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Pilgrims Challenge 2018

My whole focus of 2018 is The Cape Wrath Ultra in May. A mere 8 day 450km race over rough and unmarked trails. The fear of it eats into me everyday. I think of the mental fortitude its going to take to wake up on day 3, day 4 with a sore body, a tired mind and have to go out again, all day. I know its going to be both the best of times and the worst of times.

This weekend I made a whistle stop tour over to England to run in the Pilgrims Challenge a 33 mile trail run on the North Downs Way, a restful night on a sports hall floor and then get up and run back again.

Ive been working hard all winter on my running strength  I have also been working hard on my skiing. We have been enjoying the most amazing winter here in the Alps. I am so lucky to have found  a fab instructor who just gets me, pushes me hard and has taught me how to ski like an athlete. Though skiing 8-12 hrs a week has definitely helped my running it has left me more fatigued than I realised and I definitely will not be trying to race again in February again! But I felt I wanted another crack at a multi day to go through kit/food again and most of just practise that getting up and getting going again feeling.

So in short the first day was muddy and slow and the second day was even muddier and even slower. My quads hurt from 10 miles in so I took the first day relatively easy thinking that on previous experience I am stronger on the second day. However after an hour of the second days ‘warm up’ I just had nothing in my legs. They just really hurt. My quads felt like someone had stuck hot pokes into them and every hill which is normally my strength I was literally dragging myself up. There was nothing there.

For the first time in my life I just hated every step. I have never wanted to finish a run more. I have never wanted to crawl away from a finish line and just lie on the ground more. I have never hated wearing a number and shoving gels down my neck more. I was scared to dig too deep and wipe out weeks of future training, but I had to mentally really hurt myself to get to that finish. This was not what I had planned. I had thought I was going to have two nice days out on the downs seeing friends and having a little kids free break. Instead I was in near constant pain, wanted to cry, and just didnt want to be there. I was so disappointed. But I did it. I battled down the ‘escape’ routes (there werent any!) and got the job done. I know that a LOT of Cape Wrath is going to feel like this. So I asked myself the question. What can you do to get yourself out of this pit? (aswell as why the hell do I do this? Why am I not at home? Why dont I just take up knitting? Or crochet? Or tap? ) The pain wasnt going anywhere. What am I going to do?

I ate as much food as I could stomach, normally Im through check points like a rat down a drainpipe. This time I stopped at every checkpoint, I ate and ate and drank and drank. I tried everything they had- this was in part to delay the moment I had to start running again. I counted steps, I walked a few steps to relieve my sore legs (stuffing more food in my face)and I slowly just zoned in on the one thing I knew would get me to the finish. My kids. My kids in their pjs. Going to bed, knowing Mum was coming home and would be there in the morning. I could not bear to have to explain that I didnt finish or that I gave up. My kids have been SO resilient this winter. They work so hard at school, all in French, they never complain (well) they do their best. They have skied themselves into ski groups with their peers after just a year on skis. They take everything in their stride and I so want them to be proud of me. I want them to see their Mum carrying the values we hold dear as a family; commitment, perseverance and passion. Do what you love to do even when you hate it because life cant always be mountains and blue skies. You have to earn those views. When you are in that deep hole, when you question your ability, when you want to give up, when it all just seems too much. Its that moment that makes us who we are.

You make the choice.

You give up or you carry on. (Im not advocating carrying on when injured ever, but a little bit of pain, hey you keep moving!)

So I finished. It wasnt pretty, it was plain ugly. I am not proud of how I ran, but I am proud of how I coped it with the weekend. On reflection and after a solid 5-6 hrs sleep since Saturday (I’m looking and feeling great!) Im so glad that I did have such a crap race. This winter all the training, all the skiing has been going so well, I havent missed any sessions, I have been so motivated and feeling so great, but I havent done any ‘suffer fest’ sessions (which I did for a month before Druids last year).  But I am actually in a great place, Im strong, fit and injury free and  this has just shown me how much I want the Cape Wrath finish this year. But this has also given me a huge wake up call on how much I have to be prepared to suffer.

And I can suffer.

I can suffer for my kids, for my friends, for my family, for my bank of wonderful clients who inspire me everyday, for those who offer to have the kids, who offer coffee, cake, ski lessons, who what’s app, who kudos, who nod knowingly over a tantruming toddler in the playground. I can show them. I can show them that life isnt all about that home run, those powder turns, gliding up the hill and that glorious descent. Life is hard. This job is hard.Whatever you choose to do in life.You have to really want it. And you have to know why you want it.  Keep that focus. Take the bumps, the chatter, the knock backs, the slips, the falls with courage and absolute determination. Question yourself yes, but only to find the answers you know are there. We are always stronger than we think we are and when you think you cant go on, you always can, you just have to find that reason to continue and hold it as close to your heart as you can.

Thank you To Centurion Ultra Team and Family, La Sportiva and Lyon Outdoor for the support and to my husband who is just a hero and never suggests I just stay at home and clean the fridge!

(And to the passenger who had to sit next to me on the flight to Geneva after running almost 70 miles with 8,000ft of climbing and no shower I deeply apologise.)

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Trail Outlaws Podcast

I recently spoke to Tim at www.trailoutlaws.com  about training and racing with kids and pregnancy. The link can be found here:

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/0/1/e/01eb8fea811d44b5/topS01E07.mp3?c_id=8262011&expiration=1422463183&hwt=63b188935456c0c864bc047519e1e52f

Enjoy, its quite long, you may need a cup of tea (and a snack!)

Staying Positive Throughout The Journey

How often do you come back from a run and are happy with your progress? How many times do you think, yes I nailed that session or that was a great run everything is working in the right direction? I have access to 25 athletes inner thoughts and feelings about their running or triathlon training everyday. It has struck me how negative the majority of them are towards their bodies, their sessions, their performances.

The Iceberg

I recently read this blog from one of my favourite triathletes Catriona Morrison.  It struck a real chord with me, especially after spending the day helping (checkpoint food testing) at the Winter 100. Winners, losers, death marchers, everyone is in the same boat when push comes to shove. Ultra running is a true testament to character strength, there is no hiding from the real you at mile 75 as you bare your soul to the trail, leaving a little part of you at every race when you dig into your inner resolve.