Stillness, contemplation and stubbornness

This morning I sat down and drank a cup of tea. No podcasts, no music, no conversation. Just me and the tea. And the dishwasher. And the rain. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

It’s ridiculous how much better it made me feel, and I did it because I knew I needed it. Just like I needed to scribble down this stream of consciousness. I had spent twenty minutes frantically looking for my house keys so I could go to yoga. Frenzied running about, frustrated, annoyed. I got really wound up actually, because it was preventing me from doing what I wanted to do – have some mind and body calm in a yoga practice!! Someone call Alanis Morissette!

I think it was the lack of control that particularly threw me. There was a sense of unfairness – but I tidied yesterday! They should be here! It’s not fair! A friend (the one I called to cancel yoga) said when things like that happen she imagines it’s for a reason. Maybe we would have crashed the car on the way. Maybe I needed to slow down, to stop and drink my tea.

It could very well be the lack of control that makes me enjoy ultramarathons so much. Yep, sorry (not sorry), my physical and mental training will be stepping up a notch so it’s more than likely that every blog for the next year will mention running! In ultras, so many things happen that you have no influence over, and you just have to react as best you can. Of course you have to be proactive as well as reactive, which I think (along with a good helping of luck) is why I haven’t DNF (did not finish)’d, or had any massively low moments. I’m not sure even if I’ve contemplating DNFing in an ultra – certainly not seriously, and I didn’t contemplate it for a second in my most recent race, the Hardmoors 60 (64 miles, my fifth and longest ultra to date).

There were times when I thought “ugh, more of this”, and resigned myself to the pain, but that’s definitely part of the joy – surrendering yourself to the trail. Running the Yorkshire Three Peaks route with my partner ahead of the Lakeland 50 this summer, I started to recognise this feeling. I had a terrible day, in a foul mood for no particular reason – maybe I’d just put too much pressure on myself and found it harder than expected. I didn’t so much hit the wall as the entire run was the wall. But I knew I wasn’t going to stop. Going up Whernside (number 2), I looked around at Ingleborough (3). UGH THAT’S REALLY FAR AWAY. AND WE’RE GOING AWAY FROM IT. I’d got the route muddled in my head and had believed Whernside and Ingleborough to be a nice long ridgeline with very little ascent or descent between. I also mistook Ingleborough for Pen Y Ghent (1). My partner reminded me of my radical freedom. “We could just go back now, we don’t have to do Whernside. Or Ingleborough.” “Yes we do. If we don’t, I’ll have to come back and do it again.” I realised afterwards that what I meant was “I will manage it. I will carry on, we will finish this, but it won’t be pretty.”

The same went for a 10km fell race the week before L50 when I was feeling under the weather. I felt this on the Hardmoors 60. UGHHH I KNOW I’LL FINISH IT, BUT IT’S HARD…

My hardest race to date was the 15 miler Castle Carr last month. I’m not saying ultras are easy, but I think I’m better suited to them as I like going slow and I can cope with the gradual buildup of pain, as opposed to a short sharp 5k. Or 1,200m of ascent over 25km on Castle Carr. UGHH. For the first 3 miles, I was convinced I was going to drop out. I surprised myself when I realised I’d gone past the point of no return (where the figure of 8 goes nearest the start and you can almost see your car)…and started enjoying it. I realised I could, and would, finish the damn thing. I realised I didn’t have a decent enough excuse or substantial enough injury to stop. I went past a marshal on an uphill (one of the seven ascents). She expressed disbelief that I was smiling and chatting. I whispered “it’s because I’m not trying very hard!” Why did I say that?! I was trying really bloody hard! Why do we do that, undermine our own efforts and achievements? Was it because I knew the next person she’d see was the sweeper and I was trying to save face? The marshal wasn’t running, she was impressed that I was, and she wasn’t the only one. It’s the taking part that counts. You’re lapping everybody on the sofa. You’ve got to be in it to win it (Hades Hill 2016 2nd Female thank you very much).

It’s damn evident that I’m never going to be the best. It’s unlikely I’ll win many prizes. But that’s like the vast majority of the field – most races would be unsustainable if they only consisted of people in with a shot of winning! It’s not why I run. The reasons I do are varied and mysterious and ridiculous. But, to bodge a quote from the first sport I ever loved,

“The best climber runner is the one who’s having the most fun” – Alex Lowe (sort of).

Descending off Pen Y Ghent

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