Thursday, 29 September 2016
This is my race report (abridged) of a day, which resulted in my 1st Long Distance DNF, which I like to precis as: Swim, Bike, Run, Ambulance.
For those that haven't been to Regensburg, it's a beautiful German town, North of Munich, nestled in the Bavarian countryside, and a UNESCO world heritage site. The Challenge event was well organised, with the town happy to embrace an influx of triathletes during their peak tourist season. The race has a split transition, with the Lake (T1) some 10km out of town, and the run (T2) taking place within the town.
To be honest, my training for the event had been somewhat haphazard. I'd enjoyed an injury free Oct 15-Jan 16, and was looking forward to capitalising on my fitness up to race day when work intervened, and I found myself 'on the road', both in the UK and abroad, for 9 weeks from Feb 16, then an additional 4 weeks in Jun/Jul. So I reappraised my goals and opted for, it's your 5th Iron Distance race, keep to HR and cadence and see what happens (ie sod the time, get the bling!).
Swim (1hr 22m 04s): Great open water gravel pit for the swim, 2 laps with a 100m run between laps. 3 waves (pros +, sub 11h30, rest) 5 mins apart (I was in wave 3), then the relay teams a further 25 mins later. Quite pleased with my swim, fairly comfortable throughout and starting to overtake wave 2 and wave 1 swimmers by the end of the 1st lap. Into transition feeling fine, quick (by my standards) change, and off on the bike.
Bike (7hr 04m 29s): The bike was 2 laps, and took us through the scenic Bavarian landscape. I think it's fair to say that this was when the wheels started to come off! Sun was already climbing (at 7:30am) and temperature climbing, and then, after 10 km, the 1st of 3 hills to 28km. Picked up 1 water and 1 energy drink from the aid station then flicked into a comfortable gear and spun up the climbs, keeping HR steady. Eat, drink, repeat, or so I kept telling myself. 1st error: noticed I hadn't got energy drink at aid station, but it was water; 2 water will be fine till next aid station I persuaded myself. Nice descent between 28k and 36k, then a gradual climb (minimal incline if truth be known) to 65k, sharp incline, then slow descent to end lap 1, in around 3hr 15m. Sun was now high in the sky, temps around 30. Was taking on fuel (or so my brain was telling me) but truth be known, turning the pedals was starting to feel tough even though HR was steady. Repeat long climb, collect drinks from top of climb, commence descent then watch in dismay as the water bottle fails to sit in the cage and bounces out onto the road; quick decision... 18k to the next aid station, stop and collect water or push on as it's only 18k? hindsight says I should've stopped but...! Continue on, drinking sparingly. Next aid station, refuel and keep going, however legs definitely lacking power, and looking at my tri shorts I noticed they was starting to turn white with salt crystals. Passed final aid station, 25k to go and my left quad starts to cramp. My addled brain puts it down to fatigue, gently massage leg, and press on. T1, lake, and then to the final 'sprint' to T2, which seemed to arrive after an eternity. Hand bike to helpers and run to the changing tent. 7 minutes in transition, involving drinking copious amounts of carbonated water (did I spot a potential dehydration issue here? Nope!), then onto the run course.
Run: Flat run course of 4 loops of the town. Aid stations at 0k (T2), 2.5k, 4.5k, 6.5k & 8k (repeat x4). Sun still beating down, and little in the way of shelter til the park between 4-8k. Lap 1, saw wife who said 'hows it going?' Me: 'Bike was a nightmare, I feel sh!t'. Shuffle along, taking water and drink at aid stations. By the start of lap 2 I was on a determined run/walk strategy, counting foot-falls to ensure I kept steady. Time was staying constant, and I still wasn't feeling great but managing to smile/wave to the many spectators along the run course. Met up with fellow strugglers, and encouraged/goaded them along. Lap 3: Still on a run/walk, still drinking and eating at the aid stations, but I could tell my pace was dropping (even more). Eventually, approaching T2 for the penultimate time and collecting the 3rd wrist band. Only 12k to go, and I was now in walk mode! However, everything still seemed fine and hey, it's only 12km. 2k later and a quick chat to the wife again, 'Hows it going?' Me: 'not good, having to walk, and I'm in survivor mode, just 10k and 2.5hrs til cut-off, see you in 1.5hrs.' Thankfully, or so I thought, the sun was setting. Approached aid station 1, thanked staff and drank water. approaching aid station 2, felt compelling need to throw up (never a good sign), crouched down and let nature take its course, only nothing came up, apparently I was empty (never a good sign). arrived at aid station but couldn't eat/drink, so said my thanks again and walked onto the next aid station. I saw walk, but more of a stagger/stumble, but I still wasn't believing there was a problem until I arrived at the next aid station where I'd primed the volunteers to have a glass of beer on hand and I'd celebrate my last visit with them. Sure enough, a cup of beer was offered but, for the 1st time in history, I had to decline, keep focussed on moving forward and continue my way towards the finish. Mid way to the next aid station and another bout of non-vomiting, and then I was at the aid station. Got chatting to the lead volunteer: Him: how are you feeling? Me: not great. Him: are you going to drop out? Me: No, 4k to go, just need to focus and keep moving. Him: do you want to sit down? Me: No, I need to keep moving. Him: OK, do you want water/food? Me: No thank you, I won't keep it down. Him: are you sure you don't want a chair? Me: No, I must stay on my feet (helper quietly places chair behind me), and midway through my 'No thanks, I must keep moving' my body sat down! At that point 2 paramedics descended on me, took vitals, took blood, took temp, wrapped foil blanket around me, then called an ambulance. One of the paramedics then said 'for you the race is over'; ok, maybe not those exact words, but he definitely wasn't letting me continue. Ambulance arrived, and I was invited to get on-board. From the chair to the ambulance was 10 metres, and I couldn't even stand up without the aid of 2 medics holding me up; it was about this time that I realised I probably wasn't going to finish the final 4k under my own steam. More checks inside the ambulance, then a pleasant ambulance ride with full blues and twos to the finish area to shuffle, with assistance, to the hospital tent. By this time, I was shivering quite a bit, vitals were taken again, wife arrived and I was eventually released into her care. 500 metre walk back to the hotel, then my wife had to head off to T2 to collect my bike and bag, then returned for a fitful night sleep as, apparently, I spent the night shallow breathing and sweating profusely; not that I knew as I was asleep!
Post-Race: Breakfast, ate lots, started drinking. Drank around 8 litres of water, couple of bottles of flavoured milk, 1 litre of coke, and eventually needed the toilet at 8pm in the evening, with pee the colour of orange lucozade (never a good sign). Arrived home to find I'd lost 0.5 stone, and after 3 days I could happily claim to be rehydrated, and had put on 0.5 stone! Reflections on a DNF: Obviously, I was gutted not to finish, especially with only 4k to go. However, I've managed to identify some key errors that I made on race day, and in the lead up to the race. The disappointment is still there, but I'm actually quite pleased that the medical team were on-site, as I've no idea what state I'd have been in if I'd attempted to carry on. And on the plus side, I'm already planning next year's Ironman race, so it's safe to say I really haven't learnt too much from this experience
Tuesday, 10 September 2013
I am a strong believer that the hardest part of any Iron Distance race is writing the race report; how to start it off? Which bits are useful? Which are so interesting they need a hat on*? Should it be regaled from the time the decision to enter the race was taken or just the roadtrip itself? And should it contain the questions relating to how to start a report in the first place? Once those questions are answered the rest of the report should, in theory, just fall into place.
*See Transalpine Blog below for hat reference
This is my 4th Iron Distance race, and subsequently my 4th Race Report; the previous 3 races took place in 07, 08 and 09. A break from Ironman racing occurred in 2010, when myself and Mr Crash Hamster joined forces to run (sic) an 8-day Ultra event across 3 countries in the Goretex Transalpine Run (Full Race Reports, yes both of them, can be found in this Blog). Following that event, the Hamster found a new way to get a DVT, and I discovered ‘eating/drinking without exercise puts on weight’ shock! So, during 2012, a plan was hatched, so cunning…..blah, blah, etc, that we'd consider another Ironman type challenge. Now, a lot had changed since our last IM race in Switzerland in 2009, new events had appeared on the IM calendar, however, the IM brand had realised they had a captive market and could start to charge ever increasing prices for their events; however, one constant remained, you still needed to make a snap decision 12 months in advance, and hope your internet connection was faster than everybody else’s, in order to sign up for an IM race. Thankfully (aka we weren’t quick enough), there were also some new kids on the Iron Distance race circuit who offered race entry fees that didn't require a second mortgage, and races that filled up at a pace that allowed 'thinking (aka faffing)' time. A quick look at the Challenge family website for example highlighted a little race in France that looked appealing; swim (in the 'Lac'), 2 loop bike course (flat, almost downhill profile) and a 4 loop run (around the 'Lac'). Other Iron Distance races were considered but they all seemed to be somewhere called 'the UK', and I'm a firm believer that I don't do a race whose round trip travelling time is less than the time I expect to complete it (or is in Bolton); so, the 2013 Atomic Hamster roadtrip was decided: Challenge Vichy.
The next few months were filled with the usual half-hearted Piratey training (sic) routine before I inadvertently recruited a ‘coach’ (aka Dis, my wife), who instructed me in no uncertain terms that she expected me to ‘do some proper training’ so that I could finish the race. I enquired if there were a few words missing from her sentence, eg in a decent time? in under 14hrs? before the finish area had been taken down?, to which she replied No, just finish, ideally with proper fuelling, without vomiting, and without dying! I was about to offer some witty response but I could sense this was an argument I wouldn’t win (Rule 1: the coach is always right, Rule 2: you know the rest). So, first stop was Google, to find out what ‘proper training’ meant, then, once my heart rate had returned to normal, it was on with the t.. tr… tr… (training Sir?), yes, alright, the training, in a valiant attempt to achieve the coach’s goal for the race.
Soon, the 28 August arrived, and so too did the Hamster family, Crashie and Squishy. The roadtrip was about to begin and off we trotted to the car hire centre to collect our bijou SUV. Things started well; Sorry guys, your SUV is not available so we've given you a free upgrade to a bigger vehicle. Cha-ching, get in there, we reply, it'll be much better for our journey to France. France you say? You plan to take the vehicle abroad? Yes! As per our T&Cs. Sorry Sir, our records doesn't mention anything about that! Uh-Oh! No problems Sir, we can add it for you now. Uh-Oh! Deep breath, pay excess, collect BMW X3 (ready for European travel) and 3 drivers, no need for the emergency driver (who was still working and couldn't be added in time); well, what's the worst that could happen. Pack car, load bikes, go to sleep, wake up really early and depart for the tunnel; then into France, in a German tank heading for Paris then on to Vichy.... hmmmm!
Arrive in Vichy, book into hotel, walk into room and marvel at the size and facilities available in a 'standard' double; an upgrade Sir? Don't mind if we do. Friday started off with a whimper as we descended to the hotel's breakfast room and tucked into dried bread, large pastries, watery fruit juice and some sort of very sweet compote; so, standard continental fare then. Quick dip in the 'Lac' (actually not a Lac, in the true sense, more a River, with the current dragging you slowly towards the weir, and an unpleasant drop to a stony river bed below; mental note: remember to sight the last buoy!) before the race briefing, then off to registration to collect my Race number #666, hope it wasn't to prove to be an Omen (other horror films were available). Then back to the hotel...
(Vichy travel guide: Vichy is a quaint French town, famous for its thermal spa and healing sweets. The town has a typical continental feel, especially with their great cafés with fresh chocolate cakes on display in the window; they also had wasps in the window but they weren't available to buy. The townsfolk are typically French, as befits the location, and they try their hardest not to laugh at my pitiful efforts of speaking the language; 'a glass of water please. Certainly Sir, would you like the milk warm?)
Saturday dawned and another dip in the
Lac River, 1.9km in 43 mins, hopefully the slow pace (was hoping for 40 mins) was due to the tidal forces, and the fact we stopped a couple of times to sightsee! A quick conversation with a friendly couple from BRAT; Them: ah, nice to see the Pirates here (aka phew, we won't be last and should get some nice cheers of support), are you guys in the European Champs? Us: ROFLOL, No (aka the High Seas Triathlon Association were not recognised as being part of Europe, but we're hopeful of a team in the Worlds), we're here to redress the misplaced view that the Pirates have suddenly become respectable and started doing stuff like training, being competitive and winning events! Them: cool, have a good race (aka excellent, we definitely won't be last). Then back to the hotel to pack and faff and prepare for racking. Apply tattoos (try to avoid coach with razor, as tattoo doesn't like to fix to hair; fail :( )
Now, as this was my 4th full washing machine swim start, and I was in a wave of maybe 300 other competitors, so I was anticipating a brief flurry before settling into my usual position, mid-back pack. Unfortunately, the other competitors decided that I was in the very spot that they wanted so, for the first 500 metres, it wasn't so much a washing machine, more a water-bound boxing ring. Oh well, man up, press on, hold your position, and soon enough the shoreline was approaching signifying the end of lap 1 and a quick australian exit before overtaking all the 'non-divers' who were gracefully lowering themselves back into the water, and leaping out into the abyss shouting 'crap divers!'; what's the worst that could happen? Lap 2 then took on a similar vein to Lap 1 as I was swum over/dragged back by the swimmers I'd left floundering on the quayside and then spent the 2nd half wondering what I'd done to upset them. Rounding the final buoy, I breathed (metaphorically) a sigh of relief as I congratulated myself on avoiding the weir, then pressed on to the swim exit and into transition. (Swim time 1h 25m 13s)
Into the transition tent, and I spy Mr H; what-o old chap, didn't expect to see you here, thought you'd be well gone by... oh, where'd he go? Right, knuckle down, speedy (sic) transition, collect the bike, off to the mount line, and time to chase down the Hamster. (T1: 6m (nearly a T1 PB))
Off on the bike and a quick wave to Dis, the coach, then out of Vichy and up the 1st hill of the day; gentle gradient but quite long, so drop it into the small gear and spin away, don't want to blow up too early. Crest the hill and settle down for the long haul. Steady tempo, eat, drink, repeat, try not to worry about all the cyclists overtaking me, as I know they are all in the half distance sprint event, and of no interest to me or my race. Whoosh, whoosh, oh great, another sprint merchant with their super-slick bike and disc wheel; but no, it was super speedy Dave669, who, having had a suitably average swim, was now burning up the road and shouting words of encouragement. Thanks Dave, see you at the end (maybe).
The Bike... there's not actually much to say about the bike really. It's not the flat fast course that it looks like on the profile. The course is a 2 lap affair, and rolls through the Val d'Allier. It starts with a long, steady climb out of Vichy on the hill of varying gradient (where, by a genius feat of engineering, the villagers are able to make the hill steeper for lap 2), then rolling along the top of the Valley, a left turn took us into the dark forest of stillness (where all the trees from the rest of the course have been herded together to shelter you from the wind), before you are launched into the daylight and down the hill of bleak views (where you can survey the barrenness of the landscape of agricultural flatness ahead). The next 50 or so kms are spent travelling around the ghost villages of the Auverne, sure it's a Sunday and many a church bell was tolling, but where in the bible does it say, and on the seventh day God said thou shallt ignore cyclists and offer no support for they do not payeth road tax? Thankfully there were 5 aid stations of plenty that were fully manned up with kindly folk dispensing all manner of goodies; unfortunately there was also a lack of any loud blaring music and associated noise, for the gentle folk did not approve of such wicked behaviour (apparently; either that or electricity hasn't reached the villages and the locally grown wind turbines are only there to allow the locals to increase the wind speed should a 2 lap cycle race happen to be organised on a Sunday). The end of the circuit found us cycling through BerylReid, a suburb of Vichy, famed for its magic roundabout; magic for many reasons, not least that it provided a nice gathering of spectators (well on lap 1 anyhow), but also,an ingenious navigation system that required a degree in Quantum Physics to fully understand (unless you learnt to drive in Swindon, in which case it was simple navigation). Approach roundabout, wave at Dis, avoid cars, try to understand why the crowd are shouting 'a gauche, a gauche', look up, spot gendarme furiously waving arms, spot traffic 'sort of' stopping 'a gauche', swerve to avoid the island in middle of road splitting the gauche lane from the droit lane, turn gauche, 100yds sharp droit, whoa! Aid station (if only they were playing music, and not hiding round the corner as if playing scare the cyclist!) fumble for drinks bottles, discard collect new supplies, whoa! Sharp 90 degree gauche turn, 100 yds 90 degrees droit, then up a hill to rejoin the loop for lap 2.
Lap 2 followed a similar (nigh on exact) flow to lap 1, you can read about it in the paragraph above if you've forgotten how it went; however, the key part of lap 2 was that I seemed to be cycling in treacle. I'd been fuelling well, eating, drinking, not vomming, and yet there was a distinct lack of energy in my legs after the descent out of the forest of stillness. It was during the next 50km that I realised that self preservation was probably the best course of action, a PB (original goal) might still be possible, but I'd need to finish the bike, so pick an easy gear and spin the legs, and hope they HTFU. I could also see some riders ahead of me, so I decided to spin on and try to catch some if possible; it was then I noticed a glint of yellow; I ignored the fact that it was probably a sunflower, and focused on it being one of my pirate colleagues. Slowly but surely I found myself gaining on one Mr Hamster, so, in time honoured tradition I gave the secret, never to be spoken outside the hallowed ranks,
masonic pirate greeting 'Give me a P, I yelled, Give me an I, Give me an R' to which I received the correct response, 'Aaaaarrgggh!' Yes, it was indeed Mr H. How's it going Sir I enquired? OK, came the response, had a bit of a bad patch! Ah, understood, but I did warn you about nicotinell, it doesn't work for everyone, I replied helpfully. And with that I shot (sic) away determined to put valuable seconds between us; after 5 minutes of seemingly intense cycling I glanced behind me and found I'd opened a lead of 5 bike lengths, oh well, at least we won't get done for drafting. We to'd and fro'd for the next 20 odd km, before I opened a slight lead as we entered BerylReid again; left, left, right, aid station, left, right, upflat, right turn to end of cycle, right turn, steep hill, chicane, listen to marshall shouting Rappel, slow down, negotiate chicane, approach roundabout, listen to marshall, ignore marshall, turn right head towards Hippodrome, slam on breaks, turn around, head back to roundabout, turn right and continue on route to the velo fin. Eventually reaching transition and carefully handing my trusty steed to a waiting volunteer. (Bike: 6hrs 34m 31s)
Collected my run bag and went to the tent, started changing, fully expecting Mr H to follow me within a couple of minutes then we'd be able to enjoy a party on the run course. A fellow Brit, Jace I believe, was just on his way out onto the run course when he stopped and said 'did you know about the brit guy who had a crash, I'd been chatting with him and he came a cropper on the way back'; I probably looked a bit blank at Jace, as I was trying to narrow down the 96 GB competitors and work out who he was talking about! A clue might have been, do you know that one of the other guys wearing a yellow monaco with black skull and crossbones on had crashed, that might have narrowed the possible options, to 3, and as I was one of the 3, I could have narrowed it to one of 2! But no, no others clues were given a he departed for his run. Oh well, back to transition... hey... you..hey... my head was down, as I was trying to negotiate tieing a shoelace, but I recall a disembodied voice calling out, hey.. devil number... hmmm, that could be me. I look up, and a kindly french athlete is shouting to me from half way across the tent. Your club, pirate, he fall, er tombe en velo; eventually, after much jollity I realised that Mr H had ridden his bike down the hill and failed to comprend le chicane. I now had 2 options (not the standard 3 (Read Transalpine report for option 3)); continue to wait, and see if Mr H returns, or head out on to the run accepting what will be will be. Option 2 wins the day and I leave T2. (T2: 9m 01s (I blame the Hamster))
The Run... the run at Vichy is 4 loops of 10.4km, and involves running past transition, through the finish area into some park land, along one side of the river, up and over 1 bridge, down and under same bridge, along other side of river, climb 20 (steep) steps, continue along side of river (only slightly higher), up and over 2nd bridge before dropping back to transition to repeat. All traffic (aka runners) move in the same anti-clockwise direction, and there are no loop-backs points on the course (so no where to shout encouragement/abuse or high-5 your fellow competitors). As such, you tend to get stuck with the same group of runners, some moving ahead, some drifting back, and all the time, you're experiencing lap band envy (a lap band is issued at the start of each lap, and the aim is to collect all 4 bands in order to open the portal into the finish arena).
Lap 1; head off at a steady pace, aim to average 9:30 – 10 min miling, keep an eye out (no pun intended) for Mr H and LGS (who I'd not seen since the swim holding pen some 8 hrs ago!). Pace is solid, take food, energy drink, water and coke at each aid station, approach 1st bridge and spot Dis,
Lap 2: Pace dropping, ankle hurts to put constant pressure on but can cope with power-walking (last mention of the ankle, can't go for the sympathy vote, Mr H was cashing in all of those). Head down, stride out, overtake people who are 'running', approach aid station 2 (my favourite); take water, energy... hey Dave, do you want a beer? (bit early for delirium to be setting in I thought) Of course I want a beer, I mean, is the Pope a.... erm, sorry, ignore that, yes please. Handed bottle of beer, woo hooo, ankle less sore, and now I have 2 targets on a run lap; a wave, cheer, kiss from Dis and a Beer from aid station 2, c'mon. Stride, run, shuffle, repeat. Get overtaken by people, like GBR Viz (Hi Viz); overtake (briefly) people, like GBR Girl, who couldn't believe how far the event was, but was on her penultimate lap, and just needed the motivation of being overtaken by a Pirate (all be-it a lap behind) to get her running (very quickly I may add) again.
Lap 3: Aid station 2, water, coke, beer, M&Ms, Dis, bridge, steps (other teen groups were available), Go Pirate, Yaargh, no idea who, just seemed apt.
Lap 4: Aid station 2, water, coke, orange slice, beer, say farewells; meet Dis just after aid station 2 who informs me that she'll probably not see me finish as she may be walking with Mr H on his last lap, thank volunteers on aid stations, talk to athletes who have already finished and are heading back to their hotels, 'well done, 4km to go, not that you'll be able to enjoy the glory or stake a claim to the bragging right, that's reserved for the pirate with the sling on and the bloodied face, he's an inspiration.' 'go pirate, where's your sling?' 'nice limp, man up, you're not even impersonating Terry Butcher' (sorry, wendyball reference there). Cross bridge for last time and hear a friendly shout from the BRAT couple, a quick Yaaargh is greeted with 'well done, have you seen the other Pirate, the one with the sling? True inspiration.'
Approach the lap band ladies and wave my 4 bands, and they wave me into the 'finish' lane; the music is pumping out, and the finish area mic men are loud and loving it. See Dis in the stands and wave, right turn then I hear a yell, so head back to Dis. 'You ignored me again?' (See IM Nice race report for details) 'I waved and smiled' (weak counter argument) Uh-oh, finish line bloke approaching with microphone... 'climb over the barrier and join him', he suggests to Dis, nigh on imploring her (it's a challenge family thing apparently). Dis looks wary, I shake my head and say non, Dis looks relieved, Mic man looks confused. Kiss Dis, link arms with Mic man (apparently he's going to take Dis's place). Arrive at finish chute, big countdown (hey, I'm happy to showboat if the occasion demands), then a slow jog towards the finish arch milking the applause. Cross finish line, collect medal, wave and head off for tea and cakes. (Run: 5h 17m 49s) (Total: 13h 32m 36s)
Post-Race: After the finish, it was back to the athletes 'village' for food, drink (mmm, beer), shower and change. Met Gavo (aka LGS) in the food hall and congratulated him on his 1st Iron distance race (12h 45m, not bad at all, Sir), then back out to the stands to support Mr H and the final finishers. Met Dis in the stands along with Dave 669 and a group of ladies from Racing TNT. Dave 669 had finished in 12h 30m, and was hanging around to watch the Hamster finish, the ladies from Racing TNT seemed to be enjoying themselves and having a great day out. At 10pm, the finish line party really started to rock, the barriers were opened and the spectators were invited into the finish area to provide an arrival tunnel for finisher in the last hour; the Mic Men were high on something but nobody seemed to care. With each new athlete 'spotted' so the atmosphere grew, until, at last, Crash Hamster (like name, like nature) hobbled into view ably escorted by his wife Squishy. I was able to hand Crashie the Pirate Flag so we could claim Vichy as ours (they don't have a flag you see), then he duly crossed the finish line and collected his medal from the 2nd lady finisher (aka 1st loser). See Hamster, get more injured and they'd have invited the 1st lady home to award your medal (bit like winning a VC but without dying).
Escorted Mr H to the athletes area, where I was able to take a better picture to tweet, pointed him in the direction of the free beer, then returned to Dis and Dave 669. Dis is, by this time back in the stands, and chatting to a mother and young kid, who'd apparently had a great day spectating, and loved seeing, and cheering, the Pirates, but the mother was intrigued... they'd seen 3 male Pirates on the run, a tall speedy one (Gavo), the one with the sling (Crashie) and 'the one that doesn't quite look like a triathlete' (aka the fat one), yes says Dis, have you met my husband? Me: 'Hello, yaaargh!, beer? Let's go'. Back in the athletes village, chat to Hamster, drink, discuss Hamster seeing Doc (again), Dave 669 kindly offers to drive Mr H and Squish back to hotel, so heads off to rearrange his car (that's what makes Tri such a great sport, people like Dave669; only met Hamster at 6:30 race morning, and by 11pm the same night was offering to help him get 'home'). Dis and I agree to look after the Hamster's bike and kit and get it back to the hotel. (for end of Hamster's story, read his race report here)
Dis and I collect bikes and kit, head to hotel, store bikes in lockable garage and at 1:30am, go to bed.
Post race musings:
Vichy has so much potential.
Lovely region – difficult to get to.
Great cycle loops – needs more village support (and turn off the wind machines)
Run course – more spectators would be great; 3 riverside cafés but non actively encourage/know about the race
Vichy – it appeared that few people actually knew about the race, apart from road closure inconvenience
That said, it was a top trip. Great weather, fab company, food, beer and wine. I like Challenge, I like what they (currently) stand for, they promote a family friendly event and Vichy was excellently organised.
Thanks to the Coaches and Zoomers for their friendly welcome, supportive advice and waiting for me/looping back when I drifted off the back of the peleton.
Thanks to all the Pirate support, via Twitter/forum/facebook/text, it's always nice to know that you're not forgotten (or at least can pretend the support is for you and not just the Hamster)
Thanks to Dave669 for being a top bloke and all-round bon oeuf; you may not wear the yellow and black, but you are a true Pirate and hold true to the shipmates code (it's not so much a code, more a set of guidelines)
Well done Gavo (LGS), nice to meet you and Shirlee, and top racing Sir.
Squishy, sorry your race didn't quite pan out as you'd liked; but then that's the problem when you chose a sprint race. The sooner you accept your destiny to race the true distance the happier you'll feel ;-)
Crash Hamster, what can I say. I could embrace what all your fellow competitors said, about being an inspiration and all, but I prefer the quietly, understated, response that Dis heard on the Run course: Dis 'Yay, Go Pirate, Well done Crashie, loads of people have said you're a true inspiration' Reply (uncredited) 'No, I'm a tw*t'. Bike handling skills lesson already bought for Christmas Sir.
To Coach Dis, my lovely wife, thanks for your encouragement and support during the past 9 months; I promise to continue to train, especially concentrating on core strength and converting the 12 gallon barrel into a pseudo 6-pack, so that I may be able to achieve a sub-12hr IM race.
and how's the ankle I hear you ask? oh, can't complain; and even if I could someone else appears to have claimed the sympathy vote :-)
Thursday, 3 February 2011
the Atomic Hamster blog returns from the dead.
For those who have become used to the feeble punnery, the obscure song references, the taking the piss out of Erwin, this may come as a slight surprise; for the tone is dark and angry, the jokes fewer (stop sighing with relief at the back) and the tenor more serious.
First, a quick recap; when we left it, our heroes (well, OK, Dave and I) were triumphant, having completed the Transalpine Run a mere 30 hours behind the leaders, despite assorted injuries and illnesses; I was relieved to find that the damage to my tib. ant. (or ‘shin’ as it’s colloquially known) wasn’t as serious as I first feared. Jokes such as “‘I’m sorry, sir, we don’t serve time-travellers’ A time-traveller walked into a bar “were still being cracked.
In fact I was more concerned about my calf pain. I mentioned it to the physio, idly voicing my concern that it could be a deep vein thrombosis (or DVT, So Very Tired’s less handsome brother.) She soon reassured me that this wasn’t the case as there was no redness or swelling. As my shin was so much improved, she recommended some gentle mobilisation on the turbo trainer (you can see where this is going, can’t you?)
So the next day, I sat on my bike (odd thing, two wheels, saddle, gathers dust in the corner) and did 10 minutes’ gentle spinning on the turbo. Returned to the house, showered off, sat down and began to notice a sharp pain under my bottom rib, left hand side at the back; ‘you dopey uninteresting-German-bloke-despite-wearing-a-hat,’ I thought, ‘you’ve tweaked an intercostal muscle lifting your bike off its hook on the wall.’ The rest of Thursday passed; I was managing the pain with 800mg ibuprofen every 8 hours, interspersed with paracetamol...but it wasn’t getting any easier.
Friday arrived and I didn’t go to work; by now I was beginning to suspect a kidney infection as they’re supposed to be pretty uncomfortable; pain relief wasn’t helping much.
Saturday came; a visit from Bassy took my mind off the pain a little; by now it had spread across to my right side too.
By Sunday, I could barely move; video footage of me attempting to get into and out of bed would have been a YouTube all-time great; my antics were making Squish laugh, which was making me laugh, which was not entirely comfortable; at one point I had to send her out of the room so I could stop giggling before I passed out.
Sunday, 5am saw me taking half an hour to move from the settee to the kettle. It was about this time that I noticed that my calf pain had disappeared somewhere over the last few days; the penny began to drop. Squish wanted me to go to the hospital but I declined as there was a high risk I’d be seen by an idiot at the weekend.
Squish called the doctor out on Monday morning. I told him the whole story; he was immediately on the phone to the hospital, arranging me an appointment at Medical Assessment for that afternoon; we’d decided that this would be preferable in the long run to rocking up at A+E then spending hours on a trolley. He said that as I had an appointment, I couldn’t have an ambulance. I said I’d be fine to get there as long as I had some industrial-strength painkillers; God bless Dr Smith, the Pershore Medical Practice and the makers of Tramadol, I was able to be driven to the hospital in relative comfort...
Despite my theory that idiots only work weekends, I was confounded when treated by a Grade A specimen. She decided that I’d pulled a muscle. I explained to her that I’d played contact sports for 10 years, then endurance sports for 10 years; during that time, you name it, I’d pulled it, bruised it, snapped it, chipped it, sprained it, broken it, torn it, ruptured it, fractured it or dislocated it and no musculo-skeletal injury had ever not responded in some beneficial way to three days of anti-inflammatories and painkillers. She said that my oxygen saturation was OK at 95% and my heart rate was fine at 85; I explained that I had just been running a multi-day stage race through the Alps and so might expect a number nearer 99%; I explained that my normal resting heart rate was in the mid 40s; I explained that 85 for someone who’s normally at 45 is like a rate of 130 for someone normally at 70. At this point we’d have been having a stand-up row, if I’d been able to stand up. Squish asked her repeatedly if it could be a pulmonary embolism; the doc said that it couldn’t. She told me that my symptoms didn’t match anything in the text book. Hmm, pain on breathing in, raised heart rate, preceding calf pain after trauma to lower leg, plus dehydration and repeated exposure to altitude; that wouldn’t be classic, then? I told her I could always go away and come back with some different ones. She then decided I’d trapped a nerve. As well as getting a private scan arranged to locate my trapped nerve, we finally prevailed upon her to investigate the remote possibility that this could be a PE; she ran a blood test.
She was all set to send me home with more anti-inflammatories, but I said I’d wait for the blood test results; the bed was comfortable and the cubicle warm.
If they ever have to test your d-dimers (go google!) they’re supposed to be no more than 500; mine were 2286. Jaws hit floors, cork legs were dropped, an anti-coagulant clexane injection was quickly jabbed in my gut. They wanted to keep me in for observation; oddly, I declined. An appointment was arranged for the following afternoon for a second clexane jab.
I was getting worse not better by the next day, so we went back to the hospital a couple of hours early; I must have looked a tad poorly, because when I gave my name at the desk, I was swiftly found a chair, followed rapidly by a bed. A scan for a possible pulmonary embolism was arranged for the next day, Wednesday.
At this point, a random passing consultant with a portable ultrasound machine (deus ex machina? Deus cum machina? It can happen) had an internal peek at my lungs and decided that there was a small amount of fluid present. I asked him how much; he said around 100ml. Now that may be a small amount by lung standards, but I regularly see the amount of pressure that 2.2ml of local anaesthetic can cause, so I wasn’t surprised it was hurting a bit.
Cue long needle between the ribs to aspirate some of said fluid. Inevitably, he missed the first time, so had to have another go...
It looked like I was getting admitted, so a House Officer was then instructed to take a spot of arterial blood for blood gas analysis; she missed and hit a vein. She also popped in a butterfly canula at the third attempt. All this while sniffing and snotting with the world’s most spectacular cold; just what you want when you’ve got a lung infection.
Just like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, another consultant appeared; he decided that a scan for pulmonary embolism was unnecessary as it was vanishingly rare for someone to have pleurisy and pulmonary embolism at the same time (you can see where this is going too, eh possums?) He said my heart rate and oxygen sats were fine; I explained again that they weren’t at all fine for me; this was to become a theme of the next few days.
In all the excitement, just like Dirty Harry, they couldn’t remember whether they’d given me one clexane injection or two; I wasn’t feeling lucky, so we forcibly reminded them that I was due another jab.
I ended up in a nice single room; they took my thyroxine off me and wouldn’t let me have it back until it had been prescribed by one of their doctors. They were beginning to be even less interesting than Erwin...
The next day another consultant rocked up, with a band of medical students in tow; I think he was Italian; he certainly has a piss-poor command of English; he asked some questions about my problem; I explained that it was now worse on the right than on the left; I asked about my scan for PE; he looked puzzled; he left, mumbling about my left-sided problem. It’s a good job he didn’t have to do anything to me...
On Wednesday afternoon, a porter turned up to take me for my scan; they couldn’t work out why I hadn’t attended earlier. I explained I was stuck in a bed, attached to a couple of drips; they had thought I was an out-patient. At least no one had cancelled it.
Ooh, nice scan, I’d been warned that the contrast medium would make me go all warm and want to wee; instead it was just like an IV of a nice single malt; lovely!
Jaws once again hit floors; turns out I had ‘several’ PEs, neatly distributed in the lower lobe of each lung.
Another day of IV antibiotics, anticoagulants in the abdomen and lots of pain relief; at one stage the canula pinged out; the nurse was now injecting IV antibiotics sub-cutaneously.
‘Ow!’ I said, ‘that’s not going in properly’
‘It’s just a bit cold,’ she replied.
‘No’ I said, ‘I think you’ll find that it’s extra-vasating’...sometimes, a little knowledge is handy. She stopped, looked, stuck the canula in a vein in the other hand, then completed the job properly.
By this time, they were giving me only co-codamol for pain relief and it wasn’t enough. Squish appeared for a visit and asked why I was in so much pain; she was promised that I’d get immediate pain relief. We waited...and waited. She asked again. We waited...
Eventually, well over an hour later, the immediate pain relief arrived. Now I know that sometimes nursing staff are busy, but I don’t class sitting round the nurses’ station gossiping to be ‘busy’; my room was adjacent to said nurses’ station and we could hear every word...
By Thursday, I told them I was discharging myself. A doc dropped in to ask why. I told him the full story; he apologised for the ‘Monday Incident’ but explained that as I’d gone home on Monday night, that was a different episode of care to the current one. He said that I’d not asked for pain relief; I said that how was I supposed to know that I had to ask if they didn’t tell me this. He said I should cut down on the tramadol as it can cause constipation; yeah, buster, so can the co-codamol; don’t come the Mister British National Formulary act with me...and do you know that tramadol can potentiate anti-coagulants? Thought not! Sometimes it’s tough being a stoic...
He said that it would be sense to stay as I’d been put on new drugs and they needed to monitor me; like a fool, I agreed. ‘Monitoring me’ consisted of one person sticking their head round the door the next morning to check my INR; otherwise, I saw no one.
I escaped on the Friday evening, armed with a supply of warfarin and a set of clexane injections for DIY stomach-stabbing. I barely escaped with my life.
I’d like to thank all my most fabulous friends for the kindness shown to Squish and me during the events above and the weeks that followed: it’s invidious to single out so few when kindness was shown by so many, but I will anyway:
Mrs Funkin, Debbo and Mr Gizzard Puke for their invaluable medical advice
Wotsit and Wickett for the dinner, the offers of help and transport
Bassy for the company on ‘that’ Saturday morning
and all you other lovely possums for the cards, the emails, the phone calls, the faceboookings. Yes, Mousers, the GOMs and knackeredknees, this includes you!
And of course, my darling Squish, for one more time delivering above and beyond the call of duty; not least on the night her husband, mother and father were each in a different Worcestershire hospital...
My lungs are now scarred for an ill-defined period of time; it’s going to be a long hard road back. I leave you with a thought from those great philosophers, Chumbawumba:
I get knocked down, but I get up again.
The Other Atomic Hamster
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Arrived in Ruhpolding on Thu 2 Sep and, after trying to break into a closed hotel, eventually found our accommodation for the next 2 nights; A pleasant hotel within easy reach of the start, and with free Wi-Fi access. Wandered around the town and eventually decided to register, thus leaving us all day Friday for faffing and wibbling. Checked in with the organisers and yes, we were expected. Collected race ID badge, race number and goody bag; 1x 100l holdall, 1x Transalpine Buff, 1x Camelbak water bottle, 1x event T-shirt, 8 day pack of High5 energy stuff, plus assorted other stuff. Read and signed the 4 page disclaimer and collected the 8 stage maps and a neat little race briefing book containing the 4 pages that we’d just signed (More of this later). Staggered back to hotel to drop off bag, then into town for a high fat meal and a couple of carb loading beers.
On Friday we decided to take advantage of the free visitor pass issued by the hotel and travel up the cable car to the highest peak near Ruhpolding. After walking around the mountain paths for a couple of minutes Hamster and I agreed that if this was all the Alps had to offer then we would be laufing all the way to the finish. Schmall Steig indeed! Kaffee, Kuchen and beer in the café (thankfully no option 3) before descending back to Ruhpolding; had a bit of time to kill so decided to have a go at that oh so traditional German game “Crazy Golf”. Whilst killing an hour or so the game was notable for 2 things; firstly, the Hamster is a sandbagger having played the game before, and secondly, watching the occupants of the equipment hire kiosk diving for cover after Dis, putting on the 17th, happens to get the ball airborne and flying straight for the ball return hole on the 18th hole. Without their sharp reactions we could’ve been prevented from starting the Transalpine Run due to being in some dodgy German prison cell. Attempted manslaughter or Hole in Nought, you decide! Then off to the pasta party and race briefing. Now, I’ve been to a few (well, two) pasta parties; highlight so far must be the Alpenhorn player from IMSwitzerland (powered by EWZ). Well, I’m pleased to report that the Germans have set the bar that little bit higher. The march in of the flags of the participating nations was poignant; however, the troupe of lederhosen clad young offenders had to be seen to be truly appreciated. With the heel clicking, thigh slapping hand clapping extravaganza it’s easy to see why there doesn’t appear to be any gangs of youths loitering around the lush Bavarian countryside. As ever, there were many facets covered by the 6 ‘man’ squad, from the enthusiastic, must be up for parole, leader through to the chap at the back who was obviously only there for the food. And how could the evening be complete without an encore. The following 20 minutes were a huge let-down as the organisers forced us to meet all the sponsors. This was followed by the playing of ‘Keep on Running’, the transalpine theme song; a tune now indelibly imprinted in my brain. And then the race briefing began. Now, some 550 athletes (plus me and Crashie) and assorted hangers-on, mostly German speaking, and the ambitious attempt to do the race briefing in 3 languages (German, English and Spanish); I’ll let you figure out which parts of the briefing we couldn’t hear! However, they had a powerpoint show prepared so we settled down to the brief. Part 1: reading the 4 pages, word for word, of the document we had signed at registration; the very document that they’d issued to us in a nice portable booklet. It was around this point that Dis and Squishy left us muttering something about oxygen thieves or something. Oh well, at least we could listen intently to the rest of the briefing, unless of course some ignorant competitor wearing a daft cowboy hat arrived late with his ‘mates’ and travelling circus who then proceeds to talk through the English, German and Spanish briefs; oh, hello Erwin! One hour later and the booklet is finished, now onto the safety information and how to attract a helicopter for medical emergencies. Despite our best efforts, apparently having Squishy brief us on this matter wasn’t enough! The key to calling the helicopter involved learning 2 moves; to say “No helicopter” you adopt the John Travolta staying alive pose and to say “Yes, please help me” you need to stand in the shape of a “Y”. This latter option was to cause us some concern later in the race when we spontaneously burst out singing YMCA in a coded tribute to Meldy and Swiss Bobby. Thankfully a swift Bee Gees intro prevented any helicopters from removing Atomic Hamster from the mountainside.
After the race briefing finished (or at a convenient break when it sounded like good night), Hamster and I legged it for the exit (the fastest we were to move for the next 8 days), and found Dis and Squishy in a Pizza/Ice cream parlour. The pizza looked too good to refuse so we continued our carb loading washed down by a couple of beers.
Back to the hotel suitably fed and watered.
Day 1: Ruhpolding – St Ulrich
Keep on Running.
OK, so, day 1 or the start of the race as I like to call it. Following all the hype, training and general faffing, it finally dawned dull and drizzly. Breakfast was at the earthly hour of 8:30am and then we headed for the start area. At 1040 we began queuing to get our kit checked before entering the start pen. The skinny whippets ahead of us all had their bags searched by the official however when it was our turn he gave our sacks a firm squeeze and waved us through; we weren’t sure if that was because he was content we had all the necessary safety equipment packed or he doubted our ability to get up the 1st hill thereby negating any mountain survival stuff. The omens weren’t good; the rain got heavier, put on jacket and listened to the race director telling us all the stuff he’d told us last night. Oddly, with 10 minutes til race start, everyone seemed to want to listen; perhaps we weren’t the only ones bricking it! 1055 and time to crank up the volume; 4 mins of ‘Keep on Running’ (no, not the famous Spencer Davis Group track but some bizarre Europe-esque 80’s glam rock song that the Transalpine Run have taken as their own) and then with 1 minute to go the commentator wails out something about the Highway to Hell, and true to form the AC/DC classic starts to blare out. Lots of very excited runners clapping and tapping their cheating sticks in time to the music. And then BANG! The starting pistol announces the start of the race. Settle into comfortable running pace, and watch the other competitors overtake. Sigh! It’s going to be a long week……. Just after aid station 1 we happened upon our ‘friendly’ cowboy hat wearing runner (Erwin) who’d so annoyed us at the pasta party. He was busy telling a couple from Norfolk that as they had 20k to go (having completed 16k), they were over halfway in 2hr 15 so should be home around 4hr 30. Things weren’t boding well; it was still raining. From here to aid station 2 the hill got steep, and thanks to all the rain, it was like running in bog. Thankfully there was some thoughtfully placed ‘planks’ (no, not Erwin) for us to run along; unfortunately they were covered with lichen which, when wet, made us look like extras from a Looney Tunes cartoon. Eventually made aid station 2 and started refuelling. Erwin kindly popped over and told us that he’d been watching us for 10 minutes and felt that we were taking too long at the stop; thanked him for his concern and waited a further 5 minutes drinking warm soup. Left aid station 2 and commenced the downhill section; thank goodness for gravity. Soon we were whizzing past all the skinny whippets who descended ‘like girls’. Unfortunately this didn’t last long as the wonderful wide path narrowed to single file, and we started doing what the English do best…. Queue! Approaching aid station we encounter Erwin again who advises us that he doesn’t care much for pirates; 3 strikes in one day. Sorry Erwin, but we didn’t start the fire… but we will finish it. The sun comes out, things are looking up. Through aid station 3 and only 7k until the finish and over 4 hours before cut-off; we decide to take things easy and fuel for day 2. It starts raining again and then turns into a monsoon downpour. Keep running and pass 6 runners hiding in a bus shelter; well, a kills a kill. Cross the finish line in 5hr 45min. Day 1 running complete. Find Dis and Squishy and head for the hotel; change, eat, and sleep, with the tune of Prince Charming in my head. Bloody Hamster!
Day 2: St Ulrich – Kitzbuhel. 33.2km 1810m climb 1907m descent
Alarm woke me from a fitful sleep at 5:50am, and we headed for breakfast. Played a quick game of sore leg poker where you try to bluff your fellow competitors that you don’t ache; I failed. Try not to think that this time tomorrow I’ll have eaten breakfast already. Force down a couple of bread rolls then it’s off to the start. Notice that the organisers have split the field into 3 pens: pen A, fast whippets, pen B, fast, but not as fast as pen A whippets, pen C, fast but not quite as fast as pen B whippets and fat blokes. We headed for pen C and another encounter with the sack feeling official; he seemed surprised to see us but eventually let us in. Race start for day 2 was staggered due to a narrow gully 1.5k from the start; so they let the whippets off at 8, pen B at 8:05 and pen C at 8:10. Unfortunately they didn’t change the cut-offs for the aid stations so those least likely to make the time limits had 10 minutes less as an added incentive; oh those crafty Germans. Oh well, at least we could listen to Keep on Running and Highway to Hell 3 times before we started. Eventually, with the blood dripping from our ears, it was our turn to run up that hill for 1.5k before grinding to a complete halt. After an eternity (probably 1-2 minutes) of standing still, we started the slow trudge along a narrow path up a waterfall. On reaching the top we were greeted by a low flying helicopter who tried his best to push us back down the hill. Despite his best efforts, and our concerns we made the aid station well within time; probably because it was at the bottom of a very big hill and we were able to reach terminal velocity whilst formulating our signature song: “We’re fat, we’re round, we’re eating up the ground, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster”; the tune would remain a stalwart of the next 7 days even if the lyrics changed occasionally. Unfortunately, what goes down (oh, Mr Tyler) must also go up, and the next 10km involved scaling the Kitzbuheler Horn (1738m). The upflat produced the 2nd derivative song “The ground is rough, we’re sh*t at going up, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster”; my, how our time in the Alps just flew by. Looking up the mountain we could see all the people we’d overtake on the downhills, but more reassuringly, looking behind us we could see people too, which meant we weren’t last…. “We’re not fit, we’re not fast but look behind us we’re not last” (Tune: this old man, he played one). So, midway through day 2 and we were developing our own material; we even had the formative “Song for Erwin, Song for Erwin, wearing a hat doesn’t make you interesting” (Tune: Prince Charming). It had thus far been a good day, the sun was out and no sign of Erwin, even though we could now serenade him. Oh wait, look, over there on the hill-top, sitting cross-legged in gentle meditation, either at one with the world or gently sticking 2 fingers up to the slower runners saying “I’m so fast I can take time to meditate whilst you duffers struggle”; you decide. A quick stop at aid station 2 then a flying descent with much singing hailing our arrival in Kitzbuhel; a quaint town whose streets defy the laws of physics as at each junction we were gleefully informed “only 500m to go”, finally we turned a corner and saw the finish line 100m away…. “only 500m to go” came the cry! Actually, it was more like “only 500m to aaaccckkkk”, though maybe with the deviation perhaps it was about 500m. Crossed finish line, found Dis and Squishy, headed for beer tent…. They’d run out. Remonstrated with beer provider advising that the fit racing snakes shouldn’t be given alcohol, and they should save 2 bottles for the fat blokes at the back. They looked sceptical we’d finish another day! We told them not to underestimate the power of beer. Headed for hotel, change, eat, sleep.
Day 3: Kitzbuhel – Neukirchen 46.9km, 2252m climb, 2130m descent
The Saga begins
By day 3 our sherpas had started to give us some mini song-based challenges; as if the race itself wasn’t tough enough. So we had 3 songs to get in sometime during day 3, one of which was a version of the classic American Pie. So, in time honoured tradition……
A long long time ago
OK, maybe just last week
Our muscles were feeling sore and trashed
And I thought me and Crash Hamster could
Talk the organisers into maybe making the route a little flat
But their response it didn’t thrill us
With those 2 hills they tried to kill us
We trudged up the Hahnenkamm
Told a fish joke about a dam
Our audience were really tough
And the ground uphill was really rough
Team Wallace and Grommit had had enough
That’s how we started our gig
Oh!, my, my these here Piratey guys
Telling jokes and singing songs oh how the hours fly by
They leave each town and kiss their sherpas goodbye
Praying don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Did you read a crap joke book
Or do you just make the punchlines up
That’s what our fellow runners say
And the songs that keep us entertained
Is it natural talent or have you been trained
And with that they just laughed and ran away
Now the lazy supporters never moaned
Just the clang of bells that made us groan
Yes we were broke it’s true
But we had a lauf or two
Erwin was the post-pubescent running tw*t
Even with his less than interesting hat
He shouldn’t mess with the yellow and black
Oh yes, we’d win this war
Oh!, my, my these here Piratey guys
Telling jokes and singing songs oh how the hours fly by
They leave each town and kiss their sherpas goodbye
Praying don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Anyhow, day 3… settled into standard routine. Steep uphill, get overtaken by loads of runners; glorious wide long downhill, overtake loads of runners. Bask in glory of a comment from one of our favourite photographers “Hey Pirates, you’ve overtaken loads today, well done”. If only we could’ve finished at aid station 2! But we didn’t and a mountain loomed ahead so we knew our high flying position wouldn’t last. Left the aid station and came face to face with the 1st major challenge of the race, a near vertical ascent up a grassy ‘bank’; 3 points of contact and don’t lean backwards ensured we scaled the hazard, and then it was back on the path to trudging as we climbed 600m through the snow and ice, followed by some ridge ‘running’. Well, it was like running but a lot slower and the cut off for aid station 3 was looking very dodgy despite having over 4 ½ hours to get to it. Eventually reached the check point with about 10 minutes to spare, then it was all downhill to the finish. Crossed the line, found Dis and Squishy, went to beer tent and discovered they had no alcohol left, just alcohol-frei! Advised them that they now owed us 4 beers each and enquired what part of keep 2 bottles back for the Pirates didn’t they understand. I wandered back to the hotel whilst the hamster leapt into the town fountain. Change, eat, drink, sleep.
Day 4: Neukirchen – Prettau 43.9km, 1987m climbing, 1377m descent
I think we’re alone now
Following the ultra distance Day 3, the organisers felt it would be fun to put another ultra on day 4. We didn’t agree! Another 5am breakfast; Hamster decided he’d rather have some more shut eye so I had to eat for 2. Then off to the start pen and another meeting with the sack inspection official. Due to the adverse weather conditions at the top of Bimlucke, the tallest mountain of the race at 2669m, sacks were checked for all safety equipment. We passed, and were waved into the pen. We noted, as we stood by ourselves, that our cheerful nature had gained us a good following amongst the other runners; eventually we were approached by an American and asked to do a ‘shout out’ for Samantha in Cambridge whilst he videoed it. Public service discharged it was time for the usual 5 minute countdown and then off on the Highway to Hull. We knew that we needed to put some time in the bag if we were to achieve the tight cut-off at aid station 3 so we ran (yes I know bizarre concept) the reasonably flat upflat to the base of the Krimmler Wasserfalle (tallest Wasserfalle in Europe); pursued an active trudge up the wasserfalle path, being overtaken as usual by fellow runners, tractors and snails. Eventually crested the falle and commenced ‘running’ for aid station 2. Midway to aid station 2 I became aware that the hills were alive with the sound of Drew sick, not the nicest sound in the world, and I was fortunate not to join him. However, ever the consommé professional, Drew said ain’t nothing gonna break my stride, so we kept on trucking. Unfortunately he didn’t want to eat much after said incident, and with a steep hill approaching the option to bonk seemed likely, but we settled for a firm handshake instead (thankfully). Whizzed past aid station 2 and had 3 ½ hours to reach the final check point. Hamster was starting to eat again, but was it enough. Thermal top and jacket were put on and we began the ascent, 1000m over 3k on very narrow paths and through snow drifts; one slip and it was a one way ticket to the bottom of the mountain, do not pass go. About 200m from the top we were passed by one of the ‘pacers’, so we tagged onto his coat tails but not for long; we just hoped he wasn’t the sweeper team or we were truly option 3ed (see the Hamster’s report for definition of option 3). With the cloud base getting lower, and visibility reducing, we were definitely alone now there didn’t seem to be any one around. Then the unthinkable happened, we got overtaken by the Erdinger Alcoholfrei team, top blokes, but normally slightly worse than us. Passed one competitor being looked after by 4 medics; she was wrapped up quite well so probably a victim of hyperthermia. Thought about stopping to help but they seemed to have things undercontrol and we still had a summit to crest and a downhill to fly if we were to make the cut off in 7hrs. Eventually reached the peak and began our descent; our eager anticipation of flying down the hill was shattered when we couldn’t find a discernable path to follow. Time ticked by slowly and the 7hr race time duly arrived and we had barely left the nice hut that had provided warm red not quite gluhwein stuff on a table. Oh well, nothing to do now but reach the aid station and see what happens next. 55 mins later and the aid station is reached; loads of athletes around including the nice Aussie team who all seem to be shouting at us. I wander to the aid table and get some water melon whilst the Hamster talks to the Aussies. Next thing I remember is being dragged by the Hamster (no, that’s not a euphemism) towards the timing mat and him shouting something like, step away from the food fatty we need to cross the mat inside 8hrs as the organisers are extending the cut-off due to the adverse weather conditions. BEEP! 7hr 58m 30s.Thank the Hamster, Aussies and race officials then head back to the food. Text Dis and Squish to say “at 5k to go, about 45mins to finish”; get text back saying “you lie!” Odd! Set off running again and spot 2 wet looking pirate supporters (did I mention it was raining?) stood by the 5k to go marker! Apparently our hotel is only 1k away, but we still have to finish the race, so we head off for Prettau and the ladies head off to get the car. Spirits are slightly higher than an hour ago, but we still haven’t got formal confirmation about the extended cut-off, but hey, we’re Pirates and we’ll finish whatever. Cross the line, meet Dis and Squish, head for beer tent; 1 beer saved, oh well, it’s a start. Advise beer suppliers that one isn’t two, and we expect a doubling of efforts for tomorrow. Head for hotel, change, eat, drink, sleep.
Day 5: Prettau – Sand in Taufers 29.4k, 1503m climb, 2098m descent
The Philosopher’s Song
Two ultras under the belt and Day 5, the shortest distance of the race and a net downhill course; we were rocking as we headed for a leisurely 6am breakfast. Wow a whole 1hr lie in. At the start, after the mandated sack feel, we started hearing people talking about an extension to the cut-offs; at last, the organisers realised the mistake they’d made with such strict cut-offs, but no, apparently they’d added 5km distance and over 200m more climbing to today’s race. Oh great, but at least they offered an extra ½hr to the final cut-off; our collective joy was truly overflowing, and it was raining! Time for another fame-ridden photo shoot, this time from 60s rock star Carl Perkins, apparently he now works for Gore-Tex and asked if he could take a photo of the mighty Pirates for his company website. Naturally we agreed. Oh, hark, what’s that? Highway to Hill? Must be time to start the race. Spent the 1st part of the race with our Aussie mates, and decided it was time to serenade them with our knowledge of Aussie music; cue 2 little boys, waltzing matilda, weather with you and land down-under? As we broke into the official song of the University of Wallamaloo “Eeeemanuel Cant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable”, the Aussies muttered something about needing to put on some waterproofs or something and needing to stop. Didn’t see them again all day, how odd! The hamster seemed in better spirits (yes sir he did, about half past eight) today and was at least keeping solids inside, but a new ailment seemed to be afflicting him; the ability to trip over blades of grass. Most peculiar indeed so this saw me in the unenviable role of leading the ascent to Bretterscharte (2537m), crested the summit (the proper summit and not the “oh summit you’re so blind, you’re so blind you screw my mind” summit), and descended to aid station 2 in Knuttental (why, are they sniggewing? Well, it’s a joke name, like Biggus Dickus. I have a fwend called Biggus Dickus). The next bit of the course is bit hazy, and not because of the low cloud. Climbed through the cloud and into glorious sunshine, then followed the well marked but not entirely sure how far diversion. Much checking of watches and trying to guess where we were ensued, however after what seemed an eternity, we were descending again towards aid station 3 (we hoped!). Finally we reached Sand in Taufers; crossed the finish line, found Dis and Squishy and headed for the beer tent. Now, 4 days of failure, surely they couldn’t mess up again? “2 beers please, and non of that alcohol-frei stuff”
“oh, sorry sir, but we ran out again”
“unbelievable, how many times?”
“oh, hang on, we’ve got these two bottles, will they do?”
“only if they’ve got alcohol, oh they have! Aaahh, you were messing with us, very good, same again tomorrow please”
Day 5 learning has taken place in the beer tent. Head for hotel, change, eat, drink, sniff, cough, sleep.
True race distance: 34.5km, 1813m climb, 2408m descent
Day 6: Sand in Taufers – St Vigil 39.7km 1512m climb, 1193m descent
99 Red Balloons
Fitful nights sleep due to sniffing, coughing and shivering. Headed for a 5am breakfast then off to the start pen. Today’s race started with 17km of flat running before climbing 1500m then a fast descent to St Vigil. Well, that’s what the route profile was telling us. We formulated a cunning plan; run a 2hr 15m ½ marathon to aid station 2 (cut-off 3 ½ hrs) then hold onto any time in the bag during the ascent. Things started well, and we settled into a comfortable pace. Unfortunately, I had been secretly nursing a cold, and after about 7k it became apparent that we’d have to tweak our cunning plan into a plan of survival. This was particularly galling as all the runners we’d overtaken early on came flying past. We agreed to run when my heart-rate and breathing were ‘reasonable’ and to ‘walk’ when I could run no more. Team Atomic Hamster sounded more like Team Asthmatic Hamster. Approaching the town of Bruneck and Hamster decided he needed a refuel walk; well, I was feeling ‘strong’ (sic) so suggested that I run on and he catch me up. This worked well, as I plodded on gaining vital centimetres on the Hamster by the time we reached the town centre; right royal party atmosphere here including the local music bar pumping out some quality tunes including a song for ‘Puddles of Mud’, how they got away with that at max volume at 10am in the morning I’ll never f***ing know. Reached aid station 2 in 3hrs 10min; slightly off the pace. The Hamster kindly offered me some drugs, so I decided to take a couple of HTFUs washed down with a cup of hard, and headed for the climb. Found our Aussie mates again, and Erwin too. Serenaded Chelle with ‘Song for Erwin’ (all 3 verses), then Erwin told a joke (obviously upset that we had all the best material), it sucked, so we pressed on up the hill without them. Head down, f*ck it, JFDI. Up and over the summit, arriving at aid station 3 well within cut-off; Phew! Text to Dis and Squishy, 7k to go, not feeling too good, all downhill, probably an hour out. Set off down the hill, me breathing like a broken steam engine and the Hamster doing his elephant man leg dragging routine. Made good time, and decided it was time to let fly whilst serenading our ‘slow’ downhill runners; “we’re fat, we’re round we’re good at going down, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster”. Continued descending into St Vigil, round the finish area and across the line: 30 minutes; option 3ed! Headed for the beer tent, played the new game of have you haven’t you saved our beer; they had, again, woo hoo! Looked for Dis and Squishy, no sign, settled down and checked phone “on way down hill, will be there in 40 mins”, check watch, we’ve faffed for 10 mins so they should be approaching; look up hill and spot Dis and Squish, cheer them in. Head for hotel, shower, change and head out for afternoon tea. Stop off at finish line to cheer the Aussies in and to buy some merchandise; hear our name tannoyed. That’s odd! I thought we’d finished already, but apparently they we’re telling us that unofficially, we were the ‘best improvers’ for stage 6 having climbed 35 places up the leader (sic) board, and if we showed up at the Pasta Party we’d probably get a prize. Naturally, being modest, quiet English chaps, we didn’t mention this and got frightfully embarrassed when our fellow competitors congratulated us. At 6:45pm, dressed smartly in our Pirate t-shirts, we headed for the Awards ceremony, grabbed a beer and waited. Loads of skinny fast people that we’d never seen before went on stage and got awards for being fast. Then, at 7:20pm the MC announced the best improvers award followed by the names of 2 ladies who duly wandered onto stage; most miffed as I hadn’t seen these ladies either, and they were about to nick our prizes. Loads of muttering about the unfairness of it all and then “Atomic Hamster” announced over the tannoy, followed by lots of cheering. We dutifully moved towards the stage looking very sheepish and not making eye contact with anyone. On stage and met the 2 ladies, who were the sponsors of the prize (doh!), got given some sunglasses, had photos taken, left stage to big applause, shook hands with loads of jealous competitors then headed off for a Pizza to celebrate; not bad for a couple of fat blokes. Eat, drink, sleep.
Day 7: St Vigil – Niederdorf 42.195km, 1963m climb, 1990m descent
The penultimate day, woke at 5am feeling worse than I did on day 6; oh well, could be worse, could have planned to run a marathon with 2000m climbing with a stinking cold. Tucked into another hearty breakfast, reluctantly accepted the praise from fellow athletes regarding our awesome performance yesterday, then put on new sunglasses (you know, the ones we won for being totally brilliant, not that we like to talk about it), and headed for the start. No need for a sack feeling today, the official knew who we were; the sunglasses acting as a badge of honour. Spent the next few minutes signing autographs, having photos taken and doing press interviews, then the countdown began and we were off on the road again. The plan for today was not to lose 35 places and have to hand the sunglasses back for being cr*p. Additionally we thought it would be a good idea to hit the aid station before the cut-offs; it was going to be a tough day and we needed to be at peak fitness to achieve it, “Atchoo, sniff!” Checked with the Hamster as we settled into our ‘run as much as possible, walk to recover, repeat’ strategy. He was fine apart from his left foot failing to lift up; oh good, this should be a fun day. Arrived at aid station 1 inside cut-off so Hamster decided to tape his foot securely; with that he produced the smallest roll of micropore tape ever seen, uh oh, option 3! As he headed off to find the medical staff to con them into taping his ankle without asking loads of difficult questions, I proceeded to don my long sleeve top, thermal top, jacket, gloves and Pirate beany; I was getting odd looks from the other competitors who were stripping down to shorts and t-shirts as the sun was shining and it was a pleasantly warm day (I’m guessing). Suitably togged up, I headed off to find the Hamster who was having fun with the medics who say ‘nicht!’; I peered into the vehicle and said, “oi, Hamster, I’ll set off up that big f-off hill, you can catch me when you’re done here”. The medics who say ‘nicht’ looked at me, and my multi-layers, shook their heads and said “the Pirates, huh?” I nodded and added a hearty “y-arrgh”, then trudged off up the hill before they had chance to ask me why I was dressed like Nanook of the North. Midway up the hill the Hamster joined me claiming the Pirate intervention probably swayed the medics, and I told him “hey, you’re my team-mate, not my rival!” Together we resumed the road to Trudging once more but I also had a new song to cheer my journey “It’s not big, it’s not bold, running a marathon with a cold” whilst the Hamster was singing “Yesterday, we survived, we were so fast they gave us a prize”; have we mentioned that yet? Don’t like to talk about it you know. Crested the mountain (2380m) and took a sharp intake of breath; yes the view was stunning, but it was more around, what? Down there! You’re having a lauf, or not. Option 3, it was bally steep; so we clung onto the chain which was handily bolted to the side of the sheer cliff and edged down the mountain: 3 points of contact? Let’s count them, both hands, check, both feet, check, arse, check, ok 5 points of contact. Eventually reached a run-able bit; well, I ran and the Hamster dragged his foot. Flew down the slope, then around the lake at the bottom before rolling up to aid station 2, again well inside cut-off. Thought about crossing the timing mat before returning for food but were persuaded by a race official that it wasn’t necessary and not to worry about the cut-off at aid station 3 as they’d extended the time by ½ hour; left the aid station with 3½ hours to cover 800m climb and 8k which should, even in our decrepit state be more than sufficient. Don’t remember much of the uphill, apart from the fact that we were once again on the path to trudging; seemed to make good time, then over the top and down the near vertical scree slope; it’s safe to say that our usual flying downhill strategy didn’t make an appearance on this slope. Keep checking the watch, 7 hrs elapsed (the old cut-off) and still no obvious end of the slope in sight. Another 10 mins pass and we’re still running downhill, around corners hoping, nay praying the aid station will come into view; another 5 mins and we start to hear voices in the distant, but we’ve no idea (what do you call a deer with no eyes?) how far the aid stop is! We press on, the Hamster doing his best to find solid ground for his dodgy left foot and me just running and trying to breath when possible and then, at last we enter a clearing and there, 100m away, is the timing mat and aid station. 7hrs 21mins; 9mins inside, that’ll do. Firm handshakes all round as people start to realise that, barring a really terrible final day, we’ve effectively done it; we’ve got over 4hrs to cover 7km, most of which is downhill. Hamster and I elect to take things really easy; we text Dis and Squishy, tell them our plans, then set off walking and taking in the beautiful scenery of the Dolomites. 7km later we enter the town of Niederdorf and walk up the finish chute, well to run at this stage would just be showboating and that’s reserved for tomorrow. Cross the line, meet Dis and Squishy, collect beer from our new best friends in the Gore-tex beer tent, head to hotel, change, eat, drink, sleep.
Day 8: Niederdorf – Sexten 33.4km, 1269m climb, 1123m descent
And now, the end is near, and so we face, our final race day; however, we did get a lie in and wandered down for a 6am breakfast. Down to the race start, and a pseudo party atmosphere seems to envelope the crowd; 7 days down, 1 ‘short’ ‘flat’ day to go, one final sack groping and only one more time to endure “Keep on Running” and the “Highway to Hill”. 8am dawns, the gun fires and we’re on our way. Now, whilst on paper this was a similar length race as day 1, albeit a little shorter, it’s safe to say we weren’t quite as full of energy as we were on day 1. 7 days and over 280km of running was beginning to take it’s toll. The Hamster had well and truly ‘option 3ed’ his left shin/foot and I, having got over my man-flu, had managed to knacker the toes on my left foot. All in all we were not the super fit aferletes we pretended to be; though we did have some cool sunglasses (though we don’t like to talk about them.) However, we were in good spiwits (yes sir he did, about half past eight) and even found time to add a new song to our repertoire; now the obvious choice would’ve been “only 24km from Sexten”, but we elected for the more subtle “We may grimace, and we may hurt, but in 24k we’ll get a t-shirt”. And the added attraction of this version is that we could annoy our fellow runners with the arrival of each new km marker. I think we’re alone now! You could tell it was the last day as we started getting requests. Early in the race the requests were like, “can you sing over the hill and far away” or “do you know the sounds of silence”? But over the course of 7 days we’d whittled away at the will to live of our fellow runners and they now accepted their fate graciously, (insert own Allo Allo accent) “hey zer, piraten, zing us a song”, “hey, vy aren’t you guys zinging? You always zinging and telling ze jokes” and my particular favourite:
“vy you call each other ‘Sir’ all ze time”
“Mr Hamster Sir, why do we keep addressing each other as Sir?”
“I don’t know Sir”
“But surely there must be a reason Sir”
“No idea (what do you call a deer with no eyes?) Sir and don’t call me Shirley”
Anyway, onwards and upwards (the unofficial slogan of the 8 day transalpine run). Reached the 1st aid station without difficulty, but it was reasonably flat to that point. Then the road to trudging beckoned once more, and we started our final ascent to the Dreizinnen hut, a lovely scenic spot over looking 3 peaks in the Dolomites affectionately called the Dreizinnen (or 3 men, or something; I’m sure someone told me once what it meant but I’ve forgotten, or maybe I haven’t). On reaching the summit, and the hut, it transpired that the hut was also a bar and it was open. Now, we worked out that we had 1½ hrs to descend 5km to the final aid station and suddenly the thought of a cool beer on top of the last peak would be a really good thing to do, and quite piratey. Then we remembered that the Hamster couldn’t run downhill at pace, and we might not make the cut-off (also a hugely Piratey thing to do!). It was a close call but we chose to unfurl the Pirate colours, have a quick photo, dose the Hamster with heavy duty pain-killers then press on for the aid station; in hindsight it was the correct choice as halfway down the descent, just as the pain-killers were kicking in and the Hamster was able to run again, my left quad decided it wanted to tear so I had to slow down. But aid station 2 was close, we could hear the cheering, and suddenly into view, the final checkpoint, and with 9 mins to spare. The celebrations began for we had over 4 hrs to reach the finish line which was a mere 5km away. “We may grimace and we may hurt, but in 5km we’ll get a t-shirt”. Final thanks to the aid station volunteers who had all done a fabbo job over the past 8 days, and then off to the finish line party in Sexten. More song requests, plus some filming from the running cameraman and then Sexten comes into view. 100m to go, unfurl the Pirate flag, brush hair, clean teeth, put on sunglasses (we won them you know! Don’t like to talk about it though), run up finish chute and one final “BEEP!” as we cross the line. Firm handshake, then collect glass of bubbly and medal from the ladies of the finish line (who gleefully tell us that the T-shirts will be handed out at the awards ceremony later; “we may grimace and we may hurt but in 5 more hours we’ll get a t-shirt” harrumph), then stand around as the local paparazzi surround us and take loads of photos. Eventually leave the finish chute and meet up with Dis and Squishy; hugs all round, loads more photos then off to the beer tent, “oh, sorry, we don’t have any beer today as we aren’t allowed to stock it on the last day, you can buy some from that stand over there”. Oh well, never mind, we thank them anyway for their support over the past few days and Squishy heads off to buy 2 beers. A few more firm handshakes as we follow Squishy then a tap (or any kind of bathroom facility) on the shoulder and we turn to see the guy from the beer stand holding 2 bottles of beer for us; a little jape to finish the week off with, nice one guys. Look up just in time to see Squishy picking up the other beer order, oh dear, what a shame! Meet up with our Aussie runners and have photos and more firm handshakes, and Shelley thanks us for the Song for Erwin earworm; Mr Hamster, our job is done. Watch as the looney boys from Erdinger land finish, and offer them both a firm handshake but they insist on being European and hugging us, at least no-one got a photo of that. Headed for hotel, used spa facilities, changed, eat, drink go to awards ceremony.
The Transalpine Run is easily the hardest event I’ve ever done, and we did it, and we ran the ‘difficult’ course. The above attempts to put some semblance of sanity for my 8 days in the Alps. It’s safe to say that there were loads more memories than is possible to put in a race report. I’ve missed stuff out and probably forgotten more stuff than I’ve remembered. Days merge into each other and as a new memory pops into your head you struggle to fit it in to the race. By day 5 our brains were well and truly fried, we struggled to compose sentences and by day 7 even the simplest words were difficult to say; even our jokes were affected , “Two clowns eating a cannibal, one says to the other ‘do you think we’re in the wrong joke’”.
There are many people to thank but I’ll keep it brief. Thanks to everyone who provided support and encouragement on via the wonders of the Interweb, especially GOM and Jj for passing on the information that we were able to send through the medium of mobile telecommunication.
Thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to sponsor us through our Justgiving site.
Thanks to our fellow competitors for allowing us to share in their adventures, and for not throwing us off the mountain when we told the Dam joke for the 87th time.
Thanks to Squishy for keeping the Hamster patched up and in fresh kit for the 8 days and for driving Dis through Germany, Austria and Italy.
Thanks to Dis for providing me with the kick up the arse I needed when my training was flagging. For her constant support and encouragement during the race, and for keeping me in fresh kit for the 8 days. And also for being able to communicate with the locals thus making our stay, and ability to eat that much easier.
And finally a firm handshake for my running partner Mr Crash Hamster Sir. How we ever made it to the end I’ll never know but it was an adventure and a privilege to have spent it in your company.
And that, as they say, is that.
We were ATOMIC HAMSTER, and we’ve been here all week.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
What follows is the story of a couple of fat lads taking on a couple of mountain ranges. We do a lot of good work for charidee but don’t like to talk about it. If, however, you’d like to go to www.justgiving.com/atomic-hamster you could leave us a couple of quid for Help for Heroes.
This report will probably be forever a work in progress as I remember extra details from the event; I intended to write it all as the race unfolded, but quite frankly there were times when I was too tired to think straight, so it didn’t happen. A lot of what happens up a mountain will stay up a mountain.
It would be nice to think that some of the information included here could be of use to someone else doing the race; please remember that I’ve never done anything like this before, so take with a pinch of salt where appropriate. Of course, if you have no intention of ever being so silly, we are demi-gods of the ultra-running world with abilities far beyond those of normal mortals...
For those that don’t know, my sense of humour was tragically crippled in a space hopper accident age 14; if you’re expecting erudition or sophistication, please lower your sights. The hunters at Ruhpolding couldn’t manage this, which is why the deer took off their stilts.
I’ve decided to asterisk out all the swearwords; if there’s a word you don’t know or are unsure about, send me an email and I’ll explain it to you...
Turns out that ‘Hotel Garni’ means something like ‘Bed and Breakfast’ and isn’t the name of the hotel at which we were staying; good job we didn’t try to force entry into a ski hotel that was closed for the summer then...
Day 0 or Two Pirates in a bar
One says to the other ‘your round.’ The other one replies ‘so are you, you fat *******.’
The day started with a quick natter with the Aussie racers, Shellie and Gavin, who were in the same hotel as us, before we ascended the local mountain on a cable car. Turns out that this was where they shot the last bear in Germany, before brushing its teeth. German painters on drugs? Who knew?
Paused for coffee and kuchen in a mountain-top cafe, where the choices seemed to be:
Option 1: pay the bill
Option 2: spin, sew or cook to work off the debt
Option 3: you’re buggered
Register for the race then a quick game of Crazy Golf, where Dis sets a new world record with a hole in nought, by holing out on the 18th with a putt from the 17th.
We were sitting in the pasta party on the eve of the race, trying desperately to hear what was being said. Apparently the race had lots of sponsors and we had to follow the orange markings, facts that took 10 minutes to explain in German, but a couple of sentences in English...not that we could hear, because all the Germans cranked up the volume of their conversation when the English part came on. Different race briefings at different times in different languages? A radical idea, but it could just catch on...
One particular German guy, wearing a cowboy hat, was to-ing and fro-ing, lurking unnecessarily close to Dave and generally being intensely annoying. More of him to follow...
We then had the entertainment, consisting of some German kids in lederhosen doing a German-lederhosenny dance. There was a fat kid at the back; we knew how he felt. This was followed by the Parade of Nations, involving some children from the local ice skating club carrying some national flags. The girl carrying the Union Flag fell over; we knew how she felt too.
At last, we spotted someone who looked slow and fat enough for us to have a chance of beating, but he turned out to be the local mayor; it’s the first time I’ve ever looked round a field of competitors and thought ‘wooden spoon, here we come’...
Day 1 or two cannibals eating a clown
One says to the other ‘Does this taste funny to you?’
Starting in Ruhpolding at 11am and 663m, climbing to the Kammerkohralm at 1580m before dropping into St Ulrich am Pillersee at 852m for the finish. Total climb1223m, descent 1034m, total distance 36.3km. Somewhere along the way, we crossed the border into Austria.
1058hrs, the race theme song, Keep on Running (by two German blokes, not the famous song) segued into Highway to Hell by some Australians and it was time for a firm handshake before the start.
After reading an article in Runner’s World about Rosie Swale Pope and her 27 marathons in 27 days, where she decided to use the first three runs as final training, Team Atomic Hamster had spent the previous two weeks doing absolutely no training at all; this seemed to be working well as we blatted along the relatively flat first section.
It didn’t take long before we were engaged in conversation by the guy with the cowboy hat. We knew it was him because he was running in his cowboy hat. He told us that he ‘didn’t care for Pirates’ and made insulting remarks about Dave’s fat belly. Cheeky *******, my belly is just as fat as Dave’s and didn’t get a mention. Turns out that his name is Erwin; it was on his number. This was the birth of ‘Song for Erwin’. To the tune of Adam and the Ants’ Prince Charming, please feel free to join in:
Song for Erwin, song for Erwin,
Wearing a hat doesn’t make you interesting...
At aid station 1, we arrive just after our Danish chum, Bent Kock Neilsen. This is intrinsically funny.
Eventually we got to the last three k, in the company of our Aussie chums Shellie and Gavin. Quality distance measuring ensued, with the next k taking 17 minutes. An early lesson in not trusting the markers. Over the finish line, firm handshake (which is all that’s required between two gentlemen) one down, seven to go. GoreTex tent was down to alcoholfrei only; we complained.
Day 2 or where do Pirates get their exercise?
0800 start in St Ulrich (852m), immediately into a 700m climb up a steep valley, before dropping to 719m then a second peak up the Kitzbuheler Horn at 1750m and a drop into Kitzbuhel (755m) 33.2k long, 1810m of climb, 1907m descent.
We rock up ready to go at 0800, only to discover that as we’re in starting group C (largely because there isn’t a D), we don’t get to start til 0810. Keep on Running, Highway to Hull, wait for 10 min while the skinny whippets get away. This is to prevent congestion at the first climb. It doesn’t. We’re straight up a path that’s like a ravine, only steeper. We do some climbing and some standing around. We crack a German up by telling the ‘A white horse goes into a bar. The bartender says ‘hey, wev’e got a drink named after you.’’what?’ says the horse,’Eric?’’ joke. We’re here for a long time not a good time. Near the top we almost get blown off by a large chopper, though certainly not in a good way. Descend the valley, getting a little fretful about the 2.5hour cut-off at the bottom; what if they don’t take into consideration that we’ve been swindled for 10 min at the start?
Fortunately, we make it in the nick of time. In fact, by later standards, we were miles inside. So was Bent Kock Nielsen.
Encounter Erwin again; we remember him because of the cowboy hat. He informs us that he will call us ‘dead heads’ because of our Pirate kit. We refrain from informing him that we will call him ****. We break into the instrumental version of song for Erwin instead.
Today is the first introduction of the Road to Trudging. Please feel free to sing this to the tune of ‘Road to Nowhere.’ Having already tracked down the Austrian town of Pfaffing (where there appears to be a Wibling Inn), we are convinced that Trudging must be a place just over the next hill (a bit like Invernoustie in Scotland.) One foot in front of the other; breathe heavily; repeat.
Over the top of the crest, get a runnable descent. ‘We’re fat, we’re round, we’re eating up the ground, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster’...actually pass a few people! Introduce our rallying cry of ‘Nice bench!’ every time we pass a bench. You probably had to be there. Into Kitzbuhel and the mysterious case of the expanding 500m to go. We pass a marshal; she announces that we have 500m to go; 200m later, we pass another one, who says the same thing; another 200m up the road, we ask the next marshal if we have about 500m to go. She is very confused.
Eventually we find the finish line and thus ends another day...with a firm handshake. Beer tent has only alcoholfrei left; complain.
At least the night’s hotel wasn’t up a hill...
Day 3 or why did the chicken commit suicide?
To get to the other side.
Starting in Kitzbuhel (755m) at 0700, this was the ‘king stage’ of the event. ‘King’ is apparently German for ‘*******’. 46.9km long (a marathon is 42.195) with 2252m of climb and 2130m of descent, it finishes in Neukirchen am Grossvenediger at 877m.
Walk down hill from hotel at sparrowfart; see woman running really rapid hill reps the other way; joke about how she wouldn’t be doing that if she was in our race; spot her race number; lose will to live.
Line up in pen C; get live performance of Keep on Running from Otto or Willi or whoever is the lead singer of whoever they are; this must have pleased the good burghers of Kitzbuhel no end. Just time for Highway to Hill before we run back up hill past hotel again, wondering if using the cable car wouldn’t be a better option. The first part of the run took us up the Hahnenkamm; we felt a firm handshake would have sufficed.
As is traditional, Aid Station 1 was reached just as Bent Kock Nielsen was leaving.
Once we’d topped out at Pengelstein (a beery swine at 1938m) we had a really fast descent to Aid Station 2. ‘We’re fat, we’re round, we’re good at going down’ indeed. People are beginning to move aside as they hear us coming, often with their hands over their ears. We’re catching BKN. Dave suggests shooting him to slow him down but then realises he can’t shoot around corners, unlike BKN...
From then on, it’s ‘up there? With my legs?’ time as we climb from 1430m to over 2000m on a track which mountain goats would reject as ‘silly’, followed by lots of wiggly bits which were the inspiration for the phrase ‘**** right off!’...’the ground is rough, we’re **** at going up, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster.’ Through lying snow? Well you wouldn’t expect it to tell the truth, would you?
At the end, we descend a quad-snapping small path; zigging or zagging? I don’t know, I’m a tobogganist; okay, 20 Players please. I have my first fall; shefellova! Arrive in Neukirchen; they’re out of proper beer again; complain. At least I got to sit in the fountain.
They don’t even have a new church, but they do possess the surliest waiter in the world; it’s what keeps Neukirchen on the map.
Day 4 or why do elephants have big ears?
Because their horns don’t work. Trust me, swapping the punchlines between jokes is very funny when you’re running 2 ultras back to back.
Starting at Neukirchen am Grumpyhosen at 877m at 0700, there was one big climb up the Krimmler Wasserfalle to 1550m, followed by a valley road; when this ended, we had to climb up and over the Bimlucke at 2669m then drop down into Italy to finish in Prettau im Ahrntal at 1467m. In all it was 43.9k, 1967m of climb and 1377m of descent; could’ve been worse, it could’ve been long and hilly...
Stagger to the start, Keep on Running, Highway to Hill, off we go. First part was fairly straightforward, which was handy as I’d been struggling to eat. We arrive at the wasserfalle. Aid Station 1, Bent Kock Nielsen. Oddly for a waterfall, water falls down vertically; we zigzag up. We’re still **** at going up. We get passed by a tractor. The tractor has about 8 stone of rock strapped to its front to stop it tipping backwards down the hill.
Eventually we emerge onto a high alpine valley road; despite going precisely nowhere and apparently having no access the other end except up the waterfall, this is busier than the M1. We are forever having to get out of the way of oncoming traffic.
I am now struggling to eat and feeling sick all the time; I decide to have a gel; it bounces. The hills are alive with the sound of Drew sick. Fantastic, I didn’t even have to contrive that pun! I am proud to announce that I didn’t even break my stride as I yacked; I is a proper afferlete, innit? The bouncing gel sparked a chorus of ‘Rubber ball, I keep bouncing back’; I speculated whether Rubber Ball Persson was a mate of BKN.
We then come to the second climb. ‘It’s schmal, it’s steig, it’s way out of our league! Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster’ We climb...slowly. ‘We’re not fit and we’re not fast, but look behind us, we’re not last!’ Dave bonks; I bonk. We, collectively, bonk. Completely Option 3ed. Steep track to Trudging. Lots of snow around.
Eventually, we hit the top. The Captain Pugwash theme sounds from the depths of my rucksack; it’s a text from Vodafone.ie to say welcome to Italy. I can’t get a signal in my own living room in the densely-populated English Midlands, but 2600m up a mountain, above the snowline where we are alone and may die, I’m told that my call to Mountain Rescue will cost 75p a minute.
After a firm handshake, we descend slowly and carefully; I use the ‘arse-first’ technique, probably not pioneered by Chris Bonnington. It starts to snow. A few metres down, we discover an alpine hut; the occupants have put out glasses of hot Ribena; whoever you are, bless you. We perk up and speed up til I bend my toe at an interesting angle. I call it a ‘****ing ****-faced ****ing hell-******* ****-****er!’ which helps a little, but I’m left descending slightly one-legged. It’s OK, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Did we mention our penchant for Tiffany songs?
We were supposed to be at Aid Station 3 in 7 hours; there is now 7:05 on the clock, it looks like Atomic Hamster are going home.
We eventually get onto something a little less steig and schmal, so decide to get to Aid Station 3 in under 8 hours for personal pride. We’re fat, we’re round, we’re good at going down! We arrive at 7:58. Our Aussie chum Gavin advises us to cross the line (inconveniently located just past the aid station) as they’ve already extended the cut-off to 7:45 and may be looking to do it again. Apparently, even the pacer had struggled in the snowy wastes. We amble over the line, 7:58:30, pause, return to the aid station, eat, then absolutely hoon it into Prettau.
One firm handshake later (though no beer) we jump in the car for a ride to our hotel. Turns out they extended the cut-off to 8 hours and we’re safe...by 90 seconds. Good job I didn’t stop and throw...
Day 5 or why do cows have bells?
Because Noddy wouldn’t pay the ransom. See?
Today was a double-climber, tipped as being the easy day at only 29.4k 1503m of climb and 2098m of descent. It started at Prettau at 1467m before dropping into Sand in Taufers at 872m.
We got to the start to discover that they’d added another 5k or so horizontal, to take in a cheeky 250-300m of climb. Option 3.
Easy enough to get up the first forststrasses, especially with an 0800 start, but the climb up to the 2537m Bretterscharte was a tad steep. O level geography has never seemed so alive. Corries to the left of me, corries to the right, stuck in the middle with you. At one point, the girl in front of me started an avalanche. You don’t have to make it up.
We had a damn good downhill; we were starting to get requests for our songs! All was right with the world...
...until we got to the part they’d added on. It was up a track so indistinct that it had been drummed out of the tracks’ union for not being tracky enough. It was steep. There were cows in the way and we had to take to the heather. Generally the cows had been quite good. People had tied bells around the cows’ necks in order to offer support on the remote parts of the course. These, however were a pain. We planned on ordering steak that night.
People were now starting to join in with our ‘jolly good show!’ and ‘tally ho!’ing, which got me through the difficult additional wiggly section.
Eventually we approach Aid Station 3 in the nick of time (ooh, spot the emergence of a theme) passing a sign marked ‘Sonnenkraftwerk’. We immediately break into a chorus of ‘She’s a model’ by Kraftwerk. Two Americans are startled to discover that we actually don’t make up the lyrics as we go along. With hindsight, we should have done ‘Trans Europa Express’ though I only know one line from that.
It was a blessing to drop down into Sand in Taufers.
Firm handshake, collect one alcoholic beer between us! Result!
Day 6 or two cows in a field; one says to the other ‘I was artificially inseminated yesterday’
‘Straight up, no bull!’
Sand in Taufers (apply Vaseline) 872m to St Vigil (FAB St Brains) 1191m, featuring a flat half marathon followed by a climb up the Kronplatz at 2275m and down the other side.
We had a plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel; blast (it’s relative, ok?) the flat bit then amble up the hill then blast the downhill to the finish.
Then Dave woke up with a cold.
Down to the start for 0700, Keep on Running, Highway to Hill, off we toddle. Didn’t quite manage a blast, but still got to checkpoint two in 2:36, only 6 minutes outside schedule. Next stop was the road to Trudging, where Erwin was being his usual silly self; we earwormed Shellie with Song for Erwin. Erwin blasted off in his usual ‘only jogging with you mortals for a short while but now I must go’ subtlety, but not before he told us all his joke about Gummy Bears and blackberries. Apparently it all resolved around berries and bears being a homophone in German. It’s a good job that it’s a complete flop in English or your sides would have split by now. Erwin, a man who isn’t funny in several languages.
By this time, we’d got much funnier multilingual jokes of our own, mostly centring round the fact that ‘lauf’ is German for ‘run.’ Run up that? You’re having a lauf, sir!
So, at the top of the hill, we jog round for the descent only to find Erwin meditating in his usual ‘ooh, look at me!’ way. We add a second verse to Song for Erwin:
doesn’t make you any less of a ****
Followed by a third:
Song for Erwin
Song for Erwin
Being a **** is nothing to be proud of
We then descended in our usual ‘we’re fat, we’re round, we’re good at going down! Ooh, Mr Tyler!’ way, to encouraging comments and shouts of ‘Go Pirates! Yarrgh!’ from the photographers and other competitors. They were getting the hang of it!
We stormed into the finish area, crossed the line, firm handshake. They’d saved us each a proper beer. All was going well!
After a trek back to the hotel (uphill) for a shower and change, we came back into the village for coffee and kuchen. As we passed the finish, they announced that unofficially we’d won the best improvers award for the day; a pair of 150 Euro sunglasses each.
Thus, we toddled along to the pasta party and watched all the skinny whippets get their stage- and race-winning prizes, before they called two girls on stage for the best improvers prize. ’Dash!’ we thought in a very British way, before there was a stream of German followed by the words ‘Atomic Hamster PSOF’ and two fat lads got to take the plaudits from all the thin people! It turns out that the two girls were the sponsors representatives and so were lucky enough to get to kiss us on both cheeks; a firm handshake would have sufficed.
So we won a prize for being good at going down; we don’t like to talk about it and will probably never mention it again...
Day 7 or two fish in a reservoir; one swims into a concrete wall...
And says ‘Dam!’
Today the prize-winning-but-don’t-like-to-mention-it Atomic Hamster team faced a double dipper from St Vigil (1191m) to Niederdorf im Pustertal/Villabassa (so good they named it twice; 1164m). The climbs were Forcella Sora Formo at 2380m and Weisslahnsettel at 2190m, with a drop to the Pragser Wildsee at 1493m between them. It was bang on a full marathon at 42.195k and had 1963m of climb, 1990m of descent. Roll on our slowest ever marathon...
The big excitement today was the checkpoint 3 cut-off at 7 hours, which was going to be extremely tight, not least because it was much shorter than the 9 hours that it should’ve been according to the published formula. Also, with stage 8 being relatively straightforward and the finish-line cut-offs being extremely generous, reaching V3 today was almost as good as a finish.
0700 start and a gentle jogette uphill to Aid Station 1...except Dave still had his cold and my left foot was now dragging and turning in at an alarming angle. Completely Option 3ed, in fact. People kept requesting songs and congratulating us on our shiny new sunglasses, which kept our spirits high. Erwin was conspicuous by his absence. For once we remained ahead of BKN, though the Aussies were off and gone.
We reached Checkpoint 1 in good time; I decided to tape my foot at some semblance of a right angle, though I discovered that my zinc oxide tape was, in fact, Micropore. This merely created an interesting muffin-top effect round my ankle, so I decided to seek medical help.
I soon tracked down the race doctor, who chatted to the paramedic and said ‘nicht’ a lot. They were the knights who said ‘nicht’. They asked me when it had happened. Spotting that this was a trick question (if I’d said ‘ages ago’, they’d’ve pulled me off, but not in a good way, as it was a chronic injury; if I’d’ve said ‘a few seconds ago’, they’d’ve pulled me off, but not in a good way, because it was an acute injury) I mumbled something about ‘it’ll be fine for a couple of days, it’s not a knitting club or a quitting club, just tape it back into place, please’ and promised to give them a shrubbery if they did so.
It was all in the balance, when Dave wandered over. He’d changed into his Pirate beany; I said ‘nice hat!’, he said he was going to toddle on up the hill, I said I’d catch him up in a few minutes when the knights who said nicht had re-secured my foot. All was well; they let me go, muttering something about ‘British loonies’...so up the hill I toddled after Dave.
The first hill was an excellent example of the Fiat Panda phenomenon. We were on a track so steep that it was the graveyard of many a tractor, but periodically you still had to move out of the way of a Fiat Panda being driven by a bloke called Giuseppe. Where they were going or why, no one knows...
Up and over, not descending so well on the grounds that my foot was secured at 90 degrees by gaffer tape, Dave was off like an Erwin after publicity, we had a bit of a slide and slip before arriving at a lovely lake in the valley...which was full of tourists! Are you a pole vaulter? No, I am a German, but how did you know my name was Walter?
Inevitably, when you get a crowd of people on a narrow track, someone is going to try and drive a wide lorry along it. We had to suck in our bellies, but amazingly no one died.
We arrive at Aid Station 2 to be told to relax as the cut-off at Aid Station 3 had been extended to 7:30 hours and we were sure to make it. Having seen the second climb (nice scree slope, impassable to all but Fiat Pandas) we weren’t so sure. Road to Trudging once again followed by a nasty blind summit (oh summit you’re so blind, you’re so blind you blow my mind, hey summit!) and another climb...before a lovely spot of scree running down the other side. Didn’t hurt a bit...
We hit V3 at 7:21ish, a whopping nine minutes inside cut-off. There was a massive party going on, insomuch as people that have run 270k can party; everyone knew that by hitting that one, we were almost home and hosed.
We walked into Niederdorf/Villabassa, singing songs of Pirate gold and finishing lines. At the beepy mat, a firm handshake was all that was required. The beer people had saved us one each...
The saddest note of the day was the news that Bent Kock Nielsen and Rubber Ball Persson didn’t make the cut-off.
Day 8 or Two Pirates in a bar; one says to the other ‘nice T shirt’
The other one says ‘thank you, I got it eventually’
In honour of the occasion, I’d shaved the week’s stubble down to a porn-star moustache.
Day 8 started in Needadorf-no-thanks-I’ve-got-two-already (1164m) and finished in Sexten (1310m) 33.4k later. It had one climb up to 2405m and the final cut-off was 5:30 hours at V2.
Last Keep on Running (‘even if you’re broken, you’ll make it anyway’...let’s hope so) and Highway to Hull then off we go at 8am. Between us we’re hobbling and snotting and sneezing and struggling a little, but checkpoint 1 is easily achieved once we realised it was 2:30 not 1:30 to get there. Remember to thank the aid station staff for their help, assistance and cucumber.
Climbing with my Option 3ed shin/ankle/foot isn’t too bad but Dave is having a hard time with his blisters and cold; at long last we top out, pose for photos and a firm handshake; wonder whether we’ve got time for a beer at the Alpenhutte; decide we’d better not risk it. I take 800mg of ibuprofen but am still absolute rubbish at going down; Dave is off and gone. We discuss the situation and decide that by the time we have 5 hours on the clock, the painkillers will have kicked in and I’ll run hard whatever in order to guarantee our finish.
Lo and behold, the appointed time arrives and something has reset the pain in my shin to a more believable level; I can dog it from here...
It’s at this point that Dave’s quad is Option 3ed and he can’t dog it from here.
We meet a bloke coming up (minus Fiat Panda) who tells us that we are around 10-15 minutes away from the checkpoint; we decide not to dog it but just to descend within ourselves...
...and sail through the checkpoint with 11 minutes to spare. It’s extremely emotional, so we indulge in a firm handshake and hug a few excitable foreigners. Thank the aid station staff ‘We’re the Pirates, we’ve been here all week’, finally sample the kuchen, ignore the cucumber.
We now have 2:40 to cover 5k, so we walk; we get requests for one last song from several Americans; we finally crack Mattias from Team Lupus (I wouldn’t name my team after an autoimmume disease, but there you go) who has resisted laughing at our jokes for the previous 7 days; we discover that Mattias’ partner Katja is actually the daughter of Nice Beard Man and Shiny Silver Trousers Woman, another team in the race.
It was all downhill from there.
We raised a jog and a rousing chorus of ‘We’re fat, we’re round, we’ve eaten up the ground, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster’ as we crossed the line. We got medals and champagne. We went off for our post race beer; it was all gone. Debs went to buy us one each...then one of the volunteers chased after us to hand us the beers that they’d saved for us specially. Drink two beers simultaneously? You betcha! After 8 days, 193 miles, just under 9 miles vertical, we’d finally got the GoreTex staff trained to our dietary requirements! Thanks, guys!
We cheered in our mates the Ryan Sidebottom brothers and the Erdinger Alcoholfrei boys (who were almost as mad and slightly more crap than we were) we posed for pictures with our most excellent Aussie chums, we went for a shower and a coffee.
At 7pm, we attended the final pasta party for the presentation of our t-shirts.
There was a lot of clapping for skinny whippets who apparently were in a race like ours only shorter (I’ve never been beaten by 30 hours before) and one particularly drunk Swiss bloke who had finally come second after days of coming fourth. He was wearing a very large cowbell and shaking his head to make it clang constantly. Bet he woke up wondering where is bell had gone and why his arse was so sore. If we didn’t someone else will have...
Eventually got called up on stage for our T-shirts; Dave almost got a pink-card medium before insisting on a large. We were the only team to be called up by name...
We could’ve partied on, but to be honest, it was a bit crap, full of skinny whippets who couldn’t hold their beer...
We were something like 171st overall, in 58 hours 58 minutes and 12.6 seconds.
My left shin is completely banjaxed; I will lose any fitness I’ve gained in the event before it’s better.
I’d like to thank the most excellent Team Atomic Hamster PSOF support crew; those back home and via the medium of text that have kept the Jolly Roger flying.
Dis for her assistance to my running partner and myself and general German-knowingness
My darling Debs for her unswerving dedication to my well-being; when all I could do was run, eat and sleep (and often none of them well) she made sure that all I had to do was run, eat and sleep. Above and beyond...love you.
And a firm handshake with significant eye contact to my team leader Mr Dave the mighty ATOM Harvey. It’s all that’s required...
I am sponsored by Ibuprofen, Wiener Schnitzel and Pom-Bears. I wear Sziols, er Sz...er Oakleys.