Debbie dedicated this run to The Gracias Foundation. Find out why she runs and what this run taught her below:
Standing at the start line of the Grand to Grand Ultra I had a feeling of trepidation. I was about to run 273km completing 6 stages over a mix of desert and other terrain. I knew I could go the distance but I was scared of the sand running. Living in a land-locked country I did not manage to do specific sand training and was worried how I would cope with this.
Each competitor was assigned to a specific tent and each tent had Native American names. My tent was called Apache and I was lucky enough to be sharing with a great group. One of the best aspects about doing races like this is that you grow the friendships you have and get a chance to build new ones. Ours was a real Expat tent and they were a great group of people that became my support during the week, people who I could cry with, cuddle with and share all the race goings on.
Stage 1 was tough. I set off at a very conservative pace as this stage was my warm up. For the first 20km the route was runnable, then we hit a cactus field which slowed everyone to a walk. For me, however, it was a welcome relief to focus on something else and stop thinking about my heavy pack. I finished in good spirits and was surprised to find I was 4th lady, with the 3rd lady only around 5-10 minutes ahead.
On day 2, I managed to move into 3rd position. The route meant that I saw the camp from about 15km away and it seemed to take forever to reach. It kept taunting me as I slowed in the heat of the day, following the long, flat, boring route. I walked and ran as best as I could, using my mantra of “running will get me there quicker” in addition to remembering the words of my daughter “Go Mummy Go!!”
Day 3 was the longest day. Most people were afraid of this stage as we had to cover 87km but had 34 hrs. to complete it. I knew I could do the distance and as I love running in the night, I was looking forward enjoying the time in the darkness. I was, however, afraid of the amount of sand that we had to cover. My best bit was the route through the dense vegetation. I danced my way between bushes, cacti, trees and darkness while following the little lights that looked like a chain of sparkly Christmas lights guiding me to the next checkpoint. This was my best stage and I came 11th overall.
I had now completed 178km. I had managed to get some great blisters on both heels and around 7 of my toes. While I was running I didn’t really notice the pain of the blisters but once I stopped and took off my shoes I could feel the pain.
The next 3 days were my hardest. I had a great rhythm going and my body was used to the distance now, however I was starting to lack energy. I also noticed that the muscle in my left thigh was sore. This wasn’t making my running any easier but I kept pushing on just focusing on getting through to the next checkpoint and then to the next one. It worked, but when I crossed the finish line on Stage 5 I cried, as I was utterly exhausted. Thankfully my tent mates were there with big cuddles and tissues.
On the morning of Stage 6 I woke feeling exhausted. The night had been freezing cold yet I had been overheating. I had been feverish, super-hot one minute then very cold the next. I got little sleep and when I did, I would wake up sweating. I told myself that I just had to get to the finish line. I was in the last group starting at 8am, which meant we started in daylight. The group started slowly and stayed together but I found it hard to keep up with them, which was disheartening. The blisters on my feet hurt, my leg hurt and I felt shattered. I caught up to Yuri and stuck with him, running and walking when he did, and we stayed together for the last 3 or 4 kms. It was great to chat with him and that took my mind of me. We crossed the finished line together and I don’t remember much apart from bursting out crying again, whilst hugging the fantastic organisers Tess and Colin Geddes.
I did it. I had completed the Grand To Grand ultra-marathon and even though I suffered through the last few days I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my adventure. I even surprised myself by coming 3rd Lady and 15th overall in a total time of 41hours 21 minutes. I found out later on that day that one of my blisters had actually become infected and the infection had spread all the way up my leg. This was what was causing my exhaustion and sore leg. Thankfully the medics were still around and were able to give me antibiotics to help clear the infection.
This race taught me that when times are hard you can still reach your goal, it just might require more effort or a different approach, but with your own belief that you can do it, you can make it happen. When I think about my hard times I realise that they are insignificant in comparison to some others in the world. This is one of the reasons why I dedicated this run to helping a charity close to my heart, The Gracias Foundation.
Gracias’s mission is to empower vulnerable and impoverished women and children with holistic resources to lead dignified and self-sustainable lives. They work with small grassroots organizations that are already catalysing social change in their communities but just need an extra boost to maximize their impact – like the safe house in the Congo that heals young women and girl survivors of sexual violence, or the youth home in Ethiopia that cares for adolescent orphans living with HIV.
Their philosophy is that lots of small acts of kindness can add up to big mountains of change. And giving from a place of gratitude (not guilt) can transform your own life and the lives of others.
Read the full story on Debbie's blog here: Mac Running Adventures