Having covered the preparation and kit in Part One, its time to cover the actual race itself.
I stayed locally with my family, arriving on Friday evening the night before the race. We had a 7 hour drive up from Wiltshire, not ideal, but getting there the day before meant a half decent sleep (as decent as you can get before a race).
Registration was fairly simple, I walked over to the village around 7pm with my five year old who was super proud to be wearing a head torch and got a lot of praise from Mountain Rescue.
All of my kit was already in order. I just needed to show my dry kit and emergency blanket, collect my bib and GPS tracker, which was taped to the strap of my pack.
I had spent the week previous insuring everything was packed and prepared, several times over. I have little trust in my memory and getting things right, which means I tend to double down on checks and come out the other side in good shape.
I had compiled and printed out checklists for the half way stop, where my drop bag would be. This way I could tick off the key items and get out as quickly as possible.
Friday night passed with as expected, not a great deal of sleep. I got up at 4am and ate a bowl of ready brek with a chopped up banana in and a couple of cups of my favourite black coffee.
At 5:45 am I entered Ingram village hall for the race briefing. It was that typical atmosphere of pre-race tension, where runners almost come across as unfriendly or at least unapproachable. Its really just people getting focused on what is ahead. I know this now, from having done previous events, but to anyone new it may seem intimating at first. I knew that once we were out and running, I could not wish to meet a nicer bunch of folks, even if they look stand off’ish at this juncture of the event, some of them might be new life long friends in the making.
6:00 am and we have now moved to the start line. It being the winter, it was still pitch black, but the weather itself was fair for this time of the year. There was a gentle drizzle and it felt around 3-4 degrees.
The countdown happened and we all shuffled off. I was around mid pack at this point.
The first 10 miles or so were only what I could describe as a pleasant rolling along. I felt strong and kept a consistent pace over the undulating landscape. I remember the sun came up around 8am and everything just seemed great. If the race would remain like this, it should be breeze. I would most definitely be signing up for this again next year, might even see if I can book my place for next year when I get back!
The ETA on my watch was showing a 13 hour finish. Way below my goal of 15 hours. I floated through the various check points and topped up my water and tail wind each time. Every 15 minutes a watch reminder would ping “Drink!” to which I would sip some tailwind, and every 30 minutes “Eat!” where I would have a bite of a Trek style flapjack bar.
We started to hit some of the bigger hills. I could feel some fatigue building a little in my legs, but nothing that I could not manage. I had been eating hills for breakfast leading up to this race, so the big looming ridge line of ‘Shillhope Law’ did not phase me too much.
In not to short a time I was up and over and working my way down to Barrownburn Farm where the M6 halfway stop would have hot soup and my drop bag waiting for me.
It was on this last decent before M6 that the first factor went wrong for me. I took a weird footing where my heel came down much lower than my body anticapted and snapped the leg to its full extended position. Right after this, I felt a dull throbbing pain in the Plantaris right behind the knee. This was far from making me need to stop or limp, but I was a tad concerned and hope it would be shaken off and not develop into something more serious.
M6 was packed. Lots of now muddy sweaty runners with steam bellowing off them all sifting through bags of kit while munching on food. I could see a nice big open fireplace with a sofa and made the decision to avoid it like the plague. I instead grabbed a spot by a table and used said table as a chair to pull of my saturated shoes and socks.
I followed my checklist.
- Watch off and plugged into USB Charge Bank
- Shoes / Clothes off and towel dry
- Put on new base layers and flip flops (I never bothered with the flip flops, my feet were fine)
- Change Batteries in Head Torch ready for evening.
- Top up Tailwind / Water and add to Vest
- Add 7x Energy Bars o Vest
- New socks and change into Altra King MT for the coming mudfest.
- Pack and Watch Back on
- Eat! (Here I had some soup, ambrosia creme rice and McCoys Salt and Vinegar crisps in the space of 5 minutes).
Note: if I do this race again, I am not going to bother with the clothes change, maybe socks, but that’s it. These checkpoints are a complete time sync, I did well to get in and out, but you really need to watch yourself.
After leaving I walked for a while as I was stuffed with food. I got the idea to not run from another chap I met on the road leading away from the farm. I think his name was Neil, I can’t recall now, but a lovely man – big beard and a consultant for the NHS (you know who you are). We started to run again once we had digested our food. I am sure it might have lost a little time from this, but banking all that lovely energy was bound to be pay off later in the race.
I was also aware that I had just crossed the threshold. After leaving M6 you really have to finish the race. From M6 a DNF will mean a lift in a vehicle back to Ingram, but after this juncture you entering terrain mostly inaccessible to vehicles. The brilliant folks of North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team would find a way to get you back to safety, but you would have a wait on your hands while they get to you first.
After a while the road ended and we were back on the hills again and onto M7. My leg was still nagging me and getting louder. I was just going to have to live with that. At this point I deployed my first psychological trick of ‘it could be worse, it could be X..’, you basically think of something much worse than what is currently bothering you. You then try to muster a feeling of gratitude that you’re not suffering with the more grievous situation. I thought of a broken ankle, a real nasty one where you cannot even put weight on your leg. This worked and my perspective changed to seeing things as really not to bad.
I then came across the hut at around the 30 mile point. A look at my watch showed it was around 3pm and would be getting dark soon, so this would be an ideal opportunity to put an extra layer on and have my head torch deployed.
Things were a bit of a blur here until I hit Windy gale / M9 where some Marshall’s were filing everyone’s water up and pointing us into the right direction. Up to this point I had been going solo and it was actually really nice. Don’t get me wrong I like others company, but I love the feeling of it being just you and raw nature all around. Especially when its night, foggy and you’re warm in your gear with food in your belly. I did run sections here, but occasionally I remembered that one trip could result in me being down and with no one around to assist, this had me instead do a slow ultra style run with long arms waggling back and forth – it was also kinder on my leg.
From there I eventually reached the approach to the Cheviot (largest mountain in the ranged) and teamed up with some others on route.
I had it in mind that the trip up and down the Cheviot was near the end of the race. This section of the course is paved with flag stones the whole way and its a very mild climb to the top. I passed other runners coming back down again and we exchanged pleasantries.
The climb to the Cheviot almost felt like a nice easy closing to what was a very difficult route. I almost remember there being fairy lights dotted around to make things feel light-hearted, in fact carol singers giving out mulled wine to the runners would have been apt, but I know that was not the case, its just that it was so much easier than what had come before.
Naturally the good times did not last and I had been very wrong about a near ending. A cruel twist was coming in the form of more bogs, in fact some of the shitiest bogs through out the whole race. Well actually, saying that, they were all pretty shitty. I can never remember finding any nice or cute bogs, just shit bogs. Maybe its more that these were bogs + fatigue = shit bogs.
I think it was Comb Fell where we hit a special sort of hell. This was just a series of trying to figure out ways to navigate over gaping holes, where some were just very slidey mud and others you get a special prize of legs being swallowed up to your knees (or hips if you were really lucky). I remember thinking to myself, “WTF, water should run down hills!!! How can there be large pools of water going up a bloody hill!”. I was not alone, everyone around me was cussing and swearing at the bogs.
At this point I deployed the special weapon. My special weapon was a playlist on my phone, trigged to start by holding down a button. It would then random play songs from a playlist full of eighties classics. We are talking really cheesy easily digested stuff here, you don’t want to be listening to Leonard Cohen when trying to find the motivation to hoof it up a muddy hill.
My next mistake was on it’s way, thankfully the last one.
I was tired and I turned into a sheep (not a Goat). I was tracing the steps of another runner who looked confident, yet in reality it was the blind leading the blind and we got both became lost. I think it was near “Standrop Rigg”. We had to cut back through this field of heather which was like walking on 10 stacked up mattresses with the occasional hole full of ankle gnashing rocks. This must have added about an hour to my already ballooning finish time. To be honest though, I had long stopped caring about time or place of order at this point, it was all about finishing this now and bringing it home.
I just wanted to get back now. My leg was hurting a fair amount, and would likely have been much worse without the Ibuprofen I had dropped at M6. I actually started to fantasize about tarmac at this point, lovely flat predicable tarmac – ooohhhh! In fact, screw that, I would be happy with a nice lovely gravel path, in fact anything , anything at all, but not more bloody bogs or bumpy ankle turning rocky moorland.
As with all things, that section and patch of darkness came to pass. That was my second psychological trick I kept up my sleeve, “this too will pass”, everything eventually comes to pass, unless your in some sort of purgatory hell – I think muddy bogs at night where you can’t see more than 4 foot in front from your torch lighting up the fog, is a good example of a purgatory hell.
I hobbled up the last hill (Dunmoor) and down again and back into Ingram.
Five of us grouped up at the end. I remember one guy being at the back and a little worse for wear. Part of me felt I should be turning around to pep talk him a bit more and see where I could help, but I honestly did not have the spare energy left, everything was on keeping me moving forward. I did keep an eye on him though and made sure he never fell behind, so I was not a complete loss to my fellow man.
We all got back in 17:02 hours to the finish at 23:06 at night.
I was met by my lovely wife and daughters who were a super sight for sore eyes. Bless them, they had some hot milk and a blanket ready for me, but I passed on those and had them get me back to the little cottage we had rented, as I could feel the cold and the shuddering starting to kick in.
I shortly afterwards collapsed asleep on the sofa, which was a shame as I would have loved to have watched the others coming in. I know some folks were out there battling until 6am, spending the full 24 hours at it. The next day I could see runners hobbling around near the village hall, looking completely drained.
I think of these folks are the true hero’s of these events, those that spend practically all night battling their own demons in the darkness to eventually hobble over the line exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, the podium finishers are amazing, but for me it’s the folks really against the odds that come in with nothing left after a night of doubt and darkness who sing to my heart.
So now it’s Thursday evening and almost a week after the event. I feel sore, but I am fixing up fairly well. It looks like the leg was nothing to serious, but a gentle jog later next week will be the arbiter of that.
The Goat was an immense experience with lots of depth and weight. The kind of experience you really want from an event like this, even though you would not expect in delivered in such a harsh form, but those highs and lows, the lovely folks I met on the way (If only I remembered all the names), all made this and unforgettable experience. Coldbrew events were right, the Cheviot Goat is not just an ultra, it’s an expedition.
On that note, I need to give props to Coldbrew Events , Montane and the amazing North of the Tyne mountain rescue folks and their super keen dogs. Also my misus for being so patient during all my training runs and Coach Michelle for helping to build me up from a dodgy hipped ultra casualty in the making to someone it was a good bet would finish the event, and even possibly do quite well (next time!).
So now would be a good time to ask the question ‘Would I do it again?’.
Well if not, only because I want to do the Montane Spine Challenger next, which falls a month
before after. Physically I think I could recover enough in this window, so its not so much physical aspect, its more the financial and needing to travel up’north twice in a short period, while having a young family and job to do.
I will definitely return to do the Goat again though, its won a very special place in my heart.