South Downs Way 50 – part 1

My come-back race following pregnancy was a 50 miler.

That may seem daft, but I needed to set myself a real challenge – something that would be achievable if I was determined enough, yet still challenging.

Yeah, I’ve been to parkrun a handful of times since Oscar was born six months ago, and I did run our club trail half marathon back in February.  But running the trail half was just that – a ‘run’, rather than a race and, knowing so many of the other runners and marshals out on the course meant that I didn’t really push myself the way I usually would in a race environment.

I was watching the weather forecast for several days in the build up to Saturday’s 50 miles.  Somehow I always seem to pick marathons and ultras that fall on ridiculously hot days and the 2017 South Downs Way looked like it wasn’t going to be an exception.

I was traveling down with another runner from my club, – Kev – and in order to arrive in time I needed to be out my door and in my car on the way to his house by 4:10am.  I was convinced that Oscar would wake when my alarm rang at 3:40 but he slept soundly through.  Good job actually, as I barely made it round in time as it was.  When I did finally make it into the car, I got 5 minutes up the road before realising that I had forgotten my trainers!  Quick spin of the car and back down the street I went.  Luckily there isn’t too much traffic in our town at 4am on a Saturday morning!

Kev’s sister who lived nearby was going to drop us down to the start and pick us up again at the finish so that we didn’t have to worry about the logistics of returning home from a point-to-point race.  (We all know how well I manage to organise myself for those!)

I’ve run several ultras now but I think this is the only one I have ever been nervous at before the race began.  I wasn’t nervous about the running – more the ‘mumming’ and the fact that I was still breastfeeding, yet spending the best part of a day (ended up being just short of 24 hours!) away from home.  My handheld pump and two large bottles took up a large portion of my ultra bag meaning that there was no room for the leftovers from the standard pre-race takeaway pizza I’d ordered the night before.

Ultimate Direction running bagIt’s taken me several ultras to get my nutrition right (for me) Not being able to take my salty pizza, not having a bag drop on route to leave any chocolate milk, being unable to use any gels (due to breastfeeding) and without a supply of nuun tablets (they no longer stock in the UK) were all factors leaving me in the unknown for Saturday’s event.

We had our kit checked on arrival.  Centurion had opened up registration the night before to ease the load on the registration desks, and it obviously did the trick, as it never felt over-busy at the race HQ.  After carefully packing and repacking my bag numerous times the day before I was dreading have to unpack it all for somebody to check through again, but the lady on registration only wanted to see that I was carrying two headtorches and a base layer in my bag and didn’t look for any of the other kit.  Several of the items I had initially intended on taking with me on the run had ended up getting downgraded to the drop bag which I left for Centurion to transport to the finish once the race had begun.  This included my suncream – after I had coated (or so I thought) my arms, legs and face.

Expressing was done at the last possible moment and took much longer than I initially thought it would, meaning that the majority of other runners had already headed down to the starting field by the time I emerged from the toilet block.  Along with two others from our club, Kev and I listened to the race briefing whilst the sun felt like it burnt through our clothes.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was so warm, – it wasn’t even 9am yet!

South Downs Way 50 start

When the race started I presumed the running field would quickly separate and for runners to be very spaced out as I’ve come to expect from ultras.  This wasn’t the case at all though.  There was a narrow exit to the field, so within minutes we were all walking to avoid bottlenecking, and then the track the exit led out onto was narrow, rutted and stony, – causing runners to stay bunched together.  It was probably a good 18-20 miles before there was ever any stretch of the run where I wasn’t within a couple of minutes of another runner.

As it always does, the first mile went by quickly.  I don’t mean to sound like one of those people, but 50 miles doesn’t sound like a long way now.  Having covered the distance before, I have confidence in being able to complete the distance.  With ultra events it becomes so difficult to compare times as course profiles are so varied, and different weather across different years can play such a big part in how well you do on the day.  It means that I find the pressure is much less than over a fast 5k race.

South Downs Way 50 elevation

I walked the uphills, ran the downhills and ran/walked the flat depending on how technical the track was.  My aim in any ultra is just to keep moving.  Another concern for this time round, as I knew I would need to stop at some point in order to express.

Just before mile 10 I felt my sock rubbing on the heel of my right foot.  At the very last minute, I had decided to run the race in an old pair of road shoes rather than my usual trail shoes.  The thinking behind this was that it hadn’t rained for weeks, so the ground would be hard, and my feet were likely to swell in the heat – with my road shoes offering more comfort and flexibility than the trails do.  I’ve never had an issue with any of my Asics trainers (road or trail) rubbing before, and I think on Saturday the rubbing was probably due to the steep climbs combined with the heat of the day.  When I paused to readjust my sock (initially thinking it had just slipped down below the trainer line) I realised that it had rubbed right through!  The socks I was wearing were fairly thin (so that my feet didn’t sweat too much) and luckily also fairly long, so I folded down the top of the sock over the now-missing sock heel and hoped for the best.  At this point, just over 40 miles still to go did sound like a lot!

In actual fact, the left heel ended up rubbing through entirely as well.  Although I didn’t actually realise this until I made it back to the changing rooms at the end of the race.Holey socks

Kev caught up with me at this point and we ran together for perhaps a mile here before he ran on ahead.  I saw him again leaving the first checkpoint as I arrived but then not again until the finish.

The first checkpoint was at mile 11.  Those first 11 miles flew by, and felt so, so easy.  I knew the first major hill was coming up after that checkpoint.  Initially I had considered stopping to express here, but it was so manic and busy that there was no opportunity for that to happen.  There were people coming in to the checkpoint constantly and it was a flurry of activity.  I snatched a couple of slices of watermelon (so satisfying) and a handful of ready salted crisps to get my salt fix and continued on my way, having to stop for what felt like forever before I was told it was safe enough to cross over the busy main road.  I pulled out the sole mini carton of chocolate milk I’d stashed away in my bag.  I figured it would probably taste pretty horrid later on in the day by the time it had warmed up and so what better time to enjoy it than now?!  I’d already munched through two nakd bars on my way to the first checkpoint.South Downs Way 50 mile 12

There was a photographer nearing the top of the first big climb.

South Downs Way 50 mile 12It was a pretty steep climb – I couldn’t see anyone attempting to run up it although I’m sure some of the front runners must have done!

South Downs Way 50 mile 12

Along the top of this ridge was the only point which I pulled out my phone to take pictures, although I wish I’d taken more on the day.

South Downs Way 50 mile 12You can see how bright the day really was in this photo.  There is literally not a single cloud anywhere in the sky!  I could already feel the tops of my legs starting to burn by now, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  The following day it was easy to spot areas I had missed when applying the suncream!

As I hadn’t expressed at checkpoint one, I intended on expressing at checkpoint two (16 miles), and then again later on in the race, but when I reached checkpoint two, it was a very small area with nowhere to get out of the way and go unseen, so I just grabbed a couple of scotch eggs and ran on, thinking that surely there would be a wooded area or secluded spot I could stop at before the next checkpoint at mile 26.

Turns out the South Downs are the most open area of land I have ever come across.  There was nothing but track, grass and the odd gorse bush for miles and miles.  Apart from dozens of families out for a day in the sun that is.  Families who probably wouldn’t appreciate if I sat on the side of the track with a breast pump in hand!

I chatted to several other runners along the way – something I love about the more relaxed nature of trail/ultra running that you just don’t get in road races.  At one point I shouted a runner back from up ahead as he had sped off down the wrong track.  Probably saved him a few miles!

Mile 27 ticked over on my watch before I turned in for checkpoint number three.  This one was held in a barn, and I think I rather surprised the sole female marshal I could find when I stated that I was still breastfeeding, and would really appreciate if I could nip behind the combine harvester in the barn out of the way to express!  Luckily this was fine, and so I grabbed a couple of ham wraps and my recently filled water bottles and lowered myself to the dusty ground behind the machinery.  I quickly called Dan here whilst I expressed to see how he had been getting on with Oscar and to let him know that I was doing fine – much better than expected in fact and I still felt super strong.  Dan told me that he had dressed Oscar suitably for the day and sent a picture.

Oscar in his Ultra runner in training vestWith expressing and repacking my bag again afterwards I was in the back of the barn for a total of 25 minutes.  It felt like forever, and my legs agreed when I tried to get up.  I never sit down in races, especially not for that long!  One leg began to cramp, and then the other one joined in as I writhed to the opposite side.  Not an enjoyable experience!  I lay back down and fully stretched before using the combine harvester to pull myself up.  Oh, so classy!

Mile splits (up to mile 27): 12:38, 14:06, 11:03, 11:18, 12:16, 15:11, 10:48, 11:06, 10:47, 12:09, 10:29, 15:35, 17:49, 12:46, 12:38, 14:46, 10:32, 18:57, 13:18, 16:44, 14:40, 14:22, 13:59, 14:31, 13:05, 11:05, 15:23

…I had intended on writing this recap in just one post, but as I’m at a 2000 word count already, with still so much to say, why break a tradition?!  I’ll split this post into two!…

Tenth time lucky – the day I went sub 5

On Sunday I ran my tenth marathon.

Despite telling others that I had booked a tenth marathon there weren’t very many people that knew I was actually running it last weekend.  Dan, My Mum and one friend from running club.  I’d only booked the race eleven days earlier, after finishing at Mablethorpe Marathon a couple of minutes outside of my goal.

After Mablethorpe I immediately began hunting to see if a race fitted in during the four week gap I had before I attempted Dusk ’til Dawn at the end of the month.  I had done a lot of training for Mablethorpe and didn’t want to see it go to waste.  After some extensive searching, I established that Chelmsford marathon fell on the middle weekend between the two pre-planned races and that there were still places available for the day.  I immediately entered, before I could change my mind.  There were a couple of times over the past fortnight when I doubted my impromptu decision and wasn’t sure I really wanted to run another marathon again so soon, but generally I knew that I was capable of the distance and that I would make it round, adding to my number of marathons run whether I PBd on the day or not.  At least this time, nobody had any expectations of me as they didn’t know I was due to run it!

Dan initially wasn’t going to come along, as Wolves (the football team) were playing on TV that day.  He changed his mind though and drove me over on race morning.  I left plenty of time before the race started which was lucky, as the main car park that we had been told to park in was not yet open.  We quickly established where the next nearest car parks were and parked up before navigating our way to the ‘race hub’ (finish line) where there were several stalls being set up and a long row of portaloos.

After a visit to the loo we began the walk to the race start which was about ten minutes away.  We were some of the first people to arrive at the start.  It was rather chilly at 8am and I was glad Dan had travelled up with me so that I could wear my hoodie and t-shirt over my race vest until the very last minute!

Chelmsford marathon 2015

I kept to roughly the same plan as Mablethorpe – try to keep between 10:45-10:52mm pace for the first 10 miles, then 15, then play it by ear from there.  This time also keeping an eye on my heart rate, as I remembered to take my heart rate monitor out of my bag!  We had been told beforehand that the race would be starting in four waves at 9am, of which I would be in wave three.  I see waves as being separate starts, similar to at Milton Keynes Marathon earlier this year, when the gun went every minute, to allow the front runners to get a little space out on the course before the masses followed.  However, this didn’t seem to be the case as we all seemed to start together at Chelmsford.

Chelmsford marathon 2015Not sure what I was doing in the background here, but I seemed to get in quite a few photographs with other runners on the start line!

The first mile obviously flew by.  I find it always does in any distance race!
What I didn’t mention on the blog was that last Sunday at the Tring trail race I had felt like I needed to click my hip at the start of the race.  But then the race started and I couldn’t get in the right position and move forward at the same time, so I just ran anyway, without clicking it.  By the end of the race my left hip/leg felt a little numb and after standing around waiting for the rest of the runners from our club to come in I found it rather uncomfortable (and slow!) to walk back to where the car was parked.  It did loosen up after five minutes or so of walking, but my hip played a part in keeping me away from my trainers on the Monday and Tuesday of last week.  Wednesday came and I laced up my trainers for a 7.8 mile trail run with the club.  My hip felt rather uncomfortable but I was never in any pain, otherwise I would have stopped and reassessed my goals.
I ran just one easy mile on Saturday to loosen my legs up, and my hip was not an issue.
One mile into the race on Sunday though, and I was aware that my hip was going to be an issue!

For a few miles I actually begun to think about the possibility of having to drop out of the race altogether.  Although never painful, the first few miles felt a little uncomfortable and the top area of my leg began to feel numb.  I noticed it most on sharp turns to the left where I felt a little off-balance.  I was undecided as to what I should do.  The first three miles had contained several twists and turns out along a housing estate and then the route turned back into the town centre where I heard Dan shout my name.  I looked up, smiled and waved and knew I would be carrying on.

Chelmsford marathon 2015I decided to ignore the discomfort and hope it went away.  Probably not the best decision in the majority of cases, and I can’t say that the discomfort ever went away, but when I thought less about it, I felt it less and that worked for me!

Chelmsford marathon 2015

Mile 1: 10:38
Mile 2: 
10:47
Mile 3: 10:43

After speaking to a friend about nutrition following Mablethorpe I decided that I probably don’t take enough on board fuel-wise during road marathons.  I’ve tweaked my ultra nutrition to perfection over the past couple of years and have no issues gulping back chocolate milk and downing pizza whilst out on an ultra, but when it comes to a road marathon – where the aim is to run the whole way, I’ve been a little less enthusiastic about carrying round my sandwiches and wolfing real food down!  In the past I have tended to take two gels along with me on marathon day, having one about 6-7 miles into the marathon and then carrying the other right through to the finish with me, never taking it.  At Mablethorpe I did use both gels – I had a third of one each at miles 3,6 and 9.  Then a third of the other one at miles 12, 15 and 18.  I established that a third of a gel every three miles was probably not enough though and when I stocked up on sweets at mile 24 they gave me an almost instant boost to make it through to the finish, indicating that my normal intake had not been enough.  At Mablethorpe I also spoke to another runner from the club about gels.  She said that she had used to just take two, but now often she would use 5 or 6 as she felt that she needed more.

Last weekend at the Tring 15k, I had tested out a new-to-me gel.  The salted caramel Gu.  It was amazing.  It was so strong in flavour and actually tasty with it that I bought a box load which arrived during the week.  For the Chelmsford marathon I packed five.  Two in the back pocket of my shorts and I gripped onto another three tightly in my right hand.  Water stations were to be at miles 3,6,9,13,16,19,23 and 26 (not sure why there was a need for a water station at mile 26?!) so I decided to take a gel each at miles 6,9,19 and 23.  I would also split a gel between mile 13 and mile 16.  I managed to keep roughly to this plan, although didn’t take my last gel, but half a peanut bar that was on offer at the checkpoint instead.

Mile 4: 10:41
Mile 5:
10:54
Mile 6:
10:54

At mile 6 a 100 marathon club runner trotted alongside me and started a conversation.  As I always do when running alongside runners from the 100 marathon club I asked how many marathons he had run (over 400)  He then went on to tell me that his fastest one had been run 11 years ago at the age of 64 and he completed it in a staggering 3h 9m!  Amazing!  As we chatted about his races, the two ladies infront turned around and joined in.  The pace had picked up a little too much for my liking, so I let the three of them continue the conversation as they glided on ahead, although by mile 10 I had overtaken all three and did not see them again.

The course was a lovely one.  It was nice and ‘undulating’ – the definition runners use for a course which is not pancake flat!  I much prefer an undulating course to a flat one as it breaks things up a bit!

Chelmsford Marathon undulationAfter the first three miles of heading out of the town and coming back past the start again we headed along a tarmacked track along fields out into the countryside and then along some quiet country lanes.

The marshals were superb the entire race and so cheery and helpful at every checkpoint.

Mile 7: 10:50
Mile 8: 10:43
Mile 9: 10:47
Mile 10: 10:47
Mile 11: 11:14

I had a slight wobble at mile 11 (only for a few seconds!) when I realised how slow my mile had been compared to all of my others.  This mile had contained the first proper hill that dragged though and I was yet to slow to a walk.  I let it pass, although still had no idea how I was going to feel in the later stages of the race.

Mile 12: 10:57
Mile 13:
10:41
Mile 14: 11:00
Mile 15: 11:19
Mile 16: 12:03

Mile 16 contained a proper ‘steep’ climb and I decided to use the climb to have my gel, take on some more fluid and save my energy by walking the short distance, before running again once I reached the top.

Mile 17: 11:07
Mile 18:
11:32
Mile 19: 11:27

Chelmsford marathon 2015

Dan had planned on getting out on the course to see me at around mile 19.  I had roughly worked out that he needed to be there by 12:30 to ensure that he had time to park up, get organised and make sure he was out on the course to see me as I came by.  As I approached the mile 19 marker I suddenly realised that there was a good chance I would miss him.  I passed through at 12:25 and hoped that he wouldn’t arrive just after I had, only to stand around worrying that I hadn’t yet come through!  Luckily, he popped out just before me round the next corner and ran alongside me for a few hundred steps whilst I reapplied Vaseline under my arms so that my vest no longer rubbed.  I told him that my hip had gone, but that I was running strong and was well on target for a sub 5 marathon by this point, although didn’t want to jinx things!

Chelmsford marathon 2015I was passing a lot of other runners by this point.  So many of them were walking.  I was terrified of burning out and with a few steady inclines coming up I made the decision to power walk any of the tougher hills to try and prevent this from happening and run the rest of the course.  This was a big decision to make, as I was worried that if I scaled things back a little my hip would go completely and I wouldn’t be able to break back into a run.  I didn’t feel tired, my legs weren’t aching like they had done at Mablethorpe and I wasn’t feeling hungry or weak by this point.  By mile 19-20 though I was so close to a sub 5 marathon, and having already had several failed attempts at achieving my goal, decided I would be happy with coming in at a more conservative, but stronger time, still remaining at a sub 5.

Mile 20: 11:41
Mile 21: 11:59
Mile 22: 11:26
Mile 23: 11:57

There was supposed to be a water station at mile 23 but it never came.  Halfway to mile 24 was a lone marshal, who luckily let me nab one of the water bottles she held as I was feeling rather thirsty by this point again.

Mile 24: 11:57
Mile 25: 12:44

It didn’t feel as though I had slowed down this much, but I obviously had.  I think once you walk one time, you either end up walking loads or can’t judge your pace properly afterwards!

Mile 26: 11:47

As I neared the park containing the finish I looked up to catch sight of the 26 mile marker.  I instantly picked up my pace and automatically beamed, realising that my calculations were in fact correct and that I was going to finally PB at the marathon distance, my mad grin seemed to amuse a couple of people walking past me in the other direction.  As I turned into the finish funnel I picked the pace up, which the supporters either side of the finish seemed to enjoy, as I got a loud cheer for my final 200 metres!

Chelmsford marathon 2015I couldn’t see Dan, although he managed to take several pictures of me here.

Chelmsford marathon 2015

 

All I could do was grin more than I have ever grinned before!

Chelmsford marathon 2015(First race photo I’ve ever bought!)  The rest of my race photos can be found here.

Nubbin: 10:19mm

Chelmsford marathon finish photoPB achieved.  Sub 5 achieved.  Comfortable race achieved.

Chip time: 4:54:08
Gun time:
4:55:18
Position: 486/592

I know it’s not speedy compared to many people, and I’m sure that I am capable of much faster, but on Sunday I was so happy to cross the line with that time!  :)

 

My running story

When I redesigned the blog at the start of Summer, I updated the Mary and About pages on my menu bar.  Until this point, you were able to view a rough version of my running story on these pages.  I’ve been really interested to read through a few other bloggers’ running stories just recently though and thought I should attempt a proper post dedicated to my own running story…

I often say that I began running in May 2011 when I joined a beginner’s group, but in actual fact the year before, Dan had signed me up for Stoke 2010k, my first proper race, whilst I was still studying at Keele University.  I was fed up with life not being very active and so Dan and I began playing badminton several times a week.  Dan already played football at least twice a week and we both walked everywhere as it was just easier at the time but one day we decided to try a run.  The next thing I knew, Dan had signed us both up for Stoke 2010k with 6 weeks until race day!  Our rough plan at the time was to play badminton twice a week and run three times a week.  Each time we ran we covered the same route of about 5-6 miles and just tried to run it faster.  Not the best of training plans, but we made it to race day.

Dan and I Stoke 10kI have absolutely no idea how I ran an entire 10k race wearing a hoodie over the top of a cotton t-shirt.  I would melt if I attempted that now!

We ran the 10k in 59m 58s, although afterwards I found this article, explaining how all but one runner had completed a short distance.  You can read some of the race reviews here, where some Garmin-wearing runners reported the race at just 5.4 miles!  Until I searched online just now, I had no idea that the course had been short by so much.  I had been so proud to have finished under 1 hour, but now don’t really have any idea what pace I had run at or how far I had run.  We ran the whole damn way though, even up the super tough hill towards the end and I felt a massive sense of achievement at the finish!Dan and I at Stoke 2010kNot long after I completed my degree and moved to Northamptonshire where I began working full time as a teacher.

Teaching was mentally draining and I really needed an escape in the evenings.  Initially rather miserable living on my own and working in a sedentary job for the first time I gained a lot of weight (somewhere in the region of three stone).  I had moved into a county where I knew nobody and on browsing the shops one lonely weekend (sob!) I spotted a poster for an upcoming running course to be held for beginners.  I emailed to sign up as soon as I returned home.
There were about ten of us who ran twice a week in the beginner group with the idea that we could build up our strength and stamina in order to complete the club race, the Wellingborough 5, ten weeks after joining.

Beginners 2011Three of us beginners ran that day, myself included and although I wasn’t yet running in club colours I ran my first five mile club race in 49:41.Wellingborough 5 2011Five of us went on to sign up as members of Wellingborough & District AC following the race and I decided that I would like to try running a half marathon before the end of the year.

This was massive.  Thirteen point one miles?  Of running?…! didn’t really know what I was signing up for, or how best to prepare for it.  I continued attending running club on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then started to add in one or two runs of my own each week as well.  Occasionally at the weekend some of the slower club runners would organise long runs which they posted on the club Facebook group and I would eagerly meet for a long run with company.  It was around this time that one of the club runners mentioned that all running should be below 10 minute miles and so I tried my hardest to stick to this during sessions (usually managing it).  Other than that goal I didn’t really have any set plans.  Three of the original beginner group signed up to Bedford Half Marathon in the December and so we began comparing training.  My longest run was 12 miles, three weeks out from race day.  I felt reasonably prepared going into the race and came away with a new half marathon time of 2h 13m 10s.  My aim had been to finish somewhere between 2h 15 and 2h 30m and I had smashed my goal time.Bedford half marathon 2011 - Me and HayleyMy legs were a little achy the following day and I immediately came down with the worst cold in the history of all colds the following week.  Stupid immune system!  But I was happy.  So happy in fact, I signed up to run a marathon…

2012 was the first year of the Milton Keynes Marathon and it was a popular one with our club, being less than an hour’s drive away.  Along with the other two beginners who had run Bedford half marathon we began to up our training.  Most of my long weekend runs were completed on my own and the majority of them still sticking to the 10mm pace I’d grown accustomed to running at.  I’d run a 20m race in 3h 36m three weeks before race day and was quietly confident with my training.  I’d put in a lot of hard work.
On race day morning I woke to reports of high speed winds and several trees down along the road outside my house.  The weather was awful – raining the entire time and the course actually had to be extended due to several areas being flooded.  At one point we were running through water halfway up our calves!
4But…I was hooked.  I wanted to run another one and immediately thought about entering another marathon in the Autumn, although it wasn’t until Milton Keynes the following year that I ran marathon #2, in complete opposite conditions this time – scorching sun!  It was around this time that I also decided to start documenting my training.  Although I wished I had started logging my runs and training from the very beginning.

Following my second marathon I started thinking about what I could challenge myself to do next.  It was during one of the weeks following that I got to talking to a runner at my club, Kev.  Back then, Kev used to run along at the back of group 4 and pick up the trailing back runners on a club night, of which I was one at the time.  He put the idea in my head about entering the upcoming 35m trail race, Shires & Spires.  Kev at the time had begun training for his own personal challenge – a 100 mile race and was often putting on evening runs to get used to running at night with the use of a headtorch.  I started attending these runs, where we often ran up and down hills like mad people, through all the mud, but always had heaps of fun.  The pressure of achieving times my body was not capable of had been removed and running became something I did for fun again!

Muddy legKev ran with me at Shires and I had such a great race that I began looking to see what my next challenge should be.  I knew I would never be able to go a huge amount faster, but I could still go a huge amount further, so that was the path I decided to take.Shires and Spires 35After entering a competition to win a place on ‘Operation Ultra’ with Women’s Running, I was amazed to find that I had been shortlisted, and eventually won the place at Dusk ’til Dawn – an overnight 50 mile race in the Peak District.  I don’t think there is really an easy way to start running ultras, but I’m pretty sure I picked one of the hardest routes possible!  I was so grateful of the place through the magazine, and learnt loads about myself and my running along the way.  A lot of it coming down to just how stubborn I can be when it comes to not giving up!

wereoffAt mile 32 the hill fog descended and I ended up running 40 miles and ending up back at the same point, making it impossible to reach the next checkpoint in time.  I was disappointed but determined and returned the following year, having first gotten a 70 mile race under my belt!

Finish at the Grim ReaperThe Grim Reaper 70m was entered last minute.  I had intended on entering the 40 mile distance but when Kev (Yep, him again!) pointed out that I had 26 hours to complete the event, and that another, much larger runner from the club had intended on running the 70 miles – ‘if he could do it then so could I’ – I was easily swayed and my finger hit the mouse to select the 70 miles instead.  My first 70 miler was one of the hardest and most challenging things I have done to date, but I did it, and when I finished, I had then run the furthest out of all female runners in the history of our running club.

Notice, I said first 70 miler…!  Initially wanting to attempt 100 miles this year I knew I would still be so far away from making the cut offs – it would be heartbreaking to be pulled at 80 miles into a race if my body was still fine to keep giving!  Instead, I decided that my goal should be to improve on my time over 70 miles.  As tough as the race had been in 2014 it was easy in 2015.  I knew what to expect, I knew what to eat, how much to drink, how to approach the checkpoints…I took more than 3 hours off my time, finishing in 18h 49m 15s and was so happy to sprint towards that finish line knowing I had run a smart race.  I had loved every second of it and ran so strongly.  I genuinely was very proud of myself that day.

My big bug bear has always been the marathon distance though.  Mablethorpe Marathon a fortnight ago was run in 5h 2m 58s.  Despite being my ninth marathon (seven of which were on road), and having increased in both confidence and experience over the past three years I just could not get under the 5 hour mark.  I always crash and burn in the second half, or something happens, or conditions aren’t suited to me.

It wasn’t until my tenth marathon yesterday that I finally managed to get under that elusive 5 hour barrier!

Chelmsford marathon finish photo

What is your running story?

Tring Ridgeway Run 15k trail race

This time last year I had just run my first trail race. A year later and I’ve been ticking off loads more to add to my list!
On Sunday I ran the Tring Ridgeway 15k Run with a large number from my running club. As I explained in Monday’s post, I have already run enough races to count for our club trail running league (you must have run at least 6 of the 14 listed races) but I wanted to better one of my placings and improve my overall score for the league (without pushing too hard, as I did run a marathon last weekend!)

I travelled down with two other runners from my club and we arrived with plenty time for a loo visit, to collect numbers and pose for a group photo.

Tring Ridgeway Run 15k

One of our runners went on to finish as third female for the race.

The start of the race was a 15 minute walk away – out of the cricket club grounds and along a few small sideroads before we all congregated at the bottom of a quiet country lane, which later turned into a  concrete farm track.

I stood on the start line chatting with a friend until she pointed out that we probably should have started our watches as the runners close to the front appeared to be walking ahead. Had the race started? Or were the runners just shuffling forward closer to the line ready for the gun? Turns out the race had started, we just weren’t aware and a few minutes later we were walking along as well. Walking, not running, as there was no space for that for quite a while!

Despite not intending on ‘racing’ the race I was a little annoyed at myself for having started so far back in the pack. Especially so when it became clear that no more than three people could run abreast from the start for the first mile and a half. I dodged round people where I could, but in the end had to settle with the fact that I wouldn’t be moving anywhere very fast for a while and my stride became rather choppy.

Two miles in to the Tring 15k Ridgeway Run(You can see how crowded it was in the beginning – in the photo here we are probably about a mile and a half into the race – and there were only 564 runners in total.)

After the first mile and a half we came out onto a road. The marshals were directing us up onto the verge the other side which would only hold one runner at a time.  The verge then ran alongside the road for 200m or so. The road was quite wide though and here I decided (along with several other runners) that I could use the road as a way to a) stretch out my legs a little, and b) overtake some of the runners who were running a little slower than I had intended on running. I probably overtook 30+ people along this short stretch before slotting back on to the grass verge which then veered sharply away from the road and alongside a field.

There were massive holdups here and we even came to a standstill a couple of times as the path struggled to accommodate the huge influx of runners that had suddenly tried to run it all at the same time. There were lots of (incredibly slow) walking stretches along here and my heart rate dropped quite low, right down to 111bpm as we stop-started along the route. For the rest of the course, my heart rate was around the 165bpm mark, so noticeably different!

My game plan had been to remain consistent and to walk the hills, rather than run them. Although my thighs no longer ache after last weekend, I had put them through a marathon just a week earlier and during the marathon they had screamed to me that they were working hard, so I didn’t want to overdo anything on a race that wasn’t a goal race. I had studied the course profile beforehand and knew that the main hill was at mile three, with a slightly smaller hill around the six mile mark. There were a couple of steep, but not as significant hills along the way, and I ran these, mainly to get past all of the walkers and find my place within the pack. I did powerwalk up the steep hill at mile three though, still overtaking several runners along the way.

The views were pretty, and I did get to check them out at several locations, despite spending a lot of time looking at where I placed my feet. I wasn’t ready to go over on my ankle again just yet! The course was nearby to a couple of the races that I have already run this year – Ashridge 16 in March and Dunstable Downs 20m the other week. There were a couple of the sections of course that I recognised from those races. A little after mile three we ran through the start line of the Ashridge race where I grabbed a cup of water for a few sips.

Me at the Tring Ridgeway Run 15k

I had almost run out of tried and tested gels. (I tend to run with MaxiFuel Mixed Berry gels and have done so for a couple of years) Despite having a drawer full of various other gel samples they are all samples that I have never tested during runs and don’t know for certain that they suit me as a runner. I wouldn’t normally take a gel for a 15k race distance, but with an upcoming marathon I knew it was necessary to test out which other gels I could get on with and planned to take one at mile 6, just before the water station. I knew exactly which gel I was going to try – the Gu Salted caramel gel. This gel has been sat in my stash for a little while now. It tried to tempt me to take it along for Mablethorpe Marathon last week, but with my sensible head on (nothing new on race day!) I resisted the urge to remove it from my drawer.
As I approached the water station I ripped the top from the gel and squeezed the whole lot into my mouth.
AMAZING! It really wasn’t what I expected it to taste like at all! In my past experience, if gels/bars are flavoured, they tend to be rather a weak tasting superficial flavour, but not this one! It was pure salted caramel sauce. Delicious, and a nice kick! :) (Batch immediately ordered ready for the marathon upon arrival home.)  I swigged back some water and then began the climb up the hill that immediately followed.  We all walked it, although I power walked to the top and overtook a few more people here.  You can see me in my green vest about halfway up the hill.

Headed up the hill at mile 6 of the Tring 15k Ridgeway Run

Most of the rest of the course was either downhill or flat after this point, although a lot of the downhill sections were rather technical.  I didn’t run the downhill sections as fast as I would have done normally, being slightly wary of my recently recovered ankle.  My ankle feels OK again now and much stronger, but it’s still in the stages where I know if I were to knock it again I would definitely feel it!

When we emerged onto the road I lost a couple of places again to runners faster than me on the flat but I stuck to my steady pace to see it through the last mile and a half.  As I reached the edge of the playing field, some club members were stood cheering me on, so I picked up the pace slightly to zoom past the two guys just ahead of me before reaching the line.

I’d been fairly consistent throughout, despite the hills: 10:21, 10:57, 10:54, 10:02, 10:15, 10:35, 11:11, 9:46, 10:11, Nubbin (0.42m) at 9:47mm pace.

For only £8 we were given a t-shirt and a chocolatey bar at the finish.

Tring Ridgeway Run t-shirt

Good value, beautiful views, friendly marshals and a well organised race, with very good quality photos for all but I wasn’t overly keen on all the hanging around for the first few miles of the race.

Garmin time: 1h 38 25s
Official time:
1h 38m 38s
Position:
465/564

What is your favourite gel?
Have there been any races or parts of races you really haven’t enjoyed?