Sunday 13 October 2019

Loser, Quitter, Coward, Failure

I'm not long home from A100. Yes, it's a bit early. No, it's not because I smashed it.

I quit.

The only defence I can offer is that I didn't quit when I wanted to. I pushed through that several times. In the end I quit because I literally could not move another step at a pace that would keep me safe.

After weeks of uncertainty I decided to start this race because I believed I had a reasonable chance of getting at least close to my goal and I was as sure as you can ever be with a 100 miler that I would finish no matter what. If I'd had doubts about finishing at all then I would not have put myself out there. But within a few miles of starting the race I knew something wasn't right. My quads felt oddly tight and there were twinges in my hip flexors. But you know how it is, you think it's early days and it can take a while to warm up and settle in to a long run or race, so I didn't worry.

I pushed through the first 25 miles in a very decent time, 4 hours 14 minutes, and although I was still feeling stiff I was confident that my legs would settle down. I kept reminding myself that it doesn't always get worse. I was efficient at HQ and got back out onto the second leg. Within 3 miles of setting off I found I couldn't run much. No panic, I thought, a sub 24 doesn't really matter and I can just power hike and run little bits. I've worked a lot on my hiking and can go at a pretty good pace now- faster than a lot of people can ultra-shuffle. So I hiked. Every time I tried to run it hurt a bit more so after a while I was resigned to a 70 mile hike to finish the race. Not what I wanted but given the good start I'd had I would still finish comfortably within the cutoff.

Then things really started to take a turn for the worse. I'd somehow lost my electrolytes. Then about 3 miles out from the turnaround at Swyncombe my right knee gave out. Suddenly my leg wouldn't hold me up any more and I couldn't even walk down hill. I was bent over on my sticks just sobbing. I'd had a few cries before then- inexplicable body-heaving episodes of sobbing- but I mostly put it down to the weirdness that happens in ultras. One of those things which will ebb and flow over the course of a long race. A guy ran in to the turnaround CP with me at which point I just burst into tears again. But I wasn't going to quit. I quite like leg 2 and although it is hard going in the wet I like that bit of the Ridgeway very much. I knew I just had to get back to HQ, have a sit and get myself out on leg 3. I felt that if I got out onto leg 3 I'd have the finish somehow.

At this point I should probably mention the mud. It barely stopped raining the whole time and the mud was just horrendous. Slidey, sticky, energy-sapping, muscle-breaking, sock-caking mud everywhere. I think it was the mud that was responsible for my messed-up legs as the constant micro-adjustments that go on when you're moving through mud really do take a huge toll. A bit like when you first do exercises on a Bosu or balance ball. But I'd had about 7 hours of it by this point.

Anyway, I had company on the way back from Swyncombe which helped a bit. My left knee decided to give up on the way and although I could manage a decent power hike on the flat, down hill was becoming very painful. The guys I was running with decided we'd all go out on leg 3 together as a team approach would help us all get through.

We eventually set off on leg 3 but very soon I was dropped. My power-hike was not as purposeful as it had been. But I plodded along on my own. My knees were becoming increasingly painful; uphill was now a struggle and downhill was simply unbearable.

Then my headtorch failed. No matter, I put the spare battery in. A few minutes later the light went out again. It wouldn't turn back on. Shit. It's very dark on the Ridgeway at night, there was no way I could do this without a light. I stumbled on for a while then saw some runners who were heading back and stopped them so I could use their light to get my back-up torch, they also gave me a spare light they had although I had no idea how long it would last. I started to panic a bit as I knew I still had probably 9 hours or so of dark to get through. I decided to save their torch for later and put on my backup light. It wasn't very bright but it was enough. After about half an hour that torch failed.

Then my legs just gave up. I was no longer marching along at 15 minute miles, I was stumbling, shuffling, barely able to put one foot in front of another because the pain in my knee and hip flexors was now excruciating. I reminded myself over and over that it was nothing to worry about as I hadn't done anything to injure myself, that it would pass but it just got worse and worse. I was moving slower and ever more slowly and I was shivering uncontrollably, tears streaming down my face. That last mile or so to the turnaround took an eternity. I approached the friendly lights knowing that my race was done. Voices said well done, but I just burst into tears again and said I'm done. Es ist genug.

After that it was several hours of sobbing, shivering, being forced to drink weak tea and stay at race HQ because they didn't think I was safe to drive home. I just wanted out of there- I couldn't bear to see the T-shirts, buckles, people getting their finish photos. But the medic wouldn't let me go.

I had a big hug from someone I'd looked after when they quit at CCC (they were doing the overnight shift as a volunteer at HQ) and it was strange being on the other side of things. But I remember how my heart went out to the runners on that bus who'd quit and how I did what I could to console them. People were very kind to me but all I could do was cry.

In the end I was allowed to leave. The 5 minute walk to the car took me about 15 minutes as my left leg wouldn't work and every time I made it move waves of unbearably sharp pain shot through me. It was a relief to get into the car, get dry socks and shoes on and start driving. But it wasn't a relief to walk away from the race.

I failed. I wasn't tough enough and maybe I quit because I was scared of making myself hurt even more.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I feel you should retitle this post to something that doesn't cast you in such a light. You may have lost, but you're not a loser. You quit, but you're not a quitter. I won't even grace the third and fourth words of your title with comments, they're incorrect and entirely inappropriate. You stopped before you caused what might have been permanent or dangerous injuries to yourself. At the end of the day would you rather have got over the finish line and been confined to a wheelchair for life, or had another 25+ years of future running because you're able to heal? Don't be so hard on yourself; we run for fun. If it's not fun, stop and wait until it is again. No race is worth injury.