Sunday, 3 June 2012

Two ultra-runners and a triathlete shuffled off...

...this mortal coil and were met at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter.
'If you have about your person an item which symbolises Christmas, you will be admitted to Heaven,' intoned the saint.
The first ultra-runner pulled out a bunch of keys and said 'these represent church bells', while jingling them merrily.
The second ultra-runner pulled out a lighter (which he was carrying for a friend, obviously) lit it and said 'this represents a candle'
The triathlete reached into his pocket and whipped out a pair of woman's knickers.
'And what do these symbolise?' asked St. Peter, baffled.
'They're Carol's,' replied the triathlete.

Yes, I admit that I'm doped up to the eyeballs on painkillers, but there is method in my madness; as we assembled at Holt Castle (yep, it's a castle at Holt) the music playing in the background was a Christmas carol compilation. It was going to be one strange event...

We piled into a couple of minibuses for the trip to Rhyd-y-Benwych, one of the first of many words containing all the right vowels and consonants, just not necessarily in the right order. The buses had been hired from a school, so the seats were neatly positioned to give just enough leg room for the average ten year old. Never mind, starting day 1 as stiff as a board was good training for the following days.

Day 1 or  Out of Africa

The race was billed as five runs of marathon distance or longer, but for logistical reasons, the first day was shortened to 24.8 miles, so those that wanted the extra marathon were bused up the road by 1.4miles to make up the distance. Ten of us went, then ran back to the start; for a brief moment, I was second in the Severn Challenge. At least it was better than loitering under the eaves of the car park toilets to shelter from the rain...

We joined everyone else back at the car park and off we went, running up a boardwalk, then a path, then some rocks. I was joined by Ian (who turned out to be the Ian from Gears and Tears); we reached the Severn Stick a.k.a. the source of the Severn, I filled a small bottle with water from the source, ready to pour back in at the river's mouth, then turned round and went back the other way. Back to the car park, then on the road and down the hill. Down the hill seemed surprisingly uphill, considering. We took a right turn over the river at Severn-breaks-its-neck Falls (more of a small stumble, really) only to meet Sue and Not Lost Yet Dave (a different Dave altogether from NEY Dave, AE Dave and Swimming Dave) coming the other way. We decided that they were right and we were wrong, so crossed SBIN Falls from the other direction and headed on down the uphills towards checkpoint 2.

From then on, it was a case of 'Where's the river?', 'Nice solar panels! Wonder if they ever see any sun?' and 'Ooh, a Nine Bar!'...there were even some opportunities to mention two fish in a reservoir...

Sue, Ian and I arrived at the finish together; 'twas a nice run in the rain in good company. As the finish was about half a mile from its advertised location, this was a damn good effort. Ian had 26.4 miles on his GPS, which he immediately claimed as an ultra, even though he'd ducked out of the extra 1.4 miles at the start. I did forgive him, as he'd made his run harder by carrying a rucksack so heavy that it made NEY Dave's bike seem almost lightweight. I ate some excellent noodles, made with real excellents, but avoided the Nine Bars. We weren't last; NLY Dave had become Got Lost Dave at a diversion in the woods and there were two others behind him. I passed on the baked spud (later in the race, Jerome would do something very similar on a Mars Bar, but he ate it anyway) in favour of the chip shop, before we toddled off to Dolanog Bed and Breakfast. They were brilliant; we were welcomed with tea, coffee, barra brith with jam and butter; they have lovely views over fields, hills, cows and sheep; they sorted us out with a ridiculously early breakfast the next morning...and even gave me £20 for my charity (if you'd like to do the same, the link's over on the right!) We'll be going back, if only to use the white fluffy robes!

The race suffered its first withdrawal; a lady from South Africa hadn't healed well after the Edinburgh marathon and pulled out at the first checkpoint; from one hemisphere to the other to run 7.8 miles; in sympathy, I'm thinking of flying to Jo'burg for a 10k...

Day 2 or The English Patient

We were back at the start in plenty of time for the 7am kick-off of day 2. Ian's large sack (hey, anything that boosts a man's reputation) had rubbed his back red raw, so Squish became Vaseliner-in-Chief. Off we toddled up some hills, no sign of a river but there were some stinging nettles instead, some more hills, that's not the river you're looking for, find the Severn again, then join a canal instead.

We settled into run 7 walk three, for it was flat to downhill and a good surface. Ian was dropping back a little as his back was, er, just a tad sore, so my marvellous sherpas (take a bow, Debs, AE Dave and Jude) improvised an extensive dressing from duct tape and panty liners. You don't have to make it up.

There was no surfing allowed on the canal, though they were warning towpath users of an upcoming triathlon, whatever one of those is. We eventually left the canal for a checkpoint, courtesy of a sign so large that you couldn't possibly miss it; Got Lost Dave missed it. Do you want a jam butty or a peanut butter butty with that?

It was then onwards and upwards, though mostly upwards, towards the next checkpoint. The race directions, lifted directly from the Severn Way Walkers' Guide, had been remarkably specific til this point; it was all '...and then you'll pass Farmer Giles' field; don't forget to say hello to Bessie the Cow; ten paces after the stile there's a really interesting stone...'  but suddenly we got 'follow the track to Melverley.' This omitted one sharp left turn, an extremely elastic definition of 'track', a river crossing by road and a left onto a second footpath.  At least one runner got harassed by some bullocks; by the time we ambled through, they'd got a taste for intimidating runners and so trotted onto the path mob-handed. I unfurled the Pirate colours and gave them a charge, yelling and flapping my arms; it could've all ended in tears, but they ran away. I am Bullock Pershore, Worcestershire's answer to Crocodile Dundee...

We left Melverley in stile (if you get my drift) and had some navigation issues...though it turned out that we were right all along, before hooning it to the Wingfield Arms and the finish.

We decided to forego the meatballs at the campsite in favour of dining at the pub, which turned out to be a big mistake; it took 90 minutes from ordering til the arrival of the food, apparently because we were a large table. Run 45 miles then be left to starve; they were lucky we didn't eat the waitress. And was it worth waiting for? Nah.

GL Dave eventually rolled in, having got lost.

Bed at the Premier Inn in Shrewsbury, before  a 6am start for the 58 miles to Worcester on the morrow.

Day 3 or A Bridge Too Far

6am, off we go, minus another runner or two; damp grass, wet feet, blisters, uphill, nettles. Ian was sackless, Sue was looking strong. Eventually we found the river we were looking for and jogged into Shrewsbury. Ken the organiser (nice chap, really put himself out for the runners, had hair when he started, tore it out in lumps on receiving phonecalls from GL Dave asking if he was on course) had warned us that the bridge we were supposed to be crossing was closed; we were to use the next one...which was also closed.

We eventually crossed the river without having to swim, then toddled off on a good path...which got worse...and worse...and worse. Do you want stinging nettles with that?

We lost more runners at checkpoint one; but, fuelled by Super Sherpas, we toddled on up the road, up the hill, up the next hill, who's nicked the river? After a climb up Mount Sheinton, apparently the third highest peak in England, we descended to the river and eventually reached checkpoint two in Ironbridge.

The magic sherpas had appeared again, so I changed socks, changed tops, stuffed my face with food (jam or peanut butter? thanks to Pirates Debbo and Bryan, I had cheese and tomato, thank you very much!) and toddled on.

My feet were 'a bit sore' at this point, which had changed my gait, which made my ITB hurt, which changed my gait again, which made my adductors and hip flexors really hurt...and that, as they say, was that. Debbo had run with Sue and me from the second checkpoint; I heroically sent them on their way as my sub 24 min mile pace was holding them back; it had nothing to do with the fact that I wanted to sob like a big girl's blouse.

Bryan carted me back to Ironbridge in his car (sorry 'bout the sweat on the seat, mate!) and we adjourned to the Ironbridge Brewery with Denzil and Ian. Ian had pulled out at the second checkpoint; Denzil, sponsored by Nine Bar, had been assisting at the checkpoint.

Beer was sampled, home was reached, carryoot curry was munched, bed was gratefully fallen into. We'd lost Dave and Jude by this point (apparently they were 'on holiday' and had given up several days of it to support a race that Dave was too injured to run himself; now that's above and beyond the call of duty! Thanks folks!)

Day 4 or It's a Wonderful Life

Though I was down to one sherpa, at least I got to go to bed with her; the next morning, two hobbling runners were fed tea coffee and bacon butties. When the pain in my legs and the noise of the drumming rain woke me up at 0645 hours, I realised that I could in theory have been running for 45 minutes by then.

I've now popped my blisters, the soles of my feet hurt, my calves are killing me, my left ITB and adductors are throbbing...and my right ankle is swollen, which is odd as I don't remember hurting it.

The race is still poodling on; they were down to five starters today. Five from 21 with about 90 miles to go; it really is some challenge; it could only have been worse if it had rained, been largely uphill and featured more sting...oh.

Three unexpected days in the company of my dear wife? Don't mind if I do!

One of these fine days, I'll fill in the bits of the route that I haven't done (Bewdley to Stanley; Tewkesbury sownwards) and empty my bottle of source water in at Severn Beach...just at a more leisurely 20 miles at a time.

My heartfelt thanks:
 To AE Dave and Jude for being there for a long time when they could've been having a good time; you were a huge help, not just to me but to all the runners.

To Ian and Sue for their unfailingly good-humoured company during the bimble; thanks for putting up with the fish jokes; would you prefer a Nine Bar or a sherbet lemon?

To Ken, for being the most relentlessly positive race organising person, even under the most trying circumstances! I'm half way up a hill and looking at a wall; there are three sheep and some grass; am I on course?

To Swimming Dave, for good company on the coach, giving me my only chance to see him from the front.

To Jerome, for the 'lady problems' incident; what happens on tour stays on tour.

To all my fellow runners for their welcoming attitude to the slow fat triathlete.

and of course to my Squish, for her love, support and bacon butties; I couldn't almost do what I almost do without you. I love you.

When I did my last big event, I nearly died, but I did finish; this time, though I didn't finish, I didn't nearly die either. I may be a bit swollen, but not a pulmonary embolism in sight. I prefer it this way round, though if faced with St. Peter's 'Christmas test', I'll drop my pants and say 'look at that, it's a cracker'...


  1. What has happened to GL Dave?

    Top effort mate,


  2. Fantastic. You should write a book.