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dave400’s Double Enduroman report
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dave400




Joined: 10 Aug 2006
Posts: 72

PostPosted: Tue Jun 21, 2011 11:32 pm    Post subject: dave400’s Double Enduroman report Reply with quote

This really is a big report (I’m afraid it’s written mainly as a personal record for myself, so sorry if the tone is a bit out).

Background:
2010 was meant to be an ultra running year, with the main target being a late summer 100 miler. As an interim step I entered the Oner (78 miles within 24 hours) in the spring, and thanks to the support of my lovely wife over the last 26 miles I got round safely.

The physical aftermath was far from pretty however; I felt completely smashed up for months and was walking like a 65 year old who’s got broken-up knees and has had a double hip replacement. So I re-evaluated targets for the year and started to learn to rock climb. This promptly ended with my foot getting crushed in a rockfall, leaving me unable to walk properly for months.

Frustrated with my damaged foot, and unsure how good for you ultra running actually is, I was floundering without a goal. Then I struck on what seemed to be the inspired idea of entering a double iron distance event. I’d really enjoyed single IM races, so I figured double the distance must be double the fun.

At the time I set the following aims for the event:
#1: complete the distance
#2: avoid needing medical attention
#3: maintain a positive attitude all the way round
#4: do the minimum volume of training necessary to finish credibly (need to balance training hours with the important parts of life – family and work)

Having entered in August 2010, I then enjoyed the next 4 months idly daydreaming about how I’d finally get to grips with swimming and having visions of heroic all-night rides backed up with mammoth runs. I also ate a stunningly large number of biscuits over this time.

Summer turned to Autumn which drifted into Winter and by January 2011 I was 9kgs overweight and hadn’t done any exercise since the climbing accident. A 10k run showed that my foot wasn’t really any better – and in fact my now goofy gait was causing hip problems on the other side. A trip to the physio. wasn’t too reassuring; he muttered away about imbalances, tightness and muscle weakness but clearly thought I was deluded if I thought I’d be running 50 miles in 5 months time (I thought it best not to mention the bike and swim parts of the double at the time).

The next 5 months was a mix of squeezing training in around a busy work schedule, supporting the kids in their ever-expanding schedule of weekly activities and helping my wife through a spring marathon. We were also managing a major building renovation to our dilapidated house over this time (the weeks in February without heating were a particular highlight – especially when the snow was melting and water was pouring through the ceiling). The result was a wildly unstructured training programme that tended to jump from zero hours one week to 18 the next, and then back to 10 hours (just the way I like it!).

I slowly started to build up the running, but my injured foot was desperately unhappy after each run. I couldn’t string together 2 consecutive days of running because of the discomfort, and the longest run I did before June 11th was 18 miles. A magic pair of trainers bought 4 weeks out from the event helped a lot, but I was wholly unconvinced that my foot would be OK over 52 miles.

I was a bit more confident about the bike however, and between January and the end of May got in at least 10 strong rides of 100+ miles (including a 100 mile PB of 5 hours 24 mins). As early as mid January I did remember that I didn’t much like riding in the dark. Or cold. Or rain. Or (especially) in the wind. The most obvious solution seemed to just not go out in situations I didn’t like riding in. Keeping your training mojo alive is the most important thing after all, right?

All my hopes of becoming a slippery fish in the pool came to nothing, and ‘swim training’ was the usual half-arsed splashing around, beginning 10 weeks before the event. I built up to a 7k swim with 4 weeks to go but found it so extraordinarily boring that I decided to not do too much more of that (mid way through I was looking forward to going for a pee just because it would be something different that ploughing up and down the black line).

I’d managed more training than for any of the IM races I’d done, and with the bank holidays had done a couple of 15+ hour training weeks (thank you Kay for looking after the kids over ½ term week!). This had left me much closer to my target race weight, but hopelessly out of touch with what was happening in the wider world (did anyone else do a long run while the Royal Wedding was happening?).

Reading about the enormous amounts of training others were doing made me start to feel I’d done a woefully inadequate amount myself. Most of the time, I managed to calm my worried mind with the thought that I was simply remaining true to my objective of doing the minimum amount of training. But the tension was certainly mounting, and I woke up from nightmares about the race more than once . . . My biggest fear was being timed out on the swim, and having the whole thing end before I’d even begun.

2 weeks to go:
With two weeks to go, two things happened;
- My 5 year old daughter decided that I was suddenly flavour of the month, and would be the one to give / receive endless hugs and kisses (this is a strange and remarkable thing, as for the preceding 4 years and 11 months I’ve definitely been second best to her Mum)
- My daughter developed chronic tonsillitis and a chest infection

So I spent a week revelling in my new found popularity, but simultaneously ramming enormous doses of vitamin C down me, squirting anti-cold sprays up my nose, gargling antiseptic mouth washes, developing an OCD style hand washing routine, etc. I teetered on the brink of man-flu for 10 days and was on the edge of stealing her course of antibiotics, but somehow dodged the bullet.

I’d planned a 105 mile sportive as my last serious training session. The aim was to make this a true confidence booster (e.g. pull off a fast time to demonstrate my superhuman fitness and extreme mental toughness). Unfortunately I managed to bonk at 100 miles and had to have a good sit down for 10 minutes before coasting into the finish (don’t know how this happened as I’d eaten my bodyweight in cakes during the ride). Personally I blamed the strong wind for making things difficult, but decided to buy a super easy rear cassette just in case the AT race route might be a bit hilly.

1 week to go:
Feeling I’d skimped a bit on the training, I was really buying into the mantra of ‘better arriving at the startline under-trained but well rested’. So I was focused on getting a few nights good sleep in the days leading up to the race.

We’d been away at relatives the weekend before the race which included some late nights, but I figured as long as I got home early on Sunday evening, I could get a string of good nights’ sleep before the big day. I was looking forward to getting back and seeing where the builders had got to over the last few days.

We got a bit held up on the journey home, but rolling into our street at 10.45pm on Sunday, I still figured that I could get my head straight down and all would be OK. Unfortunately the entrance to our house and front door were buried under 4 foot of rubble and building waste. Rubbish was everywhere, strewn down our drive and rolling out into the street. It turned out the builder hadn’t paid the skip hire company, who had then decided to just empty the full skip on our drive and take their skip back. Plus the electrician had forgotten to reconnect the power when he’d left. At 2.00am I was still awake and angry / concerned ...

Sleep for the rest of the week was completely crap too, my daughter woke up at 2am every night with her tonsillitis, and I ended up waking up at 5.00am every morning fretting about the looming race. So right at the time when I should have been calm, focussed and well-rested, I was scratching by on 5 hours sleep a night.

All was looking a little bit uncertain . . .

24 hours to go:
A few months before, we’d booked a lodge at Avon Tyrrell for my wife, 2 kids and my parents. This was a really excellent decision - no more than 50 meters from the bike turnaround and meant I could transition in the cabin if needs be. My nerves started to settle down as I saw the chilled out venue and had a mug of tea with my parents in law at their campervan at the AT campsite. Got chatting to a few marshalls and other competitors, including a really nice guy who dropped from the deca on day 6 (Tony?) His advice was to ‘aim to be last out of the water’ (thought I could manage that without too much trouble) and to take it really really really steady on the bike; he clearly knew what he was talking about, so I thought I better remember that.

I met the rest of the family as they slowly arrived from different parts of the country, and we unpacked the internet food order (we’d somehow radically over-ordered on almost everything – eg had more than 3kgs of potatoes per person, and we were only there for 2½ days).

What could be nicer – a weekend away with family, chatting in the sunlight in a lovely peaceful forest, lots of outdoor activities for the kids, who were due to arrive after school had finished. Ahhhhhh.

The nice chilled out feeling abruptly left me once the race briefing started . . . Steve’s comment of ‘if you can’t swim the distance in under 3.5 hours you don’t belong on the bike course’ brought me up sharply. As did ‘the water will only feel cold if you haven’t been practicing your open water swimming since March’ (I thought it inappropriate to mention that the full extent of my 2011 open water swimming had been going to the Lido 10 days before. To be fair, I’d meant to go a second time, but it had been a bit cold so I hadn’t bothered). Plus everyone kept talking about how tough the bike course was. And the run course. I also started to realise that an average of, say 55 minutes per bike lap would mean 19-odd hours of cycling. That sounded an awfully long time. And I wondered how my foot would be after all that riding.

What the hell was I doing here?

Last thing before bed I had a quick chat to my crew; I asked them to please make sure there was a stash of food and water bottles at the bike turn around at all times, but otherwise not to worry too much – I could pretty much take care of myself and didn’t want to be a burden. The only things I did specifically ask for was:
a) a cup of tea every once in while
b) for them to not let me get away with it if I refused to eat (I tend to get GI distress on longer races, then stop eating, then bonk)
c) for them to all have a good time and enjoy themselves away from the race

Another pretty rubbish nights sleep before racking at 6.00am and usual race morning drill.


Swim:
Arriving at the swim I’d got myself into a pretty strong frame of mind; it was going to be a good day; lovely clear sky and warm sunshine. The lake looked pretty ideal to me; 75-ish metre stretches between big buoys that you couldn’t miss, so no worries sighting, nice and sheltered and smooth, sunlight on most of the course. I was feeling pretty relaxed and upbeat, and had all my family around me. Cool.

5 minutes before the start I pulled on the top half of the wetsuit and . . . felt a seam in the shoulder pop open. I couldn’t believe it – I had a 7cm split in my wetsuit with every chance it would get bigger, and nothing I could do about it. It was clear that the water was too cold for a non-wetsuit swim, so if it spread much more, I’d really be in trouble. At this point
a) I started out on an uncharacteristic and prolonged string of expletives. I didn’t realise I was in front of my 7 year old son for some of this (but think I got away with it)
b) my lovely wife set off on an all-out sprint back to the cabin to find some sticky tape

90 seconds before the start and we were still wrapping tape round my arm, then time to go.

The sticky tape promptly came unravelled and ended up trailing behind me like a streamer for the next 45 minutes. Two laps in, the seam split a lot further as I was going round a buoy, letting in an icy rush of water across my chest with every stroke from then on.

Ah well, there was nothing I could do about it, so I started to relax and enjoy the sunshine and look forward to the random warm spots in the water. From then on I had a good time and a pretty uneventful swim; stopped for a gel and drink every 30 mins, built-up a good buffer against the cut-off and eventually came out at 3.05 (slower than most, but right on schedule for me). I was a bit cold and did some comedy shaking while trying to drink some tea. But the sun was still out, I held the kids hands on the walk back to the cabin, and all was good with the world.

Bike:
Started the bike approx. 3.5 hours after the race start and immediately kept repeating the advice to take it really really easy. My aim was to coast as much as possible, not overtake anyone, and put no real stress through my legs. I found the course pretty nice and nowhere near as difficult as I recalled it from a recce back in February. There’s something really unusual and relaxing about focussing on holding back the effort rather than trying to push for a fast time. Took it as softly as I could and soon ended up back at the turnaround in 40 mins or so. Stole my Dad’s cup of tea, took off a layer, grabbed 300 calories of biscuits (secret weapon in training had been shortbread – it’s full of calories, salt, sugar and fat, and pretty easy on the stomach), and back out.

And that was the pattern for the rest of the day . . . what could have been better than cycling in the sun, spinning easily up the hills, enjoying the views and having a cup of tea every lap. The laps were ticking off in 45 - 50 minutes each, I was feeding really well, was super-hydrated and legs were pretty fresh. GGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRR over the cattle grids, saying hello to different landmarks each lap, imagining I was cycling through an Eagles album cover on the first descent out with a straight road stretchng out into the distance.

It was very uplifting to see my family on each lap, and I was relieved to see that they were all relaxing and having a good time. I really really wanted them to be having a good weekend away, and for the Grandparents to be having some quality time with my kids. What I didn’t realise was that beneath the easy going exterior, they had secretly morphed into a three highly focussed teams (day crew, night crew and child care) that was operating with a frightening degree of efficiency. ‘The girls’ (Mum, Vicki and Kay) covered the afternoon and evening shift, and sternly dispatched ‘the men’ to rest up ahead of a long night (John, my father in law, will go to his death bed swearing he didn’t sleep, though I have it on good authority he was heard snoring once or twice . . . ). Their afternoon was apparently then split into 45 minute sequences of walking to from the cabin, making a cup of tea, quick chat then back out to the turnaround point.

To all of the crew, honestly, thank you so much for your help, it’s moving and I’m sincerely grateful. I only hope that if/when I’m in a position to help you, I can do as much as you did (and sorry Mum that you had to witness me applying chamois cream to my undercarriage after a few laps).

The highlight of my whole race came at the end of lap 11; I was at the top of a ridge (just before the turning left into AT) and looked down onto a great firework display highlighted by a stunning sunset - then saw my son at the turnaround before he went to bed (he was full of excitement about having been on the zip wire over the lake). The wind had died down, we were in for a great moonlit night and all was looking good at 127 miles in.

Unfortunately things rapidly deteriorated on the next lap, as it became dark and the temperature dropped through the floor. I soon discovered that every time I went over a cattle grid my lights flopped down, leaving me hurtling along in the dark with a beautifully lit front wheel. I was wearing full winter kit and my stomach started aching badly. I couldn’t face eating anything and was on the edge of vomiting after drinking.

At this point my Dad recalled that I’d earlier said to not let me get away with not eating . . . and so started one of the most touching and best intended (but most tedious) discussions I’ve ever had with him. Basically, when I went through the turnaround point, the conversation went :
- ‘Hey, how you doing son?’
- ‘OK, my stomach hurts’
- ‘Well . . . just don’t stop eating – how about a nice piece of shortbread?’
- ‘No, my stomach hurts’
- ‘I think what you’d really like is some shortbread’
- ‘No, my stomach hurts’
- ‘Mmmmmm, shortbread . . . lots of calories. Just a nice piece of shortbread’
- ‘No, my stomach hurts’
- (Dad then tries to sneak shortbread into my bento box) ‘HEY – you haven’t eaten the last piece of shortbread I gave you!! WHATS’S GOING ON????’

(repeat exact same conversation for next 8 laps)

I made a half-hearted attempt at some noodles at 11.00 (thanks Mum – much appreciated), but by 1.30am I figured I’d better take a break to let my stomach calm down so I could start feeding properly again. I was also starting to get the beginning twinges of cramp in my shoulders from being down on the aero bars for so long, and didn’t want this to get worse. I’d read before that most people drop out between 2.00 – 5.00am, so I knew taking a break at this point carried a big risk of not getting going again. Flanked by the night crew (my Dad and Father in law) I wondered back to the cabin, set the alarm, found an unoccupied bed (a top bunk, which was fun to get into) and had the deepest 25 minutes sleep ever. It was a struggle to get up, but within 10 minutes of the alarm going off, I was back on the bike with an additional sweater, another pair of tights and a polar buff, and feeling a bit happier inside.

Light broke during my penultimate lap, and a stunning golden band of light peaked out from under a heavy bank of dark clouds. Apart from my stomach, I was loving it – the temperature was rising, still no rain, and strangely my legs felt pretty fresh (I didn’t feel I’d put any pressure through them, and was still spinning up the hills easily without getting out the saddle) and I was well over the 200 mile mark.

Then my eyes started to close and I was struggling to stay awake. I kept dropping off to sleep while cycling and was scared of stacking into the verge. Next thing I knew I woke up on the grass verge (don’t think I fell off, but can’t remember lying down). I necked two proplus and coasted round the rest of the lap.

Back at the turnaround I took a 10 minute coffee break to try to catch my wits. I recall having a discussion with one of the marshalls who was really helpful and inspiring (although he seemed to be wearing a small bowler hat, which in itself was a bit confusing and surreal at 4.30 in the morning). Then had ‘the shortbread discussion’ with Dad, and off for the final lap. I was a worried about falling asleep again, so decided the only thing was to cane it as fast as possible to keep the adrenalin and pulse rate up (anyone seen the Jason Statham film Crank?). So for the first time, I started to put a bit more effort into pedalling, and despite a very sketchy moment on the last cattle grid (anyone for hitting a wet cattle grid at speed, on aero bars, going a bit sideways at the time), got my best lap time of the ride.

Coming off the bike I tried a little jog back to the cabin, and was completely surprised to still feel pretty fresh in my legs and not too stiff in my body. I’d found staying awake all night a bit uncomfortable, but in all honesty, the bike hadn’t taken as much out of me as I expected; I certainly hadn’t had any lower back ache or saddle sores or dead legs like I had expected (although, ahem, one testicle was a bit unhappy). If it makes any sense at all, I felt ‘systemically’ tired, but not tired in my muscles. Or at least that’s how I remember it now.

Leisurely transition (had to be a bit quiet as I didn’t want to wake my daughter or son), then off to see what this run would be like.

Run:
I thought the course was really great – variety of surfaces, enough twisting and turning to keep my back stretched out. However, the short laps did have a significant drawback / advantage – it meant my support crew could now hassle me about eating FOUR times every hour rather than just once an hour.

At this stage I did remember my second secret nutrition weapon; microwave chips. So the rest of my run was fuelled on tea, coffee and chips.

The initial laps went by pretty well, but by lap 16 I was a bit dispirited, soaked and getting very very cold. I nipped back to the cabin and . . . had a long warm shower to get warm. Sorry to anyone who was toughing it out in a tent, but that was a real lifesaver. Within 15 minutes I was back out on the course in all dry clothes and feeling strong again.

By this time the rain and wind had well and truly set in, which made parts of the course really Somme-like. Still, every 15 minutes was another lap done, and another chance to see ‘the boys’ who were camped out at the turn around circle huddled under umbrellas. I kept telling them to go and get dry, but the bulldog spirit had got into them, and they were resolute that the way they most wanted to spend their Sunday was outside in the rain and wind for long periods of time.

Vicki, my wife ran occasional laps with me, and it was really nice to be able to talk with her about how things were going. She’s a star, and it’s hard to express how much I appreciate her traipsing round in the mud and gloom. Vic - I’m sorry if I kept howling ‘The scale of the task! The scale of the task!’ in such a melodramatic way.

I tried hard to stop doing the maths about how long I had remaining, but never quite managed to ‘stay in the now’. Still, I didn’t want my family to be outside for too much longer and I wanted to get it done before it got too dark, and that spurred me on to run as much as I could.

Laps 30-48 were all a bit of a soggy blur, but stand-out memories include:
- Running with Vicki (it’s really rare we get time alone to talk!)
- Having my Dad and father in law walk a lap with me
- Passing another competitor who was walking BACKWARDS down the long hill (nice solution if your legs no longer work going forwards, I guess)
- With 10 laps to go, my crew saying ‘Only 10% left to go!’, which received a slightly grumpy ‘NO – 20% to go!’ from me (sorry John)
- Feeling really elated for everyone who passed back on their last lap
- Seeing my smiling Mum on the penultimate lap, who’d just finished the childcare stint

The run took a long long time, but I’m really pleased to have run just about all the down hills and flats. I may have lost all sense of self-consciousness and resorted to a geriatric power-shuffle up the hills (get those arms pumping now), but I didn’t let my head drop for any length of time.

Eventually the end was in sight, and, with darkness finally coming down, I headed gingerly out on the last (reverse) lap, determined not to trip over this late in the day. I was slightly confused about where to head to at the end, but eventually worked it out and crossed the floodlit finish line to a big hug from Steve the race director and a big smile from Eddie.

I’ve been known to shed a tear or two at the finish line of most big races; with this one I didn’t – was just exhausted and relieved it was over. Time to get everyone back in the warm and dry and have a beer.


Post-race:
I expected to be a bit physically messed up in the days after the race, but apart from a small sore on my neck from the wetsuit, and some stiffness and tiredness, I seem to have got away with zero injuries. In fact, my foot now appears to be 100% better (!?!) and I’ve got no aching knees at all. In fact, I didn’t get a single blister. I guess the soft muddy ground must have helped out.

One of the biggest realisations came afterwards when reading about other people’s experiences; all of the things that I thought were ‘nice to haves’ (seeing a friendly face each lap, having warm drinks, someone pushing me to eat, somewhere dry and warm to change, the chance to get some fresh clothes on,) were what made completing possible. Without all these ‘non essentials’, finishing would have been much less likely.

I’m really pleased to have completed the distance (it really is possible for a normal person with limited training time), and think that all things considered I managed the volume of training correctly. I achieved all of my pre-race objectives. But the most rewarding part is to hear my family talking about the weekend – it’s really been a way of sharing some experiences together.

After other big races I’ve tended to get a strong sense of personal satisfaction – an intensely individual ‘I did it’. For this one, it feels a much more rewarding collaborative thing, that we all came together to have an adventure for a weekend – which had its ups and downs , it’s times of chatting in the sun and huddling under an umbrella. I can’t of course speak for my crew, but I hope and think they had a good time. I definitely feel closer to them now, and think we’ve made some new memories to talk about in the future.

Thank you to all the exceptional and inspiring people I had the fortune to spend time with over the weekend – Steve and Enduroman, all the other participants, my family, and especially Vicki for being so very very special. I don’t often use such strong words, but I feel truly blessed to be able to have been part of the event. Just one weekend like this a year will see me right.
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Carlito




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 6:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice report and well done on a well executed race. Smile
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knightlancer




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 6:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great work, great report, great attitudes to swimming and biscuits. You've got this ultra lark figured out.
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Big Foot




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 7:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report and enjoyed the read. You have now set the the expectation that Quin & deca reports will be long and I haven't even started my promised report. Agree totally that running is hard work but cycling is a gods sport and I love it. I'm glad to see someone else has similar training volumes to me and that life's ups and downs do frequently get in the way but still go for it. Looking forward to racing in the future with you.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 7:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A good, honest report mate. I look forward to us meeting up for some training in the Surrey hills!
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fimm




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 8:19 am    Post subject: Re: dave400’s Double Enduroman report Reply with quote

dave400 wrote:

After other big races I’ve tended to get a strong sense of personal satisfaction – an intensely individual ‘I did it’. For this one, it feels a much more rewarding collaborative thing, that we all came together to have an adventure for a weekend – which had its ups and downs , it’s times of chatting in the sun and huddling under an umbrella. I can’t of course speak for my crew, but I hope and think they had a good time. I definitely feel closer to them now, and think we’ve made some new memories to talk about in the future.


I like this.
Well done for finishing and thank you for the report.
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Davem




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 8:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report Dave and well done for nailing a double in some pretty sh!te conditions.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 9:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great race report and excellent result too Cool

Trouble is, it has only made my desire stronger to do this race Rolling Eyes Very Happy
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 9:47 am    Post subject: Re: dave400’s Double Enduroman report Reply with quote

dave400 wrote:

After other big races I’ve tended to get a strong sense of personal satisfaction – an intensely individual ‘I did it’. For this one, it feels a much more rewarding collaborative thing, that we all came together to have an adventure for a weekend – which had its ups and downs , it’s times of chatting in the sun and huddling under an umbrella. I can’t of course speak for my crew, but I hope and think they had a good time. I definitely feel closer to them now, and think we’ve made some new memories to talk about in the future.


That's how I felt last year. It gave me a new found love for the people who crewed and it wasn't just a 1 man show, it is a true team effort


Congrats on the finish
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 10:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

biscuit-tastic Party
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 10:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dave - outstanding race, outstanding report. Clearly the warm shower option is a complete winner.

And that support team, especially Vicki, are keepers. Cool Already on my list: designated biscuit pusher. Wink
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 12:56 pm    Post subject: Re: dave400’s Double Enduroman report Reply with quote

dave400 wrote:
Just one weekend like this a year will see me right.


Yep - can relate to that.

Great report, great achievement - tough to do it with a young family - well done.
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H




Joined: 24 May 2008
Posts: 911
Location: Dagenham

PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 12:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i've read a lot of the Enduroman reports today and this was the funniest. A humorous commentary on a very tough event. Well done!
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p00key




Joined: 24 Feb 2005
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 1:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

well done , what a fantastic effort
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dave400




Joined: 10 Aug 2006
Posts: 72

PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 1:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

thanks for all the nice comments - very rewarding to see people making it through such a long ramble!
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