Monday, 16 July 2018

My 100 marathons & my next challenge

When Francis and I first got together in 2006, I didn’t run, in fact, I didn’t do any exercise at all. I didn’t own a bike, had never run, I was not the outdoors type – I liked a pub or a club, dancing and drinking.

After being utterly inspired by watching the 2007 London Marathon (not on TV but out on the course for the first time) I got a charity place, started running for the first time ever, and ran London myself the following year in April 2008. I enjoyed it but I thought I had achieved as much as I wanted and stopped running. 18 months later I decided I should have another go. My second marathon was in April 2010 and I haven’t looked back.

Since then, life has changed immeasurably – we’re now married, with our awesome toddler twins, and our crazy spaniel. I watch sport on TV, love cycling and walking, don’t really drink, and I have now run 100 "unofficial" marathons or ultra events, completing the 100th on Saturday at XNRG’s Chiltern Challenge 50km event, a glorious, gorgeous event up and down the Chiltern Hills. 

I’ve had some amazing experiences along the way.

Finishing as third lady (behind my hero, first placed Mimi Anderson) at GUCR, a 145 mile non-stop race between Birmingham and London is absolutely my highlight. My first 100 miler, finishing in 22:20 and having a near perfect race comes close. But there have been lots of others. Brathay Trust's 10 marathons in 10 days event in the Lake District was incredibly special and I have loved all the multi-day events I’ve done where you’re in an insular, protected running world the whole time you’re there. The five times I've run St Peter's Way 45 mile race. I ran a 50km trail race at 3 months pregnant. There’s been a mixture of glorious trail and focused road runs. Single lap races, many laps, A-B, even 40 miles on a treadmill (although I didn’t enjoy that at the time!). The beyond beautiful Larmer Tree marathon and the stunning Cotsworld Challenge. The overnight Saffron Trail 70 miler was a great adventure. I’ve run abroad in the sunshine, up and down a pier for 26.2 miles, along a beach in a hurricane, and I've run a marathon with my own crew car as part of  record breaking relay around Great Britain. I managed to get a Good for Age place in London back in 2013…I used to be a lot faster (although we could only take a week's honeymoon after we got married as I had to get back for the race). I’ve been on the podium a few times, won a couple of races – I’ve got some trophies and a magnificent medal collection. I even have a running tattoo. With the very generous support of my friends and family, I’ve managed to raise over £15,500 for various charities.

I have met some great friends, had lots of laughs, and become part of an incredibly supportive, wonderful community.  Blood, sweat and tears is true too though - I’ve been injured, I've endured, cried tears of pain and frustration, got frighteningly lost and I’ve had two races that I didn’t complete - the dreaded DNFs. 

I’ve crewed at races, supporting runners and manning checkpoints – a very special experience that all runners should do at least a few times! Without a doubt I would not have made it this far without the support of the RDs, race officials, check point teams and marshals at these races - they are the lifeblood of events and absolutely make dreams come true for runners. Particular thanks to Lindley & Maxine of Challenge Running, Traviss & Rachel from SVN, Foxy from Enigma, Karen from all the races(!) Nici at Centurion, and Aly at Brathay, who have each made a world of difference to my running successes.

I have discovered that I am a stronger, more resilient and more dedicated person than I could have imagined – a different person to that party girl that my husband first knew. I have to thank him too for the absolute support he has shown me through the years - always believing in me, and never challenging my  most far fetched plans. I know it's not always been easy to have me away training or racing so much, especially when he's had to get up ridiculously early as a result, but I  do hugely appreciate it. 

There are more goals for the future, a faster GUCR, some more 100 milers, a sub 3:30 marathon, maybe revive a plan I had a few years ago about completing an Ironman.

But my immediate goal, after my actual 100th, had been to complete my "official" 100th later this year at Centurion's Autumn 100 mile race, which would earn me full membership of the 100 Marathon Club - unfortunately 3 of my events don't count for the Club so I need to get to 103 by my total. As part of that event, I was also going to raise money in memory of our much loved, much missed family member Catherine, who passed away at the beginning of the year.

However, I am having to put this event on hold, and although this is still absolutely planned for the future, it may be a few years down the line. 

"Why?" I hear you ask. Well, that 50km I ran while I was pregnant? That was this weekend…Yes, that's right. I'm pregnant again, and although naturally nervous about adding to our brood, we're very excited about it.

I'm keeping my sponsorship page open though, so if anyone would like to donate to the Brain Tumour Charity in celebration of my "unofficial" 100 marathons achievement, that would be fantastic. Please take a look:

So, we have a new baby on the way, due early 2019, and he or she is my new focus. I’ll do a bit of running over the next few months to keep me sane but the very long distances are an unnecessary risk so all other plans are on hold during the rest of my pregnancy. 

Looking after three children under three will be my next big challenge and my official 100 will have to wait just a little bit longer...

Sunday, 29 April 2018

In memory of Matt and Martin Campbell #finishformatt

What a week it's been to be part of the running community, and part of the Brathay Trust family.

Last Sunday, I finished my 98th marathon, while hundreds of people across the country finished other races, and over 40,000 people finished the London Marathon, in the hottest conditions ever experienced in the race. But Matt Campbell didn't finish his London Marathon. As everyone will know, following the significant media coverage and the fantastic #finishformatt running campaign, Matt collapsed at 22.5 miles and tragically then passed away in hospital. Just 29 years old, and a very talented chef, Matt was running London to fundraise for Brathay Trust, in memory of his father, Martin Campbell who died suddenly in 2016.

I didn't know Matt, and so in no way can I claim a personal grief at his death, but I have found I've been truly affected. I did though know Matt's dad Martin through my participation in the Brathay Trust's 10 marathons in 10 days event, back in 2013. His death was an appalling shock and a terrible loss for everyone who knew him.

Martin had worked with Brathay Trust for many years, and it's a very special charity, that changes the lives of the children and young people it supports. It is run by a group of exceptional, dedicated people. Although I only spent a short time at Brathay, being there changed me, and I absolutely consider myself part of the "Brathay family" and will always have a connection to the charity and everyone involved. I missed last year's Brathay Windermere marathon (as the twins were still so young) when the Campbell family, including Matt, and many of my Brathay friends, ran as part of #teamcameradude, in memory of Martin. However, I was already booked in for a return visit this year, and was hugely looking forward to seeing everyone. I'm going up with Francis and the girls, and it was always going to be a special occasion - my first race that the girls will have come along to. Now though, of course, the event is going to take on a whole new level of significance, and many of my Brathay friends who knew Matt will still be grieving for him.

Martin was a dedicated, inspirational person. His funeral, attended by hundreds of people, gave me an opportunity to see that his family were also wonderful, positive people and it was a testament to the man that he had been - community spirited, generous and adventurous. Martin's family appeared to deal with his death with a positive spirit that I could only admire, especially when I think about how negatively I have dealt with losing my dad. I was inspired by all three of Martin's sons - coping so much better than I had done and living life to the absolute fullest in his memory. But now for the Campbell's to have lost Matt is beyond belief. For a family to have to suffer the absolute injustice of losing them both, so full of love, life, talent and spirit is truly horrific.

The national reaction to Matt's death has been remarkable. His fundraising page as of just now is at almost £310,000 and it seems thousands of people have been moved by his story. A genuine, lovely young man from the Lakes, made recently famous through his appearance on Masterchef, but also a naturally talented sub 3hr marathon runner - his reach has crossed many different communities. It's been amazing to see tributes paid to him on social media, paticularly through the #finishformatt movement, which has seen thousands of runners inspired to complete the 3.7 miles that Matt wasn't able to run to the end of his London marathon, and donating to Brathay. I find it heartwarming and really hope that the family can find some sort of comfort in it. 

I ran my #finishformatt miles too, earlier this week, posting on twitter, and wearing my 10in10 Brathay tshirt as I went, and I donated on his justgiving page. As part of the running community, as part of the Brathay community, it was something that felt important to do - to stand alongside everyone else to say I care, and  to show support to those who did know Matt. To say that I'm so sorry for your horrendous loss. 

Unexpectedly though, it was during a 10km last night that I really felt I ran for Matt and Martin. I pushed myself and ran faster than I've run for ages, and thought of them both, and the rest of their family and friends as they deal with these early days of loss. I thought of how Martin always believed anyone could achieve anything, how supportive he'd been of me. How important it was to follow your heart and to say yes to experiences. I thought of how Matt must have worked so hard to achieve a sub 3hour marathon at the Manchester marathon a couple of weeks before, so very early in his running career; how he'd been running in his dad's memory and how that must have motivated him while he was training. I happened to stop my watch at a road crossing and totally coincidentally I'd stopped at 3.72 miles. 

That was really my #finishformatt run. 

No social media post (well, other than this one), no particular statement, just me running and remembering a wonderful man and his son, who left this world far too early, and who have both, it seems, taught me a great deal about grief, positivity, and being the best I can be.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Southend Pier Marathon

Francis is on sabbatical at the moment and is looking after the girls full time, while I'm at work. This means that when I race I tend to feel really guilty that Francis is with the girls on his own for yet another day. I'm incredibly grateful for his support so I can carry on taking part in events...but it means that I tend to focus on very local races at the moment. So when I saw there was a marathon being held up and down the Southend Pier, just 15 minutes from my house, I thought I should take advantage and sign up. Not only that, this would be a world's first - the first marathon over the sea, along the world's longest pleasure pier. Exciting stuff!

Before we started running - the start of the Southend Pier Marathon
Photo by Jon Lavis

Except it wasn't really.

Just crossed the start line. Still smiling at this stage
Photo by Jon Lavis
From social media reviews I think most people seemed to love the marathon, and will be returning next year, but I struggled. It was lovely to catch up with friends, and towards the end of the race in particular there was a developing camaraderie between those of us who were a bit slower and still out there, but after the first three laps which were quite fun, I stopped enjoying myself. I knew before I started though that this wouldn't be a race I'd be repeating - I'm not a fan of laps, especially really short ones (1.34miles up the pier, 1.34 miles down the pier) and the weather wasn't up to much - a bit cold, a bit drizzly.

The pier isn't very inspiring either, and although the train that was running along beside us was a bit of a novelty, all in all I'd say it was a dull five hours. I envied the faster runners and it was great to see them as they lapped me (frequently!). The winner crossed the line in 2:48, an incredible 6:26/mile - inspiring to see proper running! The weather did improve though - by the time I finished it was glorious blue skies and sunshine...and in hindsight, maybe I'm so grumpy about the race because I was feeling so unfit. I hadn't run a step since the St Peter's Way two weeks earlier and by mid-way through I was hurting. Nothing really hurt at SPW, well not really and not for long, but my body was aching and creaking and generally I was pretty uncomfortable after only 15 miles on the pier. No undulation, no change to pace or rhythm unless I walked, and a lot of very solid wooden boards that at times made it feel like we were running on concrete were not the best combination for someone who really wasn't fit enough to be there. "Must do some training" needs to be my new mantra if I'm going to fare better at my next race!

Leaving my grumpiness aside, the organisation and the event team couldn't be faulted - excellent aid station, beautiful medal, really friendly marshals. Added to which, because it was local, and laps, Francis drove down to see me with the girls and it was a lovely surprise to see him walking up the pier as I ran down.

So, race #97 done (officially marathon/ultra #94) so another one down and closer to my 100th, and the bigger achievement of 100 official marathons that will earn me my 100 Marathon Club shirt. Hopefully that'll be October at Centurion's Autumn 100 miler. Now for that, I really am going to have to do some training: 207 days to go and counting!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

My fifth St Peter's Way ultra

I ran the St Peter's Way ultra again a few weeks ago and it was probably the best year yet.

It's obviously an event I love (why else would I run it five times?!) but was really nervous about this one as I'd barely run at all for a few weeks before the race, and wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to finish the distance. I'd struggled a bit just running a marathon distance in December at a GBC event, and so 43 miles on no training was a big ask. I was very close to pulling out, but as the day got closer, with the prospect of seeing friends I hadn't seen for months combined with a day out in some beautiful countryside, I decided that even if I DNF'ed, I would go along, and just enjoy however long I managed to stay out on the course.

The night before I started to get kit together, only to realize just how long it'd been since I ran any distance. This was my first proper ultra since falling pregnant (the 30 miler I did last year was lots of laps and needed no kit or navigation so in my mind it didn't really "count" as an ultra).  I'd forgotten how I used to pack my racevest, my soft bottles had leaked and I'd thrown them away, and the zips on both my race vests had corroded and no longer did up! My shoes were also in a pretty bad way - I've been meaning to replace them for months as the holes in the sides have been getting bigger and bigger. But not to worry. I managed to stuff my things into a vest, I used safety pins instead of the zip, I bought a couple of lucozade bottles to use, and I was pretty sure that my shoes would survive one last race...

Bright and early on race morning, I drove off, leaving Francis to look after the girls. THANK YOU FRANCIS!!

It was bitterly cold when I arrived, but as soon as I'd got out of the car, I saw some familiar faces, and knew I'd make the right decision to start. After welcome hugs and lots of chats, we were soon stood waiting for Lindley (the RD) to finish his pre-race briefing, so we could get on our way...

The St Peters Way race is usually ridiculously muddy. Freshly ploughed furrows, churned up horse enclosures and flooded fields have seen me losing a shoe in a previous race. It takes a certain amount of bravado and foolishness to run across all of that - luckily I have both and have always loved the muddy element of SPW. However, this year, everything (at least for most of the day) was frozen. With the ground hard under foot it felt like a different race, and there were some great finish times posted. It was certainly much easier going than it's been in previous years, if not quite the same challenge, although towards the end there were a few fields that you emerged from carrying half your body weight in sticky mud on your could see on the path were everyone had stopped to try and scrape some of it away!

It was obviously cold, but generally glorious. As usual I ran on my own, but towards the end there were a few of us leapfrogging each other - I often find that a bit frustrating, but on this occasion it was motivating, and quite nice to have some familiar faces around. I was amazed at how good I felt throughout. I had a few niggles, and a few bad patches, as you generally do on these races, and a couple of times, particularly early on, I wondered what on earth I was doing, but after about 20 miles I really settled into the run, and just loved it. The route felt familiar, and as we got further along, I realized that I might just make an earlier mini-bus back to the start than I'd previously expected...but that at the rate I was going I was probably going to miss it by about 10 minutes, which would then result in a 2hour wait for the next one! There was no way I could let that happen, so tried to stop faffing about and walking quite so much and started to run with a bit more focus.

The last couple of miles of SPW can be hideous, along an incredibly exposed sea wall, with a icy biting wind, where you can see the finish but find yourself turning away from it as you follow the wall out to sea. It's pretty cruel...but the sun was low in the sky, and the view in-land was absolutely spectacular.

Amazingly, I made the finish with about 5 minutes to spare until the bus, in an incredibly surprising time of 9hrs 9 minutes. My second slowest time, but with my lack of training that was no surprise at all. I was so happy to finish feeling strong and in control - no death march for me!

Lindley gave me a spot-prize to celebrate my return to ultra last ultra before falling pregnant was SPW, and this was my first proper one afterwards, and I got yet another SPW medal and tshirt combo! We headed off to the bus, and then I had a great 50 minute chat with a fellow runner all the way back to the start.

It was a perfect day. Absolutely perfect. I was slower than I wanted to be, but much faster than I deserved to be and I had so much fun. I will be back again, next year.