Megaphones & Meditation.
Expect the Unexpected – part 3:
2 laps down, a ripped calf muscle and only 90km to go. Great! However, at least I was still moving forward and that was a lot better than the situation about 20 minutes ago. Over the next lap I found that I was slowly able to manage a shuffling, semi-run style with a shorter stride. Things were looking up! With 15km down, I realized that if I could keep this new found shuffle-run style going, I should be able to make it under the maximum time limit. To my amazement, the pain in my calf had now transformed from a sharp localized pain to a more generalized dull ache, which was actually quite bearable. At one point I noticed an area of bruising starting to spread over the lower half of my leg. I figured that I had suffered an acute,localized, muscle tear and now the trapped bleeding had been able to drain away from the area of the tear and, in so doing, relieved the built up pressure. Given that I had almost given up hope about an hour earlier, this was the best news I could have hoped for. I now felt that I was going to be able to finish the race, although it was going to be done with an altogether different strategy. See how plans change? I was able to run the flat sections and declines, but I had no choice but to walk even the slightest of inclines, as the forced stretch of being more on my toes still hurt my calf too much. I also decided to walk through each of the two drink stops to give my calf some extra recovery time. These short pre-planned walks evey 2.5km also acted as ’mini-goals’, which I could relatively easily achieve and then ’tick off the list’ and, in so doing, give me some much needed confidence as I felt that I was making steady progress.
With only 25% of the race gone, my whole race had now become focused around continuing to do what I was able do, as well as not doing anything that could cause more damage to my injured calf. This unexpected injury had now become the biggest problem that I was forced to deal with for the entire race – my weakest link, you might say. I also decided to make an additional mental point of thinking of the 80km point in the race as my own personal half way mark, as if I was doing an empiric century. I figured that if I could adjust my pacing to visualise being in a 160km race, and then be able to get to the ’half way’ point of this longer race in semi-good shape, then regardless of what happened after that, nothing was going to stop me from getting to the finish. I was now truly running for recovery! Not long after making this decision, something magical happened. I must have gotten into some kind of trance-like state, because I remember very little of the time between the 25km to 75km marks, not even my calf pain. The so-called ’flow state’, I presume. While this phase was pretty much a mental blur, I do remember a few particular images very clearly. The most amazing sunset at about 11pm, as well as moving through 2 hours of darkness with the blinking red lights and reflectors of other competitors stretched out over a specific 1km segment on the main highway bordering the town. I’m not sure what I specifically thought of or felt at those times, but I knew that there was no place else in the world that I was meant to be. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to experience all of it, the good and bad, and to have the opportunity to test myself in the company of a great bunch of people who were out there doing the same. Oh yeh, I do clearly remember one particular thing, which was a jeep load of local youth driving around the course in the opposite directions shouting ’encouragement’ , at least I think that’s what it was, with loud megaphones and using blinking lights and spotties to make sure we all noticed them. Megaphones and moving meditation – what a combination!
Not sure why I ’woke up’ at exactly the 75km point. Maybe, it was the birds starting to sing along with the sunrise, or maybe because I realized that I was approaching my personal ’half way’ point. 80km was now in the bag and I was still feeling pretty good. Another lap and 85km. Now I pretty much knew that I was going to make it, but there was still a little bit more work to do. All things considered, I had actually felt pretty good since the 20km point, but this was to change quickly. My stomach had decided to reject any more sports drink or, for that matter, pretty much anything else laced with sugar. The thought of ingesting anything sweet made me want to instantly throw up. All I could take in was some water and a few cups of coffee for something with a non-sweet taste. As a consequence, I could feel my sugar levels dropping and I was getting that nasty feeling in my quads as a result of the depleted glycogen stores. However, with only 2 more laps to go, I was no longer really bothered as I was on a mental high, moving through the bright morning sunshine towards the finish line.
I remember starting my last lap with a big smile on my face. This was actually going to happen! And wouldn’t you know it, I now actually set myself a finishing time and found myself recalculating again – well, I figured I’d earned the right to indulge in even a little bit of ’performance’ at this point! Given that the course was now pretty familiar, I knew exactly what segments I had to run and walk and at what speeds. At the 7.5km mark, I had thought for sure my race was over. This had then changed to finishing under the 16 hour time limit. Now it was about achieving a certain finishing time . ’If I can just average 6.5 minutes per kilometre for the last 5km then …’ Isn’t it amazing how things, situations and thoughts, can change! I crossed the line in 11hr27min. A finisher’s medal was put around my neck by the race director as he shook my hand and simply said ’well done’. I kept on walking for a while – cool downs are important you know, even after ultras!. However, after a very short time I had to stop, lean over and prop myself up with my hands on my now very badly trembling knees to stop from collapsing. I was ’cooked’. In a somewhat delayed reaction, my quads had now figured out the race was in fact over and they bid me a hasty farewell, just as I crawled into the back of our van for a wee kip. As I fell into an uneasy sleep filled with continuous muscle twitching, pain and cramps, I’m sure I heard a strange voice say ’never again!’
It has now been about 2 months since the race. I’ve recovered from the injury and able to run again. I haven’t heard that strange voice lately either. I now understand what running for recovery means and how to better deal with the unexpected. Looking back at this experience, I even think that my calf injury was actually a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me to have a much more enriching experience in regards to these concepts. Some very important lessons that will be of great help in the future, not just in running, but in life in general. However, I think the best thing of all is the feeling that I now carry around with me. It’s hard to describe it exactly, but it’s a really, really good one! Through this single experience, although it has been 6 years in the making, I can now much better appreciate why people run ultras, or participate in other activities of a similar nature. I feel blessed to be able to continue doing them, as well as for the friends I’ve made and will continue to make in the process. In conclusion, I would say that ultra running is not so much about finishing times or beating your oppostition, but a superb way of testing and shifting your own limits, as well as providing an excellent vehicle for being able to better connect with life. For those yet to experience these things, I hope that this article will have, in some way, inspired you to go out and see what it’s all about.