Thursday, July 24, 2014

AAUT 2014 - the spell was broken!

** disclaimer: this was all written by memory and not in my native language. **

So many things have happens since I've updated my blog but to sum it all up: I'm running again.

Around New Year my achilles problem was finally healed and I could start running again after months of ..non-running. It also meant that I could start thinking about AAUT 2014 for real. As you might know my entry in 2013 didn't go as I had planned (read about it here) and even though I had aimed for a real race in 2014 the archilles break meant that my goal had changed to just f*cking getting through again (already did so in 2012). Getting through can be hard enough as many of the non finishers through the years will tell you. Unforeseen events like falls, heat problems, stomach problems and broken bones have stopped many runners. AAUT is a small race but is regarded to be in the top 50 of the hardest races in the world and even harder than the much more famous Marathon des Sables.

To be honest I felt much more prepared in 2012 and 2013 than I did this year. Recently I have had a lot late hours at the office and especially my distance training had suffered from it not to mention my hill training. Hill training in Denmark means running up and down the same 20-30-40 meter high hill again and again and again. Nothing like the 1 km high hills (mountains) we seen in Spain. Denmark is a _flat_ country.

Arriving at the hotel I noticed that nobody was sitting outside drinking beer. This was _very_ unusual and a clear sign that only very few of the usual suspects was racing this year. I arrived by bus with the regulars Graeme and Kirsty (racing since 2012) and the new kid on the block, Charlie. Another familiar face Roxanne was welcoming us in the once we entered the hotel, she like me had not finished it in 2013 and was back for redemption. After checking in and saying hi to all the new faces (Andy, Steve, Gunnar, Mario, Carolien aka Caren, Anna, Mark, Galina, Mick, George, Franck, Brendan, ...) we the oldies quickly went outside and had beer ... the balance in the AAUT universe was once again restored.

Graeme, Roxanne, Me and Kirsty

Worth mentioning is that should you need something, socks, gels, poles, clothing .. AAUT puts up a small shop in the hotel where you can make the last minute stockpiling.

Later that night Sonny (my fellow Dane in the race) and soon to be famous in the AAUT world Sonia arrived.

Sunday some of us went for the non-optional run to the base of the first mountain and back. This year it was a little more eventful than is used to be. One of the runners decided to take a small spontaneous nap on the road. He had traveled for 24+ hours with next to no sleep and his body decided to draw a line in the sand. After some rest, food and a talk with the doctor he was fine and had a great week, but at that point in time, it was a wake-up call for all of us. This is the real shit.

Day 1 - the wake-up

Monday morning it was time to start the race. A familiar face Angie (2012 supporter and 2013 racer) had come to see us off. I remember that in 2012 at one point on the long day where I was totally spaced out Angie had pulled up beside me in a car offering me cold beverage at that point I couldn't recognize her and started telling her about the race.. spaced out .. that is what the extreme heat will do to you. This morning I was my normal self and a familiar face especially Angie's was a welcomed sight. She and her husband Tony are some of the nicest people I know. But generally, AAUT _do_ bring a very special and very lovely crowd based on my experience.

.. anyway at 9:45 the race started and off we went. I felt fine until the first climb. It was a impressive ~9km 1000 m accent. I very quickly regretted not having spent more time doing hill training. My heart was beating at the same rhythm as a love struck rabbit having a good time. This was new to me and I didn't like it. In 2012 I was among the first to reach the summit, this year I was among the last. I blamed the missing hill training, the blood pressure medication and not bringing the poles (in 2012 someone (Fred) referred to me as the tac tac man, due to the sound of my poles sneaking up from behind). Using poles gives you an edge on the uphill sections .. if you have the proper technique. Once I reached the top a very smiling man, Adrian, was greeting me. This was his first year as a crew member and I didn't leave his checkpoint without giving him a few pointers howto improve his otherwise impressive hospitality (having spent 2013 doing checkpoints with a master of the trait (Big Phil) so I couldn't help it).

After that, it goes more or less downhill until checkpoint 2. I did a fine mix of running and walking getting used to the warm weather. Phil, Linda, the doctor (Anja) and Eric greeted me at the checkpoint and after a short stop I went on. The path to checkpoint 3 includes a bit of tar road and at that point, I was feeling strangely sleepy. I must have been bored by my own company. On top of that, I was feeling cramps going up and down my spine possibly due to too much ice in my water bladder. I was also starting to feel a sickness in my stomach. The spirit was high but I really really didn't feel like running and started walking more than I ran.

1 or 2 km before checkpoint 3 I was overtaken by Mario and Caren. They were all smiles and was clearly having a good day in the sun even though Caren had hurt her foot. At checkpoint 3 I was welcomed by Angie, Holly and Linda. I was a little cooked by now so the coke (cola) they served was niiice. It was my first coke since September 2013 so I enjoyed it a little extra. Now I was second to last but I really didn't feel like running too much and took it fairly easy for the rest of the way to the finish line. When I did run my lower legs erupted in cramps and I knew that it wasn't going to become an easy week for me. When I finally reached the finish all the familiar faces was there smiling and cheering. I shot a video of my leg cramps sitting by my tent .. scary stuff :)

Luckily AAUT has a massage option and the very skilled lady who did the massage was extremely efficient to get rid of whatever problem I had during the week. It hurt like hell when she did her magic but it worked and I don't mind even strong pain when I know it helps me in the end.

Let me give a shout out to Jesper who had come to greet us/me at the finish line but who missed me due to me spending too much time wandering around enjoying the scenery.

Night 1 is actually spent in a sports hall so even though we slept in our tents we still had a roof over our heads and nice toilets!

Day 2 - the semi-long one

It started great. I felt sharp and had brought my poles. In 2012 I was among the leaders until checkpoint 2 so I started out as fast as felt sane. Legs felt awesome. I wasn't among the leaders but I felt I was certainly better placed than I had been the day before. Then a few km later on a dusty road, I was greeted by a pitbull-terrier standing in the middle of the road looking straight at me showing its teeth and making a deep sound letting me know that I wasn't welcome. I turned around and started walking back the way I came waiting for the next runners so we could pass it like a group. It didn't take long for Mario and Caren to arrive and when faced with 3 people the dog vanished. At that point, we could see that the poor thing was limping :(

Shortly after I ran away from the group and was feeling fast and furious. Then I came to a single track and by a sudden strike of madness, I decided to run up a long hill filled with loose stones. It took me forever and once I reached the top I was pissed that Paul had marked the route so poorly that I couldn't see where to run next. I decided to go left and while running up there I noticed the next runners arriving at the single track. A little later I noticed that none had gone up the hill and had instead continued ahead. I shouted down to Caren and she confirmed my mistake. Doh .. I had to go back down. It took a while and once down the pink markings was clearly _noy_ pointing me up the hill. I was rather pissed with myself and did no longer feel awesome. By my calculations, I was now second to last.

Once I arrived at checkpoint 2 I was greeted by Mario and Caren who left it as I entered. This checkpoint was run by Phil and Linda. As I left it Gunnar entered it and I was glad to know that he was making good speed but also a little troubled by the fact that it meant that I was very close to being the very last. Not that it really mattered but it was such a big contrast to my run in 2012 that I was a bit scared of how much this blood pressure thing had actually affected my running. All the way to checkpoint 2 was a mixed run with Mario and Caren ahead of me or behind me. I saw Galina 200 meters ahead of me at some point but never caught up with her.

At checkpoint 2 I was greeted by Holly, the doctor and Eric. Mario left the checkpoint a little ahead of me but Caren had decided to call it a day. At this point, I felt shitty. I felt slow, my stomach was giving me problems again and the heat was kicking in. The path between checkpoint 2 and 3 it as very technical single track known as the goat track. I quickly got lost for the second time and had to reverse my track to find the correct path again. When I did this section in 2012 it was the most technical path I had ever 'run'. This year it gave me far less problems but the heat was immense and the climb was tough. At one point I was really cooking and to my horror, I found out that I had dropped my bottle with pure water. This was the bottle I used to cool down the head and feeling the heat like I did I knew that I couldn't go far without it (I got long thick hair). I had to slow down and sit in the shade every few meters as I went uphill. When I finally reached the top I had come to the conclusion that when I found the checkpoint I would drop out... I was really really cooking inside and running another 18 km in the sun didn't seem reasonable at the time. To my luck, a car approached me and inside it was Eric and the doctor. They had water in the back and I quickly used 1-2 bottles of it to cool down the head and body. Ahhh .. no longer cooking I could focus on running again.

I quickly meet Kirsty who had gotten a little lost herself and had used far to much time wandered the hills up and down. We entered checkpoint 3 together and was greeted by Adrian and his son. They gave me an empty coke bottle to use instead of my lost one and off I went. The coke bottle was a little big and heavy though so when I ran I had to hold it to keep my west from jumping around. It annoyed me a little but it was far better than the alternative. I kept Kirsty in my view for a few km but little by little she got further and further ahead of me and when we reached the bottom aka the long dusty road she was 'gone'.

2.5 km of really really dry fine dust

At this point, I was relaxing a little too much. Having nearly called it a day and with nobody to race, I started focusing on conserving what energy I had left. I did run a little but could possibly have run more and walked less. When I say walk I mean a speedy march at around 8-9 min/km. At the end of the road and after a little uphill I was greeted by Paul who took this little picture of me as I crossed a stone fence feeling strong-legged at the time actually.

2 km later I was greeted by Phil in the middle of nowhere. He had actually gone out looking for me wondering why I hadn't arrived yet. He is awesome so I was a little sad to leave him behind but I wasn't in a mood for a walk at the time and he wasn't really a match for my running. Just before checkpoint 4, there is a little water crossing where you are bound to get your feet wet unless you take off your shoes. I tried for half a sec to take off the shoes but could feel a cramp building up so I just ran through the water instead and sat down at checkpoint 4 where Linda greeted me. Mario had just left it and even though I was tempted to try to catch up with him I felt more like sitting down for a few minutes and having some cooold coke :) Paul arrived and took this picture as I sat there. I found out that Gunnar had called it a day so I was now last (3-4 had called it a day at that point).

I was not feeling as bad as it looks ;) I was adjusting the buff.
From checkpoint 4 to the finish line I felt great. I did a mix of running and marching. Legs felt fine and with a cool head, everything seemed great. I was a little sad by being last but it was what it was. When I finally reached the finish I realized how many had called it a day and that I was only last by a few minutes. The youngsters at the finish line were awesome btw. A young man with glasses made sure I had every I needed. I believe his name was Sam.

The poor massage woman had to work until 9 PM that evening. I know cause I was her last 'patient'. She once again did her magic and my main problem of the day was a sore knee specifically tractus iliotibialis which she fixed through some _very_ painful but very efficient massage and some shoulder problems. The later was fixed by a mix of again _very_ painful massage and camphor lotion that she applied for the night. She was extreme good at what she did.

I hadn't been able to eat my gels/food that day so when Sonny and I went into town that night at 9:30 pm the meal at the La Bar (chicken, chips and a large beer) was very tasty and felt great in the stomach.


Day 3 or as they call it ..the easy day

The day started with a 10 km tar run. My legs felt great but I had started with a nearly empty water bladder so when I started feeling the heat I slowed down a bit. Sonny and I teamed up within a few km from the start. Sonny was having some serious cramp problems that had started the day before and wanted to call it a day at checkpoint 1. I tried to talk him into giving it another go since I know from experience that most of our problems are only phases that have a beginning and an end. Holly and Gunnar were crewing checkpoint 1 as I remember it. Sonny didn't want to go further so I left him there.

The next section included a long uphill that ended at a landing field and next to it was checkpoint 2, run by Phil and Linda. At checkpoint 2 I found Mario and Caren who was running again. I could feel a hot spot developing on one of my feet so I took the time taking off the 2 socks (liner + compression) and fixing it with some Vaseline. While I was doing that Galine arrived and left and when I was done Sonny had entered the checkpoint as well. He stated _very_ clearly that now he was done and that he called it a day. I tried to convince him to give it a few minutes and think about it. But he had made up his mind. At that time I was ready to go so off I went with Mario, Caren and Galina in the horizon.

I had remembered the next part as being more or less flat followed by a long downhill but in reality, there was quite a long gentle climb before the downhill section started. I felt awesome but had mixed feelings. Should I go full throttle or should I save the energy to the next day aka the long one. I mostly did the later. When I arrived at checkpoint 3 I was greeted by Adrian and his son. Mario and Caren were still there as well. I think I entered the checkpoint singing and all in all I was feeling great. Mario and Caren went on their way. Once I had filled my water bladder and alike I too went along.

I passed Mario and Caren on the top of the next climb and never saw them again that day. To be honest I had a hard time not going full throttle so most of way to the finish I ran fairly fast ignoring the fact that it was meant to be a recovery day. 800 meters before the finish I saw Galina 200 meters ahead of me and I simply couldn't help giving it all I had. I ran past her at full throttle and once I crossed the finish line I had to throw myself on the ground completely cooked but very happy about the day and how the legs felt.

Problems of the day. A tiny blister that the doctor drained. I had hoped she would inject it with something that would completely dry it out but I couldn't remember what the liquid is called and she clearly didn't think it necessary. Didn't really have any specific problems for the massage woman to fix so she just gave me a run through .. which was painful enough but left me feeling great.

That night we had the best paella of the 3 years I had attended the race. I had 2 large servings and a cup or 2 of beer :)

Everybody was thinking about the day to come. Day 4 is nearly 70 km long with some serious climbs and extremely hot and unprotected. We were divided into 2 groups for a staggered start. The slowest would start at 8 AM and the fastest at 8:30 AM. So off to bed to get ready for an early start.

Day 4 - the long one.

I had made one change in my setup compared to the other days. A change that would make a real difference to me. I had added a flask more around my waist. In this, I used some High5 tabs. Until day 4 I had only used water and gels. The race started and Eric ran with us for the first 3 km showing us the way to the first climb. Ahead of me was Roxanne and Anna. Roxanne was running really fast like a bat out of hell. She was the fastest in the slow group and day 4 was where she had been forced to quit the year before due to a stress fracture in the foot (which she had gotten on day 1 aka 100 miles / 160 km earlier!!). My legs felt great but once again I started thinking about 2012 and how I had been first at both checkpoint 1 and 2 on day 4. I had burned the candle at both ends that year but still, I didn't like being in front. When we reached checkpoint 1 I had been passed by Kirsty and Mario. Holly and Gunnar were running checkpoint 1 and Gunnar was very generous with the ice in my case. Thanks, Gunnar! ;)

The next stretch took us around a very beautiful lake. My legs felt awesome but my head started to give me problems as people kept passing me from behind. Charlie who was leading the race had passed me after a mere 10 km. In 2012 the leader(s) didn't pass me until ~24 km. I felt under powered again and my mind became my worst enemy. I kept asking myself why aren't I running, I don't know I replied and so I ran for a little only to slow to a walk a few hundred meters later. More people passed me and I got more and more frustrated so I decided to call it a day once I would reach checkpoint 2. With a mere 1 km to the checkpoint I gave it full throttle and ran like a bat out of hell and was greeted by Eric, the doctor, Sonny, Andy, Phil, Linda and Mike (an English ultra runner crewing this year) They were clearly impressed with my running entry but I said to them that I was out.

To my surprise, no one tried to talk me out of it. Andy said, that he too had called it a day and Mike offered to drive me to the finish. The doctor said is was a shame. All in all, I became a little pissed .. sorry but I did ;) I have always told people not to give up when they entered a checkpoint and only do it on your way out. Why didn't anyone say the same to me? I had also thought that I was the last at that point but I could hear that at least 2 runners was behind me. My problem was in my head I knew that. The sprint to the checkpoint had proved that my legs were more than ready. So I changed my mindset. I was going to continue and by that, I meant to the finish. I told them that I needed 5 minutes and called out to Eric that I was going to continue. He told me that the next part was a very tough 7 km climb. I told him that I knew that and as soon as my gear was ready I went ahead. The last thing I remember I said when I left was to Sonny: "It is all in the head".

From that point on I felt awesome. The 7 km climb felt like a piece of cake. As I got close to the top I could see Kirsty and Wendy a little ahead of her. I knew then that my legs were indeed great. At checkpoint 3 I was greeted by Adrian and his son. Wendy was there as well as Kirsty. They left before me, though. Looking on my pace climbing the hill I noticed that even going uphill my speed was still faster than the cut off speed of 6 km/h. This gave me the idea that if only I could keep going at that speed for the rest of the day I would safely be able to complete it. And so I did. I ran once in a while when I couldn't help it but most often I simply stuck to my plan.

I ran the last 2-3 km into checkpoint 4 at 40 km into the race and felt awesome. Mark arrived there a few minutes after me. At checkpoint 4 I was greeted by Eric, the doctor, Caren and possibly one more ;) The doctor (Anja) and I had a little talk about what had gone on at checkpoint 2 .. in German to her delight ;) I left feeling much better that I had in 2012 at the same checkpoint. A few km's later Mark caught up with me. He is a great fellow and I like him as a person but I felt that I had to tell him that I wasn't really a great chatter when I ran trying to keep my focus. He luckily replied no problem nor was he ;)

We teamed up for a few kilometers until we had to cross a water junction. To be honest hadn't Mark taken off his shoes I would properly have gone through it with shoes and all but seeing Mark taking the extra time to actually taking off his shoes and socks convinced me to do the same. I am glad that I did. The feeling of the cold water on the hot feet was freaking awesome!!! Mark took a picture of me having taken that first step. You can clearly see how much I enjoyed it. Sadly I don't have that picture to show you .. yet.

Once crossed I had to take some time to get the feet covered with Vaseline again and putting on the 2 socks (injinji liner and the compression outer sock). I love the combination but it takes some time to get on. Mark was faster and we separated again. After that followed a looong dusty uphill climb to checkpoint 5. By now I had run out of the High5 tab that had kept me going all day (had had no gels) and I was looking forward to the coke at checkpoint 5. When I finally saw the checkpoint I ran to it a little tired but still feeling awesome. I was greeted by Phil, Linda and Sonny! Mark was also there. I was told that Roxanne had just left the checkpoint 14 minutes earlier and I knew then that something was wrong. She is much faster than me and should have been way ahead of me at that point.

Then it happened ..... My eyes saw what was in front of me and I burst out .. "Who the fuck buys Zero at an Ultra!!!" They were serving Cola Zero. Mark replied dryly ... "I was thinking the same thing". I am very sorry for Linda and Phil who was running the checkpoint for the remark that I made, but I heard a number of other people marking the same remark the next couple of days ;) AAUT has the best crew imaginable let there be no doubt! At that point of the race I just wanted sugar, everybody does. That is why they serve Cola at the late checkpoints. I had some sweets instead :)

Mark left ahead of me. The way from checkpoint 5 to 6 is fairly easy and fairly uphill until it is not. Then after 11-12 km there you have checkpoint 6. At checkpoint 6 I was greeted by Adrian and his son plus Sonny and Linda who had passed me by car.

Checkpoint 6 - Me and Sonny
I was feeling great and had had a nice run into the checkpoint doing the helicopter (with the poles). Mark was also there but left soon after. I had some great oranges and soon after I went out for the last stretch with only Anna behind me. I don't know how many had dropped out that day.

From there it is about 9 km to the finish. The first year I did this my feet was covered with blisters and the very steep downhills on the last 9 km was really killing me and I was really pissed. This year I knew what was coming and enjoyed the scenery and not having blisters worth mentioning. When I finally reached the lake I meet Paul a few hundred meters from the finish. Hey cool, I thought when he started running, lets race! My legs were feeling awesome and I overtook him in no time .. but then he shouted that he was the one who should the finish line picture, so I stopped and waited for him to get into the car and waited a little longer for him to arrive at the finish. THEN I hit full throttle and ran like a very happy bat out of hell to the finish line followed by Eric in a car honking his horn. Awesome.

I only remember one greeting though a lot of people greeted me but I was high on endorphin and adrenalin. The greeting I remember was Mike's: "You are a legend!" I felt really good sitting down after having done what I had dreaded all week and having made the come back after checkpoint 2 .. My time was safely within the allowed time frame and I had done what I set out to do. However looking up I saw Roxanne and she was really battered. She was still sitting in a chair in at the finish wearing her race gear. Her feet was a mess and she was pale as a ghost. I had had a walk in the park compared to what she had been through. She had been developing a cold since Day 1 and combined with other problems .. everybody was impressed that she got through.

That evening I think most of us thought about Roxanne.

I didn't have a massage. Didn't needed it.

One thing I must mention as well. We dined at a place called Restaurante Asador Pato Loco. If you ever go there have a steak! I did and it was the best steak I have ever had!! If yours isn't as good then go for at 67 km run in the hills and try again.

Day 5 - It is only a marathon.

Again a staggered start. Legs felt awesome. I teamed up with Sonny who was running again. He was faster than me though so he went ahead and I never saw him again until the finish. The rest of the day was spent in the company with Roxanne who I teamed up with right after checkpoint 1 and later Mark who joined the group after checkpoint 3. To me, it was a very easy day. My shape had gotten better and better through the week but sometimes there are things more important than running and day 5 was such a day. Everybody made it through day 5 even the one who had suffered the most. Roxanne went directly into an ambulance after having crossed the finish line. Later that evening when finally back on her feet she got a standing applause when she entered the room. If you wonder why, check this picture.

Paul, Roxs and the doctor

This is how you look when you have given it all you had and then some. Roxanne might be the last to cross the finish line this year but she was still one of those who made the biggest impression on people. Another amazing woman this year was Sonia Furtado as I mentioned in the start. She became the first woman to the win a stage. Not only did she win one stage she won 2 and was only a handful of minutes from winning the race.

Didn't have a massage, didn't need it. Did have a large beer and a hamburger, though!

you can't see the beer .. but it was there :)

That night I felt fulfilled. I had done what I came to do. My time had been shitty but I had made it through once more. I had broken the spell of 2013. But not 24 hours went by before I started thinking that it had been too easy. I hadn't pushed myself nearly hard enough. In 2012 I had raced myself as hard as I could (read about it here) and had lost 3 nails and had 8 blisters to show for it .. in 2014 I had one tiny blister and finished the race in better shape than I started. AAUT 2015 suddenly got a purpose.

Pictures by Paul, Linda, Graeme, Mark and me (Sorry for not asking, I'm a bandit I know). Thanks to the crew behind AAUT, management to volunteers you all rock!! Thanks to my fellow runners this year for being fucking awesome! Thanks to all the people who supported me and the other runners on Facebook, Skype and more. Thanks to my family for giving me the possibility to do this year after year.

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