Saturday 24 September 2022

A really big ask at GUCR

Back in June, I got the train up to Birmingham, with the plan to run all the way back to London, taking part in the Grand Union Canal Race. Yes, despite not having run anything longer than 45 miles since  GUCR last time in 2015, and having had three children in the intervening years, I decided that my return to long distance races would be a repeat performance. Not only that, but I would do it uncrewed, and with no buddy runners. Well, it seemed to work last time...

But I knew it was a really big ask. 

Training for an event like GUCR is tough for everyone. Doing it with three young children, an injured dog (Chewie had two leg surgeries in the spring) and a full time job, is even harder. I had a great race at St Peter's Way in February, but finding the time to fit in my running around my life had been nigh on impossible and I missed so many of my planned runs. I also didn't manage to lose any of the weight I had hoped to either, and come race weekend was still definitely on the obese side of the scale, at nearly 200lbs (that's 14 stone) on my 5'5'' frame - which obviously makes running much harder!! 

So, I arrived the night before feeling pretty unprepared and a bit of a fraud. Nevertheless, I headed down to registration at Gas Street Basin, picked up my number, and saw friends I hadn't seen in, literally, years. Being there, with the buzz of race prep, I started to feel that whatever the little voice in the back of my mind was telling me, I did actually belong here with these people, it felt like I'd returned to my tribe, even if they were all slimmer and fitter than me. Although I might not look the part, I'd completed GUCR once before, and I started to believe it would be possible to do it again - with brand new trainers (after my trainers had literally ripped apart a couple of days before) and a lack of any real idea of what I was capable of, I was hugely looking forward to the journey down the canal to Little Venice.

Sadly...I didn't get the fairy tale ending. 

All started well, but I missed a turning early on, only adding a mile or so, but it threw me, then needed an early toilet stop, and I spent the rest of the race obsessing about my pace and mileage. I made good progress though, and despite a bit of an ongoing issue with a dodgy tummy, I was doing ok, and remembered just how much I love running ultras. The scenery was as fabulous as I'd expected, and seeing friends along the course, both those cheering me on, supporting at CPs and running, was just so wonderful. I have missed everyone, and it reminded me how much I love the community. 

I ran 45 miles in 9:32 which was pretty much where I wanted to be, and after various detours eventually got to 100 miles on my watch, in just under 25 hours. Not the sub 24 I'd been hoping for, with my "best scenario" race plan, but still good enough for my more realistic plan, and as by now my feet had started blistering, I was still happy with how I was going. 

Unfortunately, I started to walk more and more from here on in and really struggled to maintain momentum. I was thinking about getting home for the children, worrying about being out longer than I'd planned, my feet were blistered and agony, I was tired, not eating enough, and as the miles went on I think I gave up a bit, and started to tell myself there was no way I was going to finish within the cut offs, especially with my blisters getting worse. 

I essentially talked myself out of it, convinced that my pace was probably too slow to even get a finish, and miserable that I was just walking when my forte has always been finishing well and running through out every race I've done. It wasn't the race I wanted, I wasn't enjoying myself in any way at that stage,  and so as I was heading towards the checkpoint at 120 miles, I decided to give it up as a bad job. When I got to the CP, with just about 126 miles on my watch, I told them I was DNFing.

My first DNF in an ultra, and only my second ever in a race. 

I've had months now to think about the weekend and my decision, and I absolutely know, in my heart, that I could have finished, and I should have carried on. With all the justification in the world of my feet hurting (did they really hurt that much?!), I was only walking, might have missed the cut offs etc etc, I should have regrouped at the checkpoint where I dropped out, got changed, dressed my feet, refuelled, and carried on. After I'd been at the checkpoint for a while, I knew that too. However, by that time, I'd already phoned Francis to come and pick me up, and think in all honesty I was just being stubborn. I'd made the decision, even though it was the wrong one. A real shame. Getting so far and then not finishing is very disappointing but I just didn't have the mental strength to get the job done.

That DNF has affected me these last few months. I have barely done any running at all, I've stopped coaching, and put on even more weight. I just haven't been able to find the motivation at all. Totally lost the love...

However, I feel I'm coming out the other side of that now, and have booked myself a full calendar of events to try and keep me engaged and motivated as I return to structured training. I know I love running, I love ultras, and I don't want to lose this part of me that has been so important for so long. 

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