UTMB - CCC, the hangover that kept on giving

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UTMB - CCC, the hangover that kept on giving

Only a handful of people know this, but I ended up taking part in one of the most prestigious trail running races in the world because I lucked out on a gin fuelled ballot entry upon discovering I had accrued enough UTMB points to qualify. ‘Bugger it, what are the chances?’ .. I believe was my train of thought at the time. ‘Oh bloody hell, shit the bed’ was my reaction when I got news that my ballot entry was successful. Furthermore I was quick to take note that people’s reaction to my exciting news was along the lines of ‘oooh playing with the big boys this time!’ .. what did they know that I didn’t?!

I turned 40 this year and wanted to achieve something big on the ultra running scene to mark this hefty milestone. So it seemed that the stars were aligned and a mountain ultra marathon in the Alps was to be the momentous occasion that marked my 40th year. Oh shit.

The UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) is a race series which happens at the end of each August in Chamonix. It’s arguably one of the most significant events in the trail racing calendar and is made up of 7 races throughout the week, all varying in distances from 15km (YCC) up to an astounding 300km (PTL)!!!

I was to take part in the CCC, billed as the little sister of the big UTMB (170km) which starts in Courmayeur (Italy) goes through Champex (Switzerland) and finishes in Chamonix (France). It takes in 101km (62 miles) , 6100m (20,000 feet) altitude and 5 mountain summits along the stunning Trail du Mont Blanc.

The build up

First thing that was apparent was that I live in flat Warwickshire and the Burton Dasset hills just wasn’t going to cut it. To add to this, in January whilst taking part in the Country to Capital 43 mile ultra, I’d sustained a hip injury which was still very much present. So all in all not a great start to my training. I was already having physiotherapy and whilst I had some time on my hands, I decided to focus on that before getting stuck into training. Furthermore, I took on a running coach, Mags Dempsey, a reputable and experienced ultra trail runner and coach, who really helped me to reaffirm my running foundation in preparation for the gruelling training which lay ahead (once I’d fixed my hip).

So how do you train for mountains when there are none within a 4 hour drive from where you live? Well apart from the obvious hill reps, you make friends with your local stair climber and find some decent listening material, because that bugger is going to get you through a big ass chunk of your training. I started with 15 mins and built up to 45 mins before throwing on an 8kg weighted vest and built back up from 15 mins again. I can’t say I loved it but I definately felt the benefit which in turn encouraged me to stick with it.

Other aspects of my six month training plan involved a lot of functional strength work (explosive movement, unilateral weighted exercises), strength endurance (very high repetition with light weights) as well as seeking as many hilly trails as I could find. I purposefully fatigued my legs and then ran on them to get used to moving forward at a decent pace when tired and heavy legged. I didn’t love this either but again felt the benefit.

I also flew over to Chamonix with a friend Jon who was also training for the Eiger 50km mountain ultra and we recce’d part of the route together. My highest volume week was 70 miles and I also took part in a couple of events (Endure24 and the Petzel Wendover Woods 50km night run) to vary my training. On holiday in Spain my husband joined me one morning to climb La Concha, 1215m and my final big effort was a 20 miler, followed by a 12 mile trail run on back to back days which went surprisingly well - a positive note to end 6 months, 1100 miles and 85,000 feet of training.

The build up to race week was a huge emotional rollercoaster. By time I got to my two week taper, I was exhausted and ready to rest. For the first time I genuinely felt satisfied that I’d done as much as I could given family, work and other time commitments. Therefore my taper was comfortable and I didn’t worry that I hadn’t done enough.

That said, I still worried about everything else and had let myself get into a negative head space, thinking that I didn’t belong at the start line and that everyone would be faster, stronger and more able than me. I had put so much pressure on myself and I could feel my focus slipping away.

Back in March I attended an Alps training seminar where Neil Thubron talked about the importance of having a WHY. Because when your head starts to wander into that dark negative space and your body is in the pain cave, you need to be 100% clear as to what your drive is to pull you back towards the light. Without a WHY you risk getting lost in that cave and losing sight of the finish line.

My WHY? My children, Leo & Mayana. I want them to know that hard work pays off and no matter how many times you fall, you get back up, dust yourself off and move forward. My husband and I try to teach them that life isn’t always easy and there are things that you need to work harder at. I wholly believe that when you find what really sets your soul on fire then you’ll somehow make it work.

So with my focus reaffirmed, I was ready to take on CCC.

UTMB week was here!

Race week had arrived and myself, my husband Richard, and our two children set off on the long drive down to Chamonix from our home in south Warwickshire. My parents and in-laws flew out to join us within a couple of days.

With so much to do in the Chamonix valley, the days passed fairly quickly and before I knew it, it was the eve of race day.

Race admin day, two days earlier had mostly gone to plan other than when I realised I’d left my hat (part of the obligatory kit list) at the chalet and went into a hot panic. I’d heard that the UTMB organisers held no prisoners when it came to obligatory kit and as such I found myself grovelling and pleading with the unsuspecting volunteer before she looked at me like a crazy person and told me it was fine - I just had to sign a waiver to say that I might be spot checked for my hat on race day. In the meantime I’d sent a panicked text to my husband who’d in turn asked his dad to grab his hat from his car and quickly courier it to the registration centre. They arrived at the centre, sweating profusely from the mad dash, with hat in hand, just as I was leaving.

And so, there I was, stood on the start line in Courmayeur having said an emotional farewell to my family. I’ve only ever seen my dad cry less than a handful of times before, but I believe I caught him wiping a tear away as I hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

My hands were shaking, palms sweating and breathing shallow. Yet I couldn’t help but smile with excitement. The compère did a fantastic job of getting the crowds going and as the media helicopters circled overhead, I was ready than ever to tackle the long journey ahead.

Courmayeur (1200m) is a charming Italian town which sits at the foot of Mont Blanc and as we made our way through the town towards the trails, the atmosphere was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before - the Italians sure know how to give a sending off! There were drums, people letting off colourful smoke flares, the sound of cowbells rang through the streets as the masses shouted ‘Allez allez allez’!! I also got to see my family briefly and by then the nerves had dispersed, replaced by smiles and jubilation.

Mountain no. 1 - Tete de la Tronche, 2584m

Leaving Courmayeur, the first three miles were a steady climb onto wider trails before the crowd came to a halt as we approached a single track, forcing a huge bottle neck. I stood still for 25 minutes waiting for the masses to filter onto the trail, not a great start. Further single track followed for the next five miles, meaning it was very slow progress to the top of Tete de la Tronche and I was already behind my schedule. The views at the top were truly breathtaking and although I’d previously been there with Jon when we had recce’d it, this time there was true satisfaction in knowing that I could tick off 1 of 5 climbs. Furthermore, and unlike the recce when the thinner air and general shock to the system left me feeling like death, this time I felt strong and unflawed by the 1400m climb to the summit.

During the ascent to Tete de la Tronche, there was sudden noise and panic as a small boulder which someone had dislodged further up the mountain was hurtling downwards, rapidly picking up momentum as it flew towards the crowd. It came flying past my leg and down towards the next traverse at their head level. Luckily the warning shouts were enough to lift everyone’s heads and move out of the way. It certainly woke us all up and reminded us that we were out in the wilderness now, where the environment and terrain were precarious and we had to keep our wits about us.

The pass down to the first aid station, Bertone at 15km is a lovely fast section of trails which split off into multiple tracks which helped to disperse the crowd. For the first time in 3 hours since we had left Courmayeur I was able to find my pace and make up for some lost time on that first ascent. At Bertone I refilled my bottles, grabbed some food, sent a quick text to the family group chat and I was on my way again. Another lovely runnable section which contours along the mountain, offering more opportunity to overtake where it was still crowded in places. All the way along to the next aid station, Bonatti at 22km for another refill and refuel.

I also took a quick comfort break in what was pure luxury compared to the eco toilets which UTMB had invested in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for green but I have my standards when it comes to hygiene. The eco loos provided at the starting village were interesting to say the least.. a wooden hut with a hole to do your business in and then a sack full of wood chip and a scoop to cover up said business with. The stench of the pre race loo was eye watering and I had to hold my breath. So coming across a proper ceramic toilet (albeit a ceramic hole you have to squat over) was pure luxury and too good an opportunity to pass up. A posh wee later and I was on my way again.

The next aid station was Arnouvaz, 5km away and we made our way along a very runnable, albeit undulating pass with a steep zig zagging descent (there are lots of these in the mountains) to the foot of the next mountain we were to climb, Grand Col Ferret. I knew my family would be at this one so I was really excited and made great progress along this section.

There was a fantastic atmosphere at Arnouvaz as this is the first aid station which was accessible by the bus service which UTMB had put on. Therefore there were plenty of supporters here and we could hear the cheering and music as we traversed down the mountain. I had a really warm welcome from my family, although I didn’t hang around for long as I was keen to keep moving. The next big climb was Grand Col Ferret and once at the summit, we would pass the border into Switzerland.

Mountain no. 2 - Grand Col Ferret, 2537m

Above 2000m the air starts to ‘thin’ I.e. it has considerably less oxygen and pressure. Tete de la Tronche and Grand Col Ferret sit at around 2500m (the remaining three summits were no higher than 2000m) so as you ascend, you can most definately feel the effects of altitude. Shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches are all very common side effects and I experienced all three on both ascents. I had full blown altitude sickness for a couple of days after the recce so I knew I was susceptible (it varies between individuals). Therefore once at the top, I took a couple of photos/videos and swiftly moved onto the descent into La Fouly.

This is where the fun really began! Prior to this point, paths were runnable but still crowded so hard to build momentum. Finally, 8 hours into the race, the crowd had dispersed and the trail had opened up. I was feeling great so decided to have some fun with this one. The trail wasn’t too technical and I was able to just about keep up with the guy in front of me who was clearly an experienced trail runner and appeared to know how to handle the terrain with ease. I love learning from others so I carefully watched his foot placement and weight distribution and followed in his footsteps. It was a fast descent and it felt great to open it up after hours of climbing and hiking.

UTMB give all runners a label to wear on their back which has your name and country flag on it so you’re easily identifiable to your peers. As we reached a brief stop off point I caught sight of his label, ‘Joe Berney’ from Ireland. I thanked Joe for unknowingly pacing me, refilled my flasks and kept up with the momentum. Next stop La Fouly, at 41km, where there would be plenty of food and hot drinks. It was now late afternoon and having spent no more than 8/10 minutes at each check point until now, I was ready for a slightly longer break and a decent feed.

La Fouly was busy and a few people were showing signs of fatigue. Again, supporters could access this area so there was a nice vibe coming into the aid station. I’d forgotten that the CrossCall centre was here - an online platform which allows friends and family to record a video message which is then played for runners as they enter the tent. Just as I was grabbing some food, suddenly a familiar face popped up on the big screen and it was my friend John! I was so touched by his message and as I stood there watching it I could feel my eyes start to well up. Next up was one of my Run Like a Girl ladies, Sophie Lawson, and although the speakers weren’t very loud I could see from her smile and big expression that her message was one of pride and encouragement. I could feel myself grinning from ear to ear knowing that so many people were rooting for me. Then two little faces popped up and it was Grace & George, the children of one of my closest friends, and that was it, I fell apart! Full tears streaming down my face, I allowed myself that moment to be so very proud of myself and I was incredibly thankful for the virtual support.

Two sugary coffees, lots of cake and a heap of chocolate later and I was off again. Next stop was Champex which was at 55km, just over the halfway point.

The Upon leaving La Fouly I heard ‘Hello there Lauren Gregory from the UK, what’s your story then?’ in a strong Irish accent. As I turned around I saw Joe Berney who had unwittingly paced me from the top of Grand Col Ferret. We ran and chatted for a while before I decided that the flat(ish) section was too good to pass up, so I wished Joe well and went on my way.

This next section was incredible fun! My legs felt strong and I had some really good energy so again I opened it up for the next few kilometres. I passed quite a few people and hung onto a few packs before overtaking and joining the next pack ahead. I honestly felt at this point, 40km in, my race had finally started and I was picking my way up the ranks - I later found out I gained 156 places within a 10km stretch. I kept a strong pace for a good few km’s, soaking up the cheers from the locals as we passed through villages and hamlets.

As the climb towards Champex began, I slowed my pace and enjoyed the hike knowing that I’d made up some time and was still feeling good, if not a little tired as the night drew in.

Mountain no. 3 - La Giète, 1884m

Champex Lac (Switzerland) sits at 55km into CCC and is recognised as the halfway aid station even though it’s just over and it’s also the first official crew point where runners are allowed to accept outside assistance. It was now dark and I had my chest light on. I was also hungry and pretty tired at this point so took some time to sit down, refuel and throw on some extra layers. My husband met me there and walked with me for a few minutes before parting ways - I would see him again at Trient, the other side of the next mountain, La Giète, 1884m. I later learned that there was a big drop out at Champex Lac which explained while all of the sudden the field of runners was a little thin on the ground.

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I was anxious about going into the night and my concerns were reaffirmed when this next climb was ten times worse than I ever imagined it would be. In hindsight, I hadn’t refuelled enough or taken enough rest time at Champex Lac. I started to feel really light headed and although I knew I needed to eat more, my appetite had gone and I was struggling to swallow any solids. I felt really weak and nauseous and knew that I was in trouble.

The physical demand of such a challenge had suddenly taken its toll and every step felt awful. The pitch darkness meant that I couldn’t see how close to the top we were but what could I see was a trail of lights high up in the distance and my heart immediately sank. They seemed so far away and I honestly couldn’t imagine making it much further feeling the way that I did. I couldn’t let myself be beaten by a calorie deficit so I eventually perched myself on a rock and forced a chia charge bar down me, followed by another and also a shot block. I also found some cashew nuts in my pack so scoffed a couple of handfuls of those.

What felt like hours (it was one) later, the uphill hike started to taper off and we started what suspiciously felt like a descent. I genuinely couldn’t believe I’d made it to the top and was now on my way back down! It wasn’t fast and my foot work was a bit haphazard but I eventuality made it to the checkpoint which was an old cowshed set up as a makeshift rave house with music blaring and happy-go-lucky volunteers cheering everyone in.

I was somewhat relieved to see that I wasn’t the only who was slightly broken after La Giète.. the rave house looked more like a safe house for the remaining survivors of a zombie apocalypse, with bodies lying around and a somber atmosphere.

At this point I took a moment to myself and sat down opposite a woman who was fast asleep. La Giète had tested me physically and had now taken its toll on my mental state.

‘I’m really in a bad place. I can’t see how I’m going to finish this, I’ve hardly got anything left to give’ .. this was the text I sent to my husband at 12:30am. After hitting send I put my phone away and rested my head on my poles where I proceeded to cry.

Then there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and saw this older gentlemen looking down at me. ‘Get up! We’re going’. It was Joe Berney from Ireland!

Joe fetched me a bowl of soup, followed by another. He didn’t give me any time to make excuses.. ‘are you ready? Follow me, let’s go!’ .. and just like that we left the cow shed/rave house/zombie safe house and he was off with me closely following behind. The gap eventually grew between us but it didn’t matter, Joe had got me moving again and for that I’ll always be grateful to him. I never saw Joe again after that but I’d love to find him to say thank you. Joe Berney from Ireland, my Fairy Godfather.

Coming into Trient and seeing my husband was pure relief and I decided to take the time I needed to get myself feeling strong again. About two miles before Trient, I slipped on a boulder and fell straight onto my arse, and a guys foot. ‘Are you ok?’ he asked. To which I looked up and said ‘oh you’re British, there aren’t many of us out here. Yes I’m fine thank you’. He helped me up and we chatted and ran together until we reached Trient. He’d also had a tough time on La Giète and was worried about the remaining two mountains. He told me that he was probably going to throw the towel in at Trient but by time we got there, he said that he’d found it reassuring to hear that he wasn’t alone in feeling slightly broken and that he was going to give the next mountain a go. I never got his name (he got mine) but again I’m grateful that fate had my arse land on his foot at a time that we could help each other out. That’s the way ultra running seems to go and that’s what I love about it so much.

Mountain no. 4 - Les Tseppes, 2065m

My husband Richard is a bit of legend when it comes to crewing me. He’s done it enough times now to recognise the difference between when I’m feeling a bit tired but still focussed and when I’m tired because I’m not fuelling properly. He was straight on it. He practically ran circles around me fetching food, hot soup, refilling my flasks and making sure I was warm enough. He wouldn’t let me go until he was satisfied that I’d eaten enough.

2:30am, with a full belly and fresh outlook I felt ready to tackle mountain number 4, Les Tseppes at 2065m.

I’ll be honest, it was all a bit of a blur at this point. I’d now been on my feet for 17+ hours, I was tired, delirious and the prospect of another 7/8 hours and still two summits to go was an impossible thought. All I could do was chunk my goals into bite sized pieces and face one hurdle at a time, so that I did.

Upon reflection, I had a lovely old time on Les Tseppes; I spent much of the ascent singing to myself and imagining what it would be like to bring my children back in the snow. I talked out loud to myself, telling my children all about the sledging and how beautiful fresh virgin snow is. I started to wonder about what all the fairies and forest creatures must think about these crazy ultra runners trudging through their territory in the middle of the night. Every now and again I’d catch the upper torso of a shop mannequin sat on the side of the trail, only to look twice and realise it was a tree stump. I was delirious and having hallucinations! This was a first for me and previously I’ve worried about hallucinations being a bit scary but I have to say it was a rather euphoric experience!

Once again I looked up into what I thought was the dark night sky, only to see tiny lights floating up high - except these weren’t hallucinations, that’s where I was headed and it was a long bloody climb upwards. This time I wasn’t flawed though, I was back to feeling okay and I was making good progress. The next stop was the final assisted checkpoint at Vallorcine (now in France) and just one final climb from there before descending into Chamonix for the finish. I was now just a few hours away from seeing my family and the long night (9 hours of darkness) was nearly over.

Mountain no.5 - Tête aux Vents, 2130m

At Vallorcine checkpoint I tried not to get too comfortable. On one hand I wanted to keep moving and start the final ascent but on the other I didn’t want to make the same mistake as I had earlier. Richard was there and again made sure I had everything I needed. I sat for a few minutes and then went on my way. I’d heard that the ascent up Tête aux Vents (2130m) was a killer climb, and I was anxious about it. I’ll admit that I had a minor wobble, mainly fuelled by sleep deprivation, when I saw Richard pop up at the very foot of the mountain but he gave me a good pep talk and told me to get on with it. I was never going to quit but nonetheless sometimes a good cry is just what you need to do before pulling up your big girl pants and getting the hell on with it.

To anyone reading this who has made the ascent up Tête aux Vents, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that it’s at this point that the knife is twisted in further. It’s a beast of a climb which seems to go on forever - one of those ones where you think you’re at the top but then it climbs again! I stopped half way up to eat and I also sent a text to the family group chat saying ‘I literally want to die right now .. it’d be easier’. Bit dramatic, I’ll admit, but indicative of just how shit it actually was.

The only saving grace is that the sun had finally made an appearance and my goodness it was a sight to behold - pure majesty as it peered above the mountains, casting its glorious warmth across Mont Blanc and it’s surrounding sisters. With it came new energy, enough to drive me up the never ending mountain to the next timing point. It was downwards all the way from here and although I still had about 13km to go, I was in a good place both mentally and physically. So for the first time in 22 hours, I put my music on and made a conscious decision to enjoy every step forward until the end. Looking back, I can honestly say that in those final km’s I was comfortable and happy.

Much of this section wasn’t particularly runnable (for me anyway) but I was nearly on the home straight now so I picked and meandered my way along the ridge until the final checkpoint at La Flégére. Just 8km from here until the finish line - I could see Chamonix down in the valley and I could feel the excitement building. In flat road terms, 8km would take me around 40 minutes but in mountain miles (downhill included) I still had about 1.5 hours of graft to do.

A few days before the race I had met up with my friend Spencer and his mate Stuart and the three of us recce’d an out and back of the last couple of km’s out of Chamonix. Suddenly the route was familiar and I now knew exactly where I was, thanks to Spencer.

As the trail hit tarmac I stopped and took a moment to reflect upon the incredible journey I’d been on. Not just the last 25 hours but the six months of blood, sweat and tears prior to that. I aloud myself to be unbelievably proud of what I had achieved so far and the enormity of the challenge I had taken on.

In my talks, I always say that the last mile will take care of itself, it’s your victory mile and nothing will stop you when you’ve already come so far. The hard graft was over and all that was left to do now was to soak up the hero’s welcome that Chamonix offers to every runner of the UTMB series, whether they’re first or last. I knew my family were waiting for me and I was finally going to live out my dream of crossing that finish line hand in hand with my babies.

I still can’t find the words to describe the emotion as I made my way through the crowds of Chamonix but I can imagine that it must be what superheroes feel like when they’ve just saved the world. There were cowbells ringing louder than the previous 62 miles put together, roars of ‘Allez allez!’ and ‘Bravo champion!’. People with their phones filming and taking pictures as if I was some celebrity runner and children and adults alike all wanting high fives. Tears of joy were streaming down my face, I couldn’t believe this was happening .. I was about to finish CCC!!

As I turned the final corner, there they were, Leo & Mayana with arms out ready to take my hands and my husband Richard running along side us capturing this wonderful moment on his phone. The finishing arch was just metres away and the sound of the crowd was deafening. Holding my children’s hands tightly I threw my arms up high and head back as I thanked the universe for this utterly magical moment and keeping me safe throughout my journey.

It was over. I had completed CCC and other than giving birth, this was my proudest achievement to date and my family were right there on the finish line to share this incredible moment.

Needless to say we celebrated that night with lots of cheese, wine and laughs as they found great amusement in watching me try to get down the stairs.

CCC can only be described as beautifully brutal. It tested me both physically and mentally, yet in the face of brutality, I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the majesty and beauty of the Alps. Only good memories and lessons learned to take away from this experience.

Next stop, Autumn 100 miles in October 2019 and then training starts for the Marathon Des Sables 2020.

I’m running in aid of Hope for Children - if you’d like to make a donation then I’d be hugely grateful, thank you. Link below

https://mds2020.everydayhero.com/uk/lauren-s-next-adventure-marathon-des-sables

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Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc - CCC recce

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Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc - CCC recce

Back in January this year I found out that I was successful in securing a place in arguably the most prestigious trail running race series on the planet - Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). Throughout the last week in August, members of the trail running community worldwide descend upon Chamonix for a week of races of various distance and elevation. All of them require participants to qualify by earning points at designated races. The UTMB race series is considered the Mecca of trail running and the top of its game in terms of the experience, fitness and skill required to attempt it, let alone complete the course.

The race I entered via the ballot is called the CCC.. each ‘C’ is representative of the three main towns in the three different countries the route goes through; starting in Courmayeur, Italy then passing through Champex, Switzerland before finishing in Chamonix, France. The course totals a little over 62 miles, 6100m of elevation and five mountain summits - participants are given 26.5 hours to complete it.

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After the initial giddiness of excitement, nerves and genuine fear, I devised a plan which involved a coach and regular physio appointments as I’d been carrying a hip injury for a while. Self care in general is something I fall down so I knew I had to step this up with immediate effect. Training would involve as many hills as I could find (not easy when we live in a flat-ish country!) and a whole lot of stair climbing at the gym.

The day that the ballot results were released I decided that a recce weekend in Chamonix was a given. So the weekend just gone I flew out there with a friend, Jonathan Zincke, who has aspirations to complete CCC himself next year but also happened to be training for his own mountain race in a couple of weeks. He was definitely the right person!

I have to admit that beyond the initial discussion to agree a weekend we were both available, I left it up to Jon to manage and plan logistics - this isn’t my strong point and he seemed quite happy to plot routes, book transport etc..

The Warm Up Run

We arrived in Chamonix on Friday lunchtime and after a bit of a chill (we were up since 2:30am to catch our flight!) we headed out to explore the local trails heading up to the Merlet Animal Parque - a 7 mile loop with a 670m climb. It was a beautiful evening and I enjoyed the vertical challenge. The trails were all single track and very easy to follow. A few technicals here and there which added to the thrill of it all. A great leg loosener ahead of Saturday’s long run.

The Long Run

I was a little apprehensive about this one and now that I’d experienced what a mountain mile actually looked and felt like, my apprehension had grown overnight. The route was mostly the first 36km of the actual CCC route itself and I knew that the first climb was around 8 miles long and 1400m up. We caught the 8:30am bus from Chamonix, through the Mont Blanc tunnel, to Courmayeur in Italy where the race starts.

The climb to the top of Tête de la tronche is around 1400m and once you clear the tree line the air becomes a little thinner so breathing was laboured and both Jon and I found ourselves having to stop more regularly. It’s also quite exposed up there and just a gentle gust of wind made me shiver.

The ascent was a real eye opener for me and whilst my fitness and endurance is pretty good at the moment, it didn’t take me long to realise that I need to get some hiking practice into my training.

The descent, on the other hand, I was pleased with. Apart from the obvious that down hill running carries less cardio loading, I handed the technicals fairly well and without compromising my pace too much.

Furthermore, I’d heard people say that the downhills are so steep that it’s quite common for the quad (thigh) muscles to ‘blow up’ (not literally, I hope). Whilst I could feel them having to work hard, I had good control and stability and other than a bit of heaviness the next day, I felt good!

Jon and myself both underestimated just how long the original plan of 36km/23 miles would take us, and with the last bus back to Chamonix to catch, we made a decision to skip the second ascent. It was the right thing to do at the time but when the bus was two hours late, we were more than a little bit miffed that we could have stuck to the plan after all. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

Still, we managed 22 miles, 1750m total ascent and 8 hours on our feet. Feeling very pleased with ourselves, we celebrated with several drinks and ice cream whilst waiting for the bus.

The Morning After Run

After a restless night of fast breathing and raging thirst which I later realised was the onset of altitude sickness, I was pleasantly surprised to wake up feeling hardly any achiness or stiffness in my legs. Due to missing out on the second mountain the day before I was keen to get back out for a bit more elevation training before flying back to England. Jon was happy to give it a miss so instead he took the cable car up to Plan Praz whilst I ran/hiked the footpath up to the same point. I knew we didn’t have enough time for me to make it all the way to the top but I was happy to gain another 600m of elevation under my belt. It was a strong and satisfying finish to an extremely tough weekend of training.

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The Countdown

So with 8 weeks to go I have my work cut out. My endurance is in a strong place for the distance but my strength endurance for elevation still needs some work. So my plan is to spend even more time on the stair climber, increase muscle strength endurance and get some hiking practice in.

I’ve also felt the effects of altitude sickness upon my return, not a great feeling but I’ll have more time to acclimatise during the week leading up to the big day on 30th August.

To recce that first mountain and get used to the changing terrain as well as get some technical down hill practice is as much as I wanted from the weekend. However I’ve come away with so much more; a new friend, new mountain trail experience and the utmost respect for the mountains themselves and anyone who even considers running in them!

Whilst I’m more apprehensive than ever, I know what I need to do now and that in itself gives me much better clarity. I’m excited and nervous but can’t wait to get back and run amongst those majestic giants that are Les Alps.

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Endure24, Reading

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Endure24, Reading

Endure24 - billed as epic, brutal and relentless, is a 24 hour endurance event whereby participants attempt as many 5 mile laps as they can within the time frame. You can enter as solo, pairs or in a team of 3-8 people.

Last year I was part of a team of 6 at the Leeds event but this year I tried my hand as a solo runner.

I so want to hate this race and write it off as a bad run, yet now that I’ve had time to reflect I can’t help but look back on those 24 hours with fondness. I’m smiling in most of the race pics so perhaps it wasn’t all as dreadful as I remember it! 😂

Firstly, let’s talk laps. When it comes to endurance running, there aren’t many things that aren’t ‘my thing’ but laps are definitely NOT MY THING! So going into this event, I already had concerns with boredom but also knew that I now have a good arsenal of mental tricks and hacks so it wasn’t too much of an issue. 

Not being this years ‘A race’, my only plan was to practice night running and nutrition in preparation for UTMB CCC later this summer. All very good and obviously valuable to my end game but the problem with this is that I need a goal and without one I’m like a lost lamb! 

The conditions were at best ‘okay’ for the first couple of hours but a huge downpour of rain churned up the 5 mile course pretty quickly and it was a mud fest for the duration. I’d taken a handful of trail shoes to choose from but wore the Salomon Speedcross 5 throughout the race and they really came into their own in those conditions. 

This was mentally one of the toughest races I’ve done. Running lap after lap was monotonous but to add to this, the course soon became a mud fest after a downpour of rain just 2 hours into the 24 hour race. Then my glutes tightened up at just 15 miles in and by 25 miles, running was agony! They later eased off and caused no further issues so no idea what happened there. 

Next, the toes on my left foot blistered up (I have an ongoing issue on this side so this has become the norm for me) and after 50 miles I went to the medic tent where they told me there was an infection and they couldn’t believe I was walking, let alone running. They strongly advised that I took the weight off my feet for a few hours and re-assess in the morning. Admittedly the hobble back to my tent was reasonably excruciating so I had to admit defeat.. for the time being. My plan to run through the night was out of the window for which I was truly gutted about. Still, I had hope for another shot at it after a few hours of rest. 

So all in all, up to the first 50 miles, I hadn’t had a great time out there but I wasn’t ready to quit. I knew the rest of me was strong and so after some rest,  I pulled up my big girl pants and got back out there for another three laps. It was only after talking to another solo runner in the morning and he said he was aiming for 100km so I decided that’s what I was going to do too. 

Finally! .. for the first time in 20 hours I had a specific goal and with something solid to focus on, I knew I could get the job done. 

Amongst the blur of fatigue, mud and sore feet, there is one thing I can recall with such clarity and that’s the camaraderie among every single runner out there. The solo runners are shown so much respect from fellow competitors. I ran with so many people and had so many lovely chats with perfect strangers as well as my friends. Ultimately, everyone out there was trying to achieve the same thing - running for 24 hours! 

Total distance was 65 miles / 104km .. not even close to what I know I’m capable of in that time frame but still something to be proud of given the circumstances. 

Epic, brutal, relentless indeed. Well played Endure24! 



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Why running is not enough to be a better runner

As you might have already worked out, I’m an extremely keen runner and I’m passionate about showcasing the benefits of exercise and how they can enhance your lifestyle and mental health. In recent years my own lifestyle and career changes have directed me more towards working alongside runners and helping them to progress their performance, whether that’s improving their Parkrun time or training for an endurance event.

One thing that comes up a lot when talking to other runners is the lack of cross training within their exercise schedule - I see it time after time; runners trying to get better at running by running some more! Indeed there is some fiber of truth to this, but how about changing the demand you put on your body and give it some extra support so that it can perform even better next time you lace up those trainers?

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Introducing different forms of exercise will most definately compliment your chosen sport, not just running. Some of the many benefits of cross training include improved cardiovascular fitness, reduced chance of injury, muscle group balance and also avoidance of boredom.

In more detail, there are three main components which are important to train in order to develop conditioning, whether you’re a runner, footballer, rugby player or hockey player, to name a few. These are speed (moving as fast as possible in a straight line), agility (changing direction quickly and efficiently) and quickness (instant rapid responses). I also like to add in plyometrics ( short bursts of power in the muscles and joints) to my client’s training as well as my own. Furthermore, core work is essential to support the main powerhouse to the body.. the ‘core’ refers to the abdominal wall, lower back and postural muscles, glutes, hip flexors and pelvic floor muscles (men have this too by the way!).

So how do you get involved?

Don’t over complicate it, it’s about moving differently and therefore working different muscle groups. Cross training comes in many forms including swimming, yoga, circuits, weight lifting and more!

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About a year ago I heard about Rabble (via Linkedin) which is an outdoor group activity which makes exercising fun! .. No really, it’s a series of games, many of which we all would have played when we were younger; such as Capture the Flag and British Bulldog. These have been adapted for adults as a progressive workout which challenges your cardio fitness as well as incorporating speed, agility and many of the other components which help to make us strong and fit. In the very first game I played I covered nearly 2 miles of running around and burnt just short of 400 calories in an hour. The best part is that not once did I think about how tough it was or was I even aware that it was effectively an exercise class I was taking part in.

In December last year (2018) I qualified as a Rabble Instructor along with three other running leaders from my running group Run Like a Girl. Having closely observed the ins and outs of Rabble gaming, I’ve become more and more intrigued by the benefits of this type of exercise class but more to the point, how it pretty much covers all of the components I’ve talked about above. In just one game, a player will partake in numerous directional changes, shuttle runs, high intensity intervals as well as challenging the core and cardiovascular fitness.

Whilst my approach is to introduce Rabble to members of Run Like a Girl to encourage them to cross train, it’s also just a really great way to socialise and exercise at the same time. You don’t have to be a runner, or even partake in a specific sport to play Rabble, it really is for everyone and all abilities.

You can read more about Rabble by visiting their website here

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Reflecting on 2018, The Year of Self Discovery.

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Reflecting on 2018, The Year of Self Discovery.

It’s that time of year again when many of us reflect upon the last 12 months and consider the high and lows, what we’ve achieved and perhaps start to think about setting new goals as we head into a new year. 

Personally I’m not a fan of the ‘new year, new me’ attitude. Whilst I understand that it’s a good time to start fresh, I also wonder what stops people from wanting to better themselves at any given point in time. Perhaps in a world full of diet pills, starvation diets, cleanses, skinny coffees, celebrity exercise dvd’s and transformation programmes, conflicting advice can leave us feeling confused and torn in different directions.

For me, it’s about simplicity and choosing just one or two things to focus on otherwise I start to feel swamped. In previous years I’ve been that person trying to do too many things and not really excelling at one thing in particular and therefore I’ve never really given myself a chance to figure out what I could be great at.

So this year I had two main goals:

1. Complete 100 miles

2. Get faster over longer distances.

If I had to throw in a third, it was to achieve the first 2 without any serious injury which is easier said than done when I was already carrying existing aches and pains from 2017. I’m happy to say that I’ve just about survived the year with only a few physio appointments, an X-ray and mri scan on my foot... that’s a good year for me. 

I’m not going to list everything I’ve done this year (my Instagram does a good job of that) but only to say that I achieved what I set out to do. My ‘A’ races were the 100 miler (race report here), Centurion Chiltern Wonderland 50 (race report here) and Abingdon marathon (I’m yet to blog about this but it’s in my plan).

How did I do it? I asked myself how badly I wanted it. The answer to this wasn’t immediately apparent but as I progressed with my 100 mile training I started to realise that my mental strength and desire to be great was growing week by week. I developed a real hunger to see what I could do and this in itself drove me to keep pushing. Previously, if I had a last minute cancellation  from a client then I’d use the time to pitch up in a cafe and do some admin work, but instead I started to use the extra time to throw in shorter runs here and there. I found that the quick blasts became just as significant to my training as the longer steady paced runs.

Outside of my longer training runs, I noticed I was getting much faster and starting to PB again after a long dry period of slow progress. Aside from the fact I had increased my weekly mileage, I had also started the year off with heart rate zone training which had now taken full effect. By year end I went onto PB in 5km (20.47), 10km (42.15) half marathon (1.38), marathon (3.29) and 50 mile (9.53) distances.  

I also had a secret weapon in my training partner, Caroline, who was also doing the West Country Ultra. That woman has a drive and tenacity akin to a big African cat with its eye on its prey. it’s quite a sight to behold! So running with her has always given me that extra push and whilst I quite often hate it, I’m always grateful to her once I’ve had a glass of coconut water and packet of ready salted crisps, my go to post run snack, and caught my breath again. I probably don’t give Caroline enough credit for the real effect she has on my training, so if you’re reading this Caroline, a massive thank you for being every bit as crazy as I am and more! 

I’m not doing a great job of summarising my year in this post but I guess what I’m trying to say, albeit somewhat cliché, is that as long as you have just one tiny cell of self belief then it will multiply and grow, the more you nurture it. 

Completing the West Country 100 mile ultra marathon is most certainly one of my biggest running accomplishments to date, but the journey leading to it and the road that followed on from it continues to build my confidence and ability to achieve more than I ever dreamt possible. 

So here’s the thing, when you set your goals I beg you please don’t make it just about the faddy diet, cleanse or 30 day shred but ask yourself how much do you want it and more to the point, think beyond the intial programme and make a longer term plan that’s realistic and sustainable around your lifestyle.

Furthermore, look closer to home, look inside yourself and DO believe, DO dream big and DO reach beyond impossible... you might just discover something quite remarkable. 

My goals going into 2019 are to build on my new found self belief (I still have a long way to go) and make sure I always remain firmly outside of my comfort zone. I also have bigger, more important goals, and they are to find a better balance with my family life, be a better mummy and focus more on my clients requirements. 

I’ve just recently joined the Salomon Ambassador family so I’m looking forward to establishing myself within the role which involves delivering workshops and hosting trail runs as well as showcasing what the Salomon trail running community has to offer.

I’ve also made the huge leap outside of my comfort zone and I’m committing to sharing my story with the hope to inspire others through public speaking.. my first two engagements are in January and yes I’m terrified but also looking forward to something new.

Finally, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone in my support network who have been a part of my running and fitness journey. My incredible family for putting up with my silly antics, my clients and friends for always listening to the aftermath, my incredible RUN LIKE A GIRL members who inspire me to be the best leader I can be and also to those friends who I’ve made along the way - the ultra running community really is something quite special and I can’t wait to see what further adventures 2019 has in store for me. 

2018.. over and out.  

 

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Polka Dot video production

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Polka Dot video production

Back in March ‘18 I had the opportunity to be part of a short film produced by Worcester videographers Polka Dot Production .

Jo and Duncan Cox are a husband and wife team who direct and produce some of, if not THE finest wedding videography I’ve seen - seriously check out their work, it’ll make you want to get married just so that you can have them make a film about it. 

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Fortunately for those who are already married or those who just don’t fancy it, Jo and Duncan also make promotional videos and this is where I came into it. Polka Dot Production wanted to expand their portfolio by adding a short film to their arsenal of high end video production and they had very clear ideas about how they wanted to do that. 

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So in short, I spent a few hours running around the South Warwickshire countryside while Jo and Duncan filmed me both from the ground and using a high spec drone. I’ll let the film do the rest of the talking but let me just wrap this up by saying that these guys were a pleasure to work with. They were professional, creative and made me feel very relaxed. 

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Letter to my younger self

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Letter to my younger self


Dear young Lauren 

I know things are tough for you now, being an adolescent is definately one of the more challenging life phases we’ll go through, but I  can absolutely 100% guarantee that we’re going to be ok. Here are some little nuggets of hope for you..

When we were in our mid teens, our PE teacher kept entering us into the inter schools cross country trials even though we hated every single step because she saw great potential, not because she had it in for us. This will scar is for years but we come good in the end.

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The sporty girl teasing and laughing at us about our running style (you know exactly who I mean).. in about 20 years we’re going to bump into her at the gym and she’ll be unhealthy, depressed and hugely overweight. We won’t laugh back at her though, because we’re better than that.

It’s ok to be at the back.. and no, this is not how we’re going to die today. One day we’ll become an ultra marathon runner where the race is nothing to do with pace but going the distance... and that we can do! Hang out at the back, it’s going to be fine.

Tell Mum about our unhealthy relationship with food now! She’ll save us sooner. Binging and purging now is going to shape the way we look at food for the decades to come. It’s not ok to starve ourselves and use lunch money for cigarettes to surpress our appetite. But please know that it won’t always be like this, we win in the end!


One day in the future we’re going to start up a women’s running group and it’ll fast become one of the biggest groups in the country and win awards - that seems so crazy right? We hate running!! So don’t worry too much that we’re not doing so great in school. There’s more to life than algebra!

So hang in there little Loz, life gets really good as you get older, I promise you that. What I can also tell you is that there are more difficult times to come, but don’t worry, as we grow older we also grow stronger, both mentally and physically. We will learn to surround ourselves with a strong and positive support network by way of family and friends. We’ll never be alone.

I’m signing off now, I can’t give it all away because we like surprises, right? Furthermore, I can only tell you what I know for the first 39 years of our life, there’s more to come which I don’t know about yet!

Be kind to yourself little Lauren, trust your instinct and don’t get too drawn in by the wrong crowds. 

Take it easy

Older Lauren


What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?

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Fuelled by chocolate

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Fuelled by chocolate

As a fitness professional I’m occasionally asked to review products which I consider to be a nice little perk of the job. So when chocolatier Carole Armitage got in touch to ask if I’d be willing to sample her signature chocolates and give an honest opinion from a runner’s perspective... well, she didn’t have to ask twice. 

Firstly you should know that I’ve been a fitness professional for over 18 years now and I’ve seen every diet going. I’m old school and I truly believe that a healthy, balanced diet combined with a good exercise routine is a pretty solid formula. I wholehearted disagree with dieting, drastic transformation programmes and ‘cleanses’ whereby you effectively starve yourself for a few days. I can already feel myself getting wound up at just the mention of it so will stop there and save it for another blog. My point is, it’s ok to occasionally enjoy a bit of chocolate! 

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When you head to https://www.carolearmitage.co.uk/ and read Carole’s bio, it’s immediately apparent how passionate she is about the benefits of the right type of chocolate. So you know that a lot of thought and research as been invested in making these chocolates something a little out of the ordinary. 

All of Carole’s chocolates are nutritionally balanced and have been independently tested and endorsed by registered nutritionist, Emily Wood.  

Carole asked me to try the Sample Weekender Kit from her Wellness Range.  

Each Kit contains:

2 hot choc shots (post exercise shot)

3 bars of Apple pie (pre exercise)3 bars of booster/positivity (daily)

3 bars of funky monkey (post exercise)

Along with a mini online booklet is sent for you to see all the list of benefits these mighty bars do for you! 

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Now admittedly I don’t have a huge sweet tooth and I prefer to run in the morning, so it took some time to get my head around effectively having chocolate for breakfast. It’s  However, these chocolates come in little bite size bars which are perfect for a little ‘pick me up’ before heading out the door or when you’re on the move. The sprinkling of flavourings on top of each bar also adds an extra layer of excitement to the taste buds.. delicious!  

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I also LOVED the chocolate shots, probably more so than the bars, if I’m honest - they’re perfect for fixing that mid afternoon ‘crash’ in energy and really do taste quite amazing.  They come in a small vial which you keep in the fridge - give them a little shake before use and that’s it! 

In summary, these chocolates really are something special and a lot of thought has gone into how these can compliment your training as well as just being a day to day treat. Like anything, I imagine you’d need to make it a regular part of your nutrition to experience the full benefit but it is chocolate after all, so how hard can it be?? 

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Chiltern Wonderland 50 miler

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Chiltern Wonderland 50 miler

As my own biggest critic, it’s very rare for me to be entirely satisfied with my running performance, so when this one came good, I figured it was worth a blog mention.

In the lead up to CW50 I was balancing high volume training with injury management, not an easy thing but I just about made it through a 200 mile month with just a few niggles associated with an ongoing foot and knee problem.

My biggest concern facing this event was to get through it without any of my injuries rearing their ugly heads. The cut off time was  13 hours and a total elevation of 5,600 feet. I’d have been pleased to have finished in under 12 hours and without having to manage pain  - anything else was just a bonus.

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Centurion Running organises this event and I’d heard great things about them, so with no pressure to ‘perform’ and the knowledge that I was guaranteed beautiful scenery (the Chilterns) I was really quite excited about this race and sharing yet another adventure with my running buddy, Caroline. The forecast looked perfect and the race organiser confirmed that conditions underfoot were also looking good. 

There was a strong starting field of experienced ultra runners and some familiar faces from previous events. 28% of the field were women, the highest of any @centurionrunning event to date and I was proud to be part of that stat. After a detailed race briefing by Centurion Running founder James Elson, the race started promptly at 9am.

Ready to go! 

Ready to go! 

Following a post I saw on Instagram after the West Country 100 miler whereby the winning lady of the ‘Hilly 50’, Rachel Pixie talked about having no race strategy other than to go hard and find out what she could do, it left me curious as to what I was capable of if I let myself off the reigns, ditched conformity and just ran. I mentioned this to Caroline in the first couple of miles and as always she was right on board. The only condition we set was to maintain a ‘chatty’ pace which we managed throughout. 

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The Chiltern Wonderland 50 course starts at Goring-on-Thames and sets off along the river before it peels off across fields and climbs into the Chiltern hills.  It offers a stunning backdrop throughout, with plenty of undulations and technical woodland trails. There are five well stocked aid stations throughout the course and the marshals were incredibly helpful with refilling bottles, offers of hot drinks and anything else we needed. The pre-mixed Tailwind was also a nice little touch by Centurion. Even though we were made to feel so welcome and comfortable, we were in and out of each aid station within a few minutes, totalling just 30 mins of refuel time across the 50 miles. 

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Among the many things I love about ultra marathons, is the people you meet along the way. There is such a strong sense of camaraderie among this tight knit community and I’m lucky to have met some amazing people in recent years, each with their own experience and story -  this ultra was no different. We chatted and ran with a few different people which always helps the  miles pass by quicker. 

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It wasn’t all smiles throughout though. I spent a good 20 miles feeling sick and really struggled to get anything other than fruit down me, and I guess after a few too many slices of pineapple, the fructose acid didn’t help the situation. I was hungry and started to feel decidedly heavy legged as my concerns grew. I took some indigestion tablets which I had in my back pack which eventually helped ease the nausea. By the final checkpoint I was able to get some cake and a cup of sugary tea down me - 9.5 miles to the finish and finally I felt good again.  

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Just a few miles before CP5 we realised that if we could maintain the same pace, we would finish in under 10 hours. So now with less than 2 hours of running left and the majority of the big hills out of the way, Caroline and I had a new focus and with that a nice little energy boost. 

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The last few miles flew by and before we knew it we were on the outskirts of Goring, winding our way through the alleys and streets. Our pace was strong and we felt good given that we had best part of 50 miles in our legs.  

We were prepared to be running for around 12 hours (using previous 50 milers as a time guide) and in the dark. We ran strong finishing in 9.53 hours (a 2 hour personal best for 50 Miles), in day light, joint 12th female finishers and 65th out of 240 runners.

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We received a very warm welcome at race HQ by the volunteers and our fellow runners. It was a great atmosphere as everyone revelled in their achievements. 

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Thank you Centurion Running and all of the volunteers for putting on such a fantastic event.

Photo credit to Stuart March Photography @stumarchphoto for the great pics. 

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Rollga foam roller review

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Rollga foam roller review

Ok so I’m going to be honest, I really didn’t think that there could be a huge difference between one foam roller and the next. Let’s face it, they’re all the work of the devil and induce labour breathing when not used regularly... guilty! 🙋🏻‍♀️

How wrong I was! When Rollga sent me a couple of their products to try out, the first thing I noted was how fast they arrived from America.. approx. 5 days... my initial concerns ruled out. 

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The good people at Rollga sent me the foam roller and 3 in 1 Activator for foot pain relief - both are relevant as I suffer with both tight muscles, particularly in my legs (I run anything between 30-50 miles per week) and also tight tendon pain in my feet (currently being investigated by a consultant). 

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The Rollga foam roller is designed to fit your body shape and contours. It comes in three different levels of hardness depending on the users sensitivity (there is a flow chart on their website to help consumers decide).  

Priced at $39.99 (approx. £30) compared to other foam rollers on the market which fetch £15 upwards, my initial thoughts were that it’s a fairly hefty price tag. However now that I’ve had a chance to really explore the diversity of this product, I can see how it’s several steps ahead of other foam rollers on the market.

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The 3 in 1 Activator massage ball, priced at a very reasonable $14.99 (approx. £11.60) is tennis ball sized with a different surface on each side depending on the users requirements, but essentially it promises to relieve pain and unlock tension from conditions such as Plantar Fasciaitis. It’s unlike any foot massage ball I’ve seen or used and due to its shape, it’s able to really get stuck into the awkward contours of the foot. 

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Rollga feature a nice little app (free) which is essentially a user guide but it offers a host of videos and links to the various products on offer as well as access to online forums. As apps go it’s fairly content heavy, which I like.

In summary, the Rollga products I’ve tested are perhaps a little weighty in price but far superior to other comparible items on the market... definately a good investment to any athlete who suffers with muscle and tendon tightness. 

 http://rollgahealth.mybigcommerce.com/shop-all/

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West Country 100 mile ultra marathon

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West Country 100 mile ultra marathon

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After completing Rat Race The Wall 69 miler in June 2017, it seemed that the obvious progression was to set a new target of 100 miles. After completing a couple more ultras that year, I felt ready to take my training to the next level. In addition to this I’d ran Race to the Stones 100km with my good friend Caroline, it was her first taste of ultra running and luckily she’d been bitten by the bug, so it was decided that we’d run 100 Miles together in 2018. 

Fast Forward to May 19th this year and with five months of tough training under my belt, Caroline and I found ourselves at the starting area of the West Country Ultra, along with just 20 other athletes, four women in total. This event organised by Albion Running, is still relatively new to the ultra scene but with 11000 feet of elevation, it’s fast becoming reputed as the toughest 100 mile race in the UK. Entrants have an option of the Flat 50, Hilly 50 or the full 100. 

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After a countdown by the Race Director we were off and soon found ourselves settling into a nice comfortable pace alongside the canal. The first few miles passed quickly and we were soon at CP1 which was well stocked with snacky type foods, but no toilet, bush squat it was then. 

The next section was a 10 mile stretch along the river where the grass had grown quite high, so by time we’d reached CP2 my legs were already starting to feel tired.. not a great feeling with 79 Miles still to go! They did eventually ease off with regular stretching and I started to feel strong again. CP3 came and went and we were now approaching the coastline so the scenery was really starting to pick up.

At this point it had become quite apparent that the check points, although supported by some really friendly volunteers, had quite a limited range of food - lunch time had been and gone and I was yet to see anything other than crisps, nuts or a peanut butter wrap.. no proper toilets either so squatting had become quite the norm - not a problem for the time being but with 24 hours of running ahead of us, I couldn’t help but wonder how this would work later on. 

The next stretch was a beautiful coastal path with some lovely undulations. I knew that my husband and two children were going to be at the next checkpoint which gave me a huge lift. I was starting to feel the early signs of an ongoing issue I have in my left foot where one of the tendons over stretches which can become quite uncomfortable after a few miles. I was concerned but knew there wasn’t too much I could do other than tape it at the next checkpoint and hope for the best.

To pass the time, Caroline and I played games like trying to name all of the American states in alphabetical order (I’m yet to check if we missed any of them) and even got Instagram involved in naming animals which begin with Q and U (Quagga, Uakari). CP4 at Kilve Beach was a warm welcome and much needed hugs from my family... the support crew had arrived, including Helen who was going to pace us from 70 miles - spirits were high and both Caroline and myself felt strong. 

My husband Richard, Helen our pacer, Lina plus children as the cheer squad. 

My husband Richard, Helen our pacer, Lina plus children as the cheer squad. 

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CP5 was only a short while after we left the previous one so we had a reasonably quick stop here. My foot at this point was really quite painful and now my knee had started to hurt too so I applied someRock Tape and off we went.

The temperature that day rose to 23°C so it was a welcome relief as the sun started to move towards the horizon. It was also the day of the Royal Wedding (Prince Harry and Megan Markle) so it was a little torturous having to run past garden parties where everyone was drinking and having fun in the sun!

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We reached CP6 at Dunster Beach Car Park where our families were once again waiting for us. There seemed to be even less choice of food at this check point than any of the previous ones. The same old peanut butter and jam wraps and crisps. I was starting to get a little wound up by it but looked forward to the hot food we’d been promised at the next checkpoint at 56 Miles  

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he next stretch was along the beach before starting the first of many brutal ascents in the second half of the race. After a tough slog uphill we finally reached the top and onto a lovely ridge of undulating terrain. The views from here were spectacular and the sun was starting to set, it really was incredible!

CP6 was at Bossington and finally we could have a longer rest and  get changed into night gear. Prior to the event I had emailed the organiser about a hot meal and this checkpoint and was told that we could expect a good hearty meal. The checkpoints until this point has been stocked with the same range of snacks and we were yet to have a substantial feed. So when we were offered half a can of vegetable soup and a bread roll, although delicious, barely touched the sides. I always carry around 500 calories of nutrition on me but I stocked up with extra at this checkpoint as I was really concerned about the lack of calories we’d had so far. 

Although we’d had a good long rest and had freshened up, we were now heading into the night and we wouldn’t see our families until the morning. It would also be the first time I’ve ran all the way through the night, and I was feeling a bit nervous about how the next few hours would pan out. Our pacer Helen was meeting us at Webber’s Post, around 70 Miles, so at least we had that to look forward to.  

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P8 was only 4 flat miles away so we had a very quick stop to grab some food on the go. At this point our good friend, Liv, put in a phone call to say how proud she was of us and that my running group, a women’s only group called Run Like a Girl, were all rooting for us and asking for updates. In addition to this, my phone had a steady stream of messages coming in through various media channels and it was reassuring to know that so many people were backing us and sending virtual cheers.  

We started off well but things soon took a bad turn. The GPX file that the organiser had sent out prior to the event was wrong and had put us in the middle of a forest with no clear footpath. We backed and forthed for over an hour trying to figure out the directions but we were making no progress. It was cold and we were genuinely starting to worry. There was a glimmer of grace when Caroline fell down a badger set which raised a bit of a giggle. Eventually we called Helen who was already en route to the meeting point at Webber’s Post - we sent her a pin drop of our location (thank goodness for smart phones!) and she was soon with us. Helen was a breath of fresh air as she was full of energy and had a clear mind. It meant that Caroline and I only had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other whilst Helen navigated and kept us moving forward.

By time we’d reached Webber’s Post, my spirit was just about broken. It had been over four hours since the last checkpoint and all I wanted was a good cry and a cup of tea. The volunteer at CP9 was happy to put the kettle on but then asked us if we had a tea bag for him to make a cuppa with! At which point I cried, again. 

Onwards and upwards the next section was a 10 mile loop which brought us back to Webber’s Post, but not before we faced the steepest ascent of the entire course.  Just prior to this we’d taken a moment to appreciate the stunning sunrise which with it brought new energy - the long and hellish night was over and today was the day we would complete 100 Miles. 

Dawning of a new day  

Dawning of a new day  

The next few miles were technical underfoot and a fairly steep ascent. I was more frustrated than ever that my knee just couldn’t cope with anything beyond a certain degree and I became increasingly aware of slowing down the group. Everything else felt okay; my legs were strong and the new day had given me fresh energy but at this point, with 25 Miles still to go and knew that we were running out of time. 

The sunrise brought us fresh energy despite the worlds longest night  

The sunrise brought us fresh energy despite the worlds longest night  

CP10 was a second stop Webber’s Post  (we’d done a loop) and we didn’t stop long, we had to keep moving. Helen had already put in a phone call to my husband Richard to let him know about the food situation so just a few miles later he popped up with a McDonalds breakfast .. never before has a sausage and egg McMuffin tasted so good! .. washed down with a hot cup of tea, we had new energy!

What happened next is something that didn’t come easy and believe me when I say that for mile upon mile I battled with myself until I knew there was very little time left and the decision had to be made - I told Caroline that she had to go on without me because I didn’t want my injury to cost her the cut off time. I knew I’d make it to 100 miles at some point that day, there was no question of would I or won’t I, just when. So we agreed that Caroline would run ahead and Helen would stay with me until we got to the finish. It was pretty soul destroying to see Caroline run off until she was out of sight but I had to keep reminding myself of how strong I still felt after 85 Miles and it was just my injury that had slowed me down. 

CP10 and 11 were a blur. All I really remember is my husband telling me that time was tight but I could still make the cut off time, I just had to dig deeper than ever, get my head down and move as fast as I could for the last 7 Miles. The lady at the final check point who had won the Hilly 50 the day before told me that it was going to hurt anyway so just push hard, get the job done and they’d all be at the finish to help me deal with the pain. I’ll be forever thankful for those words because they really did help power me through those final miles.

I was like a woman possessed ascending the final climb which was Bossington hill. I can honestly say that I’ve never had to dig as deep as I did in that final uphill push and once I reached the top I was utterly exhausted. Helen was brilliant and knew exactly how to handle me at this stage. She made allowances for me to have small recovery times when the pain in my foot became too much but then she also gave a gentle nudge when she knew I could push on a bit. 

 

Bossington Hill.. the final climb (steeper than in the pic!)

Bossington Hill.. the final climb (steeper than in the pic!)

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We walked the majority of the last 2 miles as it was a steep downhill and my knee just couldn’t cope. Once on the flat we managed a run/walk until the last 0.3 mile at which point I was absolutely clear in my mind that I wanted to finish the race running.  

This was it! 103 miles clocked (65 of which I was in pain)  11,000ft elevation, 31.5 hours on my feet. 22 runners had started and only 10 of us made the cut off. I could see my family and friends in the finishing car park and hear their cheers. Helen and I briefly stopped for a hug and I thanked her for keeping me going. The tears were streaming down my face but I was beyond elated to finally finish the race within the cut off time. 

My husband and children rushed over to give me hugs and hand me my medal, which incidentally is a decent bit of bling. I was reunited with Caroline and we had a good cry together (tears of joy!) .. the relief of it all finally being over was overwhelming. 

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We did it. We ran 100 miles of incredibly tough terrain and brutal elevation. We are Centurions. 

A huge thank you to the unsung heroes in all of this; our families and the lovely Lina who were pretty much at every checkpoint after CP4, cheering us along, and ferrying around us to make sure we had everything we needed. Helen, our pacer who led us through the night and to the finish, clocking a whopping 37 Miles! The volunteers who give up their spare time to man the checkpoints and offer encouragement. All of our supporters who kept us going with incredible messages and phone calls, it really made a huge difference. Thank you everyone! 

Top crew!

Top crew!

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As a word of warning to anyone considering doing this race, I strongly recommend that you go prepared to be self sufficient (including tea bags!) as there is a distinct lack of food throughout the entire course. Make sure you’re well acquainted with the route and take an OS map. This race is NOT for the feint hearted! 

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The Wall Ultra Marathon - 69 miles stronger

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The Wall Ultra Marathon - 69 miles stronger

'The Wall' is a 69 mile ultra marathon running event organised by the good folks at Rat Race Adventure Sports, which follows Hadrian's Wall starting from Carlisle Castle and finishing on Newcastle Quayside. It's not for the feint hearted but as long as you possess a little bit of crazy then you're pretty much all set up. 

I started my training back in January. It's been nearly a year since I completed my last ultra marathon and other than Leicester marathon back in October 2016, I was pretty much starting from scratch. It was all fairly straight forward: I steadily built up my mileage and combined this with a strength and conditioning plan as well as a regular yoga practice. I ran Warwick Half Marathon in March, London Marathon in April and then continued to build mileage up to 30 miles before a 3 week taper period on the lead up to race day.

Saturday 17th June was the big day and I'd travelled up to Carlisle the day before with a good friend who had insisted on accompanying me. Knowing how much I was feeling the nerves, Beverley was great company and a good distraction from it all, having her at the start line had a calming effect on me and I was so grateful for that.

Myself and Fee looking pre-ultra fresh

The atmosphere at the start line was upbeat and I felt surprisingly relaxed. I'd previously been chatting to a couple of ladies online, Fee and Vic, and we had arranged to meet before the start of the race. I felt like I already knew them as we'd shared our anxieties and race prep, so finally meeting them in person was another great distraction from the 69 miles which lay just minutes ahead. In addition to this, Bev and I had got chatting to an American guy called Alex in our hotel that morning and we got on really well so decided we'd run together for a while. 

So this was it, at 7am the countdown begun and just over 800 runners, including myself, embarked on their journey. Having run a handful of ultra marathons before and although I still have lots to learn, I do know as much as that anything can happen when you're on your feet for that long. On one hand this always makes me feel a little nervous but on the whole, its the adventure and the unknown which creates a buzz with these things - I was excited to have finally got going and within minutes I felt comfortable and happy in my stride.  

The obligatory start line selfie with Fee and Alex

Fee, Alex and I chatted for a few miles before Fee decided to hang back and pace herself a little more comfortably - Alex and I continued together as we chatted about running, travel, family etc.. and then there were times we just ran in silence, which was also ok - a good running buddy recognises when you just want to get your head down and pass the miles quietly and even though we'd only met just a couple of hours earlier, we had already become quite well tuned to each others needs. Alex and I ran together until we reached the 27 mile pitstop at Lannercost where he ran ahead while I tended to my feet which were already displaying worrying signs of blisters and heat damage.

The next few miles passed quite quickly as there was a lot of trail which is when I'm in my element. The heat was pretty full on at this point and I was starting to really struggle. All I could do was keep hydrated and well fuelled - temperatures had reached 29 degrees Celsius and I could see that I wasn't the only one suffering. 

My husband had met me at Lannercost and was now crewing me for the remainder of the race. Race rules stipulate that runners aren't allowed to accept external support by way of extra fuelling in between pit stops, but he was allowed to 'float' in between and offer morale support which in all honesty is all I wanted; in previous discussions I'd been very clear that I wanted to be independant and didn't want any 'special treatment' - Richard was very respectful of this.. he knows me well!

Coffee and go!

Coffee and go!

The Hexham pit stop was at 44 miles and I found this stage the most enjoyable - this later showed on the results table as I delivered the top 20 best (womens) times across the field for the 17 mile stretch. My motivation? .. I knew my children and in laws were waiting for me.. I flew! The stop at Hexham was along a greenway through an avenue of trees and as I made my approach I spotted my son and daughter at the far end. At 44 miles I pulled out a 400m sprint to get to them! They ran with me and revelled in the cheers from the crowds.

After a good feed and a full change of clothes (into night kit) I was on my way again. The next time I was to see my children would be once I had completed the race.

The 50 mile marker came and went and I put in a live Facebook video to my amazing running group, Run Like a Girl - the response was incredible and that coupled with the dozens of messages and notifications I was receiving throughout the day, gave me a huge push to keep going. 

When I first started this journey, I hadn't quite realised how many people were rooting for me but as the day unfolded it became apparent that so many ( literally hundreds) friends and family were avidly following my updates. I'll never forget how amazing it felt to know that they were all following my race tracker and sending virtual cheers along the way!

At 55 miles everything suddenly took a nose dive. Much like a small child who has just taken a fall, grazed their knee and been okay about it until they see the blood - I needed to tend to my incredibly painful feet which I'd ran on for over 30 miles and only when I saw the state they were in did I have a proper freak out!! Over the course of the day, I'd effectively bashed the big toe nails backwards into the cuticle and causing trauma to the entire nail bed on both feet. In addition to this, two huge blisters had formed under the nails and had lifted them away from the skin. My feet were literally bleeding and I could barely touch them without screaming in pain - there was still 14 miles to go and although I wasn't ready to give up (that was never going to happen) I knew that my head space had shifted and the remainder of the course was going to be more of a mental battle. In just one mile, even though nothing had changed physically, everything felt different now, everything hurt.

With the encouragement of my amazing husband, I managed to run/limp/hobble to the 62 mile pit stop at Newburn where my in-laws were there waiting for me - it was a warm welcome with a very much needed hug and a few tears. I have to say that the folks at Newburn were truly fantastic. At this point there had been a huge drop out due to the heat and those that had made it this far were in a hell of a state, myself included. The atmosphere was somber, yet little glimpses of positivity were apparent as we all knew the finish line was almost within arms length.

Head up when you run or else you'll miss the incredible scenery

Head up when you run or else you'll miss the incredible scenery

One of the marshalls sat me down and brought me a cup of tea and a sandwich for which I was really grateful. I had sat down opposite a lady whose feet were in an equally bad state but bless her she was still in high spirits. I'll never forget she just looked at me and whispered 'just 7 miles to go, we can do this' - and that's all I needed to hear. Hand on my heart, I can honestly say that it never once crossed my mind that I wouldn't complete this event, it was more a case of how much pain could I bear to get me to the end. 'Only 7 miles' is all I had to do and I would have completed my biggest challenge to date. With my husband by my side and the huge online support across my running group, friends and family, I knew that within a couple of hours I'd be at the finish line.

The final push honestly took every fibre of my being to put one foot in front of the other. At times I felt like I was going so slow I may as well have walked it. Every step was searing pain in not just my feet but now everything hurt. Richard was just simply brilliant - he was so patient with me and never said a word, only to tell me to slow down on the rare occasion that I had a momentary burst of energy and would pick up the pace, perhaps a little too much at times, given the state of my feet and the miles I had left to complete.

One mile to go and there was a sign which read 'One mile until you reach legend status' - that's all I needed. I'd previously seen this sign posted in a Facebook group by someone who had ran the Wall the year before and I remember thinking 'IF I get as far as that sign then I know I've done it. Run, walk or crawl, I've done it.'

I parted ways with my husband as he rode ahead on his bike so he could get to the finish line before I did. I put on my headphones and hit Elevator Song by Keaton Henson. One foot in front of the other is all I needed to do. One mile to go.

As I passed the Tyne Bridge I remembered the enormously friendly Geordie crowds from when I've run the Great North Run previously and I imagined they were cheering for me in that moment.

On the approach to the Millennium Bridge I looked across the River Tyne  and there it was, the finish line. As I ran over the bridge I glanced to my right to look down the Tyne and for some reason I stopped. 18 hours and 19 minutes earlier I'd set off on what was to be an incredible journey which would test my mental and physical resolve, and although I'd spent the last 14 miles in agonising pain and wishing it was all over, I just wanted to savour that last moment before it all ended. I took a quick photo and set to it. I could see my husband and father-in-law at the end of the bridge and just beyond them was the finishing arch. I also knew that despite it being past 1 o'clock in the morning, there was a group of people back home, including my mum, who were glued to my tracker and eagerly awaiting news of my finish.

At the finish line there were a few cheers from a some fellow 'Wallers' who had already finished, but it was nearly 1:30am and the crowds of supporters had long gone. It didn't matter though, in that last 400 metres, the pain in my feet and the exhaustion was masked by pure euphoria and gritty determination to cross the line as strong as I could muster.

So that was it. 69 miles of euphoria, laughter, tears and pain had finally come to an end. I felt EPIC! .. and will continue to do so for a very long time. 

Not-so-fresh post ultra selfie

Not-so-fresh post ultra selfie

One question that I'm always asked is 'Why?' and also 'At which point did you think you weren't going to make it?' The answer is quite simply 'Never'. It genuinely never crossed my mind that I wouldn't complete it, only 'how', with all the pain and exhaustion, was I going to do it? The mental strength gained from conquering something like that brings great value to how I tackle situations that everyday life throws at me.. and so, quite simply that's why.. that and the fact that no one every had any fun in their comfort zone.

Adventure is everything ;-)

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Muddy Stilettos Awards - WIN!

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Muddy Stilettos Awards - WIN!

So it seems that quite a few of you folks believe that I'm kind of alright at what I do.. you only went and voted for me to win the Muddy Stilettos Award for the Best Fitness Instructor (Warwickshire) category! Huge thanks to all that voted, I honestly feel so honoured to have received such a prestigious award.

I was invited to attend an award presentation at Hilltop Farm where I was greeted with a glass of champagne and the friendly team at Muddy Stilettos Warwickshire HQ. It was a lovely afternoon spent networking and meeting the other award winners, all hardworking, inspiring women in business and truly deserving of their win.

Click here for more information about Muddy Stilettos and their fantastic lifestyle blog.

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