So my race story starts 5 days before, when I woke up with a tickle in my throat. I had three days of feeling rough as. I think the combination of stress with the logistics (taking my mum and kids) combined with the psychological pressure of a new distance (which I never seem to cope well with) just got to me. That and in all honesty having just not been going to bed early enough and resting efficiently enough recently.
So I took three days before the race off work, rested, then felt slightly better so decided to race. I threw a random bunch of stuff together (which I thought was “adequately labelled” ). Looking at a big pile of stuff in the hallway the night before the race- stuff every where, I looked at my mum and said- this is not how Kilian Jornet prepares for a race. Mum said “And does he have children? No.”
4am Saturday morning my son did his ceremonious-night-before-an-ultra “Mummy I’ve had a nightmare, please can I get in with you”. “Sure babe, I’m a mummy first, runner second, probably third… maybe fourth” I comforted, and tried to block out the idea of getting up to run 100 nonstop miles in 2 hours time. I looked out the window and saw the sky was lightening up. Cool, I thought, so as long as I run until 4am, the sun will start to come up. Easy peasy.
So we all get up and get ready, get to the race all in timely fashion. Me coughing and blowing my nose in the car, determined to get rid of the lingering cold leftovers within the next two hours. It could all change and I could be healthy and raring by 12. (Little note- I had sought medical advice- I was told as long as I felt fine and I had no temperature, I could go…. I wouldn’t have proceeded had I still felt ill or as though I was putting myself at risk…).
We get to the race- my superhero Stuart put up his two man tent for me to use, between his and Mike’s. I filled it with my gear and Stuart said “ready, bud?” I said I’m just thinking that’s a lot of stuff I’ve got for two laps.
At this point I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of running, at all.
Kids’ race- nearly killed me My son is a good steady-paced endurance style runner, he ran off did his own thing. My daughter wanted me to run with her, for her sprint and stop style 1 kilometre race. I’m not a sprinter.
Then our race. I trimmed my number down to fit on my ultra pack- then realised I’d trimmed off all medical info & my mum’s mobile number. Her home number was still intact, though mum was with me not at home. Cool. Also, the pre-race briefing said that we needed to have our number visible for the photos, therefore not so great on my back so I moved it back to my top, which I wore for one lap, then it never dried enough to put it back on again. Cracking start.
First 1-4 laps- pretty smooth. Except for this part. Sms’d ahead to mum to ask her to prepare some stuff for my pitstop. Got to tent to my mum saying “oh I couldn’t find that, I couldn’t see any white tube of anything, I don’t even know what that word means”. Me: “mum, this is why I went through it with you”. Mum “Ooh have you seen that vegan runner though!? Number 17, Alex. Very strong. Verrry good looking”. Me: “So you can’t find aloe vera heat gel, the biggest thing in there, but your eyesight’s fine for reading “Vegan runner number 17 , Alex?” Mum: “Oh it’s because I haven’t got my glasses with me. I can do farsighted, I can’t do nearsighted”.
After about lap 4 my (very experienced ultra running) friend Lauren turned up and things ran a bit more smoothly tent side No offence to my mum, she did great. But I had a feeling her head wasn’t in the game
On the second lap my son ran off after me- we kind of lost him for a bit but he turned up. Super awesome. I like that kid.
Lauren joined me for laps 7-10 (3 night laps). We had some catching up to do so chatted and walked. I’d kinda had enough of my own company by this point and couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of running and chatting. However, when I tried to run again, my body wasn’t participating. Shooting pain down the outside of my left thigh (iliotibial band). I didn’t run again for the rest of the race.
I did two more night laps on my own. So that’s 6 in the dark in all. Lap 10 was crap as I realised I wasn’t going to get my 100 miles as planned, due to the walking I was now taking nearly 2 hours to complete a lap, they needed to be under 1hr 30. There just seemed to me little point in continuing- I had done the 10 laps I needed to get my bronze pin- what was I going to achieve dragging my sorry ass on? Why not go and rest, get up and enjoy the next day with my kids, go to work and train next week as normal? My mental state was uncharacteristic for me in an ultra. Lauren had not seen me like this before but I guess she’d expected it. I was tired from the get-go in this race, due to the virus I’d had I guess. In Grim’s 70 miles in July I never, ever felt tired. This time I’d just had enough. Lauren just said to me “you’ve entered a 24 hour event, I think you need to keep going for the 24 hours”. This is the job of a pacer or crew. To step back and see the bigger picture. Not to say too much. The runner is trapped in “what the F is the point” where as the pacer understands the bigger goal in a ultra, which is simply to push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of, rather than give in. I told Lauren I was struggling with the fact that this wasn’t a distance event- it was a timed one. So, for the first time I didn’t have to achieve a distance, I could stop now and still get my medal- it wouldn’t be a DNF- so that I was finding it hard to find the motivation to continue. She understood. I told her I’m not moaning, I was just being very factual about what I was experiencing. This was her last lap with me. As much as I adore the girl I was ready for some time alone, as I just felt incredibly guilty about my sh*tty pace when she was capable of running it in nearly twice the speed. And the guilt every time she said “shall we try a little jog?” just made me feel even more stubborn and useless.
Lauren said – get to 12, that’s more than you’ve done before. Just get to 12. So I headed off out for what I thought would be my last night lap, due to my 4am sunrise idea. 4am came and went and the sky remained black. On this, lap 11 I think I nodded off walking, I hallucinated a bit prior to that, and I remember looking at the grass to the right as we walked up “Not That Hill” and thought, I could just lie down there for like, 20 mins? On that nice soft grass? Then I thought- nope, bad idea- let’s just get to the aid station at the top here- have some energy drink and get back to the tent- sun’s gotta come up any minute and that’s it then, everything will change when the sun comes up they say.
Then my headtorch batteries went. Lauren had offered to change them before she went to her tent to sleep but when it’s such a fast turn-around at pit stop, she just forgot. Thank GOD I finally joined the big world a few years ago and got a smart phone- mainly for the torch, as that saved me- the battery on my phone was dying but I knew the sun had to soon be up, nearing 7am now.
As I entered the final field- everyone was just getting up in the solo area – a dad with his family offered me a chocolate chip muffin, “no thanks” I said with a grateful smile.
Then a group of people at the next tent “Well done solo, keep going, you’re doing great”. “Thanks” I replied. “You want a bit of cake?” they said, “have a bit of flapjack or something”. I had a bit of this chocolate tray bake thing (I think it’s from Morrisons, I’ve had it before so knew how it tasted and was fully on board with that idea ). Then this dude said, “you want a bit of my cuppa tea? Go on, have a sip of my tea”. I informed his I was at the end of the cold and didn’t want him to catch it, but thanks anyway. He insisted “I’m a farmer, I’ve had to deal with worse”.
What a pitiful state I feel I must’ve looked, with my dysfunctional head torch still on my head, my phone for light, my hydra pack uselessly dangling from my back, for these good people to feel they needed to sugar me up. However, this is the part of the race I remember the most. It’s not the miles or the pain that I ever really recall, it’s the smiles and the kindnesses and the simple words of others that make you think, yeah I can go on. Like the man I met that lap who’s feet were knackered. I said to him “seeing the state of you makes me think I can maybe continue?”. He said, “well if you get 13 laps that’s your 3 marathons done”. That’s what I needed really, a reason to continue. It’s weird how stuff just worked out.
I usually feel so upbeat in a race like this. Even though it’s tough, it’s where I want to be, it’s what I like to do- to push myself to the realms of what I know I’m capable of – it gives me something- not sure what, but I guess, sense of purpose or feeling of aliveness, or just a break from the ordinary or mundane. Lauren says she likes just having one thing to do. Just keep going forward. I agree. It’s rest to just focus on me doing one task, rather than lunch boxes and PE kits, Yoga classes, childcare, money, homework, uniforms, food shopping and housework. Yet, lap 12 sucked for me. It seemed to go on forever, I nearly fell asleep walking- I was aware I’d been ill and possibly something could go wrong. And that I’d snipped my mum’s number off my emergency info. Things had gone a bit dark for me. But I had this moment where I was like- I can let all these things get to me, or, I can just focus on the possibility that everything will be just fine.
Plus the sun was like, 3 hours late coming up ! How was 1 hour up the motorway a different flipping daylight zone! But that sip of tea (well I took about 4 really, he wasn’t looking) got me round that last lap of the field to my mum- who’d been up about half an hour and prepped me a green tea in my flask- as I asked (vegan runner man must’ve been in his tent or something )
So off I went with a bag of weird popcorn and a flask of tea- popped some fierce hard house on my nano whilst I left my phone charging. With the sun now up, this lap was in the bag. I text mum to ask if the kids wanted to meet me at the edge of the field, with some vaseline, painkillers and water, and do the lap of the field with me. They did. Then they ran off ahead of me. I drank the water and took the tablets and did a lap of the field carrying my huge tub of vaseline to everyone cheering “go on solo! You’re doing great!”. Pic below of the end of that lap.
At the end of lap 13 I knew if I started the last lap within 24 hours I could take my time finishing it. No rush. So, it was home and dry as long as I kept a decent-ish pace. Once the sun came up it’s true- everything felt brand new, it was a new day and a fresh start.
I saw my twins milling about at my tent and thanked them for ditching me with the vaseline. “Shall I do another lap?” I said, my daughter nodded and I gave her what was left of my popcorn to share with her brother. Then I saw glimpsed my mum with another helpful looking man- both seemed to be holding or looking at the boot of my car- Mum shouted over “did Annie tell you what happened?” Me: “erm, can you tell me later maybe?” Mum: “okay, one more lap?” Me: “yes”. From what I saw I gathered either the hinge on my boot had gone or someone had hit my car. Either way, it could wait one more lap.
Lap 14 was my faaaavourite! Everyone was just congratulating everyone else! Awesome work etc. We all knew this was our last lap, and how hard we’d all worked to be there.
I got my bronze pin and medal. I felt I did have another couple of laps I could’ve dragged myself around.. But time was up.
Regarding my car- my daughter had locked the keys in it somehow- necessitating my mate Mike’s wife to call green flag, who came and found my mum in a field of cars and saved the day.
I will probably go back next year to settle my unfinished business- of 100 miles, at least get my 15 laps and a silver pin. As for mum, despite all the hassle of my kids, camping and I, she’ll probs be back, but this time with her mates from coffee morning and a vegan buffet no doubt
P.S. I wear basically the same clothes for every trail ultra ever… I’ve tried different outfits and always come back to this one