A rocky build up to the Autumn 100

I first heard of the Centurion Running Autumn 100 mile race back in 2016.  I was several months pregnant at the time and helping on one of the checkpoints along the South Downs Way 100.  If you are thinking about getting into long distance running I would 100% recommend going along to a few ultra events as a volunteer before taking the plunge and running one yourself.  You learn so much from talking to other runners at events, and by volunteering you get to see an event works from both sides of the table.  In 2016 I already considered myself an ultra runner, having run a number of ultramarathons by this point, including two 70 mile events.  But I had not yet attempted the elusive 100 mile distance and this fact was beginning to become a little niggle I couldn’t quiet every time I spoke to someone about my running adventures.

That day in 2016 I was the only volunteer at the checkpoint who had not already gotten a 100 mile event under their belt and so I made the most of quizzing the other volunteers whilst we set up the food station.  All of them had previously run the Autumn 100 and spoke highly of the event and the organisation of it.  The Autumn 100 is designed as a ‘crosshair’ course.  There is a central checkpoint and four 12.5 mile (ish) tracks head out from this checkpoint in each direction.  You run out to the furthest point of each spoke and then return to base camp before heading out along the next spoke.  This setup appealed to me as I wouldn’t need to rely too much on a team of crew out on the course.  I’m very independent when it comes to running and usually prefer to race alone.

The following year I focused on a strong return to running following my pregnancy, and I went on to beat many of my race times from before having had Oscar.  Although having a baby leaves you with very little time for sleep or training, it somehow toughens you up.  The training you do take part in is much more worthwhile – you need to make every run count!  And you become able to push through barriers that once seemed much harder than they originally did once you have a baby in tow!

By 2018 I knew I was ready to tackle my first 100 miler and so signed up to run the South Downs Way 100.  I’d run the 50 mile version of the event twice before; once in 2017 when Oscar was just six months old and again in 2018 – taking more than an hour from my time (although to be fair, I didn’t have to stop on route with a breast pump at that second race!)

It wasn’t meant to be on the day of the SDW100 and I ended up retiring after 78 miles.  Allowing myself a few weeks of recovery I soon picked up training again to give the 100 mile distance another shot at the Robin Hood 100 in September.  Oscar would nearly be two by this point and I hoped feeding would have much less of an impact.  (It did.  I was no longer breast feeding by then.)  The Robin Hood 100 was the first 100 mile event I completed and I was so happy and proud to cross that finish line in September 2018.  However, despite having told Dan that I only ever wanted to run one 100 mile race, just to tick it off the bucketlist…I already knew I would be back and vowed to strip some time from my 29:48:11.

100 mile Hobo Pace Robin Hood 100 medal

I had a rough 2019, suffering through two miscarriages and knew that I needed to focus on me for a little while before trying again for any more children.  Putting all of my focus into training for a long distance event gave me a sense of purpose and enjoyment and so, remembering the volunteers at SDW100 back in 2016 I decided to sign up to the Autumn 100 in October of 2020.

Training began in the January.  I was at running club during the week, fully involved with the parkrun community on a Saturday morning and running long with friends at a weekend.  I was really enjoying my running again.  I enjoyed discovering new routes, getting lost along muddy footpaths, testing out all the snacks and even climbing over all those stiles along the way!

January, February, March…they all went well.  My endurance improved, my speed improved and I even set a new half marathon PB at the Stafford Half in March.  But that’s when the world began to change.  Talk of a new virus which had come over from China had begun to sweep the country by this point and as I stood on the start line at Stafford that morning back in March I nervously looked around me to see runners trying to get a little more space around them, glancing up at anyone who coughed.  Other races had been cancelled for that day and the Stafford Half Marathon Facebook page was filled with messages from runners saying that they would not be taking part.  It was the last time I raced before the country was thrown into Lockdown and all that followed.

Within days I had gone from working a regular job at a local race company, having a secure seasonal job for an exam board and several freelance projects lined up for local small businesses to having no work at all.  I’d only left my job at Tesco at the start of the year in order to focus more on working at the race company and following other freelance projects, but I gave my manager a call and he instantly offered me my old job back on as many nights as I wanted.  I took four nights to begin with but then often also worked a fifth when staffing levels were short.  The start of 2020 had seemed so promising – I had a new job doing something I loved, worked normal daytime hours, we were going to up Oscar’s nursery days from one full day to one full day and two half days in preparation for school the following year.  I would have a lot more free time…  Then all of a sudden I found myself back working nights, – more nights than before, and keeping an incredibly active toddler entertained during the days.  There was also that stupid exercise rule where you were only allowed to leave the house once per day for exercise.  My mileage dropped from 50 miles per week to one run each week if I was lucky.  I was exhausted all of the time and in order to stay awake during the day I needed to get outside and let Oscar burn some energy off!  If I didn’t use my exercise allowance to take him outside he would not have gotten out.  Things were so hard.  Made even worse by the fact that as a normally very social person I was now also unable to see friends or family.  My Dad lives alone 100 miles away from us.  Since my Mum died I don’t think I’d been longer than 2-3 weeks without seeing him.  Times were tough.  I believe though, that however tough working nights whilst having a toddler during the day was, it gave me a sense of purpose and a reason to keep going.  I had no time to stop and think.  I just had to keep doing.  For a while I gave up on any sense of training when it came to running.  I just couldn’t realistically run more than 15-20 miles in the week.  There wasn’t the time.

But then things did begin to get easier.  Lockdown lifted slightly before the Summer began and the very first weekend we were allowed to travel and stay over elsewhere we made our way down to stay in Norfolk with my Dad.  The lighter nights gave me hope and as the restrictions lifted and races began to go ahead once again I knew I needed to make a decision about Autumn 100.

I’d entered the Stour Valley Path 50k which was due to take place at the start of August and when it was announced that this was definitely still going to go ahead I decided to throw every spare moment I had back into running again.  Even though my running had seriously lacked in mileage during lockdown, I had begun to really focus on my core work following the Joe Wicks plan during this time.  As a result I’d lost a fair bit of weight (unintentionally) but was also so much stronger which made it easy for me to quickly get back to where I had been running-wise.

SVP50

From the moment I decided to train properly for the 100 I made a real go of it.  Running club returned in the September and nursery started up again, allowing me to catch up on some of that much-needed sleep I’d missed out on over recent months.  I handed my notice in to finish a few weeks before race day and drew up a training plan for the following three months.  Mondays would be a rest day, or a jog down with the running buggy to collect Oscar from nursery.  Tuesdays I’d run for a few hours in the morning and then another hour at running club in the evening.  Wednesdays would be another double run day.  Thursdays – as a Tuesday.  Friday I’d run whatever I’d felt like as I would be one or two days into my night shift pattern by then.  Weekends would depend how tired I was but I would usually try to get a mid-length run in during one of the afternoons.  The bulk of my runs were run during the week over 3-4 days, but I made it work for me.  My step count was never under 15,000 steps as my job was fairly manual each evening – lugging heavy cages around the store each night and shifting boxes up onto high shelves.  I like to think that by working night shifts it helped me to understand just how well my body could function on certain amounts of sleep.

Race week rolled round.  My race number didn’t arrive until 3pm on the Friday the day before the race.  A cause of anxiety I did not need!

Race number for Autumn 100

Dan had been ill since the Wednesday and by Friday afternoon my head began to feel fuzzy and my eyes felt itchy.  I hadn’t slept properly for days – a combination of Dan being restless and poorly and me being up in the night with Oscar.  I demolished my usual pre-race half a large vegetarian Dominos pizza and was tucked up in bed by 9pm, terrified that I would wake up feeling worse and fail the temperature-gun check the following morning.  Luckily the full night of sleep left me feeling well-rested and raring to go.

Kit list for the Autumn 100 mile ultramarathon

We’d prepared everything the evening before and loaded the car as soon as the alarm rang out the following morning.  Last to be loaded was a very sleepy Oscar – still wrapped up in his pyjamas for the ride down to the start line.  Dan had offered to drive down so I left my contacts out and attempted to doze on the drive down, but it wasn’t really happening.  In the end I just shut my eyes and reassured myself with the thought that at least by staying still and quiet I wasn’t expending any of the energy I would need for later on that day!

We had been told to work out our own starting window based on predicted finishing times.  With a 4:39 marathon PB I was due to make my way to the start between 8-8:30am, and so planned to kick things off as close to 8am as possible.  Dan and Oscar weren’t allowed to join me either to check in my kit or to see me off at the start line.  So they walked me down as close as they could to the hall and we stopped to take a few pictures.

Autumn 100 pre start Autumn 100 pre start with Osc

And then I was on my own.  I’m not very good at adulting and hoped I would make it from the hall where I had left my drop bag to the start line without any problems!  Luckily the start line wasn’t too far away and I could see another runner heading in that direction not too far ahead of me.

Autumn 100 walking to the startI stopped to take a few pictures from the bridge.  Goring is so pretty.

GoringAs soon as I turned back to the road again I realised that the man I had been following had completely disappeared!  Luckily I spotted the Centurion sign tied to a post and headed in the direction of where I could now see James Elson stood with a temperature gun.  Once we had been temperature checked we could make our way down to the start line about 30 metres further onto the track and begin our race.  The chap I had been following had already been gunned without problem and stood to the side fiddling with something on his bag.  As soon as the gun had beeped to say that I would be allowed to start the event (huge sigh of relief!) I just wanted to be off, and I had to really resist jogging to get to that start line!

Part two to follow over the next few days…

 

Less than four weeks to go and a possible parkrun return

It’s just 26 days now until the Autumn 100.  Another 10 days or so before I start to taper.

I’ve decided on my strategy for race day – a run/walk strategy, something I’ve not purposefully used before, but something I’ve heard and seen nothing but good words about.  I’m planning on starting the race with a 13 minute run, 2 minute walk technique.  Holding onto this as long as possible, then dropping down to a 12/3, 11/4, 10/5 as necessary.  I’ve spoken to lots of people over the past few weeks about how they chose their run/walk distance/times and I think that sticking to a 15 minute block will work well for me – I don’t want to be working out mileage or random minutes when I’m 23 hours into a race, whereas four blocks across the hour should be relatively easy to keep track of.

I’ve practised 13/2 a few times now and have found that it really helps me to keep my focus when running long runs alone.  Hopefully this will remain the case come race day.  I’ve been out for a couple of two hour blocks and my overall pace (including both the running and walking sections) has remained below 11 minute miles, so I will need to be aware of slowing the running sections down slightly come race day!

Testing out a run-walk technique

Dan is going to drive me down the morning of the race and then come back and collect me the following day, keeping an eye on the tracker to work out my rough finishing time.

No crew are allowed at Autumn 100.  This isn’t a Covid-thing, but an event thing.  Apparently no crew were allowed at last year’s event either.  Pacers are also only allowed for the last 25 miles, so from miles 75-100.  I will not be having a pacer this year.  I think I would benefit most from having a pacer during the night – so at mile 50, the point pacers are usually allowed to join on a 100 miler.  But that’s not allowed.  After getting attacked last year I’m not the most keen on running alone in the dark, but I’m just going to have to man up, get my head down and run like crazy until morning!  It’s one night.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.

I managed 51.7 training miles last week, including two complete rest days:
* MON – 3.4 mile buggy run for the nursery pickup (half with a three stone toddler, half without!)
* TUES – 4 mile easy run (AM) and 6.1 mile club run (PM)
* WED – 5.4 mile chatty run with Dan
* THURS – 11.1 miles testing out the run/walk (AM) and 5.5 mile club run (PM) which ended up being a speed session in places as I had to take a much faster group than usual out
* SUN – 5.2 mile chatty run with Dan and Oscar (in the buggy) down to the park for a picnic breakfast, immediately followed by an 11 mile run/walk (13/2)

I’m hoping for similar mileage again this week, although spread out a little more evenly this time!

Oscar is definitely too big for the buggy now – and it’s also incredibly tough going on us having to push him – especially when we reach a hill!

Oscar is too big for the buggy now

We’ve run down to Stanwick Lakes for a pancake breakfast a few times now though and I’ll be sad when we really cannot squeeze him in for the ride anymore!  Parks were just too busy for comfort over the Summer holiday, but completely empty first thing in the morning.  As long as the pancakes were cooked and we managed to get out first thing, then there is plenty of time for a run down to the playpark, to demolish the pancakes and a good couple of hours of playing before things get too busy!

Pancake breakfast Oscar eating pancakes for breakfast

One of the biggest stressors for me this week has been the possible return of parkrun.  On Monday afternoon our team at Irchester Country parkrun received an email stating that parkrun intended to return before the end of October.  I really miss my weekly parkrun – we’ve now actually had more weeks away from parkrun than at our event, since starting up last November – and totally agree that there are a whole host of mental health and physical benefits to those who take part or volunteer.  Personally though, I felt that the timeframe to return was too short, and with restrictions still in place regarding gatherings of people I didn’t understand how parkrun could return;
a) When not everybody brings along a barcode, so not all runners are known (for tracking and tracing purposes).
b) Taking the temperatures of 500+ runners at every event each week would be impossible.
c) By announcing that Wales and Scotland would not be returning in October, adding immense pressure to events bordering the country line.
d) By relying on landowners giving permission for the events to take place.  Again, if a landowner refused, parkrunners from that event would descend on other local events, increasing numbers further.
e) Without a chip timed start, it would be bedlam on the start line with no social distancing – 2 metres apart?  Some events would see the first runners finishing before all had crossed the start line if that was the case, and runners would be adding 10/15 minutes to their overall time!
f) Asking for enough volunteers each week to put themselves forward in roles such as barcode scanning and finish tokens – where they would come into contact with every single runner at the event.

Personally, I still feel uncomfortable walking around a supermarket, never mind being crammed into a starting pen, coughed on and jostling for a place out on the course.

The following day it was announced that Government restrictions were changing – groups of no more than 6 people were to be together, either inside or outside.  I relaxed slightly, assuming that parkrun’s statement would be retracted.  Only it wasn’t.  It was then clarified that this new limit didn’t apply to parkrun – that parkrun would be allowed to go ahead.

And that’s when I began to get abuse.  How was I allowed to start up parkrun again when groups of friends were no longer allowed to meet up together for a run?  Obviously not my decision, but people were clearly feeling frustrated and angry about their time being directed for them by the Government once again.  I went to bed on Thursday evening feeling very sad and unhappy over the amount of angry messages I had received, simply because I volunteer my time as Co-Event Director at a parkrun event.

Luckily(?!) on Friday, the situation was eased for us when Public Health Northamptonshire issued a statement to all parkrun EDs in the county saying that they would not be sanctioning the return of parkrun at the end of October.  I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders!  I would absolutely love to see parkrun return, but when it is safe to do so.  I feel that setting a date 5 weeks away with the current rise in cases, and with children returning to school was reckless.  As much as I would have loved to have run a parkrun on my birthday at the end of October and for Oscar to start joining in once he turns four in a few weeks time, I believe that we shouldn’t be looking at a return until at least 2021 now, however sad that may be.

Do you intend to run/volunteer at parkrun next month?  How do you feel about parkrun returning at this point?
Have you tried a run/walk technique during a race before?  How did it go?

Christmas running

The week before Christmas is when I really start to feel Christmassy.  The cross-country series my running club runs in holds it’s final cross-country race of the year the week before Christmas, and my club always organises a Christmas Eve run around our local country park, finishing with hot drinks and sausage rolls at the cafe.

Everybody gets into the Christmas spirit at the Letchworth cross-country race.  Santa hats, tinsel and then Christmas themed sandwiches and cake at the finish (think ham and mustard, turkey and stuffing, brie and cranberry…!)

After a disappointing first two events of the series where I walked on numerous occasions and didn’t run the races I had hoped, I decided to wear my heart rate monitor for this event and to stick to a very reserved 165bpm over the cross-country course in order to remain consistent during my run.  No walking would be a success!

We set off and I managed a strong start as we first ran a lap of the field passing our supporting club members and out at the end onto the farmyard tracks.  I was ahead of runners I knew would probably overtake as we continued.  Several runners from my club went on to overtake me around the 1 mile mark on the course.

As we turned a narrow corner, we passed a chap playing Christmas songs on a brass horn of some sort which picked everybody up ready for hill we knew would soon be coming up.

The course heads out along farmyard tracks.  You run a lollipop shape around a couple of fields and then head back down the lollipop stick again the way the course first headed out.  The front runners always turn back onto the stick of the lollipop just as I’m about to leave it and so I like cheering other club members on here.  It was nice to see a couple of our runners in the top 10 as they turned back for the finish.

There’s only really one hill on the course (it’s on the stick so you run it twice), but I focused on trusting my heart rate monitor, overtaking several runners who had resorted to walking both times we made the climb.

I felt rather lumbery in style, but satisfied that I was getting the job done without giving in and walking the hills or with crazy varied paces over the 5.5 mile distance.

There’s a horrible short, sharp bank to climb with quarter of a mile to go.  Luckily there’s usually a marshal on hand to help haul you up, and I took advantage of the hoist out of the hole this year!

Quick smile and a wave to our two photographers on course…

Letchworth Three Counties Cross Country - Standalone Farm Letchworth Three Counties Cross Country - Standalone FarmI managed a little kick at the finish and still felt comfortable at the end, so my mission to race smart was successful.

Christmas cookie

Position: 332/400
Gender position: 107/161
Age category position: 13/16

First Christmassy run done, onto the next with parkrun the following weekend.

I headed to Kettering parkrun for my final parkrun before Christmas.  Although initially unsure how busy it would be (Kettering were holding a pacing event on the 22nd) it didn’t actually feel too busy when we were running around.  The initial plan had been for me to run with Oscar in the buggy and for Dan to use a pacer to attempt a new PB, but after loudly banging piles of shoes around downstairs for twenty minutes Dan came to the realisation that he had left his running trainers at work the previous day so would not be able to join in with a parkrun that morning.  Following our frantic search for his shoes, it left me with just enough time to jump into the car and make it to the start line in time for the start of the briefing.

So instead Oscar stayed at home with Dan and I jogged around the course with Laura, who I hadn’t run with in a little while so we had a catch up and an easy run round.

Laura and I at the Kettering Christmas parkrunI have this massive fear that one day on the Kettering course I’m going to slip and fall over on the boardwalk and then slide out under the barriers and into the water below!  Hopefully this won’t ever become a reality!

Official time: 31:46
Position: 269/432
Gender position: 75/187
Category position: 5/16

The club Christmas Eve run was different this year.  A couple of friends I normally run with couldn’t make it this year and I had worked a night shift on the Sunday (the night before), so rushed home at the end of my shift to sneak a quick hour of sleep in before heading over for the run.  I then ended up arriving late and missing the start anyway.

I had a lovely run with a friend and her husband who I managed to catch sight of as Dan dropped me off at the park, but I missed the annual pre-run photo and missed seeing a lot of people before they left for Christmas which was a shame.

Dan met us at the end of the run and Oscar was in a foul mood after a poor night of sleep.  It had taken Dan the length of my entire run to get Oscar to walk not quite as far as the cafe entrance and then we had a battle to get him into his car seat for home again afterwards.  It took approximately half an hour to convince him to stay in his car seat long enough to be buckled in for the journey home!  Not a battle we had planned on facing on Christmas Eve morning!

So frustratingly, the parkrun Dan and I had planned to attend on Christmas Day (Sheringham) had been cancelled a few days earlier.  National Trust had decided that due to the heavy rainfall in the area that week, they wanted to give the ground a little time to recover between runs.  The Sheringham event is fairly close to where my Dad lives…ten minutes away.  (Why oh why was parkrun not a thing when I lived at home?!)  The next nearest event that was being held on Christmas Day was in Norwich, nearly an hour’s drive from my Dad’s house and in the complete opposite direction to where my Aunt lives (Kings Lynn) who we had promised to pick up mid-morning and bring back to my Dad’s for lunch.  So a Christmas Day parkrun was sadly off the cards this year.

Did you take part in any Christmassy runs this year?
Does your parkrun ever get cancelled due to the weather?
Any tips for reasoning with a stroppy two year old to convince them to get into their car seat?!  Haha!

Another Gower marathon weekend away

Every year my running club go to Wales for a long weekend in three beautiful cottages along the Gower coast with the intention of running the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series races held in November.

The trip has been taking place for the last seven years.  I made my first appearance with the group back in 2014.  You can read about my previous Gower adventures in these recaps… >> 2014 recap * 2015 recap * (Oscar was only a few weeks old in 2016 so I didn’t go that year) * 2017 recap

The trip spans from the Friday afternoon through until Monday lunchtime, with car loads of runners arriving throughout the Friday and leaving across Sunday and Monday.  As Oscar attends nursery on Fridays and Dan was able to take Monday off from work I was able to spend the whole four days hanging out with friends and as much as I missed Oscar and Dan whilst I was away, it was so lovely to get away and just have a complete break with a bunch of like-minded people.

The trip down was fairly fast this year.  It had started to rain as we reached the border to Wales (standard Welsh weather!) and was absolutely tipping it down by the time we were headed off to the pub for our Friday night meal and so, so windy.  We could barely hear each other talk on the walk down and I instantly regretted bothering to straighten my hair when it became a knotty mess by the time I reached the pub!

Drinking in the pub at GowerNobody stayed up too late on the Friday night.  This year the course for the race had changed.  Essentially, it was the same route for us marathoners, but starting and finishing at a different point in the course (about where mile 20 would usually fall, along the final beach).  I’ve never run the half marathon route before but I’m told that this had totally changed this year.  The half marathoners had to register at the finish the same as us, but were then bussed back to start in a different location.
We’ve been used to our cottages being within walking distance of the finish line in previous years and all the runners stumbling back at different times at the end of their races.  We thought that perhaps this year, with us all having to hang on to the end and then fighting out for hot showers at the same time might prove rather tricky but luckily it didn’t end up too bad.

What I didn’t plan on was waking up at 4:30am on race day with incredibly bad period cramps and a killer headache.  Oh great, thanks for that body!

I jumped into the van with a bunch of others from our club and we set off to the start line, about 10 miles away.

Gower marathon start beachThe sun was only just beginning to surface and there were deep puddles across the car park from the rain the previous day.  The beach itself was tough to move across and my back was killing already!  I’m sure I was a delight to be around!

Gower marathon start beachI was livid to discover there was no Clif bar in my starter pack!  The price of the race had gone up by £10 this year (to £60) and we didn’t even get a Clif bar at the start, just a Tribe bar.  I was gutted.  It was really turning out to not be my day!Tribe bar at EnduranceLife Gower marathonThere was even a Clif banner just outside the registration tent to rub it in a little more!

Clif Bar banner at EnduranceLife Gower marathonAfter taking a quick photo by the starting flags we raced back to the van for half an hour as the rain began to come again, and hard!

Gower marathon start beachLuckily it had slowed somewhat by the time we needed to emerge from our cars and so we sheltered in the tent until we were summoned for the start.

Gower marathon start beachFull wet weather gear required!

Five of us set off as a group at the back.  A few miles in we saw a teenager come off a quad bike out on the track.  He spun to a stop and flipped right off the top.  Seemed OK though.  Got up and sped back off again.  We started chatting to another runner, who I later came across on Instagram when scrolling the #gowermarathon hashtag.


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Gower marathon report part 2 – After getting through the dunes it was a climb up onto the hills and a wonderful walk along the ridge. These wonderful people kept me going up as we played cat and mouse all the way up although eventually 2 of them did over take, never to be seen again. Once i got to the top and was running to the top I realised I was actually really enjoying myself, i did not think this would happen. We finally made it to check point one. The first of 4 to be ticked off. My timing was a bit slow but it was down hill from here to check point 2. The sun was shinning what could possibly go wrong 💪💪💪 . . #marathon #marathontraining #trustthetraining #trusttheprocess #womenwhorun #runningcommunity #runningclub #racereport #thisgirlcan #thisgirlcanrun #thisisstrong #youmatter #selflove #strongisnotasize #believe #rainyraceday #imasurvivor

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Not long after that first checkpoint I carried on along with Guy (who went on to sped off up ahead), leaving the others to run at their pace, knowing that I would get cold if I didn’t continue to move a little faster.

It wasn’t long before I came across another runner who I fell instep with for several miles.  We ran across the long beach together, overshooting the cut through as the marshals had left up the half marathon route directions for further along the beach.

EnduranceLife Gower marathon beach

I always find beach running hard.  Not only is it tough going underfoot, but it’s mentally tough for the scenery to be exactly the same stretching off into the distance.  It did feel much easier going round the course in this direction on the beaches though for some reason, despite the wind being against us for most of the way.

There was another checkpoint just after the beach.  I didn’t need to take anything on board so just checked in and carried on, losing the runner I had spent the last few miles with as he topped up on fluids and snacks here.

The hill after this was the toughest of all.  It used to fall about 6 miles into the original marathon course (in the other direction) and was always the trickiest part to navigate down.  There is a spring which appears in the middle of this hill, making the going underfoot very slippy as a lot of the ground is covered in small rocks which I struggle to get any grip on.  One of our runners has been down on his bum every year he’s entered this race and I’ve been very close each time!

EnduranceLife Gower marathonThis year though, we were to make our way up the hill instead, along the already-worn muddy track.

EnduranceLife Gower marathonIt’s really quite steep in places and it was raining again by now.

EnduranceLife Gower marathonIt’s always worse if you stop – it makes it so hard to get going again afterwards!

After the tough hill came the slippery mud.  Glad I was wearing an old pair of trail shoes!

Mud at Every year my running club go to Gower for a long weekend in three beautiful cottages along the Gower coast with the intention of running the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series races held each November.  One of the runners from our club has been organising the trip to Wales for the last seven years now.  I made my first appearance with the group back in 2014.  You can read about my previous Gower adventures in these recaps... >> 2014 recap * 2015 recap * (Oscar was only a few weeks old in 2016 so I didn't go that year) * 2017 recap  The trip spans from the Friday afternoon through until Monday lunchtime, with car loads of runners arriving throughout the Friday and leaving across Sunday and Monday.  As Oscar attends nursery on Fridays and Dan was able to take Monday off from work I was able to spend the whole four days hanging out with my friends and as much as I missed Oscar and Dan whilst I was away, it was so lovely to get away and just have a complete break with a bunch of like-minded people.  It had started to rain as we reached the border to Wales (standard Welsh weather!) and was absolutely tipping it down by the time we were headed off to the pub for our Friday night meal and so, so windy.  We could barely hear each other talk on the walk down and I instantly regretted bothering to straighten my hair when it became a knotty mess on arrival at the pub!  Drinking in the pub at GowerNobody stayed up too late on the Friday night.  This year the course had changed.  Essentially, it was the same route for us marathoners, but starting and finishing at a different point in the course (about where mile 20 would usually fall, on the final beach).  I've never run the half marathon route before but I'm told this had totally changed this year.  The half marathoners had to register at the finish, but were then bussed back to start in a different location.  We've been used to our cottages being within walking distance of the finish line in previous years and everybody stumbling back at different times at the end of their races.  We thought that perhaps this year, with us all having to hang on to the end and then fighting out for hot showers at the same time might prove rather tricky!  What I didn't plan on was waking up at 4:30am on race day with incredibly bad period cramps and a killer headache.  Oh great, thanks for that body!  I jumped into the van with a bunch of others from our club and we set off to the start line, about 10 miles away.  Gower marathon start beachThe sun was only just beginning to surface and there were deep puddles across the car park from the rain the previous day.  The beach itself was tough moving on and my back was killing already!  Gower marathon start beachI was livid to discover there was no Clif bar in my starter pack!  The price of the race had gone up by £10 this year (to £60) and we didn't even get a Clif bar at the start, just a Tribe bar.  I was gutted.  It was really turning out to not be my day!Tribe bar at EnduranceLife Gower marathonThey even had a Clif banner just outside to rub it in a little more!  Clif Bar banner at EnduranceLife Gower marathonAfter taking a quick photo by the starting flags we raced back to the van for half an hour as the rain began to come again, and hard!  Gower marathon start beachLuckily it had slowed somewhat by the time we emerged for the end of the briefing and to shelter in the tent until we were summoned for the start.  Gower marathon start beachFull wet weather gear required!  We set off as a group from the back - five of us.  A few miles in we saw a teenager come off a quad bike out on the track.  He spun to a stop and flipped right off the top.  Seemed OK though.  Got up and sped back off again.  We started chatting to another runner, who I later came across on Instagram when scrolling the #gowermarathon hashtag.         View this post on Instagram  Gower marathon report part 2 - After getting through the dunes it was a climb up onto the hills and a wonderful walk along the ridge. These wonderful people kept me going up as we played cat and mouse all the way up although eventually 2 of them did over take, never to be seen again. Once i got to the top and was running to the top I realised I was actually really enjoying myself, i did not think this would happen. We finally made it to check point one. The first of 4 to be ticked off. My timing was a bit slow but it was down hill from here to check point 2. The sun was shinning what could possibly go wrong 💪💪💪 . . #marathon #marathontraining #trustthetraining #trusttheprocess #womenwhorun #runningcommunity #runningclub #racereport #thisgirlcan #thisgirlcanrun #thisisstrong #youmatter #selflove #strongisnotasize #believe #rainyraceday #imasurvivor  A post shared by Eleanor 🇬🇧 (@iron_woman98) on Nov 11, 2018 at 5:03am PST  Not long after that first checkpoint I carried on along with Guy, leaving the others to run at their pace, knowing that I would get cold if I didn't continue to move.  It wasn't long before I came across another runner who I fell instep with for several miles.  We ran across the long beach together, overshooting the cut through as the marshals had left up the half marathon route directions further along the beach.  EnduranceLife Gower marathon beach  I always find beach running hard.  Not only is it tough going underfoot, but it's mentally tough for the scenery to be exactly the same stretching off into the distance.  It did feel much easier going round the course in this direction on the beaches though for some reason, despite the wind being against us for most of the way.  There was another checkpoint just after the beach.  I didn't need to take anything on board so just checked in and carried on, losing the runner I had spent the last few miles with as he topped up on fluids and snacks here.  The next hill was the toughest of all.  It used to fall about 6 miles into the original marathon course (in the other direction) and was always the trickiest part to navigate down.  There is a spring which appears in the middle of this hill, making the going underfoot very slippy as a lot of the ground is covered in small rocks with little to get any grip on.  One of our runners has been down on his bum every year he's entered this race and I've been very close each time!  EnduranceLife Gower marathonThis year though, we were to make our way up the hill instead, along the already-worn muddy track.  EnduranceLife Gower marathonIt's really quite steep in places and it was raining again by now.  EnduranceLife Gower marathon

I did fall on one steep downhill that was covered in mud like this.  I didn’t fall hard – more just slipped onto my knee on one side.  It didn’t bother me at the time.  I was just glad that nobody had seen me!

The steps on the course were much tougher going in this direction and they were at 26.5 miles rather than at mile 20!

The steps at EnduranceLife Gower marathonBecause so many runners had already been over them they were slippy and muddy.  The leaves on top made them even worse.

One mile to go sign at the EnduranceLife Gower MarathonAlways the best sign in a race!

One mile to go sign at the EnduranceLife Gower Marathon

Heading back down the steps on the other side was just a mudslide!  Somehow I made it without injury.  A couple of our club members went down on the steep steps though.IMG_20181110_161109The finish was a little confusing.  I ran along the seafront past all my club mates who had already finished and were stood waiting to organise lifts back, then turned up and had to run up the bank of sand through the finish, over really choppy footprints that had been left by all the other runners.  It was really hard to stay upright!

Upon finishing another guy from our club pointed out that my knee looked really swollen and collared the paramedic on duty to take a look.  I hopped up onto the massage table and luckily he said that it would just result in some bruising by the look of it, I hadn’t done any serious damage.  He sent me off with an ice pack, still annoyed that not only had there been no Clif bar at the start, but there was also no Builder’s bar at the end!  Those two bars are by far my favourites and I really was gutted that neither of them were at the race!

The finish at EnduranceLife Gower marathon

Total distance: 27.8 miles
Official time: 7h 18m 57s
Position: 104/119
Gender position: 19/26

Our last runners came through just in time, – the heavens opened as we leapt into the waiting cars to head back to the cottages.

Once showered and changed, we headed back to the pub for dinner, and then returned to the cottages to celebrate with an alcoholic beverage or two!

EnduranceLife Gower marathon medalThe next morning we made our usual walk down to the beach as a group.  There was a rainbow so close we thought we’d be able to stand at the bottom underneath it.  It looked like it touched down on the beach right in front of us!

Rainbow at Gower beachSarah ran to try and stand in the colours, but it had disappeared by the time she got there.  :(

After a quick milkshake in the cafe, those people working the next day had to head off and so the remaining few of us decided to walk across the land to Worm’s Head – an island for all but a few hours of each day.

Worm's Head adventureI walked across with a friend in 2015 but the others I was with this year had never been.

Worm's Head adventureLast time I went I somehow managed to make it all the way across in Converse, but I made sure to take an old pair of trainers this time!

There were loads of seals out sunbathing along one part of the rocks.

Seals at Worm's HeadWe ended up only going part way across, with some of the guys not wanting to tackle the tricky terrain further up.  But it was still a really lovely morning.  Then, back to the pub once more for lunch!

It was much quieter on the third night, with most runners having left during the day.  I stayed up late to finish watching The Haunting of Hill House.  Sooooo good.  I really want to watch it again and try and pick up on all the little titbits throughout the story now that I know how it ends.

I’m always sad to leave Gower.  For a few days it’s nice to get away from reality and feel like I can take a proper break from everything.  The signal isn’t great over there, so it is like living in a little mini bubble for the weekend.

Have you watched The Haunting of Hill House?
Have you seen seals at the beach before?
Does your club organise an annual race away?