Pilgrims Ultra – 2 day event, 66 miles

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!

Ready to Rock n Roll

Ready to Rock n Roll

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.

We were supposed to go through this....snorkel & fins anyone?

We were supposed to go through this….snorkel & fins anyone?

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!

Nice knee deep cold water to get through

Nice knee deep cold water to get through

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!

Boxhill which just keeps going & going

Boxhill which just keeps going & going

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.

Kalahari Reunion

Kalahari Reunion

Sleep was certainly not happening for most people that night, really only the snorers get a good night’s sleep!

The sleep zone

The sleep zone

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.

New and old friends on Day 2

New and old friends on Day 2

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.

Super husband waiting for me yet again

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.

Taking the detour around the burst river on Day 2

Taking the detour around the burst river on Day 2

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.

Dion & Andy heading up St Martha's Hill

Dion & Andy heading up St Martha’s Hill

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.

The finish!

The finish!

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.

 

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On track & feeling strong

What a week!

84 miles in total!  That is the furthest I have ran since completing the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in October last year.  Considering I am training for Pilgrims Ultra in a couple of weeks in the lead up to Marathon Des Sables in April, I would say that is well on track.

One of the hardest things about racking up the mileage is not necessarily the sore legs (yes that too of course), but finding the time.  I work full time, so this does mean getting up early in the dark, or heading out later after a full day at work to get the miles in.  I got in 11 miles Monday morning nice & early, did the same 11 on Tuesday morning, followed by 9 in the evening to make up the 20, followed by a well deserved rest day, a short 5 Thursday morning and another rest day Friday.  2 rest days in preparation for the big weekend.

The plan was to run 30 miles on the Saturday from Edinburgh to East Linton via the John Muir Way along the coast, stay the night, then run back.  Saturday was a great day, blessed with dry weather and sunshine.  We (hubby & I) packed up our backpacks (6kg) and headed off.  To be fair the first 20 miles were pretty easy, felt good & strong, then of course it starts to get hard!  The John Muir Way is brilliant, well sign posted, mixed terrain of paths, sand, trail and rocks with some great views en-route.  Photos next time, my hands were too cold to get photos.  I need to look at getting some better gloves, been eyeing off Ashmei gloves……I wear gloves, but I find that once I have stopped once, my hands get cold and can never get warm again and it really puts me off.  I have been reading about the Ashmei gloves, and they have special material so you don’t need to take them off to use your phone, perfect for taking photos!  Anyhow we made it to North Berwick, 26 odd miles on the clock, and realised it was still another 6 or 7 miles to East Linton…..do we plod on painfully slow & then have to back it up again tomorrow, or jump on the train back to Waverley station (save our accommodation money!) and run back home from there to make it 27?  The train won!  Home, dinner & bed.

I woke up Sunday feeling pretty alright, so we made tracks for our planned 20 miles, we needed to do an out and back, otherwise it wasn’t going to get done.  We headed off, bit slow to start, not sure if that was from the sore muscles or the very icy paths.  It was definitely small steps or you would end up on your bum!  No packs today, just running to get the mileage in.  Felt pretty good for the first 10, so that was encouraging, even the next 5 were okay, but have to say the last 6 (extra mile as I got lost, don’t ask!) were quite tough going.  But that’s what its all about.

I’d set up my training plan to really test my endurance, and this week certainly did that.  I am hoping that by pushing my limits it will make me stronger, ready for more.  So a rest day Monday then back on it, ready for another tough week, upping the mileage slightly with a back to back 30:30 on the weekend.  I’m feeling positive though, my legs felt good this morning, but wisely I will take the rest day and maybe get some Bikram Yoga in tonight to help the recovery, and then carry on strong for the week.

Keeping the festive ‘cheer’ at bay

The festive period is a tough time for anyone who is trying to keep fit or watch their waistline that’s for sure.  Which is why I am so proud of my efforts over the festive period.  Not that I need to lose weight necessarily, but what woman isn’t pleased when the weight comes off, and I have a goal to lose a few kilos before Marathon Des Sables (MdS) as it will make the running a bit easier, but I managed to lose a net 3kg (1/2 stone) over the festive period!  Yes I did!

How did I accomplish such a seemingly impossible concept?

I guess it is made a bit easier that we live far away from our family & friends in Australia, and after just having moved to Edinburgh from Manchester, friendless up here.  That resulted in less nights out, and no-one’s house to go to over the Christmas days to eat all their leftover foods either.  We kept things simple in our house, our only extra purchases apart from normal food, was 1 Christmas pudding, and that was it (which we ate on Boxing Day after a 20 miler so well deserved).  We had Xmas lunch out, so we didn’t need to get anything in for that, so no extra leftovers to deal with.  We knew we were having a load of friends come visit for Hogmanay so we consciously kept our diet in check over the other days to allow us to have a blow out from the 30th through to the 2nd.  I made good use of that blow out; cocktails, wine, fried food, 3 courses, cheese, chocolates; you name it – I ate it!  We still maintained our running throughout the time though and I even got in a cheeky 5 miler on New Years Day in between cooking breakfast for our visitors.

And the other ingredient – running!  The week leading up to Christmas week, I ran a total of 45.5 miles over 4 days.  Christmas week I ran 57 miles over 5 days, with the biggest day being Boxing Day with a 20 miler!  The week of Hogmanay (New Years), which I knew was going to be my worst week, I still managed 42 miles over 5 days.

This week I am aiming for 84 miles (see my training plan), which is quite a stretch and is going to involve a seriously long run, backed up with another seriously long run over the weekend.  Tough mileage, but I have got the Pilgrims Ultra coming up on the 1st & 2nd February, which is 33 miles each day along the North Downs Way, so there is no rest for the wicked!

I am back on the eat clean & train hard regime, and aiming for the next few months, until after MdS (12th April) without alcohol as well, to ensure I am in the best state possible both physically & mentally.  The lack of alcohol & the prospect of a cold beer at the finish will no doubt make me run faster!  In all seriousness, I really notice a difference to my running without it.  My husband, Dion, went most of December without a drink, and he was absolutely killing me on the hills around Edinburgh, I know he is normally quicker anyway, but this wasn’t just quicker; he was doing it with absolute ease where as I was seriously struggling to breathe & run at the same time!

We have found some great training runs around Edinburgh, making full use of the sand at Portobello beach, and have hijacked a farmers paddock full of ankle deep mud.  It’s a mile around the circumference of the paddock, and it kills you, especially after clocking up some miles already in the legs.  It really does mimic how you feel after the long day out running in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, energy & muscle sapping, so perfect training for MdS.

Me in the mud, sweating my a**e off!

Me in the mud, sweating my a**e off!

Me running through the muddy paddock

Me running through the muddy paddock

Muddy Shoes with funky socks

Muddy Shoes with funky socks

Sand running at Portobello Beach

Sand running at Portobello Beach