GUCR – A race that can sweep you off your feet – Part 1

About 3 and a half years ago I ventured into a local shop that specialised in stage racing kit, in the vain hope that they would be able to help a very new and totally naïve runner sort out… well… basically everything! I’d not long returned from the Sierra Leone marathon where other crazy runners had given me lots of ideas to set a very ambitious challenge for myself… other posts on that in this blog already for anyone interested… and as I walked in I remember seeing a wooden lattice bearing lots of shiny medals and buckles… Colin and Elisabet Barnes of Myracekit duly helped me out with lots of advice, ideas and suggestions and as I left I asked about the lattice. I remember the Centurion buckles, one for Ring of Fire… and then this hefty looking medal… I’m pretty sure one of them took it off so I could see for myself how heavy it was. 145 miles… such a long way… how could anyone ever run that far I thought… they must be superhuman (well I think we all know how great their running is!)… I know I thought I’d never be able to do anything like that.

Fast forward to last Autumn and the ballot for the 2017 race… I’d finished a Centurion 100 by this time, had helped to crew Colin a couple of years previously at this very race, but even so was scared and excited to find out my name had been pulled out and I had an entry! Oh god I was actually going to have to try and run it! As the race got nearer, my expectations then had to change… I’d always classed this as an A race and had planned to focus solely on it after Spine Challenger. It’s a popular, low-key no-frills race that demands respect, training and humility. It’s not a race to be done for crowds, razzmatazz or bling (although you are rewarded with a very wonderful medal).

The months passed and after my January race I had a few weeks recovery before starting on my training schedule for this one. However, in February I was greeted via Facebook Live with the amazing news that I’d got into Badwater 135. There was only 6 weeks between the two races. Then in March I got ill with flu, so after only 3 weeks of training, I had to take a week off both work and training… which then turned into the beginnings of bronchitis… back to the doctors, more antibiotics, more time off work, no training. This meant in the end I’d had 3 weeks with no training whatsoever, then a further 3 weeks of easing back into things. What made it worse was that these were supposed to be my “foundation” weeks… the ones with the longest mileage! Now I don’t know about anyone else’s training schedules, but I do know that compared to most, I do extremely low mileage. I work full time and commute and I am not one for running alone at night when it’s dark. I also don’t have the flexibility to go out and run during the day at any time I choose, and I don’t get enough sleep to sacrifice any to top up the mileage. My coach therefore strips my training down to the barest I can get away with so as not to sacrifice the quality of workouts but still get me to the start line and get the results I strive for. As I type this I’ve just worked out my monthly mileage and shocked myself… March was only 50.85 miles, April better at 113 miles, although that did include a 53 mile race… so I totally believe it’s thanks to him that I can hit these start lines and then finish the races. Mind, I’m pretty sure he puts his head in his hands whenever I tell him what races or goals I want before he has to spend hours working out what I need to do to get there!

Anyway, the order now was to finish this race “as fresh as possible”… with my 3 goals of 1) sub 45 hours aka just finish; 2) sub 42 hours aka 2359 on Sunday so finish on the second day; or 3) the ultimate wishlist of sub 40 (because I would be over the moon to have the finish time start with a 3… so 39:59:59) being met with the response of “just get in under the wire and don’t go off too fast like you normally do”! Would I…

My best friend Sandy had agreed to drive and crew for me and one of my local running friends, Mark, had also agreed to help as he wasn’t able to race himself. A few weeks before the race Sandy also asked one of her friends, Ian, if he could come and help out, which meant there would always be two people together in the car which I thought was good from a safety perspective. He said yes as he wanted some night time running as he was participating in Sparthathlon later in the year. She said Ian was a bit of a runner, a fantastic laugh and really easy to get on with. Well she was right about him being a laugh and easy to get on with… but a bit of a runner? More like super speedy, motivational, easy to be around and an organisational king… he promptly started looking at spreadsheets, sharing ideas and pacing strategy thoughts. I proceeded to remind him just how slow my pace was likely to be.. and that there would be a fair amount of walking even… on more than several occasions 😀

Anyway, race day dawned… Sandy arrived and we filled up the back of her car… Ian later joked about having the kitchen sink but she vetoed the washing up bowl… I kid you not, it was there and she put it back in the kitchen! Mark arrived and his face said it all when he saw how loaded up we were! 😀 Off we set to Sandy’s friend Nick’s house where we met Ian (who was leaving his car there) and we ended up having a great hour chatting and being given cups of tea! Some dire traffic (bank holiday weekend, Friday… what else would you expect) but lots of laughs en route, especially when Sandy pulled out some plastic concertina tubes (blue and pink versions no less) and announced “I’ve solved the toilet situation”… my first encounter with a Uriwell… and by the time we eventually reached Birmingham the group had gelled well and we were looking forward to what the weekend would bring… oh such ignorance is bliss…

Car parked, Mark and Sandy unpacked what needed to go into the hotel rooms and Ian and I went off to race registration. I said hello to a couple of familiar faces, Kate being one of them… she had just finished her incredible challenge of running from London to Paris and then cycling back (how far!!!!!)… and still had the energy to toe the start line of this… I felt extremely daunted by how everyone else seemed to know everyone else, had on all these ultra race t-shirts and had tons of experience, people who knew what they were doing… oh god what on earth was I doing here among them! The race nerves had well and truly kicked in… time to get the papers filled in, collect some t-shirts for us all and get back to the hotel.

Thankfully some light relief… I had brought a fair bit of food and had a 12v cool box so asked for a fridge to store some items in. The receptionist said they would get one and he would help to bring it up to the room a little later… excellent… feeling reassured we went off to O’Neills for dinner and caught up with Colin Barnes (4th time doing the race), and said hello to a few others including Baz Taylor (2nd time) who I’d met through ukrunchat on Twitter. Dinner, a glass of wine, some laughs and the nerves eased for a while. Checked out the start line area and then back to the hotel… to find THE FRIDGE… the energy it must have taken for more than one person to get it upstairs… well Sandy and I couldn’t help but laugh… with the lads coming to see what all the noise was about… what’s that saying… it’s not the size that matters…

well there wasn’t much quality either!

Time to make sure the kit was ready, have a cup of tea, check in and reply to the messages of support I’d received and comments on social media… only one post on Facebook caught my eye just as I was about to turn the phone off… one of those where your stomach hits the ground… Tess (race director of Grand2Grand) had posted a “sad to report” status with a picture of her hubby Colin… they were still in Hawaii post M2M race, and Colin had suffered a stroke, been in ICU. Thankfully he was on the fast road to recovery, so I thought it might be a bit of a nice idea to dedicate some miles to him and his recovery, and duly messaged Tess to let her know. In today’s fast paced life where most of us struggle to fit everything and everyone in, when bad/hard/awful times hit, and when people can’t do anything physically or be there in person, I think it’s always good to know that others are thinking of you… and after all, you never know how much a small gesture can lift someone else’s spirits! So, not something I could help with, fix or even go and give them a hug but thinking of them, dedicating some mileage during the race, that I could do.

Time then to turn the light out and have peace and quiet… only something was making so much noise I couldn’t get to sleep! Cue much faffing around trying to sort out the air conditioning… pillow over head… in the end I realised it was the damn fridge… it may have been small but the noise it made sure was mighty!

The alarm went off…

4 hours sleep…

Why do I always only ever get 4 hours sleep before a race?

Get dressed, have a cup of coffee… make the porridge, realise you don’t want the porridge, still feel full from last night’s dinner.. try to eat the porridge because, you know, you have a bit of a long way to go… remember all the rehydrated porridges you forced yourself to eat for two weeks at the double stage runs, try not to gag, put the porridge down and instead have the much more delicious pain au chocolat… and some banana because, you know, you’re trying to eat a bit healthier these days…

Tiptoe out of the room because you forgot to make your best friend coffee even though you promised and she needs her coffee early in the morning… and hope she doesn’t remind you of this at the first crew point… or bring the porridge and try to make you eat it…

Get to the start area, feel utterly nervous, want to throw up, see everyone else looking super ready, super speedy… like “super” runners… chat to a few others and find out they feel exactly the same and inwardly breathe a huge sigh of relief that it’s not just you and you’re not being a wuss… get surprised by two of your crew who wanted to come down and see you off, let you know you weren’t alone… line up and try to listen to the race director talk but your head is buzzing with 145 miles… it’s 145 miles… how the hell am I going to run that far… and OMG… time to go…

Follow the crowd… little bridges, low ceilings, arches… water… the smell of toilets… follow the others… realise you’re going too fast… pull it back, keep an eye on the Garmin for pace… a hill, ok it’s over a bridge but I thought this was flat!!! Follow the others… spreading a little bit, let the faster ones go, stay to the side, let the faster ones past… check the Garmin, pull it back… 10 minute miling… too fast, spotted a Grey Heron, always a good sign for me and I took it as a lucky omen that the race would go well… I had planned for around 11 minute miling but it felt good… it always feels good to start with… speeding up again… took it down a bit and kept the average between 10 and 10.30… thought back to Spine time… go slow and if you think you’re going too fast then you probably are… first crew point… it had gone quickly… rain… couldn’t find a toilet… didn’t mention for fear of the Uriwell being brought out… and on we trotted…


Photo courtesy of Akgun Ozsoy

We had sun, rain and even thunder if I remember rightly. The crew were assigned to “Green” so this meant for the first 65 miles they could only meet at certain points, with the “Yellow” crew meeting at differing points. The canal path is open to everyone and parking is often not available next to the path… this means crews have to carry what the runner needs to the meet points and if you have the general public, extra traffic, normal residential areas plus race organisation… it can get crowded and also be unsafe… especially when there are a lot of cyclists around… we had agreed that my crew would meet me at miles 10.7 (official Checkpoint 1), 18.1, 24 and then 34 to start with… longer distances apart whilst I felt good and wouldn’t need them as much and so that they would have time to get into a good flow of how they would work together, especially as none of them had ever crewed before. One of the many things I should have thought of in more detail before the race… after seeing them at mile 24 I kept checking my garmin to see what my marathon split was… I wasn’t going to PB it, but I thought it would be a good indicator of where I was at in terms of splitting the race into sections and the time taken for each one. 4 hours 38 minutes according to the garmin… I think it was telling the truth at this point… anyway, I felt so pleased with that, especially given how good I felt, running better than I had expected to be, knowing I’d probably pay for that much later in the race when I’d have to death march it out for the last third… I was possibly even on track for an unofficial 50 mile PB… unofficial as I haven’t actually done a 50 miler yet, probably should do one at some point, be good to see what I could do on one…

almost 5 hours had passed… baseball cap down, sunglasses on, glancing down at the garmin… this is good, I’m doing good…

As I said earlier, it’s a race that demands humility… and what’s the saying… pride goeth before a fall…

to be continued…

Fundraising page: https://www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne16
Crew blog post: https://runhammyrun.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/gucr-2017-a-view-from-the-crew/

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