The usual winter lurgy has descended on the Rolfe household with a vengeance. Last Sunday, two kids were on antibiotics and Mrs R and I were feeling a bit under the weather, but battling on. I had entered the Nice to Monaco Course Du Soleil as it was organised by some of the guys that organise the Cro (Cap D'Ail Macadam), and have in the past given them some help with their website, translation and so on. It also fitted in perfectly with my training - the plan was to run it and then cycle back from Monaco to the start, chucking the bike in the truck and driving home, negating waiting for a bus at any stage. On the basis that to miss a workout would be more painful than actually doing it, I went to the race. It would also be my first race of the year, as I had missed a couple more I had entered due to other things cropping up, and would be missing a couple more subsequently due to plans changing.
The usual pre race brekkie of porridge and tea was accompanied with a headache, and as a result of that and rushing out the door, I managed to forget everything including hat, gloves, ipod, and extra layers. To be honest I was not exactly banking on the temperature being just above freezing, either.
Having sheltered from the cold with the engine running and heater turned up full blast in the truck, I made my way to the start just before the start of the race, and where the sun was peeking it's head above Mont Boron it was warming the air at a rate of knots. Above the din of the other runners chatting excitedly like a flock of starlings, I could just make out the stirring music that is played at the start of the UTMB. Moved and excited, I forgot the headache and tried to remember to start my Garmin when I crossed the start line.
Whilst I was dodging the other runners (who goes to the front and then walks the first km of a half marathon?), I kept an eye on my heart rate, which was a lot higher than I would have expected at that point in the race. Reigning everything in, I brought it back to a level I thought I could maintain for the rest of the race, and promised myself I would keep it there or thereabouts.
The first climb up Mont Boron was as expected - lots of runners overtaking me but puffing and panting as they did so. Then the long 2km flat straight into the sun before bearing left down into Villefranche. I had to remind myself to push down the hill, but was getting into my stride as we left the main road into the narrow streets of Villefranche itself. The only clear bit of street was the gutter as I thundered past loads of people on the steep downhill. The only person to overtake me was a skinny guy in a blue t shirt with an "ultra beard", in ginger. The road flattened out as we skirted the port and beach at sea level, and I grabbed a half cup of water at the first ravitellement.
The beach of Villefranche gave way to a narrow staircase up to Cap Ferrat, which was expected and a nice breather for a few seconds as we queued for our turns to climb the short flight of stairs. At the top I tried to use the undulations of Cap Ferrat to my advantage, slowing uphill and speeding downhill.
We left Cap Ferrat for Beaulieu, and as I joined the main road a car shot past us, clearly annoyed at the hold up, and drove right through the peloton of runners to try and park. Fortunately noone was hurt but he was surrounded by irate runners. As I caught this up someone undertook me and then stopped in my path, causing me to run into him at full speed and we both struggled to stay upright. It took a few seconds to register who it was amongst all his swearing and gesticulating, but I recognised Ginger Ultra Beard. For some imagined slight he had pace checked me and bitten off more than he could chew. I ignored him as best I could and continued running, trying to put as much distance between us as possible.
From then on I used the old Mad Dog trick - fishing. Casting an imaginary fly into the back of someone's shirt and then rolling the imaginary reel back until I overtook that particular runner, before repeating the process. This is a great mental game as it keeps me focussed on pace without actually focussing on pace.
I lost a lot of places heading up the hill to Cap D'Ail but was able to make them back and more as I headed down the hill into Monaco. I was a little surprised and annoyed to see Ginger Ultra Beard overtake me on the downhill. We were neck and neck on the flat before heading into the Fontvielle tunnel before he took the lead by a few metres. I let him have his head as we reached the Stade - traditionally the finish of the half marathon, but there was some football match on so the course had been extended by an extra half km or so.
We crossed the border from Monaco back into France, and although I couldn't see the finish I thought it would be where they put the finish for the Tour Pedestre, so I put the hammer down as much as I could, overtaking Ginger about 100m before the line and holding him off to the finish.
I had covered the almost 22km in 1hr 44, 386/1376. My best time for the proper half was 1hr 33, so a long way from that, but I don't feel I left anything out there, I just need to work on some speed work. I grabbed a Coke and jog/walked back to the apartment before changing into my cycling stuff, emptying the dishwasher and putting on a load of washing, before mounting the trusty Bianchi and cycling back to Nice.
It had been quite a windy run which was to be expected, but it was also windy on the bike. I couldn't believe I had gone both ways into a headwind. That didn't make any sense at all. As I headed back up the hill in Cap D'Ail, I overtook a few cyclists, but was overtaken by a club ride of 3, working together as a team, taking it in turns on the front. One guy was clearly much better than the other 2, with a bike in the same colours as his kit - a KTM believe it or not, in black and orange. The guys were from St Laurent du Var, and looking strong.
Just before the tunnel at the top of the hill, the team leader was waiting for their third member, the weakest link, who they had dropped off the back. I caught them as he rejoined and we headed down the hill as a four. I was struggling to keep up until the flat at Eze when I managed to overtake them all and headed on my own.
The two top guys overtook me again on the way up the hill to Villefranche, but when I got to the bottom of the hill KTM guy was waiting and asked me if I'd seen their third wheel. He was looking a little exasperated, but unfortunately I could not help as I had not seen him at all. I carried on to Nice, up the final hill, flat, downhill and hobbled off the bike for a 48 minute 21km bike ride. Not unhappy with that performance, I had a protein bar and headed home for a
2015 is now well under way. Goals have been set; in my case every race I have entered I have got a place for. I am not sure why this is the case - perhaps it's the Monaco thing. A cynic might argue that the race organisers want to appeal to advertisers and sponsors and therefore need to have as many nationalities participating as possible. I have a good chance of being the only Monaco resident that applies, hence will have a place. Or I may just be lucky. Who knows?
Whichever is the case I have an interesting schedule. Marathon in April. Ironman in June - only my 5th ever triathlon. Cro Magnon two weeks later. Another new iteration and relaunch - now called the Cro Trail, complete with new website and finishing on the beach in Menton (not so handy for home, but hey ho!). The IM/Cro double header will be an interesting exercise in cross training and recovery! I will also be taking the start line of the TdS in August. Billed as more difficult despite being shorter than the UTMB. I am not 100% sure how I feel about that, but it's different and therefore primarily it's interesting and exciting (the UTMB was unbelievably hard). All of this means that training is well under way, and moving in the right direction. I need it for my sanity. As Dean Karnazes said when asked of the difference between a jogger and a runner "A jogger still has control of their life." A runner, by definition does not. I missed a day of training the other day. I felt awful. With goals on the horizon I don't have an excuse to stay in bed.
I have planned out the next few months of training schedules without Mad Dog Mike, but I still ask myself what he would say. The memorial run on Boxing Day was very well subscribed, with a group of his online training team sharing photos and memories. One suspects this will be an annual event. My sporting life, if you like, has stabilized.
Which is interesting because my home life is anything but stabilized. #1 is doing her Brevet this year, the equivalent of O Levels or GCSE's. She is often up until midnight working on various projects. She seems to enjoy the work but struggles with fatigue and the usual problems with playground politics. Hopefully fitness will help with that.
For the Rolfe family summer holiday this year we will be doing the Coast to Coast (the UK C2C), on push bikes. The image I have in my head is a scene from some old film, perhaps Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with Dick Van Dyke carefree and singing as he freewheels down a hill, legs splayed out in an inverted vee, singing a catchy ditty. The reality will probably be hours spent deflecting moaning and crying children in a service station whilst sheltering from rain coming in sideways. Whatever the reality, #1, despite not exactly being supportive of the endeavour in the planning stages, has actually started doing some training on the home spinner. One hopes the momentum keeps up and she can keep it as part of her daily routine.
"Is it stabilized?" is also a question I get asked a lot in relation to #2 and her diabetes. Her last two HBA1C's have been near enough perfect, which settled everyone down as to how we were treating her condition. Arguably, it was therefore stabilized. However, she is two months away from her 13th birthday. Her levels are now all over the place. Her level could be 2 and then 20 despite treating her in the same way for each meal. The volatility of her BGL is definitely a worry, and quite often Mrs R and I will be discussing this long into the night. Tempers have frayed, I will admit. Mostly mine! I have posited before that Diabetes is never really stable, she would have hypos and hypers but the volatility has definitely increased. It has been like the Euro/Swiss Franc exchange rate over the last week or so. All we can really do is to keep a detailed diary of what is going on, and then consult her doctor in the near future. But try telling that to someone who is two months away from being a teenager (remember when Kevin became a teenager?), and either feeling "hungover" due to a crushing hypo, or feeling like she's got the flu due to a massive hyper. And she is also concerned about the ramifications, asking questions about whether I think she has good control or not. I am sure she is doing better than a lot of others, for sure, but she is a worrier.
She has, however, started doing a bit of running for fitness. Once or twice a week, and despite our concerns about her jogging round MC on her own, we impress on her the importance of taking all her equipment and leave her to it. One hopes the benefits must surely outweigh the risks. The lot of a parent is surely to worry but to let them get on with it.
#3 is nine. We have left ourselves five days to do the Coast to Coast, starting on the Irish Sea, cycling approximately 40-45km per day, staying in pubs and B&B's. #3 is extremely robust, and because she is the youngest, perhaps has the most determination (in certain circumstances). This will certainly be a test of her robustness!
I keep telling myself it will be fun. But I feel a bit like Chevy Chase in the National Lampoon Vacation series. I hope that the positives outweigh the negatives. At the very least it has given everyone in the house something else to yell about.
Happy New Year!
That time of year again - time to enter races and set some goals, marathon, 1/2 marathon or 10km PB. 1st Ultra etc. My schedule is already filling up....
Course du Soleil 1/2 in Feb
Paris Marathon in Apr
Nice Ironman in June
Cro Magnon (tbc) in July
TdS if I get a place in August
Marathon du Medoc (ok that's not really a 'race' but still requires some training)
Nice Marathon in Nov
I'll also be looking around at other things. I would quite like to do some more triathlons this year but have yet to locate any suitable. Any suggestions...?
Why enter stuff? The reason I started to get fit was because I entered the Monaco Marathon 2004. I found, unconsciously, it gave me a reason to get out of bed and go run, albeit with no particular plan. I had a goal - to finish the marathon, and achieved it. Then my goal was a specific time target, to beat a mate, or whatever, and because I am now addicted I can't help but look to try and push the boundaries, to test my limits physically and mentally. It keeps me in shape, well, better shape than I would be otherwise, or indeed was.
This year I received a telephone call and two emails from people looking to "start running", "get fitter", or something akin. My advice without exception is to enter something in nine months time. Something hard, for that person. If they have done a 10km before, enter a half marathon or even a full marathon. This gives you the impetus and motivation to go and train, and train smart. Specific training for a goal. It doesn't matter if it's a triathlon, Channel Swim, or whatever. Enter something, and then train for it, and achieve it. That way you start changing your habits, and retain motivation with a bit of shiny race bling at the end of it all.
I try and make it interesting by packing my schedule with a lot of different stuff. That also means I retain a lot of fitness through the year, but also means that I can actually go and enjoy myself with a night out if I want, as no one goal is THE goal.
So, what have you go
4am Saturday 24th November 2014
I was about to hobble onto a cobbled section of pavement near the sailing school on Monaco's Port Hercule, the Principality a picture postcard of twinkling lights. The drums of the band behind me were fading, drowned out by the thumping bass of the Rascasse nightclub which was still going strong even at that unearthly hour.
I was hobbling because I had already covered 300km since the previous Saturday at the annual No Finish Line event in Monaco. The 1.37km circuit was open 24 hours a day for 8 days, and was a race - the "Race to Nowhere", a phrase coined by my sometime coach, ultra running mentor and friend, Dr Mike "Mad Dog" Schreiber. With Mike's support and encouragement the No Finish Line had become a highlight of my running calendar - an ultra marathon with a twist. I had been running it for about 10 years, but this year my team that had gradually snowballed into a 100 strong behemoth were going for a record. Local business and donors had agreed to give Euro1.15 per kilometre covered during the 8 days, and there was healthy competition for age group trophies, team ranking and overall placings. 40 people had come from all over the world to contest the elite category, napping for a few minutes at a time in hastily pitched tents, but often spending all 24 hours per day running, walking or shuffling around the circuit. My friends, family and I would nip down to the course in the morning before work, at lunchtime and after work and put in a few laps whenever we had a few minutes in between family and work commitments.
I checked my phone for the millionth time that day, staving off boredom and fatigue. It had been a long week with long hours at work and my youngest's 9th birthday party to contend with. I had slept for only 4 or 5 hours a night, putting in as many km's as I could, with the personal aim of top 50 overall, and a marathon a day over the 8 days. From 7pm the previous Friday I had been lapping almost solidly, stopping only to sip a sports drink and have a handful of nuts, or to use the "fragrant" porta potties that lined the seaward end of the port.
My phone blinked with a new post and I received the news that I was dreading. Mike's brother, Marc, posted on Facebook that his elder brother had "shaken off this mortal coil". I was stunned. Only a few days' previously I had been happily exchanging emails about the progress of the race, our team Pussy Footing Around and Adrian, another of Mike's proteges from the UK that had entered the full 8 day event and was aiming for a top 20 finish overall. Although I had never met Mike in the flesh, we exchanged daily emails about life in general, photos of my kids growing up and anecdotes about his life and running experiences. The previous Monday I had received an email commenting on the pictures of my daughter's birthday party, and the great progress I was making with my goal of a marathon per day for the entire length of No Finish Line. It was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other as the fatigue and emotion got to me. I struggled to breathe and tried to continue as best I could, knowing that Mike would not want me to give up.
7pm, New Year's Eve 2008
I put down a book Mrs R had given me for Christmas a few days previously "Life on the Run: Coast to Coast". I had been running the odd trail run off and on since late 2007, and I was doing more and more marathons. Matt Beardshall, the author of the book, was a trail running fanatic and had written a diary of his experiences training for - and running - from one side of the UK to the other on the fabled Coast to Coast route. His was not an organised race, just a group of friends with a car in support, some running, some cycling, just out for an adventure. I couldn't put the book down and finished it in a few days.
I wanted to start pushing the boundaries of my running experience - I knew I wasn't going to trouble the Kenyans at the front of the big city marathons, so I needed to find new challenges. I had read about various events such as the Marathon Des Sables (MdS) - a 250km trek over 7 days in the Sahara desert where competitors carried all their kit, but I thought I needed to build up to that before tackling something so extreme and I had entered a 55km trail race. This was the Neander Trail, held at night over the mountains, and was to take place in late June 2009. I was not overly sure how to start training for such a challenging event, but Matt, in his book, mentioned a legendary ultra runner that had advised and helped him through his training to overcome injury and complete the Coast to Coast.
A simple Google search later and I had tracked down the legendary Mad Dog. To say Mike's resume was extensive would have been an understatement. As his website stated he was the former:
Editorial Consultant on Endurance Training for Weider’s “Sports Fitness,” and “Men’s Fitness” magazines.
Asst. Professor, Biomedical Communications, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Vice-president, Super Nautilus Sports Training Centers of Houston.
Author of scores of articles on all phases of running, endurance, strength training, aerobic conditioning, and weight loss.
Author of the best selling books:
“Training to Run the Perfect Marathon”
“The Art of Running”
“Die Kunst des Laufens”
ASICS/TIGER said “From the beginner to the marathoner, the best training program any runner could have.”
He was still running and competing in all distances from 5km to ultras, and had signed up for the Kalahari desert race, similar in format to the MdS. Semi retired, he was happily answering ad hoc emailed queries from runners all over the world, and would occasionally take someone under his wing to train for a specific challenge, for a very small fee. I eagerly emailed Mike with details of my current running programme, what I had done and achieved since my first marathon in 2004, and had my fingers crossed that he would accept me as a member of his online training team.
My family had adopted a stray puppy six months earlier, and Lucera, a Spanish Water Dog, had grown into a keen runner as she grew up with us. This struck a chord with Mike. He immediately shared stories about his training runs with upwards of six dogs, years before, bounding through the snow or fields in one of the many different places he had lived.
In 2009, with Mike's guidance and support, I entered 2 marathons, beating my Personal Bests in both. I completed the Neander Trail ultra marathon in the dark, and came in the top 15% of finishers. My love of ultras had been cemented when I descended into Sospel just after midnight surrounded by fireflies, and arriving at the beach in Cap D'Ail as the sun was coming up. After a quick swim in the sea, a text to my wife, I sat down with my back to the sea wall to cheer in the rest of the finishers and to write extensively of my fabulous adventure to Mad Dog Mike. Later that year I entered my first triathlon, a half Ironman, and finished it injury free and smiling. I also participated in the No Finish Line and for the first time exceeded 100km in the 8 days, crystallizing an idea that had been forming in the back of my mind for a while at the same time. I gathered a group of 5 or 6 friends and we entered as a team, Pussy Footing Around, for the first time.
Flushed with success, and buoyed by Mad Dog Mike's enthusiasm, my confidence to enter new and increasingly challenging events continued. I found that not only did I have confidence in my own abilities as an athlete, but I also gained confidence in myself as an individual. Over the next few years I was entering 7 marathons a year, plus an endurance triathlon, and at least 3 of the marathons were ultras of various lengths. I picked up qualification points and in 2011 I completed the fabled Marathon Des Sables 157th out of around 850 entrants, my first and to date my only multi day ultra other than the No Finish Line. The pattern was always the same - after chatting to my family the next email would be to Mad Dog with a detailed review of the race, my experience, what I had found worked and where I could improve next time.
As the years passed, whilst I was still notionally on the Mad Dog Training Team, I found that my experience grew such I knew what Mike was going to say before he said it. The banter we enjoyed was terrific, and I loved hearing stories about how he and his wife had crossed the US on an old Vespa one way, and made the return journey in a VW Camper Van. Or how he never found Barbecues as enjoyable as the ones he attended when he lived in Italy. Or how he had been too young to go to Korea but too old to go to Vietnam, but that he had loved the military life and used to go out for extra runs in his Army boots when the compulsory Physical Training sessions were over. I shared his grief when Sparky, his faithful canine companion, died, and his happiness when he adopted a new pup, Molly the Rottie, followed swiftly by Susie the neglected Collie, and latterly Marcie, another underfed stray.
Mike had as diverse a professional life as he had a personal one. He had spent time as a jeweller, a trainer to the stars in Hollywood, a University teacher, a push bike racer, amongst many other things. He was an ultra running legend before Dean Karnazes was out of short trousers, sponsored by Asics and cleaning up at races over distances that made me wince. We shared many common interests outside of sport and stray dogs, including battered vintage cars and motorbikes of any description. He had built himself a country house (the Castle) in Mexico, and seen the land around him go from the plancha to a built up suburb of the nearby town of San Miguel. He enjoyed walks into town for his espresso and triannual haircuts, accompanied by one or more of his dogs and we lamented the build up of traffic on both sides of the Atlantic which necessitated having our dogs on leads. He would occasionally fly to various locales to race, but the rest of the time would sit at home directing his racing team to personal glory - whether it be the cancer survivor building up to walking to the end of the road and back, or the Ironman champion participating at Kona. Or little old me, a stockbroker from Monaco desperately trying to stave off middle aged spread and see exactly what I was capable of.
A day after the email exclaiming how big daughter #3 was growing, and how great I looked as a clown at her party, I received an email from Mike that he was going into hospital, and not to reply to the email, but that he would email back as soon as he was able. That was the last I heard from my friend and mentor, Dr Mike "Mad Dog" Schreiber.
Saturday 24th November 2014
Reading Marc's words, the only thing that persuaded me from stopping, as I fought back tears, was the thought that Mike would have wanted me to push on and exceed my goals. The fatigue and pain were made that much worse by the grief I was experiencing as the day wore on, but I "channelled my inner Mad Dog" and managed to cover 120km in the 24 hours, allowing me to hit my target of 8 marathons and more in the 7 days. I went home that evening for a cold bath (another of Mike's tricks for speedy recovery) and collapsed into bed exhausted and devastated.
The next day, I had set no alarm but #3 daughter wanted to head back to the track and push to win her age group, so I accompanied her, encouraging her and supporting her much as Mike had done me over the years. She did not make 1st place but gained 2nd, and had covered an immense 101km in the week. In the meantime I had covered 382.25km in total - just over 9 marathons in the 8 days, placing 39th overall. My team, Pussy Footing Around, almost doubled 2013's km record with 9836km, and came 5th overall out of 260. We had grown from a few buddies to about 100 or so friends with enormous shared purpose and team spirit. We had many podiums in the different age group categories. I was so proud of my own and everyone else's achievement, and I knew that Mad Dog would have been too.
I got up on Monday morning and wrote my own training schedules for the next two weeks, a recovery schedule now so ingrained I hardly have to think about it. But write it I did on my training planner despite being tinged with sadness at my loss. The loss of a very good friend, coach, mentor and confidant. I worried about his dogs, and the other members of the team that he had introduced me to over the years - how would they find out the awful news, and who would coach them in the future? Who would I write my race reports to and be filled with pride if they were deemed worthy for distribution to the rest of the team as a motivational tool? I felt a big hole, but Mike had given me the knowledge, confidence and experience to continue alone. Perhaps I'll finally be accepted into the Monaco running club, having been rejected a few times in the past few years. Or perhaps we will formalise Pussy Footing Around into some sort of endurance club. Life and running will undoubtedly go on.
In the meantime, in keeping with Mike's wishes, there will be no funeral or formal memorial service. However, a few of his team, his brother and I have plans to keep Mike's memory alive. On Boxing Day, 26th December 2014, at 11am GMT, we plan to have a global synchronized run. If you would like to join, please do so - it does not matter how far or how fast, just make sure you are in motion at the same time as everyone else. Take a photo and post with the hashtag #maddogmikememorialrun on social media, or email to me and I can put up on this blog.
Keep running, Mike. We will miss you.
***Photo credit to Tina Schreiber Salibello
Despite the apocalyptic forecast, and plethora of corny marathon slogans, I took the scooter the short journey down to the station from home and considered how much warmer I was - even on the scooter - than I had been the previous Sunday on Staten Island. The rain was holding off, no real wind, and it was a balmy 15 degrees.
There was a "platform malfunction", resulting in several hundred runners in various brightly coloured lycra and a cloud of Deep Heat fumes running down the steps, under the tunnel, up the steps and diving through the automatic doors on the train just as they were closing. I am considering writing a letter to the SNCF authorities to get them to reconsider their platform labelling at Cagnes Sur Mer - There are 2 platforms - 1 and A. I have no idea either. Mind you, there was noone manning the ticket office and the ticket machine was coins only - of which I had none, so I am not complaining too loudly.
I jog / walked the 1.5km from the station to the drop bag trucks, coincidentally bumping into David Gebbie and his friends Louise and Gretchen en route. I managed to dump all my gear and disappear up to David's rented accommodation to use the facilities before the start, which was a significant improvement on the portapotties at the start!
Within a few minutes the gun went off and I discarded my bin liner wind stopper to ease into the run. This was very familiar territory - my 7th Nice to Cannes marathon, and I was just hanging back looking after my breathing and heart rate as much as possible, per the usual strategy. A few spectators were cheering us on loyally as the pack thinned out, and I zoned out, only stopping to avail myself of a handy tree about 4km in to the race.
As I had run the NYC marathon less than 7 days previously, travelled back from the US, suffered jet lag and had a pretty poor NYC marathon I had no clue what my body was going to do. So I took it extra easy in the first half of the race, stopping to pick up energy drinks and the odd sip of water.
I was aware there would be a few undulations in the 2nd half of the course including Old Town Antibes, the Montee de la Garoupe, and then a railway bridge between Juan le Pin and Cannes, which leads to a series of undulations which can really take their toll. To top it off, just after half way, before we got into Antibes, the wind picked up (I could see a few kite surfers in the distance indicating the winds would be very strong) and it started to absolutely pour with rain. And hail. And then torrential rain again. Super.
But my tactics paid off - I seem to recall negative splits for the first 30km, every 5km. At half way I was caught by the 4hr bunch with pacer - but I was able to put the hammer down a bit. I started to nibble away - with excellent success, at people in front. I did not stop at aid stations but blasted through - sipping water, and taking the energy drink and nectar from heaven Coke at a couple (too rare though!). I fought the wind successfully - paced slow up the hills and quicker down, tucked in behind someone for the exposed headland with the kite surfers and hopped from person to person when they tired! At about 35km I caught up with a friend, Steve Gale, and we ran together for a bit. I encouraged him along as much as I could but when he dropped back I had to carry on with my race. More nibbling and ticking off the km's using family members as inspiration - dedicating a km to one of the girls, and gritting my teeth. I really wanted to exorcise the demons from NYC and was determined to beat 4hrs.
Finally I was in the last km, and the track narrowed with crowds both sides. The path home was too crowded to do anything other than cruise over the line rather than a last minute sprint, but I crossed in 3hr 59 mins and 17 seconds (chip time)! I was chuffed to bits!!!
I picked up my medal (you see the runner on the medal is running through a puddle? Coincidence? I think not!) and grabbed a satsuma, apple, nuts bar and Poweraid - basically everything on offer. I drank the poweraid, ate the apple, satsuma and nuts bar as quick as I could, but it was still pouring and I was freezing and shivering. As quickly as I could I hobbled to get my drop bag and put some more clothes on in a shop doorway. Then I went straight to the station but bought a can of coke and panini en route, and ate whilst I queued for my ticket and then the train. As I was climbing the stairs to the platform both calves cramped up - the first time I have had that issue - perhaps the rain...? However I was able to keep moving, awkwardly, and this loosened them up a bit. A cold bath at home helped, too.
This week has been another recovery week and has gone very well, but who knows how this week coming up will go at the No Finish Line. I have set myself a target of 340km for the week which is just over 8 marathns in 8 days. If I can do it, that will take me to 10 marathons for November, and hopefully a top 50 finish at the No Finish Line (out of more than 10000 entrants), despite having to work every day. Fingers crossed! I am hoping the team can crack the top 5 out of 250 or so teams. We have a great showing already, with some very motivated people and will be doing the 24 hours as ever on Friday 21st November. If you have yet to sign up, please go to the kiosk on track at any time from Saturday morning and sign up for Pussy Footing Around! Look forward to seeing you on the circuit!
Reading this article from the BBC on pension age ultra athletes I was reminded of something someone said to me in passing on Monday - the day after my second marathon in a week "It will shorten your life". Unfortunately I did not have the presence of mind to retort that I was doing pretty well at 42 for someone who was told he wouldn't see 40 (aged 31 in a routine medical) unless he changed his life; tied up as I was with the extremely high stress breakfast / dog walking / school run routine on a Monday morning. I remember being told after my first marathon that I should not do more than one in a year. This by someone that had never even attempted a marathon, and was not long after given an ultimatum by his GP that I had been given a couple of years previously.
A lot of publicity is always given to the negative aspects of running and endurance sports - the one person in 50000 that keels over during the Great North Run or London Marathon every 5 years or so; or the perceived damage to one's joints. This is despite the evidence that running, when properly trained for and distances appropriately built up to, actually strengthens joints and extends the life of the cartilage in the knees (compare the cartilage of an amateur runner to that of an obese computer games addict and I suspect you can see the difference) according to some reports I have read of late.
The BBC article is an interesting and (finally) a well balanced essay on the perceived dangers of endurance sports. It quotes a scientist at Liverpool John Moores University.
""Although you can’t account for exceptions, George thinks that people who train appropriately should be safe. “You can’t normally run yourself into a heart attack if you don’t have a pre-existing disease,” he says. Nor do the regulars seem to show a significant build-up of long-term damage – like scar tissue in the heart’s muscles or excessive wear and tear to their joints – that some had expected.""
I'll be pointing out this article to everyone and anyone in future to refute certain well held preconceptions about endurance sports, and I shall continue to endeavour to push back the perceived boundaries and society imposed limitations.
Rant over - onl
A popular t shirt slogan is "A bad day on the ... is better than a good day in the office" (insert preferred hobby accordingly - fishing, skiing, cycling, etc). And it is true. Sunday for me was pretty humbling to be honest, for a variety of different reasons.
The whole family were blown away when I registered for the run - I have registered for a lot of runs now, but the NYC Marathon was by far and away the most efficient and impressive expo I have ever seen. The t shirt was awesome, and then some retail therapy - mainly for me (unlike the rest of the trip when the girls gave the Amex a decent hammering) which saw me get some runners, gloves and socks with NYC Marathon branding, and a jacket for Mrs R. A new custom pair of Oakleys also found their way into my bag complete with engraved "Pussy Footing" on the lens! Awesome. The amount of volunteers was staggering - I am always amazed that so many people are prepared to give up their time so selflessly so that I can go out and pursue my hobby.
I was blessed with an extra hour's sleep due to the clocks going back, on race day, although the alarm was still painful at 4.30am. Having eaten and drunk my tea, I jog/walked the 12 blocks or so to the bus stop. I have never seen so many buses in one place. There must have been over 200 up every street for 10 blocks and lining both sides of 5th Avenue. It was quite a sight - this army of buses ready to take a steady stream of wrapped up runners out to the start. I started chatting to a guy as I walked - Kevin the Geordie; it was his first marathon and was running it solo for a kids hospice charity. The organisers had warned us it would be cold and windy, and I had prepared with 3 jumpers, a beanie, some gloves and a plastic bag to sit on. Due to security we really weren't allowed to take much in with us. The bus to Staten Island went smoothly and quickly. As we got off the bus the cold wind (I later found out up to 45 mph) went right through us, and I swiftly put on my 3rd and final top but within seconds was shivering uncontrollably. We queued for the airport like security checks, with "counter terrorism" Police everywhere. Dunkin Donuts, a race sponsor, gave me another beanie which I put on and actually kept on through the whole race!
I grabbed a Dunkin Donuts coffee and bagel, and then just chilled out - literally. The start was an example of logistics management. We had different colour bibs on - either green, blue or orange. There was a "village" allocated to each colour. Each colour village would have 4 waves of runners according to time, and corrals A through to F. I had been allocated to the Green village, Wave 1, Corral F, but Kevin was in the Blue Village so I went with him for the company and hung out for a bit chatting away to him and some other runners. NYC Marathon veterans were seated on cardboard or even better in sleeping bags or trash bags - something I wish I had brought to keep out the cold. I alternately walked, ate a bagel, took a coffee to warm up and did some star jumps. I was covered in goose bumps and shivering the whole time. After a bit I went to the green village, and tried to keep warm which was impossible as it was even more exposed to the wind, being right under the bridge. I ran about and did star jumps but was still shivering uncontrollably, so I queued up for some hot water to warm me up, and kept sitting in the portaloo to keep the wind out. It was horrendous.
I was with the 1st wave of runners but because of the wind we were a bit late setting off. I later found out the delay was to allow the wheel chair runners to start on the opposite side of the bridge as it was deemed too dangerous for them on the exposed bridge. It was nice to be in a group of other tightly herded runners though, as we were able to use body heat to keep warm! Time passed quickly as we prayed the multiple helicopters flying overhead would not crash into each other as they bobbed and weaved in the high blustery winds. After a bit we moved up to the start just before the Verrazzano bridge. A few seagulls flew backwards overhead and then we were off to multiple shotgun blasts. I was peeling off layers as I queued to cross the start line, but kept my beanie, gloves and a sweatshirt on as my feet were still numb! Some of the volunteers were shivering as I started my run, and it struck me that even though they had dressed appropriately they were the unsung heroes of the event.
We crossed the start line a few minutes after the delayed gun, and started to head up over the bridge. It was so windy my left foot (upwind) kept hitting my right, and I was actually a little scared, dizzy and disorientated by it all. I tried to focus on the race, not tripping over anyone else and my own feet, and not to get blown off the bridge. Not to mention the discarded clothing. After 10 minutes or so I discarded my sweatshirt and was down to race gear of t shirt, shorts, beanie and handwarmers still in my gloves (they did not go until about 30 mins into the race)!
I was so relieved to be over the bridge although I had enjoyed the view of Manhattan and the skyline from a great vantage point. From the minute we hit Brooklyn the atmosphere was amazing. People lined both sides of the street 5 deep. Bands were competing against each other every 50 or 100 metres. The noise was so loudyou couldn't have even heard an iPod if you had one on! I started high fiving people and didn't stop for the whole race. It took me a lot longer to settle in and slow down than normal - whether it was the weather, excitement, or whatever, but my breathing and heart rate were - I know - too high for quite a while. I was relieved to fall into a rhythm long after I would normally, and concentrated on enjoying the day. There were Gator-Aid stands every 2 or 3km, with water too, and people giving out tissues for my runny nose which was awesome. The hand warmers went, as did the km's. I was wearing a Diabetes UK top and I got a lot of cheers and support for that. A fellow runner came up to me and shook my hand to say thanks for the support - he was Type 1 and had been for 38 years. It was his 14th marathon. I found him a huge inspiration - here was he thanking me and I did not have the condition but he did. He was "fighting lows" all day and soon dropped back, but I remained humbled by his battle. I chatted with another UK ex pat runner for a bit, but he was too quick for me and I let him go.
Half way came and went - generally I was pleased with how things were going, with negative splits for the 1st and 2nd 10km. I sped up a tiny bit as we left Brooklyn for the 3rd 10km and was going ok, still engaging with the crowd, although the wind was starting to annoy me. One thing I had not bargained for were the relentless undulations of the run. I had for some reason assumed it was all pretty flat, but the bridges and just undulating straight roads were a bit of a surprise. However, I went slow up and quick down as per training, and habit ingrained from years on the Mad Dog team (5 years this year I believe!).
At around 31km we went up another bridge - maybe into Queens? and it was then that I started to struggle. I was trying to play the nibbling game, and would often find someone that I could eat into their lead for a little bit, but they would then stop and walk. I was also hoping to see Mrs R and the kids but they had evidently found it too hard to get to the part of the course they had planned to, and I was a little disappointed and let my head go down. I gave myself a stiff talking to, and concentrated on nibbling with limited success. The wind and relentless undulations took their toll as we hit the top end of Central Park, although this was familiar to me having run round it on business trips. I kept my chin up and tried to ignore the zombie apocalypse around me, and when I could I ditched the nibbling game to try and tuck into the wake of someone bigger than me to shelter from the wind! It was just a question of ticking off the km's to the finish!
Eventually of course, I did finish, although my last 12km had been a little slower than the previous which was annoying. My finish time was 4.08, easily my slowest in years. For some reason it had taken everything from me, and as I was taken to one side by a photographer to record my finish with my very nice and hefty medal for posterity, I could summon nothing more than a grimace. I won't be buying that photo!
Very quickly I was freezing, and I got a heat poncho which was given to me on the exit from the Park. I was also given a protein bar and shake which I quickly devoured. I had ticked the speedy exit box so had no drop bag, so there was nothing for it but to hobble the 27 blocks back to the apartment where I grabbed a very quick shower, change and literally headed straight to the airport. We pretty much got straight on the plane for the 8 hour flight back.
I am really pleased to have ticked off NYC from my bucket list, but a little disappointed in my time. The atmosphere was incredible, but I didn't race the best race - a veritable "tough day at the office!". I have been shooting 3hr40's for a few years now, and therefore expected at the very least a sub 4. I have been given an important lesson - humbled in fact, by the distance. Not to mention humbled also by the tens of thousands of inspirational participants, organisers, volunteers, public servants, and especially the crowds. What a day.
This sunday I will be in more familiar territory - the Nice to Cannes marathon. I have no idea how I will get on, given the fact I have a marathon in my legs already, jet lag and a clear lack of form. A finish is a finish, though, and that remains the goal.
Crawling into bed at midnight, exhausted, on Friday night set the tone for the whole weekend. #2's pump had not been delivering the insulin effectively and she had had high blood sugar for most of the day. This tends to have two effects
1/ Because her body cannot process enough sugar to efficiently run the muscles and brain, she burns fat and muscle which makes her feel like she has the flu, and is irritable as a result
2/ She is annoyed because she knows the side effects of being high, and is therefore irritable.
She is also 12, going on 13, and has a propensity to be irritable. On Friday she had changed the pump's cannula and connection 2 or 3 times before bed, and I was hopeful when I checked her at midnight that it would be working properly, as I did not particularly want to wake her up and face another Defcon 1 meltdown. It was. I retired exhausted after a knackering week.
Saturday was a blast - Mrs R took #1 out for a bit of mother/daughter 1 on 1 bonding. It went well. I had #2 and #3 and a friend of #2. We walked around MC, had a massive burger (well, I did) and an ice cream (kids only) which were delicious (I tasted them to make sure they were ok for the kids to eat).
On the left you have a normal burger for #2. On the right was my burger. Delicious, and washed down with a pint. Well, I was carb loading for the Spartan Race.
In the evening a group of us went to see Kylie - the show was great, although sitting down on pain of being ejected from the auditorium was weird. I rather enjoyed the costume changes, though, and it did not matter that Kylie was miming (the tell tale was when she stopped moving her lips but the singing carried on, or perhaps she is a great ventriloquist). Predictably we went on to Sass and finished at 3am. Ouch.
Fortunately the Spartan Race wave we had booked was not until 1.30pm, so I had time to sleep in until 8.30am before tea and porridge. Stu kindly drove the four of us the two hour-ish drive down to the Paul Ricard Circuit at Castellet. We discussed tactics en route, with the plan to stick together no matter what. No man would be left behind.
We arrived around noon and were greeted by the sight of people COVERED from head to foot in mud. COVERED. We were cringing away from them as we made our way to registration, as we did not want to get dirty! It was about a 1km walk to the registration from the car park, and as we got closer you could hear shouting, chanting and loud music. A great atmosphere. We were scheduled in the 1330 hrs wave, the elites had set off at 9am, and there was a steady stream of people heading to and from the start - clean and dirty. We passed a reservoir with people crossing it, looking like they were swimming but in weird jerky movements.
Registration and bag drop was a simple process. In fact the whole experience was slick and practised - car park attendants directing us according to our wave, picking up the bibs, the bag we received including the number on a headband, it was all "frictionless". After a brief stretch we headed to the start, and immediately took our positions.
To get into the start pen you had to clamber over a 6 foot wall. I was quite pleased to manage that with relative ease and not falling over and making a complete prat of myself in front of hundreds of other people! Then a warm up process led by an inspirational bloke with a microphone that included piggy back fighting, sitting on the floor and people crowd surfing, and a few burpees. The four of us in my team found ourselves face to face with a Roman legionnaire (one of a few lined up in front of us) carrying an enormous stick with 2 huge padded ends. There was a brief countdown and all of a sudden everyone behind us surged forwards pushing us into the guys with the padded sticks who were trying to push us backwards.
We burst through the Legionnaires and trotted off onto a trail. The initial path was "breaking us in gently" according to Stu. We went on a zigzag path up and down a steep bank, sometimes technical with loose stones. The field spread out a bit, and we were able to get into a gentle jogging pace. The beauty of doing it as a team was that we thought would be handy for some of the tougher obstacles. As a result we were tied to a pace at which the slowest amongst us was the most comfortable, and that was a very easy pace. We had a bit of barbed wire at mid shin height we had to crawl underneath, through some mud, as one of the first obstacles, followed swiftly by trees piled up a bit like ladders, we had to climb over, but tough because of their big girth as it was difficult to hold on to anythiung. These increased in height, and there was some help required by some to get over the tallest - about 10-12 feet high.
We then had to swim through a muddy quarry, fully clothed including trainers, and I tried not to take on board any muddy water as well as to avoid getting kicked in the head by the person in front. After that a ladder up a wall, but the first rung was at 6 foot. At the top of the 20 foot wall was a drainpipe we had to slide down like firemen, but because we were soaked the drain pipe did not slow us at all and we thumped into some straw. More mud crawling under barbed wire, then wading through a shallow river with water about knee height for 200m. We then had to climb a wall with two poles set up against it leaning at an angle. There was a technique to holding eeels. At the top was a narrow pipe which we had to slide down the inside of to land on a mat.
Onto the race track, grab a race car tyre, carry it for 300m, climb over a couple of crash barriers with it, and put it back where we started. Run 500m, grab a massive log, do a 3-400m loop with it on tough trails, then dump it where we started, and on another 500m to the monkey bars. These were quite hard as we were a bit wet, and also quite tired from the incessant obstacles. There was a runway next to the monkey bars with a Mig jet warming up its engines. Very impressive. Dom and I went together on the monkey bars and unfortunately collided which meant Dom fell. I continued to the end and unfortunately Dom was made to do the burpees - 30 of them. We waited whilst he did them and watched the Mig take off.
By this point we were down to a walk between obstacles as Tom could not manage anything more, but noone was in a massive hurry. There were walls to climb up and go under alternately. Then the lake crossing - there were wooden beams about a foot under the water every 6 or 7 feet. The water was almost pure mud, and there were heaps of people crossing the lake. It was necessary to sort of swim forwards feeling with your hands to locate the pole and then flip over it, onto the next all the while being pushed from behind and kicked from the front! Another 300m, and then disappear down an overflow pipe - bent double and in pitch black I held my hand in front to stop myself from bashing that person and could feel the hand of the person behind on my back. The pipe actually took us under the road. At some point there was a rope we had to climb up and ring the bell - I was amazed and really pleased to be able to climb that given the mud and water on me. More walls to climb, and then tractor tyres to pull and push, a weight towing loop with dips cut into the track to make sure the weights kept catching and it was necessary to jerk them out. Tractor tyres to flip up and down a hill. Then a sandbag loop of 500-600m down and then up a steep trail. This was tough - the sandbag was heavy (20-30kg?). One chap's girlfriend had a meltdown and he ended up carrying hers! People were sitting down on the trail, and one chap was being attended to by medics at the top, with heart monitor nodes attached all over his chest. Dom and I reached the top, dry mouthed, and cheered on Stu and then Tom. More jog/walking through trees and then a net to climb. The obstacles kept coming thick and fast. A weight on a rope you had to pull up to the top on a pulley and then let down slowly - for fear of burpees. Every time you missed an obstacle you had to do 30 burpees - a pressup, squat and star jump in one. Knackering.
There was some technical trail which I quite enjoyed, more barbed wire to crawl under, and then spear chucking. There were 3 hay bales lined up with a wooden spartan face to aim at. You had one go at the bale. My spear hit the face and bounced off - turns out if you lodged it in the bale that would have been ok! I had to do burpees - 30 of them, and was knackered afterwards!
I cannot remember every obstacle we did - there were ropes to help us up and down wooden planks, made harder by water spraying off the top. One of the worst ones was an almost vertical plank the other side of a wall, with a big queue of people. When my turn came I peered down the 20 foot drop. There were three ropes drilled in to it secured by a big screw at the top and the bottom. The idea was to grab the rope and gently lower yourself down. Tom went next to me and thumped down the plank into the straw at the bottom, did an undignified roll in front of a few spectators and stood up. I grabbed the rope, swung my legs over, but because the rope and plank were soaked and muddy, my hands slid down the rope at great speed, leaving plenty of skin on it, and my right butt cheek caught the screw at the bottom. No blood, thank goodness as the rope was wrapped round it, but plenty of bruising. Quite a refreshing take on health and safety!
The third to last obstacle was a really long mud crawl under barbed wire. It was packed with people, and the best way to get through was to roll side on. The sight of people covered in mud rolling along was really funny. We all got coated but I made some new friends in there! We then had to climb over a 45 degree angled wooden plank holding a rope and using our feet to climb up. They had positioned hoses on the top to make it harder. Dom got up to the top followed by me and we helped Stu and Tom over the top. It took a while! Then we had to climb a massive wall to get to the finish. I gave Tom and Dom a leg up, Stu got some help from someone else, and all of a sudden I was on my own! The wall was so big I had to jump to reach the top. I managed to get my arms over it but was so muddy that I could not get any purchase with my feet and I slowly slid down. I tried again - getting my elbows over it, but could not get the purchase needed to get over it! Stu dashed round the side and gave me a leg up, and I got over! Then we jumped over the log fire to finish off - four of us in a row, the only bit visible were our smiles! We picked up really nice finisher t shirts and snazzy medals, Coke, bananas and a sticky bun which was posted into our mud covered mouths by a volunteer.
It was great fun. We took 3hrs 43 mins - not a fast time by any means to cover 13km, but the fact we did it as a team and did not leave anyone behind meant that the pace between obstacles was slower, and we waited for everyone to do burpees when necessary. Happy to have all finished, we hosed off and drove back the 2.5hr drive home with 3 wrong turns! Fortunately we had thought to pack cornish pasties and beer in an Esky.
I arrived home to the sight of Mrs R arguing with #1 about something and nothing, but was very tired and full of the experience. I had had a great day doing something completely different with my mates in the countryside, got muddy, had a jog and a swim and a fabulous workout!
It took a while to recover and in fact my ITB's seized a bit so saw the Befit physio, Naomi, to get them sorted out before getting back on the NYC marathon training regime of 25km this morning. I am also glad my shots are up to date given the amount of skin I appear to have left at Paul Ricard in return for the mud I appear to have brought back with me - and keeps appearing relentlessly, even now!
Time poor and cash rich the saying goes, although with three fast growing up daughters it is probably fairer to say time poor and cash poor. I enjoyed the downtime after the Cro Magnon and a relaxed Marathon du Medoc, but now is the time where runners start planning their goals for next year, and I am no different. In the meantime, I managed to sneak out and do a race I last did in 2008 - the 13.8km Tour Pedestre du Cap D'Ail, a couple of weekends ago. I ran it with a pack and managed to shave 2 minutes from my best time, although with no results on line you'll have to take my word for it! It was a fun race/training run and useful training for the autumnal marathons (NYC 2nd Nov and Nice 9th Nov). I have been training too, which is good as I'd quite like to lose the weight I put on over the summer, but the alarm often goes off before 5am to fit it all in. No wonder I was asleep at 910pm last night.....
In the meantime I have started training with a heart rate monitor again. As I had predicted I have plenty of room to push a bit harder in training and the HR monitor reminds me of that. Nice to race the little man in the Garmin again, too, in the absence of any really fast friends willing and able to get up at "Early o'clock".
So, challenges for next year? I have nothing entered except the Paris marathon in April, although I will obviously do the Nice one again (2014 will be my 7th consecutive Nice marathon). I am waiting for the entry to open for the TdS - a 120km UTMB support race which I fancy as it is quite technical including having chains drilled into the cliffs to climb up and down. The Cro Magnon on 12th July is obviously a no brainer, and I fancy doing an Ironman although have wavered entering the Nice IM just yet as it is only 2 weeks before the Cro Magnon. That might be a little insane, even for me. Nah. I'm off to enter it.....
This weekend sees me do my first obstacle course and I am very excited. A 13km jaunt with 20+ obstacles including spear throwing at a target. There is lots of mud, and if a participant cannot finish an obstacle they have to do 30 burpees before being allowed to continue (click here if you want to know how to do a burpee). There are four of us heading down, and to be honest I could do with losing about 4kg, but hey ho. Also we are all off to the Kylie concert tomorrow evening which promises to be quite long and quite possibly debauched. Happy we have the 1.30pm start time for the Spartan Race! Photos and a report to follow next week.....
Oh, I almost forgot to say, I signed up for the 100 miles one month challenge for charity, for October. It did not cost much, you get a snazzy belt buckle if you complete the challenge, and I was genuinely intrigued as to whether I would do it in the normal course of training in October, as I will also be tapering in the latter half of the month. Guess I shouldn't have worried - am already half way and it is only the 10th.....
My head was pounding, my body ached and the sweat was evaporating off my body, but not quick enough to prevent me from shivering every time I moved into the shade. It wasn't even the hottest part of the day, and I was already struggling. It was the day of the Marathon du Medoc, that unique member of the annual marathon calendar where almost everyone was in fancy dress, and each landowner offered a taste of their wares as you passed, along with the more usual marathon fayre of sugar, bananas, water and Coke. Of course, this being Medoc, the local fayre was a taste of their Bordeaux. This was the 30th annual running of the event, it was a very hot day, but the Chateaux had promised to mark the occasion with offering some of their finer production.
I was afflicted by symptoms usually associated with the latter stages of a marathon, but I had not even reached the start yet. I was with the other 12 clowns in my party for our third running of the Medoc. Our annual trip started in 2012 when I said that instead of a party to mark my 40th birthday, I wanted to go with as many friends as would make the journey to combine two of my favourite things, Bordeaux wine and marathons. The run was spectacular, both in atmosphere and scenery, entering into the grounds of such legends as Lafitte Rothschild and Lynch Bages, as well as numerous others big and small alike. The chateaux themselves were marvels of architecture, some looking like Disney castles, with lawns so uniform as to have been trimmed with nail scissors.
In previous years I had run the UTMB the week before, and as such had been immaculately trained, something more akin to race weight and healthy, if a little fatigued. I had opted to have a bit of a break this summer after the Cro Magnon and as such was several kilos overweight, although I had trained as for a marathon, and was suffering from a residual sinus problem, which I was struggling to shift probably due to overindulging all summer.
Of course if you were to put 13 parents in a town far from home with no kids, little else to do other than sample the local wares, throw in a nice lunch, a tour of a vineyard and tasting, of course one would expect to get 13 headaches the next day. My sinus issue had not helped and my eyes felt like burning hot coals in their sockets. All we had to do was the small matter of 42km and 22 glasses of wine. I washed a couple of Nurofen down with some isotonic drink. I doubted you would see any of this in any of the "how to run a marathon" books, but I knew that the time limit was 6hrs 30, and I had the camaraderie of my mates and more importantly Mrs R to carry me through. Besides, I suspected the other 9999 runners were in a similar state, looking at the sweaty, lavishly costumed, people crammed into the pens around me. Somewhere in there was Tobias Mews, someone I had met electronically over the years, who actually made his living from adventuring and ultra running. He was accompanied by 20 mates dressed as African Warriors, and was due to get married at the finish. We had met up in the flesh, finally, the previous evening after registration and shared a beer.
The marathon set off with a cacophony of noise, brightly coloured confetti and slow moving scuba divers trying not to trip over their flippers as they touched shoulders with Brazilian dancing girls, five Incredible Hulks, and a number of stereotypical Frenchmen complete with baguettes, onions and berets. Mrs R set the pace for our little group, but she was frustrated by the crowds, and the first 5km alongside the bank of the Gironde was flat and straight which left little opportunity for the field to string out. After 5km I suggested she slow down as we left a herd of camels and a couple of 100 others at the first wine stop. It was still a long way to go. I was so wrapped up in taking pictures of the most amazing carpet of flowers lining the road for hundreds of metres in either direction that the first I knew of the first wine tasting was when Mrs R asked me how it was, a couple of hundred metres after I had passed it.
The road petered out and our thirst increased as the dust from a dirt road, kicked up by thousands of runners in front of us, stuck to our sweaty skin. I made up for missing the first wine a few hundred metres later when I slaked my thirst with water, grabbed two plastic tumblers with a finger of wine in each and caught up with Mrs R. She politely declined my offering, so I threw back both ones in quick succession. The Marathon du Medoc had begun in earnest.
Every 2 or 3km we passed through a chateau of varying popularity and quality - wending our way on trails through vineyards, along service roads, and through immaculately kept chateau gardens. At many chateaux there were bands playing music of every genre - rock, jazz, pop, blues, steel and brass bands. The route had been totally changed but I was still amazed how close all the chateaux are. We reached my favourite chateau, Phelan Segur, after about 10km. Mrs R finally buckled and sampled some of their wares. They were serving up bottles of 2007 into glass glasses on their immaculate lawn, and whilst I chatted with a member of the Chateau staff wearing a neatly pressed burgendy apron and hoped they wouldn't mind if I had second helpings, Mrs R availed herself of the restroom (behind some vines!).
Obeying the golden rule of ultra running, never stop moving forward, we did not stop for longer than absolutely necessary at any aid station, although we enjoyed the atmosphere and of course all the wines on offer. Before long I recognised the descent to Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, accompanied by a few cries of "Allez les clunes" from the kids lining the route and spraying us with water pistols. This time the wine was served in glass tumblers - as a general rule if it was served in glass it would be of finer quality than plastic. I pondered for a second the logistics of serving 10000 glass glasses of wine whilst I drank mine. Mrs R was hoping I would take a glass and bring it to her as she motored on, but because it was a glass glass I couldn't - she missed the Lafitte!
"Nice drop, this." I mentioned to a six foot tall ant, bug eyes bouncing as he ran alongside me, as I sipped a Sauternes type wine that an unofficial aid station was handing out accompanied by tiny biscotti with pate. The crowd were loving the absurdity of a clown having a chat with an insect as we jogged along spilling as much wine as we drank and taking chunks out of the snacks. I had resolutely kept my full costume on, unlike a lot of others suffering in the heat, despite the fact it weighed twice as much as when I had started, and I had a heavy wig on. As I ran through aid stations I made sure to take at least one small bottle and sometimes two, and was glad I had done so when I passed a couple of people unconscious on the side of the road with ambulance crews in attendance and blood pressure monitors on their fingers. The heat had gotten to quite a few.
We reached Chateau Beycheville which was gorgeous but sadly did not serve any wine, and Mrs R was so disappointed we decided to have a short walking break. She seemed to be struggling from a knee pain, and she had been stretching quads and hamstrings periodically for a couple of kilometres. We decided to see a Medic at about 30km, and grabbed some ice spray to cool down her knee. It was like a scene from MASH in the tent; complete carnage. People had struggled with the heat, costumes, refreshments and probably lack of training. The medics looked more exhausted than the runners. We moved on as best we could, as they announced that due to the heat they would extend the time limit from 6hrs 30 to 7hrs.
At 35km, a band on a tractor/trailer was playing the Cranberries, and were making a very good fist of it. We had been inserting walking breaks for a while - Mrs R was struggling a bit with the heat and knee, but did not show any signs of giving up, unlike some others although it was not always exhaustion that got to them. People were dancing in front of the band and were showing no inclination to go any further!
Mrs R and I were glad to reach Haut Bages Liberal at 38km where we took a selfie, and where they served the 2009. It was delicious, very pleasant, and totally made the next wine taste awful, only about 200m further on! It was tempting to go back to Haut Bages and grab another glass of the 2009 to wash one's mouth out. Total disappointment!
Just before Lynch Bages, we were offered oysters and a sweet wine like a Riesling. Neither Mrs R had ever been a fan of oysters, so we just took the wine which made a very pleasant departure from the endless stream of reds. At 39km, in the courtyard of Lynch Bage, we were rewarded with cubes of sirloin steak and some of Bordeaux's finest offering. We jogged on, and into Pauillac old town. At the 41km marker a delightful little girl, about 4 years old, was offering Rose de Pauillac wine and a little chocolate ice cream. We slowed to munch on those, and then ran as quickly as we could to the red carpet, and the finish.
We crossed in 5hrs 38, a PB for Mrs R and a course PB for me. I had thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and I am sure Mrs R had too, the pain of the run anaesthetised by the finish line. As it was the 30th anniversary, we received 2 lovely engraved wine glasses each, a bottle of nice wine in a wooden box, and a bag. We went to the recovery tent where they were serving toast and pate, fruit, crisps, sodium water and beer. It was great to sit down and bask in the glory of another marathon finish and soak up the atmosphere with the rest of our team.
I have already started planning next year's entertainment for the 31st Marathon du Medoc!