Never been spanked so hard in my life!

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‘Wow guys, can you see that sunrise it’s beautiful?’ I shout into the wind and hammering rain……..through the dark, rain soaked night I can just see the first glimmer of light coming up through a valley amongst steep rainforest clad mountains. I’m in awe watching the light cast its stunning shadows on the steep tree clad slopes. I need to keep my eyes on the ground as i’s tricky terrain we’re following but I can’t help but keep glancing sideways at the light bringing with it the promise of a new day ahead.

I glance again towards the beautiful sunrise which had already started to bolster my spirits from their previous place in the mud. Then one more glance……..Oh? It’s dark, complete pitch blackness, I stop and turn towards the direction that had brought hope with it but nothing apart from the thin light of my head torch barely reaching through the blackness. Ahead I can just make out two feint pools of light a few metres ahead of my through the driving rain and mist. In a slight panic I look at my watch, it’s 3 am and I then realise I’ve been hallucinating. There’s no sunrise, no promise of the mornings salvation and there’s no lush Vietnamese mountains either!

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The reality of my current situation is that I’m very slowly trudging along a rough, high featureless moor somewhere in the Brecon Beacons. With a crash all hope diminished I wonder if maybe this is what hell will feel like? Or am I am just competing in the inaugural F12 Events Brecon Beacons 100?!

I was running with two other men and had been for some time. The small field of 21 runners had thinned out almost immediately and we had bunched up and formed small groups to stave off the loneliness of this wet miserable night. We had ascended Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Bryn Du on this first section but if I’m honest I missed this entirely, it’s only now sitting recalling the route do I realise where I went!

We had made reasonable time (well I thought so anyway) to CP1 the Storey Arms despite the wet conditions and were in really good spirits stopping only briefly for a hot drink and some light hearted banter with the fabulous marshals who were doing a remarkable job in the most appalling conditions. My total gratitude to all of them.

Leaving the cheeriness and banter of the marshals we pushed onwards into the darkest of nights with rain unrelentingly driving heavily upon us. (On a side note I have to say at this point I was dry and warm and very comfortable in my new purple! Paramo smock, not a taped seam in site but boy was I totally toasty in there!)

The ascents were long and hard going, the next section was a mere eight miles taking us ever closer towards the Black Mountains. Mere eight miles? I think they were the longest eight miles of my life! Looking at Strava details (which I rarely do) I was doing the stonking pace of 1mph for much of this section!

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Want to know why I was so slow? My legs felt great! which had been a worry post Lakeland, my head and spirits were actually in a very cheery place and I was happily rolling snippets of songs around my head and really enjoying the night. No, I was so slow simply because this place was crafted by Satan himself whilst in a bad mood. There may have been what the RD called goat trails (where’s the goats?!) but they could have been only three feet away but in the conditions may as well have been on Mars! Given this, the only way forward was to hug the GPS line and try to find tracks wherever possible, mostly not possible. It was on this section that the Vietnamese mountain scene came about and to be frank, I’m glad it did. Going was so tough underfoot it would have been easy to lose your happy thoughts never to be seen again! We’d been joined now by a slightly lost fence climbing Steve during this section, he’d been travelling on his own until now and joined up with our merry trio.

Finally our little group were within striking distance of the next check point ‘just’ the descent down to the A4067 and the friendly faces I was positive I’d see there. Descent? Scaling down the North Face of the Eiger would be a better description for it! A wet grass covered sheer drop stood between us and the promise of tea and safety below. Surely this can’t be the way? It’s too steep? It’ll lead to certain death? I try to convince the group that we’re definitely going the way! They insist to my dismay that this is the right way. Scarily I made the slow zig zag descent, sliding, cussing and generally recounting all the things I needed to do before my death.

Finally CP2! Oh lord what a relief! After such a long time out (not sure exactly how long) but at that moment a just a hot drink would outstripped a hot man with a tray of tequila waiting on my beck and call! Sadly neither was to be found here so top up on water, snacks and off we go. At this point the group split into pairs. Steve who had recently joined the group and I were a little slower than the other two so it worked for the best for us all to split at this point.

Without too much hanging around we quickly make our way out of the checkpoint onto the next section towards Fan Foel. Only eight miles again but little did I know I was about to meet the ‘Baby Heads of Brecon’

The RD had used this term in the briefing. Me, not coming from a military background was clueless as to what this meant but at a guess I’d have been close to thinking they were elephant grass tussocks. Only close though! The next section was trackless miles with an endless see of ankle breaking baby heads that stood as tall as my waist. The going was near impossible! I kid you not, we were averaging less than 1mph and spending as much time on our knees, backs and faces as we were on our feet! I’m sure we weren’t alone in the misery of baby head hell. Despite this Steve (new to all this and being baptised by fire!) and I remained in great spirits laughing through the pain of it all.

Not one to laugh at others misfortune too much………the funniest moment and still makes me chuckle was during the dead of night in baby head hell, Steve being stuck in between baby heads, in a stream wedged in by his pack, think beetle on its back……….ok maybe you had to be there?!

copypasteimageDaylight did eventually come and I still felt amazingly good. How I was I don’t know. That felt a longer, darker night than even the Spine has thrown at me so far. But here I was on the other side, legs and head all working happily. Ok the sleep monsters were starting to plague me quite persistently but whacking down three ProPlus soon banished that one.

Now into daylight and on easier ground on the Beacons Way we pootled along uneventfully to CP 3 So far we’d run a marathon and it had taken 12hrs! Even pitted against the Spine on both bad weather years I took part this was even slower progress. I’m rather proud of my 12hr marathon though!

At CP3 I ate so many tortilla chips I made myself feel rather unwell. I was so hungry! But as there was no hot water at this CP so my cup pasta was pretty useless to me. I’d been munching on cubes of cheese and polish sausage all night but at that CP in the cold light of morning I could have eaten a plague riddled donkey I was so hungry! So after a brief pig out stop and some banter with the very tired marshals (more so than me I think, but then I was having my own private ProPlus party by now!!!) we headed on out again towards the next eight miles section.

Somewhere along the way, not sure where and not sure when……..the rain stopped and the sun came out, oh it was glorious to feel it’s warmth after such a long time in the dark. Words can’t describe the joy it brought, I even got the camera out for the first time since the start for a few snaps.

Sadly however I knew that time had beaten us. Oh yes we had many hours before the cut off but looking at our stats we were likely to reach CP 4 which was thirty four miles, so a third of the way into the course in pretty much eighteen hours so over a third of the overall time of forty five hours. For me it was a done deal. I’d loved every single moment of this race so far but I knew that time had beaten me and with other big races for me on the horizon I was going to take the sensible choice (haha, me? Sensible???!) retire at the next CP. Once that decision had been made and Steve was in agreement, his knee was sore and he could see the futility of making that worse given the chance of completing the course had slipped away.

safetyfirstOnce the decision to quit had been made we could relax and take our time. Ironically this leg was on good ground with some runnable tracks so we actually enjoyed some nice bumbling in the sunshine to the next CP where there was the best banter and our lift home in the Taxi of Shame J

I’ve already vowed that I will be back. I know that I will need to up my game significantly to finish the Brecon 100 but the event has really caught my interest, I would agree with the organisers claim of it being the toughest 100 mile event in the UK. Certainly underfoot condition made it by far the hardest course I’ve attempted and I’ve done my fair share! But one of the friendliest races around, I’ve certainly come away from it with some great new friends.

Results? 21 starters and 5 finishers…….kind of speaks for itself.

F12 logoBrecon 100 you spanked me harder that I’ve ever been before, painfully but oh so pleasurable too. Never before has failure felt so damn good! I loved every minute with you and can honestly say that I can’t wait to go back better prepared in 2018 and suspect there might be a few more than 21 of us on the start line for this beast!

 

 

A Herculean Effort!

I’m cold, very cold, I’m wet through, it’s the early hours of the morning and I haven’t seen another runner or even the glimpse of a head torch since I started running this section several hours ago. The rain is unrelenting and even the heavy goretex I’m wearing isn’t keeping it out.

I’ve spent hours already wading through torrential rain on flooded paths that now resemble raging streams hiding the uneven rocky surface below. Add to this that I’m off route and my head torch batteries have just died.

Oh shit! I’m scared…….I’m scared of being lost, scared of getting too cold, scared of being alone, scared of the dark, I’d be scared of my shadow except it was too black for one. For a brief moment my world has imploded with fear.

The day had started at a leisurely 10am. Overnight rain had softened the ground but the sun was out and it promised to be a stunning day in the Peak District, I had entered the 12 Labours of Hercules event which was put on this year by Peak Trails Ltd.

IMG_1815The 12 Labours of Hercules is a 24hr race based on 12 routes from one to 12 miles. Each route has a task to perform based on the Hercules legend. It sounded fun and with the Dark Peak as it’s backdrop it promised to be a super weekend. There were lots of friends old and new there and it was a pleasure to meet the race director Billy, his wife Zoe and their son who were to  feed and superbly look after us runners during the event.

FullSizeRender6I’d planned on starting with the 12 mile leg and working my way down as I went. The briefing changed that idea as leg four had some tricky navigation requiring compass bearings, leg 8 had to be completed before 6pm and several of the routes were recommended in daylight.

So off I set with this new plan in mind and all was going really well. The views were amazing and early on there were lots of other runners about to chat and run along with. The sun blazed all afternoon and the 11 mile leg was a little uncomfortable in the heat but worth it for the views. As I wasn’t racing this one I could afford to take it easy and just appreciate being here.

IMG_1841With my new race strategy I had to work out the new order for completing the routes and mulling it over in my mind, decided to save the longest 12 mile leg for night time. Leg 12 started in Edale (Village hall and home to the Spine, how fitting!) and followed the Pennine Way up to Jacobs Ladder then branched off. It’s the start of the Spine route so very familiar to me even in the dark. It seemed a sensible plan and even when the route branched off the PW it didn’t look too tricky to navigate. I was happy with this plan.

Timing couldn’t have been better, I finished my last leg just as the light was really failing so a change into night time kit some food and head back out again ready for the night section. It had already started raining when I was getting ready to go and by pure luck I’d packed my heavier winter waterproofs as well as my summer ones. The rain at this point was persistent but nothing like what was to come. Something told me to play it safe and use the heavier kit, it was a wet and cool night so overheating wasn’t really going to be an issue.

Leaving the village hall and heading up to the start of the Pennine Way as I have done so many times on the Spine before brought back so many memories, both good and bad. The Spine really is a pinnacle event for me so being back on the PW, even just a small part of it was quite emotional.

Starting out crossing the fields on a flagstone path I bumped into my friend (Board short) Luke who was just finishing this leg and gave me some advice on route choice, wished each other luck and off we went. Little did I know he was the last person I was to see in a very long time.

The rain continued and as I started up the steep climb of Jacobs Ladder I realised I was in for an uncomfortable night. After Jacob’s I was going to be to navigating naked J I’d chosen to leave the GPS unit at home this time to concentrate on map and compass skills. Conditions weren’t ideal for this and even my laminated map was already giving up and becoming a soggy mess with all the rain……. but it was all good experience, right?

I’m not sure at what point the panic started to appear, I think it was rumbling unnoticed at the back of my mind for a while just waiting for a tipping point to unleash it. I think it was around Coldwell Clough (mile 5 ish) when I first started noticing how really cold I was. I’d already put on all the warm layers I had in my pack (four in total) topped off with Goretex jacket trousers and a pair of gloves, in July!

As I was steeply descending a very rough path which was already fast flowing with water thinking I had to face this as a climb on the return leg.

It was shortly after this that my head torch failed. I could have been battery related or more likely I suspect rain related. Now I was very cold, soaked through, alone and in the dark. Damn I cursed my stupidity, why hadn’t I left spare batteries in a pocket! Fumbling around in the dark trying to locate fresh batteries was when my head really went into meltdown. I was getting really cold, was I lost? how much further? what if I fell and injured myself? I can’t do this, I wish I was anywhere else!!….. It’s hard to describe what the panic felt like standing there alone and cold, the best I can describe it is that my mind was trying desperately to claw out of my own body and be somewhere, anywhere else.

‘Pull it together woman!!!’ I tell myself as soon as I managed to get the head torch working again.  ‘You’re strong, experienced and capable, you can handle this’, as I remembered my mantras that have gotten me safely through harsh situations before (eyelashes and big girl pants) I start to relax. I’m right there’s nothing wrong. Yes it’s wet, I’m a little cold and I’ve spent a fair amount of time off route. Looking at the positives, I know where I am, I also know to keep moving to stay warm. I have food and water and even better I’m nearly at the turnaround point!

The return leg was equally horrible, if not worse. The rain was heavier and that steep path I’d descended on the way out was now raging with water and hard to climb. I think I went into sleep deprivation mode for a long while too on the way back and all I remember was very wet and hazy. I do remember descending Jacob’s Ladder which was easier said than done on the very slippery flooded rocks that loosely form a path.

FullSizeRender2Twisting an ankle out here in the wet night would mean real trouble, I really needed to concentrate despite struggling with sleep deprivation, my biggest nemesis. I’ve no idea what time it was but the first glimmers of daylight were starting to tease of their imminent arrival, just a few more miles and I’d be back at Olympus (Edale Village Hall) so things were getting exponentially better by the minute. Even the rain felt like it was losing its torrential grip on the night. Seeing that first glow of light lifted my soul more than I can say. I’d survived!

FullSizeRenderArriving back on the flagstone path I’d left so many hours earlier I was elated, I greeted all the sheep along the way with a ‘Good Morning’ and I’m pretty sure several of them replied (it had really been a rough night!) but I was here, alive, the task completed and I was so thankful at that moment to be where I was. It was the most perfect place to be in that clearing dawn. This is what it feels like to be truly alive.

Finally hitting the road back to Edale for the 500m stretch back to HQ I meet Luke again. This time he’s a little less chatty and has a slightly dazed look. After I’d seen him the previous night he’d gone out to complete leg 10 and judging by the time and condition he was in he’d had an equally rough night!

We headed into the CP together glad to put the night behind us, refuel, dry out and decided what to do next. My feet were in a pretty poor state and I was developing a painful case of trench foot so I knew I needed to take some time to get them really dried out before running again. So sensibly I should do that asleep right?

The alarm rudely waking me an hour later was a huge disappointment (understatement!!). Did I *really* have to keep doing this????

The answer of course was no, I had every reason to stop after the night I’d gone through. I have Lakeland 100 only days away. I could allow myself the luxury of rolling over (in the car) and drifting off to the lovely sleepy place I’d just left, surely!

FullSizeRender6I tried, but sleep wouldn’t happen then. I pondered driving home early but something was urging me to keep running, not to let the night be the last thing I remember of the weekend.

I made the right choice to push myself out there again. What a delight the morning turned into! The Peak had taken off her dark cloak of the wildest night and was once again a beautiful playground. Sunday was as bright and clear as could be. The hills looked soft and draped with the earthiest of green velvets, what a joy to be out there and seeing her once again shows how beautiful the Peak District truly is and how it feels to be truly alive and living entirely free in the moment ❤

An apocolyptic weekend!

A few weeks ago whilst looking to fill an upcoming, empty weekend I came across the Apocolypse 100 from Beyond Marathon. I’ve done some of Rich’s events before and always had great low key but brilliantly run experiences.

As I’m on a bit of a ‘100’ bagging mission this summer it seemed the perfect fit and being based in Shropshire, I thought not too long a drive from Cornwall (never believe Google maps folks, they lie!) I’d planned to stuff this 100 into a normal weekend and not keep eating up my annual leave. So the plan was to travel straight up after work Friday, race Saturday/Sunday get a little kip and with the assistance of my lovely Wingman (and stay awake police), drive back again Sunday evening after a little kip.

So the event, a route based on the four loops of the Apocalypse starting in the very pretty Carding Mill Valley in Church Stretton. As you can see below, it’s a nice flat course ……… of course!

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Saturday morning started very dry and warm with 32 wisened (ahem!) ultrarunners stood ready to take on the 100 miles of War, Conquest, Famine and Death loops on what was rapidly becoming a scorching day.

I started ok, nice and steady, quickly falling into pace with a few folk I’ve met (many times) at similar events. The heat slowed things down a little but I’d brought capacity to carry 2 1/2 litres of water in my trust Montane pack so hydration wasn’t a concern.

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The first checkpoint (CP) soon passed and I started running with a lovely couple. We were moving well as we ascended up to Stiperstones when the first ‘only Shazza’ moment occurred. Chatting away, not looking where I was going and bam! I’m down on my knees. Not a skid, not even a fall, just a heavy descent to my knees leaving me with a couple of small but rather deep and dirty puncture wounds. No problem, lots of spare water, wash it off……..started bleeding, lots (think of the movie Carrie!) Eventually the bleeding stopped but as I had a hot, sweaty and constantly moving knee I couldn’t get anything from my first aid kit to stay put over it. Oh well, it had stopped bleeding so time to crack on!

The next section was less eventful, it was lovely to see a great friend and my Wingman both looking after us smelly runners at the next CP. From there we went out and did a 10 mile loop to return to the same CP. This time however……what a Brucie bonus! A half pint of the coldest, most wonderfully fizzy shandy I have ever tasted was waiting just for me courtesy of Wingman. Oh jeez, if I hadn’t stunk so much I could have kissed him! And there were salty chips there too, now that was a CP I could (should) have lingered at!

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Pleasant running in cool woodland followed, I was running in a group of four by now and we were doing ok with the navigation and the company. Only one mistake was made and as we all stopped to regroup, look at the map and work out the way forward I had to keep shooing a fly away from my cut knee……

Mile 50 came and a descent back to Carding Mill Valley, the start point and access to all the clean socks, food and goodies I had left festering away in my oven baked car (the cheese blocks resembled pizza topping, pre-melted!) A quick change and time to see the medic to get my knee cleaned and covered.

I sat down to take a look at the gory mess of a knee myself and…….OMG……OMG…….OH MY GOD! There were three fly eggs in the cut! I was near hysterical, screaming for the medic to get them out of me,which he very quickly did, along with pouring half a bottle of stinging Dettol all over it!

Now suitably calmed cleaned and collected I headed back out with a slightly smaller group into the night for the final 50 miles. What a warm night it was too. That extra layer I’d out on against the cold wasn’t needed that’s for sure!

So the next 50 miles contained the dreaded corn field maze, the paths were well defined but just like David Bowie in Labyrinth, the farmer had had a real chuckle not joining them up to the stile on the other side of the field! From corn fields with maze like paths to rape fields with no blooming path whatsoever followed by green lanes so overgrown with nettles that taking a post race antihistamine was starting to sound more appealing than a post race pint!

Apart from the overgrowth the last 50 miles contained some great running along the woods on Wenlock Edge, in fact this was my favorite section of the race, it was cool and runnably undulating!

At the last CP the couple I’d been running with needed to take an extended break so off i went on the final loop on my own. I’d learned at this stage that of the 32 runners that started at least 15 had now pulled out! That’s a serious attrition rate and testament to what a little toughie this race is.

The final descent down into the finish at Carding Mill Valley seemed to take ages, plenty of time to plan what I’d be doing post race, shower, shandy, sleep and home in pretty much that order. Once the path leveled off I knew it was time to take the pace up as high as I could for a (near) sprint finish. Loads of friends there to see me in which was great and a super Apocalypse medal to add to the collection.

Post race admin sorted and Wingman and I head home without mishap or event. I did see a giant tiger in the field but that’s nothing to worry about is it?!

So all in all a fantabulous low key, soul filling weekend with great people in a great place. Would I recommend this race?

NO! I want to keep it all to myself 🙂

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