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 problem with my body is…

…that actually, there isn’t one at all.

Unfortunately, that’s not often the truth I find myself believing about it.

It’s Mental Health Awareness week, and this year the focus is on Body Image. Having shared my struggles a little recently on instagram, I felt like I wanted to blog from my own experience of body image struggles, as a mum, an ultra runner and a mid thirty year old woman.

Please can I precursor this by saying these things;
This is my OWN experience, my own feelings towards my body, and based on MY experience of living in this body. Knowing what is big and what isn’t for MY BODY. I also realise that there will be irrational things which are stupid and don’t make any sense, but again, you don’t need to tell me or roll your eyes at them. I already know! (ALSO maybe you won’t think ANY of these things and it’s my insecurity assuming you’re already judging me for writing this out… urghh)

I can’t remember when my body issues started. I vaguely remember in 6th form that people started going to the ‘gym’. I was more concerned with eating cheeseburgers from the canteen, clearing out the common room vending machines or driving down for a Pizza Hut buffet during our lunch-plus-free-period-bonanza. I wasn’t a big girl. I wouldn’t say I was ever ‘fat’, but I started to see the little belly pooch at 16, but didn’t take much notice, or realise it’d be hanging around a good 19 years later…

I have what i’d describe as an ‘addictive personality’. Maybe not to the extent of the result of a Dr.Google search but there are certainly parallels.

I obsess over things, I suffer with anxiety and depression, I crave excitement and adventure and I become very low when these things aren’t happening. I wouldn’t say i’m a food addict, but I get into very bad cycles of eating, especially chocolate, take aways and the good stuff, el vino.

I’m small in size. 5ft 2 ish, with a short torso. I always get so frustrated with my brother who is a bean pole in comparison (but has had his share of body demons too) – why couldn’t I have got those genes? Why did I get the short and fat ones?

As i’ve got older, and had children, i’ve hit that place most mid thirties seem to. The one where the weight goes on and doesn’t come off quite as fast as it used to. Mine in particular congregates around my middle, not the best when you’re already short waisted and not vertically blessed. This means that when I put weight on, I can feel it and see it quite well.

It always used to be about the scales. The lightest I ever was was when I got married at 21 (I know!). On my wedding day I was 8st 2. My wedding dress was size 8 and a little on the loose side. But do you know what? On my honeymoon, I was STILL complaining that I didn’t like my body. I’d literally punch my 21yr old self in the face over that now.

I’ve been through stages of my life where i’ve been thinner. Notably before, was back in 2008/9, pre kids, lots of time to myself, and getting into running. Andy and I ran a 10k for Cancer Research at Ashton Court in Bristol (where we lived until 2010) and that led to me wanting MORE (addictive) so I booked into the Bristol Half. I had no idea about training plans, all i’d read was I needed to run 10 miles comfortably. So that’s what I did. Maybe 3 runs a week, one short loop (5-7 miles) and a couple of 10 miles. Weight fell off me and I distinctly remember a pair of TEENY Nike leggings fitting me (and also remember looking at myself in the shower and despising THAT pooch despite the tiny lycra).

In reality, the first time I felt completely happy in my own body was when I fell pregnant with Milly. FINALLY I could appreciate my body for the most wonderful thing it was doing. AND to boot – my pooch would be taking a vacation for a while as my baby bump grew and grew… (don’t get me started on criticising the bump btw. It wasn’t a beautiful rounded bump either. It kind of went in and out for a good while…)

Becoming someones Mum gave me respect for my body. I became, for a while, appreciative of it. Of what it had done. That it wasn’t just me anymore – i’d made a human and my body now reflected that! And it took the pressure off how I felt about it for a while. And during my first pregnancy, i’d stayed pretty active. Running a little and going to the gym and swimming.

My post natal depression started to creep in when she was a few weeks old, but she was an awesome sleeper, and I credit my ability to kick the PND quickly thanks to enough sleep. She was 10 months old when we found out I was cooking him up. Things were about to get cray.

Between pregnancies I wasn’t very active at all. This continued once my little chunk of boy was born, as you can imagine – having a newborn/new baby and a 19month old was quite the handful. And this time I wasn’t so lucky with escaping the PND.

Exercise disappeared. I was struggling and I was lonely. I put on my fake happy and pushed it down. I couldn’t cope. I was drowning and failing and I actually was on the verge of not wanting to be here at all.

I was around 13 stone at my heaviest. 4 stone over my ideal weight. I wanted to lose it but coming in and out of weight loss clubs, I didn’t do too well. At most I lost a stone, and put it on again. But then I remembered what had once helped me get into those tiny Nike leggings and started to run, very cautiously and slowly. By the time this happened, Jasper was already 3.

I tried out Lean in 15, and found the world of HIIT. But soon enough running took over, and I became obsessed with it and getting better, faster, going for longer….

Three years ago, in May 2016, my old desire to run a marathon reignited and I started to look for new challenges. Anything to keep me motivated and on track. I was eating well and I was losing weight and getting fitter week by week. For the first time in a long time, I felt happy with my body – there was a long way to go but I was doing something about it. I was pursuing the run on a regular basis and a half marathon soon became three half’s in a 6 week period, and so began my pattern of addictive behaviour, but this time, applied to something i’d not applied it to before.

The next thing was to run every day in December, which I did. 120 miles. The most i’d ever run in a month. I was so happy. I was looking super trim, and felt so fit.

May to December, 2016.

I was over the moon to have a place in both London and Brighton marathons in 2017 (and long story short!) – i’d entered an ultra marathon, Race to the Stones, just from watching someone i’d met on instagram do it, without having even run a marathon first. I thought I could do that too and I booked on! I wanted to try and get in a marathon first, and I trained hard and started to raise money. But being the keano that I was, I got injured and as I was doing London for Mind, I deferred Brighton to 2018. I couldn’t do both this time.

Lining up for my first marathon I had no idea what to expect, as i’d only reached 18 miles in training due to the hip issue.

Despite it all, I managed a respectable 4:23:17 for my first ever marathon, at London no less. But that was it. I was well and truly hooked in.

Despite all these long distance races, I noticed that I wasn’t really physically changing much. The long runs would keep the weight down, but I wasn’t very toned, and the fact that I was rewarding myself with food, didn’t help me to find that athlete’s physique I was after.

2018 came round and I was in my best shape running wise for Brighton. I had a perfect training cycle and ran a Good for Age time, to qualify for London 2019. But guess what? Those Brighton pictures? I saw a physique I didn’t like. All that training. All those hours of running. I STILL couldn’t accept the body I was in. Thick thighs. Big hips. Skinny face sure, but zoom out and it was a different story.

July swang round and I took on my first ever ultra marathon, 100km over two days (do you see the escalation here?). Still not quite mastering my nutrition, and injured in the lead up, I managed to run the thing with my new running family; Martha and Daryl, a pair of pre weds wanting a challenge together before married life, and me, wanting to show my kids just what the hell mummy can do; and had the absolute best time of my life.

I didn’t realise there was such a world out there. I certainly hadn’t been an outdoorsy type of girl since I was pre teen, but this new found freedom to be me, to be outside and enjoying nature and pushing this body to the limits? was a new exciting challenge, and I lapped up every minute of it. As soon as we were done, I knew i’d be back for more.

Finishing our first ever Race to the Stones.

There was this whole new part to my life now, that I never even dreamed of. It stretched beyond marathons. It was new territory and I wanted more of it. Because the more I got into it and the social media side of it, the more I saw that people were doing it better than me. Actually, maybe I wasn’t as badass as I thought – there were people doing it faster, and they were skinnier and they had better gear than me… and once again, social media started robbing me of the incredible things i’d achieved.

In a social media world, it’s flipping hard to make a difference.

And if you’re obsessive and addictive like me, and you constantly fall into the comparison trap, then NOTHING, honestly NOTHING will ever be good enough for you.

No amount of miles.

No weight loss.

No material stuff or accolade will cut the mustard.

If I don’t come to a place where I accept and appreciate myself or my body for what it can and has achieved, what is the point of looking to anything else to validate that? Because it can’t. Social channels can’t fulfill you. Likes and interactions don’t replace real world validation, and to be honest, even that is lacklustre most of the time.

I’m sure many of you repeat marathoners/ultra runners etc will understand that people sort of lose the ability to congratulate you or even care about what you’ve achieved. I get it, it’s not everyones cup of tea, but FLIPPING HECK BABES, I just ran my 5th marathon 2 weeks before my 5th Ultra marathon and you don’t even bat an eyelid? (In their defence, MOST of my family and a good few friends are epic at supporting me, everytime, thank you pals xx)

All that makes me feel is like i’m not good enough. Nothing will ever be good enough will it? What on earth do I have to do to get validation from you and WHY DO I EVEN FIND MYSELF STRIVING FOR THE VALIDATION FROM A PRACTICAL STRANGER?

I joined instagram to document my journey for me. I didn’t start out for likes. Or freebies (I hope that’s the theme you still see today, although i’m very lucky to be gifted a few things these days). I had no idea what I was doing and I found others in the same place, who inspired me and brought me into a world I knew nothing of.

I guess my point, if there even is one, is that I don’t know how I get to the point of loving myself for what I can do. To appreciate that my body isn’t anyone else’s and it has its limitations. That I am more than one crappy race photo which is more than likely an awful shot mid stride where everything is heading south and I look like death… The journey to that race is MORE than that one shot.

And also, the reasons why I do it. Yes I want to feel good. Of course, I want to look good. Who doesn’t like to be complimented on their appearance right? But what is more important to me? Can I win the mind game and convince myself that the good is in the people i’m encouraging to have a go too? The people that have signed up for and run ultras who would never have done so without being moved by my journey? surely that is the biggest flattery and achievement in this whole journey?

I’ve been hard on myself since taking on my 5th ultra marathon this weekend, on my 35th birthday no less. Shaving off 1hr 40 mins from my 50km time. But what did I do when I saw these finish line pics? I cried.

Because I put on weight. Because I want people to say i’m skinny and fit and to me that means being less than what I am here and now. Despite what I did this weekend. And that needs to change.

I showed Milly the finish line pictures and she demanded that there and then, I print out this photo for her to put in her room. “Why do you like it?” I asked her.

“Because it’s just me and you”, she said.

She doesn’t see me as a size or a weight. She sees me and her having fun. Running together, strong girls club. And being taught a lesson by a 7 year old is pretty humbling to say the least.

Race to the King, 2018. Day 1.

A tiny TWO weeks on from my experience at Race to the Tower along the Cotswold way, and I was back for more Ultra goodness.

This time the scene was set along the beautiful South Downs, with a route stretching from Arundel to Winchester, with a total elevation gain of 5,284.32 ft. Not quite the 8,000 odd I was dealt in the Cotswolds, but still pretty damn meaty. There were some difficult hills out there…

king elevationThis time, I was joining my Ultra BFF Martha, and we were going to tackle the course over two days, with an overnight stay in basecamp, which on this particular route, was positioned only 23 ish miles into the route.

There are a few reasons why this has to happen – the basecamp used to use a boarding school which now isn’t possible, and the best place along the route for basecamp is currently where it stands. It wasn’t awful, but as this is the only Threshold ultra without a title sponsor, you can definitely feel that this is the smaller of the three events.

SO let’s get to the race.

Luckily I have a very good running friend Clare who lives around 20 minutes from the start. She was happy for Martha and I to crash with her the night before and like the massive champ she is, also drove us to the start line in the morning.

Unlike Race to the Tower, we were slightly more organised and managed to catch a bit more of the briefing, after bumping into a whole bunch of different friends as we bag dropped, went to the loo and braided hair.

One friend in particular, all the way from Australia was Kirsty aka @that_running_nurse who was in the UK for a wedding and as you do, booked an ultra while she was here! She went for the straight through option though, so we said a Hi and a Bye all at once, and wished her luck for her race.

Once the briefing was done, we set off, ready for another adventure, starting off past King-holding-flare-and-flag and my friend Chris from Threshold.

I ran with – well – played the overtaking game with Chris, and his friends at the Tower – it’s amazing the community and friendships that form en route at an ultra. Sort of an inexplicable solidarity of experiencing something so crazy and draining with all these strangers, brings you together. That’s why Martha and I are bonded for life now #ultrawife.

The first 3 miles were interesting. The course pretty much started up a 2/3 mile long hill. Martha’s calves hadn’t warmed up and started to cramp, so we paused a couple of times for me to dig my thumbs into them to try and release them a bit. With some relief, we carried on our journey up the huge hill and tried to ease into what lay ahead of us.

The heat was already making itself known, and although I wouldn’t have wished for rain (this course is particularly chalky and loose underfoot) I was super grateful for all the stretches of shady woodland or covered footpaths.

Once we’d climbed the first hill we were both feeling a little more settled, and enjoyed a nice downhill section, before we started s slow climb again around 5 miles. It was this point we came across Andy who was crewing some others, but was also there to give out encouragement to all runners. He asked us what we’d like, if anything, and told us we’d see him again around the 20 miles mark.

We waved goodbye and turned to travel through what we would unaffectionately name, Stinger Alley’.

stingers

Stinger Alley was just that – a compact, overgrown single footpath, with stinging nettles and thorny bushes at armpit height. I was forced to carry my arms about my head to avoid swinging my arms into the overgrowth, something that was a bit hit and miss. I had never been more grateful for my Zero point calf sleeves, without which, I would certainly have been slathering on the sting relief. This was the section i’d read about on the Facebook forum, locals and Alumni warning virgin King runners about the section that is ‘very overgrown’. All I can say is i’m grateful we weren’t up front, and benefited from a few hundred people stamping down the weeds ahead.

The only reassurance was the equal amount of yelps and screams from others ahead and behind us, it wasn’t just us falling prey to the nettles. Either that, or we concluded there may well be raptors in the field.

Unfortunately this section was also tricky underfoot and we passed a couple of people who had succumbed to the undulating path and had a nasty fall. One lady we saw back at basecamp, she had been to the hospital and came back with stitches on her forehead and nose, after taking a gravel path to the face.

I have gone over on my ankle and had a few trips to the ground but luckily I haven’t had any major bust ups (so far!).

Now around 7 miles, we enjoyed a little decent before meeting our next vertical ascent. We knew Pit Stop 1 was close, and we both needed a break and a refuel (we were draining water like it was going out of fashion). This hill was a proper good one. Although it was only 0.32 miles, it was most definitely ALL UP, starting with tricky chalk path, then levelling out a little towards pit stop 1. However, as these things go, the view made it all worth it.

We pulled into basecamp to bells and cheers by the wonderful Pit crews, and made all the checks.

Loo

Refuel

Water

GO.

Moving on we had a little bit more up (a mile or so) and now on top of the hill at Mile 9, we could see the next climb! Thankfully we first had a lovely big downhill, where the breeze was blowing and it felt good to be a little cooler as we bumped our way down. Approaching the bottom of the valley, we crossed a road and began to ascend once more.

king day 1This hill was chalky path through a beautiful green field and once we’d made it to the top (everyone was walking this) it was the most incredible reward. The hill went reasonably quick as we chatted to some guys about the Stones and the Tower, feeling relatively smug when they were impressed that i’d only completed Tower two week previous. It was a great distracting chat and we ended up following and swapping places with this group for the next day too.

 

Hot and sweaty, we were super happy to then take a break from the sun and enjoyed a wonderful shady stretch of about 4.5 miles, before arriving at Pit Stop 2. As Day 1 of RTTK is quite short, there are only 2 pits, meaning they’re stretched out at slightly longer distance. Usually this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but as it was so hot, we were really getting through our water supplies, and trying to make them last until each stop. The next stop after this would be base camp, and our home for the night.

As we descended into PS2, we met Andy again, who handed us some Percy Pigs, and took and filled up our bottles for us. I grabbed a packet of ready salted crisps and a flat coke (oh my gosh, salt and flat coke is EVERYTHING)

We had another 8.5 miles until we reached base camp, before which things would get a little technical, terrain wise. At the 16 miles point, we started up another long hill climb.

The hills on this route are somewhere between The Tower and the Stones. Mostly, they’re long and reasonably steep. The Tower has lots of short sharp inclines, rather than long drawn out ones (although there are a good few of those too) and then Stones is mainly rolling hills, with very few sharp ascents/descents.

So this particular hill, aptly named ‘Cocking Hill’, was around 133ft elevation gain over 1.8 ish miles. It had a very long first part, up a small farm road, thankfully reasonably compacted tarmac with a few loose stones this time. It soon turned into woodland, which again was a wonderful respite from the heat and the sun. We made some videos to send to my kids and then we enjoyed a good section of running with a shady downhill.

The crazy terrain was only about to get worse though. Another large uphill section through the wood, which  then made a turn at the top out into the sunlight, to a crescendo of steep incline to finish things off. The kind where every step feels like you’re not really making any progress forwards…

Martha and I laughed at how we had appeared to have swapped places from last year. She was fully trained for Race to the Stones but I wasn’t and she helped me through. This time, it was my turn to help an injured friend through this mountain climbing hell we were in!

No sooner than we had found the 20 miles sign for a selfie, we then saw what awaited us next. A downhill leading to an immediate, very sharp climb. This was to the top of the hill (Beacon Hill to be precise). It would be climbing more than walking, so we set to it and hauled ourselves up to the top of the other side, where we found the Trig point to indicate we had reached the highest point. Pretty cool.

The other side the craziness continued, and now, having been caught up by Clare who was making amazing progress on her straight through attempt, we descended the hill together. It was so so steep. You probably can’t tell from the picture (bottom left, above) but it was a very technical decent, quite a few people slipped in places, and I could only imagine how treacherous it would have been had it been a wet or icy day.

Unfortunately we had another straight up the opposite side of the hill, another chalky path, which was slippery and had plenty of lose stones and ruts to fall into if you weren’t completely looking at where you were going!

Martha was struggling with the heat and her poor broken toe, but we tried to push on as now it was all down hill and reasonably shady.

We knew Andy was going to be close by, and then there he was. Fully equipped with Percy Pigs and WATERMELON! Oh gosh. Race to the Tower changed my life with Watermelon. I prayed there would be watermelon at some of the Day 2 Pits as we hadn’t had any up until that point. I loved seeing Andy there. It was such a boost to see a friend, and more so a friend with supplies!! We only had a couple more miles so on we went.

Before long we could hear the loudspeakers of basecamp, and finally we knew that we could relax. 24 miles in total, but what a 24 miles. We knew Day 2 had a couple of bad climbs, but we had got the worst of it out of the way, now we could relax, stretch, take the yoga class, get a massage, hot shower, hot food and just chill out for the evening.

We grabbed some food – pizza, pasta, chips, oh my gosh it was all so good.

The massage tent wasn’t too busy so we took our massages straight away, and because there wasn’t many waiting, we seemed to have a decent amount of time in there. I had some pretty sick knots in my calves, which the trainee very meticulously smoothed out, much to my discomfort! I also got my quads done which was amazing. We had a roll and a stretch too, and then had a nice hot shower before heading up to do a yoga sesh.

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People often ask me or are worried about doing these events over 2 days because they think they’ll cramp up, or find day 2 harder etc. Having done the events both ways, i can honestly say, as long as you make sure you go through recovery steps at basecamp, massage, shower, roll, stretch, eat, rehydrate then sleep, there’s no reason why you can’t have a wonderful day 2. Last year at RTTS, I had no issues, and followed the same course of action for the King to the same effect.

The one horrendous thing was the little storm bugs that were EVERYWHERE. It was so gross. They just swarmed on the tents and it was hard to get in and out without them following you in there! Luckily come nightfall, they seemed to go back to Hades from where they came from. But, eurghhh.

The field hadn’t long been harvested either, so there was a lot of uneven ground and straw like stalks sticking out from the ground. Again, not Threshold’s problem – but was just unfortunately timed harvesting I guess!

After yoga, we hung out a little bit more – everyone was encouraged to welcome in the last 2 people on course. It was amazing actually. Everyone seemed to come over, there was a proper crowd of people who had finished their day, or maybe were there for other people, cheering in these two people. They looked so happy for the support. It just made me feel so proud of our running community and just goes to prove the family spirit that you get at these events.

We made ourselves a little snack to end the day, and turned in around 10.30, after catching the MOST beautiful sunset. A big part of me now felt spoiled for the straight through option – I did the last one straight through, and there was a part of me that felt like I was cheating by not pressing on, but I was also glad of the rest! 30 miles to cover in the morning, we tried to get as much sleep as we could before nature turned the lights on around 4.30am.

 

Day 2 to follow…

 

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SaveSaveSaveSave

Mum to Marathon, Pt2.

In October 2016, I signed up for Brighton Marathon, because as I mentioned in the previous post, i’d been on the London reject list once more, and I was DESPERATE to get a marathon under my belt. Even if only in training for the 100k ultra marathon i’d signed up for, called Race to the Stones.

However, come November, the charity i’d signed up to run for, Mind, got back in contact to say a place on their team had opened up, and did I want it. I literally had about an hour or two to decide.

I rang Andy and laid out the facts.

“I’d have to raise £2000….!”

“It’s only two weeks after Brighton!”

“It would be pretty BADASS though…”

We chatted it through and decided that, given my luck in the ballot, this may be the only guaranteed entry I got to London, so I made the bold choice, and took the place.

‘How on earth am I going to raise two grand?!’

Fundraising.

Oh fundraising. It’s one of those things isn’t it. People are ALWAYS doing it. It’s great, don’t get me wrong here, but when it came to the thought of asking people for money, I was super duper nervous and worried.

I ran through the classic list of ideas, bake sales, quiz nights etc, none of which sat with me. Then I realised. I was sitting on a goldmine of talent and possibilities. I could use my professional contacts in the Children’s Book industry, and round up a bunch of illustrators to donate work to the auction! Draw for your Mind was born that November, and as people started to hear about it, more wanted to be involved.

get your bid on

Over a weekend in February, I think we auctioned off about 90 odd books, art and prints from all sorts of illustrators, and that combined with the donations on just giving pages from friends and family etc, totalled up to around £5300.

I’d love to do another Draw for your mind, but felt i’d asked a lot of people last year, so this year I chose not to fundraise for any of my events. Anyway, I was on a total high. Couldn’t believe i’d totally smashed my target. Now all I needed to do was focus on the running.

Then disaster struck…

I got injured.

Ironically, the very lady who had inspired me to run and train for Race to the Stones, Jemma Lewis (@thisgirlcanrunfar), also got injured literally with a day of me. We both crashed and burned at the height of training. March 5th, I ran my first (and only) 20 mile training run, before my hip stopped playing ball. Physio and Sports massages x a million later, we worked out that because I had weak walking muscles (and strong running ones) when I was walking and feeling the pain in my hip, it was because the muscles weren’t pulling my hip into place properly, causing an impingement and friction in the joint. However, it seemed to just be when I walked, not ran, so quite soon, the physio was allowing me to run.

He recommended that I defer Brighton, and focus on London, which gave me a couple more weeks to play with for recovery. I had a few good runs where the pain was not too much of a bother once i’d started running. This one day, about two weeks away from London, the pain was intense during running. I couldn’t even make it a mile. It hadn’t been there for the running before. What fresh hell was this?

If you’ve ever been injured, you know that the constant analysis and second guessing is exhausting. Unfortunately my injury also meant that the pain moved around, so one time it could be up in my lower back, then deep in my groin, near my hip joint or somewhere in my thigh. I posted to ig in a pretty dramatic way (VERY unlike me…) that this was it. My Brighton and London Double dream was out of the question, Brighton was deferred, but now it looked like I wouldn’t even make London.

BUT all those donations! All that fundraising….

tragedy

I got in contact with Mind, and unfortunately they couldn’t guarantee me a place for the next year. I could carry over my fundraising but i’d still have to apply with everyone else.

I decided I would give London a go.

I put on my big girl pants, and planned with Martha (@martha_runs), my newly acquired running wife, that we would both start together. In fact, loads of us were injured at the start of London that year. It’s a miracle we all made it to the end!

I’m going to save my London Marathon story for a separate post because I want to write it up properly (only a year over due…).

But this was it. This was the moment I finally went from Mum to Marathon.

 

Did my problems disappear? No.

Did my kids turn into exemplary human beings? Not a chance.

Was my depression cured? Nope, still there!

 

Do you know what did happen though?

 

I realised that I can do incredible things. I mean, I MADE TWO incredible things* from my body. In pregnancy, my relationship with my body changed. It actually helped me to love it.

PND tried to rob me of a new found love for my body.

Running my first marathon reminded me of how badass it was when my body did its thing, and birthed two kids. It took me back to the ‘marathon’ of childbirth (in a lot of ways it’s scarily similar; Loss of bodily functions, crying, screaming, sweating, swearing…) and reminded me that I CAN DO HARD THINGS. How BADASS I STILL WAS AND ALWAYS WILL BE.

I could also run a REAAAAAALLY long way for a long time and survive it. And the hugs from my kids when I met them at the end?

Worth every injured step.

 

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*my wonderful children who are wonderful.