14 Oct 2013

800.53 - 842.37KM: There and (almost) Back Again (Spires & Steeples Challenge 26)

Well that was bloody tough. Yesterday saw me run the Spires & Steeples 26 Mile Challenge from Lincoln Castle to Sleaford, through villages, on trails and across rain sodden fields. As the second of my three marathons in 4 weeks it was always going to be tough, but what I got, thanks in no small part to the weather, was the most challenging race of the year so far. The race would only be the first part of my adventure however, as when I crossed the finish line I was then faced with the challenge of getting home.

I always knew that this race would be a tough one and when placed in the middle of two other marathons it would catch me at an awkward position of recovering from the last one and resting for the next. Ideally I had only planned to run the 13 mile variant and then also enter the Mablethorpe Marathon the weekend before, but after I missed the cut off point for registration I was left with no choice but to take on the full.

I mentioned in my post on the Robin Hood Marathon that with each marathon I run this year my preparation beforehand seems to get gradually worse. It seems now to have gotten to the point where I have jinxed myself, as once again I had a far from ideal week. As I was trying to rest as much as possible and not run, I lost a vital method of stress release which allowed it to build to some quite frankly worrying levels throughout the week. This then naturally led to insomnia and a thoroughly miserable week, fortunately I held on to my sanity but it was touch and go at points.

On the Friday evening it felt like it was all building into a crescendo, as I began to experience what I believe to be the symptoms of 'man flu', before this was then confirmed on the Saturday. This prompted Jenny to naively try and persuade me not to run on Sunday, but what I lack in common sense I make up for in stubbornness and it was always a battle she was going to lose. I had ran with colds before, albeit not Marathons, and I had certainly felt worse than I did on Saturday evening and been able to 'run it off' so I put myself up to the task again.

A new race tradition
Sunday morning was spent packing my bag with a change of clothes, flapjacks I had baked the night before, gels and filling my hydration bladder before then picking it up, realising how heavy it was and wishing I hadn't bothered. Nevertheless I wasn't prepared enough to have the contents of this bag dropped off at the baggage points so I would have to strap it to my back and put up with it. Once again I was my usual tardy self and had a slight, panicked warm up run to the start of my race to register and grab my number and wristbands.

As everyone huddled under some shelter at the beginning of the race I have to admit to feeling a little out of place in the company of, what appeared to be at least, runners with a few ultras under their belts. Fortunately as I walked round the corner and saw two young lads dressed up as Batman & Robin I felt a little more relaxed. The race started off in the grounds of Lincoln Castle before heading down the hill towards the Water Rail Way trail, a route I had ran before but this time it was a slightly more enjoyable experience as there wasn't 6 inches of snow.

Cold, tired, wet and only halfway
Whilst much of the route was across paths and trails, the heavy rain of the past couple of days had made several sections of the course almost impassable. Freshly ploughed fields would have been tricky to run across on a dry day, but when your feet sunk to almost mid calf height, every step took a lot out of me. With the challenge being a mixed runners/walkers event it was difficult to gauge who was who at these points as everyone I saw had given up trying to run across these fields. Well everyone but myself of course, as I foolishly tried to get across these fields as fast as I could irrespective of how much energy I was wasting doing so.

Slightly wet underfoot
In hindsight I could probably have finished with a faster time if I stopped and walked across these sections, a couple of runners I passed on these fields would come past me later on in the race as I began to run out of energy. If I ran the race again tomorrow I'd probably still choose to run these sections though, as I fear adopting a 'run-walk' strategy would soon evolve into a 'walk-stop' and then 'stop-stop'.

Once I reached the second to last checkpoint there was a sign which stated only 3 miles to go, at this stage of the race it felt like a mirage. I checked my watch and the maths added up, but those next three miles would feel like 6. Eventually as I made my way along the river I saw what I realised to be Sleaford Town Centre come into sight, when I saw runner's walking back towards me I knew I was close. As I stumbled towards the finish line the clock showed that I had reached the end in just over 4 1/2 hours, somehow reaching my target time and only 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest time despite the conditions.

My journey wouldn't be over when I crossed the finish line though. I realised on Sunday morning that I had misinterpreted the race instructions and the shuttle bus than ran from Sleaford to Lincoln did so at the start of the race and not at the finish. I made my way, slowly, in the direction of the Bus and Train Station only to discover that the 21st century has yet to reach Sleaford and it ran neither a bus nor a train to Lincoln on a Sunday. The best option I had public transport wise would have been to get a train to Grantham and then a train from Grantham to Lincoln, getting me in over 5 hours later. I then rang a couple of taxi firms only to be quoted £40, so was left with little choice between waiting for Jenny to finish work in 3 hours and get her to come pick me up, or walking. I chose the later.

Fuelling for the trip home
As I made my way towards the A15 I was still in that 'post-race feel like throwing up' state, so stopped in Tesco only to get changed out of my soaking wet running gear and into some slightly drier, but still wet change of clothes. When I reached the Holdingham roundabout I knew I would have to grab something to eat so as to not be completely reckless so I dove into the McDonald's and grabbed a Large Big Mac meal before then continuing on my way whilst trying to eat the delicious, dirty, processed goodness.

I imagine to many of the cars that drove past the sight of a slightly scruffy looking man, hunched over, stumbling his away along the grass verge with a crumpled up empty bag of McDonald's may have been slightly disturbing. In fact if you would have told me earlier this week that's how I would have been spending my Sunday afternoon I would have been convinced that my impending breakdown had finally happened, but I was (and still am) of sound mind. That didn't put a young couple off though, as they pulled over and waited at a junction for 5 or so minutes until I made it past and they offered me a lift. Their over eagerness (or perhaps niceness) put me off and I declined. If I ever take up the option of hitchhiking it will be when I'm able to run away, which was not today. Fortunately I would only have to wait another 10 minutes or so before Jenny finished work and rang me to find out where I was before then picking me up roughly halfway between Lincoln and Sleaford. So after running 26 miles in 4 and a half hours, then walking another 8 miles in 2 and a half hours I was finally home, just in time to cook a roast dinner and vacuum the entire house before it got too late.

Next up for me is the Yorkshire Marathon and the final of my three Marathons in just 4 weeks, thankfully this one is on road and supposedly flat so it should be a little easier going on the ankles than the last one. I certainly don't expect a staredown with a cow anyway, if I do then I've gone seriously wrong. Last week Jenny's eczema story was featured in one of the women's weekly magazine 'Pick Me Up', only dramaticised in a way that only those type of magazines can.

As always, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/shanes1000km and donate what you can and please share news of what I am doing with others.

Distance: 41.84km | 26(ish) miles
Time: 04:02:55
Official Time: 04:31:51
Playlist: Enslaved
Goody Bag: T-Shirt & Bottle of Water


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