King Offas Dyke Ultra 2017
King Offas Dyke Ultra 2017
Warning, proceed with caution. This is an ultra race report. It contains subject matter essential to the plot that may be unpleasant to normal folks. Ultra runners are fanatically concerned with what goes in and how and when it comes out…. You have been warned. It's also ultra long, as befits a 185 mile run, so decide how much you want it, put the kettle on, and start where we left off…..
King Offa’s Dyke Ultra II ….. this time it’s personal. Last year I DNF’d this race having stubbornly started it with an ankle injury when I probably shouldn’t, pressed on through the non-ankle friendly course oscillating between pain and drug numbed stupor, burst into tears when talking to Harriet on the phone, and called it a day at mile 120. A justifiable DNF but no less easy to pallet. This time it was Prestatyn Or Bust, and as a result as start day came closer my usual pre-match nerves were pretty bad. To add to this Offspring#1, Tom, was accompanying me on the train on his way back to university at Cardiff and after the loooooong summer break he was also unsettled about returning. Cue uneasy journey from Leeds to Chepstow where the race started from. Being from Yorkshire I’m genetically incapable of taking a long train ride without taking a homemade sandwich (thus avoiding any “how much!!?!” type embarrassing incidents). Since going low-carb 6 months ago I’ve become more intolerant to both wheat products and over-priced train refreshments so the homemade sandwich, tasty as it was, may have also been my first mistake.
After saying my goodbyes to Tom I went outside Chepstow station to the taxi rank….. or at least where the taxi rank should be if it had one. While I considered my options a helpful local offered a taxi share as he was just calling one for himself and was heading in my direction. Great plan with just one small flaw, that at 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon all taxi’s were otherwise engaged on school runs. Walking was the only option and it was only a mile and a half… a drop in the ocean compared to what was coming. I always like to arrive at a race start line sweating and tired from lugging two bags across town and I got my wish.
Registration and kit check were all pretty straight forward and I killed time until the start eating and dozing while other competitors did their own things around me. I was ready and relaxed, though the latter state was soon disturbed by a large gentleman clad only in his underwear, asking if I could assist putting on some tape. I feared the worst but thankfully it was just an area on his back, and I assume he found another victim for any lubing duties. I kept looking at the weather forecast as every time I did, it got better, and we were set for a dry clear night. As the rugby club was nowhere near the start of the King Offa’s Dyke path the RD had fixed up a coach to take us to the nondescript rock that marks the official start point. We walked to the rock, some people took photos with the rock, we walked back from the rock. Preamble over we started dead on 8pm as planned.
The first stage to Monmouth is 19 odd miles, has a surprising amount of climb as it pulls away from the coast, and is tricky nav in places as it winds progressively through and away from civilisation, if indeed Chepstow counts as that. It’s also an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with some spectacular views, which the RD had conveniently set to be “enjoyed” by everyone in the dark of night.
I should at this point share The Plan. I hadn’t gone public with any estimates, though Hari had the secret squirrel breakdown showing at what point she needed to start worrying about my progress, or lack thereof. This was all about the finish, and my physical and mental state of being when I got there. Primarily there was to be no repeat of last years DNF, and if that meant strolling over the finish line in 89 hours and 59 minutes that would be just fine. There was also the 254kg gorilla in the room which is the Lon Las Ultra that starts in just over 3 weeks’ time; doing the two races together being on one hand a stupid idea even by my standards for stupidity, and on the other hand solid time on feet endurance work to kick start my Spine Race 2018 training. So I wanted to finish, and finish strong, both in my legs and between my ears.
So the first leg was a warm up and with negligible effort I came into the CP relaxed and only 10 mins slower than last year when I pushed much harder. A decent range of food was available and I nibbled a few bits and pieces. As I had run the leg well within my capabilities I felt I could stomach just about anything and so tried the inevitable Pot Noodle…. and in doing so made my second mistake of the day and changed the trajectory of my whole race.
In an unusual strategy (in other people’s eyes) I had earmarked a massive 2 hours of time at this checkpoint which would take me almost to the checkpoint cut-off. My logic was that it was already past midnight, long after my usual bedtime and on the back of a long train journey and pre-race stresses. Keeping my body clock in sync as best as able under race conditions works well for me and so some rest at this time of night would be beneficial. I wasn’t expecting to sleep but there is value in switching off eyes and brain for even a short while, and the trick is accepting it for what it is and not beating yourself up if you don't immediately (or ever!) get some actual sleep. As a plan it had worked well the previous year, I suffered no ill effects from sleep loss and kept my pace higher as a result. So I found some space on a nearby gym mat, pulled my hat over my eyes, and dozed for a bit. Unexpectedly I fell asleep, and equally unexpectedly I was rudely awoken by a dog bark that was amplified to Cerberus like proportions by the cavernous sports hall. Once my adrenaline dropped again I felt that it was time to get moving so once on the right side of a coffee-choco hot drink I set off into the night, destination the Welsh cosmopolitan cultural centre that is Pandy.
The second leg is easy going, relatively flat, lots of quiet country lanes, woodland tracks, river trail and takes in White Castle which looked remarkably spooky in the mist and head torch light. I was managing to remain in “Lone Wolf” mode as Harriet calls it (though anti social non-communicative grumpy bloke works just as well as a description - Hari’s version sounds cooler though!) and I passed a succession of other runners with just a few cursory pleasantries, mostly about how lucky we had been with the weather, and my personal favourite “Oh this pace won’t last, I’m sure you’ll catch up with me soon”. I was running well and the cool conditions suited me nicely. Less good news was a growing upset gurgling from the stomach down as the Pot Noodle worked it's sinister magic.
I had potentially over compensated for last years annoying pre-Pandy nav error when I turned the page on my map book to find it full of warning triangles, red pen instructions and a note to myself advising of dire consequences if the same error was made again. When it came down to it being in the back half of the field meant navigation was easy as the cool crisp night had generated a heavy dew which positively shone by head torch light. Open field sections were clearly emblazoned with a 2 foot wide green track showing where 30 runners had previously been through and had considerately soaked up all the dew into their running shoes. I could only imagine how soaking wet the front runner would be, trail breaking through that would have been wet heavy work.
At Pandy I had another 90 minutes allocated and repeated my routine from CP1 with the exception of the Pot Noodle. There was some very welcome fresh soup though which provided that real food experience and some necessary complex carbs. I layered up for warmth and settled down on the floor for another nap. “Breakfast” was porridge pot, grapes, and a double dose of coffee-choco cocktail for that sugar and caffeine hit. Some faces were becoming familiar now and I chatted briefly with Vic and Craig who were running together and I would criss-cross with for many miles to come. But it was 7am, and I was now burning daylight and wanted to get out onto the Black Mountains ridge, one of my favourite bits of the course.
In hindsight one of the aspects of King Offa’s Dyke route I really like is the variety of terrain which in turn makes me feel closer to home. Sections remind me clearly of the North York Moors, the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales, the barren wasteland and flagstones of the Peak District leg of the Pennine Way, and the rough stoney passes of parts of the Lake district. It's a sort of mini UK trail tour all rolled up into one. It even has it's fair share of the less attractive end of trail running, comedy barb wire use, grumpy cows in ankle deep slurry, fecking farmer moments, and a disproportionate number of gates and stiles.
In the Black Mountains Offa took a leaf from Hadrian’s book and used the geography to give his men a break from the endless dyke building. After a cheeky climb to get up to it, the ridge runs NNW for over 8 miles and while some complained it was a bit samey, in the clear morning it should have provided easy trail running with spectacular views. Should have, but on that morning it didn’t. My stomach felt fine but my bowels now felt bloated and I could literally hear the fluid sloshing about. Running became increasingly uncomfortable and I was managing only short periods of gentle plodding before having to stop. One of the benefits of a Lone Wolf approach is the ability to avail oneself of field toilet facilities without too much preamble, and so, with a majestic view out for miles to the East, I emptied my bowels for the first of what was to be many many many times over the coming couple of days. This process brought me much needed relief and allowed me about 20-30 minutes of practical comfort and running before it needed to be repeated. The great toilet paper crisis developed and I started aggressive rationing and increased use of moss for phase one clean up. Never before was I so glad of my habit to always carry antibacterial hand gel.
I fast walked the descent into Hay-On-Wye as back in civilisation I understand that public defecation is generally frowned upon. Low impact walking was generally tolerable for much longer than any running - destination the village hall, it's vital toilets and toilet roll resupply opportunity. This was also the first drop bag CP where my bag of spare kit and food would be available. In between time spent on the loo I washed my feet and changed socks and top, ate my ration of 2 fried eggs (sans bread roll as I was now strictly zero anything that could make matters worse and the fluffy white bread rolls were guilty as charged) and had more coffee/choc combo. I debated with myself the merits of an Imodium, a pharmaceutical cork, but they can result in equal and opposite problems in this length of race. I decided not to, but always carry them in my pack so the option was available later. I drank some tea with a couple of ginger biscuits (a magic cure for anything in my book). My appetite was still there and I needed the calories but I feared me and the food would have a fleeting partnership.
I also opted for a change of shoes into my Inov8 x-trails as I was concerned the New Balance Heirro’s I was using (courtesy of Iain Murray’s recommendation on the Lakeland 100) wouldn’t handle the mud slopes coming especially if we got more rain. (Runners note: this was a good call as every bit of traction was required, but as with every Inov8 shoe there is a catch and the comedy heel cups on the X-Claws ripped my heels to pieces over the last 50 miles or so). I left Hay early afternoon, half an hour ahead of schedule and with the exception of the uncontrolled diarrhea, I was feeling strong and in great spirits. Renewed as best as I could I headed out on the leg to Kington and made it a whole two miles before I needed to stop again.
A short leg at 15 miles and with a fair amount of road and lane on paper it can be taken at a decent pace. It finishes off with a straightforward climb over Hergest Ridge before dropping down into the little town of Kington, with it's equally small, but perfectly formed, village hall. The embroidery covered armchairs were for WI use only, there was a sign and everything, and definitely out of bounds to us sweaty runners. The fresh soup and coffee was welcome and I picked carefully at a few other non-threatening food items on the table. No Pot Noodles were harmed in the making of this checkpoint. I refilled water bottles, grabbed a few ginger biscuits and was out the door in 20 minutes. In my mind I was now increasingly focussed on Knighton (not to be confused with Kington which I was leaving) as it was a planned sleep stop and I was ready if not for sleep, but certainly for a longer stop to see if my innards would settle down. Just the idea of a toilet was becoming attractive.
I have little memory of the trail from Kington to Knighton other than risking life and limb on the crossing of Kington golf course where I literally heard the swish of a golf ball sailing not far over my head. Clearly we made good sport for the locals. The last few miles into the checkpoint went on forever. In fact I’m probably still doing them. The checkpoint was the same place as last year and yet was a completely different place, having received a complete refurbishment in the interim. I saw Stephen Braithwaite (for the last time) who’s having an amazing year of running and was heading out the door as I headed in. I wished him well, as I knew what was coming from last year. Checkpoint routine was repeated, including washing feet. No drop bag here and so, learning from last year, I was carrying with me a pair of “borrowed” hotel slippers. Not a fashion look that is likely to catch on but don’t think I didn’t notice the covetous glances I was receiving from other athletes as they padded around on a dirty floor in their bare feet. This is as close to a top tip as I get (pending a better one coming in a paragraph or two….. ooooohhh the drama) - when you get the chance, and regardless if you have a change of socks, get your feet clean and aired. They will thank you for it, and judging by some feet I saw later in the race and what the medics said, it's a plan many people could benefit from. I set an alarm for three hours and was helpfully awoken by a member of the checkpoint staff after an hour. “That’s very kind thank you but I think you are after the next guy along”! The poor woman was mortified but in her defence it was a darkened room of snoring shapes - and the marshalls are all heroes in my book so she was instantly forgiven. It did surprise me how many people relied on the marshals for a wake up call rather than just setting an alarm, and where I was woken up accidentally, I’m sure there was equal potential for someone to be missed and for them to sleep much longer than they planned. I decided more sleep was unlikely so got my kit together and headed to the main hall of the checkpoint where various athletes, marshals and medics were slowly milling about in a zombie movie re-enactment. Food was still going down well (certainly as fast as it was coming out the other end) and I demolished a couple of bowls of porridge and two mugs of coffee for breakfast, and was off by about 3am onto the Leg Of Despair to Montgomery, which also marks the last leg for those athletes competing in the 100 mile Mercian Challenge.
The leg starts of with the traditional cheeky warm up climb and then winds along the top of a ridge. The wind was a headwind from the north and cut through clothing easily so I hunkered down and tried to get some good pace going to generate some warmth. I shouldn't have worried as soon the climbs and descents started and I was up and down on steep rocky paths with branches overhead, roots and rocks as trip hazards, and then when it got fed up of throwing that at me it was slick mud slides and narrow mud paths cut into the sides of steep slopes. Progress was painstakingly slow. Last year this leg hastened the demise of my already damaged ankle, battered my moral, and broke a walking pole. This time I was ready for it and banged some music on and persevered. Eventually the contours start to spread out again and Offa’s takes in a pleasant (though somewhat weird) forest stretch through the Mellington estate. The stage one hallucinations were in full effect where the mind tries to make sense of the stimuli it is receiving. Bushes took the form of people and things, branches became animals, and rustling of the wind in the trees became singing or my personal creep-you-out-a-bit one which is children laughing (straight out of a horror film that one). I know what my brain does when it's sleep deprived but that doesn’t make it any less freaky.
The final stretch is along field boundaries before the detour off route that takes us into Montgomery. In the final field before the turn off I came across a single cow who appeared to be having a personal crisis. Stood on the trail by the hedge it alternated between mooing at it's fellow cows who were completely disinterested across the other side of the field. Having got no response from it's herd the cow then started headbutting the hedge. Then it mooed at me. Then it went back to mooing angrily at it's herd. Then back to headbutting. I write this not because it has any ending nor informative value, but I’m curious if any other runners saw the same thing?! I approached with caution, the cow took a wide berth around me then returned to it's previous location and started headbutting the hedge again.
Bewildered bovine behind me I trotted into Montgomery, arriving at about 10:30 and off again just over an hour later. Baked potatoes were available and there was rejoicing. I ordered one soaked in butter and piled high with beans and cheese. I was not disappointed and I was further not disappointed when I chanced my arm asking for a second and it was promptly delivered. (After the strict egg rationing episode at Hay I wasn't sure if two potatoes was bordering on the cheeky, but the RD was sat on the next table and there were no discernable expressions of horror or mentions of potato based time penalties so I think I got away with it). This was a drop bag cp and I did a full foot wash and sock change again, and changed underwear and baselayer resulting in that feel like a new man yet smell like an old man type contradictory feeling.
Last year the leg from Montgomery to Llanymynech was my final one before the pain beat me. It's a game of two halves with a straightforward single main climb along mostly pleasant forestry track up to the top of Beacon Ring where the view were magnificent. That's the first half, then it descends to the valley floor and there are 10 miles of the most dull and not-at-all magnificent fields to cross. Last year the fields were baked hard and heavily rutted by cows, and they destroyed my ankle and my willpower. This year the ground was softer but there were cows everywhere. They seemed pretty nonplussed by my presence but I was less sure about theirs. (On a serious note, if you are not a cow person this is not the race for you. I found myself alone in fields full of cows on many an occasion often having no choice but to ease through the centre of the herd to get to the gate they were congregated at.) Once the meandering field section finally ends you go through Four Crosses (as quickly as possible) and pick up the pleasant canal route for another….. what the heck is that! My passage along the canal route was blocked by a 2 foot long snake and I came to an abrupt heart racing halt. The canal pathway was between dense hedge and canal boundary and was maybe four foot wide and the snake was sunning itself in the middle. The biggest thing I’ve seen before on trail was an adder of maybe 6 inches long. This thing was a monster. I considered poking it with my walking pole but imagined a movie style snake attack as it wound itself up my pole, up my arm and attacked my face. I opted for the coward's approach and threw a bit of soil at it. It slithered off into the canal. Further along I came across a local walking her dog and asked her it that was normal. “no” she said “ they are usually much bigger”. Answers on a postcard please.
Arriving at Llanymynech at just before 7pm I was on schedule and pretty happy with everything, snake incident notwithstanding. I was scheduled for a good stop here with a few hours rest. I asked what hot food was on offer to be told they had lots of choices, Original Curry, Chicken and Mushroom etc… I laughed and said no, what else other than Pot Noodle. Only what was on the table; the table being the now familiar fare of sweets, biscuits and crisps. Disappointed I shrugged and said I’ll just do a porridge then please. Nope, no porridge either. There was a long pause as I wrestled with the problem. My go to reaction was to be annoyed with him, but equally he’s a volunteer and I knew it wasn’t of his doing nor had he signed up to be ranted at by a grumpy competitor. There was no drop bag access here so it was just the snacks I still had with me. I made do with a banana and few grapes but I needed proper food. The temptation of the curry house a couple of doors down was strong but given the state of my insides I felt a curry wouldn’t help matters. No shops were open and a few mental calculations and a check of the map told me there would be no shops on route until the next cp. I wasn’t happy. What did make me happy (here’s that top tip signalled earlier…. it was worth the wait and the intervening never ending story to get to it trust me) was the top to toe wash I got using a Wash Wizard waterless body wash sponge. Harriet had suggested them for Offspring#2, Amy on her Tanzania trip and I’d grabbed a couple of unused ones and put them in my bag. I stripped off in the disabled toilet, applied a small splash of water and washed myself top down. It air dried in seconds and left me feeling amazingly clean. It almost made up for the appalling food situation. Almost.
I grabbed a couple of hours sleep but the sleep room was packed and noisy so I abandoned hope early and was out the door by 11pm on my way to Chirk and the strangely labeled Squash Court CP. It was raining, inevitably, but once the equally inevitable cheeky climb was dispensed with there was a nice open section tracing the edge of a hill before dropping down again for a series of miles alternating between road and field. It was night, it was raining, it was cold, it was Wales. I caught up with Steve, who I had crossed paths with on several occasions on the race so far and we ended up staying together until the next checkpoint. If there were features to note they were lost to the night and my mood. The final stretch into Bronygarth was a classic feckin’ farmer moment, where the trail had been rerouted to a 1 foot wide inclined plane mud path between overgrown brambles and bracken on one side, and a barb wire fence on the other. Very pleasant. Beyond that it was a quick slog up to Chirk Castle and the marshal had kindly come out to meet us so we had a torch to aim for as we closed in on the cp. It was indeed a squash court, built in disguise within the facade of a period building to match the castle grounds. Very odd, but it was the least of my worries once it became apparent that once again there was no food available (apart from Pot Noodles which were now piling up in the checkpoints like sad abandoned ugly puppies that nobody wanted after all the cute ones had been claimed). The cp marshal clearly knew this was not a great state of affairs and even tried to improvise some porridge from a tiny bag of oats he had and a bit of boiling water. I greedily ate the gruel mix it formed as I desperately needed the complex carbs. There was also quarter of a block of cheese which lasted about 30 seconds. I had about five mugs of coffee-choco mix and some ginger biscuits and got myself out the door. It was 7am and daylight had returned meaning there was the potential for shops on route. Steve had already left and was long gone so I was thankfully back solo.
The route quickly picked up a canal path and I gazed longingly (and probably a bit scarily for the people within) through the windows of the moored long boats as I passed. Sights and smells of cooked breakfasts nearly resulted in a incident (deranged runner arrested after bacon hold-up). I was ravenous. The route grazed Cefn-Mawr but no shops were forthcoming. Putting my hunger and intestinal issues to one side, this stretch was lovely and probably was my favourite part of the route so far. It wound up through forest trail, before picking up quiet lane that wound under the impressive face of Creigiau-Eglwyseg on the right. The views down the valley were magnificent and morning mist was still lingering on the valley floor below. It wasn’t raining any more, either externally nor internally. I powered on for a good stretch only to be stopped dead by a wave of tiredness as the sleep demons made their presence known. I tried to push through but was barely moving and settled for a 10 minute nap on a rock. I was kindly checked upon by a passing couple of walkers who were no doubt reassured by my lisping speech and dribbling at the corner of my mouth. To me they looked like two chicken drumsticks on legs as I was now having Wile E. Coyote style hallucinations from hunger. I pressed on into another wood and found the path lined on both sides by blackberries - hurrah. I stripped a couple of bushes of the fruit and now resembled some sort of vampire with red staining around my mouth and fingers…. worth it though as the sugar hit was just what I needed. After a brief moorland section that reminded me of the North York Moors, I pushed on and demolished the easy downhill woodland route to the cp at Llandegla campsite.
Not often does someone say “I need Tom Jones in my life right now” but today was one of those days. Tom Jones and Darren Hunt had an awesome camp set up and were organised beyond any reasonable expectation. My bag was whisked off my back, I was in a chair and holding a hot drink before I could say hello to them. I was so pleased to see them, not just as friendly faces I knew, but more importantly because I know their attitude to race food. Beef stew arrived. I ate it. More beef stew arrived, this time with cheese and a chaser of tomato and veg hotpot. I ate it. Another beef stew arrived just for good measure and that also disappeared. The next leg was a tough 19 mile leg with a LOT of climb, so the calories were very welcome. Not to over dramatise but those guys saved my race so thank you. A nearby tent unzipped itself and Steve peered out - having arrived earlier and gone to grab some sleep. No doubt me loudly evangelising the beef stew woke him up but I’m sure he understood given the circumstances.
So it was 2pm Monday and I now had 24 hours to dispense with the last 33 or so miles. I was worried about what the next leg had in store as I knew it had a lot of climb but I dared to believe that it was going to happen now. Even an 2mph average over the coming hilly stage would leave me with a pretty simple last leg to do at 1mph. The maths looked good, I just needed to see what the legs and terrain had in store. The “downstairs” problem had abated over the last leg and I hoped the worst was behind me. But then I had just put a huge amount of food into an empty stomach, but that would be fine surely…
The company was good, the food was good, the rain started again and I had yet to give my feet an airing. The reasons to stay put in the big tent were mounting up. So I kitted up and got out the door. The quote goes “if you start to feel good during an ultra, don’t worry you will get over it”
I was now underwriting the finish. Cocking it up now would be unforgivable, so I was going to take things safe and steady. So long as I stayed comfortably above my 2mph floor for the leg I knew it was going to be ok. The reports of the next cp’s food and facilities (a log fire??? surely not!) were all good so I had something to look forward to. This was classic hill walking territory, pleasant views, some steady climbs but nothing troubling as I was happy to take my time. I chewed through the miles, the weather was good and the pace was good and my mood was good. Steve caught me up on the way up to Moel Famau with it's Jubilee Tower and we enjoyed some amazing views, and some amazing light as the setting sun lit up a light mist in the valleys. It was beautiful to see, but it also meant that it was headtorch time again and we still had many miles to cover before the Bodfari checkpoint. Despite the jadedness that comes with the end of the day and the cumulative miles this was a magnificent leg, and I will be back to enjoy the area again in the future.
As with all checkpoints Bodfari took forever to arrive, and even in the last mile there was some complications on routing due to an angry horse. But we got there by about 11pm and I settled myself in for a decent rest knowing that I now had more hours than miles to do, a useful ready reckoner taught to me by long distance guru Javed Bhatti. Steve was restless and sat at the table fully kitted up debating with himself about stopping of pressing on to deathmarch the finish. I was in no such place and my feet were clearly dissatisfied with not being cared for at the last checkpoint. I removed shoes and socks and sure enough they were the three W’s, wet wrinkled and white, a sure sign of trouble if not sorted. I sourced a washing up bowl and washed both feet carefully, then talced them with a tiny decanted pot of talc I had in my pack. They were happy, and due to the arrival of 3 eggs, beans and cheese so was I. I chanced my arm again joking about “same again please” and sure enough the same arrived again. Love it here! Just a cheeky half marathon to go, sack loads of time, I was pleased that the job would soon be done and started thinking of home, train times and logistics. I was ready to finish this. 2am I was out the door, egg charged, feet revived, music on, I was a man on a mission.
Other than a few token hills this was a downhill gradient to the coast and lots of fields and lanes that were runnable. I felt great and demolished the leg at a pace I’d not expected at the end of a long race. Food helped. Who knew? Apart from an incident with a dead badger (I thought at first it was just resting) who menacingly had died sprawled across a path, all went well. 18 inches of cliff edge path and 24 inches of dead badger makes for some circumnavigation issues especially when you aren't sure if he's dead or it's an elaborate trap. The final couple of miles down through Prestatyn are interrupted only by a sudden railway line blocking your path. Friendly local helpfully sent me onto the platform, but after that the Nova Centre was there, with Richard, the RD waiting. I gave the rock a kick for last year, and had my photo taken.
I got in about 5:45am, so about 82 hours for the race unofficial time. But this wasn’t about the time for me. This was unfinished business for me from last year yes, and it was a warm up for Lon Las in a few weeks yes to that too, and it was an endurance building block for my Spine Race 2018 campaign yes, but it also turned into a bit of an odyssey and that’s what made it special. It's a great course, with many literal and metaphorical highs and lows. It's well organised and I’m sure the cock up with the food was a one-off rather than the norm. I’d recommend it to anyone. I’d like to close as these reports always should with thanks to the volunteers, without whom they could never happen. I’ve been on both sides of this and marshalling long distance races is a hard task that leaves the volunteers as exhausted as the racers. All the marshalls I met, and the medic teams, were magnificent, always asking if we needed anything, always ready to help. Thanks guys.