Posts Tagged ‘ultramarathon’

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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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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The right kind of support …

25
Oct

During September’s High Peaks 40-mile ultra marathon I had the amazing fortune to run alongside an inspirational lady called Kelly T (I’ll keep the surname back just in case). Kelly left me in total awe as I watched her battle valiantly with shin splints for most of the race while she simultaneously regaled me with her training plan stories in readiness for the Himalayan 100 mile stage race (http://www.himalayan.com/) a mere six weeks later. It only took about ten miles, though, to realise that here was a lady who had a headspace much akin to my own; in other words nothing short of a broken leg would permit the letters D, N and F (in that order) to creep into our running alphabet, mind or body. Yes, we were both slow, back of the pack, just about the furthest from ‘elite’ (or even ‘good’ – haha) that it’s possible to get, but we were on a journey and that was all that mattered.

Perhaps I’ll run into Kelly again sometime in the future? Perhaps not. As is normal in these ‘one-off’ meetings, we’ve had no contact since. That said, the running bond is still in place and yesterday morning I felt I just had to text her and wish her well on her incredible Himalayan multi-day challenge (in case you don’t click on the link I’ll just add here that the Everest Marathon is on Day 3!!). The text was simple: Amanda here from HP40. Thinking of you embarking on an amazing journey. Wanted to wish you success.Take care, stay safe, run well. Don’t stop when you’re tired; stop when you’re done!

The text I got back? OMG thank you so much for remembering and thank you for being the only person who understands! Everybody’s advice has been the other way round, but I’m going to smash it!

I wonder is it an ultrarunner’s nemesis to be surrounded by what I think is not so much a ‘lack’ of support but rather unintentionally misdirected support? Non-runners don’t care too much whether you’re running 5k or 50k, but whereas your 10k running buddy will tell you to go for it and push to the limit at the next race, this all changes as soon as the distance increases. Marathons? Yup, you’re already pushing boundaries running a marathon but marathons are so common nowadays – and more and more people are starting to realise that if you can walk then you can actually run a marathon if you want to, so supportive comments tend to be along the lines of ‘Yeah, go for it, Nutter’ or ‘Don’t forget to pace yourself’ – but nothing more than that.

Utter the word ‘ultra’, though – or talk in terms of anything over 26 miles – and suddenly, to the non-runner you’re a weirdo and they don’t want anything more to do with you, or they simply don’t know how to respond. ‘Standard-distance’ runners (as I’m going to call them) are suddenly at a bit of a loss, too – and the end result seems to be a bit of an impasse where everyone just gets on with what they’re doing and no-one really speaks about it at all. It’s funny. The subject of ultrarunning becomes the elephant in the room and there doesn’t seem to be any way of explaining that that step from marathon to ultra (in my super-limited and exceedingly subjective experience) becomes so much less about the running and so much more about the journey, about discovery, about learning.

This leads me back to Kelly’s reply to my text and the obvious misguided support for her incredible adventure, because it’s ultimately incomprehensible to the majority that endurance events aren’t about the run, the injuries (variable lol) or the pain (inevitable). They are all about learning – and the last thing an ultrarunner wants to hear before hitting that start line is the voice of concern (difficult as that may be for close family). ‘Be careful’, ‘Don’t push too hard’, ‘It’s not worth the suffering’, ‘When it gets too hard, don’t be afraid to stop’ or ‘I’m worried about you, why are you doing this?’ … Grrrrr – all voices of concern and of course they have their time and place, but leading up to an endurance event isn’t either the time OR the place! Hmmmmm. The more I write the more I’m realising just how crazy that sounds. However, during the 40m High Peaks Kelly slowed down massively for several miles and moaned about her stomach, how ill she was feeling, how everything was going tits up. Cruelly (or not?), I refused to express any kind of concern. The last thing you want when you hit the wall and are ready to sniffle and curl up and die – is for your running buddy to curl up and die with you. I offered water and confirmation that it was only X km to the next checkpoint. An hour later I was in the same position. Kelly’s words of comfort were ‘I know how that feels. Just keep going. It’ll pass.’ Perfect.

So, you get the idea? Crazy as it is, ultrarunners need the same ‘support’ as you’d give to someone going out for their first 5k! I’m incredibly and unbelievably lucky. I seem to be surrounded by people who just ‘get’ this – but most people, including Kelly it appears, are not.

So Kelly? GO SMASH IT – just as you’ve planned!! I read an article the other day which said that ‘having fun isn’t always fun’. They were talking about ultras, of course, and I think it’s the perfect description of ultrarunning – fun without fun LOL With that in mind, Kelly Thorne, I hope you have a LOT of fun on Everest.

But what do I know? I know nothing! I’m building on my philosophy here and loving the new outlook on life that even ‘training’ for an ultra has given me. It’s very special. It’s new, it’s exciting, I aspire simply to just not come last … and I think I love it most of all because it’s so far out of my comfort zone and there is SO much to learn. Now … I wonder if I can afford a bus to the Himalayas …

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London2Brighton 100km – My First Ultramarathon: The Story

18
May

12 MAY 2012 – LONDON TO BRIGHTON 100KM CHALLENGE – superbly organised by ACTION CHALLENGE

Run – in my case – in aid of ROCKINGHORSE CHILDREN’S CHARITY

 

0355 hrs, Teddington Travelodge, London. Alarm goes off. Phone intentionally left on the other side of the room so I’ve got to get out of bed to hit ‘Snooze’! It’s a teeny bit early, but I need that nine-minute snooze time to re-group and start sorting my head without panic, stress or rush! Plenty of time for that later – in about nine minutes’ time.

0409 hrs. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!! Well, no, it’s not – but the ‘0409’ bit is right – sounds like it’s a good time to get up, too! Kettle on, shower, TV on to check weather. Blue skies all round = perfect. Already I can take waterproofs out of backpack and transfer to 50km drop bag – yay! Instant porridge at the ready, smoothie with guarana …. and all-important cup of tea! Breathe!

0445 – taxi in 15 mins. Tipping out my backpack yet again. Let’s just check if there’s anything else I can get rid of. I think I’ve done pretty well. I’ve seen pics on facebook of what some people are carrying. I don’t even have that much in my bathroom!! But maybe they’re right and I’m wrong? Who the hell knows? I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing here. You don’t need to pack a bag for a marathon so gearing up for this is as much guess work and personal choice as anything … and common sense, I think. And let’s face it, I’m not out to break any records, but I’m aiming for success at the very least so my knees are No. 1 priority, which means the less weight I’m carrying the better.  For future reference, I’m posting my backpack/drop bag contents separately. Right now, I’m more concerned about the fact that I’ve typed the words ‘future reference’! Worrying.

Taxi’s here. Bags packed, drinks sorted.

Time to go.

 

START LINE

Richmond Old Deer Park is a-buzz! Runners pour in and out of the registration tent – and in and out of the Portaloos! All look terribly professional and ‘in the know’. I definitely feel out of my depth – and almost a bit of a fraud calling myself a ‘runner’, since I’m well aware there’s going to be a helluva lot of walking involved!!! But according to the rules, the fact that I’m running ‘any’ of it classifies me as a runner rather than a walker. It’s scary to find myself in only the second wave of runners, though. My start time is 0615; the final wave of challengers won’t leave until 1030!

Paul from Rockinghorse Charity taps me on the shoulder and offers me an array of goodies – chocolate, jelly beans, face towels and I don’t know what else. I pick up a bar of chocolate, thinking that later on I’ll probably be screaming for the comfort (how wrong I was!).

We are corralled to a seemingly obligatory warm-up with ………………… Mr Motivator!!

*bites tongue* He’s superbly good at what he does.

He is. He really is.

Moving swiftly onwards …

We’re off.

Interestingly, nerves have gone. I’ve banished all thoughts of what’s ahead. My plan is to concentrate on just one kilometre at a time and to do what I keep telling my running clients to do: to ‘not’ – as far as can be helped – get easily mesmerised by that point on the ground that’s always a couple of yards ahead; to remember to look up and enjoy the view!

And what views!!! (Now, I speak for the first 50km. Things went rather ‘differently’ after that – but the first 50 were glorious!) Blue sky has made all the difference; the Thames is perfectly still, the path winds alongside it, passing houseboats galore. There are swans, there are geese and there are ducks on the path – and newborn ever-so-fluffy and delightful ducklings on the bank. I’m rubbish at finding words to describe just how tranquil and glorious it is so I’m going to leave that firmly planted inside my head rather than bore you with clichéd trashy descriptions that mean absolutely nothing.

My favourites moments in that first 50k:

The Thames Path at 6.15 in the morning. Glorious; and

Nonsuch Palace– or rather the wilderness that surrounds it! Apart from the most fabulous name, I turned down a path into an expanse of wild and wonderful wilderness that almost made me stop in my tracks! Feast for the eyes (how am I doing with the clichés??). It ‘took my breath away’. It …. OK, enough! You get the message. It’s in my diary under ‘Must Revisit!’

I spend the first hour or so juggling between watching my pacing for fear of going out too fast (although that term is extremely relative in my case lol) and chasing other runners in the distance for fear of getting hopelessly lost! I cannot find my way out of a paper bag so my biggest fear is not just taking a wrong turn, but not being able to read the bloody maps to find my way back again!! And that would most certainly not be due to a ‘lack’ of maps! Yes, I have the given route maps – but my darling husband – who is even more despairing of my inability to distinguish south from north as I am – has painstakingly spent hours printing out tiny section maps with details of every field, path, alleyway, tunnel and trail. I think the only thing missing is a list of names of the rabbit families living in the respective clearly marked warrens!!! But I learn two things very quickly. (1) That it is neither advisable to look for too long at EITHER the point on the ground two yards in front of my feet OR the view – because it only takes a second to sail past a directional arrow; and (2) once you get into the habit of looking for those arrows the Action Challenge organisers have done the most amazing job of posting them EVERYWHERE!! This might seem incredibly trivial but with such a lengthy challenge ahead it was very easy to get lost in one’s own thoughts, to get distracted, to lose focus – and that was all the time it took to miss that next crucial arrow.

Several kilometres go by and I’m continually fascinated by how much discipline this takes. At least, it seems like that, initially. Running along on my own, I spend the first hour making a point of not missing an arrow, not running too fast, not running too slow, not getting distracted by gorgeous views ……  so many things running through my head. Perhaps the nerves aren’t quite as ‘gone’ as I thought!! You live and you learn. Every minute of this race turns out to be a learning experience – and one which I wouldn’t give up for the world!

I start to settle down a bit. I can enjoy the views; I stop looking at my watch and start listening to my body instead; my pace sorts itself out; and I’ve got the hang of spotting those arrows! The plethora of arrows, however, is also responsible for one goddamned song to be hammering around in my brain for the next four hours. At the risk of showing my age, who remembers it? Sing along with me now ………………… Here they come, falling out of the blue; Little arrows for me and for you; We’re falling in love again ……… (followed by) ‘Little arrows in your clothing, little arrows in your hair; When you’re in love you’ll find those little arrows everywhere …’  Even more tragically, I have to admit that yes, I know ALL the words L  But it’s a small price to pay, I guess, for the incredibly helpful, accurate and prompt signage all along the route – a credit to the organisers (and one MASSIVE weight off my shoulders as I realise there is little worry about getting lost so long as I stay focussed).

You get the gist …. I’m not going to set out a km-by-km account of my first ultra! The only person who needs to know all that is me! But hey! It feels good to be able to say ‘ultra’! I remember I passed 46.2 km and I clearly recall letting out a very quiet and rather pathetic cheer because it was that silly moment when I could officially say I was an ‘ultra-runner’! I know – ridiculous – but at the time it was ultra-important! To me, anyway. Having failed to reach the start line of my first marathon four years ago, I’d never believed I’d be able to tick that goal off my to-do list .. and I’d just exceeded it. Yup! That felt good!!!!

 

Green Lane mid-point 11.9 km  I’ve settled down. 10 mins ahead of predicted schedule. Wahay – the advantage of being a runner is that there are no queues for the loos AND they’re all still clean. My day is made! Now, if only I can keep ahead of the pack lol  Quick top up of water bottle and I’m off.

 

CP1 – Oaks Park 24.7 km  Lunch! LUNCH? Are you kidding? It’s 9.30 a.m.  I’m taking 20 mins to regroup. This is where it gets complicated …. I’ve no benchmarks. Do I stop here or keep going? Is it good to sit down/rest or should I get the hell out and keep moving? To eat or not to eat? Not having any experience, I’ve no idea what to do here. I grab a cup of tea and sit down to work it out!!! Decide on 20 minute break which in retrospect I could probably have gone without. The problem is not the first 50km – the problem is not knowing what my body is going to do after that! Oh well … who’s to know? I can sit here and debate it …………………. Or I can get moving.

I grab a homemade flapjack from my backpack (these became my staple and thank God I made them!), top up drinks – one with water, one with High5 energy drink … and decide I can do the rest of my pondering/eating while I’m walking!

 

Orpheus Centre mid-point 37.6 km  Oops! My bottles are still full. That’s not good. I down a few cups of water and promise myself to have drained both bottles before the next checkpoint. Besides, it’s warm. Hat and gloves are off – for me, that means there must be sunshine! Mind you, it’s been hard work ploughing through all that mud!! I can’t decide whether the mud is irritating or funny.  I wish I could see how the ‘real’ runners are dealing with it. I wonder are they just going straight through it? I’m too chicken to try – it’s so slippery and up to 6-8 inches in places. I don’t think I could ‘run’ it even if I tried. I’ve done my best to get past it as quickly as possible, though.  Note: Ladies … when the path is narrow and there is a line forming of TWELVE RUNNERS (I counted) behind you … it’s time to move the f*** over!!!!!!  Am I right or am I right? To me, that’s just common courtesy – but maybe that’s why I never win everything. Maybe I should try holding up the field, elbows at the ready? Just kidding – but you know what I mean.

I’m out of there! More mud, mud, glorious mud. It’s a good excuse to walk, innit!!! But you’ve really got to have a sense of humour. I come across one section, stop dead and laugh out loud! The mud is so bad they’ve thrown down planks of wood followed by eight car tyres, tied together. It’s L2B meets Warrior Dash! Brilliant! I am so glad I’m running right now – I would not like to have to face this obstacle in the dark!

And then there’s the stiles. I think I’ve climbed over more stiles on this route this morning than I did in ten years living in the middle of Ireland! And some of them – Oi! – were constructed by VERY TALL FARMERS!! Jeez!  There is one particularly ‘high’ one that I’m struggling over when I hear a voice behind me.

Voice: ‘You OK there?’

Me: ‘Yes, thanks – it’s really high, this one!’

Voice: ‘Ah! Well, I think I’ll just go round it, then!’ (raucous laughter)

%£$%&$£^&!!!!!!!   Hate to say it, but yes, there is a big gap right beside it. Doh! What an idiot! But out of that laughter comes the start of a beautiful ultra-friendship! I’ve passed Stephen and Eric a couple of times en route as they stopped to take photos – then they’d pass me again twenty minutes later, etc. etc. As we pass that stile (or climb it, depending on your level of utter stupidity!!) … we are on the approach to the 50km checkpoint and are all starting to feel weary. As we jog along chatting about Lord knows what, we are joined by Neil and Stu … all making our merry way at roughly the same kind of pace. I have to say it is WONDERFUL to have the company and yet not be worried that any kind of ‘pace’ is being forced on anyone. We just settle in together and reach the next checkpoint an impromptu team.

 

CP2 – Felbridge Tennis Club – 53.5 km    45 mins ahead of my predicted time so happy but slightly shell-shocked. I’ve run 50km – woo hoo!! What else matters! Except the job in hand, I guess. My wonderful crew is waiting for me in the form of Karim. He grabs my backpack and refills my drinks. I help myself to hot food – God, that tastes good!  Haven’t eaten for a while. I thought I’d be constantly hungry. Wrong. Re-stock gels. Take bite of blueberry muffin, thinking something sweet wouldn’t go amiss. Wrong again! Stomach says ‘NO!’ At previous midpoint I phoned Karim and begged him to bring some fruit – grapes, pineapple … as I was gasping for it – but already I it’s a struggle to eat anything. Weird and unexpected! Down a half litre of coconut water, run through checklist again. Guarana shot – pure magic – and it’s time to go.

Loving, absolutely loving all the psychological ‘surprises’ along route – so, so different to anything I’ve done before.  A dodgy few seconds here. In the moment it takes me to stand up, my elation of ‘Wow! Already half way!’ switches to ‘F***! Only half way!’  At that very moment I hear a now familiar voice behind me (again) … ‘Ready, Amanda? We’re not leaving without you, you know!’ I just can’t tell you what a difference that made. I’m suddenly ‘part of a team’ and it’s all I need. Mindset readjusted. We’re off!

What’s more, I think this is my favourite 10k of the lot. I feel like I’ve got a new set of legs – the hot food? The guarana? The rest? Or great company? Whatever … it feels great. And, of course, I already know I’m going to finish this course or die trying … there’s no going back after half way!

 

Highbrook Field mid-point – 64.7 km  No stopping. Let’s just get this section done. The going’s good, the plan is not to break the rhythm.

Mud has been replaced by marsh and I’m not sure which is worse! Wet, wet, soggy uneven clumps of long grass and seemingly endless fields of it! Ugh!  Things suddenly start to go pear-shaped. A few injuries have crept into ‘the team’ and pace has slowed. Spirits still high!

 

CP3 Ketche’s Lane Field – 73.1 km  Final stop. Erm … (Note to Self: Don’t know what to change but something needs to change at this point next time round)  Spirits are high! Karim is there waiting – refills bottles. No energy drinks please! Can’t stand the thought of eating …. Until I walk into the tent. Bacon and sausages … that’ll do! Bloomin’ lifesaver. My stomach is just rebelling against everything else. I think it must be the fact that it’s hot? Everything else food-wise has lost its appeal – can’t bear the thought. Never mind, though. Home stretch, eh?

But it’s going to be tough … I’m ignoring everything but well aware that it’s not going to get easier. IT bands on both legs are screaming – it’s a familiar scream. I can cope. Karim reminds me I’d planned to maybe change trainers – I had thought different trail shoes might be good for coming over the Downs and a change of support would give my knees a break, too. It’s not going to happen. My feet are swollen (in fact, I think it’s just my big toes!!) … and I can’t even get into my trail shoes. Decision made, then.

Ibuprofen makes an appearance – and last guarana shot of the day. Quick change of attire – extra layer of clothing into backpack, hat and gloves accessible, headtorch accessible. Procrastination is not going to help. Move!

 

Wivelsfield School mid-point 81.7 km  We’re definitely walking now! There’s an interesting variety of geriatric gaits going on. The mud and the marshland in the dark aren’t fun any more. New tactics come into play. Stephen volunteers as army sergeant-major … whatever … and leads us in a strict Left-Left-Left-Right-Left ………… It’s hilarious but jeez, it makes so much sense why they do that!! It’s so hypnotic it really works! And you just have to keep pace! It’s pretty amazing, actually – from a non-army perspective! Definitely a lightbulb moment (or at least a headtorch moment!)

We’re not laughing quite so much any more. I think we’re struggling to keep upright! We stop here just a little bit longer than we should have. Neil has left us – determined to make that midnight rendezvous. He’s marched on ahead. Good on him! Eric has disappeared, too – accompanying a girl who we found walking on her own and who had no torch – complete madness! Stephen and Stu sit down and finish off a hot drink. I don’t dare sit! I’ll never get up again. I’m itching to keep moving before I come to a total standstill. It’s a wall. So it’s only maybe 3 feet high, but a wall nonetheless – needs climbing over!!

 

Swann Inn, Falmer mid-point – 94.4 km  I’m officially bloody freezing but I haven’t dared stop to access the layers from my backpack – I don’t want to break any kind of rhythm, I just want to keep going. Running is no longer an option so it’s dead slow – all the more reason to keep moving forwards! Relentlessly! Finally – a stop where I can layer up. I empty my backpack and everything goes on! Better! Eric’s back – waiting for dad (Stephen) to do the final stretch together. Stu is in serious trouble. It’s taken us a long long time to do this last stretch – there’s been a lot of downhill and it’s been a curse. Give me uphill any time!! Stu’s knee is a lot worse than mine – the only way he can come down the hills is backwards!!! At any other time that might be funny – actually, yes, we laugh.  At one point I look back at him and crack up completely because I honestly can’t tell if he’s walking forwards or backwards – his legs are so stiff it’s like watching a robot.  The water in that damned drum thing won’t heat. I don’t care. I’ll go on without it. The support crew guy says we should pop into the pub and warm up for a few minutes – too cruel!! He’s serious and has asked the pub for permission. He needs to run this race next year to understand how vital it is that that pub door never opens!!! Not here and not now!

6 km to go. Really can’t stop. The water’s not hot enough to make a tea, but one of the support crew ladies runs after me with a cup of warm water – better than nothing, she says. She’s right. We drink while we walk. Stu has stayed behind to get his knees strapped up. I’m not worried about him. I know he’ll finish – no matter what.

It’s definitely a trudge and these must be the longest six kilometres in history. Can’t see a thing, tiny uneven little tractor-wheel paths through fields, alongside roads … but at least I know where I am, now. I can happily tell the guys where we’re heading. Racecourse is just up around the corner. And …………… there it is! I’ve managed to keep my feet perfectly dry up to now. The racecourse grass is long and sopping wet. Drenched and freezing feet. Who the hell cares! Red flags up ahead. Spotlights. We’ve agreed that no matter what, we’ve got to run at least the last 200m. We break into a jog and a huge cheer greets our bobbing head torches from the finish line. Caitriona’s there with a gang of nine very loud teenagers …………. and there’s Karim … and Chris … and Rebecca!!  It’s just SUPERB!!! Dammit! Now I’ve burst into tears.

Finish line – Brighton Racecourse – 100km

 

Crossed the finish line. 19 hours 5 mins.

142nd place of 1362 who made it to the start line.

 

THOUGHTS:

What an experience!

You are never too old

What’s easy for one person can be monumental for the next; set your own standards and don’t chase anyone else’s

Recognise and ditch the excuses  – that done, everything’s possible!

WHAT is all the fuss about bloody jelly babies? Bought a packet. Total consumed: 1

and my philosophical gem for today …

When you can’t smash through that wall, step back and look for a way around it

(Note to self: the same could be said for stiles! Doh!)

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My first ultramarathon – The Oscars speech …

18
May

The Oscars bit …

Yep. Not letting it go without a few thanks because truth be told I would NEVER have started, much less finished, this challenge without the help of a few (although if I’m honest I probably took your names in vain once or twice on Saturday??) lol

Karim … cannot believe, much less relay to others, the amount of support, commitment to my training and confidence in my ability that you’ve poured forth in the last two months; and for being the most amazing support crew on the day! Thank you thank you thank you!

Caitriona … for accompanying me the previous week on that last arduous section of the trail and making sure I didn’t get lost; for organising the greatest reception committee at the finish line ( I still can’t believe all your friends came and froze at the race course for 2 hours just to see me cross the line), for your total hysteria when I got my medal (lol) but perhaps most of all for adopting the role of Jillian Michaels just when I was starting to wimp out at 60km!

Chris … for offering to accompany me across the Downs in the early hours for fear (quite rightly so) that Mum would be lost forever! They didn’t allow it but I know you would’ve in an instant.

Jo … training buddy – for making sure that TRX was well used in our training sessions, for all your totally-undeserved admiration for my efforts, for picking me up off the floor when I was down, your knowledge, advice, amazing friendship and, most of all on this occasion, for being my inspiration to dig in and steal just a little of your ability to plough through that hurt box to the end – as I’ve seen you do on so many occasions!

Kieron … for unwittingly putting the idea into my head in the first place; for sheer proof that if you want something then go fight for it (following you on C2K was just mind-blowing!) – and for the tips, advice and help, ALL of which I actually followed to the letter and without which I would’ve been completely clueless.

SAMA buddies – for all the texts, tweets, support throughout! I owe at least a couple of km for every single one!

Action Challenge organisers/support crew …. I’ve said it all elsewhere – couldn’t have asked for more (other than a piggy back from 75km onwards)

Rockinghorse Children’s Charity – for your support and help along the way – and for what you do every day!!

To EVERYONE who sponsored me on this journey into ultra-madness and mayhem. I thank you – and Rockinghorse thanks you XX

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For ref: Backpack and Drop bag contents

18
May

Note: This is for personal reference only!! God knows but the contents hereinafter will possibly shock and appal the seasoned ultra-runner. Let me re-emphasize the fact that I had NO idea what I was doing or what was in store. I’m keeping this and will add notes as and when I acquire useful (and knowledgeable) titbits of information from the pros. Having said that, it kind of worked for me so it can’t be too far out.

ON MY BACK AT THE START LINE:

OMM backpack … tried, tested and I love it! I use a Camelbak on long cycles but found this heavy for running (all relative, I guess). The weight distribution of a Nathan 2-bottle race belt worked better for me.
GELS – about the heaviest item. 2 in my race belt and 4 in my backpack (Even this was too many – I didn’t use them before about 35km. Maybe I should have!)
Flapjacks – homemade and yummy. Heavy, though – in weight (all relative, of course). Two in backpack. Will have them for ‘lunch’.
Banana and packet of grapes (don’t know what kind of food will be available …)
Compeed – weighs nothing and just in case – rumour has it to treat immediately so don’t want to be waiting until I reach a subsequent rest stop.
Ibuprofen – don’t care what reason, but if a headache looms at the start line I really want to be able to get rid of it fast.
Vaseline
Money and a credit card (no coins – they weigh too much lol)
Route maps
Pen
Phone
Headphones (never wore them – the sounds of the wilderness were so much more appealing and there was no need to drown out the usual dulcid racket of bickering seagulls)
Sunglasses
Hat/gloves/tee (there’s always hope it’ll be warm as well as sunny?)
Spare socks
Light waterproof jacket
Checkpoint checklists
*Initially, waterproofs were in here but switched them to 50km bag when the forecast was clear

50km bag

6 gels (too few? Too little? Who knows? Haven’t got the ‘gel’ thing sussed yet)
Headtorch/batteries
2nd running watch
Waterproofs – trousers, socks and gloves
Xtra running layer
Trail shoes
Spare socks

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