Monday, 30 July 2012

‘It's crazy... but other than that, it's kind of fun’...GUCR 145 miler, a huge mish-mashed ramble

Note: This blog has taken me so long to write & I’m still not happy with it. There are just too many emotions, too many feelings, too much which happened during this race for me to sum it all up in writing and narrow down into a ramble.  Some of what is written will be accurate, such as the flavour of my pot noodle or something along those lines, but for a lot of it, it really is so hard to sum up in words, so I guess you’ll just have to give this race a go yourself…. ;-)

"If you have to ask, you'll never understand"
I’m not sure when or how I decided that running/ walking /crawling (if I had to) 145 miles non-stop seemed like a good thing to do. I think it was during the Compton Downland Challenge 40 miler in 2010 when I got speaking to a man in his GUCR t-shirt. I think this convinced me that it was a great idea & I vowed that I would definitely have a go at entering when the time felt right. What we will do for a good bit of bling and a t-shirt eh…? ;-)

Funnily enough, for the last few years I have had this weird notion about the GUCR; I have wanted nothing more than to be a part of it and yet, at the same time ideas of being next to a canal for THAT long have filled me with dread. I have reasoned with myself that although I may find the canal network so damn frustrating that somehow this would equate to an even greater challenge for myself.  I have reassured those who have looked at me like I am mad by saying Oh, don’t worry, I doubt I’ll enjoy it…after all I’m next to a canal for 145 miles…I know I am going to find this tough, so don’t worry I KNOW…it’s a silly thing to want to do but the challenge would be amazing.’ So,  I have downplayed all enthusiasm for this event and hyped up the difficulties I may face, because I guess as some sort of defence mechanism I was setting myself up for failure…I liked letting people know  how bad I’d probably find it which equates to how bad I might do which equates to a good excuse strategy…right?

Yup, my psychology has been pretty messed up over this event. So why did I want to do it if I was dreading aspects of it, i.e. the canal network? After all, I’ve done plenty of marathons with canal sections in them and even take part in ULTRA race’s double 45 miler in January from Northampton to Tring 3 years in a row which covers a good bit of this GUCR route and I have to say, it’s not always exciting…I’ve done a lot more hillier events and off-road adventures and enjoyed parts of them much more than any flat surface. But something has always drawn me in about this one. When I entered the ballot I truly did hope my name got pulled out and yet I was terrified by the prospect that this would now be set in stone. I think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made entering the ballot. And I got in. And then I tried to get my head around the prospect of running 145 miles non-stop and I still don’t think I’ve got my head around that prospect and it’s almost two months after the actual race!

Where to begin?

I roped in two lovely and amazing fellow runners who had very kindly offered to be my support crew, Sarah and Jon Aston. They were absolutely amazing. I stayed at theirs in Telford the night before where I ate a lot of pizza and garlic bread and we were up at 3ish am on the Saturday morning to drive across to Birmingham for the 6am race start.  Now, the weeks leading up to the race had been immersed in sunshine. The British weather had been phenomenal and very sunny. As Sod’s Law would have it this was not the case on race weekend. In fact that weather couldn’t have been more different. It was pouring down. I was very nervous with the impending distance to run, but the rain was creating new tension and I didn’t like it.  Normally I have my very trusty OMM Kamleika jacket which never fails me in wet and windy conditions. I have worn it up in the hills, in horrendous conditions on the Yorkshire moors and basically, whenever it rains. The water just runs off it and it doesn’t take up much space when not needed. It’s a very useful piece of kit. So it obviously came as a HUGE annoyance when packing for the GUCR that I could not find it ANYWHERE. I literally turned the house upside down and I couldn’t find it anywhere.  Just my luck. 

I was so angry and I kept looking but I never did find it in time. Friends tried to reassure me and get rid of my nerves by telling me that the weather would likely be fine and dry. This was far from the case. In the end I did my best with borrowed windbreaker-style jackets and extra layers from my crew. In the end everyone was soaked through…but obviously it would have been better with my OMM. I think the lack of kit definitely affected my mindset from the beginning. It made me more nervous and looking around at the fellow runners on the start line I felt like a child on a school trip who had rubbish clothes and the other kids were all in the designer labels. The dropout rate for this event is high and the last thing I wanted was for the weather conditions and my lack of cover to contribute to a DNF. I am still carrying with me the emotional scars of the Thames Path 100 which I guess was on similar terrain, wherein the weather suddenly turned and became icy and windy and torrential. During the Thames Path I had my good kit and still the race got pulled 5 miles from the finish and I failed to reach that finish line, with so many runners out there suffering from the elements. I didn’t want a similar scenario during this event. I guess I just forced myself to push it to the back of my mind. There was nothing I could do about it. Time to focus. And before I knew it, Dick Kearn the race director had done his speech and we were off. It all seemed so surreal.

The First Bit

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.”

The first 10 miles went by pretty fast. I was chatting to another runner for most of that bit and it was really nice to meet some new people. I barely noticed the canal. I needn’t have worried; there was plenty of time to take it in later on… Before I knew it I had come upon Jon and Sarah and their crewing skills were excellent from the outset. They had a bag of goodies with them and I took a few handfuls of salted popcorn. As it turns out, salted popcorn was a really good fuel choice and very easy to eat. I needed to make sure I was eating early. After all, I had awoken at 3ish am and eaten breakfast early. I thoroughly believe that eating often and early was a really excellent decision. Talking of eating and refuelling: throughout the day and the next day there were two really nice guys called Stuart and Jim I believe who would meet their crew and pull up a chair and take time to eat and then bolt off again. It seemed like a most excellent strategy and always made me giggle because they really took it in their stride and had a little picnic and they were really friendly too.

Clocking up the miles

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old Time is still a-flying. And this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.” – Robert Herrick

Although it doesn’t always seem like it at the time…well mainly it doesn’t seem like time is going all that fast in the latter stages when you sometimes want it to end faster because of any discomfort you may be feeling, BUT time does indeed fly by. Before I knew it I had lopped off the 45 miles added to that 100 miles and had a mere 100 miles to go. Now, that sounds like a much rounder number! Actually this is a very scary realisation. It’s odd when you get to the 45 mile mark, because this is a reasonably challenging ultra distance normally, I guess, but not in this instance. It is still the beginning and who knows what will transpire later on? Still, I was comforted by the prospect of having company to run with after the 65ish mile mark.

Feeeeed me Seymour

“He who goes to bed hungry dreams of pancakes.

In no particular order, the following things were eaten or sort of eaten/ drunk: Salted popcorn, trail mix, Bevita breakfast biscuits, monster munch, chunky chicken soup, noodles, pot noodle, coffee, coca cola, cheese and ham sandwiches, MacDonald’s cheese burger and fries, tuna sandwich, more monster munch, sausage roll, more coke, chocolate bar….I think this is the majority of the feast that was eaten, but I bet there’s some that was left out. Anyway, it definitely helped and I never once felt ill like I have before on ultras where I haven’t fuelled properly…so there you go; a successful experiment indeed. Just treat it like a huge eating contest, ‘Runner vs. Food’ and all will be well.


"Right now I'm having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time." – Steven Wright

I was quite familiar with some parts of the route, mainly owing to the fact that I have done Ultra Race’s double 45 miler which takes place each January for 3 years in a row. I guess I don’t really dislike canals. I am really grateful for being familiar with parts such as the bit by Blisworth Tunnel. At this point you have to head onto the road, as the towpath disappears and so you head up though a forested track and up onto the road. It can seem like quite a long time on the road and it is over a mile I believe; so you can get a bit paranoid that you’re going off-track. Fortunately, I knew this bit well and my paranoia was non-existent. It was nice to be on a slightly undulating bit of road for a bit, it breaks the monotony of the canal up nicely. It was comforting. And yet the experience of covering this section this time around was so different to the last time I had been there. Last time, the race mileage was nearly over, this time there was a long way to go.

Sleepy eyelids, dreaming awake & getting drenched

"Tonight I'm tangled in my blanket of clouds, dreaming aloud" – Foo Fighters

On the Saturday night, the rain got so bad. It was really bad. I don’t mind rain, but the implications of such torrential freezing rain whilst having to stay awake and responsive and active for so long whilst getting absolutely drenched are not good. Your mind doesn’t want to go there and even worse than that, you don’t want to have to go there literally. It is a frightening and annoying thought that a little bit of water falling from the sky might derail a dream that you have had for so long. It was certainly made all the worse by the fact that I was minus my very treasured waterproof OMM jacket. It made me cold and sleepy and forgetting the rain for a moment, the darkness and magnitude of the distance that had to be covered made me downright sleepy. My eyes began to lull and my eyelids got heavy. I was doing my lazy, stumbling, falling-asleep run. I literally had to screw my face up, talk to myself, and jolt myself back to reality and to the here and now.

I had to stay awake. But it was so miserable and the temperature had dropped so much. I saw so many people around me being affected by this darn weather. Some looked particularly miserable and they were far more kitted out than me and it worried me somewhat. But you have to push these fears to the back of your head and keep moving forwards. Most importantly, you have to keep moving. I think this was some peoples undoing during the night section. It was just so chilly and the weather was so awful, it was so tempting and easier to slow down, but you had no choice but to keep up as good of a pace as you could manage to ward off the weather and the sleepiness. It was particularly nice to sit under a bridge out of the rain for a little bit and have a nice cup of hot coffee; a massive thank you to my crew. It gave me some much needed warmth and caffeine kick, as well as a little mental boost. 

Into the light

"Gotta kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." – Bare Naked Ladies

As morning breaks, it brings with it the most optimistic feeling in the world. It’s great to make it through the night and into the daylight. You can begin to look forward to the day ahead and ultimately – although still a long way off – that finish line. In the morning I had a cup of noodles, another hot drink and some nibbles. We had also managed to run through Milton Keynes during the middle of the night, which was a really good thing for me. Normally, when I have run this bit of the canal, it attracts quite a lot of dog walkers, but because it was the middle of the night, not one was about. As such, I was able to get on with the task at hand without feeling my usual anxious self around dogs. Phew! We ran quite well during this night section if I do say so myself. Earlier in the race I had talked to other runners about how they intended to tackle bits and a lot said they would run as much as possible in the daylight and then just walk a lot and wind down during the night section. However, because the weather was so horrendous, this was a bad idea. You really needed to keep as much body warmth as possible and those who slowed down too much during the night section really seemed to suffer. I was really glad of my crew.

I think during this event I learnt the true meaning of what it feels like to do whatever it takes to make it to that finish line. I would have done anything. I mean, I donned a bin bag and it wasn’t for the fashion statement haha ;-)

Much later on and nearing the end

'Sometimes we need to stop analyzing the past, stop planning the future, stop figuring out precisely how we feel, stop deciding exactly what we want, and just see what happens’.

I had slowed down considerably because my feet were killing me. They had been pretty wet for over 40 hours and pretty shrivelled. All this slow moving was really eating up my time and I don’t know how but soon enough I was worrying about making that 45 hour cut-off. Anything really can go wrong during these things, but there was no way I had battled through everything I had to not make that finish line. From somewhere I managed to leggit ad I really picked up the pace. I was pretty surprised with myself. It was so exciting running the last bit. There were bigger, modern buildings starting to emerge and there was a great anticipation and then in the distance I saw the lights.

There were orange lights set up and I just knew they were ours; there had been identical lights at one of the check points the previous night. Nothing else mattered and I sprinted towards them and past the 3 other last runners who were also on the home straight. I didn’t barge past them, but I definitely wanted to cross that finish line with a bit of a jog-on. And after just over 44 hours, I was done. It was all over and suddenly the tiredness was gone. It did come back a few hours later, but I just couldn’t believe I finished it. And that is precisely one of the things I love about ultra running: accomplishing something that seems downright crazy on paper and all on your own two feet. You can’t buy the feeling of satisfaction, it can only be earned, but it sure helps to have a little help from your friends. I cannot thank my lovely crew Sarah and Jon Aston enough and I don’t think I ever will be able to tell them just how much they helped me.

Going into this event there is no doubt that I could have trained more, being the disorganised person that I am. However, this time around I just wanted to be amongst the finishers. And there will be a next time, because I absolutely loved this event. The funny thing is I never thought I truly would thoroughly enjoy it. After all, 145 miles is bloody hard work. But I really loved it. My impulsive decision to enter this wonderful event paid off and I can’t wait for the next adventure.

A week later I went back to Brum and the start line. This time was more of a relaxing night out...tWas a surreal experience....

"To those who know, no explanation is necessary.... To those who do not know, no explanation will suffice."

Friday, 6 July 2012

Mad June continued with Ultra Race 100 :)

~~* It has taken me a while to upload any new bloggage. And I still haven’t posted up my Grand Union Canal Race blog yet. Three weeks after the GUCR 145 miler, which I survived thankfully, I decided to have a go at Ultra Race 100, because I could. It went surprisingly well :) So, here’s that story…. *~~


I didn’t really tell many people I was doing the Ultra Race Cotswold 100 miler on Friday/ Saturday just gone. I normally plaster stuff all over facebook or twitter or the like, but I decided not to.  
I was aware that it has only been 3 weeks since the GUCR and my feet had taken quite a battering in those wet conditions. It’s very strange that I rarely get blisters, but that my feet are quite sensitive and after a while they really start to get very hot and itchy and sore…although I guess that’s more normal than I think after such a long time out on the course. So, I definitely wanted to give this my best shot, but in the ‘more likely than usual’ instance that I might not make it, I didn’t want to give lots of explanations via social media etc;

It wasn’t looking great Friday morning as I had to drive myself to the start, which took nearly an hour longer than planned due to traffic and surface spray. I arrived with 5 mins to spare…just enough time to rush to the loo and I didn’t get my number until Check Point No.1…luckily they know me; otherwise I would have been in trouble. My back ached from the driving, I felt flustered, my mouth was dry and I hurriedly gave my 50mile drop back to the Race Director and then we were off. Annoyingly I had put ALL of my savoury food into said’ drop bag, because I didn’t have time to sort through it and so I only had sweet ‘food’ for the first 25 miles…I was really hungry and knew I couldn’t continue not to fuel properly, especially during the crucial early stages. I felt pretty disorganised (my rucksack was also really quite heavy too, because I didn’t have time left to sort through that either, so it contained everything for all eventualities). 

Fortunately, some lovely and very kind man gave me a tuna sandwich :) and then at the 30 mile CP, the lovely lady manning that one gave me a salami and cheese roll and Snack a’ Jacks…I was saved! I felt mentally more alert and capable. The initial torrential downpours had stopped, my dad’s basic pack-away waterproof that I had had to borrow, because I still can’t find my OMM jacket nor afford another one had held up well and I was dry underneath and what’s more, no more rain was forecast…and although I didn’t quite believe that weather prediction at the time, it was very true. It didn’t rain again.

I was feeling pretty happy at 30 miles. Time was flying by really. I decided to txt a friend and hint at what I might have been up to at that very moment in time. Before I knew it I was at CP 4 and Mile 40 and another familiar face, TZ was manning that one. It was really lovely to see a familiar face and another runner at this point because I hadn’t seen anyone for quite some while and this CP was further away than I had anticipated. I fuelled up on cans of coke, which were a lifesaver…I had some peanuts; a packet of crisps…all was good. I was feeling happy and as darkness fell, I was ready to embrace the night section.

Surprisingly, my head torch was being good…it never normally feels too bright, but it felt much better this time. Even when I have replaced the batteries before it never seems bright enough…these must have been super batteries!

The night sections were quiet and not too eventful. I swore some sort of animal growled at me from a bush, which made me run faster. We ran past a few graveyards where I thought I saw a dark figure, but I think it was just a large gravestone. I saw lots of eyes, probably foxes, but I just flickered my torch at them. Before I knew it I was half way and could finally get to my massive feast/ drop bag! I ate most of my 600 Cal+ sandwich I had picked up in Tesco’s…Geeesh, imagine if you were just eating that in normal everyday life all of the time..?! I had a can of orange Lucozade and filled up my water and got on my way. I was pretty much cat and mouse with another runner at this point until the finish! It was nice to have someone in close proximity.

There were definitely some KILLER hills on this course…it may have been easier in some respects with it all being on road…but the hills!! In another respect I guess it wasn’t necessarily easier with the road surface, because it hurts your feet after a while and I guess the pounding can be harder on your joints. Anyway, it was a lovely area in which to run. So much wildlife and so many lovely houses. On the wildlife note, I saw a weasel, hedgehog, hares (they’re creepy…too long-legged) and a Bambi in the woods :) 

Ultimately I think it’s fair to say that I did get a bit complacent with the night section…in the end. I wanted daylight. Sometimes it feels like one of those horror movies where they’re all stuck in a scary house and they’re waiting for daylight to break and when it does it means they’ve made it!! I don’t mean that I hated the night section entirely, it was certainly no horror movie, it’s just nice when dawn breaks and you can look forward to that new day and eventually that finish line. It was indeed a lovely sunrise and a very sunny day. 

We were so lucky, when I hear that a lot of the rest of the country was waterlogged and torrential. We had a slight wind but it was actually quite refreshing. I got a bit toasty later on and after the race was over I realised that I was even sunburnt. All this nice and calm weather after my initial feeling that rain just follows me around these long ultras; on the Thames Path 100 and the GUCR. I guess it did for a time here, but then things brightened up for us.

I really thought that this course was well marked…there was one long road when I didn’t see and arrow for a while and got paranoid, but thankfully it was paranoia. That paranoia was mainly fuelled by the fact that it was a massively steep downward hill and the thought of going wrong here was unthinkable because it would have meant going all the way back up this really steep hill and that wouldn’t have been good. All the major signposts and lampposts had arrows and UR signs; you just had to keep your eyes peeled.

In the latter stages my feet really began to hurt…really hurt…in agony... I began the good old ‘Liz Remedy’ of taking off my steaming hot trainers and itching my hot tired feet. It is the only relief that seems to give my feet any sort of momentary physical/ psychological rest bite when they are hurting that much. I felt a bit teary, because other than this I felt fine. I also walked on some patches of grass by the side of the road barefoot for a couple of minutes at a time and perched myself on any bench or wall I could find at regular intervals. I also dreamed of dipping them in a freezing cold streams and finally I popped a few painkillers, gritted my teeth and got on with it! I put on the mp3 player and sang and ran and walked and then ran to another tree/ wall/ lamppost. The hills were still furious and unrelenting and my feet were sore and screaming but I had gotten so far, I knew I would never drop. It was just a case of getting this pain over with as quickly as possible. My legs were fine. Weirdly, my feet look fine. Again, absolutely no blisters or manky nails, just very tender feet. 

I was making good time for me. I could have gone even faster if it had not been for the feet, but that is the price I paid for doing two long ultras pretty close together and I could live with that. I had originally said I wanted to finish in 27 hours, but really, I didn’t care…I just wanted to finish! I started to get emotional and had the occasional sniffles trying to sneak through my ‘just get on with it’ attitude. I knew I looked a state as I passed members of the public and gave a little smile or hello’.

Ultimately we were on the last bit and the last mega hill. It was time to follow the final map instructions that would lead us into the finish. I overtook a lady in the latter stages…within the last mile. Suddenly, really as if by magic my feet didn’t hurt at all. They didn’t hurt one bit and I got a bit of a sprint on. Stratford was busy and I had to ask directions to the leisure centre. I had forgotten we had crossed a bridge. I eventually put my sensible head on and started picking up the Ultra Race arrows on lampposts again. This was it, the finish and I couldn’t believe it! Woooo!

I officially finished in 27:19:32 :) & 2nd lady (although there were only 3 of us, so doesn’t reaaalllly count, but still pretty happy). Obviously there were runners that were phenomenally faster than me, but I’m really pleased with how this adventure turned out! I think overall I must have drunk 8 cans of coke, a can of orange Lucozade and 2 teeny bottles of coke yesterday, no wonder I didn’t get my usual sleepy lull during the night…bouncing off the walls! So, not going to have loads of sugar or caffeine this coming week…I’m sure it’ll prob be the sugar I avoid most because I like my coffee!

Whilst walking back to my car, two members of the public shook my hand. The said they were marathon runners and knew how hard running could be. Then they said, ‘Not many people do what you all do.’ It made me feel quite teary and proud and put a little perspective on things. It can be easy to get too used to the craziness of this sport, but I guess we all are a little crazy when it comes down to it. It is something to be treasured. Sometimes I think I need to remind myself that all of this is pretty darn cool and embrace how amazing it feels to run so far. And as for all the craziness, well, I like that