The Vanguard Way: day 1Dominic Scotting
Monday 29 October 2012
The night before I had made my preparations, well as much as would be possible considering I am chronically disorganised; bag packed, kit checked and re checked I thought I was ready. So when the bell rang at 3:15pm on Friday to mark the start of the weekend I thought I should be ready go, sadly as ever this wasn’t the case. So as quickly as I could I piled through the myriad of ‘little jobs’ that teachers have left to do after school. By 4:30pm I was now really ready for the off. Thankfully, Mrs S had come to pick me up as I hadn’t fancied my usual cycle commute so close to the big day and so we swiftly made our way home. Once we had gotten home we quickly rallied the troops, (Baby Scotting, my mother and stepfather) and got on the road. It took us around 5.5hrs to get to the metropolis that is Croydon, including a short stop for what supposedly passes for food in a motorway service station. When we arrived at our Travel Lodge we were greeted by a slightly rotund lady, who courteously explained that one of the rooms we had booked was out of action due to an over powering stench of vomit, which had kindly been left by the last occupants. We were quickly offered an equally unappetising, but available, room and hurriedly ushered off - least we cause any further interruption to her crisp munching and TV watching. The rooms were grim and the sleep was bad, before I knew it 6:30am was upon me and Baby Scotting was awake and pawing at my face, ah it must be race day I winced to myself. No rest for the wicked This preamble to the race was really characteristic of my experiences throughout Operation Ultra – not enough time and not enough sleep. And so just before 8am I arrived at the race HQ, only to find I couldn’t really see any race HQ – as a road runner I had been expecting the usual throng of lean runners stretching sinewy legs before the off. In fact, what I found was a small group of eccentric but happy looking people eating cake and drinking tea in a cricket pavilion this looked like a cross between a ramblers meeting and an advert for Millets. I could tell this was going to be something different. Time seemed to pass quite quickly as I went through my usual prerace prep and we were soon having are race briefing. The organisers seemed really friendly and well organised. As the race was so small they even seemed to know a lot of the runners by name, something I had never encountered before at the bigger races. And so kit checked, warnings given and bowels evacuated it was time for the off. We gathered on the start line looking like a group hyperactive hill walkers the countdown came and we were off. Or rather we weren’t off because rather than the instant sprint away from the start we stumbled from the start lost within our first few steps. Where were we going? We had a route card but no map, running whilst reading isn’t something I had ever tried to do before and I had never run a race without clear markings! I knew I was in trouble within a few meters. For the first couple of miles I stayed with the main pack following their mistakes and cursing myself for not having reccied the route. After a while I fell in with a few guys at the front we got chatting and after a while it became clear that one of them, Ozgur, was a local, he explained that he had actually run the first 25 miles of the course and knew it well. I was saved! This was exactly what I needed. So I stuck with Ozgur like glue, he was a really nice guy and the time passed quite quickly, this was someone who a little while earlier I had never met before and now we were exchanging life stories. We made our way through the first 2 check points with little to no problems, the only events of any note being the massive flooding we incurred where we had to wade across rivers to get to their bridges! Before we knew it we were heading on towards mile 25, we had passed all of the rest of the field and were out in front, we knew the elite runners would be closing on us but Ozgur was confident that they would be struggling with the directions and this moment of schadenfreude did bring us a small glimmer of joy as we trudged on. Lost in navigation Sadly this joy wasn't to last as after mile 25 things quickly started to unravel, we found ourselves asking a helpful local for directions - big mistake, this added another 2 or 3 miles onto our run. When we eventually found our way back to where we were supposed to be we had also lost around 40 minutes. We headed for a local golf club and what sounded like a simple case of skirting around the outside of the course and then heading on for our last 3 or 4 miles. This turned into a navigational nightmare. Ozgur and I continued to struggle on but the pace was much slower as we were starting to doubt ourselves at every turn. It wasn't long after this that three of the elite runners caught us, this was a real every cloud has a silver lining moment as they seemed to have a better idea of where they were going. There was no way we were going to let them out of our sight! We pressed on with the ground appearing to get ever worse and the light beginning to fade. The pace was quicker and both Ozgur and I were feeling it, inside of the last few miles there seemed to be a never ending climb to a trig point which had something to do with Winnie the Pooh, to be honest I had little to no interest in this I just wanted some food and a shower! It was great to be running with the others as it was a good chance to trade stories of how the day had gone so far. Within the last couple of miles we had a miserable navigational error which added another mile or so of hill climb, this seemed to be enough to finally slow Ozgur, I managed to hang on knowing that if I let the others out of my sight it would cost me even more time navigating. Finally, I trailed in to find my wife, daughter, mother and stepfather all dutifully waiting for me! I can't thank them enough for having hung on and on and on for me. I was the 4th over the line but because of the different start times this eventually equated to 6th overall. Ozgur came in a very respectable 7th with a strong finish. It would be a long time before we would see any of the others. Of the 45 or so of us that had set off that morning only 14 would cross the line. Another small handful would later be found in a woods having gotten very lost, I know that had it not been for Ozgur I may well have been in that same situation. And I still had another day to go!