Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A little help for a friend (with marathon 87 thrown in for good measure)

The Samphire 100 mile endurance run and challenges

No, no, no, I haven't lost my marbles and entered a 100 miler but I know a lot of people who did! This event was a really big deal for many people and there had been some dedicated training going on for many months.

The weekend centred around a 100 mile event which started at 8am on Saturday morning with a strict cut-off of 4pm on Sunday. Alongside this there were 6 hour/12 hour and a 24 hour events. Some people chose to chase their marathon numbers and did 3 x separate marathons but Nick (who was featured in my last blog post) chose to do 3 x 6 hour events plus 1 x 12 hour event (ie 4 x marathons) to complete his 100th marathon of the year on Sunday - mad and inspiring in equal measure and he worked jolly hard for it as I can bear witness to some of his darker moments.

So, given that I try to avoid running marathons in hot weather and this event was in July, what on earth was I doing there? Well, several months ago whilst running the Fowlmead 50 mile event James pulled alongside me and asked if I'd do him a favour and be his pacer as he wanted to do something amazing; complete the 100 mile run and then head out for an extra marathon afterwards.


Yes, not content with running 100 miles he wanted to go out for another marathon soon after finishing and that's where I came in - he wanted someone who he could trust to keep him moving no matter what. I was honoured that he thought I was up to the task and ignored the fact that it was taking place at Samphire Hoe which although beautiful has a large stretch of concrete which we would run along 7 times for marathon distance - for the 100 miler they had to do 27 laps (ouch!).

Having had a really wet summer thus far it was Sod's Law that the sun would come out just in time for the event and boy did it come out!

When everyone set off at 8am on Saturday morning Mike and I decided to head into Hastings for a wander around and it was already hot and humid. By the time we left around midday I was having trouble breathing (asthma can be tricksy in high humidity) so Mike was worried about how I'd cope the next day. I worried about how people would manage in such hot conditions and I was delighted when Traviss put a tracker on Facebook so I could see how people were doing (although it wasn't a live tracker as it's a difficult area for getting a phone signal due to the high cliffs). James phoned me around 9pm to say he was doing well, was in 2nd place, feeling strong and had made good progress so I went to bed feeling slightly less worried.

At 4am on Sunday I got up and the first thing I did was check the tracker to see if he'd finished. Oh my goodness, I was delighted to see that he'd finished in 2nd place and in just less than 20 hours. How fabulous! However, I was sad to see that some of the 100 milers had either pulled out or dropped down to the 24 hour event as that must have been heart-breaking for them.

Lots of people were there throughout the night supporting their loved ones and Dee took this beautiful photo of the sunrise using her phone (thanks for letting me use it xxx).

I left home at 5:15am and I put my mobile phone on to check if there were any messages from James but there weren't. What I didn't do was switch it off again which is really unusual for me as I never answer calls when I'm driving and so I nearly jumped out of my skin when a text message came through as I drove along the motorway. Thankfully I was near a service station so pulled in there in case it was anything urgent. "Please can you bring your walking poles?" said the message from James. Oh crikey, I thought, I'm too far to go back for them then I remembered they were still in the car boot 'cos I'd taken them to the NDowns marathon the week before. Phew!

I'd planned to get for 7am as there was no access into the venue during the night, although people could leave at any time. You have to go through a tunnel which is controlled by traffic lights and there's a 3 minute waiting time either way.

Photo from wikipedia

What greeted me was a melee of runners in various stages of disarray. Some looking distinctly nauseous, some still trudging along, some trying to bend down to untie their shoelaces, some lying on the ground looking vacant. Phil called out from his camper van and I waved and was about to head over when I spotted James's mum Becky waving to me so I headed over to her to see how he was faring. Very tired and rather stiff and creaky is an honest appraisal. He'd finished at around 4am but hadn't managed to sleep at all because it was too noisy.

When he heaved himself out of the car I was worried and very glad that I'd got the walking poles as it was clear he would need them. But this why I was there, to chivvy him and and make sure he achieved his goal (which I made him change slightly as he'd wanted to do an extra lap to make it an ultra marathon so that I would be awarded my 1000 mile hoody from Traviss, presented to those who've run 1000 miles at one of their events, but I didn't care about that on the day as knew I would get it in a few weeks anyway).

Here he is with his hard-earned buckle (the traditional memento for a 100 miler).

Apparently, he'd had a bit of a wobble during the night because he hadn't eaten enough. He'd had lots of comments from people about this already, naughty boy, so I saved the lecture for another time and just made sure he ate something solid and took on appropriate fluids each lap. I'd baked my usual banana cake but had also made some chocolate croissants as I knew they were a favourite of his. When I set them down on the feed station it was like a plague of locusts descending on them and I worried that he wouldn't get one but thankfully Becky had dived in and saved one for him!

We set off at about 7:30am and it was nice and cool at that time. I really, really wanted to run for a few laps to get ahead of the game before it got too hot but there was no way he was capable at that stage. I kept telling myself it wasn't about me and that my role was to ensure that he got through it in the best possible way. So we walked a slow and painful walk for 2 laps, chatting, catching up, joined by Eddie for one lap then Rik for the next, watching the world and fellow runners go by.

There were still plenty of 100 mile runners out on the course, some were still looking strong adn determined, some not so strong, some looked as if they could drop at any given moment. I called out encouragement to everyone we passed and gave hugs where needed watching in awe as Gary (photo later) dragged his broken body towards the finish; he'd felt a pull in his hamstring quite early on but was trudging ever onwards determined to finish no matter how long it took.

It was a humbling experience watching people struggle on, each with their own very personal battle.

We spotted a few small boats along the seawall, one flying the American flag, and we found out that they were the support crew for people swimming the channel. There were 3 swimmers attempting it that day, one of whom was doing the crossing 3 times. What I hadn't realised was that although the crossing is 21 miles or thereabouts, the route they have to take is much longer as they have to avoid the shipping channel which makes it closer to 28 miles.

A swimmer heads out for a bit of a dip!

Support crew watch as their swimmer disappears into the distance. It must be a nervous wait for news.

I'm sure James won't mind me saying that the first 2 laps were very slow and painful, made even harder because of the hill - going up is tough but coming down it can be treacherous as your quads get all wibbly so I was glad he had the poles just to steady him.

By lap 3 he was getting cocky and his legs felt a bit looser so we did a little run along part of the seawall. Now bear in mind he's 25 years old and a speedy runner, the little blighter set off at my 10k pace and I was huffing and puffing to keep up. Thankfully he wore himself out eventually and settled into my sort of pace!

Look mum, no poles! That's Gary on the left - I'm pleased to say that he did finish and he really earned that special buckle.

As the sun started to peep through the clouds the temperature started to soar and even though I'd applied liberal amounts of suncream I could feel my skin sizzling. There were some very sunburnt runners and helpers around from the day before and my favourite was Gemma who wins the prize for comedy tan-lines:

Gemma wins the prize for 'best comedy tan lines!' with her sunburn looking like pink knee socks and armwarmers.

James decided to ditch the walking poles after lap 3 but I think he started to regret that after lap 5 when his legs really started to complain and he stopped talking about running at all. What can I say about the next 4 laps? It was all about getting the job done. We distracted ourselves by chatting about future plans, we watched the many fishermen casting their lines along the seawall and we shared a few miles with several different people, some we knew, some we didn't.

It got hotter and hotter as the day wore on and I began to worry that he wasn't wearing a hat as his head was getting really burnt.

Each time we reached the turnaround point we had our cards clipped to prove we'd completed the lap and I made sure we headed straight to the aid station for a drink and to pick up something to eat then straight out again to keep moving - it's really important not to waste time there as it's easy to eat whilst walking and it means you're moving forward all the time.

After lots of nagging about his lack of headgear and resistance to nipping to his mum's car to get his cap (men!)  Traviss came to the rescue and improvised by putting a buff (neckwarmer) over his head which was great because it dangled down the back of his neck too. It may not be the look a 25 year old likes but it did the trick! By the time we'd got to the end of our penultimate lap his mum had produced a cap so I stopped nagging.

Isn't that a fabulous tee shirt for all the 100 mile finishers!

For our last 2 laps there were only a few walking wounded left out there and on the second half of our last lap we were completely on our own. Even the fishermen had packed up and gone.

We started looking at our watches and doing calculations about the cut-off but I knew we were going to be OK if we could maintain a decent walking pace, which we did even though James had started to limp quite badly on lap 6 and was finding the uphill section very painful.

Never at any stage did being noted as DNF (did not finish) enter my head and I employed every distraction strategy I could to keep him going and not thinking about the pain. As long as we kept moving I knew we'd be OK.

He worried that we were last but I was proud to ring the bell with him in 8 hours 18 minutes as how many other people have done what he did? He ran a 100 miler ultra marathon and then completed another marathon within hours of finishing!

"But it's a pw (personal worst) time" he complained, in the embarrassed voice of a 25 year old who knocks out a 3 hour marathon. 

"Indeed it is" I replied in a voice full of pride.

We were within the time limit and I rather like 8:18 as I love palindromes and I am proud to have that on my 100 marathon club spreadsheet as I know the effort that it took.

You smashed that beast James and I am proud to have shared part of your journey.

So that was my 87th marathon and I was so pleased to have been a part of and witnessed James's amazing achievement.

The only downside was that I got very sunburnt and was given a stern lecture by Mike about forgetting to re-apply my sunscreen - my bad (as they say across the pond)!


My legs felt fine the next day but I'm giving them a little rest from running for a day or so and I skipped yoga on Monday as my hip flexors weren't happy!

I spoke with James today and he's feeling good and has already signed up for 2 more 100 milers - no I'm not tempted but I do have plans for another 50 miler next year...........

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