‘It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit’ – Dr George Sheehan
69 miles. Some little facts about 69 miles; it’s the distance between a degree of latitude and longitude, it would cost you around £12 in petrol to drive in a car and is the circumference of Manhattan Island – twice. It’s also the distance from Carlisle Castle to Newcastle Quayside. A distance which my crazy husband ran in one go this summer.
The Wall Ultra Marathon – so called because it stretches the length of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland and is one of the UK’s most popular races on the ultra-calendar which will see over 1,000 participants run, walk and hike the expert one day event or the multi two day (where you camp overnight at Vindolanda and complete the race the next day).
Training started in November 2013, with a rigorous running schedule which encompassed at least 8 miles a day during the week and gradually building up longer and longer distances at weekends. Specialist kit, in the form of Hoka running shoes, Ultimate Direction AK Racing Vest, gels, hydration juice, caffeine tablets, ibuprofen and about 5 tonnes of jelly babies.
Race day arrived on Saturday 21st June 2014 and despite a poor night’s sleep in the luxury Carlisle Travelodge, he was up a raring to go. The atmosphere at the start was a mixture of nerves and excitement from what I can tell as an outsider, I got the impression there had been many a running widow in the crowd cheering on their other halves. There was also what seemed to be a mixture of abilities, from people who were first timers (like Dave) to people who looked like they do this sort of thing in their sleep, to everything else in between.
To save getting too poetic and writing a 20 page essay on the day, I’ve broken it down into his times at each check point:
07:00 – Starting line!
09:40 – Lanercost Tea Rooms – The first pit stop that support crew were allowed to attend. Was a bit of a learning curve for us as were weren’t sure what he would need, whether he would have time to stop, how tired he would be etc so we just had everything bar the kitchen sink out on the lawn. It was a relief to see him come round the corner though, knowing that he was safe and in good spirits. We fueled him up and treated ourselves to a celebratory sausage sandwich and slice of cake!
11:26 – Walltown Quarry – Quick t-shirt change and a handful of jellybabies. Then on to the next pit stop (Vindolanda) to meet the rest of our support crew and the half way marker.
13:06 – Vindolanda – Half way point! It’s crazy to think that by this stage he’s already run a marathon and a bit and still has the same distance to go. It’s also here that the Challenger/Relay runners stop and set up camp for the night so you can feel the sense of relief from some of the runners. After meeting up with the rest of the support crew (myself, my parents, my brother and sister in law and Dave’s parents) we refuel Dave (caramel slices, rehydration juices and gels) and off he goes again only 10 minutes later and we all head off to Hexham!
15:46 – Hexham – Still looking strong and bounding into Hexham like a gazelle. It was here he needed his first tyre change, and by tyre change, I mean blister popping, which was lovely (I’m actually not kidding – I love that kind of thing!) a wife’s duties are seemingly never over! I also got the sense here that, with only one check point to go, he was in the final stretch, he was making excellent time (the original aim of making it to Gateshead by 11pm) so unless anything when catastrophically wrong, he was almost home.
19:15 – Newburn – almost exactly 12 hours since he started all the way back in Carlisle. It’s absolutely incredible to think how far he’s run. It felt a long way to us and we were in my dad’s Vauxhall Astra! It was also here where he looked his most tired. By his own admission he’d pushed himself to go too fast and ran out of water so he was feeling some severe dehydration. We refueled him as much as possible and he was joined by his best friend Brian who was running with him and supporting him through the last 8 miles.
20:00 – We arrive at Newcastle Quayside with a lot of the other supporters we’ve met along the way, swapping stories of progress and injury. We didn’t actually expect to see Dave come along the quayside when we did, and when his mum was waving at me I thought she was just saying hello but seeing that beacon of yellow from the other side of the river just filled me with so much pride I was speechless!
I managed to convince the organisers to let be over the barrier so I could actually be across the finish line for him. He crossed the line at 20:55:54, only 13:55hrs after he started, well surpassing his aim of finishing before 11pm and everyone was just so, so proud of him
What struck me about the day was not only how organised the event was but how supportive the spectators were. Everyone clapped for everyone whether it was your own runner or not, I think we all probably bonded over the lost hours of training and talk of kit and food and forums which we never even knew existed!
We made a small video of the day:
There’s now talk of him training for the Newcastle 24 Hour Endurorun next May – I’d best stock the cupboards full of jelly babies!