Madness of the One Hundred
The twisted, wretched creature stood motionless, as if frozen by fatigue. Its hollow eyes stared blankly at the track ahead. Barely recognisable as human, it was alone in the darkness, towards the end of a late summer’s night
The pre- dawn dew had transformed the otherwise unremarkable grass of the canal side into a treasure trove of cool, sparkling diamonds, each blade of grass like a leafed emerald, adorned with a precious collection of pearl sized wonders. Jet black slugs, bloated by their nocturnal feasting , slid across the tow path, and into this tiny bejewelled wonderland, back to their day time sanctuary. An occasional plop came from the cold, motionless surface of the canal, as little fish leapt desperately to avoid being breakfasted by larger friends. No other sounds were heard, save the crumpling collapse of the form, a quiet thud, and the resigned, muffled whisper ” Oh dear, not again.”
Just a few miles left, and the wheels, one by one, had fallen off the wagon. TheCherokees were upon me, and I was not singing a happy song. How long would I take to slither my way back to my sanctuary?
The Robin Hood 100 had begun well for me, Race Director Ronnie Staton had, as always, ensured everything and everyone was in place for his runners. His philosophy nicely encapsulated in a phrase from his up beat race briefing; ‘I have done everything in my power to help you all finish this event.” This included several layers of direction marking, with measures to ensure signs would remain in place throughout the race. Some say Ronnie had positioned snipers at known hot spots. Almost all signs did stay in place, though no bodies were ever found, despite the searches. All around the course runners were fed, watered and encouraged on, by Ronnie’s wonderful Hobo Pace Team of volunteers.
After the first few miles of field margins and farm tracks, with the occasional muddy spot for those who like that sort of thing, we joined the pretty Chesterfield Canal. The tow path offered a range of running surfaces, from track smooth tarmac, to Gardeners’ Question Time problem turf. But as Ronnie had promised, it was all very runnable.
My loose race strategy was to keep things steady for the first half of the race and then judge whether I would be running for a time or a finish. I walked every incline, and limited my pace to the gentle side. Without a running watch, I had dispensed with the problem of trying to maintain a set speed, and the subsequent hammer blow of failure when the pace drops below the target.
Running comfortably, I was soon in Clumber Park, looking forward to the 30 mile Sherwood, Welbeck, Cresswell Crags loop. The forest tracks are delightful, and I was more than happy to be running these for the next sixty miles or so.
My friend Maggie would be at the Cresswell Crags CP for the night shift, but I arrived a little early, so we would meet on the second loop, thirty miles later.
I met up with Mark at the Crags. It was good to welcome him to my neck of the woods, in the same way that he and many other friendly GB Ultras runners had welcomed me to the Dales earlier this year.
In my short running career, almost all of my races have been organised by Ronnie (Hobo Pace) or Wayne (GB Ultras). They are both legends, organising excellent, fairly priced events for fellow runners.
Mark sped away over the the next few miles to the Drop Bag CP . There, I heard the Heavenly words ” Malcolm, would you like a bacon butty?” It was Emma, who just a few weeks earlier had run GB Ultras’ 200 mile race across England. We knew of each other but had not actually met. The beneficial effect of the butty almost rivalled the boost I got from Emma’s kind words and encouragement.
This point was a little way over half the distance covered, and I still felt fine. But a few miles later, I made a mistake that would change the rest of my race.
Not a great fan, but aware of its potency,, I’d drunk no coffee for a couple of weeks prior to the race, hoping the medium strength drink in my flask would give me a caffeine kick when I needed it. Well it did, and I was rattling along like a thing possessed into the next CP, where I foolishly downed another dose of the demon liquid with the all urgency of an Apple shopper on new product release day. I knew I was playing with forces as dark as the Devilish brew itself.
This one was much stronger, as requested. It was like drinking partially diluted pitch. Shaking, I placed the empty vessel carefully back on the altar, next to the jellified babies, and grimaced at the priestess. I uttered the secret words, “Thanks love,” took three paces backwards, bowed, and retreated from this place into the safety of the darkening forest.
Only ten minutes later I began to reap the rewards of my visit to the dark side.. Summoned by the demon drink, my old friend G.I. Distress made an unwelcome appearance. I knew I was in trouble. I had to make frequent stops, many of them. Discomfort and despair were my new running partners, to the end of the race.
I was still trying to deal with the situation when I hit Cresswell Crags for the second time. Or rather, the Crags hit me.
Towards the bottom of the steep, narrow path that leads into the Crags, there is a home-made stone stile that I have successfully negotiated dozens of times. Tonight, after eighty odd miles, and with my hand on my stomach and my mind on a cure, I went crashing over said stile, landing heavily on the rocky track, twisting my body and knocking my head. In my dazed state, I could see a light. My head light, which had managed to entangle itself in a bush. I picked myself up, checked for damage and retrieved my light. I thought I had been lucky.
I met up with Maggie,at the CP and we greeted and chatted like old friends. But all too quickly I had to move on, hopeful that I would be able to recover some of the time I had lost.
Ten minutes out, it was clear that I would be working for a finish, rather than a time. My side and my back were hurting from the fall, and I was weakening due to the sickness and g.i. problems. At first, I was able to keep more or less upright by bracing my hands against my thighs, as if I was climbing a steep hill. But inevitably, my arms weakened, and my back bent forwards.
I struggled on through the forest and back to the canal.
With just nine miles to go I had the first of many, many falls, as I tried unsuccessfully, to maintain forward progress. I was tired and weak, and simply unable to stand upright. Because I was leaning at ninety degrees, I was unbalanced, so I was constantly staggering forwards and falling to the ground. My head was taking further knocks on some of my poorer landings. I was increasingly disorientated, the Ultra Crazies were rocking into full swing,
I had to get through the final CP without being pulled as unfit to continue. I could do nothing about my physical state, and. to make matters worse, my neck was now refusing to lift my head enough to allow me to see where I was going , as opposed to where I had been. I was spending too much time looking between my legs to be decent.
I had no wheels on my wagon, but I was determined to keep rolling along. Somehow.
I had memorised my name and race number for the CP, but when asked, I freely confesssed that I had been down a “few times.” I noticed some busy texting at the table, so I knew it was time to go. I hurried off at a rapid stagger over the bridge and around the corner and out of sight. Made it! Just three miles to go.
The progress continued much as before; step, step, stagger, fall. Enjoy the grass, come to my senses, raise bum in the air by drawing knees towards chin…I felt like I was rehearsing for a part in The Human Centipede… elbows underneath shoulders, push up, climb alternate hands up to knees, and proceed for a few more steps.
I prefer not to think about how long the last three miles took to complete.
With a few hundred yards to the finish, Matt caught me and offered assistance. His run had not gone to plan, and he was happy to help me stagger on. We had not met before, but within minutes he was chatting away and I was mumbling nonsense back quite happily. Matt ‘s support was magnificent. What a sportsman!
Even closer to the finish, and Wendy appeared through the early morning mist with James, who kindly relieved Matt of his burden.
We all walked together, down the short hill into South Wheatley and the finish.
Team Work …
Throughout the event, an army of wonderful people helped and encouraged every runner. Members of the public generously clapped and made way for us, to be rewarded with a friendly word or grimace. No matter what role you played in this great event, thank you.
… and family.
James, normally a lunch time riser, left his bed before dawn to come out to support me.
Loveday set out alone in the middle of the night to give me a shout and a milk shake. A teenaged new driver, she lost her way on the country lanes, and ended up in central Sheffield (about thirty miles away). She then had a perilous journey home on the motorway, dodging drunks, and following Wendy’s directions over the phone.
Loveday Looking Luvverly !
Wendy spent the whole year feeding, supporting and encouraging me. She told me to rest when I needed to, and sent me out training to do the miles I had to cover.
Wendy, and both Loveday and James have put up with my absences from home, my post run tiredness and miseries, and my endless running related chatter. Oh, and my wash bins full of sweaty running clothes.
Me? I just go out running.
The morsel of pride I treasure from this wonderful event is this; even when I was flat out on the grass, when everything inside and out was hurting, when the shadowy figure that was by my side for the last few hours disappeared each time I turned to look at him; I had not a single, nano second of doubt about continuing. I was prepared to crawl to South Wheatley if necessary.
Although failure may deny us our target in the race, it cannot deprive us of the pleasure of our striving, and the achievement that is our journey. No matter how long, how difficult and how painful the journey may be, we succeed by facing head on, the challenges we encounter along the way.