WOW!! Ran the incredible Hope24 race last weekend and it was AMAZING ❤ just as awesome as last year (see Hope24: a 24 hour run in Newnham Park, Devon). It’s a 24 hour race held in Devon and is my absolute favourite running event of all time- it’s got everything: day and night running, awesome scenery, woodland trails, bluebells, friendly and inclusive atmosphere, really well organised, technically challenging running but also suitable for beginner trail runners…basically everything you could want in a running event! MASSIVE thanks to Danny Slay for organising it 😀
Started off a bit of an eventful weekend and wasn’t sure I was even going to get to Plymouth! Had had a bit of a rubbish week last week moodwise- several meltdowns, a pretty major paranoia attack and two panic attacks meaning that I hadn’t slept much at all during the week, and was really looking forward to 24 hours of just running. I left the house Friday evening to get the train to Birmingham and then to Plymouth, but just as I got to Birmingham Moor Street I realised I’d forgotten to bring medication with me. Sometimes that’s not a massive problem and I can manage a couple of days without it but given how unpredictable my moods and thoughts had been last week, I was a bit nervous about risking three days without quetiapine in particular. Luckily I was a bit early into Birmingham and went to a pharmacy to ask for advice; maybe not the best idea because the pharmacist basically told me not to go to Plymouth until I’d gone to a walk in centre to try to get a prescription or A+E to see a mental health liaison if they wouldn’t prescribe antipsychotics without a psychiatric report, but I really didn’t have time to find a walk in centre before the train and I didn’t want to waste A+E time. So I bought some herbal sedative tablets and some Nytol, and hoped that would do as a temporary measure until Sunday. Running’s a pretty good mood stabiliser anyway and I was going to be doing A LOT of that in the meantime!
So I finally got to the station and tried to get my tickets via the mobile app but it wouldn’t open. Don’t have the energy to go into it now and the whole thing seems a bit blurred and surreal because of panic, so am going to copy and paste my FB status from Friday night: “NEVER try to book tickets with Cross Country online!!! Bought them in advance online because it was so much cheaper than the crazy expensive train fare, and it said I had to download the app to get the ticket in the ‘My tickets’ section. So I did but the app wouldn’t let me sign in even though I reset the password, deleted and redownloaded it several times and tried two different email addresses.
Then I thought I could use the website to get the ticket texted to my phone but after nine attempts of ‘Sorry, your request cannot be processed. Please try again later’ I decided to go to the ticket office at New Street and ask them. The first woman I spoke to and showed my phone looked at me like I was stupid (although to be fair, I probably looked ridiculous since I was shaking and trying not to hyperventilate or cry by that point) and said it wasn’t anything to do with her, she worked for Virgin not Cross Country and I had to phone the Cross Country helpline.
By this time it was 40 mins before the train and was starting to panic a bit, and I called the helpline. The first person I spoke to couldn’t understand anything I said (I couldn’t breathe properly and was stammering) and I felt horrible, and he kept repeating ‘I need to know the best way to help you’ over and over which made me feel worse, and I said sorry and hung up. Did some ‘breathe box’ exercises and tried again, but the next person couldn’t understand me either and put me on hold before I could try to explain properly.
Was really panicking by then and tried for a third time, but the guy on the phone said he couldn’t do anything and that I just needed to redownload the app. I tried to explain that I’d done that several times and that it wasn’t working, but he kept saying that he couldn’t help and I had to keep trying with the app, then he put me on hold without warning, and the phone cut out.
Was so so panicky by that point, 15 mins before the train was due and went back to the ticket office. The woman said she couldn’t help and that I needed to keep calling the helpline, and I was so shaky, hot and dangerously close to crying by then that I just said thanks and went out again. Then I really did start crying and hyperventilating, and started doing the breathing again and pinging a hair tie on my wrist to try to calm down.
There was a woman standing with a Virgin uniform near the ticket machines and I went over to her, and tried to explain the whole situation which was pretty difficult since I was trying really hard not to cry too much, shaking and couldn’t speak properly. Luckily she’d seen me going in to the ticket office a few times and on the phone, and she was so so nice and calm which REALLY helped and was so amazing of her.
She looked at my phone and said she would talk to the train manager and explain that the app wasn’t working, and took me down to the platform. She was genuinely amazing and talked about her own experiences with trains/buses and how frustrating it can be, and made me feel like I wasn’t a totally weird freak for panicking like that which was so so nice of her. S he spoke to the manager who said it was fine just to use the confirmation on my phone, and I got the train OK. SERIOUSLY relieved and so so grateful to her!!
If anyone knows a woman called Sarah who works for Virgin trains at New Street station, PLEASE tell her how amazing she is and that she deserves a pay rise!! Seriously don’t know what I’d have done if she hadn’t helped, and she was so amazing, calm and kind even though I probably seemed like a more of a weird, panicky freak than I usually do! Am so so grateful and going to drop a box of chocolates into the station next time I’m there.”
So I finally got to Plymouth (!) and found the B+B I’d booked. It was late so the woman had left a key in a plant pot for me which was a relief because I didn’t have to speak to anyone (still jittery), took some Nytol and went to bed. Found it hard to sleep and I’m not sure if it was because of nerves, anxiety, excitement or lack of quetiapine (or a combination of all of them!) and semi-dozed until it was time to get up. Then I started to get seriously excited about the run, ate porridge and packed my CRAZY amount of food for the tent:
Had the usual ironic giggle at the fact that I always have peanut butter during ultras (MONDAY MORNING PEANUTS!! This won’t mean much to anyone who didn’t happen to be inpatient at WB in the mid-00s, but the apparent normality of a bag of salted peanuts at 10am on a Monday morning before going to the gym is something I don’t think any of us can forget!), and waited outside for a running friend to pick me up and give me a lift to the event (THANK YOU again!). One of the things I absolutely love about ultras is how incredible the people are- even people you’ve only met one at an event a couple of years previously are like family, and everyone’s so amazing and accepting. Then I set up the tent with food stores and lots of extra layers (turned out to be essential!!) and wandered round to the start line. There were a few people I recognised from last year and from other events which was really nice, and started to get really excited about the start. The atmosphere was incredible 🙂 it’s the most inclusive race ever and people are so lovely, and the supporters are amazing without being overwhelming which is also incredible.
The first mile was pretty much the same as last year’s course: a ‘gentle’ uphill to the top of a field, although it looped round and up this year instead of straight up which was a nice change and gave your legs more time to adjust. There were sheep and lambs like last year, and the views from the top of the hill were incredible. I was lucky to meet up with a woman I got to know during the run last year and who is incredible, and we ran the first couple of laps together which was really nice (thank you!!). It was so nice to catch up and really didn’t feel like I’d only met her once a year ago, felt like we’d known each other forever! Made the first couple of laps go past really quickly, and I decided to use the third lap as a ‘photography’ lap because the scenery was so amazing.
After the hill, the course went through a woodland trail with lots of bluebells which was so pretty and my favourite part of the course. There was a short section where you run through tall trees and it feels surreal and magical, like running through an enchanted wood of some sort. The path was easy to run on (at that point) and there was a heavy woodland air that you could feel as well as breathe, and the smell of bluebells was incredible. Could run that part forever! Then the path opened onto a short stretch across a field and back into the woods, although the second woodland stretch was more ‘busy’ and less magical stillness than the first one. The trees were smaller and leafier with branches bending down towards to path or overhanging, and it felt like the kind of wood you’d make treehouses or go for long walks in. It was a bit trickier to run because of roots and rocks but there were bluebells everywhere and it felt like you were really in spring. So, so pretty!!
After a mostly downhill wooded trail, the course looped back around a relatively flat pathway before back up onto wooded trail again and spilling down the hill towards the campsite. I loved the last mile: undulating wooded path along the side of a hill with glimpses of the tents through the trees then running down an open hillside towards the campsite. Really did feel like coming back home at the end! After that lap, I made a quick pitstop at my tent (which felt like a sauna and my peanut butter had melted!), ate few spoonfuls of PB and grabbed a few cereal bars for my water pack. Refilled water then back out for another lap of awesomeness.
I was feeling pretty amazing by this point: getting into the rhythm of running, loving the scenery, connecting with God and my Granda Sam through bluebells and trees, and best of all the bitch in my head seemed to have taken a nap and was nearly totally silent throughout the whole run!! The last few races I’ve done, she’s been a bit quieter but still annoyingly there, but for the first time in probably about six months she seemed to have shut up completely and my brain was relatively quiet for the first time in AGES. It felt AMAZING; I could think more clearly, everything seemed slowed down and manageable, and I felt calm and connected with everything instead of jittery-hyped or detached. It really was an incredible feeling. I decided to put Bowie’s Lazarus soundtrack on my iPod (I saw the musical last year and it was the most amazing stage show I’ve ever seen, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense at the time) and ran continuously until the album had finished. And then amazingly, the meaning of the music started to make sense and it felt like Bowie was actually talking to me through the lyrics and the way the actors sang the words. Won’t bore readers with too much pseudo-significant Bowie, but some things seemed really important:
- Your only reality is your own. You just need to come to peace with your own thoughts and learn to accept them without having to react or act on them.
- Sometimes the most helpful and influential people in your life only exist in your own head.
- Judging yourself is so much worse than other people’s judgments. People are selfish and inevitably caught up in their own lives- any judgment on you is a passing comment whereas self-judgment is a poisonous seed that can control your mind from within.
- The only true way to escape the reality of life is to fully accept it. Any attempts to escape or numb it only lead to more suffering.
- “We can be heroes. Just for one day.” The second part of that quote is the most important part: anyone can be a hero in any given moment if you only focus fully on that particular moment and don’t have the pressure of trying to be a ‘hero’ for a lifetime. The ‘we’ is also important: ANYONE can be a ‘hero’ if they learn to make peace with their own mind in order to escape its control. And that’s pretty much my mantra for running: accept the run for what it is, try as hard as you can but don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve any particular time/distance, relax into it. Metaphor for running and for life!
Anyway, Bowie aside…!! It started to rain towards the end of that lap so I put on my first layer of waterproof, ate a cereal bar and carried on. Unfortunately the rain got gradually heavier until by the time it was dark enough to need head torches, it was pretty much impossible to see properly and I was on my fourth layer of waterproofs. That lap was genuinely terrifying I could hardly see at all (my headtorch isn’t brilliantly strong to start off with but my glasses were covered with rain so really hard to see through, and it was very, very muddy). The first part of the lap wasn’t too bad going across the field, but going into the woods was very, very muddy and hard to navigate. I was slipping all over the place and trying not to fall by grabbing onto tree branches, and tiptoe/climbing rather than even walking! It was so, so scary on my own, and started to panic which really didn’t help because I was genuinely convinced I was going to die of saturation, hypothermia or falling in mud.
Then halfway through the lap (and thankfully before the main downhill part of the route), I met a running friend who had walking poles and a VERY strong headtorch, and asked if I could stick with him for the rest of the route. He was amazing and basically let me walk right behind him so I could see where he’d put his feet, and pointed out any roots or rocks with his poles. Made such a massive difference and felt so much safer with someone else there. I was starting to have a bit of an ethical dilemma about what to do: I REALLY didn’t feel safe carrying on with that amount of mud and poor visibility but I felt too guilty to stop until it got light, and I knew that if I took a break, I’d never get going again. I was feeling really trapped and stuck, and still wasn’t sure what to do by the end of the lap but thankfully when we got back to the campsite, the race had been postponed because of the conditions. I had genuinely never been so relieved in my life and felt like crying with relief!
They said they were going to reassess in an hour, so I went back to my tent which was SOAKED- the inside was about as wet as outside with rain and condensation and I was FREEZING. I couldn’t stay inside the tent any longer so I took my blanket and hot water bottle to where the friend who’d given me a lift had a gazebo and a FIRE with other runners from his running club. I sat as close to the fire as I physically could in an attempt to warm up, and made some porridge which tasted amazing. Then we found out that the race organiser had made the very difficult decision to postpone the race until it was light (5am) and would be safer for running. It must have been a very, very difficult decision to make but absolutely the right one. Most people went back to tents (or home if they were local) to get some sleep, but my tent was so wet and cold that even being in it felt like I was going to die of hypothermia and I couldn’t stop shivering so I went back to the main marquee.
Got chatting to some amazing people in the marquee including the race organiser’s partner who was INCREDIBLE. She was lovely and so friendly, and we work in similar jobs so had a really nice chat about that (and I ranted a bit about fidget spinners which had been driving me up the wall all week at school!). I was so so cold and she let me sit in front of the heater, then gave me a buff and said I could curl up on a mat in the marquee which was so so nice of her and amazing; I had my blanket so curled up like a hamster with the hot water bottle and the buff made such a massive difference to the amount of heat I must have been losing from my head. Thank you so much!!! Stayed there till the race restarted, then went back to my tent to drop off the blanket.
It was so, so hard to motivate to start up again because it was still freezing and wet, but I put on my hoodie (which was still damp but had been in front of the heater so not too bad), got a coffee and decided to walk a lap to see how I felt. After a mile or so, I felt a lot better and started to get back into the running again. Early morning is my absolute favourite time of day and the sky was so clear that you’d hardly believe the weather from the night before. It was still very muddy and slippery (although I only fell over once!), but a lot better now you could see properly. Running through the tall tree woods with early morning mist felt like a newborn Narnia, and the stillness was incredible. The damp in the greener woods made it feel like the world was coming back to life, and you could hear birds tweeting and lambs bleating. Seriously amazing feeling! Felt so ‘real’ and connected.
The hardest part about the enforced break was that the cold and damp had made my muscles seize up a bit, and one of my knees was a bit ‘creaky’. It got better as the morning went on though, and soon it felt almost summer-like hot as the sun came out properly. My body doesn’t deal particularly well with temperature extremes and coming up to midday, I was starting to feel a bit ill with hands and feel still freezing numb but my body starting to overheat, but I’m not sure how much of that was linked to two days off quetiapine (I’d had similar symptoms when I stopped taking it last year) so I took some paracetamol and Nytol, and that helped a bit. The buff was amazing and really helped to stop my head from overheating! Definitely going to use it again next ultra…
The last couple of laps were hard because by then, I was totally exhausted and feeling the effects of no sleep and the damp cold. But I was also feeling amazing; my brain was still quiet, I hadn’t had any obsessive or paranoid thoughts for nearly 24 hours and I was feeling calm and connected. I even managed to finish on 13 laps which would usually be an absolute NO for me (12 or 14; odd numbers are unlucky and 13 is about as bad as it can get) which meant that ironically I came 13th place out of 148 female solo runners which I was MASSIVELY happy with. Feeling a bit edgy about the 13 laps now though and thinking it as 65 miles doesn’t help either because it’s still an odd number and it’s 13 x 5, but at the time I had the horrible thought that I shouldn’t finish on 13 and needed to push for 14 but amazingly it wasn’t a big deal and didn’t bother me that much, which was amazing in itself. Although if I lose a friend or really upset someone this week without realising it, that will be why… Need to be super careful and I am being; have taken my usual anti-paranoia precautions on social media so I *touch wood* shouldn’t do anything stupid or impulsive. Still can’t believe I ran 13 laps!! Also really cool because last year I ran 16 in 24 hours and we lost 6 1/2 hours this year because the race was postponed, so actually ran ‘more’ in the time than I did last year! MEGA achievement for so many reasons 🙂
MASSIVE thanks to all the organisers and marshals for such an incredible event, and to all the awesome people I met over the weekend and who were so amazing and supportive. THANK YOU ALL and can’t wait till next year!!! 😀