Running an Ultra solo.

In 2018, I took on Race to the Tower as my first straight through ultra marathon, 53 miles over 7000 odd ft of elevation gain, along the hilly, brutal but beautiful Cotswold way, starting in Stroud and ending at the Broadway Tower. I shared the experience with two other girls and we had a lot of fun, but the route was punishing and we just managed to pull ourselves over the line in the dark, with a time of 14 hrs 54.

This blog however, is going to fill you in on how it felt to do my very first solo ultra marathon, and what you might expect if you did one too.

Up until a month ago, I had only ever run ultras with friends. Enjoying the banter and distraction, the laughs and the pain made them such fun. It was basically a running picnic (I still stand by that) and a jolly day out with your mates. But how would I fare when it was just me vs me? Would my mind take me to really dark places, would I give up more easily being alone in the journey?

Always good to point out here that out of the MANY ultras you can sign up for, there are very different types. Threshold ultras are fully supported with pit stops, signed, safe and wonderful – challenging yes, but we’re not talking to the level of self navigated or self sufficient – something i’ve yet to venture into…

In the few months before, I tried to prepare myself mentally for what was to come. I knew what the course would be like, I knew myself and how I felt at different points of a double marathon distance. I knew where my head would go to and I was pretty sure of how I could get myself out of those spots too. I was keen to have someone there along the route and thankfully my lovely hubby Andy was up for crewing me along the route. Again, not really from the point of needing extra things, as the pits stops at Threshold events are pretty damn loaded, but more from the emotional support point of view. The one thing that hurt me the most last year was not having anyone at the end. I felt numb about what i’d done and to this day still don’t feel much attached to RTTT 2018.

This was was my chance to redeem the race and feel like I actually did a good job. So no pressure!

Finishing RTTT 2018 in the dark.

The only thing I wanted to do really was not finish in the dark. I hated that part last year, and I was with 2 other people, so there was no way I wanted to be out there in the dark alone, i’m just not ready for that yet (despite my new head torch I got for my birthday!)

I’d used some cheer points from friends and worked out where we would meet along the route, usually between pit stops so I had it broken up in some of those longer stages. From that point of view it all worked brilliantly. We met at each point, no dramas, and apart from one point where Andy had taken my phone to charge until our next meeting point, he could track my phone the whole way so he was only really waiting for me about 20 mins each time.

I’ll be honest – if Andy hadn’t been there, i’m not sure I would’ve been able to get it done. I wasn’t in the best place going into the race, I wasn’t sure DURING the race! But he was amazing and knowing i’d see him helped so much. So many people have little cheer squads along the route too, and if you’re the sort of person that wants to try a solo ultra but needs a bit of input, see if you can get some squad to meet you up the route. It does help.

On top of having Andy out there, you really do meet people along the way. I’d say there were 5 key people on the route that I ran next to/behind/chatted to for anything from 1 mile to 25 miles. You end up being with people wherever you are and the longer you go, you just find those going the same pace as you and you get it done and encourage each other on the way. Those are the moments that help lift you. Not to mention the incredible Threshold Crew at each pit stop. I’ve said it before but these people are gold dust. They really care, they want to help and they’re super chirpy and chatty. It really is amazing.


The Race


Total distance – 52 miles.

Total climb – 7,476ft.  

Day 1 distance – 26 miles

Day 1 total climb – 4,147ft.

Day 2 distance – 26 miles

Day 2 total climb – 3,329ft


Unfortunately the Cotswolds had a rather meaty rainstorm the day before, and for the start we were out in the rain. This gave me a little anxiety – my previous 5 ultras had been in the glorious sunshine (lucky I know). It felt half badass, half nightmare to have to attempt 53 miles in the wind and rain. Luckily the rain cleared up around 20 mins in, and we only had one more very very light shower, however the winds were a little keen on some of the hills…

I knew I wanted to attack the day from the off, and try and get a chunk of distance under my belt to get to my first meeting point with Andy, which wasn’t until 14.6 miles. I’d re-read my blog and watched my stories from last year to give myself a refresher and it really helped. I knew where the first half marathon would take me (or just about) and that gave me confidence to get stuck in.

A lovely dousing of mud to start with as we weaved 5 miles through woods until the first little village. Calves fully woken up! but feeling confident. This year I’d had enough time at the start to pop one of the awesome elevation transfer tattoos on my arm so I could consult on what glorious incline was to come next!

You can get an awesome elevation transfer at the start of the race.

What was nice this year was that there were a few parts of the route that were slightly different from last year. Most of it is the same but the odd field or turn was different.

I also made the effort to look around as much as I could. I knew I wouldn’t be storying on instagram as much this time. Partly because I wanted something out of the race instead of just running along for fun times, and partly because instagram has seen me story from every pit stop before and I just felt this time, they didn’t need to see each one!

I got through the first 14/15 miles pretty swiftly and soon got to our first meeting point just after the steep climb up Crickly Hill.

Crickly Hill Climb

The first incline (well it was one BIG incline for 2 miles, split into 3 sections) was a shocker. Soft dirt underfoot, surrounded by trees and bushes, like an overgrown alleyway. However this particular path (the climb up Crickly Hill) had an incline of 879ft over a couple of miles. Now I don’t know if that means anything to you, but it was STEEP. People were pulling to the side of this death alleyway for a breather, hands pushing down on thighs just for some extra power up. This is where those walkers and their poles came into their own. Boy I envied the poles…I haven’t even mentioned that it was like a jungle in there. The temperature was in the early 20’s, but in that single file, claustrophobic environment, it felt like 40. The only way up was to keep putting one foot in front of the other, despite feeling like you weren’t making any progress at all. My quads were burning and I could feel the sweat dripping off my face. FINALLY we made it out, and took a nice, deep, breath. Only to turn the corner to find another steep incline, and then another. As I said earlier, the saving grace from these awful awful ups, is the view you are rewarded with once it’s over. Not one person came out of that ascent without taking precious time to drink in the view.

Race To The Tower Blog, 2018

A brief hug and walk with Andy and I pushed on, the next checkpoint only a few more miles ahead. Pit stop 3 provided me with WATERMELON, nectar of the Ultra Gods! and I had my first loo trip, grabbed some sweets, filled my bottles and swept back out of there, my plan of being swift at pit stops was going well and I felt like I was making great time.

I next met Andy at 20 ish miles at a roundabout junction – last year i’m sure it was just Mel (Andy Chubs’ girlfriend) there, this year there were SO MANY CARS. People clearly had come out in force to cheer today! Andy met me along the road a little way from the car, but as soon as I started to walk with him, the need to go to the toilet hit me. I turned to him and said “I need the toilet. I need it now“.

Now imagine my predicament. Surrounded by cars and supporters and runners, on a busy roundabout, desperately looking for somewhere I could duck into.

I walked up the road a little and found a bush to park my backside in. I sat (well crouched cautiously above the stingers i’d flattened with my shoe) for a while and thought about my life choices…

Funnily enough, it was just shy of the same point from last year where ‘Freddo-gate’ happened. Maybe it was my sub conscious telling me that this was where we go to the toilet!

Finding some internal peace and relief, we parted ways again and I carried on for the next chunk of miles, which would see me into Basecamp. I’d planned to not go in and eat a meal or anything, but to continue my nutrition as I was already doing. Tailwind sips every mile or so, lots of water in between, a bit of flat coke here and there, sweets, salted peanuts; and the next stop I came to out of Basecamp, I planned to grab some proper food like peanut butter sandwiches, to keep me going.

My knee and my foot were already aching, as to be expected from someone who does NOT train on hills, but by the time i’d reached basecamp, i’ll be honest, I was ready to give up. My knee hurt with each incline. They just seemed to go on forever, each one I would move over to let people pass. I started to let myself drift into the dark place that told me I couldn’t hack it. I wouldn’t make it to the end.

I ran into basecamp in not a great way mentally (see pictures for full physical representation!) and grabbed new socks and a new top from Andy. While he filled up my bottles with tailwind and water, I made my way to another Plastic Palace to change and go to the loo.

I don’t know if portaloo’s are the best place to decide your life choices but they seem to be the place where I make many of mine. As I sat, I told myself that I COULD DO THIS. Maybe I didn’t want to right now and maybe I didn’t quite believe what I was telling myself, but I left that toilet knowing that at least I would try to carry on and see how it went.

The main problem was at this moment, I honestly wasn’t fussed if I carried on or not. I just felt like I was facing the impossible. The hills were taking it out of me, the elevation in the first half was 4,147ft. I’d had a pretty speedy first half (5hr 41!) This was the hardest thing because usually the wanting to get it done pushes you on to do it. I felt like i’d lost that drive, so really it was a huge mind battle to push myself out of Basecamp and carry on the journey. I had to remind myself of my ultra mantra ‘I CAN DO HARD THINGS’.

One WHOLE marathon to do, again, and 3,329ft more to climb.

I decided i’d leave Andy my phone to charge, and i’d pick it up in 7 miles time. There was a pit stop before then to break it up and surely not much would happen in that time. I was so wrong though. The climbs were hard. I went the wrong way AGAIN, same place we did last year. Luckily I realised before I went too far down. But I missed my phone. I couldn’t text or take to stories for support, or even photograph what was going on! I was naked, no technology could save me now…

Then, in a narrow section, I stepped on what I thought was a piece of wood or at least something firm, as seemingly the only safe way across a water logged bog, turns out it was foam…

Having just changed my socks, 2 miles into the second half, and about to take on miles of exposed, what was now gale force winds on a hilltop golf course, wasn’t really the best time for a sogger.

I walked past the photographer, to whom I laughed that I couldn’t even fake run for the camera. My legs were feeling every bit of elevation, however gentle, and I found myself slowing right down up any inclines. I started to walk much much more than I was running.

After a couple of miles across the top we started to descend back down this windy hill, towards a farm where the next pit stop was at 31.8 miles. I was feeling the lack of proper food (i.e not sweets or nuts or fluid carbs) so I beelined for the peanut butter sarnies. I ate one, swigged a cup of flat coke down and thanked Threshold they choose the most amazing volunteer crew, as I had a lovely chat with one of the girls there. They’re so encouraging and wonderful. Seriously can’t harp on about this point enough!

I’d also been playing overtaking with an older man who had caught back up to me at this pit, and asked me about my ultra experience. Filling him in, he said it looked like I ‘knew what I was doing’ which made me laugh. Even during my 6th, still didn’t really know much…

I spent a bit longer than planned here, the black mist caught up with me on, you guessed it, the portaloo, and I sat and gave myself a little pep talk while I waited to see if anything else might need to happen. This is the part of an ultra where I also start to worry if my gut is strong enough to carry me to the end. Being someone who has suffered many time with IBS and stomach issues in races, i’m always a bit nervous things are about to go wrong. To be fair i’ve never had an accident – only encounters with undergrowth! I grabbed another peanut butter sandwich and pushed on ahead.

At 34 miles, I made it out to my next meeting point with Andy. Everytime I saw him from basecamp I had to try and not be too emotional. This was such a big deal for me to be doing alone, and I needed to talk about it, but I also knew if I lost it with him, I might not be able to finish. I told him that this was the exact point the previous year I had felt so alone. It was next to a road we turn up called ‘Puck Pit lane’ and I couldn’t help but think it sounded like the sentiment I currently had for the race at that point…

My favourite road of RTTT, and where I met Andy, 34 miles.

We’d met one of the girl’s partners and i’d felt the sadness of not having friends of family at the end (or on route) for me. And it hurt! It was so hard. I told him how grateful I was that he was there for me this year as he filled up my tailwind again. I put some extra tape on my knee, which was pulling, and round my ankle to try and get some support.

I thought i’d done everything I needed, and we’d agreed the next meeting point would be optional, unless he could go and check in at the B&B in Broadway in time to be there. Otherwise we’d meet again after pit 7, at 48 miles.

But as I ran off, and then checked through my watch screens, I realised how low my Garmin battery was and frantically text him.

“My Garmin is going to die!”

The worst in a big race is to have your heartbeat taken away! What if I lost all this juicy run goodness?! He replied that he would get it to me asap and he zipped around and made it to the next (optional) checkpoint in time. It was still 8 miles away and I was so lucky that a trail angel appeared and we walk ran together for a bit, both feeling pains and tiredness – but she had MY Garmin charger and a pack. I clipped in and thanked her as we travelled a couple of miles together.

From 34 miles there are 3 more very large ups and downs before the finish, with a couple of flats in between. For the downhill sections, which were tough as my foot hurt, I wanted to claw some time back from all the copious amounts of walking I was doing, so I ran as much of them as I could. Apart from the foot pain I felt like I had enough energy and everything else was feeling good.

Another pit came and went, I didn’t need to fill up flasks so grabbed some sweets and left as quickly as I got there. Up another massive hill. Run as much as I can. Walk a bit more. Try and run. Walk a lot. Run…. and so was the pattern. I closed in on the village I was seeing Andy next, he’d walked up into the fields and had popped himself up on one of the many MANY gates, a la David Brent.

It made me laugh, I needed to laugh. I was getting very serious and I needed distraction. This is why i’d made him come. Maybe I wasn’t travelling the course with people but these interactions with him worked a treat.

I grabbed a swig of fizzy coke, and I needed water but he didn’t have any left in the car. I was low as i’d not filled up at the previous stop. I had a mega hill to climb before pit 7 so I just had to hope for the best and ration my gulps up the hill. Which went on forever. Again.

I hope this is getting the point across. The hills are LONG. And lots of them are ‘push-your- hands-into-your-quads-to-help-you-move-up-them’ steep.

Despite the pain and suffering, the views really are something else.

I got to the last pit stop (Andy was waiting just down the road from it) and this was where things got dark for us last year. I’d been messaging my friend Lou (this was our pit stop from 2018, we’d met up there and for a brief moment, moved thought away from the race) and she just kept saying I was so far ahead of last year. I was so nervous though, that the sun would set fast and I wouldn’t meet my goal of finishing in the light.

However, I took my time. Had a final wee, grabbed a final pack of starmix and one peanut butter sandwich for the road, and made my way out of the pit to my last point with Andy before the finish.

As I pulled out of the pit, a lady that knew me from instagram, who i’d chatted to and been overtaken by along the route was making her way in. As we passed I said a massive well done – it was her first ultra (she was SO STRONG!) and she was welling up as we exchanged fleeting words.

It really brought home the gravity of the achievement. I’m so bad at really appreciating what i’ve achieved. I’m belittling and dismissive of my achievements. Even to that point. So seeing how much this meant to her, the emotion that an ultra marathon throws up, it made me consider my own race and achievement in that moment. I WAS going to finish in the light! I was going to come in with a PB. I just needed to keep going.

I saw Andy for the last time and he walked me across the final busy A-road. We worked out that I had around an hour and a half to finish the final 5 miles. It was 7:45 and sunset was at 9:20.

Those last 5 miles. I can’t explain.

Everything feels drawn out. There’s always another field to cross.

A caravan park that you run through.

You beg for the 50 mile sign to appear and then, there it is.

Seeing the 50 miles sign in the light

You take a selfie, obviously. It’s 50 miles.

You know that you have to run up Broadway high street. It’ll be amazing because everyone outside the pub cheer you and people stop you and ask what on earth you’re doing, and they can’t comprehend it when you tell them because, let’s face it, it’s not a normal thing to be doing is it? but you’ve become conditioned to think it is normal, because of the circle you now live in, but it’s not normal and it IS a BIG DEAL…

2 miles to go…

Why is the high street so long? It’s a mile long apparently, but it feels 10.

Finally, finally you turn off the high street (which is all uphill, obv) across the stones, a thousand more gates, a few more fields until you’re there. The bottom of the very last climb.

It’s the only thing between you and ending the misery. Between you and your glory moment. But there are SO MANY MORE FIELDS.

I think you cross through (vertically) 4 or 5 paddocks before you reach the crest and can see the Tower. For most of the climb, you can’t see it. At least this year I could see the ground and the sheep around me (as Lou said, no freaky reflective sheep’s eyes for me this year) but to be honest, it din’t make the climb much easier. Fatigue was strong and despite messages from Andy who was now waiting at the Tower, telling me I had x amount of fields left, it didn’t help. It was slow going, and I watched a sub 13 hour time slip by. Too tired to really be bothered, I knew I was safe with a massive PB as long as I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

The guy in front kept turning around, and when I decided i’d look too, well just wow.

I wish my iPhone did justice to this.

Other supporters kept appearing and telling us we ‘weren’t far!’.

I made it through the last gate, walking up with a lady who told me her husband had literally been being sick since 20 miles. He’d carried on and just passed me – she was sweating trying to keep up and see him finish! She walked with me up to the final gate, where Andy was at the foot of the Tower. He told me he welled up at that moment, but ran off (like a good boy) to get some finishing footage for me.

Seeing that Tower come into view was redemption for me. The race in 2018 had been so hard on many levels. I felt like I’d let my friends and ,myself down, mentally, emotionally and physically. Things hadn’t gone how i’d wanted them to.

But here I was. I’d got myself 53 miles across Wiltshire. I’d climbed bloody mountainous hills and done it in pain. Done it, essentially, alone.

I told Andy I wasn’t going to cry until the end so I gathered myself as I walked through that last gate, and began to run towards the finish line once again.

I crossed and he was there.

He was there and I cried. Because all i’d wanted the year before was this. Because to be honest, all that matters to me in the end is that he, and my kids are proud of me.

They’re my biggest fans. My most devoted supporters (you guys are awesome, don’t get me wrong) but it’s about them, for them, ALWAYS.

I let it wash over me. The numbness of last years race was redeemed in that moment.

My 6th ultra marathon. Hilly as hell. And i’d smashed it. 1 hours and 53 minutes faster than last year, despite the walking.

I claimed i’d never do the Tower again…

…But Never say Never, right?


Here are the stats for those who enjoy them. But also can we just for a moment celebrate that the amount of women that took part has gone up by 57. Come on ladies. Ultras are OURS for the taking!

HEINEKEN Race to the Tower, 2018.

Seriously, grab a cuppa and a teacake. This is a long one…

I live in East Kent. The ‘Garden of England’ and possibly one of the flattest places in England too. You can see for miles. On a clear day, you can even see France.

The Cotswolds. Probably one of the hilliest undulating places in the UK. At it’s highest point (Cleeve Hill which, yes, we climbed) it reaches an elevation of 1,083 ft (330 m), just to the north of Cheltenham. We apparently could look out over 6 counties on top of the many, many hills we climbed. I spent most of that time a-top a mountain, trying to regain consciousness in the 23 degree heat (yes we’re not used to the heat over here).

IMG_7328

HEINEKEN Race to the Tower, is the first in the Threshold Sports ultra calendar, but it is the newest of the three, only in its second year (2017). Considering that fact, the event seemed teeming with excitable and slightly nutty people, looking for a new challenge, or just grinding out another long distance run on the casual.

The thing I love the most about the Threshold events, is the diversity of the people it attracts. Ultra distances are still more of a niche than say a marathon, although it is coming up in the popularity stakes, but the clientele was broad. With the opportunity to do different weekend packages, you can take on the ultra distance in one go, over 2 days, or opt for one of the days, and complete a trail marathon. There are people in their early twenties looking for a challenge, people raising money for charity, ladies with calves the size of my head who CLEARLY do this sort of thing every weekend, power walkers with poles and backpacks, crazy fast runners (A woman won this year, the first woman winner of a Threshold event, she did it in 8hrs 56!) . Despite the different approaches to how you tackle it, everyone has the same ascents and descents to navigate, and everyone gets the same views to enjoy. And that sort of thing brings you together with the strangers around you. Naturally you sort of end up in a pack, where you play the overtaking game, sometimes for the entire distance with the same people!

So, let me get on with bringing you into my race day!

Hannah and I were staying nearby in Stroud, so we had a nice short journey to the start, after travelling up from Kent on the Friday night. This was really nice being so close to the start, as it took a lot of pre race morning stress away. I woke up at 6 and re packed my Salomon hydration vest with what i’d need. We were in a very fortunate position as Sarah’s boyfriend, Tom, was going to be following us along the route, with extra things we’d need. This meant I was able to take some of the weight from my bag and put stuff in the car with him. Things I wouldn’t need all the time like extra Trek bars, a change of socks and shoes, suncream, and head torches*

*more on that is a little while!

I scoffed down a customary bagel, filled my soft flasks, one with water, one with Tailwind, and we bundled into the car, all excited and nervous.

We turned up and everything was pretty casual – the way I like it at a race. I had a courtesy toilet visit, chatted with some friends and gave all our extra stuff over to Tom for the crew car. Andy presented us with a nice fat donut, which I popped in my drop bag (and then took 2 days to eat it…)

We were enjoying chatting so much, the noise of the briefing and the next wave starting was just background noise. Until Andy pointed out it was in fact, OUR WAVE.

We said Goodbyes/Good lucks, and ran into the back of the pen, as the MC counted down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… No time to think about it, we were off!

Marathon One.

When you start a race like this, maybe it’s slight hysteria or nerves being released (and I remember it being the same when we started Race to the Stones last year) but you can’t help but laugh and goof around. It’s like all the nervous energy releasing from your body, and we spent the first few miles chatting with other slightly nervous excitable people, and being silly. There was a photographer just after mile 1, so at least we got one really fresh picture…

HEINEKEN Race to the Tower 2018 by Pic2Go UK 08:33:06

The first 4 miles are up and down, and my calves started to burn. ‘I am not used to this’… I started to wonder if my calves would systematically explode during the course of the race; I was feeling okay about the inclines but also very aware that this was only the very start.

We were already being treated to incredible views, hills all around, valleys and lush greens everywhere you looked. You really can’t fault the view. For all the horrible climbs (and there are some EVIL ones) you are always rewarded with the most breathtaking scenery, which for me, made it all worthwhile.

Pit Stop 1 was only 5.6 miles in. There was only one big climb to get there, which took you through a gorgeous little Cotswold village and lots to distract you with, so it came around pretty quickly. I was excited to get back to my first check point, with all the wonderful memories of last year, I couldn’t wait for the girls to have their first experiences. We didn’t plan on staying there for long. Grab some food, post an insta story and do a wee.

I noticed that we had picked up some guys to play overtaking with, and it just happened to be Chris from Threshold. We joked about how we felt about the hills, and he showed me his elevation transfer tattoo (which i’d missed at the start due to not being a professional ultra runner and being a professional procrastinator) – to which we decided we were idiots and if we were already feeling it in the calves, how would we make it through those SIX enormous climbs?!

The next portion of the course was relatively ‘flat’ but it was quite a long stage, at 8.2 miles in distance. We encountered our first style to climb over, and joked about the amount of gates and styles we would encounter across the 53 miles (160 by the way). There were a few technical down hill sections in this part, for which I was grateful to have chosen trail hybrid shoes. I wore the Salomon Sense Rides for the first marathon, and the Brooks Cascadia 12’s for the second. We also ran past the bottom of that famous Cheese rolling hill, Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth. To be honest, I wouldn’t chase a cheese down it and you can see why so many people break things falling down it. I for one was glad to pass at the foot and not scale the thing!

We rolled into Pit stop 2 and I needed to check my feet. They were fine when we were climbing but as soon as we started to descend the hills, my feet felt sore, and I wanted to check for hotspots before anything blistery (it’s a word) happened. I stuck a plaster on the sore side, although nothing was visible. My feet were definitely feeling the elevation, not used to the repeated impact of meeting the toe box or the friction from the angle my foot was at for the decents. I wasn’t surprised they were feeling a little tender. We’d travelled 13.9 miles at this point, so were a quarter of the way through the distance. With only 4.7 miles to the next pit, we pushed on quickly, not realising the horrors that awaited us in just a few paces.

We’d decided for this next section we would have our music in to break it up a bit and i’m so glad we did. I needed the motivation. We passed under the motorway, and passed some farms and eventually crossed a road to meet what was like a single woodland footpath. The first incline (well it was one BIG incline for 2 miles, split into 3 sections) was a shocker. Soft dirt underfoot, surrounded by trees and bushes, like an overgrown alleyway. However this particular path (the climb up Crickly Hill) had an incline of 879ft over a couple of miles. Now I don’t know if that means anything to you, but it was STEEP. People were pulling to the side of this death alleyway for a breather, hands pushing down on thighs just for some extra power up. This is where those walkers and their poles came into their own. Boy I envied the poles…

I haven’t even mentioned that it was like a jungle in there. The temperature was in the early 20’s, but in that single file, claustrophobic environment, it felt like 40. The only way up was to keep putting one foot in front of the other, despite feeling like you weren’t making any progress at all. My quads were burning and I could feel the sweat dripping off my face. FINALLY we made it out, and took a nice, deep, breath.

Only to turn the corner to find another steep incline, and then another.

As I said earlier, the saving grace from these awful awful ups, is the view you are rewarded with once it’s over. Not one person came out of that ascent without taking precious time to drink in the view.

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Pit stop 3 was the other side of the hill, so we jogged down to it, enjoying some distance at a nice running pace. Tom was meeting us around here, so Sarah refuelled and then ran on to find him, while Han and I devoured the watermelon! Oh sweet juicy goodness. It tasted SO GOOD. There were also a couple of Threshold people with water spritzers and I enjoyed having a bit of cool water sprayed over my head. Not sure it actually helped but it was temporary relief from the heat.

I just want to stop and say a big shoutout to the Threshold volunteers. I cannot fault them. They were all friendly, helpful, quick to help out like show you where things were or offer to take a picture for you (obviously VERY important) and I think that is part of what makes them such a good organisation. I don’t know where they find these people but I want to hire some myself.

The next stop would be base camp. We left the check point and carried on over the next 7.5 miles of ups and downs. One really big down, and one last up before we could grab some food, a breather and change clothes/socks/shoes etc.

I made a fatal error at this point. I’d grabbed a little Freddo, and 2 miles in, decided i’d eat it. This was just the wrong decision for me, and as soon as he hit my stomach, it leapt into action, alerting me to the fact it had some stuff it needed to get rid of.

Like NOW.

Desperately I scanned the landscape for somewhere to duck in, I looked at my watch and worked out that we still had 6 miles to go to basecamp and quite frankly, I wasn’t going to make that. Trapped behind a line of walkers through an open field, i begged them in my head to ‘hurry the hell up’.

I ran round them, and shouted back to the girls with panic “I’ve got to GOOOO!”. I ducked into dense enough woodland to be incognito, but still able to see the road and the trail of people plodding up yet another steep inline, and questioned what on earth I was doing with my life. Well I guess there’s a first time for everything, and if it’s good enough for bears, it’s good enough for me.

Something happened as we hit 22 miles, and I just had a bit of a temper tantrum. Maybe it was ‘Bear-gate’ that had knocked my confidence (although much relief was had by it!) but I was hot and my feet hurt and i’d started to think about the fact I had no-one waiting for me at the end of this race. I had a little rant on ig stories, and just got on with it. Anyway, there’s no way i’d have made it to the end with that attitude. I set my mind on climbing the last hill to base camp, until we heard the loudspeaker and cheers for runners coming in, or finishing their races.

We ran in together and then split off to do the bits we needed to do, as quick as we were able. I changed my socks and top, and put my Brooks Cascadia’s on. I needed a wider toe box and they actually made a big difference. I also taped up my instep with a compeed, but wrapped round my foot with a layer of K tape to hold it in place. This worked so well and I didn’t have any other issues with my instep the rest of the day.

HEINEKEN Race to the Tower 2018 by Pic2Go UK 14:46:37

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The food in basecamp wasn’t to my liking (in fact probably the only downside of the whole event. Whether we were too early for some of the food or for some other reason, this was the only thing that let the side down.) I wasn’t fussed as I only wanted a Trek bar anyway! so I went off and had a little bit of a foam roll, a trip to the loo, and we were good to go once more.

One marathon down, one to go.

 

Marathon Two.

My first mistake on leaving basecamp, was mis-reading the distance to go until the next pit stop.

At this stage, it’s literally life or death to me to know how far between each station. It becomes less of a physical challenge and much more of a mind game.

This is where, potentially, I let those little demons in my head, tell me i’m gonna get sick and have to stop. I read the distance to the next stop as being 6.6 miles. I read it wrong, and it was actually 5.7. This should be a good thing as we’d reach the stop sooner than expected. The funny thing is, at this point, every mile feels like a rather long time, and unfortunately we missed a marker arrow just after we’d left basecamp. We ended up doing an extra mile or so and an extra incline to kick off our second half!

The fact i’d read and processed there were three more sections, and then finding out I still had three to go, was a little stressful. Reader, note that from this point on, things get ridiculous, childish and totally unreasonable. Much like this incredible article I read the other day. (please read it if you’ve ever run or are considering running an ultra. It’s so true!) ‘Ultra runners vs Toddlers’

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I’d warned the girls that i’d probably get a bit cranky once I was tired, and to just keep short accounts with each other. We had a couple of disagreements on the way but we sorted them out. We had all started to feel the mileage and were dealing with things in our own ways. The landscape had stretched out at this point and we ran for a few miles across rolling hills, past locals who were so supportive, past sheep napping in any cool spots they could find, and yes, still hobbling it over styles and through A MILLION GATES (which by now, was getting pretty boring).

As we came into Pit stop 5, 31 miles in, we worked out timings and tried to do some maths based on how much ground we were covering and when we might expect to get to the finish. If there’s one thing I know about running an ultra, it’s that I have no idea how my body will respond, and certainly I didn’t know how it would respond to an extra 22 miles from this point in. This was officially the furthest i’d EVER gone. We were a mile or two ahead of the course markers thanks to our detour, so it was a constant mind battle to remember we were further than the signs were telling us. Sometimes this felt really hard to take, and it was a mental battle to carry on past those signs, knowing we were ahead.

Our next worry was that we hadn’t picked up our head torches from Tom, and now it was looking more likely we would need them before we met him around the 50 mile marker. This threw up a bit of anxiety, but thankfully Tom was able to come and meet us earlier on the route, and basically saved the day!

On the way out of Pit stop 5, we were treated to another steep section, weaving us through woodland, and up a very steep path which twisted back on itself three or four times. I had to be careful where I was stepping as the tiredness was making me feel a little unstable and a wrong footing up there would have been rather unfortunate.

A speed walker who we had been doing the Do Si Do with, strode up the hill past us with his massive backpack, and I asked in disbelief how on earth he was doing it. He mumbled something back and disappeared off again. Until next time, giant walker man!

We had agreed to meet Tom around 36 miles, so we could pick up our head torches. Sarah and Hannah had been running together for a while (this is what seems to happen for 3’s – and what happened with Daryl, Martha and I last year, you just swap places about) while I had dropped back to have a little space. We did what we needed to do from the boot of the car, and I told the girls I needed to keep moving. What I really needed was 5-10 mins alone to regain control of my feelings. I was thinking more and more about the finish line. Seeing Sarah with Tom along the route, and knowing Han would have her partner at the end, made me feel super gutted that this time round, my family weren’t going to be there to see me in.

I carried on up the route at a walk, and took a moment to scoff down another Trek bar. I knew it was important to keep up my energy with some food, as at this stage it’s easy to start feeling pretty sick. What i’ve not mentioned is the Tailwind. What a game changer! I bought the stick pack, so it was easy to top up (every 10 miles I would refresh with a new stick and water) and I would alternate between a big lug of tailwind and plain water. It worked perfectly and I didn’t cramp up or feel sick the whole time. I really rate it. And it’s kind on the stomach.

We passed Sudbury Castle (ish), through a field of cows, with a Bull right in the middle of the herd. They were literally across our path so we sidestepped very carefully, praying this wouldn’t be how we ended our day! More fields that felt like they went on for ever, at this point everything hurt. Shoulders, feet, knees, brain, heart! I was tired and bored of fields. Clearly the organisers knew this is how we’d be feeling as we came up on this sign…

Pit stop 6 came and went, same old routine, new water, loo stop, check in with the girls and on we’d go. Now the sun was setting and there was a haze across the sky. It really was beautiful. One thing I really love about being out for a whole day, is getting to experience outside at all times of the day.

We were also grateful for the drop in temperature, which gave me a little bit of a boost.

We climbed another two incredibly steep inclines. One in silence, the second with another guy we’d picked up halfway up said hill. We walked and ran with him for a couple of miles, which was so good because it was quite a long stage, 8.6 miles, so to have someone else in the group perked us up a bit. We watched the sun setting from the top of the second hill, everything now bathed in an orange tint, the last bit of warmth from the day disappearing. I suddenly realised JUST how long we’d been on our feet.

We put our now much needed head torches on our heads, and left Pit stop 7. The next time we stopped would be the finish, but not before one last ridiculous climb.

We tried to run as much of the next 5.3 miles as we could, just to get it done. Things looked so different in the dark, and it was now getting pretty chilly. We needed to keep moving from that aspect alone. I’ve not really run in the dark. Not like this anyway, but knowing a few friends were finishing around us, it felt ok, like it was just one last big slog together, despite there being no-one really around.

I didn’t enjoy the tunnel vision I got from following my head torch, I could only see the girls’ legs in front of me, and I was really conscious of where I was placing my feet. A turned ankle at this point was not on the agenda. I also hated the fact that the moths and midges and whatever else kept flying into my torch and face, and also that we had to run through some spooky looking woods and cornfields. I have a rather overactive imagination so I was grateful it didn’t seem capable at this point, of imagining my very grizzly demise…

When we ticked over to 50 miles, it was sort of a bizarre feeling. It was such a big distance I couldn’t really process that we’d come that far. I still can’t really.

‘Fif-ty miles’ I said to myself. ‘FIFTY! That’s ridiculous…’

We came out into the town of Broadway. Walking, running, dragging our feet and trying not to trip over or vomit, tiredness was in full force. We wanted it to be over and this town seemed to go on for ever. The one redeeming factor was people outside the pubs cheered as you ran past on the other side, and it was the most wonderful thing to hear “Keep going! You’re amazing!” or “well done!”… doesn’t read like much but it was everything at that time. We had less than 2 miles to finish this thing.

We knew there was this one last evil climb, and when we finally got to it, boy it did not disappoint.  2 miles and 313 meters up to the Broadway Tower. In the dark. With sheeps’ eyes reflecting all around you (it’s weird). That hill, in the dark, it went on for an entire lifetime. We feebly kept encouraging each other to carry on, met with a mix of emotions at each statement. One moment i’d be happy for the encouragement, the next I just wanted to just ignore the fact that we still. weren’t. there.

A few more gates for good measure, a set of stairs, and the Tower popped out from the horizon, all lit up in green, like something out of the Wizard of Oz.

Once again, we could hear cheers, and the announcer welcoming people to the end. It was so close! Sarah called to us and said let’s run! – my response was “I can’t!”. But Han reached her hand back to me, “Come on Sweetheart!”

I grabbed it and started to run. What we didn’t realise was that about 15 seconds into this  triumphant last dash to the finish line, THERE WAS ONE MORE GATE! 160!

160 styles and gates.

8,042ft elevation gain.

14 hours, 54 minutes, 53 seconds.

53.77 miles.

Fumbling our way through the gate, we grabbed hands again, and used the last fragments of energy we had to run ourselves, together, over that finish line!

We’d made it.

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And we all had our own way of responding to that finish…

As I said, I had no family at the end. I had a few hugs from people I knew running, and the girls, but it was really hard that my husband and kids weren’t there. (ps this is not a guilt trip to them in any way!) so as the girls were with their partners, I wandered off to find my bag, because all I wanted was my Oofos! At least my feet got a nice hug.

I think i’ll leave it to another post to talk through what I DO post ultra, but in short, and emotionally; right there in that moment I guess I just felt numb. Like I couldn’t quite believe what i’d done. The magnitude of something like this is hard to process, and now, 5 days on, i’m still struggling with doing so. I suppose when you leave your comfort zone to do something beyond yourself, it leaves you slightly beyond mentally, too.

I hoped writing this blog post would be cathartic, and bring some release, but i’m still waiting…perhaps my emotions are still back at mile 36.

They’ll catch up.

sign-off

 

You can register interest for Race to the Tower, 2019, HERE. Entries open on September 5th, 2018.

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Ultra Packing (Heineken Race to the Tower, Double Marathon Edition)

Let’s kick this post off by saying, I have NO IDEA what i’m doing.

To date, I have run ONE Ultra Marathon, 100km over 2 days, last July, at Race to the Stones. And you know, my comparisons of running things really are often on a parallel with MY experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. For example;

At the beginning, it seems like a good idea, exciting even!

You buy all the new gear and gadgets, clothes, sometimes even bedding.

You spend months in training, usually putting on weight due to the sheer amount of carbs you need to refuel your training runs.

Somewhere close to the end you’ll realise this IS happening and you’re going to have to put your body through some sort of sadistic experiment of pain and endurance, and it was YOUR CHOICE.

You get cross, and irritable and bloated and fearful and SO EXCITED and then SO BLOODY SCARED of what is about to happen…

But then, it happens. You rise ethereally above your own body and wonder if this may well be your last experience on earth. The all consuming pain and tiredness pulling your soul away from your exhausted body until gloriously the finish line appears! One last push and your beautiful reward awaits you!! Somehow you find the strength to haul ass over that line and you realise that you, my friend, are S U P E R W O M A N.

So in this instance, this is all for a medal…

I will be posting again on what I pack for the other two Threshold Sports ultras, as this year I thought it was important I did as many ridiculous things as possible, so i’m doing all three events in 2018. So this post will concentrate on what i’m packing for Race to the Tower, and I am doing the double marathon (52.3 miles), straight through option.

So first things first, Threshold do not have a mandatory kit list like some ultras do. Each ultra will be different and you need to make sure you find out if you have a mandatory list. They won’t let you compete if you don’t meet kit list requirements and some will even bag check you en route.

They do have a suggested list, which I haven’t followed to the letter, but last year for my virgin race I definitely took most things they suggested out of sheer fear of the unknown. I’d have packed a sink if it was on the list.

It’s also good to remember that these ultras in particular, are really well supported. The Check Point aid stations are usually no more than 8 miles apart, and they are so well stocked with foods and drinks, that vary slightly depending on where you are on the route, and what package option you are doing (eg soup and bread at later CP’s for straight through people etc).

So for this reason, I don’t pack much in the way of food for Threshold Ultra series. (You can food with you from the stations too – a good tip was take nappy/dog poo bags with you so you can fill them up and snack en route instead of waiting around at the station for ages).

I think the best way is to give you a nice list of what I bring for each part of the ultra. So what’s in my kit bag, what’s in my ‘after’ bag, what’s in my medical bag etc.

So let’s look at what I take in my Hydration vest (subject to change!).

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  1. Hydration Vest. As mentioned, these are well supported so I opted for a Salomon ADV 5 Skin set. This vest is 5l and come with two fast soft flasks for front pocket storage. After using a bladder last year, I decided i’d prefer to carry both water and electrolytes with me on the course. This option means I can do that, and also it’s easier to refill if you don’t want to keep taking your pack on and off for 50+ miles.
  2. Waterproof bag, 2l. This bag contains my change of clothes and all my medical kit. If it rains, you don’t want to be changing into wet kit. This is a little industrial for my kit to be honest, a dry bag would have been better, but I was running out of time and Amazon Prime only had this one to get to me on time…
  3. A portable battery pack. In this day and age, you’d have thought they could invent a battery that lasts for 14 hours but seems not. So this is a very important piece of kit. This one is 12,000mAh, and should have enough charge to power up my iphone 8 x3, not that i’ll need 3 charges, but i’ll also need to charge my Garmin, as the battery life is around 7/8 hours in running mode. Make sure you also bring the cables you need!
  4. The soft flasks – one I have written ‘electrolytes’ on, it might seem silly but after miles and miles the little things help the brain that’s probably clocked off out of boredom…
  5. Sunglasses. These are just from New Look, nothing fancy. I can’t really run in a cap or visor. I find it bounces in my field of vision and it makes me feel really sick. Find what works for you!
  6. Collapsable cup. Again, there’s been a big ‘Sturdy vs Collapsable’ debate over on Instagram, people you do you. If you want to take a sturdy cup with you, do it. I don’t even know if i’ll take the cup anyway! But this is important as a LOT of race organisers are now eradicating waste and getting rid of cups at events like this.
  7. Tissues. For noses. Or, emergencies….
  8. Tailwind. I discovered Tailwind while training for Brighton Marathon, and absolutely fell in love with the stuff. I do get dodgy gut with certain nutrition products, and this is perfect. No problems at all. I’ll probably go through 5 packs of Tailwind, supplemented with High 5 electrolyte tablets that are provided byt Threshold at the CP’s.
  9. Nutrition. I am bringing four gels with me this year, just for the option or to maybe break up food intake a little. I use High 5 in Mojito flavour. I’ve found they are lighter to take down, and they don’t give me any GI issues. Again gels etc is a big field and it’s important to do some trial and error on what brand and type works for you. Don’t assume one brand will work because others use it fine (like i did for ages with SIS gels…). My trusty Trek bars. If all else fails or you’re feeling a bit ropey, it’s good to have a trusted source of nutrition with you too. Trek bars do that for me. Also good in case of emergencies to have some food stashed away.
  10. Head Torch/Strobe light. Again, if you’re doing the straight through option this item is actually mandatory, complete with a spare set of batteries for it. I just bought mine from Amazon, and I also have a little clip on strobe light for the back of my pack, which is made by Nathan.
  11. Medicine. Now this obviously needs to be used at your discretion, but it is GOING TO HURT. Depending on if you already have an injury you may want to take some before you begin. Personally, I have one paracetemol and one ibuprofen every 2 hours, from around 30 miles, BUT again, it’s all to do with necessity. I also carry Immodium instants (which work quickest) in case of GI issues.
  12. Jaybird earbuds. These are the bomb. I HATE wires. Like really can’t stand them. Everything should be wireless. These are called RUN, they’re amazing and also allow me to have one ear in without the worry of the other swinging around. I was gifted these headphones, They’re a bit pricey, but I really do rate them.
  13. *Not pictured – Waterproof and windproof jacket. Mine is a Brooks LSD jacket, which folds up into itself.

 

Here’s a list of what goes into my drybag, in my vest;

  1. Fresh vest.
  2. Fresh runderwear!
  3. Long sleeve top.
  4. Fresh buff.
  5. Plasters (large plasters, small cut strips, compeed, alcohol wipes, small scissors)
  6. Spare batteries.
  7. K Tape.

 

Here’s a list of what goes into my drop bag for the end of the race;

  1. Oofos. Literally the best recovery shoe ever ever EVER. I love my Oofos. I have 4 pairs. Black, Blue and Pink flip flops and a pair of the Oomg shoe. After any race, training, and ESPECIALLY after a long ass Ultra, they go straight on my feet. Its the absolute best thing ever. Have I sold them to you yet?!
  2. Injinji. Again, I can’t big these up enough. Since wearing them after getting inter toe blisters at London marathon in 2017, I am converted and now won’t wear anything other than these for any distance over a half mara. They come in lots of styles, this year i’ve opted for a mini crew, so the trail debris is better kept out (last year i wore the trainer/no show version and i had to fish out half of the Ridgeway from in there).
  3. Hot Water Bottle. It’ll be late, and i’ll get cold quickly. I also get stomach cramps sometimes after a long distance. So this is there to help with all those things.
  4. Towel. Wipe down and clean once i’m done. It’s not a shower but it’ll help a bit.
  5. Baby wipes. Same idea as above. Get some of the grime off my face at least, and maybe the armpits get a little attention.
  6. Brooks long sleeve warm top. It’s all about staying warm at the end. Layers are where it’s at!
  7. Long sleeve base layer. Primark winner.
  8. Jogging bottoms as an extra layer to go over my compression leggings.
  9. ZeroPoint compression leggings. Same as the Oofos, ZeroPoint are my go to recovery product. Spray on some magnesium spray (not pictured) first, to avoid those leg tremors. (I have a code for 20% off using the link, ZPCHARLIE)
  10. Spare Battery, fully charged.
  11. Trek bars.
  12. Collapsable cup.
  13. Spare Jaybird headphones.
  14. For Goodness Shakes. These recovery drinks are incredible. I’ve experienced quite a few protein recovery drinks and i have to say that personally these are the best by a long way. They taste like a milkshake, not powdery at all. Thanks to FGS for sending me these for the ultras.

 

I hope that has been somewhat helpful. Even now i’m thinking of all the things i forgot to mention like the suncream (very important) or chapstick, preferably with sunscreen in it. My GO PRO!

The thing is, you can pack what you like.

Once you’ve done one, you’ll know what you want with you, what you needed and maybe also what you didn’t. Also each type of ultra will require different things too, so make sure you do your research, and you’ll be great. Now all you need to do is run the actual thing!

 

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