Sunday, 16 October 2011

Round Rotheram 50

I can't even remember when I entered Round Rotheram, but I think it was during a misguided moment  after Transalpine.  In fact, on checking the credit card statement it would appear it was about a week after, but for only £13, what could possibly go wrong?

I had heard some, let's call them 'mixed' reviews about the race, but I guess I was really persuaded by the idea that it was a friend's (Titan PT, Paul W) first ultra attempt, and another club member (old smelly little Kev) was already going up to support - safety in numbers.  Describing it as a friend's 'first ultra attempt' is actually a bit misleading, in his first season of proper triathlon he's already completed the mammoth task of completing three iron-distance events.  Not feeling that this was enough to be able to call himself an real 'endurance athlete', he wanted to top the season off with a 50 miler, in under 11 hours, and in doing so fulfill the requirements to enter the lottery for the famous Western States 100-miler in California.

Paul had mentioned it in passing at the pub one night after swimming and for me, there is something I find quite amusing about sitting in a pub and the conversation that effectively unfolding as follows:

"So, what's next after the Ironman Triology?"
"I'm going to run 50 miles, so I can run 100 miles somewhere else"
"Oh right ok..."
"Where are you going to run the 50?"
"Round Rotheram, wanna join me?"
", go on then."

I was collected at about 3pm on Friday afternoon by Paul, Kev and Sarah B, as we were hoping to miss rush hour and make a relatively painless journey up the M1.  Things had obviously gone excellently as we arrived at the Park Inn Rotheram probably closer to 8pm than any of us would have imagined.   My attempts to convince everyone to plump for the cheaper (£4) option of sleeping of the sports hall floor had failed miserably, and so I was determined to enjoy the lavish hospitality.   We went straight for dinner, and I went for a portobello mushroom burger with fat chips and two pints of Guinness.  Paul had obviously left his testicles in London as he sipped white wine (with his pinky raised), but marginally redeemed himself by ordering a Barnsley chop.  For dessert, I had an ice cream cookie sandwich - obviously.

After heading up to the room, I managed about 6 hours interrupted sleep before a 5.15 alarm call.  I think Kev managed about 6 minutes sleep, but he seemed to be looking forward to the day ahead. I forced down (still full from the night before) a portion of apple sauce with whey protein and custard, and 2 pots of rice pudding.  After a coffee,  we made the short drive to the sports centre in time to see the early starters head off along the road.

Having been a clear night it was fairly brisk, and I was happy to get running.  Having not run at all since Jogshop 20 last week, the plan was just to take it nice and steady to start.  I ran with Paul chatting away, and soon enough the first 17km were over.  Although cold initially, it was probably close to a perfect day for running.

In fact, the first 40km passed in what seemed like almost no time at all - I guess time flies when you are having fun! After a good feed and refilling our water, we moved away from the half way point with around 5 hours on the clock.  Paul Thompson, fresh from racing (and not doing too badly) in a double ironman out in Virgina only a week ago was waiting for us, although he did admit to 'noticing some fatigue' at this point ;-)

As time wore on, it was apparent that Paul W was starting find things tough. Paul T described it well with the question "Are you entering new territory Paul?" "Yes" was the response.   It was frustrating, I wanted to help Paul, but knew there was nothing I could do except keep encouraging him as best I could.  I reminisced about my first ultra a couple of years ago in the Brecon Beacons.  Everything hurt, at only half way I thought I couldn't go on. In so many ways it was utter misery, but I also very clearly remember that when I felt like that, I couldn't possibly imagine that anyone else knew what it was like for - what ever they'd been through, this was worse, no matter what they said.  To be fair to  Paul W though, he didn't even moan, he just got on with it. I'm pretty sure I whinged all the way round.   It also turns out that Paul T raced that year of the Brecon Beacons - small world.

With Paul W valiantly battling his own demons, I spent time discussing Paul T's experiences of his double and triple Ironman's and the tricks the mind can play on you during endurance events.  To me it was fascinating, and I was having a great time.  Good weather and good company.  Rotheram was even pulling out its big guns, as we made our way past the ruins of the 12th Century Roche Abbey.  This was a noticeable improvement on the highlight of the first half of the race - the water/sewage  treatment works near Elsecar.  On reflection, the majority of the first 20km smelled like $h1t, and its probably unfair to blame that entire stretch on just the water treatment works.

Sadly however, time was marching inevitably onward and the 11 hour target was beginning to look in danger.  We came out of the second to last aid station where we were told there were 12 miles remaining - we had 2 hours 15 to do it.

We soldiered on and as the 10 hour mark approached, my feet were starting to feel decidedly achey.   The closer we got to the finish, the more it was becoming apparent how seriously close it would be at the current pace.  Paul did great to keep running, and was just stuck at turning his legs over across the variety of terrain.  The trouble is with races like these is that there is no guarantee that they aren't slightly long or short, having also got a little lost earlier on, we had certainly removed any possibility of being able to make it if we went wrong again.  I had the map - the pressure was on.

We got into the last aid station with I think about 10.27 on the clock, grabbed a final bit of fuel and moved straight on.  They said 3 miles to go, and although it felt like we were still a little over 10 min miles, I felt that we could do it.  Paul was obviously committed to giving it a go, and we pushed on.  We got onto a small canal section with perhaps a a little over 3km to go and I stopped to adjust the number on my shorts - the safety pin uncomfortably rubbing, and also to take a photo - I was confident I could catch up.  I couldn't have stopped for 30 seconds and set off quickly to catch them.

After nearly a minute of solid running I was only just gaining on them, some-one had pushed the 'go button' on Mr. W and he was really kicking on.  As I rounded a corner and finally had them in range, they ran past the next turning, I shouted and they swiftly turned around having gone about 20 yards too far and once again we were together again.  I was leading as we rand in a tight 3, and Paul W asked me to up the pace, I edged on, "faster...." ok. I was genuinely running towards the upper edge of what I felt I could manage, and loving it.... Here we go I thought.

There were lots of turnings on the map, and an entire column of directions was assigned to the last kilometre or so - this was pressure map reading at its worst.  We were mowing down people ahead of us, and Paul T even began to linger at the back.  Paul W was running like a man possessed.

In the end we came painfully close, and finished just 1 minute and 25 seconds over the 11 hour mark. A true sign of character though, is that Paul didn't stop sprinting those last 2-3km even though he perhaps may have known that he was just outside the time he was aiming for.  He said earlier the day that he wanted to finish strong - and that he certainly did.  As the time was read out, I was gutted for him, for to put yourself through that to miss out by so little is almost comical in its absurdity.   I really hope that in time Paul will look back on the day fondly, and not with obvious disappointment he showed immediately after.  To complete a 50 mile run is something to be proud of regardless of the time.  When you take into account that it was his first attempt at the distance, his endurance career to date and the season he has had so far, its easy to lose sight of the achievement.  It may not have been the desired outcome, but the performance was in no way lacking.

After the finish, as the adrenaline began to wear off, we all got showered and changed, hobbled slowly to the car and we began the journey home - not without a stop off for a KFC, which barely touched the sides.

I feel surprisingly good this morning, with no excessive soreness/tightness, but thats not to say I'm 100%, and I certainly enjoyed a massive bacon and egg sandwich whilst watching the rugby this morning.  However, I feel this may be different story tomorrow morning, gotta love the 2 day DOMS ;-)

A big thanks to Sarah B for the support at the aid stations and driving us home.  Although she did desert us at a couple of aid stations to head off on some girly lunch date?!?!? (which if you ask me I'd estimate this probably cost us about 1 minute and 26 seconds (at least!) in logistical faff),  it was great to have the extra support.....

Until the next time!!

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