Lakeland 50: best race EVER!

Wow, what an absolutely awesome weekend I’ve just had taking part in my first (of many hopefully!) Lakeland 50 ultra race. This race has been on my to-do list for a while after I had read amazing reviews and chatted to other runners at events, but I didn’t realise that you needed ninja keyboard skills to get your entry in on time on 1st September- I logged in at 9.15 and was amazed to see that the event was sold out! This meant that I then entered the Race to the King and Race to the Stones pair of events as an alternative, with the thought that I would aim for LL50 in 2017. However, back in the spring I won a Facebook competition run by Wiggle and Montane- which was an entry in the LL50! I was so happy to win, but it also meant the daunting prospect of 4 ultras in a 7 week period- however, I do like a challenge!

I was a little (ok quite a lot) worried about this race as I would be running solo without my usual ultra-buddies and there was navigation to do. I can navigate, but I’m not always the most confident, especially in the dark. The LL50 starts at 11.30am and so I knew there would be a few hours of darkness at least! However, I love the Lake District and, having reccied the last 15 miles in June, I felt a bit better about things. I bought myself a Garmin Fenix 3 watch quite recently, partly for the navigation tools, so I was hopeful that nothing would go badly wrong on that front. I was also carrying an injury to my back into the race, so again was concerned that this might make things difficult. As it was, the first 5 miles or so were very painful and I was running with a noticeable limp (can even see it on the photos!) but this settled down as the race progressed. I wouldn’t say I am completely fine in the aftermath, but I’ve definitely been in worse shape!

The race itself- point by point (this might be a bit long, but will hopefuly give you a good picture of the race):

  1. The race starts in the rather grand setting of the Dalemain estate with a 4 mile loop around the grounds before you set off on the route properly, running towards Pooley Bridge and then up onto the hills overlooking Ullswater. This first section is quite deceptive- no monster climbs and the footing is pretty good- so you can make good progress down into the first checkpoint at Howtown (or should I say ‘Howdytown’ where the theme was Cowboys!). The checkpoints on the course were ALL amazing. There was a wide selection of food and drinks- savoury and sweet- throughout the event, all served up by smiling and very helpful volunteers.

    ll50_view

    LL50: expect views like this the whole way round

  2. It is during the second leg of the race that you start to realise that it is going to be a tough one- apparently the majority of drop outs on the 50 course happen at the second checkpoint- I suspect the enormous climb up the Fusedale valley has something to do with that! It is steep and relentless- 2510ft of climbing and then 2205ft back down again!
    ll50_fusedale

    Finally made it to the top of the Fusedale climb!

    Once you get down the path just above Haweswater progress becomes quite difficult- it is fairly flat but the footing is such that it is difficult to run consistently (unless you are part mountain goat and extremely confident on your feet on technical ground) and so the checkpoint seems to take a long time to appear! However, the ham and cheese sandwiches on offer here helped to spur me onto the next big climb!

 

  1. Leg three has another big climb up Gatesgarth Pass and down the other side, and then a few more ups and downs to the CP at the village hall in Kentmere. The climbs over the stone steps in the dry stone walls were especially unpleasant on the quads after the accumulated fatigue from all the hills so far! At this checkpoint I bumped into Terry, who had sorted out my entry through the Wiggle competition and had very kindly sent me some top quality Montane kit to wear at the race. I have to say, it has performed really well, the Via series leggings felt great for the duration (despite me falling over three times, they are still fully intact!) and my Dragon backpack was comfortable and big enough for the compulsory kit- I normally carry a smaller race vest on ultras and I might now look at buying a Montane race vest for next year’s events as I liked the feel of the backpack. I also carried my Montane Minimus jacket, which I’ve worn a lot on training runs, but the lovely weather meant that it remained stashed in my bag.

 

  1. After the 3rd CP I was hopeful that I might be able to make it to Ambleside before dark. As I had reccied the route from Ambleside onwards, I felt that mentally I would be on the finish straight once I’d reached there. There was yet more climbing on the way, and this part of the race was the first time where I needed to really navigate as I was on my own for sections. However, the scenery was stunning, especially as the light started to drop. I just made it to the Ambleside CP without my headtorch, and running through the centre past the crowds cheering from the pubs gave me a real boost! I grabbed a very quick sandwich (kudos to the marshal who suggested I make it into a crisp sandwich!) and set off into the park in the dark with my headtorch and route map for company.

    ll50_aside

    Ready to leave Ambleside- 15 miles to go!

 

  1. For any dark sections I would recommend buddying up, especially if you aren’t familiar with the route as it is really very dark in the Lakes at night. We didn’t have much moonlight, so it was a little eerie up on the fell, especially having been told that there was allegedly a panther on the loose (according to local sightings!!) A lot of this section is very runnable and so I made good progress. Just before the Chapelstile CP (around 40 miles) the huge blister that I had been ignoring for a while burst, so I was forced to stop and re-Compeed it which eased the pressure significantly! At the penultimate CP I grabbed a quick bowl of soup, was helped by a lovely man to fill up my water/Tailwind for the last time and I was off on my way to the final CP.

 

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Blisters-the glamorous side of ultra-running

  1. I found the section from Chapelstile to Tilberthwaite quite testing. It is quite short in distance (6.5 miles) but there are a couple of steep climbs to contend with, as well as the absolute joy that is Bleamoss. You have the choice of a bog or a path which is uneven and difficult to pick your way through without jarring your knees and ankles- so progress becomes frustratingly slow. This is where being with other people really helps as you can laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation together!

 

  1. The final CP is quite a small one, and I didn’t even stop here- I just grabbed a sandwich and kept walking as I knew that the last 3 miles were going to take a while. You would be forgiven for thinking “oh it’s only a parkrun to go”…which I suppose is true, if it were the worst parkrun in the world. Tilberthwaite through to Coniston gives the LL50 a real sting in the tail, with 938ft of ascent and 1263ft of descent to complete. The ascent is very steep and involves scrambling up rocks and avoiding the sheer drop into the old quarry at the side of the path! The descent is very slow and painful. Im assuming that the race leaders run this, but they must have nerves of steel as most people I saw (myself included) were inching down swearing frequently. It was bad enough in the daylight with fairly fresh legs on my recce, let alone after about 15 hours of tough climbs! However, finally I made it down and then it was a 10-15 minute run to the school in Consiton for the finish! What a feeling to cross the line, dib my dibber (timing device) for the last time and then get taken into the hall where I got a big cheer from everyone in there!

I have never had such an enjoyable race from start to finish before. I absolutely loved everything about it- the tough ups and downs, the tricky footing, the breathtaking views,  the wonderful volunteers and the multitude of runners I chatted to on the way round made this race really very special. I had hoped to complete in around 18 hours, so was very pleased with a final time of 16:11- not bad for my 4th ultra in 7 weeks, carrying an injury! I am hoping to be back next year to have a go at it again, hopefully fully fit and maybe a stone lighter (this race is odd as you get weighed at registration and then you have to wear a band with your weight on it for the race. I’m not really sure why, but I’d like that number to be smaller next time around!)

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Bling shot

My top tips for the LL50:

  1. Do some route recces- especially of the bits where you might be running in the dark. This will save you a lot of time on race day.
  2. Stay in Coniston or nearby- there is a compulsory race briefing in Coniston at 8.30am and then the start is over at Dalemain (about an hour’s drive away)- which is a massive faff if you stay near the start (any guesses what I did?!)
  3. When you go to register and get your kit checked on the Friday, take it in a large shopping bag so that you can get everything out quickly
  4. Consider your footwear carefully, the terrain is quite hard on the feet!
  5. Enjoy yourself! This event is tough and should not be taken lightly- however, the sense of achievement is amazing! This is without a doubt the toughest thing I have ever done, but it was totally worth it!

Here is the official video of this year’s race- if this doesn’t inspire you, then nothing will!

Happy running folks! 🙂

ll50_haw

 

Race to the Stones: why running on injuries is a bad idea

Deep down I knew that attempting to run (well shuffle) 4 ultras in 7 weeks was probably unadvisable. Especially when I factored in that my back has been sore since before Ultra number 1. It’s one of those injuries which requires a rest from high impact activity- so I’ve been swimming, lots and lots of swimming and then every few weeks I make it worse again by doing another ultra. I haven’t actually run properly in training since the first week in June, which has been frustrating to say the least! However, I have survived the first 3 ultras… and fingers crossed I’ll make it to the start of number 4 in 8 days time!

RTTS_start

Here we go!

So…the Race to the Stones: I went in with very high expectations after my great experience at the sister race, Race to the King (read my blog about it here). In many ways Stones did not disappoint. There was the same slick organisation from Threshold Events, brilliant checkpoints which were well stocked with a vast array of different foods and drinks at each and the routemarking was second to none. Where the race wasn’t quite as good was probably down to two things. Firstly there were more people doing it, which meant that there were quite a few bottlenecks early on and the first two CPs were absolutely manic. I prefer to get in and out of CPs as quickly as possible (as a slow runner I know I can make time up by not spending too long faffing about) and this was very difficult due to the volume of people. However, by CP 3 this had calmed down significantly and the experience was much more pleasant! I was also not a huge fan of the route. There was some stunning scenery along the way, especially when we’d climbed up onto the Ridgeway, but there were also some dull road sections and miles and miles of RTTS_sceneryhard packed chalk with limited views. Compared to RTTK this was an ‘easier’ route as the overall elevation was less and the hard ground meant no mud to slide around in- but it was also less interesting as a result. I’d read lots of reports that road shoes would be fine and I cannot reiterate that enough. I actually wore my trail shoes, but they are Hokas and so have excellent cushioning- I can’t imagine how battered your feet would feel if you wore an aggressive off road shoe- Hokas or road shoes if you are doing this race in 2017, seriously!

The race itself went pretty well for the first 50 miles. My back, which had been really bad in the days before, was actually feeling pretty good and I made good progress. However, it was incredibly warm and the heat did start affecting me by about 11am. I’ve never been fond of warm weather, especially for running, and parts of the course were quite exposed, with no shade. RTTS_fieldI was going through a lot of water (filling my 2litre pack at 20km intervals) and, after my faint at the end of RTTK, I was very careful to make sure I used up my Tailwind sachets to ensure I was getting enough electrolytes at regular intervals. When I looked at the results lists I was surprised at the numbers of DNFs, I suspect a lot of these were weather related. My legs felt quite heavy throughout (3 ultras in 5 weeks will do that), but I was quite positive, and hoping for a finish time of around 16 hours. My previous best for 100km was over 18 hours, and I’d had a rather torrid end to that race and so I was hoping to exorcise some demons! Alas, with about 15 miles to go my knee decided that it didn’t want to cooperate any more! I had a sharp stabbing pain on the inside of my kneecap which slowed me entirely to a walk, rather than the usual run-walk which I adopt towards the end of a race. I have never had a knee problem before, so it was worrying me a lot and, for a time, I genuinely thought that i was going to be a DNF myself. However, I managed to hobble on and on and eventually we starting heading down from the Ridgeway. This section seemed to take forever: it was dark and misty and the track was all rutted, making finding your feet quite difficult.What was quite disheartening was the 2 mile round trip to the eponymous Stones to have a photo, to then have to double back up the hill you had just come down. The final section was a horrible uphill trudge across a field with lots of loose hay which impeded progress, but finally we made it! I even managed a slow and painful run for the last 600m or so!

RTTS_medal

All about the bling

At the end our bags were waiting for us, as was a stall serving free burgers, cakes and drinks to all runners. I finished in an official time of 17:23:50, which is a PB for 100km 🙂 This placed me 116/286 finishers in the female non-stop category and 524/956 finishers of the overall non-stop catetgory, which I’m pretty pleased with, given my various injuries! My hip and back are now sore again and my knee ballooned in the days after the race. This swelling has now subsided and it looks like the pain was actually coming from an issue in my quad. I’m now desperately treating everything and rehabbing in order to make it to the final challenge- the Lakeland 50! Just one more and then I can rest and recover properly!

Happy running folks 🙂

Race to the King: if Carlsberg did ultras…

Wow…what an absolutely brilliant time I had last weekend at the inaugural Race to the King Ultramarathon, which was a 53.5 jaunt across the South Downs Way from Arundel to Winchester. The day started with a very early start, with the coach collecting us from Winchester (the end point) at 6am. Unfortunately, due to congestion as a result of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and an accident, we got snarled up in traffic for 2.5 hours. This meant that we missed the start time of 8am, and didn’t end up leaving until 9.15am! However, the organisers were lovely and weren’t at all stroppy with us and allowed us to get fully organised before we set off. The cut-off time was 24 hours (the race was for both runners and walkers) and so setting out late wasn’t an issue in terms of being able to finish within the time- the only downside was getting snarled up behind the walkers on some of the narrower sections early on and the fact that we hit some of the course after RTTK_waterheavy downpours which made the footing more difficult than it might have been had we been an hour earlier.

I can honestly say that this is my favourite race that I have done to date. The route was absolutely stunning- hardly any roadwork and lots of rolling hills, wooded sections and postcard-worthy views across the Downs. There was lots of climbing (over 6000 feet in total) and in places the path was extremely muddy and slippery, we even had a flooded section to negotiate which meant very wet feet for the last 10 miles or so! In many ways I think that this would be an excellent race as a first ultra as the support from the organisers was outstanding. The price-tag for the race is definitely on the high side, but you really can see why when you are out on the course. The checkpoints were stationed at regular intervals and had the most wonderful array of food and drink that I have seen at any of the ultras I have run. What I particularly liked was the variety- the checkpoints all had a different selection of snacks, energy drinks, gels, fruit, cakes, soup which meant that boredom didn’t set in. There were portaloos (clean ones!) at every CP, as well as a seating area and helpful volunteers- the only downside was that it would be far too easy to spend too long at each station! The other thing that was great was the navigation- you didn’t need to do any! Race books with maps were provided but mine stayed firmly in my bag for the whole day as the route was so well signposted that it was obvious which way we had to go (even in the dark glowsticks had been placed near every directional arrow so they were easy to see).

RTTK_hillfort

Spotted a hill fort

However, I did get the feeling that some people had entered this race as their first ultra and had completely underestimated the challenge. Well organised or not, 53 miles with hills is a VERY long way and what astounded me was the number of people I saw who seemed to have completely ignored the suggested kit list. I saw people without waterproofs (who will have regretted that decision as we had thunder and very heavy downpours at times despite the glorious weather first thing in the morning) and one group who had no headtorches with them- having decided that they would be finished before it got dark! I think the important thing to remember about ultras is that you never know what is going to happen and you should prepare for the worst! I finished the race feeling absolutely fine (apart from sore legs), but then went incredibly dizzy and faint and had to lie down for about 90 minutes until I felt able to walk the short distance to the car. This has never happened to me before, but it was a timely warning that not eating and drinking enough in the late stages of a race like this can be potentially quite dangerous. Thankfully my friends looked after me and the medics/Threshold events team were very helpful- letting my husband jump on to an earlier shuttle bus to go and get the car and checking whether I needed food/blankets etc.RTTK_elevation

The finish for this race was spectacular- being literally outside the door of the beautiful and imposing Winchester Cathedral- a real show stopping location. I had hoped to make it in daylight, but the late start and churned up ground on sections of the course meant that I finished in just over 15 hours, around about midnight. This placed me around halfway from the non-stop finishers, which I was pretty pleased with. At the finish we got a great medal and free hot food and drinks were provided (well, for most people they were- I was lying on the floor feeling sorry for myself and trying to swallow a Percy Pig or two!)RTTK_medal

On the Sunday I felt pretty good considering that my back and hip had been hurting throughout the race. I’ve been having issues with my SI joint over the last month or so and it wasn’t really fully recovered from the 90 miles I covered at Endure 24 only two weeks prior to RTTK…I’ve definitely set my recovery back, but I’m hoping that I haven’t made it any worse as I have Race to the Stones (RTTK’s sister race) on 16th July. This means a three week period for me to rest and rehab my back as much as possible. I’m very much looking forwards to it after having such a wonderful time at RTTK. Lots of swimming and Pilates for me over this three weeks, and probably very little running, unless my back feels much better in the interim. If you are thinking of entering an ultra next year I can highly recommend RTTK- you can even split it across two days if the full distance in one is a bit intimidating…if Carlsberg did ultras, then this would be it!

RTTK_hill

Look at that view!

24 hour fun :)

startendure

Ready to go!

Wow, what an exciting weekend I’ve just had at Endure24- a fantastic event held in Wasing Park near Newbury. This was my third time here, but my first as a solo runner. The concept is pretty simple: the race runs from 12:00 Saturday until 12:00 Sunday and you run as many 5 mile laps as possible. I’ve competed before as a team of 8 (running 4 laps over the course of the race) and in 2015 I ran 60 miles as part of a mixed pair- we ended up finishing 4th with 120 miles between us. So the plan this year was to see what it would be like to run on my own as a solo. Fortunately I knew quite a few others competing in the event and so there were lots of friendly faces en route to keep me sane. My target was 80 miles, which was 15 further than I’ve ever been before and so I was a bit concerned about how this would go. I find it difficult to cover huge mileage in training as many ultra-running plans would recommend as I suffer with back problems and particularly my SI joint can become quite inflamed. This means that I have to supplement a lot of my running for cross training of various types, mainly swimming, cycling and British Military Fitness classes. My back had actually flared up a little in the week prior to Endure 24 after a longish run in the Lake District and a tough fell race, and so I went into the race a little nervous about how things would be as I hadn’t run at all for 8 days and was hoping that some intensive physio treatment would work its magic! Happily, I didn’t suffer too much, although I’m feeling very stiff now and definitely in need of a week off and some massages!

The conditions for the race were pretty unpleasant- sticky and humid… I’m quite a sweaty person anyway and so this sort of weather is my least favourite for running and I definitely felt like dehydration was a distinct possibility, despite the precautions taken. Initially I was planning to just carry a small hand bottle to reduce weight, but I opted to take my full camelbak instead as I knew that I would need to drink plenty to stop myself getting dehydrated. This meant that I only needed to stop and fill up my water (plus Tailwind sachets containing calories and electrolytes) every twenty miles.

The route is an undulating trail through the woods, which at least means that it doesn’t become too repetitive. The worst part is probably the aptly named ‘Heartbreak Hill’ at around the 5km mark, which is a little soul destroying, especially in the middle of the night.

vdub

V-Dub bar 🙂

However, the brilliant V-Dub Lucozade bar, with its pumping music, does help to spur runners up! The marshals are all fantastic and really do help, as do all the other runners, encouraging each other on. My first 60 miles felt pretty good, I opted for running at an easy pace and walking the hills and also managed to pair up with some friends for a couple of laps which was a real boost. I survived mainly on Tailwind, but a good old PB & J sandwich and a couple of satsumas gave me an extra surge of energy at around 40 miles. I found that splitting the 24 hours down a useful tactic, so I worked in 2 lap increments and promised myself some sort of reward at the end of each pair of laps. After 60 miles my reward was a 30 minute break where I grabbed a quick shower and a full kit change. This seemed to help and I was hopeful that I could get my 80 miles done and dusted by the early hours of the morning where I could then finish, get my medal and go to bed.

However, the wheels started to come off on lap 15… I was finding it difficult to run, or even walk, without wobbling all over the place. I felt dizzy and sick and could not contemplate ‘just one more lap’. At this stage I realised that I probably should have eaten something more substantial than a couple of sandwiches and that the tiredness (and the dark) was really getting to me. I decided to get in my tent and have a sleep. I figured that I only had one more lap to complete to get to 80 and, as long as I set off before 12:00, that was achievable. After about an hour’s sleep and a talking to from my friend’s dad who was crewing for us, I felt much more positive and set out on lap 16. I then realised that I had time to fit a couple more in, and the sleep and a banana had energised me. In the end I managed 18 laps- so 90 miles in total!

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90 miles- still smiling!

This was enough to put me in 8th place out of 71 finishers in the ladies’ competition, which I was over the moon with!! I had exceeded my original target by 10 miles. The last half a km was probably one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had running, the crowd were so encouraging that it was difficult to stop myself from crying! Even worse, as I crossed the finish line the MASSIVE blister on my foot burst, which definitely produced a few tears!

So what is next? Well, in two weeks I have the Race to the King Ultramarathon- 53ish miles on the South Downs from Arundel to Winchester. At this moment in time I could happily never run again, so its going to be a case of resting up, getting my hip and back into working order and getting some swimming and Pilates sessions in to help with mobility! Happy running folks 🙂

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Very hard earned bling!

Windermere Marathon report :)

Never try anything new on race day?

Ask on any running forum or Facebook group what advice people would give before a marathon and you can absolutely bet that someone will sagely warn against trying anything new on race day. This is very good advice, especially when it comes to your race day nutrition! I’ve blogged before about my love of Tailwind as I cannot stand gels and sickly sweet products over marathon distance and it means that, in regards to food, I stick rigidly to the rules. However, I have to admit to being a bit more lax in other areas… last weekend I ran the Windermere marathon and I tried two new things on race day:

  1. Hydration: as I use Tailwind I need to take water with me as it’s a powder which needs mixing in. This is something that isn’t an issue on ultras where you take your backpack or race vest anyway, but in road marathons things are more tricky. I wore a camelbak at Manchester, but I’ve been exploring other options. I recently bought myself a snazzy handheld Salomon Water bottle with the idea that I could use this- so, having never run with it, I decided that yesterday would be a perfect test. Overall I thought it worked well. I soon forgot that I was carrying it and I definitely preferred it to a camelbak. The downside was that the bottle is only 500ml so if, like me, you pour with sweat, you have to stop and fill it up at the water stations. Ditto with the Tailwind sachets, which aren’t the easiest on the move- I definitely need to think of some sort of tube which I can pour into the bottle more easily whilst running. I wasn’t aiming for a time yesterday so stopping to fill up wasn’t an issue, clearly if PB hunting then it might be back to the camelbak.
  2. Trainers: I know, this is probably the biggest running crime going. I had a bad time at Manchester last month and I’m convinced that my trainers (Brooks Adrenaline) were part of the problem. I’ve worn Adrenalines for years without issue, but haven’t been enjoying the feel of them this year for some reason. A couple of weeks ago I went to a free Saucony Stride Lab assessment at Up and Running and the results of that
    saucony

    New shoe porn

    suggested that a Saucony Hurricane would be a good option for me. I highly recommend getting booked on to a Stride Lab session if you get the chance. It took about 45 minutes and involved filming your running stride from the front, side and back so you could get a really close look at what you are doing. My hip extension and toe off were pretty good (yay, think my lazy glute issue is on its way to being fixed), but I do overpronate and drop my hips, so a mild stability shoe was suggested. I took a chance on the Hurricanes- managed one short 4 miler in them before the marathon and decided to test them on race day. The result? My legs felt a hundred times better than at Manchester, I absolutely loved the feel of these shoes!

So, whilst I’m not advocating this as a good rule to follow, I guess I’m saying that if you feel you NEED to make a change, sometimes it can pan out ok. I think that you need to decide what your race is for- is this your ‘A’ race of the season, or is it more of a training run? Obviously if it is your ‘A’ race, then you should have all your preparation in place well before the big day!

Windermere Marathon: My quick review

All I can really say is that if you get chance to run this race, do it. I’m not a huge road running fan, but this is a really stunning route around the lake. Much of the race is run on closed roads and, certainly in the second half, you get some amazing views and some good crowd support from the tourists. The organisation by the Brathay Trust is absolutely flawless- regular aid stations and loads of smiley marshals and volunteers around the course. What I especially enjoyed was the location of the race HQ which was in the grounds of Brathay Hall and there was a real party atmosphere, with plenty for family and friends to do whilst the race was in progress (climbing wall, zip line, canoes, food stalls etc!) and some great options for refuelling after the race (a cider and a monster cheeseburger really hit the spot!) I will definitely be back, despite the horrendous hill at 7 miles!

Happy running this weekend folks, I have some BMF training planned for Saturday and a Sprint Tri on Sunday- no rest for the wicked! 🙂

Training thoughts & some exciting news!

Ask people what my running motto is and they’d probably say ‘wing-it’. I’m well known for winging it round many an event- from a sprint triathlon to a marathon, even an ultramarathon.

winging it

They even made a jumper with my motto on 🙂

Now this is perhaps a little misleading and suggests that I don’t train at all… which is not true. I just don’t train conventionally. I can think of nothing worse than following a 5 day a week running plan which involves me plodding around the streets of my home town whilst looking anxiously at my Garmin to see if I’m ‘on pace’ or not. I’ve been there, I’ve done it and I’m sure it works; but it just doesn’t suit me. As I’ve said in an earlier blog, I get bored easily and when I get bored, I’m liable to stop doing whatever it is that is boring- life is too short after all!! However, I do train pretty hard, I just like to mix things up a bit.

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In a typical week I will train 6 days out of 7 and it might consist of:

Monday- British Military Fitness class

Tuesday- Pilates class in the morning, 4-6 mile run in the evening (off road in the lighter months)

Wednesday- BMF class

Thursday- Weights session with PT, Pilates and Tri Club Swim session (Thursdays are pretty intense!)

Friday- REST

Saturday- BMF class and maybe a bike ride

Sunday- Long Slow Run

jodie and bob

This week’s LSR: 17 miles with my mate Bob

Now this won’t work for everyone. Indeed, I’d probably be a faster runner if I trained less and focused on running more closely, but then we are back to the boredom factor. My primary motivation for running and training is to enjoy myself and to challenge myself, and my schedule works perfectly for that. I guess what I am trying to say is that you need to find what works for YOU. If you are not enjoying things, mix it up, try something new. By all means ask others for advice, but there are many options and Plan A is not necessarily the best.

 

Speaking of training, I’ve been quite busy over the last few weeks since my last post. A few months ago I had some VERY exciting news. I won one of those competitions on Facebook- you know the ones, ‘share a photo and like and share this post’ competitions- the ones you think nobody ever wins. Well it turns out they do! Wiggle and Montane were offering an entry into the Lakeland 50 Ultramarathon, plus a heap of Montane kit…and I won it! I had tried to enter this race back when it opened, but hadn’t anticipated that it would sell out in about five minutes, so I was over the moon to win this! However, I will be running this solo, without my usual ultra-running buddies and so there is an added fear factor that I’ll get lost in the dark on my own. Deep down I know it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be totally on my own, but it has prompted me into seriously refreshing my navigation skills. I CAN navigate but I tend to be a bit slow and indecisive, so I’m on a mission to improve this over the next few months.

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Nav practice!

The great thing is that it has really encouraged me to go out exploring and finding new and unfamiliar routes. I’m lucky that I live near the Pennines and so there is no shortage of beautiful places to run. The dogs are enjoying joining me which is great as I get to tire them out at the same time as getting my own training in!

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Loving the views

 

 

This week will be a little less hectic as I’m winding down slightly for the Windermere marathon on Sunday. I’ve been told that the route is challenging, but beautiful, so it should be a great training run for the ultras I have coming up over the next few months.

Happy running folks, would love to hear any of your Lakeland 50 tips if you have any

Triathlon adventures :)

tri swimTriathlon. Quite a daunting word. I’m not sure what it is, but the thought of doing a triathlon always scared me- far more than entering a marathon ever did. However, I’ve recently started dabbling with it as a sport and all I can say to those people debating it- stop debating and start doing- its brilliant! I did my first sprint distance event last September after approx. 2x bike rides and a little bit of swimming in the 4 months prior. I had debated joining a club, but that was even more terrifying a thought and so I figured I’d just have a go! What is great is that there are loads of people doing the exact same thing. Sure, there are the super athletes in teensy tiny lycra suits and space style bike helmets; but there are also men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages. In the pool there are a wide range of swim styles on show and the bikes range from top end carbon numbers to mountain bikes and commuter hybrids. The atmosphere tends to be laid back and there is a real sense of camaraderie between competitors. I’m sure it gets a bit more serious amongst the racing snakes, but at the level I am at its very welcoming and more friendly than most average running events.

After my Tri-debut (which I loved!) I decided to join a club and I am SO glad I did. I am very lucky to have a super friendly club on my doorstep, with great members and coaches who have been very encouraging and open to all of my stupid questions about (especially) the bike! My 400m swim time has reduced by over a minute and I am definitely stronger and more confident on the bike. Although I do admit to being a bit half-hearted about the bike element of training. It still frightens me a bit (well the cars on the roads do) and I struggle to fit everything in with all of my ultra running training, but I’m getting better! What I most enjoy is having a break from pure running, especially if I have any niggles- I can just swap to swimming and biking and at least retain some cardio fitness.

Today was my second sprint triathlon event. I’ve had a rubbish week at work, picked up a cold and also found out that the Manchester Marathon that I ran in 2014 was measured 380m too short! This means that my marathon PB of 03:58:00 now doesn’t count. On the positive side my PB is now 04:24:09 which is infinitely more beatable, but I have to admit that I’m a bit gutted. My aim when I started running marathons was to run a sub-4 and I was so chuffed to have achieved it… and now it appears I’ll have to do all the training to try and do it again! So, I was really glad that this weekend was about anything other than running! The event today was the ‘Milltown to Moors’ Oldham Triathlon: a sprint distance event, which was billed as a ‘tough one’. Well, that was the understatement of the century: both the run and the bike routes involved some serious climbing and some steep descents! As an ultra-runner you’d think I’d be good at hills, but I’m better at walking them whilst stuffing my face with cake rather than trying to run them on post-bike rubber legs!

run elevation

‘that’ hill

I thoroughly enjoyed the event. The swim went pretty well- I clocked 08:41 on my watch and 08:52 on the official chip (which involved a little run out of the pool area)- either way this was a minute or so faster than in September, a great improvement. I still need to work on my breathing pattern during faster work as it gets a little rough around the edges, but it’s definitely better than it was. I lost loads of time in transition faffing with my jacket and shoes, but finally I made it out onto the bike leg of the course. This was very, er, “undulating” and bloody freezing (it was actually snowing at the top of some of the hills- I now know why triathlon is a summer sport!), especially on the downhills. I was very glad I’d bothered faffing with my jacket as those in just wet trisuits must have been like ice cubes! Setting off on the run (after another bout of faffing with my shoes- must get some elastic laces!) I couldn’t feel my hands or feet, but my jelly legs seemed to be behaving at least. What I was NOT expecting was an absolutely epic mile-long climb. I had to resort to the ultra-runner’s favourite: run walking and gasping for breath. The view at the top was lovely and the downhill was great fun and (almost) worth the climb! My final time was 1:44:37 which put me 24th out of 51 ladies 🙂

tri finish2

Finished! 🙂

I’m now back home, I’ve thawed out with a boiling hot bath (with Epsom salts to help with recovery) and I’m settling down to watch the amazing exploits from the London marathon with a giant slice of cake and a bottle of cider!

Hope you have a lovely week and if anyone has any triathlon tips for me, please send them over!

 

Stuff I can’t live without!

Wow…it’s Friday and I’m sitting here with a strange feeling- I’ve a weekend ahead of me involving no races or massive plans. Recently these have been like unicorn poo and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself! My options involve work (a necessary evil but hopefully I’ll keep it to a bare minimum!), lots of time with my lovely hounds and some training. The plan is a ‘double’ on Saturday (Park Run and BMF) and then a bike ride on Sunday- I have my second ever triathlon next weekend and to say that I’m terrified is an understatement!

I was having a little think to myself this week, what could I write about given that I have no race to write up? I haven’t even really trained that hard this week as I’ve been recovering from the Manchester Marathon. Having a trainee-sports massage therapist for a husband has been as absolute Godsend as my quads are now feeling normal again. Work on Monday was decidedly unpleasant (an inability to go down stairs combined with a post-race celebration induced hangover is never a good combo). My main activity seems to have been stuffing my face with anything I can find. After the process of carb loading for a marathon and the shock to the system of the actual race, I always think that my body goes into survival mode, not trusting that I won’t do something horrible to it again!

quads

That post-marathon feeling!

Anyway, I was chatting to a friend who is new to running this week about kit and various things, so I decided to write a little blog about the products I absolutely could not manage without. Clearly trainers are a prerequisite (although I’m not sure my current tally of 14 different pairs is entirely necessary?)… but I’m going to focus on the smaller items, things that might get overlooked but that I’m so glad I’ve found. Hopefully it might save someone reading this a little trial and error! As a disclaimer I have no financial vested interest in any of these companies or products- they are simply things I use and would recommend wholeheartedly!

So from the top:

  1.  Tailwind. I know, I know, this sounds like some sort of affliction caused by too many fig rolls. However, I can honestly say that this is the single most useful product that I have discovered. I have a rather delicate gut and, despite playing around with volume, different makes and types, I just do not get on with gels and sports type drinks in races/runs longer than 2-2.5 hours. For a half marathon I can happily run the whole thing using just water, with maybe a single gel around 10 miles to perk me up a little for the last few miles of the race… but in a marathon the only thing gels will achieve is me having to sprint as fast as possible for the nearest *portaloo/*pub/*clump of hedgerow (*delete as appropriate). toilet.jpgTailwind is a magical product which has stopped all of my issues and anxieties about this! It looks alarmingly like a Class A drug (I really hope my race bag never gets raided) and mixes into water. The taste is pleasant and non-sickly AND, importantly, provides electrolytes and calories. This means that you don’t need to take on anything else, so long as you keep sipping on your Tailwind, you are good to go for the day. I have a ridiculously high sweat rate (something I’d actually like to get tested) and so without some sort of electrolytes I will cramp- since using Tailwind I’ve had zero issues on this front. I’ve completed races of well over 12 hours with no food at all, I’ve just kept my water supply topped up with Tailwind. The best place to find out more is probably to check out the UK site.
  2. Epsom Salts. DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is something that all runners (or indeed exercisers) are familiar with…The magic way to lessen the effect is to invest in some magnesium. This is a vital mineral which helps us in a multitude of ways (this blog has some useful further info- runnerunleashed blog), including relieving muscle soreness and helping with a restful night’s sleep. Epsom salts are jam-packed full of magnesium and so a relaxing post run bath can kill two birds with one stone. If you don’t have a bath then I’d recommend a transdermal magnsium product (like this one ). I get my Epsom Salts online in bulk from epsomsalts.co.uk
  3. Toe socks. I’m not really someone who suffers with blisters as a general rule- I think all my time wandering around the house with no shoes or socks on has paid off! However, on very long runs over marathon distance I do have a tendency to get rather painful blisters in between my toes. The solution has been Injinji toe socks. Now I hate feet, and I’m really quite freaked out by shoes and socks that look like gloves, which is why I resisted buying any toe socks for ages, despite reading lots of positive reviews… however, in the end, I caved in as comfort has to be a priority, and I’m so glad that I did. It’s like running with little fluffy clouds on your feet- and once they are in your trainers, there’s no need to look at them. You can buy these online, I’ve used feetus.com to get mine. As you can see below, manky feet vs. happy feet! 🙂
  4. Arm warmers. As I mentioned above, I sweat a lot. This is bad in summer, but I find the colder months more difficult. In summer dressing for running is easy- a vest and shorts and I’m good to go. However, in winter it might be raining or the cold weather might convince me to add more layers than I really need. Arm warmers have been an absolute revelation- I can keep my arms warm, without my torso overheating. Even better, they are easy to pull off once I’m warmed up- which isn’t as convenient when wearing a baselayer! Most sports clothing lines include arm warmers, but mine were an absolute bargain- £2 from Aldi’s cycling range!
  5. Kinesiology tape. Watch most televised sporting events and you’ll see the athletes wearing a garish range of brightly coloured tape covering various parts of their anatomy. This is a relatively ‘new’ technology- Kinesiology tape. A quick internet search should provide you with the scientific blurb (e.g. Rock Tape Website), but I can say from my own experience that this stuff works! I have taped various bits of my body before long runs and big races and I find that any pain is dispersed and the joints and muscles feel more supported. I have a long standing back injury and my back can get very stiff and sore after long races (especially on the road). I now tape as a precaution and the after effects have definitely lessened. I like to use Rock Tape H2O as I have found it the most durable. I swim and have several baths a week and I find that the tape lasts well over 7 days, despite being soaked regularly in water. Rock Tape also comes in a range of snazzy colours. I believe that the Chinese even ascribe different healing properties to the different colours available!

I hope these pointers help… I love trying out new products and ideas, so please let me know about your ‘must have’ purchases! Happy running folks 🙂

dreams.jpg

 

 

Post marathon musings

What a difference two years makes! In 2014 I ran my PB at the Manchester marathon- knocking a whopping 26 minutes off my previous time and coming in under the magic 4 hour mark in 3:58. In 2016 I staggered home in 4:34. Now I think this is still a respectable time, but it has led to some pondering about what has changed and why my times have dipped so much. The story from yesterday’s race was one of extremely heavy quads from around 16/17 miles- something that didn’t use to happen to me but has happened on my last few long distance road races. Interestingly I don’t suffer with quad problems on ultras and trail races- possibly because the terrain forces me to activate my glutes/ hamstrings and hips more effectively.

manchester finish

VERY relieved to see the finish!

I’m thinking that the root of the problem might well be that I have a weak hip drive. Last year I had a bad and recurring back/hip injury and I think I have allowed myself to get tighter in the hip area despite the actual injury being fixed. Therefore, my plan moving forwards:

  1. I need to do less pure running. I know, I know, this seems counterintuitive. However, I am a plodder by nature. I find it very hard to push myself and so, when marathon training, I can be guilty of longish plodding runs. The magic year of 2014 (PBs aplenty!) saw me partaking in multiple British Military Fitness classes (‘BMF’) a week alongside maybe one long run every two weeks. More recently this has dipped to once per week at best with more pure running. BMF is probably the best investment I ever made into my health- being pushed way beyond my comfort zone at times helped me to smash all of my race times AND gave me the courage to attempt Ultras in the first place. I also think that all of the squats, lunges, burpees (and a whole host of other delightful exercises- did I mention ‘ninja burpees’?!) help with better glute and hip activation.
  2. I need to actively work on this problem at home. I regularly do Pilates which helps build great core strength and so I now aim to add in some specific exercises to help overcome my hip issues. Any suggestions or advice would be gratefully received!

 

manchester

Pre-race photo with my buddies 🙂

Manchester Marathon- my review

After my second trip to my local marathon I can definitely recommend this as a good one to put on the list. As with all races there are pros and cons.

The pros:

  • A fast and flat course. If you are gunning for a PB you have an excellent chance of achieving it here. The route is (I think) the flattest in the UK.
  • The support. The local communities really come out in force to cheer the runners on, armed with sweets, banners and Vaseline! The best bit of the course is probably around the 9 and 16 mark at Brooklands where there are huge crowds and a great atmosphere. Altrincham (the turnaround point) is also great, with live music and lots going on.
  • A nice finishing area at the Emirates Cricket Ground. As a Man United fan I preferred the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ finish…but you can’t have everything.
  • A brilliant medal (we all know the bling is why we do it), lovely tech tee and a jam packed goody bag.
  • Plenty of aid stations on the course, well stocked with water, SIS gels and lots of smiley volunteers.
  • Free beer at the end. However, this was alcohol free, so maybe that’s a negative!

The cons:

  • Some bits of the route are a little dull- especially the 20 mile area around Carrington. It would be great to maybe get some live music out here or something to help people get over the dreaded ‘Wall’.
  • The baggage situation in 2016 wasn’t great. I was one of the lucky ones who got their bag back speedily, but some friends queued for 2+ hours for theirs, which is obviously not good. However, I think that the organisers have admitted their fault over this and have promised to rectify the problem for 2017, so I’m sure things will be better next year (certainly the organisation of bags was fine in 2014!)
  • The weather for me was a little too warm. I’m from Lancashire so I’m used to more drizzle and wind. I’m currently sporting a multitude of attractive tan lines and a panda face from my sunglasses. However, this being Manchester, it could easily bucket down next year after me saying this!

I’m now off for a sports massage to ease my sore legs and will take a few days off before picking the training back up for the next challenge- a couple of sprint triathlons are on the horizon, along with the Windermere Marathon. Happy running folks 🙂

manchester medal

 

 

A little introduction…

“Why can’t you just be normal”… a question which is echoing around my head as I slip and slide my way down the Thames Valley Path on a freezing cold February afternoon. I’m taking part in the ‘Thames Trot’; a rather innocuous sounding title for a 50 mile run from Oxford to Henley. Well I say ‘run’…it turns out to be a mixture of running, sliding, falling and swearing. My mum’s response to my decision to enter this race, my first ‘proper’ ultramarathon was beginning to seem like a very good question, and one that I am going to try and answer here.

TT50 finish

Finishing my first 50 mile ultra. Thanks to Go Beyond for the pic

Firstly, I must point out that running is a relatively new obsession for me. In a former life I had horses and competed in One Day Eventing and Dressage. When I realised that horses were not really a sustainable hobby financially I decided to take up a ‘cheap’ sport…running: that will be perfect I thought. So in September 2012 I took part in what I consider to be my first proper race- a 5k Cani-X event with one of my best friends, Bob the Whippet. I came somewhere near the end of the field, having been overtaken by a succession of Huskies, Terriers and Collies, but I realised why people run- for many it isn’t about beating other people, it’s about competing against yourself. Since then I’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster. Never one to do things by halves, I’ve thrown myself very quickly into distance running and have now run 8 marathons and 5 ultramarathons. I think my mum might have a point…

I think it comes down to three things:

  1. I’m easily bored. This is the main reason why, although I do them from time to time, 5 and 10km road races aren’t really for me. Pounding down the pavement, checking my watch at regular intervals and panicking that I’m way off projected PB pace just isn’t fun. What I have enjoyed the most about some of the races I have run is the amazing scenery along the way. Probably my favourite in this regard was the St Oswald’s Way Ultra- 100km (well actually 65 miles- what’s an extra 3 miles amongst friends?) along the historic trail followed by St Oswald himself. As an historian I loved the sight of various castles looming into view as we came over the crest of the hills and the varied terrain meant that there was never a dull moment. This race also saw some of my worst running moments to date. I got chased by a herd of angry cows and then, 5km from the end, I got hopelessly lost in a field full of ferns and brambles in the pitch dark. As I was sitting on the floor, looking at my map and crying, I did have a little ponder about my sanity… but yet I have since signed up to another 5 ultramarathon distance events, so it can’t have been that bad! The highs definitely outweigh the lows!

 

the view

Enjoying the views on the St Oswald’s 100km ultra

    1. I’m not very fast. I’m also not very slow. I’m distinctly average in road racing terms. Try as I might, my little legs seem to have one speed; I call it ‘Turbo-Snail’. Ultramarathons are perfect for Turbo-Snails. If you walk into the office after running a marathon, every man and his dog has an opinion on a ‘good’ marathon time- even if they have never run a step in their life. The great thing about longer races is that most people have no concept of why you would even want to attempt to run that far, let alone what a ‘good’ time for 50 miles is. Usually your geriatric hobbling around and inability to rise from a chair without accompanying pained sound effects is enough to convince them that what you did at the weekend was distinctly difficult. I’ve had some very painful ‘day after the event’ experiences. In May 2015 I ran the ‘3 Forts Marathon’, a 27 mile slog up and down a succession of incredibly steep sections of the South Downs. I was hoping for some amazing views at the top and the geek in me was interested in the aforementioned forts. Alas, Mother Nature conspired against me and produced driving rain, wind and fog so thick that you could hardly see the hands in front of your face. I was woefully unprepared for this race as well. I had suffered quite a bad back injury at the start of the year and was coming into the race with hardly any running miles in my legs from the 6 week period beforehand. The race itself was bearable, the next day was rather less enjoyable. On a visit to a National Trust site one nice lady offered me a ride in the mobility scooter they had available… again, I was wondering about my life choices!

snowdon

What running has taught me is that the mind really will take you further than you ever thought your legs could. This perseverance learned through running has helped me in my professional and personal life. Through running I’ve made loads of mad friendships and have some memories which really will last a lifetime. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone and I am looking forward to the various challenges that 2016 has to offer. If I can just inspire one person to enter an ultramarathon then I’ll be happy – if I can manage it, then I honestly believe that anyone can. Just be warned… it’s very addictive!