Having young kids, I’ve seen them fall down in the playground more times than I can remember. The most common being when they take a tumble, stand straight back up a little shocked and say ‘I’m fine’, before the shock wears off, the worry or pain sets in and they start crying and run for me.
Well, that’s what happened to me this year and culminated with my own fall at UTMB (metaphorically speaking…sadly I didn’t have something as spectacular as a real fall as my reason for not completing the race, but rather a power nap that turned into a, ahem, longer nap).
But I got up and said ‘I’m fine’ and quickly entered another 100 mile race for exactly a month later, against a lot of good advice. The problem is, I wasn’t fine.
At UTMB, it was an exceptionally hot year for the second year in a row. This resulted in a slower pace and, therefore, longer gaps between aid stations. Everyone in my chalet, myself included, ended up drinking from streams as a means of just getting through the race. A few days later, after we had all left Chamonix, our group chat on messenger lit up with “anyone else got a bad stomach?”. I hadn’t given it much thought as often after a race I take a few days to settle down, but yes, I realised I did have a bad stomach. But it got better and I disregarded it.
This depletion of the system, combined with 25 hours out in the mountains in very hot conditions, combined with an incredibly tough year mentally- which resulted in decreased training performance- meant I was due a serious period of recuperation. I am not a runner who races that often, perhaps 3 or 4 ultras in a year, so to do another so soon was something I felt necessary and cathartic, but wasn’t sensible. It ended inevitably with a drop.
And from the wobbly lip under the swings, came the moment the pain set in.
This morning I ran 4 miles and I feel like I have just run 50. Yet it was fantastic. Running for me, not for a race around the corner. It was the late Dave Terry who said “Not all pain is significant” and I think about this a lot. The antithesis of this is my Mum saying “Listen to your body”. And I think the balance is in-between. You have to know when you can, and to push. And you have to know when you can’t and rest.
We have all seen ultra runners burn out, both at the elite and amateur level and I don’t want to burn out. Neither do I want to fade away (thanks, Neil Young), but I want to enjoy this for years to come and so, for now, I’m going to smile and enjoy my four milers and when the time is right, I’ll up that to five.