Thursday, 6 June 2013

Going loopy

"Contrary to what we usually believe the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile" Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,

To date, a 24-hour race is the epitome of my "stretching".  And the three that I have done have certainly ranked high in the most unforgettable moments in my life.  It's a year's worth of emotions in one day.  For all.  From the winner to the DNF-er.
I know I've missed the boat for endless ramblings on a race account, but as it was the biggest race of life to date (dramatic, but true) I know I have to write it down. Even if it was nearly four weeks ago! So, I will try to keep it tight.
The team

Men : L-R. Robbie Britton (Centurion Runners/ England) Steve Holyoak (RRC/England) Matt Moroz (Norwich /England) Pat Robbins (Poole Dorset/ England) John Pares (Buckley RC/ Wales)

Women: L-R - Emily Gelder (Dulwich Runners/Wales), Sharon Law (Garscube. Scotland) Karen Hathaway (Reading /England )   Debbie Martin-Consani (Garscube. Scotland) and Lizzy Hawker (North Face /England) 

Apparently it was the best team that GB have ever brought to the table. Or park.  There was a lot of pressure on the ladies team.  Scrap that.  There was a lot of pressure on world record holder, Lizzy Hawker to lead the team to gold.  Arguably the best female ultra-runner in the world, her presence caused quite a frenzy.

Travel and accommodation

We travelled out to Amsterdam from Glasgow on Thursday and met the group travelling from Edinburgh at Schipol Airport.  Then a pleasant train ride to Breda where we were picked up Team Manager, Richard Brown in a our team minibus to be taken to Bergen Op Zoom (yes, that's a real place).  Richard explained en route that there was a mix up with accommodation, but had managed to find the last two hotel rooms in the area to avoid overcrowding.  Poor Richard thought he was making a nice gesture by giving Sonic and I the hotel room, so I felt bad declining the offer in favour of staying with the team.

Arriving at The Stay Okay - I was never quite sure whether the name was a question or a statement - I nearly made a quick back track when I saw it.  Think I might be a bit long in the tooth for dorm living, but my bed was made - er, by me - so I had to lie in it. 

Thankfully we were the first to arrive, so we got to choose the best room - and KO any potential snorers.  Our "house" was dubbed the Celtic Quarters because of the Welsh and Scottish inhabitants.  Although, as we were housing the team physio, there were comings and goings than a brothel.

Cultural differences

I love it when people from all different backgrounds - with one common goal - come together.  Not just for the camaraderie, but the cultural differences between teams is fairly apparent and often quite comical. It's like each team has it's own personality.   I'm pretty sure the GB team were the most rowdy/giggly.  Sweden were the most dashing in their yellow and blue kit, which always reminds me of the BMX I had as a kid. The Japanese kept themselves to themselves and seem adverse to making eye contact. Strangely the guys and girls ate at different tables. Although they were all so tiny, I was suprised they ate at all.

The French were just being French.  Although there were many gasps when one of their star athletes was frequently spotted smoking.  And I don't mean behind the bike, I mean in full view. Adrian justified this by saying "because she's French" like she had some special gene that protected her ultrarunning lungs.  When she went bounding passed me in the final hour I made a mental note to add a pack of B&H to next year's shopping list.

The food situation was all a bit confusing.  On the first evening, there was a bowl of pale yellow gunk next to the salad trays, which I just presumed was some kind of dressing?  As I heatedly decorated my salad with said junk, one mouthful would confirm it was in fact custard.  Or at least it was supposed to be custard. Much to Sonic's amusement.  I noticed the mistake was made by many athletes. The Japanese team were spotted eating the custard impostor as a starter, with a fork. Before they gave up and drank it from the bowl.

The opening ceremony

This was magical.  Even better than last year and so nice to see so many familiar faces.  The small town of Steenbergen is lovely and lots of people came out to cheer. Or maybe they were just curious to see what the freaks who choose to run in circles look like.








As the youngest member of the team, we gave Robbie the great honour (or so he thought) of leading the team by carrying the GB flag for the ceremony.  He looked really chuffed with himself.  Although not so chuffed at the end of the parade when he realised how heavy the flag was and his arms were close to dropping off.  Sucker! :-)

Prior to the ceremony, we got the chance to walk the course. You know how I like to recce a course prior the race day :-)  It was fairly twisty and very windy in bits, but quite nice.  Well at least it would be for the first 50 times! It's only looking at other 24 hour courses that I wonder how we managed to run up and down that 1k loop/line in North Wales. 

The morning of the race

The race start at noon should have allowed for stress free morning, right?  Wrong.  It just gave me more time to flap. Pack and repack. Flap some more and check the weather forecast every five minutes.  And then check other sites/apps for a better forecast.  Although there was no denying it, it was pouring of rain and the trees were bending in the wind.
The team management and support went to the course first  - along with everyone's gear and supplies - to set.  The next bus load was for the athletes - including Lizzy Hawker, who had only landed on her journey from Kathmandu the previous evening - looking very bronzed. I'm sure the GM was happy she'd applied that extra layer of self tan that morning :-)
Despite being a 24 hour race, the sense of urgency is unsettlin.  Everyone seems to be scuttling about panicking. Of course, the arrival of Miss Hawker had caused quite a stir.  I felt really bad for her, as she really just wanted to focus and talk her support through her race plan and requirements, but there was a swarm of people wanting her picture or quote - or just generally gawking.
The race

You know how I said it ranked high as one of the most unforgettable moments of my life? Well, I seem to have forgotten everything.  Although there were no dramatics, which was a new experience for me. 

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For the first eight hours, I just did not want to be there.  Physically, I felt fine.  I just couldn't get my head into it.  I was conjuring up excuses to quit.  I even contemplated a fake faint at one point. Apologies to anyone who might have heard me muttering: "shut the f*ck up" over and over again.  I wasn't actually telling you to shut-the-f*ck-up, just the voices in my head.  It was pretty tough going as you really need your head and good spirits for a race like that.  You can't rely on stunning scenery or simply focusing on getting to the next checkpoint.

When it got dark, I took my iPod and it was like a rebirthing.  I felt brilliant and really enjoyed the hours of darkness - just singing away to myself.   Usually any overnight race, I will it to be light again, but this time I didn't want to see dawn break.

I ran fairly consistently.  Taking very few walking breaks - and that was only for a few metres the last couple of hours. There was certainly a LOT more running in the final hours than there has been in my two other 24 hour races.  The first I threw in the towel in favour of the death march at 22 hours and last year there was a spectacular KaBoom around 20 hours. 

The last lap was my slowest, not because I was knackered but I was gutted I had time to do another loop. But off I went. Mick (Robbie's support) took this video when there was about five minutes to go. I don't even remember him being there, which might explain why his request for "BIG SMILES" fell on deaf ears.
video

I turned the corner and looked up at the board as I crossed the mat. My name flashed up as 96 laps and 219km and about 700 metres. Sh***********t I had to get it over 220km, so I started "sprinting".  When I knew I'd covered enough, I just milked it a bit.  The crowds and support were amazing. When the horn went off, for once I didn't cry. But funnily enough, as I type this the tears are running down my face.
Weather

I've heard reports about it being "horrendous" and the "worst conditions ever" and people becoming hypothermic, but I didn't think it was that bad. And you know how prone to exaggeration I am. Although maybe because it was nearly four weeks ago and I've forgotten all the bad bits.

However, it did look really awful for the support team. Especially as the tables and tent were about 10 feet from course, so not standing in the rain/hail/wind wasn't really an option.

Runners who train in fairer climes took the brunt of it though. I joked with some of the Australian athletes at the start line who were in full winter training gear and I had only added a pair of sleeves. It was like a Scottish summer's day. Jeez, I was even wearing SPF 50. Later, I did have to chuckle at some of the Japanese team running in full shell tracksuits, wrapped in foil blankets.

Granted, when the hail started, I put on a long sleeve and some gloves and then later a lightweight rain jacket but after that I was fine.

I'm going to propose the next world championship is in Glasgow, so I might have a chance of taking gold :-)
Running Company - in no particular order

With such a short loop you're guaranteed to see everyone in the race at some point. Although sometimes it can be hours and hours before your see them again.  Except in the first couple of hours when there's frequent lapping from speedsters, who are guaranteed to blow up.
Firstly I ran with Austin Blackburn for a few laps, maybe even hours.  Also from GB, Austin was running in the open race.  He'd taking his campervan over to Holland. Probably not the best race strategy as he stopped during the race for two sleeps.  He didn't quite make his 200K target - the sleeps might have got in the way of that - but I'm sure he'll have another crack at it.

Karen Hathaway was my next companion.  She had the joy of putting up with during my eight hour warm-up.  Running with Karen was the only part of pre-darkness I enjoyed.  Can't beat a bit of girlie chat.  Karen went on to run a PB of 210km and even ran her fastest lap on her last lap. 

John Pares is a bit of a 24-hour race living legend. A commonwealth gold champ, certified trooper and huge asset to the team.  Injury and life have effected his performances of late, but there's no denying there's something special about our JP.  I passed him at one point - some point - and he asked to join me.  Great, I thought, some company for me and maybe my sparkling chat might help pull him through a bad patch.  So I unhooked my ipod and stuff it in my bra...as he buggared off and left me :-)

The GB champion Steve Holyoak seemed to charge around the course in a zen like state.  Either that or he was deliberately trying to diss me.  At the end of the race, we finished pretty much at the exact spot.  We were sitting on a curb side swapping race tales - and waiting for the official to verify our finishing distance - when a lady from a neighbour house came out and covered us in a blanket.  How nice was that?
The shy and assuming Robbie Britton  was the star of the show.  After befriending the commentators, you certainly knew he was in the race.  Frequent bellows of "and heeeeeeeeeeeere's Robbie Britton" followed by messages of support from his Mum et al.  He was always really chipper when he passed and just generally good fun to have on he team.  His distance of 239km certainly matched his race enthusiasm.   The only time I passed him in the race was when I was when he was depositing a litre of cola into flower bed.  Being the compassionate team mate that I am, I slapped him on the back and said: "just when you think you've hit rock bottom, that chap over there is taking pictures of you vomiting"

Matt with Shot Blok!
Matt Moroz had suffered from injury in the lead up to the race and his over-zealous first fews hours probably didn't help.  Bizarrely he did always offer me some Shot Blok when he passed.  Yuk!

Pat Robbins had a great first half, but confessed the wheels fell off thereafter. He showed great sportsmanship for just chipping away and making the best of a tough situation. He had a cracking race in Katowice last year, after a rough few hours at the start.  This was a back of mind when I struggled at the beginning, so helped pull me through.
Lizzy Hawker retired after around 120km.  She flew in for the race from Nepal fresh from breaking her own record running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu (319km/ 198m) and then racing the 277km Mustang Trail Race, so the 24-hour was always going to be a big ask. She was really upset about having to pull out, but came back out running in the latter hours to help the team. Fair play to her for giving it a crack.  It's not as if she could just blend in and gut it out. Even when she came back out and ran with Emily and I people were falling over themselves to take her picture and the commentator was shouting out her stats, which was a bit awkward.  I've recently learned she will be out for the rest of the season with stress fracture in her foot and hope she makes a speedy recovery.

The uber amazing Emily Gelder may not of gone home with a PB, but after spending a long weekend in the Celtic house she is now armed with a superior understanding of Scottish dialect.  Unfortunately for Emily, injury took it's toll and she couldn't defend her world bronze from 2012.  However, she's an amazing team player and fought - hobbled - to the bitter end.
 
I also ran with Italy's Virginia Oliveri, who I also shared a few laps with in Katowice.  She's also the Mother of a small child, so were swapped stories of training and Motherhood.  Although she bettered my tale of running of WHWR not knowing I was pregnant, as she ran the world 24-hour a few years ago blissfully unaware her daughter was on board.

Last, but certainly not least, Sharon Law (AKA the Gibbering Midget) had a belter of a race and set new Scottish records for 200km and 24-hour with 226km. She also won European bronze medal, which made the whole team very proud.  And made me bubble at the awards ceremony.  She could have also won an award for the frightening shade of cartoon-esque green she went after the race, which no amount of self-tan could disguise.  The sickness certainly didn't slow her down.  Fantastic performance!

Weather
I've heard reports about it being "horrendous" and the "worst conditions ever" and people becoming hypothermic, but I didn't think it was that bad. And you know how prone to exaggeration I am. Although maybe because I've forgotten all the bad bits.

However, it did look really awful for the support team. Especially as the tables and tent were about 10 feet from course, so not standing in the rain/hail/wind wasn't really and option. 

Runners who train in fairer climes took the brunt of it though.  I joked with some of the Australian athletes at the start line who were in full winter training gear and I had only added a pair of sleeves.  It was like a Scottish summer's day.  Jeez, I was even wearing SPF 50. Later, I did have to chuckle at some of the Japanese team running in full shell tracksuits, wrapped in foil blankets.
 
Granted, when the hail started, I put on a long sleeve and some gloves and then later a lightweight rain jacket but after that I was fine.

I'm going to propose the next world championship is in Glasgow, so I might have a chance of taking gold :-)

The results

Full results here 

The race was won by USA's Jon Olson with 269km.  Mami Kudo from Japan won the ladies' race with a new 24-hour road world record of 253km.   For today's astonishing fact: Mami Kudo is the tender age of 49 years old.

As mentioned above, I ran a PB of 220km and finished 14th female. I was 14th last year too, but that race was a whole lot messier.
The GB ladies' team were 4th in the Worlds and silver for the Europeans. Yep, beaten by the French again. 

GM with her European Bronze
The aftermath

Just watching the fall out of a 24 hour race must be harrowing experience.  Like watching the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

I found just sitting on a chair in the hall awaiting the awards ceremony quite surreal.  I kept jerking await as my head kept rolling like I'd lost control of neck muscles. The rest of the ladies' team were - quite literally - asleep on the floor at my feet.  The GM was cocooned under Sonic's down jacket, out cold.  Then a German female athlete was wheeled past in a wheelchair carrying her own vomit in a zipped sandwich bag.  It really is very glamorous.

After returning to the hostel, I had a shower and a 20 minute sleep - I kid you not - then we were off out for team dinner.  A fabulous protein feast, washed down with cold beers and great company.  It was the perfect way to end the day that never ends, even if generally mobility was a problem for everyone.  In the restaurant, I needed to pee for about hour before I went as I needed maximum impact to make the journey.
Then we were all tucked up in bed before the arrival of the 3am walking dead.  At least I was prepared this time and had movies on a my iPad to watch.  But that soon started to annoy me.  Then despite me vouching for Sonic not snoring when we were allocating sleep, he started really tuning up.  I couldn't wake him, so I ended up reaching over and hitting him with an empty Pepsi bottle. Didn't work though, so I just lay there listening to Marco on my right, Guy downstairs matching his decibels and Sharon groaning next door because the nerves in her feet were having a party and forgot to invite her.   Ah dorm life.

At breakfast the next morning everyone looked like death warmed up.  Even Pat had managed to recreate his just-out-of-bed hair with little effort.  He looked particularly grumpy though, as apparently the snoring in our room wasn't a patch on ours.  His morning greeting was: "Next year, I'm sharing with the girls".  Considering British Athletics assumed he was on the ladies team and sent him kit accordingly, I'm surprised he didn't.  Anyway, I think he might reconsider that idea when I told him Sonic had to endure of an awkward morning being within ear sot of our intimate girls' talk of periods, boobs, chaffing and toilet adventures.  His contribution to the conversation was: "oh dear god. Kill me now".
____
So there you go.  Better late than never. Even now I don't know if I'm happy with my performance or not.  Sure, I got a PB and was a counter for the team prize, so yes, I'm happy.  But I will never be truly satisfied until I stop finding ways to improve.  
 
...Or find financial backing to bring the championship to Glasgow.

Huge thank you to all the team and management for making what should be a torturous experience a truly magical one.  Special thanks for Richard, for doing what Richard does best - everything.  But Sonic was the star of the day and I am eternally grateful for his support. Can you imagine having to put up with the GM and I for 24-hours+?  I really don't understand why he wants to have a go at a 24-hour race this Autumn...

So, that's it.  I'm off for a fag.  We've got a French team to beat in 2014.

7 comments:

Helen said...

great report Debbie and well done to you all x

Andy Cole said...

Still can't really understand how (or why) you do it, but amazing performances from you and Sharon, and a lovely report.

Vicky said...

Can't believe you didn't smile in that video ;-)
You and the team should all be very proud of what you achieved. It was tremendous. I really don't know how you manage it.

You're a star!

Anonymous said...

great report and great performanc.Well done to you all. You are all amazing.
Alyson

Caroline Mckay said...

A PB and running for hours longer than last year - that's some seriously fabulous improvement! Well done to all. How did the feet hold out this time?

John Kynaston said...

Just caught up with your report Debs.

Congratulations again on a pb and a superb effort.

Absolutely loved your write up. Your are the queen of race reports as well as the queen of ultra running!

See you soon.

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