The final morning we woke up in what looked like a lycra refugee camp. There were 7 if us in the Ger PLUS the Fire Fairy who had been keeping us warm all night, and we were all freezing. The mattresses laid directly on the floor meant that the cold was creeping in from the floor. Breakfast was bought to us in ‘bed’ (what a treat) and was something made of tomato and some other unidentified objects mashed together with slightly less frozen bread, but God was it delicious. And there were biscuits, so many biscuits. I stuffed as many as I could in my pack because biscuits don’t freeze do they? (Spoiler - they do).
Lycra refugee camp breakfast in bed…..
Today was the longest day - the run back to base camp ending at the frozen ships stationed at the edge of the lake. It was around 36 miles and I was determined to get through it. We got up, packed our packs (difficult when you have 7 people faffing in one Ger) and packed our rucksacks onto the vehicles and headed out to where we finished the night before. At this point I was quite breezy……
ICE FLOW, NOWHERE TO GO……
Then off we trotted. Again G-Law and Darren led the pack with myself and Lee behind them, trotting along across ALL the different types of ice. Today there was the option of riding the bike, and we decided that we would put the person at the back on the bike to ride to the front and then send the bike to the back of the pack on a pony and start again - to make sure everyone could keep up with the pace. I did NOT want to get on the bike, which led to me being alone for very long periods of the time. Lee DID get on the bike.
I couldn’t listen to music because my headphones were frozen, and after a few hours I began to feel the familiar feelings of hopelessness and depression that creep in when I am tired and left to my own devices for too long.
I think a lot of people think I find this running stuff easy, but I don’t. I’m not the fastest, strongest or best runner. I don’t win things. There are dark times in long races - I remember about 6 miles from the end of the Autumn 100 I actually had a cry because I was so sad it was almost over, I hurt so much and I couldn’t see the point in what I was doing. Plus Lee kept trying to feed me cheese fucking sandwiches and listening to John Farnham. At the end of the day, nobody cares if I achieve this or anything else. Nobody else cares but me. And that’s the important part. The fights I have in my head like this are important because I need to win them to survive. And if I can win them, even the smallest ones, it’s another step forward.
Long stretches on my own. Not so fun.
I remember just standing completely on my own, looking out onto the lake stretching before me for what seemed like forever. I tried to take it in, and commit how beautiful and quiet it was to memory and how lucky I should feel. I was sad it was coming to an end, but there was also an overwhelming sense of relief. I was tired. I felt depressed and deflated, so I refused to eat at the aid station and snapped at lee when he tried to warm me up. I was very hungry. I lost almost three quarters of a stone over the course of this week and I wasn’t taking on fluid because all the fucking fluid was frozen. My gels and shot bloks were rock hard, and even when I had defrosted them down the front of my sports bra, they made me feel sick.
But I kept going forward. I wasn’t getting on that bike. I started playing number games - run for 200 steps and walk for 100. God, I hate that game.
Playing the count the steps game was pretty dull. Ice looked good though.
After what seemed like days on my own, I finally saw G-Law and Jim up ahead so I started to make the effort to catch up. Jim had been skating the whole way and Darren had gone on ahead of G-Law because he’s epic and can do running really good. I eventually managed to reach them, and it was awesome to have some people to talk to. I think G-Law could tell I was suffering, and it was then that he took on role of carer without me even asking.
I’ve known G-Law for about a year. He’s a member of the Bad Boy Running group, and we take the piss out of him for being a triathlete, because we all know they are precious wankers who basically do a sport that is code for cheating and get iron man tattoos. I’ve never really spoken to him at length when we’ve not been drunk post race, but what he did for me that day I will never forget. He showed such amazing kindness in supporting me through the last 10 or so miles and he didn’t have to do that. I was over running, so over it. I was running a bit and then walking more than running and it was getting dark. I didn’t want to be pulled off the ice but I was so tired it was hard to motivate myself to run. I couldn’t see then end and had no idea how far we had to go. We asked a few times and got estimates from the drivers and guides of between 7K and 12K depending on who you asked. This estimation game went on for miles. The lake was just going on forever and we were the last people out there. My watch was dead and I had not idea how far we had come.
We bumped into Lee who was even more into walking than me; he eventually got on a pacing pony and trotted off. G-Law kept me talking. He was funny and kind and we talked about everything from depression (Him: “I don’t know anyone with depression” Me: “I bet you fucking do they just never talk about it”) to races we wanted to do, to work and home life and I was pleasantly distracted. Because he is such a good egg, he had been carrying a plastic bottle of his own piss with him for the whole day (don’t pee on the sacred lake!) He was using it as and when he needed to avoid going on the lake. It had now turned into a delicious wee slushy that he was carrying in the front of his pack. My favourite moment of that day was hearing his yelps when he had to use it, and obviously misjudged the depth of the icy wee. Poor G-Law.
Views on the final stretch….
Sun’s going down…..shiiiiiit….
Every corner we turned, there was still no end in sight. The sun was going down and I was anxious and cold. Everything hurt and I was excruciatingly tired. Still G-Law kept me moving, running a little and then walking, not putting pressure on me to do anything that I couldn’t do. He’s much, much fitter than me so this must have been very frustrating for him. And then, suddenly, like a mirage, the ships came into view. I was overjoyed. I took one last look behind me at the pink sky over the islands, and we trotted forward, crossing the”finish” line together. I was so relived and happy, and there were the rest of the team clapping us in. It was magical. And I just wanted a beer. And a sleep.
That night we were back at our first camp. The adventure was over. We had dinner with the Mongolian team who once again astonished us with their hospitality and good humour and then retired to our fully heated sheds for a good nights sleep before making the trip back to Ulan Bator for the Ambassadors reception, a shower and a real bed. I made friends with a stray dog that night, and the boys told me off. (Lee: “Now he associates you with food!” Me: (Overjoyed) “I KNOW!!!!”)
So we were done. I have been home now for 2 weeks, but I don’t think the enormity of this adventure has actually sunk in. The dust has settled, the pictures have gone up and it’s back to normal. But it’s not back to normal, because I have learnt so much from that week on the ice, and some of the things I learnt will genuinely go on to help me change my life. I have learnt once again that I am stronger than I give myself credit for. I have learnt that the kindness of strangers knows no bounds. I have learnt that I am good in a team and that it doesn’t matter what job you do or your social status or what you look like, if your heart is strong and kind, you will be able to form lasting relationships. I have learnt I need to keep running and training to battle the demons in my head, but that I will win the battle. I have learnt that it’s OK to lean on people for help (and warmth, sorry Lee and Darren!). I have learnt that sometimes it’s OK to just be you, and that is enough.
A week or so after I got home I got an email from Jim, the head of Rat Race and our intrepid skater. It was one of the kindest emails I have ever received. It said this.
“I am sure you know but you are a machine. I know you were hell-bent on covering the whole thing on foot. The way you kept going out there and just stuck your head down, you became the first woman to do it (that we know about but hey, I am pretty sure that is not in doubt!). I know it was not all about ‘being the first’ and we all saw it for what it was, which was a brilliant adventure, but just for the record I wanted to say that your performance was quite remarkable. Really. I hope you are royally proud and really feel the substance of what you did out there”
Sometimes it takes someone else to make you stop and think for a minute and I AM proud of myself, and my team, and David our Sandbaggers guide and his team, for everything they did for us. I am sure that this is just the start of the story for me. There’s a big old world out there and someone needs to run round it. For now, I hope whoever reads this takes from it strength, spirit and the knowledge that YOU are amazing and YOU can achieve anything. Cheesy but true.
The Mongol 100 is now open for registration here.
That’s the album cover sorted……