A Long Way at the Back
On the 2nd April I ran 50 miles from Liverpool back to Manchester. It hardly seemed real for the days afterwards, until I tried to walk down the stairs..
Training had started back in December, and had taken up a big part of my time and focus for 4 months. I’d managed 3 weeks of 70-80 miles in the last month, a 28 miler and a couple of back to back 20 mile runs. Maybe a little too much, as my calves started playing up just as I went into taper
Walking to the start line at 5am it all felt surreal. The only people up at that time were wearing lycra and tiny rucksacks, or in taxis returning from clubs.
The weather was atrocious. It was raining heavily at the start and continued for the first couple of hours, until it turned to snow. I think there were 2 dry hours in the whole day. I lost feeling in my hands early on, and in my feet around halfway, after miles of cold muddy puddles.
As well as the physical distance, this was very much a journey through time for me. I think running 50 miles is always going to be emotional at times, but this was probably the most personal race I’ve ever done.
We started in Liverpool, where I used to go shopping on Saturday afternoons as a teenager. Most of the first 2 sections were through urban areas, and a couple of times I had to take my maps out to check where I was going. I got a little frustrated by the man running behind me who caught me up each time I stopped to check and waited for me to figure the route out. One time I missed a turn, and he tutted at me when we had to turn back! At least it gave me some encouragement to speed up, which I needed as the cut offs for the first two checkpoints were tighter than I would have liked.
After about 10 miles we passed Speke, and the pharmaceutical company where both my granddads worked. Then on to Hale where one of my granddads used to take us out for lunch when he was babysitting. Next we ran along the river through Widnes towards Spike Island. I still regret not getting tickets for the Stone Roses gig there.
On the other side of the river I could see Runcorn, where I grew up. I picked out the church where I went to brownies. The flat where my godmother lived was the tallest building in the area at the time, but today there are lots of apartment blocks along the water. I spotted the castle which I used for my GCSE artwork, and which my dad painted years before for the landlord of the pub next door. I think that’s how he met my mum, who was the barmaid. I also saw the green roof of the theatre where I went with my parents a few years ago, just before they moved away.
Then towards Warrington and past the Ferry tavern, where I whiled away many hours in the beer garden in my late teens, and crashed mum’s car into a post hidden in long grass the car park.
I was getting more and more cold and my hands were painful, swollen and a bit blue. A quick change of top at CP4, and I stopped shivering. I had to get one of the volunteers to dress me though, as my hands just wouldn’t work. This illustrated just how important it is to carry full kit on a race such as this. I just wish I’d tried harder to stop the rain getting in the sleeves and neck of my jacket from the start. I also wished I had waterproof gloves (later I saw photos of the winner running with crisp packets on his hands and wished I’d been clever enough to think of this.)
From that point the ground underfoot turned into a mix of mud and puddles. A bit unexpected as all had been dry underfoot the day before. I reluctant to run through many puddles, as I couldn’t see how deep they were. I knew Andrew and Claire were waiting for me at checkpoint 5, and I was equally pleased to with their support and a dry change of gloves, socks and trail shoes. However, whilst I was glad of the additional grip, my tight calf didn’t appreciate the flatter shoes and it started to hurt. By this point the tape was starting to wash off too.
There was an annoying detour on this next stage, which added distance and made reaching the checkpoint 6 in time a struggle. I was very pleased to see Sarah’s smiling face, and the enthusiastic support of Dawn and Paul. It was a little disappointing at this stage to find out I was last, despite overtaking 5 people so far. The dreadful conditions had led to a large number of dropouts.
The next section was most painful (calf and a new pain in my knee), but also the point where I started to catch up with other runners. I knew there would be a few Chorlton Runners to cheer me on near checkpoint 7, and that kept me going. I first spotted Helen and Kate as I left the river, but didn’t recognise them at first as they were wearing so many layers. Then on to the checkpoint, where I heard the shouts and cowbells before I saw the supporters. I was overwhelmed to see everyone, but so tired by that point I’m not sure I said so properly. I knew I’d be walking much of the last section, so decided to put my waterproof trousers on. Unfortunately my hands were just not up to the task, and Kate and Claire had to pull them up for me.
The last section seemed to go on for ever, I was alternating running and walking, but the running wasn’t actually much faster by this point. I was very glad I’d recced it and knew the bridge I needed to cross or I would have worried I was lost. There were very few markers on this stretch. I crossed the bridge and thought I was almost there, until I passed a man in shorts and flipflops shouting that I only had about 2 miles to go. That was one of the lowest points, but I kept going. I heard Claire and Andrew shouting me from the other side of a car park. Then the final push into the rugby club, where I nearly lost a shoe running 500m around a waterlogged pitch. Someone very cruel designed the last bit of that route. Then across the finish line to my medal, about 8 minutes before the cut off time of 14 hours.
I’m never going to be a fast runner, but I’ve discovered that I enjoy the challenge of ultras, where (for most runners) the challenge is in completion rather than times. It shows that anyone can get a club record, as long as they are daft enough to run a very long way. And it shows what a different the support in this club can make.