My legs ached with every step. Every time my feet touched the ground, the pressure shot up into my hips, making it feel like my hip joints were grinding, bone on bone, in their sockets. The soles of my feet were sore, I could feel each small pebble through the bottom of my trainers.
One step at a time, I kept telling myself. One foot, in front of the other. Just a jog, keep it slow but steady.
I passed the marker that told me I had 5 kilometres to go. Just five kilometres! Just a parkrun. I was on the downward slope, literally; the path was on a slight gradient, offering some slight gravitational help. My weary muscles were grateful; they had less work to do.
I looked up at the top of the cliff; I knew the finish line was up there somewhere. but yet we kept on going down.
“But we keep on going down. When do we start to go up?” I wondered, not realising I had said this out loud.
“In the last kilometre. There’s all the steps to go yet.” The woman in front of me answered my question.
“Steps? What steps?”
“Ohh, you’ve never done this before have you?”
“No, first time.”
“Ah. Yes. Well, we have 950 steps to go yet. That’s how we get up there.”
“What? You HAVE to be fucking KIDDING me.” I exclaimed.
She laughed. “I’m afraid not.”
We ran in silence. I digested this new information. Urghhh.
I trudged on, enjoying passing each kilometre marker, but with a heavy dread thinking about these mythical steps. 950 of the fuckers. I was ready for them, but also not, all at the same time. I was ready to be finished though; I’d ran well over a marathon at this point and the end was [nearly] in sight.
I was tired, and the ground still wasn’t going up.
I turned the corner and there was a sign. Not a sign from God or the universe, oh no, an actual sign. 1km to go, and some steps.
This was it. HERE WE GO.
It was like being given a present and a punch at the same time. I eagerly started up the steps, aching to get this started and therefore, finished.
I laughed to myself. No shit sherlock. Hard steps. Even bloody harder when you’ve already ran 49km.
I trudged up, going as fast as my legs would take me, getting into a rhythm. My quads burned, my heartrate accelerated, my breath came fast and hard.
I passed a guy on his hands and knees, literally crawling up the steps. I patted him on the shoulder as I passed.
“Good job man. We’re nearly there.”
I felt bad for him, but like an absolute superhero for myself.
Up, up and up. Then along, then up again. Round a corner and up again. A marshall told me I only had three flights left. BUZZING.
Three flights later I was still faced with steps and no end in sight. But I could hear music and voices from a loudspeaker. I must be near the top.
Keep going, I told myself. My legs were so, so tired. I knew by this point it’d nearly done 2500m of elevation. That’s a LOT.
I hit a corner and looked up; people lined the last set of stairs. They hollered and cheered and shouted my name; it was on my race number.
“Come on Tara! You can do it! This is the last bit! GO GO GO GO GO.”
They didn’t know me, but it didn’t matter. I got a lump in my throat, tears pricked my eyes and my stomach swirled. I got a surge of emotion and adrenaline and sprinted up the stairs, people cheering me as I flew past.
I felt like a badass. Not quite invincible, but pretty damn close. I could do anything.
I turned the corner at the top of that last flight, heart beating, lungs bursting and slowed to a jog. The finish line was still a few hundred metres away. FFS.
I tried not to cry. You never know with these events. Finishing is never a guarantee; you never know what will happen out there.
50km, 2500m ascent and descent and the finish line was right there in front of me.
I’d done it.