I’d been wanting a personal challenge and last Monday, after attending a conference and thinking about it on the long drive home, I signed up to do an ‘Ultra Distance Marathon’.
The event was yesterday, so I had time to buy the shoes but not to think too hard about it (I know you’re meant to wear them in first, but often there’s not enough time in life for doing things the way the way you’re meant to do them!)
Last week was a really busy one at work, and I didn’t have much time or head space for anything else. Friday night came, and I started thinking about what I’d taken on for Sunday. The weather forecasts were getting better each time I looked – thank goodness. But when I did a bit of research about ultra distance running, I decided that the best thing was to stop looking. Too scary. I keep myself fit, healthy, and have a strong mind – as Nike says, ‘Just do it’ I decided.
I know two people who are currently going through really tough times. One has had to withdraw from pretty much all of what she loved and knew in life for over a year now, and the other is undergoing agressive medical treatment. They are both an inspiration in their own way – their stoicism and positive acceptance of their situations, whilst staying amazingly strong and together. They are both amazing people – facing daily pain and challenges with grace and quiet determination that I am sure will get them through. Impressive, truly inspiring.
I am well, blessed with a body that is not challenged by illness or disability. I try to look after myslef, to make the most of the health and strength that I have, and I wanted to challenge myself – because I can. How wonderfully lucky I am.
So I entered, and went along to the start of the biggest challenge I have ever undertaken in my life, in many ways.
I’d got my shoes, my ‘compression skins’, headtorch and homemade oat & dried fruit bars. I arrived at the start – almost in tears, so terrified by the thought of what was to come. A couple of banannas and a cup of green tea later and we were counting down the 10 seconds to the start – 7am.
The first 12 miles were unbelievably muddy. The ground was a quagmire, and in places we heaved to lift our shoes off the suction of mud that gripped them at every step. The gradient – up or down – was steep, and the ground uneven. Slow progress. Heavy work – felt like each foot was carrying a couple of kg extra weight in wet, cloying mud. The mud eased a bit after that – slopes and sand to contend with, as well as less than clear signing. I went off course at one point – but thankfully not seriously. I was focusing on getting to the third checkpoint – 21.6 miles. Steady going. Cold winds. Unsteady ground. Suddenly it was there, in front – a sign saying ‘drinks ahead’ and a wonderful lady smiling and waving me in. The best cold squash I’d ever drunk – more seed and chocolate bars (I don’t even like chocolate, but sometimes ‘like’ doesn’t come into it!). The guy at the checkpoint was friendly but adoment that we should move on – whisking us away – quick, run on, don’t stop – grab what you want and go… … back across the top of the downs – a lovely, grey view but cold, biting winds. I went on alone for the next few miles, blessing the fact that I hadn’t got lost and hoping beyond hope that I wouldn’t. I felt in touch with myself, and it wasn’t as hard as I’d have thought it would be, if I’d allowed myself to think about it. Keep going, keep steady – so much better now that the ground was less muddy, and more even – if still very hilly and painfully uneven.
Doing this on a flat road would be a walk in the park. Just do it. Nobody said it would be easy.
Must have been around 23 miles – I felt a shooting pain in my left calf. It rose to behind my knee and beyond. Keep going, keep it steady. Nobody said it would be easy. Still going along alone. Don’t miss a signpost – small as they are.
Keep going – think of those who are facing greater challenges through no choice of their own… I put myself up for this –
just do it then it’ll be done.
At the 25 mile check I was starting to feel a bit queezy. The guy at the checkpoint spoke to me as though he was testing if I was ok – I’d read that they do this, as they don’t want you passing out in the middle of no-where between the safety of the checkpoints. I didn’t want to be pulled out at this stage, so started an oscar-winning banter with the lady at the post – then pushed on… in such a hurry that I forgot to fill my water bottle. Big mistake. Small sips to the next station.
The shooting pain in my left leg turned into a long, sharp, metal needle – stretching from the centre of my claf to above my knee. I sipped at my rationed water bottle. At around 27 miles I felt my feet swelling up – fingers too – an amazing feeling.
The 27.2 mile checkpoint came into sight. Ready to look alert and ok on entering it – called out my number and grabbed another drink and more seed chocolate bars. I left with a lady who asked if she could finish with me – both grateful for the company. Both pretty empty of energy but instantly best friends. We kept ourselves going with surrealy in depth talk about children, fashion (did I really have something to say about fashion?) and ultra marathons – she’d done a few. We seemed to be taking it in turns to go faster than the other would comfortably have wanted – faster than we really could I suspect, but aware that it was our turn to drive the engine. We kept ourselves going – that was the task.
It was getting much colder.
We were both totally drained.
Desperate not to get lost.
Desperate to see the end.
It seemed to be going on for ever – through woods, across fields, up, along, down, around – neither of us had anything left to give, totally empty.
Just grit keeping us going – in unsteady, increasingly desperate haste.
On and on. Nothing left to give, just foucs keeping us puounding.
Detached from the pain in our legs, totally exhausted – an amazing feeling that I won’t forget –
but keeping the increasingly sparce banter going – focusing on getting there, wherever it was. Where? Where?
At last, the best sight we had ever seen – a clutch of marquees in a field, with the warm welcoming orange glows of lights.
We could have laughed – or cried, but didn’t have the energy.
Our pace quickened automatically and we broke into a painful run – but it didn’t hurt – into the arms of a person – don’t know if it was male or female, but he / she held our their arms with medals that we proudly bowed our heads to receive. Personal victory, pride and relief.
I am so grateful that I am well, and my body works.
My inspiration –
1. Watching a friend, younger than me, as she struggles to walk down the road to the cafe, a couple of shops away from her door. She is a beautiful, intelligent, interesting person who has been through the mill and continues to bear it with grace.
2 Another person who inspires every time I see her. Her strength of character and focus is immense and humbling.
3 I know it’s an advertising slogan, and really cheesy, but the Nike line ‘Just Do It’ means a lot to me in all walks of life.
4 Freedom – I have the freedom to choose. Not everyone is so lucky to make their own choices in life. Sometimes it’s good to choose big challenges that take you so far out of your comfort zone that you can’t even think about it. And then I must remember that I chose to take on that challenge – my choice to see it through or not – my choice to have achieved it by bedtime, or to have failed – not down to anyone else – entirely my choice to keep at it or give up. Others are not so lucky. They are in unbearable situations for unbearable amounts of time. No option to get out of it – and no certain end at the end of the tunnel – however long and unknown that tunnel is.
5 The main line and beat of this tune –
not keen on the video, but that’s not there once the music is in your head!
sent to me by the only soulmate I’ve ever had.
He is no longer
the beat of this tune keeps me going when things are rough –
just focus on that beat… nobody said it was easy – just do it… … … … … … … … … … Done!