Three Brathay 10 in 10s completed. Each for a different reason every time. I've no idea why I chose to write 'H is for' and so on for the title of each blog, it came quite naturally after the first one. It went without saying that H was meant to be a courteous nod to Helen Renton, who lost her life tragically a little over six weeks ago and shattered the lives of her family. We've all to a lesser or greater extent suffered; bereavement, injury, illness, abuse, bullying, it's all part of the human condition, I guess. The other letters followed and should if I've correctly utilised all the letters and rearranged them, spell HAPPINESS? Did it?
For years I've searched for it, in trying to accumulate wealth (but with little respect for money, so much so, I'm still broke) to buy all the good things in life, like wine, women and song. Okay, lets not go that far, but seriously, too much alcohol (I'm grateful that my ex kicked me out when she did as it had a power over me), too much gambling, too little work and too much feeling sorry for myself (which I still do, I drag a bag of guilt with me like some well-worn, cumbersome and clumsy suitcase, without the wheels). It has taken five years and five months, three 10 in 10s and another 10 or so marathons to get to a place where happiness means more than the money I have or don't have; means more than getting drunk on a night with friends when all I can remember is how arrogantly I might have behaved and then how everyone should be quiet and tend to my every whim because of the almighty hangover I had earned; and, means more than the car I drive (or don't), the mortgaged house I have or don't. Happiness means struggle, means compromise, means talking with passion, openness, honesty to and for those you care about, means not giving up when things are tough, means cherishing those you care about so that you don't let them sit for hours in front of a TV, monitor or screen, means listening to your children bicker and scream at each other, or better still giggle, play and stick together as they battle through another imaginary super heroic war, or hard uncomfortable silences after a telling off, means accepting that they are going to be bored but by giving them some pens, paper or chalk you can watch them and hear them grow up as children, means getting them to jump in mud, get their brand new trainers dirty, means playing cards and letting them win, means teaching them words, playing daft games in the car, means telling them off and sharing a sweet or a slice of cake with them to make up, means saying no when the easy option would be yes, means letting them be free to play with their mates when you'd rather be selfish and enjoy their time to yourself (even if they are grumpy teenagers), means not knowing what to say sometimes but above all it means knowing that what you did today counted. It did, didn't it?
I know happiness exists in my life, Brathay has helped me to recognise it and be grateful for all that I have. The challenge, the place, the people, it fits somehow. After the first challenge I didn't feel any different as I crossed the line, now I look back and wonder at how much the person who entered the event three years ago has altered and I think to a slight degree grown. The challenge has changed too, as everything does in life. People have changed, a small but not insignificant sparkle lost. The physios different but no less adept; Dr Katie I adore in a platonic way, I listen to her when others I'd glibly ignore, as I did to another key individual once involved with the 10in10. Their voices, encouragement and quite confidence in me has filled me with a belief in myself that until this event didn't exist. Without them, the magic is diluted, its always the people who make the place.
Obviously Brathay has been affected by Covid-19 and all of the fallout. This visit, the scale, the enormity, the beauty and the challenge has shrunk a little. For instance, I know there are lots of hills on the course but they don't seem as big as they once did. The other competitors, I used to see them as giants, immense individuals of stature who through adversity, commitment and iron-will were icons to be emulated. I know I'm short but I felt that when I walked in the room in 2021 all of my colleagues were no longer head and shoulders above me. In no way I'm saying I'm equal to any of the individuals who have etched their names on to the wall of finishers, just I'm perhaps no longer overawed?
Day 10 is a cup final, I'm quieter, more focused and more committed to finishing with a flurry, plus I just want to get home, see my children and get back to life (that's changed too, I've not wanted to leave on previous years). This Sunday morning and the day before, I was reminded several times not to be late and to make sure I was ready with my kit on by 9am. After the fourth reminder it begins to wear a little thin. I had to keep telling myself that no-one 'knows' me. Happy-go-lucky through days 1-9, the last day is about finishing the job off. Dr Katie knows, Aly (knew), that the switch to perform can be flicked to on. Focussed, determined Duncan, can be relied on to deliver. Someone made the comment that I looked wired. This event means too much. People have donated hard earned cash in times of a pandemic to support me, to raise money for Brathay, surely it's about summoning up every last effort to get to the start and finish line to show the determination, emotion and elements of the human condition to complete the 26.2 miles. I don't intend to let anyone down, not now not ever, I may be late, play the fool but I'm not the person I once was.
To the start and finish line, and I was friend spotting, George 'The Gloves' Sherriffs, Richard Rex, Sean Warburton, David Green, Jim Meta, Graham Dewar, Diane Morris, Liane Warren, all 10in10 hall of famers. I'm so grateful for their help and support. George and Joni played pivotal roles in my commitment to the event this year. I was struggling with my conscience and guilt about how little I had trained, but equally how I didn't want to let anyone down. In particular Philip Hoyle of the Rotarians who for whatever reason has supported me on my personal journey the last few years. Had I not determined to change five years ago, I would not have bared my heart, soul and suitcase of guilt to Kris Williams who helped me more than I can ever thank her for.
Dr Katie had said earlier in the week to try to keep something 'in the box' for the last day, I'd protected myself a degree of sensibility not usually associated with me through Day 8 and 9. Georgia has looked after me and I felt as prepared as I could for Day 10. Take it steady and reel the miles in was the advice. After mile 2, my body (probably pumped with adrenaline) had a different idea and by mile 8 I had both Claire and Paul in my sights, could I repeat day 10 of 2 years ago? Sadly, the ibuprofen started to wear off at mile 13 and my quad became tighter and tighter and more painful, so much so that by mile 19 I was shuffling and walking. James Thomas had tanked by me at mile 15 just as Malc had done two days previous. Ouch! The pride a little bruised but that said, James has been magnificent in his consistency over the whole week, he deserves success, he loves the event too (as he kept telling us all, over and over and over again). Some friendly faces at mile 19 in the form of George and Liane and they nursed me to mile 21. A lightning bolt struck then in the form of Jake Bugg. I started off singing 'Everyone I see just wants to walk with gritted teeth' but changed the words of the next lines to include the words 'I start to smile', which don't fit at all. As I sang I started to feel elated, the energy that was lacking was suddenly renewed and my legs actually felt as though there were soda bubbles popping inside, My pace picked up. A five mile surge to the line, maybe I could even catch James (unfortunately, he's too quick, too calculating and too good, another time maybe)? As we passed Brockhole just near to the last water station an unwelcome clamour erupted behind me, in a whoosh it was gone, not the Witch from 'Room on the Broom' but the wizard of the 10in10 (just missing his pointy hat), his signature pink blurred by me. After complaining of shin splints in the morning and passing Malc at about mile 2, he seemed miraculously spritely as once again for the second time in three days, he surged by me on his toes with that loping, comfortable stride of his. It didn't matter I told myself. At this point I recognised I'd given all I could, it was a huge achievement to have got this far. In Ambleside, Avril danced by me on her toes. That competitive itch started to prickle again but again, when you are beaten by the better man or woman it really doesn't matter if you've given your best. Just at Bronwyn Nixon's otter I cheered Avril on shouting to keep the pace up. I'm sure she would have enjoyed the finish with her family, she deserved it. As all the finishers did.
At mile 26, the bottom of the drive, I tried to joke with the marshalls about where the finish line was, I guess they'd heard it all before, so I strenuously plodded up the hill to get to the finish which the day previous had been repositioned to it's regular sport half way down the lawn. My sister and children were there to see me in. I couldn't have given any more. The finish line finale was a silly affair recreating a tiktok type dance, which paled into insignificance with the jig of joy by morris-dancing Michelle, or better still the finish line proposal to begin a married life together of Neil and Danielle. That's how you do a proper end of 10in10 celebration.
To my fellow 'athletes', to the support crew (Cumbria Uni physios and all associated with Brathay and the 10in10), I offer no apologies, I love being at Brathay and I love being part of the 10in10. The event fills with me pride, enthusiasm, energy and love. Throughout the event I hope I offered a smile, a laugh, a kind word, a pat on the back or just some humility to you. I hope I did? I hope it made a difference to your day. Being with you made a difference to mine.
It's now a well over 48 hours since the end of the 10 in 10, the Brathay Bubble and it's burst. The way I feel at the moment is that I've closed the last cliff-edge chapter of a book where the villain and hero are one and the same, yet there's no twist, no sub-plot, no plummet from the Reichenback Falls, it just feels like 'The End'. I wonder if that will change?
Deciding whether to stick a pin in it?