Repeat after me: I am an ultra athlete and I feel no pain…

 

…well almost…

This blog post is being written from the inflatable bed where I have taken up residence since attempting the “epic foot race” that is the Ring of Fire. As I write Rachel is shuffling about trying not to stay still long enough to seize up, but we’ll have more of that later…let’s start at the beginning…

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Having spent the night before sitting in the middle of Rachel’s living room surrounded by socks, jelly babies, lucozade, and running kit galore, we awoke after a night of race fear, fueled dreams, ready to face the next few days with as much positivity, energy and mind trickery as we could possibly muster. After donning our ultra running disguises and badly briefing our support team with vague information about what we might want, somewhere, sometime, we set off to Holyhead.

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Where we got ready…

Image…we got steady…

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…and generally hung about hoping that we were suitably fitting in amongst the super fit athletes we were surrounded by. Our start tactics were to avoid the heros at the front, not get in anyones way and make it over the start line before anyone noticed we were impostors and asked us to leave. We were successful and off we set.

We were quickly at the back (where we planned to be) and were missioning through Holyhead at the speed of light (we later worked this out to actually be 4 miles per hour average). We hit the first checkpoint with a minute to spare, grabbed a cookie and made it across the stretch of open water with minimal/no incidences of drowning.

Most of the first day went by with waves of ups and downs, cliff tops, beaches, a hideous pebbly breakwater and the smell of almonds (does anyone know what plant smells of almonds?). At checkpoint 3 and 4 we were 2 hours ahead which spurred us on faster and stronger and in amazingly high spirits considering we were soaking wet due to the wind, rain and sea fog.

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At Wylfa power station we were met by our fantastic support team who bought us goodies and smiles but we couldn’t stop long as we still had 8miles of tough ground to go and darkness was looming…

All continued to go well until we hit cow land. Now this wasn’t your usual cow meeting experience, these cows were not only located on narrow cliff top paths but had had a day of runners worrying them. After an initial stampede left us weary we came across a very upset group of cows just as it was time to get our head torches out. We backed off and ended up having to climb up a steep bank of bracken and sneak round them. As inconvenient as this detour was, we were happy to survive the wrath of the evils cows and carry on, on our slightly less merry (but merry all the same) way.

The end of day one, in the dark, on the vaguely marked paths, on the edge of cliffs is part of the race I have omitted from my memory and that is where I wish it to remain.

BUT after the bit we shan’t mention we got to Amlwch with 20mins to spare and in great spirits. Many of the race crew and organisers had waited to see us in and such a positive reception really made us feel like we’d achieved something just to get to that point. So with 32miles down we wound down with a gin and tonic and tucked into the amazing lasagne that our SUPER support crew had cooked and left for us. We were quickly into bed and then quickly out of it again at 4.30 to begin preparing for the next leg of our challenge, 64 miles. Now our training had focused on getting us through the first day, which we achieved, and then to see how far we could go from then until we broke. We set off, slightly achey but not too bad, and managed to maintain a relatively good but definitely slower pace.

The stretch of coastal path between Amlwch and checkpoint one at Treath Lligwy was stunning and both Rachel and myself really enjoyed it. We were however much slower than the previous day and were falling behind to the extent that we hit the first check point an hour behind, well and truly thinking we would be timed out. However when we got there we were told that everyone was an hour behind, and that we were not last so we could carry on. This was just the news we needed and we carried on with a new found energy.

Our progress was slow, but it was progress all the same and much more than either of use expected. However as we approached checkpoint two at Red Wharf Bay it was clear that we were not going fast enough to complete in the allotted time and we were officially timed out of the race. Our plan was to carry on as far as we could even if we were timed out as we had received a lot of support from many of our friends, family and colleagues who had donated to our charities and we were of the opinion that until we reached £1200 worth of pain we would not stop.

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£1200 of pain came sooner than expected for me as I had twinged my Achilles and it was now not only very painful but making a disgusting crackling sound and feeling every time I moved it (I later found out that these symptoms are classic tendinitis thanks to conveniently bumping into another runner with a phd in sports physiology). So Red Wharf Bay was the end for me, but luckily Rosie a member of our support crew was able to come and step in and join Rachel to see how far they could get to.

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Rachel did extremely well, boxed up her pain and managed to march on for another 25 miles all the way to Llanfair PG. Where it got dark, began to rain and she had most definitely reached well over £1200 of pain. ImageImage

We spent what would have been day 3 of the race sleeping and watching the finishers coming in where they had started two days previously, looking remarkably well and fresh in some cases. It was so inspiring to see the finishers being clapped and welcomed in by the race organisers and fellow race drop outs and not see a single ego. Everyone had taken on a great challenge and had enjoyed it no matter what the outcome.

If I was to sum up the event and our journey leading up to it I would like to see it as a starting point to see where we could go and what we could actually achieve if we applied ourselves. We joked on the first day that this race was just training for next year, but in a way it will be training for a lot of things. Most importantly we have succeeded in raising £1,213.64 which will be split between two charities close to both mine and Rachel’s hearts.

The 50% going to Tools for Self Reliance will be spent on around 13 kits including tools and training which will be sent out to Sierra Leone. 13 such kits would be helping up to 130 people to earn a living to support themselves and their families.

The other half of the money raised will be going to the charity MacIntyre’s Womaston School (where I work as a teacher) which is a residential special school for 11-19 year olds with severe learning disabilities. The money we raise will be spent on an iPad and communication aids to enable students with communication difficulties to be able to communicate their needs, make decisions and express themselves more effectively. As well as providing a valuable teaching medium for us to use to teach skills and concepts.

Our fund raising site will be open for another couple of months so if you would like to make a donation please follow this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=rachelholly&isTeam=true

 

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Finally we would both like to say a HUGE thank you to Ella, Judy, Rosie, Ollie, OD and Norman for being a fantastic support crew and to everyone who sponsored us, encouraged us or wished us well on our way, we are so grateful. A thank you also has to go out to the race directors, organisers and helpers who were all so encouraging and supportive of us and all other competitors, as well as creating a really great and enjoyable atmosphere that we hope many will want to return to.

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