(Post-script: I’m laughing my head off as I realise I’m writing this tale of woes and troubles while beside my laptop is a copy of my current read: Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run http://scottjurek.com/ … which puts everything into perspective! In short, the following ‘harrowing’ tale is, in reality, akin to having a tantrum because I had to run down the road for the bus! Here goes, though …)
FINAL RESULT: My first ever medal 🙂 2nd place … wait for it …. SUPER VETS (isn’t that fab?? I love it!) 10 hrs 30:46 – room for about 3 hours of improvement!! Here’s the story:
My second foray into ultra-running and once again I was blessed with perfect weather – blue skies, warm sun, light breeze. Good start. In terms of comparison with my first ultra experience, however, that’s where any similarities ended. In fact, the difference between the two ultras was akin to the difference between a 5-star hotel and a room over the pub. There was no spoon-feeding here; no cotton wool wrapping. Somehow it made it much more real – and more natural; more challenging and also more daunting.
I bumped into Loxley Crawshaw in the car park – a fellow 100k-er from London to Brighton. A friendly face was most welcome at the start line although I knew he wouldn’t be around for long. We had two very different race plans – his being to go out hard and keep going, mine being to go out slowly and just do whatever to get to the finish, ever wary of my inexperience. I learned a lot during my first 100km race but I had a feeling this High Peaks 40 Mile Challenge was going to introduce a whole new meaning to the term ‘learning curve’. I wasn’t wrong.
A vague hand wave (there may have been a whistle, who knows …) and we were off. I felt good – and I loved loved loved the real ‘trails’! There was no warm-up to the first hill, though. Those peaks came thick and fast, the views were jaw-droppingly gorgeous and I was feeling on top of the world. My body, I’ve learned, will moan, shriek and howl like crazy over the first 15 to 20 km of any run, so I was quietly ignoring all the complaining and pacing myself perfectly, but it didn’t take long till I realised that one particular niggle was not something that was going to go away. Not five miles in and I was forced to stop and stretch my IT band. I was gutted. Demoralised, demotivated and downright pissed off. I hadn’t had an IT problem for months. Now? NOW? It had to surface NOW? In hindsight I figure it was those blasted initial downhills. Descents had reigned in those first few miles and the combination of hard surface and my obviously rubbish downhill technique now left me facing the entire rest of the race with an injury that was only going to get worse. I was angry and upset and bitterly disappointed.
But neither anger, upset nor bitter disappointment were going to be of any practical use in my quest to finish this race ‘no matter what’, so I adopted a philosophy of stretch, run what you can, concentrate on the ascents and limp/crawl/stagger all the downhills. At least I was not alone in my world of injurydom; fellow racer Kelly Thorn and I decided by the 10 mile mark we might as well introduce ourselves since it was becoming quite apparent that we were going to be spending a lot of time either together or within yelling distance. The company was hugely appreciated as the course got more and more demanding (in beginners’ terms, at least). The ascents got steeper and the terrain definitely ‘difficult’ at times. Mam Tor – the first biggie of the day – made Ditchling Beacon look and feel like a speed bump. Accessed by innumerable gigantic steps, I was very grateful for the hours I’d spent on Jacob’s Ladder in Brighton! At the top, our running duo became a foursome as we were joined by two MDS trainees on their first MDS training run – and who’d already put in a couple of ‘alternative’ kilometres … all in the name of training, of course LOL The subsequent and partly sub-conscious boy v. girl competition worked wonders for the rest of the course and proved excellent distraction from shooting pains up my right leg, now accompanied by a nostalgic childhood sensation of drying blood around the gash in my left knee where that ‘difficult’ terrain had scored a definite few points.
Mam Tor was swiftly and cruelly followed by Cave Dale which was, in short, brutal. Was it because I hadn’t trained enough? Was my nutrition already off at this point? Was it because it came so quickly after climbing Mam Tor? I still can’t answer that but if Mam Tor was steep, Cave Dale was Energy Sapper Extraordinaire – something that didn’t escape the watchful eye of a cute 4-year-old picnicking with his parents who summed it all up when he piped up as loud as can be ‘Ooooo, it’s really ‘ard werk, isn’t it? The observation brought all four of us to a walk, as we just couldn’t muster the energy to laugh and run at the same time!
It was soon after that that Kelly asked me straight out ‘Will you finish?’ I’d been really struggling, over-compensating with ‘alternative’ running styles and God knows what else! It was a defining moment, however, that moment when she asked that question, because it was the moment I realised I’d learned something about myself that I was quite proud of: it dawned on me that the idea of stopping or not finishing had never once crossed my mind. I’d thought of stopping to stretch, maybe even resting, perhaps stopping and eating something half-decent from my backpack, or attempting to tape my leg …. but I had never considered not completing the course. Perhaps that makes me an even bigger fool – it was a proud fool who kept going!
From the halfway point onwards, it got tough – somehow tougher than the 100km, which I thought was fascinating (and a wonderful distraction!). I can remember how tough it was because I stopped looking at the scenery. My entire concentration was taken up with placing one foot in front of the other (don’t think, just do!) – and ticking off checkpoints. Little did I know the highlight of the race was yet to come. My sincere gratitude goes to the elderly man who proffered the QUOTE OF THE DAY which I can honestly say lifted my spirits so much that I know I got at least another 5 miles out of them! In ten seconds of pure, absolute sheer magical genius, this gentleman pulled to the side of the trail and stood leaning on his walking stick watching us pass. As I limped up the trail, he hollered to his wife, a little further down the track. ‘Oi! Marge!’ he shouted. ‘I thought the paralympics finished last week!’
I wish I’d felt well enough to tackle the final 10 miles of the challenge with some of the passion they deserved. Not having a running buddy – or indeed feeling competent enough to run with anyone (!) – my off-road ventures tend to be short or, if not that short then it’s only because I’m lost – again! It was wonderful and exciting and exhilarating to explore what I suppose can only be described as my first experience of a real ‘trail’ run. I had no idea how to deal with the varied terrain underfoot. I’m sure it wasn’t that tricky save for my lack of experience and even an ounce of knowledge as to how best to ‘run’ over it. Being at the back of the pack has disadvantages other than simply keeping checkpoint marshalls from afternoon tea/dinner/sleep? It also meant that I couldn’t learn by watching how the ‘real runners’ actually went about covering these sections of the course. As a result it was slow and arduous instead of slow and exciting – or even fast and exciting! Besides which, I was distracted by a whole new sensation, namely the waves of nausea and trailside vomiting. Body was definitely saying ‘Noooooooooo!’
Thankfully, at the last-but-one checkpoint there was a HOT DRINK. It must have been the heat that enabled me to finally keep some fluid in my stomach. Just as well, as the MDS lads had set off quickly with renewed energy knowing that the finish line was close, and that meant only one thing: they had to be caught. They were caught. They were caught crying – or was that Kelly who was crying? I know it wasn’t me because I didn’t have the energy (much less enough fluid in me to create tears lol). Just 3 miles to go and look what appeared around the corner … the most lethal and horrendous gorge. It hadn’t looked like that on the map – it had just looked like a little hill, but it did (it really did) reduce competitors to tears!! OMG it was scary. I’d love to have gone down it on my bum but the path was only wide enough for half a bum-cheek! There was bugger all to hang on to and …. one wrong step and it was a long way down. Oh yeah! Scary times! But the bonus was that I didn’t give a toss about the ascent on the other side – the relief of reaching the bottom still upright was all the boost that was necessary.
The last mile was predictably interminable and I confess that terrain, nutritional errors, hydration hiccups and injuries had definitely taken their toll by then. The agreement with Kelly to sprint the last 100 metres together was torn up and replaced by a 50m pledge – which was subsequently also shredded. I think the final sprint was the length of 5 large paving stones which led to the finish line checkpoint.
So what’s next? Well, I’m off to google some videos on downhill-running. Right after that I’m going to google how to run on different types of terrain – although I have a feeling the answer will be something like ‘You’re supposed to just know how to do that, duh!’ Finally … well, me and the High Peaks have unfinished business, so next year …
Meanwhile, wishing the MDS guys an amazing experience in 2013. And Kelly Thorn? Thank you for your company and wishing you an incredible 5 days of running in October in the Himalaya 100 (yes, I’ve looked it up – wish I hadn’t )
Next: Paras 10 (October)
42-mile Peak District Night-time Team Challenge (2013)
Hadrian’s Wall (2013)
High Peaks 40-Mile Challenge (The Return!!) (2013)
Hmmmm … best get training