Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Race report - Part 2 (finishing the race)

This is the second part of my race report. If you have not read the first part, please scroll down and you find the first part below.

The first the stages of the race had left me with sore feet (I could definitely feel blisters coming on), and a very sore neck and left shoulder. At the third check point (CP3) me and Andy had been cooking some dried freeze food. I had chosen potatoes and bacon, mixed together with a package of noodles. The only lesson learned is to use an adequate amount of water. I had to eat my meal with most of the noodles cracking between my teeth, pretty much like eating uncooked pasta.

Stage 4
The meal made me feel much better and with head torch on we left the check point an hour after we arrived. Glow sticks on the markers showed the way, however at times they were were longer apart then what we could see, so at times we were still left unsure if we were walking the right way. The fact that the markers had bicycles on them seemed like a truly bad joke at this point! *smile* This together with the complete darkness made me feel very small.

Me and Andy walked together for the first hour, but then Andy pulled ahead and left me trailing. I didnt want to push to stay with him, since I knew that I had still some 50-55km to go. I was still feeling fairly good at this point and at times during the stage I started to jog again.

During the whole stage I was sticking to my energy intake of an energy bar or a gel every 45min or so, and mixing electrolyte drink with water. It was very interesting to learn how the taste of gels, water and electrolyte drink changed during the race. At times water tasted very bland and I was craving anything sweet (like the electrolyte drink) and at times I couldnt stand to put anything sweet in my mouth.

Eventually I reached CP4 and after taking off the backpack I started to cramp up. I took some time on my back, looking at the stars, drinking and eating an energy bar. Korbis and Amy was at the check point keeping me company and boosting moral. I was more exhausted then what I remember, since I completely forgot to document my stop at CP4 *smile*

Stage 5
I set off on the fifth stage feeling fairly good. The pain in the shoulder was gone and the only thing hurting was my feet. I had taken some pain killers at CP4 and they started to work and I could pick up the pace and jog again. After about 2h or so on my own I was in the absolute middle of nowhere. Suddenly I heard hooves on the ground and looked to my right. Two springboks ran past me less then 10m from me. My heart raced and I had to stop. The two springboks nearly gave me an heart attack!

I looked ahead and could see two eyes looking at me. I assumed it was one of the springboks looking at me so I started to walk against it. As I came closer it came into the outer range of my head torch. I could see it was not a springbok but a hyena! My hear raced again, but this time didnt slow down. What should I do now? I stood there waiting for it to attack and tried to figure out what I should do if it did. The hyena didnt move and I was unable to, so we stood there for what seemed to be an eternity. I decided that I would have to make the first move. So I went ahead and walked straight ahead. The Hyena didnt move at all and as long as I turned my head and looked back it was staring at me. It was later explained to me that it was probably a brown hyena and not a spotted one, so I was perfectly safe. One thing that the encounter did do was to boost my energy levels and I picked up a slow jog again.

Towards the end of stage 5 I was feeling very low. I guess this could be expected since I had been running for close to 100km after all. I had started to hallucinate at times and the glow sticks on the markers seemed to be moving around and flying in the air. Towards the end I saw a very strong moving light. I thought it might be the lantern of a ship since we were getting close to shore. It turned out to be Steve, the race director who had come out to meet me the last could of hundred meters. Again I took 20min to lie down and relax before I filled up water and was on my way again.

Stage 6
There is nothing good to tell you about stage 6. I was at the lowest point in the race, and I was not at any point during the stage certain that I would be able to finish the race. I was in such a poor state. At times I looked at my GPS and saw that I was moving in a pace of 3km / hour. Mentally and physically I was exhausted.

It felt as if I was going to a very, very dark place. A place in my mind I was not sure I wanted to see. I had pushed my body and mind to the edge and now I had to turn back, somehow gather strength to get back out of the misery. A car with some local fishermen stopped and asked what I was doing. When I told them I had been running since 9am last morning they shocked and wished me all the best. They really helped me to push up.

The road seemed to go on forever and the only thing I could think of was to take one more step. The only way to finish the race was to get to the end point so no point of resting or even sit down as this was what my body kept telling me.

Another car came up and it was Korbis and Steve. Their happy faces always helped throughout the race. Steve got out and said he would walk 20-30min with me to the last turn of the route. As we walked together the sun rose and light returned to our world. I felt a surge of energy from the company, the light and the knowledge that I was very close to the finish line. With 2km to go Steve left me and I started to jog. I ran the last 2km and I was feeling good. The blisters under my feet hurt with every step, but it was a good pain.

Finally I came to the tent and I could see people standing up, waiting for me, clapping their hands and taking photos. I couldnt believe it, I had done it. In 22 hours and 24minutes I had finished the race! I got my sleeping bag out and sat on a chair. That was the first time in 22h that I properly sat down. What a feeling. I was now truly an Namibian Viking!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Race report - Part 1

I will write the race reports in two parts, and here is the first part.

The day before the race we had to go through our race kit with the medic and race director to confirm we had all kit we needed for the run. The atmosphere in the camp started to build and there was a lot of anticipation in the air. Last session we needed to go through was with Fran, the guide. Fran is an ex-special forced in Namibia and a man of few words. He went through the maps we had been given covering each of the six 20km stages. Each map was a high-level satellite image of each stage where we could see the overall feature of terrain. I went to bed filled with anticipation and nerves.

I got up in the morning and made my final preparations. Bringing on the fully packed back-pack made me truly feel the weight on my shoulders in more way then one!

At 9am local time we all lined up. Fran took out his Magnum 44 and with a shot in the air we were off. As promised to Ben I headed off strong and was leading the race (ok let's get real here, I led the race for about 50m before Tom overtook me and soon left me trailing in the dust). The first stage was a fairly easy terrain with low bushes on hard gravel. We had markers that we followed and half-way through the stage I was feeling very strong and went onto follow a road towards the first checkpoint, CP1. I was following my tactics of walking all hills and a slow jog in between. I averaged about 8km/h and reached CP1 in 2h 30min. I was the third person into the checkpoint and I was feeling strong.

Stage 2
After a very quick stop (I only had a quick bit of an energy bar and re-filled my water) I was off again. The heat of the day really started to take a toll and after about 1h into the second stage I started to feel that I could not keep running. I was starting to feel the first signs of heat stroke (head ache, difficulty to find saliva to spit and starting to feel a bit wobbly), and I was forced to start to walk rather then running. We entered a part of the second stage where we were running through a dry riverbed with high hills each side of the track. Andy had put his watch down on the ground and measured 46 degrees (115 Fahrenheit), so it was no chock I was feeling the heat. Towards the end of the stage I saw Andy and after about 45min trailing him I caught up with him just before CP2. At the checkpoint I drank lots of water and stayed in the shade to cool down and after about 20-30min break me and Andy hit the road together. At the start of stage 2 I started to really feel the weight of my backpack. The 12kg was heavier then what I was used to and my left shoulder started to hurt badly. Throughout the stage the pain was there and I tried to carry the backpack in any way possible.

Stage 3
Andy had problems with his bladder and although he wanted to he could not wee. Increasing pressure made him stand double at times and I tried to stay positive and tell him to look forward and we would do the stage together. The track took us to the Messem Crater. An absolutely beautiful landscape greeted us and we walked in silence for much of the way. Having said that I think that we both enjoyed the company after about 6 hours on our own.

We could see CP3 from miles and miles away. The day was coming to an end and just before we reached CP3 the sun went down behind the mountains and the darkness was coming quickly. At CP3 I took off my backpack and my body started to cramp. Stomach, calves, thighs etc, it all seem to cramp up as soon as I sat down. Me and Andy had kept together and we decided to cook a warm meal to get new energy into our bodies. We took our time to prepare for the dark stages of the race. After about 60min we were on our way again, and by this time we could not see anything ahead of us without our head-torches. As with the previous nights, the moon was not out and the darkness was very real.

We had been on our feet for about 10 hours, and we were now about to head out into the darkness. So far I was taken aback with the weight of my backpack and with the heat of the day. It was truly a monumental task we had ahead of us. I had covered 60km, but had still 60km to go. Maybe Ben was right, 60km in my legs, and 60km in my head. I just hoped that my head was strong enough *smile*.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

What I didnt do

Before I tell you the full story of what I did do during the race in Namibia I thought I should tell you the few things that I didnt do, and also the result of some of them.

Heat of the desert
I didnt realise that the weather was going to be as tolling as it was. The day before the race we went out for a 4 hour walk to appreciate the heat of the sun during the middle of the day. I dont think I need to tell you that it was hot, but just how hot it was will be difficult to tell. I can say that it was so hot that none of the competitors in the run could run continuously after the first 4h or so. We suffered greatly in the 46 degree (115 Fahrenheit) sun.

Weight of the pack

I had been training with a backpack in the weeks leading up to the race. However I had been training with a pack that had a weight of about 6-8kilos. My pack during the race was closer to 12 kilos. In fact between kilometer 20 to 60 my left shoulder was my main concern and reason for pain.

Choice of shoes
I was using standard road trainers. The surface we were running on was a times very very rocky. I just didnt have the appreciation just how much landing on a rock could hurt the sole of my feet. The result of this was a painful blood filled blister on the sole of my foot. That was not the end of my blisters (as you can see on the photos).
I also had blisters between my toes, under the pad of my foot and on my heals. The right choice of shoes would have been proper trail shoes with a protective hard layer in the sole to protect from the rocks underfoot.

Food and energy intake
I had been looking at total calories when I had accumulated what I intended to eat. However as it turned out I had should also have been looking at calories/gram. Items such as gels are great, but they are actually quite heavy. The same goes for energy bars. Items such as noodles actually gives much more calories per gram, and this resulted in a very heavy backpack. I also realised that I dont have to eat just quite as much as I thought. I had estimated to carry about 7,000 calories. In the end I only ate about 4,500 calories, and with that I was still among one of the persons eating the most.

I can at this point only say that for next race I am doing I have learned many thing, and hopefully wont make the same mistakes again. I'll try to get my first race report ready for later today.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Made it!!

Hi all,

Just a very very short post to say that I made the race!

It took me 22h and 24min to run the distance, and the last 20km I did in 4h 30min, so to say that I was in agony is a gross understatement!

But now it feels fantastic (except for my feet covered in a nice mix of normal blisters and blood blisters).

I'll write a full race report and upload photos this weekend.

Thank you all for your support, your words of encouragement really helped me through the dark bits during the night (no pun intended *smile*)

Greetings from Namibia!

Friday, 4 April 2008

and so I am off...

A very short last entry before heading off to the airport. I just finished packing my last stuff and had a nice lunch with Mo and Martin. I am almost a bit emotional when I am writing this. Over the last couple of days I have had great response from so many of you.

Martin and Mo gave some good last minute advice and also threat of never stop mentioning if I dont make the race, so I guess I better make it :-)

Thank you for all support and speak soon. Update to come next Friday.

Below you can see my race food lined up... Somewhere around 7,000 - 8,000 calories :-)

Think of me on Monday, I will sure have plenty of time to thing of all of you!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Monday 7 April at 8am UK time

The race is around the corner now! On Monday at 9am local time, or 8am UK time we set off. The environment that I am going to run through is certainly very harsh. As you can see from the satellite images below there seems to be little more than red sand, rocks and gravel…

I have my race strategy pretty much worked out. From the start of the race I will try to stick to the same rhythm. I will run 25minutes and then walk for 5, and then repeat this over, and over, and over again. This is a proven ultra marathon strategy and this combined with walking any uphill sections should mean that I limit the stress on my legs (if there is such a thing as limit the stress on my legs when I am talking about running 120km).
Every 20km there is a water station. Here I can fill up water and have a quick rest, should I want to. The water stations will also have fires so that if I want to cook food I can do that.

Running one of these races means that it quickly becomes scientific when it comes to energy intake. I expect to use about 1,000 calories every hour, so if I finish in 16 hours I will use up about 16,000 calories. At the start of the race I will have about 4,000 calories stored up, so somehow I have to cover the 12,000 calories that remains.

I don’t think I will be able to do that, but I aim to eat 500 calories an hour. I will cook twice, using the fires at the water stations, and a tin that I bring. I will do this after 40km and after 80km.

Apart from this I will get energy from energy gels, energy bars, energy drinks (powder that I mix with water) and raisins and Apricots.

Does that seem like a plan?

In less then 5 days time I will know if I made the right choices!

Monday, 31 March 2008

Can I ask you for some help?

When Ben sponsored me he wrote "60k is in your legs, 60k is in your head!"; and I think that he actually might be right. I have considered what thoughts I should keep with me during the run. I have thought of writing down some of my friends thoughts sent to me. Below I have summarised some of the thoughts that you have sent through.

I would like to have some more though, could I ask for you to send through some more? Either on the comment field below, or to my email. Hopefully it could keep me going a few extra steps when needed!

6 days, 8 hours and 30 minutes to race start *smile*

--- RUN Joakim Run! WW Khoo
--- Courage is the most beautiful kind of madness - Paul Murray
--- 60k is in your legs, 60k is in your head! Ben
--- 60k is in your legs, 60k is in your bed! Tom
--- Nar det borjar svartna for ogonen: Tank pa att man alltid kan ge lite till.... Pana & Peter
--- "It always seems impossible until its done." -Nelson Mandela (and Asa)
--- Each step is one less to endure and brings you closer to the finish line! Caro and Andy