Back at the Cafe after such a disastrous loop there was a lot to take in & no doubt I missed a lot of it. The overriding memory though was that there was a lot of concern & kindness. George Manley was there with several runners from Joe’s team ‘Outfit’, some familiar faces but names unable to be recalled. Fiona Duckers was there but in my dazed state & not having seen her in running kit before it took an embarrassing double take before I understood. Dave Ball, what’s he doing here (a climber & now friend whom I’d met in Kyrgystan in 2017 & who had visited Dorina & I only 2 weeks ago), thankfully reality sank in, he wasn’t in running gear (world would have gone mad if we ever get to him running). Amidst all of this Dorina & Ellie tended my cut finger, tried to get to my knee where I stepped in & said ice only please whilst others tried to find things I could eat & drink which was easier said than done, think this is where the dreaded Ready Salted Crisps began to appear. I don’t know how long this all went on but as people looked on in astonishment at my physical state some may have penetrated my eyes to see that the mental state was far worse.
I knew it was over, I knew that to go back out was asking for more cramps, more falls, more pain & all in a hopeless cause, so many people supporting, no hope, how shit is this!
Dorina oiled & massaged my calves with my right one responding into a ball of cramp, yes things can get worse but I’d made my decision, another loop just to say I don’t give up easily & do justice to everyone here & present. It needed to be different, I didn’t want to reject people I simply needed my space ‘Tim, can you get people to run ahead of me whilst you Shepherd me at the back’, Sion was roped in as lead-out, we were off again.
This loop went as well as it could, the Paul at the back plan soon fell apart & Tim & I were often out front. Cramps were gone, care taken, the knee hurt a bit but more in a routine over use type of way than anything else we were soon back at the Cafe in a surprisingly good 53 minutes. From here Sion took over the Shepherd role from Tim who had by now equalled Steve’s 6 laps (Marathon). Sion did an incredible job (must be the Headmaster in him) over the next two loops, never in my face but always by my side despite my no doubt grumpy & focused nature. Again I maintained a descent pace keeping to below 55 minutes each loop but I knew my energy levels were slowly declining. I’ve no idea what I was taking on board back at the Cafe, Yoghurt, Banana, Apple & Rhubarb Crumble, Satsuma’s, Crisps, Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Sandwiches (no chance of swallowing that), Tuna & Cucumber Sandwiches (once with success, once with a dash to the toilet & retching) but it was always little & not enough, you can really miss saliva. No amount of effort could replace the calories I was losing, shortly before going out for Loop 16 & as if from no where my mind clarified the information my body was giving it, it was clear & concise. Seconds later I stood & told Dorina, John, Marion, Mike & anyone else who was listening, ‘don’t worry I’m not running any longer I’ll just walk for as long as I can’. Still well ahead of schedule I was abandoning it out of reality & necessity.
Whilst the latest attempt at a re-fuel had been going on others had been making their own plans, Sion was handing the batten over to Richard Borne & John Humpries. Now I know them both well through Fell running, Bourney & I frequently flounder for mid-pack dominance where the balance is normally in his favour & John is also a frequent cycling visitor to the Cafe. In truth though up until Saturday I would regard them as acquaintance’s rather than friends, this can be backed up by in the 2019 Sheeptracks race Richard was a Marshall at a late feed station (much needed in a February heatwave) & greeted me as ‘Mark’. However what the two of them did over the coming hours was simply remarkable & incredibly kind, I’ll ask them to make me a friend (not on Facebook of course).
On hearing that they were taking over the reigns I was glad to again be in experienced hands & thanked them by stating ‘guys this is going to be very slow’.
From here the Loops were churned out, the countdown of them frustratingly slow, this was grind like never before, each section met with ‘how many more times’. But there was encouragement, tenderness & even a little humour. Over-riding memories, John giving me mile time updates from an annoying woman’s voice on his phone (John was always positive about my pace & splits as I maintained a pretty constant 6K per hour). Richard looking on to catch me at each style in case the Cramps caught me first. John trying with increasing failure to get me to eat Salted crisps which turned to cardboard at the back of my pallet. John, electrolyte, Richard, water…….. It was probably on our 3rd lap together that John announced ‘I’m in this to the end’, how good did that feel!
At one Cafe pit-stop Dorina changed my socks, earlier I had done that myself & sang to those watching ‘There may be trouble ahead’. In Dorina’s sensitive hands the new socks seem to move the skin under my feet from the front to the back, I conveyed this pleasure to the watching audience with impressive winces of delight.
John, Richard & I weren’t always alone, Loop 20 we were joined by Rebecca & Katie as well as Huw Price & his partner Grace as well as the ever supportive Maggie & Alwyn. Maggie tried to outshine my falls but falling on the footbridge at Plas y Brenin in a belated attempt to win the Female O.70’s plunge over Swallow Falls Category & steal my limelight to boot, honestly some Women!
Loop 21 we were passed by Rebecca & Katie going for a fast race lap, don’t know what drug Rebecca is taking but I want some. They were followed by Huw doing likewise being shadowed by Peter Dirkin who was top of the Leaderboard. Then as we descended into the woods a young Eryri whippet in an old Eryri vest bounded past John, side-stepped me & almost knocked Richard off the style as he leapt over it & sped on, clearly a lad on a mission.
Despite constantly feeling under considerable strain I kept moving on churning loop after loop out at a consistent pace of circa 1:15, I was still able to focus on the Maths ‘quick turnarounds at the last two re-fuels meant 22 loops was possible in under 24 Hours, not 100 miles but by a fraction a new pb’. John & I contradicted on numbers but here I at least knew where I was, the end game was set & I knew what I had to do to achieve it.
I have failed to mention a very significant factor that troubled me throughout the afternoon and evening, my bowels! No don’t worry I’ll simply say every return to the Cafe I made a beeline for the toilet but only after loop 21 did I find any relief & even then it came with the caveat ‘do you think that’s enough to make it round Loop 22 safely?’ Enough said.
Back at the Cafe after loop 21 with a quick turnaround essential I pronounced ‘John I’m off can you take care of the Electrolite, Water & a Banana!’ got the response ‘I’m not carrying the Crisps if you won’t eat them!’. Richard had done his shift, an incredible 6 Loops instead of the intended 2.
I headed out with Judy soon to be joined by Steve Jones (who it transpires had been the ‘young’ Eryri whippet with no consideration to sloggers on our previous loop, he even had the gall to set the fastest lap despite doing a Marathon shift earlier in the day) & then John without the Crisps. I knew my quick turnarounds had given me the cushion I needed but still turmoil brewed in my mind, ‘Steve, what time is it?’ ‘Steve, what time is it?’
Alice’s climb came & went for one last gruelling time as did others, we descended through the woods which became alive with the sounds of Tim & Cathryn who had come round in reverse to rendezvous with us. The road behind us, my fall sites behind us, the final hill, the bridge & at last the Cafe, cheering voices, Dorina’s arms, tears, the toilet. It was over, it was finally over!