Back in May, I was transfixed by Nicky Spinks’ double Bob Graham round – a run to 42 summits in the Lake District, twice in 48 hours, a distance of 132 miles with 54,000ft of ascent. Only one other person has ever done it and Nicky finished in 45 hours 30 minutes, beating his record. It’s an incredible achievement, but it particularly caught my attention because it was her way of marking 10 years since having breast cancer. In one of the interviews with her that I read, she said that her attitude was to attempt challenges as soon as she could, not to wait until the perfect moment. I’ve been feeling and running well, and so I decided that I would celebrate a year of being cancer-free with the ultra that I couldn’t do last year. I signed up for the North Yorkshire Moors 50k on 1 October and started a training plan.
The first seven weeks of the plan went brilliantly. I was running up to 50 miles a week, with back-to-back long runs at the weekend. I included as many hills as I could, with regular runs to Horsenden Hill and Richmond Park. I ran to Marylebone one day, got the train to Princes Risborough and ran along the Ridgeway to Tring. I did the West Walk Half Marathon, 28 laps of an incline in Ealing, the day after a 19-mile run round Richmond Park which ended with the parkrun. I felt that my body was coping with the increased mileage well and I was really enjoying the challenge.
Then came three weeks away in Japan and Korea. It was really hot and humid, and so I treated the first week in Japan as a rest week and did a few early morning runs along various rivers, a total of about 25 miles. My intention was to up the mileage again when we got to Korea. On one of our last days in Tokyo, we set off on a couple of borrowed bikes to visit an art installation a few miles away. I was navigating using my phone, and braked to slow down to go round a corner; the wheel of the bike locked and skidded and I came off, landing badly on my left knee. I ended up going to hospital, having the wound scrubbed out and then closed with three stitches. The doctor told me not to run for two weeks. Two days later we moved on to Korea where Jonny was attending a conference. For the next eight days I sat in coffee shops, with my knee on a chair, and wrote my book. And on the eighth morning, I went out for a gentle jog along the Han River.
How do you treat a setback like my fall from the bike? Is it a sign to give up on the dream you were pursuing, or is it a challenge to persevere, to be even more determined to achieve what you set out to? Our friend we were visiting in Japan said that Japanese doctors are very risk averse, and having chatted to a guy I met at the conference who was training for an Ironman, I decided to treat it as the latter and to try and get back on track. My run along the Han River felt fine so two days later I did nine miles along the Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul, an amazing space in the heart of the city. And the day after we got back from Korea, I did 15 miles which was really hard although that might have been due to jetlag.
I had now done 7 weeks of good training, one low-mileage week, one zero-mileage week and three runs which hadn’t caused any problems for my knee. I had a place in the Andover trail marathon on 4 September as a training run for the ultra, and so I set myself a 20-mile make or break run last Friday. If I could do that, then I could do Andover, and I could do North Yorks. I ran to Richmond, around the park and was running back along the river feeling great. I reached up to take off my sunglasses because I was running under trees, and at that moment I tripped and fell. I landed on my left knee again, and whacked my face on the path. I sat for a few minutes cursing my inattention and assessing my injuries. Then I jogged to Kew Bridge because the only way to get there was on my feet and got a bus back to Ealing. By the time I got home, I had blood all down my leg and the beginning of another impressive black eye. Cue another trip to hospital to get the wound scrubbed out, although there was no need for stitches this time. Cue a weekend feeling very foolish and having to explain my bruises over and over again.
The wound is healing well but there will be no ultra for me this year either. I have conceded defeat, and have cancelled my race entries and the B&B I had booked in Ravenscar. Perhaps I was pushing myself too hard. Perhaps it was all too much too soon. Perhaps I’m just really clumsy. But perhaps if I hadn’t tripped, I would be on track for an amazing experience in a month’s time. I’m disappointed not to be able to do the 50k but I don’t regret having a go. I’ll stick to parkrun for the next few weeks and I’ll find another way to mark my anniversary. And maybe next autumn I’ll try again.