Last weekend Biggleswade AC member, Melanie Brooks, took on the Norfolk 100K challenge, and this is her story.
Castle Acre is a pretty little village on the Peddars Way in Norfolk and it was here I stood at 6.45am, on the 11th June, for the pre-race briefing. When the Race Director joked that “due to permissions (presumably, the lack of) the race finish has had to be diverted”, meaning that the distance would now be 108K – I did not laugh. Then when he said “you will enjoy the 5 mile shingle bank”, again, I didn’t laugh. I took his words that this was self-navigation seriously, and armed with map and my kit set off from the scenic start under the castle bailey gate, on my 108K foot race from Castle Acre to Cromer.
A group at the front set off strongly, they looked like a bunch of gnarly, experienced ultra runners, not the fun runners I had hoped for, including two fast women – this was a strong field. The first 20ish miles are along the Peddars Way which is a fairly dull trail surrounded by Hawthorn bushes with little view or pit stop opportunities. The ground was tough going, but easy to settle in to the pacing strategy set by my coach, Ken Prior, albeit slower than my target race pace due to the terrain. At this point I was third lady, but given my strategy I didn’t worry too much about position early on.
I was looking forward to hitting the coast path, as I always find the first marathon tough and come alive after 25 miles. My husband, Darren, my ‘support crew’, was keeping me fed and watered and tracking my position in the race. The checkpoints were not the best in terms of supplies, but very friendly and I was glad I had opted for self-sufficiency.
Gladly there were a couple of runners at a similar pace, and with similar walk/run approaches, so I had targets, and company, along the way. At checkpoint 3, I noticed the 2nd lady had stopped and was looking a little red-up. I took this opportunity to get past her and hit the next five miles of boardwalk hard – putting as much distance between us as I could.
The coastal path was beautiful but, in the main, gruelling. It was a very humid morning and much of the times we were running through long grass. Inland sections were heavy with pollen and I often felt like stopping for a sleep at the side of the trail. Running was hard work and it took a while to rebuild my pace for downhill or firmer sections. However, it actually felt easy and I was now feeling confident that I could do the distance.
The first diversion from the national path took us across sand dunes and the beach at Wells. I wasn’t sure which was the way to go and making progress in deep sand felt impossible. I remembered Ken’s wise words, “treat these sections as hills”, so I got a march on and focussed on not being caught from behind. Dodging families playing beach cricket, frisbees, and the hoards of people eating ice cream were less than fun … it was a relief to hit the town of Wells.
Emptying my socks and shoes of sand, my pace improved as I travelled through, Wells. Next stop Brancaster.
Brancaster was a delight. A clear, stony path and I recovered some strength in my legs. I did get a little lost around Cley, en route to Blekeney, before getting entangled with a dog on a long lead.
Running to the checkpoint at 45 miles I was strong and I was feeling good – no real pain or stiffness, eating and drinking okay despite the heat. Nothing however, prepared me for the shingle beach which I tackled before the last checkpoint. This felt like one of the most miserable times I have spent running, and it took me around 80 minutes to trudge through deep shingle. At points, I dropped to the sea for the relief of running in the soft, wet sand – it was that bad. The last checkpoint was ten miles before the finish, and here my overuse of a few choice words (something I do quite often, when running ultra marathons, apparently) came to the fore … especially when a jovial marshall asked how the shingle was. Emptying my shoes of boulders, well pebbles, I set off for the cliffs at Sheringham.
The next stretch of the route was very up and down, and played to my strengths. I ran to Sheringham strongly and pulled away from the man who had caught up with me on the shingle beach. I was still 2nd lady, and I was closing in on the lady in first place. It was then I noticed the top of my left foot was feeling a little sore, and did my best to treat it. With a little navigation trouble at Sheringham, I set off on the diverted part of the route, with only 7 miles to go and a 14 hour finish in my sights.
The last six miles were awful. My foot was excruciatingly painful and I had to stop every half-a-mile, or so, to adjust my shoe, and/or sock, in a futile effort to reduce the pain. I tried taking my shoe off, untying the shoe, tightening the shoe – nothing worked. I was losing time … and I wanted to go home. Not wanting to be passed by anyone, I dug-in and, mopping the tears from my eyes, limped the last 3 miles.
The finish was a welcome sight and I was delighted to be presented with a trophy for being 2nd lady.
UPDATE: Mel has since found out that the pain in her foot was due to a cracked bone.