Written by Traviss Willcox - http://www.traviss.co.uk
GUCR - DNF @ 84.5 miles. Bottom line is that I just didn't want to walk the last 60 miles in 20 hours in pain. My feet had started to blister from about 20 miles or so and despite several attempts to fix them they simply weren't recovered enough and the pain just got worse and worse, then in an act of stunning stupidly I chugged back a can of Monster at about mile 82 which made be pretty sick and despite trying to bring it up again I couldn't, legs disintegrated within the space of about 2 miles to the point where I could barely make progress and that was it. Had it been a 100 I would have waddled off to the finish, I've been sicker, in more pain and more miserable than that. But was all just a mental break down. I was basically timed out at the aid station and amazingly all the pains in my legs diminished almost immediately, all in all, a poor effort which was a shame as blisters aside I really enjoyed the first 100k or so, and then when we met up with #1 Pacer David Lewis we made cracking progress..to the point had it been a 100 miler he would certainly have brought me home in PB time. Can't thank Rachel Smith enough for looking after me and all her crewing efforts and to Heather M Hamilton, Millie Brewer & Meg Hughes who would have been pacers too had I not been so weak willed. Am seriously going to cut down my long schedule, my feet simply can't take this level of punishment...
GUCR is a lottery to get in, so I in a general sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) put my name into the hat for the 2013 event at the back end of 2012 and much to my surprise (as there is less than a 50/50 chance of getting in) got in, as did just about everyone else I knew who had entered it. It's rather an old fashioned race and the website leaves a little to be desired and by all accounts don't upset the RD with stupid questions! As such you didn't have to do things like pay for your entry up front and could even get a refund till a few weeks before the event. After the Thames Path 100/Graveyard 100/Zumbro 100 (50) /Salt Flats 100 bashing I had considered dropping either GUCR or SDW100 from my schedule in order to give my legs a chance to rest and my feet a chance to recover. But me being me decided that I could probably do them all and just see how I got on! I really only decided to commit to GUCR about 10 days before hand, the deciding factor that it was flat, so the dead quads should be OK and the feet weren't looking that bad. I even had a taper in to this, taking last weekend off running and volunteering at NDW50.
GUCR you can do crewed or uncrewed and I was lucky that Rachel had volunteered to do the crewing (I really didn't fancy the uncrewed version as being "old school" that meant aid stations every 10-15 miles and two drop bags. (And at the back end of these things that can be a LONG time between aid)... and I was very fortunate enough to have no less than four more volunteers to pace/help me/give Rachel a break at the back end. Dave Lewis, Heather Hamilton-Macdonald, Millie Brewer and Meg Hughes. Thank you to all of them for volunteering their time and efforts, it is much appreciated.
Writing this a day or so afterwards I can start to appreciate where I began to fail. And it was here, I was never fully committed to GUCR, unlike a marathon where as long as I am on my feet I can basically get around with the long ones (and to me "long" is over 100k) they need to be planned and thought about, and committed to. I just wasn't all in for this one like I normally am. People sometimes ask me how I deal with thoughts about quitting when the long ones get tough and I can honestly say at events like Salt Flats or Thames Path, it just never occurred to me, not for one second did I think I wouldn't finish it. With GUCR I just never had that level of commitment, not that I thought I wouldn't finish. I just never got around to planning it, studying the route, working out pacing concepts. Anything really, was just shove everything in the car, finish in 36 hours and I'll see how I feel as I go along. Lesson learnt, you don't enter ultras, you commit to them.
Lesson two on the plan things better front was that it was Friday afternoon when it occurred to me that we probably wouldn't be getting to bed till about midnight for a 3:45am alarm call. Drove up to some Holiday Inn on the M1 on the Friday evening, and by the time I'd sorted myself out and taped up my feet for the 34th variation of "foot care for long ultras" it was rather late.
For some reason I struggle to sleep before long ultras, just what I need! That is a habit I need to lose real quick! lol Seriously 4280 sheep, and 3928 exhortations of "Traviss just go to bloody sleep" and it was alarm time. Swear blind I slept for the grand total of zero minutes. Not what you need when you are planning to be up for the next two nights! Off just after 4am to the start as we weren't that sure about parking and handily managed to find a space 25 yards from the start! A few hellos and chats, fiddle about and then its game time!
It was about 0600:10 that I realised that my preparation was a bit awry. I thought I was standing at the back of the runners, and turns out I was at the front! Dick gives his speech and it was "we're 10 seconds late off you go!" I hadn't even got my Garmin set.
I did see Liz, Ellen and Jon to the side waiting for the pack to pass but they were three runners away and I didn't want to cause a blockage so I just set off at a modest pace and worryingly found myself at the front! Well was only going 9:00 pace or so and within a few yards someone pulled up alongside and we ran a little way and I asked him if he'd done this before and he said no, and I asked if he knew the way, and likewise no. Ah... and then he slowed and I was in front again. Ah... so I slowed as I knew there were some turns real early and didn't want to lead everyone astray! Luckily James Elson (the eventual winner) showed up with another runner who was a local which was a relief as I was just at the point of stopping to let people pass! So we ran off in a little pack for the first little way and got around the early turns and then off on very familiar "Birmingham Canal Canter" territory, which I knew was downhill broadly so just settled into a nice rhythm (which for this distance is way too quick) but I was feeling decent (wired in fact as had been off caffeine for a couple of days and that was kicking in!) and just trotted along at 9:30 or something pace having a nice chat with various folk.
One of the nice things about being up front is that as my pace just naturally fades a little you get to have chats with other runners as they catch you up. Now I know this is a fairly daft general strategy, but I like to have lots of time in the bank and I tend to find that if I do 20 miles at 10:00 pace or 20 miles at 12:00 pace or 20 miles at 15;00 pace that I'm in the same state at 20 miles anyway, so might just as well be at 20 miles 100 minutes earlier! I will one day figure this pacing game out.... but anyway, was nice to share miles with James Elson, Jennifer Bradley, Sarah Thorne, Natasha Doyle, Ellen Cottom, and others along those first 20 miles or so whilst we were just settling into things.
One of the things I was determined to do was have good aid station and crew discipline..first aid station was at mile 9.7 and stopped for a good 5 seconds to fill up my water bottle. Check! Then when I met Rachel at mile 13.7 we had the plan of she would walk with me with a shoe box of supplies and a fresh water bottle with electrolytes in and I'd let her know what I wanted for next time. This concept rather than stand there and graze saved a lot time, walking along for maybe 400 yards, times that by 20 and suddenly you're five miles further down the line than you otherwise would have been. In fact throughout my aid station and crew access times were very good and was pleased with that as usually I am a giant iron filing for those aid station magnets!
Have to up to about mile 20 or so was all very nice, in fact all the while it was light it was all very nice. I like canal runs, there is always stuff going on, lots of canal long boats to look at. Although the main activity of the people on the boats appears to be "sitting." Having said that the further I went along the better their choice seemed than mine! Lots of wildlife too and loads of very cute chooks swimming around with their mothers, ducks, swans, geese, moorhens, and other bird like things... and all was good in the world etc.
It was about now that I started to notice the dreaded vague feelings of blisters though, the prime sinner being the little toe on the right foot that had completely blistered at Salt Flats 100. And when I say completely, the whole toe was just a blister... yes, that hurts! Not helped by seemingly at every 10 miles or so would be a patch of unavoidable mud from some tiny stream or something. Aghhh as I stuck a foot in trying to tip toe around... oh well, otherwise all was dry.
And so things meandered along. One thing that began to occur to me though was that the trail was bit rougher than I thought it would be, not badly, not awful, but far less was nice pavement/bike trail/flat, it was good, but uneven and often the line to be on was quite narrow. So this had the effect of the feet rolling a bit and then with feelings of the right foot starting to get a bit sore I was noticing that when I was running my left ankle was getting a bit sore, fine when marching along, but running, getting sore. Not good when you've got a 100+ to be getting done.
So from 20 miles in I was basically marching along the rough bits and making decent running progress along the good bits and basically making very good progress, lovely nice day, all was good. Changed shirts (was mildly chilly at the start so lost a layer) and just enjoying the day out. Food intake was good, electrolytes good, "checking on the bears" once in a while and that was good.
Suppose it was about mile 45 odd that things began to go awry, I missed Rachel at a point we were going to meet and it was the hot part of the afternoon which was nicely cooled off by about a 50' stretch of unavoidable standing water/puddles/mud and got my toes wet. Handily though Rachel was able to meet me a couple of miles later and a change of socks and a can of coke to perk me up and was on my way again nicely. Left ankle was beginning to get fairly painful now when I was running, and right foot was becoming a distinctly painful issue. The problem being at this stage that there was no blister to pop per se, the damage I think is several layers of skin deep, that's what's sore, and then that on my little toe is causing an aversion to weight on that side of my foot and could feel the outside of my big toe beginning to go as well. Wasn't that bad though.
Was through 50 miles in 11 hours odd (I won't bore folk with my Garmin analysis, not that I do that much!) which again in retrospect I begin to realise where I was just playing at GUCR as I had thought my pace plan would be maybe 50 miles in 10 hours odd like at Graveyard, but was happy with where I was. The trail was far poorer than Graveyard and I was making good progress, felt fine, all well aside from the feet, and the ankle was OK when walking. At 55 I had my first really serious foot sort out, and that wasn't good. But Rachel said she'd walk back from the next meeting point to find me which was something to look forward to and she found me about the same I hooked up with Glyn Raymen for the first time.
Must have done about five miles with Glyn here and I think we both helped each other, he was a little bored with the canal and I was REALLY beginning to hurt and at Stoke Brueme I stopped to switch to my night gear and Glyn went on (we'd see each other again later). I was getting slower by now, and for a long time, my main thought had been, well OK, all I have to do is get myself to my pacer, Dave Lewis at 72.9 and then these guys will pull me home. One thing I have learned is that pacers at the back end of long ultras are a huge help, both mentally and physically.
For about half a mile after this sort out I was on fire, trotting along quite happily as the night began to close in slowly, then ouch city and perhaps the real dark part of the event starts cutting in. Once again its so odd how the tough parts of long ones start around that 100k-110k mark. The trail was rough, the grass was long and dewy and I had a very unhappy few miles tramping along. to Navigation Bridge. No Rachel! I had thought she was meeting me here and a text later I realised it was at 72.9. Three miles in the dark when you're fed up and in a lot of pain seems a long way! lol
Eventually I arrived with Rachel (and her friend Julie) and Dave and I was very pleased to see them as any signs of humanity had seemed to have vanished. (One thing I noticed with the "good aid station" and "Crew meeting policy" was that I would repeatedly be overtaken by the same people! Often hours later... I saved a LOT of time by this good discipline.
Although it might sound slightly insane to normal people but really all I felt I had to do was get myself to this 72.9 mile mark and then I'd just gut it out to the finish as long as I was upright. I was hours and hours ahead of the cut offs and in fact had this been a 100 miler I would started pushing harder here as about 6.5 hours to get a sub 24 100 and knew there was a dozen miles plus of good surface through Milton Keynes.
For a couple of hours all seemed much improved. Dave set an excellent forced march pace and although we weren't quite running, we were making great progress, chatting away and the good surface was being kinder to my feet (basically on anything not level I got a nice jolt of pain, on level it was more constant). Dave was telling me all about Milton Keynes as we passed things and just generally chatting and passing the 8 miles before we met Rachel again (this was a planned longer gap so she could catch some sleep). Towards the end my blisters were REALLY starting to hurt and then more worryingly the left leg was beginning to not behave when walking, up to this point I was just generally tired, achy and sore, but all manageable and what you'd expect, just beginning to fall apart I was later to learn!
So at mile 81 or so I sit down for another serious foot sort out and it was PAINFUL, to the point I couldn't even let Rachel put a pair of injinji toe socks on my right foot (my left foot throughout was pretty good, which was the long term issue of favouring my left side) but drained the nasty one (again!) and as I was beginning to get really sleepy I sat there and chugged about two thirds of a big can of Monster and took the rest with me which I glugged down fairly quickly.
The next four miles were a demonstration of "falling apart." I'd stiffened up after the sit down and immediately my feet were just killing me. But after maybe quarter of a mile Dave had us back at a decent pace and things were, well, bearable. Then I start feeling sick, real nasty, here comes vomit sick. But that was no big deal, but it wouldn't quite get to the be sick stage aside from one point where I tried to bring it up, few dry heaves and a bit of junk, but couldn't shake the nausea and right off fluid/food intake.
It's then at this point I had the realisation that I didn't want a GUCR medal THAT much. Had it been a 100 miler, would have finished no issue, I've done that before in this state no worries. So these negative thoughts start to creep in, which is when I also realised that I wasn't committed to this.
I suspect a sports psychologist would have loved to have studied the next hour or so of my thought and body process as after the not really vomiting that much stage I got the first shooting pain down my right calf. I had to stop Dave and then carried on, then left glute was next, both quads, and by mile 84 my legs were killing me. I couldn't keep up with Dave and the pace had dropped to dawdle city 22/23/24 minute pace and bridge 99 took forever to arrive. And I had real bad thoughts about the extra bridge 98A!
With the slowing I'd also got cold and even as dawn was coming up and I KNEW I'd feel better, all I wanted to do was sit down, warm up and have another go at my feet. Sorry that's what I should have been thinking. But I was done. The math is simple here, 60 miles to go, 20 minutes a mile, if I am lucky, 20 hours of misery death walk to the end.
I get in the car and I just feel dreadful, the shooting pains in my right calf have now moved to my left as well and right up the back of both legs, like a cramp, but not quite, just searing pains. Part of you is saying, get warm, man up and just get your legs to work, just will yourself onwards, just take one step forwards and the other half just doesn't want it that badly.And you're just so frustrated with yourself because you actually KNOW this pain in your legs is psychosomatic you know you CAN tolerate this pain, you just have to WILL yourself to get on with it. I just didn't want to enough. It didn't mean anything to me. I was done. After about 38 minutes had a tap on the car window from a marshall to ask if I was in or out (there is a 40 minute limit on aid station stops) and that was that. Luckily I had gotten some sweat in my eyes wiping my face off or a casual passer by might have thought there was a tear in my eye at the sheer level of frustration I had with myself and the thoughts of letting Rachel, Dave, Meg, Heather, Millie and the world watching down.
Right on cue the shooting pains in the backs of my legs stopped. Was ridiculous really, you know what's going on, and yet felt powerless and pathetic for being unable to stop it. Game over.
On writing this on the Monday after pulling out around dawn at 84.5 on Sunday morning I'm 100% OK with the decision.. Have had zero thoughts of "should I have pushed on" or "was it a mistake to sit down in the car." As this was an "old school" ultra where there no such luxuries as heaters in tents at night so there was no way to warm up outside and at the very least I needed another very serious foot sort out, and in the cold I would have just frozen solid. At the point of pulling out, I simply couldn't have even stood up.
I'm unhappy with my commitment to the event and disappointed with myself for the lack of effort I put into it. This became apparent when things got serious, I knew full well sitting in the car that if this was a 100 miles I've have gotten out and gone on, but with 60 miles plus till the end, I didn't want it. So I COULD have gone on, I just chose not to, and I seized up, legs gave up etc etc
I've decided that I need to have a break from long runs to give my feet a chance to heal up, judging by my Heartlands 100 experience I need about 10 weeks for serious blistering to recover properly, I can actually see blisters on blisters on blisters and they've just not had enough time to get over the too aggressive schedule I've set. As a consequence I'm going to drop SDW100 and Lakeland 100 and then that gives me 12 weeks off till Berlin Wall 100 in late August and that'll be my focus till then and hopefully give those feet a chance to sort themselves out.
Was incredibly pleased to learn that James Elson had won the event. Well deserved win in a "classic" event for someone who has grown the ultra world in the UK in leaps and bounds. Equally pleased that others I knew had done so well too, many congratulations to Liz, Jon, Natasha, Glyn, Di, Sarah (first girl home on her birthday (she kept that quiet!)) and all the others who finished!
Thank you also to all those who left such kind words on my facebook posting, I really find the words and support very moving and encouraging, reminds me why I love this running lark so much. Well, as you know, not the actual running... but the licence it gives me to indulge in my true love. Cake and cider! lol
Things I Learnt
- You have to commit to long ultras. Commit. Commit. Commit.
- Wraps and Peanut Butter M&Ms can fuel you for ever!
- Good aid station discipline and "walk with me" crewing saves a LOT of time
- Get another running belt. They get really sweaty for a really long time.
- I have to rest my feet between long ultras.
- Don't let yourself get so cold at night.
- Forget drinking Monster for a caffiene fix, that's twice its made me sick.