30 Jun Nigel’s Return to The Wall

Our Nigel Adams likes a challenge. After a voyage of suffering and self-discovery run/walking 72 miles last year at “The Wall” in 2018, any sane person might have said enough’s enough….not Nigel. He was back a couple of weekends ago to take it all on again, supported by his lovely Mrs, Karen. Here’s the story in his own words….

THE WALL – 2019

It is nothing less than an epic adventure. Carlisle to Newcastle, coast to coast in just one day. You follow Hadrian’s Wall across the Pennines and run from sea level gaining over 3,200ft.  Its 72 miles of pure pleasure, in the wilds of Wall Country!

Let me say that the event is very well run. Marshaling and signage were excellent; I was never in any doubt about the route. The pit stops, of which there are now 5 are excellent, in terms of sustenance, information and medical support. Camaraderie along the way is a given, lovely people all doing the same thing and helping each other wherever possible.

The race starts in Carlisle at 7am on the Saturday morning and is followed by 6 legs, to be completed within 24 hours for one day “Experts”. There is now a 2 day option for “Challengers” and a team of 4 relay. If you want the real experience you need to take the “Expert” option.

  • Carlisle Castle to Lannercost Abbey at 15 Miles
  • Lannercost to Walltown Quarry at 24 Miles
  • Walltown to Bardon Mill at 32.5 miles
  • Bardon Mill to Hexham at 45 miles
  • Hexham to Newburn at 62 Miles
  • Newburn to Newcastle at 70 Miles

 

The first 15 Miles are flat along roads and country lanes. It is pretty easy going and it is good form to get this leg done as fast as possible to get some fast miles in the bag. Marvel at Lannercost Abbey and once you’ve fed, push on as soon as you can. The second leg starts to climb into the Pennines, but still mainly by country lanes and some small off road sections.  Once you reach Walltown Quarry (about three miles short of Cawfield) you’ve done a full marathon. You will find exposed sections of Hadrian’s wall all along the way, the history is all around you and it’s a pretty special place to run a race.

It is from here that you really start to climb into the off road country with some pretty steep climbs and fell running, starting with Whin Sill. The countryside is breath taking, try to enjoy it if you can, it will start to hurt round about now. This is a relatively short leg of about 8 miles to the half way point at Bardon Mill. If you are doing the two day challenge, it is here you will stop over in tented accommodation, in a field across from the pit stop. At the top of the Pennines, not far from Vindolanda which is worth a visit the next day if you get the chance.

Now you push on to Hexham where you find the biggest pit stop of the challenge. Everything you could possibly want is here and much more, including hot food. Like all the other pit stops you will find sandwiches, pasties, rolls, crisps, sweets, power drinks, water, oranges and more. Make sure you take plenty with you as you will need to eat on the go to keep up your energy levels. You can’t do this on gels alone. Plenty of portaloos are available and there is always plenty of toilet roll, only runners know how important this is.

Leaving Hexham in good time is essential, depending on your speed and the time used in pit stops for feeding and foot care, you are likely to spend some time in the dark. The rules state you must have a head torch or white light source and a red light at rear for safety on road sections. If you don’t finish by sun down (around 9:30pm) make sure you buddy up with other runners, no one wants to go through the dark section on their own. It will start to get light about 4am, so full dark is not too long and if you get a cloudless night, moonshine means it’s very seldom pitch black. The checkpoints and signage are brilliant. There is never a point at which you are ever in doubt about which way to go, even in full dark in the middle of a wood, white arrows on orange signs are always at head height and easily seen. This is the longest section, about 17 miles and although you are going downhill and largely back on the flat on roads it will really take it out of you. You will be pretty much all in by the time you get to Newburn. Your feet will hurt, however much time you have taken in pit stops to look after them, with just 8 miles left to go, they will be burning and sore and you will probably have a few blisters.

This last 8 miles is the longest of the lot and now you just want it to be over, the Millennium Bridge can’t come soon enough. Eventually you drop down on to the dual carriageway above the river, then after a mile or so you drop down onto the river with about 3 miles left. To start with you can’t see the famous bridges, but eventually you round a bend and there they are. All you have to do is get there, cross the bridge and the finishing line at HMS Calliope. As you do make sure you punch the finish and then get your medal and your picture taken, then head for the hall and the blessed seats, believe me by now, it’s amazing to take the weight off your feet. Now you get your real reward, the most wonderful chicken curry and rice. Be smug, be grateful and glad and go and celebrate the most fantastic achievement. 70 miles in one day across wall country.

If you’re supported by a friend they can bring you whatever you want to every pit stop, otherwise you will need to use the bag system so your stuff can follow you along the way. You will have to carry extra supplies on you, socks, talc, tape, Vaseline etc.. whatever you think you will need. Whichever way you do it, make sure you plan well so you can make sure you have what you need at every point in the race.

For me returning was about using experience from the previous year. I had no idea what I was doing and ended up physically broken for over 2 months with severe tendonitis in my right ankle, blisters on the balls of both feet and along the base of my right foot which took ages to heal. I also lacked energy and was slow over the moving phases ending up with an average pace of 17:30 min miles.

My plan was pretty simple this year. First because I pronate badly I needed to find the right shoe and support insoles to provide the support my feet so badly needed. Next I needed to ensure additional support for my ankle and instituted a new regime with KT tape. This along with new double layer socks and light talc kept my feet dry at all times. Finally I needed to eat far more food at the pit stops and throughout the actual race. An ultra is nothing like a marathon where the last thing you need is a full belly. In an ultra you need to eat at the pit stops and keep eating all the way through the race.

It all paid off. Although the total time was slightly longer, my moving time was far quicker ending up with an average pace of 14:08 min miles. The extra time was used in pit stops, removing tape, drying feet, applying new tape, using talcum powder lightly, Vaseline on my toes, new socks, swapping between two pairs of shoes so they never got clammy and damp. So apart from the normal aches and pains, a couple of tiny blisters, by day three I was largely recovered with none of the problems I had the year before.  The following Saturday, happy if a bit tired I completed a parkrun, to the welcome praise of more than one fellow runner.

Its hard, its knackering, but it is the most fantastic achievement, go run The Wall guys, it’s an epic adventure!

 

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