Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest post: Marino


A first for this dark, dusty corner of the internet... a guest poster.

"What about that time your dog posted? Everybody liked the log post?"

Oh. Yeah, I forgot about that one. People liked her post a little too much for my taste. I've since changed my password. And disinfected the keyboard.

Anyway... the first human guest poster at DougRun365 is the GF's brother-in-law, Marino. He's from Northern Ireland and lives outside London. He's a really good dude, and also, insane.

Marino had taken to ultra-marathoning. This is his account of a race he completed a few weeks ago.

I'll let Marino explain...
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“I’m tired and everything hurts”

This is something I heard doing a half-marathon a few years ago.  A “runner” (and I use the term loosely) was sitting on the ground at maybe the 8 mile point, with an ambulance in attendance (yes, really) and a couple of paramedics hovering around him.  I don’t want to diss the gentleman in question as I’m sure he really wasn’t having a good time, but as I ran past I could see the paramedics rolling their eyes, telling him to man up, and sending him on his way, since being “tired and sore” apparently isn’t a recognised medical condition.  Anyway, that aside “I’m tired and everything hurts” is the best – and certainly shortest - summary I can possibly give of running an 85 mile race.  Here’s a slightly more profound statement though, from a well-known ultrarunner:

"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense.  The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."

A bit pretentious, but it also sums up an ultramarathon well.  What does it feel like to get up in the morning and run all day, and then all night, and then some of the next day as well? I wanted to know for myself.

I was running the ‘Ridgeway 85’ – 85 miles along the length of the Ridgeway in the south of England.  The Ridgeway is apparently Britain’s oldest road, and has been in use since around 3000 BC. [ed.- !]  Prehistoric people liked it because it’s – wait for it – on a ridge (who would have thought), and therefore easy to defend, has good visibility and doesn’t get all boggy.  The scenery is spectacular, and it was a great route for an ultra – superbly signposted, almost 100% on trails, point to point, great scenery and rolling hills.  I was feeling a bit underprepared for the race – I’d had to cancel another race 2 weeks previously, and as a result hadn’t really had much time to prepare, mentally or logistically, for slotting in a race so late, particularly a really long one where the mental dimension is so crucial.  Maybe this was no bad thing as it meant my expectations were pretty low, and I didn’t overthink it.  I was also trying out a bunch of new gear (major no-no in a race, I know, I know) for the first time.  So because of all this, I was feeling a bit half-assed about the whole thing and pretty unsure how it would go.
Mingling before the start

My wife dropped me off at the start, at Ivinghoe Beacon.  I had a great big breakfast of museli(mmm sawdust and dead flies) before leaving the house, followed by an awesome bacon and egg sandwich before the start that set me up well.  The race had a split start – 10:00a for slower runners and 12:00 noon for the faster ones.  I’d opted for the 10:00 start as I had no idea how it would go, and didn’t want to give myself any unnecessary time pressure (the first few checkpoint cut offs for the 12:00 starters were pretty tight, whereas I had loads of time). It started bang on 10:00 and about 30 of us set off.  I pretty quickly had the unusual experience (for me) of being 5th from the front (woohoo!).  I was briefly tempted to sprint to the front shouting “eat my dust, looooosers!” but instead I more sensibly reined the pace in to move towards the back of the pack.  I like to hang back at the start of long races, to avoid going off at too fast a pace, and I find it mentally very helpful to be able to pass people later.

The first 10 miles were mainly over rolling fields and hills with some great views.  Fairly windy and cool weather – ideal running conditions.  I hit the first checkpoint at roughly mile 10 in 2 hours, which felt like a good pace.  I was deliberately avoiding pacing myself to precisely – rather, just going with the flow; running fast when it felt good and slowing or walking when I felt tired.  I’ve done this before and it seems to be a good strategy on this type of hilly, varied terrain.  It allows me to adjust to the terrain and always run well within my aerobic threshold, which also helps with eating enough.  Mentally, it also takes away the stress of trying to hit given split times.

The next 10 or so miles were good going – the terrain dropped down into farmland, with a couple of short rainshowers.  I had slotted into a nice pace at this point, and was just getting the miles in without thinking too much about what lay ahead.  At 20 mile checkpoint they had hot tea, which really tasted great and perked me up hugely.  I motored on through 32 miles, then had a 12 mile push to the half way checkpoint at mile 43.  This was over fairly flat terrain, with one awesome downhill section along an old defensive earthenwork-type thingy called Grimm’s Dyke.  12 miles between checkpoints was actually a bit long, and I was definitely ready for the break.  One thing that really helped me in general during this race was posting pictures and updates to my Facebook page.  The responses were great and really helped me to keep going, knowing that other people were interested in my progress (well, at least pretending to be).

A couple of miles before the checkpoint another Northern Irish runner caught up with me and we chatted for a while, in the way that Northern Irish people always do when they meet each other anywhere in the world.  It turned out he was doing the Spartathalon in a few weeks (135 miles [ed.- !!]  in Greece), and was doing the first half of this race as a training run – he was going to drop out at the half way checkpoint.  I was pretty impressed with that, then I discovered that he had also run what is probably the premier ultramarathon in the UK – the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race – the previous year and come second.  Needless to say, he soon headed off into the distance.

Dusk was just beginning as I got to the half way checkpoint, which was in a church hall in the village of Goring.  It was nice and bright and warm inside – very welcome but also very dangerous.  My plan was to get in and out of there as fast as possible, as I knew that once it got dark outside it would be very difficult to leave.  I crammed a load of food down my neck - hot soup, bread, cookies, some chocolate and a can of Red Bull and changed into my night gear: long sleeve top, jacket, backpack and of course head torch.  Just as I was about to leave – still wearing shorts as it had been pretty warm all day – I noticed that almost everyone else had put on tights.   I remembered an ultrarunning piece of advice I’d read somewhere:
“if the people around you who are experienced in ultrarunning are all engaged in an activity, maybe you should think about doing that activity as well”. 
So I put my tights on, and was very glad I did, as I wouldn’t have managed through the night without them.  With all this faffing about choosing my outfit, checking my hair, and generally being high maintenance I had spent maybe 20 minutes in the church hall, and I just made it outside as it was getting dark.

I hit a low point mentally at this stage – transitioning from the cosy church hall to the darkening countryside, temperature dropping, feeling tired and with the prospect of running all night stretching before me – something I had never done before.  I’d brought 2 torches along – a headtorch and a separate, very powerful hand torch.  Once I switched on the head torch I felt a lot better – the light was very comforting.  The hand torch was also a fantastic piece of kit – it provided a long distance, very focused beam, that I could use to look a good hundred yards ahead, while the head torch illuminated my immediate area.

Around 9pm I met up with another runner and ran with him for a while, till around midnight.  This also lifted my spirits as it was good to have someone to talk to.  The night section is a bit of a blur – I mainly remember plodding along the trails with the occasional welcome oases of checkpoints to break up the monotony, like little islands of light in the dark countryside.  These were really well staffed and equipped – a big fire at one, hot dogs at another and super-helpful volunteers at all of them.  The temptation to stay and hang out at the checkpoint, just for a few more minutes, was very hard to resist, but I had made a conscious decision in advance to spend minimal time at the checkpoints, as I would start to get cold and stiff and knew how hard it would quickly become to leave. I think I got ahead of quite a few runners by keeping my checkpoint stops very short.  During the night I was drinking lots of tea, and eating  fair bit which helped keep my energy up. My slightly slower nighttime pace also meant I could digest what I was eating well.  I had however gotten sick of drinking my Nuun electrolyte replacement drink, and instead had been filling my water bottle with Coke.  This was a genius move on my part - it tasted great to me and the caffeine and sugar surely helped a lot.



Just before dawn there was a long uphill stretch on a very exposed, windy and generally godforsaken hillside.  This was also a section with 12 miles between checkpoints, which again felt very long, but I eventually hit the 78 mile checkpoint at maybe 7am.  At this stage it was becoming very difficult to eat as I was getting increasingly nauseous – I managed a couple of pieces of Kiwi fruit and some Hula Hoops, and that was about it.  7 miles left to go, but I had heard a rumour that the distance was actually 87 – so didn’t let myself get too excited.  Sure enough, just after mile 85 I saw a sign that said “2 miles”.  The sun was up now though, it was mainly downhill and I was feeling good. I sped up for the last mile or so down the hill and put in a nice strong finish into the little village that marked the end.  

Total time was 22 hours 8 minutes, and I finished 37th out of 102, which I was very happy with.  I had a delicious bacon sandwich at the finish, hung about and chatted with the organisers for a bit, then made my way back home on the train.

This was a fantastic, very well organised and supported race, over some of the most beautiful scenery the UK has to offer – and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone.  Particularly if your idea of a fun vacation is no sleep, lots of junk food, smelling bad and running a distance that’s so far that it’s visible when seen from space...


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See, told ya. He's insane.

Still, kinda makes me want to try it, just once.

Thanks, Marino

Good running,
Doug