Some 12 hours before the start of my R86+ revenge round, I spotted a new bruise on the lower inside of my shin. The attachment point of the peroneal, outside of the leg above the ankle, was also a bit more sore and twingey than one would expect, having done little else but ride in taxis and trains all day. Even the three mile shakeout walk I had planned failed to materialise, but still there sat the exceptionally un-funny comedy duo of Bruise and Twinge, daring me to dare greatly.
Into the epsom salt bath went I, pleading with the fates to let me have my meticulously-planned day in the sun. Nothing else hurt.
This would become a theme.
Long story short, it could have gone either way. Had the stars aligned slightly jigged to the right, or left, or anywhere else but where I found them, it really could have.
It all went so right, until it went so wrong. If ultrarunning had a mantra, I think that'd be it.
I woke for the R86+ redux with great anticipation and greater confidence that all the boxes were ticked and everything that had gone wrong last time would not make a repeat appearance. Got it all right but one, which wasn't obvious until it happened twice. So there's that.
Skipping ahead as I do...
Into the van I went from hotel to start with terrific exuberance, none of that great anxiety from the year before anywhere present, largely because I knew what was coming and I knew just how ready I was to face it. The agitation I felt was only down to the fact that I was so eager to get started.
Off we went, and I stayed my course, kept my pace, ran my race, steady on, all the things - that rough 15 minute miling as planned, growing more confident with every mile that it was going down this time, you bloody watch me.
As you do in any long race, you 'drive the car' at the speed you planned, the map memorised, the high points anticipated, the low points rehearsed, the playlist ready for just about anything.
And as you do in any long race, you take on pain as a passenger for the duration, in all its guises. And you will have a veritable clown car full of passengers by the end. Still, when you've been there before, you start getting savvy and you don't let them in the car proper to dirty the upholstery. You swipe them invisibly off wherever they take hold (hip, knee, ankle) and throw them unceremoniously into the boot (that'd be 'trunk' for my American friends) with some blue air and heavy Chicago attitude.
I was DRIVING that car, baby. Motoring along. Nothing hurt.
Until something HURT.
Small at first, brewing in the bottom of the left shin, slightly familiar as I recalled from the Peak District 100k, that pain in the ankle flexors when raising the toes up. Stretchable, manageable, and potentially correctable or so I thought. In trying to rest the twingey peroneal for a bit for the first quarter I thought I'd start with 5mm heel gel cushions in and pop them out if it felt off.
I'd trained with a variable drop so it shouldn't have been any issue whatso. But there the pain kept growing, this passenger kept hammering on the lid of the boot screaming to get in the car.
Like hell you will, piss off.
On I went.
NOTHING ELSE HURT.
Pacing to perfection continued nevertheless, cruising into Lewknor 26.2 like I was out jogging a 5k. But that shin was menacing. The world's greatest crew Kat and Richard at the ready to fuel me up and we attempted to work on it. I thought it just needed a stretch and a bit of massage as righty didn't hurt, and there off I went into the section I had expected to hate, listening to Stairway to Heaven and feeling mentally as if I'd actually ascended it. Running happy.
By the time I passed the 'scary barn' at North Farm (I think that's its name - the farm not the barn!) and started up the climb that falls down the other side and back up again to St Botolph's church I had to stop mid way to really give the old shin a stretch.
That passenger had skulked into the back seat and I could no longer push it out of the car. Still I drove on.
I careened down the hill badly singing Soulja Boy (that particular hammering potentially just the serum old Shinjury needed to grow into the bad genie) grinning and laughing and flipping the hill off on the other side. Now the irritation was ever present, and I was looking forward to working on it a bit at Nuffield Church and taking the heel lifts out of the shoes to see if that would help.
Jogging in with a grin, I shoveled in loads of food, forgetting completely about the carton of rice milk I'd thought carefully about having here (note to self, make a food list next time!) Just completely blanked it. Loads of food on board albeit mostly watermelon, another stretch, some voltarol and a swodge of tape on the shin and off I went with a fire in my eyes, just ten more miles til I could take my foot off the gas for those beautiful and ever so rehearsed 18 m/m night miles.
I walked away from Nuffield with a 90 minute cutoff cushion. In a few hours it would be gone.
It being dusk, I'd taken the sunnies off and popped on my regular glasses. Similarly to last year when I then went to look into the distance, my vision took longer than expected to focus. I attributed this to the variance in prescription and thought nothing more of it. I know now it was a massive hint I missed, and the start of a major physiological issue - diabetic hypo or hyponatremia. Potentially a double whammy. Welcome to the pain cave.
Now I don't normally have any trouble whatsoever with my T2 diabetes, generally testing at 'pre-diabetic' levels and entirely diet controlled, but ultras really turn things on their head, and if I get the fuelling wrong I will crash hard. I've also had tunnel vision from electrolyte imbalance, most markedly in the 2016 London marathon where I couldn't look up the road and still see straight. Salt and S caps tend to instantly cure any slight issues.
Anyway when I got to Nuffield I could have eaten a seven course meal and had zero bother. My stomach was in perfect shape - I wasn't starving but not a bit of queasiness whatsoever. For what it's worth, this is probably the point on which I'll throttle myself until I get back for round 3 next year.
I thought I'd fuelled sufficiently for the ten miles to South Stoke and it's huge fuelling but after positively flying down Grim's Ditch, masterfully skipping over every root that tried to take me out last year, I crossed the road (small crossing where the route goes alongside a nearby campground) and out of nowhere in comes dizziness, confusion, and palpitations - my heart rate spiked as high as 203 at one point. (As I type, I'm realising this is similar to the issue I had in the Spine Sprint ascending Laddow Rocks.)
I quickly slowed to a stop and knowing what it potentially was thought if I settle the heart rate and get more fuel in I'd be ok. Ye Olde Babybel eased it a bit but I probably needed to rest. Yeah, no, as you do, I pressed on instead. I felt a bit better as I walked but the slight fuzzy head and heart rate spiking wasn't resolving itself and I was beginning to feel properly sick - a few chills, queasy and slowly getting hangry.
To make things worse, the pain in my shin was now completely riding shotgun and reaching for the wheel. All I could do was try to negotiate with it.
"I thought I told you to get in the f****** boot."
"Piss off now, that's enough, I'm driving."
"Right, well if you're sticking around the least you can do is tell me your name. What shall we call you? Shinn Pein? Shin-ami? Shinjury? Yes, Shinjury. That's about right. Fine. Sit in the car, but I'm in charge. You're not driving, pal."
By the time I got past all the golf courses near North Stoke I met up with another runner who I'd run on and off with all day - Barbro. We made our way into South Stoke with my headlamp and her hand torch, largely walking because I just couldn't run any longer without better support for the shin and a bit of a rest. The stretch along the Thames went on for an absolute eternity. (I know that will need at least one Nuffield - South Stoke recce to resolve.)
We reached the checkpoint and I chirped once again "31 and having fun!" but what a flipping liar I was at that point. It was all I could do to ask them to mix up my cheesy mash which was nearly impossible to choke down. I'd tried to settle the guts with a couple bits of mint cake but not even that worked. I tried every bit of food in my bag. Nothing would go down without a battle. I could barely even sit up straight with the dizziness. They'd run out of Coke and my Mountain Dew was cloying. The idea of coffee burned a hole in my guts. I managed a tomato cup o soup, which tipped me into something more positive. It hit me...
Ahhhhh missed a step, maybe that was contributing to the illness - I generally take an S cap an hour but was only on 1 every 2. Looking back at the masses of Tailwind packets I had left over, I clearly wasn't topping up electrolytes enough either. Had I sabotaged myself all along?
So I tipped a McDonald's salt packet into my palm and licked my hand. When I looked up, the runner at the table next to me gave me the most knowing nod. In went the rest of the salt, and suddenly I had the presence of mind to change my clothes and get ready to get moving again.
All the while Barbro was still about, and asked if I wanted to go out together. I was keen but just wasn't able to kick into gear fast enough. The food I could choke down took an age to go in, it wasn't enough, the illness wasn't going, the leg was on fire, what else can go wrong at 41 miles in the dark?
After a failed attempt to get a compression sock over my toe tape (not a blister to be found in the aftermath, so there's that) I said please don't wait for me, I may catch up with you.
Of course I never did. (I'm gutted to see she withdrew at Foxhill, and so hope it wasn't down to a timing issue from waiting for me.)
I think the checkpoint closed only 15 minutes after I staggered out of it. I asked the volunteer pointing me to the route what time Bury Down closed. He said "2:30...you MIGHT make it."
Dude. DUDE. Nooooooooo.
I had planned my pacing to perfection and had lost all that cushion. The chimp tried to get in the car and was subsequently battered to oblivion by my screaming shin. "Maybe it'll ease now I've changed my shoes," says I to the darkness, and I stumbled away into the conclusion of this journey.
I checked in to let my friends know I was ok, interestingly while moving through a bit of the route I can't ever seem to place but will now never forget. Add that to the list of learnings.
But every step was making the injury worse. Going up the tiny incline of the bridge from Goring into Streatley was enough to make my fillings vibrate and when I realised I'd be chasing cutoffs on an injury that was certain to get much, much worse for the terrain coming imminently, it was curtains.
I collapsed onto the bench and buried my head in my hands.
If you've read Stephen King's The Dark Tower you will understand exactly how I was feeling.
"What now? What?"
My amazing crew - those fabulous Millers, came all the way back to rescue me, taking me in, epsom salt bath, ice pack, warm bed, laughter instead of sorrow.
The next day, they brought me back to my bag, and to my hotel, and to my pride.
After all, who can be sad after conquering 44 miles to that level of adherence to plans? I was smashing it. Until it smashed me.
The things I got right I absolutely nailed. Pacing to perfection, all that walking training was so much the right shout, all the preparation was bang on. Recce'd everything and recce'd again. The playlist, the motivations, the timings, printed out and referred to. Learnings, learnings.
I entirely did not fail, I was carjacked.
Amusingly, when I did the Ridgeway 40 (the one in which I broke my finger) I had parked in front of the very same bench where I stopped this time. That race started at the R86 finish point and finished in Streatley. So in essence, I really have completed the Ridgeway this year. Who knew it would go like this?
Would I call the problems I had mistakes? Not really - I didn't recognise the total fuelling issue for what it was until it happened twice. That was one of the most valuable lessons I've learned about my distance running, and I can certainly pay it more close attention and crack it next year. I'll eat big at Nuffield and transition faster at South Stoke.
I realised that during the two 100ks I've completed, I've eaten heartily at the 50k point (Nuffield here) and have never once felt a shred of nausea. I could've eaten loads at 50k. Had I, maybe would have moved faster out of South Stoke but how much damage would I have done to the leg? Blessings in disguise I guess.
Nine days on, it's still in a significant amount of pain, still undefined as to what exactly has gone wrong. Awaiting x-ray results and my fabulous sports therapist has booked me in for a once over later today so jury's out.
I'm suspecting the root cause of all these perpetual issues with my left foot is supination, just took a look at my regular treaddie trainers and they're lopped to the outsides like nobody's business. Eyes open girl, time to fix what's broken.
I'll leave this with the positive that despite me completing less distance than I did last year, I went so VERY much further.
I don't know when, but it's going down.
I've never been so sure of anything in my life.
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