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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Endurance Life – Coastal Trail Series – Northumberland Ultra 35.7 miles

My first DNF

After training hard the week before with 123 miles ran I was feeling pretty invincible to say the least. Well I was in my head in any case but my legs seem to tell a different story which was to play out later in the week.  I had felt OK but knowing I needed a rest I took Monday off as  a full rest day, headed out for an easy 5 miles on Tuesday, easy 10 on Wednesday, and an even easier 2.5 (yes you heard right, 2.5!  It was my first workplace jog club so I took it easy on them!) on Thursday.  Friday was also a rest day, though I did go to Bikram yoga on Friday night to try and ease out any aches and pains.

Saturday was race day of 35.7 miles-We had to travel from Edinburgh about 2 hours to Bamburgh Castle for the Endurance Life, Coastal Trail Series Ultra, so the alarm was set for 4:40am, out the door for 5am.  Coffee in hand, tasty pastries for a pre-breakfast treat, then at 6am we fuelled up with a ProBar for proper race fuel. Registration and parking were easy as is usual with Endurance Life events, it is all pretty low key to get started.  This start was a bit different and we all got bussed out to the start at 7:20 to make it for an 8:30am ultra marathon start.  It was cold, frost on the ground, but dry & still, so ideal running conditions.

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Bamburgh Castle at first light

After the usual pre race briefing and a relatively quite joint countdown start, all 74 of us set off on our way.  I wanted to try and lead out the ladies from the start and in hindsight I may have gone out too quick. After the first 3 miles I was the first female, running at about 8:15min/miles; silly girl, much too quick for me in an ultra.  As 2 ladies passed me I settled into a more steady 9min/mile routine.  I was soon joined by another lady, of whom I ran with for about the first 15 miles, swapping places along the way through checkpoints and toilet stops en route.

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Dion and I at the frosty start

I had mistakenly thought the race would be easy.  When is 35 miles every easy one would ask?  The race map showed it would be fairly flat the entire way with some downhill, perfect.  Not so.  It certainly didn’t feel flat, and with quite a lot of sand running on the beach it was pretty draining on some pretty tired legs. This was however great prep for MDS in April.

I also wanted to  eat better than on previous runs and I managed to by munching on nuts (100g mixed macadamia, almonds and brazil nuts) regularly and take on small snacks every 5 miles.  I had a Clif energy gel at mile 5 (I don’t normally have gels but thought I would try and eat some different snacks to what I am taking to MdS), pepperami stick at mile 10, tried to eat a mule bar at mile 15 (these just don’t agree with me, note to oneself-no more mule bars), and started on some thai sweet chilli sensations nut at mile 20. Unfortunately from then it was just munching on nuts as I had lost the will to eat which is continuing to be a problem I’m looking to solve.  

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Views along the way

 

Got a great lift from the half marathoners who were milling about somewhere around mile 13/14 into the race awaiting their own race start which was great, but by mile 21 I was fading fast.  It wasn’t long after then, that the first of the half marathoners started to pass me on their fresh legs, but it wasn’t enough to motivate me to a faster run, my legs were just empty.  It was here that I saw the 10k racers getting ready as well to start their race and another couple of miles in some of these started to pass me as well. 

By mile 25 the dreaded little voice inside my head wanted me to pull out so for the next 2 slow mile I was seriously contemplating  pulling out at mile 27, where the race actually takes you past the finish line to go on to do another 9 miles.  It is quite cruel and easy to quit knowing your car/warm clothes are close by, and all the Endurance Life events have the same race route, where the Ultra runners have to go past the finish to do the extra loop to bring them to the Ultra total mileage.  This I guess is the mental challenge part of running an ultra.  I just didn’t have it in me to keep going for some reason and I took the ‘easy’ option of finishing at 27 miles.  In the back of my mind I had thought that hubby may have pulled out here as well also due to the big mileage he did the week before. It probably would have taken me another 2-2.5hrs to finish the last 9 miles, so I didn’t want to leave him sitting them endlessly waiting (another excuse).  He hadn’t pulled out however as I found out after I climbed the gruelling hill to the top of Bamburgh Castle.  I was absolutely shattered when I finished and pretty disappointed with myself for not following through and finishing, but too late now, I had made my decision.  I told one of the marshals I had pulled out, as I could only manage the 27 miles that day not the 35, she was quite incredulous to say ‘only 27 miles’ as well as the runner behind me who was dead on his feet after doing the half marathon distance!  It’s all relative I guess.

I tried to keep myself warm as I waited for hubby to cross the line, and about 45 minutes later he appeared.  In a complete state, he was completely spent, so much so he completely collapsed in a heap when he crossed the line with nothing more to give.  Food smeared all over his face from trying to eat along the way, he was close to tears and huddled in a ball for about 15 minutes until he was functional enough to walk back to the car.  For once it was me waiting for him (albeit I had run 9 miles less!) so it was my opportunity to look after him for a change and get him warmed up in the car and begin rehydrating with our first choice for recovery, For Goodness Shakes,  and some food sorted out.  I was super proud of him for finishing in 9th place especially since he had actually ran 140 miles the week before himself.  My very own Superman!

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Dion making it in to the finish! 

A rest day ensued on Sunday and Monday to get some time off the feet.  It is now only 3 weeks, 6 days and 22 hours until the start line of the Marathon Des Sables.  All the hard work is done, the time left is to keep things in check, diet & exercise, and get my head totally right and focussed for the week.  My aim is to make it into the top 100, which is a massive goal, a scary goal, but imagine how great I will feel if I can accomplish that!  My secondary goal is to be in the top 25 of all the females, and would also like to be the first Australian female home as I am competing as an Australian as this meant I could go this year and not join the UK waitlist!

 

 

I am an Ultra Runner! And so is Dion!

After a false start on 19th January when I was supposed to be running the Endurance Life www.endurancelife.com Coastal Trail Series Anglesey Ultra, but this got cancelled due to the snow, I finally made it to the start line of my first Ultra with hubby in tow.  34 miles around the North York Moors.  Of course there was the option of running a 10k, half marathon or the marathon, but not for me!

We made a weekend of it by heading off Friday afternoon from Manchester and stayed at a fabulous B&B in Whitby, http://bensonsofwhitby.com/ who were superb in organising our porridge breakfast for the ungodly hour of 6am without hesitation.

To the start line, it was a 7am registration, after running big name marathons this in itself was a shock to the system by the simplicity of the whole registration and start.  It was a refreshing change though.  There were 39 of us that started, even one with a dog!  The Marathon got underway at 9am, half marathon at 10.30am and the 10k at 11.30am.

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The first section was a gorgeous run along the cliff tops of a 6.9 mile loop that we would revisit again as our last stage.  We were all flying along there, not even noticing the stairway to hell (more on that later!), even with me stopping for an impromptu toilet stop in the bushes courtesy of my pre-race nerves.  I remembered to down a Clif Espresso Shot gel at about 5 miles, just after CP1 at 4.8miles and just before 3 others & I (including hubby) took a wrong turn having to run an additional ½ mile and losing about 15mins in faffing around trying to figure out where to go.  At least we figured out where to go, some poor runner ended up in Scarborough and needless to say did not finish the race, probably just had Fish & Chips and a taxi back to Ravenscar!  We found out afterwards that some local funsters had pinched the directional signage 3 times already, little nutters, lets make them run 34 miles and see how funny it is!  Anyway back on track and having to overtake a big group of runners that we had all just passed 1/2hr previously was pretty demoralising and mentally draining to say the least.  This loop took us back past the start where the half marathon and 10k runners were all milling about waiting to start, so that gave us all a bit of a push from their cheers and encouragement.

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The course then took us north up through Robin Hood’s Bay and the views were absolutely stunning and the hills unrelenting, particularly through Boggle Hole.  I tried eating again at 10miles with 2 bites of a Clif bar, which was all my stomach could manage, I must get better at this eating whilst running business.  Being such a great weather day there were a lot of walkers out giving out lots of encouragement and keeping well out of the way.  CP2 was just at the edge of Robin Hood’s Bay at 13.3miles which we passed again after a ‘quick’ loop around up a rather unforgiving hill!  I did try eating again up this hill, taking advantage of walking, with a cheese & ham roll, again I managed 2 or 3 bites before giving this to the seagulls to finish off!

Just under 5 miles later I was at CP3, which was listed as 18miles in, however my Garmin was showing 20, this worried me as I didn’t think we had gone that far off course earlier, but now started to think this was going to end up a 36mile race which was not a positive thought!  Chatting to another runner, his watch was half a mile less than mine, so I was pleased to see that.  By this stage the marathon and halfers were scattered amongst us all which provided some more conversation and helped kick me along.  I got chatting to one half marathoner who was already in agony stating he was pleased it was only 4 miles to go!  I just agreed and plodded along until he asked me what distance I was running.  He was then in awe and asked if he could run with me until the finish to pace him, I agreed but said I’d be lucky to keep up with him!  However I dropped him along the moors and didn’t see him again.

The run along the moors was beautiful but tough, my energy was waning and it was a walking shuffle jog, is that a technical description?  I thought I had better try eating something again and managed half a salami stick, which tasted surprisingly good!  It actually gave me an energy boost too, I’ll be using that again, they are so light too so easy to carry.  I’m glad I had my next energy wind as I then passed hubby at the marathon finish line, who’d pulled out after the marathon as he had been sick across the moors and it just wasn’t going well.  I agreed to keep going and would see him soon I hoped!

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It was back on the loop now for the last 6 odd miles to go through.  This was an up and down loop emotionally as well as physically, the stairway to hell I mentioned earlier was nearly the end for me, I was in so much pain for them I had to go down them sideways one step at a time leaning on the bannister and the uphill back out the other side of hell wasn’t much easier!  I was also worried about taking the wrong way again, but needn’t have worried as this time CP 5 was located there.  What a saviour!  Managed some water there and half a bourbon biscuit and back on the disused railway line for the last 2 miles to the finish.  I caught up with number 325, Iain Denby, at CP5 and we walked/ran the last bit home.  Hubby had recovered enough by then to meet us about a mile from the finish and walked/ran back with us as well which was great.

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Gone were the adoring crowds of the finish line, but I clocked out and got my finishers dog tag and were were off!

I can’t believe how well I pulled up the next day, felt much better than after Manchester Marathon 6 days prior.  I was even walking down stairs the right way, and 2 days after the race was back on the bike, and running on the 3rd day!  I think this was down to 2 reasons, trail running is much softer on your joints and muscles, although some different ones in my ankles & calves ached from the uneven terrain, and of course you run differently, its not as fast and there is some walking (in my case at least…..as well as for many others).

I was stunned by the scenery and loved the whole run, the experience and the fact I am now an Ultra Runner.  Look out North York Moors, I will be back! 

Now this run was a test for both of us, and after much debating, we have decided to really challenge ourselves to complete the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon www.extrememarathons.com .  Our challenge is to run (walk or crawl) 250km (155 miles) through the Kalahari National Park (think sand, rocks, gravel, hills, mountains and then some) in temperatures ranging from 40 degrees during the day to 5 degrees at night, over 6 stages taking place over 7 days.  With set distances each day ranging from 28km (17mi) to 75km (46mi).  It is a fully self sufficient race, so we have to carry all my own supplies to survive, including all our own food & compulsory survival kit.  So stay tuned, there will be many a training run between now and then!

Ass Kicked Day 10 Janathon

Thank goodness my hubby suggested putting on my jacket for the morning run commute to work, I think I have been deceived by our recent mild weather and looking outside at 6.30am, it looked aok, but heading out it was absolutely freezing! A great run though, I was warm enough in my gear for the 7 mile jaunt to work, but it is a nice feeling to feel the sweat kicking in under it all! I even wore my new buff from http://www.endurancelife.com (Never Give Up is the slogan so very fitting!). I kept thinking of my monster race coming up on the 19th in Anglesey through the same website, 32mile ultra planned, so these 7 miles to work are really just base miles, so when I get tired I just think it’s only going to get harder so keep going! It’s a great reward to get to work and have a hot shower and feel refreshed and ready to take on the day.
With Bioticfit circuits planned, I cycled 9 miles to Abney Hall Park and did a monster session of circuits. James, our trainer, certainly knows how to get the most out of all 28 of us. We kicked ass doing static squats, kettle bell squats, squats with sledgehammers and burpees with a tyre to name a few killer moves. I’m feeling it in my rear this morning so it definitely works!
Relaxing on the couch afterwards hubby and I settled in to watch The toughest race on earth, with James Cracknell completing the MdS, Marathon des Sables. Considering we are eyeing it off for 2014 it was certainly educational, scary, thought provoking, but still utterly inviting in a crazy way! Deep respect for all the runners that take part, whether they actually finish or not #Respect!