Why have you come?

Posted on: 14 Oct 2019

I'm currently sat at my kitchen table, thinking about how I really should be out running in the rain to weather-acclimatise in time for Snowdonia in a couple weeks. But there's a tub of near scalding water directly beneath me. It contains my feet, a healthy dollop of Epsom salts, and great hope that it's only because I was heel dropping a very used up left leg this is merely a minor niggle and will go with a bit of rest. Or should I say a bit more rest?

Now on week two of zero mileage, down to the remnants of that North Downs 50k which could be 52.75 (or if Strava has anything to say about it 54). I have had an amazing year of injury-free races, which for me is staggering, and particularly because a) I've been running so much of them and b) I spent so long in so much pain from racing on legs that just didn't want to feel nice in the thereafter. I don't really know how to 'take it easy a few days after a race' when nothing hurts enough to force the rest! What an odd victory.

During that ND 50-whatever (and I'll tell you all about the race in general, I promise) I'd reached the base of the Box Hill Stepping Stones into the fabulous support of Team Miller and commented that Ye Olde Peroneal had been pinging. Which was odd, considering the fact I had substantial drop in the shoes and there wasn't any other indication that I should have any iss---

Hang on.

I'd ramped up the lower leg strength training for a few weeks with heel drops...tired muscles ping in races...hmmm...

Ye Olde Peroneal had begun to ping and pong just after I'd reached marathon distance, and began causing me to worry about long term shenanigans. But just as I departed the top of Box Hill I stopped for a little stretch and it disappeared, dodo-esque. No other issues for the duration of the race, so I forgot completely about that pain, having finished without any(!) and went to the gym two days later.

Not full whammy, no running, but treadhills felt alright all the same. Next day lower leg wasn't terribly pleased and I remembered that mid race pinging. Aha! Ok, so I scaled back to cycling, rowing, walking a bit, but kept doing the heel drops. Prolly shouldn't have as it's just niggling away now and something has really worked up all round the left ankle. Knowing what I know about my training, my injury history, etc., I'm fairly sure the ankle is just overworked from those drops too soon after racing but not taking any chances pre-Snowdonia. Which means I've decided to totally rest it a few days and hopefully by the end of the week I can get back on the horse. I'd also rather see my physio before I run just for a proper look.

So frustratedly soaking feet and looking at rain I want to run in, here I sit, telling you all about it. Moan moan.

Now, that race! That glorious race.

I set out to finish 50k in under 8 hours. Because it was an Action Challenge event, I expected that 50k and the finish line to not be anywhere near the same place, so mentally it served me well when the official distance was later updated to 52.75k. 

But what an amazing day.

The route that took on part of the North Downs Way, starting in Farnham and finishing in Reigate, threw its first challenge up when I was trying to decide where to stay. I had considered camping until I realised it would be blooming freezing and when they made the decision to move the campsite away from the finish area it was a firm no. As it was meant to be an end of year celebration I thought it would be fun to stay on site and be able to come and go to the 'party'. But once that was out the window I ended up at the Premier Inn Reigate, just down the road.

Morning of the race I drove to the finish, got a coach out to the start and was promptly forced to listen to the same woman go onandonandonandon for the entire journey to Farnham. 

Just as I was feeling a bit stabby from the sound of her voice we arrived and poured out into a brisk morning. My 7 am start was only 30 minutes hence, so I sorted out my drop bag, shoved a bit of food in and got into the front corner of the corral so I could make a quick getaway. 

Starting off I felt pretty good. Folks were passing me but these were all running a faster pace, so all fine. Aside from achieving a clean sub-8 hour 50k, I wanted to jog this race and I really didn't want to finish behind people walking it. That was a personal goal which would tell me I'd run enough, that I didn't give up or give in, not anything to do with anyone else really! In my head I was going to jog when I can, walk when I had to, and curse for the duration. 

What a route, though! Such varied terrain, from beautiful covered woodland paths to sandy trails, stunning long views and hills hills hills. Its undulations had undulations. And I loved every blooming minute of it. And I ran so strongly! The training had paid off handsomely and I was pretty much living a dream. 

Sub 8 time goal meant I had to stay under 15 minute miles. The first half of the route wasn't as lumpy so I tried to bank some time, and did successfully. I knew I had to get in and out of the checkpoints in haste. I think I was in and out of pitstop 1 in less than 10 minutes, which for me is staggeringly fast. 

Despite having fuelled appropriately from the off I was getting a bit queasy again early on. I necked a salt packet and dug into the vest for a bit of nourishment - in this instance, an American childhood favourite called Nutter Butters. I found them in the UK quite by accident, along with a pack of Twizzlers (also along for the ride) in a newsagents next to Shepherd's Bush station. Sickeningly sweet peanut butter filled cookies. It's amazing the things you learn about eating on the move - this eventually amounted to 'pulverize, mix with water, swallow like tablets, repeat, repeat, repeat'.

Folks, for the record, Nutter Butters are fricking amazing fuel.

Off I went up and down, going forth and Buzzing. For seven hours and twenty eight minutes I raced myself, raced my doubts, raced my demons. I think by the time I left the halfway point I knew I'd go sub 8 but when I looked down somewhere in the middle of another gorgeous woodland and calculated that I'd go sub 7:30 you may have actually heard my smile. I didn't make a sound but man alive, it was a LOUD grin. 

And there may well have been fire under my feet. I felt unstoppable, powerful, victorious. As I crested each hill, there I tore off down it, grinning loudly, Barbering when apt, relentless forward progress. Some pain brewing in that peroneal but no true pain cave, no dark thoughts, just joy and pride in a goal I was about to take down in a blaze of glory.

To my great delight, Team Miller - the marvellous Kick AS Kat and Richard - were there to greet me shortly after the third checkpoint. In fact, our Kat wound her way up the route to greet me and as I powered through a fenced in pathway I looked up to see her coming from the other direction. If you've ever bumped into a Buzzer in the middle of a race you will know the joy I felt at that very point. She led me forward, round a corner up a set of steps and there was Richard at the entry to the Stepping Stones car park, grin on face, sign in hand. My friends. Such amazing support and so very welcome. Thank you endlessly. I'm so happy you were part of this memory.

Bit of a chat, a promise to meet me again at the top of the hill, bottle filled with flat coke and off I went up and over the bridge. Tick tock tick tock. Go go go. I powered up and up, and turned a corner to come across the most ridiculous staircase of the day, which having checked later shows in parts a 23% grade.

I know! Let's first run a marathon and then climb 500 feet at 23% grade while racing against the clock?! Ok, let's go. Good heavens. Welcome to the machine.

I got up those steps without stopping (only just, holy smokes that was a brute) and reached the top to see a group of DofE kids laden with giant packs, whereafter I promptly tripped and fell over. I dusted myself off and grinned again, said I couldn't understand how they could do those steps with those huge honking packs, then ran off down the hill before they could point and laugh.

As I came up on to the road, I was really feeling the peroneal playing up and my ankle flexor had joined the party. Staggered on a bit until I got fed up and stopped for a bit of a stretch. Very bizarrely the pain completely went away. I've no idea what was going on but just charged on with gratitude into the next patch of woodland. 

Steady rhythm, jog the flats, walk the ups, jog the downs, until thirty-one of those miles had fallen behind me. I was like a kid at the end of the school day checking the watch and as it ticked over 50k I saw 7:28 on the face. I had run 50k in 7:28:29. I had beaten my PB by over an hour

Relentless forward progress with one hell of a loud grin.

With 32 minutes to spare, I filed away that goal and immediately set another one: chasing down the AC route marker which lied about the actual distance (52k on the watch at this point) and reached it STILL under 8 hours. 

Sub 8, meet sub 8. How do you dooooo?

As if this wasn't important enough in my running, something even more important happened that day. Huge. You'd know the Chimp was involved.

Chimp:
You're getting close to that downhill. Slow down, go easy, save your legs. You've done your sub 8. Twice! Rest now, there there...

Me:
Yes, yes, you're right. Goal done. (Slowing. Start to pick my way downhill.)

Chimp:
Nicely done. You don't have to prove anything to anyone, you can just walk the rest really.

Me:
Yes, sure, that I can...(Pick, pick)
Hang on. Hang ON.


Chimp:
Really you ju--

Me, to Chimp:
(Scoop into arms. Toss. Punt.) Enjoy the view, landing's a bit hard!

Me, to me:
-Why have you come here?  
-Huh?
-If you're not going balls to the wall, why bother? Why have you come here?

A challenge. A reminder. A mantra.

Why had I come, at all?

To push. To fight. To recover.

To Buzz.

I picked up the pace and charged on down the hill. I ran the flats and downs, I walked the ups. Just like I'd planned. Just like it.

Relentless. Balls to the wall. When you show up, show up. Otherwise, why have you come here at all?

Out on to pavement. Very fit people in front, now falling behind, as I charged ahead, poles singing tak! tak! tak! against the ground like a metronome. I'd been overtaking people all day, up every hill. Up them!

The training had clearly worked for the body. It also seems to have worked for the mind.

Down the road, round a corner, through a hedge and there now the finish. I grinned even louder and charged across that field, Kat and Richard grinning back, folks all around cheering.

I'm shaking my poles in the air in victory, "I smashed it! I absolutely smashed it!" I smashed some other things too that day. Into dust.

Why have you come here?

Go forth and Buzz. 

____

Here's the Strava: 
https://www.strava.com/activities/2746586017/overview

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