Sorry I haven’t updated this in a few weeks; had a few issues logging into my account for some reason so haven’t been able to access it to update but *hopefully* sorted now! Which is good because I’ve been wanting to write this post about a run I did last week ever since I finished although maybe it is a good thing I’ve had to wait a bit because I was seriously hyped after the run and maybe the blog post wouldn’t have made a lot of sense. It was an amazing run though!!
It’s a run I’ve done before called Escape from Meriden and it’s a jailbreak-style run- you get 24 hours to get as far from Meriden (near Coventry) as you can on foot starting at midnight. Last time I did it was in November and it was FREEZING, dark, foggy and pretty scary so I was really nervous about doing it again but summer’s definitely a way better time to do it, and it went so much better than the winter version. It starts in a village hall and I got there pretty early because I was so nervous, and got chatting to a couple of people who I’d met on runs before which is always nice. One of the things I really, really love about ultras is how friendly and accepting people are, and how they make you feel totally ‘legitimate’ for being there instead of a complete amateur which is how I always feel. It was raining pretty heavily outside so nice to wait indoors until midnight! Quick pre-race briefing (basically: don’t die and remember to post back your tracker) then headtorch and waterproofs on and out to the Cross to start…
I’d written the first part of my route on a post-it note sized piece of paper which I had in my pocket and luckily I live close to Meriden anyway so know most of the country roads around there. I was heading for Warwick down back roads to avoid cars as much as possible while it was still dark and rainy (although God knows why anyone would be driving country lanes at half midnight on a Friday night!). At the beginning, there were quite a few people headed in the same direction but pretty soon people started to split and I was running on my own towards Balsall Common. I was feeling physically pretty good- the coffee I’d downed just before I left the house seemed to be kicking in and although it was wet, it wasn’t cold at all which coming from me means it must have been practically summer! The rain was a bit annoying because it was covering the lenses of my glasses making it hard to see, so I took them off for a while on the basis that I’d probably see better without them given that it was dark anyway.
It’s a really weird feeling running on your own down country lanes at night, and I don’t think I’ve really experienced it fully totally on my own before. I’ve done off-road running at night and organised events, but never totally alone down narrow roads with no streetlights or pavements and the nearest village a few miles away. It was pretty scary but not in the same ‘OMG I’m going to die’ was as the November version or the rainy, muddy nighttime trail running from Hope24 2017. This was more of a creepy, surreal scariness like you get playing horror games on consoles- like a jumpy, nervous adrenaline but slightly detached like you’re not really ‘there’ at all. I was definitely relieved to get to the streetlights of Balsall Common although there was about 7 miles of lanes to get through after that till I reached the canal at Warwick which was my first real ‘checkpoint’. I was hoping to follow the canal as far as possible on the basis that I couldn’t really get lost which felt a lot safer!
By the time I got close to Warwick, it was raining like a deluge shower and I was absolutely soaked. For the second ultra in a row, I was realising that my ‘waterproofs’ really aren’t and even my spare clothes were damp in my backpack. So I decided to take a quick detour and go via my house to dry off a bit, change socks and put on some dry clothes. I knew they would be wet again within ten minutes but it’s worth it just for the slight warmth that comes with drying off and dry feet for as long as possible helps to prevent blisters. I spent a bit longer than I’d planned to giving my cat some attention and refilling my water pack, and found it pretty hard to get going again even though I was only a couple of hours in!
I finally psyched up to going back out in the rain and headed towards the canal. It’s the part that I run on an almost daily basis so I know it pretty well but even still it’s scarier on your own at 3am. The rain had eased off a bit which helped and I tried to relax into the rhythm of running in absolute quiet of pre-dawn darkness. It felt really surreal and I put on some more upbeat music than I’d usually listen to but which really helped to start enjoying the running again even though I was still pretty scared. By the time it started to get light at about 4.30am, I’d run through Warwick and out of Leamington and was starting to feel like I was actually getting somewhere!
Sunrise (or more accurately, just before) is my absolute favourite time to run and the rain had stopped completely by then so I took my waterproof off, switched to David Bowie’s Lazarus soundtrack and started to really connect with the run. It sounds really weird and spiritual to describe, but there’s this amazing feeling you get sometimes when you’re running and everything seems to ‘sync’ and you feel totally relaxed, connected and calm in a way I’ve never experienced outside of running. Sunrise is always pretty magical but especially when it’s a ‘slow’ sunrise because of clouds or mist and you get a gradual lightening of the air around you then an orange-purple tinge to the clouds before it actually starts to get light. There was a lot of mist on the canal and it was so still before the birds started up, and I stopped briefly to really breathe in the morning before relaxed running again.
By 5.30, the sun had started to come up properly and it was feeling like daylight again, and I had a sudden realisation that I’d made it through the scary night and could be anyone out for a morning jog by the canal which felt suddenly a lot safer. I got a weird burst of energy from that and hardly noticed the next few miles. I’d started to get hungry so ate a cereal bar from my mammoth stash in my backpack (had enough food for 24 hours in the form of cereal bars, salted nuts, dried fruit and dolly mixtures!) and drank some more water. It was exactly 6am by then and I made a ‘rule’ to eat something every hour even if it was just a small amount because I’ve had too many runs recently where I’ve felt sick from not eating enough but feeling too nauseous to eat anything which is the worst thing running ever.
The main issue I had once I’d left Leamington was that I genuinely had no idea where I was. I knew that I was heading past Southam and towards Daventry but my geography knowledge really isn’t great and I didn’t really have any idea where that was, and there wasn’t enough phone signal to check Google maps (the ordnance survey map I’d borrowed from a geography teacher at school only covered as far as Leamington) so I carried on running and hoped I’d see some sort of map or sign soon. At about 7.15am, I ran past a boat where someone was on board and I asked him where I was. He probably thought I was really stupid but said I was leading towards Napton which I’d seen on some online maps so thanked him and carried on running. I had a bit more signal so risked using my iPhone (which I usually have turned off for ultras to save battery for emergencies) to check Google maps which said there was a reasonably straight road from Napton to Wheedon Bec which would mean I could hopefully refill water and get coffee from somewhere so I started to check every canal sign for that. Much as the canal really was pretty, I was getting thirsty and caffeine-deprived!
So at about 7.30, I left the canal to run to who knows where. The road had seemed pretty straight on the map but LONG (about 12 miles) which really wasn’t the most fun running I’ve ever had a pretty scary at times where the road was busy, but after about an hour it turned into rollercoaster-style country lanes which are pretty fun to run and you get to walk the inclines so double win! I’d filled up water just as I left the canal but it was started to get warm already and I was starting to worry about when I’d next get a chance to fill it up. I was also starting to get pretty tired by this point and really, really wanted to find some coffee.
By 8.15, a sign said I’d reached Northamptonshire which was a relief because I was starting to think that Warwickshire was the biggest county in the world! The lanes near Daventry and Newnham were really pretty but it was definitely a relief to get to Wheedon Bec where I was going to rejoin the canal. I got a take-out coffee from a cafe which was AMAZING and took a quick break to put on sunscreen as the sun really was out by now, then ran down a lane and saw lots of lambs which was really nice, and I rejoined the canal pretty soon after that. Saw lots more wildlife- swans and cygnets, and a cow drinking from the river- which was awesome after too long on roads. So I followed the canal for a while; nothing majorly interesting to write about but really, really peaceful and scenic.
Once the coffee had kicked in, I started to relax into the running again and realised how lucky I am that my body is capable of running for hours at a time and really connect with and enjoy it, and that’s something I need to keep reminding myself of more often. Genuinely can’t put into words how amazing it is. And for me, the most amazing part of running is that the ‘bitch in my head’ actually shuts up for a while and I get hours of relative brain quiet which is the most incredible thing ever and it only really happens when I’m running ultras which is a big reason why I run so many of them! I am so thankful to my body for being able to run ultras, and to the person who got me into distance running in the first place (you know who you are).
I’d totally lost track of where I was by then and to be totally honest, the next few hours are a bit of a blur. I know I was heading towards Oxford and that I passed Kettering (got chatting to an amazing woman with purple hair whose partner was in the Marines and still said there’s no way he could run 24 hours!), and the canal blurred into a green heat haze of summer running. There were taps at some of the locks to fill up water which was a relief because it really was hot during the day, and I met some awesome people on canal boats some of whom offered to fill up water from their supply which was really, really nice of them. At some point, I reached Stoke Bruene (I think that’s what it’s called?) which had a cafe and toilets which is a massive plus as anyone who’s ever run an ultra will realise!
So I got another coffee which was definitely needed, and completely impulsively bought a Magnum. Anyone who knows me will know that this is completely out of character- I hate milk, haven’t eaten any form of ice cream in over 11 years and usually the idea of mixing protein (ice cream) with carbohydrate (chocolate) would send my brain into total meltdown with which bit I’m meant to eat first and how but weirdly none of that mattered and I just wanted something cold and minty because it was so bloody hot. And at the time, it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever eaten although the idea of eating another one now makes me physically retch! Weird how running totally changes your perception of EVERYTHING.
By mid-afternoon, it was too hot to run properly so I jogged-walked for a bit until it started to cool down a bit. I was getting through most of my water pretty quickly and added some electrolytes so I wouldn’t get too dizzy, and ate some salted peanuts for extra sodium (and the inevitable giggling about the irony of salted peanuts before exercise definitely gave me a boost- WB friends will get that!). This was probably the part of the run I found the hardest because of the heat which also meant that tiredness started to kick in, and I was really glad when it started to get cloudy at about 5pm and less humid. I got a diet Coke and started running more again, and I genuinely couldn’t believe I’d been running for 15 hours!
I knew I was headed towards Milton Keynes where I’d planned to leave the river again and run down roads towards London to see how far I could get because I didn’t want to be running parts of the canal I didn’t know on my own in the dark, and it really felt like I was actually travelling away from the midlands finally. I got to Milton Keynes about 7pm and started to try to navigate the subway system which is an absolute maze and got lost so many times!! It was started to get darker now and I really didn’t feel safe running through underpasses I didn’t know when I was totally exhausted and not sure I could outrun anyone, and I started to feel really anxious. Then, totally randomly, a guy on a bike asked me if I wanted to go for a drink later (?!) which was v v strange considering I’d run 18 hours by then and probably looked absolute sh*t but made me laugh which was definitely a good boost. I said I couldn’t and carried on running, but couldn’t stop giggling at the irony that the only time I’ve ever been asked out in my whole 30 years of being alive is 18 hours into a 14 hour run!
I FINALLY made it out of Milton Keynes just as the sun was starting to set and was feeling really anxious and panicky by then. I was also feeling jittery-high which is a weird combination that I haven’t had in a while, and started to feel like I was connecting with God in an amazing way that probably sounds really stupid and ridiculous but I’ve felt it running before and it really is an incredible and literally awesome feeling. I know a lot of people will say it’s just endorphins and coincidence or that I’ve gone too ‘high’ but this time it really did feel like God was helping me and I’ve even got photographic proof! At first, I just needed some inspiration and connection, and there were the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen in a really, really long time. The sky looked like it was on fire and the photos really don’t do it justice. I felt so amazingly connected and ‘oneness’ which is really hard to put into words.
Then the road changed from how it was on Google maps and I had to try three different directions until I was finally heading south-east again, and I started to get really anxious again. Then out of nowhere, there was a cloud rainbow in a sunset sky which is one of the most amazing and rare natural phenomenons possible and something I’ve never seen before in my life. I’ve seen cloud rainbows three times before but never at sunset, and it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I could really feel God with me as I was running and I kept thanking Them as I kept going and it felt like I was breathing in some of God’s greatness. I was running faster than I usually would at that point in an ultra but I was still scared especially as it was getting really dark now and I had a weird energy that meant I could keep running even though I was physically exhausted.
The last couple of hours was down an A road which I couldn’t really avoid and there was no real walkway beside it so I was running just outside the white line which was absolutely terrifying. I was convinced I was going to get hit or that someone would stop their car and pull me in, and I tried to focus on just getting past that stretch of road. Then, amazingly, a pathway opened up by roadside separated by a barrier which was so so incredible and made me feel so much safer even though it was still pretty scary running. It genuinely felt like God was looking out for me which sounds stupid I know, but that’s what it felt like.
And at the same time, I got some texts of encouragement from AWESOME people (you know who you are!) which made a massive, massive difference and really helped to feel safer because it was like people were there running with you so THANK YOU!!!!! I can’t really remember much of the last bit of the run except that I made it to Dunstable *just* (literally got there exactly as my watch hit midnight!) and I was feeling super-hyped, amazing, jittery, scared and thankful all at the same time. 62 miles as the crow flies but amazingly 96.67 miles actual distance!! I met my dad who was driving back from the Isle of Wight and had really kindly offered to pick me up on the way, and slept the whole way back in the car. Total crash but amazing run!
This blog post REALLY doesn’t do the run justice- it was amazing, magical and had so many different moods that I really can’t put it into words. I am so, so grateful that my body is capable of running that far and that I have amazing friends who send incredibly supportive and encouraging texts when I really need a boost (or if I’m irrationally panicking about nothing), and thank you all so so so much!!