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  • Writer's pictureAlan Percival

Over the hills, fields and beyond.....

Firstly, let me talk about Marc E – one of the runners I have been working with over the last 12 months. In that time, he just wanted to learn how to run better – yeah – maybe get a bit quicker. However, it did not stop there, he went off and entered his first marathon, in just under 4hrs. Sadly, like many of us, the advent of COVID meant a change in our running, the lack of events – which for him meant missing VLM in April. However, he carried on running also mixing in some real-life issues to boot. Yes, training was a little less focused, but the real goal for him was to keep running and to enjoy running for what it is, and not just for him – but for all of us. The enjoyment of being outside in the fresh air and the chance to get ‘away from it all’.

He carried on running and earlier this month Marc did complete the Virtual VLM and in a new PB knocking off some 6mins. When one considers he was not actually specifically training for a PB – just goes to show the progress Marc has made in that time with the base training he has done. However, his story does stop there – as the next stage very much intertwines with mine as we looked at running an ultramarathon.

I mentioned in the last blog how a good friend and fellow runner, John S, in that we had a good chat with on several issues, as friends do. In that conversation he talked about the need for him to do something which ‘he could control’ which then led him to run the NOMAD 50 – an ultra 50mile route in and around Derby. This then led myself to think of a similar need – for me to set a goal for myself to work towards and could ‘control’. I also mentioned this to Marc, and he said, ‘Why not!’

So, on Sat 24th October, Marc, Vicky (who is John’s wife) and I all set off to run 36miles along part of the National Forest Way – a foot path through the National Forest. We had our back packs, water, gels, food, and support crew (of 1 - Ian P).

The route took us via the villages of Yoxall, Rangemore before heading towards Burton, then out to Roliston, Conkers before the final push to Hartshone. The weather was clear at this time, a slight breeze but near ideal temperatures as we departed. Yes, we had the lovely views of the A38 in the first mile or so, but that soon disappeared as we hit the trails just outside Alrewas, and before long we met our first set of cows. It was here we knew the reason why we wanted Vicky with us, as she led the way in how to deal with cows.

So, at Checkpoint 1 (CP1), we met Ian and a chance to top up water, a quick bite to eat before heading back out and on a long section – 7.5miles towards Rangemore. This was a tough section and with one place where, we could have gone wrong if we missed to the path, but due to our pre-runs we know this and thus avoid a journey into the brambles! So, we ventured through the woods and it was so peaceful and tranquil – it was a world away from the hustle of home, the stresses of the current situation – which was one part of the reason for this adventure. Our progress was steady without going too mad, although I am sure Vicky told me to slow down at least twice, but we made it to CP 2 and was greeted by Ian, and Emma & Alun as well. Emma & Alun had kindly baked a real treat of flapjacks and cake :D – yummy, and they were lovely.

So, onto the 3rd section and Emma & Alun decided to join us for this section, which was quite short at about 4.5miles to Branston. There is one section along here that Marc & I have now called ‘Emma’s Dip’ – a short steep drop in the road and then a steep incline up the other side – one where Emma just charged off! So, we got to CP3 and all was going well. However, it seemed we got a little early as we caught Ian having his snap!

The 4th section took us towards the River Trent before heading towards Walton and then back on the trails & fields – oh and more cows! Guess it is just part of the adventure meeting several herds of cows (and sheep!). It was along this part, that we felt the first signs of the weather turning as light rain started to fall, certainly not enough to worry about – for the time being. The views were outstanding across the fields, the openness of the area was again very therapeutic and relaxing. The end of this section took us to CP4 at Roliston Forestry Centre and again we were met by Ian, Emma & Alun – but this time John (he who inspired us) along with his kids – all together as a small welcoming committee. As we drank & ate, sadly the heavens opened and the first a few down pours to hit us.

So a change of kit (shoes and waterproof jackets) was required before setting off through one of the many paths at the Visitor Centre. It was clear, this was not going to be easy section as the paths had water lying on them now creating quite a few muddy puddles. Section 5 was another 7+ miles – and we know this was going to be a long section as we started to tire and the change in the weather. Yes, we were running a little slower and walking a lot more up the hills. Some of the fields we had to walk across as they had been ploughed making a lot more uneven under foot, then with with the added rain made the soil very heavy, clinging onto our shoes. All three of us just plodded on and reached the town of Overseal before the last run to CP5 at the lower car park of Conkers.

There again, our support crew of: Ian, Alun, Emma & John were there to greet us. The weather had cleared – slightly. But enough of a rest bite to top up food and liquids again. Emma & Alun decided to join us on the last leg, a final 6mile push towards Harsthone. Point of note: for both Marc & I we had reched new distances in our running, as we were both into new territory long distance running.

So, the 5 of us set on the last leg, and this was going to be tough – it was a up hill push and we were feeling it more: heavy legs, ankles feeling tight for both Vicky & I. Finally, after about 32miles I got the navigation wrong. I know there was a church were we had to take a path through, but – got the wrong church - doh and so we had a short tour of the graveyard. Once back on the correct path and to one of the highlights of the run - the fields of Alpacas :D

So it was, with 3miles to go – we kept going, but I think we all felt we could feel the toil now. Added to that the new downpour, making it feel cold! Through one field, yes we met our 4th (or was it 5th) herd of cows, but this lot decided to join us on mass and the whole herd decided to run towards us, promptly stopped and we had a stare off – for all of 2secs, till Vick lead the way (again). Our adventures did not stop there with animals, as we next had a ‘mad’ dog joining us. The poor thing was running around, up and down the field, clearly (according to Vick) in some distress. So, being the person who she is, Vick was trying to calm the dog down, but soon we heard voices of the owner and we had a little chat with them, who were pleased to hear the dog was ok. Then once the dog heard the owner’s voice, was off again but in a much more happier zone 😊 and so we carried on.

As we continued through the fields and trails, we hit a sharp downhill then the last slog along the path, before we turned right and the final 100 yards to the car park and then end! That last 6miles was really tough and hard work. I think we all felt it by then. Of course, the conditions made it so much harder over those last 14miles.

Sure enough, Ian P and John were there to meet us, and as an added to our meet group was Kellie (another form our running club – and manic outside adventurer) was there to meet us. The special added bonus was from John & Vicky’s kids who gave us a ‘well done’ certificate with a hand written note on, ‘Well done you are a star’

Very much a thoughtful gift from them!

So, I sit here looking back on the last 24hrs and the sense of achievement – for all 3 of us, I do mean that. For Marc & I our first ultra run, and for Vicky her longest Ultra. The day itself was fab – the company great, the scenery gorgeous – thus ticking off every box one could hope for. This was only the first 36miles and only half way along the National Forest Way – so maybe, just maybe, look at the other 36miles next year?

For Vicky, ‘Around 24 miles slogging across the fields and water with torrential rain pelting down from side was a low point. I did question what I was doing there and weather I would finish. We got through and out the other side, but although it was tough we still succeeded. Most of that was due to the support from Marc, Alan and the supporters.’

However, all three of us couldn’t have done this with out a few and must say a huge thank to those people.

To Kellie for joining us at the end point.

Alun & Emma for running with us for a couple of sections, and the flapjacks & cake!

To John & the kids – firstly for the initial inspiration for this adventure as well as the seeing you at the various stages during the day. Oh, and the Post Run Certificate :D

Finally, a special thanks to Ian P for being the primary support crew. He drove us to the start, then followed us around all day meeting us at the all the check points, allowing us to use his campervan as a mobile base for our kit, food & drink. Thank you is an understatement!

I started by talking about Marc and his progress, but would to finish with a special mention to John & Vicky. For me personally, they have been 2 friends who show to real notion of friendship. John was the one who gave me the idea back in July about doing an event for me (ok, and a couple of others as it turned out) and the need to feel a little control. His good lady, Vicky, came with us and proved to be a wonderful run companion – and not in how to deal with cows & dogs. Both of these 2 love running on the trails and I just want to say thank you to them both.

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