I know how important fueling is for an athlete and over the last 10 years with C2C bike rides and day trip rides to the seaside and back as well as with longer distance runs I’ve discovered what works for me nutritionally and I’ve so never ‘bonked’ or ‘hit the wall’. I’ve hydrated, gone on caffeine fasts, taken electrolytes, carb loaded and even limited my alcohol intake (I know – serious stuff!). Whatever else has happened in races and events I’ve never felt that fueling was a reason for falling short.
In Germany, without the luxury of my familiar energy drinks and supplements I had to make do with what I could find. I’d taken some pre-measured bagged up ‘deals’ of my protein powder to take to help my recovery but aside from that I only had a Beet It flapjack bar. I’d forgotten to take any energy gels with me. When running for over an hour I like to take a couple, preferably the ones with caffeine, but I didn’t know where to find them around Essen and shopping opportunities were limited to checking the 2 local chemist shops neither of which stocked them. I bought some Haribo owls instead. Owls just because my kids like owls.
I searched the local Rewe and Aldi supermarkets for microwave-able pots of porridge but I suppose it’s a very Scottish/British thing. I couldn’t even find much in the way of breakfast bars and bought some seed/oat honey bars but only had a couple of them for breakfast. A sausage and egg McMuffin was to be my alternative hot breakfast but as the McDonald’s by our apartment didn’t open until 9am on Sundays that wasn’t an option either. I had water (though probably not enough) and an energy drink (but only 1) and some beetroot juice. Ah yes, beetroot!
I’d been recommended beetroot by a colleague whilst I was preparing for the Great North Run last year. It’s known as nature’s EPO and its iron and nitrate content help with endurance and indeed had seemed to assist me in Newcastle when only the screaming of my thigh muscles in the last couple of miles stopped me from going any quicker. I’d bought 3 cartons of beetroot juice and a pack of fresh beetroot from Rewe in addition to the Beet It bar I’d taken out there. I’d already drunk 2 cartons on Saturday as well as 2 of the 5 beetroot bulbs on a lunchtime ham sandwich. There are consequences to eating a lot of beetroot so yes my wee was quite pink. So on Sunday morning I probably wasn’t fully hydrated, certainly didn’t have enough carbs stored up but boy oh boy was I full of beetroot in its many forms!
The race was being held in a former colliery called Zollverein which is now a world heritage site. It was about 5 km from our apartment and I’d already bought us all tram tickets when I realised that the tram’s Sunday service would not get me to the starting line in time. I set off jogging with a rucksack full of my belongings on my back. Once at the entrance to the colliery there was still a fair distance to cover and no helpful sign posts. I arrived at the start 2 minutes before 9:30 and was very relieved to find that the starting time had been put back by 30 minutes. This gave the rest of my family time to catch up, I could also calm myself a little and also stop sweating after my exertions just to get to the start line.
The course was a 1 kilometre stretch of path that we would go up and down 11 times. It had a number of right angle turns along it which broke the monotony but in return offered some technical challenges. In one direction we ran on tarmac but in the other we were on an adjacent fine cinder trail. We all walked the length of the course with the organisers so they could highlight pinch points, changes in surface and other minor obstacles to avoid. All hazards were well marshaled and didn’t cause me any problems.
There were 20 of us running and looking around the field I tried to work out who the M1 males were. Silver Paolo who finished ahead of me in the 3000m was there and hadn’t raced on Saturday. He would be a threat as would a strong looking German with calf socks who had only turned up for this event. Another German, Arno, who I had raced against in the 5000m was there too but I forgot that he was actually over 55 (he didn’t look over 50) so not actually in my class but as I say I didn’t realise this.
We started with a partial lap to make up the extra 1.1km on a metric 21.1km half marathon course and by the end of that I was settled around 8 or 9th. One advantage about racing in reverse is that you can see your opponent behind and defend a position. I didn’t want to look over my shoulder too often so only looked at the competitors in the more advanced positions when we approached the coned turns at either end of the 1km track. Later on I timed some of the splits between myself and neighbouring runners to work out if I was gaining at all. After a couple of lengths we had settled and I thought I was 3rd vet behind Paolo and Arno. It stayed this way for a long time. A long, long time indeed; at quarter distance I was noticing the difference between my split times running on cinder and on tarmac. I was having to push more on the tarmac to keep on track for 2 hour pace and as it turned out I was pushing too hard. So was everyone else though because I wasn’t gaining or losing position. Half way and I might still have been on track but was feeling pretty ropey knowing that there were tougher times to come. The kids were now handing me the Haribo owls on demand but they were large, too chewy and required water to wash them down. I was taking on water whenever I could and throwing lots of it over me too in order to try to cool down. The sun wasn’t shining but it was humid.
Into the 3rd quarter and I seemed to be gaining on Paolo who was still one place ahead of me. I noticed he dropped back to a brief walk a couple of times and this fired me up. Despite a lack of energy reserves the adrenaline was carrying me through.
Once past Paolo and into the last quarter of the race a few of the Italian supporters shouted ‘Primo’ at me. I disputed this and replied ‘Arno Primo’ but they knew he was older and I didn’t. I passed Arno anyway and whilst running on empty for the last couple of lengths I was lifted by knowing that barring a disaster I was on for gold. I took on full sugar coke at the water/fueling station which in hindsight I should have taken from the halfway point onward instead of large chewy owls.
My pace was dropping but thankfully so was everyone else’s. I crossed the finish line marginally under 2 hours and 10 minutes and felt a wave of fatigue hit me. I stumbled about a bit and Catriona quickly guided me to a chair. I looked grey and was fairly unresponsive to people’s congratulations. I downed cup upon cup of sugary Coke and apple juice then after about 10 minutes I felt I could stand, talk and even smile a bit.
I cheered home a few of the following runners and then found the cafe toilets to strip wash and change ready for the presentation. I drank the sweetest most beautiful half litre of Dunkelweizen and strutted back to the fueling station where the presentations were to be made.
There had been a very heavy downpour which unfortunately caught last lady Emmanuelle who was alone on the track, but now the clouds broke and I felt the warmth of the sunshine on my cheeks as I stood on a wobbly bench holding the Union Flag aloft behind my head. A bemused Italian and German sat by my feet as I belted out God Save the Queen for all that I was worth. I closed my eyes to stop the tears from gathering and causing my voice to falter (you know how I like to sing when given the chance). Much as I admire and respect Daley Thompson how on earth could he have just whistled along to the national anthem when he won gold in LA?
So there you go, I became a Veteran World Champion last weekend and I’ve been basking in the glory ever since and carrying my gold medal around with me wherever I go showing it to anyone who shows the slightest interest. I’ll leave the blogging at that for now although there is an epilogue brewing…..