Whilst the rest of the UK was basking in the hottest day of the year so far, Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice supporter Kate Carr was taking on the toughest physical task she has ever attempted: the Cotswold Way Ultramarathon.
Did you know that the Cotswold Way Ultramarathon is 100km (62 miles) non-stop from Bath to Cheltenham with, as it turned out, no sleep and very little shade?
At 8.20am on Saturday 29th June, I and two colleagues set off from Bath Royal Crescent alongside hundreds of other participants – some running (bonkers), some jogging (still bonkers) but most walking like myself.
Despite a less-than-brilliant night’s sleep – most likely due to a few nerves and the biggest meal I’d ever consumed the night before sitting in my tummy – I was feeling fairly ready and quite excited for the challenge ahead.
Braving the heat wave
I'd only walked about 10K before the heat became an issue; there was very little escape from it as I hiked across fields and up hills with little to no shade. I was carrying 2.5 litres of water – which, with all the other supplies, made my backpack pretty heavy – but, between every scheduled stop, I was drinking through it, ensuring it was ready to re-fill, because keeping hydrated was imperative.
As the heat was so torturous, on the first day it was really difficult to focus on much more than putting one foot in front of the other, so there wasn’t a lot of chat between our group – I did try! – and I didn’t really get to appreciate the scenery, which was a shame. But there was a lot of camaraderie and high spirits amongst the other competitors and somehow this helped to spur me on.
I was met by work colleagues at the lunch stop who took care of me, filling my water, bringing food over and perking me up ready for the next leg.
The afternoon was exceedingly hard with no relief from the sun, so I was very glad when sunset arrived, bringing cooler temperatures, and dinner was finally on the horizon. Another lovely colleague met me and my colleagues at dinner time, along with some family (including children who were up way past their bedtimes; my girls were very excited about being allowed a midnight feast of cake!) who all really lifted our spirits. One colleague even offered foot massages and fresh clothes – he did, however, make it clear it was a one-time only offer!
Sleep deprivation + exercise = dizziness
Despite being quite worried about the night section, the coolness night brought with it was gladly received and it felt like no time at all before the sun was peaking over the hills. The group I was with particularly struggled during the night and one member began showing signs of heat stroke so the slog towards Painswick was hard and long. I did my best to motivate them, but I think they both hated me at that point.
I also discovered that the combination of sleep deprivation and exercise brings with it the occasional spell of dizziness and nausea which, when you’re tackling hills, is pretty horrible, but somehow we all kept each other going and we got to Painswick where more family members and work colleagues were waiting with hugs, frozen grapefruits (to be used as foot rollers) and motivational pep talks.
Unfortunately, my friend Jas retired at this point, having turned grey and then totally white, as the heat stroke finally took hold, but once I had a bit of breakfast inside me I was ready to get the last quarter done.
The last leg
Spirits were high and my remaining work colleague and I chatted our way through the last 21km, despite the blisters on my toes really starting to shout (I took my boots off for about 5km to give some relief to my little toes – just changing the pain for a bit was good!).
There were some monster hills to conquer but, once we had, the views were spectacular and familiar landscapes started appearing which really perked me up and turned the motivation up a notch.
Someone switched the summer back on around 11am but the temperature was much more bearable than the previous day and, with the end in sight, I was quite happy.
At long last, after just over 33 hours, I crossed the finish line in Cheltenham, and was met by lots of family, friends and most of my workmates; the cheering, smiles and hugs were amazing, and the feeling of elation massive.
“Having conquered such a colossal physical and mental challenge will be something that stays with me for a long time.”
Despite it taking me far longer than I ever though it might (although I’m totally blaming the heatwave for that), I am so proud of my achievement and couldn’t have done it without my families and friends’ support – especially during the training.
There were plenty of dark moments but, luckily, the odd giggle too (I giggle when I get tired so you can imagine how irritating that was at about 3am), and having conquered such a colossal physical and mental challenge will be something that stays with me for a long time.
I’m also thrilled to have raised over £1,800 for Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice and hopefully along my fundraising journey I’ve raised even more awareness about what incredible work they do.
It only took a few days rest before I was fighting fit and wondering what will be next. I’m keen to collect all the medals in the Ultra series – there are nine in total – plus I know I can do it faster next time..!
Has Kate’s challenge whet your appetite? Find your own personal challenge.
Daughter of patient
Kate's father-in-law was cared for at Leckhampton Court Hospice in Gloucestershire. She now sings in the hospice choir and is fundraising in memory of him.