The 315 km through one of the team member’s eyes

As promised yesterday, today’s entry has been written by LluĂ­s – team member and above all our friend.

Alexandra Panayotou has once again achieved a super human accomplishment. She ran non-stop from Salisbury to Norwich. I had the honour to be part of her support team during this challenge. Many people via Facebook, her blog or people who personally congratulated Alex, also congratulated us, the members of the team.

But…what does a support team do? What is its importance?

Our mission was to provide Alexandra with nutrition, hydration, keep her spirits up and help keep any doubts at bay, and to provide her with security. During a challenge of this kind there are many factors one has to control, problems one has to limit, so as to help it be a success. Starting with the route, and more so during this challenge where we knew practically nothing about it, which was in the UK and where one drives on the other side of the road. One had to take greater care in crossing roads, junctions and roundabouts. After many hours of physical effort, the athlete may have difficulties in judging when to eat, and often even in eating or hydrating sufficiently. Our job was to provide food at the correct times. When ingesting food became difficult, we had to find alternative solutions so that she could continue eating. It’s also fundamental to make sure that she gets the required amounts of isotonic drink.

The motivational part is often complicated, and one has to vary between cherring her on, giving her the odd motivational talk, and on occasion even give her the odd scolding, when she feels sorry for herself. For these reasons, there has to be a great bond, both between team members themselves, and between the team and the athlete in question.

But on this occasion the team went beyond just the three members who accompanied her. There are the people who are behind the challenge, who may not appear in the photos, but whose jobs are essential, as is the case with Xavier Varias “V”. Without his help we wouldn’t have been able to always keep on top of Alex’s progress and pace. Thanks to him we knew to correct her pace on the second morning, after getting through the first night. Due to digestive problems and intense cold, she’d had to stop many times and we’d lost a lot of time. Seeing that we were delaying from studying our table of times, Alexandra was able to force herself to pick up her pace and therefore make up for lost time.

Also, thanks to Estefi’s maps and her help in communication, people were always able to keep up to date with where we were.

The rapport between athlete and team is fundamental. Knowing at all times what is expected of you, and whenever possible being ahead of the needs of the athlete is important. Also keeping the water refilling and food stops to a minimum is absolutely vital.

One of the ways we’ve managed to develop our bond and our level of coordination ahs been through the long training sessions. It’s not something that happens in a day, and even less in just one challenge. Before this challenge Alex ran a series of long training runs, two of them overnight, where Frank and myself provided her with support along the way, as though it were challenge.

It’s important that there’s good organisation and coordination, and that’s why Frank is the team leader, and it was he who had decided the food, hydration and isotonic timing. Of course any decisions were discussed together, and once they had been taken we would suggest them to Alex.

One of the problems we encountered, and actually one we had been expecting after our past challenge experiences, was the distance that was shown on the maps. It’s nearly always much shorter in the maps than in reality, due to the hilliness of the routes, and due to the unpleasant fact of getting lost on occasion and having to run more than necessary, and on occasion due to the fact that the maps are totally incorrect.  During this challenge by the end of the second day Alex was well over 10 km more than planned, and she asked to find a solution, as the challenge and the time allotted had been for only 315 km. Our only solution was to have her run along a dual carriageway on the last day. We discussed it and then suggested it to Alex as we found this to be the best option. The original route was very complicated and would have taken us through a difficult to follow stretch through large towns and junctions that had about 26 potential places where we could get lost. We took the decision to continue along the dual carriageway, and it proved to be the correct one, despite the added danger from the traffic.

This challenge was also extremely tough for the team – we all stayed awake for some 63 hours as did Alexandra. Between Frank and myself we spent the 50 hours of the challenge on the bike. My hands became cracked and blistered, and I needent even begin to describe the pain of spending 16 hours solid cycling in running tights, or the fact that on Friday my food intake was a pastry for breakfast, a little piece of bread, a few biscuits and a small plate of pasta which I devoured hungrily when Frank took over from me that evening. The freezing temperatures of the nights were the worst part for me. The oddest thing was that I didn’t realise that I hadn’t been eating until I found the pasta in front of me. I’d been too focussed in the challenge itself.

Mark Elling, our English team member impressed me greatly. He was a true gentleman. He drove for 50 hours straight. He spent two nights sitting in what had become a veritable refrigerator. His job was essential. I don’t think that neither Frank nor I could have managed to handle the driving while at the same time provide Alex with the necessary support.

But a challenge like this one has its compensation. The fact of witnessing a stadium filled with 27.000 people giving Alexandra a standing ovation was a true gift. Afterwards in the boardroom, the congratulations reached us as well. Everyone greeted and congratulated both Alex and the team. The truth is that we gave her support, confidence, cheers and security, but I’m certain that with or without the team she would have achieved it anyway.

Now we’re left with many memories and the feeling that we’ve all lived a unique experience and helped contribute to the success of a challenge. But from all the challenge two things stand out for me. The wonderful and uncomplicated welcome we received from Chris Mould and his wife Angela, our hosts in the UK, and once again, Alexandra Panayotou’s way of being. Her humanity strikes me, but so too does her great quality as an athlete. At one point on Friday, crossing St Albans, I got off the bike to run beside her while pushing the bike. It was almost impossible for me to keep up with her. She had already run 155 km. The other thing that impresses me is her mental strength. After the first night she had a constant battle against herself to maintain her speed, and she had many exceedingly tough moments when she battled against exhaustion and sleep.

I’m proud to have been able to help you in this challenge, and above all to cound you and Frank as friends.
There’s no need for me to say anymore here, except to say thank you for what you’ve written, for your support and for your friendship.


5 Responses to “The 315 km through one of the team member’s eyes”

  • Vilaprat:

    Pues ya está todo dicho!

    A kilometrar!

  • Frank Jensen:

    Lluis – fue un honor para mi tambien llevar a cabo este reto de Alexandra contigo y con Mark… fuimos y somos un buen equipo :-)

    Y impresionando el apoyo que recibimos durante todo el desafio… recibi un monton de mensajes para Alex y para nosotros, el equipo, algo que significa muchisimo … gracias a todos para vuestro apoyo!!


  • Quim:

    Lluis, leyendo tu magnĂ­fico escrito me ha venido a la memoria este escrito del filĂłsofo indio Patanjali
    “Cuando te inspira un objetivo importante, un proyecto extraordinario, todos tus pensamientos rompen sus ataduras: tu mente supera los limites, tu conciencia se expande en todas direcciones tu te ves en un mundo nuevo y maravilloso. Las fuerzas, facultades y talentos ocultos cobran vida, y descubres que eres una persona mejor de lo que había soñado ser”
    Sois un equipo mejor de lo que incluso vosotros mismos os habĂ­ais imaginado.

    No me cansarĂ© nunca de deciros FELICIDADES, FELICIDADES, FELICIDADES….

  • V:

    ¡Qué grande! y qué mérito lo vuestro.

  • Enhorabuena a Alex y a su equipo, yo se lo que se sufre en este tipo de retos, a mi tambien me va lo de hacer kilometros en solitario, no al nivel de Alex, ni mucho menos, pero para mi es importante cumplir los objetivos propuesto, sigue asi campeona, y sobre todo nunca pierdas tu sonrisa….

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