By Jo Cresdee
“One Step at a Time.”
Those were the words that I was greeted with when I registered and got my race number at 6.10am on Saturday morning. I was so relieved to see the familiar faces of Rachel and Paddy on the registration desk that morning – I think Rachel could see the look of utter terror in my eyes that I was trying to mask – especially when she suggested taking a picture of the race director’s mobile number so it was recorded on my phone – I was shaking too much to input the numbers manually.
I had been pretty confident going into this race. I had done my training; I had had some great support. I knew I had John to guide me on the day – I was not alone, I knew the route. I had no logical reason to feel so scared but my boat had been totally rocked in the 48hrs before the start.
I see this all the time with women in the last days of pregnancy. Women who have been supremely confident about birth suddenly find out that their baby has changed position or a friend or relative makes a comment that seems harmless but changes the way a woman perceives her forthcoming labour. This is exactly what had happened to me. People who considered themselves (and who I considered) to be far more experienced runners than me started to give advice on diet, or pace or times which would be good to achieve. I fell for it, I lost sight of why I was running this race and what was important to me and started to subliminally change my expectations of myself and it was rocking my world and undermining my confidence. The incredible scrutiny of social media was also really getting to me. I was so touched by the messages but I was becoming suffocated and scared of letting people down – the pressure was becoming insufferable. I go out running because it is an escape – it had suddenly become a huge pressure and I did not know how to cope with it. John ordered me to turn my phone off on Friday evening and I did.
We left the registration hall and walked up towards the start. Apparently my body language was appalling – I wasn’t excited at all at this point – I just wanted the first 12 miles under my belt – I especially wanted to get through the first mile which is all alongside the road heading out of Newmarket. The first few miles were single file along a narrow path, we kept stopping and starting and there were people everywhere, despite the fact that I spend my life surrounded by people all the time and I am supposedly a people person I hate running near other people. I find it intimidating, I don’t like being watched, I don’t like small talk, I don’t like even the slightest presence of anyone that I have not chosen to share that space with. I was tense, I was nervous, none of this was on my terms and I was not happy about it. It was also hot – it was humid – I sweat a LOT for a girl! After about 10 miles I was really unhappy. I was running badly and I knew it, I felt sick, I felt like I was letting John down and I mortified I was being so s**t.
Pride comes before a fall and that was indeed the case – a couple of miles before the first checkpoint I was sick for the first time. (I was sick another four times before things settled down and to be honest I didn’t even do that very well.) I was basically dehydrated and hadn’t handled my anxiety very well at all. We made it to the first checkpoint where one of the volunteers looked really worried about me. I couldn’t really string a sentence together, was on the verge of tears, couldn’t believe I had found a meagre 12 miles so hard and didn’t really know what to do to improve things.
In between checkpoint 1 and 2 things blew up. I refused to speak to John about what I was feeling. I demonstrated the emotional maturity of a spoilt twelve year old and was left to cool down and walk on my own. Despite that fact that I was fuming and having a bit of a cry under my sunglasses I was embarrassed that actually John had called time on me. He was right – he had nailed why I was not running well. I was just so, so angry with myself and more so at the moment in time with John for holding a mirror up in front of me when I wasn’t ready for so much honesty. I have run competitively in my teens, I am used to being shouted at by coaches to get the best out of me – I am not used to brutal honesty from someone who can see beyond my eccentric public face. John called my bluff and I was shocked.
I had lost sight of what this race meant to me, why I was doing it. Four months ago I sat at John’s kitchen table and said; “I want to run that race as I want to know I can finish it, I want to feel that sense of pride, and I want to push my boundaries. I don’t want to chase times or positions, that doesn’t matter to me, I’m doing this for me and no-one else.”
And then there I was suddenly judging myself against the other runners out there that day, I was worried about what people thought, I was thinking about press releases and Facebook updates. I had totally lost sight of what I was doing, I had become arrogant and obsessed with results and proving myself to be a decent runner and I was paying the price.
That is what I came for though. You have no place to hide when you are running that kind of distance. I could not use my normal brash, we’ll make a joke out of it tactic as I vomed in a hedge and struggled to cope with my stomach cramps. It actually wasn’t at all funny – if I didn’t sort myself out and handle myself a bit more efficiently I wouldn’t be getting to check point 2 let alone the finish. Eventually I managed to pull it together; I apologised, had a poo behind a hedge which I swore would never happen (but apparently makes you a proper ultra-runner,) and managed to run again. We reached checkpoint two and I could feel my confidence coming back as I remembered why I was there and let go of all the stupid things that had been bothering me.
Checkpoints 2 to 3 marked my recovery. In Cavendish we came out of a footpath and due to a ridiculous hat and the fact I was concentrating on not running badly I totally failed to recognise Simon (who composed my song). I didn’t say at the time but I was so pleased to see him – I couldn’t believe he had waited for us at that opening of the path just to run a little section of the course with us – a section Si and I had recced together two weeks before. It meant a lot and really steadied me – thank you Si.
As we ran past Kentwell Hall which is just before the third checkpoint we were passed by Kelly Pepper who went onto win the women’s race and came third overall. She looked brilliant as she ran, effortless and glided past us. I knew then that things were different as I felt so pleased for her and so impressed that another women could excel in her chosen sport. My rationality had returned, my anger had subsided and I had begun to love this race again as I had wanted to.
The Long Melford checkpoint is 33 miles into the race. It is basically just over half way. I felt like I was running brilliantly – everything felt good. I was rehydrated and felt confident and standing waiting for me was my cousin Jeremy who I totally adore. Jeremy and his fiancée Jen are due to get married in two weeks’ time and they had given up this crucial Saturday to track me down the Stour Valley Path. Jeremy and I lost our Grandmother a year ago – it’s still pretty raw for me losing the woman I was closest to in this world – having that support and a hug at that point in the race when it had been so hard gave me so much strength. Lizzie and Chris Johns were also waiting for me there as was Simon – Melford was an oasis of hope, happiness and a new page, a fresh start. I will never forget Lizzie shouting at me as we left about how I had to go out there and finish it!
Melford was not so great for a number of other runners – a lot of people were beginning to retire and some severely dehydrated, my heart bled for them – I had come pretty close to the point that some of these runners were at. Once again I was reminded about why I had chosen an off road ultra, not a road marathon. You see the culture is different, these runners are not going out to beat one another, it is not about a time or a place, it is about strength, about facing the things that scare you, about pushing the boundaries of what is comfortable and seeing if you can handle it and then knowing you can – about having a dream and daring to go and get it. I left Melford chasing the dream.
The next checkpoint was in Bures and this was perhaps the best checkpoint in the whole race for me as I was greeted by the outstretched arms of my youngest son Edward. I felt such a sense of pride at that moment. Bures was a packed checkpoint – so many people there that had come out to support John and me. Everyone had told me to run from checkpoint to checkpoint, not to think about the enormity of the whole race but to break it down into chunks and this was now serving me well. Seeing all those faces at that checkpoint was awesome and so poignant. My husband Jasper, and Edward, Helen and Ian Duggan, the Cately clan, Diana and Nico, it felt like a normal Saturday morning parkrun. The fear had gone and I was heard to say “we’ve only got 19 miles to go” which at the time seemed very short.
We left Bures and went onto Nayland which is only about 7 miles away, a short checkpoint but there are some serious hills to climb in that section and it really took it out of me and resulted in my having a very unhappy left ankle. Ankle flexibility is key in trail running and I have stiff ankles, they were now inflamed and I could feel them – especially the left hand side.
Nayland is a beautiful town and the check point was awesome – filled with inspiring signage – some of which I would chant for the rest of the course.
I felt quite battered at this point and everything was really beginning to hurt, my quads were on fire and the 8 miles to the final checkpoint were mammoth in my mind. Rachel Dixey had some wise words as we left the checkpoint – she said “look on it like a cake – you’ve done the big bit, just a small slice to go”. In life we don’t pay so much attention to what we say to others, but we should. The words said to me in the days before this race were enough to nearly finish it for me before the second check point – those words of Rachel’s got me through the next 8 miles. We think words are cheap and we throw them out into the world without a second thought for the effect that they can have on another soul, when in fact words have the power to transform or destroy a person’s hope and dreams. I shall be using mine more wisely and remembering that there is nothing wrong with silence either.
I felt like those eight miles were a battle – I knew we had to get through them, it really hurt to run, it hurt more to walk. We had accepted we would be finishing in the dark but we wanted to get to Stratford St Mary with time to get our head torches out. That we did – I saw Rachel and Paddy again who we had registered with all those hours ago. I giggled at a stupid joke about the size of a hole in a water bottle which was very childish, hugged my son who was being taken home to bed and resigned myself to running a really painful 5 miles to the finish. 5 miles is not a long way but it felt like it would go on forever as the sun came down.
We ran – in fact John kept telling me how important it was to run it in. There were two footpath gates secured with padlocks which I had to climb, utterly agonising on legs which have run over 60 miles and an ankle which was swelling rapidly. (It’s not severely injured despite what the Ipswich Star says – I told them I hurt it a bit.) We ran to the end of the path and then had to run down the road in Brantham past the pub and onto the recreation ground. There were fireworks going off and all I can remember is feeling totally numb.
Waiting at the end for me was this sight:
Crossing that line was such a massive relief and whilst I was happy, I was exhausted and shocked and stunned and just so pleased I’d done it. I had achieved this goal that had consumed my life for months. My every waking hour, and in fact when I had slept I’d dreamt about it. All the miles I had run, all the chocolate I had NOT eaten, all the gin I had NOT drunk, it was worth it. I had made it over the finish line as I knew in my heart I would.
I got in John’s van to drive home and sobbed my heart out for ages. I was utterly overwhelmed by the emotion of the day. It was so much more than I could possibly have imagined it would be. It was not just a race; it was a life altering moment.
The level of human love and compassion that I had felt during that race was sensational. The day started as a personal challenge, it made me face my biggest fears head on. I was so concerned about how my performance on Saturday would be judged it nearly ended the day for me before lunch, in the end I realised that it was bigger than that. The demonstrations of love and support in person along that route, from people I knew and from people I had never met before were extraordinary. The messages on our Justgiving page and on Facebook were mind-blowing. As I worked my way through all the updates on our page overnight – I was in so much pain and buzzing so much I couldn’t sleep I was deeply moved by what people had written about the impact that we have had and the way that we have helped them.
I have spent a lot of this week in tears, the emotional release of months of preparation, the stress of the last year and what we have been trying to achieve for women in Suffolk at the expense of our own families on many occasions, the physical pain I was in after that day – everything came to the surface and now I feel a bit empty – like it’s all over and unlike a new mother who is holding a sweet-smelling baby I am sitting in my pyjamas wearing my medal – googling “Ultra Marathons September” – I fear I have become a ultra-marathon version of Mr Toad.
The final thing I would say is that you will never grow as a person if you do not push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you have a dream pursue it – who cares what other people say about that.
Katie, Emily, Lyn and I said these words when we decided we were going to create Suffolk Babies. I did the same thing with John when I decided to run an ultra-marathon. Yes, the odds were stacked against me – I couldn’t even run all of 5km in September 2015 and I have only ever run a half marathon before entering this race, but I knew I would do it and I did. You don’t know how strong you are until you need to be.
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
-T. E. Lawrence
Go out there and act on your dreams – show your children what is possible when you have passion.
Times and positions don’t matter but it took me 14 hours 34 minutes and 1 second to run SVP – that includes my stops at checkpoints.
114 people entered that race, I think 100 started and 67 finished.
I was the 6th woman over the line.
Thank you everyone so much for all your donations! We are at 84% of our target and we are still fundraising because every single penny goes towards funding free antenatal workshops. These cost around £100 each, which is actually an incredibly cost effective way to change lives! If you would like to donate, our JustGiving page is here: https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/suffolkbabiesnhs