Reflections: The Smileathlon 2018 - Day Two

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“Not again!”. Stirring from my slumber, my bladder at full capacity, I hoisted myself out of bed and made the third seemingly lengthy walk to the bathroom to relieve myself. ‘At least I’m showing no signs of dehydration’ I rather jokingly thought, before returning to bed and pulling the covers over my head.

What seemed like a matter of minutes was in fact a couple of hours, when I was rudely awakened by a sharp vibrating and high-pitched piercing sound emanating from my wrist. It shook me into life as I pressed all combination of buttons to disable the disturbance. I was given just enough time to rest my weary eyes and perform a quick body scan to assess the state of my body when my phone joined in on the act. Buzz. Buzz. Ring. Ring. 5:15am; it was time to get up.

My first few steps out of bed in the morning tend to be taken rather gingerly; it’s a by-product of training for an ultra-endurance event. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and in all honesty, my body felt surprisingly good. Yet there remained one problem, my gnawing sense of angst and general nervous composition had returned, and with that, a complete lack of appetite ensued once more.

With a little over an hour until the scheduled swim start, I opted for a plain toasted bagel with a good helping of sunflower spread and an extravagant drizzle of maple syrup. Washed down with a large glass of fresh orange juice. ‘Progression, not perfection’ I reasoned with myself.

With the lead-up to The Smileathlon Challenge, in an attempt to drive donations and build a sense of community surrounding the event, my social-media usage heightened. I found myself using my phone as a clutch; a comfort blanket if you will. Unable to sit alone, with my own thoughts, I’d fill every moment with a quick scan of Facebook, or a scroll of Instagram. These momentary hits of dopamine would ease my nerves temporarily but were going some way to desensitise my emotions and sense of self-awareness.

Between finishing my bagel and starting my swim, I had a few minutes spare. I felt a major temptation to turn to my phone, to see the response to last night’s Facebook and Instagram posts, but instead I chose to just-be, observing my thoughts and feelings and attempting to make peace with the situation.

Unsurprisingly, as I lined up outside awaiting the Leisure Centre doors to swing open, I felt a sense of déjà vu. Only twenty-four hours previously I had stood in the exact same place, at the same time surrounded by the very same gym-goers. ‘This time is different’ I reminded myself. Yesterday I was entering the unknown, with so many unanswered questions circulating my mind. In this very moment I stood with 140.6miles of triathlon under my belt. As I reflected on day one momentarily, I felt as though I had grown a few inches taller.

I fully appreciated the magnitude of the day’s task, and firmly believed that day two, from a mental standpoint could be the toughest of the lot. It took me back to my ten-day ‘Vipassana’ silent retreat in September 2017. The first day at the retreat in many ways mirrored the first day of The Smileathlon; full of enthusiasm, excitement, and adrenaline for experiencing and navigating something so new. Yet I recalled the second day to be the toughest of the ten. Familiarity set in, enthusiasm waned and the restless mind grew. It would be imperative to ‘see things as they really are’, to steal the meaning of Vipassana, and not allow my temporary emotions to cloud the facts during The Smileathlon. Whether I could retain this objective truth, only time would tell.

As I grow older, I increasingly realise that life is about appreciating the small-wins along the way. One of the main reasons why I embark on ultra-endurance pursuits, is the time-lapse nature and symmetry it has to the ultimate endurance pursuit which is called life. Throwing myself into situations of voluntary adversity allows me to grow in mind, body and spirit; cultivating key virtues, and going at least some way towards preparing myself for those moments in life, ‘that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday’ to steal words from one of my favourite songs ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’.

SWIM

So, as I turned the corner and saw an empty swimming pool, I gave thanks, and celebrated this small win by sliding into the cool water, adjusting my goggles and hitting ‘start’ on the Garmin. Day two’s swim had begun.

I had been swimming rather comfortably for a few minutes, using the time to perform another body scan, focusing on the head, shoulders, knees and toes. Okay, not the toes, but I just couldn’t resist. My body scan was disrupted momentarily with a thought of a close pal, Oly Grinsell. Since moving back to England from Asia in June 2017, Oly and I have struck a close friendship centred on coffee, fitness, human performance, and personal growth. Whilst Oly’s focus these days is on CrossFit and developing the ever-growing adaptive division in the UK, his background is swimming, having just missed out on the Athens Paralympics in 2004. Oly was born with congenital limb deformities, which resulted in amputation at 22 months old. Oly wears prosthetic legs but takes them off for swimming. Oly is one of the most inspiring people I know, he personifies the growth mindset and just five minutes in his company, you can’t help but be infected by his positive and compassionate personality. I’ll add humour to the mix too, as he’s quick to remind me of a quote for inclusion in this piece. “You swim very well for a man with no flippers’ ~ Tony 2013 at Goldsmiths Leisure Centre.

Maybe I subconsciously caught a glimpse of Oly poolside prior to his emergence in my mind, or maybe it was the first of many rather spiritually led coincidences over the course of the four-days. Either way, as I was preparing to push off the back-wall at the far end of the swimming pool, I noticed Oly entering the pool. An instant-hit of adrenaline gave me goose bumps as I started eating up the next 25 meters. Focusing on the black line below, I did momentarily take my eyes off the pool floor to witness Oly pass me by like a rocket. In awe of his ability to glide through the water without the propulsion of legs, ‘what a guy’ was all I could think as I refocused and got back to work.

Oly and I during Smileathlon training

This is Oly.

Every now and then Oly and I would have a quick natter which served as a temporary pause and rest from the rather repetitive up and down, up and down nature of pool swimming. This gave me time to readjust my goggles, which were giving me slight pressure sensations in my head. Perhaps my head was in fact inflating with the pride I felt of how the week’s challenge had begun. I took a long sip from my water bottle that housed an isotonic drink combining vitamins, minerals, amino acids and caffeine. The almost instantaneous hit of flavour and caffeine had me refocused and back to splashing my way through more distance on my quest to reach today’s 3,800m goal.

Although feeling a little mentally foggy at times during the swim, there were moments when I felt a real sense of flow. Fully immersed in the swim, at one with the water, and cherishing each and every stroke. This was only momentarily disrupted when the swim-squad arrived, and with no fault but my own, I had to once again battle and overcome those irrational thoughts of not belonging. A quick glance and smile in their direction settled my mind as I navigated the half-dozen or so men chatting in the shallow end, re-establishing my groove and getting back to work.

As I approached 3,000m, Oly called time on his participation. He bid farewell. An overwhelming sense of appreciation flooded my being. Exercise has a really purifying effect on my mind and body, it’s as though the layers of ego and constructed traits are removed, much like peeling back an onion, and what is left is a pure spirit that feels deeply without care for how it’s perceived. It is during these moments when my emotions are heightened and a greater sensitivity to even the smallest of experiences. With a deep sense of gratitude, I dialled in on the final chunk of day two’s swim.

As I had thought, Dad having been surprised with my finishing time on day one, pledged to arrive a little earlier on day two, so seeing him in the stand overlooking the pool as I approached the final 500m, gave me an injection of strength and pride. I counted down the final twenty lengths before stopping the watch, grabbing my water bottle and exiting the water. The swim had taken 1:24:23 averaging a comfortable 2:13 / 100m pace.

It was on exiting the water that I first realised something wasn’t quite right in my left foot. As I took a few steps, I looked up to Dad and gave him the customary thumbs up, but thoughts began rushing into my mind, turning it from calm into a storm-like state in an instant.

‘Will I be able to complete the marathon, is this the start of a stress-fracture, what if I have to stop after one day?’ were just a few of the spiralling thoughts in my mind as I showered and changed ready for the bike-leg. Whilst not completely cooling these flames within, I did manage to step-back just enough to recognise the disserving nature of such. ‘One step and smile at a time, this won’t hamper the bike, worry about it when its time to, forget and focus on this moment.’ I rationalised with myself.

I questioned whether to mention the concern to Dad as I met him at the café within the Leisure Centre. With a slight hobble perhaps only I was aware of, I blurted out the dull but rather bruised ache I was feeling in my foot. Immediately Dad looked concerned, before providing a calm solution, which helped to ease my growing worries. He’d go and relay the issues with someone at Boots Pharmacy and look to find some sort of solution. I left it with him.

In the meantime, it was time to turn my attention to the encroaching 180km ride. Passing Oly, as he sat basking in the sun enjoying a post-swim coffee was the first realisation of the temperatures and what was to come. The week prior I had rather manically been checking the weather forecasts for challenge week. I had been more relieved to see a week void of any rain, and had given very little thought or attention to the prospect of the forecasted high 20’s for today. ‘Meh, I’ve lived in Thailand and Vietnam the last five years. That shouldn’t concern me.’ I overconfidently thought. Nature usually has the last laugh, a few hours later; it would prove the case once more.

Oly and I enjoying coffee after the challenge

(Enjoying coffee a week after finishing The Smileathlon 2018)

BIKE

My mind was bouncing between the bruised foot and my lack of appetite when Dad mentioned the generous donations to the fundraising page, and the encouraging words posted on Facebook, Instagram and Strava in response to Monday’s completed Iron Triathlon. I felt pride wash over me and the condemning internal chatter quieten down. I knew today’s ride would be equally about controlling the mind, as it would be controlling the body. I stuffed the four peanut butter and jam sandwiches into my Smilinggg cycling jersey rear-pouch and loaded a handful of Trek bars into my bike’s attached fuel bag. A few final words to Dad whilst cramming as many blueberries into my mouth, coupled with a quick banana or two had me set and ready to roll. I took one final swig of water to wash down the fruity remains before clipping into the pedals, starting the Garmin and rolling down the hill. The time was 8:39am, and I was chasing those first few kilometres in the warming morning sunshine.

smilinggg in crowborough

The cooling breeze that greeted me as I freewheeled the first few kilometres was welcoming. I began to relax as the road levelled out as I contributed to my forward-movement with some gentle pedal strokes. Mindfully observing, I was boosted by how my left foot was feeling. Pedalling away, carefully navigating the many potholes from the outset, I attempted to verbally make peace with the chain-slipping issues from day one, and stayed present with gear changes to ensure I was fully prepared for any chain-slips during the early stages of the ride. The road from Jarvis Brook to Rotherfield was fast approaching and this would be the chain’s first test. I opted to climb the fairly sharp gradient out of the saddle, and without a hitch; I smiled, providing a small but meaningful boost, and thought back to my earlier prayer to the ‘chain-gods.’

I made the decision to shorten the bike course for day two. A section on the course that consisted of bumpy roads, wreaking havoc on my right wrist was removed. This would mean more loops from Five Ashes to Cross in Hand which didn’t bother me. I just felt relieved of this decision.

My Garmin buzzes after every 10km, and it felt as though I was constantly being alerted to further progress. 10km down, 20km cleared, 30km covered, 40km complete. Growing stronger as the ride progressed, and having safely navigated a quarter of the required distance, my next goal was the halfway point where I’d meet with Dad for refuelling and of equal importance, a few minutes out of the saddle.

Equanimity is one of the fundamental teachings from the 10-day silent retreat I had attended. Level-headedness or composure, meaning not to get whisked away and attached to good feelings as they shall pass, and equally not getting too disheartened or trying to avoid and ‘run from’ discomfort as these too shall pass.

I try and keep this teaching at the forefront of my mind when enduring a long swim, bike or run. But the remaining fifty kilometres before the halfway pit stop were, to put it lightly a slog and complete battle of will. With my inability to consume adequate calories since the Smileathlon began, I knew full well this moment would arrive. I had run out of fuel. What ensued for the remaining forty-or so kilometres was a desperate attempt to force feed on Trek bars, and dilute the peanut butter and jam sandwiches into an almost liquid-style concoction with the aid of water. It doesn’t sound pretty, and it really wasn’t.

The lack of fuel meant my body was incapable of working above my aerobic capacity. This would be fine on a flat route, but on this ride, my heart rate required spiking into an anaerobic zone at times to get me up and over the inclines. Without the fuel to burn, I had to grind it out in the saddle, spinning my wheels and what at times felt like I was rolling backwards rather than propelling forward. This momentarily derailed my mind, only compounding the issue, and for a few short minutes that felt like hours had me feeling particularly sorry for myself.

What dragged me through this particularly low-point was the thought of those currently in the depths of their own personal challenges, in the midst of overcoming adversities that they hadn’t voluntarily signed up for. This provided me with perspective, and I knew however bad I felt, this was self-inflicted. I had chosen to challenge my mind and body. In a weird way, this exact moment I was experiencing, was in part why I go after these challenges. I’d be lying if I said, this moment of reflection and perspective instantly changed things and had me whistling all kinds of happy-tunes, it didn’t. But it did provide me with the space I needed to accept the circumstances, and recognise that through adversity in mind and/or body, we grow in spirit. This gave me enough strength and sense of hope to keep going and reach Dad for a much-needed physical and mental boost.

Smilinggg on the bike

Unclipping and passing the bike to Dad, I felt as though I was instantly punched in the left side of my lower back. Regretting not getting a bike fit prior to the challenge, I morphed from cyclist to yogi, stretching out the hip flexors and a combination of back bends to ease the pressure with some success. Resting on the grass I asked Dad to grab a couple of Red Bulls. Not my usual tactic, but with the promise of Red Bull giving me wings, I thought it was worth a shot. Talking of shots, as soon as I took the first sip I was thrown back to my party days during my late teens and early twenties; I wretched, as double vodka and Red Bull’s flooded my memory and taste buds. ‘These wings better grow quick’ I thought as I chugged the first can, letting out a loud and rather uncouth belch. Repulsive.  

“How’s the foot?” Dad asked, and for a moment I thought ‘what foot?’ Before returning to my senses and scrunching my left foot within my shoe and putting the foot down with ample pressure to provide an assessment. “I can’t feel any problem.” This was one less thing to concern myself with, and made me recognise just how many of my other concerns were in fact an irrational extension of the original foot story I had been telling myself. A moment of clarity was just what I needed as I replaced two of the four uneaten peanut butter and jam sandwiches with freshly made ones. I filled up my three water bottles, giving a moment to stare up at the sun behind my cycling shades, and wonder whether the 2.5 litres of water would be adequate between now and the conclusion of the ride in an estimated three and three-quarter hours.

There’s always something particularly satisfying in seeing the kilometres tick over from double to triple digits. Pushing past 100km combined with the Red Bull coursing through my veins had me in good spirits. I was still struggling to attack the climbs, but I had made peace with the situation, accepting my current reality and doing all within my control to push on towards that end goal.

As the total distance continued to rise, so did the soaring temperatures. Sipping almost constantly from the first and second of three 750ml bottles of water, I tried to dilute the taste of Red Bull which was lingering with each untimely burp. I was turning to Trek bars every thirty or so minutes to provide a little fuel, and mask the taste of the Red Bull. The combination of a thick layer of dark chocolate and oats was providing a comfort, and with little appetite, I was just grateful to be in a position to digest something, which combined a decent macronutrient profile of protein, carbohydrates and fats.

Not much has been said of my sore wrist from day one. It however remained a constant ‘thorn in my side’. I had been coping with the problem by using my left arm to shift the right-sided gear lever. This manoeuvre had to be carefully administered, anticipating the road ahead. As I approached the 100mile mark (162km) and tiredness was beginning to set in, I forgot to change gear ahead of time, and my natural instinct turned to my injured right side to do the job it ought to have been doing. This natural reaction sent shooting pains up and down my wrist, as I tried desperately to use my index and middle finger to shift the lever accordingly. I winced in discomfort and lost bearings as to which ring my chain was in. At this point I heard a crunch and clunk, frantically trying to rectify the situation, I was spinning my legs at a cadence that felt like 1,000rpm. Starting to roll back, I glanced at my chain to see it in a rather sorry state, hanging down and off the cassette.

For whatever reason, I responded in a manner that slightly surprised me. No effing and blinding. Instead I unclipped my shoes from the pedals, walked to the brow of the hill and calmly realigned the chain with the cassette. Chuffed with my mechanical prowess, I looked at my hands to see them black with oil. Not wishing to blacken my yellow Smilinggg cycling jersey, I opted to rather forcefully wipe my hands down my black cycling shorts. Still not content with the shade of black on my palms, I took my water bottle out from my rear-pouch and without even considering the implications, doused my hands in the wet stuff. One final scrub on the shorts, I inspected my hands; “ah spotless” I muttered. There was one tiny problem, with the best part of 20km still to navigate; I had used the final rations of water. With a headache slowly building, and a dry mouth forming, I took out the second can of Red Bull and accepted my fate. Cue the effing and blinding.

To say the final 20km was a struggle would be an understatement. In hindsight, I’d rather have navigated the previous 160km again than relive the final leg of day two’s ride. It required every last morsel of energy and willpower to pedal up Crowborough Hill and make my way back to Crowborough Leisure Centre. Crowborough Hill is one of those climbs that’s gradual but what feels at times never-ending. Seated and stuck in the lowest gear with fear of chain-slippage, I had no choice but to grind my teeth and take one pedal stroke at a time. I recall an old school friend Shane Beasley passing me and tooting his horn, I would have to ask him how I looked as I attempted an exhausted smile in his direction that most likely resembled a grimace. Desperate times called for desperate measures as I frantically squeezed my water bottle in an attempt to rescue even a drop of water to no avail. 

Tired, overheating, aching, will power depleted and quite frankly fed up, my spirits were barely lifted as I turned into the Leisure Centre and spotted Nicola and Dad laying on the grass verge, savouring the late-afternoon sunshine and awaiting my arrival. Looking down at my Garmin, my spirits were dampened further knowing I’d have to spend the next five or so minutes circulating the car park to complete the required distance. With barely any strength in my voice, I gestured for Nicola to grab me a carton of coconut water and for Dad to slice open a watermelon.

Completing the bike leg didn’t give me any morale boost whatsoever. I dismounted and exchanged the bike for the carton of coconut water. Feeling lightheaded and a little weary on my feet, I made my way onto a spot of grass that had shelter from the sunshine. My lower back pain had returned with a vengeance and was bordering on locking up. I tried desperately hard to stretch it out and relieve some tension before giving in; downing as much coconut water as humanly possible and lying sprawled out with my eyes firmly shut.

The bike had taken 7:56:56 with an elevation gain of 1,757 metres.

RUN

A few minutes passed before I gathered my thoughts and slowly but surely turned my attention to the marathon. With the coconut water rehydrating my cells, I made my way to the Smilinggg Wagon and rather incoherently grabbed my running gear. With the time fast approaching 5pm, and the sun still high in the sky with no clouds in sight, I pulled a baseball cap down and low over my eyes. The cap coupled with the cycling shades allowed me to temporarily detach from the World around me. Not wanting to speak to anyone with fear of wasting precious energy, I was about to start day two’s marathon with one thing in mind, ‘just keep moving forward.’

Ditching my Nike Downshifters in favour of an old pair of Salomon trail shoes was a calculated risk, but one that I thought was worth making in light of the discomfort surrounding my left foot both last night and this morning. The trail shoes would provide a little extra support and comfort for the housed feet, and as I began to put one foot in front of the other and get a few 400m laps under my belt, I was quietly confident my decision might just pay off.

5k trickled by fairly comfortably albeit at a slower pace than Monday’s marathon. Coconut water, water, and Coca-Cola were acting as both hydration and fuel. The amount of liquid consumed far exceeded my rate of perspiration, and this meant a quick trip up to the Leisure Centre toilets to relieve myself, being sure not to pause the Garmin until arriving at the reception, reminding myself that every single step counts towards the 42.2km distance.

It was on exiting the toilet that I first realised The Smileathlon Challenge was beginning to gain awareness and traction amongst the local community. “That’s him!” a chap said whilst pointing at me, I was taken back a little, concerned I was about to receive a rollicking. My worries eased when the group of three were simply intrigued with the challenge and began quizzing me. These are the moments I live for, an opportunity to direct the attention to Mind, Samaritans, Smilinggg and Mental Health Awareness. A brief exchange of enthusiastic and supportive words followed before I left and returned to the track.

Ninety or so minutes into the marathon, and my mood had certainly lifted, not to the point where life felt all sunshine and rainbows, but enough to make each moment bearable. Sam Carrington made it two in two as he joined me at 6:23pm (thanks Strava). I recall feeling a little self-conscious at the pace I was travelling at. Whilst I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered the snail pace slog, I’ve become quite accustomed to keeping a decent cadence at whatever pace I’m going. The concern for me was an increased risk of injury for Sam, and with his charity event a matter of weeks away, it did cross my mind once or twice and I offered him a ‘Get out of jail free card’ if he so wished to pick up his pace a little. I promised no hard feelings would be had with a wry smile etched across my sunken face. He politely declined and we continued to progress, with heartening chat throughout.

A reflection of the tiredness in mind is demonstrated with my difficulty in recollecting particular time frames with which things occurred throughout the marathon on day two. However, there were further memorable moments worth mentioning.

The Crowborough Runners were concluding their Tuesday session with a cool down jog, when a jolly lady whose name escapes me struck up a conversation with me. She had been made aware of The Smileathlon Challenge via Strava, and her local Tri Club were following with interest. This gave me a tremendous boost and I was overcome with gratitude. Still conscious of my pace, the entire Crowborough Runners respectfully stayed a few paces behind and ran a further two laps before giving me a warm applause and shouting further words of encouragement. This kind showing of affection and support left me feeling a little choked as I mumbled “thank you so much” and politely gestured in Thai tradition a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion, known as a Wai. This moment provided further proof that this Smileathlon odyssey was beginning to have interest and meaning that stretched beyond friends, family and myself.

As the afternoon transitioned into evening, the strength of the sun began to dim, as did the strength in my feet. Having navigated over halfway, a dull ache was now apparent in both soles. The constant pounding on what I had previously considered a soft and forgiving surface was now taking its toll. In an attempt to soften and vary the subsequent steps, I chose to position myself just left of the running track on the grass verge of the football pitch. The relief was immediate with each step different from the last. The pace slowed further as I carefully navigated loose grass cuttings and divots. This increased focus kept me present, with my only goal to safely navigate the step that followed the last. Around this time, the Smilinggg cavalry began to flock to the track. Thomas Burgess’s family arrived in their droves, Uncle, Mum, Dad, Sister, Grandpa and Grandma were all in attendance quickly followed by Amanda, and their presence provided a lift at a crucial time. It also gave me a chance to take my next walking break, and desperately take on board some more calories, mostly through flat Coca-Cola, and Trek bars. It wasn’t as though my pace required too much fuelling, with an intensity that would barely register on a heart rate graph. The challenges I faced were solely musculoskeletal.

As the evening wore on, and as the sun began to set, Sam bid me farewell having supported me for a 16km segment of the run. His support has been invaluable to me since the road to The Smileathlon began back in December 2017, and I’d like to think our bond has been strengthened as a result of our own endurance journeys these past few months. As I said goodbye to Sam, I said hello to Dave. I had learnt about Dave earlier in the day when my Dad had mentioned a Dave Pettitt via Strava was planning on popping to the track this evening. Dave had read about The Smileathlon Challenge via an article in Crowborough Life, an online magazine, had published on Facebook on Monday. An enthusiastic cyclist and runner himself, he was keen to provide some support, and instantly we hit it off. We chatted all things mental health, cycling, running, and triathlon. The time flew by as I continued to talk enthusiastically whilst carefully monitoring the ground in front of me.

JC Smilinggg at Sunset

With all good things coming to an end, Dave left and it was left to my trusted friend Amanda to support me for the remaining ten or so kilometres, with the Burgess’s acting as cheerleaders as we safely navigated each 400m lap. A quick word on Amanda; Amanda isn’t a long distance runner; she’s the type of girl that gets bored with the slow stuff. She’s more likely to rip into a high intensity interval workout, and is found every evening at Sweat-It Training, which is centred on weight lifting and high intensity circuit training. As the light faded into darkness, and my weary mind fatigued further, I had very little banter. My tired mind growing increasingly concerned with how Amanda was coping with the slow-paced slog. Running is a funny one, there’s a comfortable pace for each and every one of us, a pace that feels natural. Go faster than this pace and it’ll likely hurt your heart and your lungs, go slower than this pace and it’ll likely hurt your joints, muscles and all the connecting bits in-between. My appreciation and admiration for Amanda’s soldiering spirit went up a notch further when she used her phone as a torch to light the path I trod. By this time we were at the business end of the run/jog/stagger. My legs resembled deadwood as I continued to sift through the grass cuttings. A limp forming, I was asked on many occasions whether it would be better to revert back to the actual track. I attempted momentarily but instant pain shot up both feet, as I hobbled back onto familiar ground.

Stopping every few laps to hydrate, my lowest point involved a punnet of blueberries and my left foot. Agitation and frustration boiled over, and rather comically the blueberries resting on the grass verge, only noticeable thanks to Amanda’s shining light, I stomped on them as hard as I possibly could. A momentary release and sense of satisfaction ensued before realising the ramifications. I had just pummelled my anti-oxidant rich friends for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

This somehow lightened the mood a little, and moments before the Burgess’s called it a night, Sally, Thom’s mum kindly retrieved a head-torch for me to see out day two with. “Now I’m definitely an ultra-runner!” I jokingly said. With a renewed sense of optimism and the timely re-emergence of Nicola and Dad, who had once again been on food duties for day three, in true ultra-runner style, I gritted my teeth and took one heavy step after another. Accepting the discomfort, and with eyes at times watering from a misplaced step, we ticked off those all-important kilometres. A little over 2km remained when Mr Thomas Burgess made his entrance. With the end fast approaching, spirits were jovial, as I began almost deliriously spitting out sarcastic and rather self-deprecating jokes. Pressing the backlight on the Garmin, I informed Amanda and Thomas that I’d be walking from here. I estimated one final lap of the track followed by a walk to the Smilinggg Wagon would see the all important 42.2km flash up on the screen and with it conclude day two.

As I said goodbye to my running partners, I was greeted at the Smilinggg Wagon by Dad and Nicola. The customary post-Iron Triathlon photo was taken, as I proudly held up the two fingers to signal my second successful Iron-Triathlon in as many days. Yet I felt a sense of angst as this marathon had taken 5 hours and 54 minutes with the clock fast approaching 11pm. As I celebratory hugged Dad and Nicola, I was already running day three logistics in my head. ‘If I get home, have a bath, try and force some dinner down, get to sleep by 12:30am…’ My mind continued like this as I drove home, giving little time to celebrate the fact I’d just become a Double Iron/SmilingggMan.

smilinggg finish

As I lay in the bath, soaking my aching muscles and removing the accumulated sweat and salt from the day, I allowed myself five minutes to check the fundraising total, and to quickly scan through comments left via Instagram and Facebook. An uncontrollable smile lit up my face and an overwhelming sense of appreciation flooded my mind, body and spirit. Over £4,000.00 was now the fundraising total, and the caring and supportive comments made every painful step worth it. I’m sure I didn’t, but it felt as though I sprang out of the bathtub and enthusiastically made my way down to a mound of pasta and sauce. I joyfully relay the information to Mum. Running largely on adrenaline, I did my very best to calm my mind, and chow down as much pasta as possible. Once again accepting a below-par eating performance, I brushed my teeth and climbed into bed. Glancing at my alarm clock, I felt relieved to be in bed at 12:15am. Having made the executive decision to allow myself an extra hour in bed and start the swim an hour later, I excitingly tensed my entire body before releasing it and letting my entire being sink into the mattress. There was just enough time to whisper, “another one bites the dust!” before shutting my eyes and falling into oblivion.

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fundraising for samaritans and mind charity

The Smileathlon 2018 fundraising page will remain open until the end of July. All donations are gratefully received. To read and watch The Smileathlon story and to support Mind and Samaritans please click the link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Smileathlon2018

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