Last year while at an ultra in Norwich, I first heard about the Enduroman "Deca", which is the almost impossible sounding triathlon event of 10 full Ironmans (Ironmen?) in 10 days. This year's event was to take place in the New Forest, so I thought about combining a weekend's camping with a little spectating. But then I was told that the more obvious way for me to watch it would be to run The Enduroman 100 Ultra, which takes place on the triathletes' run course, but with a few extra laps.
And so it was that I took the train down to the New Forest on Saturday morning, arriving just as the Doubles were in their swim stage. The Doubles? Well, it turns out that in addition to the Deca, which had started a week last Friday, there was also a Quintuple starting on the Wednesday (5 Ironmans in 5 days), a Triple starting on the following Friday (but this isn't 3 in 3 - it's the full 7.2 mile swim, followed by 336 miles out on the bike, then a 78.6 mile run to round it off), then the Double started on Saturday (same format as the triple, but two thirds of the distance), with a mere single Ironman starting on the Sunday morning. The idea being that all the events would finish with some running on Sunday. The 100 mile run seemed like the lightweight option, starting on Saturday afternoon. And it was odd that when asked "which race are you doing?" the reply had to be "oh, just the run". When did running 100 miles become "just" running 100 miles?!
I admit that when I enthusiastically entered, I hadn't really noticed that it was only a fortnight after the GUCR. And I'd figured that being in the New Forest, the run would be flat. Oops. At least I had acknowledged that it would be laps (of 1.04 miles it turned out, so we did 97 laps, making a course a little over the 100 miles stated). So, still barely able to run after aggravating a hip flexor injury at GUCR (and my attempt when I did run being a slow comedy limp) I actually thought about not doing it. But I really wanted to see the Deca and everything, so thought I might as well give it a try. And it was well worth it.
It was a glorious sunny Saturday morning and the Doubles had been in the water since 9am for their 4.8 mile swim. The lake was beautiful and there was a great atmosphere, with crews and supporters cheering as each athlete finished that section and made their way up the hill to their bikes for their first transition. The bike course (which sounded very hilly, pot-holey and fraught with dangers such as traffic and wayward donkeys) was apparently very tough. There was an 11.1 mile loop they repeated, with a turnaround up by the stately home. The run route was neatly designed with a section that went round the edge of the bike turnaround, so we got to see some cyclists most times as we passed through that section, where there were also crews and an aid station and music playing the whole time (which was especially welcome through the middle of the night - there wasn't a huge variety, but I remember hearing a lot of Queen). It also went round a couple of lakes, one of which was the one the triathletes all swam in. We had a race briefing at noon, then set off at 2pm.
I had kind of skim-read the info about the run course. Enough to know that it was trail and I'd need a good head torch for the bits through the trees at night. I'd seen that it said something about flat, but not taken in where it mentioned the fact that what could be (and wishful-thinkingly was by me) mistaken for a pleasantly flat loop around the lakes, along a field and round a stately home, was in fact set on a hill with the lakes at the bottom and the home at the top. And the pretty bit through the woods round the lake was on a narrow trail strewn with many trip hazardish roots and stones, lots of uppy-downyness and a particularly dodgy steep downhill with a barbed wire fence just off to one side. Some of the roots were spray-painted with orange fluorescent paint, which was really helpful, particularly at night when they glowed effectively under the headtorch light. The uphills were steep in parts, but that was ok as they suggested ideal walking sections on each lap, but the long downhill from the house towards the lake was just the wrong gradient for my battered feeling legs.I had the comedy limp at the start, which actually eased off after a while (at 80 miles someone told me I was looking far smoother than I had in the first lap). I took it easy (well, I couldn't muster much speed to set off too fast even if I'd wanted to) and really got into it after about 20 laps. The weather held up right through the moonlit night and we were joined on the course at various times by triathletes from their different events. It was awe-inspiring watching how well they could run after so many hours (or days) of tough activity already completed. I was a bit sore and achy, but kept well motivated by all these amazing athletes around me. It was great to watch the swim of day 10 of the Deca (and the single Ironman) starting at 6am. Shortly after that, the rain arrived, and from then on it was all very wet, cold, and at times exceedingly windy. (And the tricky path round the lake was not made any easier when it became a tricky and extremely muddy path.) Yet despite the weather, the crews, marshals and supporters were all still there, enthusiastic and helpful, making this unbelievable atmosphere. There was an aid station near the finish, where we could refill drinks bottles and grab food whenever we needed it. At night, a couple of the marshals were wearing cow costumes. I'm nearly sure I didn't just imagine that anyway.I had people encouraging me at lots of points along the way, with the fact that I was the only female left in the ultra (after one other pulled out at 50 miles) possibly making it easier for them to know my name. I felt a bit guilty for being so slow, but given the circumstances, I was pleased with being able to finish this unexpectedly tough event. The last lap was run in reverse, which made it clear whenever someone was nearly finished, and meant we got to see all the other competitors still out on the course. There was high-fiving and wishing all the best to those still going. It was indeed very slow, taking me just under 26 and a half hours. I think I came in third place, and technically I suppose first lady.
The goody bags were full of, erm, goodies! Including a Superman-styled Enduroman T-shirt, a box of gels, a hat, a buff, a drinks bottle and more. Then there was also a good wicky T-shirt and a medal for finishing.It was a great event, with huge thanks due to Steve the organiser and his team of helpers. They, together with the other competitors, their crews and the supporters, made it a fantastic weekend and it felt a privilege to be a part of it.
It made it feel extra odd to be back in the classroom teaching again today, when our lower sixth students returned from study leave. As far as they knew, I probably spent the weekend watching telly or shopping.