Archive for the ‘My Ultra Ego and Me’ Category

The Cotswold Way 100 Mile Run

23
Jun

It wasn’t really in my plan to bore anyone to tears with yet another ‘race report’ that’s only really of interest to the person writing it, but I suppose that since the Cotswold Way 100 Mile Run is/was my ultrarunning swansong I should write a few notes.

Now, for anyone contemplating a 100-mile race this is not for you. Much as I would have loved to have raced 100 miles I never had the courage and most certainly never had the self-belief that it would ever happen, hence I opted to tick the 100-mile box with a multi-day challenge option: 100 miles over four days, fully supported, with set mileage and camping overnight in runners’ villages and, best of all, no cut-off times to stress over. Many thanks to http://www.100milerun.com/cotswold-way-challenge/ for organising this challenge and looking after us all throughout. The route, of course, was the official Cotswold Way in its entirety – starting from Chipping Campden and finishing in the beautiful city of Bath.

Daily mileage:

Day 1: 16 miles. Elevation 2,000 ft. (Chipping Campden to Hailes)
Day 2: 30 miles. Elevation 3,633 ft. (Hailes to Cranham)
Day 3: 23 miles. Elevation 3,170 ft. (Cranham to Wotton under Edge)
Day 4: 33 miles. Elevation 2,930 ft. (Wotton under Edge to Bath)

Random thoughts:

I always ALWAYS doubted I could do it, purely on the basis of how I felt every time I ran a trail of anything over 15 miles. I was in pain for three days afterwards, so how on earth was I going to do four in a row? The answer is simple – and purely psychological. You go out to run 10km you’ll be tiring by 7 km. You go out to run 20 km, you never really feel that same tired until around the 14km mark or thereabouts. It doesn’t enter your head to feel tired before then, so although my legs were always trashed after 15 miles this was not an option to ‘succumb to’ when I needed to do the same another three times. Simples.

Before I get slammed for not appropriately acknowledging my 100-mile achievement (something I’m not very good at), I am going to admit that I am very proud of:

(a) my training, and

(b) I ditched my ‘walk one day’ option.

Did I walk? Well, of course! Who doesn’t walk during an ultra (elites excluded)? But my strategy had been to walk at least one of the routes in an effort to save my legs for the final ultra on Day Four. Didn’t need to. I’ll put this down to sticking like glue to my training plan, on top of an amazing training base – gleaned over the winter and all thanks to the BTRS Trail Series ( http://brightontriathlonraceseries.co.uk/ ). Without that trail series, and the support of the BTRS friends and athletes, I would never have got out of bed and put in those miles on all those stormy, freezing and unsavoury days.

And as for my training plan? Those peak three weekends of a 5-hour+ run on Saturday followed by 3-4 hours on Sunday were NOT FUN! I really did almost lose the will to live, but it’s all down to those toughies that I finished the 100 miles injury-free (apart from the obligatory loss of a few toenails). My most vivid training memory, however, was my delight at heading finally into the taper phase, a delight that rapidly evaporated when I looked at my first taper weekend – a run of THREE AND A HALF HOURS! For crying out loud! Did they misunderstand the word ‘taper’?

 

Day One – The Cotswold Way: Chipping Campden to Hailes

Shortest run. Three big consecutive climbs. Job done. Took it very easy (although I only have one gear so you could say the same every day haha). I spent today with a young girl called Kate and we had a lovely few hours together. Scenery? Hilly and green. The villages were stunning – so much love and pride in those gardens – gorgeous.

First night in a tent. Pretty much first night EVER in a tent. I claim the hashtag Born to Glamp. Definitely not born to camp. Now, just a few souls are privy to the story surrounding my first introduction to a tent and you’re not one of them. Sorry. There are some things that I just don’t want to go viral! I’ll save it for a drunken evening. That said, my lighter-than-light self-inflating air mattress was/is the best thing since sliced bread. Many thanks to  http://www.pillow.co.uk/ who were in charge of all our accommodation needs.

Special thanks to The Orchard tea room at http://www.haylesfruitfarm.co.uk/tea_room/ who saved my sanity with tea and served a fabulous dinner, too. Bravo on every level. Trip Advisor, here I come.

Day Two – The Cotswold Way: Hailes to Cranham

After a great night’s sleep and a super breakfast I set off with Kate but soon found my legs and pulled away, making use of any ‘free’ miles that I could. I was nervous about a long run the second day and this was not an easy one, either.

Today was physically the most challenging BUT … I made it. No villages today. Just trails. And a whole lot of green! Pretty and green. Greenly pretty? Whatever. You get the idea. I experimented with trekking poles today in a bid to save my legs a little. Did they do the job? Yes. Were they worth the effort? The jury’s still out.

 

 

 

 

Today’s run was further enlivened by hundreds of runners from Race to the Tower – who were all running the same route as us but backwards (well, they weren’t running backwards – you know what I mean) – towards the first tower we reached on Day 1 (see pic). It was lovely to have so much company out on the course.

 

 

 

 

 

Day Three – The Cotswold Way: Cranham to Wotton under Edge

Sleep was not particularly plentiful last night. I fully expected to wake up in a lake, since it rained torrentially all night and I think most of it came through my tent. Thank you Magnificent Air Mattress for saving me again.

Shorter day today. I battled with trekking poles v. no trekking poles. I put them away and then missed them so I took them out again. Hmmmm. If yesterday was the most physically challenging then today was the mental challenge. So near and yet so far. Fortunately, I enjoyed the route today. No villages, but so much variation in terrain it helped boost interest and enjoyment. This was the day I’d planned to walk and I walked the first few miles but after that running was just easier (even if it was a jog). I spent quite a lot of today by myself. Because I ran more than walked today I was perplexed when I saw my Garmin stats – which were little more than crawling speed. It took me forever to remember that the final five miles or so I’d hooked up with a trio of entertaining Scotsmen (one of whom was injured so they were walking) who then dragged me kicking and screaming into the pub for a pint a couple of miles before the finish – and I forgot to pause my Garmin! Oh woe is me!

 

Day Four – The Cotswold Way: Wotton under Edge to Bath

I had an awful night, mostly stressing about today’s ultra. I didn’t think I’d make it, my toes were throbbing – bruised, battered, black and blue. The Negative Committee was out in full force. I woke up and cried, then cried when I put my trainers on, picturing myself hobbling 33 miles. Then I discovered that breakfast, which was supposed to be at 7.30 a.m., had opened up early without any announcement. The queue was already mile long (no exaggeration at all there!) and I decided to skip it. So while I was sitting on a bench with a face like thunder and wallowing in my own misery and levels of pathetic that humanity has rarely witnessed, a lovely lad (who just happened to have run across Canada the previous year – as one does) sat down beside me and said he’d noticed me hobbling and could he suggest I take out my shoelaces and do them up a different way? As only the best Borgs do, I complied.

I had the BEST RUN OF ALL! Not only that, I think I ran (mostly due to the loveliest and wonderful-est running buddy Lisa) the entire route – barring the obligatory walks on hills. The sun came out and thankfully there were lots and LOTS of free miles to be had today. We crossed that finish line together and oh did that feel GOOD!

 

Best bits:

The finish line;
That cup of tea at the end of Day 1;
The medic who MADE me a cup of tea at the end of Day 2;
My tent revelations (undisclosed) 😊
Discovering that I am capable of more than I thought;
That air mattress – YES!
It only rained at night – yay! (Is this a Cotswold way thing???) lol
Master lesson on how to lace my trainers;
Dry-roasted peanuts and salt and vinegar crisps (aid station lifesavers);
Lisa (best running buddy ever);
Spotless portaloos and general bathroom facilities.

Less best bits:

Annoyingly random meal times without announcements;
No electrolyte drink options (mercifully not a problem for me, but needed by others);
Would really have appreciated a bottle of water at the finish line;
Green overload 😊 (up for debate)
A notice board with timetable of events would have made life easier.

Would I recommend? Yes.

Fuel per run:

2 litres water, approx.
1 GRENADE bar @ 10-15 miles
Handful dry-roasted peanuts (or 2)
½ packet salt & vinegar crisps (full packet Days 2 and 4)

Final day deviation: Banana (making up for skipped breakfast)
1 Mars Bar (ERROR ERROR ERROR)

All that remains is Goodbye

What a way to finish. I’ve done a few and seen some glorious places I would never have otherwise visited. Now it is time to bow out graciously (with a few battered toes). With thanks to the world of Ultrarunning for the adventures and proving time and again that finish lines really are more important that finish times (thankfully) – and I am capable of more than I think. For this lifetime, however, I bid you adieu.

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Back to the trails: SBU35 (UKan Trail)

03
Sep

‘You’re running from Keswick to where?’
‘Back to here.’
‘Where?’
‘Back to here.’
‘Never heard of it!’

Ukan Trail 1D

My introduction to St Bees was both challenging and entertaining! Thought I’d landed in an alternate universe for a mo – but then I landed in my gorgeous hotel, set out my race kit, tucked into a delicious pre-race dinner … and realised this was no alternate reality. Yikes! Here I was, preparing to embrace another start line.

A result of my guest visits to Talk Ultra, I was invited to race the St Begas Ultra (http://ukantrail.co.uk/sbu35.html) by the wonderful RD Jon Raymond and I was only too happy to jump at the opportunity. Originally, this had been perfect timing, too. I was going to come back from Cairns Ironman, take a month off and then have plenty of time to ramp up some running miles in time for this fantastic 35-mile (obviously country mile measurements – definitely something over 36!!) trail. Plans went somewhat awry (see previous blogs) which resulted in my gracing this start line with about 10k in my legs! This was going to hurt.

I wasn’t wrong. It did. Actually, it hurt for 34 miles!! The race began with a short but steep descent from the Osprey Lookout in Keswick and by the time I’d reached the bottom my quads were already screaming!! They shrieked and howled from there to the end, but the Ultra Gods were on my side and pain levels remained the same throughout and didn’t develop into anything else. In fact, I was massively chuffed that I came away free of any injury other than donating another two toenails to the ultra Gods – small price to pay.

UKan Trail SBU35 2015a

 

The race is classed as perfect for beginners and I know I questioned that at the end because I honestly felt it was the hardest ultra of the few I’ve done (London to Brighton, IOW 50k, Pilgrim Challenge, High Peaks 40 …). In hindsight, though, I do believe that this IS perfect for beginners – and the toughness was more a reflection of my lack of training! It was, however, a lot more technical than any of the above-mentioned ultras – but this just added to the enjoyment, the challenge and the overall experience. I LOVED the variety of terrain, the streams, the steps – and when the going got tough you merely had to remember to look up and all was right with the world again. The views? GLORIOUS, MAGNIFICENT, UNBEATABLE, SOUL-REPLENISHING, BREATHTAKING.

UKan Trail A2

This race was an opportunity for me to clear my head of a summer of DNFs, rethink my training and my goals – and there was certainly no better place to do this. I had also made peace with the idea that I might just do 20 miles or so and leave it at that. Unfortunately, at Checkpoint 2 (22 miles) I thought I was going to have to withdraw whether I liked it or not. Carrying full kit – together with emergency water, etc. – had taken its toll and my back had seized up completely. It took some amazing marshalls, 3 cups of tea, salted peanuts and a Green & Black’s ginger chocolate minibar to see me tentatively back onto the trail (roughly 40 minutes later!). At that point I was walking more than jogging but there was a group of four just ahead of me and I focussed on keeping them in sight. By 25 miles I’d caught up with them and gate-crashed their party. (Note: THANK YOU – you were absolutely amazing!!!). Jog, walk or crawl, I decided to stick with them and was so glad I did. Mrs Happy, in charge of map-reading – would put Mr Motivator out of business in a second. Thoroughly awesome! You were just an incredibly wonderful group of runners!

UKan Trail SBU35 Honister ascent

The route had a total of 4k of ascent and this was largely divided into 2!! No, really!! Honister Mine and locally known Bummers Hill. Any other ascent was incidental. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed anything as steep as Honister Mine – WOW! This is where I felt my other ultras paled in comparison! I can’t believe there were people who ran up it! Am I really that inadequate? Ha! Fortunately, by the time Bummers Hill came along I was mid-‘party’. Had I not been with others at this point I would’ve sat down and had the biggest strop and probably called out a helicopter! Jeez! That hill is just MEAN!!!

UKan Trail SBU35 Top of Honister Mine (2015)

But just after that came Checkpoint 3 … and that meant it was a mere 4 miles or so to the finish. Needless to say, there were no plans to ‘stop’ a CP3 (no time, either, since we were getting close to the cut-off by this time and Jon’s life might have been in danger if we missed a medal!!!). There was, however, just enough time to down (completely unplanned) SEVEN cups of coke! Yup! There you have it. What does THAT tell you that my body needed? Now, you all know that I really do NOT drink coke so it was very interesting that this was all I wanted – and then some!! On top of that came an energy guarana shot, a few mints and about 6 gel blocks, which I had packed for emergencies in my pack.

Whatever! It did the job. I crossed the finish just inside the cut-off – to be greeted with the most fabulous medal, made of slate from the mine – and lots and lots and lots of beer. And the bonus, of course, was breaking my DNF streak (a DNF hat-trick would’ve been just too much to handle)!

Ukan Trail medal

Fantastic experience! If you’re thinking ‘ultra’, then think SBU35. Fabulous marshalling, SUPERB map-book with 34 pages of detailed directions, wonderful variety of terrain, the most incredibly magnificent views and the best medals ever!! Can’t recommend enough.

UKan Trail SBU35 Finish Line Tent 2015

And for an extra treat? Got to recommend the Ennerdale Country House Hotel. Delightful.

And now …………. where’s the Deep Heat?

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PILGRIM CHALLENGE THE RETURN (2015)

05
Feb

31 January/1 February

Reading on fabulosity scale: 10

Level of awesomeness feelingness: 10

Muddiness: 10

Conqueredliness: 10

Meltdowns: ZERO

State of feet: Pass

Did I mention that I had quite a good Saturday??

But it wasn’t all marvellous. The photos were shit lol Mind you, I always look shit in running photos. Just when I think I’ve lost weight and am looking ok, here comes another pic of me mid-race and OMG – words fail me. I’m thinking of suing. They must’ve photo-shopped some of that, surely! Surely??

Moving on ………

It was a shaky start. In fact, I can quite honestly say that I almost didn’t start at all. Due to some rubbish planning on my part we had visitors the night before. They very kindly left before midnight but when it’s a 5 a.m. start that makes midnight quite late. And it was at least 1 before I wound down and managed to sleep. And then there was the Garmin fiasco. Garmin Connect, I official dislike you lots and lots. Could I upload/download/whichever …. my maps to my watch? No!! I even had Karim working on that one for an hour and he couldn’t get it to work, either. Boo!

And then of course there was the drive there – without any maps!! My GPS decided on a timely malfunction which left me driving aimlessly around Farnham for a good half an hour as I watched the ‘Race Briefing’ time slip by …

In short, I arrived, parked, grabbed race number and timing chip and … kept my overnight bag OFF the truck because I honestly did NOT want to start. I had four and a half minutes before the start gun. I decided that no decisions should be made while one needed to pee. So that’s what I did. With one minute to go, I flung my bag onto the truck and made it to the start with my race number still in my hand and my hydration vest over one shoulder!!

Well … from then on, things could only get better – and they did! Yes, there was mud. There was NO escaping the knee-deep mud. There was also snow (gorgeous), hail (not so gorgeous), rain (wet), cloud (dull) but … but … but … I COULD SEE RUNNERS!! Yes. Me. Runners ahead of me and some behind me and …………. this is unheard of for me. I was keeping up (kind of). Of course, the real importance of this was that THEY knew where they were going. It meant that I wouldn’t get lost. Do you know, I lost sight of those runners for about half an hour mid-race – and you would not believe it, but I came up to fast-racing, icy river with stepping stones across it (under the water). I crossed the stones and came back onto the track with more runners – and you know what? Later on, when I checked the route map, what did it say? Go through the car park and take the left fork. DO NOT CROSS THE STEPPING STONES!!! I swear I cannot be left alone!!!
The trail was every bit as beautiful as I remembered from two years previously – lots and lots of woodland and fields and glorious views. Having done a few races now, though, I still marvelled at how molly-coddled roadrunners are in terms of aid stations etc. There were no water stations every 5k here. Brilliantly organised, fabulously detailed ‘route cards’ provided (for those who actually read them properly lol) … but the first water station was 8 miles in, the second one at Mile 18! You do not want to run out of water in between – and this time I made sure I didn’t!! As usual, nothing was too much trouble for the marshalls at these aid stations. Many were sponsored athletes and bottles were whipped out of vests and refilled almost before we’d ground to a halt; food pushed into hands and nobody got through those stations ‘unfed’ without some very pointed questions: ‘Are you sure?’ ‘What have you eaten so far?’ ‘What’s in your pack?’

I had just a few we targets for myself for this race. I wanted to beat the 8 hours 55 from my previous Day 1 when I had completely lost the plot at one point. I wanted to get up those Boxhill steps without collapsing and having to finish them ‘backwards’. I wanted to get up the following huge incline without crying (tall order) and I wanted to finish feeling proud of myself.

In my own particular way – with MY goals, not anybody else’s – I aced it. I got up the 268 steps without stopping once! I then did the same on that darned hill – no stopping, pausing and definitely no crying (although there was swearing!!). And after that I ran again. Slowly as always, but I ran. I ran the last 5 miles and I was just so chuffed.

They say you should never decide to DNF at an aid station – and neither should you do it the night BEFORE Day 2 of the Challenge (best wait until morning)! But I broke the rule. I decided in those final five miles that I was going to celebrate this 50k, relax and enjoy the evening, the talks, the meal … and NOT race Day 2. And I have to say that although I had a few small regrets the next morning, I was completely happy with this decision.

(a) I clocked 6:40 ‘moving time’ on my Garmin – but total time was 7:40 (I still can’t work this out as I didn’t stop for more than 5 minutes at any water station?) – Anyway, that aside, it STILL gives me a PB of 75 minutes – that’ll do!
(b) For the first time ever I had runners around me for a WHOLE RACE!
(c) I conquered the 268 steps AND the hill.
(d) I did everything I set out to do.
(e) I finished in daylight! (Wow!)
(f) Hilariously, and also for the FIRST TIME EVER (and probably the last) … I made the Day 2 start time in the FASTER RUNNER slot!!!! That made me laugh out loud when I saw it posted – I snuck in with five minutes to spare but I did giggle a lot!

With that in mind, I simply had nothing to prove to myself by racing Day 2. I knew if I started that I would finish, but I also knew it’d be slow. My shins were threatening shin splints (I could feel them being ‘challenged’!) and my ITB was VERY tight. Another 50k would do nothing other than increase my chances of injury and with such a big goal in 20 weeks’ time I really did NOT want to risk any time off (I can’t afford even a few days’ rest at this stage). I could’ve walked it, of course – but then neither did I fancy 8-9 hours on the trails, being on my own for a lot of it, possibly getting lost again …. and for what?

Ironman! June! This is my focus. Pilgrim was not by any means my ‘A’ race. What would I have achieved Day 2? Nothing really (other than a lovely medal).

Completely happy with my decision and totally and utterly chuffed with a great time (for me) on that course. End of.

Learning points

Two elites gave talks on the Saturday nights. Both very interesting. I took away three key points …

1. An oldie but goodie – NEVER train without purpose. If there’s a race in the offing, then ‘I’ll just do a gentle ten miles today’ is useless. It’s ok to do a gentle ten miles but make sure there’s a purpose (recovery run? ‘learning’ to run more slowly/hold back?’) In short, if there isn’t a purpose to it, either don’t bother or make one up. Either way, decide.
2. When something goes wrong in a race and you’re recapping … it’s not enough to just say ‘I ran out of fuel at 15 miles and that’s where it went wrong’. Sit down and back-track all the way. Why did you run out of fuel? Did you forget to fill up or did you drink more? Why did you need more? When did that start? You might find you can track these ‘causes’ all the way back to a night/week/month before (something that happened in training? Something that didn’t work? Wrong strategy?) … Go back until you can go no further. Only then can you see ‘where’ and ‘when’ things started to go wrong.
3. Cold weather running (long distances). If you’re drinking and drinking and peeing and peeing your body is going to shut down from cold!! Constant ‘peeing’ means your body is trying to get rid of that bloomin’ cold water you keep chucking down – because with the torrent of cold water it CANNOT WARM UP!! It’s desperately trying to get rid of the water so it can concentrate on warming up your core! Eventually, it will shut down from the cold unless you rectify this. Stop drinking cold water. Get hold of a warm drink pronto!!

That’s it from me! Thanks for listening. Gotta go now …. Ironman training awaits. And yes, that IS my ‘A’ race!!

 

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High Peaks 40 Mile Challenge – 20 September 2014

28
Sep

SUPERVET LADIES – 3RD PLACE – x hours and x minutes!!

Oh, all right, we all know how I wangled that one. Hyatt tortoise pace does NOT ‘win’ podium places unless … unless I’m merely beating everyone who didn’t enter PAHAHAHA Whatever! It’s there in writing. I’ll take it. I mean, when would I EVER get a placement otherwise? (Actually, I did beat one other lady haha)

Who cares? I finished – eventually – but not without drama. The course was every bit as beautiful as I remembered – perhaps even more beautiful, because this time – after a few ultras – I remembered to look up and breathe in the views! This, of course, was not always possible. There were lengthy patches of technical trail which required a lot of close attention – boulders, shale, gravel, steps and plenty of real inclines and fabulous downhills to get one’s teeth into (or preferably not, depending how you look at it!). That, however, is what I LOVE about trails – wild, unpredictable, varied and totally gorgeous.

With beauty comes challenge, though – and the best laid plans don’t always pan out over 40 miles! Over 40 miles even the tiniest glitches can mess with your head and I let a few inner voices do far too much talking this time. *Sigh* The little things. Five minutes before race start my Garmin strap broke. That’s ok. New plan. I would run the race without a watch – this would probably make me a lot more relaxed too and I was looking forward to that. I would merely tick off the 11 checkpoints – which made Checkpoint 7 very important indeed, because then I could count down. Marvellous – except that at Checkpoint 7 two things happened. First, I realised that I’d made a stupid mistake: there were TWELVE checkpoints, not 11. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I was not where I wanted to be! Then, to compound that, I figured I was roughly 30 miles in – and that was just fine. Didn’t matter really, since I didn’t have a GPS to tell me differently – until the lovely man at the water station piped up ‘Well done – that’s your marathon done!’ GRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!! Pfffffft! Only four miles off, but when the facts contradict what you’ve already decided are the truths weird things go on. Meltdown time haha. I waited till I was on a lonely stretch (actually, when you run as slowly as me it’s always lonely lol) … and sat down to wallow in self-pity for ten minutes. I didn’t make ten minutes. PING went my phone – and as if by true magic these totally incredible words came through:

There may come a day when you can’t continue, but today is NOT that day. Shake it off, take one step at a time and you CAN do it. ‘Inhale the positivity, exhale the negativity’ [private joke taken from Croc Dundee] I believe in you, you just need to believe in yourself.

More effective than dangling a chocolate brownie in front of me. And how timely!!! The lovely Caitriona hits the nail on the head once again – and somehow at just the right moment. Thank you, Caitriona.

After that it was a matter of one foot in front of the other and a lot of reminding myself that there was no real reason to walk other than that my body wanted to. Running was still more than possible (I’d hate to tell you how many times that particular battle played out!!). I had a ‘time’ that I was going to be happy with. Unfortunately, that was not to be this year. At the top of Deep Dale I ran after a runner just ahead of me who I knew had gone horribly wrong – and at a very dangerous place. I felt obliged to chase him and bring him back to the ‘drop’ down into Deep Dale which, scarily, is not actually visible from the top unless you know where to go (or risk your life finding out)! The chase cost me a good 20 minutes. That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things – but added to the extra hour due to a STUPIDLY missed arrow and an off-course alternative mini-race of 4 miles (!!) I well and truly blew every chance of coming in within any kind of respectable time at all.

Still, another finish line crossed and feeling very proud of it. Most peeved indeed that there was not even a teensy little medal or goody bag at the finish line, however. Absolutely nothing to show for lots of hours of hard work. Oh well.

The good news?

I finished.

I didn’t hit a wall: Tailwind Nutrition – thank you! Fuelled me for the entire race. Didn’t hit the wall until 20 minutes past the finish line (then it hit ME! Big time).

No injuries.

Plenty pride!

 

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Isle of Wight 50km Challenge 23 August 2014

28
Sep

Last-minute run-up to this was slightly thought-provoking. Shouldn’t races be social events, a time to get together with like-minded friends and strangers and enjoy some healthy competition? Yet I found myself apologising to a group of lovely people who were setting off to do the 100km walk and were all meeting up in the pub for food and drinkies the night before. Apologising because I just wanted to relax into race mode. I’d really been looking forward to this one. I was worried that my IT band issues might bring me to a halt as it did in the Weald Ultra just weeks before … and I merely wanted a pre-race afternoon of tea and cake, a wander around the island, peace and quiet in my own head and no watch-keeping. Is that so wrong? Perhaps – but that’s my way and I mean absolutely no offence by it.

 

And the race? I started with a warm-up plan of Run 10 Walk 5 minutes. Yes, that is a LOT of walking – but my magical ‘injury time’ seems to be around the 10-mile mark so I was determined to get past that milestone. I figured that 5 minutes would be long enough for any tension in my IT band to keep relaxing and getting back to normal. This might not be how it works, but hey, it worked for me! So I stuck to it like glue and had a fabulous day. The weather was more than kind and the ‘hills’ that I was expecting were only really ‘gradients’ – nothing ham- or quad-busting at all. The downside was the lack of coast for the first 18km! Nearly did my head in, it did – far too much road/housing estates etc. At one point I was thinking that if I’d known it was going to be a road race and not trail I would’ve worn different trainers!! That said, once I finally got to the coast it was BEAUTIFUL! Stunning, stunning trail all the way around. And the most fun bit? At the six-hour mark I started playing with numbers and figured I could still make a personal target of a sub-7 hour 50k (told you I was slow – you didn’t believe me, did you!!). So the next hour flew by with the distraction of making that target – a fab way to put aside the battles with sore legs, dodgy stomach and all those things that tend to surface around the 25 mile mark. Fab Fab Fab. It was a real battle but I won – with seconds to spare!! Of course, my timing for the IOW 50k doesn’t quite show my battle because the halfway-around-the-island mark aka the finish line – was actually at 56 km. Once I hit my 50k target I just lost the will to do any more battle. I had won my personal medal. I walked the next 56k – feeling every bloomin’ ache and listening far too closely to negative voices – and crossed the finish about an hour and a half later. I can’t tell you how THRILLED I was to cross that ultra line – injury free! It’s been a long year!

 

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A Runner’s Plea (when the demons come calling)

28
Sep

A Runner’s Plea (when the demons come calling) ***

Please remember, don’t forget,
That when this runner’s face is wet
With tears, mid-race, of fear (or worse),
The help I need is in this verse …

‘Poor ickle you, you’ve done your best,
Go home and sleep, you just need rest,’
Or ‘Never mind, another day –
I think you’re awesome anyway,’

Though heartfelt, lovely, sweet and kind,
(my health and safety clear in mind),
When DNF is in my head
I beg you try these words instead …

Try ‘Don’t you bloody dare to quit!’
Or ‘Princess, just get on with it,
And stop your whining, take a breath,
You knew by now you’d feel like death,

So get a grip, get butt in gear,
Push through; the wall will disappear.
Play numbers games or sing, or chant,
Just MOVE – and clear your mind of CAN’T!’

Might go against the grain to be
So cold and heartless, seemingly,
But trust and please respect my fight,
My tantrums, rants, my woes, my plight.

Your voice of sympathy will be
received anon most gratefully,
And every word of praise I’ll take,
And hugs (and lemon drizzle cake)!

But while I’m racing, please play deaf
to pleas for leave to DNF,
My sobbing, wailing words of woe
Are inner voices screaming NO –

but not for long. This battle’s mine
to win; I’ll cross that finish line
and one day, when you’re racing too,
I’ll try and do the same for you.

 

*** Notes: A few year ago, in the middle of my second ultra I had a major meltdown halfway through. I had an internet link. I facebooked my plight (as you do these days). Within half an hour my timeline was filled with lovely comments, sympathising, listening to my tears and assuring me I’d done so well, that I just needed sleep, that as long as I’d done my best …… etc. etc. All beautiful. But in the midst of reading them I got a text from my daughter with a slightly different tone: ‘Mother! No crying in the f***ing gym! Stop feel sorry for yourself and keep moving. I’m waiting at the finish line (freezing) so hurry up!’ These were the words that got me to the finish – not the ‘beautiful’ ones that gave me permission to quit. Last weekend meltdown time came again in the middle of the High Peaks 40. No internet available. There was, however, a text message from my daughter – perfectly timed (see High Peaks 40 post). Thank goodness for signal ‘holes’. The last thing I needed was more well-meant permission to DNF. Hence the story behind the above poem 🙂

COACH v. GENERALISED TRAINING PLAN (GTP)

25
Jun

Questions I used to ask/worry about before, during and after every run:

I’ve found three plans which will prepare me for my next race. They all have different work loads. Should I do the easier-looking one (will that prepare me enough?)? Should I go for the harder-looking one? Why is that so different from the other one?

It’s a 16-week plan, I’ve got 14 weeks before my next race. Do I start from Week 1 of the plan and make up the time somewhere – or should I start on Week 3?

These intervals are too hard for me. Should I do two less than stated? Or would it be better to do them all but at a slower pace?

I’ve got a nightmare week ahead and I’m forced to miss a session – what do I do? Which one do I skip? The intervals? The tempo? The LSD?

I’ve been ill. I’ve missed a week and I’m still not feeling great. What do I do? Do I go back a week? Do I ignore that week and just jump in at this week’s training schedule? Maybe I should go back two weeks because I’m getting a bit overwhelmed right now.

50-mile race next week and THIS training plan says ‘taper’ but THIS plan says to do a slow 30 and a 20 back to back? Should I be continuing to build – because this isn’t my A race? Or should I be tapering because that’s what most people do?

I’m having an off day but if I skip today’s run it’s going to throw everything out for the rest of the week and I don’t know how to change it. Should I force it?

I’ve got a niggling injury but I don’t know if it’s a ‘real’ injury or if it’s just in my head because that’s what happened last time. What do I do?

I’m really excited about my upcoming race, I’ve been looking forward to it for months and I know I need to get my training spot on so I don’t get injured. So the run I’m doing today … right now … is this really the right one for the right time … the right pace … the right target … What if it isn’t? What if it’s wrong? What if I get injured? What if …..?????

Answers available as per training plan: NONE

 

Questions I now ask my coach:  See all of the above.

Answers: Do X, then do Y, come back to me and we’ll discuss Z … and quit worrying.

 

Coach v. Generalised Training Plan from magazine = Coach 1; GTP 0

There is nothing to beat going for a run – or a training run – and having complete confidence that what you are doing is the right thing for you to do at that time according to your own ability.

That is all.

 

(With thanks to http://iancorless.org/for allowing me to run with confidence – in between a plethora of hiccups)

New Forest HM – My Race My Way

24
Mar

I’d love to know what it feels like to run fast. I really would. But meanwhile (like that’s going to change??), I’m destined to work with what I’ve got. At 51 and late to running there are quite a few compromises going on – but I refuse to be accused of not giving my 100% – even if it doesn’t look it from the outside and I can tell you what … as slow as I am racing is no less exciting from my end of the field.

Yesterday – 22 March 2014 – I competed in my first off-road half marathon at The New Forest Running Festival (http://nakedstrength.co.uk/events/the-new-forest-running-festival-2014/). Not that it would have made any difference to the result but it was slightly ‘unplanned’! I’d had a number lurking for the 50k (to face last year’s demons) but being in no way ready for a 50k the RD very VERY kindly allowed me to switch races, which was perfect. I mean, where better to do a Saturday LSD? This was, as it happened, also my first official HM. I’ve run them in training runs but never as a race distance. It took me 2 hours 17 minutes but in my heart I am still taking 1st place on the podium. The course was just nicely challenging – undulating but nothing close to heart-stopping. The wilds of the New Forest were stunningly rugged and beautiful and threats of rain and hail proved empty. Sun shone and conditions were superb. Even my favourite Dirty Girl gaiters (http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/Trail-Running-Gaiters-s/1899.htm) came back as pristine as they went out!

Perfect. What’s more, for me it was an exciting race! I’m used to that ‘red lantern’ position – although I think that term really only applies to ultras. You’ve got to admit, though, it’s a much nicer term than ‘last’! And yes, with a time of 2:17 I wasn’t too far from last but what mattered was the shortlist of mental games and dreams that yesterday I managed to turn into personal mini-conquests.

I don’t know the exact numbers but after the first two hills there were maybe a dozen runners behind me. By Mile 5 the ‘steadies’ had overtaken and I was probably about 3 from the back. That’s ok. That’s normal for me. My goal was to try and keep a few of them in sight for as long as possible. My first ‘target’ was a lady hereinafter referred to as Purple. She was like living proof of the effect of good cadence. It took her forever to run past me but she was so consistent and steady and efficient that even though she looked like she was running really slowly she very soon disappeared into the middle distance. It was fascinating to watch. I had some fun for a while trying to match her cadence because it seemed to be working so bloomin’ well but mid-race is not the time to try something ‘different’ so I dropped the idea, made a mental note and found ‘my own’ pace again.

My legs were tired after 3 miles – honestly! Or was that my head? Stressy week, not the best nutrition, too much going on at home and I’d missed a couple of key runs because Body just said ‘No’! So I wasn’t in the best headspace but I knew this was the perfect LSD run for me and ‘new’ scenery would help rekindle my waning mojo. I very soon realised that my head was playing games and I decided on a reward. I’d divide the race into 2 x 5 miles and after each 5 I could walk a bit and regroup before the final leg. This helped me push past the nonsense of being tired at 3 miles!! By the time I got to the 5-mile mark I also knew that any walking was a matter of Can’t-Be-Arsed Syndrome rather than ‘need’. I made a deal with myself that if I ‘needed’ to walk, I could do that at 6 miles instead – round about 10k. Cut a long story short, I played this ridiculous mental peekaboo with the nonsense in my head for the entire race – and didn’t walk at all! *** Achievement No. 1

As always I found myself running solo for a few miles but a turnoff onto a longish downhill gave me a glimpse of several runners not that far in front! OMG my heart leapt! I am not used to EVER being able to see runners in front of me – I am too far behind for that (unless they’re lapping me), so this was tremendously exciting. That 500m gap, in my world, made me feel like part of a group. And with this little moment of joy came another miracle. My brain kicked in and I actually remembered that I am quite good at running downhill now (I’ve been practising)! Time to give it a go … I ran that downhill fast and by the bottom I was on the heels of the back runner!! *** Achievement No. 2

3 miles to go and either head, legs or both started to get the better of that group of runners and as much as I possibly could I tried to take advantage. It doesn’t happen often that I can reel in a running target. Yellow was first to topple. We’d crossed paths a few times but she kept coming back to haunt me. This time I passed her on a long uphill – and lost her. Whoop! Ahead was Black – who’d looked invincible from the start. That same hill got her, too, but I was on a mission now (even if it was a 10-minute mile mission!) and passed her on the same hill. Red! I never thought I’d see her but yay! And then … Purple! Seriously? The cadence lady. I don’t know what happened but I didn’t stop to ask (sorry!). At this point I remember wondering if I’d actually been transported to some kind of parallel universe. I mean, this was me – OVERTAKING PEOPLE!

2 miles to go and I had a great mile alongside Blue. She finally pulled away in the last mile looking super strong. A part of me hopes that during the mile or so together she was thinking ‘That old bag is bloody well not getting ahead of me!’ I’d like to think I encouraged her to push a little harder.

Finally, in the last half mile I passed Tall (not to be confused with Red lol). Jeepers, that final hill was evil. Thank you Tall for your support – the only person who spoke to me. The giggle on the way up was great. I made it to the top first and thought I was home and dry until in the final 50m you absolutely ripped past me! It was AWESOME running! I hope you heard me shouting/cheering you on. Trust me, I was coming after you but you totally had that and it was great to have someone to chase to the finish.

So there you have it. I – Me – overtook a BILLION other runners (a.k.a. 4) … *** Achievement No. 4!

I crossed the finish line and … the tents were all still up and the TEA LADY WAS STILL THERE! And that, Ladies and Gents, is most definitely a first! *** Achievement No. 5!

Finally, I have to admit to be really very proud of myself – something I don’t usually permit. *** Achievement No. 6.

HUGE thanks to the most wonderful, friendly and supportive marshalls and organisers.

Many thanks to to the wonderful Mandy Jackson for your company, the laughs, the chat and the support. You didn’t have the race you wanted but your turn will come.

And a final and massive thanks to the reason that I experienced the joy of coming in ‘a few from the end. This, I know, comes down to training and very patient coaching. For that, I have to thank http://iancorless.org/tag/talk-ultra/

OFFICIAL FINISH POSITION:  32 ….. TOTAL RUNNERS: 47 !!!!! Sooooooooooooooooooo not last. Whooppeee 🙂

 

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Do better. Try harder. Go further.

27
Oct

My 2013 running year has been plagued with injuries; minor injuries (phew!) that coach Ian Corless (thank you!) assures me have been ‘sent to test me’. Well, I’ve been tested a-plenty. Time for the Injury Gods to go pick on someone else. Meanwhile, as I’ve spent the year taking two steps forward one back, lots of people have asked me how and why I’m still motivated, why I don’t stop running instead of waiting for my ‘next’ injury, how I can remain positive (mostly) when I’m constantly (it seems) on an uphill struggle with my fitness.

Easy! I simply look around me and steal all the best bits from friends, family and personal heroes. How, then, can I not be inspired to do better, try harder, go further?

My ultrarunning passion started as a dream several years ago as I perused an article on some runner called Scott Jurek (check out his book Eat and Run, too). The article made me sit up and pay attention. It was something about his mindset … his talk about the next race he planned to win, about the strategies he used to go faster, to go further, to explore the limits of the human body, to consistently shut out the little voices screaming ‘QUIT’ and ‘STOP’. His passion and mental strength were mesmeric and I couldn’t help but want to steal a little of that and see what I could do with it within my own private world.

So began a wonderful journey of discovery (culminating frequently in tears, tantrums and the occasional smatterings of pride). The ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek might have lit the spark but ultra-running success (i.e. crossing the finish line even when everyone has packed up and gone home!!) requires as much yin as it does yang. You can have the brightest spark but you have to be completely comfortable with the dark and the shadows, too. I learned that one hero is not enough. I took a more rigorous look and hey ho found all the resources and inspiration and motivation I needed in extremely close proximity and readily accessible. How had I missed this previously? Confession time: I must now admit that I am nothing more than a common thief. I STEAL inspiration if and when required! And if you’re reading this blog then I have probably stolen from you, too!

I owe my ultrarunning ‘reality’ to a certain Irish Aussie (you know who you are). It’s all very well to dream of saving the world, of having super powers and/or hitting headline news for whatever … so ultrarunning remained a dream until I connected on Facebook with an old school friend and discovered that here was a (relatively!!) ‘normal’ person – running these crazy distances. So ultra-running wasn’t JUST for the Jureks of this world. Of course, I now know that he’s not really ‘normal’ at all – but you get my drift. It was only after finding out that ‘regular’ human beings could participate in this craziness that I registered for my first race in an effort to go further.

If my school buddy was my confirmation that ‘regular’ people could chase dreams – others inspire me daily to try and keep my head in the right place and just bloody get on with it! The ‘how and why do you keep going’ bit relies heavily on your comfort with the afore-mentioned ‘darkness’ behind the sparks. For that I draw frequently on one lady’s incredible ‘humanity’ and loyalty and belief in what’s good and what’s right. When you have to spend hours in your own company training for 18-hour ultra races you need to be (reasonably) at peace with who you are! With my neverending room for improvement in this area this Ms W from Woodingdean is a fountain of wonderfulness who ceaselessly inspires me to … do better.

And when the going gets really tough? I think of the friend who has more grit and determination than anyone I know. I draw on what I’ve witnessed in her competitive career, hoping to steal a breath of whatever it is she has that gives her the strength to always ALWAYS find that bit of extra drive and depth of ‘digging’ into the abyss that is that hurt box – to find whatever is left in the human body to push a little further, a little faster, in order to cross that bloody elusive finish line. It’s humbling to witness when you know that your own best efforts have been ‘relatively’ pathetic in comparison. No, no, let’s not get into the ‘you must race to your own ability’ argument. I’m TELLING you that that kind of finishing ‘drive’ is something I am constantly chasing, which I am determined to find every time I hit that hurt box – and which I still allow to drift away each time it really matters. You know who YOU are, Mrs A. You inspire me every time to try harder.

And let’s not forget family – maybe the strongest inspiration of all. Facing down personal challenges would be impossible (for me) without daily motivation and support from husband and children and I am totally blessed that mine are the absolute best of the best and know me so incredibly well. And I can’t possibly write about my heroes and help without mentioning my beloved daughter’s thorough understanding of my mindset – the perfect example of tuning in to what’s needed: Whilst in a blur of tears during a race last year and amidst a thousand ‘comforting’ Facebook messages, Caitriona, my lovely daughter, stepped back from the platitudes and texted ‘Oh, suck it up, Mother. Stop crying in the bloody gym and get on with it!’ That’s the message that got me to the finish! Meanwhile, my husband refused to acknowledge my blubbering and instead just prompted me to get to the next fuel station, the next tree, the next marker … These are my true heroes – the people who just ‘get it’ – who get the fact that this is something that I simply needed to do! No explanations necessary.

So you asked where I get my inspiration. Now you know. From you! All of you!

Oh – and my ‘elite’ heroes? I had the absolute fortune and honour a couple of weeks ago to run in the presence of (I definitely won’t say ‘with’ haha) Scott Jurek, who was in the UK to speak at the Veg Fest. He was wearing a tee-shirt with his own slogan emblazoned on it: Pain Only Hurts! You can only win the most famous 100-mile trail race seven times in a row with a mindset like that. As a runner, how can you not feed off that?

Emelie Forsberg! She smashes records and finish lines with a permanent smile and you can’t but help share her thrill when you read her blogs about her passion for the mountains.

And Kilian Jornet. Wow! Doesn’t the title of his new book ‘Run or Die’ say it all? When people discover a passion, they will often make a list of books they want to read, races they want to run etc. When Kilian started trail racing he sat down and wrote a list of all the races he wanted to WIN! What d’you say to that? Not a lot. Kilian is currently the fastest man in the world on the trails and has won almost every race on that list. Much like Ben Ainsley has an open line of communication with the Gods of the Deep (I’m sure of it), Kilian Jornet appears to have exclusive access to the secrets of the mountains.

These are my inspiration to do better, try harder and go further.

So there! Now you know. My sources of inspiration are no longer a secret haha. So … who are yours? If you haven’t thought about it, then now’s the time. I think you’ll find a few surprises – and many will be so much closer to home than you originally thought. (Note: If I mentioned all my sources this post would be very VERY long!!!)

Draw from your friends, your family, your neighbours, your clients, your childhood romances, your teenage celebrity crushes, your adult heroes and from Mother N herself. It doesn’t matter where it comes from so long as it helps you take a step closer to being the person you want to be. See the hero in everyone. Find it, then let it inspire you … to do better, try harder and go further.

Inside my marathon head …

19
Apr

Welcome to the weird (and scary) world that is INSIDE MY HEAD!! If you want to know how to train for an ultra – or how to run a marathon – then may I direct you swiftly AWAY from this blog?? If, however, you’d like a list of ‘what not to do’, then … put the kettle on!!

So here we are again – Brighton Marathon time. I really REALLY want a PB. I want a particular number that will excuse from marathons guilt-free for the rest of my life! That’s not to say that I won’t run longer or shorter – but I just don’t particularly like this distance! So I want to see a ‘4’. If you’ve been following this blog you should know by now that when I say ‘4’ that’d be 4:59:59. That’ll do.

What have I done to train for that? Em … let’s see. Four weeks ago I ran the New Forest 50k. That’ll be my over-distancing, then lol My legs were great after that – or so I thought. I was ever so happy. A decent run and the only thing that got in the way was my headspace. And then? Can you believe that suddenly, five days AFTER the race and for no apparent reason at all, my IT-band started screaming at me, with my Plantar Fasciitis quickly joining in? So … training was quickly changed from ‘just keep the miles going, no need to taper’ to ‘Sweet F.A.’

Grrrrr.

It was hard to get psyched up for a run with a niggling injury so I put in place a Plan B. Plan DNF should perhaps have been an option but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to accept those letters yet, so Plan B was going to have to do. As I voiced said plan to my best buddy, I could hear Talk Ultra’s Mark Laithwaite’s voice in my ear … Episode 22  the Talk Training section. I could almost see him banging his head on his desk in disbelief. He’s laughing away, telling stories of people who’ve set their half-marathon and 10k PBs in a marathon! ‘Well, how does that work?’ he remarks (somewhat indignantly). I must add that although I’m jumping up and down on the couch yelling ‘Oh yeah, Mark, look over here, I’ve done that, too’ … it’s fascinating to then listen to his explanation of, indeed, ‘how it works’. I say ‘fascinating’, because it is. Encouraging, it’s not. But hey ho, I’m one of those people currently ‘stuck’ in the battle of contact v. cadence v. core v. coordination and if YOU are relatively new to running, then you need to listen to Episodes 21 and 22 of the above-mentioned Talk Ultra podcast! So it was with muted apologies to Mark, that I actually ‘planned’ to run a reasonably decent (for me) half-marathon and then reassess. If at that point I could feel that persevering further was only going to lead to unnecessary injury, then I would consider accepting the dreaded DNF – but at least with a half-marathon PB!! *cue Mark Laithwaite* ‘If you race shorter, you can run faster and harder.’ Well, in a way, I was racing shorter, wasn’t I? Hmmm. Besides, I’ve never actually run a half-marathon as a race in its own right, so there! Lol

So … now you know exactly what NOT to do – EVER – let’s just skip to the start line! Was I ready? No. Was my knee hurting? Yes. Was I going to pull out? No. My wonderful physio Jamie Webb constantly reminds me that if I tell myself something’s going to hurt, it will! So I start the race quashing any ITB complaints, mentally sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting LA-LA-LA-LA-LA at the first sign of any moaning from that region of my leg. It kind of works. I say ‘kind of’. Around Mile 7 or 8 there’s quite a decent downhill and whereas I’d been hoping to pick up a few seconds with the help of the slope, that was probably the most painful section of the course. I was forced to stop and stretch. It didn’t bode well so early on but I picked up, stuck with my plan and ran for the halfway mark and a PB it was. Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t really count, I know – but it’s good for the soul. 🙂

It wasn’t fast by any standards. I don’t do fast (yet!!) #everhopeful But if I’d been able to sustain that pace (roughly 10.30/mile) for the rest of the race I’d have been ecstatic. Unfortunately, an unforeseen toilet break brought me to a standstill for almost ten minutes!! I’ve never had to stop before but just didn’t have an option (at least when you’re trail running there are TREES and no queues!!!!). I took advantage and stretched and this was probably helpful but my pace – mentally and physically – took a massive dive after this. Note to self: This is something I’ve REALLY got to work on – this pace drop mid race – no matter what the distance! Hmmmm! The death-defyingly dull and ugly course that is Brighton marathon didn’t help, either. However, I had a man in a red tee-shirt with HEAVY LOAD written on the back – a wee bit in front of me. I spent the time making sure he didn’t get away from me. Once I came out of the power station and onto the home stretch I did a better job of sucking it up and getting the job done. In fact, I was really pleased with my own personal performance over the final 4-5 miles. Too little too late, perhaps, but I finished feeling good about those final miles. I set off on my little ‘seek and destroy’ mission and reeled in the ‘Heavy Load’ man – followed by another targeted ‘pair’. I passed a LOT of people on those four miles and, even better, I stayed in front of them!! My final target for the race was a pair of yellow tee-shirts who I’d chased for MILES!! (I’d picked them up at mile 15!) I caught them in the final 800 metres – my day was made!

Even the sun came out – HEAVEN!!

I’m happy. I didn’t see my ‘4’. Dammit! Got to do another one now  I did, however, still see a PB. 5:11 over last year’s 5:17.

Next time.

Next time I’ll see a ‘4’.

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