Sunday, 21 June 2009

Thomas' WHW Race 2009

The short version: Thomas had another DNF, this time he got to the Kingshouse Hotel and had to pull out after 115km, i.e. 2 km further than last year! :-) All the drama and tears had been shed during the week before the race when he realized that due to injury problems there was a big chance that he would not even get to the Beechtree Inn.

The long version starts 3 weeks before the race when - despite a plan of running the Edinburgh Marathon at a slower pace – he could not resist the temptation and arrived at the finish after 2:50 claiming he had felt good all the way and his legs were fine. Only afterwards he could not get back into running properly due to very sore quads. Visits to the sport masseur and the physio kept his hopes up for a speedy recovery, but it was just not happening. Then he picked up a calf strain just by getting up from the table one week before the race and in desperation arranged a last minute visit to the physio for Thursday night, i.e. 36hrs before the start of the race.
In hindsight he should have never started, but we both thought, why not trying to see how far he will get. Maybe, just maybe there might be a miracle and after nearly 3 weeks of total rest everything will fall into place if only his calf is holding up. I tried to prepare myself for the high chance of him pulling out, but was still thinking he could do it. I thought there was a 20% chance of finishing and the crucial moments would be the first 2 stops after the Beechtree, Drymen and then Balmaha. As I am the more optimistic person, I tried to encourage him to give it a go even if it meant stopping after 10 or 20km.
I think deep down he knew it was a long shot and was getting more and more frustrated. So much so that he reached a very low point on the Monday before the race and I was getting really worried. Tears were shed there and then, but we also decided that he could not lose anything by trying. It would probably be worse to call it off and then thinking maybe I could have done it and never knowing.

So we prepared and left for Milngavie and I nearly crashed my new car when a deer decided to run into it on the way to the start. It did make contact with the side of the car but the impact was not too hard as the deer disappeared into the woods again and I stopped to get over the shock and let the others check out the car for any damage! It was o.k. Someone did not want Thomas to run this race I joked while Nancy was thinking of venison steak …

We were so glad when Thomas ran through our first meeting point just after the Beechtree and then Drymen and then Balmaha. I was getting my hopes up, topping him up with Ibuprofen and Paracetamol at regular intervals without exceeding the allowed dose or causing him stomach problems. We decided not to try any stronger pain killers just those that will reduce some inflammation and pain to keep him going. When he ran into Rowardennan with Marco and Sharon I was getting really excited. He then left Rowardennan with Sharon and I hoped that she would keep his mind of his pain by blethering away – which I know she can do! (She can also run very well and indeed won the lady’s title in this year’s race – amazing!)

Then came the long way to Carmyle Cottage and we saw various runners come through, Marco still looking strong, then Sharon (and I asked her where Thomas was and she said he had struggled a bit but was not too far behind), then John (and he seemed a bit more concerned about Thomas and all the pain he was in, which made me worry as John is usually more optimistic than that). Eventually he arrived and we sent him away with some more pain killers (and he did briefly ask if we were not giving him too much Ibuprofen – ever the doubter!). I reassured him he was in the safe hands of a nurse and a doctor and we were keeping an eye on the Ibuprofen intervals!
We saw him at the A82 crossing just before Auchtertyre when he decided to have a sock and shoe change there and then by the road side when it was the only time we did not get the chair out of the car. Nancy also applied a few small Compeeds to various toes and he only had a very brief stop for weighing at the actual wigwams then.
So before we knew it we were in Tyndrum and it looked as if the race was actually on. Yes he seemed to be in a lot of pain in his quads that decided to make themselves noticed again, his calves were sore but the actual calf strain was not getting worse. I bought a new supply of water as we had thought we would wait with making up more electrolyte solution until Tyndrum. I then briefly met him just behind Tyndrum near the railway underpath to give him his goretex jacket as it started to rain. He of course told me off and asked me how I got there and I should conserve my energy as I might need it for being his support runner for the later stages. It is actually very easy to get there from the layby, but I took it as a good sign and started to get excited. When we reached Bridge of Orchy I asked the marshal if a support runner was allowed for the Rannoch Moore and he said yes so I was getting really excited but also worried now about myself and if I had eaten enough throughout the night etc. I changed into my running gear, prepared my backpack, had soup and custard and a gel and could not wait for Thomas to arrive to tell him the good news. He would only need to go to the Victoria Bridge on his own and then I would join him and we would finish this race together. That was the plan!

We sent him off to the Inveroran Hotel and waited for him to come down and I eventually saw him through the binoculars. But what I saw was shocking and heartbreaking at the same time. Tears came to my eyes when I saw him walking down. He looked as if he was in a lot of pain. And I said to Nancy, just look at him, is this really worth it? When he reached us, we sat him down in the chair and I encouraged him to get to Victoria Bridge where I would wait for him and then we could continue together. And he got back up from the chair and reached Victoria Bridge when we started our adventure across the moor.

I had thought that I would be his support runner, i.e. we would walk the uphills and then run on the flat and the downhills. For Rannoch I thought – as I knew he was in pain- we would walk up to the top of the moor, give him a chance to recover and then run into Kingshouse together. Well, what came was the slowest walk I have ever done in my life. By the time I realized that this was not a walking pace that could bring us to Fort William in time, Nancy had left Victoria Bridge and we decided we might as well walk towards Kingshouse rather than turning back to Victoria.

I literally had to pull Thomas up the inclines by walking in front of him and just keep the motion of walking going. We were surrounded by beautiful scenery and the sun even came out and we tried to stop occasionally to take all this in. At the same time we had to keep moving as Thomas was getting cold (in the afternoon sun) despite wearing gloves, a woollen hat and full raingear to protect him from the light wind. This was worrying.
There was a huge gap in the field behind Thomas and we spent a long time seeing no other runner. But then they all arrived to overtake us, one by one. A lot of familiar faces, most of them tried to encourage Thomas to just keep going, one or two warned him to be sensible though, to listen to his body, not to cause more harm. And whenever they had passed we would continue our discussions about our options and the philosophy of it all. Even Jens (who was waiting for Maya at Blackrock Cottage) made a last attempt to encourage Thomas by advising him not to take a long break at Kingshouse as he might not get going again and to try the running motion against the pain as this might numb it eventually. Thomas tried to explain to me that he had run through his pain for a long time already and that it did not work, but he did give it a last go much to the cheers of Jens and other supporters gathered at the Cottage. We only got to the A82 crossing when the running motion had to stop again.

We had also been overtaken by Kenny Valentine (3rd in the Double Marathon). This was his 1st time but he also had an injury problem just before the race, trying to compensate with cross-training. His quads were giving him huge problems and he had them bandaged up. Passing us he said he was just going to walk it now, his target time long gone. He also said to Thomas they both had to come back next year as they knew they could do better. We wished him good luck and off he went disappearing quickly into the distance as his “shuffling” was much faster than Thomas’. Unfortunately when we reached Kingshouse he was also still there and he had had a terrible time walking the last bit into the KH checkpoint. He also decided that he had to pull out there and then.

It took us 4 hours to walk from the Victoria Bridge into Kingshouse!
After resting in the car and having a coffee the decision to pull out was final and Nancy went to the checkpoint to let the marshals know.

We drove to Fort William and were all feeling o.k. in fact. We checked into the hotel just in time to book the last table in the restaurant, had a shower and then took up Thomas’ offer to have a really nice meal. He did not feel like eating and wanted to rest with his feet up, but he would pay. So needless to say we ordered the most expensive dish on the menu (we did not want to but the fillet beef steak just caught our eye!), had an aperitif, wine and a dessert. We felt we deserved it!

So how do I feel about it all?
When we were walking across the moor a lot of things were going through my head. I started to hate ultra-running before I even have completed my first one. All this training, all the support, all the organization – and then something goes wrong just before the race or in the race and everything falls apart.
You are left so frustrated even as a mere observer or supporter. And I did suggest to Thomas while we were crawling along, maybe he should give the WHWRace a rest for a year, not to try it again next year. But what did he say? “But why not? I enjoy it so much and I know I can do it.” So I had to come out with the truth that I did not think I could go through with it again as part of the support crew. That it is emotionally draining to follow your runner’s progress, never mind the physical tiredness and getting everything ready etc, hoping, getting excited and then having to accept a DNF for whatever reason.
Yesterday afternoon I suggested I was going to follow his progress next year from home via his tracker (Are they going to use them?) and he should find a different crew, maybe his running club mates, maybe the guys would be different. I really could not see myself doing it all over again, but then again: if and when he succeeds I really want to be there. Now that does not sound right either, does it? So the verdict remains open on this one.

And then I had a really crazy idea! Maybe I should get us this goblet! Maybe I should have a go? I should try for myself and see what it is all about! What was wrong in my mind?! And then Thomas said if you want to do it next year I will support you! Ha, then he’ll see what it is like to be on the other side! I did ponder over it, the wine in the evening did not help to bring me back to reality, but it turns out Thomas really wants to do it again next year and does not want to be part of a support crew …

Yesterday I did not want to go to the prize giving or the BBQ, but today I went along with Thomas. For him it was never a question. He wanted to be there to see all his running friends, congratulate them and hear how it all went. And I am glad I did go. I felt much better this morning after a night’s rest and it was great to see so many succeeding in their goals, some exceeding them, and also meet those who were very disappointed. It is a great community and it feels special to be part of it. And yes, I will join Thomas at the BBQ and guess what? I am the driver!

Thomas will now take enough time out to let his body recover. This is the plan. We have learned that there is a point where your body tells you that you have overdone it. And it is important to respect your body, to look after it and not exploit it even if your cardiovascular fitness or endurance would allow you to do more.
He will not start a race again when he is injured or when the training has had major flaws, certainly not an ultra race which deserves all the respect in the world and a body that is 100% fit.
If he is not in top form by 8th of August he will not start the DOTH. But this is o.k. As big as these races are, they should not take over your life. It is about enjoying the journey and sometimes there is a diversion or a detour before you eventually reach your goal – or you might end up in a cul-de-sac (?DNF) for a while.
This year it was all about trying, against all odds, and learning that yes, you can push your body, up to 115km in fact, despite training problems, injury; with determination and a big effort you can make 115km, but there is a point when you have to stop.

Walking this fine line between pushing and stopping is very very difficult, but I am amazed how well Thomas knows his body and how well he copes with his cul-de-sacs, better than I do, it seems!

It was courageous for him to start this year’s race (some would call it plain stupid), but for him this year it was the right decision to try. We have both learned a lot from it.

“Better failing while trying then not trying for fear of failing."

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

10 days to go to the WHWR 2009!

We have tried very hard this year to keep it very low key. Last year the build up was crazy (well, what do you expect from a crazy German?). This year we have already had quite a few running highlights and the WHWR was only one of many events on the programme (though admittedly the biggest). Thomas has been in great shape so far. I have tried to blank out the upcoming WHWR and now it is only 10 days to go.
Our support strategy has been simplified this year with gels as the main source of food and a few other options such as soup or the odd sandwich if required. There will only be Nancy and myself as support with me being the runner (or walker) if required at a later stage. We have booked a nice B&B in Fort William (and I am already looking forward to Sunday’s breakfast with pancakes and strawberries – they were delicious when we stayed there before Eddie’s Half). We will only stay for one night and Thomas will be off from the Wednesday before the race to turn around his sleeping rhythm and relax. At least that was the plan…

We had a nice weekend in Edinburgh with great results for both of us in the marathon. And Thomas keeps telling me he felt fine when re ran and was not pushing it. I do believe him. But now his quads are complaining and seize up as soon as he runs more than 3-4K! He is kicking himself telling me he should have run with me. But that did not work either as last year when he ran my 1st marathon with me he was complaining that my slow pace caused his legs to be sore and heavy for quite some time afterwards….

So when I left for Germany last week to spend a long weekend with my family and especially my sister (we were going to an open air concert on Saturday) I thought I left him at home to get on with his planned runs. But when I came back I was greeted by a very long face! He had not run at all due to his quads seizing up.

So 10 days before the run we are at another low. Will he even be ready to start (I think yes!), will his muscles seize up before the Carbeth huts? We will find out, though I don’t think so! His legs need a good rest and they are forcing it on him. Though not planned he is doing a 100% taper, probably not the best idea but there are people who suggest just that…
So between warming his muscles with a microwavable cushion, stretching, then massaging with all sorts of lotions and potions and then icing them, he keeps himself busy. And I am nearly going crazy myself. Where is the icing cushion, where is this cream and that lotion, where is the Ibuprofen? When I get home from work I am not the most patient person, having used all my patience for my patients! :-) But I will need just that if I want to get through the next week!

And it is this time that I hate most about ultra-running. It is bad enough if you train for a marathon and get ill or injured before, but training for months, preparing yourself for an ultra-race and then facing a DNS or DNF is so frustrating. Even just contemplating it is annoying enough and I am getting fed up with this cycle of preparation, training, pre-race taper. I wish it was Sunday 12:00 on 21/6/09 and I knew Thomas had finished and we were waiting for the presentation to begin …

Monday, 1 June 2009

Edinburgh Marathon 2009

Scorching heat, no wind, no shade, overstretched first aid stations, water stations without water - this sums up some of the drama of yesterday's Edinburgh Marathon.

Amongst all this I somehow managed to finish my 2nd marathon in 4:02:44. It is hard to describe what I felt when I crossed that finish line. I was so exhausted and felt worse than after my 1st marathon and somehow I felt the achievement was bigger - to have finished at all and to be so close to my 4-hour mark. And I wasn't even disappointed that I had not broken the 4 hours, I just could not believe that I was so close at all. In short I was and am very happy with my time and I shed a few tears while I was stretching and trying to recover enough to join the queue for my goodie bag!

Here are the details:
10k: 00:53:21
Half: 01:56:21
30k: 02:48:20
Marathon: 04:02:44

At the start I met quite a few people I knew, Neal & Caroline, Glenparkers - the only person I did not see at the start was Thomas. I had lost him on the way from the hotel to the baggage trucks. And as he wanted to take it "easy" I did not think he was right at the front. But I was wrong. This is exactly where he was!
Anyway, at last the start! The first few miles passed and I kept a steady sub 9min/mile pace going. I overtook a Glenpark lady who was struggling with the heat already but as she is part of the club "AYE" (those who have run Edinburgh every year since its start) she was going to take it very easy to ensure she would finish. (She did.)

I started to feel the heat from mile 5 and was making sure I took water at every station and poured some over my head. At mile 8 the first relay changeover appeared and as the club had 2 teams running there were a lot of supporters. This cheered me on and one of the girls who had started her leg, kept me company for about 2M. Then I had to let her go as I could not keep up the pace. She told me that Thomas was going strong and 1st for the club just now. O no, I thought, he was not supposed to do this. Where is Alan who wanted to get under 3hrs for the 1st time? Near mile 10 there were supporters from the club again giving out ice lollies. What the heck, I thought, I might as well take one even if I have not tested this. I was running with 4 gels and only took water at the stations, no lucozade apart from the very end.

Somehow the HM mark appeared and I was on target with 1:56. But I started to struggle, feeling slightly sick whenever I took some water and slowing down. At the second relay changeover one of the very fit and fast Glenpark ladies had pulled out from the marathon for the first time ever and was now cheering us on.
I remember at some point seeing the road stretch in front of me for miles and found that really disheartening. But Iwas now concentrating to spot the fast runners coming back already and was hoping to see Thomas and a few others. And I actually did, one after the other. Thomas passed first looking good, then Alan (not looking good and far away from his sub3), Neal on his own (where was Lorraine who was going for 3:10?). I did not see anyone else, at least not that I noticed. By then I was concentrating on keeping it going, feeling hot, nauseous and trying to postpone the inevitable of walking. I got to the entry of Gosford park and just had to walk, but o no! That felt so much worse and I tried to keep a slow pace. Then there was a toilet stop, a bit of walking again and the first coffeine gel. I saw a few casualties at the roadside by then and had to resist the urge to offer my help. Fist aiders were already there, the runners were all conscious but totally exhausted needing water and shade and I just concentrated on the run.

The worst stretch was from around mile 18 to 21/22 when I had to take a few walking breaks in between. I really thought I might have to walk the whole way back and thought this was going to take ages. The lack of recent long runs (as expected) and the (unexpected) heat were taking their toll. It was here that the water stations for the runners going out to the park had run out of water and a girl from the club later reported that runners started to pick up water bottles thrown away by others to see if any water was left!
Getting to the relay changeover again near mile 22 I was nudged from behind after walking a bit. It was another runner from the club who just said I should keep on running, I looked o.k., he was "spent". Somehow that led me back into a running motion and I don't know how but I was able to keep this up til the end. now doing sub 10min/mile. Seeing mile 23 was such a relief and I knew then I would make it. Mile 24 took ages to appear and by mile 25 I saw I was not so far away from 4hours. Then I saw Debbie and Marco cheering me on and then Thomas before I entered the racecourse. And there it was: the finish line! What a feeling!