Run Talk

I get asked a lot of questions and see the same on social media about how to manage the whole ‘running’ thing from how to fit it all in and how to keep the body fit and well so I put a few thoughts online.

What does my average training week look like?

My average training week is pretty full on, I train 6 days a week, of which I make sure included is at least one session of each hill repeats, speed, strength and a long run. As I build up my mileage increases as I build towards an event this results in some days being double training sessions so both before and after work, but ALWAYS a rest day.

Advice for runners struggling to fit in the miles?

Have a real honest look at your time schedule, where are you wasting time on things like watching TV or sitting of social media (guilty!) and use that time to get out for a run. Look to combine ‘jobs’ with a run?  Can you run to work, or get off the bus/train a few stops earlier and run? Need to pick something up at the shops, run there and back? Still short for time then get up half an hour or an hour earlier and head out for a few miles.  I find the dark, cold mornings are a bit easier with a Lumie light to wake me up and having my clothes laid out ready to go.  No excuses right?!?!

My favourite or best post-run recovery techniques?

I love a chocolate milk after a long run followed by a lovely soak in a warm bath, then getting my Supacore compression tights on with my feet up on the couch, including a 20 min foot/toe stretch with my yoga toes on.  I have a strong love/hate relationship with my foam roller as well, though I am sure my sports masseuse would prefer I did it a LOT more regularly.  A good yoga session the following day is always good to stretch out properly, especially hot yoga.  I treat myself to a good sports massage after any big race or just when I feel my body needs it.

(**Get 10% discount from Supacore by using code – Lucja10 – applicable off any items including sale items**)

Foam rolling in my Supacore compression #doublerecovery

Top tips on essential kit for trail running?

I don’t hit the trails without a few basics in my bag including a first aid kit with safety blanket, emergency food & water, head torch, WAA Ultra waterproof jacket, buff, EGlove gloves & extra layers to keep warm. On me will always be my Suunto watch to track my run and maps and a good pair of trail shoes that work for you.

(**Get 20% discount from WAA Ultra equipment by getting in touch with me directly for an individual code**)

My nutrition tips for runners?

I’m fuelling with good, healthy & nutritious meals before and after runs and I wouldn’t head out for a long run without some Active Root, a natural ginger sports drink which not only gives me enough energy to run and keep me hydrated but the natural reaction of ginger settles my stomach, something which I have struggled with in the past on long runs.  I try to stick to real foods on the run to keep up the energy levels and shy away from gels unless it is towards the end of a race.

What motivates me out on the trails when the going gets tough?

My competitive streak! The fact that I’m either racing or training for a race motivates me and especially if it is a race and I know people are following my results, I’m even more keen to do well.

My advice to anyone who wants to take up running!

Keep it fun but have a focus, signing up to a race/s works for me but what drives you? Is it a PB over a distance, building up to be able to run a certain distance or time, completing a certain race/challenge, or just feeling fitter and stronger? Whatever motivates you, use it, focus on it and enjoy it.

Animo Transvulcania

Animo (Spanish) for spirit & courage

Courage and spirit are most certainly what’s needed for this race that is a true test of strength and true grit by all that venture to even the start line. Transvulcania is a 73.3km single stage race set on the volcanic island of La Palma, with 8,525m of climbing, reaching its most vertical point at Los Muchachos at 2,426m (57.8km into the race) with temperatures in the 30’s it tests the body’s ability to cope with both heat and altitude whilst pushing quad & calf burning climbs and descents.

Brilliant idea for races!

Brilliant idea for races!

But it’s precisely the brutality of the race that makes it all the more rewarding. To be fit enough to be able to enjoy this experience of exploring this stunning island on foot and finish the race is reward enough. After having run my first mountain race in March, Transgrancanaria, finishing just half hour an hour before cut off my goal was to finish this race strong and well before the cut off time of 17hours. I had 3 goals in my head before I started as I think for a race of this magnitude whilst you want to be positive you also need to be very realistic, so I planned for either a 10.5 hour finish, 12 hour or 14 hour finish. Failing any of that I would of course take a finish! Having learnt some lessons from TGC(read my blog here), I came armed to this race with poles. I had always looked at them as cheat sticks which is the reputation they have in the UK and are even banned in a lot of races, but in Europe they are widely accepted and encouraged and if they’re all using them then it’s good enough for me. I’m not entirely sure of the science and actual percentages to back it up but they are there to help your posture and muscle preservation by distributing the weight better, giving you better stability and when all else fails you can lean on them when you are exhausted! I would not have made it down the final descents in one piece without them and now swear by them for mountain races. I used Mountain King Trail Blaze which are super lightweight and fold up nice and easily for easy stashing, not that I stashed mine I found them quite easy to run with as well. Some of the runners could use some lessons in pole etiquette though, be mindful of people swinging them about randomly, stabbing and/or tripping you up. Poles were the only thing I changed from TGC as I am pretty set on my usual kit which is listed below.

The race itself is great value for money with the entry fee at 90 euros. Obviously the costs add up with travel (my flights were about £350 all up, accommodation (60 euros a night shared) and extras of course. It’s not the most straight forward place to get to so wherever you fly from you are going to have to connect. I flew with Ryan Air from Edinburgh to Tenerife South, bus up to Tenerife North and then across to La Palma on a local flight. This was a girly holiday with fellow gal pal ultra runner Marina Ranger and we decided to stay in Los Llanos which was also the location for the pre race registration and most importantly the finish.

Registration was simple, open for 3 days prior it was relaxed and not too busy with no queues, quick and easy we showed some ID got our number and spent some time checking out the expo stands, of which we both purchased the race tattoo which was really helpful throughout the race to check what was happening with the elevation and when your next checkpoint would be.

Registration

Registration

The last thing you need after a massive race is logistical problems to get to your bed so the plan to stay there worked well, though if I came again I would probably plan to leave Los Llanos and move to Tazacorte the following day as the beach is there, but saying that the regular buses were only just over a euro to get there and our apartment (Apartment Adjovimar) was fabulous, with a great little pool and out door area for relaxing in, popular with runners as it is only 1km from the finish I would ensure you book early. The beauty of an apartment is being able to have a fridge and prepare your own food which is handy for that early morning 3am taxi to the start line and of course post race food. Cheese & prosciutto rolls for breakfast did the job and super noodles with a recovery shake and a beer chaser were the order of the day once we’d finished. It’s always imperative to have the post race food organised as believe me the last thing you feel like is going out or finding a shop to buy food. The organisation has buses that leave at 3am from Los Llanos bus station to take you to the start line however we decided to get an extra hour in bed and share a taxi which was 45 euros between us.

Ready to rock n roll

Ready to rock n roll

The race starts at 6am so it’s still dark and a bit fresh but I decided to tough it out in my race kit rather than taking any extra layers, but a bin bag would have been nice! Superb atmosphere to start and the place was rammed with runners, we headed down to the start line with the intention to get ourselves in closer to the front but it was so rammed we ended up probably three quarters in the pack. The race kicks off at a charge around the lighthouse and then it becomes very narrow very quickly bringing the pack to a crawling pace.

Fuencaliente lighthouse - the start

Fuencaliente lighthouse – the start

You have no choice but to be patient, conserve your energy and keep out of harms way as there a people pushing and shoving with poles everywhere, the main objective is to keep moving forward and not fall over. A few runnable sections but most of the way to CP1 is a walk. I get there in 1h19 for 6.1km climbing 709m, I made sure I ate (marzipan balls with fruit & nuts) whilst walking, sticking to one item per hour to keep the energy up whether I feel like it or not along with a salt tablet every hour. The CP is busy and the crowds are tremendous, the whole village at Los Canarios has come out! 2nd CP is another climb of roughly 1,200m over 10km which takes just shy of 2hrs, again this is mainly a walk with some running in patches.

The big crush - me in pink!

The big crush – me in pink!

The next 8km to CP3 El Pilar are my favourite, dropping gently about 500m it is on beautify pine forest trails where you can really get a wriggle on, I do this in about an hour and you can hear the aid station a good 10mins before you get there, music blasting and plenty of crowds to cheer. This is the start location of the marathon which started at 9am and finishes in Tazacorte, it is also the finish line for the half marathon that starts later in the day from the lighthouse. From El Pilar it’s 19km of what looks like flat on the elevation profile for the first 7km to a minor aid station and then another 10km of uphill to reach Pica de la Cruz and takes me about 3hrs. Again all the while eating, having finished my marzipan for my first 3hrs it’s time to switch to gels.

Calf breaking climbs!

Calf breaking climbs!

There’s some mistake here on the details and the checkpoint ends up being 4km further which means I, and many others run out of water, a mistake they have already announced they will rectify for next year. I survive, and I mean survive as the heat is really bearing down on us now and altitude is causing everyone to struggle for air, with many including myself stopping regularly enroute to get the heart rate down. I ask 2 separate passer-bys for water which thankfully they give as I’m dry and pretty disturbed by the amount of people I have seen so far vomiting and/or passing out and being stretchered off. The medical support is everywhere though and they are talking to each and every runner to check with are ‘bien’ – good. Yes 👍’great!’ I keep responding! I make the CP, thinking it would be Los Muchachos already but alas it’s not, that’s another 7km to go taking us to the highest point of the race. 2h20 to do 7km! It’s a slog, but at no point do I consider its too tough for me, I’m hurting but loving every minute! I just can’t explain how awe inspiring the views are, you are just going to have to see it for yourselves but I will say it’s magical, at one point we were running above the cloud line, it was like something out of a movie and the landscape is phenomenal. Speechless! Or is that breathless from the altitude!?

High above the clouds

High above the clouds

Los Muchachos is busy and I waste no time filling up water and devouring some water melon, orange segments and coke, this is the only food I take from the CP’s to substitute my marzipan, gels and Hammer perpetuem. Eat the watermelon! OMG! So good! It’s 11km with a severe drop of 1,300m to El Time and on legs that are shot already this steep technical descent is murder even with poles (I think I’d struggle even on fresh legs), some people run past me obviously much more confident on this very technical terrain and I reach the CP in another 2hrs.

Los Muchachos

Los Muchachos

From there it’s the final drop to Tazacorte beach which I have been able to see since we started descending trying to tempt you down so it’s another 7km with 1,150m drop, again mostly very technical so I’m reduced to a hobble but I enjoying running the steep road. There are some crazy drunk locals out supporting offering their homemade wine to runners, I think why not and down a shot at their avid encouragement. I figure I can’t get any slower maybe this is the rocket fuel I need and I reach Tazacorte in 1h 40 to a heroes welcome. The bars are heaving down here and it s a full dance party atmosphere, people are high fiving you and screaming out your name and shouting ‘Animo, Animo!!’ which you hear all along the way along with ‘Vamoos’ (depart hurriedly).

Selfie before the final descent

Selfie before the final descent

The last 5km section takes me 2hrs, aptly named the ‘sting in the tail’ starts with a few hundred metres in a sandy riverbed with about 500m of a nasty climb back up, here I see more people passing out, with Marina telling me later she sees the same guy I saw passed out then being airlifted out! When you finally reach the top, there is a flat road section to the finish which must be only about 1.5km but feels like forever, the street is lined with people and they are all cheering loudly and high fiving you so you can’t walk even though your legs want you too after that last climb. You see the big Transvulcania sign ahead but it’s not the finish that’s another 300m, turn right, turn left and there it is, the red carpet lined with throngs of supporters. I’ve done it, I’m a super legend! High five, high five! They’re all shouting and cheering me on, arms raised I cross in 14h 31min. What a day! I lean on my poles for a second before I spot a bench with a spare spot between 2 finishers, I sit and burst promptly into tears! Emotional the runner beside me gives me a congratulatory hug with tears in his own eyes. It’s not 2 minutes later and my running pal from TGC, Luis, finishes as well. I’m quickly on the phone to Dion I’m so excited I need to hear his voice but it’s so loud there I can hardly hear him, I hear his super proud of me and that Marina is only 20 odd minutes behind me, so I get back to the finish line to see her cross in 14h 54m! So proud of her as she has improved so much over the 7 months I’ve been working with her putting together a specific training plan first tailored to her Kalahari Race last year and then leading up to this incorporating specific training to get her mountain ready. I seem to be training her too well as she’ll be beating me next!

Finished!

Finished!

We’re elated to be finished before dark, just, and head over to make use of the physios for a quick rub down before heading back to the apartment to get cleaned up and start the recovery process. Sleep does not coming easy that night with our bodies full of adrenalin we stay up chatting for a few hours before a restless sleep on very tired legs keeping us both awake. We spend many an hour talking about the race over the next 3 days we have on La Palma whilst enjoying some well deserved RnR.

Recovery La Palma style

Recovery La Palma style

We hire a car to make the trip back up to Los Muchachos to see it with fresh eyes and whilst there go for a little run. We can’t believe the effect the altitude has on our breathing and still can’t believe how high up we were, even the car struggled to get up there! Recovery has been great, the legs feel very good not that I’ve really tested them as yet. I’ve made sure I’ve drunk lots of water, eaten well and spent a lot of time relaxing by the pool with my feet up and a few dips in the pool. Post race I had my recovery shake within about 2hrs of finishing and ate my super noodles before bed.

The only difference to my normal routine is that I’ve tried CurraNZ which are tablets made from black currant extract, a high potency anthocyanin/antioxidant superfood which is supposed to aid performance and recovery by reducing muscle soreness. It’s the first time I’ve used them so it’s really hard to compare as this race doesn’t compare to anything (TGC I had terrible recovery as I was pretty much straight on a flight!) but I am feeling very good. So…..I’m going to try them again for my next race and see. As advised by the guys at Totally Fuelled (who by the way will give you 15% off any order if you use the code ‘dutchie’ valid until April 2016) I took one tablet a day 3 days before the race, one 2hrs before the race and 2 tablets during (1 every 4-5 hours of exercise). Only time and a few more races will tell. If you’re looking for a challenge that’s as much awe inspiring as it is demanding then this race is for you. It is not to be taken lightly though with 402 Did Not Finish (DNF) out of 1496 starters gives this race a 26% DNF rate, so even if you consider yourself a serious contender, this race is really about listening to your body and getting to that finish line!

Finishers medal & shirt

Finishers medal & shirt

Kit list

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta pack (my review here)

2 x Ultimate Direction soft flasks (420ml each)

1 x Salomon soft flask (500ml) used for Hammer Perpetuem

Salomon lightweight XA cap

Bliz sunglasses

X-Bionic Trick top

Running Bare sports bra

Lululemon pace setter skort (commando)

Injinji toe socks

New Balance Leadville shoes

Mountain King Trail Blaze poles

Black Diamond head torch

Garmin Fenix 2 watch

MdS – What worked well & not so well

I am a Marathon Des Sables finisher! I successfully completed the gruelling challenge and after months of meticulous planning, it’s now time to understand what worked for me and what didn’t. If you are planning to do this event or something similar, I hope this information may be of use to you. Se my original posting here for a detailed kit & food list of what I took.
Was my training right? I had done the training, and I was the fittest I’d ever been in my life, and it wasn’t enough. Not to finish how I wanted, yes I finished which can never be taken away, but maybe my training wasn’t quite right. I did the mileage that’s for sure, you can see that on my training plan, but there wasn’t enough hills (both as hill repeats and long distance miles in the hills), there was a lack of strength and conditioning and the lack of heat acclimatisation was an obvious hindrance to me as the heat really affected me. I spent too much time running on roads (the dark winter nights & mornings the main cause) which has of course helped me, I would have been worse off without all those miles, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and my advice to anyone taking this on would be hills, hills and more hills. 6 stages is a long time and you need to be consistently strong, recover well (which I felt I did, that routine won’t change) and be ready to change your game plan mid race if needed. Get into any dunes and run and run and run! If you don’t have dunes, then hills to build up the power in your legs to get you through the leg strength sapping dunes.
Food was better this time around, it still needs improvement. Still too much sweet, I didn’t enjoy the muesli or the Pro Bars for breakfast and would look to change this to cous cous. I would swap out the tracker and Eat Natural bars for more Pepperami (they were a Godsend and I can eat them all day) and the tuna packs were a great boost too as they are wet, so quite easy to stomach. I’m keen to try out some gels again as Dion found these worked really well for him and gave him good bursts of energy along the way. I took 2 Oxo stock cubes and made a couple of cups of hot stock in the afternoons which was a tasty, salty drink which made you feel good and also quickly got some fluid in. For the little they weigh, I’d be taking one for each day of different flavours. Biltong is also a great source of protein and a tasty snack, my friend, Philip Boardman, who I had met at Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon had brought me some over from South Africa.
I was happy with my clothing. X-Bionic is brilliant and I wouldn’t look to change this. It offers great protection for your body in terms of both from the sun but I also had absolutely no chafing. The X-Bionic clothes keep you cool, but I also noticed during the night stage the top was also working at keeping my body warm as the temperatures dropped. My Raidlight hat with the neck flap was great in protecting my neck, I tried taking the flap off for the charity walk thinking I’d be ok, but quickly put that on as you could feel the sun beating down in minutes! My New Balance Leadville shoes did the job again, I had them in a half a size up from my normal running shoe, and the AR Desert gaiters from South Africa were great. No sand got in to cause irritation, and they lasted the distance. I wore Injinji toe socks which work well for me (zero blisters) and at the start of the race I had Compressport calf guards on as well, but due to the high extremes of heat mixed with the constriction of the calf guards, my legs, including my ankles, broke out in a horrible heat rash. I ditched the calf guards after the long stage and it seemed to help.
I didn’t seem to find the Raidlight Olmo 20L pack as comfortable as the 30L Raidlight I used in Kalahari. It seemed to sit too high on my waist, rather than on my hips, so more of the pack weight was on my shoulders, so even though my pack was a kilo lighter, it felt heavier; or was it just the other elements of heat & sand confusing my feelings? The drink bottles again worked great for me.

Ready to go - full kit rehearsal still at home

Ready to go – full kit rehearsal still at home

It was a bit cool at night and although I had a long sleeved skin, I ended up nabbing a long sleeve thermal top from tent mate Cheryl on day 1 when she was dumping weight from her pack, which I used every night. I had my buff which worked 4 fold; as a neck buff during the day if needed (I didn’t this time), wore it as a boob tube in the afternoon to save wearing a bra, then it was an eye mask early evening while people were messing around with torches, then finally as head cover during the night when it got cold. I also had a pair of little shorts and 3/4 compression tights for the afternoon/evenings. You could just wear your race kit all day and night but it is ‘refreshing’ to change into something else for a while. Some people take underwear and spare pairs of socks, I don’t run in underwear as that prevents chafing, and I wore the same pair of socks all week with no issues. My socks were walking themselves by the end of the week however! They looked very cute standing up all on their own two feet!

Fashion statement of my camp attire and a water bottle as a foam roller!

Fashion statement of my camp attire and a water bottle as a foam roller!

My Thermarest sleeping mat was as ‘comfortable’ as it could be, although it’s noisy when rolling around on it; that is until it got a puncture on the night of the long stage which was rather annoying and ultimately very uncomfortable for the last couple of nights sleep. The lack of pillow was also uncomfortable after the first few nights. I had been using my pack as a pillow, but then it started to get too empty so then used my kit, but that wasn’t enough, and it stunk! So I need to find a solution to this, possibly going back to the z-lite mat or similar and I have heard of someone using a condom blown up each night as a pillow….might be one to try out.
I added a small bottle of antiseptic hand gel to my pack before the start and was grateful for that small touch of hygiene throughout.
It is always interesting see what other people wear and bring with them, but it is all pretty similar in the end.  I hope these thoughts are of some help to you with your own plans.

MdS – Sizzling in the Sahara

The Saharan desert has just chewed me up and spat me straight back out; over and over again in a week of highs and lows in ‘The toughest foot race on earth.

I completed the 29th epic race finishing in 377th place out of 1029 starters with a total of 917 finishers. For anyone who has ever done the race completing in the end is in itself a great achievement and whilst the experience has most definitely enriched me the brutal race at times took its toll on me and made me question myself and push myself to dig deeper than I ever have before.

I went into the race with some huge training mileage under my belt and felt the fittest I’ve ever been in my life with high hopes of a top 100 finish….who was I kidding. This race is mean. By all accounts, Patrick Bauer, Race Director, was keen to ensure that this remains known as ‘The toughest foot race’, and he certainly accomplished that. With 20 people eliminated on the 1st stage alone, and a total of 112 by the finish (11%), I think this may have been the highest number of non-finishers to date!

With such a remote location we are all bussed from Ouarzazate 6 hours out to the desert past the village of Merzouga. Camping begins 2 nights before the race actually starts which means 2 extra nights sleeping rough with no showers to add onto the full week of racing. A great tip we picked up prior to coming out was to bring a good inflatable mattress (£10 Ebay) for the 2 nights so you at least have a comfortable sleep, then leave it for the Berbers when race day arrives. Great tip & I can assure you it earned us many an envious look! We were registered with the Australian contingent via Travelling Fit, who actually put you into tent groups prior so there was no fighting for tents, but the Brits all pre-arrange tent buddies then race for the closest tents, which is always a bit of mayhem. You are fed and watered for the 2 nights and in true French style, the food is great. Race registration takes place on the Saturday morning & this is where the serious queuing begins, you get allocated a time slot to get your kit & medical papers checked, and this involves about an hour of queuing in the hot sun before a cursory check of your items. My checker didn’t even look in my bag, he just asked me if I had a few things, I said yes, and good to go. Flare, road book and race number issued; obligatory promo photo done and you’re set to go.

Tent 62

Tent 62

And it begins….
Race day starts pretty much the same every day, people start to wake at about 5am, by 6am everyone is awake & faffing around. Water collection is 6:30-7:30, then you are supposed to be at the start line for 7:45 for briefing and ready for a 9am start. Of course on day 1 most people are so eager we are all there with our bags on our backs standing up listening to Patrick waffle on while it gets hotter and hotter. By the last day we are turning up 5 minutes before. There’s no doubt Patrick loves the sound of his own voice but by the end of the week asking questions like – Have you got your hat? Yes! Have you got your sunscreen? Yes! Have you got your water? Really?! Obligatory happy birthdays are sung before AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ blares out, and we are off! The helicopter zooms overhead bringing up a sandstorm around the runners and people scatter out wide to make a break for it. It’s on!

Patrick making us dance to 'Happy'.....again

Patrick making us dance to ‘Happy’…..again

Stage 1 was a killer! 34km in total, starting with 13km of the highest sand dunes, Erg Chebbi, in the Sahara, and finishing with a further 3.5km of the same, I got the biggest wake-up call of the week. The heat was something else. Not a breath of a breeze and temperatures hovering around 46 degrees, I was seriously struggling. The combination of the dunes and the heat had sapped my strength by checkpoint 1 and doubts started creeping into my mind about even completing day 1, let alone the entire race! With hubby in the race as well, normally well ahead of me, I was surprised and concerned to catch up to him at checkpoint 2. He was struggling, overheated, sapped of all energy, and his confidence shot to bits. We finished the day together, very slowly, with regular stops on the dunes as our heart rates were through the roof, and it was scary to wonder what was happening to your body being pushed to such extremes. Dion was talking strongly of not going on, to pull out in the morning as he just couldn’t see himself carrying on. Amazing what a nights sleep and some food can do…he didn’t pull out and went on to finish the race super strongly. We lost 2 of our tent mates today, husband and wife Euan and Anthea. From all accounts Euan was vomiting uncontrollably at checkpoint 1, and there’s no coming back from that, with Anthea sticking it out with him. Sad to see them go, and pretty scary when we start hearing about the high numbers lost today.

Needing a break even with the finish line in sight

Needing a break even with the finish line in sight

Stage 2 had me in tears! No dunes but 41km of a mixture of sand, long straight stretches of dried up lakes and oppressive heat, along with pure exhaustion saw me arrive at checkpoint 3 slightly incoherent, told to sit under the cover to cool down where I promptly burst into tears. And I don’t generally cry! Was pleased that the highly experienced 11 times British MdS runner, Rory Coleman, found me there, told me to get my hat off, pour some water on my neck, eat and cool down for 20 mins; he also gave me 2 Anadin tablets, and I was back to normal! Thanks Rory! The day hadn’t been helped by my loss in confidence in myself, and to be honest this hindered me until the very last day.

Making it to the top of a 'small' jebel to be rewarded with some stunning views

Making it to the top of a ‘small’ jebel to be rewarded with some stunning views

Stage 3 was a grind, 37.5km through dry sandy river beds and a number of dunes again. The scenery is absolutely amazing though, and it’s a must to keep your head high to try and soak it all in. I’m still getting into camp at a reasonable time each day, around the 3pm mark, which means I have plenty of time for recovery. Recovery routine is the same each day; For Goodness Shakes first thing, snack on my leftover snacks from the day, stretch, rest and drink as much water as possible before dinner. For people getting in late each day like our tent mates, Cheryl & Kristen, it takes its toll, with Cheryl the next casualty. Out by the 1st checkpoint today, she’s is back in camp before me, and it’s clear the lack of recovery time has been too much. The night before she got in quite late, just after dark, so it’s a quick meal and straight to bed, meaning not enough water intake and absolutely no stretching and snacking. We are down to 3 in our tent now, and whilst it’s roomy, it’s a real shame to have lost 3 of our gang of tent 62.

Fashioning tan lines and a water bottle as  foam roller for recovery

Fashioning stunning tan lines and a water bottle as foam roller for recovery

Stage 4 is the big daddy, or the long day as it’s commonly known. At 81.5km long, it’s not to be taken lightly baking in the 45-50 degree heat all day and still going well into the evening. The first leg is nice and flat, and as you get through the first checkpoint, the Jebel looms up in front of you. A spectacular ascent of 30% gradient over slate rocks and loose sand is brutal! It’s a slow climb to the top as it’s single file all the way up, except for a few rather annoying French and Italian runners that attempt to pass people on the outside, dislodging massive rocks that come down through the rest of us. The last 20m is climbed with a rope, so that gives you some idea of how steep it is. I get a TV5 Monde (official MdS film crew) camera thrust into my face at the top so that will no doubt be a rather breathless scene to say the least. A quick descent brings us to a massive dried up lake that stretches out for miles. This is where the front runners come past, having left 3 hours later than the rest of us, and it’s amazing to see them come past at the speed that they are going. There’s another long jebel to climb in the full force of the midday sun, where I am literally about to die! There’s a medical jeep positioned halfway up giving a fraction of shade.  Seeing another runner leave the shade, I wander over and collapse into the sand to sit for a few minutes to bring my core temperature down before continuing on for the last bit of the climb. After a massive long plateau, there’s a fun run down through soft sand which makes a nice change, but you are then greeted by a never ending crawl through soft sand which has formed into waves making it really difficult to traverse to checkpoint 4. This checkpoint is a war zone, bodies strewn everywhere! There’s quite a few Berber tents set up to provide some shade and I take about a 15 min break here before joining a group of Brits to head out again. The sun is starting to drop now so it’s a massive relief to take my hat & sunglasses off for the first time. 2 more checkpoints before the finish and I pick up and drop off with different groups along the way, the main focus being relentless forward motion. I find Matthew, a kiwi, en route to checkpoint 6 having major issues with his feet and he has sat down mid way. With some cajoling, me and another get him back up and on his way with us, it’s easier to do these last legs in the dark with a companion. We get to checkpoint 6, the last for the stage and find Ben, another Brit I’d met earlier in the day having serious issues, he starts convulsing and I get the medics over to help. He’s exhausted and just needs some sugar, rest & warmth; he gets wrapped in a silver blanket and given some gels. Giving me a message to pass on to his tent buddies when I get in to let them know he’s ok, I head off on the last leg with Matthew. It takes us about 2hrs to do 9km, as it’s now dark it is very slow going through thick soft sand following glow sticks along the way.  There is any chance to find any solid ground to increase the pace. We see the finish for a good 45mins before we finally reach it at 1:45am! We get our obligatory cup of Sultan sweet tea at the finish before walking another mile to our tents, with me walking a few tents more to speak to Ben’s tent mates. Dion’s fast asleep after getting in over 5 hours before me, having had the most brilliant long day with a super time of 11hrs, smashing it finishing in 49th place! He makes me down my For Goodness Shakes recovery shake and a few crackers before I crawl into my sleeping bag for some desperately needed sleep. My last thoughts are of the hundreds still out there, making their way to the finish over the early hours of the morning, and some much later during the “rest day”.

Green laser beam to guide us home on the long stage

Green laser beam to guide us home on the long stage

Next day is a rest day for those of us that have made it in, and the day is spent napping, snacking, chatting & rehydrating. Our tent mate, Kristen, makes it in late that morning to our relief and we all spend a quiet afternoon discussing our own trials & tribulations of the long day in between a few cat naps. We all get up to welcome the last runners in very late in the afternoon, before which we were treated to the mythical can of cold Coca Cola, which actually didn’t taste half as good as we’d all built it up to.

Stage 5 is the marathon day, 42km, and Dion starts an hour and a half later than me as he’s in the top 200 at 110! This was my favourite day by far, it was slightly cooler to be fair and the terrain for the first 32km was completely runnable! Hard trail, my favourite! I join fellow Brit, Helen Bridle, for the first 2 legs, wordlessly pacing each other in turns which works really well. I lose her after checkpoint 2 due to her suffering an injury and I crack on, having an absolute whale of a time on the 3rd leg. There’s a group of supporters, family & friends of other runners that have come out at checkpoint 3, and the vibe is electric as you pass through. I feel unstoppable, and then hit a never ending sandy river bed! I think it’s more mental now than anything, and in my head sand and me just aren’t working and I’m back to a trudging walk feeling sorry for myself. Still pushing on though as I know Dion must be catching me and my goal was for him not to, or not until the finish so we could cross together. I catch a glimpse of the finish line from afar as we crest a hill and get all choked up, I have a group hug with 2 others as it feels like the right thing to do and we crack on again. The last 2km is dunes which are tough going, but I get through without seeing Dion, so 100m from the finish I stop. And I wait 23mins for him (unbeknown to me he had peeing blood but still managed to finish 87th for the day) and we hurtle to the finish together hand in hand. I must have had a 100 people pass me while I waited, but my time wasn’t as relevant as finishing the race with Dion which made it a more memorable moment.
Then it’s done. It’s finished. It’s over. All of that, and MdS is no more. Patrick is there, unfortunately the magic of finishing is somewhat diminished by having to queue to have him put the medal around your neck with a kiss and a hug, but what an awesome feeling. There must only be about 20,000 people in the entire world that can say they have completed the MdS, and I’m one of them!

Presented with my finishers medal

Presented with my finishers medal

We work out roughly when Kristen is due to finish and we head back to the line to cheer her across as well. That night the awards are presented, which unfortunately is rather long winded, so by the time Patrick introduces our surprise, a performance from the Paris Opera, we all disappear off to bed as we are shattered. Bit of a shame, as I don’t think anyone really appreciated it and most agreed that the whole evening needs a bit of improvement.

The final day is a 7.7km charity walk in aid of UNICEF, and it’s compulsory but not timed, so every competitor walks even though at the end is the bus back to civilization. The three amigos from tent 62 do the last day together, chatting en route to 5th place, and highest Brit ever, Danny Kendall; and gratefully receive our lunch packs as we cross the line for the final time. Real food at last! We board the buses and after a short wait we are off for our 4hr trip back to Ouarzazate, lunches scoffed in quick succession. Shower! Oh yes please! My hair is like dreadlocks and takes 3 washes to get out of the braid it’s been in for 10 days! There’s so much sand to wash off, and there is no way that’s all going to come off in the first wash, especially when I’ve got Dion waiting for his turn. Plus we are keen to get to the bar. It’s been 3.5 months since we’d had a drink, and there were a number of cold Casablanca’s with our names on it. It’s strange to see everyone looking clean and not wearing running kit for a change, and we all catch up over a few cold ones. Although the hotel we are allocated is a right dump, the bed feels like heaven after sleeping on the hard ground, but the sleep is fitful, I think after a week of disrupted sleep it’s going to take a few nights to get back to normal.

3 amigos from Tent 62 ready for the charity walk

3 amigos from Tent 62 ready for the charity walk

We are off early the next day back to Marrakech for the night in a magnificent riad, Riad Menzeh, before we fly home, and enjoy a couple of lovely meals and THE best hammam and massage, scrubbing away the remnants of the Sahara and leaving my skin glowing!

The MdS was a race on my bucket list and I am so proud of both Dion (in 108th place overall) and I for finishing. It is tough, very tough and not for the feint hearted. Would I do it again? Never say never, but for the price and all the little niggles and hassles that go along with such a highly subscribed to race (i.e queues, the long travel etc) there are a lot of other fantastic races out there to try, that will each provide their own unique experiences and challenges. But it has worked its way into my soul and my heart, the magic of MdS is not lost on me.

On my next blog I plan to share my thoughts on what worked/didn’t work with my kit/training/food so I hope this is of help to future entrants.

Selfie with the wild camels

Selfie with the wild camels

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!

 

 

From Fan Dancing on Pen Y Fan to running in all colours of the rainbow

It was a tough week to get the miles in, some long days at work meant for a real push to get out at all. So I was pleased to have a tough event scheduled for Saturday to push my limits. Hubby and I had entered The Fan Dance, run by Avalanche Events, a 25km mountainous run in Brecon Beacons taking in the summit of Pen Y Fan (3000ft ascent) twice. This course is designed and used by the SAS as their training and testing ground, so we knew it was going to be tough. BBC news story – http://t.co/hBIGcGVYjT Didn’t think we’d make it to the start line after our supposed 3hr journey turned into 5, if sat nav told us our route had been recalculated due to traffic one more time I think we might have turned around and gone home! Pleased to say we didn’t and we arrived at the Premier Inn Merthyr Tydfil just in time for a steak & chips dinner. As we had to be up and gone before breakfast was served we tried out some our rehydrated meals. I had Bla Band potato with beef and bearnaise sauce, and Dion had the Extreme Adventure Food Mexican Chilli con carne. We needed to try these put to see how they sit in our stomachs. They both tasted great, with no ill effects. Read my review on Bla Band here and Extreme Adventure food here.  After filling our camelbaks with Nuun cola flavour and another couple of bottles of water (we had to carry 3L & have and additional 2L to hand in for the mid way checkpoint), we headed off to the start. From the start it was a direct steep incline that nobody ran, we all walked and believe me this was tough going enough! The route was immense, steep, rocky climbs followed by steep descents absolutely caned the calves on the way up and the quads on the way back down. Once over the summit of Pen Y Fan for the first summit, we went the wrong way slightly (taking in an extra big hill-just what we needed), still ended up on Roman Road where we had to be but had lost a good 10mins and quite a few places. Luckily Roman road was a rocky downhill stretch so we hot footed it along here at a blistering pace, leaping and bounding over rocks and holes, somehow managing to stay upright! This brought us to the 7.5 mile checkpoint and turnaround point. We’d seen as people were doubling back past us that I was in 4th female position with 3rd not too far ahead, so that pushed us on to run hard back up Roman Road, which was more uphill than it had felt coming down. It was pretty energy sapping on the legs and hubby pushed ahead of me at this point, leaving me to try and catch third female. I was pulling her in as she was slowing up Roman Road, but kept looking back and seeing I was catching was making her push harder. By the time we got to Jacobs Ladder for the last serious assault of ascent, I was only 100 yards behind her, I kept this distance going up this gruelling incline but once I got to the top it was shrouded in cloud and I again went the wrong way and descended the alternate path to the finish line, losing any chance of catching her up! I was pleased to hear I wasn’t the only one who’d taken this route. What a run! 3hr 11mins of hardcore mountains, definitely be back to tackle this one again. Finished off with a tasty hog roast and a special edition Fan Dance beer before a much quicker 3hr drive home!  Lesson learnt – drink! I had only drank about 200ml of my camelbak, and drank 3L of water on the drive home without needing to go to the toilet, dehydrated perhaps? Not wise, must learn to drink more, I’m normally actually quite good at doing that, not sure what made me not drink.

At the start

At the start

On route, massive ascents

On route, massive ascents

Dion on Pen Y Fan

Dion on Pen Y Fan

Finished!

Finished!

Pretty knackered all in all, but hubby got us out first thing for a 6 mile recovery run before breakfast which was painful as the quads in particular were pretty tight. Tried to ease this with the foam roller, but that was killing! I had a little 5km event planned that afternoon, so I ran another (slow) 6 miles to Etihad stadium from Didsbury, and then joined my fellow Bioticfitters for The Color Run. What an awesome way to finish a tough weekend, a fun 5km running around Etihad stadium, wearing white and being powder paint bombed every kilometre! Dubbed as ‘The Happiest 5k on the planet’ I’d have to agree! No garmin watches or chip timing here, just pure running for fun. Surprisingly the paint powder washed off easily which was a relief. I did get some strange looks wandering into Tesco being all colours of the rainbow and then some!

Me and some of the Bioticfit gang at the finish

Me and some of the Bioticfit gang at the finish

All colours of the rainbow

All colours of the rainbow

55mile week. Happy with that after a weak start. Legs have been well and truly caned, need to keep stretching them out this week ready tackle Adidas Thunder Run next weekend.

Fell running on the Trans Pennine Trail

I wanted more out of this week than ‘just’ running, and I made this happen.  Monday was my easy day, a bit of a cycle commute to and from work, but with a twist….I went to the pool and swam a kilometre before getting a relieving sports massage for 40 minutes that I’d managed to get for a steal on Groupon with KTJ.  I did my usual cycle and run commutes (well only 2 run commutes) and managed to get to Bioticfit on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  Tuesday was supposed to be get started fit, which I thought would be perfect after my mileage on the weekend, but it certainly didn’t feel like getting started, got walloped as usual! And I went back for more on Wednesday night, this time trying out one of the newer venues at Crossford Bridge Park in Sale.  Lucky for Gillian Haworth that I turned up as it was just the two of us, so PT Kev put us through some serious paces, including bear crawls, scorpion walks, sprint drills and planks galore to name a few.  I was seriously shattered at the end of that!

My hubby and I had a great visit to Race kit, an ultra running gear shop in Matlock on Thursday, spending as mall fortune but all necessary for the Kalahari.  Andy was so informative and an absolute wealth of knowledge with great advice and recommendations.  we walked away with some great kit, Raidlight backpacks, X-Bionic tops (& shorts for hubby), head torches, sleeping bag liners, water bottles and sleeping mats.

The plan was then for us to run with our new running packs to Kidsgrove, stay the night & run back…..but the weather was shocking, chucking it down, and we backed out at the last minute.  Didn’t want to ruin our bags after all! Ended up with a bit of a naughty night at home, enjoying a few beverages too many.

This change of plan then meant I was in charge of a route on Saturday, so I had been wanting to test out the Trans Pennine Trail to Edale, so what better time than now.  Leaving Didsbury we headed off to Reddish Vale and joined the TPT from there, taking us up to Broadbottom and Charlesworth before cutting through the Peak District up on Kinder, down via Jacobs Ladder into Edale.  633m climb along the way amongst others, along with varied terrain of sand, rocks, slate rocks, mud, boulders and grass made for a tough yet rewarding run.  The views were spectacular and we had an awesome day out.  We made it to Edale 2mins before the next train to Manchester so that was perfect timing.  We made the mileage up to 34 by running the last 5 miles home, as it was only 29 to Edale.  That was tough to get running again after 40 mins on the train, but all good training in the bank of pain!  A tasty treat of fish & chips finished off a great day out.

18 miles in with Manchester city in the background

18 miles in with Manchester city in the background

Is it a bird, a plane.....no it's me taking off at Kinder.

Is it a bird, a plane…..no it’s me taking off at Kinder.

Dion heading down Jacob's Ladder, absolute murder on the knees

Dion heading down Jacob’s Ladder, absolute murder on the knees

Taking a load off in the Giants chair just before Edale.

Taking a load off in the Giants chair just before Edale.

A ‘recovery’ ride on Sunday of 55 miles out to Warrington finished off a massive week of training, resulting in Sunday evening sat with my feet up on the couch in my compression gear!

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Compressport sorting out my tired muscles