<![CDATA[Pussy Footing Around - Blog]]>Sat, 14 Apr 2018 16:48:49 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Milan Marathon 2018]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 07:05:50 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/milan-marathon-2018
Mrs R was away on a girlie trip for the week leaving me in charge, and I'd had a vague idea of running the Milan Marathon, mainly for the free t shirt as the headline sponsor was Armani. I chatted to the kids who were up for it, we loaded up the car with the dogs and some food for them, and off we set on the Friday night after work/school and drove to Milan. I have driven in Italy quite a lot over the years as we live very close, but driving in a big city in Italy has it's own rules:

Essentially the driving laws are merely guidelines
Noone drives in the "slow" inside lane, might as well not be there
The horn is a form of communication - short and sharp means hello, or nice skirt, long and repeated imparts anger or frustration
The horn must be used frequently
Indicators are surplus to requirements
Similarly lane discipline
Hands are for holding phone and cigarettes, as well as gesticulating with said cigarette and phone in hand, steering wheel seems to be an afterthought
Size matters - particularly at junctions
Parking sensors are bumpers
Pavements make handy parking spaces
Italian cars have 2 speeds - full speed or stationary
A good knowledge of the local vernacular is imperative for communicating with other drivers. 

Italy is also the only place in the world where you can get a decent hot meal at a motorway cafe - we had a hearty pasta and salad meal at an Autogrill. 

We had a lazy start to Saturday as #2 explored Milan with Bundy to get in more than 12km of a training run. I continue to be impressed with her dedication to training for the Kilimanjaro challenge.

​The rest of Saturday was spent walking around Milan after we'd registered for the race - a small matter of leaving 2 of the kids on the underground was quickly overcome with minimal fuss, and we ended the day knackered and extremely full, but had had a ton of laughs. 

And then the race. I think I may have put myself under too much pressure to beat the St Tropez as Milan is very flat, so I set off too fast and I knew I was going too fast but got caught up in the moment and became overconfident. Stopping for a pee at about 4km and then I slowed down, but not really enough. I enjoyed the race, soon getting into the zone and chatting to a lady from Tunbridge Wells, but at around 33km I got quite dehydrated, and then at 38km the wheels fell off and it was proper mind over matter to keep running but I did not have the mental strength to play the fishing game. I saw #2 at 41km who reminded me I only had 5 minutes left to beat 4 hrs, and I managed to find a reserve somewhere and cross the line in 4hrs, no minutes and 32 seconds, which was slightly bitter sweet, but a lesson learned and only 2 weeks post the St Tropez marathon. I'd also finished with salt crusting all over my face so I must have gotten quite dehydrated during the race. 

The hotel had given the kids one of the rooms to hang out in and do their homework while I ran the race, and after a quick shower we had a fab pizza and veal milanaise and then drove back home. It was a hugely enjoyable weekend all round, andI have a huge hankering to enter another marathon asap!
<![CDATA[Inaugural Gulf of St Tropez Marathon]]>Wed, 28 Mar 2018 06:59:39 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/inaugural-gulf-of-st-tropez-marathonPicture
​When the new, local-ish, marathon was announced I quickly signed up. It was within driving distance but would have been a 3-4hr round trip to register and then again the next day for the actual race, so in the event Mrs R and #1 & #2 decided to come for the weekend. We drove down Friday night but were too late to register on the way through, so I had to drive back to St Maxime from St Tropez first thing Saturday morning whilst #2 ran 15km with Bundy for Kilimanjaro training and #1 did homework.
The registration process was painless with a small expo but a very well appointed goodie bag complete with a 50cl bottle of Cuvee Marathon Golfe St Tropez Rose wine (still not yet opened at the time of writing).  A short drive back to St Tropez for a fabulous breakfast, morning market in the Place des Lices, a nice lunch and then we took the dogs for a walk on Pamplonne beach, normally a hot bed of champagne, pumping music and sunbeds, but in this instance gloriously empty apart from the hardy kite surfers. 

​We found a lovely little restaurant for dinner of truffle pizza and pasta, and then an early night, as the alarm went off an hour earlier than I went to bed due to the clock change. Bleary eyed, I got dressed. I actually had three different outfits that I was contemplating wearing - the reason being that the organisers had declared that they wanted every participant to wear fancy dress. I had therefore thought, despite the fact I was not with a like minded group of friends, that I would join in and dress up a bit if everyone else was, like the Marathon du Medoc. I had brought a clown costume and Morph Suit with me, but in the event the weather forecast was fine and I thought I might as well go all out and wear the 1920's flapper dress and pink wig, accessorized with pearls and pink sunglasses. I got some funny looks as I took my breakfast in the hotel, and was hoping not to be stopped by the police as I drove to the start, just ahead of the road closures.

It was actually pretty chilly at the start, before dawn with a strong wind and sea spray coming over the wall. I had a throwaway hoodie but took it off and asked someone to take a photo of me before putting it back on. The security was very tight, with around 2000 marathoners, 1000 half and half relay racers and another 200 or so runners doing a full relay with about 5km per segment. The downside of the security was that once in the pen, there were very few opportunities to have a pre race pee. I was also struck by how few people had actually embraced the fancy dress option, but I was enjoying the attention as I got lots of people taking pictures of me and applauding my costume choice and accessories. 

​Gradually the starting pens filled up - I was solidly in the 4hr pen having not run a sub 4hr marathon for several years now. I was cheerful though, relaxed. I had no expectations for the race, I thought I would finish in around 4hr 15 mins or so, but have put on a bit of weight over the last year or so and I was aware that the course was pretty hilly. This was actually the second outing for the dress, having done the marathon du Medoc a couple of years ago, and I was aware how much it chafed with the sequins around the arm pits. But I was determined to enjoy it, and use it for a training run.
The song "Welcome to St Tropez" played on repeat over the PA until the gun went off. The start funnel was pretty narrow so it took a couple of minutes to cross the start line, and then I fell into a very easy pace due to the volume of people ahead of me. Pretty soon I fell in with the 4hr pace lady and group, although after 1km I ducked behind a hedge to have a much needed pee, and then caught back up with the 4hr bunch.
I tried to pass the time chatting, but I seemed to be the sole Englishman in an otherwise all French group, and I was struggling to chat fluently in French  but I exchanged a few platitudes with a Roman centurion that had his races written on his cape including UTMB, and then another chap who was in his first marathon and targeting 4hrs, and had decided not to dress up to give himself the best chance of achieving his goal. The temptation to overtake the 4hr bunch was great but I dialled it back as much as I could and felt very comfortable. The scenery was delightful, sea to our left villas to the right and  then just vineyards as we went inland a little before turning off onto a narrow dirt path towards Port Grimaud.
Port Grimaud was beautiful, a quaint hamlet built on a river inlet with olde worlde different coloured houses. We literally ran in, over the bridge at the sea front crossing the river and then back out the other side of the river. Around this time I seemed to leave the 4hr pacing group behind at an aid station  - the marathon was very well stocked every 2.5km or so with food and water, and then at about 15km there was Coke and a sort of mint kendal cake flavoured energy drink and then at every 5km. As we entered St Tropez at 17km, I saw Alice with Bundy as we ran past the hotel in St Tropez. I stopped and said hello and greeted Bundy, and felt a big boost to morale. I was enjoying the crowd support, and was still ahead of the 4hr bunch and feeling good, and it was only then that I started to think about putting in place a proper strategy. I would always run the first half of a marathon well within my limits, but I did not think I was going to be able to run the 2nd half quicker given the trickier topography, but I thought I'd give it a go and see what happened.
As ran through St Tropez we climbed up the headland - it was surprisingly steep but I cheered on a couple and got a chuckle and "bravo" from the man, woman was focussed and silent. There was a little crowd and I was getting some great feedback which was a constant morale boost, down the other side, and out onto the road to Ramatuelle, past Pamplonne beach. There was a stand outside one of the Chateaux with samples of Rose wine. I was sorely tempted but decided not to partake, partly because it would have meant crossing the road and increasing the distance!

​Half way went past in 1hr 59 and I still felt pretty good. I thought I'd put into place race strategy and speed up just a little. Still no sign of the 4hr bunch, and participants were really thinning out over the wide rolling roads through the Ramatuelle countryside. At every aid station there was a good crowd of people cheering me on and clapping and laughing. Fancy dress really could be the way forwards. I used the downs to run quickly and the ups to catch my breath. The lactic acid was building nicely in the calves and abs due to the hills but I gritted my teeth and carried on enjoying myself.  

At 30km or so, the Mad Dog's strategy of the fishing game - metaphorically casting a fishing rod into someone about 100m ahead and then trying to reel them in and overtake. This strategy is great because it keeps you moving (unless said "fish" slows or stops, in which case get that hook recast pretty quick!) and takes your mind off the pain and fatigue which is inevitably starting to build. About 500m later the big hill appeared. I was not expecting such a monster, but I still tried the fishing game and went up the hill. I had been doing mental calculations about 4hrs and figured if I could hit 32km in 3 hrs I could maybe, just maybe, break 4hrs. I managed to overtake a few people on the hill and got a few cheers from random well wishers. At the top of the hill was an aid station with cheerleaders who were great laughing and clapping at my costume. It was around 32km in. I took some water and a sip of Coke and set off down the hill trying to shake the lactic acid from my legs and open up the lungs again. I had 58 mins for the last 10.2km. Game on.
The downhill was mercifully long - I like downhill, train for it on the trails, and when the course diverted onto a trail I was in my element, overtaking a ladybird and a unicorn on the steep downhill. The quads were pretty mashed from the constant rolling hills of the second half but I managed a decent pickup in speed offsetting the slow uphill from before, and soon enough we were back to the rolling hills. I was constantly doing calculations in my head and don't remember much about the next 5km or so, but still played the fishing game and made sure that I was still concentrating mentally. And then at 39km we hit the beach. It wasn't beach in the traditional sense, more a footpath at the back of the beach with hard dirt covered with an inch of sand. Not ideal fast running conditions particularly when we had to dip down and run through wet sand when we crossed little creeks that ran down to the sea. And it had rained the previous day so these were horrendous. I had 18 minutes to do the last 3.2km and I was tired and sore. But overtaking "normal" people as I was dressed in a dress was still giving me great pleasure, and as we emerged from the beach and onto the tarmac I could see the finish 1km ahead and crowds lined the road both sides. I gave everything I had to cross the line with a clock time of 4hrs 0 mins and 44 seconds, and I knew that I had taken a minute or so to cross the start line, meaning that my official finish time was 3hrs 59 mins and 15 seconds! I was chuffed to bits, but also chafed to bits and extremely sore due to the tough course.

It took me 10 or 15 minutes to recover, drinking heavily diluted Coke and eating whatever I could get my hands on at the finish including a banana, Tarte Tropeziane, stale ginger cake and some other stuff I couldn't remember. As soon as I was able I staggered to the bus to head back to the start and my car. I stopped at a Spar to buy some Iced Tea and there were a couple of young ladies promoting fizzy rose champagne who demanded to have their photo taken with me (I hadn't taken my costume or even wig or pearls off). I obliged and received a glass of fizzy in return!
I have lost count of the number of times I have broken 4hrs in a marathon - certainly pre heart issues it was never an issue, with my PB at around 3hr35 for Milan back in the day and a load of 3hr37's, but breaking 4hrs post ablation seems like a massive achievement and PB, particularly on a tough course and in fancy dress. I'm still on cloud 9 two days later. Clearly I have been training and working on my speed, but going into the marathon relaxed, with a massive and constant morale boost due to the fancy dress, and obviously tons of experience to be able to deploy Mad Dog's race strategy as second nature, were all huge contributory factors. Running a marathon in normal civvies will never be the same again!  

<![CDATA[Kilimanjaro]]>Mon, 19 Mar 2018 13:56:45 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/kilimanjaro
Photo copyright https://www.rei.com/adventures/trips/africa/kilimanjaro-climb-marangu.html

This coming June 20th I will be embarking on another extreme father/daughter bonding session with #2 offspring, Alice. She will have just turned 16 years old.

We will set off via London and then Addis Ababa to Kilimanjaro. We will have the night to recover from this rather arduous journey and the next day we will set off to trek up Africa's highest mountain.
The trek itself is not overly technical, so we won't require any experience using ropes and the like, but the true danger comes from the altitude - an estimated 50,000 people attempt Kilimanjaro every year and the vast majority succeed. However, an unconfirmed 10 people perish every year due to acute altitude sickness. In order to minimise that risk we have secured the services of a well respected tour company that provide experienced guides and will monitor us for early signs of altitude sickness every day.
We have also decided to trek up the less popular but less crowded Rongai route, giving us a relatively long 5 days to acclimatise gradually before attempting to summit and then descend over the next day and a half. The total mileage will be around 85km, but obviously with massive vertical!
We will be camping in tents at every stage and have been told to secure sleeping bags rated for -30 degrees Celsius. This will test Alice and me, and our relationship! given the physical activity as well as the fatigue coming from camping at altitude. We will have porters to help carry our gear, though, and will be carrying around 5kg on our backs.
Not only do we have all that to deal with we also have our own medical conditions. I have written at length about the challenges of Alice's type one Diabetes, but the mountain will throw up other challenges such as freezing insulin and tech that won't work in the cold and at altitude, not to mention securing an electrical supply so that we can charge everything up every couple of days. On my part I have Atrial Fibrillation and a known trigger of that can be altitude. I haven't found that to be an issue for me either skiing or ultra running, and have been heavily monitored (even more than normal) by my rather lovely cardiologist. She also reassured me that she had a 55 year old patient that managed to summit Everest with the same condition as me. Last week I had a 24hr ECG and went to see the cardiologist where I had an ultrasound and a stress test (on the bike). Apparently my 24hr ECG was "beautiful" - only 10 extrasystolic heart beats in 24hrs, which is lower than a normal person. I only had 1 ES heartbeat on the bike, and the cardiologist reckoned she would have 10. Also my legs gave out long before my heart rate threshold was reached on the bike - she said heart would go on forever and was very strong.
We are raising money for Diabetes UK once again. Please consider visiting our fundraising page here


<![CDATA[Cannes Urban Trail]]>Fri, 09 Mar 2018 07:53:53 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/cannes-urban-trail
A cold but beautiful Sunday in January saw four out of the five Rolfes, with both dogs, get up at the crack of dawn to drive to Cannes for #2's first ever proper race, a trail race, and one that she could actually enter at 15 years old. #1 had pulled out with an injured knee, but #2 had managed to press gang Mrs R into joining us as well, as she was a little nervous about the race in general and her diabetes in particular. 

Since we signed up for the Kilimanjaro climb (in June of this year), #2 has become like a woman possessed. She had seen the positive aspects of the MdS on her elder sister last year, not only the increased confidence, maturity, independence and fitness (both physical and mental) that the MdS had injected her with, but also the positive attention from others which again helped to boost confidence. #2 had thought "I'll have some of that" and pushed me to come up with a life changing challenge, but something different. Kilimanjaro had always been on my "bucket list" (not that I have an official one) and arrangements were made. These were followed just as quickly by a training plan. 

I have never undertaken a trek like this before, but I am approaching it very much as I would a mountain ultra marathon - very gradual increases in mileage weekly, in order to get the body used to staying on its feet and in constant motion for many hours at a time, and of course the mental training of the long runs, training day after day week after week month after month. We'll get to the altitude bit later on.

The Cannes Trail was chosen as a race that #2 could do, to vary the training in terms of terrain, to help her push harder (you always push harder in a race, like being on the treadmill next to someone else), and she was also looking forward to earning her own t shirt and medal, rather than just stealing mine when I got home! Mrs R and #2 were tackling the 8km with plenty of vertical, and I tackled the 26km with 700m of vertical. 

The race itself was great fun, around 620 in mine alone, and we started on the sea front in glorious sunshine, and in fact ran for a couple of km's along the beach before heading up into the hills. There was a mixture of single track, running up the disused funicular, country lanes, parkland and the odd stair case. As we headed back down to the beach we crossed the ramparts of the castle in Cannes, and even ran along them for a couple of hundred metres, before heading back down to the beach. 

200m before the finish line I was sprinting, when we were suddenly diverted into the Palais des Festivals (where they do the Cannes Film Festival). The course went up the steps on the red carpet, into the building itself, then the auditorium, then up onto the stage where they award the Palm D'Or, a quick photo, and then back off the stage, down some more steps, up a few more, and emerging blinking and disorientated into the sunlight I finally crossed the finish line. 

I crossed the the road to our chosen meeting point for a burger and a Sprite to meet Mrs R, #2 and the others. Mrs R regaled me with tales of how #2 had left her for dust at the start and never actually saw her until the finish! We compared medals (exactly the same), enjoyed lunch, and left with our matching t shirts proudly on display. 

The first edition of the Cannes Urban Trail was excellent - thoroughly enjoyable and very well organised with decent bling. I'll be blogging more with tales of our Kilimanjaro expedition and training in the weeks and months to come. 
<![CDATA[Slow down]]>Wed, 07 Mar 2018 12:49:20 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/slow-downThe scooter headlights picked out a large animal lying on its side on the tarmac, its four legs and tail stretched to their fullest extent. I don’t know how, but the scooter managed to avoid the body, and also Bundy and me, on the other side of the road, as it shot past. I turned to point my headlamp at the animal, the only light on this quiet lane, and its eyes glinted, pleading at me, teeth bared in agony.
I thought it could be a fox, my headlamp the only light throwing off shadows accentuating the shape, light glistening in the black pool of blood around its body. As we approached Bundy hung back, scared and agitated. I dragged him closer, reluctant to let go of the lead, so that I could see if the animal was merely stunned and to move it from harms way, but as I got close enough to make out its features it was clear it was dead. A second pool of blood was visible five feet up the road from the body.
It was a cat. A beautiful grey tabby tom cat with a fabulous long haired coat. It has been almost two years since Jack was killed by a car and I still don’t think I am ever going to be fully over his death. I think about him every day. That familiar punch in the gut feeling of grief came back, and I thought of the family that will wake up having lost one of their number. This cat had been well looked after, it was well fed but not overly so, healthy with lovely fur and teeth, and was obviously a well loved pet. Cats do roam a long way from home, and sometimes risk crossing busy roads, but this lane was quiet – it’s why I run there, in the country with barely a car passing.
The lane forms part of the old railway linking the French Mediterranean coast to some of the more inland towns, winding its way through the mountains with hair raising viaducts, bombed out during World War Two and never replaced, and since made into a lane and where possible recommended for cycling and running as indicated by the council sponsored green signs. The scenery is picturesque as it wends past St Paul de Vence, Vence, Tourettes Sur Loup, Pont Sur Loup, Bar Sur Loup and on to Chateauneuf de Grasse and Grasse. Of course, when running it one has to avoid the bombed out bridges such as that missing at Pont Sur Loup, but the trails make up for that more than adequately.
After gently moving the poor cat to the side of the road, Bundy and I carried on our run, and turned around at the half way point 10km, for a 20km round trip. We were crossing a single track viaduct on the way home, before we reached the cat, and there are traffic lights and a pedestrian walkway marked with plastic bollards on the right hand side of the road as we were crossing. I always run with Bundy between me and the curb so I can control how far we are away from the curb, and this morning a car came from behind us far faster than was necessary and its wing mirror brushed my arm, despite me being the other side of the plastic bollards from it.
You may be shocked, but I wasn’t actually that cross (and I wasn’t hurt), this is not an isolated incident. Two weeks ago, on Cap Martin, running with Bundy before dawn as usual, I was “administering” to Bundy’s droppings, on the pavement, facing oncoming traffic. I felt the wind from a van’s wing mirror whistle past my head as I bent down to do my civic duty and pick up. The van was travelling at speed on the wrong side of the road approaching the roundabout that joins Cap Martin to the main bit of the Baisse Corniche. The same day we had both been nearly hit by a car – in Monaco – leaving a car park far too fast whilst the driver was looking at his phone and he jumped the pavement and joined the main road without seeing us. I just managed to jump out of the way and pull Bundy at the same time.
In the last year or so I’ve been hooted at by multiple people whilst I’ve been on foot and on my bike. A bus, believe it or not, has actually driven directly at me and hooted because I dare run on the hard shoulder of a quiet road between Tourettes and Bar sur Loup – the same road that the Ironman cycle course follows and the penultimate stage of the Paris Nice this weekend. I’ve had near misses on zebra crossings in Monaco, as have my kids, and have actually made contact with cars with the flat of my hand in frustration as they sped past. I’ve been knocked off my push bike twice in my short cycling career, had a major car accident where I was hit from behind by a speeding and I suspect texting driver, and my car rolled with two of my kids and me in. I’ve even been hit by a (very slow) car in the last 2km of a marathon as it passed the barriers with police on foot chasing and gesticulating after it, although that was Milan so that can probably be expected.  
Last Monday I was driving on the A8 after work in the dark and pouring rain, and overtaking a 10 lorry convoy bumper to bumper in the inside lane trying to see through their spray, hence I was in the middle lane. I wasn’t speeding – the Hilux doesn’t really afford me that option to be honest – but I was doing roughly the speed limit around 110kmh when one of the trucks drifted into my lane. I was aware that there was nothing beside me at that point, which was a relief as I had to take evasive action, drifting into the outside lane. Almost immediately a white Golf hooted at me to move out the way as he wanted to overtake and was struggling to slow down in the wet conditions. Fortunately the truck had moved back and I was able to evade the Golf as it hurtled past me with his hand still on the horn as he went.
And of course Jack was killed by a car in a place where the car shouldn’t have been.
I run a lot. And cycle. And of course do other stuff in a car or on a motorcycle which normally requires me to share the road with cars, trucks and buses and the like. I get that people may think that because of my massive foot mileage I’m going to have more than my fair share of incidents. But I think people seem to be getting more and more hurried, and more and more selfish and careless. It seems that every day I read about someone killed or seriously injured on a bike in London, and the Twitter debates it throws up between car drivers that can’t seem to bear cyclists sharing the same road as them, and yet commuting by bike is far cheaper and better for you than sitting in traffic for hours on end.
I don’t want to be “Grumpy from Tunbridge Wells” but it seems to me that things are getting worse not better. Am I wrong in thinking that the road is for all users? Particularly if it’s a quiet country lane like the one I was on this morning. With a little more thought and courtesy for others we’d all be a lot safer, and probably happier. And that well loved (and enormous) cat would be on his way home to his family rather than lying stiff and cold in a grass verge. 

<![CDATA[Cro Trail - Race Report]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 09:39:18 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/cro-trail-race-report(Bearing in mind I wrote this prior to my third and most recent bout of AF)

“There’s no need for you to do this.”
“You have nothing to prove.”
“If you withdraw the pain will stop.”
“Don’t push yourself. You’re too fat, too slow and too unfit.”
“If you carry on you’ll injure yourself.”
Demons. Some people endure these internal voices all day every day. Some people only some of the time. Very few of us never experience any demons. But during an ultra marathon they are virtually ever present. Sometimes the demons are not just internal, however. Sometimes they arise from other people. Sometimes I feel just like Alice with her Diabetes, and the phrase that just about has her popping out of her skin with apoplexy “Are you sure you should be eating that?” as she has a slice of cake, a bite of chocolate, or a lick of an ice cream, with the rest of her friends and family. Of course she can! She can eat anything she wants, as long as she injects the right number of insulin units in at the same time.
So let me get one thing straight: endurance running does not trigger Atrial Fibrillation. In fact there are studies that suggest endurance running or high intensity exercise can actually help people back into normal sinus rhythm. I have had AF twice that I know of – once towards the end of a particularly grueling business trip across 3 time zones with meetings all day every day and dinners at night functioning on coffee and four hours sleep a night, and once after a period of very high mental stress at work and home, and generally living a very unhealthy lifestyle – I had had a knee injury from December to May and had done virtually no running at all, restricting myself to gym and cycling (I thought that this actually contributed to my stress levels, as I was unable to metabolize stress through running as normal). I had to be cardio verted both times as the drugs merely slowed my heart rate to a halt – causing a little stress amongst the nursing staff on the ward one evening. My cardiologist is very supportive of my endurance running. Since my AF I have had an ablation which, fingers crossed, will prevent further bouts of AF until I am lot older, or perhaps not at all.  My father suffers from AF, his sister had a stroke related to AF a couple of years ago, and my father’s brother has a pacemaker. My cardiologist is 100% sure my AF is genetic. AF triggers can be the normal stress, Cocaine, caffeine, to the ridiculous – including one person I know that has AF triggered after eating ice cream or drinking cold drinks.
In July 2015 I tried to run the Cro Magnon – 115km from Limone to Menton. It was about 6 weeks after my first bout of AF from which I was subsequently cardio verted (a sort of mild defibrillation). It was a very warm day. I did not take water from an aid station when I should have, and then inadvertently missed another water stop later on as the signs had been moved. I was very nervous about my heart rate (a very common side effect of AF is anxiety – about it happening again - and depression, as those suffering from it are unsure about their own triggers and cannot live life as they used to as a result). I arrived at the Breil sur Roya aid station after 80km with about 40 minutes to spare before the aid station closed and I would have been timed out. I was however very dehydrated having gone off course to a river to try and rehydrate and then getting lost in the dark woods an hour or so earlier. I tried to rehydrate in Breil but it took so long and I did not have the mental strength to argue with the aid station director when she took my number away from me. It remains my only DNF.
Was my DNF related to AF? Yes and no. Yes: because I was unsure and anxious about my heart during the race, and it sapped my mental strength and slowed me down so much during the race that I was effectively timed out. No, because I had no signs of AF at all, and didn’t for another year after the event, when it came after a period of high stress and 5 months of no exercise.
I mentioned my cardiologist was supportive of my running – the things I have been told to do in order to reduce the likelihood of AF in the future are as follows:
*Reduce stress (it’s really not that easy to do – try it)
*No drugs (not a problem)
*Cut out caffeine (more than 2 years in and strangely I don’t miss it at all)
*When on business trips try and set aside some time to unwind rather than pack in meetings from breakfast and then finish with a dinner / night out
*Watch what I drink
With all that in mind, I took the start line of the 2017 Cro Trail, 115km and 7000m of positive altitude change, 7900m of negative. I had one goal – to finish. Not even to enjoy it, just to finish it. This was about unfinished business and exorcising demons. I had finished the MdS in April with Number One Daughter, but that was more about getting her across the line than me. This Cro was about me. About not giving in to the mental side effects common to AF.
I had trained – not as much as for my previous Cro in 2014 when I ran to the start and back! I had cut back on the long runs when I was on business trips, and so forth. I was a little heavier than I was comfortable with. I took the sticks that Em had used with such success the whole way through the MdS, as I thought that if I had a small injury the sticks would help. How right I was!
I hadn’t banked on the heat. We set off at 5pm on Friday 7th July and I was sweating buckets before I had gone the first kilometer as we climbed out of Limone.  As we gained altitude the heat became tolerable, reaching 2400m in the evening sun, passing late hikers heading down to Limone or trying to reach the Don Barbera refuge before they stopped serving their delicious mountain fayre. I took advantage of the stunning cloudless views over the mountains, taking in that I was towards the back of the pack although there were still a few stragglers behind me as we crossed over a bubbling brook wending it’s way down a sharp couloir.
Slowly the pack spread out, as we played a game of tag almost – some people faster on the brief downhills, some faster on the plentiful uphills, and some people stopped to take photos, the click clack of walking poles ever present on the rocks. The first checkpoint came and went – refuge Garelli, where a surprisingly large number of hikers were leaning over the balcony to stare at us, their day over and their weary limbs resting, whereas our day was only just beginning, despite the fact it was 9pm at night.  I filled up with 2.5L of water as I had promised myself and took a rare photo.
Demons came and went.
Onwards and upwards on a particularly steep section – I used the poles as my hands, to jab in to the path and then heave myself up. The poles were a real help, despite the fact I hadn’t ever really practiced with them. Years of snow shoing, and upper body sessions in the gym must have helped.  As the sun disappeared for the night I took out my headlamp and put away my sunnies, in readiness. Before it got completely dark a few little patches of snow were visible despite the searing heat. The next checkpoint, Don Barbera twinkled into view, not yet 25km into the race, but with a time cut of midnight, a full 7 hours after we had set off. I was pleased to see that I had over an hour in hand. I stopped again to refill my water supplies, and took a cup of hot tea as well. It wasn’t exactly cold when I was moving, but stopping for any length of time and the sweat soaked clothing was chilling. The aid station staff were warmly wrapped up.
Demons came and went.
I moved on and up, the mountains floodlit by a massive full moon in the cloudless sky. I had a bit of a chat to Paolo, wearing a WAA MdS pack. He was Italian but spoke some English (the only English speaker I encountered in the whole race). He was a serial ultra runner, and the 2016 MdS was the highlight of his experiences. However, in the mountain ultras he tended to suffer from gastro issues although was feeling pretty strong. He stopped to chat to some buddies who were first aiders or mountain paramedics, part of the sizeable team that were dotted in pairs or threes throughout the course through the whole race. I went, although he passed me an hour or so later. Ticking off the checkpoints, I arrived at Baisse de Sanson an hour and a half ahead of the 5.30am cut off, and didn’t lollygaggle (as Mad Dog Mike used to say), although they had run out of water and had sent out for more. I got worried and cross as it was dusk and already getting hot and I was getting low on water. They said there was a fountain the near future where I could get more water, but with no real Italian I struggled to converse and didn’t know how far it was. I made it a kilometer or so, and had to sit down for a ponder. A runner passed me and asked me if I was ok. I wasn’t sure I was, but said I was and he carried on. It took a few mouthfuls of trail mix and swigs of my water for me to feel good enough to carry on again, and literally 500m further on was the fountain, and the aid station Land Rover filling up huge tanks with water. I replenished my supply and dunked my cap and carried on.

This marked the long and technical 1200m descent towards Saorge back down at 400m. The sun rose, headlamps were put away and at Saorge I got the news that Mrs R and the kids, as well as our house guests the McGee family would be coming to see me at Sospel. Any thoughts I had of stopping at Breil, like the last time, were banished for good. I was making good time, a couple of hours ahead of the cut offs, and still moving at a decent clip. The route from Saorge to Breil tested my resolve to the limit, though. There were two climbs, very steep and tiring albeit sheltered from the sun’s heat in the woods. Each climb was like a vertical kilometer in about 5km, followed by the brutal descents. Every step brought me closer to Breil.
As I emerged from the woods a kilometer or so from Breil, the sun’s heat was unbearable, and I took my t shirt off. It had been a wicking t shirt but after accidentally been through the ironing pile it no longer wicked effectively, and was working more like a wet suit – retaining the sweat and keeping it close to my body to keep me even warmer. It wasn’t exactly bliss taking it off, the chafing from the pack adding to my discomfort, but it helped ease the heat. The humidity meant that the sweat didn’t dry but a light breeze helped a little.
I pulled into Breil, changed the batteries on my headlamp, ate a Go Bar, availed myself of some Iced Tea in my drop bag, and replenished all my electrolyte powders and trail mix. I also changed my socks as mine were soaked through with sweat and also the toes had come through the ends from all the pressure of the downhills. I also discarded my precautionary knee brace which had worn away a large patch of skin due to being constantly wet from sweat. Applying Vaseline everywhere, and suntan lotion everywhere else, I set off again within 20 minutes, around 1hr 45 before the checkpoint closed. The participants for the Riviera Trail were lining up for their race (which I had done last year), and as I pulled out they all clapped and cheered me, which was a massive boost.
The section from Breil to Peine Haut not only climbed incessantly, it was unsheltered from the midday sun and was roasting. Within minutes sweat was pouring off me, so I once again took the t shirt off, and concentrated on drinking water. I chivvied along an Italian who had stopped within site of the summit at Peine – a small mountain village perched on the top. Having been through there before on multiple trail runs I knew there was a nice cold fountain where we could cool down and replenish our water supplies. Dragging him to the top with me, we both sat down in the shade, dunked our caps in the water, and took long drinks from the fountain. We were joined by some others, grizzled Italians, and before long I left them to it and braved the sun to head off. Next stop Sospel and my crew!
The heat was taking its toll though. I passed plenty of swimming holes which had been full in previous years and previous runs, but this time they were empty. Eventually, about 2km out from Sospel, I was more or less spent and collapsed onto a verge on the cinder trail and tried to get some shade. I called up Mrs R and said I was done in, but she encouraged me to get moving as Sharni and some of the kids were trekking out to meet me. I heaved myself to my feet, and sure enough after a kilometer or so there they were. It was a true sight for sore eyes.
They walked with me and I reached Sospel almost 2.5 hours before the cut off, and collapsed into a chair, whereupon I was set upon by my crew like a Formula One mechanical team swarming around an F1 car changing tyres, filling it with fuel, wiping visors and the like. They emptied my shoes of stones, rubbed suntan lotion into everywhere, fed me copious amounts of trail mix and poured iced tea into me. My water supply was replenished, Vaseline applied to places I didn’t even knew existed, ice put into my cap and shorts, and my morale well and truly boosted. Other runners looked on in envy and the aid station staff, some of whom I knew, commented they had never seen such a big and efficient crew – five kids, two adults and two dogs! I was spoilt.
As I left Sospel I felt like I had just started the race, not travelled the 95km or so to that point. I knew there were two more climbs, and this next one the main one. I kept telling myself that, as I headed  up the vertical 800m or so to the summit. There were so many false summits that runners were losing the will to continue. One chap seemed to give up and turned around to head back towards Sospel. Once again I passed Paolo who had had gastro issues, and he asked me when the summit was. I mentioned it was only 1 or 2km to go before we reached it. In reality I began to struggle again, but gritted my teeth and got on with it. The summit would be when the summit was, and not before.
And then of course we reached it, and headed down the cinder trail which I knew would take me to the last aid station – in reality just a trestle table nestling in a little valley, with water and a few deck chairs. I made it, replenished my waters and then headed up the last steep climb, thunder echoing the other side of the valley, the humidity finally looking like it would break into a big storm. I found it helped to say to myself that every switchback would be the last, and gradually a small chain of us formed and headed up together. I overtook a farmer type chap with a huge backpack on and we both sat down at the summit, him wittering away in Italian and me just recovering my breath, eating and drinking. I rang Mrs R to let her know where I was and she said Brad was in Castellar waiting. I then wrapped up my headlamps, phone etc in case the storm caught me up, and headed down the hill, overtaking a couple of hikers, one who had slipped on the loose rocks, but said she was ok as I passed.  In fact most people fell on the descent, myself included.
I could hear Brad before I could see him, yelling “Bunsy” as I approached. He was waiting with his bike, having cycled up and been mistaken for a runner or official with his neon yellow cycling top. I hobbled down the road to the village with him, stopping at a water source to dunk my t shirt and rinse myself off. I was struggling to cool down, particularly as we lost altitude. Brad chatted to me boosting my morale and before long he could go no further as the course went back on to the old footpath. The markers became more and more scarce through the woods, and eventually I had collected a posse of five lost Italians, as I was pretty familiar with where we were going. I led them down through the woods, eventually falling over and twisting and cutting my knee on a sharp right turn with loose stones, and was a little galled that the Italians just headed off without me! However they were lost within 500m again and I caught them up and shepherded them through a tunnel underneath the A8 autoroute. It was dark in the tunnel, covered in graffiti and some pretty unpleasant looking paraphernalia in there. Noone had a headlamp handy, not quite night time yet, and so I bravely offered to bring up the rear letting the rest of the guys go ahead of me!
All that was required now was a long hobble into the old town of Menton. Despite being on our feet for over 28 hours, people were able to put in a burst of pace and would overtake me, but that was fine as job number one was to finish before the cut offs, and that was definitely happening. One chap took pity on me and suggested we approach the line together. I saw Clara which was a bit of a shock, just before the steps down to the beach, and then as we passed the restaurants before the finish I could hear Brad, Olive and Graham cheering me along.
I crossed the line in 28hrs 43 minutes and 26 seconds, over an hour ahead of the 30 hour cut, and in 93rd place out of some 260 entrants. Only 108 people finished. It was a brutal course, made harder by the heat and humidity but it was amazing to have finished.
Demons banished. 

<![CDATA[Life is not just about surviving]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 09:25:37 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/life-is-not-just-about-survivingI started writing this post just after the Cro Trail, where I set out to finish, after my DNF two years ago. It was supposed to be a blog and a race review.

​2016 was a running write off for me, what with the knee injury curtailing any running for almost 6 months, and then my second bout of Atrial Fibrillation (AF) in May of last year – completely unrelated to running, as I hadn’t done any for 3 months, and had done barely any for the 3 months before that! I had an ablation in August, with 8 hours under general anaesthetic, and basically had to start from scratch all over again.  

The ablation was deemed successful – everyone has “extra systolic heart beats”, but for me these can be a trigger for AF. Pre ablation I was having hundreds of these episodes in a 24hr period. “Normal” non AF people will have probably 50-100 in the same time frame. Post ablation I was having less than 10 per 24 hour period. My running also improved; I was getting quicker without putting too much effort into it, whereas I had been getting slower into my first bout of AF.
Exactly a week after the Cro, I went into AF for the third time. I had had a busy week – late nights, a ton of work, dinners, meetings, all the rest of it. On Friday evening after work I got on my push bike and got off after 6km, and knew immediately I was in AF – I felt rubbish, I could feel my heart beating erratically, and a simple pulse check confirmed this. I cycled home, and called the cardiologist.
Some people when they go into AF can be useless – the blood does not travel efficiently, and they can feel dizzy, or even faint. My second bout was very much like that. This time around I could actually function. I arranged to meet the cardiologist at the hospital the next day, around noon, for a check up, but she trusted me to diagnose myself, having successfully done so both previous times.  I had some work to tidy up, so I did so. I went to bed, although sleep can be tricky when one’s heart is leapfrogging around in one’s chest.
The next day I drove myself to hospital. Parked the truck. Walked to cardiology. Was attached to a monitor. And subsequently admitted for an overnight stay – there were signs of Ventricular Fibrillation – very nasty.  After 24hrs with a less than optimal room mate (the snoring was unbelievable, and had a terrible habit of using the loo with the door wide open – I won’t go into details, but suffice to say I spent most of my stay with my head UNDER the pillow), my heart actually put itself back into normal rhythm – something that has not happened before. I was in the main relieved that I did not have to wait for another cardioversion (a sort of defibrillator) to put me back into normal sinus rhythm, or that I potentially would have to live in permanent AF. Whilst I could function, it feels a bit like having the flu – headache, lethargic, short of breath, tired beyond belief, not sleeping properly, and so on.  I saw my lovely cardiologist and she confirmed that it was not Ventricular Fibrillation, just Atrial Fibrillation, but slightly different to my previous incarnations. I was packed off with a month of blood thinners and rhythm stabilizers, and told to continue my life as normal.

That meant, and I clarified:
Work – yes, but try and avoid (additional) stress
Booze – yes, in moderation, as any Dr would advise anyone
Exercise – yes – and yes she is completely aware of the type of sports I do, having cleared both Emily and me for the Marathon Des Sables earlier in the year. Let me reiterate, she said yes to the sport.
And no, sport is not to blame for the this episode, any more than any other factor. I would be just as likely to go into AF if I had sat on the couch scratching myself and watching Coronation Street. My father has AF, has never run a marathon, has been teetotal for 10 years, does not drink any caffeine, and can go into AF bending over to pick up a dropped spoon in the kitchen.
What triggered this episode? Impossible to tell. Possibly a combination of everything – stress, fatigue, drinking too much booze. One person I have met through AF swears his is triggered by cheesecake. Another by eating extremely cold or extremely hot food. I have met a lot of people with AF since my initial diagnosis, and they are from all walks of life, all sorts of background, ranging from 18 – 85, but not one of them – let me repeat that, not one, participates in endurance sports.
One thing common to sufferers of AF, though, is depression and anxiety.  A lot of people take extra medication to try and deal with these side effects. If you have AF, you never know when it is going to strike, or why, and how bad. Imagine you are driving along a busy motorway and all of a sudden you feel faint and dizzy, and have to pull over. Or swimming. Or even in the bath. I have been quite fortunate as I can actually function when in AF. Many others cannot. And then there is the constant cycle of cardioversions and ablations. Many people’s first ablation does not work 100% and they have two or more. My father is currently on his third.
As I lay in hospital I was pretty pissed off, for want of a better word. I had worked all week and was looking forward to a relaxing weekend. We had Sharni, Brad, Thalia and Rory staying from Australia. The last time I had seen Sharni and the kids was in 2011. I was worried that the Doc would leave me in permanent AF.  And the associated drug regime of blood thinners and rhythm stabilizers – these are no fun in themselves, and if I had to take them permanently….what other things would I have to give up to try and minimize the risk of further or worsening bouts of AF? Some people turn into recluses, out of fear and anxiety. Depression about the life not lived is common. 
But then I read the quote at the top of the page: Life is not just about surviving. That struck a chord. Sure you can lock yourself up in a room and minimise any risk of AF through avoidance. Avoid stress, so just do the bare minimum at work (or retire) and not travel to see existing or pitch to new customers. Avoid lack of sleep, so refuse invitations to dinner or the pub. Do less sport as it might put a (externally perceived) strain on the body. Give up alcohol. But then that is no life, it is just survival. Life is about taking some risks, ask anyone successful in any field, from entrepeneur or athlete. I have to accept that I suffer from AF, regardless of what happens now with my treatment (another ablation might be in my future, although I am scheduled for a cardiac stress test at the end of the month, and will discuss follow ups then). I do suffer from AF, but it does not mean that I will do anything differently. It’s like I always say to Alice, she can do anything she wants despite the fact she has type one diabetes: she controls her diabetes, not the other way around.
And no, I will not be giving up my endurance sports, any more than I am about to give up work. I have responsibilities – kids etc. and therefore giving up work at the moment is not an option. The pleasure and stress relief I get from running, as well as associated health benefits, more than outweighs any (externally perceived) downside.
I don’t have any events on my agenda in the short term, and will try and get past this latest AF episode before committing to anything, but that’s not to say if someone rang me up and said did I fancy a 5k/10k/half or full marathon in a fortnight, then the answer would probably be yes!

<![CDATA[Carcassonne Marathon]]>Thu, 08 Jun 2017 10:01:32 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/carcassonne-marathonWeekend away with just my family. Beautiful medieval citadel. Fabulous little boutique hotel with pool and hot tub 100 metres from the main sites and restaurants. Driving distance from home. And a cheeky little marathon to boot. What's not to like?

It's been quite a year so far. January to April was spent focussed on the Marathon Des Sables, and more specifically getting Emily to a point where she had the physical and mental strength to get through it. We all know how that went. The discipline slipped a little for me after that, not least because I spent quite a bit of time on the road, mostly for business but also some pleasure. House guests too when I was actually at home. Lunches and dinners out every day, travelling, jet lag and the like were not always conducive to healthy living. In order to bring things back into focus I found a marathon within driving distance, so we could take the dogs. Time to pack up the car and just spend some quality family time on the road.
I was also looking forward to the marathon. Running with only myself to think about. Obviously I had endurance from the MdS, but it had been a long time since I had worked on my speed, and my ablation seems to have really helped me get quicker again. I had no idea what to expect on the day, and with such a lack of pressure on myself, I was able to enjoy the tapering and carb loading even more! I had more or less stuck to the normal training schedule, albeit missing a couple of runs and one long run when I was travelling the US. I had two goals - to finish, and also to finish quicker than my last 2 marathons (4hrs 50 in Jerusalem last march, and 4hrs 31 in Nice last November, not long after my ablation).
As this was only the 3rd edition of the Carcassonne Marathon, there was very little information out there about the course, but I thought it might be hot and was expecting a few rolling hills. How right I was!
The drive itself was a bit of a nightmare - instead of the 4hrs 30 it took 7hrs on the Friday evening after work / school, including a stop for a burger at a motorway services to see if the traffic would clear a little. We arrived at the Hotel du Chateau at 11pm, greeted by a fabulous view of the citadel lit up just in front of us, and also to a very warm welcome from the night manager. 

The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel which was amazing - a basket full of home cooked bread and pastries, local jams, butter and yoghurt, boiled eggs, homemade apple juice. After demolishing that we headed into the citadel for some sightseeing, wandering around the narrow streets, venturing into the haunted house (brilliant!), we tried out a restaurant, and then wandered the 2km or so to the Stade and the marathon check in. It was reminiscent of a local village trail run in its simplicity - no queue at all, just pick up a number, a sponge chip for the shoe, 4 safety pins and a rather nice t shirt with no sponsor logos - just the race logo on the back. As we wandered back to the hotel, the heavens opened and I realised my jacket was not at all waterproof. As we were soaked, we hopped straight into the heated pool, and the even more heated hot tub, enjoying a chat with some Americans who had just finished a cycling tour of the area.
Once the rain stopped we wandered back into the citadel for a cassoulet (local dish of duck, sausage and white beans, delicious). A very relaxed early night after a couple of episodes of Coronation St on the iPlayer!
Marathon Day: I had brought my own breakfast as I wanted to eat earlier than breakfast, so with my homemade muesli I headed upstairs to the bar area in search of a cup of tea. The news was playing with sketchy details of the awful attack in London. Cup of tea in hand I dashed back to the room to wake Mrs R, and we switched on the BBC to find out more. Horrendous and very sobering.
The location of the hotel was great for the race start - less than 100m away, so I popped up to see what was going on there. Virtually no sign anything was happening other than a few runners milling around, 45 minutes before the start. I returned to the room, and made my way back to the start within 10 minutes of the scheduled 8.30am kick off. People were now, unhurriedly, setting up the inflatable arch, put barriers up to block traffic, and speakers for a briefing prior to the start. And then just like that, we were off at 8.30am on the dot. Maybe 250 of us, heading off for a little 42.2km trot around Carcassonne.
There were pacers, but I tend not to use them. I set off with the 4hr group but they were going too quick for me initially, so I slowed right down as we navigated the streets of the modern Carcassonne. AS I warmed up after 2-3km I caught the 4hr bunch up, and ran with them for a bit, dropping back on the uphills, and speeding up on the downhills. On one elongated downhill I actually overtook the group and left them behind.
More or less on my own as we found ourselves in the countryside, the rolling hills were evident. The terrain was like a cross between the North Downs and Medoc, and to top it all we seemed to be running into a very strong headwind. I found someone to run behind and chatted to a group of runners for a little while, enjoying myself and the scenery. It was all very relaxed. A mixture of roads and farm tracks, but never flat.
A couple of very fit looking chaps wearing gas masks and military backpacks were my companions for a little while. They were running for military wounded charities, and I enjoyed sharing a laugh with them, despite not being able to understand a great deal of what they were saying through their gas masks. I was hot, but they must have been unbearably warm.
I felt good all the way to about 30km, enjoying the banter with the marshals and other runners, and from then on it became a little more tricky. The military chaps overtook me on a particularly steep hill - I was still trying to run and they were power walking. But my time was still ok and looking like a sub 4hr which would have been terrific. We hit a canal tow path around 35km, and then the wheels started to fall off. My left leg and groin for some reason started to seize up and I was moving terribly. Rueing that I hadn't taken the opportunity to walk up the hills, I stopped briefly to stretch out the pain, but was determined to carry on and finish. A mixture of jogging and walking took me the last few kilometres to the finish, and I was in good company as the course, heat and wind had broken quite a few people. I crossed the line in 4hrs 10, which was bang on target. Not as good as I might have hoped, but still beating my target times, and what was more important was that I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Perhaps I'll never regain the speed I used to have pre my cardiac issues when I was running consistently 3hrs 35 for marathons, but I don't think I am running to put in a record time any more, I just enjoy running marathons and ultras. And I am slowly getting quicker, if that makes sense!
After grabbing some stake ginger cake and heavily diluted Coke, I staggered the 2km back to the hotel for a shower and hot tub. The rest of the family joined me and we went for a lovely lunch back in the citadel, before the drive home. Despite employing a two stop strategy we still made it back in 4hrs 30 which was great. The family consensus was that everyone had had a really nice time, and we are now scouring the universe for more marathons to do in interesting places. Florence might be a good bet in November! 

<![CDATA[Marathon des Sables 2017]]>Thu, 27 Apr 2017 06:39:59 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/marathon-des-sables-2017
The desert is not just flat sand and dunes. The bivouac is the white line towards the top right
"If I can't see the bivouac from the top of that dune, I'm abandoning." Emily sobbed.
Said dune was about the size of a two story house and stretched as far as the eye could see, golden sand giving way to evil looking slate rocks the higher and steeper the dune climbed. A steel coloured four wheel drive reflected the sun painfully back into our eyes even at 9.30am.
I took a moment to consider my response to Emily. I didn't want to get into an argument about abandoning given her current state, but we still had a good 7 kilometres to go the other side of the dune from my mental calculations. We had been on our feet for over 24 hours, going through the heat of the previous day, stumbling through the night, and the new day was already turning into another 50 degree scorcher. We had travelled around 79 of the 86 scheduled kilometres.
"Let's just see what there is to see at the top, and have a rest and a think." I replied. Emily nodded.
"Bienvenue. Welcome. Wilkommen." The always chirpy marshal said, his trademark beige gilet weighed down with pens, medical equipment and water. Emily and I collapsed into what little shade there was. Fortunately the bivouac shimmered in the distance, but in the distance it was.
"It's never going to end." Emily exclaimed miserably.
"It will darling. One step in front of the other." I put my arm around her. She shrugged it off.
"Too hot."
Without saying another word she heaved herself to her feet, pack and all, and started shuffling towards the flickering bivouac in the distance. 

Looking very clean prior to the 1st stage
PictureOur neighbours, the Hong Kong Chinese, had a habit of hanging their washing up - they became known as The Laundry. They were also very loud, staying up after Day One until 2.30am partying. Fortunately they got progressively quieter through the week.
It seemed like a long time since we had left home for the desert. A short plane journey to Paris, a pasta dinner in the hotel, 5am wake up and then the shuttle bus to the terminal along with a herd of others wearing various brightly coloured backpacks and jackets like a WAA and Raidlight closing down sale. We met Susan from Vancouver in the queue to check in to our flight, and then used the last electricity we would see for 9 days waiting for our flight. Avidly hand sanitizing every few minutes, and avoiding any food that looked remotely dubious, we had three hours in the plane followed by two hours to clear Passport control at Ouarzazate.

I introduced myself to Patrick Bauer, the father of the MdS, just before we boarded the bus and made sure he knew Emily was the youngest in the race. He had already had the heads up from Philippe Verdier (No Finish Line, and a friend of Patricks), and we chatted for a few minutes before boarding the bus.
Six hours later we arrived in the first bivouac and reset our watches to UTC (GMT - no real explanation as to why but the MdS runs on UTC time). Steve Gale, the other of the three Monaco entrants, was already installed in tent 101 - closest to the start/finish arch, and firmly in the British section. Steve had made his own way to Morocco having done a RAID in his Land Rover the previous week, and was therefore in the first wave in camp. We had discussed plans ahead of time, and I was keen to minimise in camp mileage therefore convenience to the start finish was high on my list of priorities. The runners' "tents" (a Berber tent is a rug on the floor, and then another rug draped over a couple of poles over the top - no sides to speak of at all) were arranged in a horseshoe, and if we were on the top bow of the horseshoe we would be travelling almost another kilometre to and from the start every day, not to mention any trips for briefings, pre race meals, visits to the infamous Doc Trotters, the email tent to send our one email per day, and so on. Steve had come through with possibly the most convenient tent onsite. He was alone, and had been since 2pm that afternoon. It was nearly 6pm by the time we arrived in the middle of the desert. No army trucks this time around, thank goodness, as the camp was close enough to the road to get there directly by bus. 
An hour later and four more people arrived to share our tent. Ryan and Stu who had met at Uni playing football, and James and Sam, two brothers originally from Norwich. I was the only veteran of the MdS, so I spent a lot of time fielding questions, and of course eating food we had brought as well as the meals provided by the organisers.
Our first night was a windy one, and I ended up paying one of the Berbers Eur10 to help us sort out our tent to give us some shelter. The lesson was expensive but well learnt as it would come in useful more or less every night for the rest of the week without the need for Berber interaction. Emily and I also bought a scarf each from the stall onsite to use as shoulder padding for our rucksacks and a pillow at night.
The following day, Saturday and the day before the race began, was spent mainly queuing. Again. Queuing for our water ration in the morning, then again for breakfast. I was looking for tea rather than coffee.
"Tea's over there mate." A thick west country accent emerged from a very impressive beard. "Or as they call it in Morocco, the."
I looked to where he had gesticulated and saw the hand written post it note with the French for tea, on a half broken flask.
We queued for the "boutique" and bought a buff each. Then we had to queue for the technical checks. My executive Samsonite suitcase cut a dash in the desert as I wheeled it through the dust to the army truck where it was labelled and unceremoniously slung on board. Two army trucks for 1200 suitcases. At the end of the day Berbers strolled around on the top of cases stacked 20 feet high, covering them with netting. I was not sure what state it would arrive back to me in Ouarzazate at the finish! For the next 8 days it would just be my backpack and I.
We queued for the technical checks where they glanced at the list of mandatory equipment - 2000 calories per day, signalling mirror, compass, whistle, survival blanket, sleeping bag, and so on. They took our medical forms and ECG print outs. Then weighed our packs. 10.5kg each without water. And then we had to queue for a SPOT GPS tracker which was cable tied to our packs. Then another queue for a photo. Then a queue for lunch.
The afternoon was pretty relaxed. Eating pot noodles, trail mix, and trying to get the weight down in our packs. We had a briefing from Patrick in the afternoon - lots of hanging around in the sun waiting. Patrick mentioned Emily in his address as the youngest member, and the number 4 seed woman came up and had a chat with her, intrigued that someone so young was embarking on this most gruelling of challenges. 

Patrick Bauer Show - demonstrating the correct useage of plastic bag and tripod, complete with latest issue of L'Equipe
PictureBackpack fine tuning prior to the start of the first stage - not fine tuned enough!
That night the excitement and trepidation of the impending race meant that sleep was fitful at best, and after some cold tea, cold rehydrated muesli and a Berocca, and before we knew it Emily and I set off for the start of Stage One of the 2017 Marathon Des Sables. A few announcements from Patrick Bauer standing on top of a Land Rover, then as he air guitared to AC DC's Highway to Hell, we crossed under the inflatable arch and started our journey for real. The months of training and preparation had finally become a reality.
There were 1250 some entrants, and only 1170 of those began the race. Whenever asked I would say that our goal was to come in the top 1200 runners. Em and I chatted to people as we jogged a bit, walked a bit, nerves giving way to something else, excitement and familiarity as the training took over. Our packs seemed very heavy, which would come back to haunt us later on. 

Stage One - 30.3km, 6 hours 33 minutes
After a nervous sleep interrupted at points by our neighbours the Hong Kong lot who seemed unable to talk in anything other than a yell, and also partied until 2am! The stage itself was reasonably unremarkable, if spending over 6 hours jogging and walking in 40 degree heat in the Sahara Desert can be called unremakable - in fact Rory Coleman, a veteran of 14 finishes, commented afterwards that this was the easiest first day he had ever experienced. The terrain was quite sandy, lots of small dunes and finished with one small hill. The heat was not too much of a problem, we jogged a bit on the flats, walked a bit particularly on sand and any inclines, and then Emily set the pace with a sprint finish for the last 500 metres. We had glimpsed someone in real trouble at the first Checkpoint, and it later transpired he had had a cardiac arrest, and after he was stabilised with several hours of CPR he and his wife had been airlifted by chopper to Casablanca. He woke from a coma several days later and was chatting to his wife, which was a relief as Patrick thoughtfully updated us in his daily briefing. After we had finished we had plenty of water to rinse ourselves off at the end of the day and to cook our food - when I say cook, I mean cut a water bottle in half, put in the powder, add water, cover with film and leave in the sun to heat up. Because we finished mid afternoon we had plenty of time to do our admin - eat, rehydrate, send our one email for the day. Both of us had a couple of blisters but I managed to pop them with a needle that I'd heated in a cigarette lighter, and then covered with "Second Skin" paint on elastoplast. We also started to slim down the contents of our packs, as they were definitely too heavy and Em was struggling quite a bit with sore and bruised shoulders. This would become a theme through the week. The daily printout of emails was a huge morale boost with news from home, some encouraging messages and plenty of jokes which were recycled through the tent. We then lit a bonfire of sorts as an offering to the running gods using the paper email printouts, as they would have been too heavy to carry on top of everything else. 

Who would have expected so much sand in the Sahara Desert?
PictureA refreshing cup of tea
Stage Two - 39km, 9 hours 56 minutes
The roadbook suggested this would have a mixture of terrain - some flat plains, a few small dune fields and then one large climb at the end of the day with a technical descent of 20% gradient. I had hoped that we would have been able to run quite a bit given the flat terrain but as it was I had barely slept that night due to a stomach upset. I took an Immodium in the morning and also got a pill from Doc Trotter which seemed to suppress some of the worst symptoms, although by the time we reached the second checkpoint I was struggling for energy, hydration, and to carry my pack. At each checkpoint the organisers had a couple of berber tents up so that competitors could rest and get some shade. I collapsed into the tent and started going through my pack throwing stuff away - my jumper for the nights went, Emily's leggings, quite a bit of my food and anything else I thought I could get away with. Em made sure I had everything I needed electrolyte wise, and forced me to eat a bar. After about 30 minutes I felt a lot better and was able to move on, feeling better with every step. We saw a big herd of wild camels grazing in the sand next to an ancient fort which was very cool. We did find that we were travelling with a familiar group, however. There was Claire the geologist from Mali who had employed a sort of berber headgear rather than the Legionnaire cap. Julian with the mad 14 year old daughter who had dragged her dad on bikes from London to Paris, and was inspired by Emily's story. We also had a chat to Duncan - the double amputee who was making his way slowly but relentlessly across the Sahara. I asked him for advice when dealing with the press, as Em was being interviewed daily by various press representatives. He merely said "Don't swear". I didn't realise but he had been caught swearing when interrupted by Prince Harry in a training session! The climb at the end was Alpine in its steepness with unforgiving rocks like razor blades. Both Em and I tore our gaiters on the rocks but I managed to bandage them up with duct tape (the one thing that had escaped the dramatic cull at CP2) and also I lost my spare bottle. Given I had a bit more room in my pack I put one of the front packs inside the back which made everything more comfortable, although I still maintain that my pack was defective because I could never seem to get it particularly comfortable all week, compared to others with the same design. We crested the top of the hill and then embarked on a rope assisted descent. After a few metres Em gave up on the rope and slid down the sand on her bum, seeming to enjoy herself! We were able to jog quite a bit after the hill as the sun was descending and it was cooling down again, although I did have to have a last trip into the dunes with my tummy bug. We finished the stage with Em feeling pretty sick due to dehydration and calorie deficit, but Dealer Dave, one of the guys in the next tent, came through with a couple of Diurilites which seemed to help her along. We had reached the bivouac after 6pm, so there was very little time to recover to eat, and both of us ate very little at all. Our tent mates had obviously been in camp for several hours and were ravenous, so were very happy to eat our castoffs! Steve, in our tent, had moaned that the flat terrain had been very boring, and we were too tired to argue as we crashed in our sleeping bags about 8.30pm.

PictureBloody Alps get everywhere

​Stage Three - 31.6km, 8 hours 40 minutes
The roadbook suggested that this would be quite a bit harder than the first day, with a shorter stage but still plenty of dunes and some quite savage hills, including the one that we had gone up and down the previous day. After that final hill there would be an exposed 7km plain to get to the next bivouac. Fortunately I had slept quite well, despite some wind blowing sand into my mouth in the night. As a sign of things to come the weather had gradually been getting hotter, both in the day and at night, and I didn't need my spare jumper which was something to be grateful for. The backpacks were still very heavy as we trudged to the start line to listen to Patrick's briefing, including who had abandoned the previous day, and a "Happy Birthday" to anyone who was fortunate enough to be celebrating their birthday with nearly 2000 of their closest friends. The following day was looming - the MdS was/is all about the Long Day. Em was constantly looking for reassurance that "We will finish won't we Dad!" The day kicked off like any other, one foot in front of the other. Some half hearted jogging when we could, and Em was still using Diurilites to stave off the previous day's dehydration, despite us having electrolytes in one of our bottles.  Over endless dunes, up and down hills, and even navigating through some dunes using a compass bearing as the wind had covered the tracks of others and we were mostly on our own, although we would periodically meet up with some of our friends and colleagues, which was handy when getting some photos taken of the pair of us! We managed our hydration pretty well, chatting with people when we could, and taking as much water as possible at every checkpoint and making sure we were drinking it. I even did the last jebel (climb) of the day - very technical with ropes and quite a big queue, with a bottle of water in each hand to make sure we had enough. The descent was pretty technical with sharp rocks - in fact the ascent from the previous day, although I never found my water bottle I had lost, and Em went too close to a thorny bush getting her hair caught up in it. As if by magic a ninja arrived (a competitor in full ninja costume) and disentangled her from the bush, which made us chuckle. A decent sized dune field, and then the last 7km across the plain was brutal. We both ran out of water and ended it using Fruit Pastilles to try and take our minds off the dry mouth, and the fact that we could see the bivouac but it did not seem to get any closer! We encountered the Joellettes a few km before the finish. These were amazing people pushing a wheel chair through the race with a 15 year old disabled boy in it. They would not go over the climbs with it, but on the climbs they helped the guy with no arms. They seemed as in awe of Em as we were of them! Eventually we made it to camp to cheers from our tent mates, and again Em was on the Diurilites. I actually visited the Dr's to see if they would oblige but they wouldn't without getting blood pressure etc, which I did not want to queue for, but Dealer Dave seemed to have a never ending supply. We gave two thirds of our day's rations to our tent mates, read our very supportive emails even from people we had never met, laughed at the jokes and crashed again about 8.30pm.

Lifesaving device on the long day
Stage Four - 86km - 27hrs, 7 checkpoints
This was it. The Long Day. We had 35 hours to finish, but it was just a question of getting to the finish. Our packs were lighter but still uncomfortable, and we were both very nervous about what the day (and tomorrow) would have in store. Fortunately James in our tent had decided to discard half his Thermarest sleeping mat so I cobbled together some pads with duct tape and sleeping mat for Em's pack so that it would hopefully not bruise her shoulders as much as it had previously. The roadbook suggested several dune fields, including a long one at about 65km with huge dunes which we would doubtless cover at night. There would also be technical ascents and descents, flat plains, and searing heat. Noone had slept terribly well before the long day although our neighbours the Hong Kong lot were noticeably quieter. We set off in long snake of runners and walkers, past an oasis which promised an auberge and free Wifi. There was some sort of rally going on at the same time with a few four wheel drives and a brightly coloured Renault 4 going past us in clouds of dust. Eventually the track gave way to sand, and then a relentless climb up a sandy jebel. As we neared the crest of the jebel, we passed Julian. As everyone had their names and numbers on their back as well as their front, I shouted to Julian as we approached, and he turned to me and with salt stained cracked lips said that he wasn't feeling good. I sent Em on to the next checkpoint which was about 1km in front, and tried to get Julian into some sort of ambulatory state. He had 1.5L of water in his pack as well as two very nearly full front bottles, but he said he did not want to drink yet as he was saving it for when he really needed it. In my view he needed it then so I made him drink half his water and electrolytes. We made it to the CP but he was adamant he was going to abandon. Mentally he never recovered and his daughter confirmed in a very sweet email to Em that he had dropped at that CP, which was a real shame as the CP did not close for over an hour after we arrived. Onwards and upwards. We set off for the next CP - we had decided to just focus on getting to the next CP every time, and take anything up to 30 minutes to rest and recuperate a little at every one. We would also try and eat something at CP2 as that would be "lunchtime" and the hottest part of the day. Just before we reached CP2  the top 50 runners who had started a couple of hours after us thundered past. Ryan from our tent was lying in a top 20 position and cheered us as he went, looking very strong. Tommy Evans, top placed Brit and would finish 3rd overall also cheered us as he passed, and of course we gave him a huge cheer.  The terrain had been very tough slowing our progress considerably, with quite a few climbs and some large sand dunes to traverse. Energy and confidence sapped, and the day very hot (we later heard 54 degrees but the official high was 51), we collapsed in the shade of a support vehicle at CP2 to munch on a bar and chat to Simon from Lugarno who was retired but had an MdS tattoo on his calf and 2 stars indicating 2 finishes. He had lived in Gibraltor and made his money from online gambling businesses and retired to Lugarno. After CP2 the terrain just went up and up, and as we crested the hill Em was struggling. We had a Doliprane each to deal with the backpack related back ache, and a little cry. We had only covered something like 30km and at that point it looked like an impossible task to reach the bivouac with another 56km to go. The downhill was a dune field, and as we went up and down the weather started to cool down a bit which made the mood slightly lighter. I knew it would happen, but around 5.30pm as the sun was preparing to go down my body started crying out for a cup of tea, a sit down on the sofa and Eastenders. Knowing it was going to happen and doing something about it were two very different things. I was fighting fatigue and in the end I could do nothing other than lie down in the shade of a tree and eat and try and motivate myself to get going. Another Brit in a similar position was also struggling and he lay with us. I had the idea of a joke to cheer us up but he was too exhausted to think of any so I called out to a runner on the path. Much to my surprise he deviated from his path and came over and told a very long and very dirty joke. Simon from Austria but living in the Ukraine turned out to be a real character, and as he wobbled off he was still repeating the punchline to himself and laughing, which in itself was a boost and just what I needed to get me to the next CP. We got to the next CP, dealt with some admin, admired a runner who was taking time out to enjoy a cigarette, and then set off just before dark with our glo sticks attached to our packs and headlamps at the ready. Using some dunes to ablute on the way, we very quickly found ourselves yomping along in the dark. The moon was not yet up but you could still see without headlamps for a good thirty minutes after dark. This was a magical time - something I had been looking forward to, heading across the Sahara Desert at night with my daughter. It was amazing, with various scary looking bugs and rodents to keep us occupied. We reached CP4 around 10pm ish, and decided to try and make some Tasty Beef Stroganoff (anything with Tasty in the title in our experience wasn't!). There were plenty of people at the CP huddled round a fire, including people that were sleeping. We were well ahead of the cut offs and getting further ahead as the CP's started to allow people to sleep from CP4 onwards. Duncan and Chris came in as we were leaving and cooked up a Chicken Korma. Fed and watered we cracked on to the next CP. We crossed Oueds (rivers), sand, more dunes, more sand and more oueds before we eventually reached the next CP, but this one was awesome. A campfire surrounded by deckchairs, and as we reached it a cup of mint tea. It was pretty cold, and Em was feeling pretty ill with fatigue and all the rest, but the mint tea perked her up and I got her a second cup. We changed the batteries on our headtorches. We did not stop for long due to the cold, but the rest had done us the world of good.  Now for the major dunes. And boy were they major. Up and down. Up and down. We travelled for a while with Katie from Australia before letting her pull ahead as we stopped for a 5 minute breather. After another hour we could see the glo stick of what looked like a drunken sailor trudging through the dunes in the wrong direction before looking at us and correcting themselves. Sure enough it was Katie from Australia who was dead on her feet. We accompanied her to the next CP, and then dealt with our own admin. It was a bit like a field hospital with berber tents full to bursting with bodies asleep, and even people asleep on the floor outside. It was about 4.30am and we were both absolutely exhausted, but as it was still very cold we took the view that we would carry on and try and push on through rather than sleep and then struggle to get up or have to travel in the heat of the day. We left the CP and crossed a plain in the company of the Hong Kong lot who actually turned out to be hilarious to watch. They had all put puffa jackets on and were singing, about 300 - 400m ahead of us. All of a sudden they would stop and variously take photos, or do some kung fu, or on one occasion a couple of their number dropped their packs and ran off trailing loo roll behind them as they searched in vain for a bush or a shrub. We marched inexorably forward until Susan from Vancouver ran past us cackling like a woman possessed, and at that point I called breakfast. We collapsed into some dunes and had a bar each, and then set off moving again. Our morale was getting lower and lower. We still had 15km to go, and Em started to say things like "We're never going to get there" and "It's never going to end". I put on my iPod and tried to cheer her up by singing along loudly to Bon Jovi, whilst runners passed us looking at me like I was a nutcase. We reached CP7, and Em was in meltdown mode, but Patrick Bauer gave us both a cuddle and did his best to cheer us up. Just 10km to go. We had managed both food and hydration through the night, but the wheels were starting to fall off. We both had blisters that we could no longer deal with ourselves, and the mind starts playing tricks on you about how bad they really are. We were worried they would be so bad that the Docs would not let us continue. The day was also starting to heat up properly. But the only way to get to the finish was to put one foot in front of the other, so we did. Slowly. Slowly. Passing through some dunes I saw a snake about 5 feet away, curled up but head up. I stopped and called Em forward to look. A Dutch bloke stumbled past us and the snake slowly unfurled itself and slithered off - it was huge, at least two of my armspans. Thankfully that was the only snake we saw. Finally we crested the last big dune, and could see the bivouac in the distance. We wobbled slowly but surely to the finish. Rory passed us, saw that Em was in trouble and gave her a few words of encouragement.
"This will be the best day of your life."
"It won't"
"It will. You'll look back on this day and you'll be so proud of yourself that no matter how much it hurt, you did something mere mortals can only dream about. At 16. You have no idea how proud of you your Dad is right now." And off he went, massive Welsh flag trailing behind him.
Eventually of course we did cross the line. More than 27 hours after starting, and with virtually no rest. We had made it. The relief was fantastic. Our whole tent were there to see us, cheer and clap and grab our packs and water as we hobbled back to the tent. Em arrived in the tent, tried to have a recovery shake and promptly threw up. Dealer Dave came through with some more Diurilites and I put off the press for an hour or two as we tried to get ourselves together. James grabbed us a couple of tickets for Doc Trotters as the queue was over an hour long. We ate what we could, and Em tried to rehydrate. We went to Doc Trotters and queued for an hour or so in the searing heat, albeit under a berber tent, and managed to doze off. Fearful of missing our slots I tried to stay awake. The Dr was very understanding merely popping Em's only blister (it seemed much worse when you couldn't see it), and keeping the cap on which I was adamant about. The Doc was very complementary of both our feet which was actually morale boosting in itself. Mine needed further work though, as they had popped and filled with sand. The caps both came off mine - in fact one of my toes was basically skinned with a scalpel and then dressed ready for the next day's marathon, but any pain I had was put to one side as my mind was on Em as she had been taken away to have her blood pressure taken as she still wasn't feeling well. I found her on a camp bed in the medical tent in the cool and drinking industrial strength Diurilites that the Dr's had given her. I sat with her enjoying the relative cool, and we both snacked on trail mix and bars.
Finally she was given the all clear, her pulse back to normal, and we went back to the tents to await our cans of soda and the day's morale boosting emails. I sent my daily ration with news. We cheered in Duncan, and the last runners followed by the camels. Em was interviewed a couple of times by French and English press and then after we had been given Diet Coke (seriously? Surely we needed sugar! Em had my ration too) at around 7pm she was finally on top of the world having broken the back of the MdS. She asked me to do something and I snapped at her for the first time that week, and demanded to be left alone for a few minutes, as I was physically and emotionally wrecked. A few seconds later I opened my eyes, and realised that I had been asleep. It was gone 10pm and the camp was completely silent. The cold had woken me up so I got in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep. 

Mars Exploration
Stage Five - 42.2km, 10 hours 20 minutes
The top 150 runners would start the day around 8.15am, but the rest, including of course Em and I would start at 7am. The roadbook promised plenty of hills and of course plenty of dunes and sand. After the obligatory Patrick Bauer show briefing, Highway to Hell, and we were off. We knew that there was a medal waiting at the end of the stage, but we still had a desert marathon to go, and that was on top of the sleep deprivation, calorie deficit, dehydration, various illnesses and aches and pains. My back was killing me from the very uncomfortable pack and Em was suffering from ITB and hamstring issues. We were still in much better shape than, for instance, those that had raided the tents for poles to help them along, or the one notable chap in Crocs (although he had fitted his gaiters), who was hobbling right from the off and kept veering off after every couple of hundred metres to rest. We had 12 hours to finish the stage, and that would be the end of the MdS, apart from the compulsory liaison stage the next day which was to be untimed.  Any pretence at running had been left on the long day and we were resigned to a very long walk, which was fine. We just concentrated on managing our hydration and putting one foot in front of the other. We chatted amiably with our travelling companions as ever, including Azzam and Tanner, a father and son who were celebrating Azzam's retirement from the US State Department. Tanner was a pastry chef. Azzam was really struggling with his back pack and had cut the waist straps off, although their respective other halves had come for the family day and they were there at every CP to offer a hug and words of encouragement. Em and I concentrated on drinking, eating a bar or two when we could, and putting one foot in front of the other. If we had to stop to stretch we did, with Em lying in the dunes on more than one occasion as I stretched her hammy. The organisers stopped us at one point to tell us to take salt tablets as the wind was dehydrating people quicker than they were used to but we preferred our powders which worked well, although we did notice we were running out of water much quicker than previously. As we crested the last hill we could see the last bivouac in the distance, and we descended through the melted city - an abandoned mine and village that was made of mud and was melting in the elements. There were actually two men there that tried to sell us homemade bowls and jewellery which gave us something to smile about - clearly we weren't amongst the front runners. We chatted to a couple of Hong Kong chaps that said they were very much looking forward to their first whisky and amused us with tales of one of their fathers that had once been thrown out of a Buddhist monastery at night for secretly adding whisky to his mint tea infusion, up a mountain, in the middle of the night. As we got closer and closer to the finish Em was feeling more and more sick due to dehydration, but we made it to be greeted by a grinning and complementary Patrick Bauer who presented us with our medals. Once again the tent had turned out in force to greet us and cheer us. A palpable relief all round. We made it back to the tent to eat and drink and savour in our achievement, although we were still self sufficient so eating bars and dehydrated food. Once again we discarded some more food! Dealer Dave came through with a final batch of Diurilites for us both, and we collapsed on our backs to watch the stars and satellites and drink Orangina as Patrick introduced the new MdS races in Peru, and give out some prizes. Eventually we were allowed to collapse into our sleeping bags, still wearing our medals.  The tent had done amazingly well, Ryan coming 17th overall, James 83rd overall, Stu around 170, Sam 336th and Steve around the 700th. Em and I had achieved our stated goal of coming in the top 1200, in fact were just in the top 1000 coming 997th (Em) and 998th (me - Em outsprinted me at all of the finishes!) 

There is life on Mars
Two of the locals
Stage Six - 7.7km
This was all dunes, and compulsory yellow charity t shirts. The idea was to have a separate race - so it would be timed separately, but we still had to complete it to qualify for an MdS finish. We decided to walk it as a tent, and this made the time go by all the quicker. Sponsors and family members were also able to complete the stage, and get a taste of the MdS, the tell tale signs of actually being able to walk without painful blisters curtailing any movement, and also being exceptionally clean. The last Patrick Bauer show, Highway to Hell, and we were off. We chatted with our tent mates, finally getting to know them, as there really hadn't been that much time during the race, and this passed the time easily for the 2 hours or so it took us to get to the finish line and buses. We managed to get the back seat which was amazing, and we chatted, listened to Steve chatting to a Dutch girl next to him - he did not run out of energy all week and didn't disappoint for the 6 hour bus journey. After an hour or two we stopped and were given a packed lunch. In direct contrast to the outward journey, discarding anything we did not like the look of, we devoured it all and in record time no matter what it was. It could have been camel sandwich for all we cared, we just liked the fact it was not rehydrated and called "Tasty".  Everyone took their shoes off and everyone suffered from some sort of blistering on their feet.  One person said they thought they would have preferred to run the journey rather than sit on the bus stiffening up! Eventually we arrived in Ouarzazate where Sal and the kids, and Penny, Steve's wife were waiting with a couple of cold beers. Em said hello and went straight off to have a long shower. I went to the bar, put my feet up, and drained a can of "Flag" lager in record time - that remains the best beer I have ever tasted. 

Tent 101 - If Carlsberg made MdS tents....
It was an amazing experience, very different to my first MdS where I only had myself to worry about and had much more time to do admin, eat and so on (my long day took me 13 hours, my marathon was a little over 5 hours, in comparison). However, to have spent that time with my daughter Emily made it 100 times more special and satisfying. It was unbelievably hard and I am sure she regretted her decision during the race, but having finished and having had that experience will have changed her in ways she won't even have realised yet. It definitely has me. Thanks to everyone that supported us, sponsored us, sent us morale boosting emails in the desert, and for the words of congratulations subsequent to the event. Thanks also to our tent mates who tracked us on the longer days and made sure they were there at the finish to help us with our packs, water, hobbling back to the tent, securing diurilites from Dealer Dave and also our places in the Doc Trotter queue, and of course the gallows humour that prevailed through the week and was strangely morale boosting. We are all overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received from all quarters.  One week on and it still has not really sunk in yet, the magnitude of the achievement. 

<![CDATA[Sussex Ultra Race Report]]>Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:48:22 GMThttp://pussyfootingaround.net/blog/sussex-ultra-race-reportPicture
"We'll be fine." I said to Emily, giving her arm a reassuring pat, as I shivered from the cold and rain, whilst we waited for the start.
"But what if we don't make the cut offs?" Emily asked.
"Don't worry about that, we'll make them with time to spare." I tried to allay her fears, despite harbouring them myself.
"But it's really hilly, it's going to be very hard."
"If it were easy, everyone would do it!!" I tried to cheer her up a bit.
We were on the start line of a 55km trail ultra marathon on the Sussex Coast. This was to be our last long run before the Marathon Des Sables (MdS), but also crucial race experience and mental preparation for Emily (and me) three weeks ahead of the main event.  If we managed to successfully complete the race, it would be a huge confidence boost the alternative being too awful to contemplate. The cut offs Emily referred to were time limits at each checkpoint, the most aggressive being 6hrs 15 minutes at the marathon distance. The event was split into several races - a 10km, half marathon (21km), a full marathon (42km), and the Ultra, which was to be a loop of the marathon course and then a loop of the 10km course. 

We had followed a proper race week preparation, with 3 days of carb depletion plus 3 days of carb loading, and also tapered off our running and training schedule to give ourselves experience prior to the MdS but also giving ourselves the best possible chance of finishing in the time allowed. I had picked Em up from school at 4.30pm the day before, driven straight to the airport where we had eaten our rice, chicken and salad packed suppers, and gorged on homemade flapjacks. The flight passed without incident, although we hadn't had a chance to sleep, nerves getting the better of us.
We arrived at the car hire desk at 8.40pm local time, 9.40pm our time, and were both pretty tired from the busy week and travel, not to mention nerves at the upcoming weekend's agenda. We just wanted to get into our little rental car, cover the 55 miles to the B&B, and hit the sack, as the alarm would be set for 6am the following morning giving us enough time to have a light breakfast, find the race start, register and listen to the briefing ahead of the gun which was scheduled for 8.30am.
"Can I have your passport, drivers license, international drivers license, credit card, and Monaco resident's card please?" The car hire lady asked me politely. This was not going to be a 2 minute in and out job, despite pre paying for everything online.
"Now, we actually have a couple of our premium selection cars on offer today. We have a Mercedes S350 or a Jaguar F Pace."
"Sounds good." I said, thinking that maybe we were getting a free upgrade.
Ten minutes later and much paperwork I realised that she was going to charge me an extra £300 for the pleasure of the bigger car, so I turned her down and stuck to the Fiat 500 which I was actually looking forward to driving, as I was so used to big cars at home.
Once we had taken out the extra insurance (parking in a field was in the car's near future), we eventually loaded our hand luggage into the Fiat's boot (a tight squeeze!), and 45 minutes after our arrival at the hire car desk we were finally off.
We were greeted by Dave and Allison, the proprietors of the Beamseley Lodge B&B on Eastbourne Seafront, and in direct contrast to the hire car experience we were checked in, paid, and put in our order for packed breakfast (ham sandwich, banana, pastry and a cereal bar), in one and a half minutes, and we collapsed into bed after preparing our race gear.  The room was a good size with a sea view and very comfortable beds.
We woke up before the alarm as ever, and looked out the window to see the view. The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, both a lurid shade of brown, with huge waves indicating the presence of strong winds, and the window was drenched - although it wasn't clear whether that was spray from the wind and sea or just torrential rain. We sombrely dressed, threaded our way down the country lanes going in and out of thick fog patches. We parked in a field and headed straight to the start, beating the registration queues and giving us plenty of time to prepare, stretch, pin on our numbers and have a chat to my parents who had come down for the race. The registration process was excellent - we found our bib numbers as we queued, signed a waiver, collected our bibs and t shirts, and had chips attached to our wrists - of the sort that you have to dip into a receiver at the checkpoints. Both of us only had the pain au chocolat for breakfast preferring to save the sandwich for later. It was going to be a long day and we had plenty of supplies in our back packs (lighter than full MdS packs although still weighing in at around 4kgs).
The organisers were running late, but after a 10 minute briefing we gathered at the start, marvelling at the bloke in a vest and shorts (I had 2 jackets, a long sleeved top and a t shirt and was still cold - obviously my heat training was paying off). Finally, we set off, Em and I at the front of the 180 or so starters of the Ultra Marathon. 

The start was at Birling Gap, right on the coast and in a dip between two of the rolling chalk cliffs that line that piece of the Sussex Coastline. Keeping the sea to our left, we headed directly along South Downs way along the coast and up the first of the Seven Sisters. These are a series of rolling chalk cliffs, covered in short grass and dropping off directly into the sea on our left, with deceptively steep but mercifully short climbs and descent. AS we topped the first one the pack of runners bottlenecked until we could get through the first of many kissing gates. I managed to get enough shelter from the wind and rain to take my first photo, just as the runner in front of me lost his hat to the wind. Emily laughed as he was seen heading in the wrong direction trying to catch it before it blew over the edge into the sea. I was pleased that she had cheered up a bit now that we were on our way.

The headwinds as we crested each of the Sisters were brutal, making forward progress at times almost impossible. Both Em and I were able to descend quickly at full sprint overtaking some of the less fluid descneders, and then power walk up the inclines being overtaken by the faster runners. We chatted with some of our fellow runners, not least the lady from "Trotters Independent Trail Runners" who had optimistically placed a pair of sunglasses on her forehead for later. I had left mine in the car, and wondered whether it would clear up enough to warrant them later on. 
After what seemed like nine of the Seven Sisters, we mercifully turned inland, using a cut in the chalk from a river. I got chatting to a chap for whom this was his second ultra, and he was clearly already struggling after the 8km or so of hills. He was a skydiver, and knew a good friend of mine from years back Brian Vacher. Mounting another hill and Em and I chatted to another couple who were wearing full MdS packs, so we chatted a bit to them about thoughts for the race in three weeks time as we went up and down a few hills, crossing farm fields with sheep. Checkpoint (CP) One in a beautiful little village came and went, and we dibbed out chip into the machine proffered by a red coated volunteer, and availed ourselves of some water. Then we were climbing through trees, before emerging above the treeline and into the wind and thick fog. But still in good spirits as we followed the contours of the hills, down to the left, up to the right, and as we crossed the feet of the Long Man of Wilmington looming large above us on the right, three deer ran across our path at high speed. Our skydiver buddy was really struggling as the off camber path played havoc with some of his old injuries, real or imagined.
Not long after the Long Man, the marathon runners started to overtake us. They had set off about 30 minutes after us, and the front runners were veritably sprinting ahead, almost as if they were doing the 10km. A trickle of runners gave way to a stream, most of them giving Em and I a nod and a word or two of encouragement. We did the same. One chap stated proudly that this was his second of seven marathons he was undertaking in seven weeks. I didn't want to burst his bubble by stating that we would be undertaking seven marathons in seven days across the Sahara Desert in three weeks time.
Emily loves a Mint Go Bar, and had promised herself one at 20km. At 19km I reached into her pack and grabbed one, and then held it in front of her face like a carrot to usher her along the wooded path to CP2 and more water. This elicited much laughter from our fellow runners including Skydiver who had managed to stay with us, despite struggling. We passed some kids orienteering as we pulled into CP2, beating the first time cut off with time to spare. More water on board, chips scanned, and we exited CP2 in a couple of minutes. Skydiver announced to the volunteers that his race was over and he asked for a lift back to the start. A group of what looked like orienteers - 8 or 10 of them, all in their 20's and having a great time - were standing by the track holding maps and giving everyone a huge cheer and morale boost as they left the CP. Emily got a particularly loud cheer, the youngest participant by some margin.  We saw them multiple times during the race, and they always gave Emily an especially loud cheer. Not long after we saw a marathoner doing the race with his dog, a short haired beige male about the size of a sheep dog, but with pointy ears.
The next 10km or so passed in a bit of a blur. As much as we could we power hiked up the ups, sprinted down the downs, and jog /walked the flats, jogging when we could and injecting 30 second to 1 minute walking breaks for recovery. The scenery would have been spectacular had it not been for the fog and wind although the rain stopped for the rest of the day. We merged with the 10km course, joining forces in a field of massive Aberdeen Angus cows and some sheep, and three of the 10km runners were having a blast, bantering with each other and laughing and joking. We chatted with them for a while, they fascinated by our impending MdS and in awe of Emily doing the Ultra. They warned us that the 10km was more like 12.5km.  The next descent was a few hundred metres of beautiful parkland, so Emily and I left the 10km'ers behind and used gravity to inject a little pace.
The marathoner with his dog passed us as we passed a little round bothy - what looked like an inland lighthouse in someone's back garden. They also had what looked like a castle. The dog was called Zen and looked like he was having a great time, tail up and running with his dad. The runner was periodically giving him water but he looked like he could have carried on forever.
All of a sudden the trees disappeared and the wind took over. It threatened at times to take our legs away, as we headed back down to the coast along a ridge with a very strong right to left wind. The short scrubby trees had grown sideways due to the prevailing breeze. Fortunately when we hit the coast we had the wind at our backs to help us back to the starting area, before ascending up the other side to the lighthouse. I had one eye on the clock for the whole race, but I had noticed that Em was slowing down a little as we hit 30km or so, and I tried to chivvy her along - we had to reach the 42km mark in 6 hours 15 or we risked being timed out.
"Keep your head up Em, you're doing great. But we still need to hustle along."
"I know Dad but I'm tired! I'm trying!" She snapped back.
"Listen Em I know you're tired but we still have to get round the course in the time allowed, so I'm just trying to chivvy you along. What do you want me to do?" Clearly we were both getting tired, and tempers were close to fraying.
Em showed some considerable mental strength and picked up her pace a little. We passed the lighthouse threading through the army of weekend hikers, dog walkers, families enjoying a bracing walk along the cliffs, and of course hundreds of our fellow runners doing any one of the 10km, half or full marathon or Ultra Marathon. We passed Beachy Head, the famous draw for suicides, with a bench covered in fresh flowers which was very sombre. As we descended a particularly steep section of the cliffs with Eastbourne in the distance, the sun all too briefly came out. Blink and you would have missed it though. I looked back at Em and she was hustling, but clearly hurting, not far from tears as fatigue and worry about the cut offs dominated her mind.
We pulled into CP3 at 34km and change, and Em did not stop for water, just shuffled straight through. I asked about the cut offs and we had reached this particular one in plenty of time. I filled up my back pack's bladder to bursting with water to make sure I had plenty for Em in case she ran out. Because it was so full I couldn't actually get it in my back pack, so I had to empty it out of our free t shirts, some spare trail mix for Em, the compulsory medical kit, some food for me, and so on. I placed the stuff on the floor, and next think I know there is a huge Labrador sniffing around trying to snaffle some of the bars and trail mix, with two women screaming "MAISIE, STOP, COME HERE!" a few yards away. I quickly shoved everything back in hoping I hadn't forgotten anything before the Lab could make off with anything. I caught up with Em and relayed the story, seeing her go from fighting back tears to laughing in a heart beat was very moving.
Shuffling ever forwards we followed the course looping around farm fields before we headed back to the finish of the course, with the cut off dominating our thoughts and what little conversation we had.
"But Dad what if we don't make the cut off?"
"We will, and even if we don't I'll argue that we were so close that they have to let us go."
Six hours came and went, and I started to worry that they wouldn't take the 15 minutes delay at the start into account, and we would be timed out as we passed the finish line to embark on the 10km course. We hustled and shuffled sprinting through the woods as we finally reached 42km, and as luck would have it Em's cheerleaders were there to cheer us on. Instead of turning right to the finish, we could see it so tantalisingly close, we turned left onto the 10km course, but there was noone there to even check our chips or time us out! We had reached 42km in 6 hours and 9 minutes - we had six minutes to spare. It was almost like we had finished already! The next cut off was
at the finish and was 9 hours - we had over 2 hours 45 minutes to finish the 10km. The sense of relief was palpable. We had done it!

Back up the Seven Sisters, but turning right way before the original Ultra course, then the farm land with Aberdeen Angus herd, sheep and this time a shepherd with crook and two lovely collies. We started chatting to another runner, Margaret from Vancouver who coincidentally was staying in the Beamsley Lodge B&B as well. Down the rolling park land descent, slower this time around. Past the beacon/lighthouse/castle. Through the woods. Onto the windswept ridge. Down to the coast. Turn left. Up to the lighthouse. And then mercifully turning left before the horrendous descent to Eastbourne near Beachy Head.
Margaret was a veteran of many ultras, having won a few 100km races in her 30's. She was an elementary school principle from BC, Canada, and was fabulous at taking our minds off the job at hand. The 10km route proved more like 13km according to my Garmin, but it didn't matter as everyone's mood was cheered by the fact that we were easily going to beat the cut off. Margaret did comment at one point that she had missed the 42km by 15 minutes and was hoping to be pulled from the race, but noone had been there to do so much to her disappointment! We chatted about previous races, the impending England Ireland rugby showdown in Ireland, and whether she could fit in the back of the Fiat to hitch a lift back to the B&B.
The last CP two miles before the finish and the volunteer scanned our chips but also took our numbers in preparation for closing the course - a nanosecond of panic when I asked him if he were timing us out, but he assuaged my fears and sent us on our way. One mile to go and we entered the woods. Having promised Emily earlier in the race that I would let her cross the line before me, she sprinted away from me with a pace that would had me questioning what was in her water cup at the last CP, there was no way I could keep up with her anyway. We crossed the line a few seconds apart, with Margaret a few seconds after, got our medals, a free Cliff protein bar and some water. My mum and dad had made their way to the finish to see us and share in our moment.
It was a proud moment for me to cross the finish line of Em's first ever marathon and Ultra Marathon all in one go. I was also pleased to have finished the race myself seven months after a six hour heart op! The shared experience will be something we can treasure forever.  

We had finished in 8 hours and 18 minutes which seems like an awfully long time, but here are some statistics for the race which show how tough and incomparable it is to "normal" 10km's or marathons:
The winner of the 10km took 57 minutes (versus around 30 minutes for a road race), whereas last 10km finisher took 2 hours and 17 minutes - longer than it took Em and I to run the 10km "lap" after we had run the marathon "lap"
The winner of the half marathon took 1 hr 30 minutes versus the World Record time of 58 minutes for a road half marathon
The winner of the marathon took 3hrs 31 minutes to finish, versus just over 2hrs for the world record for a road marathon; the last marathon finisher on the day took 7hrs 39 minutes - over an hour slower than our "lap"
The winner of the ultra took 4hrs 51. Em was 135th, I was 136th out of around 180 starters and 145 finishers. The last finisher crossed the line in 8hrs 40 minutes. 
We zipped back to the B&B for a shower, the rest of our packed breakfast and a very disappointing second half in Dublin to see England lose the game but still win the championship. And then for a special treat - an English curry with my parents, washed down with a couple of Cobra beers.
Mission accomplished. Next stop the Sahara Desert.