April update – ‘Oner’ race report

My April update is a long one, and 95% of the post is a blog about a race that I (spoiler alert!) didn’t even finish… Well, it’s still a story worth sharing!

The Oner 2017

When a race is advertised with the line:

this is a serious tough event with only 50% of the runners normally making it to the finish line’

you know you’re in trouble… The Brutalevents ‘Oner’ had been on my list for a while, and this year it seemed to fit in perfectly; a nice, long, hard and hilly run in preparation for The Triple in September… So I signed up, did my training, packed my bags and headed over to the UK (sounds easy, right?).

When signing up for The Oner ultralegend James Page immediately invited me to stay with him and his family for a few days. So I spend most of Friday afternoon talking about various ultra-adventures, watching a rugby match (not that I really understood what was happening on that field…), and just relaxing, and enjoying the company. Friday-night Martyn joined us, he would be marshalling with James during the Oner, so they were also in for a long weekend… More stories about big adventures followed, and I think I was the quietest at the table, just trying not to think too much about the day(s) ahead…

Saturday morning; after picking up the mini-bus we headed to Portland, where Jim and Martyn started doing whatever it was that they would be doing for the weekend (to get an idea of the crazyness involved in marshalling a 24-hour event: check their video here), and I went through registration… Picking up the race number, gps-tracker, having my kit checked… And then it was just trying to eat, drink and relax… (and eat and drink some more… And go to the toilet. And Again. And Again… hmm… was I getting nervous?)… After the racebriefing into the minibus; and onto a ‘short’ drive to the start… (well: short… there was some traffic involved, a quick toilet-break, a minibus that didn’t want to start… So our bus was slightly delayed… But the beauty of a small-scale event is that they wouldn’t start without us anyway, so not to worry!)

And then it was time to run! The sun was shining, and all that needed to be done is go on for 82 miles, how hard can it be? The first climbs are pretty steep, and soon we reached ‘Golden Cap’, which should be the highest point on the course. So, theoretically, it’s all downhill from here! A few more hills followed, and I soon teamed up with Anthony and Doc, who were running at the same pace as I was. The beauty of an ultra-event is that you have time to talk during a race (try to do that during a 10k!), so some nice conversations followed, but overall we were running quietly, trying to be smart and not race too fast… Slowly I started to understand why this race was so hard; there’s not only hills, but at a certain point I was really happy to find myself on a flat part of the course, only to see that I had to go over a pebble-beach, which sucked all the energy right out… Really; it’s better to have an endless stretch of hills, than to run/walk over a beach where every step seems to sink you deeper into those little stones…

We went on and on, from checkpoint to checkpoint, and when I started to feel a bit empty I knew I had to eat more. Nutrition is my biggest challenge during longer events, so I forced myself to eat, and eat, and eat… But that didn’t seem to help… Just before CP4 it wasn’t just the energy that was cause for concern; I started to feel feverish; it was a hot day, but I was cold, sweating as if i was running fast (which I wasn’t), and I couldn’t figure out what was happening… So at CP4 I sat down, said goodbye to Anthony and Doc, and just felt miserable and alone… (even with all the great Brutal-crew around me! But when you’re feeling like s*#t it’s still pretty lonely…).

Not finishing was always an option, but I was completely frustrated; I didn’t come here to drop out after just 50km! But the thought of going out was enough to make me want to curl up in a corner and cry… I knew something had to be done; I had to try and eat something, even if it would probably come out immediately… If I didn’t eat there was no way I would run, or even walk, today, so let’s just try it… Turned out that canned tomato soup was the well-needed lifesaver! My lack of energy wasn’t caused by eating too little, but by not getting enough electrolytes in… The soup helped to get the system going again!

Well. parts of the system anyway…

I realised that going out alone (it would soon get dark) might be a bad plan, so I teamed up with Dave. We went out with a run/walk routine, looking back on it it might have been more a walk/walk/walk/run routine, since the energy was pretty much gone, but we were still moving, and as long as there’s movement, there’s a chance of finishing! After the ‘Portland-loop’ time for a pasta, and then onto the ‘easy’ section through Weymouth. This is pretty much a flat part of the course, mostly over paved roads, so this is something that I’m good at!

Well, not today… (or should I say: tonight…). We were running parts, walking other parts, and mainly chatting, and trying to not feel the pain of a long day out… On our way to CP7 we picked up Oliver (also training for The Triple Brutal), and we made it to the next checkpoint. James and Martyn were crewing at CP7, so it was nice to see some friendly faces! By now I was starting to feel sick again, and since we were chasing the cutoff times, I told Oliver and Dave to go on without me, and I took a little break in the minibus; the heater was on, I got a blanket and some hot chocolate, and I slowly started to feel alive again…

At these moments you see how well-organised these events are; there was a medic with me in the minibus, and we were chatting about anything but the race, it just seemed like useless conversation. The way this man looked at me however, made me feel like he was constantly assessing the situation, and trying to figure out if he would let me go out on the course again. This made me feel completely safe, as I knew that if I would go out and he wouldn’t stop me, I might be ok…

James and Martyn urged me to get going, since there were two runners coming in, and they wanted me to go with them. I all-ready decided to not go out alone, so I now started the journey towards CP8 with Ed and Robert (I think that’s what their names were… sorry guys if I got your names wrong, my mind didn’t work properly at that point, so the memories are a bit of a blur!). For those who still think this is an easy race; all the suffering on the course up until this part was still the ‘easy’ part of the run…

We went out as fast as we could, but soon realised that it wouldn’t be fast enough. Well, somewhere in the back of my mind I had known for hours that I wasn’t going to finish, but all you can do is push that thought away… About 5km before CP8 we decided that we would never make the cutoff time at the next checkpoint, so this was it, we would go ‘easy’ on the last 5km and enjoy the fact that we came a long way… We even took the time to sit down for five minutes, enjoying the view; a clear night sky, (almost) full moon, the ocean, the cliffs… What I feared would be a terrible moment was just a perfect moment; all the pressure was gone… I came here to run far (I did), to enjoy good company (I did), to find my limits (I really did) and to enjoy the weekend (I did). We made our way to the checkpoint, and with 91km done I got into the minibus and went to the finish…

There’s two things you can do after not finishing; go home, or stay for a while! So for the next hours I saw all finishers come in, cheered for them, had a good time with the Brutal crew, and basically was pretty happy… (and yes, some tears were shed there as well, not finishing can be quite an emotional experience!).

And before I was home I knew it; I’ll be back next year and finish this Oner!

Congrats to all who finished, and to all who didn’t: I’ll probably see most of you next year?

Back home it was time to start focussing on the Triple again! So after a bit of rest the remaining part of April was mainly about cycling, and some open water swimming (since there was a bit less running, for obvious reasons…). Not too many ‘big’ adventures, just putting in the hours… Nice to see that, even while I’ve spend most of the winter running, my cycling form is pretty good; I put out more power than before on my intervals (I just love the data….), my long rides feel really easy, while still going pretty fast, so I’m building the confidence for the little 24+ hours bike-ride during The Triple…

With all the long rides you have to be creative in finding nice routes, so the longest ride of the season (up until now that is) was a loop around the ‘ijsselmeer’, a giant artificial lake (which originally was part of the north-sea). I convinced coach Jacomina to join me (she needs to put in some hours as well, since she signed up for The Double Brutal, how awesome is that!), and together we rode a nice 295km training day… Well, it was 294.4km, but a few loops over the carpark where we finished made it into an even 295!

After an adventurous month the body feels strong, the mind feels strong, I’ve learned a lot, and I am more eager than ever to go and chase a big goal this year! Triple Brutal Triathlon, here I come!

(or is the Triple just a training weekend for The Oner in 2018?)

Happy training to you all!

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