“I can run faster than you, so that means I will get there quicker. And I have 100 of energy (sic), so I just know I can run the whole way, Dad! Pleeeease let me come.”
Ah, the logic of children. So beautiful, so boundless.
My daughter – all of four years old and more than “100 of energy”, whatever that wonderful sounding unit of measurement is – wants to come running with me.
In fact, she wants to come on a particular run with me, the one that is staring me down from less than five days away and scaring the crap out of me.
It’s a 130km monster through Australia’s Red Centre, in the summer heat. Nothing logical about that, to be sure, especially being that I am no ultra runner. Trail runner, yes. Ultra runner no. Nevetheless in my approach I’m on my daughter’s wavelength – so very, very childlike. I tend to think big and worry about the weight of reality whenever it smacks me back to earth.
It’s the “she’ll be right, mate” approach that survival expert, Bob Cooper, warned me kills more people every year in the wilderness than any other single thing.
Yet that foolhardy approach has, to date, defined my (hah) trail running career, undertaking actions that are far from admirable, nor heroic. Just stupid.
There was the The North Face 100 Incident. Although I blame the kernel of this act of stupidity on the PR who instead of dropping me at the final 10km mark to meet and interview Dean Karnases (I like to call him The Polariser), dropped me at the halfway mark.
Okay, so I could have still just run a lazy eleven to the next checkpoint. Here I take full responsibility. But ‘Karno’ was struggling. I’m not sure why I thought a journalist running alongside him for the next fifty kays would be any kind of incentive (more of a threat really), but I struck a deal that started with me querying “would I do any serious damage if I ran the remaining bush marathon with you in light of the fact I’ve done next to no training?”
And so I became sport to Dean Karnases as he shrugged and said “Nah, take it easy, and you should be right.”
Of course this is the man that did exactly that: got drunk one night in a mid life crisis binge, thought better of it and went and ran a marathon off the barstool.
Wrong person to ask.
Roll around 10:30 at night and I did eventually make it over the line, an unofficial half finisher, limping in with cramp (which if you ever see me out there, is a bit of my trail trademark)
Then there was my drafting into an Oxfam team by an old school mate. I got there but while most ultra runners of note disregard the Oxy as a fun run for novices, I considered it at the time the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
There have been other stupidity-gilded missions – mostly considered so due to an absence of training and “she’ll be right” attitude.
Let’s now jump forward in time to the moment, like the flickering instant of a rock skimming water, where I thought I was going to die. I know. Drama queen. Let me have my moment, pass the concrete pills please.
Ninety kilometres in on the first of our Run The Planet challenges (www.facebook.com/runtheplanettv) with Kiwi ultra queen Lisa Tamati, I vomit (no problem – part and parcel). Then I go into spasms. Then pain wracks my body. It’s like someone is sawing off my legs while driving spikes up the middle of them with a sledgehammer.
“You’re going into a tetany seizure,” shouts Lisa, who marshalls the troops, pulls the pin and readies for the dash to hospital, 40km away in Alice Springs.
“What’s a fucking tetany seizure?” I garble through plenty of other expletives and explosions of pain, as every muscle in me is explodes outwards. She knows what one is. She’s had one.
Low on potassium. Yup, a coupla bananas between me and this not happening.
I think of my daughter’s “hundred energy” and stave off a blackness that was coming at me like a steam train tunnel.
I should have had a medical before running. I should have drunk more (I hadn’t urinated properly in about five hours). I should have taken my nutrition a whole lot more seriously. (As always, I should have trained more, too). I should have read Andy Hewat’s piece on kidneys in this edition before leaving, as he suggested. I should have listened to Bob. You’ll survive an average trail run clocking in 5–20km, but when it comes to ultras, she’ll not be right when you go in half cocked. Ultras are serious business. Lesson learned.
When I get home, I give my daughter 100 hugs with more than 100 energies. The gift of those hugs and the very thought that I risked them at all means that on future adventures in the ultra sphere, I’ll ditch the stupidity and hopefully I won’t ever get smacked back to reality with quite such a sickening thud.
The (very) ordinary trail runner
(view the footage of what a tetany episode does to a drama queen: www.youtube.com/runtheplanetttv)