“It’s Hell Up There”

Hell might be colder than we think…

In the shadow of Bran Castle, night time home of the legendary Count Dracula, on the outskirts of the Bucegi Natural park, we gather in the castle grounds, a few hundred eager runners waiting to a techno remixed beat of the theme music from Game of Thrones. The darkness is ours and it’s almost time to run the Transylvania 100k. A race that has been on my wish list since I started ultra running.

Bran Castle

We set off out of the castle gates and along the main road before turning onto an unsealed road that was long and gradually inclined. We continued along until the foot of the mountains and stepped into the forest. The trails hit us with an immediate change in gradient and fresh smells front the pine trees and morning songs from the birds. It was enchanting.

From about 6km in, the trails became steeper again and my breaths were becoming more pronounced. The climb was long but broken up as we emerged into an opening above the trees before climbing along the side of the mountains. The views were spectacular as we traversed the first of many snow slopes.

The further we climbed the more the clag set in and visibility dropped. We were greeted at a timing point by some Marshalls who were blowing whistles, I assume to signal their whereabouts. I was with Carl and we decided this was a good time to layer up. We were glad of the wind to cool us down but we were now rather high up in the mountains!

Layering up

We then proceeded to descend. The terrain was slippery with the snow. The trails were single track and narrow. We carefully placed our feet in the footprints of runners who had tread the path before us, crisscrossing our steps. The descent hit some forest and became very steep and difficult to descend due to sharp rocks and narrow gaps.

We emerged to the sound of a vuvuzela (an irritating sound!) being blown as we arrived at the first aid station. The aid station was understandable busy but well stocked with a variety of salty and sweet offerings. We took a moment to take on some fuel knowing that a ‘bit of a climb’ was coming our way. We started talking to a camera man. He welcomed us to the race and told us a little of the mountains and Omu – the peak we would soon visit. He pointed to the monster looming in the clouds to our left. He told us it was raining up top and that it was ‘like hell up there’ (where we were going). He laughed. We laughed nervously too, but we could tell he was being very serious.

From the aid station the climbing started straightaway. First easy along some rocks then long, slow treks along the snow fields at Tiganesti. I remember commenting how still everything was. The air. The sounds. It was like a vast emptiness. Just nothing. It was ever so peaceful and strangely hypnotic. We saw a paw print that we hoped was a bear (I did want to see one!). We were edging closer to the infamous Hornul Mare chimney (the iconic line up to Omu from the Malaiesti Valley). It’s notorious for its steep, difficult ascent with a gradient close to 50degrees. No picture will do it justice.

Tiganesti snow fields

We decided to ‘spike up’ and put on our micro spikes. So glad we did. We could see other runners struggling without. We started chatting to a Dutch guy who was equally pleased he brought his spikes with him.

As we reached the bottom of the chimney it’s majesty was hidden in the mist. Perhaps a good thing. It took a while to climb. Up top a photographer greeted those who triumphed and climbed the beast. The smiles and jubilations where clearly seen on everyone’s faces. The views, despite being limited by the clouds were still pretty great.

Happy to have made it up the Chimney

After reaching Omu we began descending. First carefully along little snow slopes. Then as we got lower and the sun came out the trails dried into hard tracks with big rocks to scramble over. I started getting cramp in my hamstring. I knew I needed to up my fuelling when we next stopped!

Omu Summit, highest point in the race

As the trails became greener we did a little bushwhacking and later reached a river crossing and a wooden rope bridge that was very wobbly. A few of the 50km lead runners started passing us. This blew my mind. They’d completed the first big climb and the chimney section in about 2 hours compared to our 5 and a bit. How the hell did they climb the chimney so quickly?! From here a short jog to the next aid station. I checked my watch and timings and we were pretty much bang on the estimated time of arrival here.

From this point the routes went different ways. So at 27km it was time to say good bye to Carl as he went off on the 80km. My Climb started easy enough as we followed dirt tracks back towards the mountains with great views ahead of the snow capped peaks. Further up the roar of a beautiful waterfall started to dominate the air. To its right was another steep beast of a snow climb. I put the spikes back on and set off for it.


Up top, once conquered, it was a case of traversing more long snow fields as we made the way back towards Omu for a second summit. This time it started to get very steep. There were lots of runners up ahead in the distance. I managed to get passed some who didn’t have spikes and were struggling in the snow. Before the steepest part of the climb it started raining. It only rained for about 20-30 minutes but it was enough to dampen the mood. I thought that might be it and that it would rain non-stop as storms were forecast for later in the day.

Snow on the way back to Omu

As I was nearing the top of the climb I was confused. There were runners going in both directions. The confusion was because we joined the bit of route we previously came down along from Omu. I tried going the wrong way but was told off. I laughed with the Marshalls back at Omu summit when I questioned if we went that way earlier. Anyway. Time to descend the mountain again…

Here things went a little sour. The route down was spectacular but just snow slopes. Steep ones. I started down tentatively. Trying to find the best and safest line between the snowy sections and connecting to those rocks/paths not covered in snow. To the best I could I would follow runners ahead.

happy before things went wrong on the descent into the valley

After a little while I was following two guys tentatively crossing a little snow slope. They both slipped slightly. Then I slipped more. I went down. At first I wasn’t worried, thinking my spikes and/or poles would help stop me. But I started gaining momentum. My poles hit the snow. They dug in deep and snapped as my momentum carried me on faster and faster. One went pop then moments later the other did the same. One pole ripped the glove (Leki glove system) off my hand, the other pole snapped clean off at the lower section). I saw a mound of rock and thought it would stop me. It didn’t. I was propelled in the air. I thought this might end badly. Somehow, I came to a stop. I don’t know how, but I did thankfully. It took a few moments to compose myself and then I made the decision to start climbing back up to the track and retrieve the broken poles rather than trying to traverse across and guess where to join the path somewhere different. I felt it might be safer to at least get back to where I think I should have been. As I slowly climbed back up I had to dig one pole out as it was wedged so deep. The other part of the broken one was lost deep in the snow somewhere.

I slipped near to where the lead runner is

Up top I was angry that I had broken more poles (this is my third set in two years!) But it fired me up to finish. I was 35km in and had a long way to go. Next we had a few hundred meters of descent to make. It was all sketchy and I slipped many more times. No where near as bad as before though! Sometimes I thought about just jumping on my arse and sliding down. But that was far too risky. It was difficult to find the way even when my momentum was under my control. Eventually I managed to cross at the bottom and was back on trails. I came across another chap with two broken poles too. He didn’t have spikes like I did, so I was in a better place!

I felt a little energised and jogged a little as the tracks took us along a combination of forests and snow crossings at lower level. I missed some turns several times as the tape markings were sometimes difficult to spot. We then had maybe about 5 km through forests. It was lovely. I was running well and felt a little better, I was certainly glad the hell of Omu was behind us.

Somewhere in the forest I stumbled across a little miracle. There was a black diamond pole just resting against a tree. I called out a few times and no one answered. So I decided to take it with me. Either I’d find the owner and be able to reunite them, or I’d benefit from having one pole. The forest was sometimes difficult to navigate. I met another guy who missed a hand written ‘turn right’ sign and I had to call after him. We turned off the path onto a grassy stretch. It was very easy to miss. We came to the aidstation at 45km in. I had noodle soup and changed some clothes. I made a very conscious decision not to change my socks. This was a silly mistake that would later bite me hard.

I set back out. Maybe 30 mins my behind my estimated schedule. Not bad considering the trauma. 45km done but still a long way to go. I decided to keep the spikes with me for safety (turned out I wouldn’t need them again) as we still had two climbs where we’d be above 2000m. From the aid station it was more forests (and wrong turns) and a massive climb back up to Piatra Arsa. In the forest I found a stick. Almost perfect for hiking / running with. I felt confident now I had two sticks of some sort again, despite their differences in size! I kept telling myself that once this climb was done, the bulk of the elevation would be overcome. We’d done over 3500 in the first 40km!

The climb was long and slow. I came across a group of Polish people I’d be running near for the most of the race. We rested part way up the climb and I took in the views and admired all the old rusty infrastructure (cable cars or mining cars?). Eventually the climb came out in top of the mountain. it felt like it took an age to climb. It was so hot and humid in the forest.

Up top required a bit more bush whacking along some snow lined tracks. The trees were a pain to push passed! Another aidstation with heavy techno music awaited just around the corner. I had some more pasta and coke and set off again. We were on top of the mountain and it was windy and misty. The route took us over and around a summit. Then we started descending. The terrain was now very British like. Similar to being in Brecon or somewhere. Very lumpy tufts of grass. It wasn’t particularly comfortable to run on but was by far one of the better parts of the course so far. It was a fairly easy down hill, pretty straight down the hill and then a skip (jump) over a river before more hill running.

Green, grassy, lumpy mountains

At about 60km we hit the first bit of road in the race. And that was just to cross it. Crazy how ‘on trail’ the race is. 60km of purely trail is impressive. On the other side we soon entered more forests, running down hill with the head torches out as it was pretty pitch black in the dense forest. A Scottish guy soon caught us. He refused to get his torch out and kept running into trees. The trees in all the forests were a pain as they had sharp, stick like branches protruding and would stab you at any opportunity if you got too close. As would the fallen ones we had to hurdle over. So many of these throughout the run!

Darkness setting in the woods before the sun went down

We then emerged out of the forest and into the aid station at the lake in Bolbuci. I had two slices of pizza and loads of coke here. I wasn’t really eating between aid stations any longer. I wasn’t too hungry but just didn’t fancy my foods. From here it was a long stretch to Moieciu de Sus. It started with a few km on road. The only road section! Before more forest climbing. Up into the mountains where there were flashing lights to help guide us in the mist of the night. Visibility was very poor and we’d be lost without the lights. It was a few km traversing the mountain top and passed the peak of Tataru and the marshal check point before a technical descent. It was a little sketchy crossing the cliff edges with limited visibility to begin descending.

Once we had though it was more forests. We passed some more people. I fell in the forest slipping on a rock. My lower back hit the rock and my fore arm a log on the ground. It hurt. Once back up we soon were on a wide fire/access track. I remembered this from our walk the day before. I started jogging consistently. Probably covered a few km before I had enough and started walking again. At the end, as we reached the car park area, we left the road and started climbing.

It was a steep climb. This whole section was disorienting in the dark. We climbed then navigated along the top. There were lights off in the distance which I thought might be an aidstation. I know from the day before we’d have to back up in the hills near where we left the access road. I was confused and trying to guess where two aid stations would be. We crossed behind farm land and through many horse fields. Needing to climb over fences to enter and exit each. The descent wasn’t as bad as it looked on the route profile. I think that was helped a little by the diversion. Rather than dropping straight down to the aid station we carried on around onto a road and walked maybe 500m along it to the aid station. It was a fairly quick turn around after some pasta as I tried to keep up with the group of Polish runners who now had about 3-4 other ‘hanger ons’ with them.

It was a steep climb through more forests and fields to the other side. It was hot in the night. After some time we were back were I recalled form the previous day’s walk. Running passed the picnic bench, the abandoned hut and joining the trail with the 50k route. Steady dirt track hiking for a few km to the next and final aid station.

I was confused by the remaining distance as the map profile and my watch were very different. Although I knew clocked a few extra kms with the diversion and getting lost. I checked the route in my Coros which said about 13km to go. This felt more accurate than then route profile that suggested more like 20k.

All along this section my eyes were starting to close. I was swaying side to side and was very tired, waiting for the caffeine to hit. I was contemplating a Power Nap at the aid station. It was just a tent on the mountain side though and nothing for me to take refuge in. The Poles left too quickly for me to follow. I ate and drank and then left a few minutes later. The track carried on a little longer before a nasty steep climb in the forest that got the heart rate higher. I was so warm now. And fed up of climbing over fallen trees. I stopped and took off my wind proof and arm sleeves. I needed to feel the cold. Thankfully the caffeine was kicking in and the morning light was starting to dominate. I wasn’t so sleepy any longer.

From the forests the downhill towards Bran started. More forest and some very steep muddy descents. Gravity was pulling me down with a stumble. After 40+k of running on battered feet each step was painful. As too was my right quad which was very limiting in my movement. After what felt like an eternity I got through the mud.

Green fields and rolling hills on the way back to Bran

We left the mud behind and annoyingly started to climb again up a gravel road. Up along the top were fantastic views of red roof houses and green farms. It was stunning first thing in the morning. There was a photographer. My watch indicated 3 km to go finally. Finally less than an hour left to run. I plodded on painfully. Then one last steep forest descent and we emerged into the car park of the sports hall where we registered. 600m along the busy main road to go. Only we were diverted to the grounds of Bran Castle. Weaving through the houses and gardens up the steps and round to the front of the castle to the finish line. I walked slowly with the stick. A small gathering of people clapping and Cheering. I thanked them. I crossed the line and lifted my stick triumphantly in the air. I was so glad to have finished. Ale, Carl and Nick soon came to collect me and help me back to the hotel. they’d each finished their races too.

Relieved and tired

After thoughts.

  • Poles – I’m annoyed I’ve broken another set. Especially as I’ve only used these ones once before. Finding another and a decent stick definitely helped me overcome the last 60km!!
  • The 100km route has a very tough first 40km. The double summit of Omu is bad enough but the effort of the Chimney climb and the technicality of the second descent was exhausting.
  • I was obviously not thinking clearly when I received the drop bag at 45km. I knew my feet were wet and sore. I consciously decided not to dry them, nor change socks. I had some rationale why but it was definitely a bad mistake. Post race, my feet were in possibly the worst state ever – besides some trench foot I counter 10 blisters on one foot (the biggest one being the size of my thumb!).
  • I’m not sure why just one quad hurts so badly (restricting movement) perhaps I landed on it after my slip and air time?
  • The Aid stations were great. Each one had helpful volunteers and a good variety of food and and options. Sour worms were a delight for me.
  • The Bucegi mountains are spectacular a great place to run
  • The chimney is one hell of a climb and experience one needs to have!
  • We didn’t see any bears.

St. Peter’s way

Sometimes I sign up to races and events and then a littler later on I develop a little regret for my decisions. This was one of them. And the regret was for completely pointless reasons really. I signed up to the St Peter’s Way ultra nearly two years ago and multiple delays meant it was now something I’d given very little thought too. I always knew it would come a long, but I’d just be some a little too comfortable without it.

The race was on a Sunday which just meant I’d be more tired than usual at work on the Monday and it was in Essex which is a mission to get too without a car when public transport would be more limited. What made it more of a pain was that the race started in a small town (Chipping Ongar) and finished 43 miles or so further east, on the coast of Bradwell on Sea. The regret was because I simply couldn’t be bothered with all that hassle. But, there was also a little motivation hidden in its logistics also. The organisers (Challenge Running who were amazing by the way!) put on mini buses to take runners from the finish back to the start. Only they were at roughly 3 hour intervals (it’s an hour or so round trip for the driver) and the first was at 14:30 and the last at 20:30. I wanted to make that middle bus at 17:30. That would be around a 9hr 20min finish for 43 miles. Very doable. But, yep, another catch was that the buses were on a first come first served basis. I estimated I’d need to finish around 4pm to be in with a chance of safely securing my place on that bus.

And here is how it went…

Carl and I travelled up to Harrow and stayed the night there on Saturday (yep, had two years to book accommodation near to the start and didn’t!). An Uber to the start the following morning saw us join the low-key race centre and registration located in a small carpark where we collected our bibs. The nice surprise was seeing John at the start who I didn’t realise was running and that he’d done this race before. We chatted a bit and wished each other well for the adventure. The ongoing theme for the day would be me and Carl spending the hours calculating the chances of making the bus. We’d started straightaway sizing up the field of 80 or so runners lining up at the race briefing.

starting in a carpark

With an uncharacteristic (for a trail race) “on your marks, get set, go!” we joined the runners in an initial single line through the narrow track and the first of many (many!) kissing gates (and stiles) that we’d encounter throughout the day. We’d read about the ‘mud’ of the route and it was apparent early on. The route went through so many fields, massive green fields that were very soft underfoot. They started off nicely and began progressively getting more and more muddy. As always the worst parts were straight after you climb over a sty and then enter the field.

During the race briefing we’d been advised that much of the initial section of the route (with 4 aid stations the route was split into 5 sections each with hand written instructions to follow the route – we stuck to a gpx file!) had changed from previous years and to our benefit we’d be following more closely the original footpath to the at peters chapel. Early on we saw splits in runners going different directions in the fields. We stuck to our route and later chatted to a multi time finisher who confirmed we were indeed following the new and correct route.

Endless fields

As the day progressed we got to experience the great hospitality and support at the aid stations. As we crossed progressively muddier fields and, towards the second aid station, we found ourselves running more and more on our own as the field spread out. We passed through some lovely little villages and also along the Blackwater marina of Maylandsea which broke up the route slightly as we began to leave the muddy fields behind.

It was here we stared to sense we were close to the coast and that all (all 400m!) of elevation was behind us. Yep. Essex is indeed pretty flat. We then came into the final aid station where there we a handful of other runners and we were shortly joined by a chap called Alex who was running his furthest distance to date and had taken a few wrong turns trying to follow the hand written instructions. He tagged along with me and Carl for the remainder of the race.

We let him know our thoughts for the bus. We estimated that only a small fraction of runners would not start, not finish or would have family and a lift from the finish. We assumed that it would be a 15 seater minibus and that therefore we’d probably want to be in the top 35-40 finishers to get on that 17:30 bus. We also didn’t want to bust a gut to finish around 4pm and have to wait until 20:30 to begin the journey home!! Alex was more relaxed and went with the flow and chatted away to us. It was refreshing chatting to Alex and adding a third person to the conversations and hearing about his experience of the day and his runs – he’ll soon be heading off to the Sahara to tackle the Marathon Des Sables. Good luck to him on that beast!

Towards the end of the route we ran along a sea wall. In the distance was a building that we thought could be the finish line (St Peter’s Chapel). It did, from a distance, look way too modern, although we did estimate it was probably the few km away that corresponded with our distance covered. We Were hopeful that the end was in sight!

Also in the distance we’re two other runners. We were tempted to try and leg it after them, but realistically it was beyond us. We wondered if our presence was enough motivation for them to keep pushing to the end too. Either way we continued our run walk strategy which had served us well over the last 8 miles or so.

A few final turns and we could clearly see that the building was indeed the chapel and finish line as the runners ahead turned inland and headed directly to it. Shortly after then the three of us crossed the line and received our welcome from Lyndsey (the RD) and secured our space on the bus. We made it!

2 became 3

In the end we finished just under 8 hours and in positions 31 -33. It went almost exactly to plan. Our estimates were slightly off though as only 4 runners made that first bus and we secured 3 of the remaining 5 seats on the 17:30 and we only just secured our spot – There were 5 other runners who finished within 10 mins of us. I felt bad for them and glad we kept pushing to the end. we had just enough time to ‘cleanup’ and grab some food in the shelter of the Chapel – outside the temperature was rapidly dropping. And what a Chapel it was, a very unique finish to a race indeed!

Our adventure didn’t quite end there as on arrival back in Chipping Ongar it became apparent that taxis were going to be difficult (we were told we’d have a 3 hour race) and the next bus was a bit of a slow journey towards Epping. By pure chance, after a trip to a petrol station for some food, we once more bumped into Alex who very kindly gave us a lift back into London! What a gent! Thanks again Alex!

As always, despite my trepidation about the event, I thoroughly enjoyed it and, as always, loved the experience of running somewhere new. Although I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it quite as much if I didn’t have Carl by my side throughout to cheer me up through all the mud. Coincidentally this was 2 days short of two years since we first met, in Borneo running with Maverick Race! Happy anniversary Borneo Carl.


‘Bitchin’. Nope, not great or wicked. Just two middle age men actually bitchin for 13 hours. Nothing cool to see here. Nothing cool at all…

Bitchin is pretty much all me and Ged did whilst we ran the Ultra X Spring Series 100km. It led to a lot of laughter, passed a lot of time, and confirmed how similar we are. Nothing was safe from the sting of our words. None of it was really justified either, nonetheless that is how we rolled in our latest ultra marathon adventure.

I was probably already in a sub conscious bitchin mode leading up to the race where, due to my own lack of research and preparation, I realised I couldn’t get to the start line in time for the 06:00 start. The Race Directors were accommodating though and Ged and his mum stepped in to save my embarrassments with a lift down. Mini crisis adverted.

The start line was a very subdued place at 06:00 in the morning. With a small field of 100km runners we were split into the two allocated starting groups, given a count down and sent off in groups of about 30 people. Nattering away as we ran out of the recreational ground towards the road, our bitchin began. We couldn’t understand why everyone was running so fast already. Amateurs we thought, they’ll all bonk soon enough. We were pumping out a 10 hour 100 km pace for no reason at all. Many, many hours later we apologetically retracted this statement when we had passed maybe 2 or 3 people from that group only. They clearly had their plans and strategies like we had ours!

Pre race smiles

Running on, we were very much aware that the 3 biggest hills and climbs of the race were in this first 13 miles (which we’d complete again as the last 13 miles as we’d loop back in the opposite direction for the second half of the race), yet being full of energy and excitement, we didn’t notice these hills and barely felt them as we ran down (and up) steadily with fresh morning legs.

We did then get lost after a few miles, but we were not alone. Coming down off a trail descent we joined a country lane where the course markings vanished. Left, right or straight down were the choices. Some runners were coming back from the right and more joined us from behind (the second group of 100km runners who set off after us). With confused looks we all headed left and a few moments later across a cattle grid and straight down, then we all stopped as differing opinions on whether this was correct or if we should have followed the road rather than cross the cattle grid became clear. One runner (who I later realised was Scott Jenkins) was adamant we were right and Ged and I soon stuck with him. A few hundred meters later we then found some course markings once more. What had happened here we do not know! Yep, we bitched about the markings.

Early on, enjoying the ideal morning conditions

Back on track, it wasn’t long before we hit the first indication of the bogs and mud we’d encounter this day. It was nothing major but soon we were splashing through waterlogged fields and fully submerging our feet in the cooling water. At this point one of my shoes came off in the sticky mud. I managed to recover it before loosing it completely, but needed to stop to get it back on. As I sat on a log to readjust, my whole core started cramping and I couldn’t reach my feet, much to Ged’s delight. What a state to be in so soon!

We carried on as the surface became progressively more muddy and we were sliding all over the place as we approached the first aid station. We pretty much ran straight through as it was only 11 km in and didn’t need anything so early on. Ged’s mum was here, as she was throughout the day at each aid station to cheer us on.

The next section was full of the epic views of the Serpent Trail, exactly as I recalled it from when I ran the Serpent Trail 100km event way back in 2018! A beautiful landscape of thousands of trees with roaming views of the South Downs peaking through in between. Every now and again the forest would drop away to reveal the bareness of the hilly summits and reveal the scenic views in all their glory. Before long we were up running along some mountain bike tracks (which I vividly recalled from 2018) and into the second aid station. Here we stopped briefly and chatted to the volunteers including updating them on the sections were markings were missing/sparse and we’d gone wrong.

Soggy feet as we track towards halfway

From here to the third aid station was all a blur to me. I did slowly recall bits of it later in the day when we were back tracking along it. But, at the time, I must have switched off and been too engrossed in the bitchin to really notice it and take it in. Closing in on that third aid station we noted we were roughly a 1/3 of the way into the race. Which was good, because the legs started to feel like they’d done some running by now!

The volunteers at this next aid station were full of energy and we exchanged a few jokes and laughs with them. They lifted our spirits as we set back out for the last section back to the start/halfway/finish line point. This next section was an adventure for sure. The longest and trickiest part of the route I thought. There were a few sections that were very muddy. One short down hill section followed by two muddy climbs. Zigzagging down that first section we started to wonder at which point we’d be passed by the lead 100km runners coming back towards us or the 50km runners coming from behind and over taking us. Both seemed a real possibility as we started the 10km countdown to half way.

The up hill mud sections demanded a bit more effort from the legs as the mud started to sap our energy and we looked for the best line to climb along. Halfway up that second climb the first few runners leading the 100km started picking us off. Great effort, probably about 10km and over an hour ahead of us. The first runner was flying along and had a substantial lead on 2nd and 3rd at this point. As we started levelling out into some of the fields and road sections for the final approach to the 50km mark we started passing a number of the half marathon runners. We weren’t sure where they came from nor what point the courses joined up. Either way it gave us a buzz as we powered on.

Half way was upon us. I took a strategic stop here whilst Ged was reunited with his family. Quite possibly one of my fastest mid-race turnarounds where I was in and out in just over ten minutes with some fresh clothes and refuelled ready to go again. Unprecedented for me as I do love a good sit down and chin wag at half way, usually needing to be coaxed back out on to the course…

Coming into the finish, time to turn around and do it all again

The energy for the second half was high. As we ran we were now passing loads of runners from the 50km race and the rest of the pack in the 100km one too. As always, the vast majority of runners responded positively to a hello and offered up encouragement to us also. You can’t beat that buzz. Ged and I talked about this for quite sometime. It can make or break a race for some people. A smile can change your emotions, a “well done” or “Great effort” can pull you out of a dark place. BUT, you have to do it for yourself. So often you see people completely absorbed in the moment and struggling. If you can’t muster a smile or a grunt, you won’t find a way out and will continue to suffer. You need to make the corners of your own mouth move. If you’re reading this, try it! Smile, you’ll instantly feel better about everything.

We decided to play a little game and started repeating to the next runners what previous runners had said to us. My personal favourites were “You look fabulous”, “Brilliant, Brilliant” and “top work chaps” which was unfortunately repeated to some females. Hey ho, that was the game. Quite possibly thought, what made me laugh most was how I kept mishearing what Ged was saying. Every time he said “Well done” to someone, I heard “yeah whatever”. It was a perfect response for our bitchin mood and I really wish he was saying that. I’d love to know what reaction that would create if someone said it to you mid race!

It was time for the muddy sections once more and we couldn’t have been in a better place for them. High with energy, certain of what lay ahead, running down hill, seeing the pain and torture on the faces of those climbing it for the first time and sticking to the best line like we did earlier… we just went for it. We didn’t hold back and splashed on straight through, straight down. Practically hurdling our way downhill as the mud reached our knees in places. We were absolutely loving it. We couldn’t give a shit if we fell (it would have been soft!) or who we splashed with mud along the way. There was no better way to get through it. Wet and muddy was inevitable, we knew that, those climbing hadn’t yet come to accept the same fate. It was all too brief though as we completed each section so quickly. How neither of us face planted into the floor we’ll never know.

Along the way we passed many familiar faces like Ellis and Charlie doing the 50km. Each one lifting us up and giving us a buzz. We felt like heroes as we continued playing our game as, surprisingly, we kept meeting more and more runners all the way back to the third (now fifth) aid station. A huge cheer from the volunteers welcomed us back in as we all picked up where we left them many hours earlier with the jokes. I had to take a minute here, sitting on a tree stump next to a speaker pumping out classics hits, to empty my shoes of all the junk I’d be collecting along the way.

From here I couldn’t remember for the life of me what lay ahead on those trails I’d previously blocked out. We were both struggling to remember each section and the pace began to drop off as we walked pretty much every hill from this point back. The legs, specifically my ankles, were beginning to let their feelings known to me. Rightly so, the aches and pains were settling in.

We couldn’t have been far from the next aid station when the ‘heavens opened’. What started as a soft trickle of rain soon turned into an almighty downpour of hail. It was a little refreshing as we discussed whether we were going to stop and layer up. We opted not too. All around us were clear skies. It looked like a passing storm and neither of us fancied ‘boiling like a chicken’ in a waterproof jacket. We stuck it out and a short while later the summer sun briefly repaid our faith. It was a glorious evening now.

Into the second aid station we did a quick stop and refuel, acknowledging from here it was a mere 25km to go. We knew this was the point of the ultra where it would be come a slog. Time to dig deep for what was left. We set back out, running once more through the mountain bike tracks and the now very muddy and sloppy trails. They had been churned up by hundreds of runners and were now far less appealing to run than they were earlier in the day.

Beaming with BDE

We briefly passed some photographers gathering some drone footage on a hill through the forest tracks before we came slip sliding into the final aid station where the volunteers outnumbered us 5 to 1. Grabbing some cheese and onion crisps I received some odd looks from the volunteers when I excitedly asked if the lumps of cheese were lumps of butter. Disappointed, I stuffed cheese and Haribo into my gob. A strange combo I probably wouldn’t repeat again. I really wanted butter now!!

The last 11 km back to the event village was slow and arduous. I was in pain. My dodgy ankle was screaming with every step. Nothing to do except keep moving and make steady progress. From here we knew the course was basically 3 descents and 3 climbs. Lots of hiking ahead with gravity powering the running in between. We ploughed on, gradually making up some ground on a guy in front of us whilst simultaneously holding off two more who were gaining on us. Grin and bare it.

Clearly bitchin’ about something

Ged kept me going. He kept me distracted from the pains. Kept the bitchin’ coming even now many hours later. Occasionally we’d break rank to retract and excuse a bitch that escaped our mouths and which wasn’t justified. Mostly he kept the energy level there, despite it all we were having fun. And that was one of the moments of realisation of the day – we were having fun. You create your own fun and despite it all, we fucking love this. This is exactly the type of challenge we revel in… Earlier on, as is inevitable, we’d been discussing ultra running. Our experiences both shared and individual, what drove us and what dragged us through. It is here we talked about an effect that we came to call ‘BDE’ – Big Dick Energy.

BDE, we decided, was a mental state we work ourselves into during ultra marathons. A point of sheer confidence and arrogance. An unwavering sense of belief in ourselves and our abilities. A selfish expectation of deserving something, being better than everything and when nothing gets in your way of getting what you want. BDE was that invisible force that propels you onwards in the adventure whilst keeping you away from the darkness the mind can so easily slip into. You make that BDE, whatever it is that can shift you into this unreasoning state of focus, you take it. Right now I was seeping BDE from all my pores, radiating it like a jacket potato ready to explode in a microwave. To anyone I passed I was peacocking the smile and laughter that inevitably draws comments like “you don’t look like you’ve just run an ultra marathon”. I’d take those comments, absorb them and convert them into more BDE, a self sustaining aura fuelling the determination to get to the end. No one would know the pain and suffering inside.

We joked and referenced BDE endlessly through the second 50km. This was the experience of having ‘been there, got the tee shirt’. We knew what we were doing and that only comes with trying, failing, succeeding and repeating. I’ve said it many times before, running is hard. No run is ever “easy”. It’s the perception you create to get the run done that changes. BDE.

We hit that last climb. Out on the road now we were powering up. Me fast hiking, Ged shuffling part run part walk. We were laughing all the way to the end. We crossed that finish line surround by Ged’s family who themselves completed another ultra of their own chasing us around the course for 14 hours. Another 100km done. Another medal for the box of pain.

I’ll remember this day for three main things. Firstly, the vocalisation of BDE. Secondly, the amount of mud (it was far muddier than I expected). I don’t think I’ve emptied my shoes as frequently in a race as I did in this one. Three times I stopped to empty the shoes, once I had to stop because a mound of mud had formed under the ball of my foot. It was completely distorting the fit of my shoes, almost like I had a hard insert between my sole and sock. It was so bad I had to scrape all the mud out with my fingers and drag my sock on the grass like I’d stepped in shit. A new experience for sure. The third thing I’ll remember the run for was the bitching. We bitched about everything you can imagine. It was like we had this faux anger at every and anything we could think of. It passed the time so well and was equally therapeutic as it was pathetic if you’d heard us moaning. At one point we even bitched about colours and why something red wasn’t blue because we happened to think blue was a better colour choice. Anything we could moan about we did, and it made me smile so much.

As always though, none of these memories would exist without the excellent company. It truly does make these adventures. Cheers to Ged, he’s a top ‘chap’ and it had been far, far too long since we last ran a race like this together back in 2018!!

The Longworth family support
Finish line. Again