Here at Lands’ End, we’re lucky enough to have an incredibly talented bunch of colleagues; all with amazing experiences, opinions and journeys to share. So in a new, occasional series we thought we’d hand the blog over to them so they could share their stories with you. Here, Mat King tells us about the gruelling 69 mile Ultra Marathon he ran in memory of his mum.
‘The Wall’ Ultra Marathon 2014
20 June 2014
“After six long months of training, five days a week, here I am. My final goal is within reach. I’m off to register for the race that will take me along Hadrian's Wall from Carlisle Castle to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge over a mixed-terrain route, incorporating both on and off-road sections. There are 69 miles to be conquered in one continuous journey – in less than 24 hours. I’m doing it for Cancer Research in memory of my beloved mum; sadly taken too soon, just 18 months ago.
Once checked into the hotel, I ensure I have everything I need for the next day: 1.5 litres of water, 500ml hydration fluid, 500ml electrolyte fluid, a mixture of 16 energy gels and bars, just to get me to the halfway point. Once there, I need to re-stock and do the same thing all over again for the second half. I check that I have remembered all the mandatory stuff too: first aid kit, head torch and reflective clothing for when darkness fall. I’m all set and ready to go and despite setting the alarm for 5.45am, I’m happy. Bring it on!
21 June 2014
Race day: I don’t sleep well but I feel more relaxed, looking forward to the day ahead. At breakfast I see a guy called Alan who I’d met in an event before. He competed in the Wilderness challenge in Scotland in 2011 for The Sailors Society the same year I competed in a team representing Lands’ End. Alan’s team came second that year and he was running this Ultra Marathon to raise money again for The Sailors Society; it was comforting to see a familiar face.
We got to the start and it was already about 15° - it was clear that it was going to be very hot and sunny. There were only around 445 of us running the marathon and suddenly it felt like a really small race. Looking around, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us would actually finish; runners really do come in all shapes and sizes! And all at once, we were off; some competitors taking off really fast but I stuck to my plan of running on average 12/13 minute miles. The terrain dictated this: I ran on flats, jogged downhill and power walked up hills.
There were 13 checkpoints and pit stops altogether where my race chip was scanned. I reached the first one at 15 miles and felt good. I pressed on, passing four more and just over 7 and a half hours into the race, arrived at the fifth one: the historic fort of Vindolanda and the halfway point. This was my chance to change clothes, refuel and to top up water and food supplies. By this point I was still confident, fresh and enjoying the moment but it was a very weird feeling knowing that I had run 32 miles and still had 37 to go!
As I set off for the next stage of the race, I had already climbed 600ft with another 200ft to go. We were like ants following each other up the hill getting smaller and smaller to those below. No chance of running here even if I’d wanted to. Once I got to the brow, I could see the pit stop in the distance but then nothing but green fields and hills. The terrain had changed from tarmac where we started and it was now uneven shale tracks. It was cruel on the ankles and feet. At the next pit stop I asked how far we had gone: the reply was 39 miles. This was the furthest I had ever run; yet I still had 30 more to go.
My mental challenge was beginning and I was in unknown territory. 17 miles on it was really testing and much hillier. I changed tactics to run and walk. The straights were now much longer so I ran for 10 minutes and walked for 5 on and off. The field had really thinned out and it was becoming a far lonelier race.
Finally, I was at the penultimate checkpoint. It was now a case of mental endurance rather than physical and it had started to get dark. I really wanted to be in civilisation before it was pitch black with just my head torch as a friend. I had two huge blisters on my right foot and my ankle was swelling from a minor toe-stubbing incident about a week before the race. I changed tactic again and ran for 5 minutes and walked for 5 to the end as best I could.
At last, I could see the River Tyne and I thought the finish was just around the corner. I saw two passers by and asked them ‘How far to the bridge?’ The reply was about two miles. As I hit the quayside and bars, people had lined the streets to cheer us on, boosting my morale just when I needed it the most. The bridge was now ahead of me and I knew I was going to finish. So 16 hours and 37 mins after I started, I ran over the Millennium Bridge to cross the line at HMS Calliope. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life; I was totally emotionally and physically spent with a swollen ankle and two blisters the size of 10p pieces. My adventure was over.
As I walked towards the stewards to receive my medal, I stopped, overwhelmed and choked. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. All I could think was ‘I’ve done it’. I did it for you Mum.”
To donate, visit Mat's JustGiving page