Badwater 135 – The Race

19/10/2017

(This is from memory, and given the length of challenge and sleep deprivation, is as I remember it… the crew may likely have a slightly different perspective, especially about my sleepy grumpiness hahaha… it’s also a long read, so grab a coffee beforehand if you want to continue reading… )

… we started towards Badwater Basin…

this was it…

Photo copyright: AdventureCORPS Inc.

I got my tracker attached… we had our team photo taken… crew chief Cheryl was going over a final check through with the vehicle and gear… Pamela and I took the opportunity to joke around doing a yoga crow balance before Cheryl came back and told us off… not to risk an injury just before the race! Naughty oops 🙂

We gathered together to get ready for the start… it’s Badwater baby…

Photo copyright: Pamela Hogue

then…. OMG WE ARE AT BADWATER….

Photo copyright: Pamela Hogue

The race director Chris Kostman called the runners… 8pm wave photo, social media scan and talk… and then we were off… no major fanfare, no crowds… just the runners, staff and crew… a few bystanders… more a case of “oh ok then, just off for a bit of a trot…”

It was hot… and when they say it’s hot in Death Valley, they’re not joking: even the toilets flush with hot water (yes, I checked)… 8pm and it was like running into a huge fan which was blasting furnace-like temperature heat at you with nowhere to escape. Stupidly I didn’t put a hat on as there was no sun. Bit of a mistake right there. It was apparently surprisingly humid… usually 0% but come race day that had risen to around 25%… I figured that shouldn’t be a problem coming from the UK where I live with much higher humidity. I saw lightning in the distance to my right… good, not going that way. Lightning to the left… uh oh… I’d heard there had been flash flood warnings and some rain for part of the course, but hoped that would have dissipated before I reached any such areas. Having never been anywhere near a flash flood, Cheryl and team had been drilling it into me that if I saw running water, to stop and not push through… even only a couple of inches could hide debris and be dangerous.

It’s just a run, a race… it will start and finish… just like every other one… you can do this… don’t go out too fast… pull back… pace feels ok… hmmm that’s a bit warm… 10 minutes later… damn, head’s a bit hot, could have done with an ice pack in my baseball cap… hmmm this feels rather uphill… how many miles to the turn? The thoughts kept turning over in my head… the crew leapfrogged past… I’d originally thought of every 10 miles but in this heat was glad Cheryl had insisted on every 3…

By mile 13 the stomach felt decidedly sloshy 😦 … I didn’t want any food and started having trouble drinking the very warm water in the bottles. I generally run with water and don’t do energy drinks or powders, and had struggled with finding any type of drink that I liked except for orange and lemonade which was flat in the States, no carbonation! Yummmmm…  I’d also planned for a recovery protein drink to be available to sip at stops between certain sections. We brought this forward… anything to get calories and liquid in… the section to Furnace Creek passed relatively easily and I stopped there briefly to use the facilities… then on to Stovepipe Wells… running that first night felt good… no star gazing due to cloud cover and runners spreading out… but that meant I had time on my own… in the utter stillness and peace of the night… a small downhill section, the crew ahead… music playing… I was actually doing this… at a race that many dreamed of, a dream achieved… I put my arms out wide, threw my head back and just let my legs fly briefly… a feeling of pure happiness and joy washed over me… a car drove past… so I stopped until they’d disappeared from view, and then did it again. 🙂

Dawn appeared, as did Stovepipe Wells… I wanted my ice-cream… they do amazing ice cream there… but the machine at the gas station shop wasn’t working 😦 can we say disappointed bunny? … checked in to the Time Station, got stocked up from the crew… Jenny waiting, pacer number attached, ready to join for the first climb up to Towne Pass. I already knew this would be a walk-run strategy as although it had seemed very flat when we checked it out pre-race, looking backwards would show how deceptive that incline was. Plus my legs hurt. And it was hot. (Excuses for walking were never far away!) I’d also had my baseball cap on for some time by this point, and had been ecstatically embracing the ice bag babies that would keep on being replenished to the finish line! The only problem was they melted so quickly. We went through a lot of ice… ice bags under the baseball cap… yes I know I looked like I had a double head, but by then I really didn’t care… ice bags in the short pockets, ice down the SPF arm sleeves… the water bags then dispersed down the neck, down the top, down the back, down the legs… not such a good idea bursting them to run down the inside of your shorts though…

Slow progress, the crew kept swapping pacing duties… when I say paced, I mean accompany because they were behind and stayed at the speed I set… no rushing this one, the main aim was just to finish… Jenny swapped over to Becky… swapped to Cheryl… on we went… then a fantastic long winding downhill section towards Panamint… Pamela with me on this one for a little while until I jammed the music back on… picked up the pace… now I know you get advised not to steam down this bit but had assumed (mistake number 3) that that was because a long steepish downhill would trash your quads and I actually quite like (non-mountainous steep that you’re not going to kill yourself on) downhill running because I can actually run (versus the awful kill me now I’m dying uphill sections I trudge)… so I just couldn’t resist and let go… it felt utterly amazing… I felt like I was a “really fast” runner for once, you know like those who can run a sub 3 marathon, or an 18 minute park run… I wasn’t just running… I was really running, faster than I felt I’d ever run before… my garmin had died so I had Jenny’s watch on… it felt like I hit speeds momentarily that I don’t even do on my 200m repeats training… dial it back Michelle, the cadence ramping up due to the incline (it was steeper than I had expected)… 4.25… whoa what??? Is that minute per kilometre or mile… must check with Jenny… am I seeing things…. I remember going past a few runners that I expected to finish many hours ahead of me (and they did)… but it felt so good even with a feeling of “brakes on” due to the degree of incline, so I kept trying to dial it back… I didn’t slow down enough…

Big mistake… you’re running down to a valley which will then slowly rise up again… midway down to that valley I swear lies a blanket… above the blanket (the first half of the run) the heat was bearable… you then go through this blanket layer and the heat just hits you… but you don’t properly realise because it takes a while for your dazed sleep-deprived brain to stop focusing on the good happy endorphin rush and understand that your core temperature is heating up… now Furnace Creek may have been so named because it’s like being in a furnace, but I swear at midday, Panamint Springs is hotter!

I reached the crew car… and blew up… it was like standing in some sort of mini heatwave which emanated outwards from inside my body… then sitting perched on the back of the car with a body that felt like it was being cooked from the inside out, feet throbbing from suspected blisters (and once I’d stopped running, boy were they stinging), feeling sick, dizzy and unable to eat, I thought my race was over.


Thankfully, the crew were experienced so dealt with the situation rather than making any hasty decisions about ending my race… ziplock bags went over trainers and into an ice bowl to cool my feet, neck wraps soaked in icy water were draped around my neck, ice-filled ziplock bags were placed inside my baseball cap and into my shorts pockets and arms sleeves, and a water-soaked scarf was draped over my head… Becky (who is a sports massage therapist) worked on getting my legs to stop seizing up. Just a couple of miles to get to Panamint… there would be no running there… slow painful steps, the scarf soaked again, wrapped around my head to block out everything… my crew got me up, got me walking and I eventually staggered into Panamint time station.

How on earth was I going to run that distance again… I could barely walk. We got checked in, the crew got my stuff and helped me over to the campground showers… I was so grateful they allowed us to use them… that melted ice water that went everywhere, including down the inside of the shorts?… Chafing! Bad bad chafing… it was soooo sore, it was almost tear-inducing… I could hardly lift my arms up… had to be helped… the shower was so good, but oh so bad… and for those who have experienced any kind of chafing, you know how it can sting when the water hits… it brought tears… and negative thoughts… I went to brush my teeth… holy hell… that orange and lemonade I’d been drinking… pure acid… now as I’d expected some sensitivity had brought along mouthwash at the suggestion of my dental hygienist, but OMG that was pure pain… is any race worth this? And while my legs weren’t running, the mental negativity was off at a fast pace… is any race worth possible scarring, worth the pain, the money, the abuse you put your body through… how much worse is it going to get… what if I can’t finish… who am I to think I can do this… how the hell did I even get here… chatted to the crew, got a verbal kick up the backside… with more to follow throughout the rest of the race… I’d expected this and had forewarned them… also of what and who I wanted to reminded of… friends who had pushed through challenges, other racers I’ve met who are enduring life threatening illnesses… the charity I was fundraising for and the help they gave to others… miles dedicated to certain people… as the saying goes, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change!

Nothing different really to certain points I’ve reached in most of the challenges I’ve done… and isn’t this part of why we do it… because of the journey that such challenges take us on… they can take you to the deepest, darkest parts of who you think you are… challenge your beliefs, your strengths, your weaknesses, your hopes and your fears… and they change you… because once you’ve experienced these things, like everything else in life… they change you. You will never “not have done this”…

New kit on… new tape… hobbling back over the road (for those following that wondered why my tracker said I was slightly away from everyone else… this would probably be why 🙂 ) to get some food… but I couldn’t eat… everything felt dry… my crew kept telling me to eat, I kept replying I wasn’t hungry, sounding a bit of a spoiled brat! There was a medic centre with someone dealing with footcare, so I hobbled over to the Cottage… sat down and waited my turn… and ended up having a chat with Jon vonHof as he sorted my feet out, none other than the author of Fixing my Feet. I was rather whingey by this time, calloused areas had somehow appeared with liquid beneath many layers of skin, so it was sore to flex the feet, let alone touch them. Jon pointed out he couldn’t get any of the red stuff out that had formed beneath those callouses and that they were actually in really good condition compared to some others, so he did what he could and then expertly taped them up. I have to say they weren’t white and they certainly hadn’t appeared to be callouses before the race! It was so cool and comfortable in there, and the sofa would have been perfect for a snooze, however my crew dragged me out. Time to get moving. We’d spent more time than we should have there.

Father Crowley beckoned.  The sun was out, showcasing such stunning views that no photograph can do justice to the area. It’s like someone had painted a canvas background which didn’t look real. We took turns in seeing what images the clouds and rocks formed… and there were many… walk, shuffle, walk…

Up to Darwin and into the second night… memory fades badly and looking back at the timing splits, I don’t think I’ve ever plodded any sections of a race so slowly… shows what the cumulative effects can be… and whilst I can’t say for sure that the pre-race sleep deprivation had an effect, I know I’ve never felt so bad on a night section before: I remember struggling to keep the eyes open, blurry red lights in the distance occasionally, mostly walking as my feet hurt so much, every step stinging, being so tired, struggling to get even a crisp or two eaten, demanding sleep. I ended up taking two naps in the front car seat, one 15 minutes long… no idea when or where that was. The second was at Darwin time station… I do however remember there was very loud music from another car… I eventually dropped off only to be woken a few minutes later by the crew… they’d let me have around 20 minutes, maybe even 30 in total.

We started off again… Brad passing us… I was surprised to see him, thinking he’d be way ahead… he’d had a bad turn and had had to lie down for an hour or so I think. I remember what looked like sand washed trail… and I think this was where some flash floods had happened the day before…

We kept going.  And then I had my first ever experience of throwing up on a race. I’ve felt nausea before, had the stomach sloshing… but I’ve never been in the position where I physically couldn’t stop myself from throwing up… first time for everything I guess… not that I had anything in my stomach. The crew were amazing, keeping me going, trying to get me to eat and drink, even making hot tea to carry with me (what can I say? I’m British 🙂 ). By then I’d also got the hang of the biffy bags…

Hari, this section included since you specifically asked… for those that wonder just what a biffy bag is, I suggest you google 😀 … the National Parks have certain requirements that must be obeyed… and one is that you can’t just go to the toilet anywhere you please! Plus it’s pretty open with nothing much to hide behind… at least in MdS you have mini dunes some of the time… now these bags are like a plastic black bin bag but also have some stuff in there to help with biodegrading (I didn’t look too closely), and some plastic gloves to obviously dispose of said bag. They took a bit of getting used to, but that first time… and let’s not forget that with all that running your legs get stiff… I struggled… and there seemed to be a bit of wind blowing that bag around… Pamela offered to help lower me into position… and came up to stand in front of me to preserve a lingering sense of modesty if any runners were approaching the area (always remember to turn your headtorch off people), she was chatting merrily away as I tried to work out how to hold and place the damn bag and get into a safe position!… and then stood there chatting… facing me… totally unconcerned and unaware… I’m like… Pamela!!! What? Ohhhhh right…. she turns around and carries on chatting…. noooo, move away….. this far? No further… she turns around to face me, this ok?… I could barely reply for laughing… now there’s crewing and then there’s above and beyond… some people just automatically go the extra mile (I think my whole crew deserve that accolade)… on a serious note, I’ve since recommended these to runners who have Crohns and other IBDs, people who have struggled to train long runs because of what they experience with their diseases, so if you are reading this and wonder if there are any products that could help you run where there may not be appropriate facilities… check them out. I believe they’re available on Amazon UK otherwise check out http://www.biffybag.com. But Pamela, remember where you asked about my favourite memories… this has become one of them hahaha!

Photo copyright: Michelle Payne (taken by crew)

Jenny had encouraged me through the night to look up at the sky (don’t wanna), enjoy where you are (don’t care)… keep your eyes open (can’t)… eat some food (not hungry)… to the point where I most certainly wasn’t a joy to be around… especially when she started laughing at me (I really wasn’t a happy bunny at that point)… trying to force me to eat (I’m a bit stubborn myself)… and shoving rice cakes at me, asking every 30 seconds are you eating, until I waved a rice cake angrily under her nose and swore (literally) that I was eating the damn rice cake… (guess what I bought when I got home)… anyway, daylight dawned as we were on the way to Lone Pine… a long flat stretch that I had hoped, pre-race, to run. Unfortunately come race day I wasn’t feeling quite so energetic, and Jenny with me again during this point, getting similar responses to the nighttime when she kept asking if I could shuffle (I had cheered up at other points though, wasn’t being a totally moody cow the whole way… I don’t think)… and on either side of this road we were walking was sand… with flies… and the flies buzzed a lot… and there seemed to be a couple that were determined to stay with us the whole way. Now I know with the heat and sweat over those 50 miles since Panamint you’re not going to be the freshest person out there… but those flies  seemed completely enamoured of me: such affection not reciprocated, especially when they kept going in front of my face as if to sting. I kept trying to wave them away. They reappeared… I got more grumpy as they wouldn’t get lost… the air started turning a bit blue… and I have no idea how Jenny didn’t get annoyed with them when they buzzed her but they were seriously aggravating me… I guess you had to be there, but to anyone who didn’t know what we were doing, we must have looked a pair of crazy people… shuffling along, sweating clothes, stinking… flies buzzing around us, hands waving… and in the end I couldn’t bear it any longer and muttered Jenny just … just….. “just what” she said… “Kill them” I replied… “just kill them… kill them all”… she cracked up. Lone Pine appeared like a mirage in the distance, one that took hours to materialise and eventually I reached the outskirts with Pamela alongside…  and as we approached the town we saw another runner ahead. It gave me the impetus to shuffle into a trot… the drive to compete (yes, even as a back of the pack runner) was still there… we got nearer and then realised she (Coleen) had flip flops on… if I thought my feet were painful as I’d whinged to my crew, well hers were worse and here she was pushing on… it was an incredibly inspiring moment. She wasn’t sure she would finish… well anyone who can push on like that, we told her we’d expect to see them at the finish line because she’d come so far and pushed through so much. We picked up the pace and were back to a walk run pacing… until we got to the time station. I had a crazy few minutes here thinking I was actually going to get a couple of hours sleep. Most people were ahead, there was absolutely no pressure to have to leave immediately and finish in X hours… it was just about a finish. The crew were unloading part of our vehicle into our rooms… they asked what I wanted to do…

Photo copyright: Michelle Payne (taken by crew)

We decided to get it done rather than sleep.  Unfortunately it was the hottest part of the day and going up seemed to not only be completely exposed but also take forever… about 13 miles… and each of the crew wanted a part of that final stage so we worked out who would be driving, crewing, pacing… and off we set… a section with each, almost an individual summary of the journey… the last few miles with Cheryl, my crew chief… up miles that felt so steep and climbing elevation that made my heart pound like crazy (I’m not great with elevation nor altitude)… we leapfrogged with Adam from Oz a few times, sharing a mutual love of turning the air blue as we wondered why we were crazy enough to do this, how much it hurt and what we thought of it all… and as we went up, cars were beeping on their way down, runners and teams who had finished, shouting encouragement as they went past… I had to keep stopping for a few moments to get my breath… and Cheryl kept singing away (probably to drown out my constant “are we there yet” comments)… until we recognised where the final turn and the finish line would be. I took a moment there just for me… that bittersweet moment where you can’t wait to finish, but you also don’t want it to finish… where you realise that yes you have achieved that dream… Cheryl hugged me, what a journey we had all been on… we turned the corner, got out the flag the crew had passed to me and beckoned to them to join us…

The finish line loomed: an emotional moment words cannot describe.

Photo copyright: AdventureCORPS Inc.

To see it, to approach it, to be joined by your team who have supported and encouraged every step of the way, to step foot over it, hand in hand with your friends, achieving a goal that at one point you’d never dreamed you’d be capable of starting, let alone accomplishing: it’s priceless. It’s a moment that will stay with me for life. I would say to anyone who dreams of doing this: dream it, plan it, train for it and go for it. If I can do it, so can you.

And of course there many other happy moments that will stay with me… joking at crew points, run dancing as another crew (I think Brazilian team) drove past us singing… where your friends literally have your back and make sure you don’t veer into the road (especially when traffic is around) because you’re pretty much sleepwalking… where you’re with a group of friends who support and empower each other, everyone works and pulls together, too many wonderful memories to add to what is already a very long report.

Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

People ask “what is Badwater”… well yes it’s a race, but it’s also more than that. It’s a journey. Like most endurance challenges, you don’t finish it the same person that you started as. This particular race encompasses what is usually a very long journey towards it, the planning, the time, the sacrifices you make, the money you spend, the training you do. It’s also about the people that share that journey with you… both leading up to the race and, for myself and my crew, the week that we spent together… it’s intense, and at the time, all-consuming. You learn things about yourself, and about others. It brings friendship and camaraderie, a sense of belonging, of support that you give and receive, it brings travel to distant lands that you might otherwise not have visited and scenery to take your breath away. It challenges you in a way that is hard to describe… in what you physically can achieve and how you push yourself, to the internal drive and headspace that works with that physicality. It gives you pain: mental and physical, but also such wonderful experiences. As Becky says… “it’s never just a run”…

It’s so good and so hard, and so brutal… but so good… that I want to go back and do it again. If they’ll have me (and us), of course 🙂

Thanks for reading.
Michelle

Now what shall I do next…

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The road to Badwater

24/09/2017

Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

BADWATER… a word amongst a lot of runners that instantly conjures the thought of heat, boiling heat that is stifling, you can’t breath in, you burn in, that’s dangerous, that melts your trainers… an area within Death Valley that the National Park website advises against hikers being outside after 1000 hours (see https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/safety.htm)… of endurance, challenge and desert… it’s a name that starts the heart beating and the mind whispering “one day” and “what if”… a name that ends up in magazines on lists with words in the titles such as “ultimate”, “destination”, “must do” and “toughest” for races to do before you die.

I think I first found their website when I was surfing races (as you do) back in 2014. Only a year into running and I’d never really considered the possibility of the 135 as completing a 100k had been so painful, but the Salton Sea 81 mile team race did catch my eye and became a bucket list “wish”. It took another year until, in passing, my running friend Telma who I’d met at Grand to Grand, said she wanted to do it too so we signed up. By then I was also aiming for my first 100 miler and once I’d hit that finish line, the 135 started calling. I checked the entry requirements and the only criteria I would be able to enter under would be to have 3 x 100 mile races with extensive ultra experience, a note on the website at that time (since updated) stating that usually meant over 5 years. I figured the earliest I’d be able to enter would be 2018 which would give me time to get the qualifying races without using Salton Sea (it can count towards one of the 100s). Cue January 2017 and the day I got home after finishing Spine Challenger the window for entry opened up… Challenger meant I had my 3 qualifiers, with Salton Sea as an “extra”, so I had figured there was nothing to lose, why not enter. That date of entry was actually 3 years and 50 weeks since that first “training run”, so while I hoped and had a “gut feeling”… the logical and realistic outcome was not to expect anything and be prepared to wait a year before trying again. A few weeks later Race Director Chris Kostman announced the names of those being invited via Facebook Live… I was glued to my iphone as names were read out… stomach clenching each time I heard a different name to my own, not sure if that was fear or relief… when suddenly my name was said… I did a double-take… and then literally danced around the room! What a feeling… I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week, and I must have been beaming on the way to work the following day because I got some strange looks…

The next day it started to sink in what this meant…

sacrifice
hard work
expense
determination
focus
the possibility of failure
asking for help
… and a lot of running

plus a starting line of 99 other athletes who most probably had years more experience, faster speeds and included some runners who were very well-known for what they had achieved.

And then there would be me…
Incredibly intimidating.

My coach and friends kept reminding me over the next few months that I had indeed earned my place, and that I’d raved about what an adventure it would be! Stay positive!

The journey from that point on became pretty intense. What would you expect to be included? High mileage, fantastic nutrition, lots of sleep and a healthy athlete raring to go? That’s what I would think of… instead I got bronchitis in the March which meant 6 weeks worth of training pretty much missed, including my scheduled highest mileage weeks, the 145 mile GUCR race 6 weeks beforehand, where I headbutted a bridge, feet taken out from under me, lots of blood, smashing my nose open, another fall during that race damaging one forearm and twisting one foot so badly that after that race, I ended up at my hospital’s A&E Department, on crutches for 3 days until the worst of the swelling had gone down (it’s still twinging some 4 months later). Add to that a severe lack of uninterrupted sleep for almost a year (I have a neighbour whose large dog barked most nights in the early hours which they did absolutely nothing to control and which woke me up most nights anywhere between 1 and 3 times) which in turn exacerbated my sugar addiction due to the need for energy (which the lack of sleep hugely contributes to – never underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep, I miss that so much) and low monthly mileage due to general lack of time and the usual life things like having to work.

So how do you go about organising for such an epic adventure in a different country to you? Research and planning are key: flights, car hire, accommodation for myself and crew, extreme sports insurance, heat acclimatisation, fuelling… and one thing I don’t like to do and which is vital for this race… acknowledge and ask for help.

This is a race that provides timing stations only. No aid stations, no water stops, no food, no shelter. You have to have a crew. You have to prepare and provide not only for yourself, but also your crew. I ended up with the most awesome crew ever: Cheryl Tulkoff (also a Salton Sea participant) was my crew chief, amazingly kind at heart but tough when needs must, warm, funny, down to earth and exceptionally well organised… Jenny Davis who I knew from MdS… Jenny is Scottish but currently living in Texas… she has a wonderful sense of humour, is pretty laid back compared to me, thoughtful and a very good motivator even when the runner (aka yours truly) is a grumpy so and so (she’s head crew for the amazing Mimi Anderson who is currently on her Guinness World Record transcon attempt… you can dot watch from here, with the main website here, Mimi herself has completed a Badwater double)… Pamela Hogue who was first on the team after being recommended by Jaime McDonald (another g2g participant)… she had crewed the 135 before, is very relaxed, always focuses on the positive with an outlook that is super-happy chilled and not to mention dedicated to Badwater… with Becky Gibbs-Templeton coming on board after being recommended by Joshua Holmes and Andrea Kooiman of the RunitFast Group (themselves both Badwater135 vets)… Becky is a massage therapist who had crewed the Badwater135 before, she has a lovely gentle soul which belies how tough she can be (in a good way) when she needs to be and is just amazing at getting your legs to work when all they want to do is never move again!


I had to heat acclimate… living in the UK doesn’t exactly have similar temperatures to Death Valley, so my plan was to use heat chambers during the weekends and gym sauna during the week. I hadn’t banked on it being out of “MdS season”… which meant that generally the heat chambers were not available for every weekend, added to which I had email issues which meant that communication on this part got totally screwed. Plan B was instigated… hit the gym sauna daily for 3 weeks and then fly out to Vegas a week beforehand. This actually worked well, and I had some interesting conversations with various people over those weeks… one day when I was walking around in the sauna with a towel over my head doing some positive visualisation for the race, thinking I looked “Rocky badass” type training, I got asked whether I was in there trying to lose weight… whaaaattttt… now I’m 5’9 so that’s not small, I also look lighter than I am so this was a bit surprising… until the person explained that a friend of theirs had done a similar thing for an upcoming fight, yep I’m going to believe I look badass hahaha… another time, chatting to someone who had thought about taking up running, but worried about walking… and vowed to start when they realised that ultrarunners actually do walk parts of races… to others who knew of the charity that I was fundraising for and the work that they did… the memory of these people also became part of my “journey”.

Kit and equipment are also fundamental and my fuelling on long runs hasn’t been great to date (GUCR showed what a difference going over 100 miles makes for my stomach), so this was a concern… on departure from Vegas, I had my first experience of Walmart… we picked up stacks of food and drink for us all, and as Pamela’s cousin had kindly lent us an ice chest, I bought another two. One would be for drinks, one for food and another for ice only. We also picked up a camping stove and gas, which with hindsight, proved to be a very good thing.

Transport… I took the advice of the hire car company and booked a 5 seater SUV… luckily Cheryl had us check the parking lot when we were in Vegas to see if we could find the one I’d booked… we did… and horror of horrors, it was way too small. Thankfully the rep at our hotel was able to get us a 7 seater at short notice. Unfortunately Jenny had had a little mishap and arrived without her driving licence… now given only she and I would be coming back to Vegas after the race, and I had never driven overseas in my life, let alone on the wrong side of the road… this was a bit of an issue… cue the amazing Matt (Jenny’s other half) being an utter star and getting her licence FedEx-ed over to the hotel from Texas. We went down to Death Valley a day later than planned…

but this worked well because…. unfortunately the hotel in Death Valley had had some kind of blow up of their equipment… which meant no working aircon units. In Death Valley. At the height of summer. Luckily the crew got moved to another room which did have some air con. It turned out our block was the worst affected. As one of my friends messaged… “it could only happen to you”. Cheryl and I unfortunately got no sleep the first night (Friday). The next day we went out and drove over the whole course so that I could plan for what food and drink to get during the race and make sure I knew where I’d be going during the race… oh how those inclines looked totally runnable that day… anyhow, on the way back we hoped all was sorted.

Unfortunately not… and we ended up crashing in the crew room… all 5 of us now together, Pamela having driven up the day after flying into LA… I got a couple of hours sleep and not sure the crew got much more. Not ideal 48 hours out from the start line… thankfully I did manage to get some sleep on the Sunday night because on the Monday, just as I managed to drift off for a “nap” in the afternoon, it was time to get up! So… going into a race sleep deprived, which would go through two nights of sleep deprivation… as my coach Rich said, it’s just another part of the challenge and adds to the “story” (or something along those lines)…

Photo copyright: Chris Kostman/AdventureCorps
http://www.badwater.com

Admin also needed to be dealt with… the usual race registration at Stovepipe Wells which went smoothly: collecting race numbers, race photos, being given your “goody bag” and collecting any pre-ordered items such as the all important biffy bags… not to mention briefly catching up with friends from other races… the pre-race briefing at Furnace Creek was enlightening… especially with the warnings about not gunning your car up the inclines… two cars had blown up and caught fire on the hills only the previous week… because of the heat out there, you have to be careful not to overheat the engine but also you need to get up the hills, so that’s one of the challenges that the crews face… and if your vehicle fails, the runner’s race is over.

Late afternoon Monday… the pace and energy picked up… the crew moved into action… I stayed out of their way so as not to hinder… trying to calm the pre-race nerves… it had suddenly become very very real… I mean, I know standing by the Badwater Basin sign a few days before had been real, but that was when I more a “tourist”… it was part of the fun aspect… the driving round, the having a laugh, the amazing landscapes, taking photos… this was now the time “to go to work” as it were… all those months of planning and training… no more dreaming… no more one day…

today was THAT day…

I had to walk my talk (or run it)…

95 athletes hitting the start line… including me…

I had the 8pm wave…

we started towards Badwater Basin…

this was it…

 

to be continued…

Fundraising page: https://www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne16


You

26/08/2015

29685136_s

You

You are…

who
what
how you choose

to be
to see
to feel
to believe.

What others think
or want to see
or you to be
is irrelevant.

They don’t wipe your kids tears from their eyes
they don’t look after your parents when they’re sick
they don’t cuddle your pets

they’re not the ones who…
live in your body
feel your emotions
think your thoughts.

It’s not their face looking back in the mirror
it’s not their life you are living
so why should you adopt
their hopes
their dreams
their wishes
their demands
their fears
their beliefs?

You are
wholly
totally
unique
in this world.

How wonderful that is!

Your Heart
Your Hopes
Your Dreams
Your Abilities
Your Possibilities

Your Amazing Potential.

You are your own home.

Make your home loveable
liveable
comfortable
warm
accepting.

After all
it’s where you will be
for life.

Words: © August 2015 Michelle Payne
Photo: 123rf.com


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 🙂


To Let Go Takes Love

13/05/2015
Copyright: Andrea Danti/123rf.com

Copyright: Andrea Danti/123rf.com

To Let Go Takes Love

To “let go” does not mean to stop caring;
it means I can’t do it for someone else.

To “let go” is not to cut myself off;
it is the realization that I can’t control another.

To “let go” is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.

To “let go” is to admit powerlessness,
which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To “let go” is not to try to change or blame another;
it is to make the most of myself.

To “let go” is not to care for,
but to care about.

To “let go” is not to “fix”,
but to be supportive.

To “let go” is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.

To “let go” is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes,
but to allow others to affect their own destinies.

To “let go” is not to be protective;
it is to permit another to face reality.

To “let go” is not to deny,
but to accept.

To “let go” is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but instead to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.

To “let go” is not to adjust everything to my desires,
but to take each day as it comes, and to cherish myself in it.

To “let go” is not to criticize and regulate anybody,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.

To “let go” is not to regret the past,
but to grow and to live for the future.

To “let go” is to fear less and to love more.

~ Robert Paul Gilles ~
(Copyright 1997)
from the book Thoughts of the Dream Poet : vol. 1


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

 


Adventure, Change and a new Challenge – The Marathon Des Sables (30th Edition)

22/04/2015

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Adventure.

Change.

Possibilities.

Experiencing.

Adventure can be so addictive. Once we learn to open our minds, our eyes, our thoughts and our self to new beliefs, cultures, experiences… we will never be the same again. Should we be? After all, aren’t we, as humans meant to change? If we weren’t, we would never develop beyond the mindset of a baby and our species would not have survived as it has. We are surely not meant to stay stuck at the ages of (for example) 1, 7, 15, 21, 30, 42, 55, 60 and beyond: either physically, mentally or emotionally… and what about the the human motivation to achieve self-actualisation, as described by Abraham Maslow… he who has been quoted as saying: “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” where to grow means to experience…

Everything we experience has the capacity to change us. IF we let it. There can be so many reasons why people don’t change, and I encounter a lot of these within my counselling practice, but if we allow it, if we embrace it, if we look to use what we find as a tool for opening our self, our minds, bodies and hearts, then how can that not be an overall positive way to look at, and live, LIFE?

“It” being CHANGE.

Change can be scary, it can be exciting, exhilarating even… especially for the adrenaline junkies out there who do crazy things like jump out of aeroplanes… ultrarunners at least have their feet on the floor 😉 … and change can come in many forms, not just travel (although isn’t that a great way to find new things!).  It can be from confronting fears, from changing how you dress, trying new things… from the repercussions of others’ behaviours… by choosing to do things differently, we lift ourselves out of our comfort zone… we “challenge” ourselves. Our reactions and responses to such challenges can teach us so much… not just about others although you can tell a lot about someone by how they treat you… but about who we are, who we want to be and what we want our lives to be like!

Last year I finished my back-to-back stage runs and completed the challenge I had set out to achieve, but all the while I was training for that challenge, the words muttered at the beginning of my journey in Sierra Leone, kept repeating. The suggestion of the Marathon des Sables.

I’d gone to the website, looked it up and felt fear. It’s an iconic race. It has a fierce reputation. It has its’ detractors too… those who call it a “fun run in the sun” as has apparently been said to people I’ve met… and for some I’m sure it is. For those with years of experience and adventure and endurance. But 155 miles across the Western Sahara of Morocco, self supported and in temperatures of up to 50 degrees celsius or more… the race that inspired all of the others you now see across the world… “how hard can it be” echoed once more. As I’ve already blogged, entries for 2015 were not open and I had to wait. I figured, get the others done, see what you’re dealing with and whether you even like it.

Only… entries became available before that happened. What to do?

With the advance notification process engaged, the day of applying dawned… time for a decision and no more sitting on the fence talking about “what if’s”… I had to make a choice.

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.
If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.
~~ Jim Rohn ~~

So 4 tabs open on the computer 10 minutes before entry… refreshing, constantly. The form came up. It got completed… 2 minutes later email confirmation came through. I had my spot. All UK entries were gone within 12 minutes. I prayed I’d enjoy the other stage runs, otherwise this could be a very expensive lesson I’d have to learn from. I then concentrated on the challenge at hand, which I’ve already blogged about.

For anyone interested in reading about that, posts can be found here.

Coming home from America, with the amount of mileage and training I’d put in over that 18 month period to date meant there was a price to pay. Achilles tendinopathy and in my case, lovely thickening… probably permanent. Weeks and probably months of rest was what I needed to fully heal but with an Ultra already booked in some weeks ahead, I took 2 weeks then returned to the gym. Cue excruciating pain and 4 weeks of no running… cross training became the way to go so as not to lose all fitness, followed by two weeks of easy running before hitting the planned Ultra (you really do have to feel sorry for my coach – this was against his advice, as well as my sports therapist). A 50K I vastly underestimated even though it’s billed as a double your marathon time and add a bit more on… I’d also encouraged a friend to do this even though their longest race was 15 miles to that point. We “got it done”, and within the cut off… but this was not a wise move and indeed a very valuable lesson learned – listen to the Coach and Sports Therapist in future – they’re there to help you!

So how do you train for an event that’s on another continent, that’s going to be so much hotter than the ones you’ve already done, and over long distances again… all while you’re in the UK in the midst of winter and have a job (or two) to fit in?

You get a schedule, you stick to it as best as possible. You get a coach if possible, and have regular sports / leg massages. You run… a lot. You run long easy runs on both days of the weekends, and for this event, I also walked. Given the terrain of sand, sand and more sand… with my lack of experience, and the blistering from Madagascar that was still healing, expecting to walk parts was vital. Expecting for and training with that in mind would help the mental strength too. You also run with a weighted pack… starting small and building the weight. Given my pack had been 10.9kg without water in America, I went up to 11.2kg in training this time using a tip from a Hong Kong runner… packs of rice! I tried firewood to start with but that added to the chafing… you might want to avoid that one!

You comb the kit list and try and test everything. Luckily I had already gone through this with the other events so had a very good idea of what worked for me. Anything I wasn’t sure about, I rang my tentmate. Call it luck if you will, but another member of my running club was also doing this event and not only that, she was an experienced ultra runner, had completed MdS three years previously with her husband and is a very kind person who always stops to help others if she can. It just happens that they also own the shop I had gotten my previous stage racing kit from, and they are only round the corner (check out their shop here)!

One thing I hadn’t thought about until it was too late was heat training. Kingston University was not only fully booked up but the cost of full sessions would be another added expense. They don’t charge huge amounts but costs do start to stack up with training, coaching, massage, kit and then this! Once again my soon-to-be tentmate stepped into the breach.  As it had a treadmill and bike, she offered to share sessions with me.  Due to time constraints I couldn’t accept all, but managed to fit in 2 x 2 hour sessions: very helpful and informative and I really recommend these for anyone who is planning on desert races.

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Another thing that can bring reassurance pre-event is sorting out tentmates.  Tents are grabbed on a first come, first served basis.  If you organise through friends of friends, then you can meet up beforehand and/or connect through social media. As my tentmate already knew me, she invited me to share with a group that was forming, and I’m so very glad I said Yes! I had the opportuity to meet one person at the shop, and then two others at a race in January – for those in the UK, the Country to Capital 45 is a great race that a lot of people use as a training run for MdS.

You will then go through the nightmare that is known as Hell aka getting your medical certificate signed and an ECG print out!  Unfortunately GPs are not often well versed in sports medicine. An ECG can show little anomalies which will mean your GP refusing to sign your medical certificate and you having to rush off for an urgent appointment to get a heart ultrasound. Naturally I was one such lucky person :/ You can only get your medical certificate signed after a set date. This will allow around 3 weeks of torture. It states in the UK rules that you need both ECG and medical certificate signed, dated and stamped. I was very lucky that the cardiologist I saw didn’t mind my frantic phone calls, leaving signed documents to be stamped at the last minute and didn’t charge extra. There is obviously the need for safety – no GP will want to send you off to the middle of the desert if you have a potential problem but when you run ultramarathons and have a very low pulse rate which can show as incomplete ECGs, not all GPs will understand this. So for those runners that read this with a future event in mind, if you can get a free ECG done well in advance to set your mind at ease that you are ok at present (it obviously doesn’t eliminate future problems), I would advise doing it if possible. I would also advise checking GP prices. Some lucky people (aka not me) get theirs free.  Some not so lucky people (again, not me) get charged a fee… some very lucky people (yes, this would be me) get charged a high fee! For every single certificate! I could have had a basic holiday for the price of 3 certificates, I jest not.

You will then come to the final few weeks and hopefully tapering on your running… this should be an enjoyable phase, after all what could go wrong? Unfortunately due to all the aforementioned plus the unknown, or even known for returnees… you will start to wonder if you need to adjust your nutrition, try something new (don’t do it!!)… change pack, change trainers… hopefully you will already have had the velcro stitched for your gaiters… you will re-weigh… everything! Especially food. You may need to go buy more if you snack on any treats you pack (this was me, several times)…

But this is part of the path… part of the journey that is known as the Marathon des Sables… surely the race would be the reward… after all, how hard could it be?

© April 2015 Michelle Payne


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