Nail varnish is still on, scuffed, flaking but still on. There is some limited poignancy in that, still clinging to the laughs, the jokes, the emotions, the friends, the endorphins, the experience of simply being in the 'Bubble' at Brathay. Just like my nail varnish, through time, use and perhaps a swipe of nail polish remover, my memories of these last 11 days will fade. I hope they never fade completely, although I will be glad to get rid of the colouring on my nails (I don't think the shade quite suited my eyes).
Writing this penultimate blog of the Brathay Ten in Ten 2019 has proved difficult. I didn't want to be betrayed by my emotions from such a fantastic last day. Taking things for granted has for many years been my modus operandi. I'm glad I took time to remember my day 9 and day 10 from the Ten in Ten in 2018. This year. how I felt, perhaps even how I behaved could not have been more removed from last. One of the things that keeps me going is reminding myself of the battles others have to face. According to 'she who cannot be named' I am self-obsessed. Maybe I am. Maybe there is some truth in it, afterall, no smoke without fire. I left Brathay Hall last Sunday, 19th May with a bounce in my step. Eleven days of 'Tigger-ishness', everyday expecting an 'Eeyore' moment, or a pensive 'Pooh' ponderance. Yet, nothing other than a boing, a zip, a love of being involved with Brathay and part of this miscellaneous, makeshift family; the only things binding us, a love of running and the sense of purpose for Brathay. Re-reading this, it sounds like a cliché but it's not. Why do, year in and year out, (at least for the last 13 years) a bunch of like-minded people get together to collectively take on running ten marathons in ten days? Why too, do people make friends whilst here? Why too do you feel part of a community striving for better, for others and themselves? If anyone else out there reading this other than myself is curious about this event and charity, please take a moment to contemplate, and then do something about it, sign up for the newsletter, become part of Love Brathay, get out and do a walk, a run, do something that makes you feel amazing and if you feel like a challenge, sign up for an event, entries for the Ten in Ten are open.
Okay, so enough of the quiet contemplation set to loud. Let's see if I can remember Day Ten as if it was eight days ago (which indeed at the time of writing it was). I didn't sleep well on the Saturday night. A few reasons. The objective this year was to not get injured, to get through the Ten in Ten with minimal pain and discomfort, well the least amount you can encounter after running consecutive marathons. So I'd listened to Sam, Ainé and Dr Katie. I'd (amazingly) listened to myself, my own thoughts, my own body and for the briefest of times in my life I'd not criticised myself, or expected perfection. Going in to the Ten in Ten, I had very low expectations, I expected to be injured by day 4, slow marathon times, pain and discomfort, tears, tantrums and have to dig deep for the second year running. Miraculously it didn't come. Some deep-rooted, lost mojo returned. It's been years since I've felt so liberated, so young, so unburdened. On Day 9, I'd chosen to run with my room-mate Paul Bushby. I've explained how solitary it can often be whilst running (although I appreciate, sometimes you need it), on day 9, I just wanted to run with a friend. Now secretly, this left me with a little dilemma. Although the Ten in Ten is not a competition, everyone wants to do their best. Last year I clocked up over 55 hours for ten marathons, this year I had declared to no-one other than myself that I wanted to knock ten hours off last year's time. On the eve of day 10, this was almost a formality, even if I had run for over six hours, I could still achieve that, this gave birth to other thoughts and ideas. The difference in time between Paul's and mine was a paltry 40 minutes over the nine days. Could I make up the time, I debated internally? This is where the magic really started to happen (at least it felt special to me). Me challenging myself to do something difficult and something I could be proud of. I guessed Paul would run about 4 hours 30 on the last day, he'd been brilliantly consistent but the last few days had been slower by his own standards, this meant that I had to beat my previous personal best around Windermere by about ten minutes and clock around 3 hours 50. The Asics Windermere Marathon is not a gimme, it's relatively hilly and can really punish if you get things wrong. If I managed to take 40 minutes out of the time between Paul and I it meant that I could finish with the 4th lowest accumulation of hours. Dr Katie knew I was half joking, half serious when I jested that was what I was aiming for. My eldest son had sat his SATS earlier in the week, we had our arranged phone call on Wednesday night when I got to speak with each of our children. We chatted and I explained to my eldest how proud I was of him for all the homework he had done preparing for his primary exams. The disgruntled text came through on Saturday evening, questioning the support for our son; it rankled, sleep was intermittent, a nightmare ensued and so my preparation for Day 10 became somewhat unbalanced.
I wrestled with my thoughts in the morning but then an unexpected comment at Sunday breakfast came from someone who I admire greatly, he is now a six time Ten-in-Tenner, Malc Collins. Sitting down with my usual pre-marathon fayre of Sugar Puffs, strong coffee and orange juice, Mr Collins mused, 'you do realise there is only 18 minutes difference between you and I don't you?' Hadn't even considered it, Malc had become injured on day 7. However, he'd managed to properly run the last half of day 9's marathon. Oh, Pooh! Thought I. Malc could easily complete a marathon at least 30 minutes quicker than me, there goes my idea of a final day flourish. So I turned up for physio, both Sam and Ainé helped prepare me for our last day. For a couple of nights I had been icing my shins (not with sugar) to hold the 'splints' at bay, I had serious concerns that they were going to unravel everything that had successfully occurred during the week. On the morning of Day 10, I was probably in as good a shape as I had been all week.
Today, everything was slightly different, it felt that there was an atmosphere, there were crowds of runners and well wishers, today felt special. We had been asked to congregate in Brathay Hall before being led out for the traditional huddle. It turned the clock back for me 16 years, it was like going out on to the football pitch (the butterflies take hold of each person transforming them from joker to mute, or from rationalist to revolutionary), several visits to the water closet and we filed out on to the lawn before the finish line, for photos and for a heartfelt encouragement from Tony Hooper. Vicki had done a 'Duncan' and had left before the huddle to make it back in time for the presentation later in the day. Like Rexy, to attempt to run ten marathons with either injury or any form of inadequate preparation is brave and demonstrates a determination to succeed which in physical form outlines the human spirit. Filing out in number order, there were cheers and clapping from the crowd. Head down, I just wanted to run. I was itching. There was a reminder from a white-haired dimunitive figure in the crowd, that a little more awareness of my surroundings would help to me to soak more in, especially when that person had to remind me that she was my Mum. I hadn't expected anyone to make the journey to share my last day but understand what a loving parent is prepared to do for their children, no matter how old they are. Thank you Mum.
I'd joked with Tony in the physio room earlier as he was putting the finishing touches to his speech, that he shouldn't be googling Winston Churchill quotes so soon before his own motivational address. Darren, Malc, Paul and Tony had run at paces I'd marvelled at day after day. The 15 runners (remember Rexy was seriously injured and Vicki had set of early) walked half way down the drive to the revised start line. This was alien to me as all of the other marathons around Windermere had started on the main road by the entrance. There seemed to be a huge amount of excitement and Malc and I were vying for the opportunity to set off last. I'm sure Malc had a plan to chase me as his hare. So I set off 14th, chanting 'Choons' down the drive, I left for my last ten in ten marathon. It was a beautiful day, earlier in the week the weather reports had suggested heavy precipitation. We had sunshine. Something magic had happened. Cuckoos were out, the sun was shining, you could smell the scent of bluebells in the air. Just after the bend no more than 200 yards of the start, the road winds a little and then for about 300 yards it's straight and rises gently uphill. There were three or four of my compatriots making their way along their countdown miles. All week I'd worn compression leg sleeves and cap, no different today and I'd also made good use of my cheap bond conductors. Even before reaching mile one, the body, the heart and the mind were synchronised, it was as if a wand had been waved and the famous physio incantation 'proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation' uttered. At the very first box, which is three quarters up a steep rise, Aly, Michelle et al were waiting, little did I know that was one of the last times I'd see them on the course. An explosive, determined profanity spilled out betraying my resolution. Michelle shouted after me 'PB, PB'. Only 2 miles in and I'm unrealistically considering running the quickest I've ever completed a marathon. Three things spurred me on, Malc's 18 minutes, Paul's 40 minutes and the possibility that Dr Katie had suggested I had another sub 4 hour marathon in me. On the downhills, I tiptoed rapidly with feet almost en pointe. On the uphill, laboured short sprint like stutterings (except for Devil's Gallop which I left well alone). On the flats, head up, soak up the sun and love it. No children at Hawkshead School today, the bounce provided by children's voices gone and replaced by hand-prints on cardboard; high-fiving the poster doesn't replace the real thing and your ears ache to remember the laughter and uninhibited encouragement from young people who themselves run and learn for fun. Mr Bushby, was caught and passed before Hawkshead, I only counted three in front of me, Paul, Darren and the uncatchable Tony. Yet, after box 2, there he was fair trucking along, Joe Morrell, who had passed me at the same point a year earlier on his first ever marathon. I love how fate weaves memories and life's anomalies together. It took a while to pass Joe who seemed surprised to see me. He looked determined, what was he out to do today? Just after Devil's Gallop I caught sight of Paul Mayson, but surely, I thought, I can't be going that fast. I'd followed Paul earlier in the week, the only way I can describe his loping running is, elegant, this is a man who has style in perhaps everything he does. Amazingly, Paul and I managed to run together for what seemed like a short period around the ten mile mark. What came out of my mouth must have sounded like utter plop. But, I suddenly felt like I had a plan. 'I didn't get this last year, I haven't had a Day Ten before, so I'm giving it my all, nothing left. If you catch me at 13 or mile 16, or I get injured, I don't care I just want to give it my very best, no regrets.' I had every belief that Paul would whizz by me at some point. Only it didn't happen. No train to beat to the bridge today. Plenty of support at The Swan at Newby Bridge and then the turn to Fell Foot and 'home'. Every mile marker was met with a countdown subtraction. Box 7 at Fell Foot yielded my usual banana. I wolfed it down and resolved to hit Box 10 as quick as I could, always in the back of my mind was the expectation of an injury or slowing up significantly. Soon after, I managed to have a quick chat with Vicki, an opportunity to admire her determination and commitment. At mile 15 which I call 'Paul Brown's straight' I couldn't believe how fresh I still felt, eleven to go. If I remember correctly, there were two photographers around this area, one of whom said to keep going and asked how I was feeling, my instinctive reaction was to mimic a response like Paul Daniels, 'it's magic'. And, I guess it was. Somehow the wheels were still on, Paul hadn't caught me yet and I still believed I had a lot in the tank. At box 8 all of our bottles were lined up like the proverbial bottles on the wall, with a surprise attached, a little note from Aly Knowles, a token to spur us on. The miles still seemed to keep flicking by. Just before Beech Hill Hotel, Elvis came on my random playlist and I started singing out loud, serenading a local Rotarian with the 'Wonder of You'. He must have thought I was bonkers?
The rollercoaster between box 8 and 10 revealed another surprise. Just after mile 18 there in the distance was Darren. To say I was incredulous would have been an understatement, he too was injured but I couldn't believe my eyes, there was no way I was going strong enough to catch Darren. And yet just after the garage towards Ice-Cream mountain, that's exactly what happened. Second place, me in second place. Something was going wrongly, right. The exchange with Darren was similar to that with Paul and so the 'race' seemed on. Did I now believe that Tony was in sight? Part of me did, after all he was nursing several serious niggles too. At the 3.7 #Miles for Matt marker I removed my cap and laid it at the bus-stop (somebody would have to sweep that up later, sorry) but it seemed like the right thing to do.
At the last disciple, (box 12) the Audi pace car came by, registering a time of 2 hours 15 minutes, that meant I was around 3hr 15 pace, this was not happening. The winner of the Asics Windermere marathon, Rob Corney glided by effortlessly, 24 miles in and this amazing man was hardly puffing. Two miles to go and I'd finished my second Ten in Ten, where was Malc, Darren, Paul? Who was this person still thoroughly enjoying running a marathon. Sure, I slowed up between 24 and 25 but the last mile into Brathay was (dare I say it, again) magical. An out of body experience, Clappersgate came and went. And then an alarm bell sounded. The 'dare' I had suggested to Tony Hooper, my finish line antics that we had giggled about in the serious briefing the evening prior and the ridiculous take on 'Infinite Tucker' was about to come a little sooner than I had prepared for. I walked the 100 yards up the drive, I could hear the clamour at the finish. I steeled myself for what could turned out to go so wrong.
Over the speed-bumps, under the short avenue of trees, around the bend to reveal the last few yards, the funnel to the finish. Every day I had finished each marathon promising a little ditty, part of a song and today was to be no different, the anthemic 'Sweet Caroline' and 'good times never felt so good, so good', I chanted to the onlookers who like the Rotarian must have considered me equally bonkers. There three feet in front of me, the finish line, I picked my spot like a targeted exocet and hurled myself into the air competing against no-one, finishing spreadeagled, planting my face, knees and hands across the finish. I've watched it back, I seem to peel off armband and timer with disabandon, how disrespectful. I wasn't the only one to complete this challenge today. I dibbed. Time complete and recorded. Apologies for the flippant finish but I loved today, loved those 26.2 beautiful miles, even smiled contentedly at myself.
Mum waiting with medals to place around my neck, Rexy there with a couple more. And then like Clubber Lang, I declare that 'I'm coming for you'' to Tony 'Rocky' Hooper. I was on cloud nine. I'd finished 'second' on day ten. Perhaps I'd managed to claw back the 40 minutes between Paul and I. Mojo, magic, witchery I never expected a day like Sunday, 19th May 2019. Hugs with Sam, Ainé, Dr Katie, Aly, Rexy, Mum and then I trotted off to get my actual finish time. Break open an egg and get a double yolker, it's unexpected but you do feel like you've hit one of nature's jackpots. The crack of the printer, the reel of the paper and there in front of me was a time I am proud of. Three hours, thirty nine minutes. The fastest I'd ever run around Windermere was 3:57 on day 7. London Marathon 1997 and a finish of 3:46. In 22 years I'd never run quicker over this legendary distance. How does one run 18 minutes quicker or turn back the years to beat their 27 year old self? Magic, of course.
At one point around the course somewhere between 18 and 20 miles, the fact that I was still running faster than I had perhaps ever done, led me to thoughts that there was a degree of divine intervention. Maybe there was. Maybe it was one of the other lesser known disciples, Bartholomew, Levi or Thaddeus pointing me to a sign? I needed the pain of last year, just as I needed the joy of this year. What have I learnt? I am determined, I can be fun, I can achieve things that I set out to do and I'm not too bad a person, many faults just the same as anyone else, not perfect but not bad either. No I don't forgive myself for my poor decisions of the past but I do realise I am a better person than I often give myself credit for. What next? Who knows, what I do feel like I need to do is to continue to challenge myself, is Brathay part of that, I hope so but I hope so much more too. There's still a spring in my step one week on, after all my top is made out of rubber and my bottom is made out of springs.
It goes without saying that this marathon is dedicated to three little people; those three who make my eyes shine, my double chin bubble, my chin chatter and my reason for living to be.