Last weekend I took a trip up to Cumbria to take part in an event called Man vs Lakes, which in hindsight should have been called Man vs Hills as it was around 9000ft of elevation… I know!
Prior to the event, I had a romantic image in my head of July sun, beautiful scenery, rolling hills and July sun… Did I mention July sun? I left my house at 5 am on Friday morning, ready for the 7-hour journey ahead of me, wearing Birkenstocks, shorts and full of hopefulness.
A few hours into the journey I started to wonder where the sun had gone and by the time I got to Knutsford services to fuel up, it was grey, cold and the heavens had well and truly opened.
On went the jogging bottoms, trainers and raincoat and my hopefulness wasn't quite there. I made my journey to Kendal where the race would start and picked up my registered at the local leisure centre. It was still raining and very cold. I felt as though I had stepped into winter, (although having said that, the locals seemed absolutely fine in their t-shirts and according to one lovely local man, it wasn’t ‘that cold to be fair’.)
With my race pack secured and bag checked for mandatory list (the only thing not included in that is the kitchen sink), I set off for Coniston where the race would finish and I was to camp.
As I drove towards the campsite, my usual happy demeanour had disappeared and had been replaced with a certain sense of dread, anxiety and despondency. I was looked around the town and it was very beautiful.
Somewhere I’d be happy to visit in the cold and rain if I were staying in a cosy Bed and Breakfast and wrapped up warm for romantic walks, but the thought of pitching a one-man pop up tent in the rain, sleeping in it and getting up at 5 am to run 30 miles with lots of water obstacles where I would be fully submerged at times was enough to send me into a pit of despair! I was seriously contemplating abandoning the campsite and trying to find alternate accommodation but something pushed me on to the campsite.
I arrived. I pitched my tent in the rain. Everything got wet. I was wet. My jogging bottoms were soaked. My hair was drenched. Everything in my tent was wet. I was as far from a happy bunny as you can imagine. More like a sad mongoose. As soon as the camp was set up, I had it in my head that this wasn’t happening. I was going to wait for the rain to ease off, pack it all up and go home. I cannot express how close I was to doing this. And then a stranger popped out of nowhere; a happy chappy, the complete opposite of me at this point. I explained my concerns and he talked me into going for a cup of tea in the event tent. This man was my saviour. In the event tent, I drank my tea and was joined by a few other singletons (mad people like myself who prefer to travel alone) and they all did an amazing job of talking me into staying. After several hours of counselling and lots of tea, I decided it would be ridiculous to go home now. Although, I was still contemplating leaving in the morning.
I was woken at 3 am on Saturday morning with torrential rain and a very unstable tent. At that point, I was definitely going home when the sun came up. I drifted back off and was then woken again at 4:45 am by my alarm. The rain had stopped, I opened up the tent and felt I had kind of acclimatised. I went on autopilot, got dressed, ate breakfast and boarded the bus ready for the hour drive to the start line. I fell asleep on the bus, standard and engaged in that lovely public transport head bobbling which ultimately leads to neck pain upon waking. I got off the bus and I don’t think I can remember a time where I was so miserable! Mrs Stroppy had taken over.
I was checking the exits and finding any excuse to not go. I was hoping that the queue for the toilet would take longer so I’d miss the start. I hoped that my contact lense would fall out so I couldn’t see and therefore would have to pull out. I even asked a member of the general public if they would give me a lift back to the campsite. None of that was successful and I resigned myself to the fate that awaited me.
3,2,1 GO! Off we went. The race started by running across Morecambe bay. What a surreal experience that was! Running across the sand and water, with such a low mist. All I could see were the runners in front of me and behind me, if they weren’t there, I would not have know which way was North or South. I felt as though I was in some futuristic end of the world movie. And then the rain came. Hard, heavy rain. At this point I realised it couldn’t actually get much worse and then I heard someone say “This is awesome!” That person will never know what they did for me. I had been running for about 2 miles at this point and the endorphins were starting to kick in. That was the start of a bit of a game-changer for me. It started to set the seed in my head that I should be embracing this very surreal and unique experience. I changed my mindset, I started to run faster. I still wanted it to be over but I was in a much better headspace.
Once on land, I picked up the pace and bolted it to the first pit stop. I sorted out my blister with a compeed from the lovely Dave and hit the ground running! Running hard. I felt like I was flying, overtaking people and feeling strong….. And then came the hills! The first verticle KM was an absolute pussycat in comparison to what lie ahead.
From that first ascent it was just hill after hill after a bigger hill after an even bigger hill. You get the jist. Where I had such a great start, I was now neat the front runners. A lot of it was single file and that seriously tested me in every way. My options were to stop and let all the guys go past (which would have resulted in me standing there for a long time) or keep up with them. So, I opted for the latter. World of pain doesn’t even come into it. It was pain and endurance on another level. Talk about leg day! Around 12 miles in, a marshall informed me that I was the 5th female she had seen. Holy smokes! I was actually doing really well! That was the catalyst for me. In that moment, something changed and I went from zero to hero! I continued to run with all my might. Swan through lakes, waded through water, took on some seriously technical trail running and let my inner warrior unleash herself!
Around 2pm, the sun came out! And how glorious that was! The scenery was outstanding and I was feeling on top of the world; literally. I had now been on the go for nearly 7 hours. As I made my way down into Coniston (yes, the last few miles were all downhill. Praise be), I felt elation on another level. I had the biggest smile on my face and was actually over the moon to do a bit of kayaking! I got off the row boat and it was a mile to the finish. I ran as fast as I could and was feeling like super woman. As I crossed the finish line, pure joy showered over me. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt to happy to have completed a challenge in my entire life! I was on a super high for the rest of the day, especially when I discovered I had placed 5th lady! I was happy to camp that night and when I woke up the next morning I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment and was so proud of myself. How very different it could have been!
So I guess that the moral of the story is, however bad you’re feeling about something, however weak and feeble you may feel, however hopeless you feel- anything can change! So don’t listen to that doubt. Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Take on the challenge. Be strong. Be brave. Be your own hero. There are times when we all feel unsure and want to take the easy way out, but the easy way never leaves you feeling like a hero.
There are 3 words that one should keep with them always: You got this!