My last post prior to the start of the race said I'd post a new blog after I had finished, well that didn't go to plan.
Ironically, the longest race of my life ultimately became the shortest race of my life!!!!!! - 268mile race turned into an 8 mile wonderful warm up.
Roll back two weeks and all is great, Christmas festivities over and done with, I'm in a great place mentally and physically and eagerly awaiting my biggest challenge yet - competing in the Spine Race - a 268 mile extreme and brutal winter ultra mountain marathon running the full length of the Pennine Way from Edale up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland.
The lead up had been good with the last few weeks finalising kit requirements with close mate and team mate Ben Cox of Trail Ferret and studying google earth and relating images back to the Harvey's maps. My maps have notes all over them with distances, timings, last years winning stage times etc and I was feeling confident, ok, nervous, scared and excited but most importantly confident.
I had spent a vast amount of time on kit over the months preceding, searching, reading reviews and finding out how much each item of kit weighted to the gram and with the assistance of several sponsors was able to have in my rucksack and on me, new and ultra lightweight equipment.
I have to say a HUGE THANKS to the following companies;
TORQ Fitness - Been using TORQ fuelling and recovery products since last April and have found a huge difference in performance and recovery since using these products - and they taste better than all the others too!
Racing the Planet - These guys are moving into the UK market and am looking at progressing a long running relationship with them. - Fantastic at going that extra mile to make sure you get your kit on time.
Complete Outdoors - These guys came to my rescue in the last week before the race and kitted me out with some great gear - and really nice guy too, which always helps.
Ellis Brigham - Great supplier of equipment and came up trumps with some great new gear to blog about.
Snow & Rock - Supplied me with GPS and gear (and if my knee had allowed the GPS would have been invaluable!)
The North Face - As ever, provided me with my trusty trail shoes which I've been wearing since April and have praised and blogged about on so many occasions - a car is only as good as it's tyres!
At 4pm we were ready and headed down to Registration.
Registration was a formal affair, and to anyone else outside our little bubble of ultra runners, it would have put the fear of God into them, things were getting serious now - basically, don't do this or you DIE, don't do that or you DIE, look out for this or you will DIE, remember to have FUN though!!!!! So we'll probably die but have fun trying!!!!!!!! - NICE
Back at the Peak Centre, last minute bits & pieces were sorted out and phone calls & messages back home were done and it was time to hit the sack at 10pm, I was hoping for a goodnights sleep, well you know what hope did - sweet FA - I lay awake all night while my fellow runners snored their way through the night (4 in a tiny box room in bunks was not the best). I found myself at 2am lying in the bunk playing word search on my phone and eventually getting up at 3am to go get a drink.
4am came and went and at 5am I was finally starting to fall asleep when the bloody alarm went off and it was time to get up - TYPICAL, so much for sleep - oh well wasn't going to be getting much over the next 5 days anyway!!!!
Cup of tea and food consumed and before I knew it Ben, myself and a few others rolled down to the start area ready for kit inspection at 6.30am
GREAT - kit inspection was manic and ended up with all our kit being taken out of the rucksacks and then re-packed, at least it was warm in the hall.
The weather forecast was read out, it was going to be sunny, but cold for the day, OK, good start - Naaaaaah - good old British weather, completely unreliable. Within 10 minutes the rain started with a drizzle and by the start it had turned torrential.
As we hit the Pennine Way, the rain was turning to sleet and then before you knew it we were in a snow storm. my first thought was EXCELLENT, this is just want I wanted, SNOW - LOVE SNOW - and I was so happy in my own world, concentrating on the path and moving up forward as fast as I could.
Going up Kinder Scout was great, I was feeling strong and enjoying the climb up and taking over fellow runners, until I was comfortable sitting second in a small lead group. I had another runner behind me breathing down my neck (Pavel, who later went on to win the race in a massive 4 days and 14 hours - absolutely awesome achievement) but was happy and following the lead.
The snow was still whipping around when we started our descent and things just could not have been more brilliant, I was living the dream, I was in my biggest adventure, totally enjoying it, at the front surrounded by some awesome runners, I had the fitness, I had the kit and more importantly I knew I had the mental strength to take this course on, WHEN, in a split second my utopia collapsed around me.
Coming down hill at a steady pace just before Snake Pass, my left foot placed onto the flagstone, slipped straight off the side into the bog and I twisted my knee, I felt a grating noise and my knee popped out the medial meniscus. NO F**CKING WAY!!!!!! was streamed out (would have caused an avalanche if there had been more snow) and that was it, two seconds later I was hopping around screaming. I tired and I mean I really tired to get going again, I tired with all my effort to pop the cartilage back in but it just wouldn't, the front runners came past me asking if I was alright and all I could think of and say to them, was yep, I'll get it popped back in and I'll catch up with you, keep going guys.
I was in total denial, I was going to pop it back in and continue running an extremely tough course, what was I thinking?!!!!! But when you have spent so many hours training and planning and you have it in your head that you WANT and WILL get a top finish then you just do want you must do.
DNF - No way, I've never experienced that and I wasn't going to today, it's not going to happen to me!!!!!!!!!!
A friendly face came past me and stopped - Sam Robson - who I will always have respect for and be forever grateful to - he stopped and basically stayed with me, I told him to go on several times, that I'd be ok but he stayed and for 2 hours helped me down with another runner who I had never met before. They kept me talking as we hobbled down and to be totally honest they kept me calm - GUYS a HUGE thanks for staying with me, it was really appreciated!!!!!!!!!!
Over the next hour runners came and went until we were bring up the rear of the race with Mountain Rescue sweeping up behind us , Ben had come bounding past me earlier on and he too saw me in trouble and had stopped as well. Mountain rescue turned up and took over and the guys picked up pace and continued on with their adventure.
Throughout the 2 hours of hopping off the mountain, I was still in denial and all I kept saying to myself was get the knee popped back in and continue. I was asked on several occasions if I wanted a stretcher, but NO WAY, getting on a stretcher would mean accepting that I was out of the race.
I got down to the race marshals who were down at the roadside, they looked at me and said your finished, again, NO WAY, give me 10 minutes to get my knee popped back in and let me see about continuing. True to their word they gave me the 10 minutes while mountain rescue & I tried in vain to pop my knee back in.
After 10 minutes that was it, GAME OVER with the words - "So sorry Paul, you've off the course", my world left me and I lay there in total devastation.
The wave of feelings flooded over me, I felt I had let everyone down, my close family for all the time spent away from them training, my sponsors for all the help they had given me, Ben, not beingable to share with him this adventure and all my friends and everyone on twitter and facebbok out there watching me.
I sat in the mountain rescue ambulance, I phoned Jenny up and that was it, I couldn't contain myself, I started sobbing my heart out......
I ended back at Edale lying on the floor still trying to pop my knee back in, thinking want the fuck am I going to do with tears flowing down my cheeks.
The decision was made to get in the car and drive up to CP1 to be seen my the medial team. On reflection this was the best decision I took.
When I arrived it was like being comforted by an extended family, they looked after me, helped me out. I sat in the control centre, totally devastated but slowly coming around to the fact that shit happens, while watching the guys out on the course. The tracker system was just brilliant, I got involved with the behind the scenes mechanics of this huge beast and helped out where I could hobbling around using my walking sticks as crutches (not the best idea as by Sunday my knee was the size of a water melon).
The three front guys (Eugeni, Joel & Pavel) came in fresh - just awesome - and as the others came in we chatted down in the dining room, Sam came in around 11pm and we had a good chat, if it wasn't for me he would have been sooner, so apologises again Sam.
I was really looking for Ben and was tracking him from the control centre and was hoping he would be in before midnight, but things didn't go to plan and eventually he came in at 7.30am, all I wanted to do was to help him and all I could do was hobble around talking to him and trying to help him with his kit so that he could get a few hours sleep.
At 12.30pm Sunday lunchtime, Ben moved on out of CP1 after having less that 2 hours sleep since 5am the previous day. I felt terrible leaving and I wished I could have stayed to support him but the knee was killing me.
Ben's adventure continued, he was playing catch up all Sunday and conditions were horrendous. Monday came and he still had an enormous task ahead to get to CP2, but with resounding mental strength he turned it around and had an AWESOME day and reached CP2 that evening, pure brilliance - read his blog about his adventure, its going to be riveting!!!!!
I drove back down south, checking on Ben's progress and eventually got home, coming through the door with phone in hand tracking Ben on the GPS tracker.
I was oblivious to Jenny and the Kids as I was still trying to be apart of the adventure - I'm truly sorry you guys (I'm not good at saying sorry to my dearest people) I needed to be a part of it and the only way I knew I could be was to sit there with my knee elevated and iced with map in one hand and tracker in the other. I went through a lot of emotions in the next 36 hours while tracking Ben and watching the other guys and facebook and Twitter were part of my therapy.
The tracking became obsessive and contagious, the whole family were either tracking Ben on phones or computers!
I went to bed at 2am Monday morning still watching Ben awaking at 6am on Monday to see where the guys where. Monday was again spent on the floor following Ben going through an array of emotions finally finishing Monday feeling jubilant having watch Ben reach CP2 with such a gutsy performance throughout the day. Again, well done mate, absolutely AWESOME!!!!
It was really weird, when guys I knew were having to pull out, I seemed to feel their pain with them.
Well its Thursday now, I still feel gutted, but have come around to the fact that SHIT HAPPENS, MOVE ON!!!!! I've concentrated solely on getting the swelling down, I saw the physio on Monday and am booked in to see the consultant next Monday (20th) (with a view to get in and have the knee worked on next week.
I've come round to the fact that I'm going to have some down time and am hoping that it will be only 6 weeks out. I have another race which was booked last year - SDW50 which is at the beginning April, it might be a bit too soon but at the moment that's my focus and that's how I'm coping................
When I sat down to write this blog I wondered what I would write about, having left the race far too soon, but as I started to write it soon became clear that there was plenty to write about, the strength and comradeship that is this running family, the kindness of those who stopped to help, my awesome sponsors who put their faith in me, my friends behind the scenes particularly Adrian, who was messaging the Spine Team and my wife to see if I was ok, and Andrew who offered to take the train to come up to get me and drive my car back for me, a true friend.
Full respect to Scott and the Spine Team for the planning, organisation and I quickly learnt in my time with them that each and every competitor's safety and care is paramount to them.
Lastly, a HUGE thanks to everyone for all your messages - they have been really helpful in getting over this period.