Phil Jupitus, I blame you. It wasn’t the fact that I misplaced my feet or didn’t notice the glaringly obvious root branch that would bring me down from a mighty height. It was your tales, Phil Jupitus, of living above a pub on Radio 4 that morning. I was so engrossed that I forgot how to run and toppled right over, landing full force on my left arm 20K into a 100K race. Who knew #BBCSaturdayLive could be so destructive?
I can’t quite remember the details of the fall – all I recall is the feeling or lack thereof in my left arm afterwards. Yes, my knee was also slightly grazed and the top layer of skin on my left hand had been severed exposing a rather nasty gash but my arm just felt numb.
Come on Becs, I told myself, you’re in shock, pull it together. There’s nothing wrong. Move arm, dammit move.
It was kind of like the scene in that episode of The Inbetweeners when Simon asks his little friend to cooperate so hecan get some action. I wanted action of a different kind – I wanted to move my arm forwards and backwards, carry on with the race, get to the next checkpoint, complete 100k. Up until now, I’d been doing well, felt strong and had found my groove, slowly moving up the ranks. One disastrous fall and I was standing in the middle of bleeding nowhere trying to encourage this limb to function normally.
Then the crowds of runners started pouring through behind me. Many stopped to see if I was OK. A few called the number on the race bib to tell the next checkpoint that I was on my way. They gave me water, offered me words of encouragement, and some even stopped to walk part of the way with me. At one point, some man took my bag and someone forced me to eat something sweet. Between the time of injury and the second checkpoint of the race, I was in a state of shock. I know some of my running friends stopped but I don’t think I was quite there.
It was only when I heard Rhalou call “Becs?” that I started to register. We can’t have been far from checkpoint two and somehow having her beside me helped to normalise the situation. We continued along the muddy track together until we came to what looked like a barn done up with race regalia and tables laden with food and drinks for the runners. Phew, at last, I could see a medic and find out how to manage this ruddy limp limb.
“Hmm”, the medic looked me up and down, “I’ll strap you up and you could continue”. What do you mean could? I thought to myself. I’m going to continue. “See how you go, the next checkpoint is only 6K away.” Apparently, completely unaware of myself, I replied deadpan “I’m going to continue”.
I guess my rational was along these lines: I could a) pull out of the race in the middle of nowhere, spend half a day trying to get back to London by taxi, bus, mule or whatever is available and then head to A&E, b) head to A&E nearby and be faced with an absolute logistical nightmare getting home plus unnecessary worry for the boyfriend back home, or c) make the most of the situation, continue in a sling, manage the pain, finish, get back to London as planned and head to my nearest A&E. Yes, my arm hurt but it wasn’t making me faint or anything and if I did feel a bot woozy, I jump on the sugar wagon to perk me up.
So I decided for better or worse to take option c. Many wouldn’t I’m sure, but I did check beforehand that continuing wouldn’t cause any further damage to the injury. Plus, and this was the real pull, I had a firm friend by my side.
A chocolate bar and two painkillers later, I felt semi-normal again. After locating my rucksack and finding a way to comfortably carry it on one-shoulder (ode to the 90s), we were off. And so began what would turn out to be a true one-armed adventure with the best partner I could wish for, Rhalou.
The next few hours we ran/walked/talked/laughed and genuinely had the best time in the glorious English countryside. We made friends with fellow runners, kept our spirits high and looked forward to the next checkpoint where we’d see Rhalou’s lovely mum waiting. I never intended to fall and injure my arm but on the bright side, it offered me an opportunity to enjoy the company and share this experience of the ancient footpath, known as The Ridgeway, with a fellow ultra runner.
By around six, we’d reached the halfway point, where some of the participants were bedding down for the night. Forget race, the campsite looked like the luxury end of a music festival with perfectly arranged tents, showers, a cake stall, yoga…and cider. Cider? Would it be acceptable to buy a few for the road? After all, we had scoffed some noodles, courtesy of Rhalou’s mum, and it was still warm. Sod it. I bought two ciders and Rhalou and I left the halfway point merry with a bottle in hand (my good hand).
Another checkpoint passed and then another, intersected by more mum hugs and encouragement plus some disco music on the way, thanks to Rhalou. The darkness came and the rain started to fall but we kept on plodding on, not letting it destroy our mood. Running, jogging, walking, moving and essentially following the glowsticks to our final destination.
It wasn’t all fun and games. We were faced with a few challenges on the way. Just try to climbing a gate with one arm in a sling – now that’s a Tough Mudder challenge. But somehow we did it and surmounted those physical and mental challenges.
After what felt like forever, we arrived at checkpoint nine – we were onto the final stretch. I’m not sure what we were babbling on about at this point but we kept on going like travellers towards the final frontier. The final 5K was then in sight. Only 5K – that’s a Parkrun I told myself. Keep going, keep going. Next thing we were begrudgingly trudging towards the stones. Yes, we were almost there.
Some 20 hours since we set off from Lewknor at 8am on a Saturday morning, we crossed the finish line together.
Race To The Stones 2015 will always be the race where I broke my arm but it was also an adventure along the Ridgeway where I got to share the highs and lows of running an ultra with an amazing person. I may be out of training for gasp up to six weeks (how will I cope?) but by this time next year, this slight hiccup will be a long distant memory. As for running with Rhalou, I’m totally up for another memory-making adventure.
Thanks to Rhalou and Rhalou’s mum for the photos, support and adventure, and my wonderful hubbie-to-be for picking up the pieces on the other side.