The False Promises and Failure of Skye

WARNING: This is more a tale of love lost than a running blog so please move on quickly if you are not interested in my personal woes. I write this more as a way of releasing my mixed emotions so forgive me if this is raw.

To understand why I entered Skye, I must also explain the love affair I had with Joe.  When I first met him in 2015 he would tell me passionately about Skye and how wonderful it was.  This piqued my interest and by chance a friend, Ultraboy then ran the race in 2016.  I loved the sound of it but couldn’t fit it in my diary for that year (Hardmoors 110 clashed) and after chatting a bit on email with the director Jeff, I entered the race for 2017.

Unfortunately, as many of you will know, 2017 was a write off for me race wise.  I started to have serious back pain during Hardmoors 55 in March and that became the first of many dnfs.  Most races that I had already entered I would turn up at in the hope that the previous few weeks of trying a new stretch/exercise/rest/treatment would help but no.  All ended in dnfs.  However I knew Skye Trails Ultra was a race you could not turn up to without being fully prepared, and if you include the fact that it was a nightmare to get to, I wanted to be very sure I was ready for it.  So Jeff kindly let me defer the race to 2018.

Meanwhile, the affair I had been having with Joe was continuing.  Yes, he was married.  I would like to point out though, that before we met for the first time in June 2015 I did ask him if he was sure his marriage was over.  He was categorical that it was dead, with no hope of resuscitation, and it was on this assurance I made the astronomically naive assumption that if the marriage was dead, he must be in the process of leaving his wife. After all, I had just done that very thing.  I believe every day is precious and if I believe that life must not be wasted in a marriage that was destroying my soul, I assumed he would be feeling the same way.  Quite quickly, however, I realised that whilst he may have thought the marriage was over, clearly back at home life was continuing as normal.  In November 2015 I tried to leave for the first time.  I was devastated and expected Joe to let me go, albeit with regret. But I was surprised by the strength of his love and his argument when I said it must finish.  His love overwhelmed me and I stayed.

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So, jump forward to 2017 again.  2 years on and there is no doubt in my mind that we are still deeply in love. We have had so many adventures. A week in the Peak District in February 2016 that gave me the idea to buy there, our back to back runs from Saltburn to Robins Bay over a weekend, HM110, St Oswalds, Malham. Nights in London, clubbing and going to the best restaurants and bars. The list is endless. Joe would come down to me during the week and either work from my home or commute to Slough/London from there.  Or we would spend a couple of days in London.  I loved the freedom we had, I loved staying in different places but I also loved being at home and just being normal together.  My daughter Charlie thought he was great; in the holidays we would all go out together, to the pub next door or to restaurants and cafes to eat.  I let Joe meet Charlie in September 2016 because I was so confident of our future together. She would take pictures of us together.  Like a normal couple.

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But, by June 2017 I was getting restless.  Despite the complete and total love between us, nothing was happening at home.  Joe’s main and totally understandable fear was his children; how they would cope and how he would cope too, not living with them.  How his wife would cope financially.  How his wife would go totally nuts and stop him seeing his children.  Lots of understandable reasons to be fearful and anxious.

But, at the end of the day, I kept coming back to the fact that while these were understandable concerns, if they were unsurmountable objects then we must part ways.  It broke my heart every time he went back north on a Thursday or Friday.  It broke my heart that I was his dirty little secret, that no one in his family or friends knew of my existence.  The lies he must have told were terrible and it was becoming a way of life which was unacceptable to me.

When I deferred the 2017 Skye race in early May, I had already booked the accommodation for it.  Joe was going to crew me (the checkpoints only offer water – everything else you must supply yourself); he had arranged the weekend off (apparently he was racing too?!) and so we decided to go anyway and make a weekend of it.  Well, we couldn’t have been luckier with the weather.  It was a fun road trip up; I drove to York at 4am and he hid his car in a multistorey in town before we went up together in my car.  It really was a fabulous weekend.  We had our adventure run to Lake Coruisk and back.  We had a bbq on the beach.  It was the most perfect day ever.  Same again the next day – a shorter run followed by exploring the island.  We planned bringing our children back with us – using my bell tent and what fun that would be.  Our girls are similar ages; his eldest was pony mad like mine is; the potential that they might get on well was there.  Leaving on the Sunday broke my heart.  We stretched it out as much as possible.  Lunch in Loch Fyne.  A drink in a pub in York before he left to go back to his home. His wife.  I stayed in a pub that night in York and I cried and cried as we parted.  He wrote me a poem that I woke up to the next day.  Joe is a whizz with numbers but not words so this touched me deeply.  But this heartache had to end.

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So I gave him an ultimatum.  I had booked months earlier to celebrate his 40th birthday with dinner and a night at the Feversham Hotel in Helmsley so I suggested that if he could not make his mind up by then we should part ways.  I realised later that this was probably the worst idea I could have had because as we approached the date, as nothing happened, it made his birthday somewhat tense.  However we had a lovely evening and I gave him the GoPro Drone which I was very happy to give him.  But, the next day, in tears, we parted.  I blocked him on all social media, phone and whatsapp.  Christ, it’s a minefield nowadays; like trying to dam a sieve.  However, he kept sending me emails saying that although he was finding it difficult, he would be free, he would come for me, he loved me more than anything.  I didn’t see him for 6 weeks but the communication channels opened up again and as my birthday approached in the middle of September he was pushing more and more to see me.  He sent me 100 red roses when I refused a gift.  On the day itself, I was in the Peaks house hunting; he rang me in the morning pushing to see me later that day as he was travelling back from Slough and could route via the Peaks.  Eventually I told him he had to come up with a suggestion himself if he wanted to see me.  I told him to think about it carefully and call me back.  When he called back he said he knew he had to leave.  It should be well before or well after Christmas.  I refused to consider the thought of another (3rd) Christmas without him so said it must be well before.  He agreed then that if he hadn’t left by 1st December he would let me go.

I wondered if the 6 weeks apart would have changed anything between us but it hadn’t.  I thought it might be weird being with him but it wasn’t.  We quickly fell back into the old routine and somehow fell deeper and deeper in love.

I have always held my heart on my sleeve and, in my opinion, this was not my secret to keep so I was open with my friends about Joe.  Of course every single one of them urged caution.  Some said he would never leave, others said they didn’t understand why he couldn’t leave.  But most were obviously concerned for my well being.  But I found myself being the one trying to reassure them.  It is OK, I’d say.  I’d show them screenshots of what he had said, had promised.  Look, I’d say, he really means this and I believe him.  Once he gets over his fear of what the outcome may be, once he understands that his wife can’t actually stop him seeing his children (what century are we living in ffs?) he’ll do the right thing.  I showed Joe how she could claim tax credits, how to calculate what he would pay in child maintenance, spousal maintenance.  We talked about how, by living with me, he could continue to pay the mortgage, thus ensuring they stayed in their home.  I would move to York to ensure he could stay nearby, continue to look after the children in the same way he does now.  Yes, I really was willing to go the extra mile to help him find a way forward.  What a fool.

Of course, 1st December came and went.  Tears on both sides. To my shock I came across a voice message last week of him crying on the phone, saying he loved me and he couldn’t go on like this. He left it on 4th December but my phone had put it in blocked messages and by some cruel twist of fate 5 months on decided to alert me to it. It took me a moment to realise this wasn’t a message I was desperately hoping to hear, just an echo from the past.

I blocked him across the board again.  Again the emails.  Pleading.  Again I succumbed and started talking again.  Again I go through Christmas while he is with his family. And as it does, life had changed.  He got a promotion; something else to be fearful of losing because he was sure that given the disruption at home when he left, he would lose his job (?!).  He hadn’t taken them away on holiday the previous summer because of how it would make me feel, so he said that before he left his wife he wanted to take the girls on holiday because she wouldn’t let him take them away once he left. Genuinely – how can any woman be so callous as to behave like this? Was he exaggerating? So, in mid January (too late for him to join us at Hebden, which is why he wasn’t there), with cast iron promises in place, he vowed to me that he would leave by 30th March.  It would give him enough time to bed down in his new senior role; he could take the girls away on holiday at half term (oh yes, of course the wife can’t be left behind) and his daughter’s birthday wouldn’t be ruined on 23rd March.  Absolutely definitely, this was going to happen.  It was what he wanted more than anything and he was determined to see it through.

I kept checking during the first couple of months.  Are you sure?  How are you feeling? Yes, absolutely fine. Then I started asking questions like, so what have you planned for the immediate aftermath?  Where will you go?  Did he have a friend to go to?  His parents? He didn’t know.  He couldn’t plan it.  Even up to the week before he was adamant he was going to do it.  When I drove him to the station the day before Friday 30th March he said he wanted to give me something to leave with me, to show that he meant what he said, to reassure me that he would be back the following week.  Even on the morning of 30th on the phone; yes, don’t worry.  I’ll do it.

God I’m stupid.  Or maybe it’s my black and white view of life.  If you love something you fight for it?  Of course nothing happened.  I should say, in his defence, that he had been approaching her over the proceeding weeks to talk about their marriage.  Well, that’s what he told me.  And her response initially had been anger, then a sort of grudging agreement that it was over but that it was not the right time to be separating because of the children.

Anyway, I did go slightly mad that weekend.  I felt totally betrayed by him.  He had promised and promised and what is a promise if you don’t believe it?  From the man you love?  Again I blocked him. Again with the emails.  Again with me going back to talking.  I mean, you don’t hang on this hard to something you don’t really want do you?  I find my sentences are ending with questions marks because this is what I am left with now.

Let’s calm down a minute and get back to Skye.  After 30th March came and went I was suddenly faced with doing Skye alone.  The race director assured everyone that their drop bags would be ferried to and returned from the correct checkpoints but there were only four of them. The drive to and from Skye was daunting alone.  Although I was feeling strong physically, mentally I was all over the place.  SDW was the following weekend.  Joe had pulled from doing the race because he was anticipating the fall out at home.  It didn’t go well for me.  Again, I was strong physically but mentally I imploded at about 30 miles and just cried going up each hill.  But then I got a grip and a couple of days later I was thinking along the lines of fuck him, I’ll do it anyway.  A decision I don’t regret at all.  I had accommodation booked for Skye from Thursday night to Sunday night; I would drive to the Peaks on Wednesday, spend the night then on up to Skye on the Thursday.  Have a good night’s sleep Thursday night, rest all day Friday to be ready to catch the bus at 3am on Saturday morning for the race start in the north of the island at 5am.  I anticipated a 24 hour race so would finish sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning and have all of Sunday and Sunday night to rest and recover a bit before driving back to Suffolk on Monday.  It was all doable and I would bloody well do it.

However, there’s another twist in the sorry saga to come. Joe tells me someone on FB has told his wife about us.  He doesn’t know who it was; someone who was at Four Passes, saw us together and assumed I was his wife; who he was actually friends with on FB through a vague dog connection.  Over the weekend before Joe had actually suggested to me that because he was unable to bring himself to leave, perhaps the way forward was for her to find out about us and then she’d throw him out.  I was appalled, and said that was the worst possible outcome for everyone concerned.  His family would hate him, they’d certainly hate me and I would forever be “that woman”.  No, I said, you just have to do it yourself.  Further talks between them then ensued but then a week later this bombshell was dropped.  Joe was instantly worried but I have to say I was immediately interested and anticipated a sorry looking Joe on my doorstep, having been kicked out.  Nope.  Nothing. What on earth was going on? Apparently she was angry.  No kidding.  But he hadn’t been kicked out and off he went, to work in Slough for the week as usual.  My mind is being blown here and I didn’t understand anything.

The next weekend is my marathon.  I speak to Joe beforehand, still nothing has happened.  We agree I’ll ring him afterwards.  I put the phone away and concentrate on getting the job done.  I am pleased – I was able to put him out of my mind and focus on my running.  I felt strong.  I ring him afterwards. No answer.  No answer again.  He calls straight back.  Sounding absolutely terrified.  All hell has broken loose.  I might not hear from him for a bit.  If she tries to ring me please don’t talk to her and he has to delete Telegram, the app we use to chat.  What the fuck?? What is different today from last week?  I am baffled and hear absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.  When you talk to someone constantly, and I mean constantly, a sudden silence like that is unnerving in the circumstances.

I’m very worried so dm him on Twitter on Monday.  What is going on?  I need to give him my phone number in order for him to call me.  Apparently all hell broke loose because on Sunday morning he confessed to the affair.  And told her it had only been going on for a year.  Again, I got asked that if she contacts me, don’t answer.  He’s removed my number from his phone but still.  Just in case.  He’s terrified, doesn’t know what to think or do.  He’s told his best friend, she’s spoken to her best friend because that lady had contacted him to see if she could help.  Wait a minute.  After the call several things occur to me.  He confessed this week, which means he’s spent the entire previous week denying it?  And a year?? Is he trying to suggest I’ve just been a casual fling?

Later that day or the next, I get an email from his wife.  Classic “how long have you been fucking my husband”.  Honestly, you couldn’t make this up.  I answered merely saying I was sorry for the circumstances, but this was between him and her.  I get several more emails – each time with the same question “how long”.  I’m texting Joe, who’s down south again with work, to deal with this, to answer her.  Tell her the truth.  He needs to go home and sort this out, not go to work as if nothing has happened.  He can’t deal with it. So I snap.  I emailed her and told her pretty much everything.  Including how long, and why he was so terrified.  That many of our running friends knew about us.  Even then, I was still expecting Joe to spill the beans, and come to me.  If I told the truth, if she understood how long and how serious we were, surely it would finally all change.

I heard nothing for a day and messaged Joe again.  I was genuinely worried sick at Joe’s state of mind and how he was coping.  He rang me.  He sounded awful.  Like the world had ended.  Which in his mind it obviously had.  I asked him what was happening, how he was.  He said everything was a complete disaster and he didn’t know what to think.  He had to go to pick up his daughter so we said goodbye.  I continued to be worried and the next morning I texted and whatsapped him.  Neither message went through.  He had said the previous weekend that she might take his phone off him (like a naughty child) so I wondered if he’d switched off his phone which was why nothing was going through.  A couple of hours later, I’m driving to school to watch Charlie play cricket when the awful truth dawns on me.  He’s blocked me.  He’s actually blocked me.

I am devastated.  Since then I’ve been cycling through devastation, disbelief, shock, bewilderment, bereavement and back again.  My problem is I genuinely don’t know now if she blackmailed him with the kids; if he changed his mind; if the past 3 years was just a sham; why the fuck didn’t he let me go all those times I tried to leave if this was going to be the outcome?  Was I stupid to believe him?  Did he mean it or was he infatuated with me?  Was our future just a pipe dream?  It wasn’t to me; I don’t think there’s anything unrealistic about having a deep and loving relationship with your soulmate who wants the same things in life as you; travel and adventure and running.  Simple pleasures really, that I want to share with my soulmate.  With him.  But I am now coming to terms with the fact he isn’t my soulmate.  Because if he was he wouldn’t disappear like a coward, with no word.  He’s come off Twitter – I expect she won’t allow him near it.  I don’t follow him on FB but I doubt anyone will see him on there.  I suspect she won’t allow it you see; because so many people knew about us.

So you may be relieved to hear that brings us to Skye again.  How on earth was I going to manage this?  I was still determined to do it; I had trained hard and felt fit and ready.  Mentally I was still bashing myself but I was in a better place than I was before SDW.  Perhaps I was just used to it, but if it doesn’t sound too weird, at SDW I felt freshly betrayed, whereas leading up to Skye I was more numb about it.  My planned journey and accommodation went perfectly to plan.  I was most worried about the journey and re-living everything from the previous year but I went a slightly different route, listened to funky new music and I felt great when I arrived.  I slept for over 10 hours on Thursday night, dozed on and off during Friday morning.  I got up to sort my drop bags out because they had to be left when I went for the race briefing at the Hotel at 2pm (ironically the same hotel Joe and I had stayed at the previous year).

The race briefing took an hour.  That should give you a heads up as to the difficulty of the navigation.  It took Jeff an hour to go through the route, where was tricky, where we had to watch for, where we absolutely mustn’t go.  Along the ridge, as the forecast was good, wouldn’t be so much of an issue, although it was easy to drift off to the west (I actually found myself drifting more to the edge of the ridge than the other way).  I could see how difficult, if the cloud had been on the deck, the navigation would have been.  You really would have needed to know how to use a compass then if you didn’t want to fall off!  But further along, there were issues with landowners to avoid, paths to not get lured by.  Lochside path edges to inch along.  I really couldn’t wait!  Had lunch then went back to imitate a sloth for the rest of the afternoon.  I did start to feel melancholy that afternoon.  I found myself constantly questioning everything; my belief in our love; why he did what he did.  I showered, had an early supper and was in bed, asleep by 8.30, admittedly after a few self indulgent tears.

My alarm went off at 1.30am.  I was a bit groggy but everything was set up so that all I had to do was put sun cream on (bizarre I know), get dressed and get out.  The only mild criticism I would have about the race is that once you leave the village hall on the bus at 3am, you must be race prepared.  Nothing would be taken back on the bus.  There were no loos at the start; just the iconic phone box.  It was literally off the bus, gather and go.  And off we went.

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The first tricky stage was to cross from the last of civilisation to where you climbed to get up to the ridge.  This was all bog, but given the recent weather it wasn’t so bad and was run/walked/hopped from tussock to tussock and my feet only got slightly wet.  Up the first incline.  Because my OS map had refused to load at the start, I had my Harvey’s map in hand and was thumbing along.  I had taken a bearing to the start of the climb the previous night so when the phone didn’t load, the map was straight in my hand with compass at the ready.  However, when I reached the incline everything got put away.  Almost without exception every climb that day needed my hands as well as my legs.  Not so much scrambling, but they needed to be at the ready for balance as well as grabbing the odd rock or tuft to help me up.  These climbs were brutal.

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We reach a gentle slope before the land tilted sharply upwards again so a quick breather was had.  Onwards and upwards.  I then leapfrogged with these lads for most of the way to Portree and they were a nice friendly bunch.  I was not on my usual chattering form today and while all thoughts of Joe were pushed firmly to the back of my head, I was focussed and concentrating on where I was and where I was going next.  I put music on and, quite unlike me, listened to it for the next 28 miles.  Onwards and upwards.  The first section was a joy.  Don’t miss that crucial turn off the ridge and down around the Needle – check.  Run along under the Ridge, along that stunning almost alien landscape of towering rocks and technical paths.

Pure joy.  Up and to the road where there was a little unofficial checkpoint with water.  Over the road and on.  Strong.  Running.  I reach 10 miles in 2 hours 50.  I was thrilled to be so up on my anticipated time to the first checkpoint (anywhere between 8-10 hours) and thought this was not as bad as I had feared.  But then the terrain just got harder and harder.  The climbs were relentless steep slopes.  The descents….. how did he get down there??  What, down THERE?? Holy shitsnacks, my new favourite swearword from Brian Drought, was uttered many times.  I minced, I crawled and on many occasions I was sliding down on my arse.  I don’t mind doing this on the ups or even the downs.  What was disheartening was the boggy, tufty grass on the flat.  We are up on the top of an enormous mountain – how on earth can it be so wet up here?  Impossible to run on, unless perhaps if you were a fell runner.  But no fell runner would do a marathon on this, then another 50 mile ultra afterwards.  However, despite all this I was enjoying myself.  Running/walking along a ridge line, you’d think navigation would be easy, but it really wasn’t and my phone (finally working) was constantly in my hand, checking my bearing.

I had packed my Sawyer mini filter and was very glad I did.  Jeff had given us a couple of coordinates for where there were clean streams to gather water from but I was able to refill from any old stagnant pool of midge infested water without fear and I think, over that whole section, I had 3 litres of water in all.  Unheard for me – I don’t drink very much.

I was approaching the last mountain, a monster called Ben Dearg.  During the race briefing Jeff had uttered severe warnings about going straight up the face as the other side was very dangerous scree.  We must go around it.  I saw further up ahead one of the lads start the traverse along the base of, what looked to me like a sheer cliff.  Who on earth would try to scale that directly anyway?  I had recently started to leapfrog with a guy who was currently just in front of me and when I got to where I thought I should start looking for the path to traverse, he continued straight up.  I shrugged but, confident in what I had been told, and where I was, I found and continued along the path that led around the back of the mountain.  Of course, the moment you are alone, you start to question yourself, but I do have confidence in my navigation so I ploughed on for what seemed like an eternity.  Then I had to climb the tail and over the other side, and find my way back to the track which, by my reckoning, was then straight down the mountain to Portree and the first checkpoint.  It was 12pm, 7 hours in.  Still a great time, given I was only a couple of miles from the checkpoint.  Or so I thought.

I start down the mountain, and at the point the guy who went straight over appeared out of nowhere.  “That was a bit hairy” he said.  I said don’t tell Jeff that or you’ll be disqualified!  Another lad joined him and the three of us continued to leapfrog each other as we walk, hop, mince, thread our way down the mountain.  There are, of course, a couple of hills in the way that need climbing but given that it was a straight line down it was remarkably difficult to stay on track.  I should have taken a compass bearing, looking back, and eventually I did take a bearing on a mountain in the distance because I was sick of constantly looking at the map to see where I was and whether I was still heading in the right direction.  Down, down, down.  No path, nothing runnable.  My ankle turns and I catch myself sharply, which resounds up my back.  It starts twinging.  Oh shit.  I stretch it – touching my toes.  Ok, it’s gone. Onwards.  It took me an hour to descend.  I got to the right point to exit (don’t go through the campsite whatever you do!) and finally on to the road.  There was some water left there for us – I drank thirstily, very grateful for it.  Then just a hop down the road to the checkpoint. Ha bloody ha.  I started jogging – what a lovely feeling after hiking for so long.  A mile came and went and I hadn’t even reached Portree yet.  It’s now gone 1pm. My back hurt.  I stopped and stretched again.  Walked for a bit.  Jogged on.  Back seized.  Fuck.  Stopped and stretched for longer.  Ages.  Stretch that fucker out.  Walked on and into town.  A toot of a horn and Jeff was there.  Was I ok?  Yes.  Was I hurt?  Er sort of but I’ll get to the CP and see.  Ok.  A chap called Graham caught up with me – he’d been helping a couple of people who were really struggling but had finally left them when the town was in sight and he was eager to get on.  His feet were fucked but hey, everyone’s were.  Now that we were on tarmac my feet too raised their voice to compete with my back.  A blister on a big toe was the main issue but hardly life threatening.

Graham got caught by another man so he jogged on.  My jogging was definitely over; every time I tried my back seized again.  I am evaluating my options. Once it goes there is no going back.  I finally arrive at the checkpoint – 3 miles from where I came off the mountain!!! One of the lads I’d been froghopping with was there, Norris, defeated.  I said I wasn’t dropping, I’ll have a change of shoes and socks, some food and although my back was sore I would at least walk to Sligachan.  I had nothing to lose, it was a lovely day so why not.  After inspecting an enormous blister on my toe (should I pop it?  NO!!) I put a blister plaster on that and anything else on my feet that looked remotely uncomfortable, put clean (and dry!) socks on and my blissful Challengers.  Ahhhh slippers.  The plasters did the trick and my feet felt warm, dry and comfortable.  Heaven.  Having minced around with them for a bit, I ate some pineapple chunks and restocked my vest with some nibbles.  11 miles to the next CP.  I left the cottage cheese that I swear was moving of it’s own accord having lain in that heat for several hours, and got kicked out of the checkpoint.  Onwards, down to the inlet, around that and then I would have several miles of nice easy road.

But it was not to be.  I got no more than 200 yards when my back seized again.  And again.  It wasn’t to be.  I couldn’t even walk.  Fuck a duck.

All that way.  All that heartache to prove I could go it alone.  All wasted.  I’ll admit I felt pretty sorry for myself for the rest of that day.  And the next.  Life really did seem to be conspiring against me – I thought I had at least my running when I lost my love, but that too seemed to be ripped away from me in a place that was so emotive.

I’m ok now.  I think perhaps the terrain just kills my back.  I’ve been fine since last September and getting fitter and fitter but thinking about it all my races have been on runnable paths, even when they were hilly.  I did suffer slightly at Four Passes but I was also still quite unfit and had gone round with Joe very slowly.  S2N Peaks – flat the first day, still runnable the 2nd day even going up and down Kinder Scout.  Hebden – I did the shorter route…. SDW….. again, runnable.  So I think I need to keep my hips balanced.  I don’t mind how technical it is so long as I can run over/around rocks/roots/whatever.

And when I dabbled in a bit of yoga last year, my teacher said how much stress is captured in one’s lower back.  I’m not a great believer in the ying and yang and yoga of life, but perhaps she may be right on this.  So maybe, now everything is over, the stress should go? Right?

Still heard nothing from Joe for over a week.  I’ve fired off a few angry/irate/wtf emails over the past few days.  I think he’s gone.  Sloped off, unable to face me.  I shall be angry about that for a long time.  I loved him sincerely and honestly and utterly for three years and gave him so many opportunities to bow out gracefully. He never had the courage to make a decision, to stand up to whatever he believed, whether it was stay in the belief it was for the good of the children (a concept I would always argue) or leave to live a happier life with me.  In the end, as I predicted, that choice was taken away from him by his wife, because he couldn’t make it himself.  I pity anyone who lets someone else have that much control over them. Even if you give someone the key to the cage, even if you show them how to open it, some people are still too frightened of what lies outside to escape. Perhaps they are right together after all.

As for Skye; will I return?  I don’t think so.  I only went this year because I felt I had something to prove.  I wanted to overlay the memories I had with something else.  Well I certainly achieved that.  It is a great race though.  Jeff is mad but fantastic and if you want a genuinely tough mountain race, followed by a 50 mile ultra go for it.

Always follow your dreams – nothing will ever stop me believing that.

Carpe Diem xx

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St Oswalds 80

This is my first blog. Probably my last too but this race made me feel strongly enough to write about it. I may witter on. Consider yourself warned.

I entered St Oswalds within a week of DNFing Hardmoors 110. I was hungry to get a 100 mile race under my belt and felt my DNF was an unlucky combination of factors I could avoid next time. St Oswalds had always been top of my list and it fitted perfectly over the September weekend that Hardmoors 60 was on that I was no longer interested in running, now that I was out of the Hardmoors Triple Challenge.

The first hint of unease came when I tried to find out about checkpoints. Friends on twitter who had done the race before had told me there were plenty of checkpoints, about every 6 miles, but all I could find on the website were checkpoints spaced very far apart. I sent an email and got a reply listing checkpoints every 10k or so and a place name next to them. This was great but one of the checkpoints listed on the website was not in this email. I replied asking for clarification but never heard back. I asked my twitter friends and one of them kindly emailed me with a description of the checkpoints. Very helpful, but I also needed more detail.  I dropped it, had other stuff to think about at that time and didn’t follow it up.

A couple of weeks before any race is when I really start to focus on it, thinking about where it is, the terrain, pacing and what my plans and aims are for the race. At Lakeland 50 I used a pacing card I had copied and adapted from Joe Butler which worked really well. It has the checkpoints listed on it, distance between checkpoints, total distance to each checkpoint and the time I am planning to arrive at that CP and the subsequent average pace I need to maintain in order to get to that CP by that time.  This is not cast in stone, just something to aim for and even if pacing is way out (as it was when I fell and hurt my back at L50) it is still a useful tool to be able to get out and see what distance it is to the next picnic table and gives me the ability to recalculate timings etc.

So I send another email asking for clarification. Also Joe asked me to enquire whether the two drop bags we were allowed would be returned to us.  By this point Joe and I had agreed he would run it with me rather than just crew me, something I would be very thankful for later.  Whether or not drop bags are returned is crucial to know. Does one only put disposable items in it or can one put a spare pair of shoes or clothing to give you more options to adapt to conditions during the race.

Again, zero response. I was pretty annoyed by now but a day or two later an email was sent out and at least one of my queries was answered; drop bags would not be returned. The description of water, sweets and coke at every CP until Warkworth was alarming and depressing. Joe and I made sure we had plenty of food in our drop bags but they were 47 miles into the race and I was hoping like hell that, as someone said, “oh there’s bound to be more than that at the CPs”. I think I really did go into it thinking no one would only offer jelly babies for that distance.

I had decided to travel up to Northumberland by train, remembering what pieces I was in after HM110 and it also allowed me to return home a day earlier as I wouldn’t need the extra night’s rest in order to drive back after running for 24 hours. Joe was also going to take the train which meant we were relying on taxis to ferry us about. I don’t like this reliance on others for transport but decided it was better than doing all that driving.  It also meant I had to get some poor taxi driver to pick me up from my lodgings at 5.15am as the coach taking us to the start from the nearby finish hotel departed at 5.50am. Oh no wait. Here’s an email, the day before the race, to say the bus is now departing at 5am. Great. I didn’t need that extra hours sleep anyhow. Some explanation would have been nice, which local friends in the know supplied saying it had something to do with the thunderstorms the night before. Hmm.

My humour level has descended to “pretty narked” by now. However, we get there in the end, I managed a power nap on the bus and a beautiful day was dawning over the pretty Holy Island where we were to start. It was lovely to see the newly (and secretly) wedded happy couple Emma and Ryan; Mark, Keith and Glenn (“the Boyz”) and to finally meet Tricia and Johnny. Johnny and Sarah were spending the weekend running around the area and had kindly offered to meet and cheer us on and help in any way they could. I hadn’t seen Sarah for ages so it was lovely to catch up with her. I do love my twitter friends and feel very lucky to have met so many top people.

And so to business. I have my usual panic when I try and load a course onto my watch (it takes ages, then freezes and nothing seems to happen but somehow if I’m patient when I press start, it works) and after the usual RD briefing I pay absolutely no attention to, we are off.

 

 

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A long way to go

St Oswalds is certainly an amazing course and threw multiple terrains at us. To begin with it lulled us with a beautiful castle-lined coastline; we came across gorgeous beaches and quaint villages. Comparable to Hardmoors 60 but without the steps – we thought we were onto a winner! Despite the course elevation profile only showing 5,500 ft over the whole 100 miles, once we had crossed the causeway it certainly started out pretty lumpy.

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Sarah and Johnny cheering us on at the end of the causeway
We knuckled down, concentrating on getting some miles in the bank and the first 10 miles went pretty quickly. As expected, the first little CP was water only which was fine. At the 12 mile CP there were a few jelly babies and I was tucking into my chia flapjacks by this stage. I really don’t want sweet food in the early stages of an ultra – to me jelly babies are a life saver when all appetite has gone and you can just nibble on them. Hey ho, off we go looking forward to the first main CP in Bamburgh, thinking there’d be more substantial food on offer after 30kms. My knees were really hurting for some reason and running down hills was very painful. Joe was also complaining of his legs aching more than they should do at this stage but we put our aches down to my undertraining over the summer and his 100kms run back and forth across the Humber Bridge 4 weeks earlier (I know, don’t ask).

Approaching Bamburgh we met Chris Randall, another face to put to the twitter profile and it was nice to have a little chat with him and compare notes. He was doing the 50k and looking forward to a pint at the end.

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Bamburgh Castle
Having done a small loop inland, coming back towards the coast Bamburgh Castle tantalised us as it appeared and disappeared behind hills and sandy bluffs but eventually we caught it and saw the welcome sight of Johnny and Sarah waiting for us under the castle. Sarah had the most amazing sight in her hands I had seen so far, however, and she passed over the packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Heaven. They lasted about 5 mins, 4 mins 55 seconds longer than they should have done but I was taking care not to inhale crumbs, something I can assure you is not a pleasant experience when running.

To my dismay the Bamburgh CP was yet again water and jelly babies only. Sarah gave me another packet of crisps to take with me and we moved straight off down the coast.

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This was very pretty and we came across beautiful golden beaches and little sandy coves. We passed through little fishing villages and this part strongly reminded us of Hardmoors 60 and we wondered how our friends Kirk, Dennis and Nigel were getting on there. The pain in my knees had disappeared, as had Joe’s achy legs, and I suddenly realised that with the hot day our salts must have been low. At the previous CP to Bamburgh I had not bothered to mix up Mountain Fuel in my bottle which would explain why I was low on minerals. Doh! I made sure not to skip it for the rest of the day. So on we went, settled into a good ultra rhythm of running and walking the hills. It might not have been speedy but we were both mindful of the miles ahead, and assured ourselves that we were going to finish this no matter what and that we were there to encourage each other when one was going through a low patch. I have no shame in telling Joe to slow down when we get to a road section, as being the speedmeister he is, he naturally zooms off when back on his natural habitat of flat tarmac.

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Still happy at Craster
Ever onwards, we pass through a village where I buy a very fetching fuchia pink visor as the sun glare was very harsh, and another one where I buy some Pepperonis – I am really hungry now (having scoffed all my onboard food already) and we finally reach Craster and the 50k race finish. Surely there’ll be food here? No. However that Pepperami has had an unwelcome effect on my tummy so am relieved (in both senses of the word) to find loos.

Sarah and Johnny meet us again, and again supply us with life saving crisps. It was great to see Tricia finishing and we were rather envious of the 50k finishers all tucking into pints and settling down to enjoy the rest of their day. Off their feet. With food. Are you sensing a theme here? Food.  I also took the opportunity to put some time into my feet. All ultra runners know how essential it is to look after ones feet.  I have two issues to look out for. My little toes get squashed and then they swell and then they get more squashed. And the soles of my feet basically start screaming after a certain amount of mileage. My toes are dealable if I wrap them up so at Craster I put a huge blister plaster on the one complaining the most and the usual hot spot under my big toe. All comfy and ready to go.

We started to realise many people were suffering with the heat and were dropping out. So in the heat and the sun our pace quickly dropped into the familiar ultra shuffle and we adopted a run/walk strategy that worked well.

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We passed Boulmer, Alnmouth, commenting on how many golf courses and caravan sites we were coming across.  Warkworth was stubbonly refusing to get closer but at last, come dusk, after dreaming about cheese for many miles, we came into the pretty town of Warkworth and the first drop bag point in a lovely cosy cafe. Ironically it was also the first checkpoint they offered proper food: delicious soup, brownies, bread, tea etc, even a super helpful volunteer who offered to take anything we wanted to the finish, despite rules saying no drop bags would be.  It was a welcome respite and I quickly wolfed down a big tub of cottage cheese (my new not-so-secret ultra weapon), soup, chocolate brownies and the essential cup of tea.

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Still a long way to go

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Headtorches on (dark so early now!) we were looking forward to turning inland and the change of scenery it would bring. The terrain now changed to rutted and muddy field tracks and we watched in awe as a huge blood red moon rose above the town we had just left.  Navigation was fairly easy at this stage; handy red and white tape was normally in a good position and the tracks went on for long enough that the map could go away for a spell while we ran.  Approaching Felton is where we started to encounter cow strewn fields, with steep ups and downs, wet boggy grass and ankle turning divots. Combine that with navigating across a pitch black field, trying to find the correct point to exit the field whilst nervously keeping an eye on the eyes blinking at us in the dark, made the going very tough and slow. Always having to stop and check the map is frustrating and now that the sun had gone down the temperatures plummeted too and it got very cold.

The organisers had thoughtfully put reflectors in such a way that you could navigate from one to the other quite easily. The only trouble was having got used to this we then found several were missing, or broken, and some had just been turned in the wind so that they didn’t reflect in the right direction.  Crossing fields with barbed wire fences and/or hedges means you need to find the right point to get across which can be tricky when you cannot see visual references because of fog or darkness.

At one point we entered a field and the path looked like it could be followed simply enough. But halfway across the field was a new fence. Not on the map. The path clearly crossed it but there was no stile or way over.  We saw two headtorches pause at the stile into the field but then they continued along the road to where there was a bridge over the river and a road that then nearly paralleled our route north of the river across the fields.  Joe suggested we do that but on checking the map there was no way of crossing back over the river before Rothbury and it would have meant going much further. Not what we wanted.  We needed to stay south of the river.  The field we were in had the river as one of its boundaries and I found that the new fence, right where it ended on the river bank, had a small section of rails that we could climb over.  Very carefully, very gingerly, with a pitch black fast flowing river inches away it was not a place to slip.

Fog also rose and made visibility tough. When some miles took 30 minutes you know you are in for a long slow one. Joe was getting very tired and I was anxious to get him to the large checkpoint at Rothbury as soon as possible. He even fell asleep on a stile while I quickly ran up a fence line looking for a way over. The map was telling me we were at a point where the path diverged; the left path took an old railway line straight into Rothbury and the right path wiggled down to the river through fields. We needed to be on the railway line which was just over the fence and across a thick bit of copse but I couldn’t find a way across.  We climbed a wall but only found a huge chasm that looked too hard to get down – I assumed the railway line was at the bottom.  We climbed back over and two more headtorches appeared in the fog and with some relief I turned to them explaining my problem. We all agreed we couldn’t go that way so continued down the hill and eventually found another way over to the railway line.

It was a relief to start jogging again but by now Joe was really struggling and literally falling asleep on his feet so we slowed to a walk. I grabbed his arm and dragged him onwards, trying to talk to him and cajole him to the CP.  If he had passed out and gone over there is no way I could have got him back up again.  We eventually got to the 100k mark at 2am and Joe immediately went to sleep on a padded bench seat. Someone kindly put a space blanket over him and I concentrated on getting us some hot soup and food and started sorting through our drop bags. But I got very concerned when I looked over and saw the space blanket shivering. I was straight over, kicking some poor bloke off the comfy seat next to Joe and waking him up, forcing him to change into the warm dry clothes he’d packed into his drop bag and eat some hot soup. I was horrified to see, when Joe took his waterproof jacket off, all he had underneath was the tech t-shirt he’d worn all day. No wonder he had got so cold and, as we subsequently discovered from the paramedics, the tiredness was the body starting to shut down.

Big trembles were still going through him as we discussed the fact he didn’t feel able to carry on and I must continue without him. I knew carrying on was the right thing to do – I still had some running in me but I found it very hard to leave my running partner behind and I was also anxious about travelling alone through the night in such conditions. A couple were just leaving and Joe suggested I ask if I could join and they very kindly said yes.

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So off we went, into the cold fog, passing the incoming paramedics who looked after Joe. Out of Rothbury straight up and onto moorland. Moorland? Yes, somehow I was transported in time and having slogged up what felt like a small mountain, I was back on Bloworth Crossing, the scene of my previous DNF at a 100 miler. Thankfully I was still running and had on good gear so we were able to move fairly quickly across this bleak windy landscape. My feet, having been excruciatingly painful, were feeling better (I reckon it was the wet freezing grass in the cow fields that numbed them) and a body scan showed remarkedly little was complaining.  After a quick introduction (David and Vicky) and explanation of why I was leaving Joe behind, we all fell into silence as we ran, shuffled, stopped to scratch our heads over which way next and generally stumbled our sleepy way across the moorland.  The full moon, made hazy by the fog that still lingered even up there, cast an eerie light over everything and the heather and stone still did their best to trip us up.

My headtorch battery had run out when I was still with Joe, probably because I had it in full Super Nova mode and it subsequently gave up after 5 hours. So I then had to put ordinary batteries in it, in a less bright mode which I found rather dim. A few hours of this and at around 5am I realised the dimness was the batteries running out again, not just my dodgy eyesight. However running with complete strangers, having thrown yourself at their mercy because you don’t want to be alone, puts you in an awkward position. Having gone from being in charge of navigation I was meekly following the others (keeping an eye on the map to make sure they weren’t going wrong of course) and I didn’t feel comfortable asking to slow when I needed to take off my coat, and then again when I needed a wee.  So when I realised I needed to change my headtorch batteries you’ll probably all roll your eyes when I say I didn’t want to ask for another stop to change them and so I continued on, trying to use the light from the full moon and the torch light from another bloke who had joined us and was just behind me. We had by now entered Harwood Forest and the going was really tough and we were completely slowed to a walk as we picked our way round bogs, sedge grass, logs and all manner of things doing their best to trip up sleepy runners. Not being able to see properly really wasn’t helping matters but my brain was addled and I was too worried about asking for another stop to realise a quick stop to change them would have made my life so much easier. I continued to urge the sun to hurry up and just as we exited the forest itself and emerge onto the tracks between the trees the sunlight was enough to see by. Relief. However, the slow picking our way across the forest floor had taken its toll and everyone remained walking a slow plod and the distances between us grew as we all slowed. I put my down jacket on but the cold still crept in, in its usual sly way. My eyes started drooping and I mused how it had taken this long for sleep to catch up with me and decided that concentrating on navigation really helps focus the mind and sleep just hadn’t got a look in. Now however, following the others in a sheep-like fashion, I was suddenly absolutely exhausted. My feet were screaming again and my walk resembled that of a party goer at 5am in the morning after a good night out. Ah those were the days. I was in misery. The pain in my feet was like walking on hot coals. The miles had been wonky throughout the race (the gpx track from the website stated 104.9) and my mileage was a good 6 or 7 ahead of that advertised at each CP. So despite my watch approaching 80 miles travelled, it was still saying 30 miles to go. I calculated how long it would take me to finish and the answer clashed with my train home. I even thought about dismissing the train home, finding someone to take my daughter to school the next day and continuing no matter how long it took. But the pain in my feet wouldn’t go away. I was in company that, despite the kindness, was strange and above all I simply didn’t care enough about getting to the end. I was miserable, in pain, to all intents alone and this is not what I wanted. It was another 5 achingly slow and painful miles to the next CP. I spent every second wishing it over. When I saw a van at the end of a long track ahead I burst into tears of relief. This is not what running is about for me. It brings tears to my eyes just remembering it. I refrained from throwing myself at the feet of what turned out to be an ambulance crew in charge of the CP and just stood there crying and shaking my head. Vicky was struggling with the cold and had been bundled into the front of the ambulance to warm up – they were not letting her leave until her temperature rose from where it was at 35°. David very kindly offered to give me a piggy back to the finish (! my own friends refuse to do this for me) but I was adamant about my decision and was given a seat in the back of the ambulance. I immediately contacted Sarah and Johnny, who I knew were planning on coming to see us at the finish so hoped they were near enough to possibly rescue me. I had had some contact with Joe after I left and now discovered he had been transported to the finish at Chollerford but was otherwise stuck so he was rescued at the same time.  I shall always be hugely grateful to them for that, as well as the crisps. I’m not sure yet which was more important.

I’m not one to say never again. Who knows  what lies over the horizon. But I have decided that for now 100 milers are not for me. Many out there are able to dig in, grit their teeth and continue into the pain regardless. I can’t because the end result isn’t more important than the pain I am going through. And frankly death marching for 30 miles is simply out of the question to me. So I accept that I am not up to it now. I love the 50-60 mile distance that is runable the whole way, that doesn’t destroy my body or make me question my mental strength. I love the mountains and the variety of pace and scenery that comes with it. I have learned that what keeps me going is a passion for my surroundings and discovering new places. I love navigation, working out where I am and where I need to go; it keeps me focused on the now, not worrying about later stages of the race.  Perhaps I should have been brave enough to leave that CP alone – it might have given me the focus to drive forward instead of merely following.  But I am not one to dwell on what ifs.  It is what it is and can’t be changed and valuable lessons are still taken forward.

So in essence I would say a fantastically tough course; for my purposes it was badly organised this year but I know plenty who would love it so yes, I would recommend it. But not to novices like me: only to those hardy souls who I admire and respect enormously – the 100 mile runners.