XNRG 66 mile Pilgrim Challenge, 1-2 February 2020

Goal: to have fun with my Cape Wrath teamies … oh, and test run kit, run strategy, multi-stage nutrition, overnight kitbag and sleeping arrangements …

I don’t run to add days to my life; I run to add life to my days.” – Ronald Rook.


James, Beky and me … ready as we’ll ever be …

Questions to answer: Which pack?  Which poles?  Which gloves? Would the run:walk strategy we’d be rehearsing stand the test of 66 miles? Could I both get some sleep on my two folded exped mats as well as not fall off them? How would my no-sugar nutrition requirements manage away from home?

The Pack:

I’ve shrunk.  The larger capacity Ultimate Direction FKT Vest worn on 2nd day bounced around because I couldn’t tighten the sternum strap enough, forcing me to tighten the lower strap uncomfortably on my tummy to keep it still.

Result: Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest won hands-down because I realised that on Day One I didn’t even notice it!  Capacity is considerably less and I like things to be handy, so have ordered an OMM chest pod (good reviews so worth a try), not so much to add 4 more litres of pack capacity (I want to run as light as possible!), but to be able to distribute the day’s hill requirements more logically.  The Votwo 3 day Coastal Challenge at the end of March will provide another test opportunity.

The Poles:

Day 1 tested Leki Traveller telescopic poles set at 130cm; my fancy folding ones have such a tight ‘shark’ attachment thingie, I struggle to detach myself from them – very frustrating.  The extra length the telescopic ones offer enable my hands to stay high when running with them, especially given the strap-pole connection is part-way down the handle.  Loved them – great day run:walking with poles helping every step of the (ridiculously muddy) way.  

Day 2 was time for the Black Diamond folding 125cm poles to come out to play, without bothering with the strap (useless and therefore stressful); day 2 was warmer, so my Salomon long gloves came off quite early.  Big mistake.  2 weeks later the blood blister on my L palm is still visible.  I ended up having to put my gloves back on again because my palms were so tender.  

Result: loved using both types of poles, and given there’s always a danger of breakage, will take both with me to Cape Wrath … and short gloves!!

Bedtime:

I’m a side-sleeper and need my bottom arm to be straight and my top leg to be bent – I cannot sleep any other way.  When I tested my fancy new down exped sleep mat in November, it was too narrow for my sleeping-style and I kept falling off.  How bigger folk stay on it is a complete mystery to me. I know that tent-space is going to be very limited, and whilst having a ‘double bed’ was never going to be an option, I need a BIT more space for my flailing limbs. I dug out an ancient mat I’d tucked away from camping days with the kids, put only a bit of air into each, folded them in the middle creating a V-like shape, and laid them on top of a layer of rug gripper to stop them moving around (genius improvisation, I thought!).  The top one had the width for my straight arm and the bottom had the width for my bent leg.

Result: VERY comfortable initially (like I would imagine a water-bed might feel like!) and then hopeless: the top part of the ‘V’ grew through the night to the extent I fell into the ‘separation’, with the lateral borders slamming into Beky’s face, lying ’next-door’!  I have since bought ironing board clips and will test their efficacy in holding the ‘V’ tightly together in March, hopefully without puncturing the mat walls – either I’ll have nailed it by the end of 3 nights of camping with my teamies on the Cornish coast … or I’ll have been booted out the bivvy!

Fears that I wouldn’t be warm enough in my Nemo sleeping bag (with wide girth – no ‘mummifying’ for me!) were unfounded; I was so warm I had to sleep on top of it. That said, we were in a school hall with 200 other runners, all sweating it out!  Work in Progress …

Kitbag:

Consisted of a 79 litre Ortlieb ‘sausage’ which appeared to be bottomless, and was recommended by the Cape Wrath Ultra organisers.  What appeared to be loads of space in the dark recesses of a long black tube, was filled too quickly because packing couldn’t be strategic, efficient and space-saving; packing was just ‘falling stuff in through the top’.  Nightmare.  Unpacking was equally inefficient; everything had to come out, and everyone who knows me knows I’m messy and chaotic.  I try to be tidy and … after a few minutes of anything, I’m not.  Day to day, I organise myself by having ‘things in their place’ and use boxes and containers everywhere.  

My dry bags had been packed with such organisation in mind, but because they weren’t transparent, I was none the wiser when they were hauled out the black sausage.  Fatigue didn’t help and I went to bed surrounded by stuff spilling everywhere … having not slept well, fatigue in the morning didn’t help my cause and despite starting ’reveille’ with over 2 hours to go before race briefing, I was still late … and therefore stressed. 

BIG LEARNINGS.  Probably the biggest of the weekend’s adventuring!

Result: bought a 80 litre (still legal) kitbag, opening on the long side of the sausage, and a pile of clear plastic compression bags that you can roll the air out and SEE what’s in them.  Yes, I know I could label everything, but when exhausted that would require me to read the labels and compute what they meant; being familiar with my ultra-distance brain-fog, I know that SEEING is my best bet for faff-minimisation. I’m optimistic for March’s adventure …

Nutrition:

Day 1 was fairly easy to control and eat ‘normally’; buttered coffee to-go was breakfast, the run was fuelled on that plus a few Fatt bars (2 grams of carbs each one) and, in case the menu didn’t have anything ‘carnivore without carbs’, I took a box full of lamb chops for dinner – bbq’d the previous day.  Good job I did; apparently the lasagne was lovely, but I knew my pancreas wouldn’t have agreed.

Day 2 started badly.  No coffee machine (obvs – what was I thinking?  I think the answer is: I wasn’t), the repacking faff meant I didn’t even finish the cup of tea I‘d made, and I totally blew it by both eating breakfast at 0530 hrs when I never eat before 1100 hrs, AND by eating something new.  What a numpty mistake.  ‘Keto granola’ was on trial: bits of seeds and flakey stuff soaked in almond milk.  Tasted disgusting and sat in my stomach making me nauseous until I finally stopped at nearly the half way point (I just couldn’t wait any longer) to finish the now-lukewarm tea that I’d chucked into my thermos at the last moment. Never has a lukewarm cuppa hit the spot so well … 

Result: have bought an uber-lightweight camping ‘pour over’ coffee drip thing and will have to take my favourite ground coffee with me. I know I thrive on starting each day with my 2 buttered coffees, so need to take responsibility for my body’s needs instead of hoping they’ll be provided for. I think we ALL must have body quirks of some form or other, mine just happen to be pancreas-related, and having suffered badly with event gastric distress for years – and having FOUND the solutions – it’s madness to attempt to fall in line with ‘event-provided-provisions’.

With a 20kg weight limit in the max 80 litre kitbag, I’m going to have to forego some items in order to fit in over a week’s worth of ground coffee and biltong … fresh clothes won’t help me complete, but great coffee and the nutrition-that-consistently-works-for-me WILL.

Race Strategy: RESULT!!!  Day 2 faster than Day 1, despite feeling sub-optimal for the first 13 miles and needing several poo stops to eliminate sawdust-granola in the second half.  The goal was to keep a steady pace with a run:walk strategy that staved off fatigue for as long as possible.  We crept up the field in best hare-and-tortoise style … ✨👣🐢👣✨

With thanks – as ever – to Neil, Anna, Brain and the entire, most wonderful XNRG team … you enable us, you inspire us and you keep us going 🌈 … and to my wonderful teamies, Beky and James, who – enjoying the adventures as much as I do – are clearly VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE 🥰👣♾👣🥰

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