** disclaimer: this was all written out of memory days after the event ended. I will very likely be wrong about the details. I will include no names but the people involved knows who I am talking about **
The training for AAUT 2013 started a year ago when I bought my first pair of minimalistic shoes NB MT10 to start embracing the forefoot running style that was my natural gait but I that had tried to avoid thinking 'heal striking' was _the_ optimal way to run. AAUT 2012 had resulted in some nasty blisters for me so I really wanted to reboot my running (style, shoes and all).
The instant I tried them on I knew that these were the kinda shoes I wanted to run in at AAUT hopefully to avoid the problems from 2012. It took me ~3 weeks to get used to them and being able to run in them on stony tracks without getting my feet all bruised. I even became a certified Pose running instructor during this year of training.
Every run I have made since then has been with AAUT 2013 in mind even my 100 mile attempt on Bornholm.
My training for AAUT 2013 was a lot different from my AAUT 2012 training. I had concentrated on a lot more technical trail running and speed work with only the occasional very long distance run. I was a bit nervous about how it would turn out but I had broken every personal record I had tried to in the weeks up to the race including my marathon PR (without even trying).
So I arrived at the Hotel in Loja with a smile on my face, really happy to be back and looking forward to this year's adventure. My target time this year would be 30 hours which I felt was very realistic. At the hotel, I hooked up with my friends from 2012 and it felt like we had never been apart. Awesome people from around the world!
I had forgotten to have my medical check made at home so the day before the race I had to go see the doctor. My first check revealed my blood pressure to be a little high and I had to come back for another check later. Hmm .. that wasn't what I wanted to hear at that point. I wanted to relax with my friends and be checking my gear. I still had 16 kilos of stuff that needed to be repacked into 10 kilos to meet the rules of the race. I couldn't relax and when they rechecked my blood pressure it had gone higher. Now I was faced with the sentence: "we can't allow you to race." WTF?!! I tried to explain that I had seen it that high before and it had never been a problem, that is was probably due to stress, the heat, the salt caps I had taken and so on .. I couldn't believe the bad timing of this problem to show itself. We agreed that they would try to get me a self-monitoring device to see if it was lower when I was relaxed. It wouldn't arrive until the next morning but a talk with the race director assured me that I would be allowed to run anyway. I might just have to sign some papers. The only thing that should stop me from running was if the doctor felt it was a matter of life and death. At last some relief. I had dinner and the pre-race briefing with the other runners.
Then I started getting ready for the race, packing and getting my race gear ready for the next day. I went to see the race director to get the final GO when the doctor caught me in the hallway. He wanted to take my blood pressure one more time... Okay .. I thought we were past that now but .. okay. He measured it and became _very_ serious. To make a long tail short I was rushed to the local hospital and later the university hospital in Granada by ambulance 100 km away. My blood pressure had reached 220/120 which even I knew was very serious and was potentially lethal .. had I gone running.
I spent the night being checked: EKG's, blood tests and stuff like that. Nothing was out of the ordinary except that my EKG showed that I was an 'ultra athlete'. Once they had found some medication that worked I was released and went back to my hotel in Loja. I arrived just in time for seeing the race start with tears in my eyes. The race director told me that whatever I wanted they would help me with, awesome people! They helped me pick up my medication and after that, I slept until woken by a phone call many hours later. It was the race director. She asked me if I wanted to fly home or if her mom should pick me up and drive me to my friends. I soo wanted to see my friends.
I was picked up and arrived at the finish line to greet my 'old man' from New Zealand, who had had a bad time with cramps that day. He told me that he had been screaming in pain after having crossed the finish line and I felt lucky that I hadn't been there to hear it. Most of the runners had already left for the campsite and I decided to walk there (1-2 km at the max). The race director had checked me into a small place with a real bed so I could get a nice night rest, thank you! :)
The walk was nice and even though I was tempted I didn't run. Once I arrived I talked with my friends told them what had gone on with me and asked them how they had been on the first stage of the race. Generally, people had had a nice day with the occasional problem. Most serious would turn out to be a runner who had hurt her foot due to landing hard on a rock running in nothing but my favorite shoe the NB MT10. She had been in second place at the time but had had to slow to a walk due to the pain. I also started hearing that one of the checkpoints really needed some help. The people at the checkpoint had shown no experience with what runners needed it such conditions (which would be much better at day 2 and forth where they had obviously been better instructed).
Since the doctor had been very clear that I wouldn't be able to run this week .. I decided to volunteer for some checkpoint duty. The next day I would team up with one of the most experienced persons and together we would run checkpoint 3. I looked forward to that. Checkpoint 3, stage 2 is a tough one. You have no radio contact and people will reach you after having run a difficult single track section. Last year I believe 3 bags of I.V. was given at that checkpoint.
Had a shitty nights sleep but I guess that was only to expect. Next morning I had a small breakfast with the doctor and a good friend from the crew. We arrived at the start to wish the runners a great day in the sun. As the race began I once more had tears behind those sunglasses of mine. These people were doing what I had come to do.
I and my crew mate set off to our destination and quickly everything was in place and ready for the runners to arrive. Once the runners started coming I felt useful again. Every runner I saw coming got a cheer and if I could recognize them or spot their name it became a personal one. As a runner, I know how nice it is to see a friendly face and know that someone is out there waiting to see _you_ arrive! I asked them right away: 'What can for you?', 'Cold towel?', 'Do you want your cap the the cold water?', 'Wanna sit?', 'Want ice in your bottles?', 'Want me to add electrolytes as well?'. Making sure that only the right amount of electrolytes was added to the water so it would not taste like saltwater and be useless for the runner. Everything was done as quickly as possible to allow them to continue right away if that was what they wanted. Never standing to wait but seeking them and asking what I could do to help them. Also, I made sure that they knew what was coming, not just the distance to the next checkpoint but also the path there. "It will go uphill for a few km, then you have a nice downhill stretch follow by a long straight dusty road ..." I didn't want people to hear any false or vague information they deserved the facts as precisely as possible. Every time I had a person successfully through the checkpoint my mood would rise. Seeing people that I knew already or that I knew had been struggling made me even happier. Happy to see that they were still in the game. This was me and my crew mate's version of 'Cheers' and every one of them should feel like 'Norm'. This was the second best thing I could do in this race and it felt awesome!
The rest of the week I stayed on checkpoint duty doing my best to help my fellow runners and the feedback they gave me was priceless. I restudied the course videos to give the best info possible I wanted the best possible race experience for these runners. I had hit rock bottom Monday morning but they had helped me just as much as I had helped them. Every evening someone came and told how glad they were to have me at a checkpoint .. priceless!
I saw many runners in pain, giving all they had to go on. A young man who couldn't bend his knees when he left my checkpoint on day 3 but tried to fight his way up a hill until he had to buckle. A young girl who it turned out had broken a bone in her foot on day one but still fought her way through the race until 30 km into day 4 (which totals 100 miles / 160 km!!). Having reached my checkpoint she was sadly pulled by the doctor after having fought her way up a crazy hill. She was simply risking to do permanent damage to herself which could mean that she wouldn't be able to run ever again. She personally never gave up. Saw a runner nearly purple from running in the sun for more than 8 hours at the time with no or too little sun block on. She roasted out there with her feet in pain but still carried on to the end. Saw a man who had vomited and who had been running on empty for hours but who managed to pick himself up and made it all the way to the finish line getting faster and faster. I saw so many strong runners, so many strong people, so many strong stories that I couldn't help feeling in awe. I felt very proud to be able to help these men and women even if only a little.
The last day of the race arrived and after doing my checkpoint duty with some of my fellow DNF runners (and dear friends) I spent most of the day waiting at the finish line waiting for people to come in. Remembering how I had felt last year when I had crossed that line. Some of the people I care most about told me some really wonderful things at that line, thank you very much.
After the race had ended there was the after party and the always returning question: 'Will you be back next year?'. Well, I knew I wanted to. Besides the fact that AAUT is a great race with a great crew I had unfinished business but I also knew that I wasn't coming back again just to let history repeat itself plus there is always the question of $$. I would have to give it some thought.
Officially I left at 4:00 AM the next morning but part of me was left behind. Now a week later I have signed up for AAUT 2014 and this time I will take on the race not just myself. My blood pressure is 'perfect' and my training has been upped to 2 sessions a day, feeling stronger, faster and more focused than ever. I know I also got some mental training to do as well. I look forward to seeing those of my friends again who has already or who will decide to come back as well.
This week's favorite running song: Nightcall by Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx