Ever since I can remember I have had a fear of heights. A dizzy and sometimes paralysing fear where even crossing a motorway bridge can be pretty scary. This is also linked to a fear of wind, the blowy weather type of wind! I often feel like I might be actually blown off my feet and up into the air, kind of like the beginning of “The Wizard of OZ”. Weird right? I know this sounds pretty odd but having these two things combined is not pleasant, especially when up high. On the flip side though I really like mountains, which is totally crazy right?
When I was in my early teens, I went on a trip to Cheddar Gorge with the Scouts. We were offered the chance to try climbing, abseiling and caving. I remember being quite scared at the thought of doing the rock climbing but some how managed to pluck up the courage to give it a go. This was real climbing on real rocks, with ropes and everything. I started off well but when I got halfway up, it started raining, the wind picked up and I just froze. I remember being petrified and had to be slowly winched back down the side with a lot of coaxing. I felt like a massive failure to be honest.
Leap forward to our Honeymoon in Borneo, which is an amazing place and you should all go if you get a chance. Apart from seeing the Orangutans, crocodiles, lush jungle and tasting the amazing local food, the one thing that sticks out from this trip was one of the many day trips with our local guide. This adventure involved a day of hiking to see temples, villages and swimming in waterfalls with the locals. What he failed to tell us is that we would have to cross a ravine on a rope bridge, which had slats that were about 30cm apart! This bridge was pretty high up in the jungle too, fml. I remember being very nervous about crossing this as you could literally see right through it to the jungle way down below! After a while I plucked up the courage to cross but said to him and Gillian that it would take me a while and that they should go ahead. I think it took me 30mins to get across but I did it and thank f@ck it wasn’t windy that day!
As I said at the start, it’s kind of a weird thing for someone with vertigo to have a love of mountains right? Ever since I can remember I have been in awe of them. They are just so amazing, majestic and beautiful and I have this urge to want to climb them!
At middle school I remember making a clay model of Mam Tor in the Peak District after our trip there. It was one of the best things I had ever seen at the time! Walking the foothills at the base of the Sierra Nevada in Spain was beautiful but nothing could prepare me for America. In 2009 we took a trip to South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. During this trip I persuaded Gillian to climb Harney’s Peak, (now called Black Elk Peak), with me. It was late March but there was still a lot of snow about and no one else! It has 2,208m of elevation, which is more than Ben Nevis but most of the climb was sheltered. But once we got near the top it was really windy…like really, really windy. I had to duck inside the fire watch shelter at the top and I remember feeling really unsafe and just wanting to get back down as soon as possible, even though it was just stunning. We saw many more mountains on this trip but didn’t go up anymore, maybe another trip is needed in the future.
Then a year later Gillian and I went to the Lake District in February for a long weekend of hiking and eating. It turned out the rather lovely hotel we booked was in the shadow of Grisedell Pike and it looked stunning with all the snow.
So you know what, we decided to hike it but the long way. We were prepared, we had the right clothes, map, food etc but I wasn’t prepared for the route up from the valley. It turned out we had to walk along some icy/snowy paths, which had sheerish drops. It was one of these paths where I lost my footing, slipped and started sliding down the mountain. Now Gillian will say it wasn’t that steep but to me with my height-based issues, it was just horrible. Luckily instincts kicked in and I dug my toes into the snow to stop me sliding all the way to god knows where! Then I found myself in a predicament. I was pretty much scared stiff, no way was I moving! Luck came my way again though as Gillian asked the help of two lycra wearing fell runners who just bounded down, asked if I was ok, picked me up and dragged my ass back to the path before bounding off into the distance!
We made it to the top of the mountain. It took me a while after that scare. The view was stunning and getting back down took a while too as I was a still a bit shaken up and the path was icy, so you know what I slid on my bum.
Why am I telling you all this I feel you thinking? Vertigo is a normal thing; many people are affected by it. For me it’s horrible, as I love the views from being up in hills and mountains but also hate it, it’s really bloody scary. People have said, why do you like hills? I say, well because if I didn’t run up a hill I wouldn’t get the reward of the view! I love running up hills but really I want to run up mountains!
This summer, I had thought about ultras but only fleetingly, then I watched the drama of Race to the Stones unfold on Instagram. I saw what they were going through, I saw the amazing countryside they got to run through and I wanted some of it. I then decided that I was going to enter and this was going to be a big challenge for 2018, my first ultra!
Then I heard about the UTMB, (Ultra Trail Monte Blanc) at the end of August as a fellow running friend sent me a link. If you don’t know what it is then watch this video. These runners are all amazing, every single one of them who takes this on.
I then remembered there was another IG runner who was participating. So I started following his race on the website and even tuned in to the live broadcast of the race. Gillian wondered what the hell I was watching! During this time I found out about all the races of the festival and how to apply. These are serious mountain Ultras in and around Monte Blanc and Chamonix and you can’t just enter, you need to race other ultras to earn points to be able to enter the ballot. This…is…serious…stuff!
I started to think, could I do this? Could I go to the mountains and run 110 miles? After some further investigation I found a race called the “CCC” that is part of the festival. It’s just over 100k, (like RTTS), but you are running in the mountains, starting in Italy, heading through Switzerland and finishing in France!
To be able to enter the draw you need 8 points from 2 accredited races. After thinking about it for a while I decided this was what my new long term goal would be. Race in the Alps!
I had one race worth 4 points booked so I needed another and this is how come I have found myself entered into 3 ultras for 2018, having only run 2 marathons.
The Weald Challenge – June (50k warm up race)
Race to the Stones – July (100K 4 Points)
Brecon Beacons Ultra – November (46 mountain miles 4 points)
To be totally honest, I think I was a bit rash in my decision to try and enter as this week I have watched some videos of the race and I am not going to lie – some of the trails scare the crap out of me. There is some serious altitude, sharp edges, probable wind and steep descents. I know it’s going to be hard, like really hard, but I have set my heart on this goal. So it’s time to face my fears and blow them out the water because the achievement of completing this race would be life changing for me.