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My ultra marathon experience

Tom Blackett   |  04/09/2017

This post is long overdue!  It’s time I share my thoughts and experience on the Grim Reaper Ultra Marathon.  I should firstly say that I’m thrilled to have my life back.  I’m not normally an especially social person, my mates often pull my leg for being boring… but even by my standards this year has been especially PG.  Between February 13th and July 29th my ultra marathon training was ALL consuming.  I went out maybe 4 or 5 times, and even then there was no debauchery because I always had a horrendously long run planned for the following day.

July 28th arrives and I have everything prepped for the race.. I have 3 great friends who’ve agreed to support me, along with a whole host of strange running gear and nutrition.  I’ve run over 600 miles in preparation, lost over a stone of weight that I didn’t really want to lose and and have watched hours and hours of YouTube advice from a variety of accomplished ultra marathoners.

At 9am the gun goes.  I have 10×10 mile laps to run through the British countryside and the venue is beautiful. The first 10 miles come easy.. you could say I’m feeling cocky, everyone is in good spirits and the atmosphere is entirely positive.  The second lap is the same, after 20 miles I’m good as gold, the energy gels are slipping down easily, my stomach feels good and I’m still smiling!

Lap 3 arrives.. and by the end I’m feeling pain.  I have a headache and my right foot is aching, the flexing of my metatarsals have never been more obvious and it’s clear that I’m dehydrated.  I nail a few litres of water and take a couple of ibuprofen, receive a slap on the back from my support team and stuff a few bananas down – they don’t taste good.  Lap 4 you could say I’m starting to feel the scale of the task ahead, at this point I turn the volume up on my iphone and stuff more food and electrolytes down to take my mind off the task at hand.  By the 40 mile checkpoint I’m seeing most of the competitors finish – they’ve wisely entered the 40 mile event.. I’m jealous but remain determined.  I decide not to stop and run straight past my support team shouting “I can’t stop! Catch me up!”.  They laugh, and a few hundred metres later bring my supplies along with a few words of motivation, “don’t stop you pussy” something like that. I must say my support team were amazing throughout, they were perfectly on point with encouragement, nutrition and supplies and it really did keep me in good spirits. Thankyou Chris, Josh and Andy!

I start lap 5…

I finish lap 5 wet, it’s been raining but I’m thrilled to have run 50 miles, almost double the distance of my longest ever run.  However, the aching in my metatarsals has magnified and I’m sporting some impressive blisters that span the width of my feet, on both feet.  I do my best to ignore the pain but it’s easier said than done!  I take a quick break in the tent, apply some blister protection and catch up with my support team who force feed me a few prawn cocktail pringles, nutella wraps and ibuprofen.  “Right we’re going to bed now buddy” Chris says to me.  “We’ve laid out everything you need for the night” whilst he passes me my head-torch looking somewhat concerned.  Josh and Andy give me a nod whilst retreating to their sleeping bags.  Another 50 miles left.

Lap 6 and it’s dark.   The atmosphere has changed and it becomes increasingly obvious how few people are left running. It’s that classic English weather.. it’s spitting on me and I’m either staying dry in my waterproof and overheating, or I’m getting wet without my waterproof and feeling chilly – nice.  I’m starting to feel a bit emotional to be honest. There are no cheering crowds or phone calls from mum.  It’s just me vs my thoughts and 50 remaining miles.  I force food, energy gels and electrolytes down – I’m still moving and feeling OK. “Keep going” is my only thought.

I finish lap 6 and it really is pitch black now, if my torch runs out I’m screwed. Also, the blisters on my feet have taken a turn for the worst and I need to see a medic.  I quickly pick up my supplies, the lads are asleep. I hastily make my way over to the first aid tent where I have my blisters strapped and a talking to from a rather weary looking medic.  Sitting down feels unbelievably good. It’s almost amusing thinking about how far I have left to run. I know the next 40 miles is going to be a serious test of willpower.  I change my socks, force some more gels down (which now taste absolutely awful) and hobble off towards my seventh lap.

Lap 7.  Everything hurts like never before, my ankles and feet are indescribably achy, but I can still move! My music isn’t giving me the same boost as it was a few hours ago but I grind on a little teary eyed, whilst visualising finishing.  I wince my way through the lap and check in at the 70 mile way point – I’ve now been racing for 17 hours and 37 minutes.  I limp to my tent where the lads are still sleeping and run through the same ritual for the 8th time: grab my supplies, take some ibuprofen, force some more food down and get moving.

Lap 8.  I’m feeling shit, but I think I can do this.  The sun starts to rise which gives me a kick in confidence and makes my lip tremble.  Unfortunately, the adrenaline is short-lived, I make it to 74 miles and my body is failing me.  I can’t walk properly, my ankles and my feet are at their wits’ end. I try and ignore the pain and hobble on but by 76 miles I can barely move.  My initial tactics of reducing the pace when feeling beaten up no longer worked, I could reduce the pace no further and it takes me about 45 minutes to move the next 2 miles to the 78 mile checkpoint where I collapse in a heap unable to move any further.

Although my initial feeling was one of disappointment this was soon overridden by happiness.  Before entering this event I feared failure, but in hindsight I feel I feared not giving my best and quitting early – something I know with absolute confidence I didn’t do.  I moved to the point where I could no longer move and it was an experience I’ll never ever forget.  I believe this is what life is all about, seeking profound and unforgettable experiences that strengthen your character.  The fact that I was rendered completely immobile and was in serious pain for the next 2 days doesn’t matter, I’m now fighting fit again.  The fact I lost earnings because I couldn’t work properly for a week after doesn’t matter, I’ve got enough money to live comfortably.  What matters is that I truly gave something my absolute best, which is something none of us do enough – myself included.

If I can offer any readers one piece of advice I would say leave your comfort zone every now and then and try something horrible.  You may discover something about yourself you never knew existed.

Hope you enjoyed reading!