Post South Downs Way 100 - Hitting The Wall.

So who thinks that running a 69 mile ultra loop North the week after a sub 24hr 100 miler is a good idea? Anyone? No. Thought not. Well I thought is WAS a good idea because I’m training for a 184 mile multi dayer in August. And I stand by my decision on this one, because I had a lovely time. 

The Wall is Rat Race’s only true one day running ultra. It starts in Carlisle and follows the route of Hadrians Wall for 69 miles through to Newcastle. The race is routed mainly along roads, with some trails thrown in, and is relatively flat - which for me is the challenge - road and flat are not my thang when it comes to ultras. I get confused and don’t know when to walk and eat my cheese sandwiches.  However, it’s a part of the world I haven’t ever been to and I do like a run, so off I went, staying in Carlisle’s most depressing hotel the night before, to run The Wall. 


Registration is the day before, so after registering and assembling some Do-Badders for dinner and drinks, I got my head down and set my alarm for 5.30 the next morning. The race starts at 7am,  with a briefing outside the castle at 6.45. In a nice change from the last few weeks the day was overcast as opposed to hotter than the sun, and as we started to run it started drizzling. Nice, I thought. Just a bit of drizzle, I thought. Glad I didn’t put my sun cream on, I thought. 

The first few miles are less than inspiring TBH. The grey roads of Carlisle take you past the airport and lots of fences, but no wall. I was very tired (I WONDER WHY?!) and at one point I felt like I was falling asleep at the wheel, but a bit of caffeine and a change of scene to some lovely villages and I started to feel better. My plan was to run a bit with Lorna, who paced me so well at the SDW100 the week before, but after 2 miles of 9.30 min miles, I was done and off she went. So I was alone for a while, chatting to people every so often, struggling to understand thick Geordie accents and genuinely feeling like a racist when I had to ask people to repeat themselves. 


The first Pit Stop was at Lanercost - about 12 miles in. I still hadn’t hit my stride at this point and honestly don’t remember much about that Pitstop, apart from seeing my support crew and necking 2 DELICIOUS tuna rolls. The aid stations on this race are fucking mega. I could have stayed at this one for at least 3 days eating myself into a coma. All the snacks.  About a mile out of the pit stops, I met a lovely man called Dave. Dave was my new running pal whether he liked it or not, and we ran together for a good 20 miles chatting about stuff and life and about how otters ACTUALLY have pockets (they do - look it up). All the important stuff. The weather was pretty OK at this point - windy and on and off rain, but as we trotted on to the second Pit Stop at Cawfields (27 miles in) the heavens properly opened. This was not the last time this would happen today. Cawfields had the added bonus of all the hot drinks and loads of crisps and fruit. And peoples drop bags laid out on the field like tiny mouse body bags. Weird. I was having the best picnic ever and I actually had started to feel pretty good. We’d seen a bit of wall. Everything was nice. I insulted some other runners by accident and then left in search of Pit Stop 3 - Hexham - where I was meeting my long suffering boyfriend who was coming out to trot through the Dark side of Newcastle with me. 

This was probably my favourite stretch of the route, with the most trail. It was truly beautiful and there were huge chunks of wall and history to be looked at and chatted about. The people on this race are wonderful. I met a lot of very nice, very funny men. I didn’t meet very many women. As usual. At the 40 mile mark I texted my crew to say I was about an hour away from Hexham and took off my waterproof. BIG MISTAKE. I knew it was a mistake. As I started up the hill towards Hexham a storm of epic proportions started to appear over the horizon. It’ll be fine I thought. It wasn’t fine. 

It PELTED it down, it was literally like having buckets of water thrown over me. I had my Rat Race smock on, but even if I’d had a full on PVC body suit it wouldn’t have changed anything. I ran across an open field to the shelter of some trees where there were a few other bedraggled Rat Racers looking sad under the tress. It was windy and cold and I was SOAKED. I had a drop bag at Hexham but progress was slow as it was pretty hilly and the rain wasn’t helping, making the trail slippery - and we were all wearing road shoes. 


After about half an hour the rain started to stop - too late though - everything soaked. The sun started to make an appearance as I trotted into Hexham to my boyfriend, all dry and clean and fresh-legged. Fucking annoying. Straight into the tent of joy where there was literally a party happening. A couple of lovely people lent me towels and I changed my socks, and top, grabbed 17 packets of scampi fries and ate the most delicious chilli on earth. I heard reports that some people stayed at Hexham for well over an hour, No surprise, I could happily have lived there for the whole weekend. Best Aid Station of any event I have ever done. I bumped into my pal Spike who was taking numbers as people had come in - the trackers had stopped working. If you track my number now you will see that apparently I am still at Cawfields. Quick chat with handsome Pete Rees and me and Julius were off again. I had slightly started to lose my sense of humour - I was tired and there was still a good 20 ish miles to go but apparently it’s “all down hill from Hexham” (That’s a lie) 


About 2-3 miles into the last ish leg and the sun came out with a vengeance - it was like a totally different day. We ran through beautiful countryside and villages where people had set up home made stalls serving fruit and water - people can be so lovely. We ran past and under rainbows and it was beautiful. I was still tired, I was taking a lot of caffiene and I had started to feel a little pain in my shins. Painkillers down my gullet and we made it to the final aid station at Newburn. 


Quick turnaround, coffee, cake and encouragement for our new friend Rupert, and the final leg was upon us. I got in an Ultra Mood at one point - poor Julius - it wasn’t helped by the approach to Newcastle where a load of local hoodies were sat smashing glass and punching each other. Lovely Newcastle. I spent a few miles being quiet, until finally I could see the bridge and I knew I was there. As I ran towards the line, there was Spike with my can of Brewdog - I crossed the line and opened it and I was done. 15 hours, 23 mins and 48 seconds. I’ll take that for a 69 miler post SDW100. It would have been a sub 24 if it was 100 - YAY ME I AM AWESOME. 


The facilities at the end are AMAZING. A lovely little yacht club with a subsidised bar, hot food, showers and even a sleep room. We sat and drank and chatted to our friends, old and new, and I waited for a few Do-Badders to come in and congratulated them all. It had been a GREAT day, but one that I wish I had been able to do on fresh legs. 

This is a brilliant event for all runners. for beginners, it’s an excellent first foray into ultra’s with amazing support and organisation, and a good course for people wanting to smash out a PB. Road racing is hard, but ultra road racing is even harder. My ankles were swollen and my shins were sore but I had beer in my hand and a nice bed to sleep in. Which is good because 2 days later I was test pilot for the brand new Rat Race even Subterranean Snowdon. That blog is going soooooon!