“You did the hardest thing….you started”
Ten years ago, I walked the 100km Trailwalker challenge with friends and colleagues. It was, to that point, the toughest challenge I had done. As we waited to start that day, we saw some people setting off to run the event. I remember thinking ‘who would choose, or be able, to run 100km?’. Yesterday, that was me! I was privileged to run the amazing Race to the Stones, 100km along the beautiful but tough terrain of The Ridgeway in the Chilterns, with two friends, Jonathon and Leo, and supported by our wonderful other halves.
Standing on the start line, I was a mixture of nerves, excitement and worry. I had followed the training plan but had no way of knowing how my body and mind would hold up. The three of us ran at our own pace, keeping in the touch via phone which kept me inspired through the event.
The first 15km was lovely, beautiful scenery and fairly flat. There was a stunning wheat field that we ran through where the woman running behind me said ‘I feel like I’m in the scene in Gladiator’ which made me smile. As the terrain was quite flat to start with, I set off a bit too quickly and so made a deliberate decision to slow down to conserve energy. Leo had said at the start ‘you can’t out run this, you have to out think it’ and that message stayed with me throughout the day.
There were markers at each km which were, on the one hand, helpful to know progress but, on the other hand, were a constant reminder of how far there was to go! I kept focused on the next pit stop or the next time I would see Matt, my husband, rather than on the overall distance, which helped me mentally. I reached the half way point with Matt running the final few kms with me and sat down to get my thoughts in order for the second half. My feet were sore and I was tired but I wasn’t feeling too bad at that stage.
As I left the half way point, I said aloud ‘the hard part starts now’ and a man in front of me turned around and said ‘you’ve already done the hard part – you started’. I was so inspired by that.
I was right though – the second half was much tougher than the first half! This was partly due to the tiredness but also due to the terrain, which was much hillier and so required a lot of mental and physical strength. I spoke to lots of people on the way which was a fantastic way of taking my mind off the pain. Everyone is so friendly, sharing stories and keeping spirits up – it is a fantastic environment to be in.
I reached a pit stop after which there was just under 42km to go and thought to myself ‘only a marathon to go’! I knew my day, and possibly life, had become slightly surreal at that point but it was a huge motivator! I knew how to run a marathon. Admittedly, I hadn’t done one having already run 58km (!) but mentally I knew I could cope with that distance. At the next pit stop, as I was sitting and eating some crisps to get some salt in to me, I got a text from Leo to say he had finished in just under 10 hours, which is an amazing milestone in ultra marathon running and would result in him having a top 15 finish. I was so proud of him and told everyone around me what he had achieved.
The stretch from 70 – 85km was incredibly difficult. I was exhausted, it was very hilly and it was muggy. I put some music on and put my head down and marched onwards up the hills. There were people along the route who were so supportive and Matt was halfway along, which was wonderful. I finally reached the last pit stop at 88km and headed off for the final 12km. At about 10pm I put on my head torch and the ground at that stage was quite rutted. It was very dark and I stumbled a lot which at 95km is a bit scary! Finally I got down on the lane to the Avebury Stones. I texted everyone to say I was almost done and got a text back from Jonathon and so I knew he had successfully finished. I was so delighted for him and so proud of him. It inspired me for the final 5km.
Arriving at the Stones was an emotional experience. They were all lit up and the route takes you along a lane to the Stones, around them and then back along the lane until you turn off for the finish. It means you have people going in both directions and everyone is saying well done to each other. When I turned off for the finish, I couldn’t quite believe this was it. I ran towards the finish line with tears in my eyes, a sore and aching body and an exhausted mind. The crowd was huge, even at 11.30pm, and everyone cheered me in. It was an amazing atmosphere. I fell into Matt’s, Jonathon’s and Hannah’s arms and was absolutely elated – it was a brutal and brilliant day in equal measure. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much at a finish line!
I have spent today collapsed on the couch watching sport on the television. My feet are a mess, my energy levels are very low and when I attempt to walk to the kitchen, it takes me a long while! But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
As usual, I couldn’t have done this without a huge amount of support. Matt was amazing throughout my training, running miles to support me, and did so again yesterday. Likewise Hannah and Leslie were incredible. We all couldn’t have done it without them. Jonathon and Leo were an inspiration. When we met twelve years ago, I would never have imagined that we would be running ultra marathons together! They have inspired me in my career and to get through feats that I didn’t think were possible. The six of us were a special team that it was an incredible privilege to be part of it. I was also inundated with kind and caring messages of support from family, friends and colleagues, which made such a difference during the tough moments yesterday. A huge thank you to everyone.
One of the signs yesterday said: ‘Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits’. This made me smile and inspired me at about 80km. We can all do so much more than we think we are capable of. I feel incredibly blessed that my legs, body and, importantly, mind have continued to allow me to challenge my limits. Yesterday was a very special day and one that I won’t forget.
And now onto the next adventure…