Thursday, 15 March 2012

Fairy Glimpses!

No going back now! I managed to pack almost everything I needed for my trip to the West Country – there seemed t be so much to remember! Train tickets and times, the B&B and how to get there from the station, booking details, money to pay for it, tickets to Bath for Race Day, camera, Garmin, meter, strips, insulin pens and needles and sundry medications, changes of clothes, toiletries, Kindle to  read on the train, reading glasses. hypo treatments and snacks, phone, and of course the fairy outfit – socks, dress, wand, wig and wings! The only thing I forgot was the phone, which was still sat there happily charging away on the table at home when I was about fifteen minutes into the journey, and would still be sat there when I got home two days later!

Bristol was already warm when I arrived, not hot, but worryingly warm for someone contemplating running thirteen miles clad in the world’s finest nylon accoutrements. After spending a very pleasant afternoon with some of the forum members, and trying desperately hard to avoid drinking beer in the pub, I retired for an evening in front of the telly back at the B&B, and hopefully a peaceful night’s sleep. Unfortunately, I hardly slept at all, partly because I was so worried about not waking up in time and missing the race. The way these events are run, you have to be there in plenty of time before the start – runners would be called to the start a whole hour before the gun, and I also had to consider the train journey and time to get to the venue and get changed. A rich person would probably have stayed at the Carfax Hotel on Great Pulteney Street, from where they could have walked down the stairs from their room to the start line in about a minute. However, I am not a rich person, so for me the day started with a twenty five minute walk, a train journey and another ten minute walk to the start!

At the DUK stand before the race

They advise you not to do anything differently on Race Day to what you would normally do on one of your long training runs. This is not possible, firstly because of the reasons I’ve just stated above, but also, as an insulin-dependent diabetic, I have to time my food and injections so that I have sufficient of both at the right time to get me through the race. On a training run I decide when this conjunction of circumstances will occur, but with the race starting at 11 am, I had to think long and hard about how I might achieve it. If I ate and injected around 7:30 then I would have little circulating insulin remaining at 11:00. On the other hand, I didn’t really want to wait until much later to eat and inject because my blood sugar rises if I don’t have food an insulin shortly after rising.

In the end I decided I would get up early enough to inject and eat so that it would be time for my next meal around an hour before the start. I decided against partaking of the continental breakfast offered by the hotel, with its unpredictable carbs, and had a pot of instant porridge made up with hot water from the kettle. Normally, I would just have a slice of Burgen toast which is about half the carbs of the porridge, but I didn’t want to risk giving myself too much insulin so erred on the side of caution, expecting to be on the high side when I got to Bath. Injecting at 5:30 meant that most of the insulin would be ‘done’ by around 9:30, when I planned to have a cereal bar and more insulin to get me through the race.

I decided to go for one of the earlier trains, just in case there were delays or overcrowding on the later trains, so set off at around 7:55. It was a reassuringly damp, cool and misty morning, although the forecast was for a warm, calm and sunny day ahead. Typically, I had missed a bus by a couple of minutes so I decided to walk to the station at a gentle pace. It took about twenty five minutes and I was already feeling warm at the end of it. There were already hundreds of runners on the platform, so I walked to one end where there were some seats and decided to test my blood. Problem number one – try as I might, I couldn’t get any blood out of my fingers. It was then I realised that there were no lancets in the finger-pricker! This was the finger pricker I had planned to take on the course with me, so a good job I had tried to use it beforehand! Luckily, I had another finger-pricker – my normal ‘everyday’ one – so succeeded in the test. I was 4.2 mmol/l! Will omeone please tell me how, when I have eaten more carbs than usual, reduced insulin, and had a gentle walk of a mile or so, my levels were half what they would have been if I’d my usual carbs and insulin and gone for a five-mile run?!!! I popped in a couple of jelly babies to top myself up!

Stupid spibelt!

The train arrived on time and we all piled on. The train was actually the Cardiff to London service, and I felt very sorry for anyone who was getting on at Bristol who wasn’t a runner as it was quickly standing room only! I’d managed to bag a seat though, so had a relatively comfortable journey. We were delayed for about ten minutes coming into Bath Spa, for no apparent reason (none was given), and finally offloaded onto the crowded platform. I hadn’t bothered to print off details of how to get to the Runner’s Village from the station since I (quite correctly) assumed I would just be able to follow the other runners.

It was fairly busy in the Village, with everyone milling around in their running kit. What alarmed me slightly though was that, scanning across the multitude, I could not discern a single person in a costume! Surely I wasn’t going to be the only one! I plucked up my courage and entered the male changing tent, fairy outfit in hand…

Lots of very serious-looking runners stretching and applying their various salves and balms to ward off cramps and friction injuries turned their eyes towards me as I donned my gossamer gown. I informed them that it was quite possible I would be in the wrong changing tent by the time I had completed my transformation…

Since it was now around 1:20 before the start, I injected and ate my cereal bar. Testing before the injection showed that my two jelly babies (and possibly a late peak from the porridge) had raised my levels to 10.4 mmol/l. I included a correction unit of insulin, but was a little worried that, since it was now much later in the morning, my insulin sensitivity might have increased so that my ratios would be closer to my lunchtime than my breakfast ones. I didn’t want to risk giving myself too little or too much, so I asked myself ‘What would Goldilocks do?’ and plumped for a dose that was somewhere in the middle of the doses I had been contemplating. Not very scientific, I know!

I stepped out into the village and instantly started to receive amused glances. I was a little downhearted when the reply to my question ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ received the reply ‘Yes, I’m afraid it does!’ I decided to go and find the Diabetes UK stall where a couple of young ladies showed a little trepidation as I approached them in all my glory. We chatted a little about DUK and also DWED, the chief reason for my somewhat unusual appearance. They took a couple of pictures of me and then, with a wave of my silvery wand, I was gone and off to the start line! At this point I had yet to see another person in costume…

Scanning the crowds assembled at the start, I spotted two people who were clearly not in Nike so I decided to go and have a chat with them. They turned out to be two young students, Charlie and Miami, who were dressed rather splendidly as Dastardly and Muttley. It was their first event and they were a little worried about the heat as the Sun was now beating down on us and tere was nary a cloud in sight. Charlie was concerned that she might get sunburnt in the shape of her Muttley outfit on her face, and given that I ended up catching the Sun on my décolletage, I imagine her worst fears proved true!

Miami and Charlie aka Dastardly and Muttley!

The announcer counted down and the starting gun went off! Nobody moved. By now, the elite men had probably covered  a few hundred yards and were well into their first mile. We all moved forward slightly, then stopped again. There were probably something like ten thousand people in front of us, and it takes a few minutes to get everyone moving safely. Finally, we could all take a few steps forward, then move from a slow walk to a gentle jog. Off in the distance the actual start line appeared and as we approached a tremendous cacophony built up, formed by the thousands of computer chips registering as the runners passed over the mats at the true beginning of the race. I pressed the button on my Garmin so I would be able to keep an eye on my position throughout the race.

After a couple of minutes there was a gentle downhill section, and it was whilst running down this that I discovered I had a problem, possibly a big one. I was wearing a spibelt around my waist which contained my meter and finger-pricker, novorapid pen and needles, hypo treatments and general sustenance and my small camera. On a training run I would not normally be carrying so much stuff, but I hadn’t wanted to leave my camera in my bag and it fitted neatly into one of the pouches so I thought it would be fine. Unfortunately, it appeared that the weight of all the objects was too much for the normally unnoticeable belt and it began bouncing up and down as I ran. In fact, it began bouncing mostly down and began to slip off my waist, threatening to wrap itself round my ankles like a bolas! For the next couple of miles I had to keep trying to pull it back up which really disrupted the beginning of my run. Not a great start.

I finally decided  that, since even tucking it into my shorts beneath my costume didn’t work, I had to stop and sort it out, so at the first water station I walked on a little way  and stopped to consider how to solve the problem. I decided that the only thing that was vaguely likely to work would be if I strung it across my shoulder in the manner of a holster, which was a bit awkward because my wings got in the way! I got going again and it seemed satisfactory, although I was very aware that it was now rubbing on the side of my neck. Sure enough, I am still suffering from a sore neck two days later!

It was only really at this point, having got the niggling problem more or less sorted, that I began to notice what was going on around me. The crowds were absolutely fantastic in their support! I was no longer some anonymous runner, undistinguishable from the motley crown – I was ‘fairy’, ‘fairy godmother’, ‘angel’ and (from a group of student lads drinking beer by a roadside pub) ‘weird fairy-man’! Every time I rounded a corner or came into view I would get a loud, enthusiastic cheer, which gave me a real boost and I waved my wand vigourously back at them. It was so lovely especially to see little children mouth the word ‘fairy’ with pure enchantment in their voices and faces as their parents pointed me out. I only hope that the experience hasn’t scarred them for life!

As we approached five miles the marshalls asked us to keep to the left as the lead runners were coming through. They were, effectively, around six miles in front of us on the two-lap course, and came flying past at an unbelievable pace. When you are used to being surrounded by less-than-perfect specimens of the human race it can be quite a surprise to encounter such athletic perfection as it rapidly recedes into the distance. As the race progressed, the elite came past in ever-increasing groups and their pace gradually declined until it more or less matched the rest of us and I realised at that point that probably all the good runners had finished by now and we were in fact at the tail-end of the race…

I quite enjoyed the fact that it was a two-lap race. This meant that we got to see the front runners, and also meant that by the time I reached the second lap things started to become familiar. This included many of the people who had cheered me on the first time, and now did so again with equal gusto, as if they were old friends I had known all my life! One particularly familiar face stood out as I passed seven miles when I heard my name (Alan, rather than ‘fairy’!) and turned to see Shiv who had come out to cheer me on! I stopped and had a brief chat (glad of it as there was a little uphill section just ahead). As I set off again up the hill I was really surprised at what a boost it have given me to see someone I actually know and it felt like a new lease of life with just six miles remaining.

After about another mile I decided that it would be prudent to check my blood sugar levels, so I stopped off by one of the first aid checkpoints where the medical-looking procedure wouldn’t look out of place and in case there were any squeamish spectators around. I was pleased to see that I was at 5.3 mmol/l, just about perfect, so my strategy before the race was obviously working well. I had a couple of jelly babies to sustain me through the remaining five miles.

By this point the heat was definitely taking its toll. I wasn’t actually tired and my legs felt quite strong, but I found I had to run and walk for the remainder of the course as I quickly began to overheat during the running sections. I put on a couple of Usain Bolt-style sprints to amuse the crowds and got a great response. As I passed a small family group I asked them if I was winning and the all laughed, which I took to mean that I had probably blown my chances of taking the top step of the podium. In fact, thinking about it, by now the winners would have had their presentations and no doubt be back in their hotels having a nice long soak in their ice-baths – luxury!

As we approached two miles to go I found myself in the company of a large group of extremely fit-looking Frenchmen who were carrying between them two chair-like structures containing children. The children looked very happy and the Frenchmen were full of enthusiasm as they chanted and sang as they ran. I also came across a young man dressed from head to toe in a lion outfit who actually looked hotter than me. He had removed the head and was carrying it beneath his arm like in the song by Stanley Holloway. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time as he started training in the cold winter months, but here on the hottest day of the year so far it was proving very difficult. We sympathised with each other and decided as we reached the final corner onto Great Pulteney Street that we would pick up speed and keep going to the finish.

Me and The Lion

The clock on the finish gantry showed 2 hours 56 minutes as I sprinted (!!!) triumphantly through, the lion at my side. Taking into account the fact it had taken me nearly six minutes to get past the start line, my actual finish (or ‘chip’) time was 2 hours and 51 minutes. I stopped my Garmin as I crossed and looked down – it showed 13.28 miles covered in 2 hours and 42 minutes, which confused me for quite a few minutes until I realised that the Garmin stops timing when you are not moving – I had been still for nine minutes variously adjusting my spibelt, talking to Shiv and testing my levels!

As I made my way through the finish, collecting my goody bag and having my race chip removed I heard the radio commentator interviewing Charlie and Miami aka Dastardly and Muttley who had finished about fime minutes after me. It was good to hear their enthusiasm as the both said how much they had enjoyed themselves and would definitely be doing it again! I might have had an interview myself, but the large party of Frenchmen had finished immediately before me and both me and the lion passed by unnoticed. A shame, as I would have liked to have got a plug in for DWED.

Once in the changing tent (again, lots of amused glances!) I tested and found myself to be 4.1 mmol/l, so pretty darned perfect I thought! I topped up with a couple of jelly babies, pleased that my levels had behaved well and not caused me any problems – after all, this was actually my longest run since The Hague half marathon exactly four years previously, which was three months before I was diagnosed.

Getting back to the B&B after a very cramped train journey back to Bristol I managed to get a few minutes on the lobby computer so I could let people know on the forum that I had made it. I was choked up to see that, in my absence, the members had rallied to help me reach my sponsorship target – how fantastic! All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my day, despite the physical distress I went through. The event was extremely well managed and supported fantastically by the public and running in costume had made the whole occasion extra-special because of all the superb encouragement I got from the crowds. I’m already planning my next one!

Time               2 hours 42 mins (plus 9 mins stationary!)
Distance        13.28 miles
Pace               12:16 per mile
BG before      8.5 mmol/l
BG during      5.3 mmol/l
BG after         4.1 mmol/l

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