It was three weeks ago that I was in New Zealand, racing the Tarawera 100. Since then, I flew back to London, started a new job, paced a bunch of Nike Run Club sessions, tried to adjust to the cold London weather, and spent a lot of time with the important people in my life. I have also spoken about my race multiple times to a variety of people.
Writing my race report allowed me to really capture the details of my race and since writing that, alongside the conversations sharing my experience, I have had plenty of time to reflect, and below is just some of what has come to mind.
Suffering is relative: Ultras hurt. I enter a race in the full knowledge that pain and suffering will be joining me. They are companions to my day. But they are subjective. They are influenced by many factors, and at the end of the day, it is my mind that has the final say. At 100kms, I was hurting. I had been pushing hard all day, and the post race statistics would show that of the 623 100km runners, only 504 started, and only 316 finished. It was a tough day on the trails. With 2kms to go, I was passed by another 100km runner. And the second that registered in my brain, the thought of running 100kms that hard and getting passed at the end, was not something I was ok with. My legs ran faster, my breathing steadied, and I re-focused. The pain in my feet subsided, and I went. I made a choice. A choice that I wasn’t done working, a choice that just finishing was not acceptable. I made a choice not to listen to the hurt, not to let it be an excuse, and that I was running HARD until I finished. I wasn’t giving my best for 100kms and then 98% for 2kms. I was giving it everything the entire race. Pain is subjective, and some days it will hurt a lot more than others. Tarawera hurt, but I had a good day on the trails. And whilst I will do everything in my power to minimise it, I am not immune to having a really really bad day in the future. Knowing that, accepting that, is part of being an ultra-runner.
The experience is important to me: People ask me why I run, what draws me to races and why I willingly subject myself to an endeavour that to most seems like a horrific, traumatic and impossible task. Whilst I wrote a blog post about why I run, I am clearer in my knowledge that I run and race for the EXPERIENCE. The result is important to me. Absolutely. I am competitive by nature, and I have been forthcoming in the fact that I WANT to race the best in the world, and see how I stack up. Take that aside, I always want to push as hard as I can, and have nothing left at the end. And whilst all of that is true, I truly crave and relish the experience. From the grinding hours of training when its cold or I’m tired or sore. Those doubts and fears that come and go as the race looms. As I head towards the unknown. That feeling at the start line, that initial adrenalin surge as the race starts. And ALL of the moments that lead to the finish. Those times when it feels just so effortless flying around the trails. Cresting a mountain, bombing a downhill. Those moments when my legs feel so heavy and I have to push up a monster incline. When I catch a toe and go flying into the ground (I have had two big falls in two races, both times getting up a bloody mess). When I get up and shake myself off, and have to mentally reset.
That feeling of getting passed, and that feeling when I feel strong and run the latter parts of a race with a ferocity I’ve never felt before. Those moments when everything hurts, and it feels like I have been out there for days, and just want it to be done. All that negative talk, and those dark moments, and all those other moments when I am just wild, alive, free and when nothing else matters. Those shared experiences with fellow runners, those points where I just race with heart and love for the mountains. Those times when I fly into an aid station and see my crew. Those incredibly selfless friends and family of mine, who WANT and CHOOSE to be out there all day, just for me. And that feeling when no matter how my day went, with all the highs and lows, when I propel my body across that finish line. The relief. The satisfaction. And then the knowledge that I did something incredible. I did what most people consider impossible. I did what two years ago I would have thought impossible. The experience is what captures my attention time and time again. It is the purest link with my love for ultra-running, and it is the one thing that keeps pulling me in every time.
People matter: I could have flown to New Zealand and raced by myself. I have done that with other races in the past. And whilst I could have completed Tarawera by myself, it would have been a very different day. Both Sophie and Maggie (as well as my mum and step-dad) played a HUGE part in my success and subsequent experience. They were at all the key aid stations, and had extra gear and nutrition that I could ask for and instantly receive. They were smiling and positive and that energy naturally translated to me. Having Maggie pace me for 20kms meant I not only had some company, I had someone pushing me, helping me reach my goals, and someone who got to share the experience with me. I had these wonderful people waiting for me at the finish, to ensure I had everything I needed, and to celebrate my success with. Having them there on that day, was massive. And I know I would have had a very different day if I was alone.
Whilst they were the ones that joined me physically at the race, I had a phenomenal amount of support from friends all over the world. My friends in London, and my amazing training partners, were part of my journey from the moment I signed up for this race. They ran with me, encouraged me, and supported me in a multitude of ways. They believed in me, and the amount of messages I received pre and post race blew me away. My close friends were unbelievable. Phone calls, conversations, and the love and support, meant the world. The NRC community in London got behind me too, and my social media was full of such encouraging and positive messages. And lastly, what about those volunteers and race officials. The amount of logistics and energy that went into putting this race together was huge. And whilst there are so many key roles; the volunteers. The volunteers are out along the course all day. Feeding runners. Cheering runners. Filling up drink bottles. Mentally putting people back together. With an endless supply of enthusiasm, cheer, and energy that is SO SO critical to any runner, whether they are coming first or battling the cut-offs. The volunteers are the backbone of these events not only for the safety of every single person, but also for the morale.
The longer the ultra, the more they need. I heard a statistic that for Western States (the original 100 mile mountain race), there is a 4:1 volunteer to runner ratio. Which is just a testament to the sport and the type of people that are involved with ultras. And why the community is so critical. There is a reason why most of the runners on the course are so friendly, even when we are racing. There is a bond and a spirit that everyone out on the course shares, and it is the people factor that makes it special. People matter. People absolutely matter.
And whilst this is about some of my ultra-running reflections, this is just as applicable to life. All I have written can be applied to life. And that is probably one of the key reasons why I love ultra-running. Mountains are a metaphor for life. Ultras are a metaphor for life. And as I choose to run these incredible races, I expose myself to situations, lessons and moments that are truly enlightening. Revelatory.
* Christine and Nicola run Cinque Terre Trekking AND put on an incredible ultra in Cinque Terre. Myself and my friends will be taking part in this very special race in March 2016