Seven down and three to go (I keep telling myself two and a lap of privilege), as it stands 'Three is a magic number.'
Coming in to this week, I was nervous, anxious, dare I say petrified at the potential of what I wasn't going to put myself through again. After I'd completed the Ten in Ten last year, I was somewhat smug with myself but was bought back down to earth with a bump after reading about the amazing, determined and impressive Ben Smith (he of the 401 Foundation), who had run the equivalent of 401 marathons in 401 days. It sort of helped to put what I'd accomplished into some sort of perspective. Don't get me wrong, I was pleased with what I had done, the journey and pain of 'running' with shin splints for almost seven days showed some determination on my part. You can perhaps forgive me for thinking that this week I might have expected to experience something similar, especially after my unimpressive preparation, nothing could be further from the reality. The three (as its a magic number) things going for me were, I had low expectations of myself, I was not carrying an injury and thirdly, I'd achieved before. Wind on one year, the experience is markedly different, just like life you have to concentrate on you and running your own race. Of course I need to be mindful and respectful of all of the support team (Aly, Paul, Linda, Mac, Jim, Chris et al), the physios, simply everyone who is helping us, everyone at Brathay and my fellow 16 athletes, but no-one is going to run the marathon for me, once you are out there it is me (you); me (you) versus me (you), versus the clock, versus the course. It's hard not to compare this year against what I endured last year. Day 7 in 2018 I sobbed from mile 8 to 18. Day 7 in 2019, I've smiled, laughed and sang from S to F. Except. Yes, there is an except and it is to do with running one's own race but hopefully having compassion and humility for amazing people I admire. So here goes. I don't know him well enough but he arrived at Brathay already carrying an injury, he hadn't run for two weeks and he's the unofficial 'leader', he is of course Richard Rex, a man I have admired ever since I became involved with Brathay. He pulled out today. How on earth he has endured seven days of excrutiating pain is beyond me? All I could do was put my arms around him, hug this bear of a man and tell him I think he is amazing, he is still 'The Man'. The only way I will ever be able to catch and compete with Rexy is if he is carrying an injury and I am so sorry I won't get the chance to share the next few days of tears, tantrums and (hopefully) triumph with him. He often writes that you cannot experience the highs without the lows; if this is his low, and fate balances the scales, he is going to destroy mountains and flay marathons in the future.
Another individual I would never get to run with or touch during a marathon is Malc Collins, he was suffering today and I miraculously caught up with at Newby Bridge. I even said to him, it's a mirage. Throughout the next two hours, I kept expecting Malc to glide effortlessly by me (because that's how he runs, with style and serenity) but it didn't happen. He is a legend of the Brathay Ten in Ten, he's completed it five times, he is a top guy. Last night we were up late chatting; Malc, Darren, Tony, Richard, Rexy and I. It honestly felt like I was with the cool kids and staying up, talking in the lounge at Shackleton was not something I got to experience last year.
For the last two months, all I've seen are dark, grey, rugged and unscalable mountains. The Ten in Ten helped change me last year, I think for the better. My perspective of those ugly depressing peaks is somewhat different enveloped within the Brathay Bubble full of people wanting to change the world and make a little difference, after all was it not Mahatma Gandhi who said 'be the change you want to see in the world'. What I saw as mountains months ago, I now see valleys of green, challenging peaks ready to be conquered. What a difference a day, a week, a month makes. Occasionally I need to remind myself of this. I wonder how this year might change me further? If I have anything to do with it, it will continue to be for the better. Kris my counsellor, when I first started visiting her for our meetings would remind me, 'It will pass'. Those dark days, they come, they go, marathons are a great analogy for life. I've had a good day today, a very good day, and not every 24 hours will be like this. So just keep going. Please, just keep going.
A funny thing (well I thought it was) happened going around the course, yesterday. This was just after Ambleside and a child on the opposite side of the road who was maybe three years old was throwing a right paddy for her Mum, shrieking and almost throwing herself on the floor. Me, in my gobby little way (but of course trying to be helpful) shouted over, there are ice-creams up ahead. The child stopped and smiled. The Mum scowled. My work was done.
Mr Bushby, my room-mate, who says he never sees me, although I wake up with him every morning asked if he could set off last today, happy to oblige as ever, I trotted with 'Choons' in position 16. Note to self, don't take Paul for granted, I must bring him flowers or arrange date night before the week is out. Maybe I go too far? Now, it is a little jaunt up a hill after about 200 yards (in old money) from the start and then somewhat undulating until Hawkshead where the children of Hawkshead Primary School were out in force again, by gum, they are amazing, they help to make our spirits soar. Those little gestures out on the course make a massive difference and can last for miles and miles. Beep beeps, cheery waves, an old lady even got off her bike to stop and clap me and tell me I was amazing - if only she could see the whole me, I'm just trying to do better - but all of the encouragement gives us strength and lightens our load, enough to want to churn out another mile or two or three (since it's the magic number). After Hawkshead, I did think to myself that I was running with lightness and no pressure, Adam Smith was there to cheer on the Ten in Tenners, another amzing man who helped to put me back together daily last year. At this point (mile 5-ish) I openly discussed the thought that Paul might not catch me, after he had been in front of me all week. And so, the run continued. And continued. And continued. All the way until Box 12 when I started to finally tighten and slow up. I walked down the bridge from Clappersgate and then up the hill into Brathay, I felt great, not spent, but tired and a little achy, rightly so and I may well pay for it tomorrow but today was a rather self indulgent and satisfying 24 minutes off my quickest time this week and six minutes quicker than my swiftest ever Windermere marathon. I'm content. It is magic being around these people and being in this 'Bubble'. All I need to do is finish this week with the same enthusiasm and high spirits I started and at this moment I feel I have nothing more to prove to myself. Despite, the fact that I've got another 262 miles to do around Windermere on a bike in a month's time. I'm retitling my Just Giving page the 524 Challenge.
Nearly forgot to mention, we tried to give Dr Katie another 'please excuse Duncan from running today' note, which failed again. Today's excuse was the 'Joe Morrell had killed my goldfish', except I'd not bloody thought of the back story, so had to make something up on the spot. The best I could come up with was that the goldfish Joe killed was through him attempting to cryogenically freeze him to prolong his life. We named him Philip. That's right Philip the Fish and if you struggle with that think of, fillet of fish. It all makes sense in my own mad little world. His funeral was by Thomas Crapper and Sons.
Tomorrow I go in to Day 8, uninjured, un-taped and grateful. Very speculatively I open the connection to Simon the Zealot, only in as much that today I've gone at the marathon like a fanatic.
Following today's enjoyment I can only dedicate this marathon to my Mum, a woman who inspired me as a child, who encouraged me to set about things with enthusiasm, a woman who helped to paint the memories of my childhood with vivid strokes of fun, discipline and daftness (colours of purple, red and gold), a woman who enriched our lives with stories of Gelert, and set the example that if you wanted something doing, to go about it with determination and vigour, to do all you can to change it. Fiercely protective of her family she still allowed us to make our mistakes and I'm sure took a little enjoyment in reprimanding us when trying to get us back on the straight and narrow. Equally, she has demonstrated stubborness, pride and despite asking me to look twice at myself before embarking on my second Ten in Ten challenge has still signed herself up for the Burnley 10k for charity in honour of my Uncle Colin at the age of 71. Practice what you preach Mum, you've got nothing to prove!