It’s been a while since the last time I got my blog on, so in honour of the 1 year anniversary of the start of Dragonrun1027 (which was Sunday!), and because there’s at least one person that needs a bit of motivation, here it is! (It’s a long one, but bear with me!)
Last night I put a question out on Twitter…. “What is your response when someone tells you that you’ll never do something?” I was really pleased to see that all who responded to the question, came back with a similar attitude to mine. You go ahead and do it anyway and prove them wrong. This wasn’t a random question, it was linked to a conversation I had had earlier on. A friend, who wishes to remain nameless for the time being (I shall call her “Doris”!), was talking to a colleague of hers, who is a seasoned marathon runner, with finishing times that I bow down to. Sadly, along with his running strength, he also appears to have developed quite an ego. “Doris” mentioned in conversation, that she’d love to train for and do a Mountain marathon. The response to this should have been something along the lines of “Fantastic! Go for it! Do you have any in mind?” Instead she got “Really? Are you sure? I mean, you don’t exactly look like a runner, you’ll never manage it”…………… If, right now you have steam coming out of your ears and are shaking your head in disbelief, you’re on my wave length. If you see nothing wrong with this, I encourage you to read on because you might learn something!
I had my fair share of this kind of attitude, both before and during the Dragonrun. I’m not going to go on a rant about “What does a runner look like?” or “I don’t look like a stereotypical ultramarathoner, but I did the Dragonrun”. The first is a ridiculus question to anyone with half a brain cell, and the second is just too predictable. Instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to share some information that I haven’t yet gone into detail on, as I found it very hard to think about following the run.
When you complete a challenge that you’ve set yourself, no matter what it may be, eventually the feeling of satisfaction and relief often over-rides any of the pain or dark moments that were experienced in the duration (I’ve heard the same about childbirth…. I’ve watched One Born Every Minute, and I’m sceptical! Ha ha!). This was the case for me…. almost.
Previously I’ve mentioned “Day 15” in this blog, and in talks that I give, as being my darkest day of the Dragonrun1027. I wrote a blog several days after, but didn’t go into detail about it. I kept a journal throughout the run, which I have written up, and you never know, one day it might be put out in the public domain, but for now, I’m going to share with you, an excerpt from the day that damaged me.
……..It was Sunday 8th April. To most, it was Easter Sunday, but for me it was the day of my 15th marathon of Dragonrun1027. The route was Cardigan to Newquay. I was excited for the day, as I was running with two of my best buddies, Becca and Fadge*, who were joining me for a second time (hardcore!) and a friend I had not seen in years, Garod, who was running for the first 6 miles.
Physically I had the standard achy knees, and a slight twinge in my quad, but nothing to give me concern. We set off after meeting Garod and spirits were high! We were laughing and joking, and a few miles in we did the inevitable and took a wrong turn! Fadge, removed the GPS and the maps from my person and took charge, whilst laughing about how useless my sense of direction was, even with the tools! On arrival in Aberporth, we had a welcoming committee, Sarah (Garod’s lovely partner), their little girl, Emily and the rest of their family were cheering and waving with Andy standing by with drinks and food. We were saying goodbye to Garod here, and after a short break, it was time to tackle the rest of the route. Soon after setting off, I became more aware of pain in my quads. I put it to the back of my mind. I had learnt very quickly the art of distinguishing between “real pain” and “psychological pain”. The thing I wasn’t prepared for was just over the horizon.
Everyone has heard of “The Wall”. I had experienced it at least 5 times in the previous 2 weeks, and I was getting used to dealing with the situation as it happened. The breakthrough happened in Merthyr Mawr sand dunes, in the baking heat of day 2, where I literally slapped myself, re-fuelled and gave myself a good talking to! On this particular day however, mile 18 gave me a wall, a razor wire fence and a team of snipers. I was struggling to cope with the perceived pain that I had, and slowed right down. Becca and Fadge, suggested a quick stop and pretty much force fed me. You need to remember at this point, that this was far from a flat run, we were running up and down steep cliff paths the whole way. We plodded on, Becca and Fadge could see that I was struggling, but as yet, I was not prepared to crack. Inside my head however, I was breaking down. The words of the doubters were echoing in my mind, and instead of fighting against them, I started to believe them. I was seeing visions of my mum and dad shaking their heads with disappointment at me and it was breaking my heart, but I didn’t have the strength of mind to fight it. Every tiny niggle suddenly felt like I was being pulled apart limb by limb. Fadge helped me take the weight off for a while, and both he and Becca kept telling me I could do this. At no point did they suggest shortening the day, or tell me that I’d done so well so far, no-one would think less of me if I stopped. They refused to put any doubt into my mind. “One foot in front of the other…. One foot in front of the other” that’s what I was trying to yell inside my head to drown out the doubt that was taking hold. “NEVER GIVE UP!” We were nearing the end of the route and down to the last page on the map, something that normally gave me the fire inside to finish smiling, this time though, I felt distraught. I had been in a bubble of despair for miles, and was now feeling terrible that I hadn’t checked on how Fadge and Becca were feeling. I was disappointed with myself for being self absorbed. We took another wrong turn and had to navigate our way across steep sheep tracks. Each step felt like I was being hit by a car, and no matter how close to the finish we were getting I didn’t feel any happier. Andy walked back from the finish to find us, and he and Fadge held onto me for the last 50 meters. We finished and I burst into tears. I don’t cry very often at all, but I made up for it this time, I was hysterical and hadn’t cried like this since the day my dad’s death sunk in, it was a reminder I didn’t need right now. Andy drove us back to my friend Karen’s house where we were staying. He had pre-warned her of the situation, and Karen, having known me for years and her being an exceptional endurance athlete who really inspires me just knew what to do and say. She gave me a hug, told me to “woman up” and took over the care of Becca and Fadge, who I felt I had let down at this point, and who had a 4 hour drive to contend with that evening. I went to bed that night exhausted and with a broken mind, but waiting on my pillow was a card from Becca and Fadge with the Steve McQueen quote “When I believe in something, I fight like hell for it”. Never before has a quote been so apt. The next few days were tough, I was still quite numb and exhausted, but had to repeat the distance over tough terrain every single day. I had to block out all bad experiences of the previous day and get on with it. I didn’t write on Twitter or Facebook because I refused to write anything that wasn’t entirely positive and heartfelt. Getting through the day was my only aim, and I was helped by the incredible support I was getting along the way………
Amongst all of the good memories and awesome experience I had doing the Dragonrun, that day still haunts me. It always will, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. You see, thanks to those that were there on the day, and who witnessed the aftermath, I’m able to draw the positive in that I didn’t give up. I wasn’t even halfway through the challenge by that point, but went on to have some exceptionally good days, along with some not so good and very slow days, but through sheer grit and, lets face it down right stubbornness, I made it to the finish. My point, if you haven’t worked out already is that challenges are not meant to be easy. No matter what your personal challenge may be, 5K, half marathon, Ultra, Scaling the North Face of the Eiger, the clue is in the definition. If a person has set themselves a personal challenge it is no-one else’s right to enforce the opinion that they don’t think they’ll do it, especially in such a patronising way.
Mind over matter is a powerful thing, and I maintain that in many Ultra-endurance challenges 80% of it is psychological. If you let your head quit, you’ve had it!
Anyway, the next blog entry will have news of new challenges coming very soon! Oh, and “Doris”…….. you’re going to do that mountain marathon! I know you are!
*Becca and Fadge, this is probably the first time you’ve heard some of what was going through my little brain on that day. You are, and always will be, my heroes!