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between a keyboard and the hospital.

Somewhere between a keyboard and the hospital.

Many friends will know I’ve been spending the last 2 years maybe 3! working on making an expedition race happen in Ireland, it kicked off just over a week ago with 36 teams of 4 from around the world racing 550km down the west coast of Ireland. It was an event which I was really looking forward to, but as the months rattled on the workload just increased.. it was rarely anything big – just lots of it, from emails to branding, to media, to maps, to permissions, to “can I get my money back”, transfers from the airport, to volunteers.. I know in the past its been tricky but this felt like a lot. I know once in the midst of it – there is little to do but get your head down and get on with it.

But night after night after finishing in the office at 11.00 and rarely seeing the kids – still with an inbox full of well-meaning questions it was a sickening feeling, this was definitely not the life to aspire to. Joe Faulkner was a star, picking up the controls for the event and just getting on with it – Ivan Park was working hard on permissions but landowners were being a tad underhanded.. and at one point he said I’ve a tent in the car I’m thinking of heading in to the hills for a week to hide.. None of which he was facing was predictable.

I won’t bore with the details but suffice to say the weekend before the event I set off for Ireland with a VERY large trailer and a slow journey through the night to the ferry. Contrary to the expectation I put on volunteers sleep was lacking. And by the time I got to the event centre in Killarney, I was pretty broken.


Well meaning comments of you should get some sleep coupled with, when will we get our maps and do you know what we will be doing – didn’t seem to reconcile in my head. Monday before the event seem to slip through my fingers and the little mice on the team busied themselves to get ready for the 130ish racers.. I was definitely tired, I was juggling my blood sugars well and although I wished the lead up had been better – the tonic was meeting these inspirational athletes all excited to take on this event.

Equipped with a freestyle Libre and insulin pump I was able to keep my diabetes in check – the race was to start about 250 miles north the following day. With quite a bit to sort out on the start line and potentially quite a bit to go wrong I loaded the start gantry on my car along with air horn and set off to drive north to Westport House. It took me all night with that horrible need to get a nap every 90 mins. It was 8.00am before I arrived – 4 hrs before the airhorn would be sounded to signal the start.


Photo Valerie O’sullivan

The story of the race is documented elsewhere on numerous reports and videos – it is a catalogue of cancelled water stages and teams pulling out. The story was more about how to endure the weather than the scenery of Ireland. There was nothing I could do about that other than preserver with managing the event and making sure the right resources where in the right place.

Photo Valerie O'sullivan

Photo Valerie O’sullivan

But what set this event apart was that it just did not stop.. the weather turned its nasty face and whilst I was on the whole either in my car or in a transition it was clear that as one racer said the best view all week was in a cave. I really do hope these guys come back again..

Come the 2nd night of the event, another cancelled paddling stage – a Tractor with cattle trailer moving bike boxes and the prospect of the whole event being rerouted – I felt that horror, I was getting cold, very cold. For those who are reading this blog for the first time, I’ve found that during long exercise my core temperature drops to the low 30’s. So sn the midst of frustrated marshals on radios and vehicles not where we hoped and 130ish racers on an international Adventure Race, I realised the horrible prospect that Unless I got my shit together I was to be the next retirement on this event.

Finding my sleeping bag and trying to huddle down for the inevitable shivers was my priority. Karen Maynard a marshal who was wise to get a warm drink / extra clothes all in the chaos of an event that had reached it crisis point. People desperate to know what they needed to do next as I climbed in to the sleeping bag, shaking knowing my core temp was in the low 30’s.. could this get any worse?? Whilst I concentrated hard to relax I was feeling that my world and this project was falling apart. I was no longer in a place to offer direction or any kind of decision making, my ability to look after myself was slowly passing and I was increasingly reliant on others around me to keep me warm with drinks and extra clothing – the slightly inevitable utterance of an ambulance, hospital buzzed the room.

Charlotte our event doctor arrived – torn between keeping me going and managing the event control for the event was an impossible task. But she rightly prioritsed and saw what was needed to be done.

Its amazing where clarity in decision making comes, and I saw it right there – at that moment curled up on the floor, shivering to be honest in tears, hiding in a sleeping bag. This was the last time I do this.. my role in this event was central to many of the decisions that had to be made right then and I couldn’t do it. Not only was it difficult for me but was unfair on the marshal who wanted me at their side, shouting at me down the radio to come over an explain to the team about to arrive why their kit bag was not there. Or to the competitors who now found themselves off the water due to the inclement weather.. it was not right.

To be honest it was only 20 mins and I started to bounce out of this, shivering I got up and found my laptop trying to come up with a plan – with a shortness of breath I’d desperately try and work out what to do and where the event should go in the midst of now no ferry across the Shannon. Like some war room I dispatched my thoughts on an email and went back to the sleeping bag in the floor (pretty sure 2 or 3 teams will never forgive me for some of those decisions in that moment, I did what I thought was best).

That night for that 30 mins or so I knew I was the wrong person to the the Race Director of the ITERA. A few people since then has said you should just hold off on any decision. Well I’m definitely not saying this is the end. But unless I get this cold thing properly fixed I won’t be putting myself in that situation ever again – its not right for the participants or the volunteers on the event.

At the same time it occurred to me that there was one common factor with the ultra running getting cold experiences and that was exhaustion. Not to the extreme – I clearly was knackered and it didn’t take a feather to knock me over. I don’t for one minute think it was stress as much as a few people have suggested so. I know stress and whilst this event had it stressful moments it was not this that had sent me in to a hypothermic spin.

Neither was it directly my diabetes.. no low blood sugars and whilst there maybe a connection with an autoimmune deficiency.. its not Type 1 diabetes – to the point it makes me a little rattled when people do suggest that it is.. or that I’m cold because I am type 1. 98% of the time my diabetes is kept in check and can be managed, as is the case with most T1’s. Its not helpful for those who are affected with T1 – to put them in a box that they are incapable of getting on with life.. (Roddy Riddle, Miss Jen Greaves, Dave Sowerby, for want of a better word heroes in my world).

Nope this cold this is very different.. and whilst having Type 1 D is a royal pain in the rear – it be no reason not to run this event (or a country – Theresa May).

Teams passed through this transition and rather than moving on to a tent used for the coasteering or a bus shelter on the ferry crossing. I elected to hang back and see this location shut down. It was a great chance to chat to people towards the back of the event, and some who had sadly decided to pull out.

I called Lisa to let her know, I could feel the sense of relief she had. It was definitely the right decision… I headed with the mobile event control south to the finish line. The exhaustion factor had bothered me and I resolved that I would try and get some sleep.. as much as possible. I am one of these people who struggles to watch a fellow marshal unload a van and stand idle by, something rather perverse about that. So it was a tremendous strain to keep myself away.

Finances dictated that whilst it would have been nice to put all the marshals up in the Gleneagle Hotel – the competitors were not paying enough to make that maths add up. So we had said camping – I very much felt it was unfair to ask others to camp if I was tucked up snug in a room. I’ve been there before and then sense of them and us this creates is palatable. Still I was getting cold – I’d have to put my principles aside (so if you are a marshal reading this I’m sorry).. Ivan sorted out a room for the family not far from the hotel.

Photo Valerie O'sullivan

Photo Valerie O’sullivan

I’ve no doubt this race will go down in AR folklore as one that definitely defied every attempt from the weather to stop it from finishing. In so many ways the teams that crossed the line had a greater sense of achievement from reaching the end than any placing in the leaderboard (OK there are a few who don’t think like that). They should be proud – I’m proper jealous.. the prospect of being in their shoes just seems so far away.

The final day for me was marred by disputes over placings, and this is by no means the place to go in to the details. A lonely place for an RD as you seek to pick out the right way forward knowing that good friends and honest racers will be unhappy with the outcome. Suffice to say whilst it is unpleasant it is not in anyway the reason for me not running another ITERA in the near future. It is purely down to getting cold.

Photo Valerie O'sullivan

Photo Valerie O’sullivan

The awards ceremony was an emotional one, there was a huge amount of respect out there for the marshals and was so grateful to the teams that recognised these guys. It would have been so easy (and reasonable!) for them to say no we can’t do any more.

So the following day I set off with a large trailer back to the UK.. 18hrs later I climbed in to bed for a few hours.. two hours later I was unpacking said trailer and soon after that I was on a train to Sheffield – this endurance race had not ended for me quite yet. I had an appointment with a consultant at Sheffield Hospital about why I was getting cold – it took nearly 6 months to get this appointment and I was not going to miss it.

another blog for another day.

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