My medal for not dying, woop!

My First Ultramarathon – Apocalypse 50

I just completed a 50 mile ultramarathon; that was awesome! I completed it in 12:20:39, which is apparently pretty good for my first ultramarathon. Right now I’m feeling pretty darn happy about it. But I couldn’t have done the run without everyone else’s help, so I’m thanking everyone first.

First of all I have to thank the other runners who dragged me along today. Without their support I’m sure I could have added a couple of hours to my time.  I also want to thank the organisers for Beyond Marathon for putting on such an enjoyable and welcoming event; my mum for giving me lifts to and from the marathon and for providing chocolate milk; Jase Elves for helping with the strength training because I had no hills to train on; Sarah for taking care of all the social media stuff on the day and for keeping me updated with encouragement; to everyone who posted on Facebook or sent me text messages during the day, you kept me moving forward during the hard bits; and of course to everyone who donated, I can’t believe how much some of you sponsored me just to run up and down some hills. So to everyone reading this, Thank You! I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you all.

The Beginning

I’m not a morning person, so waking up before 7am to get myself to the start line was not the most enjoyable part of my day. Still, I got to the registration desk in Church Stretton with plenty of time to spare (thanks mum!).

Registration was painless, so I faffed with my gear and eventually managed to pin my number to myself correctly. Come in number 675 your time is up.

The ultramarathon was going to consist of 50 miles made up of four loops, each tackling different hills. The four loops were named after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Conquest, Famine and Death. I would rename the horsemen appropriately as I made my way along them. We could do the loops in any order we wanted. I chose what seemed like the only sensible order, but was told more than once that my order was wrong.

It was soon 9.02 am and off we went. I followed the crowd out, expecting everyone to do the War loop first; after all, it had the most elevation to tackle. Instead I turned right with a small group of people while most people carried on, presumably to complete the Famine loop first, which was the one with the most distance to cover; silly people. I turned right and started my wun on the loop I would call Wobert

War Wobert – 13.5 miles, 2600 ft elevation.

It was hard to be intimidated by a horseman called Wobert, so I began optimistically, soon reaching an uphill bit where most people started to walk. I joined in on the walking the uphill bits, knowing that there was a long way to go yet.

I found myself running just behind a couple from Macclesfield. We’d soon left Church Stretton far behind, and the temperature was still rather pleasant. About an hour in I even found time to take a selfie for social media, having acquired a magic social media gnome for the day.

We passed Rattlinghope and  Near Gatten Farm where there was some sort of music festival going on. It was around here that I tore my shorts while crossing a barbed wire fence – we must have somewhat misplaced a stile. We then looped round and were soon passing the Betchcott Hills and on our way back to Church Stretton. The loop was going remarkably well when I felt a twinge in my knee in on a downhill stretch. That wasn’t a good sign, but I’d be able to have a quick rest at the Beyond Marathon HQ before setting off on my second loop.

By 11:38 I was back at HQ. I had time for a quick bite to eat, to inform the world that I had successfully survived Wobert. The couple I had been following had decided on Famine next, and given that they were obviously much more experienced and much better at this than me, it made sense to follow their lead.

Famine Fred – 14.5 miles, 2450 ft elevation.

I started off the Famine loop just behind the couple from Macclesfield. They were always a bit faster than me, so I mostly caught up with them on uphill and downhill stretches. We made our way through Church Stretton, where I decided that this loop would be called Fred. We had to queue a little bit to punch our cards at the first checkpoint. There were lots of people were just coming down the hill to finish their first loop. Even if this was the longest loop of all, it felt like we were a little bit ahead of the game. I managed to keep up with the couple all the way down to Eaton, before losing them somewhere on the Shropshire Way.

I walked for a stretch at around 13:15, I was 35 km into the race and I was already feeling tired. By the time I’d reached a halfwayish point of around 40 km at 13:58 everything was feeling just a little bit harder. I was having to think a bit more about directions, I was spending more and more time plodding gently rather than running. By 14:26 I completed marathon distance. I had now run further than I ever had before. I was entering unknown territory.

Somehow I managed to find the couple from Macclesfield again at the top of Ragleth Hill, just before the run back into town. They must have stopped for lunch or something, because they were much quicker than me.

I kept up with them most of the way back through town, and I finished Fred by 14:56. I wouldn’t see that couple again, and I would later discover that the woman would finish the race in 11 hours 12 minutes as the fastest woman.

The view from the top of Fred
The view from the top of Fred

Death Dave – 12.5 miles, 2400 ft elevation.

I started running Death with a different bloke this time, he was much more experienced at this sort of thing than me, and was more content to plod than the previous people I had been keeping up with. We ended up forming a group with some other people who I would later learn were called Steve, Jess, and Alex. This group of people would pretty much drag me around all the way to the end of the race.

I found Death to be the hardest loop of all, and even though I had renamed it Dave, because everyone knows a bloke called Dave, the name didn’t stick as well as the others. This one felt more like Death. This was certainly my least favourite loop.

We made our way up as far as Pole Bank, which is where I began to struggle a bit. The group kept looking back to check if I was okay, and on the downhill stretches I would somehow manage to catch back up with them. I liked the downhill bits. I was somewhat sweaty in the sun by this point, and Alex asked if I had been properly replenishing my salt while running. I admitted that I was probably somewhat lacking in salt, and so he gave me a few of his salt tablets. I’m pretty sure that they helped because I managed to keep up with them for a little bit longer.

We were joined by another Alex at the midway checkpoint. She had given me a weird blocky gel sweet in HQ earlier and I had expected her to be miles ahead of us, but she had got herself somewhat lost. She would prevent us from getting a little bit lost a bit later on thanks to her magic GPS watch that she should have listened to earlier in the loop.

As a group we carried on down to Asterton and then around the hill to Minton. I was very often at the back of the group, feeling a little guilty that I was probably holding them all up, but I kept on trying to keep up regardless. They kept on encouraging me along and checking whether I was okay, which in turn kept me moving forward.

The whole moving forward part all fell apart on the stretch between Minton and Little Stretton, and once we were on the Ludlow Road I found myself alone for the first time in the while. This was probably the hardest stretch of the entire race. It was 17:42 and I was just coming up to the end of Dave. I had blisters on the middle toes on my right foot. I knew this because the toes had been rubbing slightly since the end of Wobert. Now my toes were painful, but only when I used my right foot. More problematic was that I felt I could no longer control my heart rate or my breathing. I really had to slow myself down and take a break. I walked alone into Church Stretton focusing on recovering well enough to attempt my final loop. Dave was dead by 18:24; Phill was exhausted.


Conquest Cooper – 9.5 miles, 2350 ft elevation.

It was just after 18.30 when I started to make my way along the final horseman, the short and slow, but somewhat loveable Cooper. I set off on it with Steve and Alex, who stopped to put on warm layers leaving me to jog ahead. They said they’d catch me up and they quickly did. We caught up with the other Alex and made our way together up past a few false summits to the top of Caer Caradoc hill.

It was 19:29 and despite all the aches and pains I managed to enjoy a beautiful evening from the top of Caer Caradoc Hill, the views were amazing, well worth the effort, and I would have sat down and enjoyed the sunset had I not needed to keep running for just a little bit longer.

I enjoyed darting quickly downhill, and by 19.45 I only had about 10 km left to complete. I didn’t know if I had that much left in me though. It was going to be a slow end to the day.

20:22 and I was finally at the last hill. This was getting tiring and I was beginning to cramp up in my right calf. Getting over the stiles was also becoming a bit problematic. Thankfully Steve gave me some extra salt tablets to help keep me moving. I managed to keep up with Steve and Alex, while other Alex dropped behind us. I kept up with them all the way back to the A49 where they said they were going to run in to make sure they finished in under 12 hours 30 minutes. I said I’d try to keep up with them but failed miserably. Somehow I still managed to keep running all the way back to HQ.

By 21:22 on my watch I was done. I could no longer think, my brain was mush, my body ached, and it was only the waves of euphoria that were keeping me standing.

The view from the top of Cooper
The view from the top of Cooper

The End

I checked myself in as having completed the final loop, was awarded a medal for finishing and got congratulated by a few people. I was no longer entirely compos mentis, and would not regain full brain function for at least another 36 hours.

One of the organisers asked if I could still do a squat. It turns out that I could, just not a very good one. I suppose I have Jase Elves to thank for that one, he’d have probably wanted to see if I could still push 140kg sled about the place. Really, all I was capable of doing was eating the free food, and I wasn’t even very good at that. Still, the cheese pasty I had was a welcome change from the chocolate brownies that had powered me around all day.

I congratulated the people who ran with me, thanked them for all their support and drank their beer. There was really no way that I could have completed the race in such a good time without their help and encouragement. So again, if you read this then another big thank you for helping me through the race.

My initial aim had been to complete the race in 10 hours, by the end of Fred I was hoping for under 11, and by halfway through Dave I knew that 12 was much more likely. In the end it took me over 12 hours, 19 minutes and 32 seconds, (although this was later amended to 12:20:39) but given that this was my first ultramarathon and the winning time was 10 hours 11 minutes, I was perhaps a tad optimistic with my original target. You can check out the full results on the Beyond Marathon website.

Overall though, I had a great day. I met some really amazing people who told me that if I completed one ultramarathon that I would come back and do others. After my experience with this ultra, I think that they might be right.

Oh, and it seems like the amount of money I have raised for charity has shot up by doing this run. If you haven’t donated yet, but would like to, then here’s the link to my JustGiving page

My medal for not dying, woop!
My medal for not dying, woop!

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