Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Ultrarace 100 - 2011

When your wife is more upset than you are that you did not manage to finish a race, says something about the effect Ultra running has not only on you personally, but also on the people close to you.

The day started with me waking up with pains in my groin area, which to be fair I have grown accustomed to and tend to blank them out when they rear there ugly head.
So I laughed them off and decided that I was going for the race regardless.

After much faffing as usual and I swear at least 5 miles walking to and fro different places including walking the dog, we got to Stratford race Course just after 11am.

I must admit I had a feeling of déjà vu as we drove up it did not seem a year ago that we were arriving to what would be my first ever organised Ultra event.

This year however the atmosphere was totally different the place was buzzing, there were loads more people about and even a hot air balloon (still on the ground and not inflated), this is a testament to the hard work Rory & Jen have been doing getting Ultrarace off the ground.

I met up with Rory & Jen and after the usual banter got my race number, and proceeded to do my usual pre race faffing, which is daft as all my stuff was sorted at home prior to starting off.

I met up with Tom and we discussed are various issues with recovery from the GUCR 25 days ago. We still decided that come what may we were going to try and do a fairly quick 50 miles and then assess our physical states then as to what pace to go for on the second half of the race, we both wanted to better our times from last year.

Chill Time
After a long drawn out pre race talk where Rory was inturupted by the guys attempting to get the hot air balloon up and failing in there attempt due to the wind (shame really it would have made a great back drop for the start), we were called to the start line.

Then suddenly we were off, after carefully negotiating some closed gates trickiest bit of navigation for the whole course, we found our selves on the disused railway happily bumbling along at a pace that was comfortable. Due to the amount of starters this year the start was completely different, (I must add for the better as it meant we did not have to dice with death down the killer A road)
We were happy to let the guys storm off, some experienced and more than capable of maintaining the pace others more than likely starting to quick unable to judge the pace for what would turn out to be a long day and night for them.

Suddenly we found ourselves onto the road but still following the changed route for a few more miles. We found that through the first 6 or 7 miles or so we were passed by a fair few people which I must admit did surprise me but as always in these races you need to have a game plan and stick to it, and hopefully these people will start coming back to you.

We were soon back onto the course proper and knew we were heading for the first CP.

We arrived bang on our target time, had a couple of photos taken with some fooling around.

As we did not require much we were soon heading off
after seeing son no1 & 2 were happily giving out water, which I happily consumed.

 We arrived the other side of Mickleton where the first testing hill starts and we saw some guys in the distance having seen no one for a while. We used the hill to chase them down knowing that our fast hill pace from last year would stand us in good stead.

By the time we had safely negotiated the hill coming out of Chipping Camden we had already picked off 4 guys. We carried on running fairly happy with no real issues; I did comment that my leg muscles were getting that used ache feeling. This does not usually manifest itself until around 50miles on a long Ultra, but I guess that was to be expected with little rest between long Ultra’s.

We arrived at the second CP 10mins ahead of schedule, so I used the time to change socks. This was Anna’s CP and she informed me that she had driven the car into a drainage ditch and ripped the front bumper off, she had called the AA and they were on there way to make sure the car was drivable.

So after grabbing some more rocket fuel (pork pies) we headed off, just round the corner we saw the AA van coming to the rescue so we carried on happy that things would be ok on the car front.

It was a couple miles further on that I started to get some alarming twinges in the groin / hip area on the up & down sections, I tried to put them to the back of my mind but they were very persistent.

I then decided that the pain was in my head and I would choose to ignore all said pain.
This seemed to work well; It might have been helped as we were joined by another runner Iveagh who had run the GUCR this year as well. We chatted away for a few miles recounting tales, until we hit a flat section and Iveagh started easing ahead.

It was at this point that my mind decided to remind me that the pain I had been ignoring was still here and was getting worse. We were at 28miles, so I decided I would use the next 3 miles to CP3 to test my hip area out on the different terrains. Knowing the route I knew that there was a big climb up to CP3 where I could make my final analysis. It was at this point that I told Tom of my problems, to which he replied that he was struggling with a knee problem.

We carried on, there was a fairly gentle down section and the pain I was getting was most definitely not muscular, and it was getting worse.

I then realised that in all probability I was facing a DNF, I did not want to think about this so again I put it to the back of my mind.
Then we were upon the hill which led to CP3, as we started up the hill I then realised I had to face reality the pain I was getting was not healthy and I knew then that it was a run stopping pain. I guess if I was experiencing this pain with 20 or even 30 miles to go the outcome would be different I would have battled through and finished.

The prospect of this pain for the next 70 miles compounded by the fact it had been getting steadily worse over the last 3 miles was the final straw and so it was I limped into CP3 totally dejected but firm in my decision to DNF.

Jen was manning the CP and she did try and get me to change my mind but once I explained the injury and the fact it was a reoccurance of an old injury which had never really gone away she reassured me that it was the right decision.

I saw Tom away and knew then that he would finish one way or another which kind off made me feel my decision to DNF was wimping out and that I should man up and get on with the task ahead. Even writing this now I still wonder was it the right thing to do.

I  phoned Anna and told her my decision and she seemed real upset that I had pulled out, but I said that if I had of continued I think inevatibly I would have binned further down the course having done more damage. Or worse still dragged my self to the finish with a time I would not be happy with and possibly looking at damage that might take months to repair. (while on the phone to Anna I enquired about the health of the car too which she replied it is drivable but will require being looked at during the following week)

Having completed this event last year in a sub 24hr I knew the course had not beaten me it was my failing body that had let me down, very frustrating but there you go
So I drew a line under that part of the race experience and moved on…….

I offered to help out where I could on the check points. I was not much help to Jen though apart from making her laugh uncontrollably when I put on her fleece she had offered me (it was a tad small). I waited around with her until she could deposit me at the 50mile check point where was Rory was manning the food stop and my drop bag with a change of clothes .

When I got there I saw a couple of guys Robbie & Andy who had just got into the CP, they recognised me and said they had been reading my race report from last year. Andy said this was the furthest he had run to which I congratulated him and they ran off in to the rain which by now was coming down hard.

I managed to change quick then it was a question of helping where I could, in all honesty I reckon I was more of a hinderance than any use. However I must admit I enjoyed the whole time there despite the rain. I saw a lot of runners in and chatted to them as they prepared themselves for a long night of running. For some it was the furthest they had ran so it was all new territory for them.

It was great seeing Tom come in to the CP and good to hear his knee problem had gone away. I lent him some wet weather gear and gave him some food as I would not be needing it and off he went.

It was sad to see some guys coming in saying this was it for them the cold wet and dark was just to much to face. To be honest I did not know what to say to them as my thought process was I would happily of traded places with you in order to continue running, however it was making me feel better about my DNF knowing it was injury related and not weather related…

Soon all the runner were through the halfway point even the wheelchair racer had come and gone. Just as we were leaving we spotted the blind runner and his crew he was feeling it a bit and looked in a bad way. Rory gave him some encouragement and instructed his crew to get some food in him or he would not see the night out.

Then we were off, Rory was going to the 90mile point to see the front runners through and he was dropping me at the 70mile point where Anna and my parents were manning the CP.

We arrived to a very soggy CP, at least at the 50 mile CP we had a trailer to shelter in, here it was out the back of the car. Still the runners were suffering more so with that in mind I helped out as best I could but to be fair everything was covered so for me it was just talking to the runners and seeing how they were holding up. Most were in good spirits and soldering on in true british style. Then suddenly Tom appeared through the rain, it was good to see that he was still going although he said he was close to quitting. So suitably plied with malt loaf we got him going again and off he went.
As it was getting light my parents left to grab a couple of hours rest before they were off to baby sit our children until we had finished.

I managed to get half an hour shuteye while there were no runners coming through, I suddenly woke to find Anna had shut her eyes, I don’t think we missed any runners phew…

I decided to get out of the car and walk around as I was doing that suddenly a group of runners appeared. It was a great to have something to do, and there seemed to be a steady flow through for a while.

One of the runners through was a guy called Quentin he had been hanging round the check point for a while with his crew (his parents). I saw him approaching our car and you could see he was suffering physically in various areas just by his stance. He told me he was thinking of quitting as he said he had been reduced to walking only, he was also worried that he would not make the cut off time at 6pm.  I reassured him by telling him he had 11 hours left and the average walking pace was 3.5mph so he was well within the cut off. Also I said Rory’s cut offs are guides only and not enforced to the letter....

He decided to give it a go and to be fair he looked like he was struggling. Sure enough 15mins later he was back saying that was it  he was quitting. So we got his parents back and I left him with them for 5 mins, when I went back over he was still un decided. It was then I realised it was not his physical condition he was battling with it was his mental state that was the stumbling block. Boy did I know where he was at, having gone through this in the GUCR so I put the call through to Rory and got him to work his magic on Quentin. Sure enough he came off the phone almost a changed man, he was ready to smash this now, I suggested a change of clothes to which he agreed and suddenly he was off and he was running. I felt quite emotional seeing the transformation and then I turned round and saw the tears in his mums eyes and somehow I knew that this finish was going to be quite emotional for them even more so as it was his 40th birthday....

Then suddenly we were down to the last couple of people left to go through the CP’s, we saw the blind runner and his crew come round the corner and the transformation in him was amazing he was full of smiles and raring to go....

We packed up the car and drove to the end to see a few folks finish, then it was off to relieve my parents of the children whom I bought back to the finish as I wanted to see Tom finish.
After what seemed an age he finally appeared looking very battered but determined as ever to run it in to the finish.

For me the adventure was ending and we said our goodbyes to Rory & Jen , happy in the knowledge that we had helped in some way to make this event run smoothly.

On reflection it was not the result I was hoping for, never the less I have learnt some valuable lessons this weekend which I will take on board and hopefully come back stronger.

Footnote: Quentin did finish well within 30hrs, unfortunately the blind runner did not make it he had to quit at 80miles (maybe next year ).

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