Well well well. This has been a long time coming.
To recap – I’m starting this post just under 48 hours before the start of my first 100 mile running race…. I’m anticipating elation, pain, belief, doubt, thrill, suffering, love, hate. I’m anticipating the roller coaster that is an ultra-marathon. The trouble is, the one in 48 hours time is not like others I’ve done. It’s bigger and it’s badder. So at this stage, as I sit with that funny feeling in my belly, I’m anticipating everything I dreamed of in a challenge like this.
And so I sat. With anticipation and a funny feeling in my belly. Unfortunately, I also had a funny feeling in my knee.
The 2015 Great North Walk 100 Miler started at 6:00am on a clear and warming morning. The plans were in place and the laces were tied tight. I started quick, trotting along with the second small pack of runners working their way through the early kilometres. It was in those early kilometres, up those first few hills, that the excitement and nervousness faded to a calm focus. I was exactly where I feel most at home, on my feet, in the trees, hearing birds chirp and the gentle pitter patter of trail shoes through the leaves on the track.
It was at about the six kilometre mark that the first inklings of doubt crept in. The knee trouble I briefly mentioned in part one decided to make an appearance. It started as a tightness, a vague, non-descript, relatively boring tightness in the outside of my left knee. I tried the normal tricks, quicken the pace, alter my stride, slow the pace, stop and stretch. Nothing really worked but it also just sat there, never really getting worse, never really trying to stop me. So I pushed on through 10km, then 15km, then 20km. I kept moving but it was alway just there are niggling.
The quick pace was carrying me along and so I hit check point 1 (29km) ahead of schedule. I was running somewhere just inside the top 20 but I was hurting. The knee pain was gnawing away both physically and mentally and it was only the positive words and encouragement from Carly and her Mum that had me leaving the check point in high spirits once again. Those spirits crashed down about 500m later as the knee started to fail under me.
At that time and in that moment, and even now in this moment, I wanted nothing to do with my knee. After all the training, the expense, and the obsession, my knee was trying to put a stop to this endeavour. The frustration was overwhelming, the emotion completely raw. It was anger, it was sadness. And so again, I pushed on. I pushed on through 32km, then 35km, then 37km. I write of smaller increments because the meters began to seem like kilometres. My pace had slowed, my run was barely more than a walk. The niggly knee tightness was now a burning pain that had spread down into the calf, up into the thigh. It started to take over my mind and I struggled to stop it.
It was not long after this point that for the first time, I gave up. Yep, I gave up (it still kind of hurts to write that). I should clarify, I don’t mean that I stopped moving forward. Instead, I had my mum’s words in my head – “…rather than stopping if I’m hurting, I need only slow down.” – so I did. I slowed down and I walked. For the next two hours I alternated between jogging the flats, wincing with each step, and walking anything that resembled a gradient.
The warm morning now had become a hot day and my slow pace had me running low on water. Runner after runner plodded past me. I texted Carly a message of despair. She sent back a message of support. I entered the notoriously hot and barren Congewoi Valley, sweat pouring out of me. Where I had been 15 minutes up on schedule at check point one, I walked into check-point two (53km) well over an hour down. I weighed in 3kg down on my starting weight, another 125km of this wasn’t an option today. With Carly’s arm around me I hobbled to a chair and slumped into the defeat with a tear in my eye. I had just been knocked flat by my first 100 miler.
Michael Jordan attributed all his success to his countless failures. Calvin Coolidge said persistence mattered above all else. These thoughts circled as I pulled the tape from my feet and I soon found my resolve. In my mind I was planning my 2016 attempt, realising that I have failed now so I can succeed later. I will persist, for nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.