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


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

 


The Marathon des Sables, 30th Edition – How hard can it be? – Part 2 (Stage Two)

03/05/2015

Character

Determination

Courage

STAGE TWO – WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

And so the second stage dawned… our tent had gelled well… banter, giggles and laughter pretty much from the moment we woke up, each and every day! However you have to get sorted relatively quickly… if you are not ready when the tents are taken down, they won’t wait and eventually what had been an amazing layered horseshoe of tents looks like a refugee camp in an astonishing short space of time!

Holiday 2015 - Morocco - Marathon des Sables 30th Edition 027

We actually had enough time after our tent had been taken down that my own personal hairdresser was available to plait my hair! Ladies, helpful tip… if you have long hair you might want to consider something other than just leaving it in a ponytail… it will get matted with sand and you won’t be able to get a brush through, IF you took one considering how much they weigh. If however you took a comb… forget about using it! James aka Bear Grylls (is there anything the man can’t do?) said he could plait bread (he cooks too)… so… bit bulky given the sand that would never leave me for a week, but hey… you take what you can get in situations like this… even if it means your hat won’t sit properly… it definitely helped and I didn’t particularly fancy having to get a ball of matted mess cut off at the end of the week!

It was then time to make our way over to the start line… (fourth from front again)… the nerves kicking in… Patrick starting speaking… surely this wouldn’t take as long as yesterday? It did… Patrick carried on speaking… as with the day before I looked over to Elisabet… she’d done so well on Stage 1, we nicknamed her the “First Lady”… but she’d kept a steady pace and wondered if the other top ladies were holding back and whether she’d gone out too fast… we smiled at each other… she went into her “zone” as you do… Patrick carried on speaking… I checked where Gwynn, my other tentmate was… right behind me…

Gwynn had gone out really hard on Stage 1. He’s a fast runner, is used to fell racing, has raced up to 83 milers (his first 100 is in July woop woop) and had come in that day with a time of 4:45! As a result however, we think he either had some heat exhaustion or dehydration… he’d been ill throughout the night dashing to the toilet, and then spent the morning throwing up. This of course meant his electrolytes were seriously out of balance and he knew that he would not be able to push through Stage 2 in the same way. I’m a (much) slower runner so he prudently thought we’d stick together for the first bit and see how he felt. If he felt ok, he’d push on and if not, we’d stay together. That way he could also pull me along speed wise as my competitive side had kicked in and I wanted to try and stay (just) in the top half.

We had a sandy track for the first few clicks/km… I struggled to keep up. We then hit some small sand dunes and it became a walk/jog/shuffle.. more stony ground… on inclines… and then the climb up Hered Asfer Jebel. Dear God. It felt steep, it felt hard… I puffed and panted my way up… Gwynn ahead of me… but the views once there… amazing… we had some photos taken… I made sure he was on the side nearest the edge… self-preservation and all that 😉 …

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… we then trotted along the crest before hitting the down… note when they say technical, your feet are going to get bashed! “Rocky bits” seems somewhat of an understatement. We then had to cross a valley before hitting Checkpoint 1. Gwynn decided to stick with me and we pushed on…

Now I class myself as slow and I will walk because a challenge like this is about the overall distance and getting it done… besides I have a somewhat fast walk (I blame the Army and all that marching 😉 ), but I started to get concerned when Gwynn dropped back… I kept turning around and making sure he was there… I needed a toilet break so he continued and I shuffled to catch him back up… we slowed even more… he was struggling to speak full sentences although he was able to nod and let me know he understood what I was saying… we were out in the full daytime sun and being baked alive… he wasn’t eating, was struggling to get fluids down… in the end I noticed a bush with a little bit of shadow around it… I put his arm over my shoulders and helped him to it… he sat down. I wet his buff, poured water down his back, wet his hat, held the wet buff against his wrists… he wasn’t speaking… when I looked into his eyes, he didn’t seem to be “there”… although I didn’t say anything to him, I was worried… I’d seen someone go down with heatstroke in Sierra Leone and he had had to be helicoptered out… what to do, what to do… hit his SOS button and potentially end his race, make him push on with the possibility he’d get worse…

What would you do?

Racers streamed by…

Gwynn said he wanted to continue… I couldn’t end his race… I know if that had been me, I’d try and push through until I physically couldn’t go any further… and although I hadn’t know him that long, I did know he had a similar mentality… I knew he would regret not giving everything he had to go on… I helped him to stand. We agreed we’d push on until we found help…

Eventually the next jebel loomed high in front of us… and thankfully there was a 4×4 with med staff in it… I helped him take his pack off, the crew there were amazing… they helped him into the car, checked him over… he was severely dehydrated… our tentmate Mike then reached us… the med staff asked Gwynn what he wanted to do… how did he feel… was he capable of pushing on ahead? Would he choose an IV?  We looked up… we were at the base of Joua Baba Ali Jebel… it was a steep climb… if he collapsed on that, it would be hard to get help to him… it would take time to get him off and he’d pretty much have to wave bye bye to the rest of his race… he asked about time penalties… he made the (very wise) decision to take the drip and told us both to go on ahead with him.

What would you do?

Would you stay?

Would you leave him behind?

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He’s a tentmate, a friend… out here in the desert this becomes your family… I knew I’d lost my top half place… and although a part of me was wanting to go and race… a bigger part knew what I would hope for in this situation… and that would be for someone to stay with me. I could do no less for someone else. I told Mike I’d stay and he could push on if he wanted to. He also made the decision to stay… we would wait for Gwynn and stick together… we would finish the day together! And we would have a full tent finish for the whole Marathon des Sables!

When you experience something like this, it’s part of the challenge in my opinion… it shows you what kind of character you have, what qualities you demonstrate… the “walking your talk”… it tests not just your physical capabilities but how well you manage so many different aspects… and then there’s the mental challenge… Gwynn has since said he was almost ready to hit that SOS button… I watched him battle what he had believed “failure” to mean when he accepted the IV drip… how he pushed through when he felt he hit rock bottom there… and that, to me, is courage… it’s strength… it’s determination… it’s endurance… your mind is what will ultimately carry you through the dark times… when the body wants to give up, when your emotions are all over the place… it’s the mind that will say “you can do this”… although it may kinda help just a little when you also have two stubborn tentmates refusing to move without you 😉 …

And for those who have asked how do you hook up an IV in the middle of the Sahara desert and keep it from boiling up when the temps are hitting the 50s…

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Trekking poles have a variety of uses…

We waited around an hour and half in total… Gwynn had two packs of fluid pushed through… the equivalent of 44 salt tablets… for those who that means nothing to… I was taking two to three salt tablets every hour!

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Time to push on and get up that jebel… just go up a bit and then turn right… which was steeper and higher… until eventually…

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Gwynn had recuperated enough that he had a new lease of life… it was like he’d been given a cocktail of energy! He waited for us to keep up! As we eventually espied Checkpoint 2 of the day… I wondered where we were to go… we were surrounded by a mountain pass… there appeared to be no way around (I didn’t check my roadbook)… there was no way round… Mike pointed out racers going up… but there appeared to be such a steep sandy hill without a mark on it… then an ant-like figure would pop up on the crest… how did they get up there?

My fear of heights would soon be engaged once more… we took a 10 minute breather at CP2 and pushed on… Jebel El Otfal… what was called in the roadbook a “difficult climb”… up and up… up and up… on soft sand… we went up the side bit… sand and rockface… two steps up, one sliding down… we clambered… this was climbing up rocks!!! Mike offered to carry my poles but they gave much needed confidence at levering myself up… keep looking up, keep looking to the right (to the rock and not where I could slide back down)… it felt like it went on forever… and there were many racers behind… I couldn’t stop… because if I did, I might not move again!

And from there, once you hit the down, it was supposedly only 5km to base camp… it felt much longer and of course… what was becoming the norm… more sand dunes to get over… eventually we hit the finish line… and went through the usual ritual… tea, water bottles… back to the tent…

We’d been out on course for just over 8 and a half hours… Gwynn had incurred another 2 hours with his time penalty… my first day position had been around 655, the second day was, I believe, around 1203… giving me an overall place of, I think… 1003.

It was a lot to drop 😦

BUT…

we all finished the day…

and on arrival home at #117… we had a full tent once more 🙂

And a beautiful setting sun to watch as we ate…

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Was the horror of the day over? Not quite… I’d picked up another 4 blisters so once I’d emailed a friend to let them know what had happened, I hobbled over to Doc Trotters in the dark… oh how naive I’d been… that one little blister that had been sliced the day before… today a different person to help me… 3 that were opened up… 3 that were INJECTED… (I hate needles)… let me just repeat that because I had never heard of this happening before it happened to me… INJECTED with iodine.

Note this hurts.

A hellavu lot!

I swore, very loudly… and the lady who held that needle seemed to look rather surprised at that… hell, they were sticking needles in my toes and heels… it stung and hurt… I’m hardly likely to smile sweetly… although I did thank her afterwards.

So for those who can, practice blister care beforehand… and for those who have to endure this in the future… it does actually work and will dry those blisters out… except for one which reformed the next day… but that was probably just me!

Surely we weren’t likely to encounter any more trouble… two days in: kit going missing, dehydration, illness, IVs out on course… blisters and needles… surely the worst was now over?

© May 2015 Michelle Payne


The Marathon des Sables, 30th Edition – How hard can it be? – Part 1

29/04/2015

Perception

Interpretation

Understanding

We all see, hear and experience things differently, so naturally we all interpret things differently… surely then, it’s logical to realise that we all understand things differently. Yet often people are surprised by what they encounter because they base their expectations on others’ experiences and beliefs.

It is with this as a guideline that I often end up saying “How hard can it be?” because what I may find hard, someone else may breeze through, or what I find easy, someone else may never even contemplate trying.

If you don’t try, you won’t ever know.

At the end of the Long Stage at the Grand to Grand, after over 27 hours on course with no sleep, as I reached the finish line and Tess (co-owner & director) hugged me, I told her how much I hated dunes and sand and that I never ever wanted to experience anything like it again. I was done and cancelling my entry into the Marathon des Sables. She, with years of stage racing experience, told me I would feel differently once I’d had some sleep and that if I wanted to continue with stage racing, I’d have to get used to dunes because a lot of races have them! She was right, although thankfully they don’t all have the amount of sand and dunes that Marathon des Sables has!

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I obviously didn’t cancel my entry and did make my way to Morocco because as a lot of runners will know, once home and post-event, your brain forgets the hard bits, you become like Dory from Finding Nemo and eagerly sign up for something new!

So… here’s what happened for me…

THE JOURNEY THERE

For the UK, entry is via a company called Run Ultra and I have to say what a smooth process they make it. They had 3 flights departing on the same day, someone to meet you at the London airport, dedicated check in desks for departure and then, on arrival in Morocco, Steve was waiting alongside other representatives to guide you to the correct coaches for the journey out to bivouac. Do make sure you have your data roaming switched off (especially if you are Vodafone customers) because uploading just 6 photos to Facebook will incur 3 text messages telling you that in the space of 10 minutes you have used enough data to have already incurred a fee of GBP 45.00. If you are a very lucky Vodafone customer, expect these messages to come in late, in reverse order so you won’t actually know about this, or be able to do anything about it, until it’s too late!

What a view coming in to Ouarzazate…

mds1Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

There was a lot of waiting around for all planes to arrive and buses to load up, and the coach journey is long… up to 6 hours… so be prepared and do take the water offered en route. Then you will encounter lesson number 1… the toilet pit stop! Here’s how it goes…

Men out to one side…

Women to the other…

Women find something to hide/squat down behind… and pray no-one is taking your photograph… yes, I saw several people with cameras out… but be reassured, eventually during the week, some of you (make that most of you)… will stop caring about being seen…

You will also stop for a packed lunch. If you find you need a toilet break here, get your packed lunch first in case they run out. If you avoided the toilet pit stop before, this is the time to take full advantage over any worry about being seen, because nearly everyone else is fully engaged with their food on the other side of the coach, sitting outside on rocks or on the ground eating. Do however be aware that although you may think you aren’t able to be seen… as you stroll back to the bus feeling much more comfortable, especially if you didn’t take advantage of pit stop 1, you will most likely sight locals in the distance… who will be watching your direction! If so, squash those thoughts down and concentrate on your food… you really won’t care on the return journey home!

A helpful tip: ensure you have antibacterial hand gel in your hand luggage and make sure you carry it on the bus (backpacks which you will use as hand luggage and have squished as much of your kit into as you are able within the 7kg allowance, will be put into the storage compartment under the bus)…

Watch out for camels… we were lucky enough to see some and the coach stopped so we could get some photos…

mds2Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

We arrived in darkness. Given that tents are allocated on arrival, our tent (organised beforehand) had a plan… one of us… aka who we thought was the fastest runner…  would grab the nearest tent and text the others… this worked well and we ended up with a tent nearer to one end than in the middle… I obviously didn’t work this out until I’d trudged round the whole arc of tents… Tent #117 was going to be home for the week 🙂 … it was a little roomier than I expected (thankfully) but way more open with virtually no privacy at all… if you feel you need some, get one of the ends… it’s not much but psychologically it can help! And yes, they are held up by sticks… which can collapse in sandstorms…

mds3Photo copyright: Matthew Cranham

Ground cover is provided by a rug, but the rocks will not have been swept out before the rug is laid.  If you have an inflatable mattress, you might just want to try and get rid of as many sharp rocks and pebbles as possible… if you want a good nights’ sleep… ok virtually no-one gets that, but if you want a reasonable amount of sleep, you should also try and make the ground as smooth as possible. Note, this does not apply to any sleep for the night/day after you finish the Long Stage…

Dinner, which is catered, was still available when we arrived and tasted great, much better than I had expected… and it’s a great opportunity to chat to your tentmates and get to know each other a bit better, and you will also get a glimpse of how your personalities will mesh together over the coming week.

mds5Photo copyright: Michelle Payne
with Matt Cranham and Gwynn Stokes 🙂

Then it’s back to the tent, sort out who is sleeping where… work out how to use the toilet system (more on that in the next section), brush your teeth and wipe your face over before snuggling into your sleeping bag and going to sleep looking out at the stars as a gentle breeze flows through the tent… it was a rather lovely start to the Adventure!

KIT CHECK DAY

We’re British, shouldn’t we be used to queuing?

Helpful tip… take a full 1.5 litre bottle of water with you when queuing.  It’s hot, it’s going to take more than a little while.

You will be given a time slot to go through kit check corresponding to runner number. You will hand over your big bag before going through kit check so make sure you use the first night to finalise anything you want to carry during the course of the week, rather than waiting to see how much your pack weighs (such as sleeping bag liners). So queue number 1… hand over bag, watch it thrown onto a lorry which seems to be stacked impossibly high… do not contemplate whether there will be anything going over the top of those bags to hold them in… walk away and don’t look back. Trust me on this…

Queue number 2… you will queue until you reach the desk, you will then queue behind the desk to the next point and so on… this is where they will check against the questionnaire you have completed (given on the coach along with the roadbook etc.) as to what kit you will be carrying… you will get your water card, your SOS attachment and the “bracelet” that allows you to be tracked on course… and yes, it looks like you’ve got an ASBO ankle tag on…

Helpful tip… do secure this with a safety pin! A bit tiresome but mine came off without it…

Your pack will be weighed… this weight may be wrong… don’t stress about it if so! Mine weighed 9.3kg in the tent (amazing considering how much previous packs have weighed) yet 8.7kg officially with nothing removed. If at this point your water tag and tracker are missing, try not to stress too much… you will eventually be given one. Inside the tent(s), the temperature will be hot, there will be no air… and you will be itching to get out… but still you queue…

You get to the medical bit… if you are really really really super unlucky (thankfully this was not me…) somehow, somewhere from the start of the queue to this point, you will have lost your ECG and your medical certificate. I kid you not. This will result in being told you have a time penalty of an hour (or was it two)… plus a fine of a lot of money! If you’re even more unlucky, you may have misplaced your euros too… pray your tentmates have extra on them to cover your ass! My tentmate was lucky… others in the tent had brought extra… and so was coined a phrase for Tent #117… “What will go right for Mike?”… this still makes me smile 🙂 …seriously though, he is an absolute superstar and fab tentmate!

You will then queue a bit more… before eventually the end is in sight, you drop your kit to one side and pose with your runner number against a cardboard MdS background… before being blinded by the daylight as you are released to freedom.

The rest of the day and evening is your own with all meals catered… enjoy these moments, where nothing aches, where there are no blisters… where you don’t have to struggle against the “breeze” to light a piece of fuel that burns your fingers and then goes out… each and every time!

Now, as previously mentioned… the toilet situation… there will be three “compartments/doors” with open flaps to the front (you can hold this closed with one hand)… there will be a stool shape inside. You take your biodegradable plastic bag and secure over the stool and once used, tie it up and place it in the bin just outside. These bins are emptied pretty regularly and much more hygienic than events of old.

A helpful tip… find a small pebble or rock and put it in said bag… it will stop the wind blowing it back upwards… you really really really don’t want that to happen.. thankfully I knew of this tip beforehand…

There is also a “changing room” provided for women. This is NOT A TOILET. Can I just repeat that? THIS IS NOT A TOILET!!! You will be informed about this on the coach journey to bivouac. It is noted in the roadbook. It has a sign on it… a circle with a toilet inside it and a cross going through it. It has written on it that it is NOT a toilet.

I understand that, just before it’s about to be removed, on the morning of a race/stage, when we are leaving that bivouac never to return, that it is not going to be used again and if there is a queue for the actual “toilet facilities” then it’s easier to use this, but not after the race, not during the night… not when other people are going to use it! It is the same as the toilets in that it has an open flap at the front but it has a crate inside only… this is for standing on so you can get changed without getting sand on everything! Not for pissing on!!!

By the fifth day, ours had been removed, probably because it was being used as a toilet. For those who said I had carried too many inessentials… you would have begged to borrow some of my sterilising tablets!

But to leave that day on a positive… everywhere I go, I seem to find natural hearts… this right outside our tent and in front of where my sleeping bag was… I was where I was meant to be…

MDS4Photo copyright: Michelle Payne 

STAGE 1 – THE RACE BEGINS

And so it starts… waking up, no more lazing around, no more time… it was here, it was real.

We would wake around 05.30 every day as the French tents opposite us woke at this time… I figured getting up at 6 would be sufficient time but it’s amazing how quickly the time goes… getting your breakfast ready, getting dressed, packing… going to the toilet for what seems like a million times before making your way over to the start line.  Stage 1 however was different … the taped off area on the first day which marks out the number for the edition of the race was ready for us, this year the 30th… the sound of the helicopter above, drones flying high… everyone waving their hands in the air… I saw a couple of people I recognised and said hello… and quite unwittingly ended up in the fourth row from the front! I looked to the left and saw my tentmate Elisabet who smiled reassuringly at me as she knew how nervous I was… she wasn’t looking to place this year… it was a training race for her…

Patrick started speaking… there was dust and sand and the sun starting to climb higher… Patrick carried on speaking… I figured this was taking quite some time due to it being the first day… surely not every day would take so long… let’s start already! The nerves were kicking in and the longer it took, the more I’d need another toilet break… men definitely have this aspect much easier at races!

Are we starting yet?

Eventually… the infamous track “Highway to Hell” began…

the countdown in French…

until we were released… adrenaline coursing, hearts pounding, dust and sand flying up as the runners swarmed through… so many smiles, arms waving, eyes cast upwards… the helicopter flying sideways down the long line that stretched out… I ran… or rather shuffled, as many a stage racer will call it 😉 and was overtaken by so many…

Don’t push, don’t try to match, don’t try to keep up… run your own race… the thoughts echoed through my head. It’s a long race and it’s not about one day! My coach’s words also echoed… you may not be the fastest but you are one of the toughest! Don’t go out too fast… oops. I scaled back… the soft sand making the legs work hard… how do they run so fast on this surface? My legs felt like lumps of lead whilst the leaders just glided…

Can I walk yet? No…..

2 minutes later… Can I walk yet…. no…

1 minute later… Can I walk yet? It’s an incline so Thank God YES!

This was to become a recurring theme in my head throughout the day and week as the race progressed… and a tactic of walk the ups, run the downs… however I hadn’t expected so many rocks. Elisabet’s husband Colin had warned me it was rocky (he’s finished this race twice) but I figured those were on the hills and would be smallish on sand… not so, lots and lots and lots of rocks… big enough to bash your feet time and time again. I prayed I wouldn’t get blisters…

I also hadn’t realised what a jebel was. I thought it was a term for a sand dune and had never even googled it. Note that a jebel is not a sand dune, although there will be a lot of sand… it’s a hill, or rather mountain. Most likely with steep sides. That goes up very high. That you could fall down and hurt yourself badly on. With big rocks. Fear of heights folks, fear of heights… need I say more? And very quickly on Stage 1 it was up, up and up… thankfully there were downs too, and flat bits. Not necessarily flat bits you could run fast on, especially when it was soft sand that had been churned up by a few hundred competitors already ahead, but flat was preferable to a mountain you could fall down. What I would come to appreciate during the Long Stage was how much flat I had on this first stage.

mdsstage1Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

We also were lucky in crossing a bridge where there was water… now I don’t know how clear or clean that water was but my cap was dragged along in it and dumped very unceremoniously on my head… the relief from the heat instanteous. Only two checkpoints during the day… any spare water I couldn’t carry on my front pack was poured over my head, neck, down the back and over the arms. You dry out quickly…

The heat was pretty unrelenting but not too bad (thank God for those heat chamber sessions)… but we also had a breeze. I thought this was a good thing to start with and it wouldn’t be until much later that I realised the downside.

I shuffled on…

Until eventually I crossed the finish line. Knackered, dusty, dirty… sand embedded everywhere, but what a sense of satisfaction in getting the first day done… emotional… enjoying the cup of sweet tea that awaits every runner when they finish.

No time to loiter… get your next ration of water, get back to the tent, change out of your running gear and pin it up… blow up your mattress and then put the pack on it so it doesn’t fly away… check the feet for damage, realise you already have blister… go and queue up for your first visit to the infamous Doc Trotters… get said blister sliced, hobble back… realise the queue for sending emails is massive and decide to wait until tomorrow… you need food… you have your protein drink… you then do battle with your stove… you are rescued by your tent’s very own version of Bear Grylls who lets you use his (James, you total hero)!

Email time… a main highlight of the day…

Runners keep coming in and eventually it’s time to go check positioning…

Top half… only just, but still… top half…

And we had a full tent.

I go to sleep that night exhausted but very happy.

Little did I know how differently the next day was going to be…

© April 2015 Michelle Payne

 


My Child

20/08/2014

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My Child

You jump, you spin, you hop
the delight on your face
when the music starts
as you wiggle and try to bop.

Such enthusiasm
such glee
it’s a joy to behold
to witness
to see.

Once upon a time
I too was like that
a long time ago
before I encountered
some of life’s little mishaps!

To have such innocence
to feel so free
to dance
to move
without caring who may see.

You grin
spin round and round
arms whirling
legs twirling
until a stagger
a misstep
a fall to the ground.

I gather you up
your bottom lip starts to quiver
you sniff
and give a little shiver.
I wipe away the falling tears
and try to calm your fears
a sniffle, a snuffle, a little sob
such tears and hurt
make my heart throb.

Your friends start calling your name
they want your attention
they’re playing a game!

You look up at me
as if to ask
if I get down
will you take me to task?
Or is it ok?
Will you wait
sit there
while I go and play?

These moments I will remember
as I age and become more grey
no matter your age
my child
you will always stay.

Words © July 2014 Michelle Payne
Picture found circulating freely online


SL Marathon 2013 – Update – Running and the Race itself!

07/07/2013

So we’d had the project visits, been in Sierra Leone a few days, met new people and made new friends… and the other thing we all had in common was we’d flown over to run!

Now… my original plan had been to train up for and do the half-marathon… given I had done nothing really before but one treadmill run a week, pretty much died after 20 minutes max on said treadmill and had pushed myself to get out of the house and run on my own over several months (also thanks to Niron from ActivatePlus PT, because his personal training also gave me a kick up the ass!)… and I’d managed 12 miles non-stop by this point. Admittedly I had died with the legs refusing to move after that particular run… but I’d trained for it and had a positive mental attitude…

and then I met the mad marathoners on a bus in a Sierra Leone… most specifically the first bad influence… a certain Mr Downey… all 6 foot 3 or 4 of him who I think has been running for decades and has a “can do” attitude (helpful that when you work in the City)… and who it turns out, only lives about 10 minutes away from me… small world!

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Now Kev, remember at this point, I’m using a good photo of you… I do have another I could have used hahaha… anyway… it was at this point, that the words were uttered “well you could change your mind and do the full marathon”… several times… which I then considered. Apparently I then got a bit of a glint in my eye! But he was right. Nothing like a bit of logic. Run the half distance… and walk the rest if necessary. It was “DO-ABLE”. And so the seed was planted… which wasn’t helped by the fact that we all then kept discussing the possibility over the next couple of days!

Now, you’d think you’d need to rest your legs and acclimatise… given this is Sierra Leone, it’s bloody hot… and humid as hell. So the second evening (which must have been after the Bumbuna visit) I ended up going out for a little 2 mile run to see how it felt running in the heat… not on my own… this was with a total marathon nutter who’s been running decades (there were a few in attendance, obviously) who should reach his 30th marathon by the end of …. actually next week if you count Race to the Stones ultra… anyway, our rooms were right opposite each other and Jon was very helpful with advice… oh yes, here he is with said earlier bad influence!

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So that little run went well, nice and slow and able to breathe, but it was early evening… so… we ended up on the Saturday… yes, the day before the Marathon itself, going out at lunchtime in 88 degree heat, high humidity and running a 10km. We took it slow and careful and it was on the road. Very hot. And bearing in mind I had had an injury kick in around week 8 of my training, I felt it.

So that was that. I decided to stick with what I’d trained for, do the half marathon and be a happy bunny if I could complete it. Realistic goals. Even Kev looked a little relieved that night at the pre-race party when I went to get my t-shirt and race number… I definitely heard him mutter the words heat, death and conscience! I also double-checked with the Race Director who also advised against such a plan.

BUT… when you’re surrounded by high achieving types, who love nothing more than a challenge… when a certain Army major who shall remain nameless (ok, recently demobbed but still… yes Chez I mean you… oops) turns round and tells you not to be a pussy even if you were only military admin many decades ago… and THEN you meet another nutter and bad influence… yes Helen, I’m naming and shaming you… who says that they will stay with you, and walk the whole way if necessary, that it would be safe and therefore do-able… what can you do but just go for it!!! 🙂

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Trust me, she may look innocent but she’s not… especially where sambuca, dancing in London and almost missing my train home is concerned… but that’s another story! So anyway, what could I do but check to see if I could change my choice. And I could. So I did. Plan adopted. Run the half, walk the rest if necessary. Stay in group, do not go on own. And try to get an early night.

After a couple of hours sleep (4 actually, that was better than some got) and with full marathon race number pinned on… it was time to get on the coaches, get to the start line and see just how my legs would cope. There was an absolutely fantastic atmosphere there… loads of local people also turned up to participate, especially in the 5K race… likely helped by the fact that the President of Sierra Leone was also running it… and before you knew it, we had assembled, the President had opened the race and it was time to start! Here’s a few of the crazy participants before we lined up at the start…

Sierra Leone 2013 082

I was good. I stuck with the mad Geordie (aka Helen) and her group… until Paul decided (very wisely due to injuries) to stick with his half marathon plan and took the turning (I think around mile 6) and then Helen (yes, see earlier photo above) wanted to stop to take some photos of the kids who had high-5’d us… she said she’d catch me up so off I trotted alone (and trust me, trotting was the pace I adopted)… yes yes, I know I was supposed to stay with the Group, but I didn’t want to stop…

and from then on in it was a case of maintain pace and chat to people as either I reached them, or they passed me… but mainly I was running on my own… stop shaking your head Helen… you know you’ve forgiven me ;)… we were lucky that it was a bit cooler due to the early start and it wasn’t too hilly at that point… there were also lots of local people encouraging us in the early stages… and then we hit the quieter village back roads… or hills… the word “undulating” has taken on a whole new meaning… and by mile 11 I had to adopt a walk/trot tactic… power walk up those undulations and jog down… trust me, the energy expended trying to run up them would have killed me quicker than the heat!… and so I plodded on, finally reaching the turn back point and then the half marathon point just under my hoped for time of 2 hours 30.

Now that felt amazing, and when my runkeeper app kicked in and I knew I’d achieved it, it was quite an emotional moment! Anything hereafter would be a bonus… just needed to keep going… especially as it got hotter and the trail became narrower and more uneven… there was only one point I realised quite how serious everyone’s concerns were, and that’s when I saw one guy go down with heatstroke. They got him out and he’s ok, but I guess I hadn’t really been aware of just how dangerous high temps and humidity can be… so if anyone considers doing what I did, get some expert advice first and follow it *ahem*!

Now I’m not sure what everyone means by “hitting the wall” but I do know my quads kicked in around mile 20… not surprising given the problems I’d had since week 8 of training, but I was actually pleased… that’s not as crazy as it sounds. You see I’d also been running in custom orthotics, which had helped create the leg problems, and then the moldable orthotics I got, got fried so I was actually running in trainers that were only two weeks old with minimum mileage used, and brand new orthotics I bought and moulded the day before I flew out to Africa. Not exactly the best marathon plan in the world huh! So, the quad pain meant the orthotics were working properly and my legs/hips were actually balanced as I ran (trotted)… anyway, I pushed on and was still trotting & walking at the end and even managed a little sprint for the last 50 metres… well it felt like a sprint, thankfully I have seen no photo or video evidence to prove it was more like a slow motion pace! And looking at my timing splits afterwards… my overall average pace per mile had only dropped by 1 minute (for a newbie, I thought that was great) which included the extra walking!

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All in all, I finished the marathon with a time of 5 hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds … certainly didn’t feel like eating afterwards (but didn’t throw up)… and the legs were walking very woodenly until I got back to the hotel and had a shower. The next day, yep like a few people I had a couple of nasty-ish blisters, black toenails and one which came off… I ached a bit… but to be honest I’d had worse from a hard karate session… which showed that I’d listened to my body properly, adopted the right tactics for me and had taken it carefully and not pushed too much, especially given my lack of running experience. I did find it hard to rein back at the beginning when a lot of people raced off, but to me safety is key.

I loved it… and since I trained for the half… there just happened to be a half marathon two weeks later in the town I live… what could I do but go for it! So in the space of two weeks, I’d done a full marathon in Africa, a half marathon in Essex and a 5k in Essex… all personal bests obviously… with more to come… but you’ll have to venture back to read about those… especially a new challenge I’m creating with one of the mad marathoners I’ve mentioned previously.

If something is do-able then why not go ahead and challenge yourself, because life is just too short to do anything other than live it to the full… appreciate what you have, enjoy what you have… and if you are not in that situation, then it is down to you to change it, no-one else. The responsibility for your life, is yours alone. What can you do with yours and just what can you inspire others to achieve through your actions?

Links:

Street Child

Sierra Leone Marathon 2013

© 2013 Michelle Payne


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