Friday, 7 September 2012

The Best Running of My Life

It turns out that day two of the Ring O' Fire was between 68 and 70miles, I managed to get a good massage, three bowls of pasta and a good nights sleep in another village hall. Runners were coming in all through the night some taking over 20 hours coming in at 2a.m. and having to start running again at 6a.m.!!

As I had a near three hour lead over the second place competitor and my knee was very painful I just wanted to get through the final 35miles, so I ran for most of the day with Richard Webster. Richard is a crazy nutter ultra runner, having done such races as a 250mile arctic race and the infamous Leadville 100 (look it up, it is crazy!), so this race was a walk in the park for Richard. He was a really nice guy and chatting with him helped me forget the pain in my knee and also stop me from getting lost.

Running on the final day with Richard
Not too far after the halfway mark the pain in my knee subsided and with less than 20 miles left to run I pushed on. The last two hours of this race was without a doubt the best running of my life, I have read stories of people who have done ultra endurance events and gone into a euphoric type state but never really believed it, until now!! The scenery was spectacular and I just felt like I could run forever, it was awesome! The last few miles were up and over Holyhead mountain, not a big mountain but the highest point on Anglesey. My dad had checked the route map and met me at the bottom of the hill and drove up the road next to me whilst I ran, I don't think he could believe how fast I was running. I skirted around the peak of the mountain (luckily the coastal path didn't take us over the summit) and made my way down to what was one of the best things I've ever seen, the finish. Spurred on by knowing I had less than half a mile to go I sprinted down to the finish to complete the epic adventure. 131miles, 13695feet of vertical ascent, the Ring O' Fire......

Now having rested for a few days I am having some serious withdrawal symptoms, you forget the pain and just remember the joy and sense of achievement of what has been achieved. It was one of the best weekends of my life, and I can now proudly call myself an Ultra-marathon runner.

Talking tactics with my Dad
 People have been asking me how I managed to get round this race the way I did. As I have mentioned before this race and I guess any ultra endurance event is tougher mentally than it is physically, so you need to have a strong motivational pull to get you through. My motivation and inspiration for this race is my dad, however tough it got for me during this race it would never be as tough or as painful as having your leg amputated. So whenever I started to struggle or the going got tough I just thought of that and on I went.....

Thanks Dad, this one was for you :-)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

11 hours of constant running

After a surprisingly good nights sleep in a village hall people started stirring at around 4.30a.m. ready for the start of day 2 of the Ring O' Fire. At 5a.m. one of the organisers came in blasting out "The Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, a song that will for ever more bring back memories (good and bad) of this weekend.

I was positive but slightly nervous for what lay ahead, without a doubt it was going to be the toughest day of my life, 64miles running non stop. Similar to day 1 we had a short briefing and then we were off, everyone was a lot more conservative at the start with the daunting distance that lay ahead of us. A group of 3 shortly pulled away from the rest, myself, Stuart Mills (the winner of day 1) and another guy named Richard Webster. We ran together at a nice easy pace and the first hour or so went by without any problems. After crossing one of the numerous stiles on route I had a quick toilet stop, I then looked up to see Stuart being charged at by a cow! Luckily it turned away with only a few meters to spare, Stuart seemed unconcerned (nutter!!) but from this point on I gave all cows as much room as possible. Another hour went by and I started to "zone out" a bit, I was leading the group of three and after running up quite a long hill I turned to talk to Richard only to find him a few hundred meters behind, so it was down to two. Not wanting to get lost like day 1 I stuck with Stuart for a good while, the going was tough, deep mud, slippery seaweed made us both fall over a few times. I started to get the feeling Stuart was not comfortable running with me as he kept letting me get 50m ahead, I'm not sure if it was a tactic on his part so that I would get lost, but if it was it certainly worked, as on three or four occasions I would have a lead of maybe one minute or two, take a wrong turn and see Stuart overtake me on the correct path! Time for some map reading I thought!

Fuelling up at a checkpoint on day 2
So for the rest of the day I would run with a map in my hand and this made a big difference as no more wrong turns! Nearing the marathon distance I was feeling pretty good so I just continued running at a comfortable pace pulling further ahead of Stuart. At the third checkpoint of the day I had my dad and Shavaun waiting for me which was great as a friendly face always lifts the spirits, I filled up on some fluids and carried on running, at this point we sort of ran back on ourselves and across a field I could see Stuart and he must have been at least ten minutes behind, this was very surprising but a big boost. Having checked out the map the night before I knew the next section of running until the halfway mark was flat so I upped the pace slightly, this was short lived as the coastal path went onto a very rocky beach, rocks that I had to climb over in places! Also the tide was at it's high point and on a few occasions I had to wade through the sea up to my waist, just another challenge I thought!! I was soon back on smoother ground with only a short distance to cover until the halfway checkpoint. Again my dad and Shavaun were waiting for me and the plan was to have a 5 or 10minute stop to get a lot of calories and fluid back into my system. I really didn't want to stop but was persuaded to put on a clean pair of socks, have a banana and a good drink. It was a nice thought knowing I was halfway around the island, I always try to look at the positives, rather than thinking I still had half the island to run!!

Run-Fast Kiprop!!
The second half started up a long steep climb, I actually missed a turning here but wasn't too concerned as had been warned about a bull in a field so a short extra distance seemed like a small price to pay!

The miles were ticking by quite nicely, 40 miles, 45 miles, then my Garmin watch ran out of battery, maybe not a bad thing. I was well into my 7th hour of running and feeling pretty good, the next checkpoint was unmanned and at a lighthouse at the end of an out and back point. To make sure you didn't cut out this section the organisers had put some disposable cameras and a book where you had to rip out a page and take it to the next checkpoint. The book was "Fifty Shades of Grey". The next section was a very, very long section of beech and I started to really struggle, my knee became very painful, I had to climb through a section of scrub land where I kept falling over, it was not fun. I knew this would happen sooner or later so just had to will myself into keep running with the final days checkpoint getting ever closer. I got myself through this bad patch with sheer will and determination and arrived at the checkpoint to once again have my spirits lifted by my dad and Shavaun. Shavaun was off on holiday the day after so she had to shoot off at this point to get her train back to London, her help and friendship was invaluable to me in this race and I owe her a big thank you for getting me into it in the first place and for supporting me through the first two days.

With Shavaun after 60miles of running!!
With only 8miles of running left I knew I was going to make it!! It was still tough and a few more fields of scary cows was somewhat annoying but before I knew it 11hours after I first started running the finish line was in sight.......

And relax....... what a day........

It turned out Stuart Mills had stomach problems and dropped out at halfway, so the second place finisher on day two was Richard Webster finishing in 13 hours, a full 2 hours behind me!!

A crazy, emotional, extraordinary day...... but still one more to do :-(

I will try and get day 3 up tomorrow.

Running Machine...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Time to run and run and run and run......

I have now recovered enough to give a little description of the toughest and some of the best running of my life in my first ultra-marathon, the Ring O' Fire.

The start
It all started Thursday afternoon when myself and my support crew (my dad and fellow Run-Fast employee Shavaun Henry) travelled up from London to Anglesey where I had booked us into a hotel in Holyhead not far from the start. We arrived at around 7p.m. just in time to catch a few races of the Diamond League in Zurich. After this we headed out to a local Chinese restaurant so I could load up on calories.

The race started at 1p.m. on Friday so I had plenty of time in the morning to have a good breakfast, make sure I had everything ready for the day and relax before heading down to the start to register. As this was my first race for quite a while I had a really good balance of nerves and excitement, I just wanted to get started. The vibe at the start of the race was so different from any other race I had ever experienced, normally the elite athletes are in a world of their own, focusing on the race not talking to the other competitors, but here everyone was chatting and there was a real buzz of excitement for what lay ahead!! It truly was a gathering of like minded nutters!

We had a short race briefing, a rendition of "The Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash and then we were off. The first stage was 32 miles so my tactics were to stick with the leaders up to around halfway and then if I felt good to push on. What I didn't know was that one of my competitors was a top Ultramarathon runner named Stuart Mills, and after about half a mile he went flying off, we probably did the next mile in sub 6 minutes which I definitely wasn't expecting!

Only 130miles left to run. Leading the Ring O' Fire along side "Ultra Stu"
I obviously forgot my tactics and after maybe three miles hit the front and pulled a lead of a few hundred meters before my first wrong turning of the day, this one only lost me seconds. At 5 miles we had to cross an estuary, at this point I removed my shoes and slowly waded across without any problems, as I was drying my feet and putting my socks and shoes back on Stuart went flying by having run straight through without taking his shoes off, this guy was serious! I set off in hot pursuit catching him up a mile or so later. We then ran together through the half way check point only stopping briefly to get some fluids. Just after the marathon mark I was feeling good so pushed on getting a decent lead but this was my first big mistake as I took a wrong turning! after running down a footpath I came to a cliff on one side and the barrier wall of Wylfa Power station on the other, I quickly turned back and found my way back on the coastal path. We were very near a checkpoint at this time but my diversion had made me miss it, due to this my Dad and Shavaun were very worried thinking I was injured or lost. I was very down heartened by this detour and it took the wind out of my sails slightly. I obviously kept running and the terrain got really tough, knee deep mud in places, seriously steep hills to climb and the weather started to turn for the worse. When I thought it couldn't get much worse I was confronted with a herd of cows blocking my path, as they had calf's in tow I wasn't prepared to risk getting charged at so I had to wait for a good five minutes until some walkers came through to help me move the cows along.

I finally bumped into Q (one of the race organisers) who told me there was only half a mile to go and when I finished I found I was only ten minuted behind Stuart but I had run two miles further!! If I had only kept my map in hand and not gone the wrong way I would have been leading!! Luckily due to the reading on my Garmin proving I had run further than needed I didn't get disqualified!! After a beautiful hot shower and a good bowl of pasta in a local Italian I bedded down for the night in the local village hall ready for the toughest days running of my life, 64miles of hell!!

Day 2 tomorrow......