Monday, 23 September 2013

Glenmore 24 - not just any 24 hour race.

At the beginning of my radiotherapy Bill offered me a place in the Glenmore24 as a goal to help me get through my treatment either in the 24 hour, the 12 or just for me a 6 hour. At the time I didn't want to commit to anything, not knowing how I'd cope but in June I accepted the offer of a wee fun run.  Pauline was happy for me to do it even though I'd leave her to look after Vicky and Fiona on her own for a bit and just a few days before the race I saw on facebook Colin would be unsupported so we offered to look after him as well.

Pauline and I went up on Friday afternoon, it took ages to get set up, mattress inflated, bed made, kitchen set up, tarpaulin over the front of the tent giving us a veranda, extra tarpaulin on the floor in the kitchen/livingroom, ever since my tent was ruined at the Perth 24 hour race in 2008 by clerty Carnegie Harriers, I blame the relay team, in and oot, in and oot, we'd rather spend a few quid on a "carpet" than replace a whole tent.  It was a real home from home once Pauline decorated it with Tibetan prayer flags, wind chimes and fairy lights.

Friday night was quite a giggle, wind and rain didn't put a halt to the showing of the latest Anton Krupicka  film. We were tucked into open fronted race HQ marquee out of the weather, but with smoke in the eyes from the fire pit, Granny blanket round our knees, a bottle of beer and great company. Luckily, the film was more scenery and close ups of the scantily clad Anton skipping over mental terrain with his peaked Buff at a jaunty angle, there was too much hilarity to follow a film with plot points! 
Photo from Glenmore 24 Trail Race
We didn't sleep much, the wind and rain battered the tent a bit through the night but we were pleased to see our camp still intact in the morning apart from the windbreak needing a bit of adjusting there was no damage.  More folk arrived and got their tents up, a lot of the tents were empty over night since quite a few pitched them on Friday then buggered off to B&Bs, you wussy lot missed all the fun!

As the morning progressed the wind blew the rain away and the sun came out, it was going to be a great day for the race. We went over Fiona, Vicky and Colin's race plans then wandered over to race HQ for the briefing and the start at noon. 

It was great to watch people settle into their race, a shame for Kevin going over on his ankle early on, even running a lap with an ice pack gaffer taped to his ankle wasn't going to work a miracle, he stopped after three laps, but a wee bonus for Mel and Morna, they now had extra pair of hands in support. Our runners had settled down nicely and were easy to look after, knocking out consistent laps and eating well,  Fiona had brought plenty food,  I think she'd bought half a supermarket going by the all the carrier bags taking over the tent, and she was ready for a tuna sandwich, okay doky, I found the rolls, the butter and the tins of tuna... hmm, I bet there isn't a tin opener in all this lot. Not a problem, I'm sure someone will have one, sure enough, just a wee wander round other supports and I got one from Julie. I didn't bring one since the tins of soup I'd brought had ring pulls, I'll remember one for next time whether I need it or not, someone else might!

I kept an eye on the time and got myself ready for my run, I was starting at 6.00pm and finishing at midnight with the 12 hour race.  I felt a bit tired with not much sleep, being on my feet all day and I still had a bit of the British Ultra Fest in me, I didn't run for a fortnight afterwards it and just had a couple of three mile runs just to check the legs are ok, yep, they go left, right, left, right. That'll do, I wasn't worried, I was running  just for the joy.

A few minutes to six Pauline and I walked over to the start, hang on, here's Fiona coming, Pauline scooted off to see to her and was back in time to see me be set off with precision timing from Ada.  While I was waiting to start I turned my peaked Buff up like that Anton bloke, but Pauline thought I was more like Norman Wisdom!

It's a beautiful four mile loop,  in 2011 I labelled the miles according to the terrain, first one was called lumpy bumpy, a narrow twisty path with boulders and tree roots, second mile I named the long run, a wide forest track of gentle undulations which in both previous years I ran all of it, third mile, the up hill, fourth mile, the down hill, a rather simplistic description of the stunning route but that's how I broke up the loop, I clicked straight into the routine of where I walked and where I ran.  "It's great to see you back."   were the words I heard more than once on the loop. You know the saying  If I had a penny for every time...  well, I don't need to be a millionaire, the support you guys have given me this year has been priceless.  

I reached the clearing and looked down over Loch Morlich in the early evening light.  The sky, pale blue, the clouds tinged with peach were reflected in the loch.  A line from a song popped in my head. The colours of Scotland leave you young inside. Now Runrig's Hearts of Olden Glory make me emotional at any time, but being here, being back where I belong ... I let the tears stream down my face and kept the song in my head for the rest of the loop. Next lap I picked up my iPod, but only stuck it in one lug'ole, as much as wanted my music I wasn't anti-social. It was sheer pleasure running and it felt easy, must have been that  urban myth  - the runners high, I knew it wouldn't last but I got three laps before I crashed.  

I made it back to base camp just as the last of the light faded and I picked up my head-torch on the start of my fourth lap.  After the "lumpy bumpy" mile and a slow "long run" those hills jumped up and bit my bum, I expected them to get me at some time, and it wasn't just my glutes, my hamstrings and quads too, what little running I've done has been on easy flat routes, the last time I ran hills was February!  The muscles in my legs had the strength of watery jelly,  one good thing from walking loads of miles at the British Ultra Fest is that my walking technique has been perfected, it felt smooth and productive, my running slowed but I still moved well.   

I'd just left base camp on my fifth lap when it started raining, it got really heavy and freezing, I moved as fast as I could, expending energy I didn't have to waste, since my treatment I really feel the cold, it makes me feel fragile, brittle and my muscles don't work.  I got back before hypothermia set in, I pulled on a fleece, my rain jacket, gloves and my cut off waterproof breeks, Pauline calls them my Ray McCurdys, (that's fine, I keep them in a wee zip lock bag and I'm going to change the label on it in homage to the legend.)

On my sixth and final lap, I walked parts of the "long run" for the first time, counting the previous two years, this was the first time I walked parts of this section in sixty laps! I wasn't disappointed, I was moving forward to the best of my ability with the body that I had on the day, I wasn't in a race looking for a PB or a race position I was there purely for the pleasure but this is a philosophy I use even when racing and in all the years I've been running I have not always reached my target but I've never been disappointed with my performance, you can't ever ask for more than your best effort whatever the circumstances.

Once back to base camp and on the wee loops, I went into proper race mode and pushed as hard as I could, every step counting towards my distance.  I needed to lean my hands on my thighs to get up the wee hill, I don't know how many times round I went but each one I hoped was the last, eventually the count down, it was midnight, and I stopped near the top of the hill. I bent forward with my hands on my knees and let out sobs of achievement.  Mike R asked if I was ok, I was, just a bit emotional, I'd ran 25 miles, confirmation I'm alive and kicking. I walked round to our tent, Pauline took a celebratory photo and gave me a mug of hot chocolate and a cup of cider, I couldn't decide what one I wanted so I had both!  

I took them over to race HQ and stood melting my breeks at the fire pit waiting for Vicky Shanks to come into base camp, now that it was after midnight she could celebrate turning forty, she stopped  long enough to be serenaded with Happy Birthday and have a piece of cake then carried on to cover 100 miles, a brilliant way to mark a special birthday.  I was loathed to leave the fire, but eventually I forced myself, I had to get changed into warm, dry clothes, have a wee sleep and get back on duty.

Running for 24 hours isn't just about how fast you can run, it's also about how you adapt when problems arise, our three runners coped very well with theirs.  Vicky's feet and shins were in excruciating pain from early on and she stoically stuck it out to 88 miles, an achievement  in self determination.  Fiona was eating well to start with but struggled later on and was low on energy, Pauline let her have a 20 minute nap, afterwards she was shaking like an old washing  machine but once we piled loads of clothes on her and I gave her one of my Ensure milkshakes, as used by the old, infirm, elite athletes, me and now wee Fee MacDee, she was soon warmed up and knocked out a 50 minute lap and cracked on to 95 miles, an outstanding distance for her first 24 hour race.  Colin never stopped at all, bar a wee visit to the physio, no sleeping at all this year, he wouldn't dare with Ada armed with a cattle prod and Pauline with a baseball bat! With a few hours to go he said he'd be happy just to do another lap but we had other ideas, he did have time for two laps if he pulled his finger out,  Pauline went with him for a lap saying "I'll work on his head." When they came in to base camp with just over an hour to go he said he was going for an other lap. Brilliant, but we also neglected to tell him that if he didn't get back to base camp before noon this lap wouldn't count.  No worries, he was back with just over ten minutes left. Pauline's final instruction, "Run like a demented hamster!"  and he churned out enough wee laps to reach a PB of 89.73 miles.

At the end of final hour with all the runners on the wee lap, the crowd in base camp shouted and screamed encouragement, it was emotional watching everyone pushing their bodies long passed their capabilities with hearts and souls leading the charge, forcing every step forward to break records, personal bests and have dreams realised, the countdown then it was finally over, sighs of relief, smiles and hugs of congratulations.  The finish is exceptional and not just for the runners, everyone involved is caught in the emotion.

I enjoyed watching the prize giving, everyone in both races individually awarded their medal and bottle of beer and often with personal comments from Bill or Ada.  Rab and Mark's amazing achievement, setting a new Guinness record  for the three legged race, 68.2 miles, I loved the way Ada in her inimitable style summed up their efforts, introducing them as the two tits. I thought Bill seemed a bit lost for words in winding up the prize giving, then I realised he wasn't finished, (I'm struggling here to find my words so I'll leave out my emotions) Bill and Mike presented me with a beautiful crystal decanter.

It is at home amongst my other wee bits of crystal and holds some fine malt, also a gift from a friend that has given me outstanding support this year.

If I'd known I was going to have my photo taken standing in front of everyone I would've done something with my hair!  Sorry, I'm just trying to use a bit of humour  to stop my crying.  I'm finding it hard to put into words my gratitude for all your support, and saying thank you doesn't cover it,  it has taken me a while to write this, every time I think of the weekend I get a lump in my throat. The Glenmore 24 is a very special weekend if you were there you'll understand the magic, if you weren't, sorry, I can't explain...  

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

British Ultra Fest - Forty-eight hours of fun

I had entered this event last year and I wasn't going to miss it, I could do as much or as little as I liked, my plan was to run the first half an hour and the last half an hour and just go with the flow for the other forty-seven hours. My training was minimal to say the least, treading a fine line between recovering from the effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and actually doing some running, from the beginning of July until the first week of August I had eighteen runs of between three and five miles and one run of ten miles, I thought it more important to gather my strength than to use it up.  I had a check up at Edinburgh's Western General the day before heading down to Oxford, they are pleased I've put on a smidgen of weight since having the feeding tube removed, (I didn't mention that the last time I was weight was a roasting day and I was wearing shorts and t-shirt, it was cooler now  and I was wearing jeans and a heavier top) my mouth is still sensitive to fruit and textured food, I'm still very restricted on what I can eat but was told this is normal only ten weeks post treatment and will improve with time.

Pauline and I had enlisted Ken, Sue and Gillian for support and after a lot of deliberation of whether to hire a campervan or a people carrier for event, we went for a nine-seater minibus and it was just right for the five of us and all the gear we had.  We packed the bus on Tuesday night so we could head off on Wednesday morning at a civilised hour, the drive down to Oxford was uneventful and didn't take as long as we'd thought it might.

We arriving at Radley College and greeted Lorna, John, William and Richard with a cheery hello, they were doing the six day race and had started at noon on Sunday 11th, we'll get to know the other runners soon.  We picked our spot for the big tent and put it up, also Ken and Sue's wee tent, inflated the mattresses but left sorting the rest of the stuff until later since it was pouring a drizzle and went to Tesco for our adventure supplies and then to a pub for something to eat. I managed all my fish but it was a shame I had to pick the lovely crispy batter off, it was too abrasive,  I managed some of my chips and mushy peas, and a nice pint of local beer, clearing just over half my plate was an achievement as the last time I had fish n' chips was before the surgery.

Then back to Radley College for an early-ish night but I don't think I slept too well with the tent  being next to the track, I could hear the runners timing chips beep all night as they went over the mats and one runner was singing at the top of his voice,  "Turn yer iPod down ya numpty!" 

Rabbit the Bruce and Rampers check out the track.
Before the start
In the morning it took me a bit time trying to remember my routine for a big race, it's been nearly a year since my last one at Glenmore24! But I wasn't nervous, I haven't done race nerves since my first WHW race in 2003, I run and race for fun and it didn't matter that I haven't had the conventional build up to a big race, I've made it to the start line, every lap will be a bonus.

10.00am Thursday 15th August.  Fourteen of us joined in the fun on the track that was the British Ultra Fest  48 hour race.  

Pauline and I ran a few laps together then  I let her go on, this was not the pace I was planning and after a couple of hours I had gone around ten miles, the farthest I have gone since February, I had already had had a few walking laps and now decided that walking was the most energy efficient mode of moving forward and wouldn't run again until tomorrow.  I took my camera round for a lap or two,
Just another forty-five and a half  hours to go!
The reassuring beep of the timing mat 

Where's my runners?
I just observed the world from a 400 metre running track, a Red Kite soared above, we went round and round,  Sue strolled to the shop for a newspaper and ice lollies, we went round and round, support sat and ate ice lollies reading the paper, we went round and round, Sue went off for a wee run amongst pretty thatched cottages, we went round and round, Gillian went off for a run, we went... you get the picture! It didn't faze me even though this was my first race on a track, once I've chosen a challenge I just get on with it and enjoy it, plus having the IQ of a hamster probably helps.

I'm easily amused and when Pauline lapped me I thought her hair reminded me of someone, I had to tell her, she laughed, but I knew she'd bide her time and come back with something at some point during the race...
Pauline and Rampers matching hair-dos

It got dark and there were frequent rain showers, it wasn't cold though.  I had my baseball cap pulled well down and the hood on my rain jacket went up or down depending on how heavy the rain.  I didn't need a head torch, we were going clockwise so I just kept my left foot on or near the white line of lane one, it was easy to see. I was listening to my iPod, I had Runrig on shuffle reliving the brilliant night we had on Saturday, we had been up at the Black Isle for the Party on the Moor, Runrig's 40th anniversary celebration. I was singing along hopefully not as loud as the guy last night but I was enjoying myself. 

10.00pm, I'd been on the go for twelve hours and covered over forty odd miles, my legs were sore and I could feel a couple of blisters on the balls of my feet, probably with walking rather than running, I was placing and picking up my feet differently, and with the lack of training my feet were probably soft but I loved it! I revelled in the discomfort, this is the pain that the fit and healthy have.  Also knowing that my friends and family were checking my progress on the live results,  I could see your smiling faces at what I've achieved so far, that made me emotional knowing I have a lot of love willing me on.  Sue has an awfy clever phone and kept us up to date with facebook messages, they meant a lot, thank you.

By 11.00pm I was tired and ready for a break but I would wait until after midnight when we changed direction, it made it easier being on the track at a change of direction, it wouldn't confuse me when I got going again. It was a long hour until the change but just before midnight Sue said that if I did another half a dozen laps I'd have 50 miles, and that's a nice number to stop for a sleep at, so I continued on for another twenty minutes or so before dropping onto my mattress and into my sleeping bag for a couple of hours.  I don't think I slept much but it was lovely to rest.  Sue told me it was time to get up, I unzipped my sleeping bag, rolled off my mattress and crawled out of the inner tent into the "living-room", I tucked my toes under, lifted my knees off the ground and with my bum in the air walked my hands towards my feet until I could stand, Sue's comment "I'd help you up but it's more fun watching!" I've never taken a break before during a race, so I took my time gathering myself, I put on another pair of tights so I'd stay nice and warm and had some coffee to revive me and some paracetamol to ease my legs, hopefully they would soon loosen as I started moving again. One wee problem, my iPod was dead.  Ken offered me his phone with his music on it if I wanted, not to worry, I would be fine without, but it was nice to know I could have some tunes if I felt I needed them.

My legs loosened and it got light, I took off some of the extra layers I'd put on during the night. At 11.00am the sprinters joined in the fun, AKA the 24hour race, the pace they zoomed round at seemed very fast, too fast in this heat, there were going to be casualties.  It got really hot in the afternoon but that's how I like it, my black compression tights soaked up the sun's energy like solar panels, my quads have no strength with the combination of no training and mouth cancer treatment but the warmth of the sun was the elixir of life.  William asked if we had ice, "Brrr, no thanks.",  just the thought gave me shiver, I wasn't even using a wet sponge, but I did get quite warm and Sue asked if I wanted a break as I looked a bit wabbit.  So I found a chair, sat down, put my feet up and started drinking one of the low alcohol beers Pauline had bought, that made me laugh, what a bizarre thing to do in a race!  It was still too warm just to sit, so Ken put my beer into my drinks bottle and I strolled round at ice-cream pace, you know how slow you walk eating ice-cream, that was my race pace! Another first, I've never drank beer from a bottle with a sports top before!  A wee while later Pam (race director) made an announcement, asking us to respect the college's strict no alcohol rule, I thought I was discreet, but it wasn't just me, that's ultra runners for you!  But Ray McCurdy didn't break the no smoking rule, he probably could've added another mile or so to his distance since he did leave the college grounds for his fag breaks!

I was still quite warm and tired after my "sports drink" so I decided to have a wee lie down but the tent would've still been too warm so I took my blanket to the shaded side of the tent and lay on the grass for about an hour and a half. I felt quite refreshed afterwards and found the light breeze chilly so put a fleece on to go back on the track. I was never fast but my laps were consistent and I churned them out, my stomach was fine too, no problems at all, with my mouth still being sore and sensitive I kept all my food liquid.  I was confident in using my Ensure milkshakes as I know a lot of elite athletes use them, lucky me, I get them free on prescription and stock-piled plenty of them, I also had soup, custard and porridge, I couldn't drink my usual diluted ginger beer ,it was still a bit nippy for me but I managed some coke and I just had plain water, since the radiotherapy has damaged my saliva glands I don't produce any, not a single spit, so after a couple of breaths my mouth is uncomfortably dry so I just carried my water in a bottle belt, easy to get a mouthful one or twice a lap.

It got dark again, the sky was clear and I felt it colder than the previous night, I made sure I stayed warm though, t-shirt, vest, arm warmers, two fleeces, two pairs of tights, two Buff scarves. I planned to stop for another break after midnight again, but I was moving well so I kept going for a wee bit longer clocking over 101 miles before getting back into my sleeping bag for a couple of hours.  I slept well this time, I'd only put my head down then Ken woke me up! Again I took my time to gather myself and get back on track, I took a couple of easy laps to wake me up and loosen me off.  It was just after 3.30am, I'd covered over 164kms/102miles, I had just less than six and a half hours to go, could I get 200km? I did some sums, I'll have to pick up the pace but I've got to try.  Next time round I told Ken I was on a mission, and since I'm rubbish with numbers especially when running I put him in charge of checking my pace and if it was fast enough, he was excellent telling what I was doing and how much I had to pick it up by and maintain.

At 5.00am Sue asked if I'd like a wee 5.00am special, and showed me a bottle of Brewdog 5.00am Saint, now that's a proper beer! I laughed out loud and had a wee tincture.
Enough clothes for two runners
The sun rise was a pretty pink one and as it warmed up I gradually peeled my layers off, then there was a short, heavy shower, I felt it cold on my quads, time to pull on my cut-offs, an old pair of waterproof breeks I'd chopped below the knee, so easy to slip on and off without having to mess with my shoes.  Payback time in the comparison game for Pauline... I looked like Ray McCurdy, yeah, I'll take that. Sorry, no photographic evidence, the shower passed quickly and they were soon removed.

With three hours to go I was maintaining my pace and should reach 200km but I wanted to make sure and get the best  distance I could,  so I started running the straight over the timing mats. It didn't feel too bad at all, the blisters on the balls of my feet felt easier when I was running but my quads had no strength and couldn't maintain running for long, I gradually stretched the running  each lap picking points to start and stop until I was running half of every lap. The transition from walking to running was fine but going back to a walk was a painful judder to my legs and set the blisters on fire but I didn't  feel as if I had the strength to keep running... not yet.  

Ken kept me informed of my pace and laps, Sue and Gillian passed me my milkshake, I was just having a mouthful every few of laps. Time moved on and I reeled in the distance, 9.00am Kilts On! The last hour, the Highland Charge, no need to conserve my energy and strength any longer, I increased the distance I ran every lap until there was no walking,  Matt Moroz was at the timing mat holding up his fingers for how many laps I had to do to get 200km.  I got it with 35miuntes to spare. 
I wasn't stopping, how much more could I get?  I pushed on, Pauline lapped me and shouted at the top of her voice "COME ON!" I answered just as loud "ALRIGHT!"  A twinnie tradition since the 24 hour race at Perth 2008. Alan was handing out wee bean bags with our name and race number on them to be dropped when the final hooter sounded, a whistle signalled the last minute. Pushed hard and fast for every step, Sue pointed and shouted "Get the white line!" I did.  511(and a bit) laps, 204.6km 127miles. 
I can stop now.

I hugged Sue and Gillian until I got my sobbing under control, an unbelievable achievement  after the past five months, but I did it! 
Lorna stopped her race to hug me.

We strolled round the grass, keeping my blood circulating until we were reunited with Pauline and Ken, more hugs.

The pleasure of a hot shower and clean clothes , bliss. Then back over to the tent for a seat and some soup and to cheer in the other runners. The 24 hour race finished at 11.00am, and the six day race finished at noon,  most of them proudly carried their national flag for the finish. It was a privilege to stand and applaud such great achievements.
Pauline was 1st Lady and I was 2nd.
Apart from the blisters on the balls of my feet and pudgy feet and feeling tired for a bit I don't think I've knocked back my recovery, my weight has remained stable, not sure what the consultant will say when I see him in a few weeks though.

Now I don't usually compare my results with other runners but I was a bit astounded when I saw the 2013 World rankings for 48 hours. I'm ranked 43 out of 125 women.  Pauline wasn't so chuffed, her 252.8km/157miles got her a ranked 13, not her favourite number, she should've ran faster then!

Pam is hoping to stage the British Ultra Fest again next year, I hope so too, I'd like to see what I could do fully recovered, strong, fit and with a bit of training!