Post race thoughts

“ It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ”- Theodore Roosevelt

I first came across this speech in 2007 when the Rugby World Cup was on and there was mention of it being given to the South Africa rugby team prior to the 1995 tournament by Francois Pienaar. The 2012 film “Invictus” based on the tournament substituted this with the poem of the same name by William Ernest Henley, which some people may prefer but certainly fit’s in with cinematic ways of embellishing the truth.

There are so many elements of this speech that resonate with why I enjoy running and form the basis of the motivation I find to go out and try my best on runs that I know I won’t get a good time on or be particularly comfortable for any part of them.

I’ve always prided myself on heading out for a run when it’s probably ill-advised and pushing harder during the more difficult sessions. It’s ironic that the sessions I look like I’m struggling through to passers by and people heckle helpful advice to me in, are the ones I gain most out of and give me confidence I can tough it out when I put myself in similar positions during races.

This last 3 months I’ve been running more frequently than ever before. This isn’t as a way out of longer training runs or a shortcut to reaching my weekly total. It is purposeful so that I know when race day rolls around I have done everything in my power to ensure I don’t let myself down. I know that if I have gone out and tried my best in each training run, I can trust that cumulatively this will have put me in a position to finish what I’ve signed up for. One of my favourite NFL quotes illustrates the logic that the small efforts each day accumulate into something much more

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To most people reading this, 44 miles is not something they’d consider possible to run in 1 day and this time last year, I’d have agreed. It is a well known trend for most people who train towards an endurance event that the most difficult test isn’t usually on race day but one of the brutally long sessions with no-one else around, just you and the target you set yourself. I certainly found both of my 28 mile long runs last August and September took me to a place the 35 mile Ultra I completed in October,never got even close to.

There are certain advantages race day has over every training run preceding it. Other people have signed up for the same raw deal as you, presuming their build up has been as lengthy as yours, they have suffered through similarly atrocious weather and (I like to believe) experienced the same self-doubt and ups and downs in their training. Family and friends send messages of support beforehand and sometimes sponsor you and donate to the charity you’re doing the event for. Another contributing factor is the knowledge that the people around you want you to succeed and that your leadership and demonstration of willpower through difficult parts of the race will inspire and help the other runners, likewise that you can find inspiration from their grit and determination to finish the race and not let themselves, their friends/family and (if they’re doing it for a charity) anyone they’re fundraising for, down.

Having all that around you certainly makes you not want to be the black sheep who doesn’t make it.

I reached the start line about an hour beforehand and enjoyed taking in the atmosphere while thinking of anything I could other than running. The pre-race briefing is always either very inspiring in which case you leave with the hairs on your arms standing up, or totally abysmal and the distance and/or challenge sounds way more daunting than you’d already built it up to be. In my experience this is usually down to the athletic competency of the Race Director and how they make the course sound.

The RD Gaynor did a great job of making us aware of the hazardous parts without trivialising it or putting us off by going into too much detail. I was particularly amused by her description of the lack of a hazard the cows would pose! She was obviously a very strong endurance runner but found a good balance in not saying anything precise about the fitness base everybody would need or the willpower we’d need to call upon. In previous races I’ve found when RD’s talk about either of these it is always either too technical or descends into effusive cheerleading!

Once I had got through the initial haring off by faster runners and settled into my pace the route to the first checkpoint was quite pleasant. Similar to how some people when driving accidentally blindly follow the car in front, I can sometimes fall into doing this with the runner in front and follow their feet. There was a runner just in front of me who seemed quite good at avoiding tree stumps and rocks so this got me through to CP1. His wife was waiting for him there and I heard him say to her that we were a similar pace. We had a bit of a chat about target time (both agreeing it was not a priority), so after a quick drink and a few crisps we set off side by side towards CP2.

On the race logo there is a smaller hill to the left of Skiddaw. This is High Pike. I’ve found with long steady hills if I attack the early bits, the momentum I gain usually gets me to the top. My new friend Barney adopted a different strategy but I wasn’t about to wait half way up a hill. The descent back down was quite shear so had to run/walk parts of this for safety reasons.

The route looped round the side of Skiddaw with spectacular views to the left. Barney caught up with me as my pace blew up following my earlier efforts. I refilled my water bottle from a waterfall and enjoyed how ridiculously cold the water was.

The location of CP2 was ideal for the route as you’re at the base of Skiddaw and can see the focal point of the race while stuffing your face with at least double the selection that CP1 had. There was a guy from Bolton (Richard) who was advocating a run/walk strategy and seemed bemused by my intention to run all the way to the top. If there is a greater motivation to keep running than fear of getting dropped by a Mancunian who’s walking the hard bits, I certainly haven’t come across it!.

I made it to the top without having to walk any of it and caught up with Barney. The ringing of the bell there was one of the most cathartic things I’ve done in my life! On our descent back down someone walking the route pointed out to us we had come down the wrong way so we had to go back up to the summit. This was about 2- 2.5 miles away. We begrudgingly walked back to the summit. I rang the bell again for purposes of morale and the safety marshall pointed us in the right direction.

There was a theme developing and I had to walk/shuffle horizontally down as the descent was comically steep.

Following the route along to CP3 we finally got our tracking chips logged at around 8 hours since we started. The inclusion of cola at this point was revivifying. I’ve never been closer to dropping out of a race than I was at this point and it was probably only the temporary sugar rush and not wanting to let Barney down that stopped me from doing so.

Elevation graphs can be a double-edged sword at times but my memory of the elevation of the route from CP3 to CP4 was spot on. I’m a great believer of the anonymous quote

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If I’d got up Skiddaw twice, I certainly wasn’t going to let the flat (ish) route to the finish defeat me. Once I had convinced my legs that no matter how much they cramped up or locked out, we were still finishing, it became a lot easier. There is a certain manly quality about suffering through pain and not quitting. I like to think the quote below illustrates the gist of this.

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My fiancé and both our sets of parents were waiting at CP4 which helped immensely. I had some sandwiches and what I’d imagine would be enough cola to clean the toilets in a 6 star hotel with hundreds of occupants!

With caffeine coming out of my ears, me, Barney and 2 women who were a similar pace to us left CP4 anticipating a finish time about 2 hours away. Save for a lot of army-like use of head torches, this was quite a dull finish to a spectacular route. I think the last few miles could be virtually summarised in 3 parts, fields to my left, river to my right and stiles/kissing gates ahead.

The last 500m or so to the finish was incredibly satisfying to put everything into. Barney and one of the 2 women had flew off ahead and I deliriously flailed after them at what felt like a decent pace but almost certainly wasn’t. After returning my timing chip, the 4 of us exchanged handshakes and I stood next to Barney so his wife could take a photo of us together.

Everyone who had come to support me seemed relieved I had finished and after a shower and some food I regained a bit of energy.

The race doctor was very helpful and cleaned up a small cut on my ankle. She also gave me a brilliant cocktail of 2 paracetamol tablets, 2 ibuprofen and a codiene tablet.

I had a nice chat with Richard and we discussed the pros and cons of each others preferred strategy. He was jokingly satisfied I had chose to walk up Skiddaw when forced to traverse it a 2nd time and there was a nice bit of honesty from both of us about how hard the route was.

Before I knew it, an hour had passed since I finished and I said goodbye to the other runners. The RD asked if I’d be back next year and I didn’t rule it out. If I want the other qualifying points for the UTMB race in 2017, there are certainly positives to be made from using this event to do it.

I mentioned in a blog several weeks ago that I had made 2 resolutions that I’d reveal nearer the time. One was to never have a DNF (Did Not Finish) after my name. I decided this after reflecting on how hard I found running 22 miles in ice and snow several months back. The other was to always have a quote in the back of my mind for each run as a sort of “I.C.E. break glass” tool. The quote I chose for this race worked even if it does tie in a bit with the first resolution. It is from a NFL player who famously played ¾ of a match with a dislocated elbow. I always thought if he could get through that, I could finish if my legs hurt a little bit.

It seems fitting to end the blog with what was my mantra for the toughest parts of it.

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