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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_E7078

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

The thing is, you can pack what you like.

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

 

sign-off

 

 

Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend.

This weekend I ventured up to Liverpool on my own, to take part in the American born Rock ‘n’ Roll race series. These races are held across the USA, Canada and a few other international places like Madrid, Dublin, Edinburgh and of course Liverpool.

It seemed to be Liverpool’s 5th year, and although there were a few issues I thought the race organisers probably needed to address (awful long and confusing queues for packet pick up at the expo, for example) it was actually a really well put on event. I loved the whole festival feel, and having entered both the 5k on the Saturday morning and the Marathon on the Sunday, I was indulging in the whole weekend.

What was much more wonderful was that I knew there were so so many Instagram running crew going, including my South West squad, Martha, Daryl, Jemma and her husband, and Matt (who you probably know as @thewelshrunner).

Saturday morning we got up for the 5k, Jemma was racing the distance but Martha and I were going along for a jolly. Unfortunately, Martha decided she’d have a nice big fry up and promptly felt rather ill, pretty much as soon as we started!

We saw Jemma on the return but she was in the pain cave, but it gave us temporary distraction from Martha’s imminent vomiting… it actually never showed itself but there were a number of close calls! However we made it back, where the race finished INSIDE the expo with lights and smoke machines. It was all rather American!

It was such a warm day too. I think we did a really good job getting round. And it happened to be another rather special day with some sort of wedding happening, so very aptly, the 5k medal was a rather stunning diamond ring shape. 

Martha and Jemma had been asked to speak at the expo on Saturday afternoon and, along with our friend Matt, they all had slots to chat about running. It was brilliant and they had lots of people listening.

After the talks we all went off to Pizza Express (of course) to get some carb loading in. Location wise, It was perfect as the expo, Pizza Express, and the start/finish lines were all in the shadow of the hotel. This took so much stress and anxiety out of navigating our way to and from each place. I know this isn’t always possible as central hotels are usually pretty pricey. But this time we proper lucked out and felt very calm over the whole weekend!

After pizza and spending time/meeting with some lovely folk, we all tripped back over to the hotel lobby where we spent 6 hours just hanging out with each other. Talking about running, life and eating MORE carbs in preparation for what would be another hot day of running. This time, attempting 26.2 miles in the heat and hills of Liverpool!

We all turned in around 10 and tried to get good nights sleep.

Sunday morning and pre-race traditions were in full swing. Bagels and Porridge were consumed, Beet It shots (urghhhh) were very quickly downed, things were taped up, plaited, packed into spibelts and hydration vests, selfies taken and anxiety tactics put into full force!

The boys (who weren’t running) put their cheer plans in place and the girls set off towards the start corrals.

Anticipation and the weather hotted up, and we joked, danced and chatted to while away the time until we were ready to start. The start was delayed by about 15 minutes, which wasn’t great for Martha as she’s been struggling really badly with heatstroke. Unfortunately, at mile 2 Martha decided she would need to drop out around 11 miles (or when she could) as she was really feeling unwell. Jemma and I did insist we stay with her as long as we could, but she wanted to get on with it alone. I totally understand why. It’s so hard if you feel like you’re holding others back, and you don’t want to be a burden. I knew it was better for her if we left to push on through, so reluctantly, Jemma and I ran ahead. 

3fda78e0-32ea-457c-a114-eef01bbdcde7

This idiot decided to run in front of the boys taking our picture… grrr

We made a new plan for the two of us (the original plan being we’d be using the race as ultra training so it was never going to be raced) which we readjusted to aiming for 9.30-10 minute miles, and walking hills when we needed to (and there were some nasty ones in that rather hill packed course!). We felt good and the plan seemed to be executing itself well. 

I was fuelling with Tailwind and water from the course. I took water at each station and probably had half a bottles worth to drink, and poured some of the rest over my neck. The tailwind I had in another bottle and sipped every mile or so up until around 22 miles. I also took a gel at mile 2, 8, 15 and 22 or 23. I was really pleased with my fuelling actually, considering it was a really hot day, I never felt dehydrated. I did start to feel a little sick towards the end of the race but it was so warm by then and we spent the last 4 miles along the Mersey in direct sunlight!

7fde1e90-b29e-4bcd-a438-6a851857365b.jpg

The course, as I said, was FULL of hills. They just would come and come and come. Some were ok to run and some were too much on such a hot day. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we weren’t racing this as a marathon, but using it as ultra training, so it needed to have walking and slower running involved. 

As well as the hills, we were taken through so many beautiful parks. I didn’t really realise how pretty Liverpool is until running through these gorgeous parks. Tunnels of trees, fields, flower displays, blossom, streams, ponds and bridges proved welcome distractions from the heat, but also providing much needed shade. 

In contrast, the route also took us up around Everton’s Goodison Park and even right THROUGH Anfield stadiums, however being adverse to football in the way my children are to broccoli, I only really appreciated the cool shade it gave us for those few meters we were inside!

One of the big draws to the Rock n Roll events is the presence of bands around the course. I was actually really impressed just how MANY bands there were on the route. It didn’t feel like we went more than 3-4 miles without music being played to us, whether that was a rock band or simply some dance tunes pumping out of a RnR van to give us a nice motivational boost. Jemma and I really enjoyed the music, having a good boogie as we ran through the different stations, even being treated to ‘Yellow Submarine’ as we ran past the Cavern Club, or ‘Penny Lane’ as we ran up, yep, Penny Lane (which, by the way, was rather underwhelming…). However as Jemma pointed out, we did actually spend a penny there!

penny lane

At the finish there was also a festival and concert headlined by Space (remember them?!) which was pretty cool. You also got to pick up your remix medal there. More on that in a sec.

Around 12 miles ish Jemma suggested we high five at each mile marker. Something that became our way of getting through the distance and encouraging each other. Every mile sign we would slap hands together, which for the last few miles became a hand grab and squeeze….

We’ve got this! We can do this!

The last 4 miles take you along side the Mersey, which Jem and I felt really at home with. We both live by the sea and are both very familiar with running along prom and sea wall for miles. Even so, the miles were hard work at this point and it all felt rather longer than I would’ve liked it too. Not to mention the lack of any shade along that stretch. Between swigs, I was dousing myself with water every couple of minutes, just to try and keep cool. 

We finally diverted off the river path and started on the final approach to the finish, passing the effervescent cheer squad who literally make my entire life in every race, and lovely Daryl was there too. Jem reached back to me but at this point I was battling feeling a bit sicky. I couldn’t push myself any more, and we had decided at 20 miles we could still see this is under 4:30.  We were focused on finishing STRONG; we were tired but we both felt strong despite the muscle fatigue and heat, and the crowd helped us along to the finish line by confirming our feelings. It felt great to hear them shout we looked strong. To finish a hot marathon like that is such a privilege. Jemma grabbed my hand and we crossed the line together, feeling super strong and super proud of ourselves for running such a confident race.

Once again, tailwind worked a treat for me. I’ve had no sickness post race so I think I definitely need constant electrolyte intake during long distances. This seems to really help me. I am literally covered in salt when I finish so I think I do suffer from quite substantial salt loss – especially when it’s hotter. I was pretty pleased with the fact that I didn’t seem to hit my usual wall around 16/17 miles. Not sure whether it was because we weren’t attacking the race as much or if it was just down to great fuelling. 

What was also brilliant was that while we were out clocking the long miles, Matt was smashing the Half marathon and only went and won it! He’s a clever boy that Welsh Runner. 

medal trio

So the MEDALS! Well this was one of the main draws for me when entering this race, because you could get three (or more!) medals in one weekend! As I’m a bit of a medal magpie, this was a BIG BONUS! The races over the weekend are, 1 mile, 5k, Half Marathon and Marathon. If you do two or more of these races (bearing in mind some of them clash time wise, for instance you couldn’t do the mile and the marathon) then you get to pick up a ‘remix’ medal. A pretty cool rock n roll electric guitar, complete with spinning plectrum and guitar strap (lanyard). 

You can also pick up an ‘encore’ medal if you have taken part in the previous year. There’s also a world rocker medal, if you complete two (or more) Rock n Roll events within a year. Basically, there’s a whole lot of swag at these races!

I picked up the 5k and Marathon medals, along with a remix guitar and they’re amazing. The 5k ring medal is probably my favourite actually, although the marathon (and half marathon) medal is pretty darn cool too with the Liverpool Wheel (like the London Eye) as a spinning part. It’s shaped like a plectrum too which is another awesome nod to the theme of the whole event. Both the race medals I got have also got epic sparkly enamelling detail in the writing. They just have wonderful detail in them. 

So to sum up, I had a BRILLIANT weekend. I got to spend a few days away from mum duties and saw some wonderful running chums for much longer than the usual quick anxiety-inducing-pen-shuffle meet ups that we’re used to!

Liverpool you were great. Maybe see you again next year?!

 

sign-off

Brooks Cascadia 12, Trail Shoe Review.

Let me give you some background.

Last year, I ran my first ultra marathon. To prepare for such an event, I thought it wise to join the ‘trail shoe gang’ and buy a pair of lugged miracle makers. 

Being a complete running gear newbie, I went for what seemed to be the popular choice and bought myself some Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX.

At this point, the most ‘trail’ I came across was a mile or so across a farmers field, which is muddy probably all of 30 days in the year (but seriously it gets super muddy) and then another few miles or so if I run out towards Reculver towers past my friends farm. That’s literally my local trail.

Anyone with half a brain would know not to buy a full trail shoe for that terrain. But they were pretty, and obviously, as I said, I had NO IDEA what I was doing!

Taking the Speedcross out, I knew immediately they were the wrong choice. They were heavy and stiff, with deep lugs for soft, wet and muddy terrain. I tried them out probably 4 or 5 times, before selling them on to my friend, who DOES frequent that sort of terrain on the South Downs!

So I was back to square one. Luckily I’d read up quite a bit of what people were suggesting as appropriate shoes for the Race to the Stones terrain. Mainly hard packed chalk, gravel paths, some road sections with a few fields and farm tracks. If the weather is good it shouldn’t be too bad underfoot, and the elevation is pretty gentle (but constant!).

There were lots of votes for road shoes, so I decided instead of spending £100 odd on an emergency pair of hybrid trail shoes with a couple of weeks until race day, I would stick with what I knew, and that was my Nike Pegasus. 

Let me just say that we were dealt a plethora of weather conditions for Day 1 of Race to the Stones, but my trusty Nike road shoes served me so well.

Anyway this is a review of BROOKS CASCADIA 12!

IMG_6023

Brooks kindly sent me a pair of Cascadia 12, as we find ourselves staring into the face of ultras once more, with still no actual progress on a trail shoe. Whilst I am still to sample other trail shoe delights, I have been rather pleased with the Cascadia so far.

Within the first week, I ran almost 30 miles in them. The first outing was a 25 mile country road ultra-training run, literally out of the box. The second, around the farmers field on an undulating muddy path, with plenty of technical stepping to avoid ankle destruction.

The first thing you notice about the Cascadia 12’s are the quite lively colour options. Ive noticed a few of the more ‘serious’ ultra runners have called for more subtle colour ways, but I mean, they’re gonna get trashed and covered in mud anyway, maybe just buy the least lairy option (there are some nice blues and purples if you don’t fancy the bright pinks and blues). Anyway I quite like the bright colours.

Putting them on for the first time, I was hopeful for a fit that was more like my road shoes than a trail shoe. I wasn’t disappointed. They felt comfortable and padded, with a chunky collar at the heel and cushioning along the insole. These shoes are neutral, and didn’t pinch or pull up on the side of my feet anywhere. 

In normal shoes I’m a 5, and I have been wearing 5.5 in running shoes until these. I decided it was time to go up a whole size instead (Do you know it’s literally only millimetres’s difference between shoe sizes?!)

I had some Brooks Levitates a few months before in a size 5.5, with a normal width. Whilst these pinched my right foot to begin with (which is slightly wider than my left) they loosened off and are very comfy now. However with this in mind, and knowing there wasn’t a width option in the Cascadia, I decided to go for a size 6 to allow appropriate swelling room.

It was the perfect decision. The Cascadia 12 is wider in general, with plenty of room in the toe box. I wear injinji toe socks for any long distances and the toe box more than accommodated the toe splay.

The grip on the soles is perfect for loose terrain. When I tested them around the farmers field, they handled really well, and I felt I had enough traction to boost me over the tire tracks and freshly ploughed dirt. They also felt really stable when I was running miles on  countryside back roads and handles just as well over the tarmac as they did the grass and the woodland paths. I found if stones were getting stuck I could easily kick them out without having to stop and pull them out.

The weather has been dry recently so I can’t comment at the moment on using them in wet/soft muddy conditions, but i’ll be sure to update the review once I have.

In terms of cushioning, I found them decent. Unless you go full Hoka, I think you pretty much know how much cushioning you’ll get in a trail shoe. These are reasonably cushioned, but after 25 miles, I think any footbed is going to feel a little sore. I didn’t feel sore for long though, as I can do after a long distance in a more forefoot striking shoe like the On Cloudflows, which is a good indication of their level of comfort.

I liked the fact that I could feel connection with the road, and although it’s clear you’re wearing a trail shoe and not a road shoe, there was enough movement and response from the shoe to keep me comfortable.

It didn’t feel too heavy, but just the right weight to remind me I should be running marathon/Ultra pace in these, and not 10k pace.

 

My conclusion of the Brooks Cascadia 12’s;

Style: 8/10

Comfort: 8/10

Handling: 7/10

 

Hope you found this helpful!

sign-off

 

 

(I was sent the Brooks Cascadia 12’s as a gift, and the views in this review are my own.)

 

 

 

Mum to Marathon, Pt2.

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

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

I rang Andy and laid out the facts.

“I’d have to raise £2000….!”

“It’s only two weeks after Brighton!”

“It would be pretty BADASS though…”

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

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

Fundraising.

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

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

get your bid on

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

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

Then disaster struck…

I got injured.

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

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

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

BUT all those donations! All that fundraising….

tragedy

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

I decided I would give London a go.

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

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

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

 

Did my problems disappear? No.

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

Was my depression cured? Nope, still there!

 

Do you know what did happen though?

 

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

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

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

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

Worth every injured step.

 

sign-off

 

*my wonderful children who are wonderful.

 

 

 

 

Mum to Marathon

It’s almost been two years since I started on my fitness journey.

I’d battled with Post Natal depression and my weight since my son was born, and despite trying Juicing and Slimming World, nothing quite sat right with me. But I wasn’t really exercising.

Before I got married, I went to the gym 4 times a week and it worked for me. With my daughter, I stayed active throughout pregnancy, using the gym, pool and (infrequent) running, and I was fortunate of a small baby that time around. We had planned to have a minimum gap of 18 months between kids, and as it had taken us 13 months to fall pregnant the first time, we’d assumed it would take a similar time for number 2.

So when we found out I was expecting one month after coming off my pill, we were a little shocked (but happy!). I had a 10 month old, and now I had to battle through pregnancy whilst looking after a baby on the outside.

I was much sicker with my son. I remember M being in the corner of the kitchen playing as I threw up into the sink… thankfully she was pretty unaware at that point of what was going on. Being pregnant the second time is a whole load of different.

ANYWAY – back to the fitness stuff…

I found it very hard to fit anything in at this point. Even though I have an incredible husband, once he was home from work, I’d be entirely exhausted from looking after a human on the outside AND growing one on the inside. My fitness suffered, and my diet became questionable.

The problem however, came once i’d given birth, and the eating continued as if  I were growing a baby. I wasn’t anymore, but my diet carried on the same.

The new mum fog descended, and with two under 2, my mental health started to take a beating. It’s quite incredible what sleep deprivation can do to you. M slept through from early on, but J wasn’t a fan. He was up 3-4 times a night until he was 2. And this only triggered my PND.

I want you to understand how paralysing it is to feel out of control and in charge of two human beings. And how scary it is to not be in control of yourself AND have to look after two human beings. I remember at my lowest point, I was screaming at Andy (poor sod, he’s put up with so much…) and actually clawing at my face. Then looking behind him to see M had toddled into the doorway and was crying. WHAT EVEN WAS I?

I’d known for months I had PND, and had suggested it to Andy on numerous occasions, to the response of ‘Go to the Doctor then’. The shrug off response only fed my doubt of perhaps it was just me and I needed to just chill. Fact was, Andy had no idea how to deal with it, and like most people who don’t understand depression, He didn’t have the responses I needed. This manic episode however, forced him to admit what was going on, and told me I needed to go and see the Doctor. Finally it was the acknowledgement and permission I’d wanted from him to go and seek some help. It wasn’t just in my head.

We went to the Doctor together when J was 6 months old, December 2013. I cried with embarrassment as I explained to her I wanted to die to make it all go away, and how I wouldn’t cry, but instead got so angry I would scream the house down.

IMG_2368

She was wonderful, and prescribed me my first set of happy pills.

I wasn’t sure how I felt. I wanted to feel better but this wasn’t what I thought depression was. I’d always been of the persuasion it was black clothes, dark rooms, crying and lamenting. I had a strong view of depression, courtesy of stigma.

What I began to realise was I could put on a brave face. People didn’t have to know if I didn’t want them to. This was the only power I had left. The power to trick them, and sometimes myself, into believing I was fine. Fine with the weight. Doing a great job as a parent.

I took the pills for about 4 months before deciding I didn’t need them. I was wrong, and it took me a while to get them back into my system after abandoning them for a couple of months (they usually take a good month to kick in). I’m not sure when I came off them again, but I reckon it was another 7 months of using them to aid my recovery.

When I came off the pills, I felt I was in a better place. Life had settled into a rhythm and I was much more used to how it felt with two little children. I was able to manage myself a lot better, and J’s sleep had started to settle down too, so I was getting that important sleep my brain needed to chill. However I’d now got myself into habits with eating that weren’t helping in any way. For a while it would take the edge off; wine, chocolate, cakes, takeaways (all still my downfalls btw) but I got to a point where I HAD to do something about it.

In 2014, I celebrated my 30th birthday, and I thought it would be a great way to inspire myself into healthy ways, but despite my best efforts, 30 came and went, and although i’d lost some of the weight, it wasn’t the glamorous turnaround i’d been hoping for.

It wasn’t until 2 years later (and 2 years of failed Slimming World attempts) that I realised, if I was going to do this and lose this extra 3+ stone, it would have to be through the way I knew had worked for me pre children. EXERCISE.

It was just after ‘Lean in 15’ had burst onto the scene and I signed up for another instagram profile, under the handle ‘leancleancooke’. May 5th, 2016, I posted my first picture, a quote saying ‘Don’t give up. Great things take time.’

It was my battle cry, this time I would see it through, I would stick to the plan. I needed to break the destructive cycle for my physical AND my mental health.

Once I had got into the Hiit workouts, and the VERY different way of eating (sw – no fat lots of carbs, L in 15 – high fat, low carb) I saw the weight drop pretty quickly. I lost my first stone within 2 months, and by December 2016, I was back in the high 9st’s. Something I hadn’t seen for 3 years. I also realised for the first time, it was about how I looked (bear with me!) not how much I weighed. I didn’t have scales at home, only weighing myself when I was at my mum’s or a friend’s. This really helped my perception of weight.

Once i’d found a rhythm with exercise, I quickly wanted to get out running again. I knew from when i’d dabbled in running for enjoyment back in 2009, that running helped me lose weight and feel really good. I’d run a Half marathon in Bristol in 2009, and was planning on stepping up to London Marathon (which obviously I got rejected for, and every year since…) but i’d turned my ankle and fallen out of the running swing of things.

Fast forward to 2016 and starting with running around the field at the back of our house, I would complete a couple of 1.7 mile laps a week, slowly does it, building up my momentum and pace. I soon pushed it to 5k, and then I vividly remember trying my first 10k. The socks were old, the trainers weren’t right, and boy did they make me pay for it…

GET YOUR GAIT CHECKED PEOPLE!

Once I felt brave enough to go into the scary running shop (not actually scary) – I tried on a good few pairs of trainers, but being the secret label lover I am, I went for what I knew best (and aesthetics were important at that point and I didn’t like RUNNING BRANDS) and bought a couple of pairs of Nike Pegasus, which are still my trusty trainers.

It’s a bit tricky to know where to take my writing from here, because from this point, it sort of went a bit crazy.

I knew I was goal orientated so I booked myself onto my second ever Half marathon. But then I wanted more of a challenge so booked onto two more Half marathons, one being my first taster of fundraising, for Tommy’s the baby charity. My Brother and Sister in law were going through a really hard time trying to conceive, and had two horrible miscarriages, losing two precious babies. It felt like the only gesture I could give at the time.

I realised the 3 Half’s were within a 6 week time frame, and training stepped up a notch. This was my first challenge. I was doing something BIG. Something good.

Maybe I’ll do a separate post about them one day, but they happened, and although they weren’t the quickest (you try running around the Isle of Wight sub 2hrs) I felt happy to nail the third in my then fastest time, 1:57!

The only logical step from here was to try and get that marathon box ticked. But instead, I did something really crazy. Having had (once again…) a ‘Sorry’ magazine drop through my door a couple of weeks post Half-Trio-Challenge, I shook off the inevitable London FOMO and booked on to do Brighton Marathon instead.

This is the crazy bit….

When I signed up to instagram, I began following a girl called Jemma. She was honest and slightly outspoken, and like me, she had never run a marathon. But she HAD just run an ULTRA Marathon. 100k over 2 days. I had so many questions.

WHAT IS AN ULTRA MARATHON?

COULD I RUN AN ULTRA MARATHON?

JEMMA RAN AN ULTRA MARATHON WITHOUT DOING A MARATHON FIRST! MAYBE I COULD TOO?

I spoke to Andy, who clearly in a moment of his own madness, said I should indeed sign up to said ultra marathon, and let me use our (very sparse) cash to do so.

It was the most impulsive, scary and bloody exciting thing i’d done for YEARS.

I was taking back control over my own life. Those years of depression and physical compromise were melting away with one race entry. I was going to do something really huge. Me. Not my kids. But me.

To be Continued…

 

sign-off

 

 

 

SaveSave

The Big Half (Race Report)

I just want to start off by saying, having organised a race myself, how extremely stressful it is to do so. So I want to congratulate London Marathon Events for putting on a new event of this size, and pulling it off pretty darn well.

I do love/hate London races.

They’re usually extremely overpriced and very busy (not good for those of us with an anxious disposition!)

The buzz is that you’re in LONDON – and I love our capital very much.

We drove into London the morning of the race, and so my hubby and kids dropped me off at Tower Bridge, which was very helpful. I arrived about 8.10am, 50 mins before the start, and didn’t feel rushed at all. In fact, it was probably the calmest start to a race i’ve had. I didn’t need to use the bag drop however so I didn’t experience the crush of that like some others did…

I used the toilet with a minimal queue, and spoke to Jemma (@thisgirlcanrunfar) from Spain, who rang me to say good luck. She’s a good egg that one! I was texting with Martha to try and meet up, but she informed me of how busy it was, and we’d probably never find each other.

I turned the corner and started up the street towards Tower Bridge and who did i see?!

I ran up to M and gave her a BIG hug, before she set off to her cheering spot.

After that I kept turning around to other friends all at once! I saw Kev (@kev_halls) and then noticed Sophie (@sophielaps_), and then Shellie (@shellie0055) was there, and then ChiChi (@chichi.runs) came up the stairs… it was amazing like a big reunion. Love my running friends!

We strolled across Tower Bridge together towards the start pens and got all those pre race excitement feelings..

big-half

I said goodbye to the others and carried on walking, and met Laura (@laurajbrine) and we chatted about our race plans.

See my race plan was pretty much that i’d be running with and pacing Martha, but her hip had been hurting, so regrettably she’d decided to pull out of the race. With that plan gone, I thought I may as well set off with a p.b in mind (sub 1.44) and see what I could do.

I felt pretty good, but in actual fact, i’d not fuelled enough, had no race nutrition with me, and had run 7 miles the day before – not an ideal background for me pushing out a new personal best! I left Laura and was about to get into pen B when I saw Jordan! (@projectmarathongirl) Yay! I’d not seen Jordan for absolutely ages, and I knew she was going for a good time at the race, so I was so so glad to squeeze her before she sprinted to glory (seriously, she qualified for London Marathon Championship place 2019!)

jord-3.png

Standing in my start pen, you could feel the excitement bubbling as they announced the elite start – Mo was off… and we almost were too. We began to move up to the start line and then we were off.

I went out too quick. I knew it was.

I wanted to aim for steady 7.40ish pace, but I was too excited and I couldn’t pull it back enough. I soon regretted it as mile 2 (pretty much the entirety of it) was a tunnel, down first, and then an up which lasted for ever. My pace was still pretty good at this point, cashing in a few 7.19 type splits before it all started to crash around me…

I was running with music to start with, and wow did the Jaybird’s not disappoint (but also why you shouldn’t use them if its not a shut road race) – they cancelled all other sound and it was pretty noisy around me with choirs and crowds and footsteps.

I passed (very briefly) Suzie Chan (@suzie_chan) and Sophie Raworth off the news (@sophieraworth) and shouted something about how much I love them both… oh gosh. Such a fan girl, but they ARE both amazing. Go and follow them if you don’t already (you looney).

Mile 3 came and went, through Canary Wharf and reminiscing the last time I pounded these roads at the London Marathon. I started to realise that possibly, this wasn’t going to be the race for me. Mile 4 was ok, but then Mile 5-6 started to hit me big style.

The route was boring in places and the undulation was unexpected. And then there was the cobbles…. streets and streets of cobbles…WHY!

Miles 7 and 8 got harder. As I ran back over Tower Bridge at mile 7, I could feel the previous days miles catching up with me. I forced a smile out (well I did enjoy the bridge to be fair…) but I knew the wheels were falling right off.

I wanted to stop. I had to take a cup of Lucozade to try and get some sort of energy going. I drank water at each station too, and walked while drinking – something I never do in a race. I stopped to stretch out a couple of times and I walked to video and chat to Andy. I hugged people. I stopped for hugs.

Mile 8 I watched a girl fully cut a massive corner – to which I commented quietly, “cheater!” – as I did so a guy pulled up to my shoulder and laughed – I turned and it was only Kieron! (@anxious_to_ultra) He was knackered too and stuck with me over the next mile and a bit and tried to encourage me.

I think the photos below were around 6.2  miles, when I nearly missed the mat because I was up on the pavement trying to avoid all the cobbles. I dashed back and then realised there was the photographer! If looks could kill…

I looked at my watch and i knew a p.b had slipped out of reach, I was on for 1.44.56, and there was no way I could push harder. My motor was full throttle. I stopped to stretch my calves and Kieron carried on.

Mile 8,9,10 passed by in a dull blur, the only hilight seeing Laura (@murraylaura) and her calling out my name for encouragement.

My splits were dropping hard and I was now averaging 8.45 ish, my new goal was to smash the last 5k and get a sub 1.50, I couldn’t do worse than that.

I came around past Becca (@redfaced_runner) and Lizzie (@lillybet.runs.alot) and the cheer squad, and ran over for a much needed hug and encouraging word. These guys seriously, they mean everything in these race situations and I am forever grateful for their cheering skills and willingness to freeze their butts off to cheer for other people!

Then as I left mile 12, I saw my Martha again. As i approached her i shouted “I HATE RUNNING!”. I felt like total crap. Then Martha said “Daryl’s just ahead of you!” – er what? Daryl (@run_daryl_run) is super quick – his Piriformis was playing up again and he was agonisingly pushing on to the finish. Martha ran down the road with me for a little bit, then we realised the official photographer was taking our picture! So funny. We got to run together after all!

I knew my sweet little family were waiting for me just by the finish line and i’d had my instruction of where to look. I clocked them and gave my kids a kiss, and then carried it on the last 100m to the finish line underneath the Cutty Sark, obviously prioritising coverage for the ‘gram!

I followed the crowds and wandered around to get my medal and goody bag, then met my family at the festival in Greenwich Park. I like that there is something to do at the end, but it’s always super hard to get any signal to message anyone in those places. It was really cold too, so we met Daryl and Martha to say goodbye and then walked back across Blackheath to where our car was parked.

Oh, by the way, I managed a mile pb! FINALLY a sub 7 minute mile!

img_3788.png

In conclusion, I enjoyed this race for the most part. I wasn’t too bothered about the route but thats probably due to the fact I was struggling so much, so it wasn’t on my radar too much! I enjoyed the smattering of crowds and seeing so many people I knew, and despite the pain on the day, I’m looking back with fondness on my pics. So it can’t have been that bad.

Just like childbirth….

 

sign-off

 

 

 

London Winter Run 2018 (Part 2 – the bit with actual running)

Off went the Klaxon, the familiar surge of bodies moved forward, and with the usual start of a large London race, there was a decent bit of waving and kerb jumping for most of the first 2 miles.

I started to move out of the pack as much as I could, trying to stick to the side and follow others also clearly concerned about getting a specific time. I do get frustrated with the fact you can put any goal finish time in when you register, which obviously results in faster people tripping over slower people who have been over optimistic and therefore placed in the wrong wave.

IMG_E2918

2017 medal, 2018 (temporary) medal *see below

My aim was anything lower than my current (in training) 10k PB of 46.59, but I was pushing to see if I could get anywhere near the magical 45 minute mark (which would mean 7.10-7.20 min miles). I’d managed that for 5k but wasn’t convinced i’d hold that pace for 6.2.

After the first mile of trying to break free (7.31) I knew i’d have to make up the time, and to be honest, I thought i’d lost 45 right there, so I moved my goalposts to as near 46 as I could.

The second mile I managed to make up some time and ticked over at 7.14, but I was starting to flake already. URGHH! I knew there would be moments when I doubted myself but I wasn’t expecting them to start so soon into the race…

Mile 3 dipped again, and I found I was in a pattern that continued for the whole way (which later on realised was linked to the elevation of the course!). 7.42 this time. I started to wonder if I was going to back off, but each time I got a slower mile, I pushed harder on the next one. I would constantly go through a checklist – I do this when i’m pushing myself, runners logic or whatever. But I will go through a checklist;

  1. Is my breathing ok?
  2. Are my legs feeling ok?
  3. Is anything else jeopardising how I feel right now?

And then I work through that list and reason it out. E.g, if my breathing is laboured, but my legs feel fine, my mind is in a good place etc, I know to work on my breathing and calm it back down into a pattern I can cope with. And if ALL things have gone to crap, well, i’ve not ever got there…yet!

Mile 4. A guy dressed in a santa hat, placed over a certain part, and some weird thong contraption, ran past. Bizarre and probably absolutely freezing… but it clearly motivated me to get myself going too, as I pushed back to a 7.17.

Mile 5 – struggling again… at that point, my shoulders had completely ceased up. I think a combination of starting to lift weights and being active over the weekend had made my shoulders spasm, and I was in so much pain. I was just praying they’d ease off, but it took a good mile. The whole mile I thought about, and actually nearly stopped. 7.40.

Mile 6. Gave myself a little pep talk (along with muttering some other choice words about my feelings towards the effort I was exerting) and decided to go full in. I had under 2 miles to go, and there was still time for me to get a PB, even if it was a few seconds.

IMG_2878

Finish line sunshine!

I checked my watch and realised I was actually very close to getting JUST sub 46, but I just couldn’t get any more effort out. I was maxing out.

On the Strand I knew Becca and the others would be there waiting with signs and cowbells and I used that as motivation to push on to them, then I knew it was just around the corner to ending this hell!

Cowbells and cheers digested, I stuck on turbo mode and pushed the last 0.20 of a mile to the finish line, at 6.36 pace, pretty sure it was the longest, furthest 0.20 i’ve ever run, but there it was. PUSH PUSH PUSH to the end. It hurts but it’s nearly OVER!!!

I ran over the finish line and stopped my watch a little after it had ticked over 10k, so my watch shows 46.17, but official time was less (wahoo!) at 46.08.

Medal trio

Martha, Me and Kev

At this point, and on the day, I don’t think I could’ve pushed more. I was tired after helping out at a conference friday/saturday, I had hideous shoulder pain and it was freezing, and in parts, quite gross headwinds. But despite all those factors, I still got a PB.

My actual race PB for a 10k is last year’s Winter Run, which was 50.24. So in a year, i’ve managed to shave a whopping 4 minutes 16 seconds off that time. And I think that is something to be proud of. Imagine if I did that next year? (yeah, not gonna happen… but sub 45?)

 

sign-off

 

*the temporary medal – the medals I was enticed to do the race for, have sparkly enamelling and a snowflake in the centre which spins! When I crossed the finish line, and took this medal it was lovely but I was super disappointed… turns out the medals are stuck in customs, and once released, Winter Run will be sending them out to the participants. So, two medals for the price of one! (i’ll update the post with a picture of the proper one when it arrives).

London Winter Run 2018 (Part 1)

First let me say how much I love this race.

It is organised well and it’s obviously for an incredible cause.

It is also where I first met up with other runners from Instagram, in 2017. I had been active on the gram for around 7 months at this point and still working it all out. I had a message from Becca (@redfaced_runner) saying I was very welcome to come and hang out with her and a group of runners before the race.

I was so excited to have been included in a gang of people, who, as it turns out, had only really just met each other a couple of months previous to that.

IMG_2923

I met Becca (@redfaced_runner), Ian (@ianrunsldn) – who weirdly knows my brother from YEARS ago, James (shoulder_runner), Shellie (@shellie0055), Soph (@soph.dxb), Amy-Lou (@to5kandbeyond), Kieron (@anxious_to_ultra), and Mr Tommy Barber (@barbertronruns) who made me feel so welcome and part of the group. Happy one year anniversary you lot!

Last year I thoroughly enjoyed myself, so I rebooked for this year – promptly after seeing what the medal was like… (oh my gosh, spinning sparkly snowflake centre? YES PLEASE!)

IMG_2859

I rocked up to Trafalgar square, after parking in Vauxhall, and jogging in 2 miles for a warm up (I had 11 miles on the marathon plan so I was squeezing them in around the race too) – to be greeted by a squealing Becca with THAT sign, now famous in races all around the land, and the most wonderful hug. LOVE THAT WOMAN. Why we still do not have a picture together though, is nothing short of ridiculous…

We were then joined by Martha and Kev, who i’d met at the Beachy Head 10k/Marathon after (s)talking on ig. Kev then channelled his inner femininity after Becca donated her bib to him.

We popped in to the cafe and were greeted by a million other runners and grammers, some who I knew and some I needed to meet!

Can’t remember all but it was lovely to briefly see Amy-Lou (@to5kandbeyond), to FINALLY meet Jim (@jimgandon26.2), Derrick (@derrickgoesrunning – who I met last month at the first Scrambled Legs and Bacon run, in Kent), Ian, Georgina (@fitcetera), Lizzie (@lillybet.runs.alot) who I ADORE, Laura (@laurajbrine) and probably loads others, sorry.

Martha, Kev and I left the cafe for bag drop, and were joined by a new friend, Suzie (@suzieliveshealthy). We dropped bags, and made our way to the snowmen, which was a BIG deal for Martha as she hates any type of mask… but she sucked it up and we took this epic picture…

VDLE0159

There were some warm ups, and then the coloured waves were asked to walk round to the starting line, where there were foam snow cannons and people dressed as penguins and stuff like that…

We jumped about, trying to stay warm, feeling eager to get on with it and get some blood moving around our freezing bodies. The other three stuck together, but I was on a pb mission, so I was ready to get going. Waiting made me feel more nervous about doing it…

One amazing thing about Cancer Research is that it humbles you, and reminds you why people are there. There are many (myself included) who would be doing this race just for training/medal/fun but not necessarily raising money for CRUK, or indeed MIGHT not give much thought to the reason behind an event like this with all the excitement and grandeur that a race this size brings.

So, at the start when everyone is lined up, I love that they bring everyones attention to those who have fundraised, those who know someone battling cancer (pretty much all arms in the air) and those who were racing who are battling cancer right NOW.

IGCE7171

We were ready to go, all that was left was the 3,2,1…

 

(continued)

 

Run Up To Christmas

In my past experience of running, I would always have stopped come November. It got too cold, too wet, too windy… I was the epitome of a fair weather runner. But November 2016, something felt different. Like I could stick it out. But I needed a challenge.

I found out about the ‘Marcothon’, a run every day challenge throughout December, with the only rules that whether slow or fast, it HAD to be 3 miles or 25 mins, whatever came first. If you missed a day, you’re out. Well to me that’s a challenge and I LOVE to compete with myself so it was a brilliant incentive to keep pushing through December.

Turns out, December is actually a bloody awesome month to run in. I was treated with gorgeous orange sunrises and sunsets, crisp air and peaceful sunny but icy runs.

I. LOVED. IT! I even got a 5k and 1 mile p.b on Christmas Day!

Fast forward to November 2017, and I found myself looking to do the same sort of challenge. When who should come along but Clare and Kev. After a huge success in the summer with ‘Marathon in a day’, a challenge where runners were asked to cover the whole 26.2, however they wanted to break it down, over a 24 hour period. Part of the proceeds went to Mind, which is a charity very close to my heart.

Read more about it HERE

Sadly I missed the boat for this one as I had other commitments, but as soon as they announced they were doing another virtual challenge, I was all in.

I knew I wanted to use Run Up To Christmas to push me on, and having completed 120 miles the previous December, that was my target to beat. I took great motivation from my friend Katie Ekins, who decided to go for the highest target, 250k, from 1st-25th December. I decided i’d give it a go, knowing it was an average of 6 miles a day…

I had a massive mileage base though, having completed a lot of distance runs throughout 2017, I figured i’d go for it and see where we got to. I could always drop to the 150, 100, 50k goals if it went tits up.

December looked so different this year. I was running further, better, stronger, and best of all, with friends. Instagram has made me so many friendships through running, and although most don’t live close by, once you’ve run an ultra with someone, they’re in your life forever…

I ran with dogs, I ran 20 miles in thick mist, I ran my 1000th mile for the year, I ran up and down the South Downs with new friends, I ran Parkrun and a 10 mile race with my favourite running couple and I took a whole load of selfies and watch shots to boot.

I completed the 250k on the 24th December.

I ended up rounding my miles up to 185, the furthest monthly miles i’ve ever done. I had my highest weekly mileage too, something between 50-55 miles. And the best part… I didn’t injure myself!

I’ve already signed up for 2018. And if you get on it quick, you can pay last year’s prices still. You get a kick-ass medal, with a ribbon corresponding to your distance, oh AND people can donate km’s they’ve run, to you, if you don’t quite meet your goal. Isn’t that incredible?

If you find it hard to stay inspired through the winter, find a challenge (there are plenty around) – RU2C is a safe bet, it donates to Mind, and we all know how much running helps the mind, right?

 

sign-off

Sign up HERE.