Cloudy Memories

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Fuji

They say we dream every night. Most mornings though, as we wake, our dreams are quickly cast aside as we re-enter the real world. To save our sanity, our brains quickly discard what couldn’t, shouldn’t – and indeed didn’t happen during the night.

Sometimes though, you wake from a deep sleep and for a few fleeting moments you are simultaneously in the dream and awake. As you wake, you try to clutch on to the memory of the dream. But try as you might, you can actually feel your mind forgetting; wiping the dream from your conscious memory.

As I sit here now, just a few days after my biggest race of the year – the Ultra Trail Mt Fuji – I’m struggling to make sense of quite what happened.

I can remember that it was awful. But somehow I can’t quite remember the pain and the desperation. My brain, perhaps struggling to comprehend what happened that night, has tried to consign the memory to the bin of bad dreams.

The memories are now a bit cloudy, but below I try to clutch on to the memory of the dream.

***

I arrived in Tokyo late on Saturday evening and spent a few days sleeping off several months of accumulated tiredness in a hotel room high over Shinjuku.

There’s nowhere better for this than the setting of a big international chain hotel, where the time of day ceases to become relevant. You can sleep, eat, read, swim and binge on boxsets – all completely separated from reality.

IMG_20150928_160934On the Wednesday before the race I travelled to Kawaguichiko. The express coach service seemed less hassle than the train.

As the coach started climbing into the mountains, Mount Fuji was only intermittently visible through the clouds. But it was bright and broadly sunny.

On the recommendation of a friend I’d booked into K’s House – a nice hostel on the south side of the lake. I ended up in a nine-berth mixed dorm. It was fairly quiet when I arrived, so I was able to select a lower bunk – thinking this might be easier after the race.

Kawaguchiko seems to lack the urban centre that makes other climbing towns – Chamonix for example – quite so attractive. But I found a nearby restaurant and spent the afternoon reading and eating.

Later, back at the hostel, I ended up sharing the dorm room with a group of friendly Singaporean and Malaysian runners. Some were back to right unfinished business from last year. Others were trying their first 100 miler.

It occurred to me that I was now the experienced one in the group. It’s funny how you go from being a nervous novice – to an old hat quite so imperceptibly.

I slept not particularly well that first night. And on Thursday woke to rain. Heavy, relentless rain.

It seems I’m cursed with bad weather in ultra races. Three of my four attempts at the sister race – the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – have been decimated by snow storms or weather bombs.

I suppose I hadn’t expected anything different. And I didn’t have that sense of foreboding that you sometimes get in the Alps when the thunder echoes down the valley like an omen from an unhappy god.

I went with a group from the hostel to register for the race and pick up our drop bags and running numbers. It all seemed rather low key and quiet for an international race. But I suppose nothing compares to the scale and drama of things in Chamonix.

In the expo I studied a section in one stall marked ‘bear bells’. I vaguely recalled reading something in the runners’ guide about bears being active in the area and that bear bells were strongly advised. But I hadn’t given it too much thought. I did now.

I wasn’t really convinced that a rabid bear, on hearing a tinkling little bell would scarper off into the woods to hide. Rather, wouldn’t a hungry bear, on hearing an odd sounding bell, come out of the woods to see what was making the noise? Then eat you.

I spent rather longer than I should have done weighing up the options. But the bells were cheap and could easily be silenced. I bought one and thought I could decide whether to use it later on.

In all my bear thought, my friends from the hostel had long gone.

I walked back and had another chuckle at my running number – 666 – the number of the devil. I left my stuff and went for a soak in a nearby Onsen. It was a nice relaxing day.

On Thursday evening information started filtering in about various course changes because of the state of the course in the rain.

IMG_20150924_141817On Friday morning we woke to more news about deviations to the course. Everyone looked anxious, all trying to redraw the route on their maps.

I announced to anyone who would listen that there was no point sitting around being nervous, and that I was going for another soak in the Onsen. Extreme relaxation being the order of the day. The UTMF starts at 1pm – I like races that don’t start too early.

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After a good scrub and soak I returned to the hostel to find everyone looking more nervous and still studying maps and revised cut off times.

And so I slipped into my running gear and trundled off to the start. It had dried up marginally.
Start

The start was low key – there was none of that magic Vangellis music that marks the start of the UTMB.

We ran along the shore of Lake Kawaguchiko, trying to settle into a rhythm. The path was fairly narrow and we kept bunching up on some of the narrower sections. Soon we reached a road where some volunteers stopped us.

My Japanese not being what it should be, I first though this was to let the traffic past. But after waiting a couple of minutes I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Runners were backing up behind me.

On closer inspection it looked like a huge backlog had accumulated at the base of the first climb – the path being too narrow to accommodate everyone at once.

I was probably held for about 15 minutes – which seems a lifetime when you’re in a race – but I later heard that some people further back had been delayed for about 40 minutes. They must have been pulling their hair out

Even once we were on the hill it was slow going. Frequently backing up to standstill. Everyone waited patiently in the line.

By the lake

No one spoke at all for the first few hours. I remember thinking that if this was the UTMB in France, the French would have been in uproar about the delay.

“Mais non! Putaine! Qu’est il se passé ici ? C’est fou!

Queue

After a fairly long road section we finally reached the first aid station. This had taken nearly three hours – longer than I’d anticipated. I’d eaten two chocolate bars already and drunk a fair bit of water such was the humidity. I began to think that perhaps I’d not packed enough food.

BridgeWith my heart rate still pushing 160 I arrived at the aid station. I suppose in hindsight I should have given my self a couple of seconds to catch my breath. But I guess I was caught up in the quick pace. I virtually inhaled a pack of Pringles, along with some hot Japanese soup – of contents unknown.

I was in and out of the first aid station in six minute flat, having probably taken on board 500 calories. It was flat after the first check point – this probably encouraged me to push on too hard. I should have eased back, giving myself time to digest.

Food

It was already dark when I arrived at Aid Station A2 just before 18:30 on Friday evening. I wasn’t feeling great and couldn’t really face eating or drinking too much. I realised I’d started that subconscious scanning the room for the ‘If I was going to be sick, where would I be sick?’ point.

I had drunk a fair bit before the aid station, but found with it being so humid and raining, it was really hard to judge how much water I was losing through sweat. I’d no idea if I was getting dehydrated or not.

The aid station was packed and smelled as you’d expect a room of several hundred muddy runners to smell. I was in and out in 15 minutes.

But just around the corner. I felt it coming – and was promptly sick in a bush by the side of the road. It was all fairly quick and painless – mostly the coke I’d just drunk. I remember thinking ‘glad that’s over with – I’m sure I’ll be fine for the rest of the race.’ How wrong I was.

It was three hours to the next Aid Station – W1. (I never did figure out why some aid stations were called A1, A2, etc and others W1, W2, etc… I thought it to do with the level of provisions provided but couldn’t make that fit.)

Aid Station 2

I was only sick once more before I arrived at that next aid station at W1 at around 9:30pm – after 8h30mins running. Though I was pleased to still be holding a decent running pace on the flat.

But as soon as I tried to drink some coffee I knew it was about to happen again. I quickly made my way to the corner of the shelter and puked again. This time my stomach seemed more painful. Not just retching harmlessly but going into spasm.

I then realised I was quickly getting cold. I rummaged in my bag and pulled out my long leggings. After battling to get my shoes off, leggings on and shoes back on again, I started to leave the shelter.

Then I realised the leggings were not only on back-to-front but also inside-out. I sighed. I wasn’t really bothered about my appearance – that went long ago. Inside-out I could live with – but their reverse sense was actually constricting my movement. So I went through the laborious process of re-dressing myself. It was going to be a long night.

I left the aid station and again had to kneel down to wretch – there wasn’t anything left in my stomach. This was becoming tiresome.

And that’s where the wheels really started to come off.

The seven-and-a-half hours between leaving Aid Station W1 at 10pm on Friday night and arriving at the next Aid Station, A3, at 5:34am on Saturday morning would have been seared into my memory – had they not been too awful to remember.

Writing this now in the comfort of warm surroundings, it seems embarrassingly melodramatic to recall. I can’t quite believe it was as bad as I thought.

It was just a modest 23km between those two aid stations. But my average speed over those seven-and-a-half hours was barely 3km/h – significantly less than 2 miles per hour.

That average speed belies a relatively long flat and runnable section. It hides the 100 minute mile pace that took me climbing that mountain. You could literally crawl faster.

Leaving W1 we immediately started climbing. It didn’t seem like a distinctive path – just a 45 degree brutal climb up a muddy hill to the highest point on the course.

In the dark it was hard to pick out a path through the trees. Very quickly it became less about walking and more crawling and scrabbling on all fours. Grabbing hold of tree trunks, branches, roots, anything that you could find to stop you slipping. Even just trying to grab on to the raw mud.

Running poles had been banned on the race this year – so you simply had to claw at the earth with your bare hands. It was almost impossibly steep. The rain over the previous few days had turned the soil into grease.

People were surprisingly helpful. As you let out a yelp as you started sliding uncontrollably a hand would shoot out to help pull you back to safety.

I was conscious now that I’d not now been able to keep anything down – neither food nor water – for the best part of three hours.

Normally when you know there are a thousand metres of vertical elevation gain ahead of you – you have to get the calories in to support your effort, to literally give you the energy. But nothing would stay down.

It was slow going and technical climbing for everyone. I had that to my advantage – even with more energy I wouldn’t have been able to go much faster.

For a while I managed to stick with the pace of the queue of people trying to climb. But every so often I’d have to pull over and dry heave. The crowd began to thin out. The altitude wasn’t extreme, but as my body starting burning fat, I’d keep finding myself panting and short of breath. It had been two hours of relentless climbing and still I was nowhere near the top.

The simple cathartic act of being sick had by now transformed into an all-encompassing spasm of my stomach and abdominal muscles. It began to occur to me that this was perhaps how a hernia started.

As my abdomen went into spasm each time it felt like someone was tightening a zippy tag around my internal organs. It started to occur to me that something might go pop and I’d bleed to death. I’d be the first person to literally puke myself to death. You might laugh. I didn’t.

Normally when you’re sick in an ultra marathon there are at least a few minutes afterwards when you regain your energy. A little shot of post-puke adrenaline that propels you forward.

But now all I wanted to do afterwards was to lie down and sleep. I took to the habit of turning off my headlamp each time I knelt down to be sick. Somehow not able to face seeing what was – or wasn’t coming up. I’d lost count of whether it was seven or eight times I’d been sick. In the dark and alone kneeling on the mud, all I wanted to do was sleep.

As I tried in vain to push and pull myself up that hill, it started to dawn on me that my race was rapidly coming to its conclusion.

***

Before an ultramarathon you spend a lot of time visualising your race. As if thinking over the possibilities to mentally prepare yourself for the physical reality.

You imagine yourself at the finish. It’s a strong image that helps you prepare for the worst. Perhaps you imagine yourself heroically hobbling to the finish on a broken leg. Or carrying an arm that has been severed from its socket in an ungainly fall.

Maybe you have an image of crawling over the finish line just seconds before the race cut off. You try to imagine everything and how you’ll pull through and conquer all.

In truth you also imagine yourself not finishing or DNF-ing – those awful words Did Not Finish.

You imagine this in equally heroic terms. Perhaps being airlifted off a mountain in the back of a search and rescue helicopter. Or hunkering down in cave to escape a lightening storm and missing a cut off. Or fighting off a bear.

What you’ve never prepared for is your race finishes as a pathetic whimper.

You feel like a shit – a stain on humanity.

You are curled up on the side of a steep slope. You are soaked through with a combination of sweat and rain. You are caked in mud. It’s on your hands and face. In your ears. Between your teeth.

You’ve lost count of how many times you’ve been sick. You smell of sick and stale sweat.

After being sick again I turned off my headlamp for a moment. For a moment totally alone in the woods.

Now might be a good time to mention the bears.

In the race briefing, it notes that it was strongly recommended to not wear headphones so you can keep alert for bears. They reiterated this warning – again and again – at the start with the warning that bears had been spotted in the area.

Bears in the popular imagination are teddies. Cute and harmless. But ask anyone who has been attacked by a bear and you’ll be told they’re actually several hundred kilograms of violent hungry aggressive killing machine.

Earlier in the year on a brief holiday in Langkawi I’d been enjoying an early morning run through town when I came face to face with two angry and possibly rabid guard dogs. Only by virtually throwing myself off a harbour wall and into the sea did I escape a mauling.

The feeling of abject terror sticks with me today. And those dogs were small compared to a bear.

I was under no illusion that an encounter with a bear would be a fight to the death. The bear would fight and I would be death.

I’m not sure whether it was that niggling fear at the back of my mind. But as I lay there in the mud, I thought that if I were a bear, now would be the time I’d strike.

The severity of my situation began to dawn on me.

I knew my race was over. I couldn’t drink or eat. I had not even enough energy to stand. But I also knew that I had to at least try to get myself to the next aid station – that however much sleep or death seemed preferable I couldn’t leave myself like this on the side of a mountain.

Slowly though as I trudged on my mental attitude went downhill. I was losing the battle to stay positive. And this was possibly the biggest threat to my well-being.

In a bid to stay alert to my surroundings I didn’t want to listen to music. So I was trapped with my own spiralling negative thoughts.

The will to give in to sleep was becoming overwhelming.

Eventually I judged that the negative thoughts were becoming more dangerous than the lack of awareness.

So I tried the music. Full blast. Songs that normally would help me up my pace and help with motivation. Somehow though now they just were amplifying the negative feelings and making me worse.

I switched to podcasts in the hope they’d be a distraction. Flicking through I came across Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. He had a collection of guests talking about perpetual motion. In my increasing delirium it seemed more than appropriate, it seemed destined. They might have even mentioned Sisyphus which seemed particularly apt.  But soon too the melodic tones of Melvyn proved too soporific. So I switched them off.

As we climbed higher there were increasing numbers of others lying by the side of the path. Some sitting with head bowed. Others flat out asleep. All looking like they’d given in to death. Through the murk of the woods you could hear countless others chucking up. The sound made me feel worse.

It’s hard to know what to do when others are like this. Do you stop to check they’re ok? If they just want to rest they’d not appreciated the constant questions. Should you let them sleep? What can you do?

Eventually – the word doesn’t do it justice – we reached the summit of at Yukimidake at 1605 metres – the highest point on the course. A couple of marshals were stationed there and welcomed us. Many of us slumped to the ground overwhelmed by the cheers and at the prospect of going down hill.

It was a false hope. As soon as we started down hill we realised how slippery the track had become. It became an exercise in trying to control yourself between grabbing one tree and the next. Everyone fell at some stage, legs going flying from under you and body falling like a sack of potatoes – only with less life in them.

It was even slower going. It required more concentration than my addled mind could muster. It can only have been a decent of a couple of hundred vertical metres before the next climb to up Kumamoriyama but it took an age.

As I reached the next climb I decided I had to try something different. I took out an energy gel from my backpack. Gagging at even the thought of it, I ripped off the top and squirted its thick contents into my mouth where I held the gloopy mess, trying to breathe through my nose for a long as possible. I hoped at least some of the energy would be absorbed through my mouth.

Then I swallowed. About five second later it all came back up again. I sighed. I just wanted everything to be over, to be free from the negative thoughts, from the pain and from the mud.

Each of my breaks were now taking longer and longer. I eventually rose and laboriously started the next climb.

But the desire to pull out my space blanket, leave the trail and pass out under a tree was now overwhelming. I had come to terms with the risks of bears, or hypothermia, or choking on my own vomit. I just wanted sleep. There was still something though knowing I had to continue. These thoughts fought against each other in my head.

Then after about another hour of battling these thoughts, from somewhere deep within something clicked.

“Oh fuck off, Owen” it bellowed. As if I’d got tired of myself and my bitching.

I can’t be sure if it was just within my head or whether I shouted out loud.

But either way its vehemence came as something as a shock.

“Really, Fuck You”

There followed a tirade of personal abuse that was so personal, so foul-mouth and so sustained that it really shocked me.

I wasn’t used to being spoken to like that. Not least by myself.

For perhaps the only time in the race it brought a tear to my eye.

It wasn’t about finishing the race – I still knew my race was over. But it was more about telling my self to “shut the fuck up”.

I was now more awake. It was still slow going. Countless hours going downhill, sliding and falling. That aid station seemed impossibly far away.

After a few more hours I started sipping water. I’d often still be sick but started to get the impression that perhaps less was coming up than I’d managed to take in.

If I couldn’t drink the water, I realised I could now start using it to wash off my face and hands. That at least made me feel slightly better.

More hours passed and we eventually emerged from the muddy hell of the Tenshi mountains onto a relatively flat path just as dawn was breaking. I managed – I don’t know how – to start running. Thinking, perhaps, that it would bring the inevitable end closer.

Eventually, after several false hopes, we rounded a corner and reached the aid station. It was 5:34 on Saturday morning. There was a huge crowd. With no idea of the cut off times, I’d expected to be pulled from the race having missed the cut off time.

But the other runners still seemed industrious rather than dejected. I asked – more screamed out – what was the cut off time? And was told it had been extend from 5am to 6am.

I’d had about 2.5 litres of water in my backpack at the previous aid station. A lot still remained. Others had taken far less and had been without water for ages. We were all dehydrated.

There was chaos in the aid station with so many people trying to get water at the same time. There was one hosepipe, which couldn’t keep up demand. People were pushing and shoving to try and get water.

Given I’d not been able to drink I amazingly still had some water left in my backpack, even after 7-plus hours. I queued for some coke, which I sipped and used to fill one of my drinking bottles.

During the night I’d promised myself a sleep at the next aid station. But I clearly didn’t have time.

By now I knew I had to give it a shot to try and finish. I left the aid station at 5:45am – with just a 15 minute buffer before the cut off time. It was going to be tight.

I later discovered that some 600 people had bailed out of the race at that aid station. That’s testament to the carnage that happened overnight. Stuck in your own private hell, you forget that everyone else is suffering too.

I left the aid station knowing I had to get a move on if I had any chance of finishing. I also knew that I had to try and re-hydrate.

By degrees I must have started to feel better. I tipped some energy powder into one of my water bottles. It wasn’t a lot of calories, but I figured if I could keep it down it would help.

The most technical part of the race comes at the beginning. I knew there was a longer flatter section ahead of me.

Forest

There was a fairly ugly path tracking along a straight section beneath some power lines. I was now motoring at nearly 6km/hour. The memory of that night was already disappearing. Determination replacing desperation.

It was more open and less wooded by now and I figured that music would be helpful. Matthew Herbert’s Strong found it’s way onto my ipod. I picked up the pace. Perhaps mustering a smile.

It took just an hour and a half to the next aid station at W2. I didn’t stop there for more than a few minutes.

Half Way

It was still grey and overcast. Intermittently drizzling. I was being driven forward by the prospect of my dropbag at aid station A4 at 90km along with the mental boost of reaching half way.

It was another 2 hours and 20 minutes to the next aid station. I arrived just before 9:30am. At A4 I changed my shoes and socks. Spending longer than necessary tending to my feet. I was deliriously happy to be in new, clean, dry trainers.

The heals of the trainers I’d been wearing had been destroyed by a lazy heal-strike as my running gate had deteriorated on the down hills. The shoes were wet and filthy.

Shoes

As I considered putting the old shoes back in the dropbag to take home – I thought ‘I’m really too old to be washing out worn out trainers’. I picked them up as if they were radioactive and carried them to the bin. The act of throwing away the trainers was hugely cathartic. As if they carried all the bad memories of that night.

I managed to sip some warm miso soup and miraculously it stayed down. I had a disposable toothbrush in my dropbag and before I left I brushed my teeth – and tongue. I washed my face and felt utterly transformed.

I was now well ahead of the cut off. Confidence comes from building up a barrier on the cutoff. I stopped a couple of times to change socks and apply anti-blister cream to my feet.

I ploughed on eventlessly. It was still cloudy. Not once did I have a view of the fabled Mt Fuji for which the race is famed.

As I approached aid station A7 I knew I had a couple of hours in hand and decided that I was going to try and get 15 minutes sleep. I knew this was risky. I’d never tried sleeping during a race before.   I knew there was a chance I’d wake in a different frame of mind – not willing to keep running. Or that I’d not wake and miss the cut off.

But I was conscious that I needed to find out if I could sleep – I knew this could be useful in other races. I’d also made my peace with not finishing the race. If it all went wrong I knew I wouldn’t be devastated.

At the next aid station at A7 at 120km it was starting to get toward dusk. I topped up my water bottles and found the room where they were letting people sleep. I left my shoes at the door.

There was a room full of blankets and just one other guy in there – seemingly dead to the world.   I wondered how I was going to wake myself up. I set an alarm on my phone and another on my watch for 15 minutes. Then thought that I needed a backup. Just outside the room I found two people who were obviously waiting for another runner and who were speaking English to each other.

I asked if they could wake me in 15 minutes. Their first inclination was clearly to demure – not wanting to take responsibility for me. But I begged and they agreed.

I went back into the room and lay on my back. It now occurred to me that actually falling asleep might be a problem. I wish I’d asked the people outside to give me longer.

I tried belly breathing with my hands on my stomach – to calm my mind. The next thing I knew I was being aggressively shaken.

“Mr Owen, Mr Owen, time to get up.” I opened my eyes, annoyed that I’d been woken before I’d fallen asleep.

But I had slept. Very, very deeply by the sounds of things. Slept through my alarms too.  The guy had had trouble rousing me. He’d been alarmed, briefly, that I might have descended into the deepest form of sleep. The form that needs no rousing.

As I quickly came around and thanked him, I immediately felt better. Utterly renewed by my bout of 10 minutes sleep.

I went to the loo – pleased that my gut had started functioning again and that I was now passing water so wasn’t too dehydrated.

I left A7 with my headlamp on, prepared for the second night in the woods.

Again it all seemed eventless. I chatted with a few people. With a nice Australian woman doing her first 100 miler. With some Japanese guys, with a French woman living in Seoul and a Hong Konger. All helped pass the time as we ran. And I was delighted to be holding a decent running pace.

Later that second night we started climbing again. Quite technical climbing, for which they had laid a rope. But you needed all fours to scramble up the rocks.

Again this caused us to bunch up and there was a fair amount of queuing. Which probably didn’t help my time, but I was beyond caring now.

At Aid Station A9 they held a kit check. They first weighed my bag – a whopping 5kg. They checked I had waterproof trousers, maps and a few other items of mandatory kit. A number of people, it latter transpired, had been disqualified for missing items.

I managed some hot food at the aid station – Udon noodles which I ate cautiously. But it stated down.

Over the next climb I felt the sleep demons coming – I was wandering all over the trail. I had to stop to force down a caffeine energy gel.

At the final aid station A10, I saw they had a crew of physios working on peoples sore legs.

Window

But it was my shoulders and upper back that were sore. I tore off my shoes, backpack and goretex and climbed onto the massage table.

After a brief discussion of what was wrong he spent 10 minutes manipulating my spine and shoulders. It hurt like hell but I emerged re-energised.

I’d had a niggling pain in my upper back from a climbing injury a few weeks ago. Even this seemed to have gone. I almost felt better than when I started.

The final 15 or so km passed quickly. I knew there was just a final 1300m peak to summit then it was downhill to Kawaguichiko.

On the decent I bumped into the Australian woman I’d spoken to earlier. It was great to see a familiar face. She was bright and bubbly. We spoke about finishing strong – and how much it meant to us. How if you weren’t sick when you crossed the finish line, you’d clearly not tried hard enough.

On the final decent as we reached the lake there was a solitary individual playing the saxophone. It was a haunting sound.

And so that was it. We ran around the side of the lake. Across the bridge and back into town having circumnavigated Mt Fuji without once having caught sight of it. Hidden all the while in the clouds.

I kept upping the pace, testing my body if I could hold the speed, then slowly upping it some more.

My feet felt good. My quads – which normally feel like they’re being attacked with daggers at the end of a 100 miler – felt equally strong.

There was a fair crowd as I came into finish at just after 6am on Sunday morning.

Finish

It felt strangely anticlimactic. I felt I could carry on. I almost wanted to carry on. Having suffered and survived the first night, finishing now felt like cheating.

Finishing in just over 41 hours meant I had eked out a good four hours over the cut off time from those measly 15 minutes after the first night.

I can’t say I felt a lot of emotion at finishing. All the emotion had been sucked out of me during that first night.

I hung around for a while to watch a few more racers come in.

I’d wanted to watch the final racers come in just before the cut off – those are the special moments in an ultra.

But it was too long to wait and I was growing cold.

I trundled back to the hostel where I found virtually all my new friends up and milling around – many had pulled out the previous night. It turned out that upwards of 60% wouldn’t finish that year.

I had a long shower and put virtually everything into the washing machine.

After a change of clothes and a coffee I had another brief sleep and didn’t then know what to do with myself. It was still early. I went out for lunch then came back to the hostel.

I saw another runner slumped on the porch. He’d finished in 45 hours and had just made it back to the hostel. He was caked in mud and looked shell shocked – unable to comprehend what had happened. Smiling but still utterly dazed.

I shook his hand and helped him to his feet – offering him my heartfelt congratulations. Oddly I was more proud for him than myself.

Him bemused, tired, dirty, hungry and hobbling. And me clean, rested, full and walking well, it occurred to me that the memories of the race had already started fading.

I can’t say I felt pride or achievement. Just quiet contentment and confidence.

And a little unsure whether I had ever really run.

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