I write this blog the day after it all finished. A massive congrats to the 12 finishers of Deadwater! Gutted I could not be amongst you.
What is Deadwater?
Run by the company Beyond Marathon – Deadwater by race director Richard, this is a 6 day, multi-stage event. You begin by running from a place called Deadwater, yep it exists on the Scottish/English border, it is an old dis-used railway station, to 1.5 miles shy of the Welsh border in Chester. It is all of 225 miles, each day is an A to B route, all of which are ultra-marathons. Relatively self-sufficient, you carry the majority of your kit with hot water, drinking water and tents all supplied, as are maps (GPX as well).
It is a race description that draws in any runner that thrives on challenge, adventure, seeing the English countryside and being surrounded by like-minded individuals who get it! We get why we put ourselves at what can be described as misery at times, you question yourself, you question whether your mind and body can take anymore and then you keep going. Who on earth does that? Ultra-runners!
My Experience – Albeit a brief one:
Could I be less Prepared?
Registration was on Friday 28th July 2017 in Keilder Forest at the campsite. I headed down from sunny Dundee, relatively lovely morning to get me started and I thought, “yasss this is a great start”. Easy train rides got me all the way to Hexham train station and there the comfort stopped. Enroute to Hexham train station I realised I had left practically all my rations for the week at home!!! I mean how stupid could you get?! I would normally panic in this situation but I stayed calm, how could I rectify this, what options were available to me right now?
Hexham was probably too small to be off any use
Google maps outdoor stores
I needed dehydrated food for 6 days and snacks for daytime.
Back to Newcastle it was, so I basically walked straight over to the other side of the station and jumped on the next train to Newcastle. I would have been in dire straights if we had not been approximately 20 mins out. But I knew that I had until 7pm (last pick-up to the campsite) and I was there in plenty time for first pick-up.
Go Outdoors was the main store in the town centre, straight there and practically cleared them out of specific dehydrated foods, unfortunately it was a make I had never used before but it was the only viable one I had from their store. Next up I needed a Tesco or supermarket to get the rest of my snacks/food. Luckily I had brought my food lists with me and used this to whiz around the store picking up a second batch of food, I only needed minimal adjustments due to specific items being unavailable.
Can you believe I made it back to Hexham in time for the first pick-up? No me either! Owen, Patrick (a fellow OCR racer) and Ivan shared the taxi to the registration campsite.
This was the most impressive kit-check I have ever had! Is that because I haven’t done enough races of this size? I don’t know but nevertheless, Tom and Darren were thorough and checked EVERY item on the mandatory kit list and informed us waterproof trousers,
due to conditions, had been changed from optional to mandatory, as well as a second long-sleeved layer. This would prove essential in the conditions we were facing.
Then into the hut, we met Janet, we registered our names, received our trackers, ordered food for the meal at the end and received a map protector and Day 1 map.
We were the first few to arrive and register, others started to trickle in. At this point I found out that only 18 people were making the start line if they all arrived! OMG! That was scary, I love the smaller races but this scared me as it reinforced that I was likely to be on my own a lot and I am not the most confident at navigation. I need to sort this out! But I felt better that we had trackers on constantly and would be contacted if we went off route or we could phone Rich if needed to get us back on track.
(From 45 possible entries down to what I thought was 28 in the final few weeks and is small enough as it was, it had apparently fallen further.)
I was relatively quiet at this point, just observing, taking it all in.
Again, that fear that everyone is more experienced than I, that they all sound like they’ve managed to recce the route, they have prepped better than me. All these are simply magnified concerns and based on fear, not reality.
Jo and I headed for the females tent, getting in was like the Krypton factor, this did not change and would prove to be a huge source of amusement (it’s the small things).
The weather we received on this day was to prove an indicator of things to come, wet, wet, wet, winds, did I say wet? As evening came in the sun did emerge and we managed to enjoy a sliver of sunshine and a break in the clouds around mealtime.
Day 1 – The Forest
Expected: 29 miles
Actual: 33.7 miles
Time taken: 7 hours 08 mins
We were ferried to the start area, where we could take the obligatory photos of the border. We then moved to the actual start line a short walk away. We had to run back along a trail that was the old Deadwater railway line to the campsite we had just left. It’s always good to hear some cheers, these came from other campers and of course the old cow bell is just brilliant!
We were following a trail sign posted by bananas – yes you really did read that correctly. How awesome and novel haha. I was pretty pleased each time I came upon a banana excitedly announcing “there’s the banana”. (It’s definitely the small things)
We followed the lakeside for several miles, viewing some pretty awesome views to be honest but it was just too wet to pull out my mobile or my camera. They are forever consigned to my memory.
It was at a point alongside the reservoir, I saw some of the other runners going over a road crossing which seemed to contradict my direction of movement. I backtracked until I bumped into Charl and a few others who said that I was in fact on the correct path. Together we carried on and got directly onto the right track, each key point brought back a recollection from the race briefing. It was nice moving forward with others, I tended to be with Charl for a lot of the next section before breaking off a little.
This section was mainly track up to checkpoint 2 at 19 miles before it turned into road. We had a route change due to forestry works, which meant a long section on road, it hurt the feet and the legs. These roads were incredibly quiet but had water running down a lot of them with the rain we were getting. I thought I’d had my fill of weather at the West Highland Way race. Heading into Gilsland, we were getting a lift 6 miles along Hadrian Wall to the point we would have come out on the original track to cover the last 1 mile to camp. It was not far.
My aches and pains were in full flow when I reached Gilsland, it really was affecting how I was feeling about my capabilities in the race. I questioned myself and whether I had been stupid to start this race. I ached from head to toe, a lot of it featured around the niggles I had had in the West Highland Way. The pack was heavy as day 1 was fullest it was going to be and Day 4. I was warm enough but definitely soaked through. On reflection I don’t know if this is just a rite of passage I have to endure on multi-stage events – day one aches/ adjustments to the pack, it has been the same on others.
Something to consider both from a mental and physical perspective. My lower back was covered in welts, from my bag we think – the medics were great: Jono and Sue from Trailmed. Not just looking at what was bothering us but how to reduce the impact moving forwards for the week.
The campsite had a great drying room, this was brilliant to get our kit dried of for Day 2. I was shattered, not hungry, this could be a problem for my energy levels but I had a
quick kip which was miraculous in its powers! I woke up after my kip and was able to move, deep squat, move around camp = I felt great. . . . well nearly haha.
Day 2 – The Pennine Way
Expected: 36 miles
Actual: 37 miles
Time Taken: 11hours 28 mins
This was a tough day at the office, we knew we would be hitting the highest point of the course, the previous evening we had been told there may be a route change due to weather conditions. There was predicted thunder and lightening for the top of Cross Fell, fortunately this changed and we could stay on the designated route. It just seemed like “oh more rain – fabulous”.
We started in sunshine, it was so nice, we headed across the the fields, we hit the dreaded ‘field of cows’. After the first half of the group crossed the fields, the cows decided to thunder straight across between us. They got to the other side, great we started nervously forward but then they decided to head back, none of us wanted to get in the way. We got a teeny tiny bit lost but not lost haha. Anyway, we got out of that situation, always good to be with others in this scenario. We were quickly on track, but not before I got my first warning – rolled that right ankle slightly in the field but easily ran this off. But as in the MDS it set my nerve off for the next 15 miles or so. It was in these stages that I realised Jo was really struggling with her knee, it looked really sore.
We were then on the cycle path all the way to Alston, we met the first checkpoint along the cycle path. It was flat and surrounded by lovely scenery, great for distracting you. I spoke to a lot of people along this way which was really nice after not really meeting anyone the previous day. I was around a couple of other lads at this point but we separated into individuals as we were moving. My nerve was still firing on all cylinders, nerve pain travelling up and down my right leg, my little ones were lumps in my shoe, I was aware they were there but that was it. The muscles were stiffening up as I progressed but I was trying my best to stay loose. At Alston we crossed the railway line and I was again stopped and asked what wee were up to, randomly the fella had family in Glasgow, Glenrothes and the surrounding area – small world!
We were now on the Pennine Way all the way to Garrigil, this again was a lovely scenery. The aim was to get as far as possible on this day before the weather came in. At one point I thought I had come off track, so back-tracked to the last acorn (Pennine Way symbol) but met Charl and Gaz. I hadn’t actually gone of track, I was in the right area but with all the sheep tracks it was a case of picking the correct track to carry on. It was nice being with the. Guys again, it always boosts the spirits. Charl can move at a cracking pace with his poles, my wee short legs had to work hard to keep up!
A good check in at checkpoint 2 for the day with Janet, Sue (medic) checking in with us all. My collarbones had started to get really sore and uncomfortable with the bag weight so I stretched off. The medics were really good at getting you to think about what we had done previously for issues and what had worked which is important when you are tired and possibly not thinking clearly. Charl and I headed off for the climb with Janet wishing us well and hopefully little weather on Cross Fell.
100 yards or so down the road and the rain started, that was quick. But we had done well in terms of our progress for the day. I was keen to see Gregs Hut, Charl had described it to me the previous day and I was keen to see this fantastic place shelter from the elements. Before we even got to the shelter the weather was really coming in, we both had full waterproofs on. We were quite exposed throughout, it was windy and wet but still relatively warm. I had my shorts on for most of this part leading up to Gregs Hut until the last little bit. We took shelter here for 5-10 mins to get out of the elements and eat something, I added another layer at this point as we were going to become more and more exposed.
If it were not for Charl I would have struggled, the path was virtually nonexistent, it was boggy and quickly your feet were soaked through, I was glad for my trail shoes choice today. The cloud cover had come in and took away our visibility, the advice of following the cairns was impossible as you could not see the next one from the one you were at. I drove on following the shadowing of Charl disappearing in the cloud. We quickly moved over the boggy top and started heading down the other side and this is where I came a cropper – my right ankle rolled on a tuft of grass. I knew instantly this was diffferent from most of those ankle rolls that you can run off. It hurt instantly, a sharp pain over the lateral part of my ankle. After an instant I just kept moving, limping from one clump to another but kept having to pause due to the pain. I knew this was different but I was also aware there really wasn’t any way of the hill except on my own feet. Charl had noticed I was struggling and stopped to wait, I have to say he was brilliant, he got me to put my ankle/ foot under a running stream and any water deep enough to cover my ankle on the way down to help keep swelling down and allow me to keep going.
As we were heading for the the masts where Richard had said he would try to get to to meet us if we needed any spare water. As we moved across Little Dun Fell and up to Great Dun Fell the cloud had periods of clearing. It was truly amazing to be up there and see it, stunning. We could literally lean into the wind and not fall over, it was strong and I was struggling to walk in a straight line. Since I rolled my ankle we still had approximately 7 or so miles to go to camp, I really believe getting my ankle in the stream, and having company made the difference. I had to walk the majority of the remainder miles but we got there eventually.
I was shattered and in pain but made it which is what matters, the medics apparently thought I was looking a bit grey but I think I was just tired and sore. Everyone rallied round to help, Hayley (my tent mate) got my sleeping bag out and sorted things, Jono helped me with my pack and food and Sue had a look at my ankle. Remarkably I walked into camp not too badly despite my ankle. I had an awful nights sleep, in fact I’m not sure you could call it sleep – I was sore, both my knee and my ankle disturbing me every time I tried to turn. The rain was hammering of the tents all night.
I woke on day 3 struggling to walk properly, Anna did her best to convince me to start the day and see. I also met Sue and realised she was right , it wasn’t going to get any better. I didn’t want to break my body down doing this race, I was risking the rest of my year. It was the right decision, but it’s not an easy decision, it seems like giving up and I don’t give up.
I have unfinished business with Deadwater and in true Arnie style, Ill be back! This was my first race with Richard at Beyond Marathin and I would not hesitate to recommend his events based on this very short experience. The marshalls, medics and attention to detail by Richard made this race. A thought has to go to the marshalls who have the raw end of the deal with the weather, they have to stand out there while we at least are moving. Yet they never fail to stay positive, cheer you on, give you tips, ask the right questions. It makes the difference.
I feel a bit of a con even writing a blog on a def but it was truly an experience as wanted others to hear about and highly recommend. As I say at the start of this blog, it is the people you meet, like-minded people are incredibly energising by their very nature. You spend perhaps part of day, a run with these guys but they nevertheless impact on you, you have a shared experience and it is always interesting. I always come away from these races so chuffed with who I meet, the memories created and experience. More and more it reinforces the importance of appreciating the journey.