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

13/06/2017

What did I say… pride goeth before a fall…

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

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

Lying in wait patiently until yours truly rocked up…

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

I literally ran into a bridge…

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

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

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

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

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

There’s another saying… expect the unexpected…

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

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

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

I was only at mile 39…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 miles left…

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

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

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

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

unofficial PBs for 50 miles and 100 miles… smashed…

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

A time of 37 hours and 34 minutes

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

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

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

Wishing you all a wonderful week
Michelle

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

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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…

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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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