It’s Saturday morning, I’m in Wales, it’s pouring with rain, and I’m on the start line of a Coastal Trail Series’ half marathon. This means 13.1 miles plus, very elevated and off road.
I’m also under fuelled and under trained and under medical advice not to trail run.
It is of course a fool’s errand and I try to raise a fleeting doubt and tune into my voice of reason but I can’t. I want to do this I want to struggle and feel the pain and discomfort of running through this rocky, muddy, mountainous terrain. I want to be a stoic warrior. I want my endorphin rush. And this ultimately is more important than listening to my common sense.
I start the race.
I set of with about 200 other runners. I can immediately feel the significant drag from my cheap plastic poncho billowing in the gale force winds. This isn’t my proudest fashion moment but it keeps the torrential rain out and my body heat in. By mile 1 however my feet and shoes are sodden. They are stewing in the cold rain mud water from the paths that are now river-lets. I’m now worrying less about blisters over the 15.6 mile course and more about frostbite.
I settle into a chug of a pace. I have no energy to maintain the self talk needed either to rally myself into sustaining a competitive pace nor to believe that I’m fit enough or strong enough to take this on. My energy intake-expenditure balance is not in my favour. I’m effectively running on empty which I’ve done plenty of times on the flat streets of South London but not up and down Welsh mountains and not while eating raw.
Really I should be running the 10k today but I’d rather be running in these appalling conditions now than waiting at the start line in these appalling conditions for my correct start time. I’ve watched the short-shorted-vested hircine runners climb into the distance I’ve watched many others pass me by and now I’m accompanied by my thoughts and the rumbling sound of my belly and the wind in my poncho. I try to forget all thoughts of being competitive and re-calibrate my expectations.
I’m not here to win. The goal is to run the hills, finish the race, stay upright, and not come last. ‘It is a very long slow run’, I tell myself. ‘It isn’t a race’, I continue. ‘I have chosen to go out for a run in this deluge, in this blistering wind not to do the best I can against all the other runners but to get the miles in and do some hill training’, I maintain.
After about an hour of the treachery I smile I have reached the first check point. It’s mile 4. Hmm I calculate this is going to be at least a 3 and a half hour slog. I don’t know that I can make the distance. I feel comfortable-ish now but getting to the next check point (mile 9) takes me past the furthest distance I have run in 5 months and I’d still have 6 miles to go. And not enough food.
Just the type of odds I like to take. I carry on.
I put my head down against the bracing wind and mentally ration out my food for the next 11 miles.
Relatively, all is well until I get to mile 13, just a few cramps and dissociative culinary thoughts and then a horror unravels, the black box starts recording. I have made an oversight. There is one last steep kilometre plus incline. I have nothing left, my pockets are bare.
I had the last Clementine at mile 11, the first at mile 6.
I had my Nakd apple pie bars at miles 5 and 8.
I had 40g of raisins at mile 10 and I had a banana at mile 4 and 2.
I know that I cannot attempt to run this incline, if I run to the top it will be a pyrrhic victory because I definitely wouldn’t be able to finish the race.
I start the long walk home and save the heroics for another day.
I fall into a steady rhythm and I climb and I climb
I am now at the top and I’m running along the flat summit making up some time before the last rocky descent to the finish and then suddenly I stop running, I no longer can.
I’m confused I don’t know what has happened. Did I momentarily black out and trip or slip? I take inventory, it’s my left knee. I can’t put any weight on it, it doesn’t bend. The adrenaline floods in and I get to the finish line.
I am relieved but I feel little else apart from the growing dis-euphoria and the pain in my knee.