A warning in advance here – I have had a lot to write about. It has been far too long since I sat down here and wrote about my latest challenges, and already I am experiencing both feelings of joy that I am once again taking the opportunity to gush nonsensically, coupled with the anxiety that I may make a severe error in my grammar. I often wonder how career bloggers manage to write post after post without delay – mine get proof-read at least 4 times, if I’m feeling daring.
Given that, it does make for a slightly unsustainable practice in reality. Something always has to give, and with an increasing pile of expectations as the months go on, they often do. Coupled with my extreme difficulty in balancing responsibilities, it is a struggle for me to handle. Here’s some rare footage of me to summarise.
Whether I have time or not, I am forever grateful I have the option. I run for Alice and all those who didn’t get to choose how they spend their time. In the hope that someone other than my mum reads this, I would once again plead shamelessly for anyone between 16-30 years old to consider signing up to the Bone Marrow Register – it is as easy as spitting in a tube, to give someone who truly has no time a second chance. To learn more, you can visit Anthony Nolan here. For those of you between 18-55 years old, find out if you can sign up at DKMS!
It is fair to say that too much of anything can turn fun into humdrum. When my favourite film (Avengers Assemble – judgement very unwelcome) first came out in the cinema, I saw it three times – when you juggle a friendship group, family and girlfriend, cinema trips get political. By the third time, even I was a little bored; the thrill is in the suspense. This is what I have learned doing back to back Tough Mudder events is like. Yes, I can appreciate the irony in labelling Tough Mudder ‘fun’.
So what does one enjoy so much about the possibility of being subjected to exercise, semi-constant water submersion and wondering if you could ever be clean again? I still ask myself the same question. Truthfully, Tough Mudder is an experience unlike any other. It teaches you that socialising, camaraderie and mutual exhaustion are some of the most fundamental qualities in enjoying an event. It also teaches you that there are two types of people in this world: those who like to be wet and muddy, and those who do not – I am of the latter persuasion. Also, there is something strangely satisfying, and possibly a little sadistic, about watching a fully-grown adult faceplant a giant plastic slide in an attempt to run up it. More satisfying perhaps, knowing it isn’t you this time.
For the first three weekends of May, I ran 57 miles, scaled 142 obstacles and washed enough mud out of my clothes to become an official distributor to the Chelsea Flower Show. After 4 months of road running, this was a welcome break from the norm. However, as might be expected, this feeling lasted less time than an average Kardashian marriage – sliding in to a container of ice at 2:30am might have been the clincher on that one. Come the week approaching Edinburgh at the end of May, I was, dare I say it, excited to get back to some purely mental pain for a while.
As I always try to do with these foreign excursions, this is a couple of facts I learned while in Edinburgh:
- Edinburgh Castle itself is an RAF Officer’s “Mess”, with the rooms facing out over the cliff and overlooking all of Edinburgh. Not much point having a twin brother in the RAF if not for capitalising on the #workperks.
- The USA may have the Gulf Coast, but do they have a Golf Coast? No, they do not. The East Coast of Edinburgh is home to the some of the best golf courses in Britain, apparently.
- If you are thinking of giving blood, which I strongly recommend, never do it in the week before a marathon. It’s funny at the time, but I promise you will not be laughing 10 miles in. This isn’t actually specifically about Edinburgh, but I definitely learned the hard way while I was there.
Edinburgh Marathon, I have to say, was not really my favourite. Six marathons in now, I have become a little fussy about specifics.
Having done London earlier this year, I had high hopes for the scottish capital – possibly too high. There’s little of Edinburgh City actually in the marathon, and the finish line is in a school 5 miles outside the city centre. There were disappointingly few water stops for what was a hot day and, to top it all of, I got sunburn. In Edinburgh. Scotland. United Kingdom. Even Gran Canaria didn’t manage that. Due to severe pain in both feet, my race slowed off very quickly after the half marathon point, leaving me walking purposefully, but painfully, on. It became clear I would be unable to run again – hot and a little panicked, I attempted to work out how long I might take walking the other half. Thankfully, a poorly-received Costa Double Espresso had made my first half a little more brisk than usual, meaning I could still finish in time. The miles dragged by desperately slowly, leaving me feeling a little hysterical.
Gratitude cannot be offered enough to my twin Matt, who not only ran the half marathon earlier in the day, but then proceeded to walk 5 miles back to me to struggle through the last few miles together. After finally reaching the Anthony Nolan cheer point a mile from the finish to the ever-supportive smiling faces of the events team, I felt it was time to end it. It would have felt just wrong not to sprint over the line.
On a more positive note, it only took me three attempts to understand one of the locals, so I feel like the weekend rounded off on a high.
The first weekend of June was the first time this year I would be running a marathon consecutively with another. A trip to Stockholm this time, which I continually forgot was in Sweden while I was actually there. After a criminally early Friday morning flight, we arrived for the weekend to a slightly chillier climate than we had been used to as England goes through its ten days of summer for the year. For once, that was an absolute relief.
I’m thin on the ground for knowledge here, but a couple of travellers tips for the world wary:
- Before you go, don’t forget to remortgage your house to give yourself some spare cash to get a cocktail in the city. Nearing the equivalent of £8 for a well-made shot, I hope you packed your suitcase full of sandwiches for lunch.
- Stockholm is a city of many islands, 14 to be exact. The main districts for modern tourism are those of Norrmalm and Östermalm on the Northern shores of the city, and the old town of Gamla Stan lies in the centre of the islands for some old-fashioned tourism. This is where you will find the palace of the Swedish royal family.
- Stockholm is home to the most visited museum in Scandinavia, the Vasa Museum. I don’t really do museums, but it’s hard not to be impressed by a 333-year old war ship sitting mostly intact in a modern museum.
My enthusiasm levels were not at their highest pre-marathon. I wasn’t a fan of the early morning starts, but midday is questionably less appealing. Eating a hearty breakfast at 8am because I knew I could, the morning consisted mostly of worrying, considering not turning up and praying I hadn’t overdone it at breakfast. In spite of my almost consistent pre-marathon woes, inevitably I still made it to the start line. The route was interesting and exceptionally Swedish, passing Gothic monuments, a million cafés and the ABBA museum. Despite my fascination with the architecture, the strain of not having had a break for 6 weeks became very evident – with 9 miles to go, my body had had enough. Nutrition and watering just about prevented total collapse, and walking much of the remaining distance kept me able to run short distances intermittently. One drawback of fatigue on that scale is the almost certain chance of injury if you decide to just “push through it”: knowing there is so much more to come puts you into self-preservation mode. Alas, like a 13-year old spotting Justin Bieber across the courtyard, the looming figure of the Stockholm Olympic Stadium gave my legs a last burst of energy in the final mile – enough to grant me the ever-important sprint over the finish line, a truly glorious moment in a stadium with such grandeur.
My finish brought not just the elation of having crossed another marathon off the list, but also the relief that I would now have an exercise-free weekend to look forward to. To celebrate, I did what any self-respecting athlete would do and decided to go out both Friday and Saturday nights – revelling in the knowledge that the only pain my body would be experiencing that weekend was a hangover. The reality is of course, that a free weekend actually becomes a literal laundry list of things you cannot do from Sweden, Edinburgh or the bottom of an ice-tank at an obstacle course. It was a refreshingly masochistic reminder that I could definitely handle the student life if the opportunity arose.
As I write this, I head north to Dumfries, Scotland for my next challenge: Tough Mudder Scotland, another double-day delight for me to
want to fall asleep and never wake up run. The disposable outfit is packed, the headband ready for its next appearance and the only thing that isn’t ready, is me.
If you are dedicated enough to still be reading this, then congratulations! If you or anyone you know would like to donate and make this cause even more worthwhile, then you can find my JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/William-Ash2502. Please feel free to share and help raise awareness.
I don’t say this a lot, but as we approach the halfway stage of my challenges I feel it an apt opportunity. Thank you for your ongoing support in reading along and maybe even donating – you are helping to keep Alice’s legacy very much alive, and my efforts worthwhile.