Ten Days of Help
Shona Brady of Christchurch, New Zealand, describes her experience as a helper on one of the world's most gruelling ultra-races, the Self Transcendence 10-Day Race, April 2000.
I was fortunate enough to be at the Self-Transcendence 6 & 10 day races in April and May 2000, which boasted the second largest field in their history. A big draw card was the inclusion of Ted Corbitt in the field, and who wouldn't want to have the privilege of running with this great man. Ted, who is the most humble of people you could hope to meet, not only entered, but also completed the required 150 miles to make the 3-day cutoff, and then went on to complete the six days with a total of 240 miles.
I was there in capacity of helper to Niribili File. This was Niribili's second 10-day race. She finished the previous year with 500 miles, which was a great effort considering she suffered from serious foot problems for a great deal of the race.
This year was to be different. With lots of experience behind her and advice from all directions, this was shaping up to be a very special race. We planned lots of massage breaks and early checks on those troublesome feet- we were going to get those blisters before they had even decided they were going to be blisters.
The first two days were freezing, but I was more worried by it than Niribili was. She was spending so little time stationary that she didn't even notice that I was frozen on the side of the track. She very quickly got into a routine, which she maintained for the entire race with few hiccups.
By halfway through Day 3 Niribili was suffering from a sore knee, and was having problems with what food to eat. This is the stage where most ultra-distance runners find their bodies rebel at the continuous movement, and the stomach starts to question what is going on. This can be the crisis point. If Niribili could come through this, hopefully she would be fine for the rest of the race.
Miraculously, 12 hours later she was running strongly again, and showed no signs of her struggle, although the knee did continue to give her problems off and on, something we attempted to minimize with regular massages of her quads. This was just one example of the perseverance and determination that these runners are capable of in the times that the mind and body are saying "Enough"!
Niribili's best running was always done between midnight and 6am. She would happily run without help for these hours- which gave me time to sleep- and when the sun started to come up she would stop for a massage and maybe a short rest of half an hour. By this time all the runners were out again, helpers were busy again scrubbing dirty socks and running gear, and the cook was back in the kitchen for another day of continual cooking.
Niribili would now run until about 10.30am, by which time she would be getting pretty weary. She would thenhave a longer break in medical for a massage and blister check, and then rest in her tent until lunch was ready at 12.00. She would then decide every day how long she would like to sleep, setting her alarm and instructing me to check that she had woken. However I would invariably go to her tent only to see her running off in the distance. She never woke to her alarm, but had a faultless internal clock that got her up about five minutes before it went off, and I never had to wake her.
From Day 3 the weather was much warmer, and Niribili ran steadily, keeping the same routine. Niribili can run remarkable distances on just fruit, but this can get rather boring so we included the occasional "treat" of yoghurt, vegetable juice and mangoes. It's amazing how much a pot of yoghurt can brighten your day after running the same 1 mile loop 400 times.
Days 9 and 10 were killers. The temperature soared into the early 30s and Niribili was beginning to reach exhaustion by the time the last 12 hours came around. We broke every lap during the morning with a soaking under the hose, which was fun but did little to combat the heat. The toughest time was going to be 1pm to 6pm on Day 10. This was Niribili's worst time of day and she usually ran very little, but 6pm was the finish time so she had to be awake.
By this time Niribili had secured second place in the women's race but was so may miles behind Elvira Janois of Yugoslavia that she would have no chance of catching her. Thus at 4pm, when Niribili reached 510 miles she decided to stop. She had beaten her distance in last year's race by 10 miles, but not only that she was injury-free, blister-free and on top of the world. She still had that smile on her face for which she was known and admired. Who else could smile for 10 days nonstop?
It was the experience of a lifetime for me and hopefully one I can experience again. The camaraderie which builds up amongst the runners is so inspiring. Very little sign of competition exists, for they are competing with their own limitations rather than with the other runners, and they are always encouraging and supportive of each other. To see another runner go through a hard patch and survive is a great source of inspiration. There is no thought of giving up here.
With Niribili going from great things to greater things, maybe the next challenge will be the Self-Transcendence 700 Mile Race. You may be hearing more from us.