Explore, Discover, Race – Bodrun 50km 2016

The call to prayer sounds out across the dark empty streets of Bodrum where runners are huddled in the breaking dawn; warming up before the inaugural Bodrun 50km.  It’s late November and the morning air is cool but the runners are all dressed for the heat that’s expected later in the day to reach up to 25 degrees.  Bodrum is located on the southern peninsula of Turkey with Greece in touching distance across the pristine blue waters of the Aegean Sea and enjoys warm temperatures year around so a perfect winter escape.

Views of the Aegean Sea during the race

With a choice of 3 distances; 50km, 23km and 10km the race offers an option for all abilities to take part.  The 50km route duly delivered on its promise to offer a challenge with 1,900m worth of climbing through technical trails taking you on the peaks above Bodrum city and back along the coastline.  A mixture of terrain as you run through small villages on cobbled roads connected via dusty fire trail paths and rocky goat tracks through the steep cliffs with an almost irresistible temptation to dive into the crystal-clear water as the final 10k includes a stretch along the pebbly coastline.

Stunning crystal clear water

The races intertwine in the final 10km with the 50k runners coming across the 23k runners from the other direction giving way to camaraderie in the form of friendly cheers and well wishes as the runners cross paths and the hospitable nature of the Turkish volunteers is apparent along the way at the checkpoints ensuring smiles and encouragement are plentiful.  People are the true reflection of a country and you will be hard pressed to find more friendly and welcoming people than the Turkish.

2nd Place for me!

What better way to recover from race soreness and truly indulge in the local culture with a couple of hours in a traditional Turkish Hamam where you will be steamed and scrubbed until you are squeaky clean and ready to sit back and feast on some of the local delicacies to truly aid your recovery.  With seafood as the specialty you will be spoilt for choice matched by the freshest of salads and completed by Turkish tea and baklava.

After run treats of Baklava and Turkish Tea

Turkey; a country of cultures colliding where East meets West in an evocative pot of smells, sounds and experiences; offers an easy yet adventurous getaway for Europeans and Brits able to combine a long weekend of competitive racing in an exotic location with the cultural escape of a holiday destination that’s remarkably easy on the pocket.  Try something truly unforgettable yourself today and Explore, discover and race.

My article in print in Trail Running Magazine (incorrectly noted as Dion Lennard ;-0)

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The Unexpected 100km

 

My mind & heart had finally made a full recovery after some life changes including leaving my job and adjusting to life with Dion, my husband, living away in Beijing until the new year -Read more about his incredible running journey with GOBI stray desert dog at http://www.findinggobi.com. My legs were another story.  I was desperate to be running again but every time I headed out for a run my knee was causing me a lot of pain and I felt like I was running with concrete blocks for legs. Having received an invitation to run the Changan Ford Gobi 100k International Trail Race Jiuquan, China; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, although I knew full well that it wouldn’t be easy or particularly pretty.

The principal of recovery dictates that athletes require time to recuperate from training and racing.  Rest and recovery not only gives bodies the chance to adapt to the stress placed upon them during racing or intensive training but also for mental preparation and reflection.  I am always a big advocate of rest periods, dismissing the popular ‘active rest’ that others seem to enjoy, and to date this has kept my body and mind fresh and injury at bay.  But my last adventure #500kin5days had really taken it out of me, as noted by my DNF at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc only 4 weeks afterwards and subsequently still felt the effects at the Gobi 100k.

The city of Jiuquan is in the Gansu province which is synonymous with the Silk Road where goods once streamed between China and Central Asia.  This constant flow of trade left Buddhist statues, beacon towers, forts and chunks of the Great Wall in its wake and its diverse landscapes include parts of the Gobi desert.  This was my first opportunity to visit the Gobi desert where my husband Dion, met Gobi the wonder dog who joined him on a 6 stage ultra marathon across the desert and is now to become part of our family with us all being reunited on January 2nd 2017.  Being able to experience running through the Gobi desert, albeit in a different location to the race they ran, was a great experience to understand when Dion talks of his experience with Gobi and made me feel more closely connected to them both.

Dion doing some promotional work for the organisation prior to race day

Dion doing some promotional work for the organisation prior to race day

The fun part of travelling is culture and language and China has this by the bucket load.  Exploring the city on foot we discovered a stunning local temple where in the perimeter local Chinese danced and a calligrapher was painting the most beautiful symbolic banners.  Through hand signals and google translate we arranged for him to paint us our very own artwork with the symbols standing for ‘Longevity’.  I had this framed at home using the white Khata’s we would later be presented with to showcase this amazing art & experience.

The writing stands for 'longevity'

Our calligraphy artwork – The writing stands for ‘longevity’

The food of the province was hot pot with every restaurant having this on offer and we treated ourselves to a feast of meat, vegetables and quail eggs which we poached in a choice of boiling broths on our table.  The fun in choosing items from a menu in only Chinese was not only entertaining to us but also the other visitors of the restaurant.  Not our normal pre-race food of choice but absolutely delicious.

Enjoying our Hot Pot

Enjoying our Hot Pot

The inaugural 100km race had the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunning) badge which was very significant as previously China was unable to badge their races as such and to signify the importance of this occasion, both the IAU President, Dirk Strumane from Belgium and IAU Honorary member Souhei Kobayashi from Japan were both in attendance.  I had the good fortune of running into them at Beijing airport and forged a friendship over coffee.  A host of elite runners had been invited to help build the profile of the race and it was an honour to be included in this experienced field of almost 200 runners.  We attended the press night and were treated to a VIP Chinese welcome with singers, presentation of a Khata (traditional ceremonial scarf popular in Buddhism made of white silk to symbolise the pure heart of the giver) followed by dinner alongside the lake complete with lighting of floating lotus flowers for a truly authentic experience.

Sporting our Khata's at the Press night

Sporting our Khata’s at the Press night

The race has 2 distance options; 20km or 100km (2 laps of a 50km route), starting at Xintiandum Farm North crossing through various landforms such as Gobi desert sand and grassland passing through Tianluo Ancient City and Huacheng Lake with a maximum ascent and decent of 488 metres.  Under normal conditions I should easily have made the cut off time of 14 hours, but as anyone that runs knows; always expect the unexpected.

Drop bags available all along the route which is fantastic!

Drop bags available all along the route which is fantastic!

Shuttle buses collected us bright and early from the hotel to deliver us to the start line 45 mins away the following morning ready for our 7:30am start.  In between preparations for the race I was constantly posing for photos with the Chinese runners, being a 6ft blonde certainly caused more than my share of attention, one of the race officials acted as my bodyguard and was conscious to stop the crowds developing around me even though I was loving it, feeling like a complete celebrity star with all the attention and photographs.  As part of the elite runners we had our own separate warm up area and we were ushered to the front of start line.

With some of our fans

With some of our fans

The sun was beginning to rise and you could start to make out the vastness of the Gobi desert in the horizon.  As the countdown ended the start was signified with a dazzling display of coloured fireworks blasting high into the air right beside the start chute as we ran into the sand of the Gobi desert.  The sound was deafening and the lights and colour added to all the excitement.  It was a quick start with some of the front runners expected to be in around 7 hours and the pack quickly spread.  Dion had promised to stick with me for this race as he knew I wouldn’t be able to make this one alone, most likely a promise he now regrets.

Conditions were reminiscent of Marathon Des Sables, trudging through loose heavy sand in overbearing heat.  The tempered conditions quickly escalated into near 40 degrees Celsius and there was not a scrap of shade in sight.  Although my pace and stamina were suffering we were passing others that had begun to slow noticeably from 30km and strong experienced runners were dropping out already even before reaching the 50km turnaround point; the race was tougher than any of us had given it credit for.

All smiles in the sun early in the race

All smiles in the sun early in the race

Reaching the 50km point after 6hrs, later than the 5hrs we had anticipated, it was a challenge to get out of the checkpoint tent as it was now the hottest part of the day and knowing that we had to head back out and complete another 50km through the same route was a mind game.  I offered Dion the chance to leave me here and carry on but he encouraged us on, owing it to the race organisers to see this through to the finish.  Making our way through the 2nd lap with the oppressive heat my body began to rebel, with every gel I swallowed to try and gain some energy I would buckle in half and throw it all back up with some horrendous stomach cramps to go with it.  The heat was so unrelenting that we took a 5 minute pause in some shade caused by the sun shifting position behind a sand dune giving us a brief respite to get ourselves right again.

We watched as the light around us became hazy and an orange cloud of dust enveloped us in an almighty sandstorm reducing visibility to 10 metres at most.  With visibility so low we came close to having to stop & wait the storm out but we were just able to continue on, though at a very reduced speed as the sand whipped up into our eyes and the strength of the wind held us back.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?!  We later heard that other runners had been pulled from the course due to safety issues but we passed through what was left of wind strewn checkpoints unchallenged.

Dion mid sandstorm

Dion mid sandstorm

We were pushing, up against it to get me to the finish line and we  formed a band of merry men as we joined up with 5 Chinese runners and pushed each other on to reach the finish line.  It was a surreal experience over the last 3 miles as we were followed to the line by the support vehicles lighting the way.  13 minutes before cut off and we made it, coming in as 15th female, the last female to finish for the day out of the 29 that had started.  This showed true grit & determination that was displayed throughout the day, pushed on by Dion’s coaching along the way leading me to dig deep and carry on to get it done.

Smiles as the sun sets and we have survived the sand storm

Smiles as the sun sets and we have survived the sand storm

Although an unexpected 100km for me, the race delivered an unexpected tough challenge to many as shown in the results with the high number of DNF’s (Did Not Finish).  Whilst I would never recommend pushing your body so much as I have in the year, the experience surpasses the extended recovery I have now had to take.

China is opening itself up to the world and running is taking off full speed ahead with many new races hitting the calendar with some spectacular location to run.  I feel privileged and thankful to Changan Ford for supporting this event and hosting us in such a hospitable manner, especially to Tao, who worked tirelessly to look after us like superstars.  If you are looking for a race that is going to challenge you and give you the opportunity to run in one of the world’s greatest deserts in some serious heat, then look no further.

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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.

Run The Blades

On the drive over from Edinburgh to Glasgow basking in the Scottish summer of lashing rain and high winds I did question the sanity of going to run a 50 km ultra through Whitelee Wind Farm, the largest on shore wind farm in the UK. What made me question this even further was Dion egging me on even further to “Sack it off and head to a greasy spoon”! But thanks to the lovely event organisers from Breaking Strain Events, Garry and Lee, who had kindly given us free entry to try out the inaugural running of the event we felt we couldn’t let them down. It was also part of my training plan to fit in the 50k so it needed to be done one way or another and I’d never run in a wind farm before which for some reason I really wanted to.

Ominous looking weather at  Whitelee wind farm

Ominous looking weather at Whitelee wind farm

On arrival the race banners were up, just, nearly being taken away by the winds (obviously they found the right location for the wind farm!) and the guys explained they did have some race marquees but couldn’t keep them down in the weather so suggested to hang out at the interesting visitor centre until the pre-race briefing at 9:40am. Thankfully the cafe in the centre wasn’t open otherwise Dion might have got his way with a fry up and watching the race from afar.

Soaking up the weather at the start

Soaking up the weather at the start

A quick brief to explain what the race markings looked like and to warn us that if we saw lightning to call the emergency number straight away, none was forecast thankfully, but if it came the race would most likely be cut short as wind turbines are highly vulnerable to strikes. To save us getting cold once the briefing was done the race began immediately and it was a nice wee downhill to start. For the first kilometre it felt like we were all out for a social run together more than a race as there was a group of about 10 of us just easing into the run, we were probably all suffering from cold bodies so once we warmed up the pack split up pretty quickly and spread out. Even though it was wet and windy, it was humid and having started in a waterproof jacket it suddenly dawned on me it wasn’t a good idea wearing it so I dropped from the main pack to take it off losing sight of the first lady. Dion who had started extremely slowly as thoughts of dropping from the race due to weather finally managed to get warm and get going and as he went past me I then enjoyed seeing him ahead pick off the mid pack and work his way up to the front of the race. This pushed me on to pick up my pace and work hard on chasing down the first female ahead.

Start line - don't we all look warm & cosy?!

Start line – don’t we all look warm & cosy?!

The race was a little toughie, with 1,400m of ascent over unforgiving hard-packed trails which I certainly felt in the ankle joints and groin muscles towards the end and afterwards. Some sections were rocky, still runnable but that awkward rock where your ankles are turning left to right, and of course the 30mph winds along with the drenching rain throughout added another element of toughness. I worked hard to the first checkpoint overtaking first lady along the way. I knew there was a solid field of females capable of chasing me down so I used that energy to push me through the tough conditions on offer.

Being the inaugural event it was pretty low key but well organised, the route was well marked with no chance of getting lost and the checkpoints, though basic, had water, an electrolyte mix, some bits of food to choose from and portaloos at each one. I carried my own gels, went through 4 gels and some energy chews as I prefer to rely on myself for my nutrition and just take water from the checkpoints, and a cheeky swig of some coke at the 3rd and last checkpoint of the day. Kudos to the volunteers stood out in that weather to support the runners, I’d rather be running any day, and at least you stand a chance of keeping warm!

I’d never run through a wind farm before and it was fun running under these huge wind turbines making the loud whooshing noise as you ran underneath them, I kept feeling like I needed to duck as it would knock my head off but they were obviously way up above me.

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Whilst I’d won stages of multi stage events before I’ve never gone on to win a race completely so this was a big step up for me and my first chance to run through the winners tape was a great experience, one I am very keen to repeat. Finishing 1st lady with a time of 4h 55m I was one satisfied customer. Dion did amazingly well too, coming in 3rd overall in 4h 12m. His training has really started to pickup again from his recent health issues at West Highland Way race a few weeks earlier and I know he’s building to some bigger results going forward. Both of us left with our confidence built up and having met a great new group of people, and an old favourite of course with Graham Kelly waiting at the finish line to cheer us in.

First lady!

First lady! Photo courtesy of GrahamKelly

Fancy running in a wind farm then come along and give this race a go, I think it will grow to be a much bigger race in a few years to come and even with good weather this would be a tough race as it is so exposed it will never be an easy one.

With the legs almost recovered, I’m off to try out another inaugural event this Sunday 26th July, the Fort William Marathon up in the Scottish highlands.

Number 1

Number 1

Selection for The North Face Ultra Team – excited or what!

The north face

After the elation of completing the Marathon Des sables, I was expecting to ‘come down’ as you normally would imagine after such a massive achievement and experience in my life. But that was not to be, I had been selected as part of The North Face Ultra Team! What fantastic news! I have been chosen, along with 9 other inspirational women (read more about us all here) to compete in Race To The Stones 100km in July, with the support of The North Face with the aim to encourage more women to step up to start taking part in ultras.

I am really proud to be a part of this team and fantastic project aimed to encourage more women to get involved in running further than marathon distance. And why not!? Women are strong, and a lot of the time we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and ultra running is the perfect sport to test your own boundaries. An ultra event is different to the traditional 10km, half marathon or full marathon where the atmosphere can be super competitive and possibly a bit off putting for some. At an ultra race the primary aim of a high percentage of the runners is to finish. They are competing against themselves and the clock, obviously it is also competitive and there are some amazing runners out there smashing some fabulous finishing times over massive distances, but the competition is friendly. The top elite runners are more than happy to talk to you and discuss training plans and kit, swapping stories and willing to give out some advice, though they are all keen to impress upon you that everyone is different and what works for one person may not be right for another. It is refreshing, and very inspirational to chat to these experienced runners. I have recently had the pleasure of chatting to Nikki Kimball (1st lady Marathon Des Sables 2014); Danny Kendall (5th place Marathon Des Sables 2014-highest Brit ever); Daniel Rowland (1st place Atacama Crossing & Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2103) and Bakiye Duran, first woman athlete to represent Turkey in international ultra marathons (we raced together at Kalahari with me taking 2nd place lady to her 3rd place). They have all been true ambassadors of the sport.

In looking forward to working with North Face in the lead up to Race to the Stones and testing out some of their kit, and here’s to building a great relationship with them and my fellow team mates. Stay tuned and up to date with my training and kit reviews on my blog runningdutchie.wordpress.com and twitter @runningdutchie and track our fabulous team of ultra babes @RTTS100 #rtts100 #longerdays .

If you are keen to get involved in ultra running, get chatting to me and the girls, we all love nothing better than talking about running. Perhaps there are some of you already signed up to Race to the Stones?  Don’t be shy, say hi!  And if you’re not signed up, there are still some spaces available so its not too late.  Hope to see some of you at a race soon!