“If we must fail, let us do so reaching beyond our grasp for a dream that is worth all our striving. Then, even in our failing, even through our tears, we have won”. Wild trails to Far Horizons Mike Cudahy
This past week, I seem to have been stumbling around in a bit of a daze. Having been psyched up and prepared to spend the majority of it outside on the Pennine way, I am now at home unpacked; eating my body weight in any food that stays still long even for me to get my claws into it; working hard on repairing so I can get back outside again and generally wondering what day of the week it is.
Unfortunately, 105 or so miles into the 268 mile non-stop race that is the Montane Spine, I had to stop and drop out of the event. In the end it wasn’t really a hard decision. The pain in my lower shin and front foot had become very intense and sharp, progressively getting worse through the night and then finishing me off to a point where I knew that to continue would not only be painful but more importantly potentially cause long term damage. Don’t get me wrong, I knew this event would involve a lot of suffering and pain, sore feet, tiredness and testing of wills, but I also know when something isn’t ok. I say it wasn’t a hard decision in the light that it really was that painful I ended up getting a lift down the last 4 miles into the checkpoint at Hawes. I would much rather have taken a few hours to do this slowly but going down hill had now become a question of, “shit this is really not ok” and concerns over a stress fracture loomed. I knew if I was stopping anyway then why risk it?
To say I was absolutely gutted is an understatement, not just because of the obvious effort, time and preparation but my genuine desire to want to keep going, see the whole route, experience this iconic event to its fullest and get to the end. I felt I had let people down: friends and family who I knew were watching, my sponsors who had given so much and most of all Kim who had sacrificed so much of her time to help me prepare, drive me around, put up with my tiredness and be a wonderful supportive loving wife in this latest obsession and dedication.
I had always been clear and honest with myself about my intentions for this race. I was of course doing it for lots of good reasons but that didn’t take away from the fact I was doing it with the intent of being competitive. I would be bull shitting if I said something about just doing it for the adventure and a podium place would be a bonus. Rightly or wrongly, arrogantly or I think more over optimistically than anything, this was and still would be my intent. I am competitive, and I love racing so why not. I think the trick is balancing this with remembering it is a long way and running your own race, but also using other competitors to keep the momentum going, something I can honestly say I failed to do until later on, when it may have been too late and the damage was done.
I had also discussed with Kim that should things not go ok from a racing point of view my back stop would be to do what I needed to do to finish, even if it meant rest as long as possible at checkpoints to recover then progress along the route more slowly: if I took the full 7 days then so be it. The only thing that would prevent this would be an injury serious enough to cause long term damage. So we had a clear intent for the race and also the backup plan and also the backup backup plan. Unfortunately, it happened to be the latter one in the end.
So far it all sounds like a bit of a disaster but as the week has progressed and I, like so many others, have watched in awe of all the amazing people as their dots have slowly progressed ever north wards, there has been obvious time to reflect and I feel there have been more and more positives from this experience:
1, I now don’t feel I have let anyone down, in fact I have been very overwhelmed by the support, love and kind words in messages and chats with friends and family. I at least provided some dot watching entertainment for a short period of time!
2, For the relatively short part of the race I took part in, ignoring the injury, I had a really good time! It was a huge, huge honour to run with the people I did do. I learnt a vast amount from being in the presence of Jasmin and Eoin, both incredible athletes, great competitors very strong in many regards but also down to earth. (I exclude Eugeni simply because he wasn’t in the group when I was so I can’t honestly say, though I am so gutted for him on having to stop so close to the end). When I got into the CP at Hawes having dropped out, Eoin was just about to leave and, on hearing I had to stop from injury, he took the time to say some very kind words which meant a huge amount.
3, I learnt an absolute ton. The experience alone was invaluable: seeing what the pace was like at the start; how it changed through the first 100 miles and how others approached the race, all of this just isn’t something I could get from following or reading blogs. Just being in the presence of the above people plus Gwynn Stokes, John Knapp and Kevin Hadfield you can’t help but learn and be encouraged, and to then see and follow them as they progressed North throughout the week was inspiring.
4, I blundered my way into a photograph with Jasmin Paris. I mean that has got to be worth everything! But seriously what Jasmin has achieved this week is absolutely, monumentally amazing, indeed in my view and I am sure many others an historical moment in Ultra distance events and hopefully women’s sport. She worked bloody hard not just in the last week but over the years to be as good as she is and is a fantastic role model for many people, male or female, to look up to.
5, I can be over optimistic and somewhat naïve at times which potentially sets me up for failure. I went into this race with the attitude and intent I had amongst people who had either completed this race several times or other multi day hard ass events, myself having only completed one 100 mile race which counts as a warm up to these athletes. So yes, rather naive and optimistic, but do you know what, I don’t mind this at all. For sure I failed and I failed in several aspects but something I am keen to get across is that failing is absolutely ok. There is no need to commiserate and say otherwise, in my view it is key and not being afraid of this is just as, if not more important. I could easily fall back on my injury and play the blame game or say I was just unlucky, but it is all part of the same package. The responsibility lies with me yet I am happy to take this and not feel paralysed by fear of failure which tends to make us stay in that comfortable little world and not dare to step outside of it.
6, For the second time in my life I have somehow covered over 100 miles in one go. Last time I did this was the Montane Lakeland 100 in July 2017. It didn’t go to plan, I suffered but finished, however the aftermath seriously took its toll and I was so wrecked and ill for a month afterwards that running was off the cards and I vowed never ever to run 100 miles again! This time a few days later, apart from my injury, everything feels ok and I seem to feel pretty good and be recovering quickly. It’s amazing how your body learns to deal with these things and also a sign that the strength work I have been doing is effective. On the drive home I already wanted to come back next year for more.
7, I eat too much, or at least rely on food too much. Now I am in a much better place health and nutrition wise I feel the next stage is to start becoming more efficient at using the fuel I have. I seem to mentally lean on eating regularly and feeding up when I can, more so than I should need to do. It is almost a comfort blanket which can be somewhat limiting and actually cause more problems by trying to digest such quantities of food. Watching Eoin, he seems to be a master of this after a lot of years of practice eating very little if anything for very long periods of time, which is something to learn more about and discover for myself.
8, The whole Montane Spine race, Challenger and MTR is an absolutely brilliant event. If I am honest I kept my expectations low, I didn’t know what to expect and with such a long race and people being spread out so far along the course it is not the easiest to organise. I have to say how utterly blown away I was by the professionalism and friendliness of the whole team, from kit check and briefing on the first day, to the supporters and helpers in the checkpoints who just couldn’t do enough for you, despite them already being up for long periods of time and dealing with many sleep deprived anxious and hungry competitors. It is certainly one of the best organised events I have done either UK or overseas based. I also felt absolutely safe throughout and the support and recovering of people was fantastic. The fact that Eugeni, after pressing his SOS button, was picked up off the floor in the middle of the Cheviots 30 minutes later is testament to this.
A massive thank you also to my sponsors Montane for all of the kit and opportunity; Scott for the shoes and poles (which were very, very handy) and Chia charge for feeding my excessive eating!
I will be putting together a more in-depth kit review soon.
Where to go from here? I am not sure and I never intended to jump from one event to the next this time. I will of course be nailing down the root cause of my injury and I have a few suspects to work through and avenues to help. I also know if I want to go back and try again I have a year rather than 3 months to prepare. Combined with everything I have learnt this time, it should be an interesting journey. I am certainly more open to doing longer races through the year to build up resilience and experience, another 100 mile events seems much less daunting now so I am looking forwards to something epic, but I am also looking forwards to some less intense adventures outside of racing, I just need to persuade Kim that it will be fun!