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


Equipment Kit List – 515km through the Grand Canyon and Africa

05/09/2016

Grand to Grand Ultra 2014, USA – 273km and RTP Roving Race 2014 (Madagascar)

An absolute newbie to the world of adventure stage racing and with only 18 months running experience in total, I was googling all over the place to get information to hand as to what I would need. The amount of blogs and comments on the internet were enough to scare me into wondering (yet again) just what I was letting myself in for, especially when I was having to get kit sorted for not one, but TWO stage races at the same time. Crazy idea… why on earth did I decide to do this? A frequent question as I’m sure many others (would) have thought in the same position.

As I mentioned in the previous post, gathering information and then looking at what you already have, or where you can get help, can be vital in being as prepared as possible for challenges that lie ahead.  In this case, I had my coach who was helping me with the physical fitness aspect, a friend from the Sierra Leone marathon who had signed up with me so I wasn’t going to be totally on my own… and also some luck… this being in the form of Colin and Elisabet Barnes who are members of Leigh on Sea Striders, the club I race under, and who just happen to be ultra-marathoners with experience of ultramarathons and specifically desert stage racing. They also happen to own Myracekit and if you’re really lucky, when you visit their shop, you may get a cuddle off the adorable Stig!

Colin with Stig
(Photo copyright: Michelle Payne)

Anyway, onto kit:

Backpack: WAA Ultrabag 20L
(Available from: Grand to Grand, Myracekit)
Weight: 590g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I had been planning on using the Aarn Marathon Magic 22L, but as I increased the pack weight, found it compressed my breathing a bit too much. The pack was fab overall, and I’ve kept it. I think it’s just a matter of learning how to adjust the (many) straps. At this time the WAA pack was hard to get hold of in the UK, but a fellow competitor going to Grand to Grand had a spare one and offered to let me buy it off him, and he posted it from France (thank you Say!!). For someone who likes to pack everything but the kitchen sink (OK maybe including that too) with a better to be safe than sorry mentality, this pack made me strip back a lot of kit (you can only imagine how much I would have taken!!). Comfortable, no bouncing around and no gaps. Easy enough to chuck it in the washing machine too when it gets encrusted and turns white from the salt your body sweats out in the heat. Mine has a detachable mesh bag inside, which was a godsend although I’m not sure if the latest versions have this still. As I packed a decent amount of food (I don’t like to be hungry), I found a way of clipping this on the outside of the pack which meant I could carry about 3 days worth of food in it, although such fastening did mean it was less stable for those few days. Did I mention I don’t like to be hungry?

Use again: Absolutely

Hydration: 2 x 750ml Raidlight bottles, 1 Litre Platypus soft bottle
Weight: Raidlight bottle 95g, Platyus 38g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

2.5 Litres was the required capacity for fluid in Madagascar. I’ve had a few problems with using bladders at the start of my running journey so I tend to avoid them, plus I really didn’t want to have to keep taking off a heavy pack just to fill the water, let alone what if it leaked inside? The potential horror of that was enough to make sure I looked at other options! That really only left bottles. The WAA pack comes with its own bottles, however these were atrocious and leaked everywhere. I swapped them out for the Raidlight 750ml bottles with the bite valve and tube. In training with them, one did start leaking from the screw top (there are two tiny plastic bits on it) but Myracekit replaced it and the new one was fine. I then paired them with a 1-litre platypus soft bottle. There is a 500ml size available for this if you only need 2 litres, and which I took to G2G.

Use again: Yes for the Raidlight. Having the bottles to hand made it much easier to refill at checkpoints. However it’s worth noting that if you go down the route of rocket fuel (water/cola combo) then the initial fizz can also cause some leaking. In this case, make sure you only fill to about 650ml and point the bite valve away from you!

Sleeping bag: Yeti Passion 3
Weight: 465-530g (M-L)
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I don’t like to be cold. At all. Yeti sleeping bags are some of the lightest on the market, although they are not cheap. As I was trying to cut costs and get kit that would work for more than one stage race, I had to take different temperatures into account.  Had I only been doing Madagascar, I would have chosen the Yeti One.  I found the Three to be very warm in Madagascar, so could have gone for something a bit lighter however combined with the silk liner noted below, it was perfect for g2g and even on the coldest nights there, I felt warm and cosy. For those doing Grand to Grand, note that as the days continue, the weather is likely to get much colder as the altitude you sleep at increases.

Use again: Yes but if you are only doing one hot stage race, consider the Yeti Passion One to save weight.

Silk Liner: Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner
Weight: 135g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

At the suggestion of Elisabet, I decided to opt for a silk liner so that I only had to purchase one sleeping bag and could still meet the minimum requirements for both races.  It was a godsend as it not only kept me warm at g2g, it also kept the inside of the sleeping bag clean. Whilst there may be only a few km’s of dunes in g2g, the trails are hot, dusty and very very sandy. You will be surprised at just how much.

Use again: Absolutely.  If you are doing a hot race, you could just sleep in this, and use your sleeping bag as an extra “layer” on top of whichever pad or roll mat you choose.

Pillow: Thermarest NeoAir + repair kit
Weight: 55g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I purchased from Myracekit but it’s no longer available there. Google shows available online. This weighs virtually zero, folds up flat and I stored it in the bottom of my WAA pack where the zip is located underneath. I think that’s where the pack’s water-resistant cover is usually stored but I didn’t take that. Sealing everything instead in clear plastic bags (ziplocks) seemed a much better idea and meant I could take this instead. Much more comfortable than using my pack, which I was then able to use to elevate my feet instead. It makes for a more comfortable sleep, and getting some sleep is vital in races like these.

Use again: Yes.

Sleeping pad: Thermarest Z-Lite Sol
Weight: 410g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Sleep is vital on stage races and will make a huge difference to your daily performance. I had read and heard about quite a few different types of “mattress” however since I wasn’t going to be aiming for a top (ha!) racing position, weight was not the most important factor in my choice here. What was, was it not getting a hole and deflating so that I would have no cushioning between me and the ground. I therefore went with the reliable Z-Lite which is a foamy type of cushion in sections that folds up like an accordion.  It’s rather long, so I cut down off about 4 sections (obviously individual height will make a difference here) and was then able to have it stashed on the top of my pack during the race. This worked well in Madagascar and very well in Grand2Grand, where you can encounter a particular type of lurking evil… goatheads! I’m not sure what their technical name is but they are little prickles of pain that if they embed themselves (in your feet, your clothes, your sleeping bag etc) then they sting! Round, tiny and sharp. They had the potential to pierce and given the sheer amount of them in G2G, I was very glad to have my Z-lite, especially when I turned it over one morning to find many stuck into the underside.

Use again: It’s heavy so I’m not sure. Invaluable against the goatheads, but can’t fit into the WAA even once you’ve eaten most of the contents. Race-dependent.

Poles: Leki Micro Stick Carbon Trekking Z-Pole
Race: G2G and RTP Madagascar

There is a lot of debate about whether or not to use poles, however as a newbie I was going to minimise any potential obstacle I could to a potential DNF and if that meant extra weight carrying a pair of poles, so be it. I had heard they were invaluable at helping you up hills or even reducing wear and tear/pressure on joints so given the cumulative distance I was looking at completing, figured this was a sensible idea. After checking out several different types, I opted for Leki as they were a bit sturdier than some but still light enough that I felt I could run holding them.  They could also be folded up if not in use.  I found these quite invaluable: not just for walking, or during the long stage where it helps to keep to a certain pace, but also on levering myself up some rocky bits, across some rice fields and certainly on giving confidence when climbing over trees, logs and the such like.  A valued “not to be under-estimated” bit of kit. The only downside to these was that I’d left them outside at night during Grand to Grand, and of course there was a huge storm. They must have had quite a bit of water get inside and then rusted so I was unable to take them apart again.

Use again: Yes, although would make sure not to leave extended outdoors in a full-on rain/thunderstorm.

Lighting: Petzl Tikka, Black Diamond, Duracell AAA batteries, Petzl E+Lite Zip, Silva Tyto Sport
Weight: Petzl Tikka 85g, Petzl E+Lite 27g
Races: G2G, RTP Madagascar (all)

With two headtorches required, I took along the Petzl Tikka and Black Diamond to G2G, together with 3 extra batteries to be on the safe side.  They both take AAA size.  Madagascar also required a red flashing light so I chose the Silva Tyto Sport Safety Light, which comes with the battery included. The Silva light can clip on, however it has a handy velcro strap which I used to secure it on the back of the WAA pack. The Petzl Tikka is lightweight and handy although I do have to adjust the headstrap a few times during a long race. Opening and changing the batteries is easy. Not the brightest out there but definitely value for money.  Black Diamond I keep as a back-up only. I think I have the “Storm” version and I wouldn’t buy again as I struggle to get the damn thing open every single time and often have to prise it open with a knife (although this could just be the one I have). I intend to have a look at the new Ion to see how they compare. I took Petzl E+Lite with the Tikka to Madagascar and found the little E+Lite to be very handy, especially in the tent at night. It also has a red flashing option so could have doubled for the emergency light if I’d lost the Tyto.

Use again: Petzl Tikka, absolutely.  Tyto – yes. Black Diamond – no. E+Lite – absolutely.

Whistle: Raidlight
Weight: 8g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Sometimes the whistles that are part of a backpack aren’t going to meet racing requirements. For both races I took along the Raidlight whistle. Thankfully I didn’t need to use it. Very light, and can be shoved into any tiny space you have left.

Use again: Yes

Survival Bivvy bag: SOL Emergency Bivvy
Weight: 108g
Race: RTP Madagascar

Thankfully didn’t need this either, but required item.

Use again: Yes, if required kit.

Emergency survival blanket: Myracekit
Weight: 48g
Race: G2G

Thankfully didn’t need this either, but required item.

Use again: Yes, if required kit.

Mirror: Raidlight Signalling Mirror
Weight: 17g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Lightest mirror I could find at the time, although for ladies that may take make-up with them into a stage race, it’s not going to be suitable. Lightweight and fitted easily into my med pack.

Use again: Yes

Knife/multi tool – Gerber Ultralight LST
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar
Weight: 17.1g

You never know when you might need a knife! I’m thinking more cutting bandages and gaffer tape than cut your arm off à la 127 hours *shudder*. Anyway, this is very small and lightweight and fit the necessary requirements. I’m a bit squeamish around knifes and the possibility of inadvertently slicing into myself, so found this a bit stiff to open, hence some nervousness.

Use again: if I found one that opened smoothly.

Compass: Silva Field Compass 1-2-3
Weight: 28g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Nice and lightweight, although it is a little awkward in terms of its’ shape that I imagine some wouldn’t get on with. I like it, find it sturdy which gives some reassurance and take to all my long races where I need a compass.

Use again: Yes.

Sunscreen: Tingerlaat SPF 50+, 60ml, Dermatone SPF23 
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Tingerlaat are partners with the Marathon des Sables, so you’d expect them to know a thing or two about not burning in the desert! Recommended by Colin and Elisabet at Myracekit, it certainly did what it was supposed to and I was very surprised at how little was needed. Applied first thing in the morning and that was it really. No burning whatsoever. I have very sensitive skin which flares up extremely easily and it didn’t seem to make it any worse or aggravate it. Goes on easily, spreads well, I use this on all races now, regardless of duration. Absolutely love this stuff. Dermatone is a lip balm with SPF and was also fine. If you don’t flare up easily and want to save on weight, then G2G provides (or did for the 2014 race) sunscreen.

Use again: Yes to both, and can’t rave enough about Tingerlaat!

Blister and medical kit: Miscellaneous
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Luckily for me, Myracekit had a little pack already good to go (I came away with a rather large shopping bag on the day I visited, as I’m sure is obvious by now :D). They also added other items such as blistershield powder and gurney goo sachets and they have since updated their customised pack which can be found here. I am not a fan of 2nd skin or compeed products ever since my first ultra (Race to the Stones 100km) where, in my inexperience, I ended up gaining some huge heel blisters which were then sliced open, not just once, but three times in total. This was after compeed had been used and then when I tried to pull them off, they ripped part of a big blister off. Painful is not really an adequate description of how I felt at the time! They were included due to kit requirements but I have never used them since and avoid like the plague!

My medical, blister & hygiene kit:

10 alcohol wipes – required (available from boots) (I took about 25)
2 hypodermic needles (or safety pins) – required
1 roll micropore – required (available from boots) (I took 4)
1 roll elastic tape – required (used tensoplast) (I took 2 to G2G)
5 x 2nd skin (or compeed) – required (shudder) (7 were required for G2G)
minimum 12 paracetamol – required (I took 16 x 500mg)
malaria tablets – optional (took them, wasn’t taking any chances)
Sudocreme (5mg)
Biofreeze gel (one sachet)
Lubricant – Gurney Goo (7 sachets)
Sterilising tablets – Milton x 3
Gauze – 3 pads
Ciproflaxin (G2G only)
Refresh towels (airline) – a touch of “luxury”

Foot powder – Blistershield (7 sachets)
Compression bandage (7.5cm x 4.5m) – required – (Smith & Nephew)
minimum 10 safety pins – required (I took about 21 and used instead of re-using the hypodermic needles from a hygiene perspective)

60ml alcohol gel – required (took 100ml) – some is provided on G2G
60ml mosquito repellent – required (Repel 80ml)
7 day supply toilet tissue/wet wipes – required (took 2 toilet rolls to Madagascar, 1 to G2G as they provided some)
Moisturiser (Tingerlaat Face & Body Repair Balm 60ml) – added another for G2G which wasn’t necessary
Earplugs (2 pairs)
Foot cream (Body Shop Hemp Handcream)
Diarrhea tablets (Boots own) (I took 9)
Rehydration sachets (Boots own – 4 sachets for Madagascar, 6 for G2G)
Mosquito net – already owned
Mini scissors – already owned
Comb – not much use against sand!

Toothbrush – full size
Toothpaste – small size
Towel – PackTowel Ultralight M, Myracekit
Soap – Lifeventure soap leaves, Amazon
Washer ball

Facecloths – Wemmi wipes (I took 14)

Use again: The mosquito net obviously only where required. I take a minimum medical kit now which includes most of these things but only 1-2 of each. No compeed. Absolutely no compeed! The earplugs didn’t work at all in Madagascar but that was probably due to some rather loud snoring in the tent (I’m not naming names :D). I’ve yet to find any that does, but for those that sleep a bit more soundly, one pair should be enough. I don’t take any extra foot cream these days so would ditch that. I do take moisturiser and the Tingerlaat is great, although I decant into a tiny pot and take about 5ml or 5mg. I haven’t found them online yet, but for future stage races would look for the compressed toilet roll that I have seen other competitors take. Takes up minimal space without sacrificing need. It’s one thing I wouldn’t leave home without and bio-degradable compared to chemically-laden wet wipes which can affect sensitive skin. I took a pack of those to G2G and it was wasted weight and space. I wouldn’t take gauze again.  If any medical emergencies require this, then see the Camp Doc!

One item I can’t rave enough about and that’s the wemmi wipes. Brilliant things, absolutely tiny and expand with just a few drops of water. Absolute must-have product! The pack towel was fab, very light and can clip onto the back of your pack to dry during the day. Ultra absorbent. I took a full size toothbrush, couldn’t be doing with faffing about cutting bits off to save a gram in weight and pleased I didn’t bother. Better than messing around trying to brush my teeth outside when it’s dark! Soap leaves, always take some of these now.

I had also felt rather sick after the long stage in Madagascar so took along a few sterilising tablets to G2G to wash my bottles out with mid-race. Luckily we had more than enough water between us after the long stage, so I was able to do this.  I would take these again, and 2-3 only take up a small space.

Lastly, I also took one of those washer dryer balls, which sounds crazy but… I had extremely tight calves and Achilles tendonitis so this was a very very lightweight option to use as a “roller” for the calves. If I was running a stage race in future and had an injury that needed rolling, I would take this again.

Eating Utensil: MSR Folding Spork, Lifeventure Long Handle Titanium Spoon
Weight: MSR – 9.5g , Lifeventure – 20g
Race: Grand to Grand (Titanium Spoon only), RTP Madagascar (both)

I took along both of these to Madagascar but didn’t use the spork.  It does what it’s meant to, folds away well but the titanium spoon is obviously much more robust and I have used that much much more. The spork will also fit into much smaller spaces whereas you can’t bend the titanium one. If you are only taking one eating utensil and you are racing for top of the field where every gram counts, then I expect the spork would be ample. For myself, I found the long handled spoon much easier to use, more hygienic as I wasn’t reaching into the rehydrated food with my hand on the spoon and getting it everywhere and it seemed to clean up much easier with some boiling water (no ridges for caught food). I stored it along the length of my WAA pack, once everything else was inside so it didn’t jar into me.

Use again: Spork – no, Titanium spoon – yes.

Eating tin/cup: Sea to Summit X-Bowl, MSR Titan Cup 400ml
Weight: Titan Cup 54g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Used both of these, and the X-bowl packs down well although I found it quite large so would go for a smaller option in future. The titan cup is sturdy and although it can clatter on the outside of the pack, I carried it inside and stuffed it with clothing so I didn’t lose any space.

Use again: X-bowl if I had the weight/space to spare, Cup – absolutely.

Other bits:
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Cable ties – I took about 10 of these and while I thankfully never had to use them, in Madagascar I witnessed my tentmate Howard fixing a trainer back to its’ sole with some of these!

Music – I bought a small ipod shuffle and loaded it up with some music. Glad I did so.

Headphones – JVC Sports adjustable – I couldn’t get on with the ones that are supposed to stay in your ears so I tried these.  They do the job and are very lightweight. Use them for pretty much all my runs now.

Duct Tape – invaluable as I didn’t lift my feet enough and ripped the front of my gaiters to shreds, so this meant I could tape them up (nightly) to get me through to the next day!

Camera – own, however lots of sand got in and ruined it, so I would only take a cheap one that could be binned afterwards.

Compression/zip lock bags – took a variety of these in small, medium and large and they were handy to have. I would take maybe 2 of each in future, rather than the amount I used at these two races.

Seal Line Cirrus Dry Sack 20L – I bought this and meant to use it but given how heavy my pack was becoming, decided to leave it behind. Luckily no major rain and I ziplocked everything instead.

Race Passport / Book – provided by organisers

So that’s how I started learning about what kit suits me. We all have to start at the beginning when we venture into something new, whether that be a race, a job, a new home or a new relationship; and as we learn more, we adapt to the new experiences and information we accumulate. Hopefully this post will offer a different perspective or aspects to consider for anyone venturing into stage racing. Please note that any links included are not affiliate-linked, I am not paid for my opinions or for any links I include here.  This post is purely my personal opinion and intended for information only.

Clothing List up next…

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.
Michelle


Song of the Week

24/05/2015

Audioslave – Be Yourself


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

01/04/2015

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

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

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

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

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

Feet. They make or break your race…

Stage 4

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

Memories…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage 6

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

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

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I’d made it and got my buckle!

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

* Yes it was *

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

Now what shall I do next…

© April 2015 Michelle Payne


Grand2Grand Ultra – Stages 2 & 3

31/03/2015

Stage 2

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

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

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

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

Stage 3

The Long Stage… dum dum dum!

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

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

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

So that’s what I chose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dune time.

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

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

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

Do not try to stand up mid way through!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank your trekking poles for not breaking…

get to the next…

and the next…

and the next…

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

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

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

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

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

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

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


Grand2Grand Ultra – Stage 1

27/03/2015

And so it began…

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

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Memories are made of this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


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