Saturday, 21 June 2014


All pictures courtesy of TorTourdeRuhr organisation and associates. 


The Tortourderuhr is a 230km race to be completed in 38 hours organised every two years by Jens Veiler and his crew. It starts at the source of the Ruhr in Winterberg and ends where the Ruhr joins the Rhine in Duisburg. I described it as the GUCR of Germany and in this I was a little mistaken as the route is not as flat as I expected.

The route

My preparation for this race was going well until mid May. I had started running the 16-17km to and fro to work at least 3 times a week. My weight was slowly coming down and even going under 72kg. This time it was going to be ok. This time I would finish a plus 200km race.

I picked up an injury to my back three weeks from the start. It was quite painful and meant not only could I not run but moving from standing to sitting, vice versa and even walking was an issue. Bending resulted in sharp pain shooting up my spine. Being a contractor means I can not really take time off work and working away from home means a visit to the doctor is difficult to arrange.

I commenced in treating it with twice daily applications of Voltaren. When this didn't make any difference I started on ABC warm plasters. Slowly it got better, but I had to buy the entire supply of these plasters in the Ruhr region.

Lacking in running meant my weight ballooned upwards so that on race day I stood at a hefty 78kg.

This, by the way, is not an excuse for not finishing. We will come to that.

We got up at 4am on race day to drive the 150km to the start. Two of my sons, Tom and Ross were crewing me. I did ask the boys if they wanted to contribute...but they said only to say they will never crew for me again. Can't blame them really. But thanks for trying it out lads.

It didn't get off to an auspicious start as Tom took the wrong lane getting onto the A5 and we're heading south , instead of north. Despite our initial panic and the lack of a turn off for several kilometers, we kept our heads followed the only allowable route giving us a 50 km detour. We were back taking the correct route within half an hour.

On the correct road 
As we drove further north into the mountainous Sauerland, it soon became apparent this was real backwoods country. The sort of place where they can tell you are not local due to you only having five fingers on your left hand. Our progress slowed as every village we drove through seem to have 30 kph speed limit enforced by sophisticated speed cameras. Ross expressed surprise that they had cars in the region. I commented the extraordinarily low speed limit was probably the top speed of the preferred method of motorised transport...the tractor.

Not with standing this we reached the start in plenty of time. It was up a trail at the place the Ruhr trickles out of the ground. I caught up with Jens and Frank Witzlar with whom I had run part of Sparta the previous year.
The source of the Ruhr
Me Tom and Ross pre race at the start 

The Race

Our race numbers were issued in the form of wristbands that you get in hospital. A quick race directors chat and we were off.
Initially the route is downhill through the woods and my back was ok. In fact it felt better running than at any other time. The temperature was already rising and got well into 30s by early morning.

I was wearing a white Injinji sun hat. A buff around my neck, a Spartathlon technical shirt, lycra shorts, Wright double skin socks and Asics GEL-Trail Lahar 5 G-TX trail shoes. I carried water in a backpack with a two liter bladder. I had taped my nipples and hot spots around the balls of my feet. My watch was a simple very large faced Adidas sports watch.

I took my first walking break at 25 minutes in as I was doing a 25/5 plan. At this point and at every 30 minutes I ate a gel and energy bar. I kept this up all the way through the race. The route was very undulating with some very steep up and down hills early on. This was unexpected but didn't worry me. The course is whatever it is and you have to run it no matter what.

I mentally broke the course down into refreshment points and didn't think about the daunting length of it. I met Tom and Ross at 13 km after 1:25. We filled up my bladder and I ate a banana and took and s cap. I was completing a psychologist survey at each checkpoint and according to what I completed at the time I was very happy.

The first official checkpoint was 27 km which I got to after three hours well within cut off times. Due to the heat lots of people dropped out at this point. I took a ham roll on at this time. Things seemed ok to me. The boys were always there and were having no difficulty navigating the route.

The 37 km refreshment point was reached at 12:23, 4:23 in and everything was still fine. I took some magnesium to prevent cramping. It was at this point we popped into McDonalds and got some ice. I place most of it in my hat and a few large chunks under my sweatband on my wrist. This works really well at cooling you down. However I could have taken a burger on.

I got to the 47 km refreshment point after 5:37 and it was time for a rice pudding. The course had not yet flattened out yet and we were still going up and down hills. I couldn't believe a run down a river valley would be so hilly. By this time we had barely seen the river. One time we did it was by the side of a weir. Combined with the heat and the narrow steepness of the valley here it was incredibly humid.
I got to 56 km after seven hours and found the boys playing football after being kicked out of the petrol station refreshment point. Tom was probably smoking :-)

They were doing a good job checking that I was eating according to the plan and my food bag was empty each time I met them.

The 67 km refreshment point was reached after 8:40. The heat and hills were really slowing me down. About this time I dipped my shirt into the Ruhr to cool down. It worked for about five minutes and then started steaming.

The second refreshment point was at 81 km and I reached after eleven hours at 19:00 and this was only half an hour within the cut off. I had my first panic as I worried about reaching 115km by 1am. I relaxed quickly and resolved to shorten my walking breaks that started become ten instead of five minutes.
I sped up a little and reached 93 km at 20:40 and then 101 km at 22:05 or 14 hours. Finally I had my next rice pudding. In hindsight I should have taken this earlier. Lack of food was starting to slow me down and I wasn't doing anything sensible about it.

My head torch was on by this time and I put another t shirt on top to keep warm. However it really didn't cool down much overnight. I was on viper energy bars with caffeine in instead of home made ones. I was sweating a lot during the night and I still don't know why.

I got to the 115 km reached at 12:30 and this is when I had my secondly major wobbly. It was a major swear fest. I was really tired despite the caffeine I was taking on for the last few hours. The official checkpoint was half a kilometre from the parking places. I thought this was stupid and was f'ing and blinding all the time I was there. Tom and Ross humoured me and pulled the chair out for me to put my legs up on. I tried closing my eyes but the yak yaking of the checkpoint crews really fucked me off.

I moved off really annoyed and threw up some water and immediately felt better.
I arranged to meet the boys at 123 km and that took a lot longer than expected. Instead of just running to the meeting point, I frantically called Tom to try and work out on google maps where they were. This was a complete waste of time and wasted energy.

Finally I met Tom and collapsed into the car with my feet up on the dashboard. Ugly Unt called me and kept my chin up and I moved on after 20 minutes or so. Again I made the mistake of missing out on food.

The next official checkpoint at 130 km had to be reached by 4am. I ended up getting there at 4:40 am but was allowed to carry on. The I threw another wobbly because I couldn't find the boys. They said they were before the checkpoint , but in fact they were after it. They weren't allowed to park at the checkpoint which was not odd. I was offered food and turned it down and then sent them off too soon. The boys were really tired by now so I told them I would meet them 23km away to give them time to sleep.

I got lost several times in the dark and played leap frog with a lady called Yvonne Prommesberger, every time I past her, she was resting on a foam mattress carried by her crew of four or five blokes on bicycles. I was extremely envious of her crew and mattress. The challenge of overtaken her kept me going and gave me an opportunity to practice my German with her and her crew. One of them mentioned we had less than two marathons to go which seemed achievable.

By the time I got to official 153km check point I was completely wasted. I checked in and took a ham and cheese roll. I could have had a couple of rice puddings and gels but I wasn't thinking straight.

As I chewed on the roll and tried to swallow it, it kept coming back up and I gave up trying to eat it. It was like eating cardboard. Ross had offered to butter it at the time but I stupidly overruled him.

As I walked down the side of the Kemnade See, a large lake not far from the flat I stay in during the week, my mood dropped like a stone plummeting from the fifty second floor. I wanted to tell the boys to met me at the next checkpoint in 8km away instead of the one 21km away. But have left my phone with them to charge and forgotten to pick up Ross' as a backup.

I needed energy and didn't have anything. I also forgot to carry some cash as then I could have bought something at the Bank holiday amusement fair that was just opening up. The aroma of wurst, burgers and sundry other easily digestible food was extremely incredibly annoying. The sun was rising and it was plus 30° by 9am.

I tried to run but couldn't get going. I tried marching but that was too much. I was wilting like a flower without water and felt just as floppy.
I met some guy who was dropping from the hundred mile race. He was walking back to the 153km checkpoint and it was all too tempting.

I ask him to lend me his phone. I could have called the boys if I knew their number instead. I called Chrissy. I intended to ask her to call the boys and to get them to meet me at the 161 km checkpoint.

In a moment of weakness I blurted out that I had quit and was walking back. What an idiot!

Looking back on it I regret this more than any other dnf.

I knew that going at the speed I was moving at about 15 minutes a km was unsustainable, but with a walking rest and a ton of food I would have speeded up.

Although by this time I was ahead of Yvonne she and many others behind me finished.

By the time I got back I got to the car and the boys I was even more annoyed with myself.

I collapsed in the car and pulled my shoes and socks off. I could see them were a mass of blisters and raw skin. I hadn't noticed this at all during the race. I have subsequently lost four toenails and another two will joining shortly.
I have lost the nail on the big toe as well
What went wrong?

The bad back certainly didn't help the preparation. Putting on weight and not running knocked my confidence levels. It still isn't 100% and I had a appointment with a back specialist this week.
The nutrition plan was far to low. I could have eaten a lot lot more. In doing this I would have had far more energy and been less likely to quit. I really don't have a good relationship with food. I tend to starve and feast. I have downloaded an app for my phone to record all that I eat and make sure I keep this on an even keel. I am far too heavy for the sorts of races I do. I need to look like a POW not a Fat Unt.
Wearing gore tex shoes on a blistering hot weekend was a mistake that I won't make again.

What went right?

I covered the most distance I have done in one go since GUCR 2013.
The 25/5 worked well, thanks to Pat Robbins.
I kept going throughout the night with very little food, toughing out the battle with the chimp.
Taking magnesium granules stopped muscle cramp.
Although I through a few wobblies, I soon got over them and ignored the bad feeling I had had only moment before. Zebra think from James Adams
The ice in the wristband is very effective. A tip from the Robbie Britton.

So TorTourdeRuhr didn't quite go as planned. This was supposed to be when I started to even out the number of success to failures at plus 200km. So far I have finished Ultrabalaton in 2011 and GUCR in 2013. Failures are Sparta 2012 & 2013, Ultrabalaton 2012, the Hill 2013, and now TorTourdeRuhr. 2 to 5. Still I have three more this year and I will even it out.

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