Millennium UltraI have been delaying my write up of the Millennium Way Ultra. This has been because I don’t really know what to say or how I feel about it.

Don’t get me wrong- it was a great event, with the great organisation and friendliness that is typical of a Beyond Marathon event. It’s just that I… well I… kind of… erm…

Oh ok. I DNF’d. Yep- I didn’t finish. I dropped out.

DNF. Those three letters every endurance athlete dreads but which all must face, probably several times, over the course of their running and walking careers. And I faced them today.

What went wrong? First I should start at the beginning… the pre dawn darkness giving way to a murky, surly grey sky as I parked at the Shobnall Leisure Complex at Burton-on-Trent, registered and had my timing chip wrist band secured round my wrist. We were to be taken by bus to the start near Newport, and to my surprise and delight I found myself sitting with a runner who had been part of my trekking group to Machu Picchu in 2003.

I started the event with wet feet as most of us girls streamed off the bus and immediately sought a place to pee in a wet and boggy field. A short road walk brought us to the start; an old railway track- the Greenway- leading from Newport to Stafford.

As expected, everyone else quickly left me for dust as I trotted the 9 miles along the old railway to the first checkpoint on the outskirts of Stafford.

The railway track- you can tell this is near the start as there are still runners in sight!

The railway track- you can tell this is near the start as there are still runners in sight!

The track was dry and I actually made pretty good time for me, making the first checkpoint in just over two hours. I had convinced myself that they would be forced to keep the checkpoints open just for me to stumble through so was delighted to see a couple reach it just ahead of me.

A bit of patroitism!

A bit of patroitism!

I joined them as we navigated through Stafford and onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal path which we would follow to the next checkpoint. They were training for another ultra, and we made good pace at first, walking and then jogging a little. However, a deep muddy patch caused the chap to painfully twist his knee and he was finding it increasingly difficult to jog or even walk. His companion was also struggling through a cold and bad chest, so they made the decision to call it a day at checkpoint number two at 18 miles.

Packhorse Bridge

Packhorse Bridge

Hayward Junction

Hayward Junction

I reluctantly left them and forced my body into a shambling jog, passing narrow boats, aqueducts and bridges, switching to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Hayward Junction where two checkpoint volunteers found me and walked me into the checkpoint, telling me I had roughly three hours to reach checkpoint three at 28 miles before the cut off. After informing them about the two runners I had left behind, I grabbed some food and left, marching down the towpath towards Rugeley.

It started to rain and mist enveloped everything beyond the canal path. As I marched I was suddenly aware of a twinge at the back of my right knee. I think that this is when I first entertained the thoughts of failure. The further I went, the worse it became, and as I walked through the old sandstone tunnel and turned off the canal into fields, I was mindfully aware that time was haemorrhaging away from me.

Lovely old village barn

Lovely old village barn

It was unfortunate that his was the trickiest part of the route as it cut through farmland, as navigation was trickier and some of the fields were very wet and muddy, which slowed my pace even further. Add to this the hazard of an electric fence that needed to be stepped over twice (being tasered by it didn’t make me any faster unfortunately) and I realised that there was no way I was going to make the cut off time at checkpoint three.

The only climb of the day!

The only climb of the day!

The rain was falling heavier now, cold and unremitting, and the thought of being out for another ten miles in the rain and the dark was rapidly losing its appeal. It was a relief when I saw Wendy at the checkpoint and the promise of a lift in a nice dry car. I had completed 28 miles but was going no further today.

As we reached the leisure complex the weather was truly awful and the rain had set in for the night. I was so grateful not to be out there as I tucked into a cheese and onion pasty and two cups of coffee provided by the excellent volunteers.

So what went wrong? Well I can blame the mud, I can blame my knee- and it is still sore now so I am glad now that I didn’t risk any further damage. But I think the number one reason was me. I wasn’t good enough- pure and simple. I just do not have the fitness at the moment to do these extra long running events. Sure, I could probably have walked it in under 12 ½ hours, but the cut off time was 11 hours, which meant running at least a good chunk of it at a faster pace than I managed.

Unless I am willing to work on this- and I mean REALLY work on this then I should resign myself to just walking the shorter marathon events. (One amazing chap completed the Belvoir Challenge the day before doing the Millennium Ultra and still put in a good time!!)

So I have some work to do now… I need to figure out whether I really do want to have a serious stab at running these longer events or not. And if I do… then train!!

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