62 miles is a long way to run. No matter how well you have prepared, no matter how hard you have trained, 62 miles is always going to be a long way to run. So here I am, stood at the start line of my first ultramarathon, I’m saying my first as though I have a lot more in mind lined up for the future. It’s funny, you see its almost as though my subconscious knows that I will be doing more in the future, no matter how the day unfolds.
‘Be disciplined!!’. I knew how important it was at the beginning to take my time and pace myself, as I said 62 miles is a long way to run. But I also knew that the day and the occasion would get the better of me, and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself trying to stay with the front runners, and that’s what I did. The start gun went, and the runners set off. I was instantly in hot pursuit of anybody who wanted to take the lead up the road and onto the first hill… High Cliff. Yes, High Cliff. The clue is in the name lets be honest, and what a gruelling way to start the day. Two miles in and already at the highest point of the race, sweat dripping from my forehead, and yes, in second place. Second place? Looking back, what an idiot. At the time, ‘I’m feeling great’.
I then found myself running with a group of incredibly strong runners, pushing on a fast pace over the first ten miles clocking 23-minute 5k times. I knew looking down at my watch and seeing the pace we were pushing out that I was being stupid, that I was getting carried away in the moment and that in a few hours’ time I was going to pay for it. But that didn’t stop me, I pushed on harder if anything, the battle between my own personal disciplined mind and my ego was one I will never forget. The ying and the yang, the right and the wrong, the good and the bad.
By the time we got to mile 19 I already started to feel the first impulse in my leg muscle, the first sign of damage, the first sign of cramp. 43 miles left to run, and I can already feel the onset of cramp in my left hamstring. The inner dialogue began… ‘There is absolutely no way you are going to get to the end’. My race flipped on its head in the space of half an hour. I went from sailing at the front, knowing that at some point I would have to slow down, to feeling a twinge of cramp, thinking to myself how on earth am I going to get to the end of the race when I have 43 miles of ground to cover on cramp-stricken legs.
I knew at some point in time that I had some much-needed assistance. That first bit of assistance came at the second check point in Runswick Bay. My parents were there with some much-needed calories, and with them the best little bit of motivation I could have asked for, my daughter Honey. As always, she was a breath of fresh air. Wanting to run down the hill with me as I led off from the check point, you could see the beaming smile on her face shine through, happy to be partaking in her Dad’s ultramarathon. That stuck with me for the next few miles and got me through. I couldn’t be more thankful at the support my parents and Honey provided on that day. Without them at the checkpoints where I seen them, the inner battle and struggle would have been one I am not sure I would have got through.
This led onto a series of much needed assistance. Seeing family whilst running through Whitby, stopping in the middle of the high street to let my brother in law stretch out my hamstrings and again, giving me that boost of morale I was searching for in order to keep going forward. Not long after this, I came across my closest friends. Hannah and Ebo who are always by my side no matter where I am.
I often talk about distractions in life, I often know how my morning is going to unfold from the way I open my blinds in a morning. The subtle difference between a distracted mind and a focused mind on any given morning for myself, dawns on me when I see how much focus and attention I pay whilst pulling the drawstring on my blinds. That beady texture that droops down in a loop from the top of the window. I have three sets of blinds in my flat, all of which open in a slightly different way. My own focused, channelled mind understands this. But my distracted mind, my distracted mind lives in a world of its own, autopilot does not suffice when it comes to opening blinds. Those blinds could go in any direction on any different day when my distracted mind is in the driver’s seat. The power of meditation, the power of mindfulness really helps you direct your energy and focus on the little things in life. However, on this day, distraction is something I was seeking. Ebo ran with me for a number of miles, providing this much needed distraction.
And on I go, the section of family and friends managed to distract my broken mind for a good 20 miles. Now it was up to me, to push on through to the finish. Damaged ego, broken legs, but my spirits, my spirits were still high most of the time. I had made a bold decision at the beginning to go hard, and a lot of lessons were learnt whilst doing so. It felt like a real metaphor for life. When your feeling good and in your stride, putting one leg in front of the other isn’t much of a challenge. But when your down, your battered, your broken, every step you can feel the pain tearing through your muscles, that’s when it matters. That’s when you find out the truth about who you are as an individual. Life has a funny way of throwing lessons our way, it humbles us, it makes us grateful for the minor things in life that we so many times take for granted. That is what got me to the finish line that day. How fast I finished meant nothing, my position in the race meant nothing. Learning about myself, that meant everything.
A big section of this race for me came down to the sacrifices other people were wiling to make for me. A great support network can help you realise your true potential. This stood out to me from the very beginning, seeing my family and my daughter willing to stand on the start line and cheer me on, helped me gain the courage and motivation just to go out there and give it my all. Without them, the day would have been a whole lot tougher. I find myself in a position in life where all of those who are close to me, believe in me equally as much as I believe in myself. I had friends meet me at checkpoints, I bumped into family members in Whitby. All of these made a huge contribution in getting me to the finish line. When things got really tough mentally, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I came across a friendly face, there, willing me on to do my best.