Race Review – Half Fire and Ice Ultra (DAY 2 and 3)

DAY TWO – the day after the night before (and no sleep)

On Day One, after tending to Jane, there was a climb and I was not prepared for the bone chilling wind sideswiping me as I entered the next micro-climate.  At the time Jane went on as I fought with my bag until it granted me access to my gillet and long sleeve mid layer; akin to dealing with a breech birth at the local cattle farm, I was in up to my elbows trying to get what I wanted.

Right, now where did my Garmin go?

But the relative comfort and warmth only lasted for an hour or two as then I was down at sea level again, maybe even below, sweat pouring off my brow in the sunlight and I needed to disrobe once more.

What this did the following night was prompt Team Tent 3 tactic discussions over tea (try saying that with your teeth in, grandma). Long sleeves and long leggings for day 2, the long day seemed in order, and walk if you have to, walk the ups, run the downs, try not be last, try not to fall over. It had slow climbs and it made sense. And thus the plan to deal with the micro-climates was hatched: Long Sleeves and Long Leggings for the Long Day; a day of road and a bastard climb according to the second sheet popped through the tent flap the night before.

I woke up with my feet throbbing. But, after wearing the Tent Slippers to the toilet for a Wet Wipe shower they soon recovered enough to allow me to find tea and force down half a bag of cold full English breakfast. We, being the slow 5 from day one, would be starting at 8, with the others at 9.

Milk, sugar, tea. What a better way to start the day?

Viking Clap, HOOO! and we were off. The start, including the finish from the day before, was on undulating ash path for 16K. I started my run, head down and heading off with Peter, before surging ahead, enjoying a run for the first time in the event. And, shock horror, somehow I was actually the first runner to make CP 1. It really buoyed me. But then, as per, the wheels came off.

Cheering from Jorunn, and a “well done, mate” from Andy and then I made the terrible mistake of saying that I like roads. “You like roads?” He questioned. I nodded. “Well, you’ll love the next bit.” He joked, pointing 90 degress off the road, and to a mountain in the distance, the other side of about 3KM of wet, long grass covered marsh. It was not nice. But I kept going, trying to keep my footing on the soggy grass, trying to avoid stepping onto a terracotta coloured silt that you sunk into up to your ankles when you put your weight onto it. And then, as Peter caught up we had a mountain.

It would not be the first hillock, mountain, hill, mound to climb with my cheating sticks, and it would certainly not be the last or the least. This one was decorated for our pleasure with loose volcanic rock. It meant that stepping up you then slid down, so you needed to throw your weight forwards. This is tricky with a 12KG backpack. But we did it. Peter and I. And then, as I looked out over the valley and took a few photos, Rafa came running up the hill, shook hands, had a chat and then ran off. He had made up the hour and was already out of sight as I crossed the top and started my descent.

Rafa making it look easy

The next valley was covered in wet long grass and consisted of the sort of angles a geometry class revel in. Then another mountain, then a moss valley (the moss itself being a suitable and sustainable toilet paper alternative according to Dara) then a nice long dusty road by a lake after seeing RD Dave and John taking photos. The other fast kids had come by, but only them and so I put my head down and ran after them. It was as close to a decent surface as I’d had for a while and so made the most of it, knowing that sooner or later it was going to all go shithouse on me.

The turning point happened beside a lake. I had swapped that day from my grey (Darren) iPod, the one I flew with and used for day one, to the pink (Nina) iPod only to get the Battery Low message, forcing me to then dig for the silver (Jenni) iPod. No way could I get through this alone without tunes to combat the demons in my head so I sat by the lake [see the thumbs up photo above] and started unpacking. The problem, much like the day before when I needed to get the extra layers, was that I had to dig out my electronics bag (obvs at the bottom of the backpack), untying the sleeping mat, pulling out dry bags of clothes, food, you name it, before I could find what I wanted. It was then Jane came into view. She said she thought it was me because of my silver sleep mat, but that maybe it was a fisherman and asked if we could run/walk the rest together so of course I said yes. And that became the theme for the remainder of day two and actually all of day 3. It was one of those chance moments. Like her falling and my triage on day one and getting in the same tent, that you (luckily) find a running buddy with the same run strategy and pretty much the same pace for the rest of the weekend. Of course it was still shit at times. RD Dave drove by when I was at the lakeside and told me the next CP was just around the corner. What he meant was it was just around the corner in a fast moving 4X4, and then it was a good ten minute drive. For us, it meant one hell of a hike along dusty roads that edged a valley, up and down over lumps that the local quad bike riders loved before we hit the water stop and headed for home.

And so we hiked the remainder of the day, the sea often in our sights and the mountain that we circled to the campsite on Day One, we ran around the other way on Day Two, before hitting the final road, the farmhouse and flags in sight for a heart warming finish well under our expected time. Yay! Go us!

Long sleeves, long legs, long day done.

And then, before I could even make tea and a Spag Bol in a bag, we were given a cold can of Pepsi and chocolate wafer biscuit. After a day of water, and only water, the Cola was so good its tasted better than gods own sweat. Tent 3 loved it.

DAY 2 and 52.3KM Done and Dusted!

DAY THREE

Late the night before a sheet would be passed through your tent flap showing the route for the next day and start times. You then had to somehow sleep with midnight sun burning your eyes and charging your solar powered chargers. Thank god for my eye mask. But then the realisation that we only had one day to go, and the shortest day at that. So much kit. 12KG of it in my backpack. But, the morning of the last day we realised we could “donate” all the food we don’t need to carry further to the scavenger box in the farm. I mean sure, it wasn’t much but it really was a psychological weight off.

The Dark Spiral

You would have thought that the final day of a 3 day race would be the easiest. Personally I found the first the most difficult physically. Day 2, the long day, was just a slog and mostly flat. Day 3 was a mother fucker of the lowest order. We Team Tent 3, being Jane, Dara and I, would now be part of the larger group going out at 6.30 am with a head start of 90 minutes on the others. It wouldn’t make a difference.

It was a horrible day and we blamed OMM John, or Evil Gandalf as we joked, for in our fatigued, carb starved, sleeve deprived heads, rightly or wrongly we believe he had plotted the route.

I coined the term “Monet paths” at one point. You know how Monet’s Waterlilies look stunning from a distance, but when you get close it is just dots? Well a Monet Path (copyright Darren 2019) looked like a path from a distance but when you get close it’s just more fucking rocks.

Taking turns to lead as we went from hellish area to the next hellish area, nearer physically but no nearer mentally to our goal, we stopped speaking at one point. The wind would have meant we wouldn’t hear each other anyway. I did swear a bit. I promised not to sing if Jane didn’t too. The issue really was that we couldn’t see what the course had in store for us next. We would see into the distance to a ridge or a mountain. We would pray that when we climbed to the top and saw what lay ahead, that it would include a good stretch of pristine paved road. But it never was. It was large rocks, or small rocks, or sharp rocks, or rocks covered in toilet paper moss, or this weird foot thick moss I called Great Grandma’s Carpet. And each time the next valley came into view it hurt us.

When there was a path it was covered in stones. When there wasn’t then grass was the least painful surface. I should probably make a table listing the different surfaces. None of them particularly nice.

We talked, and agreed that it was unnecessarily hard. You are already the toughest foot race in Iceland you don’t need to keep kicking me, I’m already dead. At the crest of what is known as Moon Valley, where the astronauts and cosmonauts trained in the sixties, I stopped and took a photo at the edge (this one).

It was a Darwin Awards moment, the scree beneath my feet started coming away and I was upended, landing hard. Stacking it is a bit embarrassing, especially with the RD recording it all using a drone. Thank god that didn’t get shown at the awards dinner. Still, Jane and I had now both fallen and we were to label ourselves Team Clumsy.

That was actually the last easy bit of the day.  Moon Valley was not a flat, smooth walk in the park, if the park is on the moon. It was flat but it wasn’t mud when you got close. It was a fine powdered ash. This was an extinct volcano and the ash, several inches deep, was like sand. We crossed it though and then climbed another of the hills with loose rock sliding about you and tried to get more purchase on your forward movement. We started talking about other races we had done. We obsessed about burgers and beer at the pub at the finish. It was a wilderness. I did note, that there was no trash left on route. “Leave nothing but footprints.” That is the way to be. And, given I was practically the sweeper, I was glad, and proud to say I didn’t see a single piece of race litter on the 125KM. Although, looking back, it would have given us something different to talk about.

The last 15 KM, to quote the Bard, sucked donkey balls for nickels. It was mostly flat, I will give them that. And almost downhill at times. BUT! And this is a big but. None of the terrain was easy. A section of Great Grandma’s Carpet covered jagged 2 foot tall rock, where the flags made you zigzag  through the least terrible parts of it, finished at a ridge. At the ridge, after praying for road, we got more of the same, for as far as the eye could see until a hill. Around the hill? More hills. We had to go over one, around the next, and then a field (I want to say) of thick heather. That wasn’t too bad. But we were mentally broken at this point. We were not speaking. We were getting through by taking turns in the lead. One would walk for a KM, maybe two,  keeping five yards ahead of the other before switching places. The wind howled and stopped any real conversation. The follower somehow had respite. They could put their head down, and focus on the feet/or butt of the person in front. The one in front bore the responsibility of finding a route, of looking into the distance to discover what new nightmares Evil Gandalf had planned for us. And together, we got through it all.

FINISH

For quite a while we could see the antennae atop a distant hill, and we knew it was the first hill from Day One on the road to town. It just wasn’t getting any closer and that is what got to us in the end. The swearing happened when each ridge opened out into more hellish terrain. There was this long, long, did I mention long? evil stone path as far as the eye could see. We had to stick to the edges it was so bad.  And then buildings! We hadn’t seen any buildings other than the steam factory and the farm house for 2 days. We had made it, well near enough and still under our planned time.
Down into town, it did not seem to get any closer and we were concerned that Evil Gandalf would have the last laugh and take us away from our goal, across more rocks and stone and pain. But he didn’t. Soon the pub came into view, a row of flags of the nationalities of the competitors (except Dara as there was no Ukranian flag) and then we were done, straight in, 2 pints please landlord, and 2 cheeseburgers.
DAY THREE 34.2 KM DONE!
Number 23 came in. And my time, with the original aim to beat my bib hours? 22:56! By a gnat’s whisker! But better than the 25 I had originally requested.

PUB AND BLING

Mark had to rush off, and so, with the local press there, Rafa and Isabelle had photos taken before we all got our bling. No medal though, so I am going to have to fit a shelf to the rack back home.

Aftermath

We spent the afternoon soaking and drinking and talking at the Blue Lagoon, before checking into a hotel in the capital and having a meal. I finally went shirtless for a Viking Clap. Photos and drone footage was projected on the wall as the winners (Rafa and Isabelle) collected their trophies. At least they didn’t show the drone footage of me stacking it, although I was prepared to laugh it off.

What I couldn’t laugh off though, was the 11,000 k calorie deficit I created for myself over 3 days. Not a bad way to diet. Although, if I had done the full 250KM race, I would probably end up looking like Christian Bale in The Machinist.

Operating on an 11,000 calorie deficit for 3 days, not a good idea.

No chafe though. I had images of us screaming in the showers before the Blue Lagoon, and letting out pained exclamations as we soaked. But no, we were, for the most part, good. I had one small blister on my right heel caused by a stone in my sock on Day Three. My traps, where the UD straps were hanging, did hurt each day. But a massage later, and removing the 12KG from them fixed that. All in all, other than a little tired, I felt good a day later as I strode through the airport in my Fire and Ice fleece.

In Summary

After 3 days you can’t tell if that weird smell is you or the sulphur in the air. This is Iceland after all. I got a little sick on Day 3 as I forgot my SOS. Day 1 I didn’t eat on the route at all. Day 1 everyone knew of me helping Jane as I was thanked at each stop. It could be said that I am a little stuffy, staid if you prefer, I didn’t pick up the British flag at the end of the race but I did take off my shirt and partake in the Hoos! And the Viking Clap in the restaurant at the awards ceremony. And who would have thought that?

My favourite Quotes of the weekend were:
  • Gilly – “A big stone only goes downhill, not up.”
  • Dara – “Ooowwwooeyyy.” Whilst putting shoes on to leave the tent.
  • Me – Looking into the distance at yet another valley of rocks, “It’s the sort of terrain that makes me want a hug.”

I wouldn’t recommend doing this in brand new roads, but the fit of Nike flex size 9.5 was perfect for me, and as it was dry they did the trick and even wore them home.

KIT

What got used and and what didn’t? I used my solar charger and portable USB chargers, Salomon rain jacket, sleeping bag and mat, water bottles and cheating sticks, but that is it. The rest, I will take to The Wall in a fortnight or give to JK for Spine.

The Midnight sun caused sleep deprivation. Please don’t sing Mr Blue Skies again. The nature of each day created a massive calorie deficit. The terrain was impossible at times, and brutally soul destroying. Everyone felt it. But this was Iceland’s Toughest Foot Race and they were determined to make it so. Day One I considered quitting, after spending the day by myself. It was just so hard mentally and physically. Camaraderie got me through Day Two, the longest day. Over the mental hump, and now with a partner in crime, I naively thought Day Three would be the easiest as it was short. It turned out to be the toughest. I have been asked how I feel about it all. I am proud to have completed it. It was a real challenge. It was made better by the small field I think as everyone got to know one another. I think by the end I was just too tired to be emotional about it, I was fixated on beer and a burger, despite a very hearty stew being provided. It was the toughest thing I have done whilst running, a combination of the difficulty of Ultraks, mixed with the long hauls of the RTTT series, just without vegetation, or water, or sleep.

It is a grand, plus flights, and you are expected to share a twin room with a stranger on the first and last night. I paid 50 euros for the upgrade. There is only water on the route and only 2 checkpoints. No timing other than via a watch. No photos as yet, but they were taking them. I guess as it’s a mom and pop kind of outfit that they will get around to updating their Facebook page eventually, and maybe we will all get to see the moment I stacked it overlooking the Moon Valley.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE HALF FIRE AND ICE? I would. It is beyond anything I have ever done in 7 years of running across the world. I am glad I did it.

WOULD I RUN THE HALF FIRE AND ICE AGAIN? No. Well, ask me next year.

And for another view – there is the blog of the lovely Dara.

NEXT UP:

LIEGE BEER MARATHON

One Comment Add yours

  1. charliesbird says:

    That looks brutal, well done!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s