Thursday, 8 March 2018

The Carcrash......errr Christchurch Half Marathon

Having arriving into New Zealand on a Friday evening, I had been planning to support my friend Hannah in a marathon that weekend.....but it appeared that it was going to be too hard to sort the logistics for getting there and so she decided to run the Christchurch Motorway Half marathon instead. This was a new event, and as it is always good to support local events, especially to help them get off the ground in their infancy, I checked out the route.  
Not the most exciting of courses!!

The course was up and down the cycle path alongside a short local motorway and involved three 180 degree turns to make up the distance. It didn't exactly look like the most scenic race to spectate so I decided to enter it as the multiple out and back stretches gave me ample opportunity to stop if I felt like it, and hopefully lots of chances to cheer Hannah on running further up the field.

It seemed rather an expensive race to enter, but I gather that race costs are rather higher than I'm used to over in the other side of the world. Still, it was a bit odd that we "had" to register in a 2 hour window on the Saturday morning (you were only allowed to pick up your number on the day if you could prove you lived outside of Christchurch.....which Hannah clearly didn't) and "registration" consisted solely of a rather grumpy lady handing you a number chips, no tags, no further info on the course or a goody bag.

Sunday morning was rather warmer and more humid than I'd thought it would be for early March so Hannah kindly lent me a vest and we made our way to the startline. We were told to line up with half marathon "runners" at the front, then the "half marathon hybrid (ie run/walk) entrants", and then the "walkers behind. All 10k participants (both runners and walkers) were assembled behind that, but still, there was not exactly a bumper field of participants. 

And they're off....
We set off with Hannah right up with the guys at the sharp end, and me further back. The first kilometre wound round the sheds of the agricultural showground with many 90 degree corners. This enabled me to ease myself into the race and as we turned onto the narrowest portion of the cycle path I was in about 4th place. We passed through an underpass and the path became rather wider, which was lucky as there were a few other locals out walking/on bikes. I spotted a couple of signs stating that the path was "closed" for a race, but this was not an official closure and so not exactly enforceable.

I cannot comment on the accuracy of the distance markers as they were in kilometres and my watch clicks over in miles, but I did spot the race leader of the 10k turning round the sign that said "10k turn ahead" rather than at the actual turning point about 30m further on. I can't really blame him as it wasn't exactly obvious, especially if he was running on his limit, and there were no marshals about. 

There was a marshal about half a km further on at our first switchback. By this time I'd seen Hannah coming back in the opposite direction looking comfortable with no female opposition at all. In fact, I was actually now in second place, though the lady I'd just overtaken was being paced by a male friend who passed her cups of drink (which she then discarded over the fence instead of passing them back to him). 

All was not well at the front of the field, as I heard later that the lead runners were actually misdirected by a marshal who hadn't been briefed on the different races and so they ran several hundred metres the wrong way before being turned back. Luckily this did not affect me, and I was able to continue on my way when I got back to the underpass. This time we stayed on the same side of the motorway and headed slightly away from it to run along some pavements up and over a hill before ending up back on the cycle track. 

I knew my lack of running was catching up with me as I could feel myself slowing down more than I should be despite the strong headwind, but at least I managed to hold my position when to the far turnaround (a male runner did catch me, but I didn't mind that as I'd been convinced it was the next lady whose friend/pacer was now shielding her from the wind). This turnaround marked halfway as we then repeated the route we'd just run, and so I was now on a mile (well kilometre) countdown, knowing I'd already done my longest run for a couple of months.

Repeating the first out and back section was really a struggle for me but it was nice to be cheered on and encouraged by runners going on both directions, in all of the events. Hannah still looked strong and so it was nice to give her a cheer and a wave everytime I saw her......though I was rather jealous when I considered how much sooner she'd finish than me. 

Hannah and I with our Finishers' bottles
I managed to stay under the 1:30 mark to finish 13th overall with Hannah in 4th place. On finishing, you were given a bottle of wine marked "Half Marathon Finisher" but that was it......we even had to go and find and pour our own cups of water (and the 10k finishers didn't even get the wine bottle). It was only 10:30am and the prize giving wasn't due to be until 12:30-1 so we went back to Hannah's for a shower and a feed.

On returning at 12:15, we found out that the prizegiving for the junior 1500m race (for which there were only about 8 entrants....probably due to the price) which had happened right after we started, was also scheduled for the same time as ours. This seemed rather ridiculous as there were no facilities at the start/finish area.....not even any shade or anywhere to change.

I ended up having to leave shortly before 1pm to visit another friend but Hannah was going to pick up my prizes (2nd lady and 1st V40) along with some prizes for her club members in the junior race. Well, that was the plan anyway.....

The prizegiving didn't actually happen until after 1:30 (so I'm glad I didn't keep my pregnant friend hanging around in the sun waiting for me) and they wouldn't give any prizes to anyone that wasn't Hannah couldn't get mine. It wasn't exactly anything to write home about anyway......another bottle of the Finishers' wine with a couple of glasses (she got the same thing for winning)......and the kids' prizes were just a bar of chocolate (which was melted after it had been sitting in the sun since their race 4 hours earlier) and a McDonalds water bottle.

To say that there were a lot of disgruntled people who travelled to do the race, paid a considerable amount of money, and hung around for no real reason is rather an understatement. As they refused to give prizes to anyone not present at the actual prizegiving, the race organiser was even heard to comment (along with making some disparaging remarks about how long the last finisher/walker had taken) that they would have lots of wine left over to enjoy at home!

I have to say that I cannot see much of a future for the race, unless things change drastically as people will talk with their feet and not return! 

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Orange Running Festival

Running can take you to visit different parts of the world, but it can also take you to interesting new places within a country. When a friend first suggested a road trip to the "Orange Running Festival", I had hoped that my leg would have been sufficiently recovered for me to take part in either the half or the full marathon. As it was, I wasn't even sure if I should attempt one of the shorter runs, but as we had decided to head up there anyway, I kept my options open by entering the 10k and the 5k (there were no entries available on the day) figuring I could take a view on the morning of the event.

We got up there on the Friday night and so, after a cheeky parkrun on the Saturday morning, we decided to spend the rest of the day wine tasting.....not exactly something I thought the "serious" runners would be doing! 

Saturday's parkrun
I was really undecided about what to do the next day......for starters, it felt like the parkrun had nearly killed me. Not my shin as such, but my (perceived) lack of fitness. Yes, it was hot and humid, but I was so close to stopping (even within the first mile) that I wondered what "the point" was. Still, although slightly short, it was an interesting testy course and I hadn't run too several wines later, I'd put it to the back of my mind.

The wine tasting had an interesting twist to it, in that the lady host at the first vineyard had been at boarding school with my mother (in the same year but neighbouring houses) back in the uk, so I got to try more expensive (and just plain more) wine than the regular punter got. Another unusual thing was that we also found a cider orchard that offered tastings......and I've certainly never had a "dessert cider" before!

The 10K route
On the Sunday morning, I still hadn't quite decided what to do, but on finding out that there were 2 female Australian Olympians competing for the win in the 10k (as well as the lady who'd been the overall first finisher on a "leg stretch" at parkrun the previous day) I opted for that distance, as I knew they would take away any pressure I might put on myself for a podium finish.

There were a few sharp corners, speed bumps and pot holes to negotiate very early on....and I was also almost taken out by a man with a buggy, but as we turned on to a narrow path (paved though slightly irregular due to tree roots rising up), I'd settled into a comfortable pace. After passing the location of Orange parkrun, we were marshalled off onto an "undulating" rough gravel road. I guess that a slight positive of the headwind was that it made the humidity feel a few percent lower. 

Finishing the 10K
This rough section was several kms out and back so I got to see the race leaders (as well as some of the marathoners who'd started much earlier in the day but had the same run in as us). There was a small pack of men at the sharp end, but the leading 3 ladies were well strung  out and each running their own race. By the time I reached the turnaround I realised that I was 4th (and probably the first LV40). 

Running back in, I got to see all those still coming out in the 10k, and also to encourage  those marathoners I was now passing. Fair play to them, they'd been out a long time. Back onto tarmac for the last few kms (again, not the flattest kms you've ever seen), and finally I was turning into the finishing straight. 

I'd finished 4th (first LV40) in what wasn't exactly a good time for me, but it was actually a few minutes faster than the winning time from the previous year.....although a long way adrift of the speedy ladies on the podium this year.

The 5K route
I received my medal, some water and an electrolyte drink gratefully, and then a gentleman asked me where I was from. He was wearing a Scottish top (though he now lives in Orange) and had spotted my "home club" in the parkrun results from the previous day. As I wanted to go for a little cool down jog, he encouraged me to use my number and join the 5K race which was about to start. I was worried that the 5k was geared at juniors, but it was actually one of the most popular events with runners of all ages and physiques taking part.

The day's medal haul!!!
The start was quite crowded but I ignored everyone else and just ran to feel. I knew the route by now as it was the same as the 10k bar the gravel road, so I didn't worry about watching to see which way the runners ahead of me went. As there were still 10k runners on course, it became much more crowded after the gravel section and it was hard to know who had set off at breakneck pace in the 5k and was fading and who was in the 10k. I wasn't bothered about how I was doing as I figured that I'd be a long way back from any decent female 5k runners (and I certainly hadn't any in my sights) but I did make sure that I overtook a "race mascot" in the last couple of kms.

As it turned out, I was actually second female in the 5k....though first and third places were taken by 13 year olds (though I bet they hadn't spent the whole of the previous day drinking  wine and cider!) so a podium photo must've looked a little odd! I was over the moon to have managed to run a total of 15k without a big flare-up, but as it did feel tender afterwards, I erred on the side of caution and didn't run again during the week.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Possibly the Worst Value Race ever?

Adelaide parkrun
Having rested up with no running for what seemed like forever, I did a parkrun when staying with a friend down in Adelaide (her husband had registered for his first parkrun in my honour and so it seemed churlish not to run too). After that I decided to step up to a 10k, but I thought a low key trail run would be softer underfoot and give me no pressure to "run" a certain pace/time.

Manly Dam start line
I headed out to Manly Dam in North Sydney and manfully ignored the 12 and 21k options (though I was probably too unfit to get round them anyway) and entered the 10k. It seemed rather expensive for such a small event once I got there, but then again, I was on holiday and why not?

Lining up for the start
Low key was definitely the order of the day......the 10k and 12k runners lined up behind the gantry (after just leaving your bag/bottle/clothes lying around in the bushes) and everyone in front of an arbitrary rope they moved through the field started to run. They then started another ropeload a couple of minutes later, and then another lot after that again and so you didn't know what distance those people you were running near were doing, or if there were faster people who had been caught behind different sections of rope. 

Starting out along the road
Back past the start again...
We ran cross the scrubby grass and onto the road, up a hill and then down to a mini roundabout. After skirting the roundabout we headed back up the way we'd come, past the start line (and runners coming the other way, but they seemed to be in a continuous stream so the "waves" weren't exactly obvious) unto, we took a very sharp right hand turn back on ourselves off the road onto single track.

This track climbed steeply upwards and gave me my first clue that a "trail race" in Australia doesn't exactly mean the same thing as a trail race in the UK. It was impossible to keep running as there were huge steps and boulders to climb both up and down, and on occasion it was impossible not to use your hands. There were runnable sections, but also stretches of boardwalk/duckboards, the aforementioned boulders and steps, roots to avoid underfoot and tree branches to duck underneath. I did only slip and fall once on some wet rocks by a creek crossing and the guys near me did check to see that I was ok.

Some steps and a bridge..
The routes
There were occasional bits of tape tied to branches to mark the way and at one point a marshal was standing at a route junction waving 12k runners ahead and 10k runners to turn to the right. Everyone ahead of me went ahead but I turned round to my right onto a wide rough forest road which climbed steadily uphill. I hoped the marshal had directed me the right way as I couldn't see anyone else in front but as the trail steepened I spotted some flashes of a blue singlet ahead. 

I passed the owner of that singlet just before a few runners appeared from a trail to my left. They were doing the half marathon and so had started much earlier but we're going at such a lick as to suggest they were high up the field. I shouted at the girl I saw  that she should ignore me running behind her, as I was in a different race (as it turned out, she won the half marathon in a new CR).

I didn't feel much like stopping at the only water station I came across as I reckoned that I couldn't be far from the finish (though the jelly sweets were tempting), but it was hard to tell as the other runners had vanished again as the track narrowed, twisted and and turned and developed many more steps. I tried my hardest to always descend the steps landing on my left leg, but it wasn't always possible due to their spacing. 

The finish
A rather low-key finish funnel
I suddenly found myself out of the bush and running along a stretch of beach consisting of both soft sand and rough rocks designed to catch your feet, but then a piece of tape directed me up another climb back into the undergrowth. This twisted and turned again before I emerged onto a "bridge" across the bottom of the dam. It was rather springy underfoot and had some concrete steps at the end of it. The man in the blue singlet caught me up and passed me as I left the dam to head across a final bit of rough ground to the finish, but we had a really good chat afterwards (he said that he always saved a bit for the final run it, and just pipped me over the line, but I had the marginal victory on chip time).

Someone wanted to steal my breakfast roll!
A peaceful post-run swim spot!
The finish line was also low key with tables so you could help yourself to water, coke, dates and some fresh fruit.....and then you could queue up for a couple of slices of bread with a fried egg and bacon. I opted to wander off a short way for a quiet swim in the reservoir before returning for a very welcome second breakfast sandwich, and then hung around for prizegiving as it turned out that I'd been 1st lady and 5th or 6th overall in the 10k. Due to the cost of entry I figured it was probably worth hanging around as if you weren't there at the presentation, you didn't get a prize!

The prize giving was amazing as the race director obviously had his favourites. I can understand prizes being given in order as there were three races but as all had steep entry fees and the 10k had by far the most entrants, you wouldn't really expect to be an afterthought. 

My prize (with added contribution)
It started of with the top 3 men from the half marathon, then the ladies (I'd actually finished before the third lady in the half), then the 12k men and women, then some age group winners, then the men from the 10k....and then finally the woman. People won wireless headphones, Suunto watches, shoes, huge bags of sports nutrition, clothing such as running shorts etc......and I won......a sock. Well actually a voucher for a sock so the incentive was to make me give the race sponsors more money so I could actually have a pair......ridiculous but I did it as it did seem rather churlish not to.....but what a farce!

Anyway....1 sock or 2, I was glad that I'd had the chance to get out and run, especially as it was in a place I didn't know, that was recommended as a place to go bush walking in Sydney!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Cross training.....or resting....?

When I was in Australia about 18 months ago, I took a minor tumble in the Blue Mountains which ended up causing significant pain due to some bleeding into my knee joint. This had prevented me from doing any running and much walking on all the lovely trails I'd come to learn about. I had hoped that this trip would be able to make amends for that, but after the "run" in Hobart, I knew that my leg was a long way off being fixed and I really needed to rest it for considerably longer.

Not bad views on some of my walks!!
It was a tough thing to do but I decided that I must be "sensible" and avoid any "impact" on it, ie running, jumping etc. I have tried to ensure that I haven't been as idle as I could have been, as I've taken the opportunity (and time suddenly available) to go to some Pilates, weights and other classes. I'm never going to be the Queen of Flexibility but it may be that by the time I return home, I can actually do a chin-up and a press-up (but then again.....maybe they'll still be beyond me.....but my excuse is that my brain is too heavy and I'm sticking with that one!!!).

Walking in the Aussie bush
I've been out and done a few walks on the trails, especially along some of the route of the "Great North Walk" which stretches from Sydney right up to Newcastle through some lovely bushland. When you're more used to running, walking does appear to take a long time, but at least it means you get more of a chance to appreciate the lovely views and take in wildlife etc. To be honest, I found it so hot on a couple of walks that I was actually really glad not to be running (though it was less delightful to just miss the train home on a couple of occasions due to my stubbornness and hence refusal to run or the station). 
It's hot work walking in the summer!

Clip 'N' Climb
The plan will be to slowly reintroduce running, initially just short distances at a weekend (eg checking out a parkrun if I happen to be visiting somewhere with one) and then hopefully increasing the distance and frequency of running as my leg heals. Considering how long I ran on the undiagnosed fracture, to my mind, this has definitely got to be giving it the best chance of healing properly (I've even made sure that when I descend some of the big steps on the trails I always land on my "good leg" and I was also aware of which leg I was using to push off the walls and land on the ground with when we went to "play" at "Clip N Climb").

Fingers crossed that the plans works longterm and I don't just become lazy and unfit.....

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

I Run For Chocolate.....

The Cadbury marathon was a race I'd always fancied running.....I love Hobart, I love running and I love chocolate. My Australian relatives and I were going to be on holiday in Tasmania at the time of the race and so I had a difficult decision to run or not to run?

If you don't enter in time, you can't
expect to be at the right end of the alphabet
I couldn't really work it what was going on with my shin.....I'd rested it for about 7 weeks but there was still a significant lump there.....but then again I done many miles of running and racing on it before it was finally diagnosed as a stress fracture. I did the Hobart parkrun (which is not exactly in Hobart) with my cousins on the Saturday, and though I could feel it, it didn't seem to make things worse.....though I did feel very lumbering and unfit.

The race route
The marathon route appeared to be two big laps, with a few initial loops around the factory, so I decided to give it a go, knowing I could pull out after the first few little loops, or even at the halfway point without having a long walk of shame! Still, I wasn't overly impressed with the 4:30am bus to the start....but at least it meant that I could have some coffee and extra cereal right by the line before day broke.

Luckily it was light by the time that we actually started running, though it still didn't help stop the front runners going the wrong way. The "laps of the factory" were actually around the housing estate there so there was rather a lot of up and down  cornering. The lead men then started to run down a steep hill towards the main course for a few metres before realising they'd missed the 90 degree right hand turn for the next lap of the houses.

By the time we finally headed down the hill to the "main course" people had settled into their positions within the field. I was actually running in second place which quite surprised me, but I figured that I should just relax and enjoy the first half, neither trying to chase down the lady in front, nor worrying about the second half. I knew that even if my shin didn't feel sore, the was no way that I had the fitness to run a whole marathon at anything like my usual pace. I decided to run the first half and then either stop or pull back for the second half.

Smiling at the thought of chocolate,
cake and waffles :-) 
This decision notwithstanding, I did have several moments on that first "lap" of questioning what exactly I was doing....why I was running at all if I wasn't going to run a decent time.....and debating how to pull out without looking like a total idiot. We turned off the main road and did a random lap of a school carpark and I waved at my friend Rachel who wasn't far behind me. That spurred me to keep going as there was a chance that I would drag another lady along with me too fast (Rachel knew that I was only running the first half at a decent pace) and so enable my friend to pass her later on if she faded.

The route was far from flat, which actually helped relieved the boredom of basically running along the side of a road. We were heading in towards Hobart for a long stretch but then turned and climbed up onto a bridge over the river. The furthest point of the course was at the far end of the bridge so I got to see the leading men coming back towards me as I crossed over. In fact, the turnaround wasn't quite where I thought it would be as we had to run up a hill on the highway away from the bridge before we could come back, but the leading lady looked strong as she powered back down it towards me. I had a decent gap on the 3rd and 4th ladies but they were actually working together quite well as I waved at them. 

Don't worry, I wasn't "racing"
the buggy!
On the way back towards Cadburys I could feel myself coming to the limit of my fitness, but I really wanted to get past the halfway point before I was overtaken by the leading half marathoner (who'd started 30 minutes after us). As it turned out, I was past my 23k marker before he flew by me going into his last km of race (a "training run" after a spell at altitude in preparation for the Commonwealth Games marathon).

I seemed to be getting closer and closer to the steep hill back up to the factory which didn't bode well, but luckily the turnaround came just before the road ramped up. Surprisingly I wasn't that far behind the leading lady, and was further ahead of the other two than I'd thought I would be, but I knew that there would be no heroics. I slowed my pace down and even took walking breaks on that lap, though the last stretch back to Cadburys again still seemed interminable.

The goodies were so worth it!
When the two ladies finally overtook me, I moved over for them and gave them a shout and a cheer. I was now in the midst of people doing the 1-lap half marathon and guys coming past me to complete the marathon. I knew that my family would all be waiting for me, so I made sure that I ran strongly up the final hill and crossed the line in 4th place in just under 3:06. I think my two halves differed by more than 20minutes, but I was actually quite pleased that I'd stuck to my plan of running harder at first and then consciously backing off. I'd certainly earned that chocolate, cake and waffles at the finish line, and even got a sneaky massage in before cheering my cousins in from their 10k and their 4 daughters in from their 1k. 
On a side note, the (British) physio that gave me the massage noted a swelling and imbalance in my hips.....I really had give myself a bursitis from the cycling accident the day before flying out.....between that and my shin, I was definitely going to rest up again (while eating all my hard-earned chocolate) 😊😊😊

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

My Nightmare.....

I run because I love running.....not because I "have to" or because I "should"....and it seems strange to think of a life these days that doesn't involve me running fairly regularly.

If you bear this in mind, you can guess how upset I was to return from Oman to several voicemails from my GP, telling me that I had a significant stress fracture of my anterior tibia. I had had a lump to my shin from April-May time, but it hadn't been behaving as a stress fracture "typically" does. It would be sore when I started running, but then ease off, though the lump would swell slightly and hence be a bit larger and tender when I finished. It hurt to land in certain positions, eg when trying to do drills, and occasionally when running downhill especially on rough ground. I'd queried a stress fracture in the spring but had been reassured that this wasn't the case and so after a short period of rest I was given the OK to continue running.
The lump, however, just didn't go away, and neither did the random incidences of pain. Eventually I asked my GP to refer me for an X-ray and and ultrasound as we thought it could possibly be a herniation of soft tissue through a fascial plane. While awaiting these tests I ran the 100k in China and the York marathon, but they were finally done just before I went to Oman, though no results were available.

As it turns out, the ultrasound was normal but the xray showed a thickening of the outer surface of the bone, with a large lucent (black) line across the front surface of my shin. This is the classical appearance of a stress fracture - and of one that had been there for a significant amount of time as it takes a few months for them to show up on an X-ray. I couldn't really understand how I'd managed the races I'd done, but there was now noting for it but a period of rest.

I did a bit of this.....
And some of this.....
I'm not good with rest.....well, actually I am, as I am innately lazy.....but it did make me feel rather guilty. Not only had I lost my fun activity, but I'd also lost my stress-relief. I knew I was becoming rather unfit and deconditioned, so I managed the occasional bike ride.....but I think more cakes were consumed than miles covered. 

The "normal" thinking with a stress fracture is that when you no longer get "pain with everyday activities" you can start a slow return to running. Unfortunately I didn't have this pain to guide me, so all I could do was get a repeat xray 4 weeks change, so more rest! :-( 

And then some of this....
Being "youthed" at park run?
I confess that New Year's Day was a slight blip in me "behaving" as I accompanied friends to do something that I've never done before......a double parkrun. We ran Sedgefield first (well, when I say "ran".....there was a sheet ice section of each lap that had to be tiptoed across) and then 90 minutes later, ran at Albert Park. Neither run was especially fast....I could blame the dogs that had to be negotiated at Albert Park, or the ice at Sedgefield....or I could claim that I was trying to be sensible, but actually I just wasn't very fit anymore. 
The results of my cycling incident!

Anyway, after this I went back to being "good" for a couple of weeks......though the weather wasn't exactly conducive to cycling either.....a sheet ice incident saw me totally snap the hangar and derailleur off my bike and render myself unable to sit down due to hip bursitis! Calamity Jane has nothing on me.......running is so much safer (and easier) than cycling!

Friday, 22 December 2017

The Final Push....

Tent 4 checking out the rankings
before the final stage
Waking up on the last day my first thought was "I'm glad that I didn't quit yesterday"....that may sound like an odd thought for me to have had, but I've never been a fan of running in the dark. The dark does scare me somewhat, and I tend to be rather clumsy, fall over and injure myself in the daylight never mind at night-time. At one point I actually had to give myself a stern talking to, just to make me carry on to the finish, as this little voice in my head was saying "This is meant to be's not fun, so why not just stop?" Hence the reason I nearly kissed the man who told me I only had 1 more kilometre to go...

My poor little neglected toes!

By the last morning, we were all but finished...surely it was just a formality to get to the line?...or so I thought!!! It was a slightly shorter stage and we were starting a bit later so that those who'd finished in the middle of the night got to have more of a rest. I hadn't been able to locate the podiatry girls the night before, as I knew I was developing some infection in the blisters round my toenails from the shoes/sand combo...but they were still not to be found. Oh well, at least it was the final stage.

Over the scrubland to the "road"
That lovely "road"
Everyone started together again for this final effort....across a few small dunes and bits of scrubland, back onto the "desert road" we'd spent most of the long stage on. The speedsters disappeared off as quickly as ever, but I caught up with Aziza relatively soon and we ran together for a while chatting a bit (in my broken French) and waving at Morag as her vehicle drove past us. I really noticed the later start and the fact that there seemed to be no breeze at I found myself feeling the heat a lot more, and the first checkpoint (officially near the 10K mark) took forever to reach. By this point, I was running alone again as Aziza had dropped back, so although it wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the early morning running of the previous days, I just kept pushing on.

With Aziza on the desert "road"
Looking ahead....more dunes...
I had been warned about the "sting in the tail" of the final day, but it was still a bit gutting to see the sea and then realise that we were turning away from it and heading down parallel to the coast, over some incredibly high dunes. My heart sank as I saw the height of some of them and they seemed neverending. I was feeling more and more unwell with the heat, the sun, the sand and the lack of wind. I struggled up another dune using my hands as well as my feet....practically crawling (though that's probably disrespectful to the term crawling) and jamming each hand (and arm) in as far as possible to try to gain some purchase - in fact I would reach so far "into" the dune that the sand would feel cool and damp. It was rather entertaining to see the 4WD vehicles try to rev their way up the dunes only to end up sliding backwards down them again.

And yet more...with no CP2 insight as it was
somewhere over the top....of a few more dunes!
I thought that at least I would be able to run along the crest and down the side of the dunes, but I was becoming really nauseated. Aziza caught me as I despaired of ever making the second checkpoint and then Flash tried to encourage me when he came past. By that point, I was just trying to keep moving forwards as best I could with the minimum of effort, as I felt that if I raised my heartrate at all then I would be sick. After an eternity I reached CP2....and sat down on a camp chair there, and poured several bottles of water over my head. I was very tempted to just pull out there and then as I felt so awful.

The cool water brought a bit of clarity to my thinking. They told me that to was 3k to the finish (5K in reality) and I knew that I'd started the day with a 48minute (or so) advantage over Aziza. Even if I had to walk (or crawl) 3K, I'd hope to do it within 48 minutes so I shouldn't lose my second place in the rankings, so off I went. I actually managed to run most of that final section, though I wouldn't suggest any imitate my running style!!! I sensibly let myself relax and walk up the final few dunes, and realised that as I descended to the coast road, I could still see Flash and Aziza ahead of me (he having overtaken her in that last section). Having crossed the road, there was a steep descent in which I worried I would lose control of my quads as they were distinctly wobbly, but a final wee rise later and the finish gantry came into sight.

"Please can I just sit down in the shade?"
I put in a final effort to actually run across the line but was too happy to have actually made it to notice that someone was filming it. As it turns out it looked rather funny - everyone else bent down to be awarded their medal and then straightened up again.....everyone except me, as I just stayed bent over. They wanted to take finish photos, but all I wanted was to sit down on a chair in the shade and find some way of cooling down. Nobody seemed to be hearing what I was saying but luckily Greg came to my aid, having already finished and recovered a bit himself. As I sat on my lovely shady plastic chair pouring water over my head, he rubbed ice cubes onto the insides of my wrists. I've never heard of this technique before but it was wonderful.....and will definitely be tucked away into the armoury for future use if working on such an event!

Greg to the rescue...
The ladies' podium :-) 
This revived me enough to realise I'd managed to hold my position as I'd actually only been 1 minute slower than Aziza that day, and so then we could pose for some photos of the top 3 ladies. I waited until Rosemary finished so we could have some more tent congrats and then she, Greg and I jumped into the sea for a swim (well, it was an excuse to wash the clothes that I'd worn all week!!). I managed to return the favour of Greg looking after me, as he suddenly felt unwell. Although we'd finished relatively early in the morning, we were not going to be given our welcome meal until the last runner was in, so he almost collapsed. He was lying on the tent floor talking jibberish and becoming very agitated. We all rallied round him with fans, riased his feet and I got the local medic for a drip. He wanted to try to put the venflon in the back of his hand but I found a great vein in his antecubital fossa (crook of the elbow). He really didn't want the trip (dextrose saline) but Rosemary talked him into it, and we reassured him that he'd finished the race so wouldn't get penalised. I had been warned about the lack of food at the finish so had prepacked a large bag of skittles, which Rosemary then fed to him (though we all had a few). He recovered almost as quickly as he'd deteriorated and was soon sitting up chatting again and joining in the general moans about the lack of food.
A rather isolated finish gantry
A hard-won medal!

Eventually some food was served and people rushed over to it.....though i wasn't one of them. I was back at the finishline as I wanted to cheer each and every runner in, as they deserved the applause just as much as the first runners. Having felt so unwell with the heat and sun (and reflection of it off the sand) that day, I thought they probably deserved more credit...especially as some of them did not have the racing whippet physiques of the leaders. However, everybody made it that day and sat around the camp that afternon (or went for a dip in the sea) wearing their well-earned medals and chatting away, consolidating new friendships. Yes, I'd struggled  that day, but I wouldn't have missed out on the week for anything...I'd absolutely loved it, and if it hadn't been hard at times, there would have been less satisfaction in completing it! Massive congratulations to everyone who took part!!