Monday, 16 February 2015

August Challenge: The Great Yorkshire River Run - Day 4 (Hull to Spurn Point)

Weathered on the road to Spurn point

My plan for the final day was for a shorter than the previous few days route of about 30-35m. I’d even run an extra mile yesterday to try and give myself a boost into the next day. After not much of, but a slight lay-in after the last 3 days start-times I was awake. But it took me awhile to get up. Perhaps the comforts of home made me more relaxed about having a later start today. But I don’t think even this would be enough. My body had pretty much had enough. And after breakfast and a few hours of stiffly limping around I agreed with Clare that I would cut some of today’s route down to make it twenty-something miles.

Such a decision didn't rest easily with me as I felt initially I was cheating – both myself and those who had sponsored me. But Clare made me realise that people most probably really wouldn't mind me not covering every mile I’d planned, especially if they could see what state I was in. As I slowly got ready I think I’d cut my planned mileage further down below twenty. As I struggled to even get shoes on my swollen feet – particularly my left foot with a hugely swollen big toe and feet that would barely flex – I decided I’d run from a village near to Spurn Point, to its end and back again. This would be less than ten miles. But I now figured it would be all walked. I guess I could have done nothing today, let my body recover and not risk further injury, but I wanted to get to Spurn Point, my planned end point. And, as the end of Spurn point was miles from the nearest road I’d also have to get back on foot.

From the north of Spurn Head its a long
way to the end (beyond the lighthouse)
As Clare drove me on the nearly hour long journey to the rural village of Kilnsea I changed plan again and asked Clare to get me as close to the “end of the road” to Spurn as possible. Which would give me an interesting 6m+ ‘out and back’ and Clare agreed to meet me at the same spot 2 hours 30 minutes later. Surely that should be enough time. I’d managed 4mph for days so this should be easy….right?

I said my goodbyes at the barrier on the road beyond which we’d have to pay to take the car (which for reasons I’ll soon explain is pointless for most people). And then off did I walk. Trying to set a good steady march to see me to the end of the ‘spit’ and back in good time. I was soon onto sand as a massive section of the road has been washed away by the massive tidal surge in December 2013. The spit has been breached regularly over the years and I think they’ve just about given up replacing the road now as there is something like 1/3 mile where there is now no road and only a 4x4 can pass and the head regularly now becomes an island at high tide.

All thats left of the 1/3 mile of road
washed away at the top of Spurn
Have a read on Spurn point it’s a fascinating place, a thin stretch of land poking out for over 3m from the mainland marking the end of the river Humber and the start of the north Sea. For example; there was once a significant town and port at the start of it, larger than Hull at the time – which was overrun by floods and eventually abandoned to the sea in the 14th century. To be walking through the sand seeing water a few hundred yards to my left and right was pretty amazing. I’m incredibly surprised I've never been here, it’s a special place and not that far from my home.

My march was briefly halted as I stopped to chat to an old man taking photo’s who seemed to know a lot about the area. He pointed out a massive grey rain cloud that had quickly built up and would soon hit us, how close the last tide was to breaching the headland, how to get to the very end of the point and what was there (beyond where the road ends) and told me how I’d just missed a huge ‘off-road’ military vehicle carrying a touring party "grounding" trying to get from this sand section back onto the track on its way to the end of the point – a tractor had been needed to get it moving again.

There's the lighthouse,
but where is the end?
I’d barely cleared the sandy section back onto a slightly raised bank with sand-covered hard-track, when the dark cloud loomed large – it seemed to have approached really quickly – and I was getting the waterproof jacket on. I’d been lucky enough not to have the waterproofs out all week, but now the weather was evening things up. In fact the rain came down so hard and fast I decided I would take advantage of one of the little shelter boxes, put there in case you get cut-off by a tide. I could have persisted on-wards and my smock would have kept me reasonably dry. But the pace I was able to walk meant I would have been cold and I didn't think I was in that much of a hurry.

In my strange, wood-built hut – like a fully enclosed bus shelter, but barely wider than a phone box, I saw off the worst of the downpour whilst munching on a big sausage roll Clare had bought me as a treat for today. By big I don’t mean long, this was one of those cross-sections of a larger roll, so about 3” diameter of sausage meat with pastry cover. There was so much filling I couldn't eat it all. I got back underway with hood pulled tight and only my legs exposed and made a good march on-wards. With the occasional short stretch of ‘sslog’ (my slog now degraded to slower than most peoples brisk-walk, but still advantageous in speed over my stiff walk).

I passed the lighthouses – which from the start looked near to the end of the spit – but still had a good distance to go. The rain receded a short while, but the smock stayed on as the wind was cold. As I approached the end I found the small community of the point. Which consists of station and of housing for a ‘full-time’ RNLI lifeboat crew – only crew of this type in the UK, an ABP Humber Vessel traffic service building and housing for its staff. I ran through the remote village, which as well as having current housing had ruins of old buildings dotted around. These also looked to be at the end, but in fact there was still about another half mile.

On-wards and my path was blocked by overgrown vegetation and dunes so it was onto the beach to find the rough end of the point. As another fast moving dark cloud loomed to the west I turned back and realised it had taken me significantly longer to get here than I thought. And I would have to get on with it on the way back. Clare wouldn't mind if I was slightly late, but if I was very late I ran the risk of getting cut-off by the tide.

Here comes the weather!
So as the sky turned dark grey and the rain came down again I pulled my hood tight and tried to get a forward momentum and rhythm going to sslog the last few miles of my big adventure. I only really stopped to take a few pictures to capture the stunning surrounds and unusual cloud formations in the ‘big sky’. I covered the ground back to the barrier in  just over an hour and five minutes at probably the fastest pace I could maintain beyond a walk, which equated to just over 3mph and was barely enough to keep me warm. Clare pulled up just before I hit the barrier and my adventure was complete. The final shortened day measuring 6.7m and taking me 2hrs30 minutes (2.7mph).

There was and additional pleasant surprise at the end of the run beyond Clare and my son Isaac to greet me, as my dad and brother had also journeyed out. I’ll forgive them the pub meal they all had whilst I was running as they took me to a nearby caf for a hot drink and delicious homemade cake!

Getting close to the end.... just some foliage to get past
Going further or faster today would have been a severe challenge and at what cost to my own health and ability to live a normal life for the next week I don’t know. My ‘real life’ meant helping to look after my son and returning to work on the Tuesday following this Saturday (I was glad of the bank holiday Monday). As it was my whole body was pretty battered - from pain in back of neck, to stiff shoulders, back, legs, swollen ankles and feet, blisters and two blackened big toenails – one of which now lifted off the toe by a blood blister beneath. That toe also hurt a lot just to walk on and would for over a week – despite a visit to doctors the day after my last run who diagnosed infection and gave me a two week antibiotics course. The blister drained and toe stopped hurting, but the toenail has subsequently bid me goodbye.

Epilogue -

Aches recede, wound heal, but perhaps the unexpected effect is the mental one this run had on me. It was a great experience
, with real highs at times. It was also a challenging experience. More so as the days passed I had moments I felt I could call it quits. But I would remind myself of the privilege of being able to do this and that many in the world would not have the option (including those I was raising money for) and that would keep me going till the emotional roundabout swung me around. Life goes on since this challenge, but for awhile it felt like I was missing something. And, being honest I think having done this it impacted my motivations for some of lifes more mundane tasks at times since. I question whether perhaps this makes me a selfish person having exercised this fantasy lifestyle for a few days and then missing it so since that I have days when life just lacks an edge.

Maybe so, but this is me, I don’t claim to be perfect, and I know for any selfish desires I also try to do good when I can and particularly for those who are most important to me. I read a post recently where a runner described the Spartathlon event as their ‘crack cocaine’ – this is something I can completely understand. I finished the year with my final four long monthly challenges, running the High Peak 40 in September, Yorkshire Marathon in October and then the Hardmoors 26.2: Roseberry Topping and another 40m North-Wolds Challenge run in the Wolds just after Christmas (more on these later). None of which as big as the GYRR, but all fun and challenging in their own way. I know there will be another big challenge not far away. Not just because I want there to be, but also because I’d be happy enough but somehow incomplete without it.

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