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!
It has been a while since I have posted, as things like family holidays and the reams of guests escaping the oppressive heat of the UK to the cooler - and damper - climes of the Cote D'Azur, seem to have gotten in the way a little! The kids have been away on various camps and we enjoyed a lovely staycation doing all the touristy things that we never seem to get to do, right on our doorstep, including picking up a nasty sinus and ear infection from the local water park. Super. Mrs R and I have been training hard (well, maybe not that hard, although we have taken the wine drinking VERY seriously) for the Medoc Marathon which is in a couple of weeks, and we even managed to enjoy a couple of hilly training runs together.
One of the camps that the kids went on was organised by Diabetes UK, and Alice and one of her friends went on it. Diabetes UK run the camps and family weekends to educate, support and generally help families with Type 1 Diabetic kids. It helps parents and children go through the process of accepting - and managing the condition, whilst also giving the kids a lot of fun such as they would receive at a camp for non diabetics. The volunteers are made up from other diabetics or medical professionals working with diabetics, and hence the camp is completely safe. In some cases, it is the only break that some parents get from the 24 hour / 7 day a week anxiety that can, if you are not too careful, take over your life, and it is useful to gain some sort of perspective.
Diabetes UK offer to partially fund these weekends and camps for those who cannot afford it, often with other charities picking up the slack that Diabetes UK does not pay for. As everyone was so generous with their sponsorship for my Cro Magnon double, and the donations went to Diabetes UK, I wanted to share with you some measure of the impact that this charity - and by extension, you - have had on our lives, by way of thanks. Diabetes UK have asked for feedback from parents and the participating kids, and I have pasted these below. Thanks ever so much for all your support. if you haven't donated and would like to, my website is still accepting donations at www.justgiving.com/totallynuts
To Diabetes UK,
Hello, my name is Alice Rolfe, I’m 12 years old and I just went on a Diabetes holiday camp last week (2nd-9th August) organised by Nigel Jenner
I had so much fun I didn’t want to leave!
The activities were awesome! e.g: Giant swing, trapeze, zip wire, quad biking, raft building and rafting, canoeing, Jacob’s ladder, vertical challenge, rock climbing, aeroball, bowling, the safari, tunnel trail and so much more!!!
I loved meeting other diabetics and also the volunteers!
Being surrounded by people that have the most important part of me in common felt so nice and I felt normal!
Thank you so much for letting Nigel organise it!
To Diabetes UK
From Ben Rolfe
Family Weekend - Ashford
I was not sure what to expect from the weekend and did not really have any goals, other than for Alice to meet other people with Type 1 diabetes, and for all of us to move forward in our "grieving process" since Alice had been diagnosed on 23rd December 2013. Information is power, as they say, and I had been a massive user of the resources on the Diabetes UK website since Alice's diagnosis, as well as books and other resources. I hoped that we could all learn from the weekend about management of the condition but also about how to deal with issues such as when Alice becomes a teenager!
The weekend brought clarity right from the start. We met up with other parents - and splitting partners up was a stroke of genius too as we doubled the amount of information and possibly took slightly different, more rounded viewpoints away from the weekend as a result. The other parents and grandparents were a huge source of comfort - I expected to be one of the more recent initiates to the world of T1 diabetes, but that was not the case. I could see the raw emotion of the newly diagnosed, even though I was still not at the "acceptance" stage of the grieving process. Hearing similar stories from others, and some more scary stories, also helped to "normalize" the condition. In terms of management of the condition, it was a huge boost to the reserves of information and knowledge at our disposal, and we made some very useful and helpful contacts at the weekend too. Alice was scheduled to move on to a pump just after the weekend, and meeting other parents who had kids on pumps was extremely useful.
Alice herself felt at home, and it certainly sped up her ability to live with the condition - even mealtimes were terrific for her, seeing other kids check their BGLs and even some of the volunteers, too. Alice felt normalised - being isolated and different is one of the hardest things for her to live with, and the weekend made her - briefly, at least - feel normal. She also felt encouraged to be freer with mealtimes, as she saw other T1's eating what they wanted, but still having good control.
It was a fantastic weekend, and I really could not fault it, but it was also fabulously useful. I cannot thank you enough Diabetes UK.
Children's Care Event - Liddingston
I am fortunate to have known Nigel Jenner my whole life, but even before we knew that he was running the Liddingston week, Alice wanted to go. She had a great time meeting other kids and still contacts them now on various social media platforms. The activities seemed to be adventurous and she came back regaling us with tales of using her pump light to find her way in some sort of tunnel maze, trying out the trapeze, and crate building as a team. It has clearly given Alice confidence to live with her condition and yet live her life the way she wants to live it. I read somewhere that it is about controlling the diabetes, not having the diabetes control you, and I believe that the week in the UK gave Alice more confidence to live life that way.
Alice had a pretty good understanding of controlling her diabetes before she left for the camp, but she has certainly gained in confidence as it gave her some affirmation that she was doing all the right things. She is already keen to go back, and her elder sister is now keen to become some sort of volunteer when she can (Emily, DOB 17/5/2000), too.
A recurring theme in these events is that Alice is never happier than when surrounded by other diabetics! My wife asked her if she would like to go to a school only for diabetics, and she was adamant she would (were one to exist). I cannot begin to comprehend what it is like to be Alice, and living at her age with T1, being different, adolescent and all the associated issues with that time of life anyway, but I can see that she desperately wants to be "not different". The week in Liddingston gave Alice that, for a short time, and that has really helped her. She also seemed to come back more mature, and confident, leaving the Diabetes aspect aside.
Once again, thanks Diabetes UK for organising this event. I hope that you will let Alice go again - I know she would be devastated to not get a place next year!
The #showmeyourpump campaign has been a fantastic development for Type 1 diabetics globally - #2 pointed out the Instagram page of Miss Idaho before she became a global phenomenon, and overnight was almost proud of her pump and to be associated with someone famous with T1. Whatever you make of beauty pageants, Miss Idaho, Sierra Sandison, is using her crown as a platform for something positive. She is not only displaying that anything is possible for those with T1 (and indeed without!), but she is also taking away the stigma - or perhaps taking it one step further, making T1 "cool". I have been all about making people aware that #2 is T1 - it was through no fault of her own (have you noticed how comedians and movies are using diabetes as an insult now?) and I don't want her to be ashamed of her condition - she has no reason to be ashamed. There are a whole host of other reasons why I want people to know, not least because I know of other T1's that have been arrested for drunk and disorderly whilst having a hypo, chucked out of clubs, and so on. However, particularly where we live, there is a stigma / taboo associated with any condition and particularly T1, and I do not want #2 to feel stigmatised or ashamed in any way.It should just be part of her life, and I thank Miss Idaho for her giant strides forward in this regard. I should point out that much has been made of her wearing the pump onstage whilst in her bikini, but then where was she supposed to put it? She could have disconnected as for a shower, but who knows what the logistics backstage, and besides which - as she has proven - she should not be ashamed of her "bionic pancreas" either! She wore the pump onstage at all times, but of course it was most visible during that particular section.
Moving on, the pump has a peculiar side effect - one which noone could have really predicted. Dog, having been found as a hobo baby, tends to scavenge for food wherever she can find it. She therefore has no respect for boundaries, and when we are in the country has tended to disappear and even dug under fences. We therefore surrounded the garden with a wire, which when plugged in, sends a signal to a collar around her neck which beeps and if she gets too close gives her a tiny electric shock. She only did it once, and now if she hears the beeps backs off. It may sound cruel but I can assure you it is far less cruel than having her hit by a car, or getting lost at night (which happened pre collar). I have thoroughly tested this piece of equipment, and in fact it is a great late night drinking game for any guests. Of course, Jack also has a tendency to wander - his penchant is for neighbours' cats, and he defends his territory until the cat has been chased up the tallest tree in the neighbourhood. We purchased a collar for him too, and he now respects the boundaries. I can confirm that Jack's collar works effectively after a few beers, too, although I recommend quite a lot of beers before turning it up to full power.
#2 was recently giving Jack a cuddle, and he was squealing and squirming. It took a few seconds to realise that the signals given off by #2's pump actually trigger Jack's collar (but strangely not Dog's). Perhaps the social media campaign to #showmeyourpump should also come with a warning to stay away from
"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!