Sunday, 20 October 2019

Double recovery

Recovery is an essential part of any athletes programme.  Whether it be recovering from a race or an injury / illness.  So when two coincide you could call it good timing especially when it's the end of the season when you'd normally be easing back to give your body time to recover.
But as you know, this is a double recovery; the Tahoe 200 will take a couple of months for my feet to repair and the fatigue to disappear; my hernia operation last week. 
My feet are still peeling but they are not sensitive to touch anymore.  I'm certainly sleeping a lot more and this will have been helped as I recover after the surgery which meant I had a general anaesthetic.  I'll have a 4 inch "battle scar" and am glad to say I'm off the pain killers but have to be careful with the smallest of movement - I can't engage my stomach muscles.  I'll see the surgeon on Thursday for his assessment but I am not able to drive for 10 days - 2 weeks which means I'm totally dependent on my family to chauffeur me  around and make and serve my food!  I can't lift anything and my walking is more like a shuffle as the wound is tight.  Add to that I need to wear loose clothes so I'm constantly dressed in a track suit - that will go down well in the office next week!
I'm spending hours sitting watching telly looking out the window at the autumn colours wishing I was at Chatelherault running through the ankle deep golden coloured leaves - but not this year.
I thought my recovery before light training could start was 2 weeks but in fact it's 6 weeks so it will be December before I can start. While it's frustrating it's probably doing me a lot of good and I'll benefit from it next year.
If you are out there enjoying the autumnal weather, enjoy every minute of it, even if it chucking it down with rain.  It's only when you have an enforced rest that you really appreciate what going for a run would be like.  But in the meantime I'll continue my double recovery and consider it part of my preparation for 2020 which is going to be an amazing year.  Can't wait.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Post race blues

It's almost 4 weeks since I completed the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run - by far the toughest adventure I have been involved in to date.  Before I pushed the button and entered the race I almost backed off because I had heard stories of markers going missing and people getting lost (happened to me) and bears!  But I switched my mind set from a race to a survival course and that made all the difference.  It just set up my head for the challenges I'd face and in the end although it was even tougher than I'd imagined.  But what about the recovery after taking myself so close to the limit? 
Everyone recovers differently but it's important to respect your body and what it has gone through.  Externally the damage is obvious on my feet.  They are still pealing but the sensitivity has gone although there is some tingling which suggests the nerve ends are still repairing.  My organs on the other hand took a pounding but I've no way of knowing the impact based on the pressure they were under.  I know from previous experience that after 24 hours of running your kidneys do suffer which is why you can't take any anti-inflammatory medication.  So giving your whole body a break is vital.
The fatigue continues and will do for at least another month.  I'm constantly tired and have found myself sitting at work in a daze, but it's getting better.
I thought I'd dodged the "post race blues" which happens when you come off the high of completing the event, but they kicked in during the week.  It's psychological and for me if feels like emotionally you have fallen off a cliff.  You just want to be back in the race, be on the mountain summits over looking Lake Tahoe, back with your running pals, filthy from the dust and stinking as you haven't washed since the race started. It's such a special place to be but in reality it's only special because I get to do it once a year or every other year.
One of the ways of beating the post race blues is to have something planned in the future.  Until my hernia operation is over (Wednesday) and I've recovered, I won't be making any definite plans and a race next year will have to fit in with my families plans as we are building a new house.  However I was sent details of a new race last week that has caught my interest.  It's a staged race, 6 marathons in 7 days, and I met with my coach see if this was the right race for me, it is, and to start planning the training schedule.  Obviously it will start very gradually to avoid any complications after the surgery and as I have lost so much muscle, I'll be back on the "diddy weights"!
Having a focus for 2020 has lifted my post race blues and the sooner I'm able to pull on my running shoes, which I've just ordered, the better.  It's frustrating not training but at the same time I know my body and mind need the rest.  Come November I'll enjoy getting back to a regular training programme and can rebuild my body.  I've managed to put on 5 lbs in the last two weeks but that's only taken me to 142 lbs - ideally I want to be 155 lbs but that's not with a "spare tire" around my waist!  I'll let you know how my recovery is going and once I have decided on the 2020 race, I'll give you the details.
Post race blues do happen and if you're at the end of your season and suffering from them then I hope by looking towards your 2020 goals will pick you up.  The winter is almost here and it's a fantastic time to build your base on which to launch your 2020 success.  Grab it with both hands and enjoy it.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Tahoe 200 Endurance Run – extending the limits


Time.  It goes in the blink of an eye for some things and drags on for others. 2 years ago I entered the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run and began the training required to run 205.5 miles, with 40,200 ft of ascent and 40,200 ft of descent, in under 100 hours with most of the fun taking place between 6,500 – 9,800ft above sea level.  It’s not a staged race where the clock stops as you have a nights sleep and that’s what attracted me to the event.  Fortunately, I hadn’t thought about that task ahead when signing up, or I might not have, beyond the simple arithmetic that completion in 100 hours requires me to move at 2.05 mph. 
I was often asked how do you train for an altitude based event. Unfortunately Scotland’s highest mountain is a mere 4,413 ft and doesn’t have the profile of the ascent or 28 degrees of heat so simulating the conditions was impossible.  However my coach Genevieve Freeman got to work designing a plan specifically for me based around my physical ability, my work and life.  The plan was constantly tweaked depending on the results that were analysed daily.  At times I felt like a piece of meat being tenderised – I was battered, rested and battered again.  During the two years I regularly visited my sports therapist, my chiropractor and had regular massage’s all to keep my body together.  As I approached the race I was in the “shape of my life”.
Then 2 weeks before the event I found a swelling in my groin and within 4 hours it was diagnosed as an Inguinal Hernia.  I had to wait 5 days to see the surgeon but couldn’t just sit still as I was at a vital stage of my training.  I spoke to Gareth, a good friend of mine who is a surgeon who advised me to buy some Hernia pants for support.  It gave me a peachy bum but my testicles are now relocated in my throat!  More importantly my hernia was being held tight and I could continue with my training before I met the surgeon!  The surgeon said I should be ok but if the hernia comes through the stomach wall during the race, I would be in excruciating pain and need to be rushed to hospital for an emergency operation.  Game on then.
2 years disappears and as race day approached I was beginning to question my sanity as I poured over spreadsheets and lists trying to work out how to pace this race and get in under 100 hours.  I managed to get the race time down to 90 hours which included 3 x 3 hour rest periods in total over the race.  These would either be sleep or time at aid stations but it was just a guess as you can’t anticipate what will happen.  This type of event would differ from any other ultra or Ironman event when it came to aid stations as you couldn’t just “fly through” them.  You had to have a very detailed plan of what you were going to eat at the stations, pick up either in a drop bag or from the organisers table or from your crew because the length between stations could be 20 miles which could take 8-10 hours while exposed at high altitude.  You also had to consider your mental state as going this long without sleep meant making decisions almost impossible and this is where my amazing wife Fiona came to the rescue, on numerous occasions, as my support crew.
Start to Baker Pass; 7 miles / 2,711 ft up / 1,168 down / highest point 9,000 ft / time 1hr 52 mins
Race day arrived and the sun was shining.  At the start line with my fellow G2G pals we take the oath that if anything happens then “it’s our own damned fault”.  As I looked around I noticed I had one of the biggest back packs.  This was because I was carrying all the recommended gear whereas some people we gambling that they wouldn’t need it for the first couple of days.  In addition, some ran with less than the required amount of water – a risk I wouldn’t entertain.
The first section goes straight up, a 3.5 mile climb so I planned to take it easy and settle in.  The objective of the day was to survive to Sierra at Tahoe at 63 miles and the first aid station where I could have contact with my crew and sleep.  I was also picking up my pacer Becky at this station which would be a morale booster so the focus was to get through 63 miles.
As we headed off the dust from the runners raised up from the dry ground and I could feel it in my throat.  This would become a bigger challenge as the race went on.  After power walking the initial steep climb, I dropped my G2G pals on the downhill.  My strategy was to run the downhills where the terrain allowed it to make up time which I’d lose in the climbs.
Baker Pass to Loon Lake; 17 miles / ,1632 ft up / 2,841 down / highest point 8,000 ft / total time 6hrs 11 mins
I came into this station at least an hour ahead of schedule.  They served water melon and it took away the dust coating and taste in my mouth.  Most aid stations had a range of food available from breakfast burrito’s, burgers, soup and pasta.  I took on my full water capacity 3.2L due to the length of this stage.  I didn’t want to be looking for streams on the race although had the necessary water purifier if required.
The heat was building and my stomach wasn’t feeling great.  Was it the pressure of the hernia pants?  I was carrying compression shorts as a back up plan but they weren’t as good for my hernia (or my peachy bum!) so I pressed on. It then occurred what I was feeling could have been down to the altitude as we were at 8,000 ft.  The last couple of days I had a slight headache (6,500 ft) and the fact my guts were feeling lousy this early in the race had to mean something.  Then I came to an area known as the “Rubicon” which I’d describe as being on the moon. 
The Rubicon’s a dusty dry riverbed with massive boulders to navigate around or over.  Every footstep throws up dust which means you can’t see your feet so you walk into the next rock or you go over on your ankle.  You inhale the dust and your throat dries up and your eyes hurt.  Now for the best bit; it’s filled with weekend jeep drivers who are driving these oversized vehicles with great skill, over the rocks and up and down the mountain – churning up the dust.  Runners were choking, gagging and most of us acquired a sore throat or horse voice for the rest of the race – some had respiratory problems caused by the dust.  Some runners thought this section was amazing but most didn’t and we had to revisit it in the evening when the jeep participants were in party mood after a few beers and playing loud music.  Squeezing past them at various stages wasn’t fun but the risk was limited as they certainly didn’t want to crash.
By the time I got to Loon Lake I was in a mess and was considering pulling out.  I was preparing my excuses for my blog.  Dark points were to be expected but I couldn’t see how I could get through such a tough test when I felt this bad after only 24 miles.  I turned the corner before the aid station and Fiona was sitting in lotus position on a big rock with a big smile screaming encouragement.  Now that was a surprise as nobody was meant to be at this station as it’s a tough 3 hour drive but she and a number of others had made the journey.
As all good crew do, she sat me down in a chair and got me some food and drink although I could hardly take it in.  A medic advised me to eat a plain pancake to settle my stomach and it worked.  Fiona tried to massage my left shoulder muscle which had seized but that had to be left as it was too painful.  After a positive talking to about how ahead of schedule I was and about getting to the next checkpoint.  I was off with a smile on my face but knew I wouldn’t be seeing Fiona for another 15.5 hours.  Checkpoint to checkpoint focus is what you need, not thinking you’ve 181.5 miles to go. 
Loon Lake to Tell’s Creek; 6.5 miles / 933 ft up / 910 down / highest point 6,800 ft / total time 8hrs 6 mins
Even although the next check point was only 2 hours away the heat and altitude were getting to me.  The scenery was stunning as we ran through beautiful forests and mountains, but I felt a few twinges in my claves and hamstrings which is always a sign of trouble ahead. I made sure not jump or extend my gait. When I arrived at Tells Creek I collapsed into a chair as a volunteer went to get me some food and water.  That’s when I had the worst cramp of my life.  I started screaming as though someone had stabbed my calf.  I was made to stand up while someone rubbed my calf which was excruciatingly painful.  I was then made to chew salt tablets to get the salt into my system quicker – you want to try that and keep the contents of your stomach down. It’s not easy.
My G2G friend Laurent was sitting opposite me and he looked awful.  The heat and altitude was taking its toll and I realised that he was finished.  What kind of a race is this where fit people are out after 30.5 miles I though?  Get the focus back on Sierra at Tahoe.  Only another 33 miles to go.  The time spent at aid stations was mounting up but if I didn’t leave feeling better and fully stocked for the next stage I’d be finished.  This put more pressure on making sure I kept the pace up.
Tell’s Creek to Wright’s Lake; 13.5 miles / 2,062 ft up / 1,640 down / highest point 7,600 ft / total time 12 hrs 35 mins
I have little memory of the next section except I did most of it on my own before I met Bleu.  He was an experienced runner but he was carrying minimal water and ran out so I shared mine with him to get him to the check point – you have to look after each other out there.  I just had to keep moving forward to get closer to Sierra at Tahoe – this was critical.  When I got to Wright’s Lake one of the photographers got a photo of me sitting down trying to eat some soup.  I look out of it.
Wright’s Lake to Sierra at Tahoe; 18.9 miles / 3,326 ft up / 2,946 down / highest point 7,400 ft / total time 19hrs 16 mins
Before I could have a sleep and pick up my pacer, my next challenge which was worrying me was the night stage from Wright’s Lake to Sierra at Tahoe.   I can get lost in a car park so the thought of running through a mountain range trying to pick out luminous ribbons with my head torch just filled me with fear.  I was fitted with a GPS tracker so the organisers knew where you were and I had the route on my Iphone but that guaranteed nothing.  Add to the fact there were bears in the woods (yes they do shit in the woods by the way as there was plenty of evidence of it) and I didn’t want to be on my own.
I hooked up with Bleu and John for night stage and had a good laugh along the way.  It was a full moon and it was surreal going through the forest and enjoying the challenging terrain.  I think the fall in temperature at night helped me settle into the race.  They got me to Sierra at Tahoe which was my goal and waiting for me were Fiona and my pacer Becky.  I’d now been on the go for 19 hours 16 mins and climbed into the boot of our rental SUV and had a 30 minute sleep.  Fiona cleaned my feet which were manky with dust despite my gaiters and also changed my socks.  Other runners were doing this more regularly but as my feet felt fine, I didn’t want to disturb them.
Sierra at Tahoe to Housewife Hill; 7.6 miles / 1,116 ft up / 1,899 ft down / highest point 7,400 ft / total time 22hrs 50 mins
What a difference a short sleep makes. I felt renewed plus I had reached my first goal which was a major achievement, particularly  psychologically, considering how I’d felt.  Becky led the way as we headed off to Housewife Hill and chatted getting to know each other which passed the time.  She was an experienced runner, had completed the race last year and more importantly an experienced pacer so she knew when to slow down and walk.  All I had to do was follow her heels, except for when she fell.  It was an innocuous fall but she cut her hand and this was treated by the medic when we arrived at Housewife Hill and met Fiona who sorted out our food and water.  Our next stop was 17.6 miles away so we needed to be fully loaded and there was no crew access although a fully stocked aid station.
Housewife Hill to Armstrong Pass; 17.6 miles / 4,092 ft up / 2,320 ft down / highest point 9,500 ft / total time 1 day 5hrs 20mins
It took us 7 and a half hours to reach Armstrong Pass which was 9,600 ft above sea level and having a running companion who knew the route took a lot of pressure off of me.  The views were breath taking but you had to keep your eyes on the ground so you didn’t take a tumble.   Becky needed her hand seen to again as it wasn’t really properly treated at the last station. 
Armstrong Pass to Heavenly; 15 miles / 2,243 ft up / 3,050 ft down / highest point 9,700 ft / total time 1 day 11 hrs 37mins
This section had a long downhill through a forest which I’m sure this was beautiful but wearing head torches meant being focused on the light and trying to see our feet through the rising dust.  It was like Chatelherault on steroids scale wise and the end of the race I could have sworn these forest sections all took place in the same forest as I constantly kicked the same bloody rock.  Twice I was frozen to the spot prodding the ground with my poles as I didn’t believe there was any ground in front.  Hallucinations occurred regularly with bushes becoming people and logs becoming cars which was a real ball breaker when you thought you were seeing a check point!
In reality it was hour after hour of monotony, ground  hog day, but taking you closer to your goal. 
It was dark, cold and windy when we arrived into Heavenly but I was delighted that my son Ali had arrived with Fiona, he was on a boys trip.  That elation soon disappeared as it turned out Becky had also hurt her leg when she fell and the pain was getting worse.  This was the first I’d known she had hurt her leg.  I quickly had some lentil soup and a few mouthfuls of burger before I crawled into the SUV boot for a couple of hours sleep hoping Becky would be sorted by the time I woke.  She wasn’t and that was the end of her race which was a big blow for both of us be we couldn’t ask her to go on and risk further injury particularly on this terrain.  Now I had to face my fear again of another night run on my own.
Heavenly to Spooner Summit; 20.4 miles / 2,947 ft up / 3,295 ft down / highest point 8,700 ft / total time 1 day 23 hours 31 mins
Fortunately I saw someone heading out of the check point and asked if I could join them.  Dennis said he was slow on the climbs and I’d be faster on my own but I reckoned slow was better than lost!  Not far into the run I spotted a baby bear climbing down a tree and mummy bear waiting at the bottom.  This wasn’t a hallucination and Dennis started making noise to chase them away!  I persuaded him that now was a good time to try and beat Usain Bolts 100m record and we made a quick exit.  The route involved 9 miles of climbing and the temperature was freezing plus the wind was blowing hard. 
At the most exposed summit we were looking for a bench as a marker.  There was a full  moon shining off Lake Tahoe and I would have loved to try and take a picture but it was so cold that I was in survival mode and kept moving forward. We stopped to put on extra layers of clothes and I was totally convinced that I’d been here before and knew what was coming next.  This continued the whole time we were on the summit but getting down was a priority both physically and mentally.  I started to have an out of body experience which made me feel like I was watching me running from above.  I even pinched myself in case I was sleeping and dreaming that this was happening.  It was surreal but that’s what lack of sleep can do to you.  On the way down we both heard bears growling which may or may not have been real but we weren’t going to hang around and find out.
Like many of the descents the terrain was rocky, like running in a quarry of broken slate for hours and my feet were beginning to grumble but so far I only had one blister.  I’d thought I could run the downhills but this was impossible due to the terrain.
I was pleased to see Fiona and Ali at the aid station and they got me wrapped up before bringing me a breakfast burrito which in the end Ali ate as I was going off food.  I snatched another couple of hours sleep.
Spooner Summit to Tunnel Creek; 17 miles / 2,858 ft up / 3,684 ft down / highest point 8,700 ft / total time 2 days 6hrs 26mins
Tunnel Creek was the next station but there was no crew contact so I wouldn’t see Fiona until Brockway Summit which was a further 15 miles away.  I was on my own for all of the 17 miles and got lost at some point losing about 40 minutes and didn’t see any other runners as we were all well spread out now.  Even with the map on my phone it’s hard as making rational decisions when you are sleep deprived is really tough which is why having a pacer is so helpful. There was a 5 mile downhill tarmac stretch to the aid station and my feet were beginning to complain so I didn’t run – proved to be a wise decision with the way my feet ended up.  I made sure I had them checked by the medic at the aid station.  He taped them up and I took a 25 minute nap in the roasting sun before heading off with another runner, Thomas. 
Tunnel Creek to Brockway Summit; 15 miles / 3,105 ft up / 2,209 ft down / 8,400 ft / total time 2 days 12hrs 27mins
I was glad to have company again as we left for Brockway Summit.  After a 5 mile tarmac walk we climbed the “powerline” which is a vertical climb up underneath a chairlift.  Day turned to night and the temperature again fell to freezing.  With about 7 miles to go Thomas dropped back and I headed off with another runner, Mark, as I really needed to get off the mountain.  Again I was heal following through the dust and then we both saw the silhouette of a bear ahead.  We stopped in our tracks and it took us over 5 minutes to realise it was caused by our head torches and there was no bear.  That didn’t stop my companion letting me lead past the “bear”!  I was starting to lose it mentally when Fiona met me at the aid station and I briefly saw Thomas come in and agreed to meet at 1am so we could head out together. I crawled into the SUV for a much needed 2 hours sleep.
As I was getting ready to leave the car, I needed to pee but I couldn’t as I had company – a family were having a picnic directly outside the back of the car.  I told Fiona who went round the back and said there was nobody there.  It turned out it was a bush but as far as I was concerned I could see a family having a picnic next to a reindeer.  This was a real concern because I had another night section coming up and as I had been delayed I missed Thomas. 
Brockway Summit to Tahoe City; 20 miles / 2,641 ft up / 3,616 ft down / highest point 7,800 ft / total time 3 days 42 mins
It wasn’t safe for me to go on my own so I waited 45 mins and joined a group who were heading out.  This proved a great move as they were experienced runners and had two pacers.
A good consistent pace was set and we charged on.  I just kept my eyes on Maria’s heals and made sure I didn’t fall behind. At one stage we stopped for a 5 minute trail sleep – that was a first!  The pacer Tim kept an eye out for bears while we rested and despite it only being 5 minutes we were refreshed and good to go.  I was grateful for the company with Maria and her friends during this 20 mile section and we came in ahead of schedule.
Tahoe City to Stephen Jones; 19.6 miles / 3,400 ft up / 3,260 ft up / highest point 8,400 ft / total time 3 days 8hrs 32 mins
When we reached Tahoe City my second pacer was waiting for me, Reggie.  After food and sorting out my water we headed off and were joined by Brian, another runner.  The forecast was that mid- morning there may be rain, possibly snow and I had all the appropriate clothes with me but was low on food as I was struggling to eat solids or gels.  As we were climbing the mountain the weather closed in and the snow started to fall and lie on the ground.  Brian had left his waterproof trousers behind and he was in trouble as he was in shorts.  In addition both Brian and Reggie had gloves that weren’t good enough so they began losing the feeling in their hands.  While I was dressed appropriately, with a lack of body fat and fuel I started going “down hill”.  Fighting our way to the top of the mountain became a battle for survival and once we made it Brian took off running down the mountain on his own.  He had to as his body temperature was dropping and he needed to warm up.  Reggie stayed with me and by now my feet were really starting to hurt with blisters so I could hardly run for the pain and I knew I needed to be “kind” to them to get to the finish. 
As we got lower on the mountain the sun came out and I stopped to get some chocolate to give me some fuel – I couldn’t have done this higher up as it was too cold to stop.  At the bottom of the mountain there was a long tarmac slog to the checkpoint.  Reggie had done his job as pacer for which I was very grateful as I don’t know I’d have made it off the mountain on my own. 
I climbed into the SUV to heat up in my sleeping bag.  Fiona got me some chicken noodle soup.  The noodles and the vegetables weren’t cooked but the liquid was hot so it served the function of heating me up.  One last section to go and it was a toughie especially as I didn’t have a pacer.  In hindsight I wished I had had a better understanding of what this section involved but looking back it was clear I was “out of my head” and not capable of the important decisions that were required.
I took 30 minutes warming up and learned that Maria and her friends were going out so I joined them. 
Stephen Jones to Finishing Line; 10.4 miles / 2,299 ft up / 2,432 ft up / highest point 8,500 ft / total time 3 days 13hrs 16min
This section involved a big climb.  At first I thought, oh this will be the last climb only to turn the corner and finding another and another and another. The climb took 2 hours!  Maria and her pacer we ahead and I was with John and his pacer who were slower.  It got dark, cold, the snow was thick on the ground and the wind picked up.  When were we going to reach the summit?  Where was the summit?  Am I alone on this mountain with two strangers?  Are they going to kill me?  Yes, that is what I was thinking – out of my head!  I was starting to lose it big time. 
One of the issues having not studied and understood this section in advance was that I expected we’d reach the top of the mountain, look over the other side and see the finish line miles below all lit up.  No.  There were actually 3 climbs involved and we were traversing the mountain to get to the other side.  I was cold, miserable and had actually forgotten I was in a race – time didn’t matter, this was survival.  The three of us were heading down the ski slope when my potential “murderers” decided to stop as John had stomach issues.  Was this part of their plan?  They told me to head on and they’d see me at the finish. Reluctantly I did and after a while I was totally lost, on a mountainside with bears in the vicinity, I had no idea where I was and the batteries were going in my head torch.  If I’d thought about it the app on my phone would have pinpointed me but I wasn’t capable of such a thought.  I phoned Fiona.
She was at the finish line with the organisers who could see from my gps tracker that I had missed a turning and was off course – this was the only turn off that didn’t have a sign past it saying you’ve missed the turnoff. I was put through to the organiser who tried to talk me in but she had difficulty distinguishing between up and down that didn’t help.  By this stage my feet were really hurting and every step was a painful effort especially on such a steep hill.  I was informed that if I kept heading down the path I would come out about 1 mile away from the finish line but because I hadn’t followed the course I could have been disqualified – that was possibly the final straw.  Fiona took over and headed out in the car with my pacer Reggie.  Reggie found the path and then found me.  I was scared shitless with the noises in the under growth because I was well aware of the bears in the area.
I was delirious and didn’t realise that my rescuer was Reggie.  I thought he was one of the event organisers so I wasn’t too polite to him as he asked me to walk back up the mountain so we could come in the correct way.  After 10 minutes we were joined by a member of the event team who had come cross country following the chairlift to find me and I’m grateful for his effort, if a little late.  They got me onto the right road and now we were heading to the finish.  We came to a fork in the track and the organiser said you go left Derek and follow it down to the finish.  Where’s the sign I said to which he responded, oh we assume everyone knows where to go at this stage!  Well seen as it was still pitch black and I couldn’t hear the cow bells I gave him a mouthful on shite markings and assumptions which had cost me over 40 minutes wandering around on my own in the dark.  Then I headed down the road.
A few minutes later the crowd spotted my headtorch and started going mental.  Cow bells were ringing, I could hear people calling out my name and all of a sudden I was there with bright lights blinding me as I ran straight into Fiona and almost the camera man.  I’d finished the toughest race of my life.  205.5 miles (with a bit extra) with 40,200 ft of climbing and 40,200 ft of descending.  I was whisked over to sit down so they could get an after picture and then asked to choose my Tahoe buckle – the prize.  Kelsey, who is a G2G pal who came in 3rd woman, what a star, gave me a big hug and thrust a beer into my hand.  The next minute Reggie was standing next to me.  I turned to him and said, sorry to keep you waiting and thanks for hanging around – I was the next day that I discovered it was Reggie who had found me and led me back to safety while working on the phone with Fiona. 
Final thoughts
65th out of 215 who started - chuffed
Total time 3 days 13 hours 16 mins – beat my target by 4 hours 46 mins
Running time 2 days 21 hours 33 mins
Average running pace 3 mph - pleased 
Only 66.5% of participants finished this race.  It’s a challenger race therefore not for beginners.  I am so proud to have finished it and beaten my projected time by more than 4 hours and the cut off by 14 hours.  They talked about discovering yourself on the race and I’ve certainly been to places in my head I didn’t know existed.  You only get to those places by pushing the limits and this is about as close to mine as I have been.  I’ve met amazing people along the trail who all share a similar outlook on life which is the biggest reward in entering these events and was so pleased to meet up with my G2G pals again.  But I think 205 miles is enough for me.  I spent the next two days crawling on my hands and knees to the bathroom as my feet were so damaged.  11 days later I can walk normally, but they’re not 100% yet.  I lost more than a stone in weight and I started at 10 stone 4 pounds.  I’ve eaten like a pig since the race and am now 10 stone 1 lb but the muscle wastage is frightening.
In the end I slept 7 hours, not the 9 hours I’d budgeted but I spent 10.5 hours at checkpoints which was unexpected but completely necessary as I tried to cope with the effects of running at altitude which were severe.  Having an average moving pace of 3mph may not seem like a lot, but over 69 hours it isn’t easy.  I had to power walk up the hills and these were big, steep climbs.  Where possible, and this was determined by the terrain, I’d run down hill but then you get to the stage where you have to temper everything based on getting to the finish line, surviving.
After the race, we had a worrying 24 hours when the race results showed I’d DNF’d but that’s now been corrected as the organisers mixed up two people with the same surname. I was 65th overall out of a starting field I circa 215. 
In 2 weeks time I’ll have my hernia operation and then start the recovery from there.  After that I’ll be gradually getting back to training as I need to rebuild my body and fitness for 2020.  No events planned as yet.
This adventure is dedicated to our late friend Carol O’Docherty and her spirit was out there on the course coaxing me along in the dark moments.  She’s forever in our minds.
The real bonus was having my wife Fiona as my crew.  She has always supported me but never in this role and if it hadn’t been for her turning up unexpected at check point 2, this blog could have been about a DNF.  Throughout the race she tended to my every need which is what a support crew does.  When the shit really hit the fan she took control and organised my rescue and made sure I didn’t break the rules and be disqualified.  What an amazing experience to share together while raising money for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres in the memory of our friend.  Tahoe 200 you took me close to the edge, but I survived.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

The time has come

It’s time.  All the training and planning are done and in 18 hours time I will be standing at the start line of an amazing adventure - the Tahoe 200.  It’s hard to explain how I feel at the moment; a mixture of nervous excitement at taking on such a challenge and wanting to perform well and not to get lost.  More importantly I don’t want to meet a black bear.  A lot of our briefing was about black bears who are becoming more of a nuisance in the area as they get used to us humans.  We all decided not to leave our drop bags at the start of the race overnight as there was a good chance the bears would get them!  That’s a new challenge for me.
Fiona and I have spend hours going through the logistics and they are complicated.  The aid stations are fully stocked with food, burgers, spaghetti meatballs, soup etc (think I may have to suffer garlic!) but it’s making sure you have enough food for the 20 mile stretches in between that may take 8/10 hours depending on the terrain.
One of the water pumps isn’t working between aid stations so that means you’ll have to carry enough water for 17 miles.  The weather forecast is variable but the one thing I do know is it will be warm during the days and potentially below freezing at night.  Bad weather including snow is forcast with high winds on Sunday-Monday but that will be like a normal weekends training for me.  Fortunately I have the warmest mitts in the world so should be fine.  We start at 6,500 ft and go up topping out at a fraction below 10,000 ft.  In total 10,000 ft of ascent and the same in descent.
I’ll be spending hopefully only 3 full nights in the dark and with the latest GPS technology (that I didn’t set up) I shouldn’t get lost.  I have to survive the first 63 miles on my own before my pacer joins me and Becky, who is local and a very experienced runner, will run the next 100 miles with me.  I then have Reggie who will run 20 miles leaving me 11 miles to finish on my own.  The last 30 miles are brutal but that’s the challenge.
The chief medical officer said this race “takes place from the neck up and the ankles down” and I’m sure he’s right.  I will be pushed harder than ever before and when you’re in this space it’s an incredible feeling.  That’s why I come back for more.  The medical officer also said you will “discover yourself” in the race.  Bring it on.
As you know I’m running this race to raise money in memory of my friend Carol O’Docherty and I know she will be there pushing me on my way along with so many of you who have supported me along this journey - thank you.
I’ve got to the start line so my first goal is achieved.  I’m fit and healthy so the second goal is achieved.  All I need to do now is trust in my preparation and put one foot in front of the other for up to 100 hours.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend and you can track me if you’d like by going to www.tahoe200.com .  That’s me signing off.  See you on the other side.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

It’s the final count down!

What a journey it has been. At the end of September 2017 I had completed the Grand 2 Grand challenge and was sitting at the airport with no race lined up for the future.  My phone pinged and one of my new friends from G2G asked me to check out the Tahoe 200.  I bit as soon as I read about the race and I’m delighted that 6 of the G2G gang will be toeing the start line at 9am on Friday 13th September.
In case you’ve forgotten it’s 205.5 miles with 40,200ft of ascent and descent and all above 6,500ft topping out at just below 10,000ft.  That’s going to present some new challenges which is what excites me and attracted me to the race.  It will be new territory and I will be pushing myself beyond anything I’ve done before now.
I’m going to be assisted by Becky who will join me at mile 63, 23 hours into the race, and she should be running with me for 100 miles.  This will help when, not if, I start to hallucinate - another new experience.  Reggie will join me for the last 30 miles which I am so happy with as mentally and physically it will be tough at that stage with a big climb and descent.
My wife Fiona will be my crew.  She can have contact with me from 63 miles and there are some big gaps in time between check points.  I’ve already apologised in advance for the behaviour she is likely to witness and I’ve told her on no account let me quit - it’s her 1st and possibly last time of crewing! Any ultra runner will tell you that during the race you question your sanity, swear (a lot) that you will never do this again and will want to quit.  But that’s just your mind in “Diva mode”.  Unless the medics are taking control of the situation, she’s to remind me why I’m doing this.  I’m dedicating this race to my good friend Carol O’Docherty who was taken too soon.  The money raised will go to Maggie’s who provide such valuable services to cancer sufferers and their family.  So no matter how much pain, and there will be plenty, I am going through in a weeks time I’ll be fine.
But before I sign off I have to thank my amazing coach Genevieve who has once again delivered me to the start line of a major race despite all the challenges we faced during the training.  She has worked her socks off making sure the programme was absolutely specific to me, my fitness, my life and my body.  Thank you Genevieve.
Then there’s my training partners.  You guys absolutely rock.  You support me while taking the piss at the same time.  You need thick skin but you’ve given as good (possibly better) than you got.  You’ve headed out in hellish weather into the mountains without batting an eye lid in order to support me.  Even though you’ve been tired you’ve come out the following day to keep me company or to push me as I’m the one that’s tired.  You’ve guided me in the mountains as I can get lost in a car park and even introduced me to Greggs as a fuelling station!  Thank you.
And finally my long suffering wife and family.  Many missed social occasions or me trying to sneak out at 5am without disturbing them only to set the alarm off!  Early morning runs when on holiday and then of course there’s the Lycra washing!
I’ve always talked about the journey being the most important part, and it is, so you need to enjoy it and I have loved it.  My stats say I’m fitter today than I have been in 7 years.  The race, or adventure as I like to call it, is the icing on the cake.  However you need a bit of luck as one turned ankle, snake, bear or upset stomach and it could be curtains.  But I’m 100% focused on delivering this result and know that I’ll have your support.  I’ll post a final blog before the race and give you details as to how you can track me live - it will be like watching paint dry!  Fiona should be posting a daily blog when she gets a spare minute and a signal.  Thank you all for your support during the last 2 years.  It’s been a blast.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

One step closer

It’s been a good weeks training although not the one originally invisaged as I took it easy to make sure the back niggle stayed away.  Consistent running was the key with 2 two hour runs on Thursday & Friday to get me ready for the weekend.  I had a sports massage on Friday and my legs certainly got a good workout.  My back was tight but ok so I think the right decision was made in cutting back on the training plan - I’m one step closer to the start line.
On Saturday another 6 hour hill route was planned and my pals Michael & Beth were there to keep me company while they prepared for a different race.  Ben More is described as having a “relentless” climb and it lived up to it’s reputation (the last time I attempted it I didn’t make the summit due to the weather) - no step machine could replicate this climb.  Your feet are soaking wet from the start and in the end it was like running through a paddy field.  Being on the Scottish mountains can be very dangerous and you need to come prepared.  The wind whipped up and at one stage it was supporting my full body weight as I was leaning into it.  Add to that the temperature and you end up with a wind chill factor of freezing or below.  So when the rain comes hammering down in the strong wind it feels like hailstones - my skin now has a nice completion on my face though!
At the summit we were losing the feeling in our fingers even with gloves.  Michael had mitts and was fine so that night Beth and I ordered a pair because it really could have been an issue and in Tahoe the temperatures can fall to freezing in the altitude in the mountains at night.  The rest of my gear got a proper test and was up to it so that’s good news.  We cut the run short for safety reasons so only got in 2.5 hours and not 6 but the upside of completing the run in those conditions were out weighed by the potential downside.  If one of us had fallen or got hypothermia then it put us all at risk.
The forecast today was better, but not good enough to go into mountains plus I was on my own. So I power walked up Tinto and ran down - 4 times.  That’s almost 2,000m of climbing which is exactly what I need and then running down hill which needs to be practised.
I’m almost there but have 1 more week of important training.  I’m meeting my coach tomorrow to go over the final plans including the race plan.  I’m also so pleased to say that I have a “pacer” for the race.  Becky sent me an email on Tuesday and not only has she run the race before, she did it in my target time!  There will be numerous emails this week between us and I’ll be meeting her a week tomorrow for some last minute planning.  In the meantime Fiona (wife & crew) is drawing up lists of lists to make sure I have what I need, when I need it in the race.  One step closer with 11 days to go.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Keeping my eye on the prize

It’s been a week of ups and downs.  The highlight was Mondays 33 km run before work.  I was meant to have company but ended up on my own.  Running with the backing track of the dawn chorus is such a privilege and the rain held off which was a bonus.  All the stats looked great and show that I am in great condition for Tahoe which is now in touching distance -  18 days time.
Being in the “final straight” feels a bit strange.  Every waking moment is referenced to the race and the worst is when trying to get to sleep or when you wake up in the middle of the night with your head full of Tahoe thoughts.
My back played up during the week and that resulted in me cancelling Saturday which was a 6 hour run with pals in Glencoe.  It was a difficult decision to take as I might have been able to complete it however the downside would have been making it worse and affecting my race preparation.  Of course the weather was perfect and my pals had a brilliant time although it took them over 7 hours and it looked a brutal course - I live to fight another day.  I used the time to go over, again, the logistics for the race and double check I have all the gear/equipment required - time well spent.
I was also advised to skip the big run today but to go a short and gentle run just to see how my niggle was.  Again a blisteringly sunny day which I would have enjoyed a long run on but I made do with a 37 minute run.  No issues which is great so the rest has been good for me.
With my coaches direction we will adapt the training to make sure I get to the start line in the best possible condition taking account of any niggles.  If I have to rest or run shorter than normal distances then so be it.  I have to keep my eye on the prize.  It’s been an amazing journey over the last two years to get here and I’ve loved watching the transformation of my body, my fitness and the expansion of my mind.  I know I am capable of whatever I turn my mind to and if that raises money for Maggie’s then that’s a win win www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Derek-stewart8.  The race will be the “cherry on the top” and I can’t wait to be standing at the start line.