Six weeks out from the 2015 Marathon des Sables, I felt great. I'd promised myself that when I lined up at the start I would be fitter, faster and stronger than ever before, and I was making good on that.
I'd paid the dues in months of disciplined training. Between Christmas and New Year, while the world made merry, I ran six half marathons over some rough sections of Table Mountain. Since then my new norm was 21km each day before work, plus long weekend runs.
When not running, my time was spent obsessing about careful planning. Since I had to carry it all, the kit had to be as light and small as possible: a tiny button compass; the flimsiest of stoves; dehydrated wipes that could double as loo paper; freeze dried meals with the optimal weight to calorie ratio, a half-sized toothbrush. There were maps, a visa, insurance, and an ECG to arrange.
The only thing left to sort out was my shoes. Strange, maybe, but after running mainly barefoot for over a year, I was struggling to find a pair with low drop, wide toe box, and still strong enough to cope with 50 degree desert conditions.
Living in South West London, I found a pair at a shop in Richmond. The guy at the shop said: "Jog down the street and see how they feel." They felt fine. I felt fine. Everything was fine. Until it wasn't.
Turning at the end of the cute, cobbled street, I thought of sprinting back up. Not every thought is worth acting on. Half way back, something popped in the middle of my quad.
Simon Redstone is a great physio who runs his practice, Physiotherapy Central, in the attic above the running shop, so I hobbled up the stairs for an assessment. In short, I'd torn my rectus femoris muscle.
Simon is a Good Man who understood what the MdS meant to me. Over the next weeks, through the treatment and rehab, he got the balance just right between caution and encouragement. Finally, I volunteered my withdrawal from the event.
Rehab was hard. I was no longer able to run a half marathon before work each day. I was now able to shuffle around on a leg that didn’t listen to my brain. Instead of obsessing about little pieces of gear, I was focused on a big lump of uncooperative muscle bunched up under the skin in my leg.
I'd gone from being faster, fitter and stronger than ever before to doing two sets of one minute exercises twice a week. And there I began to learn something incredibly important about self respect and short term insurance.
I'd got into feeling great about myself because of how much mileage I was putting out. But now that I was injured I was actually working much harder to produce very little. That caused me to review how I measure respect. The kid who successfully saves his pocket money for the Lego set, might have more character than the rich man who buys the flashy car. I learned that it’s the amount of effort to move from where we are to where we want to be that deserves respect.
The short term insurance trouble started when they asked me why I had cancelled my 'holiday'. Apparently, the 'bespoke' part of the policy ends when you put your unique money into their special account.
Eventually I did get a reply:
Dear Mr Light,
I write in reference to the above noted claim for your trip to Mexico to take part in a marathon. Thank you for sending over the information to validate your claim.
Please send over your payment details so that we can issue a payment into your account.
Kind Regards, Donna
Thank you for your letter of yesterday.
I'm pleased the information I sent through was helpful in resolving my claim. I look forward to receiving my money so that I can register for the event again next year. Although I’m somewhat confused about which event I should register for?
It seems, from your correspondence, that what I thought was a gruelling 150+ mile grind through the Sahara Desert in Morocco is actually merely a marathon in Mexico. I understand that perhaps you use the term "marathon" somewhat loosely, as if to mean "Any Jog which is Long", which I suppose is one way of describing things.
But please help me with this: Is Mexico in Morocco, but where you can drink tequila without fear of religious reprisals for a little tipple? Or is Morocco actually the part of Mexico where they ride camels and drink cerveza?
Anyway, you are the authority on such weighty matters. I have always found the World of Short Term Insurance to be most bewildering and am grateful for folks such as yourself who can offer guidance through the sophisticated maelstrom of it all.
My account details follow. Please pay up quick, before your underwriter discovers the North Atlantic Ocean, and the whole matter is at sea again.
Note to self: aim high, work hard to get there, but never, ever, take it all too seriously.