June was a difficult training month. I had a busy month with work, and we had a heatwave. Yeah, a heatwave. And I'm ginger. 'fair' as we brits like to understate. And susceptible to heat.
I've suffered. And at times really suffered. In fact, I've suffered physically and then psychologically in a vicious cycle.
June got off to a great start fastpacking in the Peaks, and I thought it would be the perfect kickstart to the month, but as the land warmed up, I started to wear down, pushing my runs earlier and earlier into the morning to avoid the heat but ultimately grinding to a near-halt altogether. The problem has been not so much the heat of the run itself, but the 'compound interest' of all the hot days stacking up on top of each other; the accrued heat sitting in my arms and legs and fatiguing me to the point of despair. I generally wilt at temperatures above ~24C, and whilst I can handle this (and much hotter) in the Alps (trail running in Austria last August, for example) I can't cope without the wind effect, which you can generally bank on at altitude.
You might then wonder why I decided to catch a ferry from Mallaig to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula to run Scotland's westernmost mainland Munro at the peak of June's sticky, stagnant heat. Why I decided to run in 'Britain's Last Wilderness' on barely-there paths, on a peaky horseshoe route, knowing from the map it could be punishing.
It's July and I'm still asking myself the same questions.
As we know the spirit of adventure is at it's most alive when the risk factor is notched up. Indeed, adventure only really becomes adventure when you've overcome a perilous moment that could end the whole enterprise. And this is basically the summation of my 15-mile bid for Ladhar Bheinn 'the long way' round.
The first mistake was 'spicing' up the route by needing to be back for the 4pm ferry back to Mallaig. My second mistake was finding a pair of stag antlers 1 mile in, and deciding to carry them with me as 'treasure' for the remaining 14. My third mistake was everything I chose to wear, which rubbed me raw on the seams, and still didn't keep out the ticks and horseflies. My fourth mistake was considering the mountain runnable at all for my capability.
Because let's face it: My life purpose is not 'owning the mountains'. I am an accidental runner. A wannabe. A person who finds joy in exploring mountains quickly. But my calling is to help people turn their lives around. I am not an athlete. I don't run fell races. I don't train endlessly for my fitness. I do it for love, not ability. Mainly, I just want to feel alive.
And I spent most of the 15 miles either wishing I wasn't, or fearing that I might not be for much longer. This mountain on this day, was really beyond my running capability, the heat was beyond my tolerance and the boat home was beyond hope.
But, I did run what I could. In fact, I staggered onto the jetty an hour before the boat was due finishing a route that is generally walked in 12 hours, in 7 hours. Neil encouraged me on for the final few kms (himself more tired than usual) when I could barely see straight or put one foot in front of another. By the time I collapsed into a hot heap at the end, legs and antlers flailing into the yellowing grass at the harbour's edge, I could barely talk.
Yes, I took on a lot of water. But the truth is I was already wildly dehydrated from 3 of the most wonderful days seakayaking and sea-swimming that I have ever experienced. I couldn't make up the difference without also carrying a hundred gallon water-butt.
I was pretty gutted. As I lay face down in the daisies, no longer swatting away the flies, or worrying about ticks, I sobbed inside (because there were holiday-makers around who were actually enjoying their holiday here) about ruining my first experience of the Knoydart. Since kayaking Loch Hourn two years ago, I was desperate to explore the terrain, but instead my whole experience was fuelled with despair at my lack of ability and anxiety about missing the 4pm boat. It was a force of will, even at the summit, to acknowledge how beautiful the views from Knoydart were. And they were stunning. I've never seen so many mountain hazy blue mountain tops roll out to infinity below me. But still I blew snot bubbles and sobbed to myself, silently, painfully, sucking on Monster Munch. Even my jaw, set so tight on the descents, for fear of impaling myself on the antlers hanging low on my back, wouldn't loosen up enough to eat.
Yeah, I broke me.
As we sat on the boat back to Mallaig sipping a hot tea from below deck, I reflected on how elated I was the day before to be planning this route. I noted how it often goes this way: the routes I lovingly plan are freighted too heavily with expectation, and the ones I don't become unexpected joys. Most of all though I knew I was done for for a least a week. My legs were already ceasing. I was sunburnt. My body was saying No More Please.
And actually I was done for about 11 days. Returning home, I tried to resume my normal runs but I could barely jog without feeling exhausted. The sun continued to beat down on Derbyshire, and I disappeared into a fret bubble of worry about Bosnia. How could I have envisaged a heat wave during my key training period? Why am I so rubbish? Am I the only one who can't do this? Will I get too behind in my training now? Will Bosnia be this hot and this hard? The thoughts rolled on.
I tried to break it up by talking with people more experienced than me with running, by reaching out on Instagram for advice, by just chilling the heck out.
And the turning point came this week - the first week of July. Where a knowledgeable friend spend quality time reassuring me of the value-added benefit of even just plodding a mile in the sun. She also reminded me of my tenacity and drive to even try. Neil reminded me that 15 miles is further than I have run before full stop, let alone in the conditions we had that day. And also his stock reminder of 'How many other people did you see running or even walking it?'. Answer: ZERO. No other runners, or walkers.
This really helped me break my funk, and yesterday putting my fear aside I laid down a solid, hot (but breezy), 8 miles in the Peaks. My legs felt solid, my chest open, my jaw relaxed. I was so chill, that I spent several miles considering getting a tattoo on my leading leg should I get through Bosnia unscathed.
The run broke the spell, and got me back on track with myself. It's July and we're still baking here in the Peaks. But I'm over the worst and have learnt a lot. Firstly, there is no need for added spice when the plan is spicy enough. Secondly, drink more, and more. Thirdly, leave the bones alone.
I also really have some ongoing work to do with self-compassion, and self-belief. This will be important on my own in Bosnia. I can't afford to have any of these sorts of moments. That said, I won't be worrying about catching a boat. If I am, then things have gone very wrong.