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Morning sunrise

The darkness now only lasts a few miles as I head out at 5.40am for my morning run. It makes all the dark winter mornings worth getting up for when you see the views I did this morning. There was a gentle mist, as the red sun appeared in between the clouds, which slowly disappeared.

I ran with my best friend Geri, who I have known for many years and who is a much better runner than me, but we both enjoy the mornings, the conversation and the joy that every run brings, no matter how we feel when we first wake. We contemplated which route to take towards the end of the run, unsure whether the off road path would be passable but we opted to take the chance and luckily the mud had largely dried out.

The woodpeckers made themselves known this morning, such a beautiful sound and the blossom in the trees are really starting to bloom.

Taking our chances paid dividends this morning as we arrived at this beautiful lake and in the stillness of the morning light, it really was stunning.

A total of 9 miles this morning and a positive start to the day really sets me up for whatever comes my way. I couldn’t be without my morning runs anymore, they are like a life force that provides everything I could ever need. I’m lucky to have found something that brings me so much joy every single day.

Race to the Stones

I did it. I finished the race to the stones. On what was one of the hottest days we have had this year, I somehow ran and walked the 100 km To the finish line in 13 hours 23 minutes.

It was of course my first ever a Ultra and whilst I have put in so much training this year, I never really knew how it would go on the day. The heat is certainly something I was worried about leading up to the race because I had not had much chance to practice running in the heat.

It was an amazing day! I started strong at 6:30 am and skip to the first-aid station at 6 miles. I stopped at mile 13 to top up my water and to grab a snack and headed on my way. Through the iconic ‘field of dreams’ a beautiful crop field and through the wooded areas which were incredibly technical. I actually nearly fell over tripping over a tree root but thankfully managed to stop myself hitting the ground. I saw lots of people that weren’t quite so lucky.

I chatted to so many people during the run; some like me attempting their first ultra, some that had done many before, but we were all there for the same reason and there was a huge sense of collectiveness amongst us. A mutual understanding of what we were all going through.

I decided to stop at the halfway point and remove my shoe and sock and put a blister plaster around my toe. In the end this turned out to be the right thing to do. I have discovered the delight of peanut butter and jam sandwiches! Wow! How would I not found these before? They really did the trick giving me energy and that feeling that I was getting something a little bit special!

Just after halfway a couple of friends joined to run with me which gave me a massive boost. It was nice to chat about different things, talk about plans for the rest of the race, dealing with the heat which was now incredibly impressive. I was dunking my hat and bath in buckets of water at every opportunity in an attempt to keep cool. The Ridgeway is very exposed. There is no shade and whilst you might get a little breeze here and there, it did nothing to cool you down. I applied and reapplied suncream, protecting myself as much as I could.

Pitstop six and I refuelled again. 18 miles to go. Another blister had formed on my other toe so I repaired that too. Aside from that I felt pretty good. Yes my legs ached, yes I was boiling hot, but I was managed to keep hydrated and knew then that I would absolutely make it to the end. So many people came to support me on the day and every time I saw a familiar face it was amazing! An absolute joy!

At the last pit stop I couldn’t face any more food. There were 7 more miles and I felt I had enough in me to keep going. My legs hurt now and the last bit I knew was very technical underfoot. I ran/walked and then walked the last few miles, knowing my run pace would not actually be that much quicker than my walk.

Running towards the finish line I felt immensely proud of myself. I finished 100km and I loved every minute of it.

I learned so much from this event and the training over the last 6 months. Some more obvious that’s others. I learned about nutrition, hydration, kit and the course. But importantly for me I learned how mentally strong I am and just what I am capable of. I was expecting there to be times in the race when I wouldn’t want to carry on, when my mind would tell me to stop. I had a whole list of things I would tell myself if this were to happen. But that time never came. I wanted to finish, knew I would finish and the doubt never crept in. Maybe that’s because it was my first one or maybe I was just lucky, but what I know is that if I can run 100km, there really is so much more that I can do.

We are remarkably resilient creatures, we can do so much more than we realise. Now it’s time to see exactly what my limits might be….

7 Reasons I love to run

With 7 days to go until my first ultra marathon I challenged myself to think of 7 reasons why I love to run… so here is what I have come up with…

1. It makes me feel alert every morning. I run first thing every day and even on the days I wake feeling jaded, tired and lethargic, once I get back from my run I always feel more awake and alert.

2. It’s good for my physical health. Exercise is of course good for us. Not just our external appearance but the bits you can’t see too. Our heart is a muscle and needs to be worked, just like the other muscles in our body.

3. Running every day enables me to face anything that comes my way. It takes some determination and stubbornness to get up every single day and run. No matter what the weather or how I’m feeling. Doing it literally makes me feel like I can face anything. Whatever challenges come my way I will be able to deal with them.

4. I have met new and old friends. There is a real sense of community within the running world. A runner knows what it’s like to get the running bug and how amazing it makes you feel. Over the years I have made new friends, run with old friends and I love spending time with them during my runs. It’s a little bit of social interaction with lots of different people.

5. Being in nature. I see so much wildlife during my runs and it’s a reminder that we are in fact part of nature, even though we no longer live that way. The sounds of the birds early in the mornings, foxes and their cubs, rabbits and hares and this week I even saw a deer with 2 fawns; in the middle of a housing estate. In the last 6 months I have ran so much more off road and now find myself seeking it out. Then there are the sunrises, the changes over the different seasons which are so wonderful. Being in nature has been proven to be good for our mental being and I get a little bit every single day. It makes me feel alive.

6. Mentally challenging. I love the mental challenge running brings, when it starts to get tough and I have to push through and fight against the voice in my head telling me to stop. Life is a challenge. Our minds are always planting a seed of doubt. Finding a way to carry on even when the mind is telling you to stop only means that when life gets challenging, you can overcome the self doubt and low confidence that gnaws away at you.

7. I get to wear bright headbands and socks. I probably wouldn’t get away with the colours I wear in my every day life but when I run, I love to be as bright and bold as I can. Why not?

One for luck… I hope that it inspires people to realise they can do it too. I’ve never considered myself a runner and in an odd way still don’t. If I can do it, you can too… x

A week for Personal Bests!

The training I have been doing over the last 6 months in preparation for my first ultra marathon of 100k has been a real journey. The 100km race I will be doing in 2 weeks time has over 4000 ft of elevation and is all trail and I have been running on the course as much as possible over the months to prepare myself.

What I hadn’t expected at all was that my pace would improve. I have always been a bit of a plodder, running and running at a comfortable pace, which has always suited me. On the trails in training the runs have been slow and steady, covering a couple of 50km distances and just less than 50km.

Last weekend would be my last long run on the course and would be time for tapering before the race and that is exactly what I had planned for this week.

I reduced a little, did some swimming and stretching, and on Thursday somehow managed to run a 10km PB over 7 miles and it wasn’t intentional. The following day I thought I would intentionally run a little quick during an 8 mile run and I got a 10km PB a second day in a row.

A short and gentle 5km the following day and something in my mind started niggling at me. Today I had planned a half marathon distance run and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could PB on that distance too.

I have been running half marathon distance most weeks for a long time. In 2021 I ran 45 of them and this year I am already on 32 but only one has been in an official race which was in March this year where I achieved a PB of 1:53:51. Since then I have been focused entirely on my Ultra training and continuing my run streak and not at all focusing on my pace.

So this morning, after a very long day of travelling yesterday and after quite a disturbed sleep, I woke up thinking I would just see how I got on.

It was dry, but very windy this morning. I met my trusted friend Keith, who has a half marathon PB much quicker than me, and we set off chatting along the way.

It was clear after we reached half way that as long as nothing went wrong I was going to get a PB, the pace was good and consistent. So on we went, battling against the wind in places.

And then it was done. 1:47:55. A huge PB for me! And it felt great! Earlier this year it was a push to get a sub 2 hour half marathon and having not worked on my speed at all for the whole year in the traditional way, this progress was definitely not expected. I’ve done no hill sprints. I’ve done no fartlek training. And I haven’t taken a day off in 8 months.

Whilst the research and the guidance is undoubtedly helpful to many in training for improvements, this to me is reassurance that I’m doing something right. I’m listening to my body when I need to a slowing down, pulling back, but mostly I’m just doing what I love, every single day and long may it continue.

But now I will following the recommendations. I will pull back for a couple of weeks, run gently and reduce the miles and prepare as best I can for the race I have been working towards all year.

Now, I am ready.

Trail marathon training run

It’s 3 weeks until my 100k ultra. 21 days… I’ve been working towards this for 5 months now and it’s been an incredible journey.

I remember fondly my first run up on the Ridgeway, where my race will take place, and back then it was so alien to me. I had barely run on trails let alone encountered the elevation on the course.

I’ve learned so much with the help of so many amazing people. I’ve run half the course now, some of the tricky sections several times. I’ve managed 2 50k runs on the course plus a couple slightly under.

Today was marathon distance and it was a relief it wasn’t as hot as yesterday which was one of the hottest days this year. It is brutal terrain in places; you have to concentrate on every step you take. It’s so easy to misplace a foot or trip on a stone. It’s as mentally exhausting as it is physically tiring.

I’ve practiced nutrition and hydration and think I am comfortable with what I will do on the day. I’ve discovered Tailwind, which is brilliant, eat sweet potato and gels, and drink plenty of fluids- a big adjustment for me as I never even used to carry water.

I carried my full kit today, an extensive list of items that must be carried on the day:

1. First aid kit

2. Sun cream

3. Headtorch plus spare batteries for head torch

4. Reusable cup

5. Blister plasters

6. Vaseline/grease

7. Waterproof jacket

8. Water

9. Food

10. Phone and payment method

It has been an adjustment getting used to carrying the extra weight, trying out vests and belts and where to put things inside them. But now I think I am as prepared as I can be for the day.

After 21 miles the rain started which was harsh and cold, even in June. One thing I have no control over on the day is what the weather will do. It could be hot and sunny, windy or rainy or overcast and mild. I know which one I will prefer but will deal with whatever comes my way.

Now it will be about bringing the miles down, looking after myself and getting ready for the big day… BRING IT ON!!!!

Running in the wild

This morning’s run was lead by Brian who had the idea to run some local fields, which are absolutely beautiful. Geri and I were more than up for it and we set off together in the morning sun which was already shining at 5.45am. What a wonderful way to start the week.

When we reaches the field we realised the grass was a lot wetter from the morning dew, and more overgrown than we had anticipated. In fact I hadn’t even given it a thought. And the further we went the longer the grass and the wetter our feet got. The grass was literally up to our hips! But it was beautiful. So different from running on hard concrete. Along the river and over a rickety bridge, careful not to fall in and a young deer appeared. She stared at us, as transfixed as us, before galloping across the field away from us.

Covered in grass seed on our legs, which stuck to us due to the dampness, and very soggy socks and trainers, we left the field behind and headed home.

We could have been miles and miles away from the town; it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

Whilst my legs were fatigued from yesterday’s effort, any discomfort disappears when you are in such beautiful surroundings. And the lift you get from being immersed in the natural world is indescribable.

A perfect start to the day and the week. I’m looking forward to the beautiful weather the week is promising….

Grass seed covered legs

When you get knocked down…

You have to get back up again…

I started feeling unwell around 10 days ago. I try to ignore the signs, reluctant to give in, but unfortunately by last Sunday I was pretty unwell. Frustratingly I was taking part in a race which I had to pull out of, but it was the right thing to do; I felt terrible.

Being on a run streak meant I was determined I would still get out every day and I managed to, pulling back the miles to 3 a few of the days and slowly slowly I started to feel better.

Today was supposed to have been another 50k run, but I most definitely wasn’t up to it. It’s been a real knock down for me as up until now my training for the Ultra has been going brilliantly and I’ve stuck to my plan all of the way. But I suppose there comes a time when you have to listen to your body and pull back and that is exactly what I did.

So instead, today was a half marathon. I still ran part of the Ultra route and it was tough. My average pace was slower than my average over 31 miles and I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated by that. BUT… this is all a mind game and it will be on the day itself. I am not back to full health and I need to take the positives:

1. I managed to keep my run streak going.

2. I just ran a half marathon when I’m not back to full health.

3. I have 4 weeks left to get back to full strength and fitness.

4. Overcoming this will only give me more strength on the day when things get tough.

5. The Ridgeway is an absolutely stunning place to run and this morning was just beautiful.

This weekend we got our start waves and I am delighted I will starting at 6.30am. A time I’m used to being out for my morning run! It also means with any luck I will be done before it’s dark. The stretch I ran this morning is the final 10k and the terrain is very technical. It will take quite a lot of concentration in the daylight let alone in the dark.

Now onwards and upwards and time to prepare for the race… 4 weeks to go!!

Half Way There

The reality of running 31 miles of trail is that the prep starts days before. Physically, mentally and logistically.

Physically I eased off the mileage for a few days, which I actually find quite challenging. I love to run and I find the short 3 mile runs harder than the really long ones. It seems barely worth going out but as I am on a run streak, which involves running every day, they have to be done.

Mentally I think about the run, how I will break it down into chunks, what could go wrong on the day, the bit of worry about how it’s going to feel.

Logistically there is fuelling and hydration; not just for the run but leading up to the run as well. There is the consideration of what to wear, giving consideration to the weather conditions and what I will carry. Then of course there is working out a route.

Thankfully the route was taken out of my hands today as a friend Brian took control of that. I’m new to trail running and am definitely not as familiar with the Ridgeway as Brian.

The first 13 miles were an out and back to Avebury stones, which is the last section of the race. It’s tough terrain as it is massively rutted, and when you get to Avebury there is a loop of the field and a little bit more before you actually get to the end. Its great to know what to expect on the day.

At Avebury

A quick pit stop before heading towards Liddington, which was appreciated. A chance to take on fuel, have a toilet break and dump my jacket at gloves. We also had an extra runner, Steve, join us for the next section which was brilliant and really lifted us.

It started to rain at about 20 miles. The clouds had been getting thicker and darker and we could see the rainfall chasing us. We knew it was inevitable. At Liddington we were really exposed and the rain was lashing against us in the wind. The rain continued then until around 27 miles so my feet were soaked through, my clothes cold and wet. Having run every day of the winter, I’m used to the rain, but I also know how cold you can get afterwards. I started to look forward to changing into dry clothes in just a few miles time.

The rain was chasing us

The scenery on the Ridgeway is beautiful, but it is quite difficult to take in the views when you are running, because it takes so much concentration to ensure you don’t slip, or roll an ankle. We were lucky enough to see a deer, only 200 feet in front of us, wild rabbits, sheep and horses, and during the last couple of miles we ran through a field with some unexpected friends that took a liking to Brian.

A new friendship emerges….

There was a final climb up to Barbury when we decided to do an extra mile. We had planned on 30 you see, but 31 meant it we would do half of the full distance of the Race to the Stones. So we made up the extra mile with another loop around Barbury Castle.

It took us 5 hours, 23 minutes to do the 31 miles, giving us an average pace of 10:25 minute miles. I am delighted with this time and wonder if I can keep this going for the second half of the race on the day. I guess we will see.

The fuelling and hydration went well, my kit was fine and post run my body is feeling pretty good too. With 8 weeks to go until the event, I’m growing more and more confident that I will finish the race and hopefully achieve a fairly decent time.

Overall a wonderful training run, continuing to learn each and every time. Thank you to Keith, Brian and Steve for your company and knowledge. It is priceless.

Double Run Day

I run in the mornings. Always. Every day. The last time in ran in the afternoon was in the winter of 2020 when it had snowed and the pavements were sheets of ice. I’d happily run in the fresh snow which was lovely, but the day after I waited until the afternoon hoping the sun would have thawed the ice enough for it to be runnable.

I remember the burning in my calves, the genuine struggle just to run 3 miles. It was so bad I decided that I would never run in the afternoon again if I could help it.

When I run the Race to the Stones, the 62 miles will take me at least 12 hours, probably a few more hours, which means I will be running from morning through to the night so it’s been on my mind that I need to practice running in the afternoon, to see how my legs deal with it. So, at the weekend I decided I would run a double session. 14 miles in the morning and 6 miles in the afternoon.

The 14 miles felt pretty tough. It was a warm day, it had been a long week and for some reason I was quite thirsty, but I have felt worse on other runs. My average pace was 9:07 minute miles which was a steady pace for me. I spent the day trying to refuel, stretch, hydrate and then the time came.

I was in fear. Genuine fear of how on Earth I was going to get it done. I even stood on the spot for a while before I started asking myself why I was doing it. Why was I going to put myself under such torture?

But the Ultramarathon coming up is why and I had that in my mind. Get it done. There are people putting themselves through much more gruelling things that having to run 6 miles on a sunny afternoon. So off I went.

My first mile I ran in 9:09 but it was all uphill. Not bad, I thought. Calves were fine, body felt good. Mile 2 I ran in exactly 8 minutes. Mile 3 and 4 in 8:20 and the last two in 8:28 and 8:43, bringing my average pace to 8:30. This was close to my 10k PB!! And it was an afternoon run!!

I couldn’t believe the run felt so good, that I ran so well, especially after already doing 14 miles that morning. What just happened!?

Whatever it was, it gave me a big boost of confidence. Apparently I CAN run in the afternoon. Maybe I will be able to run on tired legs on the day and not be at a snails pace.. maybe just maybe I can do this…

Pre-Work Half Marathon

I have been running a half marathon every week for quite a while now and most of the time they end up being at the weekend. Sometimes though, because of weekend commitments I need to get it done during the week. I work full time so the only way I can achieve this is to get up super early and get it done before work.

I was invited on a run pre-work from Barbury to Avebury, which happens to be the last section of the Race to the Stones, so I jumped at the opportunity. The more practice I get on the terrain the more prepared I will be on the day.

It meant a 4.45am start, getting up to the Ridgeway and starting the run at 5.40, just as the sun was creeping above the hills, and how beautiful it was.

It was a 6.5 mile out and back along very rutted ground, requiring unwavering concentration. The slightest lapse, I knew, could mean an ankle roll or a trip. It occurred to me during the run that depending on how long the ultra takes, this section could very well be in the dark. It was tricky in the daylight so I can’t imagine running it in the dark!

The return leg was much more uphill, a couple of bigger climbs but also mostly a steady incline for the whole section.

It was probably the toughest pre work half marathon I have done, and I have done a few but the feeling elation and satisfaction afterwards was immense.

People often ask how on Earth I can do that before a full day of work. My answer? I just do it. And so can you. If you want something, if you want it enough, you just have to do it. No excuses. The regret and disappointment of not doing something for me is far bigger than the little bit of pain and discomfort I feel in getting the job done.

This was half marathon 22 of the year so far and there will be many more.

My First Ultra Running distance

On 1st May I completed my first run that was an Ultra Marathon. An Ultra is any distance over a marathon and whilst it was only 29 miles, it still counts! It was all part of my training plan to prepare for an official Ultra of 100km/62m in less than 10 weeks time.

So much to prepare on the morning of such a long run; pre-run food, fuel for during the run, hydration for the run, lubrication to help prevent chaffing, wearing the right kit for the weather, the right shoes for the terrain, ensuring my watch is charged, packing my running vest with said drinks, snacks, lube and phone. And it all had to be done before I left at 6.30am.

The run was on the Ridgeway, as I’m trying to get as familiar as I can with as much of the course as I can before the big day and it started well with an out and back from Ashbury to Foxhill. Joined by my friend Geri and her pup, who kept threatening to trip us up! I was carrying a litre of fluid in my vest; one bottle with water and one mixed with Tailwind and I could really feel the extra weight as soon as I started. Something else to get accustomed to. This portion of the run was just over 6 miles so when we started on a second out and back from Ashbury towards Uffington, it was psychologically daunting to think we had another 23 miles to go!

The run was to replicate my plan on the day – run the flats and downhills and walk the inclines and we consistently followed this plan for the entire 29 miles. It was also to be a chance to practice drinking and eating some new snacks.

I took my first gel on at around 8 miles, a couple of squares of a vegan flapjack around 14 miles and then another gel around 20 miles, all the while sipping water and Tailwind, using the uphill walks to eat and drink. The fluid and the gels felt comfortable, exactly what I’m used to, but the flapjacks not so easy to eat. Drier of course and had to be washed down with water. I’m not sure I’ll have them again and will try alternatives over the weeks to see what works best.

At 16 miles, I told myself that I just had a half marathon left to do. It helps me to break up the runs into segments and psychologically I “start again”. At 17.5 miles in total we reached the furthest point before turning around. What we hadn’t realised was that we had been running with the wind the whole way and when we turned back we were against it for the next 11.5 miles. And it started to rain. BUT having run the whole winter in all weathers it had to be just another run.

There were some steep climbs on the return which, sticking to plan, we walked. Breaking it up further in my mind; just 6 miles to go, just 3 miles to go. Knowing that after the last climb the remainder of the route would be flat was a brilliant feeling. The climbs are challenging for me. My legs feel the effort in different places, as well as the rest of my body.

At the finish, I was absolutely elated. We did it! 29 miles! The furthest distance I have ever completed and at an average pace of 10:39 minute miles. It was probably the toughest run I have ever done and the joy and pride I had was enormous. The confidence this will also give me for the day is priceless.

I plan to complete another four or five similar runs which will be up to 37 miles on the longest run. All brilliant practice and more confidence building.

What I learned this week:

  • I’m not keen on eating flapjacks – I need to find something else.
  • Carrying water bottles is tough – I’m going to try a bladder on my back and see which I prefer
  • I CAN eat and drink on the run and it will serve me well
  • My watch will not last the race – I am looking at alternatives!
  • I WILL be able to do this race….