Running Hard – Going That Little Bit Further

Here’s a piece that I wrote for Run ABC for the June/August 2015 publication about getting into ultra running which might interest some of my readers.

I hadn’t heard of ultra running as I started my first ever marathon on the streets of my city of birth Amsterdam in 2010. As I was slowly churning the miles out, to take my mind off the task at hand I got chatting to a fellow runner who mentioned that he runs 100km races for fun. 30km into 42km this seemed impossible to contemplate, but a seed had been planted. Fast forward to 2013 and with only a handful of half and full marathons under my now decreasing belt size I was nervously toeing the line of the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series 33 mile race at Whitby/Ravenscar.

Finishing my 1st ultra!

Finishing my 1st ultra!

The event was a revelation, gone were the big crowds of the big city half/full marathons I had become accustomed to, replaced with a small group of about 40 runners who all just seemed to be there for a good chat (someone mentioned cake!) and to have fun running on the stunning coastal trails. Trail running allows you to access those special and spectacular natural landscapes that you would otherwise not have the opportunity to experience on foot. Your runs are an adventure every time you head out so why not go that little bit further and experience even more. Although I went out too quick on my first venture into ultra running and paid the price in the latter part, I finished! And enjoyed it!

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I’ve never been sporty or fit, so how does an average girl with no running experience come to running such distances, crazy distances as some of my friends call them? It’s all down to wanting to test yourself and pushing to find out if you have any actual limits. Remember that feeling after you’ve run your first 5km and you start wondering to yourself could you run further? Then you do! That 5km turns into 10km, half marathon and into a marathon. Your long run becomes your short run and you find yourself agreeing with others that ‘yes you are a runner’. With the size of the world decreasing through social media and the Internet we are surrounded by hearing other people’s inspiring stories of different challenges they have embarked on and ultra running is one that is accessible to everyone, so why not make your own fantastic story. You can choose to do some amazing races and events in the most untouched parts of the world but you would also be amazed at what is on all of our doorsteps to truly challenge us and your eyes might just be opened as to how beautiful your part of the world actually is when you explore it from the running aspect. Whether it’s a long training run on your own or with friends or an organised event the options are endless. It’s not just single stage events you can participate in, but why not make it a real adventure holiday and take on a multi day event.

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Keeping Motivated

The resounding factors that keep drawing me to run ultra distances is a mixture of the amazing and inspirational people I meet from all walks of life, the absolute stunning landscapes you are privileged to run through experiencing the magical feeling of being immersed in your surroundings and the sheer sense of achievement you get when you finish such a challenge.

Stunning landscapes make it worthwhile

Stunning landscapes make it worthwhile

What do I need to do?

That all sounds wonderful and even idyllic you may be thinking, but how do you train for such a distance? We all have day to day commitments of families, jobs and can’t spend all day training but if you plan smartly you don’t need to. Stepping up to your first ultra is similar to training for a marathon but may require a few additional tweaks.

Training should always be quality over quantity and designed to be specific to the type of event you will be running, if it’s a hilly route, incorporate some hill reps; if it’s a flat route you may focus more on some speed sessions for example. If you’re planning on running a 100 miles longer back to back runs will need to come into play. Don’t just train by running though look to incorporate some cross training or yoga to help strengthen your body and prevent injury.

Running through a muddy paddock trying to mimic sand training

Running through a muddy paddock trying to mimic sand training

Eating on the run becomes imperative, you might get away with running a half marathon without taking on any food but you will need something to get you through the longer distance. I like to practice on training runs by making them fun and stopping for tea & cake along the way. Or mix it up with your non-running friends by running to a pub to meet them for lunch and then run back!

Talk to people! There are so many fantastic people out there involved in the sport that are more than happy to chat things through with you to share ideas and help you along. Twitter is a great source of information, hook up with some of my favourite ultra runners to hear more.

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Learn to recover. These distances can take a lot out of your body and rest/recovery days are just as important as training and events. I love nothing better than getting a chocolate For Goodness Shake into me as soon as I’m finished, hot bath, slip into my stylish compression tights and enjoy a tasty and nutritious meal before getting a good night sleep. I always give it a couple of days before I treat myself to a sports massage and find this makes all the difference.

The main key is you need to try out and test everything from your individual training style and plans, clothing, kit, nutrition and recovery to find out what works best for you.

Final Tip

Have fun! Life is too short to be doing things you don’t enjoy so mix up your running, run with friends or use your run to explore and sightsee in a new place and take lots of photos to keep it light & fun.

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Running for ice cream (& fish supper)!

The North Berwick Law Race has been an annual event in the sleepy harbour village of North Berwick since 2009 now attracting just shy of 300 runners to run 3 miles from the harbour up to the summit of ‘The Law’ and back down, taking in 600ft (182m) of ascent.

That's The Law!

That’s The Law!

I had actually never been up The Law but had heard that it’s a ‘steep little bugger of a hill’ from other runners, so with a wee bit of trepidation I headed out to try the race out for myself.  They actually allow 10 year olds to enter so how hard can it be right……

The race starts at 7:30pm in the harbour and with a rather loud shot of the gun we were off at full pelt through the main street of North Berwick.  Being used to running ultras it was most unusual for me to be starting so quick so it was tough on the old ticker, the first tumble took place right in front of the Pub with a runner falling down and the rest of us scrambling to jump over or around him (sorry pal, no one stopped to help!).  I was pushing the pace hard early on and started passing runners on the first slight incline up through the park, once we hit The Law it quickly became apparent that its a hands on thighs gruelling fast walk to the top.  The top runners were already coming back down past us about 3/4 of the way up the hill although I managed to claw back some places here as I love the uphill and hazard a guess I was possibly 4th female at this point, grab a rubber band from the marshals at the summit and then ‘fly’ back down.  Hmm not so much flying for me, with downhill being my weakness I was pussy footing down the hill as a few of the women came back past me.  This bugger is steep! I’m glad it wasn’t wet or it would have been a nightmare coming down!

For a fun race, that is some serious concentration on my face!

For a fun race, that is some serious concentration on my face!

Once you hit the bottom it’s a lovely flat and easy downhill into the town back to the harbour so you can really let the legs fly, I managed to fly past some runners here, though played tag with a 10yo (yes a 10yo) for the rest of the way (and he beat me) though I rounded back up a few more runners, another 1km and I would have had the ladies that had passed me.

Sheer concentration

Sheer concentration

What an atmosphere when you hit the main street again, lined with the entire village population and a pipe band, it was truly electric.  Stumbling across the line you get a medal, a bottle of water and you can swap your race number for a free ice cream at North Berwick Fry.  Which I did, after I’d enjoyed a fish supper first of course.  A great wee race for the summer (it’s always in the 1st week of August), would definitely recommend for a fun night out with some friends, £6 to enter on the night (you can’t pre-register) and a great lung buster.  Certainly a great way to train on the hills with a race pushing you for speed.  I for one will be back next year.

Not sure of official results but I think I finished somewhere around 25-28mins and no idea of placing!

My Fish Supper & medal!

My Fish Supper & medal!