Sunday, 30 April 2017

We are Muitants!

This year's MIUT race series' tag line asks "Do you dare?"  We dared!

I always thought that Madeira was where old people went for holidays in the style of the TV show "Waiting for God" in they sun.  Having spent a week there, it probably is a fair assessment of this lump of rock in the Atlantic Ocean but it is also a place of raw almost primeval beauty, covered in lush forest and flowers.

John is notorious for finding races which are a wee bit out of the ordinary and he signed up for the full MIUT (115km 7000m of climb) and convinced me that I would 'be fine' on the Marathon (44km and 1200m climb) so I signed up for it as I was going anyway...
We booked into a lovely hotel from the Monday before the race and enjoyed a few days of proper rest and relaxation with luxurious surroundings, good food and the occasional glass of fizz.  EasyJet got us to the recently renamed Cristiano Ronaldo airport in Funchal at 7pm and we disembarked into glorious sunshine and a welcome temperature of 22°C - this was an unexpected bonus as the long range forecast was for overcast, showery but warm.
Our pre booked driver was waiting in arrivals with a card with our name on and after a slightly scary drive we arrived at our hotel, checked in to our lovely big room and headed to one of the restaurants for dinner.
I had booked massages for us for the Tuesday morning so after a long lie and a leisurely breakfast we spent the rest of the morning getting scrubbed and pummelled from top to toe.  It fairly took the flight out of our bodies and left us feeling relaxed.  I had a 5 mile run programmed for Tuesday so we set out about 3pm in scorching sunshine and a strong headwind - I asked at hotel reception if we could run along the coast into Funchal, no said the young chap, but you can run in the other direction so we ran along away from town, but after only a mile or so we had reached the end of the runnable path and turned back - John ran on ahead from there and we went different routes but I got my five miles done. 

Race registration opened on Wednesday morning so we had a trip on the local buses to Machico, the original capital of Madeira and home of the MIUT.  It's a lovely wee traditional fishing village nestled where the narrow glacial valley opens into the sea.  We were in about the first 10 runners to register and apart from the computer refusing to printout John's paperwork it was a quick and efficient process.
It was a gloriously hot sunny morning, so after we had picked up our packets, we wandered along to the old fish hall which is now a restaurant for a cooling refreshment and a seat in the sun watching the sea.  We tried to work out where the course might come into the town and had a walk up to the old fort on the headland but found no evidence of where the path would come out, then had a paddle in the sea and wander along the beach before going back to the same restaurant for a delicious lunch of fresh fish.  Caught the bus back to Funchal, did a wee bit of touristy stuff (expensive ice cream and a visit to the cathedral) and then headed back to our hotel.  

We planned to have a feet-up day on Thursday so after a 4mile trot down to Funchal and back, we showered had breakfast, then booked a deep tissue massage for the afternoon.  A lazy few hours hours reading/dozing by/in the pool before our appointments.  It was well named Deep Tissue it certainly was!  Legs felt good afterwards though.
Friday morning- another bright sunny morning - John's race day so we hopped on the open top bus tour, we didn't hop off until almost back at our hotel where we went to a nearby restaurant for the most awesome steak I've ever tasted!   John had his kit all organised and I did mine while he snoozed then we went to get him an early dinner, he was meeting Craig at 8pm and they were sharing a taxi to the race start

After the boys left I went for a drink with Craig's wife Annemarie and their two daughters then it was time for me to go and do last minute checks of my kit and settle in for the night. I was a bit nervous about getting myself up and out in morning so set three alarms but was awake before them!  I was able to get the tracking working and could see that John & Craig had made it safely through the second checkpoint which was the worst of their climbing in the dark done and as the sun was coming up I felt a little happier about them
I had a taxi booked for 8am so got organised and tried to eat some scrambled eggs, I felt incredibly nervous but still not sure if that was pre race nerves or just the logistics of getting to the start myself, however taxi was on time - early - and I got dropped off at the bus meeting point as the first few runners were gathering.  I was on the first bus and it was just under an hour's drive to the start.  The race started in an Ecological Park and we were dropped off on a narrow road and walked back about 1/4 mile to where the start was setup.  It was very well organised with baggage trucks, portal loos, start line and music, I found a shady rock and settled down to eat my second breakfast I'd brought with me and sort my shoes, bag etc... the place filled up as more buses disgorged runners and after a last Q for the Loo it was time to get her in the pen with the crazy DJ rocking his stuff!
11am and we were off, running slowly down a gentle incline before a sharp left turn and the first of the UPs! 2 miles of climbing interspersed with some short bits of running, a wee bottleneck to cross a rickety bridge and then we were up on a flat bit, did my legs want to run? Did they heck! Eventually the shuffle became more of a run and I trotted along until the next climb.  Up and Up we went again, eventually topping out and then managing a run down to the road crossing, counted in by marshals and off again at a trot til the first of the log steps and first levada.
I was about 4.5miles in at this point when I heard footsteps behind me and a Giblinesque figure of one of the fast runners in the MIUT came flying down the trail, I stepped aside to let him pass and this would be the first of many times I'd do this!
Soon it was into the forest which had been burned in large forest fires a few years ago, the silver trunks still blackened and the new growth underneath distracted me from the relentless dusty trail with runable downs and steep, scrambly climbs.
post forest fire
 At about 12.2km was my first checkpoint, a village hall set up with first aid, toilets, a fab array of food and drink and cheery helpful marshals, I didn't hang about, I visited the loo, had a drink of Pepsi and water then off up the road until a policewoman waved us onto the track again. More good running trail, more log steps(!) then more of a 'tourist/walkers' bit where there were people out walking looking at us like we were mad! Soon  it was next checkpoint, another well run operation, more coke & water, a quick pee and a text to Amanda telling her that it was "F***ing hardest thing ever but Awesome!"  Now, when leaving checkpoints there was a board which told you how far to next checkpoint and what the cumulative ascent and descent was for this stage, I still don't know how I missed it but I can't remember what it said the ascent was but even if I'd seen it I would have no clue as to just how tough it was! The climb up from the road was just that, straight up a hillside, no really distinct path, no stones, the occasional tree root and nowhere to step aside to let folk pass!  Fortunately nobody was climbing any faster than me so I didn't hold anyone up.  However, what goes up has to come down, at least  that's what I kept reminding myself!  Eventually yes it did - down lots more LOG STEPS!  Checkpoint 3 and I was 18 miles in, I left here with a real skip in my step, the sun was out, it was early evening and I could hear the surf crashing against the foot of the cliffs.  A view down to the finish was a tad cruel given that there were still 10 miles to go, but I fairly skipped out of here grinning and singing to myself "you got this!"  A family was parked at the top of the hill cheering and blowing horns and drinking beer, a wee sip of the beer was like nectar and really boosted my mood, so I ran along the trail until eventually I came to the cliff paths.  The views ahead - I didn't dare look down - were amazing, the surf was crashing and the trails were pretty good, even the scary bits! Talking of scary bits!! On the reach description there was mention of a technical downhill about 5 miles from finish - understatement!! It was extremely scary, extremely steep and with only a couple of rickety wooden handrails and lots of bits with no handrails which could have benefited from them!  Eventually we were back on a decent trail, it was starting to get dark but not dark enough to need my head torch and as we approached the town we were back on more levadas, accompanied by the barking of dogs - it was like the scene in Lady and the Tramp where the dogs communicate across Paris by barking in sequence.  This cacophony rang all the way down the valley however we didn't, we stayed right up at the top! A long way up! Eventually the last checkpoint on a road into town, but guess what? You don't go that way, you cross the road and follow more levadas along the top of the hill for another couple of miles.  I put my head torch on here and there was a lot of stepping aside to let speedy blokes past, but then we were back out onto a road again and I thought 'yes' nice wee gentle run down the road to the finish.. wrong again, it was off down a slippery, grassy hillside then onto  some concrete steps and out onto the road at last!  Along the promenade, over the wooden bridge, running and feeling strong, and grinning like a Cheshire Cat!  Awesome support from cheering crowds and kids hanging over the barriers for high 5s!  I felt really strong but tired and ran the whole way in, I was so pleased!!  
Super Cheesey Grin!!
Crossed the finish line to get a microphone stuck in my face and I can remember answering his questions and thinking at the same time, am I making any sense?  Anyway, that's a 'brief' resume of my amazing adventure, I got my bag, a beer and some food then sat and waited for John finishing his...

As I read write this, a week on, I am still bursting with pride at what I was able to achieve, I wasn't ever going to be fast but I ran every single bit of the trail that I could and I dealt with some pretty scary stuff!  My legs, my heart and my lungs did me proud!  I'm now trying to shake off the lurgy I picked up on the very delayed flight home!!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Another weekend, another long run!

photo courtesy of Bob Marshall
I love that I can write that sort of title again :)  At the start of this year I had a notion I would write a post every month or so, but I've not quite managed it - been a wee bit busy with this thing called training!  Yes, back out there on a regular basis doing the planned sessions, and in the main nailing them and feeling good - I am hugely grateful to so many people for their support over the past couple of years, some are more aware than others of the stuff I've been dealing with, but your support and encouragement has been really appreciated.
Yesterday was the John Muir Ultra Trail Race - 50km over varied terrain along the East Lothian coast from Port Seton to Foxlake just outside Dunbar. 
There was a 4 hour cutoff to get to the half way point at the RNLI shed at North Berwick and I worked hard from the start making it with half an hour to spare!  I was absolutely delighted, I felt that I was running hard but wasn't dead on my feet as I was aware I still had another 25km (ish) to go and needed to keep something in the tank... unfortunately I didn't leave as much as I'd like in the tank and between miles 20-22 (ish) I really struggled with the mud and cambered/slippy trail.  It's a shame as it was beautiful but I really struggled here.  My left hamstring did it's usual and started to seize up resulting in a pretty much non responsive left let which made running the really narrow paths difficult, at one point I was trying to run a narrow path alongside a field and was staggering like a drunk!  I was also petrified of putting my foot down a rabbit hole and twisting an ankle!  The terrain was testing, there was tarmac, trail, very narrow trail, soft sand, a grand wee run at North Berwick across the hard packed wet sand, farm roads, grass, woodland trail covered in needles/leaves, you name it they laid it on for us, even laid on fantastic weather!  The winds of the past few days disappeared - though they're back again today - and the sun came out :-)
We drove down to Foxlake straight after work on Friday, meeting up with Amanda and Tim and enjoying Donald & Elaine's hospitality for an hour before dinner.  A quiet evening listening to the rugby and an early bed.  6am alarm, breakfast, kit organised and registration - nice to see so many friendly faces!  8am prompt the buses left to take us to Port Seton, a visit to the conveniences, catching up with more friends, a thorough and amusing race brief from the RD, some group photos and then we were off!
I won't deny it was tough in places, it was, but I am pleased with the fact that I could keep shuffling on and motivate myself to keep moving forward, finishing 7h52mins after I'd started which is a bit slower than I'd like, but apart from the dead leg, I felt good, strong and compos mentis.  A chocolate milk, a quick shower and change of clothes, a ginger beer, wee drive down to Dunbar Harbour then a bottle of pink cava shared with Elaine while we giggled at the mixup over her and Donald's results!  John and I wandered across to the Volunteer Arms for a pint and some food and they joined us for a pint later, then we wandered stiffly back to our vans, just before the rain started!  It was heavy but we woke to blue skies and sunshine again today.  I have tired legs today but nothing is 'broken' big muscles are tired and a wee bit tender to touch but otherwise I feel great and so pleased to have got that run under my belt!  It's the longest and strongest I've run for almost 2 years and what it means in my head is too difficult to put into words, but if you've been out for a while with injuries/health stuff and sometimes question if you'll ever get back to it you'll understand.
TO top it off, the sun is still shining and the first laundry of the year is blowing outside in the sunshine (it's the little things...)
What it says :-)