Gary's Latest Challenge

My latest challenge was an ultramarathon called The Wall, which is a 70 mile run in the region of Hadrian’s Wall...

After taking on the first 15 miles to pitstop one (Lanercost), I arrived with a limp and severe pain in left ankle. Once I was able to take off my trainers, I found the plastic support at the back of the trainer had popped out and dug into my ankle bone, which was the cause of the limp and the pain was unbearable.

A change of trainers and some foot protection was necessary to help me carry on. At the same time, I had a 200ml bottle of 2kcal. During the run/walk I was also taking on board some electrolytes, plus some energy gels.

Off we went to our next pitstop, which was 9 miles away. This didn’t seem too bad but as I set off my thigh muscles had seized; it took a few moments to get going. I left my wife as she headed off to the next pitstop with all my food and supplies and as I limped and ran, I wondered how I would make it for the rest of the race if my ankle got any worse, all I could think was, ‘it’s ok to walk’.

We made it to the second pitstop (Walltown Quarry 24 miles) my ankle was not any better and my thighs were hurting; I think I must have been slightly adjusting my running style, which put strain on my thighs.

My wife asked me if I had seen the wall yet? I said no, we had done 24 miles by this point and not come across the wall, was unsure where it was on this route but could wait to see it.

My wife looked at me and said, “you don’t look good”, I admitted I didn’t feel great. I decided I needed more food as I must have been burning a lot more calories than I was getting. This meant we had to stop for a bit longer for me to take on some extra food even though my stomach really didn’t want any more fluids. I had to push them in so I could carry on; this made me feel sick, but I didn’t have any choice if I wanted to carry on. A change of T-shirt, the last one was soaked in sweat, and we were off.

As we set off, I left my pump turn off to give my stomach a rest from all the fluid I had taken onboard. At this point I had a bad ankle, thighs that didn’t want to lift my legs to move forward and we still had 46 miles to go – oh dear…

One bit of good news was that we only had 6 miles until the next pit stop at The Sill, 30 miles into the race.

The other good news was that we finally came across ‘The (Hadrian’s) Wall’!!

Up and down the hills we went, over stiles, up steps, up more hills along beside the wall, then down for a while and them up some more. All of this was killing my ankle and thighs, I really struggled on this 6-mile route and said I never wanted to see any more of Hadrian’s wall. It wasn’t what I needed at this moment; my legs were really struggling. Once we reached the pitstop I was advised the short 6 miles was the longest time between all 3 pitstops. My legs didn’t want to move, blisters had started to form between my toes on my left foot. Typically, it had to be the one already in pain, however the extra food had help pick me up so I did the same again at this pitstop, by taking extra food I was hoping it would give me the push to the next pitstop, which was 14 miles away.

We set off again, pushing through the pain to keep running. We came across some lovely runners, all doing well and pushing through their own pain barriers to try and get to finish line. This section was 14 miles, but we seem to get through it without too many issues. There was just one problem to add to my list of injuries, my left shoulder! I had popped the AC joint and. with all the weight of the backpack. it started to cause some issues and was sore to touch. I tried to tape it up to give it some support, but it made no difference.

The pitstop at Hexham was the place where those doing the race over 2 days would stop overnight, at this point I wished I had opted for 2 days. I found some ice on the field thrown away from a drink, I put my feet on to the ice, it helped to ease them and made them feel great!

We stop at Hexham for about 1 hour to get some food for myself and my running partner and took a short break before setting off into the night section. We had to make sure we had our head torches and thermal tops, or we wouldn’t have been allowed to leave the pitstop without the required gear on the mandatory kit list. The organisers stopped us and made us empty the backpack to show we had the correct kit, at this point I needed to pump my energy multi fibre nutrition 1000ml bottle to get more energy into me.

After we had walked for about 2 miles, I switched off my pump to get ready to run but my running partner was unable to carry on running, he had 2 large blisters on his feet, running just wasn’t an option so we would have to walk the 17 miles to the next pitstop. This was hard going for me as I was limping and having a lot of pains in my shoulder. At this point it was also a mental struggle, walking through the night feeling like you couldn’t move anymore.

Pitstop 5 Newburn only 9 miles to go! After walking the 17 miles, it was so nice to stop, take off the backpack and my trainers just to relieve my aching body. We had come so far and were so close we had to push on for the last 9 miles.

We left for the final stretch with daylight approaching, as we struggled on through all our aches and pains, there were no sign of any other runners. The organisers checked to see if we were ok to carry on, we said we were not going to fail so close to the finish line but where is the bridge?

We made it to Newcastle but had to get to the finish line somewhere along the Tyne River. It was never ending but eventually the finish came into sight, the relief on our faces must have been a picture! Unfortunately, we hadn’t phoned our wives early enough for them to get to the bridge to watch us come across the finish line. We had to wait 20 minutes for them to turn up, but it was brilliant to have made it within the time frame. Just to have made it at all. I couldn’t believe we had done 70 miles in 23 hours even if the last 26 miles had been walking and limping. We both said never again, never ever again.

My running partner has said “never again” but I am planning to revisit and maybe I will try again in a few years, I know what the course is like and how much food I need to take on board and how much training will be required!