This is the song that got me writing again after a very long break – and by very long I mean time for me to enjoy my 20s, meet & marry my husband, score an ace job and have a small child. Then one day Florence & the Machine’s debut single came on the radio and my head was filled with images of Libby (who was called Alex back then) running and running from a past I knew nothing about…
One, two, three. One, two, three. The carefully chosen music on her iPod worked to keep her pace even. She’d maintain the same rhythm, only changing the length of her stride to match inclines. How could Patrick think she couldn’t do this? Because he knew she’d failed before. Well, not this time.
The lactic burn in her thighs wasn’t the worst it’d ever been, but heading up Black Fell, it wasn’t far off. Eight other runners were in front of Libby and Xander, but Grace was the required half a kilometre behind. Ten miles had gone. Libby had mud splatters up to her knees and a graze on her left elbow from stumbling over rocks. She checked her watch – still on target and feeling good. She could do this.
She leapt up onto a stile, vaulting over the top and landing on the grass, already running. Behind her, Xander swore. He bent over, clutching his side.
‘What happened?’ she asked, switching her iPod off.
‘Stitch. And it isn’t going away.’ He jogged on, his face set in a grim frown.
Their pace slowed but they ran on, heading up to the peak of Black Fell towards the fifth check point. A patch of scree slowed them further, twice making Xander mutter under his breath.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
He didn’t answer, but glanced up at the cairn. Fifty metres to go. A runner overtook them.
‘Xand?’ she asked, concerned by his increasingly pale face.
‘Just get to the checkpoint,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘I’ll have to retire. I can get a lift from here.’
Libby’s nausea returned. ‘But–’
‘You keep running.’
‘I can’t do this by myself.’
‘Yes you can. You know the route. You’re on time.’
Libby shook her head. ‘Not without you. I’ll get lost. I’ll never find the right route down from the Crag.’ Twice she’d buggered it up in training, not spotting the gap in the rocks that led to a wall gap where the drop on the other side was only a couple of feet instead of ten. Instead she’d had to detour to reach the stile.
At the summit, Xander struggled towards the checkpoint, looking ahead to the runners already on their way to the fourth peak.
‘Okay, new plan. See the Haverton Harriers runner, three in front of us?’
Libby narrowed her eyes, but nodded. ‘Isn’t that Mike Robb, last year’s champion?’
‘Go catch him up.’
‘Yes, you can. You’re faster uphill. He’ll leave you for dust going downhill, but if you can get somewhere near him going up the Crag, you’ll be able to follow his route to the wall. Watch him.’
The checkpoint loomed. She could retire too.
‘Wilde, you can do this. You have an hour left. You got the legs?’
‘Don’t kill yourself, but catch him up. You can get the guy in front of us by the time you get to the bottom of the Pike. Then focus on the guy in front of him. Aim to catch Mike Robb by the top of the Pike. Stick with him across the ridge to the Crag.’
‘I’ll get lost and die.’
‘You’ve got your GPS watch on. I’ll track you on Daisy’s laptop.’
She paused, sticking her dibber into the reader and thanking the marshals.
‘You can do this, Wilde.’ Xander kissed the top of the head. ‘Now go. Grace will up her pace at this point and she’s less than half a K behind you.’
‘Christ, Wilde. Run!’