Challenge 19: COMPLETE!

One of the great things that this project has reminded me, is that life isn’t perfect – it doesn’t always go the way you planned. But the thing to remember it’s not about focusing on the negative, it’s the way you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Over the last few years my brother Nick has laughed in the face of adversity, and bloody hell, he’s been faced with adversity and then some! My adversity has luckily not been as extreme as being faced with the Taliban, but I have used Nick’s spirit to get me over the bumps in the road. Fracturing my leg mid challenge wasn’t ideal, but it taught me a lot about the limits of my body and how to make it much stronger.

Challenge 19 was supposed to be a team endurance event held in July – but due to various things I was left on my tod. No team and no challenge. And with only 3 weeks to find a new one, I was a bit stumped to say the least. Getting this far into the project, there wasn’t time to be making huge new arrangements, and by now we’d raised a LOT of money, with a LOT of people counting on my completion of this challenge.

A few glasses of wine with my housemate led me to randomly stumble across Love Life: Love Running – a running festival based in Cannock Chase with a 7km route that needed to be completed as many times as possible within 6 hours. There was solo, duo and team entries. My brain kicked into overdrive – I wasn’t going to enter as a team as this wouldn’t give me the comparative level of difficulty to other challenges completed thus far. Then the duo entry was out too, as this would mean running for about 3 hours – a shorter amount of time that my marathon PB. So the only option was to enter as a solo runner; committing to running as far as I could in 6 hours. Whether it was the wine, or the competitive nature in me, 3 minutes later and £17 debited from my account, and I was signed up.

If I could run 42km (marathon) in 4 hrs 30, then surely I could hit 50km in 6 hrs, and enter the world of ultra marathon running? Yeah, why the hell not. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. So that was my target, hit 50km – 7 and a bit times round the 7km route. Easy maths really. Although the execution didn’t quite go to plan.

As it happened I had family staying with me from Argentina, so they eagerly agreed to come down and support me run. Being able to take them with me was really cool – I’d not seen them in nearly 2 years, so it was great to show them what had become such a huge part of my life.

Celina took this photo from the back of the car as we travelled down to Staffordshire – it’s become a regular experience for me over recent months. At least I’m getting to see a lot of the UK!

I’d been down to Cannock Chase for Hell Runner earlier in the year, but had forgotten just how beautiful it is down there. Moving away from road running all the time has degfinitely been a good thing – seeing building after building gets a little tiresome after a while. I wonder whether my excitement of the countryside would be as positive by the end of the race.

So I got my race number attached, and after a small motivational pep talk in Spanish (multi-lingual challenge motivation is where it’s at these days!!) I headed across to the start line. At first I thought this was going to be a re-run of Chester last year, where no-one turned up. I’d forgotten that for the majority of people racing were part of tag team, meaning their buddies would be sat waiting for their speedy return. I on the other hand, would be circling the course, time after time. The claxon went and we were off. The professional fell runners sped off into the distance, whilst the rest of the pack slowly dispersed.

Listening to an updated iPod play list I was having a ball to be honest. Running through amazing countryside, twists and turns taking us through the forest and around some beautiful pond areas.

However, all this excitement ended when I got to the bottom of the most frustratingly long, numbingly annoying, and gruellingly tiresome incline I’ve ever had the misfortune to run up. Don’t get me wrong, the view was amazing. The shades of greens to browns were very pretty and all, but they didn’t take away from the pain of that bloody incline. It just wouldn’t give up. I gave some more, it gave twice as much back. I sped up, it increased the incline. I found motivation, it called upon the sun to burn it right out of me. You get the idea, it was a bitch of a climb!

I’m probably over exaggerating the first attempt at it, but as the laps carried on, it got increasingly more difficult to ignore such evil.

As I made my way back up to the top of the course, I was met with beaming smiles from Team Argentina, and given the fact there was only one water stop on the route (half way round) I was very pleased to see a cup of juice waiting for me before I started the next lap. Funny thing was, that drink wasn’t even for me, but what can you do when you have an out of breath Brit gasping for air wanting some juice. Sorry guys!

As the laps continued so did the blazing heat beating down on us, as we wove our way through the forest and round the trails. Each time the HFH (hill from hell) got progressively more painful. It was on the second lap round that I thought to myself, why the bloody hell can’t I just do a normal marathon for once! By the time I’d got to the fourth lap the realisation had sunk in that I was not going to hit ultra-marathon status. The heat mixed with the hills, added to the fact I was getting pretty dehydrated, meant that I just wasn’t going to be able to get round the route the 7 and bit times I needed to, in order to hit the 50km mark. To say that I was gutted was an understatement.

I remember coming back into a forested area and feeling really really shit. I had to keep running (although who am I kidding, by this point it was a pretty pathetic jog). I had to keep going – I had countless donors & supporters relying on me finishing this race. My thoughts led to Nick for a bit, and the searing heat that he faced while out in Afghanistan – such thoughts just made me feel worse. Thinking about how he pushed himself on, motivated himself from his inner core to fight the demons telling him to stop. Telling him to give up. He found the strength to carry on in the 50 degree + tempereatures, to carry on regardless of the fact he was under enemy fire and at any point could step on an IED.

The weird thing was, that I’d used this kind of motivator before on previous challenges. When I thought I was getting a bit off balance, I thought about the sacracfices that these guys had made day in day out, and it pushed me on. Each step wanting it more. But this time was different. My body was aching, I was sweating more than I knew possible, and the overidding feeling of failure had overcome me. As I approached the end of the fifth lap, I looked at the time and thought to myself, I’m only going to get one more lap out of this before the 6 hour cut off point.

Then it hit me. While I’d been wallowing in self pity, getting all gloomy about the fact I’d only make 42km, I’d forgotten what that actually meant. 42 km = 26 miles. And 26 miles = a marathon. And if I wasn’t mistaken, I’d completed 3 of those in the previous 7 months.

  1. One on a treadmill, outside a hotel at Christmas, post recovery for a leg fracture
  2. One in Dubai – enough said really
  3. One in Manchester. And by the way, Manchester delivered. Buckets and buckets and buckets of rain. And wind. And then some more rain.

And now finally one in similar heat to that felt in Dubai, but with hills!! When I thought about, I realised that by completing this race and covering 42 km, I’d have run my 4th marathon in 7 months. From my humble beginnings of 10k on the road to my 4th very off road MARATHON. Well that was it. I picked up the pace for the last lap of this beautifully torturous course.

My emotions were running all over the place (no pun intended). From feeling like I’d let people down, to knowing that I’d actually done them proud. I’m not ashamed to say that on one of the final trail passes I shed a quick tear. Because by taking everyone else out of the equation for a minute, and putting everything else to one side, it didn’t matter what other people thought, as I was proud of myself. I know that other people have achieved much more, but I didn’t care at that moment. I was about to complete my 4th marathon in 7 months.

I couldn’t then, and I cannot now, express how proud that made me feel.


Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge


About benjonlambert

Mountain climber, marathon runner, Olympic torchbearer & ACF instructor amongst other things: "Success never came to those who weren't ready for a challenge"
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