Sunday, 20 May 2012

Week one learnings

It's been pretty busy or mostly distracting so a quick post on lessons learned, some new and some I needed reminding of. 

  • Short-term goals: as much as it's my personality to have the eye on the big prize a year in advance, training like that is going to get demotivating. 
  • Training as fun: I don't need the intense discipline of 6 days of ironman training right now. I'm going to build some confidence in one discipline and some fitness in another for the next 12 weeks. Also if I train for 52 weeks solid, I am going to burn out. 
  • Nutrition: I am a rapidly shrinking woman. Even my skinny clothes don't fit. I may have to start shopping places for young people. Or better still, learn what I need to eat as I start being more active. 
I've also had some mental boosts, learning of people going to Lanza, having a great swim coach and watching the Lanzarote Ironman this Saturday, the day after my birthday. More on all of those things to come. And for those in the know, it's all becoming real on Tuesday. 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Neolithic Marathon on Sarcens trail

Some time ago, possibly pre Ultra, when I was high on the belief that I would be able to trot out 20 miles ultraeverafter, I entered the Neolithic Marathon, a 26.2 mile trail event from Avebury to Stonehenge on the Sarcens trail. 

So here's the reasoning and reality for new readers: having committed to slow build immediately after the 50km (5, 10, 15, 20 and a series of half marathon races) I figured that a marathon would be good fun! I ended up having an ITB niggle, then a gland inflection and so missing a few weeks of running 13 miles at a trot and then employed the lovely Neil to pace me 13 miles off the back of being sick. That done, I had enough time for some tempo runs and some sensationally good physio and I was off to Avebury. 

In fact I was off to Calne, who had the only rooms left in Wiltshire, via Chippenham - a journey which was so exciting in its Englishness I was constantly squeaking with joy. Shop assistants that spoke to you, helpful members of public, cute buildings - and all under a rare blue sky. I bounced with anticipation all the way to the Bug and Spider, my inn for the evening, hosting some football fans and an 'old enough to know better' Hen's Night. 

Unfortunately I had suffered a stomach bug for a few days and in typical runners overshare, food was going straight through me. I wasn't trying to carb load but just to eat well and I wasn't sure if I was getting much nutrient value from food. I was so queasy on the Friday before the run that when moist chocolate cake from an artisinal bakery came round, I said no, and sipped ginger ale in the hope of its healing powers. I thought I was going to be a little better on Sunday / race day but as it was I was hit again on the way to the inn, and could only eat fruitbread and baked potato from Sunday lunch to race day. 

The start was next to the Stone Circles of Avebury about 9 miles from where I was staying amongst green folds of hills - marked with the chalked white horse. I got there by taxi - again apprarently the only one in the area, it being church day.  Avebury is beautiful - old churches and houses,the sound of bird song and church bells, small wildflowers and of course the stones. I was so visbily excited that one of the marshalls reassured me it would all be here when I got back (but as it was a point to point race, I wasn't going back!)

Registration was fairly simple. There's a lot of men doing races like this and you have to look hard for a women to offer a friendly smile too. I ended up chatting to other foreigners who like me, were running around taking pics of all the cute Englishness. I had my Aussie vest on and a photographer introduced me to another Aussie and as we both used to live in Wodonga there was much excitement between us, his girlfriend and the event organisers. 

The start line was pretty relaxed - a few banners and a man telling us we had sunscreen. We all laughed. Always listen to a man at the front giving instructions! I ended up with a sunburnt nose and forehead! The dogs were raring to go (one runner had a leash around her stomach) and we were off, meandering through small lanes past houses with little rivers and flowers alongside us. It was pretty breath taking. Early on there are a few bottlenecks with tight corners and stiles but after that it opens us fairly quickly and you can see the faster runners snaking ahead as you navigate the muddy holes left by tyre marks by hopping from clump to clump of grass. I liked this kind of terrain as it kept me on my toes - literally! 

There was some pretty impressive heavy breathing going on during the course so I felt assured that I wasn't the most unfit person running and also some pretty pained looking plodders. This made me feel good as I knew I would have some company as I didn't have the fuel for a decent pace, however heavy breathers and pained folk aren't great for chatting!

As we made our way through the first stalling hill (the first few hills most of us kept running) into a walk, people stopped to take off layers and I snapped pics of the fields of rape that looked stunning. I fell in with a man from Berlin who was trying to do 100 marathons. He said he wasn't fast but he could keep going! I liked his attitude and he looked like someone who would do alright. Unfortunately our running styles were so different due to our sizes that we were never going to be able to keep much together on the hills (I could nip up a hill, he could hurtle down hill)

After sideways scrambling the last few metres of a hill, we came to a magnificent bowl of a hill, where we  ran along the top then down one side and up the other. It was  beautiful and exciting - and I had never done anything like this before. The German prompted me to take pics before I hurtled down the side - airplane arms out! It was so exhilerating! I felt like a proper distance runner. 

As we trotted down to more normal levels, a man dressed in a madhatters costume sprinted off and we began to catch some walkers who had started at 730am to do the same route. I made sure they said good morning and as we caught more of them who had covered more of the route they were great at saying "well done" as we plodded painfully past. 

At about 8 miles in, I noticed I was getting black spots in front of my eyes which I assumed was from low fuel and the unexpected warm weather. I was lucky I was dressed in so little and I had also brought a homemade drink of water with chia seeds and lime. I took an early energy gel and immodium and decided to run conservatively as I couldn't afford to get even a little bonky - there weren't many people around and probably aid stations every 5miles but only with water. 

We ran through some villages - one was offering red wine tasting and bacon butties and I fell in with some male runners who must have started a bit later. Sadly couldn't keep up and fell to myself for a bit before coming onto some old ultra runners swapping stories about great events in broad west country accents. 

My backpack broke at one stage as I had stopped to put biofreeze on my knees and ankles. I only noticed it was broken 5 metres after stopping however this was 5 metres with a cattle grid in it. I can't tell you how hard it is to wobble over a cattle grid on shaky runners legs with a car watching and waiting. A quick repair and I was back and had fallen in with a German lady who was looking pretty pink and hot from the weather. We ran walked some hills together chatting and then separated which was ideal company as I seriously wanted to just get to the half way mark - we were at mile 10 - it must be close. It must be close. It must be close. I have never waited so much for a 13 mile mark and it not to come. I was weary as hell when I noticed some tents that must be the half marathon start. I seriously thought I could dip out at this point and DNF - maybe they could give me a half marathon medal? But I didn't think they would so I plodded on. The terrain here was chalk with bits of rock in it which my minimalist Kinvaras and my feet hated. A woman pulled out at this stage - which almost tipped me over the edge, then I spoke to a Singaporean who had cramp since mile 8 who said there was no way she was pulling out so I walked with her a bit for company and plodded on. I fell in with Nicola, a Scottish nurse at this point and we ran some of it together before separating and saying we'd run together again. 

Not only was the terrain awful but we were able to see the route for miles ahead. I found this realy disheartening. I focussed on catching walkers and runners - there was a man who looked nude that was an incentive to catch up. He was actually in a caveman outfit and had bad cramp and was limping home. I plodded past Nicola at one point as she had something in her shoe and there was a period of being really alone. I was really sick and drawing on earlier when I had got some incredibly supportive messages via twitter at an aid station. I kept them in my head and nibbled a  cliff bar. I had one pack of mini Haribo and I desperately craved sugar. When Nicola and I fell in again I decided I need to stick with someone to keep it together to the finish so we chatted as we employed a run walk strategy to the end. Nicola didn't have any real food so I gave her my haribo and begged a man at an aid station for some squash from his own personal supplies. 

We skipped an aid station at mile 20 because neither of us needed water but didn't realise the course went past it. Instead we focussed on run walking on and chatting. Half a mile in I became concerned that there was no one in front of us and no one behind. We looked around and realised we were on a Ministry of Defence firing range. We had no idea where we were or where the route was. We thought we heard a car then realised it was a military vehicle. I went to ring the event organisers but t there was no emergency contact number on the back of the bib and so I sent a message to a friend I knew had the event organisers contact details. We decided to run back to where both new the route was and start from there. On the way, we found the runners again in the distance so that was reassuring and we cut out the aid station to rejoin them. A lot of people we had passed earlier we now had to pass again and they were very surprised about where we had gone to! 

We had to keep really positive about that because so close to the finish that can really demoralise you. It had zapped us a little doing an extra mile and the walk breaks were getting longer. We decided to save ourselves to be able to run the finish. Eventually someone told us Stonehenge was going to crawl into sight and it did, on the horizon like a little model, and the finish thankfully on this side of the road and closer! 

It took me six hours of running, walking, splashing through muddy puddles, scuffling through chalk trails, scrambling up hills and zig zagging down them - but I had finished. I had kept my head straight and mitigated the worse nausea and dizziness and also my legs felt fine other than a niggle where my ankle pronated. I decided to mark it a lesson in running smart and if I wanted to be a proper ultra runner one day that might be a useful lesson! 

Pics of the event