Fitness Magazine

Daddy - Why Didn't You Show Courage?

By Jamesrichardadams @jamesradams

"Daddy, why didn't you show courage in your run?"

The race was only just done as my 5-year-old boy sat next to me and started discussing his "values" at school. One of them is courage, which means you keep trying hard.

He was proudly wearing a medal around his neck from the 1-mile run he completed, where he demonstrated courage to run the whole thing. I was really proud of him (and his twin sister) for doing the race and was yet to come to terms with whether I'd made the right call.

So let's start the sympathy priming and rewind 24 hours before the start.

We were on our way to Ambleside from Bedford, along the busy M6 on which we had to stop a few times in traffic. Then one time the car would not restart. Computer said no. An hour we sat in lane 3 of a busy motorway while cars whizzed past as we awaited rescue. 4 hours then at a roadside works depot, an hour in a taxi back to car hire, an hour trying to fit the contents of our fully laden car into a slightly smaller car and then checking in to a hotel at Birmingham airport as it was 10 pm and we'd given up on driving.

I remember laughing at someone who said their headtorch didn't switch on because of some software bug. I wondered why on earth you'd let software be a point of failure for a light switching on and off. LOL. But here we are in a crappy hotel because we don't have the correct version of JavaScript to allow the ignition of petrol to fire an engine and make some wheels spin around.

But let's rewind again to a year ago. We were in the middle of a lockdown where we weren't allowed to run with people and weren't allowed to go on holiday. I saw the lottery for the Lakeland 100 pop up on Facebook and thought I might as well stick my name in the hat, it's unlikely I'll get in. But lo and behold I did and I had to then tell my wife I've got into a race that will require me to be away from home for the best part of a week. Her response was more receptive than I predicted "well you better book a holiday for us all up there then!"

And so we did (or rather let some much better organised friends do so on our behalf 🙂 ) and this was to be our first family holiday for 2 years, likely to be the first holiday the kids ever remember. It was going to be lovely.

I just had to run 100 miles at the start of it.

For a race so big the organisation is pretty slick. I was dropped off at Coniston to get through kit check and stick up a tent that I optimistically hoped to be crawling into around midnight the following day. We sat down for the briefing and were asked to look to a person next to us who we didn't know and introduce ourselves. I met a Sarah. She seemed nice and not at all nervous. We were then told that there is a 50% finish rate in the race and to look at each other again and decide who was not going to finish.

I looked at her and thought she had the better chance of winning, and that was before she revealed "but I'm only doing the 1 mile fun run".

The start was stunning. Coniston was packed with crowds, even Olympians don't get this right now. I started near the back and was happy to be held back for the first few miles and not get carried away with trying to win on the first hill.

There were a few welcome bottlenecks as we climbed out of Coniston. It was warm and nice to chat to Stu and Dave who I hadn't seen in a while. The first few miles were climbing, about 3 miles in I felt the pang of quantum entanglement of my DNF buddy finishing her mile race. Who am I to defy physics?

I can't remember a race where I mentally checked out so early. I felt tired, or rather I felt like I was going to be tired. I'd done plenty of miles and some hills going into the race, nothing that replicated the constant stumbling on Lakeland rock though.

The only thing keeping me in the race was the thought that I would disappoint the children by not finishing. Though at the time I didn't know of the value of courage I was weighing up the benefits of dropping out early and being fresh for our holiday over wrecking myself for days but setting the kids an example to finish stuff you start. That pull was pretty good, and helped get my head back in the race.

I am slow on uphill, slower on the downhill but this race has plenty that is runnable. Running on all the flat bits and not faffing at checkpoints was where I was going to make up for the fact that I live in Bedford and don't often get to run in the third dimension. It was going well as the sun went down. There was the promise of a clear sky and full moon. It didn't disappoint when it arrived. Looking around at the line of headlamps made me think back to times like the UTMB/Northburn/Spartathlon and other races I used to do when I could do this kind of distance.

I was stumbling a lot. I only fell over once which is quite good going for me but it was frustrating feeling like I was making such slow progress. The optimistic time I came here with was 30 hours. Crawling into my tent at just over midnight on Sunday morning, sleeping through for a bit, then having a relatively normal 5 days of holiday. With each stumble came a blow to my predicted time. If I can't keep up a walking pace on this path then there is no way I am going to make that.

But after about 15 miles there seemed to be a decent section that was entirely runnable. I made a fairly good time here and all of a sudden I was 20 miles in and well under 6 hours. Almost a fifth of the way there and I'm doing ok! I'm going to finish this!

But of course, there is a long way between "almost" a fifth of the way there and being a fifth of the way there.

The Lakeland 100 is actually 105 miles in length. You can see this from people posting about the 105-mile race they've done. Now the miles don't really mean much when the terrain is like this but it can give an indicator of how much you've done and need to do. I was feeling fine. Not too tired despite the previous days, legs fine, all good. But that mile from "almost" a fifth to a fifth, mile 21 took forfucking forever. Between miles 20 and 21 I went from being happy and confident of finishing to imagining myself having to run into a second sunrise (no bad thing at all) and finishing much later than I'd like on Sunday.

I thought about what that would mean for the rest of my week. That holiday with the family will likely be the first the kids remember. Sunday I'll not be there. Monday I'll be a wreck. Tuesday I'll probably be a wreck too. I might be more human on Wednesday but then there is not much time to have fun with the kids anymore.

There is a cheesy motivational video that includes the quote "What is each day for a series of choices between the easy way and the right way". Well this might just be the perfect synergy right here, the right was IS the easy way! How convenient! It's good for my family to drop out of this race so I can enjoy the week with them.

I quit.

There were still about 5 miles to get to the checkpoint, but at least I can say I have done a marathon. Then I can think about how to cobble something together for facebook to make it sound like it was ABSOLUTELY THE RIGHT DECISION.

The three letters "DNF" hides the true nature of what it is to not finish a race. "Did Not Finish" removes agency from the failure. Most DNFs and all of my previous should actually be classed as RTCs (Refused To Continue). That is what I did.

I had plenty of time to reflect as I got the coach back to Coniston and snoozed a few hours in the tent before getting picked up. At no point did I think I made the wrong call. Nor did tracking the race, watching runners stagger through Ambleside later on Saturday night, and seeing that friends had finished their races make me question my decision. Nothing, until Isaac reminded me of his school values.

Even now I don't feel too bad about it, but I need to do better. Maybe it was worth wrecking me out of a holiday to show my kids the importance of finishing what you set out to do. Running has taught me about the risks of lowering the bar, just once. It makes it easy to lower it again and again. Soon the bar gets so low even the most mundane of things seems hard. I'd lost momentum recently and to get that back you need more momentum.

I could have done better. I could have trained better and bought into the race more from the start. I could have given myself a better chance. It feels like I'm not just doing it for myself anymore.

Maybe the fun we had in the following week will make him forget. No that's not likely. Two years I made some hummus with too much garlic in it, he still reminds me every time we have it now.

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