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The Devil Inside (us) The Tunnel

I went into this event with a hyper version of self doubt

PRELUDE:


I went into this event (Tunnel 200 Mile) with a hyper version of self doubt.


I was never not going to finish Spartathlon and Winter Spine because I did everything possible to stack things in my favour.


Whereas in the last few months the world (it felt) was riddled by viruses - constant sickness which translated into my sub standard training. 


I did Country to Capital as a prep race. On that morning I felt the same doubt but only had 46 miles to deal with. First half of C2C (which is all muddy trail) I felt like Peter Pan - buzzing inside. Whack - with 26 miles to go the wheels came off spectacularly- the level of struggle for the next 20 miles was a kicker. I somehow found some resolve with 6 miles to go and flew - doing that thing they always advise in sport - if it’s been shit - at least finish well.


So I had illness and one (relatively) poor race leading up to a 200 mile mindfest event - the longest single run in my life (Spine 268 miles was longer but with more lasagne breaks). 





When in doubt shift the focus.


I set up a fundraiser for Deo Kato.


Deo is currently on the border between Kenya and Ethiopia (March 2024) and he is unable to cross over because the fee to take his (non Ethiopian) hire car in is exorbitant and the Bandit scene is so prevalent that the team have forbid him to risk it.

Please check out the full mission and Deo incredible story here - we are still short of our target and would be so grateful if you shared.


So I had a pretty stacked Why?


Chapter One: Ultras are Easy until they are Not





All the genius B&W photos in here are from the Talented Mr Miller - there is a full chapter on him below x In this picture I am lucky enough to get some Tunnel intel from previous finisher and ultramarathon legend Andy Persson.


5 hours into the race and it's been a total joy.


I've been projecting out - giving some vibes. I've also got some game-face. No lies - I am here to win. It was my daughters 20th birthday that day and I WhatsApp'ed to say I was going to win for her.


And then boom crack-a-lack The Tunnel bit me hard. Like the dark lord it sunk beneath my soul and gave me hard facts.


You've ONLY done 5 hours and you are done for.


Look at you. You are sore already. It's the lack of training. Your EGO won. 5 pathetic hours and what now a DNF - who will remember this. Happy Birthday Amelie x


Chapter 2: BROMANCE no. 1




Introducing the Mischievous Mr Baxter x


When I coach I love to go deep on super-powers. It truly is a gift inside of ultramarathons that you can be the worlds best consumer of sugary goods, most efficient sleep queen or just great at keeping your bum 'unsore' (more on this made-up English word later) - any of these can be an achilles heel to a great runner - so you have what I call the TOP TRUMPS card of super-powers to convert a monster ultra.


So what is my superpower.


BUDDY-UP-ING


In the first 5 hours of joy and the following hour of despair I set about flipping the Tunnel narrative. Stick to your superpowers. Find a Soulmate.


Like any good dating App - I got onto RUNDER (Trademark yet processed friends) and found an instant match in Karl. This wasn't our first rodeo together - there had been Social Media foreplay. Karl's a fruity fella and I like that.


When we met (6 odd hours in) I knew this was a good thing. You'll need to get Karl's side of the romance but I fell for his cheese jokes and trucker stories.




I calculated that we had less than two hours before the 'lights went out' - not on our bromance - but when we all knew that the 'low-lighting' that we had become accustomed to was going to go fully off at 23:00pm and we would all be lost in our our own dark.


I am grateful to Karl - just running beside someone can be enough - but his warmth and passion holds no bounds - Karl loves this sport and he loves the challenge and together we became one x


Chapter 3: There is a Light and it will Definitely Go Out (for 6 hours)


How do you capture six hours of pure darkness?


If you were a Petzl Marketing specialist you would probably have a good answer.

These little head torches are all that stood between us and long swathes of darkness.


One thing I picked up on by now was the sound of grumpiness.


I have a beautiful friend called Jamie Holmes - in many ways he is the greatest ultra runner of all time (but only I know this). Jamie taught me his superpower nearly fifteen years ago and boy is it a dangerous one.





In a nutshell if you show weakness in Jamie's presence he eats you (caveat we are still talking about long distance running races - he doesn't do this in Tesco's)


He will suck your energy and he will display it like a Ready Brek glow (does anyone under 45 even know what this means???) so you know that you've lost yours and he will pac-man his way for eternity.


So when I heard the grumpiness I sucked and I smiled. I skipped and went deep into the well of run-love. I channelled all my beautiful Big Dream run friends and I smiled and I smiled and I smiled.....in the dark and no-one knew it but you x


Chapter 4: Bromance Number 2 - The Ravishing Mr Miller


I am not sure if you have picked up yet but I am not actually sharing much of the ABCs. Numbers - splits - kit - food yada yada


What I will share is that I messaged Mark (Cockbain) the infamous he of these monster events - check out this brilliant article from Satisfy on Marks history. - (backstory - Mark went to school with one of my best mates Phil - so I know too much and for some reason this really fuelled my Why?)


I asked Mark if I could bring a photographer from Hylo Athletics.


Mark replied back along the lines of 'we have BBC OneShow, A Film crew and David Miller coming - so that's enough'. I had to admit that was pretty freaking amazing.






When I arrived at the Tunnel I noticed a locked Portoloo, a small gazebo with Dave the Pot Noodle Legend and a massive swampy puddle - no BBC or evidence of world-class photographers - I had a sneaky feeling I had been hoodwinked.


Day 2 had been sublime. I ran - ran some more - I didn't once look at my phone - I had no idea of my position, my time, my laps..... but I sort of knew.


Around the (what would have been your Saturday mid afternoon) its blurred into one time I found myself really taking stock of this Tunnel malarkey. It's that moment when you know it's done.....but it is so far from done that there is a high chance it's going to crawl up your back and give you the wickedest itch.


Forgive me Mr Miller because I do not know what happened fully.


I kept passing this tall chap with a camera. He was different.


Most photographers point at something and if they point at you then you think they are taking a picture of you.


This guy was floating his arms around like a Tai Chi Five Master.





It was beguiling.


He had spent several hours in front of the 'Number 13' wall marking.


It just popped into my silly little head. 'Are you David?' - Somehow I thought that if I said Are you David Miller the best Photographer on the planet - that would have been too forward and I was hedging my bets that if not him (don't forget I was still being duped by Mark) then his name might still be.


He said 'Yes'.


This was great because now I knew his name was David but as he hid under a woolly hat and coat I still had no idea if the Miller one.




This image by David Miller is extraordinary - a gift way beyond any dream I had.

To know this craftsman spent many hours to get this image of me fills my heart. Thank you Sir x


Post race I fan stalked David - by the time you are reading this there will probably be a court order out on me. I asked him why 13?


David Miller:


"I was drawn to it because of the supernatural element. I wondered how many times the runners were focussing on unlucky 13 so I decided to intensify this by taking some long exposure photos creating ghostly souls running 200 miles in a tunnel.


I think if I focused on number 12 for argument sake it wouldn’t have the same effect as no 13 is unlucky for some! I was also focusing on 66 to further create the runners going through hell to achieve there goal."


Chapter 5: Malfunction in the ThermoRegulator




You know the rhyme - when they were up they were up....and when they down they were down....and


Well in Day 2 it snowed.


I had this one phrase stuck in my head from my Moai friends before leaving 'At least it won't rain in the Tunnel'.


Aha - it was raining in the Tunnel - yes we had our own waterboarding feature.

If you know Mark then you could imagine him getting on his knees at the altar and praying for the pleasure of 'inside rain'. Never in his devilish dreams would he imagine that it would be frozen snow water inside.


Imagine being at one of those super clubs where they have industrial wind blowers set to Arctic - well they were positioned both ends of the Tunnel.


So here's the deal.


You get towards the start end and you begin to feel this icy blast and you get waterboarded - what is your sleep deprived chimp brain going to think - it shouts get your winter coat - hat and gloves on. So you comply.


You head back into the Tunnel and you ever so gradually begin to feel some warmth and then someone drops a heat bomb on you. Where from.


I found myself pulling all clothes up and exposing my bare belly on numerous occasions....but much worse was the Niagara Falls of sweat gushing around my butt cheeks - what the heck. I was Vaseline up to the hilt but I could tell a tsunami of rash was coming....and boy did it strike - man alive the pain around my bum for the last 15 hours.....and still as I type sheepishly today.


Chapter 6: Time for one Last Tango in the Tunnel


With the witching hour of 23:00 Night Time Two screeching ever near I tactically decided that this would be my first Sleep Op.


Previously I had thought I was going to nail this thing with zero sleep.....but now that felt a decision that might end badly.


Mark had told us that no-one was to sleep actually in the Tunnel.


However everyone was in utter feral mode now.


Runners would contort themselves into the rocks and just go under. The first few runners I saw do this I would calmly stroke their foreheads and ask if they wanted me to call their love ones....but they snarled at me like Werewolfs... so I let the following Walking Dead be.


I was calmly getting into my Spine sleeping bag and smiling to Karen about a cheeky little nap like I was Joe Biden.


The Horrors....when you want to sleep in the Tunnel is tucks inside your ears and goes in its finest Scottish accent 'Noooo Way Sunshine'...... 10 to 15 minutes of ugliness and failure and then.....


My neighbour Russell chirperly went' Fancy coming to join me on a Lap'.


Ok it wasn't my neighbour Russell but he 100% sounded like him. What was even better was that the Twiching Hour had already begun and I had no idea that I was actually in the presence of Kevin (Mayo).


We skipped along the Yellow Brick Road and began our Bromance together.




I knew that Kevin and I would last the test of time and this would be the relationship to carry me home. I was on safe Buddy-Up territory with Kevin. Like me Spine soul-mate Leon - Kevin had a walk-stride to die for. His neural pathways were so well wired his second chat up line was 'Each of my snacks equals 230 calories' - he had me x


We were able to park the Tunnel for a few pitch dark hours and chat.


It seemed ok to talk about men - and mental health (as you can imagine we were good candidates for needing some kindness) and Kevin shared about an old friend Eddie who committed suicide - there are many things that happened in the Tunnel that I have blurred memories of but not this one - some more laps followed - in calm and quiet - a gift from the Tunnel but a stark reminder that my buddy thing is more than just a thing x


FINALE:


Lots of nonsense happened in the last two hours.


People kept saying you are going to break the record.


My right shin said 'if you attempt to go any quicker you won't run again for weeks'

I know what you are doing Chimpy - but I'm fine.


My Coach said to me in the gorgeous cold waters of London's West Reservoir pre race - this is the calmest I have ever seen you. Now was the time to finish in a blaze....of zen.


It was enough.


A final few laps with Kevin and now Christian who went on to finish 3rd and 2nd. Some smiles and banter from Brendan & Frank - some deep down dogged grit that you only ever get in 48 hour zones from Agnes (now second time finisher) and Lowestoft's Finest Emanuel.



Ok Mark was faithful on all three fronts - BBC OneShow!!!!!!!


7 Finishers listed on Timing Monkey


OUTPOST:


As Robert once sang:


"The Tunnel is a curious thing

Makes One Man Weep

Makes another Heart Sing"


I am truly grateful to have found all manner of soul and joy and calm in my version.


Running 200 miles is a thing.

Running 200 miles is a Tunnel is a THING x


This adventure wouldn't have happened without the Ellisbones xxx

Amelie - I hope you enjoyed the Birthday gift. Jarvis I am sorry I missed your birthday x


To Mark Cockbain + Karen - when I asked every one of my run friends if they would ever do the Tunnel - every single one of them said never. If one of them ever does - they will led to the Gates - it will always be their choice to turn left or right x


To Karl + David + Kevin - you were the links to my goldie chain - you gave me big burst of energy when the gage was flickering on empty.


To my Coach - Paula Bedford - never before has the Venn diagram ever felt more relevant - it is another powerful tool in your limitless Camino Toolbox - thank you for every Sufi Poem




To all you millions of people who yearn to learn here are my Tunnel (could apply to 200 milers - 48 Hours) Tips


  1. Stacking Boxes & Trolley - who knew such a thing existed - as I carried a few bags and boxes most runners just had three plastic boxes stacked neatly being pulled on a trolley - super smooth

  2. I learnt something from Spine legend Hannah Rickman and ignored it at my peril - go bold with a list of CP things to do and laminate the list - I was pretty good at not faffing but when I came into finally eat something I basically winged too much. I took too much good stuff home and some strategies just became muddled late on.

  3. Shoe Dogs - no ultra can ever ignore the 'What trainer should I wear' question. In the few months lead up to the Tunnel I had been gifted a prototype pair of the new Hylo Athletics Impact trainer - only issue was there were only 3 pairs in the world at the time and so I had to take a pair a size up. I ran some great training miles in them and towards decision time I caved and I went with a new pair of Hoka Rincons (same type I had worn for last 5 years in all major A races). Into Night 2 I began to get excessive heat rashes under my feet. I took on shoe off to reveal three balloon blisters - I tended to them and gratefully put on a new Loomi Merino sock and my Hylo.....at that moment Kevin said 'Let's Go' and I just did. Now wearing one Hoka and one Hylo. It was probably a metaphor with us all transitioning from brands like Hoka to a more sustainable and independent vibed Hylo xxxxxxx





There are more tips and plenty of stuff I would rather share over an Exhale Coffee - ping me if you want or crave more xx


BIG TUNNEL LOVE xxxx


When asked what are you doing next well the answer is this:


Longbridge BackYard Ultra - there is a Camino Team going and there are spaces for you to join us - if you have never done a Backyard then this has everything you could ever dream of.....and more.


Longbridge has been created by Green Runners Co-Founder and Poet Darren Evans - he knows that I love him and his joyful ways.


I was a little taken back to receive this 'Ode to The Tunnel' x


In the depths of Bath, where a tunnel is found,

There lies a track, that’s underground,

Through the Sustrans Tunnel, a mile in length,

Brave souls embark, to test their strength.

They run to the end, and then run back,

On this dank and sometimes, unlit track.

The target distance, 200 miles,

For the average runner, this race reviles,

They started Friday, this motley crew,

How many would last, maybe just a few,

In this race created, by Mark Cobain.

They would surely enter, the cave of pain,

I write this ode, for one that is known,

As that beautiful human, David Bone,

With each stride, he carved his path,

Defying the limits, whilst sharing a laugh,

200 miles, a daunting quest,

But for David, it was a personal test,

I’m sure at times, emotions were had,

When he was thinking, about his Dad,

Alone in his mind, its a mental fight,

But in the darkness, he finds the light,

Through the echoes, he surged ahead,

His determination, has never fled,

The clock ticked on, but he did not tire,

His spirit ablaze, with burning fire,

The arduous challenge, in sleety showers,

He completes in, just over 43 hours,

A running adventure, for one in his prime,

He takes the win, in second best time,

For David Bone, it’s testament race,

And the Joy is written, all over his face,

In the Sustrans Tunnel, from whence he came,

This champion human, has stamped his name.




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