Close to three weeks ago, I felt what I took to be my left Achilles tweak at an evening race at Beckenham. I thought little of it. Running the next night, the Achilles became increasingly sore. It was one of those runs that, in hindsight, I simply shouldn’t have done. An inexplicable, wholly avoidable error of judgement. I took the next day off. That weekend I was in the Lake District and proceeded to run legs 4 and 5 of the Bob Graham round in support of a friend who finished in 20 hours. That wasn’t a terribly sensible idea either.
Post-run, the Achilles was painful and stiff; I would be ‘off games’ for several days. When I finally got to a physio in midweek, my Achilles was given a clean bill of health. Regardless, running the next day confirmed that something in the left ankle area wasn’t right. And so to today: I had run once in 10 days. Those 10 days were plagued by doubts and fears. Would whatever is wrong heal before my Bob Graham attempt in six days time? The problem has been magnified by obsession. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about my ankle; dwell on it every step I take; constantly analyse the joint for pain as I cycle to work.
That feeling of indestructibility and invincibility generated by the 30-mile training runs in the hills, the long Bob Graham recces, the completion of the 61-mile Fellsman in April, the sequence of hard fell races, was obliterated in those 10 days. Other demons took hold to. I had seen my friends and training partners get round the Bob Graham in 19 or 20 hours; I wanted to match them; outdo them even. The Bob Graham suddenly wasn’t about completion, it was about how fast completion could be achieved. Yet these aspirations of greatness were juxtaposed by a crushed confidence caused by incapacity. The thoughts were incompatible and deeply unhealthy.
I needed two things: one, something to remind me that I am capable of getting round the Bob Graham, a reminder of the old invincibility, and, two, to be able to enjoy the simple sensation of running – as close to pain-free as possible – again. Salvation came today in the form of a communication from the Fellsman organisers. An envelope containing a certificate reminding me of my time didn’t matter. Nor did a second certificate reminding me that as a member of the Iced Spiced Collective we had won the team prize, The Service Trophy. No, what captivated me was the round plastic disc (pictured above) that I wore round my neck throughout and brought out for checkpoint staff at 26 different places to punch. The enormity of that day came flooding back; this disc symbolising the struggle of those hours. The symbol that I ran 61 miles in 13 hours, that I climbed 11,000ft, that I crossed mountaintop after mountaintop, that I never succumbed to exhaustion, that I survived numerous niggles, injury scares, aches and pains, that when I reached the road at the 59-mile mark I had an extraordinary second wind. I could feel a little of the old invincibility returning.
The first thing I did was go for a run. A 20-minute trot around Tooting Bec Common in the sweltering London heat, but a run – the first for three days – nonetheless. Does my ankle feel okay now? Not perfect, no. Maybe it just needs some good old-fashioned rest? But in those 20 minutes I achieved more than I have done in 10 days. I began to eradicate the demons. I will be fit (enough), I decided. Time – as long as it’s under 24 hours – is irrelevant. Perhaps now I’ll be able to enjoy the last few days before I embark on the Bob Graham.