St Oswalds Way 100 mile Ultra Race Report


St Oswalds Ultra

It wasn’t the finish I had dreamed about. I gave up with just 6 miles to go, my mind just lost it and I accepted the offer of a lift back to the finish line.

I feel like a failure, that I’ve let both myself down and my support crew (wife and mother) down who spent the best part of 24 hours following me round the Northumberland countryside. So close, yet so far and it all went wrong so quickly.

The previous 22 hours had gone well and I could sense the finish line was in sight but someone happened that caused me to give up. I’m not entirely sure what it was exactly and I’ve thought about it a lot in the past week but I can’t put my finger on exactly what went wrong. None the less I’m gutted with my failure but next time I will be stronger mentally and no matter what will never give up. I have some revenge to have on 100 mile ultras.

Lets start from the beginning shall we and see what went wrong.

Victoria and I drove up on Friday night and stayed at a pub in Lowick just 5 miles from the start at Lindisfarne Priory.

We got up early and I had my breakfast of instant porridge, banana and blue berries and then loaded up and drove to the start.

After eventually finding the signing on desk I made my way to the start in the Priory and got myself ready for my first 100 mile ultra.

I was feeling pretty good about the race after a good run at the Hardmoors 60 the weekend before. My legs felt recovered and I thought I had got my nutrition strategy sorted after the previous weekend.

The course looked flat apart from a bit after Rothbury so I was confident of a good result and at the very least finishing the race.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island – Bamburgh (19 miles)

Bang on time at 7am we were off and running through the village towards the courseway leading off the island. The courseway seemed to go on forever. It was flat and boring road running but the views looking out over the sands made up for it so everyone just got their heads down and got on with the job at hand.

The pace felt way too fast as the group of 100 milers I was with started slowly making our way to the front of the pack.

It was an easy pace and the road was flat so I decided to just go with it whilst the going was good and get some time in the bank.

We got to the end of the courseway and then the course veered off into the countryside and the first proper offroad section.

With the course being so flat it was difficult to get into a routine of taking regular walking breaks on the hills and I found it really difficult to keep the pace down in order to save my legs for the later stages.

Kyloe wood was a nice little section on some decent trails but unfortunately the good trails didn’t last very long.

The trails after here until the climb out of Rothbury were pretty dull and it wasn’t long before we hit the first of seemingly endless caravan parks we would run through on the day and not long after the first of many golf courses.

Still the view of Bamburgh Castle on the coast did make up for it slightly.

At this point my stomach was doing summersaults and I had to make a pit stop stop in Bamburgh to sort myself out. Still I was slightly up on schedule so all was going to plan so far.

St Oswalds Ultra Bamburgh Castle
Coming to Bamburgh Castle checkpoint

Bamburgh – Craster (33 miles)

Bamburgh to Craster was a bit of a blur, I maintained a steady pace and kept having walking breaks every hour so I could get some food down me and give my legs a bit of a break.

We followed the coastal path on a seemingly endless loop of golf clubs and caravan parks before eventually hitting Craster and the next checkpoint.

I’ll be honest and say that I thought the route so far was incredibly dull. The trails were dull and boring and it was a real struggle to try and maintain a reasonable pace on the flat trails.

Victoria missed me by 2minutes at the checkpoint. I had just left as she arrived as I was up on my schedule by a few minutes.

Craster – Warkworth (approx. 47 miles)

The next section was more of the same – flat, boring trails and caravan park followed by golf club and repeat.

A small navigational error at Alnmouth saw me get the map out for the first time until I got back on track and skirting round the town saw the first climb in what felt like an age.

Eventually we hit Warkworth and the first of the drop bags. I went and had a quick wash in the toilets and cleaned myself up before topping up my supplies and grabbing a quick cup of tea and off we went.

I was feeling really good at this stage. I was eating regularly and my legs felt fine. I was slightly up on schedule and was looking forward to heading inland and towards some proper trails.

Warkworth – Rothbury (65 miles)

3 of us formed into a group on the way to Rothbury and we decided to stay together through Harewood Forest to give us a better chance of getting out alive.

The terrain started to get tougher the closer we got towards Rothbury but eventually just before nightfall we hit Rothbury.

It was great to see my wife and mother waiting for me at Rothbury especially as they had been to boots to get me some vaseline for some chaffing that had occurred in the last 65 miles.

At Rothbury I got changed into my night gear and changed both my t-shirt and socks. It was heaven and a great thing to do. Another quick wash and a resupply we were off towards the first big climb of the day.

St Oswalds Ultra Rothbury
Very happy to see Victoria at Rothbury
St Oswalds Ultra Rothbury checkpoint
Quick change and ready to head out into the hills at Rothbury

Rothbury – Kirkwhelpington (80 miles)

The first section of the route towards Kirkwhelpington was heaven after the monotony of the previous 65 miles. They reminded me of the Yorkshire Dales where I spend so much of my time and I was in my element.

I almost danced up the hills I was so pleased to be on some proper trails. By the top it was sufficiently dark to switch on the headtorches and for a few short miles I was in my element.

This all changed when we hit Harewood Forest and the going suddenly got tough. Harewood Forest was hell, the trails were muddy single track paths through bushes and trees and our pace and morale dropped quickly.

The 3 of us kept each other going but the forest section seemed to go on forever but eventually we reached the aid station that signaled the end of the forest section and what we had hoped was an easier section until the final checkpoint at Kirkwhelpington.

This wasn’t the case and the going remained tough until we hit Kirkwhelpington. The trails remained muddy and swamp like for the majority of the route.

We encountered many fields of cows and had to tread carefully so we didn’t scare them and cause a stampede but eventually we stumbled into the checkpoint much to the relief of both Victoria and my mum.

By this point we were a long time behind the schedule I had planned mainly due to the tough conditions starting in Harewood Forest until the checkpoint.

I was feeling really tired at this point but seeing Victoria gave me a real boost and I had visions of the finish line in my mind at this point. I’ve come this far so I can finish it I thought to myself.

The temperature had really dropped at this point so I put some more layers on and my hat and then we were off, next stop Chollerford.

St Oswalds Ultra Kirkwhelpington
Relieved to have made it to Kirkwhelpington after a tough 20 miles

Kirkwhelpington – Chollerford (100 miles)

Somewhere around the point of the course diversion the group split up. One went ahead with another runner who caught and passed up and I just got my head down and pushed on eventually leaving the third member behind. I was getting so cold at this point I needed to get myself moving to generate heat and in my tired state I just put my head down and pushed on. I felt bad leaving the guy behind but I had to think of myself at this point and get moving.

Just outside Great Whittington it all started to go wrong. I made a a small navigational error which caused me to have to fight my way through some tall wet grass causing me to get wet feet and legs which soon turned freezing cold in the conditions.

By the time I got out of field and onto the road I was disorientated and not entirely sure where I was causing me to think I was going to get disqualified.

I panicked and called Victoria to come and pick me up having for some reason got it into my head that I was going to get disqualified. In hindsight this was a stupid thing to do and it only caused her some unecessary pain. I should have pulled myself together and finished.

She arranged for a van to come and pick me up only for me to decide, after finding out I wasn’t disqualified, to carry on to the finish so I pulled myself together and got my head down.

It wasn’t much longer before the van pulled up and I was offered a lift. Without even thinking I was in the passenger seat and heading back to the finish. Why I accepted the lift I have no idea but I was devastated and distraught with myself. Why didn’t I just say no and press on. It was only another 6 miles to the finish.

I was feeling so strong up until this point and was well on my way to the finish and I still can’t think of why it went wrong so quickly. I think it was a number of things which just converged all at the same time. I should have been stronger mentally and dealt with them but I didn’t, in the end I just quick.

I’m still not happy with myself for quitting but I’ll be back to have another attempt at a 100miler. Its not going to beat me but this time I will be stronger and better prepared mentally. Its difficult to explain to people who haven’t attempted running 100 miles what strains it put on you both mentally and psychically but I know when I got back to the hotel room I was broken. It was such a horrible feeling to have failed so close to the finish.

It wasn’t the blisters or the aches that hurt, it was the thought of failure and of letting Victoria and my mum down. They had spent all day following me round Northumberland worrying that I was ok and I let them down.

On the plus side I will be attempting another 100 mile ultra marathon in the future. I know my body is strong enough to cope and theres no way that my mind will let me quit again. I will go into the next race much better prepared and ready for the conditions that await me in the final stages and next time I won’t be beaten. I never want to feel like I did that night in the hotel room again.

Kit list

Strava

Previous Hardmoors 60 Ultra Marathon Race Report
Next What I learnt from my first ultra marathon DNF

2 Comments

  1. Angus Howie
    3rd October 2016
    Reply

    Totally relate to the feeling of panic about disqualification (though not the distance). And also the weird phone call asking spouse to drive me home! Luckily at the Green Man I got to a checkpoint the Marshalls didn’t disqualify me and I almost grudgingly shuffled on.
    Gutted for you. Keep going, 94 miles is still a fantastic achievement.

  2. Angus Howie
    3rd October 2016
    Reply

    Totally relate to the feeling of panic about disqualification (though not the distance). And also the weird phone call asking spouse to drive me home! Luckily at the Green Man I got to a checkpoint the Marshalls didn’t disqualify me and I almost grudgingly shuffled on.
    Gutted for you. Keep going, 94 miles is still a fantastic achievement.

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