Swollen Calf and Finishers Medal

Apocalypse 50 – Never again… again

I swore after running a 50 mile race that I would never run another 50-mile race ever again. Instead, having enjoyed and broken myself immensely a couple of times last year with my stupid running challenges, I thought to myself, why not do this again. Clearly there is something wrong with me. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t seem to be able to engage my brain when faced with a sign-up form.

In fact, this isn’t even the longest run that I’ve signed up for this year. That goes to a 90+ behemoth that I’ve signed up to in November (Bugger!). It is, however a run that I aim to do really well in. I finished 21st with a time of 12:20:39 last year. This year the aim is to complete it in under twelve hours and inside the top 20. 20 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but running for 12 hours is bloody tiring!

The Apocalypse 50 marathon route can be found here. It consists of four loops:

Conquest – 9.5 miles, 2350 ft elevation.
Here I’m going to have to climb two hills; Caer Caradoc, an awesome iron age hill fort, and Wilstone Hill.

War – 13.5 miles, 2600 ft elevation.
Here I’ll be following a footpath over the Long Mynd, apparently following in the footsteps of Shroptshire’s “Mad” Jack Mytton.

Death – 12.5 miles, 2400 ft elevation.
Here I’ve got to ascend and descend the Long Mynd twice, just for laughs.

Famine – 14.5 miles, 2450 ft elevation.
Here I just have to run for a while, I don’t get any snacks for 14.5 miles. That’ll be fun too.

Race Report

So myself and Lindsay arrived for the start and registered and all the usual faff before these things. Lindsay was running her first ultramarathon, but was a much more experienced (and generally better) runner than I was. We decided that we would head off together on the War loop. I had chosen to do this loop first last year, and was sure it was the right loop to start with. We kept a good pace up most of the way around the loop, but Lindsay started to struggle a bit in the last third of the loop. Not wanting to slow down so early on in the race I took off, full of optimism and enthusiasm. I bounded around and completed the loop in around 2 hours 20 minutes, which was 9 minutes faster than I had completed the loop in 2016.

Next up I tackled the Death loop. I struggled on this one last year, having left it until my third loop, and decided that this time I would tackle it ahead of Famine. This loop had a tricky bit of navigation early on, but I was armed with my GPS watch so I was confident I could dart off on my own and get on with it. My confidence was severely misplaced as I almost immediately got lost. This slowed me down a bit, but worse than that, it gave me a very steep uphill to clamber up in order to get myself back on track. I ploughed on and found the path only to also discover my right calf muscle cramping up. I was only 25 km into the race, I still had another 55 km to go. This was not ideal. I alternated walking and jogging to try and unlock my calf muscle, no amount of stretching was preventing it from cramping back up, I just had to run through it. This changed how I ran, which in turn caused my quads to cramp up. I was not having fun.

It would have been possible to cut a corner and make up some lost time on this loop, but instead I kept going to the top of the hill. The GPS trace on my watch and the fact I had sent people a tracking link in advance kept me more honest than at least one of the runners I spoke to.

I was met at the top of the hill by rain and wind. The weather was getting a bit wild and wooly for my liking and I had to put on an extra layer. The next part was all downhill and my cramp had gone for the time being so I opened my legs up and made up for some lost time, only slowing down when I worried for a bit that I had missed a checkpoint. That time was once again lost on the next uphill (welcome back cramp), and the realisation that I had already lost my salt tablets. I cheered myself up with the rest of the chocolate brownies that I had with me before running on in to finish the loop with the time on the clock now reading 4 hours 52 minutes.

As I set back out onto the Famine loop I came across Lindsay and a guy called Martin who was running with her, they were running back into the Apocalypse 50 headquarters looking a lot fresher than I was looking coming out of it. I was aware that I had pushed a little too hard after getting lost. I would find myself repeating this getting lost thing again 48 km into the race. This would cost me more minutes and another kilometre of distance. This was compounded when I came to the point around 51 km in where there was the option of either taking an official but steep shortcut up, or adding another kilometre around on a slightly less steep section. I missed the shortcut. This was getting demoralising; I ate some cheese.

I didn’t realise how slow I was moving until I head voices in the distance behind me. They had started around kilometre 52 and would stay thereabout until kilometre 60. Feeling rather slow and miserable I waited for them to catch up, knowing that in all likelihood it was Lindsay and Martin. I had pushed forward so many times, but each mistake was costing me too much time. I was ready for a bit of company. We took the rest of the loop somewhat leisurely and we were back at headquarters again with the clock at 8 hours and 42 minutes. This time last year I had completed these three loops in 9 hours and 14 minutes. I was at least ahead of that.

Next up was Conquest, the final loop and I was full of energy and ready to go. Lindsay’s reaction to this involved “Don’t you ####ing dare ####ing run off now.” I decided I would stick with Lindsay and Martin through to the end. They’d helped me keep up the pace towards the end of the Famine loop and there was no chance of me completing in under ten hours. I started thinking of this as a training race rather than something to compete in. I’d do better in the next one.

Conquest was uneventful. My quads and calf kept cramping up – this made the uphill sections tough and I struggled to keep up with Lindsay and Martin on these. The steep downhills were beautiful and I would bound down to the bottom and wait for an increasingly sweary Lindsay to limp down them. Martin told me I should run of ahead and he would keep an eye on her for the last section, but I decided I would stick with these two for the rest of the race, finishing together would be more fun than me finishing five or ten minutes ahead of them on my own. We climbed another hill, I ran down another hill, clipped our booklets at the last checkpoint and started the long flat run back to headquarters. It amazes me that there were people still setting out on their final loop as we were jogging in. I am more impressed by their endurance and their ability to spend so long just carrying on than I am with the faster people. Slower people suffer longer.

Because it was flat and there was no chance of injury, Lindsay nearly broke herself slipping as she climbed over a stile. Both her collarbone and her ankle survived and we made it to the finish line in joint 7th with both myself and Martin having the time down as 11 hours and 18 minutes on our watches (although by time the the race organisers, whose automatic timing things had broken, noted our times, we were there at 11 hours and 20 minutes).

It was a fantastic and beautiful race, I had a great time and learnt a lot. Having run both with other people and alone for some of this one, I am sure I will do more ultramarathons with other people, but I am looking forward to the challenge of running solo for 75 miles in the Pen Llyn Ultra.

Swollen Calf and Finishers Medal
Come in number 58, your time is up. My calf was rather painful during and after this run, but at least I got a shiny medal.

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