My last entry covered the completion of the Alónnisos Challenge. The race was over 19 miles of mountainous terrain in 30ºC+, from which it took several days to recover. After the race, whilst still on the island, I decided to test my new Anton Krupicka Ultimate Direction hydration pack and see how trail running solo would feel. I had a mind to explore dusty tracks to an overlook at Fringou. The ground shimmered in the heat at my starting point by the crossroads near Diaselo. It was just before midday – not very wise. I set off down the hot track, cap shielding me from the sun. The hydration bladder swished annoyingly, but after five minutes it matched my running rhythm and became part of the whole. I took a wrong turn up a nasty climb to a farm, adding 400m to my run, but otherwise I was alright, reaching the overlook at Fringou well hydrated, in good shape but radiantly hot. The view was great, only compromised by the Greek habit of sticking mobile masts in the most beautiful lofty places. On the return it was maddeningly hot and dust coated my legs. I had to speed-walk some climbs, arriving back at my rental Fiat to the strident cheer of a lone farmer who was filling up his goats’ troughs nearby. I changed my sweat-soaked kit quickly (bollock naked bar my shoes, by the road for 30 seconds) then set off for refreshments at Costas’s Kantina in Gerakas. I had loved the run and love this special Greek island.
This year had not panned out as I had hoped. By late summer, although I was free of medical issues, I had yet to regain my physical resilience and felt fragile. Even on my best runs I was monitoring everything, just in case illness or injury made themselves manifest once more. Thus, the summer became a continuation of my recovery. I had absolutely no speed at all and tended to plod along at a single pace. As September arrived I was running well again, but had started to think I would have to get used to 12 minutes a mile being my new racing speed. (Before 2016, 8 and 9-minute miles were normality). It felt like tiredness was a permanent ton weight I could not put down. The Reaper Man is much slower, luckily, so I pressed on regardless – one thing I had not lost was my stubborn streak.
As I approach my 62nd birthday (30th September) I panicked. I’d plodded through hilly 16, 18, 20 and 22 milers yet still had no confidence. I had recovered from everything, then picked up a bout of sciatica. It was two years since my constant string of illnesses and injuries had started. Did I need more rest? So, in a moment of madness, I decided to see if I could run 30 miles.
I mapped out a local course – a couple miles over the fields, a small loop, then 20 x 1.28-mile laps around quiet country lanes, with a return to complete 30.03 miles. Luckily the day I chose was hot! I had set up a hidden feed station early in the morning, with plenty of water, electrolyte drink and gels, so set out over the trails under blue skies with no excuses. Oddly enough the sciatica never affected running, only making sitting or lying down uncomfortable. How does one rest such an injury?
After the initial small loop, I started the 20, and due to failing memory counted them by adding a stone to a handy old plough frame on each circuit. I drank with a gel every second lap, (caffeine in every 4th one). I was single paced, but never faltered, slowed or walked. The biggest bother is not knowing where one’s limit may be. In my head the ‘hitting the wall at 18 miles in a marathon’ mantra is still hard wired, so ultra-running can be a mind-over-body issue. It is in me. Yet I never noticed the marathon distance, only stopping at 28.4 miles when 20 assorted stone counters sat in a row on the rusting plough frame. And, well, I felt fine. I also had loads of flies stuck to me! (In the picture I took I counted 30 flies – one for each mile.) Once home, with 30 miles done I’d proved to myself I’m not doddery quite yet.
With that, I took my sciatica and my Passepartout for a birthday break in the West Country.