VS: the aftermath/postmortem

I’d been looking forwards to a bath for several days. However the downside of the accessible room was the lack of bath plug, so I turned the shower on and sat under it for several minutes, letting the worst of the crud wash-off. I slept fitfully until late morning: snooze for an hour, take painkillers for feet, snooze for another hour, go to the loo etc. Eventually I dragged myself out of bed and set about the grim task of washing my clothes and backpack. Apparently a lot of people bin their kit. I now understand why. My running shoes were trashed (despite only having 100 miles on the clock beforehand) and I was glad to see the back of the shorts, but otherwise it was good stuff, with life still left in it. A proper wash would have to wait till I got home, but I wanted to minimise how much it stunk the rest of my luggage out in the meantime.


Next job was food. I’d spotted a Waffle House just down the road and, as big fan of the Bloodhound Gang’s ‘Bad Touch’ (“I want you smothered, want you covered like my Waffle House hash browns”) had to go there. I ordered a large pile of waffles, smothered and covered with various toppings. They were, unsurprisingly in retrospect, a bit greasy. I was still hungry and followed this up with a large ice cream sundae at Shoneys. Walking along the pavement it was ridiculously hot and I wondered how the hell I’d managed to walk for hours in these conditions. I headed back to the motel and sorted out a transfer to Atlanta for the next day and a motel for the 2 nights before my flight home. It would have been fun to hang out in Kimball with other finishers, but I thought I might not ever get another chance to see Atlanta. I then headed out for more food, a somewhat underwhelming Mexican which I failed to wash down with celebratory beer as I forgot to take my passport with me.

I slept better that night and only just made the end of breakfast. I bumped into some other finishers and ate with Mike Dobies, finding out about what goes on behind the scenes with the tracking sheet. I then dragged my over-sized holdall down the road to Krystal to wait for the shuttle. As I dithered over exactly which cool drink would be least sickly the waitress got excited about my accent and thanked me for visiting them. The shuttle to Atlanta (via Chattanooga) took a while, but was a good opportunity to rest.

The next day I felt perky, my legs and feet felt more or less normal and I didn’t feel particularly tired. Atlanta didn’t have any major tourist sites that appealed to me so I wandered around downtown and midtown (which was much nicer) for a bit before checking out various running, outdoor and book stores. (I didn’t buy much though, given the dismal state of the pound at the moment...). I probably racked up nearly 10 miles on foot, with regular stops for cold drinks. All in all I was feeling pretty good but I wasn’t firing on all cylinders mentally: I accidentally managed to order a portobello burger with meat in it and didn’t realise until several bites in (“why’s she asking me how I want my mushroom cooked?”, “Ooo, it’s got a soya burger in it as well as the mushroom”, “Oh, it’s not a soya burger, this is a real burger...”).

The journey home didn’t go completely smoothly. First I went to the wrong terminal and then both of my flights were delayed. Newark airport felt like a different universe: $10 sandwiches, $20 burgers and iPads at every restaurant/bar seat. I ended up buying a muffin on the grounds that it had the best calories-per-dollar ratio.

I thought I was already more or less recovered, but when I got home the jet lag and the sleeping problems combined to zombify me. I kept having nightmares, waking up drenched in sweat convinced that I’d not yet finished the race. The one time I’ve had post-race nightmares before was after the Spine. That made sense, because falling asleep in a frozen bog and dying was a real danger. But over-sleeping in an air-conditioned motel doesn’t carry the same risks. I’d also not missed that much sleep: after the 1st day I got 3-4 hours a night, which isn’t much less than I often survive on during term-time. I spent over a week feeling really fuggy-headed and eating huge amounts of (non-greasy, non-sugary) food, more than regaining any weight I lost (although my bowels have still to fully recover nearly 3 weeks later).

All my whining about food makes it sound like I’m a very fussy eater, but really I’m not. I’m veg and my stomach doesn’t like greasy food, but apart from that I’m usually not that picky. I’d initially planned to try out gas station food during our pre-race holiday. But who spends their holiday (willingly...) living off of gas station food? Turns out I’m not that masochistic. And actually I settled on a combination which worked (Pringles, crackers, danish pastries, ice cream and Mountain Dew) fairly quickly.

Now the dust has settled there’s 95% of me that’s still ecstatically happy about finishing in under 6 days, fairly close to the front of the field. Although by now I really shouldn’t be so surprised that I’m actually alright at long stuff. But there’s 5% of me thinking hang-on, if I went back and didn’t screw up day 1, wore more suitable shorts/trousers and generally benefited from the course knowledge from this year, could I go sub 5.5 days and get closer to the front of the field? (I’m pretty competitive about things I’m good at, historically running hasn’t been one of them...) If I lived in the US I’d have been hitting the button the moment entries opened. But it’s too far, and takes too much time and money, to go back again (for a few years at least). Plus I’ve already got plans for the next two Summers: the Monarch’s Way in 2018 and the EMU 6 day race in 2019.

So how hard was it compared to other long races I’ve done? It’s hard to compare given the (deliberately) generous cut-off. If nothing goes hideously wrong you can finish, provided you keep making reasonable forward progress. It’s definitely easier to finish than the Thames Ring 250 (100 hour cut-off), T184 (80 hours and you have to carry all your food and sleeping gear) and the Viking Way (40 hours, 147 harder than they first appear miles, which I’ve failed to finish twice...). A sub 7 day finish is probably comparable to, or slightly harder than, the Thames Ring 250 and T184, especially for a Brit given the heat and humidity. I’m fairly sure the Spine is still the hardest race I’ve finished, thanks to the 7 day cut-off, heavy kit, underfoot conditions and cold weather. But it was the first really long race I did, so maybe I’m looking back on it through whatever the opposite of ‘rose tinted glasses’ are? I’ve definitely learnt a lot about multi-day events since then.

Things which worked well

Raid light t-shirt, Outdoor research sleeves and sun-hat None of these items were particularly stylish/flattering, in particular the semi-see-through t-shirt. But they kept the sun off me and didn’t hold too much water.

Ultimate Direction PB 3.0 pack There were times when I wished I had a slightly bigger pack, but this one is comfy, has lots of useful pockets and was big enough for everything I really needed.

Dry Max Hot Weather socks Stupidly expensive, but no heat-rash, not much swelling and only 3 small (< 1cm) blisters.

Things which didn’t work so well

Clothing for the lower half of my body
I suspect there’s no perfect solution (short of having my thighs surgically reduced so they don’t rub together...). However I’m fairly sure I could have found kit that was better at protecting me from the sun and reducing chafing.

My dog repelling strategy
Which was making myself as big as possible (easy in the horizontal direction, harder in the vertical one...), pointing towards the house the dog seemed to come from and shouting “go home” repeatedly. And occasionally waving branches/twigs around. I saw another runner carrying a car aerial which seems like a good idea. An umbrella might have been a solution to this and the previous issue. I bought a lightweight trekking umbrella but in the end left it as home, because it would be a bit bulky to carry if I got fed up with it (and too expensive to bin). I contemplated buying an umbrella en route, but never came across a store selling them during the heat of the day.

My rest strategy If I did the race again I’d definitely stop in Martin at 30 miles on the afternoon of day 1, and then try harder to stick to a resting in the day routine, even if it required working on my charm/negotiation skills.