Jim’s Report

I was looking forward to it for ages!  Pretty much since I was handed a flyer for it at the Rowberrow Rabbit Race. 

I was mainly interested because of a couple of inter-related reasons:

  • 1. I’d never run anywhere near that far before
  • 2. It was being run in a group, with a number of runners who know how to run long distances and take food ‘on board’ (and I’ve never done that)
  • 3. There was support along the way

Then the day eventually came.  Actually, the night before eventually came, the Friday night.  I forwent my usual end of week keg of wine and went to bed reasonably early.  Hayley, my long-suffering partner, thought I was mad, mainly because I had to get up at 5am in order to get ready and do the 60 minute drive to be there for the 7am start and then to run 45 miles or so (voluntarily). Not being a runner herself, this all seemed just a little potty.  However, on the grounds that me and the dog being out of the house all Saturday was a rare chance to have a mud free house Saturday  (usually we do an hour or so across fields and hills from home and bring most of the mud home with us) – she was,  in actual factual, quite supportive.

The kit:  Nike running shorts. New Balance multi-terrain shoes. A Berghaus long sleeve undershirt. A Rohan microfleece. A pair of £3 from Asda tracksuit bottoms.  Plenty of vaseline.  A baseball cap. I had intended not to wear the tracksuit bottoms or the fleece as normally I always run bare-legged and with little ont’ top. Also intended not to wear the cap.  But it was pretty cold when we got there and everyone else (almost) was in full garb and eventually I ran the whole way in the cap and ran the Marathon mileage before taking the trackies off for the last twenty miles or so.  Should really have left them on though.  I didn’t realise how much the cold takes it out of you on longer distances.  It’s a completely different type of running to what I’m used to (15 miles maximum).

Running with the dog:  Alfie’s full name is Alfredo Garcia Fernandez. Part named from the famous Peckinpah film and part named because of Futurama’s Bender Bending Rodriguez who has a fancy name. Anyway, it suits him.  In full cinematic retrospectacular vision, it probably was not a good idea to bring Alf.  I had hoped that I could have run most of the way with him of the lead as I do normally, but it transpired that the route crosses many fields with livestock and/or people and other dogs. And unfortunately our Alf, though only medium-sized, is an alpha male of the species with a natural herding instinct and apparent natural dislike of others of the same species. So I would estimate that at the very least 43 miles of the 45 or so were spent with him chained to me on a long lead. Chris felt this would sap strength and cause arm ache whilst Rob felt it gave an added advantage uphill, because of the “Husky effect” as he pulled.  My own view is that Chris was probably right as reigning him in and restraining him did cost me some valuable energy and my arm was continuously pulled.  On the plus side, thinking Garcia was probably the first muttlington to do the distance gave me some more motivation and I think that, on average, the pluses and minuses cancelled each other out.  Some people might suggest it’s a little cruel to take a dog such long distances forcibly.  All I can really say on that is that Alfie does all my  running with me (except races – so about 30 miles a week) and is taken out twice a day in addition with a ball launcher, sometimes at 11pm at night (he won’t stop barking at owls through the night otherwise).  The fact that he was as eager at the end (and pulling) as he was at the beginning suggests to me that he could easily of gone far further.  As a collie, he is incredibly light on his feet and my run is a fast walk to him.  As far as I can tell, he really enjoyed it, particularly because when I return from a 15 mile training run (often where he has a half hour swim in the middle in the river at Great Elm near Frome) he is well and truly disappointed to be going home. 

The main problem with Alf was the physical barriers – gates etc – which we came across in the first half of the run.  As far as I recall, I had to lift him over about ten dog-unfriendly gates / stiles. About four of them George helped me with and one John McD helped with (sorry about the muddy paws on your nice clean top John). So I guess that if anyone else is thinking about doing the run with a dog I would suggest that it is a medium sized dog at most, that you can pick up, and that doesn’t mind being picked up. Alf doesn’t actually like being picked up but we managed – just.  I would say that the lifting doesn’t sap your strength, as its upper torso and the main drain is on the legs. But many thanks to George (and John) for the help as otherwise it would have been a case of running far further to find an appropriate dog-friendly route.  Finally, on the issue of the dog, I think, because of his shear keeness and drive, he did give a little motivation to some of the other runners.

We were running the anti-clockwise route starting at the foot of Ashton Court I think.  This meant we did Dundry, Pensford and Keynsham first of all. I would say that, overall, the first half of the run is somewhat more attractive than the second half (in that its greener). Not overwhelmingly, but enough to notice I would say.  However, the second half is perhaps more interesting, particularly if you are interested in industrial history, as I am.  Mind you, the second half of the run has the disadvantage of dealing with someone who is ‘run-dopey’ and who may well not notice or appreciate the sights and interesting points. I felt the second half of the run to be a bit like a race through lovely countryside – its great but you’ve got your head down and you can’t appreciate the sights!

The support checkpoints are crucial!  And increasingly so as you go on.  The first at Pensford was handy and the second at Keynsham handy too. After that I would say they move from handy to essential.   Alfie and me took full advantage, not least as we were running without a camel pack thingy with liquid energy so had to wait for fuel at each stop. We had a bag of Jamaican Ginger Cake and Golden Syrup cake and energy drinks from Tesco. I supplemented these with the excellent Yorkshire tea on offer and flapjacks. Alf didn’t like the energy drinks but was definitely into the cakes, tea and flapjacks, especially when mixed together into rudimentary energy soup.  But I think I made two mistakes on food. The first was not having energy drinks from the start and the second was not filling up properly with food and drink at the Marathon +1 checkpoint wherever that was.  I guess I had become complacent.  Because of this I hit the wall during the last two miles before the 38 milish checkpoint. Pins and needles in the fingers and dizzyness ensued and I was only just able to get to the checkpoint.   But is was here that Jason and the support crew sorted me out, obviously recognising my struggle.  They gave me energy bars, sugary energy drinks and tea with sugar (‘borrowed’ from the café at Blaise).

 I don’t really remember much about the last leg from Blaise, apart from the pain in my ankles and hip joints with every step.  Running downhill became really painful and running uphill is always painful anyway. But even the flat bits were difficult.  It was also getting pretty dark.  Fortunately, John and Rob were with George and myself for the last two legs – otherwise there is no doubt that we would not have made it – due to reasons of both navigation and motivation as much as anything.  For the last few miles all I can recall is the cold, the dark, the Green Man, the sound of a stag braying or something, a blocked footpath just before the finish and the finish itself.  The latter here being the most memorable.

Huge thanks to all the support crew and all other runners, especially Jason (for taking my bag around the checkpoints) and John and Rob (for taking us round).  And huge thanks also to Chris for the certificates for me and the especially designed one for Alfredo.  Much appreciated and much for me to show off to the family and friends at my recent 40th.

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