With 6 weeks to go until Marathon Des Sables (MdS), there really is only 4 weeks left of solid training; so spurred on by the fact that hubby has a week off work and had set himself a goal to run 20 miles a day for 7 days, I wanted to match it. My challenge – to fit this around work!
To manage 140 miles for the week would be mimicking what MdS will be like, obviously minus the heat! Training the body to run when it is tired and challenging the mind to keep it going as well.
5am alarm and I spring out of bed like a bull at a gate! Sneak out of the bedroom and into the kitchen for a quick slice of toast with peanut butter; must keep fuelled up; and get changed and out the door by 5:15. Not bad. It’s pitch black so I plan to stick to the roads and head out from Edinburgh towards the Pentland Hills, it’s a long continuous climb out and I head towards Penicuik. I’m feeling strong and get home with 20 miles done in 3 hours on the nose. After a massive dinner the night before & my bit of toast before, I only needed a handful of chocolate covered sultanas at mile 10 to get me home. My feet are a bit sore, I have managed to develop corns on both the outside of my little toes (from high heels at work, not trainers) and I think the trainers I had on could be half a size bigger, as my left big toe is seriously bruised from that!
Wanting to recover strong for the upcoming miles, I don my Compressport calf and quad guards under my suit, and head off armed with plenty of water and fruit for the day.
5am alarm, and I lay still, contemplating for a few minutes, but I get up, a quick crumpet with honey, and I’m changed and out the door for 5:20, bit slow to get started this morning but I’m on my way. The legs feel a bit tired but they are ok, I stick to the roads again, this time heading out of town the other way through Stockbridge and out to Crammond and beyond. It’s a gorgeous, misty morning, so misty that when I have the headtorch on just as I go past The Brig pub, I can only see that spot in front of me the mist is so heavy. A little jumping frog scares the bejesus out of me as it hops in front of me, probably wondering what on earth I am doing out there at this time of morning! I turn around at 10 miles and come back through Crammond along the beach front back to home. Feeling pretty good to be fair, I complete the 20 miles in 3hr 5mins, so only 5 mins slower than yesterday. I think I picked up the pace as I knew Dion was cooking bacon, haggis and egg rolls for breakfast so the sooner I get home, the sooner I get one of those! I go via Tesco on the way home as Dion has discovered they have For Goodness Shakes toffee flavoured recovery drinks on sale! I normally like to have one of these (usually using the powdered form and make up my own) as it is a high protein, low fat tasty shake designed to promote the growth & maintenance of functional muscle. I feel that it does aid my recovery and I read a lot about a lot of the elite runners using them as well, so I am pretty sure we are onto something!
Same as yesterday, Compressport compression on, and I seriously enjoy my recovery shake and keep the fluids and food up during the day.
5am alarm, and I’m up, no messing this morning, I feel pretty good actually. Quick slice of toast with cheese and I’m out by 5:15. I need to get off the bitumen as I can feel my joints suffering from 40miles in 2 days on the road, so I head down Easter road, get in about half a mile on the grass, and within 3 miles I am at Portobello beach where I do laps of the beach, 6 miles worth of laps and sand running. Great training for MdS; 2 fold; 1 being the sand running which is great, but 2, to be doing laps which is mind numbing but also great mental preparation. I think some of the dog walkers think I have lost the plot however. As the light appears, I head back up Brunstane Path and Innocent Railway past Arthur’s Seat and home. Only 16 miles this morning as I am saving 4 miles for tonight’s Jog Club at my hotel, Crowne Plaza Edinburgh – Royal Terrace, which I am of course hosting! I end up on my own for Jog Club, but it’s a lovely night for it, and I end up doing a 4.5 mile loop around Arthur’s Seat. 20.5 in the bag
5am alarm, and not feeling great. Quite sluggish to start, quick slice of toast with cheese again, a bit of a favourite go to, and I’m out by 5:20. It is starting to become a bit of a struggle now to find interesting and new routes for the week, especially when you are trying to get such high mileage, but also when its in the dark. I am sure this is a challenge for all runners out there trying to find routes from your front door. I could jump in the car and find a new spot to run, but I always feel this is wasting valuable time travelling, and especially when it is before work, I don’t have the luxury of time. I get a bit of mileage in going up and back some parallel city streets and head to The Meadows and back past The Balmoral Hotel, to do another lap up Princes Street and through the Meadows again. In my head I am planning to head up and around Arthur’s Seat, as I start to go around, I’m done. Swallowing feelings of failure and disappointment, I turn around and slowly make my way home. Finishing with 13 miles as a total. I just had lost the energy and the mojo to continue any further. The fact that I had to be somewhere at 8:45am wasn’t helping matters, and knowing I had a full day at work and a night out with colleagues made me think to just stop and conserve what little bit of energy was still left. Still have a few big days to get through as well so no point totally wiping myself out.
No 5am alarm! You little beauty! It’s the smallest things sometimes that can make you happy. Needing to finish work early means I run around like a headless chicken all day probably using valuable energy!
But by 2:30pm I am on my way out the door. I am heading out today with a full back pack (approx 6kg) and heading out to meet Dion in North Berwick. He has already run out here yesterday and has been enjoying the coastal trails today while I make my way out. I really notice the pack on, and my pace has slowed noticeably, probably also due in part to the heavy miles already in my legs, but I crack on. Dion meets me at Gullane, about 5 miles from the finish which is a nice boost, especially as he takes my pack from me as well, so I feel a lot lighter and we crack on together for the last 5 miles. I had left early to limit the amount of time in the dark, which works out well, needing the head torch for only the last half an hour.
I’d had a big lunch so fuelling on the run was down to a small packet of bacon flavoured peanuts.
Feeling very pleased to reach the end of todays run in just under 4 hours, we make it to the MacDonald Hotel Royal Marine, our bed for the night. I knock down my For Goodness Shakes again and we head down to the spa to enjoy the facilities. The spa is gorgeous with a outdoor jacuzzi which is steaming hot, with a massively strong waterfall which works like a makeshift masseuse on my legs and shoulders. A tasty burger for dinner followed by a naughty treat of cheesecake and we are off to bed.
What felt like a leisurely start to the morning, enjoying a full cooked breakfast, we are on the road for our run back home by 9:30am. We are both a bit stiff & sore to start with, but it has to be done. The sun is kind of out, and its dry which is good, but the wind! Oh my! We get the full head wind the entire 25 miles home which makes the run even harder. We are both having to dig very deep today to get through. We plan to run the 20 miles to Musselburgh, where there is a cafe that we are looking forward to enjoying a hot cup of tea and a slice of cake to make it home on. Probably a wrong strategy as I don’t take on any food during the 20miles and am running on empty by the time we reach the cafe……..to find there are no tables free and not looking like there is going to be anytime soon. Very deflated, and irrationally pissed off, we share a flapjack that I pull out of my bag and head off for the last 5 miles home. It is a bit of a walk/shuffle the rest of the way home but we get there, finally, in just under 5 hours. First point of call is a cup of hot, sweet tea for me, sometimes its the only cure after a long run. And of course another For Goodness Shakes. Hot showers all round and compression gear on, its time for feet up, rest & recovery.
I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to run today, I have to admit that I am feeling too knackered, with a week totalling 123 miles, I am happy to call it a day. Dion on the other hand wants to achieve his goal and has another 7 miles to knock out, which he does battling seriously strong gales, strong enough to be bringing trees down and dangerously close to picking him up as well! I’m proud of him for getting through and carrying on with the full 140 miles, there are no medals, just the self satisfaction of knowing you’ve done it.
What a week! The body is completely knackered, but feeling very confident knowing I have managed to do such a strong mileage week whilst having to work everyday as well. I think it is good to get a week or two of 100+ miles in before an event like MdS, but there is no way I could do this regularly, not when working in any case. This should make me a stronger runner, it hasn’t caused either of us to lose any weight, but I think you eat too much of the wrong foods just trying to get enough energy in your body; and that wasn’t the goal in any case, it was just to get the miles done. It has also cemented my focus. To think a couple of weeks ago I was making excuses not to get up at 6:30 (too early), I now know that I have it in me to push on, and there is no reason why I can’t keep it up with the next 3 weeks of strong training and ensuring that I get 70-100 miles in each week, then allow for a nice 2 week taper before lining up at the start line of MdS.
Driving down to The North Downs way from Edinburgh for the Pilgrims Ultra looked ominous for the pending race. As soon as we crossed the border into England the rain started, and didn’t stop! Torrential rain & hazardous driving conditions made the drive extra long, and looking out to fields of water we could only imagine what the conditions underfoot were going to be like.
We caught up with Race Director, Neil Thubron, one of our fellow competitors from the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon on the Friday night, meeting his lovely wife Anna, his dad & a couple of friends as well. It was great to catch up over some pasta & hear about his route reccie earlier that day. Basically the forecast for the weather was looking good but nothing could be done about the tonnes of mud & water out there.
The race had 3 start times, 8am for the walkers, 9am for the runners & 10am for the elites (or those planning a sub 6hr finish), Neil suggested we start at 10am. No pressure then! It was nice to have a later start though, we made it to race registration just before 9am and managed to catch up with some other fellow competitors from Kalahari; Marina Ranger & Howard Bailey; also running, and Edward Chapman, volunteer who was going to be on one of the checkpoints. Great to see the gang again.
The sun was out, it was chilly, but dry. A few pre race instructions, and we were off! The likes of Robbie Britton and Danny Kendall were out of sight before you could say ‘ultra running’! Not to be seen again until I crossed the line myself some 6h30 min later. Not quite the sub 6 hour I had hoped for, but pleased with my time considering the conditions. You had to keep an eye on the markers, which proved challenging for some, as Dion and a few other runners came past me not once but twice after getting lost!
The route was certainly challenging to say the least. A mix of road (not much), trail, mud, water hazards, fallen trees to climb, sand and plenty of steep hills. I don’t think I can say enough about the mud; I have never experienced anything like it, it certainly made Tough Mudder seem like a beginners 5km run! Not only was it muddy on some of the flats, but also on hills, making climbing or descending treacherous, and thick ankle deep, squishy mud with nowhere to go but straight through it. It’s not that I mind mud (not once I’m in it, otherwise yes I’m a bit of a Princess) but it is so draining on the legs with all the slipping and sliding, but the time I got to 17 miles my legs were absolutely screaming and were really tired.
Normally I can knock out 20 miles without even worrying. I had been trying to keep refuelled, eating my snacks and drinking my Nuun water in my camelbak, but I wasn’t taking enough on board that’s for sure. I say it every time, but I have to get better at this eating & drinking business. I just don’t enjoy the eating on route which is so strange considering I certainly enjoy eating normally!
It was great to see Ed and Phil at the 2nd checkpoint, where I got a hug, some food and loads of encouragement to keep me going. The last half a marathon from the 20 mile mark were evil. After going up Boxhill, which is a severe incline which would test the very fittest, there was hill after bleeding hill! The weather had stayed good, a bit of rain on Boxhill but not enough to wet you through, and it started again in the last mile, but I couldn’t care about that at that point. What a relief to see the finish line! Made it in before dark which was the goal, and day 1 finished! Dion was there to greet me, having got my bag and set up our sleeping area for the night, what a sweetheart. It was hard to get the trainers off, there was so much mud caked on them!
Thank God for showers! After a shower, a For Goodness Shakes recovery drink, cup of sweet tea, cup of yummy soup and a slice of cake, I started to feel human again. Too sore to stretch (silly mistake must do this in future), I caught up with a few running pals and had a bit of a tweet meet, meeting some fellow tweeps face to face for the first time.
I took advantage of the £10 massages on offer, so 15 mins of the most brutal massage ever from Alex, and my legs were ready to walk across the path to dinner. XNRG put on dinner, which was pasta, garlic bread & crumble with custard. Perfect post race food, and also pre race as there was still a day to go. The perfect opportunity to get chatting to fellow competitors, meet some other runners that are also heading for Marathon Des Sables in April, and catch up with yet another fellow Kalahari runner, Steve Partridge, who had popped in to say hi to us all. It was great to hear from the guest speaker Danny Kendall about his running, and interesting to hear that he too didn’t just appear naturally fast, he had to work at it, and still does, and gets his training in around a full time job, and a full time family! A great guy and gave a really good insight into his training. Looking forward to seeing him again at Marathon Des Sables this year.
Sleep was certainly not happening for most people that night, really only the snorers get a good night’s sleep!
Awoke to another dry day (in the skies at least, we were to find out another river had broke its banks so another detour!). XNRG put on breakfast so there was plenty of porridge, toast and cereal to fill up on. The walkers had headed out at 7am, and I was due to head out at 8am as I had not got under 6hrs the day before, so no longer in the elite group. Dion decided to join me although he should have been in the 9am start as he was in under the 6hr cut off but was concerned about how the day would go and didn’t want to be caught out in the dark either. Legs were pretty stiff, but what to do, there was another 33 miles to run.
Off we went, we were all in the same boat, except for a few fresh runners that were just doing the Sunday, but I was pleased to say I kept my speed up ahead of them so that was a good sign. We all started off pretty slow and steady and quickly the group broke into smaller groups. Within the first mile, I was following the lead pack, Dion leading, and they took the wrong way……only a few hundred yards to make up, but not what you need! After Dion getting lost twice the day before it was weighing heavily on his mind, and that along with me in the pain zone, he graciously sacrificed his own race to stick it out with me.
The first 13 miles were pretty tough going, loads of mud, I know I keep mentioning it, but there really was a lot, and this section was a lot of steep uphill. Not to say that the back half was flat as it certainly wasn’t, but the first 13 were really tough.
Luckily the sun stayed out which was fantastic, especially at a slower pace, it was nice to enjoy the views and feel slightly warm as well. Dion and I enjoyed chatting along the way, and he pushed me on when I was struggling to make sure it didn’t all end in a slow walk and take longer than it did.
The checkpoint crew were fabulous as always, and I took good advantage of the food and the hugs on offer at the checkpoints to boost morale and energy!
We got lost again about 3 miles from the finish, stupidly following another couple, when we should have looked at the sign ourselves, so that cost us about 20 minutes and also some energy & patience! The mud was really wearing me down, the legs were zapped, but there is only one way to get out of this pain, and that is to finish, so finish I did. 7h 40min for 34.5 miles. Not ridiculous, but hardly breaking any records either.
All the pain disappears as soon as that medal is around your neck, okay it doesn’t really disappear as it’s on Wednesday I was still hurting, but you know what I mean.
Would I do it again? Hell yeah! A really well organised event, and a very challenging course, whatever the conditions. I have learnt a lot from the race, I realise I am fit, but I need to be fitter. A big wakeup call for MdS (Marathon Des Sables) coming up, and of course that small matter of my first 100 miler, the Mohican 100 in June. So it is time to up the intensity, get some more hills and terrain in and it will all come together. The plan was to get to more hills after this race as we had been training in fairly flattish conditions, more concerned with the mileage so this just drove it home that this is exactly what needs to happen.