Convergence result and report by Matt Gibson

Race Date: Saturday 9th June 2018

The Concept

In this event, you will gamble on your own fitness.

You know where the finish line is, and how long you have to reach it, but you are not following a fixed course; you  “make” your own course. 

You tell no one else where you intend to start from. That way you are blind-betting against everyone as to from how far away you will start, and thus, how high you will eventually rank. Those who travel the furthest, rank highest.

However, if you don’t reach the finish line in time, you don’t get a medal, so gamble wisely….

The premise is simple.  You can start from anywhere you want, at midday. You then have up to 24 hours to ‘converge’ on the central finish line in order to claim your award. You can arrive before if you wish

You make your own route. You can start any distance from the finish line, but the further away you start, the better your award (should you make it to the finish). All distances are measured “as the crow flies” from the finish.

You won’t know where anyone starts from until the GPS tracking link goes live at midday.  Even then, will those who started far away make the finish line on time?

Of course if you start 100 miles away and miss the finish line cut-off, then you don’t get a medal. Oh, the cruelty.

The Crow will be watching all of those Converging, using the miracle of Race Drone event tracking technology.

The Crow will judge how far the shadows have run, and reward them with the right medal on the line:

  • 30 miles away or fewer, we’ll email you a certificate only.
  • 30 to 60 miles you’ll get a Silver Convergence medal.
  • 60 to 90 miles and you’ll take Gold.  
  • If you come from 90 miles or more away (As the crow flies), then you’ll claim the Black Convergence medal.

Several months ago in preparation for Lucinda’s Lakeland 100 attempt later this year, she decided that she needed to do an overnight race in preparation.  She suggested Convergence to me (apparently it would be quality time together) and with me being equally daft/stupid/crazy and up for a challenge, and, with Nick Burns’ LDS title firmly locked in my sights I jumped at the chance to get some long miles in. So we entered, that was the easy bit done.

What now started was many weeks of trawling through road maps, topographical charts, canal maps and train timetables looking at potential routes and starting destinations, assessing the many possible routes back to Hope. Taken into consideration were:

(ii) Travel time – We planned on getting the train to our chosen starting destination but didn’t want this to take too long and we needed to arrive slightly before the noon starting time.

(iii) Travel Cost – Train prices are a mystery to me, they are unfathomable. The same journey an hour later can be 2 or 3 times as much, we didn’t want this to cost an arm and a leg.

(iii) Urban/Rural – Whilst we didn’t want to be running alongside busy roads all the time, road running is obviously easier than fell running.  Plus we planned on picking up supplies on route so towns were an advantage to pass through.

(iv) Variation from as the crow flies (ACF) distance – Distance would be counted ACF, so any route chosen needed to vary as little as possible from a direct line whilst avoiding motorways, private land and as many A roads as possible without pavements.

(v) How far did we actually think we could do – Whist wanting to push ourselves and being very competitive people to go as far as we could, we knew that risking too far would mean not getting back in time and subsequent disqualification.

Many places were considered and discounted for one or more of the above reasons; Colwyn Bay, Rhyl, Northampton, Prestatyn, Northallerton, Peterborough, Scarborough, Lancaster, Blackpool, Hull, Kettering, Shrewsbury, Rugby, Boston, Cleethorpes, Banbury, Coventry and Harbrough.

These were all considered but none seems as suitable as Birmingham.  The route would be relatively flat for the first 40 miles, there were plenty of cheap train options from either Sheffield or from Leek (Lucinda’s home village), we could plan a relatively straight route and Lucinda had friends on route that could help out.

We had decided to go for a gold medal which meant setting off from over 60 miles ACF.  The below maps shows the 60 mile radius from the finish line in Hope.

Friday evening, the night before the race, we met in Hope to leave one car there in readiness for our return on Sunday, providing a further incentive if one was needed to make it back.  We were staying in Leek overnight and on the way over dropped off some water at Hurdlow carpark on the Tissington Trail that we would pick up in the early hours of Sunday on our way back to Hope. A good night’s sleep was had and Saturday morning we set off from Leek to Stoke train station, a friend gave us a lift for the short journey.

We caught the 10.08 train to Birmingham which got us there bang on time at 10.58, giving us an hour to grab a bit to eat, have a coffee and chill out.  12 noon soon came and we were outside, kitted up, race tracker activated and full of optimism ready to go.

0 – 10 miles – So off we set from New Street Station along Birmingham’s equivalent of Fargate, nipping in and out of shoppers getting one or two funny glances.  Out of town and through the suburbs all on busy A roads, we jogged along at a nice steady pace and made sure we walked the uphills even at this early stage (I know Phil Howson won’t approve and that this won’t be considered a proper run, merely a long walk).  We passed through Aston, which still had some sad looking flags up remaining from the playoff final and through Perry Barr with its greyhound stadium making Owlerton look state of the art. At this point we briefly met up with Chris a fellow competitor from London who was off course already having started on the Grand Union canal, we chatted for a mile or so then went our separate ways, never to meet again.  On through Kingstanding and then alongside Sutton Park with its lovely looking golf course that looks well worth a visit someday. Then the first refuelling stop of many, a lovely Ginsters Cornish Pasty for only £1, I love a bargain.

11 – 20 miles – This took us out of Birmingham and onto quieter more rural roads through Little Aston, Watford Gap, Shenstone and onto Lichfield.  The sun was beaming down and it was a glorious day, although it would have been nice to have been cooler, we weren’t grumbling as had it rained our journey would have been far, far tougher.  We made sure we hydrated plenty, with regular stops to pick up more water on route. Everything was going according to plan so far, we were both moving well and making good progress.  We were ahead of our schedule which is always good for morale, I’d like to give more details of time taken to various points on the route but I simply can’t remember all these facts.  My thoughts along the way were concentrating on getting to the next village or town or planned stop and checking our times against our plan.

21 – 30 miles  – Took us through Handsacre where we called in at the local chippy for more refreshments, I was very tempted with a delightfully looking battered sausage but decided against it, still regretting this decision now! We settled for more water and coke instead. From here we made our way through Blithbury and up to Abbots Bromley where a young lad was heard to ask his parents if Lucinda was blind as she was now using her walking poles, we politely informed him that she wasn’t, although 100 yards later she got one stuck in a grate and as I was following closely behind she nearly brought us both to the ground it may have appeared that she was. I didn’t say a word, just merely gave her a deathly glare (which I’m sure I will pay for at a later date).

31 – 40 miles – We carried on our way still maintaining a good pace on the flat and downhill, whilst conserving our energies on the few uphills we encountered, everything was going well.  We passed by Kingstone and headed for Uttoxeter On the outskirts a car passed enthusiastically beeping his horn and waving to us, it was no one we knew, we waved back and continued on our way.  When we got around the corner the car had pulled up and has its boot open.  We were greeted by Paul who was out supporting his wife who was doing the same event. He had seen us on the tracker and thought he’d find us and offer us anything from an Aladdin’s cave of goodies in his boot.  This really sums up the friendly atmosphere and camaraderie that I have experienced from every ultra I have done, not that it doesn’t exist on other races, but it really shines through in ultras where there is a completely different atmosphere to the events.  After Uttoxeter we moved onwards to Rocester (pronounced Roaster by the locals I’m reliable informed) We knew that the Spar shop was to be our last shop to stop at for many hours so upon reaching here we filled our bags.  We got chatting with Sharon the cashier, who inquisitively asked what we was doing, we left her scratching her head and visible open mouthed when we explained that we were just over half way through our race and wouldn’t get finished until around 11am tomorrow. The look on her face was very amusing.  We had covered 39.7 miles in around 9.5 hours. We had passed half way in well under half the time and this was great for morale. We were fully confident of making it to Hope within the time limit.

41 – 50 miles – We walked through Rocester eating our goodies, laughing at Sharon, and had a brief rest at the end of the village where it was time to get out the hi-viz, lights and head torches as night was descending. This brought with it much welcomed cooler conditions as we had been out in the baking sun with little shelter for virtually all the race so far, but it also increased the challenge in terms of navigating whilst in the dark and being tired.  These next 10 miles we knew were virtually all uphill with the steepest climbing of the route coming from 48 miles to 53 miles.  We set off walking out of the village, not knowing at this stage that the vast majority of the remainder would be walked, there was odd brief running spells, but they were definitely few and far between.  On the climb out of the village we stopped a couple of times to tend to Lucinda’s feet, she was suffering badly with blisters and had been since before the 20 mile mark, she was clearly in great pain and discomfort with little that could be done to ease the situation.  Her courage to battle on through adversity is amazing and this will be a great trait to have in her bigger challenges to come. We had stopped at the side of the road next to a long winding driveway, a car was coming up the driveway, I had looked towards the car, as the driver wound the window down, thinking she was just going to ask it we were ok (I don’t suppose she sees many ‘runners’ out in the dark heading in the countryside at 10pm).  She didn’t ask if we were ok she said “I went to school with you”.  I told her clearly that this was not possible as I lived 40 miles away in Sheffield and had never in my life been to these parts before, but then she informed me that indeed she had gone to Bradfield School with me and was the year below (I still don’t recognise the lady but clearly I have kept my youthful looks long into middle age).  To add to the coincidence, she then stated that she was a facebook friend of Lucinda’s through an ex- boyfriend who also runs for Staffs Moorlands.  What a small world we live in!

Feet patched up, onwards we went into the night, maintaining a good power walk through Ellastone, Middle Mayfield (about 3 houses and 30 yards long), Mayfield, Mapleton and headed for Thorpe where a friend who lives in the village had left us supplies. On our way up the climb into Thorpe I glanced at my phone which was recording our distance through the Strava App, 47 miles it said, just a marathon to go I thought!! (we had planned on doing 73), I chuckled to myself but didn’t dare mention to Lucinda as I was banned from talking about distances, she got through by using place names and mentally getting to the next one then moving on.  By this time although I knew I needed food, my stomach was telling me otherwise.  I managed to get in a cup a soup, it felt good to have some warm food as so far it had only been cold snacks.  It also felt rude not to savour the homemade coffee cake.  This was the last I ate for many hours. In fact from this point on at around midnight I ate very little, I simple forgot in my tired state.  This I feel was a massive mistake and took its toll on me in the hours that followed, I was tired, not thinking clearly and needed to have continued eating regularly as I had so far.

51 – 60 miles –  At around 12.30 we began the road out of Thorpe, it was steep, dark and silent. We were still moving well, maintaining a good walking pace with only the sheep for company, the conversation had dried up at this stage, both having our own little conversations in our heads to get us through.  We made our way to Allsop Station where we were to join the Tissington trail. Although not the most interesting of trails, (Lucinda recently did the White Peak marathon which is apparently the most boring route ever), it is probably ideally suited for the night time section of this, no navigation needed as we were just to continue until Hurdlow where we had left water the previous evening and no traffic to contend with.  Soon after starting up the trail we were aware of a head torch behind us and from looking at the tracker occasionally, knew that there was other competitors nearby. Helen soon caught up with us, it was her partner Paul who we had met earlier. She was still running strongly and was to eventually be first lady.  She slowed to walk with us, this helped us, sparked conservation (obviously with 2 women involved I was more of a spectator) and it occupied our minds.  We picked up the pace, even having the odd running section and walked probably the quickest walk I’ve ever done in my life.  Helen stopped briefly at Hartington Station where Paul was waiting for her, but she soon caught up us again and the three of us made good progress up to Parsley Hay the 60 mile point at 3.30am.

61 – 70 miles – Things really started to get tough now, although we had plenty of time in hand so that wasn’t an issue we knew we would make it back in time The mist started to form, blocking out what was going to be a glorious sunrise and with it the temperatures plummeted.  Helen had put on extra layers at Hartington and soon left us never to be seen again.  Lucinda and I were really started to feel the cold and stopped to put on all the layers we had.  We didn’t have enough.  The forecast was for temperatures of around 10/11/12 degrees through the night, the felt more like 4 or 5. Hats and Gloves would have been put on if we had had them.  We were very cold and urged ourselves to get moving quicker to warm up, but the legs disagreed. We made our way to Hurdlow where Paul was waiting for us as Helen had just left We had a brief chat with him and he cheerfully informed us that there was only 14 miles to go.  Now normally 14 miles wouldn’t phase me, I’ve done 14 miles many many times before, but, quick maths told me that this was likely to take 5 hours and the 14 miles seemed much further.  We left the Tissington Trail here and headed for Flagg. After Flagg we left roads and trails for the first time and headed across fields picking up the Limestone Way. The fields were wet and our feet were immediately soaked through with icy cold water.  Fortunately by now the sun had burned through the mist and started warming us up. The stiles we crossed felt like there were 8 foot high, tiredness made me feel very uneasy going over the top unsure of footing and balance.  Then followed my first navigational error we inadvertently lost the Limestone Way and headed over fields towards Taddington. This only added around half a mile, but it was something neither of us needed.  We then followed the road down through Blackwell to Millers Dale, again missing a path that I had planned on taking and added a little more distance on, but now I was really tired and not able to concentrate at all. Lack of sleep, fatigue, lack of food and probably not having drunk enough through the night were all beginning to take its toll.  On walking down the road into Millers Dale I was literally falling asleep whilst walking, I was staggering from side to side like a drunk man much to Lucinda amusement, I bizarrely imagined seeing a golf course through the trees and thinking that it looked lovely, I blinked a few times and looked again, there was no course just rocks and trees, my mind was just playing tricks.  Enough was enough, I had to have a power nap. In Millers Dale, I just curled up at the side of the road an instantly fell asleep, just 5 minutes, but it really perked me up (briefly).

70 – 76.8 miles – The home stretch.  Never has 6.8 miles ever felt so long, I kept looking at my phone thinking the distance would have moved on 0.5 miles or more, but alas, it was only ever 0.1 or not even that, it was now mentally very tough.  It felt like we weren’t getting anywhere, everything ached, I just wanted it to be over.  We got up the steep incline from Millers Dale well. Just Tideswell and Bradwell and we are done I thought. The quicker we get there the better, the sooner we can stop and rest. I urged my legs to move faster, they didn’t listen. Lucinda tried to coax me into a run, I refused. These last few miles were the toughest I’ve done. I was totally mentally and physically shattered, I had given everything and there was very little left.  Every step was an effort I didn’t want to do, all the spring had gone out of my step. Even moving downhill was no respite it just ached in different places.  We trudged on, then after what seemed an age, we reached Hope and the finish line at Hope Sports Club.

We’d done it!!!  76.8 Miles (60.52 ACF) in 21hrs 50mins 19secs, a Gold Medal, we had finished 2nd Pair and 19th overall from the 73 that entered.

Although we are massively proud of our achievement, we can’t help but feel slightly disappointed at only being .68 of a mile off being top pair.  Suppose we might have to come back and do it again………..

The winner was James Beechey who managed 96.02 miles (ACF), I think this was 112 covered.

First Lady was Helen Pike  66.76 miles (ACF)

First pair Ricky & James 61.2 miles (ACF)

Full results can be found here –

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