The aquaducts? Law and order? Sanitation? Medicine, wine, roads, to mention but a few of the things that Monty Python reminds us of. What's the point in all that though? Why on earth is this relevant?
Substitute Brathay for Romans, substitute 'us' for 'me' and perhaps I'll be able to explain the situation better. Last weekend, I completed my first 50-mile plus Ultra, the Lakeland Trails 100km. I finished 37th. Many didn't complete the journey. When I finished I remember how grateful I felt, especially after seeing better runners than I pull out at the last checkpoint. Up until two days before, I was seriously contemplating pulling out, I still felt a little 'empty' from completing the Brathay 262 (plus 'saddle'-sore that I missed out on becoming a 'recognised athlete', as my finish time exceed the 24 hour limit by 23 minutes) which, if you can't read between the lines has got my goat, and no, I'm not kidding around. Would I do it again to see if the grass is greener on the other side? Not a chance. I digress.
Now, the Lakeland Ultra. Midnight start, (never done that before), some serious hills and some serious doubts (especially considering I'd never run more than 41 miles before), but (as my Mum would say) 'where there is no sense, there's no feeling' and a little encouragement from a friend (thanks, Sarah), I decided that my fitness is now, my health is now and clearly the time was, well, Saturday, 29th June. That weekend was the deadline for entries for the Brathay 10in10, too. Finally, he gets to the point? Well, not just yet, as I need to explain about the Lakeland before my memories fade and yet another opportunity for a diary entry disappears.
I'm lucky. My sister and my brother-in-law agreed to look after my three amazing children whilst I went off on a tortuous circular jaunt around the Lakes from Ambleside to Ambleside. Prior to dropping the children off for fun with their Aunt and Uncle though, was the usual Duncan-induced frenetic journey from North Yorkshire to Tyneside to Ambleside (for registration) to the coast of Cumbria and back to Ambleside (for the start). I managed to scrape within each deadline with minutes to spare.
What surprises me is the insistence to include mandatory kit that you then lug around for the next half a day or more with no requirement to use it. Sensible I know, but bloody irritating and risky if you decide to jettison it after the kit check, especially when you consider there might be spot checks at the finish or at check points around the course, which could potentially lead to disqualification, not worth it, am I right or am I right? So, I ended up heaving (slight exaggeration as it's not that heavy) around stuff that I neither needed or wanted. There's a need to temper my comments, I guess, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Hopefully this is not a sign that I'm growing up?
At midnight, by 'eck it were warm. Head torch on and nestled into the pack for the journey ahead I kept at the forefront of my mind two bits of advice that were given to me by Jon Raymond, who my sister introduced me to before doing the St Begas Ultra in 2016. Jon is a really generous bloke, he offered me the sage wisdom, 'if you're thirsty it's too late, if you're hungry it's too late' and this fundamental learning has stood me in good stead for every long distance event I've completed. So, from midnight until 5am through three checkpoints I made sure that I topped up my fluids and grazed on snacks whilst shuffling along. At checkpoint 3 I was amazed with the realisation that I'd completed almost a third of the course. Then, just as in the 262 the week previous, I realised that there was still a significant way to go. Knocking out the miles on an ultra is alien to me. Both the 262 and this event were mentally draining, trying to encourage myself that I could complete them a real bind, perhaps because I just simply struggled to get my head around the 'road' left to travel and not how far I've journeyed. Aye, aye, that sounds a bit philosophical. Little soundbites I often use to keep going couldn't quite drown out the reverberation of 'miles to go'. Try as I might to sing songs, they didn't quite echo inside or out, recalling memories of days with the children, or giving myself a proverbial kick up the backside with reminders of others; like Jon battling real-life challenges like myeloma or the many impressive individuals I follow or admire (Henry Fraser, Jane Tomlinson, Laura Nuttall to name but three), or the countless people who face up to and beat whatever life throws at them; this little voluntary run I chose to do is simply a testament to choice and really, I shouldn't whinge about something I volunteer for, I should just get out and do it. Nevertheless, whilst hobbling along, the self pitying thoughts lingered and nothing I did or ruminated chased them away, like a bad smell, my brain kept reminding me of my aching knees, sore feet, hunger, thirst, irritation of wearing a cap or not wearing a cap, tired quads and pinging calves but more than anything - to be perfectly honest - I simply got bored with the incessant grind of trying to churn each mile out, especially when trying to compete against the course too. The hills were brutal, up and down. But, wow! The Lake District is beautiful, the views incredible and the many volunteers (to whom every runner needs to be thankful for), walkers and spectators full of encouragement, what an event, brilliant. What also bothered me was my own stupidity, why wear trail shoes when the ground is rock hard and on many elements of the course you are running on the rocks of ages, like misaligned and poorly maintained dragon's teeth, jaws open, waiting to feast on any slip or tumble? At the finish, both plates of meat were shredded, any blister plasters had been gnarled and ripped, each sole gnashed, heels and ankles gnawed. The start of that sentence is telling though, 'at the finish'. Despite, my lack of preparation, the not insignificant challenge completed a week prior, I stuck at it and reached the point where a vain medal is popped in faux celebratory style around my neck, signifying completion of a physical challenge but little else. Or does it?
Perhaps, I've come to realise that these innocuous wreaths signify something? Not to the world rushing by, but to me. Each signifies the beginning and end of a journey. Understandably it's a physical effort which means that pretty much anyone can do it, after all, it takes no brains, no real intelligence, just plenty of heart, a smattering of common sense and a wilful, fathomless determination to start and keep going to the event's conclusion. So whilst the clocked ticked down on the ultra so too the deadline for the Ten in Ten came and went. Out of courtesy I thanked two people who have helped me in various ways these last two years and explained that I regrettably would not be submitting an entry. Phew! that's a relief they thought? The hat-trick of Ten in Ten's I'd coveted, won't be completed next year, I simply couldn't find the reason(s) at this moment in time to hurl myself towards a 10in10 in 2020, nor perhaps could I face the rejection had I submitted an entry.
I cannot fail to admit that on a personal level this year, despite it's challenges, both chosen and imposed, that I've kept going, I've asked for help when I needed it but most importantly and this is very, very, exceedingly strange for me to admit, I feel I'm becoming relatively successful, relatively worthwhile, not in wealth, nor even achievements but with something else, something within me. Forgive my lack of explanation but the trumpet I'm trying to blow, I can't quite find the tune for at present. I'm sure I'll be able to pen some notes, quavers and semi-quavers at some stage. Admittedly, there are still days I visit the Intertropical Convergence Zone, but I try to do the best I can and keep going, which leads me back to the Bubble that is Brathay. What has it/they managed to do for me? I asked someone I admire for advice on why I could have submitted an entry, in a contemplative bovine-like reply he suggested, 'I know a little about you and your history, but one thing is for sure, Brathay helps to make you better'. It has. The place, the experience, I am better for it. The Ten in Ten and Brathay Trust (the charity) has been a sort of therapy but it has meant so much more than that to me. Three years ago, with my life in some state and a distinct lack of direction, I now consider I'm fortunate, so what have the 'Romans' ever done for us? Well there's the perseverance...the humility... the devotion... the determination and the improved awareness of who I am. Yes, but despite all that what has Brathay ever done for me? As we know the sketch continues...
There's a lot to be grateful for. I will continue to run and raise funds (with your help) for Brathay any and all donations are welcome here.
I need to thank my brother-in-law, Ben, who has come up with the great idea of completing a personal journey of 2020 miles (cycle, swim, run, row or walk) in 2020, my sister has agreed to join me but I feel I need to try to bite off more than I can chew again, so how about 'Strava-ing' a distance of 5050 miles in 2020 (after all next year I reach a half century of years and I'm going to miss the binary 10in10), any thoughts to declare?
On to my next event at the end of July, the Montane 50 and beyond, York and Snowdonia Marathons, I'm amazed at how far I've come.
What about you? How far have you travelled? What do you have to be grateful for and have there been any 'Romans' in your life?