Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Race | Seville Marathon

11 marathons in. 4th attempt at achieving a 'Good For Age' time - the time needed to run the London marathon. On paper that means sub-3:45 but in reality this year 3:40:45.

First two times they were more fleeting thoughts rather than hard work plans (Copenhagen 2018 - destroyed in the heat and Chicago 2018 - PB of 3:52:58). The last time in Stockholm I'd worked super hard and it didn't come to plan but thanks to the amazing Speedster pacing me round the hilly course I lowered my PB to 3:45:39.

In the last 10 weeks I've worked harder than I've ever worked in a marathon training cycle. I've achieved a new 10km PB, run virtually my half marathon PB after a 10km warm up and clocked paces I've never seen before.

I was ready.



But this was not the blog I was hoping to write.

Seville was the most wonderful course. Beautiful, flat and early on in the year - perfect for the ultramarathon lover in me to race then get back to the trails.

I've also been struggling with lots of other stuff recently including high levels of stress and little sleep and going in to marathon week I wasn't my usual self but by recognising it properly early on in the week by the weekend I was feeling ready to attack the marathon. I clocked a little shake out on the Saturday and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little shocked at quite how warm I found it. After training in long, cold, wet English winters, and being known for my love of shorts and t-shirts regardless of the weather, I was shocked at quite how warm it felt in Seville.



I made a panic trip to Decathlon and bought a great emergency vest for just €15 to wear on race day. Nothing new before race day slightly out the window but it was definitely the right decision.

On the day itself I felt great. The Speedster had wonderfully offered to pace me and as we set off I felt amazing. I was so ready. Congestion at the start made the first km slow but that felt useful to get us in a groove. We went through 10km in 51:15, on track for 3:35. The next 5km flew past but 17-19km were a bit tough but I still went through the half marathon in 1:48:55, on track for a 3:37 finish. 20km-24km I was back on it but as I got to 25km my chin started repeatedly popping up and I realised I was started to get really uncomfortably warm.


Between 25km-30km I managed to hold my pace for some kms and others started to slip but I was still well on track for a GFA time. But then around 31km something just snapped in a way I've never experienced before. My heart rate soared over 190bpm and I was convinced I was going to pass out/throw up. The heat got to me. And then my calves started cramping horribly (again something I've never had before). I desperately poured cup after cup of water over my head desperately trying to cool myself down but the damage was done.



My brain was screaming to stop. I'd lost all my goals. I felt so unwell. I just desperately wanted to stop.

But somehow I kept moving forward. I walked through the water stations for 10-20 seconds every time to try and give myself the chance to get in fluids. It was agony to keep moving especially as around 35km my by now wet and salty feet were causing me agony (3 blood blisters under toenails and a massive blister on my arch would explain that later) and I felt like I was barely moving.



When the 3:45 pacers passed about 39km it really hurt me mentally. I desperately tried to go with them but my legs were screaming with cramp.

Looking at my splits now for the last 12km I actually see I was still holding a decent pace. But it's hard to come to terms with goals versus paces you formally ran.

I convinced myself for the final 3km I wouldn't walk a single step. Finish well. Flipping heck it hurt. The Speedster was amazing and stuck with me through all of my meltdown. As we approached the finish line it was so overwhelming to not be running towards at least a PB.

Crossing the line I cried. And cried. And cried.

I don't think I've 'deserved' a PB more. But it was not to be.

I'm taking some time this week to regroup and come to terms with how I'm feeling. Next up I've got a trail ultramarathon so I'm excited to next week head off to the trails for mentally a bit of a break from the roads.

Onwards.



Total time: 3:48:19
Average pace: 5:25/km

Finishing position: 5454 (out of 10,299)
Finishing position (gender): 404 (out of 1488)
Percentage of finishers: 88%

https://www.strava.com/activities/3126235643



Saturday, 4 January 2020

Race | Endurance Life Dorset Ultra+

We're driving down to Dorset on the Friday evening after work before racing on the Saturday and I can think of no good reason as to why I've entered the Ultra+ over a shorter distance.

I'm fortunate enough to be an Ambassador for the brilliant Runderwear and when they suggested over the summer a team outing to their neck of the woods and a chance to explore the Jurassic Coast I thought: Brilliant! Endurancelife is a race series that aims to cater for all abilities and as such their events start at 10km and go up to UTMB qualifying races. I've got, as I keep joking, too many UTMB points so that was no factor in my decision making process. The race is also a series of laps for anything beyond the marathon so by going longer I wasn't getting a better view or route.

Simply: I was pretty stubborn about a woman needing to sign up for the hardest event. I waited for one of the other girls to sign up. I thought at one point I might have persuaded Jordan AKA Project Marathon Girl before she instead took on Ultra X's Jordan race.

So it was left down to me, in my head, to represent the girls.

The Ultra+ is run along the beautiful Jurassic coast which, while not particularly high, is continually undulating along the cliffs. This means the 73km race manages to sneak in an impressive 3,250m elevation gain.



The race day itself was utterly beautiful: clear blue skies and incredible views. I spent most the day in just a t-shirt which given it is run on 30 November was remarkable. The course is pretty technical in places and it's definitely one to take poles on. It was brilliantly marked and bar one HORRENDOUS churned mud-bath of a farmers field where I saw someone loose both his shoes to the mud, it felt so well chosen as a route. We even passed a trig point on route!

It's slightly demoralising to be on a route that picks up and drops off those running shorter distances but it was actually really nice to be, for the first 50km or so, with the shorter 'Ultra' runners as I got chatting to some great girls on course.

The highlight of the day was my amazing friends being there to cheer me on: my friends Claudi and Matt drove all the way from London and back on the day to cheer and the legendary Speedster clocked up 30km through running around cheering and taking pictures.


Personally, I really enjoyed the loops. I didn't expect to say that but I've not run with a headtorch for longer than about an hour so the three hours I ended up in the dark was made much better by the fact I'd essentially recced the race route during the race.

As far as ultras go, it was a great day out. I personally think the aid stations could do with some proper nutrition and it seems a little unfair if you are UTMB points hunting that the race is worth the same points as Country to Capital after the Ultra+ was downgraded this year from 4 points to 3 but in terms of fantastic season closers I'd really recommend it.

Thanks to Runderwear for the place and kit.


Total time: 11:14:30
Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2902590137

Finishing position: 48 (out of 73)
Finishing position (gender): 6 (out of 24 starters, 10 finishers)
Percentage of finishers: 70%*
*Plus high numbers dropped down to shorter distances on the day

To find out more about how to enter the 2020 race go to: 

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Race Report | Outlaw X

"Well it's just a half"

I'm feeling like quite a massive idiot as I say this phrase to my friend in a coffee shop the week of Outlaw X. And I'm not necessarily feeling as confident as the phrase allows.

Two years a go, I completed a long-distance triathlon - traditionally known by the brand name 'Ironman' - and to celebrate two years since I'd crossed that finish line I'd decided to take part in the inaugural Outlaw X at Thoresby Hall - a 70.3 distance triathlon that would involve swimming 1.2 miles, cycling 56 miles and running a half marathon (13.1 miles) to finish.

Being pretty passionate about ultrarunning currently means my weekends are taken up with long hours in the mountains and on the trails and my previous ability to swim and cycle has somewhat fallen by the wayside. For my birthday this year my parents bought me a 6 week 1:1 set of swimming lessons with the guys from Turner Swim. I learned absolutely loads and it reignited my enjoyment of swimming because I suddenly starting seeing improvements.

With that in mind, I decided I had 5 goals for Outlaw X:
1. Complete the race in full
2. Enjoy the swim
3. Run a sub-2 hour half marathon
4. Remember the joy of completing that full Ironman two years ago
5. Smile. Lots.


The lake at Thorseby has never hosted an event before so we were the first group of people to ever race there which was a really special feeling. The lake itself was really pretty cold, but the race is at the end of the season in September so it makes sense. The swim was beautiful and I felt so strong the whole way round. I was in an all female wave which I really enjoyed and at one point I was admiring a really brilliant woman next to me only to realise she was swimming at the same speed as me. All those Turner Swim lessons had paid off and I came out of the water in 46:56, the fastest I've ever swum the 1.9km distance. Massive grin upon exiting: tick.


After that it was in to transition to get my wetsuit off and bike kit on. By this point the clouds had begun to loom overhead and as I wheeled out of transition, the rain began to fall. The bike ride took us through the beautiful rolling Nottingham countryside - unfortunately the weather was filthy and I got pretty cold on the bike and found some of the hills a little scary in the driving rain. But it helped pass the time and remind me how impressive the feat was of completing a half Ironman and the gorgeous views from the tops of the climbs made it worthwhile. I felt pretty strong on my new bike, an insurance payout that was quite the upgrade after my last bike was stolen in central London.

In total I completed the bike in 3:43:13 which I'm pretty pleased with given the weather and that cycling wasn't my key focus in training for the race.


My favourite thing about triathlon is the fact that after the swim and bike have been survived I get to my absolute favourite discipline, and get to have great fun overtaking - the run.

The 3 lap course took us around the gorgeous Thoresby Park. It was unexpectedly a light trail underfoot which given the pouring rain was tougher in road shoes than it ought to have been but did provide some cushioning to my slightly sore legs. The half marathon itself I really wanted to do in under 2 hours which once I started in the rain begun to feel like a bit of a tough ask but I got in to it and was hugely helped by my friends and family finding me on the run course and cheering me on, including the Speedster who had finished in a bonkers sub-5:30 time. I ended up overtaking 101 people on the run with the 59th fastest time of the day. Definitely shows running is my strength!

I ended up making it round the undulating course in 1:55:29 and came to the fab finish funnel smiling from ear to ear. The funnel was long which made for a really fun sprint finish and as I crossed the line I finished in my signature heel kick in a total time of 6:38:38 - less than half of my Ironman time which given I gave this triathlon just 8 weeks of specific training I'm delighted with.



All in all I thought Outlaw X was a fantastically organised event with a wonderful course and in particular a gorgeous swim. Set at a great time of year by being later on so you can train over the summer and for a much more affordable price than an official Ironman - it's really worth looking in to if you fancy the challenge of a middle distance triathlon next year.

Total time: 6:38:38
🏊‍♀️Swim - 46:56

🚴‍♀️Bike - 3:43:13

🏃‍♀️Run - 1:55:29
Finishing position:  151st female (out of 262)


To sign up for 2020s race - go to https://www.outlawtriathlon.com/outlaw-x/overview/



Gifted kit shout out:
Trisuit & Sports Bra: Runderwear
Trainers: 361 Europe
Cap: Buff

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/