24 Hours in Bergamo, Italy
Supporting a runner in a 24 hour race is not for the unfit or feint hearted, think of it as a bit like a fartlek session that lasts well, 24 hours! The length of the lap determines how often your runner comes round, at Bergamo Pauline was averaging between 7 and 8 minutes a lap, so I’d walk down to the start of the feed zone with Pauline’s requirements then run back up with her passing over food and drinks and it was a bit more complicated when she came round after a toilet stop, she had a skoosh of anti-bacterial gel followed by a wet wipe then whatever food she required, luckily the palm of my hand is slim enough to jam in the handle of a thermal mug so the required third hand was not always needed. Also on the odd occasion when Pauline had changed her mind or I had the wrong thing I had to sprint back to our table for what ever it was and then catch Pauline before she reached the end of the feed zone. I also counted every lap with split times and every mouthful of food and millilitre of fluid consumed. The only thing I didn’t log was farts that really would be too much information! (And thankfully she kept them to herself anyway!)
As the time continued I could see it wasn’t going to be a PB comparing her progress with Perth but today was a very different race with different tactics in high temperatures and a world class field of athletes. Pauline kept it nice and steady until late evening when her stomach started causing problems, I was giving her a small drink most laps and feeding her every third lap but when she started to struggle to eat anything I eased off trying to force feed her but after a while it was getting serious, Pauline took a big stagger which I think was from the lack of fuel with the comment “My steering’s gone wonky” Right, I resorted to try and get her to eat every lap even if it was a tiny spoonful of rice pudding or a few sips of hot chocolate, she was even struggling to eat chocolate (a girl’s in a bad way if she cannae eat chocolate!) I nipped back to our room to get the sachets of Horlicks in the hope she could get them down, they helped, she was still having bouts of heaves but managed to retain all the stuff I’d fed her, I think my plan of little and often was working (she was the only British athlete that didn’t throw up) It wasn’t just the Brits that were shouting on Hughie, through the night I think around half the field succumbed and one Spaniard was doing it to Olympic standard, he sounded like the head stag at a rut and on his third long bellow he managed to splatter, mentally I gave him a round of applause and hoped after all that effort he felt better.
In the late hours and early morning Pauline got cold, she’d earlier swapped her sun hat for her Saltire buff and put on a jacket, I was now wearing my cosy GB team sweatshirt which I was immensely proud to wear but it did look better with my Saltire buff at the neck, after a few more laps Pauline was still cold so I gave her my jacket to put on too.
It did get a bit wearing being called English and after the my first encounter with an English rugby team at Milan airport where after wishing each other the best in our endeavours one big burly player’s parting shot was “Go England!” my parting shot was “Oi! Go Britain, listen to this accent and it iznae English!” After Pauline pointing out that my skills in diplomacy needed some work I was on my best behaviour but I did have some fun with the Aussies, I’d been blethering with one of their support guys during the race and just after dawn when I was coaxing Pauline to eat, he’d said “Well Done Girls! You’re working well together, doing it for England!” Well I don’t know if it was my face or Pauline’s or the joint twinny grimace but he physically recoiled as if he’d kicked a rattlesnake, then it dawned on him what he’d said plus the Saltire buffs may have gave him a clue, next lap round I got my own back, I approached him with a cheeky grin, patted his shoulder and shouted in his ear “Go New Zealand!” He just laughed
Time was plodding on and so was Pauline working between run, heave and walk. Both Lynne and Sharon had retired and with one hour to go Vicky was lying down. Just Pauline and Stephen were still vertical and moving forward; I’d earlier heard some encouragement from the Americans to one of their runners which I thought was quite good. “All ya godda do is stay alive ‘n’ stay awake!” I passed that one on to Pauline which she achieved with some success, in the last hour she gradually picked up the pace to finish proud and strong with the Union Flag round her shoulders. Stephen being the leading Brit was given a hefty flag pole with a large Union Flag to carry on his final lap, I had a slightly unpatriotic thought. “Just as well he’s not on for a PB cause that would slow him down!”
Although Pauline or the rest of the team did not reach their targets they all ran to their best under difficult conditions, I believe they all pushed passed their own physical ability for that day proving the determination of an athlete in a national vest is capable of overcoming debilitating illness to finish 7th in the world and 6th in Europe which is an achievement to be proud of. For one, I am very proud of them and inspired by them.