“It was like a 40 mile Tough Mudder…”
Race Review: A Coventry Way
If you CBA reading this whole tale then the short version is: Yes, I finished. 40 miles of mud and swearing, to be rewarded with a cloth patch and a potato.
2018 was going to be the Year of the Ultra for me (and running sidekick Lisa). We ran a couple of them (ultras) in our training for the Coventry Way 40 mile circular, and were as prepared as we could be for the big day itself.
By the time 4:45 am arrived on 8th April (my alarm), I just wanted to run the bastard thing. I was seeing the little green route markers everywhere I went and for the life of me couldn’t remember where this idea came from and why I agreed to do it.
Lisa and I had prepped like never before. There wasn’t a thing we hadn’t thought of. We knew the route inside out, backwards and forwards, in snow and sunshine. We ran 30 miles of it, in one go, 2 weeks before with no maps. We were so ready. It was a miracle we had never got lost (well, barely), or fallen over, or fallen out, for that matter. We thought that within 10 hours, glory would be ours.
The arrival of the 2-ish week taper also saw the arrival of the rain upon rain upon rain. The forecast changed for the better and then the worse. Two days before the event, the Coventry Way Association issued diversions due to flooding on the River Avon. Looks like we would need the maps, after all.
Back to 4:45 am. I got up before I could go back to sleep, got dressed downstairs and forced a coffee and a peanut butter bagel down. Once I got to The Queens Head in Meriden aka race HQ there was already a buzz with walkers setting off…we were the among first runners, along with fellow Masseys Daniel and Kelli. The good news was that the diversions would now not be needed after two dry days, so we didn’t bother packing maps. After faffing with our hydration packs and umming and ahhing about taking a battery pack for our Garmins (we didn’t, something I later regretted), at 6am we checked in and set off, just as the sun was coming up.
Miles 1–10: Meriden to Stoneleigh
We ran with Daniel and set off quicker than I would have liked. We stuck to our usual walk uphill strategy and I kept an eye on pace to ensure we stuck to our 4 mile per hour target. I did a pretty shit job of this due to getting carried away with freshly tapered legs and not as much mud as we feared. By the time we reached the first checkpoint we were around 20 minutes ahead of schedule. At this point it did make sense to take advantage of the easy downhill of the Kenilworth Greenway, but I started secretly thinking that we might smash it in 9 hours. Why do I always do this?! We overtook walkers who had set off around an hour before us, although they don’t dawdle along and were really striding it out.
It was great to get to know Daniel, who regularly runs marathons with little to no prep (sorry, Daniel, but you know this to be true!) and also coaches training sessions at Masseys. He is a source of all manner of ‘useful’ information and shared with me his secrets of successful marathon-ing including the benefits of eating a pizza (in the car) and always, ALWAYS carrying a ‘Poo Pack’ (patent pending, probably).
The first 10 miles flew by, we were enjoying ourselves!
Miles 11–20: Stoneleigh to Brinklow
Checkpoints 1, 2 and 3 were well stocked with snacks and drinks (no full fat coke though, dammit!) and I opted for a cheese roll, a few handfuls of crisps and some fruit pastilles to keep me going. We were feeling fine and the weather was perfect: cold, a bit drizzly and not too muddy underfoot. Around Bubbenhall (15 miles) we began to be overtaken by ‘proper’ ultra runners, all lean and speedy, and not even stopping for a slice of pork pie or a wee in a proper toilet. Chuh, amateurs!
Around 15 miles I started to feel a bit weird and tired… I chucked a caffeine gel down and kept quiet. We were on target but already I started to feel like we had been running for a really, really long time (about 4ish hours at this point). Seeing the Massey relay team, Casey and Carol, just before mile 20 perked me up though, as we stopped for a selfie and a chat. Then, we headed towards the bridleway into Brinklow, which in training took us about 25 minutes alone (it is less than a mile long), due to deep mud and badger sets so what would this hold?
Miles 21–30: Brinklow to Bedworth
The bridleway wasn’t as bad as it had been and we managed to run/walk with relative ease, although we did lose Daniel at this point as he gradually disappeared off into the distance, maybe to make use of the Poo Pack, we will never know. What followed was the most eventful 10 mile stretch of the day.
My husband, son and the in-laws met us in Brinklow with full fat coke (yay), bagels and crisps which I had packed the night before, as well as Ibuprofen for Lisa and her hurty bum. Seeing them was a great boost, despite my son refusing to hug me because I was very muddy and smelly.
At around 23 miles, I fell over. We were running around the narrow path at the bottom of the Norman Motte & Bailey site (which I never knew existed until we began training) and my right foot gave way, causing me to land on my shin with my leg bent weirdly underneath me. I stood up and checked myself. It hurt and I felt shocked, but we had to laugh at the fact it was the first time one of us had fallen over. My right shin/side of calf felt numb and throbby, but as we ran on, I felt ok and soon forgot about it.
We briefly bumped into another Massey, Daz, who was also getting mighty titsed off with the mud. It seemed nobody was on for the time they trained for and just finishing would suffice. Saying that, he did start a good two hours after us, and soon overtook us as we stopped to try and talk to some lambs.
This is where the mud really started, and things just got totally shit.
Oxford Canal: muddy and slippery, I was nervous after my fall and slowed to barely a trot along this 2 or 3 mile stretch. Cornfield opposite Ansty Golf Club: ankle deep watery mud resulting in our shoes almost becoming sucked off (the phrase “sucked off” being the only funny thing to some out of this). Field through Ansty and alongside M69: ankle deep, thick clay mud with some steep uphills making it more of a climb than a run or walk.
Field next to Barnacle Hall: a ‘rough field’ which was now pretty much a lake. I have never heard language like what came out of mine and Lisa’s mouth at this point. We both reacted fairly differently. I could not stop laughing and Lisa could not stop swearing. Our super snazzy gore-tex trail running shoes were now just pouring water. It felt never ending. I think this was a wall for us both, although I tried to keep things light because otherwise we would both be admitting we hated it. And there might be no going back after that. Massey Cathy appeared from behind a bush to take pics just as we exited Barnacle (great timing, as nobody wants a grumpy picture going on Facebook) and we tried some of her excellent home made biscuits to keep us going. I really, really, really wanted to just stop and sit down now.
Miles 31–40: Bedworth to Meriden (the finish)
This last section was about grit. We were cold, knackered and wet. We plodded through the housing estate (the worst bit of the whole route, despite pavement, because it is just so boring and hard on the feet) in Bedworth, catching up with our pal Big Bear Paul for a few minutes as he overtook us. At checkpoint 6, Breach Oak Farm, my husband and son made another quick appearance with the full fat coke and crisps. We only had 4 or 5 miles to go now, which lifted our spirits and we were back to running again. In this section there are a lot of stiles, which slowed us down, more mud and a few hilly fields.
We ran though, ran and ran and, at 39.8 miles my watch died, and then Lisa’s husband and dog met us on the last few hundred metres. Lots of Massey and non-Massey friends cheered us in. The ‘finish’ itself felt a slight anti climax (hobbling into a marquee to the final check in) until we saw the rest of the Massey lot who were waiting for us. At that moment I felt like, despite the finish time (12 hours 3 minutes) not being what we trained for, we had finished, we were officially ultramarathoners! I felt elated, and the finish time became irrelevant. As I write this down and re-read it, I can’t believe any of it even happened.
The next bit is a huge blur as I was so knackered that I don’t even remember what I did or said. I was presented with a cloth patch (wtf am I going to do with that) and certificate, as well as a pint of Guinness (thanks Casey!) and hot baked potato with cheese. I do remember unveiling the most magnificent blister (on my toe) to the others.
I somehow drove home (husband had to take the kid home to bed on account of me taking longer than expected), had a bath and finished the entire contents of the pack-up from husbands car. I am still a little dazed about the whole thing, so there will probably be a part two to this blog, about what I learned from this experience. It was certainly about grit and dedication, but also so much about friendship too.