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. As a family of 5 we thrive on routine, thats how we make it work. We do the same things at the same time day in day out. That way I know I can manage life, training, work, their activities, Im also just not a lets see what the day throws at us sort of girl. I like a plan. I also have to have my evenings free to work, catch up with clients and to just have a moment to breathe. With this routine, especially in the midst of a training cycle I sometimes  feel a bit of a running hermit. There is just no time for anything else and frankly I just don’t have the energy. But I thrive on this way of life, I like knowing what day it is by what running session I am doing. I like that I can keep 3 kids alive, whilst juggling work and training. But of course with this kind of dedication and single focus you are finely toeing the line of slipping into being obsessive. I think there is a real difference between being dedicated and being obsessed. And yes there is a time and place for both. After the Highland Fling which I went into with a bit of a niggle and came out with hamstring held together with string  I knew I needed to make some changes to how I trained, how I approached my training and the importance I placed on running in my overall life scale of happiness! Over the winter, I had let running become too much of an obsession not focusing on the things that mattered. Things needed to change.

I took a long hard look at my life, what worked, what wasnt working, what took up my energy when it didnt need to, what I could do to make my life easier. Basically I asked for help. A big deal for someone like me who always likes to do everything her own way.

The first thing I needed to do was fix my body. It had taken a serious bashing over winter and after miles and miles of running on ice and snow was on the brink of falling apart. After three pregnancies and three very harrowing labours and births its not what it was and I dont think it ever will be. My third pregnancy was very tough as was the birth and I dont think I have given that the respect it deserved. Jumping straight back into international competition 8 months post natal. At the time it was so exciting and I loved it, but I built the house without the foundations and think I have paid for it then ever since. Shane at gave me some serious talking to and got my body back in line and working again and Sarah at pulled, pummelled and massaged my aching muscles. Sarah is an endless source of positive chat and I have spent hours on her treatment table moaning how tired I am whilst she works magic back into my legs.

Then I asked for help looking after the kids, I gave myself a few hours each week child free to work, go to the gym or do the shopping without having to constantly juggle the whining, the snacks and the endless mess. For the first time in 7 years I had some time without a child. Life changing! I wont lie, I had terrible Mum guilt living child 3, it doesn’t get any easier, but I also knew that if I didn’t just have a little more time in my life my body wasn’t going to make it to 40!  The importance of resting and recovering is so overlooked in athletes and even if some people don’t see going to the shops as resting, I tell you what going to the shops without the kids is like a freaking holiday around here!

My next piece in the jigsaw was to ask for help with my running from (my now BFF!) Jayson Cavill ( )he has transformed my life by not only writing my running plan for me, but also my strength plan. Heading out the door with a focused session rather than a ‘What was I going today?’ attitude (which was what was happening after writing plans for clients I had no proper energy to focus on mine). He also made me hit the gym hard. Three times a week. No excuses. A constant source of positive encouragement when I was tired.  I felt I really let him down my underperforming at  Lakeland 50 and really had to hold myself together when I saw him at the finish, knowing he had had so much belief in me and I hadnt performed as we knew I could. But this is not the end of our journey together, only the beginning.

And finally I had a big think and chat with Bryn about why I run. (Bryn is my biggest cheerleader and support. He is an inspiration himself having competed the Dragonsback Race this year on half the training I do and with a lot less fuss!) He watches and observes from the sidelines and keeps me in check when he sees me slipping off the line of dedication to obsession. He keeps things real and is very very wise. ‘Race outcomes right now are inconsequential. By getting to the start line fit and healthy you have ‘won’ that race. Then just go out and enjoy it and smile. By doing that, running with a smile, you are making us proud, thats all I ask.’ What a man! Taking this advice on board is very hard for someone as competitive as me and someone who always wants to do their very best.

So basically I had to cut myself some slack. And I did. I listened to my body and I absolutely relished my journey to Lakeland 50.

So to the start I felt good. A bit tired around the edges after travelling with the kids for a week and the consequent sleeplessness and early starts/late bedtimes. I set off super easy and enjoyed the early miles running with Kim (Jayson’s wife) who I had recced the course with and expected to spend most of the day chasing down all the descents. All was fine, man alive I felt strong and running was easy. Hurrah! A good day for running! Then of course I hit the bog. And when I mean hit the bog, I fell real hard. A number of times. The last fall along the rocks heading to Mardale almost finished me off. Id lost my rhythm and slightly lost my racing mojo. The race had hardly started and I was already way off my target pace. What to do?

Heres how my thoughts went;

‘I cant believe this has happened to me. After all this work. After all this time and money and Im going to have another crappy race. This is so unfair. Im better than this. Im embarrassed to be running like this.

What to do?

What to do?

Stop, pause.

Listen to your heart not to your head. ‘

And so this is what I did. I smiled. I took a deep breath and I loved every step of the rest of the race. I got lost around the Kentmere check point. losing about another 15 mins as I checked the road map, had a chat with a farmer and approached the checkpoint from completely the wrong direction passing people coming out I had overtaken many minutes before. Normally this would have thrown me into deep despair. But not today I told myself, not today. I was not going to let my time and position dominate my feelings. I was going to laugh at myself, appreciate the fact I was strong and healthy and work as hard as I could on a day that wasn’t mine to shine. So I did.

My over riding thought for the first 6hrs was that I was going to see my family in Ambleside. We rarely take the kids to races as its just too much of a logistical nightmare, but they were so excited about cheering and seeing Mum run (they weren’t really – they just wanted the fish and chips and playpark, but that thats what I told myself!). The last thing I wanted my family to see was their Mum moaning that she was having a rough day, had made mistakes, had lost her bottle. I wanted my kids to see me smiling, happy, trying my best and when things weren’t going my way persevering. Instilling patience in my kids is a trait Im finding very hard to teach them, battling the world they are growing up in when everything worthless (but seemingly so shiny and important) comes instantly. I tell them, you can’t buy skill you can only try and try and try again.  Be it writing (so hard for boys especially all in French!), learning to ski or just practising tying their laces. I had to practise what I preach. I didnt want them to see their Mum giving up because her day hadn’t worked out, or sulking because she had worked so hard but things weren’t coming together. I wanted them to see me trying, I wanted them to see me suffering, but not giving up. I wanted them to remember that things don’t always work out your way, in fact in ultra running they rarely do, but if you set your mind to something, just because its not going your way you don’t give up,  just take another route. Everything worth having takes time.

So I finished the race as best I could. Loved the cheers from my Centurion family at the finish and a huge hug from Bryn and Coach Jayson. My head was absolutely gutted with my performance and tried to permeate my feelings to the race. But I refused to listen to them. No. I had done everything I could in the lead up to the race. The journey couldn’t have gone better. The day hadn’t gone to plan, but that didn’t mean I was going to be disappointed. I didn’t want the kids to see their mum sad because things hadn’t gone her way when she thought she deserved them to. I wanted them to see me pick myself up, be proud of what I had done, learn from my mistakes and not give up.

I know inside me there is still a good runner. I know that this is what I love to do. I know I’m not scared to suffer, I know in fact I love to suffer. And one day it will be my day. And till then I will keep working away. Ill get better, Ill learn. And show my kids that practice is the key to achieving anything worthwhile in life. Not money, not Google, not ipads, but a skill you cant buy, the ability to keep on trying when all else will stop. Thats why I run, its my life dedication, its how I express how I feel, its how I cope with life. Thats the thought I left the Lake District with. I will not let this race result reflect how I feel about myself, but I will be so proud of how I dealt with a tough day.  For now more practice. I’ll be back Lakeland 50.

Thank you to the Centurion Team for all their support and love on the day. To La Sportiva and Lyon Outdoor for the great trainers and to Bryn, the kids and ‘Grandma and Grandad’ who give the best cheers and make the best post race cups of tea!