- 'Make voyages! - Attempt them! - there's nothing else...' Tennessee Williams
Number 99. Ninety Nine. 9 + 9. So close to 100. One Hundred Marathons. But so so far away...
Number 99 is that troublesome little number, that hard earned scary event that threatens to stand in the way of everything else you have achieved. It is this huge hurdle, this big barrier that you have to pass in order to reach the goal you have been striving towards for as long as you can now remember. It is only one event. That is all you have to do; just complete this one event. You have done so much before. Hey, a lot of my ‘marathons’ have been made up of ultra-marathons…around 40. These consist of an 85 miler, lots of 50+ milers, some 45 milers etc; I could do this. Number 99 was merely a marathon. I had encountered tough situations and races before and yet this one was so important. It was so important not to get lost and for everything to go smoothly. I read the route description, I accepted the fact that it was going to be a hilly off-road number. I read up on some of the elevation gain and shielded myself from the rest, from the bad bits. I just need to get on with the task at hand and complete this ‘test’. Silly me. I was about to encounter possibly one of the hardest, hilliest, hottest off-road marathon distance events I think I have ever encountered. I have now figured out that the elevation gain total was around 5,520 ft.
It all started quite smoothly. Ok, that’s a lie. It appeared to start quite smoothly. It was beautiful, gently ascending through the trees. It was quite a mystical beginning. And then we turned a corner and suddenly we were out of wonderland and into hell. The climb was so steep and the path was so narrow. I definitely wasn’t prepared for that. Cue, Darth Vader breathing. I expected some big climbs, but this was really very steep. Little did I know what awaited us on the rest of the course. It was to be an interesting day.
The steep start had left me quite nervous. I was worried. I needed to do this. I calmed myself down with the knowledge that I had the route description in my Garmin. About 2 miles into the run/ walk/ climb, maybe a little sooner, we got lost. We reached a cattle grid and the route description stated, cross the cattle grid and go straight on downhill into a wooded area. Well, this cattle grid was facing a downhill and there were trees, maybe not woods, but definitely trees. It wasn’t the correct cattle grid. But if there is one thing I have learnt and never manage to avoid; if you are lost or confused or unsure of the route, you can always make yourself make the route description in front of you make sense, no matter if you are completely and utterly off course. In moments of panic, your mind seems to take the information that is in front of you and mould it into some sort of logical direction. And so, we went down the hill and into the trees. It wasn’t right and it didn’t feel right. We turned back and took the other path branching off from that one, as did some runners that had started later. They bolted off and continued along this second track and we didn’t see them again. This track was also quite wrong and we wandered back to the point where our Garmin’s had become confused and off-course and we had become lost. Frustrated and confused, we got out a huge map and the experienced map readers amongst this now lost group proceeded to establish where we might have gone wrong.
Ultimately we figured it out and got back on course. Thankfully, we stayed on the course for the rest of the day, but we had now added over 3 extra miles to our total. We would finish the day on 30miles, rather than the 26.5 miles we had signed up for. This wasn’t the worst scenario in the world. However, it was so hot – I think the temperature exceed 28.C…it was so hot, much too warm to be climbing huge hills and covering extra mileage. I tried to push my negativity to the back of my head.
I was in a weird mood. I was nervous about not finishing it. I had pinned all my hopes and plans on Chester Marathon being my 100th, what if I now couldn’t pull this off? Thoughts went through my head about the other possible events I might be able to fit in on the next weekend, such as the day before my supposed 100th, in order to make up for a possible DNF here. I remained quite downbeat for a lot of the day, until we had reached the final 5 miles – I started to smile a bit more at this point, since all the hardest climbs were over and we were nearly there. I’m normally smiley. This 99th had definitely altered my mood.
Someone once told me that Number 99 was a killer. They were more than right. This was a killer in its own right and so to label it number 99 made it all the more horrific. Before this event and earlier in the week, I had convinced myself that even if I had to crawl this event, I would finish and all would be ok, I didn’t need to try, I just needed to complete. Gosh, how wrong I was. At some points, I felt like we literally needed to crawl and it was such a battle to make it. As for my trusty route description that I had uploaded to my Garmin, well, it only remained on course for the first and last 2 miles of the event; so I think someone must have uploaded last years gps route to the internet, which was drastically different from this year’s event. It was a good job I was not relying on this alone.
The finish was great, all downhill. Really steep downhill’s; runaway downhill’s where you cannot only help but run, but you cannot stop running down them once you have started.
Sooo, Number 99 was tough. Tougher than all the rest. It stood in front of everything else I have completed and teased me and refused to make getting to my 100th ‘easy’. It was a battle.
This battle was won :) Bring on Number 100, Chester Marathon 09/10/11