Yorkshire Challenge 2021: How failing to run 100km has taught me more than succeeding ever will

Long story short: I signed up for the Yorkshire Challenge 2021. Actually, I signed up for the IoW challenge 2020, but that got cancelled – thanks Covid. Then, I signed up for the IoW challenge 2021, and, you guessed it, that got cancelled too. So, I registered for the Yorkshire Challenge – which (unfortunately) did not get cancelled! I planned to run 100km over 2 days

Cast your mind back to last weekend. We were mid heatwave. Race day temperatures peaked at 30 degrees. SPOILER: I did not, in fact, run 100km over two days – or at all!

I doubt anyone needs me to point out that covering 100km on foot, be it running, walking, or stumbling over one day or two, is an extremely physically and mentally demanding challenge. My 100km record currently stands at one success, and two failures. And, I’m okay with that. Actually, I’ll go one step further – I’m proud of it. Failing has taught me far more than achieving success effortlessly would have done. And, I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, last weekend.

It would be easy for me to make excuses as to why the Yorkshire Challenge didn’t go my way. Not least, did I mention the heatwave!!! Any gains I’d hoped to make in taking the challenge on in two days as opposed to 24 hours, were immediately undone by the heat. It was 20 degrees by 7am and while some elements of the route were in shaded woodland areas, there were large stretches on the moors where you were completely exposed for miles at a time – the heat was relentless. Of course, as you would expect from any decent ultra, the hills were significant and the terrain was dodge. In addition to this, I took a pretty nasty tumble at kilometre 14, smashing my chin and grazing my knee – two throbbing cuts I was consistently reminded of for the duration of the race!

I dropped out at 79km – after 8 hours of running/walking the day before, and a further almost 5 hours on my feet that day. I wasn’t lying when I told people that my feet were in bits. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said described them as excruciatingly painful. But, if I’m being really and truly honest with myself and with you, that wasn’t the reason I pulled out. And neither was the heat. Nor were my injuries.

Just before the 79k marker, I sat down on the verge for 20 minutes. I was faced with a choice. I knew that I could carry on (straight up the hill for another 6km) but that my feet were extremely sore. I knew I was exhausted and that my running, and even my fast walking paces, were behind me. I thought that by sunset I (most likely) could reach the finish. But I knew that if I did I was likely looking at another 5+ hours out on the moors alone, in the heat, barely passing another soul, hobbling at a slow pace, and feeling pain with every step. This wasn’t an attractive option for sure – but, as unpleasant as it would have been, I know I could have probably done it. I called my husband and asked him what to do. He didn’t know what to say.

The ultimate truth is, in that moment, I just didn’t want it enough. By 79km, as I saw a sign for the village we were staying in, my mind had already turned to pizza and hot showers, to flip-flops and freshly bandaged feet, to an ice cold coke, to shade, air-conditioning and a long nap. I knew that if I pulled out at that moment I could sleep it off, and wake up feeling fresh(ish) to enjoy a few days exploring North Yorkshire. I also knew that my legs would be recovered within the week, and I could resume my Manchester marathon training without injury or further delay.

When I did successfully complete 100km, I gave it absolutely everything. Every last scrap of physical and mental energy, resilience, and persistence that existed within me. As I crossed the finish line, I had nothing left. I was broken. An absolute mess. 8 hours later, I crawled to the bathroom on my hands and knees, because I couldn’t stand up on my legs. What spurred me on that day? Where did I find that extra injection of determination? I’m not sure, but I have a strong sense that fundraising and not wanting to let my sponsors down had something to do with it.

On Monday I woke up feeling flat and disappointed. (There may or may not have been sobbing and howling.) I felt that, once again, my mind had given up before my body – which I wish wasn’t a consistent theme with my running. But, I think you can see it in two ways – you can beat yourself up for not being stronger and not trying harder, or you can accept it for what it is – I ran/walked 79km in the blistering heat. The scenery was beaut, and I had the pleasure of being out in the countryside with one of my favourite humans (huzzybear) for the first 50km.

There are a million reasons why, in the moment, you might not want something badly enough, even when you thought you did. You might have other priorities. You might not be able to give what is being demanded of you right then – and, that’s ok. For me, last weekend – with a new job and in the early days of a marathon training cycle, it wasn’t the right time for me to give every last piece of myself to this run. And, actually, that is cool. That’s valid.

Now, we take some time. We reflect. We learn. We train. We build – mentally and physically. We, for sure, buy some better socks! And, when the time is right, we go again.

It’s taken me a long time to come round to this mindset. And, I’m not fully there yet. But, what I do know is, that all the times you fail; all the times you give in, just make the days when you win the mental and physical battle; the days when you absolutely smash it, even better – and those hardest fought victories even sweeter.

Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that to even make it to the start-line of an ultra, you’re probably already a bit of a badass anyway 😉

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