Thursday, 25 September 2014

Equinox Solo Morph

When taking a step into the unknown (eg anything over 26.2 miles in my case) you can either prepare diligently or morph it! Equinox is a 24hr run at Belvoir Castle on a 10km course from midday to midday. I decided to Morph it!

Thank you to everyone that made it possible from those that sponsored me or wished me good luck, that gave me advice, kit, flapjacks, that helped me train or supported me to those on the day who put the event on, marshaled, supported or competed. Special mention to this lot who were actually in the arena! I was like a Morph baton in a relay being passed from one runner to another to see me through the next part of a lap. Thank you.

Biggest thank you goes to Mich for her patience, support, advice, determination, strength, inspiration, selflessness, unwavering belief and indestructible love. There were at least two occasions at Equinox where I would have given up had it not been for her! She kept me going and brought me in on my final lap when I was emotionally and mentally broken. She did this despite having done 5 laps herself. 3 recorded and two without a chip to support others doing a lap. She did this only 4 weeks on from her last Hemiplegic Migraine where she again lost the use of the left side of her body. She couldn't walk properly or raise her arm above her shoulder or pick things up or remember things or speak properly. I may have mentioned this to a few (all) of you if I got the chance but my spirits were lifted massively when telling everyone about her! She is my strength, my belief and she gives a bloody good mid race pep talk!

I like to blog about these events for a few reasons. Firstly, I think I am ace and funny so its nice to read them back and be reminded that I am neither! Secondly, to give you all a flavor of the event and to persuade you to sponsor me more money. Thirdly, to acknowledge the human spirit that shines through at these events but is often lacking in the day to day!

It could easily read like all my others ie lost for words, amazing event, wonderful people, everything hurts, success/failure, humble, sponsor me, thank you. It probably will but I am gonna try and condense it to the absolute essence of the experience. Anyone looking for an insight into the right nutrition or tips as to how to tackle a 24hr run might not gain too much info here I'm afraid.

Lap 1 was a good run fully morphed.
Lap 2 good until toward the end when the already niggly calf gave up. Calf guards saved the day as I could still run as long as I didn't mind the pain. Ran with two walk breaks to eat on the two hills. Fully morphed with hood off to eat.
Lap 3 calf painful but manageable and ran it with two walk breaks. Full morph with food breaks.
Lap 4 probably the same as 3 as I cant really remember.
Lap 5 finished about 7.30 as darkness fell. Fully morphed with food breaks. Every step from the middle of this lap was a new distance PB!
Lap 6 Tried to run in the dark with Morphsuit hood on but simply couldn't see. Had to unzip hood for night laps. Lap 6 was a wet one.50/50 run/walk
Lap 7 As 6 but the rain stopped but the cold had set in. Finished this lap at midnight.
Lap 8 A painful and difficult shuffle walk as body parts began to give in!
Lap 9 A bigger dose of Lap 8. This finished about 7.30am and Mich had dragged me round. Supremely difficult mentally and physically.
Lap10 Broke me emotionally and mentally. I walked very gingerly and wobbling an awful lot. Back to full Morph as it was now light but it wasn't a nice place to be. Mich met me with 3km to go and walked me in. 3km I couldn't have done without her because I was now broken.
Thats it, 24hrs, no sleep, 10 laps, 100km or 62 miles. Ultramorph in the loosest sense! The esssence however is captured by the spirit of the people involved.

Mark Dodgson won it last year with 20 laps. He should have been focused on his race because he does race! Instead he allowed me to keep my kit and food at his solo tent with his support team - his lovely wife Gung. At the end of each lap I was offered drinks, food, gels, salt tablets, painkillers basically anything i could need. A seat, a blanket, a lie down. Anything. On the occasions Mark and I finished a lap around a similar time he would check on me, check I was fueling, not making mistakes and give me advise before he whizzed off again. His pit stops were 10 mins whereas mine became 30 or more quite quickly. I was looked after brilliantly and they gave me every chance to go as far as I possibly could. The last pit stop we met at he had withdrawn after 13 laps. He was wrapped in a quilt nursing a broken ankle. He made sure I was OK as I set off to do what turned out to be my final lap. He was still there when i finished it some two and a half hours later. Gung and Mark have my utmost respect and sincere thanks.

The most amazing of laps was lap 5 and produced a truly humbling experience when I met Marathon Man UK aka Rob. At 5km I approached the water station and there was a kilted chap sitting down chatting to the marshalls. He was talking about raising money for various charities. This got my attention and I started chatting to him. What followed blew me away. Not in a 'what a great bloke' kinda way but a 'my god that was a life checking, utterly humbling experience' kinda way. We got chatting as I raise a bit of money for Birmingham Children's hospital and Children with Cancer UK. He offered to walk the tricky grass down and up section with me as light was beginning to fade and I had been a bit slower than I thought I would be on the lap so was without a torch yet. I followed his bright green socks for focus and he steered me round each dip and talked me through the terrain as we talked about his amazing running achievements and his outstanding charity work. 5km became 4km and we started to run. All the time he stayed at my pace, checked on me, talked me round the hazards as vision became more and more limited. By 2km we were running well but I now couldn't see his socks. My vision down to zero. Rob then took off his t shirt held one end and passed the other to me. He then guided me in, still running, to the lap start/finish line. I was truly blown away during that 5km listening to Rob, learning about his journey and by this fantastic random act of kindness! He could have run on or just suggested I unzip the hood of the morphsuit so I could see as well as he could. I wish there was a pic but regardless that 5km has made a huge impact. Floored me in an entirely positive way. I wish him all the very very best with his fundraising, running and his future. I would also recommend you look him up!

Rob was only doing 5 laps to bag a marathon before he got the train back to London and then out to Fareham for an early start at the Pilgrim Marathon Sunday morning however his running is of the quality that he would be in the mix to win this event if he was there for the full event. There were probably 10/15 of the 80 solo entries who had a chance of the win. All of them supported other runners with comments or pats on the back, all of them were engaging and happy to talk and they all supported each other despite being in competition. Sharing fuel, salt tabs, medical supplies, kit etc. Pick me out another sport like that? I can think of only a handful!

The support for this event is great because its mainly the relay runners waiting to go out or everyone's support crews. Some take it to a new level though! I was lucky to have Mich finding me at some point at least once each lap to give me a hug and an encouraging word. The only time we missed each other was a couple of times when she was on course doing laps. I had Ellie and George there cheering me on, hugging and hi fiving me and running bits with me. I also had Team Poppyfields members there cheering me on. Add to this the likes of Shabba Runners, Belvoir Tri club, Ripon Runners, Wannabe Wonder Women, Grantham Running Club, Pirates and all the other teams pitched around the field for the 10th km who every time I went past gave me some support. Either a 'keep going', 'great effort', 'pick your effin knees up!'. Sometimes I would hear people say things like 'oh shit just realised he is solo!' or 'he's been going all night!' This drives me on. Its like being given a new pair of legs (at least for a short while).

Two groups of kids that I didn't know were great. I had just run a lap with Rob Bateman who had to withdraw as the ruptured tendons in his foot from a fall the week before were just too painful. He had run 3 laps on it!!! I had stopped for a bacon sarnie from my pack and a banana. As I set off the first section is a 2km tarmac then grass section. It may have been lap 4 or 5. As I reached 1km I caught up with two kids walking the course. I asked if they were ok and if there parents knew how far they were out from the campsite and they said as long as they stick together they are allowed. I think one was 9 and the other 7. One was dressed as a bear! The bear pointed to the pirate symbol on my suit and told me his dad was a Pirate. Turned out to be Rob that I had just run a lap with.

I suggested to them that they head back to their tent now as it was getting on but they wanted to run with me. So they did, all the way back to the crossroads at 2.5km where they headed back to camp. They were ace asking me questions about the morphsuit, running, pirates, trainers, cars, ducks, castles, sheep, roads, fields etc etc etc. The time flew by and they were a brilliant distraction from the multiplying niggles! I hope they weren't to scarred by the experience.

The other group of kids were two Ninja like lads who each time I went through the tree lined tarmac section seemed to leap out of the trees screaming 'Sid Sid go Sid' and always got over to me for a Hi 5. I mentioned this to Alex Cooke later on and the kids were with him. They were phenominal in their was Alex. Alex was one of the 10/15 that could podium at Equinox however due to an entirely overly optimistic blistering first few laps he managed to fire his quads into the seventh level of hell! Fortunately for me this dropped him to my shuffle/walk pace. It meant that several times he would walk or run a section with me and he helped me through many a lap. A bloody nice bloke with a heart of gold. He finished with 17 laps despite the quad problems. I am sure he will be back to answer the 'what if' questions!

Many people passed the Morph Baton on to get me round. I didn't understand beforehand how being Solo was in fact a huge team effort. Some perhaps didn't realise the help they gave! Everyone helped but particularly helpful were Lozza who dishes out energy hugs like sweets, Tigger who bounces along on a run as the name suggests, Morphman (the orginal) who was relaying due to some injuries, Ade (I think - No 12) who was very generous with his advice, Wilko and his 'get your knees up' heckle from inside his sleeping bag (lazy git!) and Sarah & Vicky for Team Bear Tri and many many more. Some may not have even got a coherent response from me although I did try and acknowledge, thank and support everyone. I did offer some flapjack to a woman who dropped on the hill whilst feeling faint. She had her earphones in and clearly didn't want to talk. I stayed with her until she was up and on her way and then she disappeared on ahead.

Lots of niggles develop quickly. Calf went on lap two and I noticed the pain until probably lap 8. Kidneys were intensely painful through the night. Everything ached from lap 6 onwards. I developed a 5 lap blister on the ball of my right foor. My toes and feet, legs arse and elbows (wtf!?) hurt. By lap 9 my underscrote felt like it was being serrated with a hacksaw! But these are all manageable. I learned however that hypothermia cannot be easily ignored.

When I finished lap whatever at Midnight I was struggling with everything. Tiredness and pain was getting to me. I really hoped I would see Mich at the end of the lap. Unfortunately she couldn't be at the finish line but Ellie was instead. What a sight for sore eyes. I got a big hug of Ellie and she asked if I needed anything. She helped me back to the Team Poppfields tent and gave me her last slice of Pizza. Easily and by a mile the best thing I have ever eaten. She also found me some Coca Cola. My kidneys were really painful and I wanted to lie down. Ellie looked after me and I decided to go back to Marks tent to change kit to try and warm up.

I was beginning to dither in the wet Morphsuit following rain early on in the evening. I put two dry t-shirts on underneath the Morphsuit. I had a fleece over the top. I wrapped myself in a blanket and Gung made me the most amazing cup of tea. I warmed up and by 1.30am felt ok to crack on. As soon as I stood up without the blanket my body began shaking uncontrollably and my teeth started to chatter. As I went to go back on course I was stopped by Jim Page or Ironjedi. He was about to do the marshall night shift. He is an experienced endurance athlete and does these things properly. These things being things like the DOUBLE Brutal Ironman! Yea the clue is in the title! He said I needed a coat and dismissed my reassurance that I had a fleece on. I told him I would be fine when I started moving again and I didn't have a coat. He took his off and gave it to me. Suggested I have another cup of tea and warm up before I go out. Without a doubt, without his intervention and kindness I would have not got much further than 1km into that lap and my race would have been over. Instead I went out at 2am and managed 2 laps in the coat to see the sunrise. I cannot thank him enough for phenominal support and that coat.

The second of these laps followed more tea (this time from Chris Bennett) and another warm up. I was hoping to see Mich who I knew was pulling a double shift in the early hours to allow her teammates to have some sleep. She had none! (I know!! She is effin amazing!) By pure fluke and as I made the decision to go back out as I couldn't wait any longer, she came through the start finish line and we got to do a lap together. More accurately she dragged me round by the hand. Ive never enjoyed a lap of agonising physical pain as much as I did that one. By this time the pain was constant and each step was painful. At the end of this lap I added to the Morphsuit the TeamBearTri motto!

When I got back to Marks tent he was sat down and wrapped up. I wondered why I hadn't seen him whizz past me for a while and he explained that he had to withdraw as it looks like he has broken his ankle. Probably an injury from the Ring of Fire Ultra a couple of weeks before. He had completed 13 laps on a broken ankle before deciding to call it a day! Had I wanted to stop at 9 laps I clearly wasn't going to now. I changed under layers and ditched the fantastic coat, now that the sun was coming up, ate some food, chucked a tub of vas on my chaffed under carriage and set off on lap 10.

Lap 10 was beautifully miserable. Within the first km I realised I couldn't get round another lap. The best I could manage was the slowest of walks. The problem was partly the pain, partly the tiredness, partly the fact that I kept drifting to the left or the right, partly the momentary losses of balance but the main problem was that mentally and emotionally I was broken. Throughout the challenge I had a few moments where I may have suffered a leaky eye or two. Nothing major and sometimes a joyous kind of leak. Now however, kilometres 91 - 100, I had lost control. As people ran past and shouted encouragement I couldn't reply because I was a snivelling wreck inside the suit. The only give away being the emotional shoulder shuffle that you cant hide when getting upset. Any tears ran within the morphsuit and to add to the foul stale bodily stench in the suit I was now dealing with a build up of snot having nowhere to go other than down and over my mouth! Grim I know but I didn't want to take the hood down as people would see the state I was in.

As I reached the crossroads at 2.5km I did think about jacking it in and returning. The crossroads is the last place you could cut a lap short. The temptation was massive. I was in a lot of pain, I had achieved a personal best in distance, it wasn't a bad first effort at a 24 hr event and no one would think bad of me. The problem of course is that we do these things for two reasons....or at least I do. The first is to raise money for charity and the second is for redemption! Could I accept a pat on the back for jacking it in when I know I could have done better? Have I given it my all is the only real question. I looked ahead and knew the tents were only 500ft away. I looked to the right and contemplated the bridge, the hill, the grass, the grass hill. As a punishment for my own weakness of thought I turned right. The marshal shouted something nice. I cant remember what. The shoulders went and the tears and snot flowed. I took a step or two and wondered to the right onto the grass. I composed myself and went again. Stopping about 10 steps on to gather myself and then went again. Jarvy and Christine ran towards me and both Hi 5'd me. I don't think I spoke but in response to Christine's concern I may have raised a thumb! I told myself to just count one step at a time. To just fucking do it! It cant be that difficult and its only me, the mental me, holding me back.

It seemed to take an age to get to 5km and the relief of getting to the water station and loo was immense. The marshals helped me unzip to pee and I took the chance to wipe my face and clear myself of snot. To gather my senses and steel myself for the last 5km. I made the decision that this lap would be my last. As I started on the marshal shouted " I hope you didn't pee in your hood! " a specific morphsuit hazard we had discussed earlier. I raised a thumb and shouted a thank you for all the help. Gav whizzed by and I told him that this was my last lap and for him to tell Mich. He whizzed on and I ground out the grass hill back to the tarmac. Lo and behold my two support Ninja's appeared with Alex. They are a potty bunch of kids and went mad with support. A few Hi 5's later and after a brief 'are you doing another' discussion, mainly in jest, I thanked them and moved on. As I rounded the field bend to head back toward the tarmac I was actually doing one step forward and then two right or two left. This was becoming arduous. A figure was approaching. It was Mich. Gav may have suggested I was struggling a bit I think. She met me with 3km to go. I've never needed a hug so much. She knows what I am like, she knows I cant speak to her when I've lost it, I know she doesn't need me to say anything. She took my hand and walked me on. Jacko ran passed and gave me another shout of encouragement. He is also responsible for my favourite pic of the day! Sometimes you just need a helping hand.

From 2km on I was a bit more with it. We chatted as we walked. I had accepted that on this day and for this challenge I was done. Throughout the day I had 10 laps as my minimum wish. My biggest fear was that reaching 10 would see me mentally 'finish'. That proved to be the case as it beat me mentally and emotionally every step of that lap. All it means is that next time my target will be 15. Everyone around the field was ridiculously kind with their support and comments. Mich carried me along the grass and at the top bend she gave me a kiss, told me how proud she was and then nipped behind the fence and let me finish the last 50 metres under my own steam. I may even have put in a sprint (shuffle) finish! That was the finish for me as Johnny Nichol gave me my medal and I thanked him and the marshals at the finish. Johnny and Laura thank you for having me.

That was that. 31st out of 80 solos, 10 laps, 100km, 62 miles, 700 relayers, no sleep, marshals, fancy dress, tears, snot, pain, horrendous underscrote chaffing, banter, kindness, hugs, coke, bacon sarnies, flapjacks, water, coats, laughs, love, support, kindness, Poppyfielders, so much kindness, a 'we're not worthy', friends, charity, rain, sunshine, photos and Mich! Quite a 24 hours.

I do believe I and we can do anything we put our minds to. I saw in the people there that day a strength, a determination, a belief, a stubbornness that can achieve anything. Sometimes we just need a helping hand!

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For Tilly, Kitty, Poppy, Andy, Adam & Children with Cancer UK

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