As I reached the final peak of ‘Eight Immortals’ of the Wilson trail high in the mountains of Hong Kong my head torch made out the silhouette of a man perched on the summit. That man was my ever patient and supportive husband Dion who had been waiting patiently for me in the dark as I painfully ascended the last climb of The North Face Hong Kong 100. ‘What took you so long?’ He laughed as he asked me before we shared a few sugary treats for a last surge of energy for the final descent back into Tai Po Market to the finish line.
Dion and I had been living apart for just over 4 months at the time with him based in Beijing, China to ‘Bring Gobi Home’ (see FindingGobi.com for more details on this life changing adventure) whilst I remained in Edinburgh with a couple of visits in between, so we had decided that as this was our couple time that we would run this race together. Having never been to Hong Kong before we were both keen to have fun, get the distance done for some intensive training, take lots of photos and soak up the atmosphere. In other words we weren’t ‘racing’.
“It must be great to be have a partner that runs too, so you get to run together.” I hear this a lot from other runners that may or may not have partners that run with them, but running ‘together’ is not always how it goes. We have finely tuned how we run ‘together’ over the years after many frustrations early on where I can’t keep up with Dion and it hurts him to run slower at my pace. So now we might head out for a run and he gives me a half hour to an hour head start (depending on the distance) and then chases me down; this works quite well as I run quicker to try and stop him catching me and he also runs quicker as he most certainly wants to catch me. Another option is for one of us to drive to point B, park the car and run back to point A and the other runs from A to B, passing each other halfway and then collects the car. Or I just make sure Dion is knackered from a big block of training and we do run together as then he’s slowed down enough to keep ‘up’ with me.
We don’t tend to race together, although we might be at races together (KAEM 2013 & 2014), MdS 2014 and various local races, Dion is much quicker than me and on the edge of professional running where I am not quite reaching that level, yet. I hope that by running more together in both training and racing that I can learn from his experience, skill and mindset to develop myself into stepping more into the competitive world of running. I do enjoy the feeling of being on the podium and want to feel this more and more.
With the mountains looming ahead of the start line it wasn’t long before the path quickly turned both vertical and single track at the same time causing a massive queue of runners who were halted to walking. Not a bad strategy to conserve energy but it was much too slow so a tip if you do this race, get yourself a bit further up the starting pack if you want to get a move on.
I’d heard a lot about the trails of Hong Kong but was still surprised by the sheer size of the mountains, I wouldn’t have believed it without seeing it for myself. It was every bit as beautiful as a mountain fairytale with steep, rocky trail stairs leading you high into the clouds even more brutal than I could have hoped for. The trails lead you vertical to take in some exceptional views of the iconic Hong Kong skyline which we had the pleasure of enjoying in brilliant sunlight, at sunset and into the darkness.
It wasn’t all trails though. After each descent we entered a local village all bustling with activity of daily life and offering the opportunity to purchase some cold Coke or tasty local food of which many of the runners were taking full advantage of, ourselves included. A great benefit of Dion running with me was that he would run ahead and surprise me with his purchases which kept him busy shopping with the locals for our treats along the way. The taste of an ice cold Coke mid way on a hot, humid race is second to none. And it was humid, some of the runners looked like they’d been for a swim instead of a run they were sweating so much. It certainly paid dividends to put skills learnt in the desert into practice with hydration and salt tablets to keep dehydration at bay.
We resisted the temptation at lunch time as we passed a gorgeous waterside village abundantly laid out with tables full of locals feasting on an array of food that smelt absolutely divine, a decision I now half regret as we never did make it back to that same spot for lunch the following day. Dion made sure we didn’t do without though ensuring we had dim sum and noodles to eat at points along the way.
It was an enjoyable change to run together as a couple in a race environment and gave me the opportunity to push myself harder drawing on Dion’s resolve and experience. I have no doubt that he would be a great pacer for me in a future race and will push me on to faster times. It was also like having a personal photographer alongside me all day with Dion often racing ahead to capture the amazing footage you see here in our film of the race.
The North Face Hong Kong 100 delivered an exceptional experience of trail running whilst giving runners a taste of local culture and people. A tough challenging race not to be taken lightly with its unrelenting ups and downs in the humidity to add that extra test of endurance. This combined with a weekend of exploring the bustling city and eating the delicious food it makes for a great running adventure escape. After my first taste of Hong Kong I can definitely see a return for another race in the future, my imagination was captured as we passed Lantau Island on the way to the airport…Lantau 50k Dion?
My mind & heart had finally made a full recovery after some life changes including leaving my job and adjusting to life with Dion, my husband, living away in Beijing until the new year -Read more about his incredible running journey with GOBI stray desert dog at http://www.findinggobi.com. My legs were another story. I was desperate to be running again but every time I headed out for a run my knee was causing me a lot of pain and I felt like I was running with concrete blocks for legs. Having received an invitation to run the Changan Ford Gobi 100k International Trail Race Jiuquan, China; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, although I knew full well that it wouldn’t be easy or particularly pretty.
The principal of recovery dictates that athletes require time to recuperate from training and racing. Rest and recovery not only gives bodies the chance to adapt to the stress placed upon them during racing or intensive training but also for mental preparation and reflection. I am always a big advocate of rest periods, dismissing the popular ‘active rest’ that others seem to enjoy, and to date this has kept my body and mind fresh and injury at bay. But my last adventure #500kin5days had really taken it out of me, as noted by my DNF at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc only 4 weeks afterwards and subsequently still felt the effects at the Gobi 100k.
The city of Jiuquan is in the Gansu province which is synonymous with the Silk Road where goods once streamed between China and Central Asia. This constant flow of trade left Buddhist statues, beacon towers, forts and chunks of the Great Wall in its wake and its diverse landscapes include parts of the Gobi desert. This was my first opportunity to visit the Gobi desert where my husband Dion, met Gobi the wonder dog who joined him on a 6 stage ultra marathon across the desert and is now to become part of our family with us all being reunited on January 2nd 2017. Being able to experience running through the Gobi desert, albeit in a different location to the race they ran, was a great experience to understand when Dion talks of his experience with Gobi and made me feel more closely connected to them both.
The fun part of travelling is culture and language and China has this by the bucket load. Exploring the city on foot we discovered a stunning local temple where in the perimeter local Chinese danced and a calligrapher was painting the most beautiful symbolic banners. Through hand signals and google translate we arranged for him to paint us our very own artwork with the symbols standing for ‘Longevity’. I had this framed at home using the white Khata’s we would later be presented with to showcase this amazing art & experience.
The food of the province was hot pot with every restaurant having this on offer and we treated ourselves to a feast of meat, vegetables and quail eggs which we poached in a choice of boiling broths on our table. The fun in choosing items from a menu in only Chinese was not only entertaining to us but also the other visitors of the restaurant. Not our normal pre-race food of choice but absolutely delicious.
The inaugural 100km race had the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunning) badge which was very significant as previously China was unable to badge their races as such and to signify the importance of this occasion, both the IAU President, Dirk Strumane from Belgium and IAU Honorary member Souhei Kobayashi from Japan were both in attendance. I had the good fortune of running into them at Beijing airport and forged a friendship over coffee. A host of elite runners had been invited to help build the profile of the race and it was an honour to be included in this experienced field of almost 200 runners. We attended the press night and were treated to a VIP Chinese welcome with singers, presentation of a Khata (traditional ceremonial scarf popular in Buddhism made of white silk to symbolise the pure heart of the giver) followed by dinner alongside the lake complete with lighting of floating lotus flowers for a truly authentic experience.
The race has 2 distance options; 20km or 100km (2 laps of a 50km route), starting at Xintiandum Farm North crossing through various landforms such as Gobi desert sand and grassland passing through Tianluo Ancient City and Huacheng Lake with a maximum ascent and decent of 488 metres. Under normal conditions I should easily have made the cut off time of 14 hours, but as anyone that runs knows; always expect the unexpected.
Shuttle buses collected us bright and early from the hotel to deliver us to the start line 45 mins away the following morning ready for our 7:30am start. In between preparations for the race I was constantly posing for photos with the Chinese runners, being a 6ft blonde certainly caused more than my share of attention, one of the race officials acted as my bodyguard and was conscious to stop the crowds developing around me even though I was loving it, feeling like a complete celebrity star with all the attention and photographs. As part of the elite runners we had our own separate warm up area and we were ushered to the front of start line.
The sun was beginning to rise and you could start to make out the vastness of the Gobi desert in the horizon. As the countdown ended the start was signified with a dazzling display of coloured fireworks blasting high into the air right beside the start chute as we ran into the sand of the Gobi desert. The sound was deafening and the lights and colour added to all the excitement. It was a quick start with some of the front runners expected to be in around 7 hours and the pack quickly spread. Dion had promised to stick with me for this race as he knew I wouldn’t be able to make this one alone, most likely a promise he now regrets.
Conditions were reminiscent of Marathon Des Sables, trudging through loose heavy sand in overbearing heat. The tempered conditions quickly escalated into near 40 degrees Celsius and there was not a scrap of shade in sight. Although my pace and stamina were suffering we were passing others that had begun to slow noticeably from 30km and strong experienced runners were dropping out already even before reaching the 50km turnaround point; the race was tougher than any of us had given it credit for.
Reaching the 50km point after 6hrs, later than the 5hrs we had anticipated, it was a challenge to get out of the checkpoint tent as it was now the hottest part of the day and knowing that we had to head back out and complete another 50km through the same route was a mind game. I offered Dion the chance to leave me here and carry on but he encouraged us on, owing it to the race organisers to see this through to the finish. Making our way through the 2nd lap with the oppressive heat my body began to rebel, with every gel I swallowed to try and gain some energy I would buckle in half and throw it all back up with some horrendous stomach cramps to go with it. The heat was so unrelenting that we took a 5 minute pause in some shade caused by the sun shifting position behind a sand dune giving us a brief respite to get ourselves right again.
We watched as the light around us became hazy and an orange cloud of dust enveloped us in an almighty sandstorm reducing visibility to 10 metres at most. With visibility so low we came close to having to stop & wait the storm out but we were just able to continue on, though at a very reduced speed as the sand whipped up into our eyes and the strength of the wind held us back. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?! We later heard that other runners had been pulled from the course due to safety issues but we passed through what was left of wind strewn checkpoints unchallenged.
We were pushing, up against it to get me to the finish line and we formed a band of merry men as we joined up with 5 Chinese runners and pushed each other on to reach the finish line. It was a surreal experience over the last 3 miles as we were followed to the line by the support vehicles lighting the way. 13 minutes before cut off and we made it, coming in as 15th female, the last female to finish for the day out of the 29 that had started. This showed true grit & determination that was displayed throughout the day, pushed on by Dion’s coaching along the way leading me to dig deep and carry on to get it done.
Although an unexpected 100km for me, the race delivered an unexpected tough challenge to many as shown in the results with the high number of DNF’s (Did Not Finish). Whilst I would never recommend pushing your body so much as I have in the year, the experience surpasses the extended recovery I have now had to take.
China is opening itself up to the world and running is taking off full speed ahead with many new races hitting the calendar with some spectacular location to run. I feel privileged and thankful to Changan Ford for supporting this event and hosting us in such a hospitable manner, especially to Tao, who worked tirelessly to look after us like superstars. If you are looking for a race that is going to challenge you and give you the opportunity to run in one of the world’s greatest deserts in some serious heat, then look no further.
Hearing about Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsula, a remote location that could only be reached by either ferry, on foot or helicopter, I knew this was the adventure I’d been looking for and hatched a plan for my very own micro adventure. In a fast paced world that seems to be forever getting even busier and more expensive we are all seeking get aways that actually allow you to ‘get away’ without costing the earth or taking all your time. Quick fix escapism.
With Edinburgh city still sleeping I escaped in the wee hours into the still, dark air that hinted at frost. It wasn’t long before I was crossing the Forth Bridge heading into the North of Scotland. I’d been travelling for a few hours in the dark before the sun started to rise giving way to a beautiful sunrise and promise of a spectacular day.
After winding my way through stunning vistas surrounded by deer and highland cows the road comes to an abrupt end at a rustic farmhouse with smoke plumes working their way into the sky tinged pink with the sunrise. Loch Hourn glistens and winks with the promise of what lays in store over the next 2 days of exploring this remarkably untouched peninsula of Knoydart on foot, completely on my own.
Like a scene from a movie, I left the main road and the small road became progressively narrower giving way to a single track path where the only traffic I was giving way to was small herds of deer and highland cows. Weaving around tight bends each corner gave way to stunning views after the last, past small lochs & rocky outcrops before the road abruptly reached its end and the expansive Loch Hourn began.
Keeping the Loch to my right the 15 mile route from Loch Hourn to Inverie via Barrisdale was well trodden and with a startling Autumn day welcoming me, I had no need for my map and compass apart from giving me comfort that I was heading in the right direction. Running was impossible as I was constantly stopping to take photos and soak up the stunning views that went from amazing to perfect. My mouth was agape at how beautiful it was, this is when I missed my partner in crime, Dion, and I spoke out loud to the vast silence around me, telling the world how beautiful she is. I had to vocalise it, it was so beautiful!
At Barrisdale the path veers to the left and takes you past the bothy and campsite and over Mam Barrisdale with a tough climb up to 800m where I was greeted by a herd of deer who were very curious about me. What a welcome to the summit. A lovely descent down past Loch an Dubh-Lochain and I could start to see the water of Mallaig winking in the bright sunlight, signalling my end destination. To this point I hadn’t seen a soul, total isolation, but strangely it felt very safe and comfortable as if this is how it’s supposed to be.
Cute little wooden signs direct you to the few locations in Inverie of note; The Bunkhouse, snackvan, ferry and Pub. I was starving at this point having only had a couple of snacks since 4am and it was now 2pm but decided to head to The Bunkhouse first to make sure I had a bed for the night before the 15 minute walk into the village centre to find some food. I ventured into The Tea Rooms where a tasty & warm jacket potato and haggis filled my empty belly, washed down with a tasty hot chocolate and a homemade chocolate brownie left me feeling full and now rather sleepy as I sat in the heated tea room with the sun coming in through the window. Grabbing a bottle of red wine from the local shop I headed off in search of dinner and to get some feet up time.
Making my way through the most impressive herd of stags at Kilchoan Estate I entered another world; a farm shop filled with locally produced goodies left out to help yourself with simply a notepad to keep a list of what you purchase beside a quaint honesty box. I couldn’t resist the ultimate indulgence of a small wheel of Arran whisky flavoured cheddar, a box of oatcakes and a jar of homemade chutney, along with a 6 pack of eggs from the chickens I could see on the farm already thinking of my breakfast.
A roaring wood fire in the communal lounge at the Bunkhouse snuggled into a comfy sofa with wine and cheese meant I didn’t venture out to watch the sunset, however I’m sure it was spectacular.
Sleep came easily after a big day out in the sun on my feet and the Bunkhouse was tranquil giving way to a comfortable & deep sleep. Filling my belly with 6 eggs scrambled, I was back on the path again retracing my steps from yesterday back to Loch Hourn. Again I didn’t see a soul along the way and tempted by the crystal clear water I decided to go into full adventure mode and had my first experience of wild swimming in Scotland at Barisdale. Braving the chilly water with nothing on except my cloak of courage I splashed away in the water. It felt so empowering and exhilarating I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for days. It was so good and after seeing otters swimming by me on the trek back along the Loch, I jumped in again just before the farmers house, I was hooked! Perfect timing as I had only just got my clothes back on when I saw hikers coming around the corner! Having a secret giggle to myself as I passed them I quickly got in the car to get the heaters going to warm me up as this time I’d gone all the way under so had dripping, cold hair to deal with.
My drive back felt like a new adventure through the Caingorms as now I was seeing this in daylight rather than in the pitch dark. Amazed at the stunning nature wonderland around me I could feel my mind ticking over already, wondering what adventure could I hatch to come back up here again soon.
I often get asked “What’s in your bag?” from other runners, so I thought I would share what I have in my bag on a daily basis for my runs, this is what works for me and you should always adapt this to your own conditions and requirements as this is by no means the written law of what you should carry.
If you didn’t know, November is Runner Safety Month. I was inspired to share the equipment I use because safety and peace of mind are key. To help everyone run smarter the Fall, SimpliSafe, a security company that designed a wireless alert system for active individuals is encouraging runners to keep a clear mind and remain alert to any potential dangers on their run and at home. It’s not always easy to get outside and train, but every little thing helps. So tell me, what’s in your bag?
The latest edition to the Scottish Ultra running scene hit the shores of the Cowal Peninsula on Saturday 8th October for its inaugural run. The 50k Dunnon Ultra event which can be run as an ultra or you can choose to run this event as a relay, ensuring the event is open to all different abilities. (check out the route here)
When I saw a message on Facebook from Fiona Outdoors looking for one more runner for her relay team I couldn’t resist a trip out to West Scotland, renowned for its stunning beauty. I’d also never run in a relay before so thought this might be a fun option for something different.
Having never met my team mates before, Fiona and Nick, I was assured we were not going to compete we were purely there for fun*. Getting to Dunoon already feels like an adventure as after heading out from Glasgow you reach McInroy’s Point at Gourock and board the ferry to cross over the Firth of Clyde. We were blessed with a stunning day so this made the crossing all the more magical.
The race starts from the Benmore Botanical Gardens in amongst the magnificent giant redwood trees, which can be reached by a 15min drive from the ferry stop, though a coach transfer is provided as part of the event. The race starts at a very civilised time of 10am and is now being dubbed as the most scenic ultra in Scotland. The race kicked off to the sounds of bagpipes and canons, no countdown or fog horn to start proceedings here.
Nick Green was our first runner, an experienced triathlete who took the first leg, which he said was no doubt the toughest leg of the race where the runners headed north climbing high above Loch Eck to reach the highest point of 335m before a 2 mile descent brought him to transition 1 where Fiona took the batton with us in 5th place overall for the relay.
Fiona took off like a shot along the flattest part of the route following the loch shore closely heading back to the Botanical Gardens for transition 2. Flying into T2 she flung the batton to me after pushing us into 3rd place overall. “No pressure Lucja, but run!!!” I didn’t even have time to put her Suunto watch on which she was using to track the entire route and just shoved this into my pocket (this is where the WAA carrier shirt I’d pinched from hubby, Dion’s, drawer came into good use), not time to waste, I had a position to uphold.
After a short flat section the 3rd legs ascends on forest trails towards Dunoon, the views were absolutely stunning from the top of the woodlands of Bishop’s Glen where I could see the finish of the restored Dunoon Pier for at least 5 miles before I go there! I didn’t have time to stop for any runfie’s though, I had just rounded up another relay runner putting us in 2nd overall so had to hot foot it for the final descent into Dunoon. It felt good to run with a bit of pressure like that where I wasn’t just running for myself but I had a ‘team’ to worry about. Running is normally such an independent sport that I found the relay team element quite encouraging and exciting, so much so I would consider doing this again.
I was greeted by cheers and hugs as I came across the finish at Dunoon Pier, we were 2nd relay team overall but 1st mixed team! What a result! Considering we were here only to have fun, we did very well. The finish line was a bustle of fun and activity with plenty of hot food (free for the runners) and cakes to restore the energy levels along with a massage.
The race entry is £33, with an early bird discount at £23 for the first 100 entrants which includes tea & coffee with fresh pastries at registration, coach transfer, changing facilities and the full event support with electronic chip timing, check points, drop bags with food & water stations, first aid back up and of course a fabulous goody bag.
*Fun in Fiona’s book is to compete as hard as humanly possible 😉
**My entry to this race was free as part of Fiona’s relay team entry – however after having done the race I do think the race offers great value for money!**
I’m built for endurance, not for speed. Looking at my racing CV you will see that 10km distances don’t feature on my race calendar, but when I heard about a wee local 10km race around the Lochore Meadows Country Park I thought this might be a good option for me to put my ‘speed’ to the test.
The route is a fairly flat and fast 2 lap route, mostly on hard packed trails and paths around the loch, I wore Hoka Huaka road shoes but you could wear either trail or road shoes.
The race had a nice local feel to it, with plenty of parking and no queues for either the parking of the registration process. The race is only £12 to enter so pretty good value when you compare it to some other ‘big’ name events. This includes the obligatory bling at the finish and a Bounce Ball and a bottle of water in the goody bag. I also had the opportunity to meet the crew from a local company Active Root who have developed a fantastic energy drink product with ginger. Check them out if you haven’t heard of them already. I’m planning on trying out their drink on my next 50km race.
We were blessed with perfect conditions for running, chilly start but once you got going it was great, no wind and although there was the odd muddy patch it was a smooth run all the way around.
The winner finished in 36:43 and first female 42:24. I finished in 46:16 as 7th female and 43 overall out of 136 runners, with the final runner in at 1:15:14.
If you’re looking for a quick start to the winter training season next year then come along to Lochore and join them for the 3rd year in 2017.
adventure ədˈvɛntʃə/Submit noun noun: adventure; plural noun: adventures an unusual and exciting or daring experience. “her recent adventures in Italy” synonyms: exploit, escapade, deed, feat, trial, experience, incident, occurrence, event, happening, episode, affair; More excitement associated with danger or the taking of risks. “she travelled the world in search of adventure” synonyms: excitement, exciting experience, thrill, stimulation; More a reckless or potentially hazardous action or enterprise. “in any military adventure, the first casualty is truth”
The definition of adventure defines #500kin5days for me; to run the length of The Netherlands with my dear friend Marina Ranger, wearing only our pink Runderwear raising money for Pink Ribbon Foundation was going to be the longest, most fearful and excruciating challenge we’d ever attempted.
Check out our Simply Runderful Teaser video:
Marina and I started on this journey as we both wanted an adventure that would take us across a country, challenge us more than any race had every done before and to raise money for a charity close to our hearts, read more about this in my earlier blog here.
#500kin5days was designed to push us to the limits and test our boundaries; I wanted to find out where my breaking point was. The first breaking point came before we’d even started whilst still in the planning & preparation stage with work pressures, family life and training, something had to give and the bubble burst. I was so busy in the lead up to the challenge, with having a demanding full-time job, ‘running’ Edinburgh Run Tours, my own training regime and also project managing renovation work to our house that it came to a weekend in June that I was supposed to go to London and attend an event with Marina to promote our challenge that I had to cancel and take a weekend to do some life maintenance.
Never under estimate the time and effort it takes to organise a self-made adventure of any scale. Marina and I started planning #500kin5days in December 2015 and there were never enough days or hours in the week. The initial planning was around details of the route which involved following the Pieterpad, a long distance hiking trail in The Netherlands, planning checkpoints and accommodation accordingly. We had to make sure the detail of the routes were accurate and consistent enough that the support crew could coordinate the checkpoint locations.
We approached a number of companies in the early part of the process and were lucky to get the support of not only Runderwear (obviously) but also Naked Runner Sunglasses , For Goodness Shakes for our all important recovery shakes every evening, Brooks Running for a donation of kit, Brandfuel for a donation to assist with expenses and Altum Consulting who donated £500 each to Pink Ribbon Foundation and to our expenses as well as supplying some branded kit. PR and social media activity was a big part of the adventure to help raise awareness of what we were trying to accomplish and of course raise as much funding for Pink Ribbon Foundation. Dr Craig Haslop from the University of Liverpool gave up a lot of his own time to work on executing a PR plan with us, ensuring we had a good media presence ramping up to the start of the adventure and post event. Marcin and Lukasz from Smartfilm Productions spent a lot of time prior to the event shooting a crowd funding video and then spent the week with us in The Netherlands filming all the action, and now face the unenviable task of editing and putting together a documentary. Special thanks to the above companies, we are forever grateful for your support.
D-Day the 27th July came around rather quickly and before anyone knew it we were standing at the start of the Pieterpad ready to run 100km! It all felt a bit surreal and both Marina and I were lost in our own thoughts of how we were going to manage to complete this crazy adventure. Standing there at 6am in a tiny little Dutch village wearing only our pink Runderwear we both started to feel rather exposed and vulnerable. Quietly and without much ado we were off and our inhibitions started to drop about the fact that we were only in our underwear as we discovered our strength in our running and we were soon chatting away and the miles ticked away. Possibly too much chatting as we managed to go off route before the 1st checkpoint!
It was frustrating getting lost the first time but we were fresh and full of energy so it didn’t bother us but the 2nd time really mentally challenged us, it was at the end of day 2 and we were tired, in the middle of a forest feeling like we were going around in circles a bit like Blair Witch project, it was about to get dark and we had no head torches with us so we were starting to get very worried and scared, needless to say we were quite snappy to our long suffering graveyard shift runner, Suzan (apologies accepted after being fed and watered of course).
The well scheduled routine of each day included the crew getting up early at 5am to prepare breakfast and ensuring everyone knew what their roles were and what to expect at each checkpoint. It was a great mental relief and a real motivational lift to see a friendly face every 10km and we looked forward to checkpoint 5 (lunch) every day with such enthusiasm to see what surprise location and treats Joerie (Camp Daddy) had in store for lunch, though we were limited to a 30min break each day to ensure time didn’t get way on us too much.
Each day was similar in the fact that we’d start the early morning sluggish but generally have a great first half of the day before fatigue and tiredness would start to kick in during the late afternoon as we became progressively slower. It was very difficult coping with the lack of sleep & recovery time as we were spending 15-16 hours on our feet everyday, not getting to the hotels until 10:30pm so by the time we ate, showered and got into bed it was past midnight. Sleep doesn’t come easy when your feet are throbbing, legs are aching and twitching and the alarm would sound at 5am and we’d have to get our swollen feet back into our trainers. By day 4 my feet were just a big swollen mess so I was really pleased with my decision to go a full size up on usual sizing and even more pleased I’d gone with Hoka Cliftons that were so cushioned and I ran every step of the way in them.
Aside from exhausting tiredness and swollen feet, and my one blister; I suffered terribly from chafing under my arms of all places. My running technique keeps my arms close to my body and the rubbing caused chafe upon chafe which got so painful I ended up having to wear a shirt, I couldn’t very well not finish the challenge because of my underarms! My legs were eaten alive by the very hungry Dutch horse flies, they delivered a terrible bite and would develop into huge red marks that itched like mad! Apart from external issues my body handled the stress very well, my legs were tired but I developed no injuries which I put down to a good program of strength and conditioning.
My husband Dion, who had just returned from a 250km race (see more http://www.findinggobi.com) always says that with multi stage events everyone is going to have a bad day, it’s just about minimising how bad that day is and how it impacts you. This for me was day 3, 270km in. I was so tired I was sleep running and having just gotten over half way of the challenge, the end seemed like a very long way away. We spotted our crew Rhianon and Suzan holding up a sign saying ‘You are Superheroes’ and we both broke down in inconsolable tears for a good 15mins but then somehow we got up and got going again, a special thanks to these 2 superstars for mopping up our tears and somehow giving us a hug and a kick up the bum at the same! We would not have completed this challenge without these two.
My day of total inspiration came in many forms on day 4, we had been joined by Dion and I felt rejuvenated and it was like I had a complete bag of happy energy. I also wonder whether my body had adjusted to the newly established way of life; run, eat, sleep & repeat! At the same time I was having a surprisingly strong day Marina was having a really tough time and I think she cried most of the day with her partner James carrying her to the hotel room at the finish. I was in awe of her sheer determination, struggling through the immense pain of a sore knee mixed with exhaustion she just kept going, swallowing the tears and pushing on. That is why I wouldn’t have done this challenge with anyone else, I know Marina has this dogged determination to never give up.
The beauty of The Netherlands surprised me. The Netherlands are known for being pretty, but I hadn’t expected so many stunning routes along the Pieterpad. Originally I had expected a lot more cycle paths and bitumen so was pleasantly surprised to find trails of sand, gravel, stunning forests and tree lined paths that helped keep our minds occupied looking at the scenery. I was also rather surprised to find that The Netherlands have hills, trust me there are hills.
Along the way support was well received from people such as Kiki, who runs Nijmegen Running Tours and also gave us a massage at the end of day 3, Ramon just outside Maastricht who ran the last 30km with us and Rahoul from Maastricht Running Tours who took us through the last 20km.
We finished in the sunshine in Maastricht to the applause of our amazing support crew and celebrated with pink bubbly in plastic cups. Ultra running adventures are not glamorous and unless you are an elite runner; the finish line is often very quiet and only inhabited by those that love you, and that is ultimately what matters most. I don’t run these types of challenges for the plaudits, I do it for me, to have to dig deeper every time and uncover a more resilient self and in that I find my happiness and my success.
We raised a phenomenal amount for Pink Ribbon Foundation, currently our donations are sitting at £7,573 (you can still donate here) and we have raised a further £676.10 through the 10% donation from Runderwear for all the sales of pink Runderwear during our campaign. We are really pleased with all the fantastic support and donations we received during our journey and want to say ‘Thank you’ to each and everyone of you for all your varying types of support and donations along the way, both Marina and I, and of course the team at Pink Ribbon Foundation are eternally grateful.
This adventure would not have been possible without our support crew, they are true superstars! Hats off to anyone that completes adventures fully sufficient as we are forever indebted to our crew for looking after us so well. The A-Team crew consisted of (in no particular order) Suzan & Joerie Haring (my cousin & husband), Tad & Rina Jantjes (my Uncle & Aunt), Patrick & Angela Ranger (Marina’s parents), Rhianon West (Friend for life), and of course Dion Leonard & James Booth (our respective partners). Within the crew we had a car with caravan and 3 other passenger vehicles along with a bike and trailer for the film crew, Marcin and Lukasz from Smart Film Production who were on hand to film all the action.
Without a shadow of a doubt this was hands down the toughest challenge we have ever completed; filled with tears, exhaustion, pain and of course some laughs too.
Running has given me a great reason to travel the world and I’ve been fortunate to run in locations from South Africa to America to Turkey to all over the United Kingdom and whilst every race has given me many rewards and enjoyment none have been as great as the reward of everlasting friendships. This shone through at the 2016 Ultimate Trails 110km & 55km in The Lakes district.
I ran the race in 2015 (read more about that here), and felt the race offered so much in the way of, stunning countryside, beautiful views, adventure with some serious toughness without needing to travel anywhere outside the UK. I encouraged my dear friends Marina and Rhianon to enter for 2016 and also liaised with Graham Patten the race director to invite my Turkish friend, Mahmut Yavuz, one of Turkey’s best ever elite ultra runners to attend. Mahmut had never been to the UK before and what better way to show him our beautiful country than by running 110km through some of the most stunning scenery the Lakes District has to offer.
I met Mahmut and Marina at my first ever multi stage race in 2013 at the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM) in South Africa, and a strong friendship was forged between us all. Since then Marina and I have become best of friends and run many races together, including the “Toughest Footrace in the World” Marathon des Sables, which we ran side by side across the Sahara Desert. In fact it was during MDS Marina and I hatched the plan to embark on our biggest challenge to date, running the length of The Netherlands #500kin5days for the Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer charity, read more about that here.
Rhianon and I met through the world of Twitter as she approached me about coaching her to improve her running (read her testimonial here). I got to know Rhianon more as we worked together on her training plans and she has successfully improved her pacing, distance runs and now has developed a serious love of hills, in particular those on the West Highland Way. I now consider her a close friend and we regularly meet up for training weekends and head off to races together. She is also Head Crew for #500kin5days so we know we are in safe hands.
Coming from Turkey to the UK was an experience in itself for Mahmut, with Istanbul enjoying a hot 35 degree summer he was shocked to land in Edinburgh where it was drizzly, overcast and only 13 degrees, a typical summer’s day! The forecast for the race was no different with plenty of rain planned. Before leaving to the Lakes District I of course took Mahmut on an Edinburgh Run Tour to see the highlights of Edinburgh and get him acclimatised to our summer.
A warm welcome awaited us in The Lakes from Graham and all the crew from Ultimate Trails. Starting the race at midnight with the rain pelting down on the race briefing shelter we all knew we were in for a wet one this year. Mahmut positioned himself at the front and it would be the last time I saw him until the finish line again. I am sure everyone would agree that the weather made the event one of the toughest yet with lots of mud, slippery rocks and knee deep bogs to contend with but the race was superbly organised and we still managed to enjoy stunning Lake views along the way as we ascended and descended 3,600m over various passes.
Mahmut had an interesting race, not being used to wet trails he spent most of the slippery downhill’s on his rear, but staying in top contention swinging in between 2nd and 4th placing throughout the race, read his full story here.
I ran the race in the good company of Marina crossing the line just over 18 hours, in joint 7th female and 71st overall. I had hoped to run this year’s race quicker than last year but the weather added a different dimension of slippery rocks, knee deep bogs and fairly constant driving rain, in between small bouts of hail and/or sunshine! We drew on each other’s strengths when we both hit bad points along the way and laughed at our own predicament together, we both suffered from the shits along the way with cramping which hampered our progress but at least misery loves company!
Our friend Rhianon completed the 55km, which was her toughest race to date with 1,763m of ascent to conquer and was great preparation for her upcoming race in October where she is heading of to run the Atacama Crossing, a 250km multi stage race through the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert. She finished with a massive smile on her face and is keen to do the 110km next year, so it looks like I might have to go back again, though I may see what the 55km option is like for a change. Mahmuts’4th position overall meant he won a free entry to next year’s race which I have no doubt he will want to come back with some knowledge of the route to try and take an even higher placing next year, and possibly bring some of his running friends along too.
I was amazed at how many of the runners and volunteers I chatted to throughout the 110km that I had met before at races or that knew me through my blog and Twitter and really enjoyed chatting to them all and watching them achieve fantastic results at this race.
The links in running go on and on and the friendships created will last a lifetime.
Race friends have quickly become very close and trusting friends who have been welcomed in our home and us being welcomed in theirs across the world. Next week I’m welcoming the amazing Elise Downing who is currently running the entire length of the UK coastline to stay with us, before setting off with Marina on our adventure to run across The Netherlands. I then head to 160km Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in August where I look forward to catching up with old and meeting new friends running the various races.
What experiences have you had of this amazing forging of friendships across all borders? I’d love to hear your stories too.
Meet Ben Smith, the man who is currently just over half way of his challenge to run 401 marathons in 401 days, raising £250k for two fantastic charities ‘Stonewall’ and ‘Kidscape’, working tirelessly to combat bullying in our schools and society. Get involved yourself by joining him for a marathon, or part of one, donating, buying merchandise or supporting him with accommodation/treatments/food. Find out more at the401 website.
I had the privilege of running his 273rd marathon with him on Monday 30th May, after we had both run the official Edinburgh Marathon the day before, and here is what he had to say:
Running with Ben has really put things into perspective for my upcoming challenge to run the length of The Netherlands, 500km in 5 days with my friend Marina, it is going to be so tough and we are going to be exhausted, I was exhausted after only 2 marathons back to back! Find out more about our #SimplyRunderful challengehere.