Sometimes the smartest decisions are the hardest to make


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Bill holding my carcass up after a long day

There I am. In a position I had never been before. My one moment could be in front of me. The chance to do something I never thought possible. And all of a sudden I was faced with an agonising choice. Quit and lose, or take the risk and continue.

It was September 2014. The setting was the Glenmore 24 hour race in Aviemore. I was leading the race with a gap of around hour / 7 miles from Johnny Duncan. I was going great and had just passed through 100 miles in a little under 17 hours. The incessant trail and undulations aside, I was feeling ok. It was double the longest distance I had ever run. I had Sarah Self crewing and my dad had gone for a quick nap back at his B&B. All was good.

Then…

I tripped, hurt my knee and all of a sudden I went from stiffening bimbler to being in agony. I hobbled the next lap and my time had slowed badly. Davie Mooney had come to find me near the Hayfield. They knew by the slowdown something had happened. I decided to give another lap a go. Up to here I was on CR pace. Now I was barely able to go downhill without searing pain in my right knee.

I hobbled the next lap, Johnny passed me, reducing the gap to under 4 miles in just two laps. He looked awesome and great in his 1970s footballer’s shorts and vest. It was nice to see him going so well. He is a late race specialist as his run at the WHW had proven that year.

Once I got back to the Hayfield I went to see the doctor. She reckoned internal bruising. If I stopped it would be clear in a week. If I continued I could do some damage. I had worked out during my painfully slow trek to 108 miles that I couldn’t win if I didn’t pick up pace but could be 2nd or 3rd if I kept at a steady lap per hour (or thereabouts). Could be wasn’t enough.

If I was to continue I would need some painkillers. In an instant I decided there was no way I would do that. It would be an act of wanton selfishness. There was no way I was going to risk not being able to get to work, not being mobile for a long time, missing training and most importantly, compromising family time by being stuck on a couch with a stookie. I took a brave pill and told Ada I was out. She swore at me but understood.

The weird thing is, I was really cool with it almost as soon as I had made the call. I had more than blown away my expectations on the race and found myself burning with a desire to get down and train hard. I didn’t want to risk long term injury and perhaps become one of those “could have been a contender” folks. I knew the right thing long-term was to stop. I had to forego short-term opportunity to think about future possibilities. But it was a hard call to make. For a few minutes anyway.

Johnny was cruising to the win. And in a 24 hour race the best runner on the day, the literal 24 hour day, always wins and no one managed themselves as well as Mr. Fling that day. This wasn’t a hard luck story but a massive learning experience. I learned about my body, my mind and my approach. I changed a lot after that.

Early Pic
Pic: (c) Steven Hill

I look back on that day as being one of the smartest decisions I have made in running in the end. The doctor was 100% right. Within a week I was running again. I made it my mission to go back to Glenmore the following year to gain revenge. Breaking the course, winning and no less was what would be needed. It became my #1 target for 2015.

From the ashes of injury and disappointment I made a smart call. I prioritised health over glory in order to push harder in future. A fire had been set in my belly and since that run I have had a level of determination that surprises me still. I appreciate every healthy step I take in training and racing as a result. Anything can happen and it is up to all of us to appreciate what we have and do what we can to achieve whatever goals we set. Sometimes that is stepping back a bit.

Whenever I think back to how things have changed over the last couple of years, this race, this moment and this decision are the first sliding door I think back to. I never second guess but I am bloody glad I took the route I did here.

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