In 2012, my running diary has 2 runs in it – a total of 9 miles. I was clearly so unwell, that I had no energy to even run – something I loved to do. In 2013 I thought, I will try harder, I ran well in January, February and March, but just had no energy to sustain it for longer. In May 2013, about a year ago, I found out I had coeliacs disease. By October, a few months into a gluten free diet I had never felt better. No longer was paracetamol on the weekly shopping list.
Around November 2013, in the post Great West Run elation, 30 or so weeks ago, I signed up to run the Hope 24 event – a 24 hour ultra event. So, as this is ‘Coeliacs Disease awareness week’, take this post as a celebration of what can happen when coeliacs gets diagnosed and no more gluten is eaten. (BTW, if you have daily headaches, bad guts, alternating constipation and diarrhoea, wind that put a sulphurous hot spring to shame, achy joints and a general malaise, go and talk to your doctor about coeliacs (a simple cheap blood test is all that is needed to rule it in/out)- it is estimated that 1 in 100 people have it, but many go un-diagnosed for years.)
So, on we go, because this post is also a celebration of 26 weeks of hard training.
The event was organised by Team Hope – a group of firemen who set out to raise money for Hope For Children. Their plan – run the Marathon De Sables, and do some other things. Other things being a local 24 hour race. It wasn’t a commercial effort, there was no prize money, and even the guys rubbing legs for a fiver, through the night, were contributing 100% to the fundraising effort. The team, led by Danny was amazing. I have not been to many running events, but I have been to a lot of cycling ones, and good event teams are like gold dust. Well, that gold got sprinkled a lot over this team. Thanks guys for an amazing event.
My contribution was, rather than paying the modest £40 entry, taking a free entry with a commitment to raise £250. Well, I far exceeded this (and there is still time to donate) and have raised over £1000. So far, the total raised by Team Hope from their MDS effort and Hope 24 is over £45,000. And that is amazing. So I blogged a little about my training here, and last week on my final prep here, so its only fitting I write a race report.
The course was a 5 mile loop around Newnham Park. It was a course of two halves – the first open, exposed and windswept, the second through the bluebells and forest paths (oh and the shooting carpark, but more on that later).
We left the show field,
went across the river, using Kevin’s Bridge (here in the dark)
and headed up a long tarmac climb
This then continued up on a stony, brick, mud and rock track around a large field.
Quite a surreal field, if I’m honest.
Full of what I can only describe as derelict gymkhana kit, grumpy sheep and excited lambs. At the top of a field, there was what I thought was a Thomas the Tank Engine jump. I had told GeekDad Andy (my awesome night time helper) about this, and his comment, when he later walked a lap or two at 2am with me, was, ‘no, its Gordon’!
I just laughed. I think.
After the climb, we looped around and came back over the other side of the field…
This field was hard work. In theory it was flat and down hill, but the gale force wind, and near horizontal rain at points, made it energy sapping.
This field dropped into an off camber descent, with a corner that by the time I got to lap 13 was a nightmare,
and then we were back to the show field. After a run through the show field, we went out into the wooded section of the course. This section was pretty muddy in places
This section went through the Shooting Place… (not really sure what to call this bit, but it looked like something out of one of those video games where bad things happen and you shoot people. Andy confirmed this thought telling me it was like something people say was the kind of thing only game designers would make dropping random buildings into a natural landscape!), thankfully, there was no shooting, although on lap one, there were several amusing shouts of ‘pull’, BUT there was the most amazing marshalling team. Introducing Owain, Cathy (well she took this picture) and ‘the boy’ – high fives, Mexican waves, cheers and smiles…
This marshalling team was the perfect setup for the next bit of the course that went on to a couple of climbs, one that become known, at least to me, as ‘that Pesky Climb’. I think others had different names for it!
Just before we move on, I want to say that all the marshals were great, and so helpful – Kevin Guild who stood next to the bridge near the start for quite possibly the whole 24 hours was always a welcome face, and light during the dark hours – thanks Kevin.
After That Pesky Climb we ran through bluebell forest – so beautiful (but they didn’t glow in the dark Mary) and they soon erased the pain away, even in the dead of night.
We went on to a longish sketchy descent, (sorry for the bad photo, I was trying not to fall over, or get in anyone’s way)
along another muddy track
back to the shooting ranges and the worlds best marshals, through an area of shattered and discarded clays, and then back into the show field. lap distance 5 miles, although the garmin measured up a bit short, and around 500f of ascent per lap.
We were briefed, had a group photo
and then lined up
and off we went
The Short Version
I had a target of 70-100 miles. I managed the first 50 miles (10 laps) with no significant stops or breaks and only a little walking up the hills. Race nutrition left the plan a bit, and I played with various strength of Perpetuem, trying to get the balance of calories and liquid right, eating Nakd bars and rice cakes with almond butter. After mile 50, I ditched the Perpetuem, and used just water, Nakd and Trex bars, crisps, rice cakes and cheese and a delicious gluten free (more about this later) bacon sandwich. After mile 50, I had a bit of a break, then did two laps, then had a massage, then did a lap, then had a little sleep for an hour or so and then got up and did 3 more laps.
I started in a pair of Inov8 X-Talon 212 (shoe review coming another time) and switched into a pair of Skechers GoRun Ultra at mile 25. Those first 25 miles were pretty muddy, sloppy and slidey, although it got progressively drier, so the X-talons were the right choice, but after hours of gale force winds, the course began to dry out, and I welcomed the extra cushion on the GRU.
The Long Version
A lot of work went into the planning and prep for this event, and while I ran a number of 30 mile + 20 milers in prep and thought I had the legs for what I signed up for, I really had no idea what to expect of my body, my kit and the things I planned on eating. I had a really relaxed frame of mind – there was nothing I was going to stress about, and this worked almost perfectly. There was one moment, as I stood on the start line and we counted down – we got to 6 or 7 and it was like, oh my, this shit just got real!
And then there was a gentle hustle and bustle as the team runners worked through to the front through the first section of the show field, and then it kind of all fell into place. My aim was to run 10 laps and take a rest, regroup, have a chat with my night helper and carry on.
Through those first 50, Martin was on hand until around 5 (I think) and did a great job of handing me stuff, keeping me on track, but then he had to go home.
Mile 30 through to 50 felt really hard. I carried my phone, and then, as the hills became walks not runs, I checked Facebook, etc. and enjoyed the messages. I called my girls and had a little chat, that was good, although it was hard to hear them.
I had to use a lot of resolve to push on through, I did, and was glad to see Andy around 9:30. And he came bearing cheese – oh how I loved that cheese!
My nutritional plan, as I mentioned above, was all about Hammer Perpetuem. My mistake and learning in relation to this was that in training, I mixed multi hour bottles and sipped it slowly, alternating with water. As this even was around laps, I didn’t really want to wear a vest with a bladder or two bottles. On reflection, I probably should have done this, but I opted for a handheld with an hour mix. It took a few laps to get the mix strength right, but what I learnt was that I really wanted a variety.
It was nice to pause at the end of a lap and spread almond butter on a rice cake, eat a bit of banana, grab a Nakd bar and refill my water and carry on running, so by mile 50, this became the approach. The calories were supplemented by crisps and bacon from the catering van with my own supply of gluten free bread (gluten free options at even the biggest events of any kind are limited, so this is not a complaint, just something I would like to see change for the better over the years to come).
Liquids were also supplemented with a regular supply of tea and the occasional coffee. Overall I was pretty pleased with my nutrition, I have not had a burning hunger today (Monday), I didn’t lose any weight, and as far as I could tell (by the light of my head torch) I remained well hydrated.
At mile 60, Andy said he fancied a walk, so we fast walked a couple of laps together, and I really enjoyed the conversation. I assume I made as much sense as he did! But at the end of those laps, and maybe it was the walking, but I felt like my legs had gone. My right ITB was giving me hell and my ankles (well the front of them) had started to hurt quite a bit, as was my back (from the compressed nerve issue in my rotator cuff muscles I have had for 5 or so weeks now) so I had a massage, and set out for another lap. I ran the first 2.5 miles of this lap, but it was slow work, and Andy joined me for the second 2.5 miles.
After this lap, Andy suggested I take a rest. I literally put on a load of clothes, and lay down on my tent floor on a couple of fleeces (next time – a carry mat would be sensible!). I was layered up with running tops, a running coat, a down gilet, a waterproof, a buff, a woolly hat and I then, at about 4am, fell fast asleep for around an hour. The weather meant that when tackling the first hill it was too hot, the windswept descent back to the field too damn cold and all ear-achy (thanks to Danny for arriving somewhere between laps with my fundraisers Hope24 Buff, on it went).
So if anyone had ideas for running in weather that is at the same time too hot/too cold / too dry / too wet, I would like to hear from you!
I set out on my last three laps after a snooze, some coffee, and a little bit of food, and a good bye to Andy who needed to go home to sleep. The sun had come up so I left my head torch in the tent and set out at a steady walk run. Walking on the up hills and downs, and running on the flats. I managed two this way, hitting 75 miles. By now I was pretty beat, but my little sister and her family arrived meeting me just I slowly navigated the corner of the off camber descent. I walked the second half of my last lap chatting with Andy, who carried his youngest on his shoulders. Tamsin went off to find the harribos.
We caught up with Tamsin and their eldest just before we entered the show field, and there at the far end were the wild things, charging towards me shouting things like run daddy, run. I made an effort to, buoyed up by a mouthful of Starmix.
So, I finished 9th solo male and there we have it, a race report of sorts. I slowly packed up my camp, clapped and chatted with fellow runner through their finishes, and stood in awe at the two leading men clocking up 130 and 120 miles. Today, Monday has been about resting, getting a massage, icing my ankles,
washing shoes and shuffling around
and a gluten free beer
Massive thanks to my crew – Si and Nay for getting me there, Martin for the Afternoon shift and managing my social media (!), GeekDadAndy for the night shift, bacon, coffee and train related corrections, Tamsin (at 8 1/2 months pregnant!) and her husband Andy for the morning shift and Harribos, all those of you who send texts, DMs, and tweets AND of course Mary for the get me home shift, cooking and looking after me stuff today.