Published in Reports on 11th April 2008
DOUBLE TROUBLE (NO TROUBLE!) IN LONG EATON
I just know that this report deserves more time than I am going
to give it.
Why? Because it was probably the best running experience of my
life (to date). I ran my first marathon 6 months after giving up
smoking 30 cigarettes a day - New York 2000 completed in 5 hours
and 15 minutes. I had found a new life.
Little more than a week ago, and now 39 marathons later, I have
found another new life. Two marathons in two days was exciting
but off-road gives a whole new meaning to excitement.
Friday afternoon, traveling with Bridget Anne to the lonely East
Midlands of England was always going to be a great experience.
We seem to relax in each other's company - and so we should given
what we have to endure during the Marathon Des Sables 2009. It
was an instant 'great craic' weekend. Although every now and
then we'd remember that we were about to go the distance twice...
And what was worse - "off-road". I remember saying to countless
amounts of those who'd listen - "What the f**k does off-road mean
- bog, forest, field, mountain, rivers, gravel road, climbing
(do I need rope?), road, paths, WHAT? I/we hadn't a clue.
I was assured that I should wear my road shoes. OK, so does that
mean I should wear my shiny patent winklepickers that I wear on
the road between Proactive and O'Briens? Or does the word shoes
mean runners? Shiny shoes wouldn't wear well so I decided to
bring an old pair of ASICS... And another pair for the second
As a marketeer, it was really positive to see that what we preach
sometimes filters down to the streets. When I asked the very
helpful concierge at Jurys Nottingham if they had a city centre,
he replied, "We're very PROUD of our city," and went on to
describe the shops and centres on offer. Once we got there, there
were signs and banners everywhere by Nottingham City Council
promoting the city using the word PROUD. They have reason to be
proud. Nottingham is an impressive city. Shopping? We haven't
even started! BA and I trawled through every sports shop we
could find, looking for that piece of kit that would save the day
and make the task ahead seem easy. We bought ski pants,
waterproof jackets, cheap and, unfortunately, leaking water
bottles, checked out the latest fashions and did as they do in
Nottingham - we shopped.
Saturday morning, we headed for Long Eaton with more than a
little trepidation. We were, to be very frank, sh*tting
ourselves. Slinking into the race HQ - a guy lying on his back
getting his MDS ECG (keep up) and lots of very outdoor-looking
people generally and Bridget Anne and I. Oh! Listening to stuff
like, "Oh did you do that 1,758 hour race? I was a bit tired
after trekking around the world the previous week so I decided to
stand on one foot for 72 hours with my back pack at 126 Kilos".
Mmmmmmmm, a tad deep for us.
We stood outside for the starters' picture. Them with their back
packs, us with our tiny front packs that we'd just bought, and
soon we were off. This was a navigation experience, no mile
markers, no sign posts, a map, and if you get lost...well, we'll
see you next year. Basically! After three miles (or so) we
latched onto Mr. Navigator. He was obvious, a leader, strong,
upstanding, confident, a real motivator and he was flanked by two
others that seemed to know that he knew what he was doing. We
decided to "know" the same and latched onto the back of his merry
little group and relaxed to a very pleasant pace of about 10 min
miles. What was even more pleasant was that these guys thought
nothing of walking every hill. EXCELLENT!
Not much happened until mile 15 or thereabouts when we went
'round a bend to see two others lost. Yes here, we were in Long
Eaton (wherever that is) along with 7 others - lost. After a bit
of debate and very polite consultation, the navigators pointed
towards the light and took off. We struggled to stay with the
pace but we did.
Back on track and then the most animalistic instinct unfolded.
Just as we entered 'Robin Hood Way' Bridget Anne's ears pricked
up, her nostrils flared and her eyes widened. The second woman
was ahead and we were closing in. She powered past, surged ahead
and soon she was second. No arguments! I think it was this
competition that kept us going as a group and we finished out day
one without much problem and ended up doing 28 miles in 5:18. We
all hugged, and then asked each others' names and where we came
from. It was a strange feeling having such a bond with someone
you know absolutely nothing about.
The stronger amongst us camped at the HQ which was as bleak and
basic as we were warned. We choose to go back to our cosy hotel
A couple of beers... And a glass or two of wine.
Watching the weather, we decided to head to Long Eaton for day 2
earlier than the scheduled race start time of 8AM. There was a
24 hour Tesco just up the road so we decided to get breakfast
there at 7:20 and run ahead of the pack at 7:30. Tesco was
closed and the pack decided to start at 6.30. Oooooohhhh crap!
We were on our own and had no breakfast.
I took charge of the map as Bridget Anne couldn't tell what
hemisphere we were in. So I was Mr Navigator/Motivator, except I
was less obvious, was leading no one, was feeling extremely week,
had a kinda hunch on my back and kept telling Bridget Anne that
we were going to die.
This day turned out to be the best. So much happened that I could
write a book. We were in great shape from the off, despite the
difficulties of no breakfast and isolation, we had a good laugh.
A woman turned a corner and got startled, we headed through the
small lanes through housing estates, through farmers' fields, it
was early, checkpoint one was unmanned, a guy passed us at mile
4. He got lost and passed us again a couple of miles later. We
ran, walked, chuckled forward. The weather was great. The
scenery was amazing. Hills looking over vast valleys of people
doing what people do on a Sunday mornings and we were doing
something different. We loved it. Got to halfway and found a
Tesco, egg sandwich for BA and Chicken and Bacon for me. We
stayed for 20 minutes laughing and eating. It was weird,
comfortable, and very normal not to be in a rush. The guy was
there too - he got lost again.
On so, to our final quarter. And it got easier. Navigation was
smooth, although not for the guy who we were to meet another two
times. Through an amazing wooded lane, by a beautiful canal,
passing by a railway line that you'd see in any film and without
notice we were back again. Day 2 finished in 5:44 in such ease
that I have no doubt we'd both have been able for another 5
miles. I found out that over 40 finished day 1 and only 18 were
brave enough to get out on day 2.
THIS WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.
I am not going to mention the type of bar we ended up in or how
many bottles of wine we drank. We sipped a very nice Champaign
Cocktail though, as we had every reason to celebrate.
That brings me to number 39.
Ray O'Connor - March 2008.