Easter Saturday and time to spend supporting friend and fellow coach from Brighton Tri Club, Rachel, in her first ever ultra-marathon: the gruelling South Downs Way 50.
What an amazing achievement! 50 miles from Worthing, up onto the South Downs Way and all the way on to Eastbourne. The route takes in 1,750m of climbing big, challenging hills.
Ultra runners say they learn a lot about themselves on such runs - and I felt I learnt a lot just doing the easy bit of cheering Rachel on.
First off: don't try and do too many other things as inevitably you'll get caught up in the event.
I'd been coaching first thing in the morning and came back home with time to get out to the nearest long climb near us: Truleigh Hill at around 11 miles into the run. My partner Anne had started baking some buns but I said we'd be back soon enough for the yeast and milk mix to do its thing.
Out on Truleigh Hill and there was a long trail of runners making their way up the path - what a long climb that is! But no Rachel. "She must have gone through" I said so we rushed on to the next point, Devils Dyke only to see the same runners pass along. "Lets go on to Saddlescombe and catch her there." Another supporter was there and assured us she hadn't gone through yet so we waited a little more patiently and were rewarded by seeing her come - already feeling her IT Bands tightening up but keeping a good steady pace going. A quick dash home, the baking mix discarded and another restarted.
Next part of the plan(s): out to Southese at mile 34 and the dough mixture left to rise. Rachel came through, a bit slower now but still keeping a pace going and visibly boosted by the big welcome from a group of us, all ready to hug and cheer her on. At this point I guess we could have gone home and rescued the dough but we knew how hard those remaining 16 miles would be with some very big climbs - so on to Firle Beacon, Bo Peep, Alfriston and Jevington. And having gone so far we wanted to be there at the end to see her in. The buns would have to wait a third attempt.
What else did I learn? Most touching I guess is seeing how little it takes to give someone a big boost. In fact very often you won't see what a great encouragement a random cheer to a friend or stranger can be as you'll never know what they may be going through and how much a friendly "well done!" "looking good!" "great stuff!" can mean in that moment. Lets hear it for Random Acts of Cheering.
It also made me think about the tipping point between feeling like a challenge is just beyond you and too much and then somehow feeling that it can be done. I guess much of this is down to a kind of innate stubbornness and perseverance to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even though everything aches and hurts. Dragging yourself through the feeling of being overwhelmed and into believing that you can do it can only come from within yourself, but maybe the cheers along the way or even a (misplaced) feeling that you can't drop out now as so many people have come out to cheer you on all helps to just keep going until the self belief comes back.
So hats off to Rachel and everyone else who made it through their extraordinary challenges - and fresh buns at the ready to celebrate.