After a series of posts by Pyllon Racing's James Stewart, he kindly agreed to write a report on his challenging outing at the Autumn 100 race. So, in his own words.....
In the midst of disappointment pride emerges like a reminder of why this sport is the most naked of human endeavours. There are few sports like ultra-running where a person can find, lose, find and lose themselves all in the same event. Then find themselves again. I am actually a relative novice at this gig, and I sometimes forget that. I have never experienced hallucinations. I have never had much except happy path races. Yeah, I got injured at the Worlds and then got lost at RAW but they are singular events that need no soul-searching at the time. And neither were they challenges to the very essence of my core.
At the Autumn 100 I found out more about myself in 10-12 hours of deep adversity than I have done in 5 years of ultrarunning. And, I am thankful for the experience. I really am.
Before I go into this I want to talk about the race winner, Paul Maskell. Paul is the Arc of Attrition record holder and a fine runner. He was close to me for the first 30 miles and was running a strong race. It was around 30 miles I started to unravel. It was around 35 miles when he caught me that Paul revealed himself to be much more than a fine runner. He showed not only the true essence of the ultra-community but absolutely displayed what I would describe as the actions of a true champion and fine human being.
I was having some serious issues here. I was out of energy, being sick and struggling with what I later diagnosed as salt issues brought on by a number of factors, including an underlying virus which has floored me this week. Paul had caught up with me. He could see I was distressed. Did he breeze past and me and lap up my issues up? Did he f***.
No, Paul stopped. He walked with me. He helped me. He got me to the aid station. He gave me some of his salt tabs. He offered me other stuff. He looked after me. He even walked out of the aid station with me to make sure I was ok. Bottom line, I don’t think I would have finished if he hadn’t intervened.
The first emerging pride in this is in Paul and our community. I am proud to have been the recipient of such spirit of kindness. I salute Paul the champion and the runner here.
In a jumping all over the place way let’s get back to the start. And let’s not make this a pity party. It’s the opposite. Underpinning this story is that I had a number issues which resulted in my not being able to run my best. It’s a 100 mile race. Shit happens. It’s what you do when shit happens that matters.
For 20 miles I was running ace. Right on plan. Cruising along. But I never felt super-comfortable and my HR was higher than it should have been. A warning sign I chose to ignore. I was also sweating harder than normal. A warning sign I chose to ignore. I also was thirstier than normal. A warning sign… ach, you know the story. I scoffed some food at the first return to Goring and got going. I was cool. It was cool I told myself. But at around 30 miles I really hit a wall and the sickness started. Over a few miles I was sick about 7 times. Normally when this happens I can brush it off but not today.
Once Paul helped me and I got some salt in my system I was able to get moving, and pretty well again. In fact, after scrambling to the end of leg 2 I set out on leg 3 with renewed determination. I had more salt but it was a liquid only diet. I couldn’t get any food down. Nonetheless, as darkness descended on the toughest leg, the wind and rain from Storm Brian lashing in to our left sides on the way up and our right on the way down, I was all of sudden back in the race. I was regulating my HR well, not super comfy but I was moving good and by 100k had got back to 4 mins behind Paul. He might even have been surprised to see me.
But I was on borrowed time, burning all the fuel I had. Watered down coke and gels is only good for a while. I knew I was gonna struggle but I hoped that at the aid station in Goring I’d get some food in me and at least have a chance. Alas, 10 steps out of the town hall and I was doubled over, littering the Thames Path with the kind of bile that is normally reserved for the pedestrian walkways outside of nightclubs after too much Tequila. When you are retching up that yellow stuff you know you are in bother. My good mate Skoosh had joined me at this point. He was gonna pace me for the last 26 miles. I was glad to have him. Prior to this chunder I thought I could catch Paul. Four painfully slow and barf broken miles later I was well aware I was out of contention for a win.
I managed to regroup again at the aid station and got some salt tabs from the kind volunteer there (and on the way back). Have you noticed something? I didn’t have my own salt tabs. If I had I would have been in a much better place. No need to tell me I am an amateur and a dick. I already know. But be reassured that we all make mistakes.
Everytime I managed to get salt in me I was able to move pretty well. So, as was the case I managed to get shifting well again, pushed on by my main man Skoosh. We played “name 5” games. Like ‘name 5 bands Dave Grohl has played with’ or ‘name 5 Scottish golfers to have won on the PGA tour’. I bet you are reading this wishing you were there. Great party. Not only was our runner sick, so was our patter!
Paul passed us on the way back with a gap of between 3-4 miles. We knew the chase was up then. The last 10 miles was a sufferfest of sickness, stiffness and wishthiswasoverness.
This is where pride #2 comes in. A couple of people have asked me how I kept going. I don’t really know to be honest. I was out on my feet and without fuel. Yet, something was driving me on. When asked after the race I came up with a few reasons; 1) there are people out there for 28 hours in the end, if I cannot suffer for just over half that time what kind of person am I?; 2) my dad, Skoosh and mate Barry had made the trip with me, I couldn’t let them down; 3) I had promised myself when I entered that I would give Skoosh my buckle. He’s supported me a loads of races and is a top guy, the top guy, so I couldn’t go home without it and 4) there was no way I was going to finish the season with a DNF.
Either way, I have never been more proud to get to a finish line. Or relieved. I was proud I didn’t give in, that I didn’t let the race and my team down. It’s a great event with amazing people involved. I am lucky to call James Elson a friend now and I wanted to be able to look him in the eye at the end. I was glad I could.
In the end where I finished – and in what time – was irrelevant. I finished. I lost myself at times but I found myself again and again. I surprised myself and am excited what this new level of determination will turn into when back fit again. For now though, it’s time for a rest. Perhaps the most important part of training. I have earned it after the last couple of years and I am gonna enjoy it.
You can follow James on twitter.