The short version is that I failed. But I did push on to 127.5 miles. So close yet, so far. I can't complain; I only started running properly seven months ago, so I guess that wasn't too shoddy.
The long version is this...
The alarm went off at 5am on Saturday morning. We were staying in a Travelodge (the scummiest one I have ever seen, Birmingham is a hole) very close to the start and I can never eat much before an event, despite the obvious need to. Still, I scoffed a couple of blueberry muffins as I gazed out the window watching the rain fall.
Holly, Gav and Jane decided to all come to see me off, which distracted me from the obvious signs that most of the other competitors were 'skinny men'. One day I will find a sport that suits my build, cos it sure as hell ain't climbing, cycling or running.
We set off promptly at 6am and I settled into a position near the back. And from there, basically, time grinded on for the next few hours as we slowly left Birmingham and headed out into the country. At the first checkpoint, the crew were waiting for me, bacon sandwich in hand. Finally, a proper breakfast. My plan to eat decent meals at stops, I think, was a good one, although my appetite decreased as the race drew on.
I soon latched onto another runner, Phil from oop norf. We settled into a good run/walk pattern (bar an accidental 30min walking period when neither of us was paying attention) which saw us to the cut off at 70 miles in a time of 17hrs 32mins. I did have a near death encounter with a violent Swan, which Phil berated me for - but then he kept stretching, so was obviously a bit of a poof anyway.
The race had started in the rain and it only cleared up for a brief period before dumping down again. Even when it was dry the wet grass and puddles kept my feet soaking wet. I eventually addressed my feet at about 50 miles - piercing a couple of blisters, applying tincture of benzoin and then kinesio-tex tape over the top - it worked well, for a while. Later I just replaced that with taping round my entire foot, and that lasted really well all the way to end.
And on Phil and I plodded.
The psychology of an event this long is a new thing for me, and I went through big ups and downs - sometimes in very quick succession. As night fell, the downs began to out-way the ups, but soon Gavin joined me as my first support runner. Though I should add that by this point I was only walking. As my feet deteriorated my stops got longer, and Phil had to push on - it was a shame to lose him as we had a good laugh in the time we kept together. I was really pleased to hear that he went on to finish.
And on Gav and I plodded.
One particular stop, in the depths of the night, caused me major problems. I think, in retrospect, getting in a car to warm up is a bad idea, coming out of it, the shock of the cold sent me into violent shivers and it took me a while to recover. Gav stuck with me for about ten grim miles before James arrived for his 20 mile stint. Despite reading the warnings, and thinking I had prepared adequately, I got very cold. At times I was wearing my puff pullovers - something I would normally wear sitting on an icy ledge, belaying, on my winter climbing trips - interestingly I didn't see anyone else wearing anywhere near as much, and I was still cold.
And on James and I plodded.
The morning dawned in a typically moist fashion, the pain in my feet increased and the grind got harder. I had been eating a lot and despite peeing, maybe 80+ times over the race, I didn't do much of the other thing. When I finally did go, Gav had to conceal me with a towel (great friend that he is). Apparently afterwards he remarked that 'he has put his body under such pressure his butt-hole has gone rectangular' - for what came out was indeed a rather peculiar shape. Lee and Dan had now turned up too to lend their hand and so Dan took his turn to emotionally drag me on. We had worked out that I was cutting it very fine for time, so it was all or broke. I amazingly managed to run two miles and then speed walk a further four, but then the crash came. I seemed to have reached a cycle by midday on Sunday - get to checkpoint, really struggle to get going again, hit a decent stride for a few minutes before having a monumental crash down to 2mph.
early on: able to feed myself
A few hours later was a different story
And on Dan and I plodded.
I had already nearly dropped out a few times only to be encouraged on by the team and it was a Sunday dragged on that I really started to question if I had finished - the further I got, the more I thought about the possibility of finishing, something I had put out of my mind earlier on. Lee took over from Dan as I hit another new low. Lee's just bought a house, so home-owning discussions provided a welcome distraction for a while.
And on Lee and I plodded.
Six miles, but an age later, Dan took over again as the evening drew near and did a great job of eeking out even more distance from me, but eventually at 127.5 miles I threw in the towel. Sleep deprivation wise I coped okay until the drive home where I just couldn't interpret what I was seeing - the wet road and parked car opposite my house, I took to be a canal boat.
So why did I quit? I think it was really just as I had predicted - the slow erosion of my will to continue. I think I could have probably finished, but although 17.5 miles sounds like a short distance, I just got to the point where I couldn't face another six or seven hours of that cycle of stop, spurt, crash. My feet hurt like hell (13+ blisters), my ankles had swollen up, my right shin was very painful, I was freezing cold despite wearing tonnes and I was wet through. I am reasonably sure that, had it been dry, I would have finished as I wouldn't have had the foot or cold issues I had.
How do I feel about it all? Disappointed to come so close, pissed off at quitting (I ain't no quitter, fool!), but then again I did drag my ass along a canal for over 127 miles in 39 hours. Perhaps I could have carried on a bit longer if the whole thing wasn't a bit of an arbitrary challenge plucked out of the air? No, that's a cop out. Still, on balance, I think I would summarise my feelings as 'reasonably happy' - after all, up until seven months ago, I didn't run and only ran my first marathon (well, 50km) in February.
What next? Back to climbing! Hell, yeah! I swore before and since that I wouldn't try again with the GUCR and I still maintain that as I don't think of myself as a runner and I can't honestly say it was a very pleasant experience. Next I would like to try for a decent time on a marathon though. But the GUCR? Never again. At least not for a decade. Probably. First I need to let the swelling in my ankles subside and the (approx) 13 blisters heal. Other than that, I feel remarkably fine though.
I have left the most important part of this post to the end - and that is to say a massive thank you to my support team of Holly, Gavin, Jane, James, Dan and Lee. I knew they would be important, but didn't appreciate quite how important they would be - plying me with food, forcing me to carry on, feeding me just what I needed and even doing things like powdering my feet (thanks Jane!) and having to watch me take a dump (thanks Gav!). James, Dan and Lee came along expecting to have a pleasant jog down a canal and ended up having a painfully slow walk in the cold and wet. Plus, I think I kind of ruined their Jubilee weekend! And lastly, the biggest thanks of all to Holly for changing, powdering, drying, and feeding me, pushing me on much further than I wanted, masterminding all the logistics (she was predicting my arrival time at checkpoints down to a couple of minutes!) and most of all, to putting up with the long hours of training I have had to put in for that last six months. This was the first time I have had a support team and they first time any of them have done they job - I could not have asked for more. If I was to enter again (and, of course, I won't), I hope they can join me.
One final last brief notes on some lessons learned:
- Big meals at stops are a good idea and can save a lot of munching on route, as long as they are big and often enough.
- Full wet weather walking gear (boots, waterproof trousers, etc) would have been better for when I settled into just walking.
- Plan the race around walking all night.
- Don't get in the car to warm up, if it can be avoided as it causes too much of a temperature shock when getting out.