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Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
When I started this blog, it was to track my progress from an occasional kayaker to taking on the Devizes to Westminster non stop 125 race. Little did I know that would start me on a long distance obsession which has resulted in my completing the 30th Marathon des Sables. It has been a strange and sometimes painful ... but always wonderfully challenging journey

This is my occasional account of a middle-age mother's attempt to take on things which are really quite beyond her.

Race Day Report Part Two - World Quadrathlon Championships. Tough on the Supporters too.

crawlingkiwiby crawlingkiwiAug 25th 2011
The role of supporter is hugely under-estimated - all the focus is on the athlete, but the organisation and demands on those of us left holding the water bottles and outer-layers is simply not understood. Our preparation, health, fitness, lung capacity and emotional stability, needs to be second to none if we're to make it from the start line to the finish in one piece.

And so started race day - World Quadrathlon Championships 2011, Sedlcany, Czech Republic. After breakfast in our funny little room - bread, cheese and sliced meat, very continental - Marthe and I headed off on foot/by cycle to find her spot in the third transition area in the central square. This being a quadrathlon, there were three separate transition areas: swim to kayak was next to the lake, kayak to cycle was up a short steep slope and cycle to run was in the centre of Sedlcany. We found her number by the rack and deposited a drinks bottle in her numbered box and looked for some markers to try and help her find it again a few hours later. In the 'heat of battle' it can be difficult finding the exact spot and I recall with horror a triathlon where I couldn't find where to leave my bike, then couldn't get my shoes on as for some inexplicable reason I had decided to shove socks in the toes of my trainers and then I seemed unable to make sense of the sign which said 'run route, out'. Of course I had also tried to start that particular race wearing my new tri-suit back to front, which may of course be why I am these days supporting during a quadrathlon instead of humiliating myself on the start-line.

Marthe however, was able to see her transition 3 space,so it was off to transition 2, Marthe cycled while I collected the car and drove. Steve (GB Team Manager extraordinaire) had already arrived with all the boats and was carrying them down to get good spots in Transition 1. As virtually all of the GB team were doing the longer distance event which started before the Junior, Youth and Sprint races, the other athletes were soon warming up and getting into wetsuits. Numbers were drawn on the athletes and in one case, were then scribbled out, leaving a large fairly permanent reminder of a volunteer's inaccurate numbering. A couple of us were given the particularly important job of hoisting the British flag - well one of those long flag/banner things - which let everyone know we were here. I was a bit concerned about waving the GB flags around everywhere, as a good Kiwi girl this is a first time I've waved the Union Jack about and I was concerned my mother might find a way of berating me from beyond the grave. But I decided she'd probably understand and would forgive my being a turn-coat (it's not as though I was supporting the English rugby team, after-all)..

The forecast had been for light rain which would have made the cobbled approach to the town lethal, but the weather was holding out. So much so in fact, that as the sun began shining with a vengeance I realised we had forgotten the sun block, so jumped in the car and dashed back to the hotel. Or I would have done, had a series of road blocks and diversions not been put in place for the race: police were already out in force re-directing traffic and roads I had driven down a short time earlier were now one way in the other direction. I drove aimlessly in circles for a while following arrows which seemed designed to keep me moving in concentric circles, before I decided to follow a local driver who ignored one of the road blocks, simply driving round it. I should add that I knew the cycle hadn't yet started so I wouldn't be causing any accidents!

The longer race had already started by the time I made it back and the GB team were putting in some excellent swims and smooth transitions into their boats. I had been concerned about the 2 small landing stages, but the swimmers were so strung out by the time they collected their boats there was no real problem getting back on the water. The conditions were perfect for both the swim and the paddle and although some black clouds tried to look threatening, the rain stayed away and the clouds blocked the worst of the heat. After lounging around watching and cheering on British competitors and eyeing up Marthe's competition, it was time to get Marthe into her wetsuit. I'm not sure why, but it proved particularly difficult this time and I was quite tired by the time I had hoisted and zipped her up. Next time I should perhaps do some more stretches before I offer to help.

After the wetsuit trial, it was almost time for the shorter distance event to start. The start buoys were moved and the competitors entered the water. My 'very important role' as supporter was about to get underway. The announcements had said in both Czech and English that they would be told 'Ready, Bang' and sure enough as I was busy chatting to my sister they did indeed go 'Ready Bang' and they were off. I busied myself with the video camera, realising about a minute later that I had completely forgotten to start the stop-watch. Support Failure One. I came clean to Steve that I had already failed, but was at least able to redeem myself slightly by starting to time as Marthe exited the water at the start of Transition 1. A couple of girls were in front of her,but she was almost 5 minutes ahead of the next person in her age-group. Transitions have never been Marthe's strong-point, but she didn't have any problems getting out of the wetsuit and calmly putting her boat into the water.

I passed the next Support test, accurately getting splits for getting onto the water and even counting the 3 laps. Marthe built the lead up to 6 minutes and after the next transition onto the bike, set off 6 1/2 minutes ahead of the next girl; only one other was ahead of her and she was in the next age-group. Personally, I was getting quite exhausted by this stage. I had been running between transition points, waving flags, intermittently working a stop watch and gathering up bits of kit. Plus I was as nervous as hell. The swim and the paddle were Marthe's strongest elements and she knew that if she was to stand any chance of winning, she had to build up a lead at this point. She was still also barely at 70% fitness with glandular fever and although she could do each element individually reasonably well, the impact of the virus would be seen as the race progressed. The cycle was also the first time in the race that she would be out of sight and I was worried for her health, her ability to remember during the race, which side of the road she should be cycling on, whether her nutrition and fluid intake would be sufficient, etc etc etc.

We took the car back to the hostel (taking care not to get in the way of the cyclists racing along the main road) and headed for the main square on foot. Just after we arrived the first British competitor finished in 3rd place and was swiftly followed by several others who finished in the top 15. Josh, another Youth competitor came in after a strong cycle and set off on his run looking very strong. Last year's World Champion, Josh came into the even at a huge disadvantage, having been unable to train for 6 weeks after surgery to his hand following an accident. The pins had only been removed a few days earlier and at this stage in the race, his performance was amazing. Eventually Marthe came into view, looking tired and determined. and set out on the run. Her lead over her competition had dropped to just 3 minutes and there was very vocal support for the Czech girl as she came through transition. I had seen Marthe stumble a minute or so into the run and I was concerned whether she was injured. Again, this is where a supporter's role becomes unbearable - you simply have no idea what is going on while they are out on the run. I didn't know who would be in the lead, who was more tired or what the outcome would be. Apparently during the run, and after another fall which twisted her ankle badly, Marthe started speaking in Spanish to one of the other competitors (he was actually Spanish, she didn't just choose a random language). She asked him if there was a girl behind her, to which he replied yes, about 400m away. I think she nearly gave in at this point, but when she couldn't see who he was talking about, she dug deeper and kept going. (We realised later, it was one of the older competitors who was having a superb run and finished just behind Marthe.)

Back at the square I could barely breathe. Someone in yellow came into view and I thought it was Marthe's main competition, but after I calmed down I realised it was a balding man and not an attractive blonde 17 year old. In the meantime, the other British competitors were finishing with some excellent results - Josh was beaten into 2nd place by just 27 seconds,which was amazing given his injury. Finally, I couldn't believe it when Marthe came into view. There was no-one in her wake, no sign at all of the other girls as she made her way up the final hill to the finish line. Despite her obvious exhaustion she was able to smile down the finish straight as she realised she was going to win.

There was sobbing on the finish line. And I think Marthe shed a tear or two as well. It has been such a long and difficult journey for her over the past 18 months and while she's no-where near full health, this has been a remarkable achievement and has shown her sheer determination. She finished almost 9 minutes ahead of the next Youth girl becoming Youth World Whampion; was seond U18 home and was third woman overall in the Sprint distance.

I will accept that Marthe had a right to be a bit tired after all that, but do spare a thought for the supporters who emotionally go every inch of the 750m swim, the 4km paddle, the 20km cycle and the 5km run. When Marthe complained that she was almost as exhausted as me when she supported me through the night on Helen and my 27 hour 125 mile DW race this year, I scoffed. But now I think I know what she meant. Becoming World Champion is hard,but it's damned tough on the supporters too!

Results of all GB competitors.
GB Men - 2nd Team
Steve Clark 2nd M, 3rd Overall
Mat Stephenson 1st M40, 7th Overall
Ian Smith 1st M50, 9th Overall
Phil Binch 4th M40, 15th Overall
Nigel Crowe 4th M50, 21st Overall
David Baker 7th M50, 30th Overall
Tim Deykin 10th M50, 41st Overall

Helen Dyke 3rd W, 3rd Overall
Alison Deykin 2nd W40, 8th Overall

Sprint Event, Junior, Youth and Open
Josh Hook 2nd M Youth
Marthe de Ferrer 1st F Youth
Tony Runnegar 1st M40, 2nd Open
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