Northern Traverse 2022
Scott takes on Alfred Wainwright’s coast to coast…
If you’ve just landed on this page and you want to look at the stats and photos of a ruined body at the end of 300 km, skip to the end.
The NT has been on my agenda ever since the first event stopped at our place in Shap and used it as a checkpoint in 2016. I was inspired by these people; what looked at the time like ‘super-humans’ running along the Coast to Coast route, some of them didn’t sleep at all from the start to the finish. 6 years ago that blew me away!
At that point I’d catered for Coast to Coasters for more than 8 years at work and only knew of a couple of people who had ever run the entire route in just a few days. I was hooked. It became my, very distant, ambition to run it also.
By the time the event came through the village for the second time in 2018 I’d been running ultras for a couple of years. I took on the Bob Graham Round in 2017 and was planning on making it to the start line in April 2020, but.. Roll on a couple of cancelled years due to you know what, a couple of kids thrown into the equation, and Saturday 3rd April 2022 was upon us.
The Route of the Northern Traverse
Those cancelled years probably did me a favour, I wasn’t in the best shape during the height of the pandemic. I struggled to stay motivated for any long distance running and having a baby girl during the winter of 19/20, took all of my energy. I was smitten and fully occupied with being a dad for the first time.
Once we could open up at work for the the first time properly in 14 months during mid-May of 2021 I buried myself in getting a family life and work balance, and running took a back seat; whenever I tried to run, my mind was racing, wondering if we would have further cancellations or if the guests for the following week would even be able to stay.
It seemed that the world was going mad with FKTs and I was struggling to find my motivation. Before I knew it I’d been at work for 70 days straight, was hobbling due to the continued days wearing Birkenstocks and a six-month countdown was approaching. I was starting to think the start line was already getting away from me.
Come September I was thinking 6 months can’t be enough to be properly fit for the Northern Traverse, and I had developed plantar fasciitis, which made me think that reaching the finish, or even the start line would be even harder.
Weeks before the birth of our second child, Arthur, work stress and that limp, had led me to difficulty sleeping, and something of a life wobble. As a 37-year-old man, realising that life was going to change again with the second child, I wasn’t really ready to deal with this. I was out of sorts by a long way and I felt it.
I got a quick fix from the doctor to help me sleep and became aware of the simple realisation that the juggles of life were weighted in all the wrong directions. There was far too much work and not enough time for anything else, namely, getting away from where we live and work, even occasionally. It was even simpler when Leigh-Ann told me that I was working too much. I needed to find a balance but thankfully the summer season was coming to an end, and even though it was 2 months shorter this year, it actually felt like it was a whole lot longer.
The first thing on my list was to get the body repaired and the second, to get thinking positively. I did some sessions with my mate Rob Brown, who has all but finished his training as a physio. His words were what I wanted to hear, ‘Does your foot hurt much more when you run?’ No, it didn’t. ‘So get on with it and get training.’ As easy as that. I wasn’t expecting to hear such simple words, but they worked for me and I cracked on.
I felt like I could managed to train, even with a limp, so not long after seeing Rob, I also called Kim Collinson, a quality running coach I have used before, and eventual winner of the NT and asked if he would help me put together a 5 month plan to get me to the start line. Fortunately, he said he would, and the journey / hobble to the start line of the NT started to take shape, at long last!
All of my training went to plan, which I need to be pretty grateful for that my diabetic control as a whole is never better than when I’m running. When finishing most training runs, my blood sugar levels more often than not skyrocket towards the 16-20 mmol if insulin is not taken within the last minute of a run. I say more often than not because those runs that have bursts of sprints releases adrenaline which stimulates my liver to produce insulin. This daily juggle of making sure you didn’t have too much active insulin on board and your sugars were in line, was real, as it is every day. I more or less learnt exactly what my blood sugars would do after each type of run.
Eyeing up Rory who finished 2nd
The start line was somewhere I hadn’t stood for a long time for a race I was wanting to run hard! The usual pre-race faff commenced. For pretty much the whole day before, including a last minute dash to Pete Blands for an insulated layer. I already had one, maybe even two that could have worked, but both have seen better days and thought I didn’t want to let myself down with duff kit after a solid training block. I know it’s not what should be done but I tried it on, bought it, then chucked it in my race pack and carried it or wore it for the duration. A schoolboy error I know…. I put packing faffs down to nerves.
Saturday 2nd April, St Bees; minimal wind; sun was out; smiles galore. I’d walked into the briefing hall and caught the eye of Rory Harris who ended up finishing second overall. (that ended up being the only time I caught him). I’d never met Rory but he looked like he could run fast. I was pleased I had the same socks on as him, and we both were wearing La Sportiva shoes. Result.
After a few words of encouragement from Alun Lewis who told me I should run faster in longer races we all made our way to the start line. A quick toe dip in the North Sea, the gun sounded and there was a stampede to the narrow single person bridge that we were all told not to race to, unless we were going out to break an Eion Keith record.. I know only Kim and Rory probably should be first and second over the bridge, I was about 20th, trying to enjoy the atmosphere knowing that the longer the race was to last, the less this buzz would be around.
My blood sugar levels were about where I was expecting them to be, about 14 mmol, which is a little on the high side, but I knew I couldn’t really account for nerves which always raise them. They soon dropped into line or close to where they should be. I left it an hour before I ate anything, I hadn’t noticed the posse of runners I was amongst eating anything in the first couple of hours, whereas I got stuck into my second sandwich before I got to Ennerdale. Cheese and Branston pickle on a cheap white bap, simple food for simple people.
I got to Ennerdale and felt fresh, then had to remind myself that the first 30 km, the majority of which is on road or an easy trail, with hardly any elevation gain, and you’re only about 10% in. That’s why it felt easy, I didn’t really listen to myself and at this point I threw my game plan, taking it easy until Richmond, out of the window. The shoreline of Ennerdale Water was technical and awkward, but I liked this terrain and knew I could move fast over it. That build-up of pace continued up and over Honister.
I was moving and eating well, I knew I needed to slow down slightly which I did but at the same time kept a consistent pace. Climbing on to Grasmere common I passed Robert who had a bit of trouble, but when I knew he was going to be okay to make it to Patterdale, I passed him. He told me he was in 3rd. I wasn’t expecting him to say that, I told myself that it was a long way to go, enjoy descending into Patterdale and sort your feet out, forget what he said and make it to the next checkpoint.
I did that, and got to Patterdale quickly. My foot repair / patch-up took longer than I was hoping but my feet were in something of a state, so I’ve only got myself to blame for taking so long but the medic made a valid point that I have too much skin on the bottoms of my feet. Any suggestions on how to lose fat/ skin from the base of my feet would be much appreciated.
From Patterdale to Kirkby Stephen was the home stretch for me, as it were, and I knew these next 35 miles very well; each tuft of grass and miss leading sheep each trod, I cracked on, and made it into Shap just after midnight with a welcome party of 10 friends who came out to run the High Street with me. This encouragement was much welcomed, it gave me a huge boost. I didn’t want to hang around near home, though the pull at that time was pretty powerful, so a quick kiss from my wife and a well done by my mates at the checkpoint, I had passed what I thought would be pretty emotionally draining part of this race, and left the village enthusiastic and psyched about the night ahead.
Knowing the terrain helped again, I felt like I flew into KS, and planned on a 16 minute sleep, but didn’t manage to get any. I sorted out my toes again, topped my bag up and I was off again, turning my head torch off as soon as I left the checkpoint, pumping insulin as I departed. Delivering a unit of insulin was something I was trying to do as I arrived at each CP but the reality was I wasn’t sure what I was going to eat until I sat down so usually made any corrections/ extra doses I needed as I departed.
Alun and I at the Start Line
Climbing up Nine Standards from 0500 totally alone for sunrise, knowing that the only two other people had been there that day, and that they were a couple of hours ahead of you, was really pretty special. The night had been still with just the occasional bird pleasantly disrupting the silence, encouraging me to hurry through so they could return to slumber.
Keld became Reeth became Richmond CP. Kirkby Stephen to Reeth became my most enjoyable section, mainly because once you’ve reached Nine standards it was more or less all downhill, all apart from the uphill bits that is…
Richmond checkpoint was lush. I refilled my bag, faffed around generally, and surprisingly bumped into my wife, kids and a good friend Eeva. Midway through a baked spud I looked at open tracking for the first time on the TV. I didn’t like the idea of seeing how far everyone was around you. It felt like a recipe for disaster, needing to look again and again to check they hadn’t caught you or you hadn’t caught them. I also realised that looking at this screen for the first time in over 28 hours of racing that my mindset had now shifted from simple enjoyment of the run, to actual racing and wanting to keep hold of third place.
I still felt like I was moving okay, and had the Vale of York ahead, so I tried to set a pace that I could keep up. My tactics were to move well through the flat lands, the reality was a little different. It was seriously tortuous but the shining beacon in this less than favoured section was the Londis garage on the A19 at Ingleby Arncliffe. I refilled my water, had a double espresso, bought more sweets, a buttie and a donut or 2. This well stocked goodie store was perfect, I was that kiddie in the sweet shop. Kit sorted, blood tested and ready to head into the North Yorkshire Moors.
The wind had increased to become a gale or at least felt like one. As much as I was prepared for it, after 36 hours of racing, I didn’t feel as if I had much in my reserve to counter it with. I’d started to hallucinate which is something I’ve never done while running, I’ve read about plenty of people that have but I’ve never raced for multi days so its just something that’s never happened. I tried to concentrate on the next few feet in front of me, trying just enough to make my body move in any sort of fashion that resembled speed and heading East.
And then I couldn’t move any further East, I tried to bivvy down for the second occasion since starting to get some sleep, shut eye and just like the first time, I was on my own but not by the luxuries that comes with being next to a warm Kirkby Stephens rugby club, but this time in horrible conditions, sheltered behind a wall that wasn’t built for taking a bivvy whilst, hiding from the driving wind and rain on Lordstones. Pretty quickly I decided that I wasn’t going to get any kip during the second attempt at trying (although in fairness, I’d only given myself about 90 seconds before packing in).
I decided to crack on. I arranged all my food so it was accessible, put a spare torch battery where I could reach it and checked my pump for my sugar levels. They were on their way up, beyond where they should be. I told myself this was probably the reason I was struggling so much so I tried to focus some energy on my blood sugar levels and keep an eye on them more often than I had been doing.
As I was stuffing my bivvy bag away I received a random phone call from my father in law which he told me how proud he was of what I was doing (he has never said anything like that in the 14 years I’ve known him and he’s now got two grand kids). I threw my race pack on my back and marched on.
It was wet and a tad windy, between midnight and 4 am was about the worst of it arriving at the Lion Inn at 0320 on Monday morning. There were a couple of tents flattened by the winds and thankfully one standing which I sat in and dawdled for what felt like an eternity; a strong coffee, a look in my kit bag to find some enthusiasm and supplies to restock my bag and I was eventually off.
The next 30 miles or so to the finish line were a bit of a blur, I continually struggled to keep my blood sugar level up in the target range even though I was carrying all the supplies for this to happen. After the Lion Inn I’d lost my appetite and knew I wasn’t drinking as much as I should have been, so just relying on energy gels was the only option.
The woods at Falling Foss are a place I’d like to go back with the family to remind myself they aren’t as bad as I remember them, I was shouting for Leigh-Ann, for no reason at all. I could see a few folk by the waterfall who by all accounts looked like they were having a lovely day out. I continued to shout her name, but only got another weird look from one tourist, so thought I’d continue shouting much quieter.
I tried to run hard from Hawsker, with just 6 km to go but I had absolutely nothing left in me to do this. Getting to the finish line felt like it would take me the rest of the day, it didn’t and I made it to Robin Hoods Bay to a welcome party where absolutely nothing anyone said to me made any sense at all.
After a few moments, things gradually began to make sense, and I began to reflect on the achievement. Leigh-Ann suggested I should do more long distance stuff. I told her I’d think about it and after a few minutes, as long as she didn’t pressure me into it I would promise her that I would.
I was hoping to get a finishing photo that made me look like the performance I’d put in was deserved. I have the photos below of the last day. By all accounts I look pretty knackered, not at my best. A timely reminder that when running a long way as fast as possible, the likelihood of looking pretty at the finish is slim.
Many thanks to James Thurlow for turning this iconic route into a race which I became determined to run, and to his team Open Tracking for watching over everyone.
To @oeara events for putting on this event and all the supporters and volunteers that made it happen on the day.
Distance: 300 km
Accent: 8688 metres
Duration: 50 hours 36 minutes
Most enjoyed moment: Enjoying the journey from Kirkby Stephens to Richmond
Most endured moment: realising I wanted to finish 3rd from Richmond onwards
Best bit of kit: La Sportiva Karakels (half a size up to account for swelling)
Toenails lost: 5
Time in (ideal blood glucose) range:
Total daily dose: Insulin Volumes (any normal given day) between 48-52 units combined of both Basil and bolus.
Total Daily Dose:
Friday 49 units
Saturday 23 units
Sunday 18.5 units
Monday 39 units.
Food: 8 white bap cheese and pickle butties, 2 tuna mayo.
6 veggie samosas, 1 green bean curry, 6 dutch waffles, 2 boiled eggs, pack of jelly babies, 22 Torqs gels, 4 national health hypo stops, 2 bowls of soup, 3 cups of coffee
Biggest food fail: trying to eat nuts and gagging, inability to eat any fruit for 2 plus days (except Branston pickle)
A warm welcome from Scott and Leigh-Ann
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