DNF and GUCR are words that I have been lucky enough to never have to use in the same sentence. Until now. And that's exactly what I did. I DNF'd. And it feels rubbish. For so long, I was so proud to say that I had finished GUCR 4 times in a row and never dropped out. Not bad for someone who doesn't look like a 'real runner'. I never really contemplate not finishing. I always think of that as one of my strengths, to keep going, no matter what. So, it was strange and actually heartbreaking to dial that Race HQ number and confirm that I wouldn't be carrying on.
From Mile 36 to Mile 53 is a tricky section. Despite having done this race from 2012- 2015, I had forgotten how tough I find this section. It's very rural, a lot of it looks the same and the ground is quite uneven. The ground is fairly hard to consistently run on during this bit. The scenery is pretty though... During this never-ending section, I felt both mentally and physically rough and I couldn't see the let-up. I became one of those 'negative Nancies' (a miserable, negative runner who you don't want to meet on an ultra) - one of those people who is so relentlessly miserable that you run faster just to avoid them.
As I finally neared the 'unreachable checkpoint', I burst into tears and had a word with myself. I just felt limp and my mental strength had wilted in the warmth of the day. I felt sure I must be right at the back, and I wasn't far off. But, as I got nearer and nearer to the CP, some other runners emerged from behind me. By that point, I had this strange feeling that I wasn't part of the race that I loved any more. I didn't feel a part of it. I had given up.
I know we do these races and prepare ourselves for pain, both emotional and physical, but I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I normally think things like, 'pain is part of it, deal with it', 'pain comes and goes, get on with it' and 'expect pain', blah blah blah. I was so close to the cut-offs and if I'd have carried on and made it to the 70 mile CP after the cutoffs, then I would have been stranded in the middle of the night. I know that's my fault, because I was unsupported, but it's just something I've never fully had to contend with before. I've always had stubbornness on my side, but it had all but gone this time.
Ultimately, the best I might have hoped for on zero energy was to spend another 30+ hours down a canal. Imagining another 30+ down the canal wasn't hard to imagine, as it's something I had to contend with last year, when my feet well and truly ended up battered. However, at least last year I was further ahead of cutoff's at this point in the race. Psychologically, this really messed me up this time round.
Depressingly, my feet were great this year. I taped my big toe, arch and the ball of my foot with Rocktape the night before and it worked amazingly. I experienced no rubbing and no blisters. It was
my body that wouldn't play ball this year.
I can't really explain. Ever since Saturday I have tried to dig deep and really think about whether there was any way I could have carried on. I hate giving up and I hate making excuses. Yet, as much as I try to explain, I can't. My body simply had no energy. I felt like a rag doll. All of my energy had been zapped from me. I wanted more than anything to move forwards and yet, I felt like I was on a treadmill. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't run for long periods of time and the miles dragged on. I felt clumsy and a bit disorientated. On more than one occasion, I dropped something on the floor. I nearly dropped my map in the canal, but it landed right by the edge. However, I wasn't so lucky with my MP3 player - I looked down after CP2 to discover that it was no longer attached to my earphones and that I'd lost it. It was a bit demotivating and frustrating. Actually, it was more than a bit frustrating - music is such a useful tool to have when you're on your own down a canal, with lots of thoughts bouncing around your head.
It was a humid day on Saturday and I definitely think this contributed to the energy-zap I felt. However, I don't want to make excuses. It just wasn't my day. If I were to put it down to fate, I may point out that my boyfriend's car broke down the night before and we nearly never made it to the start. He went through all the trouble of renting an emergency car, last minute, to help me get there! I could also point out how I couldn't find my running rucksack or OMM up until the day before the race, despite looking for over a week [I can't afford to replace everything, so I kept looking and eventually found them]. And on the morning of GUCR, there was a shortage of technical t-shirts in Size Medium, and so I wasn't able to get the shirt I had ordered - a good thing, it now appears.
I can't deny it, a big part of me did have a little bit of anxiety over possibly failing at this race. It means so much to me and as much as I know I have nothing to prove in some ways, I can't shake the feeling of still wanting to prove something to myself. That's part of why we do these races and put ourselves through the challenge, right? Aren't we all trying to prove something to ourselves; to prove that we can be better, go further, realise our dreams? But maybe, just maybe I needed to fail in order to face up to that fear of failure and realise it is possible for me to come back stronger next time.