Saturday 19 August 2017

YOLO 2017 - A Hill Too Far?

In the words of Jeremy Clarkson and crew "Ambitious but rubbish" comes to mind, probably from of a few people. However that wasn't  how it was supposed to turn out and looking back at it, it still wasn't to a certain degree.

When I finished YOLO 2015, I needed a new adventure to look forward to and so I started planning of what I could do. I chose to raise money for Child Bereavement UK as it seemed the logical next step after my friend Phil had passed away leaving two young children behind. Justgiving Page

Kit all packed and ready to go!
Having a pretty positive 2016 in racing, the plans I had laid down were achievable. I had originally meant to finish on the Sunday, however due to defering "the Plague" 64 mile Mudcrew race in 2016, I moved my event left so I could do both. I didn't want to waste my entry money.
The start line
So I set the route and it was all go. As time grew near, life grew manic with work getting busier and receiving a lot of negativity from outside groups, it really started to effect my mojo.

To be honest if I hadn't set this as a fundraising event I'd probably have not bothered. However I decided to still go ahead. The time came and we made our way up to North Wales. The trip was pretty good to be honest and we stayed the first night in a hotel close to the start in Prestatyn.

Before we started I set my self some goals which were:

1. Take each day of YOLO as it comes.

2. Complete YOLO.

3. Make the start line if "the Plague"

4. Finish "the Plague" under cut offs

5. Finish the route if I don't hit 4.

6. Raise more money for Child Bereavement UK.

The first day was going to be pretty tough going from the start and I wasn't wrong. I was straight into a climb from the off, the weather was overcast and the ground was wet, it didn't take long for my feet to get soaked int he long grass.

I chose not to go with Gortex shoes or socks for the very reason if they did get wet inside then they would dry off quicker being none Gortex, than if water got in and was not be able to dry.

So I made my way following the route, up and down hills, I started to lose a lot of time though navigating my way through some of the farmer fields. The hills were well marked it was the farmers sections which weren't. This, the climbs and descents, the stiles and gates along with wet feet that were now suffering were taking up valuable time.

Did I under estimate how tough it will be? Not at all! I knew it would be, it's why I set it as a challenge. If it was going to easy then every one would do it. I got 17 miles in and I had to get my wife (support crew) to sort my feet out, they were looking bad from the wet. It took a fair bit of time but it was sorted. Off I went again.

However as time went on I was realising how much time I had lost. The days mileage I wanted to achieve wasn't going to be achieved if I wanted to get some rest in to go again. So I called it a day after about 11 ish hours. My morale was pretty low to be honest. To try and pick my morale up, the wife booked us into a hotel instead of sleeping in the van. So I could get sorted and re evaluate the rest of the week ahead.

After a good meal at the hotel and what not, chatting with the wife. The sensible way of attacking this was to go and run as much as I could each day. As I set my goals the first one was to take each days as they come.

The next day, again feet soaked from the start as I continued down the Offa's Dyke path towards Welshpool. The weather couldn't make its mind up at all, with even thunderstorms going off. It was going to be one of those days again. The first part of the day was filled with more climbs, but then I soon got to run more flatter parts along the River Severn as well as the aqua-duct to Welshpool.

I crossed the Welsh/English border many times
My morale soon picked up when I was joined by two friends Sarah and Russ Powell, who accompanied me for the rest of my run. As we caught up with each other, and they put up with my moaning about what had gone wrong the miles as slipped away behind us. I was enjoying myself once more. Eventually the flat part went as we left King Offa's Dyke and entered the Glyndwr's Way path in Welshpool.

Sarah and Russ! They were brill.
Quick feet repair and we were off into the hills once more! After 490 metre climb to the top of one hill, we caught our breathe and took in the sights, we noticed a bloody golf course at the top. WTF, what a random thing to see at the top of such a big climb. We eventually made our way down the sharp descent and again after almost 12 hours I was done. Sarah's mum who lived not too far away kindly fed us and put us up for the night.

That was 2 days of the adventure done, and with an early start I tried to get as much rest as possible.

One of the many challenges I had along the route.
From experience of my last epic adventure, day 3 was the worst day mentally and physically, fingers crossed this day 3 was going to be different. Apart from my feet, the rest of me felt alright, considering. It was straight into the climbs once more, and seeing the amazing views that I have already come to accustom to.

Like the first two days my feet were soaked straight away, the climbs were big and the descents through the woods slippy.At one as well the trail was completely over grown with Bracken so much so I had to hack my way through with my poles. I started to feel pain in my right shin, it wasn't like shin splint pain, it was difference. My leg also started to swell. I got to 13.5 miles and I had to call it a day through the pain, and also the weather came in hard! What turned out to be a good start to the day, turned into a shit day.

As the rain lashed down I started to ponder heavily on why I was putting myself through this. I even got to a point where I was asking my late friend Phil for help with the weather. Yep I really did do this. I decided I was going to continue and just do as much as I can regardless.

Day 4 was a new day, I put my shoes on and went again, determined to have a much better day. It was again starting off with a big climb, one of almost 600 metres, and I was feeling pretty good about myself, I made my way up to the top, it was a pretty tricky surface as it was covered in lots of slate shards, again feet were soaked from the start.

At the top of the climb from the right I came and around the lake I went to the left (the wrong path it became)
I got to the top and took in the breath taking views by the lake at the top. I was 5 miles in and thinking well, it's going well so far. I got a bit of a run on and I was feeling good. I kept moving forwards and heading off in what I thought was the right direction. I had no phone signal, and I thought I was following track, I kept going and my morale was high. Eventually my phone went ping, I had signal. so I thought I'd check my tracker to see if I was still on course and marry it up with the guide book maps. Alas my morale soon dropped, I was off course going by the tracker. I could see where I should be (well so I thought). I sent my support crew a text saying I knew I was off track going back to rejoin. Knowing I was going back out of signal, I thought best do this.

When I originally realised I was off track and I thought I wasn't that far from the right route. 
So off back up the hill I ran down, trying to find the point I thought I'd gone wrong. I got to that point and went the other path. Again I tried to tie it in with the guide maps. I went through a ford crossing, and I still kept moving forward, eventually my phone bings again. It was my wife responding to my text. So I quickly check the tracker. It's frozen in the last position I checked it. I check the guide and google maps. I am way off again, so I put in directions to the nearest place name on the path I am supposed to go.

I'm gutted, it's 8.2 miles away from where I was. So I get a move on, I keep thinking I will come to the place I went wrong soon. I got to the gate I thought I had originally I went wrong, nope that wasn't it. I go back along the track I came from, and I keep going. Again each time I thought this must be it, I was wrong. Eventually I got to the lake where I knew I was right. and I saw a sign post fallen on the deck in the bushes. Yep it's the sign post that would've taken me on the correct path if I had seen it. I was devastated. My wife came and met me, as I decided enough was enough. I was in pain and I had covered a total of pretty much 20 miles. 14 ish miles of those were completely off the Glyndwr's Way. It totally ruined me!

After a reasonable sleep it was time to forget about the previous days and try again. Day 5 was another hilly day, and again I went out with the best positive outlook I could conjure. My feet soaking again I carried on up and down, up and down. The views still never disappointed but my injury wasn't getting any better either. I was in a lot of pain now especially on the sharp descents. Eventually it came too much and I called it a day once more, feeling a little dejected. That was the end of the Glyndwr's Way section for me.

One slightly more swollen that the other (it got worse after this)

As I sat a friends house where they were putting us up for two nights (never turn down a good bed and home cooked food) when I received a private message on Facebook. It was this message that changed how I was looking at things. It showed me what I was doing was a good thing, and I shouldn't stop. My wife had also managed to book me in with a local Phsyio who was able to give me a little treatment, to try and help me finish the next two days.
The message that kicked me up the arse to keep going. 
Off I went on Day 6 and it started with a huge climb once more and it allowed me to literally run in the clouds. I was at the top of Hay Bluff. I was heading South now on the Offa's Dyke again. It was strange running in the clouds, although the trails at the top were fantastic. I was able to get a shift on. I got to the Cairn where a friend Rich Cranswick had left me a spirit lifting present. However when I got there it appear someone else had already found it. Despite this, knowing someone went through the effort to do something so kind for me, still made me smile. I carried on making my way along until it suddenly descended at such a sharp angle my leg couldn't take it any more and that was the end of my day. I need to make it to the start line of the Plague and as well as one more day of YOLO to go. However I wasn't down about it, I had a really good run up until then.

I was little running in clouds at this point
So the final day, after chatting to the wife, we decided I have to finish on a high. I needed to complete the whole section. Regardless, how long it took. It started off like all the other days, wet feet and with climbs. The views again were awesome and it tool me through places such as Monmouth along the way.

As I made my way, through a set of climbs with about 11 miles to go to Chepstow. I cam across a guy who was walking in the other direction. I noticed he had something on his t-shirt, so I briefly stopped to speak to him. He was walking South to North along the Offa's Dyke. He was doing it on behalf of his recent late wife. It sort of brought a tear to my eye as he told be his story. I shook the man's hand wished him well and took a pic of his t-shirt so I could donate towards his cause.

The guy I met along the way who was walking the Dyke in 2 weeks for his wife.
It again made me think about myself, it sort of slapped me across the face. I was going to finish this and make that Plague start line.

I came across a choice of Offa's Dyke Path's one took me up and over the hills the other took me along the River Wye. I choose the flatter path so I could stretch my legs a bit. The was quite warm out and with little cover, I did feel it a little. Was it the right choice of path? I dunno but even with having to deal with a fallen tree, I continued on eventually conquering one last climb before coming down into Chepstow and the finish.

As I made my way down through the town I eventually made my way over the bridge towards Chepstow Castle which was my finish line. As I approached I saw my support crew waiting for me and I made it to the end.

My reward for finishing!
Looking back on it, some will say it's was too big a challenge for me. I don't think it was in sense I am capable of it, just this time for various reasons it wasn't meant to be. Whether it was down to the negativity I have received over the last few months, whether it was my navigation, the weather, wet feet every day etc etc that is something I will sit down and reflect on.

I do think there are lots of positives from all this. I could've quit before I started, I could've quit after the first day and so forth but I didn't. Every day I got up and went again. No doubt those people who want to knock me will still do but I did invite people to join me and they didn't so it shows more of their character than mine.

Could compress for my swollen Extensor Digitorium Longus Tendon
I saw some so much during my run, from Sheep, Cows, Grouse, Pigs to Golf Course up a big hill, some of the most stunning views I have seen in the UK. Definitely something I would do again.

Did I find my limit? No I think this wasn't my limit but it wasn't my week that's all. I have still raised money for a good cause, I still ran/walked/crawled the Offa's Dyke and Glyndwr's Way in some form and I got to see some of the most sunning views I will never forget.

I couldn't have done it with out my support crew- my wife and son are awesome. Thank you Russ and Sarah for joining me and putting me up for a night, the Hopkins for putting us up for 2 nights, it's the little things like that which installs my faith back into running community.

Thank you to Tailwind Nutrition UK for all their support. It got me through the week with very little issues nutrition wise and I was in a far better place than I was in 2015's adventure.

I made it to the start line of the Plague, which will be in my next blog.

Thank you all for the support, what's the next adventure? You'll have to wait and see!


A short film of my journey edited by Runnexplorer click link

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