An incredible achievement from Ian as he completes the 200mile run across the UK! Here is his story.
Starting from Southport on a very Windy Saturday morning at 0600, we were looking at the prospect of playing 'beat the hurricane' as the remnants of Hurricane Gert were due to hit the UK over the course of the weekend.
Having had my customary TrueStart coffee as part of my ;re-race routine to fire me up and get me warm, I joined the other 76 runners lined up on a blustery startline with my head positively engaged and headed down towards Liverpool, running into a strong headwind for the first 11 or so miles. Thankfully though, it was just wind and no sign of rain.
The rain (and very heavy it was too) finally hit around mile 17 but we were under the shelter of trees at this point so missed it. Everything was going to plan and each checkpoint was being reached either on time or ahead of schedule.
I'd been joined at mile 3.5 by a couple of runners who I'd met at previous ultra's and they asked to stay with me and follow my plan - this was their first 200 mile distance so I was happy to help them and give them a strategy to aim for.
I had a supply of TrueStart Hero bars in my rucksack and took these, as well as sharing them out at planned intervals in the first 65 miles, ensuring that my endurance was sustained and my mental focus maintained.
Mile 65 was reached bang on schedule at 9pm that night and with the prospect of 18 miles of trail and hill climbing to reach the Pennines, it was a case of change socks, grab some hot pasta, have a TrueStart (and share it out with other runners) and then crack on. I knew that with warm food inside me and the intake of sustained caffeine that would kick in shortly, my head was ready for the tough overnight section of this race.
Unfortunately, tiredness, blisters and ankle pain from one of the runners (Rachel Grant) who had joined me slowed us down and we lost about 1.5 hours ahead of hitting the next checkpoint at 81 miles. Rachel was in tears due to the pain by this point and was ready for quitting. I reassured her that after a power nap and taping up her feet and dealing with the blisters, she would be ready to go again.
The next 22 miles over the Pennines were tough, the humidity quickly intensified as we climbed higher and progressed along Woodhead Pass where the sun started to heat things up a bit more. We caught other runners who had left the previous checkpoint and were struggling so after a brief pause on top of the Pennines (and accidentally falling asleep on a concrete block), we dealt with the injuries and pain and started our descent to mile 103 in Penistone. A reach into my rucksack for a Coffee & Cherry Hero bar was called for to ensure I got the perk-up to carry me through to the next checkpoint.
The tiredness, heat and humidity had now started to really hit the four of us who had joined together at this point and sleeprunning became an actual thing. It was strange how one minute we would be talking with our eyes closing and then the next minute, waking up and not remembering how we had got to where we were on the trail.
Hitting Penistone, tired and sunburned, Rachel was again intent on giving up but at this point had managed her longest ever distance of 103 miles. I decided at this point to ditch my Plan A and focus on getting her and Paul to the finish line instead of achieving a finish time. It was more important to me that they achieved their ambition of completing 200 miles rather than me racing off to get a higher position in the field. We took the decision at 6pm to get some sleep and would start again at 0400 on the Monday to get to the mile 143 checkpoint.
After having a breakfast of cheese and tomato pizza, TrueStart coffee and a beet-it shot each, we set off with bandages, foot tape and headtorches applied but it was about 2 miles into the distance that Rachel's achillies started to develop sharp pains. Pausing at numerous points to relieve the pain slowed the three of us down further and it was a case of damage limitation to progress.
Hitting mile 143, Rachel's ankle had swollen considerably, her blisters on her feet were bleeding and her pain was too much to take so she decided to withdraw from the race. Paul, who was partially sighted and had no depth perception asked if I could come up with a plan to get us to the end and if I would stay with him as in his words - 'three eyes were better than one'. I worked on a plan to get us to the end - he was in pain and was able to fast walk but struggled running at this point as his feet were also destroyed. Luckily, I only had one blister which was manageable and the only issue I had was pain due to the constant pounding on the road/trail surface.
We set off at 0345 on the Tuesday morning and had a plan to hit Humber Bridge (mile 184 by early evening) and then the finish line at some point later that night. We had luckily missed some really heavy rain overnight and when we set off, it was again humid and developed into a hot sunny day. After progressing along road for about 22 miles, we then hit the banks of the River Humber and the surface changed to long, very wet grass, and mud. This caused wet trainers, wet socks, wet feet and the inevitable blistering. Despite changing socks and trainers, further damage was already done and it needed a taping up of the injuries at the mile 170 checkpoint to make sure we could get through the remaining distance.
After a final reach into my dropbag for my TrueStart coffee and a further bowl of pasta, we cracked on with the positivity that there were less than 30 miles to go - it was the psychological countdown now for every single mile. Paul was still able to walk and we talked about his experience at Marathon de Sables in April this year - I was shocked to hear him say that this race was even tougher than doing that!!
With 16 miles to go, we reached the end of the Trans Pennine Trail and headed in pitch darkness to Hornsea - with only fields either side and trees surrounding the trail, this had the effect of making the trail look like we were constantly in a tunnel and that the ground was on a constant incline - even though it was flat.
5 miles remained and we saw a headlight coming towards us - we initially thought we were hallucinating but as the headlight got closer, I realised it was my girlfriend who had driven the 130 miles to the finish line and then had run out to meet us and help get us to the end. She had come laden with sandwiches, water and protein bars and after an impromptu picnic at the side of the road (and both me and Paul falling asleep on the road for about 3 minutes), we were now re-focussed on getting to the end.
With the end in sight, I shook Paul's hand and let him take the finish line, his full-size Welsh flag held high above his shoulders as I held back a couple of hundred metres while he had his photos taken and received his medal.
It was then my turn to finish and I crossed the line at 03:38 on Wednesday morning - almost 94 hours after starting the race. Time and finishing position wasn't important to me this time after last years achievement of finishing 4th, I'd achieved my aim of helping another runner realise his achievement of completing the race, battered, bruised and unable to do anything more than hobble but at least we did it.
Not the race I wanted but sometimes, it's about sacrificing your own personal goals and supporting others. To me, I achieved more satisfaction this year in helping Rachel achieve her first ever 100 mile and 200km distance and Paul complete the race which he said he wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.
Once again, TrueStart coffee sachets were packed into each of my dropbags so I knew I was able to get a positive mental boost from such a great tasting coffee whilst at an upcoming checkpoint. The TrueStart Hero bars weren't launched when I did this race last year but having used them during other ultra races since their arrival, I know how much the sustained energy from the combination of the oats, seeds and coffee really starts to kick in a short while after eating them so I had it in my race plan at what point I was to take one to help fight the mental and physical dip that hits during endurance running. A mix of the coffee and the Hero bars late at night when your brain is fighting against you is a real useful weapon in the battle to win the dark side of your mind over. It's a real boost when your brain is trying to shut your body down after being awake for over 24 hours and having covered almost 100 miles knowing that there's something extra in your body to help combat the negative feelings and help you dig deep into your reserves to find the resolve to keep going.