My friend Bryan Webster (@UltraDHC) was still in for this race and knowing he was in need of buddy runners I was happy to oblige. I agreed to run from 100-145miles with Bryan. This would be my first experience of supporting another runner. With me crewing at South Downs Way 100 in June it seemed this was a couple of opportunities to experience races from another angle.
Bryan had his friend Rew (@RewRunnner) buddying for him between 65 and 100 miles. His dad was a one man band working as a rolling aid station. Very simple plans were made for where to meet and ensuring we all had each other's contact details.
As this race approached I felt almost as excited as if I had been running the race myself. Friday evening was tinged with a little disappointment as twitter was writhe with comments about GUCR and all the runners meeting up. I'll be there to race GUCR in the not too distant future. It was clear from a few texts that Bryan was pretty relaxed. I liaised with Rew and discussed what looked like particularly unpleasant weather looming for the first part if the race. Nothing that could be done about the weather. I was confident they Bryan would push through the bad weather. It never really occurred to me that 100 miles is a really long way and my services might not be needed.
On the Saturday it dawned on me that I was going to be running 45 miles the following day. Focused on the role of buddy runner I had lost sight of the fact that I was running an ultra of my own. After a quick preparation of food and kit I was packed to a virtually OCD level. I wanted to ensure I had enough food for me, Bryan if he needed anything and spares in case we encountered any runners in difficulty.
The race was underway and I exchanged a few texts with Rew to check on Bryan's progress. He had clearly started well and in relaying this information to twitter it felt like the whole world was watching. As time passed Bryan, understandably, slowed. Slowing still had him on for a sub 24hr 100 miler so nothing of any concern. Twitter was notified and I went to bed. I set my alarm for. 2am and asked Rew to let me know when they reached mile 85. The next think I knew I was awake literally 5 minutes before my alarm was due to go off. My little boy was crying. He never usually wakes so I thank him for the additional alarm call. After settling my boy I checked my phone and saw that Bryan had gone through 85 miles at 1:15am. I was pretty sure that I would be there in plenty of time, but this depended on his pace. I didn't tempt fate and so I jumped into the car and made my way to the 100 mile checkpoint. On the hour drive a lot of thoughts were running through my head. The magnitude of responsibility I felt was growing the closer it got to being my turn to run with Bryan. It was a bit surreal this weight of pressure applied by myself. On one hand I was going for a run along a canal with a mate and on the other hand i was there to help him achieve his goal of finishing the race. When I am running for me that is the only pressure, if I slow up or i DNF then that only effects me. This time if I didn't pull my weight then that could effect someone else goals and that just wouldn't be on. I made the decision that whatever pace/goals Bryan wanted to set we would achieve and that I would push with him to whatever extent that meant.
I arrived at the 100 mile mark a while before Bryan got there. I decided that rather than sleeping in my car I would head down and chat to some of the other runners. So at approximately 3:30am I headed down to the checkpoint. The volunteers were on absolutely amazing form and cooking up a feast for the supported runners. The wonderful staff even offered me a hot drink.
It was fascinating watching the runners entering and exit in the checkpoint and it was evident that some had handled the night stint better than others. Some runners shovelling breakfast into their faves whilst others could barely eat a thing. Regardless of people's condition they all engaged in conversation and I am proud of every runner that I saw come in and be able to get back out and move. Lots of people were surprisingly hard on themselves. There appeared to be a general lack of awareness at how quickly they had all reached 100 miles. Still after a 100 miles can you blame them.
I received updates from Rew and it appeared that Bryan would arrive around 6am. Rew made me aware that Bryan was struggling, but they were powering on. At this pointed I decided I was going to judge how Bryan was and if necessary kick his backside all the way to London. During the remaining time a gentleman arrived looking very ill. He was not eating and barely able to drink warm squash. I offered him some of my rations (boiled salted potatoes. I was pleased that my extra food was being put to good use and even more delighted when 15 minutes this young man marched out of the checkpoint and it looked like he had halted his downward spiral. It was really inspiring to witness this determination. Sadly a couple of runners who were being supported by the wonderful aid stations just would not eat any food. They rolled and staggered out of the checkpoint. With 20 miles before they would have rations and drop bags I was glad not to be in their position.
The beauty of the Dawn began to appear and signs of a beautiful day were looming. At that time the canal was such a peaceful place to be. I was really excited for the day ahead and was using this as my own build up to Endure 24 at the end of June.
As the time moved on nearer to 6am it was clear I would not be needing my head torch. I unpacked it ready to pass to Bryan's dad. At this time Bryan appeared from around the corner. He looked absolutely shattered. This was hardly surprising, but equally he got in under 24 hours, a first for him at this distance. Bryan immediately went in the search of the facilities. I exchanged a few words with Rew and it felt in some way we were exchanging the baton. Rew had got Bryan this far and now I had a responsibility to Bryan, Rew and his dad not to undo all their hardwork. The truth of course was that only Bryan could get himself to the finish. After a quick fuel up Bryan and I were on our way.
We set of at a plod as Bryan reeled of his list of gripes and ailments. It seemed blisters, tiredness, lack of balance, hallucinations and needing to piss like a race horse every time he ran were the key issues..... Oh and a dodgy hip. Once Bryan got this off his chest we set about the job in hand. I'm sure Bryan won't mind me saying that at this point he looked ready to just curl up and sleep. The sub 24 hour 100 miler seemed to have lit the kindling of a fire within Bryan and I knew we were going to finish this race. At this point "race" seemed a massive understatement. We were on an epic adventure and I was thrilled to be a small part of it.
The first few miles were made up of mud and sludge. I could see Bryan visibly grimace with every slip of the foot or sudden shift of weight. I was confident that with the bright sunshine and positive determination, Bryan would be on the up again soon.
For a short period it was a case of run when Bryan could run and plod as best we could. It was a slow start with Bryan not sure how his feet would or would not hold out. We powered on, but with a mindset that a death March may be looming. A lovely day was emerging and jackets and outer layers were removed. As we broke into a short run I noticed a runner in the distance. I set Bryan the task of reeling in the runner and with incentive of that task he powered forward. What happened next I think was the turning point of his race. We came in line with the runner. He was clearly struggling and looked at any minute like he would stop, sit, cry, sleep and retire. When given the cursory "how you doing?" we received a long list of woes and troubles and time checks. The runner was struggling, but projecting his dark spell on to Bryan. At this point Bryan himself knew he had to put some distance between himself and the negative energy. We broke in to a run and for the first time Bryan put in some solid distance. A dark cloud was lifted. Bryan told me he could only do 1/2mile stints before his hip hurt. I declared "then we will run walk 1/2mile intervals the rest of the way." We found ourselves quickly into a rhythm that enabled a steady pace, regular breaks and broke the race up into smaller portions. We now had a game plan, it enabled us to manage the mind games and the physical exertion. So we ran. If we saw a runner we chased them down. Bryan was getting stronger and stronger. Our pace was solid at around 14.5 mins per mile. Pretty good for the game plan. I conveyed this to Bryan who was still half expecting a death March to come and was resigned to an inevitable dropping of the pace. I wasn't convinced he would slow.
By the time we reached and mile 115 things were really going well. We had over taken 6 or 7 runners two of which left the 100 mile point about 90 mins before Bryan. At or around this point Bryan decided to sit on the floor and adjust his shoes to get some grit out if them. Standing up at this point was my first real insight into his fatigue. He stood and wobble, looking like the grandfather in Charlie and the Chocolate factory when he stand out of bed for the first time in 20 years. I threw my arm out to steady him and prevent a dip in the canal. Like said grandfather Bryan was quickly steady and back running. The next slip up would not be Bryan's.
Moving along nicely in a very steady and disciplined walk run we approached a meet point with Bryan's dad. We were about 118 miles in and feeling good when........ Smack!!!!! I tumbled onto the rocks on the tow path. Standing back up and making sure me and my iphone were in one piece I looked back for the culprit. A bloody stray tree stump concealed by foliage. Oh well I was fine bar a little nick to the knee and it seemed to amuse Bryan. I had visions of informing twitter that after 118 miles Bryan was fine but I was dropping after 18 miles due to injury.
At this point it dawned on me that I better make sure I was taking on enough fuel myself as I was still running a bloody long way. The last thing Bryan needed was me feeling rough and slowing him down. So after shovelling some shot bloks into my face I carried on. Bryan was running well during the intervals and told me that his feet were going to be the thing that slowed him down. We discussed a change of socks to a pair with more padding. I had a pair of drymax trail socks in my bag and suggested he try these. The plan was to do this at the next aid stop which would also be an official checkpoint of mile 120ish ( by my watch 122miles.) neither Bryan nor I could imagine running without a crew. The thought of not seeing anyone for nearly 22 miles having already put a 100 miles on your legs was incredibly daunting. The very real thought that you may be without company or supplies for between 4.5 and 7hrs left me with nothing but respect for each and everyone of those runners.
We were embroiled in a scorching day and I don't mind the hear was getting to me. Bryan was suffering from the heat as well. As we came into the checkpoint we doused our buffs in cold water (a regular theme at ever meet point) and Bryan changed his socks into my pair of drymax. I grabbed a fresh bottle of Mountain Dew and on we pressed. I don't know if the socks helped Bryan's feet or whether he was just in beast mode but the pace upped. We were pressing hard during run sections. The support of walkers and casual runners was massive. They kept congratulating both Bryan and I. I gave up saying oh it's him not me. Bryan was still chasing down and over taking runners. Fatigue was understandably evident and Bryan was looking like he was auditioning for training spotting, but power on he did.
We still were not slowing and at about mile 30 I was having a low spell. I had a real sense of guilt. I couldn't let Bryan down. I was there to buddy run and not be a liability. With that said I reminded myself that I was still running a long way. I had not eaten enough so I forced some calories down my throat, MTFU and got back into Bryan's pace. This was Bryan's race and I would run how he wanted to run. At about mile 33 Bryan's running stints were 8.5-9minutes per mile and power walking of 14-15minutes per mile. Far from Bryan's prediction of slowing down we were getting quicker and quicker.
Powering on in the heat was now a given and we just sucked it up and pressed on. The canal route was beautiful, although I was saddened by the increase of rubbish the closer we got into London. Running up and down bridges Bryan felt like he was running up mountains, so climb the mountains we did and stick to our plan we did. With about 14miles to go we nearly got run over by a couple of kids on a dirt bike. Massively annoying and thankfully as we approached the left turn into London they were not on our tail. So close to a half marathon to go. We got into the checkpoint and Bryan was head down. I had a quick handshake and chat with James Adams and a sweaty hug with Nici. I had hoped to have a short catch up with these guys, but barely had I paused for breath and Bryan was pushing on out of the checkpoint. The finish was within touching distance and we were well on course to smash Bryan's A game of sub 40hours. Every step taken was a step closer and we pushed on. Bryan had a littler dip in pace and mood, but nothing major. With about 5 miles to go we were closing down on other runners and as we approached and passed them it was like Bryan stole a little bit of their energy and pushed on faster. The signs for Paddington were approaching. We passed our last meet with Bryan's dad and had a brief exchange with a cyclist about the race. Both on a mission for the finish we were feeling good. There were still runners to catch and Bryan did this comfortably.
With about 4 miles to go Bryan decided to do away with the 1/2 and 1/2 plan and just run as much as he could as hard as he could. I went with it but occasionally reminded him that running longer at a slightly slower pace would be quicker. We pushed and it felt like the finish was in touching distance. We over took Paul Ali without about 1.5 miles to go and one more runner. Bryan was so tired at times I was running alongside him querying to myself if he was awake. He later told me he assumed Paul had finished and was just walking along the canal. The noise was increasing and I grabbed site of what looked like the finish. My work was now done. I eased backed and ran behind Bryan as he did me proud and sprinted in to the finish. Just like that we were done and Bryan clocked 34hrs59min. My head had been a little fuzzy with times and I'd gotten my maths slightly wrong and thought we were chasing sub 36 so the time was incredible.
I loved the run along the canal it was great fun. Bryan was an absolute trooper and a legend during that last third. He pushed on and was rewarded with the time he well and truly deserved. Everyone involved in the event was so supportive and friendly. It was a pleasure to be involved and I will definitely be back to run the whole course. Maybe Bryan will be easing off as I sprint into the end.
A couple of people said to me that Buddying is just as impressive and that the runners could not do it without us and that we get nothing back. Firstly i would make no claim that Bryan couldn't have done it without me. He was on a mission and finish this race he would have. To say I got nothing out of it couldn't be further from the truth. The race was incredible and previously my best times over 47miles and 50miles were 10hr25 and 10hr59 respectively. We ran this 46/47 miles in 10hrs58. Yet we ran comfortably for the most part. I also learnt that I can push on at times where I might have walked or run slower. Being involved in someone else's goal really does focus the mind in a different way. At my next race whenever I am about to slow down against a plan I am going to imagine I'm pacing for Bryan and push on that bit more. I may not have got a medal, but what a race, what inspiration and what a massive personal learning curve for me.
Well done Bryan! No more compliments for a while ;)