A week ago today, I was stood at Land’s End with some incredible people who wanted to support me in my LEJOG challenge; my coach Jon, with his dogs Oakley and Lhotse, Cerries, my friend, driver and cheerleader, and Simon, my nutritionist and day 1 support cyclist.
I had such high hopes that I would be able to use this experience to raise some much-needed brain tumour awareness, as well as fundraising for a couple of charities that mean an awful lot to me.
Just 5 days later, that challenge came to an abrupt end. A couple of days earlier, I’d been advised to stop because of the state of my feet after running through rivers of water on the roadside due to the torrential rainfall. That particular day, my run had ended in the heaviest rainfall I think I’ve ever experienced. Visibility was extremely low and I had become so cold I was shivering whilst I was running. I was so cold I was convinced that on top of my feet falling apart, hyperthermia was now also a distinct possibility. I got back to the van where Cerries and Jon had warm, dry clothes waiting for me.
By the time we’d made it to the campsite, I’d lost one toenail in a rather horrific fashion and another toe didn’t look very good at all. With sterile needles, I drained them, dried them off as best I could and dressed them in blister plasters ready to go again the next day. The campsite owner (whose nephew had recently had surgery for a brain tumour) had allowed us to use his kitchen, which now resembled a field hospital with needles, wipes and dressings littering the place. Jon named this ‘Operation Toemeat’. By this point, we were getting our laughs wherever we could. We headed back to the campervan to settle in for the night, once more in heavy rain and strong winds.
This continued for a couple more days. Bizarrely, my toes stopped hurting and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, stopping every 5 miles to meet the team (and of course Oakley and Lhotse!).
On Wednesday, I finally left the horrendous A30 and met Jo Pavey, along with Running at 40 Plus members, Vicki and Fiona who ran with me to Silverton. To have someone to chat to was such a morale boost, as was the brief respite in the rainfall and of course the bottle of diet coke that Vicki had brought along for me!
However, Thursday started with more torrential rain and wind, and the lanes I found myself running along had turned into a series of rivers and tributaries. As I ran uphill, the muddy water would crash like a bow wave over the top of my shoes. It was unavoidable. I began to develop a pain in my lower left shin. I thought maybe my laces were too tight so loosened them off. It didn’t help and I could feel my pace slowing as I tried to run through the pain.
I spoke to my physio Amanda, who advised me how best to tape it up. Jon caught up with me and we ran back to the camper. I took painkillers, taped up – with adhesive spray – and hit the road. The pain seemed to lessen a little, but after half an hour or so, it was back to 8/10.
I turned my headphones up, sang to myself, had words with myself and tried to concentrate on any other part of my body other than my leg. The “Mindful” runs which I had enjoyed during training, now became a survival mechanism, as I focussed on drawing strength from things around me as well as using them as a distraction.
Later again, Jon caught me up on a canal tow path and we strolled back to the camper van. As we approached it, we met Adam Holland (who has a running resume to die for!). I dried my feet (again), changed my socks (again), changed my shoes (again), changed my top (again) and hit the road once more, this time with Adam keeping me company for a few miles.
As I reached the A38 my legs were beginning to stiffen. The pain had increased steadily throughout the day. Doubt once again accompanied on my journey, but I kept trying to push him out of my thoughts, turning the volume up on my music and playing the most motivational songs I could find on my playlist. I continued to convince myself pain levels were still no more than 8/10 and I carried on, rain and spray from the rush hour traffic saturating me once more.
At the next stop, Jon was waiting for me with the ‘serious’ face. He made the decision to change the plan for the day. I would finish early, giving me a little more recovery time and time to do personal admin. I had my dinner, somehow spilling half of it down my top, as fatigue was now kicking my a*$e. I hit the road once more, with poles as suggested by Jon, and kept chipping away at the mileage towards Highbridge.
As darkness fell, I called my husband, Neil. I was so frustrated. I wanted to go faster, but my leg was a real hinderance. It was beginning to impact on my right hip and at that point there were a few tears. He tried to tell me that I’d done really well already, covering 160 miles in just a few days. I wasn’t buying it though. I should have been doing better, and if it wasn’t for my leg I would have been. Everything I had done in training was working. Nutrition and hydration were en pointe, fatigue was being managed, mileage hadn’t been an isssue until now…
I reached my final stop for the day. Cerries and Jon were waiting at a petrol station with the dogs. We went to the campsite, where I showered and tried to remove the disintegrating dressings from my toes once again. They looked like something from a horror movie.
I woke at about 4am on Friday morning, after another restless night due to the discomfort in my shin. Still convincing myself that pain was just 8/10 I carried on from the previous night’s stop point, run-walking the 7 miles back to the campsite in yet more torrential rain. Again, Jon was waiting with Oakley and Lhotse, a welcome sight, but I knew I was moving too slowly, and was so angry with myself. Apparently, I was still 10 mins ahead of where I was expected to be but given the length of the day and the mileage I needed to cover, getting it done in daylight would be a real struggle. As Jon went to get the last of his belongings packed away and ready to leave, I removed the compression sleeve to check the tape was still in place. My leg was now swollen, red and very angry. Jon spotted this and wasn’t happy with it at all. He called a medical friend who examined it online.
At that point the decision to carry on with the next 5 miles was taken out of my hands, as he advised Jon that I needed to have this checked out urgently at a hospital.
We arrived at Weston General A&E at 10:15am, where after much faff (which is worthy of another blog post in itself!) I was seen by triage, referred for x-rays, and told that I had shin splints, tendonitis and a stress fracture. Throughout the time we were sat around waiting, Jon and I discussed what could have caused this issue. Jon has looked back over video footage and is of the opinion that my balance issues have caused me to overcompensate, putting more pressure on my left side causing the additional ‘stress’ on my tibia. I hobbled out of the hospital a couple of hours later, with crutches and my leg in a boot. I’m sure they did this to make sure I couldn’t continue.
This was 2 days ago. As I sit here and write, I feel sad and disappointed with myself. I can’t help but feel that I’ve not only let the brain tumour community down but the running community, particularly those who committed to virtually run a marathon over the time I should have been running to support my challenge. I am angry that it would seem, yet again, that my stupid brain has messed things up for me.
I know I can’t go on feeling like this, but running, the very thing that helps keep my mental health in check (not to mention my balance function), has once again been taken away from me. Once again, I feel like my body has let me down and at the moment, the path out of this dark place isn’t very easy to see.
That said, I feel much better equipped than I was when I was last incapacitated. As Jon pointed out, whilst I was having a meltdown, this time I can control where I go from here. Last time it was totally out of my hands and I had to let the neurosurgical team do what they do. This time around, I at least have some control of the situation, and at least my life isn’t at risk!
So where do I go from here? Well, first thing tomorrow, I’m off to visit Amanda, my physio. We’re going to see what the damage is and come up with a rehab plan. For now, rehab is my training. I have amazing people supporting me and helping me to identify those areas of weakness that need to be worked on and strengthened and helping me to do it. The LEJOG file might be back on the shelf, but I’m not the sort of person who doesn’t finish what they started.