So I'm a bit rubbish at running at the moment. Ha, who am I kidding, I'm a LOT rubbish. But it's only to be expected after 6 months of either no running at all or only a very sparse amount. Injury, other more important commitments, sky-high stress levels and the accompanying eating levels have all led me to this point.
With exactly 5 months till the SDW100 I am at my heaviest (pregnancies aside), most unfit and slowest I have been since I started running 10 years ago. Heavily entrenched in the vicious cycle of comfort eating, eating numbness, tiredness, stress, lost fitness and the negative psychological associations with all that I find myself struggling to WANT to run (it's always forced) and struggling to keep going once I've started. With all that life is throwing my way just now I miss being fit and feeling healthy. The road back is probably the toughest I have faced so far in my running journey but new years are about new starts and so I have to start somewhere.
So I have exactly 6 months to lose 20lbs in weight to get back to my old running (ie. pre-children) weight, and in that process I will hopefully find my old fitness. I know it's not really about the weight - that's a by-product of the finding fitness process - but that's the easiest way to verbalise and visualise the issue.
So even though my running is rubbish, I like to take a few photos while I'm out. In general these are much better quality than my runs, but without the runs I wouldn't get the photos - silver linings and all that!
At midnight tonight (PST - so actually sometime tomorrow morning for me) the entry closes for next year's Western States 100. After I completed the West Highland Way back in 2010 the Western States 100 became my dream ultra race. It was at the top of my bucket list. How amazing would it be to have run two of the oldest and most prestigious ultra races in the world? It was my ultra dream having now completed my first dream ultra.
Then along came two pregnancies and my world changed beyond anything I could imagine. Your dreams change. My new dream was to be able to dream - as in actually get some sleep! Joking aside I've made no secret of the destructive nature of sleep deprivation in my life. It has been hell - when you are so tired you feel like any moment your body will simply crumble into a pile of dust because it no longer has the strength or energy to hold itself together. It can be scary.
Luckily things had settled down over the summer and both children were doing much better at night. Then I started university again (I know! The timing could not be more ridiculous.) The stress of trying to keep up with all my studies around work and kids has been full on to say the least. I'm not a good sleeper myself, and have suffered insomnia previously and when I have a busy mind I find sleep difficult anyway. So with being so tired and 'luckily' having a foot injury it has meant I have barely run. I simply wouldn't have had the time anyway. It wasn't even a case of maybe squeezing in a half hour here or half hour there; I literally haven't had a single spare/empty minute (beyond the 3 times hubby literally shoved me out of the door before I exploded). Every minute of every day is accounted for. And unfortunately it's not a case of get up an hour earlier in the morning; I'm already up at half five (in bed by half ten) and in recent weeks my poor wee boy has been really, really poorly, so I'm up for at least half, if not most of the night as it is. The all-encompassing exhaustion is nothing compared to the pain he is in. Times like these make you realise that sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes you have to put your dreams to one side and live very firmly in the present, especially when there are children involved. Mum comes first, Vicky comes second.
My life is on a particular path at the moment and it doesn't involve the Western States 100. Perhaps I will return to that dream down the line or perhaps I will find new dreams. My priority is and always will be my family, and my work (you know, unless I win the lottery 😉), and my studies. I can only hope that I get back to some regular running, and soon.
As such, with time being of the essence, blogging is taking a back-seat. If you want to keep up with my sporadic running follow me on Instagram @vickyrunstrail and the same handle on Twitter.
And apologies to those waiting for final instalment of my Lakeland 100 blog, I'm not sure it's going to happen.
Happy running folks. Be thankful and make the most of what life gives you.
I felt a sense of urgency as I headed down the steps and
across the field. My legs were screaming
at me and tears were flowing down my face.
I couldn’t believe I was still stuck in this nightmare race and I’d done
it to myself! I was going to stop. Why
didn’t I stop? Now I had another 8 miles
to cover. But maybe that was okay. Even
thought everything hurt, at least then we would be sure that it was the right
decision and that I had really thought it through. Oh god, trying to get over that stile onto
the road. Clearly I was going to stop. I
needed to stop. If that was how much pain I was in at 41 miles then there was
no hope of me getting past Dockray (49 miles), then to Dalemain (59 miles).
There’s no point even thinking about Coniston anymore.
I had created a new playlist on my Ipod especially for the Lakeland 100 so I felt I
may as well use it for this section before I was done. My earphones went in and I started running
down the road. I turned it up loud to drown out the demons in my head. Near the bottom of the road I caught up with
Steve. I remember Steve from the first
climb out of Coniston. He went flying
past up that hill with his poles. I
wished I had my poles right now. We
briefly chatted before I Steve pulled away again. I really need to thank Steve because he was
the carrot that pulled me along the railway path and then then up the miserable
climb up to the coach road. I’m glad he
was there, pulling me along as I think I would have been much slower otherwise
and certainly wouldn’t have found the drier route up through the boggy area to
the gate. So thanks Steve.
I’m not a big fan of the coach road. Since the flooding last
December the erosion has made a real mess of the road for the first couple of
miles so it was even less appealing than previously. I think half the trouble
is that you can see where you are going for a long, long time as the track
stretches off into the distance. Some
people might enjoy that but I don’t. I
didn’t need reminding of how far I still needed to go, and how frustratingly
slow my progress was.
I tried to keep close to Steve but he was running more than
he was walking and I was walking more than I was running. Gradually he went out
of site but there were a couple of other runners that I used to pull me along.
I was grateful for my music. I had
selected some songs that would inspire and motivate, and others that were
simply happy songs. I thought long and
hard (as instructed) about what I was feeling and how much I was hurting. Annabel’s words repeated over and over in my
mind, as did Paul’s. Did I really want
to go back to the cottage at Coniston where I would be able to see all the
others finishing and then spend the next week in the village with the constant
reminder that I’d given up and I was the only one walking round without a
I didn’t want to give up.
I didn’t want to be weak. Whilst
the dizziness, fear and confusion I’d faced during the night was gone, the pain
was not. My legs were in complete
agony. My feet felt like every single
bone was broken in them. Whilst I had
chosen well with my shoes (plenty of cushioning and good grip for the trail)
the underfoot conditions on the 100 route really are the most brutal I have
experienced and my feet simply hadn’t had enough miles pounded into them. But I
was still moving forward. And is that
not all I had to do? Embrace the pain
and use it to push myself further than I’d ever pushed before. The pain was unbearable and yet I was still
going. If I could get to Dockray within
the time then why not just keep going to Dalemain? It’s only
another 10 miles. And then at least at
59 miles I would be reaching the virtual halfway point in the race. By the time
I would get there all the L50 runners would be long gone, as would their
supporters so the humiliation of stopping wouldn’t be so bad then right? And getting to Dalemain is pretty respectable
isn’t it? Plus, then I will have raced along the entire route as I only ran
from Dalemain in the L50 last year.
It was starting to sound like it made sense, and the closer
I got to Dockray and the closer I got to seeing Paul and Annabel and Daniel
(who were going to pick me up when I handed in my chip-timer) the more I wanted
to keep going for one last ‘glory’ leg.
I passed one more runner just before Dockray and this gave
me a wee boost. Not in the ‘I’m going beat you’ kind of way but more
in the ‘thank goodness there are still
other people here’ way. And on arriving at Dockray checkpoint I went
straight into the gazebo and asked for tea and soup. I said nothing about stopping, and Paul
didn’t ask. The soup was cold and tasted burnt (which is not surprising by the
time I got there!) and I left it and just drank my tea and ate a sandwich and
some crisps. I packed away my Ipod as I
needed to concentrate on the next section.
I said goodbye to Paul and the kids and set off down the road.
Dalemain (10.1miles, 59.1miles total)
I walked down the road.
My quads hurt too much to do anything else. Paul and the kids came past in the car and
gave me words of encouragement. I could
tell Paul was impressed that I was still going and that gave me a much-needed
boost. I do enjoy this section (mostly) so I wanted to try and do the best run
I could, especially if this was going to be the end. Whilst I was walking down the road Angela
pulled up alongside me. She was in much better spirits than me and was moving
well so I wished her well as she continued running down the road.
I tried to be as positive as she was and managed a short jog
as I reached the village. There were a
few people around and walkers out and about, so again, not wanting to look
rubbish I tried to keep jogging as much as my legs would allow me. As I travelled down the path past Aira Force
I heard a few comments about ‘crazy runners’ from people out ‘touristing.’ Who can blame them though? Angela came into view near the bottom of the
path. She was taking off her rain-jacket. Mine was tied round my waist as I couldn’t be
bothered trying to put it back in my pack, and I figured I would be going so
slowly I would probably need it again very soon.
As I made my way around the side of Gowbarrow Fell and then
through the forest I kept expecting Angela to come past me. Instead I seemed to be passing other runners.
This really came as a surprise as I didn’t see how anyone could be having a
worse time than me. Each time I caught
sight of somebody I used them as a target to reel in. It became a game almost. I found myself running (in relative terms)
really strongly, and for increasing amounts of time. My legs were utterly trashed but somehow this
game became my new coping mechanism.
Just before I reached the field crossings before the road
section John Duncan was waiting with hugs and encouragement. I told him that
the race was just ridiculous and the Fling is a far more civilized affair ;-)
If I had been doing the Fling I would have been finished long ago. See, far
more ‘normal’ and ‘sensible.’ John was
waiting for Noanie and said she was in great spirits so as with Angela, I
expected her to catch up to me at any minute.
The fields went by really quickly. There was very little bogginess for the first
time ever! Well, the first time ever for me anyway. So that was a bonus. And I spotted my next pair of runners to tag
onto; and then one more, and another one on the road section, which I ran most
of. I was definitely coming out of my
funk and running along those last couple of miles before Dalemain I made up my
mind. If I could still run, and could
still pass people, then there was no reason I should be stopping at Dalemain. I
was running better than the other runners around me and they were still moving
forward so I had no choice but to keep going. The awfulness of the previous
night was in the past. I’d put it in a
box and moved on. I needed to get through
Dalemain. Once I was through there,
there was nowhere else for me to go but Ambleside, and if I got to Ambleside,
then I was basically at the finish, there’s no stopping at Ambleside right? I could do this. So long as I could move, with some running, I
could do this. I would do it. I told myself over and over.
As I approached Dalemain I saw Susan first, and beyond her
Marian and Paul and the kids. “Hold it
together Vicky. Don’t fall apart now.” Susan hugged me. It hurt!
I hadn’t realised that absolutely everything was hurting, not just my
legs and feet. I was so focused on
getting to Dalemain that I blocked out so much.
I guess that’s the only way to get through these things. It’s all a question of how well you can block
I dibbed in at 20 hours and 34 minutes, which was almost 1.5
hours inside the cutoff time. I had made
up a whole hour in time between Blencathra and Dalemain. The momentum was with
me and I had to use that. Inside the marque it was absolute carnage with broken
runners all over the place. The marshals
were busy supporting runners so Susan grabbed my drop-bag for me, Marian got me
a chair and I sat outside and we set about getting me sorted for the second
half of the race: feet cleaned, new socks, new shoes, a change of top,
re-stocking my fluids and food. I ate
some soup, it was not good. I ate some
bread, had some banana bread from my drop bag, drank a couple of cups of tea
and ate a banana. I had put a can of
Diet Coke in my drop-bag too. Oh that
was good. I know lots of people swear by
regular CocaCola during races but I just can’t touch the stuff. It makes me
want to throw up. But the caffeine and
the bubbles from the Diet Coke was just what I needed. I had lots of cuddles from Annabel and Daniel
and before I set off hugs from Marian, Susan and Paul. I told him I would see him at the
finish. I was definite in my mind that I
would finish and he wouldn’t need to leave Coniston again to collect me. So having picked up my poles (from my
drop-bag) I just had the small matter 46 miles to get through.
As I set off
power-hiking across the field I felt a sense of this being a pivotal moment in
my race. I was one hour inside the cut
off, my legs were destroyed and in absolute agony, and even my new shoes couldn’t
mask the wreck that my feet were. Physically I had absolutely no right to
finish this, but my mind was in a new place.
I had come out of the worst low of any race I had ever done and I was on
a mission. I had put myself through
absolute hell for the previous 21 hours – I didn’t want that effort and the work
of the past 2 years to be in vain. This
was why we were we all there after all – to see if we can push through, to push
beyond what we thought possible and find new strength and a new drive to
succeed. This was the point where we would all find out what I was made of…
It was a strange feeling walking out of Braithwaite. I felt defeated and just not up to the
challenge I had set myself. But now that
I had decided I was done, and I just had to get through the next 8 miles,
however long it took, and then I would be free. There was a little sense of
relief with that thought, knowing the pain and distress I had been through was
almost over. The dream was over I had to let it go.
Before I had even reached the edge of the village the very
lovely Mike Churchyard appeared at my side. He was in good spirits and we
chatted a bit. I didn’t let on that I
was going to pull out at Blencathra. I
was too ashamed. He advised me to change
my socks if I had a spare pair in my bag. All these little things can help make
or break your race he told me. 105 miles might be a big thing but it’s all the
little things that decide whether you’ll get to the finish or not. I took his advice and stopped on the edge of
the village; partly because my feet had been wet for a long time and dry socks
would definitely help (even just for the few miles left) but partly because I
didn’t think I could handle having company at that point. I thought I might crack and turn into a big
blubbering mess. I needed to be alone,
to think about my decision and to brace myself for seeing Paul and my wee girl
and boy. I knew that was going to be
I trotted along on and off by the roadside. I didn’t want to be seen walking along a flat
road with early morning traffic going by; the shame of it. I needed to keep a little false sense of
respect for myself, at least publicly. I was relieved when the route then cut
away from the road and along the railway path where I could again hide from the
world. Since the path was flat I jogged
on and off still, feeling like that was what I ought to be doing. I came across
a fellow runner asleep by the side of the path.
She woke as I passed and we jogged along together. She was saying she
just couldn’t stay awake. That she was falling asleep whilst running and that
she thought her race was over. I didn’t confess much of my own situation.
We were together as we arrived at Keswick. I had a moment of panic when I saw the two
Johns (John Kynaston and John Duncan).
How was I going to act like everything was ok and that I was just
suffering a bit? I couldn’t bear to
confess how I was really feeling. They
were both so cheery and supportive. I
felt a terrible fraud, especially when I knew how much JK had suffered during
his first L100 and still finished in a great time. I tagged onto two more runners as they came
down the road past us. The lady who was
struggling to stay awake pulled out at this point. I believe she went back to
Often times when I have been down in the Lakes I have walked
or run up Spooney Green Lane and up round Latrigg, I have wondered how anyone
could possibly run up it after thirty-five miles. I would always struggle when it was the first
miles of a run. Oddly, it didn’t feel any worse than any other time I have been
up. I have never managed to run the
whole thing before and so made no effort to this time. The knowledge of being near the finish helped
me get up to the car-park but once the trail was less severe I found I
struggled more. As I rounded the
hillside towards the start of GlenderaterraValley golden rays of sun were
breaking through the clouds and sprinkling their light over the lower slopes of
Clough Head. In the previous 12 hours I had lost sight of the beauty of the Lake
District. I had sworn not
only against ever trying a Lakeland
race again but I never wanted to visit the Lakes again at all. I was done with the place. I took out my phone and took a picture for
the second (and final) time in the race.
I figured it didn’t matter if I used up my phone battery or stopped for
a couple of extra seconds to catch a photo of the new day.
As I slowly made my way along the valley my legs were aching
with each step and any downward step sent spasms of pain around my pelvis. I lost count of how many people passed me. It could have been 5 or 50, I was so spaced
out at this point and I’d given up caring.
I just wanted to get to the unmanned dibber so that I could start going
down the other side of the valley. It’s
a real battle going up and down that valley.
The whole time you are heading north you can see the far side of the
valley, and your route, heading south.
The further up you go, the further down you will have to come. Eventually I made it to the dibber and then
followed the steep and painful downhill to the bridge before starting the final
journey back down the valley and towards my finish.
In between the tears I tried to look back across the valley
to see if anyone was still coming along behind me. I saw the occasional moving black dot but not
many. I figured I must be very close to
last coming along the trail. I knew John
had been waiting on Noanie so I supposed he wasn’t far behind me on the trail
and was fully expecting her to come past me at any given moment.
I texted Susan to let her know I was pulling out of the
race. It would take too long to explain
but it was all over for me. She texted back saying she was crying for me as she
knew how much the race had meant to me. If I hadn’t thought I could feel any
worse, I was wrong.
A runner came along the trail towards me. He had no race number so I assumed he was one
of the aid station helpers. He informed
me that I only had a bout half a mile to the checkpoint. I felt a rush of relief. My legs, my feet and
my heart could all rest soon. But first
I had to steel myself ready for the emotional onslaught that I knew was close
Soon the car-park was in sight. There was Paul, Annabel and
Daniel. And to add to my torment John K. was there too. Suddenly it was all too real, and too
painful. This was it, this was the end. My poor heart was breaking. I felt like I was letting them all down but
it was just too much. I just couldn’t do
it. I’d given my best shot, and I simply
wasn’t good enough. But how do you
explain that to people who want nothing more than for you to finish having seen
all the work and sacrifices that have gone into the race?
I couldn’t look at Paul.
I couldn’t look at John. Daniel
was being a busy little boy, like he always is. I felt comfort in that. He didn’t understand what was going on. He
had just missed mummy overnight but here she was again, all is well with the
world. Annabel, well, she’s very clever
for a 4 year old. A strong and
passionate little girl, she loves the outdoors and loves to run. And she loves her mummy. She ran up to me and
hugged me. It was both wonderful and
painful at the same time. I think John said something encouraging but it’s a
bit of a blur. Paul was asking all the right questions, as I knew he would but
I was determined to be steadfast in my decision. I was holding up, just. Then Annabel said “I finished my Mr Fox race
mummy, I want you to finish your race.” Have you ever watched a slow-motion
video of a glass object fall to the ground and splinter into 1000 tiny pieces?
That was my heart in that moment.
Perhaps my heart had only been cracked and a bit battered up until that
point, but now, it was most definitely and completely broken. And that hurt more than anything else, more
than my feet, my hips, my quads or my pride.
It was everything.
How could I let my little girl down? What sort of example
was I setting for her? Paul I knew would
understand. He’s an ultra-runner. He’s had more than his share of racing
trauma. Whilst I felt awful for letting
him down, I knew he ‘got it’, but Annabel, how do you explain it to a wee
girl? How do you explain ultra-running
and all the depths that you go through to somebody who hasn’t been there? I
didn’t know what to say other than “I can’t baby, I’m sorry.” And I walked down
through the car-park, with my head low and hurting in every possible way. It was done.
I found my way down to the Blencathra checkpoint and went
inside. I said to the marshal as I went
in the door that I was done and that I wanted to pull out. He asked me what was wrong to which I replied
“Everything.” I found out afterwards that this was Little Dave I was talking
to. He told me to get a seat, have a cup
of tea and have something to eat and see how I feel after that. The other marshals sorted me out a cup of tea
and I grabbed some of the famous and very delicious chocolate cake made by
Little Dave’s mum. I was close to tears.
Oh who am I kidding, the tears were coming, leaking out of their own
accord. But I wasn’t sobbing, which is
what I felt like doing. There was a sign next to the cake that said something
along the lines of “quitting is the easy part it takes true strength to
continue when things are against you”.
I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist. Another punch in the stomach as
if I wasn’t hurting enough.
Paul came inside with the kids. He’s a savvy runner and he
knows me too well. He knows how to push
my buttons. Armed with his emotional arsenal and the beautiful faces and voices
of Annabel and Daniel it was inevitable.
I wasn’t going to win was I? “I
want you to finish your race mummy,” Annabel again pleaded with me. We agreed I would go onto Dockray. There was no harm in that. It was less than 8 miles with lots of runable
bits. If by then I hadn’t been timed out
and I was sure it was over, then we agreed that would be it.
What do you mean timed out? Holy cr*p, I was only 30 minutes
inside the race cut-off!! How had that
happened? If I didn’t get shifting I was
out of the race whether I wanted to be or not!
This was not what I had envisioned when I had started this race. If I was going to be out, then I would be out
on my own terms! And with that, I kissed
Paul and the kids goodbye, I said to Little Dave that I had changed my mind and
I was going to try and make it to Dockray.
And with that I was out of the door, still in the race, still crying and
still in pain.