Friday, June 10, 2011
Northants 35 Mile Shires and Spires
Sunday June 5, 2011
You know it's going to be a good race when they hand you 7 maps, a compass, and anti venom at packet pick-up. The next thing I know, I am clawing my way through fields of tall grasses and weeds up to my shoulders in a line of three British guys. The voice from behind me.."Why is it that I have to be the unlucky third man??" They cackled when I asked why so unlucky. The third man is always the worst off when running through snake infested terrain. When crossing paths with a snake, the first man wakes him up, the second pisses him off, and the third takes the bite. This guy was not passing me. I ran faster.
How did I end up running through a snake field on a Sunday morning with a bunch of Brits in the middle of Europe? (Are you really surpised?) I had been eying this race for several weeks, ever since I found out that I might be coming to England, but didn't actually realize that I had a real chance of running it until I finally found a ride to the start the Friday afternoon before the race. I had not really undergone any type of taper, having already run about 45 miles that week, and not even given thought to the carb load. The only thing that felt more than ready was my mindset to get out of all this city running and back to the country side. And I was kind of itching to race.
Unknowingly, I showed up to the race in my old Salomon trails, favorite black Brooks shorts, and representing UD in my UD cycle tri top. I brought my Northface handheld water bottle, with the pouches stuffed with Tangfastics (European Sour Patch Kids), and of course was KT taped up. Even though I didn't have a great idea what I was in for, I had decided to run light for this one. I was not so pleasantly surprised after being handed the stack of detailed maps at the start line and soon afterwards in the ladies room (toilets!) finding out that this crazy convoluted course was not marked in any way. It was a 'self-sufficient' race. This info was NOT on the website. A lot of people in the reviews online I had read the night before complained about getting lost for as much as 15 miles the previous year. It made me a little nervous, but I thought this was an over-exaggeration and didn't take it too seriously.
Two of seven course maps. Think you're lost now? Oh, did I mention they have absolutely NO directional markings of N S E or W?? Really.
At the starting line my plans of racing strategy had changed a bit. I had to find someone who had run this race before and knew where they were going, or chance getting hopelessly lost. I remember looking down to secure the clasp on my road ID, humoring myself for a split second wondering if they would actually take the extra expense to make the high-rate international call to my parents if my body was found. I convinced myself I would be fine, but I wasn't going to take any chances, as my navigation skills are already pretty weak. I was going to find my human GPS source and stick with him. I knew this would probably mean that I wouldn't be able to run my own race at my own pace, but I was willing to make the sacrifice.
The start. Search for human GPS begins.
For the few miles, everyone stayed together for the most part. I would run up alongside people, starting towards the middle/back of the pack, trying to get a sense of who knew what they were doing. Not many, I soon learned. First several miles were mostly road, with some cutting through grassy fields in between. I did manage to meet some pretty cool crazy ultrarunners, who had some pretty good stories. About getting lost in 100 milers. Annnnddd my search continued.
After about 90 minutes in, I finally found Dave, soon to become my new human GPS. It's funny because I found him after he led the pack down a wrong turn that tacked on an extra half a mile. But when talking to him he said that he had run this last year, and when I asked how he liked it, he said "rubbish." We strayed slightly from the course a few minutes later at a confusing cross section with poor mapping and lack of markings. "And this is why this race is rubbish." When one of the other guys asked him what his Garmin said, he responded "It says we're lost, you idiot! Why are you back to this place AGAIN??" Okay, so if I was going to be lost in the middle of the woods in the middle of Europe, at least I was going to be entertained. So he may not have known exactly where he was going, but he knew more than I did, and I could stick with this pace, and that was good enough for me.
As the pack became more dispersed, Dave and I and two other guys formed a clan. We were now entering farm territory. Except these farms weren't like anything I had ever come across in the US before. The narrow, seemingly endless footpaths traversed straight through sheep fields and pony farms, and we were opening small latched gates and hopping fences every mile or less. The aid stations were centered around small old broken down churches or schools. Oftentimes we would see a church or school on top of a big hill from miles in the distance, and just use it as a distant landmark to make in there anyway we could, cutting fields, running through small forests, or whatever. Just don't run through tickets, as I quickly learned the hard way. There didn't seem to be any kind of formulated path to this madness, just make sure you hit every checkpoint, and good luck to you if you want to try to stray from the maps and find a short-cut to do so. There was at least one runner who must have successfully managed to do this. We passed the guy like three times. The third time Dave made a joke to him, to which he claimed that we were the ones missing turns and taking the long route. We probably were.
The four of us stuck together until about 23 miles when we came to a small town. At about mile 15-16 these guys started picking up the pace. At one point we were going sub 7:30s through the countryside. I was able to keep with it, but I knew it was too fast to be able to sustain for a race like this one. And the worst of the hills had not even come! Normally I would have probably dropped back a bit and let them take the lead, but not now. Despite feeling like I was straining a bit, I remained determined to keep with these guys. I fixed myself onto Dave's hip in front of me and held on for dear life.
We got to a small town, and after running through it, there was some discrepancy among our group about where to go next..get back on the trail here, or continue through the road. We lost one of the guys here. It was like we were all deciding, we turned around and he was gone. Kinda strange. Dave and I and the other French guy "carried on." By about 23-4 miles and back on the road, we had dropped the pace a bit to something just slightly slower than true cruise control comfort for me, but I was ok with it. At this point I could tell the French guy was starting to struggle a bit. Dave was still going and I was feeling alright.
The road went on for several miles. I was now starting to feel the cruelness of the hard pavement through my Salomons with every strike. We had all stopped talking for at this point. Everyone was feeling it, and talking just took too much breath. There was a good breeze outside, which created a bit of a headwind that I was feeling press against me, but at least it was cool. The sun was out in full shine now, which was warming the pavement and creating an uncomfortable hot sensation beneath soles of my shoes, also burning with each push-off. My quads did not feel the greatest. The familiar sore painful feeling from some unlocalized location deep within them was starting to onset, also pounding with each stride. No. I couldn't be thinking about every step. Just keep the pace, and focus on anything else.
It probably only took me a mile or so to snap out of this state. But when I did at about mile 27-8, with about ten miles left to go, I was ready to go. Ok, maybe the Powerbar double caffeine energy gel I took could have had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, after we left one of the water stations and I had gotten a taste of the cool electrolyte mixture sports drink from my refilled water bottle, I felt rejuvenated. I wanted to pick up the pace. And I did. I started slowly at first, because I knew I'd need to keep Dave with me or I'd be lost, and so didn't want to startle anyone with this sudden rash change in pace. But Dave followed my lead and picked it up gradually to stay with me. The French guy was falling behind, slowly at first. He made one sudden attempt to keep with our pace when we went down a slight decent of a hill, and he came out of nowhere on my left, hauling past me down the rest of the hill. Maybe he liked downhills? Whatever the reason, after that he was soon lost again.
Even though I was still feeling pretty good, each time we had to jump over a fence into another field, I could feel the unpleasant burning aching soreness shoot up my quads on the landing. I would mentally wince every time we had to make a climbing jump like this in the last few miles, but shake it off again right after we started moving.
After we dropped the French guy, I could tell Dave was really not feeling good. I tried to be encouraging without being annoying, but when you're feeling that bad during an event like this, just knowing that anyone around you is feeling good is pretty annoying. Multiple times he told me to go ahead, spewing out various turns and directions that I would need to carry my way through to the finish line, which seemed to be taking quite a bit of effort for him to do.
Part of me wanted to run ahead, but I had no clue where I was going, so I stayed with Dave. Plus he had pretty much saved my race (and probably my life too) so I felt I owed it to him. Oh yea, and the small problem that my maps, which I had stuffed in the back pocket of my tri jersey, were soaked with sweat and completely unreadable at this point. They fell out and landed in a soggy heap in the grass during one of our fence jumps and I hadn't even gone back to get them. (Could this be worse than dropping my tire levers in the bottom of the lake during the DDT half swim and then blowing 2 flats on the bike?? Ehhhh close, but no.) We were probably going 9:30s up a hill at our slowest mile. But once on the flats again we were probably going sub 9s. I can't be sure because I didn't want to annoy Dave even further by asking our pace every time his Garmin beeped at a mile. He was looking though. In his most discouraged state, he complained that he had slowed down considerably from our cruise through the fields earlier. But still, we were now passing guys who had been leading for the entire race. We probably passed about 6-7 guys in those last 6-7 miles. Dave was funny. Everytime we would make gains on someone, he'd say "ahh you go ahead," to which I'd reply "C'mon stick with me!" He'd say no, but I could hear his footsteps quicken in the gravel behind me as we smoothly passed the others.
I have to admit, the last few miles of long races are always my favorite. It's why I have a passion for ultra endurance events and not half marathons. If you are good and can come out of your own mental state of focusing on how weak and crappy you feel, then you can actually see how badly other people feel. At this point, you will see the guys that are otherwise seemingly invincible and strong in their most defeated states. It's not that seeing other people in such misery makes me feel better about myself (although it is kind of entertaining sometimes); I think it's the comfort in the recognition that we are all human beings, and as the miles tack on, the pedestals are lowered , we all find ourselves on the same level.
In a race this long, first you rely on your physical capabilities. What your training and body are capable of carrying you through. But over the hours, as your body becomes more and more drained, only your mentality can get you through to a strong finish at the end. In my experience, the longer the race, the more mental it becomes. When things start to become uncomfortable and, as the incredible David Goggins puts it, "that's when you know who you are."
Another long stretch of gravel road, a few fence jumps, and a hack job through a tall grass field later, I finally knew where I was. The road we had taken to get to the start line was up ahead. There was less than a mile to go. I took off. I could hear Dave shouting some encouragement from behind. I surprised myself as I powered up the steep grassy hill that stood between me and that road. When I hit the pavement, I was flying. And I felt great. Just so much energy!
I didn't stop until I crossed the finish line. It was really only then that I remember winded and slightly light-headed as I walked around trying to shake it off. But I still felt great. Some guys came up and asked me if I ran the 10K. Hah. Hahhh.
I finished in 5:12, taking 2nd place "lady" and 9th overall. Dave came in about a minute behind me. According to his GPS we had clocked about 37 miles, probably added throughout the race with our several missed turns and long ways about. First female was amazingly strong, coming in at 4:58. She clocked 35 miles. Third female finished over an hour after me. I came out with a new medal, trophy, shorts (that I will never wear), a £20 voucher to a store I have never heard of, and pride that I finished top ten among the Brits overall when I was prepared to get my butt kicked.
Race Results: Top 15
Finish Time Race No. FIRST NAME SURNAME GENDER CP1 CP2 CP3 CP4 CP5 DOB AGE CLUB/TEAM
1 4.20.37 25 Stuart Mills Male 08:55 09:25 10:22 11:15 12:01 01/01/1963 48
2 4.27.26 73 David Jelley Male 09:00 09:30 10:25 11:15 12:01 01/07/1955 55 Ripon Runners
3 4.39.55 117 Jim Rogers Male 09:01 09:30 10:25 11:19 12:16 14/06/1964 46 City of Hull AC
4 4.57.55 62 Dan Shrimpton Male 09:00 09:30 10:33 11:35 12:30 01/07/1971 39
5 4.58.32 81 Philippa Taylor Female 09:02 09:34 10:37 11:38 12:34 19/06/1967 43 Stamford Striders
6 4.58.53 39 Cliff Canavan-King Male 09:02 09:34 10:37 11:38 12:34 20/05/1972 39
7 5.08.05 58 Gregory Crowley Male 09:01 09:33 10:33 11:35 12:34 01/07/1966 44 White Peak
8 5.12.19 120 Nick White Male 09:00 09:30 10:25 11:36 12:35 20/11/1981 29 Saffron Striders
9 5.12.41 131 Jacqueline Palmer Female 09:05 09:39 10:44 11:49 12:46 23 university of delaware
10 5.13.38 97 David Mitchell Male 09:04 09:37 10:44 11:49 12:46 44 Evesham Vale Rc
11 5.19.51 24 Andy Mouncey Male 09:02 09:33 10:32 11:36 12:39 15/10/1966 44
12 5.22.22 88 Mark Richards Male 09:02 09:35 10:42 11:43 12:49 16/09/1959 51 GOYT Valley Striders
13 5.22.30 9 Jaco Harmzen Male 09:05 09:41 10:44 11:49 12:46 14/07/1973 37
14 5.23.10 60 Timothy Kimbrough Male 09:04 09:37 10:40 11:44 12:50 01/07/1973 37
15 5.26.51 23 Bruce Moore Male 09:01 09:33 10:37 11:39 12:50 25/12/1964 46