As I type this post, the beautiful countryside of Northumberland and Cumbria is flying past the train window, which itself is delightfully framed by the passed out bodies of Sean and Fiona. We’re heading back west to pick up the car that we left in Carlisle on Friday evening before we then walked to Newcastle for the The Wall Ultra Marathon. 69 miles in two days. We thought it might be a challenge too far and while we completed it in just over 23 hours (9 hrs 50 minutes on Saturday, 13 hrs and 20 mins), it has left us broken.
We have blisters on blisters, Sean’s back on crutches, Fiona has a dodgy leg, and me, well I’m walking like Yoda, aided by one of the walking poles that blistered up my hand so nicely over the weekend.
But enough whinging on to the actual race report.
In it’s second year it bills itself as the UK’s most iconic ultra. I assume this is because you run along Hadrian’s Wall, or at least that’s the impression you get from the marketing. In truth you don’t get to see that much of Hadrian’s Wall, there are a lot of other walls that you run/walk/trudge past, and at least the last 12 or so miles are along the Hadrian’s Wall path and cycle path. Guess The Path doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
We arrived in Carlisle on Friday night, registered at the Castle, struggled to find the bag drop off point and then went for a lot of carbs. As with the previous Rat Race we did, The Dirty Weekend, which I will post a report about soon, we had been warned ID was mandatory. It wasn’t. There was also a mandatory kit list for this race as you can go a long time without seeing a marshall, there wasn’t even a hint of a sniff of a kit check. Now that is fine but it meant on the first day we had more kit in our bags then we strictly needed. Two med kits for example because we weren’t sure if it was a mandatory per person or per team, on day two we carried just one, and shed a few other items too.
Carbs consumed, crappy night’s sleep endured, the mattresses at the Carlisle Central Travel Lodge have seen better days, probably a few decades ago, we set off for the 8am start. A lovely fellow competitor offered us a lift in her taxi to the starting village. It was less than a mile away, but when you’re planning on walking 32, every little bit of energy saved helps. It also set the tone for how friendly and lovely our fellow competitors would be.
Last minute checks done, bladders filled and emptied as appropriate, we set off.
Pre-event there had been some discussion among the team about running. Fiona, who completed her first marathon in May and is about to start training for another one in December, was firmly in the ‘we should run’ camp. Sean and I as lazy and under-trained people were equally firmly in the ‘screw that for a game of soldiers’ camp. However, unlike other events where we can bimble at our own pace, there were cut off times that had to be hit and we really really didn’t want to miss any. Day 1, the first cut off was at the only pit stop, 15 miles in and had to be left by 1300. Which gave us 5 hours. Just about doable with consistent 20 minute miles but would leave little wiggle room for stopping to check for blisters, Sean to adjust his leg, take photos or admire the view. So we opted for 15 minute miles, striding out at that pace for 0.8 of a mile, then jogging the last 0 .2. This worked well, well once I’d been taught how to run properly in boots while carrying a pack and poles, and we made the first cut off in plenty of time in just under 3 hours and 45 minutes. We spent a luxurious 15 minutes shovelling carbs down and checking for hot spots.
The first 15 miles really did fly by, once we slowed our pace it did seem to take an age for the rest of miles to tick by. Not helped by my boots starting to cause me a small world of pain. A fairly new purchase they had been tested out over a couple of days and about 23 miles of training walks and seemed fine. This time the left boot decided to bruise my outer ankle bone, making every step quite ouchy. Fortunately Sean never undertakes these events without a heavy supply of heavy-duty painkillers whic h he is always happy to share.
The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful, except for three things of note. One was bumping back into a couple of very nice blokes who offered us the services of their support driver, Jimmy, to take use from the day 1 finish to our pre-booked B&B. The second was the cheery marshall who told us at about the 27 mile mark that as it was mainly all downs from here it would feel more like 4 miles, he was obviously delusional as it was pretty much up all the way. Then finally, thanks to some local pranksters moving a couple of course markers we had walked a further mile or so. Fortunately someone spotted we’d go wrong and yelled us back, at least four other competitors put in an extra three miles before they realised the mistake.
The day was completed in just under ten hours, and as we hoovered up soup hotter than the sun, stuffed down unlimited free sandwiches and a well deserved pint, the offer of a lift from support driver Jimmy was kindly given again and gratefully received. Which is when we decided that the next time we did something like this, we too would bring a Jimmy.
We were stiff, even after a couple more pints of muscle relaxant, and headed to bed early, mainly because Jimmy was coming back at 0730 to pick us up (We cannot thank him or his friend’s enough) but also because we had 37 miles to do the next day and it had only just begun to sink in what a challenge that really was going to be.
Clicky linky for part two