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 ūüôā

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 ūüė¶ … 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. ūüôā

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 ūüė¶ 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 ūüôā ) 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 ūüôā ). 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 ūüėÄ … 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 ūüôā

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‚Äôt breath in, you burn in, that‚Äôs 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‚Äôs a name that starts the heart beating and the mind whispering ‚Äúone day‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúwhat if”… a name that ends up in magazines on lists with words in the titles such as¬†‚Äúultimate‚ÄĚ, ‚Äúdestination‚ÄĚ, ‚Äúmust do‚ÄĚ and ‚Äútoughest‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôd 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 ‚Äúwish‚ÄĚ. It took another year until, in passing, my running friend Telma who I‚Äôd 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‚Äôd 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‚Äôd 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 ‚Äútraining run‚ÄĚ, so while I hoped and had a ‚Äúgut feeling‚ÄĚ… 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs A&E Department, on crutches for 3 days until the worst of the swelling had gone down (it‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď never underestimate the value of a good night‚Äôs 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


Refuge

07/11/2015

Although I’ve mentioned the charity Refuge briefly on this blog before, this charity does such much needed work that I think it should be highlighted again, and also because¬†the Charity¬†covers the same subject matter that I work with¬†as a volunteer counsellor at a local charity… that of domestic violence and abuse.

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Deliberately hurting, harming and damaging another person¬†shouldn’t happen, but it does. Most people don’t want to acknowledge the existence of such abuse, but it affects so many that every single human being is likely to know at least one person who has experienced a form of it. I mentioned some personal thoughts here when I spoke about choosing this charity to fundraise for with my Triple Continent Challenge.

When people talk to me about domestic abuse, they often have the misguided and wrong belief that it only occurs when a person physically hurts another, such as punching and kicking, black eyes, broken limbs or, a bit further down the scale, torture or murder.

No.

Yes the physical abuse happens. Way too often. But domestic abuse isn’t just this.¬† Yes, it¬†often does include physical violence, but what about sexual abuse… the partner who has been “conditioned” to never say no to sex? Who is shared with that partner’s friends… pimped? Or worse?

What about financial abuse? All money taken away, no financial support given, not allowed to get a job which could gain the victim some financial freedom?

What about emotional abuse?

Psychological abuse?

Where the victim ends up not knowing what to think, believe?

Where they are repetitively told… conditioned… to believe that they are worth less… worth nothing… that they deserve the treatment they get, that they create it because if it wasn’t for them not doing some thing “right” (such as dinner not on the table at a set time, the cat or dog making too much noise, towels not in a straight line, the children not being quiet, the weather… raining outside… the list is endless!) the abuse wouldn’t happen. It’s not about what someone isn’t doing…

Manipulation, fear and intimidation that is created to maintain control and power.

And this happens across all cultures, all societies, genders, sexuality, income levels, types of relationship, ages.

Just because there are no bruises, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. In the UK the stats are around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who experience domestic abuse and/or violence. Horrifying numbers. And people don’t speak up, don’t speak out. It’s seen as shameful and weak to have somehow gotten into such a situation in the first place, let alone put up with it for whatever reason (threats of death, children being snatched, taken into care, pets being hurt, being stalked, hunted, not able to survive, no money, no help, no support, no friends, no family, no home, no job)…

Two women a week are murdered by their partner or ex partner, three women a week will kill themselves because they feel they have no other way out from the hell that they are living.

There is help, but it takes a huge amount of courage to take that step forward… a leap of faith… because to everyone else that abuser may be a charmer, wonderful, kind even… because no-one else knows what goes on behind closed doors… because you might not be believed…

and this is where Refuge (in the UK) can help.  They have a helpline which is available 24/7, 7 days a week. They have refuges so someone daring to reach out and escape will not be homeless on the street.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of domestic abuse and/or violence, please get in touch with them.  The Helpline number is: 0808 2000 247.

If you want to know more about domestic abuse, the work that Refuge do, fundraise for them, volunteer with them, or if you need help from them, then please visit their website by clicking here.

Have a great Friday and weekend folks, and perhaps give a hug to someone who needs one!
Michelle

© 2015 Michelle Payne


HARP – Southend’s Homeless Charity, Running and Christmas Meals

30/10/2015

As the nights now draw in and the the colder, darker and wetter weather kicks up another notch, it’s perhaps rather timely that the next Charity I wanted to add to the list on this site, and one that I had a leaflet to hand about, was HARP.

The Charity

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HARP is an action-based charity that is located and works in the town where I live, Southend. It aims to help the local homeless by providing essential services and emergency housing and works with people on a long-term basis so that they can hopefully get off the streets and rebuild their lives. They have two charity shops, offer emergency services including a drop-in centre for advice, hot meals and washing facilities and also offer supported accommodation. When someone is feeling hungry, alone, vulnerable… when they have no home and no shelter… when they feel lost and have no hope… HARP is there to help.

From their website, the services they offer:

  1. Emergency Services at the Bradbury Centre: advice, support, a hot meal, help in finding emergency accommodation
  2. Acorn Housing – a supported housing scheme for single people;
  3. HARP Restart – supports ex-offenders who are receiving treatment for substance misuse with not just hostel accommodation but rehabilition programmes;
  4. Learning for Life – provides accommodation and life skills to support those who have difficulty maintaining a tenancy, including support for the long-term homeless who often have very complex needs.

They do amazing, and staggering, work. From their website, the following facts:

  • HARP provided 3,900 food parcels and night packs in 2013, and over 4,500 in 2014/2015;
  • HARP’s volunteers are crucial to keeping the charity afloat. We have approximately 60 volunteers across our sites including our charity retail shops in London Road and Hamlet Court Road (both in Westcliff), including kitchens which are all run by volunteers,
  • All food donated to HARP is used in food parcels, night packs and for meals at The Bradbury Centre, the emergency hostel and our other specialist hostel;

As with any charity, help from the general public is vital to their ongoing work. There are many ways to help, from donating money, donating goods, fundraising and volunteering by donating time.

The Running

And for those runners who visit here, please note that they also have a local annual run… Harp24! This is a 24 hour race for either relay teams or solo runners, of 4.2 mile cross-country loops , and which raises a lot of money for the charity… so the more entrants, the more money it generates to help the charity provide the above services within the Community. The first of these races was in 2012 and it has grown in size every year since… over 300 runners for 2015! I had the pleasure of participating last year as a solo runner, one of only two idiots who¬†ran with a¬†weighted pack… and what a fantastic party atmosphere it had… friendly competition, camping, friends, families, children playing… unfortunately it clashed with my 8in8 marathon challenge this year so I couldn’t go.

Fab race reports available online from a variety of clubs, including one from Flyers Southend which can be read here and one from Rochford Running Club which can be found here, you might even spot me in one of their 2014 photos!

So for those of you who fancy a challenge, why not keep an eye out for next year’s event… enter a team or go solo, run for fun or use it as training for an ultra or stage race… and for the seriously crazy (or normal, depending upon your perspective ūüėČ ), how about going for a 100+ mileage and becoming a centurion?

And so to the last part of this post’s title…

Christmas Meals!

It’s a little while off, but at the beginning of December, HARP will hopefully be kicking off their yearly Christmas Meals campaign/appeal again, which I participated in last year. I know that there are many appeals at this time of year, but imagine being on the streets with absolutely nothing, which is awful enough during any day… but at Christmas when homes light up with their decorations, trees and families gathering… when wherever you go, you hear about people’s plans for eating, drinking, having fun… belonging, being cared about, being loved, being wanted… what about those who don’t have food or a roof over their heads, those who don’t have any of this, have no-one? HARP aims to provide all who turn up a christmas meal at their Centre and these are funded entirely by donation. A donation doesn’t just provide a meal though… it also gives people access to the Charity’s full range of services which in turn can then¬†ripple out to create new beginnings for them. So, for those who are interested, this is a heads up to please keep an eye out for when that appeal happens.

And lastly,  for those that would like to help this fantastic Charity in any of the ways listed above, please click here for their website and here for their Facebook page, where you can find further information on doing just that.

Wishing you all a wonderful¬†Friday and week ahead¬†ūüôā
Michelle


Challenge 2 of 3 – Done!

18/09/2014

I don’t have a lot of time tonight as at the time of drafting this, it’s only a matter of hours before I’m off to the airport… time to get to the States for the next part of my challenge, so a brief update really.

Racing the Planet / 4 Deserts – Roving Race – 250 km across Madagascar

WOW!

If you had to¬†sum up a whole experience into one word, that is what springs to mind when I think of what I’ve just done. ¬†Followed by silence as I think of how to adequately describe what has been just an absolutely amazing time in my life.

It was not easy and I think that overall, it was a good job I had no experience to base my expectations on, because if I’d known quite how tough it would be, how ill I would feel in parts, and some of the mental challenges, then I may not have been so quick to sign up. ¬†That being said, I think it went really well for my first stage run… and yes, I finished it.

One thing I really liked was the comms/cyber tent package… it meant that not only could you read emails from people who wanted to send you support and to let you know they were thinking about you, but I also had a blog, so folks back home could not only see updates from Racing the Planet/4deserts, but also get to have a brief snapshot of what you were experiencing. ¬†We didn’t have access to it after the end of Stage 5, so if anyone has sent emails that I haven’t acknowledged, my apologies. ¬†They will be sent to us once the admin staff get a moment to catch their breath. ¬†If anyone hasn’t read them, wants to, or wants to read my thoughts during the stages, as well as an extra one I added last week once I was back in the country, please go visit this page, and click on my surname:

http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/madagascar/blogs

It wasn’t all running… on some of the terrain that was not possible… there was walking, a bit of climbing, wading through rivers, trying not to get stuck in mud and rice fields, fall off log bridges, and hopping around on the spot when stung by some kind of buzzy thing… there were tears, laughter, a lot of smiling… there were falls, injuries, sickness… there was walking and star gazing through the night, fantastic awesome scenery, there were blisters… my god how many blisters… nearly everyone I think had some and by the end of the week as everyone went to get hot water for drinks and dinner, it seemed as if everyone was hobbling.

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But over and above that, I believe there are two things which make these events what they are… one being the individual’s drive to challenge themselves, to not give up, to achieve… to battle whatever dark moments they have, to enjoy the lighter ones and then often reaching out to others to help them do the same… and the main one, quite simply, the people. ¬†Because it’s the people you meet, how you get on, that create the whole experience: both the individual aspects and the collective: your tent mates, the people you talk to a little bit, the people you talk to a lot, those you help and those who help you… an experience like this, it seems to strip everything away… all the materiality, the day to day aspects of life that often we allow to pile on top of us until what we truly want, who we truly want or crave to be, gets swallowed whole by responsibility, belief patterns, expectations of the self and others, by the necessities of the life that we have created. On an experience like this, we can strip that away and see who we truly are… it allows us time to be reflective and face our fears, our worries, our demons… it gives us space to think, to feel… to just be. ¬†Is it like that for others? I don’t know… these are just my thoughts as I type… I’m sure there will be many more once I actually take time to “stop”, let everything assimilate and review the whole journey I’ve been on.

I am extremely glad I jumped into this, and that Madagascar was a starting point for me… what a wonderful adventure to start with! The memories it has given me, the experience for what I am thinking of potentially doing in the future… but mainly, the amazing people I’ve met and become friends with and who I hope will be in my life for a long time to come, and not forgetting the overall memories that I am left with. If anyone is considering doing something like this, then I would say absolutely, go for it, without a shadow of a doubt.

Now, it’s time to get psyched up and ready for Grand to Grand! 273km from the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase. The feet are still somewhat painful… the shoulders are still bruised, and the pack this time seems even heavier… I blame the increase in my blister kit rather than sweets in my daily rations ūüėČ

And once again a reminder… that I am also trying to raise funds and awareness for the UK charity Refuge… who help people get out of domestic abusive / violence relationships and to safety. If you would like to share on social media, with friends, with family… my charity page link is: http://www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne4.

Wishing you all a great week ahead.
Michelle

© September 2014 Michelle Payne


Charity & Challenge 1 of the 3 (Triple Continent Challenge)

26/08/2014

Domestic abuse / violence is a topic that is not talked about easily.¬† It is easily hidden away because most people do not want to acknowledge the existence of it, don’t want the subject to touch their lives and also because once you know about something, there is then a choice about whether to do something about that new knowledge.¬† Such choice automatically then leads to responsibility.¬† Who wants to take responsibility for reporting domestic abuse?¬†Who wants to get involved in that?¬†The answer is generally a big fat no, with such inaction then lending¬†more power to the abuser, because they get away with so much more, feel safe in the knowledge that they won’t be stopped and actually, if no-one ever does anything, it sends the implicit message that it is allowed.¬† Yes, you read that right… by not doing anything about it (or sitting on the fence as it were) if you know about it, do nothing about it, then you’re saying it’s ok.

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing

~~ Albert Einstein ~~

But if you know abuse is happening and want to help someone, what do you do? Who do you turn to?¬†What help is available? If you don’t know the answers to such questions, that too can stop victims getting help.¬† So the aim of running these challenges is not only to raise funds (which are desperately needed) but also to raise awareness of this topic.

Therefore, the charity that I chose was Refuge.

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Although I have a full time job in the City, I am also a qualified Counsellor.  I work in private practice with clients, with whatever issues they bring (from self-esteem, relationships, body image, negative thought patterns, generational patterns and more) and additionally as a volunteer with a local domestic abuse charity.  Please note that this is not Refuge.

Refuge opened the world‚Äôs first safe house for women and children escaping domestic violence in Chiswick, West London, in 1971 and have been providing help to those who need help to escape. As Government funding is not enough to sustain the demands that Refuge faces… and let’s face it, demands that shouldn’t be necessary in any day and age!… it relies on help from volunteers and donations to meet those demands… demands that ultimately means lives are saved! ¬†Ways that they get such help is through challenges and events, such as running… which helps to raise much needed funds and helps to get the message out about what domestic violence / abuse means and can entail, and it was one such event that brought me into contact with them.

That event was the Virgin London Marathon and the first of the Triple Continent Challenge. ¬†Now some friends (who aren’t runners) thought that because I’d already completed a long race by this point, figured it would be easy. That was, until I pointed out I wanted to run the whole way… and in a much quicker time. Specifically to shave at least half an hour off my time, or more if it was possible. But predominantly to do this without stopping, with all the niggles that I had had to date and the fact I hadn’t run more than 13.1 miles non-stop. I hadn’t figured on the amount of people running it either until someone pointed that out.

And it was at this point that I knew I needed help. Professional help (yeah yeah I can hear some of those friends’ voices laughing at that…) because it’s one thing to actually go and totter off down a trail marathon (or ultra) with a lot of walking (and pain, which kinda goes without saying) as a one-off, it’s quite another to specifically train for and run a road marathon… one of the world majors… with virtually no proper training experience, especially if you’ve had quite extensive hip surgery some years previously which¬†meant spending¬†about 3 months on crutches.

Life is somewhat synchronistic because I eventually, through a recent running connection, found myself making a visit to that person’s coach to see if they could help me. That initial session was more like an interview… and it wasn’t me in the driving seat!¬†What did I want to achieve, what training and experience did I already have… and what time did I have to put into training going forwards. Looking back, it still makes me chuckle a bit to remember Rich’s face when I told him what I’d already signed up for, what little experience I had and how I had no readily available time to devote to training. He told me he didn’t think he could train me. He’s blunt like that ūüôā

However, when you really want something… ultimately, you will do what you have to do to get it… and when he told me that, apart from feeling pretty gutted for a little while… my answer was: tell me what you want from me and I will tell you if I can do it! ¬†A day later I got an email. And nearly died in horror, wondering how on earth I’d fit one run in, let alone five… plus a coaching session, plus two conditioning sessions… all in one week, every week, plus daily stretching… plus work, college, commuting, second job, building my own business… well, you can imagine…

and so the training began, choices and sacrifices made…

until¬†6 months later I ended up on the start line of the London Marathon… well actually, I was in a pen… near the back which took about 10 minutes to reach the start line once the race began… but off I trotted, with one of my friends from Sierra Leone beside me…

I didn’t finish in the time I envisaged the previous year…

I had “injuries”… a niggly ITB meant pain… but worse was I had developed some painful plantar fasciitis which meant I basically limped most of the way round…

and yes it hurt, especially the last few miles (not as much as when I stopped after I crossed the finish line though… little tip… do not sit down on the grass, you will end up being helped up by the Red Cross if you are not able to pull yourself up by holding onto a nearby tree!)…

but I did it non-stop… the whole way… so damn proud…

and I did it quicker!¬†Not too shabby a time if I do say so myself ūüôā

4 hours 17 minutes 15 seconds

It’s amazing what you can achieve when you set your mind to it… but the thing is, you have to be open to the possibility… to know and be able to reach out to those that can help you. My coach Rich was amazing in helping me get to that point, he’s even more amazing for putting up with me since, or maybe that’s the wrong way round ūüėÄ … of course, we had to get over the little thing first about how he thinks I’m absolutely nuts to even consider doing one stage run, let alone two… and let alone so close together… and that’s not normally how he works… what’s that saying Rich, it takes one to know one ūüėČ … anyway…

I’m still fundraising for Refuge with these runs, so if you would (hopefully) like to sponsor me for being crazy enough to attempt this challenge… to help Refuge help others, please click on my justgiving link where you can donate online:

www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne4

and if you would like to find out more about Refuge and the work it does, please click here.

And of course if you have ever fancied running or jogging/walking a marathon to help a fantastic charity, then please get in touch with Refuge to see about getting one of their bond places!

I’m flying out very shortly to start the second challenge in Madagascar, so will blog the next post when I can.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this, and please do spread awareness of what domestic violence / abuse constitutes and how people can reach out and get help.

Don’t fence sit (you’ll get splinters eventually ;)… say No to DV!

Have a great day ūüôā
Michelle

August 2014 Michelle Payne


SL Marathon 2013 – Update – Street Child Project 2

04/07/2013

Very belated updates now I’m afraid… my scheduling just hasn’t happened as I had hoped and although I’d expected things to calm down once I returned home, that hasn’t actually happened! Those who know me, won’t be surprised to hear that ūüôā

So on the last post I talked about arriving in Sierra Leone and the first day and Project visit to Lunsar. Street Child also arranged for us to visit two other projects: I got to visit Bumbuna and then the Makeni Project Centre. The visit to Bumbuna was quite something… it’s probably the only time in my life I will ever get off a coach (well I wasn’t on my own, obviously) to be greeted by so many people that had been waiting patiently for us for hours.

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There had been some rain and we were out in the countryside here which meant slower going to get there. ¬†These kids had been waiting for hours in the heat… just for us. ¬†We had the opportunity to learn what work Street Child had been doing in this area, how it had helped the children and how this was impacting upon the future of the country. Education here is so valued that I think many kids in the UK (and most likely other western countries) could do with appreciating what they have more… these kids will learn in the open air, will walk long distances just to learn… you get the picture! ¬†We were also treated to skits that the students had been practising and got to talk to some of the younger students before they were ushered back to their area (they kept running over when they could :)).

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As I said, fantastic to see just how many people’s lives are being affected positively by Street Child, and an amazing feeling to be involved so directly… to see, hear and talk to those concerned… yep, yours truly… proof I was there ūüėÄ

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We also managed to make a little trip to see the local waterfall… although there were signs everywhere telling you NOT to go in the water… do bear in mind quite how hot it was… a fair few people did go for a little swim. ¬†I can tell you that those rocks were very slippy and the orange colour from the iron ore from those rocks does not come out of anything that touches it (well, skin being the exception)… won’t be wearing those shorts again any time soon!

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It was then time to clamber back to the buses, get back to our hotels and then over to the Stadium, where a match was going on. ¬†Yes, more football… this time with the amputees. ¬†Now I’m not generally a fan of footie and don’t go out of my way to watch it, but these guys were fantastic… if you’d asked me before this visit whether anyone could play football with legs missing, I would have said no, highly doubt it. Time to get my uninformed beliefs kicked into touch ūüėČ … so fast, so unafraid at tackling… this was one game I enjoyed… unfortunately I didn’t take many photos and no goal-scoring ones, so this one will have to do!

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All in all, a fantastic day… and a lot achieved… after only just two days… and then it was time to head to the Clubhouse for dinner and then to get some sleep. Happy days!

Links:

Street Child

Sierra Leone Marathon 2013

© 2013 Michelle Payne


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