Sunday, 23 December 2018

Race | National Trust 10k at Hanbury Hall

One of the thing I love about running races is it helps you push distances and commit to running in a way I can sometimes feel less enthusiastic about when it is raining outside or I've had a couple of glasses of wine the night before.

Having developed a nasty cough over Christmas, I wasn't feeling that enthusiastic about getting out for a Sunday morning run. After a google of what races might be happening locally I stumbled across the Trust 10k, an entirely free 10k race organised by the National Trust on National Trust properties around the UK.



We drove over to Hanbury Hall on the Sunday morning in the pouring rain and felt excited to discover what the double distance parkrun event would be like. Parking was free which was nice surprise and the start was beautifully casual. We lined up, a marshal rang a bell and off we went!

If I thought I might be the first to finish I'd be quite worried about the route - the marking isn't great and the course is enjoyably twisty. There also weren't any marshals out on the course which didn't bother me but I've experienced lots of complaints when running parkruns before for not having an incredibly clearly marked course. Yes, I know parkrun is free, and yes I know it's absurd but it does happen a lot!



Out on the course it was three laps of super fun muddy countryside with some fun quirks like small gates you had to squeeze through. It was definitely one to run in trail shoes because it's 90% off road with some small hills too and my road shoes were causing a real hinderance although it was an impressive way to add some strength work in to my run!

We got a nice cheer from some supporters and the two marshals every time we passed the end of the lap which was a nice encouragement and it was such fun running round with the Speedster who was taking it easy and chilling at my pace.



We finished in about an hour and walked back to our hire car grinning ear to ear. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning and a fantastic way to engage with the National Trust.

Pop along to https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/trust10-trail-runs to find your nearest Trust 10k run.


Monday, 10 December 2018

Kit | Top 10 presents for Runners

'Tis the season to panic buy Christmas presents. Around this time of year, we all seem to desperately wander our high streets or panic scroll online looking for the 'perfect' gift our loved ones will know mean you value them.

Well if that loved one in your life is a runner, no need to aimlessly search anymore: I've put together a top 10 presents guide below to help you nail Christmas this year.

Like the Wind is a beautiful, long form journalism style magazine created by runners for runners. They release 4 issues a year so why not sign up your friend for a year of gifts and inspiration.

Photo: @escapingthecity

There is nothing better after a long run than a long soak and Soap Co's products aren't only beautiful, they are also ethically minded. Created in a factory in London with predominantly visually impared workers their products are stamped with who made the product. Bring on the bubbles.



It's not a joke in my household, literally everyone wants good socks for Christmas. And there is nothing better for the runner in your life than stance socks. They're premium, funky, technically fantastic and if you buy any testify, or underwear at the minute online they'll throw in a free stocking.



4. Race entry
Does your loved one repeatedly talk about that race they wish they could do? Incentivise them to train for it by buying them a race entry. 2 years ago my parents bought the Speedster (my husband) an entry to the Ironman distance triathlon Outlaw. Last year I bought him entry to the Reykjavik 10k on NYE and flights. Plus you'll get to eat more mince pies than them once they find out.



I believe ethically mined presents mean much more at this time of year so enter SueMe's ethical undies. Made from 95% beech tree pulp and manufactured to be CO2 neutral they are also crazy comfy and last the distance on long runs. Perfect present for a runner who doesn't want their gift to hurt the planet.



Nothing screams Christmas for me like being curled up in front of a fire with a good book. I particularly like a running book which inspires adventure and makes me pleased to be inside and Richard Askwith's book on his feeble attempts to run the Bob Graham round while charting the history of fell running is a running classic. Pass the chocolates.



With over 5 million people registered for parkrun, it's one of the most inclusive communities within running. Rather than rocking up with a slightly soggy printed barcode treat your Runner to a wristband with their unique barcode number on. If they don't have medical info you can add a little message too: be that loving, encouraging or banterous.



Continuing the ethical thread, I am in love with the new Adidas parley kit, made from plastic fished out of our oceans. The track suits are dreamy: stylish, comfortable, high performance and planet-minded. It's a great option for a premium present.

Photo: @dhamshere


You may think they look and taste like delicious sweets but I promise they are a Columbian sports nutrition product. Perfect sweet treat that does actually fuel your run, not just your box set marathons.



If the Runner in your life is particularly picky why not treat them to a Decathlon giftcard? Huge selection of stores across the country featuring virtually every sport you can think of and all levels of kit to fit any budget.


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Race | Athens Authentic Marathon | Peace and friendship


Just three and a half months ago I was sitting at my desk pressing refresh on BBC News every 5 minutes unable to tear my eyes away from the wildfires ripping through southern Greece, just outside of Athens. I’ve been travelling to Greece for many years, in the past because of my mother’s love for the islands, more recently because of my own love for the serenity and beauty of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and in the last couple of years for work. I have visited Athens over 10 times so to watch a disaster unfold so mercilessly so close to a city I loved was heart breaking. As once again shown by the wildfires in California in the last week, the destruction that a forest fire can cause knows no bounds. 

In the summer the lovely guys at Adidas Runners London offered me a place to run the Athens Authentic Marathon. Happily it coincided with a work trip so I could roll it together in to a slightly extended stay and persuade a couple of my friends and the Speedster to come out and join me at the end of my working week. Adidas Runners describes itself not as a crew or a club but as an international community and never is that more evident than when a city is hosting around a big event. The Adidas Runners Athens crew were amazing, putting on unbridled hospitality for us from a running tour of the city, to a massive pasta party and recovery massages. 



The race itself is a point to point race - something I’ve never experienced before in a big marathon, only in ultras. We met at 6am in squares across central Athens, were loaded efficiently on to coaches and bused out to the village of Marathon, site of the famous battle that gives our notorious 26.2 mile race its name. The great thing about a point to point race is there is no repetition - it’s one way and you feel like you ‘have’ to complete it to get to the finish line. The problem with being bused to the start of a point to point race is you realise quite how far it is you’re going to have to run back. Never underestimate the marathon - so called after all because the poor messenger running from Marathon back to Athens after the Battle of Marathon promptly dropped down dead after running the distance. Perfect piece of history to recreate; no?!



The start line was a wonderful atmosphere; energetic, countries from all over the world represented and an opportunity to pledge allegiance to the marathon. The words I heard continually repeated throughout the day were peace and friendship: the Athens Authentic Marathon tasks you, the runner, with delivering the message of peace and friendship for all, and as a visiting runner from overseas that is a wonderful message to take with you through the distance.

The race itself is pretty nondescript. There aren’t really any views and the course follows a couple of major roads which the race closes off for the runners. Hot, hilly asphalt all the way back to Athens. But this year there was an added starkness to the race. From about 10km to 25km we ran through the village and cities that had been decimated by the wildfires less than 4 months beforehand. The race organisers had given all runners a green bandana to wear in memoriam of the wildfires and in spite of the blistering heat I wore mine in solidarity past the Mommas and Nonnas lining the streets dressed in black. Hundreds of the community came out to remind Greece that they could not be forgotten. 99 people who died in the wildfires in their communities would not be forgotten. And I’ll never, ever forget the experience of running past them as they lovingly cheered us on. Peace and friendship truly on display.



The middle third is really tough as the course isn’t flat and the gradual uphill is the stuff of marathon folklore. I’d lost count in the weeks preceding to how many of my friends had told me how tough this race was. As this was just a month after Chicago, I had set myself the task of enjoying this race and running on feel so I had no tech guiding my journey and when I wanted to take walking breaks uphill or at the water stations I did. At 38km I hit the riotous party of the Adidas Runners cheer station complete with squad goals to end all squad goals. Insert fist bumps, cheerleaders, smoke cannons and wild screaming here. It was an adrenaline buzz like nothing else. The final 4km of the race is really enjoyable as you run in to central Athens and past some beautiful buildings but the highlight has to be the finish line where you run in to the ancient Panathenaic Stadium and are given the chance to run the full straight of the stadium with crowds sitting in the marble bleachers cheering you on. It’s mesmerising. 

I stopped my watch which had been invisibly tracking me and was shocked to see I’d finished in 4:11:35 (official chip time 4:11:30) which for a hot, hilly race 4 weeks after Chicago, I was delighted with. 



As I wandered towards my drop bag at the finish in a wonderful post-marathon glow the Speedster finds me (he’d had a great run in around 3:35). 

“I’ve got a present for you,” he greets me with. He stretches out his hand and in it is an olive branch, carried from the very start in Marathon back to Athens for me. Peace and friendship once again. After several hours running through burnt down forests, the olive branch seems to have taken on new meaning. I feel by running this race we have tied ourselves to the history, memory and people of this place. And I’m not sure that is something that will ever leave me. This really is a race laced with love.


Total time: 4:11:30

Finishing position: 4,629 (out of 15,279)
Finishing position (gender): 533 (out of 3,287)
Finishing position (age-group): 187 (out of 1,006)
% of runners who finished: Unsure.

First half time: 1:58:49
Second half time: 2:12:41

To find out more about how to enter the 2019 race go to: https://www.athensauthenticmarathon.gr/site/index.php/en/

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Race | Chicago Marathon | The hunt for a PB


It was always about the PB.

After some knuckled down training in the Spring, I blew up like a water balloon at my A race of the Spring, the Copenhagen marathon, and not only missed my PB, but lost a bit of love for marathons.

Getting in to Chicago through the ballot was so exciting. My second World Marathon Major would be my 30th birthday trip to see if I could beat my current PB, set at my 1st Major, Berlin last year. For those of you following my running for some time, you'll know that post-Ironman last year I was in the shape of my life and in a gritty marathon, secured my sub-4 hour dream marathon time in Berlin.

There was a small part of me that thought, that's it. Ironman fit vs marathon fit. Can marathon fit really produce the same results?

I always A, B and C goal set and Chicago was like no other race in that I had prepared my three goals. And they were pretty big:
Goal C: Sub- 4:30 - leave myself room for it to all go tits-up on race day
Goal B: Sub-3:59:39 - PB by a couple of seconds at least
Goal A: 3:50-3:55 - PB by 5 minutes+

Maybe one day my reach will see me put a Good For Age time in there but the truth is, I knew my fitness and my pace and thought the A goal was a great stretch already. No point repeating the errors of Copenhagen by going out too fast.


I arrived an hour beforehand, bag check was easy and lining up in the pens was the usual mix of chaos and excitement. When the gun went off for the first wave I felt quite emotional. I was lucky enough to have travelled half way around the world to take on this challenge and I felt that in spite of a few twinges, I was in marathon ready shape.

The weather wasn't great on race day, 16 degrees and rainy with some periods of rain being pretty heavy. But as the weather in Chicago at this time of year could be up to 35 degrees and humid I was happy. I'll always take wet and colder over too warm!

Crossing the start line was wonderful, and as we came out after 500m in to the crowds I was overwhelmed by the support Chicago brought. Honestly: best race of my life. I had my name on the front of my t-shirt and people were screaming my name and cheering for me. It was such a humbling experience.

Due to the chaos of the start pens I went out with the 3:45 pacers with the intention of dropping off as soon as it felt a little too fast. My Garmin was behaving like a toddler who'd eaten too much sugar so I was running on elapsed time against the road markings and nothing else. The race heads up towards Lincoln Park zoo before returning south around 7 miles. My brilliant mum was screaming her heart out on the course and I was lucky enough to see her 4 times: 2, 8, 17 and 23 miles which, especially given the weather, was the most incredible boost.

I'm not going to lie: at 6 miles I knew I was going to get a PB. Sounds cocky perhaps but the achilles soreness I'd been suffering with for a couple of months had melted away, I was moving well, I was fit to burst happy and the course was great fun. This was it: this was my race.


The districts of Chicago were so vibrant, I loved running through Boystown in the North and shortly after this I passed my great friend Heidi. We ran together for a kilometre before I said bye and pushed on with the pacers. As you approach the halfway mark you make your way back in to the city and I passed the half in 1:51:23. At 14 miles you head out West and at this point, the rain turned apocalyptic. I was struggling to see because of the amount of water pouring down my face, running the sweat in to my eyes until they stung. Time to let the 3:45 pacers go. The really awful rain lasted about 15 minutes and by the end of the downpour I was pretty chilly. My hips were getting pretty tight now and I kept repeating to myself that I was mountain strong. If I could run for hours in the mountains, I could cling on to the marathon pace I wanted.

I found 16 to 20 miles tough, the crowd support was quite a bit quieter and it took me a while to warm up. On top of this my grumpy back had started complaining in a way I usually only suffer with on long bike rides. I stopped briefly at 20 miles and threw myself on the floor, rolling around to try and click my back back in to place which caused so much relief. Just after 21 miles we hit my new favourite type of aid station: a Biofreeze station: volunteers spraying painful areas with a type of deep freeze. Back happily frozen I was off. This was it: 5 miles to go.


While my pace was continuing to slow slightly, I was still well on track for not just a PB but a sub 3:55 time. By my calculations I could come in around 3:53 so I kept clicking away at the mileage.

At 23.5 miles you turn to head north towards the finish line, a long drag of a straight line to the end. But by this point there was no stopping me. I just kept thinking 'This is the race of my life', 'I've massively surpassed my goals' and in spite of the gritty pain of the later stages of a marathon I was having a great time. It felt like a long victory lap.

As we approached the final 400m to go sign, some quick maths told me if I could increase my pace, I could finish just under 3:53. Silly games we play, but off I went.

The finish funnel was great fun with so many people thrilled to finally be approaching the end of such a great challenge and great race. Kick, kick, kick, over the line. 3:52:58. And then I literally screamed with joy.


The last two marathons I've run I haven't really enjoyed, I found Berlin last year so tough clinging on for dear life for the sub-4 finish and Copenhagen in the Spring was such a disappointment for the wheels to fall off so much.

Chicago was the retribution I felt I deserved. A 6 minute 31 second PB. My second time sub-4 and by a comfortable distance. My first marathon in my 30s.

It can be really easy to see times and think of what-might-have-beens or what-nexts but I'm far too delighted to do that. 3:52:58 from a girl who ran her first marathon in 5:47:45. It's going to take a long time to get over it.



Total time: 3:52:58 (PB)

Finishing position: 11,847 (out of 44,571)
Finishing position (gender): 3,207 (out of 20,612)
Finishing position (age-group): 611 (out of 3,416)
% of runners who finished: Unsure.

First half time: 1:51:23
Second half time: 2:01:35

To find out more about how to enter the ballot for 2019's race go to: https://www.chicagomarathon.com/

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Race | Transalpine Run 2

I have just closed the back cover of Jonny Muir's The Mountains are Calling. I deeply exhale. I shut my eyes and am taken back to three weeks ago, in the middle of the Transalpine Run 2 Race, standing on an exposed ridgeline where, after hours and hours of mist, the cloud had cleared for the first time to reveal the most literally breathtaking views.

Peace. Joy. Freedom.

My heart is full because for me: the mountains truly do call my name.

It's May. I've just persuaded my friend Libby that while she loves road running she's got to give the mountains a try. She pulls a face totally unconvinced. It takes me two weeks but I somehow persuade her to sign up to be my partner at the inaugural TransAlpine Run 2 race: an entry level multi-stage ultramarathon across the Austrian alps from Germany to Austria. Day One starts in Garmisch-Partenkirschen (known, my mother informs me, for it's setting for skiing events) and over 43.6km you cover 2,471m ascent and 2,327m descent on the journey through the border and in to Nassereith in Austria. On Day Two you run again, covering 27.2km, 1,323m ascent and 1,377 descent as you leave the Austrian border behind and head deeper in the Austrian Alps finishing in Imst Austria.



When we arrived on day one I have to admit, I was pretty nervous. Libby is a faster road runner than me and she'd been working on her uphill climbing by running up the stairs at Guys and St Thomas Hospital. That said, I knew I had some good endurance having run ultramarathons before and having spent most of my life in the hills (thanks to my Dad).



Day 1 was really tough: technical climbs, relentless uphill, endless switchbacks and one particular section that was so horrendously muddy underfoot that for every step forward you slid a good metre back. It also was drizzly, and quite cold and brutal on my legs. But then you'd get to a long runable section in the deep forest and hit a clearing with remarkable views and it would be, well magical.



And, as much as I may have worried about holding Libby up, we both had our strengths. On the uphills she was like a train powering relentlessly up. On the downhill I'd fly down with no fear descending rapidly. But more than our strengths, running with another person creates a team spirit you so rarely find in running. It's not about you anymore. In races I've done previously when things get hard your head thinks 'I should quit now' or 'I can't do this' but in a team race where you are disqualified if you're more than 2 minutes from your team member there is no space to think that. It's not about you anymore. It's about the team. And so we did it. It took 9 hours and 17 minutes and ended up being the slightly further distance of 46km but we made it.




The hardest point came on the morning of Day 2 as I attempted to crawl out of bed my legs buckling like Bambi underneath me and contemplating the prospect of nearly 30km of the relentless Alps ahead of me but once we were standing on the start line really it was never a question. How could I possibly let my teammate down? Virtually straight away we got to a section of over 2 hours of uphill climbing. Turns out the Alps are pretty steep and pretty high. My legs were screaming and my lungs were fit to burst but as Libby powered alongside me and encouraged me it just wasn't a question of stopping: we were going to make it.


The second day the weather was much better: we got some actual sunshine and a much more runable day. The middle of the day saw a huge descent in to an almost gorge section which led to then a burning climb out. The final climb of the day was brutal but by that point we were just so thrilled at the fact we were ahead of the cut off times and the views were remarkable.






A couple of weeks on it feels quite surreal to have covered a total of 73.9km running, 3,864m ascent and 3,616m descent in the two days. It is like a wonderful, painful, surreal dream. And it makes me more confident about future challenges. My biggest lesson? Together we can accomplish so much more. I'll take that team mentality back in to my individual training and I have no doubt the strength I've learned in the mountains, will transform my racing on the road.

To find out more about enter the Transalpine Run 2 race see the website here: https://transalpine-run.com/en/run2/

Friday, 24 August 2018

Parkrun | M is for Mole Valley

This Saturday I made it to the beautiful Mole Valley parkrun, held in Denbies Wine Estate, near Dorking, Surrey.



The course is gorgeous: a short grassy lap of a field to start before a long slow slog up through the vineyards (up being the optimum word!) on a track to the highest point of the course before looping back and running the final 2km downhill to the finish.

Great course, super friendly marshals and a fab cafe at the end - what's not to love?



Mole Valley parkrun
Nearest train station: Dorking: 1km easy walk down a footpath.
Postcode is RH5 6AA
One lap course
Toilets from 8:30am onsite
Cost of a coffee was £2.30. 10% off by showing your barcode
Cake was delicious.
Volunteers super friendly.
First runner: 18:31
Tail walker: 57:56
No of runners: 252
Bag drop: people simply leave them under a tree
Shoe choice: trail suggested but you’d be fine with road shoes







Monday, 20 August 2018

Running | How to start running

When my Mum was younger she would do anything to get out of playing sports. When I came along and turned out to be an outdoor loving runner my Mum used to describe my love of the outdoors as ‘the greatest failing in my upbringing’. Really the woman hated the idea of sport. 

Then last year my mum, who has severe rheumatoid arthritis, got a diagnosis of scoliosis (a twisted spine) and got told that the only way to manage her condition was to do physio exercises and get herself fitter. On the road to recovery, my mum discovered that she quite liked exercise - after over 60 years of avoiding it - and last week she completed her 50th parkrun. 

It’s never too late to become a runner and it really is possible for virtually everyone! Here are my top tips on how to get in to running.



The NHS’s incredibly successful app helps you build up from nothing to 5k. Download the free app on your phone and follow the guidance as they take you through walking, walk/running, run/walking and to running. 

This nationwide free 5k series welcomes runners and walkers alike. Every parkrun in the UK has a tail walker so you can’t even complain you’ll be last. Introduce yourself to the friendly volunteers when you arrive and tell them you are new - I guarantee they’ll be delighted to welcome you. If 5k seems a bit daunting find a multi-lap course and build up to week after week starting with maybe 2.5k and working your way up to the full distance.

Friends
One of the best ways you can get that motivation is by having a group of friends you go out with. I lead a running club at my workplace and we do a simple session that makes running together very accessible. We start with a very gentle 1k warm up to our local park. There is then a 20 minute session where you run as many 1k loops of the park as you can manage: if that means walking just one loop that is absolutely fine and then we run together a very gentle 1k cool down. Simple sessions like these can encourage you out and I often find when I’m chatting with friends it helps me go for a lot longer than I could have done on my own.
My biggest piece of advice: ignore anyone who tells you walking isn’t park of running: the greatest ultra marathon runners and mountain runners in the world walk sections of races so it simply isn’t true! So good luck: get out there and see what you can achieve.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Nutrition | Marathon Nutrition 101


You’ve put in the hard work. You’ve trained hard. You’ve run hundreds of miles. And race day is fast approaching. After training there is one absolute cornerstone of the marathon that must be considered: nutrition.

Many athletes have been flawed by getting nutrition wrong. Amateur and professional. There are 3 primary fuelling tactics you need to get right: 

BEFORE
The night before eat something you’re used to and avoid high levels of spice or dairy. “Carb loading” is important but don’t overdo it! You’ll just up feeling sluggish and groggy. Personally I always eat pasta with pesto and chicken the night before. 
It’s really important in the days before you get enough fluids as well. Carry a bottle round with you and ensure you’re getting through at least 2 litres of water a day: coffee and tea don’t count!

On race day morning eat something you’ve practiced eating before running. Avoid lots of fruit as things high in fibre can encourage you go to the toilet more (and no one wants that in the middle of a marathon!) and instead try something with a good blend of slow release and quick release carbs. Porridge with some nut butter and a bit of banana is perfect or chia pudding with some almond milk. About 30 minutes before the race starts I really like following in the footsteps of the greats, like Mo Farah, and sneaking in an espresso. It helps me focus and channel my nervous anticipation. I’ll also have a final snack: I really like Aldi’s coconut paleo bars or Pip and Nuts squeeze peanut butter packs as good rich energy sources

DURING
The average man will be out for 3 hours 48 minutes and woman 4 hours 23 minutes at the London marathon day so you need to think about how you’ll keep your energy stores topped up during the race. The two things you need to consider are fluids and sugar/salts. Firstly fluids: don’t forget you’ll need to drink water! Out on the course most major races will provide you with regular water stations: don’t overdo it though - you can make yourself incredibly poorly by drinking too much. Small sips regularly and you should be fine. I personally always walk through the water stations to ensure I have time for a quick drink. It doesn’t impact your time in the grand scheme of things. 

Secondly sugar and salts. Energy gels are brilliant things that taken roughly every 10km should help keep you going for the race. However, it’s imperative you practice with them beforehand. Some I’ve tried previously have really upset my stomach so be careful. Certain gels need taking with water too so make sure you know what you’re taking and how it will affect you. I personally really like the SIS gels that don’t require water. I used to suffer with terrible cramps in my feet when running long distances but have discovered taking salts on while running totally fixes the problem. If you’re running the London marathon you’ll find Lucozade gels out on the course so test them out on your final runs to see whether the ones on the course will work for you.

If you’re not a big fan of gels you can also try ‘real’ food. Nakd bars, Tribe bars and sport jelly beans are all good options but it can be a bit tougher to get used to needing to chew while running.

AFTER
When you finish I know all too well the temptation is to sit down and drink a beer but don’t forget the impact good nutrition can have on helping you recover faster and fend off injury. When we put our bodies under the stress of events like marathons we need to give our muscles recovery products in the form of protein to help them build and repair. This is most effective when taken in within 30 minutes of finishing so consider giving your finishing snack/drink to either a friend spectating who you’ll meet at the end or in your drop bag. I personally find it hard to eat as soon as I finish so I often have a shake - I like SIS REGO, Goddess Nutrition protein shakes and, if I’m in the mood for something a bit solid Tribe 10 protein bars (which are all natural so good if you have dietary requirements). 

Make sure you keep drinking throughout the rest of the day after your race too - and I don’t mean alcohol! It’s fine to have a celebratory beer but if you’ve been out for a number of hours, especially on a hot day, it’s imperative you take on fluids for the rest of the day.

And that’s it! Nutrition for Marathons 101. Look after yourselves out there and put the training in to action. With balanced nutrition and good training you’ll smash your marathon goals this Spring.



Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Race | Copenhagen Marathon

Sometimes all the hard work doesn't pay off. That seems like a brutal way to start this blog post but I think it's really important as runners that we are real with one another. I was aimlessly scrolling instagram last night and seeing so many pictures of peoples successes made the tough marathon time I had on Sunday all the harder. So here is a real post: from me to you.

I had trained really hard for the Copenhagen Marathon. You know the people who say 'Oh I only fitted in a couple of long runs' well that certainly wasn't me. In January and February I'd run two ultramarathons and had then consistently ticked off all my long runs - mostly with my wonderful friend Libby at my side. I'd had some blows as well - some repeated niggles caused by the mountains and weak quads post Transgrancanaria, and then an incredibly busy time at work meant I was knocked for 6 about 4 weeks a go when I got shingles. But still: I thought I was stronger and I thought I was bound to PB as my PB from the Berlin marathon had been set after finding out I was racing with just 4 weeks to go.

Photo: Emme from AR Copenhagen
Race day itself was hot - highs of 24 degrees. I'd decided I was going to go out with the Speedster who was pacing Libby for GFA (good for age - this gives you qualification in to certain marathons like London and is currently sub-3:45) because I thought on a really good day I had a shot of holding on. The first half marathon was great. The atmosphere was incredible - Copenhagen seemed to be willing us marathoners on at every bend. The Adidas Runners cheer station at 5km/8km was on fire and I was beaming as we clicked up the mileage. By 10km my ankles were giving me a bit of grief and I was struggling when the Speedster was ramping up the occasional km - I could hold on at 5:15/km but found it really tough at 5:05/km.

Photo: Jacques Holst
About 20km I knew I wasn't going to be able to sustain the pace so said my goodbyes and let them fly off in to the distance. I flew through the half marathon point in 1:52. I still felt strong about 25km although by now my left knee was really sore but I kept thinking 'It's a marathon: it's supposed to hurt!' About 30km it all started unravelling. I'd been cheering on the sidelines at the London marathon this year and had seen the monumental impact the heat can have on runners and got to experience it first hand. I was swaying pretty badly, which compounded with my precarious left knee meant I kept buckling to one side. About 33km I was feeling really sorry for myself as I'd be passed by quite a few people, was in a lot of pain, knew I was badly dehydrated and knew that the seemingly easy pace of 55minutes for 9km just wasn't going to happen and I was going to miss my PB.

Photo: Jacques Holst
I got pretty upset at this point. I seemed to be unable to comprehend how my legs wouldn't move in the way I wanted them to. As I rounded back to the final Adidas Runners cheer point at 35km I was almost ready to let my body just fall over in to a crumpled heap. And then the stars came. And the cheers and the joyful screaming. Honestly crew love is just the most remarkable thing. I love the Adidas Runners crew because it knows no international borders - it doesn't matter what country you are from if you're in their colours they'll be there for you no matter what. Tears rolling down my face, I grinned as I ran past them, got looked after by them and as the star that is Mike Law basically picked me up off the tarmac and said 'I'm coming with you.'


Photo: Jacques Holst
And he did - every last painful km left Mike never left my side. At the point where I almost fell over he grabbed me and kept me on my feet. When I had nothing left and needed to walk for a minute he stayed with me. And as we approached the finish line and he coaxed me to sprint finish. Mike had my back.

It's weird to have such mixed emotions about a race: I both loved it and am pretty disappointed. I couldn't have had better love, community support, or crowds out there but I really did think that I was going to PB and for my body to suffer so much in the heat is disappointing. 4 weeks in to having shingles I have to remember to be kind on myself for what I achieved: my fastest 30km time, 2nd fastest marathon time and 3rd fastest half marathon time. Today wasn't my day to come away with a PB but I did come away crying my eyes out because I truly gave it everything and grinning from ear to ear for the support I got out on the course.

Tearful 
Copenhagen you were glorious. Marathon PB: Watch out - I'm coming for you.

Adidas Runners London crew
Total time: 4:06:30🏃‍♀️


Finishing position:  634th female (out of 1902)
Finishing position for my age-group: 105th
Runners; 7883
% of runners who finished: 94%

First half time: 1:52:39
Second half time: 2:14:09

To find out more about how to register for 2019's race go to: https://copenhagenmarathon.dk/en/

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Race | Transgrancanaria Advanced 64km

I am not sure why this post has taken me so long to write. I am sure that the Transgrancanaria Advanced race was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I am not sure how I finished looking back on it. I have never been more sure that I was going to drop out of a race to date.

But I did. I finished. I made it.



Gran Canaria has to be one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to in my life. The topography is simply remarkable: glistening white beaches, pine forests, snowy mountains, dry desert and sand dunes, wooded glades. It really is like nowhere I've been before. The opportunity to run through this inspiring island from it's centre to the beach was incredibly appealing. What an adventure!

Since Country to Capital, I knew the distance was going to be hard but some niggling plantar fasciitis that I just couldn't shift was making me pretty nervous as we flew out a week in advance. As soon as we landed I was in love with the sheer mountains and the vast plains. This was a true island experience. The run up to the race itself was glorious: we swam in the ocean, we hired road bikes and biked up a mountain we drank sweet coffees by the beach and we drunk sangria in the sunshine. As the days ticked down the nerves grew but I felt prepared for what lay ahead. A half marathon and then a marathon back to back. Through the mountains. I could do this. I'd trained incredibly hard.



And just like that race day came and after a tedious bus journey winding up and up and up and up for what seemed like an eternity we were deposited high in the mountains in the beautiful village of Artenara awaiting the start of the biggest challenge of my life. 64km lay ahead of us and the air bristled with anticipation. 9am rung in the air and we were off. Just like that. A short run out of the village and we were instantly in the forest, sheer drops on one side and ragged climbs ahead of us. A bit of traffic across the first 5km or so and the brutal relentless climbing was already starting to have its impact by the first aid station. I virtually ran straight through as I'd just about found my groove and as we hit the highest point of the day, Roque Nublo, my heart swelled with pride: here I was, a normal runner, competing in this crazy mountain ultra.


As the first hard descent came I felt slightly cockily confident thinking about fell racing in the UK and as my pace increased I got distracted for a split second and bam: rolled my ankle. Think like Joss Naylor, the great fell runner, keep it moving by running through it. Twenty minutes of white agony passed and by the time that major technical descent was over I'd rolled my ankles a further twice and kept moving.

Aid stations came and go and the volunteers manning them were just exceptional. It was quite the party atmosphere at most and the organisers had laid on a real feast: although I was only interested in the orange wedges, water and cola. As I reached the first half marathon, with a marathon to go, I remember being notably shocked at how exhausted I felt. My legs were already feeling pretty annihilated and I was only a third of the way in. No one said this would be easy.



The views were literally breath taking. Every ten minutes or so it would feel like you had just clicked in to a new track of beautiful backgrounds and been transported to another incredible location. The views kept me going although the ability to see tens of runners streaming up and down ahead of you was mentally tough. There is something exhausting in being able to see the path ahead of you when the path involves so much ascending and descending!

At 30km I text my parents (mostly convincing them I was still alive) and they told me I'd now caught up with my husband the Speedster and he was just 20 minutes ahead of me. I was elated: this never happens! All the training must be paying off! And just 5km more of descending and something in my quads just gave in. And I was at quitting point.



I'm not sure what did it but the relentless up and down hills certainly didn't help. Nor did the cobble-like surface we'd been running on for some time. Or the sun exposure. All I remember is at the marathon point I got my phone out and rang the Speedster, who, bless him, 5km-10km up the field from me answered, and told him I was dropping out. I've never got to that point. I was sure of it at that point - as I was exposed on the side of a wild mountain, I would get to the next aid station and then I would hand my bib number in and quit this stupid race. It was too hard. Too painful. And I just didn't care anymore. I was broken. And the Speedster told me he got it, he felt that way too. But before I dropped out I should get to the aid station he had just arrived at because they had paella. I bloody love paella.

So I ran for the paella.



As I hit the paella station the medical tent deep-heated my thighs and, fuelled by salty rice, I thought I may as well walk out of the aid station and just 'be present'. Not worry about an hour ahead, heck not even worry about 5 minutes ahead. Just focus on getting through now. By this stage my thighs had officially given up and the painful hobble that constituted running was slower than a walk. So I thought of my incredible Mum, who at nearly 70 has chronic rheumatoid arthritis, scoliosis and has recently gone through nasty knee replacement surgery and still powers her way round Hampstead Heath parkrun every Sunday morning. And I thought: Well if Mum can do it I jolly well can. And so I started to route marsh down the bloody mountain. One. Step. At. A. Time.

I'd recced the final 10km of the course so when I hit the point of knowledge with the sun quickly setting it gave me a real boost. I could do this. Who cared if I power walked the whole way back or limped across the line. I was doing it.



When I hit 8:30pm I admitted the darkness had won and got my head-torch out and put my back light on. And I kept plugging on. The ultra-marathon training guide I've been following is called 'Relentless Forward Progress'. I didn't care about splits, or running, or how slow I was. I just focussed on relentless forward progress. Keep plodding on.

When I started the day the dream was to not spend more than an hour in the dark. That somehow seemed like the mental barrier I couldn't surpass. So I had my aim: when the head torch went on at 8:30pm I had one hour to make it to the finish line.

And I gritted my teeth and just got on with it. I passed an aid station with 3km to go and was only just inside of my target. I shocked the aid station by flying through. I was determined now. The Speedster text me with 2km to go to tell me my wonderful, supportive, edifying crew: Advent Runners, was waiting for me at the finish line.

You're so close!!!!! You can do it!


Texts from the Speedster. Texts from my parents. The thought of my crew at the finish line. Relentless forward progress. At one point we had to climb up and down a flight of stairs in that final 2km and I let out a loud sharp painful exclamation at the bottom step. This really was a new level for me of digging deep. My legs were in agony. My mind was broken. I felt defeated. But I was still moving forward.

The long straight to the finish line is glorious because you can taste the end. You know the release is coming. I forced myself to run, ignoring the waves of nausea that came from the pain. You round two corners before the finish funnel the noise, and pride, growing all the time. As I rounded that final corner I was just hit with the screams from my friends waiting in the night to celebrate me over the line. High fives all round and I ran over the finish line.





I remember trying to walk after that and feeling as though I would collapse. Or fall over. Or throw up. I remember wanting to cry. And pass out. And sleep. I remember a well of emotions flooding over me as the relief of it being over washed over me. And I remember repeating endless times 'That was so hard. So hard.'

The next day my legs were so wrecked I could only go to the loo by strategically falling on to the toilet. I couldn't walk up or down the slightest step without letting out a gentle whimper of pain. And it took me six attempts to get out of bed which, once successfully managed, I then proceeded to topple straight over again.

I have never pushed so hard in the face of what seems like - not a wall - but a cliff. But I ignored the cliff. I kept plugging on. I did it. I completed my first mountain ultramarathon: the brilliant, glorious, beautiful, painful, excruciating, exhilarating, annihilating Transgrancanaria. I couldn't be prouder of myself. Or more convinced that I never, ever, want to do that again.






Total distance: 64.4km
Total time: 11:24:52
Total elevation & descent: 3,200m ascent, 4,400m descent

Finishing position:  596th (out of 921)
Finishing position for women: 103rd (out of 178)
Finishing position for women <30: 40th (out of 70)
% of runners who finished: 94% (54 withdrawals)