Falling back in love with ultra running

Over the past few months there have been times where I think I’m starting to fall out of love with running.  In the early days, running was such an easy thing to do…throw on some running clothes, lace up my trainers, strap my watch to my wrist and just get out there.  I really never appreciated just how easy running was back then.  Now getting out on a run can become a military operation, planned weeks in advance for a run which might end up being cut short due to lack of sleep (Me) or the spotting of a park on route (Oscar) !

This Saturday, running the South Downs Way 50 reminded me of everything I love about running though, and everything I love about running ultra distances in particular.

I was always going to sign up for the SDW50 this year.  The event had been my main running goal for 2017 – my comeback race from having a baby, booking the race was incentive to return to running and to hopefully feel more like ‘Me’ again once the baby had arrived, rather than just a ‘Mum’.  It worked.  I had a great race last year and, despite having to stop for 25 minutes on route to express(!) I continued to book races into my calendar, including the South Downs Way 100 for this year.

Knowing that the SDW100 was firmly booked in for June, it only made sense to enter the SDW50 again.  Those 50 miles (give or take a couple) are the last 50 miles of the 100 mile race – and miles which I’ll likely be running in darkness next time round.  Having refreshed my memory of the route this weekend I feel confident that I can navigate the miles again in nine weeks time in the dark along with the help of a strong headtorch!

I haven’t really been focusing on the SDW50 this year to be honest.  I’ve actually been a little blase about it all, with my main focus as the 100, closely followed by Milton Keynes Marathon at the start of May where I hope to PB.  I’ve run the 50 before, and know that I can complete the distance.  However, I was a little on edge going in to this event as so many runners from my club of a similar speed to me would also be running the race, with six of them going for the Grand Slam of four Centurion 50 mile events across the year.  Last year I didn’t feel pressured to run at anybody’s pace or to perform a certain way, but this year I worried that I would end up running with one of the other runners from my club or would stress myself into trying to keep up with them.  I’m much slower over road races than all of the others who were there.  Don’t get me wrong – I love chatting to other runners when out on the course, but I hate feeling like I need to keep up with somebody’s pace, or hang back with them when actually that section suits me really well and I can run easily along it.  I race much better when I’m running on my own, even though I always find other runners to chat to along the way.

Friends Kev and Gary were crewing us all and so Kev arrived in his van outside my house to collect me a little before 4:30am on Saturday morning.  I’d set my alarm for 3:30am that morning but definitely hit the snooze button after Oscar decided to wake for a (very unlike him) two hour party at 12:30am.  Tip number one if you’re thinking about running an ultra…don’t live with a toddler!

After picking up another three runners along the way we arrived with the perfect amount of time before the start.  Kit check, numbers on, loo trip, drink, snack, bags on and a walk to the start.

South Downs Way 50 startline

It was lovely to finally meet Lauren properly after having cheering her on at Milton Keynes Marathon a few years back and also to bump into Ally as well, who I also saw at the finish for a chat.  Both ran amazing races in super fast times.  Lauren is also running the 100 later on this year like me and Ally is running the next Centurion 50 mile event in a few week’s time – the North Downs Way.

South Downs Way 50 startline

There was time for a quick photo of our club runners before the off and then followed a gentle jog to the gap in the field, with a bottleneck!South Downs Way 50 WDAC lineup

I felt good from the get go and having started right at the back, the pace was easy.  I didn’t rush to get past anyone, although I saw plenty of others jostling for positions.

South Downs Way 50 starting at the back

(Screenshot of the bottleneck taken from a video shared on the Centurion Facebook group)

About a mile in I started to regret having a peanut butter smothered bagel as a snack less than an hour before the race start.  I had eaten a bowl of porridge with blueberries when I first woke but knew I would need a top-up snack before the run, as I had already been up for so long that morning.  Turns out, a bagel was not the snack I required and I needed a loo stop from early on, on a course when I knew there was barely any course coverage!

Other than the first couple of miles (when everyone was stuck behind other runners along narrow sections anyway), it is fairly easy going until the first checkpoint at mile 11.  My strategy at checkpoints is to grab what food I need, have the lid of my water bottle unscrewed ready for topping up if needed and get in and out as quickly as possible.  Why hang around when you could be moving?!  It wastes time and means you end up getting stiff.  At this first checkpoint I grabbed a couple of grapes and some cheese sandwiches before moving on.  Fruit and cheese sandwiches are always winners for me during an event!  I’d already eaten half of a cocoa orange nakd bar on the way to this checkpoint, and grabbed a carton of chocolate milk out of my bag as I made my way up the hill along the other side of the road.

South Downs Way 50 the first big hillI’m aware that these pictures don’t make the hill look too ‘hilly’, but trust me, it was!  And, just like last year, the photographer was perched up at the top taking photographs!South Downs Way 50 the first big hillAnother runner struck up conversation when he spotted I was wearing the event t-shirt from last year and I ran with him for a few miles until he told me he needed to slow down.
Mile 15 was our first crew ‘checkpoint’ and I felt slightly guilty for not stopping as I waved at Kev and Gary as they stood cheering me by.  I passed two of the runners from my club here as they had stopped to top up on supplies from our crew.  There was just one from my club ahead now, which really surprised me and I knew wouldn’t last.  (Although I later surprised myself by coming in as 3rd runner of our 7).

Not long after this we headed slightly downhill through a small wooded section and I almost ran into the back of another runner who had squatted down on the path to pee!

Checkpoint two at mile 16 was in a slightly different location this year and I walked in, got some Tailwind, watermelon, more cheese sandwiches and made my way back out again in less than 30 seconds.  Smooth going!  I still felt good.

There were a couple of rather steep hills between checkpoints two and three at 26 miles.  There were also several runnable sections too which I made sure to take advantage of.  The course really suits me as it has rolling hills – dictating which sections to walk.  I usually really struggle mentally and also with my consistency over long flat sections, but had no problems with these this time round, which I’m putting down to the large number of miles logged on my treadmill this Winter!

South Downs Way 50

The third checkpoint was where I had stopped to express last year and this year, where I finally spotted a portaloo to use!  I grabbed some chocolate chip cookies, MORE cheese sandwiches and watermelon, Tailwind and topped up my water.  All in all I think I stopped for about 5 minutes here, but it was 5 minutes well spent.

South Downs Way 50

I knew I was having a good race and used the climb following this aid station to check in with Dan.  He hadn’t realised that he could track me online and so I let him know how to do this.  He also let me know that ‘Oscar’ had sent me a good luck video earlier that morning.  I had turned my internet off in order to save battery but after hanging up with Dan I quickly checked WhatsApp to find a lovely little video where Oscar waved madly at me, said “Sit down Mumma!” and then gave the camera a kiss!  It definitely made me smile.

South Downs Way 50

For the next aid station you have to cross over a set of railway tracks.  Oh how I’m going to love all those steps at mile 84 of the 100 mile version of the race(!)  I knew I needed more Tailwind here but couldn’t see any on display so asked one of the volunteers for some.  She told me that I was lucky, and they had just a little left.  Taking a few gulps from my bottle after being topped up I spluttered out that she could definitely make it go further by watering it down more…it was super strong!

I nicknamed the next section ‘Australia’ last year as the views, with the sun disappearing behind the hills reminded me of scenes I’ve only seen in programs about Australia.  This year though, the sun was still high in the sky (albeit hidden behind clouds!)

South Downs Way 50 It also definitely looked less Australia-like this year!South Downs Way 50The last two checkpoints follow in quick succession; starting with a lovely little pitstop in Alfriston at 41.6 miles with indoor seats to perch on for a few minutes.  This checkpoint is quickly followed by the final checkpoint at Jevington just four miles later.  It’s perched high up some steps alongside the road and I felt rather bad that I just called up the hill to thank the volunteers, continuing on my way rather than stopping in, but I didn’t need anything with only four miles to go and thought it better to keep moving at this point.

I strongly made the final climb up to the Trig point and started to make my way along the narrow, slippy path back down towards Eastbourne.  The clouds were threatening to rain at this point, and we’d been very lucky with the weather until now.  I had twice put on my jacket for the odd spitting shower but the temperature was fairly warm, and the rain never really stuck around.  It had made the rocks on this section rather slippery though.  This being the most technical section on the whole course.  My hamstrings had a few spasms along this section and out loud I told my legs they needed to co-operate for just a little longer…pretty please!

In my head I had secretly hoped to run 25 minutes faster than my time last year (12h 06m).  25 minutes was the amount of time I had stopped to express so I thought it was probably fairly achievable for me to gain back those minutes in my finishing time this year.  As I reached the bottom of the hill though and broke into a faster run I realised I would most likely go sub 11h 30m.

Running and maths never work and despite being just two miles from the finish now and having been out on the course for 10h 40m I was convinced I would have to run really fast to go sub 11h 30m.  Mile 48 ticked by starting with a 12:xx and I realised that actually, I should probably be targeting 11:15 instead.

I still felt really good.  No pains, no aches, I’d fuelled well, I was still running!  In fact, other than road crossings and twice when I walked a handful of steps, I ran pretty much the whole of the last two miles, passing several other runners along the way and changing my target at the last minute to 11:10 – coming into the stadium to the most glorious sunset.  It was honestly the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen and I really regret not asking somebody to take a photo of me in front of it after crossing the finish line.  Unfortunately my official finisher photo, despite showing colour, definitely does not do the sky justice as the photographer was using a flash so that I was the focus of the photo.

I could not stop beaming as I ran around the track!  I’d picked the pace up for the track finish, although definitely not enough to be considered a sprint finish!

As I turned the corner at the bottom of the stadium I noticed that opposite the gorgeous sunset, was a gigantic rainbow.  What a lovely finish arch!

South Downs Way 50 finish archI took this shot a few minutes after I finished but I wish I had taken more pictures, and actually of something, rather than just randomly pointing in the direction of the sun!

Looking on the Centurion Running Community Facebook page yesterday, I found these two images which another runner had taken which give a much better impression of the view we finished to…

SDW50 sky pictures

South Downs Way 50 sunset

It tipped it down not long after I finished and I was glad to bump into Nic, who had finished about ten minutes ahead of me and who had the keys to Kev’s van so that I could grab some warm clothes.  I took a quick picture with my medal in the fading light and queued up for my free sausage bap and hot drink, unsure of how long the other 4 runners from my club would take to come in.

South Downs Way 50 medalOfficial time: 11h 7m 22s
Position: 277/353
Gender position: 52/81
Category (senior female) position: 21/35

Turns out I took quite a lot of steps that day(!)

South Downs Way 50 Garmin step count

Pacing at the 300th Northampton parkrun

Last Saturday was the 300th parkrun held at the Northampton Racecourse.  I’ve run 45 of my parkruns at the Northampton event and it’s the place I would still consider my ‘home’ course.

Training hadn’t gone to plan during the week and I’d ended up missing a few of my planned runs.  I was back in Norfolk for the Tuesday-Thursday as I had another family funeral to attend on the Thursday.  The first night I was back I managed 15 lengths of the road my Dad lives on before my Garmin beeped to show 6 miles.  A very boring, dark and windy run.  But miles done, nonetheless.

The next two days I was quite poorly, and even had to return to bed for several hours on Wednesday afternoon as I really just did not feel well at all.

My Dad did make me and Oscar a lovely salad to share on the Wednesday to try and make me feel better.  I do love a big salad with lots of different elements to it!

Friday – back in Northamptonshire once more and I was all geared up for my long run.  Oscar attends a full day at nursery on a Friday and it has become my getting-things-done day.  I usually spend a fair bit of time catching up on life admin – essentially computer life and typed work – as getting onto the computer whilst watching a toddler is becoming rather an impossible task!

Because I’d been away for three days though, and Dan had been working away in Basingstoke from Monday to Wednesday so had also been away, I spent the first three hours of the day desperately trying to get our house back in check.  Washing done, post sorted, bins out, all the usual stuff that gets forgotten about when you factor in time spent away from home.  I had just changed into my running clothes with the intention of heading out for a long run, catching up on a few blogs over lunch and then getting tea in the slow cooker before sorting the life admin out when nursery called to ask me if I would collect Oscar and book a doctor’s appointment for him as he had very gunky eyes and they felt he needed to have drops prescribed.  I still had so much I needed to get done that day, and having been poorly myself that week, and attending another funeral the day before I ended up bursting into tears.  I just wanted to feel as though I’d caught up a little!  Is that even possible?  I don’t think I ever sit down and relax, and am so jealous of those who can.

I had already rung the doctors that morning to try and get a set of my test results back, but been ‘in the queue’ to speak to a receptionist for 45 minutes before giving up.  Thank goodness for the speakerphone option on a phone because I would not have sat still with the phone to my ear for that length of time!  As the doctor surgery is on the way to nursery I stopped by to book an appointment on the way to collect Oscar.  After his (less than three minute long) appointment that afternoon we then had an hour’s wait for the prescription and so spent some time at the nearby park, which Oscar loved and really did not want to leave!

As Wednesday-Friday had all ended up as non-running days for me that week I decided to turn Saturday into my long run day for a change.  I had already volunteered as 30 minute pacer at Northampton parkrun that morning, and I would be finishing my nightshift at 7am just a few miles up the road.  Therefore it made sense for me to get some extra miles in before the parkrun rather than just hang around in the car for that extra time.  There was no football match on Saturday afternoon so Dan would be around to have Oscar so that I could catch up on a little sleep on my return before I had another shift that evening.

In the end, Laura mentioned that she was planning on running from her home to the parkrun that morning as she was also volunteering that day and so I invited myself along.  We ended up running four miles before our volunteer brief, then 5k at parkrun, followed by a further two miles back again, totalling just over 9 miles for the morning which I was happy with.

A little after we arrived at the briefing location, Rachael, one of the other Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors, turned up with her boyfriend.  He was down to volunteer as photographer that day.  We had a chat as we’d not met before and as it had been a little while since Rachael had run the course Laura and I filled her in on the course changes.

Tim managed to capture my face perfectly when I was told that I would have to climb up a step ladder to wave at the 700+ parkrunners whilst it was announced I was the pacemaker for 30 minutes!

Northampton parkrun pacer

Picture credit: Tim Bullard

The thought of climbing up those steps was probably more nerve-wracking than having other runners rely on me to pace a time!

Northampton parkrun pacer

Picture credit: Tim Bullard

A quick briefing for parkrun volunteers acting in new roles for the day and then to our places ready for the start!

Northampton parkrun volunteersPicture credit: Tim Bullard

Northampton parkrun pacer

Picture credit: Tim Bullard

I knew that to run a 30 minute 5k, I needed to be running at 9:39mm pace – a pace I can run at fairly comfortably.  I aimed to run at around 9:30s to allow for weaving or over-distance.

After giving the New Runner Briefing, Laura had offered to run with me with the intention that between us we should hopefully be able to keep on target to run the time required.

Northampton parkrun pacer

Picture credit: Tim Bullard

The first mile is always a little slow at Northampton – it’s such a mad rush from a wide start onto narrow paths.  We still managed to run the mile in 9:39 though.  Worried that I perhaps needed to pick up the pace by a few seconds to allow for the weaving I inevitably had to do I pulled forward a little and ran the second mile in 9:20.  As I had printed out and worn ’30 mins’ on my back, we had several comments as we passed other runners.  Some I could hear were using me as an incentive to pick up the pace and stay at that speed and others just using it as a guide to what time they would achieve.  One guy had a chat to me about how I managed to stay so consistent throughout and I told him it was due to the constant checking of my watch!

Northampton parkrun pacer

Picture credit: Tim Bullard

As we began the final mile I could feel Laura picking up the pace a little and so called out that I needed to stay steady to not beat the 30 minute mark by a huge amount.  A man running past told me that we were running way too fast and that he was on for 29 minutes, which I found rather frustrating, as he definitely didn’t finish in 29 minutes that day and I knew we would be fairly close to the 30 minutes I had set out to run.  Final mile: 9:37.

Northampton parkrun pacer

Picture credit: Northampton parkrun Facebook

We could see the funnel in the distance wasn’t holding everybody and runners had begun to spill out back onto the track – queuing to get through the finish line.  When I reached the final stretch I had planned on shouting out to those nearby to stick with me if they were aiming for a sub 30 minute parkrun, but I lost my confidence a little when I could see the finish line was backlogged, unsure of what time I would officially record so remained quiet and instead just hoped that those who had wanted a 30 minute time had been following me as they saw the sign I was wearing go by.

My last little nubbin was run at 9:38 pace, although it was then several seconds before the volunteer with the clicker walked back along the line to click us through as finishers.  It took me a few seconds to remember to stop my watch afterwards as well so I wasn’t sure what my official time would be when the results came out.  I was really happy to see how close I got to 30 minutes in the end though!

Official time: 29:58
Position: 410/703
Gender position: 99/292
Age category position: 18/49

There was plenty of cake laid out on a nearby table as Northampton parkrun were celebrating their 300th run that day.  It was my 45 run on the course, which sounds like so many when I think back to last year and how I was really looking forward to achieving my 50th parkrun goal.

After refuelling with a slice of cake each, we were starting to get chilly and I was starting to feel very tired.  Laura and I set off for a final two miles back to hers where I jumped in the car to head home for a post-work/parkrun nap.  I was so ready for that nap!

Have you paced an event before?
Or used a pacer yourself?

A week of good intentions

I had such a great week of running the week before last, and then this last week all my running plans went to pot!

After the trail race on Sunday I was straight back out again with strong legs for 6.5 road miles on Monday night.  A good start to the week at least!

Tuesday was always going to be a rest day.

Wednesday was supposed to be the club trail run, but Oscar hadn’t settled at all during the entire day and I had gotten nothing done.  I really just needed to hand him over to Dan as soon as Dan walked through the door home from work so that I could catch up on life admin and cleaning, so that is what I did.  I must admit, the driving rain and wind screaming outside our porch door really didn’t make me regret my choice that evening!

Thursday was Storm Doris day.  Dan had to work late and I really didn’t fancy tackling Storm Doris in the pitch black hours after Oscar had gone to bed.  Oscar also finally spent his first night in his own bedroom, so I kind of needed to be at hand in case he didn’t agree with us that he was ready!

Friday – Dan and I were taking Oscar to meet up with some of Dan’s work colleagues at Nandos in Cambridge.Top Gun Top Son - Dan with OscarI did melt a little taking this photo on the night.  A few people pointed out that I should have a ‘Top Wife’ t-shirt to go along with the theme, but I think there’s probably a fine line between ‘cute’ and ‘loser!  Haha!
The plan was for me to run on our return from Nandos, whilst Dan watched Oscar along with the football on TV.  An accident on the A14 meant miles of tailbacks and not returning home until gone 9pm with a then-grumpy husband though as he had missed most of the football!  By the time Oscar was fed and changed I was too exhausted to even consider going out, especially knowing that I had to get up early to make parkrun the following day.  An early night for me!

Saturday – I finally managed to get a run in!  I was Oscar-free for parkrun this week so got up a little earlier and arrived at the Racecourse in Northampton with plenty of time to park (or to manage to grab the last parking space at 8:10am!) so that I could fit a few warm-up miles in to start with.  I ended up just short of 3 miles run at sub 10mm pace in the end.
I decided not to run around the park for my warm-up miles as I’ve run around the park so many times for parkrun before.  Instead, I headed off out of the far end of the park and planned to just keep turning left until I ended up back where I started.  After twenty minutes though and with me still unable to recognise any of the streets I was running down, I started to get a bit of a panic on!  As I was sporting my bright red ’50 parkruns’ t-shirt it was clear that I was out to run parkrun that morning – so if I was heading in completely the opposite direction I would have looked a bit of a wally!  Luckily I finally stumbled upon The Good Loaf and found my way back from there.  Sometimes it pays to know all the bakeries in town! 😉
There were several branches and large twigs strewn across the paths of the parkrun in places and one (fairly) large tree lay completely across the path at one point early on in the run.  I had been aware of this before rocking up to parkrun that morning as Dan had spotted it on his Facebook feed the previous evening.  The tree was runnable round, but it didn’t make for a fast course on Saturday.  This was partly what made my mind up to get some extra miles in beforehand and then take the parkrun itself fairly steadily.
So I ran round and chatted with Laura for a fairly easy 32 minutes and 7 seconds instead.

Northampton parkrun tree(Picture from the Northampton parkrun Facebook page)

Garmin time: 32:07
Official time: 
32:07
Position: 
391/549
Gender position: 
115/222
Age category position: 
26/38

Laura and I both commented on how busy the course had felt the whole way round and we only just managed to cross the finish line before the end of the funnel queue spilled out past the line.  It was another new attendance record at Northampton this week with 549 runners!
That was parkrun number 73 for me.  No bakery afterwards this week as Laura and I were meeting our friend Steph at Beckworth Emporium for cake later on after showers instead.

Berry pavlova from Beckworth Emporium

And what a cake it was!  Berry pavlova?…Yum!

Sunday – I felt rather guilty asking Dan if I could head out for an organised long run two Sundays in a row, but he did say I could!  Running from home never takes so long or is as faffy so I don’t feel quite as guilty on those days, but I much prefer running with others at the weekend.  Organised runs or races mean I end up being away for a lot longer and I need to be a little more choosy about which events/social occasions I attend now that we have Oscar to look after.
On Sunday our club trail run was headed round the course route from the half marathon we had run the previous week.  The dozen or so of us ran the two loops of the course in the opposite order though – running the 8 mile loop first, followed by the shorter 6 mile loop.  The idea was to double check that no rubbish had been left behind from the race and also clarify the route where several of us had gone wrong the week before.
I had intended on running wearing my running bag the week before (The Ultimate Direction PB vest) so that I could get used to running with it ready for my upcoming ultra and also check that it still fit over my boobs since having a baby!  Annoyingly, having not needed to wear it for the best part of a year I couldn’t put my hands on it come race morning, so had to go without.  I did manage to find it for my long run on Sunday though.


I replaced the water in the bottles and discovered two naked bars, a running cap and an emergency £5 in various pockets of the vest!  Gotta love finding emergency cash in places you’d forgotten you ever stored it!
I found running with the bag so much tougher than I remembered.  Obviously it should be tougher carrying extra weight and it was a fairly warm day on Sunday too.  I could still easily run the 14.8 miles we covered, but it wasn’t at the pace I would have run at usually.
We did manage to establish that we had gone wrong on the course the previous week though – not that someone had moved the tape as previously reported.

Where we went wrong on the Welly trail half marathon courseIt’s kind of hard to describe but using the map above to help I’ll give it a go!  Last week we came in from the right hand side of that map (the red line).  We headed right, along the outside of one of the field boundaries and all the way back up the hill towards the way we had come in.  Here (marked by a blue star above) there were a couple of pieces of red and white tape marking the course on our right so we were convinced that we were following the correct path.  We went up and back down that hill two more times before heading back out of the field to the bottom left on the map above following somebody’s instructions over the phone.  What we actually should have done on the day is followed the dark green line along the left hand side of the field, heading down the hill, with the tape on our left hand side guiding us out the other way!  Great way of adding extra race miles in though!  Whoops!

Were any of your running routes affected by Storm Doris/Ewan?

The Welly Trail race

It was two years ago when members of our club first started talking about organising a trail race at local venue, Castle Ashby.  The idea grew and grew and eventually became a reality.  Then, when places were released towards the end of last year, the event was a complete sell out within three weeks!

Welly Trail races banner

Although I would normally be one of the first to put my name down to help marshal at a club event, I decided that this event was one that I wanted to run and would be a good aim for a first race back following my pregnancy.  (In actual fact I ran two cross-country races first, but of distances of no more than 10k.)  Despite not being able to marshal on the day I helped in other ways before the event by setting up the website with online booking and helping to design the medal.

Of course, trail distances are never actual race distances, and the half marathon that I was entered for was an alleged 14.4 miles – more than a mile further than you expect of a road half!

As always, with Oscar it meant that a great deal of organisation was required in order to be able to get there in the first place.  It was a 9:30am race start which required a 5:30am get up for me in order to then express, feed Oscar, shower, change and have breakfast before heading over to register at the event.  I went for a breakfast porridge and blueberries.  Probably a bit stodgy for my liking had I been planning on running a fast road race, but it was spot on to fill me up ready for the trail race.

My Mum had asked earlier in the week if I planned on ‘racing’ the event.  I hadn’t really thought about it until she asked, but knew that I wanted to run it to the best of my ability on the day.  I always race better on my own than I do in a large group so the intention was not to run with anybody but to just enjoy being out and about in the countryside in the perfect race conditions that we were lucky enough to have last Sunday.

As it was a club event I knew that I would know all the marshals out on the course, which is always a lovely boost.  There were also several of our own out running the event who I saw on the way round.

As always seems to be the way at races, I seemed to manage to get into the background of several other people’s photos!

There was a hen party running the 10k event, and they were all fully dressed for the occasion!

Welly Trail Races - hen party

(Picture credit)

It’s a fast start down the Castle Ashby drive, before we immediately came upon heavily rutted ground alongside a row of trees.  People were still in the process of finding their place in the pack at this point so I did a fair bit of overtaking here.  There were quite a few non-trail runners who perhaps began to realise at this point the enormity of the event they had entered! Welly Trail races - start(Picture credit)

All of the half marathon and 10k runners set off at the same time, with the canicross entries setting off 5 minutes later so as not to trip up runners in the mad dash from the start! I ran an incredibly strong first 10k.  With it being a trail race my intention was to walk the steepest of hills from the beginning just as I would in an ultra so as not to tire myself out.  There were only two or three hills where I felt the need to walk and then, thanks to my long stride, I was still overtaking runners anyway.  There was a stile two miles in, but by the time I arrived at it there were only a couple of runners in front of me, so there wasn’t too much hanging around.  I never run in gloves, but decided to on Sunday, and it was at this point that I threw them to a marshal for me to pick up again later on. Welly Trail races There was a drink station just after the stile where quite a few runners had stopped.  I decided to carry on and make use of the next drink station instead, although regretted this decision not long after!  I had intended on running with my race bag as practise for my upcoming 50 miler but I could not find it anywhere on race morning so ended up going without extra nutrition on the way round.

The 10k was 6.7 miles and I would have finished in about 72 minutes (judging by the 10k runners heading off to the finish as I turned off into the field for a second, different loop).

The second loop was much tougher going, with thicker, more slippery mud and steeper, longer hills.  I stopped for a chat with the marshal on the checkpoint at 8.5 miles and downed a cup of pink liquid after enquiring what it was.  He asked if I was still breastfeeding, to which I replied that I was, and only thought afterwards as I headed off over the next hill that I probably should have paid more attention to what I could and could not take on board as a breastfeeding Mum.  I had a very minimal amount in my cup luckily anyway.

There was another runner from my club not far ahead of me, running with two other local runners who I kept in my eyeline for the next few miles.  They were always just heading round the next bend.  That’s the thing about trail races – you can sometimes go for miles and not see anybody at all – it’s not like a road race!  It doesn’t bother me as long as I know where I am going though and the guys from our club had done a good job of winding red and white tape along the route and adding arrows to the hedgerows at major turns.  At 12.5 miles I could see that Amy (the other runner from my club) had stopped at a crossroads along with four others and was motioning to me that she didn’t know where to go next with her arms in an exaggerated shrug.  I shouted that I didn’t know this section of the route and that if there wasn’t any tape marking to turn then I would presume we kept going.  So they did.

I caught them at the top of the hill as they realised that if we continued they would be running back into the field we had initially come out of, and we hadn’t seen any other half marathon runners heading back in that direction on our way in.  Amy, along with two guys attempted to bring up the course map on their phones whilst I headed back down the hill with another lady to check out the other options at the crossroads.  There was no tape marking any turn-off from the track so after a bit of debate we headed back up the hill to join the others once more who were still undecided as to which direction we should be going in.  There was tape just before the crossroads so we didn’t feel as though we had gone off course.  Annoyingly as I had ended up not taking my bag I hadn’t brought my phone along so couldn’t ring for help with directions.  About 10 minutes later a large group of about 8-9 others joined us, many of whom were from our running club.  One of them decided to give Gary, the Race Director a call and he directed us back up the hill the way we had initially come from and across a grassy field towards a stile.  It looks like somebody had moved the tape into the wrong place on the course!

In total I think we lost about 20 minutes of time with faffing and I ended up with 15.8 miles on my Garmin by the end of the course instead of the 14.4 miles that the course was advertised as.

Welly Trail races - finish

I had company for the final few miles of the course now though as by this point there was a massive group of us, although we had managed to space out a fair bit again by the time we reached the finish.

Welly Trail races - finishAs fast as the start had been – heading down the Castle Ashby drive – the finish was slow, as we had to run back up the drive on tired legs!  I made it though and was handed my medal, a cup of water and a raffle ticket to exchange for a jacket potato and hot drink in the cafe.  I needed that hot drink!

Welly Trail Race medal

Distance: 15.81m
Garmin time: 3h 17m 20s
Official time: 3h 17m 20s
Position: 65/81

My legs were a little stiff at the finish and so I managed to convince Laura (who had been marshaling) to order my jacket potato and drink whilst I found us some seats.  Here I spotted Katie and Lorraine who had also just finished so we had a quick chat whilst warming our insides with hot food!

I was really looking forward to feeding Oscar (was in desperate need by this point!), having a long warm bath and chilling out with my little family in the afternoon, but Dan was feeling poorly so handed Oscar over as soon as I walked in the door and headed off to bed.  I was still covered in mud and had to make do with sitting on the floor for the next few hours until Dan began to feel better!

I did finally manage a quick shower though and threw my compression socks on to ease my legs a little.

Compression socksMy legs felt fine the following morning and were still feeling strong when I headed out for 6.5 easy road miles later on the Monday evening.

I was not quick by any means on Sunday, but I was most definitely strong and following my Monday evening run I am finally feeling really confident about the upcoming 50 mile ultra.  I know there are people who think I am probably a little silly/crazy for entering the SDW50 in April but I am really looking forward to it.  I am incredibly stubborn and I know that I am still capable of completing that distance over that terrain.  If I end up having to DNF it will be due to Oscar/feeding logistics rather than my ability to complete the race.

Do you wear compression socks following tough runs?
Have you ever gotten lost during a race before?
Does your club put on any races?