I am lying on my back on the forest floor. All that is missing is a circle of tweeting birds spinning above my head like a Loony Tunes cartoon. As I get back onto my feet, I look behind me for the first time in 5 hours, hoping not to see approaching hordes of runners, ready to speed past me so close to the finish.
Picture the scene, it’s a beautiful day in May and I’m 21 miles into my first ever ultra race. My calves are cramping a little but life is good and I’m “enjoying the journey”. I climb up a stile only a mile or so from my home, a stile that I’ve been over dozens of times, and I lose concentration as I jump down the other side. My right ankle buckles and I hear a gut-wrenching tear as I collapse in a heap.
Before this day the longest distance I had ever run was only about 12 miles. I'm not sure what clicks inside me to make me do daft things but there must be some chemical in the brain that removes all the doubt no matter what the circumstances are and just lets you get on with it. I knew without a doubt that I would finish The Sandstone Trail that day regardless of what was thrown in front of me.
I started to run again eight years ago to get a bit fitter for my true sport of climbing. On a climbing holiday in Calpè, Spain I was getting cabin fever after bad weather had a group of us holed up together in a typical Spanish appartment. There's only so much drinking, story telling and eating one can do!
Last year this event was one of my identified A races for the year. Me, Steve, Andy and Jason set off from the field in Horton, expecting a challenging but great day over the Three Peaks of PenyGhent, Whernside and Ingleborough. Unfortunately, a little over 40 minutes later, my race ended prematurely, as just after dibbing in at the first summit, I turned my ankle badly on the descent. I was devastated to DNF, but even after a trial hobble in an effort to carry on, it was clear my day was over.
For a while last year, I actually considered adding a warning sign to myself: