Monday, September 24, 2018

A Cautionary Tale - Part 2

Following on from  “A Cautionary Tale - Part 1”

At the beginning of March, having not run since the beginning of November, I had surgery for the bilateral inguinal disruptions. I got back into ‘training’ very gently – some walks, some walks with a little running downhill, a bit more running. I made the policy decision to stay completely of road and stick to hard, technical routes to reduce running time but increase strength. By the end of April I was running relatively freely.

At the beginning of May, Jenny and I spent 2 weeks walking on the Camino during which time I managed one 40 mile day.

Back home I started running more. I entered the Lakeland 5 Passes Ultra at the beginning of June, a tough technical 33 miles. I decided to go all old school and stay off social media – no need for a fanfare. After a couple of weeks of glorious weather, it decided to hose it down all day. It was bitterly cold going over Harter Fell but I was so happy to be out running again, to be in a race. I was absolutely delighted with 7th but that wasn’t the important bit – I was back!

Although my groins seemed almost 100% better, I was becoming increasingly aware of the pain in my knee. During 2017, my groins had been the limiting factor but now that I was able to stretch out and run freely my knee was really becoming an issue. I had a marked reduction in knee flexion which was causing me to stumble over rocks quite frequently. 

This was hardly surprising since an MRI had revealed a complex degenerative meniscal tear, a further posterior horn tear and a parameniscal cyst. 42 years of rugby, triathlons and running had caught up with me.

However, I was running and I was happy. I had a place in the Lakeland 100 which had always lurking in the back of my mind. Being an ultrarunner and indestructible I decided to go for it. I put in some really good miles. I felt fast. I felt strong. I had lost all the weight I’d gained. I set several PB’s for my local climbs including Gatesgarth Pass. All systems go.

I felt great. And my knee was OK…if I took pain-killers prior to running.

After all, ultrarunners are indestructible…aren’t we?

2 weeks prior to the Lakeland 100 I stumbled and twisted my knee. Probably tore my calf a little too but what’s a bit of a calf strain to an ultra-runner? I did no running for the final 2 weeks up to the race. 

Only a couple of people knew I was running – no need to advertise, to validate – those important to me knew where I was at, and why I wanted to run.

On race day my head really wasn’t in it at all. For many of us it was a day of great sadness, a day of remembrance for a friend no longer with us. I had more than a few tears in my eyes as we started.

Going up the first few hills, I felt physically great. I felt comfortable and was well up the field. However, going down towards Seathwaite my knee wasn’t haven’t fun so I took it gently and managed not to trip up over the loose rocks. Why was I doing this?

Going through the woods after CP1 I tripped over an innocuous tree root – foot not picking up properly. Gashed my elbow, hand and knee but more critically really wrenched my knee. Tried to walk it off but after 10-15 minutes, I knew it wasn’t going to get better. I started the 2-3 mile walk back to CP1. It felt like a walk of shame.

Back in Seathwaite I discovered my good friend Jamie Hauxwell who had beaten me to the 1st place in the drop out stakes by tearing his hamstring before the CP. It was good to chat and therapeutic for us both, I think.

I haven’t run since. My knee got worse, was hurting on a day to day basis.

Last week I had knee surgery and it’s back to square 1 again. Is it worth it? Well I bloody hope so. I just want to be able to go out all day and play. Whether that is running or walking I’m really not too bothered at this present moment. I just want to be able to do the stuff I love consistently. And I don't want any more operations this year!

Apologies for repetition but…

Listen to your body.

We all say it but how many actually do?

I often see posts along the lines of “I’m doing a certain race, would it be Ok/sensible to do another the weekend before?” Or “I’ve got this niggle, would it be OK/sensible to do…?” Well it might be OK, and you may be absolutely fine. However, somewhere along the line you may suffer the consequences.

I ran over 3000 miles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and would have in 2017 if I had managed to run all year. I had a fabulous time, seeing new places, meeting new people and had some great experiences. But I also broke myself and that leaves a big hole.

For the 3 months of May-July this year I was back in the bubble, I was running free…and then I broke again. 

I’m an ultrarunner but I am not indestructible.

Or perhaps it’s time to say I was an ultrarunner.

We’ll see…


Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A Cautionary Tale

January 10th 2016. It’s the first night of the Spine and I’m running towards Gargrave. Fresh snow on mud has led to several slips and slides. My groin is a bit sore but no big deal. Leaving Hawes the following day, my groin has stiffened up and takes a couple of miles to loosen off. No big deal. However, after Middleton, I can barely climb over the stiles and have to pull out. I’m obviously disappointed but I assume the injury will settle with a couple of week's rest. After all I’m an ultrarunner and I’m indestructible.

On the running front, 2015 had been a wonderful year. My 2nd Spine finish, running the Camino de Santiago (500 miles) in 12 days, 10th place in the Lakeland 100, and a UTMB finish. I’d run over 3500 miles.

Not being good at the rest and recovery thing, my planned 2-week rest turned into 10 days. I needed another challenge; something to make up for the disappointment of the Spine. Viking Way Ultra at 148 miles was just ticket. Despite never being happy with my running, I achieved my 2nd finish. I had a massive 5 days rest.

I trained really hard for that years Lakeland 100…too hard. I wanted to beat the previous year’s result/time. I was ill the week before the race and despite feeling OK on the startline, had no energy at all and pulled out at Wasdale Head. Had a few days off.

In October, I tied 1st with Tom Hollins in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Ultra. On hindsight this was the last time I ran fluidly.

My groin was still niggling away but no big deal. After all I could still run as per usual and at some stage I would have a good rest. And after all, I’d managed to run 3200 miles that year so couldn’t possibly be injured properly.

Next big race was the 2017 edition of The Spine. I trained hard, really hard. I was in great shape. However, if I stopped for a few minutes during a long run, my groin would stiffen up. But it wasn’t really a big deal. I picked up a flu-like illness the week before the race, swapped into the Challenger and managed 30 miles before my legs totally gave up.

Groin was an issue now, stiffening up after most runs. However, the summer version of the Spine was on my radar – I would rest properly after that. My knee was also playing up now but I could still run OK.

With the disappointment of the Spine still hanging over me, I entered the Viking Way again. I was going along in 2nd place but I couldn’t really get going and I couldn’t really be bothered. I pulled out at 60 miles.

Next up was the Liverpool to Manchester Ultra. By now I was having to really nurse my body in the lead up to a race. I was happy to place 12th on a very flat course but never really felt I was running smoothly.

Summer Spine was next and I totally planned to have a really good rest after it. I had coaxed myself back into really good shape. Although initially sore, my knee and groin quickly settled and I had virtually the perfect 3 days running. I was going to bloody win the thing!! Then my blood sugar decided to sabotage me and I was withdrawn from the race.

I was distraught. Although I had run 190 miles, I hadn’t finished so hadn’t capitalised on all the training. I needed to do one last big challenge before getting myself better. I had 4 days rest before running in the Bampton Sports Day 9km fell race. I had another 3 days off before getting back into training for the Ultra GB 200 mile race.

Thinking you can run 200 miles with a broken body is probably stretching optimism to its limit. I had a dreadful run. I just couldn’t get going. My groin and knee were sore. After about 40 miles, I sneezed and got acute pain into…spoiler alert…my left testicle. Or left lower plumnadular region as my brothers would call it. That didn’t feel right at all. I pulled out at 60 miles.

But I still needed to capitalise on all that training. I needed to plug the hole that the summer Spine had left – it was still torturing me. A stage race in Burgos, Spain, popped up on my timeline. Just the ticket.

By now my knee and groin were taking turns in hurting during nearly ever run. I was also getting pain over my symphysis pubis, and every time I coughed or sneezed I got the aforementioned “lower groin” pain.

Imaginatively, I used the Cumbria Way Ultra as training for the Burgos race. Although I came 2nd ,  I never really felt like I was running properly. I couldn’t really stretch out especially on the downhills.

Burgos was brilliant but I was very aware of my groin and knee all week. Substantial stretching got me to the finish line.

Rest time.

So I had 10 days off. After all, ultrarunners are indestructible…aren’t we?

First run was sort of Ok. After it, I did a few core exercises and felt something ‘go’ in my groin/pelvis. Pain on walking in the morning…after I’d tried to run again. 

On November 2nd 2018, 22 months after the initial injury, I finally made the decision to rest completely until it got better.

3 months later, despite physio, it wasn’t. I was referred to a Sports Medicine consultant who arranged some scans and the full horror was uncovered.

1. Bilateral inguinal disruption = basically hernias (or herniae for accuracy) 
2. Adductor longus & brevus tendonopathy with partial tear of longus = a knackered groin 
3. Complex degenerative tear to medial meniscus = knackered knee

Treatment:

1. At the beginning of March, I had surgery for the inguinal issue. Seems to have been successful. My surgeon has given me the go ahead to do some light training including some short sprints…whatever they are.
2. Ongoing physio but likely to remain an issue
3. Tough…basically

I’ve done a couple of hard walks on the fells with ‘jogging’ the downhills. I haven’t been brave enough to try a run yet. 

The reality is that I’m unlikely to ever get back to the level that I was at. My main goal is just to get onto the startline of something. To be able to go out and play properly. 

Listen to your body.

We all say it but how many actually do?

I often see posts along the lines of “I’m doing a certain race, would it be Ok/sensible to do another the weekend before?” Well it might be OK, and you may be absolutely fine. However, somewhere along the line you may suffer the consequences.

I ran over 3000 miles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and would have in 2017 if I had managed to run all year. I had a fabulous time, seeing new places, meeting new people and had some great experiences. But I also broke myself and that leaves a big hole.

I’m an ultrarunner but I am not indestructible.


Friday, January 12, 2018

The Spine 2018 v7

This weekend the 7th edition of the Spine gets underway. It will be the 1st time that I have not been on the start line. Having steadfastly ignored a niggling groin strain, which initially occurred in Spine 2016, and a subsequent pelvic problem, I now haven’t run at all for over 2 months and am only now beginning to feel any improvement. Old age ensures that things recover much slower.

I have very mixed feelings about missing the Spine. Disappointment, jealousy…and relief.

I’m feeling really disappointed not to have all my kit all packed and be heading to Edale where the excitement and nerves will be palpable. First timers understandably nervous. Frequent fliers more relaxed, understanding that there’s little point wasting nervous energy when you will need every little bit of energy available for forward propulsion. I’m disappointed not to do my traditional, and ceremonial, sprint start. By the way, this is only seen at the Spine!

I will miss the camaraderie of all the Spine family, and I’m jealous of all those who will experience it. I will miss eating at Tan Hill and the fine dining at Greg’s Hut. I will miss having breakfast in Gargrave Co-op. They probably won’t miss me! I will miss crossing Cross Fell. Sorry but I love the sense of isolation up there…it can be a wonderful place. Can be nasty too!

But I am so relieved that I won’t spend a week in January on an emotional and physical rollercoaster. I won’t miss the cold, the rain, the damp, the mud. Definitely not the mud! I won’t miss the 15 hours of darkness – but I will miss the glorious sunrises and sunsets that can occur. I won’t miss the continual battle against sleep but I will miss the tremendous
boost of arriving at a checkpoint. 

And I definitely won't miss the painful toes!

It’s been nice not having the pressure of training hard through November and December and actually not caring about what I eat or how much I train over the Christmas period. My family appreciated having a non-Spine Christmas!

Jenny, I know, is very relieved. She won’t have to spend a week worrying about my well-being. A week dot watching. She will be able to sleep! But I fancy she will miss being part of the support team – she really does run a top-notch checkpoint, and loves looking after everyone.

So, whilst I will miss everything that makes the Spine such a great and unique event, I will enjoy my warm bed next week whilst trying not to feel very jealous of all those who are going to have a great experience.


Good luck to all involved. Stay safe and have fun…whilst we watch your dots.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Burgos Ultra Stage Race – The Way of Legends

This race popped up on my Facebook timeline on July 21st. I innocently “liked” it.

"The Way of Legends is a six day, fully catered, ultra stage race...and consists of 5 successive stages longer than the legendary marathon distance of 42km followed by a final much shorter 6th stage along the historic pilgrimage path of Saint James to the finish line at the Cathedral of Burgos, a magnificent world heritage site. The Way of Legends is a fantastic oportunity to experience the natural beauty, culture, and gastronomy of this diverse region...The Way of Legends traverses this unique region with each stage crossing through a different landscape and engulfed by a unique Local Legend"











Burgos is one of the most beautiful towns of the Camino de Santiago, with the most stunning cathedral that I have ever seen. Jenny and I finished our camino there last year and spent a couple of days relaxing and sight-seeing and we re-started there this year; it holds many happy memories. Four 50km days, a marathon and a short 13km run finishing at the cathedral sounded like my kind of race. This is essentially how I train for the Spine – multiple long back-to-backs

A couple of days later, race director Manu Pastor messaged me.

Hello Richard, how are you? I see that you have liked my Facebook page about the 6 day stage race which I organize in Spain. After last year’s very successful first edition, registration is now open for the second edition. This is a unique event in the North of Spain starting on the 13th of October 2017 and traversing the historic region of Burgos. The event is not only a really tough challenge but also a cultural and gastronomical journey through this historic region passing by castles, many ancient monuments and medieval villages and finishing after 254km +7000m in six days on the Cathedral steps of the beautiful city of Burgos. Different to all other stage races this one has nice comfortable camps with beds and hot showers and plenty of delicious food cooked freshly everyday by my team of professional chefs. The unique small/family nature of the event with only 36 places available make it also a fantastic social event with very interesting people from all over the world participating. I´m sure you will love this event. I hope you will consider taking part. Cheers! Salud! Manu”

Hmmm…sounded good, but I wasn’t sure. After a few week’s pondering it over, Jenny persuaded me to enter. She knew I needed a break away and what better than running in a beautiful area near the wonderful Camino. I entered in mid-August.

I’ve had a pretty torrid race year. Training well but so many disappointments in races – ill before the Spine, couldn’t be arsed DNF in the Viking Way, 190 brilliant miles in the Spine Fusion then catastrophe, couldn’t be arsed DNF in Ultra GB, then a decent 2nd in the Cumbria Way Ultra.

A week before the race, I was considering pulling out. Did I really want to put my body and, more to the point, my mind, through it all again? My knee and both groins have been getting gradually worse all year and I should probably have rested more through the year. Jenny told me to treat it as a holiday and not a race. As I departed Manchester airport on Friday morning, this was my plan – a holiday, a chance to embrace all I love about ultrarunning.

No racing, oh no, not me…

I met Maik and Mundi from Switzerland at Madrid airport and we caught the bus to Burgos together. Manu met us at the bus station in Burgos and Luis drove us to Race HQ, a lovely Casa Rurale in Trashaedo del Tozo. Several runners were already in situ and we were soon all chatting over lunch served by our host, the wonderful Maria. Through the afternoon, more runners arrived and it was obvious that many knew each other from previous stage races. I was becoming aware of a completely different group of ultra-runners and soon was hearing about many exotic sounding races…memory banks engaged!


I was rooming with Matt from LA for the first couple of nights with Keith and Kaare opposite – much hilarity from all sides.

Matt and I got up early and went for a little walk in the first rays of dawn. 


The rest of Saturday was taken up by kit checks by Edward and Annie, medical checks by Laura and Helen, race briefings, general relaxing and eating, and a little stretching. Everyone, runners and support team, was so friendly; I felt very much at ease and comfortable. This was going to be fun.




The food was magnificent. I decided to embrace the vegan options for the week. Not sure why, but it seemed like a good idea – so much effort had gone into the preparation. Lunch in particular was fabulous. We all had our fill of soup, bread, salad and tortilla...and then the paella appeared...and then pudding. We weren't going to go hungry.


Sunday morning. Up at 5:30 for the 8:00 start. Rather alarmed by some boy-on-boy taping in the room opposite.


Muesli with oat milk (vegan!), bread (vegan) with honey. Discussion on whether honey is vegan – apparently it has bee ‘spit’ in it so some vegans won’t eat it. I decided to be a honey-eating vegan!

Day 1: The legend of the lost city of Bravum
48km from the Celtic hill fort city of Ulaña to the village of Sedano.

At the start line we were met by ancient Druids, their ancient dialect translated by Manu using Google Translate. We were given poison berries to take in event of capture.


We set of across a limestone plateau in the breaking dawn. I felt very spritely as we negotiated our way down a technical descent, soon becoming accustomed to the fabulous course marking – ribbon and purple biodegradable paint.


Once on the flat, I set the pace in a totally non-racing manner, with Keith and Maik in pursuit. We made good time to CP1 at 16km. I pulled ahead on the first decent hill and then was overtaken by Peter Osterwalder from Switzerland. Coming down to CP2, Vero silently drew level with me. Possibly the quietest runner ever – so light on her feet.  I powered up another decent hill and was surprised to catch Peter on the descent. Going up again, I pulled ahead, and cruised into CP3 in full non-racing, just-enjoying-it mode!! Or not…


The course was fabulous. All on trail through wonderful countryside – limestones plateaus, canyons, ancient villages – just beautiful. I was loving it



My knee and both groins were hurting and felt stiff. I just hoped they would last the week.

I covered the final 9km nicely and was chuffed to bits to win the first stage. Peter finished 3 minutes later, then Vero at 8 minutes, followed by Keith and Maik.


Racing? Not me!?


Whoops!

I managed to have a cold bath in possibly the smallest bath in the world, had a little lunch, and then we sat outside in the afternoon sun, cheering the other runners in. 


I was rooming with Matt again, and we got on really well.

I was in my element. Good Richard = Loud Richard = Happy Richard, was very much in residence. As Jenny describes it, I was being "Donkey"
 

Fabulous dinner again as it would be all week.

Day 2: The legend of Rodrigo's treasure, the last Visigoth king
51km from the stunning noble village of Sedano to the medieval town of Poza De la Sal.

The slower 6 runners were due to start at 08:00, with the remainder starting at 08:30. As became the habit for the week, Matt, Keith, Kaare and myself were the first to rise, having breakfast by 06:00. Unfortunately, Kaare had had to pull out of the race with a bad knee, but was staying on for the week to be on the support team and he was a worthy addition.


Today was forecast to be sunny and hot and we were supposedly running on exposed high plateaus so it could be a tough day. I felt incredibly loose as we set off. 



Synchronised running!

I scampered over the riverside paths and was soon setting the pace again. I passed Matt, the fastest of the earlier starters, just after CP1 at 10 miles. So far so good.


Peter passed me shortly afterwards with his by now familiar staccato running style and that was the last I was to see of him til the finish.

Amazingly, knees and groins were magically healed – perhaps the now shorter stride was beneficial. After the cool start, it was definitely warming up – it was going to be hot. Today’s terrain was even better than yesterday. We were high up with continual views of rock formations and canyons.


The stretch between CP2 and CP3 was a long one. It was hot and I was feeling the pace. First Maik than Keith went past. Keith, in particular, looked on a mission and he was soon out of sight. I ate and drank and ate some more and got going again, overtaking Maik. Approaching CP3, I could see Keith still in residence. I moved quickly through but Keith had obviously spotted me too, and was soon out of sight again.


As we descended along the last few kilometres to the finish, we went past an old castle. I had to answer the call of nature annoying close to the finish! 



Passing through a picturesque village, I managed to get lost – as did several of the front runners. Apparently the binmen had removed the tape marking the route! 


I then sailed past an obvious left turn with copious route markings and wasted a few minutes back-tracking. I finally crossed the line in 3rd place, 30 minutes behind Peter and 8 behind Keith. I was still in 2nd place, just 6 minutes ahead of Keith.

A tough day at the office due to the heat. We were staying in a school building; bunk beds in a dorm. Showered and changed, fed and watered, we cheered others in and enjoyed the autumn sunshine

The camaraderie of the race was very apparent. Runners and support team all one big family. The race had a great feel, a great vibe.


Day 3: The legend of the fratricidal battle of Atapuerca in 1054 AD.
47.5km from the medieval town of Poza de la Sal to the historic village of Olmos de Atapuerca

The days were settling into a pattern now. Wake up, breakfast, stretch, sort out kit, pack bags, get dressed, stretch some more….RUN….shower, dress, eat, chat, watch, relax, stretch, eat, chat, relax, stretch some more, chat, sleep etc.

After breakfast and having sorting out all my gear, I put some music on just to focus the mind. The body was ready to go; I just needed to summon the mental willingness to run 30 miles again. I could feel myself welling up a bit so I gave myself a good talking to! I decided to try out my newly-found yoga “skills” and miraculously I was able to fully flex my knee for the first time in years.

It was an overcast morning with a decent chance of some rain.

Right from the start, Peter pushed ahead. We all let him go – he was obviously on a mission. Nary also seemed to have abundant energy as she pushed hard. We were on some great undulating trail; Nary, Keith and myself with Maik and Rob in close attendance. Going through CP1, Keith and I were chatting away. 



 We then followed several kilometres of hard packed trail following the line of a disused railway, all gradually uphill. Keith stopped for a “comfort break”, I jogged on. I was really pleased to run the whole of the uphill section. I didn’t look round once, but was sure that I must have left any chasers behind. Turning off into a village and CP2, I glanced back and saw Keith and Maik 200 metres back! I went straight through the checkpoint, full of energy and full of running. I was now feeling great.

Passing through CP3, I hadn’t seen another runner for several kilometres and was still feeling great; loving the freedom, loving the race, loving the countryside and loving running.


As the route traversed up a long valley, I caught a glimpse of Peter and estimated him to be about 4 minutes ahead. Shortly later I caught a glimpse of Keith and Rob – I guessed they were 3-4 minutes back. I’d had a good section. Topping the valley, I began to feel weary. Onto the plateau, and there a significant headwind. This really sapped my energy and I felt my pace drop right off. After several kilometres of this, we started to drop down towards the finish at Atapuerca.

As usual, Manu’s mother and her entourage were manning the final major road crossing. I could see Keith closing rapidly and having safely negotiated the main road (and Manu’s mother!), I paused to let Keith make up the final 100 metres. This was the nature of the “race”. Although it was a race – yes, ok, I was racing – we were all very much friends together, having a great time on a great event. Having pushed hard, we decided to walk up the last hill into Atapuerca. Then we saw Rob, obviously putting in a big effort…so we decided we ought to run into the finish. Keith and I finished together with Rob a minute or so behind.


Another great day. And the forecast rain hadn’t materialised.

The night’s accommodation was fabulous – spread over 2 buildings. As usual, Maria directed the finishing runners to their rooms. I was sharing again with Matt and also with Hiro who had joined the party late. With 3 lots of dirty running kit, the room soon developed a mature odour.

Another fun evening was had. The food was fabulous and the company great.




Day 4: The Legend of St Millan, the hermit warrior, patron saint of Castille

52.5km from the medieval battle fields of Atapuerca to the mountain village of Pineda de la Sierra.

The weather was forecast to change today. From mid-morning we could expect significant rain with a noticeable drop in temperature. This coincided with us going over the high point of the week, San Millan 2130m with an associated exposed ridge. I knew Manu was concerned about the potential conditions and the risk to physical well-being. I had all the right gear and am obviously used to cold, wet conditions. I was more concerned about the effect of the rain on my mental well-being.

I was tired. I don’t think any of us slept well in our cosy room. Physically I felt better than expected but I was missing my Jenny. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of weeks as she was in Costa Rica with work and we hadn’t spoken for a couple of days. After breakfast, we managed to have a chat. I was feeling a bit emotional and Jenny told me to run with her in my heart. That made me feel better. Also, we would initially be on the Camino, so that was another reason for good spirits.



Setting off, Peter pushed on ahead. After 10-15 minutes we joined my beloved Camino de Santiago and I immediately felt happy. We followed it backwards – in reverse direction, not running backwards! Keith and I were running together again and I explained to him why I was saying “Buen Camino” to everyone. We were moving a fair lick and I felt great. Through Ages, where Jenny and I had a lovely evening last year, and on through St Juan de Ortega, which I still have absolutely no idea how to pronounce. No time to visit the lovely church as we pushed on. 

Onto some fairly heavy-duty clay trail and it started to rain. As it became steadier, I stopped to put my waterproof jacket on. I thought I’d quickly catch back up with Keith but I just couldn’t seem to get going again. Soon Rob, Maik, and Vero passed me. I began to get annoyed at the weather, at myself, and probably at some other stuff as well. Approaching CP1, I was beginning to feel very miserable, very low. To make matters worse, I’d sweated out my waterproof which was now essentially functionless. At the CP I just wanted to stop.

I tried to summon some enthusiasm from somewhere. I ate. I drank. Then I remembered that I was running with Jenny in my heart…and that just made me sob. My spirit was draining. The section to CP2 was simply horrendous – I had completely lost my focus and lost my mojo. I was wet, cold and miserable.

Checkpoint 2 was at a bar. I went straight in without saying a word. Laura followed me in, took one look at me and offered me a hug. Well, that opened the floodgates. I was broken. I just wanted to stop. To sit down in the warm, dry bar. But I also wanted to minimise my time loss. I was racing. I didn’t want anyone else to think I was pathetic. I wanted to go. I wanted to stop. I didn't know what I wanted!

Up to know happy, cheerful, bubbly Richard had been out to play. Now it was time for miserable, weak, insecure Richard to make an overdue appearance. Quite what the locals made of my mental disintegration I will never know.

“Let it go, Richard”

So I did… after 20 minutes of self-berating.

I had a coffee and some tortilla – which caused much consternation as it most certainly wasn’t vegan ham and cheese.


The chocolate muffin probably wasn’t vegan either! Runners came and went. I dried out, warmed up and put more layers on. Further psychotherapy from Laura and Ana.

After 45 minutes, and several false starts, and in heavy rain, I set off on the 10km uphill section to the summit ridge.


I now had energy and I monstered the hill. Arriving at CP3, I no longer cared about time or postion, and had another 15 minutes in the warmth.

The next section was an exposed 5km ridge. It was very windy and the temperature had noticeably dropped. I was now in my element, almost on home turf. I skipped along the ridge in no time. Many found this the worst part of the day; I’d already been there and this was my favourite bit. On the long run down to the finish, I passed Nary who looked very cold.



Into the village and the finish. Relief. Just relief.

I was now in 5th place overall, having been overtaken by Keith, Rob and Vero. I didn't really care.

If I’d had a tough day, others had it far worse. Jasmine and Hiro didn’t arrive until 20:00 having been helped off the mountain by Ana amongst others. They were very wet and very cold. Hiro, in particular, was verging on hypothermic. Respect.

Day 5: The Legend of “El Cid”, the mercenary knight and epic hero

42km from the mountain village of Pineda de la Sierra to the Monastery of San Pedro Cardeña.
Just a marathon today!
Woke up feeling very tired; very weary. Yesterday had taken a lot out of me physically and especially mentally. At least all my kit was dry again. Everyone seemed pretty tired too. I still felt a bit wobbly as we prepared for the off. Laura gave me a pep talk and a sticky heart – I think several of us were wearing these today!




As we started I had absolutely no intention of racing at all. I intended to take it easily and just enjoy the run. I managed the first part, but the second bit was an abject failure.

I started at the back and ran on my own for a few minutes. Miraculously, we were greeted with a beautiful morning and could actually see the mountain we’d been on the day before. 





As I got into my running, I overtook several runners before running with Mundi for a while. At some stage I was up to 5th place but then it clouded up and this seemed to completely drain me.  Several others quickly overtook me. Coming into CP1, I had the feeling this was going to be a long day.



 I now felt very flat – no energy, no drive. 

I kept on hearing strange sounds coming from the woods behind me and kept on turning round to see what it was. All I could see was Nary a little way back. I stopped to ask her whether she could hear anything. She said it was her! She was chatting and singing to herself for motivation – she was having a tough day too. I ran with Nary for a while as she continued to chatter away. However, I slowed to a walk and left her to her singing!

For the next 10km, Sander and I played leap frog. I would run for a bit and overtake him. I would walk for a bit and he would overtake me. I was feeling miserable and I wasn’t having fun. My legs didn’t want to run. They felt tight and stiff. It was a war of attrition but I was going to win.

At CP 2, Sander had his customary beer. Anyone who can run an entire multi-day ultra in sandals and drink beer en route gets my respect.
Just after CP2 the sun came out again and seemed to give me energy. I finally got running properly. Coming down to CP3, I decided I needed sugar. As I entered the bar I was met by a beautiful sight…


Happiness is…


Now happy with my lot, I jogged along admiring the countryside, counting the kilometres down. The last few were painful and I was very happy to get to the finish at the beautiful Monastery of San Pedro Cardeña.




I finished in 5:15, probably my slowest marathon ever but I didn’t really care. I had finished and there was just tomorrow’s 13km “fun run” to go.

The monastery was fabulous. We were staying in single rooms and a monk gave us a guided tour. However the highlight was the individual cleansing that we all received from Oscar, the shaman. A lovely man and a very moving experience.

We had a lively evening. With the racing done, we sampled the copious supplies of beer and wine.


Just a non-competitive 13km jog into Burgos left.

Non-competitive...


Day 6: The legendary Camino de Santiago

13km from the Cistercian Monastery of San Pedro Cardeña to the World heritage site of the Burgos Cathedral.

There was a noticeably cheerful and relaxed air around the start. Just a relaxed jog into Burgos and the finish line. Many of the support staff were running with us today.


Lily going through her pre-race preparations!

We started off nice and easily, chatting away. After 2 very tough days at the office, I felt surprisingly spritely. I had changed into Hoka’s and I felt so much more comfortable…if only I’d worn them the day before…


Max started to inject a little pace, and after a bit of to and fro-ing, I joined Max, Peter, and Stephan in a little group at the front. Stephan and Peter picked up the pace a little and Max dropped back. With 5km to go, we were most definitely racing…in a non-competitive way! I committed myself mentally. This was going to be purely for me. A kind of redemption, proof to myself that I wasn’t weak, that I could indeed still do it. I gradually cranked up the pace as I do in my tempo training runs. It felt great to be really stretching out. With about 500m to go, I heard Peter’s breathing and footsteps fall a few metres back. As we turned towards the final bridge, I thought I was going to be sick; I was pretty much on the limit.

As I crossed the line, I felt the disappointment of the previous 2 days disappear. I had left a lot out there and it felt so good to finish on a high.


It took several minutes for me to get my breath back.
There was great camaraderie at the finish line. We had all gone through a wonderful journey, full of highs with a few lows thrown in for good measure.


Lily does her post race stretching with Nora


There's always one!


After the photoshoot on the cathedral steps, it was back to the hotel, followed by a fabulous afternoon with good friends in beautiful Burgos. Tapas, beer, ice cream and a bit more beer.





If you leave you phone unattended...
The evening’s dinner and presentation was a great way to crown off the event. I felt so proud as I received my finishers shirt the medal.
The medal, a bespoke design by Oscar, represents a helmet and therefore a legend, but when turned upside down represents the phoenix and rebirth. Rising from the ashes…it felt very pertinent.


After dinner, we retired to the local bars. For some reason, I found myself drinking very large gin and tonics. After several of these I developed the ability to dance like a professional well, that’s how I remember it!
Sander and I then sought out a kebab (we’re athletes don’t you know) and at 04:45 we rocked back at the hotel.
There were a few sore heads at breakfast!
I had a simply wonderful week. I rediscovered my love of ultra-running but more than anything I rediscovered the lost art of having fun.
All I can say is thank you so much to Manu and to every single one of his merry bunch of helpers.

I am so glad I liked that Facebook page.

I am so glad Manu messaged me.

Aftermath

After 10 days rest, I went for a couple of short runs, and my groin/hip finally decided it had had enough. I now haven’t run at all for approaching 5 weeks, and am unlikely to do so before Christmas at best. There has been minimal improvement. Right now, I am feeling fairly pessimistic about my running future as I watch my fitness disappear and my belly appear.

But…if that happens to be my last ultra or my last competitive ultra, then what a race to finish on 

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely, in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride”
Hunter S Thompson