Feeling Grim. Injury, DNS and then Hope!

What Happened to my running and the blog? The last post of the Lincsrunner blog (Post 12), was published in May 2016. It is now May 2017, what happened to the rest of 2016, and the first half of 2017?

Well sad to say, 2016 was largely disillusion,  some measure of depression, and the dreadful feeling of banging your head against a brick wall; you’re glad when it stops. So I did.  I didn’t stop running, I just stopped writing about  my experiences. Doing so would have made things worse for me. I did not want to re-live the horrid frustration I was feeling at that time. Now, in May 2017, I can look back with the safety and detachment that only time can afford us. When I think of the mistakes I made, I cringe. My motives were fine, but my methods were at best mistaken, at worst suicidal in terms of becoming a runner.  For much of 2016, I was trapped in a cycle of repeated injury and illness, most of it self-inflicted. Over- training on a sometimes ludicrous scale, and suffering the inevitable consequences of injury, chronic fatigue and poor form.

I had trained quite hard through the winter of 2015, hoping for a rewarding first season of running in 2016. I knew what I wanted to do; ultra runs, anything of a distance or nature that would in itself be a challenge for me. Like most runners, I wanted to push myself, to see what I could do. I entered many races, probably too many, but I was enthusiastic, and very naive. In the early spring of 2016, the first couple of races came and went with me sitting at home – DNS. I was either nursing a running injury or a cold, or a bad chest. Then in May, along came a good local race, the Dukeries 40, which I was determined to start. Two weeks out, and all was well. I was sound, my chest was clear, and I was looking forward to my first proper race.  Five days before the big day, my right calf muscle tied itself in knots, due to over training, and I could barely walk. But I was determined to start the Dukeries race, and I did. My first ultra.

I almost managed to run at the start of the race, I may even have fooled the casual observer, but it would have been fairly clear to any runner that there was a problem. Six miles in, Aid Station 1, and my calf was worse than ever. Stupidly, I chose to hobble around the remaining 34 miles, thinking I was being brave and gutsy. I finished the race, but it was not my finest hour. No surprise that the calf muscle then took weeks to heal. No training, just eating rubbish and putting weight back on, losing whatever form I had, and feeling sorry for myself and angry at myself, in equal measures.

Then came the summer, and I was running again. My relentlessly optimistic mind worked out that if I could run 40 miles when injured, I should be able to run double that distance when sound. So I found myself entered for the Grim Reaper 70 mile, held at the end of July.  I completed the run, in reasonable condition. But against the odds. Once again a calf injury had emerged just a few days before the race. I was away from home, and phoned Wendy to ask her to order some compression socks on next day delivery. A runner in the Dukeries 40 had recommended them to me, and I remembered her advice. The socks were amazing, and I finished the 70 without injury. I could hardly move any part of my weary body, but I wasn’t injured. I did curse the socks when I was trying to remove them from my legs, before sliding into my tent for a short sleep after the race. I could not bend, and I could not climb on to my sleeping bag with my muddy, wet clothes. I wrestled with the socks for a good twenty minutes, almost crying with frustration.  Finally, they came off, and I had an hour of rest before having to pack the tent and gear for the drive home.

The Grim Reaper is a good event for a novice ultra runner, with distances of 40, 70 or 100 miles. It’s held on a ten mile circuit in the beautiful grounds of Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire, so very little/no traffic and relative safety through the middle of the night for lone runners.

So of course, putting my runner’s brain into gear … if I can run 70miles, I should be able to run 100 miles. Simples. With this in mind, I spent a September night at the 86 mile Aid Station of Ronnie Staton’s Robin Hood 100, to learn from the runners and of course to help them. Maggie and Andrew manned the station, and were wonderfully friendly towards me and all the runners. I learned a lot from Maggie, an experienced hand at helping in single day and multiple day ultras. I told her of my plan to run the 100, and her advice to me was to repeatedly run the whole route in sections, to get to know the course thoroughly, and to become familiar with it, both by day and by night. The last point was very relevant; many runners were troubled by light “bounce back” from the night-time and early dawn mist rising off the canal, making it difficult to see the surface of the tow  path. I looked into this later, and read that one solution is to use a hand torch to get below the mist, and illuminate the path.

Barely a week after the Robin Hood 100, following Maggie’s advice and encouragement, I began cycling around the course, map in hand,  to learn the whole route. I worry about going off course in a race, my map reading is poor, and my memory is not much better. As a youngster, I had enjoyed my time as a boy scout, and of course I learned the art of map reading. But maps in those days showed the world to be flat, and I’m still worried about dropping off the edge, or inadvertently wandering into the area labelled “Here be dragons.” I still remember the one or two bike races where I went off course, and the acute pain of failure that stays with you, even forty years later. What might have been? I don’t know, because I failed to follow the correct route. The investment of time and energy in tatters, scattered  across the countryside, as I tried in vain to rescue something from the day.  After learning the 100 route, I began running different sections, and continue today, running at least one 20 or 30 mile section most weeks.

A little later, in the autumn of 2016, I had my second run in the Spires and Steeples Challenge, this time running the full course from Lincoln to Sleaford, via some lovely Lincolnshire lanes. This is around 26 miles, but where last year’s 13 miles from Metheringham to Sleaford was an enjoyable jaunt in the sunshine, this year was cold, windy and wet, and was marred by field after field of the most sticky mud I have ever experienced. Many enjoyed it, but I didn’t.

Not loving it!       

A run should be mostly runnable. This was barely walkable for much of the way. The organisation was impeccable, the support from volunteers and villagers was wonderful. The mud was bad. This year, 2017, I will watch the weather leading up to the event before entering.

I began 2016 with hope and optimism, and I ended the year with similar feelings. I had a plan, and I had set about ensuring that in 2017, it would come to fruition.


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