I entered and completed the Lake land Trails Ultra (The 55km race) and felt a completely new person afterwards.
This race was not just my first ultra marathon but carried a number of firsts for me; the first time id driven to the Lake District by myself, the first time I’d camped by myself, the first time I’d spent a weekend away by myself, the first time I’d entered an event by myself. You’d think I’d just come out of a tough relationship and was starting to find myself again doing all these new firsts, but on the contrary, I had never felt more in love. I was (and still am), in a happy and stable relationship and rather than trying to force my husband to be interested in the same things I am, I decided it was time I grew the balls to explore a few of these things myself.
So I turned up at about 7pm on a summery July evening to a very full camp site. I picked my spot and brought out my bright purple pop up tent – don’t judge; I don’t want to be struggling with a tent the first time I’m camping by myself. I’d also decided that I wanted to be comfy the night before the longest run of my life, so instead of a sleeping bag and foam mattress, I brought along a huge fluffy duvet and two pillows. Unfortunately, the car park was a fair way away from where I had pitched my pop up tent, so I had to walk through the field carrying all my bedding, occasionally dropping a pink flowery pillow and dramatically tripping over my king size duvet and then getting up again pretending I wasn’t embarrassed and carried out towards my tent. In a field where the runners are sleeping in either tiny bivouacs or extreme weather 1 man tents and they are squatting outside their tent in front of their campfires, cooking their dinner, I kinda stood out like a sore thumb, but no-one made me feel uncomfortable or awkward or remotely looked down on me for having different gear to them. I started to feel like this was a community of people I could belong with.
I had a quiet evening to myself, reading my book and eating my ready made petrol station salad and sandwiches, chuckling to myself at what an outsider I must look like and trying to psych myself up for the race. The longer race (100km) started at midnight and I woke to hear all the cheering for it; which made me excited, which turned into argh I need a nervous poo!!
The start of the race the next day was such a lovely atmosphere, with coffee and cake stalls and lots of nervous runners preparing; stretching, jogging, eating, hugging their children and dogs and various support crew members. I starting meeting a surprising number of people who were also there by themselves ; by the time the race started, I had just the right level of nerves and was ready for 10 hours of “fun”!!
I found that my practice in running downhill paid off; I’m not a hugely powerful person, so running or even walking uphill felt quite demoralising at times as there was generally a constant stream of people overtaking me, but I had practices for this. I stuck to my simple strategy of jog the flats, walk the uphills and run/prance on the downhills and it paid off for me – the majority of people that overtook me on the uphills, I was able to catch up or at least be on their tails again after the downhill section. I’d done a lot of strength training in my ankles and had practices elongating my stride when running downhill – nothing too scientific, just working with what I know I am good at and what Im not good at.
There were times in the race where I was completely alone and there were times when I had plenty of people to talk to, I had a chance to go into my head and think and there were times when I couldn’t think of anything else other than “one foot infront of the other”. I made a friend who was celebrating his 60th birthday and we spent about 6 hours either running with each other, or on each others tails. He was a fair bit faster than me, but when he saw I was struggling, he hung back and finished the race with me many hours slower than im sure he would have done without me.
I didn’t treat this race like a normal race, trying to get as good a time or place as possible, for me it was an enlightening moment of so many new discoveries. I now knew that my body can run more than 30 miles up and down hills, doing new, unknown things by myself was no longer as scary as it was prior to this and I had found a new tribe of people that were so accepting, friendly and kind to be around; I think I found my tribe.