Thursday, 19 September 2019

Training | How to run all year round

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad kit. So the saying goes. I've just started planning my race calendar for the upcoming months and talking to my friends they're surprised by the mid-winter race plans as well as the mid-summer ones. How do you stay cool in the heat? How can you stay warm in winter - isn't it too cold to run?

So here is my handy beginners guide on how to turn yourself from fair weather to year round runner.

What if it's too hot...
1. Carry water
Get yourself a running vest that has space for liquids and take some soft flasks out with you to fill up. Alternately try a hand held running bottle or take a speed cup and plan your run to include stops at water fountains/streams.

2. Use a buff
No I'm not joking! Dip your buff in freezing cold water and wear it round your neck - this will cool down your core which in turn will cool you down. This summer I got sent a UV+ one from the guys at Buff and I love it so much! It's the perfect multi-use running accessory.

3. Head to the trails
Find some cover when you are running and by heading to the woods instead of the pavements you're bound to save yourself a couple of degrees by keeping out of direct sunlight. You can also find a nice lake to jump in on the way round.



What if it's raining...
1. Wear a waterproof layer
Invest in a waterproof jacket that keeps you dry - test it out in advance so you know it works. Personally I'd look for tapered seams, friends recommendations and one that goes over my hips so the water doesn't simply all pool at my waist!

2. Pack dry clothes in a waterproof bag inside your pack
Make sure your clothes for after your run are packed away well. I use the bags that Saysky tops come in as they're fab and waterproof.

3. Try a cap
Sun hat you say? In the rain?! It sounds counterintuitive but I don't mind getting wet if I can still see where I'm going. I find wearing a trucker style caps keeps the water out of my eyes and helps me keep plodding forward.



What if it's cold...
1. Layers are key
Rather than wearing one really thick top, try wearing multiple layers. This will trap pockets of air in between the layers keeping you warm and makes it much easier to regulate your temperature as you are out and about by adding/removing tops.

2. It's all about the dry sports bra
The time I get really cold is at the end of a run and the one killer is the wet sports bra. You've been running, you've got sweaty now get that soggy offender off and put on a dry one from your pack. It makes the crucial difference for me between staying warm at the end and getting really chilly.

3. Heat from the inside out
If you get really cold remember it's about heating from the inside out: grab a hot chocolate, drink some soup, get some tea down you just get the warmth inside you and slowly the rest of you will start to come back to reality.



What if it's dark...
1. Make it light
Use a headtorch and light up the places you are running.

2. Make yourself light
In cities one of the biggest dangers is staying visible to cars so wear high vis clothing, consider wearing a headtorch with a rear red light and even try wearing additional lights on your body as relevant to the safety of the place you are running in.

3. Make yourself loud
Unfortunately in recent years we've seen an increase in attacks on, particularly, female runners. Consider taking a rape alarm equivalent with you on your run or using an app like Strava's live tracker so people know where you are both online and offline.



What if it's snowing or hailing or there is thunder?
1. Snow
Grip is key and on pavements that's really tough. Slow down, wear shoes with big lugs, walk as necessary and consider sticking to easy trails.

2. Hail
Wait it out. Hail storms don't last long so take shelter and wait for it to past - it's not worth it!

3. Thunder
It's dangerous to be out in the open in a thunderstorm so don't go running. If you're out already make sure you know what to do. Simply: stay low, out in the open, away from metal. There is a great guide on the Ramblers website here: https://www.ramblers.org.uk/advice/safety/thunder-and-lightning.aspx



All in all: have fun, stay safe and keep on adventuring!

Friday, 13 September 2019

Running | Adventure is Out There

I have no desire to win races. For many, times and medals and instagramable pictures and being competitive is a huge driver to participating in sport. But it just isn’t for me.
I was once told by an incredible ultramarathon runner I know, that if you don’t stand on the startline of a race not knowing if you can finish it or not, it isn’t a challenge. Not because you haven’t trained hard enough, or put in the work, or aren’t healthy but because exploring your own boundaries of possibility and limits is where we discover who we really are.
When I first took up running I remember finding the idea of running for a kilometre without stopping mind blowing. Now I feel confident running for about 8 hours without needing to walk. As I’ve tested my own boundaries and limits I’ve been consistently shocked by just how much further and faster and higher I can go. Months of training, hard work and a huge amount of dogged determination has seen me complete marathons, ultras, mountain races and even Ironman.
Along the way though I’ve realised that I have no desire to stick at one thing and ‘be the best’. My passion and enthusiasm is in my desire to pursue adventure. Relentlessly. With abandon. Passionately. Adventure is calling.
Don’t get me wrong: PBs are amazing. For me personally as a coach, there are two that are particularly joyous to watch: new runners shocked at achieving things they never thought possible and runners who’d counted themselves out for a long time and suddenly surprise themselves. As we all probably have, I’ve been through both of those. I’ve cried my eyes out at finish lines for achieving times that seemed ‘too fast’ for the runner I assumed I was. And yet, when I look back at my favourite memories in running: numbers don’t feature.
There is the moment in my Ironman where my husband, an hour up the race from me, crossed paths with me and we shared a kiss before heading off to finish our respective marathons. There was the time I paced my Mum, who’d promised me she’d never do any sport in her life, to complete her first 10k at the age of 70. There are the miles and miles I’ve spent traipsing up and down some remote mountain in Scotland with my Dad talking about anything and everything.
Fear of missing out and defining yourself by others achievements is a dangerous and unsatisfying pathway. There is a fantastic old tale of King Solomon, the richest man the world had ever seen who no matter how much wealth he had still felt unsatisfied. Will that medal or time or race really give you the fulfilment you are looking for? Or are you stuck on a relentless cycle of the next challenge, and time, and distance? When you achieve the time you’ve been putting so many hours in are you satisfied? Or do you then change the goalposts and look to shave off ever more minutes?
What if we all put aside the relentless marathon cycles and 5k PB hunts and just pursued adventure? Maybe we’d miss our time goals and what our peers might consider ‘good’ times but instead we might find something our hearts had been yearning for.
John Muir, one of the great advocates for the power of the outdoors in the late nineteenth century, famously said ‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’ I feel that call. Trapped in our city lives surrounded by constant noise and busyness and progress it’s easy to feel the overwhelming rise of fear and anxiety that grips so many of us. When I am in nature, I truly feel I am in a space where I remember what matters: not my job title, PBs, finishing position in some random half marathon but connection, love, passion, joy.

Maverick Race (Trail) in Bath, September 2019

So this Autumn what if you put aside traditional goals and instead reconnected with why you run. What if we pursued being outdoors as passionately as some people pursue qualifying for big city marathons? Give yourself fully still: commit, be passionate, work hard, dig deep. But pursue something less black and white. Measure your achievements in emotions and how well you slept rather than times and medals. Run with perseverance wherever your legs will carry you. Just run. And be. And exist.
Adventure in out there and it is most definitely calling. Let’s go.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Race | Infinite Trails - 60km in the Alps in 35° heat

3,800m of elevation gain and descent is a lot. I’m reading the information pack for my leg of Infinite Trails and I keep thinking they must have made a mistake. That’s roughly four ascents and descents of Snowdon, one every 15km. That’s bonkers.


I'm at the Adidas Trails World Championships, a brand new event on the global running scene organised by the giants that are Adidas Terrex in the heart of the Austrian Alps. Rather uniquely you enter in teams of three and run relay style over 21 hours and 120km. In order to set the teams off on Saturdays race all teams compete in a seeding race on the Thursday covering 15km and 900m elevation gain and loss. 




I'm lucky enough to run with the brilliant Adidas Runners London community and was chosen from the community to take the long leg in an all womens team. My friend Ella would be taking on her first mountain race on the 25km opening leg handing over to me for the 60km daytime section and the Libster, my trail wife from TAR, would be bringing us home with the 40km nighttime leg. The weekend itself had a great festival style vibe and lining up for the seeder race on Thursday we were feeling relaxed mostly because Europe was in the grip of a heatwave so we knew we were just going to take it easy rather than race.




The seeder race is an evening run starting at 6pm which definitely helped with the heat but it still felt like quite the slog up to the aid station and the high point. We made friends on the course with some brilliant teams from all round the world which kept up spirits and the descent back down was fun and fast with inspirational views.




Friday we tried to get all the recovery in we could but it was tough, my DOMs started settling in as the day went on which added to the fear of what the 60km would bring. The temperatures were through the roof and we’d been told that race day would bring soaring highs of 35 degrees. Add to that the pressure that Ella would be going out at 4:45am for her leg and I had to roughly guess when she’d be back and be waiting in the changeover zone for her. Not knowing when you’re due to start a race is hugely disconcerting!

I woke up early on the Saturday race day with the horrible realisation that my quads were already in bits from the seeder race. I ate quickly and quietly and then wandered down to the start. Loads of my brilliant friends were racing so the start line was packed with people I know but I’d find out later I’d come down 90 minutes too early which wasn’t great in the blazing heat. Ella ran in like the champ she is and at 9:30am with a rock on salute to my mates I was off.




The first 10km of the main leg is pretty flat with a couple of steep gradient but otherwise easy running and my legs couldn’t have been more grateful for the shakeout after Thursdays antics. The run takes you up the valley from Hofgastein to Bad Hofgastein, an amazing town centred around a waterfall. The problem with a relay is I was overtaken by maybe 15 extremely fit runners in that first section which is slightly odd at the start of a race when you feel you’re making good progress!

Out of Bad Hofgastein the climb was horrendous. Below a ski lift you weave through thick vegetation on a rarely trod path up and up in the intense sun and by the time I got in to the first aid station I thought I was going to pass out. Thank goodness the amazing Claudi, my friend and coach, was waiting for me in the aid station and helped me control my overheating - dunk your head under this freezing cold water, eat (no it doesn’t matter you’re not hungry), drink, fill all your bottles and now carry on. Once I’d cooled down the rest of the climb up the first mountain didn’t seem as bad and it taught me how quickly things can go from good to not so. 




2,400m up you feel you’re in another world: ridge lines and mountains for days. Then came one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen in an ultra: a ridge climb which was a full on technical scramble that lasted remarkably for 600m thereby taking me 40 mins. The summit was the stuff of Alp dreams, a large cross and views to make your head explode. Then came the fun of the descent all the way down to almost sea level ready for a massive second ascent.




I mean - who came up with this race route?!

Further up the valley the heat was really beginning to effect me and I've thrown up, developed a persistent but shy nosebleed and was beginning to feel pretty light headed. As I came in to the checkpoint and aid station at 37km the world went dark as I hit the shade and I hit the ground, passing out as I came in to the aid station. I've never claimed to be a great runner in the heat but this was pretty extreme. The volunteers were brilliant: cooling me down, feeding me and getting the medic. The medics view was "If you can stand, you can run" so ten minutes later I scrapped myself off the pavement and carried on. Thirty minutes out of the aid station I thought I was hallucinating when at the top of a climb I found an Austrian milkmaid by a 10ft tall wooden dragon offering me a glass of water. I insisted on taking her picture. Turns out: she was real.






I buddied up with someone and this took my mind off the slog with an hours companionship. I ended up pulling away from her as we approached the toughest section of the course: a diversion off the path to avoid snow drifts that was relentless in its ability to sap the energy from my legs. On the approach to the final climb I felt I'd burnt through all my mental positivity and not even a vigorous snow leg rub from a pair of Austrian marshals could help (designed to cool you down - genius!)

The run in to the penultimate checkpoint was tough as I knew at that checkpoint, with 15km to go I'd be offered the option to drop out and take a chair lift back to the start. It got worse when I was forced to undergo a mandatory kit check ahead of the night closing in and after a little cry to myself I unpacked then repacked my bag and got ready to leave. "Are you sure you want to go out again?" The volunteer asked. Not helpful. I later found out only one other person got through the checkpoint behind me before they shut it 90 minutes earlier than planned because of the conditions.




I made a deal with myself: if I was going out again I would run every single step of the final stretch. I would finish on a high. So off I went. Step after step. Down another wretched ski slop, making up positions, running straight in and out of the final aid station with a snatched handful of pretzels and firing up my headtorch to take on the dark forest but still running on and on. 

The final 5km was the same finish as the seeder race which was weirdly comforting while also being unbearable mentally. I knew how far each bit was but at least I knew I could do it. As I approached the town I got to see some of the brilliant Adidas Runners London crew waiting for me with just the final corner to go. Hugs all round before I smashed out that final energetic finish funnel run in. My relay teammate Libby had long been sent out on to her leg because of timing so my only objective was to finish my leg now. Heel clicks down the finish funnel and I was there with a wobbly legged collapse and sweaty hugs all round.

I ended up making it in in 13:16:17, finishing 30th female out of only 31 girls who ended up completing the loop. In the end, only 7 all female teams managed to finish within the time, and most of these teams were pros. 193 teams started on the race day and of these, 98 completed (mostly all male teams: 61 were all male).




While I enjoyed my time in the Alps I definitely think there are some steps that need to be taken to improve the experience for the amateurs of the race and help encourage more female teams to finish. It isn't necessarily about making it easier but decisions like cutting off a checkpoint earlier than you said you were going to isn't great.

Would I do it again? I'm not sure. I don't think I'll ever get such a brilliant team of girls to compete alongside me and it would be hard to top. But I'd love to see what the race organisers do next year to improve the race. 

It's definitely one of the most amazing races for team spirit I've ever been involved with and if you're looking for a new kind of adventure, it's worth looking up Infinite Trails for 2020.

To find out more about Infinite Trails see their website: https://infinitetrails-worldchampionships.com/



Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Race | Stockholm Marathon

26.2 miles is a long way.

There are certain things in sport that truly scare me. Open water swimming for longer than an hour. Riding my bike downhill in the rain. Running at pace and holding it.

Certain times scare me too. Trying to go sub-23 minutes at parkrun (managed it 4 times). 1:45 for a half marathon (managed at the Big Half this year). Sub 4 for a marathon. Those times where you're not quite sure you can do it, you know it is going to be gritty and painful.

Certain distances scare me. I've become a bit stuck in my opinion that 30km is a comfortable long run and anything longer is a bit scary. But really 60km in the mountains scares me. 100km terrifies me. 42.2km on road is scary.

Now combine those three with 6 months of solid training and three goals that all involve PBs and I was pretty scared going in to the Stockholm marathon. Calm and confident but scared.

Goal A: 3:35 marathon
Goal B: GFA qualifying time (assume 3:39-3:42)
Goal C: Sub-3:52 (new PB)

When I signed up for Stockholm I do so for a few reasons: I wanted a long enough build up time after Country to Capital 70km in January and I didn't want to run Edinburgh again the weekend before. Liverpool and Windermere are around the same time but seemed too hilly after some research so Stockholm became my A race. They changed the course in 2019 to make it a one lap course and it looked like a great city to run round.



Reader: Stockholm. Is. Hilly.

About three weeks beforehand I came across a horrifying upload on Strava of the course with over 500m elevation. Not quite the flat, fast course I was looking for. But we play the cards we are dealt and come race day my head was in the game.

Race day was my 6 year wedding anniversary with the Speedster and as a present he'd offered to pace me round. We've never run a marathon before so I was excited and knew he'd help me want to deliver my best performance with him by my side.

The race is super well organised, it starts very centrally and some good planning meant our AirBnB was a 10 minute walk from the start meaning we could rock up about 15 minutes before the start and didn't need to use the bag drop or loos. Great for keeping me calm. It's a big race with over 16,000 entrants which gives it all the feels of a big city marathon and the course was so well supported with great cheer points and fantastic crowds. There aren't gels on the course but I like using what I've trained with so that didn't bother me and there were plenty of water and energy drink stations.

We went out well and I quickly settled in to my 5:06/km pace. The race starts at 12 which had made things like fuelling pre-race a bit weird but nice to avoid the crazy early alarm clock. There are lumps and bumps on the roads right from the start and I was feeling slightly tense even by 3km so switched my watch face off. Pacing was on the Speedster for this one and I'd just have to dig really deep.

The course was beautiful and though it was quite humid on the day it wasn't too sunny which made for a good racing temperature. We passed 10km bang on goal B in 51:33 (said in hindsight as my watch was off). I was definitely struggling. My stomach was unhappy and I couldn't work out whether I wanted to throw up or if it was just the pace. The Speedster was really willing me to up my pace but I had hit my limit on that day and we passed half marathon in 1:49:35, the only split I got given on the day. I knew at the half that that meant running 3:39 and achieving a GFA (a London marathon qualifying time known as a 'good for age') was still possible if I could hold on. Quick loo stop at the half marathon to check I didn't need to throw up and we were off and I was ready to grit in.

And then the rain came.

Buckets and buckets of rain. Torrential downpours that made me so wet I could hardly see. The roads in Stockholm are pretty narrow and quite soon we were running through small rivers. I hate having wet feet as I'm really prone to blisters and my toes throbbed angrily as I sloshed my way through the course. And at 34km you hit what can only be described as a bast*rd of a bridge: Västerbron. It's massive. That was the point where I just decided I was going to be proud of the gritting in. I desperately wanted to walk. My head was screaming at me to quit. But a tiny stubborn voice in me kept going. Knowing the big goals had gone even though on a different day and a different course I'd have got them. But still refusing to quit.

From 34km to the end it was a real slog. I was totally wiped and even had to force an extra gel down just to convince myself that this was just what trying to run at this pace felt like and that there wasn't anything else I could do.

I can't really tell you what happened in those last 8km. I honestly wanted to quit with virtually every step. I think if the Speedster hadn't been with me I probably would have done. Turns out trying to run a fast marathon is hard. No matter what your fast looks like.

With 1km to go the stadium came in to sight that signified the finish line and my legs could tell it was nearly time to stop. They got a bit keen on that thought though and started trying to buckle under me so when I got told to kick I honestly couldn't. I love a fast final km, a dig in and give it everything but I'd left everything out on the roads and it took all my energy to keep myself upright. As we entered the stadium I could see the giant clock ticking towards 3:45 and knew I wouldn't get a sub-3:45 time and genuinely didn't care. When I ran Chicago in October I thought I'd run the best race of my life and came away with a 3:52 time. Today I was going to take over 7 minutes off my PB on a tough course.



With 50m to go the Speedster grabbed my hand and we crossed the line together before I cried my eyes out and let my legs give way. 3:45:37. Utterly delighted. Gave it absolutely everything.

I've not had many days where I've missed my main targets and come away thrilled but on this day that was the outcome. You can't pick the weather or how your stomach feels on the day or what might happen on the course but you can find that inner strength and grit. You can give it your all and if you do that - how could you be anything other than pleased with the outcome.



Total time: 3:45:37
Average pace: 5:21/km

Finishing position: 1,854 (out of 12,316)
Finishing position (gender): 450 (out of 3,559)
Percentage of finishers: 76%

To find out more about how to enter the 2020 race go to:
https://www.stockholmmarathon.se/

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Kit | 361 Nemesis: unexpectedly loving the new

I've always loved a gritty, surprising performer. Someone who hasn't 'always' run. Someone who hasn't 'always' loved sport. Someone who doesn't easily win.



I really like following the sport of triathlon because you get to see surprising things happen as the strong swimmers are overtaken by the epic cyclists who are chased down by the powerful runners. It's not as predictable as single discipline sports. In the last couple of years I've loved in particular following one triathlete's journey as she went beyond what was expected of her: Katie Zaferes. Here is an American athlete performing consistently in the top couple of finishers even though she is rarely in first place. You don't have to win to be the best when it comes to triathlon and for most of last year, Zaferes was ranked as the best in the world.

One of the things in particular I love about watching Zaferes race is her rather fantastic strong running style. While geeking out watching her consistently perform in yet another race, I noticed she isn't sponsored by one of the kit giants of the world but by a brand I'd not come across before, 361.

Zaferes says: "When I tried a pair I felt so confident and comfortable in them. I could tell when I first started running in 361 Degrees shoes that they are dependable, and then when I raced in them I found out they're also fast shoes! I've run some of my fastest run splits in the 361-KGM2 2."

Who doesn't want to run in shoes that are comfortable, dependable and fast that also look cool?!



361 kindly sent me a pair to try out and firstly I love the colourway! There is nothing I hate more than a boring trainer. The new 361-Nemesis is a fantastic neon colour which is fun.

There is the most brilliant design feature that I've not seen before on a running trainer of a flat tongue so the tongue doesn't move about or getting stuck at a slightly odd angle. The laces are also fab - when you tie them they become flat and incredibly secure meaning I didn't need to double knot them as I would with most shoes.

And then there is the ride itself: fast and cushioned. I didn't even know that was a thing! I tend to like run endurance races in cushioned and stability shoes - preferring the good cushioning over a narrower speedier choice. But I feel like the 361-Nemesis have managed to blend both these things. I really felt I was flying on my interval session in them and they provided great stability to my weak-ish ankles. I also thought the grip underfoot was excellent.




My friend Julia from carbsandkilometres.com loves 361 trainers and she is one of the strongest, toughest marathon runners I know.

So if they work for the best pros and the best amateurs, maybe they might work for you too?

You can find out more about 361 trainers here: https://www.361europe.com/en/nemesis 

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Kit | Chasing chafe-free choices

As someone who potentially owns more running kit than regular clothing, there are a couple of items that are worn with far more frequency than others. Highlights include my Saysky reflective jacket that is the perfect combo of lightweight and shower proof, my splattery Stance socks which are just so comfy and my Tribesports 3 inch shorts which I can't get enough of.

I'm an avid listener to the Marathon Talk podcast so when I heard Richard Edmunds, the co-founder of Runderwear on the show it reminded me that I'd been meaning to check the brand out for a while. I've heard lots of whisperings about how great the kit is but hadn't got round to trying it out. It's not the kind of thing you can, after all, pop in to a sports shop and test. What I really liked about what Richard was saying was he observed that we can spend a fortune on our outer layers of kit only to put cheap underwear on that doesn't have any of the performance enhancing benefits: you know what, he's right! I'll happily spend £40 on a pair of chafe free shorts but will still wear my high street underwear then complain when I have chafing issues.


I've also been cut to pieces by sports bras more times than I like to remember. I'd just come to accept this as part of the course of running long distances. So Runderwear's claim that they will eliminate chaffing peaked my interest. Not reduce, eliminate! The guys at Runderwear offered to send me over one of their sports bras and a couple of pairs of their pants to try out - no need for a positive review or not, no need for a blog or not. But readers: I'm addicted.



The Runderwear sports bra is without a doubt the greatest sports bra I've ever tried. What have I been doing all these years ripping holes in my body?! It's comfortable, fits like a dream, provides the support I need and does not chafe one single bit. I've worn it in hot weather, I've worn it in the pouring rain and just to make sure I was 100% happy I wore it in the Two Oceans Marathon which was 56km, or just under 6 hours, of sweat, rain, hot sunshine and abuse. And I was, by the end, still 100% chafe free.




The pants are also chafe free but don't work quite as well for me because I'm not a great fan of a hot pant shape, and I find the briefs give me some VPL issues but I'm going to order some of the other styles because they're so darn comfy and non-sweaty that I'm going to find the shape that work for me.

I wanted to write this blog though because people are forever asking me what bits of kit I love and I can't recommend the Runderwear sports bra enough though: it's an absolute delight. Chafing: be gone!

Kit used for the Two Oceans marathon
including Runderwear sports bra and briefs