Back in january I did a 55 km trail race in the Glasshouse Mountains. In its self, a great event, personally it was a moronic race towards a climax of folly that began some months before.
I knew the race was coming, I knew I had holidays before the race, I knew my wife was down on me running too much. I decided not to tell her. I would wait, let her know closer to the date, holidays came, still no race revelation, I wimped out. Why? Because I knew it was silly and she would tell me the obvious truth of the matter. A 55 km race, in Summer heat after a 2 week family trip to a tropical island? Training on family holidays is very uncool and extreme. I was injured too, in need of a neurosurgeon. It sort of makes sense……..
Well I did tell her a week out and she said go do it. I press ganged my father into crewing for me and we were go. Only problem, injury. On Dec 31st I woke up in a state. My right leg didn’t work, it hurt and I was all numb on my shin. Months of mild back pain was a warning, a disk was about to go boom. 2 Weeks of suitcase and 3-year-old lifting had probably done it. Running helps my back in general and these heroic lifting feats were new. You think????
I was weak, I could not walk, I would collapse if not paying attention, it seems a functional quadriceps is important. Crossing the busy streets of Noumea was a terror.
The diagnosis was obvious, I surely had Motor Neurone Disease and would soon die? I put this to the side though and carried on. I battled up the hill behind our hotel in Noumea but was slower than ever (see post, “How not to run up a Hill”). It was dire. Once home I jogged about a bit and tapered, from what, I don’t know. The race was coming up.
A 3-30am start about 2 hours drive from home at Woodford meant a sleep out. Dad has a Ute so I camped in the back on a swag while he hunkered down on a camp bed, both under the stars. Other intrepid runners were there under mozzie nets and in vans, it was quite a scene in the Woodford swimming pool car park in early January. I could not sleep, dozens of painkillers and wriggling like a worm gave no comfort, it was a knee bent, half hitch side lying effort to get 20 minutes max. I wore Skins, what a dick.
At 2-30am my alarm beeped me into the upright position and I started dressing. Stressed out, dopey and in pain, this was hard. My Petzel on, I could find things in the dark and slowly put the race bag together. I gave Dad instructions (one bottle each aid station and this bag of goodies at half way). I went off and got weighed.
The start was an intoxicating scene. All headlamps and goofy enthusiasm. Some of it rubbed off on me. I had to sit down. My back and leg hurt so much.
I had a plan, 6 min/km would see me finish in 5hrs 30 mins. The course was relatively flat, it was cool for now and I could usually do that pace in a doodle. Well, the dark, my ego and surrounds led me to go ‘fast’. Keeping up really. Making hay while the sun didn’t shine, I don’t know. I wasn’t looking at my watch. You find your self in a group, they look reasonably fit but casual, so you think, it’s the bunch for me but YOU are an unfit, injured, joker in the pack. I kept up for about an hour.
After crossing muddy ditches, pools and awkward tracks in the dark my energy was gone. Less one leg you have to work HARD to move forward. I was at threshold and didn’t know it. I went pop. A quick trip off piste for “a chat to nature” and I felt no better. Knackerd and dropping past all sorts of runners I had time to ponder my physical state. The back was not so sore, the right leg didn’t work and only hurt a bit but in all I was exhausted. Check point two coming up.
I put on a brave face for dad and handed over my Petzel in the morning gloom. A tough section under power lines before had serious erosion and ruts, an allegory of my running past and present. Dad didn’t let on but he could see I was toast. The terrain eased off and was flatter after a section of 500m whoop de doos and then a long down hill. A few more check points with a steady decline in form and function passed by. The elites were coming the other way now, flying, relay runners had caught me and enquired after my health. Then half way.
Dad politely didn’t ask if I wanted to quit. Just as well, I did. A cheerful runner called Silvia (from near Rockhampton) kept me company for a km or two before the turn around. She was doing it easy. Many people asked if I was alright. Advice was being given. I was being weighed. Bets on my withdrawal were being taken.
It is at this point you delusionaly think you are being tested. You KNOW the right thing is to quit. A serious thing is not right with your body but you keep going. You have to prove to yourself and every doubter that you do not quit. It is a temptation but that is all. Any right-minded person would go home.
Walk run, walk run, jog, shuffle. Just move forwards. Time leads to progress and you just need to put in the time. Delerium never came but anxiety did. When does this stop? At the last check point I felt a little better, all the walking had made for some regeneration, I had a bag of ice in my cap. I did eat and drink well, it is easy on the walk. So I jogged off into the last section at a grinding clip in the 34 degree heat.
The last 4km was punctuated by an encounter with a fellow sufferer. He was worried about the cut off time. I did not give a toss. He wanted to lead me the wrong way, I said (channeling Bear Grylls), “The foot prints go this way?”. Was he real or a dryad/banshee/fiend sent from the otherworld to take finishing away from me? He was real, and on the finishers list, well done!
Next I came across the photographers car, stuck in the mud. I tottered past without offering help. A man with tats and a very large ute was in attendance. The line must be somewhere ahead?
The scorching sun made the last road section hotter than Vulcans jock-strap, I stuck to the grassy footpath and slipped over, then turned right into the pool. I stumbled accros the line after around seven and a quarter hours. The race medic looked surprised to see me. A first aider came quickly. The helpful fellow runners were cheerful in welcoming me home. Next I had ICE in all the wrong places. Under arms and in my groin. The shoes were removed. 10 Blue-Black toes were revealed capped in bulbous blisters. Killian’s shoes wont be worn again.
This was the end and it felt foolhardy. Why put my self into this state for a race I didn’t know existed a year before? This journey was heading nowhere fast.
I have no answers.
The end of every sit-com has a lesson. This had many. Don’t run injured. Tell your partner what’s coming up and be prepared to listen. And if by chance you do descend into the pit of folly, take heart in that you now know, you will probably never stop running, no matter what.
Importantly, TRAQ put on a great show. A fantastic event where I was supported and welcomed as an old friend by new comrades. The course was tough and well marked. Dad was a regular Doc Hudson of pit-crews. I think Ian is a champion. I will be back.
I also have to thank Lesley, who sent me a text 20km from the finish, “Too much aido.” she is always right.