The dust has settled well and truly atop the memory of the story I'm about to tell, but it's most certainly a story to be shared. It is a story of achieving the once un-achievable. It's a story of camaraderie, pain, frustration and the standard blood sweat and tears. And there I told myself there wouldn't be any tears but they came anyway. After all that journey came out there was nothing left in place to hold them back.
But I started from the end so let me get back to the beginning...
I knew from the minute I turned into the base camp slip road that we were in for a doozy the following day. Streams of soaking wet, exhausted, foot soldiers having now completed the first 50k of Race to the Stones plodded up the dusty road heading for their tent, their families, their pint, their shower. For some they went straight to their change of mind and a trip home instead, do not pass Go, do not collect 50k more. It was blisteringly hot, their feet were blisteringly in agony (as we'd learn with a vengeance the following day) and that epic trek had given them such a hard reality check they said to hell with 100k, in this heat a firm 50 will do nicely thankyouverymuch. There were tents which had been occupied for a few hours left vacant by bed time. Mine, not at all. It was packed full and I was as ready as I'd ever be to attempt my first ultra.
I threw my stuff inside, found a beer and sat down to watch those finishing for the day at basecamp, and to look on in awe at the warriors skimming on past, to get moving onward and face as much of the trail as they could before night and its trail of glowsticks and chilly breezes descended. My admiration for those folks grew and I remembered all the Buzzers who've done the same distance and beyond, taking that turn past the place of rest to go battle on in the darkness.
I salute you. I raised my glass to you there and then in that startlingly hot and dry field, and another here and now in front of these cool and calm keys.
Back to gather my things and my thoughts, to roll out what was tight in the legs and hope I could sleep through the night. I had the sense to bring an inflatable air mattress for the tent and what a talking point to passers by who looked longingly my way as they dragged their hissing flat mats to their own quarters. Once all the 'ZZZT! ZZZZT!' of the tent zips quietened down and the sun did its disappearing act, off into that cool beautiful evening I went, sleeping like a log while those battle hardened 100k warriors floodlit the darkness somewhere 'out there'.
That sound sleep is most certainly why I ended up missing breakfast and taping my right foot so badly it needed work for the next 24 hours...but I'll get to that.
Along with dozens of others, my alarm also went off at 4:30, and I got moving to the loos before the crowds and back to to the tent to get myself sorted out. I'm slow getting ready on a good day but this was epic tortoise. My plans to carefully prep everything the night before were scuppered by the relentless heat which prevented me from doing much other than slobbing around until the cooler sunset and bedtime. I knew blisters would be an issue so I'd brought four pair of socks, foot powder, loads of tape, vaseline, the full whammy. The sock changes would be my salvation and if there were anything I got absolutely right it was multiple socks. Note to self: socks are your saviour.
So finally all set up, I raced to the start area to meet Bev and Yves and realised I'd passed the bag drop, so rounded on myself to dump one bag in the truck and drop the rest of my kit back in my car which I'd parked strategically super close knowing I'd be running around like a headless chicken trying to get out in the morning. At least I got that part spot on!
Once we three Buzzketeers assembled at last, we had a photo taken by the world's greatest crew, Tony, and headed off into the great unknown. My breakfast consisted of a Rice Krispie Treat and a Madeleine. Breakfast of champions I tell you!
Did me well until I got to checkpoint 5 (our 1st) at which point I started shoving all the fruit on God's green earth straight down my gob at lightning speed. I had no idea you can actually eat watermelon or pineapple at the pace it was going down, but you sure can, trust me.
Checkpoint five involved me trying to sort out the tape on my right foot for the first time and a first change of socks. In retrospect I wish I'd had the sense to put the foot powder into the socks before hand as it looked like an explosion in a cake factory on the yoga mat I was sat on by the time I was done. This would continue throughout the day. Tony began his stint as the magic water bladder refill genie and we all hit the loos before we rolled onward. Remembering I'd neglected to remember that EVERYTHING chafes, out came the vaseline for a sports bra touch up and there it remained as I forgot to put it back into my pack. First kit casualty of the day.
Onward we marched to some point barely a few hundred metres out of the checkpoint and I decided that my right foot wasn't going to play ball as is, and needed urgent adjusting. Off comes shoe, sock, out comes tape, scissors, on everything goes, away everything is packed...
...except my scissors, which are still camping out in a field somewhere along the Ridgeway. Casualty 2! I'd be asking people to borrow theirs for the rest of the day.
So there we three intrepid ultra-seekers tromped up and down hills, in deep rutted tractor tire tracks hard as stone from the lack of rain. We tried the alphabet game for about 2 minutes, were absolute pants at it and reverted to the constant nattering. It was mostly me doing the nattering I suspect and there was Bev some paces in front who struggled to hear half of it due to the position - so every few minutes she'd belt out a HEY?! which became absolutely hysterical to me after a few hours in the glaring sun. Yves was battling on as the anchor of our triumphant trio.
As the miles piled up I was so glad I'd prepared a little bag of motivational statements, one for each mile. Some were song lyrics, some were things people say, and every one of them has spurred me on at some point in a race. So that broke up the time and distance like a charm. Once we got past the 80k marker (our 30k) it was completely the same as any long race, the point of no return, taking on the pain like a passenger, all those angry dark places beginning to make themselves known. All of us were withering in that sun, roasting in open unsheltered fields, the sun reflecting with great purpose off the hard chalk and roasting us like the Christmas turkey. Every checkpoint involved dunking every piece of cloth into the buckets they provided, and we just wandered back off dripping from head to toe and not caring a dot. Each stop revealed new blisters, and the source of 'what the hell is going on down in that right shoe' showed its fangs at the final checkpoint. I'd put a Compeed over the base of my little toe at checkpoint 8 with hopes it would keep it at bay. Little did I know that Compeeds melt in the heat and by CP9 I pulled my sock half off to find it stuck to the little toe, last two toes completely glued together and a hard ridge at the bottom, directly over that blister. On the upside, at least I knew where the wretched pain was coming from!
Compeed had to come off. Now, if you've used them you know that as the Compeed came off, with it came half of my little toe in the process. I've got a ridiculously low threshold for pain but can tolerate a hell of a lot of it when it comes, so that was that. Tony gave me some advice which basically consisted of patch it up and get moving there's nothing else you can do. And at that point it was blooming marvellous advice!! So gauze and tape and pain and limping and off we went.
Those last 12k were excruciating for all of us. And we charged on. Those last 12k were so hot we couldn't quite process how we were still moving after a while. And we charged on. Those last 12k became 8, became 5, became 3, and then there were stones.
And then there was that final turn when the finish line was in sight.
And then there were those tears. And I think they came because after all that I still had something in my legs to trot home. To jump around in elation once I crossed that line.
We had carried that baton for 50k over hills and fields, through woods and checkpoints, over blisters and under a scorching vicious July sun. We had carried that baton home in 12:40:31. We went forth and we buzzed and the power of this magnificent collective came along for the journey. Every PTING! off the phone brought out ear to ear grins. Every photo we sent to let you all know we were on the move, we were making our relentless forward progress, we were coming home. We were coming home. We brought that baton home and I hope to hell we did you all proud. I am so proud of all three of us, and will let Bev and Yves tell their own stories of this great adventure. And once more I cannot possibly thank Tony enough for all the support he gave us for the duration. There is no limit to the lift you get from having support along the way like that.
Gah, I had the absolute time of my life!! Which is particularly useful because in just two short weeks I'm off to take on the first 55k of the South Coast Challenge!
Training has been pretty sparse on the running front what with all the leave job - speak at Down Syndrome Congress - two week holiday - prep to start new job malarkey, but I am thankful that over my holiday I managed to get most ways up Catbells and Coniston Old Man (too dangerous a scramble at the top to finish it up it solo) and bagged a second summit of Scafell Pike via Mickledore which was the most frightening and invigorating thing I've ever done in my life. So got lots of hills in my legs and my trot / walk method is so well rehearsed and sound that to be totally honest, I'm not nervous, just looking forward to tackling it!
Because it's so important to me, the beauty of those two missed summits in the Lakes is that a) I and no one else made the decision that I should turn around and b) I now know how to NOT finish and be perfectly ok with it.
For me, that's HUGE. That there is growth. That there is relentless forward progress.
So I'll get a few runs in over the next couple weeks, get some more motivational statements printed up, pack EARLY, sort my toes out better, avoid Compeed(!), load up the iPod and get ready to rumble. Five years ago who would have thought that I'd be training for the Snowdonia marathon by doing two marathons, two ultras and climbing a few mountains? I read that back and am still bamboozled...I only hope that I'm properly ready for Chicago in advance as this training cycle has been all over the shop!
I spent a fair few years sitting on my bum and being miserable in my life after I moved over to the UK 17 years ago. Those who know me will know the catalysts for change were the death of my father and the birth of my son, but I wrote something on an Instagram post the other day which couldn't be more true:
"There will have been a precise day on which I decided that I would begin to really live again. I don't remember the date. I just know that I will always be in love with it."
Just like I salute all of you, I salute that day. With all my heart.
Onward we go!
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