Turning 40 the hard way.

For the uninitiated, “Couch to 5K “ is a NHS backed program designed to get non-runners to take regular exercise, and, as the name suggests, take them all the way to 5K over a 10 week build up period. I undertook my own version of this a couple of years ago at a point when my life was falling apart (there’s a recurrent theme here) but never being one to follow the crowd I went from couch to 26.2 trail miles over 4 consecutive Wednesdays. I was trying to impress someone, it failed. Also a recurrent theme. At the time, those 26.2 miles were (as a non-runner) the most difficult miles I had ever done. They were nothing however compared to what I found myself doing just before Christmas.

I was turning 40, quite bald, very single and feeling deeply sorry for myself. After having been described by several "friends" as “Eeyore”, I realised the chance of corralling enough people for a drunken “celebration” was limited, so I decided a Plan B was needed for the day of my fortieth, in order to distract myself from the fact that my life was really quite rubbish. To that end, a 40 (ish) mile jaunt along the Lyke Wake Route on the North York Moors seemed a semi-reasonable goal, and after completing a few Hardmoors events I figured I probably had just enough ability to make it the full way without collapsing in an icy heap somewhere on the Moors, with only sheep there to administer the last rites.

The big day arrived and I found myself at Cod Beck at 7am in the pitch black and howling wind with my running mentor and all round life coach Shelli Gordon there to guide me through the first 10 miles as far as Clay Bank. I had not chosen a good day. An Amber weather warning was in force and frozen rain (like snow but less festive) was expected. It did not disappoint. As I followed Shelli along the top of Carlton Bank I began to have serious reservations as she was blown clean off the track every few minutes, in what she later admitted were the windiest conditions she’d ever ran in. A brief farewell at Clay Bank and I was off on my own in the direction of Bloworth Crossing.

One navigational challenge later after my phone battery had died in the intense cold and I could see the outline of the Lion at Blakey in the distance. A quick 10 minute stop turned into 45 minutes as I defrosted, drank my own body weight in tea and was comprehensively licked by my spaniel who was clearly more excited than I was about my birthday. I set off again towards Glaisdale Moor which I knew would be a challenge, being the land that footpaths forget. A note for future events, white sticks apparently mark Parish borders and under no circumstances should be confused for path markers. Lesson learnt.

Several hours later morale received a massive boost when my Anaesthetist friend joined me just north of Wheeldale Bridge. I have never been so pleased to have a doctor running along side me as hopefully she would recognise the signs of hypothermia long enough before I froze to death to do something heroic. It says all you need to know about the weather that day that the only other people I saw on the entire 40 mile route were ultra-runners Kim and Jayson of Team Cavill fame, and even they were sensible enough to not actually be running in those conditions.

The next few miles passed relatively quickly and with another runner due to meet us at RAF Flyingdale spirits were high. A navigational mis-understanding (namely RAF Fylingdale not actually being anywhere near Fylingdale village) meant I missed my support crew but we eventually caught up with them East of Fylingdale Moor, just a few short miles from the end. Half an hour later and I had achieved my twin goals of completing the Lyke Wake and not dying on my birthday, and after spending most of the previous couple of hours with borderline hypothermia I was now genuinely excited by the prospect of beer and a curry back home in Northallerton. It was sadly not to be.

Some two hours later we were in a ditch outside Grosmont, the snow and ice now having settled on the tops. A couple more miles were added to the daily total as I had to run to the local pub to beg for a 4x4 to tow us out of the ditch. Long story short, the 1 hour journey home had turned into 4 hours, and the night out in town with champagne and fine wines ended up as a takeaway curry and solitary beer at home.

So, what did I learn:

1. Time spent on recce is seldom wasted.

2. Your support crew need to know where they’re going (and need to consist of at least one spaniel).

3. Having the right kit not only makes any run more fun, but can also stop you dying. (see kit review below).

4. Being 40 is shit.

OMM Kamleika Jacket            - although gram for gram is more expensive than heroin it is definitely worth. Does a great job at blocking wind, lets sweat pass through, is uber lightweight and has great fastening especially around the head to block wind and frozen rain (it’s a thing).

OMM Contour Race Fleece                - love this! Is thin enough to easily fit under waterproofs but is super-warm, good at stopping wind and although it fits snugly it allows easy arm movement.

Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest     - when I first started covering distance I used a normal rucksack as I thought over £100 was too big a price to pay for something as apparently insubstantial as a ultra vest. I was very wrong. Not only does this fit perfectly and prevent sore shoulders, having everything to hand at the front of the vest means you’re not stopping every few minutes for nutrition, head torch, phone etc.  It easily had the capacity for everything I needed to carry in the middle of winter for 40 miles. I can not recommend this enough.

Lets Run Buff                                      - It’s a buff. It also gives you a warm fuzzy feeling that you’re supporting the best shop in the world!

Scott Kinabalu - a great shoe, very robust but with enough cushioning for ultras. Works for me but it’s always worth getting a proper assessment by your local independent running store staffed by experts, such as Let’s Run in Stokesley.

Salomon Bonetti Waterproof trousers – very lightweight, fantastically waterproof and don’t interfere with movement. Only downside is that in a battle with barbed wire there is only going to be one winner.

Petzl NAO Headtorch                          – I wore this for a good 4 hours without ever having to re-adjust its position. Super comfortable and bright enough to project a spot onto the moon. Near enough.

Written by Mike Simpson.