After completing his first ultra at the weekend Adrian Brooks reports there more to running than quick times and PB’s.
The tag line of the rat race ultra marathon is ‘you’ve had 2000 years to train’. Now that’s not strictly true for me.
The journey to running this, my inaugural ultra at 69 miles, was me and Emma walking down the Quayside a year ago and, on a beery night out, seeing all these runners, looking tired but clearly elated! A quick google highlighted the event and two months later I’d signed up. At £159 early bird rate for the ‘challenger’ option (completing the run over two days), it’s not cheap but I’d wanted a well planned and supported ultra for my first. But more on that later.
Fast forward to early this year as I was some months into training it transpired Bam Rashid (Also a ‘challenger’) and Shaun Cowan (Running with his good pal Will as a ‘challenger’ pair’) were also running. Sharing a like mind determination, our goals may have been different but what developed over the course of four or five months was a friendship that goes beyond running times or aims. These were clearly times to embrace and revel in. Entering the race weekend the result almost became secondary – even if it turned out to be a disaster conversations and moments had on training runs would last longer than any disappointments. Thanks boys.
The starting point of the run is at Carlisle castle. The Friday night was spent “carb” loading via a manner of means as we were introduced to Bam wife, Haz, and beginning to get….well nervous. Waking on Saturday morning to find Shaun had been awake since 3.30 am face booking and texting made the situation even more real.
Bam, me and other respective wives walked to the start point and, after what felt like two minutes and little fanfare we were off! The route took us out of Carlisle through some small tracks that we would have to get used to. I found these first few miles incredibly hard. Thinking of the miles ahead I felt overwhelmed. The saying of ‘run the mile you’re in’ has never been truer. As we moved through the miles I felt more relaxed but then, slowly, the heat rose and became very hot, very quickly. I think this caught many of us out.
Day 1. The Start. (l-r) Adrian, Shaun, Bam & Will
We approached the first small stop, allowing us to take stock. As we pushed on I felt good and moved through the gears. Leaving the boys felt incredibly hard but having agreed we would run our own races I pushed on.
Music on and I moved through the glorious countryside. Pictures will not do the sights justice. This was truly breathtaking. Also breathtaking was the heat as it became apparent the floor was giving off that familiar smell when it gets hot. Heat haze (Or was that delirium?) reached fever pitch as I approached midday.
Having planned the days and my rough time, I’d figured from an elevation point of view this would be the hardest. And it was. Walking up the steep inclines, hydrating and eating worked well as I moved through.
Reaching the 16 mile mark, halfway point of day 1’s total of 32 miles, I found I’d drained all my water. This soon turned into a bit of problem as I was not allowed to fill up my bottle at two checkpoints. This had a huge impact on me, of course, and I must confess to disappointment that fellow runners also did not offer a splash of water. Clambering over barbed wired walls (Not kidding!) whilst fighting cramps due to hydration is not a experience I wish to have again.
Coming into the final check point I was called from behind, as I’d begun to take off my backpack Simon Pryde spotted my TBH top. The crazy fool was doing the one day challenge and as we jogged in I was stopped for a picture. My Wallace and Gromit ‘smile’ helpfully hides my need to lay down and pass out!
Quick photo with fellow TBHer Simon Pryde. Note painful grimace by Adrian.
Once our group reconvened we shared stories and memories as I ate quite literally everything in sight. We all retired early to the tents ably ‘erected’ by Haz, Emma and Gemma. Speaking of which, Gemma and Emma took advantage of our absence to go to the beer tent and drink. Who can blame them!
The second day started early as Bam enjoyed his breakfast having left his phone in his tent with the alarm on. The techno tune he uses to wake himself up is truly something to behold.
Day 2 Start – note colour co-ordinated Harrier tops for both days!
After a quick prep the second day got underway, before a quick stop to go through a one in/one out turnstile to walk up a MASSIVE hill/cliff. We separated here as I pushed on, feeling surprisingly good. This was a glory time as the scenery, cool air and breeze combined to make this the most enjoyable part of the run. I loved the freedom I felt as the shuffle on my iPhone played the right tunes, at the right moments.
The day had a much easier elevation profile as we worked through the miles. Hitting Hexham everything became familiar as I’d run this route with Emma in training. Coming from a quick loo break I saw Shaun and after a quick catch up I pounded onwards. It was a strange feeling to hit the 19 mile mark and realise I was only about halfway through of day two’s 37.
The route approaching Newburn was fast and downhill allowing me to enter the route me and the lads had run so much together. Entering this part of the run became much more an emotional challenge. Music combined with thoughts rendered me to a 10 minute a mile blubbering wreck. I stopped to text Emma what I was thinking. It’s at these moments, clarity and the really important things in life feel so much more present and able to be accessed.
Running into the final checkpoint at Newburn I became aware that I was going to finish this, and do it in a good time. Months of training and focus. I grabbed a flapjack and moved on. The hill ‘that should not be run’ was walked (as we always did Bam and Shaun) as I chatted to a fellow runner. Coming off the Blaydon road I saw a familiar face, Kevin Cheetham. I could barely speak as I knew I’d burst into tears. I entered the final stretch and Micky Baker cycled alongside me. The wind and emotion began to get too much which, Micky clearly seeing this, used some amazing motivational comments.
And some much appreciated, mutually shared thoughts about Manchester United
As I approached the Millennium Bridge I could see all the Tyne Bridgers, and WHAT a fabulous sight. I tried my best to wave but think it was more of a flap. To my surprise and delight Emma joined me for the final bit as I crossed the bridge to finish. Rob Wishart said some kind words which I could not respond to. Breathing and staying upright was a challenge. Overwhelmed is a good word but may not reflect the full feeling.
Having got my finishers picture took I recovered and eventually joined everyone for a pint to see the boys home. Bam, in typical Bam style, stopped to take a selfie with everyone. I mean, only 69 miles run so why rush?
Showered. Tired. Happy. Triumphant.
Thinking about if the run is worth the money is a difficult question. The water issue was huge and it did feel if there was very little provided in the way of hot food. The medal was, dare I say it, a slight disappointment and the tee isn’t all that. But. The memories and sheer ‘experience’ from the Friday night through to bed last night makes me feel, if Ultras are you thing or a bucket list item this is a good one to do, even more so with a bunch of pals.
I don’t feel lucky to have run the wall. I feel lucky to have shared this with Bam, Haz, Shaun, Gemma and of course, Emma. And the CRAZY tyne bridge harriers who took over the millennium bridge and became impromptu stewards.
Money cannot buy that.
Medal well earned
For more information about the event click here.