In 2018 and 2020, I completed the other two versions of this race (Convergence and Day Release). I absolutely love the format but given I only do races once, I'd been saving this for a special occasion. West Midlands has been proving a tricky county to complete - there are very few races and the ones I had found didn't have medals. When I saw that Escape From Meriden was running a solstice edition - normally this race is in November - I didn't need asking twice.
For anyone who is new here: Escape From Meriden involves plotting your own route and running as far as you can from a set start point (Meriden, obviously). You have 24 hours and the distance is counted 'as the crow flies'. There is a "prisoners escaping" theme so everyone is issued with an orange boiler suit at the start. Previous experience with this format has been useful and I have learned that success requires a lot of planning. I bloody love planning. I spent virtually the whole weekend before the race plotting and re-plotting a route, writing lists of kit, food and what-to-do-when-it-all-turns-to-shit lists.
I plotted a route that went from Meriden, through the south part of Coventry, Daventry, Towcester, Milton Keynes and Dunstable (Bedfordshire). This got me to 60 miles as the crow flies, but as I'd done that twice before, I wondered how much further I'd have to go to get the 90 mile medal. I plotted a bit more... the answer was Highbury and Islington. Hmmm. Hmm. Was this really achievable? I didn't know, but plotted it anyway. Then I went through the entire route on Google Streetview, making copious notes on any tricky parts, making changes, then re-plotting in OS maps. I also worked out where to meet my gorgeous support crew (Ben) and when I might need to eat/change clothing/charge my watch/etc and tried to estimate rough timings.
On Thursday night I drove down to my parents house in Milton Keynes after work. On Friday I tried to sleep in (not very successfully) and ate a lot of pasta (successfully) - here I am looking relatively glamorous considering what I'm about to attempt:
I went to pick Ben up from the station at 3pm and we drove to Coventry where Ben had booked a hotel. On arrival, I laid out all my stuff and then had a nap before dinner. After dinner I put all my kit on and we drove to Meriden for the start. It was absolutely pissing it down with rain and I made the executive decision that I was going to start in full waterproofs despite the forecast being relatively favourable later.
On arrival at The Green in Meriden, I went and collected my boiler suit and tracker from the gazebo and then retreated to the car to put it on. I was now wearing three layers and it was quite warm, but needs must given the rain had been absolutely torrential. Still glad it wasn't November! Just before the race briefing, the rain suddenly eased off and orange-suited participants mingled on the Green. The atmosphere was buzzing - especially as I'd started Convergence and Day Release on my own. Despite going for a wee before leaving the hotel, I needed a wee - I managed to find a fairly quiet spot, but quickly realised the boiler suit was going to be a MASSIVE PAIN every time I needed to go to the loo. Which is often. Oh well. I could always ditch it after a few kilometres?
I'd run 9km before I saw another person. I stopped a couple of times to go for a wee (boiler suit still a pain in the arse) and remove various items of clothing because I was too hot. At one point I hid just inside a little park and took off my waterproof trousers and jacket and stuffed them into my vest. I decided to keep the boiler suit on - partly for visibility and partly because I thought it was funny.
As a woman running alone at night in an unfamiliar area, I guess it's natural to worry about interactions with random people. Fairly early on, in Coventry, I saw a white Mercedes with blacked out windows ominously pull up ahead of me. The passenger window wound down as I approached and I prepared myself for a possible confrontation. As I approached, a guy in his mid-twenties leaned over and shouted, "Hey, what's with all the torches?" I said, "I'm running a race," he replied, "Where are you going?" At this point I decided he wasn't too much of a threat so I stopped and said, "I started in Meriden and I'm headed for London". He said, "You're a f***king legend". I laughed and started jogging again, shouting "thanks" over my shoulder. He drove past 30 seconds later, shouting, "YOU GO GIRL," over the noise of the engine roaring. It's not often women in their mid-40s get that kind of admiration! The feeling of being absolutely badass lasted for miles!
I got through the rest of Coventry without incident. Just as I joined the A45, I saw a van stopped. Its occupant was having a wee on the hard shoulder, directly in my path. I didn't really want to stop, so I held my hand in front of my face and cheerily shouted, "I'm not looking!" as I approached so as not to startle him. I heard someone inside the van say something unintelligible, then the bloke looked up and shouted, "You can look if you want love". Hmm, no thanks! I upped the pace and sped off round the corner. The feminist in me needs to say - FFS men, please don't do this. It was 01:30 on the side of a dual carriageway and I was clearly busy. Why would you do that? There is literally zero positive impact that can come from this. All it did was make me feel uncomfortable.
But frankly, uncomfortable is better than scary, and the next bit was likely to be the worst bit of the whole race. In my pre-race notes, I had written:
From ‘Raining Cats And Dogs’ to (closed) McDonalds Dunchurch (approx. 2.5 miles) there is either no path or minimal on the A45. Be very careful!
The first bit of the A45 wasn't great. The path was intermittent, there were no lights, and lorries came roaring along it at great speed. I put on my high vis jacket and had a really bright forward facing light and two rear facing lights (and was wearing an orange boiler suit) but I still felt quite nervous. I told myself it was only a short section and I just needed to hold my nerve for a couple of miles.
The path was quite overgrown and there were were some pretty savage nettles - I actually didn't take a photo of the worst of it - but this was still a much better prospect than running in the road. I discovered boiler suits are not a very effective protection against nettles. Although probably better than nothing!
This was the scene when I arrived at 'Raining Cats and Dogs'. It was very, very dark. There were no lights. The speed limit increased to 60 miles an hour, which is VERY VERY fast when you are a pedestrian on a dual carriageway. And then the path ran out....
Women often say to me that they think I'm brave and that I do things running that they wouldn't consider doing. I usually say, "nahh, you could do it if you wanted, you just have to want it enough," but I think I crossed a line today. Very few people would do this. This was insane.
To be fair to the Race Director, he explicitly says to avoid roads without pavement. However this was the most direct route and I couldn't find an alternative, and it was literally 4 kilometres. I could just walk it. I promised myself a cup of tea from the 24 hour Esso garage in Dunchurch if I survived it. Dig deep, Alice!
I crossed the central reservation so I could face oncoming traffic, through head height weeds. The ground underneath my feet was squishy and unstable. I tried not to think about what would happen if I were sucked into a bog. Walking was not an option as it was too slow and I was in a hurry to get the hell off this road. I settled for running whenever I could, then stopping and stepping into the weeds whenever a car/lorry approached, then running again. It felt endless, my heart was in my mouth, but I was making progress. Eventually I spotted some roadworks on the opposite carriageway, so crossed the central reservation again and was able to run on a coned-off lane past some bemused transport workers. Finally, the path reappeared. I've never been so happy to see stinging nettles!
Bloody Google was lying about the 24 hours. Dammit. I settled for a squashed cheese sandwich. I had barely eaten anything so far due to vast amounts of cortisol streaming through my veins. There was a proper path, and the village was really quiet, so I tried to be grateful for that.
We'd planned for Ben to run with me a couple of times and the first one was just before Milton Keynes. By this point this was not that far away and having eaten, I suddenly felt much better. I set off feeling invigorated and soon passed through Towcester and continued along the A5, which looked almost identical to earlier:
Lee-Anne's fascinating fact* of the day: Ancient Romans who were down on their luck would scoop out clay from roads to make into
pots, and this was the origin of the word 'pothole'.
*not sure this is actually true
After a short while we continued up the hill until we saw my parents, carrying the banner they made in 2016 for my first marathon (awww!) and also jumping up and down with excitement. They hugged me, they hugged Ben, and right at that moment, OD ran past. He held out his arms as if to join in with hugging, saying "what about me?" or words to that effect, which made me laugh. Then my mum said, "Is that Terence? I've been watching you!" or similar stalker-esque words. It was quite funny.
My mum and dad had brought me Coke as requested, and as usual had brought more than needed so Ben had some too. Photos were taken, Coke was drunk, and soon it was time for me to crack on along the redways of Milton Keynes. Ben turned round here and headed back to the car, before driving to our next meeting point in Furzton.
I've run the Milton Keynes redways many times, they're flat, straight and have no traffic, so I sailed along fairly comfortably.
It wasn't long before I completed marathon number 2 of the day! This one took 5 hours 45 minutes, which was only 30 minutes longer than the first, and I'd had a couple of long-ish stops. I was feeling pretty good at this point:
From here, it wasn't far to Bletchley. I spotted a few runners with medals who were limping along having just finished the Milton Keynes marathon, I wondered what they thought of me plodding along in my boiler suit. Just as I arrived in Bletchley, I spotted OD. He was looking a bit tired and we walked together for a while. He told me he was planning to stop when he got to 100km as that would be the furthest he'd ever run.
Then I shuffled the final bonus 400m to where Ben was parked before stopping my watch. Obligatory final few metres picture:
And here I am posing at the end. I was pleased with myself for sticking with the boiler suit all the way to the end like a proper convict! Although I decided it was more of a 'watermelon' than 'Guantananamo Bay' kind of hue...
I managed to log 210 miles in June, which is 8 sets of the 30 miles required to complete it and my highest mileage in a month maybe ever?!