So this was always going to be an emotional run. I had two training blocks for SDW100 in 2020 that came to nothing so there had been quite a few hours on legs getting to the start line for TP.
I had a level of excitement that lead to very little sleep in the two nights leading up to the event. Not ideal. Endless scenarios running through my mind made worse by the now miserable weather forecast.
I was blessed with a crew that I can only describe as being some of the best runners and most beautiful souls I’ve ever met so I knew I’d get the love, understanding and support I needed on the day. But it was my wife being able, at the last minute, to organise things to make it to the finish that really put the icing on the cake. Now I had a really strong ‘why’ and I felt good I would get there.
Centurion are amazing. The entire event so well organised and populated throughout by wonderful people. You keep getting lifts at every aid station, even at the start at 7am in the pouring rain when I set off, through PPE and so many restrictions.
Classically I went off too fast, checked my watch and backed off. I went back in the pack a bit but that was cool, early days. I kept the nutrition plan to 2 Unived Elite, an S!Cap and around a litre of water per hour. Sounds a lot but it’s what I seem to need. After 20 miles or so I realised I had accumulated a bag of sticky empty gels. I just passed a bin and went back to throw it away only to see Dan Lawson gunning straight towards me. That was an inspirational moment. He quickly disappeared ahead. So glad I still had my eco hat on.
By 40 miles I was running close to Dominic Jones and not feeling great. Tried to hold a conversation but I had nothing. Already depleted I was really looking forward to seeing the crew. Dominic and I drafted each other through some crazy headwinds into Henley and there I met the formula one pit crew, to much relief. Off came the shoes, new Injini’s and SpeedGoats on and I was off with the Boneman for 8 or so miles. Julian Cazorla had previously sped past but I’d caught up thanks to the crew. I really wanted to spend some time running with him but couldn’t keep up. I’d sort of drifted away by this point.
David and I have had some of the most interesting and deep conversations whilst out running. These experiences of running and talking with people you trust, can share with and learn from has kind of been the basis for establishing RUN|LIFE. But at the same time great relationships are about feeling comfortable in someones company not having to say anything. It was the strangest thing. I literally had lost the ability speak by mile 51. David and I ran mostly in complete silence until the next crew stop. First time ever. I kept thinking about how strange this must seem but just could not get it together to open my mouth. I was hurting yes but an 8/10. It was my mind, it was completely empty. This was not what I had anticipated.
The wonderful Kelsey was next in line to take me a further 20 miles, in silence. I felt so bad! My amazing crew had dropped their whole weekend for me and I couldn’t give anything back. So weird. I’d gone over several mental coping strategies but I had not prepared at all for completely vacant space between my ears. I felt by the 100k mark that I was sat in an empty room observing someone else out trail running on a big screen whist gagged. Weird.
Kelsey was a gem though. I felt like royalty. Every gate flew open in front of me in a flash. Aid stations attended on my behalf. She kept on bringing such positive vibes. She really helped me out as I was really struggling. We had some lovely trail miles with elevation away from the river which were probably the nicest around 70 miles. I’m so grateful to her as I know it wasn’t easy for her and I certainly could have been more fun!. The less said about the choice of shoes the better ;-)
I think Paula switched in pacing at Wallingford. It could have been Brighton for all I know!. I was gone at this point with only the notion that I’d broken the back of it and a marathon or so to go. Paula elevated my soul once more like she does to anyone who gets a chance to spend time with her. Again unable to speak I grunted one word answers to her beautifully distracting questions.
Paula took me into the night in style. She navigated expertly, kept me fuelled and in her company the pain level just seemed to level off at about at 9.5/10 :-). It was so peaceful. We had a laugh at the livestock and wildlife spots she made. It felt terrible asking her to carry my brick of a battery pack to charge my watch only to later realise I’d neglected to show her how to turn it on.
We got to Clifton Hampden which in my empty head was mile 90. I asked how many miles in and discovered we were at 85. Yikes! Another 10k to Abingdon for a final blast with the Boneman. That felt ominous but actually just seemed to fly by. I spent the whole time in a trance as my head torch light reflected off Paula’s T-shirt and I followed her single file through some tricky wet trails.
Now finally at Abingdon. I don’t remember this. I just remember David telling me to run and that there was 3 laps of Vicky Park to go. He told me my wife Giulianna would be at mile 95. This was huge for me as it was an unexpected treat. It could not have come at a better time. I think without that I would have walked it in.
Sure enough seeing Giulianna gave me an incredible lift. I wanted her to run with me for those last 5 miles but that wasn’t possible so in my zombie like state, pushed through the check point to get through these last miles and bring it home for the Camino Team!
David was cruel but I also knew he was being kind. I pushed back to walk for a minute or so before he pulled me on again. He knows me so well and if he hadn’t done this I would not have forgiven him :-)
We were so close now. 5k, then 3k, then 2k. I remember a delusional thought how funny he was talking in km’s. We’ve only ever talked miles. Anyway, in my head I was counting metres. I fell in a mud bath against a bush. I was stuck. I knew he would pull me up so I let him. Brilliant. Onwards. We finally got to tarmac on the outskirts of Oxford and I knew then I was home. This was magical. And just like that, that little bit more than you believe you’ve got inside you came out. I got stronger, focussed, maybe not any faster but I felt better. That’s what we all get a chance to realise about ourselves in these crazy runs. You’ve always got more. Thinking about reaching the people you love brings it out. David pointed to the lights of the finish, ‘can you see the lights?’. ‘Yep’ was probably all I could muster. But I was gunning for them. We turned that final corner off the toe path and emerged into a field of light and screams of encouragement from the crew. This was the moment. I ran tall, opened up my gate and ran as fast as my broken body would carry me over the line and into the Giulianna’s arms.
It’s Wednesday now and the high is gone, but a part of me is still in that race. What’s left is gratitude for the people around me and having the means to be able to commit to something like this. I’m also feeling a deep sense of contentment (ok perhaps still a bit of residual pain/ pleasure too!). I feel truly blessed. This event was a culmination of years of letting go of inner demons and physical change. Running has completely changed my life and I could see that same story on the face of so many others on the TP 100 trail that day. The whole event an affirmation of this simple beautiful truth and I wish everyone could feel this way at least once in their lives. The world would be a better place for sure.