Wednesday, 02 October 2013 20:13

Run on Water

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Cast of characters:

Sara – A slip of a lady with massive determination and bundles of energy.

Sally F– 10 in 10 winner, fantastic runner/ultra runner preparing for an ice ultra next year.

Cath – A powerful lady with guts and determination. Already has a 50+ miler under her belt.

Phil – A big lad with a big heart. Already with a GUC finish under his belt (Birmingham – London canal -145 miles non stop)

Adrian – Conceived the event. Knows all about running through the pain barrier as he ran the last few days of the 10 in 10 with a stress fracture. Why?

Matt - Strong, rock solid athlete, training for The Spine (basically the Pennine way-268 miles of joy)

Sally O and Andrew – support and general hurlers of abuse disguised as encouragement

So, the Ironman (IM)was done and dusted and I took a few days to rest and let the body heal itself after such a mammoth event. The following Saturday I went out for a leisurely bike ride and slowly got back into running over the next few days. Everything felt fine and I had a couple of 12 milers to get back into the longer stuff. I was starting to focus on the Run on Water event, a mere 129.67 miles over 4 days along the Leeds – Liverpool canal, some serious running and a test of mental strength.

Things were going well with a planned 30 mile training run coming up but then disaster struck. I awoke early one morning and my right foot was in agony, swollen, pulsating with pain and the colour of an apoplectic teenager with constipation. Or in other words it hurt a lot. A box of ibuprofen later and it was still painful to walk on.

As the run on water approached it started to ease off a bit and I went out for a couple of miles to see how it reacted. Everything seemed fine but with only 5 days or so to go I was still un-decided as to whether I should attempt the canal or not . A day of rest followed to see if there was a reaction followed by a 5 mile run which again seemed to be fine. I was due to leave for Leeds on the Wednesday and on Tuesday went out for another 5 miles or so and decided that I would give it a go, I mean what could go wrong, just a little pain in my foot!

I arrived at the start line feeling remarkably fresh, and so I should have, having done hardly any training for 3 weeks. My problem was that I had to convince myself that my fitness levels would be OK after such a long lay-off following on from the relatively light training after the IM. On paper I had only run about 70 odd miles in 5 weeks, a long way from my normal mileage, at least the foot seemed to be OK.

Day 1

We all set off and settled into a gentle pace, the going underfoot was pretty good pathways and the route was pancake flat, no surprise there, I mean it is a canal after all. The only undulations were the locks and a couple of times that we had to cross over the canal. All in all a nice run though I was beginning to suspect that I might get a tad sick of the sight of water.

At twenty miles the path became a bit muddy and more like a sheep trail across the moors with tree routes and stones to contend with. At this point my lack of running for the previous weeks was beginning to tell and I was slowing down a fair bit and indeed walking for some parts. The finish couldn’t come fast enough for me and I was ticking of the miles very slowly. Eventually I reached the finish at 29 miles and was happy to stop, but was disappointed with myself for bonking so badly with a few miles to go. I needed to rest, recover and eat well to be sure I was going to be OK for the next day.

Day 2

Dawned bright and sunny, as good a day as any to run an ultra! After a rather unsettled nights sleep, I rose early as we all did in preparation for a 9.30am start. Not that early you may think but for us runners it’s a good idea to get some fuel in and to give it a chance to digest, otherwise there is every possibility that you will be saying “hello” to it as it is forcefully ejected from your stomach a few miles in. Not the most pleasant of experiences I’m sure you will agree. Sorry, I digress, back to the run. I had decided on a new tactic for today, run slower. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Nope not really, running slower requires a lot more concentration trying to rein in the natural pace you want to run at.

The first several miles seemed to pass by fairly quickly as the terrain was rough under foot but open country which was pretty to look at. At about 12 miles I felt like I was struggling a bit and stopped to chomp on some Jaffas and malt loaf, I immediately felt better and trotted off towards the halfway point and some food and fresh water supplies. I had set off with nearly 2 litres of water and at the halfway point had consumed nearly all of it. Sally O was on hand though, thrusting water into my hand while I chomped away. By the time I had finished eating she had filled up my water bladder and stuck it all back together in my back pack, great pitstop. Apart from occasionally seeing Sally O or Andy cycling on the path, this was the only support and chance to pick up food and water during the runs.

Of I set for the second half. My gentle plod was just that, my aim was to go through the marathon distance in a reasonable time and then just try and hold that pace for as long as possible. 26 miles came and went and as I was heading of the canal path to route around a tunnel, Matt came flashing past me like a steam train. The guy was hammering along at some pace. I tried to keep with him and let him drag me along but he was just moving so fluidly that within 400 metres he was nearly out of sight.

30 miles done, only 2 to go, or so I thought. We had been told that the finish would be at bridge 114. The only trouble was that there were 114 A, 114 B, and 114 C. We all had maps but as it was a straight forward canal run maps were buried deep in back packs so as a result weren’t consulted whilst running.

At about 32.5 miles I passed bridge 114C, naturally thinking that the next two bridges in the sequence would be fairly close , also as I was given to belief that the run was 32 miles so by my calculations in my tired head I thought I was close to the finish. This is when running is not much fun, and I was starting to have a sense of humour failure. Imagine, legs are hurting, feet are throbbing, hungry, dehydrating slowly, mentally tired and just generally want to stop and lie down. My brain had programmed itself for 32 miles and anything beyond that was not acceptable. It takes a great deal of mental strength to re-programme and keep putting one foot in front of the other but this is what I had to do. I was reduced to running with periods of walking and slowly chugged along passing bridge 114 B at last and eventually seeing the finishing bridge in the distance. What a welcome sight that was I can tell you and another 34 miles ticked off. Nearly halfway!!

Day 3

Saturday morning and my foot was just starting to ache a tad. Psychologically, I had thought this was going to be a tough day from the outset, just about half way but by the end of the day still plenty to do. I was ready for the challenge and set off as the previous day at a nice steady pace. Today seemed to be the warmest day so keeping hydrated was going to be important. I was reminded of this on the few occasions that I saw Andy and Sally O who reminded me to drink little and often. It’s funny, it doesn’t matter how many years I have been running but sometimes when you are tired you can forget to do the basics. Eating and drinking are pretty basic things to do, miss out on a planned snack and water though and it will come and bite you later on in the run, especially on long distance stuff.

The halfway point came up pretty quick, or so it seemed. I was feeling comfortable in my legs but my right foot was taking a battering and was protesting somewhat. I was sucking pain killers at regular intervals but was confident that I would be OK. The sun was the warmest it had been for the run and the scenery was a lot better than the factories and old mills of Yorkshire.

As I approached the outskirts of Wigan I stopped and took my phone out to take some pictures. Here there are a number of locks all falling downhill which look quite stunning and the view across the town was lovely. I trotted down the locks knowing that I was within a few minutes of the finish. For me the difficult day was over, and as it turned out it wasn’t too bad after all, 5 hours for 30.5 miles. Only one more day and we would be in Liverpool! The only downer on the day was that Phil dropped out at half way, I was really surprised as he has such a good pedigree at ultra events, having said that he knew what he could deal with and his feet were in bits. A great shame but he would live to fight another day.

Day 4

After a lovely Italian meal with the “gang”, I had a pretty decent nights sleep. I slept with compression socks on to try to reduce the swelling in my foot. It was going to be a painful day and, if the forecast was to be believed, a wet and windy one.

We had all decided that we would do a staggered start so that we would more or less finish within an hour of each other. Sara was first to start as she had been struggling with injury and was out on course just after 8am, in fact we were all struggling with injuries or niggles in one form or another. Cath and Adrian were next out the door with Sally F, Matt and myself starting at 9.30 as normal.

I had been hobbling around all morning and had only put my running shoes on 10 minutes before the start. I struggled to squash my swollen right foot into my shoe and laced it up, popped some more painkillers and concentrated on the day ahead. I knew that whatever happened I would get to the end, I just wasn’t sure what state I was going to be in when I got there or, how long it would take.

As we were about to set off it started to rain so I decided to pop my rain jacket on, only to take it off a mile down the path. The early part of the run was very pleasant and scenic and the weather managed to behave itself. About an hour or so in mother nature decided to throw everything at us, the wind howled and the rain came down in torrents, a tough day was about to get tougher. I plodded on past groups of fisherman who seemed impervious to the weather, one stopped to ask me what we were doing and seemed gobsmacked when I told him. Just a normal day for us runners.

I reached the halfway point a little later than I anticipated, but considering that I had a small person with a hammer banging on my foot every step I took I was prepared to accept that. Times for me were irrelevant now, and to finish in one piece was the order of the day. After a brief stop at halfway, where once again the pitstop crew sorted my pack out and the great Matt Dunn (10 in 10 fame) shoved some painkillers at me, I was on my way.

The weather eased of a bit and my jacket came off, only for me to have to put it back on a mile later. This was to be the order of the day for the remainder of the journey. About 7/8 miles out of Liverpool I came up behind Cath. She was walking and looked to be in some pain, but like me was determined that she was going to finish, funny breed of people us runners, just don’t know when to give up. Andy came up on the bike and chatted with Cath as I ran on. 3 miles later and I stumbled across Sara. She too was walking and had run out of water. I gave her a good slurp of water and left her with a painkiller if she needed it later and trotted of down the road.

I could tell I was coming through Liverpool as the buildings were becoming quite industrial. There was a sharp right turn that took me down some locks to the end of the canal. It was here that I caught up with Adrian, and for once the howling wind was squarely behind and blowing us along. Adrian asked if we should finish together but I declined as I wanted to finish on my own. Although we had all bonded as a team it was a very individual event and like the IM had been a long, hard but rewarding journey. I virtually skipped along this part of the route running towards Albert Docks, the pain in my foot momentarily forgotten as I forged towards the finish. This last day had been the longest and the slowest, my foot hurt like hell and a couple of toe nails on my left foot had decided that enough was enough and are at present a lovely black colour.

The inaugural Run on Water had been completed. Sally F was the winner, Matt behind her, they both looked like they had been back for ages by the time Myself and Adrian trotted over the line. Sara and Cath weren’t too far behind. We were all winners really, we had accepted the challenge and conquered it, all 130 miles, a brilliant effort all round, just a shame Phil wasn’t there with us.

As usual some Thank You’s. Trudi, as always just lets me get on with it without moaning, without her I couldn’t do it. Also the guys that work for me covering shifts and working extra hours when I’m not there. Thanks also to Sally O and Andy for keeping us all going with words of encouragement and a friendly smile. Adrian who’s madcap idea this was and last but not least the other guys who ran. Truly inspirational people doing something daft.

What about the foot I hear you cry!?! Well now, a few X rays later, a visit to a podiatrist, physio and doctor twice and nobody knows really. It’s been given a couple of more weeks of rest by the doctor before she refers me to a orthopaedic consultant. Here’s hoping I never meet them It still hurts but not so much, it’s still glowing but not so bright, it’s still inflamed though the chipota toes are getting smaller, the things us runners do, we just don’t know when to give up!

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