Tuesday, 10 February 2015

X-Man

I'm writing this, not knowing if I'm going to make it.... it's the first race I've approached feeling truly out of my depth - in all respects!

Well, as always this started out as me looking on the net for something massive/stupid/crazy to enter. I happened upon it towards the end of last year and I made a sort of decision that if there were any spaces left at the end of January I would enter.

January came and went, and I totally forgot and got caught up in new jobs, dabbling in adventure racing and enjoying weekend binge drinking.

I don't know what brought me back to this, but I think maybe around April/May time I stumbled across it again - I think maybe because a friend was doing an ultra marathon in Exmoor by the same organisers. I had half thought about doing the ultra - but given i'd not run more than 10 miles in the last 6 months that was dumb, plus I'd told myself I wouldn't do anything big this year until I'd lost weight (I'm fatter than I've ever been currently!)

Throughout May I was doing a running challenge for charidee - I had to run 5k everyday in May - sounds easy? you'd think. But I don't like to do things by halves and my aim was to do as many as I could - generally I was doing about 8k each day, and a weekend long one. But I also cycle a minimum of 30 miles a day commuting, so many of these runs were what multi sports folk call brick sessions. By the end of the month my running mojo was back - it had been missing for a couple of years. The last day of the challenge was poignant in a few ways, it was the last day, and two days prior an old friend sadly passed away being treated for a rare cancer at the hospital the challenge was raising money for. He'd also generously sponsored £50 - calling it "an investment"  so I decided to up the challenge and do my normal bike commute on foot - 15 miles each way - before and after work. Pretty hilly too! That done, I felt like I had a bit of decent fitness in the tank so started thinking seriously about entering the race. I hadn't swam in 6 months and that was only a pool paddle, so I did a trip to the lake and limped round a lap.



Oh you're probably wondering what the hell this race is?

It's this:

a 2.4 mile sea swim
a 102 mile off road cycle along the whole of the South Downs Way (through the night)
a 28 mile trail marathon

The event starts at Eastbourne seafront and ends in Salisbury and is to be completed in 24 hours.

What the fuck am I doing?
_______________________________________________________________________________

Rewind  3 years to the event which marked the end of triathlon for me.

I thought I'd written this, but I've just come across this in my drafts whilst I'm thinking about what to write about this year's Spine race and thought I'd finish this off. It won't take long!

I'll keep it brief if I can.

The race had to be renamed at the last minute due to copyright laws from Marvel, so it became X-24 or something, because we had 24 hours to complete the race.

My first ever sea swim didn't look like it was going to be fun. With 10 foot swells forecast for the 7pm start. The weather was sunny but really windy, with the forecast looking pretty grim from about 8pm. There weren't many other women racing and I as usual, felt really out of place, too fat (proven further by the fact that I had to borrow Doug's wetsuit because mine was too small)

I'd had my bike resprayed fairly recently and serviced so didn't feel the need to test anything out. My kit bag was ready, with snacks, spares, clothes. In transition a change of clothes and various bag to shove stuff in. I don't remember too much detail as it was so long ago. So let's get on with the race and the bits I can remember.

We got shuttled down to the start on the seafront train, which was a pretty novel way to start the race. We then had a send off by some pretty awesome morris dancers.

The Race Director. gave us a final briefing, also telling us that the course had been changed. Much to my glee the swim course was being cut short, due to the now even bigger swells. I was so happy!

My happiness was to be short lived as we were told to go. The pebbles really hurt my feet as I teetered down to the water. I hobbled across the stones, and waddled into the water. It was bloody cold.

Everyone else was already in the water, either elegantly dolphin diving into the waves, or swimming away from me as I tried to breast stroke out to sea.

I finally got out of my depth enough to need to swim rather than wade. Pretty quickly, I found myself at the back, whilst the dolphins dived away into the surf. The current was terrific, throwing me around. I tried to breath bilaterally, only to find everytime I breathed left I got a face full of the huge waves, which were now crashing over me whilst I flailed hopelessly. I tried to breath just to my right but found myself careering off course. I couldn't get any rhythm. I was getting frustrated. I hated this. I was terrified. Were there sharks? What if I drowned out here? Was the last thing I heard really gothic morris dancers?

The only way I could stay afloat was to do a painfully slow breast stroke, I could see the pier which we had to swim to, way off in the distance. It couldn't really be that far since the swim was now only going to be a mile long!

I realised soon that I wasn't alone. To my left, I had a guy on a paddle board, waiting for me to submerge once more, to not reappear, so he could fish me out and get himself back for dinner at a reasonable hour.

He asked if I was OK. I spluttered "no, not really. This is shit" as another wave hit me in the face and he disappeared behind it briefly.

The next 800 meters or so, continued like this, slow breast stroke, getting dunked, getting lifted 10 feet up as the waves swelled, getting dropped back down. Was it possible to get seasick when swimming? I was beginning to think so. That and the diesel taste of the sea water.

Finally the marshal next to me told me to hang a right and head back to shore. I thanked him for his company, and bid him farewell. A couple of hundred meters away I could see the Race Director waving. How was I so far out? I don't remember swimming that far out. I could see the only person left in front of me, a speck in the distance dragging himself out of the water.

Now the waves were behind me, I hoped I could just surf my way back in. Boy, was I wrong. The tide was now pulling me out! The swim time has been carefully planned to coincide with tide times. Given I'd taken so long now, the tide was now against me. I was swimming with all my might and seemingly getting nowhere. The paddle boarder appeared next to me again. "are you OK?"
"no I whimpered. I can't get back"
"Do you want to stop?"
"No. I'm nearly there"
The lad, coached me back to shore, counting my strokes, telling me when to push hard against the current.

Finally, I could almost see the bottom. I was nearly there. The organiser was cheering me out of the water. I found my feet and stood up.

I fell straight over. My legs were not working.

The terror that had filled me for the last 40 odd minutes, had left me wasted. The pebbles weren't helping me either. The RD helped me out, and got  me back on my feet. I hobbled my way to the promenade so happy to be out of that damn water! I didn't care that I now had a 2km run back to transition in a wetsuit. I was looking forward to a night on my beloved mountain bike.

I ran on taking off my wetsuit as I went. I actually overtook the man who got out of the sea in front of me.

I reached transition to find my bike was one of the only three left. The man I'd over taken and another woman just getting changed to go out on the bike.

I was inside the cut off (thanks to the shortened run!) a quick change, a bite to eat and I set off on my way towards the South Down way. It was beginning to get dusky already and my friend Martin Pounder and the boys from The Big Adventure store had fixed me up with some shit hot exposure lights so I was good to go for the whole night!

I rode on upto the SDW and there was a short sharp climb. I dropped the front gear onto the middle ring, to find it not wanting to shift. "Shit!" I muttered as I hit the hill in a big gear, ground to a halt ad had to push up to the top. Past a marshal. Embarrassing start.

The few miles went by nicely, the ground was in good condition, pretty dry, not dusty  and I was enjoying the time on my own in the darkening night. The first check point wasn't for 30 miles so I had a good few hours riding to go before I reached there.

Before long, the weather which was promised arrived. I put on my waterproof jacket. The rain came down. The rain came down hard. It continued for several hours. My jacket lost it's waterproofness. I was getting quite cold but continued to pedal on. I hadn't seen anyone for hours. I realised after a few miles, I'd not seen a marker for a while either. Shit.

This event, was before I learned how to read (and carry) maps, how to use GPS and what kit I should carry. I back tracked the way I'd come, and I got back to a familiar place but still could see no signs. It was still pissing down.

There was nothing else for it. I picked up my phone and ran (not my daddy) the Race Director, my phone was a fancy touchscreen. Not inside a waterproof case. Therefore, the screen was covered in water and I couldn't dial any numbers. I was shivering and tried to dry off the phone. Eventually I dried the phone off enough to make the call - the RD picked up and asked where I was. I tried to explain. I explained very badly.

He told me that it sounded like the sweepers had gone through and taken away the signage whilst I was off course. He would try and get them to turn back and find me. but I needed to keep warm and carry on to see if I could reach the checkpoint.

I wasn't really sure if I was going the right way. But some sort of gut feeling told me I was right. After another hour, I reached the Check point. It was 2am, I was cold wet and unable to carry on, having missed the cut off (and come in behind the sweepers!)

I was given a foil blanket a dry coat and a hot cup of chocolate before being piled into a car with a few other casualties who'd stopped there.

Unfortunately due to the car not being full, and not being quick enough to be in the front drop out car, we had to wait for a full load before being relayed back to the finish somewhere near Winchester. So we spent a few hours at the next Check point, watching people come in, coated in chalk from the wet trail, some covered in cuts where they'd come off on the ice like chalk.

Eventually we found our way back where I was able to get a beer (not that I deserved it), had a snooze and waited for my kit to make it's way back before I could go home with my tail between my legs never to talk about the horror of the night ever again. (Or so I thought)

It's a shame I was so unprepared for this, in hindsight, knowing what I know now about kit, and preparation and maps I was a fool to even give it a go. Swimming talent or lack thereof aside, I was punching way above my weight. Whilst on paper it looks like an amazing event, it was way too hard for me at that point in my life, and it resulted in me never taking part in a triathlon again, and not so far having the desire too.

It was a shame, I didn't get to the run as that's the bit I was most looking forward to.

As it happened, only a handful of people got to the finish, the ones I saw come in were pretty destroyed.


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