Tackling The Wall is a huge undertaking, but how does it feel to be out on that course racking up those miles as you edge closer and closer to THAT bridge and the finishline? We asked our 2023 #ratracers to describe their journey from Carlisle to Gateshead, the highs, the lows and how they kept going when the going got tough.
Name: Emma Feerick
The Wall has been a bucket list event for me since 2021. I followed a free 100km training plan online, which fitted in really well around my work schedule. The longest run on the program was 30 miles, which I tied into doing the Goring Gap Ultra.
The night before The Wall I felt oddly calm, and quite relaxed about everything. My kit all passed inspection, and following a cheeky Nando's for tea, it was time for an early night. Next morning my staple race day breakfast of a Tesco porridge pot, orange juice & a Weetabix on-the-go drink, and it was time to head to Carlisle Castle. The bag drop was super easy & I was in the start pack ready to go at 06.45am with all the other hardy souls.
My race day strategy was simple: finish the event. No ego, no pace prediction, no splits. I had already planned if it was as hot as was forecast that I would jog until 11am, walk-jog through the hottest part of the day, then recommence jogging from about 7pm, but luckily it got nowhere near 26C, and the easterly breeze was delicious.
The first 25km passed really easily, there were always people around to chat with and it was nice to just get into a rhythm. I had planned to take a drink and eat something (a Haribo, a block of Kendal Mint cake) every time my watch buzzed a kilometre, and that strategy worked really well.
First pitstop I nipped to the loo, filled my 2L bladder, and grabbed some Haribo + peanuts. I really prefer eating food that's wrapped as I'm not a fan of running with sticky/dirty hands, especially if I have to reapply sunscreen. I went through 28km in about 3h 50, which put me on track to finish around 11pm.
My Garmin threw a bit of a wobbler approx 32km in, but after wiping the sensor it sorted itself out. Seeing Hadrian's Wall for real was just incredible. It's such a magnificent structure & I was more interested in looking at it than I was at counting kms. I met some really interesting people, including a guy who'd run the Great North Run in 1:17 on the border of Cumbria/Northumberland, and had a nice chat with him coming up the hill into Walltown Quarry. Being loudly referred to as a "choo-choo train" in a strong Geordie accent, was definitely a highlight of the first half, but unfortunately I lost him coming out of Walltown. I replenished my bladders and emptied my new batch of gels into my running vest, and then grabbed a jam sandwich & a cheese sandwich before heading out to the "hilly bit".
I had intended to walk the first 30' out of Walltown to allow the sandwiches to be digested, but the terrain soon meant it was a lot of hiking & little bits of jogging. I live very close to the North Downs and have done a lot of my training runs out there with my friend JPD who has completed the Spine Race, The Dragon's Back as well as Scotland Coast to Coast. He frequently referred to Box Hill & Leith Hill as "mere undulations". When I hit the steps coming out of Walltown, I did laugh & think JPD would be in his element. I do really enjoy hiking & my leg strength from rowing really paid dividends going up & down the hills. At the top of each hill I consciously took a second to enjoy the scenery as Northumberland Park is just stunning, and the landscape made the lactate all worthwhile. I had a cheeky handwash in a cattle trough before the last down hill into The Sill.
I had be warned by someone I met early on that there's a "never ending" hill coming out of The Sill, so I grabbed a cup of tea + a caramel wafer to munch on whilst walking the hill. Quick photo of the alpaca's at the top of the hill & then on to the halfway mark. I met a really nice chap to run with across the long road over toward Newborough, I didn't get his name but he worked for Nissan, and chatting to him made the middle km's fly by. We hit the halfway mark (time for some Bon Jovi) in just under 8h, before he waved me to go on ahead & wished me luck.
Everyone I had spoken to warned me to not view Hexham as the finish line, but nonetheless it was a nice relief to see the steam plume (thanks Nissan man) & know the big pitstop was close. I didn't hang about in Hexham- grabbed my additional long sleeve, head torch checked, and time for another sandwich. Quick march out of Hexham where I joined a lovely couple who were running in aid of a children's Cystic Fibrosis charity. The chap was planning an Ironman in Newcastle, and we got chatting about other ultra races. I'm planning on doing The Lap in September, and they'd both completed it last year so we had a good natter about that. They were ready to trot on, but it soon became apparent their base pace was quicker than mine, so I waved them on, as I was determined to not let my ego kick off with 40km+ still to go.
Through the 84km mark in just shy of 12h & I was really surprised my legs still wanted to run. I did a lot of yoga online as part of my training, and the channel I use has a mantra of "you were made to do hard things" which I did repeat several times over. I also acknowledged that it was ok to be a bit grumpy & tired, I'd been on the move a long time & covered a lot of distance. From approx. 80km I gave myself rewards every 5km as well as general fuelling; brushing my teeth on the 10km mark, chocolate bar on the 5km. When I ran through the make-shift pit stop before Ovington, the most lovely lady made me the strongest cup of tea known to man, which being Irish, was very welcome. She also checked her makeshift clipboard (burger box) & advised me I was in the top 20 women. This lit the fire a bit & it was onward march through the undergrowth.
From about 90km onward I really started to pick through the masses, my legs felt really good & I was closely monitoring my heart rate (low 140's throughout). I had a lot of people give me words of support "looking strong", "you keep going girl" & I knew mentally hitting 100km would be huge. The final pit stop came into view at 99km, and I had been warned not to dawdle. Quick wee, another jam sandwich & head torch on! My watch flipped to 100km as I passed Tyne United Rowing club (quick selfie for the rowing fans) and onwards.
It started to rain just coming past the Blue Star football ground and given it was now properly dark, the going started to get a bit tough. I adopted a run 500m, walk 500m strategy just to break things up, but even then, the last 5km was starting to drag. Once I hit the quayside, I was fixated on finding the "1 mile to legend" marker, and I gave it a bit of a slap as I went past. I was able to trot the last mile and used all the bridges as mini markers. The support from people in bars/pubs was amazing, they were so kind & I felt so lifted by them. One chap loudly shouted "it's the next bridge duck" as I went by, so I really tried to keep the legs turning over. The marshal at Millennium Bridge was a welcome sight & I pulled out my phone so I could record the last few metres. The uphill on the bridge felt like nothing & although I didn't sprint (didn't want the ugly gurn-face finish photo) I was able to pick the pace up & cross the line in good order.
I hit stop on the Garmin & was delighted to see I'd come in at 16:15:14 (what an aesthetically pleasing time!!) and was even more delighted when my old rowing coach immediately texted me & said "you're 14th woman you lunatic". I had no aims on placing or times coming into this as I knew my competitive edge would actually be a big negative if I became hung up on results, so to come that high up was a brilliant bonus.
Would I do The Wall again- honestly, no. Not because it's not fantastic (it is), or not a stunning route (it is), but because I think I had close to a perfect run on Saturday, and I don't want to taint that experience.
My top tips for the Wall:
1 Don't set goals, let completing it be your goal. It's such a long way & so many things are outside your control, don't spoil the experience holding yourself to a time/finish position
2 Acknowledge it's hard. I passed a lady who was really frustrated she couldn't run anymore & was quite upset about it.110km is a hell of a long way to go on your legs, we're not machines. It's absolutely fine to run, run/walk, or just walk. Acknowledge the great work you're doing & allow yourself to be tired/a bit sore rather than getting frustrated at yourself. I actually tell my legs they're doing a good job when I go up hard hills, it's weird but it works
3 Enjoy the scenery. Take a split second on each climb to take in the view. Really absorb the magnificence of Hadrian's Wall & the beauty of the hills. Stopping for a photo or to just "be" won't make a blind bit of difference to your overall time.
4 Be proactive in your self care. The first bit of chafe/niggle, get the vaseline on. Any rubbing in your shoe- get the tape on. I met a guy who had savage blisters on his heels which totally derailed his day. Soon as I felt even a hint of rubbing, I stopped & got some tape on, and as result I still have all my toenails, no chafing & no blisters ANYWHERE
5 Don't stop eating after Newburn. The last 11.4km is mentally tough & it's very easy to run out of fuel & make the final 5km even harder on yourself.
Name: Jo Day
I entered The Wall a week after completing Man Vs Coast last year! I was looking for an endurance challenge and this really fit the bill! I have always liked to try things ‘to see if I can’.
In the lead up to The Wall I ran 10 marathons in the first half of 2023 including 3 ultras, up to 42miles and followed a training plan set by my coach. All those miles in the legs definitely helped! I am not a fast runner, I am a diesel engine that once it’s got started can trundle along for 22hrs as we now know!
Standing at the start line and getting under way was such an amazing experience! As with any endurance event, that feeling of ‘pressing go’ is always exciting, accepting what will be will be.
The Pit Stops broke up the miles and made a huge difference when managing the task mentally. The smiles and kindness at every stop helped me feel ready to take on the next leg. I knew that if I could get to Hexham, I would get to the end and arriving there to a round of applause was very emotional. I cried on and off for the last 26miles, both through happiness and tiredness, and I’m not usually a weeper!
A high for me was covering the stretch from Walltown to The Sill, up and over the Pennines, sharing the climbs with other runners, chatting away and looking at the breathtaking views. Another point that set me off blubbing again was a clap and words of encouragement from a chap walking his dog at about 11pm in a little village - the kindness of strangers is in abundance at this event.
I struggled with blisters and good foot care is an absolute must. I had to dig deep to not be thwarted by a very painful toe - there was no way I was going to give up because of a little toe! Running through the night was a mixed bag and staying mentally strong and solving problems before they got bigger was tough. Running with a friend made all the difference and when I knew I needed something but couldn’t decide what, he knew I needed to eat! If you’re not running the whole event with somebody, find a buddy for the night time, it will make all the difference.
A top tip from this first timer would be pack a full change of clothes, shoes and a toothbrush and paste for the bag drop at Hexham! I felt refreshed and rejuvenated for the last leg after that!
Completing an event like this has shown me that if I want to, I can. It has reminded me of the magic found in human kindness, on the route and at the pit stops, check points and at the finish.
Top tip I used sports tape to avoid chafing - taped anywhere that could rub including everywhere a sports bra goes, where my race pack sat and seams of shorts. No chafing at all!
Looking to add The Wall to your 2024 calendar? Entries are open now for the 15th June and you can save 10% on solo entries when you use the code BLOG10*.
If you want to share your experience of completing The Wall drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo and we can add your story!
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