Strange old week so far. Black dog sitting by my side and a pair of horrendous looking legs the same width from toes to mid calves. John Merrick would've said "get yer coat love you've pulled". Thankfully today the swelling is going down and the cloud is lifting, so what the feck was I up to to get into this state. Well, on Saturday I completed the South Downs Way 50 and here's what happened (not that any of it will be factually accurate mind, but it's how I remember it).
Met up with Ian in Victoria the day before and ended up having to rush for our train to Eastbourne after having a pre race hydration pint. Once there we made our way to the hotel where I stayed in a compact and bijou single room with super shaggy fraggle floor to ceiling curtains. Rock'n'roll lads, rock'n'roll.
Unpacked and went out in search of food (Pizza Express) and then a pub to watch the Leicester match. And Holy God what a pub. The language from the regulars at the bar was unreal! And for me to say that you know they were bad. They were effing and blinding and ***ting and b@starding to beat the band and would then end the sentence with something completely harmless and random so you didn't know if they were about to knife each other or were just having a friendly chat.
Some aul wan went into the Ladies toilet which was situated just behind me. 10 minutes later she hadn't come out, I really needed to go but was worried about finding her unconscious or worse. Eventually I had to just bite the bullet. Went in, she wasn't feckin there! I looked behind both toilet doors, there were no windows and no other way out. Got out of there quick sharp. Told Ian and of course he dispelled all my fears and worries straightaway. Like f*ck, he wound me up even more then continued watching the game.
A while later yer wan walks past again, from the bar. Not a ghost. Thank Christ. Creepy though. Bit like the woman in the bath in The Shining. I won't be going back to that pub in a hurry!
We were back in the hotel fairly early, around 10 I think. Both decided to pack our kit for the morning and get to sleep. Which was fine until I checked my emails and saw I'd been shortlisted for the Trail Running Team. Haven't a feckin hope of getting onto the final list but it made me hyper all over again all the same. Think I went to sleep around 2am. Up at 5 and out of the hotel at 6.15 to get the train to Brighton and then on to Worthing. Once there we spotted some other runners and shared a taxi to the start.
Great organisation at the HQ, kit check was quick and easy and involved showing jacket, gloves and something else, can't remember what, survival blanket maybe, I was just delighted not to have to unpack everything again. Saw Paul Navesy, Sam Robson, Paul Ali etc, a bit like being on a marathon start and watching the Kenyans nearby. Surreal but good. Looked around lots to try and find some runners I knew, had a great chat with John, couldn't see Little Louna or Justin, but I said hello to Nick in the crowd at the start and then Andy came over to say hello. A few minutes later we were off. I was bursting to go off too fast, if I'd been on my own I definitely would have, but luckily Ian reminded me I'd 50 miles to go and would soon be blowing out my arse unless I paced it right. Jackie said hi as we were jogging along the first bit, it was lovely to meet her at last.
Uphill most of the way for about 6 miles until we finally got onto the SDW around Chanctonbury Ring. Beautiful place, saw loads of deer as well and it felt like the race proper was beginning.
First CP was at 11 or so miles, got the bottles filled up, chatted to one of the volunteers about her nail varnish, Ian filled his face and we were off again. There was a stretch of only about 4 or 5 miles till the next CP but for some reason mile 12 was one of my grimmest of the race. Still can't figure out what was going on there but I felt like shit already with nearly 40 to go. The hard stony surface wasn't great I have to admit. I've spent the winter running in mud and on trail, partly to avoid hammering the knee and partly because I mostly loathe road running, so I was feeling every bastard little stone and my soles were burning. Good excuse to get more trail shoes though, a pair are winging their way to me now and hopefully I'll get them tomorrow to try over the weekend :-)
Then we were back up on the Downs and all was good again. I think it was in this section that we ran into a crowd of walkers. Around that Mill Hill mast thing maybe. "What charity are you running for?" one of them squawked. The funny answers only came to us after we'd run past. All unprintable. As was most of our conversation. We degenerated into smut and profanities a lot sooner on this race than on others, must've been the hills. I just hope I don't have to visit a doctor anytime soon #noplasticnometal
Up around Devil's Dyke I almost ran completely past John and Luke. We'd just had to stop to cross a road, I was throwing evils at a car going too fast, then I saw someone with a camera and I thought oh fuck there's another lovely photo of me looking insane. Realised just in time it was the two lads so got a lovely hug there, it was a great lift to see them.
At Saddlescombe we refilled the water bottles, Ian filled his face (how many times will he let me get away with saying that I wonder? lol) and jogged on. I can remember all of the aid stations and the lovely volunteers but not which was which in all cases, it's been a few days now and my brain's melted a bit and blurred it all together. Suffice it to say Centurion have the best aid stations, the best atmosphere, the best organisation and the best volunteers EVER. I was eating hummus wraps, fuelling seemed to be going ok, I know I'm in trouble when I start chewing everything like a camel but so far I was doing ok and eating like a normal human.
From Saddlescombe to the next CP was 10 miles and here the wheels came off a bit again. I felt like an absolute bag of shit, vomit wasn't far away and my head was pounding. Took me probably a good 3 miles to realise this was due to overheating and not just my mind playing tricks on me. Took off my Sonic smock and felt 100% better within a minute. Just goes to show, don't always assume it's your mind fucking you up, it might be something physical and easily fixable. I think somewhere in this section, or maybe it was the next, Ian also had a rough patch. But we've run a few races together now and know the best thing is just to keep going, mention it if it's really bad and warrants slowing down or doing a run/walk for a bit, and the bad patch will eventually end. The same goes for negativity. Chatting to other runners along the way is grand but if some fucker is being negative then I'm off. If they're bleeding out of their eyes or limping or physically ill then of course I'll help but if it's just someone whinging and trying to drag me down then sorry but no, I'm not catching that disease.
Had quite a nice run along there after I'd cooled down - good fresh clean air, loads of lovely soft cushiony grass, and the knowledge that Shawn Timmons was waiting at Housedean with a pack of salted crisps gave me a boost. That last downhill bit we ran into the CP hammered my quads but I didn't give a shit. My stomach was feeling a bit dodgy, but there'd been nowhere to go to the feckin loo, no shelter at all so the thought of those crisps kept me happy. Came into the CP, saw the lovely Shawn and had a bit of a chat and a swig of hot coffee from his flask, refilled the water etc, took delivery of my precious cargo and off we went. Thanks again Shawn :-)
Housedean to Southease, 26.6 - 33.9 miles, hardest bit of my race without a doubt. There was a fairly long bugger of a hill up from Housedean, still needed the loo but there just wasn't anywhere to go. We got up this hill at a fair old rate all the same. Then we hit the concrete road. The fucking neverending bitch bastard from Hell concrete road. That fucking thing needs blowing up. In next year's race I'm giving it the finger bigtime. Fucker. That was my lowest point of the whole day, it hurt, it looked like shit, it didn't end, it hurt, it was fucking horrid. You couldn't run cos it hurt, you couldn't walk cos it hurt, so you zombie shuffled along cursing the day concrete was invented. It hammered the fuck out of my knee, which had been so well behaved up until then, and with nigh on 20 miles to go you're thinking fuck this for a lark this isn't fun anymore.
Then it ended :-)
Southease CP took the longest time to get through, we'd been reasonably quick through the CPs till then, totally my fault but essential. I had to sit down and whack more tape on the knee, check the feet and whack a Compeed on a hotspot, and take some Solpadeine which thank Christ I'd brought along as an emergency measure. Ian filled his face (sorry Ian, lol, you refuelled) while I was doing my first aid bit. Lovely lovely volunteers here as well. Maybe sombreros. Or that might've been another one. The boost you get from these strangers who are standing here for hours, out in all sorts of weather, giving up their free time to fill your cranky water bottles, smile at your battered and weary being, tell you you're looking great when you look like pigsick and give you much needed encouragement really cannot be measured in words. To joke and laugh with people when you're feeling a bit wrecked lifts the spirits so so much. Oh that reminds me, there was a pig farm on top of a hill somewhere. That was minging. It was before this point of the story, but I've just remembered it.
And onwards we went. The Solpadeine kicked in pretty quickly, please no comments about taking painkillers while running, it was necessary and I'm a big girl now. The next CP was going to be Alfriston at around 41 miles. I'd a few reasons for looking forward to reaching Alfriston. It'd mark my official longest distance ever run, I'd been there a couple of times already and had had a great time navigating and running on the Downs around there and it always cheers me up to sing Alfriston in my head to the tune of Galveston oh Galveston.
The part of the Downs we ran before coming to Galveston was great craic. The mist came down and visibility got pretty poor. It was amazing to be up there then, it just wouldn't have been the same experience if the weather had been sunny or calm throughout. I'd kept biting the fecking tops off my Salomon bottles during this race, never did it before and I'm sure I'll never do it again. I blame Ian Lang completely. At one point I bit the top off, it fell out of my mouth and started blowing off down the side of the hill thing. So I'd to run and bend over to get it, so of course the water started pouring out of the open bottle. Jesus I'd say we frightened wildlife and runners for miles around with the laughing. Bloody caps. I enjoyed that part a lot. It pissed it down with rain, I hadn't realised how cold it was until I turned and walked backwards for some reason and realised my right side was numb. But oh it was so much fun.
Once we got into Alfriston I knew the route from here to the finish so there was no need to think about where we were going, a nice chance to relax a bit. Great cup of tea in the church hall, more lovely people wishing us well, I changed into my Minimus here and got my warmer hat on. A mad Northern Irishman saw us off with jokes and craic. Thank you whoever you were. Forgot about putting on our headtorches in the warmth though so we stopped by the river in the woody bit where there was a bit of shelter and got that done rather than having to stop on the exposed top later on.
Dusk was falling as we were on the top bit heading towards Jevington. God even as I'm typing this I'm wishing I was up there again now. This was such a bloody brilliant race!! We got through the woods, the churchyard and into the last CP. A lovely American man gave us hot tea, I had some lovely flapjack thing his kids had made, Ian had some sandwiches and we got going. I took an emergency peanut butter sandwich as I was feeling a bit sick again, I think it was just general tiredness at this stage. Oh the feeling of knowing you're nearly there and, barring absolute catastrophe, within cutoff. Walking up the last part of Bourne Hill it was amazing to see flashlights and hear a cheery "hello runners, well done!!!" Drew Sheffield and a lovely girl whose name I didn't catch then walked us up to the trig point, the path was nicely lit with glowsticks so no chance of taking a wrong turn, but it had eased my mind in the run up anyway to have done a recce.
Met another two volunteers on the chalk track down into Eastbourne, again what lovely people. The track was dark and steep and slippery as fuck, no way were we going to run it at that stage. I know people did, fair dues to them, but we just wanted to get to the end in one bit. Once down in the 'burbs I went to take out my mobile to text my mother that I was nearly at the finish as I hadn't texted an update since Alfriston. Just that thought of home and something outside of the race made me start crying. Jesus. But my mobile was deep within my pack to protect it from the rain so I didn't text then after all. Finally ditched my safety blanket sandwich when I knew it was just minutes to the finish.
Got into the stadium, ran 400 metres round the track, and crossed the finish line. 50 miles. Done. Fuckin hell. The lovely lovely Nici gave us hugs, James (he has a book out you know) Adams hung our medals around our necks, photos were taken and we went inside. Then I texted my Ma and sister. Got our cold beers out from Ian's drop bag, had some wondrous chilli and hung out for a bit. More hugs from Nici then we got a cab back to the hotel, showered and met up in the 24 hour lounge with the intention of drinking it dry. Nobody else was in there so we just lay on sofas with our feet up drinking beer and chilling. Next morning we got up, slowly, checked out of the hotel and went over to Brighton to see some of our mates running the marathon. Eventually it was time for the train back to London and then goodbye to Ian as he went on to Leicester. Back to my flat for me, I hadn't told my flatmates about the race so there were no celebrations here, I think I fell asleep early for a couple of hours and then was awake for most of the night.
At work the next day I'd only told one person so again there was nothing. I think I made a big mistake there. I'd been so so hyped up for weeks, as anyone who saw my FB posts will know, that to be in the office and not even mention such a huge experience was just too weird. I went straight from elation and exhaustion and an awesome weekend to humdrum nothingness and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I also read all the top guys' blogs and stupidly compared my own race with theirs and felt inadequate. What a womble. It'll take time and much more experience to get to the top of my game. Woohey :-)
My mood is picking up again today though thank God. I just haven't really had the time or the desire to sit down and digest and look back, but now that I have I feel better, and, well, what can I end this essay with?
Thank you to Ian for the planning and the looking forward and the build up and being such a funny running partner, no death crawl at Dukeries this year matey!, to Kevin and Pete and Domi for their support, to my mother and sister for understanding the crankiness and lack of phone calls, to all of the volunteers, everyone who wished me well and joined in the excitement with me..... THE SDW50 IS FUCKING AWESOME AND I CAN'T WAIT TO DO IT AGAIN!!!