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ultra marathon

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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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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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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