GUCR – A race that can sweep you off your feet – Part 2

13/06/2017

What did I say… pride goeth before a fall…

Enter the villain of the story… Bridge 42 at mile 27.4

Such an innocuous little bridge, with it’s low lying curves… looking innocent and very static against the backdrop of sunshine and water… allowing runners to trot under it’s arch… it wasn’t even raining at this point…

Lying in wait patiently until yours truly rocked up…

Yes, I can confirm, that if you run into one of the low lying bridges and headbutt it, you will bounce backwards… mere seconds later somehow finding yourself flat on your back…

I literally ran into a bridge…

I know I should move… I can’t move… I need to move… hear muffled voices… move hands to try and find music to turn off… think I probably look like I’m writhing in agony or like a demented fish out of water… what’s that wet stuff in my eyes, I don’t think I’m crying… need to move… oh *&*^ I’ve landed on my iphone… dear god don’t let it be broken…. the wet feeling is running down my face… have I broken my nose… split my head open… shit, runners are going past me… damn it can’t be bad, I can’t be pulled off the race this early… how much time am I going to lose… owwwwwwwwwwwww….

Luckily this was a yellow crew point so some very kind people were beside me almost immediately… they helped me get into a seated position, one guy keeping his knees pressed into my back… another runner just ahead heard me (although I’m not sure what sound I made) and came back to help (thank you so much Pete!)… I turned the music off, got my pack off, got the phone out (not broken thankfully)… called my crew (no answer first time)… got through a few seconds later, couldn’t hear very well still (probably in shock)… told them the bridge number… tempted to say look for the bridge with devil horns that is laughing to itself but figured people would think I had lost the plot properly then… and then thought, better get proof this has happened because… what are the odds!!!… one runner took a picture for me… Colin came past… stopped to make sure I was ok… found out later he’d also called my crew (thank you Colin!)… another guy stopped and asked if I was ok (thanks Paul)… I smiled and said I was fine… started stressing that people were going past me, time I was losing… it was a race after all…

The lovely couple then helped me stand up and get off the canal path and stayed with me until my crew arrived… an ambulance was just going past, so I thought best not flag them down in case they insisted I need treatment and make me leave the race, turned my back so they wouldn’t see the blood if they glanced my way… the minutes went very slowly… so slowly I wondered out loud if I should just get back on the path and trot on to the next crew point… no need to be wasting time stood around after all… the lovely helpers expression said it all… plus I then figured it might not go down too well with members of the public along the canal if I trotted along with blood in dripping mode…

I met the crew on the opposite side of the canal… luckily they had been shopping in the nearby Tesco (how lucky was I!)… they sat me down on a bench and asked how had I not seen the bridge… and then followed that with “well you needed to slow down”… tough love!… Ian asking me questions to make sure I wasn’t concussed… I did think to give some sarcastic replies but didn’t dare when I saw how serious he looked… plus I wasn’t about to take a chance of them saying I should stop (not that that was likely)… Sandy talking to me as if I was her 5 year old as she cleaned me up… paracetamol administered for the banging headache (first time I’ve ever taken painkillers in a race I think)… before giving me a hug and telling me to get my backside moving again because I’d been stopped for 30 minutes by this point… didn’t want to risk a DQ as you can’t stop for longer than 40 minutes on this race!!! Right… steri strips over the nose, tissue in hand in case that comes off… time to get a move on… only another 118 miles to go then… and off I went… the blood started seeping again shortly after… it was only about 11.00 am at this point…

Unfortunately this also meant a harder time for the crew as they then brought the crew points forward in order to keep an eye on me… less breaks, more stress with traffic, setting up etc. They were utterly amazing and I felt extremely looked after, safe and supported! Reaching the Birdingbury CP3, I checked in with the GUCR volunteers who had been told about the accident and were keeping an eye out for me, and let them know I was ok, before taking a 15 minute break with my crew. The worst had hopefully happened, I was back on track…

There’s another saying… expect the unexpected…

Canal paths have tree roots… tree roots that will not only bash your toes (and give you blood blisters and cause your nail to come off in their entirety) but also ensure you not only trip over one.. but several in succession… with the end result that you do a “dive and slide” that any premiership footballer would be proud to display on a pitch… thankfully the “slide” part was automatic and protected my face from smashing into the ground…

… thankfully the ground was not rocky gravel at this point but more smooth(ish) mud, albeit with tree roots and bits sticking out… as I continued to slide (I doubt it was a graceful movement)… the runner ahead turned around and came back to check I was ok… more embarrassed on this occasion, plus it hurt and there were some self-pitying sniffles starting… I assured him I was ok and to carry on… I can’t remember who that was, sorry if I was a bit abrupt but thank you for checking on me!

I looked down at my arm and elbow which was hurting… a lot! A round lump the size of a golfball (not joking, really was) had already come up, and it was a lovely blue black shade (much like the air around me at this point). A bit of the forearm further down was already turning brown… red patches where it looked like I’d burnt the skin off…

I was only at mile 39…


Elbow and forearm, two weeks after the race healing really well

Luckily not far ahead was the next point I met my crew who looked quite amazed when I ran in yelling I’d fallen again. They cleaned me off, tried to get me to eat lots as my appetite wasn’t as good as I had expected it to be (not surprising really) and I took a good 15 minute break (again) to get my head in the right place. Another crew point 3 miles down the line…

Only two hours in the “bank” so time to crack on, through miles 41, 44 and then checking (while watching where I was going this time) for the 50 mile point. I figured given crossing the bridge to get help after the bridge incident, the garmin would have added a bit of time on so waited until it said 51 just to be on the safe side… unofficial PB of 10 hours and 5 minutes… I was ecstatic and after the accidents, this provided a much needed huge mental boost and I cheerfully announced this to the crew at the official CP 4 (mile 53), taking a lazy 20 minute break here. I’d also added another 30 minutes to my “bank” for the death march finish. One more crew point at mile 57 before Stoke Bruene at mile 65.5. This was a crucial point in the race too, as from here you could have buddy runners.

Ian joined me and off we trotted, moving now onto more of the walk run strategy… lots of great chat and banter, it was great to be outdoors, the heat was cooling down a bit and I kept seeing lots of herons… this convinced me that no matter how bad things would get later (aka a possible 45 mile death march), I would make the finish line! We got to Navigation Inn and while Ian had a quick chat with James Adams, I took advantage of the fact there was pub restaurant there, the bar staff kindly letting me use their facilities, although I’m not quite sure what the diners thought of my bedraggled state when I wandered in. Headtorches on, brief crew stop, a check on my time bank (up to 3 and a half hours by now) and onward bound…

Ian kept checking on how I was feeling… breathing after The Bridge had been somewhat restricted, but that had eased up a bit, the nose was drying out more (open wounds usually keep pumping blood out during exercise)… so circa mile 76 the crew insisted I had my second lot of paracetamol. A 20 minute break, tried to eat some food but had no appetite for anything sweet and not much for savoury either… the hip flexors were also feeling the effects and had tightened considerably… time to lie down and stretch them out. My batteries also failed on my headtorch so I had to borrow Ian’s… and whenever I was talking to him, would automatically look at him… he said he could see how easily I’d have an accident… I assumed an innocent look…

The aim now was to meet the crew at mile 80 and have a full change of clothing, with the next point at mile 90 so they could get some sleep. However, we picked up the pace a bit more than expected so as we trotted by mile 80, they hadn’t had enough time to get down and meet us. We rang while we walked on… instead they met us at mile 84 where I took another 20 minutes, getting stuck as I tried to get changed, limbs wanting to seize up. By the time we reached the Tesco at Leighton Buzzard it had just gone 3am and was getting colder… Sandy and Mark were asleep in the car, although they’d lost most of their “sleep time” due to the 80/84 point, so we woke them up and Ian swapped over with Mark.

On the couple of through the night races I’ve done, when the sun comes up I usually feel more energised… however I think this was to be my worst section… the brain was wanting to sleep and I had trouble trying to work out where we needed to cross the bridges, some of the bridge numbers I couldn’t see clearly… and then as we came up to one of the locks, there was a choice of going through grass which was covered in dew, or going slightly up on a harder path… we ended up going through the grass with the consequence that my shoes and socks got soaked and I knew I’d have to change into my trail shoes at the next crew point. I was now turning into a real grumpy sod and was not enjoying the race, and for the first time I think, wished it was a 100 miler so it would be over soon. Still, as we finally approached the Grand Junction Arms, it was daylight and I was reaching my 100 mile point. Checking to see what time it was… a huge huge boost (and one that I absolutely needed)… it looked like I had PB’d my 100 mile distance… 23 hours 44 minutes. A sub 24 no less. I’ve not done that on a race yet so guess I’m gonna have to do another 100 miler now! Even that didn’t keep the grumpiness from descending quickly again… and I grumbled away while I went to the car and changed my shoes and used the toilet facilities that had been made available for runners.

A 30 minute break… now the race would start. I’d heard it said that for this race the last 45 miles are like another 100, so I’d been telling myself for months that this point needed to be have a positive focus… even if I had to walk it all (Ian was very vocal about me not walking it all when I told him about this hahahaha)… the crew reminded me that these miles were for Colin (Geddes), that I needed to crack on… Mark and I trotted off to meet my friend Bryn, who was running 15 miles up the canal path to meet me… synchronistic with the mileage I was dedicating to Colin, because Bryn had been one of my tentmates at Grand2Grand! Bryn appeared and Mark bounded off to meet the rest of the crew, we shuffled along, catching up… discussing other races, including a certain marathon in Tennessee that he is doing later this year, one indeed that I would possibly like to do in the future… if I ever become good enough at navigating!

Unfortunately my choice of shoes had been poor: trail, no cushioning and after the mileage already done, plus the little incidents, I was feeling every footstep on the rocky stony ground. We eventually reached Watford where Ian would take over as we were very close to Bryn’s home. Said our goodbyes, and realised that I had 6 hours in the bank to get to CP8, only 5 miles away. Unfortunately while we got some rain, the heat rose as did the humidity. Ian said that due to the lack of fuelling, this was contributing to my inability to thermoregulate… more herons… more reminders that this is just a run that I would finish, whereas the charity that I was fundraising for… that was real pain, Colin getting better, that was real struggle… more rain and I’d left my jacket in the car, so Ian insisted I use his… and I promptly then over-heated… we eventually reached the turn off for Paddington… just before mile 133… a huge point in the race… just a half marathon left. I’m not sure if it was just before or just after this point, but we ended up walking one 4 mile section entirely, and I had to stop about 4 times during it because I just couldn’t move another step. I had a cloth with me by this time, and we kept wetting it so I could hold it against my wrists, my neck and wipe it over my forehead… anything to try and cool me down. I said to Ian, well at least that’s the 3! Bridge, fall, and now some heatstroke… joking, but it meant I was worrying about how on earth I’m going to cope out in Death Valley with that heat… this would be cool by comparison!

By now Ian had become my personal food dispenser (and coffee carrier)… I could get used to someone doing this, very handy… although he kept giving me more grapes than I wanted… so I would promptly hand them back… I’m nothing if not persistent hahaha…. and when we reached the crew, Sandy passed me a message from my coach about eating. When I told her to tell him what I thought about that (did I say I was grumpy?), she promptly handed me the phone and told me to tell him myself… ooops… of course I did no such thing, but I really couldn’t eat sweet stuff and didn’t want anything I had to hand.

The feet by now were utterly trashed… every step painful, limping a bit as along the outside of the right foot was just flooded with pain, plus I knew I had several blisters… the crew insisted I put the road shoes back on as although still somewhat damp, they would provide more cushioning from the stony ground. I did as I was told.

12 miles to go… a couple of guys ran past… I told Ian I wanted to run… his response… well run then! We started back with a focus on just to point A in front, then walk, then a slightly longer bit, repeat… we picked it back up, passed a lady who was walking… got to the 139 mile crew point… I was determined to run this, didn’t want anyone else passing… not so close to the end… wanted my music… Ian rang ahead, and Mark ran up to the car… we reached them and I waited until I saw the lady behind me appear in sight… in the end I ran off, and left Ian to catch me up… just as I reached a diversion thankfully as my brain could not seem to work out where I was supposed to go (despite the sign having very clear instructions)… walk run walk run… the run sections clocking up to a 9.30 minute mile pace now… if anyone had said I’d be running at this pace, after 140 miles I’d have thought they were totally bonkers… we then saw another lady and a couple of guys up ahead… reached them… passed… running now, no shuffling…

2 miles left…

reaching that point… where you’re so close to the finish you can almost taste it… but you don’t want it to end… you want to hold onto the feeling… the adventure and challenge that you’ve all been working together on for minutes, hours and days…

we ran past a pub/restaurant… the diners cheering us on from across the water… round a bend, then another… finally the finish line… where I saw Colin just ahead of me crossing it… absolutely amazed I was so close behind… sprinted (well it felt like it) to the finish line… my crew there cheering me in… what an utterly amazing feeling to reach the finish of 145 miles…

a hug from Dick Kearn, from my crew, from Colin… opening some prosecco, taking photos… and then another surprise… Rich, my coach, appeared in front of me… not a hallucination… he’d driven up when he thought I was in a bad place so that he could come and run me in for the last bit if I’d needed it. Unfortunately due to the traffic and parking, he’d missed me by mere minutes, but what a wonderful thing to do… I was over the moon 🙂

all the goals I’d set and wished for… smashed

unofficial PBs for 50 miles and 100 miles… smashed…

4th lady, 33rd overall out of 107 starters ad 66 finishers

A time of 37 hours and 34 minutes

3 and a half years after I saw that medal on the Myracekit lattice, I now had one of my very own 🙂

A result due to the total team effort because these things are never about just one person… the runner is just one part… so a huge thank you to my crew of Sandy, Ian and Mark… I could not have done this without you guys… thanks too to my coach Rich Condon who encourages me every step of the way and inspires me all the time, and to everyone involved in this race… the race directors, the other runners, the race volunteers, other supporters… you all made it what it was and created an unbelievable experience that I will never forget (and given the length of this blog that some of you are reading, you won’t either hahaha).

I hope to return, either to race it (all those long breaks, crap fuelling, bad shoes, accidents… reckon I could shave a few minutes off)… or crew it… thank you GUCR for a race that literally swept me off my feet!

Wishing you all a wonderful week
Michelle

GUCR Part 1: https://dreamweaverconsulting.com/2017/06/11/gucr-a-race-that-can-sweep-you-off-your-feet-part-1/
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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GUCR – A race that can sweep you off your feet – Part 1

11/06/2017

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/


Spine Challenger 2017 – Scary, Sublime and Surreal

23/01/2017

spine
I wanted a challenge… to be taken out of my comfort zone… and boy did the Montane Spine Challenger do just that! Like most things, a pivotal point in your life can seem very innocuous to start with, and I have a feeling that this race was one for me… the full effects not yet known or even felt. Writing this up a week later, some parts have slipped into the murky depths of memory and some are still very much at the forefront, much like any major event we look forward to, plan and then experience. So how did it go and just what kind of challenge did the event provide?

I travelled up two days beforehand as, given the propensity of our railway system for delays, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late for any kit checks and race briefings, plus I wanted to attend the pre-race Masterclass held by Ranger Ultras. I also had masses of luggage with me. I duly arrived in Castleton where I was staying (a 15 minute drive from Edale), sorted out lots of kit and then my friends arrived. They had originally been coming over just for dinner as a chance to catch up as we live quite some distance from each other, but wanted to see us off over the start line, so changed their plans to stay and do that! A fantastic emotional and mental boost to start with 🙂

Friday morning dawned and once I’d managed to re-arrange and sort most of my stuff which had, as usual, exploded throughout the whole room, we had a wander about and some pre-race celebratory cake. Now I hadn’t realised quite how far Edale was at this point, so a huge thanks to Helen and Len for ferrying me about! We drove over to Edale, they dropped me off for race registration and kit check while they went to check into a different venue for their second night. Here I caught up with with Harriet, Karl and Kate whom I had originally met at the Spine training weekend: Harriet had passed on some extremely helpful tips for kit over the past couple of months so I passed over some homemade cookies for them to have at the halfway point. I had originally thought of leaving a “positive message” for them at Hebden CP1 (Harriet and Kate were running Challenger, while Karl was crewing them) but given how people can react differently on races, changed it to cookies. I figured food is always good! I registered for the race and got my number (276) and then straight to kit check where of course I had to be the one to draw out the lucky dip number for a FULL check. Cue another explosion across the floor. Luckily I’d brought everything with me… plus a few extras!  Then it was back to Castleton to dump the kit off, have a cup of tea and back over to Edale for the race briefing and then the masterclass. That finished, a few steps down the road to the traditional Spine venue of the Ramblers Inn to meet up with everyone and grab some dinner. It’s amazing how quickly the time goes. En route I spied James who had just arrived and let him know where we were. Food, a quick catch up and hello to a few people… it was then back over to Castleton again and time to make sure everything was ready for the big day. The nerves now kicked in. I had already triple-checked everything before I left home. However after chatting to a few people at the pub, I decided to pack my yaktrax instead of Kahtoola spikes as they were supposedly more suitable if Kinder was especially icy or snowy, but I couldn’t get them in. Cue yet another major explosion across the room (I’m sensing a pattern here 🙂 ) as I spent the next hour re-arranging my whole pack and ending up with the sleeping bag, liner & bivvy bag on the outside. This doesn’t sound very “major” but I was concerned given the balance of the pack and that I hadn’t trained with it lopsided in weight. Still… it was the only solution I could find and by midnight I just wanted to go to sleep.

Race morning dawned and on too little sleep (I’d managed about 4-5 hours), it was time to get up, get out the door and over to Edale. Helen and Len were lifesavers once again and the pub (Castle Inn) had very kindly agreed to let them check us out so we were able to leave all our other luggage behind, which they came back and collected for us. The sun was coming up, trackers were placed on the runners… everyone seemed to be smiling… and off we all trotted to the start line.

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Photo by Racing Snakes

Sometimes it’s a good thing you don’t know what lies ahead for you!

The countdown… the cheers… trotting over the start line… James reminding me to not dash off too quickly… when we signed up, we had agreed to run this together. We were tentmates (#117) at the Marathon des Sables so I knew he was solid, someone you could absolutely and utterly trust… that if he said he would stay with you, he would… practical, kind and also generally a very positive person. Basically a great and fun big brother!

It felt good on the way to Jacobs Ladder, although once we hit there, the climb up felt laborious as I’m so slow on hills… but it got done and wasn’t too icy, and then onto Kinder… my stomach dropped… pretty much a white-out… howling stinging wind… head down, goggles on… too much a repeat of the Peak South 2 North race… when we encounter similar circumstances we’ve already experienced it can trigger not just the memories of what has previously happened, but also the mental thoughts… and straight away I was worrying about whether we’d be breaking trail, falling into bogs and encountering waist deep snow.

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Photo by Racing Snakes

The first challenge of the race had appeared much earlier than I had expected! Time to acknowledge that, accept it and mentally tell myself it’s just a thought and we don’t know what’s around the corner. The head game for this type of race is vital to finishing. We were trotting behind some others and that was the first mistake… don’t rely on those in front knowing where they’re going! We went about 400m off course, so then had to realise that and make our way back, with most, if not all, having gone past us. Back on track it was push on through until eventually we came to the roadhead at Snakes Pass. Luckily the white-out had eased and the snow wasn’t as deep as the previous race, so whilst we weren’t running as such, the path was easier to be seen and we were a lot quicker than I’d been last time. There were also some crazy people at the roadhead… grinning and waving… cameras in hand… I couldn’t work out who they were to start with until we got nearer… Helen and Len had decided to stop by and cheer us on… another fab boost! A quick top-up of water and off towards Bleaklow. More snow, lots of trudging although others were around so it didn’t seem too isolated. We got up to the top of Bleaklow Head although it looked different due to better weather this time, and once I realised where we were, knew we were on the descent to Torside Reservoir. A good point as we were approaching 16 miles in with Crowden on the other side. Now the descent last time had been very treacherous and technical, with lots of ice on the rocks, so this time I figured I’d try to actually run or shuffle down it. Big mistake number 2! The rocks were not runnable for me, so I opted for the grass at the side… which was very wet… and slippery.  Cue a bit of a scary fall… where I actually somersaulted over a couple of times! Once I’d come to a stop I was a bit winded and couldn’t move for a few minutes. James checked to make sure I was ok but I’m pretty sure I heard a laugh or two once he knew I wasn’t injured! Luckily no major issues and just some aches as a result. Lesson number 2… don’t drop your awareness and get ahead of yourself… pride cometh before a fall, literally!

After checking in with the roadhead safety team, and a whinge about the fall… we also saw Helen and Len here, with Helen carrying a goody bag of snacks in case we needed them and both offering hugs.  How wonderful to have people come all the way out and cheer you en route… the value of emotional support from others cannot be underestimated! It was time to cross over the reservoir, through some woody areas and get a shuffle on towards Wessenden. I remember telling James about seeing some wildlife here on the last race and remembering which turning to take! We then came across Matt and Ellie from Summit Films, who mentioned something along the lines of being 4th lady I think, which was a surprise, and certainly not a position I expected to stay at. I put it to the back of my head, because you don’t want to let anything derail you from your plan. Trying to push and catch others up wouldn’t be good for the main goal here, which was just to achieve a finish. Nothing much stands out in memory now for this part, apart from it being daylight and that much easier to see where we were going compared to the PS2N race and where I had got lost in the dark! We followed the correct route and just before we started the descent towards the A635, saw the most incredible colours of the sunset… absolutely stunning. We paused to take it in… this is part of the reward…

We reached the roadhead and checked in with the safety team, topped up water… 27 miles done… it felt a lot longer. Time to get a shuffle on and get down to the turning. We also met up with Paul Bridge as we shuffled around the reservoir , who I’d run (trudged) part of the PS2N with. Now the memory is rather faded but one thing that stands out is the awesome orange moon! Simply spectactular. Words cannot do it justice, and it was one of the highlights of this event! I remember eventually getting to Standedge I think it was, although I more remember a sign saying Harrop where the safety team were that we had to check in with. I topped up my water and was given a hot coffee and then heard a very familiar northern voice… Matt, another of our tentmates from MdS had driven out with his daughter to come and cheer us on! He’d also brought hot chicken noodle soup and lots of snacks!  What a huge boost at nighttime!! He wouldn’t let the puppy out for a cuddle though 🙂 We spent about 15 minutes here, but as James said, it was well worth it. Having something hot to eat, hugs, chatting… well you don’t want to lose too much time on races with chatting, but at challenges like these, having a friend make the effort to come and see you, bolster you emotionally… it’s priceless. Standing around however can make you cold, and my hands were getting freezing. Just as we were about to set off again, I made the (very wise as it turned out) decision to pause so that James could get my mitts out of my pack before the next leg. We said our goodbyes and turned towards the darkness of the moor.

The first full evening… cold temperatures and no clear path… the moor felt very creepy and I have, thankfully, shelved most of this bit to as far into my distant memory as possible. I think this was where it was wet, wet, wet… boggy ground… basically lots of streams that you tried not to have to walk through else you’d kill your feet. I lost sight of James for a short while (he had to speed up so as not to get cold) and every bit I could see looked the same as the rest. Trying to hop onto bits of grass but sinking into yet more water. Icy parts too so you couldn’t rush too much. As I’m not used to the terrain this meant I slowed down even more. Fear kicked in big time here and I could feel signs of anxiety start to rise: racing heart, dry mouth and the feeling of sheer panic… I felt a complete and utter wuss, and yelled out to James who unfortunately couldn’t hear me. So this was the next mental challenge… how do you cope when you want to dissolve into a heap of fear? Thanking my CBT training I paused, got some sugary snacks out, swilled some water round and took stock of the situation logically. I wasn’t on my own and knew James would be waiting. I had my GPS which I got out and checked… I’d veered a bit too much right… this wasn’t forever and it would end… plus I had all the safety gear I needed in an emergency. Suck it up and get moving! Literally a few minutes later I found some slabs as I moved towards the left! And then shortly afterwards caught up with James. Eventually the horror disappeared in our rear view and we made our way to Stoodley Pike… chatting to other racers as they passed by… I think it was around here (if not before) that the first MRT Challenger passed us even though he’d started 4 hours after us! My apologies to the other runner that was with us at this point but I’ve forgotten who it was… as we came off Stoodley we started to go too far left and had to hack back up to get on track… this was now on the “home run” to Checkpoint 1… the only major one we had in the whole 108 miles where we could access our drop bags, have a change of clothes and also hot food indoors! As for thoughts of running on the lovely descent through Callas Woods… unfortunately that had to be shelved due to the amount of ice underfoot… skidding and sliding instead felt to be the norm. Still we hit the bottom and then started on the up to CP1… only we seemed to get a bit lost, and I didn’t recognise the “main” type of road we were supposed to be on… checking the GPS it seemed we were following a parallel road and finally ended up on the correct one, but a bit further along… a nice little shuffle down to the turning and then carefully going over the very slippery, boggy, muddy route into checkpoint.

Volunteers… the help you get from these wonderful people cannot be appreciated enough… races would not exist with them! At Hebden when they  know you’re approaching, someone will be already waiting outside for you with your drop bag… the rule here is get out of the wind into the entrance, take off your disgustingly wet, boggy, mud covered, stinky shoes (and everyone’s will be!)… put your poles in a corner and then shuffle indoors. Kit bags go into the far end room where they stay! No going into the kitchen… make your way to the racers room on the other side where some very smiley, happy, friendly volunteers offer you hot cups of tea, coffee and juice… profer hot food and make sure there are plenty of snacks. Turnaround time is crucial on a race… as is knowing what will benefit you the most. James went straight in, had food and went to crash. We landed around 0100 hours and agreed to set the alarm for 0430. Remember all those kit explosions… it kinda happened here too 🙂 … instead of sleeping, I chose to have a hot shower and a complete change of kit and was glad I did: I felt a huge boost mentally, physically and emotionally. Time then to grab hot food, several hot drinks and then try for sleep.  As I was so tired, when I tried to sort my kit out ready for getting started on the second leg, I could not think coherently and ending up faffing. Recognising this I figured there was no point wasting more time, so grabbed the spare sleeping from my drop bag and headed to my assigned dorm. Thankfully no snorers!!! Eye mask on, ear plugs in. I managed about 20 minutes sleep before someone’s alarm at 0400 woke me.  I laid there for 10 minutes, debating the benefits of trying to get another 10 minutes sleep but gave up, telling myself I’d had just under 2 hours “rest” even though I hadn’t really slept. I also knew James would be up and ready quickly so got up in order to sort my kit bag out, re-tape my feet and have more hot drinks. We were out the door at 0505 hours.

Now I’m not sure how it happened but we got lost… before we’d even made it out of the climb to the road! Somehow we ended up higher and following a fence and then through a field until we found a road. Checking the GPS and then navigating back, we had gone way too far to the left and had then had to turn back before finally reaching the turn we’d originally taken to descend to the checkpoint. I reckon we lost about half an hour easily here. And it was cold. And raining. Not a great start to the second leg. Off we trotted only to miss the turn back onto the Pennine Way… were we really that tired? Probably!

Another moor… another cold and yucky wet wet wet boggy foggy dreary cold and icy hell… oh how I longed for the warmth of Hebden… I think it was here that we bumped into Paul again… and I think it was on this section that I took my second nasty fall, only this time there was no laughing or as James described it… not so dramatic! There were slabs on and off across this section and most were covered in ice… some moved… a lot were underwater… I stepped on one I thought was there to find it didn’t exist… my right foot plunged straight down into knee-height water, my shoes filling with water (thank god for knee high waterproof socks)… with the result that I slipped and instead of my left foot landing on the next concrete slab, my left knee did, with my whole body falling fully flat! Pain flooded through my leg and I can’t remember the last time I just wanted to sit, cry and give up. Shaking, the lads helped me up and after taking a minute to get my mental state back together, we carried on. I was beginning to really hate the wet moors areas!

However, it was now daytime and that meant energy levels rose a fair bit. Onto Cowling and in and out of the safety team check. I was very happy to see these as they carried some water which we could top up with. I originally expected none to be available so had packed a Sawyer filter to be on the safe side. Well those streams have sheep nearby… can’t be too careful regardless of how much peat there is to filter stuff out of it! We came out of the Cowling point and headed downhill… to another one of the best points in the race! Our lovely friend Mike (who was also an MdS tentmate) had driven over with his wife Zoe to come along and give us a hug. They’d also brought loads of snacks! As James said, it almost felt as if we were supported with a crew. We must have stopped for about 10-15 minutes and by the time we left, our emotional “tanks” had been filled up 🙂 Happy days! Thank you guys!!!

cowlingPhoto by Mike Fetherstone

It was then onto Lothersdale where the fabulous Hare & Hounds pub had put plastic sheeting downstairs on their carpet so that Spiners could pop in and get drinks and food if they wanted. They were also kind enough to allow me to use their facilities upstairs. Thanks folks, much appreciated.  We were still with Paul who was being crewed, so we stopped when he met Ste who then very kindly gave us some cuppa soup… before we all pushed on to Gargrave together. Paul had mentioned that there was a fish and chip shop so as we got nearer and nearer, I didn’t eat as much as I should have as I planned on a hot meal there. I remember passing Maxine when we were beside the canal who looked to be in really good spirits, albeit she was having problems with her feet… she had one spare pair of socks but was holding onto them as it was boggy going up to Malham. I had been planning on changing my socks too, but after hearing that, decided to push on and change once we got that far. Anyway, we reached Gargrave to find Helen and Len had come out again. Helen has since said she was really worried about me because I was shaking so much. It had gotten much warmer on the second day, so I didn’t have my insulating layer on. This also meant I had a layer less to protect my shoulders from the pack weight… so much so that I was in agony just walking and they had to help me off with it. We walked around trying to find the fish & chip shop, forgetting it was a Sunday evening and therefore closed! My heart sank. I’d been so looking forward to that. Food is energy and hot food even more so going into night hours when you’re so cold. Anyway, nothing to do but put the insulating layer on, get sorted and get going. We had also decided by this point that we needed to try and get some sleep so would push to Malham and bivvy out before heading for the CP1.5 at Malham Tarn. Now while we had encountered lots of muddy soul sucking squelching mud that was more than ankle deep (the wet conditions and rain had been more than helpful in this regard)… what was to come was absolutely draining. No wonder Maxine hadn’t wanted to change her socks! It was a different version of hell, horror… extremely slow going… how anyone can run in that stuff is beyond me! It felt to take forever… and probably did!

Malham arrived like a beacon of life… Paul directed us to where we could bivvy and be out of the rain… not wanting to waste time, we got our stuff out and settled down to sleep… with a local dog nearby howling. A lot! The rain had soaked through my thermarest so I couldn’t put it inside my bivvy, which I think contributed to a lack of heat. There was a bit of a breeze and it felt really cold, so I got my little hotties hand warmers out of my gloves and stuck them in the sleeping bag with me, wrapping everything up but one small gap to breath through. About two hours later, and after what must have been only 20-40 minutes of sleep max, it was time to get up, have some food and get going again. There were some toilet facilities there with a mirror… I don’t know if it was as a result of side winds during the previous section, or whether it was where the cold had got into the bivvy bag, but my right eye had swelled up very badly… I looked like I’d been punched 😦 … nothing to be done but ignore it.. time to change socks, layers were put on, water was heated (my coleman gas wasn’t brilliant but did work), some rehydrated food eaten and then we were off… homeward bound! We reached the CP1.5 where the lovely John Bamber greeted us and gave us a very welcome hot drink, checking to make sure we were all ok. Two guys came in while we were there, but unfortunately they weren’t going any further. It was lovely and cosy indoors but we needed to crack on… spirits were high as we went through a wooded area… and then it was onto Malham Tarn… climbing, steps… going up, limestone… hard on feet that had already been tenderised like pieces of steak… darkness, fog… I pretty much followed Paul and James for this section… how on earth they made the navigation look so easy is beyond me. Had I been on my own I would have taken ages and been micro-navving with my GPS! Next up was Fountains Fell which seemed to go on forever. Luckily although it was cold, it wasn’t icy enough that I needed my spikes especially as I’d forgotten to swap out my yaktrax for microspikes! And then it was onto the horror of all horrors. I really don’t do heights, have a fear of them… I get physically shaky and nauseous… so I don’t usually climb up mountains! Or big hills! Ladders either if I can help it. I had also wondered what John Bamber meant when he’d asked if I’d been up Pen-y-Ghent before. He must have been either inwardly chuckling or thinking what a daft fool when I said No!

Now I have no idea what it looks in the daytime… but in the nighttime all I could see what a dark outline to my left and right, big rocks to be used as some kind of steps going straight up… and drops to either side that would mean you die. Paul went up ahead, and I think there were a couple of others around too… James was very kind and stayed behind me, encouraging me each step of the way like you would a child. At one point it felt so steep I couldn’t even lever myself up on my feet, but ended up with both knees on a slab thinking I was going to throw up. However… what are the options when you get stuck? Go back down, quit and whimper and wait for hours for someone to rescue you… or suck it up, and (very very slowly) follow someone’s direction, someone who you trust so you just keep going? I obviously chose the latter, and eventually got to the top. I’m very glad that James didn’t tell me he’s taken his youngest up there in the daytime… I’d have felt even more of a wimp! I’m also very very glad we didn’t have bad weather… apparently previous Spine editions have had 50mph winds gusting and black ice on the rocks while they’ve scrambled over. Was the horror now over? Nope… now we had to navigate down without falling down the side! By this time it was Monday morning, but we were high up and there was so much fog and mist it still felt like night! Eventually we started on the descent, and at one point we almost got lost again with the lads ending up climbing over a wall… I think it was on this section but my memory could be wrong… and I went back to the road I thought we should take… to see Pavel and Eugenie pass by… they’d set off 24 hours after us and were going to be going all week. Amazing!  Eventually we descended towards Horton… and there was some really good terrain that would normally be runnable… however at this point, on less than an hour’s sleep it was more a stumble. I’ve never really had hallucinations before, but kept thinking I was seeing Spine support crew because there appeared to be a moving blue object… until we almost reached said blue item to find it was a huge wheelie bin 😀 … good job it was then that we came upon the Pen-y-Ghent cafe! Absolute stars… hot bacon, fried egg and ketchup sandwiches and mugs of tea ordered, nothing has ever tasted so good… I also needed to change. I had expected it to be cold going up Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent so had added a pair of RAB polartec powerstretch over my leggings and under my waterproofs. This had meant that although I was warm enough in the night on the climb, for the rest of the time I had over-heated… given the gaiters and shoes were clad in mud too, it was rather a messy change over… luckily the toilet facilities in the car park had running water to wash hands before eating!

Short of a disaster, we knew we had enough time to make it although that didn’t mean loitering. It also didn’t mean going over the wrong bridge which I very nearly did, much to the amusement of Paul and James! More ascent, more fields… and eventually onto the Cam Road. Paul had dropped back a little bit and seemed to be wanting to have a moment to himself, so I hurried to catch James up. We came to the turn off and saw Karl there who said Harriet was about an hour behind. We trundled on, the road seemingly never ending… and saw a runner disappear off towards the muddy hill… we followed but there was no clear path. I then looked back and saw Harriet up above!

We must have been about 1.5 to 2 miles away from the end at this point, so James gave me a verbal kick up the backside and told me to run… have to work for it, we haven’t come this far to let anyone pass by now! Well… to coin a phrase, I pegged it down that hill like I never believed I could. It felt to be a 6.30 min mile pace (although was probably more like 8)… and my sleeping bag stuff had come off from my pack. James re-attached it but once we started running again, it came off again. Nothing for it but to tuck it into the crook of my arm, move my poles into that hand and then try to balance with my other hand as we bounced down the muddy boggy hill, trying not to fall over. I veer between dreading there being video footage of this bit as I probably looked really deranged or wanting to see it in case it looked awesome and I actually was running really fast… anyway, James had so much energy he bounded on ahead, opening up the gates for me so I could run through… and then it was onto the paths… where I saw two figures waving, iphone in hand (eek… I’ll leave you with one guess as to who they were…) before I turned onto the main road and ran up to the hall. Instead of running through a finish line triumphantly with poles aloft, instead was a gasping, red-faced, huddle of a human being hunched over. Realisation suddenly dawning… it was done… James came over and gave me a big hug and I could barely hold the tears back. Such a very surreal and sublime moment…

032

54 hours, 12 minutes and 13 seconds 🙂

I broke the Montane Spine Challenger… and 4th lady at that!

As for injuries after such a challenge… no real blisters anywhere, some toenails that will likely come off and a bit of a (temporary I hope) loss of feeling in a couple of toes. All expected effects of the pounding over such a distance and terrain. The only other issue I had on course really was a painful lump from that lopsided pack… the shoulder muscle on one side developed into a swelling a bit bigger than the size of a golf ball… I didn’t even have any DOMS and could walk down stairs easily the day after. Although I think I was slurring my words that evening at dinner due to the sleep deprivation *oops*.

Congratulations to all racers on Spine Challenger, the MRT Challenger and the full Spine Race, especially my other two MdS tentmates, Gwynn and Lee who I dot watched over the rest of the week once I’d left Hawes (and seen Lee into his CP2)! What an epic event (yeah I know… cheesy words… but oh so true).

A huge huge thanks to those who came out to support us en route (Helen, Len, Matt, Lucy, Mike and Zoe) as well the other racers who encouraged at different points, Paul and his support Ste, the Spine Safety Team and all volunteers who looked after us so well. And most especially to James… I certainly could not have done that without you!

A challenge like no other… the only problem now… is what do I do next!

Wishing you all a adventurous week ahead 🙂
Michelle


Equipment Kit List – 515km through the Grand Canyon and Africa

05/09/2016

Grand to Grand Ultra 2014, USA – 273km and RTP Roving Race 2014 (Madagascar)

An absolute newbie to the world of adventure stage racing and with only 18 months running experience in total, I was googling all over the place to get information to hand as to what I would need. The amount of blogs and comments on the internet were enough to scare me into wondering (yet again) just what I was letting myself in for, especially when I was having to get kit sorted for not one, but TWO stage races at the same time. Crazy idea… why on earth did I decide to do this? A frequent question as I’m sure many others (would) have thought in the same position.

As I mentioned in the previous post, gathering information and then looking at what you already have, or where you can get help, can be vital in being as prepared as possible for challenges that lie ahead.  In this case, I had my coach who was helping me with the physical fitness aspect, a friend from the Sierra Leone marathon who had signed up with me so I wasn’t going to be totally on my own… and also some luck… this being in the form of Colin and Elisabet Barnes who are members of Leigh on Sea Striders, the club I race under, and who just happen to be ultra-marathoners with experience of ultramarathons and specifically desert stage racing. They also happen to own Myracekit and if you’re really lucky, when you visit their shop, you may get a cuddle off the adorable Stig!

Colin with Stig
(Photo copyright: Michelle Payne)

Anyway, onto kit:

Backpack: WAA Ultrabag 20L
(Available from: Grand to Grand, Myracekit)
Weight: 590g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I had been planning on using the Aarn Marathon Magic 22L, but as I increased the pack weight, found it compressed my breathing a bit too much. The pack was fab overall, and I’ve kept it. I think it’s just a matter of learning how to adjust the (many) straps. At this time the WAA pack was hard to get hold of in the UK, but a fellow competitor going to Grand to Grand had a spare one and offered to let me buy it off him, and he posted it from France (thank you Say!!). For someone who likes to pack everything but the kitchen sink (OK maybe including that too) with a better to be safe than sorry mentality, this pack made me strip back a lot of kit (you can only imagine how much I would have taken!!). Comfortable, no bouncing around and no gaps. Easy enough to chuck it in the washing machine too when it gets encrusted and turns white from the salt your body sweats out in the heat. Mine has a detachable mesh bag inside, which was a godsend although I’m not sure if the latest versions have this still. As I packed a decent amount of food (I don’t like to be hungry), I found a way of clipping this on the outside of the pack which meant I could carry about 3 days worth of food in it, although such fastening did mean it was less stable for those few days. Did I mention I don’t like to be hungry?

Use again: Absolutely

Hydration: 2 x 750ml Raidlight bottles, 1 Litre Platypus soft bottle
Weight: Raidlight bottle 95g, Platyus 38g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

2.5 Litres was the required capacity for fluid in Madagascar. I’ve had a few problems with using bladders at the start of my running journey so I tend to avoid them, plus I really didn’t want to have to keep taking off a heavy pack just to fill the water, let alone what if it leaked inside? The potential horror of that was enough to make sure I looked at other options! That really only left bottles. The WAA pack comes with its own bottles, however these were atrocious and leaked everywhere. I swapped them out for the Raidlight 750ml bottles with the bite valve and tube. In training with them, one did start leaking from the screw top (there are two tiny plastic bits on it) but Myracekit replaced it and the new one was fine. I then paired them with a 1-litre platypus soft bottle. There is a 500ml size available for this if you only need 2 litres, and which I took to G2G.

Use again: Yes for the Raidlight. Having the bottles to hand made it much easier to refill at checkpoints. However it’s worth noting that if you go down the route of rocket fuel (water/cola combo) then the initial fizz can also cause some leaking. In this case, make sure you only fill to about 650ml and point the bite valve away from you!

Sleeping bag: Yeti Passion 3
Weight: 465-530g (M-L)
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I don’t like to be cold. At all. Yeti sleeping bags are some of the lightest on the market, although they are not cheap. As I was trying to cut costs and get kit that would work for more than one stage race, I had to take different temperatures into account.  Had I only been doing Madagascar, I would have chosen the Yeti One.  I found the Three to be very warm in Madagascar, so could have gone for something a bit lighter however combined with the silk liner noted below, it was perfect for g2g and even on the coldest nights there, I felt warm and cosy. For those doing Grand to Grand, note that as the days continue, the weather is likely to get much colder as the altitude you sleep at increases.

Use again: Yes but if you are only doing one hot stage race, consider the Yeti Passion One to save weight.

Silk Liner: Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner
Weight: 135g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

At the suggestion of Elisabet, I decided to opt for a silk liner so that I only had to purchase one sleeping bag and could still meet the minimum requirements for both races.  It was a godsend as it not only kept me warm at g2g, it also kept the inside of the sleeping bag clean. Whilst there may be only a few km’s of dunes in g2g, the trails are hot, dusty and very very sandy. You will be surprised at just how much.

Use again: Absolutely.  If you are doing a hot race, you could just sleep in this, and use your sleeping bag as an extra “layer” on top of whichever pad or roll mat you choose.

Pillow: Thermarest NeoAir + repair kit
Weight: 55g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I purchased from Myracekit but it’s no longer available there. Google shows available online. This weighs virtually zero, folds up flat and I stored it in the bottom of my WAA pack where the zip is located underneath. I think that’s where the pack’s water-resistant cover is usually stored but I didn’t take that. Sealing everything instead in clear plastic bags (ziplocks) seemed a much better idea and meant I could take this instead. Much more comfortable than using my pack, which I was then able to use to elevate my feet instead. It makes for a more comfortable sleep, and getting some sleep is vital in races like these.

Use again: Yes.

Sleeping pad: Thermarest Z-Lite Sol
Weight: 410g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Sleep is vital on stage races and will make a huge difference to your daily performance. I had read and heard about quite a few different types of “mattress” however since I wasn’t going to be aiming for a top (ha!) racing position, weight was not the most important factor in my choice here. What was, was it not getting a hole and deflating so that I would have no cushioning between me and the ground. I therefore went with the reliable Z-Lite which is a foamy type of cushion in sections that folds up like an accordion.  It’s rather long, so I cut down off about 4 sections (obviously individual height will make a difference here) and was then able to have it stashed on the top of my pack during the race. This worked well in Madagascar and very well in Grand2Grand, where you can encounter a particular type of lurking evil… goatheads! I’m not sure what their technical name is but they are little prickles of pain that if they embed themselves (in your feet, your clothes, your sleeping bag etc) then they sting! Round, tiny and sharp. They had the potential to pierce and given the sheer amount of them in G2G, I was very glad to have my Z-lite, especially when I turned it over one morning to find many stuck into the underside.

Use again: It’s heavy so I’m not sure. Invaluable against the goatheads, but can’t fit into the WAA even once you’ve eaten most of the contents. Race-dependent.

Poles: Leki Micro Stick Carbon Trekking Z-Pole
Race: G2G and RTP Madagascar

There is a lot of debate about whether or not to use poles, however as a newbie I was going to minimise any potential obstacle I could to a potential DNF and if that meant extra weight carrying a pair of poles, so be it. I had heard they were invaluable at helping you up hills or even reducing wear and tear/pressure on joints so given the cumulative distance I was looking at completing, figured this was a sensible idea. After checking out several different types, I opted for Leki as they were a bit sturdier than some but still light enough that I felt I could run holding them.  They could also be folded up if not in use.  I found these quite invaluable: not just for walking, or during the long stage where it helps to keep to a certain pace, but also on levering myself up some rocky bits, across some rice fields and certainly on giving confidence when climbing over trees, logs and the such like.  A valued “not to be under-estimated” bit of kit. The only downside to these was that I’d left them outside at night during Grand to Grand, and of course there was a huge storm. They must have had quite a bit of water get inside and then rusted so I was unable to take them apart again.

Use again: Yes, although would make sure not to leave extended outdoors in a full-on rain/thunderstorm.

Lighting: Petzl Tikka, Black Diamond, Duracell AAA batteries, Petzl E+Lite Zip, Silva Tyto Sport
Weight: Petzl Tikka 85g, Petzl E+Lite 27g
Races: G2G, RTP Madagascar (all)

With two headtorches required, I took along the Petzl Tikka and Black Diamond to G2G, together with 3 extra batteries to be on the safe side.  They both take AAA size.  Madagascar also required a red flashing light so I chose the Silva Tyto Sport Safety Light, which comes with the battery included. The Silva light can clip on, however it has a handy velcro strap which I used to secure it on the back of the WAA pack. The Petzl Tikka is lightweight and handy although I do have to adjust the headstrap a few times during a long race. Opening and changing the batteries is easy. Not the brightest out there but definitely value for money.  Black Diamond I keep as a back-up only. I think I have the “Storm” version and I wouldn’t buy again as I struggle to get the damn thing open every single time and often have to prise it open with a knife (although this could just be the one I have). I intend to have a look at the new Ion to see how they compare. I took Petzl E+Lite with the Tikka to Madagascar and found the little E+Lite to be very handy, especially in the tent at night. It also has a red flashing option so could have doubled for the emergency light if I’d lost the Tyto.

Use again: Petzl Tikka, absolutely.  Tyto – yes. Black Diamond – no. E+Lite – absolutely.

Whistle: Raidlight
Weight: 8g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Sometimes the whistles that are part of a backpack aren’t going to meet racing requirements. For both races I took along the Raidlight whistle. Thankfully I didn’t need to use it. Very light, and can be shoved into any tiny space you have left.

Use again: Yes

Survival Bivvy bag: SOL Emergency Bivvy
Weight: 108g
Race: RTP Madagascar

Thankfully didn’t need this either, but required item.

Use again: Yes, if required kit.

Emergency survival blanket: Myracekit
Weight: 48g
Race: G2G

Thankfully didn’t need this either, but required item.

Use again: Yes, if required kit.

Mirror: Raidlight Signalling Mirror
Weight: 17g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Lightest mirror I could find at the time, although for ladies that may take make-up with them into a stage race, it’s not going to be suitable. Lightweight and fitted easily into my med pack.

Use again: Yes

Knife/multi tool – Gerber Ultralight LST
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar
Weight: 17.1g

You never know when you might need a knife! I’m thinking more cutting bandages and gaffer tape than cut your arm off à la 127 hours *shudder*. Anyway, this is very small and lightweight and fit the necessary requirements. I’m a bit squeamish around knifes and the possibility of inadvertently slicing into myself, so found this a bit stiff to open, hence some nervousness.

Use again: if I found one that opened smoothly.

Compass: Silva Field Compass 1-2-3
Weight: 28g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Nice and lightweight, although it is a little awkward in terms of its’ shape that I imagine some wouldn’t get on with. I like it, find it sturdy which gives some reassurance and take to all my long races where I need a compass.

Use again: Yes.

Sunscreen: Tingerlaat SPF 50+, 60ml, Dermatone SPF23 
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Tingerlaat are partners with the Marathon des Sables, so you’d expect them to know a thing or two about not burning in the desert! Recommended by Colin and Elisabet at Myracekit, it certainly did what it was supposed to and I was very surprised at how little was needed. Applied first thing in the morning and that was it really. No burning whatsoever. I have very sensitive skin which flares up extremely easily and it didn’t seem to make it any worse or aggravate it. Goes on easily, spreads well, I use this on all races now, regardless of duration. Absolutely love this stuff. Dermatone is a lip balm with SPF and was also fine. If you don’t flare up easily and want to save on weight, then G2G provides (or did for the 2014 race) sunscreen.

Use again: Yes to both, and can’t rave enough about Tingerlaat!

Blister and medical kit: Miscellaneous
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Luckily for me, Myracekit had a little pack already good to go (I came away with a rather large shopping bag on the day I visited, as I’m sure is obvious by now :D). They also added other items such as blistershield powder and gurney goo sachets and they have since updated their customised pack which can be found here. I am not a fan of 2nd skin or compeed products ever since my first ultra (Race to the Stones 100km) where, in my inexperience, I ended up gaining some huge heel blisters which were then sliced open, not just once, but three times in total. This was after compeed had been used and then when I tried to pull them off, they ripped part of a big blister off. Painful is not really an adequate description of how I felt at the time! They were included due to kit requirements but I have never used them since and avoid like the plague!

My medical, blister & hygiene kit:

10 alcohol wipes – required (available from boots) (I took about 25)
2 hypodermic needles (or safety pins) – required
1 roll micropore – required (available from boots) (I took 4)
1 roll elastic tape – required (used tensoplast) (I took 2 to G2G)
5 x 2nd skin (or compeed) – required (shudder) (7 were required for G2G)
minimum 12 paracetamol – required (I took 16 x 500mg)
malaria tablets – optional (took them, wasn’t taking any chances)
Sudocreme (5mg)
Biofreeze gel (one sachet)
Lubricant – Gurney Goo (7 sachets)
Sterilising tablets – Milton x 3
Gauze – 3 pads
Ciproflaxin (G2G only)
Refresh towels (airline) – a touch of “luxury”

Foot powder – Blistershield (7 sachets)
Compression bandage (7.5cm x 4.5m) – required – (Smith & Nephew)
minimum 10 safety pins – required (I took about 21 and used instead of re-using the hypodermic needles from a hygiene perspective)

60ml alcohol gel – required (took 100ml) – some is provided on G2G
60ml mosquito repellent – required (Repel 80ml)
7 day supply toilet tissue/wet wipes – required (took 2 toilet rolls to Madagascar, 1 to G2G as they provided some)
Moisturiser (Tingerlaat Face & Body Repair Balm 60ml) – added another for G2G which wasn’t necessary
Earplugs (2 pairs)
Foot cream (Body Shop Hemp Handcream)
Diarrhea tablets (Boots own) (I took 9)
Rehydration sachets (Boots own – 4 sachets for Madagascar, 6 for G2G)
Mosquito net – already owned
Mini scissors – already owned
Comb – not much use against sand!

Toothbrush – full size
Toothpaste – small size
Towel – PackTowel Ultralight M, Myracekit
Soap – Lifeventure soap leaves, Amazon
Washer ball

Facecloths – Wemmi wipes (I took 14)

Use again: The mosquito net obviously only where required. I take a minimum medical kit now which includes most of these things but only 1-2 of each. No compeed. Absolutely no compeed! The earplugs didn’t work at all in Madagascar but that was probably due to some rather loud snoring in the tent (I’m not naming names :D). I’ve yet to find any that does, but for those that sleep a bit more soundly, one pair should be enough. I don’t take any extra foot cream these days so would ditch that. I do take moisturiser and the Tingerlaat is great, although I decant into a tiny pot and take about 5ml or 5mg. I haven’t found them online yet, but for future stage races would look for the compressed toilet roll that I have seen other competitors take. Takes up minimal space without sacrificing need. It’s one thing I wouldn’t leave home without and bio-degradable compared to chemically-laden wet wipes which can affect sensitive skin. I took a pack of those to G2G and it was wasted weight and space. I wouldn’t take gauze again.  If any medical emergencies require this, then see the Camp Doc!

One item I can’t rave enough about and that’s the wemmi wipes. Brilliant things, absolutely tiny and expand with just a few drops of water. Absolute must-have product! The pack towel was fab, very light and can clip onto the back of your pack to dry during the day. Ultra absorbent. I took a full size toothbrush, couldn’t be doing with faffing about cutting bits off to save a gram in weight and pleased I didn’t bother. Better than messing around trying to brush my teeth outside when it’s dark! Soap leaves, always take some of these now.

I had also felt rather sick after the long stage in Madagascar so took along a few sterilising tablets to G2G to wash my bottles out with mid-race. Luckily we had more than enough water between us after the long stage, so I was able to do this.  I would take these again, and 2-3 only take up a small space.

Lastly, I also took one of those washer dryer balls, which sounds crazy but… I had extremely tight calves and Achilles tendonitis so this was a very very lightweight option to use as a “roller” for the calves. If I was running a stage race in future and had an injury that needed rolling, I would take this again.

Eating Utensil: MSR Folding Spork, Lifeventure Long Handle Titanium Spoon
Weight: MSR – 9.5g , Lifeventure – 20g
Race: Grand to Grand (Titanium Spoon only), RTP Madagascar (both)

I took along both of these to Madagascar but didn’t use the spork.  It does what it’s meant to, folds away well but the titanium spoon is obviously much more robust and I have used that much much more. The spork will also fit into much smaller spaces whereas you can’t bend the titanium one. If you are only taking one eating utensil and you are racing for top of the field where every gram counts, then I expect the spork would be ample. For myself, I found the long handled spoon much easier to use, more hygienic as I wasn’t reaching into the rehydrated food with my hand on the spoon and getting it everywhere and it seemed to clean up much easier with some boiling water (no ridges for caught food). I stored it along the length of my WAA pack, once everything else was inside so it didn’t jar into me.

Use again: Spork – no, Titanium spoon – yes.

Eating tin/cup: Sea to Summit X-Bowl, MSR Titan Cup 400ml
Weight: Titan Cup 54g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Used both of these, and the X-bowl packs down well although I found it quite large so would go for a smaller option in future. The titan cup is sturdy and although it can clatter on the outside of the pack, I carried it inside and stuffed it with clothing so I didn’t lose any space.

Use again: X-bowl if I had the weight/space to spare, Cup – absolutely.

Other bits:
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Cable ties – I took about 10 of these and while I thankfully never had to use them, in Madagascar I witnessed my tentmate Howard fixing a trainer back to its’ sole with some of these!

Music – I bought a small ipod shuffle and loaded it up with some music. Glad I did so.

Headphones – JVC Sports adjustable – I couldn’t get on with the ones that are supposed to stay in your ears so I tried these.  They do the job and are very lightweight. Use them for pretty much all my runs now.

Duct Tape – invaluable as I didn’t lift my feet enough and ripped the front of my gaiters to shreds, so this meant I could tape them up (nightly) to get me through to the next day!

Camera – own, however lots of sand got in and ruined it, so I would only take a cheap one that could be binned afterwards.

Compression/zip lock bags – took a variety of these in small, medium and large and they were handy to have. I would take maybe 2 of each in future, rather than the amount I used at these two races.

Seal Line Cirrus Dry Sack 20L – I bought this and meant to use it but given how heavy my pack was becoming, decided to leave it behind. Luckily no major rain and I ziplocked everything instead.

Race Passport / Book – provided by organisers

So that’s how I started learning about what kit suits me. We all have to start at the beginning when we venture into something new, whether that be a race, a job, a new home or a new relationship; and as we learn more, we adapt to the new experiences and information we accumulate. Hopefully this post will offer a different perspective or aspects to consider for anyone venturing into stage racing. Please note that any links included are not affiliate-linked, I am not paid for my opinions or for any links I include here.  This post is purely my personal opinion and intended for information only.

Clothing List up next…

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.
Michelle


Kit lists and getting prepared

19/08/2016

 

Fueling on the Go – South Downs Way 100 – 2016 © Stuart March Photography

At first glance, mental health counselling and running ultramarathons don’t too have much in common. The first is a service that clients can seek out because they are in pain, have wounds they want to heal or need support amongst other reasons. The second is a painfest (especially on the feet) that is willingly signed up to, is usually over within a matter of days (depending on distance, speed and location) and is (mostly) actively looked forward to. You’d expect them to be at opposite ends of most spectrums.

However… there are many similarities too. Goal setting is one… support is another… and then there is the preparation.

People often think of reaching a destination as a huge jump… sometimes akin to a leap of faith. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone who’s ever achieved this in one step in either their counselling journey or an ultramarathon. Both require many steps, which eventually add up to the “finish line”… however such finish line may look to each individual. If you think you can shortcut by taking a jump off a cliff and expect to land on the other side which is a long way away, it stands to reason you’re most likely going to fall. And then you have to trudge through many steps on the bottom before hauling yourself up a hill. Instead, be S.M.A.R.T. about getting to the other side (a.k.a Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Timed).

When you look at what you want to achieve, you look to see what you already have that will suit the task in hand, what you will need that you don’t have… and then look to find out how to get the bits you need. Basically you’re putting together your “kit”.

Within counselling and coaching, this is as varied as each individual… and the goal that they have in mind. It’s also very important to remember that there’s no “one size fits all” approach. Some questions I often use with clients to help them focus are:

What do you believe you currently have to help you?
What do you believe you need to achieve your goal?
Have you tried this before?
What would you like to try differently next time?
What result would you like to see?
Where do you believe you can obtain the [missing item] from?
Who will support you on / with this?
How do you think you can support yourself?
What do you enjoy doing?
When looking at your “list”, which do you smile at?
How do you feel when thinking of this “item”?

If the goal is quite a “blanket” one, such as… say… “I want to be happy”… this can be much harder to quantify. In such cases, I usually break down this down into much smaller “bites” by looking at how a person would expect to feel or look, dress or eat… when they felt “….goal choice…” and then what change this could potentially result in.

For those that are reading this from a counselling and/or coaching perspective, I hope the above is of use as a starting point… or at least a little bit thought-provoking, and with this in mind, shortly to follow are some posts about kit that I have tested and used on my own running challenges. Hopefully they may prove to be of some help or food for thought for anyone looking for equipment information to use on specific races 

Wishing you a wonderful weekend ahead.
Michelle


From 0 to 100 – North Downs Way 100

16/08/2015

Centurion
It’s been a long way. Over 4000 miles… 4,002 in fact. And 2.5 years, well almost… 6 days short.

Not that either of those facts really matter, but they have brought comfort and reassurance. To go from zero mileage logged on my Runkeeper app to the day I stood at the start line of my first 100 mile race – the North Downs Way 100. What a journey it has been. Some of it blogged about on here, most of it not.

I signed up for this race last year as soon as entries opened. Many have asked why, runners and non-runners alike. Why so much, so soon, especially when I’ve been carrying niggling injuries for most of that time. But why not…

We only get one life… and for the most part, we fill it with the things we choose. Every one of us. Our choices create our life and thus our memories and our legacy… because what we do is who we are, which leads to the experiences in the world we have created. We each have the opportunity to lead by example, to inspire and to demonstrate what is possible… that sounds rather altruistic reading it back, and I am far from that, but if we take it to a smaller level, think about how you feel when you’re having a bad day and someone opens a door for you, smiles at you, helps you… it’s pretty much the same thing really… walking our talk. I take the view that most people can do what I do… if they choose too… and how wonderful life can be, if we but look at all the possibilities we have to experience it… and choose to act on them.

Last year I completed the three main challenges I set out to achieve… to run the London Marathon (my second marathon and the first race I have trained for properly) non-stop and to go from zero to double stage runner in only 18 months with Racing the Planet’s roving race in Madagascar and 15 days after hitting that finish line, to be on the start line of the Grand to Grand Ultra stage race in the USA – 515 km in total. What an absolute amazing experience and one that can never be replicated. It’s still unbelievable to me that I’m the only person in the world to have done those two races together, unless or until RTP hold another one in Madagascar.

So for 2015 I wanted to do another three main challenges. The first was Marathon des Sables, that iconic race across lots of sand which petrifies most people after they’ve signed up and reduces them to weighing every single little thing in their lives… and yes, jelly babies are worth their weight in gold, and you will keep a stack of ziplock bags in your kitchen drawer forever after. Plenty already written about that race on this blog for anyone who’s interested.

The second was 8 marathons in 8 days at the Great Barrow Challenge: they have 10 marathons (or ultras) in 10 days as a yearly event and as I had a wedding to attend, could commit to only 8 of them. I figured it would be good training for a 100 miler, but as it was only 5 weeks before said 100 miler and only 10 weeks after MdS which I hadn’t fully recovered from, every day brought new issues to be resolved: from a dodgy hip flexor that locked up after Day 1 so I started Day 2 literally dragging my leg, to almost going to the local hospital by the end of Day 6 because I thought I had ripped my diaphragm or had a hernia. Plus the ever complaining Achilles… but you know runners… they’ll wait to see how they feel the next morning and hit the start line if they can… 214 miles in total, the majority of it run (I thought Suffolk was flat… there where hills… not North Downs Way type hills thank God, but hilly nonetheless)… with Day 8 being the fastest of the lot and only 25 minutes slower than my PB. New friends made, a fantastic time enjoyed… and a hell of a lot of inspiring people there… from runners who have run 100, 200, 600+ marathons and at all ages, to others who were told they would never run again due to illness and those who were competing in between cancer treatments. If you’ve never heard of the event before, go take a look at it here… oh and it’s not marked… you get printed instructions each day, unless you’re lucky enough to download the course onto your garmin. If you have a garmin that works and is not a 310xt which has a mind of it’s own, that is! So 2 out of 2 challenges achieved, which gave me more confidence for what was looming.

Challenge number 3
My first 100 miler and the North Downs Way 100.

There comes a time when you have to step outside of the comfort zone if you really want to challenge yourself. Now, everything I’d done to date truly had challenged me, but for all that they have been hard, I had considered the practicalities in a very logical manner. Comfortable cut-offs, what I’ve achieved to date, opinions of my coach and sports therapist… logging the training miles… managing the achilles and the knock-on effects of it’s temper tantrums… it’s all been “do-able”. Until now. Not only is 100 miles a bloody long way… but I chose a hilly one to start with. And I don’t do hills. My training has focused on building my endurance for the ever increasing distance and speed to meet the cut-offs (especially a 45 miler at the beginning of the year). On paper, 30 hours for 100 miles seems generous, even if you take into account time for aid stations. The realisation of how tough those hills could be, struck when I had the bright idea to trot along and do the North Downs Marathon on 19 July as a recce of some of the route. My quads have not been felt so trashed for a long time, and that was from only 13 miles along the out and back course! One of the lovely volunteers there also said I’d chosen the hardest one to start with from Centurion Running’s selection, and let’s not forget it’s a qualifier for the Western States. I wondered what I had let myself in for… maybe I should have waited and started with the Thames Path 100 next year with it’s lovely path along the canal, much flatter although not without its own challenges… but a challenge is a challenge… and this was what I had signed up for!

I met up with fellow Striders Dean and Sam who hadn’t done the race before, and Colin who had. Colin’s wife Elisabet had also signed up last year but her plans have gone into overdrive recently so she was not racing. Registration was very easy and only a few minutes walk from the train station and it was there we bumped into Mark, who was also from our local area and runs with Southend Flyers. We had a pretty chilled out evening fuelling up for the task ahead and everyone seemed relaxed. I tried to get some sleep, which wasn’t very successful due to the heat and amount of food consumed (no, it’s not greedy, it’s fuelling 😉 ). Not the best start and the alarm call at 0415 seemed way too early. Get up, get ready and get to the race briefing which was absolutely full. The nerves started. Everyone there looked like a “proper” “serious” runner. I felt totally out of my depth: only a couple of years running, I’m not fast, I don’t do hills… the guys gave me verbal kick and Colin reminded me that it was just a long picnic through the countryside… food… that will work 🙂

We walked to the start line, just down the road… 0600 hours… we were off… just a long picnic… Mark said he didn’t want to go off too quick so would stay with me to the first checkpoint to hold himself back… we trotted along at an easy pace and I was very very conscious I needed to hold back to my own pace and not try to keep up with others as they streamed past, we had all day and half of the next… my idea for running as long as possible to bank time for later seemed sound. The scenery was like something out a film… misty low lying fog covering the fields, the sun climbing through to give an ethereal air, the crunch of footsteps over gravel and trail, houses not yet waking, birds calling across the fields… it felt as if the first aid station and accompanying photographer appeared very quickly… just over an hour… some climbing, some downhills and then I recognised part of the course from the marathon… Mark had run the half marathon route the same day that I had done the full, so got to see the bit he’d missed here… onwards and through part of the Denbies Wine Estate with a lot of downhills, no tourist carts this time… I remembered the trashed quads and prayed that if that kicked in because of this race, it wouldn’t hit until after I’d finished! From there it was on to the infamous Box Hill… we reached Aid Station 3 in just under 5 hours, which was what I had hoped for. Mark decided to stay with me to the halfway point and then when my first pacer met me, would go off and put in some faster miles.

NDW100 - 25m

Next up was the lovely Stepping Stones which looked so peaceful and cool… by now the sun had risen a lot more and the temperature had increased accordingly which made for an added “tough” factor and I’ve heard reports that it was between 28 and 30 degrees: it felt hotter in parts (the car thermometer the next day going home showed 36 degrees outside)… time to take the hat off and swirl it in the water! It was rather tempting to stop and have a dip but given that I knew what was coming, and how slow I’d be, it wouldn’t have been a wise move. We started the climb. Lots of steps. And more steps. And more. Lots of walkers around, looking at you as if you’re completely mad when you answer their question of how long with “only about 75 miles left”. Finish one climb… little jog, little downhill bit… another climb… Stop, breathe, climb, stop, breathe climb. You wouldn’t want to fall down these. Amazing how quickly your energy trickles away… and yet when you reach the top and trot along to where the trees give way to open space, and that vista just opens up… the scenery is simply superb and it feels like you are on top of the world.

No time to rest, onward to Reigate Hill… and it was there that we saw Sam, who had a problem with his knee and had therefore decided to drop. We took a good 10 minute break here, chatting with him, checking he was ok, and refuelling with lots of goodies from yet another awesome array of food. It was a sobering few minutes to see how quickly and easily participation in a race can end! We pushed on through the next two checkpoints at Caterham and Botley Hill and as the hours passed, it seems that some points may have merged into others in my memory… there was a point where Mark jinxed himself… talking about how if he didn’t end up going to hospital this year, it would be the first time in 5 years he hadn’t made a yearly visit, immediately tripping and planting his whole body and face on the trail… I’m sorry to say I laughed, but did make sure he was ok.  He got his own back when a gorgeous friendly tail wagging dog with loads of energy decided as I approached and went to stroke him, to turn from said happy friendly dog to a vicious rabid scramble of biting fury! I’ve never seen a dog change so quickly in my life and was very glad it was on a lead. The owner’s words of “he’s just excited” did not match her sheepish look as she tugged him back! Needless to say I avoided all dogs from that point on just to be on the safe side… and wondered if my rabies shot was still valid! Mark laughed at that one. I think he was also with me when we went past a house that looked as if it had some European “heavies” standing guard… it was like something out of a film… guys standing round smoking cigarettes, in the middle of nowhere.  We did wonder if perhaps someone was “casing the joint” but it looked like there was a lot of activity going on around the house with lots of lights, so we assumed they were private security guards. Rather glad I wasn’t on my own at that point! I also specifically remember a happy volunteer with pom poms dancing about at the top of one of the hills… probably a later Box Hill area but it may have been Botley Hill… I remember they were bright pink or may be red… because Mark and I checked that we hadn’t been going long enough to have hallucinations yet 😀 … definitely too early in the event for that! I’m also pretty sure the Botley Hill aid station was at the top of a lovely climb, in a small car parking area just off a main road… which I had run a little bit of last year as part of the Gatliff50 course… and one of those two checkpoints (probably Caterham) also had a new race favourite… roast potatoes! Whoever brought those… thank you, thank you, thank you… a total energy boost… they tasted amazing! This was a good point in the race for me because I’d also been tracking how long I’d been going and between those two checkpoints I hit the time that I’d completed the Country2Capital race back in January. According to my Garmin (which, alas, has been known to lie to me on occasion), I was only 2.5 miles off my time, which may not mean much to most, but was a great confidence booster because it meant my overall pace was pretty much the same but for a race at over double the distance. I thought I was banking a lot of time for the end…

Anyway, onto the halfway point… Knockhoult Pound… and it was here Mark and I parted company… he to run a lot faster, and me to meet my crew and use the facilities there and basically get a bit of pampering! I must admit it was an emotional moment seeing my friends there… and the volunteers, as with every aid station, could not have been more helpful: directing you to a seat… I admit it, I sat in a Seat of Doom… plying you with hot pasta, getting you extra cheese to put on top, getting you hot drinks… checking you were ok. I decided to change a top, one of my buffs, stock up on tissues and saltsticks… and since a stinking headache by this point was thumping away, take my hairband out. Getting coherent sentences out however was a little harder. Maybe I had pushed too hard? I reckon I took about 40, maybe 45 minutes here. It was worth it.

Super Crew - NDW100Super Crew: Andrew, Dave, Loren & John – 72 miles down

So another new experience… my amazing crew and pacers… John ran with me to the next crew point even though he had a damaged knee himself… I felt more awake and was, I think, able to chat away quite coherently. Then a friend from Southend Flyers took over: Andrew had been at work all day, had just got back from holiday and his wife (the lovely Sam) was taking care of their move to a new home that day so he could come and run with me in the evening! He was down for around 18 miles… I think I was stilll chatting coherently most of the time by this point… and I remember coming up onto the bridge and him making me run across it when I had got to a point I just wanted to walk… and managing to hit a 9.30 minute mile for a wee while… well it felt like ages but may only have been minutes… but it cheered me up a lot. Again, it might not sound much, but I was in totally new territory: my longest race distance to date had been 100k the year before (although MdS was 91.7km for the long stage) and although it was hurting by now, wasn’t as bad as the finish of that 100k, so a definite improvement! It was at that 72 mile point that Andrew then left for the drive home, fellow Strider Dave took over, and the point I was rocking the Forrest Gump look in earnest… not the sharp tidy hair sprinting version, but the long sticking out hair from under a baseball cap, wild-eyed, look shuffling version… not sure it’s a look I should replicate again, and thankfully no photos… I double checked that the following day!

Dave had recced the route a fair bit and had even gone over and re-checked his “section” a couple of days beforehand, which was fantastic because I reckon from this point on, if I’d been on my own, not only would I have been a bit scared by all the rustling in the woods… not just the cars which looked deserted (I bet they weren’t!) but from creatures in the undergrowth… I don’t think they were the car inhabitants either… my awareness levels really dropped in the early hours of the morning and I would have got lost very easily! Instead, I was able to just put my head down and push through, although there were a few bad moments with yet more hills and some very vocal language. I know, hilly course, but the elevation profile really doesn’t do justice to just how many little rocks, steep little inclines that take your breath away and by no means least, the amount of tree roots that you will catch your feet on and stumble over… until all you feel is a bloody swollen tender pulp of a large toe nail that screams with every footstep… all other toes and soles of the feet having been tenderised and then numbed into submission many hours previously!  We went through the night and into the next day… whereupon there was a scary moment… town dwellers indeed… there was a bull… it looked like a bull… it had horns which curved into spikes on each side… and it was stood sideways completely blocking our way forward. It saw us… and didn’t move. We debated the cow/bull thing, assuming it was a bull due to the huge horns that looked like they could impale you very painfully. We backtracked and looked around to find an alternative way forward… barbed wire to one side… impassable area on the other…. I was all for trying to get through the barbed wire, especially when said cow started following us… and then thankfully another competitor came round the corner! He asked us if we lived in the town or country… obviously town, oh the shame… he was so calm and just walked us through… I stayed to his right hand side, away from the horned beast… only to find as we rounded the corner that there were many more… apparently they were cows of a special breed… although he did say that one may have been a bull… so a huge thank you to that competitor… I ran as soon as I could after that bit!

Dave left at Hollingbourne and Loren took over. Only just over 15 miles to go… although according to my lying Garmin it was much less. And the plan of banking time so I could death march all of the end bit if necessary… didn’t work. 30 hours seems a lot… but you take into account how much time you spend at aid stations, even if they are not a lot, they still add up… especially a long stop at the mid way point… and possibly a good 30 minutes Detling, not sure on that one but I do remember joking with Joe there about his “tough love”, and then he kicked me out… thanks Joe, much appreciated… plus there’s the time it takes to get up the never ending amount of “hills”, I’m pretty sure my Garmin said I was on a 20 min mile pace up one steep section… so by this point it was shuffling and stumbling and walking… no tears surprisingly… until the crew point at Charing. John met us there to make sure I had everything I needed… the time was ticking by… and Loren told me just after that point that we couldn’t have another mile at “that” pace… my ego absolutely petrified at the possibility of a DNF (how the hell was this was possible after running parts at a 9.30 min mile at mile 70 I do not know – oh yes, the hills!)… I managed to go from walk to shuffle… swearing all the time that I was never going to do another 100 miler ever again. Yes, I’m sure this has happened to pretty much every runner at some stage… but I honestly meant it! There were still hilly bits so I had to walk those… I had absolutely nothing left to push up them any faster… but on the down, Loren strode ahead to force me to try and keep up… we even hit an 8:11 min mile on one downward stretch which I thought was pretty amazing, my legs were shaky when I got to the bottom… we got into a pattern for those last 7ish miles… “gotta walk”…. “ok run”… “gotta walk”… whinge… “ok run”… “keep me running”… dashed into the last checkpoint, told John to not bother going to the last crew point, just go to the end… and pushed on through the fields until eventually we reached the road… where is it? Round a corner, cross the train line, wait for traffic… dash over the road… the volunteers appearing, just round another corner, c’mon… and there it was… the inflatable finish line… bouncing away… such an amazing emotional sight… I don’t often get tears at the end of a race but I did on this one…

I’ve done it… I’ve run a 100 miler…

NDW100 - Finish

What an absolutely amazing emotional heartfelt incredible moment in my life…

I got my buckle… tried to breathe…

NDW100 - Finish2

Once again the volunteers, amazing… you get your buckle, the photographer takes your photo… you’re helped into the hall and found a seat. Each arrival announced to those already there… a round of applause for every finisher as they step into the hall. The first aid person comes over to check you’re ok while another volunteer is getting you a bacon sandwich… another hands you a cup of tea. You sit and it suddenly seems very surreal… you try to take it all in…

29 hours, 01 minute, 24 seconds – 102.6 miles

So while my Garmin may have lied about distance and time (106 miles and sub 29), and my friend exaggerated a little to get me running and motivated 😉 … and while I may have said never again at the time… I’m left with memories of an amazing day and night of a new adventure, been amazed at the kindness and generosity of spirit of the Centurion Running volunteers and am actually considering doing another… a huge huge thank you to my crew, my coach and sports therapist for getting me to the start line and then the finish line… and a huge thank you to all those at Centurion Running, who have a very well deserved positive reputation for the organisation, helpfulness, kindness and volunteers of their races. I look forward to another, maybe next year 🙂

And for those who think a 100 miler is not possible… or who dream of doing one, one day, but don’t believe it could happen… remember each and every step you take builds the foundation which will get you there, if you choose to take those steps, one at a time.

And for those of who visit my blog who aren’t runners… the same principles apply to all parts of our lives. We ALL have the potential to achieve and encompass more in our lives… to challenge ourselves, to hopefully to open our minds, our beliefs and our hearts… to choose to bring more happiness, laughter, light and of course… new adventures… into our lives.

I’m off to dust my buckle again… and to ponder what new adventure to create next!

Many thanks for taking the time to read and visit here!
Michelle – A Centurion 🙂


The Marathon des Sables, 30th Edition – How hard can it be? – Part 3

10/05/2015

Fear

Resilience

Longing

STAGE 3 – BAKED ALIVE & SCARY TIMES

By the time Stage 3 dawned we were into a pattern… almost like being institutionalised really… you adapt quickly, but then you have to. This is your life for the week… you expect it to be a bit rough and basic. If you don’t, you’re in for a bit of a shock 😉

We went through the usual start… waiting, Patrick speaking… waiting, speaking, waiting, speaking… the music, the countdown… the start line tape fluttering to the ground as runners spilling out… hundreds swarming around, in front and behind… the helicopters flying sideways… the feeling of wondering just what lies ahead…

Small parts of the days fade from memory as time passes once you are back home… I forget just where I bumped into my tentmate Matt, but we were together at Checkpoint 1… he was having a tougher day on Stage 3… so we shuffled along together along the flats… he’s strong, he’d done countless Ironman events all across the world… and he’s faster than me. I had a lot of time / places to make up so wanted to try and push through the day and therefore decided to try and keep up with him.

You’re in the Sahara, surrounded by sand… it’s hot. You’d think that would be a given but one year there were flashfloods, so it ain’t necessarily so. However we had heat and lots of it. I’ve heard some video clips that say it was in the 40s, and I’m sure it was at points… but Stage 3 was what I called Salt Flats day and this day felt Hot! Hot! Hot! We had a lot of flat runnable terrain including dried up lakes but due to the heat there was total haze in the distance behind us as I looked back at Checkpoint 1… total haze in the distance in front of us… and around us… pretty hard to get a photo while actually running!

Running

There was hardly any breeze to help… and it was this day which coined my phrase of “being baked from the feet up and the head down”. It felt unrelenting and I’ve since heard we hit temps of 50+! One foot in front of the other, keep going, keep pushing… but when you looked up… when you saw where you were… what a feeling… people seem to think and talk about how tough the race is all the time, but there are also lots of great times… of laughter, fun, joy… what’s not to love about exercising, being in nature, being with friends? I obviously hated it…

237

And just because you’re in the middle of a desert, it doesn’t mean that there is only sand… ok it may not be the prettiest scenery to some… but there’s a saying by Henri Matisse: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them“…

flowers

and the smell… I think it may be camomile but at points you get a waft of the most delicious fragrance…

and the birds… listen for the birds… out on this stage I kept hearing birds… apparently they nest on the ground in bushes or plants… I couldn’t see them but could hear them…

I’m glad I did, because those moments kept me going through what came next… I’ll give you one guess… yep, more dunes. Rolling sand dunes… one after the other, after the other, after the other… and boy did you get baked! They weren’t too high but as Matt pointed out later that day… the inclines were deceptive. We were getting in some elevation and it was sapping the energy from our legs. You’d hit the up and feel a breeze… get to the bottom and feel like you were just burning… and up to the top… search for the breeze, suck it in… hit the down, burn… and on and on and on… until it was time for another jebel! Two main ones on this day… I remember one part being particularly narrow… pushing on through… seeing Ian Corless waiting to take photos, telling him Matt was just behind… I kept pushing… until I saw camp in the distance… shuffling through more and more soft sand… amazingly coming in 6 minutes ahead of Matt and feeling rather pleased with myself.

Then we waited for Mike… Mike who had waited with me the day before to help Gwynn… 30 minutes… which became an hour… then an hour and a half… I must have stepped away for a few minutes, I can’t remember where to, but when I returned Mike was back.

But… things weren’t looking good. Mike was laid down, not talking properly… my other tentmates trying to get him to drink water and have something to eat. He needed hydration badly… one of the guys from #116 next door came in and checked him over… someone from the med tent came down to us… they checked him over as well… the verdict? He had to get to the med tent where they could keep an eye on him 😦 They got him up… arm under his shoulders… walked him over there…

Some time later 3 of us wandered over to go see how he was doing, have a chat, try to lift his spirits… that was the intention. It didn’t quite work out like that. The med tent was very busy, there was a queue… we looked in and saw Mike on a camp bed sitting upright and next to him appeared to be an opening… we went round that way instead so we could stand by him… he’d “gone”. Even now… typing this… it’s upsetting. Where are those tissues?

It was scary, it was worrying… and I never want to see him, or anyone else, in that position ever again. He was sitting up yes, but hunched, his hands gripping the sides of the camp bed, rocking slightly back and forth… he didn’t hear us, he didn’t acknowledge us… he didn’t speak… his eyes were totally gone, he was in a faraway land and I was scared… he had his water bottle with him, no drip… how the hell could he drink his water and get hydrated in that state? We stayed for a few moments, tried to hug him, let him know we were there. Nothing. No real response. We collared one of the med guys… they’d been checking him every so often, along with others… we insisted he had a drip. Now!  He needed help, Now! They promised us they’d do so, but insisted we left. They needed the space, had more people coming in. It was awful, just awful leaving him behind… not able to stay, not able to help. We went back some time later… but the docs were busy then helping him too…

Our tent waited. We waited to hear news, waited to see if he’d return… wondered if he would return that night and if so, as time ticked on, how on earth he’d be able to tackle the next day because the next day was the Long Day, the one day everyone fears and worries about out of all the others. It’s the one you hold back at the beginning for, the one you want to reach because it’s the one most likely to break you. The guys got his bed ready, figuring that if he did return tonight, he wouldn’t want to be faffing about sorting his bag and stuff out… he’d need to get into bed and get to sleep.

JOY!

He turned up!!!! It was late, very late by camp standards… around 2200 hours, but he turned up. What a happy happy moment…

He shuffled into his sleeping bag… we tried to sleep….

STAGE 4 – THE LONG DAY aka THE DAY YOU NEVER WANT TO REPEAT!

After what felt like only an hour’s sleep, it was time to get up. I’d probably managed about 2-3 hours proper sleep at the most, not ideal for what lay ahead… just under 92km of terrain to be covered in one hit before reaching the next camp. We checked to see how Mike felt… he was determined to toe that start line. If he ended up not finishing MdS it wouldn’t be through choice… just like Gwynn the day before (who, by the way, came in on Day 3 in position 135 I believe… amazing!)… what determination, to absorb what happens, suck it up… push through… learn from it, use it as a stepping stone… what Resilience…

It was “windy” or breezy as we called it! Every evening in camp we had had sandstorms hit… if you were out of the tent, you’d have to turn your back so as to breathe… pull your buff up around your face, keep your sunglasses on… that way you didn’t get blasted too badly as they swept through… although of course you were still breathing sand, eating sand… absorbing sand… but the morning of Stage 4 it kicked up a notch… the start line inflatables bouncing away… hair whipping the face… I actually naively believed this was a good thing… at least it would keep the temperature down!

The atmosphere too was heightened… front row start today… the faster runners were held back… no Elisabet to give me a reassuring smile 😦 … waiting, waiting, waiting… the nerves building… how tough would it be, how long would we be out for… how the hell are we going to see through the swirling dust and sand… how much slower should I go… have I got enough nutrition snacks to see me through… how will the feet hold out… should I stop and sleep and should I push through… when will the elites pass me… I hurt… my back aches so badly… my shoulders are so sore… my eyes, feet and face feel puffy… will I get more blisters… how tough will be it be… how long can I go for… when will this bloody sand stop swirling… Patrick please stop speaking… oh thank god the music is playing and countdown has started… Oh god it’s starting… can I walk yet?…

All these thoughts flash through in moments… we were released…

And we were going the way we had come in… uphill, on very soft sand that over a thousand competitors had churned up the day and evening before… pointless to waste energy at this point… I walked.

We reached the base of the last jebel from Stage 3, huge boulders of rock… only instead of jumping, climbing and running down them, now it was time to go up. Steep sheer rock on either side… creating a tunnel of heat… I took my time, conscious oh how far there I still had ahead of me… people passed… until eventually I reached the top and paused to absorb the view… only… what if I had to go down the other side the way I had come up 😦 … that had not been a good moment… we didn’t… but…

there was a rope…

it was a long way down…

and it looked steeper looking down than it did once I’d reached the bottom, looking back up…

I took a last glug of water, stashed the bottle onto the top of my front pack… grabbed the rope and turned my back. No way was I going down face first. Inch by inch, step by step… I was conscious others wanted to get past… I stopped so a couple of guys could do so… I reached the last bit of rope and had to turn round… time to dig the heels in. Others were racing down, I tried… but due to how steep it was, picked up too much speed too quickly… I didn’t want to fall and there were lots of rocky bits in the sand and if you didn’t hold back enough you’d take out people below… I later heard someone had come down so fast they had such a choice… potentially take out others or veer towards rocks… he apparently veered towards and somersaulted onto the rocks and was very lucky not to get severely injured, only smashing his mouth in. Shudder.

I reached the bottom and looked back up… my God, I’d actually come down THAT! I took a picture… and as I squinted at it in the sunshine, it didn’t seem to do much justice to just how steep it was…

Stage 4 Jebel descentPhoto copyright: Michelle Payne

I zoomed in and took another… Wow… look at them go… little ants speeding through the sand…

Zoomed in stage 4 jebel descentPhoto copyright: Michelle Payne

I felt rather proud of myself for completing that bit! However, much more distance to get done… time to get going. I’d already been overtaken by a few of the front runners, including a couple of women… but it was at this point Elisabet passed… she’d been First Lady for the first three days but wasn’t going to go all out on Stage 4, rather maintain as consistent a pace as she could on the terrain… as she said, the day was a long race and it wouldn’t do to be “blowing up”.  She waved, paused very briefly and checked how I was doing… another Brit just ahead asked her to have a photo taken with him… she paused with him too, had her photo taken… chatted as she passed people… looked to be enjoying her day… making it look easy! I put my head down and continued… memory fails and most of the day has kind of blurred into wondering which bits happened where… but eventually I reached Checkpoint 4, which was roughly the halfway point so I thought, the light would be dimming and time to get the headtorch out. Now… do I wait and see if there’s anyone I can buddy up with as I’ve done on previous races or go it alone? On the last two races there were a lot less competitors and you were likely to end up with no-one around you, sometimes for quite a time… in another country this could be quite dangerous… but here? As I was debating, I saw Nichola from next door #116… she was part of the Walking with the Wounded team and we’d first met briefly at the Country to Capital race back in January. She was taking a few minutes to get her pack sorted and would then continue… we decided to pair up and I must admit I felt very reassured as I’d been feeling a bit yucky and thought I was getting a stomach bug… as it turns out, I think it’s more a reaction to the heat and stresses of the event, as I’ve had this on every stage race at this point! I dug out some anti nausea tabs… Nichola sorted out a milkshake and we cracked on…

No laser beam to guide us in as darkness fell on the 30th edition… I was rather disappointed about that as I’d been looking forward to experiencing it… instead we were given glow sticks… these were “switched” on (cracked) and pretty soon we were onto sand… and there was the theme that was to accompany us for the rest of the stage. Dunes, dunes, more dunes… dear god how many were there until the next checkpoint? You could have been forgiven for thinking you were hallucinating… by the time we got to checkpoint 5, it seemed there was a party going on… music blaring out, deckchairs, and a bar… a bar that was serving hot sweet tea…

We collected our water and since we had planned on having a little rest to check feet, blisters, snacks… snagged two deckchairs that were miraculously empty… it was also cold and once you stopped you could feel the wet of your clothes where you’d been sweating… no daytime heat to dry you out… I pulled out a top which I’d deliberately put inside the top of my pack to keep warm. Nic got her sleeping bag out… just a little snooze…

Nic - Stage 4 CP5Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

I didn’t dare… I knew if I got mine out and snuggled into it, it would be even harder to get back out there! I got another cup of tea. Patrick was there, dancing with a racer… there was much laughter… people hobbling in and out of the deckchairs… it sucked you in… you could forget where you where… you could have a little sleep… how easy just to drift off, take your time… you’d still have all day tomorrow, would that be so bad? 5 minutes more…

Our planned 30 minutes were up… 13k of sand dunes apparently behind us, surely there wouldn’t be that much more ahead! Another quick cup of warm sweet tea downed… the top put into the pack, shivering… it had gotten much colder… time to move, get the legs going… we left…

Sand, sand, sand, we noticed a couple of guys out to our far right getting quite a pace on… Nic figured that they must know where they’re going, there must be a reason for it. We decided to copy them and were happy to find the ground was a little firmer, probably helped because it hadn’t had hundreds and hundreds of competitors churn it up. Time passed… we made good progress all things considered… my stomach was not good… I dug out some different tablets… my watch had failed… probably because it had taken on quite a bit of water when I was pouring it all over myself during the day… Nic kept reminding me when it was time to take my salt tablets… we reached checkpoint 6 and although we’d planned on a good 20 minute break, pushed through after only 10. Between checkpoints 5 and 7 we hit a bad sandstorm… there was no let up in it. No goggles to protect my eyes… nothing to stop the sand blasting my face… hard to breathe… I changed my buff to cover my head, neck, mouth and nose as best I could… it was a bit harder to breathe but at least I wasn’t sucking as much sand into my lungs… I pulled it as close to my eyes on the side as I could… I turned my head sideways so I could still keep going… but the sand blasted my eyes a lot. I squinted. This was one of the more hellish times of that stage and the night… the terrain was tough to push through… I felt miserable, cold, nauseous and my stomach was cramping… my top was wet with sweat and water from where I’d poured it earlier in the day… I didn’t dare stop and take my pack off to get my top back out… my achilles was screaming at me… I worried what damage I was doing to it on a more permanent basis… the negative thoughts started crowding my mind…

Nic kept talking to me… pulling me away from the place where I wanted to just stop, curl up and sleep on the side of the dune (some people actually did do this I believe)… we made a good team. When I was down, she was up… when she went down, I was up… we balanced each other well and kept each other going! We eventually hit checkpoint 7… the last one before home… what a relief that was. As we came through I remember the person who clipped our water cards ask if I wanted a fresh bottle of water. I had no energy left for conversation and managed to snap out “No”. Are you ok? A short and sharp No in reply. Do  you want to see a doctor? No. Are you pushing straight on? Yes. I wasn’t meaning to be rude, but I had nothing left to give. The world was not a sunny nice happy place, but the dark twisted sandy hell that Patrick had created, which although we had willingly undertook to go through and paid for the privilege of doing so… at this point in time, had led to the question of why the hell were we here? We’d “pondered” this extensively during the course of the night… and by pondered I mean cursed the place, the course, the race, and the director himself… with every descriptive swear word I think either of us have ever heard or used and maybe created a few new ones… well you do have hours of sandy hell to fill as you trudge through… I think we’d have made a navvy blush… but hey, when you are going through that many hours on course, regardless of how fast you are going, when you feel like you are going to throw up for hours on end, endure stomach cramps, dehydration, can’t bear to get any food into you to keep you going and when you are literally falling asleep as you walk… I think you earn the right to swear as much or as badly as you want!

The sun started to rise… we kept seeing lights and hoping it was camp… but no… vehicles on course checking racers were ok or tending to some by the side of the dunes… we kept going, our feet tenderised by the constant pounding like pieces of steak… we caught site of the camp from a long distance and picked up a bit of speed, the ground a little rockier… another crest, and more distance… it felt like a mirage you could never quite reach! See… twisted! Until eventually the finish line… and just in front… oh yes, another little sandy hill… we saw one person go round by the side… others go over it… we looked at each other.. after everything we’d been through, how could we NOT go over it! It had to be done… we were not going to wuss out at this point. Hell no! We pushed over it and then trotted over the finish line.. the relief immense as we hugged each other. Long Stage done in one go!

I’ve done a few races which are longer than this stage… I’ve been out on course for longer.. but never have I felt so absolutely destroyed during a race as I felt during that one stage… 21 hours 42 minutes and 49 seconds…

I reached the tent… my tentmates awake… all back except Mike… I dumped my stuff, had a protein drink, inflated my thermarest, got out of my wet cold clothes, laid down… I must have instantly fallen asleep… for all of an hour. I got up, pottered around… a couple of hours later and Mike returned! We had a full tent! Now this may not sound such a big thing, but it is… and given everything Mike had gone through on Stage 3… to then hit the start line after being so ill, to push through such an awful evil hell of a Long Stage and without stopping for sleep!… stubborn, resilient, crazy, admirable and strong. Someone I am very proud to call friend!

I managed another hour’s sleep. Everyone pottered during the day, I tried to wash some of my running gear… we all pinned our clothes up and our tent looked like a laundry… at least I didn’t wander into someone else’s tent during this day, something I’d do unwitting every single day as they all look the same! Eventually the last racers came in… everyone congregated around the finish line and clapped them in. The hours seemed to pass slowly but before you knew it, another stunning sunset, time to eat and get to sleep for the next stage ahead. Just where does the time go in Patrick land?

Holiday 2015 - Morocco - Marathon des Sables 30th Edition 087Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

STAGE 5 – TAKING IT EASY

Marathon day dawned and I wondered if I’d ever be able to see again properly… due to all that lovely sand blasting, I could barely open one of my eyes. They were both swollen badly, but one side was much worse. I knew it was bad but it wasn’t until I got home and saw some photos that I realied quite how bad I looked… as if I’d been in a boxing ring, had gone 10 rounds and lost badly! Thank God my glasses covered everything up!

Anyway… the last day for competitive purposes… the faster runners being held back once more. We were on the front row… myself, Matt, Gwynn and James… Mike behind us… the other 3 in the fast group… it still took a while before we were released as usual… but once that tape was lowered, James sprinted off… leading the MdS… how could I not do the same?

jamesleadingPhoto copyright: James Penson

The last day… I may never be here again, may never race across the Sahara or hear the Highway to Hell again in such a venue… never experience the whirr of the helicopter blades as it passes sideways as runners stream across the sand… that little sprint didn’t last long for me… I slowed… and continued slowing until I walked. I felt surprisingly ok. The legs were like lead but to be expected… the achilles hurting… to be expected… I walked, or rather fast marched pretty much the rest of that day. Not because I couldn’t run… not because I didn’t want to place higher or make any places back up… I chose to walk because I wanted the day to last longer. It sounds crazy after the Long Stage, after calling Patrick Bauer every name under the sun (and then some 🙂 ), but our tent had agreed to walk the Charity Stage together so this would be my last day, just for me. I wanted to remember it as much as possible, to choose to enjoy it… to look back on what the journey to MdS had encompassed… what I had experienced in this wild and wonderful place. Don’t you find that too often when we look back, we remember the stuff we feel we “should” have done rather than acknowledge what we have achieved and experienced? What if we lived our lives going forwards with such acknowledgement, such gratitude at the experiences we have been lucky to have… to let them change us, let them help us to grow and become… “more”?

There was heat, there was sand… there were smiles and brief chats with other competitors… there was a herd of camels… I never knew they made the sound they did en masse… amazing! One checkpoint, then two… then the final hill and a little shuffle… I passed someone who looked like Patrick but felt confused… wasn’t he at the finish line to give me my medal, a hug and kiss on each cheek? The finish line appeared… I hung back… I didn’t want it to be over! There was then a gap before me and the finish line… I ran it… how could you not? Done. Finished. No Patrick Bauer… it had been him on the hill… instead 3 assistants handing out the medals… to be honest I felt a little disappointed after watching all the youtube videos and marketing about that… I gather it’s so there isn’t a queue building up… understandable, but still disappointing.

I checked my time, just over 7 hours… and I think ranking of 701 of the day… amazingly, even though I’d dropped so much on Stage 2, I had managed to gain back most of those places – overall position 744, not that it really mattered. Unless you’re in the elite category, who really cares what position you get… most of the time people just want to know if you managed to finish it!

The rest of the evening passed in a blur as we still had to go through the usual daily rituals, although I did get to see Elisabet crowned Ladies winner that night… she’d won every day, total grand slam! Nice trophy too 🙂

STAGE 6 – CHARITY STAGE

Everyone in blue… tents walking together… the “race” aspect finished and this was much more about unity and highlighting the charity Unicef… although our tent had started together, Elisabet and I ended up walking a little faster, chatting about everything we’d been through over the week, what we had planned for when we got home… the messages we’d received from friends and loved ones at home… support from our local running club (we both run under affiliated club Leigh on Sea Striders)… and then there it was… the last finish line… we paused before it and took some photos, saying hi and chatting to others… and then it was straight onto the coaches… another 6 hours back to town, to the hotel… to clean running water… to a proper bed!

POST RACE

You certainly appreciate the little things when you’ve been through such an extreme experience… food that is not rehydrated or in a bar! Drinks, fresh fruit… to sleep in a bed… toilets, a shower… shampoo… to be able to brush your hair! Proper sleep…

The last day was spent… queuing. Well in part… you had to go and pick up your finishers t-shirt, which was way too small and fits a teddy bear… I jest not… no gym bragging rights for most competitors this year 😦 check out any goodies/memorabilia you wanted to buy from the “store” they had going on in the same room… Elisabet was also already in demand for an interview so I collected her stuff and her trophy! A few people wanted to hold it and touch it… I was petrified I’d drop it, damage it or break it…

More food, celebratory drinks… the UK gathering/party… we found an appropriate spot afterwards for Elisabet…

Queen of the DesertPhoto copyright: Matthew Cranham

and then time for the journey home. Away from the heat, the sand… backpack training… rehydrated food… but also away from your tent, your friends… from an experience that changes you… that leaves you with a longing… for the new family you have created and spent time with… for the heat (especially when you return to the cold UK)… for being able to leave the everyday worries and routine behind for something much simpler… for the opportunity to meet like-minded people, for the running, the scenery, the challenges, the happy, the sad, the exciting, the scary…

and a feeling of gratitude for being able to have the experience of all those things… so to end this post, I will simply say thank you to all those who have supported me along the way to this event and during it… and especially to:

my friend and coach Rich Condon for the past 2 years, for keeping me going, getting me there, for believing in me…

my friend and sports therapist Sandy Pass for keeping my legs and heart in one piece, for having my back…

and to Tent #117… simply… the best x

Tent 117Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

Now… as for my next little challenge… just how hard could it be?

© May 2015 Michelle Payne

 


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