Some Head Shit and Some Race Chat

I rarely do races twice – Derwent Dawdle, Snowdon marathon and now GU36 so surely that’s testament enough to this particular race! Regardless, indulge me and read on.

The GU36 is a 36-mile ultra-marathon around the coast of gorgeous island of Guernsey. It sells out quickly and requires a 6 oclock wake up on a Sunday to bag one of the very popular places. This year it sold out in less than 45 mins!

The race itself is low key, well organised and fantastically well supported. Terrain wise, there’s a bit of everything, except mountains, and most importantly, there’s ice cream at check points. As you might have read and seen from other race blogs, it starts with 16 miles along the cliff path. There are steps, none of which are uniform in size, some made from concrete, other trail, some sneak round corners giving you numerous false summits, others stand proud in front of you, so you can appreciate the thigh and lung burning which is about to happen. But the scenery is fantastic. A truly gorgeous backdrop if you can get the sweat out of your eyes for long enough to appreciate it. However, the steps wear thin. And quickly.

After the cliff path steps there are 20 miles of some road, some sand and some trail. There is one long sweeping sandy bay after one long sweeping sandy bay. Sounds ideal but for me, the concrete and the flat soon wore as thin as the steps.

Now, I make no bones about it. I struggled this year. The steps hurt my knees, the concrete hurt my feet, my head was not playing the game. My feet have been swollen on the underside of the balls (that’s what she said) for around 3 months now and I’ve just ignored it. It’s been really painful, but pig-headedly I’ve cracked on. Funny how you can crack on some days, and then on others every step brings a sharp pain up through my foot, causing me to run wonky, and then manifesting as pain in the hips, knees and lower back.

* As an aside if anyone knows how to fix the foot swelling or what it might be then suggestions welcome.…the podiatrist I saw was fucking useless. I do not need insoles. Ta.

So, I shuffled more than ran. Despite Lee and I running together as always, we didn’t speak for the best part of 7 hours. When things get tough on runs we usually play the A-Z game. This time we didn’t even get past U before silence took over again. Having company did, despite the silence, make things so much better and as always Lee’s gentle encouragement and support helped me get across that finish line with some semblance of a smile.

This race out, it wasn’t just a physical battle. A couple of days before the race I’d cried on and off for a solid 4 hours, desperately wailing ‘everything’ whilst wiping away snot bubbles in response to Lee’s repeated pleas of ‘please tell me what’s wrong?’ At that moment, that was an accurate answer. Everything was wrong and sometimes that happens. Now don’t get me wrong, in the big scheme of life I am a very fortunate person. I have love, friendship, family, and a very supportive boss but sometimes things just get too much. Work has been manic, I’ve been travelling a lot and I’ve been drowning, not entirely sure which way was up.

Aside from that (and not related) I’ve put my notice in so after 17 years of institutionalised military living, I’m stepping into the big real world of civie street, and I’m shitting myself. I’m bonkers excited but equally petrified I’ll be on the dole before I know it. I’m stressing about this more than I realised I would. Ridiculous as I’ve got 12 months’ notice to serve, but in that time, I need to do my actual current job, starting training courses for when I’m out, learn how to translate military jobs into real CV speak and work out what the fuck I actually want to do when I grow up. Added to that there are numerous very minor niggles which, when added to the pile, quite simply put me on my arse. This emotional expenditure had left my mental resilience bucket empty, well not empty but solidly in the unauthorised overdraft.

Normally I can dig in and turn off the brain but during this race it refused to be silenced. I had the usual ‘I’m not running ultras anymore’ and I’m aware that thoughts like this need a few days of perspective after any race to assess.

However, when I was drinking beer in the garden a couple of days later I suddenly realised that I no longer felt the need to validate myself by completing or participating in anything other than what makes me happy. Going longer or faster or anything in between doesn’t dictate my life or who I am so why was I adding pressure at the time when I don’t need it? The Spine Challenger had been my big-ticket item and with that done, I realised that I’m all good for the time being. I have always put unnecessary pressure on myself before and during events and I need to take that away for a while. I’m not stopping doing events but I’m taking a much more considered approach to them and being more mindful of their emotional cost. It’s been quite a personal revelation and I do finally feel that I’ve accepted that being me is enough. I don’t need to enter or complete races to tell me that.

Everyone’s different and has different motivations, I get that, but I want to use this opportunity to say that if things aren’t going to plan, or if you’re feeling pressure to enter certain things because social media says so, have a step back and think about why and what you need/want to achieve. And remember that you are you, and you’re enough as you are – distances run, medals received or otherwise.

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