Friday, 16 September 2016

This is what we came for...

Blencathra to Dockray (7.7miles, 49 miles total)

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 medal?

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.

Dockray to 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 it out.

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…


IanB said...

Cracking story so far! I can feel the pain, even more respect to see you carry on, and I cheated I looked up the results so know you finished in the end.
Well done
IanB, Somerset

John Kynaston said...

What a change in attitude from the last section of your report! It's amazing what you can get through when you stick at it!! Well done.

Steven Roberts said...

Amazing post.

I have just started training for my first marathon and that is hard enough, but deep down my long term goal is a 100 miler.