On the morning of day six I was surprised to find that I was feeling much better than when I had gone to bed the previous evening. Don’t get me wrong, I still felt exhausted, and very much like I didn’t want to get out of bed, but the pain in my head and my stomach seemed to have faded somewhat. This was, as far as I was concerned, excellent news. I must have made a miraculous recovery overnight. At least, that is what I told myself.
We took our time packing up again, making the most of being in close proximity to a water source. The water here was cloudy, but it tasted okay, and none of us were being violently ill from drinking it (touch wood), so we made the most of it and picked up as much as we could. After a slightly drawn out breakfast, Cadi mentioned that she was worried about her feet. We all had a look and decided we were worried too. We had reached a point in our run whereby the further we ran, the further we would be from any kind of medical help. And we were already over 3 days hike from roads which could be driven on by emergency services (rural roads in Iceland are only open for a few weeks of the summer). We decided to ask for help, with our first go to being Siobhan (Siobhan is a mother and therefore knows all about these things) and then, through various contacts a couple of medical professionals. One of whom just happens to have been one of my heroes growing up – Tim Brabants. Brabants is a multiple Olympic medallist in canoe sprint, having won a bronze medal in Sydney, and gold and bronze medals in Beijing. Brabants was put in touch with us through my old canoe coach and I have to say, receiving advice from him was super exciting, even if the situation wasn’t the best. I can’t thank any of the people enough for their help on that morning, but I have to say, it was him that I was most excited to talk to.
Proud moments aside, the advice was that we really should see a professional before heading further into the wilderness. That way, the blisters could be cleaned and dressed properly to avoid infection. An infected blister may seem trivial in an everyday circumstance, but given that we had limited food rations, no clean drinking water, and that we were several days away from help should we need it, we couldn’t take the risk of infection lightly. The trouble was, seeing a doctor out here was just about as likely as your childhood hero getting in touch via Whatsapp.
Bad analogy. But the bottom line was that we would not be seeing any professionals.
Luckily, the next opportunity for us to get out to the ring road (whereby we could get medical help if required) would come towards the end of this day of running, so we didn’t have to make the decision straight away. Instead, Cadi loaded up on some strong pain killers and we prepared to get moving. The sky was almost empty this morning, the sun was out in full force, and we knew almost immediately we were in for another tough day of marching in the heat. Sun cream was applied in lavish amounts, bare skin covered with a creative arrangement of kit, and off we trotted.
Our route today was an odd one. We had to cross a large river and the only way to do so was to run around 10 miles south, before rounding a mountain we could see in the distance and returning on the other side of the mountain, at which point we would be able to cross the river using a bridge. From where we had started the day, we could have walked due west and ended up in our predicted finish point within 3 or 4 miles. But we had no idea quite how treacherous this river was, we didn’t know if the terrain was crossable and we were still a little wary of the possibility of sinking sand (though the idea of anything having enough moisture to become quicksand in this environment seemed frankly laughable). The only option therefore was to follow this rather frustratingly convoluted route 20 miles south round a mountain. At least, if nothing else, it gave us something to laugh about – we had now been able to see Herðubreið for over 24 hours and though we needed to pass her eventually, we had not really got any closer to her. And we would not be making any progress towards her for the majority of today either. Instead, we would be treated to just about every view possible of the East and South faces of this mountain.
Throughout the morning, I began to realise that the miraculous overnight recovery that I thought I had achieved was a little optimistic. And in fact, I was starting to feel terrible again. The landscape was, once again, incredible, but I didn’t have the enthusiasm to enjoy it. As we went on, I was feeling worse and worse, and I was getting slower and slower. We chose to have an early lunch by a lake, the first water we had been able to access all day, and I found myself unable to stay awake whilst making lunch. I laid down on the floor and fell asleep almost instantly. I came around after my nap not wanting to move and not wanting to eat. I was not in a good way.
I could go on about my worsening condition – but I’m not going to.
The thing was, that afternoon I got some pretty serious symptoms, which meant I knew that I needed medical attention. I needed to get out to the ring road, and find a doctor, before anything got any more serious. Because, had it done, I would have been in quite a lot of trouble. Not only that, given the tough environmental conditions we were facing, it could have placed the team in serious trouble too.
I would say I made up my mind pretty quickly, but in all honesty, there was no mind to be made up. I had to see a doctor. I phoned Jon to let him know. Then I phoned my mum to let her know. I cried a bit, but less than I expected. The truth was, I just really wanted to get out and get help so that I could feel better. It all felt like it happened very quickly, but I think it was more that until I was sure I needed to see a doctor, I just kept hoping that I would get better on my own. A mistake that I have been known to make in the past. But this time I could tell I was worsening, and that was that.
Telling the team was the difficult bit, but they were incredibly understanding. I think that they may have been expecting it, having watched my deterioration over the past few days, but not once had they tried to influence my decision, and now that I had made my decision, they didn’t question it in the slightest. They were perfect in how they handled the situation, and once again I found myself to be really grateful to be in their company, even if I did feel (hugely) like I was letting them down.
We spoke a little about whether or not the team could continue without me, but the decision was made to all leave as a team – the others being too concerned to let me try and complete the three day hike on my own.
We topped up on water when we reached the river crossing, noting as we did so that we would not have stood a chance of crossing this river further downstream, and carried on to find a place to camp. That night, we sat in the tent and ate all together for the first time. I felt a huge sadness, and an incredible level of guilt, but I also knew that there was nothing else I could do.
Run Iceland 2018 was officially over just six days after setting out.