My thoughts as to what I went through before, during & after last Saturday are many & confused but I am hoping that putting pen to paper here will help me understand what I have gone through. As I begin to write this I have almost finished reading Steve Burkinshaw’s book about his epic Wainwright run but as yet I have not read his ‘Aftermath’ chapter & I am glad of that as I can’t be influenced by any of his post run thoughts. Of course my achievement bears no resemblance to his other than perhaps I too have pushed myself similarly to my own limits.
My nerves were on edge for the entire two weeks leading into the day itself (from my return from Keswick Mountain Festival on Monday 12th June), should I be running a marathon one week before, the knee hurts more after Keswick than it’s done for a while, what will it be like in Clag at the top of Siabod on my own, how am I going to pull the relay team together, there’s Auction prizes to procure, I haven’t seen Mike Lees since the election was called, is he still coming………….. the list of to do’s & can I do was weighing pretty heavily upon me but of course it was all of my making.
By Friday 16th with just one week to go I still had only one of the relay legs actually confirmed, Becki Law had un-believably committed to Leg 1 despite the fact she was booked on a flight to France the next day, what a star (she was the only star visible when we set off together one week later into the gloom). That said several others had verbally assured me they’d be turning up but how to fill those nighttime & pre-Hebog race slots?
Ali who’d supported last year’s run arrived to stay with Dorina & I because she was running the Trail Half Marathon whilst I’d be in the Marathon, we enjoyed the re-union but talk inevitably turned to race tactics with preservation for the week after being the key priority. For once I was almost sensible I set off in the Marathon slowly & by mile 8 was thinking this feels good. Then Peter, a cafe regular pulled alongside, we exchanged a few words, he ran on, the red mist descended & my pace inevitably increased until I was soon at full race pace in the hot midday sun. By luck more than judgement I came through the race with the knee feeling better & was even able to lead Ali on a recovery run around Capel the next day.
From my earlier blog you will know that for my knee these reduced concerns were a false dawn so I won’t repeat subsequent problems here.
Back to the relay things began to move forward, Brian committed to Leg 3, Steve to Leg 2, Alwyn to Leg 4, a combined age for the 3 legs off over 200 years, not bad guys, the old guard had stepped into the nighttime breach. They were followed by Tim committing to Leg 7, now I needed a Phil, no response to e-mail, called round, his van was there but he was not, another day gone by. Wednesday evening ‘Dorina can you dial Phil on your phone’, no answer, then he phones back, I throw myself on his mercy, ‘Legs 5 & 6 please, it means getting here by 3:00 am’ – ‘Yes O.K.’ my nerves abated, we could actually pull this off!
Then Gethin via Brian Robbins committed to two morning legs & the out of the Wood came Emily Wood to commit to Leg 8, suddenly from no where I had the first 10 legs covered, how did that happen, in truth quite a lot of hard work & some great responses to a man in need.
Sam at Bodhi needs a mention for returning confidence back into my mind regarding my own run, this came with quite a lot of pain as she probed & prodded to find pains all over my left leg (the right wasn’t much better), why didn’t I get this done one year ago, note to brain…..
Friday night came, ‘Dorina, John, Marion, do this, do that, do the bloody other’, then it came to pass, I could do no more, Becki arrived, the break in the weather didn’t, it was time to change, the challenge was upon us.
Collectively we then made a number of good decisions despite I am sure all of us being apprehensive, Becki & I agreed to stay together at my pace & let the later relay runners worry about picking up any lost time, this felt good we won’t be alone up there. We then marked the tricky bits on the way up, good call, it still took a lot of attention to get off the summit on the right line as the murk got worse. Steve & I again chose to stick together, Steve’s reassuring words near the summit that no one should be alone up here tonight summed things up perfectly, visibility was 20 feet at best. We found the 3rd marker but still circled it trying to be sure of the line, this wasn’t physical this was mental & we were concentrating hard. Peter joined me for Leg 3 so again I had company but Brian had set off alone, I was relieved to see his silhouette correcting course towards the trig point, we stuck together for the descent despite finding a new non-racing line & returned safely. Leg 4 I was alone but wanted to catch up with Alwyn if I could as Steve had said he’d had concerns (you were not alone Alwyn). Thankfully I saw his form just before the summit ridge ‘Alwyn’, he waited, we navigated together, the light (if it could be called that) began to emerge, finally I could relax.
From here on it all became increasingly surreal for me as my thoughts turned to both my physical state & just what still lay ahead of me. I had already fallen heavily near the end of Leg 1 taking a big impact to my right buttock, hand, elbow & shoulder, then on Leg 3 I fell 4 times the last of which was on the same rock as Leg 1 this time bruising my left buttock, what an idiot to even go near it. I could feel Peter thinking how the hell is he going to survive 13 of these but thankfully I survived these setbacks despite being rather embarrassed.
Descending Leg 4 I was surprised to see Peter setting off for relay Leg 5, this could mean only one thing, Phil was missing, back at the Cafe ‘Dorina, have you phoned Phil’ ‘yes there was no answer but Tim’s on his way’, leave it to them Paul they’ll sort it out. Phil would later show, run two quick relay legs, support me on a leg, nurse my feet, & procure yogurt from Betws, not a bad way to respond to an un-usual lapse.
I can’t remember many specifics of each climb & descent from here on but I do remember coming into the cafe after leg 5 & being encouraged by Emily’s beaming face before discussing 5 down but no matter how I look at it 8 to go looks bad. It was from here-on that I went into a metronome type of Zombie mode, I was in a stew, there was no way out, I went into myself & stayed there for most of the hours that followed.
Even today I have this new picture of Siabod entrenched into my mind, the mountain has taken a new form above the last style, it is always in gloom, it has grown, not into Everest but into a colossus that has to be tackled in parts, the last stream, the bottom of the variant path, the top of the variant path, the summit ridge, the traverse, the trig point, turn around, skirt the rocks, the 3 markers, the summit ridge, top of variant path, it went on & on & on, each time the distances seemed longer, my world had become surreal, the mountain was beating me physically but more importantly mentally.
Leg 8 was a particularly bad one but some how I recovered until Leg 11 came & I knew I was in serious trouble. Despite still being ahead of schedule my ascent time was tailing off, descents had already become a living hell with quads & feet screaming for level ground. I called Steve to my aid, he & Kean & probably everyone else could feel my pain, Kean’s words of respect meant an awful lot as tears were trying to force any remaining fluid out of me.
Despite Steve’s effort & Ellie shouting after Leg 12, ‘go on Paul, only one to go’ I had already announced to Steve that the 13th would be a reduced version, I had admitted defeat but with a compromise which I was still totally not looking forward to as the lower slopes of Siabod called me forward once again for one last effort. Dorina & Rebecca were my carers but despite their care I was feeling very much alone & fed up with my lot.
Through all of this the encouragement & cheers at the cafe were heard & appreciated but they couldn’t help me, I was receiving tremendous support but I was very inside myself with self pity at the way I had simply gradually fallen apart as the day had dragged on.
To have come through this in the way I did should be extremely rewarding but I have yet to see it totally this way, I feel traumatised but in a positive way if that makes any sense, but that is the only negative. As soon as I finished I sensed what collectively everyone who took part in the day, be it on the mountain or in the Cafe, had been part of something that felt very special. A community of people, a coming together & I was a part of it.
Life has many twists & turns, when I turned away from my old life in 2010 & headed for Cader Idris it was my new beginning, sometimes we just get a very lucky twist indeed.
Let it not be lost that the reason this blog exists is the Melamchi School & our attempts to support it, in this troubled world small gestures like ours can help make a difference & will.