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!

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