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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

13 Reasons to Recommend Saltmarsh 75

  • It’s flat. You don’t have to worry about hill training. Although there are some speed bumps. Only enter this if you're confident about being able to climb these.
  • Marshals are brilliant, enthusiastic and helpful.
  • You can’t get lost so long as you keep the sea on your right. Unless you walk the wrong way out of the checkpoint and back the way you’ve come. No-one would do that. Cough.
  • Day two had some beautiful scenery. And some more sea wall.

If you see this view, you're going the wrong way ...
  • You get to laugh at your friend’s inability to climb over stiles without making creaking and groaning noises. This was still amusing after the 50th time.
  • It’s 77 miles along a seawall. Excellent for mental strength as it’s the outdoor equivalent of a treadmill.
  • It’s dead flat so you’re using the same muscles over and over. Think how strong those muscles will be. Like Popeye but without the spinach.
  • Free parking all weekend and kit transported to halfway point, checkpoints and finish.
  • The trail is just wide enough for one foot and cambered to the left. But this is good if you’re shaped like a hermit crab and want one massively muscled side.
  • I took photos. They’re ALL the same. You can save on film.


Hurry up Sarah or I'll eat your snacks ...

  • Excellent for boredom threshold training. The sea wall winds (in straight lines) in and out of the marsh and mud areas so you can see places in the distance - an occasional bush or pole sticking out of the sea - but don’t get there for an hour. I never knew how exciting passing a bush could be.
  • You get to camp at a pub halfway. Pub is awesome. 5am cockerel is not. Take earplugs. Drink cider.
  • You get to appreciate the little things. I never knew how amazing a lukewarm shower, a tub of Vaseline or a plate of chips and beans could be. Pretty damn amazing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reclaiming ‘running like a girl’

I watched short clip recently on what it meant to run like a girl. It felt like it broke my heart.



What does ‘running like a girl’ mean to you?

I asked my daughter, my brave smart 5 year old how to run like a girl. She zoomed off, little arms pumping and legs pounding, fast as she could. “That’s how you run like a girl.” And it was. Fast and strong, feeling your heart pumping in your chest.

Being a girl is great. When did we lose the surety of the 5 year old? Every 5 year old girl knows that being a girl is great, that boys are not stronger, not better. Running like a girl is something to be proud of; it means trying hard, being yourself, enjoying moving, plaits bobbing as you run.

Mummy runs like a girl, she runs far and fast. Wanting her 5 year old daughter to ALWAYS be proud of running like a girl.

We’re reclaiming the phrase. From now on in our house, to run like a girl means to be awesome, to be proud of being like a girl, of running like a girl. It’s a positive phrase, a strong phrase.


Daddy wishes he could run like a girl too. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saltmarsh 75 Race Report: Day 2 - Bloody Cockerels, Dancing at 70 miles & More Sea Wall

At 5:33am I woke suddenly. What the hell was that? It sounded as though someone had trodden on a cat. The creature cleared its throat and tried again.

Cock a doodle DOO.

Really? REALLY? I ran 39 miles yesterday and now I’m being woken up by a cockerel that can’t even tell the time? It’s not dawn and some of us have a full day ahead of us. I pulled my jumper over my head and tried to get back to sleep. It was no good. Now my bladder had woken up.

Great. Wet wellies and a torch and a hunt for the loos. Bloody cockerel. Bloody bladder. Bloody camping.

Bladder relieved I dragged myself back into my sleeping bag to wait for the alarm. Sigh. Why didn’t I book a hotel? Or check for cockerels before agreeing to camp? Camping had seemed like such a nice idea when I’d booked this race in my nice warm house.

My phone bleeped with a message from Angela: “I’m at breakfast. Where are you?” I dragged myself out of the tent and helped myself to scrambled eggs and beans for breakfast in the pub. In my pyjamas. It appeared to be the uniform of choice for the runners at that time of the morning.

Breakfast eaten, we registered for day 2. Still in our pyjamas. It is only 7:15am. An unholy hour after a long day running in the rain. Surely we could have had a bit of a lie in?

I left Angela and another runner chatting in the pub and went to tape my feet and de-pyjama myself. I sorted my kit and laid out my snacks to pack and was halfway through taping my right foot when the siren went for the race briefing. Huh?

I hopped out of the tent half-taped and listened in. Angela was there. I’d have to rely on her to catch any critical info. I hopped back to the tent and started shoving things panickedly into my ultra vest. Argh! I’d thought 45 minutes was plenty to de-tent and de-pyjama – rookie error!!

I started pulling out tent pegs like a loon, while trying to put trainers on and doing half a job of everything.

Argh!! People are leaving for the start!! Pull out tent pegs faster! Angela came over and we started de-tenting and her husband came over. I grovelled and he agreed to take the tent down – phew!!

Angela and I ran and caught the tail end of the walkers leaving down the road. She laughed at me – “Stop panicking! We have 37 miles to catch everyone up again.”

She was right. But I HATE being late.

We passed the walkers and caught up to the runners. There didn’t seem to be as many people as before. Maybe the rumours flying around of the 50% dropout rate for day one had been correct.

My hat and waterproof jacket were still drenched from the torrential rain yesterday. There had been no point in bringing them as they were sodden. I was going to have to rely on the weather forecast – which is a gamble in this country – and run today’s race in a base layer and run vest. Unfortunately my overpacking hadn’t included a wind proof jacket. Sarah – you idiot. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite you.



CP1
Checkpoint 1 was at Maylandsea but the first section of the run was back to the sea wall so we took full advantage of being able to get lost while we could. We took a wrong turning and saw wild peacocks in a field. Unafraid they looked at us and carried on pecking and sauntering.

Wild peacocks ...

This morning was a complete contrast to yesterday. There was mist in the fields and the sun was promising warmth. It was beautiful. A good-to-be-alive day. I took photos – I couldn’t resist. The sun was reflecting in the pools and everything looked so lovely. Even the broken stiles were something to laugh at as we clambered over them with our stiff muscles.





As we arrived at checkpoint one, I needed a loo stop and Vaseline – things I hadn’t been able to sort due to my late start.
Luckily the marshals could provide a loo but I wasn’t so lucky with the Vaseline. My previously-trusty capris, worn during other ultras had decided they wanted to chew my legs off. Thanks then. Unfortunately no Vaseline was available. I steeled myself for an unpleasant day 2. I was 3 miles in ...



The next section was on the sea wall proper. Long dew covered grass and a rough track underneath meant our feet were soon squelching and Angela’s calf started causing her problems. We dug out the rock tape and she was soon good as new and ready to start onwards again. Everything was beautiful in the morning sunshine and I couldn’t get over the contrast to yesterday. Now if only I could convince myself that my shorts weren’t trying to saw me in half ...



We could see Maldon in the distance for a long time and in the sunshine, it looked picturesque and beautiful. It always helps me to see the destination ... even if that destination is still several miles away on the mazelike seawall. We could tell we were getting closer now though as we were sharing the sea wall with dog walkers and families. Hurdling Labradors and avoiding toddlers took our minds off the sea wall and the path improved closer to the towns and villages.





As we came to the park, the runners in front went right. We checked the route instructions and followed the path around the left of a park despite a helpful elderly gent telling us to cut across – well that’s not playing by the rules is it? As we exited, we spotted the group of runners coming along the sea wall from our right. Looks as though the instructions gave us the shorter route.

CP2
We came down the promenade and spotted the now familiar Saltmarsh quill flag waving in the slight breeze. Angela spotted a couple of her friends, Laura and Soraya and her husband, David, cheering us in. It was lovely to meet them and Angela’s husband yet again proved his loveliness by handing me a massive tub of Vaseline. Angel.


Having run approximately 50 miles in the last 24 hours I had lost all sense of shame and grabbed a handful of the greasy gold and liberally applied it. Relief. Blessed relief. We grabbed our jelly babies (I did wipe the Vaseline off first!) and I dragged poor Angela away and on towards our next destination, the road stretching onwards in front of us.



Angela was doing brilliantly, she was well past her longest distance run, but she was still smiling and chatting. There are extreme highs and lows in ultras as everything is magnified due to the distances. Small niggles become big ones, a small chafe becomes very uncomfortable very quickly and forgetting to eat or drink for just an hour can make for an uncomfortable latter part of a run. However we were here, running on a beautiful day and we were going to finish this.

As we ran on the smooth promenade, passing the tall ships and pretty buildings of Maldon, the church bells rang out from the church on the hill, encouraging us forwards.

We had been told to watch out for The Hill which was apparently a ”sharp climb up from Hythe Quay”. Again this was from the point of view of someone who lives at sea level. Even for me who lives in flat Warwickshire, this wasn’t a hill. It was a bump.

View across to Maldon
We had a bit of a moment about which road to take but Mark from Tiptree Runners caught us up and showed us the right way to go. We ran with him for a short time before he disappeared then caught him back up on a rocky footpath. He ran this route from work so was very familiar with it.



CP3
Our next checkpoint was just 3 miles away. It was a café next to the water at Heybridge Basin and operated by the world renowned Wilkin & Son jam makers. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste any of the goodies although the ice cream sign had me wishing for a longer stop but we needed to keep moving.

As we left the checkpoint, I chatted to another lady leaving ... who I realised I recognised. It was Lucy who had run the Stour Valley Marathon in June at the same time as Angela and I. She had pipped me and Chris to the 2nd lady position due to her better grasp of LDWA instructions and map reading and I recognised her from congratulating her after that race. It was nice to have a quick chat with a familiar face and she carried on slightly in front of us when I stopped to add a plaster to my growing collection of plastered sections.



The next part was 4 miles to Goldhanger and a quiet section with views of Osea Island and Northey Islands and an endless succession of caravan parks. It was strange as the caravan parks were separated by massive houses ... and then more miles of caravans. We’d had a succession of short stops to checkpoints, with the final 2 sections being the longest of the day and making up 18 miles between them.

CP4
We came into the quiet checkpoint knowing that no matter what we would finish now. There was only 18 miles between us and the finish line of the 75 mile event. It was a hot day but we were staying hydrated and making sure we were eating every half an hour.

I went off to find the loo but Angela proved she could still race and beat me in there, casually announcing on her way out that she’d used the last of the loo roll. Thanks buddy. Huff. Luckily a search unearthed some more and I didn’t have to ask to borrow one of her socks.

I came out and started sorting out vest, and daubing more Vaseline on (it’s ALLLL glamour this ultra running) and noticed Angela had got herself comfy with a cup of coffee and some sweets on the grass. We started chatting to Lucy there who announced she was dropping out – she’d had enough. We very bossily told her she hadn’t and asked her if she could run 10 miles – the distance to the next checkpoint. She confirmed she could, so we told her she could run it then. Poor Lucy didn’t know what had hit her as she got caught up in the Sarah & Angela whirlwind and we all decided we’d run together using a 12 minute run, 3 minute walk strategy.

Angela offered me a sip of her coffee which I gratefully accepted before nearly spitting it out. She’d been drinking black tea and hadn’t even realised. Sigh. She’s lucky she’d got me around as snack and drink tester.

I was conscious we were spending too long in the checkpoints. We were running at a reasonable pace, but wasting time stopping and chatting and scoffing jelly babies rather than grabbing them and carrying on.


We set off along the sea wall, intent on running the 10 miles to Tollesbury, the ‘village of the plough and sail’. This section comprised mainly of sea wall, more seawall and broken stiles. It was a warm day and I was glad to be wearing just a vest and base layer under my back pack.



We passed Kevin, the Stour Valley RD on this section, he’d been running steadily but the benefit of our run 12 minutes, walk 3 minutes was that we could keep our running paces reasonably consistent while being able to take advantage of the rest breaks. He had been in the distance on the sea wall for about an hour (the joy of running on a zig-zagging wall) before we passed him and had a quick chat at the same time.

Angela and Lucy were running together but my running pace was slightly different to theirs so I carried on at mine and took an extra walk break while they caught up. I hate having to run at a pace that isn’t mine and this way I got an extra walk break. It seemed a win. Plus I could just enjoy the running and I could keep an earphone with music in while I listened for Angela’s bellowed ‘Walk!’, ‘Run!’ instructions. My other Garmin had died earlier today too so Angela was on timing duty.

I owed a debt to Angela’s patience here. The urge to push me off the sea wall and into the marsh must have been almost overpowering as I asked her for the 23rd time that day how far we had to go to the next checkpoint, to run for, how far we’d been. She restrained herself. However, I suspect this may only because she was conserving energy.

For the sake of not being pushed into marshes or beaten to death with my own trainers, I think it might be time to start saving up for a new GPS watch.



We could see the Bradwell power station on the other side of the estuary. I was glad I hadn’t realised that it was here we would be running yesterday or I would definitely have called it a day. Especially if I’d known the other side was EXACTLY THE SAME.

But that I’d have less snacks left.

We could see the town of Tollesbury as we came towards it and it was exhiliarating knowing that we were nearly at the very last checkpoint. The paths became choked with dog walkers and families and we passed wooden houses on our left and what the instructions called an outdoor pool, but anyone else would have called a pond. We were on a smooth tarmac path winding down to the last checkpoint. Angela wanted to walk it but I checked with her and she was ok with me running into this one to get my water bladder refilled and jelly baby stash rejellied.

Angela’s husband had a pint which my beer radar quickly noticed. It smelled amazing. I decided we needed to finish quickly and get our own.

CP5
The marshals were pulling people off course and getting them checked by the paramedics due to sunstroke and we were warned not to proceed if we weren’t 100% as the difficulty of getting help to injured or ill runners on these sections would be high. What did they have out there? Bear traps?

We picked up our final snacks and grabbed our maps for the very last section of Saltmarsh 75. Lucy had completely overcome her down patch at the last checkpoint and was good to run. I could sympathise as had had the same thing on Day one. I dragged Angela and Lucy out of the checkpoint (I swear the jelly babies are magnetic) and we were onto our last section.

The last section was virtually identical to the 13 miles desolate stage on day 1. But with one difference. When we completed this 9 miles we could sit down. And not get up. And more importantly NOT have to run 38 miles the next day.

There were still a lot of stiles to climb over, but now Angela was making funny noises as she climbed over these and when started running after a break. I very kindly took a photo of her to remind her of how much she enjoyed these stiles. I’m nice like that.



This section also continued the 2-day theme of sea wall, more seawall and broken stiles. It was very desolate with the grassy mound winding between the marsh and the sea. It was difficult to see where our final destination was and there were no signs of life. We weren’t even seeing any other runners now and had no ideas whether we were last or first. There had been teams of relay runners flying past on both days early on but we hadn’t seen other runners for a long time now.

Despite the solitude and monotony of the surroundings, I was on a high. I broke open the sweets and chocolate coffee beans and started shovelling them into my mouth and dancing to my music while trotting along.

Lucy nudged Angela. “Is she always like this or is it the sugar?” Angela shrugged. “Think she’s always like this.”

We were on 70 miles and my legs had finally woken up. I had snacks, the sun was shining, nothing hurt and in about 5 miles I’d be at the final checkpoint and there would be coffee there.

Life was good.



A splash of white against the dark water and a pair of swans in the inlet moved serenely as we trotted through the Tollesbury Wick and Old Hall Marshes on the sea wall above them. We were nearly finished. Less than 5 miles of the route had been on surfaced paths - the rest had been grassed paths and across fields and it had been hard. Despite the flatness of the route, it had been a tough run.

We could see the sea wall winding on ahead of us, broken only by occasional stiles and we could see some people. It was Lucy’s family! They had come to run her into the finish. What a wonderful thing to do. Lucy’s husband had started the run with her and would now be finishing it with her, but as Lucy said, he just missed out the 50 miles in the middle.

Angela and I left her with her family and ran on towards the finish. And the sea wall ended.

It ENDED.

We ran down a path through a ploughed field, my mouth was still running too and I told Angela I would be practising my finish photo and doing ‘this’ (waving my ‘jazz hands’) and ‘this’ (‘jumping in the air’) and while looking back and chatting, my finish photo was taken ... 200m before the finish line.

Bugger.

Never mind. We had seen the village hall which was the finish and I asked Angela if she wanted to run it in together with a final push. Angela didn’t and had spotted her husband by the finish. I left them together and ran it in.

I was done.

Angela arrived shortly after and we had the biggest hug. We’d made it through 2 tough days and come through it. Angela was smiling through her tears. She had done so well and I was so proud to run her first ultra with her.

Lucy and her family came in to big cheers from us all and more hugs all round. We’d all finished a 75 mile run, survived sideways rain, resisted temptation of 5am cockerel murder, restrained ourselves from pushing friends into ditches after their Garmins conked out and made new friends.

And now there was a massive jacket potato, a medal and multiple cups of coffee waiting for us.

This has been a successful weekend.

Medal (Pic)


Day 2: 37.73mi 

Total: 76.69 miles

Final distances: 38.96 & 37.73mi

Place: 3rd lady

Saltmarsh 75 Race Report: Day 1 - Platform Mud, Sideways Rain and Sea Wall

These things always seem like a good idea at the time ...

I left work on the Thursday and cheerily said to my colleagues, “Wish me luck. I’m running 75 miles this weekend.”

A chorus of ‘good lucks’ sounded.

“But why?” Asked someone.

“Well ... I paid to do it.” I said. I got a sea of blank faces in return. Seems they thought I had to run these events as some sort of punishment. Like some form of community service that involved chafing, eating massive amounts of snacks and wearing the skin off my feet.

But there wasn’t really any good reason. Sometimes it’s just nice to think, “What shall I do this weekend? I know ...”

Saltmarsh 75 is a 2-day run in Essex and follows the entire coast of the Maldon District from South Woodham Ferrers to Salcott. It’s 75 miles, with an overnight camping stop at The Star Inn in the village of Steeple. The race route follows the public footpath along the top of the sea wall coastal defences as much as possible so is extremely flat (the highest point en route is 15meters above sea level) and navigation is very straightforward ... just keep the sea on your right.


Pre Race ...

I almost didn’t make it as far as the A14 when an old man in an ancient Jaguar pulled out in front of me on a fast A road. In panic, spotting my car at the last minute he slammed his brakes on blocking the road. Managing an emergency stop from about 50mph, I’d pulled the car to a halt about 6 inches from his front wing. Can I claim shock and go home and eat all the snacks I’d packed for the ultra on the sofa instead?

No Sarah. Woman up and get going. Angela is depending on you and there’s 75 miles to run.

Luckily the rest of the drive was uneventful and I found the hotel which was 10 minutes from the race start. Ate a quick dinner in the local pub – order to eaten within 20 minutes - and then had a massive bag of popcorn in bed and watched TV. Is this what life is like for non-runners? Watching TV in the evenings, sitting and eating snacks and relaxing, no worries about which toenail will drop off next or whether the dodgy foot will hold up under 75 miles? At least the actual running was simple. Right foot, left foot ...

I’d wanted a leisurely bath as was unsure what the facilities would be like at the halfway point but I had to be content with a shower. Took off the last pair of knickers I'll be wearing for 2 days and looked at my feet. 90% of my toenails are pink. This is unlikely to happen again for a long time. I took a photo as proof.

This little piggy went to Saltmarsh...

I’ve never been so close to the start of a race before – South Woodham Ferrars was only a 10 minute drive away. It would have been completely runnable if I didn’t have crazy amounts of kit to carry...

I knew I’d overpacked when the chap next to me passed a tiny pop-up tent and a small rucksack to the race organiser to put in his van. I tried to pass up my massive crate to him but failed due to the weight. He looked at me dubiously as he lifted it for me. “Hang on,” I said. ”There’s more.” I went back to the car and returned waddling under the weight of a massive bin bag filled full of sleeping bags, blankets, kit and food and duct-taped shut.

I hadn’t meant to pack this much or even pack a bin bag – it was for pulling over the crate to keep the things in it dry but my packing style of “Throwing-Things-I-May-Need-Into-Kitchen” meant the crate had overflowed and I’d started filling up the bag as well. I certainly wasn’t going to win any prizes for best packed kit or stylish luggage ...



Start ...

The start was at Marsh Farm which boasted a children’s soft play centre, pigs, clean loos and a proper cafe. None of the ‘crouching over a portaloo’ and ‘hanging around the burger van’ like usual. Registration was very easy. I was number 6. I like having the low numbers as it looks like I’m a good runner. I’m not. My surname is just near the start of the alphabet.

Saw a few familiar faces which was lovely. Paddy who I’d run part of the Stour Valley Marathon with, Angela who had talked me into this and who had decided a 2-day 75 mile run would be a good first ultra. Palm/forehead. But why do things by halves? Kevin Payne who was Race Director of the Stour Valley Marathon I’d liked so much and Simon Moran, an MdS finisher who was jealously guarding his swanky new Garmin from me as I’d expressed a magpie-like longing for one of these previously.

Trying to be organised, I’d warned the others when we had the 10 minutes race brief warning, then promptly got stuck in the loo queue. It’s like a race law. As soon as there are only minutes left before a race start, I’m automatically desperate for a wee. It’s like a Pavlovian response but without the drooling.

As this was a children’s farm, the loo doors were worrying very low – almost like saloon doors. As a result, the queue started from about 6 feet away. I didn’t like to queue too close in case I unwittingly made eye contact with the occupant of the stall. That would be off-putting for everyone.

After finally exiting the loo everyone had vanished which is never a good sign. I sprinted to the race briefing which was just beginning ... and full of dire warnings. Avoid the adders, assume the stiles are all broken and we’ve got these brilliant rescue vehicles. Ok. So even for the accident-prone me, I could manage even more interesting injuries than usual. But at least I’d be rescued quickly.

The race briefing ... "Don't piss off the adders"

We were set off by the Mayor of the town and I was very impressed by his neckful of bling. How many miles would we have to run to get a medal like that?

Despite it being October, the sun was very warm and the forecast rain and storms seemed unlikely to appear. There weren’t even any clouds threatening on the horizon. Running down the rough farm track, it felt as though we could run forever.

We held a nice steady running pace at about 9:10 min/miles. And the occasional stile to climb over stopped us from running off too fast. We all had a nice chat at the stiles as the field hadn’t yet opened out so it was a chance to check out everyone else’s race vests and trainers. Some of these runs are like a fashion parade with all the new kit although lycra and rubber tends to feature heavily. Like a fetishists fashion parade then.

As per the race briefing, a lot of the stiles were very broken and damaged. With the amounts of moving wood and rusty metal, it was like an obstacle race but with tetanus and splinters.

However it was also a lovely peaceful run. We passed through the Blue House Farm nature reserve and just to throw in a bit of temptation – the 500 year old Ferry Boat Inn. However, I had to be content with my hydration tablets and water bladder as Angela wasn’t stopping.

We chatted to the others around us and I tried not to run too fast or eat all my snacks in the first hour. However I DID have the chocolate bananas open at the first checkpoint. They were melting due to the warm day so it seemed sensible to eat them all at once. Got to be sensible, right?

CP1
We were at the first checkpoint very quickly, no need to navigate as the field hadn’t yet spread out and there were plenty of runners all around us. The checkpoint was a gazebo in a car park with flapjack bars, jelly babies, crisps, malt loaf and ginger cake and with the soon-to-become familiar Saltmarsh 75 quill flag We had to give our numbers to the marshal, pick up the instructions for the next section and then we were free to go.

Angela at checkpoint 1

We grabbed some jelly babies then I accidentally started something I’d keep up at almost every checkpoint. I started running the wrong way. I was redirected by a marshal. Sigh.

This stage contained the first of only two ‘hills’ on the whole route. Known locally as Creeksea Cliff, we walked the 15 meter climb – while eating more snacks, of course – and ran down the other side with aeroplane arms and the appropriate noises. If there are only two hills, we can’t waste one.

Despite this, Angela insisted on walking over the speed bumps as apparently “they definitely count as hills”. I had to agree. On a course with a massive 15m elevation above sea level at its highest point, we had to be careful not to tire ourselves out on the hills. Erm ... speed bumps.

After this, we were back on the sea wall, grassy underfoot and flat. The scenery was silent and lonely and we passed Bridgemarsh Island in the estuary and the quiet village of Creeksea. Creaksea is supposed to be the place that King Canute tried to push back the waves. He may have been unsuccessful but at least he tide.

The first 13 miles went past in a blink. Wouldn’t it be nice if we found it all so easy? We’d be finished before we knew it.

This ultra running is SO easy!

CP2
The 2nd checkpoint at 13 miles was in the middle of the town of Burnham-on-Crouch. And coming into the checkpoint, we received a hero’s welcome. I checked behind to make sure I wasn’t being shadowed by a celebrity. Nope. This was for me! AND I’d only run 13 miles. The applause is going to be deafening when I’ve done a marathon distance!!

Me at checkpoint 2 ...

I re-taped my toes, Angela had some snacks – these two points weren’t related - and we set off. As this was supposed to be a difficult section we decided to do a 12 minute run, 3 mile walk strategy from the start so we didn’t end up tiring ourselves out before we’d even hit halfway.

This part from Burnham-on-Crouch to the Bradwell Othona Community was apparently the longest and the toughest section of the event. It was over 13 miles long, remote and very exposed so even a moderate easterly wind could make this section extremely challenging.

It had been described by Robert MacFarland in his award winning book, Britain’s Wild Places, as ‘…the darkest, loneliest place in Essex’,. It certainly felt it.

Ooh! Sea wall!

Everything about this section sang monotony. We were about 10 metres above the sea on our grassy wall and to our left was fields or marsh. Nothing else. It was certainly lonely and desolate. After a few miles of this I felt desolate. Another 62 miles of this? I’d go absolutely bonkers. In fact, twitch, gibber, I wasn’t entirely convinced I wasn’t already. Gibber, drool.

Holliwell Point, at the mouth of the Crouch is said to hold the wreck of Darwin’s Beagle. It would have been a joy to see anything at this point – a shipwreck would have been extremely exciting. Even a bush would have been exciting.

Ooh! More sea wall!
All that was here was a grass bank. A grass bank uncomfortable to run on. The wind was blowing at us. My plantar fasciitis was hurting. My head was bored. I was grumpy. There was sea on my right and identical fields on the left. Nothing else. Occasionally there was a stunted bush.

I took some photographs. They ALL looked the same.

Ooh! More more sea wall!
Every now and then we’d see another runner or walker in the distance. The sea wall was completely flat but cambered to the left so your left foot was always slightly lower than your right foot. It would also twist or turn – but at right angles like crenellations on a castle so the landmark or runner you’d seen might be half a mile away in a straight line but 3 miles away with the twisting of the sea wall.

You could view the run as a religious experience. It would be very similar to how I’d expect purgatory to be. Frustrating, monotonous and difficult. And never appearing to get anywhere. That was the tough part, it just didn’t feel as though you were moving forward.

Once for an exciting hour a German pillbox came into view. We watched it. It didn’t do anything. We passed it. Eventually.

A bush AND some concrete. You're spoiling us ...

We came to a section of concrete – huh! Something different to run on! - and there in the distance, was something strange ... a gazebo! The local running club, Dengie Hundred Runners had set up a water stop. They’d had quite a challenge stopping their gazebo blowing away but had managed to hold it down and were providing an additional aid station to the Saltmarsh competitors. We love you Dengie HundredRunners! The marshal there told us it was the longest uninhabited stretch of coastline in Britain. I could well believe it.

We carried on running. The concrete changed back into the grassy track of before and the landscape merged back into what it had been before the water stop.

The Saltmarsh 75 had been described on the website as “An exciting walking / running challenge along the Essex Coast.” Really? REALLY? It has been a challenge with walking and running along the Essex Coast but it has been the very opposite of exciting. I couldn’t think of much that would be less exciting. It was the outdoor equivalent of running on a treadmill.

Then the sideways rain started.

Then the hailstones started.

We did a quick change into waterproof kit. Despite the warmth of the day earlier, the storms had been forecast so we were prepared. Despite this and due to the wind and lack of shelter as the sea wall was completely exposed, everything quickly became drenched.

Sea wall and rain. 

We were now cold, bored AND wet.

I was not happy. I was VERY not happy. And I had a dilemma. How do I tell Angela I want to drop out of the run? How do I tell her that there is no way I’m doing day 2? What’s the point? I can be bored in the warm and dry.

I started sulking. Luckily because of the wind and the rain, it was impossible to tell.

I was still sulking though.

Huff.

There was a high point though. For one brief moment, we thought the rain almost stopped. We looked at each other and started cheering. It immediately started raining again.

Stupid weather. Stupid running. Stupid sea wall.

Huff.

The race instructions directed us off of the sea wall onto the track beside it for the last little section before the checkpoint. However, the wind and rain was coming from the landward side so there was no respite except for when we passed one of the low bushes which briefly stopped the battering. Two figures were coming towards us through the wind and rain and they turned out to be Angela’s friends, Rob and Lorraine, runners themselves who held the Guinness World Record for the fastest 5k dressed as a camel!

CP3
They ran with us into checkpoint 3 at Bradwell Othona Community at 28 miles. This was next to the Grade I listed St Peters Chapel, the oldest intact Christian chapel in England, dating back to 654AD. It would have been lovely to have a proper look but we were cold, wet and miserable. We were in the middle of an old World War II fighter plane training area and the remains of artillery and aircraft paraphernalia could be seen at low tide. And probably when everything wasn’t obscured by pelting rain.

Checkpoint 3. Smile then I can go back to being a grumpy cow again ...

I tried to run the wrong direction out of the checkpoint. Only I can get lost on an ultra that goes in one direction along a sea wall.

Sigh.

I got turned around and then we left the checkpoint (again but facing the right direction) and the shelter and then stopped, standing in the rain waiting for Angela to finish re-arranging her kit. A shed stood open opposite us, displaying a collection of wellies. Dramatic amounts of wellies. Told Angela we had better start moving as our rustic Essex cousins had obviously been killing and eating hikers lost on this path for years and saving their wellies.

She gave me a strange look, but we started moving again. I then remembered Angela was from Essex.

I put some music on to blot out the fear of being eaten and my Salomons being stored in a shed and kept running. Head down, left foot, right foot, rain down neck, Left foot, right foot, rain down back ...

We could see the windmills of Bradwell’s wind farm for miles and miles. The view never changed. They were just part of the background, getting slightly bigger, then slightly smaller.

Windmills

Bradwell’s decommissioned nuclear power station sat on the horizon for a long, long time. It was 2 buildings and 2 cranes in symmetry as though the decommissioning had to be done on each building at exactly the same time. It was strange seeing what looked like an office building that wouldn’t look out of place in London, sitting on the desolate and windswept shore. As we came closer, the wind got even worse and we made the decision to move off the sea wall, down onto the track down by the side of the power station.

Big mistake. We immediately found some mud.

Not normal mud.

Nope. This was Saltmarsh 75 mud. Like normal mud but WORSE.



As we walked across it, it stuck to our shoes in layers, taking us back to the days of the Spice Girls and their platform trainers. We were the miserable, ultra running, muddy equivalent. If Pop had the Spice Girls, ultra running had us. The Mud Girls. No-one said it was glamorous.



We plodded on through, each foot getting heavier and heavier. Angela and I looked at each other. We were at least 5’8 by now. This was getting ridiculous. There was nothing around to scrape the mud off though so using the weeds on the banks we managed to reduce our height to abut 5’6. Still taller than normal, but with less weighty shoes.

We staggered onwards.

Another mud patch. Maybe if we RAN across it, it wouldn’t stick so much. I was obviously suffering jelly baby poisoning by this point as it seemed a really good idea. Needless to say it didn’t work although according to the noises Angela was making, it looked hilarious from behind.

I found a stick and started scraping the mud off again. Head down, left foot, right foot ...

CP4
We came off the sea wall to find the checkpoint at Bradwell Waterside, the pavements and roads feeling unfamiliar under our feet. We came into the checkpoint to discover there were only red and black jelly babies left in the jelly baby bowl. Maybe they were starting some sort of union against having to run in the rain. Sign me up jelly babies. Sounds good to me. Didn’t stop me eating them though. Getting to a checkpoint and out of the wind raised both our spirits and separated our run ahead from the long trudge earlier.

We picked up the instructions for the next section and got out of there. Just one more checkpoint to go. On automatic, we started to take a wrong turn out of the shipyard following what we assumed to be another runner in the distance. Assuming no-one else would possibly be out in this weather. Apparently there *were* other idiots out in this weather ... and we were following one. About turn ...

This section was described as “Another peaceful section ...” I was starting to get suspicious of these sort of descriptions and decided to interpret this as “Another section encompassing miles of sea wall and absolutely sod-all else ...” My suspicions were correct.

We navigated the sea wall, dripping with rain and with water in our ears. We finally turned off it to get to the final checkpoint and under the shelter of the two walls. Two walls but it was blissful to get out of the wind and rain.

CP5
We were both soaking wet and cold but when the marshal at St Lawrence asked us whether we were going to continue it surprised us. Yes of course we were carrying on. We only had one more section to go – why would we stop here? Besides it’s raining like mad here, blowing a gale and our tents and warm dry clothes are still 3 miles away.

Angela’s husband David had come to meet Angela and asked us if we wanted hot chips from the chip shop when we reached Steeple, the finishing point of day one. This sounded AMAZING and a good reason to plod a bit more quickly towards the finish. We weren’t going to drop out now, but we were pretty miserable and just wanted to complete the day.

Later we found out that 33 people had dropped out by this checkpoint. Out of a starting list of about 150 and with only 3 miles to go.

We turned off the sea wall. Finally. We would have cheered but were too wet, cold and grumpy. And wanted to save our cheering for when we got our chips.

We got to a footbridge with bar across it at about knee height to stop the livestock crossing. After 35 miles of running Angela couldn't work out how to get across it either. She wasn’t happy. She couldn’t lift her leg that high and wasn’t going to hurdle it. We solved the dilemma by ducking under one of the side railings.

If she hadn’t liked the bridge, she was even more unimpressed when she saw the massive stile the other side.

We were warned by our route instructions that the trail turned right into a hedge over a stile but it as was well hidden they’d try and mark it with tape. We trotted, stumbled and grumbled up the lane. Angela remembered recce-ing this section and missing the stile as it was so hidden. Every time there was a dip in the hedge we checked it out. We found fly tipping sites, rabbit holes and barbed wire. But no stile. Huh. It must be REALLY well hidden.

We grumbled our way up the lane, dreaming of hot chips. Still no stile.

Then we rounded a corner, and there ... surrounded by orange tape, bedecked by glow sticks like a drag queen version of a hedge was a gap and a stile. We climbed over it making the appropriate creaking noises and ran up the grassy strip into some woods, where a string of light bulbs hung like fairy lights to illuminate the dim woods.

We came out of the woods and on our left was a hall, the finish of day one. As if to rub it in, we had to run the length of the fence all the while being able to see the checkpoint and the finish without being able to get to it. We reached the gate and got to the checkpoint.

Day one running complete.

Angela’s husband was there with the promised chips and we were offered a big plate of beans by the lovely marshals. Bliss.

The only problem was that we were now getting very, very cold. We were soaked through and we weren’t moving to keep warm any more. Some of the transported kit had arrived at the village hall but unfortunately my crate wasn’t among those there. Luckily the finish was approximately 2 minutes walk from the pub at which we were all to be camping overnight.

They don’t believe in complicated addresses in Essex. The pub address was: The Star Inn, The Street, Steeple.

Unfortunately my kit wasn’t at the pub either. My tent was but I wasn’t convinced that erecting and getting into a cold tent in wet gear was going to do me any good. Went back to the village hall and spotted some space blankets on the table. Wore my space blanket and pretending I was an astronaut briefly took my mind off the cold. While pretending to be an astronaut I spotted my kit in the back of a van! Hooray!

Dragged it out and got into queue for shower when my name was called for a sports massage. I took my shoes and socks off and climbed onto the massage table (easier to write than to do) but while having my massage I spotted that I’d left a manky plaster on the floor. Nice, Sarah, nice. Luckily no-one trod on it and I managed to scoop it up and bin it after the massage. Ultra running. Such a glamorous sport.

Massaged, I wandered into the toilets and got back into the queue for the shower. At least it was warm in here. I was warm, I was wearing a space blanket like a cape and I could stop running. Things were looking up.

I finally got my shower ... which it would have been generous to call lukewarm, but it was perfect. The mud and rain water disappeared down the drain and I was dirt-free.

Warm dry clothes on, tent up and a massive plate of chilli con carne, chips and rice and a half pint of cider at the pub. I had a full tummy, warm feet and the rainwater was drying up from my ears. Things were looking up. Maybe I would start Day 2 after all ...

38.96 miles

7 hours 59 minutes.