So, Lockdown 2 is over, and the Tiers are now flowing. November Lockdown meant turning to virtual challenges again, but by my own rules I could not simply repeat tests and trials I had already undertaken in Lockdown 1.
But I found two medal challenges that met the criteria and tested me in new ways. I completed these challenges a few days apart on Thursday 26th November and Monday 30th November.
- Run of 6 – Cockbain Events – 26th November 2020
I medal from hard taskmaster Mark Cockbain is on the wishlist of many of the most addicted ultrarunners. His brutal events are notorious. His catchphrase is ‘DNF’. Run of 6 was at the light end of Mark’s spectrum, but it still had his stamp of starkness about it.
In Run of 6, you start at 6AM (or 6PM), and run 6 consecutive 6 mile runs on the hour. My attempt was on a bleak and Blair Witchy morning, first scraping the ice off the car before the two-mile drive to my start point on a cycle track through nearby woods. For this attempt I wanted traffic free, a fairly flat route, few gates and hinderances and somewhere to park the car so that I could use it as aid and recovery station between runs. My route was a 3 mile there and back to Calne with only dog walkers and cyclists to yawn at my repeat runs.
The nutritional challenge was a strong consideration. 5 minutes, in my view, is about right to refuel comfortably, reset the watch, swap around hat or gloves and start again. The risk of running quicker – if able – would be depleted energy combined with coldness from hanging around.
In the eventuality, I ran 54 – 54 – 56 – 56 – 56 – 56 with the only significant alarm at the end of run four when the early start caught up with me and I had a very painful gut. I stopped for a minute at the start of Run 5 to try and straighten it out, hoping it would pass. A minute I could make up, but if it took 4 or 5 that could scupper the whole plan.
I quickly made up the lost minute. Consequently, I finished this event strongly and feeling fully capable of another 6 miles. This surprised me, but then not many of my ultras are on the flat, so this easier terrain and sustainable pace, was a novelty.
2. Day Release – Beyond Marathon – 30th November 2020
November saw the cancellation of Escape from Meriden, a famous ultra that sees competitors start at the Meriden cross, near Coventry, at the centre of England and try to get as far away from it as possible in 24 hrs – As the Crow Flies (AtCF). In the backgrounder, The Crow is the named gaoler that you are escaping.
It isn’t an event I have looked at strongly because I hate running on busy A and B roads but when lockdown came, Day Release was announced as an alternative, and I decided to take it on, on my own terms. It all felt very relevant. After all, release from lockdown was on everyone’s minds.
For Day Release the premise of the event became ‘Run as far from your house as possible and return’ in 24hrs, medals graded by AtCF distances from home as follows. 15 miles, ‘On Remand’, 30 miles ‘Hard Time’ and 45 miles ‘Lifer’.
I went for Hard Time, considering that I would have to run a lot further to reach 30 AtCF miles if I stuck to my plan of avoiding busy roads.
This challenge focuses on route and nutrition planning. I’d need to know of any open shops en route, whilst preparing a fairly hefty pack that would allow me to survive the challenge without any exterior support. Taking these back roads blew out the luxury of fast food and warm takeaways that others had enjoyed.
I was also a little envious of the runner who had completed his miles on the nearby Fosse Way taking full advantage of Roman adroitness. But I live a few miles away from the Fosse Way, and the rules said I had to start from home.
The route I took went from Chippenham in Wiltshire to the village of Sherborne in Cotswold Gloucestershire, just shy of Bourton on the Water. It was 31 miles AtCF and I needed 76 miles to get there and back. It took me 16 hours in total. This was very steady progress, with more and more map reading checks as I became more tired. The thought of getting a wrong turn in mazy lanes at night was a continual worry and the night was a foggy deep black.
It was an atmospheric day. I found myself very attuned the cawing of the crows, rooks, ravens and magpies as I ran, especially a corvid chorus at dusk when a full murder of crows set in to roost.
I knew I was being watched.