Monday 29 December 2014

Getting serious about training

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a change, and get some help. I felt I'd lost my love for running and could quite happily never train again...despite the fact that I still loved races and earning my bling. However, running marathons when you haven't done enough training starts to get less and less fun and with such big races coming up in 2015, my training needs to become the core of my running, not the add-on!

So...I've signed up for coaching through Centurion Running, with Robbie Britton. I imagine most people reading my blog will know who Robbie is, but if you don't, here's his blurb from the Centurion website and below that a list of some of his incredible race performances:

Robbie Britton

Robbie's ascent to the top of the UK ultrarunning scene was a fast one. He began running 100s in 2010 recording some solid performances, learning quickly how to refine his training to maximise success, taking his first win in 2011. He has expanded on his multiple 100 mile podium places, earning his plance in Team GB's 24hr team for 2013 where he went on to a 17th place finish covering a total of 239km. Shortly afterwards he went on to win the Petzl South Downs Way 100.

Ultra experience (major races):
  • 24hr World Championships 2013: 239km (17th)
  • Spartathlon
  • South Downs Way 100: 15:42 (1st & CR)
  • North Downs Way 100: 19:47 (1st)
  • Thames Path 100: 16:02 (2nd)
  • Cotswold 100: 20:26 (2nd)
  • Caesars Camp 100 - 21:30 (3rd)
  • Barcelona 24hr: 231km (4th)
  • GUCR: 31:26 (7th)
  • Pilgrims Way Ultra 2014: Winner and Course Record
  • Canterbury 10: 55 mins (1st)
Getting coached by Robbie is a real honour, and it's great to work with someone who has achieved so much in some of the races that are important to me. So far, I've had a week's worth of training. Robbie is confident that he can help me enjoy training (nearly) as much as I love racing, and that with the right amount of commitment I can really improve on what I've achieved so far. My big goals are to go sub 22hrs at TP100 and to finish GUCR. The Ironman is still going to happen in July too, but that is a B race for this year - GUCR is the real A race for me now.

Robbie's suggested cutting down on some of my races to really maximise the benefits of my training plan, so I withdrew from yesterday's Phoenix Marathon, and also from Country to Capital. I did so with a very heavy heart, but it would be great to see what I can achieve under Robbie's guidance, and I'm only going to do that if I follow the advice and do what he thinks is best. The races will be there next year and I'll be in a better position to run them well and enjoy them more then.

So, following my new training plan, I ran 35 miles last week across 5 runs, mixing up easy miles with some intervals and actually really enjoyed getting back to some structured training. It all seems to be focused around running for an amount of time rather than miles and really looks at getting a bit more speed in for some of that time, instead of just my usual plodding, for instance yesterday's run was 2hrs easy, with the last 20 minutes at marathon pace.

I had my traditional Christmas Day run included in my plan last week - we were staying with Franc's family in Southwold and so my run was along the sea and it was beautiful. I took the puppy with me though, so it was definitely challenging and a bit slow as we had to keep stopping for him to have a sniff or to say hello to the many other dogs that were also out for their Christmas walks.

This week I have the Flitch Way marathon on Wednesday - the last race of the year - which I'm really looking forward to, and so my training plan from Robbie seems pretty relaxed. I have a feeling that after the marathon, training will start ramping up and getting more intense and challenging - and hopefully I will feel that it becomes more rewarding and fun. We will see!

Thursday 18 December 2014

Cycling through the winter

As it gets colder and more unpleasant outside, I worry about cycling through the winter. I've always loved going for a ride when it's beautifully sunny and warm, with just a slight breeze, stopping at a pub for lunch - the very definition of a fair weather cyclist. But getting out there in plummeting temperatures and driving rain is not my idea of fun on a bike! When you're riding through an arctic wind, it's so much more unpleasant than running, and the prospect of icy roads certainly doesn't fill me with confidence about staying upright.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Francis set up the trainer in the living room so I could try biking in the comfort of the house. It worked pretty well, and I've done it a few times...but cycling in front of the TV really isn't the same as getting out on the roads and although it'll be a great substitute for those days when the snow is a foot deep, the fact remains that I need to just prepare properly so riding outside over the next few months doesn't seem so scary.

I was approached recently about doing a blog post for the insurers LV to share some of the advice they've put together about winter cycling, and it seemed like a great idea - I need that sort of help more than most! There's all sorts of information on their website but I love the below infographic that they've put together which includes a Winter Checklist, and "Wise Up", "Light Up" and "Wrap Up" sections.

I think my biggest concern is cycling on icy roads and LV Q&A section on winter cycling has this to say:

RW: Cyclists should always be aware that braking distances are increased in wet conditions. In icy conditions it’s a good idea to reduce tyre pressure a little, as this gives you a bigger contact area with the ground.

I suppose the key thing to remember is to be careful and to be aware of any suspicious looking puddles or shimmers in the road.

The other advice my husband always gives me is to be particularly careful riding over drain covers - they can be particularly slippery even in the rain. In fact, it's best to cycle further out from the pavement so you miss them entirely. If you position yourself at least a meter from the curb, not only do you also avoid all of the ddetritus that gathers in the gutter of the road waiting to puncture your tyre, it makes a big difference to your relationship with other car users if you control your space. They are forced to wait until there's a gap in the traffic on the other side so they can overtake safely, as per the highway code, instead of squeezing by.

If you're a relative newbie to winter cycling, like me, take a look, be prepared, and hopefully cycling through the winter needn't be too scary...we just need to make sure we're all safe!

Wednesday 12 November 2014

The first day of a new me...preparing for GUCR

Life is slowly getting back to some sort of normality after Roger's funeral at the end of October, and we're working out what that looks like now, without our weekly visits to his house for Friday fish and chips or Sunday roast dinner.  As part of the getting back to normal, my training has restarted and I've been booking up races for my 24in12 challenge, that I'm completing in Roger's memory, to raise money for the Saint Francis Hospice. Having completed the first event of my 24 at the Chelmsford Marathon, I've signed up for another 19 events so far between now and August next year...and the biggest of the lot was confirmed yesterday when I heard I had a place in the iconic Grand Union Canal Race!! It's 145 miles (although more like 148), non-stop, in under 45 hours, from Birmingham to London, and I'll be running as an unsupported runner (bar the incredible support at the aid stations from the race organisers and volunteers). It's absolutely epic.

To be honest, it was a bit of a surprise to get a place and I'm a little overwhelmed with the reality of it - I'd put in my application for the ballot without much expectation of getting picked. However, the draw took place on Monday night, and I realised I was on absolute tenterhooks waiting to find out the result...I knew then how ready I was for this to happen and I really wanted a place!

Then, at twenty past ten last night, the email I'd been waiting for finally arrived to say, yes, I was in! I know quite a few incredible runners who have got a place too, and I feel very lucky to have the privilege of running with them, and it just feels like it's going to be an incredible event to be a part of. I am very excited, although obviously terrified too!

So, along with my various marathons and other events for 2015, I now have Thames Path 100, GUCR, and the Ironman within 12 weeks of each other next year

This is an absolutely ridiculous challenge to have set myself. I know that. But, as Cat said to me this morning on Twitter:

no what's the point in doing things that aren't a challenge. Trying something that scares you is what it is all about

So, here I am, and this time, I don't think I can wing it. I've never really done enough training for my events, nor do I feel that I've ever given myself the chance of completing them to the best of my ability...that's why I was so injured after the 10in10, and why I collapsed at the end of last year's TP100. Overweight, undertrained, just turning up and trying my best- I think I've been lucky to have enough natural ability to get me round in the times I've posted.

I don't want that to happen this time, and I don't want to look at the photos afterwards and be the lardy one in the lycra. I want to look, and feel, like I belong in the ultra running world, I want to be proud of the effort and commitment that took me to the start lines, and I certainly can't end up injured - I don't have time for that!

This means I have to pull my finger out - stop lazing around on the sofa watching TV and stuffing my face with crisps and chocolate after taking the dog for a walk, before going on a cursory 6 mile run and thinking I've done my best for the day. I have to focus on my nutrition, on losing the extra weight I'm carrying, and actually doing the training that I plan, on the bike, in the pool, on the trail and on the road.

Today, is the first day of a new me. A me who is focused on the end goal, and who is willing to make the sacrifices I need to, to make a success of my races. To be the best I can be!

Right, I'm off for a run....

Tuesday 21 October 2014

The only useful thing I can think of

My wonderful father-in-law, Roger, very sadly passed away on Wednesday, 15th October, just two months after falling ill, and just a month after receiving his cancer diagnosis. It's been an incredibly difficult and painful time, particularly for his sons, Francis and Stephen, but the support of the Saint Francis Hospice was invaluable to us, and made it possible for Roger to stay at home until the end. They provided phone support, visited in person, provided equipment, chased up the District Nursing team and our GP, and arranged for a Marie Curie nurse to be with Roger overnight. I don't know how we would have coped without them, at a time when we really didn't know where to turn or what to do.
Roger, with Francis's lovely aunt Jenny, cheering me on!
Because we've all felt so helpless, and I feel the need to "do" something, I've decided to start fundraising. It's the only useful thing I can think of, and it's a way of saying thank-you to the Hospice. I want to help them continue to do such brilliant work for other families, and they were also a charity that Roger donated to before he was ill, so it seems fitting that I support them in his memory. 
Roger was always so interested in my events, and every week we'd talk about what I had coming up next. He was a very keen walker, and had completed the St Peter's Way which is the route of an ultra race that I've done a couple of times, so we shared some common ground and he was very supportive. Roger even came to the Lake District during the 10in10 to cheer me on during my final marathons and got a sign made up for me. He was such a truly lovely, genuine man.
Over the next year, I've decided that I will be taking part in 24 events, so it's going to be VERY busy, without much time for recovery, including the Ironman in July (the most ridiculously difficult thing I've ever done) and the Thames Path 100 again, when I will be trying to beat last year's time. The Cyprus marathon is also on my radar, although I've not signed up for it just yet. Roger had a holiday house out in Cyprus, and as we've been going through his papers, we've come across a newspaper article that he cut out, about the marathon. I wonder if he was going to suggest it for next year and so I'd now love to run it.
I will be fundraising for the Saint Francis Hospice, and hope to raise £5,000 for them. The next year is going to be tough - really tough - as I attempt to complete so many events across different sports, but hopefully so tough that it will warrant donations from everyone!
I ran the Chelmsford Marathon on Sunday, and although it wasn't a particularly enjoyable course, I thought of Roger every step of the way, and am very glad I did it. He went to school in Chelmsford, and so feel it was a fitting place for the first event of my 24.
My fundraising page is here if you'd like to support the Hospice:

Our wedding day.
Roger in the middle with Francis and my brother-in-law, Stephen.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Real life, taking control & the importance of family

In the last few weeks, life has really turned upside down. The plan had been that the Stour Valley 100km would be my last race until the new year, as I had left my job, Francis was taking a sabbatical from work, and we were embarking on a 10 week backpacking trip around South America at the beginning of September, which we've been planning for the last 9 months.

Tragically though, in the week before we were due to fly to Ecuador, my father-in-law was taken unwell, admitted to hospital, and very suddenly we were hearing a consultant telling us that he has cancer, which has spread through his body. We cancelled our trip, and were visiting the hospital every day.

Running dropped right down to the very bottom of my priority list.

My father in law has been discharged now, after the hospital were able to alleviate some of the worst symptoms he was experiencing, and is at home awaiting some further treatment, but the cancer is incurable and advanced. He has become frail and we can do little to help other than continue to visit, while my brother in law has moved in. Francis goes to see them and help out every day, and I go every couple of days. It is a terribly sad time for everyone.

To try and bring something positive into all of our lives at this time, we brought forward a plan that we had for when we returned from travelling at the end of the year - our plan to get a puppy.

So, we have now welcomed a new addition into our family. Chewie (short for Chewbacca) is 9 weeks old, a Brittany and Springer Spaniel cross, and he's absolutely lovely. He's a lot of work, what with getting through the night, house training, trying to avoid separation issues, training him and keeping him stimulated, but he's worth it. One day, when he's old enough, I hope he will become my running partner.

What with looking after Chewie (and the resulting lack of sleep), dealing with the sadness around what's happening to my father in law, trying to support Francis as best I can, and visiting, I find that I'm struggling to find the time to run, especially as it has continued to be low on the list of priorities. To add to the current stress levels, this week we've also had a water leak at home, and a significant repair job is now underway to replace pipework and damaged flooring.

I'm eating huge amounts of comfort food, doing little exercise, putting on weight, and feeling my fitness drain away. I seem to have excluded myself from my relationships online, on Facebook and Twitter, where I have always found so much support, and everything just feels like it's such a challenge for me at the moment, although obviously it's nothing compared to what my father-in-law and Francis are going through.

I think I took my life for granted a few months ago - I moaned about not liking my job, and losing motivation to run, but actually everything was nigh on perfect. I just didn't realise it. It's only now that life's particularly tough, I can really see what a good thing I had going on.

My running has always been important to my mental health and I feel much less stressed, able to cope with difficulties, and generally happier when I'm clocking up the miles. It also defines me to a certain extent - "I call myself a runner" - but now unemployed and not planning to return to work until the new year, not going on our long-planned backpacking trip, and without any races on the horizon or proper training being done, I feel that I've totally lost sight of who I am. This isn't helping me cope with everything, so to try and keep myself strong enough to help the rest of the family, I have to find the time and energy to get back to running. It's the only thing I can really control.

Monday 18 August 2014

Loving the longer stuff - the Stour Valley Path 100km

It's fair to say preparation for this race hadn't really been text book. Hit and miss training, a few bad races, and then a week of renewed enthusiasm and more mileage than I've done for months (at 57 miles in the previous 6 days), certainly didn't leave me fit or refreshed for my last race of the year. I also left it until the last minute to sort out how I was getting to the start in Newmarket and ended up stressfully spending an unexpectedly huge amount of money on trains, taxis and a hotel room.

Once I'd eventually arrived at my hotel, at about 11:30pm the night before the race, I laid out my kit ready for the morning, and decided to double check the mandatory kit list on the website, just to make sure I had everything. Suddenly I realised that I had left my emergency survival blanket at home, as well as my I-Pod, and I hadn't brought anything with me for breakfast and would be leaving too early for food at the hotel.

As the blanket was compulsory, and I wouldn't be able to even start the race without one, I panicked a little, before hitting facebook and twitter to ask for help! Luckily, I had offers from other runners, and was left a blanket to pick up at the start by a race-saving runner called John. I'll be eternally grateful for this act of kindness! Runners really are a great bunch. The missing I-Pod was less easy to solve, and I just had to resign myself to running 62 miles without my music, and for breakfast? I raided my stock of food that I was planing to carry during the race:- breakfast was a babybel, half a flapjack and a rice krispie square!

Unfortunately a typical level of organisation from me but at least I remembered my shoes!

Anyway, I made it to the start, had kit check, picked up my number and tried to hear the race briefing. I said hello to the two other runners I knew at the race, Kate and Barry, and to Matthew the RD, and at 7am, we started running.

My plan for long races is always to start out slow, let myself warm up, and try and remember that come 20 odd miles, I'll start to feel more like a runner. So, I took it easy but even so, my legs hurt and my breathing was heavy - I was a bit worried about how totally unfit I felt, and was so relieved I'd been able to start at 7am (rather than the 9am start wave) so had 15 hours to finish. I had a bit of a dodgy stomach too, which didn't help, partly from demolishing a packet of liquorice allsorts on the train up to Newmarket the evening before, and partly from my unusual breakfast, and it was pretty demoralising being passed by so many people in the first mile or so. It wasn't a good start, but I was hopeful that if everything went to plan, I'd be able to move back up the field later in the race and things would improve.

A relatively new ultra runner tried to strike up a conversation  with me - she was very nervous and looking for someone to talk to and share some miles with - but I was really struggling at just 3 miles in and I wasn't in the mood to chat, and had to apologise to her. I felt really bad about this, but luckily there was someone just by us who did want company, and they were soon chattering away. I'm just so anti-social sometimes :( I checked the results afterwards and was very pleased to see she finished in a great time which reduced the guilt!

The miles started to tick by though, and gradually I started to feel better and less like a lumbering fraud. I made sure I was very disciplined about my hydration and nutrition, taking on regular gels and drinking more than I ever usually do. I was very conscious of my lack of food and fluid during the TP100, and the resulting hospital visit at the finish, and wanted to practice a more controlled strategy to see how I got on over a long distance. Miraculously, I had remembered to bring my High-5 electrolyte tablets, which helped - at each aid station, I added a tab to one of my bottles and I think that made a difference to how I felt. At times, the day was pretty warm and sometimes very sunny (I got quite sunburnt) and by the end, my t-shirt was covered in a white crust. Shows just how important it is for me to replenish all of those minerals as well as just the water! 

The volunteers at the aid stations helped with this hydration and nutrition strategy. Each checkpoint was excellently manned and had a complete spread of all sorts of different food. There was always a variety of snacks that appealed, and as soon as I arrived at each one, there was someone asking me about refilling bottles, which really focused my mind on making sure that I was getting this done. I often forget if I'm not prompted. The marshals were all very cheerful and encouraging too, and they did a great job. It was particularly nice to see my friend Liz at one of the later aid stations, who was injured so couldn't run and was volunteering instead. As I think all runners are, I'm so grateful to everyone for giving up their time.

I had some chafing under my arms from my run on the North Downs Way earlier in the week, and had started the race with plasters covering the red raw skin - with all the sweat, the plasters came off, and the chaffing was just starting to hurt again as I came into one of the checkpoints.. Brilliantly, someone had bought a tub of vaseline for the runners to use - this saved me a huge amount of trauma over the rest of the race!

The route was pretty, and there was an interesting mix of grassy fields, various crops, shady woodland, quaint villages, rivers and sweeping views across the hills, although I spent more time looking at the ground than appreciating the countryside. There were a few technical sections with lots of tree roots, which were fun, but there was also quite a bit more tarmac or hard packed trail than I had expected. I suffered with that, and particularly towards the end of the race, my feet were becoming very sore in my Salomon Speedcross - they're not very forgiving on the road! I need to rethink my trail shoe choice for next year...

The route maps!
So, the miles passed, and I was feeling good. There were more hills than I'd expected but although I hated them while I slowly walked up, I always love a good descent. Sometimes I forget about protecting my quads and let myself fly down, arms all over the place, and I feel like a kid, just running for the love of it. It's always so much easier downhill!

The route was incredibly well marked in the first half, and although the second half was a bit less thoroughly signed by the race team, and we had to rely more on the Stour Valley Path trail markers, there were enough that I didn't need to get my route maps out once and I didn't get lost at all which had been a worry.

Because I didn't have my maps in my hand, I had no idea where the various aid stations were and didn't really think about them too much until I arrived at them. I had enough food and drink with me, and I was being very disciplined about regularly walking, so I wasn't desperately just trying to get to the next aid station, which I sometimes do, and was quite comfortable thinking about the whole distance, as opposed to breaking it down into miles between check points. This is a real positive for me, and I think it meant I enjoyed it more.

I got to 40 miles in 8hrs 2 mins, which I was surprised by - I had been taking it easy, and was pleased with my time. This was where I realised that I should be able to get a sub 13 finish, and I emailed Francis to tell him that I should be done by 8pm (as he was coming to pick me up). I pressed on, and the next 10 miles were probably my hardest, but I just kept telling myself that this was a bad patch, and as always happens, the bad patch would pass, and I knew I would get a second wind if I hung on long enough.

I got to 50 miles in 10hrs 13mins.

On I went. I shared some miles with some other people and we pulled each other through. At one point in the race, I was with a guy (I didn't get his name) who I think said he had been running less than a year and this was something like his 3rd ever race! He said everything hurt but he looked like he was moving pretty smoothly and I was very impressed at how well he was doing. Such a natural!

The last section was probably my favourite in terms of how I felt - I found my second wind that I'd hoped for, and I started to pass people.  I had 2hrs 45mins to run 12 miles (although it turned out this would be 13.17 miles) and I was pretty sure that even with the hiking up the hills, my regular walk breaks, and a few minutes at the aid stations, I would be ok. At the top of a few of those hills, I remember seeing runners across the fields below me, and started to focus on catching up to them.

Although I know if I'd run a little bit faster the whole way through the race, and walked a bit less, I would probably have finished in a quicker time, but it was totally worth still feeling relatively strong and not having any pain, other than the soles of my feet and the thousands of nettle stings and bramble scratches on my arms and legs!

The last few miles reminded me of the end of the TP100 - running along the edge of fields alongside a river. There seemed to be lots of cows in this section too - in one field in particular, there was a very boisterous looking herd who were quite intimidating. I wasn't feeling very confident about passing them, so stopped running and walked away from the cows (and the path) into the field, giving them a very wide berth. May have added a few minutes to my time, but I was very nervous about causing a stampede and was relieved when they were behind me! ;)

I was very conscious of the every approaching 13 hour mark, and so did have to push hard to keep going at the pace I was on, but by this stage I was absolutely determined to get in under my target and so managed to keep it going.

Eventually, the fields ended, and I turned onto the road that I realised must lead to the finish - only to find my name painted on the tarmac, Tour de France style! My friend Simeon had been doing some of the marking, and I remembered he said he'd do that somewhere. Really put a smile on my face to see it and was so glad I didn't miss it :D

Someone caught up to me with about half a mile to go, and we arrived at the final finish shoot just about together, but I ran off towards the line as fast as my legs could carry me at that point. To finish strong is such an incredible mental boost and I'm still very proud of how I did, and was so happy to get my medal, finishing in 12 hours 56 minutes.

I also managed to get a podium finish place, as 3rd lady, and was just a couple of minutes behind the woman who finished in second - although there were only 10 of us who started. Still, I'll take the position :)

Overall, I'd say it was a brilliant day out! Excellent organisation, wonderful marshals, relatively easy to follow route, but a challenging enough course to really feel that finishing was a big achievement. I will be back next year to have another go!

Francis picked me up, and I was on such a high in the car ride home - chattering away about how much I'd enjoyed myself. People ask why I run these distances, and if they saw me in the few hours after a race, I think they'd really understand!

It's now two days later, and although my feet are still pretty sore, my achilles is complaining a bit, and I'm tired, I don't have any ill effects from the run. My legs were fine yesterday and nothing is aching (no DOMS) so I'm pleased. For me, consistent pacing, lots of walking and drinking enough seems to make a massive difference! I just need to work on getting my general pace a bit faster.

To show a comparison of my mileage pace, the stats from my first and last few miles are below:

Total time

Thursday 14 August 2014

Running but not racing

I haven't enjoyed my last two races - the 50km Chiltern Ultra, that I blogged about in my last post, and the Railway Ultra, that was meant to be 38 miles, but had a shorter option that I dropped down to during the race. I think it's because my fitness isn't there at the moment - my lack of mid-week training over the last three months has really started to catch up with me and struggling during a race at a distance I should be able to run comfortably, really doesn't make for a good experience.

I managed to drag myself out for a decent Wednesday night run, including some torch lit miles through the woods which was fun, and my next race was booked for Sunday just gone, the 50km option at the Salisbury 54321.

I had leaving drinks from work on Friday night, and ended up very hungover on Saturday - I decided I just couldn't face getting up ridiculously early the next morning to drive half way across the country to run another race that I wasn't going to enjoy. So, I recorded a DNS, thinking a solo run might be better - a nice lie-in, no time pressure, nothing stressful, just go for a run.

On Sunday morning, I was lamenting the limited options of same old routes I always seem to run, when Francis suggested I drive somewhere new. I ended up going to Waltham Cross and picked up the Lea Valley Walk which follows the Lea Valley Navigational down to London. I've taken the canal north before, a few times, but I've never gone south and so was looking forward to it!

The weather was generally ok (except for about 20 minutes when it absolutely tipped down) and surprisingly I enjoyed myself. I didn't worry about about pace (which is a good job because I was very slow!), it was easy to run along the nice flat towpath and there weren't many people around. I'm an unsociable soul at heart!

The route was pretty and interesting, with lots of houseboats, wildlife and wild flowers to admire.

As I got closer to London, the flowers were replaced by graffiti on the walls, but it was really interesting - some true talent. I ran through the Olympic Park too. What a great landmark to have on a training run. It's certainly changed since the Olympics, but still an inspirational place to be!

It'd definitely do this run again, and I ended up clocking up 26 miles (13 out and back), which made me feel better about missing the race. It was also a real confidence boost to have a long run that felt ok. I ran 9 miles on Tuesday, and 22.5 miles yesterday along the very hilly North Downs Way, doing a bit of post-race clearing up after the weekend's NDW100 event.

I feel so much better for getting some relaxed miles in - I just hope that my totally haphazard to training recently hasn't totally ruined my chances of completing my next race which is on Saturday, the Stour Valley Path 100km. We shall see!

Here are some photos from the Lee Valley Walk :)


Sunday 27 July 2014

Racing without training

In the last few weeks, or in all fairness, since the 100 in May, I really haven't done much Monday to Friday training. I manage a few days here and there, but then lapse into laziness and succumb to the lure of the sofa! Nevertheless, I've still been racking up the races, and my most recent ones were the Ranscombe 8 Hour Challenge and the 50km Chiltern Challenge.

Held at the Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve, the 8 Hour Challenge was my first timed event, and it went brilliantly. I had been nervous about doing laps, wondering if I would lose interest half way through, and find it too easy to drop out, knowing that I would still be a listed finisher, but as it turned out, I felt very committed to running for the full amount of time and was happy running 3.8 mile laps around an interesting course. I was surprised at how many people were there who had approached the event differently to me, and looked on it as an opportunity to run a particular distance during the time period. It hadn't occurred to me that people would think about it like that, as in my mind it had been less about distance and more about keeping going for the whole 8 hours, but it was great to see lots of new faces, and people running who wouldn't have been there if it had been a regular ultra.

In the end, despite taking a good few laps to warm up and for my legs to stop hurting, I managed to get going in the end, and paced myself to run 10 laps, taking pretty much the whole time. 38 miles done in about 7:55.

The course was a bit hilly and so felt very challenging, especially in the hot weather that we had, but it was fantastic – absolutely stunning countryside with fields of beautiful wild flowers, a section through woodland, crop fields, a bit of mud…it was perfect for me and I loved it. It helped that lots of friends were running too, and being a lapped event, you saw everyone a few times - it was all very social and cheery. 

The bespoke medal is particularly special, one of the favourites in my collection, and Ranscombe has dropped into my top 5 races. If a permit is granted for next year, I will definitely be back. 

As a result of managing Ranscombe on very little recent training, I wasn't spurred into getting back on course with my mid-week runs, and I really fell off the wagon. Just sat on the sofa every night, stuffing my face with junk :( Despite this, the next race was still there to be run...I couldn't miss it, especially as I'd booked it on my birthday...XNRG's 50km Chiltern Challenge.

It had been billed as a “beginners ultra” in the Chiltern Hills, with a start point in Princes Risborough, a town just a few miles from where I grew up. As I was going to be in the area, I made plans with my mum in the afternoon (for birthday cake!) and with my oldest friends for dinner, drinks & dancing in the evening, assuming that as this would be an event for new ultra runners, an experienced runner like me should easily be able to run the 30 odd miles of the race, and still be up for partying that night.

How wrong I was. What a wake up call it would be, as to how much my fitness has fallen recently.

This was not an easy ultra by any means. It was very hilly (which, in hindsight, it was always going to be, as it was up and down the Chilterns!) and this is where my lack of fitness let me down. I rarely felt like I was running comfortably and walked a lot more than I had planned to. It was also incredibly hot. The forecast had said that it would probably be mid-twenties, with very heavy rain storms. Possibly hail and flash flooding. It sounded a bit biblical but I was prepared for it and comfortable with the idea that I may get washed away!

What actually happened was some mild drizzle while we waited to start, replaced by searing heat and later scorching sunshine with no breeze at all. In fact, I came away from the race feeling like I'd been in a sauna for eight hours. I had to sit down a few times during the run just to try and give my body a chance to cool down. I remember running through a briefly shaded wooded area, until the path emerged onto another corn field we had to run across. Bright yellow sun, the golden corn, no shade...I stopped on the edge of the field just under the shade of the trees and could have cried at the prospect of more heat...but had to really force myself out into the sunshine.

If I ever had any thoughts about running MDS, or any of the desert races, this definitely put paid to them.

Throughout the race, I was very annoyed with my race pack, which just didn't seem to fit securely anymore and I had changed one of my bottles last minute but the one I brought didn't fit in the pocket of my vest properly and was bouncing around....and then my other bottle started leaking. This did mean that the new bottle could go inside the now emptied leaking bottle, which was good...but 500ml of water between each aid station wasn't ideal.

The other problem was that Francis was picking me up at the finish of the race, to go over to my mum’s, and I had told him to be there for 4pm. I had expected to finish in 6 hours. As my pace slowed, I got increasingly concerned about not arriving when I was expected, and about not having time to see my mum as planned, or to get ready for the evening. We had a restaurant table booked for 7:30pm….

The added pressure, the surprise of the hills, the unexpected temperature and lack of rain really messed with my mind and I just didn’t enjoy the race at all. It’s a shame that I struggled so much, as the countryside was absolutely beautiful, and it was nice to be running close to where I grew up.

In hindsight, when I realised how hot and hilly the course was, I should have phoned my mum, and Francis, explained I'd be later than expected, and put my Garmin in my pack and just run to feel and tried my best to enjoy the day out in the countryside. As it was, my ever slowing pace constantly played on my mind and I became obsessive about checking my watch and became more and more disappointed with how it was going, and more and more irritated by my lack of water, my race pack, the sunshine...

It was one of those races you put down to experience I suppose. I ran just under 32 hot and hilly miles, on my 32nd birthday in 6:51:43. 

I then went for birthday cake, then out for dinner, to the pub, and then clubbing, dragging myself to bed at about 3am! How my legs managed to get me dancing that night is still a mystery, but it was a brilliant end to a trying day!

Despite spending the rest of the week STILL not running, this weekend has seen a change in mood for me, and I've managed to get some exercise done despite there not being a medal available at the end! With 10 miles run yesterday, and again this morning, followed by 26 miles on the bike, I'm finally feeling a bit more like myself and ready for getting back to normal training over the coming week. It's a good job really, as I have another ultra this weekend, and the weekend after, and the Stour Valley 100km on 16th August! I really need to get ready....