Monday, 21 May 2012

USA Day 17 - Revisited (17/05/2011)

Day 17 started with Stephen singing in the RV at the top of his voice! We soon established a new RV rule after that incident! The route started at an intersection on Interstate 15. It would take 4 miles to reach the start of the Virgin River Gorge, which is apparently 500 million years old! Construction of the Interstate road through the Gorge was completed in 1973. It involved re-channelling the river 12 times! I've read that the section of the road through the Gorge was the  most costly piece of rural freeway in the country, at the price of approximately $10 million per mile (at 1973 prices!).

I entered the Interstate road ignoring the "No pedestrians past this point" signs.  I was stopped by the police (again) 2 miles into the run. The officer suggested that, for safety reasons, I miss out the first bridge in the Gorge and follow an off road route alongside the river. In the build up to the run across the USA, I had spent a lot of time looking at this section of the route. There were 2 bridges in particular that looked very dangerous with a very narrow or non existent hard shoulder and a low wall running alongside. 

I approached the entrance to the Gorge with great excitement. The scenery was breathtaking. I had a few nerves as I'd never had the chance to survey the off road section of the route before. My plan had always been to stick to the road despite the risks involved. 

I reached the first bridge after 5 miles of running. The road was quite busy and, given the lack of a hard shoulder, it was a very wise decision to take the police officer's advice and go off road. 

I found the route underneath the bridge that the police officer had been talking about. The river down below was not very clear and was light brown in colour.

I soon reached a sandy section alongside the river. There were fresh hoof prints in the sand and I quickly made my way past several dark caves!

It didn't take too long to reach the other side of the bridge and I joined Interstate 15 once more. I was very tired after all of the clambering over rocks.

The canyon was very deceptive. I couldn't tell if I was running up or down hill. The only clue was to look at the way in which the water was flowing. The HGVs were giving me plenty of room. Nevertheless, I was still on my guard with maximum concentration as they drove past. 

I stopped several times to take photos and to take in the scenery. I probably should have ran a bit quicker but there were so many nice views to take in.

I reached the end of the Gorge and tweeted "Phew! Made it out of the canyon in 1 piece. That was tricky!". 

I met the support team at an intersection at the 10 mile point. We drove to the nearby Virgin River Canyon Campground where a line of wet washing was drying. I was really tired and decided to have a "tactical snooze". I think listening to Gary and Lisa on Real radio and updating the blog the night before had taken it's toll. As well as running over 400 miles of course!

I felt like a completely new person after that break. I was knocking out some much quicker miles too. There were a lot of climbs on that stretch and I was simply attacking them with great ease. Jon, or Comedy Jon as he was now known, made the following observation at that time.

"Unfortunately we have a problem with Mark. A grumpy, dishevelled figure shuffled unhappily onto the freeway after a long sleep at 1:20pm. He was so rough I saw he had no Camelbak (told watergirl Kirsty he didn't want it) and wondered if he was capable of making a rational decision. Two and a half hours later, way ahead of schedule, he came off the freeway smiling, laughing, telling jokes and saying "Attack, Attack!" over and over. We have got to the bottom of it tonight (well Kirsty gets pretty close to that area anyway) and the answer seems clear. Mark appears to have been abducted by aliens during the afternoon and replaced by a clone . We don't know how long the alien presence will last, but we are hoping it's the rest of the trip ;-)"

Jon's observation was spot on. Mile 10 to 20 flew by with some very satisfying running. I remember stopping to talk to a traveller who was carrying his worldly possessions on his back. He had walked all the way from Alabama and was on his way to California. I was soon on my way again following an exchange of mutual admiration and respect.

I took time to tweet the following:

"Currently destroying some big climbs in a beautiful part of Arizona."

"Legs feel brilliant. My @paddypower Bionic Ankle continues to feel strong too.". It was almost a year to the day since I broke my ankle and had 2 metal pins inserted. Paddy Power paid the 2 charities £250 to secure the naming rights for my ankle. Hence the name, The Paddy Power Bionic Ankle.

"Open jaw moment. Amazing scenery. Pics later."

At the 14.5 mile point I reached a bridge with no hard shoulder and a very low wall at the side. There was a considerable drop at the side of the bridge into the river. The traffic was reasonably quiet but the occasional HGV passed over the bridge. It was a very dangerous situation to find myself in!

I timed my sprint across the bridge to perfection. This was more down to luck than good judgement. Thankfully, I made it to the other side without any traffic passing me. I wrote on my blog that Usain Bolt wouldn't have caught me as I ran so fast across that bridge.

I reached the support team at the 2nd meeting point of the day (20 miles) to find that they were all fast asleep! They hadn't expected me for at least another hour. I had a right laugh with them during the second break at the 20 mile point. I told them that whatever we had been doing for the last 2 days we must keep doing. It was working!

I started the final session of the day just after 16:00. I entered the 4th state of the run, Utah, soon after. Once I got into Utah my GPS watch, being the clever piece of technology that it is, moved the time forward one hour as a result of the time zone change. This threw me for a bit and I felt very short changed at having lost an hour of time.

I stopped running for the day after 26.1 miles. Even with over 2700 ft of climbing it was the quickest day of the run so far. Kirsty's massage, Stephen's pasta and Comedy Jon's wit were working very well. We retired to the Wal-Mart car park in St George for the night. The support team, saving water, used the facilities in Wal-Mart.

Despite a shortfall in miles, it had been a brilliant day of running. The scenery had been fantastic. Making it into another state gave a feeling of progress and the support team was working well.

I'll close today's blog post with some words from Kirsty (pictured):

"I had been following the blog before I joined the team, recalling in particular Mark stating how he was ONLY eating porridge and pasta and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES was he to have caffeine as it gave him a sore head..... I’d been with Mark and Jon for an hour or so before Mr Run Geordie Run was tucking into his first of any McDonald’s meals with us. 

From reading the blog, as much as it helped the reader to get a sense of what Mark was going through each day, it still doesn’t show the grit and determination that Mark put in every single moment of those 100 days. I don’t think anyone can really appreciate how hard it was, unless they were there. There were some days Mark was struggle to get down the few steps to exit the RV but would still complete the mileage we had set for that day. 

We could drive away with him in the worst mood ever, and see him an hour later having spoken to Katy and Jack or his mentors Dave (Fairlamb) and Mark (Fleming) and be a completely different person. They were the motivation as much as raising money and it was great to see.

We decided that I would massage Mark at the end of each day and we would ice feet and any niggles as and when appropriate. We also had some team stretching as well. 

Before I joined the support team, it sounded as though Mark had been eating a very healthy diet, containing a lot of pasta dishes. I have some knowledge of sports nutrition and suggested Mark should try to eat more protein to ensure his muscles could repair themselves, and also he had to ensure he was eating enough calories to allow him to complete this mammoth task. I think Mark was overjoyed when I said he could basically eat what he wanted, as he would be working it all off anyways. So Mr ‘I only eat Pasta and Porridge’ was enjoying triple decker breakfast sandwiches, McDonald’s, massive pizzas, and whatever Stephen could muster up in the RV kitchen.".