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The Druids Challenge

This year my husband competed the Dragons Back Challenge. A 5 day race over 315 kilometres and most importantly 15500 metres of ascent over some of the most challenging terrain Wales can offer! I stuck a training on the plan on the fridge each week and watched him stick to it religiously. As the race approached various parcels starting being delivered of ‘essential’ kit, he quietly went about gathering everything he needed and off he went to Wales, nervous, but ready. Roll on a week later and I picked up a completely broken, shell of a man, who couldnt string a sentence together, was 10kg lighter and couldnt sleep for a week  as he kept waking up thinking he needed to keep running! Most normal people would be really concerned with the terrible state of their husband, but not me! I was jealous! I wanted some of that action! He had pushed himself to the absolute limit, beaten a lot more accomplished runners, handled the stresses and strains with such mental fortitude and was such a credit to the Sutton Clan! I know the race has changed him forever.

So I decided I wanted a piece of the multi day experience and have entered Cape Wrath in May 2018. http://www.capewrathultra.com/ 

A mere ‘8-day ultra-running expedition race weaving 400km through the Highlands of Scotland.’ Or just a long running holiday without the kids!

So I entered the 3 day Druids Challenge, an 84 mile, 3 day stage race over the ridgeway to see how I handled this multi day experience, what worked, what didnt, what I needed to do and most importantly to experience that getting up day after day after poor sleep, feeling tired and getting moving again.

After Lakeland 50 the foot which I smashed over the course took a long time to settle down and required me taking 3 weeks completely off and then a very slow build back up to ‘proper’ training so my preparation wasnt ideal, but by the time the race came round I was fit again. I had done about 4 weeks of really good hard hilly runs, enjoying the Indian summer we had in the Alps. And Im learning from experience now that if you can run well around here for a couple of hours you are in great shape!

I left the family and flew over to England and on Thursday, the day before the race. Now, again from experience, I always feel terrible running the day after travelling, whether its coming down from altitude, the flight or tiredness, Im not sure, but I didnt want to leave the kids any longer, so decided if I felt rough on Friday I would just have to suck it up! James Elson, had offered to come and run with me and we set off from the start near Tring. I was nervous about going too fast and the first couple of girls hared off. This was a point I knew would be my downfall over multi days. I am so competitive. I find it very hard not to run in the lead or very near the lead. But I held my nerve and eventually after 15 miles we drifted pass the girls into the lead. We were running super easy and  I felt good, should I push harder? I had made my tailwind up in my bottles in the morning and as I was sipping it I felt my stomach turn over. OH no. I know that feeling. Run on, keep talking, get James to keep talking.. but it was no use. Everything that went in didnt want to stay in. I couldnt drink or eat and the running became a bit of a shuffle. MY fault. I had made up my tailwind too strong in the morning, what was I thinking? What an idiot! So I retched, shuffled, bent over and grumbled my way to the finish. James was a real buddy and very patient, I was just really disappointed not to be able to run well with him. At the finish I had managed to hold onto my lead, but what was about 10 mins leading into the final check point was now only a couple of minutes. I wasnt concerned though about that, it was more I had just run 30 miles on fumes and had to do the same tomorrow. I felt like absolute death and had to force down a twix, cups of milk, coke, cake anything and everything. Knowing that unless I really hit the recovery hard tomorrow was go to be a disaster. Within an hour or so the stomach had settled and I felt fine again. Lesson learnt and I had to just forget about what had happened and get on with the next day.

Running the trails with my hero – Thanks Drew and Claire for the cheers and the photo!

Day 2 dawned and after a sleepless night on a sports hall we set off again being warned of the rain and wind which would follow us throughout the day. I set off with the mantra that the first 5 miles were a warm up and to just let the body settle into running.

Again the girls set off faster than me, but I didnt allow myself to put in any effort till after the first 5 miles. I also started eating right from the off, knowing I was going to need to pile in the calories today. I was so happy to feel good and the food and drink to be going down I cruised into the lead and ran strong all day. I felt super strong and enjoyed running with the guys at the back end of the mens elite field and being the only one running up the hills at the end of the day. I held back slightly knowing I had another day of running to go, but was really pleasantly surprised to feel so good after feeling so truely terrible the day before! Im not saying it was easy, I still had to concentrate to stay positive, but I was back in my happy place, on the trails, in the fresh air and working to the best of my ability. At the finish we were bussed down to the school we were staying in. Unfortunately we had a bit of a wait to fill the bus and I got absooutely freezing, by the time we reached the school I was shaking uncontrollably and was so happy to bump into my England ACP team mate Nathan who carried my bag to the showers and got me a cup of tea. After a chilly shower (character building) I put on all my kit I owned, ate a tonne of soup and bread and went to sleep for an hour. I knew the importance of getting changed quickly, getting set up for the next day, eating and then resting as much as I could for the next day.

Day 3 dawned clear, but very windy. The guys sleeping near me laughed as I hauled myself off my sleeping mat and shuffled around like an OAP. My body felt tired, but most importantly my feet were in great shape, no blisters, no sore points and I knew that I could ease the quads into a bit more work! We were bussed back up to the start. The first 10 miles were over the muddiest section of the Ridgeway with the wind blowing constantly in our faces. Again I set off super conservatively. I found this mentally so hard, but kept reminding myself this was another long day. The quads felt pretty battered. I went on time today rather than miles and gave myself an hour to think of nothing but just to ease into the run. Mel and Rebecca the girls in 2nd and 3rd started stronger, but I concentrated on just doing my own thing. At checkpoint one I still felt pretty stiff, but just kept trying to dial in a comfy and relaxed pace. Focusing on the fact I had a lead and just needed to keep mind and body together for the day to win. I broke the next section down into 30 mins sections, eating and drinking and working to each checkpoint. There were some more flat sections than previous days and had I recced the course I would probably have run a bit quicker on these sections, but I was nervous that I was heading into unknown territory and the last thing I wanted was to blow my quads and have to shuffle the last 5 miles. I hit the last checkpoint with Rebecca, who had run a great third day and followed my heels all day. It was quite emotional! She had become a good friend and we only had 6 miles left. We may have walked a tiny bit up the last few climbs as we both started to feel a bit low on energy, this was the only time I really struggled and think I paid a bit for the first day disaster as I was running low on reserves. We headed up the last 3 mile climb before we dropped the final 2 miles to the finish. The wind was so strong we were literally blown off our feet. I could see a long string of runners , bent low over the wind, all in their own private world of pain. There was no way I was walking this last stage. I opened up my metaphorical matchbox  and lit everything I had left. I worked as hard as hard as my poor, tired, battered legs and heart would let me. I thought of my kids, all the sacrifices I make and the family make for me to do this sport. I thought of all the sessions I had done, how hard I had worked all year and I flew. It was the only time I really pushed for the three days and it felt so good. I felt strong, I was so happy that after three kids I could still compete in this sport and that I could still run so well after 84 miles and most importantly of all I still loved that blissful feeling of pushing your body to limits that many people never experience.

So- what have I learnt? What will I be taking into next year and Cape Wrath training?

Well, firstly I loved the multi day format. I wasnt entirely sure it was for me, wouldnt I prefer to just run 84 miles in one go? But I actually enjoyed the running, the stopping, the mental strength of getting up again and getting moving again. As parents know, it was such a treat to stop a run, have time to sit around, to rest, to talk to fellow runners, make new friends and to selfishly think of noone but myself. I was proud of how mentally I handled the three days-both the running, being away form my beloved family and the recovery. And most importantly I just loved the commaderie between us runners. Both Mel and Rebecca who finished 2nd and 3rd I actually got to know we encouraged and supported each other and are now friends.

I know what I need to do now heading into 2018, but firstly I’m taking a little break, dusting off the skis and going back to my roots of pilates and strength to start bulding Cape Wrath Eddie ready for May.

Thank you to Extreme Energy for hosting such a great event. Thank you to La Sportiva at Lyon Outdoor for supplying me with the best shoes both for the mountains and the mud and gnarliness of the Ridgeway ( I wore the La sportiva Ultra Raptor, which were perfect and will definitely be my shoe of choice for both the winter and Cape Wrath). To Centurion Running for all the cheers and love. To Coach Jayson for being patient, rewriting my plan a million times and pushing me so hard on those Monday and Tuesdays! To my little family who just mean the world to me. And finally to all you guys who read this, who send me messages, and the clients who I coach. You are all an inspiration to me. Life with kids, living abroad, often on my own, is hard, but its all worth it. To the friend who sent me a message saying- ‘Take the time to breathe in the freedom and just enjoy the trails’ I tried to do just that. At the finish I took a moment to appreciate my health, my family and the absolute joy of getting to do what I love day after day. I will never take it for granted. Thank you life for every muddy and windy step of this journey.

 

 

 

 

Finding The Rainbow

‘It happens to everyone.’ ‘Its how you handle it that makes the difference.’ Yeah yeah, I know all this I spout this all the time (well not all the time, but we have to face the fact that injury is the major downside to being an athlete, especially a long distance runner.) But I want to run, I NEED to run, I can hear myself whining, I can see my sulky face, my grumpiness and I cant stop myself.

So after my last race in July I had a bit of a sore foot, after I  fell during the race I did something funny to my foot, but carried on running. After the race and feeling brutally disappointed in my performance I wanted to get back to training straight away and enter every race I could find (classic behaviour). I did build back slowly into running, but the foot niggle was there, it was getting bad, but I carried on running. But it got to the point where I couldnt walk on it in the morning and after my last long mountain run it was so sore I couldnt walk barefoot. That is very sensible behaviour Eddie. But, you see, if you read this, you are proabably one too or understand these behaviours. I am a total addict. I live to run. I live to be outside. Just me. I need this in my life or I actually cant cope. Life is too tough, too consuming, too loud for me to be in it all day. I need time.

So I was warned in no polite words to stop running or I risked this becoming a long term injury. I was gutted. I was actually feeling really good in training and excited to be having a crack at 100 miles in October. But that wasnt to be.  Thats ok I told myself, few days off and Ill be back. For the first few days I actually loved not running, I was able to savour mornings in my pjs, drinking tea. But, of courses, after a few days I got grumpy, real grumpy.

The problem with being a running addict is when its taken away from you there is a huge hole in your life. My whole life revolves around running, my work, my friends, my family, even the dog is so used to running hours and hours every day she has gone spare pacing around the house after me with that – why aren’t we going outside face?!

Ive been here before. I know what to do, I need to hit the strength, to sit on the bike, to go swimming, but this time I feel truely bereft at the loss of my running time. I have had some serious chats to myself, I feel myself slipping into a depression which is so unlike me. I can nearly always find the sunshine in everyday. But this time its been tough. I took my running for granted, I was too greedy and now Im paying for it.

With Coach Jayson I have written and rewritten strength work and swam like I have not done in 6 years. I have not felt that motivated to train, so I have just ridden with that. Trying to listen to my body rather than fight it back into fitness. So many people I see cross train like mad things when injured and I do think you need to give your body some down time to let the inflammation die down and energy to heal without trying to desperately hold onto fitness.

 

I’ve tried to flow through the last few weeks. In weepy moments I’ve tried to maintain perspective, but also to let myself feel low. I think its important to allow yourself to feel a bit blue and not fight an injury, but allow a bit of wallowing, then when its time take a deep breath and dive back into life. Putting on a brave face outside the house is important to me and the kids. Their life goes on, as does my clients, so though inside a little bit of me is really sad, I must carry on. This is all good training I tell myself, when the going gets tough, cope with the adversity and keep moving on. Time is a great healer.

Finding the motivation to go the gym or pool has been tough at times, but Ive persisted as I know I would only regret that hugely once I can run again. I am a big believer in ‘movement’ helping the healing process as well of course as the release of those essential endorphins which I know will lift my mood.

The rainbow over the mountain has been missing for a few weeks for me. But I can feel the happiness creeping back in. An easy jog this morning with a great friend, relatively pain free, an offer of a mountain bike from other friends, a great performance by a client who himself has fought back from injury, little pockets of sunshine, light on the horizon. The whisper of winter over the mountains. The excitement of snow. Life holds so much joy here. The path I have followed this year, hasnt been the one I planned. But then when is it? Its still my path and Im proud of it.

I wanted to write this as I know so many fellow friends who suffer with injuries and how tough it is when you lose your everyday purpose. Try and cut yourself some slack, dont be afraid to wallow, but also find some perspective. Running is our gift, its not our right. Look after your bodies and mind. Talk to loved ones. Get a strength plan. Ride a bike. Take a swim. Take time to drink your tea. You’ll be back on the trails, stronger, wiser and a little more appreciative in no time. Patience is your best friend. Dont fight her, she will always win!

Heres to finding my patience, being brave and not being afraid to admit I’m finding life hard. Heres to the rainbow at the end of the storm, its there, its just up to me to look up and find it.

 

Recovery Rules!

I rather foolishly thought that I would be able to race again this weekend and won’t lie actually felt guilty at deciding to pull out. I was really keen to do it as its my local race, I know all the trails like the back of my hand and thought it would be great for ‘business’ if I could come out with a good result.

Running for my family – Lakeland 50 report

I definitely find the easiest part of ultra running is the actual training rather than the racing!  Though a lot of it is in my household is like Groundhog Day. Get up, feed kids, run, feed kids, run, strength work, feed kids, clean up after kids, run, laundry, be a taxi for the kids, – you get the gist.

Making The Excuses

In my ‘spare’ time I write coaching plans for athletes wishing to normally accomplish something that scares them. They all come to me for different reasons, but underneath the different backgrounds, running experience and life commitments is one shared goal. They want to achieve the best they can do on that day or over that series of races.

A New Life

We sleep with the window open, we can hear the river running, the cow bells, the occasional dog barking, a bat rustling in the eaves and that’s it. Silence. Silence for some can be frightening. Time to be with your thoughts, to face your fears. I love it. Days in our house our loud, voices shout over each other to be heard, the mountains take no notice, at night we are shrouded in peace.

Bringing home the bacon

I awoke early last Sunday for my lift to the Steyning Stinger marathon. All my kit was ready on the table, oats soaked, gels packed. On top of my bag was a Mother’s Day card, inside was written- “Bring Home the Bacon Mum” and three kisses from my three children. No pressure then.

Facing the Reality

So here we are 12 weeks down the line post the birth of our sweetest little girl. We wont go into the gory details, but the birth was, as is my forte, pretty horrendous (why do I keep doing this?!). The consultant sat by my bed after Evie had been safely delivered and made me promise not to have any more babies….though we didn’t plan to have anymore I am kind of sad that there is a finality of this new born stage, every day my little baby gets a bit bigger and thats it then, no more newborns in our house.

Pregnancy, running, the truth and all

Are you still running? Has been the question most people have asked me throughout this pregnancy. I have felt the pressure to keep fit and to stay in shape, mainly because I want to get back racing as soon as possible, but after pushing myself to run for 36 weeks I am looking back now wondering if it was my most sensible decision. We will see!

When The Going Gets Tough

Paul Navesey, Rick Ashton and I have something we laugh about called the 5km opt out…whatever race we are doing, the longer and the harder it is possibly the earlier the 5km opt out comes in. We run for about 3 miles then decide this is way too much effort and we convince ourselves that we will just ‘jog it in’ due to a sudden injury, leg falling off, nasty case of sudden ebola. Of course we don’t, but the doubts hit pretty early, even for super sonic runners like Rick and Paul.