I Did Not Finish. I almost Did Not Finish at checkpoint 2, 21 miles in, as for the whole of that 15 mile leg all I could think of was why was I running? And that I didn’t really want to be there. But pride got the better of me and I carried on. Then again at checkpoint 4, 36 miles. A torrential thunderstorm had rolled in 10 minutes earlier, the rain hosed down and I really didn’t fancy heading up onto high ground with the lightweight kit I had. But eventually I stopped at the final checkpoint at a round 50 miles and 13.5 hours of effort. I could have carried on physically but I just decided that I didn’t want to. Effectively I was making a decision on my future in ultra-running out there on the trail. Finish, and I would go on to do another one in a few weeks time then enter the UTMB in 2013. Stop and that would be that, I could turn my attention to something else. So I stopped. Any regrets? About the DNF itself, a little; but about the overall decision, not yet. So what does the future hold? Sporting wise some shorter stuff I think, try and get some good times to my name before I get too old!I suppose a few words about the race are necessary for posterity’s sake. I chose the Northumberland Ultra as 62 miles for 3 UTMB points seemed to be a “bargain”. Oh how wrong you can be! The first 6.5 miles to CP1, though, weren’t too bad. A minor “follow the leader” wrong turn early on and quite up and down but reasonable running. I didn’t stop at the CP (which was a bit of a mistake as we’ll see later). The next 15 mile leg started with a nasty climb up to the summit of Hedgehope Hill 714m. It was also now quite hot and very humid. Over the top and after a short runnable section it was on to horrible tussocky grass and bog which made progress very slow. After Dunmoor Hill and Conyan Crags we turned back on ourselves for some better running towards Linhope. From here another climb to Rig Cairn (it was just a moderate size cairn, not sure why it needed it’s own name) and by now I’d run out of water which was not good. But a steep drop from High Cantle took us to the River Breamish where a quick scramble down let me fill up my bottles again (so no harm done really). The remaining 4 miles to CP2 were on a good track but still with plenty of climbing to counter the downhill sections. Lots of runners came together at CP2 which was good; I didn’t hang around too long, just grabbed some sweets and Coke, filled up my bottles and away.
The next leg was a bit flatter but still hard running on an indistinct path which was very hard to follow in places. Especially in the latter stages where I made a bit of a hash of it by following my GPS too closely rather than the lay of the land. This led to some wading through bogs and then hacking through a field of chest-high bracken. I was going the right way but not the best way! Other than that this was a short leg and I reached CP3 shortly after 4 other runners (who had overtaken me due to my poor route choices!). Four of us started to the next leg together and after a climb at the start this was much better running on decent trails. After a couple of miles I pulled ahead of the others as (a) I like to move at my own pace, and (b) I’m a bit anti-social! Through the halfway point 31 miles and still moving OK although my left adductor was a bit sore on the descents. The last mile and a half to CP4 though was hard again with a tough climb and then a very indistinct path which I soon lost. I was not helped by the fact that after the clouds threatening for a while it now started to absolutely hose down as a thunderstorm had rolled in. Stumbling round in the pissing rain trying to find the path my mood was not helped by the three guys I was with previously passing me on said path about 10 metres further up the hill.Anyway, made it to CP4 where I quickly decided that I didn’t fancy starting the next 14 mile leg across high ground in this weather with the lightweight kit I was carrying (lightweight shells are great until you actually have to take them out of your rucsac and start using them in earnest). I sheltered in a bunkhouse and watched the rain come down. After about 50 minutes of relentless torrential rain it eased off and the decision needed to be made – stay put and DNF or carry on. After some umming and ahing (standard) I decided to crack on, although I did warn the checkpoint marshal that I might be back in half an hour if I changed my mind! Given that I’d been mostly stationary for about 70 minutes after 8.5 hours of effort I was moving pretty well and set a decent pace up the road, next to a brown and swollen river. A mile of tarmac then the route strikes NW for 3 miles over Yearning Law on boggy but runnable ground before reaching the Border Ridge section of the Pennine Way, heading NE for 8 miles towards the Cheviot. Lots of this section is flagged which would make for good running but for the flags being either damp and slippery, or completely underwater. When it briefly started to rain again I questioned my decision to carry on, but it soon stopped and then I was treated to a beautiful summers evening high on the ridge with not a soul around. I’d made the mistake of not getting stuck into the food I was carrying whilst I was holed up at CP4 and what with pushing the pace a bit trying to make up for lost time by Windy Gyle 619m I was struggling and it was a slog from there on up to the high point at 743m just West of Cairn Hill and The Cheviot as I tried to get my stomach working again. Great views of the setting sun from the summit (it was now about 8:45pm). A short down and up on boardwalk to Auchope Cairn before a steep descent into the top end of College Valley. I’d already decided to stop at CP5 so took this at a steady pace and a final stroll in the last light of the day down the valley to CP5 and the end (for me).