There was no doubt about it- I was completely lost. Approaching checkpoint three my route description had finally succumbed to the relentless showers and had disintegrated into a soggy illegible pulp, and now I had taken the wrong exit out of the field.

Instead of arriving at the checkpoint marquee on the playing field at Yoxall I was faced with unfamiliar roads and had absolutely no idea how to get back on track. I looked at my watch- 5:03pm. I knew that the checkpoint closing time was 5:05pm and I had no way of finding it in time. It was looking horribly like my race was over… panicking I forced my tired body into a shambling jog- but I wasn’t even sure I was running in the right direction…

My adventure started as I drove through the grey morning to register at Burton-on-Trent, where I was given a coffee by a kind lady who was equipped with flasks and disposable cups. Coaches were waiting to take us to the start at Newport and as we drew nearer the clouds became increasingly heavier. By the time we shuffled off the coach it was a full on downpour.

Although the race’s official start time is 8am, by the time everyone had used the loos, huddled out of the rain and listened to race director Richard’s race briefing it was 8:25am. Richard informed us that a heavy band of rain was due for the next couple if hours and after this we could expect frequent showers. Lovely… as we set off through the streets the rain turned to sleet, with icy blasts freezing my face and neck. This wasn’t going to be easy…

I had last attempted this event three years ago, being timed out at checkpoint three as I had mentally given up shortly after leaving checkpoint two. This race has been hanging over me ever since and I had entered and then withdrawn over the previous two years due to chesty coughs but also a lack of confidence in my ability to complete it.

This year was different- no coughs or colds, no excuses. I still didn’t feel ready but there was no way I was going to let myself wimp out again! It was going to be a big ask though… the Millennium Way had grown an extra three miles since my last attempt, and it was apparent that all the rain over the past few weeks had conspired to make this year the muddiest and wettest ever (Richard later said that this was the toughest he had ever seen the course).

There are no photos sadly as I had to put my phone in my pack to stop it from getting destroyed by the rain.

The first part of the route to checkpoint one at 11.5 miles follows the Stafford Greenway- a former railway line- into Stafford. Although the surface was good we were frequently faced with huge puddles so there was no chance of keeping my new trail shoes dry.

I briefly spoke with a couple of other runners, including a chap who had come from Israel to do the event, but realised I was pushing myself too much to match their pace, so I let them go and took up my usual place at the back.

Just before the checkpoint I overtook a lady which gave me a burst of confidence, took a few snacks at the checkpoint and set off through Stafford. The really muddy field I remembered was totally flooded- like a lake- so a slightly longer detour had been put into place. I wasn’t feeling great at this point- the rain had eased but my legs felt really heavy and I was struggling to run. I forced myself to eat something and downed a couple of pain killers as I reached the canal path which I would follow to the second checkpoint.

I had expected the path to be fairly firm like it had been last time, but sadly my hopes were dashed as it kept disintegrating into a muddy quagmire- there would be a few minutes of being able to jog then suddenly you’d be sliding all over the place. Luckily I felt slightly better and was able to maintain a kind of jog much of the time, and it didn’t seem to take too long to reach the junction with the Trent and Mersey canal.

I was feeling quite good at this point, and expected to reach the second checkpoint shortly. However it proved to be further away than I thought and I started to convince myself I’d missed it! I reached it just as it started to pour again and was surprised to be told that there were five people behind me.

After the checkpoint the route follows the canal past Rugeley before crossing fields to the third checkpoint at Yoxall. I was determined not to be timed out again and was still feeling fairly strong, but my route description was decidedly wet and soggy and fast becoming illegible. It was also apparent that the fields were going to be far wetter and muddier then usual!

I slid my way through several fields and passed through the pretty villages of Pipe Ridware and Mavesyn Ridware. As I approached the notorious pump house field I caught up with two guys who had been trying to find a detour. I peered into the field and realised it was flooded- icy sheets of water lay between us and the footbridge.

I said I was going to suck it up and go through, and the guys followed; boy was it cold!! What else could this crazy event throw at us?

It was shortly after this that I could no longer read my instructions, and began relying on following the mass of running shoe prints to navigate through the fields. This strategy unravelled in a large grassy field where footprints were lost; spying a footpath sign by a stile I followed it down to a road, where I soon realised I had gone wrong.

In hindsight I should have just gone back up to the stile instead of running like a headless chicken through Yoxall. I asked for directions, but soon forgot them and eventually found my way into a housing estate. It was now nearly 5:20 and I was convinced I had ended my race with a stupid blunder. I spied a chap leaving his house, about to go on a run, and asked him for directions to the playing field. Bless him, he looked worried about me and said I looked tired and cold… he then offered to take me to the playing fields in his car, an offer I eagerly accepted as I had already run much further than I should have done so I wasn‘t cheating!

I reached the checkpoint at 5:25pm, and was relieved to be told that due to the later start, the extra mileage caused by the earlier detour and the course conditions they were now closing at 5:30pm, and we had until 8:30pm to finish. I was asked whether I had a head torch (yes) and whether I was sure I felt I could finish by 8:30pm (no but I am going to give it a good go so I am just going to say yes) and was allowed to continue- result!

I later read Richard’s race report where he mentioned two guys retiring at checkpoint three after becoming lost and adding on several miles… those two guys obviously followed me… sorry guys! I did tell you not too…

Just as I was leaving two girls marched through and I followed them. I thought they were doing the event together but it turned out they had paired up along the route; we ended up walking to the end together which was great- it really helps walking with others at the end of an event, especially when it gets dark. I had recced the next part but it was much muddier than a fortnight ago so we had more slipping and sliding before reaching the road as darkness fell, which we decided to follow rather than braving more flooded fields.

We had been warned that the canal path was muddy and slippery so we chose to follow the pavement alongside the A38 as it runs parallel with the canal- not the nicest of walks but it allowed us to make good progress. The other two girls were marching along at a good pace, and I forced myself to keep up with them, although everything was now hurting.

When the road left the canal we rejoined the canal path, slipping and sliding towards the Marston Brewery bridge where it was a relief to climb the steps to the road. My two companions both had friends waiting for them at the road and they walked us back into the leisure centre, where we managed a lumbering kind of run over the finish line.

My official time was slightly over the 12 hours by 4 minutes, but we were within the new 8:30pm finishing time and it felt great when Richard put my medal round my neck. I couldn’t believe it- finally achieved after three years! My companions got an extra medal as this was their first ultra- an amazing achievement, especially given the conditions.

As we tucked into hot pasties we realised we were the last people in- I think there had been a few retirees, which wasn’t surprising. I am only just feeling normal again after hardly being able to move at all on Monday!

And in five weeks’ time I will be doing it all again- in reverse!! Let’s hope it doesn’t rain in the next few weeks…

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