This post is two stories about falling; the physical and the metaphorical.
A few weeks ago I took part in the incredibly fun Maverick Gloucestershire race at Sudeley Castle. Marverick host a series of trail races all over the UK, in stunning locations. I arrived an instantly felt out of place, all around me were fitter, faster looking people. Despite the years of running and my current step up in training, deep down I’m still that bullied school kid.
With the race offering three distances (7, 17 and 23Km) and with the heat and my self consciousness rattling my confidence I began to debate dropping down from the longest distance to the middle one. However, as soon as I started the race all that fear faded and I simply enjoyed the experience. I started the first half at a much slower pace, allowing my body to get into the rhythm. With trail running you have to vary your pace a lot as you trudge up hills, through a multitude of gates and fences and speed downhill. Because of that my body takes a bit of time to adjust to the constant changes but once it realises we aren’t running on regular pacing I feel less fatigued which is probably more mental than physical.
But the crucial part of the race happened with only two miles left to run. In the five miles previous I was flying, not getting overtaken by any runners while catching many ahead of me. I was on a real runners high, an addictive and blinding feeling which I hadn’t felt in a while. So as we approached a steep downhill section I kicked the pace up again. I was gliding over the sharp stoney terrain with ease overtaking another five runners but as I looked up to see if anyone was ahead I lost focus. Too engaged with the next people to overtake I didn’t look at what was directly ahead of me, a stupid ego-centric move that cost me dearly. It was then that I tripped…
I fell hard against the jagged rocks. My hand first, then my elbow and finally my thigh slapped awkwardly against the ground. It was all over in seconds and while I felt no immediate pain I knew I had messed up big time. The runners ahead of me stopped to look back as I apparently sounded like a skidding bike as my body slammed to stop. They were shocked to not see a stationary bike but a battered and muddied runner laid out like a drunk giraffe.
I quickly got up dusted down the mud not lodged in my ripped skin and carried on running much to the dismay of the runners who stopped to help. We ran together for the next mile, cautiously as they feared that I might go into shock. To my surprise, I didn’t and as the final mile came into view I said my goodbyes and kicked on to the finish alone.
It wasn’t until the finish line that I actually took a good look at my injuries. The chunk missing out of my hand was clogged with grit and the road rash on my elbow was deep and spread the length of my forearm. My bib stained with blood, hanging on by a pin and my London Marathon shorts and t-shirt, two of my favourite bits of kit, were ripped and damaged. The body heals but they won’t I thought materialistically and melodramatically. The first aider at the race quickly went to work cleaning the wounds and getting out as much of the grit and mud that was lodged inside. I tried as hard as I could not to scream in pain as she dug deep into my cuts.
The following days I couldn’t stop beating myself up over my own stupidity. If I hadn’t been so focussed on the next overtake and concentrate on where my feet were going I wouldn’t be in this mess. My training that was going so well stuttered because of it and I began to doubt myself once more.
Running is the purest of sports. There’s no equipment in the way, no bike, racket or boat. No team mates, coach or ref to share to blame or support you. In running there is nothing to hide behind. If you are having a crappy day it will bubble to the surface and there isn’t a lot you can do about it.
In the lead up to my first ultramarathon (Lakeland 50 Miler) this week, I have been in my own head a lot. Over thinking has led to a lot of I can’ts, I won’ts and I’ll fail. This came to a head last week during my final long run. Within 2 miles of this 16 mile run I was feeling worn out. The hard session in the gym the day before had wearied my legs and the run just highlighted that. The run became a walk. During the walk I began to think about what would happen if I failed to finish. The spiral quickly darkened because during running there is nowhere to hide. I kept thinking I haven’t trained as much as I would like and that I felt unprepared for what lies ahead of me in the unforgiving Lake District. By the end of the 16 miles I felt beaten down and defeated. I had fallen down hard but not against the ground this time, but against my own self belief and the cracks echoed loudly. Doubt, as always, crept in through these weak moments.
Doubt can be a good thing. It is something to beat. I want to stand there on the finish line in the early hours of Sunday morning with that medal around my neck and all that doubt behind me.
You aren’t defined by how many times you fall or hard you go down. What shows us who we really are is how strongly we get back up, shake it off and keep bloody going. I dusted myself off on the trail and I am getting back up from my mental knock down. With Lakeland only a few days away I am desperate not to fall again in either way but rise to the challenge. I guess only time will tell how I’ll fare.