Thursday, 16 July 2015

Day 5 - Slaying the Dragon....but only just!!!

Getting up on Day 5 was an interesting experience. My eyes had been a bit weepy overnight, though they felt dry, but when I got up, I could hardly open them
How swollen??
as they were that swollen. They weren't sore or itchy, just swollen, and it wasn't that easy to see even wearing my glasses. I took an antihistamine, splashed water on my face as best I could and wandered around the campsite a bit, hoping that gravity would help ease them. No real joy so I went to the medical tent, only to find that it wasn't opening until 6am. Still, it meant I could,d have my breakfast in two sitting......pre 6am, and after some saline eye drops later (which did help a bit). The pictures I've seen of me on that morning show that I was no oil painting (ok, so I know that I'm not normally either!!!!).

Several of the other girls had told me that they'd reccied the final day a few times, so I was a bit worried that the navigation would be tricky......not exactly what you want when you're having difficulty seeing. The weather was also slightly threatening, as it was drizzly and so there were no hills to be seen anyway. Sabrina and I decided to wait and set off with Dave for some last day banter on the way.

Starting Day 5
I managed to get my contact lenses in at the last minute and off we went. The first section was a continuation of last night's roads, so I had to hold back so that we didn't lose sight of each other (but it gave me time to stop and remove the waterproofs that were causing me to overheat).

Lizzie soon joined us and although she and I might have had a slightly faster moving pace, Dave was better at picking routes through the first quarries so we ended up together in the woods. Unfortunately, we three girls didn't notice the fact that he wasn't coming with us as we trotted off down a succession of paths and tracks, taking it in turns to be the one that opened or closed the gates (though we climbed a few!).

Soon after we were directed onto a mandatory section of the route, we started to climb, and 3 became 2. The route was "marked" so Lizzie and I had fun seeing who could spot the tiny flags first. We had to stick to the marked route along the ridgeline as there was farmland on either side and we did not want to annoy any locals and hence put the future of the event in jeopardy.

As we descended off the ridge, another marshal warned us that there was a dog loose up ahead and asked us to walk rather than run when we saw it. I spent the next wee while in fear of being chased by an angry beast, but its owner must have secured it as there were none to be seen!

People had talked about buying pies in the town we entered, and some locals did try to direct us to the bakery, but we ignored it all and were soon trotting along a road leaving the houses behind. We passed a few more people on this stretch as we employed a steady run-walk (chat) strategy. A "shortcut" along a permissive path through a wood did not really gain us much time as it was totally overgrown and hard to find, but it made for a change of road surface.

I realised what Lizzie meant, when she had talked about liking a later start (she said that you got a mental boost by catching others up), as it became very sociable, with everyone exchanging a few encouraging words as they passed (including us to Konrad as he was the one person powering along past us!). One slightly amusing thing was spotting a sign to a place called "Halfway" as it was pointing down the wrong fork of a junction for us to get to our "halfway" mark.

Another climb and we spotted the reservoir and dam below us, so we knew we just had a comfortable run into the support point. The biggest surprise of the day came when we heard Lizzie's name being called out from away to our right. It was her boyfriend, who'd taken the day off work and come out to surprise and encourage her. He had been following her tracker so knew where to find her.....and it was lovely to have him run across the dam with us. Giving him a hug delayed Lizzie slightly from her usual speedy "in-out" at the support point, but I spent a lot less time there than usual (I didn't even sit down or eat anything, but just had a drink, refilled my bottles and food supplies, and ate my scones as we headed on out down the road).

It is odd how changeable the weather can be, as it seemed so hot and still when we ran on open roads and protected forest tracks, but it then got colder and colder as we headed up into our final range of hills. As we started to climb up, there were many coloured figures scattered across the hillside ahead of us, but they gradually disappeared from view as the weather closed in. By the time we stopped to put on our waterproofs and gloves, "my world" was limited to myself and Lizzie (and the odd person we passed on the climb).

Unfortunately the clag also gave us a false sense of relief when we finally reached the top of the turns out that the first cairn we ran to on the ridgeline wasn't the actual CP - it was one further along, but we found that easily enough. It seemed to be quite a long way to the next checkpoint, but that was probably as our visual fields were so limited by cloud. As it came and went, you could see people on hillsides in various directions, but we knew we were on course when we saw the "Elite Speed Train" approaching from behind us, headed up by Jim and Jasmin (and overall winners of the event). I was so impressed to see them running "easily" up some slopes we'd struggled up at a much slower pace! How "not worthy" did I feel!??

We all arrived at the CP together and then Lizzie jumped onto the back of the speed train. The ground was much rougher here with no real paths, and I didn't want to risk an injury myself when I'd come so far, so I let them go (I say it like I had much of a choice!!!). They did stay in sight for a short period as the clouds lifted briefly (Jim was wearing a bright t-shirt which he hadn't yet covered up with a dark waterproof), but then I was on my own. I did feel totally isolated as I could see no-one, there were no obvious paths underfoot, and the rain was started to pelt down on me.

I managed to catchup to a couple on the next little uneven stretch and finally worked out why the previously mentioned lady had been running with her map tucked away whenever I'd seen her. She was carrying a GPS so from time to time, she would use it to check their position, while the guy she was running with would then correlate this with the map and plan the next bit of their route. That must really have helped in the poor visibility, and it was incredibly reassuring to see that they were planning on going in the same direction as me!

We were trying to maintain height and contour round some hills, but not everyone had made the same route choice, as three guys suddenly appeared up from a valley to my right. Luckily, they seemed to be going at about the same pace as me, so we stuck together to the next checkpoint. From there, it looked (on the map) to be an easy route to the next CP......down to a road, across it and up the other side. I'm sure this would have been the case in even slightly better weather, but we headed off the summit as best we could. I doubt we actually crossed the road at the optimum point, as although we saw a small signpost, other people (later on) definitely mentioned a parked car and some supporters, and until I'd been struck blind, they weren't at the point that we crossed. I was so cold and wet by now that I admit to considering pulling out......but realised how ridiculous it would be to DNF with only 1.5 checkpoints to go, and so pushed on.

Local knowledge (ie having reccied the route) would have really helped us between the final two checkpoints, as it turns out that if you climbed up onto the top of the ridge, there was a really good runnable trod all the way along it. Without being privy to this information, it made sense to me to avoid further climbing if possible, and so to contour round to the CP. The three guys that I had joined forces with were navigating by their GPS (watches and hand held) but had the same plan. I have to admit that I'd nearly lost the will to carry on by now (it really does say something about me if I'm too cold and wet to be bothered to eat) but then promised not to abandon me in the cloud (though in the end, it was actually one of them that we stood around waiting for).!

Woohoo - the castle!!
When we got to that final checkpoint, I could have hugged and kissed the marshal there, as he was proffering a big bag of jelly babies (I had rather a I apologise to anyone later on that missed out!!). Now it was just the finish that beckoned.....yippee....I was going to make it even if I had to crawl. I actually nearly did end up crawling, as I caught a tired foot in heather roots and went for another sprawl, this time hurting my left quad, but I just got up and carried on. We finally descended below the level of the cloud and spied the castle in the distance....though it did still appear to be a couple of ridges away. I had almost forgotten about my eye problems, but one of the guys was an eye specialist and commented on them (now that we could actually see each other properly) - he suggested I might need steroids to help them settle down.....the very thought of which turned my stomach as I get so anxious re drugstesting.

Woohoo - finished!!
The final section looked like an appealing run down to the river and then a stiff climb up the other side to the castle on the crest of the hill (what else would you expect but a sting in the tail?). Unfortunately, this was where I discovered that I really had hurt my quad earlier, as I could neither run down the slope, nor up the other side. We were all still together as we started the final climb, but I could not manage to go with them when they broke into a final run (I did not want to risk further injury, even though it meant suffering the indignity of being seen to walk the last uphill).

Finally, I rounded a corner, entered the castle and crossed under the finish banner - I had made it!!!

Hmmm...still rather swollen!!

Helene was there (amongst others) to welcome us in and I admit to almost crying on her, as I had gone through so so many moments (long moments) of self-doubt. It was an amazing feeling - I'd been so far out of my comfort zone (as I'm sure had many others) but I'd pushed on and made it. Angie had taken a picture of me covered in blood and bruises on Day 1 and so it was amazing to see her snapping a finisher's picture what seemed like a lifetime later.

My hard-earned Dragon!

Jonny and I loving our Dragons
I can't really describe the event properly - people may say it's one of the toughest things they've done, but at the time, you don't think about just live in the moment and get on with it. I met many inspirational people, reconnected with others, laughed, cried, cheered, encouraged, was encouraged by others, and proved what you can do if you put your mind (body and soul?) to something.....a roadrunner? Doing a mountain race? and finishing 12th overall? Who'd have thought it?!!!

And I even got a huge piece of cake before leaving the castle and heading off to camp and the finishing celebrations!!!

(picture credits for the race - Ian Corless, Rob Howard, Angela Foster)

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