‘I have never heard anyone scream so loud…’ That was the physio talking. ‘Your legs are very stiff,’ she said, stressing the very, as she played a piano of wretchedly painful tendons behind my knee. I bellowed again, caught my breath and, ironically, couldn’t help but laugh at the torture.
I have been living in fear all week, in fear of injury. I paced a Bob Graham attempt on Saturday, meeting Adam, one half of Tyne and Weary, at Wasdale, running with him over legs four and five to Keswick. I had felt my left Achilles twinge a few days earlier; it was no better by Saturday. I was worried I wouldn’t make it up Yewbarrow, let alone the following 20 miles. Naturally, I didn’t voice my concerns to a runner who had already been on the go for 13 hours and still had seven hours ahead of him (and, more to the point, had no other support on leg four).
It wasn’t so bad. The right Achilles began to hurt in sympathy, giving some symmetry to my suffering. My job was to worry about Adam, but I couldn’t help worrying about myself. Still, the hills rolled past, with the ascent of Great Gable most memorable for going on and on and on and up and up and up. Adam was going well, nonetheless. There was nothing spectacular to it. Just keep moving, walking the ups, jogging the downs, eating and drinking regularly.
And so we found ourselves surging (sort of) downhill to Honister, leg four gleefully behind us, another pacer – Rob – awaiting us. We spent less than four minutes on the pass before embarking on Dale Head. Adam had been chipping away at a sub-22 hour pace throughout leg four and sub-21 was beginning to look like a possibility. Now, I haven’t completed a Bob Graham round, but I imagine there is a moment when – after hours and hours of running – you realise that this is it. You are going to complete. And then, another thought comes: how quickly can I complete? These thoughts must have come to Adam on Dale Head, for he left the summit a different beast. I don’t know what it was: spiritual guidance from above, performance enhancing drugs, an unspoken epiphany, but he was no longer running sensibly; he was running with fearlessness and freedom. Whatever it was that motivated him, he flew off Dale Head and didn’t stop flying until he reached the outskirts of Keswick. I cursed him; my Achilles – definitely the left one now – was killing.
He proceeded to run to the summit of Hindscarth without giving in to walking. I ran immediately behind him, noticing that he actually accelerated on the incline. It was inspiring, uplifting. We plunged off Hindscarth, before the inevitable trudge to summit 42, Robinson. No celebration. No pause. No special words. The end wasn’t here; it was Keswick. Stopping momentarily to fiddle with my phone, Adam gained 50 or so metres on me. I then, simply, couldn’t catch him. Here was a man who had run for almost 20 hours outpacing another who had run for less than six. He stormed down the steep grassy slope of Robinson, and continued running fast once in the valley, drawn like a magnet to the road.
When he was finally caught, we quickly swapped fell shoes for road shoes. I lost him again. Not only had Adam dropped me, I didn’t know the way to Keswick. I blundered down a wrong turn towards Stair, before finally getting onto the right path. Passing through Portinscale, I caught him at last. I instantly regretted it, for as soon as I pulled alongside him, the life force seemed to disappear. He slowed to a walk. I cajoled, offered food and water. Words of encouragement at this stage seemed patronising. The running hiatus was brief though; the end was nigh. We ran the final straight to the Moot Hall to the applause and cheers of Adam’s supporters. Rob and I peeled off, leaving Adam to ascend the steps of the Moot Hall alone. Relief seemed to be his overwhelmingly emotion. I was in awe. He had completed in 20 hours, 7 minutes. Andy, the other half of Tyne and Weary, was five minutes behind. Duncan, who had set off at the same point as Adam and Andy, was already in the pub, having finished in 19 hours, 32 minutes. They were superhuman times in what had been near-perfect conditions.
My overwhelming emotions were twofold: one, I’ve got to do all this in three weeks time, and two, my Achilles really, really hurts. And so it continued to hurt on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday. The physio appointment – my destiny with pain – came last night. There are various methods of torturing utilised around the world, but those employed in this trade could do little worse than attending a sports massage course. There is little in life that is so cruel. My calf muscles, hamstrings, shins, ITB and quads were savaged. The pain was astonishing. As for the Achilles? ‘Nothing wrong with it,’ the physio concluded.
She’s right; there really is nothing wrong with it. But something isn’t right. I managed a 30-minute trot today and the place where the Achilles is hurts. So, with my Bob Graham attempt a little over a fortnight away, I continue to live in fear. What is this pain? Why won’t it just go away? Will it go away? Nevertheless, in true runners’ style I remain hopelessly pessimistic and ridiculously optimistic at the same time. While I lament and bitterly complain about this unknown injury, I still haven’t dropped out of a marathon that’s taking place in 48 hours. Every ounce of common sense in the world points to the fact that I must, simply must, send that email, but that intangible will for a health miracle is too tempting to deny just yet.
Rob and Adam ascending Robinson. One appears happier than the other.