Race report on the 12 Labours of Hercules ultra marathon
A thick head and sleeping through the alarm gave the morning a more frantic start than planned.
Peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches and a slightly experimental isotonic mixture (fresh lemon and lime juice, salt and bicarbonate of soda) were thrown in a bag and dashed over the moor to Castleton in Derbyshire.
Nerves had been increasingly bothersome, probably because 78 miles and 17,000 ft were significantly further and higher than I’d ever run, so when Richard said “go” I felt relief more than anything else.
Hill training had been fairly elusive over the past few months, south London hardly being famous for lofty peaks. Loping straight up a hill for labour 9, I caught the leader of this small group (I chose this one to start as most were doing others) about 3 miles in and had a very pleasant chat before leaving him behind near the top of the final ascent.
Everything was going very well, I felt like I had plenty in the tank and it wasn’t too hot. So it was back to base and straight back out.
After about 8 hours my big toes were complaining about the rocky descent from Mam Tor, a quick bit of toenail trimming and tightening of laces eased the pressure but the damage had been done. It’s taken 10 months to grow these nails back!
Half way through labour 6 I started feeling very weak, which worried me as there was no warning at all and there were over 40 miles still to go. A good dunk in the river at Edale, followed by 20 minutes sitting in a field emptying my bumbag of calories chased down with another half litre of water and I was off, fully charged.
I learnt my lesson and took full advantage of pizza, samosas plus my own bag of food at each visit back to base, often forced down. Hills need fuel!
Labour 11 was 5.5 mile out and back along the Limestone Way, with a burger served by a friendly group of cadets half way. I was joined by a friendly scouser doing his first ultra, who switched from walking to running as I overtook him – nothing like a bit of competition to get the legs going! It was dark by the time I got back to base, 12 hours in, which made the descent of Cave Dale more hairy than necessary.
I had a feeling labour 7 was going to be annoying so thought I’d get it done next. My hunch wasn’t wrong and I took several wrong turns and an unexpected (but correct) route through a cement factory before I powered past two others to the 600ft checkpoint.
Back at base I had another southern fried chicken wrap, loads of coke and dashed out on labour 12. This was billed as mostly road and easy to navigate, both not entirely true! There was a real kicker of a hill about quarter of the way too. I was back at base 3 1/4 hours later for my longest half marathon time ever!
Quick fuel and coke top up then out for my penultimate leg, 2.5 miles up Win Hill and back. By this point sore feet and more solitude than anticipated left me power walking most of this, lashing rain at the peak didn’t help.
The last labour was a cheeky 4 miler, on road, with a pretty descent ascent. This was a great way to finish and I got up to a satisfying clip on the way back to finish in 5th place in 22 1/4 hours.
I expected to be broken by the end, but apart from losing a couple of toenails, two small blisters and minor dehydration (despite drinking over 20 litres of water), I felt in great shape. Swimming, cycling, speed work and plenty of core and upper body sessions had kept everything working well with none of the aches and pains I’d previously considered a normal part of long distance running.
As expected Richard and Wendy were super organised, incredibly encouraging and downright nice all the way through. I tip my hat to another great race and I’ll definitely be doing more beyondmarathon events (already signed up for the October dusk till dawn!).
Next up is the CCC round Mont Blanc at the end of August.