Saturday, 6 April 2013

View From The Other Side

The period after a marathon can be a difficult time, leading many people to develop "post marathon blues". Suddenly you find yourself not training, but nor are you tapering, and you don't have that goal ahead to focus on. Rather than going over and over the race in your head, thinking "what if" and "if only" or making rash decisions about training and racing in the future, it's important to take some time out and have fun. 

Snow in Dumfries

The good old British weather did play a part in this for me as, having driven through snow on the way back from the airport, and it just got worse from there. On a couple of occasions during that first week, all the roads in and out of Dumfries were closed either by snow, or by drivers skidding in the snow. 

Still, I managed to get out with the girls from work for an afternoon and evening in the pub(s), which ended up involving karaoke, and when the roads cleared, my mother came to stay for a few days (which was lovely though she did say we did nothing but eat as I introduced her to my favourite coffee shops). I also caught up with a few friends who've been working overseas, but one of the main things I've done is to give something back to running and support others in their endeavours.
The "Self Transcendence 100k/50k" was being held in North Inch Park in Perth (no unfortunately not Australia). The 100k incorporated the Anglo-Celtic Plate home countries international and UK Championships, while both the 50k and the 100k were the Scottish Championships. The course consisted of flat traffic-free 2.4k loops around the park along the banks of the River Tay.

I had declined to run as part of the Scotland team so soon after the marathon, but when race organiser Adrian Stott asked me if would be the race doctor, I was keen to help out, support others, catch-up with some of the GB squad and actually get to know some more of the Scottish runners. I am fairly selective and so don't run that many races, especially not long distance ones, and of those that I do run, most are big races overseas so it was the first time I'd actually chatted to many of the Scottish squad (though strangely enough, I knew almost all of the English team).

Path up Kinnoull Hill

It was lovely to be able to enjoy the evening in Perth without worrying about racing the next day, so I got out for a trot up Kinnoull Hill (beautiful to be on the top, standing in the sun but surrounded by snow) and then checked out a lap of the course. It looked like it was going to be a fast race as the park was completely clear of snow an ice and there was a dead calm with no wind forecast. We were hoping that we might see several runners finish under the 7hr mark, as 3 of the English men had run sub 2:18 marathons.

At the evening briefing I gathered up all the medical forms and labelled them in race number order, highlighting any with pre-existing medical conditions, and divided them into 50k and 100k runners, as in an emergency, I might have had to ask an assistant to dig out a form for me. I took the opportunity to listen in to the Scottish team pep talk, which reminded the guys that although many of the English runners had faster marathon times, they didn't have so much ultra experience and so there was a good chance that they might fade later on into the event. Wise words from Adrian there!

Support tent and runners pre-start

After a sleepless night, made shorter by the clocks going forward, we were making sure that everyone was awake at 5 and having a good breakfast before heading down to the park (having to scrape ice off the windscreen didn't bode well for those standing around to support). There was a slight delay but it wasn't long after 7am that the runners set off on the first of their 42 laps. I didn't think there would be many medical dramas early on (except maybe frostbite in those trying to sort out food for the runners) so I took the opportunity to check out the medical room in the sports centre with its ice machine and defibrillator (fingers crossed for that not being needed). It was still quiet so I stripped off an outer layer of clothing and took the opportunity of running myself to appreciate the quietness of the park in the early morning (and mainly to keep warm). As per Hilary (the race referee), I started off in an anticlockwise direction, as the race was run in clockwise loops. I stuck to the outside of the cones so as not to impede anyone, but it was quite tight when passing through the feed stations and avoiding the timing mat, so I started running backwards and forwards in 3/4 laps, turning each time before I got near the pinch points. In order to ensure I didn't appear to be pacing anyone, I ran with different people each time I was going in the same direction as the racers, and made sure I included a Welsh, an English and a Scottish runner, and a mix of male and females. Hopefully, it was also nice for them to have someone different to chat to on one of their laps. It was lovely to be out running again, but I was happy to stop after a few laps........and didn't even slightly wish that I was racing, so had obviously made the right decision!

My only regret in the timing of my run, was that by the time I'd showered and changed, the feed station had no more hot bacon butties....but then again, their porridge was pretty fabulous!
 In a race such as this one, participants are generally quite experienced, so I didn't get the funny requests for medical aid that I've had before (eg bleeding nipples, or a splinter). In fact, after the 50k started at 10pm, the biggest casualties were actually members of the GB 24 hour squad, though luckily there was nothing serious to deal with.
It was great to watch how different race plans we'd expected, some people went off very fast, but unfortunately didn't manage to take enough nutrition on board to sustain their efforts and so faded, while others got stronger and stronger as the race progressed. Experience really did show, and this was also reflected in the 50k race, especially in the ladies' field.

The lap counting/leader  board
Maybe it was the clock-change, maybe the weather, or maybe some totally unconnected reason, but unfortunately some of the volunteers didn't turn up to help.....or wandered off after helping for a short time. I couldn't help to support individual runners as I had to maintain "neutrality", but as long as I kept within sight of the medical tent and had my phone on me, I decided to get stuck in helping the others out (well, I needed to do something to break up my chain-eating of all the amazing cakes available). I ended up manning the 50k lap board. I now have total respect for those that do this job, as it is very hard to keep track of even a small number of runners in a lapped race. We had to look out for those in the 50k, both male and female, while ignoring the 100k runners, bearing in mind that they were all going different speeds and lapping each other. From time to time, we'd get a backup sheet from the chip timing system, but this was sometimes out of date by the time it got across to us. Add in to this, the difficulty of moving pins, names and numbers on a pin board when your fingers are freezing as you cannot do it in gloves, and then also having supporters and bystanders continually hassling you to correct certain runners' lap numbers and getting upset that you didn't do it yesterday! Volunteers are amazing.......the hard work they put in, while often getting lots of criticism from people who have no realisation that they are doing the best they can do!

Dan, the 100K champion

Helping with this job did have a big bonus......we knew exactly when people started their last lap so could let the announcer know, and got to cheer everybody home as they finished their race.....with proud smiles and flags flying.

The 100k was won in style by Dan Doherty of Ireland, who ran a steady race and stuck to his plan all the way through, and the Scottish boys came through to win the team competition as Adrian had predicted, using their experience of long races both on and off road. Emily Gelder of Wales won for the ladies.......for the 4th consecutive year, again showing how invaluable previous experience is. To back this up this observation , the clear winners of the 50k race were Paul Fernandez and Sue Harrison, both of who, I have met before at the world 50k championships and both of whom are experienced English ultra runners.

As for me, I had no regrets about not being out there running from a competitive point of view, but I also really appreciated the opportunity to watch and support others and just generally muck in and help as needed, often doing jobs that as a runner, I'd take for granted!

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