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Breathing in the forest air, my heartbeat and footfall are settling into rhythm as I climb the trail... The autumnal canopy is scattering bronze, copper and golden jewels like a carpet beneath my feet. Ducking under a spiderweb laced with diamonds of morning dew, I see the stag as he scampers deeper into the forest.... My muscles and heart are pumped as I push up and out of the tree line and onto the ridge. Climbing up onto the top of the world, and a panorama I silently soak in. A buzzard lazily flaps away from the cairn. Now the fun begins as I run down the trail, twisting, turning, feeling every contour of the earth beneath the soles of my feet. A log to jump, a branch I scoop under, my feet going quicker, quicker, dancing down into the tree line as a fox darts across my path.... This blog is based on tales of my trail and ultra running exploits. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Hadrian's Wall Adventure

So it was a Friday afternoon in mid June and it was pissing down with rain as Mark aqua-planed his mini along the M54 in a desperate bid to get us to the train station on time. We made it with minutes to spare... apparently they had changed the road layout (I believe you Mark!).

Our plan was to traverse the country West coast to East coast via Hadrian's Wall path in just two days.

We hopped onto First Class (free - oh yeah!) already wearing our running gear with our minimal race packs bursting at the seams with the stuff we thought may just keep us alive on our traverse across the country.

I think it was at this point that I realised Mark had decided not to bother with a full waterproof and had settled for a windproof. Mark has special powers... when the Met office say "heavy rain" all weekend, he packs for "perfect sunny breezy running weather" and apart from a good dousing at day break on Day 1, "Mark the weather boy" was right!

Realising the local bus out to Bowness On Solway was to leave at exactly the same time as our train was due into Carlisle, we reluctantly hailed a taxi to take us to the village where we would begin our 84 mile, two day run.
What was even more annoying was that we caught up said bus and proceeded to follow it along the road. We fought off the urge to ask our driver to overtake and drop us at the next bus stop, as he was a friendly and informative driver... so we kissed goodbye to £30.

So we checked into our B&B and met our colourful landlady for the night. She showered us with compliments about what we were planning to do, told us how young and fresh faced we looked after checking out our ages and how fit we were... Then proceeded to call in her other half to look at my legs! Which he duly did much to his and my embarrassment, and Mark's amusment!

Off to the local for a pint and some food where I chicked Mark at pool, twice ;-)

Then down to recce the start of Hadrian's Wall way, if a little tipsy!

Wrong way!

Whilst getting an early night in prep for rising at day break, it struck me how unbelievably quiet Bowness was. A massive expanse of salt flats where river and sea merged, a small sleepy village and complete silence. So quiet that I could hear a daddy long legs fluttering against the outside of my double glazed window. With no light pollution for miles the day gently faded into night... a vast open landscape so unfamiliar to me, compared to the woodland greenery of Shropshire many miles south.

My alarm, aptly set to the sound of a curlew woke me at 4am and I tiptoed downstairs to see Mark tucking into his 3rd course of what appeared to be a business trip breakfast! I grabbed some toast and coffee then we stole out into the darkness (The landlord poked his head out as we were leaving to tell us he didn't get to bed because the cat had fallen asleep on him, so he couldn't move!! One spoilt cat?!).

That morning at Bowness was magical as the sun rose...

We were to cover approximately 42 miles on Day 1 and we were hoping to arrive at Once Brewed Youth Hostel by late afternoon giving us time to relax and recover... errr and drink of course!

The long straight road out of Bowness ended up seeing us get absolutely soaked. The heavens really did open as we struggled on towards Carlisle trying to stay positive. But soon enough it subsided and by about 7am jackets were off and the sun was shining. We also had the treat of seeing a tawny owl perched on a gate 4 foot away from us. It kind of gave us a wink then fluttered away!

The next delight was the randy bull and the crazy farmer (or was it vice versa?). As we waited for the cows to come in for milking the bull seemed to be humping them one by one! Followed by a very friendly wild looking farmer, a cross between Billy Connelly and a long haired Mr Bean.

The miles went by and we were both running comfortably and easily, relaxing into our efficient ultra type gait. Although Mark is generally quicker than me, we have ended up running various ultras together unplanned, due to similar pace. One of the reasons I asked him along on the adventure. I couldn't cope with having to chase somebody for 80 odd miles!

We decided upon Checkpoint 1 as a costa coffee from a Shell garage in Carlisle.... 15 miles in.

The sun was shining as we followed the river through Carlisle and out into the beautiful countryside again. It was evident to us by now how clearly marked the trail was although there was no sign of any wall!!

The route was perfectly tended to throughout, with a range of flag stones and steps, ant-corrosion mats and bark chippings. But the most beautiful running surfaces were the metre wide mown strips that were in virtually every field. Who would have thought Hadrian was into Brazilians! :-D


Although be warned... it was on such a manicured pathway that my right foot disappeared into a hole resulting in a face plant. Mark thought I'd "Just collapsed" really!?

Basically the first three quarters of Day 1 became a "Hadrian's Tea Shop Tour" A blissful sunny day taking in the sights and reading the history of the various forts... and running of course!

Stall On The Wall!

Running was easy and comfortable when we met a lovely couple who were travelling the opposite way, at our spontaneously designated Checkpoint 2. 

They kindly took a shot and gently advised us that we had some tough "craggy bits" to negotiate ahead before we reached our beds for the night at the Once Brewed Youth Hostel. And although we had covered over half the distance, we had not dealt with half the day's effort.

They were not bloody wrong!!

Quite soon after this we started to climb up into the hills. This was what it was all about! I ran up a long tough hill pushing my heart rate up and working my legs on the climb, something I would normally avoid during any ultra distance, but we were both hungry for the height and the views to come!

On Top Of The World!!!

So it got steeper as we became more tired.. The terrain was by no means technical but the craggy landscape was vast and we had a long way to go. The miles got slower and there were no more little tea shops.. 

We were both at that familiar stage in an ultra where little things become difficult, confusion sets in and funny things happen such as unclipping your back pack strap but your bum bag falls off?! That sort of thing!
We both took on the ultra stagger... that drunken veering off the path that is always worth a giggle. Probably not the best time to mess around daring each other to look over the sheer drops of the crags...
Where was this hostel? After studying the map several times we realised we had to climb over the hills in the distance to reach our digs. So climb we did and digs we reached!

Descending down to civilisation after miles of steps, stiles and walls was a godsend.. 

I was so very thankful for the pint(s) and pie I devoured at Twice Brewed! 

With little signal and very tired legs I crashed after setting the curlew to wake me at 4am...

By 4.30am Sunday morning we were climbing back onto the ridge to rejoin the Wall. It was one of the most beautiful magical sunrises I've ever seen. Perfectly timed as we dropped down into Sycamore Gap

We soon warmed up and got back into an easy running pace enjoying the dips and troughs of the craggy landscape before we started to drop down towards sea level

Of all the prep and planning for the weekends adventure that we did, this was the part where we f***ed up. It was early sunday morning we were both craving real food, a proper breakfast and all I had was Halva and Cashew Nut Butter sachets and my little carb junkie friend just had gels and energy bars.

Now I can quite happily trot along with little fuelling as I'm pretty much fat adapted... Since I changed my diet to low carb/paleo and do the majority of my raining in an aerobic state my body seems to be happy burning fat and I don't seem to bonk anymore. Not to say I wasn't craving bacon, sausage and eggs!

Mark was having a bad time though, lacking energy and verging on the mother of all bonks... Luckily for us it was downhill and the beauty of the scenery kept us from throwing our toys out of the pram!

Finally after 6 hours on our feet, we found somewhere open for breakfast and it was goooooood!

Mark's t-shirt was not so apt at this stage...

With a Moroccan lamb pastry baton and a very apt packet of crisps stashed for later, we were back on the trails feeling refreshed!

We ticked the miles off through beautiful countryside, rolling fields of waving barley and many more manicured mown strips in the fields. I was getting tired, sore and had been having knee issues so we walked the ups, jogged the downs and mixed it up on the flats.

Day 2 was Hadrian's Power Hike.... although towards the end of the day it was minus the power and more of a shuffle. We were runners turned ramblers... I respect the rambling fraternity more than ever after Day 2 of Hadrian's Wall. 

We had set off at sunrise because we had a pre-booked train to catch home from Newcastle. If we didn't catch the 17:39 then we would need to stay away another night which was not an option. So throughout Day 2 we were clock watching, pushing on at a steady pace and trying not to stop at every cafe!

After running with a local lady aged 70 ish at Heddon for a while, we discovered that Wallsend was about 8 miles further than we had estimated. And that was 8 miles PAST the train station. A DNF was looking like a very strong possibility! 

The last 10 miles into and through Newcastle were all tarmac and although we had some nice river views... I was pretty much broken. My feet were tender and sore and my knee was swollen so we power walked the last few miles stopping briefly for an ice cream....

As the tarmac went on and on and on and on.... I muttered to Mark "God this map is so slow!" to which he replied "I don't think it's the map that is slow Em ;-)"....
Many hours on my feet appeared to have distorted any logic relating to maps and their scales!

We climbed up the final bank to the train station and stopped our Garmins. 83 miles over 2 days. We would never have made it to Wallsend and back so we called it a day!

What an incredible and amazing weekend... Perfect company, scenery and memories to cherish forever.... 
And my Peroni tasted gooooooood!

Below are the GPS tracks and short MOVIE!!  of our adventure....

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