24 HOUR WORLD & EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS, BERGAMO, ITALY (Pauline's report)
2nd/3rd May 2009
Thursday, 30th April
The journey from Edinburgh to Bergamo went smoothly and we reached our hotel in the early evening. The location of the hotel is perfectly situated on the corner of the course lap. The gang is as follows: Ladies Team – Sharon Gayter, Vicky Skelton, Lynne Kuz and myself with Stephen Mason entered as an individual; Management: Richard Brown, Wendy Lynas and our very own Auntie Val; the unofficial support: Fiona, Simon, Gail and Vicky’s husband Leigh. After our dinner and a little leg stretch Richard treated us all to ice-creams which produced the biggest dilemma of the evening as the choice of flavours was truly tantalising.
Friday, 1st May
We took advantage of the free time we had to have a wander round the Citta Alta (Upper City), due to the May day holiday the funicular was closed so we took a very gentle and slow walk up the steps to the walled city which was stunning with a heap load of frilly buildings. We lingered in the piazza over a pot of tea being entertained by a young lad practicing his trumpet. Management then went off for a technical meeting which was followed by a gang meeting. Sharon, who is immensely experienced at this level of competition, went over the abilities of the other athletes, the French being the favourites, however with all our recent performances we ladies have the potential to bring home a medal – now the nerves really kicked in! We then headed off for the Team Presentation with a lively parade of all the countries represented and a drone of speeches.
Saturday, 2nd May
Race day – Other teams also staying at the hotel are Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland and Denmark and there is an electric undercurrent at breakfast, big hugs for reunions or wee nods of recognition and the athletes are definitely quieter that the support crews! I wonder why! After roll call, photos, etc we were able to nip back to the hotel to “chill” prior to the start. The sun was up and it was hot, I had my sunglasses on and requested my “flobablob” hat. The course was protected from the crowds and traffic by barriers, there was a strip of red carpet at the start line and the section of cobbles had been covered by felt. At last the countdown began 10, 9, 8, 7………. and we were off. I planned to do approximately 10K per hour which meant a seven minute lap, Lynne and I set off at a steady pace, pretty much on schedule and the first hour went by. Being a city loop of just over 1K there were sections of sunshine followed by shade as you went round the corner. As the day progressed, the shadows moved from one side of the road to the other and where one section had been protected from the sun it was now in the full glare. As the hours slipped by I felt comfortable and relaxed, plenty of fluids, wet hanky round my neck and regularly sponged down I was in cruise mode. Although I felt comfy I was concerned about the heat and how it was affecting me. Like a healthy dog when I run I usually have a wet nose but not today and my throat felt dry and tickly which made me cough. As the day wore on I found it increasingly difficult to eat, the biscuits, cereal bars and chocolate were a chore to chew and swallow and I had to take a drink with each mouthful to get it down. Eventually as the evening wore on it began to cool down. I had passed Sharon a few times as she was going through a bad patch, next thing I heard she was getting medical treatment. As it got cooler I put my “sleeves” on but with my shoulders open to the night air I felt it was a bit chilly so then opted for a quick change with a thermal under the vest. After a bit I still felt my shoulders and back chilled, not due to the temperature I think but perhaps due to me struggling to get food in. I was feeling nauseous and my stomach was giving the occasional heave. Fiona gave me two jackets to wear, zipped behind me which helped warm my back. I always dip during the night, it was time to just get on with it and grind out the laps. Wearing gloves I stopped taking my lap times, I was getting slower and didn’t want to know just how slow. My stomach was playing up and I had the dry “boaks”, so I adopted the tactic of walking and running, counting ten paces between each walk and run, which was a bit gentler on my stomach but also kept me moving at slightly above amble pace. I tried to avoid looking at my watch. Eventually I could see a patch of lighter sky, dawn was still a bit away but it was creeping closer. Even in the wee hours there was encouragement from spectators, I imagined my clubmates faces waving and shouting at me to get a move on. Sharon had returned but now Lynne was struggling with stomach problems. My memory of the next few hours is a bit fuzzy as I bundled it up and put it on the back shelf of the cupboard. It got light, Lynne had retired and I was walking and running, Fiona was doing a marvellous job in getting me to take on little bits of fluid and food. We were in fourth place behind the Germans and we need to crank it up a bit. Okay dokay, let’s get moving, I’d warmed up a little and was able to get a bit more running between the walking stretches, then bang – Sharon was down and didn’t look good, next time round I saw her getting carted off on a stretcher. Stephen was also suffering but was holding on and going well. I had warmed up with the rising sun and took the jackets off. I had wee glances at the watch to see how many hours were left. Plod on. Run a bit. Plod a bit. Run a bit. Look at the watch. Plod a bit. Run a bit. Do another lap then look at the watch. Plod on. Fiona was feeding me little bits of stuff, I was keeping it down but my stomach still wasn’t very happy. Finally, the last hour, try to pick it up. Vicky had now retired. Stephen and I plugged away. The spectators had returned in force and were shouting encouragement: Bravo! Forza! Bellissimo! Twenty minutes to go, Fiona handed me my marker cone in case I didn’t get all the way round again before time up – hah – just watch me – I was running again. Vicky had got herself back on the course – good on her – she will finish upright. I completed the lap, this time I grabbed the Union Flag and held onto the corners as it fluttered behind me. There was a bang which signalled the final minute – sixty seconds and it will all be over. The second gun signalled the end, fortunately I stopped next to a barrier and was able to hold on to it – phew!
After a few minutes my chip was removed and I was presented with a medal. Fiona was acting as minder in case I keeled over, but the gentle toddle helped to keep the circulation going preventing the light-headed wobbly I’ve had in the past. I didn’t know how far I’d gone, I knew it was well down on my target but it was the best I could do in the dry and hot conditions of the day. Although I had struggled and slowed considerably through the night I had kept moving and was pleased that I had got running again at the end. We headed back to the hotel for a bath and “freshen” up before the presentation. As we were seated I could feel it catching up with me and I felt the blood draining from my head. I made for a quick exit and got to the foyer where I had to lie down with my feet on the steps. After ten minutes or so I felt ok but didn’t want to go back inside in case I went wobbly again so Fiona and I went for a gentle stroll which helps keep the blood circulating – we managed to reach to the ice cream shop – purely medicinal of course. In the evening we headed off to a restaurant where I planned to have pizza and wine (one of my favourite combinations) and after a number of weeks of abstinence the wine tasted sooooo good! Richard revealed the final results – Stephen was a respectable 32nd, the ladies were 7th in the Worlds and 6th in the Europeans which was disappointing but felt we had battled on in challenging conditions which has given us all valuable experience. It is a huge honour and privilege to represent your country and I am grateful for the opportunity and hope that I can do so again in the future.