The Wall 2014
Sally and I ran The Wall in 2013 as a pair and we had a mixed bag of weather with heavy rain in the first half and blazing sunshine in the second. We finished the 69 miles in 14 hours and 39 minutes. Despite a good race and brilliant organisation, we initially weren’t planning on returning for another go. However, we both ended up signing up for ‘season tickets’ with Rat Race this year, meaning we could do any of their events for no extra cost. We are planning on doing some of their cycling and multi-sport events later this year but decided to do The Wall again too.
This time we entered as solo entries, giving us the freedom to run our own races. After a quick registration and number/chip collection on Friday afternoon, it was an early start on Saturday morning for the hour’s drive to Carlisle to get there with enough time to finish getting ready for the 7am start. There were over 400 starters in the ‘expert’ category (those runners doing the 69 mile distance in one day rather than stopping and camping after 32 miles or so) so it was pretty busy at Carlisle Castle before the start. We dibbed in at the start area with our sportident tags and ‘essential event info’ booklets were handed out – checkpoint info, emergency contact numbers, etc. (all stuff which had been emailed out previously but a nice touch to have a copy to take with you)
At 7am we were off, a stream of runners heading out of the castle and onto paths in a nearby park, on the Hadrian’s Way Path. It was already sunny and warm so hat and sun cream were on but cloud cover was forecast for the afternoon which would help me. After some paths this early section was mostly road and we got to a small drinks station at around 8 miles. We tried to remember from last year where the pit stops (major drink/food stations) were and remembered that the first of these at Lanercost was in the grounds of a priory, and there were fair sized crowds here due to it being a relay changeover point too. Sure enough, it was and I headed to the loo there before topping up bottles and grabbing a bit of banana and a few biscuits – those little packets that you get in your b&b room sometimes 🙂
The next section was hillier, sill plenty of road but more trail now too. It was getting warm now without a lot of cloud cover and we were drinking more but there were two checkpoints on this stage so all just about ok. We passed some proper ‘Wall’ on this stretch, alongside the road and at Birdoswald we headed into more of a trail section.
On the approach to the pit stop at Vindolanda I wasn’t feeling wonderful – pretty warm and probably hadn’t really eaten enough, though I’d had plenty to drink. I said to Sally that I was going to take a bit of time to stop, change my top, eat some food and get some liquids in me. I’d been wearing my daft ‘I’m an American golfer’ stylee visor as I’ve had a couple of episodes of sunstroke during ultras recently and I think that helped but I wanted to make sure I would be able to have a good race. Sally didn’t want to stop for long – she wasn’t feeling wonderful either but wanted to crack on anyway. We both grabbed our drop bags – I think mine was the smallest there with just a clean top, a bag of sweets and my head torch – and some sandwiches and I sat down to eat and drink and get my kit sorted. Sally had a quick sandwich and we said our goodbyes as she set off again.
I couldn’t remember our split times from last year but it felt like we’d been quicker – just under 5 and a half hours to the pit stop at about 32 miles. There was a stiff breeze through the camp (2 day runners were using that stop as their overnight location and I tried not to look too closely at the BBQ and the beer tent) so I quickly shoved two packs of sandwiches in, topped up my bottles and set off again. I’d stopped for less than 20 minutes but was already quite stiff so walked for a bit and let things go down.
The next stage starts with a little bit of road and then up a very steep hill – I made sure to look back partway up to check out the ruins of Vindolanda (and to catch my breath). Then along the ridge before returning to the road. I recalled this bit from last year – a long, boring stretch of very straight road. Darn Romans. It did go on and on but eventually we got to a checkpoint and a little further along the road we headed uphill along some tracks. I’d cracked on quite well here, running plenty to relieve the tedium of the long road. The sore shin I came back from Sweden with but hadn’t really bothered me much recently was making itself known, but nothing too bad at this stage. In fact, I was feeling much better and running really well in the few miles approaching the next pit stop by the river at Hexham. I didn’t stop here long, just enough to top up my bottles and grab a bag of crisps to eat as I walked over the bridge across the river, starting running again soon afterwards. The thought that there was less than a marathon to go put an extra spring in my step!
More road here, some a bit busy with traffic but more cloud cover which I was thankful for and I was making good time, having the occasional short walk break but mostly running. My shin was getting increasingly painful but worse when walking so I didn’t do much of that! I’d ended up in a loose group or 4 or 5 runners and we’d keep passing each other when someone took a brief walk break. I remembered more of this section from last year – I knew we’d be going through a static caravan/chalet house sort of area near the river and then over a very old and rather rickety bridge (Ovingham) after which was a checkpoint, the last before the last pit stop which was only about 6 miles before the finish. At this CP I loaded up on Haribo an cracked on. The route to the pit stop was along an old railway line (now footpaths) and I was doing some sums – I thought that a sub-13 finish might be possible but I’d have to up the pace a little. I picked it up and got to the pit stop in good time.
Here I sat for a few minutes, took my phone out and texted Sally to tell her I was just about to leave the last pit stop. I knew it would be good news, as with 6 miles to go I should make it to the finish in time to make the last train back to Carlisle at 9:20ish rather than wait for the coach at midnight. Grabbing another bag of crisps, I set off again and soon started running. Some time around now it was 7pm and 12 hours on the clock – I wondered whether Sally had finished in under 12.. I was confident that she would have. I passed another runner who was on the phone and as we got to the outskirts of Newcastle he was catching me up. I decided that with about 4 miles to go, now was the time to pick up the pace. I knew we’d come off the cycle paths and down to and across a busy road to join the riverside with less than 3 miles to go to the Millennium Bridge and the finish so I concentrated on just keeping going. I was pretty certain by now that I’d get in under 13 hours and I was in great spirits, chasing down and passing 4 or 5 runners in those last miles. Finally the bridges came into view and as I got closer I could hear the PA at the finish and had to dodge lots of Saturday evening night out in Newcastle people, but got plenty of cheers along the way. I sprinted over the bridge and was closing in on another runner who was just ahead and had some supporters cheering him home – I decided not to pass him and slowed to finish just a few seconds behind him in 12 hours and 52 minutes – a huge improvement over last year.
I got my medal and had my finish photo taken and soon saw Sally, who had indeed finished in under 12 hours and in fact finished in 8th place and first female! I’d managed a respectable 33rd place out of 389 finishers in the one day event.
After a shower and some food I had my now usual post-Wall slump and felt very unwell for a good 15-20 minutes.. possibly a massive blood sugar crash or maybe just my body realising I’d finished and shutting down somewhat. Not great though.
That was definitely one of my most successful ultra running experiences and made even better by Sally having such a stormer.