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 tough.
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 Braithwaite.
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
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 Glenderaterra
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 ahead.
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.