The 6 Inch 48km Trail Run.
My taper week was spent on a family holiday in a beautiful resort allowing me to have daily massages – bliss. I did some taper running in the hotel gym on a TREADMILL. What an experience. I ran on the tready barefoot, which after about 5km becomes a bit of a problem as your feet lose their grip due to the nylon ‘smoothing’ or gliding your feet. The next 5km’s has you really focusing on foot placement and grip just to stay on the tready. Which for taper running I figured was good training for muscle memory, foot grip and focused form with very little regard to any kind of speed. However what a boring way to run. Even with spectacular poolside views. That for me was good mental strengthening and actually taught me to ‘zone out’..good for loonngg distance running.
Friday on the plane home, a bunch of teenage girls were just ahead of me..coughing and sneezing their lungs out. Trouble. I know what is coming…
I woke up on Saturday morning at home as sick as a dog. Like cannot get out of bed sick. Like could not face the family sick. Head was a hazy stuffy blur. Nose was blocked – no chance of breathing. Sinus was screaming at me. Chest was so tight I could barely breath. The race was on in less than 20 hours… Desperation set in. Family were freaking out that I was so sick and could not go to the race. I was going through every old wives tale, granny recipe, trick in the book for quick healing. Made myself a concoction of fresh garlic, fresh ginger, lemon, honey, turmeric, onion into a tea. Vile. Drank two cups. Am allergic to most meds so normally cannot take any kind of flue tablet. 2 paracetamol every hour….Voice going. Coughing to the point of tearing throat feeling. My running buddy whom I was staying Saturday night with, phones to discuss race strategy and details. Could barely say two words without coughing my lungs out. Silence on the other end of the phone. “you are rather sick” states the obvious. “I am running.. I will not give up on months of training”.
Needless to say amongst much consternation and horror of the family & running buddy I set off to my rendezvous armed with cold and flu tablets, and antihistamine to offset the allergic reaction. With the promise that on the start line if I could not set off I would pull out.
Registration at 4am…I can still barely string two words together without coughing to the point of retching. DO NOT TALK TO ME. Sneezing about 10 times in each bout. Voice box and throat are a gonner. But I am up. I am at registration. Heart rate is slowing down. I promise the family I will keep on eye on my heart rate and run to that, if it gets to high I will pull out.
DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME. I DO NOT RECOMMEND YOU RUN ILL. IN FACT FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE I CONFIRM YOU MUST NOT RUN WHEN SICK.
At registration people are looking at me in horror. I skulk off and rest my weary body in the start bus. My running buddy knows she is on her own for this race. I lost her about 1 minute into the start.
The first 2km of the race is a 300m incline. I walked. I got to the top in a haze. And I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Finally a rhythm set in and I was moving in a semi fluid manner. Slowly. Water, asthma pump, salt tablets, cold & flu & antihistamine tablets were in my front pouch. Every 20 minutes or so my heart rate would be screaming at me, and I would slow to a walk. A sloth style walk. Every hill was walked. Lots of hills. I found I could progress in this manner for about 30 minutes at a time before I got feint and dizzy and just wanted to sit on the side and cry. I kept taking my stash of meds. My asthma pump moved from my pouch to a permanent position in my hand. From about 15km in I found I was slowly catching up and overtaking other runners. At the 20k mark found an injured runner who needed some medical assistance for a rather bad tumble. 6 minutes spent helping out. I will be honest, I needed the 6 minutes respite from thinking of moving.
Finally Aid station 1. 23km in. I see my drop bag and in a blur make my way there. I sit down. Some one takes my camel pack and asks me a question. I cannot make out what they are saying through my haze, I cannot even see who it was, only that it was a lovely sounding woman. I point to my replacement ice cold bladder pack in my drop bag and flick a weary wrist in the direction of the camel pack. Inhale from my pump. Struggle to get my shoes off. In that last two km’s my flu weary body was distracted by painful feet. Shoes off. I stand up and consider running the rest of the way barefoot. Meds kick in again and a moment of clarity has me realizing if I want to continue I have to put shoes on. On go my New Balance. Epic battle to get shoes onto swollen sore feet that are dirty, and sticky, managed by a befuddled sense of co-ordination. 8 minutes in Aid And I am off. Again.
Then I am down. Again. Between Aid 1 (23k) and Aid 2 (36km) I fall and stumble 3 times. In a distance of 13km. I am struggling. Runners who passed me in Aid 1, are ahead of me, and once again I seem to be catching them and going past. One foot at a time. Before we reach Aid station 2 there is 3km out and back section, as there is no way for a vehicle to reach us at the actual trail so the route is diverted up a very steep incline .
This is known as the Hells Gate when approaching and moving UP the hill, and the downhill traverse is the Escalator. This is at the 35.5km mark when faced with this. Mind numbing horror. Although about 500m in length from the bottom to the top where the aid station is, this takes about 20 minutes to get up.
My chest and my lungs were screaming at me. Not only did I semi crawl up here, but I actually had to stop and sit on the side a few times. A group of runners who were running together and I had kept tagging along the route came past. Stopped and asked if they could help me to the top. I could not talk – to much effort. Shook my hand and waved them on. They expressed concern at a) how sick I was and b) consternation that despite being so obviously ill I kept overtaking them!
Finally I got to the top. Aid 2. Mass of people. Light headed. Dizzy. Crying. Wanting to finally call it quits. Knew I really was a gonner when I was hallucinating. There was some one who looked like my eldest son coming towards me. Some one was holding a camera in front of their face filming me. Then I saw a red head. My younger son? Seriously I have lost my marbles.
Then Camera grows arms and hugs me, I look over their shoulder and see my husband, and my dad? WTF? I realise it is my MOTHER holding me. I am seriously confused and delirious. Why are they are here? How? When? I see other support volunteers and beginning to clear my fog. This is not a hallucination. This is real. My WHOLE family are at Aid 2. WOW! That was an amazing and totally unexpected surprise. Some hugs, a coke, a banana and a determination more than ever to finish the race, although it took me 10 minutes to get out of Aid 2 between clearing the fog, refueling, hugging and convincing my family and volunteers that I was good to carry on, I was finally allowed to continue. Only 12km to go.
Seeing my family there gave me the determination and spark I needed to lift my feet and keep going.
I must point out that my body was coping physically. In fact it was amazingly good. But my head, and my chest and my lungs were in epic melt down with the flu. On leaving Aid 2 I started getting really cold and achy, and fever was setting in from the flu. Scared stiff that I would not last the distance I pushed my body hard, reckoning I had about an hour of energy before the fever sapped everything from me. And then I fell again. The fourth time. Not a bad fall per se in grazes. But I rolled and hurt my back. My lower back. I lay there a minute till I could feel every thing again and then got up. I cannot say how I felt in that last 10 km other than a determination to finish. I took a couple of wrong turns as I was getting very foggy and disorientated again, but within 100m or so my brain would register that something was not familiar on the trail and I would back track to the correct turn off.
Suddenly I popped out of the bush, there were the marshalls, the public road to cross and the finish shute! The runners are obliged to stop and give way to the public road as it was not closed to the event (the only road into the village). The marshall took pity on me and I think realised if I stopped I would not re-start. He stopped the only vehicle coming in, and I carried on to the finish shute with a last stubborn sprint. The cheering hurt my ears. I came across the line and got enveloped in welcoming arms, hugs, kisses and back pats. I pulled my head clear to look for my family. Nowhere to be seen. Too fugged up to be emotional I rolled with the support from my fellow runners. My running buddy was there to meet me at the finish. Mere minutes later the family rocked up. They had been tracking me on the phone, but I beat them to the finish line :). Turns out my last 10km was the fastest 10k of my race.
What a run! My body felt strong..until I tried to sit down. Then I really cried. My lower back hurt so much! I could not sit. I could not lean. Getting back up was agony. As the running motion had stopped and the adrenalin drained away I was almost immobilised from pain.
But I did it! The cut off time was 7h:30mins. Our loose goal was a sub six hour finish. My buddy and I had an ultra goal of seeing if we could make 5h:30mins. I was just so stoked at this point that I had even started the race, and actually finished it. My buddy ran the race plan. She made 5h:30mins. Exactly as planned! I staggered in 20 minutes later with a 5h:48min finish. I finished! and did a SUB SIX HOUR, despite how ill I was.
Clearing my camel pack, I had consumed during the course of the run, an entire box of cold & flu tablets, an entire box of antihistamine tablets, finished my asthma pump, and used up 15 salt tablets. Not sure if the fug and delirious was flu or drug influenced or both. On visiting the medic tent I was urgently advised a hospital visit was in dire need and they would send me by ambulance. I politely declined said ambulance, as the urgency of an ambulance would be a folly to completing the Ultra in my state.
Would I do this again? Yes I will. Was amazing.
Will I run ill again? NO WAY. NEVER. DO NOT DO THAT. I put myself at risk and in danger. I put my heart under duress. And did not consider the impact on the race organisers and other runners had I collapsed. Although my family were tracking me and had brought extra vehicles (my 4 wheel drive) in case they had to come in and collect me. It has taken me a while to recover, and I am still coughing and wheezing and have a gravelly throat and tight chest two weeks post the race.
Dale, never run sick. I guess you have learned the hard way. Never run on medication or pills, even headache pills.
I was a big barefoot running fan.I ran barefoot at Uni, up to 25km. The key is to keep the weight off. There were a couple of (white) guys who would run Comrades barefoot. One was Dirkie Steyn, a missionary dentist. He got a couple of 7th and an 11th, Sadly he was murdered in South Africa by a house breaker, I think possibly on a trip down to run Comrades. Joseph Mitsupishi ran all his races barefoot, winning the Pro Nutro in 1:43 and setting the record for the Great Zimbabwe Ruins 50km – about 2:47 or so. He was a fine fellow, worked at Halsteads in Mutare, running in from Zimunya and home again every day, sucked in by the Air Force who over raced him. Have you read the book “Born to Run”? You must. About barefoot running. I’ll phone you soon. All the best, Phil Mennell