Escape from Meriden - How far can you go?
I love a challenge, an event that's different! and when I found Escape from Meriden it ticked all my boxes.
Starting at the centre of England!
Starting at midnight!
Create your own route?
And only you decide where the finish line is!
And that's why on Friday 17th November 2023 I find myself travelling from my home in Barnsley down to the centre of England.
However, this race starts well before Race Day,
First, you have to make a big decision – what direction do you want to travel? how far are you aiming for? where do you want to finish?
Next is creating your route, do you want to go in as close to a straight line as possible? Stay on the road or do trails?
Then you have to think about nutrition and plan your route around shops being open because you are 100% self-sufficient in this race – no nice pit stops where you can stock up on fluids and gels.
My route was planned on trying to get home – Just under 100 miles.
I planned on doing the first 30 miles on roads, making use of street lighting to keep the pace up in the dark, this was followed by a mixture of road and off-road, taking in some key nutrition stops, 42 miles MacDonald's and 60 and 80 miles in roadside Service stations.
I had been testing kit for the last 12 months and I had a plan!
My kit list.
Montane Shorts and T-shirt
Inov8 long sleeve base layer
OMM Kamalika Jacket
Inov8 Storm Trousers
3 pair of 1000 miles twin layer socks
Inov-8 Trail fly G300
Silva Trail head torch plus spare batteries
Montane Prism Gloves
Tough Mudder Beanie
6 Chia charge bars
6 Voom Bars
Scott Running Poles
2 ltire of BLDR hydration drink
Some Gerwol cream, and blister plasters,
Paracetamol and 50 electrolite tablets
Race registration was a super simple affair, turn up to the village hall, tell the Team my allocated race number 113 and pick up my Tracker and a bright orange jumpsuit, I look very fetching in my jump suite
Now you can do this chained to another athlete or Solo, I chose Solo, didn't fancy holding my running buddy's hand while he was parting with bodily fluids or worse still Bodily solids! So I was a solo runner and I would recommend that for your first time, you go solo, it is very difficult running down slippery single-track trails when chained to someone, I saw 2 blokes almost end up in the canal due to this.
I just mentioned parting with Bodily fluids and this was something they should look at because the hall only has 2 toilets, one for women and one for men and with 200+ runners there is usually a queue, I personally avoided this queue by popping over to the Bulls Head pub to use their toilet and grab a last chance to hydrate – it was good to see that several other runners had the same idea as me
11:15 was the Race brief and it was made more enjoyable by the race director telling us a few stories from previous events, then it was the ½ mile walk to the start line, The cross ( or not so much as a cross these days) that marks the start of the event
The clock strikes midnight and with a whimper( they don't shout as this may wake the village up) we all set off, it is strange seeing everyone set off in different directions with no whoops, clapping or shouting.
Me and my buddy Jamie set off on our route and quickly found our pace of around 5.5mph and settled in talking and chatting. 30 mins in and we hit our first proper challenge, It had been raining from the start and so I had dressed for the rain and cold, I had my Baselayer on, my waterproof top and bottoms but it wasn't cold and I soon found myself sweating like a bank robber in the Old Bailey, this meant I was a wet on the inside as it was as wet on the outside and its only 3 miles down with 97 to go, this was going to be a very uncomfortable night
Still, there was nothing I could do so I had to just keep on going, 2.5 hours in and at mile 14 we made our first planned stop, some of you might be thinking why at such an early time and so I will tell you, over the last 4 long Ultras at 40+ miles I have developed Blisters on my toes and ball of my feet. But when I did Man v Mountain I found a cream called Gerwol that helps prevent them, but you have to keep applying regularly, so here I am at 2:30 am, in the bus shelter, in Fazeley taking off my shoes and socks and applying a generous handful of Gerwol to my feet ensuring I have rubbed it in between my toes and all over, with shoes and socks back on it was time to man back up and head off back out in the rain and continue our race.
Tamworth was the first large town we reached, and it just seemed to appear out of the dark, one min it's a country lane, then it's a town centre, it was so surreal running through a town at night that's usually busy with lots of people and it was so empty just 2 of us running through it, it was here that we saw what could have been mistaken for our first mirage, in the distance, a 24 hour petrol station that had a Costa coffee sign, as we approached we realised it was real and 5 mins later we are walking out of Tamworth with a hot Americano in our hands.
Our next planned pit stop was at 25 miles at Rosilton for a sock change and reapplication of my magic cream
But first, we had to get there and these next 2 hours became the most challenging
Coming out of Tamworth we found a flooded road, wading through it to just above the ankle was ok but now our feet were wet and all we could hear was the sound of squelching shoes, Then what we thought was the road when we planned the route turned out to be a farmers track that was muddy and wet and as I was following Jamie, the lights on the back of his rucksack was flashing and hypnotizing me, several times I almost fell over as I was tired and these lights where making me more tired, like hypnotizing me, I had to tell him to run behind me before I ended up in some ditch fast asleep, Then the track stopped and what laid in front of us was a freshly ploughed field with no visible path, the footpath had been ploughed over so here we are in pitch black wading over a field, slipping sliding and getting mud cover the shoes.
This was by far my lowest point of the run, and it became a mental challenge for a while, after constant rain I was drenched, my feet were squelching, I was feeling super tired and all I could think of was I had had enough, but my life partner had said a few things to me the week before leading into this race about coping with the downs. She had mentioned the Somme (as it was Remembrance Day the week before) and how the soldiers had to endure extreme conditions and face great adversity not knowing when it would end, whereas I knew it would end and so I had to push through it because if they could do it then I certainly could, James burton had called me a few days before to wish me luck and during our conversation said pain is temporary but Pride lasts forever and it was with these thoughts running through my head I pulled my big boy pants up and pushed on
Before Sunrise we hit 2 more flooded roads with one being at least 8 inches deep, but we had no more muddy field and we found ourselves going through Burton on Trent and our next pit stop to check the feet – but first, there was a premier shop so in for a can of red bull and a well deserved Mint Aero. The feet at this point are holding up ok, they didn't look good as they were all wrinkly from the water but the cream was doing its job and I had no sign of blisters forming, it was also at this point that I started to do my first calculations of how far we could get and I deducted we were on track for 100 miles in 24 hours so with a spring in our step we set off for Derby.
The rain continued to fall and we trudged on with our plan of walking the up hills, running the downs and doing a 50/50 jeffing on the flats. After 8 hours of running and 24 hours with no sleep, our pace started to falter and by the time we hit our next pit stop McDonald's near Markeaton Park at 11 am we were around 4 miles behind the target and we both knew it, The Rain may have lifted but our moods didn't with it, We ate our MacDonalds burger in silence contemplating how we would make up the time we was losing, could we get back on track
11:35 am and 43miles under our belt we set off for the next leg of getting the next 4 miles done in 40 minutes we set off well, but with all good plans when you get tired we soon found ourselves off track, this was the story of the next hour, taking several wrong turns on the housing estates we passed resulting in not even covering the 4 miles planned in an hour.
It also didn't help that we both had stomach aches from the burgers and when we found an open farm field section I had to jump behind a bush to relieve the pain.
Our moods were really dropping at this stage, I think we went around an hour just moving forward without saying a word to each other, and Jamie must have had the same thoughts though because at 2 pm when the rain started again, we decided to start talking again and making jokes and talking about anything and everything to take our minds off the trudge
We got the map out on our phones and started to look for little shortcuts through the villages we had to go through and we made several before we made what would turn out to be a fatal shortcut
We skirted Ripley along a trail and we spotted a shortcut that would save us 10 mins, so we headed off down this track about ¼ mile to catch a road that cut across it, in hindsight we should have stayed on the initial proposed route because this is where my race went to pot.
The path did cross the road but instead, it went under the road! The road was 6-7 metres above our head, It was too far to go back and too far to go on, luckily there was a muddy bank up to said road, so off we went mountaineering
With 2 steps forward and one step back, reaching out for trees and clumps of grass to get purchase I was very close to the top when my left foot slipped and I was left with my right knee touching my chin and then it happened – Twang – the tendons behind my knee said no way are you doing this to me, I crawled to the top, Jamie gave me a hand up and I tried to play it down to Jamie, saying I had stretched it but I was ok, I leaned on my running poles and said let's go, but the pain wouldn't let me, I couldn't put any weight on the right foot, the hamstring was hurting but only when I put weight on it, I tried to continue for ½ a mile but it took over 20 mins to get there, as I sat on a crash barrier at the side of the road with tears in my eyes I had to call it a day! I had covered 55 miles my second longest Run, but all I could think about was I had failed. I called my partner for a lift – she said she would be around 2 hours as she was just shopping, Jamie looked on his phone and found a pub a mile away, so I set off hobbling to the said pub, this mile took almost an hour but when I sipped that cold pint of ale it was worth the pain.
Author - Alan ( Muddy Duck) moore