'Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely'- Henry Ford
Why spend seven hours driving South? Why try again and why so soon? Because I think I can do better. - Life is essentially a series of obstacles that need to be overcome. After the disappointment of attempting The Serpent race unsuccessfully, I still believe that if my mind stays strong I can run the three-digit ambitious run.
As per our mother-daughter pre-race tradition, my Little Lobster is adamant I must eat pasta the night before and signs my arm with a marker. ‘Go-Mummy!’ it reads, this must be where I got it wrong last time…
At midnight, two weeks after my failed first attempt, I pick up my friend Martyn from Petersfield railway station and drive an additional three hours across the South Downs National Park placing food and water supplies on-route, 8 spots in total. By 4 am and finally ready to start, mixed feelings of both exhaustion and impatience consume me. I know today I will suffer; just not sure exactly how much. Martyn, is key to the completion of this journey. We share the same high pain threshold, we seek novelty and we are open to new ideas. Unlike me though, he has exceptional navigation skills!
I believe, our DNA is programmed to reach out for challenges that hover just out of reach. I also believe our bodies are designed to move. Six years ago I run my first 10km and felt like a broken woman afterwards. If someone suggested then I would attempt a one-hundred kilometer trail run today I would have dismissed them as insane. But here’s the thing: With each race I complete, I make ‘me’ believe that the next one might be possible and wonder if it's possible to increase the distance a wee more?
The first fifty kilometers we run with the legs, after this my body is done. The rest of the distance I must cover with my head. I switch off. The outer world no longer exists, I enter ‘Addi’s World’ and recall all that has happened in my life; the good bits and the dramas. This is both a physical and emotional challenge, but in the end it’s all benefits. If either Martyn or I took much notice of pain, neither of us would be able to go beyond a marathon.
Approaching our second food spot it appears ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ got to it before me. He must have really enjoyed its Spanish parma ham and crunchy French baguette bread but wasn’t too keen on the juicy tomatoes nor the peppery rocket. At the fifth food station, 'Peter Rabbit' reaches my food before me. This time it’s only a scrumptious pork-pie missing...
We go past the iconic spot where a couple of weeks ago I quit. It feels good to be moving away. It has been a hard pill to swallow; I’ve never abandoned a race.
That day, the invisible competitors were the clock and negativity. There was a slight buzz of concern in the back of my mind. The serpent race signs were insufficient and misplaced causing a lot of confusion. A handful of runners, the race sweeper and I formed a pack and followed the wrong footpath time and time again. Backtracking and getting lost again for over an hour adding an extra 7km to our already lengthy run. People’s negativity rubbed on everyone. In times like this it’s important to stay positive but the pressure of the cut-off times were adding an extra burden of weight. Mentally I gave up and at the next food station (mile 40) I signed off. I told myself it was self-preservation from being lost further late at night. What a lie, but what a credible lie.
‘Well done for trying. You can try again next year’ friend’s said lovingly. Next year? Who can wait a whole 365 days to try again? I am determined to complete my unfinished business with the serpent and this time I show it the respect it deserves.
Spider webs net my face and fireflies bite me. Unavoidable really when running through thick ground. What I suspected to be a little painful blister on the ball of my foot I ignore for hours and turns out to be a deep cut. The moisture has taken its toll. The rocky trail just adds insult to the injury. Shouldn’t have stopped to look at it. I’m feeling light-headed to the point of fainting. Outgrown thorns and stinging nettles sting my sweaty arms and leave red marks. It’s hard to resist the urge to rub. Aw, what a lot of drama.- As the situation continues for hours I begin to swear freely; Martyn makes a video of this ‘special’ moment… It's fair to say the wild vegetation has totally outgrown the path.
'I told myself it was self-preservation from being lost further late at night. What a lie, but what a credible lie.'
Some think I’m crazy- but then again, some don’t master life. It’s respectable to hold different opinions and I like the idea of creating fresh challenges. It’s about mental toughness, earning an appreciation of our bodies and souls in battle. A test of our human ability to embrace life in difficult situations.
When things get tough, I frequently remind myself where I come from. Of my Yorkshire and Athenian ancestors, both tough and resilient breeds. They restore a sense of self-belief that it’s important to do things we once thought ‘impossible’. By this point, my legs are hurting, so is my lower back and I can’t seem to get enough air down my lungs even breathing from my mouth. This is how I learn to work with pain. The pain eases, it returns and then I become numb to it. Sometimes I wonder how my body still moves but I know I can’t stop. If I do, I might not be able to start again.
It's getting dark again.- Listening to Athina’s voice always picks me up. Tears fill my eyes as I hear her little voice on the other side of the phone; ‘Mummy? Are you still out running?’ I don’t know what gets into me. I try my utter best to clear my throat and sound upbeat for her. Ten minutes of chatting to my Little Lobster and there is a sense of renewed energy inside me. Good ol’ Martyn; he merely looks at me and runs off, leading the way once more. He knows better than to ask me how I’m feeling. He knows long distance running is for headspace, not conversation.
The official cut-off time is 18 hours and it took me 21.45mins. If this was the official race I would have missed the final cut-off. I recall my colleague’s words (Dr Kate Dossett, Associate Professor of U.S. History, University of Leeds): 'Addi inspires us because she does not ask permission and she makes up her own rules. Creating her own mother-daughter adventures means Addi and Athina; and not the guardians of sporting success, can measure how far they have come and what they want to achieve next.' Her words are my mantra and they echo inside my head, comforting me. Yes, I am pleased with what I have achieved today I put it to rest.
Tears fill my eyes as I hear her little voice on the other side of the phone. ‘Mummy? Are you still out running?’ I don’t know what gets into me.
There are no celebrations. I am forty hours sleep deprived and we’ve just missed the last train back. We are facing a new milestone: Returning to the start line where the car sits and then driving to the hotel. There is a one hour wait for the next taxi. I crawl into a ball, wrapped inside my gold survival blanket and catch a quick nap leaning against a wall.
There’s a pleasant misunderstanding at the hotel; they’ve booked rooms for wheelchair users. It’s a walk-in shower (kinder to my aching knees) with a pole to hold against while I shower (yes, my friends, this is the glamorous side of long distance running!) My moment of utter relief and closure arrives as I take a deep breath and let the steaming hot water pour down on me. The white tiles are stained by the brown water. I can finally let go and accept I’ve completed what I set off to do. The most beautiful exhaustion takes over my body.-
The following morning Martyn tells me at the breakfast table: “Addi, yesterday we completed 105km”- Is this a woman going the extra miles in the name of endurance? Not really; just another 5km being slightly off track..
So to all courageous souls out there, listen to your silent voice that says: ‘I will try again tomorrow’ and don’t be afraid to feel pain, it reminds us we are alive!