Who would have thought that I would bump into an old friend on the edge of town? As I approached a T-junction on the path, three cyclists appeared from the right.
Richmond, the front rider called out.
It was Gideon, who I had not seen for years. We caught up, exchanged some jokes and stories. It was a real booster.
I expected the day to go well.
From the other end my support Peck was on his bike, peddling from Cocking.
I think the terrain was a bit tougher than he expected. I imagined him gritting his teeth, pumping his long legs and listening to Test Match Special.
We met at Alan’s Coffee van.
Alan makes real coffee from the back of his transit. He also sells snacks not dissimilar from those you’d find at a ultra aid station. Turns out that Alan is an ultrarunner.
Then we found out that his name was Andrew.
Refreshed, I trotted off down the hill towards Cocking. Peck headed off towards Winchester. His plan was to cycle to the city, then turn around and head back to the van: our first rendezvous.
It was warm but I was sipping away at my water and Precision Hydration drink. I think perhaps this is where things may have been going awry. The sips may not have been enough.
My legs were feeling great inasmuch as I was not feeling them. The struggle of May seemed a million miles away. This was so very different. The pleasure of running returned.
I can’t remember the exact moment when things started to change. There was a shift of state.
Not feeling good is part of the journey. It is expected. You deal with it in different ways — I have a toolbox of strategies. Usually it is pain.
This time is wasn’t pain. It was waves of nausea. I had not had that before during a run.
One of my first actions when feeling bad is to have a nibble. It often works. Eating a morsel of food creates a different sensory experience: getting something out of a pouch, followed by the flavour and the texture are all useful.
Something changed for the better but I did notice a lack of saliva. I continued to sip. I continued to nibble. I continued to trot along. The trotting felt good.
The ease of running was gradually being replaced with increasing nausea. It was not going away. The water was fine, but the hydration drink I had to force down. The van seemed miles away, although on the map it was only a couple. Time and distance are easily distorted, so it is best to try and move your thoughts away.
I remember reaching the van with such relief. Still my legs felt fine, but I was rough. Flu-like tiredness, persisting nausea and just blaaagh. I decided to take a good break, take on some water, salt tablets and try some food.
The salt tablets may have helped. The water was going down but threatening to come back up.
I’ll have a nap, I thought. After all, I had been running since 9:15am and now it was early evening.
I dozed for fifteen minutes and woke urgently, thinking that I needed food. Let’s try some pasta – I’d made pesto pasta. It was like trying to eat small plastic toys. Chew, chew, chew, gulping swallow. Nausea.
I know that horrible feelings and perceptions come and go – nothing is permanent. So I decided to get going, believing that I would feel better soon.
I set off into the evening. The sun was just peeping over the hills, dyeing the sky with reds, pinks and oranges. Bumbling up the track, I checked in the with kids.
19k to Amberley. That’s fine I thought. A few hours.
This was the toughest part of the day. It was dark. I had a circle of light ahead via the head torch — just running and thinking. I knew it was part of the deal. This is one of the reasons for ultra running and one of the major obstacles to deal with.
It was becoming a real battle. The stream of thoughts occasionally interrupted by shadows, dark shapes, stars and occasional shuffles in the hedgerow. But the predominant feeling was nausea. There was an occasional stumble.
I continued to sip, just. I tried to nibble. But I could feel my energy dropping off with each step.
A text came through from Peck with an image of a camp set up at the rear of his van at Amberley station. He told me that the kettle was set up. Rooibos tea kept appearing in my mind – that’s what I wanted. It soon became an obsessional thought.
The relief on seeing the van was enormous. In my own thinking, that was it. I had no energy to carry on. Peck had other ideas.
Two cups of Rooibos later and I was feeling better. Still no food though. Peck offered me various things that were easy to get down, but my body was having none of it. Kendall mint cake could just about sit in my mouth and dissolve.
Following some banal chatting and memory sifting, there was a brief negotiation. I agreed that taking on the next stage was possible – a short 10k to Washington. By the way, my legs still felt really good at this point.
Off I went, back onto the Way.
I had already noted that the Ultra Challenge was going the other way. The luminous green markers hanging on fences and trees gave it away, together with the blackness punctuated by bobbing headtorches.
There is something warming about exchanging encouragement in the dark as I passed the walkers (the runners had long since gone by). A few thought I was going the wrong way.
The first few kilometres felt good. My energy was lifted. I was running up a hill without much effort. Soon enough this dropped off. The struggle resumed. I managed the occasional wine gum, but nothing else. Even water repulsed.
The route was familiar. I have run this part of the SDW many times, so the mist made no difference. Yet I was moving slowly. Very slowly. I am not sure how long it took to cover that 10k, but it felt like hours.
I arrived at the van parked near the church in Washington at about 230am. I knew at that stage it was the end of the day.