Digested read: traditional pre-event whingeing and angst. I wouldn’t read on if i were you, it’s just self-pitying, melodramatic stream of consciousness stuff, I’m sure you have something better to do. Don’t know why I signed up for a thirty mile yomp out round the peaks. Everything hurts, and I’m turning to lard whilst tapering. Really doubting myself, but then again, it’s really just a long day out in the heather isn’t it? What’s not to like. I’m going to take a picnic, try to dust down my positive attitude and see if I can squish that into my running vest before I head out, and then I’ll just keep on putting one foot in front of another for as far and as long as I can. If I can’t beat the fear, well I’ll just do it all scared. Running Scared has always been my defining characteristic from the inception of this blog after all, although granted the ‘running’ part covers quite a continuum of paces! What’s the worst….
Only it’s not is it? Judgement Day, not really. It’s only a day out on the trails and moors. It will be a challenge blah de blah, but let’s not get overly melodramatic about the whole thing. No-one will be sitting in judgement, no-one whose opinion really ought to matter to me, the most likely outcome is no-one will notice at all one way or the other, what it all comes down to is a desire to take on a personal challenge to just see where my limits lie, it is both of as little and as much significance as that.
…. all the same, with just a few days to go ’til the Dig Deep 30/ Peak Trails 30 I am in the midst of my now traditional pre-event angst. I learned from a fellow Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz volunteer that this is the way forward. Don’t refer to ‘races’ anymore, instead adopt the terminology of ‘events’ or, potentially better yet – ‘challenges’. Could work, and in all seriousness does shift the focus away from how individual performances compare with others, on to simply how it is experienced subjectively. In a small way, it is about shifting the narrative. At the risk of sounding pretentious, we have a choice over how we position ourselves in our own stories. I can be a victim, blaming external factors for my failure to succeed at Dig Deep, I can be in my own tragedy, struggling against the odds but ultimately failing, or I can decide to be the protagonist in my very own adventure. Part of the fun is not knowing how it will all unfold, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I make the whole 30 mile distance on one particular day and everything to do with all I’ve undertaken in trying to get there. It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey, and the stories we write for ourselves might be part of how that comes to be perceived. DIY spin maybe, but frankly dear reader, whatever it takes to start feeling positive again!
Turns out, you can learn a lot from Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz heroes. I was discussing the weirdity (I know it’s not a ‘proper’ word, but I’ve just made it up and I like it, so what are you going to do about it? Shoot me?) of upping the distance when you just don’t know if it’s really fun any more with another hi-vizer. I voiced my thought that, in my case at least, I am starting to wonder why I’m doing it if the fun has gone out of this experiment in endurance. It isn’t compulsory, nobody is making me take on 30 miles of lonely windswept hills. A few people I know have even proactively counselled me against it, which is understandable but not good for morale. They haven’t actually gone for the ‘but your womb will fall out!’ argument, but are throwing a few ‘what are you thinking’, ‘you don’t have to do this‘ and ‘what if you die out there‘ grenades. Cheers.
Anyway, fortunately for me this wise wisdom-mongerer, who is herself taking on a 50 mile challenge later in the year – Ladybower 50 (my eyes bleed at the very thought) put it very well. A pleasing counterpoint to those (including myself) who are slightly incredulous and fearful to hear I’m serious about doing this thing. For her, it is about finding her limit, and she’ll keep extending the distances until she does. I get that. It’s not that I actually want to be broken, I’d honestly rather not – though sadly not enough to train systematically enough prior to participation unfortunately. However, I do want to find out how far I can go. We won’t know our limits unless we test them. I used to think going to a parkrun was an impossible dream, then later 10k seemed insanity. There were some breakthrough events, the Round Sheffield Run will always have a special place in my heart because entering that was something of an accident and I realised I could go a lot further than I realised. Then there was the time me and a running buddy got lost on a 5k run and ended up being out for hours with no food, head torches or water doing 18k. It was hilarious, and whilst not recommended, again demonstrates we can all do more than we think if circumstances require. Only this week, a woman survived 10 hours in the sea after falling off the back of a cruise ship. Well done her, though I can’t help thinking it was a tad careless to topple off one of those. Those ships are like tower blocks. Also, the coverage was a bit harsh I thought. Some of those experts weren’t way near impressed enough at her survival. I was. Anyway, the point is, in extremeis, it’s amazing what we can do – she didn’t do fitness training in preperation for her 10 hours of treading water, not unless you count mindfulness and yoga, which I don’t. There is no reason why, if we keep on setting new goals, in my case a bit further every time, then we shouldn’t sometimes just surprise ourselves by achieving them. I’m not expressing this very well, but what I think I’m trying to say, is simply this. If I change my mindset from ‘what if I fail?’ to ‘so what if I fail‘ and by extension ‘let’s go find out if I can‘ it’s going to be a lot more fun on the day. It doesn’t matter if I’m a DNF (did not finish) because I’m just testing my boundaries. Also, what if I fly? Metaphorically, plenty do…
I may yet get round, which would be grand, but if I don’t, I’ll have still learned a load from the process and can decide if my DNF is a consequence of having reached my limit, or a consequence of being a bit naive about how I approached the whole thing. There’s always next year to fail again, fail better.
In my heart of hearts, I do believe I’m capable of the distance, why wouldn’t I be? As long as I’m slow enough and realistic about how I tackle it. However, I also know in my heart of hearts I just haven’t really prepared properly. I’ve underestimated the hills, I’ve faffed re nutrition, I’m carrying too much extra weight (round my midriff not in my pack) and I’ve not done necessary strength training or cross training that I am realising rather too late in the day is pretty much essential to avoid injury whilst training and/or undertaking an ultra, even a wee intro one. The consequence is, instead of dreading the Dig Deep, I need to see it as just another fine day out with a picnic on the vertical learning curve that I laughingly refer to as my ‘running career’ trajectory. I’ll either finish or I won’t but it’s just a step on the way to the next challenge.
If you are still with me dear reader, well done, but I’m really sorry that you don’t have anything more interesting and compelling to do right now as what follows will more than likely be self-indulgent taper-induced first world problemitising, you have been warned.
My last training yomp was a bit crap honestly. Apart from the unexpected novelty of having the Queen rock up to cheer me round Bradwell, it was hard. It was a long, lonely, hurrumphing 20 miles out. My battery died, my legs ached, I just felt I didn’t know why I was out there. There was nothing wrong with me physically, I don’t think so anyway, it was just like my mind had a moment of clarity that this was all quite hard actually, and completely unnecessary. ‘You numpty, what are you doing hoiking your weary carcass through 20+ miles when you don’t have to?’ it said. And you know what? I had no answer. Everyone else who I knew who was originally thinking of doing the thirty miler, had already dropped out, there’d be no shame if I did the same. Then I remembered that cheesy but true mantra, about run long, run short, but never outrun your love of running. And, yes, if you want to be pedantic, I was only walking anyway at this point, but the principle stands true. It’s one thing having a bad session, we’ve all had them, but if I was really questioning what’s the point, then there was no point. Don’t want to piss on my own firework and lose the one thing I do that seems to free me of all of life’s baggage because I didn’t know when to back off and take stock.
By the time I got home, I was shattered, and demoralised. Worse, my shin pain had returned with a vengeance. Not good. Oh well, I made a choice. I could still pull out from the event altogether, but that would feel like failing before I’ve tried. I could drop back to the 12.12, but as all my ‘training’ has been walking, that would probably feel even worse as I’m not running fit, though I am more endurance fit. The upshot is I’d get round fine, but probably significantly slower than last year and I think that would be even more demoralising. Then I thought, in the two weeks left I can’t improve my fitness, but i could make an injury worse. I decided to embrace a cold turkey ‘taper’, just knock all these solitary plods on the head, rest up and on event day head out with a picnic and a positive outlook and see how far I get. No pressure. The preparation equivalent of ‘turning it on and off again’ reset, start afresh, blank canvas. I think this is a good plan. Or at least a good enough one, and once I’ve attempted or finished the route I’ll have a base line from which to plan where to go next. I’d like to think if I went back to basics, maybe even a couch to 5k to get some running confidence back, worked at losing a bit of weight and added in some cross training I can come back stronger and wiser next year. This is the plan as of now.
Not going out and yomping is miserable though. Even if I’m sure it’s a necessary strategy given that my shins have been really sore. To be honest it’s not altogether suprprising I’ve been down. I had a bit of shite week, sore shins, bruised morale. My little injured dunnock, that I’ve been channelling, wasn’t attacked by a cat at all, but rather has developed full on avian pox, which is distressing to watch, though its stoicism is still remarkable. I also found out to my absolute horror that swimming with captive dolphins is still apparently an acceptable thing. I thought blackfish and similar exposés had put an end to that. Heart breaking. We really are going backwards in terms of animal welfare I think. How is that OK? Mind you, I am constantly horrified by many things in life, look at how pigs are farmed, yet the dominant view is celebrating bacon butties is ok, I’m a minority there too. And really, given how people treat people there are bigger atrocities everywhere. You can’t protect Rwandan gorillas without protecting people too – genocide focuses the mind, and if I was starving and scared of venturing too far in case I’d be attacked by machete I’d probably be poaching from my nearest forest too. Well, I’d like to think genocide and poverty and climate change etc did focus the mind, but it’s amazing how compassion fatigue or just disbelief kicks in and we all continue to stand on by. I know it’s complicated. Even so, with the dolphins it’s such visible torture I was shocked that for some it isn’t even a dilemma, the great marketing machine has normalised this as – not just acceptable -, but desirable, aspirational even. With pigs, most people don’t come face to face with the reality of their lives and deaths, but we haven’t quite plumbed the depths of having smiling crowds gawping at them being slaughtered, though I daresay it is only a matter of time. There are ways of seeing dolphins in the wild, why not do that? I wonder if swimming with captive dolphins will be viewed like cock-fighting and bear-baiting are now in the UK one day. Puzzling, distressing and anachronistic.
A marker of a different age. I can but hope. Meantime I’ll just feel desperately sad as I acknowledge I’m seemingly in a minority on this topic too. I’m glad to say the tide seems to have turned on the joy riding of elephants now. In my youth it was completely unchallenged, but now I think it’s wildly accepted that this is unacceptable, though you can still take tourist elephant rides in Cambodia. I’m also very aware of my own inconsistencies in how I live, and what I do. Wasting stuff, not making the transition to vegan blah de blah, and then I witness yet more Trumpisms being enacted that are accelerating the destruction of the planet and whether or not I recycle my yoghurt pots seems of little other than symbolic significance. I told you tapering angst was bad. The world just wasn’t feeling like a very nice place last week, everything was a bit much. Maybe I just shouldn’t venture out from under my duvet at all…
I decided I wouldn’t run at parkrun as I don’t want my legs to shatter pre the bank holiday, or ever to be fair – so I tried to volunteer but was turned down. (Grown up parkrun not junior) which was rubbish. Must be the only parkrun in the world that regularly turns away volunteers if my experience is anything to go by. I wouldn’t mind quite so much but it’s now the eighth time over the years I’ve been told not to bother. I just wanted to still be part of it, as I miss my parkrun fix otherwise I wasn’t offering to volunteer out of martyrdom, I proactively wanted to do it to help me lift my mood. I was going to stay away altogether in a sulk, but then found another buddy currently injured (hurrah!) who was up for walking it with me, so that’s what we did, and it was grand so all’s well etc. It’s interesting walking at parkrun, a great way to see the whole field of runners, and put the world to rights through companionable chat. We didn’t put the world to rights in a way that you might actually have noticed to be fair, but it was therapeutic walking and talking all the same.
Afterwards, cheered by the presence of other parkrun buddies and post parkrun coffee I may even have made a pact with another to enter the ballot for the Great North Run 2019. Well, it has been on my bucket list a while, and falls clearly into the category of being a challenge so far in the future I need not worry my
pretty little head about how on earth I’ll take on the practicalities of training just now. Nothing ventured eh? It’ll be a hoot! Red Arrows, that would be super cool. I’m sure they do something to offset the carbon footprint of those flights. Plus seaside! Always a boon. The only other event we discussed was the Marathon des Sables and I surely would have had my wits about me sufficiently not to accidentally have agreed to that. What’s more, whilst I wouldn’t claim to be pain free, my shins are definitely a lot better, resting was definitely the right call. Things are looking up.
In another effort to settle my nerves and build my confidence I did some googling of Dig Deep ultra tails from the trails. As is traditional when I use internet search engines, I just keep on searching until I find a version of events that corresponds with the answer I am seeking. Alternative facts if you will. Guilty as charged. On this occasion I hit the jack pot. Sandbach Striders did something called the OMM Dig Deep Intro Ultra way back in 2013. Three of them went round together. From the video they’ve produced of the event it looks like the same route I’ll be tackling and do you know what, it really cheered me. Not because they made it look easy, but because they made it look hard. They have a clip they filmed of themselves coming up Win Hill, which is basically one long expletive interspersed with expressions of disbelief, and then another section up to Rebellion Knoll, the Jurassic Section I’ve heard it described as elsewhere on account of tall vegetation and viscous biting local wildlife. Insects the size of your head that kind of thing. At the top of the second climb, one of them is just lying in a star shape, refusing to get up whilst his ‘mates’ are prodding him, and trying to persuade him to get up for long enough to at least dab his dibber. It suddenly dawned on me that everyone finds those sections hard. Even these fit ‘lads’. I’ve been despairingly trudging up on my own imagining everyone else traversing these sections like mountain goats on speed or warthogs on a mission. In fact, spoiler alert – the majority simply won’t. I find this perversely reassuring. I’d even venture I looked a bit less almost-dead at the top of Rebellion Knoll than the grey-faced guy on the ground in the video clip. They got round, maybe this isn’t out of the question after all. Things were looking up.
Unfortunately, things were also looking down. Such is the yin and yan of the tapering experience. The last-minute race details were emailed through. They were comprehensive and helpful, including a photo of each of the dibbing points. I thought I knew the route, but the race map was in such poor detail that I hadn’t realised you have to climb up Carl Wark to get to the dibber. I thought you just skirted round the bottom like for the 12.12 last year. Curses. It’s really not far, and I’m thankful to know ahead of time so I don’t miss it, but, and this is a BIG BUT, you have to climb up another hill to get there, at a stage in the it’s-just-not-that-funny-any-more-now game that is the Dig Deep 30/Peak Trails ultra.
The view from up there had better be good, and the marshal willing to give hugs of reassurance if required. It would be even better if they’d nip down the hill, remove your dibber nip back up the hill and do the dibbing for you, and then return your dibber back to you for safe keeping. Still, if they did I’d only be cheating myself, and also they’d probably have to take my whole arm off to do so, those dibbers really don’t budge easily. That would be inconvenient, possibly painful and probably lead to a major arterial bleed which would seriously mess up my hydration strategy for the final section. On balance, I’m going to be running up that hill, well, maybe not running as such, but crawling, most definitely.
I’m telling myself by the time I get here the end is in sight(ish) at the very least I’m on familiar ground and the heathery bits, and the downhill from Lady Cannings are my favourite parts of the route, so I’m sure it will all be fine in the end, and as a wise woman once said, ‘if it isn’t fine, then it isn’t the end‘ so that’s good to know! I think I’m OK with the location of all the other dibbing points, but the Bradwell one I don’t quite recognise, though I’m hoping it will be obvious on the day, if not, I’ll just follow the crumbs from the spinach and filo finger food and I’m sure I’ll make my appointment for a faceplant into the restorative buffet before I have to wrench myself away again and trudge on.
So the upshot of all this, is that it’s all been a bit swings and roundabouts these last two weeks, but without the unadulterated joy that comes with being on either actual swings or actual roundabouts – rather these have been substituted self-loathing, self-doubt, self-pity and self-absorption. Not a good look. I’m not proud of this, not proud at all. No wonder I hardly dare venture out in public at the moment. Carousels though look lovely, let me see if I can find a cheery picture of one of them, it’ll help shift the mood!
There you go! That feels better already.
So I’ve been down, but I’m still not out. If I make the start, that’s the first big challenge done and dusted, and then, well we will all just have to wait and see won’t we. I’m taking money for the bus fair home with me though, better safe than sorry eh?
Just a few days to go, my story isn’t over yet! No idea how it will end, but that’s good isn’t it? Where’s the fun and adventure in a predictable outcome after all. Let’s embrace the joy of the unexpected …
Granted not all surprises are good, but we are all familiar with type two fun now I think. Fun retrospectively. Alternatively, I’ll settle for the well at least I didn’t miss out option, as in, ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘.
Time will tell… and then so will I, my own story. With the narrative I choose, consciously or otherwise.
For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you