GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50 miles

On Sunday 14th April I stood on the start line of the Brighton marathon with one goal in mind. Break the sub 5 hour barrier. I knew what I needed to do, I knew the pace and I had a plan in place. All I wanted to do was break sub 5, so I took it steady and stayed at a constant pace to ensure I achieved my goal. I ended up taking 31 minutes off my PB and absolutely smashing my goal. I know I could have pushed it harder but chose not to to ensure I achieved what I needed to.

Fast forward 4 days and I am now stood on the start line of the Manchester to Liverpool ultra. I think Brighton took a lot more out of my body than I initially realised. I had rested those days in between the two races to give my body the best chance to get me round those 50 miles. I am not sure though it was quite enough.

It was an incredibly early start. A 3.30am alarm call, a 4am taxi ride and a taxi driver that got lost. It clearly wasn't the best start to the race. The start of the race was so cold but I knew in a matter of minutes we would be running in the sun and would warm up. The sunrise was stunning, reds and pinks lined the sky. It was a beautiful start. I stood on the start line, I wasn't nervous I was just tired. I wasn't hungry either and struggled to eat breakfast. A 15 minute delay to the start and then we were off. 

A small out and back section round the roads of Manchester to start with before heading down onto the canal path. A nice comfortable pace and I was relaxed and enjoying the run. Starting to warm up so I took off my coat and continued on the canal path onward to checkpoint one. The first 5 miles had gone past really quickly and everything was going well. Then disaster started, I started to feel really sick and my stomach really wasn't very happy at all. I dove into a bush, quite literally and probably lost around 20 places. 

Check point two was here and 6 miles had gone by. I wasn't feeling at all well and the sun was really starting to get to me. Onward through the country park and back towards the first checkpoint. I really wasn't feeling at all well and had to keep walking to stop myself from throwing up, diving once again into a bush to be sick and back to join the course. I felt shocking. 

In all honesty I cannot remember much of the course from here. I was trying not to be sick and just trying to keep fluids in me. Disaster then struck again as my water bottle simply stopped working. The valve would no longer open meaning I had to unscrew the cap and drink from it like a cup. No longer able to move and drink. If I wanted a drink I had to stop and drink. I spent a good 2 miles walking trying to fix my water bottle, even a fellow runner tried to help but it was to no avail it was completely broken. Not exactly the best thing to happen with over 30 miles left to go and in the scorching sunshine but that's where I found myself. 

At the next checkpoint I filled the water bottles up again, realising I had now drunk 1.5 litres of water and wondering what else could possible go wrong. Emptying my shoes of the stones I had collected and making our way once again. Bumping into friends I had made on previous races and having to adopt a very very cautious approach to running. Not wanting to be sick, not wanting to over heat and not been able to take on fluid properly, I didn't really have a choice. Around mile 20 my left knee gave way and I was now in a lot of pain. The relentless heat from the sun wasn't helping either and I was fighting a huge urge to simply stop.

The route took us past a Morrisons so I made a pit stop and purchased some pineapple, in a random bid to ease some of the inflammation in my knee and also a box of ice lollies. Plus Morrisons had real toilets! I don't regret the detour I had to do it. I had to cool down and 2 ice lollies later I felt much better. Half way approached and a mini dance whilst listening to Bon Jovi Livin on a prayer, it has to be done, just a marathon to go.

The next checkpoint came and here I emptied my shoes again with what I thought were stones, turned out it was the insides of my shoes. Yes my shoes had started to disintegrate from the inside out. With no padding in them now just the bare structure of shoe I knew I was in for trouble with 20 miles left. I had no water bottle, broken shoes and suffering from bad sun stroke, I wasn't sure what more could happen. Well as I left the check point eating the ice lolly that they had kindly provided I found out.

A delicate topic for some, so maybe skip this paragraph if this isn't your thing, but the next incident was slowly unfolding. For 32 miles my underwear had refused to stay put. Rather I kept having to re position it, let's say, and having to do this for 32 miles whilst running causes what I can only describe as a razor blade cutting sensation on a very delicate area. The situation seemed to get worse and intensify for the remaining 18 miles. For reasons I have no understanding of I now felt like my underwear was made from razor blades and every step hurt. Brighton marathon had already caused deep cuts on my thighs from chaffing, so much so the blood from said cuts had stuck my leggings to my legs at the end of the marathon. I was now facing a double whammy. It hurt a lot.

There came several points in the last 18 miles were I seriously wanted to quit and I am not one for giving up. I was in rather a lot of pain in a rather delicate place. The only time I think it has been that angry at me before was when I pushed an 8lb 7oz baby out of it. My left knee kept popping and causing pain. The sun was quite simply annoying the hell out of me. I was dizzy and felt like my insides were been cooked. I knew there were only 2 check points left and so simply focused on making it to each one.

Another toilet stop just before check point 6, a dash into a pub because a wild wee now meant I would probably never get back up again, and we were back on our way. Check point 6 was just around the corner. Filling up the water bottles and discovering that my electrolyte tablets had now disintegrated and no longer in tablet form. Seriously could anything else go wrong with this run. The disintegration had meant that the tablets had congealed to form one huge solid mass that I could no longer use. Great. I now had no water bottle, broken shoes, sun stroke, sun burn and my main fuel source was also gone. We won't mention the sore knee and very angry lady area.

Check point 7 I was told was in the shade. I was also told it was 7 miles away. I can do that I thought. 7 miles, just a training run as I tried not to focus on everything else.

The route to checkpoint 7 was in fact in as much glorious sunshine as the previous 30 something miles. Great more sun, could we perhaps turn it off please? After stopping two runners go the wrong way we continued and took a brief shade stop in the underpass. I rang my Mum, mainly because she had sent me a rather amusing photo of my kids playing in the back garden. Had a random conversation about wishing I was running around the garden in my pants, I think you had to be there for that one, and spoke to my small people who were having rather a lot of fun and told me that I had to run really fast in the shade but not in the sun. Which was exactly my plan, except for the lack of shade.

Checkpoint 7 finally arrived. I had begun to wonder as I dragged my sorry self down miles of the very similar looking trans Pennine trail if it ever would and by now I was just a wreck. I didn't want to stop I just wanted to get this thing finished. 6 miles to go. I grabbed a motivational hug, and if you know me you know I am not one for hugs but I just needed it at that point and onward we went.

Some kind of weird shuffle but at least now the sun was disappearing and the shade was very welcoming. Those last six miles seemed to take forever and I felt like a small child asking 'are we nearly there yet?'. My goal now was to finish. I had abandoned all hope of achieving anything I had wanted to. I felt unbelievably guilty that my running buddy had stuck with me and I just wasn't a happy bunny at all.

Slowly though the finish line started to appear and my running buddy asked if we could manage a run to the end. Not a chance I knew how much pain I was in and it just too far for me to manage. I was also praying that I did not have to run around that field.

As we edged closer I started to manage a weird jog, I won't call it a run because it really wasn't. We were about to enter the field and at last something went right, we didn't have to run around the field and could just finish. We crossed the line together in just under 13 hours and I wanted to collapse.

I was asked if I was OK and the answer was no. I was in pain, I felt sick and dizzy and I was far too hot. I needed to lie somewhere cold and cool down. The whole team were just amazing and really helped me to take a few moments and sort myself out. I can't remember too much of the end. I remember finishing, I remember Wayne asking if I was OK, I remember some cold water and then I can remember seeing people. Hopefully alive people and not in some I see dead people kind of way. 

Determined not to get hypothermia this time I grabbed my hoodie and after some catch up chats to some good friends we made our way back to the hotel. 

Sitting in the hotel room and reflecting on the run I felt deflated and a failure. I hadn't achieved anything I had set out to do. I was absolutely gutted to learn I was only a few places off the silver medal I so desperately wanted. Unbelievably mad with myself I hadn't come anywhere close to the time I should have so easily been able to achieve. More so I was just furious with how things had gone, I should have done better. 

Yet there is something this race has taught me. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I mean everything. I was in pain, and yet I finished. I finished. I crossed the line of a 50 mile race with a 3 hour personal best. Now just imagine if the race had gone according to plan. This race has taught me so much about myself and how above all I really need to invest in a better pair of pants. 

Oh and would I do it all again? Absolutely.

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  1. Great description was a hot day.. and I had doubts myself at times.. including considering stopping with severe dehydration at the last checkpoint.. you did great to finish.. best regards.. Tom Mcateer


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