Wednesday 29 November 2023

The LDWA Blackwater Marathon - #110

In October, I completed my 110th marathon or ultra. 

Surprisingly, after all those events, I managed to find a different way of doing a marathon - I walked it. All the way.... 

I knew I wasn't really fit enough to manage running a marathon, but the race was booked, it was quite local, and the weather was meant to be good! As it was the LDWA's Blackwater Marathon Challenge event, it was primarily aimed at walkers with a generous cut off of nine and a half hours so I knew I would be able to finish, even if I was only pottering along. It was to be my first event for a whole year, and I was so excited - so off I went, with a lot of hope that it would be a great day and my limited fitness and lack of training wouldn't be an issue.

I wasn't disappointed.

Being an LDWA event it was all very friendly, but also totally low key. I forget to take my route instructions (you had to print them out yourself at home, I left them on the printer) but assumed I'd be able to get a copy at registration. I was wrong! Luckily I had two phones with me, and I'd downloaded the route on the OS map, so I was pretty confident that I would have enough battery to follow a map on my phone. Also, they didn't have race numbers, so I had to make a note on my phone as there was no way I was going to remember my number to give at checkpoints. 

Anyway, eventually I managed to sort myself out and left at 8am with all the walkers - I was in my running gear, because, well, that's what I've got, but most everyone else was in their walking boots and normal clothes. Felt a little out of place but I soon got over that. Unexpectedly, having been away from the circuit for so long, I did see a few friends on the day which was wonderful. 

The route, especially for the first section in the morning sunshine, was absolutely stunning.

We were along the coast and I was incredibly happy to be out on the road and the trail, and as the day went on, my mood didn't change - I felt really lucky to be able to be there. 

Walking made it very much less stressful that it would have been if I was trying to run, and although I found it a bit soul destroying to be overtaken by all the runners, who started an hour later than the walkers, I was still thoroughly enjoying myself. 

Luck was definitely on my side when the wonderful Apryl passed me and I told her I'd managed to forget my instructions - and she had a spare set, just in time before the field started to thin out and I couldn't follow people! Was such a relief, as using the map isn't my forte. Absolutely eternally grateful as I'm pretty sure I would have got lost later on in the race. 

A special mention must be made to the wonderful volunteers who supported the event, and who arranged the quite astonishing aid stations - buffets beyond belief with such variety! Without a doubt, there were treats, or a three course meal, available for everyone and it was very impressive. 

Somehow I managed to drag myself away from the food at each CP and walked through quaint villages, across fields and farmland, passing boatyards and the marshes. It was a real mix and a great example of the beautiful Essex countryside - I finally finished in a Garmin time of 7hrs 30mins for 27 miles, with a smile still on my face, and without any aches or pains (until I got home, having stiffened up after the drive back). 

It was a wonderful day, although it made me a little sad that I had left it so long since my last event, and although walking the marathon was a great experience, I definitely want to get back to being able to run for my next one! 

Tuesday 7 February 2023


Over the last few months, I have been running less and less. I didn't really get back into training after my GUCR DNF, and although I had a brilliant day out at the Rhino Run in November, where I somehow finished a marathon, I've barely been running since. 

I've had a few weeks of some consistent runs, and have been going out occasionally with Chewie for two or three miles, but then something happens which throws me off track, and each time I start again, I'm that bit more unfit, that bit heavier, and it all feels that bit more difficult, so the running is less fun, and I'm less motivated to keep going.

I took the decision today to cancel all of my races that I had planned through the next six months, as I know I'm not fit enough to do any of them justice, or to enjoy them. I need to concentrate on building a good base, and dropping the weight I'm managed to put on over the last three years, get back to parkrun and then hopefully I'll be ready for a half marathon or two before the end of the year. 

I have a target of 50lbs to lose - I'm managed to get myself to the heaviest weight I've ever been, even before I started running! It's a pretty miserable place to be. I'm planning on using the Maffetone method to build my fitness, as it turns out that is also shot - I went for a three mile test the other day, trying to keep my heart rate at the recommended level, of 135 beats per minute. I could only manage a brisk walk! I have a long way to go until I am fit enough to comfortably run a marathon again, at any pace, and it'll be even longer before I can find some speed, but being fat and unfit is SO depressing, and bad for my health, I really have to try and take some control of things. The only way is up, and so, yet again, I'm starting from scratch, on my very own #couchtoultra plan! 

Saturday 24 September 2022

A really big ask at GUCR

Back in June, I got the train up to Birmingham, with the plan to run all the way back to London, taking part in the Grand Union Canal Race. Yes, despite not having run anything longer than 45 miles since  GUCR last time in 2015, and having had three children in the intervening years, I decided that my return to long distance races would be a repeat performance. Not only that, but I would do it uncrewed, and with no buddy runners. Well, it seemed to work last time...

But I knew it was a really big ask. 

Training for an event like GUCR is tough for everyone. Doing it with three young children, an injured dog (Chewie had two leg surgeries in the spring) and a full time job, is even harder. I had a great race at St Peter's Way in February, but finding the time to fit in my running around my life had been nigh on impossible and I missed so many of my planned runs. I also didn't manage to lose any of the weight I had hoped to either, and come race weekend was still definitely on the obese side of the scale, at nearly 200lbs (that's 14 stone) on my 5'5'' frame - which obviously makes running much harder!! 

So, I arrived the night before feeling pretty unprepared and a bit of a fraud. Nevertheless, I headed down to registration at Gas Street Basin, picked up my number, and saw friends I hadn't seen in, literally, years. Being there, with the buzz of race prep, I started to feel that whatever the little voice in the back of my mind was telling me, I did actually belong here with these people, it felt like I'd returned to my tribe, even if they were all slimmer and fitter than me. Although I might not look the part, I'd completed GUCR once before, and I started to believe it would be possible to do it again - with brand new trainers (after my trainers had literally ripped apart a couple of days before) and a lack of any real idea of what I was capable of, I was hugely looking forward to the journey down the canal to Little Venice.

Sadly...I didn't get the fairy tale ending. 

All started well, but I missed a turning early on, only adding a mile or so, but it threw me, then needed an early toilet stop, and I spent the rest of the race obsessing about my pace and mileage. I made good progress though, and despite a bit of an ongoing issue with a dodgy tummy, I was doing ok, and remembered just how much I love running ultras. The scenery was as fabulous as I'd expected, and seeing friends along the course, both those cheering me on, supporting at CPs and running, was just so wonderful. I have missed everyone, and it reminded me how much I love the community. 

I ran 45 miles in 9:32 which was pretty much where I wanted to be, and after various detours eventually got to 100 miles on my watch, in just under 25 hours. Not the sub 24 I'd been hoping for, with my "best scenario" race plan, but still good enough for my more realistic plan, and as by now my feet had started blistering, I was still happy with how I was going. 

Unfortunately, I started to walk more and more from here on in and really struggled to maintain momentum. I was thinking about getting home for the children, worrying about being out longer than I'd planned, my feet were blistered and agony, I was tired, not eating enough, and as the miles went on I think I gave up a bit, and started to tell myself there was no way I was going to finish within the cut offs, especially with my blisters getting worse. 

I essentially talked myself out of it, convinced that my pace was probably too slow to even get a finish, and miserable that I was just walking when my forte has always been finishing well and running through out every race I've done. It wasn't the race I wanted, I wasn't enjoying myself in any way at that stage,  and so as I was heading towards the checkpoint at 120 miles, I decided to give it up as a bad job. When I got to the CP, with just about 126 miles on my watch, I told them I was DNFing.

My first DNF in an ultra, and only my second ever in a race. 

I've had months now to think about the weekend and my decision, and I absolutely know, in my heart, that I could have finished, and I should have carried on. With all the justification in the world of my feet hurting (did they really hurt that much?!), I was only walking, might have missed the cut offs etc etc, I should have regrouped at the checkpoint where I dropped out, got changed, dressed my feet, refuelled, and carried on. After I'd been at the checkpoint for a while, I knew that too. However, by that time, I'd already phoned Francis to come and pick me up, and think in all honesty I was just being stubborn. I'd made the decision, even though it was the wrong one. A real shame. Getting so far and then not finishing is very disappointing but I just didn't have the mental strength to get the job done.

That DNF has affected me these last few months. I have barely done any running at all, I've stopped coaching, and put on even more weight. I just haven't been able to find the motivation at all. Totally lost the love...

However, I feel I'm coming out the other side of that now, and have booked myself a full calendar of events to try and keep me engaged and motivated as I return to structured training. I know I love running, I love ultras, and I don't want to lose this part of me that has been so important for so long. 

Monday 4 October 2021

Patella tendinosis and the Delham Kiln Marathon

Back in March, I developed some really significant pain in my knees - typically, I carried on running on them, until I got to the stage where I could barely get around the block and I was in pain everyday. It was so frustrating, as I'd been having coaching from Lindley Chambers, at Challenge Running since October, my fitness and pace had been improving well, I was really pleased with my progress - but the time came where I realised I just had to stop, rest and get some help. 

I saw the physio, and got my diagnosis - in both knees, the cartilage was degrading behind my kneecap and the tendon degrading in the front - patella tendinosis. The cartilage issue wasn't causing the pain though, it was the tendons. 

The physio was confident I could get back to running pain free, and although I did still take part in a marathon a couple of weeks after first seeing him (which was a LOT of walking, finishing in 6:10) I then started a recovery programme. Exercises, lots of rest, collagen supplements, more rest, more exercises. 

Fast forward 6 months. 

I started coaching with the legendary Mimi Anderson, who has been gradually helping me build back some base fitness after the time out I needed for my knees, and helping me through a block of training to prepare me for the virtual London marathon, that I planned to run at Suffolk Running Centre's Delham Kiln marathon. Mimi convinced me to cancel all my other race plans, and just aim for this one. 

Yesterday, I ran it. 
In the wider scheme of things, it wasn't that fast - my race result for Delham Kiln is 5:14 (and a couple of minutes longer for London as the app didn't think I'd quite run far enough and I had to go back out). However, it's the fastest marathon I've run since Windermere back in May 2018 and i'm really pleased! At one point, about 19 miles, I really thought I might manage an even split and come in under 5 hours, but it wasn't to be! Also, my knees, although still always in my mind and occasionally twinging, were essentially fine, and didn't cause me any issues. So, overall, it was a very successful day out. 

It's a really lovely course - 2 laps of mostly road, but with a short section through the woods along some very slippery mud, and it's hilly - but in the best way. Long winding downhills, along with some sharp, steep climbs. I couldn't run up those bits and had to walk, but the downhills were perfect. I had the virtual London app playing, with the recorded cheering every few miles, but my run couldn't have been more different to "THE" marathon. Not one supporter out on the quiet little Suffolk lanes (except for the RDs vehicle driving past checking on us), CPs were a water container on a lonely table every 6 miles, and I spent 90% of the run on my own, although the loop ended at the start/finish so there was some cheering as I arrived there. 

Thoroughly enjoyed myself though, although very frustratingly I had left my packed race vest at home (sat by the front door, waiting to be collected) which had my water bottles and all my snacks in. It meant that I had to run carrying a large bike water bottle that I'd found in the car, and I didn't have any food with me - I definitely started to notice the lack of nutrition in the last few miles and even got a bit lightheaded. A lesson learned in organisation I guess, but it doesn't beat the time I went to a marathon and forgot my trainers! 

I'm always going to have to manage my knees, particularly with the cartilage problems that are still to really appear, but for now at least, it seems I can start seriously planning for a return to ultras.

Monday 23 November 2020

Realising that just because i'm a mum, i'm still me

It's funny how "inspiration" works.

I've been really struggling recently, with so much, unable to work out what was wrong or how to pull myself out of the funk that I've found myself in for months, well, years.

Last night I watched coverage of the @VendeeGlobeENG a round the world sailing race which is currently underway.  I watched these intrepid sailors, taking on this enormous challenge, in their huge boats out in the storms, and racing across the ocean. I saw their emotions - the pride, the excitement, the reality of failure, the exuberance of achieving success against the odds. 

It made me feel really emotional - not on the same scale of course, but I remembered that I used to set myself seemingly ridiculous goals that I could never have thought possible, and then just worked out how to achieve them. I used to have those sort of emotions about things I was doing.

I realised something.

I am not made for sitting on the sofa being miserable, feeling sorry for myself, binge eating on biscuits I don't even like, and lamenting days past, before children changed my priorities. Just because I'm a busy mum, I still need a big challenge in my life to keep me moving forward, to keep me happy.

I first started running in 2007 when I was 25, coming from no exercise at all - my only hobbies were drinking and clubbing. I had a goal of a marathon. It was a big goal for me, a really big goal! I achieved it the following year in 2008, but then I realised I needed to try and do it again, only better. And then again, and again. 

I got my marathon PB in 2012, and then started running ultras, with my first 50 miler as a celebration for my 30th birthday. I thought about the 10in10, completed it in 2013, then a 100 miler, done in 2014, then GUCR in 2015. I was all ready to run Viking Way in 2016 but that didn't happen because I fell pregnant. Then I pretty much stopped running, and although I've kept things ticking over with a few races over the last few years, falling pregnant again in 2018 meant that I never got back to fitness. However, I then met my longest held goal in August 2019, full membership of the 100 Marathon Club - getting that coveted shirt! DONE!

But then what? I just set myself some "repeat" goals - GUCR again, more marathons, more ultras, get back to being fit, get back to my PB, get back, get back, get back. Everything over the last 4 years has been about trying to relive my past, rediscover the "me" before children. All the while, not really running, binge eating, feeling miserable and depressed. 

Now, I know I can't spend three months sailing round the world - I suffer from terrible sea sickness and I have three small children who need me - but once upon a time I did seriously think about taking part in a Pacific ocean row in a boat of four! I used to really believe I could do anything. I think the reason I've been so very miserable is because I totally forgot who I am (not who I was...but who I still am). 

I need a goal, and bigger than just keeping mind, body and soul together at home and at work. Looking after my kids, working full time's exhausting and time consuming, and really hard, but that doesn't mean I should limit myself to that being it. I think that believing this is all there is now, is what is making me miserable.

So, a new goal? What could I set my sights on? I have to be realistic - for instance, maybe an Ironman would fit the bill perfectly, but I don't think I have enough time available to train across three sports 

I don't know, but it's got to be something different to scare me, to excite me, to make me wonder if I can really achieve it, and to really feel that I'm heading for something special. I'm 40 in 2022 - maybe I should do something to celebrate. So what am I going to aim for? 

I feel so much better for finally coming to this conclusion. I am still the person that I was before children. It sounds so obvious, but for me it's a bit of a revelation. I can still achieve new things, I just need to be a bit more organised and dedicated to fitting everything in. 

Now comes the time for some serious event searching - if I'm going to be the best mum I can be for the children, I also need to make sure I can be me.