Pondering about Pilgrims

Need a great way to flush out the excesses of the festive season?  Then look no further than Extreme Energy’s Pilgrims Challenge.  66 miles over 2 days on the North Downs Way with 2,364 metres ascent is enough to scare off the most stubborn mince pie!  The format is to run 33 miles from Farnham over the NDW to Merstham, stay the night in a school hall, then run the 33 miles back the next day.  In the evening there is plenty of food & hot drinks, massages on offer, kit to check out and a series of guest speakers including myself this year.  You can opt to run one day rather than the two, but it really is a fun evening and a great chance to catch up with a lot of other runners you might have met at other races or through the wonderful social media world of twitter.  The crew take your bag for you, so you only need to carry what you need on you for the actual race.

This was my 2nd time at Pilgrims, and I had almost forgotten how brutal it is!  Always held in the last weekend of January the weather always plays a part and whilst last year we were redirected around flooded rivers, this year it was just mud, snow, mud and more snowy mud!  I knew I was much fitter than last year, but having competed in Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in November and enjoying possibly too much rest, impacted by a rather naughty period over Christmas, I wasn’t in top form to be racing.  I knew I would do better than the previous year but wasn’t sure how I would shape up to the other runners as this race certainly brings in a very strong field of very competitive runners.

Marina & I ready to start day 1

Marina & I ready to start day 1

I was at the start early to see off Marina Ranger, my co-patriot from Kalahari, whom I have been coaching now since September last year who was off in the 9am wave of runners (walkers had headed off at 8am already).  There was snow on the ground and more sleet and snow falling, so it was truly freezing, here I was thinking I had come south for some warmer weather!  Who was I kidding?  XNRG are always superbly organised events, within 2 minutes of arriving at registration I had my bib number, chip a handful of chocolates and had caught up with Neil, Anna and Brian the wonderful organisers of this event among others.  I hung around and caught up with some of the other runners before my start time of 10am, which by then my feet were frozen solid, I just couldn’t get warm.  I didn’t feel warm during any of day 1 with the continuous wet weather ensuring I remained wet & cold.  Actually the only part of me that wasn’t cold was my hands since I have switched my preferred glove to Gore Windstopper Gloves, a recent acquisition from Run & Become, considering I suffer from Raynaud’s I was very impressed as this was my first ultra distance in them and they certainly lasted the distance.  Read my review here.

Looking rather chilly on the start line of Day 1

Looking rather chilly on the start line of Day 1

The 10am group headed off with a blast and race leader & winner Danny Kendall took off with a bang knocking out the first 10k in 37mins and coming in for the day in 3h 48!  It was fast paced for the entire 33 miles with everyone pushing hard.  It wasn’t long before we were passing the walkers that had started earlier and then started rounding up some of the 9am starters.  It’s always nice passing others, especially familiar faces to give each other a quick pat on the back to push through to the end.  It was muddy throughout, particularly in the 2nd half of the run on the steeper hills, leaving me to wonder how I was going to get up or down some of these hills tomorrow, truly treacherous (as you may know I am not a huge fan of mud!), I managed a respectable 5h 41 putting me in 10th female for Day 1, which was a whole hour quicker than last year but disappointingly a long way off the winning female Elisabet Barnes who did it in 4h 49.

Pilgrims finish line with Neil photo bombing!

Pilgrims finish line with Neil photo bombing!

I got in and got myself sorted with a nice hot shower and got a For Goodness Shakes recovery drink in straight away and some pot noodles.  I booked myself in for a massage and then made sure I checked my presentation worked on the equipment before tonight’s talks.  I expended a lot of energy going around talking to people, which was great in terms of being social, but not what I needed for recovery, and in hindsight I certainly expended a lot more energy being nervous about giving my talk which I hadn’t thought would happen.  So much so I totally forgot to put on my compression before bed as well – a fail in my recovery process that I have tried and tested!  The evening was a great chance to talk to lots of runners, so of whom I know, and some new friends.  I gave my talk on multi day desert running, which was well received with about 100 of the 200 runners all there as training runs for this year’s Marathon Des Sables.

Never do you get a good night’s sleep in a school hall filled with a group of runners, but it is what it is!  With everyone waking up with stiff legs the initial miles are always slow to start as runners get warmed up tackling the hilly first half of the route back.  More snow had fallen but it was a beautiful sunny winters day, very cold but gorgeous.  My legs were stiff to get going and my feet were in tatters so I struggled on some of the muddier hills, downhill is definitely my weakness at the best of times but heading down when you can’t get grip is my worst nightmare, so this definitely slowed me down a lot.  I settled into my pace and from the last checkpoint decided to run with Toby who had been playing tag with me for the day.  Toby is running MdS later this year so I prattled my way to the finish about my experiences as he had missed the talks the night before and pushing him through to keep going.  I finished the day in 6h 44, again another hour quicker than last year, but too slow, finishing as 11th female over the 2 days.  I had taken my mind off the job at hand on day 2 and just didn’t back it up, but it was a good solid training run preparing me well for my challenges ahead in 2015.

I leave this year’s Pilgrims Challenge with a strange mix of emotions, whilst I had a great time running & catching up with everyone and I massively improved on last year’s times, I feel strangely disappointed in my performance.  I put this down to Pilgrims not being my A race as the conditions don’t suit me at all as I much prefer the hot climate races, hence my upcoming race calendar.  It is a great fun event and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to try out the multi day events in a safe, caring and fun environment without having to travel abroad.

Advertisements

Race to the Stones

Earlier in the year I wrote about being chosen as part of The North Face ultra team, 10 women running 100km non-stop at Race to the Stones. It feels like a lifetime ago, but here I was ready to run.
I was feeling good considering I’d just got back at the beginning of July after a failed attempt at a 100 miler in the US, having stacked on a good half a stone in the process. My training had been going well and I managed to drop the additional weight in the last 3 weeks sensibly, not foolishly, and to top it off I was feeling confident of a good & strong race.
Luckily hubby had decided a few weeks prior to come with me and run his own race, Extreme Energy Chiltern Ultra 50km, with their start line around the corner from ours it made perfect sense; drop me off at the start, run his own race and then collect me at the finish. Giving me an extra 2 hours sleep Friday night as I wouldn’t have to do any car drop offs and shuttles before the start, and no driving an hour back to the hotel after running 100km. Win:win!
It had been warm all week in the lead up, and on Friday it was the hottest day of the year so far! However the forecast for Saturday was changeable; sunny, cloudy, heavy thunderstorms, hail, you name it, it was planned. It was still forecast to be in the high 20’s so I certainly wasn’t too bothered about getting too cold en-route but as part of the mandatory kit you had to take a warm top (I packed my Skins) and a waterproof jacket (Berghaus waterproof smock).
Besides knowing Susie Chan, I hadn’t met the rest of my team mates so it was great to meet them all briefly before the race started. I managed a team shot of us all, except for Sorrell who had already made her way to the start line to start from the front. She meant business which was apparent with her brilliant No.1 female overall finish! What a speed demon! I also wanted to mean business so I managed to squeeze my way through to near the front alongside Julia Donovan (who I’d met in Marathon Des Sables and she had gone on to be 5th female there) and Michelle Bowen (female winner of Apocalypse 100).

TNF Team

The North Face Ultra Babes Team

 

Serious pre race chat with Cat

Serious pre race chat with Cat

I started off strong as not long after the start it was single track for a small section which would have really frustrated me had I been further back. For the first hour of the race I stuck to my plan and ran my own race not worrying about anyone coming past me as I knew I could pick them off later. By the 20-30km mark this strategy started to pay off as I passed about 20 runners.

Running through the poppy fields

Running through the poppy fields

I had started taking fuel on board after the first half hour, firstly gels (2 times) then a bar (1 time) to try and break it up a bit. I had a mixture of gels from Torq (as well as bars), High 5 and Hammer Nutrition of all different flavours. For hydration I had a 500ml bottle for plain water, and the other 500ml I had with Hammer Perpetuem. I had enough perpetuem and food out for the first 40km so I wouldn’t need to stop at any of the checkpoints apart from having to refill the water. This worked well, I stormed my way through to 40km to the 4th pitstop, feeling very positive and strong.
At 40km I was greeted by old MdS pal, Rory Coleman, checking if I needed any paracetamol (in house joke between us from MdS where he helped me out one day when I was struggling), but today I didn’t need any help, a quick turn around of throwing out empty packets and restocking my gels and my perpetuem and I was off with the wise words from Rory ‘Don’t forget to take your salt!’. Thanks Rory, I had nearly forgotten!

En route

En route

Just before the halfway point the path splits into two, the 50km finishers (or 2 day option runners) branch off to the left and the rest of us branch right to keep going. I think it’s a good thing not to have to see the camp site, or a finishing line for your mental stability! I made it to Pit Stop 5, 48km in 5h 13, which was a lot faster than I had initially thought, but I was feeling good. There was pasta on offer here with many runners stopping to take advantage, I went straight through as I had no intentions of stopping. It was shortly after this that I got a text message, this was the only time I looked at my phone as I knew it would be from Dion texting me his result from his race (6th overall). This spurred me on even more and I wanted to make him proud of me too.

Running along the river

Running along the river

55km in the legs started to feel a bit heavy, still feeling strong but the pace was starting to drop off and it was getting pretty hot. It was a muggy, suffocating heat with thunder rolling in the distance but no rain! Pit stop 6 seemed to take forever and it was the only leg where I actually ran out of water, I even started asking walking spectators how far the next pit stop was as I was getting desperate. Thankfully I found it in time and didn’t dehydrate and then the rain finally came down. It bucketed down with rain and hail that completely saturated me (and found my chafed bits #ouch!) but it was such a relief to cool down, I remember my pace picked up dramatically again and I was running with a big smile on my face during the whole downpour.
I was still doing well taking on my gels though the bars weren’t going down as well and for the last hour before 80km had not taken anything. The body was starting to hurt after 80km, legs were tired, feet were sore and my chest had started to tighten up. Just after 80km I forced down another energy gel, but no sooner had I swallowed the gel that it came straight back up! First time I have vomited during a run, but can it count as a vomit when it was literally the gel coming back up, nothing else. My mantra for the last 20km was ‘Pain is temporary, it may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year. But eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever’. To be fair I just repeated the pain is temporary segment, it was too long!
The last part of the route, high up on the Ridgeway was absolutely stunning. I made sure I looked around and tried to soak it all in as this is one of the reasons I run. Most of the route was picturesque and I really enjoyed the different types of terrain and views we were blessed with along the way but I did start to wonder where these bloody stones were! Cruelly we had to double back past the turn off for the finish line to go and visit the stones, run through them and then come back for the final finish. I was on a go slow by now and actually ran into fellow tweep Jamie Woods who was out supporting, but with the finish line in sight I sprinted (well at least it felt like I did) through the line hardly believing what a great time I had achieved.

RTTS finish

RTTS finish

There were no tears though. This was the first race I felt I had run properly in my sense of the term; I left the emotion before the start, took no photos, didn’t spend time chatting to other runners (sorry to anyone I didn’t really communicate back to) and I was just overall focussed on my end goal and the journey I needed to take to get there. That worked! That, along with my much improved training and focus. I was pretty consistent overall too which is what I had been working on. My speed for the first half was 9.19km/hr and for the second half 8.13km/hr. Obviously there is always more to do, more to improve and more to research, but I am happy, very happy!
Needless to say I am ecstatic with my result. 6th female and 60th overall! BOOM!

Me, Cat, Susie & the 100 cake

Me, Cat, Susie & the 100 cake