Friday, 18 September 2009

Commonwealth Champs 24hour Update

Todays 24 hour race finished with Scotland winning team bronze for men and ladies. For me it was a disaster. It was going wrong early on with a shoe change needed due to foot pain, which is an early warning of fatigue for me. At about 9pm every time I ate I threw-up and I ran through the night eating next to nothing,still throwing up and rapidly losing energy. At about 8.30am, when the team prize was in the bag, I was able to stop.

Steve and William had great runs notching up 145m+ and 130m+ respectively, I managed approx. 106m. i'm glad it's all over, I've never had such a bad experience in a race before, my legs and body are completely trashed. Even Harry Potter couldn't have put some magic into that performance.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Archie Gemmill Magic

I remember Argentina '78 like it was yesterday. That ill-fated World Cup campaign when Ally MacLeod tipped his Scotland team to win the tournament and the nation believed him.

I was 9 years old at the time and it made quite an impression on me. That 3-1 defeat by Peru when we were taken apart by Cubillas, the dismal 1-1 draw with Iran, one of our star players Willie Johnston caught using performance enhancing drugs, only one game to go against 1974 runners-up Holland, who we had to beat by 3 clear goals, and it looked like the dream was well and truly over. But wee Archie Gemmill had other ideas. Having put us 2-1 up from the penalty spot Gemmill picked up the ball just outside the penalty box, jinxed past 3 flying Dutchmen and with his left foot, chipped the ball over the goalie to score one of the greatest world cup goals in history. It wasn't enough to save Scotlands world cup hopes though, and the team were on the next plane home.

The Gemmill goal was re-enacted all over the country by various 9 year olds often wearing wellies (the Brazilian kids used to learn to play football on the beaches in their bare feet, the Scottish kids played on the road in wellies) and the lesson that we might be down but we've all got some Archie Gemmill magic was learnt.

So, if you happen to be passing the 24 hour race in Fitz park in Keswick as part of the Commonwealth Championships on Thursday/Friday this week and you see a wee man in a Scotland shirt (no wellies), extracting the last ounces of magic from his legs, jinking past a few Englishmen, maybe to snatch some last minute glory, then you'll know it's the Archie Gemmill magic at work.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Tales of Random Scottish Punters

It was a hot afternoon in Chamonix, the town was starting to fill up with runners, some have just arrived, others have been here for a few days spending more time hanging around town as race day draws nearer and resting becomes a priority. In one of the towns supermarkets, searching out ingredients for a healthy meal was one of the worlds most accomplished ultra-runners. The seven times winner of Western States, three times winner of Spartathlon, twice winner of Badwater Ultra and many more races was contemplating the fruit and veg when suddenly a voice next to him boomed


El Venado was startled briefly as he looked up to see the tattood, skinheaded, Cumbernauld academic Brian Mc grinning back at him.

"do I know you??" stammered Mr Jurek, with a hint of panic in his voice

"NAW, I'm just a random Scottish punter!!" declared the gallus Glesga cutieboy

In a second he was gone. The taper momentarily forgotten as he made a sprint for cover not even hanging around to work out what a "punter" might be let alone a psycho Scottish one.

The Tartan Ultra Army was in town.

Brian, Drew (qualifies as Scottish through the Grandparents rule) and myself arrived on the Saturday, had ran the last UTMB section from Vallorcine over La Flagere and back to Chamonix on the Sunday and were now trying to busy ourselves until the weekend. I had also walked the first section to Les Houches with Brian one afternoon and spent the day at the Auguille du Midi cable car station with Drew, George R, Davie and Sharon. At 3800 metres we thought that if we spent the day there it should help with acclimatisation, it was also a beautiful day for lazing in the sun with amazing views of the mountains around. I had had a few extra runs during the week too since I was doing one of the 'shorter' races (106km 6700 metres ascent) so I felt I could do a bit more than the other guys who were trying to preserve themselves for the brutality of the UTMB (softies ;0)

View from the Auguille du Midi

As we walked the guys down to the start line the atmosphere was electric, crowds of people lined the streets so much so that we had to push our way back to the flat in time to get to our vantage point on the balcony above the main street. We had front row seats as the 2300 ish runners passed below us to start their 102 mile journey around the foot of Mont Blanc.

At the start

I finished off sorting out my kit, drank a bottle of Yop! (yum) and set my alarm for 3.30am to give me time to eat and digest some breakfast for the 5am start of the TDS race then lay in bed trying in vain to sleep as the group of drummers outside did their best Cozy Powell impressions till after midnight. I handed in my bag to be taken to the finish at about 4.15am and met up with John M then we wandered to the start line, with a fine drizzle and the temperature about 12 degrees it was just like home. We hung around, then at about 4.45am the road was closed and 600+ runners crammed into the start area, the race 'theme music' was blasted out to wake us up and we were off. About 60 of us shot off at a pace much too fast and it was all a bit surreal as we left the rest of the pack behind and sprinted through the now deserted streets. This was going to be the low-key race of the weekend I thought.

I didn't bother chasing the lead pack as I was reluctant to go faster than I felt comfortable, this was a new race after all so the chances are most of these people would blow-up at some point and I didn't want to get sucked into anything daft. I ran with a group of 3 or 4 which made it easier to see with the combined torch light and it wasn't long before we reached Col de Voza and left the familiar UTMB route to descend into the valley and to the first main aid point at Saint Nicolas de Veroce. I was 44th with 2 and a half hours gone, it felt really fast at this point and even though it was quite cool I was soaked through with sweat. The pace would change now though, with the long 1350m climb up Mont Joly ahead.

It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to reach the summit, I'd had to stop and rake around in my bag for some raisins to stave off a bonk near the top, and my climbing hadn't been good... no change from recent races then. A wrong line by a group of us sent us below and past the summit so a quick double back and a short climb to the checkpoint then I was back running again along the ridge. The mist was swirling around but you could see the drop-offs going away into nothing. I tried not to look down too much and just concentrated on my footing. A good descent down to Col du Joly saw me start to overtake people, too much guddling about with poles meant that lots of them were going really slow on the descents, I just held mine and battered downhill. I tried to force a couple of biscuits down at the checkpoint but didn't really manage so instead downed some coke in my fancy big cup (you have to carry your own cup to save waste, so I thought it would be good to take a BIG one, BIG cup= BIG drink).

Next we passed the familiar Col du Bonhomme from the main UTMB race but instead of going off left along the edge of the valley we went straight ahead and down through some rough stuff and along the valley floor. Again I was taking places descending. The scenery was beautiful here as we ran along next to a small river, the feeling of remoteness was noticible too, which isn't something you normally experience in these races. The next aid point, Cormet de Roselend (51k) was more of the same, cheese, bread, dates, dry stodgy cake, ham, biscuits which I think they got from the pet shop... you name it- I couldn't stomach it. So, another BIG cup of coke and I was off again. All I was able to eat so far was a few Shot Bloks and some sweets, I'd have paid good money for some mashed tatties.

The next section was again pretty technical, with some really rough, rocky ground and then a very steep climb through a jumble of rocks to the col, the poles were a real pain here getting in the way all the time as I was trying to use my hands. Some good steady running followed then it was down past a big castle and the steep, never-ending descent to Bourg Saint Maurice. After about 45 minutes of quad hammering descending and my toes jamming into the front of my shoes on every step we made our way into the town. It was much hotter down in the valley and I was lashing with sweat and seriously thirsty. The crowds were out in the main street clapping and cheering and since I was running with the first lady the cheering was extra loud which took my mind off how bad I was feeling for a few minutes. As soon as I got into the aid tent, though, I realised I had to eat here or else. The menu was the same as before but there was some noodle soup which I tried but I just couldn't stomach it. I was wretching as I tried to force some down, so again it was a BIG cup of coke and off on my way. I felt terrible, running on empty was a timebomb waiting to go off and I knew I only had a few more miles before I crashed and burned. As I left the busy town contemplating the 1400 metre climb ahead and hit the quieter trails I started walking, I knew I'd had it, a low wall next to some houses in the shade looked so comfy so I sat down and wondered what next. My options were 1- get a taxi to Courmayeur; 2- beg a lift from a local back to the aid station; 3- lie and sleep behind the wall and hope this was all just a nightmarebut before I got a chance to decide a runner came past, Italian I think, and encouraged me to follow him. I started behind him and kept pace for a few miles but ran out of gas as the trail steepened and started walking again, it was then I decided I would finish this, as long as I could stay upright I'd walk to the finish. One of the things which kept me going was the beautiful scenery as I was climbing higher more and more of the mountains were coming into view, it was just stunning.

I started to wonder why I was missing all this scenery just to run in some race looking at my feet all the time so I sat down at the side of the trail, put my feet up on a rock and had a nibble on a sweaty dog biscuit I'd stashed in my pocket. Runners were steadily passing me now, some asking if I was ok, one or two even stopping to sit for a breath or two and take in the scenery too. This was the pattern for almost 4 hours, walk, sit, enjoy the scenery, chew on a sweaty Bonio biscuit, then eventually I reached the top. The Col Petit St-Bernard was the Italian border, the wind was blowing and it was cold. A large bonfire was roaring and spitting sparks, this wasn't a place to hang around long. I took out my scrap of paper with the race profile on and had a look, a 600 metre descent was next, then a 300m climb then a 700 m roll down the hill and a wee climb to finish, 25k in total. I'll try a jog down the descent, see what happens. I seemed to click into it here and started passing people, I knew that the race website was tracking me going through checkpoints and that people at home would be seeing my collapse so far (48th place now), so I thought maybe I could put on a bit of a resurrection here. By the time I reached La Thuile at 90k I'd taken 14 places, my target was to pull back 20 by the finish, surely that would be around where I was before my 'collapse'?

I was flying on the descent through the woods, the lights down below getting closer and closer, 17 people I'd passed now as I crossed a bridge into a car park. I could hear the music, people clapping... wait another 3 runners ahead, I sprinted hard past them to the finish... hang-on another marker... a winding street... up into the woods... I looked at my scrap of paper, oops still 4km to go, now I felt awful. My stomach heaved as I puked on the trail, run 100m, puke or dry wretch, run 100m this was the pattern for the next few km. I could see the torches behind, they will be working hard to catch me, the nutter sprinting at 102km. I was so glad to see the markings on the road in Courmayeur 500m to go, still managing not to lose any places I crossed the line in 24th place in 17 hours 16 mins then wobbled, shook, puked and was escorted to the medical area.

By the time I got back to Chamonix it was 4am, I managed about 4 hours restless sleep then was up and getting ready to watch out for the UTMB'ers coming into the finish. First in was Drew looking far too fresh for having ran for 39 odd hours, then Brian and Tommy together then George, Davie and Michael. It was really amazing to watch the finishers coming in, very emotional, if you don't want to run this one then I'd thoroughly recommend going as a spectator for what is a really positive, life-affirming experience. Big jugs of beer later on only enhanced our life-affirming positivity.

George at the finish
We never saw Scott Jurek again after that, I heard he finished 20 something ish, a bit down the field for him, with the UTMB giving him a bit of a going-over just like it did to the random Scottish punters.