NEWS FROM PMI
69 miles in 24 hours – Running Hadrian’s Wall for Charity
Author: Dennis Crommentuijn-Marsh
In June, Director Consultant and Head of PMI’s Data, Insight’s and Analytics Practice, Dennis Crommentuijn-Marsh took part in ‘The Wall’ a gruelling 69 miles ultramarathon from Carlisle to Newcastle all to raise funds for PMI’s charity, The Nagajuna Trust.
This is Dennis’s account of the incredible journey he took.
I have done endurance events before, but this one definitely tops them all. The non-stop element, the ever-changing weather, the incredible scenery, the joyful camaraderie with perfect strangers, the mental and physical pain, the very happy finish.
Before the event, I am in a certain amount of trepidation, as I have never ran/walked any further than 28 miles, and this is 69 – more than double that distance. Will I make it in one piece within the allotted 24 hours?
Friday – The day before – driving up to Carlisle
The preparation is all complete, the car packed and I have my wife and two daughters as my support crew. We arrive at Carlisle Castle at 7 pm after a 5-hour drive through a stunning route across the Pennines.
At sign-in I receive my running number, 134, a running t-shirt and a lightweight GPS tracker. My bag and compulsory kit are also checked to make sure I’m properly equipped. Each runner must take with them some food & drink, a first aid kit, a head torch, and wind and weatherproof clothing. I’ve also brought my collapsible walking sticks which will prove a wise move!
My ‘crew’ run through the changeover process for each pitstop – they are in charge of refilling my rug sack with food and water and charging my phone and GPS/heart rate watch. We also go through some backup planning, such as fresh socks, anti-chafe cream, spare clothing and lightweight waterproofs, to adapt to the conditions for each stage.
Mile 0 – Saturday, the day of the race! 700 starts, how many will finish?
04:45 am: I wake but I haven’t slept very well. Too excited/nervous. I prepare myself a double helping of porridge and a banana.
06:00 am: We leave for Carlisle Castle where the preparations are in full swing. The sun is just visible underneath low hanging clouds. We take a few photos and chat with a fellow Dutch couple who had driven over especially for the event.
06:45: The official briefing explaining the route, the potential dangers and what to do in case of an emergency. The excitement grows. We are 700 strong. Women, men, all ages, all abilities. Dark clouds are overhead and as the first raindrops fall I make a last-minute kit change, exchanging my lightweight waterproof for my heavy duty Berghaus – sacrificing weight for comfort! – and put on an extra layer over my Icebreaker vest top.
07:00: We’re off! The run starts, and it’s a mass exodus along the river. I keep checking my heart rate monitor and its fairly high so I slow my pace and even walk. It’s a long race, no need to have lactic acid this early. The route is 80% on hard surfaces – pavement and on-road and we go through lovely little villages, away from major roads.
Mile 15: Lanercost pitstop
10:00 am: After 15 miles, and a steady 5mph pace, I’m at the first pit stop. I feel really elated, as the supporters all clap and chant. My socks are dry, so no need to change those. I apply anti-chafe cream to my feet, eat a few bananas, pieces of ham and egg pie and after a pint of hydrating water complete with electrolytes, I’m off on the next stretch.
This section has the best bits of the Wall in it, amazing countryside, no road noise, just birds, and cows. It’s 12 miles until the next pit stop and much of the route is going to be uphill – a total 3000ft climb and fall are ahead of me. My average pace is starting to fall to 4mph so to keep energy levels up, I eat Isogels and “Weetabix on the go”, easy to drink and digest.
Mile 27: Cawfields Quarry
A final stretch through a reclaimed quarry and a long downhill through fields. I play “tag” with another runner, sometimes I am faster, sometimes he is, and each time we slap each other on the shoulder and shout “tag!” it brings a happy competitive element to the run.
And now we’re at pit stop #3.
27 miles down, 42 to go!
The first marathon distance has been completed! I have my first coffee in a week, and I can tell you, I am flying for the first two hours after leaving this pit stop!
The next stretch to Hexham will be the longest interval at 20 miles, and also prove to be the most picturesque, technically challenging and where we experienced the worst of weather. I decide to walk for a few miles to keep my heart rate down, it helps me to safely digest my food too! Somehow the coffee appears to have a positive effect on my heart rate and has kept it down even further.
We climb up steep paths, along narrow ridges through fields on the brow of hills and tiny forest paths. This is another joyful stretch. Stunning scenery and amazing views. Near Vindolanda, there is a challenging 1.5-mile steep uphill, but with my sticks, it is not as hard, just long. This is followed by an hour-long straight road down-hill, which somehow, I decide, is really cool. On that stretch, I take cover as the weather changes from very sunny to horizontal rain complete with thunder! The route switches to road and it’s very hard on my joints and feet. This is going to be a very long and slow going 20 miles.
34 miles – the halfway point.
Newcastle is now closer than Carlisle! A positive mental feeling. I stock up on additional ‘Weetabix on the go’ and drink that plus most of my water. Another sock change and a quick check of my feet – no blisters yet! The changes take me quite a long time, and as a result, my muscles have started to seize up. I walk for a while to get movement back into my muscles.
The terrain changes and we are going back off road, I feel happy again. Some steep climbs followed by a very long walk along a railway track on one side, and the River Tyne on the other. After what seems like an extremely long, painful and slow time, I finally arrive at Hexham.
Mile 47: Hexham pitstop
It is now early evening, and my support crew has the changeover routine down to a fine art, leaving me to focus on food and rehydration. Some lovely instant coffee with sausage rolls, bananas, and Weetabix become my pitstop diet! A foot check reveals one blister on my right heel, and on the little toe of my left foot so I apply some blister plasters.
The pitstop lasts 30 minutes, one more coffee, and it is time for the last 22 miles. It’s just 12 miles to the last pit stop which is great news!!
I restart the stretch walking. I’m using my walking sticks all the time now to ease the pressure in my right knee which has started to play up. After a few miles, I am overtaken by four chatty and very happy runners who have an amazingly fast walking pace. I think, “if they can do this, so can I”. I decide to start running again.
My legs begin to feel better, as does my body and mind. The sun is setting and it’s now getting dark. It’s time to put on my body lights and powerful head torch. I pass some travellers complete with their horse and cart and campfire. It’s a happy mood.
An ultra-running friend suggested that by mile 50 I should take a paracetamol, which I do, and almost instantly it takes away almost all the pain and aches. It means I can run at a good steady pace, almost all the way to the final pitstop.
It is now completely dark. My headtorch lights up the road ahead brilliantly. It hasn’t rained for a long time, and the sky is clear, I can see stars in the sky, but the temperature is dropping. It’s time to put on my long running trousers and a neck warmer.
Mile 62: Final Newburn pitstop
01:00: I arrive with a big smile on my face, much to the bemusement of the volunteers. Some of the runners are having difficulties and it is evident that the distance has become too much. I later learn that out of the 700 runners that started the race, 150 don’t make it to the finish.
Only 7 miles to go!
I’m jubilant at this news and feel very positive. I predict that the last 7 miles will take me 2 hours. By this stage, I can’t run anymore so a fast walk with the sticks it is. Hadrian’s path is straight, very dark, strewn with broken glass and unforgiving on the feet, which are now starting to hurt quite badly. It feels like I’m walking over a bed of nails! Ouch.
The last 3 miles.
These are my slowest and most painful. It is now hard to move at any decent pace. I don’t realise how long the quayside of Newcastle is. After a mile, which feels like ages, I am pleasantly surprised to see a man who was struggling a fair bit earlier pass me at a good pace. What a happy moment, and just the inspiration I need to push through the last few miles.
I can see the bridges of Newcastle, and the sky is starting to get light. I text my wife that I’m only a few miles away from our hotel, and together with one of our daughters, she joins me for the last mile. It’s Saturday night so there are a fair few revelers about, one offers me a slice of pizza, and we are all in a good mood. I increase my pace, the end is near!
I decide, with my last energy, to run across the Millennium Bridge over the Tyne to Gateshead and into the Royal Navy base where the finish is located.
Miles 69 is achieved on Sunday at 03:34 am, 20 hours and 23 minutes later!
There are smiles all round and cheers as I cross the line. I receive my medal and get my photo taken. I’m treated to a delicious chicken and rice curry and a 20-minute leg massage. Doing an ultramarathon is a team event, even if you are a solo runner. My support team has been amazing, it would have been much harder without them.
By now, the floor is full of sleeping runners and I look outside to see the sun rising.
I’ve done it!
The Nagajuna Trust
The ultramarathon was a personal challenge but ultimately I did it to raise awareness and vital funds for our charity, The Nagajuna Trust. It’s a very small charity, that supports 75+ children in full-time care in Nepal.
Every penny we get is spent making a better life for the children who appreciate the support they receive.
If you wish to donate to the school, you can so by visiting my fund raising page.
As a Director Consultant, Head of Data Analytics & Insights Practice and Master Black Belt, Dennis works with PMI clients around the world in a wide range of industries. He supports clients in strategic consultancy, Lean, Six Sigma, Business Improvement and training. Dennis specialises in leveraging advanced improvement techniques and creative thinking methods to accelerate performance improvement.
If you have any questions for Dennis, please do get in touch.