24-hour ultra support – the real hard work
You asked…..so here it is. The view from the support team on what turned out to be one of the toughest races of my year. In her own words….my sister, Nicola (Vadar).
Well as people know me and my family are the team pyllon support crew. You usually see or hear us, shouting loudly or dashing about frantically, with looks of worry on our faces. This year we have had a new addition to the crew, my lovely monkey boy, Simon (@fellmonkey78). Yeah he runs too and has been a massive boost to the team. He does the technical bit – numbers and stuff, the bits I can’t work out in my tiny brain.
We love our boy, simple. And my view it’s our job to cater to his every need when he is racing. Yes, I know that might sound a bit dramatic, but it really is. (I am also really organised and bossy and like to run our team like an F1 crew!).
Paul trains really hard, like you would not believe. He makes sacrifices that others don’t. He goes out on those days in the middle of winter when most of us would turn our alarm off and go back to sleep. For those of you on twitter, his #444alarm really isn’t a myth. It’s the time he is out of the door EVERY morning. He generally works over 50 hours a week in a really high pressured job and spends every minute of his free time training. Yes, all of these things are his choice. He could choose to chill out on a Saturday and not go run for 9 hours in the hills, but he doesn’t and it is because of that dedication and commitment that I will never let him down as support crew, even when I want to tell him to get his own friggin’ water.
Through the summer though, Paul lured us with something a bit different. “Don’t worry, it won’t need too much support, I’ll be running round a field in 6 mile loops, so it will be a laugh for you guys, it will be like a festival Nic, chilled out vibe, camping, few drinks. Oh and its over my birthday so we can have a cool celebration”.
Ok, sounds like my kinda thing, me and monkey chops will be there.
Nothing and I mean NOTHING could be further from the truth, and no amount of previous support crew experience could prepare us for the onslaught that was to come. This was the Adidas Thunder Run 24 race.
The race started in glorious conditions, short and t-shirts all round. If anything, it was too hot, but hey it made a change from supporting in layers of Goretex. We would just have to make sure to keep Paul cool and super hydrated. He started out well, if anything too fast. Simon and I quickly settled into a wee routine, meeting him at two points on the course (which later on we would come to regret). One to give him drinks and the other to give him food about another 2 miles round. Simon gave him his splits every lap and told him to slow it down. We had taken a misting spray and cooled him down every lap, soaked his visor and sweatbands and stood back feeling pretty smug at our organisation and the envious looks from other for having brought a cooling spray.
Several laps in however, he came round to our first meeting point and looked seriously ill. He was a bit dazed and confused and looked a funny colour, and as usual, he said he was fine. Simon and I walked over to the next stop and waited to see how he was. He came in, sat down and started shivering uncontrollably, like really shivering. It was over 80 degrees, what the hell was going on?!?! We quickly realised he was suffering from some kind of heat exhaustion/stroke and probably shouldn’t continue. The mere suggestion of that was met with some stern words and Paul promptly back on his feet and off. Man that boy is one pig headed wee fecker. Simon and I decided if he was not showing signs of improvement by the next checkpoint we would physically pull him from the race. The next laps seemed to take ages as we stood there worrying. He came in finally and actually had perked up, thank goodness for his sake and ours, as I have no idea how we could have stopped him from the race.
The rest of the laps into mid evening went as planned. Paul ran, we worried and provided supplies, that was, until the sky’s darkened around 8 o’clock and things got worse and worse, all ways round.
To say the next 16 hours were hard or even a nightmare is a gross underestimation. The only way to describe it is “BRUTAL”.
The heavens opened around 8/9ish and did not let up until early morning. The biggest thunder and lightning storms. Initially, Paul got a boost from this and came round through the start/finish line whooping in delight shouting “bring it on”. Yeah, exactly what I thought……
At this point Simon and I realised that our organisation had not quite been top notch. In the glorious weather conditions weeks prior to the race we had taken all of our waterproofs out of our van. It was now like an Asian monsoon combined with a cold arctic blast! What did we have, erm shorts…..and….cotton sweatshirts and running shoes! Not the best planning. We found some umbrellas in Paul’s van and a spare fleece and waterproof which we shared for the next 16 hours.
Paul’s euphoria at the conditions didn’t last long. Every time he came round he looked more and more like a swamp monster and at times smelled like one. He was increasingly disheartened and to be honest so were we. It was rough. He was hating it and so were we. We were cold, we were hungry, but most of all we were sick with worry. Paul was really struggling. He was getting angry at the amount of mud, he was angry at the rain and he was angry at himself for falling so much, he was angry that despite the choice of 5+ more drinks, we didn’t have CHOCOLATE SOYA MILK!! We actually started to dread him coming round (sorry Paul), but we didn’t know what to say anymore. He would come round and tell us he had just fallen 9 times. I picked mud from his eyes and nose and washed his hands, but nothing was making it more comfortable for him. Nothing we could say was making him feel better. Funnily enough, when he stopped to have a pee beside us and fell in a ditch, he couldn’t even see the funny side. We did. Well more at the expletive filled rant after it as I tried to get rid of the nettles and brambles stuck to his legs.
On one particular lap he said he had gone round evacuating the carefully selected and placed food and drink stuffs we had been supplying him, from both top and bottom. I was less keen at removing the mud from him after that if I’m being honest.
So religiously Simon and I went out twice every single 6 mile lap for 24 hours, with endless choices of food, drinks and seriously racking our brains every-time to find words of encouragement or postives to look at. Words of encouragement I guess you can always find, but the hard part is finding the right ones to coincide with the mood of your runner! It doesn’t always work and at times you can have your head bitten off. But these things are not personal and you still try your best to remain chirpy. Looking for positives however, especially on this race, were harder, much harder. I mean what can positively be said when instead of the rain easing off, it just gets heavier and heavier and heavier. The course by this point is like a world war 1 trench and my brother stinks like one too!
At some point after midnight Simon and I decided we needed to rest so we would split the shifts so each could have two hours sleep and we didn’t need to share our jacket! Simon went first and I did the food and drinks and checkpoint times. Going out in the cold and dark to wait for him. It was truly grim. It was not pleasant or comfortable at any point and at some time around 3am, when hunkering on the ground under a golf umbrella in my shorts, the tears started. I was actually hating him for putting us through this. I hated seeing him so broken and cold. I couldn’t eat as I was sick, despite being hungry. I was cold. I was muddy.The hardest part for those two hours was doing it alone and having Paul come back into the ultravan to get changed. I wanted to lock the doors and keep him in there. He wanted to be in there. It was warm and cosy. So I lied. I told him it was shit in the van and he would be better outside. Neither of us bought it, but like the trooper he is, he went back out, me hiding the tears again. When he asked when the rain would stop all I could do was shrug, and say soon, I hope. I thought it best at this point not to remind him it was now his birthday!
Simon and I swapped for a while, but I couldn’t sleep. I was too tired and so cold I just couldn’t get warm. When I went back out it had finally stopped raining. I looked at Simon and he shook his head and said the boy wasn’t good. He was quite sick, but wasn’t stopping. No surprise there. I actually hated his selfishness, which at other times I would see as determination.
So we continued our shift at every two points, which really didn’t give us a lot of time between points and seeing him again. From 9am to the finish of the 24hours at midday, the clock seemed to go backwards. He came in every lap and asked if he could stop now. Simon had done the calculations and shook his head “No Paul you need to go back out for a few more.” He questioned the amount of laps he had done and insisted we had got it wrong, we hadn’t. Somewhere during the night he had gotten confused, is it any wonder? So, we continued to send him out. It was truly heartbreaking. He had lost the will to live let alone run. He was so covered in mud, he was barely recognisable. His top had rolled up so much he looked as if he was actually wearing a crop top and his concave stomach was so bloated he looked like winnie the pooh. Neither of which he found slightly amusing!
He really wanted to stop. He couldn’t. He was so close. The last few hours broke me. I cried lots. Simon was beat too. He was worried about Paul and me. My folks on the other end of a phone were worried about Paul and Simon and me. We wanted it over. The last lap was the hardest and probably longest for Paul. He had slowed to pretty much double his predicted splits. It was agony waiting. He came through and we realised the chap in second could not physically do the same amount of laps in the time remaining. “Paul, you can stop, it’s over”. He fell to the ground and we did too. We all sobbed. I genuinely mean that I have never seen three individuals so united.
This is where you think it’s over and you and rest. Wrong. The next phase of our job kicks in. You have to get him fed, comforted, cleaned, to the massage place and watch as he writhes in pain and shakes. Cleaning on this occasion however was the worst ever. Not helped by the glue like mud hardened on his body, but the fact that the showers had run out of water. It was a near impossibility to get his compression socks off and even the potential joy of ripping them off in a leg wax manner had gone. We tried our best to give him effectively a bed bath and make him feel better. It didn’t work. We were done.
He had won. He had run over a hundred and 25 miles in 23 hours and biblical conditions, but we all felt, what for? What was the point?
We waited for the prize giving. We were proud, like really. But somehow we also felt empty. Exhaustion maybe. Relief. He is safe. It’s over.
We had to leave sharpish and seeing Paul in his van in pain staying another night on his birthday, just made the heartache continue for me.
Maybe I take it too much on board, maybe I’m too dramatic, I don’t really know. But seeing someone you care deeply for struggling and in pain, even though it is their choice, is bloody hard.
We never actually spoke about the race for weeks and to be honest all the three of us can say, is still “brutal”.
Would I do it again? Of course I would, he is my little brother. Would he do it again? You’ll have to stay tuned to www.pyllon.com for the answer to that one…
Written by: Nicola Green