Challenge 15: Three Six Five

For challenge 14 I chose to run 247km to represent the fact that Alfie & Arthur have to deal with muscular dystrophy 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. For Challenge 15 I am extending that to acknowledge that muscular dystrophy also impacts upon them, & other sufferers of muscular dystrophy 365 days a year. There is no respite no reprieve.

The bulk of the kilometeres I will cover for this challenge will be part of the Severn Challenge. This is a 5 stage ultra run that covers 220miles (c. 354km). To make up the distance I will run 11km as a prologue to this event. There is a very real risk that I will be found wanting during this challenge, either physically or mentally. This may mean I don't complete the entire distance as planned. The easy option would be to defer my entry or simply not turn up. However Alfie & Arthur cannot walk away from the constraints muscular dystrophy imposes upon them. They don't have that choice. So I will start my challenge on 30th May. I will commit to completing as much of the route as I can. If I am found wanting on a particular day I will deal with that in the best way I can. I do not know how this challenge will develop but I do know I have the choice & opportunity to give it a go. 

It is now 3 days before this challenge starts & my final week or preparation has included a stressful week at work resulting in zero exercise & eating excessive quantities of low quality comfort food, an extra shift yesterday & today hunched up over my computer trying to ensure that the training plans for the athletes I coach are all up to date. Not ideal, particularly when we have been blessed with such lovely weather. Oh well ;)

A slight change in plan.. the organisers have had to change some of the route. This means the distance covered as part of the Severn Challenge element of this endeavour may be different to that originally envisaged. Consequently to ensure I hit the 'magical' 365km I will aim to mop up any remaining k as a post script to the main event, as opposed to a prologue. This will probably take more will power but will remove any excuses not to hit the required number of kms.

Update: 30/5/12

I have reached my bed & breakfast accommodation which is a short drive from race registration which opens at 5am tomorrow. After registering there is a 3- 4hr drive to the start of Stage 1, the source of the Severn river. Below I have summarised what each stage should involve. There may be some changes to this though due to adjustments to the originally planned route neccessitated by the Severn bursting its banks a few weeks ago. If all goes to plan my movement along the route will be tracked by my SPOT satellite tracker. I believe I have set it up correctly but won't know until the challenge is done (in one way or the other).

Day 1: 29miles from the source of the Severn at Rhyd-y-benwch

Day 2: 45miles to Shrewsbury. This stage doubles as the Hafren Ultra. If I finish this stage I gain a T- shirt

Day 3: 56miles to Holt Castle. Another T shirt could be gained today as this stage doubles as the Severn Path Ultra

I believe I should be 'ok' with making the cut offs & distance on these 3 stages, but belief is a curious thing..

Day 4: 56miles to Slimbridge. Again another T shirt could be earned today as this stage doubles as the Severn Way Ultra. I am not sure what, if anything I will have left for this stage.

Stage 5: The final leg c 28miles. If I finish this stage, & the above stages, I will have completed the Severn Challenge.

I then intend to round up the distance covered to 365km. That remains my aim, my goal & my target. Where I end up in relation to that goal will be known is a few 'short' days.

 Update 3/6/12

Today I should be enjoying Day 4 of the Severn Challenge. Instead I am back in my warm, dry house typing a very different blog entry to the one I had hoped to be writing. It is also fair to say that on Tuesday I will not be mopping up the remaining kms to make it up to 365. So what happened..

Day 1 commenced with me leaving my relatively delapatated B&B to Holt Castle, to sign on. There would be 21 of us commencing the Severn Challenge. At about 7.30am we set off in two mini buses to the Start of Stage 1. Several hours later we de- bussed in a rain swept car park. After a bit of admin & waiting around we were off. The stage started with us running up hill to the source of the Severn. The field was soon spread out & I found myself running with Drew, a member of Pirates ( Drew was to be my company for all of Day 1 & made the miles pass by with lots of laughter & smiles. I had naively believed that running downstream would mean a nice gentle downhill track. Day 1 did not support this belief. Stage 1 (26.4m on my Garmin) finished in a barn & we were rewarded with a baked potato & baked beans. On showering I discovered that my pack & rubbed my back raw again. Not ideal on Day 1 of a 5 day stage race. That night the wound 'weeped' nicely & stuck to anything it could. Not a comofrtable night.

Day 2 arrived & with some embarassment I asked for assistance in applying vaseling to my back to try & minimise further loss of skin. Debbie (Drew's wife) kindly assisted. However on donning my back I knew it would be a long, uncomfortable day. My back caused me quite a bit of discomfort (pain) & by checkpoint 2 I was not happy! Drew's supporters stepped up again & improvised a repair to my back using a mix of sanitary towels & duck tape. This did reduce the friction on the affected areas (most of my back) but caused a few other issues. Between checkpoint 2 & 3 I was falling off the pace of Drew & Sue, who I had been running with. Fortunately I was taken under the wing of Kirsty & Jannine. At checkpoint 3 recognising my discomfort they offered to run with me so I could abandon my rucksack. In terms of comfort this was a huge relief. It did however mean my fluid intake was restricted to one hand held bottle. This meant I had to ration my fluid intake for the closing 20 or so miles of the stage. This was just about manageable on the day but meant I ended the stage (45m) significantly dehydrated, an issue I failed to fully address before the start of Day 3.

Day 3 should have been 58m. I set of with Kirsty & Jannine carrying a water bottle & a small dry bag containing some very limited carb supplies & my phone. Despite the 6am start I was soon hot & rueing the limited fluid supplies available to me. The first checkpoint seemed to take forever to arrive & when it did I felt empty & very dispondent. My right foot/ anke had also begun to give me some cause for concern. I contemplated pulling myself from the event at this stage but due to the support of those around me, including the provision of a waistbelt to hold a water bottle I set off. Both Kirsty & Jannine were battling their own injuries, pain & inner demons too. These weren't helped by the overgrown nature of much of the track which tore, stung & gripped at our legs & shoes as we forced our way through. Part way through this stage we turned down a track which presented an inviting gentle downhill. We broke into a 'run', within a few strides both Kirsty & I pulled up as our injuries meant that the pain from increased load of running was too painful. For me this was on the outside of the right foot/ ankle. A constant discomfort when walking but under any heavier load the pain was intense, sharp & worrying. Again the distance between checkpoints seemed too long & we visually scoured the villages we passed through for food type shops. All to no avail. Eventually we reached Ironbridge, the location of Checkpoint 2. We added in a diversion to a pasty shop, heaven, & eventually reached the checkpoint. There I had a decision to make..

The decision was to carry on risking prejudicing the pace & race of Kirsty & Jannine plus potentially causing serious long term injury to my ankle. or to admit defeat & pull myself out of the race.

I accepted some pain killers & an ice spray whilst I contemplated the pros & cons of each decision. I was mindful of the reasons I was attempting this challenge: Alfie & Arthur. I was mindful of the support I had received from previous strangers from Day 1. I was mindful of the friends & supporters potentially keeping tracks on me via facebook & this blog. I was also concious of the fact that pain exists for a reason. A warning sign. I could mask it with copious quantities of painkillers & probably drag myself to the end of the stage but at what cost? I knew that completion of Day 4 & Day 5 were no longer realistic. I knew this particular challenge would not be completed as hoped. So did an additional 28 miles really matter?

Rightly, or wrongly I decided to pull. The decision was exceptionally uncomfortable & primarily based on the desire not to cause my foot/ ankle any long term damage. It was not an easy decision to make. I felt weak. A failure. But I did feel it was the sensible decision.

Once I had made this decision it was supported & respected by all around. For which I am exceptionally grateful.

Now, nearly 24 hours after making that decision I still think it was the right call. My foot/ ankle remains swollen. It isn't functioning normally. It definitely isn't pain free but I am fairly confident after a few days rest it will recover. The skin on my back is also far happier & repairing. Both mean I should be able to give the Mozart 100 a decent crack at the end of the month for Challenge 16.

In terms of learning points from this challenge. Perhaps the most important, from my perspective, is that not all decisions are simple & straight forward. Sometime the head must rule the heart. Most of us do have bodies that have an amazing physical capacity, far beyond what most of us ask them to do. When we push or stretch our current limits they generally respond, adapt, repair & overcome. However we should not take this capacity for granted. We must also never forget that not everyone is as lucky in this respect, including sufferers of muscular dystrophy, like Alfie & Arthur.

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