I had a restless night. I kept waking up with pain in my shins, just unable to get comfy. I had decided last night that I couldn’t drop in camp – not the done thing, plus you never know what you’ll feel like in the morning… I felt the same. Mentally it was all about just taking the next step. Walking around the camp to get food, etc. was very painful and my mood was dark.
Many people assured me I’d be ok – the usual motivational slaps on the back everybody thinks you want, but my replies were along the line of; “Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll even start”. Faces changed as they realised I was serious and then just left me to it. They could all put themselves in my position and really understood how much pain I must be in to even contemplate it at this late stage.
I finally got my act together to leave with Rob. His blisters had been popped and strapped so once he got going he was fine. I was grateful for his company en route to check point one. First things first through, I needed to get off this camp site with my dignity intact!
So much for the mass start Shane had planned. He had no chance of organising that; even up front it sounded ambitious and impractical to try to get more than the top 10 together for a mass start. It was a romatic ideal, but took no consideration of the majority of the runners for which the achievement is just finishing.
Many people had been very vocal the night before stating they were going to head off when they wanted to. So I guess he either realised it was impractical or feared a mutiny, either way, once the first people had gone it was a bit of a free for all. I was still getting my breakfast in when they went and since we hadn’t been told that the mass start wasn’t going to happen it was a small surprise to see some people leave. Once that happened the floodgates opened and all remaining competitors left to applause and cheers from those still on camp – a nice touch!
My goals had more tiers than ever on day 5; first was to make it to the start, second was to take the first step, third was to just make the 100 yards to get off the campsite, then it was checkpoint after checkpoint. We set off and I was trying to get to grips with using sticks. It wasn’t really happening, but I was prepared to try anything. We managed our way up through the wood and broken tracks to finally find CP1. Once in the bag Rob ran off ahead; part of me wanted the company, a lot of me didn’t. I had an emotional day ahead and was in serious agony.
Before I had left camp I had visited the doctor to discuss painkillers. I never pop pills for running as I don’t believe it is worth going that far… except for this. I had no real idea of what was safe and what was the maximum. I’m also permanently medicated with pain modifiers anyway to deal with the daily pain post head injury. I’d started taking Ibuprofen and Co-Codamol in an effort to manage the pain. I only had enough for half the day, but also didn’t want to overdose on the things and didn’t know how well they would all play together.
There was a beautiful moment where the doctor looked in his supply kit and pulled out a painkiller. I could see him going through a mental “Do I?/ Don’t I?” debate. Eventually he said, “I was keeping these in case somebody broke a leg or something like that… oh, take it, just go and finish it!” with that, he pressed it into my hand and turned his head; I felt I was running the race for him at that very moment. I hope I’ll never forget that moment. There was a total understanding of what everything meant and how much I needed to finish. This was what made him such a superb doctor on camp – not because he gave me one strong painkiller for the final day, but the advice and guidance he gave over the course of the event was from a real understanding of what the runners were going through. A top man & a wonderful moment.
I saved the pain killer trying not to take them as soon as I was allowed the next dose. I didn’t know how long I’d be out there so I rationed as much as I could. In truth when I did eventually take it, it didn’t really do much, neither did the co-codamol. The pain was there to stay and I needed to switch off the screaming in my brain if I was going to finish.
Back to the descent post first check point. I was struggling to hold it together. I was struggling to stay on my feet as my legs buckled with every step. Various groups passed me. My lip quivered. A group of three lads that I’d run with on the first day passed me and one said; “Alright?”, I shook my head, managed a squeak of a “No” before bursting into tears. I felt terrible for the other chap as he just didn’t know what to do. The floodgates had finally opened and I could not stop the emotional release. I tried desperately to say, “I’ll be alright, I’m just having a moment”, but in the end I had to just wave him on and give him a thumbs up. I felt guilty all day about laying that on him.
Everybody passed. I fixed on my Navigation and tried to manage the misery. A wrong turn here could mean curtains to my mental state. Putting a brave face on was pointless and I had moments where tears of frustration would come and others where tears of pain would come; but most frequently it was a combination. I was not going to quit but the thought that I might have to was just too much to bear.
It’s been a very difficult few years since the accident. From thinking I was going mad to being told what was going on and then learning to live with the brain injury has been an ultra in itself. My running and the widely perceived lunacy of the type of events I have been doing has been driven in part by me needing to achieve something extraordinary in my life. My career has been stopped at 30 which is more than hard to accept and this has threatened to rob me of my identity (in part it already has taken a big chunk). Psychologically it’s very difficult to cope with and move on.
I’m sure most ultra runners have some kind of demon chasing them or at least something that drives them to cover the distances we do. There are moments out there (though strangely not on the Dragon for me) where I question why on earth I am doing this; that this is the last one, that I just need to return to fell racing and forget all the crazy distance challenges. I question what I am trying to prove, to whom, and why? I look at things I have achieved in life and reflect on why it seemingly isn’t enough and why I have to keep pushing out the boundaries. I still don’t have answers to this, but these feelings meant I could never give up on the DBR. My greatest fear was hitting halfway and the doctor pulling me out or a van coming to pick me up and DNF me. The tears were for that, they were for all the miles I’d trod, for all the training, for the fact I’d been flying and I felt really fresh everywhere except my shins*, for the fact I wasn’t finishing the way I wanted to, that I wasn’t getting to run my beautiful country, for being so close to my limits.
* ok and parts of my feet, but nothing that couldn’t be managed or that would stop me running – blisters are popped, drained, taped and off you go.
The lonely steps gave me so much time to reflect. I decided to call Laura for a bit of morale support. Just as it was connecting I felt myself welling up, and then Joe Faulkner appeared out of nowhere. Looking superb and happy. Shirt off, backpack, shorts, socks and shoes only. My face was probably contorted and he cracked on seeing I was making a call. I was so glad he hadn’t been one minute slower as he’d have passed a blubbering mess and it was something I had to deal with on my own.
It was a difficult conversation; Laura concerned for my well-being, me concerned about finishing. Laura told me I had nothing to prove and that it was incredible that I’d got this far. She said she was coming out to see me and I snapped at her not to give me an easy way out, no option to quit. Her support was so important at that moment. I know I had worried her and I felt terrible for that, but they are only legs, they will heal; a spirit is far harder to heal and that was my focus; my spirit had to stay intact… and it was getting stronger as the miles passed step by step.
I popped into a village shop for some water. The chap behind the counter told me of an incredible race that was coming through. I chuckled inwardly that despite my totally dishevelled state he hadn’t realised I was in it until I turned to leave and he saw the number on my backpack.
I saw nobody down those lonely roads. I just saw all the easy miles I could have put in, the distance I could have covered so easily and yet here I was staggering along. But the miles passed and passed and the Usk Reservoir (today’s drop bag point) was almost upon me.
Walking across the dam wall and seeing Laura walk out to meet me was such an emotional moment. I struggled to hold it together until we hugged, then I sobbed like a baby for 30 seconds that felt like a lifetime. When we finally released each other I felt totally renewed. Everything melted away. Right at that moment I knew I would finish.
I got to the aid station and to my utter surprise there were some others there and I wasn’t last in. I was then offered a choc-ice! I thought this was all some cruel ruse, it couldn’t be true could it? It was! The dropbag crew were just awesome all week. Slick, a very welcome sight, engaged, and the best visible part of the entire event. I don’t just say this because they went and bought choc-ices!
I really put some food in and had a bit of time off my feet. I expect the others to come in but nobody did. I set off 10 minutes or so after the next chap and caught him by the time we reached the mountains. Wooter had been in the checkpoint but left about 20 minutes before me and I wasn’t going to catch him – he was moving slowly by his own standards, but just that bit quicker than me. Seeing him working his way up the mountain was great encouragement though and the competitor in me showed his face again.
I was in excellent spirits now, the pain was there but I felt that little bit invincible. Overtaking the a chap on the way up to Fan Brycheiniog pushed my spirits up further. I realise all the way through the blog I have used the word stunning, and it’s difficult to say which was the most stunning as they are all stunning for different reasons, but the ridge along the Black mountain from Fan Brycheiniog to Carreg Yr Ogof (try saying that when you’re drunk…. or actually, just try saying it!) is spectacular. Looking back down on Llyn y Fan Fach… just pure magic. Perfect running territory, perfect weather, less than perfect legs; a very bitter sweet moment.
The trek to Garreg Lwyd proved more tricky than I hoped. I think I overtook another person around here, but I took a terrible line which left me climbing over rocks. Arriving at the top I was greeted by Laura and none other than Mr. Robert Parry! decked out in shorts, a shirt and a Panama hat Bob ensured spirits remained high. It was just so good to see them both as they accompanied me down to the road. Despite my condition they struggled to keep up and I think that said a lot about my spirit right there. I knew I had it in the bag and my mental game was finally focused.
Pork pie. Fruit platter. Am I dreaming again? No, Charmian had taken it upon herself to add in an extra drop bag stop. Sat in a deck chair with Laura and Bob cracking jokes all the time… did I mention the pork pie!!! Nothing picks me up better than pigs lips and hooves wrapped in pastry.
Carn Pen-y-clogau was taken and I could see the end. I started to run. Roughly 10 Km to the finish and it was rough! Cutting across to the final check point at Tair Carn Isaf gave me sight of the finish. The end just wasn’t getting any closer, but I took in the last check point in a hobble and headed down a cruel descent towards the final track to the castle.
The final track went on forever and it went down… a lot, then up… a lot. It’s a really tough finish after all that had gone before it. Seeing Rob and Laura on the ramparts was very welcome and I came in to the finish in what I thought at the time was a run. I’ve since seen the video and had that illusion shattered! Felt strange not to see the race director there, but Joe Faulker and Steve Dubbie were there and cheered me in – very touching, but a muted end to the race.
Chilling down I had to get away from the finish line as my body began to shut down. Walking down from the castle to the “banquet” hall was very tough, but I got to cheer in one of the guys. I didn’t know what to feel it was all so muted, painful, massive, special…. the agonising hobble down was all I could focus on.
Walking into the hall I was just thinking about the banquet/ feast we’d been promised. The warmth hit me first then there was literally a roar. The muted ending to the race was all forgiven as the reception I had when I came in through that door was simply incredible. It seemed like it would never stop. To have it come from the other people that had tamed the dragon or at least part of it and really knew what it took to get there was something I hope I will never forget. A feeling I can’t describe. I was beaming from ear to ear.
Data downloaded, pint put in my hand I sat there and just took it all in. I was so glad when the lad that I burst into tears in front of came over to congratulate me and see how I was. I was able to apologise and have a laugh about it with him. Now for the Banquet! Ahem… maybe not. It was a dreadful cold buffet with almost no food by the time I got there… anyway, let’s move on.
I had my blister drained by Mel; she managed a full 2ml out of it as I sipped some champagne that Rob had kindly bought for me (complete with plastic flutes!) Trophies were given out and yet another huge moment of cheers and whoops from the assembled. I’m sure all in that room appreciated the respect from their peers that day. There were some speeches and the Spanish contingent continued to “smile rather than cry” by partying away.
Prize giving over, Joe stated that he was off up to see Wendy finish and most people went up with him. If I thought I could have gone up and down I would have done it, but my legs were good for nothing. I would have so loved to have clapped Wendy in – an incredible achievement to be one of just three “double Dragons”; yes a pensioner, yes an incredible athlete! I am looking forward to seeing her again soon on a start line!
I have a huge respect for all of those that took part and especially for all of those that completed the Dragon. I’ve also got a massive respect for those that for one reason or another failed a day, but got back out there and took on everything else thrown at them to complete as much as they could. Steve Birkinshaw was nothing short of invincible out there. to see him run was really something else. The lines he picked, the efficiency of everything he did; impressive to say the least! Helene was awe-inspiring though. To come forth overall was just incredible.
Certainly some bitter sweet memories for me. What could have been if only my legs hadn’t given in. If only I’d trained slightly differently so that my legs would have been strong enough, if I could have just ran that ridge from Fan Brycheiniog, but these are all inconsequential at the end of the day, especially when offset by the other days, especially day 1 which was easily the best day out in the mountains I have ever had. Either way, it’s done, it’s slain.
Day 5 Video Diary:
Day 5 Official Video:
Day 5 Stats:
- Distance: 59.2km (36.8 miles)
- Ascent: 2142.7m (7,030 ft)
- Descent: 2011.3m (6,599 ft)
- Time taken: 13 hours 18 minutes