Two days have passed and my body feels about 100%. Had you asked me yesterday if I thought that was possible I would have laughed. Had you asked me on Sunday evening if I thought I would recover in two days I’m not sure I would have had the energy to even react. And yet, here I am staying up past midnight with the energy the write this entry. Once again, I realize that our body is an amazing machine – able to withstand so much pressure and yet so delicate that we must constantly pay attention to it’s requirements.
After a great trip to the Isle of Wight, which involved a car, a train, a bus, a ferry and a van, we arrived at our first night’s accommodation on the island – the glorious Cowes Enterprise College. We would be sleeping on the floor of their gymnasium, in sleeping bags and on gymnastic mats (secured minutes before by the experienced ultra runners Kat and Adam), surrounded by 80 other athletes. After dropping off bags and meeting friends we headed into Cowes to grab a pasta meal. This weekend was also the Round the Isle boat race – a lesser known event to our footrace – but it meant that the town was invaded by many drunken sailors enjoying their last sip of beer before parting ways with the shore to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight, a journey that takes all of 10 hours, before they could pick up their pint glass again without missing a beat. It was an entertaining walk to the restaurant.
Dinner in; walk back to school; lights out; ear plugs in and eye mask on. I’m determined to get a full night’s rest. Except every 10 minutes I need to turn over to avoid bed sores or to turn away from the last cough/sneeze/snore/shuffle/light in the hall. In reality I slept quite well and felt rested in the morning.
Race briefing. I am still not 100% sure what I am getting myself into. My run bag is packed and we head down to the start, which begins as soon as the door of the chain ferry across the River Medina opens. My GPS isn’t quite set up, but after a few hundred meters it catches up. The ‘race’ has begun. it’s immediately a gentle incline. It lasts for a kilometre or two. We’re largely staying on roads, with a few well travelled trails thrown in the mix. It’s easy running. Undulating hills, a few bigger climbs. I’m running with Adam and Kat, the couple who got me into this mess – one of whom goes on to win their category, but for the interests of suspense I will not reveal which one – being pulled along are about 7-8 other runners who have all started at about the same pace. We are taking it easy, pushing 5:45 min/km to 6:30 min/km. Sometimes I glance at my trusted Garmin and we’re going faster, sometimes slower.
After 10/12 kilometres we are in and out of the few towns. We are running through fields, through some wooded areas, along the beaches, up on the cliffs/bluffs. It’s beautiful. The weather is unbelievable. Cloudless, but today that translates to hot. Definitely need to take care of hydrating properly and consuming electrolytes to replace those lost through perspiration.
I start to feel the little niggles in my body but press on. I’m eating and drinking enough. I have the energy. But I do have to keep reminding Adam to slow it. At 25 km the group has split up. Just after the 30/32 km checkpoint I decide to take an extra few minutes to eat and drink. Kat and Adam run on. This is the beginning of the end for me today. The next 10 km to the next checkpoint pass very slowly. I get spurred on by a sales guy at a plumbing store in Surrey, UK, who is also competing with his boss (just imagine), a client (even worse!), and another colleague. But I’ve been beaten. I think of the next checkpoint, hoping, praying that Kristin will be there to welcome me.
I finally arrive and she arrives at just the same time. I am mentally beaten. I sit down and 25 minutes later stop my GPS watch. I’ve officially withdrawn. 42 km in 4 hours 51 minutes. Not fast enough or far enough to be anything special. And it’s the first time I’ve withdrawn from a race. My tear ducts act up as I tell the race official that I’m out. I can’t believe I came to this decision so easily. I just stopped having fun and I wasn’t doing this for anything or anyone, not even myself. I couldn’t think of a reason to continue.
It’s now my chance to support the others as they come towards the finish. As expected I take a bit of abuse for quitting. But I know in my heart it was the right decision. I don’t decide if I’m going to start on day two until the morning of. But Shaun and Adam factor me into tomorrow’s running plan as though it’s not really my decision. That helps.
We sleep in some cabins overlooking the sea. The campsite is fantastic. All facilities well catered for. This is a real testament to the event organizers – Extreme Energy. They choreographed a great weekend with a beautiful route.
Day two. I get dressed, feeling surprisingly fresh. I guess I did only run a marathon yesterday… We put Shaun in a SuperWoman outfit – partly because he asked us to run this as part of his stag-do and in order to have the privilege of supporting him at his upcoming wedding. He walks out of the chalet just as the walkers are getting their Day 2 race briefing. He gets a few laughs, but it’s all in good spirits.
I start running an hour before the others. Instead of supporting from the sidelines Kristin decides she will run with me to the first checkpoint. I think this is great – then we can withdraw together. We are encouraging each other. I really enjoyed that section, running with Kristin along a beautiful cliff edge the whole way – 15 km – with one significant hill. Kristin had a lot more energy than me, but simple exchanging words every now and then was awesome. She ran 15 km the day before with Shaun and Channari. 15 more today. She’s well on her training schedule to run a marathon, now we need to encourage her to sign up!
At checkpoint one I commit to going to the next checkpoint. They say it’s only 5 miles (8+ km). That seems manageable. I’ll withdraw there. 7 miles later I pull into checkpoint two. Two miles seems insignificant, but when I am prepared to end my race at that checkpoint it suddenly becomes a lot more relevant. I decide to carry on.
At checkpoint three Kristin and Channari, who is supporting today, have cold cokes waiting. I decide to spend 10/15 minutes with them; it’s hot and I need to cool down. Furthermore, the guy who was at the third checkpoint on day one when I withdrew was there. He made it clear I wasn’t allowed to withdraw at his checkpoint twice! Just then Shaun, Kat and Adam rock up. They started an hour later than me and managed to catch up. Shaun is broken albeit not wearing his SuperWoman outfit. Kat stops for only a few seconds, same with Adam, who continue their sprint for the remaining 14 km.
Shaun and I decide to head out together, committing to walking the rest of the way. Of course very quickly we laugh at this suggestion and start jogging. It’s relaxed pace. Shaun set a blistering pace for Kat and Adam for the first 30km of the day. Keeping them to their targets. But now he’s showing signs of wear. We take it easy.
To cut a long story short (if it’s long it’s because the whole things was long), we finally made it into Cowes, with one hill to go to get to the Cowes Enterprise College, where we had slept two nights before. We finally made it. 53km later. My feet rather sore, my quads super tight, my shoulders and back aching, my knees and ankles on the point of stress, but otherwise in perfect shape. It’s the longest I’ve ever run.
I learn seconds after crossing the finish line that Kat has won the women’s race – first place. What a stellar accomplishment following months of hard training. An amazing show of mental and physical strength. She just kept powering on opening the gap wider and wider with the other females. I will link to her race report once published. I wonder if she’s thought about getting sponsorships and going pro.
And so, what have I affirmed and learned through this experience? First, I affirmed that I do not really like running for hours on end. After approximately 30 km of running the emotional gain from each step is significantly dwarfed by the increasing pain and the decreasing pace. Second, never be bullied by your friends.
On point one:
Running is fun. It is a great feeling when floating on the tarmac, feet just a centimetre off the ground and each step is pushing your body through the wind which is rushing past your cheeks and filling your ears, the hair is flowing freely. You feel each muscle twitch your body forward, powerful with the vacuum of air in your wake. This is a great feeling.
Unfortunately, after a little while I feel it loses its appeal. You lose the beauty, the free-form of running and you start thinking about putting one foot in front of the other. This is only the beginning of the downward spiral and where I will stop writing about it.
On day one, after about 33 km I was reduced to a gentle shuffle, running at an usually casual 8 min/km. My back throbbing, my hips in pain with every step, the soles of my feet so tender they feel every bump on the trail. Is running still fun at this point? Well, you already know – I withdrew a short 9 km later.
Fortunately, I did this event for a bit of ‘fun’ with friends. No need to prove anything.
I can now go back to blogging about all of my physical activity, which you will have remarked has been next to nothing as I have not posted anything since July 2013!