Day 1 had gone like a dream. I felt super fresh, super easy, didn’t break a sweat and was so happy to finish in one piece and set myself up for Day 2. I knew the strength I was going to need on Day 3 was going to be huge so my plan was to keep a lid on every bit of effort on Day 1 and Day 2 to fully utilise my hill strength on Day 3. Well that was the plan.
The first part of the day was 4-5 miles on forest track road before we headed off into what was described as ‘true wilderness,’ as I warmed up along the track, passing other runners, chatting, feeling great, I felt a pressure in my lower back, not something I had ever felt before, like someone had kicked me in the lower back. I was frightened. This was not good. This was not a hamstring niggle, a calf pull, this was something that felt really wrong. But what could I do. Ignore it. It’s just a stiff glute, it will wear off. We turned off the track and onto the hill. The terrain was now (and for the rest of the day), stones, bog, marsh, up and down and up and down. I normally LOVE this sort of terrain, I am a strong runner, the muddier, the more up up up the better, the harder the better, I love to suffer when running and to have to truly focus on just one thing, to me it really feels as close to nature as you can get and what I was most looking forward to about this race. Allowing to unleash that mental focus I so craved. But as we climbed up the first steep climb of the day, I was chatting to a fellow Centurion fan and everytime I asked the right leg to push off I couldn’t get any power. At the time I was convinced it was still a tight glute and it would loosen. After the first climb we had a very technical descent down a waterfall which required lots of stone jumping (well bum sliding). Once I had reached the bottom of this I tried to switch into a jog but I couldn’t. The pain was so intense that running required me to grit my teeth and to count to 10 over and over again. It’s just a tight muscle, it’s just a tight muscle, breath, breath, breath. In the back of my mind, the part we ultra runners don’t allow access to when pushing ourselves to the limit I knew something was really wrong. But there was no way I was pressing that SOS button. It’s not that bad. Keep moving.
There was only one check point for this day and then the only way out of that check point was by ferry. I reached that. And yes I can hear you shouting Mum, why didn’t you stop there. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Months and months of effort, sweat, blood, commitment and sacrifice had gone into this race. The organisation of leaving the kids was a mammoth effort in itself and mentally preparing to leave for them for 10 days had been so hard for me. So I gritted my teeth and jogged through the checkpoint. I knew people at home would be tracking me and seeing me going back through the field and would know something had happened. Had I known what lay ahead, I would have stopped.
The rain came in now and we headed for back into the hills for the rest of the day. Visibility was non-existent, the bogs were waist deep, the rocks treacherous and with over 100 or so river crossings it was a proper test of physical endurance. As the cold set in so did the pain. It was all I could think of. It totally encompassed me. I couldn’t descend without tears rolling down my face as I damaged the nerves further and further and the spasms up my right leg became so intense that every so often I would howl in pain. But still I carried on, convincing myself that at the finish I would see the medic who would be able to solve everything. I lost the ability to bend; I couldn’t fill up my water bottles, I became colder and colder as I was moving so slow and I guess now the body was going into shock as I pushed and pushed. The last 10km around the loch was the most technical of the day. Up and down pathless rocks. It took me 2hrs30 and on the final climb I had to ask someone to push me up the rocks as I had no power left in my leg. Finally we dropped off the rocks and I saw the finish. But still I couldn’t get there, and could do nothing more than a slow hobble. Still I carried on. This wasn’t over yet. I tried to sneak to my tent, but they are very clever these Ourea events lot and someone walks you to your tent whilst carrying your bag. The kindly lady realised I couldn’t walk without silently screaming and was pretty hyperthermic by now and before I knew it the medic was in the tent and had taken over the situation. In someways it was just such a relief to collapse and succumb to the pain. Still I thought I could go on. I had lost all sensation in my right leg, foot and lower back, I couldn’t stand up or even sit. So that was it. I was immediately pulled from the race and an ambulance called. Still in my head I was in it. Please let me carry on I wept. Please. The medics were so kind, stroking my hands, being firm but loving, Eddie you have seriously injured yourself, we have to get you to help, you have been so brave today, but let us take over now. I tried to sit up, to show that I could do this, but the pain was unbelievable. After that, I was so exhausted, so numb, heart broken and broken, I just let them take over.
The next few days are a bit of a blur as I had mainly a diet of painkillers. I was severely dehydrated both from the race and then having nil by mouth for 24hrs as they thought they might have to operate on the disc. Jo accompanied me so kindly to the hospital and called my husband saving me a phone call I knew I would have struggled to make. He was by my bed within 12hrs. My hero. Boy did I test our wedding vows that week as he had to sort the kids, his work then travel to rescue his completely broken wife who demanded to be taken home every waking minute though she hadn’t been able to pee or walk for 4 days! We did get home though! It was a humongous effort and very painful, but all I wanted was to be home, out of the hospital and back with my family. I just wanted to pull the duvet over my head, make all the pain go away and not face the consequences of failing so spectacularly at a goal I had put literally my heart and soul into. But after arriving home, the crash down was even harder. Just like focusing on getting to the finish on day 2, I had thought if I could just get home I would be feeling better. Both emotionally and physically I was spent. I have never lived in constant pain before, never really had a ‘proper’ injury, never been so physically impaired that even sleeping is impossible. Add this to this mental assault and the huge disappointment of spending the week crippled in an NHS hospital bed instead of having a wonderful week in the Highlands doing what I love most in the world. And now instead of coming home broken but happy, I was coming home totally broken, but with no race beneath my wings, with a body that could never work in the same way again. I was very very low. The lowest I have ever been. I never wanted to run again, I never wanted to check my clients plans again. I could never face commiting to anything ever again with the fear that this crushing wave of disappointment and failure would swamp me again.
Slowly the fog of pain has cleared; I was able to move a little, I took a shower. I ate a little. I sat. I read messages from friends. I spoke to Mum. My heart lifted a little. I was here, I was going to be ok. I was surrounded by love. Whatever had happened I was still me. I wasn’t loved any less. In fact I felt loved even more, as friends and family visited, helped, made tea, brought flowers, gave hugs, cleared their schedules to look after me and my little people. And this week, especially the past few days, I have found I can start to move a little more. Minutes go past when I don’t notice my back. Every time the sun rises, so does my spirit a little. I have realised how much I truly value my health and strength. It would be so easy to slip into a destructive cycle of blaming my body for letting me down and allowing my mind to follow. People do expect more from me though. I expect more from myself. I didn’t deserve to finish that race, just because I had trained and invested in that goal it didn’t necessarily follow it would be handed to me. Just because you invest so heavily in a dream doesn’t mean you will grasp it. Life isn’t like that. We know that. We have all learnt that as children. But its still a really tough lesson to swallow as an adult. I have given so much for this, surely now its my time? Surely I deserve to fly? But that’s the risk we take. That’s why we are addicts. It didn’t work out this time, maybe it never will. But we will keep trying, keep taking those risks, plotting that map, following our path. Up and Down. And as we know so well it’s not how we fall, but how we get ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, take a breath, a moment and take a new path that counts.
I’m not sure what my new path is yet. Im taking little steps in recovery, both physically and mentally. Most of all I’m learning to be kind to myself. I have spent the last 6 months battling my body into becoming the strongest/fittest/toughest it could be and now instead of spending every day fighting fatigue, doing one more rep, one more mile, one more effort, I’m taking the time to listen to it. To rest. To breathe. To mentally allow myself to relax. To feed myself well. As I let go of the disappointment and shame I can feel my back begin to recover. As I start to look up again, I can feel my smile return. I feel so grateful to my body for beginning to recover after what I put it through. I will never again do that to myself. Im not sure that I ever want to return to competitive running, but I know I want to be back in the mountains, moving freely, just me, the dog, the air, the eagles, the clouds. I want to get back to that, not because I deserve it or because it’s my right, but because I love it, because its part of me.
Thank you to everyone who believes in me, now to learn to believe in myself again.