It is two weeks since I set out on my second attempt at the Montane Lakeland 100 and I wish I'd written this blog straight away because at this time I can't really think of what to say to sum up what a huge sense of achievement I feel.
My ever supportive family remind me occasionally by jokingly asking if anyone in the room has completed a 100 mile ultra marathon...I beam and play along...and I haven't stopped bringing my experience into every conversation quite yet (sorry supportive family). It feels like a big deal.
So 36 hours and 54 minutes after the start gun honked I crossed the finish line triumphant, ecstatic, holding back the emotion. I'd done it. At last, I could release myself...go back to running the way I wanted to, without distance or time or speed restrictions. Relief.
When I crossed the line after my first 50 miler, the Lakeland 50, I was overcome with emotion. I declared that it was the hardest thing I'd ever done and that I would never put myself through that again. A month later I signed up for the Lakeland 100 and I wondered if I would feel the same crossing the finish line at the 100, but I didn't.
Eighteen months before the Lakeland 50 I underwent treatment for head and neck cancer, so the relief of proving to myself and my family that I was not dying, and that I was back to normal...better than normal... through completing something that no one else I knew at that time had achieved, overwhelmed me and I broke down in a heap of emotion. When I received my medal I understood that I had strength and resilience I'd never known I had.
Now I know what I'm capable of, so the finish line never conjures up quite the same effect. But completing the Lakeland 100 is special, and a wobbly lip was present. This time the wave of emotion came down to pride. I stood along side my Dad. We had crossed the line together. His second Lakeland 50 success and my first 100. We had vowed hours earlier, as we waded through swollen streams in the lashing rain and icy wind, that this was it. No Lakeland 100 or 50 next year. We had nothing more to prove. Mission accomplished. It goes without saying that we are now both trying to plan carefully where we will be to allow us to sign up for the UTLD again on the 1st of September.
But why wouldn't I want to do it all again? I couldn't have asked for a better experience this year. The race went to plan and all component parts came together to form a favourable whole. There was nice dry, warm weather for the first 24 hours that suited the weather I had been training in and this made for good firm and dry conditions underfoot. Last year, the ground was wet and the boggy sections were thriving. I'd managed to injure myself pulling my leg out of a bog at Grassguards. This year, I reached Dalemain with dry feet. I didn't even bother changing my socks. I'd not had any training on the route since March either and had been missing the Lakes, desperate to run the trails again, so come race day I savoured every moment just glad to be there.
Nothing was going to prevent me from completing, but I knew this months before. I've read so many times that successfully completing an ultra is '90% mental and the rest is in your head', but I don't think I had really understood that before. Ahead of my first attempt at the L100 I'd read so many accounts of people's successful and unsuccessful 100 attempts. They were full of stories of sleeping on the fell side, hallucinations, mangled feet and suffering. The event had taken on mythical proportions in my head and I was not at all convinced that I was up to the task.
The DNF at the L100 last year due to injury left me with the resolve that I would not walk away from the event without a medal again and I had two encounters in the last 8 months that really consolidated my belief that finishing was within my capabilities. The first was reading Traildragon's blog that articulated exactly how I felt and reassured me that I wasn't kidding myself, and then I participated and completed the LDWA 100 where I met many wonderful people who were embarking on their 2nd; 4th; 11th; 20th; 22nd (etc) 100 miler. I sat next to a chap on the bus for whom this was his 21st 100. He told me in a quiet voice that it was 'all in the head. You just have to believe you can finish and you will'. I believed him. I believed I could, and I finished.
Of course, I did a fair amount of training along the way too, but the secret was unlocked and I couldn't fail!
One final, significant piece of good luck came my way and ensured my success. I had said beforehand that the perfect scenario would be for me to meet with my Dad at Dalemain and to run the last 45 miles in his company. I didn't quite manage that but as I sat in Dalemain glugging back slim fast, my Dad strolled through, just starting out on his journey. I shouted encouragement and told him I'd catch him up soon. From Dalemain I chased him and eventually caught him at Kentmere just as the rain started to punish us. I was with him as we entered the second night, and at my lowest point when I thought I would not finish because of severe cold, he marched me at an unforgiving pace home to Coniston. We crossed the line and agreed we'd be back next year for sure! Thanks Dad. x