Day Ten: 3 pm - 12 midnight
Multiday running is not - as the saying goes - all laugh and lunch. But it has its good points.
People always ask one what the highlight was of a long event like the 10-day race. Perhaps people do have a positive view of life. What about the low-point, the nadir, the pits of the experience - nobody wants to know about that? Once I got my shinsplints I was set, I thought, for more low points than high points. People at such a race always say to the fellow who is limping along and has obviously lost the physical ability to achieve any worthwhile goal – ‘Well, as long as you stay happy, that’s the important thing.’ Once, I would have had to restrain my desire to punch someone in the nose who said that to me when I was obviously in a condition where the only sensible reaction was to be completely miserable. At a certain level I was miserable. The low point came, not while running, but one morning at 3 am as I sat alone in my tent trying to get myself clothed and out onto the track. I was sore, tired, dispirited, unmotivated, alone. It took a long time to get from sitting dejectedly on the side of my little stretcher in the dark to actually out the door. A long time and a big effort of a feeble will. I whimpered aloud to the gloom – ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to do this.’ Always it was the most difficult part of the day - sitting alone in my tent. It was when the whole ten day experience seemed at its most impossible and absurd. At midnight I would be sitting with my battered feet in a black plastic rubbish bag in a bucket of iced water - abject and grubby, surrounded by the noisome detritus that built up in my tent – dirty running gear, old spoons and half-consumed plates of food, encrusted socks, books, my passport all scattered and heaped about. Then I would struggle to get the legs on my stretcher straight and my sleeping bag under control. Three hours later I would be struggling with my mind – surfacing from insane sleep to nightmare wakefulness. What motivates one normally is the siren call of one’s goal; once that is gone the only things that can get that sorry carcass moving are the kicks and blows applied to it by a willpower itself enfeebled and reluctant.
The despicable interior of my tent
And yet . . . And yet at some level I was happy, though I had no call to be. ‘Stay cheerful’ they said and I did. And I felt no desire to assault the nose of those who suggested it. For ten long and tiring days I was in some strange sense happy. One gloomy morning when things were at their worst, I found myself shuffling along the track, singing the words from the song in Jesus Christ Superstar - Try not to get worried Try not to turn on to Problems that upset you Oh don’t you know Everything’s alright Yes everything’s fine . . . And it’s cool and the ointment’s sweet For the fire in your head and feet Close your eyes Close your eyes And relax Think of nothing tonight
Everything’s alright Yes everything’s fine . . . And for days on end, like some doomed soldier in the summer of 1914 whistling happily off to horror and unthinkable destruction in Flanders Fields, I whistled and hummed and quietly sang - It’s a long way to Tipperary, It’s a long way to go. It’s a long way to Tipperary To the sweetest girl I know! Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square! It’s a long long way to Tipperary, But my heart’s right there.