Monday, 3 August 2015

Pacing a legend

Robert Young is in my opinion a living legend. Known as the MarathonMan he has completed some amazing feats including winning the Race Across America and running 370 official marathons in 365 days. These included many ultra marathons which he classed as just a marathon.

I was recently lucky enough to be included as crew for Rob's recent challenge. He was inspired by Dean Karnazes and his epic run of 350 miles without sleep and he wanted to break that record.

I was going to join Rob at the 350 mile point in Milton Keynes for the next 53 miles before I would hand over to the next pacer. This blog is a summary of that little jog we had.

My daughter had kindly agreed to take me to the meeting point on the main dual carriage way of the A5 in Milton Keynes at the MK Stadium roundabout. This was the agreed meeting point and the 350 mile marker. It was at this point the Karnazes collapsed with exhaustion and could no longer continue. Could Rob make it to this point....I had been following his progress since he started on Tuesday morning at 9.30am and it was now Friday morning at 11am.

We drove further down the road as we thought it would be fun to go Rob hunting and see where he was. I had seen on a previous crew post that he was currently between Wing and MK so I knew where he would be.

The rain was pouring down and there was Rob with 3 pacers running down the centre of a very busy dual carriageway. This road has nowhere safe to run apart from the centre but due to the appalling conditions lots of cars had been phoning the police to complain. We met Rob just before the police were asking everyone to kindly get off the centre path and move onto the far more dangerous side of the road.

A quick conversation and we left to secure the necessary McDonalds and extra strong coffee that Rob requested at the handover point.

I had never met Rob before, never even spoken to him but I felt honoured that he would allow me to run with him on this challenge and that he would let me be part of the historical miles. I had been warned that he is a bloody nice bloke as well as an amazing athlete and being a miserable old git I was sure this wouldn't be the case.

So there I was waiting in the driving rain for Rob to finally arrive, and we waited and waited and then waited some more.

He was running well, the weather was not so bad so what was happening. We got in the car again for a quick recce to find him but no ROB! Suddenly an ambulance flew past us sirens blaring and we thought the worst.

I had mentioned that the main A5 was a really busy road with no footpath and maybe he would be better off running down the old A5 Watling Street as this had paths and was a parallel road and if anything would add a mile or so to his planned journey. maybe he had decided to run this route instead. We drove up that road and still no Rob, this was getting worrying.

I quizzed the crew via the chat, kept ringing their phones but no one was answering and still no sign of him.

Then I got a message, they had stopped to play a game of Quoits in a field as you do 345 miles into a run with no sleep.

We started to race to McDonalds but the road was blocked. I decided to run there instead to buy food and coffee and asked my daughter to drive back to the meeting point. I had around 5 minutes to buy the food and run back to be there at the correct time. I ran into the most packed McDonalds ever with kids and parents queing up inside and outside in the drive through. This was a big problem but a quick conversation with Tony the manager and he very kindly gave me a bag of burgers and a coke and refused to take any money!

Rob ran up the slip road to the 350 mile point, I was expecting fireworks, high fives, screaming and shouting about his amazing achievement but in true Rob style he just said "Ah well" and sat down to eat and drink.

Crew handover at mile 350

A few handshakes of congratulations and then things got a little strange for Rob. Picture the scene, we are sitting on a main roundabout at the top of a slip road and suddenly the bushes opposite start to move and four ladies come out from the undergrowth and run over to Rob. They were some of the ladies I train in my run club and they had come out to find Rob and get a kiss and a cuddle and give him their support.

Enough of the jollies it was time to run and off we went into the unknown. I won't say I was feeling 100% happy as it was just me and Rob now, on the crazy busy dual carriageway in the driving rain. How would he be? would he stay awake? what is he collapsed on my watch! what if this and that.....the questions were endless.

I didn't need to worry as Rob was overloading on caffine now and began to tell me all about his remarkable and terrible life. We swopped a few tales and the run was becoming great fun despite the weather. he managed a steady run walk strategy and when he was running it was around 8-9 minute miling and his walk rate was 15 min pace.

video


Then the pain really started to kick in. his legs were suddenly not responding. I asked how he was and in typical style he said his legs hurt a little and he would love a massage but that was impossible.

Kev to the rescue! I called my great friend and superb massage therapist Sarah Nesbit  and cheekily asked if she was busy. Sarah knew what we were doing and 15 minutes later she drove past us and said she would meet us the the Stony Stratford exit by the Travel lodge. I had visions of Sarah massaging rob in the rain on a portable bed but she had somehow managed to secure a room for free where she could work on Rob! This was becoming a bit of a theme where the people and business freely gave to help this amazing man.

Sarah's magic hands
Sarah worked hard to try to ease the pain, I worked hard to keep his spirits high and to ensure he stayed awake and lucid. I had to check his feet as he had been telling me how they were the perfect example of a runners feet according to a leading expert. No blisters at all, no damage of nails just wet feet! This was crazy, how could he have 0 blisters after all this running and in soaking wet shoes. Rob explained that he looks after his feet well, yet more subtlety.

We were then joined by another one of my athletes and another runner who had been following my progress reports on the Ultra Running Community Facebook page. Helen was also an ultra runner and was fairly local and had asked me if she could join in the run.

Her addition to the run was amazing as she brought out the fun side of Rob where I was all about the running business. So off we went on the road to Towcester still on the A5 but with a path this time, what luxury! The rain continued to pour and the lorries kept us covered in spray and dirt. Rob had changed his running gear after the massage as I had brought some spares with me but we were now out of gear.

Shitty weather circa mile 365
This is where the back up crew came into play. There was no back up crew so I created one on the fly. I called my wife Julie and asked her to come and help. She brought loads of fresh kit, socks, shorts, tops and jackets. Helen called her man John and he turned up with more gear and the game was back on.

We were regularly running at 7 min miling at this stage and walking fast in between. Julie and John were driving ahead and stopping every few miles to give fresh kit or food as needed. Things were looking good.

video


Stupidly I mentioned to Rob that at Towcester the back up crew had secured pork pies and sausage rolls, he launched into a 5.30 min mile pace and I started to curse him as I couldn't run that fast for a sustained period. This shows the strength of the man and what a machine he really is.

Towcester check point came and went, more new clothes were required as the waterproof jackets were useless at this stage and everything seemed to be constantly soaking wet. The night was approaching and Rob was beginning to deteriorate.

The walk breaks were getting slower, the runs slower still, he was retching, not drinking enough and in a bad way. The rain continued to pour and Helen and I continued to keep his spirits up. John and  Julie kept driving ahead every few miles and did what they could to help. Things were getting bad now as Rob has lost all sense of humour and I actually heard him say he wasn't feeling that great.

NOT FEELING THAT GREAT!

The master of humbleness and understatement as always.

Despite this discomfort Rob showed himself to be a true gent as he was more worried about Helen being hit by branches than he was about himself. As we neared the next agreed stop point Rob began to get worse. Once we go to Weedon he asked to sit in the car for a bit as he didn't feel great. His head was spinning and everything was hurting.

I was now in a real situation. I had a duty of care to Rob and had to make some very tough choices.

The next 7 miles would be all on road with nowhere to stop for us or the cars.

We had run out of dry kit and shoes and although we had food none of it was palatable at this point. Rob was dehydrated and getting worse.

His throat was very painful and he was worried about everything. I took a picture and called a Doctor friend of mine at 22.11pm. The diagnosis wasn't great but this was a telephone call and a picture that wouldn't bloody send.

We decided to call 112 the non emergency service and requested an ambulance to attend and make an assessment of Rob. Our thoughts were that if he left the scene and went to hospital the race was over but if they came to him he was still in the game. Who do you call for adjudication for records like this. Especially at 22.30pm on a Friday night.

The ambulance finally arrived, Ron was sweating and shivering. we briefed them on the situation and the assessment started.

Whilst this was being done a car pulled in and a couple got out and asked if we knew anything about a crazy runner or had seen him! It was one of Rob's old army mates and he was driving around trying to find him. I wasn't the only one playing find Rob games that day.

The ambulance crew were very concerned about Rob's heart rate and in their opinion the race was over and he was to be taken to hospital. We had a quick discussion and agreed that after 373.75 miles and around 90 hours this little jog was over.

We all followed the ambulance to the hospital and I went in to see Rob. The doctor assessing him was asking questions and Rob was saying things like "I've been for a little run". His humility even at the lowest point was superb.

The doctors were understandably concerned about his heart rate but as he is such a supreme athlete his low heart rate is natural. Throughout the time in hospital Rob continued to talk about running the Thunder Run 24 hour race the next day! This was in the original plan, run to that race then race it.

Rob did make it to the race to cheer on fellow runners and support others in his selfless way. He will be back to smash other records and is already talking about the lessons learnt from this little jog.

So what lessons did I learn and can pass on to others.

First and most important is that we truly are more capable than we think we are. Watching Rob's progress throughout the 24 or so miles I ran with him shows me this. The strength and determination he showed was truly epic and will inspire me on future runs.

The value of a crew is paramount and ensuring you have enough clothing, shoes, nutrition and drinks seems obvious but cannot be emphasised enough. That said it was crazy to see how far Rob managed to run on very little nutrition and hydration.

Some of the things I expected Rob to know about considering his recent achievements were not things he had heard of or ever considered. Things I take for granted as an ultra runner such as

Magnesium flakes for recovery and spray during running
Spirulina Energy Bits (which he tried one and hated)
Taking Paracetamol instead of Nurofen for pain (during the entire run he only took 1 tablet at my insistance)
Compression socks

Some other surprising facts
Rob also suffered from severe chafing but never once did he mention it. I offered him some BodyGlide but he politely declined despite the secret pain he must have been suffering.

Rob never swore during the entire time I was with him.

He maintained a positive attitude at all times and was grateful and a gentleman to every person he met.

There are rumours of animals spontaneously exploding as he ran past but that's for another writer to document.

I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding runs of my life and I would run with Rob anytime of day or night if he calls upon my services again. I would encourage anyone to follow him on Twitter and Facebook and if you get the chance to run with him then seize that chance.

Finally this was all to raise money for Rob's chosen charities so please make a donation of any kind through his website at this LINK