Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

June 6, 2012

I Survived! 50 Hour "Swift" Adventure Race

There may be a bit of an oxymoron in the title of this post, as 50 hours non-stop and the word Swift don’t really go together. Unless of course it is in comparison to Swift’s big brother, the Adidas TERREX Sting, a 4-day expedition race in Stirling, Scotland in August. But let’s pretend we’re not thinking of that one just yet.

The Adidas TERREX Swift is my longest race to date (nope, not going to mention the Sting to come), and the excitement really started the evening before the race, when we dropped off canoes, picked up bike boxes, registered, and then attempted to cram lots of extra food into our heavy transition bags before delivering them to the race volunteers. Thankfully Rob was around to help us waterproof the maps and assemble the bike boxes…the chaos eventually got organized and we were able to get a good night’s sleep before the start.

A flurry of bag sorting in the morning and then we were on the bus and heading to Kirkby Lonsdale for the start. Our team broke out hats purchased for the occasion, to celebrate that the weekend was also Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, her 60th year in office. Sarah added a few stars to my hat to show that I was still only an upstart “Colonist”  ;)

Stage 1; 7 mile Run: There seemed to be a lot of villagers present to cheer us on in the town square, until we realized they were there to take a Jubilee photo and were just waiting for us to leave! So leave we did at 8:55 am, in a run around the town and then down to the River Lune, where the run had been extended to save us dragging our canoes over a section of really low water. Sarah and I were running freely, having sent our packs ahead to transition and given our mandatory gear to Jon and Gavin to carry!

Stage 2; 20 mile Canoe: The paddling turned out to be one of the nicest sections of the race, and with the current and strong tailwinds we made good time. The weather cooperated, too, with warmth and a little sunshine. Gavin and I managed not to tip over (a few other teams did!), so most of the journey was easy paddling while enjoying the clear water and scenery flying by. There were three section of portaging along the river, one of them 2 kilometers long, so we used a trolley for each canoe to wheel them along the river towpath. It was actually easier than paddling and we contemplated just walking all the way to Glasson for the takeout!

Gavin started off early in the section with his silly jokes, and we all concluded that he had prepared for the race mostly by reading joke books and watching the comedy channel! Unfortunately my Jubilee hat got blown off my head early on, but it was rescued by Heather of Team Spirit of Adventure, who used it for a bailing device!?!

As the river turned into a tidal basin below Lancaster, we swept past mud flats with the outgoing tide, finally reaching the takeout in Glasson after 5 hours of paddling, just as my arms refused to take one more stroke.

Chaos in transition
Stage 3; 56 mile Mountain Bike: Our bike boxes were awaiting us in transition, so we stuffed our wet gear away (sure we would find it molding on us after the race), and started assembling our bikes. Even moving with a purpose, it took us 33 minutes to fill water bottles, change into bike clothes, add food to our packs, and make sure our bikes were properly put together. I managed to tighten my stem incorrectly, which meant digging out the emergency tools after our bike boxes had been carted away. Oops.

The first hour was a fast flat back up the river, where we could see a few teams still paddling. My bike seemed quite slow somehow, and after a while realized that my brake was rubbing from an inproper caliper adjustment when I swapped out the brakes before the race. The guys flipped it over and had the wheel spinning freely in no time. Are you sensing a trend here yet?

A long uphill section followed, under dim skies and a brutal headwind. The rough path sapped our energy, and not for the first time, I wished I was riding a full suspension mountain bike! After a couple of hours, we finally hit the descent, moving onto tarmac roads for another climb to Gisburn Forest.

Contemplating the MTB Orienteering and enjoying sitting at the picnic table!
 At Gisburn, we were given an orienteering map of the purpose-built bike trails, which at first looked daunting, as I was on my limit and not thinking too clearly. It was Sarah who led us flawlessly around the course, taking shortcuts on the fire trails to get us through quickly with a minimum of tough singletrack.

We escaped the forest just as night was falling, and with lights attached we now had a long road section to get up to Kirkby Malham. Luckily it was fast riding, with mostly small, gentle hills, but it still took a couple more hours before the final brutal uphill to transition just after midnight. Sarah and I walked it. No shame.

Stage 4; 10 mile Trek: It was great to get off the bikes for a while, so we decided to go for the all the controls in this section. Unfortunately it started raining soon after we headed out, making the limestone rocks very slippery and sapping our energy. It was a tough route in the dark, climbing up the waterfall in Goredale Scar and then subjecting us to strong winds across the moor at Malham Tarn. Then it was a dicey descent to Malham Cove, inching across the slick pavement stones and then steeply down on tired legs to the base of the waterfall.

The section took at least an hour longer than we had planned, and Sarah was a walking zombie when we arrived back in transition at 4 am. It was definitely time for some rest. I wasn’t sleepy but I was happy to get changed into dry clothes, eat and drink, and then curl up on some hay bales for a catnap. Unfortunately a woman near me was shivering so violently that she was actually bouncing my hay bale, so I had to settle for just resting my eyes. All the same, when Jon woke me up a few minutes later, I asked if it was still raining (of course it was!%@#$), and none of us were too excited to go back out into the wet.

Stage 5; 34 mile Mountain Bike: With lots of warm clothing, we finally roused ourselves to set out on the next section, a very scary 100k mountain bike. First up was an abseil off of Kilnsey Crag, which looked terribly exciting but not in the cold rain. We reluctantly skipped it, which meant we didn’t have to carry climbing harnesses and spare shoes the rest of the bike.

So the first bike control on this section was the only mandatory control, and it was a brutal hike-a-bike up onto a fellside, with an equally unridable rocky descent. We pushed our bikes up, and then pushed them back down.

This might have been the last straw for Sarah, as once back on smooth roads we were cold, wet, and really tired. A desperate search for a tea shop commenced, but finding nothing, we settled for cramming into a public toilet at Buckden. Sarah, having decided to drop the race there, managed to flag down race photographer James and she quickly sorted a ride back to transition. It was the first time she had smiled in hours…I hope she was warm and dry before we had finished the next climb!

Sarah decides to drop the race here...notice it's still raining.
Jon, Gavin and I continued on, with another hard climb up to the next control. My knees started hurting on each peddle stroke on that climb, and by the descent I could hardly put pressure on the peddles without jolts of pain. I concluded that too much kneeling in the canoe was probably the cause, but could do nothing about it now (when I finally inspected my knees after the race they were quite swollen). We finally located a café in Aysgarth, and settled down to review our options while stuffing our faces.

There were no easy controls left on the bike course, and I told the guys if we had to do any more climbing on the bike they might see me bawling. That was enough for them, and we made the decision to head straight back to Hawes for the transition to the final trek. It was still 10 miles away, although fairly flat, and even then Jon had to help me out with some towing on the gentle hills. At least it had quit raining. I managed not to cry.
Stage 6; 40 mile Trek: There is some sort of misplaced logic in the fact that I couldn’t peddle a stroke yet hoped to complete a 40 mile trek, after we had already been racing for over 30 hours. Mostly I was determined not to quit, and since walking wasn’t as painful as biking, I would just start the trek and see how far I could go. It took an hour in transition to pack up our bikes and sort out enough food for a long walk through the night. We decided not to sleep as we weren’t particularly tired and hoped to finish by daybreak the next morning. Yeah, right.

The route was labeled as the “3 Peaks”, those being the famous Yorkshire Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough, and Pen-Y-Ghent. However, the route really included 5 peaks, as we had to go up and over a couple of tough hills before even coming close to the first real peak of Whernside. We determined to push on as fast as possible in the daylight, even jogging down a few hills with a stiff east wind pushing us onwards.

By sunset we were descending off Whernside already, trying to escape a roaring wind on the summit. With darkness falling we stopped to get our lights out, climbing into the 4-man bothy to stay escape the wind. It was immediately warmer inside the bright yellow nylon bubble, and we all wanted to stay awhile…until Gavin took his shoes off, and then we all wanted OUT! He let me experiment with new blister supplies on his heels, and then we were off again.

The skies were clearing, and the wind changed to a gentler westerly direction, which would help us as we were now going to be heading west over the rest of the 3 Peaks. But first we had hours of descent along the ridge down Whernside, where I confess I was getting a little bit tired, and inexplicably fascinated by the sinkholes everywhere. In fact I wanted to look into each one to see if there was a pothole (cave) waiting at the bottom…the guys had to drag me onwards. A few bits of limestone pavements and then we were crossing the river at the waterfalls above Ingleton. We were totally out of water and terribly thirsty, so the stepping stones offered a chance of a refill.

We were all moving pretty slowly by that point, and I broke out the saving grace, a small bottle of Coke I had been hoarding until we truly needed it. A few sips for everyone and we started the ascent of Ingleborough. We determined that we should talk to each other to stay awake, which lasted all of 5 minutes before we were back to a slow plod, and a few false summits didn’t help with morale.

We chose to make an eastern descent of Ingleborough to get off the windy ridge earlier, and soon afterwards the guys decided they couldn’t live without a short nap. It was dry and not too cold, so we all crawled into the bothy again (shoes stayed on this time) for an hour’s kip. I couldn’t sleep again and didn’t feel I needed it, but it was nice to stop moving after 40 hours on the go. Setting off with fine shivers from cooling down in the bothy, we had another hour of trekking to reach the stage I had been waiting for the entire race, the caving!

Abseil into Calf Holes cave
 Caving: Calf Holes cave is a nice beginner’s pothole, or at least that’s what the race official told us at the briefing near the waterfall into the cave. He kept using the words “not too squeezy” about the route we would be taking. At least the abseil was dry, and the 18 inches of cool water we landed in actually felt great on our tortured feet. We followed the straight stream bed for quite a ways, enjoying walking relatively upright before the ceiling started to come down a little. Suddenly the water gurgled through a hole in the floor, and we were now duck walking through dry limestone. My knees thought that might be the worst thing I’d ever asked them to do, the pain was indescribable.

Soon the space got even narrower, and we were pushing feet first on our backs to a tiny hole in the floor where the cave ended. We sent Jon through first; figuring as the biggest guy on the team, if he got stuck then we wouldn’t have to brave it! The tiny hole twisted like a slide, and we landed underneath our original level and back near the streambed. It gurgled away again down some steep waterfalls, and instead we pulled ourselves across more limestone on our stomachs, with helmets scraping the low ceiling. I was just glad that the stones were fairly clean and dry, and it was easier to pull myself along with my arms than ask my knees to do any more work.

Finally we reached a steep stone descent, with ropes to help us get down safely. It was a little “squeezy” as well, and at one point I found myself wedged in the rocks with no clear way out. A bit of maneuvering and we were back down in the streambed with sunlight at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. The exit was at ground level and the sun had risen during our kilometer underground!

Just one final peak was between us and the finish, but Pen-Y-Ghent had a surprise waiting for us in the guise of horrible bogs. I managed to fall into a couple but not too deep. The final steep climb to the summit was tough, but even worse was the rocky descent, where my knees again were screaming at me for attempting such a route. I was out of water again by then, after filling up in the reddish water above the caving stream, and drinking it quickly with dry, cracked lips, but there was no option but to continue on to the finish. Another couple of hours of descending in bright warm sunshine brought us to the final control. There we met up with Team CamRacers, who had short-coursed the trek after doing the whole final bike section. Sarah (rested, clean, and well-fed and watered by then) also walked out a long ways from the finish, and we spent a last pleasant hour chatting with everyone to see how their race had gone. Our finish time by then was irrelevant, and the last 4k took us almost an hour!
Our finish time was almost 50 hours, plus a lot more time added for penalties after missing a bunch of bike controls. But we were happy to see that we were one of only 6 teams to finish the whole final trek, and our finish time meant that we were 9th or 10th overall in the race…irrelevant, of course, because by losing a team member we were made “non-competitive”. I’ll add the final results after they are posted.

Final thoughts: There was a long section in the middle where we were all wondering why we were stupid enough to pay good money to subject ourselves to such torture. However the final trek was amazing, I really enjoyed seeing the countryside pass by, both in darkness and daylight. With almost 166 miles (267 kilometers) in our legs at the finish, we felt quite tired, but not entirely dead. Perhaps we will be able to handle the longer in race in Scotland in a few months!

A note on nutrition: I had figured I would need about 10,000 calories for this race. By the time the food accumulated, I brought almost 15,000 calories with me! However, my final count after looking at my leftover food was much less. I think I ate just over 8,000 calories. These mostly consisted of easy to eat sugary snacks, with a little salt and flavor mixed in, to keep my taste buds entertained. I think I actually brought too much real food with me, as mostly I was craving quick energy sources like gels and dried fruit. The tortillas, cheese, and other heavy foods were slow to digest, I mainly ate them because they were weighing down my pack, not because they sounded good. I think I will save these foods for transitions in future races. On the other hand, I wish I would have used a few more Nuun tablets in my water, that would have made the river water taste a little better. I will probably carry more water bottles with me in some sections as well, probably close to 3 liters, just in case we have a long stretch with no water sources. I spent most of the race feeling really thirsty.

Here’s my food log breakdown:
4000 calories of snacks in 200 calorie bags (dried mango slices, gels, granola bars, pretzel M&M’s, gummy snacks, dark chocolate, fruit leather, Cheetos crisps)
4 x 250 calories Perpetuem drink mix
1 x 400 cal baked potato w/cheese
3 x 200 cal bottle coke
3 x 200 cal Glucerna vitamin drink
4 x 60 cal babybel cheese
7 x 200 cal cheese or peanut butter tortillas
1 x 100 cal apple
Before the start

Crossing under a main road meant almost swimming.

The start of the long portage.
Heather saves my hat...

The leaderboard and live tracking.

Not my best moment...finishing the bike section.

Subject of much fascination by race officials, my eye actually didn't hurt.


June 1, 2012

Spring Flowers

Nothing extreme in this post (unless you count the quality of these photos).   While I am waiting impatiently for the start of my Adventure Race tomorrow (and you are waiting for the race report afterwards), I have been enjoying the time during my taper to smell the roses.  We've just had a week of sensational sunshine here in the UK, with temps above 20C (about  70F).    It's a heat wave!  Actually it's been really nice, not too hot, unless you were born and raised here and then it probably felt like the Mojave desert. 

So we've been taking slow walks in the countryside, and Rob's skill with the camera just begs to be added to the blog.  The quality and quantity of growing plants here is just amazing.  The ditches are constantly blooming with layers and layers of wildflowers, and temperate rainforest we live in is always fascinating.  I think it's at its peak right now in the late springtime sunshine. 

With my newly arrived helper, the Collins Complete Guide to British Wildflowers, perhaps I will even try to identify these flowers as I'm recovering from my race next week.  That may be asking a lot, but...

So here you go, courtesy of Rob!