The Apocalypse was never going to be easy, but the thought of pacing the first half for Amy (Northbrook) and Hamilton (Sphinx) made it more of a relaxing journey. Or at least that’s how my head was programmed before the race began! I was also meeting Krasse, my Bulgarian ultra running friend who was to be running the full distance with me. Once at Carding Mill valley, we were soon registered and all ready to run, but there was time for some cake first!
Facing towards the Long Mynd, the countdown began and we were off. Our gentle run didn’t last long as the ultra running rule of ‘walking the hills’ was enforced without complaint. These hills are just relentless and I knew the quads would eventually seize up, so it was just a case of look after them for as long as possible! At the too of the Mynd, we had to visit an unmanned CP and punch a card to register our visit. The views at the top of the hill were amazing, but we had to keep going as Amy was hoping to get the last train if we finished in under 12 hours. No pressure!
We ran the first 10 miles in around 1:50, so a little quicker than planned. A brief stop at the CP and we were now running the Conquest loop. There were more tough hills, but everyone was in good spirits and enjoying the challenge. As we were finishing the loop and returning to the CP, Hamilton had dropped back a little and was running with another 50 mile runner we had collected and welcomed to our team. Ultra running is the where you’ll find the friendliest group of runners! Once at the CP and suitably refreshed, Hamilton caught us up but requested we continued without him. He seemed in good spirits, just a little fatigued as you would expect after 20 hilly miles!
The pace had slowed during Conquest and now we were on the 10 mile link to the Famine loop. Even the link sections were tough, as for this one we had to cross Stipperstones. Yet another hill, but with jagged rocks as a path, this was not running terrain no matter if it went up or down! The pace had slowed more to overcome this, but we were soon arriving at the pub beer garden where the next CP was based. We could have easily stayed! Before departing we got to see Hamilton once more. He was looking much better than he did 10 miles earlier, so we left him to eat, drink and prepare for this loop and then the finishing 10 miles back to Carding Mill. We ran on knowing that the 12 hour target was slipping away!
Famine was so called due to it’s lack of hills, although it did finish with a monstrous hill (the feast). With this out the way, we returned to the pub CP, filled our bags and headed back out for the finishing 10 miles. This was just as brutal as the course that preceded it! The train was now going without Amy, but we were all happy on the final decent into the valley. As it was now after 9pm, the temperature was dropping and being exposed was making it cold work on the energy zapping terrain. Eventually we could see the Mill and the welcoming finish line. Well done Amy!
For Krasse and myself, this was the time to change kit, get warm and eat some hot food. As it turned out, Krasse started shivering and needed the medics to check his temperature and wrap him in extra layers and a foil blanket. As this was not a race for me, I had to stay with my mate and see if he could warm up and be permitted to run the second half. An hour later he had the all clear!
Now with our head torches lighting the way, we set off on the 10 miles to take us to the War loop. Being a little concerned for Krasse, I made sure we ran more than we walked for this section, just to make sure he didn’t get cold again. Everything went to plan and with Tarmac under foot we didn’t need to concentrate so much about where to place our feet. Now able to look up we could see the clear night sky and the reward of a shooting star! I later pointed out a strange pattern in the sky, but only later found out it was Aurora Borealis! I’ve wanted to go and see the Northern Lights, but never expected to see an example of it in the UK and 15 hours into a run! How lucky!
We made it to the 60 mile loop in under 2 hours, so the long break at halfway must have been good for us! We kept our stay short to avoid getting cold again and headed out to War in the woods. Unfortunately we took several wrong turns and struggled with the maps through this section. Scrambling up and down embankments to get back in the right path is the last thing our legs needed, so it wasn’t long before muscle fatigue was starting to happen. A frustrating 4 hours for a 10 mile loop and we felt battered! But whilst we could still retire and take a 50 mile medal, we left the CP to head to the final loop called Death!
We were now suffering pretty badly and just wanted to finish. Our run had descended into a shuffle and we still had a marathon to go. Sleep deprivation, a lack of sufficient calories and previous weeks of running were all now making this less fun and more stubborn endurance. The feet were now burning having got damp through the night, so we were happy to see the medics were here to try and fix early stage trench foot. As there’s not a lot you can do, my feet were taped up to try and prevent the skin from splitting and allow me to finish off the last 20 miles. Krasse was in a similar state, so we were well matched and planned on finishing what we had started! I can’t describe very much of the next 20 miles, as I was now running on empty! No fuel in the tank, feet that hurt with every stride (is this what planter is like?), and all the muscle groups complaining as we progressed! We dug deep and kept moving forward, slightly sideways at times, but always a little closer to the finish.
In the final 10 miles we actually caught up with another runner called Andy. We shared some if the earlier race with him, so we decided to all finish it together. The finish was almost a constant trek up hill to the too of the Ling Mynd yet again. That was hard but the hardest was yet to come. The final 1.5 miles is the descent into Carding Mill valley, but the path has lots of stone and rocks that felt like razor blades beneath our damaged feet! We were battered and eventually made it down off the hill path to the last 100m of road to the finish. We waited for each other and then shuffled in to finish side by side. I’ve never been so happy to finish a race and the jacket potato that followed was awesome! I said I’d never repeat this race again, but all the pain will soon be forgotten!
Race Report by Dave Fawkner