I do not compete with the rest of the world. I compete only with myself, for my progress is my true victory – Sri Chinmoy.
It’s been a whole week since I’ve arrived back in the UK from Phoenix, after such an exhilarating trip, and I now have had time to reflect on my adventures. The memories of the wonderful sunlit and tinged blue, red and orange horizons of the sunsets and sunrises will stay with me for a long time. I have been procrastinating about writing something down as I’m not the most eloquent of writers and I find it hard at times to put into words what I wish to convey. I suppose like any skill or behaviour it is just practise and repetition, and then one gets better – a bit like ultrarunning and meditation really.
Scroll back to April of 2013 when I was running the Self-Transcendence 6 Day Race in New York. It was my first attempt at this multiday and I was laid face down on the treatment table as I was being treated for my Achilles tendon problems on the fourth day. My friend Arpan mentioned, that as I had done so well in the first three days, I should contemplate running the Across the Years 72 Hour Race. Immediately my interest was aroused and as he started to talk about it I somehow knew that I would run it. It seems it was my destiny and events throughout the year made the trip possible – down to being given the time off work to the love and generosity of my parents for paying my airfare and my good friend Mark Dorion kindly paying my hotel accommodation in Glendale. I am just so full of gratitude to Mark and my father for financially supporting me in this trip.
The run up (excuse the pun) to the race had not been great. My body had never fully settled down after April’s 6 Day Race and my biomechanics had altered so much that the body was over-compensating and I was experiencing other overuse injuries and niggles and struggled to gain any flow to my running. I was struggling to do any long runs, but due to circumstances and commitments I ran in the Florence Marathon in November and the Eden Project Marathon in October to raise funds for People and Gardens project. Since June I had been experiencing problems with the inside of the left knee and so much so I opted to get a MRI scan which thankfully did not reveal any serious damage. If was just a rather infuriating niggle that prevented me from increasing the intensity of my training. It did get to a stage where I considered cancelling my trip and pulling out of the race. It seemed it was to abruptly end even before it had begun. However, sometimes I suppose one has to accept things as they are and be patient and believe it will all turn out good and for a purpose. Time began running out and my physiotherapist and osteopath worked on addressing some of the muscle imbalance issues. I had to go with I got, so to speak, and hope my base endurance would be enough. I gauged I was only 75% – 80% ready for the race.
I had the luxury of flying in to LA on the 21st December where I spent Christmas with an old university friend and his family who I hadn’t seen since we had graduated in 1995. It was good just to relax and take in the lovely winter sunshine – it was so rejuvenating. Back at home in the UK the weather was horrendous with torrential rain, high winds and flooding. It seemed even more than ever I had made the right decision to come over. I mean, yes, I missed not spending Christmas with my family, but for a few years I had wanted to do something different and coming over to run ATY provided that opportune moment.
I haven’t even started talking about the race yet, hahahaha! In a way, what happened in those months in the lead up to the race were key to what unfolded during the race. Maybe not physically, but psychologically and spiritually I was in a far better space. My enthusiasm, cheerfulness and optimism remained and the fact of the teachings of my spiritual master, Sri Chinmoy were always in my heart and soul.
Your Master’s voice Is inside your heart, For your soul and your Master Are always together – Sri Chinmoy
Prior to leaving for Phoenix my good friend in LA treated me to a delicious Chinese meal and at the end of the meal inside the fortune cooker I had this:
“A great day lies ahead in the not too distant future”
Funny, I had a similar good fortune message prior to running the 6 Day Race in April. I had this inner feeling that things were going to turn out fine and I would be well protected by my Guru, Sri Chinmoy.
I arrived in Phoenix on the Friday 27th and this gave me time to go over to Camelback Ranch to register and prepare my kit and tent for the race. The weather was perfect – blue skies and warm sunshine, but as the sun was setting a chill descended to remind me that this was a desert environment.
I went back over to the course on the Saturday and was excited to see the start of the 6 Day Race with Yiannis Kouros and Joe Fejes looking so focused and determined. It turned out this was going to be one battle of a race.
On the Friday evening I went to an Italian restaurant where I met a lovely native American Indian couple, Terry Sanchez and Raymond Johnson who were so sweet and friendly. When I told them that I was running ATY race they just said you will do well and they promised to say a prayer for me. They were so kind and really touched my heart. Raymond was a runner himself and told me that a coming of age ritual / tradition in his tribe was for the young women to run as far as they can and then turn around and run back to their tribal lands followed my all the family members who cannot intervene. They did this run for three consecutive days, and on the third day the young women would run as far as they could go and then when they felt they could run no more, would stop and turnaround and run back home. I was so enamoured by this ritual. Maybe one day I can return to Arizona and observe this. When we said our farewells Raymond said, “We are destined to meet again”. His loving smile spoke volumes. Terry commented that she makes jewellery and would send me a present. I look forward to receiving that generous gift. I said they would be in my thoughts and their prayers would be blown on the wind to me. I somehow knew that inwardly they would be running with me.
The day of the race was now upon me. Mark Dorion kindly gave me a lift from the hotel to the race course and I was set. It was cold and there was a layer of hard frost on my table, so I knew the temperature range was going to be pretty large. As I stood on that start line, I realised this was the time, this was the moment that I had been working towards and the momentum since April had propelled me to this exact spot. And so at 9:00 am on 29th December the 72 Hour Race commenced.
With so much adrenaline and excitement pumping through my body, predictably as always I went off at a fast pace – perhaps too fast. It was great to be running freely and have a sense of flow in my running. The problem knee was taped up with KT tape and it seemed stable and was working fine. It was early days and I just wanted to think about nothing else other than staying relaxed and living in the moment. There was to be no past or future, just the now.
I tend to break the race up into manageable junks – generally 3 or 4 hour blocks. Despite wearing gaiters, with the type of surface of grit and dust, I decided to stop every 3 hours to change my socks, clean my feet and re-lubricate them. Despite losing about 15 or 20 minutes every time I stopped I think for me this was a wise investment as subsequently I only got one really bad blister on the right big toe. Later I found out that most runners were getting foot problems and even those experienced runners that didn’t normally get blisters. Because of the surface the feet tended to move a lot in the shoe and grit got through one’s shoes and socks created hotspots.
It is very hard to recall what happens in the multidays and one’s memory becomes fuzzy, tinged by fatigue and sleep deprivation, and hours and days seem to merge into one. One always wants to have a good first day and build a good base. It is a time to get into a routine and build a race rhythm. That first day is also about meeting your fellow runners and it was nice to meet so many inspiring people with a good energy and to share one’s hopes and goals for this race. Although I went into the race with no expectations I did set a goal of trying to achieve on average 70 miles per day, so the 72 hour total target was 210 miles. I thought that was achievable.
Perfect happiness is Enthusiasm minus Expectation. – Sri Chinmoy
Up to the end of the second day I didn’t look at the race positions or my mileage. It was only when I was having a challenging time in the early hours of the second day, curiosity got the better of me and I decided it was time to look. By the end of 48 hours I had reached 150 miles. It was only after the race I found out that my first day split was 85 miles, followed by a weaker second day of 65 miles. I had tried to go without sleep for the first 24 hours, but by around 3:00 am I was feeling sick and overtired and started to considerably slow down, even walking was very difficult. At which point I decided to get some sleep. I think I didn’t really sleep that deeply, but just the fact of lying down for 90 minutes certainly refreshed me.
On the second night I slept for about a hour. My energy levels were good, but by the end of the second day my biomechanics were letting me down and my left Achilles was tightening up and the I started to get a pain in the instep of my left foot, which made putting any pressure on it painful. I was barely able to walk let alone run and I was getting a stabbing pain in my left shoulder. Thankfully Holly Miller gave me a massage and I took time out to plunge the foot in ice cold water. I initially thought I’ll lie down in the shade and raise the foot and get some rest, but I always remembered what Sri Chinmoy said about shin splints, that it was best to keep moving, keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was New Year’s Eve and I wanted to end the 2013 on a high. This was the last day, so in my mind I needed to keep moving, and let my body respond.
It was the right decision. After walking a lap I slowly began to jog and in the later afternoon heat I began making progress again. As in the 6 Day Race, when all seemed lost and I was struggling, things tend to turn around – I had this inner belief that this was a blip and things would improve. As the warmth from the afternoon sun began to dip my focus was on putting in a sustained effort through the night. It seems providence stepped in as the evening meal was pizza. Perhaps over the last 48 hour I hadn’t been consuming enough calories, but my body loved the pizza and as I changed into my night gear the body was pumped to go. From nowhere I was getting this surge of energy and as I was running down the straight sections of the course I was in awe of the glowing sunset and I heard one runner comment, that these were the last sunrays of the year. It seemed to put everything into perspective and in that moment I was so grateful I was having this amazing experience. It was as if it was divine intervention and I could feel the presence of Sri Chinmoy sending his New Year’s blessings upon me. It was as if my heart was bursting with joy and I was swimming in this sea of love and eternal gratitude. I don’t know what happened but I ran solidly for the next 7 hours at a good pace. It was as if I wasn’t running, but as if someone else was. In previous long races I have experienced this where running is effortless and there is a sense of flow and timelessness. It is the most beautiful feeling and I appreciated it so much on this last night.
The coolness of the night suited be more than the dry and dustiness heat of the day, something that I shared with William Sichel, who was running in the 6 Day Race. It was comforting to share these moments with such an experienced ultra-runner. William and his trainer have kindly assisted me with their experience and knowledge over the past 18 months and it was the first time I have run sharing the same course as William. I am grateful for him and every runner at ATY who took the time to talk to me, to assist me and to offer words of encouragement and support. If I may not have acknowledged you at the time, they inspired me to run to my full potential.
In the early hours at around 3:00am I took a final 30 minute nap and afterwards I was rearing to go again for the final 6 hour push. Sadly Annabel Hepworth, the Australian runner who was having such a strong race on her debut, had to pull out at 233 miles with shin splints. I was now chasing third spot. I couldn’t be caught in fourth, but I ran to the edge of my limits to finish with a flourish and try to get that third spot. However, time simply ran out for me, and I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I was pleased to finish so strongly and with such a spring in my step and my final total on my ATY 72 hour debut was 232 miles (Across the Years 72 hour race results).
I had well and truly exceeded my expectations and the race was a complete joy. The people you meet and the experiences one has, I believe you have for a reason. In essence the emotions and tribulations that I had in the lead up of the race crystallised themselves in such a positive light as if I was bathed in this protective bubble and whose energy helped me. Wherever I went and whoever I met their good wishes and smiles I carried inside my heart and soul. It wasn’t only me that was running in that race. It was all the hopes and aspirations of many, many people. I felt a sense of humility and gratitude. It all seems so surreal now. How do we define our reality?
It was a very special way to end 2013 and begin 2014.
The fullness of life Lies in dreaming And manifesting The impossible dreams – Sri Chinmoy
At this moment as I sit here writing, I’m reminded of a poignant comment made by Joe Lancaster quoted in Bill Jones’ The Ghost Runner. Joe wrote of the mysterious joy of running, with its
“freedom of action, mind and soul … that expression of power, of well-being, the competitive spirit, disappointments, triumphs, aches, loves, that is LIFE. Why should this, our way of life, be denied to anyone who wishes to share it?” (p.155).
It was a joy to share these moments in the race with so many special people.