Thursday, 31 December 2015

It's out there, finally... Liverpool to Leeds Race 2015 ramble

Someone once told me (not so long ago) that I have a ‘slight’ tendency to hold on to things, to not let things or work go unless I think it is as absolutely good as it could possibly be. Obviously, nothing is perfect. In the case of this blog, I guess that is pretty true, albeit it has also been crazy hectic this year. But, now I’ve realised that sometimes you just have to get it out there.

It has been a massively hectic year, hugely hectic. I know, I said that already. I’ve not run as many races as I would have liked or was once used to, but I’ve run some good’uns that are important to me. The Liverpool to Leeds Race was one of them. So, finally, before the year is out, here is a ramble about that....

I hadn’t planned on running the Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race again this year. I figured I’d do a bunch of marathons and do GUCR and that would be my ‘big’ race. However, Grand Union didn’t go so well for me. I finished, but I finished painfully slow and my feet were a mess. I felt physically and emotionally bruised. I no longer wanted this to be my long run memory of the year. Because, quite frankly, I felt like a bit of a whimpering mess after GUCR and my PB attempt at this race actually became my slowest finish ever. I guess you can never completely plan for stuff in ultras. 

The start and supplies and stuff

So, I made it to the start in one piece and as disorganised as usual. I packed all the necessary stuff, such as plasters and emergency energy gels, Lucozade and ‘full fat’ Coke. I didn’t pack as much food as usual, as I feel that I have a tendency to overbuy for these races.

I had a natter to lots of the usual lovely faces at the start and picked up my t-shirt. I never normally buy a race t-shirt for these long ones. I guess part of me never wants to tempt fate. However, this means that I never end up owning a really cool race t-shirt with a huge map of a canal on the back and I actually really want to. Also, I reasoned that if, for any reason, I was unable to complete LLCR then it was all ok, because I successfully completed it last year.

So, t-shirt picked up. A kiss for the boyfriend. A big ‘class of 2015’ photograph and we were off!
I hadn’t trained for this.

Tummy troubles

Not to be graphic, but my stomach felt poo. I had to stop so many times on the Saturday, because my stomach just didn’t feel right. I felt so bloated and not particularly awesome. All I kept thinking about was where the next toilet or bush was.

I was very aware of how much I was slowing down and with this came a bit of a negative attitude. I knew that I would do it no matter what, because I would never go into such a long race thinking that I’d just ‘give it a go’. You can’t and shouldn’t do that. You should go into a race KNOWING that you ARE going to do it, no matter what it takes, giving it everything it takes. However, it doesn’t stop the negative thoughts that make it a little bit tougher, when you’re not feeling 100%.

I felt bad, because Jogging Jon had very kindly let me run with him. That was great because it’s nice to have the company on such a long run, but I felt guilty, because he had put in so much training for this race and I had put in little. His pace was amazing and I was being a bit of a snail. I’m so grateful to him for sticking with me for so long and for the lovely Mrs Sarah Jogging Jon who provided lots of awesome support and goodies along the route.

Into the night...

It must have been around 2.30am in the morning when my eyelids started to uncontrollably close and I must have spent approximately the next 3 hours, until day broke, agonisingly battling against the urge to fall asleep. It’s a horrible feeling when all you want to do is sleep, but you can’t stop and you definitely can’t go to sleep, so you end up stumbling along like you’re drunk. And it just doesn’t stop and no matter how much you wish for it, daylight just doesn’t come. It seems never ending as you focus on putting one foot in front of the other, very, very slowly.

The resurrection...

“The sky’s awake, so I’m awake, so we have to play...!” (Yes, this quote is from Frozen)
The sun started to rise and ‘just like that’ I started to wake up. It was pretty miraculous and I was surprised by how instantaneously I woke up. One minute I was dragging my heals (literally) and stumbling about all over the place and the next, I was running faster than I had in hours. I had let Jogging Jon slip away as day broke, as I know he was going at a faster pace than me and I was aware of how much I had held him back in the night section, but like a gentleman, he had stayed to accompany me out of fear that I might fall in the canal. I’m always struck by how beautiful this part of the canal is. You start to head towards Skipton and the canal meanders and winds.

Spoilt for shoes

Hokas. I bought some Hokas. I previously wrote about my search for Hokas and how tricky it was to decide upon which ones to get and where to start. I bought the Challenger ATR and I thought it had adequate room. This is still mostly true. They had enough room in the front of the toe, but they were a little too narrow at the toe, which meant that my niggly little toe got a bit snagged. It's funny, because my feet are surprisingly narrow for how long they are. So, it would appear that a UK 8.5 would probably have been best. I also started to over pronate a fair bit, especially on my right foot, after a while. They were great in terms of stones and cobbles and not being able to feel the ground, but after 40 miles I had to swap them for a trustier structured shoe.

I whipped out my Asics GT 2000s at the next checkpoint and I immediately felt so much more supported in my arch. I wore these through the night section and until I reached the 94.5 mile checkpoint. A few checkpoints later I changed these shoes to my well-worn-in Kayanos, because the morning dew on the grass had soaked my feet and clean socks. It’s good to have the variety I guess.

Random things you see by canals

I’m always looking out for random things by canals and during ultras in general. You do see some random things. Most notably, I saw some horses on a bridge. And I became a little obsessive with taking pictures of mile markers by the canal. I was so much happier when a stone mile marker informed me that it was 110 miles to Liverpool – not far to go – than when it said 99 ½ miles to Leeds...


I can never fault the check points on GUCR or LLCR. There was so much yummy cake. Lemon drizzle was my favorite and it’s so easy to eat when you’re finding it hard to get down anything else. I also enjoyed a really lovely bacon buttie just before the 100 mile mark and some pineapple juice at around 120 miles. I was feeling much better by then.

The End

Now I’m trying to recall it, I’m finding it tricky to recall everything. The last bit of the race was fairly pleasant, but painful. I do really need to solve the unsolvable problem of painful feet, but I’m not certain that this can be overcome during such a long ultra. This is a shame, because I'd like to think I could run even longer one day... Maybe it’s just part of the challenge? So, in the last bit, I found myself having to stop and take off my shoes a fair few times, as my feet were hot, sore and itchy. However, once I sensed that we were near the end and started to see all the tall buildings and hotels of Leeds city centre getting close and closer, I started to run faster and faster. I guess the bit that I’m most proud of is that I literally sprinted the last bit. I saw the finish and I legged it. I know it wasn’t just my imagination, I really did sprint it and most definitely ran faster than I had done all race.

I finished 3rd female in 35hrs 43mins – most definitely because there weren’t many women in it to begin with and also because the rest of the speedy ones dropped out. But, I’m happy with that. A really great memory from 2015. I better start looking ahead to 2016. Who knows what adventures will be had? (I actually don't know yet...I need to plan)