This is going to be a long post, an ultra post if you will. Settle down, get a brew and let’s go.
Surrey is a fair distance from Nottingham so we’d booked ourselves a premier inn in Aldershot for Friday night. We set off late in the afternoon in cold but clear weather. When Guy and I go to events together we always seem to have dramatic weather- we’ve had torrential rain and 50mph winds so I’d long been convinced that this weekend would bring blizzards. I was delighted to be proved wrong, at least until about 15 miles from Aldershot. We had proper blizzards with cars crawling along the motorway. It got worse after we left the motorway, there were abandoned cars and cars stuck all along the dual carriageway. What’s needed in these situations is a 4×4 truck, as luck would have it that is exactly what we were in. After a few bold driving decisions and a bit of navigational freestyling we made it to the bright lights of the premier inn. We were probably the smuggest motorists in the Home Counties. There was quite a queue at check in due to a coach party having to abandon their coach because of the snow. This seemed to be the most exciting thing that had happened to the passengers in quite some time.
On the way down Guy was telling me about a conversation he’d had with a member of the local running community, let’s call him Dave. He’d filled him in our weekend plans, Dave’s response was “don’t come home in a body bag” but delivered in a way that implied that this was neither unlikely nor undesirable.
We had dinner in the Brewer’s Fayre (oh the glamour) and watched the first half of the rugby. After that it was off to bed with a brew and full command of the remote control, sometimes it’s the little things.
By Saturday morning the snow had stopped falling but it hadn’t thawed, Aldershot Tesco was like a winter wonderland. We had breakfast and set off for Farnham. The world’s most condescending satnav got us there “turn second left (scumbag)” in good time for the 9.00 start. We collected our numbers, dropped our overnight bags off and did what we do best – had a brew. I wasn’t as nervous as I usually am at the start of a race, perhaps because it wasn’t really a race or maybe because I knew I wasn’t going to be alone. The scenery at the start area was beautiful, snow covered fields and views towards the hills. There was a good mix of people there, from racing snake style serious ultra runners right down to first timers like me (and plenty less experienced than me). Eventually it was time to start, the snow was crisp underfoot but not slippy. The first photo opportunity was a few miles in
Up on the hills doing our best Frozen impressions.
We’d planned to walk the uphills and run the rest, it was about completing not competing. The plan was working perfectly, we ran/walked to the first checkpoint around 9 miles in. We stopped for drinks and food, I went for a mix of savoury and sweet whereas Guy stuck with savoury (this is important!). We carried on, up more snowy hills, through woodlands with breathtaking views and over hills with children sledging. I was loving it and the miles were passing nicely. Until all of a sudden I wasn’t loving it. It was around the 13 mile point when I realised I had no energy, I felt awful and couldn’t see how another 20 miles were possible. I’ve never had a problem like this at this distance before, 13 miles is a standard weekend run and nothing to get excited about. I didn’t want to worry Guy by having a meltdown so I just went a bit quiet, he noticed (or maybe he thought he’d gone deaf). Rather than going for a standard “pull yourself together Froggatt” he opted for trying to work out what was going wrong and then fixing it. Drink and emergency sweets and our first reference to the immortal genius of 5ive “keep on moving”. Within a mile or so I was fine again and on we went.
See how high up we are!
As we ran we talked to other runners along the way. One chap was an experienced ultra runner but he told us he was just having a very bad day and asked how we were doing and what we were training for. “This” I said, “my first ultra”. His reply was “and you’ve chosen a multiday one? Wow”. Guy told him that he was training for the Marathon des Sables, “so you’ve done a few ultras leading up to this then?” “Well I did one the other week” said Guy, “that’s all”. I got the distinct impression that our new friend thought that we were both slightly bonkers.
The major test of day one was Box Hill, this came at around 22 miles. The ascent was partly up big wooden steps and seemed to last about 5 miles, I like hills as much as the next person but this was huge! It was also really muddy, if I hadn’t had Guy to physically pull me up the muddy bank at the top I’d probably still be there now. No sooner had we reached the top then we had to go back down the other side- more steps. It was around here that we first heard the helicopter “that’s Dave” said Guy “he’s followed us and brought some body bags with him”. From then on he seemed to be circling us, it only increased our determination not to need his body bags.
After Box Hill something strange seemed to happen, it was like we found our groove and could just keep on running. Unfortunately we slid slightly off course but a runner behind us called us back before we’d gone far wrong. Sadly the same couldn’t be said for the chap in front of us (who we’d followed) as he had his headphones in and vanished into the distance. The last section of day one was great. I’ve never run over marathon distance before yet when we got to 26 miles it wasn’t difficult to keep on going. We got to 30 miles and started to drop down to Redhill, the last 3 miles were the fastest of the day.
We crossed the finish line together, we’d done it. Day one 33 miles completed in 7 hours 50 and we were still in one piece.
On arrival at the school which was our home for the night we went straight for the hot drinks table, time for a brew. We collected our bags and found a nice spot of sports hall floor to call our bed. I like a bit of luxury so had brought along an inflatable sleeping mat, it was the best decision I could have made! After we’d unpacked it was showers then a massage for me while Guy watched the rugby.
After the rugby it was dinner time, everything is provided and the food was lovely. 5,000 calories takes a lot of replacing. After dinner we listened to some talks on the Marathon des Sables and ultra running in general. The conclusion was that it’s not just about running, strength training is important as is mental attitude. After the talks it was time for bed with lights out at 10pm. Everyone had settled in to their sleeping bags and all was quiet, then from next to me came a whispered “good night John-Boy”.
Day two- Sunday
Our day two start time was 8.00 so we’d set an alarm for 6.30, imagine our delight on discovering that wake up time for everyone was 5.40. My main concern about day two was whether my legs would work, amazingly I woke up and found that I was perfectly capable of moving. Bonus. After breakfast it was simply a matter of doing day one in reverse. Day two had something that day one didn’t have- ice, lots of ice. The first few miles were pretty safe then it was back up Box Hill at around 10 miles. If getting up there was tricky then getting down was trickier. I fell over pretty early in the descent, Guy helped me up and checked I was ok. He was a step or two ahead of me for the rest of the descent so missed my next 5 or 6 falls. Despite the ice I still managed to get covered in mud. Fortunately he did managed to witness my best fall, the one where I ended up flat on my back in the mud “what are you twatting about at Froggatt?”. I’m fairly sure that translates as “oh no my friend, are you hurt? I’m absolutely not laughing at all at your ineptitude.”
Day two views.
The ice continued causing me problems, I did a passable Jane Torville more than once. It was frustrating because stretches that we could have run were so icy we had to walk to avoid me ending up in A&E or Dave’s body bag. We kept hearing a helicopter “Dave’s chopper, he’s coming for you”.
We stuck to the strategy of walking uphill and running on the flat or downhills as long as there was a chance of me staying upright. There were some truly lovely moments, running through a snowy forest as a deer bounds through the trees was unforgettable. The words of 5ive inspired us as we kept on moving, you should take inspiration from wherever you find it.
Day two was harder in that we were tired and we expected it to be slower, not to mention the ice. It wasn’t as hard as I’d expected though. Really it’s just running and we can do running, it’s just a long old way. We chatted to other runners along the way and just kept going. 25 miles passed and then 30 and then it was the home strait. At 32 miles Guy turned to me and said “I think we’ve broken the back of this now”, he was right. Somehow we’d covered 65 miles together with just one little mile to go. Suddenly I didn’t want it to end, we were on the verge of finishing this ridiculous distance but I was having so much fun I almost didn’t want to leave the little ultra bubble of just keeping moving.
We rounded the corner and we could see the finish, just a field to go and we’d done it. 66 miles and we’d actually done it. We crossed the line together, still smiling. Day two had taken 8 hours 20.
We did it! 66 miles and we’re still on speaking terms. We’re also super hardcore ultra marathon runners.
What’s the first thing we did after crossing the line? Have a brew of course.
This has been about more than one weekend though. There’s so much to be done before the actual event, so much that helps it fall into place. You need a family who tolerate your absence while you train. You need friends to train with, friends who will come and run 15, 20, 25 miles with you. You need a PT to train you to be strong enough to cope with what you’re asking your body to do. You need a massage therapist to keep you in one piece after all the running and strength training. You need self belief. You need all of this before you cross the start line. Finally, you need a friend who will pull you up when you’re sliding down, who will push you when you’re struggling to get going, who will pick you up when you fall (all of these literally, not just figuratively) and who will be with you every step of the way.