10 November 2010

my attempt at an ultra marathon

the pembrokeshire coast challenge has come and gone. and what a challenge it was. i had quite a few expectations of what the event would be like. and how the subsequent blog post would read. but as is often the case, nothing ever quite turns out how it is expected.

my journal entry for the 4th of November reads..."I am a strange mix of nervous and excited as I prepare for what I can imagine to be one of the most physically daunting tasks to date. As the 3 marathons are not road race marathons, I am quite confident I can complete all 3 since time wont be a factor. Finishing is more crucial than finishing in a good time. The forecast for tomorrow is heavy rain and a strong northeasterly wind. a bit miserable if I am honest, but I am hoping and praying for the best as this race is something rhys and I really want to do..." I had a fairly positive attitude heading into the runs. even though neither rhys nor myself had ever run a marathon before, since it was not a road race but an endurance challenge I just knew it would be fine.

i could not have predicted what I was about to face on Friday morning. I was expecting coastal path as in grassy and/or gravel. what i was met with was constant undulating ground of boulders, loose rock and mud ankle deep.
I was expecting some rain on and off throughout the day but what I got instead was constant, heavy rain at a slant with a breeze so chilly that it went right through you. within 10 minutes of the start friday morning i was soaking wet and covered in mud.

my journal entry for the 5th of November reads..."it was a ROUGH day. It rained about 85% of the time. the kind of rain that is so constant and heavy that it catches on your eyelashes, making it next to impossible to see. oh, and the wind. it was just enough of a breeze that coupled with the rain, it made any skin exposed sting and burn. We were soaked to the bone by mile 2. we were up and down constantly on a trail that was so narrow only one foot could fit at a time. the path ran no more than 50 meters from the cliff edge, with a 100 foot plus drop to the sea below. sometimes we were a mere 2 or 3 feet from the edge.
It was tough. At mile 14 I had a bit of a breakdown, but I powered through and by mile 18 had a steady pace back. well, as steady as pace as the rocks and mud would allow. i was glad to be finished, but so glad to have actually finished it. 26.2 down, another 52.4 to go. cant wait for tomorrow"...

saying it was rough is an understatement. It is hard to describe the terrain that rhys and i were running on day one. at some points it was so dangerous that we actually debated about carrying on. and the rain made it all the more challenging. but, it was a good feeling that evening as we ate dinner with the other 82 runners that completed the day; we had just run a marathon. (103 started on friday morning. only 82 finished)

Getting up saturday was a challenge. My body ached in places i didn't even know you could be sore. but somehow every ache and pain seemed to fade away as I pinned on my running number and took my place at the starting line. the forecast was sunny and cool, perfect running weather. we were promised that the scenery on day two was magnificent. and we were not disappointed. it was beautiful. sandy beaches down below, rocky cliff lines ahead and beautiful sunshine on our shoulders. the first 10 miles of day 2 were amazing. Rhys and I kept a great pace and were feeling quite strong. (first 3 miles of day 2. up a rocky hill and then up some more)
and then my knee popped. not a big pop, just like an over stretch kind of feel. hmm, i thought, thats not really comfortable. but we kept going to check point one. I had my knee examined and wrapped by a paramedic, but made the choice to continue on. To say our pace was cut in half would be generous. we slowed down to a walk at some points. we finsihed in the dark, very grateful for our headlamps.

52.4 miles down, only 26.2 to go.

By the time we came in on day 2, I could barely walk. As I have always had knee problems, i was convinced it was just a flare up of a past injury. nothing too traumatic, and definitely nothing to keep me from day 3. Rhys had concerns about me carrying on, but I was quite defiant. I was doing day 3 NO MATTER WHAT. I would just wear my knee brace and all would be fine. I iced my knee all night and probably took more advil than is recommended.

As the 3rd day was the most physically challenging of the 3 runs, it started just before sunrise to get the most of the day. watching the sun come up over the Atlantic ocean, light bouncing off the water, reflecting on the towering rocky cliffs, without a doubt one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. perhaps I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I had not been in such excruciating pain. At the first checkpoint, about 7 miles in, the paramedic suggested a torn ligament and recommended that i pull out. Pull out? he couldnt be serious! NO WAY! I had to finish.

but i was struggling

I made it to mile 65. exactly 2 and half marathons completed and i simply couldnt walk anymore. I gave up running about mile 57, but by 65 walking wasnt even an option. physically i could not carry on. mentally i was doing everything i could to will myself on. emotionally, i was heartbroken. i knew there was no way i could finish. my challenge was over. only half a marathon short of completion. i was gutted.

rhys carried on and finished the full 78.6 miles. he carried on at such a place that he finished in the top 20. I waiting for rhys at the finish line and when i saw him pop up over the last stile and start running down the hill, tears started to well up in my eyes. Here was my husband, running the last few meters of his 3rd marathon. I was so proud and so much in love with him at the moment. It rivals our wedding day and holding e for the first time. he is my hero.

look for the little, tiny man int he red hat bobbing down the hill. thats rhys!

He is finished!!

(as way of explanation, our first 'date' so to speak was a 5 mile run together the morning after we met in new zealand. running together has always been our thing. it is one of the things that brought us together in the first place. so you can see why the race was such a big deal to us. its just what we do.)

I went to the hospital monday morning and the doctor thought it was a torn ligament. i had some x-rays and then he sent me over to a surgeon yesterday who confirmed it was a partially torn meniscus. but his main concern was he thought I had torn all the cartilage in my knee. awesome. so he has sent me for an MRI to see. (ah, waiting on the NHS but that is another post completely) I do not want surgery. I am praying that nothing is torn really and that all my cartilage is still in tact.

i was asked if, knowing what i know now, would I still run the race? yes. yes i would. no hesitation in answering that. sure injury sucks. and it sucks even more that said injury kept me from completing all 78 miles. but the fact that I even attempted to run 3 marathons in 3 days is well worth it to me. the fact that i made it 2 and half is an accomplishment to me. and even though it was only 3 days, I feel changed. My confidence has returned. something that i have been missing in full since before I had eleri. I feel secure, strong and capable. I no longer question who I am. I had lots of time to think and process during my 65 miles. and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

this race was the most physically and mentally challenging thing i have ever done. after day 1 rhys asked me which was harder, giving birth or running the course of day 1. whilst the two are not exactly comparable, after something thinking, i have decided that the Pembrokeshire Coast Challenge was more difficult than my 22 hours of labour, with no pain relief, to birth a 9.7 baby. Labour was not fun. it was gruelling and at times, excruciating. not to mention the 9.7 lb baby at the end. that was tough. i think what made the race tougher was that it was not just physically challenging but mentally as well. The two guys who set up the race are ex-royal marine commandos. they picked the particular bit of coast line they did, with checkpoints just far enough apart, in an attempt to break your spirit. they set up the race the way they did with the option of quiting at any time. they told you to toughen up or walk away. the challenge really was designed to break you every part of your body and mind. when having a baby no one sets out to destroy you mentally. people are there to make things as easy and as comfortable as possible. labour is the only way to get a baby. you have to do it. you dont have to run 3 marathons in 3 days. you can walk away at any point. mentally the race was a killer. physically the race was a killer. emotionally the race nearly killed me at mile 65. while most say physically nothing compares to having a baby, i think this race exceeds it. so I will say it again. this race was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done.

the race is an annual event. i know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I will be back to run it again. this time to completion. and in the meantime? I have already started looking at Iron man competitions I can enter. There is a nice one in Austria coming up.....


weather said...

weather forecast from GFS,


Sohailah said...

Wow... really, not much more to say. I am really impressed. So glad you have your confidence back. That's HUGE.

Devi said...

You really are amazing, an inspiration to women everywhere.. I think there are magazines (women's mags?) that would take a write up or a column from you about this experience..