‘It shouldn’t be that colour’… Immediately, alarm bells sounded in my head. After 62km I knew my race was over for today. Health comes first.
The Lakeland Trails 100 starts and finishes in Ambleside tracing a route north-east through Kentmere, hand-railing Haweswater Reservoir, wiggling around to Ulswater Lake, stopping at Glenridding before heading over to Grasmere, with a final loop around Lingmoor Fell through Little Langdale and back into Ambleside covering 101km with over 3,000m ascent. It’s a mixture of trail and tarmac with a brief interlude of rock hopping technical stuff. The race had been nominated as the British Team qualifier for the World Championships event to be held in Thailand later this year. This attracted the attention of my ego who was lured by the invitation. However, something was missing from the offset, whether it was my inner spark, deeper drive, mojo, competitive edge or quadruple combination.
I’ve never tackled an ultra in the Lake District despite spending seemingly endless weekends amongst the rolling hills during my childhood. My global nomadic lifestyle and being a fully signed up member of the easyJet generation has meant it’s been easier, quicker and cheaper to race overseas. However, international travel restrictions over last eighteen months due to COVID have shrunk my world to within the English border. My race calendar, like the majority of 2020 was literally cancelled. For the last seven years I’ve rotated through the train, race, recover and race again cycle on repeat. It offered a familiar structure against the uncertainty of life which was now gone and I was adrift.
At midnight on Friday 9th July 2021 I stood amongst a small band of elite athletes clad in an assortment of Lycra milling about Rothay Park waiting for the final countdown. It was strange being back on a ‘mass’ start line for the first time since Gran Canaria Advanced (65km) in February 2020. This was my last race before when I stood blissfully unaware of what would unfold around the world and the subsequent chaos which would reign.
3-2-1…We collectively surged across the start line and cantered around the playing fields before hitting the tarmac road. The drunken cheers of and lights of Ambleside quickly faded as the darkness enveloped me into a blanket of muffled silence. My preferred tactic of hiding at the back and gradually move through the field was impossible. Enter Plan B which involves a constant inner monologue to vanquish the demons of being ‘over-taken’, ‘going too slow’ or ‘not being good enough’. Our group immediately split front and back so I was left alone in my thoughts until the pointy end of the main pack started to catch me one by one. It’s an inner mental battle as I hear the approach of footsteps nimbly moving over the ground behind, and a beam of light head torch disappears into the distance up ahead.
I love running; yet today I didn’t. The usual surge of adrenaline coursing through my veins and search for flow were missing. A void. Each step felt like a strenuous effort and a minor victory. I clung to the ‘breathe, check distance, eat, count, eat’ ritual which was only briefly interrupted by another runner sailing past or bat darting through the air beside me. Between Mardale Head and Bampton night gradually faded revealing a world beyond the beam of my head torch.
At the most northern point on the course, after covering roughly 40km something felt wrong ‘down there’. It was a sudden burning sensation with an immense pressure on my bladder and immediate desire to pee. Slowing to a walk the sensation faded; only to reappear as I increased the pace. The next 20km involved a combination of run, walk, pee and breathe. Until I noticed my urine was more ‘rose’ than ‘clear’. Beetroot discounted meant blood was the only possible factor. I limped onto Glenridding with my decision already made.
I’ve physically and mentally pushed my body hard over the last few years though there’s a time and a place. Saturday 10th July at 08:42 wasn’t one of them. My health takes priority. The prospect of ‘another’ DNF to add to the Diagonale de Fous diabolical (see blog here) loomed. However, I knew stopping was the right decision which was prompting re-enforced by the medic as we examined the results of peeing on a stick in Glenridding Village Hall.
Post-race curled up in PJ researching Dr Google revealed that ‘joggers hematuria’ (1) results from repeated jarring of the bladder and the burning sensation could be due to a pelvic floor dysfunction (2). I love ultra-running though I love my body more. We’re only granted one in our lifetime to look after. Ultra-running builds our physical, mental and emotional resilience and depletes it at the same time.
I later discovered that my tracker hadn’t been activated and the display indicated an stick person in bed. I think it had the right idea!