The days leading up to a big adventure race are usually very mentally intense, with huge amounts of logistical tasks to be completed and maps to be marked (with hugely negative consequences for any potential mistakes made in the process). In comparison the days leading up to a big ultra-run are relatively calm. From the perspective of an adventure racer the logistical tasks are pretty trivial. The race administrative tasks are similarly straightforward.
The first “task” to complete on Friday morning was simply getting in some breakfast. The race accommodation we were in a forest park beyond the nearby town, so it wouldn’t have been very convenient to look elsewhere for breakfast. The location had it’s own cafe where a basic buffet breakfast was served. There was musili and fruit juice available there, so I was happy enough. Supplies of coffee also meant that Dan was going to be happy!
John and myself headed over for breakfast first. After a few minutes we could see Dan making his way towards the entrance chatting to some people who we didn’t recognise. Dan pointed them in our direction. It turned out they were the drug testing team, and John had been randomly selected for pre-race testing. So John had to up and leave us for a while. He came back some time later very impressed with the process and the lengths to which it is designed to be tamper proof. I was glad to see that proper random drug testing was in place for the championships (Quite a few other athletes were also selected that morning).
After a leisurely breakfast we were making our way back to our room when we passed a bunch of hammocks suspended from trees. I went to sit down on one for no particular reason. When I first sat I was too far balanced on the near side and was slipping off in the direction I was getting on from. So I moved a bit more to the far side of the hammock. I then started slipping off the far side, so I grabbed the edge of the hammock on the near side. It didn’t take long for the hammock to dump me on to the ground on my back. Luckily I didn’t manage to injure myself. However John took great delight in suggesting we should call over the dope testers as we had definitely found one 🙂 I could also see the some of the British team looking on from their rooms enjoying the unexpected entertainment!
Our support Team of John Collins, Gary McConnville and Kevin Belton caught the 10a.m. bus that the organisers had laid on to bring them into the actual race location, which was in the town of Steenbergen at least 10km away. They would use the morning to attend a conference which was being organised on medical aspects of ultrarunning. They were also going to see if they could locate some suitable shops where us runners could buy food and drink for the race. The task of the runners in the meantime was simply to chill out and rest before lunch.
After Lunch we caught our own bus to Steenbergen, which left us at the building being used as the race HQ. It was a large sports hall called Cromweil, which was right on the race route. It had a large meeting room where the race technical briefing would be held, along with loads of other facilities which would be available to racers both during and after the race. We met up with the support crew again. They let us know that they had found several shops in town, including a Lidl and an Aldi which could be used to get race food. We were at Cromweil in plenty of time, so had about an hour to spare before the technical meeting began. So we decided to head off and have a look in the Aldi.
I was happy with what I found in my spin around there, and stocked up on some drinks (Fruit juice and flavoured milk) and snacks (dried ham, and unsalted cashews) for the rest of the day. The shop was close enough to the Cromweil, and to our aid station tent, that it was definitely feasible to get the actual race food on the morning of the race. We then made our way back towards Cromweil, whilst ensuring that Dan was able to satisfy his coffee addiction along the way.
Only one of us (and generally one of the support team) needed to go to the technical briefing, but as there was plenty of room, and loads of time we all went along. I finally caught sight of Yiannis Kouros there, my first time seeing the greatest ultrarunner of all time in the flesh. We also had good chats with managers from the Australian and New Zealand teams who were sitting near us. The race course and race rules were explained in great detail at the meeting. The only thing I noted that could affect me was that runners could not carry anything they could use to communicate back with their support crews in the support area. That created an issue if I wanted to listen to music, as my intention was to use my phone as a music player.
Once the briefing was over all the teams had to make their way out of the building to assemble for the parade of nations into the official opening ceremony. Before we made our way out Eddie arrived. He had made his own way from Madrid (where he lives) to join up with the rest of the team. It was great to see him again, and we were all glad that the team was now complete and in place. John handed over his new Irish gear and he went off to quickly change for the parade.
We all assembled for the parade in our designated spot, receiving our flag to carry. After a brief discussion it was decided John (our national champion) should carry it. After a few photos, and plenty of friendly greetings with the other athletes and crews, the parade headed off towards the centre of town, with the countries marching in roughly alphabetical order. For a change we were behind Iceland this year, as this was the first time they had a representative at these championships.
A large number of locals seemed to have turned out to watch the parade with some degree of enthusiasm. After 10 minutes or so we had made our way to the town square, where the dignatries and brass band awaited us! The teams were introduced to the crowd as they arrived, with the home country of Holland getting the biggest cheer as they completed the athletes arrival. The opening ceremony didn’t go on for too long, luckily enough. The last thing we needed was to be standing around for ages. Once that was over we all had to make our way to another local hall where the pasta party was the next item on the agenda.
Pasta would be about the last thing I’d want as a pre-race meal. It’s a real sign of old-school (i.e. just plain wrong) nutrition theory to think that pasta is the best pre-race food you could have. But we weren’t exactly in a main urban area and there was no sign of any obvious alternatives. So we made our way to the pasta party. Several of us were hoping that they wouldn’t take too literal an interpretation of the term. We marched back down the town in roughly the same order we marched in, still with out flags and local schoolchildren leading each country. At the hall we left the formalities behind and headed in to see what food awaited.
We managed to get ourselves organised very quickly, grabbed suitable tables so we could all sit together, and got into the queue for the food very close to the front. That was lucky, since the it didn’t take long for the queue to grow massively, packed with eager hungry athletes. Unfortunately the food did turn out to be mostly plain pasta, with a small amount of watery bolognaise type sauce on top, along with a side of salad. We took it, and ate what we had. But we all agreed that the best thing we could do in the hour and a half before the buses were due to depart for accommodation was try to find something better to eat.
So off we went back into to town. We passed a coffee shop where the support crew had spent a good deal of time earlier in the day, and went to the nearby town square again. There were one or two places serving food, but they seemed to be fast food pizza and kebab type places. A collective decision was taken that these wouldn’t be such a good idea on the night before a big race. So we went back to the coffee shop, as we knew they served some hot snacks there.
Unfortunately, when we got back there the staff told us that they were actually closing. However they said we could order any cold snacks from menu that we liked to take away. I guessed a few dutch to English translations and ordered a smoked salmon sandwich That would be a good protein rich snack anyway. All the others also ordered their sandwiches of choice, and once we had them all we thanked the staff and carried on eating them outside as they closed the cafe behind us.
Dan and myself decided that we had enough time for a little more food shopping for tomorrow (and possibly grab another snack) so headed off to find the Lidl. We could see one or two other teams also roving around looking for some decent food as we walked through the town. The lidl proved to be similarly rich treasure trove of good cheap race food as the Aldi had been earlier. I grabbed enough items that I thought I could carry, making sure to get anything that I might want that I hadn’t seen earlier in Aldi.
We made our way back to the cafe, and onwards on back towards the hallway. We could see the rest of the lads in the distance also making their way back to the buses. We caught up with them just as they reached the buses. We worked out which one we needed to catch to take us back to our accommodation (groups of teams were being housed in a few different locations). After being joined by one or two other teams the bus didn’t take long to leave for the twenty minute or so trip back.
Back at the accommodation we started to get ourselves organised. Eddie grabbed a bed for himself. All the runners sorted out our race clothes and food and assembled it all for transportation to the race in the morning. John and myself both went through what gear we had with Gary and Kevin, so that they would know what everything was, and what we could be looking for in the race. We also went over our various foods and potions and what we thought was likely to be used.
After all that was completed it was still early enough in the evening. We made our way down to the bar/cafe area in the accommodation which was also the only spot where free WiFi could be picked up with any reliability We relaxed down there for a while. John had a lot of sheets of paper with race pacing and timings set out and cross referenced with lap times etc. He went through a lot of detail on potential target distances and placings, both for individuals and as a team, and outlined how a few combinations and permutations would work, based on the results from last years race. None of this had much of an impact on me, as I knew I would set out with my race strategy and pacing decided, and would be well focused on this.
By about 10 in the evening we made our way back to the accommodation The weather had turned a bit nastier at this stage, which wouldn’t be so good for the race. I hoped we wouldn’t be facing 24 hours of rain! I don’t really suffer from any pre-race nerves or tension at 24 hour races. The logistics are simple enough that I can usually get to sleep easily enough without anything weighing on my mind. This proved to be the case again, and I slept pretty soundly.