Never has the thought, ‘How on EARTH did I get here??’ resonated more deeply than over the weekend. When after 63kms of walking and running, I sat, once again, in a khaki green portaloo and argued my breast out of my shock absorber sportsbra. This act in itself had the potential to be more difficult than putting my feet one in front of the other at varying pace for 16 hours and 43 minutes for a total of 100kms.
My journey had started in the morning at a park in Fulham, I think it was Fulham, as apparently my organisational skills had almost got me heading out in Putney, which would have been interesting, as the race didn’t start there. Luckily for me my husband took over logistics and decided that it would be best for everyone involved if he drove me directly to the start of the race. Under normal circumstances this would never have happened. We have 4 children. The youngest is 6 months old and exclusively breastfed. My husband opted to drive me as he was too terrified to have to deal with two bottle feeds of my carefully expressed and frozen liquid gold. Mr. Sleepinalot, volunteered to get up at 4am so that I could feed our beautiful baby one last time before setting off at 7:45am.
This in theory made perfect sense, but in practice was a bit trickier than anticipated. Said little baby decided that she didn’t want to sleep peacefully all the way up to London and proceeded to scream the car down, until a range of acrobatics and incredibly versatile boobs enabled me to feed her whilst we drove down the motorway. Not the best way to start an Ultramarathon, rest assured. We arrived in good time, said our goodbyes and the journey commenced.
I once read a proverb that said that if you wanted to run fast, run 10km. If you wanted to learn about yourself, run a marathon, but, but, if you wanted to speak to God, run an ultra. Nothing is more apt than this ditty. As I began the journey with my wonderful new friend Charlotte Banks, it became apparent that our paths were to take different routes. We parted company at mile 3, with the parting calls of catching up at one of the 7 rest stops along the way. We didn’t.
I always find it hard to find my pace at the beginning. You want to run fast, you have fresh legs, you want to fly and get as many miles over and done with as possible, but you know that you have so, so many miles ahead of you. Logic brain says, don’t go too fast, but your heart goes, let’s get this show on the road. I fought the angel and devil on my shoulders for some time and settled on trying to maintain a constant 11 minute mile pace. Hydrating regularly, having a gel every 10km and a bar at every stop. All of this fell into place and at the 11km mark I looked up to see a woman running at about my pace.
I am an antisocial runner. I like to have my space, my quiet, my inner sanctum. I have 4 kids. My house is noisy and incoherent most of the time and running gives me the peace that I need to maintain a semblance of normality. This woman was different, she had a kind face and a gentle nature, we began to talk about why we were running, what made us choose this race.
I was running for Child Bereavement UK and she was running for the Naomi Hospice that took care of her son when he was dying of cancer. We talked for a bit, discussed strategy and decided that if fate was on our side we would run the last 22km together. As we parted ways, I called to her, asking for her name. She shouted back Elise. My daughter’s name is Elyse. I have to this day never met another. If there is a God, he had begun to talk to me and would continue throughout the day.
At some point in my run I got lost. I missed a bridge crossing and ended up on the wrong side of the river. A 2 miles detour that I was not pleased about. A kind man offered to drive me to the 50km mark, which I refused politely. He then pointed me in the direction of a ferry that would take me to the right side of the river. I rang the bell to call the ferryman and waited for him to arrive. All the while conscious of the precious minutes that I was losing from my time.
The symbolism of calling the ferryman from across the river was not lost on me. Charon the ferryman was kind to me and only charged me £2.50, luckily I had the right change, I certainly didn’t want to be at risk of wandering the shores of the Thames for one hundred years. 100km was more than enough.
The ferryman’s passing remarks were that he only wished more of us went wrong. I was his 10th lost soul. He was raking it in.
I caught up with Elise just before 50km. We were both struggling. We were both starting to question if we could do it. We both knew that once we had passed the halfway mark there was only one option. To finish.
Getting to 50km was the toughest bit of the race. I had missed the stop between 28km and 50km because of my detour and my milk had come in. I needed desperately to express, but the pump wasn’t working properly. Just before the 50km mark I looked up, a giant red maple leaf was billowing in the breeze. I have never seen a Canadian flag so big on a standard size house. It was impressive. God had talked again. I knew then and there I would finish.
We reached the 50km rest point and I headed straight for the portaloo and left Elise to meet her son. Our paths would cross again, but the amazing woman went on from 78km to run the final 22km on her own. I am amazed at her courage. It was dark scary and there were cows and deer… roaming free, in the dark, by a river… need I say more.
The rest of the race was quite impressive and enjoyable. There were highs and more highs and never a low. I had the honour of meeting up with Alasdair (a FB friend) and Michael at 63km and run/walking with them until the last major rest stop at 78km.
I quite possibly saw Daniel Craig, though anyone who knows me, knows that I always think I see famous people.
At 78km my Aunt, Uncle and cousin through marriage met me along with Baby Genevieve who had decided to go on a food strike all day long. I fed her, ate a jacket potato and had a massage. Then my Aunt and I headed out for the final 22km.
The last 22kms were amazing. It was great to have my Aunt with fresh legs to boost me and keep me safe from cows and deer. She was also able to guide me in, having done the run last year for her sister Jane who had passed away 2 years before. There were even quite funny moments, like peeing beside the river and a boat passing by. My crazy fear of cows and me tripping up about 100 times and then crashing shoulder forward into a kissing gate. The bruise is phenomenal.
At Henley bridge Immy and Jack met us for the last 1.5km. Goodness knows how, but I managed a sprint finish and felt truly amazing. I could have gone on and on and on.
Irony was not lost on me, when upon arriving and having only spoken about comfy clothing for the last 10km non-stop, I found that the organisation had not transferred my bag to the end as requested and it was thus lost in the neither here nor there of being between 50km and 100km. We opted to leave, with a promise from a steward that my bag would be sent on, as Baby G had had enough and all I wanted was my bed and my family. A family who had patiently facilitated all my training, all my moods, all my highs and lows.
My bag has still not arrived…
I have run again…
I have promised my family only one a year…
I am currently on the waiting list for 3 one hundred mile races next year (if you cross your fingers behind your back when you promise…) 😉 xx