Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Wings For Life World Run #5 (Georgia)



WFLWR Georgia
2018 is the 5th year of the Wings For Life World Run (WFLWR) and I still think that it is an amazing and unique event. Not only is the concept great......everyone is running for "those who can't", ie the whole event is bankrolled by RedBull so that 100% of people's entry fee goes into spinal cord research.....but the format is brilliant. Everybody taking part starts at the same time, no matter where they are round the globe, and the catcher cars start driving 30 minutes later. Once the car passes you, you chip is deactivated and you are "out", so the event caters for people of all fitnesses and abilities......some cover under 5km, whilst others run over 70km.

The "prize" for running the furthest in an individual event (the global winner is the last person left running anywhere in the world) is an invite to take part in an event of your choice the following year. Having managed to run the furthest of all the females in Poland last year, I opted to go to Georgia this year. It's a country that I've never been to yet heard much about, and it didn't involve any long haul flights being (sort of) in Europe. I also doubted that I would be able to run at all, so didn't really want to travel a long way for a run that I couldn't participate in.

My friend Jacquie agreed to come with me and we set off with some trepidation, as it's not often you travel to a country where you speak absolutely none of the language, and cannot even read anything (as they have a completely different script there). We needn't have worried as although not many people spoke English (most tourist that visit the country seem to be Russian), they were all very friendly and we got by with a smattering of different Eastern European languages and some good acting/sign language.

The run route in its usual state
A common encounter on the main road!
One thing that we really did need to be afraid of, was the driving. The rules of the road seem to be that there are no rules (and, as we learnt later, many people don't actually have driving licences). We had a hire car to drive from Tbilisi, the capital city (which we visited later.....very interesting as old historic buildings mingle with new modern constructions) to Kakheti, the (wine) region where the event was to be held. The drive was definitely an experience as sections with no road markings meant that people drove wherever they felt like driving - at one point I was overtaking a car (which was also being undertaken) when another car overtook me, whilst a couple of cars drove towards us.......rather like a very scary game of "chicken". At other times you had to suddenly slam on the brakes to avoid cows wandering into the road, or shepherds herding their sheep across it, or even the car in front suddenly stopping to buy a pig's head from a stall at the side of the tarmac.
Media interviews

I had initially thought that I wouldn't run, but would support Jacquie, but as the event approached, I felt I should get into the spirit of the event and take part, as I can still run more than those "who can't" (ie those who the event is raising money for). I knew that I was too unfit and too broken to be competitive so I was just there to take part, and so decided to ignore the faster runners and just do what I felt was best for me and my poorly leg. There were some press interviews beforehand and they asked the obvious questions about planned distances and whether I was going for the win, but I told them of my injury and that I had no expectations but was just happy to be there.

Trying to cool off in the "media tent"
with Frederique from Belgium
It was my 5th WFLWR and my 5th different course.....each one has been so different, but the biggest contrast was definitely in temperature between this event and last year's. I remember being rather cold on the startline in Poznán as it was less than 10 degrees and drizzly, whereas this year (albeit 3pm in Georgia rather than 1pm in Poland) it was about 30 degrees and very humid. Jacquie kindly shepherded me at the startline to avoid any trampling issues (I feel even more "delicate" than usual since getting my DEXA though I'm sure this is all psychological) but as usual there was a very odd collection of people pushing past us to get to the front....some of whom were wearing jeans, and some even had handbags slung over their shoulders. These were probably a few of those who appeared to only cover a couple of hundred metres when you later looked at the results!

Spot the jeans and handbags....
Us just crossing the startline - how many
were already ahead up the road?
The start was the usual chaos of sprinters, walkers and stumblers....so that by the time Jacquie and I passed under the official gantry, there must have been almost 100 people ahead of us. This meant the first few hundred metres became a game of dodgems, and in the end I had to run off the road into the scrubby verge to get past some who'd already slowed to a walk! Jacquie waved me off and I was on my own. With the first kilometre, I had already starting questioning myself as to what I was doing and why I was there. I had seen 2 Russian ladies zoom off down the road and, surprisingly, it was no great mental strain to keep steady and not chase after them. I run (and miss running) because I just love to run, but I wasn't really feeling the love for it then. My leg wasn't hurting but I was afraid that it would....but more to the point, I just felt unfit and as if I was lumbering along in the heat. I very nearly stopped dead, but gave myself a good talking to - I had the opportunity of running in an amazing new place and I should at least continue until the catcher car (well, in Georgia it was more of a van than a car) started to chase us down.


The "catcher van"
The 7K point
Keeping half an eye on my watch for the magic 30 minute mark when the car started (well if I'm honest I kept looking at it willing the time to pass more quickly), I passed through a little village where the locals had come out of their houses to high five the runners, and then approached a beautiful hilltop fort/monastery (definitely one to visit the next day!) at the 7K mark. Now that we were actually being chased, I then settled baby targets - each km ticked off was a bonus with the 10K marker a highlight as there was a water/feed station. I got there under the 45minute mark and thankfully grabbed a couple of cups of water (1 to drink, 1 to "wear") and carried on at a walking pace. People kept trying to encourage me to keep running (well, I think that's what they were saying - in Russian and Georgian) but I was not going to do myself any more harm so stuck to my guns with 5 minutes of "running" followed by 1 minute of "walking" (though the countdown of those 5 minutes seemed to take longer and longer each time).


In this manner I made it to the 15K water/feed station and was surprised that the second lady was still in sight up the road ahead of me, but I was prepared to be "caught" any time now. My lack of fitness was showing as I debated dropping it to 4 minutes of run with 1 minute of walking, but as the kilometres seemed to be passing by I decided to stick with the 5:1 ration to the 20K mark (if I made it that far). By the time I got to 20K, there were hardly any runners passing me in my walk breaks and so I figured that the car would appear any minute and hence I might as well just continue running. The 23K sign was just at the "townlimits" of where we were staying so I decided that if I was caught anywhere in town, I'd just meander back to our accommodation (well, it was a "wine spa"), but all too soon I was through town and out the other side. I was starting to pass a few people now who were going slower and having more breaks than me so I set myself a new target. I wanted to get to 27K as I thought that was half of the distance that I'd run in Poland (admittedly my memory was rubbish as I'd only run 52K in 2017, not the 54K I thought!).


The empty road at 31.12K!
A very bored looking driver of the catcher van!!
That sign came and went....and still no catcher car! The 30K water/aid station was next and again I passed it with no car in sight. I'd high-fived another runner as I passed him but I was now all alone on my stretch of road with no one in sight either in front or behind. There was none of the drama of the previous year - maybe you only get cyclists, motorcyclists, bells and sirens at the front of the field - though a cameraman on a bike did film me as the car gradually reeled me in for the last few hundred metres. I made sure that I passed the 31K sign and was smiling as they came abreast of me - I waved at the driver and ground to a halt....all alone. Unsure of what to do from there, I started heading back towards the 30K stop, picking up my "highfiving friend" en route (an Estonian living in Tbilisi who could ask a friendly policeman - in Russian - how we could get back to the start). In the end we went to the 30K stop and availed ourselves of the water and fruit there. A minibus turned up with other runners on it that had been caught between 25 and 30K (one of whom presented with with a lovely rose) and they let us take the empty seats to go back to the start line.

Myself and Jacquie celebrating with local wine :-)
Now that was a rather speedy and scary trip, but Jacquie and I were safely reunited by our little hire car to commiserate over the fact that this year there were no finisher's medals (everyone who started was a finisher so really should have been awarded a medal) but celebrate surviving the event....and we celebrated still further with wine on our return to the hotel. Despite my injury and lack of fitness, it was still a fabulous day and something I would heartily recommend to everyone (whatever their fitness, speed and ability)....and many thanks to RedBull for giving me the opportunity to run in such a location.....and enjoy the rest of the trip as we stayed on for a few days of holiday to explore more of Georgia.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Ignorance is not always bliss :-(


Some people will say "it's only running", but in fact, it is often actually so much more than that. Worse things can happen, but when a hobby and complications thereof can affect your physical and mental health in both the present and the future, it's a topic that should be addressed.

It might seem like I'm jumping on the recent bandwagon of personal stories, but I do think it's a good thing that more and more people are being open and honest with issues they face, and so if telling my story helps even one other person from going through the same thing, then it's worth recounting it.
Discovering the world through running!

I first started running 10 years ago, initially as a way of getting to know the local area, and meeting people/making friends when I moved here. I found that I loved it, being outdoors, the social side, getting fit etc and then coincidentally I found that I wasn't bad at it (well, distance running that is - "running" at school was all about short, fast stuff and I was {and still am} appalling at that). I've had my fair share of injuries over the years, such as tendonitis and plantar fasciitis, but these past 12 months have been a big different.

Hindsight is a great thing, but even so, I can't quite remember when I first noticed that there was a problem.
The marathon in Cyprus

At the beginning of the year, training had gone really well and I felt in great shape. In March, I travelled out to Cyprus to run a marathon with hopes of running in the low 2:40s, hopefully not far away from my PB. Unfortunately race was rather hotter than anyone had predicted, which affected all of the runners as we slowed down during the course of the event and many dropped out, so I was rather disappointed in my time.

I was then invited out to run the Kraków marathon at the end of April and despite being pushed over on the cobbles of the startline, I managed a much better time (despite rain, puddles and cold this time). A week later I ran an ultra.....by accident. I was going to accompany my parents when they ran the Wings for Life World Run in Poznán but they decided they'd rather I just ran my own pace and them theirs.....and I ran further than I thought I could despite having just done the marathon.
I'm not sure that's a happy face at the
 end of the Wings For Life World Run

I had a lump on my shin which swelled slightly when I ran, and I could feel a bit of pain in it with the first couple of miles of a run, but it then settled down and I was pain-free. I wasn't sure what was causing it so rested up for a couple of weeks after the trip to Poland and then went to see a physio. He looked with an ultrasound and couldn't see any periosteal reaction so reassured me that it was very unlikely to be a stress reaction/fracture and hence to return to running.


The World Trail Champs
The 100K in China
Fast forward to November and I'd run the World Trail Champs, 100K on concrete at altitude in China, and another marathon....but the lump was still there. I went to see my GP who also thought a stress fracture was unlikely due to the lack of pain and the presence of swelling which increased with exercise, but he agreed to refer me for an Xray and an Ultrasound (we thought that maybe there was a herniation of soft tissue through the fascia or something). He also signed my medical form and I headed off to Oman for a 6 day race across the desert....which was pain-free (well in my shin anyway...the infected blisters on my toes were another matter!!).



On returning from Oman, I had several voicemails letting me know that "surprisingly" the Xray had shown an anterior tibial stress fracture (the ultrasound was "normal").  I asked for a copy to be sent to Will, a friend in Carlisle who is an orthopaedic consultant with an interest in sports injuries and he nicely described it as "the black line of death". The problem was that you usually rest a stress fracture until it no longer hurts to walk/to do usual daily activities and then gradually return to running....but mine didn't hurt to do any of these, so Will suggested cutting back on my running and then rexraying in a month (the local xray department weren't very happy to do this, but luckily I have some useful medical friends).

Enjoying topping up my Vitamin D levels
Ice cream = extra calcium
I did cut back...right back for me...just the occasional 3-4mile easy run but a month later there was no change on xray so I cut back further (and hated it). I then headed over to see my relatives in Australia and although I initially did a few runs, I then stopped running and just walked, cycled and went to some non impact gym classes with my cousin (eg pilates). I hoped that a couple of months over there being in the sun (and so topping up my vitamin D levels) and eating ice cream (extra calcium) would mean I came back fully healed and raring to go.

Cycling in the Australian sun
I think that going to Australia was probably the best thing I could have done (even if the trip hadn't already been planned months beforehand) as it is at times like this that you really need the most support and often get the least - I'm not saying that people are "fairweather" friends and only keep in touch whilst you are actively running and racing (though clearly some are), but just that some are (usually unconsciously) a bit self-absorbed so don't think to ask how you're coping without doing one of the things that you love doing most (and that normally keeps you sane), whilst some are so used to bigging up their own niggles that they actually don't really understand/believe in an actual injury, no matter how serious it is.

On my return to the UK, my leg felt no different to me, and there was still a lump on my shin, but I "thought" it was smaller than it had been....but it's very hard to judge such a subjective thing so I went for a further xray. I was absolutely gutted to see no difference from the original films. I couldn't understand how I'd run on it for 6 months without any deterioration (but then again it didn't settle either), yet resting it for the most past of 6 months had not led to any healing (and I really had cut back.... from around 300 miles a month to about 8-10!!).

December (right) and March (left) - spot the difference...
I spoke to an endocrinologist with an interest in bone density and REDS (relative energy deficiency in sport) as this was the only thing I could come up with as a possible problem. I felt almost "angry" that my leg wasn't healing and frustrated that it had happened to me - I am not underweight, having a normal BMI, I love eating (and I really do love both ice cream and cheese) and don't restrict my diet at all, I do weight bearing exercise, and I take vitamin D supplements. The only things that count against me are that I have never liked milk so avoided it (except for no my cereal) through childhood, though I now add it to my scrambled eggs and porridge as well as having it on cereal, and that I have been amenorrhoeic for the last 6 years (and no cause has been found for this - normal hormones so not the early menopause I'd though, and a normal BMI).

She suggested blood tests - mainly normal except for a low white cell count (I would say that the WCC can become slightly suppressed with hard training...but I'm not exactly doing much of that now) and a low T3 (one of the thyroid hormones, though the rest are normal...which possibly suggest an energy availability issue) and a DEXA (bone density scan).

My FRAX score - risk of fracture
I had the DEXA scan last week and we could see that it showed osteopenia (the stage between normal bone density and osteoporosis), worse in the spine than the hip. I was devastated and sat and wept in the carpark before pulling myself together and returning to work. That might seem like an overreaction to some people.....but it's not "just running". Sure, it means that I doubt whether I'll ever be able to run at a high level again, but more worrying is the long term health impact. I have seen patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis who end up with minimal impact fractures and so have to avoid certain activities, and others in constant pain from multiple fractures, such as wedge fractures of their spines.
The NOGG guidance

I cannot thank my friends enough who came to my aid last week when I needed the support......hugs, messages, "care packages", meals, wine, chat and just company....you are all legends! As for me, at least I now know a bit more about what I am dealing with and so can try to work out where to go and what to do next......and hopefully this will not only benefit me, but also any patients, friends, colleagues and runners who have similar problems as my experience will enable me to advise them in a more knowledgeable way (eg since going through this I have discovered that giving hormones to those with premenopausal amenorrhoea is actually detrimental to their bone mineral density rather than beneficial as has been thought for years).......onwards and upwards......

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

NOT running the Krakow marathon....

I was invited to run the Krakow marathon in 2017 and, despite being knocked down at the start, acquitted myself fairly well by finishing in 4th place. I was invited back for the 17th edition this year and things couldn't have been more different. It would have been a totally different experience to (re)run the race, as the course had changed from a 2-lapper (with a very sharp downhill switchback to connect the 2 laps) to a single loop, and the 2018 weather (sunny and warm) was the complete opposite of 2017's cold rain!
 
The main reason why I got such a different view of the race this year was because I was still not running (this pesky leg of mine isn't making many friends). Despite this, the elite organiser still invited me out to Poland for the weekend, so I took my friend and GB teammate Sue Harrison along to run instead. The race was also applying to become a "Bronze Label" event with the IAAF so Hilary Walker was there assessing it on behalf of the IAAF. I have known Hilary for many years (as she also wears IAU and British Athletics hats) so it was also a chance to catch up with her and learn about how these events earn their accreditation.

The Elite photoshoot
Saturday was taken up with the usual duties of having photos taken, being presented to the general public on stage, and a "technical meeting" (where start details, antidoping, pacemaker times and bottle drops are discussed) but I decided not to go on a drive over the race route. Instead of this I pored over the course map and worked out that there were several places I could get to during the race to support without having to "run" between them in order to make it. 

I left Sue making up her drinks bottles after the technical meeting and headed to the Main Square in the Old Town for the sound and light show followed by the night 10K. It had sounded rather interesting last year, but I had been tucked up in the hotel resting my legs.....and the poor weather hadn't exactly been conducive to going along to watch.
 
"Running" the course
It was definitely worth attending this year....as they put on a great performance. Figures of runners moving along the course lit up the old buildings, and certain historical features were also portrayed in coloured lights. Then there were lasers, music and a lot of smoke (but a slight downside to standing up on the VIP platform was that some of the lasers shone directly into your eyes!).

The laser show
Everyone lined up for the 10K, and the starter fired a gun from right next to myself and Hilary. Hundreds of runners swarmed past just below us (it was rather reminiscent of the scene of the stampede in The Lion King) though I was rather surprised to see people wearing headphones in the race considering how loudly the music was blaring out of multiple speakers (in fact it was so loud that our platform was shaking and I had to stand on one leg to prevent feeling pain in my fracture site).

Catching up with friends at the 10K
Despite the time of the event (to be fair, it was run mainly in the city centre and so was relatively well lit) there were some speedy times recorded with the winning man coming home in just over 30minutes and the leading ladies under 36minutes. The time limit for the event was 90minutes which meant I had to negotiate runners when crossing the course on my way back to the hotel (I didn't want to get back late and keep Sue up before the marathon the next day), but at least they all seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

I confess it was very tempting to just lounge around in my bed while Sue went and raced, but I couldn't do that to her so I went down for a first breakfast with her, did my sunscreen application duties, made sure I knew how her camera worked and planned where I'd be to support her, and then had a second breakfast once all of the elite field had gone off on the official bus to the start and I had the dining room (and hence whole buffet) to myself.

With Sue pre-race
I'd worked out a quick route from the start to the 2k point that I could make while the runners did a big loop...and managed to be there well before the leaders came through. I started taking photos of the front men and then the ladies as they passed but didn't spot Sue. By the time the 3:15 and 3:30 pacers had gone past, I was starting to worry. I made sure that I could also see the runners coming back towards me at the 3K point, but didn't want to turn away from my first viewing position as Sue had told me that she would be starting slowly.......though I doubted it would have been so slow that she'd be this far back.
Supporting is obviously a tough job!!

Suddenly my phone rang, and my heart sank when I saw it was Sue calling me - her hamstring had gone within the first half mile and so she had been forced to stop and make her way back to the start - she was obviously very upset so I made my way back there as fast as I could (but not running). I was so upset for Sue as there was nothing she could have done about it, but she felt that she'd let people down. We got her some ice and a massage (or two)...and the massage therapists kindly offered to give my legs a rub as they had little to do until the rest of the elites finished.

We stayed around the race area to watch how it unfolded. Unlike the previous year, it was a nice warm sunny day, so although I made sure that Sue got treatment on her leg and didn't have to walk around much, I enjoyed wandering backwards and forwards across the square checking on her but also watching the big TV screen showing the runners at the sharp end of the field. I heard the race announcer talking about me and saying that he hadn't spotted me running this year, so I went and explained the situation to him. This seemed to earn me a media pass which meant that I could be right on the finish line when the leaders came in.

The leading ladies early on
It was quite exciting in the end as the Kenyan man who'd won the race in  2016 and 2017 was actually beaten by two Ethiopians this year...the first of whom missed the course record by a mere 7 seconds!! In the ladies' race, there had been a lead pack consisting of a Kenyan, an Ethiopian and a Moldovan (paced by the Moldovan Ukrainian husband). I didn't see "the move" but in the latter stages the Moldovan lady was running alone some distance ahead of the others, and took a fine victory by several minutes.

It was very difficult to be an impartial bystander rather than a medic at the end of the race, as I wanted to get the exhausted runners into the shade rather than having them sitting/standing in direct sunlight for photographs and interviews.....but it was important not to interfere, especially as Hilary was watching to see how the race organisers had prepared and how they reacted to developing situations, eg the 3rd placed lady's legs giving way when she finished necessitating her being carried back to the Elite tent, yet also needing to go to antidoping.

 
My new roles...
Although I really did wish that I had been able to run, I found it a very "educational" event. I hope that I was also useful to the organisers as I helped to make sure they understood the IAAF rules and protocols (as they were all written in English), eg what was required of an invited Elite field, and also learnt some of the issues facing a race organiser (who wanted to give advice to runners on course, eg to slow down in the early stages so they had more chance of running faster times overall, but was obviously not allowed as that would be "coaching them"), and some of the frustrations with interpretations of rules, eg that struggling runners do not realise that they can get assistance from someone outwith the race such as water without being DQ'd as long as that assistance does not constitute forward propulsion.

Hmmm.....maybe I could develop my skills in the race accreditation department...either that or athlete support/management.....

Thursday, 12 April 2018

A cyclist's paradise

Mallorca
When my friend Mark initially invited me along to join his cycling trip to Mallorca, the hope was that my leg would be better, I'd have settled back into a routine of work since returning from Oz, and I'd be keen for a trip back to some sunshine to be able to start running regularly again. The three guys going were all keen cyclists, but it sounded like I would be able to split my time between going for a few runs, possibly hiring a bike to find new run locations, and spending some time chilling with the girls round the pool (ie the bar).
 

Enjoying post-dinner drinks together
Unfortunately, an xray on return from Australia showed no change in my stress fracture so I forbade myself any running at all. The guys were taking their precious bikes out with them, so I packed my helmet, pedals and shoes with the hope of hiring a bike and joining them for their "easy days"/"recovery rides". The complex we were staying in had a few outdoor pools (for the brave triathletes with their wetsuits), a small indoor one, and a gym (as well as a couple of restaurants, cafes and bars).


On my own cycle adventures...
Tracey and I couldn't resist the wine!
I knew that I wasn't a very good cyclist, so my aim was to get out and enjoy myself, and maybe alternate this with visiting the indoor pool, gym or spa. As it turned out, I ended up cycling every day that I had my bike (doing more mileage that week that I would normally do in a year)......and probably drinking almost as much wine as I did miles on the bike. I did discover that the 3-lane indoor pool was deep enough to aquajog in, but on each occasion that I ventured there, I was turfed out by German triathletes claiming that they'd booked sole use of it (I later found out that this wasn't the case as it wasn't possible to do so, but I wasn't brave enough to argue with them). I did however, make a few visits to the spa with its saunas, steam room (great for the manflu I developed midweek), infinity pool, massage jets and ?stony bottom to walk along (!!) - No, I didn't visit the nude area!!

Loving "chicking" some of the guys
 on the climbs

If you had a chance to look away from the
road and at the views they were amazing
The guys were great at looking after me and so I managed to ride with them on most days. I skipped their longest day and just enjoyed exploring the local area by myself before cycling along to the nearby village to join the girls for coffee. I'm not very good at cycling down hills as steep slopes, blind bends and sharp drop offs scare me, but I loved the ascents, especially on such smooth road surfaces. The guys would kindly wait for me at the bottom of the hills but I held my own going up - which was reassuring to me, as it meant that although I hadn't been running, I still had a decent cardiovascular base of fitness.

Having made it to the Cap
Formentor lighthouse
I loved every climb going out to the iconic lighthouse at Cap Formentor but panicked on every descent (even worse when you suddenly ended up in a long dark tunnel going downhill still wearing your sunglasses). They had 1 other day planned that sounded a little scary to me, so after a long climb up to Coll de Sabataia (and a cafe break), I peeled off to make my own way back down to Puerto Pollentia while they went on a side trip which had them descending round many 180 degree bends (I think 1 was about 360 degrees at they ended up cycling under the road they'd just been on).

The café at the summit of Coll de Sabataia
As I made my way down on my own, I passed hundreds of cyclists coming up the other way, but as luck would have it, the road stretched away from me without a soul to be seen just when I needed a helping hand. I had hit a pothole, which had made my chain jump rings, jam and then fall off. Although I felt rather smug to have fixed it all by myself, I was a bit surprised to be asked if I wanted to go to the toilet when I stopped for a celebratory piece of cake and coffee and the next cafe I found - it turned out that the waiter was trying to politely let me know that I'd smeared chain grease all over my face....a nice look!!!
After the best value coffee stop



A trip highlight for me was feeling like a "proper cyclist" following the guys over cobbles to a square in a local town (where we got 4 coffees for 5 euros), and i couldn't wipe the grin off my face.


At the top of Christmas Climb
On the final day, Mark and I actually "outcycled" the other two (well, to be fair they'd all cycled further than me the day before), as we headed up Christmas Climb for great views out over the bay we'd been staying in.



How could you not go back to somewhere that
has this view at breakfast time?
All in all, it was an amazing trip and I'd heartily recommend Mallorca for a cycling trip and it actually wouldn't have been that much fun if I'd been trying to run whilst there, as the only way to go from the resort, was out along the mainroad by the sea in either direction...not very inspiring, espeically as most of the other people running were all doing it in trisuits!! However, unless I can get over my fear of corners, descents and dropoffs, I'm never really going to be a cyclist...............

Monday, 12 March 2018

Getting Perspective....

The run route
When I originally entered Motatapu (an off-road 42k run from Wanaka to Arrowtown) it had been as a recovery event after Tarawera.....and as an excuse to visit the South Island of NZ, which doubled up as a perfect opportunity to catch up with friends. Having not been able to run, I decided to still go for the catchup, but the run itself didn't seem that likely. 

 
The run profile
Beautiful Queenstown in the cool early morning
Motatapu is an interesting event as the land is privately owned (by Shania Twain.....hence the views "don't impress me much") and access to the public is only allowed on one day a year, hence the glut of events (four off road runs, a mtnbike race and a triathlon) on that day. The course profile of the 42k looked like it climbed steadily up to the highest point (at about 27km) and then was a constant descent to the finish. As I was only in the country for a short period of time, there was no point to even try to persuade the organisers to defer my place for a year, so I talked it through with my cousin Anne, and decided that I might as well enjoy the day out. Many people enter the event as "walkers" so I'd aim to run/jog/walk up to the high point at 27km and then do a controlled walk downhill for the last 15k limiting the impact on my recovering shin (and hopefully letting me enjoy the scenery with my current fitness level).

How amazing is the "Wanaka tree" in the lake?
I did wonder why I had to catch the bus to the start (the 10:15am start) at 7:15 am in Queenstown, but it became clear when I realised how slowly the bus travelled along the winding roads as we only got to the start area just before 10. I can't complain about the drive there too much (although I did end up eating a significant amount of the food I'd put in my "post run" bag as we went) as the scenery was beautiful, especially as we travelled along the edge of Lake Wanaka. 

Obviously a nonsponsored runner
from the variety of kit!
Both the triathlon and the mountain bike race had started earlier in the morning by the shores of the lake, but we were driven a further 5k up the dirt road to our start (well, to where they were hastily trying to erect a gantry across the track). The day didn't exactly bode well for the couple of bikers we saw that were already walking, pushing their bikes up the hills.

There was a van to dump bags in for transport to the finish, a line of portaloos for "panicpees", a briefer than brief briefing, no compulsory kit check, and we were off. Surprisingly (well to me anyway) the dirt road descended rather steeply down to a creek after the start, but then started to ascend. The first 10k were undulating but generally uphill and the field quickly spread out. By the time I'd run a couple of kms, I'd started to pick off the slowest bikers and had settled into a "position" into the field. I could see the leading lady quite a distance ahead, and another lady (from Dunedin) and I kept swopping positions. I found this quite unsettling as I felt that I was running a relatively constant pace, but I'd either drop her quickly or she'd shoot past.

Looking down on some of the route
The first aid station was just after 9km and I managed to hold back on the descent into it (even though my shin wasn't hurting). I only found water and electrolyte drink there, which was rather disappointing as cliff bars had been advertised and I wanted to restock some of the food in my pack which I'd started to eat. After that aid station the route climbed more and more. After another km or two, I realised that I'd opened up a decent gap between us after passing the other lady, and now I was more focussed on avoiding mountain bikers. I'd pass them on the climbs but they'd pick up speed on any slight descents......though the biggest problem came with people cycling in groups as they'd spread/wobble across the track as the incline increased, or there'd be a pack sitting on a bend waiting for slower friends to catch up. I was still managing to run every step, but as the leading lady had been doing some power walking, I was reeling her back in gradually.

The rescue helicopter crew
I had heard that there were many "river" crossings in the latter stages of the event, but by the 14-15k point, I was still splashing my way through my 4th creek. As I rounded a corner climbing out of this I spotted  (well I couldn't miss him) a man lying on his back in the track with a group huddled around him. People say that I "made the right decision" in stopping to offer my help, but to my mind there was no decision to make......I don't think you would hesitate but to offer assistance to anyone that needed it. 

Let's just say that despite CPR performed by myself and passing paramedics, we were unsuccessful in out resuscitation, but, as I said to the gentleman's partner (who he'd been cycling with), he passed away doing what he loved, with the woman he loved, in a beautiful place.....and it did rather put everything else we might have all been moaning about recently (yes, I know I've probably been a nightmare going on about my leg and not being able to run) into perspective. 


Arriving back at the airport
Coming back towards Queenstown
Not exactly how I thought the day would turn out, and my heartfelt sympathies are with his family, though I guess that I now have a reason to return - as amazing as the helicopter ride was, I would have loved to have finished the course on my own 2 feet!