I recently ran across the Netherlands from the western point of Westkapelle to Venlo- a city on the far east of the country, nearby the German border.
My route was approximatey 220 kms – the goal was to complete it in four days – just in time to celebrate my friend’s 53 birthday.
I didn’t quite make it to the German border as I had intended. I think I was about 5kms away but, for reasons, I made a makeshift finish line at the Venlo Casino and celebrated the completion of this adventure with my Dutch friends who had left the comfort of their backyard swimming pool to drive 2 hours in the late summer heatwave that had hit the country to pick me up.
(Thank you Cindy, Frank and Lilly Van de Sande for your love, support, dinner and beer).
It’s taken a few weeks for me to sort my head and my heart out about this run.
During the run, then straight after it and for the past few weeks, I’ve been saying this adventure was quite a disaster, nothing went to plan, I sucked, there’s no way I’m ever going to run across Australia.
My mindset was pretty off-point for this adventure. It’s been off for a while. The words “I can’t” have been the start of so many of my sentences recently – not necessarily to do with my running, more to do with my life outside of shorts, but life impacts my running and it certainly impacted this run.
So, what was the plan of this adventure?
Why did I think that things didn’t go to plan?
And why did I add the brackets but maybe they are?
The plan was to go on a training run for my run across Australia, push beyond some of my own personal comfort zones and run 220kms from Westkapelle to Venlo.
I had never run a multi-day adventure where I was responsible for looking after myself completely.
I’ve done many multi-day runs, including some in very extreme locations (JungleUltra, DesertUltra) and I’ve spent most of the days running on my own, but there has always been rest/aid stations that I knew I was heading too.
This time I was testing myself to:
- camp alone (never done that before),
- run 40 miles a day for consecutive days (I’ve done a few 40 miler one-offs),
- organise myself (no Sharif to do things for me – I’m a big girl, I should be able to handle that), and
- travel in a continuous easterly direction towards Venlo (my navigation skills suck).
Setting off on the right foot
It was a mini adventure itself getting from Nottingham to Etten-Leur, Netherlands which is where one of my oldest and bestest friends, Cindy, now lives.
It involved a car trip to the airport during which Sharif talked to me about the run – I’m not exactly sure what he said. There was probably some very good advice about what I was about to do, but I was too busy writing emails and sending text messages to listen. Adventure running is a thing I juggle with a property business and I was leaving that behind with a few (there’s a bloody lot) issues outstanding.
A train trip from Schipol airport to Breda, during which a friendly man returning from his own trip talked to me about his adventure travelling around Thailand with his teenage son. I wandered if my son would like to do something like that with me. Cue a bit of a moment – my son was about to head off to Uni and had spent his summer going on trips with his mates not his mum and oh my goodness my mummy life is over, and oh my goodness what’s the point of me now … irrationality by hormones which I’ll explain more about in a minute.
Then it was a short train ride to Etten-Leur, into the embrace of an old friend that I haven’t seen for 2 years, and I think it was about 17 years before that. Tears of happiness and joy leaked from my eyes, but there was not much time to reminisce, Cindy was going to drive me to my start line in Westkapelle and I had to make it before dark – I had a tent to put up.
I am an emotional person, but this day didn’t really need quite as much emotion as …
Now, you’ve possibly heard many people say “age is just a number” and I agree, somewhat. But for a woman in her 50’s (or for some earlier than that), this “age is a significant number” it’s a time in a woman’s life when her hormones start flipping out – a phase called peri-menopause.
Rather than my periods getting less frequent and the blood flow getting lighter and shorter until they become non-existent (a version that can happen and will happen eventually), my periods have become more frequent, excessively heavy and last way longer than they used too.
Fun Fact: Some other symptoms of the peri-menopause phase include – brain fog, hot flushes, emotional irrationality … to mention a few.
With my tent set up and my goodbye’s said, I settled in for a night of constantly getting up, making my way to the toilet-block because I was bleeding like a bleedy thing who believed she was on the way to bleeding out all the available blood within her.
I got through the night 😊
Oh, did I mention, that my campsite was 2 kms away from my official start line of my first day.
Okay, so it was only adding a couple of kilometres to a pretty stacked day – the goal was 60kms for the first day. I figured I’d be able to handle that.
I assumed that I’d be able to pick up food, water and go to the toilet easily along my route. I was running through populated areas and we’d checked on google maps that there were service stations along the roads, and …
Ahhhhh I’d used the word “assume” – but as they say, if you assume then it generally makes an ass out of u and me.
The Netherlands was being an ASS to me!
There were no shops or toilets at service stations (just fuel). So, I started diverting into town centres to get to supermarkets. There were no toilets in supermarkets. Things were not going to my plan. The problems kept stacking up in my brain:
Diverting was adding more distance to my already longer than planned day.
And it was hot.
And I was carrying 10-12 kgs in my backpack (the weight fluctuated with water and food).
And I was bleeding to death.
Running long distances with minimum food and fluids, on a hot day, carrying excess weight, in a foreign country, with no support is tough. You get a bit dehydrated and a bit woozy in the brain – relatively normal experiences during self-supported ultra-running, but add it all to my peri-menopausal symptoms and well …
I was having a bit of a melt-down.
At the 50km mark I sat down at a service station that only sold fuel, no food or water, and I called Sharif back in England. Sobbing down the phone I told him I’d ran out of water. I’d ran out of food. I was about 15kms away from my finish, but everything would be closed by the time I got there.
“I can’t do this. I’m rubbish at this running. I’m gonna fail. I can’t”. Sob, sob, sob.
Sharif let me go on until I stopped.
He then gently suggested that perhaps I ought to go into the restaurant that I was currently sitting in the carpark of. I had my tracker on, so he was able to see the location of where I was having my epic meltdown.
I hadn’t thought of it – brain fog, dehydration, hunger, self-knocking had got in the way of finding a practical solution to my predicament.
I couldn’t stop for food, I had to get to the campsite before it got dark, but I did fill up on water which helped me get a better perspective and I finally made it to the end of my first day. Popped the tent up, cleaned my bloodied kit, found half a bag of dry roasted nuts at the bottom of my backpack, ate them and dropped off to sleep.
I’ve written quite a lot so far.
And that was only day one.
It didn’t get any easier. It got worse, as issues from my business started interfering with my running day and I’ll probably write some more about that in another blog.
However, the topic of this blog was “When things aren’t going to plan (but maybe they are?)”
I ended up running 248kms (more than the 220kms originally planned) because of all the mistakes I made, the diversions I took, and the changes I had to make to my daily small plans.
It was not pretty. It really, really wasn’t – I’m referring to my running and mindset by the way – the Netherlands was a very pretty country to run across.
But the overall big plan – well, I got it done.
I’ve used the terms small plan and big plan purposefully.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and acknowledge what this adventure was all about – yes it was a training run, but it was something more, there was always more than one plan at play.
Throughout it all, I knew (but oh my golly, I’d hidden it somewhere way down deep inside), that this adventure was in fact a small plan within my big life plan, which is:
to hit 60/70/80/90 saying WOW, look what I have done, rather than hit them with regret that I was not brave enough to take on my dream goals and give them my best shot.
I just needed to remember that when things aren’t going to plan “maybe they are”.
P.S. I mentioned above “brain fog” being one of those wonderful symptoms of the peri-menopause.
The impact for me is that some days I feel like I’m walking around in fog or treacle – it’s kinda like having a hangover without the headache, or possibly even the beer-buzz woozy feeling without the alcohol.
It took me about 5 hours to stay focused enough to write this post – but part of dealing with this phase is dealing with it. Keep on going – never give up. 😊