A few short months ago Amaris confided that she wanted her next running project to be something big, something very big . BUT that she wasn't sure it was possible.
Her words below explain not just how it WAS possible, but that it was about much more than the physical act of running. Enjoy.....
The big dream to prove to myself that I can achieve any impossible thing I choose.
The idea of attempting to run a 100 mile ultra marathon came to me in a talk by Ronnie Staton, ultra runner and race director. Listening to him touched me in the same way listening to some speakers of alcoholics anonymous touches me. I can't remember a word but I remember the raw, real and relentless emotion of making dreams a reality... ok maybe a few words. Ronnie was the guest speaker of an away weekend with my new running club Shelton Striders that Andy Brooks, ultra runner, club coach and amazing inspiration all round had organised. The first time I met Andy was when I first went to one of Shelton's 'run&talk' for mental health events last year where I knew my friend Chris ran. I first met her at the gym I used to work at, we go to the same physio there. Chris gave me the first lift home of many to come and said “well, if you DO join Shelton Striders, I guarantee you'll definitely end up running an ultra...
The last 7 months Andy has been helping me prepare for this, it was always going to be a big ask from me because it was a massive step up in distance for me (I was doubling the distance of my previously longest race) and 7 months wasn't ages to prepare. But the Liverpool to Manchester 100 mile ultra was special to me because I went to uni in Liverpool with Yanna, long before we lost her to suicide in 2009 and it was on april 28th which was the date of my first marathon 5 years ago in 2013. It was poignant and I had an impossible dream...
I got to race registration and see the '100 mile ultra' sign and immediately thought to myself 'I can't believe I'm here!' - a phrase which I later repeated many times during the run. In fact I still can't believe it; It started out as an impossible dream of a run that 'real' ultra runners like Andy and Ronnie do. When the seed of the dream was planted I was in my foolhardy mode of daydreams and inspiration. Not a bad place to be by any means but it's not the place of the true grit I had to find from within myself in the middle of I don't know where at 3am. I was like alice down the rabbit hole and I was really here. 7 odd months of training and I was here and I was in shock before I'd even started to run!... go figure out the logic of that but that's me all over!
The first marathon distance was a breeze and really fun! Some laughs with my buddy Martin. Buddies for life as far as I'm concerned, although that was only the second time we'd met! This is running ultras for you! Martin took me under his wing on the night run recce a group of us had done a few months ago. I knew it had to be paced to feel like I could run forever and I knew at the start it was also going to be a challenge for me to contain because my legs and head were so fresh. After months and months of Andy telling me 'slow down' REPEATEDLY, on reflection it's possibly no surprise to hear that I think I still ran a touch too quick at the start. I was excited and I love running and this was far which made me more excited! But I really tried. And I kept it up until the very end.
It was a really nice day for running and there were lots of dog walkers and everyday people using the trail, including a group of 3 older ladies who gave me the quote of the day: “I don't know what it is but it can't be a race because there's all shapes and sizes running it” I chuckled to myself and said to Martin, well yes, it's like parkrun – open to all who want to have a go and you get a time and position at the end... we trotted on. And on some more. The miles were ticking along.
Mile 47 was the hot food checkpoint (CP) we had a good 20 minutes rest where I realised my internal verbal filter had completely gone. I had a change of kit and some proper refreshment which Richard had carried in the car as he met us at each CP along the course. I was telling a complete stranger things which really shouldn't be shared out loud! (I couldn't help it) But I don't think he minded; thank goodness for like minded people who also attempt the impossible. I was starting to panic because people were chatting about they're previous ultra experiences and I was feeling like alice again as one said to me 'you're mashing this up!' I started to panic because I didn't think I was a good enough ultra runner to be mashing anything up. I still couldn't believe I was actually here, never mind 47 miles of actually here.
Onwards and upward to the halfway mark where we were instructed to “rip a page out of the book and take a photograph” a slight detour around some random Manchester streets where passers by were giving us strange looks, we got back on course and found our race director (RD) behind a camera, then we found the book half a mile later. It was a book about Steve Jobs and my random page was the start of the chapter entitled: 'GO FOR THE BIG BANG: This is landmark stuff'. Ain't that the truth!!!
And we were on the way back now! Trotting back to the hall at the previous CP I nipped in for a loo break which was a great luxury; my first proper sit down wee break of the day... I'll leave the imagination to figure out how the rest of day went in that department! Let's just say it was a day of many firsts! (too much information now the internal filter is back in place ;))
More than half way done now; I looked at myself in the toilet mirror, my reflection looked different to how I'd ever seen it before. I saw this young looking, strong warrior who I'd not met with such intimacy before. It took me aback; her eyes were glistening which actually I think were just the tears of the emotion of hitting a new 'distance PB' in running – the most I'd ran in one day before was 45 miles. In that moment I saw that I'd just met someone new in the mirror. This wasn't little alice, lost down the rabbit hole, this was subtle, somebody reborn.
We were off again – next CP where my amazing ultra running club friend Chris P joined the party. Richard, Chris and Chris's husband Phil were all whooping us! “whoop whoop you're looking amazing!!” 57 miles in and I felt good, strong! We ran and chatted and caught up, mile 65 appeared along with the night and I crashed! Badly. I knew from the outset that the dark hours were going to be just that but no amount of preparation could have prepared me for how I was feeling from this moment for the next 25 miles.
25 MILES of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual darkness. It was tough! I had a fantastic support crew, messages from home and I survived! This is life; we help each other through the dark times and we try our best. The reality is that not everyone makes it and in life we have to accept that. 75 miles in I thought I wasn't going to make it, it's the toughest place running has ever taken me and it's the entire reason I got addicted to running in the first place – because it makes me strive.
I need the darkness to feel the gratitude when I'm on the flip-side and I need the good times to understand the darkness and therefore myself. In running and in life.
Understanding the tools I used to get some mental recovery helped me get through this darkness because I was able to simplify it; all I have to do is keep moving right now took me back to the days of 'all I have to do is keep doing what I'm doing'.
We're in metaphor country again, it's very simple; I wasn't physically ill or injured, there was no reason at this point in time to quit apart from my own self centred fear and there was no way in this midnight hell I was going back into that comfort blanket! Lots of tears and pain and lots of moral support and memories of the hell I've already dragged myself through before I even became a runner kept me shuffling. I stand by what I said at 2, 3, 4, 5 am; this is really really hard but it's NOT the hardest thing I've ever done. Years on top of years of mental torture and self hatred were. This challenge is the latest step in my journey of recovery and there was no reason to quit just because it became really painful.
Porridge and coffee, porridge and coffee. Every few miles of the night, coffee and porridge. A porridge pot and cup of black coffee literally changed me as a person! I never thought I'd say that because I 'went off' porridge for breakfast some time ago. It was the most bizarre experience I'd ever had; I'd enter the checkpoint like a zombie and return to the road as a zombie then perk up as I started to shuffle as the nutrition kicked in. A porridge pot and a coffee gave me about 5 miles at a time, then I'd slump again and have dig really really deep to keep shuffling. Mile 90 was now approaching and I was drifting to sleep where I stood. “More coffee please Richard! And another porridge pot!”
Finally the last 10 miles were here! The first 5 of them I felt like a reborn person as the sun had now come up and the darkness was over. A few passers by were in awe of this race. The look on their faces as I said 95 miles done and only 5 to go made me smile because this is many people's idea of an utter nightmare and it was my impossible dream.
Gradually the porridge energy began to run out, how a little over a park run distance can feel like an absolute mountain was this very moment! But I also knew I wasn't going to not complete the challenge because I'd covered 95 freaking miles! The finish line was amazing! Martin and I crossed the line together and I broke down in tears, I couldn't believe I'd actually achieved my impossible! The race director said I'd done amazingly well! I told him it was a new distance PB and I hadn't ran a 50 race before, he said well imagine what's next with a bit more experience! You came 5th lady out of 14 starters.
I knew that even though I'd really struggled and even hated it at times, I would do another 100 mile ultra in the future. I've learned so much about ultra running and about myself, this is a new chapter for me. I was told at the finish line that if the night time hours aren't horribly difficult then you're not doing it right! And I can prepare for that now.
The whole day showed me how it takes a certain personality type to take on these challenges. This is a blessing for me because I've never learned how to be myself in front of other people. Attempting something so personally huge like this has made it possible for me because in order to succeed I had to come out of myself. I would not have survived the distance if I hadn't of connected with the p
eople and the magnitude of the day whilst being myself at the same time; there is nowhere to hide in ultra running. It took everything I had physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and it was worth everything I put into it.
Recovery from mental illness and alcoholism has given me this most amazing gift of grit and utter heart wrenching determination to do what I need to do and to understand the reason for that need.
The most powerful metaphor for life which possibly not everyone will understand but it is a message I'm sure most people can relate to for some useful purpose; that ANYTHING is possible. It just takes some inspiration and a dream.