London Revolution Trails

When Threshold approached me and asked if i’d like to take on their newest trail, of course my answer was always going to be a big fat yes. Having previously completed the Trail series (Stones twice) I knew it would be class and there was no way I wouldn’t be joining in (for clarity, I was gifted the place, as an ambassador for the Trail series).

This event, new for 2019, coincides with Dulux London Revolutions, which sees cyclists take up to a maximum of 300km over one long day or over a weekend (much like the trail series options on foot). We didn’t see anything of the cyclists until we all pulled into the racecourse at the end.

Another bonus was that it was only on my BIRTHDAY, and looped around the Thames path literally around where i’m from and grew up. It was perfect.

It was also perfect because in September I am taking on the Thames Path 100km, and so it was great to be able to train a little on some of the route I will be doing then.

I wasn’t ever going to try and race this, but was going to just use it as training miles for the trail series, starting on the 8th June with Race to the Tower. Andy and I said we’d start together and then see how he was doing, and Emma (@jersey_girl08) and I were planning on running the whole way together, as we had done for day one of Race to the Stones last year.

I’ll be honest – I touched on this in a previous post so I won’t go into detail again here, but I woke up that morning having a bit of a panic attack. We got to the start at Marlow Rugby club, a small matter of 10 mins away from my parents, parked up and walked into the start area, breathing deeply to try and wish away the feelings I had about myself and the race and a trillion other things! I really just wanted to enjoy myself and this anxiety was SO NOT WELCOME. It was my birthday after all!

I found my friends and they were so sweet. I got a few cards and a badge from Em, and Chris and Kate from Threshold gave me a bottle of prosecco. Thankfully my Andy and the kids saw me off so I didn’t have to run with it…

We were joined by Lisa (@weesmileyrunner) and lined up at the start with Emily and Hannah from Twice the Health, who are training for Race to the Stones. It was my first time meeting all these lovely people and Sarah (@daisymayw) too from back home. Everyone was exited to get going, and in typical English weather style, we were debating outfit choices right up to the start. I had a vest, and a long sleeve, and a rain jacket… it was freezing at the start though. Just before they counted us over the line, the sun started to appear so I whipped off the jacket and wore the long sleeve for the first part.

9.15am we set off over the line, out through Marlow, weaving through streets and out past Higginson Park. I found it really weird as I grew up here. All my past boyfriends and friends live/d here so my memories of Marlow definitely weren’t of ultra running. It made me laugh comparing the 16 year old me drinking at the regatta in that same park, to the ultra runner me whizzing past it now.

weaving through brick alleyways

Just after 2 miles, we headed out to trail across fields and through some woodland. I always excitedly enjoy the start of an ultra race, but soon we found our stride and a comfortable pace. There were 6 pit stops on the ultra route which was loads! and the first one came up at mile 6 on the dot.

This stop counted for Pit stop 1 AND 2, as this was where the routes split (there was a half, full and ultra marathon option)

The marathoners and ultra marathoners both came to pit stop 1 (the half went out the opposite way from the start line) the only difference being the marathoners doubled back from here, but ultra runners carried on up some hills to add the extra 5/6 miles, and then came back through making it also the ultra pit stop 2.

I decided i’d take off my long sleeve now as i had my vest underneath. The sun was out to play and I was trying to keep up with the changing conditions.

It’s worth just noting, if you’re a frequenter of the Threshold Trail Series (Race to the Tower, King, Stones) the pit stops here weren’t as well stocked (as it’s a smaller event). I didn’t really mind at all as I had what I needed and to me the distance was manageable on not too much food, but if you’ll need more substantial food, it’s worth noting there isn’t any of the lunch type foods provided. What they did have were sweets, crisps, watermelon (THANK THE LORD!) bananas and a few snack bar type jobs. At two of the pit stops there was also just water provided (which again to me was just fine).

The route out here was a really nice mixture of country roads which were all pretty quiet, cute little villages and fields. As expected, there were the odd few ascents up the Chiltern hills, but only a couple really stick out in my mind as being ‘tricky’. We did pretty well at getting up them together, and at this stage we were all still together (not the TTH girls, they’d whizzed off on the marathon option).

There was a few beautiful moments up near Hambledon. Coming to the top of the climb (bottom left above) was so beautiful to look over the hills around us, and after a romp through Culden Faw – which I recognised from Tough Mudder-ing, we came out of some woods to a beautiful valley. I’d say this would be the ‘field of dreams’ moment from this race.

We came across a muddy section we’d been prewarned of, and realising i’d chosen my brand new WHITE Zeropoint calf sleeves today, I wasn’t sure how i’d emerge from it…

Sadly, nothing really happened, no mud was particularly forthcoming and I made it through unscathed.

We came out of this section back down through pit stop 2, grabbed a couple of snacks and started to make our way out back towards Marlow. The weather was turning again and had clouded over and was spitting a little. It was still better than the showers that had been predicted for the whole day!

The next section we were waiting to be reunited with the river, but it was another 5 miles before we found it, and in that time, Andy had begun to struggle with cramp. Knowing that I wanted to get a decent sort of time, he kindly told Emma and I to push on ahead, and Lisa stayed back with Andy, so around mile 13 we went separate ways, and I kept texting him every so often to check in on how he was going.

In this next section we also came across a ridiculously steep footpath, taking us up away from the river, through a scary murder worthy passageway that was pitch black apart from a few light holes littered through the passage, and then safely down hill again back to the river! Then just after we’d hit 20km to go sign, we found a lovely bridge complete with stairs to climb!

Eventually we came back through Marlow and past the bridge i’ve driven over so many times, and headed out along the Thames towards our next pit stop, back past the Rugby club where we left from.

We clocked up a good few river miles from here, passing through Bourne End and Cookham, admiring boats and houses backing onto the river, and being quizzed by curious dog walkers as to ‘What are you girls running for?”

A brief section across Cookham town and we were into Pit stop 4. This was a really little one, but Emma was struggling with cramp in her calf, So we took a little bit of time and I tried to keep things upbeat and be encouraging.

On the path as we left the pit there was a bees nest in the hedge! We gave it a wide berth and began on the path heading towards my hometown, Maidenhead.

This was absolutely so special to me, sure it’s a bit cringe maybe but there was something incredible about doing an epic race through where I grew up and spent so much time.

We did a fair amount of walking at this point, but slowly Emma started to lose the cramp and she found a third wind! We managed to pick up the pace for a couple of miles to take us over Maidenhead bridge, across the river and on the approach out to Dorney Lake – and eventually to the finish at Windsor Racecourse. We also ran past the cutest little family of geese, and obviously stopped to take a pic of the goslings.

I knew this part of the river path having run on it a good few times when staying at home, but it felt different today. I felt really strong but I knew I needed to help Emma through too, so we set ourselves mini goals, and would try to run up to the next mile watch bleep and then have a little walk to break it up a bit.

When we got to pit stop 5, we took a bit longer. Emma had a quick loo break and I grabbed some freddo’s for the kids for when I finished. We had already clocked up 27 odd miles, and the board told us we had 5.8 left to go. I was also trying to do some maths as though I didn’t want to rush Emma, I knew if we tried to keep moving we could be on for a sub 7 hour 50km.

They also said there was another pit a few miles ahead, but we agreed that we didn’t really need to stop again, so unless anything big changed in the next few miles, we would carry on past.

They had watermelon there so as we ran through I grabbed a bit and posed for the photographer.

I love watermelon on an ultra.

Anyway, we were now so so close. From this pit we had about 3 more miles left to run! 30 miles on the Garmin and I was eager to get it over with and see my little family.

The cruel ending of the course however, was that my family were across the river on the racecourse. Andy had checked where I was on ‘find my friends’, and my little dot had come up literally across the river from where they were. So as I emerged from the trees they clocked me and from the other side of the river my kids started shouting for me – ‘MUMMY!’ ‘I LOVE YOU’ ‘GO ON MUMMY!!’

This was amazing and it boosted me to get it done even more! But at this stage of mileage, 3 miles is FAAAAAAAAAR, and the last 3 miles from the pit was a big up and back to where they shouted for me on the racecourse. It took such a long time to reach that bridge to cross the river. I tried to run as much as I could to close in on the time.

Emma told me to push on and go ahead to get the sub 7 (which she actually also got – she was only 7 mins or so behind me in the end!), so I left her to finish her race and dug deep to finish mine.

I felt stronger than i’d expected and although the road along and into the Racecourse felt like forever, I ran my fastest mile of the race as my last at 8:58, which to be honest, after 32 miles, to run a sub 9 minute mile may have been my biggest achievement of the day!

As I rounded a few million corners, wondering when i’d start to see the finish line, sure enough, lined with so many colourful flags, there it was.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other, alongside cyclists coming in from their ride and actually congratulating me, one even said she felt like she was cheating! (other people didn’t have so many nice comments from cyclists!). As soon as I came round that last bend though, my kids saw me and shouted for me, and ran up to meet me so we could cross the finish line together.

The medal didn’t disappoint either – just as colourful as the finish line experience, and another beaut to add to my Threshold stash.

Another great thing is that the ribbons had the different distances on them, while the medal itself was the same, the ribbon showed the three different distances, which made it much less generic, especially if you’d taken on a longer distance – I want that to be written on my prize!

Emma made it through not that far behind me, and as she text me ‘i’m done’ I ran back over to the finish and grabbed her for a teary hug! I was so proud of her on her second ever ultra, she absolutely smashed it.

A cup of birthday wine later and we were reunited with ALL of the others, Andy, Lisa and the girls running the half, who now had joined the festival fun. The basecamp felt just like the other trail series camps, all the usual food stands and yoga going on, for the exception of a whole bunch of kids activities, bouncy castle, climbing wall etc, which was perfect. They were FREE firstly – parents can I get an amen? – and there was so much to do that my kids weren’t bored there while they were waiting, and we managed to stay for a couple of hours after too.

Yes – I was gifted this place.

Would I have entered if I hadn’t been? ABSOLUTELY.

I wholeheartedly recommend this as a great training run if you’re taking on summer ultras, whether they’re Threshold or not, doesn’t matter. This one had a 1/4 of the elevation of Tower, at around 500-odd m, so there’s a few meaty hills to get in on, plus you have monotony of the parts where it’s just river for miles. These are all great things to train yourself on for a longer ultra.

Even if you weren’t training for an ultra, the fact you can also choose half marathon or full marathon too makes this event an all rounder. Use it as training or use it as a standalone event, you’ll be getting a new bit of metal for your collection, and what a gem it is.

The LONG road to London

It all began with such great intentions.

In January i’d signed up with a nutritionist and Jordan had agreed to help coach me for London; i’d decided after Brighton 2018 that i’d like to push for a BQ time (Boston Marathon Qualifying time for those who don’t know, which for my age is sub 3:30). This would mean working to cut at least 14 minutes off my Brighton time of 3:44, a good amount of speed sessions and generally plan following at 100%.

Also in January, the work on our house started. This was something we’d been looking forward to doing for YEARS. Working on getting our own house the way we wanted it! It was so exciting.

I started out with Andi Scott Shaw and PMG coaching at the start of January with all the best intentions to get back into shape after getting injured during the Swiss City Marathon in October. I joined Hotpod yoga in Margate being a complete yoga virgin (other than the hour i’d done at Threshold Trail ultra base camps) to help rehab my very very tight left leg (Glute/Hamstring/Quad/TFL/Hip Flexor…)

TOP TIP! If, like me, you take on multiple distance challenges in close proximity, make sure you roll, stretch, do yoga/pilates and see a sports masseuse or a physio etc. It will prevent injury if you have regular maintenance rather than save it all up and wait for your knee to explode on you (mine didn’t, but it felt like it).

My mileage after October was dropped significantly due to the injury. I’d gone through most of 2018 on 100+ mile months, to then 8 miles total in August – partly because of summer holidays and going away, partly because i’d done so much mileage I needed a break really. When I came back to run Berlin Marathon in September I managed 4:03, but my quad started ceasing at 22 miles (like in Brighton) and eventually a month later in Switzerland, it finally had enough. November and December I ran a total of 13 miles.

So I was building back up through January, hoping I could get to BQ shape, and lose the 10lbs i’d put on through being injured (i’m an emotional eater…)

It became pretty clear though that this was all happening at the wrong time. My focus was on the house, we moved out to our friends for what ended up being 5 weeks, and when we moved home we cooked in a microwave in our lounge for 3 more. Hardly ideal when you’re trying to follow nutrition plans. We ate conveniently and you know what that means. I put on more weight and parted ways with Andi as I just couldn’t stick to the plan in the environment i was in.

I was gutted. I wasn’t going to have the before and after shots like the other girls. The abs hidden under my fat were yet to be found… i felt crap.

It took a good few months of yoga for my hamstrings to start to release, but I started to notice differences in my flexibility (still shocking!) and could tell it was also affecting my running for the better. I started running to and from yoga where I could (a 4 mile round trip), doing my resistance band workouts, and working on my strength at the gym.

I managed to stick to most sessions through jan/feb but we had decided that a BQ wasn’t the right time goal for just now, and even if i ever actually wanted that (or if it was just ig pressure to do the ‘next thing’) and it wasn’t until March that I started to think about if deferring would be better.

When I storied about deferring London I had all the intention in the world to go home and do just that. I’d spoken with Jordan and I felt like maybe that was best. I was under a huge amount of brain fog with work and the house and I just couldn’t see how I would manage it. March’s mileage was 27, in what was everyone elses peak weeks. When I went home and checked it all out, I realised that London are very generous with deferrals. You had up to the DAY BEFORE to defer. I hesitated over the form and thought i’d just think it over a bit longer. After all, I wasn’t out of time to move my race to 2020 so there was no harm in waiting a bit longer.

I decided that if I could manage to make it through the next 3/4 weeks and run all my sessions, and get some high mileage runs done, then I still had a good chance for running London and doing relatively okay. I managed to do them, and got an 18, 15 and 10 mile long run in. Things at the house calmed down and suddenly I felt like i’d surfaced, and actually this situation wasn’t as impossible as i’d thought.

I kept the decision to myself until I was off to pick up my number on the Saturday. A few people didn’t realise i’d even planned on deferring, and some were really shocked that I was going through with it – but I think also excited for me, which was really fun. I’d been gagging to join in the London build up the week before, and seeing everyone going to the expo was killing me! I just wanted to tell everyone! I kept it quiet because I still wasn’t sure how it would go, and I felt like there would be more time for pressure to build up on expectations for the race – and I didn’t want that, especially as I wasn’t sure how it would go or how i’d even approach the race, until the morning of.

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!).

IMG_E7078

  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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