It’s just under 3 months after I ran 336 miles in one week, did 7 ultra marathons in 7 days and completed one of the most significant events in my life so far. Upon finishing the week my body broke down as soon as I crossed the finish line it felt, everything that had held together through the week suddenly sighed a sigh of relief and let go. I was limping on badly mangled toes and feet, with the skin of my feet after 3 days of finishing going really dry and blistering and all of my toenails bar one dropping off over the forthcoming weeks. But I did it! Rtrx7 was a success! After conceiving the idea a couple of years previously but being too scared to even utter the words out loud it was an amazing feeling to have attempted something original that no one else had done and said couldn’t be done and to have pulled it off.
The challenge itself was to run 7 times around the island of Jersey in 7 days; 48 miles each day taking in coastal path, beach, road and cliffs which equated to about 4000ft of elevation each day. Someone I knew had already done 7 marathons in 7 days here in Jersey so this was the only way to up the ante. Little did I know what I was attempting! I knew it would be hard but I rationalised it that having done the Marathon Des Sables a year or so earlier I would have a lot of advantages compared to that; I would be able to be supported, I could fuel adequately, I could sleep in my own bed and it was going to be a lot cooler than the Sahara Desert.
So in the early part of 2014, plans came together and bit by bit the challenge became a reality, with the ultimate reality being when I lined up on the start of the 2014 Greenlight: Round The Rock ultra-marathon on Aug 2nd. This was day one for me, and when everyone else had finished their stint, I would have to go home, recover and get up again and do it all over.
I won’t go into too much detail here about the challenge itself as I am hoping to sell the rights for the story to an award winning novelist or film maker and get Keanu Reeves to play me in the film. Suffice to say the week was hard, took me places I had never been in terms of despair and joy and is a definite cornerstone and reference point in my life.
The day after I had finished I woke up and was a little stiff and slightly hung over after a few glasses of champagne after a big do to celebrate completing it as well as the live televised lottery draw for the local charity I was raising money for – Jersey Hospice Care. It was a lovely feeling to know that I wouldn’t have to circumnavigate the island again that with the most testing thing I had to do being interviewed by a local radio station at 9am and to not say any swears inadvertently!
So what toll did the challenge take on me? My feet and toes were in a bad way, for about 3 weeks afterwards I had really bad dry skin on my feet and it was flaking off all over the show. I lost all my toenails bar one or two and had lots of callouses at various pressure points on my feet. Physically in an injury sense I was OK, going into the week I had a bit of a groin issue that I was a little worried about but this didn’t really become too much of a problem which I was thankful for. Injury was one of my biggest worries for the week as it was something that I couldn’t account for or foresee if it did occur but for 336 miles I came out of the week quite lightly.
3 months down the line I can now see that I was quite run down by the week after it was over. I took a couple of weeks off running after rtrx7 but was quite keen to get back into some form of exercise quite quickly as believe it or not I started to put weight on after the challenge quite quickly. I ran for 90 hours over the week and burnt and estimated 35,000 calories and was nowhere near replacing these but seemed to not have any adverse weight loss, which was good. During the MDS I lost a lot of weight quickly and people commented how emaciated I looked at the end of the week, so I expected something similar for RtRx7. I think my body was in shock to be honest and wasn’t sure what was going on, almost as if it went into survival mode and wanted to then hang on to any calories that I put into it. It is something that has continued over the last couple of months with my weight going up and normal training not being enough to sustain my usual running weight, which has been a little troublesome; being lighter = going faster and my initial goal after RtRx7 was to run the Jersey Marathon in early October. I started to speed train at the track and do shorter more intense runs a few weeks later, reasoning that shorter runs would be good for the body. The first track session I did was “interesting” to say the least and I struggled, on a superficial level I felt recovered I think but under the surface I was needing to rest or at least exercise at a much lower intensity.
Through September I built the training with Jersey as my goal. It was good to have a goal after the euphoria of completing RtRx7, it was a massive part of 2014 and as happens after these things there was a come down, which I expected to a degree having done things like this before. I was mostly pleased to have done it, but it was taking time to process the week. It was intense; 90 hours of running which when coupled with recovery, eating and sleeping didn’t leave much time for reflection or leisure time. For the first week or so afterwards I was dreaming I was running around the island and would wake up tired as if I had done the actual run! Processing the week was an ongoing thing and one I enjoyed, lots of photos were taken, lots of messages sent in support through the week and lots of positive take aways in general, I would say now I have processed it all and it is almost as if it never happened, just like being back in work on a Monday morning after being away in Barbados for 2 weeks previously and by lunch time it being as if you had never been away. The memories are there, but almost as if it was someone else living it.
A big issue for me over the 3 months since has been tiredness: I remember googling how to recover from something like this and there weren’t many search results that gave any meaningful advice as there are few documented precedents. There are the usual rules of one days recovery for every mile you have ran, which would have meant me not running til the following July, by which time had the weight gain continued I would have been a wallowing blob sitting there unable to see my feet and having to be lifted to the loo by a crane! I was back in work a week later and I was going to bed at 10pm most nights and getting up at 8am to try and recuperate, I became obsessed with sleep; how much I could get, how to make it up if I couldn’t get my ten hours that night and when I could snooze over the weekend. I have always like sleep to be fair but it took on an extra sense of urgency and at the time I didn’t realise how much toll the challenge had taken me, only now with the benefit of hindsight can I see it. I met a friend of mine Graeme a few weeks ago who had completed the Grand Union Canal Race back at the start of the summer, which is a 145 mile race along the Grand Union Canal. He was in a similar boat to me and said that it took him 3 months to get over it fully, likening running during that time to having an elastic band attached and someone holding on to it whilst trying to run, a feeling I completely empathised with.
I think it is natural for us runners to want to do what we do best and to be in full training and not to be tapering or recovering. I for one only paid lip service to recovery runs, recovery periods, periodization and proper tapering, taking them only when I started to feel jaded rather than being proactive. In the last couple of weeks however I have started to read a book about the 80/20 training principle which in short is a training method where 80 % of training done is performed at sub lactic thresholds and the other 20% is done above as this is the optimal ratio to get the benefits of training, the result being that when an athlete comes to do the 20% aspect they are more rested to hit it hard. The 80% enables the athlete to increase volume of training and therefore strength without stressing the body. I have enjoyed this book immensely and have adopted the principle wholeheartedly, having worked out my optimal zones and now training within them. It is early days but I feel more rested and relaxed after the sub lactic runs and have been burning off a lot of the weight from RtRx7 as a consequence of the training zones I have been working in. I think that had I been aware of this method I would have definitely adopted this post RtRx7 as it would have enabled me to train at a low intensity and maintain fitness but not push too hard in the initial stages of getting back to full training.
Next for me is the XNRG Druids Challenge this weekend; average of 29 miles per day for 3 days this will be a great test to see just how far down the recovery road I am. The goal is to get out and enjoy the weekend primarily and hopefully get a good solid performance in as well. Training in earnest will begin soon for the 2015 Marathon Des Sables in April, and I have secured a place for the race of all races The Dragons Back which takes place in June 2015. Lots to train for and lots to look forward to over the coming year!
The fundraising and challenge is completed for RtRx7 for those of you who missed it I put together a little video of the week to show what went into it, available here:
The challenge would not have happened without the support of the following companies: Marks and Spencer Jersey, Clink Hostels, BNP Paribas Jersey and Mymemory.co.uk.
The people who helped me with the organisation of both the fundraising and through the week were many: big thanks to Karl Moss, Ben Garland, David Stokes, Bruno Francisco, Rod Bryans, Euros Williams, Steve Hayes, Peter Wright, Simon Lester, Shane Hugill, Simon Mackenzie, Robbie Campbell, James Hope, Dave Double, Will Evans, Anna Goncalves, Shaun Maloret, Sam Horsfall, Neil Ginnis, Trisha and Darren from Yoga Matters, Piers De Gruchy, Bryce Alford, Cameron Purcell, Brendan Roberts, Sam Wade, Mark Nicol, Lee De St Croix, Jemma Jelley, Neil Walker, Thomas Robertson, John McGovern and the one person who held the whole operation together Nicola Gott – without her I could not have got through the week, she was there to take me to the start every morning at 6:30am and to drop me home every night, sometimes at 10:15pm, some might say she had a harder week than me and I would be inclined to agree!! I have tried to name everyone there so hopefully I have got everyone..
Finally I would like to say that I hit the target of £15,000.00 raised for Jersey Hospice Care due to the massive generosity of everyone who donated and big donations from Clink Hostels who gave £2000.00 to the cause and my place of work BNP Paribas who donated £2,200.00. I would like to thank them both as well as everyone else who donated and showed their support.