G2G 2017

G2G 2017

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Grand 2 Grand Ultra 2017 report

Two days ago I completed the G2G ultra and although I gave short daily updates, I thought a more detailed description was required to capture the essence of this unbelievable and unique event.  You may not run, or run 5/10k or a marathon or even complete ironman events, but a multi stage self supported race is very different.  Let me explain what I went through and then describe some of the heroic efforts I withnessed in this race.
Like any "race" there are different type of competitors; the pro's who do this for a living, the extremely fit runners who are going to push the limits and those where completion is what it's all about.  I certainly fitted into the last category due to my injuries over the last year and was fortunate to be making the start line but with no guarantee that I'd finish.
The event was at altitude and normally you need three weeks to adapt but I went out 5 days before to at least lose the jet lag and get used to the heat.  I stayed in Kanab (little Hollywood) and had a ball.  The locals were so friendly and welcoming.  I met competitors as they started to arrive from all over the world and despite going out on my own, before I left the airport I had met Frank from Chicago and then Dirk from South Africa (who came 6th overall).  We then met Steve from California and Kelsey Hogan a 22 year old ball of energy from Canada who was attempting a staged race for the first time - and came 2nd woman - all within the first 2 days.  Then there was the JAR of Hope team raising money and awareness for Jim's terminally ill son.  They inspired all the competitors during the race.
On Saturday 23rd we travelled out to the starting camp on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  The views were breath taking - literally!  Our first night under canvas was cold and windy and this would continue throught the week with temperatures as low as -4.  My rucksack weighed 25 lbs (too heavy) and this was partly due to my heavy duty sleeping bag which was essential.  You sleep in an 8 person tent and the ground was uneven, rocky in places and covered in vegetation which meant there wasn't  one night where I was lying flat!  Getting a good sleep and not spending the night shivering impacts on your race.  You also have the "people dynamic" but I'm glad to say the Comanche tent had no
issues as we all worked together.
My stage 1 race strategy was simple.  Start slow and avoid blisters if possible - in MdS I had 7 blisters in the first 2 days.  We were all excited by the long pink mountain range we followed however 5 miles short of the 31 miles distance (73% hard packed dirt) our eyes were drawn to the campsite that didn't seem to get closer, while avoiding the cacti that were threatening a painful injury (27% of the stage was cacti) - I snagged one but managed to get the thorns out without too much pain.  When I got back to my tent, decided which lumpy spot I wanted, treated my feet, had a recovery protein drink plus a salt drink then I headed to the cyber tent to send my blog for publishing to my wife.  Back to the tent to prepare some freeze dried food and then it was 7pm and time to relax.  Most nights I'd be in my sleeping bag by 8am and asleep for 9.30.  This was my daily process.
Stage 2 was "only" 27 miles but it was harder due to the highest point being at nearly 7,000 ft.  We were woken by the music at 6am (as we were every morning except the last) and had to have fed ourselves, been to the loo and be packed and ready by 7.30 - this was our daily ritual. Granola with nuts and raisins was my chosen breakfast but we all soon became sick of what we brought and swapping/trading was going on.  You don't get a meal during the day so you snacked on nuts, raisins, cliff bars, power bars, gels and sports beans.  Not the healthiest diet but it's all about the calories.  Stage 2 is about making it to the long day And I came through without any injury - Ian Dalton on the other hand came in doubled over and slumped to the side with an injured back.  But he made it.
Stage 3 had the most casualties including Andy Salamone who had run with me the day before. It was 53 miles but if you wanted you could get a tent to sleep in at check point 6, 39.7 miles or checkpoint 7, 45.5 miles.  Had Mark Davids and I known what was coming after CP 6 we'd have camped for the night.  Just over 3 miles of sand dunes in the dark and these were no ordinary sand dunes. Some were 4 stories high where footprints were immediately covered with the drifting sand.  At times we were on all fours gasping for breath - my poles were sinking 2/3 feet deep.  At the foot of the biggest dune I wondered what would happen if I couldn't get to the top and was contemplating pulling out my sleeping bag and going to sleep.  We also had to navigate our way in the dark looking for the small pink flags with a strip that lit up when your headlight caught it.  This was the hardest leg workout ever and I'd already been going for 14 hours.  The section after it was horrible.  We were trying to plot our way in the dark through scrub land which we called "the devils garden".  Trying not to get lost by spotting the pink ribbons  while trying not to step on a cactus or worse a snake and my gators were shredded by the end of this stage meaning the dreaded sand was filling my shoes.  Mark and I pressed on and finished the stage at 4.20am having been on the go for over 20 hours - straight to bed  for 4 hours sleep.
Having completed the long stage I had a day off.  A day to eat, sleep, stretch and repair my feet.  I had both feet taped on day 2 due to a hotspot and also a possible blister.  Once the cut off was reached we found out there had been 20 drop out of the race including an amazing 76 year old who had survived the first two days.  Some heroes started to emerge - Ian Dalton was still going with  his back problem, Alexandre Marion had twisted his ankle on day 2 and despite being up like a balloon he had managed through the stage.  Yori Lewis had a bad knee and a hamstring problem and I wouldn't believe he'd even started the stage but he crawled in early morning.  This stage (76% soft sand)
had almost broken me but there were competitors who had serious issues getting through it which inspired us all.
By Stage 4 , a 26 mile marathon, I couldn't face my food.  Fortunately I had brought some freeze dried deserts but that didn't offer any protein.  I ran with another competitor Richard Revell who was suffering a serious amount of pain below his knee so we spurred each other on.  My pinkie toe was starting to throb but I could hardly complain based on the other more serious injuries.  However when I got back to camp the nail was almost off and it was very tender so the medical staff patched it up.  That night it was -4 during the night so waking up having had a disturbed nights sleep and getting ready for another Mathathon didn't make me happy.
The course on stage 5 was interesting at the beginning as we went trough "Peek-a-boo" slot canyon which was fun and I'm looking forward to seeing the photos but thereafter it was a tedious stage and a drag.  Richard and I slogged it out together and it made such a difference having someone to help when you reached the enevitable dark/low points.  We crossed the line together and a few tears were shed as we realised we were going to finish the job tomorrow but that didn't prepare us for what we'd witness hours later.
Word had got back to the tent that Brian Bartaby (known as Bart) was raising money for the "walking with the wounded" and he was in trouble and might not make the cut off.  The whole campsite was waiting for him at the finish and he was going at a snails pace.  The organisers had sent a medic out to walk with him but he might not make the cut off.   When his head torch came round the corner the camp erupted.  Cowbells ringing and "we are the champions" baring out of the speakers.  When he crossed the line everyone must have had sand in their eyes as there were tears everywhere .  But obviously his race was over - or was it? Alexandre and Yori were both back safely although the pain in the faces told you it hadn't been easy.
The race was effectively over for most people unless they could make up some places on Stage 6 which was only 12km - and 836m of ascent!  Unbelievably they sent Bart out at 7am with the slower competitors, I went off with Richard at 8am and the fast ones at 9am.  We went as fast as we could on the flattish section while the temperature was low.  30  minutes in we came across Bart who'd been going for 1.5 hours and he was been held up and fed by Mark Davids.  We offered some  encouragement and headed off thinking the medics would be picking him up soon.  As we weren't trying for a place we took in what turned out to be the best scenery coming up the hoodoos that make up the Pink Cliffs.  The finish line was amazing and my long suffering wife was there to greet me with all the competitors making as much noise as possible.  Immediately I was eating pizza and drinking coke, hugging my wife and the world was good.
Yori Lewis made it across the line  - when I asked him how he coped with the sand dunes he said he'd walked up them sideways!  Alexandre had made it and caught us all by surprise as he proposed to his girlfriend at the finishline - this is what had driven him on with what could be a fractured ankle at best.  Ian had made it getting through it with determination - a common trait amongst ultra runners. But everyone was waiting for Bart.  Word came back he was 1 mile away - it took him an hour before he approached the finishline (15 minutes for the last 400 yards) which had been lined by all the competitors to welcome home home.  Mark Davids and Mark Cox had given up their chance of a good time to assist their tent mate.  The competitors went mental as he crossed the line with, once again, "we are the champions" blasting out and was given a chair, a beer and some pizza.  These people were strangers a week ago!
Everyone was at the awards ceremony and Bart got to present two special prizes to Mark Davids and Mark Cox  who had sacrificed their time to help Bart complete G2G for his charity - not a dry eye in the 'house". Tess and Colin had brought together a bunch of strangers  and we'd  grown into an extended family.  I should of course mention the secret ingredient- the volunteers.  They were unbelievable.  Nothing was too much trouble and always done with a smile.  Thanks guys.
I started this blog to give you an insight into the different aspects of a multi day race and an insight into a very special one - G2G.  How waking up every day having slept, or not, under canvas with 7 other people who haven't washed or had a change of clothes so the smell gets unbearable yet you still race. There are no hot showers, comfy bed or change of clothes and doing 6 marathons in 7 days is hard on anyone's body.  You're carrying everything you need to survive in your rucksack.The freeze dried food presents a  challenge and despite all of this I think this is the ultimate style of race as you are "stripped naked" bringing out the real you.  Grand 2 Grand had a real family feel to it and with only 120 competitors you leave at the end of the week with lifetime friends.  My finishing place of 45th is almost irrelevant, although I am proud of it, but I  am more proud to have survived this epic event while raising money for Maggie's Cancer Centres and meeting the most amazing people who I can call my friends. Now for a rest and to put at least 10 lbs on!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Bloody Snake!

  1. It’s amazing how quickly the body recovers from heat, altitude and a couple of blisters. Yesterday after writing the blog the camp was entertained by cowboys demonstrating lassoing and then one sat round the camp fire and sang – fantastic helped by an ice cold can of coke.
    Felt good this morning except for a few muscular pains in my back and shoulder but did some stretches and popped some pills. It w...as only 26 miles today but the terrain dictated the pace with a total time around 7hrs 40 mins. I ran all day with Richard who I’d met in camp a few times and we made sure we got through it together.
    When we were going through the shrubs I spotted a rattler! It just cut in front of me making me stop in my tracks. I think the smell of me put it off. At one stage we had to use as rope to climb up a rock face and today did involve a number of climbs which at this altitude takes it out of you. I am so inspired by the runners out here. There are a number of injuries that would stop most people from walking never mind running including Richard who had great difficulty walking down hill – picture it! We’re down to 89 runners now from the original 125 and backs up how tough it is.
    One more marathon tomorrow then a short 7miles, all uphill on Saturday where Fiona will be at the finish line. That’s going to be special. I can’t wait for some decent real food and a beer….and a bottle of red wine……and a massage! The list could go on but I’m sure you get it. All the best to my friends that are doing or supporting IM Barcelona on Saturday.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Stage 5 & 6

I'm finished and sitting in a lovely double bed with clean sheets while typing this report.  A bit different from sitting is a sandy tent in deliberately small seats with a 15 minute time limit to post a message and a queue of people behind me, while my muscles as crying for a rest!
Stage 5
It was the last marathon and having finished strong yesterday I was looking forward to this one.  I decided to run again with Richard as having a running partner is really important for a few reasons.  One to make sure you don't get lost and the other to get you through the inevitable dark times.  When you are running through dried river beds your head is inevitably down trying not to trip on rocks, or stand on a cactus or even worse a snake, you can miss the tiny pink flags planted in the ground of the pink ribbon tied to a bush showing you the route.  Everyone got lost at some stage.
We headed off fast trying to take advantage of the cooler weather at 8am and also we knew we'd be going through some canyons that involved a ladder and a rope climb so we didn't want to get caught up on the rush.  My bag was probably down to about 19 pounds now so feeling "light" and not causing me so much pain.
The scenery was once again stunning and you had to take time to take it in.  Anyone who just kept there head down was in the wrong type of event and it did help with the pain.  This became the hottest day of the race and it took it's toll, especially on some of the climbs.  Richard struggled with the descents due to his leg injury and I was amazed how he persevered.  I don't know how he managed to get through the slot canyons as there was a lot of clambering required.  At one stage I must have dragged myself along withou saying a word for an hour on a long hot never ending dusty road and Richard was there just making sure I kept hydrating myself and staying a few feet ahead to encourage me - that's when you need a partner.
There was a video posted of us finishing the stage with me trying to hold onto him as we got to the finish line - we were in bits when we crossed it.  He went straight to the medical tent and I checked to see if my pinkie toe had actually come off - painful little bugger but fortunately no infection and the drugs helped.  Got weighed and had lost 10 pounds (project get the weight back on has started!).
Stage 6
Battered and bruised we got up for a staggered start with only 12km to do in the last day.  Effectively the race was over unless you were competing for places.  The slowest runners went ant 7, I was in the 8am group and the fast boys went at 9.  Richard and I decided to run together and went out as fast as we could.  I knew the terrain started off with a slight incline but would then get "silly steep" and we were doing well for the first half.  The second half was a walk with the altitude over 6,000 ft and as we weren't competing for places we took in the best views of the week - the pink cliffs of the Grand Staircase, something we'd been staring at for a week in the distance.
Even at this late stage we had to encourage each other to make it up the steep parts.  Just short of the finish line the winner came flying past us shortly followed by the 2nd place runner.  We could hear up ahead the crowd going mental and the cowbells ringing so we forgot our pain and ran it in.  A huge group of supporters and athletes were waiting going nuts and at the finish line was Fiona.  That thought had been in my head every day and to see her was very emotional.  The organisers gave us a hug and presented me with my Grand to Grand buckle which I will ware with pride.  I didn't waste any time in tucking into the pizza, coke, apples and bananas just behind the finish line.
This event isn't about positions and my next post will explain what it's really all about - there are some many heroic stories to share with you.  But for those interested, I was sitting overall 46th at the end of day 5 from a starting line up of 119 - with 26 DNFs.  I will have lost a few places on the last day but top half is always something I aim for in any event.  This is beyond my wildest dreams when in reality I was lucky to even make the startline.  Thanks for following my journey.  My next blog is going to give you a real flavour for the event before it all merges into one.  But first some R&R time with my number one supporter - Fiona.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The toughest day ever!

Having completed 58 miles in the previous two days, throwing in a double marathon is a bit cruel. The scenery was the best yet with pink canyons and massive cliffs but the route was BRUTAL. 20 people dropped out. It was reasonably warm but 75% of the course was soft sand. My pal from the day before couldn’t continue but I spent the majority of the day running/trekking with Mark. We encouraged each other during the dark periods and there were many.
The first marathon was tough but ok. But the second half was horrendous. My total time was 20 hours and 20 minutes and I finished at 4.20am when I had started at 8am. This was a huge success. There were many difficult sections where the soft sand sucked you into the ground – 75% of the course was soft sand. Then we hit the 5km stretch of sand dunes having been active for over 14 hours. Imagine your hardest leg session except you’ve already done 14 hours of exercise. It was pitch black and there were lights showing you the top of the sand dune – some were 4 stories high and you ended up on all fours clawing your way up. My poles helped but they were sinking 2 feet into the sand. On top of that I’m carrying 23 lbs on my back.
Later we went through the devils garden. Again in the dark negotiating through bush, cacti and other stuff. My gators were ripped to be bits which is going to be an issue in the next 2 marathon on Thur/Fri.
My body is holding up and subject to my shoes not filling with san every two minutes, I’m confident I’m going to bring this home. However just one misplaced foot and it can be over. This is the toughest even ever. I’ll expand on the stories when I get home but in the time allotted, that’s it for today. Cheers.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Shorter but harder!

At last I have Derek's day 2 blog based on how long they take to arrive next update likely to be Thursday.

Hard to believe but day 2 was 27 miles and harder than yesterday. So much is dictated by the terrain and near after 5 kg there was a climb of 500m. Not much you would think but at altitude higher than we have back home, with temperatures higher than back home and a 24 LB pack on my back – it was a good test. My hill training came in handy but the key is keeping m...y body temperature down or you can be in big trouble. There isn’t much shelter from the sun so this also dictates when you can run. It might be flat in places, and there were plenty of them but if you keep running then tomorrow might be an issue. And today is all about tomorrow.
I met a wonderful American guy called Andy and we stayed together the whole day which made it easier. The scenery once again was stunning making the pain in my shoulders slightly easier (along with the pain killers).
When I got back to the finish you are greeted by people cheering and a cow bell sounding. I rehydrated and went straight to the medical tent to get a couple of blisters seen to. The amazing thing is after 8 hours 30 mins unofficial time I know I’ll feel great in the morning because all I do now is put my feet up, rest, rehydrate and eat. Tomorrow is the big challenge. 53 Miles and I’m unsure how I will tackle it. Much will depend on how I feel. This is like no other race in that it’s as much about survival. The conditions are brutal. I won’t be sending a blog for a few days now as I’ll be having fun in the sand! Thanks for your messages of support.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Day 1 Race report

Sorry for the late post here is Derek's Day 1 report. I didn't get it before I flew to Vegas. Fiona

Before we get into the race, we were at camp on the north rim of the Canyon. We had a spectacular meal laid on for us before we went to bed at 8am. It was cold to star and went to minus during the night – it was freezing but my cosy sleeping bag worked.Up at 6am for the race and my first cold breakfast – it was ok. Today was 31 miles and it was a tough day. The heat built up as the day went on and with an 8am... start I tried to get in as many miles as possible before then heat took its toll. The altitude is a definite a factor as is the hard packed tracks, stones, and fine sand – it gets everywhere. Then there are the cactus which lurk in the ground. One of them snagged me and I had a few needles to pull out. My pack weighs 25 lb before you add 1.5 L of water. Too heavy but it makes sure I won’t be freezing or starving at night. The camp was 5 miles from the last check point but they kept taking you towards it then away from it – not nice. I finished in 8 hours and 20 mins (unofficial). Tomorrow is 27.5 miles and that leads up to the 53 mile long day so I’m sticking to my strategy of getting acclimatized and breaking myself in slowly. Only on heat spot which I treated so so far no blisters.Now for recovery. Salt drink taken, protein drink next. Feet up and rest before my first freeze dried food – can’t say I’m looking forward to that. This is an amazing race with stunning scenery but I’m told it only gets better from here.This probably won’t be posted till Tuesday as there is no signal at the camp and they have to save the emails then take them into town. It will be posted to Mrs Stewart who will then put it in the blog – assuming she isn’t at 35,000 feet!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Talk the talk, now let's walk the walk

It's 8.30 pm on Friday night and I'm tucked up in bed.  This will be the last night where I have a descent bed to sleep in as tomorrow night I will be under canvas in the Grand Canyon worrying about the contents of my rucksack and the weather conditions for the start of the race the following morning.
Today was all about registration - making sure I didn't fail before I started.  I had to check out of one hotel and check in to another. I decided to "fly the flag" and walked from my hotel up the Main Street for breakfast in my kilt!  It took me 3 times as long as normal as all the locals wanted to either explain their Scottish heritage or just generally have a chat.  I was welcomed at the registration by the race organisers Colin & Tess and it was so nice to meet them after a lot of email and FB communication.  We've agreed that I should ware my kilt at the awards dinner along with a cowboy hat - that will be a picture for the collection!
I've met so many new people today and the one thing they all have in common is their love of adventure and based on my experience this week, this will be a real adventure.  G2G looks harder than MdS and the temperature will play a large part.  Sure it will be hot during the day but it could fall into the minus numbers at night which will present a real challenge.
My rucksack weighed in at 26Lbs!  It was described as "one of the heavier ones".  I've repacking tonight and reduced my food as the calories on some days were 3,200 which will probably be difficult to consume. But I've only got it down by 1Lb!  I'll get my shoulders taped to avoid the straps cutting in and will use my secret weapon to relieve some of the pressure of the straps - sanitary towels! Honestly I won't be the only one using this technique.
We had a beautiful meal in the park tonight but the temperature dropped quickly so we didn't hang around.  Tomorrow involves getting breakfast then heading up to the coach which will take 3 hours to our camp site in the Grand Canyon.
I've been talking about this race for 2 years and now it's time to execute the plan.  I'll keep my blog going but realistically you won't hear from me until Monday.  If you want to message me then go to www.g2gultra.com and go to "race coverage" and "email a competitor".  My bib number is 252.  Let's do this!