“Just put one foot in front of the other…” the message on my IG feed said. We’ve all heard that, maybe even said it to others before they bite off their first 10k or similar challenge; Its probably been said to me, more times than I can think or recall; a throw away comment, maybe?
Two weeks ago I ran the Action Challenge Cotswold Way 100km ultra – why? In part as training and a recce for my bigger local challenge later this year, in part too because the 2017 medal hoard is looking bare!
Now, I live on the Cotswold Way, I train on it almost daily, and ultra distance endurance is my jam, it’s my wheelhouse, so this race, nooo problemo!
The first 40km or so felt amazing, I recall thinking that my HR was on point, I didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard, the aid stations were fantastically managed and as such my nutrition on the ball; I was on for a sub 16hour 100km on one of the most challenging trails!
Where it went wrong I don’t know, there wasn’t one moment, one thing that fell apart, but by the 50km mark my feet were torn to shreds despite earlier attempts at patching and taping; I had developed not just blisters (I rarely get blisters at all) but large patches of torn skin, wheaping, with secondary blisters developing on the bare exposed skin. My heels on both feet, inside and outside edges were raw and bleeding. On reflection I think the realisation that the state of my feet combined with the next 50km of unrelenting terrain and incline took its toll on my mental state – I’m still not sure how, or why – it’s not as if pain, and physical or mental endurance are new to me; but this race, this day was slowly breaking me!
There was no thought of quitting, it’s not what I do. I get satisfaction from the pain, the process and achieving the goal – the goal was to complete, and to learn, and neither were in doubt.
By Km 65 I had been met by the familial support crew, a cheeky beer a BBQ’d burger and hugs at the aid station was just what was needed as night set in, taking the next wooded section in the silence of the night staring into the beam of my head torch. As I moved off into the night, the cold of fatigue struck and despite the warmth of the spring evening my hat and gloves were needed to ensure cold and fatigue did not translate to shock, as every step brought with it searing pain in my quads and hips, this pain was nothing however compared to that of my feet as each step, each rolling foot strike on the undulating ground meant more wheaping from the bare skin on my feet.
As I stared into the torch beam, it was at this point that the words in that message (Ash, thank you!) came to mind and where dismissed as quickly….. But not for long. Dropping out of the wooded trail into Stroud, the expected relief from the arduous trail as I ran along paved paths didn’t come. Those paved paths were brutal and relentless in their impact on my feet and my body – “just put one foot in front of the other…” as I crossed the canal, uphill for 10km towards Painswick, I found myself counting, one, two, one, two, one, two; it had come to this.
By this time my slick pace had slowed to the more common “ultra-shuffle”, more likely a grimace and ultra-hobble. My head was well and truly up my a##e and the mental toughness I had always prided myself on had certainly, even if I couldn’t acknowledge it at the time, been nuked! All I had, all I was capable of doing to maintain my function was, one, two, one, two…..
As I crossed the finish line, way more then 16hrs after I started, I felt nothing. No relief that it was over, no exhausted urge to sit or lie down, and more oddly no sense of satisfaction. Nothing.
Two weeks later, I’m back training, I still have the wounds on my feet (they’re getting better) and a medal, t-shirt and pic or two – but there’s something missing, some expected emotion that hasn’t happened, but I don’t know what.
My goals for the race? Complete it. Done. Learn from it for next time. Done – more of those lessons to come…
This, why am I writing this? Not sure; it was tougher than I thought and the support from friends was much appreciated so I guess this is me saying “it really f-ing hurt, but THANK YOU for the support – the family race crew were amazing, and Ash, those words, they got me through!