The Montane Cheviot Goat 2019
As humans I think we are at our most potent when we are striving. We need to feel challenged. If you look at this from an evolutionary perspective this makes complete sense. It is easy to forget that, for the human being in the western world in this day and age, getting by day to day with adequate food, water and professional medical care is a given. This has not always been the case. The paleolithic man,for example, will have quite often had to forage, hunt or scavenge for his or her food. Tools were made and not purchased. There were no jobs and mans sole purpose was survival and reproduction. Those who did not strive for survival would die and therefore eventually those traits would die too. Following a chat with Cameron, a personal trainer at Theseus I realised my training was a little directionless. I was experiencing a plateau in my performance and I put this down to having nothing to strive towards. He then mentioned the Cheviot Goat. A 55 mile ultra marathon that boasts 10,000 ft of climbing on a course that 95% off road in one of the most remote parts of the country. This was exactly what I needed a mental test just as much as a physical one. As soon as I watched the promotional video I knew I had to do it and signed up immediately. I am very much an advocate of throwing myself in at the deep end when it comes to goal setting. However, I soon realised I'd entered one of the countries hardest ultra marathons, I had 3 months to prepare for it and I had only completed 1 6 mile run in the last 11 months!
What followed on was a long chat with Cameron where he outlined specifically what I needed to do to best prepare in the time frame that we had to work with. What followed was three months of at least 1 weekly long run that incrementally increased in distance week by week with a sprinkling of several shorter runs and obviously the inclusion of some fairly comprehensive mobility routines and a heavy reduction in my usual functional gym routine. The preparation did not go as smoothly as I'd liked. Having gone from not running at all in 6 months to running at least every other day my body took a while to adapt. What followed on were several overuse injuries, imbalances were brought to the fore and my mileage felt tired and unproductive.
At this point I began to feel like I'd bitten off more than I could chew. If I was struggling to complete a 20 mile training run on the road without injury how on earth was I going to drag myself around nearly 3 times that distance! After several chats with Cameron, a few tweaks to the program and a fairly comprehensive sports massage I returned to the training with renewed vigour. Everything began to click in to place. My training now felt productive, I was beginning to run with the kit I would be carrying around on the day as well as now tinkering with what I was going to use as fuel on the day. I began to look forward to the event.
Myself and a friend who had agreed to participate with me arrived at Ingram Hall just outside of Morpeth in Northumberland the night before the event to register. We were informed due to a forecast of inclement weather the route was to be run in reverse. This meant the more remote sections of the course were to be completed first. As to whether this was to our advantage or not the opinions were varied. I registered, received my race number and returned to my accommodation where I cooked up a feast in the name of "carb loading".
Following a relatively early night we arose at 0430, ate a sizeable breakfast and made a large strong mug of black Beta coffee. I then proceeded to tape, vaseline and fuel ready for a 0600 start. At the start line the nervousness was palpable. The buzzer went off at 0600 sharp and we were on our way.
Into the darkness we ran. The first mile was all uphill and within minutes I had already lost my footing and submerged my lower body in a bog, not the best way to start but once you are wet you are wet. What proceeded for the next few hours were a series of steep inclines that offered very uneven ground followed by steep slippery declines that hammered the joints. The only source of light was my headtorch that offered me a circle of light in a sea of darkness. As day began to break we reached the Cheviot, from my map study I had recognised this as the hardest of all the climbs and so getting this out of the way was a psychological bonus. I found the first 15 miles very difficult, the elevation was much worse than expected and I could already feel the onset of cramp. I began to wonder how the fuck I was going to make it to the finish line. However in these situations I believe it really is mind over matter. If you feel defeated then you are and so with that in mind I vowed to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I reached the first water stop at mile 18. I used this as a chance to stop, refill my waterbottles, take on some of the more calorie dense food that I had stored in the main compartment of my pack. I had a word with myself and then carried on. 18 miles down only 37 to go!
At this point, I don't know why but I felt strong. Whatever was holding me back had now passed and I was covering ground much easier. The hills felt more manageable and I was able to use the downhills to really pickup speed. We were now moving in daylight and were able to see fellow competitors on the trail ahead and therefore navigation became less of an issue. I now began to countdown to the halfway stop. Miles 18 to 25 seemed to go very smoothly, the terrain,whilst still boggy in places, was much easier to tackle and the cramp I had seemed to experience previously began to subside. At mile 25 we were given the luxury of a 3 mile stretch of road. This was bliss. After 25 miles of trails being able to run on solid ground felt amazing and we knew that at the end of this stretch the halfway house would greet us. At the halfway point we were afforded a "halfway bag" in which I had packed a full resupply of gels to replace the ones I was consuming hourly on the trail. In addition to this I had several peanut butter and jam sandwiches (something that had helped me greatly in previous endurance events) a bottle of coke a pack of jam tarts and of course a flask of black coffee. I took a good 20 minutes here to refuel, change my socks and make the most of the warmth before setting off once again.
I left the warmth of the barn and proceeded up the hill which marked the beginning of the second half. The first mile after the stop was difficult. My legs had seized up and I began to realise that despite the fatigue that was creeping into my legs I was only halfway through! Over the next few miles the weather began to really pick up and despite being constantly on the move due to the 80mph winds cutting through my now completely soaked clothing I was struggling to maintain bodyheat. As the light began to fade, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. Due to having nearly 40 miles in my legs and having been on the move for a number of hours I was now struggling to move at a pace that would generate enough bodyheat and I began to wish I'd packed my slightly thicker jacket as the lightweight one I was using really wasn't cutting the mustard.
With the diminishing light levels navigation became more of a challenge and whilst I never got lost my pace dropped considerably in order to ensure I was taking the correct route. It was at these points it was clear who had and hadn't scoped out the route on a prior visit! I began to give myself mental checkpoints in order to break the route down and make it more manageable. My next goal was to reach mile 40. At this point I promised myself a flapjack. Once I was at mile 40 I counted down until I had only a half marathon left to run. A distance I had covered many times before. At this point we were treated to another water stop at which point I began to add electrolyte tablets to my water in order to try and hold off the cramp. I was now struggling to run much at all. The downhills had hammered my knees to the point where they now felt as if they were made of glass. I then pushed on to the 45 mile point and from here I was at the 10 mile countdown. I thought this would be a significant morale boost. However, reaching this point my body was beginning to flag, I was really struggling to retain heat and at my current pace I would still be out on the trail for at least another 2 hours!
I had been staring at the pool of light that my head torch allowed me for the last few hours and I began to catch myself hallucinating. Something I have experienced at night time before in similar events! The 50 mile point approached and it was at this point I very nearly made a grave navigational error. Spotting a headtorch on a hill in the distance I began to set off without checking the map. Luckily a voice in the back of my head that prompted me to check the route for myself. Luckily I did as this head torch was one of an unfortunate participant who had gone the wrong way and had climbed a peak unnecessarily! At this point my pace had reduced massively, I was struggling to fuel due to nausea and my legs were refusing to move at anything greater than the pace of a geriatric. This was now a purely mental battle as the mind willed the body to do that which it was telling me it couldn't. The bogs were still unrelenting at this point and on many occasion I would find myself taking a tumble only to get up dust off and will to keep on truckin'.
The last 5 miles I was in a dark place mentally. It is at this point I knew I had it in me to finish but I was physically fucked and so I just wanted the event over and done with. The finish was almost tangible and yet it was still 5 miles away. Which over this ground could easily take me an hour. I tried to increase the pace to no avail. As the distance began to creep down I began to convince I would be able to see the finish at the crest of every hill, only to be disappointed when I arrived. Then after several disappointing summits I began to see a glimmer of light began to pierce the darkness up ahead. For a period I was unsure if this was another hallucination however as we got closer it became evident this was the finish. As can be imagined my morale picked up significantly. Just short of the finish we were treated to road for the first time in around 25 miles as we hand-railed the farm and were guided through the finishers funnel. We were rewarded with a medal, a round of applause and a bowl of soup upon finishing. Sitting down at the table to tuck into the soup at the cafe in the finishers hut was pure bliss however my body began to seize and I didn't think I'd be able to get back up again!
The Cheviot Goat provided me everything I was looking for.I was initially a little disappointed with my finishing time however it appears that many suffered due to the weather conditions and the event had an unusually high drop out rate of around 40% and so in hindsight I was actually just happy to have finished. I would like to thank Cameron at Theseus for giving me the advice,experience and programming that played a massive role in getting me to the finish line. It was an event that offered a challenge that was just as much, if not more mental than it was physical. I believe it is when you are exhausted, it's pitch black, it's cold and you feel like you can't go on that you really begin to learn about yourself. Resilience is something that has to be practiced and in a world where convenience prevails I feel it is sometimes necessary to postpone comfort in aid of pursuing a greater cause. As Friedrich Nietzsche states "In filth it will be found"