2014 Dusk til Dawn – 50 Ultra – I made it!

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This was a race that I DNFd in 2013…..

………. this year it would be very very different! Read on….

Key facts:

  • 50 – the number of miles I completed
  • 9000 – the number of feet of elevation I gained
  • 0 – the number of times I got lost
  • 12 – the number of AAA Ultimate lithium batteries I used for my headtorch
  • 15 hours and 32 minutes – my finishing time
  • 1 – the number of hotdogs I ate at the Cat and Fiddle pub at 28 miles
  • 4 – the minutes by which I scraped through the checkpoint at 39 miles before cut-off
  • 7 – the number of pounds in weight I gained  from Friday to Monday
  • 1 – the number of bogs that I got stuck in past my knees
  • 2 – the number of legs that cramped up when I took a tumble
  • 50 – my finishing position out of 71 starters
  • 2 – the number of YHA youth hostels I stayed at (Edale and Hathersage)

The race

  • 71 – the number of runners who started on the day
  • 29 – the number of runners who did not make it to the start line
  • 11 – checkpoints
  • 3 – road marshalls
  • 1 – medal

The kit

  • I also wore a very old long sleeve Nike running top.

Nutrition

  • Snacks – At aid stations I ate handfuls of jelly babies, crisps, chocolate bars, biscuits and a hotdog.

 

This is the most amazing achievement of my running career so far. I have done  many ultras, and many road races, but this one was totally special for me. Why was that?

In 2014 I succeeded while in 2013 I DNFd. I learned from the DNF and came back stronger and better prepared for the race.

We assembled at the race HQ. In preparation for the race I had spent alot of time getting my kit together and checking it against the list of mandatory and recommended items. I was so worried about forgetting something that I packed and unpacked about 5 times in total!

I went through the kit check. Tick tick tick…. until “where’s your whistle?” … I replied with some pride that I had one attached to my pack. Guess what…. it was missing! Luckily I had another whistle in the car. Phew! Just demonstrates how important it is to check and double check. And bring spares of everything. Quite rightly, the mandatory kit list is important – especially for a race like this where if you get into trouble in the hills you might be there for some time.  So, take the kit check seriously – and make sure you have everything. It is also worth getting the weight down on any kit you have to take. With long lists the weight can really add up.

Richard gave his pre-race briefing. It was a short one this time – because he had helpfully sent out a youtube video weeks earlier (along with GPX routes). I was all over the route – I had been through it before several times and was feeling very confident on the navigation. A few jokes too as he said there are two people we didn’t want to see… the grim sweeper (who was travelling at the speed of the dawn!) and Billy (the eventual winner) – whose navigation is  terrible (apparently!)

We had a choice of two maps to take with us – the route had a different style of marking. I took the one with a solid line on it. Just as a backup – because I intended to rely on my etrex.

We assembled outside for the countdown – and then we were off – into the dusk. My strategy for the race was to get to the last major checkpoint (39 miles) ahead of time so that I was safe from the grim sweeper (at which point we would be allowed to finish and get a medal). The main way that I intended to do that was to have good checkpoint discipline and to not get involved with anyone until later in the race.

It wasn’t long before we got into the hills. Steep ascents on grass up to Back Tor. Soon I was pleased that I had a better headtorch – in fact my whole experience is of one running in daylight. I never felt I was running in the dark with my headtorch on full. I found the up sections much easier than last year. I was already growing in confidence. The slabs were slippery coming down the other side from lose-hill, and I was careful not to turn my ankle.

Soon enough we were at Cave Dale – a long uphill stretch which can be pretty challenging. It gains around 900ft in one hit – with rocky ground underfoot and a bit of a stream to battle through. This year is wasn’t too bad – and certainly my headtorch was brilliant!

I made it to the checkpoint CP2 in 2 hours 16 minutes. This was 9.25 miles. So, that sounds slow right? Well – not on that kind of terrain at night it isn’t. It is also known to be a really slow section so I was prepared. I got into the checkpoint had a quick coke, got my wristband scanned and then I was out – about a minute in total. I learned checkpoint discipline from Traviss Willcox and his amazing blog (http://traviss.co.uk/)

I knew from last year that the next section was fast. And so it was…. I went through the road marshall at the Waterloo inn (14.2 miles) well ahead of last year (we were only 2 minutes inside cut -off last year at that point!). The next point was Earl Sterndale school – and to get there (19.2 miles) I had to get past the section where I had injured my leg last year (which caused me to DNF). All that went without a hitch – i remembered some of the uphill sections that I struggled the previous year – but these were easier for me this year. I ran across a field and whooomp – straight on the ground on my front….. I had stumbled over the ground and took a dive… as I hit the ground my legs cramped up badly and I was in agony for a couple of minutes. I struggled up and eventually my legs relaxed a bit more from the cramping though I was left with some pain. Nevertheless, I ran a few people down on the way to Earl Sterndale – and ran into the aid station in 4 hours 39 minutes from the start with a couple of other runners.

At Earl Sterndale, my intention was to be in and out – but I was struggling to change my batteries for my headtorch and for my garmin etrex. The lesson is to have batteries in one place so they are easily accessible. It is so easy to get confused in the midst of a race. I was also having problems with my water bladder (it was leaking down my back into my bottom)… yikes… soggy bottom – not pleasant! I have left a drop bag (food, clothes etc) at the checkpoint but didn’t even touch it.

I left with the aid station with another runner – Paul Baker – and we kept each other company for the rest of the race. This was exactly my plan. I wanted to get to Earl Sterndale without getting involved with anyone. We went up through someones rockery garden (yes – it’s a footpath) and onto the top of a windswept hill. I knew this bit would be tough. We climbed and climbed it seemed – some of the going was tough underfoot (rutted 4×4 tracks), and we heard that someone had come into the aid station with hypothermia (yikes!).

My navigation was working perfectly and it was great having some company too. I don’t remember much of the section through to the Cat and Fiddle pub (which appeared into view and then disappeared for about 15 minutes!) That was a really pleasant sight – that meant that we were almost 28 miles into the race. I made it in 7 hours 14 minutes. So it was around 1am. I confess that I stayed a while. A bit too long. Took on some food (I was starving!) – a hotdog went down quickly – and so did a cup of sugary tea. I took on some other snacks too. 

Eventually, with the grim sweeper only 10 minutes away – we left… me and Paul together. We headed across the moors and found it a struggle on a slippery stone slab path. I didn’t want to risk injury so I took it easy. I could hear runners with poles tapping behind me inpatiently… it really was pissing me off. I kept quiet – though I pointed out a few hazards on the path – to absolutely no acknowledgement from the pole runners behind me. Damn those pole runners…. they don’t talk…. they just appear to come across as mightily aloof.

They past us after the slab section… and then the path widened out. Then whooooomph….. I ended up in a bog. Over my knee. My leg cramped immediately. Paul thankfully was able to pull me out – and instructed me to lean forward (to reduce suction). It hurt. I was cold. I pressed on – thankful that I wasn’t out there on my own.

We pressed on… we knew that the grim sweeper was behind us…. catching people up and taking them out of the race… we had to get to the Check point 9 at 38 miles at Chinley. 

Don’t remember much at all…. except that Paul said – we have a mile and a half to go… with 7 minutes before the cut off. It seemed impossible. But we went for it. I didn’t want to have come this far to be caught and taken out of the race. So we ran…. and ran. We ran up hills. Down hills. Eventually – we reached the checkpoint. We were 4 minutes inside time!!!!!! 9 hours 52 minutes it took. We had got confused about the checkpoint cut off. I was elated…. it meant if I could make it in one piece to the finish line I would be guaranteed a medal.

After changing my batteries and taking a couple of cups of coke (and filling my leaking bladder again)… we headed off – at a more relaxed pace into the hills again. Just lots and lots of hills…. we passed a few people…. and just kept cracking on. Some tough terrain.. my feet were really feeling the sharp stones at one point. Eventually we made it to a road marshall. The grim sweeper was behind us…. very close – within sight. All was fine – we would be allowed to finish but I just wanted to stay ahead.

Finally, we were up past the final self clip checkpoints and then into the final peaks before the grim sweeper met up with us – we stopped for a few minutes for a quick chat – and then off we went for the final descent. We even managed to get a bit of a run on down hill towards the end – finally running (jogging actually by that point) – into the race HQ and the finish line.

Cue lots of clapping. A smile spread over my face. I removed my scan bracelet. Richard gave me the most amazing medal ever. Breakfast. Yum! and chilling out. So pleased. I conquered my nemesis. This is amazing. The best running achievement ever!

Dusk til Dawn is an awesome race. Brilliant concept. Superbly well executed… and such a friendly race. All the results are here http://beyondmarathon.com/dusk-til-dawn/

Thanks to:

Richard Weremiuk (www.beyondmarathon.com) for advice on equipment

Traviss Willcox for his endless wisdom on facebook and his blog http://traviss.co.uk/

Nikwax – for the awesome waterproofing stuff I got from them

More Mile – for amazing cheviot shoes…. and other kit (but the cheviots were awesome)

Paul Baker for pulling me out of the bog, keeping me company, and willing me on.

Youth Hostel Association (Edale and Hathersage) for places to stay and great breakfast

all my friends who stayed up to send me messages of encouragement on facebook.

 

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