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Viking Way – 147ish miles  -  7th – 8th April 2012

I had entered this as I had missed out on the GUCR ballot again and needed an alternative challenge. Pat Robbins had already entered and a quick e-mail to Mark and I was in. I purchased OS maps of the route well in advance with the intention of recceing as much of the course as possible. We actually only managed a section in the middle of the route in advance. I had however studied the maps and set myself some target times which should get me finished in 38 hours if all went to plan! However I would be happy with just a finish as the rumour was that only about 5 were expected to! There was also to be no support on the race other than water every 15-20 miles or so, so we would have to carry all our own food and gear.

We set off on Good Friday morning and left the van as close as possible to the finish in Oakham near Rutland Water and then had to catch 3 trains to get to Hull. On the way we met Keith Godden who was also in for this. After a lot of waiting for trains and faffing about we arrived in Hessle and walked a mile or so to the hotel in the shadow of the Humber Bridge. A quick meal with Pat and Keith was followed by collecting the race pack from Mark and chatting with several other competitors. Then back to the room for more faffing before an early night. I had prepared my backpack with a couple of litres of drink, a change of clothes and lots of snacks.

Next morning, a taxi to the start at 5.45 was followed by a nervous wait in the start area on the bank of the River Humber whilst everyone gathered for the off. I chatted with several people, both old friends and new acquaintances. There was a lot of mutual respect as we had all done similar events before.

At 7.00 Mark gave a short speech and sounded a horn and we all set off along the banks of the Humber. Despite Mark’s assurances that it wasn’t going to rain the drizzle was sweeping across the river and most people were wearing waterproofs. The course followed the river for a few miles and then headed inland. The drizzle eventually subsided (but never really went away) and I was able to take off my waterproof. The weather was cool and breezy but almost perfect for running.

The first 15 miles or so were undulating and fairly easy to navigate. I looked back after about 10 miles and was disconcerted to still be able to see the Humber Bridge in the distance. I managed to find a “convenient” public convenience for once and arrived at the first checkpoint with Lindley and Ben after about 3 hours. My intention was to get in and out of the checkpoints as quickly as possible so I just grabbed some food which was plentiful, topped up my Camelbak with water and left within a couple of minutes. It was good to see James Adams, Drew Sheffield and others at the checkpoint.

The next part of the course took us into the Wolds which involved a lot more hills. I ran most of it with Peter Johnson who was great company on some of the climbs. The course just seemed to go up and down all the way to the 30 mile checkpoint which was based at a village hall in Tealby. This checkpoint seemed very busy with marshals, I downed a welcome cup of tea, grabbed some food and left. As I was leaving I saw Pete arriving and promptly sitting down for a rest. Mark told me that the worst hills were done now. I believed him for all of the 5 minutes it took me to run down the road and stare up at the biggest one so far!

After the climb there were more undulations through various villages and across fields. After about 40 miles I eventually caught up with Jo who had been out with the early leaders but settled down into a more sensible pace. We cracked on together for a bit with running interspersed with some walking. It was a welcome break for me as Jo knew the course and I didn’t have to worry about navigation. We could see the luminous jacket of Javed ahead and were slowly catching him. However after about an hour Jo’s leg decided to get upset with her and she was reduced to a walk/hobble to the next checkpoint despite her brave attempts to speed up. I was entertained throughout with a tirade of swearing!

Drew and James ran out to meet us from the checkpoint and it was good to catch up with both of them. We arrived at the 50 mile checkpoint after about 10 ½ hours, a bit behind my 10 hour target now but not a disaster. This was our first access to our bags so I quickly changed my shirt and replenished my backpack with food and a head torch for the night section. Javed was at the checkpoint and left a few minutes before me, we planned to try and help each other at night so I said I would catch him up. Jo went and sat in a chair and I didn’t think I would see her again as she had slowed considerably and was struggling with her injury.

Most of the next 5 miles was flat or gently downhill so I used this time to get some food, fluid and salts inside me. We had just gone through the warmest part of the day and I was feeling a bit nauseous. I could see Javed ahead and kept trying to catch him up whilst filling my stomach but he was making good use of the terrain and I couldn’t get near him.

I arrived at Horncastle (about 55 miles) and managed to locate the canal which we had to follow to take us out. There were a few early evening revellers warming up in the town. I texted Clare to let her know how I was doing, even though Facebook was busy with updates. After about a mile of the canal I was aware of another runner approaching from behind and looked round to see Jo again. Apparently a sit down and a cup of tea had rejuvenated her and she was running well again. We followed a disused railway and a track across a golf course to Woodhall Spa in which time caught up with Javed, and Peter and Kevin caught us up. They went on ahead and Jo dropped back and with the help of a local we found the footpath out of town just as it was getting dark.

After several fields, tracks and side roads we arrived at the 64 mile checkpoint. Another gulp of tea and we were off again, mainly power walking whilst trying to navigate what seemed a difficult route across country. It was very flat though so not too tough on the legs. A couple of miles after the checkpoint I was with Pete when we were stopped by an irate farmer (leaning on his pitchfork – or was it a shotgun?) who made it quite clear what he thought of us out at night on his land. He refused to admit the location of the Viking Way (even though it went across his land) and was most unhelpful. We eventually worked it out for ourselves when Jo and Javed arrived despite the lack of signage which the farmer had probably taken down himself.

A short while later we caught up with Riccardo. Pete spent most of the evening entertaining me with his navigational skills which were based on him holding the map upside down most of the time and wondering why he was lost. We also discussed the old ultra-runner’s hobby of talking more b*ll*cks the longer the race goes on, we were certainly doing well at it. We all helped each other out with navigating including a muddy field full of excited horses with no obvious way out. After circling it a couple of times we eventually found the gap in the electric fence. A useful tip in a similar situation to avoid getting trampled is to shine your head torch directly into the horse’s eyes, they don’t like it.

We carried on at a steady pace, mainly power-walking to avoid missing turnings. After a few more miles I noticed that the others were dropping back a bit. I carried on at the same pace as I thought they would catch me up. The route wound around several fields and woodlands until after about 78 miles it hit a bit of road which dropped down to the banks of the River Witham which would lead us towards Lincoln. The route went along an embankment for 2-3 miles alongside the river before turning off and uphill to the next checkpoint at 81 miles. All along this trail I could see Kevin and Pete’s head torches behind me.

At the checkpoint where Drew and James were again in attendance I had a sneaky sit down and a cup of tea. It was after 2am. Peter and Kevin came into the checkpoint shortly after and I used this as an excuse to vacate my seat and plod on. I was warned about the cattle grid behind the wall so I gingerly stepped over it until the last rung when my foot, which still covered in mud from the last field, slipped and went straight down the grid. I toppled over, landed on my hip bone and let out a squeal like a girl with my ankle trapped down the grid. I sat there for a minute or so a bit shocked with a sore hip. Eventually I peeled myself off the floor, limped over to the wall and saw everyone at the checkpoint going about their business, oblivious to me no more than 10 feet away. Oh well I was still in one piece, might as well carry on!

The route now went into the centre of Lincoln via a railway line, a trading estate and a footpath. I arrived at the cathedral without a problem but could not see a marshal there which I was half expecting. From there the route goes steep downhill on cobbles through the centre. At 3am this was not as busy as it might have been earlier on a Saturday night but those that were there were in a bit of a state. Following plenty of heckling I took off my head torch, covered my race number and power walked as inconspicuously as possible through the city.

At the other side there was a short climb up onto a ridge which I would follow for quite a while. This was easy to navigate as we had recce’d this part before and generally followed the top of this ridge through several villages. The only notable thing I remember was the thousands of worms which were laid out on the path but would rapidly disappear when I arrived, very strange. My head torch batteries started to fade so I changed the torch for my spare which wasn’t as bright. Eventually the trail arrived at Wellingore where the route turned away from the ridge and onto a road to the checkpoint at 97 miles, I arrived there just under 24 hours into the race, slightly behind my target time but nothing to worry about. It had just got light again.

At the checkpoint Mark was asleep in the van and I felt guilty waking him. I did consider carrying on but needed some stuff from my bag and this would be my last chance to access my bag before the end. Again I changed my shirt, topped up with water, had a quick cuppa and left. I saw Cliff there in a tent, he had picked up an injury and pulled out. Indeed, whilst I was there I heard about a few people who had dropped out for different reasons.

The next 5 miles or so were along a straight, undulating road/track following a Roman road. I thought it would be hard going but seemed to fly by. I had plugged in an MP3 player with my 17 year old daughters favourite tunes on though. I kept looking back to see if I could see Paul who I had passed at the checkpoint as he had been resting there for a bit, I was expecting him to catch me up soon. After 5 or so miles I turned off across some fields for a few miles before the trail became hillier again, through a few more villages to the next checkpoint at 113 miles. Another tea and top-up later I carried on across some more muddy fields. This was the horrible mud that sticks and I ended this section 3 inches taller on wads of sticky mud. Luckily this was followed by some road and a chance to off-load the extra baggage.

After crossing over the A1 the route followed another old trail. This was fairly flat for a bit but was quite rutted in places until it crossed a railway and a road and led down to the Grantham Canal. This was nice and flat for a mile or two but then the trail took a sharp turn over the canal and up a fairly long hill. The going for most of the next 10 miles or so was slippery mud with very little break. The tracks had been churned up by quad and motor bikes, indeed there were many out on the trails at the time. Several times I had to climb into the bushes to allow them past in between long sections of wet mud and water. It was very hard and slow going, in several places there was no way to avoid it and I just had to squelch my way through. There was a nice steep hill again at about 125 miles which was plastered in mud. At one point one of the bikes stopped, the rider took off his helmet, told me I looked “Fooked” and asked if I wanted a ride. I confirmed I was but would carry on anyway.

The route wound round a glider airfield and carried along this trail till about 130 miles where there was a short welcome road section to the checkpoint at 131 miles. That had been a long part of the event. At the checkpoint I got a hug from Lynn (passed on from Clare), and David read me a load of messages from Facebook, it was nice to know some people were thinking of me whilst I waded through the mud. David told me of several more people who had withdrawn but promised me the worst was over. In the absence of tea I downed some coke and re-joined the trail. It was about 4.30pm, still plenty of time to hit the 11pm finish cut off time.

Some more mud on the trail but not so bad was followed by a road section and then a long part round an airfield and across some fields with more sticky mud. I kept looking back as I was expecting Paul or Javed to catch me still. I still kept on at a steady pace following more undulating fields, tracks and woods until I arrived at Exton (approximately 139 miles). I got a bit disorientated coming into the village but found the road and then asked a local for directions. She helpfully told me to follow the road through the village, cross the t-junction and then cross fields to Whitwell which was where the 141 checkpoint was.

This went well until the crossing of fields. I was about 7 miles from the end and 2 ½ hours to do it in, plenty of time. It was now dark for the second time and I followed the trail over the hill on field paths until I got to an orchard and a fence which were not on my map! I saw a few walkers out on the hill which didn’t strike me as strange at this time of night. I followed the fence right and left for quite a way but no gap through, eventually one side seemed to go downhill so I followed it down and was faced with what looked like the back of a large building (it was actually a road), again I searched left and right until I found a sign which pointed back up the hill saying Whitwell was 2 miles away in the direction I had just come! Sure enough I had ended up back at the road and had gone round in a big circle. I followed the trail back up again along the same fields to the top where I was a lot more careful this time but still ended up in the same orchard. Never mind I’ll ask those nice people I had seen walking around up here but every time I approached one they either disappeared into the mist or turned out to be trees! I was getting a bit fraught now, I threw off my pack, changed the batteries in my better head torch which gave me better vision. I should probably have had something to eat but it never crossed my mind, I just didn’t want to get into a longer conversation with the trees or it could be a long night!

I tried again looking for the way off the hill but no good. In desperation I took out my phone and tried the Compass App, it worked lovely and I found out where north was so those lights in the south must be on Rutland Water so the village must be out of sight down the hill (I hope). I checked my watch, I had wasted about an hour up here, my only option was to run south and hope for the best which is what I did. The hill descended down steeply and I ran it as hard as I could, I was hoping it was the right way. I had to climb over a fence but didn’t care. I saw houses and after about a mile I hit the road, hopefully the right one. I crossed over and ran down the next road until I heard someone shout my name. It was Mark at the last checkpoint, phew!! Pat was also there with the ladies at the checkpoint. He told me what I already knew, that I needed to get my arse moving. I had less than 90 minutes to do the last 10k. I was the last one left on the course, Javed had pulled out and Paul had passed me earlier somewhere. I downed a quick coke and Mark led me through the car park, he told me to follow the cycle path through to the road and carry on.

I followed the trail through the woods for a mile or two and then arrived in…a car park with no visible way out! I had obviously gone wrong again. I retraced my steps for a mile or so but could see no alternative paths, oops. It was at this point I was quoting Hugh Grant from Four Weddings and a Funeral (you’ll have to look that one up). I rang Mark and was cut off after about half a sentence, no mobile reception! I ran back to the car park and ran round it looking for a way out, I found a road and followed it uphill, I knew where the road was, if I could get through to it I may have a chance, I was down to under an hour left – about 52 minutes. As I was following what seemed like a maze of roads I heard a shout from up a hill, it was Pat who told me I was going the right way, first time for ages I thought!

I followed a path which undulated and wound round a few places along the banks of Rutland Water. I was going faster than at any time during the race. Eventually the path ran alongside the road leading to Oakham and the finish. I just got my head down and ran, not sure how far to go, probably 3-4 miles. I heard a couple of shouts from the road and a couple of car horns at different times, Pat and the girls from the checkpoint giving encouragement. I couldn’t acknowledge as I was running as hard as I could which after 140+ miles which was a lot faster than I could have predicted. I was determined not to get a DNF especially as if I failed it would be down to my own stupidity. I was sweating a lot and my feet were screaming but adrenaline had taken over.

After a couple of miles the road bent round and I could see the roundabout on the edge of Oakham and the lights of the town. At the roundabout Pat told me I only had 1k to go, I checked my watch, 20 minutes – easy. I walked up the road for a minute or two and then jogged into the finish with 15 minutes to spare.

Surprisingly and thankfully there were a few people awaiting my arrival. Mark handed me my medal and t-shirt, I had some photos taken, Pam handed me a chocolate Easter bunny and I sat down on a convenient flower pot for a rest.

It was great to see so many people at the finish – Mark, Alex, James, Javed, Riccardo, Pam and Pat (if I missed anyone I’m sorry, I was tired). I was dead proud to have been one of only 7 that finished out of 28 especially considering the quality of every one of the other runners. I can’t thank Mark enough for allowing me entry and for him and his colleagues organising a brilliant event. Well done to everyone who competed whether they finished or not, it was certainly a tough event.


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