As I was in need of as much stress release as possible, I decided to run. Scott was going to be my solo crew member; a lonely job as he knew nobody at the event (except for the friendly Osmo team). My goal was not to sleep. That was all I wanted. We didn't set up the tent.
At the start line I recognised a few solo and pair runners from last year which was a nice feeling at such a big (and non-Scottish) event. Laps are a 10km trail loop which loops back near the camp often but is otherwise quite varied with the terrain. Last year it was hot and the course was dry. This year it is hot but due to the previous nights rain, the course is not dry. There is some mud. I haven't done cross-country since I was a child. It turns out I run on mud with the same grace and speed as I run on ice. These could be long laps. A few people fall. I tip-toe at the very edge of the trail, gripping trees and apologising profusely if I held someone up behind me. After surviving the first mud section, a second mud section then arrived. I cannot remember if I was crossing the mud trail purposefully, or if my graceful slide had already begun, but I ended up no longer on my feet. It was obviously a very elegant slip that resulted in both hands and my right leg covered in mud. That's going to be great when I need to grab that peeled banana from Scott at the end of this lap. Thirty minutes into a 24 hour race and I'd say it has started reasonably well! I had the pleasure of Sarah's company for the first lap and she managed to capture the aftermath with this cracker of a photo.
For the first four laps my feet were bugging me and I was finding it a hard slog. I am trying to run a bit slower than I did last year but only wrote down a few splits to keep behind. As much as I have been denying it to myself, I do have plantar fasciitis in both feet. It's not usually too bad when I run, although it is worse on the trail and has been annoying me more in the last month. When I stop, it's horrendous. I'll sort it out in the winter.
Between six and seven in the evening there is a timed race up a small hill section of the course. As I approach the bottom timing lap a marshal looks at me and makes a comment about me probably not taking part in the competition. Who is he kidding? I jog up with another solo runner. I haven't had a confirmation but I am pretty sure we took the win in the competition. It was rather amusing to find that people didn't understand how it worked and occasionally throughout the day you'd find people sprinting up and then walking at the top. What?!
Scott lets me have some of his beer. It's warm. I'm thirsty.
|Beer and Osmo; the best kind of hydration|
Scott tells me I am looking comfortable which means I should probably have become an actress. I am waiting to have a good lap. My patience is rewarded and I find the next four laps much more comfortable and stop for dinner at about nine o'clock, having run eight laps and 80km. As I am eating my dinner I hear the announcer say that I am the leading solo woman by 50 minutes and am expected in soon. That's ridiculous; no one wants to be leading a 24 hour race when they are only nine hours in! I'm trying to keep on top of my nutrition, knowing that I need to be mentally sharp in order to push through the night. I take a Nathan handheld bottle for 2km and then throw it back to Scott. My throwing accuracy is a skill I am yet to perfect.
The support for me around the campsite is really uplifting. I definitely sped up going past the drunk team chanting 'solo, solo!' Unfortunately when it gets dark a quiet time is enforced and the runners are left out alone. It's great that families are encouraged to come to the event; it's something I would have loved myself as a child. They should probably make a family area with a quiet time though and let everyone else party on and support the runners.
Occasionally I get to speak to another runner for a few hundred metres but otherwise I run by myself and it is a pretty hard and lonely slog. I did enjoy speaking to the few solo runners that I did though as most of them were going to be achieving distance pb's during the event and I really like hearing about that. This year I am much more confident with my head torch and start chugging through the night laps. From 100km I can feel the top of my left calf becoming tight. I know that I have been running funny because of my feet so it was only a matter of time before another part of my body was going to take the hit. I need to be careful going down the hills. I remind myself that I am running through the night for my sister who is too ill to be here. If I wasn't going to be with her for her last weekend in the UK, then I had better not bloody sleep. I should do something spectacular; like a backflip. So I do a backflip. Well, in my head I did one.
Constantly being lapped is getting tiring. I am trying really hard to keep my line on the rougher trails in the dark but I can't just jump out of the way like I could at the beginning. Most of the other runners pass with no problem, thanking me when they can see I am making an effort to keep to one side or letting me know politely which side they are passing on. Some team runners also recognise that I am a solo runner and give me a cheer. Funnily enough, when I pass other solo runners and give them a 'well done' I only get a positive response back half of the time! It is stressful when you can hear a bunch of runners catching you quickly on a narrow trail but that is not their fault. My legs just can't lift over all those tree roots anymore!
Some runners obviously thought they were doing something record-breaking though and would scream that they were coming through even though the track was wide enough for them to not have bothered. I am not surprised that club runners have bad reputations amongst the running (and general) population. Unfortunately it only takes a few bad eggs to make the whole tray smell.
Darling, hold my HAAAAAND
Oh, won't you hold my HAAAAAND
'Cause I don't wanna walk on my own anymore
Won't you understand?
'Cause I don't wanna walk alone
I'm ready for this, there's no denying
I'm ready for this, you stop me falling
I'm ready for this, I need you all in
I'm ready for this, so darling, hold my HAAAAAND
I need to apologise to all the runners who heard me sing the song lyrics above, out of tune, during the night. One of my kids loves the song and it was making me happy. There was quite a bit of pain going on. I was using my arms quite a bit to keep me going. I was running until I reached 14 laps (140km) and then stopping for breakfast. On the thirteenth lap I started tripping often. I was a bit tired but not overwhelmingly so. It was dark. Mostly though, there were only certain positions I could get my left leg into. I really needed to be careful with that calf. On my fourteenth lap the sun started rising and the tripping stopped. I had to walk the downhills to prevent using my left calf and my right knee was starting to hurt as I slammed it down, leaving it to take all the weight. I passed another solo runner on this lap who looked to be in a similar amount of pain. I feel ya buddy, I really do.
Other runners are starting to ask if I am ok and comment on my limping style. I had been lapping between 1:20 and 1:30 for the last four laps. I jumped into the car after 14 laps at 5:30am. Mentally I was sharp but very worried about the damage I was doing to my calf. Once breakfast was finished at 6am, 18 hours into the race, my lap options looked like this:
- Continue slowly, lapping at an hour 30 per lap. This would have me finishing 18 laps on the dot of 24 hours, with the possibility of sneaking in a 19th lap if I ran one lap five minutes quicker.
- Walk until the 24 hours was over. This would have me taking two hours to do a lap, thereby having me finishing with 17 laps (or 18 if I could squeeze an extra one in).
- Start lapping a bit faster once the sun and supporters came out, realistically running a maximum of 19 laps.
I genuinely believed that the first option was the most likely and I was happy with that as the aim was not to sleep. Mission accomplished thus far. As I came in for breakfast I told Scott that I was worried about my calf and worried about the Spartathalon. I think he thought I was worried about the Spartathalon because it's insane (and I am) but what I meant was that I was worried about a new injury. I got up to walk after breakfast. It wasn't pretty. I crossed the start/finish line feeling very worried. Should I walk around to the 2km mark and hope that I loosen up? Shall I stop at the physio? All the physio beds were full and there were at least nine people waiting. How much damage is walking like this doing? I can feel my pelvis hurting. The pelvis that has ruined so much of my year already. I cannot straighten my leg. There are a few tears. Last years thunder run pal Chris wants to know if it is a good idea for me to be continuing... It takes me an hour to walk the 2km back around to the campsite. I have to hold onto trees to pull myself up the inclines, I am a danger to the other runners on the narrow trails. At this rate I could walk another lap before the 24 hours is up and then start a 16th. But the damage I could cause is not worth it. My run today is over.
In hindsight I should probably have forced my solo status in the physio tent and demanded to be treated next but it feels a bit egocentric. I spoke to another solo runner who really needed some physio earlier on but had the same problem with relay runners taking over the tent so had to limp on also. As I was limping the other runners on the course were fabulous. Some wondered if it was cramp and so many offered to help me get to the campsite as I clearly couldn't move properly. I am not sure what the problem was but I found crawling much easier for the next 24 hours. When I got out of the car at my in-laws (at 8:30am when the race was still going) Scott had to hold me as I could not straighten my leg to hold myself up. Highly amusing. I kept it glamorous though; arranging bath mats all over the bathroom floor so I didn't have to crawl on the cold tiles! At one point, with Scott and my tracksuit downstairs, I thought I was going to have to crawl down in my pants in order to get assistance! Thankfully my scream for help was eventually answered.
Huge thanks for all the support I got on the course. I ran 144 miles three weeks ago so it was a hard slog on the legs from the beginning and the support kept me positive throughout. Also a massive thanks to my mother-in-law who waited on me when I couldn't move from the sofa on the Sunday! And finally to Scott, who got dragged into a very boring 18 hours of supporting alone and dealt with my specific bottle requirements. Fortunately, the family next to him supporting another solo runner were very kind.
Sometimes in races I have mentally given up and I have tried to be honest in those situations (most 24 hour races). This time, I am confident that I made a sensible decision. I left the race as the leader because health is more important than winning. And that truly makes me feel like a winner. Overall, I actually came in forth and held the lead for over four hours after I stopped! By that time, I was in a different county drinking wine and eating sausage rolls on a sofa. I do like to do things a little differently :) Well done to everyone who started and finished the race, each achieving their own goals.