Saturday 7 November 2015

Loving being a runner again

I've totally fallen back in love with running these last few weeks, and am finding that being coached by Lindley is making a massive difference. The plan he's given me is working and I can feel myself getting fitter - consistent training, hills and doing tempo runs apparently does work!

It's a good job that I'm enjoying running again...

Last night I got a place in the GUCR ballot for 2016! I'm very excited to be running this iconic race again...I made so many mistakes this year (yes, that chafing and blisters from hell!) and really want to try and learn from those and improve my time next year.

Also, I've finally had my tattoo done, at the King of Hearts studio in New Cross...something I've wanted for years! Lou Hopper was the artist. It's not quite finished, and I have another appointment at the studio in a couple of weeks, but as you can see it would be a bit of a mistake if I had already decided I was no longer a runner....

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Becoming a different person

Francis and I were talking this evening. I told him, "I got up this morning at 5am!!"
"Did you run?" he asked, totally incredulous.
"Yes, I did, again!"
"You're like a different person..."

I've always struggled with morning running, being far too lazy and happy in my bed to get up early. Even if I've managed it for a couple of days, I've always failed to maintain it, and for the last few months, I've barely been able to drag myself out on night runs either, despite telling Francis throughout every evening that I was on my way. I might sort it out and run for a few days here an there, but then would lapse back into nothing. I felt guilty for not running but couldn't make myself want to go enough to actually do it and have just been lurching from race to race! I felt like I was losing touch with who I was despite desperately fighting to get back to normal. Anyway, I can understand Franc's surprise at my 5am start, and his surprise that I was running again. 

All of a sudden, and for the first time (I think) I have been able to maintain morning runs. I've been following my plan, and we're not just talking about hauling myself out and plodding around - I've concentrated, put in some effort as well as done some sensible easy runs...tomorrow morning I've got another tempo session. It feels different...brilliant...I feel like a real runner again, like myself. I've been rewarded with some beautiful countryside trails, with stunning morning sunshine lighting up the vibrant autumn leaves, with sloshing through rain and mud. My mood generally has drastically improved.

More running = a happier and less stressed me!

So, what happened?

Running Chelmsford marathon a couple of weeks ago was so much harder than it should have been. It was a bit of a wake up call - I realised just how much of an effect not running regularly was having on my race performance, and when I saw the photos of me I realised just how much weight i'd put on too. I was not impressed with myself, especially as I knew that even feeling so disappointed wouldn't make any difference and I still wouldn't be able to make myself do any training. I realised I needed some help and something had to change if I had any chance of doing justice to all the ridiculous races I've entered for next year.

So, I emailed Lindley Chambers from Challenge Running,

I've known Lindley for about three years, have shared some miles with him out on the trail, taken part in lots of his races and he and his other half Maxine looked after me at 120 miles into the Grand Union Canal Race! He's been coaching other runners for a while now, and I thought he might be the man to kick me back into shape and to help me start training again! I've tried coaching before, and it didn't really work for me, but Lindley talked to me in great depth about my running, what I wanted from coaching, how he could help, and how we could make it work. Everything he said made a lot of sense, and so I signed up with Coach Chambers! It really feels very different this time.

Me & Lindley at this year's Saffron Trail
The training plan that Lindley's written for me makes sense, is straightforward, and suits me, and he's agreed not to ask me to cancel my races, but will work with me to help me be the best runner I can while racing as frequently as I do with legs that never really recover! He's been keeping an eye on what I'm doing via my posts on Daily Mile, and has been in very regular contact which was such a motivator for the first few days, and I'm sure will continue to be. I know that if I don't post to say that I've run that morning, he'll be getting in touch to find out why! It's also fantastic to get home after work and not have to worry about having to go for my run because I did it that morning - it's such a relief to have already done it.

So, it seems the wake-up call from Chelmsford, and of course Lindley's guiding influence, is changing me. It's only been a really short time, but out of nowhere I've maintained my commitment to morning runs, rediscovered my enthusiasm and on Sunday had a hugely enjoyable race at the Stort 30 mile event, coincidentally put on by Challenge Running. It helped that I had friends there, that the weather was perfect and the course looked absolutely stunning, but the miles ticked by really quickly and I was disappointed when the race was over. Not sure there are many people who can say that at the end of 30 miles! I was a bit frustrated with my time (5:25) as it was my slowest out of three Stort's I've run - but I know that my pace will start to improve. I love my medal too.

Now I just need to keep the momentum going...but this time I have help. I've been trying for so long to become a better runner and every time I try something new to help my training, I seem to fail after the first blog post! But when I start to lose enthusiasm for the cold and rainy mornings, and I expect I will, I'm confident that this time, Lindley isn't going to let me give up. Maybe this is where my running will really start to get better.

Monday 19 October 2015

What have I been up to? Uuuum....some running....

It's been ages since my last post (over 10 weeks) and I've completed a few events in that time, so here's a quick update:

The Stour Valley Path 100km.
This is a race that I absolutely loved last year - it's a fantastic route and the marshals and aid stations are exceptional. I did pretty well, and have been looking forward to having another go ever since. The race director, Matt, convinced me to start in the second wave (there's a 7am start and a 9am start) as only people who started later would be eligible for prizes! I was third lady last year, so there was a possibility that would be me. The later start made for a very tough race though - I was a bit out of my depth, not really fast enough. I was chasing cut offs the whole way through, and was being chased by the sweepers.

I managed to fall over at one point and hit my head, giving myself a decent headache and a bit of a black eye which didn't help matters...but I was very well looked after by a fellow runner, who ruined his race time by hanging around with me and making sure I was alright. It's that sort of thing that just goes to show was a brilliant sport this is!

My late start also meant that I finished in the dark, whereas last year it was still daylight, which I think contributed to me going the wrong way a few times, and I spent the last 5 miles or so practically walking with another runner whose headtorch really wasn't sufficient for pitch black trail running, so he could use my light. So, it wasn't the fun experience that I'd had the year before, and I was slower, but by default, as only four women started in the 9am wave, I managed to take home a trophy for 2nd Woman after finishing in 13:21 and it's one of the loveliest trophies I've ever seen.

A 40 mile run on a treadmill. 
I volunteered to be a participant  in a PhD study being conducted at Kingston University into the physiological effects of ultra running. I did a VO2 Max test, had bloods taken, saliva tests, went into one of the chambers that accurately measures your body fat percentage, and then ran for 40 miles on a treadmill, while all sorts of other statistics were measured - pace, heartrate, calorie and fluid intake, weight loss during running, and I'm sure there were more.

It was an incredibly interesting thing to be involved with, and I'm very keen to see the results of the study, but running on the treadmill was absolutely horrendous. I really struggled! There was no natural light in the room, I was too hot, I was bored, my legs hurt, it was just so tough.  It was meant to be a 50 mile run but I took so much longer than I expected I had to call it a day at 40 so I could get home.

Having not run on a treadmill for some years, I don't think I'll be getting back on one any time soon!

Kent Coastal Marathon.
I was dreading this race, as I knew how unfit I was, and I've never been a fan of the course, but actually it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable marathons I've done. I paired up with my friend Rachel, who was returning after some time out too, and we covered the full 26.2 miles together, although lots of other friends ran with us along the way as well.

The weather was gorgeous, the sea side was absolutely picture perfect, and we stopped for ice-creams a couple of times, and just laughed, chatted, ran and walked the whole way around. Consequently, it was one of the slowest marathons I've ever done, at 5:31, but it was so relaxed and so much fun, I just didn't care about the time.

Our South American adventure
Francis and I went backpacking in Peru and Boliva for three and a half weeks and had an absolutely amazing time. I only ran once, in Lima on our second day after arriving, and it wasn't the prettiest 5 miles I've ever done, but more than made up for it when we went trekking in the Andes, over the Salkantay mountain pass, to Machu Picchu, which is about 38 miles. We also climbed the mountain at Machu Picchu (Waynapicchu) as well as trekking through the Amazon in Bolvia. So altitude, heat and humidity training!  Most of our trekking in the mountains was at about 3,500m, going up to 4,500m, and it was tough - I've never been at altitude before - but it was such a great experience. It's a stunning part of the world!

Chelmsford Marathon.
This was yesterday's race. I had hoped that our exertions on holiday would be good alternative training but unfortunately it turns out trekking isn't the same as running, as I found the marathon tough fact I thought I was going to die at any point through the first 6 miles. Luckily, my body started to remember how to run and breathe at the same time, and I was much more comfortable at 10 miles, and by 18 miles I was starting to enjoy myself and was running pretty strongly. There were quite a few friends out on the course which is always great, especially as some were returning well from injury, and some ran absolutely brilliant times including a couple of PBs, and I spent a lovely couple of miles at the end running at chatting with 100 Marathon Clubber, Anna.

Although I had a negative split, it took me 4:44 to finish. I'm aching this morning too which is very unusual for me after a's just a sign of no training so need to rectify that!

Chelsmford was also my last race in my "24 ultras and marathons in 12 months" challenge, that I have been doing to raise money for the Saint Francis Hospice who helped us when my wonderful father-in-law Roger was diagnosed with cancer last year, and then passed away less than a month later.
I'm really proud to have completed this challenge, and to have included such big races (namely TP100 and GUCR), and of course glad to have raised some much needed funds for the hospice to say "thank-you". The total currently stands at £2,069 plus gift aid.

If you'd like to donate, there's still time to support me and the hospice - my justgiving page will remain open until early December.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Wednesday 5 August 2015

When you just don't want to run any more

It’s fair to say that I’ve never enjoyed “training” and in fact, I do very, very little of it - I often struggle to go running during the working week and when I do go out, my goal is usually just measured in miles. Tempo runs, hill repeats, fartlek...they're all on that list of things I should be doing but don't, like stretching and strength work. To be honest my running life is really just about constantly feeling guilty about not going for a run and lurching miraculously from race to race.
Having just gone through my spreadsheet where I record the runs I do manage, I realise I do even less than I had thought. From January this year, I see that between Monday and Friday, although some weeks I ran three or four times, on most weeks I ran much less or not at all. On average I clocked up just one run, completing an average distance of 5 miles. When you think that my weekly average since January is 38 mpw, with some weeks at zero miles and my three biggest weeks at over 100 miles, you can see how inconsistent my training is! As a comparison, last year my Monday to Friday average was 1.4 runs, with an average distance of 10 miles over the 5 days, and a weekly average of 32 mpw, with only one week at over 100 miles.
Anyway, enough of the stats. This last couple of weeks things have got even worse. Not only have I struggled during the week, I also totally lost interest in running on Saturday and Sunday. Since the emotional high of my fantastic weekend at the Saffron Trail ultra, I ran once in two weeks, and I even missed a marathon I had scheduled.
I just could not be bothered. I ate copious amounts of junk food too - not sure I've ever eaten so much chocolate in a week, and I felt lethargic and miserable. As much as I told myself, and my husband, and twitter, that I really had to go for a run, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t drag myself out of bed in the morning, and when I got home from work I was welded to the sofa. “But I must go for a run, I must go for a run”, I kept telling myself and I thought about how I was failing. Yes, FAILURE. It’s probably the thing that scares me the most. All in all, I was going through a period of what I think we generally refer to as a total loss of mojo.
I’d finish off every day adjusting my spreadsheet to record another missed run, feeling guilty and perplexed. Was I going to ever run again? Did I care if I wasn’t? I’ve just booked to have a big tattoo done, to symbolise my running...should I cancel it? I have a 100km booked on 15th August that I've been looking forward to all year. Would I even turn up, and if I did, would I crash and burn half way through as a result of my total lack of mileage? I wasn't sure what was going on in my head but I found it very confusing.
I got lots of support and some helpful advice from twitter though.  The best advice was to just let it go - stop worrying, stop feeling guilty, stop looking at the training plan. If it's meant to be, one day I’d just want to go for a run. There was also the advice to just go for a walk – find a great trail and get outside.
So, on Saturday, the day I DNS’ed my marathon, I decided to stop thinking about running. I let go of the guilt, and accepted that I didn’t want to run, and that that was OK. No pressure. We went to a beer festival instead and on Sunday, I took the dog for a walk. Didn’t wear my trainers, just my Merrell sandals. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and I decided to head for a footpath sign that I’d seen recently while in the car, and follow it to wherever it went. Turns out, it led to a beautiful cross country trail.

We crossed crop and sheep fields, meadows and walked through shady woodland – all in the space of just a few miles - and it really reminded me how very lovely it is to be outside. Chewie was bounding around and clearly enjoying himself…after a while I decided to join him as he ran.
We ran quite a bit actually. According to my Fitbit, my heart rate was elevated enough for me to think I probably ran for about 20 minutes. In my sandals, my denim shorts and t-shirt…no expectations, no blisters to worry about, no lycra to feel self-conscious in, just running for the love of the feeling of it. Relaxed, the sun shining, my heart pounding, the rush of chemicals through my brain that said, actually this is amazing. Why doesn’t every one get out and do this? The freedom. The fun of it! We didn’t see another soul and I was so happy.
On Monday night after work, after dinner, we were sat on the sofa again, watching TV again.
I decided to go and get changed. Instead of putting on the usual lounging around clothes, I opened one of my many drawers stuffed with running kit. Then I found some running socks. I pulled on my trainers. Without having thought about it at all, just concentrating on the easy steps of putting on my gear, I found myself standing by an open front door at 10.30pm. I still didn’t particularly want to go for a dull pavement run, but it just felt like the right thing to do. I was all ready so might as well go out and see what happened - with a nudge in the back from Francis, I was gone.
I did 6.5 miles, and I went quickly. Faster (for the first few miles at least) than I’ve run in a long time. As I hadn't planned to go out, I hadn't charged up my watch, so don't know how what my pace was, but I was so pleased with myself for having done it, and felt so happy that my legs hadn’t turned to mush after a fortnight off. It was exhilarating being out in the dark.
Yesterday, as soon as I got home from work, I went out again. This time, I decided to take advantage of the day light, and I took another new trail I’d discovered on the viewranger app, which started just a mile from the house. It linked up with the path I’d found on Sunday and I was out again in the fields asking myself why on earth I’ve put up with 10pm pavement runs for so long when the beautiful countryside is right on my doorstep! It was a beautiful evening and I loved it…totally motivating.
So there we go. It seems I’m back! We're only on Wednesday and I've already done more than twice my Monday to Friday average mileage, and am planning to go out again this evening. Looking forward to it even. So what was the trick? How did I rediscover my mojo? I don't really know to be honest.
The advice that resonated most was that it was ok if I didn't want to run. That I could allow myself not to, that I could choose. I think I'm starting to realise there's been quite a lot of pressure over the last few months - there was so much scrutiny over my runs at TP100 and GUCR that I somehow feel I have to keep upping my game in some way. But I don't.
I have nothing to prove. I must stop feeling permanently guilty and just remember why I love to run.
"I run to see how far I can go...
I run because if I didn’t, I’d be sluggish and glum and spend too much time on the couch. 
I run to breathe the fresh air. I run to explore. I run to escape the ordinary...
I run for the finish line and to savor the trip along the way."

 - Dean Karnazes -



Tuesday 28 July 2015

The best birthday present

It's becoming a bit of a tradition that to celebrate my birthday, I sign up for a race on the closest weekend. This year was going to be the most epic of all of my birthday events...I was going to take part in Ironman UK in Bolton which was being held on Sunday 19th July. It felt like fate - the race was actually on my birthday...and I was going to become an Ironman!!!

Unfortunately, although training started pretty well last year, once I started my new job in January, and started focusing on the GUCR, my three sport training really became a struggle, and before long, I knew Ironman wasn't likely...although I kept kidding myself until a couple of months before the big day. However, eventually I had to face facts - I just hadn't put in the training I needed, and if I turned up, it would be a very bad birthday!

So, I decided to sign up for a running event instead, and found the Saffron Trail ultra, a local Essex race, put on by my friends at Challenge Running. It was 70 miles, cross country and overnight...just my thing, and something I knew I would enjoy.

In the weeks coming up to the race, I did some recce runs to help familiarise myself with both the route, and the route instructions - some miles were on my own, some with fellow runners Nicki and Brian - which proved absolutely invaluable, and knowing the course, I was thoroughly looking forward to spending my birthday weekend doing something I love.

I had planned to get the train to the start line, down on the seafront in Southend, but Francis offered to drive me so he and Chewie were there to see me off which was very unusual but perfect - the benefit of a race that doesn't start until 6pm in the evening! It was a lovely and low key. With a few late drop-outs, and I think some people put off from signing up because last year's race had sounded pretty tough - there were just 17 runners getting ready for the race and a few family members. Lindley and Maxine were doing kit check, answering questions and making sure everyone had their trackers set up.  There were no drop bags, so as well as mandatory kit, I also had an extra headtorch and loads of food. No gels though - I've decided they just don't work for me on the long runs.

We were sent on our way at 6pm. Weather was gorgeous, and the first mile or so was busy with families, cyclists, dogs and cars for us to find our way around. A few people asked what we were doing. "Running 70 miles to Saffron Walden" - I love the look on their faces when you tell them you're doing something they just don't believe!

We were soon on a trail path though, but it didn't take long for the other runners to disappear off in front of me - the last I saw of the main group, they were running up a steep hill to Hadleigh Castle. Running up hills, unless you're incredibly fit, is just something I don't understand and I felt I'd misjudged how fast everyone else was going to be...just a couple of miles in and I was second to last bar the sweepers! Although I was a bit shocked at the pace, I felt relaxed, and knew I was going to have a lovely time - even if I was going to be last, I was still going to enjoy myself.

Having recce'd the route was a great confidence booster - everything looking familiar just made such a difference, and I soon settled into a comfortable pace and was plugged into my ipod. The weather was perfect, and it didn't take long before I found myself at the first checkpoint. I'd overtaken Nicki by this point, but still hadn't seen any of the other runners since those first couple of miles!

I headed on, and don't really remember details of the race - the route was lovely, with trail through woodland, across towns and villages, crop fields and along farm tracks. Generally pretty flat but with enough hills to provide ample walking opportunity, and the paths that had been terribly overgrown while I was out on my previous runs of the course all seemed to have been cut back so nothing was too difficult to get through. Obviously, I got scratched and stung by brambles and nettles, but that's to be expected and all part of the fun...

Photo from
I do remember running through Hullbridge as the sun was setting. The light across the River Crouch was beautiful and the sun became such a vibrant orange. I didn't stop to get a picture but have Googled this one to give you an idea...

Dusk fell just as I got to a main road, and I pulled my headtorch out but felt pretty vulnerable, and with the failing light knew it would difficult for drivers to see me. I wished I'd worn more reflective gear! Luckily, the road sections were all quite short, and after the next checkpoint, I was back on the trail and started to feel pretty good. It always takes me a while to get warmed up, but I love running in the dark (it feels like a bigger adventure) and I was very happy by now. I remember seeing bats swooping through the air. I started to think I could see lights in the distance (UFOs?) but realised it was headtorches from other runners up a hill. I wondered if some of the runners had gone off too fast and were now starting to lose their pace. Sure enough, I realised I was getting closer, and then as we came to the next field, I realised there were quite a few people. This was one field where the path wasn't cleared at all, so we had to go through the crops. Everyone in the group was walking, and I'm sorry to say the competitor in me realised that this would be a great opportunity to pass a number of them all at once, and it was a chance I should take. So I did...I carried on running through the field (high knees through the plants!), overtook them all, and put on a bit of speed for the next mile or so until I was confident I had cleared them. Again, I think it really helped that I knew where I was going.

Then I got lost.

I crossed a stile into a field full of sheep. I didn't want to startle them or unduly upset the flock, so decided to take a detour. Needless to say, I'm no ninja, and soon there seemed to be hundreds of pairs of eyes reflected in my torchlight, before they all decided to run away from me. Unfortunately, by then I had totally lost my way across the field, and couldn't work out where the path was, or where the gate was to get out of the field on the other side. I was utterly disoriented, and just ended up running around the field, and then nearly ended up in a lake! In the dark it didn't look like water, just a dark area that I though was caused by shadow from the trees above (although thinking about it, there wasn't really any moon, so shadow from what?!). Anyway, I managed to stop myself before I went for a swim, but was ready to despair, when I saw those familiar headtorches heading across the field. The group I'd passed had caught me up.

Although I was a bit annoyed at having wasted my efforts in getting past them earlier, I was thankful that they were there, as the path was obviously in a totally different direction, and I could have been wandering around in that field until the sun rose!

I followed their lights, and found the path, the stile over the fence, and was eventually back on my way. Another checkpoint was soon after this, and I arrived here just after the girl who was running as 1st Lady, and so decided this would be my opportunity to get back into the position I wanted. However...first...we had the serious business of refuelling, and as I had my bottles refilled by the lovely Hazel, and sampled some of the brilliant variety of snacks that we had at every check point, another volunteer informed me that it was just after midnight...that meant it was my birthday, and so I was treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday. I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather have been! It was lovely.

I quickly sorted myself out though, and headed off before the rest of the group, anxious to re-establish myself as 1st Lady.

Along the next section, is a field that I remembered from when I recce'd the course, that had lots of cows and calves in - we'd had to clamber over a barbed wire fence as they were all sat around the gate. After the sheep field debacle, I checked the map, which Lindley prints on the back of the route instructions, and decided to take a detour around the field, sticking to the road instead. It seemed slightly longer, but I didn't want to be dealing with cows in the dark!

Soon enough, after another detour from the route I'd recce'd, this time due to construction work, I was in Chelmsford. I'd been dreading this - it was about 1:30am with drunk people spilling out of the clubs. I counted myself lucky that I got through town with only a couple of cat-calls...nothing too concerning...but running through the park where I felt particularly uncomfortable, I was so relieved to see a supporter out on the path. He had coffee, water and gels with him, but just to see a smiling face at that point was a real boost. He said he lived really close to the route, but I assume he was out there waiting for a friend. Anyway, it was very much appreciated!

On I went, and everything was fine - I was feeling pretty chirpy and amazed at how my body was holding together. The Achilles pain that I struggle with most days had totally dissipated at about 20 miles in, and I was very pleased that it hadn't returned and to be honest I felt better than I usually do.

I reached the checkpoint by Tilty Church and had got to that seemingly inevitable point of not wanting anything to eat but knowing I had to have something. They had cheese! Usually I carry Babybel but had forgotten to buy any and this was the perfect snack at that time. I refuelled well as we chatted.

Maxine told me I was only the second runner they'd seen. I was in 2nd place as well as being 1st Lady! I was very surprised - I must have been doing better than I thought - and when I left, I was very determined that I would not be caught. I felt strong, but found myself checking over my shoulder whenever I was taking a walking break to make sure I couldn't see any runners gaining on me. I got a bit paranoid!

It had tried to rain a bit a few times in the night, and this continued in the early morning, but aside from a 10 minute absolute downpour, there hadn't been anything too heavy. I'd had my coat out a couple of times, to protect everything in my race vest if nothing else, and even after the torrential shower, I dried off quickly.

So, things were going well. But unfortunately, this didn't last for long. I hadn't recce'd the last 10 miles or so. I got lost again. VERY LOST.

So lost, that after endless wandering around trying to find a bridge, I waded through an ankle deep stream, with even deeper mud, hauled myself up over the other side of the steep bank, only to have to climb over a double layered barb wire fence, to get into a field on the other side. And I still wasn't any the wiser as to where I should go. In trying to work out it out, I managed to drain my phone battery and then realised I'd left my portable battery pack in my kit bag :( In the end I gave up trying to find the right way, and headed towards buildings, and just kept moving until I found a found a road. I started running in one direction, but on checking the map, quickly decided I was going the wrong way and started running along the road in the other direction. I wasn't entirely confident though, and when I saw a cyclist, I flagged her down, and asked if she knew where on the map we were. She only knew the road we were on, and the direction she was headed, but that was enough, and it confirmed that I was going to right way - I was soon able to follow the map to get back onto the Saffron Trail path. However, I was annoyed by this time, with myself for being so daft as to not being able to follow route instructions, with my shoes (the insole in one of my trainers had got rucked up from the dunking in the stream, and the water had also destroyed the adhesive on the velcro that was keeping my gaiter on the back of my shoe) and with the assumption that loads of runners would have passed me by now with all my wandering around and detouring! I wasn't happy!

On I went though, and managed to go the right way for the rest of the race. At the last checkpoint, I was greeted by friends Rosemary and Liz, singing Happy Birthday at me again. They were so positive and it was lovely to see them, although I was in a thoroughly bad mood at this stage. They cheered me up though, and gave me the good news that I was still ahead of the other runners. I could have stood around chatting with them for ages, but knew I had to keep going so on I went for the last stretch, just 4.5 miles to the finish.

I headed on, and, as is always the way, the last few miles seem to take forever. Eventually though I got to Saffron Walden, and randomly saw Maxine at the side of the road. I was walking but realised I must be really close to the end and so we ran together towards the finish. Again, totally low key, but perfect - Lindley gave me a trophy for 1st Lady, a prize courtesy of, my medal, and a chocolate birthday cake! I couldn't have asked for better birthday presents.

Although the field was very small, I was also incredibly pleased at coming 2nd overall.  I finished in 16hrs 28 minutes, and beat last year's women's course record by nearly four hours.

Manic after being given
chocolate cake
I got changed in a gazebo/tent they'd put up and sat around chatting until some of the other runners finished, and then Francis and Chewie turned up to collect me. We played with the dog for a bit in the sunshine before I started to get tired and realised I'd been up for over 26 hours, had run 70+ miles, and could probably do with some sleep, and so Francis drove me home.

Unfortunately, due to the very low numbers, it's unlikely that the race will be held again next year, or if it is, it'll be during the day instead of overnight. I would definitely sign up for a day race, as some of the views are stunning and obviously we missed them in the dark, but the challenge of night running is something I relish. If this was the last Saffron Trail overnight race, I'm very glad I got a chance to experience it!

A huge thank you to Lindley, Maxine, and all of the fabulously supportive volunteers. It was a brilliant race, a brilliant birthday. #loverunning

Tuesday 30 June 2015

The Great Barrow Challenge - 4in4

This weekend, I took part in the Great Barrow Challenge in Suffolk. It's a running festival, with people taking on half marathons, marathons, ultras, and combinations of the three, over a 10 day period. The most extreme option is running 10 x 50km ultras in 10 days! Each day's course is different to the last, but generally a mix of hilly trail and road, and you follow route instructions and signs to find your way. It's epic but very low key, and you can stay on site if you like, either in dorm rooms or camping. There's beer on tap, an ice bath paddling pool, and massages for not much money. It's my first time, but I think I'll be back!

I had signed up to do the quad - four marathons in four days - and although that sounds a bit epic in itself, with my 10in10 and recent ultra experience behind me, I was confident it wouldn't be an issue and wasn't really thinking about it too much. I'd had a high mileage weekend of 40 miles running along the Saffron Trail just a few days before the event started, and so it's fair to say it wasn't any sort of key race for me, and I was really doing it to see what all the fuss was about (lots of people talk about how good the GBC is) and to up my numbers for my 24 in 12 challenge. I wasn't staying over either, choosing instead to drive back home every evening to minimise the impact on home life.

However, it turns out, running marathons is actually pretty tough. I think with all the ultras, I'd forgotten...

Us at ZZ Top
I didn't help myself. I had a really busy day at work on Wednesday, and must have clocked up lots of miles on my feet walking around the campus, and then night before Day One, I was at a ZZ Top gig in Wembley with Francis! We had snacks for dinner, I had a couple of ciders, and although it was awesome, and I enjoyed it immensely, it also meant that I had a night on my feet and only a few hours sleep before the alarm went off at 4:30am the next day and I was getting ready for the first marathon.

I arrived early and the place was very quiet but got myself registered and ready. I was hoping for runs of under 5 hours each day (in the end, I don't think I managed a sub 5 once!) but through force of habit was still wearing my S-Lab race vest to carry water and "stuff". I knew a few other people who were running (some friends were taking on the ten marathons in ten days) and it was all very social at the start, as we chatted away. Soon though we were running. I quickly realised that this was going to be much harder than expected!

The start on day 1

It was very hot and sunny, and I struggled a bit with the directions (going marginally wrong in the first few miles, to be repeated later on, as I got lost). I felt incredibly tired, unfit and with the temperatures not helping matters, was nauseous and ended up walking much more than I had wanted to. The aid stations were less well stocked than I've been used to (I think I have been spoiled) and I was frequently frustrated with the limited food and drink available - both in quantity and variety! Everyone was very friendly though, and there was a really positive vibe that permeated every aspect of the GBC. The courses were all pretty enough too, but I found myself just looking at my feet most of the time, trying to grind out the finish!

In the end, of course, I got there. Awarded my medal, I jumped straight in the car and headed off for the hour and a half drive back home.

After day 3, trying to get Chewie to pose!
It was the same the next day. Up stupidly early, very hot and sunny, limited checkpoints, really struggled, felt sick and ate very little. But this time, I was even slower and walked even more, feeling very disappointed with how I was getting on and wishing that I had prepared a bit more seriously for running 106 miles in four days!

In an effort to try and improve things for day 3, I wore my Um Bongo vest, which is awesome and always gets comments. I ditched my iPod, the pressure of my Garmin and my race vest, and just ran carrying a bottle of water. I thought getting back to basics and just relaxing into the run would be a good idea. This worked to some extent, and I enjoyed having less pressure - and wearing my top made me smile - but as well as the nausea I was now starting to get intermittent, agonising, stomach cramps. I wasn't impressed, and was seriously considering a DNS for the 4th day...I just wasn't having a good time. I'm not sure I can remember having such miserable runs...

Day 4 dawned...and I overslept, massively. Subconsciously I think I'd decided I wasn't going to run, especially as my stomach issues had continued all evening and I'd not been able to eat much with my appetite having totally disappeared. I must have switched off the alarm without properly waking up. I suddenly came to at 6:30am...half an hour after I should have left. Bearing in mind it had been taking me an hour and a half to drive to the race, which started at 8am, this was not good news!

Without even considering my DNS plans, I threw on some clothes and fell into the car. No time (or desire) for breakfast, but grabbed babybel and a banana although didn't pick up a water bottle. Totally unprepared for running, I just drove as fast as I could (safely, legally etc etc :P) to try and make the start. I arrived at 7:45am, and had to drive through the crowd of runners who had assembled for the race briefing. But I made it, and was even in time for our group photo:

All the Day 4 runners

I had a much better run on the fourth day - it was cooler, and it rained for a while, which was such a welcome relief! I also spent much more of the day running with other people, which made a massive difference, and although I didn't have any water with me, the aid stations were close enough together (every four or five miles I think) that I was fine to get through. My nausea was still there, and the cramping in my stomach was getting worse...sometimes I found myself doubled over with the pain...but it was occasional, and I knew I could keep going. Most of the route was on road, and that made it easier, and there were lots of signs out on the course which made finding our way more straightforward, with only a few sections were we had to rely on guesswork! Eventually, I finished, and had run my fastest marathon of the quad, although only by a few minutes.

Over the four days, I was much slower than I had hoped for when I was going into the event, but they're tough courses, with lots of hills, a fair amount of trail, and to be honest, I probably ran the times I deserved - tired legs going into the event, no preparation, and, as it turns out, I was unwell. I went to the doctor yesterday about the stomach cramps - I either have gallstones, a stomach ulcer, or something unknown. I'm being booked in for an ultrasound and blood tests and given various drugs. We will have to wait and see what the outcome is.

But, thankfully, I made it through my 4 marathons in 4 days. I'm very pleased that my legs felt fine throughout, with no DOMS to worry about, and I didn't pick up any injury despite not using the massage or ice bath facilities. I also got some great medals, a lovely trophy, and some ridiculous tan lines as a result, and I've made and cemented some friendships which is probably the most important and valued outcome of all.


Monday 8 June 2015

Too much too soon

Yesterday I ran the Stour Valley Marathon, a race that I have been looking forward to all year since defering my 2014 entry. It rounded off a 46 mile week, my first of the Juneathon challenge.

The race didn't disappoint - it was an absolutely beautiful (hilly) course, and I enjoyed the challenge and adventure of it being self-navigation. It was a bit hot for me, and I found myself struggling with heavy legs - as it turns out I'm really not yet recovered from GUCR. In hindsight, I think two weeks was too soon for my first race.  I was shattered last night, fell asleep very early, and today I feel wiped out - I haven't been so weary after a marathon for years. It was also my second slowest marathon ever, but I'm still so glad I did it -  a wonderful day out in the countryside, and look at my amazing medal!

However, I've decided to withdraw from next week's race, my paired attempt at Endure 24 with my friend Emma. I feel awful for letting her down, but I have to be sensible - I have too many niggles that are on the verge of developing into something more serious, and I'm just too tired. I need more of a rest before I start running long again. I'll keep my training runs short over the next few weeks, and give my body a proper chance to recuperate.

Monday 1 June 2015

Setting new goals

Now I've stopped carrying my GUCR medal around with me and I've had a whole week off running to recover, today I start the next phase in my training, with a new focus on trying to cut down my weight, a commitment to take part in Juneathon (running every day in June) to get me back to some level of consistency, and a whole host of races to get ready for over the next few months. But it's not just about the training...I need to set myself some new goals.

As soon as I crossed the line at GUCR I knew that I wanted to have another go, but to be in a position to run it really well - to be fitter and better prepared, taking the lessons I had learnt from this year's race. However, I've decided that I want to try some more long events, and so as well as going into the ballot for GUCR when it opens later in the year, and probably entering TP100 again, and possibly the South Downs Way 100, I have decided to step it up.

I'm going to apply for a place in one of Mark Cockbain's infamous events, the Viking Way Ultra.

  • 147 miles, non-stop, self navigation.
  • From the Humber Bridge in North Lincolnshire to Oakham in Rutland.
  • 2,295m of ascent.
  • 40 hour cut off, with additional cut offs at 50 and 100 miles.
  • Checkpoints with basic provisions are every 15 - 20 miles.
  • No crews or pacers are allowed.

This sounds totally hardcore, and has a very high drop out rate (only 20% of starters finish) and Mimi Anderson is the only woman to have ever completed it, so far! However, there are a few women out on the ultra scene at the moment who seem to love the long stuff as much as I do, so I'm sure there would be quite a few of us next year...

But you know what? I really think this is something I can do. It feels ridiculous and strange to believe in myself so much, but that is the gift that GUCR has given me.

Now, I just have to see if Mark will accept my application. He has to decide if I'm experienced enough to give the race a go... Fingers crossed.

**Next day update:my application has been accepted! I'm paid up and on the entry list. Very excited :D

Friday 29 May 2015

A long run deserves a long blog post

I still can’t believe I did it – it’s surreal but wonderful and I am very proud of myself for completing the 145 miles of the Grand Union Canal Race. As an unsupported runner (although I had some friends and family pop up around the course to cheer me on) and without any pacers (or buddies as they’re called for this event), I made it to the finish line in 37 hours 21 minutes, as 3rd Lady, and it was epic.

Such a momentous race requires a momentous blog post. I want to capture as much as I can about the weekend – it was incredibly special for me but already I can feel every mile merging into one! However, here's the short version:-

GUCR was brilliant the first day. The route covers some beautiful countryside, the canal is an incredibly interesting place, and everyone I met was lovely. The night was tough, the second day even tougher and I suffered horrendously with blisters and chafing that became quite debilitating - I walked the last 12 miles incredibly slowly and sacrificed a much better time than I could have achieved had I sucked up the pain! I hugely appreciated the support of friends and family out on the course, especially from Steph and Keith who were there a few times on both Saturday and Sunday. The Springlock CP crew saved my race by draining my blisters and taping my feet and looking after me when I fainted. I’m blown away by the online support that I received but sadly didn’t know that everyone was tracking me until after I’d finished. Crossing the finish line was the most amazing feeling of all. Now I think that I can do absolutely anything and my medal is now one of the most valuable things I own!

Thank you so much to all of you who sponsored me for the run...I've raised over £1,400 for the Saint Francis Hospice which is fantastic! I do hope that donations will keep coming in though, as I take on new challenges over the rest of the year

I don’t expect anyone to read the rest of this post, it's for my own memories as much as anything, but here is the long version:-

Although I’ve been counting down to the GUCR for the last few months, and reading, and rereading the incredibly detailed instructions, advice and route maps that Dick Kearn, the long-standing, famous and dearly loved Race Director for GUCR had painstakingly created for all of his runners, it wasn’t until I'd finished TP100 three weeks before that I started to feel that GUCR was actually going to happen. I started writing lists (I love a good list) and reading blogs about other people’s experiences, and looking at the maps in much more detail. Then I’d put the maps away again quickly because they were quite scary. 145 miles on a map looks a very, very long way!

In the week before, I saw photos from fellow runners laying out their kit and packing their bags, preparing themselves for what was to come. I was being very proactive at writing even more lists, and created a pace plan, but hadn’t actually managed to get anything useful sorted out, although in my defense I was taking a Beet It shot every day, trying to get a week of early nights, and was on a caffeine ban too.

However, after some last minute panic shopping for various bits of kit (some I used and some I didn’t) by Thursday night I had everything I thought I would need, ready to be packed up on Friday morning, before I caught the train that afternoon.

All went well, and I arrived in Birmingham in good time. Having looked on the map, I’d decided it wasn’t too far, so would walk from the train station to the hotel where race registration was held. I didn’t realise how much further it would seem carrying my two drop bags. I eventually made it though, having had a number of stops to rest my weary arms. I walked into the reception to see lots of slim, athletic, ultra-runner type men standing around…while I was hot, sweaty, breathing heavily and looking like a complete fraud. I’m sure everyone must have assumed I was crew, there’s no way this unathletic, overweight, dumpy woman was going to attempt this most arduous of events.

But hey ho, I tried to push those feelings right to the back of my mind, and smiled and chatted as I picked up my British Waterways key, and the race kit that I’d ordered. I packed them away quickly without daring to look at them, for fear of tempting fate, before briefly popping into the pub opposite where more runners were congregating, before heading off to the hotel I was staying at. Although it was another relatively short walk, I took a cab this time.

I was booked into the Premier Inn at Waterloo Street, and it was cheap (£35) but very comfortable and had everything I needed. I unpacked my bags, laying out all my kit to make sure I had everything I needed. For the first race in I don’t know how long, I actually had remembered it all! I set all my tech charging, had a wonderfully relaxing bath, dined on snacks I’d brought with me, and kept checking how quickly the sunlight was going (so I had a reference for when I’d need my headtorch the next night). I was earplugged up with lights out by about 10pm.

That's me on the far right, talking to Roz
I couldn’t have asked for a better night’s sleep, and when my alarm rang at the ungodly hour of 4:15am I jumped out of bed and was feeling very excited. Before long I found myself at Gas Street, loading my kit bags onto the van, and nervously chatting to other runners, completely incredulous at the challenge that lay ahead. What on earth was I thinking??? Nerves had definitely started to creep in.

Soon we were called through to the side of the canal, and the start. A quick briefing from the very smartly dressed Dick Kearn included the news that this year’s race would be his last as RD after 21 years. It made it feel even more special that I was lucky enough to have got through the ballot process this year. Without much fanfare, the 100 of us were suddenly off.

I remember seeing Mimi Anderson and a couple of guys disappear off into the distance...then I started to see everyone disappear into the distance.

Mimi leading the way
I was running faster than I’d planned but most people seemed to be running sub 10 min/miles! I was amazed but hung back and just tried to concentrate on sticking to my plan of starting slowly and staying comfortable. I was hopeful that I would make up places later on in the race, as I often do after such very steady starts!

The miles ticked by, the nerves evaporated, and I started to enjoy myself. I still couldn’t believe I was so far towards the back of the pack, but tried not to let it worry me. I made sure I took the time to look around me and appreciate the beautiful countryside and interesting route. I have never seen so many ducklings, goslings, and cygnets, and every time a little duck family swam past, I had to watch them. I didn’t get bored of the cuteness all the way to the end! There were lambs in the fields too and it was just lovely. There were a few too many swans and geese for my liking though, and at one point I got hissed at by a swan as I tried to get past their cygnets who had taken up residence on the path. Coward that I am, I waited for the next runner to catch me up and passed the swan with him on the right side to protect me!

Checkpoints were few and far between, as I knew they would be, but well stocked with food (I vividly remember the chocolate dipped strawberries and fudge!) and although at about 25 miles I could feel blisters starting on my feet, in that same place they always appear, I was unconcerned, and sure it’d all be alright. I was feeling pretty confident about it all! The weather was perfect for running, and all in all, I was feeling comfortable and having a good day. I was very dedicated to my plan of walking my 0.1 of every mile, although later on this became the first 0.1 of every half a mile, but made sure I did it regardless of how I was feeling, as I know it makes a difference – if I keep it up, I just don’t get the aches and pains that would inevitably afflict me if I was moving at the same pace, in the same way, for hours on end. 

The beautiful canal

I was trying to be very disciplined about my nutrition too. I was drinking to thirst, and adding electrolyte tablets to my bottles at each refill, and eating every four miles. I was carrying flapjack, dried mango, babybel, and salted nuts which suit me. I also had loads of gels with me – a whole box in my drop bag too – but after feeling nauseous for much of TP100 I decided to avoid them for as long as I could, and only ended up having two on the Sunday. This was a great decision and my stomach coped so much better than it ever has before on a long run. During the night, I supplemented the food I was carrying with packs of Rolos which were great – each one a delicious sugar shot!

There were a few other runners who I knew out on the course – most of them had passed me very early on, but it had been good to say a brief hello to Paul Ali, Roz and Fiona. There were also lots of runners who were leapfrogging me, and I them throughout the race…I’d pass, then walk, then they’d pass, and sometimes you’d run together for a bit for a chat. It was really nice and everyone was very friendly.

What was particularly lovely, and unexpected, was to see friends Steph and Keith out on the course a few times. I was struggling a bit with the distance between the checkpoints, and a lack of water, as I was only carrying my two Salomon soft bottles (in hindsight, should have used a bladder in my race vest for more water), and along the whole course I think I only saw one of the drinking water taps at the locks. I’d told Steph this, and after chatting to another runner who was also struggling and fancied some Fanta, bless them, they went off to find a village shop and came back to find us both at a later point, with bottles. So appreciated and made such a big difference!!

The checkpoint at Navigation Bridge particularly sticks in my mind. I was feeling pretty down when I got there, at 70 miles – my blisters had been getting progressively worse throughout the day, it was starting to feel a bit too much like hard work, and I was just going through a bad patch.

Rich Cranswick was there, awaiting the runner he was going to be buddy running with, and he was cheery as ever. He said how well I was doing, bearing in mind after TP100 I’d said to him that I didn’t think I would even get to the GUCR start line, but I barely said a word to him. I felt terrible about that for many more miles to come.

Sharon was also here too – she seemed to be everywhere during the race, at the start, turning on my tracker, and at many of the checkpoints looking after me, and I really appreciate the difference that she made.  She offered me hot food and drink, which I declined, and then I was offered it over and over again, which made us all laugh as the CP team were so very keen that I have some and someone new kept appearing, assuming I hadn’t been properly looked after by the others because I didn’t have a plate in my hand.

I got changed into my night gear, repacked my bag and Sharon filled up my bottles, and I soon headed off and was in much higher spirits that I had arrived in.

As well as my blisters, I was also suffering with some serious chafing…in unmentionable places! ;) I had planned to reapply the vaseline at Navigation Bridge but in a daft episode of shyness, I wanted somewhere a bit out of sight to do it. There didn’t seem to be anywhere, so I didn’t reapply and just stupidly soldiered on. A mistake I would repeat at every checkpoint and come to deeply regret!

The night started well – I generally enjoy running at night – and I was very happy with my decision to buy a second Petzl Tikka RXP Head Torch rather than having to worry about changing batteries (although I was also carrying spares in case) or using a less well powered secondary torch. I spent a fair amount of time plugged into the iPod - I had set up a playlist, and downloaded three books to listen to which helped keep me occupied over the weekend. I generally made better time than expected, keeping to my running/walking strategy. As these things always do, the night has turned into a bit of a blur, but I know it started getting tougher and tougher, my feet were getting more and more agonising, and my chafing was getting more and more raw. I remember the checkpoint in the middle of the night was a welcome relief – Rod had come down as he lived quite close and it was so nice to see him. A few other familiar faces too, and I chugged another can of red bull, had a few snacks, refilled my food and was soon on my way. But again…there wasn’t anywhere “private” enough that I felt I could go to apply more Vaseline, and so I just didn’t put any more on. 

Onwards into the darkness.
I remember having to climb through a tree that had fallen across the path. That was odd…I think I must have missed a diversion. I remember so many of the houseboats being beautifully lit up with fairy lights. I remember the group of teenagers that it felt tried to start a fight with me (I’m sure they didn’t in hindsight). I remember the bats swooping down. I remember lots of pain too.
At one point, I sat down on a bench by a lock. This was the first time I’d sat down all race (I always try not to sit at all) but I just desperately had to take the weight off my blisters for a brief second. It was bliss, but didn’t make the pain any less when I started moving again – realising it didn’t help, I didn’t do it again until much later.
I reached 100 miles in just over 23 hours – faster than I had run the TP100, and despite the blisters and the chafing, was feeling in much better shape. In fact, if it wasn’t for these incredibly annoying problems that were of my own making and could have been avoided with more sensible planning (i.e wearing shoes that fit me, and regularly applying Vaseline) I think could have been significantly faster to this point. My body itself was feeling fine and I wasn’t even that tired, the red bull and caffeinated electrolyte tablet I was using in one of my bottles, doing the job.
My handiwork
By the time I got to the checkpoint at 105 miles there was sunshine and I should have been feeling more positive but I just wanted to cut my feet off. Instead of such drastic action, while I was being made a bacon sandwich by another of the wonderful checkpoint crew (although I couldn’t face the bread and just ate the bacon) I borrowed some scissors and cut off the sides of my trainers. In preparation for the race, and knowing I was likely to get blisters, I had practiced on an old pair, so knew where to cut and what to do. When I put my shoes back on the blisters pushed happily through the holes! When I left the checkpoint, for about 200 yards, I felt like all my blister troubles were over as it felt so much easier on my feet…but I soon realised I had blisters under the sole as well, and the relief was limited. 
On I went though, with the sun really starting to warm things up.
The next 20 miles were the hardest. I was in agony with my feet, I was far too hot in my long sleeved night top that for some reason I hadn’t changed out of, and the heat was making me sweat more, making the chafing even worse. AAAargh!!!! Thankfully, during this section, I saw some family who had come down to cheer me on. It was a total surprise to see them and I was so pleased, although I’m not sure it came across that way as I didn’t stop. I did though, run with the children, Rosie and Rufus, for a couple of hundred yards, and although very brief, that is a special memory.
Onward…onwards…keep moving….then I saw Becca, Mark, and Steph and Keith again. I was in a particularly bad mood I think but so happy to see them. Having a familiar face is a godsend when it’s tough! But I kept going….
I saw them once more, and this time I sat down and had a bit of a moan about my feet. I had run out of water in one of my bottles and testament to how despondent I was feeling, when Becca offered to refill it from her bottle, I said I was fine, a number of times, until she just took my bottle from me and refilled it anyway! Good job she did – the next push onto the checkpoint was horrendous and took me forever as I was barely running at all. Chafing was agony, and at one point I took my trainers off and just walked along the grass for a bit of relief from the blisters.
The checkpoint at Springwell Lock eventually arrived, at 11.20am and I was so relieved! It was manned by good friend Lindley, his girlfriend Maxine and their respective children, and another lovely lady whose name I don’t know. I planned to cut more of my trainers away. When I asked for scissors, Lindley sat me down and despite my protestations, took off my trainers, socks, and managed to remove the evil and useless Compeed that I’d put on my feet before the run, and he proceeded to drain my bulging blisters. This must have been a truly horrible job but was so appreciated. Maxine then taped up my feet. While I was sat down, I started to feel woozy, and as I so often seem to do, managed to faint away, apparently quickly followed by a power nap! I came to in a different chair, feeling quite unwell. Maxine and the other CP lady looked after me, feeding me up and getting me changed into a tshirt – that felt a lot cooler, a lot better. Once I was ready to go, they walked with me for 10 minutes to make sure I was ok, before letting me wander off on my own. My feet were feeling much better although still incredibly sore, and my chafing was preventing me from running. I walked for the next forty minutes or so, and was very upset about the whole situation. Treating the blisters, fainting and walking so much had taken up loads of time, and I was annoyed at myself. My body still felt fine, but I was just struggling to keep move forward.
I’m not sure how but at some point I became numb to pain of my blisters and chafing, and decided I just had to run if I was ever going to get it done.
I found a second wind. The Springwell Lock team had saved my race and I was so grateful.
When I started running again everything suddenly felt right and I was so much happier – I even started to enjoy myself again. I remember running in front of a pub with lots of people sat outside - a lady clapped me, and said I was the only person in the race she’d seen running instead of walking. I was very pleased.
I was following my run/walk strategy again, and although I managed to get a bit lost at this stage, going over a bridge I shouldn’t have done, the bonus miles were minimal, and in some of my run sections I was hitting 11min/mile pace. This lasted about 10 miles, and I loved it.
At some point, the pain kicked in again.
Too many swans at Nici's checkpoint
I got to the final checkpoint at about 32 hours. There was Nici, who I’d be looking forward to seeing all race, with a big hug. Lovely! Sharon was there again, and it was only after the race finished that I realised it was Ed Catmur who had filled my bottles. I would have been starstruck if I’d noticed at the time :P 
Nici soon kicked me out of the checkpoint and on my way, and I happily went off to get the race finished. It was only 12 miles until the end, nothing in the scheme of what we’d already run, but unfortunately it wasn’t that easy. 
Pretty much as soon as I’d rounded the corner from the aid station, I started walking again, and I totally lost my head. The pain came back in waves, and I decided, after a few run attempts, that the pain during running wasn’t worth the better time, and I was going to walk it in. It took me nearly 5.5 hours to cover 12 miles! Incredible – I never thought I could be so slow, but not only was I walking, I kept stopping too. To sit down, or lean over, resting my hands on my knees, or to check the bridge numbers for no reason other than to justify spending a little more time not moving. I’d just given up trying because it hurt so much. Totally rubbish and in hindsight I am SO disappointed with that final section. Eventually though I was about 1.5 miles away, and I saw Francis and Chewie coming towards me along the path. WOOHOO!!!! I was very, very pleased to see them, but I couldn’t chat at all so I’m really sorry to Francis for being so mardy. Further along, my friend Simeon was waiting – again a total surprise that he’d come out to support. Lovely to see him - I walked on ahead, and Simeon and Francis chatted. He's running Comrades this weekend.
I knew we must be nearly there, but the finish seemed to take an absolute age to appear. In the end, something switched in my brain and I couldn’t take walking any more. "I’m going to run", I said to the boys, and was off. I just dealt with the pain, and found myself able to move. Why I couldn’t have done that for the preceding 10 miles god only knows. I was annoyed with myself again. Anyway.
The path seemed to go on forever, but eventually, I could see the finish gantry. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me – it felt like a sprint but in reality it was probably more like a waddle. But it didn’t matter…because I had finally finished. Dick hung the medal around my neck, and he shook my hand, and I welled up. I didn’t want to cry but I was SO emotional, and so happy. It was quite unbelievable that it was over and that I had achieved something so ridiculous. I finished in 37hrs 21 minutes, and was 3rd Lady. Mimi Anderson was 1st Lady – sharing a podium with Mimi (albeit in print only) has to be the highlight of my running career and I doubt it's something that I will ever top! Despite being disappointed that I had essentially given up towards the end, I was still very pleased to have finished well within my goal time of 40 hours.
I immediately took my trainers off, and everything was alright with the world again. I was on a massive high and very chatty with everyone, wandering around and getting in everyone’s way as I didn’t want to sit down. Lindley and his CP crew were there, as were lots of others I’d seen earlier in the race. I waited until Simeon and Francis joined us, and stayed, cheering in more of the runners who were finishing. It was wonderful, heart warming, and I would have loved to have stayed all night, except all of a sudden I felt I was shutting down. I said my goodbyes and Francis guided me over to the car. I was asleep in minutes.
As soon as we got home, I had a shower, applied sudocrem to the chafing, which on inspection wasn’t chafing anymore, but bleeding wounds, and drained the other blisters on my feet that had come up around the taping. I had an iodine solution footbath, and as the water soaked the tape away, I realised why I had been in so much pain with my feet!
On turning my phone on that night, I saw how much incredible support there’d been for me during the race. I’d hired a tracker, primarily so Francis knew where I was and so could come and pick me up at the right time, but I was absolutely blown away that anyone other than he and my mum had been watching! But apparently they had, in their droves, and everyone had sent me messages of support and congratulations. It was so touching, absolutely overwhelming in fact! The running community is so incredibly special and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.
Amazingly, I didn’t pick up any injuries, and although on Monday and Tuesday I was glued to the sofa, only hobbling to the kitchen and back, by Wednesday morning I was walking around, able to take the stairs normally, and my blisters and chafing were healing well. I decided to make the most of my day off work and headed down to the coast to support at the Dunkirk 6hr Challenge, before planning to see my brother and the family in Canterbury. Being at the race was incredible – everyone treated me like an absolute celebrity! I was very lucky that Ellen Cottom, who has inspired me as a runner for years since The Toad in 2012, was there – she’s run GUCR twice, finishing last year, and is taking on Thames Ring 250 this year! Also, Janet Cobby, who I didn’t know, but is also a GUCR finisher from a few years ago. I got a photo with them both – it felt really special - they are incredible women to aspire to be like!

Now, to get ready for next year. I will definitely put my name in the ballot, and, if I'm lucky enough to get another place, see what I can achieve at this race with some decent preparation. I need to lose weight so my chafing isn’t so inevitable, I need to buy some trainers that fit me for the beginning of the race, and some bigger ones, to change into during the race. I need to train more. Next year, I will see just how good an ultra runner I can be.

Many thanks to Ross Langton, Anna Hatton, Lindley Chambers & Keith Niven for the use of their photos.