"You will never know your limits unless you push yourself to them." This quote seems to pop up every now and again in articles on Ultra Running and the like; so much so that the original author has been forgotten, but they were probably a greetings card designer or ad agency anyway. No matter how cheesy, the point is valid, and in today's sterilized society which is littered with hard hats, high visibility vests and hand sanitizers at every doorway, we are never allowed to reach our limits. Most of the planet has been explored and all the mountains climbed, so selling people the illusion of finding their limits albeit in a safe environment is a growth industry - 10k's, half, full and ultra marathons, 1x, 2x, even 10x Ironmen, assault courses and the like are all on the increase. And I am one of their best customers!
I am now pretty much recovered from the double Cro Magnon a month on and am enjoying the shorter distances with no pack, just Jack and occasionally Dog. 5, 10 and 15km runs all seem light compared with the volume of training I needed to put in for the Cro challenge. However, with nothing on the horizon, the temptation as ever would be to stay in bed on occasion, and I can imagine the schedule slipping inexorably towards oblivion, with my weight and health going the other way.
There have been a plethora of headlines recently about Type 2 diabetes and the population reaching crisis levels in the West. Type 2 is a lifestyle condition - it builds up over a period of up to 6 years with the body becoming immune to it's own insulin. Type 2 is diagnosed in a similar way to Type 1 with thirst, weight loss and so on, but can often be accompanied by lots of other issues to do with circulation because of the slow pace of diagnosis. Type 2 is almost always preceded by a condition called Pre Diabetes - where the body starts to become immune to its insulin, but the levels of sugar in the blood are not quite at serious levels. Pre Diabetes can often be turned around before the onset of Diabetes proper - normally through weight loss and exercise. #2's BGL monitor is often used to check one or other of the family when they are overly thirsty or have an infection that is taking a little longer than normal to clear up - call it paranoia if you like. In the last 3 months several of my readings have been off the chart in complete contrast to the first quarter of the year - not just a 6 or 7, we are talking 11 and 12's! Given my penchant for exercise I was slightly shocked at these unexpected results and therefore took myself off to the Quack who sent me for a blood test to see my HBA1C. I got the results today and I am 5.5, which to me seems a little high although definitely not in the Type 2 camp and not quite at Pre Diabetes levels, although some people seem to think that is diagnosed at 5.7. My cholesterol is also marginally higher than the guidelines - good to know at this point rather than later on - although not at defcon 1 levels despite my penchant for sausages and burgers on the BBQ.
Interestingly - exercise is prescribed for both pre diabetes and high cholesterol. All that means, I guess, is that I need to continue to exercise (and probably cut out some sausages) and in order to motivate myself to get out of bed and train, I need to find some more challenges. Funnily enough, I have a few things in mind. This autumn looks pretty packed with the Marathon du Medoc in September, Spartan Race in October, NYC Marathon, Nice to Cannes Marathon, and the No Finish Line in November. I am looking around for things to do next year but I am already pencilling in the Cro Magnon (of course) in June and the TdS in August/September. I would also love to tick off some more continents in my quest to cover an ultra on every one. However, this is an itch that won't be scratched unless I give it a go - the Arch to Arc
- essentially a triathlon, but an extreme one with a run from Marble Arch to Dover (87 miles/139.2km), a swim across the Channel to Calais in France (22.5 miles/36km - in a straight line) and then a bike ride from Calais to the Arc de Triomphe (181 miles/290km). All this has to be completed within 7 days, no matter if the swim and/or bike is delayed due to bad weather, which is a real risk.
With all that in mind I have taken to commuting 44km ish each way to work twice a week, in addition to gradually building up my running km's. I have not yet entered the Arch to Arc, not least because the initial deposit is £1500 just to register an interest with the whole attempt costing around £7000 (after pilot boat and back up vehicle fees). Only 15 people have successfully completed this challenge, solo, ever. There don't appear to be public records as to how many dnf's there are, but I am sure there are a few, although far outnumbered by the DNS's (Did not starts!).
IF - and it is a big IF, I attempted this event, I would be pushing myself to my limits, perhaps even beyond. But then, how do we know what they are unless we reach them?
I am getting a lot of questions asking how I am and whether I have recovered from the double Cro Magnon yet. The loss of three night's sleep, coupled with covering a long drive on foot has certainly left me tired, and I am once again back to propping up my eyelids in front of Homeland Season 3 despite the lack of any real training. I have been going for swims in the sea, some very short runs and a lot of stretching, and yet tying my shoe laces still results in an elaborate facial contortion regime as I return to a standing position. I would far rather sit than stand at this juncture!
The weekend was rather full what with taking kids here and there, a fledgling Monaco Diabetes association lunch, church, and more taxiing of kids. We did manage a quick trip over the border to restock with cheap booze from Italy together with a quick lunch just Mrs R and the kids, which was a lovely novelty.
It was with weary legs that I dragged myself out of my own bed, and climbed #2's ladder to her mezzanine bed last night, and went through the finger prick rigmarole by torchlight. #3 shares the room, and after a hectic weekend and end of term exhaustion, I did not want to wake either of them. Despite being asleep, #2 pulled herself into the foetal position facing away from me when I reached her level, making things even harder for me, but I managed to draw some blood and read the BG monitor for a level of 9.8mmol, requiring a corrective dose. The pump really is great for BG control, but as in my favourite metaphor, steering a boat, it requires a lot more - but smaller - inputs.
Cue rummaging around under the blankets to try and find the pump - usually buried in some nook or under a load of discarded clothing, and occasionally under #2's body. It is a relatively simple process to bolus correctively - plug in the BG level, 9.8, <ENTER>, confirm that she has ingested zero carbs, <ENTER>, confirm the level of insulin units to be input (can be adjusted depending on the type of food - up for pizza, down for vegetables, for instance), <ENTER>, set an alarm for another BG check in 2.5hrs yes or no, <ENTER>. What follows is a barely audible whirring as the insulin is driven from the reservoir in the pump along the thin plastic tube, and the numbers creep up from zero to the final level of insulin injected, like a jackpot meter in a Vegas slot machine.
I zoomed quickly through the usual cycle of <ENTER>'s, barely reading the text at each stage as it required more concentration than I had to offer perched at the top of the ladder, trying to do all this by torchlight as quickly as possible so I could go back to sleep. I became fully conscious when I realised that the pump was injecting Alice with 9.8 units of insulin - and I knew immediately what I had done. I broke out into a hot sweat and tried to prevent the panic from taking over - 9.8 units was a massive corrective dose - I did not know the full consequences of an insulin overdose if untreated, but I was sure it was potentially enough to kill her. I cycled through the menu on the pump barely able to read the options and managed to suspend the insulin delivery and then cancel it. It had injected 3.9 units already.
I woke Mrs R, summarised the situation, and went downstairs to make a Nutella sandwich and grab a packet of biscuits. Then I had to wake #2 up, give her the unfortunate news, and try and get enough carbs into her to outweigh the insulin "overdose". #2 was far from amused at being woken and was also unhappy at my choice of sandwich (12 year olds can be fickle at 11.30 at night). Mrs R and I eventually got back to bed around midnight after forcing a toasted bagel, some Lucozade and some biscuits into her which we felt was enough to counteract the insulin.
What we did not know was whether she would digest enough of the carbs to offset the insulin before the insulin kicked in, as the metabolism slowed for the night, so the alarm was set for 2am. Her BGL was 10 at that point - high, but we decided not to correct again given the unknown variables.
I got up for a stretch and light core strength session today, mainly to get rid of the stress from last night. Mrs R was similarly exhausted, but #2 had a lie in to recover. Whilst a bit shaken up by what happened, today is a new day
I left Breil singing, despite the extremely steep climb out. The next few km's I can remember vividly - it was a sort of nature trail with plaques dedicated to a certain bird or species of plant periodically positioned. I even stopped to read the Wild Boar (Sanglier) plaque to find out what a baby wild boar was called, but I cannot remember now of course. Dusk was tricky, and I kept having to remind myself that the body would be automatically shutting down in readiness for a relaxing evening in front of the TV with a glass of something nice in hand, and as soon as the sun went I would perk up, and true enough that was the case. I actually found myself keeping pace with other runners again and even overtaking them. We crested a mountain to leave the Roya valley, descending into valley quite a bit further south than Sospel. We headed up the valley next to the river, and as the sun came down the fireflies came out and despite the fact that even my hair hurt, my spirits lifted and I was able to keep moving forwards.
Arriving in Sospel about 10.25pm, I was expecting a big aid station. The two guys I had been intermittently running alongside had gone on and on about the food and what they were going to eat. Turns out that it was a couple of trestle tables with Coke and water. I filled my backpack with fluids, had half a Go Bar whilst cleaning out my shoes of various bits of trail debris, and then was on my way sipping Coke as I went. I managed a little joke with some of the volunteers, and then mentally prepared myself for the monster steep climb ahead. I know this path well, having run it on many trail races and also run down on the Pre Cro 2 days previously. It does not get any easier, as the gradient is such that it required me to use my hands to pull myself up by tree roots. I overtook a couple of guys that were struggling, and managed to navigate the path correctly despite some the odd missing marker. One chap was stumbling back down the hill, holding on to a bush to slow his descent and the veins popping out on his calves as his legs braced themselves whilst he slid and stumbled down the path. He had clearly given up in his head.
Next stop Peille, although the climb out of Sospel was brutal, and long. About 10km and 1000m of altitude change. I played telephone tennis with Mark H as I went up the hill to discuss the finish, which still seemed a depressingly long way away. Eventually we spoke and the chat cheered me up, and not long after a chap I had encountered earlier in the race commented I seemed to have regained my form. We topped the summit, the marshall said it was 7km of descent to Peille and I was off at a rate of knots, stopping to warn the marshalls that one of my fellow competitors had gone to sleep just off the track, and that they should probably go get him if he didn't turn up in 30 mins or so being as it was chilly, humid and he was in shorts and t shirt. Not long after I passed another chap laying down on the side of the track about to use his backpack as a pillow.
The descent into Peille was not all descent and there was an evil little climb just before which took 30 mins or so, but soon I was at the 2nd last checkpoint. I changed my headtorch batteries, and was grateful for a cup of tea with a sugar lump to warm me up, with a Coke chaser naturally, and filled up my pack with fluids for the last time. I was not sure which route I was to be taking for the last ridge before the finish, but I knew most of the routes and there was nothing they could throw at me to stop me from finishing. I cracked on, overtaking a couple as we left the road and went up another steep scrambling climb towards the Col de Madone. I was pleasantly surprised we were not sent up to the very top, and then I could see Monaco below me, and I felt like I was sprinting (obviously I wasn't, but it felt like it!). I overtook quite a few more people and found myself approaching the Monte Carlo Golf Club as the sun crept over the horizon below. I called Mrs R and Mark H and said it would be 45-90 mins to the finish depending on the route. Sure enough, just before La Turbie and the final check point we were sent off to do another climb and descent before we arrived at the aid station. I just got my ticket scanned, refused all food and drinks and moved on towards the finish along with the Brit I had met earlier in the race and an Italian he had been running for most of the race, with. I led them through La Turbie and onto the Tete de Chien track for the descent to the finish. All of a sudden I momentarily lost my wind and had to pause, enabling them to move on ahead of me, but I soon regained it and was skipping down the track overtaking 3 or 4 more people as I went. I zig zagged through the streets of Cap D'Ail, onto the Sentier Littoral and ran all the way to the finish, picking up #2 & #3 offspring who accompanied me, whilst being filmed by #1 and Mrs R and Jack cheering me on.
An emotional moment passed and I was given the microphone by the MC to say a few words about my challenge and Diabetes UK, and then I dove into the Med which was bliss. Mark kindly went home and picked me up a jam sandwich and coffee, and I was in and out of the sea for an hour or so before heading home for a cold bath and a couple of hours sleep.
The organisers very kindly presented me with a trophy, a silver platter, and a bag full of goodies for my efforts and we got further exposure for Diabetes UK at the awards ceremony. I allowed myself my first beer in many many weeks in celebration, and then took the kids back to the beach for a swim and a sleep. I am so happy to have completed the challenge I set myself and it all seems rather surreal. 235km, something like 12800m of up and the same down, and almost 3 nights of no sleep. 41 and a half hours of motion in 3 and a half days. It has also been great for the fund raising efforts. We have raised almost £14000 and have raised the profile immensely in Monaco. My feet are recovering nicely although espadrilles are about the only shoes I can wear right now. The trainers have been binned as they were in a worse state than my feet at the end! I am keeping moving, and see no reason why I cannot get myself perambulatory for a slow jog round Monaco on Thursday morning, with Jack!
I had to put on every layer for the start of the Cro itself at 4am - I was pretty cold and knew it would be colder at the top of the first climb - 1000m of altitude gain in 10km or so, with the summit at 2000m. The gun went at 4am, and it all felt slightly surreal - no real pre race nerves given I was not far off half way through my challenge, but almost from the off I could feel the 105km already in my body, and I was hoping that it would stand up to the battering the Cro promised.
I chatted to a few people on the way up the first climb including a transplanted Brit now living in Italy, as we passed a monk ringing a bell cheering us on. There was snow at the top but cleared enough on the route we took, so that it was passable. As the sun came up we had some spectacular views across the mountains, with low lying clouds in some valleys. There was only one really technical section of the course in the first 70km's or so of the race, and that was on the way down to Tende at 24km. However, the route was certainly hilly enough, albeit on rough tracks through forests and up and down mountains. I made it to Tende, the first real refreshment stop, and filled up my empty bladder with water and my powder. It was not quite 8am and clearly the heat was going to be the main issue of the day. We then climbed out of Tende up to the second ravi point, Refuge Amicizia, at 42km, the first marathon of the day. I was already out of water 3/4 of the way up the hands on knees hike, but in better shape than a bearded chap who had sat down by the side of the trail. He complained of stomach issues, so I tried to chivvy him along. I found some marshalls a little further along and they provided me with a couple of cups of water to tide me over to the proper stop. After almost 8 hrs on the trail, I had 2hrs in hand before the cut off, and was very pleased but my feet were already starting to suffer with a recurrence of the blisters and also the tenderness on the balls of my feet and big toes with the really deep blisters.
I could do nothing but push on, and was given a boost by seeing 4 participants getting into an official landrover, retiring from the race because it was "too hard". I then chatted to a nurse from the Cardio centre in Monaco - he had tried the race a couple of years previously but given up, and he hoped to complete this year. He went ahead as I went at my own pace, and tried to remain hydrated as despite the cloud cover it was very humid and hot, and there were still shadows indicating the sun was still threatening the unsuspecting. At 59km, the refuge Muratone, the aforementioned nurse was sitting tucking into some hot food when I arrived, and looking for all the world like a broken man. I would not be surprised if he dropped out, as I tried to chivvy him along but he would not come (sadly I cannot remember his name or number so cannot check).
The next aid station was scheduled Breil, and I was also looking forward to the half way mark. I can remember heading along a very long dirt road through the woods, undulating but only steep in brief sections. One one side of the track was France and on the right was Italy. Through the undergrowth and brambles I could just about make out the odd doorway here and there. Clearly there was a vast network of fortifications under the dirt, a legacy of hundreds of years of war between the 2 nations. Quite fascinating wondering what sort of era the fort was used in and wondering about the soldiers that had inhabited it. It seemed to be massive and go on for ages, but truth be told I was slowing down quite a lot and a couple of times I had to use a discarded stone slab or tank trap to have a sit down, slurp some fluids from my pack and have a handful of trail mix. I managed to keep the breaks to a minimum of time and pushed on as much as I could.
I arrived in Breil just shy of 7pm, a full 4 hours ahead of the cut off, and I felt pretty beaten up. My lower back was in agony, my feet were screaming so loud I thought bystanders could hear them, and my legs had virtually seized up into stumpy telegraph poles. Paola, Sonia and Luca greeted me on arrival - Paola was in charge of the aid station, and asked me what they could get me, but I just took some Coke and water, and found my drop bag, sat down in a chair to do some admin. I munched on a couple of O'Connor flapjacks (those things are manna from heaven), and re-Vaselined everything. Sonia even found some eucalpytus cream and gave my legs a bit of a rub down (she is a soigneur in real life!), and within 15 minutes or so I was ready to leave a new man. It was like I had had a complete engine rebuild in that short period of time. My legs were able to move in all the right places, and even the soles of my feet felt less sore, although both socks had holes in!
The challenge began at 8pm on Wednesday 18th June, when the intrepid team of Dom, Stu, Mark, Tim and I set off at an underwhelming (to the spectators at least) pace from Chez Rolfe. We took the Sentier Littoral to Cap Martin and then peeled off up the hill towards the Col De Castillon. The others were picked up after 11km or so, just as the sun was setting, and I realised that the challenge was actually happening as I donned my headlamp and set off up the increasingly steeper incline. I took a mixture of roads and footpaths, not venturing too deeply into the forest as 2 weeks earlier Georg and I had been hopelessly lost on a training run in the maze of VTT and Randonee paths. I was afforded some amazing views over the coast, and enjoyed seeing 4 badgers playing, as I topped the Col at 750m.
I pushed the pace a little bit more to Sospel using gravity - a nice descent, joining the Cro trail about half way down the hill. I arrived in Sospel in time to hear the church bells ringing in midnight in stereo - there are 2 churches. There is a water fountain by the river so I took the opportunity to fill my bladder with water, added a little bit of the isotonic powder, had a handful of trail mix and put on another layer of clothing from my pack, as the air was humid and starting to chill.
I jogged out of Sospel and took the road up to the Col de Brouis. This was a long slog up the switch backs, and I stuck mostly to the road. Not too far up the hill, I could hear lots of rustling in the undergrowth, and heard the tell tale grunts of wild boar. I crossed the road, and more or less immediately came face to face with another boar. After the initial feelings of sheer terror had diminished, and he was just staying still and staring at me, I took a photo although it did not come out too well. He was about 10m from me, and the flash scared him off. I took another path not far from the top of the Col, and saw a pair of eyes staring back at me. I thought they belonged to a cat, but the animal did not seem that scared, more curious. As I got to within 2m of the animal it slowly walked right past me - I am not sure what it was, perhaps some sort of mink? If you have not been up Col De Brouis, it is very isolated and there is no habitation at all apart from a tiny auberge/restaurant at the very top. Unfortunately I reached it after last orders at 2.15am and therefore no opportunity to take on fluids. My feet were starting to get a few hotspots, due to a thinner sock choice, a cold night and my feet were rubbing in the shoes. I couldn't do much about it though, and just cracked on. Just over the Col, I saw a pair of eyes staring back at me from the woods. They were about 150m away, and were wider apart than the cats/badgers/mink I had seen. My headlamp just about outlined the shape of a large animal, at least waist height if not more, and the eyes were forward facing, not on the side of a head like deer or cows. I thought it was a dog but dogs always bark. This just stared....I speeded up and was a little perturbed to seen another pair of eyes on the other side of the road, exactly the same. Whatever they were I did not hang around to find out.
A mixture of road and trails for the jog down to the Roya valley, and then the long, slow climb into a headwind from Breil to Tende. I stopped in Fontan to use one of the fountains to take on water, and also had a sit down and a Go Bar. A friend, Markus was heading to Limone for a training trail run (TDS in August), and he drove past me at 5am with Coke and a friendly face, which was a real boost just before dawn. Not long after I came around a corner and virtually bumped into a boar nuzzling away at a verge. She was surrounded by 7 or 8 boar-lets. Both boar and I were surprised and fortunately terrified, as we both exclaimed and ran in different directions, piglets heading off in all points of the compass.
I arrived in Tende not long after dawn, and called Elio - one of the Cro organisers - the plan was to have him come from Limone, and then drive behind me in the tunnel whilst I ran. He told me the plan had changed, the police had said it was no longer possible and therefore he was going to come and pick me up to drive me through the tunnel - he thought that the Col de Tende would be too difficult due to the snow, but I wanted to try for myself though, so he did not come. I jog / walked up to the tunnel, meeting Martin for a change of socks and an apple en route. He also charged my telephone up (I had run out of battery and spare at 75km on Runkeeper, pre Tende - sorry about that!). The police confirmed that I was not allowed through the tunnel on foot, and also stated that the Col was impassable due to snow. As the kids' book says, if you can't go over it, you can't go round, you can't go under it, you have to go through it. I therefore hitched a lift for the 3.2km long tunnel with Martin, getting dropped off the other side for the last 7.6km into Limone. About 4km before Limone, Sonia and Luca from the Cro organisation found me and delivered tea and digestives - Italian breakfast! Disappearing onto a mountain bike trail and what I thought was a short cut, I got totally lost and 8km later was behind some railway barrier in a field. I pressed the button to alert the signal man and after what seemed an interminable wait a train rumbled through and the barriers lifted. I managed to find the road and was clapped into Limone by Paola, Sonia and Luca. I think, although am not 100% sure, I had covered 105km on foot (plus 3.2km by car). It was 10.20am (14hrs 20 mins)
The guys from the Cro were extremely kind as I stood in the fountain in the main square to chill my feet and legs, delivering me a panini and cappucino. I slept a bit, and then had an amazing 5 course meal at Paolas house with the others for the properly authentic Italian meal. I did not contribute too much to the conversation other than the odd "Multo Bene"! When I got back I popped the three blisters I could see, but I couldn't do much with the really deep ones.
Friday was spent chilling, dozing, registering for the Cro, reloading my back pack with supplies, and then the pasta party and briefing. Pietro, after introducing the pros and favourites for the races, very kindly introduced me at the briefing to the other participants and mentioned I had run to Limone the day before and for the cause itself, Diabetes UK, to help further raise the profile of this terrific charity. Bed at 9pm with the alarm set for 2am.
I am not really sure how it happened. 10.5 years ago I saw the Monaco Marathon go past my apartment in the rain, and the kernel of an idea started to sprout. I started to run with no real ideas, plans, or equipment and in November 2004 I ran my first marathon. I did not achieve my goal, and went back until at my 3rd attempt I smashed the 4 hour barrier with a 3.53. However at that point it was too late...I was hooked.
Somewhere along the line I started running trail races. Psycho introduced me to them, and they have since become my main focus - I like being fit, I am constantly struggling with weight and a generally unhealthy broker / expat lifestyle, and the sport provides a nice counter-balance. Yes, I train pretty much every day, somehow - even if only for 30 minutes, and yes if I have a choice I will try and avoid empty carbs to keep the weight off, such as I can. For me, it has become the new normal.
We have two more new normals in our house these days. Hormones being one. Diabetes being the other. With 3 girls, I always knew I would be in for a rough ride and boy was I right with doors slamming, mood swings, tears, and the like all part of a normal day. I was not necessarily expecting to find a child of mine lying on the floor of the kitchen at 9pm on a Sunday night virtually unconscious, though. We are now five months and change into our new life, and it is now remarkable how blase we have become about the whole thing - within a minute or two her blood had been checked, dextrose followed by a biscuit administered, and within 30 minutes she was right as rain. Noone lost their cool and panicked; noone yelled at anyone with recriminations (trust me, that is an hourly occurrence Chez Nous), and we just got on with what we had to.
Hypos are quite a common occurrence with a well controlled Type 1 diabetic - that is our experience and what we have been led to believe. The sweet spot of between 4 and 7 mmol is not something that you can get used to and hit without even opening your eyes. All sorts of different factors can affect that - on Sunday afternoon #2 had been doing a lot of swimming with a mate, for instance, and then the takeaway curry we had for supper obviously took a little while to hit the metabolism, so even though the portions were carefully measured and insulin administered per the text books, a hypo occurred.
However, it is not something to worry about - it is all about following the protocol - check blood, verify low blood sugar, get some fast release sugar into her (Dextrose tablets / Lucozade / Coke or similar) and then perhaps follow up with a slower release sugar such as a biscuit, check again 15 & 30 minutes later, and get on with our lives.
The new normal.
At 9pm on Wednesday 19th June - 3 weeks and 2 days from now - I will be setting off on one of my toughest challenges yet. Something like 250km in 4 days, nearly half of it unsupported, more than half of it (and likely 3/4 of it) across mountainous cross country trails, from Monaco to Limone to Cap D'Ail. As is normal under the circumstances, nothing really runs smoothly, and there is too much snow for the Cro Magnon to remain safe, so the organisers are looking for an alternative route. Plan C is obviously to cancel it and perhaps just have the half from Breil to Cap D'Ail. Whatever happens, the Col de Tende is open (my highest point on the pre Cro run), and my intention is to run from Monaco to Limone via whatever route I can, and then back again. If the Cro is cancelled in favour of just the 80km from Breil, then I will run back from Limone to the start of that race and do that instead.
Why am I doing this? Diabetes UK remain focal in our ability to deal with Alice's diagnosis. At first it was painful and raw, and we still had to deal with the practicalities of the diagnosis. Diabetes UK personally helped us with education and support. We are now much calmer about the whole thing - it is still there to be managed, and the various mood swings can be pretty tiring when her sugars are low or high, for whatever reason. It would be easy to become either tied up in just the diabetes management - putting our social life on hold and not pursuing a normal family life. It would be similarly easy to become blase about the treatment of her condition. Alice is currently looking forward to her Diabetes UK summer camp in August - a sort of Outward Bound for diabetic kids in a completely safe and controlled environment. A lot of the volunteers are themselves Type 1 diabetics and have benefitted from the camps in the past. As a parent I can see how important these types of "normalizing" events can be for children, but also the safety and experience aspect makes it a lot easier for those parents that would be in the former camp - wrapped up in just the diabetes to the detriment of the rest of their life.
I knew Diabetes UK funded research - I have recently found out that the development of the injection pens was a direct result of their research funding, moving away from glass or disposable syringes.
I have blogged before about the feelings that we had when Alice was diagnosed, likening it to bereavement. I am pretty sure that as a family we are more in the fifth stage than any other, now - acceptance. The last few months have not been easy, but it is now a part of life and we have to get on with it.Of course we still worry, and dealing with an almost teenager with this condition is most definitely not easy, but from advice we picked up at the Diabetes UK family weekend from parents that had blazed a trail before us, it is most definitely easier than it would be otherwise. I would obviously love to put Alice on the Paleo diet, gluten free, no processed sugar or wheat, as her sugars would be a lot easier to manage, but try reasoning all that with a 12 year old girl? We do what we can with gentle words of encouragement, and of course try and treat her as we would the other two with the appropriate boundaries. At the end of the day, how she eats in the future will be her choice, and she knows the pros and cons of every ice cream, bagel or packet of crisps.
In the meantime, training is proceeding according to plan. It is not always easy to fit it in, and it would be very easy to get a few more hours sleep a week and try to persuade myself that is ok. But it is not. Yesterday I got up early and ran just under a marathon, uphill and down dale, on the roads and tracks around Vence. It took a while to get into it as I left Jack at home (the roads around Vence are too unforgiving), and the pack was heavy, but it was nonetheless fun. Although I was a little bemused at the cyclist waggling his finger at me as he came round the corner north of 60kmh with me gripping the side of the cliff that formed the hard shoulder. Clearly he had no sense of irony, and if he had seen me move the boulders and tree limbs that had come free in the night and littered the road just after the corner, he may have thought slightly differently. Having been on the receiving end of a few waggled fingers - and worse - on my bike from cars, there is definitely a road hierarchy out there with runners seemingly on the bottom of the pile!
I am not really an early adopter. I just bought my first iPhone after running a Blackberry in various iterations for years and years - I can see what the fuss is about now! For my sporting endeavours, though, that is not strictly true: I bought myself a Garmin wrist mounted GPS back in 2009, and never looked back. For Christmas 2013 I treated myself to a new Garmin Fenix - mainly because I was fed up of the 18 hour or so battery life in the Garmin 305xt. After the WS100 and UTMB I realised it was not enough. The Fenix boasts an Ultra Trak option which marks the location every minute or so, rather than continuously in order to preserve battery life for up to 52 hours. Which I think should be just about enough, even for my upcoming challenge this summer. I am only now using it on a daily basis, and I am finding it excellent - the altitude function is mesmerising, particularly during the recent mountain run, although I am finding it pretty complicated and haven't yet got to grips with all the different functions. Seemingly every day I find a new and different use or function, and am gradually becoming familiar with it. I would definitely recommend it for ultra marathons - the xt is perhaps better suited to marathons and triathlons though.
Just over 3 weeks in, and we are having similar issues with #2's pump. The technology is fantastic - she loves not having to inject 4 or 5 times day and also the new found freedom that it is giving her - yesterday she went to McDonald's for lunch with her friends (a rare treat in the Rolfe household, McDonalds is generally to be avoided), unchaperoned. Bolus doses were administered directly onto the pump and her BGL was pretty well controlled as a result. The misconception I had made was that the pump would make things easier. I was wrong - the pump enables far tighter control of #2's BGL, and there are all sorts of terrific things it does (we recently received a blood glucose monitor that syncs direct to the pump via bluetooth - blood still needs to be drawn, but this is definitely a clever piece of kit), but there are downsides.
Last weekend, #2's BGL was through the roof - at one point over 20. We replaced the cannula, removing one which had become bent and therefore insulin was not being administered. A day later and the same thing happened again. It was only on the 3rd attempt that we got a successful insertion and her BGL came back to normal within a few hours. Next time we'll know what to do and resolve things a lot more quickly. The other issue is that of monitoring levels - the pump is a computer, and computers can go wrong. BGLs need to be monitored in case it has broken. This is also true in the night, although we are becoming a little more relaxed with the way her BGL trends overnight, and are no longer getting up at 3am every day, just some days depending on her BGL at around 10.30/11 - the last check of the day.
We have been making use of contacts made with Diabetes specialists that we met on the Diabetes UK Care Weekend, for advice and just to bounce ideas off. They have also provided us very kindly with lots of educational literature on the pump. For that we are extremely grateful.
In this respect, both Garmin Fenix and pump are amazingly powerful pieces of kit. I would not be surprised if someone told me there was more processing power than in the 1969 moon landings in both! There is definitely a bedding in process required, and that I guess is a "time" thing.
I read a book whilst I was in hospital with #2. Hold the front page! I read a book. I don't have a great deal of time to read generally, other than work related stuff, unless on airplanes, so to read was a real luxury. The book was called "Why we run" by Robin Harvey, and was really more of a memoir about his journey to the 2009 Spartathlon (now incidentally on my bucket list). One area of training that Harvie had not subscribed to before his Spartathlon (I won't ruin it for you if you decide to read it) was that some people allow themselves only 6 hours of sleep per night for 6 months ahead of the race, in order to condition themselves to the sheer fatigue of the race itself. I looked at that passage wistfully - 6 hours of unbroken sleep per night....oh what I would give for that right now!
I say that in part because I have had a pretty tough block of training recently, as I approach the Cro Magnon both ways. However, since #2's diagnosis I have generally been up late treating hypos, and especially since the pump was fitted, I have been up at 3am every day in order to try and work out whether she is going to bed with too high or too low BGL, and how we should deal with that accordingly. Sunday morning was a little different to the norm, however, as I slept from 10.40pm until 4.40pm, and then went to check her BGL. It was very high - for some reason she tends to rally in the night unlike the text books, but borders on hypo before bed. I administered a bolus corrective dose, managing to wake her up in the process, and then went downstairs to find my Camelbak had dribbled sticky Isostar dilute all over the floor. I wiped that up under the watchful eyes of Jack, and bleary eyed made myself some tea, coffee and porridge - pre match breakfast.
As I left the house, it started to rain in earnest and the temperature dropped so I grabbed a few more layers as Jack laid on the guilt trip with his sad eyes as I left him behind. Mrs R called me 5 minutes later to say that he had barked, whined and finally gone on a frenzied lap of the house to look for me. Poor Jack and poor Mrs R. I was awakened from my thoughts by the speed camera flashing in my rear view mirror as I went past a couple of km's quicker than the prescribed 70kmh. I was actually quite pleased as I did not think my truck was capable of breaking any speed limits, although I now wait for the ticket to drop through the letter box.
I briefly braved the rain on the sea front at Mandelieu Napoule to pick up my dossard - true to most of the trail races locally there was no goodie bag, not even some complementary safety pins, although the - deserted - expo had grown exponentially since 2013. I spent the rest of the time before the race huddled in my truck with every layer of clothing on, willing for some nice weather.
If it was raining not only would the race be horrendously slippery, but it would also be impossible to enjoy the spectacular scenery, which was the case in 2013.
A friend and his wife had come from the UK to do the race, and I met them in the tent just by the start to give her a spare Survival Blanket which she did not have. We chatted for a bit whilst the briefing was going on (as we couldn't really hear it), had a last minute pee - the start was on the beach, and then at 7am we were off.
The first part of the race was from the beach to the road for about 6-700m, all quite steep uphill, before we peeled off into the woods and single track. The field was a lot bigger than the previous edition, with about 280 registered, and 265 or so starters, so once we hit the single track it was impossible to move at anything more than the pace of the chap in front. There was a short stair case early on and everyone was queuing so I dashed up the side of the stairs and made up the ground to my friend and his Missus. We then ran together for the next 10-12km, chatting about previous races and so on. Geoffroy is practising for the CCC, and his wife was trying out the trail as she races - and gets top 5 rankings - in shorter races, but wondered about the longer ones.
When the path widened, I slowed down and took off my rain jacket attaching it to the back of my Camelback. The rain had all but stopped and it was warming up a little. For the first 8km the race went pretty much uphill with the field spreading out quite substantially. We went from sea level to 360m, chatting all the way. At 8km there was a narrow downhill section which I opened up a little, on. I had strapped my knee beforehand but it had not been bothering me for a while, and as I tested it, everything felt fine. I was able to overtake quite a few on this quite technical section.
The path leveled out a little, and then we had an extended 3 or 4km of downhill / flat cinder trail - this was made for me - I relaxed and thundered down the hill pretty effortlessly, enjoying myself. I opened up a gap between myself and my friends - unintentionally, and even though I stopped to take a photo at 16km or so, as the views were spectacular, I seemed to be on my own.
We descended down to 100m above sea level before we started climbing again - this was the longest section of "up" from 16km to around 21km, and some of it was hands and knees, as well as crossing 2 avalanches - paths indented into the rocks which had "flowed" down the slopes. At the top was beyond what I'd call technical - with deep gullies carved into the rocks marking the top of the climb (465m above Sea Level). It was necessary to use both hands to haul oneself from rock to rock and negotiate the descent the other side too. A technical and steep descent followed, and at some point I started to get a twitch in my knee which resulted in me slowing down on the downhill, unfortunately. I grinned and bore it, though and enjoyed the run taking some more pictures as I went.
After the down, inevitably came the up, and we climbed sharply from 125m back up to 450m again in short order - within 2km or so. It was pretty steep, and I was glad that I had not filled up my Camelback at all during the 2 aid stations as it was less to carry. I slowed down on the climb to take off my underlayer, and just be left with the t shirt, as it was extremely warm work! Hands on thighs like pistons I went up the hill to the top, and then at the top a guy was taking photos with the sea and mountains in the back ground. I unclipped my Camelback to show off my Diabetes UK logo to full effect, and smiled for the camera. As I descended the initial 10-15 feet I could hear the next guy chatting to the photographer, behind me. There was noone in front. There was a couple of hundred metres of flat ahead through a wooded area, and I tried to buckle up the back pack - one of the buckles came loose as I was fiddling and fell off onto the floor. As I was looking for it, I rolled my right ankle and yelled out loud - it was one of those moments where the mind can hear cracking in the ankle and I desperately threw myself to one side to avoid putting my whole weight on it, as I went. The knee wasn't particularly amused with that, I can tell you. The guy behind had seen it and asked if I was ok - I just said I had an issue and was going to walk for a bit. He said to stay moving as to stop would probably be quite dangerous given that I was soaked with sweat and if I stopped I'd get cold. I walked for a bit, but surprisingly, the stabbing pain in the knee subsided, and the ankle did not give me massive amounts of grief. I started to jog and managed to stub my left foot horrendously - nearly losing my balance and cursing out loud again. However, I soon recovered and tucked into a short climb where I was pressing the guy that had overtaken me, and when we hit downhill I thundered past him at Mach 2 - he did a double take worthy of a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
All downhill to the next aide station - at 36km, and on the beach at Theole Sur Mer. This was FUN. I overtook a couple of people on the downhill, and then ran along the sand and path past a load of picnickers and people out riding bikes with their kids, and at the aid station grabbed a Coke and filled my Camelback with a litre or so of water, and then cracked on. We followed a storm drain underneath the road and train track, and then headed left into the woods and another climb - the steepest of the day. I managed to overtake a couple but was overtaken by a couple that I had passed at the aid station. Hands on knees again, and seemingly everyone I passed would ask how much more climbing we would have to do. I have to confess I did not know, but gave a passable opinion!
We had a short descent to a massive statue which was fascinating. This marked an intersection between several footpaths and there were a lot of mountain bikers to watch out for as they were descending at speed on narrow footpaths we were heading up, but I could hear them coming and ducked into the undergrowth a couple of times. The statue marked those that had died fighting in North Africa during the French colonial wars. You can see more about it here http://www.memorialnotredamedafrique.com/
It was truly amazing and the views over the red rocks of the Estoril and the sea were amazing. I really wanted to stop and read the inscriptions - amazing to see how recently France had lost military personnel - and civilians - in Africa in former colonies. Unsurprisingly, the rights and wrongs of France's incursions abroad have raised many a heckle (with allegations of mass tortures and "disappearings"), and there is now a movement to have the statue removed. For the interest of balance, read here http://www.henri-pouillot.fr/spip.php?rubrique84
I managed to resist the temptation to do nothing more than slow down, and then I went up the bike path dodging the aforementioned mountain bikers as I went. I joined with another fellow, and we were astounded as two very professional looking trailers blasted up the hill, past us, at high speed. They were I think 4th and 5th in the Ultra Trail (80km) race. They were clearly part of a professional team wearing identical uniforms, and quite inspiring, as we broke into a jog despite heading uphill. We crested the top of the hill, enjoyed the view for a second, and then I did my thing on the downhill through the woods and then opened onto the cinder trail. I managed to overtake several people on the cinder trail before we crossed a road and then technical single track all the way to sea level. Again, I overtook 3 or four people - some of which I recognised and not happy at being passed - despite there being a sheer drop off to one side with numerous "danger" signs where the path had disappeared down the hill. It was great fun and clearly those that I overtook had nothing left in the tank with which to defend. I reached the road on my own, and then meandered, running, through the suburbs, under the train tracks, and onto the beach path for the last km or so to the finish.
I crossed the line on my own, having been a little confused at the end with the markings - the crowd intervened and sent me the right way! As I crossed the line I saw my friend's wife sitting down. She had dropped at Theole - 35km or so, and jogged home. She had had a fall and hurt her wrist, and was not really enjoying the descents. I grabbed 3 pieces of stale ginger cake and some peanuts, and watched Geoffroy cross the line not long after me. I was 132nd and had taken 6hrs 39 minutes. I emptied my shoes of stones for the 3rd time that day, and my socks were ruined - I had gone through both with my toes - a testament to the technical nature of the descents.
I have to say that a key feature of this race was that I really enjoyed it. It felt adventurous to me, yet I had paced it well enough that I did not finish "crevee" as I have others. Could I have done better in the rankings? With more training, sleep, no job and family commitments, of course. On the day, probably not.
I finished smiling!
Pre diagnosis, this used to be a blog about running. As you will probably know, I have not only set myself the 2014 challenge of running from Limone to Cap D'Ail as part of the Cro Magnon, I have also decided to run to the start. Best guess is around 250km and around 10000m of positive altitude change in 4 days, hopefully with enough time to change clothes, eat and pick up my number and chip in Limone in between. With this in mind, I have been training. I have dropped a few kg's from the Christmas excesses, and got some serious mileage under my belt - not far off the 1000km for 2014 so far.
Last Saturday, #2 and I emerged blinking into the Cote D'Azur sunlight from Lenval Hospital, had something to eat, a bath and about 6 hours sleep, and then I left the house to meet Mike and Mark for a bit of a pedal. Cross Training. Sort of. The primary goal for me was to get out and recon the route I will be taking - unsupported - from Monaco to Limone to the start of the Cro Magnon. I will be setting off late on Wednesday evening 18th June, heading down the Sentier Littoral towards Menton - headlamp blazing the trail - and then bearing left at Menton towards the hinterland. There are footpaths criss crossing the roads, but I am not sure how many of these I will take as they add altitude change to the journey and increase the chances of getting lost. Add in a storm and....well, I'll probably stick to the roads until daylight at least. We had a lovely ride on the minor roads over the Col de Castillon, down to Sospel, and up to the Col de Brouis, with very little traffic to spoil the fun. I was taking notes as I will need to be able to fill up my Camelbak pretty frequently. Once over the Cols it was a nice downhill ride to Sospel - I recognised some of the paths as I have taken them in various trail races over the years - they might be a more direct route down to Breil from Brouis.
Once in Breil, we said goodbye to Mark over Cafe au Laits and Croissants, and as he peeled off to the right to go to lunch - I looked longingly at his downhill trajectory. Mike and I headed left - and a relentless uphill. The road was pretty wide from Breil to Tende, although it did narrow where the topography of cliffs and river left it no choice. Fortunately the summer months will be quiet and I will be able to hear traffic coming. We also investigated a parallel footpath which pretty much tracked the road but went up and down every mountain in between. Once again, I will have to play it by ear on the day and see how I am feeling, the weather and how much traffic there is. I feel a lot better about the trip up to the start, though, which was the main thing. I am also psyched about getting back on my bike and I want to do more of that. Mark and Mike, and others, are cycling from St Tropez to Monaco this Sunday for charity.
I am jealous, but otherwise occupied - this week has been taper week for me. I am participating in the Trail Des Balcons D'Azur this weekend - a 47km mountain trail race which starts and finishes on the beach at Mandelieu Napoulie and wends its way up and down in the Estoril national park, in the meantime. The weather forecast is once again appalling, but I am looking forward to getting on the trails nonetheless.
I say this week has been taper week - that normally means fewer km's together with a carb free followed by carb loading diet, and extra sleep. I can tick the first 2 boxes, but not so the third. Since emerging from hospital, #2 and we have been wrestling with the insulin doses - we have just about got the nighttime doseage cracked but it has meant continually getting up in the night at 3am to check BGLs. The daytime has proven a lot more difficult with hypos every day after lunch and supper, but hypers late afternoon. We have made a few adjustments to basal and bolus rates, the most recent this morning, but it is a case of constant monitoring. It has felt at times a bit like being back at square one, and we do feel for #2 - she gets anxious with a hypo, and moody with a hyper, and then lashes out at all and sundry. Once back in the zone, she is so loving and apologetic.
I shall be wearing my Diabetes UK running shirt this weekend, to raise awareness and because it is pretty damn nifty, and consider the run a warm up for June. The profile of the race is pretty much straight up or straight down, so it is not going to be anything like the 3hr 57 I achieved in Barcelona - but I am aiming to have fun and enjoy the countryside.