The Oner: 2 – Me: 0

…when everything goes according to plan… until it doesn’t…

(The Oner: 132km of running over the UK south-west coast path, with lots of hills, and an average dropout-rate of 50%)

After not finishing Brutal Events’ The Oner last year (short version: I timed out at checkpoint 8 (90km) after a hot day with a ‘sub-optimal’ amount of food and electrolytes…) I knew I had to come back for a second chance…

This year Coach Jacomina would race as well, so it was nice to have some company during quite a few of the long runs in preparation! To be well prepared we flew to the UK a few weeks ago to run parts of the second half of the course. We knew it would be hilly, but the real challenge this year would be the mud…

Dorset, April 7th 2018 – raceday

Registration is fun and easy; after picking up the timing-chip and gps-tracker, it’s time to have the bag checked (a safety issue; just to make sure that you have everything needed to get through the night in one piece…), and then it’s time to catch-up with some of my Brutal-friends….
When the mini-buses drive to the start (race HQ and registration are at the halfway-point), the length of the drive does indicate that it might be a long run today…

Precisely at midday we start running; the sun is shining (that’s a plus, since everyone anticipated a lot of rain), the view from the coastal path is beautiful, and the first hills are really, really steep, hard, but fun! So fairly happy I reach CP1 (where I’m welcomed by Jim with the words: “glad to FINALLY see you run…”, that’s the downside when athletes and crew have seen you at your lowest of lows in previous events…). After CP1 it starts to get hard; there’s not much elevation for a while, but there’s two problems on the course: one is the mud… (more on that later), and then there’s the shingle beach… In my memory it wasn’t this long last year (I must have blocked those memories!), but it’s a seemingly endless beach of small pebbles, where every step gives you more vertical than horizontal motion: you just get sucked in deeper and deeper… Running wastes more energy than walking, and the speed is almost identical, but even walking this part is so tiring… And it just never seems to end…

until it does…

going up… photo by KlickChick

So back to a ‘run the flat parts, power-walk the climbs’ system! And then comes the mud… The mud is slippery, thick, and just as the pebble-beach; walking is the smarter plan on a lot of the muddy stretches. It’s a long race, so every bit of energy than can be saved should be saved!
I think anyone understands what ‘running through mud’ means, but here we’re not talking about a few puddles, it just goes on and on and on… And since we did the recce of the second half, I know that it’s probably going to be pretty bad for 80 out of the 135km (at least it feels like that)… Well, let’s try not to focus on that, just keep on moving, eat, drink, eat some more and run! My energy is up, I’m enjoying myself (yes, it’s a really hard run, but that’s what I’ve prepared for!), and I get trough the first marathon pretty easy. After that first marathon a short tarmac section (yes! that’s what I’m actually good at!), then a hard climb up to Portland, through the quarry and into Checkpoint 4. A quick sip of soup, bottles refilled, and while going back out Jacomina comes in, she’s pretty close behind me, that’s a good sign!

Then things start to go bad… pretty fast…

The loop around Portland is the part that I feel is the easy part; just a few climbs, and fairly good paths to run on (and no mud!!). But right now, my feet are killing me; it’s not just a few blisters and some chafing, since that’s something that I can deal with, but it seems to come from pressure building ‘within’ the feet (it’s hard to describe… but let’s just say it hurts… A lot…). Now it’s time to figure out how to deal with this situation (this seems to be a big part of my ultra-career; getting myself in trouble, and then trying to find a way out of it…). I start a ‘walk a bit, run a bit’ routine, and see if I can recover a bit, but it doesn’t seem to work… Somewhere before CP5 Jacomina runs past me, and I can’t keep up with her. The feet are getting worse, and from CP5 onwards running is no longer an option, it feels as if someone sticks a knife in the feet at every step, even when I’m walking…

The hike to CP6 seems to take forever, so there’s a lot of time to think (and to view the stunning sunset! Let’s not forget to keep on enjoying the adventure, pain or no pain!), and I realise that my foot-issues have been here for a while, but I’ve just been ignoring them…
During the Triple Brutal in September I messed up the feet pretty bad (as one does when racing for 66hours), and they haven’t recovered from that race. Walking over the coast path it now all makes sense; all the little pains the last few months were not ‘because I’ve been running a lot’, but because there’s an injury that has to be taken care of… I now understand why my bike-shoes haven’t been comfortable since September, the feet are still bigger than they used to be…
So coming close to CP6 I make a hard, but smart decision; it’s time to quit after 60km… Continuing would not only mean more pain (I can handle that), but I might risk long-term (or permanent?) damage, and that’s not worth it. Best to stop now, and use this wake-up call wisely, find a professional back home to figure out what’s wrong, and how to get it fixed!

Coming in CP6 I get welcomed by race-director Claire, and when I tell her I’m out she doesn’t seem to accept that… But when I tell her it’s the smart thing to do she lets me sit down, gets me some food and leaves me for a bit… News travels fast, and at CP7 Jim (who I’ve last seen at CP1) hears the news, calls my brother to tell him ‘maybe he should call me to talk me through it’, but this time it’s not a mental thing, it’s simply the body that’s not up to it…

I feel sad, but also pretty good since it feels as if it’s the right decision. And knowing that everything else went exactly as planned helped; my pacing went well, my nutrition went perfect, and the first 50km were really easy… You never know ‘what if…’ but I think that this year there was a real shot of finishing, but on a course like this, with the timing cut-offs being as tight as they are, you just can’t have any major problems along the way, that’s just part of the game…

But I didn’t come all this way to just go home before midnight! So after some food all the systems were ‘reset’ (both physically and mentally), and I joined race-marshall Justin in his van to help crew the nightshift! Bringing water to Checkpoint 7, then more water to CP8, then the timing-system to CP11, then to the finish-line… In the meantime helping as many competitors as we can at the checkpoints. At the finishline it’s time to wait for the runners, and time to enjoy all the emotions of those who finish (including Jacomina, that was pretty awesome).

The night with the crew was maybe the best part of the adventure: not only was it incredibly fun and rewarding to help, it also gave me even more respect to the Brutal Team; crewing an event were the start and finish are 132km apart, and runners are spread out pretty far in the night is is crazy hard and logistically challenging work, so Claire and team (I’m not going to start mentioning all the names, but you all know who you are!); you guys are unbelievable, and I’m humbled to be a part of your crazy-little-ultra-madness world…

Now it’s time to sort the feet out, focus on new challenges, and start preparing for The Oner 2019… (and probably another, far, far more crazy ultra-adventure in 2019… more on that later…)

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