The weekend saw me running and hiking 55 miles through the Cheviot hills in Northumberland as I tackled the Montane and Cold brew events Cheviot Goat. The Ultra gets its unusual name from the fact that in the winter all livestock are taken down from the hills, leaving the only animal hardy enough to survive up there. The Cheviot goat.
I was feeling quietly confident coming in to this race as I had been training with a great coaching team in Tom and Rachael Payne, or ‘RunNamasteEat’ (RNE) as their coaching business is called.
I have trained with them before and contacted Tom two months out from the ultra. I was coming straight from completing the OCC in Chamonix, a 57km race though the Swiss and French Alps. My legs felt like the Alps had hardened them and I was keen to keep the ultra ball rolling.
RNE had me on a good running programme from the word go, speed work and hill work, long runs and making sure I got enough rest. The first thing I noticed about this programme was everything was done in time not distance. So speed work was ten sets of thirty seconds with two minutes rest, and so on. Long runs and recovery runs were also timed. I found this so beneficial as I could work how my body dictated not the programme. And it worked. I was covering more ground but not feeling burnt out, working on my feet and being in front of people all day I have felt over trained before, especially when I’m trying to cover a set number of miles each week. I was also jumping in cross country races and a trail half marathon throughout the weeks, as well as a weekend spent on the route, which was really useful.
So I felt like I had put the work in when I arrived at four thirty in the morning in Ingram for the race. After the kit inspection by the local mountain rescue and the pre race brief I positioned myself near the front for the start, and at six in the morning we were off.
It was headtorches on for the first few hours, the ground was good and nothing too taxing. I made sure I was walking when I needed and not trying to race. I soon got in step with a guy named Stevie from Scotland, he was a strong runner and we found out we had both been running cross country in the lead up to the ultra. The first fifteen miles went quickly, and as we hit the first big hills I could tell I was going a little too quickly, I told Stevie I was dropping down a gear and slowed my pace. It was then I realised I hadn’t been taking any gels on board, I’d been so happy running and chatting I’d forgotten to keep on top of my fueling. I started to feel a bit heavy, and after two hours I was trying to make amends getting some glucose in and water.
Everyone is different when it comes to fuelling, I know for a fact I really do run off my stomach and I was starting to feel the effects of low blood sugar. I watched Stevie and the pack in front disappear into the mist. Thankfully after half an hour or so the gels did the trick and I was feeling myself again, I picked up the pace and was soon back on track. Its lessons like this that you can only learn from competing.
I hit the halfway point after five hours and was really feeling strong. I quickly re supplied and cracked on, with the volunteers cheering me on. I think at this point I was fourteenth. After the half way point was a long stretch of tarmac which I really felt, but I was son back on the hills. I had ran this on my weekend recceing the route so knew what to expect. I can honestly say second half of the race I was just loving being out on the hills and was soon realising I was on track for a good finish, top ten? Top fifteen?
The weather turned soon after and I was running through wind and rain, not that I minded, this is what I had signed up for! I was now at the foot of the last big climb the Cheviot. I was running and hiking up the Cheviot, knowing it was all down hill from here. The route was an up and back and I finally could see someone in front of me throughout the mist, I was catching up. Running down I passed a group of five or six runners, greeting them as I went. I was far enough ahead not to be too worried.
Coming off the Cheviot I made a fatal error. My GPS had me turning to the left and I hit a track following a river, I ran down and down enjoying the feeling of some speed in my legs. Looking at my watch I saw I was running off route.
I’d really cocked up. I ran one way panicking only to see my map changing on my phone, then I ran the other. It was now getting dark and the mist was quite thick. I had been on my feet for over ten hours, I wasn’t thinking straight, and I think the ravine I was at the bottom of was playing hell with my GPS. I started shouting hello to try to hear which way I had to run but no one answered. Finally I got my phone pout and dragged the map up. I saw where I was and I had to climb through bushes of bracken up a steep hill to get back on track. It had cost me the best part of an hour.
I had gone from a big high to a massive low. I was pretty devastated, and feeling very sorry for myself. I think at one point I shouted WHY ME! It was now dark and I started walking. The fight had been knocked out of me climbing up the hill. The adrenaline wore off and I felt awful. What can I say I carried on through the night, it was dark and cold. I passed someone struggling up a hill. My batteries died on my head torch and I had the task of trying to change them with frozen fingers. Then with a few miles left I saw lights behind me. Something in me clicked and I thought no f*****g way! I started running again.
I ran as fast as I could off the hill, someone was right behind me now, his head torch was shining on the ground to my front. At one point I fell and rolled and kept running. It was crazy. We hit the road, I settled in to a pace and he passed me, I sped up and passed him. Then with a kilometre left I let him go, I was spent. I watched him run off before deciding I was being a big wet blanket and sprinted after him, he finished seconds before me. Good on him.
I passed through he finishing line into the local cafe which was being used all night. Someone I passed on the mountain looked at me confused.
“Did you get lost?” He asked. I nodded feebly.
“Was that you shouting?” I nodded again.
It was a bitter sweet pill, great race but marred by a silly mistake. Loads of positives and as I write this the pain of getting lost has gone. I also found out I was nineteenth male, I originally thought I was nineteenth overall but had been counting the men’s result.
Not top twenty after all, twenty first. I’ll take that.
I really enjoyed this race, and it has given me loads of confidence for 2019.
My goal was to get round in under 14 hours and my finishing time was 13:22.
Now to rest and enjoy Christmas and start plotting my next race!
Really recommend this race if your after a tough winter ultra, the hills are both stunning and brutal. I’m already signed up for 2019.