Tuesday, 6 August 2013

I have a sore shoulder...

And I love you all for it..

100 miles... 161km... 800 furlongs...

The medal says 4 days - it was 3 and a half...

Some of us met in a car park outside Bath, some nervous (me), some terrified (that's more like it) and others seemingly strangely calm (if I gave that impression to anyone, I'm a good actor).

Faces from previous races were recognised, acknowledgements made and mutterings about Win Hill, 30 degree heat - nothing can be that bad again.

Then up to Chipping Cambden, drop off our bags, collect the emergency numbers for the control and medical staff and then line up...



Walkers, inc me, off first for a warm day's hiking over good paths and moderate terrain - highlights for me, being accosted by a man (very drunk) with two shire horses... Who thought I was quite mad... I have to agree with him!

The Cotswolds are a stunningly beautiful part of the world, littered with follies and monuments, including towers only built so that it could be seen by all around...

 
 
 

The routine for the runners had already started, the slow ones setting off as early as possible, the faster ones catching them up... and then appearing again over my shoulder a bit later due to navigational hiccups. 

17 miles in half a day, not a bad start to a glorious weekend...




And yes, I'm adamant that it was only a half day!  Camping for the night in the Fruit Farm's campsite gave us a chance to mingle and chat, finding out just varied a bunch of people we were; from me the "this is the big challenge of the year" through to people where this seemed to be a light weekends training...

The food was cracking - pasta, potatoes, bread and salad... with fruit pie to finish:-) With most of us thinking an early night was sensible there was a bit of banter, a comparison of the owned tents (mine seemed to be liked) and the ones people have either borrowed or rented for the weekend.

A ferocious thunderstorm left most of us a little jaded in the morning, however porridge fruit and a sausage saw me shake that off and get out on the road...

This was a hot one - 4l of water and 2l of hydration juice hot... and I was still feeling thirsty... The plan, and guidebook advised of a cut down to the campsite which would make the day 26 miles... We'll come back to that;-)

This was the day of seeing people go past, once (often), twice (occasionally) and in one case still getting into camp first.  The national trail sign's aren't always perfect, and in the myriad network of paths on top and inbetween the holes on the golf courses, or in the dense woodland, it was easy to misread a Cotwolds Circular Path sign as a Cotswolds Way sign when going past at speed - that's any speed. 

I led myself a merry dance around this small country pile...


... it didn't add much distance, but did mean I wandered up and down the hillside a bit hunting for the sign onwards.

With the heat hitting 26 I went into solid mode, jogged down a few hills but in essence just power walked my way through to 27 miles.  I picked up some waifs and strays along the way as the heat, navigational challenges and general wear and tear... It was also the first day where the doing of a relatively easy going path in around half the time normally taken began to become real, what on a  two day walk would have been easy going started draining the body and the soul...

Especially when rather than dropping into Cranham from the east, we worked our way around to come back into from the west - adding three miles and Cooper Hill - yes the Cooper Hill where people throw themselves after a cheese - them going down, and us going up...

A welcome tradition had started of some of the faster people hanging around to make sure we were alright, clapping us in over the line and sharing the tales of horror of that hill, or the sharp descent which you could run down, until the hairpin left bend and the rather solid gate.

The scout centre kept the home fire burning for those of us later than ideal, more pasta, much more pasta very welcome.  There was pudding, it came with custard... lots of custard. :-D



Day Three dawned soggy, and started with porridge and a bacon barm... and the mild annoyance of my heart rate strap battery going flat...

A invigorating stretch back along the road we'd descended on the day before, helping the inevitable poor soul who turned out of the campsite the wrong way - don't laugh people, do enough walking/running and it will happen to you.

It was a chatting day, people slowed down when passing to say a few words, or a few sentences and occasionally a few minutes.  The individual runners were now becoming a unit... Spread out in time and along a long line, but we now wanted each and everyone of us to get to the end, safe and sound.


Out past a town called, and this is no joke, Painswick is a hill... at the bottom is a memorial to the creator of the Cotswolds Way... I'm sure we all reverentially doffed our caps ;-)

Mid way up the hill is a trig point with miles to go on both sides...



Yup - that's what 47 miles can do a man...

This is the day the guidebooks say you have stunning views...


Yeah... Head down, one foot in front of the other - my target for the day was to finish c5:30... Solid plodding was required, I ballsed up my feeding and drooped more than I normally do - but this, as a couple of us discussed, was always going to be a tough day... It's the day after an off-road ultra, it's not the excitement of day 1, or the anticipation of that ultra, you know the day after is the last day - 33 miles of it.  Containment adds to tiredness, and the route setters evilness comes out to play - I like Neolithic forts, but walking up one when there's a perfectly acceptable path along the bottom...


But up that path we went, one foot after the other, knowing that we went up it, dropped down and then turned right over another hard hill before getting to North Nibley and basecamp for the night...

In, tent pitched, soaked under the cricket pitches showers and more pasta and a school days fave for pudding - banana custard... :-) Nibley House also had a bar, so a gentle pint of anaesthetic was called for... One of the delights of pushing your metabolism this hard is that weak sugary lager is basically isotonic... Doesn't explain how some of the speedies could drink snakebite and still run the next day... but they were uniquely brilliant!



Last day.  Thirty Three miles (ish) and that promised easing after the M4...

The Met Office had issued a wet weather warning, we were meant to be drenched all day... so of course I baked until the midpoint checkpoint... Then the rain was torrential, full waterproofs and flooded roads torrential.

Most of the day just blurs into me keeping to the target for the day - 15 min per KM on average, all day.  That meant attacking every hill and trying to jog down.  I remember a few chats about why we were doing this insanity, I remember the checkpoints and being able to see the Severn Bridge. 

Tea at the last checkpoint, the speedies were already well in their cups but I had 6/7 miles to go... As ever coming into town the navigation became more problematic as the rate of vandalism increased.  However, walking through the site of the battle of Lansdown I was greeted with this...


A rainbow to guide me in:-)

Distracted, I of course, went off track... adding about 500m and complicating things by making me have to workout a way through Bath.

Oh well, it was just determination keeping me going. I'd fuelled a lot better than the day before so the slump was a short depression rather than a lengthy issue.  Dropping through Bath we zigged and zagged and went up hill (I swore, loudly and viciously).  And then the finish...

Three had gone in just before me, including the other from the NW... So hugs and backclapping ensued:-)

The End... (almost)




So then a quick shower, put the finishers t-shirt on and head to the pub.  On coming in there was a wall of sound, a pint shoved in my hand and more hugs and backclapping.  We were a merry band that night, the shared pain, intensity of experience and irrespective of speed the magnitude of the achievement had sank in.  We talked until last orders, and then some of us found ourselves in a kebab shop... so it seemed rude not to have one...

I didn't sleep well, not because my legs were hurting, but almost a sense of loss.  For the last 5 days I had a very simple purpose - get to the next bit.  Now I was going to a less simple world, one where sometimes I can't rely on my own skills in exclusion, or on the belief and hope of all of those around me.

So if it sounds odd when I say I'm going to miss these days, its because of things like this simple fact - I have a sore shoulder,  from all the pats on the back from the faster runners and walkers.  It's not something you get on normal events, and its something that I liked a lot about this one.

I can't thank the organisers, marshals, sweepers, bag carters and medical crew enough - unfailingly cheerful, always helpful and knowing when to back away from the focused walkers they were great.

This was as tough as a 3 and a half day walk as I think I can do; the feet and legs worked and feel fine now (relatively) so I was up for it, an trained enough for it. Would I recommend it to others - for the speed demons they can make their own minds up, for the "ordinary" punter who does the sort of marathon, occasional ultra, type stuff I do... Probably, if you train hard enough, can map read and know how to look after yourself... Would I do it again?

Probably...

Thank you again, everyone of you on the course I know I couldn't have done it without you!

TTFN

Paul

ps total stats - 105 miles / 169 km by my OS mapping 16000ft / 4900m of up and down... (which is what other walkers say, but is about 4000ft more than official).

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