Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Running with/against/for the World

This week I was invited down to Silverstone (by Simon Freeman of freestakUK) to take part in the first Wingsforlife World Run. This is an interesting new concept of a race organised by Red Bull to raise money for the non-profit Wings For Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation.

In brief, it is a worldwide event with thousands of participants running at exactly the same time at 34 different locations on 6 continents around the world. In each location a "Catcher Car" sets off half an hour after the start signal and keeps a constant but increasing pace around the world. Each runner wears a race number containing a chip which is activated when they pass the finisher car at the startline, and deactivated when they are passed on the course. In this way, the finish line chases the runners and the winner is the last person left running. As all the starts are simultaneous, not only are there event winners, but also a global winner.

I warned them that my legs would be rather tired after the Fling, and I'd been fighting a bad cold all well, so I doubted that I could run very far, but they were still keen for me to come down and get involved.

7 hours, 3 trains, a bus and a taxi later (I love public transport on a bank holiday weekend anyway, but add in lots of engineering work and a few rowdy stag dos, and it's an experience not to be missed!) I arrived at Silverstone. I seemed to have been travelling forever, yet I wasn't entirely sure which part of the country I'd ended up in. Not to worry - as long as I got back to Milton Keynes station (not in my list of ideal holiday destinations) afterwards, I could make it home.

Snoozebox from the outside

It was lovely to meet up with Tracy Dean at the accommodation, but the accommodation was a whole new experience in itself. I've never stayed in a "portable hotel" before......and basically, it does what it says on the tin. Snoozebox by name and snoozebox by nature.

Outside my room

Inside my room
The rooms have everything you need (except a kettle) - a comfy double bed (with a single bed perpendicularly arranged above it, a safe, some shelves, some drawers, a hanger, a tv and a wet room - all in a 10x10 box (you could even change the tv channels with your toes, or even try to brush your teeth at the basin and wash your feet in the shower, all while sitting on the toilet!). From the outside it looks like a portacabin, and although you can hear people talking and walking along the metal walkways outside, you feel snug in your own "box" rather like a tiny ship's cabin!

We went over to search out some food with 3 other invited  runners (Robbie, Paul and Edwina {Eddie} from Centurion running), which again caused some amusement. It was a buffet, but the lady serving us was clearly unused to big appetites, as we were not allowed a second helping and had to choose between some soup or some cake (well, Tracy and I managed to get away with it before the "2 courses only" rule was enforced but the others were not so lucky). At least I still had some supplies left from my travelling to snack on, as breakfast seemed a very long time away!

The event didn't officially start until 11am for us, so we had a relatively leisurely morning but, as always seems to be the way, there was a bit of a last minute panic. We went back to the cars to sort out people's gels (and for me to take some decongestants) and then wandered over to the bag drop area. It was not yet 10:30, but we suddenly heard a voice over the tannoy saying that if you hadn't passed between the two chaser cars on the startline in the next 10s then you'd be disqualified! I think Tracy and I nearly broke a world record for stripping off our tights and jackets.

The dreaded "Catcher Car"

We thought we'd got the start time wrong, but it turns out that it was something to do with registering and resetting all the chips worldwide. What it did mean is that we then hang to hang around for half an hour in our race kit, and it wasn't very warm. I didn't mind the clouds in the sky, as my nose is still too sore and swollen to wear sunglasses, but the breeze wasn't pleasant. We tried to spot famous faces amongst the runners, but only managed Mark Webber and Dave Thom (probably more famous as Kelly Brook's ex than as a former Scotland rugby international!).

Paul was up for a good race to go as far as possible, while Robbie was planning to stop after 80-90mins as his target race is next weekend, so we knew the lads would go out fast. Tracy had planned a set distance to run, and Eddie was going to stay ahead of the marathon pacer. The "marathon pacer" should be passed by the catcher car after 3 hours 8 minutes, so I said that if Eddie was 7 min/miling I would keep her company for a bit, and see when my body protested, though I hoped to make it into double figures (ie 10 miles).

Despite it being a long run (of unknown distance), I knew there would be the usual overexcited sprinters at the start, so I stayed right over to one side (the fear of being trampled is still there!) and moved back into the middle when everybody had settled into their running. Eddie set off with the lead group of men so I just watched her disappear off into the distance. In the wind, it would have been easier for me to have run in such a pack, but as I was already running 6:30-6:40 miling, I knew that if I went with them, I probably wouldn't even make it to 10k never mind 10 miles!

On the "circuit"!
Round and round the corners of the F1 circuit we ran, and I have to confess that I had moments doubting my sanity. I felt tired and, as I'd had a long solo run the weekend before, I wasn't sure what I'd get out of another one so soon afterwards and I had nothing to prove to myself or others. However, I did think it would be poor form to stop before the catcher car had even started to I made myself keep going. After 5 km there was a "feed station" - with red bull, water and some half bananas. I did wonder who would be needing a banana already......and how many people would opt for a fizzy drink rather than water.

The runners at Silverstone
With about 8km covered, the route left the racetrack and headed out onto the quiet country roads. I exchanged a bit of banter with a young lad who cheered me on with "you're nearly there!"......bless him! 10k under the belt and it was starting to feel more enjoyable so I knew I'd make the magical double figure in miles. The tree-lined roads had been closed to traffic and so it was really nice to run into small villages and between bright fields of oil-seed rape. 

As the sun was now shining brightly, it was getting rather warm. It was difficult to drink much water from the huge cups at the feed stations (I later learnt to bend my cup into more of a funnel-shape) but it was very welcome to use to wet the face and head!

By the time I'd made it to 10 miles I could see Eddie up the road ahead of me (accompanied by another runner and with Dennis on a motorbike) so I decided to carry on and closed the gap down gradually, as I could see her easing off to let me catch up. By 13 miles we were running together - this is what it was all about.....a long run in the countryside with a lovely new friend, chatting away!
Love the way my number reminded me
what country I was in - presume that was
for live race video footage for global HQ

We passed the last "bus stop" (the last place where caught runners could wait for a bus to take them back to Silverstone), but the miles were passing comfortably as we discussed every topic under the sun. We'd each taken on a gel (in fact, it was the only one I had during the whole of the run) and had water at about 18 miles. This is when it started to become a bit tougher.....as there seemed to be no water available anymore. There were no tables at the side of the road, and we were not passing through any villages. Every time we spotted a high viz jacket up ahead, we thought "there's a waterstop, we're saved", but unfortunately the high viz was being worn by marshals manning the junctions where the road was closed. We asked them if they knew how far it was to some water, but they didn't know. We were also rather unsure about the actual distance that we had covered, as both our watches said we'd run well over 20miles when we passed a board showing "30k/18.6M".

We had been asking Dennis all sorts of questions about whether he knew how many ladies were still running, and which of the Pauls (Paul Navesy and Paul Marteletti) was leading, so we didn't also want to hound him about drinks stations. Luckily, Robbie dropped back to run with us for a bit and spoke to Dennis instead. What a lovely man - not only did he give us his bottle of water from his packed lunch, but he also gave Robbie a packet of crisps. Then he zipped ahead to the next village and picked up some more bottles!

Side by side with Eddie...

Eddie was starting to flag, but I hoped the water would perk her up....it certainly seemed to do so and so we started counting down the miles to the marathon distance. Robbie had gone up the road to encourage Andrew (the man closest ahead of us) and I kept talking to Eddie to try to keep her motivated! "Little steps" up the hills and "relax and stretch it out" on the downhills. Every step was another step in the bank towards her goal race in the summer.

Andrew seemed to suddenly fade up ahead of us, but Eddie was also struggling on the inclines (as she'd just put in a big training week). We passed through another village, and now had several motorbikes with us. The locals must have thought that I was totally mad, as I kept turning round and taking a few steps backwards while shouting encouragement. It obviously worked, and Eddie wasn't going to let Andrew escape us so we reeled him in. Fair play to him - we were going through the marathon distance in about 3 hrs, and he'd never run further than a half marathon before - awesome effort! It didn't cross my mind that Eddie might not want to push on - and that I might be losing a friendship almost as soon as it had been made with my active encouragement, and hopefully I judged it right! As I said to her at the time, "a lady who has had children will not give up until the job's done!"

We still didn't know where the next lady was - we'd been told that she was a mile behind us, when the chasing car was 3 miles behind us......but then we heard that the chasing car was only a mile away, though they didn't know if she'd been picked up. Our entourage intensified and we were told the car was half a mile away and closing.

Strangely enough, I felt really strong at this point, but as we'd run so far together, the plan was to finish together so I could ease off the pace and put my efforts into supporting my friend. Robbie told me that he wouldn't hang around, he'd race all the way....and as he didn't want us to chick him, he zoomed off (which was totally fair as he'd just been running easy to stay with us). A cyclist had passed me, guiding us to the left hand side of the road, so I knew that the catcher car must be all but upon us.

The atmosphere was getting pretty exciting with lots of shouting and cheering from both motorbikes and pushbikes. As I was going up a hill I turned round and saw the car almost on top of Eddie who was racing down the previous hill. Decision made, we were in this together - friendship outweighed competitiveness as there was nothin to prove. I stopped but then realised I'd cramp up if I did that so started sidestepping up the hill. Eddie got to me and and I grabbed her by the hand, turned and started running hard up the hill shouting "come on".

When we finished

The car passed us running with our linked hands in the air amidst applause and cheers! We'd done it - the last ladies left, and with only 3 men ahead of us! We were given a board and Eddie wrote our official distance of 45.385m on it (though I'm not entirely sure how they can ensure it's that precisely measured) - beyond her planned target of the marathon distance, and way beyond what me thought my tired legs would let me run!

Yeay - finished!

Chillin' with Eddie in the Paddock

It was a great day, not only for participating in the whole event, but for making a new friend who's running and stamina I have total respect for, and for discovering my body's own powers of recovery and endurance!

We were then taken back for some very well earned beers and sandwiches (with Tracy, who'd stuck exactly to her plan - she'd run a half marathon then waited for a pickup) in the sun at Silverstone! Eventually we all could cheer for Paul Marteletti as he was driven back into the paddock as the overall winner (and 5th in the world) having covered an amazing 69.37km before he was caught!

The UK race winners!

In the, runners of 162 nationalities ran on 34 race tracks in 32 countries. 35 397 runners spanned 13 time zones on six continents and covered a total of 530.928km, so raising over 3 million euros for charity - not bad work everyone! 


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