As Serious as ….. a Heart Attack

I had a heart attack last Saturday evening.

Which was a hell of a shock, but might explain why I have felt like crap and been unable to run for several months.

It was almost amusing watching the Emergency Department doctor running through the heart attack risk assessment questions –

  • Over 65 – No
  • High blood pressure – No
  • Diabetes – No
  • Overweight – No
  • Smoker – No
  • Ever been a smoker – No
  • Heavy drinker – No
  • Stressed – No
  • Family history – No
  • Previous attacks – No

I could almost see them stop and ask why the hell I was there.

I have been home for a few days now, and am recovering well. They tell me that it was “only” a mild attack, which is a relief of sorts –  I certainly wouldn’t want to experience anything worse, it was excruciating at the time. Apparently I should recover fully and be able run again in a few months.

So although this blog was set up with the sole purpose of chatting about my 5x50km efforts, if I celebrate my return to running with another crazy ultra-running scheme I will post about it here.  I am in no hurry though. At the moment I am happy to just be breathing in and out.

Ann and our daughters Olivia, Antonia and Hillary have been fantastic. It would have been so much harder to get  through this without them and the support I have received from our wider families.

Denise, Fiona and Noeleen are doing a marvellous job of keeping the business running while I am recuperating, and I have been humbled by the messages and support from my friends and business colleagues.

Sorry, this is meant to be a running blog. Check back in a few months to see whether I am dong any.

World 24 Hour Running Champs – Crew Report

Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids.

Which is how I got involved with running ultra-marathons. Our daughter Antonia talked me into my first one in 2010 and she has gone on to run several since then.

Her most recent event was representing New Zealand at the World 24 Hour Running Championships in Holland recently. The timing was great for me and Ann – we were going to be in Scotland for Antonia’s wedding in June, so we went a few weeks earlier which allowed me to join Antonia’s sister Olivia as support crew for the champs. It also allowed us to meet Antonia’s fiancé Scott for the first time, but that is a different story.

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Proudly wearing the Silver Fern during the Opening ceremony

 

 

 

Antonia has written an excellent report of her race (http://www.petitefeetrunaway.blogspot.co.uk/), so I thought I would write this from my perspective on the crew.

Olivia and Antonia had crewed for the New Zealand team at the Commonwealth Champs in 2011 and the World Champs in 2012, so they knew what was involved and had met most of the kiwi team. This was my first time at a 24 hour race; it was all new to me.
The concept for a 24 hour race is reasonably simple – run for 24 hours and see how far you can get. The person with the most distance wins. It has been described as a bunch of crazy people running in circles to see who is the craziest. And yes, the support crew get to stay awake for the duration.

Antonia had found us a B&B that was located right on the race course, and it turned out to be quite handy having our headquarters this close, especially when Antonia collapsed at the end of race.

The race started at midday, and we sent Olivia down early to set up in the crew tent . The team was allocated one trestle table for the 5 team members, so space was at a premium. With 24 hours’ worth of food and drink and warm/dry/spare clothing for the runners and crew, the tent was rather cosy.

Antonia and I stayed at the B&B as long as possible, then wandered down to the start line. A few rushed photos, a short countdown, and the race was underway. We watched approximately 300 runners stream past, then finally spotted Antonia’s braids amongst the last handful of runners to cross the line. And she was already chatting to the people around her.

This year the World champs was held on a course of approximately 2.3km, so we would be seeing Antonia roughly every 15 minutes. She had prepared a very detailed set of lap-by-lap instructions for us, which was incredibly helpful, especially late in the race when we had all been up for 30 hours and my brain had turned to mush. The first few laps were exciting for me – we sorted out a routine in the crew tent, the runners settled into their rhythm, and I introduced myself to the other NZ support crews. Most of them had done this before, and they were a little more relaxed about it than I was.

Writing this several weeks after the event my memory of this section is a bit vague, so I have broken it into 6 hour chunks:
The first quarter – Midday to 6pm
The day started off cold with a very gentle but chilly breeze. Early in the race we got some light rain, and with the crew tents set back about 2 metres from the edge of the track we got wet every time our runner came around. The runners themselves seemed oblivious at that early stage, but I had wet cold feet for 20 hours.

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Smiling happily in the first few hours

Antonia had prepared sheets for us to record her lap times. She wasn’t worried about them herself, but she thought it would give us something to do. Olivia and I love that sort of thing; we were carefully recording Antonia’s splits and noting how consistently she was lapping. Antonia kept chugging along, quite happy and relaxed. It seemed that every hour she was running and chatting with a different person.

The organisers had a PA system going, with speakers set up all around the course. The announcer was excitedly calling out the names of runners as they crossed the start/finish line, and it quickly became apparent that he liked Antonia. She always got a special shout out, with a mention of her smiling and waving.

As the afternoon wore on the rain settled in and it got even colder. Ann bought us some warm food for tea, and a few more clothes. Antonia didn’t seem to notice, she just kept clocking up her laps, chatting to other runners and taking her food/drink every 3rd lap as planned.

With about 30 feed laps expected, it was important to get the food and drink to her as efficiently as possible. Stopping for a minute each time would mean that she would miss half an hour of running time. We soon got a good system going, with Olivia handing food and any messages, and me handing over the small drink bottle. Antonia hardly had to slow at all.

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A very slick food and drink transfer

The second quarter – 6pm to midnight
Once the sun went down the rain got heavier, and the temperature dropped a few more degrees. Antonia kept clocking up consistent laps, and did not come in for her warm/dry clothes. I was worried that she would be getting too cold, but didn’t want to interrupt her rhythm. Eventually Olivia and I decided to pull her in and get her changed for the night. Antonia was a little surprised that we had deviated from our normal slick feed routine, but she appreciated it once we got her into warm dry clothes.

The rain did not let up, and the crew were all huddling in the cramped tent trying to keep under shelter as much as possible. And trying to keep warm.

The PA shut down at 10.00, and although we missed the updates, I found the silence quite nice as we all hunkered down to see the night through.

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The crew tents at night

With us living in New Zealand and Antonia living (and running) in Scotland, we had spent the last 3 years struggling to find updates while she was doing her events. With this in mind I had setup a Facebook page with the intention of posting updates for the NZ team. Antonia had given this her blessing, as long as I remembered that it was for the whole NZ team, and not just her. As it turned out the organisers had done a good job of posting live updates from the electronic chip timing system (why don’t more race directors do this? The data is all right there, just post it on the net!), so there was no need for me to post specific lap/distance/time info. Instead I posted a few updates on how the runners and crew were doing, with the occasional photo.

The flip side was that friends and family could post support messages, and I was reasonably busy passing these onto the crews for their runners.

With a short multi lap course there was a constant stream of runners going past the tent, I had no idea how the race itself was progressing or what runners were in contention for medals. I recognised some of Antonia’s UK running friends and gave them a shout when I saw them go past. None of them know me, so it probably confused them, but it kept me entertained.

Antonia just kept on going around, maintaining her consistent lap times. She doesn’t run with a GPS or even a watch, and doesn’t like to know what sort of progress she is making. I don’t think I could do this myself, but it works for her. Olivia and I were checking her lap times, partly to get an idea of how her race was progressing, and partly so we could estimate when she would be coming around for her next feed session. With the consistent lap times Antonia was doing roughly 4 laps per hour, and by the halfway point at midnight she had run about 110km.

In her only previous 24 hour race she had run 191km. None of us had spoken about a target for the world champs, but we were all thinking that 200km was a good target. It was looking good, and Olivia and I passed some time discussing it, but we still did not mention it to Antonia.

The third Quarter – Midnight to 6.00 am (roughly dawn)
It rained quite heavily in this period, including a hail storm around 3.00. I know I was miserably cold and wet, Antonia has since told me that she didn’t notice, she was just enjoying running through the night.

What became obvious to me was the increasing number of competitors walking past, and the reduced number of competitors on the course. The walking was starting to resemble the death march that I had heard of at these events, and I think that as runners slowed to a walk the cold and wet got to them, so an increasing number decided to sleep it out in their team tent until dawn. It wasn’t a huge exodus, but it was apparent that there were less and less people on the track as the night wore on.

Manually calculating lap times got harder and harder as we got tired. What’s 14 hours 7 minutes and 23 seconds less 13 hours 53 minutes and 48 seconds? After you have been awake for 20 hours? Just as well Antonia wasn’t relying on precise splits from us.
The other NZ team members were all doing well, with all of them still running strong. Each person had their own way of approaching the race –Antonia just liked to run past with hardly a pause, and only stopped the one time, when we put her warm/dry clothes on. Some runners took each feed session as the chance for a mini rest break, stopping for a minute to chat to their crew, others had scheduled longer breaks where they sat and had a quick massage or shoe change.

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Just hanging on and waiting for dawn

Wayne Botha would have to take the support crew award, he arrived at the feed station carrying two cups of hot coffee that he had picked up from the communal feed station – and presented them to his crew! Brilliant. Where was my hot chocolate Antonia?
By 4.00 am I was starting to fade, it has been a long time since I was up all night! I was only just hanging on, waiting for dawn – even though I knew that there still 6 hours to go from there. Olivia was strong through this period, and she carried me through it. Antonia was fantastic, still circulating at incredibly regular intervals.

The final quarter – 6 am to Midday

Dawn finally arrived, as it does. The rain stopped for a while and we actually had a bit of weak sunshine. There were significantly less competitors on the course now, although as things warmed up over the next few hours a few of them staggered out of the tents and started clocking up more laps.

The PA announcer started up again around 8, and it was obvious that his infatuation with Antonia had not faded during the night. She was still one of his favourite runners.

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Chatting to her new friend Pieter

It was around this point in Antonia’s only previous 24 hour race that she had hit the wall and walked for 4 hours. Olivia and I checked her total distance and saw that she could afford to slow her average pace and still achieve 200km, as long as she didn’t have an extended walk break. After a bit of “should-we/shouldn’t we?” we decided to share this information with Antonia – even though she doesn’t normally like to know where she is at in a race. Once we mentioned it, Antonia admitted that she had been counting her feed laps, and that there was an enormous lap board at the start/finish line being updated off the timing chips, so she had known all along what her distance was. So much for us trying not to upset her with this information.

Antonia had also picked 200km as her target, and was starting to worry that she would not get there if she hit the wall again. 20 hours into the run, and it was finally getting serious – everything up to this point had just been the warm up, now the hard work was going to start.

I have to admit that I found these last hours quite tedious. I have no idea how the runners managed it, I was just over the whole thing and wanted it to finish. I was felling the lack of sleep, and starting to fumble around like a zombie – Olivia was running the feed sessions single-handed. I decided that a change of scenery would help me, so I walked a few laps in reverse to get photos from a different angle and offer support to runners at the back of the course.

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This isn’t much fun any more

I saw Antonia and she confided that she was terrified that she was going to end up walking and miss her 200km target. I offered some pointless words of encouragement, but could not really help her much. Although she was showing the strain and had slowed marginally, she was still lapping nicely, going better than a lot of competitors. By now there was a large number of people walking slowly along on the death march, obviously just hoping to keep moving forward until the finish hooter sounded.

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I don’t think Antonia is enjoying it much either.

During one of these laps I was approaching a supporter from behind as he watched New Zealand runner Kim Allen come towards him. He called out “go Kiwi – how is Antonia doing?” Kim replied that she didn’t know, but he could ask her father. I introduced myself and stopped for a chat, assuming that he knew Antonia from her UK running. It turned out that he had only met her in this race. He had run several laps with her during the night before he retired, and was so impressed by her that he was very keen to know how she was doing.

Olivia and I had another talk and agreed that Antonia was likely to get 200km, and could probably get close to 210 km if we could keep her moving at the same pace. Being as tired as we were, it took several attempts for us to calculate the required laps, remaining time, average lap time required. We decided not to share this with Antonia, but to just do what we could to keep her going. It was obvious that she was fading, so we made the call to change her food schedule, to try and get more instant energy into her. With hindsight, we should have made some different changes, and probably earlier. This might have improved her energy levels, but we will never know.

Antonia’s lap times had slipped from an incredibly consistent 14 or 15 minutes for the first 20 hours, to 16 or 17 minutes by now, but they were not getting any slower than that. At around 23.5 hours she came past to start what we knew would be the lap to clock up 200km, and we excitedly calculated that if she maintained her pace she would get close to 210km. We decided to share this with her when she came around again, to see if it would give her a mental boost.

We watched the clock while we waited for Antonia to finish that lap – 16 minutes, 17 minutes, 18, 20, ….. I got quite concerned and set off around the course to find her and check that she was OK. I caught up with her just as she walked over the start/finish line for her chip to record that she had in fact done over 200km. She was delighted, and shattered. She saw me and mumbled that she had done it, she could stop now. I tried to encourage her to keep moving, still thinking that we could convince her to try for 210km, but it soon became clear that she had run out of mental energy once she had achieved her target.

Although it had stopped raining, it was still quite cold, and Antonia was cooling down now that she was not running. I wanted to give her my jacket, but in my diminished mental state worried that this would get her disqualified, so I just convinced her to keep walking to the crew tents. During this 300 metre section she was joined on the course by her new friend Pieter. Another bloke that she had met and run with during the event, he was delighted that she had made it, and happy to walk her home. As we walked past all the crew tents, everyone seemed to know Antonia’s name and called out congratulating her as she passed. I am pretty sure she would take the award for “Personality of the race”

We got Antonia back to the NZ tent and it was obvious that she was not going to be doing any more laps. We bundled her up in warm clothes and blankets as the effort caught up with her quickly and her body started to shut down. This threw me into a panic, and Olivia had to get some help for her. We wrapped her up and Kim’s support crew kindly helped me carry Antonia to our B&B where we could get her warm and dry.

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Collapsed in the team tent after 201km

 

 

 

Ann fed and showered Antonia while I crashed out and had my best sleep in years.

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Ouch ! !

Summary
I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Ultra runners and their supporters are a great bunch of people, and the kiwi contingent are (of course) better than most.

This was a World Championships, and the runners were serious about running some ridiculously long distances, but they were also relaxed and outwardly calm about it all.

Olivia was fantastically strong throughout. She could have done the whole thing on her own, and she certainly carried me for the last 4 hours.

Antonia clocked up a staggering distance of over 200km. To put this in perspective, if you are from Nelson, it is the distance from the cathedral to Springs Junction. If you are not from Nelson, play on Google maps to see how far it is from your home. Think about driving that, then try to imagine running it. It still makes my head spin.

Ann and I are incredibly proud of her, and I would love to write an even longer essay, but I have to go and write my Father of the Bride speech now.

Ultra Tales

If you enjoy reading about ultra marathon experiences (and why else are you reading this blog) , have a look at the Ultra Tales e-zine, available for download from either of these sources –

 http://bit.ly/RLhLgc

http://bit.ly/WL6Yr2

It has a collection of race reports and articles, mostly from the UK.

If you have read my full blog you may not need to read my article on page 63. Having said that, I wrote the article specifically for the e-zine, so it flows a lot better than the disjointed live updates and daily reports on this blog.

The rest of the e-zine is well worth reading for anyone even remotely interested in ultra-marathon running.

Day 5 – The Final Session

Well, it’s all over, and it feels great.

Today’s course was Antonia’s fault. She is going to have a crack at a 24 hour track race in London later this year, and she thought ti would be good for me to set a time so that she can smash it.

50.4 km, 5:53:49

Splits

10k      1:10:55

20k      1:09:20

30k      1:11:29

40k      1:10:10

50k      1:09:35

The GPS tells me that 50km arrived in 5:51:32. That’s your target Antonia.

Here’s the GPS log of today’s course – not very interesting viewing 🙂

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The huge benefit of this run is that it was easy for friends to support me.

Ann was going to get me underway and then get on with her day. As it turned out one thing led to another and she stayed all day. I am extremely grateful for her help and support for today, and the previous 4 days.

Dennis & Ruth spent an hour or so in the morning, and Dennis walked a rest lap with me. They came back for the last few hours as well, which was great.

The big surprise was when my parents, Alex & Doreen walked in during the afternoon, having come up from Hokitika to see me finish my madness. Ann apparently knew about this and kept it from me – something we might have to discuss later.

Greg was also there early, and walked my first rest lap with me. He eventually made 4 visits, including one to drop off a banner that he had made for me.

Joanna brought her own chair and some work to do, then got a Mexican wave going – this initially looked odd as she was the only person there at the time, but it was still impressive, and got even better as others arrived and joined in.

Jo & Ruth (no, the other Ruth) ran 10k with me. I don’t think that they intended to run that far, but we were having a good old gossip, and I think they could see that I needed the company about that time.

Viv brought me a delightful balloon, and cheered me through several laps.

Phil from Chocolate Velvet and Darren The Irish Coach both took time pout to come and watch the lunatic in action.

And Terry, who I used to run with in the  Trafalgar Harrier days back in the seventies spent several hours there and walked a rest lap.

I’m sorry that I didn’t stop to talk to everyone, I wanted to keep my groove going. It must have been boring for everyone to watch me go around in circles.

The middle part of the day is a bit of a blur, I am sorry if I missed mentioning anyone, you were all fantastic support.

I also got a lot of support messages via text (including 2 fromScotland, thank you Scot and Antonia). I didn’t stop to reply to them during the day, as I wanted to keep moving.

Another advantage of this course is that I didn’t have to carry any gear for the day – I just left all of my stuff on a table at the side of the track. This meant that I didn’t have to carry a backpack or wear a fuel belt, and it felt awesome to be unencumbered. It also meant that I could wear my official “5x50km” event shirt that was sent from theUK. Up until know I had not wanted to wear it in case it got damaged by rubbing against my pack or belt. It is a great shirt to run in, and I will wear it with pride at harrier club events this season.

The final benefit of running on the track is that I could run with my eyes shut when I got tired. I do this quite often, but it does need a reasonably smooth and straight bit of track – which I hadn’t seen for a few days. It was vey relaxing as I got tired to close my eyes by about 80% and just drift along.

I had one final technology issue and couldn’t skype with Olivia inLondon. We were going to run the first few laps together, and it didn’t work. I was a bit disappointed with myself, because if I had tested it at home the night before I could have fixed the problem. Hey, isn’t it amazing that I expected to stand in a paddock in the back of Stoke and video chat for free to someone inLondon!

Instead Olivia gave me a countdown via text, and I was away.

We had beautiful weather all day, a nice crisp early winter day with a cooling breeze later in the afternoon. Perfect running conditions for me, I don’t like the heat.

The day on the track wasn’t as tough mentally or physically as I expected.

I had my GPS set to announce every 2km, and every 4k I changed direction and walked 300-400 metres. This gave me something to focus on and look forward to, and it was only over the last 6 or 7 km that I was starting to wish it was over.

We lost count of laps at about 7 out of a theoretical 120 – “have I done 7 laps now?” “No, only 6” “I thought it was 7…” so we stopped counting, and I just relied on my GPS to tell me how far I had run.

All the usual niggles made their appearance and I struggled a bit from the late twenties to mid thirties. As Antonia says, it was at that point that I “got my plod on” Then things eased up (or I got better at ignoring them) until my calves tightened up over the last 4 km. Wasn’t enough to make me stop though, I just battled on.

I changed shoes at 40k, which I haven’t bothered with before. This made a small improvement (possibly psychological) for a few laps, until I remembered that the “fresh” shoes were the ones that I had run 7 hours in yesterday.

So I just kept going around as the GPS counted up the km, and eventually finished a bit earlier than I had expected. Also earlier than Ian Courtenay expected, he arrived to run the last few laps with me – about 5 minutes after I was done. He did bring some Sprig & Fern IPA with him though, so I forgave him as we had a beer together. Then he had to go for his run.

My recovery drink tonight is Sprig & Fern Porter. I might have an extra glass or two, given that I don’t have to go running tomorrow.

What it is like to finish the epic 5 days? It feels awesome. I am delighted to achieve what was a personal challenge. I will give ita bit more thought and post about it later.

When will I run again? That has yet to be determined. I feel as though I could do a few quiet hours tomorrow, but I don’t feel the motivation. And I have to see a client in the morning. I might have a jog on Sunday, if there is anyone in town. A lot of my usual running mated will be in Christchurch for the half marathon, and I am definitely not running that.

Starting to Feel the nerves Now

That countdown box has a very scary low number in it.

I published a draft programme about 2 weeks ago, and there has been nothing since then to make me change it.

Kick off is 9.00 Sunday morning at Rabbit Island

Graeme, one of my Athletics Nelson clubmates, is going to do the first 20 or 30 km with me.

Graeme is training for the San Francisco marathon in July, so it is very generous of him to give up a serious training session to come and muddle about at ultra-running pace. And I will certainly appreciate the company.

Hillary has been offered that use of a bike for the day, so she will be able to follow us around most of the island.

The forecast is for rain, heavy at times. That doesn’t worry me too much, I don’t think I will rust or shrink. It just ups the ante on the chafing front 😦

 

Provisional Programme for My Big Week

OK, after a bit of thought and discussion, here is what I ahve at this stage:

Sunday 27th – 2.5 laps of Rabbit Island

A flat one to start with, all off-road. Possible the easiest of the lot, although I will have to remind myself to stop every now and then. Long flat runs don’t have a lot of natural resting/walking places.

The Triathlon and Multisport club have a duathlon at Rabbit Island that day, so there will be a few people that I know out there anyway.

Monday 28th – Takaka to Riwaka

Possibly the toughest one. All on the road, and with a Very Big Hill.

Ann will shadow me in the car for the day, and we will have Hillary for company as well.

Tuesday 29th – Abel Tasman National Park, Marahau to Bark Bay and return

off-road, on good tracks. Mostly undulating, one long climb, one steep climb. A good one to recover from the road run on Monday.

Wednesday 30th – Coppermine Saddle/Rocks Hut and return

This one is weather dependent. Although I am happy running in rain and cold, I don’t want to be hours from civilisation and on the exposed tops if a nasty Southerly front is coming through.

My mate Jeff is going to ride most of it with me. Great company for me, a long boring day for him.

Thursday 31st – Saxton Field Athletics Track

Shudder. I am still not sure about this one, perhaps that is why I haven’t yet asked for official permission to use the track.

It seems like a good mental challenge to sign off with, and Antonia wants me to do it so that she can beat my time when she does a 24 hour race later this year. 

Are these good enough reasons to run around in circles all day?

 

Just a quick update

That was a very pleasant run today. Just a gentle 20km on a brilliant autumn morning. The view across Tasman Bay was fantastic.

It felt strange running on reasonably fresh legs, and I felt as though I could run all day. Probably because I wasn’t running all day 🙂

I looks as though the live tracker worked OK, let me know if you had trouble with it.