Saturday, 24 September 2016

The man with no face!

I was wrapped in a double sleeping bag and just inches from the fire pit. I'd removed the top layer of the soaked and sweaty Morphsuit and kit and replaced it with a dry t shirt and my Team Bear fleece. I had my woolly hat on and hood up and I was completely wrapped in the the sleeping bag. I was sweating profusely but it was a cold dithery sweat. I could feel the heat from the fire pit but I couldn't get warm. I could hear voices around me. I thought I was talking but apparently I was just muttering in a half sleep state. Mich was concerned. She was making sure I was OK. She had seen in me at the end of 7 that things weren't right. I'd asked Ken to sign me off the course as he went out on a lap at 12:30am. My body had given up and whilst in my mind I knew that my race was over I instinctively had my feet raised. It relieved the pain in my ankles and it helped a little with the stomach cramps which were thick and fast. Realistically the #AllOrNothing challenge had failed by lap 5 bringing on a miserable mental state. I had done 5 and 6 but a bout of the shits on lap 7 and subsequent illness and failure to control my temperature (somewhere I had been in 2014) meant that my race was done. Drifting in and out of a half sleep, hearing conversations around me, dithering uncontrollably, I wrestled with my conscience. I hated myself and was overcome with the disappointment of letting everybody down. On the road to redemption, to becoming a better man this was a massive low. I curled up, hoped for sleep and a quick end to the remainder of the event.

It had started quite brightly some 12 hours earlier. The rain stopped just before kick off and after 12hrs sleep in The Dann's caravan I felt weirdly rested after so little sleep in the build up. I had dreaded putting the Morphsuit back on. First time since the Marathon Morph Tour 7 in 7. It was on, foot felt OK and everyone was being lovely at the briefing and as we waited for the start. Under the circumstances I had as good a chance as I was gonna have of running 100 miles. I knew I couldn't but I was prepared to give it everything over 24 hrs to try.

Mich was buzzing for the first lap in her team. She gave me a hug and a kiss before she moved into a faster start position. A squeeze of my hand as she went confirmed the belief, often blind belief, that she has in me. A belief I will probably never understand but always appreciate. Nick was gonna run with me, his first solo attempt, as I was to be his Morph Bitch according to his 'I'm with Sid' T shirt. A brief message from my mate Adrian O'Brien delivered by fellow soloist Iain Hindes brought a smile to my face, Jason grabbed a pic and wished me all the best and a hug off my old school pal Liz Roberts and we entered the start. Liz was in a team and as we agreed to run the first lap together the hooter went and the three of us set off at soloist 100 mile pace......slow!

Starting from the back is cool because you have time to get Pirate hugs, Outlaw hugs, Poppyfields hugs, Bear hugs, Equinox hugs, Ironman hugs and many more besides. Loads of people wished me well as we moved off. I can't see who it was but I will always give a thumbs up or say thank you as the support is hugely appreciated. Liz was running well as was Nick. Both commented on the level of support I was receiving and it was immense and humbling.

So lap one went well. A great catch up with Liz for the first half and then me and Nick settled into a rhythm for the second half. I don't remember too much about it but with an end of lap snack break we did 1hr 22mins. In the great scheme of things this was a perfect pace. Lap two went the same way also at 1hr 22mins with lap 3 & 4 slightly slower at 1hr 31mins and 1hr 38mins respectively. Every lap had been fun. Catching up with mates who stopped to say hello, encouraging other runners, getting hi 5's from supporters and runners, milking the fantastic support and encouragement both on course and round the field. Wilko was at his sledging best although this year I was up for the verbal joust with a smile. His much better half has been running long and passed me a couple of times with her crew and was making it look easy. Kirsty, last years winner, was metronome like in her constant progress and she always seemed cheerful. She was based opposite the Team Poppyfields camp and her other half was providing Harmonica support. Stewart Sale and Dutchy were smashing my arms with hi 5's and both seemed to be going really well. Colin Walker looked strong and Gary House was his usual rapid self. Solo Steve, Jason Clarke, Mel Glover, Chris Eyre, Billy and Lena, The Pirates, The Poppyfielders, the running clubs all whizzed by at various times and all found the time to encourage me or acknowledge my encouragement of them. I've said it every year that this event is special. Its special for many reasons but particularly because of the generosity of spirit of the fellow runners.

Things then began to get a bit shitty. During lap 5 I slowed. I felt weak and tired. Nick was still bouncing and by this stage, after nagging everyone every lap, he was now getting cheers of 'Go on Nick', rather than hearing 'Go on Sid.......oh and Sid's mate'. As my spirit weakened I felt I was holding Nick back, slowing him down. I don't like that feeling and it weighed on me. It was the first lap I walked sections other than 'That Hill', 'Not That Hill' and the slope at the start of 'The Shitty Bit'. The lap time was reflective of my mood at 2hrs 1min! The biggest hit on this lap was the realisation that 100 was out of reach. It may never have been a realistic possibility but I have seen people achieve awesome things, I've often surprised myself, so up until this point I thought I could.

I don't really remember 6. It was the first night lap so I was in the night Morphsuit and had the head torch on. We had picked up the pace a little with 1hr 52mins but I think my mood had only worsened. I suggested to Nick a couple of times that he crack on and I would catch him up later but he was having none of that.

Lap 7 was where the wheels came off. As we reached the peak of the ridge on 'The Shitty Bit' I suddenly suffered stabbing stomach cramps. The type that if they hit you at home you jump straight on the bog and grit your teeth. Problem was I was in a white Morphsuit in a muddy field with runners whizzing by. I fought off the first bout but the second were too much. Team Poppyfields very own Neal Thacker took off his t shirt and ripped a few 'sheets' off. Nick and Jarvey stood guard as i went to join the Bears in the woods. Yes they do and yes I did. All I will say is that it was the most painful, thigh shredding squat I have ever endured. I shuffled the remaining 8km of the lap but my stomach was in bits and my temperature had dropped leaving me dithering and with chattery teeth!

It was a massive relief to get back to base at the bottom of the start/finish straight. Mich, Ellie and George were waiting for me. I gave Mich the look that says 'I'm done'. She looked concerned and after a few minutes the dithering had become uncontrollable and the urge to curl up was overwhelming. I don't even remember talking to Nick who had stuck with me throughout. I was selfishly looking after myself as us solo's have to but I was also losing the ability to think straight and keep things together. The failure of the #AllOrNothing challenge was all consuming. I think, at this point, I knew it was over, that I had failed, but I told everyone I was going to warm up and crack on later. My last shot of bravado.

Definition of fail: verb (used without object) 1. to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved:

That's where this blog began. Mentally and physically I was beaten. As I drifted off, Ellie and her mates voices and the crackle of the fire pit peppering the silence around camp, I'd accepted that this Equinox was not to be.

I was off course for 3 hours. It took that long for the cramps to stop and the body to warm up. I became aware of the world around me about 2:45am. Ellie and her mates still there. John Young waiting to go out on a lap. Mich had gone out on hers leaving Ellie to keep an eye on me. It took a little while to gather myself but the draw of #onemorelap was too great to not get one more done. I didn't know how it would go, whether I could complete it but I didn't feel at the point where i couldn't try. My legs felt surprisingly OK as I stood up. I got some layers on, Ellie made sure I was OK, I went back into the Morphsuit and set off for #onemorelap. As I passed the start/finish line I nipped into HQ to sign back on the course. Johnny stopped to check i was OK. I confirmed I was, explained what had happened but that I had warmed up sufficiently. I told him I was doing #onemorelap and off I went......running.

So this was lap 8 after a 5hr 29mins lap 7! This lap was mainly on my own. The course seemed quiet apart from every fresh relay runner whizzing by. I felt good physically. I ran more and better than I had for a while. Mentally I was trying to get it together. Trying to work out if I had time to beat last years 12? I realised that by doing this I was accepting that this wasn't the #onemorelap that would see me finish. This was #onemorelap along the way of however many it may be in 24 hours. The moon was full and bright, company was fleeting but a boost. The mind was getting together with tricks becoming less and less although on this lap, twice, my mind tricked me into believing I had company only for it to be that I was completely alone with no one around me. Twice someone was with me.

It was a surprisingly good 1hr 47mins lap. I don't remember getting back to base but I think the next lap was with Jarvey and Neal. I know this because i have seen the pic. Sun came up during this lap which meant for half the lap I could actually see the course and damn its pretty. I cant see it in the day because of the Morphsuit and i can't see it at night because its dark but as the sun rises and I finish the last lap in the night Morphsuit I get to see the course. It was a 2hr 22mins lap primarily due to changing out of the night Morphsuit and into the final Morphsuit to finish. I had seen Nick on Lap 8 I think. He was still charging along with his better half, Georgina. He had finished after 3 laps from when we split. He had nailed 10 and called it a day. I tip toed into their caravan to change suits. Wet one off, dry one on after a fresh smearing of Bepanthen. Georgina wished me luck....Nick was dead to the world.

Lap 10 with time running out. Bumped into Duane Roberts who ran the lap with me and Neil. Duane is a proper runner. By that I mean a T184 55hr third place finisher type runner. He learns every time he runs and his recount of T184 was a great distraction. He knew everybody running at Equinox having done the event last year and being all over the ultra running scene. Managed a 1hr 42mins lap, my fastest since lap 4! Where the strength was coming from I have no idea. The only real niggle was pain at the bottom of my shins just above the foot. I can only describe it as similar to when, as a kid, we had jagged metal pedals on a BMX and as your foot slipped off the pedal span round and smacked the shin. Remember that? Like being hit with a metal pole on the shin.

The time of day meant that the best i could hope for was 12 laps. Unless I ran a couple of laps at sub 1hr 20mins pace I wouldn't finish lap 12 before midday to start lap 13. I weirdly enjoyed the last two laps. I Hi 5'd anyone who would accept it. Veering left and right on the course to get to competitors and spectators. Adult Hi 5's give free power. A kiddie Hi 5 gives double. Kids on the right and left of the start/finish straight were there throughout the morning. Tumble Dryer mans nipper fist pumped me as i past. Hi 5's from the saucepan of sweets kids at the top of the straight, Poppyfields kids including my two were always encouraging me on. If there is any knock on effect to what we do I would like to think that the kids at Equinox come away inspired to do whatever it is they want to do. They inspire me throughout.

The veering added a few miles and slowed me down as Neil pointed out who kept with me for the last couple of laps. He blames me for inspiring him to start running in May and to be tackling his first half next month. I'll happily plead guilty to that. The last two laps both being 2hrs 8mins but they included time with Jordan Keeling with his full Bergan and kit, Phillip Box and his tumble dryer, Billy and Lena both smashing 100 miles and several Pirates including soloists Emma and Matt. Kirsty whizzed by on the way to the win with 18 laps, Emma to second and Lena to third. Billy finished 4th with Gary House winning. Solo Steve and I spoke at the water station on his 16th lap. He had time to do 17 but he was happy with his 16 for this year and was calling it a day.

I'd not seen Stewart and Dutchy for ages. Mich told me that they'd succumbed to injury. Both are massive inspirations to me and both will be back I'm sure to right this wrong.

My day finished not at 12am when my body and mind had given up. Heart kept me going until 1pm and 12 completed laps. #onemorelap turned into 5 more laps. Johnny and his crew have a habit of being key to us pushing our boundaries and reaching deep when it seems all is lost.

The event is special. It gets bigger every year but it remains personal, friendly, supportive and inspirational. That's due to all of you, everyone there, supporters shouting 'Sid' from the middle of nowhere, people coming along to run, Belinda and her pig tails for Poppyfields, support crews, organisers, marshals, food stalls, the guys in the buggy telling me to get a wriggle on, Glenn and his team of photographers, Johnny and Laura and their team, fellow runners - all of you, and the kids cheering on the Man with No Face. I'm lucky to be surrounded by inspiration and support daily. Mich shows me love and strength beyond my dreams. Equinox is horrifically, brutally brilliant. It will cause you to dredge your soul and weirdly you'll love it. It is as awesome a 24 hrs as you can imagine.

I may have failed the #AllOrNothing challenge but I didn't fail Equinox! The Morph will be back next year. There are 100 miles with Sid written on them!

Thank you. Sincerely thank you.