I stared at the little dot on my computer screen, willing the minutes to pass by, so I could see it jump forward towards the safety of the emergency hut. Suddenly the group around him inched ahead… but Phil remained behind. Why had he stopped? Had the storm blown him off the summit? Breath held and heart racing, I quickly hovered my mouse over his name… his signal hadn’t updated, phew. Two minutes until the next refresh. One minute. Thirty seconds. Thankfully he then jumped forward, back to the middle of the group. Relief. Big breath out. I continued watching and staring and praying for that little dot until eventually it arrived at Gregs Hut, and the zzzz’s showed he was staying. There might be a storm battering the mountain, but he was in relative safety. I didn’t realise how stressful it would be to watch him from afar, when I encouraged him to sign up for ‘Britain’s Most Brutal Race’. 🙂Ever since Phil entered the world of running, a mere five years ago, the Spine Race has been on his radar. The ultimate endurance challenge: 268 miles, mountains, Winter. Famous in the ultra-marathon world, thousands of people spend January glued to computer screens, enticed by complete strangers efforts. Worrying about the lone dot at the end, screaming at the dot going the wrong way, and later cheering each dot over the finishing line. Phil has evolved from being in complete awe… to being determined to one day compete. Last January, he decided the next year would be his race. But instead of just booking up, there followed weeks of indecision: as a runner he felt prepared, but was it feasible to enter when I was ill and on the transplant list? Competing would require enormous amounts of training, at a time when I increasingly needed support. Eventually I reminded him that life is for living now. Dreams are for following. 🙂
The race has been a year in the planning. Distances of runs have increased, terrain has become more mountainous… and running without sleep has become the norm. Conveniently my summer deterioration and then chest infection were perfectly timed, as coincided with the peak of Phil’s training. I needed weekends of nothing, so was happy for him to run a 90 mile section of the course after work on Friday, before returning to spend Sunday watching films with me. When he needed longer times away, my wonderful Mum took over my charge. Our spare room became the Spine room. For months it was a molten mess of bags and coats and socks and food. When guests visited, they had to endure the smell of mud and Goretex and jelly babies. The Spine became a team effort: I’ve never felt so involved in a race before. Days spent scouring the internet for the elusive best sleeping bag, researching routes and detours, writing down hints from past competitors. Thousands of conversations and debates and discussions about everything from training plans to glove combinations to food options. Hours spent writing press releases, emailing newspapers and radios, chatting to reporters. So much work went in to the race, before he’d even stood on the start line.
And it was an epic week. A hardcore, brutal, demanding week. 268 miles of the worst British weather, 268 miles of the toughest British trails. Phil was utterly amazing. I am beyond proud of his achievement. Waist deep snow, battering blizzards, flooded fields. Blisters and vomiting and diarrhoea and exhaustion. Broken GPS, broken torches, broken water bottles. Catnapping in toilets and churches and disused barns. Running and walking continuously for six and a half days. For a week my life revolved around his little dot on the tracker. Calculating his speed each hour, messaging staff for photos, checking local weather forecasts. Liaising with supporting friends on route, writing a daily Facebook report, and counting contours for him as he walked the Cheviot hills. I even told the world via Radio 4! I bombarded his phone with messages of encouragement and advice and the odd Lottie selfie. And he kept me updated with texts and photographs and calls. At times elated… at times distraught, sometimes exhausted… sometimes energised- but always with a medical problem to report! 😛 The unbelievable amount of support from friends was a great comfort and kept me buoyant during the harder sections. I cried when he went the wrong way up Cross Fell, stressed when he was being sick in the Cheviots, panicked when he randomly cat-napped in a snowy forest. I cheered him into each checkpoint, cheered him running the final few miles, and cheered him when he eventually touched that finish line. It was an amazing but stressful race to watch.
Since developing Pulmonary Hypertension, I’ve become used to watching Phil’s races from afar. I tire easily, can no longer drive, and need to stay within a few hours of my transplant hospital… it is no longer possible to be his support crew or cheerleader. Watching his dot move along a route on the computer screen has become my norm. But when a tracker is the only way of knowing how he is doing, my mind can go into overdrive! Why has his dot stopped? Why is he slowing down? Since developing PH, my body struggles when I’m stressed and worried. Increased symptoms make difficulty of simple tasks. Therefore, I planned strategies to survive the week long race. I decamped to my wonderful Mum’s home for a week so she could look after Lottie and me. The laptop was moved out of the bedroom to limit my dot watching, particularly overnight. And I tried to distract myself, by venturing out of the house daily, or receiving the odd lovely visitor. All worked well until a tearful 5am phone-call from Phil on day 4! For the remainder of that day (and then everyday onwards), I was permanently glued to the computer. Watching, wondering, worrying. Willing and wishing him to be well. Barely sleeping. Obsessed. But consequently getting increasingly stressed and sick and weak. All my good intentions out the window! But we all survived. 🙂 And when he eventually reached the end, I immediately closed my laptop for the first time all week, and retreated to my bed for an early night. Utterly exhausted but so relieved. The best sleep in ages. He was safe, he’d done it! 🙂
Back at home, Phil quickly recovered from the ordeal- healed with calorific treats and early nights. Though he still hobbles slightly as his feet have not yet quite forgiven him! I took longer to bounce back, and needed a full week on the sofa. But despite being desperate for rest and recovery, there were press releases to write and reporters to email. But the end result was a few super newspaper articles, and a couple of radio interviews (BBC Northampton and BBC Oxford). Fabulous extra awareness of Pulmonary Hypertension.
So was the stress and the blisters and the sickness and the hours spent researching and training worth it? Absolutely! Phil achieved a dream… and raised £14,402 for the PHA UK in the process! An absolutely unbelievable amount! We were utterly gobsmacked… it completely blew our original target out the water! So many generous generous donations, for a charity that will treasure every penny. Maybe our fundraising will support the research that eventually leads to a cure for Pulmonary Hypertension. I hope so. 🙂
Phil’s started mumbling about his running ambitions for the rest of the year… I’m not sure my nerves can take it! 😛
(A big thank you to everyone who supported us during that epic week… and a bigger thank you for the amazing number of donations to the PHA UK! 🙂 )