Running from Shadows

My Marathon des Sables . . . and beyond

The hard training: finished

I met up with fellow Sahara Race 2014 competitors Josh, Amjid and Liz on Saturday. Samantha at Racing the Planet (the event’s organisers) had kindly put me in touch to join them in grilling Tony Brammer for two hours. Who’s Tony Brammer?

He’s one of the 17 members of the 4 Deserts Club, becoming a member in 2008 after completing The Last Desert: Antarctica. Tony now selflessly maintains a link by acting as a volunteer at 4 Deserts events and gifting his knowledge and expertise. And to think he’d only set out to complete one of the 4 Deserts races . . .

It was great to meet them all and it served to ratchet up the levels of excitement and anticipation by another gear, if that were possible.

It was just what I needed for today’s long run, my last in the current training schedule: a marathon. Unfortunately the Yorkshire Marathon had been cancelled and the only other one left in the UK seemed to be in Worcester. At this point in the training cycle I knew I’d struggle if I went out on my own to complete another marathon: in this weather there are too many attractive reasons to quit! I would need to run and race around others.

In time-honoured style we managed to arrive with about 5 minutes to spare before the start having struggled to find the event HQ (the title of Best Late Arrival at a Marathon remains though with the Robin Hood Marathon some years ago: with the gun having gone I emerged like a whippet out of the traps, flinging open the Portaloo door to sprint along and join the back of the rapidly-disappearing field).

This meant I didn’t really have time to look too closely at the course map; the hand-outs, being paper, would be mush within 5 minutes in the driving rain. I took a quick glance at the laminated map: follow who I could until I reach the ‘A’ road to Worcester, turn left (somewhere), then heard north up the other ‘A’ road to the start. A marshall took pity and handed me a Garmin GPS mapping toy: cool!

“Just follow the little man on the screen who is following a dotted line.” Simple!

Not really.

With just 10 starters it was going to be difficult to follow anybody. And I’ll come onto the GPS toy.

I was clipping along feeling good. The course wasn’t that inspiring and I plugged into my iPod early to zone out from the appalling weather. Finding the first ‘A’ road was easy enough and I knew I just had to follow this down to Worcester. When I got there the GPS toy started to show its failings: the little man was clear enough, but where was the dotted line taking me? With lots of flags all over the dotted line, trying to be helpful I guess, I couldn’t tell which of the few left turns in front of me I should take. Do I cross the river over the footbridge or carry on into the city? I tried the latter: after a few hundred metres the little man was getting upset, jiggling about on a dotted line which wasn’t the dotted line with lots of flags on it.

I back-tracked and came across a couple of competitors who knew where they were going and so I crossed the swollen River Severn by the footbridge to resume my lonely course.

With a few miles to the half-way point at race HQ the GPS toy then told me it was low on battery. I sped up, trying to gather as much information from the screen in terms of where I should go before it would finally give up.

Which it did just after The Field of the Wallowing Piglets and Mummy Pig. Where to now? I recognised a road we had used to drive to the race HQ and figured I should follow that. It wasn’t until the half-way point though that I learnt from a marshall I’d gone too far and should have taken a cunningly disguised bridleway to my left.

Onwards for the last lap. More driving rain, freezing cold, strong winds. This time around Mummy Pig had given up on wallowing and had retreated to her sty, looking as fed up and cold as I did, gazing out miserably at her unruly Wallowing Piglets for which the bad weather didn’t exist.

Finally, legs sore but still running, I finished. Because of my navigational error I’d completed 27.75 miles rather than the standard marathon distance of 26.2.

Still, I was done: my 42nd marathon in the bag and my 16th in 10 months.

All the hard training in preparation for the Sahara Race is at an end: now it’s about recovery. A couple of 30-mile weeks with some hill repetition sessions thrown in and some gym work will hopefully see me coiled liked a spring in three weeks!

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