Thursday, 31 May 2012

A year gone & a lovely *sunny* weekend in the Lakes...

I had an absolutely brilliant weekend in the Lake District.  Was it weird being back and not running on all the other days and just doing the ‘one lap’ of the lake? Yep, most definitely. It was really fun supporting and cheering on this year’s class of 10in10’ers, however. Supporting others at races when I’m not actually running myself isn’t something that I get to do an awful lot of. And I guess I kind of like that, because I really enjoy the running and so I’m not normally around a race unless I’m running. It was really fun to drive around (if not a bit nauseating…gosh, that marathon course is hilly) and support the runners and cheer them on past Check Points and probably annoy them hehe.

It was strange to see them give it their all and so focused and know that a year ago exactly I had been right where they now were. Yet I swear sometimes it feels like I never really did it, that someone must have waved a magic wand and abracadabra’d me around that lake ten days in a row. I would love to give this challenge another go someday, when I’m richer and faster. It really does get into your soul and a part of you truly does remain there. So, Saturday for me  was a lovely day to be back and a proud day to see so many brilliant runners  that I know  complete  the final tough bit on route to completing this incredible challenge. Day ten, well, that’s just a lap of honour ;-)

Sunday started as an absolutely beautiful and sunny day and remained so. It is truly magical to see such gleaming sunshine in the heart of the Lakes. Last year’s Day 10 and marathon day was plagued by torrential downpours and freezing cold wind. This year was picturesque and there seemed to be many more marathon runners out in force in the glorious weather. This was a great sight to behold, because every long distance runner should get a chance to experience this race. It is so well organised and the scenic backdrop is breathtaking and even more inspiring in the sunlight.

As we pulled up to the marathon and parked the car we were greeted by the race director of the Farnham Pilgrim Marathon which takes place along the North Downs Way. This was actually really spooky as he told us that he wasn’t about the practicalities of really handing out flyers for a marathons 300 miles way from where is actually was. So I told him I had done it last year and that awful lots of runners will travel great distances to do a good race and that indeed, his was up there. Then, I had a look at a flyer and weirdly there was a picture of me in it! It was such a weird conscience. So, I had my photo taken with him :)

After seeing the 10 in 10 runners off at 9.30am and getting a bit emotional as I again thought back to last year, we had an hour to chill out before the main marathon. I love the fact that this race is started by a band of drummers leading you down to the start. It always makes me giggle as it sounds like some sort of ceremonial death march. Or like war in beckoning.  It has an air of impending doom and excitement about it simultaneously. Well, I guess those hills aren’t always easy, so that’s the doom bit right there. However it wouldn’t be the lake without a few hills thrown in there.

I was really intrigued as to how this marathon would feel and what emotions it might bring out in me. I had been emotional on the Saturday and my mind had been occupied almost the entire previous 9 days that this year’s TIT’s were out there. It’s strange what multiple marathon running can do to you. You find yourself saying to people ‘I’m only doing the one this time’. When did doing the one marathon in a weekend become ‘ONLY’ the one? But you quickly forget the pain of the previous big challenge and in comparison, doing the one marathon sounds minuscule in comparison. However as soon as I was approached ‘Devils Gallop’ at approx mile 7/8 I remembered why this course can be tricky and I wondered how on earth I had managed to drag myself around it ten times in as many days.

Surprisingly I was running pretty well for me.  I reached ‘Penis Tree’ road and had a giggle whilst I told other runners about how this road always makes me laugh. I must have looked like a nutter. I must have looked even more of a nutter at around mile 16/17 when approaching ‘Nappy Mountain’, where I walked for a bit and felt quite tearful talking to a fellow runner who had recognised me from last year’s 10in10. It all brought back so many memories and I felt quite reflective. Actually, the bit I really don’t like which Is Newby Bridge – for some odd reason – came and went quite quickly. Okay, the busy road bit after Newby Bridge took a little longer to go and that bit is always a little tricky, but it wasn’t as bad as I have felt it to be there in the past.

Weather-wise it was beautifully sunny day and really quite warm. I was a little too toasty in places and was a little too much like a ready salted crisp. Then, at some points as we neared the lake again the air began to cool with a slight breeze. There wasn’t a hugely noticeable breeze but it was enough to cool the sweat on my skin and give me goose bumps that left me feeling a bit disorientated. 

I fuelled myself with gels and Sports (jelly) Beans during the run and I felt this worked well and was convenient. Normally, I don’t love to take gels as they can be sickly, but they worked just fine on Sunday and they were SIS ones – the least sickly ones, so they’re always pretty much okay for me to get down.
After a largely great run interspersed with some moments of sheer mental torture from memories of this route, I crossed the finish line in high spirits and comfortably under 5hours. I was really happy with this when I think of the emotions involved, the heat, the hills, the walking bits, the toothache…. I crossed the line and had a big cry. It was happy ‘glad to be back’, ‘proud of all the new TIT’s’ and emotional cry. I knew I’d have those moments, but overall it was a good run. It was so lovely to see all these amazing people join the 10in10 club and share in their day. I had a beer and cheered as they had their presentation. 

Instead of the beer following the race I maybe (definitely) should have eaten something immediately afterwards. I was hungry, but there was just so much going on that I just wanted to stay and chat to everyone. I wish I’d have eaten. Upon leaving this car park the road sign directed us left out of the driveway and back onto the marathons route up to Newby Bridge…the first 12ish miles of the course. This is blummin’ hilly to drive in the car and I should know that after having run the route that very day. Anyway, I suddenly felt very sick and to cut a long story short I had to stop the car where I got out and was really quite sick by the side of the road. Fortunately I didn’t have much to bring up, but then again if I had eaten then I maybe wouldn’t have been sick? I think the heat most definitely contributed to this puking episode. I have felt sick before after a marathon, but I have never actually been physically sick. I did feel better afterwards and proceeded to stuff my face with some much needed food on route back home.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Pretty posters & things


So, I discovered a pretty funky new website & had a play & made a poster :) and there we are..... I am far too easily pleased sometimes. Today I am continuing my lazy streak, so I guess fidling about with random poster websites is one way to keep my mind busy. Well, I guess technically I am 'tapering' for the Grand Union Canal Race next weekend, but really I'm never really sure what you're meant to do with the whole tapering thing...I'm a bit clueless, so I'll just be lazy in the sun!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Hills, adventure & ponderings

An ultra adventure and lots of thoughts from the last couple of weeks.

A year has passed…. *sniffles*

It seems surreal that an entire year has passed since I took on my biggest challenge to date: Brathay Challenge of 10 marathons in 10 days around one of the toughest road marathon courses in the UK. The Brathay Windermere Marathon course is beautiful and inspiring and I love the Lake District. But it is tough and hilly and emotional and the uniqueness of this challenge and what makes it so challenging is that you must face your demons every day. If you grow to dislike a part of the course then you must face that enemy every day and it becomes a huge mental battle as well as a tremendous challenge of physical endurance. I must admit, I have felt all week that a part of me is there somehow. Last Friday when this year’s class of 2012 commenced their magnificent journey I thought of them intensely and recalled me drive up to Windermere the day before I started mine. I recalled the emotions, my hopes and my fears and how it all played out as the days rolled by. This event becomes a part of you and I don’t think it ever leaves but I think those memories have often lain dormant until now, reading this year’s blogs and feeling the raw emotion detailed within the words therein. I feel quite emotional and I intend to venture to Windermere for Sunday for Day 10 and the annual Windermere Marathon. It’ll be 3 years to the day since my very first marathon at Windermere and its going to be an emotional one. But it’ll also be a proud one and a happy day of celebration for the runners of 2012 and their magnificent achievement. 

My biggest challenge of late was heading back to the Malvern Hills Ultra to conquer my demons and a lot of unfinished business left over from a DNF at 45 miles in 2010. It was certainly very hilly and most definitely a big challenge…

Malvern Hills Ultra – 53+ miler, Saturday 5th May 2012

Now, the course was really very different from when I last attempted this ultra in 2010, but the hills remained the same. I’m pretty sure a good chunk of the course has changed since 2010 anyway, however significant rainfall in the weeks leading up to this event made the route uncertain until the week before this year’s event. The River Severn had experienced serious flooding and consequently the route had to be drastically altered. Normally we would be heading out towards the Malvern Hills and looping back around to the start at Holt Castle. However, as it turns out, the amended version of this route was to prove even hillier…we were to run out-and-back. Navigating towards and over the Malvern Hills, we then needed to retrace our steps. Navigationally, this seemed easier but –achy-leg wise all I could think was, ‘I wonder which way around the hills are going to hurt the most?’ The answer was to be conclusive: no matter which way you tackle these hills and even the lesser hills on the course, hills will still be hills and legs will still be achy going up them and therefore, every way hurts the most ;-)

So, with a 4am wake up call to make it to the start line for 7ish am we headed towards Malvern and of course, despite leaving early we were late. Well, when I say late I mean we got lost and our satnav couldn’t quite work out the entrance to the start. Fortunately with a bit of guesswork and a turnaround we managed to outsmart the satnav and reached the start line. Leaping out of the car and scrambling for my map-case (to be used for keeping things dry rather than mappage…I am the most useless person with a map, but I did have some written instructions…), bag and banana I jogged over towards race HQ and got my number, attempted to listen to the brief whilst fiddling with my bag and number and ultimately did the most important thing and got to the front of the loo queue…I always worry about this because there is nothing worse than starting an event when you are bursting to go to the loo and when your mind should be on the task at hand but is instead whirring with uncomfortable thoughts of how you can go for a pee…well, it is just distracting.

Luckily there wasn’t a long queue and I had a few minutes to spare as I made my way outside and turned on my Garmin. I was really doubtful that my Garmin would behave itself because it has been temperamental for months upon months and the screen will often become a mass of random pixels or blank and stop working. However I can’t afford to do anything about it right now so I just have to wing it and hope it plays along.
Ultimately I was to be extremely fortunate that my Garmin did decide to play the game. I had uploaded the course to it the night before and with its participation it was able to point us in a lot of correct directions when we very nearly went in a lot of wrong ones. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we did go in some very varied directions also…just not as many as we would have done. This was a very good day for my technology to be working.

I gather that because the route had to be amended in a hurry that some of the written directions weren’t so spot on or as detailed as they might have been. This caused us to get confused at a few tricky junctions. At certain parts of the course there existed ‘Punch Points’ at which we were required to punch a tally card. Failure to reach these punch points and return these cards on the way out and back would result in a 10 minute time penalty added to our official recorded finishing time. I guess this only hugely mattered if you were trying to race and win this event. For us mere mortals we reasoned that if a Punch Point were to be hard to find and take us longer than the 10 minute penalty that we would incur for missing it, then it was probably better to incur that time penalty, because spending a lot of time looking for it would cost us even more time. Fortunately, we were quite adept at finding these points. The last one was tricky, but we found it.

Hills, feeling nauseous and fuelling

The main things that will stay with me with regards to this event are most poignantly the hills! I never facebook or tweet or anything normally during an ultra, but I felt I had to facebook how hilly these hills are. And I’ve done quite a few hilly things.  For some reason they can really zap all the energy out of your legs… I really suffered on this one with a lack of energy and feelings of nausea. Hills can do that to you with regards to nausea. I find that they can affect your breathing which adds to feelings of sickness. However, I also knew that my nutrition strategy for the day wasn’t going so great. I think sometimes it’s fair to say that I almost feel self conscious for eating so early on in an event. I tend to feel quite self aware and question whether I need to eat so early on. I’m good at going for ages without eating a lot or taking on fuel during events. This is probably a better strategy to adopt in training to make you stronger rather than when you’re actually taking part in an event and NEED the fuel. I’m the same with taking on water. In the end this can have a really detrimental effect on your energy levels. I’ve experienced it before and I should know to do so by now: always eat early on…fuel up early and avoid any feelings of nausea. I think there was a stretch of around 15 miles during this ultra where I felt rag-doll like and ill. We eventually stopped at a pub for a refreshing coke, which worked wonders with my packet of prawn and cocktail crisps. I then started to take on a bit more fuel at the remaining check points in the form of peanut butter sandwiches and I really started to feel much fuller of energy and happier. I felt more raring to go at the end of what would ultimately end up to be pretty close to 54 miles that I did about 30 miles earlier. It’s strange how these things turn out. It’s all so unpredictable. I guess that’s what makes it exciting.

Dark fields, climbing gates and getting lost


I was really lucky on this one to come across a familiar running friend and fellow 10in10'er Noel and for him to let me and my nausea tag along really. He is much faster than me, but he provided excellent company. Sometimes these things can be lonely and with some complicated navigationally difficult bits it was nice to have that company and reassurance of going the correct way…sometimes when we weren’t…but it is a whole lot worse to be in that situation alone and not have a clue where you are, with no one to ask. I was also kept amused on route by a new running buddy, Ellie. It was lovely to meet her and I hope to see her on a lot more of these crazy off-road things. Ellie is currently undertaking ‘The Memorial Mile Challenge’ and is running a mile in official races for every service person that has been killed in Afghanistan in Op Herrick. So, needless to say I had lovely and very inspiring company on this adventure.

At some points we took wrong turns and my Garmin would beep that we were ‘off course’, but we managed to get back on the right path together. I can be pretty rubbish with maps so it was nice to have reassurance from two other people. We ended up in a few fields that were pretty hard to navigate once it had gotten dark, but we just kept moving forward and climbed any gates we had to. Climbing gates was a bit of struggle in the latter stages. You really do stiffen up. However, in the latter stages I actually did feel better in myself other that the usual creaky stiffening of muscles. I no longer felt ill and I think the fuel I had been taking on had finally reached my system and made me feel better. All was good and definitely a bit of the route that we had covered some 50 miles earlier was beginning to look familiar. Then, with only a few miles left to go, I thought I could see a figure just in front of us. We hadn’t seen another runner for absolutely hours, but sure enough here was someone just ahead of us.


As it would turn out, there were actually 4 people just in front of us. They had gotten lost some miles earlier and phoned the Race Directors for some guidance. But we now knew we were on the right track and together we all ran to the finish, as the race director came out to greet us. This was the moment we had been working for all day and we were here, at the finish. Hurrah! I LOVE this feeling. I love it. Honestly, there is nothing more satisfying than reaching the finish line and feeling really pleased with it, having overcome obstacles and worked hard out there all day to make it happen. Whenever I get down with the world I think of these moments and treasure them. If I could bottle these moments I would, but then you just can’t buy them. They can only be earned ;-)

As far as finishing venues go, and starting ones for that matter (although it was even better at the finish and I got to explore the venue more) this was great. Holt Castle is lovely and we were given a HUGE medal. There was also loads of tea, coffee, nibbles and food laid on. I had a lovely pasta bake and a cup of homemade soup which was just what I needed. I was even allowed to have a shower and let me tell you, the bathroom was fantastic! The shower was amazing!

Elevation Gain: 6,212 ft. Elevation Loss: 6, 228 ft. Min Elevation: 89 ft. Max Elevation: 1, 363 ft.

All in all I had a brilliant day and I will definitely recommend Ultrarunning ltd …they do everything to get you to the end. They stock their check points with such a variety of food and such friendly people and they just really know their running. You can’t really ask for more than a brilliant ultra event managed by brilliant runners. It was fantastic to go back and settle some unfinished business and this time there was no rain or cows…just LOTS of hills ;-)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Running in rain and randomness


Things that have made me smile this last week:

My motivation has evolved/ resembles proper motivation for the first time in ages. I have been regularly getting in the miles throughout the week and I feel like my pace has been much better for it. I have also been a lot happier in myself with it. It has been very de-stressing and I have been taking in my surroundings and really enjoying being out there. I have even been watching the rain fall outside whilst and work and absolutely itching to be out there and running. I love a nice rainfall and the fresh feeling that you get whilst running through it. Also this week I have been more supplement savvy. I have been taking my vits and a new iron supplement. And I swear that taking my CherryActive regularly is also really helping me with any stiffness or DOMS that I would normally get.

CBeebies ‘Small Potatoes’ has had me giggling for the last couple of days. I happened to stumble upon it whilst switching on the TV during breakfast t’other day.

So random and so funny. I couldn’t believe that I was actually watching animated singing potatoes dancing around and singing a song about ‘Potato love’. If you ever feel a bit down, please switch this on. It is hilarious and they make the potatoes look really friendly and cute.

Things I have moaned about/ rants of the week:

 Last Sunday put a bit of a spanner in the works, but I have not let it hold me back this week. I was meant to do the Shakespeare Marathon on Sunday and knowing that the weather would be bad and me being organised for once I checked the website that very morning before we left for the long drive to Stratford to make sure it was all still going ahead. Yep. It was all still going ahead, we were just told to wrap up warm. Personally, some of my best runs lately have been in the rain. I will run in pretty much all weathers. I have done ultras up on the moors in awful weather. Yes, it can be challenging, but somehow I can’t help but think it makes the achievement that much sweeter. After all, if they were meant to be so easy then there would be no fun in doing them. 

Anyway, I took into consideration that this wasn’t going to be some crazy off-road affair where anything goes and that, because the number of runners was high and this was a city marathon that there may be the possibility of a cancellation. This would have been fine in theory, in advance. However, trusting the website and the recent update therein I set off on my 2-hour car journey. We arrived, spent ages trying to pay for parking and I didn’t even make it to the start line. I encountered some familiar faces who informed me that they had been told that the half marathon (1 loop…marathon would have been 2 loops of the same course) would now be the only event taking place. The marathon would not go ahead. I could have taken part in the half, but before I knew it, whilst wasting time trying to get some sort of information out of the marshals, everyone had already commenced running. Confused and disheartened and dead-set on the marathon distance, I didn’t do the half. We just went home. I was pretty annoyed. Of course, these things happen with the weather, but the decision and timing of that decision and lack of communication or apology is unforgiveable. I will not venture here again.

Things I’m planning for:

As the weekend gets closer I’m getting really quite excited and nervous about this Saturdays’ Malvern Hills Ultra. Ironically - taking into consideration last week’s rainy no-starter - the course has had to be altered owing to flooding, but will take place. It’ll now be an out-and-back route of 48 miles, rather than the 53+ advertised miles. I just want to finish. 

I have serious unfinished business with this event owing to my dnf in 2010. After having completed 45 miles we were totally lost and freezing cold and did a full circle of one section before finding ourselves in exactly the same spot. It was miserable and we had done 7 extra miles that were not part of the course and therefore, in reality, we had only covered 38 miles of the route mileage. It was most frustrating. Although, I did console myself with the Neolithic marathon the day after. 


Last year, I couldn’t go back and enact my revenge because I was tapering for the 10-in-10 (I cannot believe it has been a year already)! This year, I probably shouldn’t really because I am meant to be soon tapering for the Grand Union Canal 145 miler and I don’t want to pick up any niggles. BUT, it is still within the first week of May and WILL be my last big run…except Windermere marathon I hope, on the 20th, just to say hey to all this year’s 10-in-10’ers (or TIT’S ;-) ) So that means I have 3 weeks or so of easier stuff. Although, really, I feel my training hasn’t been top-notch. Yet, the sensible part of me is saying: sometimes in these things you just have to train as well as you can at the time and hope for the best. Even if I’d done more, who knows what can happen over 145miles. It’s unpredictable.

So my aim for this week is to really keep up my motivation levels and organise myself for the weekend. And hope that I don’t get lost at the weekend, because this has been on my mind for the last 2 years!

Random Piccies of the week:

I like to think that blogs and pictures go together…so I’ll just throw in a nice assortment here to brighten things up a little ;-) In general this week has been a week with lots of tea (of various varieties), huge mugs of coffee, running past fields, contemplating the Malvern Hills, eating Graze boxes full of yummy nibbles, Mangoes and hard-boiled eggs and driving and running in rain...Oh, and singing potatoes! Hopefully, next week’s piccies will be more exciting :)