Saturday 29 June 2013

UTSW 2013

Wow! Has it been that long since I wrote one of these?

It's not to say I've not been doing things, I've just not been sharing my adventures.

My latest adventure was a trip to sunny cornwall to tackle Ultra Trail South West - a 100 mile trail ultra marathon. Although I'd done the Spine Challenge (a story for another day) I felt this was my first proper ultra.

I don't recall why I entered it, I think it was because it was dubbed "UK's toughtest Ultra marathon" but I think other events would have you think differently.

To give a brief overview of my training, after the Spine, I felt awesome, so started running again that week. (not far but far enough to break me for a couple of months. I wasn't injured, I just felt shit. Totally lost my mojo and couldn't be arsed. So I didn't. I made half arsed attempts at doing long runs, me and Doug went out on intentional 20 milers, only to come back after 12 miles and go to the pub.

It was 3 weeks before the event and I realised I'd done a total of 3 longish runs (longish if you're training for a marathon maybe) the saving grace was that 3 weeks before the event myself, Doug and Bud had gone out to Wales to attempt the Welsh 3000's (again a story for another day) so a full day on our feet had put some good miles in the bank and some big hills too.

Unfortunately I took a week to recover from this, then the following two weeks, I felt terrible with weird appetite loss and strange feelings in my guts. So I continued my training plan (of doing nothing) The Wednesday before the race I ran 4.5k to my mums house, arrived feeling awful! Chest hurt, legs empty. What the hell was I thinking going to this event? I was going to die after 10 miles!

I knew the event would be tough, it is extremely hilly, it starts in the evening and with 36 hours to complete the race there's a good chance of having 2 nights out there.

Thursday came and went, and I left work to head to Newquay. After some issues with trains I ended up at my hotel by taxi (courtesy of First Great Western) and views of beautiful sunsets and cliffs. I'd forgotten how gorgeous it is down there. When we were younger we used to have lads weekends down there and mainly we were paraletic so don't really remember much about it.

I had a mooch about town, popped to asda to get snacks for the race (my personal choice is cheese sarnies with humous) have some dinner and a couple of beers and head back for an early night.

I woke up on Friday feeling fairly sleepy and headed to the pool for a dip and a jacuzzi before forcing down an enormous breakfast. I had loads of time before I needed to head to registration (15 mins on the bus away) so had a wander round town and looked at the shops, had a coffee, sent some postcards. Whilst waiting for the bus I was chatting to a couple of local men, smoking jazz cigarettes (them not me). They asked where I was heading with a giant bag on my back, and I explained what I was doing. They thought I was nuts but were pretty impressed and offered some motivational speak, which actually helped as I was feeling pretty worried about it. I'd done one of the coastal series just before Christmas last year, so I knew how hard these coastal paths can be.

I got to registration to a long slow moving queue to have kit checked and pick up race numbers. I could see no other women in the queue - don't get me wrong, it was nice spending the time chatting to men but where were all the women!? I saw a couple eventually but they looked super fit and fast and I felt like a big fatty. Race briefing followed "many of you won't finish" , then we went outside to wait for our bus to take us to the start in Polruan... we waited in the blazing sun - wow, what a great weekend to be at the seaside! We waited and waited.... then waited some more. Then were told that our bus wasn't coming. But they'd arranged another bus to collect us. The race was due to start at 6pm, the bus turned up at 6.15pm. The driver didn't know where he was going, luckily one of the other competitors did!

We arrived at the start, time for another quick pee (I'd been pissing like a race horse all day!) 19:30 with the start delayed we were finally off on our long adventure back to Watergate Bay.

I felt like I was going at quite a good pace to begin with, I wasn't feeling like I was at the back, I certainly wasn't at the front. The trail was quite untechnical and not too steep (yet), a nice single track that I longed to bring my mountain bike along. Soon enough we were climbing steeply and everyone was walking.

My strategy was to walk the hills and run where it was flat/downhill. I'm not very good at technical descents though so much of the steep downs involved walking/flailing. I was finding myself with people who'd I'd expected to do much bettter (some guy who was bragging about MDS)

I got to CP1 about 12 miles in and it occured to me I'd not eaten anything. Bearing in mind I'd been going for about two and half hours so far, this wasn't good. I tried to eat some choc raisins but immediatly my tummy cramped up. I'd been drinking plenty and Dawn's pre race pep talk of drinking lots was in my head - her repeating "are you sipping?" but I'd forgotten the "are you grazing?" Doug and I had been asking each other all round the Spine. I filled up on some electrolytes at the CP and tried to eat some jelly babies. It was a struggle. Shit, what now? I'm susceptable to food swings if I don't eat on a normal day never mind when trying to run 100 - I took a packet of Clif blocs as these are pretty good and thought at least I can suck them if I can't eat them.

It had started to rain and it was dark now, so head torch and water proofs went on and trekking poles came out. I always thought poles were a cheat but they're brilliant. The next stage was rooty and wet and if not for the rain would have been a lovely bit of trail. But it rained, and rained and rained. I found myself knee deep in bog and getting hauled out by some guy. I came through a gate where the sign was pointing straight on, but it looked like I could turn left, right or go into the woods further. I went back to the sign to check the direction, definitely straight on. So I went into the woods. It didn't feel right as there was no clear path through so I followed what looked like the path and eventually came out about 100 yards up the track I'd have been on had I turned right. It still didn't feel right but I carried on farther in search of a direction marker. It was annoying that they hadn't given us maps as I had compass and gps to help get me on the right track. I couldn't see a sign, so I decided to head back in the other direction. I could see headlights and was glad to see about 8 other people also confused about where to go. One of the guys (who later turned out to be John) and I went back the way I came with the view to shout back if we saw a sign. Eventually after about 500m there we saw a reflective sign pointing ahead. We shouted for everyone else to join us and carried on, I stayed with this group until the next check point, they were strictly running the downs/flats, walking anything even slightly up. This was great as upto here, I'd been on my own for some time and they were pulling me along at a much better pace. I was quite moany though, I told them I was having bets with myself when I would pull out of the race. This received a bit of a telling off "with that attitude you won't get far!" that told me, and I tried harder to be positive.

It was still raining when we saw the flags marking CP2 and outside was an absolute LEGEND having a cigarette he'd left in his drop bag. I told him I thought that was quite brilliant, not that I'd be joining him though.

We'd all been looking forward to getting a hot cup of something at the CP as we'd been told that this was a food station so there'd be more to choose from and hot drinks/soup, so we were a bit disappointed with the table of coke, malt loaf and bananas. I was feeling pretty low from lack of food so I tried to eat some malt loaf which wasn't too hard to stomach, had a can of coke (I can't remember the last time i drank full fat coke, I'm guessing circa 1990) and poured one into my bottle for later. I decided that I'd leave the sandwiches I brought in my drop bag as I didn't envisage being able to eat them, and I could always get them at CP7 (50 miles from here!)

I left the CP with Debbie and John and we travelled together for a few hours, chatting and keeping each other going. My aim had been to get to CP's inside the cut off times of the original timings (before we started 90 mins late) and I was an hour inside that at each so far, so was feeling quite good about progress - only 80 miles to go.... :-/

This section contained quite a lot of road which whilst it churned out the miles quickly wasn't great on the feet with XC shoes on, the 3 of us continued on, occassionally meeting another person, I felt like I was slowing them down so when we were joined by Laura it gave them an excuse to move on a bit, I chatted and walk/ran with Laura a while, but when running I was faster and soon found myself alone again. CP3 soon came - again not much to offer, I had a packet of crisps, which the salt was amazing, refilled my camelbak and attempted to get a bit warm and dry. My sealskinz gloves were soaked through and my fingers were all trenchy so left them off a bit to air. I was chatting to another girl who'd arrived. It was 3am and she was struggling to comprehend that we'd only come 30 miles.

I said, "well, the sun will be starting to rise in an hour or so, then we'll be nearly at CP4 then CP5 and we'll be half way, then it's not too far to CP7 and we can get clean dry clothes and then it's home sailing if we get to CP7"

This sentence had a good effect on me and I started feeling better about finishing. I left CP3 alone, had to go back to collect my forgotten poles, this section was set to be tough, it went across Bodmin Moor and up over Brown Willy *snigger* this had caused lots of jokes throughout the night, "Off to mount Brown willy and I'm so wet" the course took a right on to an open moor, straight into a terrible head wind, that combined with the rain was pretty unpleasant. I trudged onwards and the mist started thickening, soon I was deep in the moor jumping from tuft of grass to tuft of grass to avoid going balls deep in bogs that were likely to be hiding there. I saw two headlights ahead stopped, I thought maybe they were lost, but I got there and they said they saw me on my own and thought they'd wait so I didnt get lost in the mist on my own.

There was no clear sign of where to go, so we just held a straight bearing and hoped for the best. The wind and rain was battering us around, my face was a picture of misery! The light around us was starting to change and I realised the sun rising!! This was a great thing, I said good morning to the guys and on we went, the course then took us to the left towards the great mound of "Brown Willy" it was vast, and the route up was hard, again with no clear path, giant steps were required to get up each tuft of grass or rock. A group of about 8 guys appeared behind us after long, they'd been lost on the moor for some time, so fully appreciated the guys who'd waiting for me. After a long annoying climb, we reached the top. The event organisers had told us that they'd left a note at the top which we had to report back (as proof that we'd not just gone round the hill) but I could see no note! I'd been hoping it would be something amusing but alas, so back down the hill we went and across more open moorland. The next few miles was pretty miserable, despite it now being light and the rain less persistent and threatening to stop it was a trudge, the wind was howling in our faces, after another stretch of wet moor in the distance I could just about make out the endurancelife flag marking CP4 and hot drinks and shelter! yay! But it was still a good 2 miles into the wind across now an airfield. Finally I got to the CP and was very disappointed that it was a horse trailer with a lady boiling water in a jetboil and a tray of jelly babies. It was less than satisfactory but I accepted a soup, which I then gave away. I was talking about pulling out again but once more some of the northern lads I had been with during the night told me to man up and that I'd been whinging about giving up at mile 8. That told me! I took some more bloc shots and started on again. I stopped for a wee and the northern lads over took me, I caught up with them and we stuck together for several miles until we reached a town, where they each spent 20p on some local toilets, one had been holding it in for 20 miles! ouch! There was a shop here so we got some supplies (more coke for me, pies and coffee for them) the 60 mile event was starting not far from here so were expecting to see people fly past at any moment. We had a decent break, I was wanting to get started but thought it would be better to stick with them. We set off again and we soon back on the coastal paths - we'd made it across the country back to the north coast! The terrain changed immediately from the nice wet trails to painfully steep up and down of steps, technical features but the most amazing views of the cliffs and out to sea. I didn't see the guys from here on.

The next few miles were a real struggle, I could barely place one foot in front of the other the gradient was sapping any remaining energy I had, I'd decided, that at the next CP I was going home....the front runners from the 60 were beginning to pass me now, looking annoyingly fresh but each one of them gave me a big well done and showed they were genuinely impressed that I was on the 100 and still going. (I didn't feel like I was going) climbing over numerous styles was taking its toll too and descending the slippery steps was slow going. CP5 took forever to get to, I wasn't having fun now, I was at dropping point, I had no energy and just wanted to stop.

I finally popped out to find a tent with the CP, the weather was nice now, lovely sunshine drying off my damp clothes warming my face. I said to the marshall, I'm probably pulling out here but I'm going to have a sit down for a few minutes and decide. I sat down and they made me a hot chocolate and handed me some biscuits. I turned my phone on to send some updates back home and received some nice messages from friends.

Tim and an American guy I'd been running with at some point yesterday appeared and were in great spirits, asked me how I was, and I said I'm probably pulling out. They said "noooo!" and Tim asked if I'd been eating.... erm... not really. Quite a lot of people had pulled out already so I felt compelled to join them especially after the last painfully slow 5 miles, I couldn't do another 50 like that!

The guys said they were going to get some chips in the town just down the other side of the cliff and I should join them. It sounded like a good idea, I know from experience that as soon as i get good food in me, I'm a different person. I told them I'd see them down there and took a few more minutes before singing to them "wooooooahhhh! we're half way there!"

I felt much better again from the hot drink and motivating chatter so I packed my stuff back up and went on. I found myself running again - wow! After about 2 miles, I dropped down into the town and coming down off the cliff I could see the others, and a group of their supporters all eating bacon butties and chips and cheering as they saw me.

I felt so much better, I ordered some chips and a can of coke and sat down to eat. The others left before me, but their support crew stayed and chatted to me.

I decided to get my ipod out for a while now, ate half the chips and carried on once more. I was feeling so much better and ran much of this next stage feeling pretty fucking amazing singing along to Erasure. I was visualising finishing now, crossing the line, the satisfaction of completing my first ultra marathon. Yeah! I could do this! It was going to be a late finish (or early hours of the morning) but that didn't matter, I came here to do this and I could do it! Someone had told me this was the hardest section with 1000m of ascent but after that it was much easier. Come on Anna man up!

CP6 came in no time, I was still feeling good but thought I'd take a sit down for a few minutes and chatted to some others who were there. I asked if there was any coke, but was told no, but there was a shop down the road. I had a few sweets and carried on again. my legs were a bit stiff from running quite hard, then sitting down and then going again. So I walked a bit to find the shop and bought a bottle of coke. My energy was dipping again so tried to knock back some nuts.

The wind was still high and in my face and the clouds were returning, despite my face being a bit sunburnt now. If I could just get to the next CP I'd have access to my drop bag and I could sort my feet out with new tape (they were starting to blister in places now) and change into some fresh dry clothes and get some proper food again. After about 5 miles of yo yoing between different runners I had to stop to take a look at my feet and get some sugar in me. I was struggling again but continued to tell myself it was nearly time for fresh clothes and hot food! My feet were bleeding in places I'd not taped them and two toenails had blood behind them - that's two more missing toenails I'll have. I took off my wet socks which were under my sealskinz and just put the skinz back on then carried on slowly up and down the relentless cliffs. It's crazy that you'll climb 150m up, back down the other side and only cover about 400m horizontally! the progress was painfully slow but when I remembered to look, the views stunning.

Coming towards Rock which was were the next CP would be I lost the way a little and got some directions from a local, he pointed out on the other side of the cliffs where I was heading, to go round the beach (the tide was in so had to take the long route) and up there, left, round up, right....he thought I was bonkers when I told him what I was doing. I hadn't seen any other runners for a while so wasn't convinced I was on the right track. I dropped down on to the beach at new polzeath and wanted to dive in to the sea to cool my feet. I saw a sign which said "Rock - 3 miles" this disheartened me a bit as the guy had made out that it was really close. The rain had started again and the wind was worse than ever. There were no runners around now and I wasn't sure where to go as the signs had stopped. I carried on where the man had suggested but I wasn't convinced. I started to feel strange, the rain was pouring down again and the wind was cutting through me despite my expensive and very good jacket.

I took a left up a ravine, I think I knew this was a mistake but the weird feeling got weirder. I was so cold and shivering. I felt confused and disorientated. I was walking aimlessly and didn't really know where I was going. I tried to get my phone GPS to tell me where Rock was but the screen got wet and I couldn't do a thing with it. I was so cold, and I started talking to myself "why didnt they give maps?" and having imaginary conversations when I got to CP7. I knew I was going the wrong way but I felt really confused and was crying and didn't know where to go or what to do. I was in a field and started trying to find my way back towards the beach I'd been at over an hour earlier (only half a mile back) I just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other, crying/talking to myself.

I finally got back on the path I'd turned off incorrectly and waited trying to decide which way to go, when two american ladies doing the 60 appeared, both sodden too. I asked for help, they weren't sure the way either so asked a local who said "go to Baymer Bay, turn somewhere in the car park, go... then..." I had zoned out, I hoped I could just stick with the ladies and get back to CP7. I knew from the Spine training weekend I was showing signs of Hypothermia, I was trying to keep a straight head but I kept zoning out and getting more confused. The ladies stayed with me a while but I was barely moving so they carried on. Once they were out of sight I felt even more confused and alone, I'd not listened to the directions properly. I reached Baymer Bay and in the far distance to the right I could see someone traipsing up a massive cliff, this broke me, I thought that was where I had to get to for the CP. I was shivering uncontrollably, there was noone around and I couldn't see where I was to go. I saw some toilets and went inside to get shelter from the elements a while, the wind was brutal. Once inside I broke down and cried some more I didn't know what to do, my brain wouldn't function and I couldn't stop shivering. I got my phone and GPS out and took my grid and spent about 15 mins trying to text the emergency no we'd been given so they could hopefully come and get me. The medic rang me and said I was only about 300m from the CP, could I get there. I knew I couldn't, I'd end up walking round and round the wrong area for ages. He said he's send someone for me.

I took off my shoes and climbed into my emergency bag. I sat in the corner shivering and zoning in and out until the door opened and in came a gorgeous bloke who jumped down and gave me a hug and introduced himself as Damien.

He checked me over and ran back to his car, I felt relieved I wasn't on my own but so so cold. I knew I wasn't too far into the danger zone as I'd functioned enough to send a text and crawl into my bag but I still felt awful. Damien came back with a big pile of clothes and apologised but he'd been instructed to get me out of my clothes and into some dry ones. Ordinarily a handsome bloke trying to get me naked would have been excellent but the situation was a bit different, we joked about this a little through chattering teeth. He threw layers of dry clothes over my damp skin and had to help me out of my bottoms as they were soaked and stuck to me. Finally layered in all his clothes he bundled me into the car which was set to furnace temperature. My sunburnt face burned whilst my finger tips had no blood in and my core was failing to warm up very fast.

It took about 10 mins to get to CP7 so I think 300m was a bit of an under statement but I think Damien was getting a bit lost whilst we chatted in the car.

We arrived at CP7 and Tim, the medic helped me out and checked me over, made me drink a cup of tea (I don't like tea) found my kit bag and when I was less shivery got me to change into my own clothes, I gave Damien his back appolising if they were soiled.

Tim said he'd drive me to where I was staying I'd not booked anywhere to stay Saturday night, but all my stuff had been transported to CP7 so I could go wherever. He tried to get me a place in Rock but ended up suggesting I stayed at his friends B & B in Mawgan Porth so rang them and arranged it for me and insisted we went to the chippy on the way as he was starving and I should eat. We waited until I was feeling warmer an hour or so later and said my thankyous and we left.

Tim was lovely, we chatted easily and he told me about his new baby, I was still not fully warm but my fingers had blood in now. We stopped for chips and Tim came back with the biggest box of chips I'd ever seen! I didn't have much of an appetite so only managed about 10 of them which didn't even dent the amount that there was.

He checked me into the B & B which was the most beautiful place I've ever stayed in, run by a couple decorated nicely with amazing food locally sourced and fresh and even had an "honesty bar" which unfortunately I just couldn't face. Seavista - if you're ever in the area

I had a hot bath and rolled into bed. I thought I'd sleep for a day but I woke at 5am. I took some more painkillers ad ibruprofen as my legs were stiff.

Now reflecting back, I'm really disappointed that i didnt finish, and started the week quite upset about this fact, a mere 70 miles isn't what I set out to do and I knew that if I'd got to CP7 I'd have finished - it would have been a long night but I'd have made it. But Hypothermia beat me this time, and I'm looking forward to going back next year to try again.

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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)