Sunday, 7 February 2010

Hadrian's Wall Run

The plan was to run Hadrian’s Wall, but at 84 miles in total it was just a bit too long for me at the moment. Instead I devised a route that would start at Carlisle leisure centre and would end at Prudhoe train station, 54 miles in total. I chose Prudhoe train station as an end point because it was where I could park my car for free and get a train into Carlisle to start the run. My plan was to be completely self sufficient using my 8L Camelbak for food and spare clothing, with a 2L bladder (and the hope that I would find water along the route). Having no support was intentional because I wanted to test myself in those hard moments during a run when you try and find any possible method to bail out (things like jumping in front of cars, or ask to be picked up). I would have to keep going till I reached my car.

After parking in the train station early and waiting at the platform in fear that I would miss the first train at 6:57am, all I could think of was how cold I was. I remember thinking how nice it was going to be getting on to a nice warm train. Due to the very limited number of times I have used trains, I soon discovered that they do not have heaters, and I had a very cold hour and fourteen minute journey. They only light entertainment was listening to three lads returning from a night out in Newcastle, who were all suffering on their sobering journey home. At 8:11am the train arrived at Carlisle. I was shaking violently from the cold as I walked to the leisure centre, where I was to start running. I ditched my old trousers that I wore over my running tights (too embarrassed to be seen wearing them in a non-running context) and I was off.

The start of my run went well. Injuries and problems with my right leg were not showing any signs of making an appearance; I warmed up within the first half mile; the sun was out in a cloudless blue sky and the Hadrian’s Wall Path proved to be well signed and easy to navigate without the use of a map or GPS. The first part of my run took me though some sleepy hamlets alongside the River Eden. I then made a quick divert north to the Roman Military Way, which I would follow for the better part of my adventure. I continued on along field boundaries and through small villages, all very quiet and not a person in sight. So far I was maintaining a good running pace on the flat landscape and was using my breathing as an indicator as to the effort my body was being asked of. I passed through Newtown, then Walton before reaching Banks. Although the terrain so far was slightly undulating, the approach to banks was the start of the hillier terrain.

The first larger incline gave me a good excuse to remember this is not a race and I used a walking break to eat a jam sandwich. So far I was still feeling fresh as when I started and was spending so much time looking at the views that any thoughts of distance and time were quickly forgotten. I continued on along road sections, field boundaries, and though some wooded areas to reach Gilsland, which was mile 20 of my journey. Still with fresh legs but slightly lower in energy I quickly took on more food. It was 2 miles later at Greenhead car park that there was a potential water supply as indicated on the National Trails website but upon arrival, to only tap was in the toilets and there was a sign indicating that it was plague infected was unsuitable for drinking. This was a problem as I could feel that my pack was getting light and I would soon run out.
The next section was starting to get a lot hillier and the views only confirmed that it would only get more interesting. Not long later I arrived at Burnhead car park and another toilet block, I found that there was no signs above the sink and had to only assume that the water was sourced from some mountain spring. I had run dry and had no choice but to fill up and risk possible tummy troubles. After taking a quick break to fill up on water, I found it was hard to start running again. My right shin was hurting and I was running with a limp. I was hitting a low point and I knew it. I forgot about the views and started thinking of how many mile I had left before I would finish. I started making strange calculations based on the total number of pages that my map was printed on, all based on the number already covered and those remaining. I started looking at the time and working out how many estimated hours I had left and how many I thought my legs could take. Quickly I ate as much food as I dared and took a good drink of my public toilet water. The terrain had now changed, and although I knew the total ascents and descents, I was not quite prepared for the sharp accents up winding stone steps that came with every hilly ridge. I started walking all the hills and running the flats and downhill’s. The cloud was low and visibility was poor at times. It was at reaching Steel Rigg at 29 miles that I came out of my low and found myself enjoying the landscape more. On running though a wooded section looking down on a frozen Crag Lough, I found myself feeling that it did not matter how much further it was to the finish because I felt that I would run forever. After passing Housesteads at 32 miles, I would see from looking at the map and the view that there were only two peaks left to ascend before I would continue on along less demanding terrain. Although feeling good on the hillier sections, it limited my running and I wanted to get back into a good pace.

The path joins alongside the B6318 for most of the remaining journey and although I thought it would be good to get back into a good running pace, I hit another low. Worse than before, I felt more drained of energy and my legs were getting heavier. Now looking at the map as I ran, I pick landmarks ahead on the map to run to but found the running getting more monotonous. I quickly ate more food and took on lots of fluid. I knew that I could get through this low and kept to a random walk/run combination finding the next landmark on the map before making my way there. Now that I was looking at the map, I found that my progress seemed slow that it seemed to take forever to turn the pages to the next map section. My plan was to get the Chollerford as it turned dark.

It was on the approach to Walwick that I needed to get my headtorch out and also dug out my mp3 player and put on another layer as I was getting cold. It was also here that I came out of my low and made a very quick approach to Chollerford at the 40 mile point. I was on a high again and feeling good. I had a confusing time working out the total number of miles left to run as I was convinced it was only 9 miles although I know 40 + 9 is not = 54. On my run out of Chollerford past some traffic on the road I had an exciting time running through some woods in the dark before my running high was to go and a new low was to set in for the remaining journey.

After finally realising that it was actually 40 + 14 that = 54 and finding that progress in the dark on a misty night with a 0.5W headtorch is painfully slow, my low hit hard. Especially when all I wanted was to get to the end. After passing the Errington Arms pub on the A68, I knew it was only 9 more miles left but it seemed like a million miles. I ate more food and drank more water but nothing helped. Continuing alongside the B6318 I again found progress slow and it seemed to take forever to progress along the map. I was at the start of page 10 (of 12) and reasoned that I would have three more pages to go. That would be ¼ of the whole 54 miles. Even though ¼ of 54 is 13.5, I was not thinking straight and thought that the journey would never end. I found that I got too cold when trying to walk and had to run to say warm. What was worse was that I started feeling sick and started getting stomach cramps. Was it the public toilet water I was drinking? Maybe I was dehydrated? I trudged on along the path feeling more and more sorry for myself. I had a higher sense of isolation and my world became focused on the small area in front of me that was illuminated by my torch. It was when I finally turned over to the page 11 map that I discovered that page 12 only covered 800 feet of the route and I was a lot closer than I originally thought. Progress was no quicker but I pushed on. Even though I was closer to my goal than ever, things just kept getting worse. I lost the path numerous occasions and had to run up and down fence lines to find it again. I finally turned on my Garmin and started the pre-planned course to help navigate in the dark. Although it would not tell me the total distance I had left (because I did not put a way marker at the end of the route) it did tell me an estimated time of arrival and I did not like what I saw. Although not far to go, my Garmin was telling me I had an hour of running left. My stomach cramps were worse and I finally ran out of water. With a dry mouth and feeling sick I finally reached the point where I would leave the Hadrian’s Wall Path and would head south on public footpaths back to the train station where my car was waiting for me.

I was so close but feeling very ill. I had to stop at one point and started dry heaving. All sorts of explanations started to go though my head for feeling ill, most leading to a fatal ending. It was just another bout of illness brought on by stressing my body out, just like every other time I run long distances. Closer and closer I got, running constantly now. No time to walk. I got horribly lost at one point and realised that I needed to be on the other side of a river. I had to back track and finally found my way again. My Garmin was worth its weight in gold as I lost my way again and again and ended up just following the line on the watch and jumping any obstacles in my way such as hedges and fences. Over the A69 and getting closer. I could see the yellow glow of Prudhoe becoming brighter as I approached. I reached Ovingham and all I had left was to cross the River Tyne and I would be finished. When I reached the car park and finally stopped running there were two police officers standing there and I could not help but declare that I had just ran from Carlisle. They were indeed impressed but stated that I could have got the train.

Back in my car I felt good. I quickly sorted myself out, took a massive drink and set off. In hindsight I should have chilled out more first before driving off. I was not far down the road when my lips went numb, my teeth started tingling and I got a bit light headed. I thought I was going to pass out and was ready to pull over at the next safe spot, but luckily continued on safely. After eating a large quantity of crisps which I was craving and drinking more water, I quickly showered and it was time for sleep. It took a while to finally go to sleep but I did notice my resting heart rate was around 120 beats per minute (normally around 45) which was not the best of signs. The next day I felt great. Good enough to run a marathon at least. It goes to show how quick the body can bounce back if the mind is willing.

Lessons learned;
-Eat more.
-Drink more.
-Headtorches are useless in mist, get a hand held torch.
-Just keep going.
-Teeth tingling is not a good sign.