Archive | Running RSS for this section

Back in Cyberspace – update 1.0

You may have noticed that I have been away-from-my-blog, off Facebook  – a thumbs-up giver and comment-maker rather than a poster of posts; a tweet-reader rather than a twitter’er.

In fact I have been rather anti-social about social media.

I have had my reasons. Thankfully those reasons no longer apply. Armed with my towel, I am ready to resume hitchhiking the galaxy!


If you have read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you will understand what this means. If you haven’t here’s a brilliant 28 minute podcast by the BBC R4 Bookclub.


To recap what I’ve been up to since 2012.

  • I did not end up running the Marathon des Sables. Five months before the race, I went for a 4hr training run followed by a delicious black squid Paella (I haven’t been able to eat it since). Hours later, I was on my way to hospital in an ambulance writhing in pain – appendicitis.


I was barely well enough 4 months later to go to the desert to work as a ‘Commissaire du Bivouac’ for the race…


Highlights of the experience include –

  1. Flare demonstration: setting off a red parachute rocket flare (which we never get to play with on Survival At Sea courses), while standing on top of a Landrover in front of 1,500 people
  2. Joining famous French ultra-runner Laurence Klein and race director Patrick Bauer in his’ Ecureuil’ helicopter to fly over the course on what happened to be my birthday.
  3. Mapping out a runway with Giles “Avion” for the Cessna to land in a wadi (salt flat).
  4. Getting left behind.

One morning my driver stopped his truck and walked up a small jebel (hill) in search of mobile phone reception. He wanted to order bread for his family. As the convoy pulled away, my radio went out of range. I soaked up the silence of the desert and realised that what attracted me to the MdS was the appeal of SILENCE.


After working for the event for 2 years, the race became a job rather than a calling. I moved on, sadly without running the course.

During my stint with the MdS UK, I designed and wrote content for 3 websites, 1 Facebook account, 2 Twitter accounts and organised 2 conferences for 300 people.

The idea for first MdS UK EXPO arrived after I entered the race.

I need help!  I thought to myself. I need professional help. I need advice from lots of professionals and I can’t be alone in thinking this.

The professionals were keen to help and the event sold out in advance!

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 164

For many runners, the freeze-dried lunch sponsored by Fuizion Freeze Dried Food, was their first freeze-dried meal EVER. (Fuizion is by far the market leader, so what a great way to start!)

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 191

I was thrilled when Dr. Mike Stroud, OBE agreed to speak.

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 223

And ecstatic when I also managed to book Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 278

Although to this day, I have no idea why Sir Ran held up this sign to the photographer after his talk, whether he wrote it himself or one of the attendees wrote it…

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 310

Perhaps the answer…




‘Forty-two,’ said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.


She’s Got Rhythm

It’s Saturday morning at 11.35am and I’m over half way through a spinning class. I’m riding flat out with 80% resistance when I become convinced,

I can’t keep up this pace.

Then the song changes. I’m not really aware of what the song is, only the beat. Dum-daahm-dum… I focus my mind on the beat. I begin pedaling to the beat – left leg up, right leg down etc.

After a few minutes I forget about the lactic acid build-up in my hamstrings. In fact, the lactic acid build-up seems to have disappeared. I am pedaling beyond my limit. My brain has been distracted by the beat.

This gives me an idea.

I go home and type metronome into Amazon.

To my surprise, Amazon suggests that if I like this mini clip-on metronome, then I might like the book Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless Injury-Free Running, which Amazon should know I already have. But I am intrigued to discover that I am not alone in my thinking. Phil (UK) in his product review, says:

I like to run with a metronome and earphone. I’ve tried metronome tracks on an mp3 player but this is better.

After flicking through my purchase options, I plump for the BestDealUK M50 on the grounds that it weighs a mere 19 g, only takes a 3 volt hearing aid battery and costs £4.99. Plus a compatible stereo earphone jack is available. I might want the ticktock in both ears later, you never know.

The good news is that if I can train to beats per minute now, then I might be able to metronome-stride my way across the Sahara. At least, that’s my latest plan. So, yes. I’ll come clean. I’ve been flagging in my training. Motivation is on the dip and I need a little pace-setter, if only in my head. Especially in my head.

Now She’s Got Rhythm, She’s got something I need…

All The Gear and No Idea?

Naturally, the first thing I did when I decided to take up running seriously was go shopping.

Having heard that compression clothing was the latest thing, I ordered a pair of Under Armour Core X Coldgear Tight Running Pants to try. The words tight running pants (a.k.a tights) should have been my first clue and of course what looked like a delicate pink on screen turned out to be fluro pink. Oh well nevermind, I thought trying them on in the privacy of own my living room. They felt great and fitted like a glove.

My second purchase was a gorgeous wind-stopper jacket from Brian at RunTru.

Pearl Izumi in brand and extremely lightweight, the shell I chose was fluorescent yellow or screaming yellow as described on their website. Thus it became apparent on my first outing in my new gear, that I must have envisaged running in the dark, when nobody would see me.

I’ve always said that if I marry an American I’m going to do so in Vegas dressed as an alien – green face, friends wearing foil hats… now a pair of compression tights with fluro pink threading and a screaming yellow shell may be all that’s needed to complete the scene. In the meantime, I will continue to run around Falmouth, thankful that I am not quite the slowest runner in the world and that if people are commenting I’m not hanging about to hear it!

The good news about compression tights is that they wrap around my shins and calves, quadriceps and hamstrings and make my legs feel less like legs and more like leg machinery. This may sound very odd, which of course it is, but if you follow my logic – if they feel less like legs, then I can pretend that they’re not my legs! ‘Come on legs!’ I can say as if they are outside of my will – the pathetic will that obviously wants to slow down and preferably stop. This is all part of the training. My legs need to learn to transport my upper body around 6 times per week, so that when they stop they feel like they are intended to keep going, up dunes, down dunes…

Like an athlete, a long distance runner
On a track meet spring, fall, winter, summer


No alcohol, no weed
No cigarettes, no E’s
No milk, no cheese
No eggs, no meat
Just meditation and peace
Red lentils, chick peas
Good workout, good sleep
Mo’ sunshine, light breeze…

Finally I have started wearing a backpack, not intentionally mind you, but because the gym closes at 9pm. Strapped into my backpack I feel like a superhero with a jet pack. I feel invincible and fast. ‘Yes!’ I say to myself. ‘I can do anything.’ I swing my arms forward, left then right. Then I look down and my legs are moving impossibly slowly and I chuckle in comic despair. ‘How am I ever going to run across the Sahara?’

Years of Amazon training may be required…

She Blinded Me with Science!

Now that I am beginning to get serious about my entry in the Marathon des Sables 2013 and running 6 days per week (…as of last Friday), I have managed to acquire a 4-phase, 12 month training programme specifically geared towards the MdS! Carefully designed by Nic Jarvis, each phase of the programme is 12 weeks long and rather than the emphasis being on speed, the programme is governed by heart rate zones, MAP, MEP and SAP.

But the real je ne sais quoi of this programme, is that each day of the 6 in the running week corresponds to a percentage of the marathon that I will be running on-that-day in the Sahara.

Sounds good so far… but what the heck do MAP, MEP and SAP stand for? According to Ingo Logé (Exercise Physiologist Clinical Nutritionist, Chek Practitioner and the owner Of Fitness Forever Personal Training In Palm Desert, California…), who claims that a target heart rate zone can guide me to my “most energy-producing state;”

MAP  =  my Mostly Aerobic Pace (aerobic and fat burning.)

MEP = my Most Efficient Pace. “In this precise, precariously situated zone, you have the heightened awareness of a tightrope walker,” – Logé.

SAP = Speedy Anaerobic Pace “In this zone you feel noticeably challenged, in a state of greater stress and strain, with a sense of urgency and alarm!” (anaerobic sugar-burning.)

If, like me, you are struggling to believe that in heart-rate zone terms, the acronym SAP really does stand for, “Speedy Anaerobic Pace,” you can rest assured! I consulted and an article appropriately titled, How to Run an Ultramarathon, and sure enough it does. I found further enlightenment on Chris’ Ultra Blog – thanks very much Chris!

So to work out your MAP, MEP and SAP…

180 – your age = MEP Upper Limit > 159 for me (call it 160)

MEP Upper Limit – 10 = MEP Lower Limit > 150

MEP L.L – 20 = MAP L.L > 130

MAP L.L + 20 = MAP U.L > 150

MEP U.L + 20 = SAP U.L > 180

SAP U.L – 20 = SAP L.L > 160

So, what about my poor body with all this pavement-pounding? Well, firstly I’m running off-road and along the beach as much as possible – which I really enjoy a) because it’s authentic training (It’s not called the Marathon of the Sands for nothing!) and b) because it’s beautiful when the tide is out and the waves are gently lapping the shingle. Aww…

Copyright Nick Bideford

Tide Race. Gyllyngvase Beach. Falmouth

However, as recommended by my pal Matt Judge, I have started taking a Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplement. Both substances can be found lurking in the Joint Care section of all good health-care stores and I have felt a remarkable difference to my knees. When I do squats they no longer snap, crackle and pop and when I’m out running, they don’t winge!

The US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative medicine did a study of the benefits of Glucosamine + Chondroitin and its intervention in the pain relief of osteoarthritis sufferers. Here comes the science:

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are natural substances found in and around the cells of cartilage. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the body produces and distributes in cartilage and other connective tissue, and chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water.

According to Wikipedia, Glucosamine is produced commercially by the hydrolysis of crustacean exoskeletons (or, less commonly by fermentation of a grain such as corn or wheat), whereas Chondroitin sulphate is extracted from cow or shark cartilage. Hmm. Still, Runners’ World is an advocate as are 79.8% of their surveyed runners! I managed to find it in liquid form along with aloe vera, thanks to Forever Freedom, who have:

“…married the rich nutrients of stabilised aloe vera gel with glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin sulphate, methylsulphonylmethane (MSM), ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and tocopherol (vitamin E)…” in a “tremendous combination drink!”

Second on the supplement list is (sustainable, Antarctic Ocean) Krill Oilwhich I opted for over the standard Cod liver oil, simply because the capsules are half the size. Apparently, Krill Oil is twice as effective as Cod liver oil and has the best source of uncontaminated Omega-3 EPA & DHA, blah blah blah… I did mention that the capsules were smaller didn’t I? And finally I wash that all down with a few drops of Echinaforce in water, for a little immuno-boost.

After all that jargon, I will leave you with Thomas Dolby’s eighties hit, ‘She Blinded Me with Science!’

Now all I need is a heart rate monitor, so that I can jog to my MAP, MEP and SAP zones…

‘If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl…

…but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward,’ said Martin Luther King Jr. in his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Not only do I too have a dream – the Marathon des Sables 2013, Luther King’s words couldn’t have been better advice this week as I struggled with a shin splint. I can’t fly and so was going running. When I felt ill-advised to run, I walked. When I had walked enough miles, I crawled home and iced up! Yes, I was warned and yes I probably ran too far too soon. Or was it too fast? Or did I just heal-strike one too many times?

Either way, I have now learnt that the cheapest (and arguably most effective) ice-pack can be found, not in the pharmacy but in the supermarket’s frozen veg section. The little Tesco’s near me had run out of frozen peas (students!), but had plenty of bags of frozen sweet-corn kernels and for less dollar! It was interesting to note that a tea-towel wrapped bag of corn also delivered a lower intensity cold for longer.

However, for shin splints, the website Sports Injury Info, recommends rubbing a home-frozen ‘ice cup’ directly onto the affected area, which looks intriguing. I will have to give it a whirl.

But maybe I just need to harden up –

What Martin Luther King didn’t say, Baz Luhrman has kindly added in Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) – the song based on the poem by Mary Schmich. Here are the running-relevant lyrics:


Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

And on that note, I feel like playing a song from the band CAKE called The Distance, because when I run over 10k, I look down at my feet wheeling round and round and often think, ‘Those things beneath my waist. They’re not my legs. They’re doing their own thing.’ Perhaps this is the nirvana of running? Let’s hope so.

He’s going the distance.
He’s going for speed.
She’s all alone
In her time of need.
Because he’s racing and pacing and plotting the course,
He’s fighting and biting and riding on his horse,
He’s going the distance…

While we’re talking about distance, I have to mention my new 1000 mile socks, bought from Brian at Run Tru in Truro!

Made of Tactel ® a polymer which is apparently ‘soft, supplely smooth, breathable and lightweight,’ the socks have cute descriptions – women’s ‘trainer liner’ and a ‘technical racing socklet!’ To the feet, well mine anyway, the socks feel like silk gloves, which in case you’ve never put a silk glove on your foot before, feels divine! Here comes the science:

The Tactel ® inner layer stays with the foot, wicking away moisture, whilst the outer moves with the shoe.

Sounds pretty clever to me, but wait for it – my favourite bit comes under the heading THE GUARANTEE.

Money back or replacement if, within one year from date of purchase, either you experience blisters or the socks wear out within 1000 miles, provided care instructions have been followed and socks are returned with original receipt.

So, firstly I worked out how many hours, days and weeks of running that would entail.

1000 miles/1609.344 km @ 10k/hr =

161 hours of running

@1hr day/7 days p.w

23 weeks or just under 6 months.

Now, here’s the more important question. Assuming I run everyday in the same pair of socks and wash them overnight over the course of 6 months (and keep the receipt!), how many washes do you think the ‘technical racing socklets’ will be able to handle?

Answers on a postcard please!

...and if you can't crawl, there's always the hula!

Hello, Mister Blister!

Anyone who followed my row across the Atlantic (Jan > March 2009) might remember my battle with the nasty bleeesters on my fingers. Unfortunately in my training for the ‘Marathon des Sables,’ the danger of bleeesters is back. In fact, one little blighter has already cropped up on my middle toe.

At this stage however, I say,

Welcome, Mister Blister!

You see, if I can blister now, then my feet should become all roughty-toughty in time for the race. At least, that’s my theory. What it also tells me, is that something is wrong. According to the NHS webpage on blisters, with its fantastic orange-ring-with-red-spot-in-the-middle gravatar, in order to avoid bleeesters you can:

  • wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes
  • wear gloves when handling chemicals
  • use sunscreen

which is fine advice, although not all applicable to my middle toe. So, it was clearly time this week to address, or rather re-dress my footwear!

Run Tru is a new, specialist running shop in Truro and so I took myself on a pilgrimage to meet Brian Price, the shop’s owner. With two pairs of Sauconys in hand, of 2004 and 2007 vintage, we set about analyzing my gait. Brian had me walk and then run across a panel on the shop floor. The panel took a pressure image of my foot, which Brian then analyzed.

The upshot is that my left foot (the victim of the bleeester) does do some kooky things! Occasionally my left leg steps ahead of my body, when it should be treading beneath or behind the plumb line of my torso. Tut tut tut! My left heel also strikes the ground inboard of my foot’s centre line. Consequently, my left foot doesn’t pronate very much, which the Asics shoe brand explains in their brilliant webpage titled Understanding Pronation. My left foot underpronates or supinates, which means:

The outer side of the heel hits the ground at an increased angle, and little or no normal pronation occurs, resulting in a large transmission of shock through the lower leg.

I learnt that as an underpronator I want to, a) avoid running in shoes that have dual density mid-soles and, b) have harder carbon-rubber on the inside of my shoes’ heel to encourage my tread more towards the centre line of my foot.

After the science part, came the shopping!

Here Brian showed me how a running shoe should fit. Once you’ve wriggled your foot into the shoe, you should give your heel a tap on the ground. This ensures that your heel is all the way back in the shoe. Next, there should be a gap of a whole thumb’s width between the tip of your big toe and the end of the shoe.

While aesthetically I fancied this sporty pair…

and I really didn’t want to buy anything white (which won’t be white for very long), I couldn’t get past the divine feeling that with these beauties,

Cinderella had been reunited with her rightful slipper! My footsie felt as snug as a bug in a rug!

With laces that stem from the sole (see beneath the PI logo), the shoe wraps the foot around the arch. I simply had to have them! Thus the fabulously titled

Pearl Izumi synchroFuel trainers for women

became mine!

If last weekend I ran 9 miles in 1hr 56mins (an aborted effort after the coastal path became an ankle-twisting mudslide), think what I could achieve this weekend!

So long, Mister Blister!

Sauna training?

Lying on the top rack of the sauna at the Falmouth Beach Hotel spa yesterday evening, I closed my eyes and imagined I was in the middle of the Sahara, running.

Yep, something like that!

Except that I wasn’t actually running, I was sitting still. I was sitting still and melting like a lollypop. I was losing the feeling of definition to my body. I was turning into liquid, my senses teased by beads of perspiration that tickled on my upper arm, right thigh and down my left breast, but not in a good way.

With my mouth closed, I could feel cool water on the roof of my mouth, condensed water. When I opened my mouth, the hot air invaded, permeated, hot air now being inside and out of me. My heart rate increased. My head seemed to expand and contract, pressure building, until my brain pounded with blood that thumped loudly in my ears. A low guttural feeling came next, of panic rising, I wanted to get out of there.

I pulled myself back to the middle of the Sahara desert.

There is no getting out of there

I calm down. I relax and the physiological symptoms disappear.


Back home, I threw the words ‘sauna training’ and ‘marathon’ into Google. Et voilà! I found this article by an 8-time-finisher of the (appropriately titled) Badwater Ultramarathon, which is a non-stop, 3-day, 135 mile, team event through some of the wildest terrain in Western United States in 130 degree (F) heat. 

In his article, our 8-man Arthur Webb states that the sauna serves two extremely important functions:

  1. It prepares the body to deal with the blistering heat
  2. It gets the body used to drinking and processing the large volume of liquids needed for survival.

Webb advocates sauna training every day, which I think is fantastic news!

When you get unexpected goose bumps at work/home or when it’s 100-degrees but feels like eighty, you are acclimated.

Perhaps training for the ‘Marathon des Sables’ isn’t going to be all pain, after all.


Sample four-week sauna training:

in Sauna
110 (steam)
110 (steam)
110 (steam)
110 (steam)

Check out the first 50 seconds of this video, by 2009 MdS competitor Adam CJ Park. I think ‘Fort Minor’ by Remember the Name, just became my favourite song of the day…

You ready? Lets go!
Yeah, for those of you who want to know what we`re all about
It`s like this y`all (c`mon!)

This is ten percent luck,
Twenty percent skill,
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will,
Five percent pleasure,
Fifty percent pain,
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

The Deadline for Entries

I received various messages throughout the day, since today is the last day for confirming a place in the Marathon des Sables 2013.  ‘So?’ ‘What did you decide?’ Readers asked.


A competitor 2 years ago told Steve, one of the MdS organizers (after begging Steve to take his race number off him at check-point 2 on Day 3 – needless to say he didn’t!) after finishing the MdS, that he had worked it out. He said;

The MdS is 90% mental,

Steve nodded in acknowledgement of this sudden wisdom. The competitor then said,

I have also worked out what the other 10% is.

After a perfect comic pause he continued,

The other 10% is mental.

Well, Thomas A. Edison did say that ‘genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration!’ And if you haven’t guessed already, I’m going RUNNING!

Let us live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.

Mark Twain would be proud that I have been offered a place in the Marathon des Sables 2013 (that 156 miles, 6 day, running jolly across the sandpit of Northern Africa I mentioned in an earlier blog). Now all I have to do is accept the place, places being oversubscribed and in demand as they are and by Thursday, the deadline for joining the throng being the day after tomorrow.

While, according to marathon nutritionist Sunny Blende,

ultras are just eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in,

the best ‘you-might-die, it’s-going-to-be-hell’ video, is this:

I recently read the bestseller ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall, which is a thoroughly good read, for runners and non-runners alike. (McDougall also has an excellent blog.)

Set in the Copper Canyon in Mexico, the book’s main character is a quasi-mythical white American, Caballo Blanco, who lives among the Tarahumara Running People. In his quest to discover the secret of long-distance running, McDougall who writes for Men’s Health magazine, became an ultra-running aficionado himself. So, how hard can it be?

“Don’t fight the trail.” Caballo called back over his shoulder. “Take what it gives you. If you have a choice between one step or two between rocks, take three.”

“Lesson two.” Caballo called. “Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three and you’ll be fast.”

But perhaps the best answer to my dilemma is presented in the Charles Bukowski  poem, ‘Roll the Dice,’ read here by Bono:

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
there is.

And on that inspiring note, I’m off out for a jog. Let’s call it a little 10k taster…

They call it the toughest foot-race on earth…

Call it a fit of madness or simply mad fitness; I am becoming obsessed with a 150 miles, 6-day, cross-Sahara, ultra-marathon called the ‘Marathon des Sables.’

The Marathon des Sables UK website calls it “the equivalent of running from London to Dover, deciding not to go to France after all and running back again. In 120 degree heat. With a back pack on. And voices in your head, talking about ice cold beer.” In case the gravity of what the MdS entails, has yet to sink in, the MdS website converts miles into their bigger number sister.

The distance is about 156 miles. That’s 254 Km.
The longest stage is about 55 miles. That’s 91 Km.

But frankly, the organizers are right when they say:

” You will struggle to explain to people why you would want to do this.”

In theory, 6 days of up to 20 hours a day of running should be nothing after 73 days of 12 hours a day of rowing, but that was the Atlantic and this is the Sahara. Somehow the addition of sand makes it seem less enticing. Which would you choose, (if you had to choose) between running a desert and rowing an ocean? As Eddie Izzard would say, Cake or Death

Alarmingly (for me, anyway) drop-out places have become available for the 2012 race beginning in early April. Fortunately I am safe, for now. I have other commitments. I am doing an MA in Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth and early April isn’t quite the Easter holidays.

Fun facts from the MdS website:

The organisation comprises of:

100 volunteers on the course itself
• 400 support staff overall
• 120 000 liters of mineral water
• 270 Berber and Saharan tents
• 100 all-terrain vehicles
• 2 “Ecureuil” helicopter and 1 “Cessna” plane
• 3 mountain bikes
• 6 “MDS special” commercial planes
• 23 buses
• 4 camels
• 1 incinerator lorry for burning waste
• 4 quads to ensure environment and safety on race
• 52 members of medical team
• 6,5 kms of Elastoplast, 2 700 Compeed, 19 000 compresses
• 6 000 painkillers, 150 liters of disinfectant

• 1 editing bus, 5 cameras, 1 satellite image station
• 6 satellite telephones, 15 computers, fax and internet


30 % Previous MdS competitors
25 % UK & Ireland entrants
30 % French entrants
14 % Women
45 % Veterans
30 % In teams of three or more
10 % Walkers
90 % Alternate walking and running
14 km/hr: average maximum speed
3 km/hr: average minimum speed
Age of youngest competitor: 16
Age of oldest competitor: 78