So, last week I set out on my Cool Impossible and kind of, sort of achieved... something. I don't mean to spoil the end of this post, but I set out to run 130 miles and ended up running 75 and I'm happy with that :)
I know I've waffled on about what the plan was on here before, but just to recap, I set out to run the 130 miles between my place in Barnstaple and my brother's apartment in Bristol. It wasn't part of a race or anything too organised, just something I kind of wanted to do (and that I raised around £1200 to help people in the third world see by doing so).
I set out from Barnstaple at 8pm on Saturday; the thinking for the late start was that I'd get the first half of the run done and out of the way in the dark (so in theory, only having to worry about navigating in the dark, saving the worrying about my legs for when it was light again). It was incredibly humbling to be surrounded by a large group of my friends who'd gathered to see me off - especially as they had no reason for being there other than to see one of their friends set off to try something a bit stupid!
The plan was for me to run in 10km sections, where at each break I'd take five minutes with my 'support crew' (consisting of my girlfriend, brother, dad and friend Bob) to restock on water, wolf down a bit of food and switch over maps for the coming section. Even though they're unlikely to ever read this post, I should point out straight away how amazingly the four of them performed - these are people who know nothing about running except what I've told/instructed them, but who worked so hard to find their way through the experience with me where a lot of other people could have just thrown their hands up and said 'I don't know what I'm doing'.
The first couple of 10km stretches went off absolutely without a hitch and I was settling into a really good, easy pace - darkness came in pretty quickly until I was navigating just by the light of my headlight and torch. I'd never set out to try anything like this before and there was a peculiar mix of thoughts going through my head for these first parts - a combination of paying absolute attention to every aspect of my running (through worry for my performance over the whole distance) and it not really feeling like I'd set out to run anything more than my standard training runs.
We had a couple of more sketchy sections towards the 40-50km mark, which took me over nearby Exmoor in the pitch black, misty night - I started to get a little... not scared, but 'concerned' that I was getting lost a couple of times, but it mostly turned out I was on the right path! There was only one part where I ended up going really wrong (unfortunately, it was a couple of miles of really-wrong-up-a-massive-hill, which didn't help), but to be honest, I'm not sure that that made too much difference in terms of time or my running comfort.
Eventually, the sun started coming up around the time I got to around 80-90km and it gave me a renewed energy - in fact, I think I was more awake than the guys in the van! My nutrition was, I think, spot on - I'd been eating pretty much when I was hungry, which hadn't been a lot through the night; as 'breakfast' time rolled round, I started comfortably eating more and more. I'd been breathing comfortably (nose-breathing had finally become a habit a week or so before, mercifully) and my muscles felt good and strong. My feet were in good condition, surprisingly so in fact - I'd been taping my normal hotspot zones and hadn't worked up any real damage at all by this point. I'd been running a cycle of 9min/1min alternating between running at pace and 'moving rest' to try and keep myself loose and this seemed to be working really, really well.
This energy, good form and resultant confidence continued all the way up to the 100km mark, where things started to go wrong. 100km fell in the town of Taunton and as I approached its outskirts, I could feel my left patellar tendon starting to jolt. Bearing in mind I'd already run through a couple of small, niggling aches during the day so far (let alone in months of running beforehand), I recognised this pain as being something different, something that I might potentially not be able to run off. By the time I arrived at the meeting point, my right knee had started with the same performance. Luckily, Taunton was scheduled to be a longer stop, for changing clothes and checking everything over, so I mentioned to the guys what the problem was and tried to come up with a plan.
I ended up strapping my knees and having my brother ride with me on a fold-up bike just to keep an eye on me for a while. Setting off, the pain had subsided a bit and the supports seemed to be helping, but by the next stop at 110km, I knew I was in real trouble. At this point, I had a long, hard talk with the guys in the van - mainly concerning time as I'd been reduced to a much, much slower pace over the last couple of sections. I decided I'd push on for as much as I could, potentially looking at seeing whether I could at least make it to 24 hours, or possibly even to 100 miles (so around another 50km from that point).
In that next section, my knees became exponentially more painful with every step. I had a long conversation with my brother, who was doing exactly what I'd previously told everyone to do, kept pushing me on and insisting that I'd be able to keep going until I eventually managed to convince him that this was going to be the last section. I think the phrase I used was that 'I had plenty more left to give, but I'd only be giving it to hurting myself'. The frustrating thing is that this was true - my breathing and muscles still felt great; literally the only thing wrong was the pain in my knees.
Eventually I pulled into the last stop at 120km (around 75 miles) to a manly-tearful dad and a warm cup of tea (insert Brit joke here). I was still smiling and joking with everyone and explained what was going through my head, even though I think they could probably see more from the way I was moving around.
And that's sort of it. I'm totally happy with what I did and know that I made the right decision to drop out at that point - even with only a week of time now between me and the run, the memory of the pain is fading and I have to keep reassuring myself that I made the right call. I didn't make it as far as I set out to, but with having to find my own route and a seat-of-my-pants approach to the whole thing anyway, I don't think I did too badly.
I'll probably try again. I can feel it. It'll probably be next summer now and it won't be as big an event in terms of charity promotion or online presence, but I'm sure that I won't be able to not try again until it's done. Part of this feeling is that knowledge that it was just an acute injury that put me out - mentally, I can make it. Although I know the injury probably stemmed from some aspect of form, I'm pretty sure that almost every other aspect must have been pretty good for everything else to feel so great (and, incidentally, for my feet to remain almost damage-free for the duration). I can do it, I just didn't on the day, if that makes sense.
So now, I'll be back to how I was when I first started running - learning. Except this time around, it won't be researching how to run 10km without having to stop, it'll be how to keep my knees happy for 120km. There's a big part of me that smiles when I think about that.
I'll probably post more little bits and pieces as they occur to me over the next few weeks (some of the mental revelations and memories of attitude keep flashing back to me every now and again), but for now that's it.
As I mentioned before the run, I'm incredibly grateful to all of you here for your support and insights, more than I can probably put here properly without sounding... weird. Long may this whole running malarkey continue.