The Great Wall of Epping Forest

One mile in - the wall is 7 miles from here

One mile in – the wall is 7 miles from here

I know, there aren’t really any walls in Epping Forest, just a lot of magpies, a few rabbits and the odd deer, but today I think I found one, a small one, a wall-ette.

The omens didn’t look good as I left the house. No food for the past 4 hours, some kind of niggly virus making my throat hurt, but I’m half-heartedly preparing for a 12 mile race at the end of the month so something approaching a Sunday afternoon long run was required.

The weather was finally making an attempt at passing off as “summer”, sunshine and everything, but Epping Forest was determinedly clinging on to it’s “muddy” status. In my head I was planning on 11-12 miles and all was going swimmingly, I did about 5 and turned around to head back home.

About 40 minutes in I’d opened up a Torq gel (Strawberry Yoghurt since you’re asking) the taste giving me flashbacks from last year’s marathon and half-marathons. Despite my efforts to keep things under control, half of the sugary contents oozed over my fingers producing a sticky distraction for the rest of the run. Also, am I the only person who hates running and holding stuff? I watched the Eddie Izzard documentary last week and much as I am impressed by his multiple-marathons, I’m more amazed by the fact he manages to do them holding a little flag. That little flag would drive me to the edge of insanity. There are no bins in Epping Forest and it’s one of the few parts of West Essex that have been overlooked by the fly tippers so dropping it onto the floor is completely out if the the question. So I held onto the tiny but deeply irritating gel wrapper for what felt like a couple of ultra-marathons (probably half a mile), quickly losing my mid-run karma before realising I could tuck it away behind the elastic of my SPI belt (see, those people who say you can come up with all sorts of good ideas while out running are right).

There was also a comedy moment where I squelched through some mud, emerging from the other side wearing only one shoe. Therefore I had to hop back into the bog to pull out the mislaid footwear which took some serious tugging until it released itself with a satisfying mud-fart. About 8 miles in I was feeling very pleased with myself as my mud splattered legs proved themselves strong enough to ease past a middle aged couple on mountain bikes but then the little wall started to rear up in the distance…

The hill I was making my way up seemed to be going on for ever until I realised I wasn’t going up a hill. Lifting up one leg at a time became more and more of a challenge and I started to have flashbacks to mile 20 in Halstead last May. This time was different however. There were no crowds cheering me on, no sponsors to disappoint, no photographers to record the humiliation. Feeling dizzy and somehow managing to stay on my feet, I decided I would stop in a few minutes time when I’d reached the respectable point of mile 10, and walk home. I checked the Garmin – only to see that I would need to keep going for another 15 minutes or so to get that far so I stopped at the less obvious landmark of 9.26 miles and “warmed down” for something like half an hour.

So what caused this mini-wall? Had I learnt anything?

  • I need to eat something at least a couple of hours before embarking on a long run
  • Feeling under the weather and a rarely experienced trail run is not the best of combinations
  • Do gels actually do anything for me? Torq gels come in some nice flavours, don’t mess up my stomach and aren’t full of chemical nasties. But I took a belt-full of them during my first marathon and the effects had seemed negligible as I’d faced an even bigger wall
  • Running in muddy forests is challenging and makes a change. However, it’s much easier to give up and walk home when you don’t have cars passing you by every few seconds. All those trees make for a skiver’s paradise
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