After the dramas of Transvulcania I decided that the only way to put the ghosts of my DNF to rest was to quit ultra-running altogether and take up scuba diving instead. Well that was my initial thought anyway, but then common sense prevailed, I realised I had about 14 pairs of running shoes, multiple rucksacks and buffs to work my way through before I could even consider retiring from running!!
So on to the internet I go.. The criteria – a 40 mile ish ultra in June and hilly. The Endurancelife Classic Quarter seemed to fit the bill and after a little research, soul searching and deliberation I pushed the button and entered the race. I had about 3 weeks at this point until the race but felt happy I was mostly ready to go as if nothing else Transvulcania had been a great training run.
Upon further investigation the race appeared to be very similar to the terrain on the cliff paths here in Jersey, rocky paths, steps here and there, beautiful views, I was very much looking forward to taking part in the race and having taken part in a couple of Endurancelife races I knew that it would be a challenge.
Training for the race consisted mainly of preserving the shape I was in from Transvulcania – which meant a couple of longer weekend runs, hill sessions and some strength session just to keep ticking over. More importantly was my mental approach; after another DNF I have to admit my confidence was low, and I was doubting my ability to stick at it when the going got tough. I saw the CQ as a way to redeem myself in a way and to prove that I can still run ultra-marathons. The flip side of this being if I DNFed at this race then perhaps the truth was that the ultra-distance stuff wasn’t for me after all. So no pressure really, perhaps more of a moment of truth or clarity!
June 6th I set off from Jersey Airport once again in search of adventure and endeavour. Over the last few years I have done this journey on so many occasions – finish work on the Friday, hotfoot it to the airport, fly to in this case Bristol but also many other UK destinations, drive to where you need to be that night, get up at an ungodly hour next day, run an ultra-marathon, spend the Sat night recuperating, drive back to the airport on Sunday fly back to Jersey and back in work for Monday morning as if you were never away! These weekends sound quite intense but I do kind of enjoy them it almost adds to the challenge in a way. This time I was to drive from Bristol airport to Penzance which the Sat Nav informed me would take 3 hours or so. I was due to be on a shuttle bus at 4am from Lands’ End to the race start so I figured sleep might not be in abundance that evening. I accepted this as part of the race and when I arrived at Penzance, checked into a lovely B&B, got my race gear sorted and tried to get some shut eye.
3am – the alarm goes off after 4 hours of sleep. I feel ok though, although it is dark outside and there has been rain overnight. I make my porridge, get my race kit on and stumble out bleary eyed to drive to Lands’ End to make the shuttle bus. I get there about 4am and line up to get my race number and get on the bus. Its dark, it’s windy and its cold and once again I am stood at the wrong end of 40 odd miles thinking “What am I doing here??” We get on the bus a wonky old double decker and I get chatting to a few guys a bit of small talk here and there and we settle in for the journey to Lizard Point – the start line. After a while I am struggling to get warm as all the windows are open on the bus. So I close a couple of the windows and all of a sudden everything goes blurry. “It’s my hay fever playing up” I tell myself but No! The bus is filling up with smoke from the engine and slowly we are being asphyxiated.. So the windows are opened again and the bus sputters on not being able to make the smooth transition from 2nd to 3rd gear and emitting the pungent smell of gasoline. The irony was not lost on me; here we are some extremely fit people about to do an ultra-marathon being transported to the start on a bus that was a mobile gas chamber!!
Anyway we finally make it and by now the sun had come up – Glad to be alive I stepped off the bus and made my way down a pathway to the start. It was a beautiful view there and felt very peaceful. There were about 200 or so runners and everyone seemed friendly, we had the race briefing then at 6:30am we were off. I was towards the front and saw the front pack head off quite quickly, I knew for me the goal was to complete this race and not blow myself up or do anything silly that may jeopardise me finishing. So I settled into a rhythm and adopted a complete rather than compete mind-set and vowed to be in the moment and do the best I can do at each moment.
This was my first experience of Cornish coastline and I really thought it was beautiful. It was indeed very similar in terrain to Jersey which was great, I had been advised to wear my trusty Inov-8’s by a local guy Tom whom I have become acquainted with through the power of running related social media and as the climbs got a bit rockier and slippier I silently thanked him for this advice. I was in fact hoping to see him at some point along the way as he had messaged me to say he was doing the relay race.
So I was ticking off the miles, I was feeling pretty good and got to half way pretty pain free. I usually have issues with my hip flexor or knee which necessitates an Ibuprofen which I believe is the cause of my GI issues during races’ but I had decided that I wouldn’t use these during the race favouring keeping the hip mobile with various exercises if it played up and K-taping the bejesus out of my knee! About 25 miles or so we hit the town of Penzance and the terrain turned into concrete promenade and quite flat. I was starting to feel fatigued at this point but it was a strange sensation as the body felt great muscularly but I felt weary, a sensation I wasn’t really used to as my body is usually the first to go! After clearing Penzance the climbing started in earnest; I had been warned there were a few nasty little climbs in the last third of the race and it didn’t disappoint!
This was where it started to get difficult; I was really feeling fatigued and started to alternate walking with running. It was hot and the climbs were hard going, but I kept going. I was kind of glad in a way that the going had got tough as I was so committed to finishing this race that I wanted to suffer for it in a way, just to prove I still had the edge. I was being overtaken by a lot of people and I wasn’t bothered to be honest, there was a relay race also out on the course both 4 men and 2 men and I wasn’t sure who was racing what so I just got on with getting the job done and completing this race. People running in football tops and board shorts came past me and all the while I was getting closer and closer to the finish. I recall getting to about the 39 mile mark and the climb up to the Mynach Theatre from the beach being particularly hard going. There was luckily a checkpoint at the top of this and I am not ashamed to say I collapsed on the nice soft grass and took it easy for at least 20 mins.. I overheard that one of the racers was heading to the shop at the theatre and I asked him if he wouldn’t mind getting me a can of coke as I thought the sugar rush might help, he came back and said that the coke was on him, a real heart-warming moment when I was suffering! J
So it was now time to finish the race off. I set off from the checkpoint knowing I had 4.7 miles to go, but also knowing it would be fairly up and down. I set off and tried to run but the body was having none of it! I power walked and with relentless forward progress being my mantra. I was finding it hard and it was hot but I was committed!
About another mile or so in and in my own little world I was aware that someone was walking behind me. I turned and we exchanged a few words “I hope you don’t mind me following you I just find it easier to follow peoples feet!” said Helen. We got chatting and she had injured her knee which meant that she was struggling to go downhill, we walked and chatted and whiled away the miles – it had got cloudy now and a little cold, typical changeable Cornish weather I am led to believe and it was quite nice to have the cool for a little while. The end was in sight now and I was pleased as well as enjoying having met someone to chat to on the way to take me out of my head and enjoy the last part. I hadn’t really done much socialising in Ultras for quite some time, I was always looking to compete or do my best time so had always been quite serious at races. I recall the first Ultra I did – Round the Rock – and meeting people along the way and chatting to them and finding out where they were from and why they were racing and this struck me as being as great a reason to do races as racing itself! I had lost touch with that somewhere along the way I think, the competitor in me had taken over and whilst I did enjoy competition perhaps the real enjoyment in this type of race was to be found in the connecting with other people who have similar interests and outlooks? I think the truth is somewhere in-between but for this race this was a great experience and really helped me.
The finish line – 44 miles (44.7 to be exact!) and we were there! Helen and I crossed the line and I was broken but really pleased to have finished the race. Getting the T shirt and medal from this race was quite poignant for me as I fought hard that day and came through the other side. There had been times at races when the T Shirt is given out before the race starts where I will never be able to wear that T shirt due to not finishing the race, too many times that had happened so I savoured this one! I said goodbye to Helen and wished her well with her injury and went to the bar and although tempted to get the cold pint of lager I had been fantasising about since seeing someone drinking one in a beer garden in Penzance I thought better of it and got a pint of orange juice and lemonade and sat at the bar texting the people who had wished me well for the race that I had done it.
It was now time to pick my car up from the car park and drive home to the B&B. I got back showered and chilled out for a bit then hit the town on Penzance. I had fish and chips and a large chocolate sundae and then headed back to the B&B for an early night. Rock n Roll!!
So what do I take away from this race? It wasn’t a result in the classic terms in that I placed well or set a PB, but I feel like I learnt how to suffer again and reconnected with the reasons why I run Ultra Marathons again. This really couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I have the biggest challenge of my life coming up in about 6 or so weeks; Round The Rock x 7 (or RTRx7). I will be running 7 times around the island of Jersey in 7 days equating to 336 miles over the course of a week starting on the 2nd of august with the Round The Rock Ultra Marathon and I will then be back next morning at the start line to repeat the run again, and again and again for 7 days straight. The route will be mostly off road along the cliff paths so will be challenging terrain taking in around 3,500 ft elevation each day. I am attempting RtRx7 as it has never been done before. Last year I did the Marathon des Sables which was the equivalent of 6 marathons in 6 days across the Sahara desert and so this year I wanted to do another challenge. I thought something close to home would be good, and as 7 marathons in 7 days has been already done here I decided to up the ante and have a go at this challenge.
To get to my target of £15,000.00 I have set up a just giving page up ready to take donations: http://www.justgiving.com/RtRx7 and I will also be planning separate fundraising events along the way to both publicise the challenge, to raise funds and to have a bit of fun. I am also looking for people to accompany me on legs of the challenge also so any aspiring runners are more than welcome to join me for short or longer parts of the day.
With 6 weeks to go it has become very very real now and I am nervous but confident that I will give everything I can to complete the challenge. Training for this is a bit of an unknown quantity really, how does one train for 7 lots of 48 miles?? I am trusting in the fact that I am fit and able to do the distance of 48 miles and focussing on boosting confidence and belief by thinking about all the concerns I have about the challenge and trying to address them; Recovery, willingness to suffer, belief, potential injuries and GI problems to name a few. On the recovery front I am fortunate in that I recover well and quickly and by body will put up with a lot of punishment. Training for the MDS taught me the importance of good recovery strategies and I understand what I need to do and when to optimise my recovery to feel good for the following day. The willingness to suffer comes from having a reason to push on when all other markers and signs are saying that it is best to call it a day; I have my reasons why I am doing this and I believe as I train I am solidifying these so that when the chips are down these will keep me going. Injuries are a variable that I just can’t control but hope that the gods of running will smile on me!
The week just gone has seen me run 10 miles a day along the same route for a week, which sounds like a simple undertaking, but in fact has taken it out of me! I went through a bit of a dip on the Weds but then seemed to have had ups and downs as the week has gone on. With working and life going on it has been a great indicator of what to expect (x5!) each day so a very valuable exercise all in all. My speed through the week has declined slightly but I am happy with the recovery element of the week as well as dealing with the monotony of running the same route each day. I plan a rest day for the Saturday then a six hour run on the Sunday then back into normal training for the following week. Another idea I have is to walk the entire hilly north coast of the island just so that should the wheels fall off on any of the days I know how long this section would take me.
All in all with 6 weeks to go I feel as confident as one can about this challenge. There are lots of variables that I can’t account for but I feel that compared to the MDS for example where I did the equivalent of 6 marathons in 6 days and carried all my own food, slept on a bit of foam each night and couldn’t just jump in the sea at the end of each day there are a lot of up sides that make this completely viable. I just hope that someone reminds me of this on day 4 when I am sitting in a pile of my own vomit and tears and my legs have given up working on me!!
So if you feel compelled to donate to this challenge, please visit my justgiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/RtRx7 and also any words of encouragement/abuse or offers to run with me if you happen to be in Jersey over the week of 2nd Aug can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
More on the training and prep as it happens.