It must have been about a year ago now that I got an email advertising the "longest 6 day footrace in the world" in Canada. It seemed to come out of nowhere and with a price tag of just £800 (when I'm going to be paying £3000 for the Marathon De Sables) and I considered trashing it like I do with requests from Nigeria from "esteemed long good friends" for my bank details. However, at the time I was developing an addiction to any run that sounded silly. This was certainly one of those. Note to fraudsters out there - I don't play lotteries nor am I interested in making any part of my body longer, however mention some tough terrain, exotic location, uncomfortable weather, wildlife, a number (100 minimum) and explain that this is the distance I'll have to cover on foot. Then you'll have a chance of clearing my bank account.
I think working in marketing (I say "working" in the loosest sense) has made me immune to the rhetoric that comes with any product advert. Like foods advertising "active ingredients" or drugs that have been "scientifically formulated" I just let these words wash over me. I should bloody well hope that pills I take are "scientifically formulated", what would the alternative be? Theologically cobbled together? Most races like this I see fall into the same trap, using tired phrases like "ultimate challenge" and "push yourself to the limit and beyond". Try reading one in a Buzz Lightyear voice and see if you can not laugh. It's hard, probably harder than the event. The Moose advertised itself simply as a 302k 6 day run on terrain that will rival most other 6 day events. Simple and factual. Here's my money.
I spent the next few months getting really excited about the prospect of having a fight with a bear.
This race was run over the Bruce Trail, a waymarked path from Tobermory to Niagara. I expected it to be similar to some of the trail/coastal races I've done in the UK. I wasn't far off, it was only a question of scale. How many times does the UK fit into Canada? That's approximately the number of times the average British rock fits into the average Canadian rock.
We met in a hotel north of Toronto on Friday night. I'd spent a day and a half in Toronto which is probably a day and a quarter too long, it was quite boring. Big tower and a waterfall nearby is all that there is to be done there. Apart from 8 runners and Richard Price (the event organiser) there were no other guests at the hotel apart from a gathering of evangelical Christians. I did not have much trouble seperating the two. Both groups were nutters only one group liked shouting about it more.
We were 8 relative strangers sat around a table tentatively promoting our running CVs. This happens in any gathering of runners who do not know each other. It is an interesting dynamic, you don't want to just start banging on about yourself but you do want everyone to know. Gradually over the meal it was revealed that we had 5 Marathon De Sables (MDS) vets, 4 Marathon of Britain (MOB), several comrades and 100 milers. The details of my only significant running achievement so far was plastered on my t-shirt.
The next morning we destroyed the self-serve breakfast buffet and started the drive towards Tobermory where the race started. We were introduced to more members of the support cast; Al and Christa. Along the way we exchanged more stories about our running careers, my best contribution being the time I nearly slipped over on a kebab 2 miles in to the Leicester Marathon.
We arrived at the visitors centre in Tobermory and were warned about the biggest danger we will face on this run. It was made of leaves. Slightly disappointed to hear that bear sightings were rare and rattlesnake bites rarely kill humans I began to worry about poisoned ivy. I was determined to worry about something during this race, I don't normally get the chance in races in Surrey.
After confirming that we each had our compulsory kit we were sent to the doctor to have our ECG charts checked. I wasn't too sure what he was looking for from my graph that looked like the seismograph of a very small and short lived earthquake. Apparently I had a longer than usual something and a shorter than usual something else. He also looked at my blood pressure reading and asked "did different people take your blood pressure and heart rate?" I confirmed that this was the case and he smirked and suggested that the person who took my heart rate was quite attractive. This was indeed the case. I hope she was impressed with my longer than usual whateveritwas was.
Later that night we were required to part with our main luggage and only take with us the stuff we were going to take for the week. I was the only multi-day virgin there and it showed, my bag was about twice the size of some of the others. Not sure how to volume was made up but they must have learned all the tricks about high-calorie low mass food and clothing. We got into the tents about 10 and tried to get a good nights sleep on our mats and sleeping bags before the first day.
Day 1 – The brutal start
I don't think many multi-day runs start with a 50k stage. Not really a gentle start, however this was the longest 6 day footrace in the world so we had nothing but tough days. The race started and I followed the pack out of the camp and soon we were running over very large pebbles along the side of a lake. It was hard to decide whether I should run or walk at this point. One part of me thought that this terrain is really silly to run on and hence I should walk, the other that I'm only 1 mile into a 190 mile race and that I was just being a wimp. The half that calls me a wimp will always win.
The rocks in the first 15 miles were absolutely brutal. After the pebble beach the course went into the forest and that's where the really big rocks started. They were huge and omnipresent. I had hoped that 4500 million years of land movement would have reduced these to a manageable size by now. Some of them were bigger than cars. I know it's a myth that Eskimos have 20 words for snow, however I soon had 20 different words for big rocks, like tw@t and c**t.
Scrambling up and down rocks and occasionally overtaking other runners and then overtaking them again as they or I went the wrong way I immersed myself in this horrible rock world, just trying not to slip and hurt myself. I thought I'd be at the first checkpoint by now (they were about every 10k), I looked at the map and saw that the checkpoint involved a slight turnoff. With 1.30 hours on the clock I was looking for every possible turn and hoping to be caught or to catch another runner so that I could find out. I was still on the main path so the worst that could happen was that I'd just go straight to checkpoint 2 (and maybe get disqualified).
About half an hour later I passed some hikers and I stopped to ask them where I was on the map. I was halfway between 1 and 2. I was relieved that it had not just taken me 2 hours to travel 10k but also annoyed that I missed the checkpoint and wondered what the consequences were. I later was told that the reason I missed the checkpoint was because I was an idiot. Fair cop.
So I scrambled on, overwhelmed by how much harder it was to run on these rocks in comparison to rocks back home. Every now and then my foot would slip over a rock and my ankle would twist. Having run so many trail races my feet are pretty hardy to this kind of stress and usually a twist in the ankle can be run off in a couple of minutes. The fact that there were so many more rocks here meant that my feet were twisting much more than ever before and after about 10 miles I had 2 incidents in very quick succession on my left ankle. The pain was incredible that I actually shouted out loud for the first time I can remember. I felt my foot slowly fill with acid which then made the bones feel fragile and sore. 180 miles to go and one false step from a broken bone I didn't hold out much hope for the rest of the week. I hobbled on.
Checkpoint 2 was hard to miss (I ran straight into it). It was good to finally see someone else who was connected to the race. I mentioned my ankle and they pointed out that it was quite visibly swollen. The next few miles were on tracks and roads and I found to my surprise that I could actually run on them. There were not many road sections in the race but when they came they were very welcome. It was nice to get some fast running done, fast being relative.
I was now exposed to the sun which felt like a huge change. It was very humid and about 30 degrees. I overtook Andy (North) on the uphill road. I figured that roads might be the only bits now I'd be able to run so I was taking advantage. After then next checkpoint the trail turned back into the woods and the rocks came back. They were not nearly as bad as before but I still could not run on them, every slight sideways move for my left foot was very painful.
Time – 7.30
I finished the 50k in 7.30 hours, not the slowest 50k I have ever done but by far the hardest. We had been told that the first day was probably the toughest in terms of terrain, I hoped that I could at least run for some of the remaining days.
The race village was set up in a very large back garden. I saw the medics and showed them my big ugly ankle which they strapped up. It was quite funny listening to them talk about their experience of resuscitating people and cutting victims out of crashed cars and then their inexperience of dealing with blisters and sprains. It was very reassuring that Richard had gone to the trouble of hiring proper medics to oversee this event. Hopefully there would be no major incidents for them to deal with.
Every runner in the village looked quite shocked as to how hard the first day was. Having no experience of multi-stage races before I had nothing to reference this, however the various MDS and MOB vets did that comparison and said that was the hardest first day they had encountered. Good to start with an easy one.
To save space in my bag (which was still bigger than everyone elses) I took a sleeping bag that was practically made of foil. It was like a large crisp packet. The night time temperature was much colder than I expected and the foil wasn't really much help, I just lay there rustling in my own condensed sweat.
Day 2 – “It gets easier”
Day 2 was going to be easier, I was sure of it and we were told the same. I thought the really hard rocky path was going to give way to nice trail and pine needle covered tracks that would be a joy to run on. Once again I was mistaken.
We headed out in 2 groups, one at 7 one at 9. I was with the latter group although my ankle was still hurting. Running around on the grass near the start seemed fine but once I got back onto the rocks I was reduced to a walk again. Even when I had a flat bit of trail to run on I'd be limping, running flat footed on my left side. Fortunately there were plenty of runnable sections and a few stretches of road.
I was making good progress despite my injury but just before we entered a small town (Lionshead) I started to feel very light headed. I'd already realised a mistake in my food choice as I had nothing sweet with me, only savoury food like nuts, Bombay mix and pepperami. I was really craving something sugary and did not bring enough energy sachets to cover the week, another schoolboy error. I walked for a but eating beef jerky and hoped the salt would sort me out, then when I arrived at Lionshead I was determined to find a shop so I could buy some coke.
There was this beautiful harbour and the route cut inside and went right through the town and we got the rare pleasure of actually seeing some other humans. I saw a couple relaxing in their front garden and I asked them where the nearest shop was that I could buy a coke. I spoke to them for a couple of minutes explaining what I was doing and then out of nowhere came a cold bottle of full fat coke. It was an unbelievable act of kindness and they would never quite no just how much it was appreciated.
The Coke craving is a strange thing, I never drink it normally but for some reason I desire it in races. It's a bit like craving things when you are pregnant (I imagine). In fact there are probably a lot of similarities between being pregnant and ultra-running. You crave random foods and feel like you are eating for 2. You feel a lot slower and heavier than normal, your bladder is a law unto itself. You have no shame in using disabled toilets and fully expect people to get out of their seats for you to sit down. You look and feel like shit while everyone around you is telling you that you look great. Every now and then you are told to push harder.
While drinking the coke I caught up with Justin who was struggling with a hip injury caused by a fall the previous day. I offered him some coke but he declined, which I was quite happy with. The course then left the harbour and through some wooded areas followed by some road. My ankle was feeling better all the time and I was glad to see some road again just so I could get ahead a bit.
I saw Paul at the 4th checkpoint which was just before a section of road that was about 10k. He looked in really good spirits and was walking the road sections as were most of the others, which I found strange. However I didn't have the option of running on the rocks still so I had to make up for it wherever I could.
It was about 2 in the afternoon and the temperature really picked up. It was about 30 degrees and humid. I always think about the MDS and the 40+ degrees that is expected there, however I am reassured that although it is hotter it is in fact dry heat. I won't have to choke on moisture while running up a hill.
I made good time running uphill along a long stretch of road and reached the 4th checkpoint at about 6 hours (42k). There was 15k to go and another checkpoint and I guessed it would probably take a couple of hours to reach the end. This was the last time I ever even tried to estimate how long it would take to do a stage.
What followed was probably the hardest and most miserable stretch of "running" I have ever experienced. The rocks came back with interest.
There is little way to judge distance while in the trails like this, as I discovered on the first day when I overran the first checkpoint by miles. You can have an idea that it takes x minutes to run 1k and extrapolate but that kept on being totally wrong in the race so far. The only way I could judge how far I had gone was the side trails that appear on the map. The route was along the main trail but every now and then a side trail would present itself and this was detailed in the roadbook. The problem with these was that they appeared quite close together on the map, however they took an age to appear in reality.
How long is the coastline of Britain? The answer depends on how long your ruler is. The smaller your measuring device the more detailed your measurements and this results in the coastline being longer. I was suffering the consequences of a long ruler here, the lines on the map looked short and straight. Zoom in and they become longer and more wobbly. The map became a deception that I continued to use as a mile marker.
I like to think that I've done enough running now so that I'm not fazed by any situation I am likely to encounter in a race, however I was losing it here. I was looking at the map and questioning whether I had gone wrong as the side trails were not appearing. It started to rain and the cover of the forest made it quite dark. Slowly one of the trails would appear and I just couldn't believe it took that long to come. I had not gone wrong but on several occasions I turned back to check. I was not sure whether it was the really hard running or the prospect of 4 more days of the same that made me have doubts about finishing this race. It took 4 hours to do the remaining 15k.
Time – 10.08
I was hurting all over, huge chafing wounds. It was almost dark when I crossed the line and lay down on the floor. Rhodri and Bruce had already finished. Andy, Chris and Jo followed later. I had a shower which involved an incredibly painful downhill walk. It was spag bol for dinner that night. I was very thankful for the extra food we were being given as there was no way we would have survived on just 2000 calories per day. It was about 9pm when we were eating dinner and we were keen to find out how Paul was getting on. He had not long left the last checkpoint and was heading into the forest on his own in the dark.
Paul was an exceptionally strong character. He still had a way to go when he reached the last checkpoint but was determined to continue. He'd be the first to admit that he wasn't the fastest ultra runner in the world but made up for it with bravery. The last checkpoint was at the start of a forest section which took me 2 hours. It was dark at this point and I don’t believe I would have entered the forest at that stage.
Paul finished after 11pm having spent 16 hours out there and almost falling asleep while walking. Everyone was again shocked at how hard the day had been. Justin summed it up nicely when he said "you just shouldn't feel like this at the end of day 2." Tomorrow was only a marathon, things might improve.
Day Three – “Just” a marathon
Paul, Justin and Chris decided not to start today. Paul had barely stopped since yesterday, Justin had injured his hip and Chris had feet that looked like bubble wrap and had to go to hospital. Many races claim to be the hardest race in the world but have a high finish rate. This was down to 58% and we still had 4 days to go. Surely it was going to get easier?
The plan today was for myself, Jo and Andy to start at 8 and Bruce and Rhodri (who were now referred to as the "robots") would start at 9. I was taking my time getting ready for the start, faffing around with my kit. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw Jo and Andy starting. I had no idea it was 8 already and I frantically started throwing stuff in my bag to get going. Having got myself together I ran to the start line and Chris asked me a very valid question - "Are you taking your shoes and socks with you?" I looked down and realised that I was still in my flip-flops and my trainers and socks were on the table. If there was any doubt amongst the others that I was an idiot, it had just been confirmed.
I threw my shoes on, scrambled to the start and set off a few minutes after Jo and Andy. I sped off determined not to let Rhodri and Bruce overtake me later on, it was only a marathon after all.
Most of the day was on fairly runnable trail. There were still rocky sections that I couldn't run on because of my ankle. It was feeling better but still would complain after any sideways movement. Even though the day felt much easier than the previous 2 it was still really slow going.
My fall rate this week was fairly low, about once an hour. I was always worried about falling though as there were snakes around. At around halfway I stumbled and fell face first into a bush and my arm went right down a deep hole as I hit the floor. I quickly retrieved my arm, rolled out of the bush and got back up again, checking myself for bites. I didn’t have any, however I realised later on that in that fall I lost my sunglasses. I had no idea where to go back to so had to do the rest of the race without them. Some snake is probably wearing them now.
The navigation in this event was quite easy. We had to follow a trail that was marked on trees/rocks/fences with white rectangles. It made it clear when there was a left or right turning and typically these markers would appear every 20 yards or so. After a few days of running these markers almost became background and I'd only subconsciously take note of them. Sometimes I could have been running for miles without remembering spotting one, yet I was still on the right track. Usually.
However there were occasions where I'd have to stop and look around as it was not obvious. Usually if there were 2 options one would be a dead end within a few yards. If there were no blazes for about 50 yards then it was likely that I'd gone wrong. Throughout this leg there were several points where I'd see a white blaze that meant go straight ahead yet there was no obvious track. It was like I was confronted with a Magic Eye picture and all I had to do was stare long enough and then a giraffe would appear from somewhere in 3D. Alas one time I just could not find it. No matter how hard I stared I could see no giraffe. At that point I spotted Rhodri and Bruce running on what appear to be a trail. Looked obvious.
Having come to terms with them overtaking me and beating me by an hour I decided just to enjoy the rest of the day. Knowing it was not that long I was not too worried about the time. The finish was in a small town called Wiarton and the approach to it was beautiful. It was along a road leading into a harbour. I was looking forward to getting to the village and going to a shop and buying sweets and coke. I put on a big sprint finish and then walked into the lake.
I was so excited about going to the shop and buying sweets. It was like being 7 again. At no point did I feel slightly embarrassed about walking around a busy supermarket in tights, vanity had long since departed. I bought coke and jelly beans and felt confident about the long day tomorrow.
The race village was a joy that night. We had plenty of time to rest and chat and get to know all of the support crew who were amazing throughout the event. I’m never really good at remembering names and got no better at it during this race but what I did remember was not having to lift a finger once I had finished the running.
Each day we’d arrive from our adventures to the camp that had dinner already started, all the tents set up and as much tea and coffee as one could drink. I was really looking forward to the long day. My feet felt a bit better though my shoes were ruined. In retrospect I would have taken some trail shoes instead of the road shoes I had. My socks were falling apart and I had no spare ones.
The end of day feasts were orchestrated by “Bear” – Richards father-in-law. Though he’d often admit that he did little of the cooking or cleaning he did ensure that everything ran smoothly for the runners. Smoother than the running anyway. He was a welcome sight at the end of each day and would spoil us in the morning as well.
Day 4 – The Long Day
I was woken from a deep slumber at 5am. I can’t remember what I was dreaming about but I was not all that enthusiastic about getting up and crawling out of the tent onto cold wet grass in the dark and then fumbling around to get my stuff ready. Bear and Mickey were up to make us bacon and egg for breakfast. This was most welcome and Bear actually said that he was bending the rules a bit by giving us the bacon. I didn’t care though and I doubt the others did.
Andy, Jo and I started at 6 and Rhodri and Bruce were to set out at 8. I had really high hopes for today, I felt much better and was feeling the benefits of a lighter pack. It was still dark as we navigated through the town and back onto the trail.
I ran ahead and made a arse of navigating several times. Jo and Andy behind followed and were happy for me to do the extra running to find their way. I didn’t mind though, I was bouncing around having not being able to push myself on the first 3 days. I was ready to do so today.
The trail was not really well marked for many parts of today. The Bruce trail is managed by several authorities and some are better at maintenance that others. The path often crossed field of tall grass and we were not sure at these points exactly which corner of the field to aim for. It was not long before our feet were soaked.
After checkpoint 1 we had to take a side trail which were marked in blue. This particular one was called the “Slough of Despond” trail which was funny. Even all the way out here people associate Slough with despondency. I continued along this trail and turned around at the end to see a sign calling it the “Presidents Path”. Somehow I was on a different trail to the one I thought I was on and didn’t really know whether I was supposed to take the right turn that I thought I should. I frantically emptied my bag to try and find my compass (what I was going to do with it once I found it I did not know at that stage). The exact moment that I started to swear out loud Andy and Jo appeared from the same place I came and made the turning. They found it hilarious that I’d just emptied my bag all over the place and was now struggling to get everything in and catch up. The trail was marked wrong, it was as simple as that. I was right all along.
After checkpoint 2 there was some gravel path along which were some very excited dogs. It reminded me of being on the Thames path where dogs seem to exist only to impede runners. It wasn’t long until I was back on some open parts of the trail and was getting lost again. It’s easy when the trees dictate where to go but when there are open fields it’s hard to figure out which way to run. I was loving the fact that I could run constantly on the terrain but getting frustrated a bit with having to turn back a lot. There were a few times where I wondered whether Andy and Jo were ahead of me. The way I knew that they weren’t was simple, I was still eating cobwebs. Being the first to run the path today I had the pleasure of swallowing a huge amount of cobwebs. So long I was doing this I knew I was in front.
The route turned back into the forest and this time I was able to enjoy the trail. The path was not a rocky as before but there was plenty there to be challenging. My foot was better and I really enjoyed being able to use it properly. For the first time in this race I felt I could let my mind wander and think about other things. I was so relaxed I wasn’t thinking about how hard this was anymore but let myself drift off.
Time and time again I am asked if I get bored when I run. The answer is always no. Either I am trying hard to focus on the task in hand as I had been for about 30 hours until now or I get a chance to ponder life’s big questions with a slightly altered mental state. I’d best describe it as having the hang-ups and inhibitions of someone halfway drunk but with the sharpness of mind of a chess grandmaster. It takes a while to get to this stage and it does not always happen, but when it does it’s all worth it.
I never quite know when I enter or exit this zone, nor do I remember exactly what I was thinking about. I just seem to recall parts of my life getting sorted out. I guess I’d be thinking of the usual stuff; races I have done, races I want to do, what to do with my life and work, girls I like, plans to take over the world. I can make sense of books I’ve read and people that I know. I think about everything with heightened focus but no real urgency.
Some of the time I think about just how good that I feel as I run. Small hills just invite sprinting, rocky paths invite dancing and fallen branches inspire over the top jumping. At points I was actually swinging on branches because I didn’t want to stop. The pain of the last few days and the aching muscles had disappeared. I stopped thinking about how far I had gone or had to go. I didn’t care how fast I was going or how much longer it was going to take till the end. It didn’t even bother me when I ran the wrong way.
It was such an amazing trail and I saw a few other runners come from the opposite direction. I chatted and said I was in a race and also that I was really jealous of not getting this kind of running in London.
I made a few wrong turns, including climbing down a steep and slippy hill into a swampy area and then having to climb back out again. The trail was generally quite easy to follow and I was never really paying much attention to it. Similar to driving or cycling the actual physical process of responding to the trail signs had become automatic so that I didn’t need to think about it anymore. This freed my mind to enjoy other things like the scenery and my own rambling thoughts.
I can’t remember what caused me to look at my watch, but when I did I was amazed. The last time I’d looked at the time was over 3 hours ago. I’d just run for 3 hours in what seemed like 5 minutes. Imagine starting a marathon and then finishing in what seems like 5 minutes?
What happened here is another answer to the question “why do you run so much?” Most people I have met, both runners and non-runners can not see past the performance aspect of running. Times/positions/splits etc are of secondary importance to me as a runner, I just like it when things happen like the above. I’ve learned from the many interactions I’ve had with runners that there are hundreds of reasons why people run. “To get faster” is merely one of these reasons, though it is the most popular. I’m happy for this one to remain low on my list so long as I can still get plenty of the above. Not everyone runs for the same reasons.
I reached the last checkpoint and started to think about getting to the finish again. I was told I was miles ahead of everyone and had about 10k to go. The last 10k was quite tricky as the trail was on roads with lots of turnings and some of the marking was poorly done. Several times I had to run down a path and look the other way to see if the trail went in the opposite direction. Several times I was wrong and had to retrace my steps. This was really frustrating as I knew I was so close to the finish but it felt like a maze to get there. Finally I spotted the Moose signs that signalled that the finish was close and that I could start sprinting. I did just that and flew through the line again in just over 12 hours to the surprise of everyone there who were not expecting anyone back so soon. I had to redo my finish for the cameras and I had loads of time to relax and wait for the others to come in. During this time I was interviewed by a chap who was making a documentary on the whole thing. When asked why I do this I gave an answer which was a less coherent version of the story above. It was a really great day to be interviewed as this was my best day so far.
Rhodri and Bruce came in nearly 2 hours later and Andy and Jo followed later in the night.
Day 5 – A lie in
Having spent the last few days getting out of bed when it was still dark and wet on the floor I was really pleased to have more time in my foil packet this morning. Yesterdays run had meant that I was to be starting with Rhodri and Bruce this morning and setting off at 9. I’m sure I could have been with them all week if it wasn’t for my injury but now that seemed to pass I felt more like running. I was still buoyed from yesterday and a bit sad that this was the last whole day. Still, I was looking forward to the end and amazed that I’d managed to run 4 hard ultras in 4 days on a poorly foot.
I ran with the Robots for most of the day. I don’t normally like to run with others but this was a welcome break as the 3 of us got lost a lot less than when I was on my own. The trail was a bit easier once more with a lot more open fields and wider tracks. This meant more running and I was trying to keep up with the 2 in front.
Today was great as Justin and Paul had rejoined the race and were already out there having set off a couple of hours earlier. Chris was still in a bad way and had to go to hospital for his blisters. He was given some very potent drugs though which were the envy of the rest of us.
The added weight I felt in my legs over the course of the week was offset partially by the lightening of my pack. In theory I didn’t need to have any food on me now as there was no requirement for any on the last day and I could have eaten all of todays at the start.
Richard and Barreleigh spent the whole week stalking us through the forests with cameras. I’d never been photographed so much in my life, it was like being Amy Winehouse (though my facial hair was not as coarse). Cameras always compel me to run, even if it’s uphill and slippy. They were everywhere, including one time when I was taking a leak. .
I kept up with them until the last checkpoint, helped along by the multitude of cheesy puffs available at the stops. I can’t imagine how I would have sustained myself on this run without the food. I would have needed a sled which would have been pretty hard to take over those rocks.
Heat and exhaustion got the better of me and I let the robots go. I was pleased to have made it to near the end with them but I was just flagging now. I had a strange incident involving the near loss of a hat which probably demonstrated how knackered I was. I climbed over a stile and took my bag off to get something. I put it back on, ran on and then realised that my hat was not in my hand. I returned to the stile and could not find it, then I realised it was on my head all along. I thought I should keep it there to stop the sun doing more damage.
The last few miles were on roads which I had difficulty reading because my map had melted. There was some rocky road to finish including some steep downhill sections. I was spent by this point and walking a lot. When I turned to the last section of road I was told to look out for a “very pretty bridge” and then turn into the finish there. This road seemed to go on for miles (which it did I think) and I was hoping that this bridge was going to be worth it.
It was a very nice bridge and even nicer to see the finish. This had been a really hard day for me and we all celebrated the almost end of the race by jumping in the stream nearby.
That felt like the whole thing over. With plenty of daylight left we lounged around next to a stream, scoffing whatever we had left of our food and not even worrying about tomorrows “half marathon”.
It is obviously great to get near the end of a race but it is very sad to think that in a few days time I’ll be back in the mundane. I was trying to put that out of my mind now though. I was looking forward to drinking a beer at the finish line in the Blue Mountain Resort.
Day 6 – Hardly worth bothering with
I set off with Rhodri and Bruce once more and the first half of today was an uphill section of road. It was very hot and a really straight section of road. I could see for miles and wondered how far I’d have to go up. It’s hard to tell how far the next hill was away and the mirage made it more difficult. I thought of Badwater as I continued in the rising heat.
I decided in 2006 that I’ll run Badwater in 2011. I’ve brought the date forward to 2010. All of this is good experience towards achieving that goal though I can’t even pretend that I’ll be feeling like this in the last 20k. Badwater will be truly hardcore, twice as hot at this and much more hilly. I can’t imagine what will be thrown at be in that one but I hope I can use some of the experiences of this race in 2010.
We reached the top of the road in about an hour. 60 minutes for an uphill 10k in the heat with 170 miles already in me is pretty good if I do say so myself. That’s almost running pace. This was the last checkpoint we’ll see (sob). We then turned left into the woods and made our way onto the trail via a very narrow gate (which I doubt I would have fitted through 6 days earlier).
I let Rhodri and Bruce run on and made my own way through the trail. We were approaching a busy tourist resort and running along what are ski slopes in the winter. There were a lot of people around who were very supportive; it was nice being able to say that I’m in a 300k race with about 5k to go. I could almost taste the beer.
I followed the trail down steep slopes which were very painful. Skis would have been useful here. I was making hard work again of figuring out which way to go but figured that if I just continue down to the town I’d find the finish and then just as I thought that I heard Bear screaming and shouting. I looked up and saw that Justin was a little ahead of me and about to finish.
So now everyone was waiting for me. It was quite nice to be the last to finish, it was great to see everyone on the line. As I ran towards the plaza and to the finish line I stopped and did something I’d been thinking of doing all week. I took off my shoes and socks, threw them away into a nearby bin and then put on my flip-flops. I then finished the race as I tried to start day 3. Getting rid of those things was a fantastic feeling, road shoes just didn’t cut it here, if fact they just got cut up.
I went through the finish line with all the grace and poise you would expect from someone who has run 300k over 6 days and is wearing flip-flops. I hugged everyone and made my way towards the beer. Coors light which is quite fitting as that’s my Wednesday night drink after the club runs. Well earned I think, if not for the running then for all the tomfoolery in the week.
Day 6 – 3.23
Total Time 50 hours ish – 3rd place
There was no rush to get moving from the pub and we all just sat around and took the moment in. I didn’t come here expecting an easy week but I was not expecting it to be that hard. The first 2 days left me a wreck. The long day reminded me of why I run and today confirmed why I like to run in organised events such as this one.
The organisation was breathtaking in this event. 8 runners is obviously not enough to make commercial sense but Richard has taken a brave gamble and staked his money on this one succeeding in the future. I’d love to come back and do this and I may do. I’ll certainly be recommending it to all those I’d think would be interested.
So my first multi-day race went well in the end after a very shaky start. Everyone agreed that this was the hardest race they had done and it was not to be taken lightly, however the unique environment of the race village took away some of the difficulty you’d expect in more popular multi-day races.