Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Fairlands Valley Challenge

This post unfortunately has been a little delayed due to scrambled brains.
It has taken me nearly a week to get my head together as I made an unexpected hydration error at last Sundays Fairlands Valley Challenge. More about that in a bit, first lets get to the challenge itself....

Sunday the 20th July was a pretty hot and humid day already by the time we pulled into the car park for registration at 7:30am. The first part of the challenge for the day was to actually locate the reception of this massive school we found ourselves walking around. Luckily my Mum (Mummysaurus) and I were helped out by some folks who had clearly done it last year.
I walked in to find no queue at the registration table. Great! Within a minute I was in and out with my number  and 5 pages of instructions which left me loads of time to locate a toilet and then just wait for the start.

This type of starting line was not really something I was used too. The thing that made it unusual for me is that each length race option had a different starting time, making my starting group relatively small.
That`s right, you can pick your distance and still pay the same price! The options were 12 mile, 18 mile, marathon and 50k ultra. It seemed rude not to pick the 50k! ;)
As an added bonus we got a free burger at the end and they even had a bar at the finish all for the princely sum of £17!! Bargain!

94 of us who picked the 50k option lined up for the 8:45am start, the 50k walkers had started 15 minutes earlier. With not really any kind of fuss or fanfare we had a short countdown and then we were off!

I took off at a steady pace with my trusty Luna "Mono" Sandals with some socks stashed in my bag for later. Within about a mile we came to a steep grass bank and for the first time in about 2 years I slipped and slid down the bank on my ass. Stylish.
I picked myself up, brushed off some of my pride and caught back up with a small group. After a little while I was finding myself between groups needing to take a look at the instructions.

Running and reading as it turns out is actually pretty hard. Every turning I had to slow to a walk to try and work out where I was as the instructions were all abbreviated and the coarse was not marked. Quite a few times very early on as I got used to the instructions, I would start to dash down one path to thankfully be called back by someone just behind me. It was a little frustrating to be so stop start as I felt really good and wanted to push a little today.
Check point one came about pretty quick. I grabbed a small piece of bread pudding from the table and headed back out, happy with the way things were going so far.
A few more miles in and it got a bit more hilly. Fine, I love hills. I sipped at my Chia seed and coconut water mix and was really enjoying my surroundings. While hiking up a steep hill I caught up with a lady who I figured was either training for something bigger or moving house. She was hauling a LOT of gear, enough in fact that I just had to ask what she was up too.
We chatted away and she let on that she was using this event to test out her 8kg pack for T184!!! For those of you who may not have heard of the T184 its a little trip along the river. The Thames to be more precise, oh and did I mention, its ALL of it?! 184 miles from the Thames Barrier in London to the source of the Thames in the Cotswolds!!! Not impressed yet? Ok its also, with the exception of water, completely self sufficient and you have just 80 hours to complete it........yeah, PHEW!

Back to the story...

It was around 10:45am, Nina and myself were just coming into check point 2 which happened to be check point 1 as well as the 50k started with a loop. We had a quick stop to grab some water and I took this opportunity to add my socks and shove some more bread pudding in my face.
At this point I looked over to see a couple of fellow Monkey Tag Runners, (a group I set up at the start of the year on Facebook) we shared a few quick hellos and waves before heading off our separate ways as we were all doing different distances. Hope to catch up with you guys soon! ;)
We headed back out the way we had just come and started up yet another hill keeping at a good pace, now around 11 miles in.
The sun got hotter, the air was like breathing soup, the terrain got a bit more challenging and so did the instructions. On a few occasions we had to stop and really try hard to work out where we were. This was eating into our time a lot but we had no choice, also deciding very early on that we would both rather take an extra minute to double check rather than double back.
This process went on and on over some very pretty scenery which to be honest I wasn't expecting to see today. In a way I really wish the course was marked so I could have spent more time enjoying the view rather than translating a piece of paper.
Nina was great company and we chatted about all the things we love and hate about running and the types of people you get over different distances. You know the ones. The ones obsessed with time and position, they are easy to spot, they normally look grumpy. I think we may have established a rule... it appears the size of the smile and attitude of the person is directly proportional to the intended distance of travel....short version? The people running further seem to have more fun!

We pushed on, chatting and checking on people on the way round like most folk do in ultras. This was the other observation we made about the people not doing the same distance. They looked a little confused that we were talking to them! I guess only having done the one official marathon then just doing ultras, I have got used to the attitudes of the ultra world. A friendly bunch with a mutual understanding that we are all quite possibly one GU short of an aid station! We laugh, we cry, we understand each other, we now what is on the other side of that mental barrier and I think that is what makes us look out for others.

At times it felt like we were the sweepers with no one behind us and people struggling a little up ahead. We stopped to check on a guy sitting under a tree who had sprained his ankle. He was fine and had already called for help. We hung around for a couple of minutes and he assured us he was fine. Just as we left him to chill under his shady tree the ambulance passed us to pick him up.

We were aware now that any hope of a "good" time was out of the window now due to double checking the instructions so much and the humidity. It was relentless. You could feel it pick up every time you got to the bottom of a hill. The breeze would drop off and the air would get so thick it would almost choke you.

All part of the challenge I guess!

A funny moment around 20 or so miles came in the form of a little cow. The rest of his mates were either laying under a tree or having some grass next to a very shallow stream. Not this clever little dude. Nope! He was IN the stream, up to his shins, by the other bank in the shade munching on the hedge row! Genius! :)
He looked like the most content being on the planet at that moment.

Once again we were back at the instructions trying to work out if we were going the right way. We were but it was a little hard to tell. We were both a little fuzzy headed at this point so reading the already slightly challenging instructions became, well, a bit more challenging.

One section that took forever was due to our instructions being different! Nina had printed her copy from the internet, shrunk them down and laminated them (brilliant idea!) and my copy was the one I was given at registration. We were in a field that didn't really read quite right and both sets of instructions were somewhat vague. Eventually we decided to ignore them and just head for the sound of the road as we were looking for a bridge to cross. We found the gap in the hedge that was mentioned but then come out onto a busy road.


Having both done ultras before we didn't think a race organiser would want anyone crossing something quite this busy so started looking around, it was then that I spotted the bridge. We figured by this point that if it wasn't the right one at least we would have a good reference point for a quick satnav check on the phone!
Nina did a quick satnav check then we backtracked along the little trail and met up with the road where now the instructions made sense again!! PHEW! Onward!
On and on with the aid of hills and more hills the time slowly slipped away from us. We didnt really care, it was about getting the job done. We both commented on feeling a little fuzzy and sometimes a little sick and this turned into a chat about when this normally happens. Nina said she has a bit of a wobble around 20-23 miles in and again at maybe 40, we both put that down to maybe Glycogen stores running low and the body switching over to fat. I said I tend to get a very low point around 30-33 miles where I feel like I have gone down a rabbit hole, probably for the same reason. Today however I felt a little different. We were around marathon ish distance and I was sometimes feeling a little dizzy but put it down to heat. Every now and then I felt a little sick but put it down to too much cake. My throat was sometimes dry, I thought maybe im drinking a little too much so backed off for a while. A few miles later Nina noticed I didnt seem to be sweating so I started to sip again and within 10 minutes I was sweating again. "Brilliant" I thought but still felt a little fuzzy.
I put it to the back of my mind for now as we were now so close to the finish.
It had been a long, long day but we finally came up the road and could see the entrance back to the school to the left of us!
We rounded the corner to see people clapping and could see the finish line!! It was nearly done. We picked up the pace (as you do) and bounded down the road like we were finishing a 10k, my legs briefly forgetting the last 30 odd miles. My intention as a way of saying "thank you for dragging my sorry butt around" and to show utter respect for the fact that she had just done that with an 8kg pack was to stop before the finish line and let Nina finish before me. So I put the brakes on with about 30 feet to go. So did she!!! I waved to say GO! GO! but she wanted to cross together. Respect! :)
We collected our bling and had a sweaty hug then stood around for a bit chatting with my mum and some folks she had befriended before heading for the free burger! Wooo!
As it turns out we finished joint last for the 50k ultra with 6 runners behind finishing up the marathon. The time? 8:19 something, but who cares about the time right? ;)
My mum led me inside to also grab a pint at the bar, best day ever right?! So there I am outside on the grass trying to clap home the final runners with a burger in one hand and a pint in the other. I polished them off while chatting to my mum about the days events and felt pretty good, a little fuzzy but good. Fuzzy was to be expected I thought as I had just spent the last 8 odd hours out in the sun.
We headed back to the car. A quick half hour drive and I was home. We said our goodbyes and I headed inside for a nice shower.
Shower done, it was time to kick back with a couple more "recovery" beers then off to bed ready for work in the morning.
Walking to work I couldn't seem to shake the feeling of being a bit disconnected, like I was daydreaming. I put it down to maybe smashing my calories but it felt different.
Work was hard, I found myself staring blankly through the screen. I didn't feel like I was really there. I felt blank and confused, even trying to talk to people was an effort. It was at this point that I realised the fact that not only was I concentrating very hard on communicating but I was messing up my words (more than usual) and sometimes even skipping a word!
Something isnt right.
Here is where we get to the bit I was going to explain at the start.
I contacted some very experienced ultra runners on Facebook to see if anyone had any ideas of what was going on. The response suggested that it sounded very much like very mild Hyponatremia.
Hyponatremia is a reduction in the salt level in the blood normally caused by over hydration. So my absentminded sipping while looking at instructions was the start. The big problem is that most of the signs for over hydration are the same as dehydration so on a hot day it can be very easy to mistake a dry throat for a thirsty one. The foggy head, the feeling sick, the dry throat were all subtle signs I had actually drunk too much water. I had caused an electrolyte imbalance which in turn had signaled my body to release and anti diuretic hormone to try and retain my salt by stopping me peeing therefore retaining the water. With the water having nowhere to go it can swell the organs and brain and can cause all sorts of problems. For me it was the clarity of thought. I guess thankfully the race wasn't any longer or this may have been a very different story. I stopped drinking anything else by around 9:30am and by about 11am I needed the loo, signalling that maybe my body now thought it was safe enough and could start shifting some of the water. This also confirmed to me that the thoughts about it being Hyponatremia were on the right track. (Thanks guys!)
I decided to take a trip to the GP just to be on the safe side that afternoon. She listened and agreed that it sounded about right and suggested some blood work just to make sure. She did a urine test as well and I explained that I had actively dehydrated myself so that explains the concentrated levels.
She seemed happy enough and said I could just return to normal eating and drinking.
I have continued to feel a little disconnected, even while I am typing this over a week afterwards, I am finding I am making more errors than usual but on the whole I feel fine.
It was a very large reminder to me that I still have a lot to learn about my bodies responses but it still leaves me fascinated to find out more. With that in mind I have started reading Waterlogged by Tim Noakes and so far it is a real eye opener. Anyone who is even semi serious about any kind of endurance sport should have a read. I shall be doing a review of this once I have finished it for sure!

Pretty sure the blood test results will be fine but better safe than sorry eh?! I ignored my body once, never again!

So there we have it folks, listen to your bodies regardless of what you think you "should" do!

Thank you once again to my mum for all the support and driving. To Nina for the company and a great day out, see you at NDW100! ;) A massive thank you to the guy who shared his story with me and quite possibly saved me from further damage (you know who you are)

Phew that was a long one eh?! Still with me? Good, good!

Time to get back to those miles ready to pace Dennis (you remember him right?) for the second half of the NDW100 on the 9th!! 50 something miles over crazy trail, sounds like my kind of night out! Lets get you that buckle buddy! ;)

Last but not least thank you dear reader for taking the time to read to my ramblings!

Love and coffee

P.S I think you could probably forgive some mistakes in this post!! :D


  1. That day was a hot one. I did the marathon. Felt ill around 20 miles ish myself. It was weird out there and thankfully we had loads of people to follow as long as we kept up with them, haha.
    As for your disconnected feeling - that's the exact description of my migraines. Exactly the same! Although I have a few additional symptoms of discomfort to bright light and sometimes debilitating pain rolling around my head.
    Glad you're feeling better
    Hels ;-)

  2. It was indeed!! Thanks Hels yeah feeling much better now! ouch that doesn't sound fun at all! Thank you for reading!