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

13/06/2017

What did I say… pride goeth before a fall…

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

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

Lying in wait patiently until yours truly rocked up…

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

I literally ran into a bridge…

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

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

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

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

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

There’s another saying… expect the unexpected…

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

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

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

I was only at mile 39…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 miles left…

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

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

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

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

unofficial PBs for 50 miles and 100 miles… smashed…

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

A time of 37 hours and 34 minutes

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

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

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

Wishing you all a wonderful week
Michelle

GUCR Part 1: https://dreamweaverconsulting.com/2017/06/11/gucr-a-race-that-can-sweep-you-off-your-feet-part-1/
Fundraising page: https://www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne16
Crew blog post: https://runhammyrun.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/gucr-2017-a-view-from-the-crew/


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

11/06/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

well there wasn’t much quality either!

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

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

The alarm went off…

4 hours sleep…

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

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

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

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

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


Photo courtesy of Akgun Ozsoy

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

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

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

to be continued…

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


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.

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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…

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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 🙂


Grand2Grand Ultra – Rest, Regret and the last half of the race

01/04/2015

The best bit after the Long Stage? You’d think it would be sleep… after all, if you’ve been going over 24 hours without any, most people think sleep would be easy. Not so… not when it’s daylight, the camp is awake and runners are still coming in, especially when it’s your tent mates… and it’s the only day you’re actually back in time to hit the comms tent!

There were also treats… I thought it a rumour but no… lo and behold a treasure… not something I usually drink but after days in the middle of nowhere, it’s like nectar…

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and we were even treated to some live music… right there in the middle of nowhere… there were a lot of happy campers as you can imagine!

There had been more drop outs by this time and unfortunately this included one of our tent 😦 … Steve had got soaked in the torrential rain and hail storm on Day 1… including his trainers which, I believe, did not dry out properly before the start of the next day… what I hadn’t realised was just how much pain he had been in on the Long Stage… his feet were totally and utterly shredded.  How he managed to push through is unbelievable… because of this…

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Blistered, macerated, bleeding, infected… by now he could barely hobble… so after returning from a trip to the medics, he gave out his food to be divided amongst those of us who wanted it and made the choice to go back to Kanab, when he would eventually meet up with us in Vegas at the after party. A sombre mood descended.

Feet. They make or break your race…

Stage 4

And so the next day dawned, not much sleep gained… you think you’d be so tired that not even the devil would be able to rouse you.  This just doesn’t happen… not for me anyway. A couple of hours, a bit of catnapping… and before you knew it, the music started up… and the question… what time is it? a tent would yell… 3 songs past 6, another would reply!

Memories…

Yuri dashed by… stuck his head in the tent and reminded me to pop by the medic tent again to check my hip… angel in disguise! My leg felt somewhat better, I wasn’t limping as much and the piriformis hadn’t cramped… that little bit of rest had helped tremendously, aided hugely by Yuri’s help and I actually felt ok… I knew I was deterioriating… you don’t do this kind of event without getting drained… lack of energy, speed, hydration, calories… you’re pushing through a deficit each and every day… but today there were more downhills… much better for me… I could run… well, there was still huffing and puffing up the hills, but more downs = more running or shuffling 😉 … and I took advantage of that… no matter how tired or aching I was… I took the choice to tell myself I would run the downs…

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The scenery was amazing… huge cliffs, trees so high they looked tiny… huge boulders to navigate down, rocks carved out by the weather over many years, by rains and floods… and in some parts it looks like we were running on a moonscape… it was also baking hot. So much so that as I ran I kept a very watchful eye out for any water, desperate to try and lower my temperature… the riverbeds crossed were dry… a few muddy puddles, a couple that had a little bit of water in… but how to get at it? Balance very carefully, put your cap on the end of your trekking pole and dangle it just enough to wet it slightly. It was that hot I certainly wasn’t worried about whether the water was clean, it was wet and that was enough. And then there appeared a mirage… a properly flowing river… stream may be a better description but at that point it felt like a full blown river!

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And this is my only other real regret from the whole race…

As I was shuffling along the road I noticed some other runners ahead rejoining the road… I’d seen the river but figured it was too far off course… as I reached the point I had seen them at… I decided to take a few minutes and see how near I could get. It was so hot and my head felt like it was on fire… heaven… you could go right up to it. So that’s what I did.  Took off my arm sleeves and hat and soaked them in the water… I turned around and noticed another runner go past so hurried up to get back on track.  Only a few minutes ahead was the next checkpoint. I could have left my pack there and gone in the water. I wish I had. Later that night, when everyone had returned, some of my tent mates told us what they’d done… they’d stopped, taken their packs and shoes off, and had actually laid down in it… how I wish I had done that. Laughter, fun, friends… surely that’s worth losing a bit of time for in a race instead of pushing through?

Anyway, that was not the choice I had made at the time… instead I pushed on through the rest of the course encountering some pretty evil inclines: looking back at some of the photos, it looks like we were crawling up.  I hit a few low points especially when hitting some long stretches until I caught up to Danny and we leapfrogged each other until we got to camp. I probably wouldn’t have run as much of the last leg if it hadn’t been for him. We hadn’t had much chance to chat up to that point as he was always well ahead of me but while we had this opportunity to talk, he shared how he found the race, the highs and lows to date and that he had been aching a lot and, like a lot of us, had found it hard to get out of a warm sleeping bag that morning, was tired and missing home but since he knew I had just completed a similar type of event in Madagascar, he thought if I could get up each day and do this, then so could he. A truly humbling moment and I don’t think he is aware of how much that meant to me. It kept my spirits up, helped me keep running and we eventually reached camp at the same time. I felt very happy with how I’d done overall that day; top half, position 37  or thereabouts… just a shame about the river…

Stage 4 survived: 7 hours, 21 minutes, 16 seconds

Stage 5

As so the last full day dawned… today was slot canyon day. I think everyone was looking forward to this… we’d seen all the photos from previous years and I naively assumed it would mean a lot of flat.

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There was, but to get to it you had to go down… and part of that meant, for me, holding onto tree branches as I slithered down scarily high inclines… yelps included! I also knew there would be climbing down over rocks a bit in those canyons but what I hadn’t expected was a very high ladder… the choice, just go for it and pray I wouldn’t fall or use a harness that had been provided. Sod the time, go for the harness… it just looked too damn high. Afterwards I heard a snake had been relocated not long beforehand so I definitely made the right choice… what if I’d got there and seen a snake… you’d have heard the screams for miles!

And of course, given we are generally getting higher each day, for all those wonderful downs, there is going to be a lot of ups. Again. Crazy painful ups… I doubt I will ever view local hills in the same way!

Eventually we reached flatter ground, although that did still have an incline to it… it just wasn’t as obvious. There were also rain clouds gathering and I have to say, at that point because it was so hot and the air so still, as I saw some dark clouds approaching, I prayed it would cover me with rain. It didn’t… it stayed tantalisingly just out of reach… and I couldn’t catch it! I passed a field of cows… my poles tip tapping the ground as I walked this part… and then I realised I was being watched! There were a lot of cows. There were bulls too. It was a bull that watched me. I averted my gaze and then snuck a sideways glance… it was still watching me… I held my poles off the ground and still it watched me, it’s tail flicking from side to side and then it moved… a few steps toward the road, no fence in sight… I tried to walk with a lighter footstep, holding my breath… and eventually, thankfully, I was sufficiently past that it turned back to its herd, and I could breathe again!

What I wasn’t aware of was that this was the area that my tent mate Lee had had a close encounter on. Not with a bull but a moose. Apparently a moose had mown him down into a hedge. I kid you not… read his write-up in GQ Magazine!  Killer moose, watchful bulls, sneaky snakes… what is this? Next there would be zombies… oh and don’t forget the tarantulas and scorpion holes…

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I continued up the winding road… on and on, just where was the camp? It seemed to take forever and much longer than the previous day until eventually it came into sight… with pools on the other side of the fence… pools of water which looked so inviting… however given the previous cow incident, yours truly was not taking any chances… I didn’t want to be potentially ambushed and trampled so near to the finish of the race! Wise choice indeed as I found out that those were probably pasture water for the horses and cows… and given experiences to date, it would be just my luck that the horses were not that friendly despite outward appearances!

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Another stage finished and surprisingly only 4 and a half minutes slower than the previous day, around position 33 or something, so top half again and a very happy bunny 🙂

Stage 5 survived: 7 hours, 25 minutes, 56 seconds

Stage 6

The weather had been getting cooler, natural I thought given the ascension of course profile. However that night another storm hit, bad enough to keep us awake all night long with only little catnaps until one of the poles collapsed due to the strength of the wind and we thought the whole tent was going to come down. Those amazing sturdy volunteers came once again to the rescue  and were out in that weather checking everyone was ok and hammering down tent pegs, poles and anything else that could potentially go flying off into the night! I’m not a fan of being cold and the thought at that time of even getting out of my sleeping bag, let alone run in winds which sounded like something from the Wizard of Oz… well…

And at 5am Race Director Colin made his rounds – they were checking in to see how much worse it would get, how safe it would be up to get up to the Grand Staircase. Around 6ish, he made another round… they’d been informed it was just too dangerous and they couldn’t risk flooding especially due to parts being single track (if I’m remembering correctly). Safety is paramount and in those conditions there was a real possibility of people being swept away or falling… so while there was obvious disappointment in not reaching the full 273km, there was also a lot of very happy people staying in their sleeping bags just that little bit longer.  To ensure we had a Stage 6 and to fit in with the expected torrents, the organisers arranged for an “out and back” couple of miles, and everyone would get the same time recorded. A very fitting end for the team spirit and camaraderie that had built up over the past week. Our surviving tent:

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I’d made it and got my buckle!

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It was then time to grab some pizza… do you think they had ordered enough? There was another full table out of view of this 🙂

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The race organisers had timed it perfectly.  Just as the buses arrived and we headed off, the heavens opened. By the time we got to Kanab for a lunch they had also organised for us… just stepping off the bus and walking 5 steps to cover had us drenched. The highway to Vegas had been closed due to landslides and the torrential rain, but thankfully had opened up by the time we left.

And then it was Vegas bound… to meet loved ones, to celebrate, to sleep in a proper bed and eat non-rehydrated food.

And of course to Party! I’m not sure how many people stayed up all night but some did…

What an experience, what memories… what friendships made… it was tough without a doubt. My legs were completely shredded, more than I realised at the time, my achilles was bad and a huge swollen lump had grown by this time, walking was painful (and that wasn’t just because I’d insisted on wearing heels at the after party 😉 )

But…

Was it possible
to go from zero to a double-stage runner in only 18 months?

* Yes it was *

Go sign up… you know you want to 😉
http://www.g2gultra.com

Now what shall I do next…

© April 2015 Michelle Payne


Grand2Grand Ultra – Stages 2 & 3

31/03/2015

Stage 2

And so the second day dawned… music blaring in the darkness and the camp stirring to life.  I huddled down into my sleeping bag a little deeper and wondered if I would ever be able to move without pain again… but I’d finished Stage 1 so I wasn’t going to miss being on the start line for Stage 2.  I figured if I wasn’t going to finish then it wouldn’t be of my choosing, I’d have to be pulled out by the medical team!

The tactic: start walking.  Try and shuffle if possible.  Walk it all if need be. As the saying goes, you don’t eat an elephant in one go. Where did that saying come from? Who would want to eat an elephant 😦 … magnificent creatures… anyway, make it into bitesize chunks aka checkpoint to checkpoint survival.  Head down and churn those steps out… I had wanted a challenge and I’d certainly got one!

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And so the day passed and, as for the first day, the racers eventually drifted apart the longer we were out there. Eventually I happened across an American racer called Arthur and we stuck together from Checkpoint 4, keeping each other entertained with stories about what was going on in our lives… he was pretty excited due to planning his proposal to his girlfriend and every time he spoke about the ideas he had, his face lit up and a huge smile beamed across his face, his energy infectious and the chatting meant the time passed a lot easier than had I been on my own, added to which we had expected the temperature to turn the notch down a tad… even going from full on “oven baked” to a little “fan assisted” might have helped but no… no respite until we hit the finish line where waiting for us was a momentary piece of heaven… Lisa, one of the volunteers, was ready with a bottle of cold water to spray over us! Absolute bliss. A moment to savour… you certainly appreciate the small things on adventures like this!

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Stage 2 survived: 10 hours, 8 minutes, 34 seconds

Stage 3

The Long Stage… dum dum dum!

It started well… what a sunrise to wake up to…

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Now you can dress things up however you like in your mind… you can practice positive mindfulness until the cows come home, you can meditate all night long… there are many many things you can do to bring the happy stuff into your life, change your perspectives and become a happier and more contented person. But I doubt you will ever eradicate fear in all its totality from your brain nor the accompanying negative thoughts that pop up from time to time. We are human beings and fear is actually a great tool at our disposal which alerts us to keep ourselves safe and to survive as a species. You know, back in the old days of sabre tooth tigers wanting to eat us. Or bears. Someone kept joking about bears. There were lots of trees on this race… what if a bear was hiding behind one. I kid you not… someone actually joked about this as they hotfooted it up a very steep incline while I shuffled behind them… a long way behind them… was that a tactic, was I being left as bear food while they dashed to safety? The trees rustled as I pondered this… I tried to shuffle a little quicker…

Anyway, the long stage… the hip was still hurting although Yuri had been an absolute hero the previous evening and helped release more of the pain that had accumulated throughout the second day, so how to tackle this? Go it alone and try to push myself, risking further injury or worse, not finishing… or stay with friends who were planning on sticking together as a group due to the length and technical difficulty of the day and walk it all? I wanted to push, I was frustrated at having mainly walked the previous day, but at the same time how great would it be for the Group to stick together and cheer each other on.

So that’s what I chose.

Plus I was slower than everyone else hobbling away at the back.

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We started off in almost a party mood, and as we ventured along the way, locals came out and cheered us on: such support from the local community was heart-warming and at that time it felt as if we were just going out for a day’s adventure! Until we reached the end of the flat track and it was time to cross a main road and head towards the elevation.  It was at the end of the road in the picture above that we came across Mo Foustok.  Mo had withdrawn from the race but had come out to encourage everyone else along. Another wonderful example of the camaraderie and kindness I have witnessed within the ultrarunning and racing community.

And then it was up, up, up… with minimal downs to compensate. The pace: slow, very slow. Did I mention I don’t like hills. I like heights even less. I really don’t like sides of mountains where I could slither down, fall off and die. Now I know the organisers are very careful and you’re not going to be somewhere that you have to get crampons and picks out to haul yourself up, but this felt like that to me.  This wasn’t FEAR (false evidence appearing real) but aarrrgghhh FEAR (dear God it’s real and that’s bloody high).

Sometimes naivete is a good thing… it certainly was for me in this event.  I knew there was a little climb.  I’d seen the pictures of a rope and people hauling themselves up it.  I had been reassured on reading the road book we’d been given that it wasn’t as long as I’d thought.  What hadn’t been mentioned was what I actually encountered. I scaled the first bit thanks to one of my amazing tent mates, Lee, helping me up and the amazing Yvonne keeping me going with encouragement behind me.

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I heaved a huge sigh of relief only to realise after going round a corner and along a little flat that there was another one! One felt so bad that after slithering my way up (thank god for my poles is all I can say) with shale and rocks sliding away under my feet, I was so relieved and happy it was over, that three of us jumped for joy. Literally. Until I saw the next one.

130131But what a view… no matter that it’s a race, that you are being timed… at points you just have to stop and take some photos, of the views and of the people who are there supporting you each step of the way…

Can we say tough?  I can honestly say that reaching Checkpoint 2 on that day was a highlight of sheer relief. Oh yes, that was all before CP2, many more to go.

And so the day continued… our main group breaking off into twos and threes, chatting away at times, being silent at others… pushing through the terrain, the elevation… minutes and then hours passing and catching up at the checkpoints: where we took the time to fill up on water, salt tablets and see to the feet… and have a laugh… (fab photobomb!)

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…before the night started to draw down just as we were heading towards the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary… bit eerie going through with animals howling… and seeing some fantastic colours in the sky as the sun set:

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Darkness arrived and we hadn’t even reached the checkpoint before the dunes.  Debate ensued – do we push on through the night, do we stop and sleep… we were all getting exhausted and still had so far to go. Would we have enough energy to tackle the dunes without rest? We’ve all heard the saying: when the going gets tough, the tough get going… well this was a pure example of that.  On the road to the checkpoint which never seemed to appear, nerve endings in the feet being bashed with every step, tiredness, general aches and pains, sandy tracks, darkness and plenty of “are we there yet”… we were accompanied by none other than the now infamous Mr Jerky: a tough, funny, very kind copper (policeman) and race director who hails from New York.  He was injured and in a lot of pain, yet on he pushed, worrying about everyone else instead of himself, whether he was holding anyone back (he wasn’t), staying cheerful and helping to keep everyone’s spirits up. Amazing guy… and if you want to check out some great trail races he organises, go visit his facebook page here!

We eventually reached CP6 which I have to say was one of the hardest parts to a checkpoint I have ever done. We stopped, got hot water and refueled, huddled around a fire that the volunteers had going and tried to warm up.  The temperature had dropped considerably.  Unfortunately Matt (Mr Jerky) decided against pushing through the dunes as his leg was so bad.  Once we had all got ourselves sorted out and had had about an hour’s rest, we decided to push on.

Dune time.

Looking back it’s hard to recall every moment… it was certainly memorable… having never encountered dunes before there was a certain amount of trepidation.  Thankfully due to the sheer amount of elevation and climbing during the day, my piriformis had been well and truly stretched out so I wasn’t in too much pain or getting much cramping… but still, dunes! Added to which we had heard that the race director(s) had set out to make this section as hard as possible. It proved to be true.

As we traipsed down the road towards the entrance, one of the gang suggested we all turn out lights off… standing in darkness by the side of a now silent highway… looking up at the stars… hearts pounding, silence surrounded… a memory to treasure… headlights back on and quietly we walked in…

Oh My **** God! I stood at the bottom and stared upwards at what appeared to be a pure vertical line… little lights blinking somewhere god knows where in the heavens… were they stars or were they the reflective bits on the pink flags… how high was it… would I fall… how the hell was I going to get up THERE! No other option for it but to run up at it… or rather try… get the poles, stick them in the sand and shuffle through as it flowed downwards with every step… using other’s imprints as a guide. Heart in mouth, breath out of control… just get up there.

Do not try to stand up mid way through!

You will feel as if you are about to fall backwards. The pack lending itself to that too…

Reach the crest and roll yourself over… pant for breath, look up at the stars and thank god you made it…

stand up… everyone gathers… trot off trying to spot little flags in the darkness…

get to the bottom of another… try not to cry as it looks even steeper (how is this possible?)…

ignore your tent mate when he tells you that these are nothing height wise compared to another race…

try not to quake in fear when you realise he’s talking about a race you may just have signed up for already…

ignore another tent mate when he agrees with first tent mate, because they’ve both done that race…

thank your trekking poles for not breaking…

get to the next…

and the next…

and the next…

I believe it was 5.5km… it felt like more than a marathon in distance…

…and I couldn’t wait to get it done. Tired, aching, swearing… I swore I would never do anything with sand ever ever again.

Yet even then there was beauty… we came to the end and took a breather just as the sun rose…

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Time to push on, get the head down… the sun rose quickly, which meant the heat did too, on dusty trails, through shrubby areas… and most of this part is a blur… I would probably have fared much better had I taken some time to sleep, but I hadn’t… over 24 hours by this point… just wanting to get to the finish line. Which appeared in the distance… up another bloody hill. Feet, legs, hands… all swollen… hip aching, brain fuzzy… step by step to where other tent mates were waiting along with Tess and Colin…

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I told Tess when she hugged me I was never doing another race like it, I was cancelling everything else I had planned… no more.  She hugged me tighter, told me that most of these events have dunes and I would feel better after some sleep… still, it was done. I’d reached another finish line… I was still there…

Stage 3 survived: 27 hours, 38 minutes, 18 seconds

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


Grand2Grand Ultra – Stage 1

27/03/2015

And so it began…

The Grand2Grand… I was actually at the banner, the start line… the very place I had seen on the trailer a year ago. Thinking back now it still seems very surreal… did that really happen, was I there… remembering the nervousness as everyone gathered, as the British crowd decided to get a group photo and how it seemed totally right to go and get our flag from that start line 🙂

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Memories are made of this.

We gathered, the wind rustled, music played… there was dancing amid a sense of heightened anticipation… and then suddenly the countdown finished and everyone surged across… I tried to keep up, heart hammering, head down, pushing too quickly and feeling it because my pack was heavier than in Madagascar. How hard to try and hold back when you get that adrenaline surge and just want to go, to fly across the ground…

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…eventually the crowd thins out and, given the number of competitors, the distances you are covering, differences in runners’ speeds and race strategies, eventually you can find yourself on your own… and given the landscape we were running across, this could be for hours at a time!

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I adopted a walk/run strategy which worked well for what I reckon was the first half of the course that very first day… until disaster struck…

I should have expected it really but a combination of naivete, lack of running experience, living in denial and sheer stubborness to achieve what I had challenged myself to do would have a price: that being my piriformis cramping and spasming acutely. The pain was unbelievable. Every single step hurt and it was all I could do not to cry while I limped on. I knew I was well within the time cut offs even if I walked the rest of the way due to the time that had elapsed to that point, but I didn’t know if I could actually  walk that far…

Luckily I then met up with a cheeky funny Irish chap who was incredibly kind: on seeing at how much pain I was in, he decided to stay with me the rest of the way. We talked about our running experiences (mine: very little; his: 3:05 marathons and finished 100 milers) and why we had chosen to do the event. I then learnt about Team SuperGavin – several of the g2g racers had joined together with him to fundraise and help his friend’s little boy who was having treatment for Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma. For those that do not know what Rhabdomyosarcoma is, very simplistically, it’s a rare cancer that affects mostly children under 10 years of age, mainly boys, and affects the supporting tissues of the body. Gavin was a baby when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of this cancer.  Phelim was fundraising to help with his treatment – even now, reading what Gavin went through brings me to tears. I cannot begin to imagine what his family and nearest and dearest went through, and hopefully I never will.

To read more about this type of cancer, please visit the Macmillan page by clicking here.

To visit the blog of Team Gavin Glynn, please click here (and have tissues handy!).

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How can you not push on when you hear about something like that? How could you whimper out because of a bit of hip pain? Here was a real story of pain, determination, hope and courage. Of bravery. A child who demonstrated all these qualities and more.  A story of pure and utter LOVE.

So… the trekking pole got jammed into the muscle (thank god there were no photos of this – ok yes I’m phrasing this politely, I jammed it against my backside !!) and it was a limp shuffle onwards, interrupted slightly when the storm clouds whipped up so fiercely that the plastic ponchos we had been given had to be dug out and fought. I say fought because the wind was so fierce I managed to get my head into what appeared to be an arm sleeve and in the process nearly ended up nearly suffocating myself. Phelim helped me out of that one too! Luckily the black clouds veered to our right so we only caught a brief few minutes… others behind us were not so lucky… and later that evening there were tales of huge hailstones pelting runners!

Eventually we came into sight of what appeared to be a little hill looming ahead. Our final destination was to the right but that would have been too easy… the pink flags fluttered showing the way ahead… to where little dots moved like ants. Only 5-10 minutes, or so we thought… much later (probably around 30 minutes) we reached the base of that “little” hill… an incline so steep that especially with my hip still having a pole stuck into it, meant I had to take only a few steps then stop and breathe… and repeat: steps, stop and breathe. I’m not a fan of hills – they hurt 🙂 let alone when you chuck altitude and injury into the mix.

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See the little dot just before the hill starts – that’s a person.  Hard to gain perspective from pictures like this.  There were also numerous people going up that hill, not that you can see them on this as it needs to be magnified, a lot!

Later… much much later… and after quite a few choice words were uttered into the wind, we got to turn right… no easy trail here, avoid the sneaky cactus, don’t stumble over the uneven ground, ignore the pain from your sensitised feet and do not cry! Until up ahead fluttered the signs of camp…

The feeling of relief stepping over that finish line was amazing. One of my tentmates was waiting and helped take my pack and I hobbled over to the med tent. And there was another godsend. A runner called Yuri who was volunteering at the event, who not only works as a sport therapist but also teaches sport massage and although he hadn’t been planning to do any physical therapy at g2g, due to the amount of pain I was in, offered to help. I gladly accepted. Thanks to Yuri, the immediate pain subsided quite a bit and I was able to hobble to my tent and crack on with getting kit, food and drink sorted while the rest of my tent mates gathered.

Stage 1 done… 9 hours, 7 minutes, 20 seconds… much longer than I had expected to take… but…

I would now be on the start line in the morning no matter the pain… I just didn’t know if I’d make the end of Stage 2…

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


The Triple Continent Challenge

04/08/2014

So what is the next challenge?

Well after I couldn’t sign up for the Marathon des Sables, I did a little Google surfing… and it was amazing to find just how many runs, races, countries and continents these are run on… I think every country and definitely every continent. Yes you read right, every continent including Antarctica! And no, I’m not going there… I’m not a fan of feeling even a little bit cold… I blame being a summer baby for that!

But I happened to find myself at a website with THE most stunning trailer… in a different country on a different continent and while listening to the soundtrack and watching the most amazing scenery… I got the goosebumps. You know the ones, not just any old I’m feeling cold or something a little freaky has happened and raises the hairs on your arms… this was OMG I have to do this, I have to be there… it doesn’t matter how hard it is (I may regret ever thinking this shortly!)… how expensive… this is a once in a lifetime experience…

I’d found myself watching this:

GRAND TO GRAND ULTRA 

(click on the title to be taken to their website)

170 miles / 273 kilometres from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase

over 7 days

You get a tent for the night… and water to drink…

self-supported – you have to carry everything else you need in a backpack while you run/hike/climb

a marathon or more every day
(one day is a double marathon)
and longer than the Marathon des Sables.

But a triple continent challenge needs 3 continents… so add the continent of Europe… specifically the London Marathon… 26.2 miles, completed earlier this year, although I haven’t had time to blog about it until now… more on this in the next post!

And for the third continent… it’s back to Africa… for the 3rd time in 18 months… oh yes, I paid a little visit to another African country at the beginning of this year which I figured might help as challenging “training” albeit of a different nature… which I will write about if I ever get the time!… So yes, Africa again … specifically Madagascar… no, not like the film… though if I end up hallucinating I may very well see talking lions and giraffes… hopefully not the zebra though!

And this is part of the 4deserts series via Racing the Planet. Each year they put on a stage race, like the Marathon des Sables and Grand2Grand (or g2g as it’s more commonly known) in the 4 driest deserts: the Atacama Crossing (Chile), the Gobi March (Mongolia/China), the Sahara Race (Jordan/Egypt) and the Last Desert aka Antarctica! They also put on one extra and this is known as a roving race, held in a different country each year with 2014 being held in Madagascar… quite a good job as 2013 was in Iceland and it looked cold.

RTP Madagascar

(click on the title to be taken to their website)

Again, you get a tent for the night… and water to drink…

and you have to carry everything you need in a backpack while you run/wade (there are river crossings above knee height *eek*) and no doubt walk (lots of walking, I plan on lots of walking).

And just to make it harder… because surely that doesn’t sound hard enough?

The two stage runs (as these type of multi-day events/races are known as) are only a few weeks apart!

Actually they are 15 days apart, from the finish line in Africa to the start line in America… and in that time I have to fly home from Africa, get back to work, college and daily life, recover (heaven help me)… and then fly out to America to get on that starting line.

15 days between the two events… running a total of 324 miles.

Yes, you read that right too… 324 miles, across remote and difficult terrain, carrying everything I need and giving an overall total of, I believe just over 350 miles for the 3 events.

I am of course fundraising for such a challenge… and it’s for a fantastic charity that deals with challenges, survival, motivation, courage, fears (amongst other aspects)… details will be given with the London Marathon post 🙂 so please do take time to visit their website and share information once that post has been blogged.

From new runner in February 2013
to double stage runner in September 2014

18 months!

Is it do-able?

 I’m about to find out.

“You only get one life: aim high and be all that you can be”
~ Michelle Payne ~

© August 2014 Michelle Payne


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