Monday, July 21, 2008

Coastal Run 20th July 2008

Raising Sand : Seaside Shuffle Sees Saager Secure Silverware

Beadnell, on the Northumberland Coast: Sunday 20th July 2008, around 10.30am. A fine, clear morning with wide horizons and huge expectations. From my vantage point on the dunes, I had no idea what the man on the beach with the megaphone was saying to the assembled hordes stood facing him. He said some words, which drew a cheer and some applause; he then repeated the feat - more cheers and a ripple of applause. His words were carried out to sea on the breeze, where they foundered somewhere near Whittingham Carr Faggot (no, get your own map, chancer).

I think he used an air-horn to start the race. I say I think, because I was being mugged by two brothers (aged around 3) at this point, who tried to steal my bike, then my map. By the time I'd finished backfilling the hole the race was underway, and I was on my bike before I had time to let anyone know where I'd buried the Tiny Kray Twins. At least they hadn't got my bacon sandwich.

...Julia was determined to defend her Championship lead to the bitter end....

Unable to follow the race route on my bike, I guessed I'd have to make Craster within 30-35 mins to have any chance of seeing the race leaders. Having negotiated several unforseen obstacles (see above for example) and with a tailwind at last, I shot down the hill into the village at around 40 minutes in, rounding the corner just in time to see Mr Unwin (Keswick AC) passing the crabstick seller. My first thought was one of disappointment (nothing personal) because I had hoped to be up the coast nearer Dunstanburgh to see our runners come through. Also, I'd wanted to shout 'Careful, there's a cliff, Richard!', which now would just sound daft. What a waste. Also, I'd made rash promises of having a selection of ice creams /blueberry muffins /hot pies ready for our crew. No time for that now. They would have to starve. I pressed on through the crowds, through the steady stream of runners heading south, against the dramatic backdrop of Dunstanburgh Castle. Making my stand on a rocky outcrop, fighting off a bunch of curious cattle, I leant my bike on a nearby gorsebush and gazed north through my telescope. First ER vest to appear was Julia. She was running today as Dave Peacock (don't ask), and so could be heard regaling everyone, all the time, in a South Shields accent, about everything. Then came The Saagermeister, running with his usual swagger. Then came Gill Douglas. Now, as far as I can tell, Gill has a temperament that would make Mother Theresa look like Amy Winehouse. But even she would later admit to being sorely tempted to steal an icecream from the hand of an innocent child spectator. This is what running does to us, my friends. Not far behind, swooping south like a September swallow, came Sally, still running despite her modest expectations. She had loads of blokes chasing her, as you can see here. Then came Mr Andrew Walker, clearly struggling with his debilitating injury, but bashing on regardless. A couple of minutes later Kevin shot past, completely oblivious (as usual, it has to be said) to my words of encouragement. Kevin was evidently so far into 'The Zone' that he was almost out the other side. I hung around until Tony zipped down the path, couldn't see any sign of Karen C, and so decided I couldn't wait any longer, saddled up an' headed south, 'cross the Rio Grande.

I followed the race route through the village, past the harbour & up the hill, eventually coming to a halt at the gate onto the cliff top. No way through for blokes on bikes, not today. Retracing my tracks, I took to the road to try to meet the race again at Howick, where the route rejoins the tarmac for a while. On the hill out of the village I passed a cyclist wrestling with a mechanical problem, looked like a snapped chain. I should have stopped and offered help but I was on a mission. Sorry, whoever you are. First I caught up with Andy, then Sally, then Gill again - all running strongly. The route then switched off road again, using narrow tracks which forced me to ride alongside the runners for a while. That was a bit odd. These people were working really hard, which isn't a surprise in itself, but it didn't really occur to me when I was one of them. At least 17 different people said 'That's cheatin' as I rode past. (Note to self - always resist the temptation to state the bleedin' obvious.) When we eventually made the road again, I managed to catch Paul, still smoking his metaphorical cigar. Julia was even further ahead. (Julia had fitted a set of wing mirrors so she could monitor Paul's progress. Of course, the mirrors bore the legend 'Objects viewed in this mirror may be larger than they appear to be'. She also has a scanner which alerts her if any other ladies in her age group are within thrashing distance. But it's only for fun, of course). I caught Julia just as she turned left onto the beach for the final section.

It was back to the long way round on the road for me, 4 miles of struggle to Alnmouth to make the finish in time. I missed Julia crossing the line, but dashed onto the dunes in time to see Paul strolling in. Picking the bike up, I fell through the dunes and between the tank traps, made it onto the wet sand and pitched up on the finishing straight. Right opposite me were a gang of runners & supporters from Barrow Runners (not that Barrow, it seems) who made it their job to give massive encouragement to everyone, not just their own team. Very uplifting. Gill came next, still smiling of course (well, it could've been a grimace I suppose), then Sally, and then the Legend That Is Kevin. Next home was Karen Cummins, still with headphones intact, storming across the sand like a little whirlwind. Tony came in next, digging deep (one of his en route sandcastles on Embleton Sands has, I hear, been listed for this year's Turnip Prize) And finally Andy, battling against injuries the nature of which changed the further he ran, came home to resounding cheers from the Green and Blue hordes. Handshakes and hugs all round. Amidst it all stood Paul, wearing a coat which made him look like he was between shoots in a remake of Randall & Hopkirk, asking 'When do I get my prize?' Of course, he was referring to this :

which is the ER Road Championships (Male) Trophy. As you can see, no expense spared.

Predictably, there was a post-race press conference. When pressed, Tony put his late arrival at the finish (!) down to having saved himself for the last 0.3m of a 14m race. The course distance was 13.7m on the day. He was wearing shoes which he said he now remembered putting to one side for a good reason. His blisters looked like wine gums. Andy thought he'd probably never run again, until Tuesday or Wednesday anyway. Gill later confessed (at least I think she did) to having walked some of the route, but no witnesses came forward. Sally had run most of the way, only breaking into a leisurely walk on a couple of occasions. One of Paul's toenails had almost come off, and, like the 6 year-old he is, he showed it to everyone with great delight. Karen really likes the seaside, and thought we should stay all day. She was also well impressed with the race t-shirt. Kevin expressed disappointment at the catering arrangements. Well, he kept asking 'Where's me muffin?' and I can only think that's what he meant. Well, Kevin, here it is....

......sorry it's a bit late.

It had been a day when, as a sometime cyclist, I felt proud to be a runner. More than that, proud to be an Eden Runner. Next year, I hope to leave the bike at home.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Silence of the LAMM

All photos: Felicity Martin

0530 hrs, 7th June

I am conscious of a strange noise dragging my brain from 2 hours of fitful sleep. I can’t place it. It’s an unusual noise to hear at 5.30 am. And it’s very close to my head.

Oh, yes, it’s a bagpipe.

Somewhere in the back of the brain, there’s a synapse of recognition. You get woken up with bagpipes on the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon.

THE LAMM? How did this happen? The panic slowly subsides as the memory comes back. It’s not a horrible dream. Penny and I did enter the LAMM.

Outside, the midges are amassing in numbers. . Everyone’s got black midge nets on. It looks a bit like an outing of 900 suicide bombers. I put mine on. It’s marginally better than not having one. For a brief moment I snigger at people trying to conduct normal morning operations through nets. Brushing teeth. Drinking tea. Eating midge-flecked porridge. Then I try it for myself. I scrape the raspberry smoothie stalactites off my midge net and make a mental note to bring a straw next time.

0830 hrs

Well, this is it- the start. The sun seems to have moved closer to the earth, it’s baking, and there are still midges making the most of this unusually large feast. They probably haven’t had so much fun since the Battle of Culloden.

1030 hrs

We’re nearing the second check point. We’ve been contouring a deeply incised hillside for 2 hours. We crash down to a stream and drink like wildebeest.

1530 hrs

We’re looking for a checkpoint. It's not here. It’s the worst possible place to lose a checkpoint- a series of enormous hummocks. It could be any one of these monsters. Backwards, forwards we trudge. I can feel the will to live leaving. I have started to stop caring. Then a strange thing happens. I start to worry about food. I haven’t got enough. My brain is going, I think. Has my body had enough, or my brain?

“Charles!! CHARRRRRRLESSS!!” An elderly man behind is shouting at the top of his lungs. He’s miming the international symbol for a checkpoint to his partner, although it seemed a little superfluous. He’d attracted the attention of everyone. Including us.

One more in the bag, but I’m feeling like an empty shell. I confess my food concerns to Penny and tell her to leave me to die right here. I can’t go on.

She makes me sit down, feeds me a breakfast flapjack. Takes some weight out of my sack. She knows what’s happened, and deals with it. The experience of an Alpine mountaineer.

2030 hrs

It’s been the hardest 11 hours out on the hill in a long time. A tough decision had to be made to climb up and over a set of Munros, not down the valley to disqualification. Walking like an empty shell, nothing left inside. A never ending, drawn out pain. The silence of the LAMM.

We pass a number of teams, equally spent. Penny seems completely unaffected by the ordeal, and even finds a spurt of energy at the sight of a female team in the distance. I feel like a shambling mess by comparison.

2230 hrs

Every last atom of energy has left my body. Penny has got outside of her rations, while I cannot eat a thing. It’s a bad sign. The midges cluster around the squashed remains of the raspberry smoothie.

There’s the disappointment, but there’s also a strange sense of having learnt a great and valuable lesson. To know where our limits lie is a powerful thing. Do we learn more from our successes, or our failures?

The course planner, Andrew Spenceley tells us that our course had twice as much ascent on the first day as it would have normally. It makes me feel a little better about having scraped the barrel of my endurance and my being. Now, a month later, the pain has gone. And what are the memories? A perfect herd of deer thudding close by, the light splintering through pines, the dance of a thousand folds in the rock, pressed by unimaginable heat and time as we ran past in a moment.

0530 hrs 8th June

The piper digs out another tune from the wheezing bag.

It’s ‘For A’ That’ by the great Rabbie.

"Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that,
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that."