Already Asterix and Obelix found out that the Roman Emperor Hadrian had build a Wall (128 AD) to keep the Picts out of his Empire. However, just like that small Gaul village on the edge of Brittany, the Picts kept challenging this border. When thinking about this Wall, you also realise how much easier it is nowadays with a border less EU to trade your salmon for example, but for how much longer with the BREXIT?
Anyway, politics aside, on a cloudy Saturday morning I started with four runners from Northwood Headquarters and about 500 other ‘lunatics’ the crazy journey of 69 English imperial miles or 112 kilometres to run along Hadrian’s Wall from Carlisle in the West across England to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the East. The day before we went to the formal start point of the Hadrian’s Wall Trail at Bowness-on-Solway to smell the Irish Sea ‘mud’ during ebb. This Saturday the aim was to smell the North Sea at least in time to have a beer before it would turn Sunday. And maybe spoiling the plot already a little: we all succeeded – see also the movie at YOUTUBE.
Counting down to 0700 at Carlisle Castle the long and slow shuffle began. That is the fun for me doing such an ultra long distance. You can start very relaxed, who cares for a minute later at the finish? You can start at a slow pace so no problems with digesting your breakfast, so no need to get up four hours in advance. No stress at the restrooms, you can always visit a local pub, tearoom, or a tree. Amazing views? Just pause, ask another runner or supporter to take a picture, enjoy the scenery and carry on. At an organised refreshment post, enjoy the plethora of food options available … the first of four official ‘Pitstops’ I more or less rushed through, only realising later how stupid that was … take some time, rest, do some tasting of sandwiches, cakes, bars, tea, curry (!), rice with meatballs … it just did not end. So, the next three ‘Pitstops’ I took more time and decided that I did not need any food in between, just water. That is another bonus of the ultra long distance, you can eat AS MUCH AS YOU WANT, because you will burn it anyway during the shuffle.
The ‘shuffle‘ is the ultra long distance equivalent of impatient walkers. However, I think the shuffle is less strenuous than the official ‘Race Walking’. With the shuffle you combine a high stride frequency with a small stride length floating more or less along the trail. With ‘Race Walking’ you are mandated to keep ground contact resulting in a, in my opinion, forced way of moving forward.
Knowing that I had to go 112 kilometres I needed to force myself to slow down, come in to ‘shuffle mode‘. I prefer to do this by really ‘looking’ around, more intensely than normal observing the world around me. I am surprised by the different style of runners who join such an event. Some you would not give one mile, but they just go on … some have some additional body weight, but they just go on … some have trailpacks which sloshes around with all kind of loose ‘stuffs’ and not vacuumized drinking bladders, making me seasick just looking … but they just go on …
Just like Hadrian’s Wall … just goes on. Unfortunately the organisation decided to follow most of the time the tarmac of the National Cycle Path 72 and not the official National Trail Hadrian’s wall walking path. I could have known if I had read the small print! So, it was not really a trailrun but more a ultra distance tarmac run where some parts had a touch and go with trail underground and the remains of THE WALL.
After about 80 kilometres and the last rain shower I changed shuffle mode from ‘looking outward‘ to getting into the shuffle zone and ‘looking inward‘. Dividing the last kilometres, after already two marathons, in small pieces and giving myself the ‘reward’ of walking for one minute, or a hot tea at the last ‘Pitstop’.
Approaching Newcastle, following the River Tyne embankment, the thrill of getting really close to the finish created another shuffle mode change: ‘Satisfaction, Jubilation, Shivers, JIPPIE!‘. The finish was really in the town centre, people strolling along the boulevard whilst I was shuffling / struggling to move forward supported by cheers from people on terraces drinking a beer or wine.
Finally across the Millennium Bridge, which every decent city in the UK must have, to HMS Calliope, the Royal Naval Reserve Unit Centre. A prime location along the Tyne with for us the bonus that within 100 metres of the finish line there are showers, a bar with a view on the city, beer, curry and our bunkbeds!
After 13 hours shuffling I layed down for a half hour enjoying the rewarding feeling of completing this madness (which I voluntarily signed up for, no old fashioned navy recruiting, so no moaning!).
The beer and curry tasted delicious but at 2330 we all are done with … than the last bonus of HMS Calliope … the room with the bunkbeds had no windows … so in complete darkness we slept until 0800 the next day.
Sunday … the legs feel OK … WHAT? … yes they feel OK … a bit stiff, but much less than the Innsbruck Alpine 85km, or a fast marathon … one more benefit of ‘The shuffle’ in non mountainous terrain … you feel really tired but the total strain on muscles and joints is less. But I will still enjoy my full week of no running at all, that’s for sure!
For he who wants to know some crazy facts and figures!
Some Training & Preparation
I did not have a very specific preparation. However, on average I am running about 100 – 130 kilometres per week of which at least one is a longer run of 3 to 4 hours. So the endurance base is already exists. From January this year I first trained for a fast marathon and made 2.43 at the Manchester Marathon beginning of April. April and May I stopped with training for speed and more for the slow speed ultra ‘shuffle‘. In some weekends I ran both days a longer run of 2.5 – 4 hours letting my body getting used to the distance without pushing it too hard. The last May Bank Holiday weekend I ran three consecutive days clocking in total THE WALL distance of 112 kilometres.
The weather forecast was not great: rain, drizzle, rather fresh. As a ‘cold’ person I decided to run in an INOV-8 3/4 quarter tight with an INOV-8 merino longsleeve shirt as base layer. During the rain showers I used the INOV-8 AT/C Stormshell Jacket, but directly changing it for a short sleeve shirt when it got dry because in the end it was still approximately 14 – 17 degrees Celsius in the sun. And as most times the weater forecast was worse than reality, in all four larger rain showers of about 30 minutes, some drizzle but mostly dry and at the end of the day even sun! All the usual mandatory gear fitted easily in my INOV-8 Race Ultra 5 litres trailpack.
As I wrote above, I expected more trail than tarmac and started therefore on one of the multi-terrain trailrun shoes of INOV-8, the Roclite 305. In the end maybe even a road shoe would have sufficed but for me the Roclite 305 gave good comfort to finish without any blisters or pains. I normally ‘grease’ my toes and use a lot of talc.
I ran the 112 kilometres and 1200m+ in 13.04.32. More than 3,5 hours (!) after the first man finished, 27th male and 30th overall. At the ultra distance the physical differences between male and female are definitely not important anymore. The last person finished in 25.30 as 447th, what an achievement!
My average overall speed was 7 min / kilometres, i.e. 8.6 km/h. I told you: ultra running is ‘walking for impatient people’. According to my watch I spend approximately 1 hour at the four ‘Pitstops’ making my average ultra shuffle speed between stops an amazing 9.3 km/h, wow 🙂