‘Your mum looks like she’s about to cry’ he says to Oliver. This is met with a sharp look and the sternest of cold replies ‘Don’t!’. He grins. I leave the room.
I don’t know what it is but at certain races – typically the bigger ones that mean something to me – I have to fight back the tears. And it’s been 4 years!! I didn’t cry though. Not this time. But it did make me realise how much I wanted this.
I had decided to stay overnight near the race even though it was only 2 hours down the road if that. Being 5 years old Oliver sees this as a little holiday so it makes it more fun for him. Being only 10 minutes from registration made for more time in bed too.
Registration was pretty straight forward. Are you running the half? ‘No, full’. This is your envelope. Inside it is your bib and your chip. Here’s your map. Bus is over there. I got on the bus, pulled my hat as far over my eyes as I could and concentrated on not letting the nerves get the better of me. The chat on the bus was casual and not running related which was weirdly relaxing. And I received a few good luck messages on my phone which made me smile. A small gesture that goes a long way in times like that.
All the runners were bussed to the start which is on the promenade (because where else do you want to be in shorts and t-shirt other than a beach front in the cold wind?!?) Luckily there was a bag drop so I kept my hoodie on until the very last minute. Waiting in the queue for the bathroom I got chatting to 2 other ladies running. They looked at me and asked if I was running the half. Again I said no to this question. ‘Oh’ was the reply. ‘Have you ran this distance before?’. ‘Just a couple of times’ I said. Conversation was then cut short as the bathroom became free.
At the start line and we were told to get in to our waves. How did we know what wave we were in? ‘Competitive runners at the front, leisurely competitive in the middle and those out for a good day at the back.’ Leisurely competitive – I love it!! Best comment of the day! Squashed in to the crowd and the conversation around me turned to expected time. Most were aiming for about 9 to 10 minute miles and a good day. I relaxed some more, thankful it wasn’t a case of sub 7 min milers. Then an older man turned to me and asked ‘are you running the half?’
What is going on?? Do I not look like a runner?? (What ever a runner looks like). Why am I being asked this question so much? I picture my reflection in the mirror from that morning – trainers check, shorts and t-shirt check, hydration vest check, proper running jacket check, running cap check, fear of god expression on face as if I’m about to die – oh wait, that might be it.
Very quickly we are off and I start slow. Within just a few hundred metres I’m already warm enough and strip off my jacket and put it in my bag. Whilst still running might I add. Quite proud of this. Ha ha. And yes, I have been practising. I’m wearing road trainers mainly because I have been training in them but also because someone from the club had said road were fine if it hadn’t been raining too much. We start on tarmac but are soon on the trail and then on the beach. When I first see the beach I naturally have Chariots of Fire playing in my head and I almost begin a slow motion run. However once I have taken a few steps on the beach I am no longer in ‘let’s have fun’ mode and quickly move to ‘how the f@ck do you run on sand?!’. Answer? You don’t really. You find the most solid looking bit and then miserably make your way to the end. Thankfully it wasn’t a long patch and we were back on trail once again.
Then we were on gravel. Then we were on tarmac. Then back to trail. I’ve never noticed the cushioning on my trainers other than on day 1 of a new pair but this route was giving me an education in foot wear let me tell you. You want to learn the difference between trail shoes and road shoes? Run the John Muir Way Ultra. (Probably a bit extreme to run 50km to learn that but you get my point).
By now I’m at 8 miles and I am cheekily grinning to myself as I am only just feeling a slight twinge in my hamstring. This is good for me. I am happy with this. I fully expected it to kick in at about 3 miles and be torture from the get go. It has however started to rain but I know the aid station is at 10 miles so decide to stop and put my jacket on there. I may be able to take it off whilst running but putting it on is a different challenge altogether. As I reach there I see Joe and Oliver so I get a nice cuddle before sending them back to the car as they are cold.
My goal at this point is to get the half way point before cut off which is 3 and half hours from the start. A goal which is, in reality, not really a goal as my pace has never indicated that it could be an issue but in my head, it was. So when I saw Joe and Oliver again only 500 metres before the halfway point I couldn’t bring myself to stop. Not even when he asked if I wanted the jelly babies I had asked him to get for me. Karma got me straight away though as I had to run on the beach again straight after that to get to the life boat station.
Having learnt my lesson from The Stones I knew not to waste too much time there. I waited for a little bit to see if Joe would make it there but I wasn’t surprised when the text came through to say he couldn’t get parked so he would see me further up. My legs were hurting now and it wasn’t getting any warmer so I had some banana and headed back out, wishing I had remembered a spare pair of socks as there was a definite ‘feeling’ going on down there on the soles.
As soon as I left the life boat station I was back on the beach. Good old karma just making sure I felt bad for not stopping to speak to Joe and Ollie. I pulled my hat right down so I could barely see a foot in front of me and grumped and groaned for every step. Every step that is, until I stepped in something I really didn’t want to see.
What do you get at a beach? The sea. What is the sea made of? Water! Instead of being focused on where I was going I was focused on being a moaner and so had gone off track and ended up in the sea! What the actual hell! Good thing I hadn’t changed socks as that would have been pointless. Needless to say the grumping and the groaning just hiked it’s way up another level after that until I reached tarmac again. Bloody water.
Unfortunately though, as soon as I was back on the road, it was a hike up a little hill. I say ‘little’ but it was bloody steep. And not welcomed after what had been quite a gloriously flat run so far. Still. Shouldn’t complain. (But of course I did ha ha). By now I was breaking it down to 5 mile blocks. 10 miles was my first quick stop. 15 miles was ‘halfway’. Just another 5 to 20 miles then it’s only 10 miles to the finish from there and I do 10 mile runs all the time. It’s only 10 miles to my mum and dads and I run that quite a bit. I am of course ignoring the fact its actually a 31 mile run but the last mile doesn’t really count does it.
Maths. Running is all about maths. Fact.
At 20 miles I am going round a loch and I have entered the hurt locker. The infamous hobble has appeared (or should that be hobbit given my size?) and I am zig zagging my way up every mount everest/mole hill thrown at me. In truth, I look like I’ve pooped myself. But I’ve still got 10 miles to go and I am not giving up. (I do occasionally wonder if I have indeed done the deed but rest assured, I had not). By about 23 miles I am running just behind a man with a Leven Las Vegas t-shirt. This running club’s name makes me laugh as I think it’s a pretty cool play on words. I go past a couple of girls I have seen a few times and they shout ‘love your tattoo by the way’. I’m grinding my teeth at this point because of the pain so this couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s amazing how the little things get you through.
Rounding the corner and it’s back on road. I see Oliver at the bottom of the hill and he runs up towards me with a much needed cuddle. He runs down the hill with me and asks why I’m going so slow, pointing out he can run faster. Ah kids. Don’t you just love them? Joe tells me the aid station is just at the bottom of the hill so keep going until I get there. Which I do. Gravity has a way of pulling even those who hobble towards the bottom of a hill. At the aid station the lady behind the food asks me twice if I am ok. At this point I am just staring at her. You see, I was trying to make a very, very difficult decision.
Should I eat the flap jack on the table?
This could have some quite serious consequences. I already look like I have pooped myself. I had no intention of actually doing that. But then, it could also help. Give me a bit of a push. It’s a very hard call.
I take a tiny bit and set off again.
I’ve only taken about 5 steps and I decide to turn back round and grab some more. ‘That’s right, get a sugar fix love. Do you good.’ She understands. I wasn’t being rude. I’m just not all there at this moment.
Back on the track and I see Leven Las Vegas man again. He steps to the side to let me past and offers some encouraging words and I say some back. And thus begins the final stretch and a beautiful running friendship game of cat and mouse. He would run past me and then stop to walk a little further up, then I would run past him before stopping to walk and so on and so on. Always exchanging comments of ‘I will be seeing you soon’ and ‘well done, just you keep going’. We walked together at one point and I found out he had run this route as a relay last year and this was his first ultra. I told him the ones I had done before. ‘You like the hills then?’ he asked. ‘God no, hate them’ I laughed. He thought I had sprained my ankle from the way I was hobbling but I explained the pain was further up.
Then we were down to the last 2 miles. I was determined not to lose him. I used him to keep me pushing and eventually I reached the marshall who said those blissful , magical words ‘It’s only 1.5km from here’. He was a fantastic marshall. He was either a triplet or he had been moving places around the route, helping out and always, always cheery and happy. But not your usual ‘not far now’ kind of encouragement’. More ‘I don’t know what to say. Well done guys you are awesome’. He deserves a medal.
I see the 400 metres to go sign. Relief waving over me. I’m back of the field but there’s still a cheer for me as I cross the line. I make sure I high five the kids at the side too. At the finish I turn round and wait for Leven Las Vegas man to come across. He had kept me going in those last few miles and I was very thankful. What a lovely man.
The finish is at a lake – strange given the name of it is Fox Lake….. Joe was playing with Oliver at the play park whilst I was gathering my things and I saw 2 people wade in. I love an ice bath. It was amazing at Manchester. So I limped over and peeled off my socks and trainers. It was slippy. Not ideal. It was also freezing. Absolutely blood freezing. Nope, nope, nope I’m getting out. Possibly the fastest I had moved all day not a word of a lie. My ankles have never been in so much pain. But oh man it felt so good. Ok. Deep breaths. Huff, puff, huff, puff – back in I go.
And straight back out. Too much.
I would definitely recommend this race. From the marshalls to the aid stations to the route itself. I really liked it. I’m very tempted to go back next year if I ever get rid of this pain in my legs, just to see how well I could do it injury free.