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! 


Helen said...

I know it's been said lots before but you truly are amazing!! xx

William said...

An inspiration to run with you Fiona and good fun too. Amazing what can be done without much training! Keep it going. xxx

Anonymous said...

well done to both of you fantastic achievment.

Robert Osfield said...

Lovely to see that the race went well - makes for a jolly blog entry to read too :-)

A big well done to yourself and Pauline, really quite an extraordinary pair you are! I'll have to give extra bonus points to you as you've had a few pesky things to deal with this year. As ever a great inspiration to us all.

John Kynaston said...

Congratulations Fiona.

Another superb performance and another great write up.

Recover well.