October 2013

Over and Out 2013

I am sitting with my feet up looking at the Scottish hills. We have been here 24 hrs and I haven’t been up the mountains yet. I did manage a walk up the hill to see husband coming back from his run, but one ankle is so swollen I cant bend it and my quads still feel like someone has bashed them with a mallet.

I ran Beachy Head Marathon on Saturday. After the Downslink 38 miles at the beginning of October I had a very easy week and then picked up training a bit before trying a mini taper. To be honest I never got my legs going again and didn’t feel fresh however much I rested, ate, didn’t rest ,tried to run etc. The truth is I think I should have called it a day for this year after Downslink, but I love the Beachy Head course and lots of my club friends were doing it, so I thought Ill give it a go.  The lack of rest I get from having two very small children really showed as I struggled to get going again. Getting up sometimes 4 times a night, plus 5am wake ups means every day I am exhausted and trying to recover from one ultra to a super hard marathon in 3 weeks was going to be a tough call. Of course, I gave myself a tough time, come on body, legs, mind, get moving why aren’t you working yet? I know how important sleep is to recovery and I know now for 2014 that if I want to race as hard as I want to race I will only have a handful of super human efforts in me (not the 15+ I have done this year!)

Of course if you toe a start line people have expectations of you, as I do of myself and I knew if I had a ‘bad’ day it would be  public knowledge and as a result some people were commiserating with me at the finish. However I was pretty chuffed with what I achieved out there. My legs and heart were weary, but I knew I could still pull out a semi decent performance and to me the fight against my tired self was almost more important than the battle to win the race.

I led for about the first 10 miles occasionally swapping the lead with the eventual winner, she was kicking my butt up the hills which showed how tired I was, but I have been working on my down hill speed (thanks Bob!) and was able to catch up a sometimes 500m deficit by pacing it down hill. However when we met the hill out of Alvediston my legs just couldn’t move. They felt like I had run 30 miles not 10 and I lost view of the leader and with it my motivation to keep up that pace. I walked for a little while and gathered my thoughts. Unfortunately my gels had fallen out of my shorts and so I was pleased to meet my super supporters who handed me a gel and drink . After the long climb up onto the South Downs there is a nice steady section and I tried to get the legs going. Some wonderful support and I covered the next 5 miles with relatively little effort, resigned that this was going to be the best I could do today. Dropping into the aid station  I heard the crowd cheering third lady behind me. Oh crap I wasn’t prepared to give up my 2nd place, my head was willing to go,but my legs were just refusing to join the party. She overtook me up the steep climb and I grunted some encouragement. We made the steep hike up past the piper ready to drop down to the start of the 7 sisters. Here I knew my super team mate Paul would be waiting to kick me up the butt. I knew he would be disappointed I wasn’t leading and even worse I was now in 3rd. But, as only a fellow Centurion team mate can do, he ran alongside me, passed me some gel shots and gave me the following words which got me over the last toughest 6, but most glorious miles of my 2013 running season. ‘The leader is walking up the hills, DO NOT WALK, run up the hills, every single hill, run up and then hammer it down, you can DO IT.’ I struggled up the last incline before the start of sisters, not wanting him to see me walking and then pulled alongside the girl in 2nd as we started the climb. ‘Come on I said, lets run these together.’ She started running, but soon dropped to a walk, the temptation to start walking too, knowing I could was so strong, but Paul’s words echoed in my mind and I dug in, deeper than I have done really this year, I really wanted that 2nd place, the competitor in me is so strong. I knew my time wasn’t going to reflect my ability, but I ran everyone of those bloody sisters; I nailed the down hills and passed 6 men over the last 5 miles. Pulling down into Eastbourne I was disappointed not to win, but in my head I knew that I didn’t deserve to win. My sister and her new husband, as a surprise, had turned up to see my finish and that made my day! My mum and dad know nothing of my running and my sisters have never seen me run  before so it was quite emotional for them to come and give me a cheer!

On reflection I could easily have DNS this race, but I am really pleased I ran. It is the first time this year I have been under pressure and really dug in on knackered legs. I really lack confidence in my ability when things get tough and I know when I am racing 8 plus hours next year that this sort of experience will be invaluable, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from my day I found that I could ask my body for more and it would respond – eventually!

Super thanks to all the supporters out there, sorry it wasn’t quite the result you were hoping for, but I wont apologise for putting myself on the line and leaving a little part of my soul out on the seven sisters-till next year dear girls.

Centurion Ultra Team and Downslink Race

I am absolutely thrilled, stunned and a little bit embarrassed to have been asked to join Centurion Ultra Team http://www.centurionrunning.com/team-cr/. Scroll down on the web page and you can read my very lowly profile and race results. I am in the company of Great Britain’s finest ultra runners, who also happen to be great guys, have been very supportive of me since I started running longer distances and I greatly look forward to chasing them over the Downs next year!  I have a lot to live up to, but there is nothing like someone saying, ‘I believe in you’ to add an extra boost to training and racing. When you have had kids, given up your career, your sport, practically changed everything about your life, in many ways you have to find yourself all over again. I really do feel ultra running has given me back my identity, sense of purpose and joy of extreme pain again! I hope to do the team proud and will wear the yellow t shirt glowing with pride!

Last weekend I entered the  Downslink Ultra by Sussex Trail Events. Starting at St Marthas Hill, Guildford and running down a disused railway line to Shoreham By The Sea. I felt that 38 miles was a really good distance for me at the moment. My strength, and more importantly, confidence over holding a racing pace is gradually building and I could convince myself that 38 miles is closer to a marathon distance than 50 miles, so would be less painful!

We couldn’t have asked for better conditions, lovely warm Autumnal day. Most of the route is along a well walked trail, with the occasional field, road crossing, horse, small child wobbling on stabilisers or gate to break up the monotony.  I had recced the last 21 miles of the route, which at the time seemed a bit pointless, but actually has shown me how knowing where you are going makes the final stages of a long run much easier mentally and physically.

Paul Navesey (the eventual winner) and I set off leading the race and the route quickly dipped sharply down hill. I couldn’t see anything in the glaring sun, so took a more cautious approach than Paul who hared off, not to be seen again, or so I thought. I had planned to run a 7min 10-30 pace, which seemed easy to start with, but I knew post 30 miles it would be an effort. I am super competitive and the urge to run out hard and try and hold the pace, is a strategy I have tried and failed at. I had written all my splits down, with the aim to getting to 20 miles with having done the least damage to my legs. The route was simple, but with bright sun and a few intersecting paths, I kept having to stop and check I was on the Downslink route. There was no one in front or behind me, so I just kept hoping I was on the right path. After about 8 miles, Paul suddenly appeared behind me, looking rather sheepish! ‘ I went all the way  back up the hill.’ I think he snorted through a mouth of clifshots. ‘You idiot’ I replied helpfully. We trotted along for a little while together, but we were creeping into 6.30 min miles, so I forced myself to slow down and he disappeared to catch the one runner I knew was ahead.

I ticked the miles off to 21, where I had planned to meet husband and the kids. We had spent a long time planning what we would do with the kids. Its an ultra in itself, husband managing them in and out of the car, feeding them, naps, epic whining etc. So we decided we would just meet up at one point where he could refill my water and I could have a quick chat with the boys. As I went through the checkpoint, I knew the business end of the race was about to start. The trail is relentless with very little change of gradient, so I was trying to run on different sides of the path to change the camber and played, catch the cyclist, beat the horse, jump the dog, to break up the monotony. The miles from 26-30 seemed to take forever and I was growing bored of seeing the same path. I had slowed and was just about holding 7.30s, but I knew this was the hardest part and once I got into the 30 miles I would feel better both mentally and physically. I was forcing down the gels by now, hoping they would give me a little lift to the line.

Once I hit 31 miles, I started to feel strong again, I felt like I was running fast (ha ha!) and was moving smoothly. I am getting used to running with pretty mashed up legs now and yes it hurts and yes most normal people wouldn’t want to spend their Sunday afternoons putting themselves through it, but there is something so raw -like about embracing pain, working with the pain. Your senses become heightened; you know many people will never feel their bodies working like this and you realise the strength of your mental fortitude.

The finish was over a toll bridge, then a series of paved slabs, which were pretty rough on battered hamstrings. I couldn’t find the end and actually ended up heading into the car park, till husband appeared frantically waving down by the river. I was pretty shot at the end. I couldn’t even do my normal victory run in with the kids, but just wanted to sit down and be fed tea. Fortunately the race organisers had this all in their plan and I was plied with baked beans, some Drymax socks for being first female and a lovely cup of tea and massage. Paul was already looking feeble in the corner after taking the victory by ruining himself  making up for his lost time. A really impressive race for someone that ran an extra mile, though I have a sneeky suspicion, he just wanted to add in a few bonus miles to make it an even 40.

‘Job done’ were husbands congratulatory words to me. ‘I almost rang you at mile 30.’ I said, ‘I needed a lift.’ ‘Woman, you don’t need me, just get on with it and bloody finish!’ I love that part of our relationship, he knows I don’t want any praise from him, I don’t need to be mollycoddled, knowing that he believes in me and the strength of his support for me gives me more boost than I could ever put into words. Juggling the kids, work, life, training is a proper team effort.

So I was pleased with 4.47, 3rd overall and 1st female. I felt I ran strong, but that I had lots more to give, especially in the middle of the race, but its a really positive step forward to running a super competitive 50 miler. The next day was truly horrendous, I could hardly move, every time the kids stepped on my toes or touched my quads, I would leap through the roof, but I’d do it all again tomorrow. I love the pain, I love the ultra community and I love the inner sense of satisfaction I have of a ‘job done’ well.

Thanks to Sussex Trail Events for a great race,  next up some proper quad bashing at Beachy Head Marathon.