12 months ago, I ran in my first ever ultra (you can read about it here. It’s good, I promise!). So enamoured with the course and the race, I decided that I wanted to have another go at it this year. Seemed like a simple, and good enough idea.
A change to the schedule at the start of the year meant that this race was now only one week after my 100 mile debut at the North Downs Way 100.
A sensible person might not enter another ultra, so soon after pushing my body to a new limit, but as I’m sure I’ve covered by now in many posts from this last year; I am not a sensible person.
I remember saying to Denzil, the race director that if I had to, I would “crawl” over the finish line just to finish. Little did I realize just how close to the truth that would be.
Now in my defence, I felt fine and fully recovered in the days prior to the race. A couple of lingering aches I suppose on reflection, but I hardly noticed them. Stupid high pain threshold! I figured that worst case scenario: I run for a bit, then if need be, I walk the bits I’m uncomfortable.
As we all gathered at the start, I recognised a lot of faces from last year. It was only a small crowd; maybe 70 at a push, but it was nice to see a few people I knew.
The starting gun went off in low budget fashion. So much so, it actually sounded a lot like Denzil just saying “go”. I set off down the beach at a deliberately quick pace. I felt that if I was going to pull up injured at all during the race; I wanted to have some miles behind me first.
15 minutes running down the beach and I felt good! Really good actually! No discernable muscle soreness; tendons all intact. ‘This is all going according to plan’, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting away with this’. Then I remembered to start my Garmin, currently reading 0.00 miles done. ‘Okay, maybe my brain isn’t all there just yet..’
I ran with a bloke called Steve, who I met last year at this event. Conversations during races always seem to descend into the same patterns, as you suddenly realize you are talking to a runner, and all the usual rules and paradigms of conversation are lifted. You can chat about PB’s, races and other things that would drive any normal person into a boredom induced coma.
Things were going well at checkpoint 1; I stopped to fuel up on a small drink of coke and a solitary jelly bean before confidently striding off. I was invincible! Cue the soundtrack ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen…
Checkpoint 2 was a different story. Things started to hurt; really hurt. I determined that I could run, but only if it wasn’t uphill… Or downhill….. Or a bit bumpy. At 14 miles I essentially had to throw in the racing towel. The race was over for me, but could I still finish?
I wasn’t about to quit just because I wouldn’t do well all of a sudden. I have no real issues with coming last if it happened to come to that. I experimented for a little while; I determined that I could walk without pain; I could hobble, and oddly…. I could also skip. Well that settles it then; I will prance and skip the remaining 26 miles to victory and conquest! I bet not many people have ever had this thought process.
This frankly brilliant plan came to a premature end after about 2 miles of what felt like constant, steep downhill. The compensation of taking weight off one side eventually transfers and tweaked muscles on the other side rudely started coming out of the woodwork just to mock me.
Walking was now painful. Runners were now flooding past me and I received a lot of sympathetic pats on the shoulder as they went past. Clearly my race was now over.
As I trudged through the forest in absolute agony, I tried to enjoy the walk and the scenery, but I started to think about what I’d do with the rest of the day if I dropped out at the next checkpoint. I rang my mum to tell her I’d be late whatever the case, as she had generously got up at ludicrous o’clock in the morning to drive me there.
When was my next race? Is there any value in continuing? A woman (I never caught her name) jogged past me at this point who was also suffering; she told me she was also considering dropping out at the next checkpoint from exhaustion. Sometimes you can get that; your body is just not in a place for racing. There’s not always a lot to be gained from finishing.
My next race is not for another 3 weeks, so I would easily have enough time for these muscles and tendons to fix themselves. I’ve never experienced this side to a race before. Knowing that I’m going to finish near the back (if not dead last itself), but then again, someone has to finish last and I have always said that it’s not a bad thing. In fact, the runner that finishes last has often had to show more fortitude than the winner in my opinion. Surely we’ve all seen ‘Run Fatboy, Run’?
I finally made it to checkpoint 3 with a new resolve in me. I would finish if it killed me! At the checkpoint I met a couple of people; a guy called Glyn, who kindly lent me a knee support (well I say lent, I’ve just realized I’ve still got it, so thanks Glyn if you’re reading this. Woops.) and the lady I saw earlier, suffering with exhaustion. She had sadly decided to drop out, but I explained I would do my best to finish.
I like to think that as I hobbled off pathetically for the final 15 miles, she maybe had a change of heart as a result of this act. Whether it had anything to do with me or not, she jogged past me about a mile up the trail, looking much stronger! Obviously a refuel and a bit of a sit down was needed.
As happy as I was for her, I couldn’t help but start to feel a little sorry for myself again. Poor me! I bet I’m the first person ever to get an injury during a race before…
With a little over 10 miles to go I think, I saw Glyn again as he was coming back from running the wrong way like a wally. I’d like to rub that in more, but as he saw me, I was in the middle of being a bit confused myself by all the conflicting arrows navigating us through the holiday park.
We quickly agreed in an unspoken agreement, that neither of us were going to run again for the remainder of the race. I reckon that between us, you couldn’t cobble together a fully functional human body. Misery loves company however, and for 3 hours we chatted and distracted each other from the knowledge of being a bit broken. I had to laugh every time we had to walk down steps, clutching to the rail and climbing over gates like they were well defended castle walls. We did not look like athletes.
Everyone likes an underdog though and the fanfare, trumpets and marching band were all very welcome as we crossed the finish line… Okay, that last bit might not have happened, but it did in our minds as we crossed the line in good humour. Joint 20th I believe as well, so miraculously we weren’t even last. I still strongly maintain that there is no shame in being last; it just means you’ve had to work at it for longer. I can vouch for that as well, as I was 3 hours slower than last year, but no less shattered at the end. So there we go then, victory!
This race was my favourite event from last year and it was all about the runners, as well as the spectacular scenery. My thanks to Denzil and all the marshals once again for putting on such a good race, and for not making fun of me too much. I was so pleased to finish, I’m even prepared to believe your bullshit story about the welsh spelling on the pint glass.
This race reminded me a lot about why I got into running in the first place. It’s not always for personal gain; that requires talent and a little bit of ‘not being injured’ always helps as well. Sometimes the thought that your actions might affect someone else in a positive way is enough. Glyn told me afterwards that he was expecting to finish an hour or so later; probably making a lot more stops on route, so if I’ve had any impact on a faster time, that’s enough for me.
Another thing I just want to make sure I make clear, is that I’m not endorsing running on an injury. There are many cases where a DNF is the more sensible option. Perhaps I should have stopped at the 2nd checkpoint; only time will tell now, but I think I’ll be okay. I judged that injury to be muscular and not a problem with the joints. If there were no races involved, you would describe it as a simple case of overtraining. Rest is required now for the next 2-3 weeks annoyingly, but I should be back up and running again for the ‘Gritstone Grind’ ultra on the 7th of September.