Perfect Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.
Substitute 'Pretty' with any other appropriate word beginning with P, depending on taste and audience.
I had absolutely no illusions about how hard this event was going to be. I also had plans about how I was going to prepare for it. Thorough, detailed, elegant plans, running right from the point where I knew my entry was accepted through to day zero. Top level strategy (train the way you'll be competing - avoid injuries at all costs) down to broad objectives (Marathon PB fit by Christmas - 10 in 10 fit by Start of April) down to monthly and weekly training schedules.
I think it was probably Sun Tzu who said "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy", the enemy in this case being all the other parts of life that get in the way, principally the demands of earning a living. Despite my best efforts, lateral thinking, and patches of consistent training, I knew at the point when it was too late to do anything about it that the only way in which the word 'prepared' could be applied to me would be following "Woefully under-"
If I'd picked up an acute injury, it would have compromised my training at a single point, and would probably have given me the insight to defer my entry. But the problem was the chronic one we all suffer from (the four-letter-word of "work") and it always seemed like "next week will be better, I'll get more miles in then" and once you've raised even a little bit of sponsorship you can't really go back to people and say "sorry, not really up for it any more, so giving it a miss for a year"
So I wasn't especially sanguine about my chances of getting through everything that was going to be thrown at my poor tired body. Base fitness was ok, but it takes time for all the support structures - tendons, ligaments, even bones themselves - to become conditioned enough to be able to handle sustained stress. I knew I would break down, the only question was how long would I hold out, and how bad would it be.
I figured if I turned up, and suffered heroically enough for long enough then my sponsors would be happy that I'd given it my best, and I'd be able to quietly depart, preferably still with some kind of vaguely working body. And not actually in a bag.
Day one - actually pretty good, very happy with it. Thought I'd got through without doing much damage, very pleased to be really not at all bothered about times.
Day 2 - The Dodgy Knees. Where did they come from? Still got through it, the pain eased off when I was running and the demons at Body Rehab worked their dark and painful arts to get me on to the start line for day 3.
Day 3. The feet. I still don't want to talk about it, but I will. Knees very sore, I set off shuffling and run/walking (well....shuffle/walking, really) desperately trying to keep Kaz in sight for a bit of human contact. I just knew it was going to be a bad one. Little did I know just how bad.....
At mile 6 my right foot started to hurt. I'd been footsore after each of the last two days, but it had faded and I hadn't worried about it. This seemed a lot more insistent, and gradually spread across the whole of the sole of my foot, then settled itself in comfortably and started slowly ratcheting up the pain level. Somewhere around mile 10/11 the left one also decided to get in on the act. By this point they were painful enough that the knees were pretty much forgotten.
I got to mile 18 still run-walking, with Kaz long since vanished into the distance, battling as best I could with feet that felt like they'd been stuffed with hot coals. I was convinced I'd stress fractured them. On a scale of pain from one to childbirth, they were right up there with really bloody painful, actually. On another day I'd have been toddling off to A&E for X-rays.
I decided to try to walk to mile 19 - and didn't actually run another step. The pain in both feet kept getting progressively worse. Every now and then I'd just stop, with one foot in the air, waving it around like a farmer who has lost his welly in the muck-heap. It hurt so much to put them down again that my brain was refusing to do it, and I had to consciously start shuffling again. Swearing was also involved, and a LOT of crying.
I was, basically, out at this point. Only Aly, Mac and my own bloody partner completely refused to let me stop. Blubbing like a baby I shuffled, painfully, down the finishing straight. I'd asked Martin not to film me. He refused. Fair enough, this is what I signed up for. I'd asked him to ride ahead and tell the others to keep out of the way - as far as I was concerned, this finish was nothing that deserved either celebration or applause. He refused, again. And I used to think he was so nice.
I kept out of everyone's way after the finish. I was in a very bad place mentally, and physically I was still in crying agony. I'm ashamed to admit that I was hoping Body Rehab would decide it was stress fractures, as that would provide me with a way out - and the whole thing would have been pretty much the experience I expected.
Sadly (for me, at that time), Roxy prodded around and declared there to be nothing bony going on in there, it was just Plantar Faciitis. JUST PF. Great. PF has a history of turning runners into ex-runners. This was really not good news, although Roxy assured me there was a lot they could do. And after the miracles they had worked on my knees, I was willing to believe them.
They did a lot, and it was all painful. I don't like having the soles of my feet touched at the best of times - they are ticklish, tense and tender. I mean, really, don't touch them. Don't even look at them, it's making me squirm. So, when they are already stomach-turningly painful, having someone's knuckles rubbed into all the most painful parts of them - excruciatingly hard - was, well, I really haven't the skill to describe the experience. Maybe if I had recorded my screams I could have attached the audio file to the blog? It would have been a suitable sound-track.
I drew the line at sticking acupuncture needles into them, mainly because, by that point, the experience would have caused my brain to melt.
The only upside was that after walking the last 8 miles, my knees had loosened off. Well, that's some silver lining.
I was still very sore after treatment - walk ten paces, stand still and wait for the pain to subside, walk ten more paces kind of sore. I was still sore after taking anti-inflammatories before bed. I was still just as sore this morning - I was managing fifteen paces before stopping on the way down to therapy. Another 90 minutes of benevolent torture. More hooting and yelling. More tape strapped around my lower limbs. More words of advice that were mostly falling on a deaf brain by this point.
I went back to my room, and packed everything back into my bag, ready for when I had to drop out. I suspected I'd just want a quick, quiet getaway. Then hobble (fifteen paces and stop...still) down to the start. I had decided I would start, if only out of respect for the work that Body Rehab had put in. I'd walk until I couldn't walk any more, or until everything got better, or until I got to the finish line, or Brathay pulled me off the course. It all felt a bit out of my hands, really.
Off we go, and I'm still trying to hide from Martin's camera. I'm still not in a good way. Despite being told that PF is worst in the morning, and eases as the day goes on, I just couldn't contemplate completing another day like yesterday. Within the first quarter mile, everyone is out of sight and I'm completely on my own. After about a mile and a half, I try a couple of shuffling steps of jogging. No way, Jose. I'm not going to do anything to make the problem worse, so back to walking it is.
Somewhere around a mile and a half, something in my left foot cracks, and it feels like someone has taken an axe to the side of it. I'm hopping around screaming, cursing and gasping, wondering what the passing motorists think. It does it again, then again, and I'm contemplating asking a farmer I'm passing if I can borrow his chainsaw just to cut the damned thing off - it would be less painful overall. Then, amazingly, it starts to ease up. Within half a mile it's almost completely pain free. I can't believe it.
The other foot wasn't so compliant, but it did at least crunch a few times then settle down to much less of an ache. And now I'm having a slightly surreal experience - as Mac is going ahead removing the plastic crates that hold our drinks, and I'm not seeing him, or the van, or the crates, or any of the other runners, it's like I'm nothing to do with the Ten in Ten any more; I'm just a bloke walking down the side of the lake, meeting his girlfriend every couple of miles for a bottle of pop.
It seemed to be the space my head needed. I was walking, and was reasonably pain free. Just as well - I'd had my fill of pain the day before, I really had left my heart and soul out on the road and there was no way I could begin to contemplate doing that again. Probably not ever. But I can walk, and Brathay seem to have some odd kind of determination to keep me circulating around the lake, even when the obvious thing to do was simply to call out the knackers van and have me shot like a lame horse.
I walked all the way to Newby Bridge, near as makes no difference the halfway point. Four hours exactly. So if I keep walking the same pace I'll be out for eight hours. Fair enough then, if Brathay are happy for me to do that I'll do that. Ruth was there to provide logistical support, so I was happy that I wasn't leeching support of the other runners (many of whom must have finished before I even got halfway....)
After Newby Bridge, I thought I'd try an experiment, to keep my mind busy as much as anything. 100 strides walking, then try 50 strides jogging. OK, that work, lets keep doing that then. So I did. Right the way back up the other side of the lake. It rained, the sun shone, it was warm, it was cold. The view came and went. I kept seeing Mac, and Ruth, and just kept popping out the 100/50 rhythym. Various things started to hurt, but nothing that felt like it was doing any significant damage. 100/50, 100/50. By this point I'm getting pretty puddled, and so I was often counting out loud...I'm sure no-one noticed. To be honest I didn't care.
It seemed to work though. The effort of counting (yes - right now, even simple counting is a task that demands full concentration) kept my mind occupied. The changes in pace seemed to help everything stay loose, and the discipline of the fixed intervals seemed to work better for me than the previous tactics of walking or running according to whether I was going uphill or not.
It did mean I had to run sections of the uphills, but that actually felt ok too.
All the way home, then, same deal. Finish in 7:06, I think - a long day, but it's 26.2 miles and so that makes it a marathon, however I managed to get round it. Typically, having filmed me in bits at the finish yesterday, Martin was nowhere to be seen when I actually ran in today.
So; I really, honestly didn't think I'd be starting today. The idea of finishing - well, I was going to drop out at Newby Bridge, if I made it that far, as we could have had a nice lunch at the pub there. Finishing just wasn't any kind of reality until I was at about mile 16, when I dared entertain the thought that it might be a possibility.
I'll have to unpack my bag again, I guess.
Anyway - day four, in and done. And a huge, vast amount of mental baggage unloaded. More pounding the soles of my feet by Body Rehab, but they felt a LOT better today right through the race, and I KNOW I'll be able to start tomorrow. And that feels like a miracle.
Too long; didn't read version? Yesterday was horrible, loads of nice people helped me through it, today was better; in fact, today was good. Tomorrow is another start.