Friday 13 November 2015

Race report: XNRG Druids Challenge (84 miles in 3 days) - Day 2

Day 2 - the day of Weather

Having spent 15 minutes in a cold shower, picking the mud off my legs at the end of day 1, followed by not the kind of dinner I was looking for and a fairly mentally difficult day, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up carrying on on day 2.  It got a bit worse before I started too...

I prefer to avoid large amounts of carbohydrates in my diet.  This means my breakfasts (when I have them) are usually based on eggs, avocado and cheese in some form.  Breakfast on day two was a choice of; boxed cereals, croissants, pains au chocolat, bananas, orange juice, and porridge.  So, porridge it was.  I'd normally start a run without breakfast if it starts in the morning and then eat when I'm done - this is what I did most days on my Thames Path trip last year, where I was averaging 31 miles a day and it works well for me.  However, on this day I really felt like having some breakfast, so I listened to that and had a pretty big portion of porridge.

Having felt quite demoralised on day 1, I knew that day 2 was going to be tougher physically despite being shorter.  Muscles would be feeling pretty used & abused from a pretty long run the day before, including having enjoyed some downhills a bit too much and challenged my quads somewhat.

So it did take a little while to get going and it was already raining by that point - the forecast was for rain until around 1pm and 20mph average winds.  And by golly the weather delivered.  I'd been warned it'd be quite exposed out on the ridge on this day and adding the extra miserable weather forecast, I decided to keep a long-sleeved top in my pack as well as my waterproof/windproof jacket.

Having been shivering with the cold before the start on day 1, a good few checkpoints yesterday and again today were asking me if I was cold when I would show up in just a skort & t-shirt and motor on through.  I only really got cold after the last checkpoint on this day, despite the torrential rain that fell from pretty much the start of the day until midday.  There were 20mph (average) head winds that swirled & gusted and didn't die down at any point during the day.  The rain stopped at midday, which was really nice.  But then it started up again about 45 mins later, getting harder and sharper and evolving into hail with the wind turning from a head wind to a side wind.  The rain > hail was so sharp it was hard to keep my eyes open.

You can see here from the look on Tim's face that it was pretty painful! 

Terrain-wise; there was a fabulous section through the woods, skipping over hidden logs and tree roots under the pretty Autumn leaves on the ground.  But as a counter point, there was more wet, slippery chalk to skate over too.  Much less of that than on day one, so much less crossness resulted. 

Having stopped to fill water bottles at all of the checkpoints on day 1, and take a snack or two at the later ones I reduced it to only filling water bottles on this day and a couple of bites of Marmite sandwich at the final checkpoint.  And I ended up drinking too much water.  I stopped for a wee 6 times!  Part of that was down to being wet to the skin all day and chilling my mid-section as a result, but I definitely felt water-logged as my hands swelled quite spectacularly, having been fine the day before, and I was feeling a bit queasy by the end of the run.

By the end of being soaked to the skin, chilled by the fierce winds and pummelled by sharp hail, I was so happy to see tea & coffee coming out of one of the vans at the finish line.  There was a short wait while one of the shuttle buses came to take a batch of us to the leisure centre for the evening.

Where, by the time I got there, there was no water.  Not even just no hot water in the showers, but no water at all and the pipes drained down pretty quickly with all that loo-flushing and hand-washing going on.  No fun at all.  So, I ended up using my damp sports bra to scrape the mud off my legs before putting on clean trousers for the evening.  The meal was much better though - a lovely fresh salad, sausages and pasta for those who like that.

Another trip to the Tina the foot-care lady was needed as the tape that was on my little toe since the previous evening had partly come off, bunched up and taken a lot more of the skin from my toe off with it.  This time it needed a bit more attention; dressing for the night to keep the iodine doing its job and then it'd get some hospital-grade burn dressing in the morning to protect it during tomorrow's run.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Race report: XNRG Druids Challenge (84 miles in 3 days) - Day 1

The Druid Challenge is a 3 day stage race (on foot).  84 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon to Swindon along the Ridgeway National Trail.  It's run by XNRG who organise quite a few multi-day ultras through the year; ensuring they're at least 26.2 miles on any given day with individual day entry so each day counts as a single marathon for those aiming to enter the 100 Marathon Club.

I decided I "needed" to enter a real multi-stage race, having had a go at a self-supported 6 day run along the length of the Thames Path last October.  I really enjoyed that and it would be a nice easing back into the land of ultra marathons with a 3 day stage race of less average distance per day than I covered on my Thames Path run.

The week before the race, I had mostly pretty awful runs and wasn't really feeling it, so I decided to stay in a hotel near the start so I could have more sleep rather than taking the train up to Tring on the morning of the race.  I stayed at Pendley Manor (which is over-priced and shit, by the way) and got a cab to the station where there were shuttle buses to the farm where registration was happening.

Day 1 - the day my engine & legs didn't want to play.

Day 1 is the longest day and the latest start time of the 3 days.  I'm guessing that the 10am start time for those who would be walking is to allow for folks to get a train to Tring from a reasonable distance away, get registered and sorted out and up to the start, rather than being forced to stay overnight nearby.  But at almost 30 miles, starting at 10am if you're walking, or 11am if you're an average runner means you're definitely finishing in the dark and it's pitch black on the trail at this time of year at that time of day.

Anyhoo, I got the shuttle bus to the farm having met a lovely lady called Viv who had recently covered the Camino di Santiago, and registered in a grain shed.  A couple of cups of tea later and some chatting with a couple of Spanish hikers who were looking forward to their first official ultra race (which they were entirely likely to be covering with quite some efficiency as seasoned hikers), and it was time to head up to the start.

We were briefed on safety and the race philosophy - it's a challenge, fun/enjoyable, and be safe - and then walked up Ivinghoe beacon to the start in quite a chilly wind and up a very slippery chalk path which we were going to turn around and run back down again along the start of the Ridgeway path.

Neil, the race director started us off with a countdown from 5 to 1 and off we went.  And immediately my legs pretty much said simply "piss off".  And my breathing was laboured right from the off, despite not that much speed being involved.

The profile of the route today looked like it was one of the tougher ones as well as being a bit long, so that made me feel even worse, mentally, given the state of my legs and engine.  It felt like I was pushing way too hard, or wasn't warmed up, but the pace was pretty sedate.  It took around 25 miles to warm up in the end and I only felt reasonable with 4 and a bit miles to go on the final stretch.  There was a lot of sliding sideways on slippery mud on this day, and I wasn't the only one who was pretty frustrated by that and a bit cross on a good few occasions.

There were some pretty cool sections, running downhill through leaves in the woods, skipping past folks who were a lot more tentative over that terrain.  It felt amazing.  At one point in the woods, I was almost by myself but a blonde lady was just in sight ahead of me.  She was going to take a straight on into a farm, where I though there was a gap in a fence where the trail went, so I called to her that the route went through the fence (which it actually did).  I recognised her voice straight away as the melodious tones of Niandi Carmont (ultra runner and podcast guest/partner of Ian Corless on the Talk Ultra podcast).  She was so encouraging and supportive throughout the 3 days of the race, and we had a good few chats in the evenings.  It was great to meet so many lovely people over the days (and some familiar faces too), but it felt like we got on really well and it's a shame I'm not likely to see Niandi again (mainly because I'm rubbish at that sort of thing).

By the time I got to the final check-point I thought I might just make it to the finish before sunset, but in the end I was about half an hour short of that and ended up using my amazing head torch (which was a Christmas present a couple of years ago).  The final stretch was a good few miles along a dark trail and then along a couple of roads.  My legs and body had decided to behave themselves by then and I felt a lot better, like I was really motoring (which I wasn't, but at least it felt like I was) into the finish line.  Day 1's running over with I went into a very dark place and wasn't sure that come the morning I'd start the next day with the other runners.

A hot shower and a nice dinner might have made me feel better at this point, but the showers in the school we were staying in were cold, and dinner was pretty uninspiring dry chicken breast in a runny sauce with some boiled veg.  OK, my dietary preferences aren't exactly mainstream, but still...

HOWEVER, the race organisation was good! The checkpoints are well-stocked and I did have 1/4 of a Marmite sandwich and a few mini-cubes of Rocky Road during the day which was what I wanted at the time (especially the Marmite sandwiches :o) ).  The medical care, especially the lady who took care of everyone's feet who had any problems at all, was fantastic.  I had ignored a bunched-up sock on my little toe all day and created a spectacular blister that she drained & taped up for me so it was protected the next day.

29ish miles done... time for sleep and see what the next day brings.