I hesitated about entering this because I wasn’t sure if I would really be up to such a long race over difficult terrain. However the route looked amazing and I thought I would probably enjoy it. It started in Ingram at 5.30am and you had a generous seeming 24 hours to cover 55 miles of the Cheviot hills, including Cheviot and Hedgehope summits. I reckoned looking at the route that it would probably take me 16-20 hours.
Going into it I was pretty hill fit, and had done some long runs but in hindsight I hadn’t done enough in the way of good time on feet outings in the hills. I had done a recce of the first half of the route with Northumberland Guided Trail Running and knew most of the second half anyway.
It was really cold leading up to the race with heavy snowfall on the hills. The day itself was a bit milder so the snow at lower levels was melting. Underfoot it was slush, ice, snow, frozen bog, less frozen bog and a bit of mud. The guys out at the front probably had it the worst having to blaze the trail through deep snow in places, by the time I came along those ahead of me had kindly trodden down a nice clear path and I could see (and avoid) the places where others had gone through the ice into bog. But even so it was hard going.
There were checkpoints every 5 miles but only 3 would have water. Barrowburn at 28 miles had a food station and we were told in no uncertain terms not to carry on beyond this if we doubted our ability to continue as getting evacuated off the route from there on would be quite an undertaking as you were miles from any roads. Kit-wise I was carrying a lot of stuff, but having had to stop in races due to injury before I know how fast you chill off. Better safe than hypothermic. I had a fair bit of kit in my drop bag at Barrowburn too including Microspikes. I actually could have done with them in the first half too. I also had a GPS device for the first time. I am normally a map & compass kind of girl but there were a few turns that could easily be missed especially in the dark and I thought it would be good back up.
I got bugger all sleep the night before, not surprisingly but felt ok starting off. The field was around 100, and largely male with a few very well known endurance runners in the mix. I wasn’t surprised to be well down the field but my sister texted me updates at points (there was a tracking system) and let me know that I was in the top half of the women. I ran on my own the whole way which suited me fine if I am honest. All ultras seem to need a tag line these days, the longest, the most brutal etc etc. This was billed as “England’s Loneliest Ultra”. The Cheviots are empty at the best of times and just perfect if you like spending long periods of time in the middle of nowhere with only your own thoughts for company. My idea of heaven really. Also probably as well for anyone else as at one point going round Kidland Forest I had a very annoying ear worm going on (Shakin’ Steven’s This Old House – since you ask) and the only was to get rid of it was to let rip and sing it out loud. Very loudly and completely out of tune.
I really rather enjoyed it AND managed not to go off route. Unfortunately I am a bit prone to metatarsalgia and running on hard frozen ground really set it off and my left foot got increasingly painful. The thought of more hard going ahead and miles of stone paving slabs up on the Pennine Way was beginning to worry me a bit. Between the 3rd checkpoint and Barrowburn I slipped on some sheet ice hiding at the bottom of a puddle and landed flat on my back in 2 or 3 inches of slush. Thank goodness for my pack as much kit as possible tendencies as I was able to strip off the wet clothing and replace it with dry before my body really registered the cold. Unfortunately for my race I really hit a bad patch in the final couple of miles before Barrowburn. It is entirely possible that if I had stuck to my plans and sat at the checkpoint and stuffed my face with food and a hot drink then I might well have got a second wind but I was feeling a bit crap, my foot was really sore and I decided to be sensible. I had a feeling that the next 26 miles might not be anything like as enjoyable and I fear that this is where I differ from real hardened ultra runners. I don’t like or relish pain and suffering. I don’t do digging into pain caves. I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and had done enough. So I withdrew and gratefully accepted a lift back to Ingram.
I would definitely consider entering again but only if I had done enough in the way of really decent lengthy hill hike/runs to be confident in my ability to finish. I wasn’t confident this time and I know that I tend to give up rather more easily than other folk. That may not be a bad thing but it would be nice to do the whole route. I think I am going to have to swallow my pride and buy a pair of Hoka clown shoes too. Those who did complete really deserve their medals. Even the winning times were over 11 hours. Most of the folk who were at Barrowburn at roughly the same time as me (2pm or so) didn’t finish until after midnight and endured high winds, subzero temperatures, poor visibility and deep snowdrifts. The event was very well organised and the marshals were little short of heroic. Definitely one for those with mountain goat genes and a touch of misanthropy.