> A Time To Think - Dave Hicklenton

A Time To Think

Is it ever possible to objectively quantify pain? We can't really compare one woman's childbirth with another's sprained ankle or one child's paper cut with the nightmare of  fingers trapped in a door.  In a weak moment at around five-thirty last Saturday afternoon I found myself discussing just such  topics.  I debated the relative agonies of broken bones and breast feeding.  In my slightly befuddled state I decided that trapping my fingers in a sash window just beat the pain of bleeding nipples into second place.  Some of the others around me disagreed. Others, frankly, were probably involved so much in their own private torment they couldn't even enter into rational conversation.  A strange conversation and in an unusual place.  As I hauled myself up the wooden handrail of a ladder stile I looked around at my fellow travellers.  Eleven hours earlier five of us had got out of the car and started to jog slowly through the damp west coast greyness.  Forty-five miles later John was looking a bit rough - he had slowed up visibly in the last couple of miles and was complaining about his hip.  Phil was still pounding along but the metronomic footfalls were starting to cover less ground with each pace.  Ian still looked the part, with his red top and leggings - and remarkably the same socks and trainers he had started in.  It is hard to describe the sheer bliss of simply changing socks that have been ground into the soles of your feet for seven hours.  Phil and I were on our second change of shoes and we had all used up an assortment of tops.  Fortunately it wasn't a dressage event and the lack of sartorial elegance was complementary to our behaviour at the checkpoints.  We would fall upon the boot of the car like a pack of wild dogs, devouring any amount of junk food in a desperate quest for calories.  Between us we managed to consume six corned beef and eight ham sandwiches, six packets of crisps, four pork pies and any number of snack bars, chocolate bars and high energy gels.  Healthy options were spurned in favour of  high salt, high fat and empty calories. 

On a long run you know that there will be times when you feel fine and others when you feel terrible.  There is an oft repeated piece of sports psychology that states that as long as your body is basically functional, most sporting endeavour takes place in your head.  The hard part is convincing yourself that when you are at your lowest ebb, it will get better at some stage.  With a group of people there will be times when one or another is feeling low or hungry or tired or just simply wants to stop, and it is the presence of others that helps prevent introspection and self doubt.  As I clambered laboriously over that wooden stile I realised that if I had been on my own I would have stopped and sat down.  And then laid down.  And then fallen soundly asleep. 
“Come on Dave! Get a move on!”  The jokey voice, the irony directed at a stumbling limper.  I smile weakly and with a groan on each step down the ladder force my feet into a short paced plod.  Again. 

What started as a vague idea, gelled into a plan and then became a complex logistical exercise was far bigger than our personal, possibly selfish motives.  What on earth was I doing with painful feet, numb knees and sore ribs barely breaking into a trot on a windswept hillside?  There comes a time when wanting to be part of a cause, something larger than oneself turns into mere thoughts of survival and not wanting to lose face.  The travellers along the way were essential.  The changing faces - always fresh and cheery with new injections of enthusiasm and conversation.  I'm really sorry that I can't remember all the individuals who joined in along the way.  I would have a look round after every checkpoint and see some familiar faces and some new ones. Every so often touching base with the old lags in quiet asides:
“How are your hips John?”
“You feeling OK Phil?”
And you know you'll get the same response - Yeah fine but ...  and then a low key reference to something that in reality has probably been preying on their mind for ages and they think might stop them in their tracks. Unless of course, you ask Ian S.  He still has a (slightly dampened) spring in his step after 40 odd miles and says that he has been rejuvenated by his stints in the car with Ian H. 

It all comes together when we near the finish.  Harlow Hill has a big contingent of stage runners joining us and we know that we can do it now.  Even walking we'd finish.  Even crawling.  A final pit stop - a last pork pie, the laughter of the runners who have joined us and then back into the slow pace with lots of walking to try and garner strength for the last run in.  We are in a group into the village, stopping briefly to regroup for the final road.  We get the message about which gate to go in through and then we hear the noise from the finish before we see the banner.  All thoughts dissolve as we are surrounded by wives and husbands and friends and children.  It's damp, cool and surreal.  A smiling Martin calls us across - slaps on backs and congratulations and lots and lots of smiling faces.  The three who started together fifteen hours before perform that most glorious expression of Britishness and shake hands.  It is the most perfect wordless expression.

All motivation and reason blends into a brief but heartfelt celebration with laughing children, a bottle pressed into the hand, a coat put on and a dawning realisation that maybe, sometimes, people can do strange extraordinary things and we are all stronger collectively than as individuals.  As cold starts to invade the tired limbs and legs stiffen, the throng dissolves and the runners begin to go home.  Everyone took part and is a part of the event.  I don't think any more about relative pain as I stand in the shower and wash the mud of Northumberland away.  There's pain there definitely - sore legs and feet and hips but how bad is it?  Now I've finished it is all bearable because I don't need to do anything more.  I can sit down.  I can lie down and sleep. But then I try and walk downstairs the next day.  Beats paper cuts.

Dave Hicklenton

[Dave Hicklenton, Phil James and Steph Scott took part in a long run on the 12th-13th May 2007 to raise awareness and money for Wylam First School's building project.  They ran from Bowness-on-Solway (at 4.30 am) the length of Hadrian's Wall back to Wylam - a total of around 70 miles non stop in about 15 and a half hours.]

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