The long and winding road
It’s 3am, I’m up on the South Downs Way, I have a head torch on, a good Petzl, on it’s medium setting to give me enough light, but dim enough to last many hours without charge and all I can see are Claire’s ankles in front of me and my toes going in and out of shot. Left, right, left, right. The fog is cold and giving us a shine back from our lights, just like using full beam in the car. We can see about five meters to our front and looking for the small signage put out for us to mark the route. Ideally we need to get below the fog, but it’s only at my head hight. The path under our expensive trail shoes and tried and tested bamboo socks is flint. It’s sometimes small shingle but mostly medium to large stones with no real easy way to cross it. My feet really fucking hurt now. Being stabbed at every pace is horrible, I hate it up here. Despite my best efforts to come up with something to keep our minds off it I’ve nothing to talk about right now and disappear in my own head. Claire has been amazing, a really strong companion in all this. Just the odd encouragement and a way of breaking down our 100km in to bite sized parts for us to digest more easily. At this moment though I am inside my head…left, right left, right. Claire inside hers. We ask each other if we’re okay at random moments. Thoughts of the great Fiona Oakes documentary flash in my mind as that wonderful athlete just puts pain to the back of her mind for the sake of the race and the money in sponsorship. “I’m fine” we say to each other. We know it’s not true but it’s better than saying what actually is wrong. We don’t need that in our own minds now and I feel I can’t bring Claire down with my woes. We need to feel okay to press on to next wonderful rest stop ahead. Left, right, left, right…
A steep downhill, meniscus and quadricep muscles burning in the knees. It goes on forever and I’m trying my hardest now to not shout and tell the path “Stop it! You’re being a ****!!” My pace is barely one foot length in front of the other. So different from the first 57km during the day when we were striding and laughing and pointing at great views, taking pictures and posting. Left, right, left, right.
We know how far we need to get to each rest stop and we are just counting down the kilometre markers where there’ll be hot lovely vegan food and warm glow, and people, and tea. A chance to sit, sort out the feet with a medic and a quick stretch. We see the arcing huge flags in the distance now as they’re bathed in fog lights. A warm yellow radiates off the low fog over the white tent. A feeling of not only relief but accomplishment sets in. We don’t dare speed up though, save it. We sit, we chat, we stare. There are a few people just staring. It’s like they’ve powered down. Their circadian rhythm all out of whack. Most normal people are asleep now not trudging through the dark for charity.
I have a process, taught to me by my Marine training team. Take on food, sort your feet and your kit. I check things and remove rubbish from my pocket. I check my ever faithful trekking poles. Thank goodness we bought these. When your feet and legs hurt this much small steps ups and down kerbs are aided by the fact you can lean on them.
We look at each other, “shall we?”. The tea is necked, the last bite of food, a lot of bananas and oat bars, are eaten and we work out the next leg of our journey – 11km till next rest. Left, right…
It’s a total mind game. How can I just keep going? I think of all the people that put faith in us and gave so generously to our chosen cause. I think of my wonderful partner doing this with me. I really couldn’t do this with anyone but her. I also think that there is no way on earth I’m not finishing and no way on earth I’m doing this again. It’s just ridiculous. 100km is ridiculous in one day. Try and work out how far that is from your own house. 62 miles if you need the conversion. All I need to do is keep doing what I’m doing and forget the rest. It’s going to bring me down and question what I must do for this one moment in my life. I receive some encouragement in the early morning from the members of the group I coach and I cry with pride. I tell Claire who is a few meters back, suffering from bad calf strain, she cries too and we feel great in our hearts. We endured the self-afflicted torture of it and can see the end in our minds now. It’s only 6km away.
A few hours later we cross the finish line, hand in hand. Very happy, very tired, very emotional. We get home and sleep until 4pm. We get up and move about the house doing weirdly normal things that feel a little odd for some reason. The moving forward has stopped. My ‘sea legs’ reacting to the change. It’s now Monday morning and we’re reading the posts from all that have completed it online. We’ve done very well and completed it in 26 hours 15 mins. We’re signing up for another one next year.
One last mind game was played to us on route.
We saw the 100km marker, but it wasn’t the end as they couldn’t pitch up the finish arch there. It was 0.75km around a few corners and we couldn’t see it.
LEFT, **** RIGHT, **** LEFT, **** RIGHT