Running is a Learning Process

If you have been paying attention you will know that The Boyf did Spitfire Scramble as a solo-runner.  Here’s his account of it!

Running is a Learning Process

I’m tired. Seriously knackered. Normally, it takes me a few days, maybe a week to recover from any run longer than a marathon. But, it’s been 10 days now and I’m still lethargic and sleepy. The reason for this is my first attempt at running for 24hours without a break. The longest I’ve been on my feet whilst running is the mighty total of 7hours and 30mins, so a jump straight up to 24hours was a bit of a stretch. Hind-sight is a wonderful thing.

I’m also an odd beast. I can feel (or sense) various biological and biomechanical systems switching down, reducing output and switching off completely as I run. It’s almost like I can see my bodily systems in a diagnostic view whilst I am working out. At the top of the list is main battery power, followed by digestion system, glucose system, electrolyte system, hydration system, cardio system, bodily heating, vision, breathing and perspiration. And pain, not forgetting pain. I have another set of visual diagnostics that visualise the pain, its various sites and locations, and how bloody painful it is.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s talk about this 24hour race and what went wrong and what went right…

Pre-Race Prep

My race preparation for this event started 48hours prior. During Thursday, I went a bit cookie-crazy. If there was a cookie or biscuit around that wasn’t nailed down, it got eaten. I opted for a wholefood eating day, with veg, chicken, beef and a single protein shake (cookies and cream – with real cookies). However, come Friday I had decided to ditch the wholefood diet and move to liquids only. From midday on Friday I started on the chocolate/cherry protein shakes and water. Yes, I was hungry during Friday night, but I knew having no solids in me would pay dividends when trying to exercise for 24hours! From the perspective of my visual diagnostics, I’m in the green. Everything is in the green and I’m fully charged. No need to plug me into the 13A socket just yet.

Race Day

Nervous. Very nervous. Trying to run for any length of time is nerve-wracking enough, whether its 24mins or 24hours, it makes no difference to me. I’ve been equally as nervous when running a 5km parkrun that I’m expecting to last only 20mins. When I get nervous, I get sleepy. My heart rate plummets to below my resting rate – 40bpm on this particular occasion. It’s almost like my body knows that I’m going to have to fight at some point, just not yet, so it saves my adrenaline until the moment it’s required. The problem is that the complete lack of adrenaline makes me stupidly sleepy. I can sleep standing up at this point. It’s an odd feeling, my battery power looks like its dropping, so its nap time.

All other diagnostic systems are still in the green, with the exception of digestion. Nervousness brings another issue – my digestion starts to play tricks on my mind and convinces me that I need to pay a visit to campsite facilities. But, I’ve an emergency override switch for that (installed at great cost to the project) that tells my digestion to shut up and convinces my mind that the toilets will be horrible. If I need the loo, it can wait until the race has started, all that jiggling will let me know if it was a false alarm or if I really need it! So with that, I go back to sleep. We’re back in the green on all systems.

#foodtent

My food tent had been thrown together, and was full of all kinds of tasty foodstuffs. It was acting as a personal aid station and crew stop. If we’d thought of a food, it was in there. This included my all-time favourite food – cold pizza. There’s nowt wrong with cold pizza, but it can be a bit ‘love it/hate it. Remember, the food tent IS NOT to be used as a toilet. Although, it’s a better option than using the portaloos, as those things literally scare the crap out of me. But no. Just NO.

Time to run

Diagnostically, all of my systems are green and running good. I’d bruised my ribs a few weeks earlier (old snowboarding injury, don’t laugh) and they were seriously playing up. So I had an orange light on my rib pain indicator. Oh well. Tough shit. Too late. Off we go.

Now, this is a mixed pace, relay/solo race. There are people running one lap, running a couple of laps, or people of slightly questionable sanity running as many laps as possible in the maximum time-frame. This is an ultra-marathon to me, so I let the hares go bounding off whilst I stick to the back of the field. No need for stupidity, I’m now a tortoise. A tortoise that is hyped-up on adrenaline. A great combination.  Everything is great, we’re in the green on everything and there’s virtually no pain anywhere. Winning, I believe that’s what it’s called.

image - The Boyf at the start Lap 1 – 6

Each lap of this race is 5.9 miles. Everything was moving along perfectly during these six laps. Plenty of chatty people, lots of water and whole food. My battery power is dropping, but not stupidly quick. I’ve got lots of energy and my heart rate is sticking around 125-135bpm whilst running, and drops to 100bpm when I’m at my aid station/food tent getting refilled and refuelled.

During these laps I had been doing a mix of drinks. I had a 500ml bottle of clean water and a 500ml bottle of Powerade/water mix on-board. This provided me the opportunity to have something sugary when I needed it and something a bit cleaner at other times. This worked really well. I’d had a Push Clean Energy Gel and started on the ready-made pancakes/bananas. In addition to the whole foods, I was also (under pain of death-by-angry-crew) consuming a salt tablet on each lap. It was hot out there, I was sweating perspiring a lot and drinking accordingly. The amount of fluid in/out required quite a bit of salt and electrolyte replenishment and was under the watchful eye of the crew.

From a diagnostic perspective, my glucose/electrolyte/hydration/digestion/perspiration indicators were up and down as expected. When I got hungry, I ate. When I got thirsty I drank and I popped a salt pill (S-Cap) and ate bananas purely to keep my glucose and electrolyte indicator in the green. One problem I did have was the inability to consume Pringles. I love Pringles. They are a perfect party food. The clue is in the word ‘party’. They are impossible to eat during a bloody long race. I must have looked like a disturbed dog trying to lick peanut butter from the roof of its mouth. Once Pringles are in your mouth they absorb all moisture, I couldn’t swallow them, and I couldn’t open my mouth to put water in. It was a nightmare. Eventually, 330ml of full-fat sprite later, I managed to clear the backlog of sand-dry Pringles. Never again.

After 35.4 miles everything was looking great. Then the sun started to set….

Lap 7 – 9

I had just come in from lap 7 and arrived at the food tent. It wasn’t cold, but after a quick finger-to-the-horizon check, I had 45 minutes of daylight left (30mins until the sun dropped below the horizon and the 15minutes residual light). I had been instructed to get the head torch on, as it was highly likely I wouldn’t be back before it got dark. This was a good thing. Foolishly, even though my body heat indicator said I was warm, I opted to put on my after-dark jacket and hat. Another interesting point here is that after 41.3 miles, my digestion indicator was flashing orange/red. I wasn’t hungry anymore. I couldn’t face having to chew food – which is very weird. I like food. My appetite had decided to bugger off. I ignored this indicator, probably because I was excited to have breached 40miles on my feet! Upon instruction from Louise I took a bottle of chocolate milk, a swig of ginger beer and a swig of sour cherry juice. Off I went. Suitably prepped for the night laps to start, jacket on, hat on, head torch on, I set out on lap 8…

…About 3miles into lap 8 all hell broke loose. My heating indicator was well in the red, steam was coming out of my ears, and I was sweating profusely. However, there was worse to come. One indicator I don’t like to talk about is my vomit indicator. I hide this one, avoid looking at it and really try to ignore it as much as possible. Only at this point, the vomit alarm was bloody loud, so I had to look. No sooner have I checked my vomit indicator, I have dropped to my knees and I’m throwing up. I really should look at his indicator more often. In my other sport, vomiting is part of the experience. Work hard = throwing up. Problem is, I wasn’t working hard and my head knew it. So I (un)happily vomited all that lovely water. Nice.

Rather than panic, I could hear the words of various coaches throughout the years, which go along the lines of “Stop bitching, get on your feet and keep going!” and “The longer you stay down, the more burpees you’re doing when you get up!” I didn’t fancy having to do 100 burpees for the 100 seconds I’d spent vomiting and realised that I was hot. As programmed, I got up, took off my jacket and hat, hit the drinking water and started walking forward. After a mile of walking (15mins) I had cooled, my vomit indicator was back in the green and I felt as though I could run again. So I started to jog on.

By the time I hit the end of lap 8 I was actually running again, and I was perfectly balanced again. I was hurting in my ribs from the retching, and my groin was playing silly buggers, but not too much pain. At the food tent, my heart rate was at an all-time exercising low of 72bpm, which just didn’t seem right… Under instruction, I took another chocolate milk, more ginger beer and cherry juice. Time to walk the start of lap 9 and see how we go.

Lap 9 – 11

Lap 9 and the diagnostic systems are good again. Crisis averted. I’m feeling pretty good and I’m actually running again as opposed to hiking. The problem now, is that my pain indicators are starting to light up. Firstly it’s the quads and ribs. So hills and general breathing are becoming annoying. As 50miles gets clocked up, my quads are crying and downhills hurt. I hate downhills now, and I’m waddling those but I’m happy to run up the hills. WTF. Another indicator flashes up, right shoulder pain, and it’s serious. Red is always serious. My right shoulder has locked and I can’t lift my right arm above horizontal. Curiously painful. After another mile, I’m a big ball of pain – Legs, abs, groin, shoulders and ribs are crying. Even my feet are joining the party. But, there’s only one way, and that’s forward.  

Lap10 comes around and ends, and I’m back at the food tent. 59 quite painful miles have now been completed and I’ve made another mistake. I’m at the tent and I started to shiver and chatter my teeth – but I’m exercising and that means I must be hot. Even though I KNOW I’m getting really cold, I’ve stopped looking at the indicators. Functional indicators now take priority – namely, pain centres and broken bits. The indicators for heat, electrolytes, glucose, digestion, cardio, hydration and breathing are now all secondary. The primary focus is this “Is there any physical/biomechanical reason why I cannot move forward?” and screw everything else.

What I haven’t realised is that I’m still in my running tee-shirt, it’s approaching midnight, I can see my breath and there’s dew on the ground. That’s not a good mix. Ignoring the advice of my crew I go out onto lap 11 still in a tee-shirt, a wet tee-shirt (no man boob jokes here). The head torch is staring to make me nauseous, my head is wobbling and every time I start walking I’m noticeably shivering. My teeth are chattering and I’m now going down the rabbit hole. I’m now well past my longest previous run, and my thoughts are getting to 6am still running. It’s now just pain and pain, with a side order of pain. All systems are not responding, the indicators have all switched off or they’re in their danger locations. Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’ve stopped drinking, stopped sweating and really don’t feel hungry. The automatic ‘move forward’ response is still working wonders. Then I’m woken out of my slump by a friendly voice, Kat has appeared behind me at mile 3 on lap 11! Everything switches back on briefly and I have to man-up just a little bit. So we run together, and I try to keep up with Kat, but I can’t keep up with her pace and eventually tell her to run on whilst I continue. She does. Indicators switch off. Back to pain management and moving forward… and shivering, lots and lots of shivering. It’s now very, very dark out there (and inside too).

Lap 12

…Finally I hobble into the campsite and finish lap 11. Painful relief. Do I stop and call it a day? No bloody way. I’m up at 65Miles! I have to get to 70! One lap at a time. Now, at the tent I’m offered arm sleeves, which again I ignore. I don’t need a drinks refill either as I’m not drinking and I’m not eating. So it’s a chocolate milk and walk out onto lap 12. Now it’s auto-pilot. I don’t care about heart-rates, breathing rates, glucose levels, oxygen levels, food, hydration, salts or anything else. My mind (what’s left of it) is now using everything to block out the pain and shivering. I’m now in a very dark place – a place I don’t normally like to be…

…Dark places can mean only one thing for me. Hallucinations. Its dark, I’m functioning at about 10% and I’m hearing voices in the trees and I’m seeing figures in the shadows – worse than that, at mile 3.5 I can see two blondes sat on the left side of the trail. Now considering we’re in a fairly urban area, this would not be uncommon, but they’re just sat there motionless. Then I can hear voices from the right, and I’m thinking I’m about to get mugged… as I approach the blondes they disappear and turn into two large hedge/bush things… OK. Maybe it’s time to call it.

From an Apple perspective, my ‘Battery low’ indicator has just come on. It’s a case of moving my legs enough to get out of ‘hallucination straight’ and back to camp. I’m not getting mugged. Voices are loud still, and I’ve got run through the wood yet. Getting through the wood required so much concentration. All those tree roots and other wonderful bits from nature to trip over. In the words of Chunk from the Goonies “I hate nature!” To top it off, as I exit the wood around 4am I’m greeted by a group of people who question why I’m walking and that I should be running. Yeah, whatever. Another hallucination?

The end of lap 12 cannot come soon enough. I’m now repeating to myself that I must move forward. I’m not being scraped up off the trail. Move forward. It must’ve been quite comical passing me on that lap, seeing a guy in a tee-shirt (X-Bionic Trick) at 4am on a cold night, muttering, shivering and chattering about ‘no pain’ and ‘move forward’. What a mess. There’s the campsite, in I hobble and the rest is a blur.

Lap 13

All I can remember is that I was cold, my hands and feet were blocks of arctic ice, my head and sternum were piping hot and my feet were in agony from the cold. Oh, and I was shivering. A lot. I was burbling. I remember fighting the sleeping bag and wanting to go back out. I briefly woke up in the sleeping tent still shivering. If there were wheels on my little 24hour wagon, they’d been nicked and my wagon was now on bricks being dismantled component by component. Oh well…

…45 short minutes later I was wide awake and ready to go again! It was dawn now, I had a cup of coffee in my hand and I’d actually wandered back out on to the course for one final lap with Kat. I blame Mike B who apparently convinced me I could still get to 16 laps (100miles). But after my chatty, warming lap with Kat and a nice cup of coffee, I called it a day. 20hours on my feet, 26hours awake, and 76.7miles completed. Almost there, but not quite. Next time.

The end

Well, I ran until I couldn’t run anymore and that was the plan. I’m just not entirely sure I was supposed to run until unconsciousness… Maybe. The important thing is that I now know what it feels like to run and keep moving for 20 hours. I’ve a 32 hour race coming up in a year, and that gives me plenty of time to learn how to make a whole new bunch of mistakes…!

Learnings

  1. Listen to the crew. They’re in the right frame of mind to make decisions for you regarding heat, food, hydration and electrolytes. Don’t ignore their advice. Listen. I’ll need a new indicator for that – there goes the development budget.
  2. Don’t go running in night time races in a tee-shirt you’ve been in all day. When given the option to change kit, take it. See rule 1.
  3. Swap your trainers. My trainers (Skechers Ultra 2’s) are absolutely ace. Brilliant. No blisters after nearly 200miles of running. I had two pairs with me. Change them and your socks. Again see rule 1.
  4. Food and hydration was good and well monitored by me and the crew. The loss of appetite was expected around 50miles and I switched onto chocolate milk on the advice of Louise and Kat. So I do listen after all? Nah. See rule 1 again.
  5. Ginger beer and cherry juice are much better than tonnes of Cola. Cola contains Phosphoric Acid which seems to aggravate my stomach acids making me feel sick quite quickly. Ginger beer does not contain this acid and can help settle the stomach. Cherry juice is just ace, and helps recovery. Carry more of these things! Add Sprite to the list also.
  6. Powdered Powerade (or Gatorade) is excellent! I can monitor the sugar intake and dose myself accordingly. Great stuff and I now have loads of it!
  7. Salt tablets. Always keep salt tablet on me just in case salt problems happens. In this race I had no salt issues! Hooray! Salt tablets must’ve worked.
  8. Pizza. Always pack a cold pizza. Even if I don’t feel like it, it always drives me on to know that I have pizza waiting for me.
  9. Stay warm when it’s dark, watch out for nausea from the head torch and its wobbliness. Not much I can do about that.
  10. When I start to shiver, put a bloody jacket on, or arm sleeves. Do something to stay warm. If I’d have listened to my crew I suspect that I would’ve done a few more laps at least.
  11. Watch out for the dark places… There be monsters.  

image - the Boyf Spitfire Scramble

 

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