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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. 

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.