Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Piece of String - Part 2 of ?

Part 2 - 31 hours inside a mindgame

Inside the van, Steve was straight off into doze mode and Tom looked like he’d be very happy to sleep anywhere. I tried to wind my sugar-fuelled body into getting 30 minutes down-time but it didn’t work, so I set about resupplying the Snickers pouch (yep. I had one specifically bought as it fits 4 hours of nutty nutrition), recharging the Nokia I was using for GPS and dropping pretzels all over the floor (sorry guys, hope you got the deposit back).

After 50 minutes of a planned 30 minute stop we shuffled out of the van and off down the canal again.

This time something was different.
The sky had a blue tinge.
Dawn was approaching.

Now I've read about the euphoria associated with running to the dawn, and I’ve done some night running, but I’ve never experienced full on fatigue while watching the sun rise. It’s bloody fantastic.

And with the new dawn came a new order. Or orders to be more precise. 

We were obviously getting tired, and even without Tom’s long-dead Garmin we could tell the pace was continually dropping. Having left the night bus with around 70 minutes to the cut-off, we needed to at least maintain 4mph.

I’ve mentioned a lot about Tom in the last part as we’d formed a mutual alliance based on endlessly taking the piss out of eachother. I haven’t mentioned much about Steve. The only reason being he was trotting along at our 12 min /mile pace like he was born running. While Tom and I bitched and moaned about every gate and incline, Steve glided on as though he was on rails. Maybe he was hurting, maybe not, but throughout he remained the model of calm.

Turns out Steve is also bloody good at a) timekeeping and b) motivation. Tom was struggling to hold a constant pace after his 8 weeks layoff due to a broken foot, so Steve paced us on a 10/5 regime. 10 minutes of (we guessed) 5mph running and 5 of 3mph walking. Enough to maintain the buffer and keep grinding through the miles.

There were more CPs heading off to the Thames. I had thought we might make the 100 miles in 24 hours - a goal I have never achieved as I’d only run 62 miles before this. Although it would have been madness to chase a goal in this type of race, had I not been with the guys I definitely would have gone for it and blown up a few miles after.

By now things are getting a little hazy as we went past the 24 hour mark and into unknown territory. Actually forget that last bit. We’d been in unknown territory FOR 24 hours. We’d now reached ‘happy with that, the rest is a bonus’ territory. 

There was one more CP in Reading before the Thames turn and secretly I was thinking they’d stretch that leg to send us away from Streatley for maybe a mile before doubling us back at the next CP. I may just be as devious as J&J as I was seeing all sorts of permutations. Or I may just have been paranoid. I’m not a glass-half-empty type of guy, more a ‘don’t trust the glass, drink from the tap'. 

So much better on the PoS to believe the worst and for it not to happen than be unprepared for a nasty shock.

As we crossed the Thames we unfortunately managed to scare the bejeezus out of  a small kid scootering along happily on a perfect autumn Saturday. Looking back she saw 3 disheveled runners limping toward her in a scene from an 80's undead movie. And one with a day-glo red beard that made him look like an evil Santa. Unsurprisingly she suddenly decided to scoot a lot faster. I’d like to apologise for that. It was unnecessary. Next time it’s a green beard and red hair. So much more friendly.

And so to Streatley, where it all started and where we knew we weren’t done. Not by a long way.

Earlier I'd mentioned to the guys that it would be pure evil to run us all the way in then make us start the Winter 100. Tom told me to shut up in no uncertain terms but guess what. We did. 

I’d like to say that the hills were a welcome relief after such a long, flat, straight run. I’d be lying. A lot. 

We needed hills like.. well. We just didn’t need hills.

What really didn’t help that I think I may have told the guys that we were in line to miss the cut-off to Swincombe, so we (very stupidly as it turned out) kicked up the pace to around 10 min/miles, and gawd alive did it hurt. 

For absolute grit and determination I have to take my hat, coat & shoes off to Tiny Tim (Tom is 6'3 so I'd coined this nickname many hours ago). He had been suffering for more hours that I can remember but with the prospect of dropping, he took the pace and pushed us up through the hills. How he did it I don’t know but his sheer force of will dragged us on at what for that point in the race was a suicidal pace.

The reason why I call it stupid is that we didn't have to push the pace. We’d miscalculated and were fine on the 10/5 routine we’d been on for hours. Once we realised this after about 3 miles it came as a real blow. We’d probably just killed any chance we had of finishing and nobody really felt like talking. We just trudged on.

Then we started to meet the W100 runners returning from the out-and-back leg. It was almost as if the music had come on in the patriotic part of a particularly harrowing “ do or die” move. EVERYONE who passed us gave us a ‘keep on guys’, ‘good work’, ‘doing great’. It gets me a bit just remembering this. That is what ultra running is about. That is why I am now a fully-fledged addict. They saw us hurting and willed us on.

And we went on. We made Swincombe and collapsed.

On the way in we’d met Sam, who was limping pretty badly from a previous tendon issue. I’d really wanted to see if we could drag him to the CP with us as it didn’t seem right passing such an awesome runner, but he waved us on saying he’d walk it in. I later learned he’d dropped shortly after. It was the right decision and will mean he can seriously kick some ass in 2014. (Ok, enough of the hoo-har stuff. Background music is now off).

So now we had a decision. James had called to say Sam had dropped and wanted to know whether the 3 muscateers wanted to carry on. We agreed to at least see the route and then decide. Then we saw the beast that was a hilly 15 miles and a 4 hour cutoff. We were barely walking by this point and it had taken over a minute for us to get out of the camp chairs to look at the map. So of course we limped out of the CP and into the darkness.

For some reason we decided to sing a bit too. It helped.

Down the the hill & up the next. An arrow-straight path to the Swan Way and on to the next CP. We had no chance of making the cut-off. We knew that. What we also knew is that the end would never be a CP. James has a habit of hiding in bushes and jumping out at people. Sometimes for races too.

Could we have lived with the knowledge that we’d dropped 400m from the end? So on we went.

The wrong way.

Eventually after two more hours of pointless wandering in the dark, we called in to drop and waited to be picked up

We’d covered more ground in more time than I ever thought possible. We’d bantered, insulted eachother, cajoled, threatened and invented anti-chafing devices over the last 31 hours that I will not forget for a long, long time. We’d run ourselves into the ground and had nothing more to give. The end was immaterial.. the race was over.

The funny thing was It didn’t matter. We were done. We’d won.

One last message before this blog entry is done....

The reason I’m doing this. What got me into walking last year and then running this year is to raise money for Alice's Escapes. Alice was an inspirational lady, and the charity provides respite to sick kids and their families.

Take a look.. Read her story. You might just be motivated to do something Idiotic ;)

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