I'm alive! I did it! I survived Man versus Horse! And my Tom Runs Ten challenge is over!
The final week of my challenge started with two days filming for a mini documentary with CNN. I met up with the team on Monday night after work to run through the schedule as they were staying at a hotel near me in Suffolk, having flown over from New York. We agreed to meet at 6.15am the following morning and spent a few hours running in different locations whilst trying my best not to look at the camera! The guys then came round my house and setup the cameras for an interview. Day two started at 5.30am and luckily the weather was perfect again. Suffolk was looking sexy!
The documentary is part of a series of short stories covering unique sporting events around the world. I asked Mimi how many people typically watch them (there are eight in total) - she said "oh just several hundred thousand online" to which I was horrified. And then she said "plus it will also be shown on CNN TV - twice" It was at this point I basically had a heart attack!
Most of the two days in between filming were spent disputing the pronouncing of words such as aluminium, data, dachshund and Nike (how can it be Nikey, when you ride a bike - not a bikey?) Also the use of words like cookie instead of biscuit, pants instead of trousers, store instead of shop etc etc.
Overall it was a fantastic experience and Mimi and Deb were really fun to hang out with. It was a great honour (and terrifying) to be part of something that is likely to be watched by over a million people. It was also interesting to see just how much goes into producing TV and just how talented the teams that work on them are. The video and accompanying news article should hopefully be available by the end of July!
Coralie and I travelled down to Wales on Thursday night and stayed over in Newport to break up the journey, and then on to Llanwrtyd Wells - officially the smallest town in the UK where the race takes place every year. We were staying in a little guesthouse just outside the town, which was so pretty. We went for a little trail run to check out what the race would be like. I decided to stick to the flat and save my legs, whilst Coralie was flying up and down like a woman on fire! She just ran off without me as you can see..
Right on to race day! The town had enjoyed a fortnight of glorious weather which meant the course was apparently looking unusually very dry and firm - music to my ears as a flat-track road runner so at least we had that going for us! The weather was perfect - cool, overcast and drizzle in the air.
We gathered in the town square and watched as the horses were brought in. They were greeted by a chorus of boos! All in good jest. My first thought was just how freaking big they were! Although we had a 15 minute headstart, that was just to stop us getting trampled, with that time being deducted of the horses time at the end. I set off at the front with the leaders - I can assure you that this photo taken in the first mile was the flattest part of the course!
I was in 4th place when we got to the hill at mile 1.5, which was something I will never, ever forget. A guy had warned me about it just before the start, but honestly words cannot describe how big this hill was. The stats were an 18% gradient slope for just under 1 mile, on both road and then loose rocks. I'm getting the creeps just thinking about it. It was the best 8:18 min/mile of my life without doubt. The CNN guys were filming it so you will see what I mean!
Thankfully it got better after that, although the fell runners were SO FAST going downhill. I have a long stride, so downhill running is usually my strength, but these two guys were like flipping ninjas! They flew by me. The next 3-4 miles were full of rolling hills but nothing too horrendous. A couple of hills were so steep, narrow and rocky that I walked and I found that the guy in front who was running did not actually get any further ahead of me! I think it was a good tactic to save energy for where it would really count.
At mile 6 we ran up a ridiculously big valley, then down through the forest and back up the other side of the valley. The fact that I say that so normally shows you how crazy this race was. At the top of valley two, I caught my first glimpse of the horses! It made me think what it must have been like back in history when you saw an enemy army approaching your castle. Weirdly my natural instinct was to sprint - but I'm not sure how I was planning to spring the next 14 miles.
At mile 8 we then charged back down the valley (slightly demoralising having run up to the top twice already!) and I had my funniest/most terrifying moment of the race. I was tied for 5th and right on the shoulder of the fell runner. I decided to go with him - how hard can it be to run down a hill? Well very hard as it turns out. I was so close to him, I couldn't see where we were going. At the last minute, he veered left and I didn't. I then saw why - I preceeded to step off a ledge and drop face first into a boggy pond. I literally landed on my stomach and faceplanted a puddle of mud.
It was one of those moments I wish someone else had seen or videod and I just can't give do it justice. The next two miles were down a valley and up a valley (do you see a trend developing here?) and the first horse overtook me. The rider casually said "morning" I was trying to extinguish the fire in my lungs as I was plodding up the second biggest hill of my life! At the top of the valley, two more horses overtook me but then this next bit was awesome. Going down the valley I OVERTOOK TWO HORSES! It was such a buzz and something I won't forget.
My half marathon split was 1:33 which I would honestly say it right up there with my best ever performances. Honestly it was just savagely brutal. The course for horses and runners split at this stage so we wouldn't see them for a while and by this point I was up into joint 3rd (there were three of us in a pack). I then saw my opportunity as we turned onto a long downhill gravel road - I knew my advantage would be my roadrunning ability so I ran the next mile in under 5 minutes. One guy came with me (the eventual winner) but it broke the other chap.
At mile 16, 4th place was then looking like it was in the bag barring disaster so I set about catching back up with 3rd, who had passed me up the next stonking hill which I decided to walk. We had definitely broken the back of he course and I felt really strong and with plenty of energy. The next couple of miles were mainly lots of gradual downhills broken up by embarassingly steep short hills and ditches/streams and then at mile 17.5 the first horse overtook me again (no smarmy comments this time), but I'm happy I had managed to stay ahead for so long.
By mile 18.5 my legs were starting to tire going uphill - even the walking was getting tough as I couldn't stand tall enough to get enough oxgyen in. However I got a massive boost as the guy who was in 2nd place was walking on the flat in the distance. Clearly his legs had gone and therefore I would be on the podium! It was such an amazing feeling. I kept pushing after the guy in front for the next two miles but the gap just wouldn't get any closer, so my priority was hanging on to 3rd.
By mile 20.5 I could hear the noise from the finish area and see it in the distance, and pushed on, although two more horses blew past me in a blur of noise! Now given how narcisistic this race was, the finish was never going to be easy. Yep, the last 400 metres involved running through a RIVER of waist deep water! Obviously. I then saw that 2nd place (the guy who was leading for most of the race) was stumbling and wobbling up the hill in front, but the gap was just too far. Another 100 metres and I think I would have caught him. Instead I just high-fived everyone along the finish straight and enjoyed the applause!
I ended up finishing in 3rd place in a time of 2:39:55. I also beat 50 out of 55 horses! Who needs four legs when you have two? You can view my stats here and the full results here. It was so special to have Coralie there and I gave her a big, muddy wet hug! It is no exggeration to say that she is the best thing that has ever happened to me and has been with me for most of the journey. She is also a bad ass runner herself having smashed her first marathon when we ran together in Manchester in April, and I would be totally lost without her.
After the race I did an interview for Men's Health, who had also spoken with me before, and the post-race review with the Kevin, Mimi & Deb from CNN. I can assure you this pose was totally accidental! Olympic marathon runner Liz Yelling was the special guest for the presenatation, and I got to stand on an ACTUAL PODIUM. Not at all awkward.. It was without doubt the hardest race I have ever done.
The terrain included everything from road, trail, grass, gravel, streams, shin deep mud, knee high grass and waist deep water, and that's before you throw in the hills. I also finished with holes in both socks, blisters on my toes and the most hilarious vest tan. However, it is certainly my favourite experience in running! More because it was just so out of my comfort zone and for my first ever experience of fell running, I think 3rd was a great result. Plus I will always be able to say that I beat 50 horses in a race!
Some of the views and scenery along the route was spectacular, the organisation and support was also so friendly and smoothly run, and we are already planning our trip to come back and run again next year. I woke up today and although my lower back is tight, my legs actually felt okay so Coralie and I went for a run this morning in the rain, surrounded by sheep, which was a nice way to end our stay in Wales.
From tomorrow I'm going to give myself a little break to rest and just run without pressure, but I do feel post-marathon fever coming so I'm already thinking about the next event I can enter! Having now run 15 marathons, 13 of which have been on roads, I would like to do different races like this from now on rather than running the same local 10k races over and over. Now I know I can handle Man v Horse, it's definitely wetted my appetite for adventure!
It feels very strange to have now finished my challenge - it has only been 27 weeks of my life but the personal journey I have travelled has been huge and I cannot really put it into words. However, I will attempt to next week in my final summary blog! It would be really great if anyone would like to sponsor me! Even £1 would be awesome. This is such an important cause - 1 in 5 people seriously affected by eating disorders will die prematurely from either the physical consequences or suicide. Luckily I am not one of them, but I could have been. You can donate at www.justgiving.com/TomRunsTen
You can connect with me on LinkedIn here. You can also follow me on Twitter here, on Instagram here, or on Facebook here. I am running ten marathons to raise money for Beat, the UK's leading eating disorder charity. You can also sponsor me via my Justgiving page here. Thank you!