Tuesday, 9 July 2019

A Worrying Habit

I prefer the "finish" to the
Psychologists say that once is a mistake, twice is a pattern and three times is a habit. That is a slightly offputting statement to read when I realise that I’ve taken part in 3 fell races in the last 4 weeks. I say “taken part” rather than “raced” as I wouldn’t want to offend any proper fell runner by comparing my stumbling around with girlie arms to their nimble footed goat-like ability to fly over the roughest and steepest terrain.

I know that I’m not very good at running on any surface except for smooth tarmac - partly due to a lack of confidence, partly due to an inability to pick my feet up (I have been known to trip over the toes of my shoes on hospital ward rounds, never mind fall over kerbs in 100k road races!), partly due to fear (of falling and hurting myself....and also of falling and embarrassing myself), partly to a lack of practice, and mainly due to a lack of talent. Obviously I cannot do much about some of the variables, but others I can try to work on.

Driving into Howtown
I do almost all of my running alone and know myself well enough to realise that if left to my own devices, I’d find a relatively flat easy road route that I could pootle round without getting lost and also without getting it if my comfort zone. Taking part in a fell race forces me to run off road and also to run at a faster pace/higher intensity than I’d naturally choose to do. They still scare the living daylights out of me and “entry on the day” is my enemy as I look for more reasons to “not enter” on the day than I do to take part (I’m enough of a miser that having paid beforehand is more likely to make me turn up and run)!

My race route
I was driving back from the Lakes along the shores of Ullswater and so decided to enter the Howtown Fell Race as it was only a few miles out of my way and would only cost me £4 for a 14mile "run" with 4 checkpoints and 1400m of elevation gain/loss. My fears still kicked in, and I was almost praying that I'd get stuck behind a tractor on the single lane road to the parking field and so arrive too late to take part (as I drove up to the field, I was still tempted to do a u-turn and go home). Unfortunately I made it with enough time to register and pass the kit check (I'm amazed at how many people argue about "compulsory" kit - if it says "taped seams" and a "hat not a buff", then that is what you should have!).

The first climb
My inability to start at the front and sprint off across the grass/up the hill was a definite handicap on a run such as this, as within the first 50m, there was a narrow gate to go through, and I ended up in a stationary line of people awaiting my turn to squeeze through. From this gate there was a very narrow track climbing steeply up through the bracken, and it was a while before it widened out enough for me to be able to start to pass people safely. The race started at Howtown, on the shores of Ullswater at 145m and the first checkpoint was on top of Loadpot Hill at 671m. Although not runnable all the way up (I imagine that even the best of the field didn't run the whole way), I managed to move at a decent pace and passed a large proportion of the field to summit on my own. From Loadpot Hill there is a great view back down over Ullswater, but I wasn't hanging around to look at it, as from there it looked like a great grassy run (well, there were a few muddy spots too!) along to the summit of High Raise (checkpoint 2 at 803m). I had been encouraging myself to keep working between CPs 1 & 2 as this runnable terrain suited me better and I could reel in a few more men. I also counted off the checkpoints, as I decided that even if I DNF the event, each CP was worth £1 of entry fee!!

Heading to the first CP
The CP staff weren't as hot as the runners!
From High Raise, myself a few guys around me seemed to take a good line to cut across the head of the valley onto the Coast to Coast path down towards Angle Tarn, but this path became very rough and rocky and I lost a decent amount of time through not having the confidence to run at a decent pace or pick my feet up (I was very worried about rolling my ankles or falling). As I got to Angle Tarn I couldn't see any runners around and was rather worried about not turning off the Coast to Coast path early enough and so ending up in the wrong valley. 

A "Yukon reunion"
As it turns out, I cut off it too soon and lost even more time and several more places by taking a random rough circuitous route round the Angletarn Pikes. On rejoining the ideal racing route descending to the next col, there were suddenly several men and a lady off ahead of me that I'd not seen earlier in the day. I expended a decent amount of energy making positions back up on the climb to Place Fell whilst briefly enjoying the views down to Patterdale. The Place Fell CP (657m) gave me a bit of a shock as it was manned by someone I hadn't seen in years - in fact, not since we worked together in the Yukon about 15 years ago!!! It would have been lovely to hang around and catch up, but all I managed was a few words and a wave :-)

Summiting Hallin Fell
The route
I had been dreading the next section as it was described as a "dash off Place Fell", and though I managed the initial grassy descent quite well, as it got steeper and rougher, those ahead disappeared away into the distance and a couple of guys again caught me - though two did thank me for "showing them a good line" (my private thoughts were that it was just a shame that I couldn't really run said "good line" very fast). We descended to the valley floor, practically lake level and had a short section up and down on tarmac until hitting the last climb. The final checkpoint was up on the summit of Hallin Fell (388m) and although it looked like the route marked on the map went straight up and back down the same way, I didn't see any of the ladies ahead of me coming down as I went up, so I figured that they were long gone. The climb was all on grass so I was happy to run back down it at a descent speed (for me) and then there was a tiny short road stretch to the finish. As it turned out, some runners had taken a diff (shorter) route off the back of Hallin Fell and rejoined the road just before the finish - full marks to them for having reccied it!!

A welcome sign ("cake this way!"
As it was I was very happy just to finish in one piece, and even more so when I found out that I was 3rd lady and 1st LV40.....but the best bit was the amazing spread of cakes! Even with me doing my best to demolish the feast (the £4 entry fee was nothing compared to the number of pieces of cake and traybake I had) I gather there was still food left over....must try harder next time!!!

The paired long Leg 3
Two weeks later and I was on my way back from a few days cycling round the Pembrokeshire Coast, when I found myself detouring over to the Peak District to take part in the Long Tour of Bradwell Relay race with my friends from Ripley Running Club. This was a 6 person team event based on the original Long Tour of Bradwell race route, a 57km/36mile and 1934m6350ft rollercoaster run, divided up into 4 legs – 2 long pairs, 1 medium solo and 1 short solo. We were a mixed team and so the boys started us off on a long paired leg of 11.5miles from Bradwell before handing over to Fi for the solo Leg 2. Unfortunately she got rather lost and so the 3 miles up and down a hill took her the best part of an hour, but luckily Matt and I were unaware of this as we set off from Hope on on leg 3 (the longest leg - 16miles with about 2200ft of elevation change). Esther ran our "glory" leg of 5.6 miles back from Hathersage to the start/finish in Bradwell.

Stanage Edge
To make it a more interesting/sociable event, each leg went off as a mass start......but Matt and I nearly missed ours as we were still pinning on his number and chatting as the rest of the field set off. We chased everyone along the quiet residential streets of Hope and were soon climbing up the edge of Win Hill (though a ladies' pair we passed did tell us that we weren't trying nearly hard enough as we were chatting all the way - we proceeded to do this for the whole run covering every topic under the sun). Everyone had spread out by now so luckily we were running alone as we negotiated a surprised a group of walkers coming up from Ladybower Reservoir. After dibbing in to a control on a fence corner we rounded a hairpin and headed back towards the Hope Valley along the line of a disused railway. We checked the route a couple of times on our maps as there were lots of diverging trails but still managed to run a bit far before turning off across some fields towards Bamford and the next CP (on some pretty stepping stones across the river. It turns out that we weren't the only people to have gone wrong as we heard panting behind us as we headed up a narrow pathway after crossing a busy road. A pair of Matlock boys (the fastest runners in the field) were desperate to make up time/places and we happily stepped aside to let them race past as they were working hard and dripping with sweat.
Stanage Edge

From there we headed up and onto Stanage Edge and an absolutely beautiful part of the run. I probably climb a bit quicker than Matt and he descends better than me, so we averaged each other out on this terrain, though as it turns out we were both running as hard as we felt we could, worried about letting the other one down! The views off the Edge and down over the valley were amazing, but there wasn't much spare time to look at them, as it took a lot of concentration to boulder hop without turning an ankle....and playing dodgems with all the walkers out enjoying the warm (hot for us!!) sunny day (in the mid-20s). As we dropped down to the road crossing before Burbage Moor, a couple cut onto the path ahead of us from our left (they'd used their local knowledge/previous recceing to avoid the highest part of the Edge). Luckily we caught them by the time we got to the CP (where the track left the road again) as none of our dibbers seemed to register, so we swopped numbers in case asked to confirm we'd actually been there later.

The edge of Burbage Moor
Matt talked about wrecking his legs running as fast as he could on the track down off Burbage Moor in fell races so I prayed he would go easy on me, as we still had several miles left to run once we got down to the valley. We still went down at a fair lick (especially for me considering it was downhill, but at least it was a track and not a technical descent). We caught up with another pair who'd been out of sight in front of us and dropped those who'd been at the CP with us. I had a cunning idea for the road crossing at the bottom - we had to dib to stop the clock at one side and then again to restart the clock at the other side (so that people crossed safely without rushing out into fast traffic). After stopping the clock, we sat down and had a drink, and then I had a "convenience" break after crossing the road before we clocked back on. I may have thought it was my secret cunning plan, but when the others arrived, they all did similar (well - 1 guy "had" to as he arrived long before his teammate and they had to dib together).

The next section was not quite my cup of tea as we followed a walking route down into the valley. It would have been a lovely walk, but running it required a good deal of concentration as there were many rough rocky sections, and some steep, muddy, rooty sections through the woods. There was then an incredibly steep downhill on road before we crossed the railway line and were down to the riverside meadows. I was still trying my hardest not to let Matt down so we managed to catch up and pass two pairs, before hitting the final country road along to Hathersage. This road seemed to go on and on, and we were both starting to fade - my legs felt shaky and wobbly and I was definitely hot, bothered....and rather dehydrated. We thought that we'd run way further than expected so that by the time we hit the main road, we had our maps back out and were examining them despairingly. This shows how exhausted we were, as when we collected our thoughts and turned again to the right, we saw the marshal holding the end of leg dibber round the side of a building about 100m away. Unfortunately this marshal, and a water container, was all there was at the finish.....but I stayed my shakes by eating my emergency food (that actually hadn't been kitchecked). 

We picked up the car of another Ripley leg 4 runner, drive back to Hope to get mine, and then on to the finish in Bradwell to join the rest of the team in a well earnt recovery cup of tea (ok, so I admit we did buy drinks, butties and cakes shortly afterwards). Despite the nav dramas of Leg 2, we still finished as the second mixed team (beating the male Ripley team) and thanked the organisers for a great new event that we would all love to take part in again in the future.

The start of the Cross Fell race
I visited my parents (and visiting godparents) a mere week later, and decided to give another fell race a go on my drive home. Again, the start/finish was all of a couple of miles off my route home, and it made me get out and run faster and further than I would have otherwise done. This was Cross Fell Race - a 15mile "lollipop" route with 680m of climb, taking in the summit of Cross Fell, which is the highest peak in the Pennines. Registration was in the village hall in Garrigill (just off the road from Durham to Alston, which was the way I was driving back home) and when I got there, I realised that although I've never run in that area at all, I'd been to the village hall before as it had been a fuel station for a Sportive that I did last year.

Climbing up Black Band
I took my compulsory FRA kit to register and get my number, but no one wanted to look at it, so I joined the others on the village green for a short briefing and then we were off, along the road south out of the village. After a few hundred metres, we headed off to the right to climb up Black Band (a climb of a couple of hundred metres) on a gravelly track. I'd been at the back after the initial start sprint but people started to drop back as soon as the route steepened. Although steep, it was all runnable and by the time it flattened out and started to undulate towards where I could see Cross Fell rising in the distance, I could only see one lady ahead of me. We had been told that a 4WD would be stationed near a gate as a water station to be passed on the way out and the way back, but when I passed it, there was no sign of any water, just a man sitting in the front seat of his vehicle. 

After this the track (it was actually the Pennine Way) became much rougher and covered with broken rocks as it climbed up through some old mine workings and then skirted around to the north side of Cross Fell. Those ahead of me seemed much more comfortable on the terrain than I was as I seemed to roll one ankle or the other with every second step. By the time I cut off the path to start climbing to the summit, the mist was closing in around me. I knew that the ascent had been described as "boggy" but I hoped that all the recent hot dry weather might have improved things. Unfortunately, this was not to be, and I soaked my feet several times over before reaching a rocky outcrop and then following a line of cairns up to the summit plateau.

Cross Fell
I had to trust in my own navigation at this point (that's why a map and compass are part of the compulsory kit) as the mist was really quite thick and I could see neither the summit Cross nor any other runners (the visibility was less than 20m at times). The route description had mentioned following another line of cairns through the boulder field if it was misty, but I could hardly see any cairns, so I decided that it was more sensible to run on a bearing. Coming out of the mist, I didn't think I'd done too badly as I could see the broken gate I was meant to be heading for, and I think I must have picked a better line than the man who'd been ahead of me on the ascent, as i spotted him not far away, aiming for the gate but coming from slightly below and to my right. As I got to the gate, the marshal told me that I was 2nd lady which did give me a bit of a boost.

The official route
Unfortunately the boost didn't last long as there was no path from this point onwards, though I had been told before the race by one of the organisers that I wouldn't go wrong if I "followed the small white poles". Scanning around I spotted a small white pole and so headed for it, and then the next one and then the next one. There was nobody ahead of me, but when I turned round, people seemed to be heading in my direction, so although it felt to me that I was heading way too far off to the right, I figured I must just be a bit disorientated and actually be going in the right direction. It became harder and harder to run as the ground got rougher amongst the peat hags....and then I spotted many more white posts going off in various directions.

I stopped and reassessed.....there was no one around me and white poles aplenty in various directions (as I found out later these were grouse poles and not to be followed)...so I started making my way back towards where I thought I should have been. The peat hags and long rough grass were really tiring to work through so I admit to not exactly running the whole way. I was so annoyed with myself for not having trusted my instincts, when I spotted other runners back on a rough track that had appeared and was heading back towards the Pennine Way. By the time I made it onto this track, my legs felt like lead, but as I was now 5th lady, I forced them to keep moving.

The "water station" was just after the track rejoined the Pennine Way and again, it was rather a nonevent, as there was a vehicle sitting at the side but no obvious marshal, water or cups. As the route stretched out ahead of me for the next couple of miles, I could see the distances I had to try to make up to get back to where I had been. The undulations and corners weren't so bad as it meant there were times when you could see no-one and then suddenly someone popped into view closer than they had been. I managed to reel in a few guys and gradually the ladies came back to me as well. 

Not a bad day's effort
By the time I got to a point that I recognised as having been 2 miles from the start/finish, I was back into 2nd position and knew there was no way that I would even catch sight of the leading lady again. It was more of a case of solidifying that second place, especially as the last two miles were all downhill, mostly on rough track. I tried to channel my inner self into being like friends who are much better descenders than me and "hammer it" as much as I could (so actually not that fast!!!). I knew someone was catching me, but when he let out a huge burp, I have to say it was a massive relief as it was a "manly" noise so not one of the ladies coming back to me. I survived the gravelly descent and went as fast as my knackered legs would let me on the last few hundred metres of tarmac, almost closing down anther man but just running out of race. 
Could I sit closer to the cake table?
Still, I was very happy with 2nd lady and 1st LV40 ....but even more happy with the huge spread of cakes in the village hall afterwards (and the kind ladies serving them also packaged up some for me to take on my way when they heard I had a long drive ahead of me....you have to love the fell running community)!

Friday, 28 June 2019

Putting the "fun" back into "funrunning" :-)

Some people take themselves and their running rather seriously...too seriously in my book. I'm not including professional athletes in this generalisation, but for the vast majority of us, running is a hobby - and so is meant to be fun! Some people train harder than others, some run faster or further or more often than others, but hopefully everyone enjoys it to some extent - or else it becomes rather unsustainable.

How else would you dress in
Sherwood Forest?
My favourite diet :-)
I have met some great friends through running - and love the fact that we can all apply ourselves when we want to, but be able to let our hair down and have fun when we want to. With this in mind, I was excited to go down to Sherwood Forest for a weekend of fun organised by my friend Paul (himself a 2:17 marathoner) for his wife's belated 40th birthday. The plan was to do some eating, drinking, chilling and relaxing.....along with a wee bit of running if wished.

The running started on the Friday night for me, as I joined my new Ripley RC mates for something called the "Hairy Helmets Relays". Each team member (4 to a team - mine was Esther, Emily, Jo and myself) does 1 lap of the course (in a park in Derby) before handing on the baton. This was totally out of my comfort zone as each leg was only just over 2 miles long - the first mile was straight up a hill (on grass), before a brief section of path to the top of the park, and then there were some steep descents to negotiate (on grass and mud), before hitting a trail which took you past the changeover area and for a loop of the flat round some neighbouring fields.

Coming into the finish
with the baton
I hate fast crowded starts so had specifically requested to avoid the first leg...and was given the anchor leg - eek!!! the pressure!! - but at least it meant I could run parts of the course cheering my teammates on, and see how the handover worked. It was basically carnage as there were hundreds of runners milling around, in club vests or fancy dress (I think I actually ran past a "dinosaur" whilst warming up). When it came to my leg, I had to stand behind the start gantry with others (waiting to run both legs 3 and 4 depending on the speed of their team) and try to spot Jo running in. Then I would hang over a barrier fence and hope she would be able to spot me in order to hand off the baton (the baton contained the timing chip and so had to be carried at all times). Once I grabbed it, I had to negotiate others trying to get theirs, cross the startline and get on with it.

Team G&Ts :-)
I had no idea where I was in the field, as people were going at such different paces, but at least the leading male teams hadn't finished before I started. After my 50m of flat grass "warm up" I turned up the hill and immediately started passing people, on both the grass and the path. The descent was nearly my downfall as I took the wrong line through the first mudbath and nearly ended up skidding down it on my bottom. As I skated around, a man shot past me, having found a much better way to skirt the worst bits, and so I followed his line for the next steep descent. Apart from this man, nobody else seemed to be running faster than I was at this point in the event, so I just concentrated on keeping going, not blowing up and reeling in as many as I could.

When I crossed the line, I was disappointed that my team mates weren't there to greet me, but it turned out that they were still looking out for me at the halfway point as I'd passed by there before they'd got there to cheer. Still, we met up shortly afterwards and got our well-earned drinks (each leg run earnt you a drinks token) and waited to hear the results. When I heard that we'd missed out on the first vet team by 15s (over 58 mins), I berated myself for that bad line across the mud, but it was a team effort - each of us could blame ourselves but instead we celebrated the fun and friendship we had! 

Karen and I on our way

Our cabin dressed for parkrun
(we had 4 cabins taking part)
After a night of refueling with ethanol back at Sherwood Forest, the next lark of the weekend was Sherwood Pines parkrun. Paul is fond of a bit of fancydress (being well known for his spiderman outfit) and so had requested that we all dress up Robin Hood style (though some costumes are obviously rather easier to run in than others).

Paul (AKA Robin Hood) as first finisher
Karen and I coming into the line
It was so much fun - again there were varying degrees of seriousness with a couple of people racing for the first finisher position, but most people were just there to enjoy themselves (and sweat out the excesses of the previous night), eg I loved seeing a 2:13 marathoner running round with his wife and having a chat. I ran with Karen as it was her first parkrun back after illness and for me, the weekend was all about her. We were both wearing forest wench/merry men outfits, but my flowery girdle stayed on my head better than Karen's cap, so I ended up carrying it for her. I loved being able to look round at the beautiful forest and chat to Karen (and others) as we ran round....and it set us up nicely for the rest of the day partaking in the eating/drinking/being merry part of the weekend.

Rather fewer of us were up and able to take part in the last running adventure of the weekend.....the Ripley 10K (organised by the lovely guys at Ripley RC). We almost missed it due to a sluggish start to the morning, but just made registration in time to get our numbers and head to the start. As usual, I started slowly as others sprinted off - the first part of the course was downhill and so people flew away from me. After a few corners, everything settled down and I could just about see a couple of ladies way ahead in the distance (the leading two had apparently gone off at warp speed ahead of most of the men!!). The first half of the course was mainly downhill (though with a few little lumps along the way) and so I didn't expect to make up many places, but instead focused on not letting the gaps increase any more. On every little rise I would close down a wee bit more.

The "hangover 10K" crew
We had been advised that there were no closed roads (indeed there were some horse out en route as well as the usual traffic) both on entering, in the pre-race email and in the run briefing.....and every marshal we passed reminded us to stay on the pavement. The pavement wasn't the ideal race surface as it was rough underfoot, narrow and overhung with branches at points - the road looked lovely and smooth, but we all obeyed the instructions. All of us except 1 that is - I could see the lady that was in second place determinedly running in the road, even cutting off corners that the footpath wound round the outside of, to the extent that she actually "undertook" the leading lady.

The last mile round the houses
My friends told me that they thought that the race profile would play into my hands, as the second half was mainly uphill. I can't say that I think I was running fast/well, but I did seem to be managing it better than the others. I passed the ladies (they were almost together at this point) at the 4mile mark, but didn't have the energy to mention the road/pavement issue....though I was pleased to pass the aforementioned offender by running past her on the rough pavement whilst she was in the smooth road. I wasn't sure if they'd pass me later on in the race, but as we were continuing uphill I refused to look back.

With the mayor
The last mile and a half wound round a housing estate (and so everyone was running in the roads by then), and it was nice to get individual support from the marshals (many of whom had been at the relays or at Martha's Vineyard). I was following Matt (from the local club) on this section as I guessed he'd know the best route round the cars/kerbs etc, whereas he knew I was behind him and so was trying to keep away from me (there was no chance of me catching him anyway as he's way quicker than I am). I nearly missed the final run in, as I thought we had to run down the same road as we started on before turning into the park, but we actually had to enter the park and turn sharply to run down the side of it behind a high hedge. Luckily, I was still switched on enough to get it right and finished with a final lap of the park...ending up running a much better time than I'd thought I could (as everyone said it was a slow course anyway, despite the previous day's "fuelling" until the early hours)!

I'm afraid to say I couldn't help myself afterwards - when the next lady finished and was congratulated by her friends (she was from another local club), I commented that I had thought she must have been from overseas as she ignored every marshal's instruction to stay on the pavement (which actually risks the race licence, and probably cost the next lady a place as they were only a couple of seconds apart at the end).....oops!

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

An introduction to Jaws

I'd only managed a week back at work before I was off again, this time to the other side of the pond. I had visited my friend Eleanor last year to help her out after a hip replacement, and she'd mentioned that she was hoping to be able to get back training again in time to run the Martha's Vineyard Marathon. I agreed to go along as well, as Martha's Vineyard was somewhere I'd heard about but never been to, though clearly I hadn't thought about the proximity of this to the Namib run.

Being tourists and enjoying local ice cream
Eleanor and I met up in Boston and spent a day wandering round in the rain (it was too cold and wet to really call it sightseeing) before getting the bus and ferry over to "the island". Martha's vineyard is not a haven of grapes but an island off Cape Cod where some of the rich and famous have holiday homes. One such person (well, not really, it's been in the family for several generations) is Brian Sherras, a member of Eleanor's running club (Ripley Running Club). He was aiming to run a good marathon in order to qualify for next year's Boston Marathon - and so had invited his club mates (I became an honorary Ripley member) over to join him and several of his family members.

Our international party
The two race routes
We had a great few days looking round the island on foot, on bikes and by bus....and I was even made to watch "Jaws" - a film I had always avoided as I'm such a woos when it comes to "scary" films. On watching it, I finally got a lot of the references that people had been making...and recognised many of the film locations, as it was set and filmed on the island (and wasn't actually very scary after all!!)

Unfortunately it was "unseasonably cold" and so Eleanor and I had to scavenge extra blankets and wear all the clothes we had with us in order to sleep at night, as the room we were sharing was freezing. Race day, however, proved to be the total opposite of this - and was by far the hottest day of the whole trip. As it turned out, I couldn't even run with Eleanor as she had in fact entered the half marathon whereas I was doing the full one. Of our group about 19 were running the half and 3 of us the full distance, but we all started and finished in the same location so could support each other. We were staying about a mile from the finish so it was easy for us to wander down there on race morning and board the yellow school buses to go to the start (that didn't half bring back memories of going to school in the US as a 12 year old!).
Pre-start group pic
After a group photo and some milling about (with Brian looking increasingly nervous, as he had a specific goal for the race....to run a qualifying time for the Boston marathon) we went to our various start pens. They were officially seeded wrt expected finish times, and would start a few minutes apart, but my pen seemed rather empty. This relieved my usual startline nerves somewhat, as I didn't want to get mown over by the faster half marathoners, but as it turns out, I could start last in my pen and still be relatively near the front. I chatted to two of the quicker Ripley men that were in my pen (Luke and Matt)....and we joked about the fact that all 3 of us were wearing cheap/old shoes, whereas most of those around us were shod in the expensive new Nike "wondershoes". As luck would have it, we were also the closest people to the US flag, and so got a surprise when people turned to look in our direction, hands on hearts, as the national anthem was played. 

The half marathon turnaround off the
marathon route
Shortly after that we were off, and I figured I'd never see the guys again. After less than 50m we did a 90 degree turn out of the school gates and into the main road - well onto the cycle path alongside the main road, and people started to settle into their running and stop jostling for positions. Just after the 2 mile point, the half marathoners turned back towards the main road, whereas the marathoners carried on into the State Park. It was a good chance to shout some encouragement at the lads as Luke was right up at the front with Matt only a couple of places behind. I had been feeling very tired and heavy-legged and was blaming having not recovered from the Namib race but realised that it might have been due to how I was running, as I'd not only had I worked my way up the field, but was actually ahead of the leading lady in the half marathon. I knew I'd be paying for this later, but found it very difficult to change my speed, as I felt like I was going really slowly and already was longing for the finish. 
Early on, with the halfmarathoners

Not what you want to see in a race!
I ran alone for the next couple of miles, meeting a few walkers and horserider out in the park, but I have to say that I wasn't that impressed to run through the smoke of a planned "burn off". Neither were a couple of local guys that had been relatively near to me up to this point. We joined forces and ran along chatting for the next couple of miles, though I have to say that I was very jealous of one of them as he removed his top and handed it to his partner who had come out to support him. I was finding it really hot, but it's not quite the done thing (or even comfortable) for girls to run topless!!

When Brian, Eleanor and I had cycled the course, we'd jokingly described miles 7.5-9.5 as being like a fell run. Yes, we were on the cycle path, but it was anything but flat. On bikes, we'd had to brake on some of the short sharp downhills, and stand up on our pedals for the climbs. They weren't long, but boy were they steep. The guys would run away from me on the descents, but I'd close them back down and even pass some on the climbs.

By the time we got to the 11 mile marker, we were back on the same course as the half marathoners, though they were only just into their 4th mile. I had not expected to catch up with anyone by this point, so was really surprised to find myself having to wend my way through the 'halfers', and even some people who were doing the half marathon as a relay.....still, I was very impressed with them all for being out there and giving it a go. We were still on the same route (though by now the relay runners had swopped over) when we passed our halfway point. I looked at my watch and was stunned to see it only showing 1:27 as I figured I must be going much slower than that. The boost this gave me lasted all of about 50m, as the marathon route then veered off at 90 degrees to the right.....straight up a very sunny, shade-free hill!

Taken at the finish, but sums me up
at every aid station!
It was at this point that the wheels fell off for me - I very nearly stepped off the course and made a beeline back to the half marathon route and so to the finish, but luckily there was an aid station at the 14mile point. I had been "a bit" silly earlier on, and not taken on any drinks at the first few support points, as I'd really not felt like it......big mistake, especially when it was hot and sunny, and I really hadn't recovered from Namibia yet. At the 14mile station, I stopped, drank 2 cups of water and poured another 2 over my head.....and then gave myself a stern talking to. If all the others were going to get round, no way was I going to DNF and let them down as they'd so kindly incorporated me into their club trip.

The next section of the race was not overly fun. There was an aid station every 2miles and so I just focused on trying to "run" to the next one, where I'd stop, drink a few cups and pour another couple over me. One or two guys passed me between 18 and 20 miles, but surprisingly no more than that. I knew we were going to rejoin the half marathon route for the last 5 miles so there would be more people about, but first I had to negotiate Edgartown. Although I'd been running along quiet country roads and cycle paths with hardly a soul in sight, I presumed there would be both spectators and marshals in the town. How wrong I was! I nearly missed a couple of turnings through the residential area, and at one point, I was actually running down a road (on the correct route I'd like to add), and had to suddenly stop as a couple of cars came from a side road and crossed mine. Not exactly what you need on doddery legs!!

Crossing "Jaws Bridge"
Having run down to Edgartown as a group one morning, I was pretty sure that I'd make it to the finish from there, but I still needed to break those last few miles down in my head as every slight incline (and it was mainly flat) felt like a massive hill to climb. I was overtaking half marathon runners and relay runners all the way (many of them for the second time) so add that to people out strolling in the sun and it became like a game of dodgems. There was nobody manning the last aidstation so I just helped myself to as much water as I could find and staggered on. I'd caught up to a guy who was also running the marathon and was desperate to get away from him  - partly because I hate someone running and heavy breathing on my shoulder, but partly as I'd been unimpressed with his music playing for all to hear earlier on in the day, so this helped to spur me on.

Having been handed a Ripley vest
Always fun - being filmed trying
to put a top on!
I counted down the last few segments....just get to "Jaws Bridge" and it's only a couple of miles from there.....when you pass the house with a mile to go, there will be people cheering you on and handing you a Ripley vest to wear for the finish etc. That was the plan anyway, but when I passed the house, there was no one there - they were having a drinks party across the other side of the road and didn't spot me, despite me shouting frantically for the vest they'd kept. There was no way that I was able to get over to them or go back for it - if I stopped, I felt that there would be no restarting possible, so I just focused on grinding out that last mile as best I could.

Managed to get it on!
Crossing the line!!
I spotted Luke walking along the road towards me just as I neared the finish field and then suddenly saw (and heard) a swarm of Ripley runners alongside the fence I had to run past. One of the girls handed me her vest as I still had a lap of the field to run....and Matt later told me that he'd never seen anyone manage to put a vest on so well whilst running on legs that looked so wobbly!!

A finish line hug from Eleanor
That field seemed to have multiplied in size many times over as I had to run away from everyone (and the line) before turning and coming back down across the grass and into the finish funnel. The girls met me as I crossed the line for some very welcome hugs and water. Everyone seemed to have struggled in the heat but Luke and Matt finished 3rd and 4th in the half and we had many age group trophies through our group. It wasn't long before we saw Brian approaching and so some of the others ran round the field with him....as he ran a fantastic new PB and Boston qualifier (in his shiny new flash Nike shoes :-) )and so there was lots of celebrating that evening to be had! Not my finest hour (and an unsurprising positive split) and the race organisation did have many things to work on, the the trip and experience as a whole was fantastic and I made many new friends as the Ripley crew were so lovely, friendly and welcoming!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The Race of Champions!!!

When I was first invited to take part in the Racing the Planet Namib Race : The Race of Champions I was not keen. The organisation was inviting back all the winners of previous 4 Deserts races to this one event so that there would be some good healthy competition and reunions of sorts. I won the Atacama Crossing back in 2010, which is some considerable time ago, and when I actually received the invite, it was when I wasn't running or exercising at all, as I was trying to sort my fractures and RED-S. The organisers assured me that it would be fine to take part on a purely walking basis (though I wasn't sure if my ego would allow that) and my friend Diana (a tent mate from the Atacama who had won 2 Racing the Planet events herself) persuaded me that it would be a good chance to catchup, as we hadn't seen each other in years.

What was to come...
Although I was back running again when the event came around, I knew that I was not nearly as fit or as fast as I had been in the past. My weekly mileage was half of what is used to be, and I have worked at remaining heavier (and therefore slower) as my health is more important than my speed. I did manage 2 specific "training runs" in that I ran from my house to a local forest, did a loop and ran home again (about 16 miles in total) wears a backpack on 2 occasions. This probably had the opposite of the desired effect on my confidence as these runs were rather slow and were punctuated by a few breaks along the way. Still, as I'd agreed to go all the way out there, I was going to run as much as I felt able, and hoped that might still be enough to finish about 5th in the ladies' field.

I've described my nightmare trip out there (and all the issues with last minute kit and food finding), and you can read reports on line in other places, so I'll just try to mention a few things that stood out on individual days.


My tent - the SS Charles Elliot
Having chased the rest of the race down (at breakneck speeds on the dirt roads up the Namib coast), I got to camp shortly before dark. I then had to do a speedy kitcheck - and have my food supply for the week calorie counted. Luckily there were already people disposing of food that they had brought so I managed to swop a few heavy cereal bars for a couple of lighter dehydrated meals. Diana had decided against coming so this meant that I didn't actually know anyone else running (as it turns out, there was actually a guy from Scotland who came over and reminded me that we'd met at a party in Edinburgh some years before). Di and I were meant to be in a tent with 5 guys, but luckily they were extremely friendly and made me welcome.

My prerace meal wasn't exactly textbook, consisting of food I'd scavenged from the airlines and airport lounges on my way there, but it tasted fine and I was so tired that I hardly noticed my lack of thermorest when I lay down to sleep.

Day 1 (officially 43k but my watch measured it as nearer 49k.....which was an indication of how the distances would pan out for most of the week so I started to ignore it)

And they're of....
All on my own....
It was rather chilly and misty at the start but we knew we'd soon warm up so I started as I meaned to continue, in shorts and tshirt (though I didn't throw away my extra "free" BA tshirt until the last minute). Some eager beavers raced off but I started (as usual) near the back of the field. Initially I ran and chatted with Simon (one of my tentmates) but then he dropped back and I caught up to Mark (another tentmate) and so we passed a few kms together. I didn't feel that I was running very fast or well, but gradually reeled people in over the course of the day.

Chasing down those ahead
Green bibs=former race "champions"
I was about 23rd at the first checkpoint, but just before the 3rd one, I passed Claire (also from GB) who completely shocked me by telling me that she had been the leading lady. The last section seemed rather long and hot, but others were obviously struggling more than me (maybe their fast starts caught up with them) as I passed a few more guys and finished in 6th position overall, first in my tent.

Upgrading from green to yellow!
I know that I don't drink very much when running, but a total of 500ml over the whole day was definitely not enough (especially as I'd been carrying way more than that all the way) and I had a slight headache for most of the afternoon and evening (though the sleep deprivation of the previous few days probably also played a part in that).

It was fun to sit around camp and chat by the fire pits in the late afternoon/evening but everyone ate their dinner early (I had some very heavy cheese sandwiches that night as I thought eating those first would lighten my load rather more than the lightweight dehydrated meal packets) and turned in soon after it got dark.

Day 2 (a slightly shortened route as we were thankfully rerouted to avoid some lions under a bridge we were due to cross)

Morning running along the beach
Another cool and chilly start, but my tentmates and I had wandered down to the sea the night before and spotted the marker flags that told us we'd be running up the beach first thing, so we knew it would be relatively hard work and so we'd warm up.

Some of the "scenery" of the day
Claire had been quite upset and weepy on the startline and asked me if we could run together, but then (maybe due to my usual slow start) she disappeared off into the distance as soon as we were under way. The stretch on the beach was in relatively soft sand, so a couple of fellow runners and I opted for a slightly longer route nearer the sea, as this meant we had slightly harder sand to run on. I think I passed quite a lot of people by doing this, but it's a moot point as to whether it was due to terrain/route choice (as we only had about a short distance on the beach), or if I'd just warmed up and got into my stride.

Not loving the mudflats - neither
the wet nor the dry ones!
From the beach we headed across mudflats, which I really didn't like. It looked like a nice firm surface to run on, but the mud was slightly wet and so stuck like glue to the soles of your shoes and they got heavier and heavier with each step (my tentmates later told me that it was much easier a bit further back in the field as those going ahead had cleared the way of loose mud). I ended up running this section with a Rich (a Brit living in Hong Kong) who'd finished ahead of me on the first day. Chatting away made the time fly and we ended up staying together for a couple of checkpoints (though I confess to having to work rather hard as we crossed dry rutted mud flats later as his stride length seems to navigate the unstable footing much more easily than my baby steps).

Camp looked a bit like a scene from Star Wars
It seemed to me as if people started to flag again from about checkpoint 3 as suddenly Rich was no longer with me and I could now see a couple of men running together away in the distance ahead of me. Rich later told me that it seemed to him that I actually sped up I the latter stages and I certainly opened up a gap without realising it, so that I managed a bit of a sit down and drink on the finish before getting up to take my turn on the "welcome drum" for when he came in.
Not a bad location though
That camp ringed by dunes and was beautiful in the setting sun, and we all enjoyed watching some jackals roaming around nearby in the evening light (thankfully no lions though). The soft sand was also a lot comfier for me to lie on (my hips were definitely objecting to the lack of sleeping mat).

Day 3 - one to put you off beach holidays!

This day did seem like and endless run along beaches, though it was probably to be expected as the event had been advertised with the slogan (run along the famous Skeleton Coast).....but 23k of beach was nearly the end of me!
Morning concentration from my tentmates
Lovely...more beaches
I spent the first stretch of beach running with Jamie so the miles ticked by as we chatted away. The run itself was part endurance and part sprint training. As the easiest sand to run on was just at the water's edge but we had to keep doing sprints up the beach to avoid getting our feet soaked by the waves. There wasn't much to see as the usual cool morning sea mist was ever present and the actual "skeletons" were rather disappointing. There are meant to be many shipwrecks along the coast and so the skeletons of the boats eerily remain in the sand, but we actually only saw 1 mast....and more natural skeletons (as we were entering seal territory). The seals were quite fun as they really didn't seem to object to you running really close to their colonies....but o the smell wasn't exactly Chanel No 5!

Back on my own again - was my chat that bad?
It was nice to leave the beach for some harder packed terrain but the route soon headed back to the sea. I ran alone for most of the day but could see a couple of figures a long way ahead. Initially three guys had been running together but one had dropped off the pace. I caught up to him just as we hit the last long beach strength, but then was really surprised to see him arriving at CP3 just ahead of me........from a different direction, as he'd avoided the whole beach and found a dirt road/track to run along. The marshals at the CP asked me to confirm that he'd not been ahead of me on the beach as he was very likely to get a time penalty for course cutting.

Well - I had some company!
I don't think that he had any qualms about course cutting as the next section zigzagged backwards and forwards across rocky outcrops and climbs, and rather than following the little flags to the left and the right, he appeared to just spot the guys ahead and make a beeline for them.

I stopped for a comfort break and lost him from sight, and so there was no temptation to do the same thing - hence I was a good girl and followed the route (though the flags weren't that easy to spot in the light and the wind).

The description of the last section was "cross an open windy plain (nb it is usually a headwind)" seemed a bit of overkill as the first plain was relatively short.....but then I hit the real one. It was endless, and gradually climbed for the whole distance. It was featureless and unforgiving with the wind whipping gravel and other particles into your face. I could still see the two runners on the horizon, and I would desperately hope they'd drop out of sight as that would surely signal the end of the plain but they just stayed there forever. I caught up to Santiago (again) and this time he remained behind me (he must have really wanted to stay ahead to make him go off route earlier, but then again it must have been disheartening for him as it was the third consecutive day that I'd caught him between CP3 and the finish.

There were some marshals after about 8k or so of the plain, but I was rather disappointed when they weren't sure how far away camp was....I hoped they'd say "just over that rise" but their answers varied from " a few kms" to "5k". Luckily is was just a couple of K, so I managed to push on (the figures in front grew bigger and formed into proper runners) and almost fell down the last sand bank into camp (not sunbathing weather for the rest of the afternoon but then tents provided nice shelter from the wind).

Day 4 - the long day (and the hottest day)

I definitely struggled on Day 4...in fact I almost lost the will to live partway through the day!

Trying to keep my hands warm whilst
listening to the day's runbrief
The day started (as usual) cool and relatively misty. Initially I was running along chatting happily to Ben (British living in Hong Kong) and Rod (from Sydney) but soon Ben dropped back and it was just the two of us. We then caught up to Jamie who'd started off strongly and had a brief chat before moseying on. I knew that Rod was quicker than me as he'd been ahead on every day so far (one of the pair that I'd seen away in the distance at the end of every day) but he seemed happy to take it easy....even waiting at one of the checkpoints whilst I nipped behind a vehicle for a comfort break (there's not much shelter to hide behind in the middle of the Namib desert).

A rose between two thorns (sorry Rod and Ben!)
I found it harder and harder going at the day progressed and the heat increased and the breeze dwindled to nothing, but he stuck with me and encouraged me to run when I could but take the walk breaks I wanted (to be fair I wanted to walk a lot more than run). The checkpoint staff were all making sure that we were carrying at least 2 litres of water every time we left them, but I admit to pouring a good deal of this over my head to try to cool off. I knew that my face was becoming more and more red as Rod kept asking me if I wanted some sunscreen. I'm not usually much of a coke drinker but we were each given a cold can at one of the checkpoints - and it was one of the best things that I'd tasted in a long time....though I was worried that we would then get a time penalty for "outside assistance"!!

It certainly looks like I'm just
trailing along behind Rod
I was really bothered about the fact that I'd been completely slowing Rod down so when he asked me if I was ready to leave one of the checkpoints in the second half of the day, I told him that I needed a longer sit down and to go on without me. The marshals then told me that Claire was approaching and so basically got me out of there on my way. I could see Rod's silhouette off in the distance, but whenever I started to try to ruin, I felt like I was going to be sick. I could not get my core temperature down, no matter how much I drunk/poured over my head - and that always makes me feel really nauseated. It was so bad that I could not even stand having my rucksack waist strap done up, so I resolved to just take it steadily and keep walking onwards, ever onwards.

I was ready to cheer on and support anyone who passed me, as I couldn't be bothered to think about being competitive...I decided that I'd rather take it really slowly and finish than push a bit faster and risk a DNF (after all, with these events, there are no prizes...just a finisher's medal...or nothing for a DNF).
Ditched again
Even when Rich appeared behind me and told me that Claire was chasing me down, I did not feel inclined to push any more. I kept Rich company for a wee while but he found that he couldn't walk very fast so started running again. It wasn't too far to the next CP and as the sun was sinking lower on the horizon, I was starting to feel more human again...and actually managed to run into the CP, arriving just after Rich left it. There was a "rule of the park" which said that after 6pm, we were not allowed to be on our own and so must wait for the person behind us to buddy up. I clarified this info at the CP as it was now about 5pm and Claire was about 30mins behind me (the next person). I asked if they would take the time gap off my final total if I had to wait for her at the last CP, as otherwise it would negate the whole of the day's female race, but they said that they wouldn't, and it was "my problem" if I didn't get to the CP in time to continue alone.

The sun must be strong if I've actually
 got a cap on my head!
As much as I didn't feel competitive, this did spur me on as I decided that I either had to get to the CP before 6pm, or arrive with/ahead of Rich so that we could buddy up if we had to. As it happens Rich was flagging and I was feeling much better so I soon caught him up and then we continued at his pace to the final CP, arriving at about 5:50pm and so were good to go. I felt that Rod had really helped me get through the early and middle part of the day when I'd been suffering so it was only fair that I pay it forward and stick with Rich. It was now dusk and much cooler and so I felt like I could have probably run the whole of the last section, but we worked together joggign whenever possible but taking the odd walkbreak if necessary.....and putting the world to rights as we did so. I was counting down the distance as I really didn't fancy being stuck out there after dark, but suddenly the bright green finish gantry came into view - albeit still a couple of kms away.

Rich and I seem to be enjoying ourselves again
 Rich was just behind me and so I let my legs take me as they wished...and it seemed like they wished to pick it up as I ran the last mile or so at just over 7minute pace. I stopped just short of the line and turned round but Rich was nowhere to be seen. People were telling me to get on and cross the line and stop the clock but no way was I doing that on my own. I'd got there with the help of others and so I stood there like an idiot until Rich came into view. I think I expended the most energy I had all day screaming encouragement at him and we crossed the line together with hands held aloft (just before the 7pm sunset!).

As it turns out the first couple of guys had run together, then Rod and Christophe had also teamed up again as they faded slightly at the end of the day, so a friend looking at the results back in the UK sent me a message asking if we'd been taking part in a 3-legged race! I guess it did look rather like that, but events like this are all about teamwork and having fun, rather then being competitive! Unfortunately for me, it was then rather a lonely night, as although I was feeling good by the time I finished, I had a long wait until the rest of my tentmates arrived...the final ones coming in about 4am.....so I really felt for them!

Day 5 - the "rest" day

Foot/shoe maintenance
My tent chewing the fat round the fire
I totally understand the need for a rest day for some of the competitors, such as my middle-of-the-night-arriving tentmates, but I would really have liked to just get on and run again. A rest day gives you more of a chance to seize up, discover new injuries, and contemplate how much further you have to go. I'd got into a routine of when I got out of bed, when I had my lovely instant porridge, when I set off, when I got to camp and when I then ate and went to bed.

Camp visitors
Suddenly I had longer to lie on the hard ground, wander round camp without my camp slippers, contemplate my minging toenails (ok so I used the time to trephine one to relieve the pressure of a blister uunderneath), debate how to spread out my eating for the day and worry about whether I'd be too hot during the daytime (and so get dehydrated) or too cold at night. To be fair the day passed relatively quickly as we wandered round the campsite, chatted to various people, read emails and tried to spot animals. Nobody really wanted to wander far as we knew we still had 2 runs ahead of us. Ideally I would have had a mini tapestry to do to pass the time (but this was also lost in some airport somewhere as it had been in my hold baggage due to the needle required) but I didn't really miss it, as we so rarely get a whole day to just relax and chat with no pressures of everyday life.

Day 6 - "dune" day...another marathon distance+ effort
It took a while to settle into running again
After having enjoyed all those miles on the long day (well, I did but I'm not sure that he did so much!) it seemed natural for Rod and I to fall into step again, but this time we were also with Christophe (from Corsica). I honestly had no idea how these two guys had run together every day, as they couldn't really chat to each other. One spoke French and the other English, so I actually felt like I was earning my keep running with them, acting as a translator so they could find out more about each other, their families, their running and their future race plans. I joked that they could not afford to run off and leave me!
With the boys
Bless them for making me look petite
After the midpoint aid station (well......officially distance-wise if not time-wise) we had a 10k stretch that I was both looking forward to and dreading in equal measure. The whole length of it was along the ridge of a line of dunes, so although we would have amazing views off to each side, the running was exactly the easiest, especially as ther was a good 700m to climb over the length of the ridge. I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the long legs of the guys so I bid them farewell, though I did manage to keep them in sight the whole way along. Some of the climbs were tough as the sand was loose and I had to dig my hands right into the slopes so avoid sliding back down again.....though a good portion of the ridge top itself was actually runnable.

The race leader making the sand look easy
I made it look  a lot less easy!
The problem was that I soon as I raised my eyes to look at the stunning views, I lost concentration on my foot placement and would find myself sinking into deeper sand which made my legs feel much too heavy for any running. Yet again, the distance wasn't exactly accurate, as every time I thought I must be climbing the final rise (based on distance recorded by my GPS) I saw the guys climbing up again ahead of me. Finally I reached the flags marking the end of the climbing, and turned 90° to my right to descend to the checkpoint. I could imagine most runners loving this steep run descent and flinging themselves down it with gay abandon, but I was too conscious of my "delicate" bones to risk this (the waiting marshals must have thought that I looked like a bit of an idiot mincing my way down to them).
The endless stretch of dunes
Descending down into the checkpoint
The "rule" was still that all water at checkpoints was for drinking only, but Bev (chief marshal) took pity on me and poured a small amount over my hands - this was vital for me, else I wouldn't have eaten any food in this last section as my hands were completely covered in claggy sand. It seemed as if I emptied half of the dunes out of my shoes, but  at least it made my feet feel slightly lighter.

The last section of the day crossed salt flats and some 4WD tracks in the sand (I tried running along them but the slight rises of soft sand made it hard to settle into a decent pace). We had been told that we would get to run along a runway, but in fact it was just a flatter section of rough ground with some stones marking lines along the edges. Rich had been chasing me all the way along the dunes as he'd loved that section, and as he caught up to me then, we debated pretending to be aeroplanes on the runway, but decided we really didn't have the energy to spare.

The run then went towards the coast away from the dunes
Some marshals made sure we crossed the lone dirt road safely (I'm not entirely sure how necessary they were as the total traffic must've been about 1 vehicle per day) but unfortunately couldn't tell us how far the final stretch along the beach was. We saw some odd ruins and some empty abandoned buildings off in the distance and hoped this meant that we were into the final few kilometres. It was now Rich's turn to start flagging, and my job to keep him going. The final day was just a short run, so he really needed to get to camp as he'd finished the last bit of his "running food", but just as I was starting to worry, the green gantry came into sight......and we crossed the line holding hands arms aloft again. Teamwork really does make it so much more fun.
With the S Africans...and the whisky!
I didn't feel too good that afternoon in camp - I couldn't stop shaking - so I admit that I didn't sit outside and welcome all my tentmates in. Instead I selfishly ate some food and curled up in my sleeping bag for a couple of hours. I did feel a bit better later on, so was able to help some of my later tentmates with their packs, their food, their injuries......and enjoy the bread roll and piece of fruit that some locals kindly brought to camp for each of us (wow - they tasted good).....and some whisky round the fire later (with the South African runners - respect to them for having kept it for the last night)!

Day 7 - the final push
Teamwork makes the Dreamwork!
In many of these multiday events, the last day is just "for fun" but our last stage was being timed and so did count. It was only a short stage and so it was unlikely that positions would change, especially not at the sharp end of the field hence Christophe, Rod and I naturally fell into step again.
We'd run so much of the week together
Well, that's what they said...but I felt like I was having to put a decent amount of effort in to keep pace and maintain my translator skills. We discussed whether anyone wanted to finish alone for a "finish photo" but all agreed that we'd like to end the run together. We dibbed at the final checkpoint to stop the clock and then hung back for a few minutes so that the guy in front could have his glory shot to himself. We ran over the last dune and into the finish together - linked hands aheld aloft (as the phrase goes "Teamwork makes the Dreamwork!")....and by this time Rich had joined us, though he clearly had done enough hand-holding during the week.

A happy me for surviving the week
Not quite the promised pizza!!!
Then it was time for a very welcome beer or two (but unfortunately a chilli rather than the long-awaited and talked about pizza) while we gradually welcomed everyone home across the line. All my tent made it to the finish so we had to have a big sweaty, dirty group hug...before we all boarded the buses for a nice long (several hours) ride back to civilisation and showers (buy the time my bag actually arrived the hot water had run out, but to be honest I didn't care...any running water was good enough for me to wash in!).

Runners and crew at the Finis :-)

Another amazing week despite the inauspicious start....and some great news friendships forged - bring on the next adventure!!