How do you begin a race report that’s not really a race report? After all I wasn’t an entrant. I’m not a race director. I’m not a sports reporter for Sky Sports. I’m not even an Ultra runner myself. Yet.
So, you may as well move along now if you were hoping for a dazzling report from any of the above angles. If however you don’t mind losing 20 minutes of your life to the thoughts of a crew person then I’m your gal.
When Lindley Chambers (@firemannotsam) asked if I would like to be a part of his crew for the GUCR I literally bit his hand off. What a compliment! I have spent the last year devouring race reports, blogs, twitter feeds, volunteering at aid stations etc. trying to get my head around if I have what it takes to join this absolute bunch of nutters. There is no other way to describe them
My housemate has crewed someone quite a few times at some tough ones (Badwater, Spartathlon, Comrades) so I picked her brains on what to expect, what to do, what not to do etc. although to be fair I don’t think she realised I was picking her brains!
However, I needn’t have worried as Lindley made sure I had some very detailed crew instructions. What to say to him, what not to say to him and even instructions to not get myself stabbed by chavs as I would be no use to him then. Lovely. My fellow crew were to be the wonderful Sue and Becki so I knew they would take care of me if I got lost in the biblical length instructions as they have obviously crewed Lindley many times.
The plan was to meet in Birmingham at about 6ish, check into hotel, head to registration and then head into O’Neill’s where I would hopefully get to meet other crew and some of the runners who I have been reading about (and of course say Hi to people I have had the pleasure of providing tea and cake to at the Centurion races over the past year).
Well, if the start of the weekend was going to be anything to go by then this would be an interesting weekend. It appears traffic was horrendous for most and I was lucky enough to get there when I did. Lindley, Sue and Becki got stuck in some seriously slow moving traffic and were not going to make it to the hotel so called me to tell me to head down to registration and they would meet me there. I then got a bit worried about Lindleys navigation skills as he told me registration was in a Premier Inn about 100 yards up the road from O’Neill’s. Turns out it was in the Travel lodge right bloody next door to O’Neill’s! I did have a lovely stroll up and down the high street while I figured this out. Thanks mate! Then after more calls it appeared they would not get there in time to register so I chatted to the lovely folks at the registration (I am so sorry but you will notice through this report that I am bit crap with remembering names – I shall suggest name tags going forward. No?) who said if I could guarantee that Lindley was taking part they would be happy to register him on my word and let me take away the crew shirts. I took possession of the fabulous shirts (anyone who knows me will confirm I will pretty much volunteer for anything that involves a free shirt) and headed next door to O’Neill’s. I recognised quite a few folks in there but suddenly went into shy mode and didn’t want to approach people who were engrossed in conversations. So I had an orange juice and headed back to the hotel.
Finally at 10.15 Lindley, Sue and Becki arrived with fish and chips in hand and more instructions. By now I was very sleepy and also was aware that Lindley would be needing to get settled so I scoffed my food, glanced at the maps and headed off to my room. I knew this would be my last chance of some decent sleep for the next two days so I snuggled down in bed at about 11pm, turned out the lights and then spent the next three hours listening to the loudest (and most fake sounding ) sex noises ever. The people in the next room obviously did not need to be up early!
Totally made me sleep through my alarm and I was awoken by Sue calling me from the car park asking if I was on my way. F*&$!!! I told them to go ahead to the start and I would be right there. I have never dressed and checked out of a hotel so quick. I still made it to the start with enough time to say some hellos and apologise to Lindley for my being late. Christ – at this rate he’ll not ask me to crew again!
I really want to list off everyone I saw and spoke to at the start (and over the weekend) but it would end up with me having to describe half of them and to say ‘the runner in lycra, with bandy legs and a goofy grin’ might just cause confusion as there were quite a few like that. Notably though was when I chatted briefly to James (Elson) and had to ask him if he was running or crewing because he looked so bloody casual and didn’t look dressed to run. I even told him that he looked incredibly relaxed and he said maybe that’s a good sign (or something like that). Then I remember seeing the ever smiling Paul (Ali) and thought a similar thing. I commented that he looked much better than the last time I saw him (Thames Path 100 – where he couldn’t even form words at the aid station just a tired grin) and he laughed and said that may change. It should be noted both of these guys had absolutely cracking runs coming in 1st and 4th respectively so going forward I’m just going to walk up to every runner and say something along the lines of “You normally look shit” so that way they’ll have a good run. No?
Anyway, the start time was getting incredibly close so we headed down to the canal-side. I got chills as I was finally getting to witness what I have watched so many times on various You-Tube clips. Nearly 100 runners (88 it turns out started) head off on a 145 mile nonstop slog to London. Nutters, I say … absolute nutters. Dick gave a little speech beforehand but it seemed to get cut short when he realised the time (I like a race director who is a stickler for starting bang on time). And they were away.
Then this is where the next 45 hours just became a long blur of rushing to cars, rushing to checkpoints, waiting patiently on runners, refuelling said runners and repeat over and over and over. Rather than go through each individual stop I will just give some brief points that I noted down on a scrap of paper over the weekend (yes, I am a geek) before I get to the amazing final few miles. I’m also not going to go too much into Lindleys actual race as I will leave that to him in what will be an absolutely fantastic blog (he had a hell of a journey is all I will say). This write up is really about the crewing perspective and what happened for me on that side of the GUCR.
At the first checkpoint I desperately needed a wee. Badly. So of course there was nowhere to go. Lindley came through in quick time close to the front but I think we expected that as he had said he was going to try and do the first 50 miles in Spartathlon cut-off times in preparation for his trip out there later in the year. After we sorted him out we headed back to cars by now all three of us needing to wee. It was on the way back to the cars where we ran into Allan (Rumbles) and we had a pleasant early morning chat about favourite curse words. As you do. The poor local lady out walking her dog who passed right when Allan said my favourite one rather loudly will forever hate runners!
The next stop was fantastic. For us. Becki became my hero right then. She set up a mini kitchen on the lock and proceeded to make tea, coffee and sausage sandwiches!! How utterly fabulous! Met Mimi Andersons crew here who were crewing in style by laying on the lock arm (does that have a name?). I should also say here that we ran into them quite a bit over the weekend and they were great. I even found out from Tim what HWMBO means. You will never believe what I really thought it was (something quite rude). I got a great picture of Lindley coming through here. Or at least I thought it was but then it looked a bit fuzzy.
Things went a bit wrong here and a combination of Lindley running fast, poor traffic and a possible wrong turn by the lead car (cough) we missed him at the next checkpoint. I had quite a chat with myself in the car (thankfully I was alone) as this really bothered me. For our runner to do well he needs to not have to worry about us and already I had gotten us off to a poor start. It turns out though that missing that checkpoint might have been a blessing as it’s a very busy layby at the side of the road and there is also a farmers entrance right there and apparently the farmer backed out and did some very bad damage to one of the crew vehicles parked there. Sue was lovely when we finally got to the next checkpoint and told me not to worry. Paul Stout however was another story and found it all very funny. Git! Lindley came through – again looking very strong.
At the next stop (Birdingly I think – yes, I’m as crap at remembering checkpoint names as I am runners names) Lindley was feeling a bit sick (possibly to do with his fast pace, but I’m no expert). It was at this stop that we could not hold off and had to water the plants in a local field. Oh how I laughed when Sue shouted out that she had just wee’d on her foot. Until I stumbled while weeing myself and did the same bloody thing! Classy! I have decided though that I will claim there was a jellyfish in the field and I had to do it!
The next stop enabled us to have a fabulous pub lunch (sorry Lindley) but unfortunately Becki had a headache and didn’t feel like eating. My nose had started to burn a bit by this point too. I have to say I’m shocked by the sun. I thought it was an Ultra rule that it had to be raining for the event to go ahead. When Lindley got to us he was much perkier and the sickness had passed. He even cracked a few jokes and then asked how I was doing. That really threw me. All he was going through and he thought to ask how the crew were!
I’ve just stopped myself as I’m writing this realising no-one wants to read a checkpoint by checkpoint account of the crew weekend so I’m going to summarise the rest like this :
Sue got a bit special when trying to get the toilet key off the ring in the folder.
Made the mistake of showing Henk the crew instruction sheet. Henk abused Lindley.
My homemade cheese scones were awful.
Chav lads under bridge went from leering to being interested in what the runners were doing. Don’t stereotype teens – just talk to them like they are normal and 9 out of 10 will appreciate it!
Stumbling around Aldi in a delirious state looking for water, pasta and a tin opener.
Then the night section. This is where I lost my fear of running in strange places at night. I was running out to Lindley to then run a bit with him (in the right direction obviously). Now, if you know Leighton Buzzard you will know that the canal path at night can have some fun characters on it. My favourite was the rather large, intimidating looking guy who squealed like a girl when I ran up behind him. It was really eerie and I kept seeing things in the shadows that just weren’t there so goodness knows what the sleep deprived and body knackered minds of the runners see. When I finally met up with Lindley he was so bloody cheery and chatty. I loved it. He was in pain and we were doing a shuffle with one attempt at a run. He told me all about the history of the GUCR. Told me about his last two runs at it (one complete, one DNF). I felt a bit bad as I felt like it should be me chatting to him and not the other way round but he was on a roll.
I shuffled two sections with Lindley through the first night and I have never been so humbled or in awe in my life. The chatting on this second session was not so evident. He was in levels of pain that I can’t imagine. He picked up a hip injury around mile 40 and any efforts to even slow jog just were not happening. It became what I now understand as a death march. I was more worried here about him falling in the canal as there was no defined edge to it. One second it would be grass then suddenly it would be reeds. He did make me laugh when he said “don’t worry – you’ll hear a splash”. I told him it wasn’t happening on my watch as I was not going to explain that Sue!
This is where unfortunately my scribbled notes end. In all honesty the next 20 hours are a blur. I have never been so incredibly tired in my life. Even when you’re waiting you can’t relax because you have to keep an eye out for your runner, you’re worrying about them, what do they need, are they ok …. constant worry.
So I am sure I am now skipping many funny things that happened in our crew and in our interactions with the other runners and crews and I hate that. Sorry.
I do have a strange recollection of Paul Ali doing some Mo-Bot impressions at some point and of seeing Firemen walking along the canal like they were in a calendar shoot or something.
At Alperton (hey – I can remember some names) after being awake now for about 38 hours I ran out to meet up with Lindley again and we were now down to a painful 2 miles an hour John Wayne shuffle. I got offered drugs on this section. Not from Lindley I should add. Got him up to Alperton and then headed to the finish in my car while he continued to shuffle along. At the finish I ran back out and met up with him one final time. I should also point out I was not the only one shuffling. Sue and Becki were doing the same thing we just all did it in different bits obviously.
The last few miles showed me a side to Ultra running that I guess I knew was there but didn’t fully comprehend it. To watch someone go through that level of pain and with a bitter determination slog it out totally leaves me stuck for words (yes, me).
I still think you’re nutters though. Each and every last one of you. Remind me I said that when I finish my first one later this year.
I think I have lost my aim here. All I really wanted to say is that if you ever get the chance to crew someone. Jump at it. You will learn a lot about yourself if nothing else.