My whole focus of 2018 is The Cape Wrath Ultra in May. A mere 8 day 450km race over rough and unmarked trails. The fear of it eats into me everyday. I think of the mental fortitude its going to take to wake up on day 3, day 4 with a sore body, a tired mind and have to go out again, all day. I know its going to be both the best of times and the worst of times.
This weekend I made a whistle stop tour over to England to run in the Pilgrims Challenge a 33 mile trail run on the North Downs Way, a restful night on a sports hall floor and then get up and run back again.
Ive been working hard all winter on my running strength I have also been working hard on my skiing. We have been enjoying the most amazing winter here in the Alps. I am so lucky to have found a fab instructor who just gets me, pushes me hard and has taught me how to ski like an athlete. Though skiing 8-12 hrs a week has definitely helped my running it has left me more fatigued than I realised and I definitely will not be trying to race again in February again! But I felt I wanted another crack at a multi day to go through kit/food again and most of just practise that getting up and getting going again feeling.
So in short the first day was muddy and slow and the second day was even muddier and even slower. My quads hurt from 10 miles in so I took the first day relatively easy thinking that on previous experience I am stronger on the second day. However after an hour of the second days ‘warm up’ I just had nothing in my legs. They just really hurt. My quads felt like someone had stuck hot pokes into them and every hill which is normally my strength I was literally dragging myself up. There was nothing there.
For the first time in my life I just hated every step. I have never wanted to finish a run more. I have never wanted to crawl away from a finish line and just lie on the ground more. I have never hated wearing a number and shoving gels down my neck more. I was scared to dig too deep and wipe out weeks of future training, but I had to mentally really hurt myself to get to that finish. This was not what I had planned. I had thought I was going to have two nice days out on the downs seeing friends and having a little kids free break. Instead I was in near constant pain, wanted to cry, and just didnt want to be there. I was so disappointed. But I did it. I battled down the ‘escape’ routes (there werent any!) and got the job done. I know that a LOT of Cape Wrath is going to feel like this. So I asked myself the question. What can you do to get yourself out of this pit? (aswell as why the hell do I do this? Why am I not at home? Why dont I just take up knitting? Or crochet? Or tap? ) The pain wasnt going anywhere. What am I going to do?
I ate as much food as I could stomach, normally Im through check points like a rat down a drainpipe. This time I stopped at every checkpoint, I ate and ate and drank and drank. I tried everything they had- this was in part to delay the moment I had to start running again. I counted steps, I walked a few steps to relieve my sore legs (stuffing more food in my face)and I slowly just zoned in on the one thing I knew would get me to the finish. My kids. My kids in their pjs. Going to bed, knowing Mum was coming home and would be there in the morning. I could not bear to have to explain that I didnt finish or that I gave up. My kids have been SO resilient this winter. They work so hard at school, all in French, they never complain (well) they do their best. They have skied themselves into ski groups with their peers after just a year on skis. They take everything in their stride and I so want them to be proud of me. I want them to see their Mum carrying the values we hold dear as a family; commitment, perseverance and passion. Do what you love to do even when you hate it because life cant always be mountains and blue skies. You have to earn those views. When you are in that deep hole, when you question your ability, when you want to give up, when it all just seems too much. Its that moment that makes us who we are.
You make the choice.
You give up or you carry on. (Im not advocating carrying on when injured ever, but a little bit of pain, hey you keep moving!)
So I finished. It wasnt pretty, it was plain ugly. I am not proud of how I ran, but I am proud of how I coped it with the weekend. On reflection and after a solid 5-6 hrs sleep since Saturday (I’m looking and feeling great!) Im so glad that I did have such a crap race. This winter all the training, all the skiing has been going so well, I havent missed any sessions, I have been so motivated and feeling so great, but I havent done any ‘suffer fest’ sessions (which I did for a month before Druids last year). But I am actually in a great place, Im strong, fit and injury free and this has just shown me how much I want the Cape Wrath finish this year. But this has also given me a huge wake up call on how much I have to be prepared to suffer.
And I can suffer.
I can suffer for my kids, for my friends, for my family, for my bank of wonderful clients who inspire me everyday, for those who offer to have the kids, who offer coffee, cake, ski lessons, who what’s app, who kudos, who nod knowingly over a tantruming toddler in the playground. I can show them. I can show them that life isnt all about that home run, those powder turns, gliding up the hill and that glorious descent. Life is hard. This job is hard.Whatever you choose to do in life.You have to really want it. And you have to know why you want it. Keep that focus. Take the bumps, the chatter, the knock backs, the slips, the falls with courage and absolute determination. Question yourself yes, but only to find the answers you know are there. We are always stronger than we think we are and when you think you cant go on, you always can, you just have to find that reason to continue and hold it as close to your heart as you can.
Thank you To Centurion Ultra Team and Family, La Sportiva and Lyon Outdoor for the support and to my husband who is just a hero and never suggests I just stay at home and clean the fridge!
(And to the passenger who had to sit next to me on the flight to Geneva after running almost 70 miles with 8,000ft of climbing and no shower I deeply apologise.)