He’s dropped me in it again

I have a friend. I know, this may come as a shock to most. I am public enemy number one these days, taking hits seemingly from all sides and not many places to look to for support.

Anyway, as I was irrelevantly saying, I have a friend. He’s ex-Armed forces (ex-elite Armed forces, I should add). Like most of the friends I have left, I met him through outdoor pursuits. Like me, he’s dabbled in ultra marathons. Well, one. He was furious that when he finished his first ultra, he was given a mug as a prize. I had to tell him there and then that a mug was actually a good prize. I’ve done five editions of one race where all I got was a towel!

Well, one Saturday a few weeks ago, he asked me if I was free a few weeks later for a hilly training run. I said yes I was, and so it was that a few weeks later, on a Sunday evening, myself, him and another guy did a hilly half marathon. I didn’t realise at the time that it was a test. He knew something I didn’t.

For weeks he’d been talking about this ultra marathon he was training for along the jurassic coast. It sounded horrific – 2,000 metres of climbing over thirty-five miles. I only half listened, happy in the thoughts of my own race plan of absolutely nothing until spring, glad that I didn’t run those sorts of distances any more. Then, one Friday afternoon, I got a text:

“Alright mate? How would you feel about doing that Jurassic ultra next Saturday? As Dan who was doing it might be not able to due to injury on knee.”

So obviously, given everything working against me – lack of relevant training, short notice, logistics – I said yes. Fast-forward a week and I’m waiting on the pavement at 4.15 am for a squeaky noise that keeps getting louder. Turns out it’s the van that is taking us down south. Four hours later and I’m at the starting line of the shortest (yet nowhere near the easiest) ultra marathon I have ever completed. And complete it we did, finishing together and having a great day.

My mate’s military mindset is unflinchingly admirable. You just know he’s going to achieve what he’s set his sights on however it may be. It’s funny though because all the runners were wearing trail shoes and shorts or leggings of various descriptions as that is generally the standard. Not my mate. He rocks up in boots and trousers. When I say boots I mean walking boots, with ankle support. And his trousers were walking trousers. Not the type that you can separate halfway down and turn into shorts mind.

This was mid-October, and was fairly mild, so he must have looked a sight. The three of us ran together as much as we could and on occasions, I dropped behind him far enough that people whom we were overtaking didn’t realise we were running together. Seeing and hearing their reactions was great. They would look at each other and say, “Boots?”, or, “He’s got trousers on!”. It was very interesting to hear their immediate reactions. At one point, impatient with waiting in a bottle neck of people, he shot off through some gorse to overtake everyone. A few people watched him go, and I could tell they were envious of his boots and trousers at that point!

In the van coming home, I said to him about how I had felt about the ultra when they were talking about it, before my involvement, and how at that point I was glad to not be doing it. He then said that when he invited me to the hilly trail run a few weeks before, he strongly suspected his mate was going to drop out of the ultra even back then, and wanted to test me to see if I had the credentials to run it. Am I glad I passed? I am really. A lot of it’s about mindset so when I turned up, I knew I was going to give it one hundred percent. The same went for the ultra. I hate finishing something knowing I could have pushed more or tried harder. I am my own worst critic and it’s an awful feeling letting yourself down.

Moving forward one month, I’m sat working again, when I get a text:

“Hi mate hope you’re all well? Do you want to run the trail marathon on Sunday in my place as possibly won’t be able to run it as work commitments.”

He’s dropped me in it again! Less than a week to prep this time though. With the aforementioned mindset and desire to challenge myself, I duly accepted and ran it. Again, glad I did as I had lots of things working against me that day both physically and mentally – work stuff, home life, a rare sinus/head cold (which ironically the marathon help shift on due to the sweating and coughing). There’s not much worse than dragging yourself out of bed on a dark winter morning and face a marathon alone that you haven’t prepped for. I wondered if I’d get a DNF but I ran alone, didn’t really chat to other runners much, and got everything in gear to finish.

Everything comes in threes and seemingly on Friday afternoons via text. I’ll let you know when I get dropped in it again.

I’ve started, so I’ll finish.

Readers of a certain age and disposition will remember Magnus Magnusson and his catchphrase, “I’ve started, so I’ll finish”. It’s quite motivating when taken completely out of its original context and uttered to oneself in the middle of the night, 40 miles into an ultramarathon.

As far back as I can remember in my life of outdoor pursuits, I’ve been inspired by endurance and individual achievement. During different times when I’ve been experiencing adversity myself, I have often been helped by reading about remarkable achievements by athletes and even, non-athletes. I recall a story I read which was about an older gentleman who had never ran before in his life. His son became ill and he wanted to do something to raise money so he took up running, and in particular, running marathons. Talk about ambitious. Anyway, he trained a little bit, and got impatient with training so decided to have a go at the 26.2 miles and absolutely smashed it. So he had another go a few days later. Same result. He went so far as to reveal the secret of his success, which (and if you’re a sports nutritionist, look away now) was to drive out to the Norfolk coast where he used to run, sit in the car, and have a flask of tea. Then run a marathon. This story inspired me and made me jealous all at the same time as at that moment, I was 24 and running a marathon was a far away dream. Surprisingly I didn’t suddenly start drinking copious amounts of tea.

A couple of years before, I was much more stressed. I had a job I didn’t like, a relationship I wasn’t happy in, and thought that it was what the rest of my life was going to be like. At 22, everything felt permanent. To de-stress, I started cycling on Saturday mornings on my old mountain bike. I loved the open air, the countryside, the rush of endorphins afterwards and (as I still do) the limitless freedom. Cycling the same lanes every Saturday though started to get a little predictable and for the first time, I started to imagine challenging myself further. I began to think of bigger challenges to do. I wasn’t aware of Land’s End to John O’Groats in those days so I felt I’d have to invent my own.

On my cycling route, I crossed a main A-road twice. This same A-road used to run up north past my friend’s house so I was aware it went a long way. I figured if I’d cycled a little bit of it, I might as well do the whole thing. I got home, switched on the computer and found a route planner. It turned out, the road was a long one. I enjoyed the thought of planning it and doing it. And then, my dad walked in and brought me back down to earth with a bump. He was right – it was a long way. It was a busy and dangerous road. I’d have to train. I’d need support. The plan was abandoned but it did spark something inside of me that I still have to this day. The curiosity of where the footpath goes. How long it is. Has anyone walked it all? Ran it all, even? If I see a named footpath, like the Cotswold Way, I’m online looking it up. Imagining if it’s possible. The eyes of those around me begin to roll: “He’s at it again”. I have three long distance footpaths under my belt and planning more.

A couple of weekends ago I decided I was going to run a local route that I’ve had my eye on for a while. It follows a river from mouth to source, or vice-versa. I’ve walked sections of it and ran bits of it numerous times but always wondered where it went, what it looked like and where it meandered through. I got myself together and set off, and as expected, it didn’t disappoint. It was fifteen miles, so not long distance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was an enjoyable fifteen miles in my own back garden effectively. Another curiosity satisfied. Another goal seen through to completion.