Social Media is great for cementing memories in place to look back on. Gone are the days of photo albums with the sticky pages and cellophane covers that sat on the shelf. Now, thanks to Facebook and it’s “on the day” feature we get a lovely mix of memories from as far back as our very first post. I like this because it reminds me of what I was feeling when I posted a picture allowing me to relive them. This week was a special memory as it marked two years since I completed my biggest challenge to date, 100k ultra marathon in 33 hours. I finished the London 2 Brighton challenge on the 24th of May 2015 at 5pm. Battered and blistered, I became a champion to myself for starting something and seeing it through regardless of the pain I was feeling.
I remember when I decided to enter the challenge. I was two years into my new life and so much of it still lingered in my head. Battling with old wars I was trying to end and starting new adventures at the same time spurred my decision. It was also becoming a tricky time with my eldest, Leah (see earlier blog posts) who was becoming increasingly aware of her autistic traits.
I began to notice more how the general opinion on Autism was still one putting it down to poor discipline and a “boys condition”. Of course frustrated by this I started to research how I could help change this. How could I make noise about this and get ideas out there? Then I saw it. The advertisement was small but noticeable enough for me to clock on. I signed up to the challenge on behalf of the National Autistic Society that afternoon.
It was liberating! I felt energised and began planning training walks, setting up JustGiving pages, mapping out my campaign immediately. It didn’t take long before my campaign generated local buzz, catching the eye of the media. Leah and I were thrust into the madness that is a full blown campaign with newspaper and radio interviews where the main question was “why?” I was all too happy to answer why, “because autism is different in girls and everyone needs to know that”.
The actual day arrived faster than I was prepared. I remember sitting in a tiny room in Twickenham, eating a tiny pot of pasta and thinking “I sure hope I can do this”. 62 miles is a long way to walk in one go! Despite training, I was worried about what to expect as it was hardly going to be a walk down the path, I had to get to Brighton!
My set off time was 9am which came and went pretty quickly and the first 25k were good. I was treated to some lovely weather, great views and fab conversation. I started to think this was going to be too bad after all! Then it hit. The realisation of the mammoth task I took on, as my feet were starting to hurt and I was quickly slowing my pace. I hadn’t reached 42k yet and I was pretty tired, trying to decide if I should attempt changing my socks, I felt the heat from my feet turn to pain. I started seeing challengers opting out from shock, severe blistering, and exhaustion by the side of the road. The night was coming fast and we needed to start our night walks which had to be done in groups for safety. The course was off road, through farmlands where there were no street lamps to light the way. Setting off we all hoped to make it to 56k, the halfway point where a welcomed hot meal was on offer, first aid and a massage if you needed it.
Sadly, by the time I got there, the first aid had disbanded aiding hurt people and those that pulled out, the massage had closed and the hot food? Well it was hot and delicious but I couldn’t eat. I sat for 2 hours staring at empty chairs, wondering if it would be so bad if I just went home.
I got up and kept going, though on my own.
It started to get light and I could see the wild animals still out grazing for food. The crisp morning air was refreshing but it didn’t help the pain I was in. My feet were blistered, my legs were tired, my back was sore from carrying a backpack. I started to cry. Thinking this was a stupid idea, I wasn’t ready for this and I want to go home. Messages from well-wishers, friends, sponsors and family flooded my phone which was hard to read while carrying so much stuff. I got the message and I couldn’t let these people down. More important I couldn’t let the girls on the spectrum down.
Teaming up with some wicked ladies along the way, I struggled through to 76k. Then this picture happened.
“The wall” loomed over me like a menacing structure knowing full well how weak I was. Something inside kept telling me to get up and go. Go find the key and unlock the door and walk through that wall. I didn’t just find the key, I found a sledgehammer and I beat down that door! With my new-found team, made up of ladies supporting different charities, we tackled the south downs, endless trails, gates, and row after row of wooden stiles! We marched up a vertical hill used to train the army, and ploughed through fields, and village roads full of supporters until we saw the racecourse. A beautiful site!
Leah met me at 99k and as a team we all walked over the finish line to 100k.
The joy and relief I felt afterward was overwhelming. I didn’t care how long it took me, I completed it. We did it.
Looking back on it now and recounting it so vividly made me see this challenge as a metaphor for my troubles. My dark years were challenging, painful and uninviting but on discovering determination and willpower, I slammed through the wall that was keeping me prisoner and walked through victorious.
It was at that moment I crossed the finish line, I became someone new. I was reborn. So, if you’re feeling trapped, remember that inside you is one hell of a power that can lift you. Don’t be afarid of what’s on the side of your wall, if you’re not happy, kick that thing down and walk through. Be bold. The aftermath might not be pretty but you just took on a wall and won! You can handle what comes next!
DeAnna’s (Blue Chameleon blog series) Focuses on rebuilding self-confidence after suffering through difficult times. DeAnna lives in Cambridge, England with her family, cats and dog. She credits a portion of happiness to her partner, Pete, punctuation manager, chief tea maker, and bringer of toast.