first hot meal, the ever-glamorous runner's favourite: Pot Noodle, which I thoroughly enjoyed!
While I was eating it, Matt my coach phoned me so we had a quick chat. I also changed into long leggings and trail shoes as I knew from the recce the previous weekend that the next section was pretty trail-y.
It was well worth changing - the previous week in shorts I'd got a rash all up my legs from running through the maize and long grass (this was a public footpath!) this time it was confined to my exposed ankles.
Around 50k I had the first proper "runner's high". I think most people, even most runners, find it difficult to understand why anyone would do something that takes 5-6 hours to start enjoying properly. The answer is, because it's just the most joyous, ecstatic, wonderful feeling you can imagine. It's hard to describe. It feels like you're the luckiest person in the world. 'I Gotta Feeling' by the Black Eyed Peas came on my headphones...
"Tonight's the night, let's live it up"
I was out in the countryside, on my own, it was stunningly beautiful.
I felt strong, confident and capable. I was singing at the top of my lungs, sailing down the little hills feeling as fresh as if I'd just stepped out the door.
"Let's do it, let's do it, let's do it do it do it"
I skipped along the trail feeling the happiest I could possibly be, a perfect 10 of joy and serenity and satisfaction. I'm actually going to do this! It's not that hard after all! IT'S A PIECE OF CAKE!!
There's a line in my favourite film (Labyrinth, 1986) where the protagonist says the above line. The Goblin King replies, 'So, the Labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it? Well, let's see how you deal with this little slice...'
I twisted around behind me and felt around for some solid ground. Both my hands were submerged in filthy mud but I found something I could push off and hauled myself up, as if I were getting out of a swimming pool, grit pushing underneath my fingernails. Somehow with the adrenalin and everything, I managed to drag my leg up through the sticky mud, despite the resistance. I remember thinking that I would DEFINITELY have lost a trainer if I hadn't been wearing my Salomon's (thank you Salomon for your amazing lacing technology). I stood on the side of the flooded section, looking down at my shiny wet leg, wondering if Weils disease was creeping into every crevice. I was hyperventilating and panicked, and I knew I couldn't afford to stand still, so I took a run up and ran across the log. I made it halfway before falling off again, but this time the water only came up to my knee so I just splashed through it and kept going. I was so appalled at what had just happened that I couldn't even stop to take a photo, and bombed it up the path to where Ian was waiting with the van, hyperventilating the entire way. It was literally the most disgusting thing that's ever happened to me on a run. A few months ago, I'd done Devil's Gallops on the Mersey Riviera, my trainers looked like this afterwards:
I ploughed on. I ran down a massive hill past Bolsover Castle. I crossed the M1. I passed the garage where Ian and I had stopped for ice cream the week before, and I'd promised myself ice cream when I got there today and selfishly they had SHUT, how could they?! I took a photo of it to PUNISH them. Not quite sure how I thought that was going to work, haha. Anyway here it is! Don't ever shop there!
It was a spooky misty morning and felt almost like all yesterday's running hadn't even happened and this was a new day. I was still running, only walking the hills, and at one point had a chat with my coach as he was up in the middle of the night too, running the SDW100. Around 4am I got into Chesterfield proper and it was full of drunk people, spilling out into the streets, screeching and dancing and yelling. It was a completely surreal experience and I was quite freaked out by it - girls in mini-dresses and stilettos, teetering across pavements. I tried to avoid attention (not entirely successfully) and kept going. The road eventually gave way to villages: Newbold, Barlow, Crowhole... and along the way some absolutely stunning views:
At the top of the hill it was really misty. There were some horses which I didn't notice at first, then screamed when I caught sight of them, still as statues and shrouded in mist.
Unfortunately, due to my running addled brain, I got a bit confused between distance and time at the end of the race. Because everyone is carrying a GPS tracker, I could see that the woman in front of me was only ahead by 0.25 kilometres. I suddenly realised that if I picked up the pace I could probably beat her, so somehow I gathered every last remaining ounce of energy and started sprinting. After running 119 kilometres, I somehow managed to make my last kilometre my fastest of the entire race (5:41). I tore along the high street in Hope, dodging tourists and children, desperate to get there first, but to my great disappointment I saw her turn into the field about 100m ahead of me. I kept going, thinking, 'maybe the finish line is on the other side of a field like Richmond marathon and I'll still have time to catch her' but it wasn't. It was round the corner. Ian was there, taking photos:
I love this picture, just look at my stride, you can tell I'm really going for it! You can see the girl ahead of me magnanimously clapping me in, even though she'd barely even got off the finish line herself:
My total running time was 20 hours and 1 minute, but according to Garmin my total moving time was only 14 hours 6 minutes and I averaged 7:05 per kilometre, not bad at all. Surprisingly not as difficult as I'd thought it might be, and definitely learned a few things about myself along the way...