Well, I’d trained hard and out plenty of time in on the legs. I’d studied the course maps and got myself a fantastic set up and support crew on board, so the adventure began.
Now the clue was in the name,
The Great Barrow Challenge, as these races were far from the ordinary road marathon most people partake in. Seven different courses in all, each course marked out with colour coded round stickers at junctions and significant point. There were no marshals’, other than on a couple of strategic busy junctions and the onus is on the runner to navigate round with the help of a map and markers and gpx downloads. Yes some did get a bit of track, the course director and Event medic drove around the course and Checkpoints to see all was well. Each Checkpoint took the runners numbers and had radio contact so they had an idea roughly where people where on the day.
There were 4-5 checkpoints per marathon, so runners needed to carry water. Each checkpoint not only took your number but checked on your well-being and fitness to continue. Over the 10 days there were 48 checkpoint sites, plus several extra water stations, all manned by volunteers. Myself, Gemma Ward and Angie Clarke all did checkpoint duties.
The checkpoints went through 24 slabs of cheese which had been cut up into over 4200 cubes, 433 packets of salty crisps, 96 large bags of jelly babies, 30 water melons, 192 1ltr bottles of Coke, 18 1ltr bottles of squash and 2400 litres of water (plus additional refills) and not a plastic cup was used or thrown. In addition to this the fantastic volunteers produced ice pops, cake and other delights to keep us moving. The whole event had a festival and family feel to it.
Day One and I ran the toughest of the routes and to be honest thought what the hell have I got myself into! The course went through woodland (yes the shade was lovely, road where the temperatures went up to 33 degrees and though corn fields and bramble paths. I ran in a group for the first half, then I panicked at one point as I could see no one in front or behind, but then I came across a guy who was backtracking to check the route. We were on course and stuck together till the end, it was nice to have company. Prior to this id had a few dark moments! My legs were tingling from cuts and scratches and it was only day One! I came in on schedule and felt strong with no blisters and still a full set of toe nails. The hardest part was achieving drinking 2 litres of water to keep hydrated ready for the next day, I’d already drank 4 litres whilst running. A massage and cool off in the Unicorn pool and I felt great.
Day Two and I was awake feeling fresh and ready to go. My legs woke up after 3 miles and I ran the whole day with a woman for Weston-Super-Mare. Today’s course was road and trail, but the trails were hard and rutted and very sandy which did not prove easy to run on, but better than the previous day. My feet were not causing too many serious issues and my strategy to stop and stretch my toes every 6 miles worked. It was uplifting to see Gemma at two Checkpoint stations and this energised me. Now why I though Suffolk was flat I don’t know but this course certainly proved it most definitely was not. Again, Miss consistency I came in on target and had completed a steadily paced marathon. Only one tiny blister which was easily sorted, a massage and a lovely meal meant I was fuelled up ready for day three.
Day Three was all on roads and again I ran with someone the whole day. I’d got to know some amazing runners, Andy Wilmot was completing his 756 marathon and he was no slouch! The guy who won each day, Adam Holland was knocking out fantastic times for any road marathon and held all the course records, all around the sub 3 hour mark. I found this day tough, my right leg felt bruised and had a red mark on it, my feet ached and the general doms from day one were catching up with me. Because the course was road there was very little shade and you found yourself marking off distance per telegraph pole of by tree shade. At times the heat blast off the tarmac was astounding causing the roads to melt in places. On finishing I went to see the medic about my leg as the red patch had become larger, more painful and swollen. I was advised to get to A & E for antibiotics as it looked almost certainly like Cellulitis. I elevated it overnight and iced it but the swelling and redness continued to increase along with the pain.
Day Four I didn’t run, but Gemma Ward took part in the ½ Marathon. I saw her off and then took myself to the A&E where they confirmed cellulitis and gave me antibiotics. I arrived back on site just in time to see Gemma finishing. It was a tough
course and she did extremely well to match her time for the road ½ marathon at Liverpool.
Day Five & Six I rested and covered a checkpoint. I spent time with seasoned Ultra runners and learnt so much about pacing, hydration and nutrition. It was certainly very interesting and will prove invaluable. These two days saw many other runners withdraw or be pulled out by the Medics suffering from heat exhaustion, sunstroke, cellulitis etc.
Day Seven I decided to have a test run. I managed 9 miles but the pain of the off road running was too much and I stopped.
Day Eight saw the arrival of Angie Clarke and day Nine was a fun day covering a Checkpoint. That evening and the following day I persuaded Angie to give it a go and take part in the final Marathon officially rather than just run with me to support me. I was going to treat it one checkpoint at a time, so worst case scenario it would be a long run. She agreed and entered.
Day Ten. The course for the final day was a road course and one I had previously run. Because of the heat and the England World Cup Football Match the organisers were offering runners the chance to start an hour early. We took this hoping to take advantage of a cooler start.
These endurance and ultra-events are so much more relaxed and Angie lined up at the start happy and relaxed. We ran a steady pace, with some run / walk sections uphill chasing the shade. I lied a few times telling her the checkpoint was just around the corner! Someone had moved some of the course stickers, turning them round or taking them out. Because we were at the front of a bunch I rang the course director who quickly got on the case and drove the course checking. Good job my map reading skills were up to scratch. It turned out a village bike race was on the same day and they were covering or moving our markers. They were warned!
We finished, a fantastic medal, massage and a few well-earned drinks watching the England game.
What an amazing 10 days. You really got to know runners and hear their stories. The organisers knew you by name and you genuinely felt part of a big running family.
On site camping, a bar, massage, ice bath, and food all made for a great time. The local pubs were great and a day trip to Newmarket was interesting. Loads to do. Would I come again, without question, they organise a full itinerary of events all year round based from this site.
Once I got over my disappointment of not completing 10 in 10 I feel on reflection I’ve not done bad! 4 marathons in 10 days is still an achievement and I know I could have done it. My legs were strong, it was picking up an infection that prevented me. It’s made me even more determined now, so all thoughts and training are now geared up for my next event!