Thames Path 100km

It’s been a long time coming.

I ran my first ‘100km’ event in 2017, at Race to the Stones. I chose to do it over 2 days as that seemed much more palletable and a whole lot of fun to camp over and stay at base camp eating all the food and hanging out with friends.

It didn’t bother me at all that I split up the distance, I did back to back ultras that weekend (and the following year) and I fully embraced my medal at the end. ‘100km’ the ribbon proudly pronounced.

It wasn’t until I’d run my first straight through double marathon that my brain started to question if I could comfortably say that I’d run a 100km race. The distance was covered, just the same as the people truckin’ through the night but doing it across 2 days now wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be one of those who had done it all in go. I needed to step up from 53 miles, to 62.

It was supposed to happen in July. It was supposed to be Race to the Stones that took that honour. 

However, the middle of 2019 didn’t seem to be on my side. After a press trip to Loch Ness in June went a little horizontal, I ended up with a split knee and a sprained ankle and niggles that forced me to make a difficult decision and drop down to the 50km. It was really a long game plan, as I already had another 100km race booked in for September, the Thames Path challenge with Ultra Challenges. I couldn’t risk losing another attempt at the distance and I knew I wasn’t ready to tackle it at RTTS.

Summer came round as it does and life was flung into chaos, with work deadlines, kids desperate to destroy anything in their wake, spend all your (non existent) cash, and never happy with the plans you try so hard to come up with.

My mileage for the year at this point was so low compared to the previous year, I began to worry that actually I wouldn’t make the start line at all.

Up to this point, my main races had been London Marathon in April, Dulux Trails 50km in May, Race to the Tower 85km in June and then the compromised Race to the Stones 50km. I had a few ultra distances in my legs but I felt completely out of routine, focus and motivation.

I messaged Jordan my coach (and friend!) and asked her to PLEASE put me together a plan (I had 5 weeks to go) that I could follow to get my mileage up and get me to the start line feeling like I deserved to be there. I wanted to feel like I could actually smash out 62 miles well. She was incredible as always, gave me runs that were 85% focused on time on feet, and I followed it to the letter. I’m much more of a short term goal put me under pressure for results type of personality (which also is awful for my anxiety levels, urgh.)


September 7th, 2019.

After staying the night at Jordan’s (15 mins from the start in Fulham) we got up, bleary eyed, around 4:45am for the necessary porridge/coffee/prep, before meeting our taxi about 5:50am.

When we arrived it felt really exciting – my first ultra event that wasn’t a Threshold run one, I was keen to see how other organisations run these type of events. It felt bigger at the start, more like a London Marathon vibe with plenty of charity stands and people bustling around. Less of the family feel i’m used to at Threshold. Registering was easy though, and luckily we didn’t have much of a wait to get our numbers and our lanyards* (Jordan was running the 50km, and came 1st lady and 2nd overall).

*In Ultra challenges races the chip timing is done by scanning in to each checkpoint with the lanyard you have to wear (I ended up storing mine in my vest and pulled it out when I got to checkpoints, it was quite bulky) instead of a chip on the back of a bib. With Threshold, I like the fact you can go past an aid station if you don’t need or want to stop, but this way meant that you HAD to go through the checkpoints, even if you didn’t want to do so.

We dropped our bags and said a few hellos to other runners and people from ig, and after a short warm up, we set off for a long old day, at 6:50am.

Jordan flew and I was on my own until 50km, which was where I’d worked out I could meet Andy for the first time. I knew I could get through 50km, it was the distance I’d done the most, so it would be ‘simple’. I ran the first 14km reasonably fast to get it under my belt. The whole course was basically flat as a pancake so I knew I’d have to force myself to take walk breaks, as there were no natural breaks in the run (i.e massive hills to climb). I wanted to do as much as I could earlier in the day to get as much into the run as possible. I was fretting about finishing in the dark, and if I could, I wanted to try and finish before sunset (which was around 8:30pm). This would mean aiming for a time of under 13 ish hours – something that I should have easily managed had I been coming out of a normal 10/12 weeks training cycle. I’d just come out of 4 weeks though…

My tactic for the run was sort of based on what my friend Krysia had done for her Thames Path 100 miler back in May. I knew I need to set myself walking breaks, so my plan was (after the first strong 14km!) to run 0.80, and then walk 0.20 of each mile. If I was feeling good I’d try and do a whole mile or 2, but for the most part, this was what I’d try and stick to, to break up the running.


The spanner

The week before I’d been suffering a little with a dodgy tummy. It had settled the day before the race but I’d taken an Imodium just incase. Unfortunately, it started to give me some chat and around 20km I knew I’d be in for a little bit of an adventure…

After constantly monitoring the bushes for over 6 miles, I made it to checkpoint 2, 28km in, and proceeded to make a most favourable visit to the wonderful green plastic room. Nothing really happened though, and I cursed the Imodium I’d taken for not allowing me to get it out and move on…. I composed myself, in complete disbelief that this was going to compromise my attempt at a decent time in this race, and pushed on with a view to make it to the next portaloo, in another 9km.

I promise the whole race recap isn’t about my toilet visits – and thankfully, by the time I’d made it to checkpoint 3, things did move in the right direction and I was able to feel a little lighter and much less tense. It was here that the aid station excelled itself (I’d not been at all impressed by them up to this point) with a whole row of pic n mix. Not feeling in the mood to eat any, I filled up a bag for later on (I fuel well with sweets) and tentatively pushed out of the CP.

Another 13km and I’d be at Runnymeade Pleasure Ground, and the 50km point. I’d see my husband Andy and I’d also be seeing my friend Andy VDB, who was tag teaming crewing me from halfway, with my Andy. He knew I was having tummy issues and he brought me more Imodium and ginger biscuits, and from here on out, let’s just say was my trail angel, going from point to point, stopping off at shops on the way to get me crisps or flapjacks, coke and water etc etc. As I said, I didn’t think much of the aid stations, they weren’t awful by any means, but if you’ve ever done a Threshold event then you’ll know those aid stations are hard to rival…


Halfway.

Because I’d been struggling with my stomach, my race tactic had slowed somewhat. I was still trying to keep as much running going as I could, but my breaks were more like 75/25, and then 50/50 walk/run. 

A nice man who was there for another ultra/marathon/lap event took my picture by the 50km sign and congratulated me. All I wanted to do though was find my Andy and have a cuddle. I saw him walking across the grass and I grabbed him and tried not to completely break down, having been on my own for the last 6ish hours, struggling with feeling ill.

He brought me my halfway bag, and I changed my clothes and socks. Nothing was rubbing but annoyingly my underarm had chaffed early on – thankfully the weather was a little on the chilly side so I made the decision to wear my long sleeve to try and patch myself up a bit

I wasn’t hugely hungry so I didn’t really have much to eat here – I much prefer to snack on an ultra and find that if I eat little/often it’s enough to fuel me, paired with sweets and Tailwind.

From a personal side, I was so excited to be at this pitstop. Being a Berkshire girl and growing up in Maidenhead, I knew these places, or had at least driven through them many times. This was the first time I’d been into this park, having always been past and never been in; and for the last few years thinking how nice a run it would be by the river that curves out from Runnymeade towards Eton.

My Andy drove back to Maidenhead to meet up with my parents and kids, who were going to meet me by Maidenhead bridge in another 12 miles time (that felt like an absolute AGE) and Andy VDB drove on to meet me near the next pit stop, which was through Windsor up to Eton FC.

I realise I haven’t said loads about the route up until this point because, well, other than a few nice bits likes Richmond, it’s all a bit much of a muchness. It’s lovely, and if you enjoy running by water and the occasional stately home and Castle, then bob’s your uncle. I was all about getting it done, and to be honest it was just one park to the next, through a lock here and over a bypass there, trying not to crap my pants.


Running past Home

Andy VDB met me at Eton CP, and then again just before I met up with my family; around Dorney lake. It was so good to see him, and he ran a couple of km’s with me each time which I massively appreciated. It was super lonely out there – I didn’t really see that many people so to have him for company at a few points was really great, and he really made me laugh too, which I desperately needed!

When I was mentally preparing, I’d felt like going through Maidenhead was going to be tricky. It’s my hometown, but I’d be nowhere near finishing. Maidenhead bridge was 45 miles in so I’d still have another 17 miles ahead to push through. I’d also have to see and then leave my family, which at this point in an ultra is huge. By this point I’m slower, tired, mentally I’ve switched on to auto pilot and doing my best not to engage any emotions that will compromise the goal of finishing!

With all this in my mind, I pushed on to meet my family. And all maths at this stage is absolutely pointless because you get it wrong and miscalculate everything. I knew this part of the TP because I’d run it a few times when I’d been home, but this particular day with 41 miles in my legs, I underestimated how far I had left to run to meet my little crew. Those extra bends in the trail that didn’t amount to the faces I love the most was a little soul destroying.

It was 3 LONG miles from where I left Andy VDB to finally coming out from the wooded river path to see my littles down the road ahead. When they realised it was me coming, they ran to me shouting “Mummy!” and I squeezed them into me, as if they had some sort of supernatural energy I could harvest to see me through the next 17 miles.

We walked together for around half a mile and then said goodbyes. I wouldn’t see my parents or the kids again, but I’d planned to see Andy at the finish.


Cookham to Marlow

As I passed Boulter’s Lock, a place I used to spend a lot of time as a kid, I met up with VDB again and we jogged for a few km’s. My phone was dying and to help me out he took it for me to charge, and then he then met me with it a few miles down the road, just before the next CP in Cookham.

Like I said, I was so grateful he was there. It really makes all the difference, especially if the person crewing you has previous experience in events like this before. You just have an intuition/know the right things to ask etc. I was really indebted to him for helping me out that afternoon.

My biggest boost then came as I left to move on towards Marlow (another place I grew up around). Plenty of people were ending their days by the river, and a man stopped me, having obviously seen a distance marker, to ask “Have you really just run 75km?”. Not being one to pass on a mini gloat moment, I told him that yes that was true, and that I had started in Fulham at 6:50am, but still had to make it to Henley. “Massive respect to you!” he said. “That’s really incredible. Well done!”.

Things like that, make me realise what I’m doing isn’t actually that normal.

Shortly after, I hit 50 miles as the sun began it’s journey down. I wasn’t on for the time I wanted, but I was feeling strong, so I carried on, running as much of a mile as I could. Each time the mile ticked over I’d have a walk break, sometimes for a whole mile.

I noticed that my Garmin needed a bit of help – having had it charged a little at 50km, I thought I wouldn’t need my cable again so I’d put it in my drop bag and left it with Andy. But the panic set in and I did NOT want it to die on me during what was my biggest race to date. I messaged Andy and we arranged for him to drive to Marlow with the cable and meet me along the path.

I’d been struggling since Cookham and seeing him was exactly what I needed. We walked together and I told him it was all BS and I wanted to finish now yadda yadda yadda… 

Once I’d got all that out of my system, he reassured me I was doing excellently and I left him for the last time before the finish. I ran through Marlow, remembering fondly back to May when I’d run my birthday ultra through these same wiggly alleyways, although this time signage was adorned by glow sticks as the evening drew closer and closer! I made my way over Marlow bridge and past Higginson Park, memories of my teenage years a far cry from the person I was at this moment, and approaching the furthest distance I’d ever run.


Beyond 53

53.77 miles had been my furthest distance until I reached Hurley that evening. It felt good to know I was now further than I’d been before, but in reality I was hanging. The river path felt long and unforgiving. I kept passing through places I used to be taken as a child. Sunday afternoon walks repeating in my head and feeling so sad that I’d missed the beauty of the place as a child, but now, as an adult, wasn’t really that enamoured with either!

Mentally the battle was rife. Each mile felt like a new war with my mind, staving off thoughts of failure because I hadn’t done it in this time or I wasn’t managing that mile. I had to constantly bring my thoughts into line and tell myself that I was actually doing the best I could IN THIS MOMENT, and that was enough. I was losing the will to run, and I knew if I let myself, I’d probably have just walked for the last 8 miles.

The last checkpoint was nothing to write home about, although it was the last time I’d meet up with VDB before the finish line which was needed. Through a fence in a field, I took a packet of crisps and ate those, had one last wee, and then made my way back to Andy and onto the path. He walked up with me to where he’d parked his car (aaaaaaaaages away) and en route we walked past a place I used to come to as a kid, with a rope swing into the river.

As he left me, he wished me all the best, and congratulated me on my first 100km. It was a really awesome moment. I couldn’t quite believe I was only about 10km from finishing this thing!

The light was now fast disappearing and I went as far as I could without stopping and reaching for the headtorch. When I started to go across a field the wrong way, I realised it was time to get it on! A section through some sort of estate/fields then woodland meant the torch was definitely the right move, and I finally came across the 90km sign. Just 10km more. I tried to do a bit more maths and work out how long I thought a 10km at this point would take me. Easily over an hour, probably more like 1.30hr left to go at my lacklustre run/walk pace.

The one thing I have to mention is how lonely this specific part of the race was. The 100k-ers were so spread out now that I was pretty much out there alone, not to mention the fact it was now completely dark, and there was a noticeable drop in temperature (in fact that night it dropped a lot and there was even frost on the ground so kudos to those going all through the night!).

At 58.5 miles I ran past a few supporters I’d seen a couple times along the route and they cheered for me and reassured me there wasn’t much longer to go, but it just felt like an age still. The river was beautiful in the moonlight, and I was glad of being out here rather than through a dark covered forest where it would’ve been much scarier and harder to see. I could hear a house party happening and thought hard about the glass of prosecco I’d be getting as soon as I crossed that finish line (they provide this – YASSSSSS QUEEEEEEEN!).

It’s hard to judge distance in the dark – each slow mile felt like an age, all my energy went into my senses being in a heightened state from the little light I had, and desperately not wanting to end my race a couple of miles from the finish line with a broken ankle.

I turned the last bend towards Henley, and finally I could see the lights of the town.

I literally just kept running and walking. Just wanted to finish and all I could do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. Up came the bridge looking glorious all lit up. Across the bridge I go. Last bridge to cross. COME ON!

I know Henley, so I knew where I had to get to, and feeling like my body temperature was dropping rapidly, I kept going until at last that finish line came into view and I heard the Andy’s shouting my name. I’d actually done it! Finally, I’d run 100km.

Time: 14 hours 16 minutes 53 seconds of the Thames Path.
(moving time was 12:34 damn those toilet stops)

Avg moving pace: 12:13

Calories burned: 5,851

And the most annoying thing? It was 61.81 miles. Which meant I didn’t earn a damn Garmin badge for 100km. And you can argue that I didn’t actually run 100km then, but if you do, I will kill you.

Until next time, 100km. I’ll be back.

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!

Run Fest Run

Back in February I had a message from my pal Lindsey to see if i’d be up for getting involved with an exciting new running festival created by Chris Evans called RunFestRun.

Based on his Carfest model, he wanted to bring the same thought to the running community, something for everyone from newbie to old hat, with a bit of an emphasis on families.

I jumped at the chance to get my kids along to something like this – they had started to be more and more keen about going out on a run with me, and I thought this could be the perfect way to get them into it a bit more in a really fun way.

They LOVE camping and although it’s divorce worthy, so do Andy and I (once we are away from the tent going up and down).

In March I went along to the launch event held at News UK, as Chris was launching the event live on his Virgin radio breakfast show. There was a whole bunch of us there and we had a treadmill competition in two big teams, where we all took a few minutes to run as fast as we could to get the highest mileage.

It was a really great morning and we heard all about the plan for the event and what the vision was from Chris. I was really excited by the concept so absolutely said i’d be on board to be there for the inaugural festival.

The last weekend in May steam rollered around and we packed up ready to go camping (for the second time that half term… and after one child had spewed with a handy 12 hour bug between the two events…)

We arrived at Bowood House in Wiltshire with not much of a fuss, we were much later than planned due to the vomitting child (the camping opened from 12 but we didn’t end up arriving until 7ish) and got to work getting the tent up asap. As per typical festival, we had to hire a trolley to get our stuff down to a pitch (which was a bit tricky to find space as clearly people had arrived much more promtly than we had!) so to be honest the first evening was a bit stressful – but that was all our issue for arriving late.

This also meant that we had missed all the Friday night running, and by the time we got down into the festival village, it was dark and a bit difficult to get bearings. Razorlight were playing but we were all so tired, we didn’t stay too long. Another friday disaster was that I hadn’t seen there was a limit to the gas size you could bring on site, our was BIG so we weren’t allowed to bring it in , which meant we had nothing to cook on that first night.

By the time we’d had a sleep and woke up (not so) refreshed, it was time to work out what we’d be running that day. All the main races were on Saturday and sort of a bit of a jumble. As expected there were a good few teething problems coming through, people not really knowing what time things were or how to take part in stuff, down to not having enough t-shirts for everyone (us included) and this was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t join in with wearing ours.

The festival village was really cool – lots of different areas for the kids to explore (a favourite with the kids was the Volvo tent with loads of creepy crawlies, bugs were the theme of the weekend) and of course and expensive bunch of fun fair rides that the kids wanted to go on. Then there were just loads of tents full of merch and samples of stuff etc, think expo and you’d be close. Although this expo was in a field with an incredible backdrop of trees and a beautiful lake.

The whole weekend was broken into 4 teams, headed up by a celeb runner. Team Butterfly (us!) was Captained by none other than Paula Radcliffe, Team Dragonfly was with Colin Jackson, Team Ladybird with Chris and Tash Evans and Team Bee were captained by Steve Cram. Each team had their own t-shirt and a fancy dress outfit for the Big Bug Run on the Sunday morning.

The idea was that for every run your team members took part in, there would be points awarded and at the end of the weekend the team with the most points won. The most anyone could get would be 5, although it’d be an entire day of back to back races – some of which overlapped slightly, so you’d have to be speedy to do that really.

After debating the 10km for me and the Half for Andy, we settled on just focusing on the kids this time round, and doing the races that they could do. They really surprised us and Jasper did 3 and Milly 4 races. And they sprint finished them ALL.

There was SO much to do all day. Alongside the races there was an Inspiration tent and a Motivation tent with tonnes of speakers, Fearne Cotton, Susie Chan, Ben Smith….

of course we didn’t make any because we were wrangling children but i’ll bet they were really good…

There was a Gym tent too offering different classes throughout the day.

The first race of the day for us was the 5km. It was a sweater of a day and we slapped on the suncream and got ready in the warm up area. This was probably the most popular run of the weekend, and the crowd was so big they set us off in waves with predicted finish times. We hung back and went in last as we were never doing it for a time – just see how the kids did and have fun together.

Once we’d set off, we were treated to the beautiful grounds of Bowood House. It really was gorgeous to run around and there was a good lot of tree coverage on the route, which helped as the Saturday was so hot all day. I was so impressed with the kids in the heat. There were loads of families running and it was a total dream to see that many share the experience of running together.

My two were so excited to pin on their first bibs and get a medal – something which became a little ridiculous (over the weekend we came away with 13 medals – and we could’ve easily got more than that too!).

Between the four of us, we ran the 5k, 2.5k, and 3k on Saturday.

We went for a wash (ladies queue was ridiculous, could do with more ladies showers next year – no queue for men!) and had some dinner at the tent before we made our way back to the festival village for the evening. It was a lovely warm evening to be outside. The boys settled in front of one of the big screens to watch the football final and Milly and I went off for a walk down by the lake before the music started for the evening. Tonight’s headliner was Olly Murs (who I found out that night, I don’t really know any of his songs at all) and she was excited for her first proper music concert.

We stayed out late and danced and then got back into bed ready for operation pack down in the morning, followed by the Big Bug Run and Ho Down, something we were all looking forward to. It was a themed run, dressing up and fun along the route was guaranteed, and we’re always up for a bit of fun with our exercise!

The final hurrah was each team, in their fancy dress glory, would take on the 5k course (slightly different route) and collect ‘pollen’ to pop in their teams Volvo (nice marketing) – small ball pool ‘pollen’ balls were 10 points, beach balls were 50, and if you found the inflatable banana, that was 500 points for your team (I actually don’t know if that’s right, but it was something like that. The banana was defo 500).

The finish line had been taken over by spiders and we had to make it through the web with the pollen we’d collected to get to our cars and deposit the balls.

On the course were opportunities to find pollen. It was SO. MUCH. FUN. There were people dressed up as bugs all round the course. Inflatable giant mushrooms and all sorts of colourful butterflies. Inflatable tunnels to run through and caterpillars and people with water pistols. The BEETLES were out singing songs and throwing pollen at us, witches in the woods, bright coloured blow up flowers, flags, drummers in the undergrowth as you came out of a cave by the waterfall like something out of Jumanji….it was EPIC.

I felt like a kid. So I can only imagine how my kids felt. All i’ve heard since we got back was how much they want to go back again!

Our team didn’t win in the end but we had the BEST time getting medals and dressing up and generally seeing the fun in fitness.

We had a little bit of time to enjoy the caleigh before heading back to the car – by this time the weather was turning a bit grotty and drizzly, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. The kids were so happy with all their medals and we’d had the best weekend together. I’d definitely recommend run fest to families – and I hope i’m invited back again next year. I know the kids would love to be there too.

Some round up of good and not so good points;

Good;

  • Plenty of medals.
  • Really family friendly.
  • Great atmosphere.
  • Plenty of water stations around the campsite and festival area.
  • Loads going on all day.
  • Lots of distances to choose from.
  • Lots of food vans etc to choose from.
  • Lots of great live music.
  • BEAUTIFUL running venue.
  • Toilets were cleaned all weekend.

Not so good;

  • Organisation wasn’t too great at times.
  • Could’ve done with a big board in the festival where you could see easily whats on when.
  • We didn’t get a themed t-shirt, even though we only arrived 7pm Friday night.
  • No allocation or order to camping plots.
  • Not a massive amount of covered spaces to hide in from sun/rain.
  • More female showers needed.
  • Clearer info on how to sign up and run races and the timing of them too.
  • All the medals over the weekend were exactly the same, which for the kids didn’t matter but would’ve been nice to have different ribbons for each event.

All in all, it’s a big thumbs up from us. Teething problems aside, we had a great time!

***Our family ticket was gifted to us from RunFestRun in return for promotion on @whatcharlierannext (Instagram)***

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.

London Marathon 2019

The Expo Bit

Andy and I were going to do this London just the two of us, and my Mum and Dad came to ours to have the kids for us (in 2017 they all came to see me, but we felt like it was too much stress to take them in this time).

We travelled in Saturday morning and drove straight to eXcel and the Expo to go and pick up my number. I was a little worried it would be absolutely crazy, as before i’d gone on a weekday when it’s quieter, so we tried to get there reasonably early. As things do, it took us longer to leave the house and we eventually arrived in East London around 10, parked and walked up to where we needed to be.

Arriving at the expo.

It was really exciting to share it with Andy, he’s so supportive but he’s never actually been to an expo with me. Think he was a little overwhelmed (in his nonchalant way) of how big and busy it was – and though they’re not all like this, London being a World major marathon certainly makes that known in the footfall that built up through the time we were there.

I went straight to pick up my number, feeling all the excitement that I had that first time, and finally storied to let people know I WAS going to be running, not just spectating! We worked our way round all the photo ops, met up with plenty of instagram friends and hoped we’d get to see each other again in the morning (lots of us were in the same start).

We were hungry and got a bit bored so we left the expo and headed to our Premier Inn to start chilling and working out what I needed where for the drop bag, working out my gels, tailwind, and where we’d see each other on the course. It was going to be a lot easier with just Andy, or so we hoped, and the plan was to put my concentrated tailwind into little fruit shoot bottles that I could grab from him on course, alongside my Hi-5 Mojito flavour gels that I would take at 6,12,18 and 24 miles (you can buy those, exclusive to Wiggle). I’d start with a bottle and he had 2 more in the rucksack.

Before we went for some carb loading, I had the small matter of a 20 minute shakeout to do. We rarely get to run together, as Andy usually has the kids while I train etc (yes he’s amazing!) so we both laced up for a swift out and back along the Thames, and the weather was certainly a treat. The end of storm Hannah pushed us right along the river, but sadly we had to fight our way back again with the wind right in our faces. Andy doesn’t own quite as much kit as I do so he was in his only running gear of shorts and a tshirt! He was pretty chilly when we got back! A quick change and we made our way down to the Beefeater at the Premier Inn before the hoards of runners arriving beat us to it!

For dinner I had a vegetable linguine with added chicken, something I then heard other runners ordering around me (there wasn’t much pasta on the menu and we didn’t want to travel into London now it was around 5.30) with a side of french fries, obviously. I also had A GLASS OF WINE. Shock horror, but let me just remind you, I am not a professional. And it seemed to work for me in Berlin. I was hoping it would send me off to sleep nicely.

The ‘morning of’ bit

Unfortunately, like the night before, I had a crappy nights sleep, tossing and turning all night, and woke up knackered. What a great start!! Alarm went off at 6am and I started to get dressed and faffed about what shorts I should wear. I didn’t feel massively prepared but with 5 previous marathons and 4 ultras under my belt, I sort of turn up to these things on a bit of auto pilot. I think also because I wasn’t going out to prove anything in the race, things didn’t feel too stressy at all.

Er, we’ve stuff to do here dude…

Andy and I said goodbye and I toddled off with my bag to the train station, merging with runners from every which direction, Woolwich to Blackheath please.

The thing I love the most about the vibe before a marathon like London is the willingness people have to chat to anyone, to take their mind off what is about to happen. This isn’t common place in London so I lap it up on marathon day!

I love the platform conversations, boarding trains (for free!) packed with deep heat bathed bodies and listening in to reasons why and wished for outcomes. I made a couple of friends on the train, Mark and Roy, both doing their first marathons today, both with that tangible first marathon excitement. I loved chatting with them and we walked up to Blackheath together and stayed together for a while after arriving.

When we parted ways I went looking for some friends, and bumped into others! Seeing Han (@hannbeam) was lovely as I hadn’t seen her probably since Race to the Tower last year! She smashed it btw and BQ’d. I went to see Jordan in the Championship start (they get their own toilets, but she was still doing the wee dance in a queue like the rest of us!) and we had a little squeeze. I Love Jordan. (p.s she was my friend first but she’s also my kick ass coach, PMG Coaching)

We also chatted over what my strategy was, and we decided I would go find Paul (Addicott, pacer extraordinaire and fellow Brooks team mate) and join his Sub 4 hour #FUNBUS for the race.

Thankfully when you have a friend who is a pacer, it’s pretty easy to spot them! So I made my way to Paul and soon enough we were on our way to the pens. I bumped into Georgina and she had only run Brighton a couple weeks back, and wasn’t sure how her race would go, her plan was similar to mine, and just try and stick with Paul and see how things went for a bit! We all huddled together for a picture of the fun bus.

Paul and his Funbus.

I’d been chatting with George right up to this being taken, and we sort of just jumped in in front of the camera. As soon as the photographer had taken the shot, I realised it was none other than my OTHER Brooks team mate James aka @morningcoffeerun, fresh from MDS in the Sahara. The MDS is the hardest footrace in the world, a multi stage event, and not one to be scoffed at. I was so excited to see him because safe to say, he’s a bit of a #runcrush of mine! This was only the second time i’d met him in real life, following our first Brooks #runhappyteam meet up in March.

We hadn’t planned it but we stuck together, chatting and catching up, trying not to get hypothermia with the Baltic wind that picked up at the start, shuffling forwards towards the line, eager to start. It was also James’ 20th marathon! Seriously go and follow him, he’s a proper inspo.

Right let’s get on with the race…

The race bit

We started all excited (mainly to be moving and getting some blood pumping again) – and spent miles 1- 2 embracing the speed humps in the road. The volunteers were shouting ‘HUMP’ as we approached and we joined in. Soon we decided it would be fun if we made it like a mexican wave type affair and we started to call the hump before it happened and as we reached its peak we threw out hands up like we just didn’t care. I mean, it really was fun and everyone seemed to join in… i think.

We moved slightly ahead of Paul – again, we’d not really planned it but i think both James and I wanted a little wiggle room. We’d both said we weren’t very good at following in groups so we sort of stayed just in front, but still in reach of the bants and the pace group.

The first point I was looking for Andy was at the 5km mark, as it was a stones throw from the hotel. High on life, I high fived him as I breezed past, so excited to be doing this amazing race again! I didn’t need to grab anything from him so soon into the race but I appreciated he’d got it all ready. Just slightly up from there I clocked Lou with her donut, and screamed my way across the road for a hug. I love Lou.

Lou and her amazing Donut give up sign

James and I carried chatting on and off, dropping back and then running side by side, it seemed to work, and other than one moment where I just HAD to pull over for a pee around mile 11 (James being a man peed much faster) I spent the next mile trying to catch up with him. Again, luckily, I was looking out for a blue pace flag to try and get back to him. I overtook Paul and the group, and EVENTUALLY found James and pulled up alongside.

I saw Andy around mile 12 and grabbed a new bottle of Tailwind from him. It was going pretty well taking supplies from Andy (I really had wanted to do a marathon sans hydration pack) and then we turned a few corners and it was time for Tower Bridge, the absolute best bit of London.

We pushed over the bridge and I honestly felt amazing. I was so happy. Nothing was hurting and I was feeling great. I remembered back to my first London, my first ever marathon, and the comparison was crazy. Distance felt different, shorter, more manageable. I suppose when you do enough distance races that sort of happens to you. It’s not easier but you manage it differently.

I ran past Alice, another Brooks team mate. She was struggling, so I checked how she was and if she needed anything. She was happy to see a friendly face I think, but gestured for me to carry on so I did, hoping that she’d get through the second half ok.

Everything was awesome, up until mile 16, when I was checking my phone for the next meeting point, my Tailwind slipped out of my hand. It was full and i’d only had it for a couple of miles. CRAP! I text Andy and he told me not to panic, he’d be ready near 30km with another one.

Panicked texts…

30km! that was around 19 miles, and i’d only just passed 16 miles. I turned to James and said i’d need to do a gel early to make it to the next lot of Tailwind (I sip it at each mile marker) and we’d been synchronised on gel taking to this point.

Somewhere in this mind melting mile, I lost James, his body was saying no to pushing and he dropped back (p.s HE still got a massive PB so soon after MDS!!!) But I was panicked at my routine now being compromised. It was working so well and you become dependant on the repetition of how you’re taking in your nutrition. Was this the end of my race now? Surely i’d blow up and not be able to hold on to a sub 4 without the Tailwind; it had become my security.

I took my gel just after 17 miles, and with one left in my spi-belt and 9.2 miles still left to run, i’d see Andy at the next meeting point.

Although I didn’t.

I missed him.

He’d told me where to look but I just couldn’t pull him out of the crowd. Faces blurred into each other and the 21 mile marker went past with me frantically scanning both sides of the road incase I couldn’t remember left from right (I couldn’t!). That was my last chance and now I had one gel to last me the last, draining, 5 odd miles.

I hoped and prayed that i’d taken on enough fuel throughout the previous miles. I played mind games, and pushed myself forward when Paul overtook me with the group. I couldn’t let him be in front, because for the quarter of a mile that he drew ahead I had a decision to make. Assume failure, or push on for the sub 4 that I wanted so much.

If he was in front, the temptation was too great to throw in the towel. It hurt now. I’d had 20 miles of great running but it was getting down to the wire. Losing the fuel knocked me, so I gritted my teeth and pushed back on ahead, closing in on the other 4hr pacer who was a few minutes ahead of Paul.

I split my one remaining gel over mile 23/24 and drank it down with sips of plain old water. I hoped it would trick my body into thinking it was still getting carbs with each mile that ticked by…

I played games up the flyovers, pretending they weren’t inclines to battle up. I tried to join in with the chants through the tunnels, tricking my mind that I was still present and confident. I knew the cheer squad would be on Embankment so I willed myself there. The best feeling ever seeing them, and I managed to pick out my lovely Sara, who gave me an amazing hug, and as I ran off (time was ticking) Becca fired me a confetti cannon! It was amazing I loved it SO MUCH. Just wish i’d been filming it! It gave me a massive boost and I focused on Big Ben (what I could see of him anyway) and running towards him, because then the finish was a couple of corners away.

I rounded onto Birdcage walk and shouted for James, he wasn’t ready for me, he was working his butt off, but as I put all my emotion and energy into calling his name, he saw me and shouted back “Go on Babe!”

The longest road. Those signs.

800m to go

600m to go

400m to go

Under the footbridge, 375m to go….

Past the palace. Didn’t look or care. What I cared about was turning that beautiful corner and pushing myself over that finish line. I was ahead of Paul. I was ahead of the second 4hr pacer.

I’d done it.

26.51 miles, 3:58:33.

It was over and it was SO WORTH IT. I’d given it everything. I’d been sensible in the first half and I didn’t wuss out in the second. It was a triumph in every way. Sure, it wasn’t a marathon pb. But my first marathon back, post injury rehab, on a less than ideal training cycle. I was over the moon. It was a HUGE LONDON p.b, from 4:23:17 in 2017 in my first marathon, to losing 25 ish minutes in 2 years where i’ve mainly run ultras and I haven’t exclusively worked on speed. Oh and after the last DNF marathon in Switzerland (I should really blog that…) my FIFTH road marathon.

Assuming my GFA is valid for next year, i’ll be back London. Because I know I can still do more with you. And you’re so awesome!

The only thing left to do before trying to find my husband in a sea of like 100,000 people was thank Paul for helping me get my sub 4, wrestle myself into compression leggings in a portaloo, chuck on my oofos and go for a medal shoot (much to andy’s dismay!)

I bought myself two doughnuts, walked around London for a nice flush of the legs and thought about just how lucky I was to have done another marathon. Can’t wait until next year.

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.

Berlin Marathon, 2018.

It’s about time I pulled my blogging finger out and chatted about Berlin.

To set the scene, this year (2018) was all about training for a spring marathon, and smashing a Good For Age (GFA) time to qualify for a spot at London Marathon 2019.

You can read all about Brighton (once i’ve blogged it, I mean, I don’t know how I missed that but clearly I was busy…i’ll link here when it’s done!) but long story short, I trained well, the day was perfect in every way and I managed a 3:44:31, and i’ve now confirmed my London 2019 place!

Between Brighton in April and now, I ran another marathon (for fun) in Liverpool at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend, then over the course of 6 weeks in the summer, I ran all three Threshold sports ultra marathons, which i’ve NEARLY blogged all about…

Race to the TowerRace to the King / Race to the Stones

It’s safe to say, I knew my pace would suffer because of the change in training for the Ultras, and I also had a two week holiday around the Med on a cruise ship with no deck for running. And also also, I had two little kids who were off school for 6 weeks, and work to fit in when they were asleep at night.

August took a hit and I think I ran 8. miles.

So there’s the back story, the scene is set to me tackling Berlin marathon, my second World Marathon Major and my first ever international race.

Jordan (@projectmarathongirl) and I travelled and stayed together in Berlin, and it was an early alarm to drive to Gatwick from Kent, and my 5th flight in as many weeks (flights have been like buses for me the last couple of months – for someone who doesn’t fly often or go on holidays much, i’ve been 3 times in the last 2 months and about to go again!).

We found each other in Departures, and having already checked in online, we tried to cram all our toiletries and gels into one small plastic bag…

There wasn’t much waiting around and we were soon boarding and taking off towards Germany. Our plan was to land and go straight to the expo, and in true mum/anxiety riddled/ocd planner person style, i’d worked out trains, cost of tickets, exactly where we needed to be etc. I think Jordan was rather pleased as it was all a bit of a ‘remember what I booked back in March’ type of affair. Was she bag dropping or getting a poncho?!

We soon worked it all out (She was bag drop, I was poncho) and we landed in Berlin. We caught the S Bahn and arrived at the Berlin Vital Expo, held at the former Airport Templehof, and it took us around 45 minutes on the train from Schöenfeld Airport, and then we walked up the road to the expo. All in it probably took around an hour, hour and a half ish.

uhbg2844-e1538044376105.jpg

We happily bumped into a friend at the airport, who had just landed and we travelled over together. We also bumped into Clare (@thinkingclarely) and Kev and had a chat as we all went towards the enormous terminal building, shaped like a horseshoe. There were so many people.

Once we were inside there was a whole bunch of walking to do. We found the gates to get  through to register (with race registration info and your id) where you had your fabric band attached to your wrist. This was your ticket into the start pens the next day.

We processed behind thousands of others to try and pick up our numbers. Unfortunately, Berlin marathon doesn’t seem to be laid out as well as London. In London you collect your numbers at the very start of the expo, and then go into the event with the stands and merchandise and stalls etc. However, at Berlin, we had to walk through 4 very large and crowded hangars, full of stands and people, and to boot, it was super stuffy in there, and we both were feeling a little anxious to get outside.

We made it to the number collection and got back outside as fast as we could! We took hardly any pictures and didn’t really stop at any stands (apart from when we found the Swiss City Marathon stand – which we are running with #runswitzerland in October!) so that gives you an idea of how uncomfortable it was in there.

Both hungry and tired after an early start, and after the disappointment of an AWFUL plate of pasta at the expo, we decided to make our way to our Hotel in Friedrichshain, another 20 minutes or so on the U Bahn this time (cute yellow underground trains!)

We were staying at a Hostel/Hotel called Hotel PLUS, and it was really perfect. We’d booked a private room with our own bathroom. Everything was very clean and apart from the crazy massive doors blocking every corridor off like we were on some sinking ship, it was great. They offered a buffet for runners, which we didn’t end up going for and wished we had, but instead went exploring and found basically an entire restaurant dedicated to pasta dishes. The hotel had a really lovely bar and a courtyard garden, and it was right next to the U and S Bahn stations, so amazing for getting around easily.

We both were ready for bed at 8pm, but we made ourselves stay up, drank plenty of water and called it a night around 9pm. I know. P A R T Y.

The next morning we roused ourselves, going about our own pre race routines, neither of us knew exactly what might happen today, but we were both very chilled and didn’t feel rushed. We got our things together and walked off to the train station. After meeting some other German runners and being advised to take the S instead of U Bahn, we followed like sheep to the better train and boarded, familiarising ourselves with the smell of deep heat and expectations as we were met with so many different nationalities and languages on the busy (but not packed) train.

Another 10 minute walk up to the start area, we said our goodbyes and made our way off to our time pens.

Jordan went off to D being the speedy girl she is, and I found my way to pen E. I’d given them my time from Brighton, and under any other circumstance, the course would have been PERFECT for me to smash my Brighton time. I was playing it safe though, I knew I was FAR from the shape I was in at the start of the year, speed wise, and so may main aim was to finish in one piece, with the vague possibility that I might scrape in a sub 4.

I’d been chatting to a few running friends who all had a similar goal, including Paul (@pauladdicott) who is an incredible pacer and fellow Brooks Running ambassador, and we had agreed to try and find each other at the start. I knew from experience this could be almost impossible, there were around 43,000 people running and it was an enormous mass start.

Luckily, Paul had a visibility advantage with his 4:00hr pacer flag,  I spotted the pacer gang near bag drop. I was SO HAPPY! Someone I knew and could hang out with. Phew.

We walked down to the start and I let a few others know I was with Paul. Then out of nowhere, Mel appeared (@little.runner.mel) who i’d chatted to on IG for a couple of years but we’d never managed to meet at anything. I was so excited to see her and we chatted a bit as we made our way to the start area.

As I came out towards the pens, as if it was meant to be, who did I see but my friend Anna (@anna.the.runner), beaming back at me. I hopped over the fence to get to her but the realised the others had carried on to go in the CORRECT way (oops). I needn’t have worried though, as they made their way back to us. A little bit of conversation and anticipation passed, and then from nowhere appeared Alban! (@banbaninlondon) We were all together and it was such a good vibe. The sun was out, the elites were off (World record breaking race btw…) and we were larking about, not the average way to start a marathon but it was so good and I felt so relaxed and ready to start.

As a group our goals were similar, and we managed to stay together for the first 5km. Alban, Anna and I pushed ahead of Paul and the pace group, only a little, to sort of line up a buffer. Anna was hoping for a sub 4 (which she totally got) and Alban was helping pace her. I had no goals really. I wanted to finish and as usual I had a few a, b, c goals.

a. P.B so anything UNDER 3:44.

b. Sub 4.

c. Sub 4:30

d. Finish the thing.

It was our turn to start and in the most casual wave start I think i’ve ever experienced, we just ambled forward, and started underneath a couple of towers that had been put up and that was it, we’d started!

As soon as we were running I knew it was going to be tough. Not impossible but I could feel the run in my shoulders and breathing and tried hard to keep them both easy and steady. My shoulders quite often ache in long distance. I’m imagining it’s a combo of holding myself upright, carrying a hydration vest and probably, weak shoulders!

I kept shaking out my arms and rotating them, getting in arm circles and trying to concentrate on anything but the ache as it was so distracting. Luckily this time I didn’t get any swelling hands – that’s always a fun one to cope with.

One of the things I loved about running around another country was the differences between theirs and ours. For example, McFit. It’s ironically a gym… I guess some things don’t translate too well. Wonder if they serve cheeseburgers post exercise class?

Not just that but it seemed that each new long, long street you turned onto, there would be another grand looking building, adorned with gold or of incredible architecture. Unfortunately that’s pretty much it on the sights. The course wasn’t exactly attractive, and apart from the odd statue, it didn’t offer much in the way of sights.

I mean, I wasn’t too bothered. I was mainly just trying to stick with it and stay afloat.

Around 18 miles (at least I think it was) Anna and Alban broke off from me. They pulled ahead and I let them go. I just didn’t have it in me that day to push for more. I’d managed to stay under 4 hrs up until this point, and actually only from mile 22 ish (my new dead zone, it used to be 16) did this really start to slip out of my reach. Until this point my splits had actually been pretty consistent i’m happy to add. They ranged from 8:46 to 9:13, with most hovering around 9 or just under. At 18 miles I had my first 9:33 and although I got a good mile in at 19, the deed was done and the last few miles went from 9:33-10:12.

The sub 4 slipped out of my hands, but as I said, I knew I wasn’t on form and I didn’t want to push for a race that wasn’t mine to take. And it meant that I wasn’t on a time schedule and I stopped for hugs with the FABULOUS cheer squad and motivational encouragements from Becca! I crossed the line in 4:03:32 official time (I was over, at 26.4 miles, some people were at 26.7!).

IMG_3085

So let’s just address a few things about Berlin Marathon.

  1. It’s busy but it didn’t feel super crowded.
  2. There are toilets along the start pens. Go there.
  3. The crowds aren’t lined up the whole way, and they’re nowhere near as loud as London. Lots of drums too. Mainly just drum-based-bands. And they clap in time with each other, sort of like an instructional encouragement.
  4. The absolute CARNAGE through the water stations. Saving the planet by not using bottle but instead using PLASTIC CUPS is not the one. The noise through these stations was so horrendous, as thousands and thousands of feet crunched and crashed over the discarded objects!
  5. Free travel on race day, but no free drinks or money off food etc like in London.
  6. If you choose ‘Poncho’ instead of ‘Bag Drop’ you WILL NOT be able to change, so make sure you work that one out.
  7. It’s flat. Apart from maybe 2 bridges, and even then it’s not really anything to write home about. It’s definitely a p.b course.
  8. The portaloos don’t have sanitiser. They also don’t have a flush. And there is just a hole. You can see EVERYTHING down there…
  9. The beer at the end is ALCOHOL FREE.
  10. Get a Bredzel at the end. It will rock. your. world. Carbs and salt. Done.

One other thing I was super disappointed with was the fact I only had 1 actually good picture. In total, there were just 6 pictures of me, and all but 1 I was behind someone else. Such a shame really because I wasn’t flat out. I could’ve got some good pics. But hey ho. At least the good one I did get was under the Brandenburg Gate. WHICH by the way is NOT THE END. Nowhere near. There’s still another 0.20 miles to go…

We were staying until Monday evening which was great, so we had plenty of time to sightsee the next day. After we had finished the race and met a few of our friends at the end, Jordan and I made our way back to the Hotel to wash and change and basically go and stuff our faces and celebrate. After all, she had smashed her p.b and I had survived.

Our hotel was next to this really cool restaurant on the river called ‘Pirates Berlin’. It had a beach in it, and we’d walked past the evening before and eyed up the menu, both food and cocktail. We decided we’d probably come back Sunday night when we didn’t have to worry about eating or drinking the wrong thing! We ordered an ENORMOUS pizza, like seriously it was huge. And it wasn’t even the biggest one they did. We had puddings and cocktails and enjoyed our evening so much.

The Monday we woke up after an incredibly rubbish nights sleep. we both had restless legs and were too hot… Jordan went off to get a coffee while i desperately tried to sleep a bit longer. Once we gave up on that, we went to get breakfast and do a bit of sightseeing.

We started the day by walking along the old Berlin Wall, or East Side Gallery, and admired all the many different styles of artwork painted there. It’s quite the collection of different styles, some very political, some iconic and some just bizarre…

We met up with a few of the others after walking up the wall (which started right by us, and up along the river) and had coffee and pastries and compared war stories. It was really hot and we were all thankful that it hadn’t been quite as warm the day before. The others went off to explore the wall, so Jordan and I ventured in to the centre to have a look at Checkpoint Charlie (well I couldn’t NOT go there!), and we bumped into Clare and Kev again! We chatted for a little while and then made our way back out to the hotel to pick up our bags for our onward journey to the airport.

I really really loved Berlin. I loved the city, and being there with so many other running friends made it so special. I had a race that ‘on paper’ wasn’t particularly good, I didn’t p.b on a p.b course. But I did have an incredible time.

Berlin, I think I might have to come back and give you another shot.

sign-off

P.S. I downloaded a brilliant app for travelling around Berlin. If you search the App store for FahrInfo, it’s a little yellow logo with the Brandenburg Gate in black, and it says BVG on it. It was priceless in helping us get around. Also the daily travel card was brilliant. It was €7.70 and covered Berlin zones ABC. Depending on where you were staying, you could get an AB or B/C one also for slightly cheaper. It covers ANY travel like London would, S and U Bahn, the trams, buses, and it is valid from time of purchase until 3am the following morning. You HAVE to validate your ticket in the machine next to the ticket machine, and as far as we could find, you have to buy these travel cards from the machines on the platform. A mainline train station worker won’t know what you’re talking about, apparently…

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.

IMG_8011

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…

 

sign-off

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

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.

IMG_E7397

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

IMG_7434

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’

42054175264_951d8f18e2_z

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.

42722378222_1340c3af90_k

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.

SaveSaveSaveSave