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:
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:
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.