Steve Hague's 2005 Report

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by Steve Hague

Steve Hague's 2005 Report

How and why I failed – Stephen Hague – Runner 97

Whenever you set yourself a challenge, whether it is physical or mental there are always going to be those days and hours when you doubt your ability to achieve what you have set yourself on the road to try and achieve. Those times are often in the wee small hours when darkness creeps in and the rays of sunshine that so often signify and renew hope disappear behind the hills.

So you may be a little surprised to hear that at no point either in my long and planned preparation or in the hours leading up to the race did I ever doubt my ability to finish. Never during the hard training runs, when as cyclists would say “I got the bonk” (no not that kind I am afraid), was I doubtful.

Those ultra-veterans amongst you that are reading this will be smiling and chuckling to yourselves. Rightly so, because one of the things that often leads to failure is not planning for the possibility of it happening. I guess it’s what we in the trade call the “what if’s”!

Why was I so confident – the answer was simple really – I wasn’t running for myself but for my Dad who I lost to Prostate Cancer in December 2004. He was a true veteran, the 2nd World War type and I was hoping I had inherited his staying power. The kind of true grit that his generation had in abundance.

So to the race itself – how did I plan to succeed?

My plan was simple – run for an hour then walk for half an hour. After every 4 ½ hours stop for 40 minutes rest, refuel and bask in the glory of how well it was going!! I was going to stick to this rigidly. Yes I know the flaws are glaringly obvious – Could I really only refuel properly every 4-½ hours? When was I going to refuel properly during that 4 ½ hours? How was I going to deal with the fact that as the race wore on I would get less able to stick to that plan, that my body would rebel and my mind would too.

Well I didn’t think that would happen, I kept telling myself that I could do marathons in my sleep in 3 ½ hours and not walk (well not that much). So this would be fine and what’s more I would cover 25 to 27 miles each 4½ hours. This would mean I could easily reach the 70-mile cut of point in the 19 hours allowed.

When did I first have doubts? Well if you look at my pictures of the day it was about at the time I started chatting to the other competitors. I was so out of my depth it was scary. These people were ultra-veterans of events in far flung parts of the globe completed in temperatures at either end of the scale and some of these didn’t think they would finish. They were right and I found out the hard way.

I did of course have my trusty support team of Patrick and Mark and a bright yellow transit van to help, but alas, it wasn’t going to be enough.
The day started off well enough, I trotted off behind some fit looking chaps and before I knew it I was going through 22 miles and a beautiful set of locks in bright sun and singing away to my MP3. The signs looked good and I felt fresh.

Of course it didn’t last. I got to my first stop at the side of the road at about 27 miles. I met a runner there whose name I forget who was clearly in pain and looked pale and distressed. He asked to borrow some painkillers, my support crew obliged and he explained he had some broken ribs and was struggling on – did he finish? If he even started with busted ribs he probably did because that’s the kind of competitor who succeeds on the GUC 145, the 2nd World War type!!

My first wall came at what I thought was a respectable 35 miles. I was starting to struggle with the rigidity of my plan and my mind started its first tricks. Please stop, it said, after all you have tried. Luckily I had been there before some years earlier on the Slateman, a 40-mile yomp through the Lake District, (where incidentally I experienced my first true inversion on top of Scafell). I got through the wall and got to about 52 miles at the famous Pub where I stopped for a well earned rest and refuel.

My trusty team were there - towel on the ground for me – food on the stove and words of support and cheer. I did a little repair work on the old “Plates of Meat” as the photos show. This is where the first signs of failure reared their head and I should have seen them and didn’t. That was in itself (with hindsight) is one of the signs.

I read all the accounts of the race before starting it that I could lay my hands on, made notes on the advice I considered prudent. It helped it really did, but I missed one beauty of a point and that was the one that reared its head at this stop. “If you get to the point where you don’t want to eat you’re doomed”. As I sat down the time rushed by and my 40 minutes were up and during that whole time although I ate some food I didn’t want to, I wasn’t hungry! “There it is”, you say as you read this – “that’s the sign he is doomed now” and you are right, I was.

Still I left that checkpoint to applause and comments to my support team that I was told later. The officials asked if it was my first time, as I looked remarkably upbeat and fresh. Never judge a book by its cover. I felt both of those things but deeper inside the body and mind knew different and were planning my downfall.

The route itself is fantastic and beautiful – I would encourage anyone to book a few days leave, take your bikes and a backpack and cycle it using B+B’s. The scenery and sights of the locks and boats really was inspiring. I spoke to many boat owners who gave me encouragement or shook their heads in disbelief at the madness of it all – how right they were.

Now though, I was in trouble. I got through a bad patch at 58 when I had just gone away from the canal and up a hill and over a road. I stopped and caught sight of my support team who I waved to, but it really was a demoralised and forlorn wave, they didn’t know it at the time but I was starting to quit.

What amazed me was the support from other helpers and runners. It was just after the above that a runner passed me and realized I was in trouble. He stopped and gave me some ‘Haribos’. “I swear by them,” he said. I will too, next time.

It was now some 65 miles into the event it was dark and was about 8pm at night. I was stumbling along a piece of canal side that was uneven and at times narrow. On more that one occasion I nearly tumbled into the water. My eyes were starting that hazy oh you’re so dehydrated feeling which no matter how hard you try you just cannot shake without rest and fluids. I stopped and looked at my food supplies for inspiration – it didn’t come. The peanuts, the chocolate, the energy bars, all useful, were ignored by my mind.

I phoned my wife and my best mate, who had been unable to be there as part of my support crew. They urged me to stop and to be proud of what I had achieved. I urged me to stop too. The only problem was the money. Oh yes I forgot to mention - my work colleagues had sponsored me a total of over £3000 for taking part in the event.

By now of course I was going round in circles in my head, stop, don’t stop, stop, why, why not – all the things you experience at this stage of an ultra. I had already made my mind up but I just hadn’t accepted that I was done. The arrival at the cut of point at around 9pm – 15 hrs after the start and 71 miles signified the most superb of physical achievements that I ever undertaken and also the finish of my race – I had failed and succeeded at the same time a strange experience.

My support team tried to encourage me, perhaps not hard enough as I had time in the bank, I could have had a full 40mins of refuelling and set off with a co-runner to help. However I wasn’t having any of it. As I sat at the tables by the checkpoint another runner (50-60yrs is my guess) popped up to the table sat down, chatted necked half a lager and got up and set off again. Oh boy was I out of my class!!!!!!!!!!

So the end came, I raised lots of money, I could still walk and I was immensely proud of myself and humbled by the talent of the other competitors.

Would I do it again? Yes, but not in 2006 due to a late withdrawal through injury. I will be back. Perhaps I need to be older and drink more for the training to be spot on..

Tips for others – apart from don’t enter - read everything you can and plan for failure so you can see it coming and avoid it….

As John Bingham would say – Waddle on Friends and good luck.

Steve Hague aged 36yrs

Failed 2005 entrant