I once had a telesales job, convincing people they should spare time to see qualified representatives about whatever they were selling that week. One account that proved particularly soul destroying was a Gas/Electric provider. Everyone and his dog was already sick and tired of them – and then some. The team I worked with had run through every lead – with nothing but refusals. The supervisor wasn’t impressed. “Someone’s gonna have to go back and try these people again, we can’t have had all these rejections already”. Like a lemon, full of confidence I stepped up and took charge of all the people who’d already told us where to go, and hung up the phone etc. Slowly but surely, despite the incredible abuse thrown at me for trying yet again, I converted about one in ten to reconsider, and turned in a good few appointments by the end of the day. My reward? Congratulations Mr. Hough, you’re in charge of ALL REFUSALS.
Ten years on and I haven’t learnt a thing. No sooner have I dragged myself around a route the equivalent of Sheffield to Manchester on foot, than my brain sets to work adding a further ten miles, and trying to break me again somewhere new, and I still only have myself to blame.
There’s something strange about entering events that punish every fibre in your body while causing your mind to go through stages of rebellion. You maintain good form for longer and longer each time, but eventually begin to collapse, one muscle at a time. Sometimes you blister, others you chafe – nearly always repeating some poorly remembered song to yourself (likely something awful) for miles at a time until another takes its place. This time around the event was the Rowbotham Round Rotherham Endurance race. 50 miles of masochism.
Saturday 20th October 2012. It’d been a long time coming, so why didn’t I feel ready? I had a cold, but that was beginning to calm down, and I’d tapered – if that’s not too much an exaggeration for doing nothing in the last couple of weeks. I’d been offered yet another lift to venue from the great Dan Shrimpton (many thanks Dan), and I had the offer of a lift back home from Mr. John Vernon, veteran of Ultras and friend of Accelerate. logistically I was on top of things. My recce from summer was still surprisingly fresh in my mind, and I had on a new pair of Saucony Peregrine Trail Shoes, together with Feetures socks – a tried and tested combination. Skins were my shorts of choice having used them on the HP40 with no chafing whatsoever. Finally I opted for a tech tee over my Odlo baselayer, simply because it looked so clear above that I expected the temperature to jump about 10 degrees as soon as the sun made an appearance.
We set off at 7am sharp, and I began chatting away to John Vernon about the day ahead, but by a couple of miles in we began to concentrate on running our own race, and we separated. My plan was to finish in 10hrs or less, and so far I felt as if I was covering ground quite swiftly, for what felt like no effort at all. A lady ran up alongside me and asked if she recognised me as the chap who’d just won the Hardmoors 60 a week or two ago. Er……NO. In a word. She explained all about how worthwhile it might be to enter it next time around and then left me to my own devices. Soon after that, somebody yelled at me that my bag was open and unzipping itself, which caused me to imagine the entire contents scattered along the track behind me. Though the same nice fella zipped it back up for me, I couldn’t help but worry.
Before long I’m in familiar territory, there’s nobody in front or behind me. It’s been a couple of hours since we set off, but I’m nowhere near Rother Valley Country Park, which is where I’d started my recce months ago. This weighs on my mind, as that’s about 21 miles in, and already my legs are feeling the strain. It took all day to recce the remaining 29 miles, and that was without having completed a Marathon in advance. The good news is I’m holding my form, and steadily picking people off without overdoing anything. They’re either relay runners, walkers, weaker competitors or master tacticians – I just can’t tell which. The feeling returned to my arms and hands, so far numb from the cold (should have worn the Odlo and changed when it warmed). One thing that I found amusing was the number of places I suddenly found familiar once the route took a new turn here or there. I passed a wholesaler that I once visited for a pick’n’mix company, came within sight of Meadowhall and the Accelerate store, then a pathway my friend and I used to walk his dog – just outside of Beighton. Hardly Universal Studios, but it passed the time.
Speaking of time, I looked at my watch at about 9.30am, and although I’d been motoring for 2 and a half hours, it occurred to me that I was still going to be doing this at almost 5pm. like I say – masochism.
I reached the last section before Rother Valley, having ignored my map for quite some time now, and ran straight past a right turn which doubles back and crosses the railway outside the park boundary. The first sign things weren’t right was the state of the path all of a sudden. Then the proximity to the water’s edge, previously out of sight. Oops. Do I go back, or carry on since I know it isn’t far to the park. I carry on, and a Heron takes off right in front of me which almost seems worth the mistake, before I realise I’ve got to retrace my steps. I soon rejoined a group of runners I’d passed about 10minutes earlier, and promptly passed them again. I felt a little smug as I passed a group of Military Fitness attendees at the entrance to the lake, and got on with what was supposed to be a very easy remainder, thanks to having recced from here on in.
25 miles done, my legs were very unhappy indeed, my quads being the worst by a country mile. They’d literally switched off and begun to hurt. Every step felt like a punch to a bruise, like a dead-leg from a bully. The race was turning from a run to a walk. Ouch. I began to justify the slower pace, telling myself the main thing was to finish. I’d be happy to complete the new distance, and could always go for 10hrs another time. Perhaps the 4mm drop of the Peregrines was partly to blame. Sure it’s a brilliant shoe, and suits my mid-foot strike, but maybe the lack of heel support was asking too much of me. Funny it wasn’t bothering my calves though, just the quads. Grrrr, what was wrong with my legs??!! Mile after mile, crossing paths with the same people as they struggled in their own way with ups, downs, flats, hydration, nutrition and everything else dictating their pace, the challenge element became very real indeed. One group I’d seen back and forth for hours invited me to tag along with them. This made a big difference as I managed to bumble along behind them, listening to their banter while gathering strength. I got into enough of a rhythm that I ran for about a mile non-stop before having to slow down. I willed them on ahead and settled back into my speed marching. Every checkpoint – they’d be there winding up a lengthy stay, while I would grab a piece of flapjack or some Jellybabies, and get right back out there. This kept them within sight (on and off) for half the course.
At the 35mile checkpoint it hit me – I hadn’t taken any Electrolyte in any form. Durrr. I sat down despite knowing how difficult it’d be to get back up again, mixed up the High5 4:1 Energy Sourcethat Stu and Debs had given me for the race, and drank 250ml there and then. The rest I sipped along the way. I took a couple of Ibuprofen (that I’d always sworn I wouldn’t take during exercise for fear I’d be doing more harm than I was aware), and dug deep.
I was back from the brink, like a Phoenix from the ashes – and moving at quite a pace. Walking less and less, running stronger every time I tried, I eventually found it was easier to just keep running constantly, but not before Mr. Havenhand surprised me with his camera and caught me walking at around the 40 mile mark, next to Roche Abbey. He called after me “do you know your position?” to which I replied “a long way back”, but I didn’t care, I was running again, so quickly in fact that everyone I’d seen along the last 10 miles or so was suddenly right in my sights, and then just as suddenly behind me. “where do you get these spurts from?” one young lady asked me, “second wind then?” from another guy, and so it went until I reached the final checkpoint, a mere 3 miles from the finish. I downed a cup of water, and darted off down the road, recalling Geoff Roes‘ return to form in Unbreakable. I knew there wasn’t much more to do but maintain this new comfortable pace and ignore any more voices tempting me to walk, I’d done enough walking.
I neared the finish, through the remainder of the course, hoping to catch the last of my companions, and caught all but one of them, overtaking one chap about 50 meters from the line. In I came with a smile on my face, and looking remarkably composed in front of the cameras (there were several points throughout the course where Armada Photography had taken pics, and they’d placed signs alerting us to their presence, which meant I could muster a run here and there, just for show, but at this point, for once I was genuine). I congratulated all around me for a great run, then went in search of a shower.
It comes as no surprise to me that even after miles of torment and misery, I’m keen to take on another such run, and add even more miles. I’m certain that next time around I can manage my intake more effectively and do a better job of running for most of the way, shaving perhaps an hour from my time. I’m learning with every event that there’s more to endurance than physical stamina. My mindset is easily as important, and the more I go through – the more prepared I’ll be to face whatever situation threatens to slow me down. I’ll definitely be working on the quads whatever happens, as they’ve been the weak link this year. For now I’m proud to have completed this run, number 244 – in 9hrs 38mins and 2seconds. My prize – pie and peas.
I scrounged a lift home from Jim Fulton of Dark Peak Fell Runners, for which I’m very grateful. Thanks to John Vernon all the same, as his support was much appreciated.
Saturday night was euphoria followed with early bedtime, and Sunday – as expected was FEAR OF STAIRS!
So too was Monday, but now, on Tuesday I’m feeling a little odd, as if it was all happening to somebody else. I cycled to work, and walked down the stairs this morning without holding onto anything! I shouldn’t feel this good so soon should I? Does this mean I can bite off more than I can chew again soon?
Time will tell……