Jonny Dry, Columns writer, who is currently training for his second attempt of a 125km run looks back to last year’s race.
Twenty minutes after nearly falling asleep outside Mousehole, I stopped.
‘I’m done’, I said, ‘I’m done.’
Two minutes later I was in tears.
We drove to Lamorna after that. Fellow runners Ash, Dave, and Paul had taken a last minute decision to meet me there and accompany me across the final leg to Lands End. Obviously I didn’t make it to them.
My legs departed at midnight, in a quiet side road in Mousehole. I was stumbling rather than running. In fact, I hadn’t run since entering Penzance. For the past hour I’d been going through this cycle of walking, grinding to a halt, standing quietly, deep breathing, keep going. But I knew that I had been getting slower and slower. Everyone around me knew I was getting slower and slower. I was aware that my support crew and family were close by, but I hadn’t the presence of mind to separate individual faces. My world was centred on my own physical being, on putting one foot in front of the other and very little else. I was well aware, however, of the atmosphere they were all exuding, and I could tell that they were all concerned. I remember Tom drew me aside at one point, his face thrusting itself in to my very small world.
‘Listen Jonny,’ he said, ‘you’ve done enough now mate, you don’t need to prove anything more.’
I kept going. I hadn’t proved anything yet. I couldn’t let everyone down. I could barely walk now. Then, outside Mousehole, I stopped, clambered in to the car and closed my eyes. Sitting there I knew what was going to happen. I knew I was not going to get to Lands End. I knew I was not going to finish. I knew I was going to let everyone down. But I fought against it. I didn’t want to say it. It wasn’t true yet. I couldn’t let everyone down.
It was a short steep hill going out of Mousehole which brought it out of me.
‘I’m done,’ I said out loud, ‘I’m done.’
I’d let everyone down.
I have never been so mentally and physically spent. I can say that with absolute assurance. It’s difficult to describe this moment to someone… in fact I don’t think I will ever be able to. That moment of utter collapse where body and mind fall apart as one.
Writing again, a year since January’s attempt on the ultra run, seems more than a little surreal. In the process of preparing to both write and indeed think about this run again, I went back to re-read the extensive social media, most significantly my own writings from the period leading up to the 11th of January. Much of it is laughable. My confidence and straight up ignorance appears quite honestly childish. How I managed to convince myself that a day of strong 40km of running indicated my ability over 125km I do not know. Ignorance is a fundamental word. I wrote the day after that I’d ‘underestimated the terrain and overestimated my fitness.’ This I reckon was key: I was under-prepared but more importantly was not prepared to admit it to myself.
Realistically it was a stupid undertaking. I train for a maximum of 15km cross-country. It is fast, hard running over hills and through mud. I love it. I am not an ultra marathoner. I had no prior endurance and a woefully small amount of specific training. To even think about attempting this was ridiculous. The term pushing comfort zones doesn’t apply here. It was so far outside of it that really it deserved to be put that other distant zone where pigs fly. I was an idiot and was honestly lucky not to injure myself. I realised recently that a lot of people, indeed most people, upon hearing of what we were doing were more than a little thrown off. I remember conversations with my parents in the weeks before. I could sense their tone in them. It wasn’t surprise that echoed in their words, it was pure anxiety and distress, the clear hallmarks of someone thinking you’ve overreached yourself. Something like this needs planning, preparation, and serious thought. I had not done any of these things, and I think it showed to everyone. I announced I was doing this run at the beginning of December, I ran on the 11th of January. Idiot.
But is that not the point? To be an idiot; to throw caution to the wind and attempt something completely insane. To place ones self in the middle of something completely bizarre and utterly crazy. Is that not what puts someone in the most alert state of mind? Just writing now gets my blood pumping, something visceral inside that gets the psyche flowing like lava with the thought of going in to the unknown and finding ones limits. Thoughts are in my mind of expansive stretches of cragged coastline, the sea on my left for 125km. 125km… Christ what a distance. What a feeling to stand at Lands End having come that far. To be surrounded by everyone who has supported you, that feeling of finishing something that really should be impossible. The true spirit of adventure.
International mountain runner Anna Lupton recently wrote that in ‘today’s developed world, where convenience and instant gratification is pretty much expected and encouraged, running is refreshingly hard work.’ This I feel is exactly the point: it’s going to be hard. I see far too often a malaise of indifference and acceptance. Too often in life we are happy with comfort. We do not push our limits and we don’t find out what we are truly capable of. Running is an outlet outside of what is easy and it forces you to be honest with yourself. You miss a session through indifference, you pay the price in a race. No excuses. I truly believe that this mentality is not encouraged or practiced enough, be it for personal or professional reasons. Too many are content with merely existing. The alternative is to reach far and to fail. That I will admit is intimidating. But do it for the experience, do it to challenge yourself and failure becomes just another potential outcome. I can guarantee you’ll learn something. Even failing in January brought me an intense feeling of satisfaction.
And so the point still remains, questions still need answers. Can I do it? Yes. But it needs proper, thorough preparation. I need to be willing to commit and commit and commit for a prolonged period of time. As I am at the moment I am not strong enough to complete it, that much is apparent from last time. But with the correct focus and discipline I can and will do it. In fact that focus, and extreme commitment makes the prospect of completing the challenge even more enticing. Standing at Lands End will not just be the culmination of a day’s hard running, but a culmination of many months of training and planning.
There is as well a deep significance in the run that adds to my motivations. Running to Lands End will end my three years here at university. It will inevitably involve so many people who have become so important to me, either first hand or just with a simple expression of support. This is my way of signing off from Cornwall in style, by running to its very tip. I honestly cannot think of a more fitting and spectacular way to conclude it. You might well think otherwise…
Show your support to Jonny’s extraordinary and arduous task and donate what you can on his Just Giving page: www.justgiving.com/totheend