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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