Tuesday, July 17, 2007

MOB Coast

For Maiden Newton Madness entry form and info, click here: http://maidennewtonrunningclub.blogspot.com/2007/06/maiden-newten-madness-7pm-saturday-11th.html

What an amazing experience the MOB Coast event proved to be. We realise now that we were completely unprepared for it, despite the fact that we have been training and planning towards it obsessively for the last 4 – 5 months.

Day One
After Camping overnight near Paignton, we started at Haytor on Dartmoor at 8.30am on Thursday morning – a small field of 20 runners - with 105 miles ahead of us, shivering on a cold, foggy morning.

The first 18 miles followed the Templar Way down to the coast at Teignmouth and was mostly fairly easy running. The only problem we encountered on this section was a recurrence of my calf injury which caused us to do some walking breaks even as early as 4 miles in. Eventually I managed to develop a rolling gait which made the pain bearable – or maybe it was just that the huge quantities of pain killers began to take effect!

We had to get to Teignmouth by 1pm to beat the tide as the last few miles were along the river estuary, where there was no real path, just slimy green pebbles which made the footing treacherous.
We made it without getting our feet wet, but by now the sun had come out and Martin, who had foolishly not picked up water at the previous checkpoint, had become slightly dehydrated and was starting to struggle. It was made worse because he was finding it really hard to force any food down (not a normal state for him!) and I was seriously worried that he was not going to be able to continue.

Once we picked up the South West coast path the hills were brutal and the sun was really beating down. Luckily, I was feeling really strong and I was able to help Martin, pushing him up the hills, carrying his pack at times, bullying and cajoling him to keep going when all he really wanted to do was lie down and die.

The last check point was on the front at Torquay and we knew what lay ahead of us from this point as we had walked the last few miles of the course the previous day to get to the campsite from the station. Martin began to feel slightly better and I even managed to coax him into a jog a few times. As we entered Paignton we were overtaken by two other runners, but our desire for an ice cream break overcame any competitive urges we may have been feeling.
However the ice cream must have had restorative qualities because we actually caught them up again about 500 yards from the finish and in a sprint for the campsite (or what passes for a sprint when you have competed 36 miles with a 14lb back pack) we managed to pass them and finished the first day in 8 and a half hours and joint 5th place.

Day Two

A largely sleepless night and it was actually a relief to get up at 4.10am, pack our gear, put on our damp gear and sodden running shoes, eat our instant porridge and prepare for departure.

A brief argument with the Race Director – the start was split into two stages with the “speedy” group leaving at 7am and the rest at 5am. We had been classified as “speedy” due to our high finishing position, but we wanted to leave at 5am as we felt that we would be walking most of the route. Rory was basing our progress on yesterday and thought we would be reaching the checkpoints too early. NB: Don’t argue with me at 5am when I’m wet, cold, tired and in pain. Told him if we didn’t go now we wouldn’t be going at all. He realised it was an argument which he was NOT going to win and we left at 5.10am. We were joined by Tracey who’s partner had dropped out due to his feet being “shredded”.

We started off by walking, continued by walking and very occasionally on flat or downhill bits broke into a shuffle – to describe it as a run would be misleading. Once the nerve ends in my feet went numb and my blisters no longer pained me it became a bit easier. The first checkpoint was at the ferry crossing at Kingswear and we had been told it was about 10 miles. If you ever do an Ambition Life event do NOT believe them when they tell you how far you have to go. Day 1 was supposed to be 33 miles but was 36; Day 2 was supposed to be 40 miles but we had been told the previous evening it was 44.

We eventually struggled into Kingwear with 13 miles on the GPS and already feeling like we had had enough. We were lucky that the ferry was waiting and left almost immediately. Much to the bemusement of our fellow passengers I immediately removed my left shoe and sock for Martin (he’s a lucky man!!) to perform first aid to my new blisters. Good job no one was having their breakfast as we crossed! When we got to the other side Tracey decided that she didn’t want to continue – we did our best to persuade her otherwise but she got back on the ferry to return to the check point and the soft option.

We are made of sterner stuff so we headed for the refuelling centre, i.e. Dartmouth town centre and stocked up on sandwiches, muffins and coffee, essential supplies to enable us to summon up the will to continue.

At this point two of the real “speedy” group passed us – a bit demoralizing as they had started almost 2 hours after us and had caught us up in the space of 13 miles and a ferry crossing. I guess if you’re a serious ultra runner you don’t stop to buy food and drink along the way.

The next part of the course was quite enjoyable (comparatively). The path leaves the beach at Blackpool Sands and wends across fields and lanes through the villages of Stoke Flemming and Strete – stunning though the coastline was it does begin to get tedious after 50 miles or so and this section made a welcome change.

We also enjoyed the flat section of Slapton Sands, Torcross (checkpoint) and Beesands – we were onto familiar territory now as we had run this stretch during the Endurance Life marathon in February. We had managed to average 3 miles an hour up until this point, mainly because we had run quite a lot of the flat section and we kept this pace up until we reached the next checkpoint half way between Beesands and Salcombe. After that I really started to struggle – the path is very rough and rugged and my right knee was really giving me grief.

The next checkpoint was at the ferry crossing to Salcombe and we didn’t know what time they stopped sailing so we kept pressing on, safe in the knowledge that once we got across the river we could get something to eat and then we only had 7 miles to go. At about 5pm we reached the estuary and turned in land – at this point it also started to rain and we had been on our feet for 12 hours. It was a real low point but it was about to get worse.

We reached the checkpoint at 5.45, the ferry was waiting, all we had to do was climb on, but the person at the checkpoint then told us that we had not 7 but 13 miles to go! The stage was supposed to be 44 miles and I had 37.5 miles on the GPS at this point. It was clear that the organiser’s had been economical with the truth about the real distance. I threw a bit of a tantrum – I felt sure that I wouldn’t be able to do those extra miles to reach the end. To cap our misery it was now chucking it down with rain, we were soaked, we were cold, we were exhausted and we were miserable.

We found a fish and chip shop in Salcombe and guzzled some really high quality fish and chips – lurking in the shop doorway trying to stay out of the rain. We then started walking out of the village with me desperately trying to persuade Martin that we should just book into the nearest bed and breakfast – hot shower, dry towels, soft bed – I even offered to pay - but he wasn’t having any of it and blocked my whining out by concentrating on the map.

Due to the foul weather it was already starting to get dark despite the early hour so we decided to take some liberties with the route and stay on the road, which cut off some of the mileage and made the going easier. I’m not sure at what point I managed to convince myself that I could get to the end of the stage, but as we plodded through the rain, I suddenly became determined that I would not be beaten and that we would make it to Bigbury come what may.

When we rejoined the coast path it was on a high, exposed section and the wind coming off the coast was ferocious and I was soon shivering, I don’t do cold at the best of times and this was far from that. The next few hours are somewhat of a blur, but eventually at 9.21pm we reached the finish line, which had been moved to the Sloop Inn across the river from Bigbury – the ferry stopped at 7pm and only one of the field had arrived in time to catch it across to the campsite. It had taken us over 16 hours to cover what we estimated to be about 48 miles – the battery on the GPS gave up at 42.5 miles several hours earlier.

Day 3

Long before Martin opened my tent at 4.15am I had decided that there was no way I was starting the last day. I think I had mild hypothermia – I had on a t shirt, long sleeve shirt, leggings, socks, had wrapped myself in a borrowed blanket and still I had not stopped shivering all night inside my sleeping bag. My feet were in shreds and I could hardly bend my right knee. I had had no sleep at all.

Martin could have gone on, but he immediately accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to. However we had reckoned without the persuasive powers of the race organiser…… After he had seen the early starters off at 5am, Rory decided that it was his mission in life to get us to the end. I was lifted bodily from my tent, carried to one of the support vehicles with engine running and heater on, wrapped in a blanket and fed porridge and coffee. I started to think, well maybe I could go a bit further………….My blisters were examined – infected but not so bad that I couldn’t continue, I was given some dry socks and Martin fetched my sodden running gear. Another low point when I tried to remove my T shirt and found that it had stuck to my back where it was chaffed from the ruck sack – ouch, or words to that effect.

Somehow in the space of two hours I had gone from crying on Martin’s shoulder to being ready to leave and at 6am we set off, just the two of us, to try and cover another 25 miles. The coastline continued to throw steep hills at us and to begin with we managed to jog the flat bits – mainly in an attempt to keep warm, but by the time we reached the first checkpoint at Mothercombe we were already down to a walk. We were supposed to wade a river crossing here but the tide was too high and so we got taken inland and across the river by car – a round trip of about 9 miles for the sake of 400m!

Unfortunately the 20 minutes squashed in the back of the car had given us just long enough to seize up and it was very hard to get going again. One by one the three race leaders who had left at 7am caught us up and passed us, making it look absurdly easy although even they were walking the hills.
The sun came out and we were covering about 3 miles an hour and thinking that we could make it to Plymouth by about 3 – 4pm if nothing else went wrong.

At about 10.30am my left hip suddenly went into a spasm and after that I had a pain which felt as though it was right on the point of my old fracture. It was ironic that through all the preceding miles the one thing that hadn’t given me any trouble was my hip, but this was worrying and it was getting worse. I think I could have kept going but the warning signs that I had ignored in the build up to London 2005 (resulting in a stress fracture) were flashing before my eyes…..and so we decided that enough was enough and it was time to stop. We limped to the nearest village and a lift to the finish was organised for us.

We’ve looked at results of other long distance races in the past and I’ve never understood beforehand why someone would pull out with 10 miles to go after they had already covered 95 miles – but now I do, and although we were disappointed not to finish we were also enormously proud of the distance that we managed to cover. Of the 20 starters only 8 managed to finish the course and we were the last to drop out.

The conclusion? We’ll be back to finish what we started next year – but this time we WILL be prepared!

Rescue crew at finish. Thanks, Richard and Lesley.