Monday, 30 July 2018

Lakeland weekend

So you're up to speed now on my woes and Lakeland weekend was upon us.

I love this event. Most people who have done it, love it. It's more than a race. It's a proper festival of running. Whether you are taking part, supporting, marshalling it's just bloody amazing. It's my 3rd year running the 50 and I've been up a couple of times to support.

Doug and I had entered as a pair again, wwen we entered, it was the A race of the year, but since being lucky enough to get spots in TDG, it has been demoted to a B race - I feel a bit of a dick saying that as so many people would give their child in order to do this event. That isn't to say we weren't going to put in a good effort, more that we needed to keep in mind there is more training to do out of this race.

Hoping the arguments from last year didn't repeat we were both setting realistic expectations of finish times (me as ever over zealous with my targets) but agreed we'd run to comfort, take it steady, focus on eating, drinking and enjoyment and above all not smash our legs up for the next block of training.

I'd had a chat with Robbie before I saw the Dr to discuss what I would do. It was still unclear whether I'd race or not. He wasn't that up for me starting. He suggested that FOMO wasn't the right reason to start, particularly not knowing what damage we might do by running through an illness.
But we agreed to chat again once I'd seen the Dr. After I told him the diagnosis he said we should give the race a miss :(

So I spent the next couple of days in a state of indecision. Not really thinking about preparing. I went out for dinner with some friends on Thursday evening and spent most of it coughing which was nice for them. Friday I was planned to go in for my xray and blood test so we dropped in on the way and got that done - VERY efficiently I might add. Good work St Albans hospital.

The weekend always starts (and ends) with a bloody awful long drive up/down the M1 and M6. always takes long than expected and always eats up an entire day. Still Doug got to enjoy my singing and with the weather topping at 30 degrees and the Air Con on the car broken it was a bit unpleasant.

Anyway, we arrived at the Red Lion in Lowick where we were staying, Doug had a pint and I had a nap as I had a crap night's sleep, well every day this week.

We then headed up to registration, just missing the 100 start by 3 minutes. That's skilful. Bumped in to a few of the usual faces, Stuart one of my fave adventurers, always seen at the OMM events, always a big beardy hug and Claire who was there marshalling and supporting Dan.

We queued up with a beer (Lakeland Legend no less). Still undecided whether I was going to run. I got to the front of the queue and asked what the situation was if I didn't start in the morning. Could Doug still complete but as a solo. All fine. Equally if I stopped he wouldn't be disqualified.

Kit check done, Dan C was there so had a quick hug - he was marshalling later at Kentmere so hopefully I'd see him, weigh in "one at a time please", a trip to the garage to get food and head back to the pub for dinner and a pint. I text Robbie during dinner and told him my plan.

I feel well enough, but i'll see how I feel over the first 5 - 10 miles, if I cough at all, I promise i'll stop.

We had a short phone chat after, and I could tell it wasn't his preferred choice, he reminded me it's not our goal race, not to smash myself round if it meant I wasn't able to run this week. He wanted to see me doing some easy running this week.

We packed our kit bags, prepared snacks and an early night (woke up choking a couple of times)

Up and fed and on our way to Coniston. Quick turn back because I'd forgotten to take my antibiotics. Back to start. Missed the briefing and straight on to a bus.

The weather had changed from 30 degrees and sunny to 15 degrees and rainy. I was dressed in a skimpy pair of shorts and a vest. I'd been wearing nothing but sports bras for the last 6 weeks or so, so I still felt overdressed.... but also quite cold if I admit it.

We waited at the start in Dalemain, I was pretty cold so I had my jacket on. The wind was whipping up but the rain had stopped. We herded into the starting pen and waited to be set off. I'd packed my jacket away by now.

3...2...1... off!

We set off, nice and steady. Not wanting to upset my airways. I tripped over in the firs half mile (just grass. no ouchies. but in front of 50 people and their I-phones)

We didn't run the hills. Trying to keep the effort low but we were still in a good front quarter of the pack. Playing "Marco. Polo" to make sure we're not getting separated we continued on. I was focussing on my running technique - I'm trying to become more efficient at long distances. Not lift my knees so high, use less energy etc. This helped me not get carried away with trying to "race"

I felt pretty good for the first 10 miles. We walked the hills still, and before long were on one of my favourite sections just after Pooley Bridge trotting up and over some ace single track towards the first check point. Here it started to rain quite heavily but my jacket still hadn't made it out of my pack.

Rolling in, in not a bad time - a little slower than last year, a lot slower than the previous year. I went for a slash in a cow pen while doug got drinks.

Leaving the CP we put on our jackets. Here is the first substantial climb up Fusedale. It's the hill that keeps on giving. Although this year it didn't seem as awful.

However, as soon as we started off, I had a bit of a coughing fit followed by a small choking one. I contemplated stopping and going back. But stubbornly carried on. We had gone a mile or so already. The wind really started whipping up. Hoods pulled on tightly, my hands getting cold (I have bad circulation in them anyway so it's not a new thing).

After the wind and rain we received the addition of a bastard hailstorm. It was like being sand blasted with pea shooters. My bare legs were stinging! I could barely stand at times, other times getting blown across the trail.

My airways really didn't appreciate this hill. I think it was the combination of the incline, the cold, and the wind ripping down my throat. When I turned from the wind to choke it seemed to help relieve it.

I coughed my way to the top, mentally planning my stop at CP2 which was still a good 21 mile into the race. I was going to ask there what the repatriation plan was and call it a day. Go back for a shower, nap and wait at the finish.

Reaching the top, sooner than I expected the wind was crazy. But it was behind us. So we got pushed quickly but forcefully across the plateau, intermittent rain showers splashing on us, and stinging our legs.

Coming to the start of the descent we spotted Jenn, I'd seen her at the start and had a quick chat there too. She was in great spirits as we ran on past.

Where the weather has been so dry for so long, this sudden downpour created a slick of icy mud on top of the rock hard surface making the descent quite sketchy. Taking care not to fall on my teeth we reached the bottom. The Lake had seriously receded following the dry spell. I'd never seen it so small.

This part of the route, on paper always seems like it should be easy. But it's not. It's rocky, slippy not totally flat but again today it was rolling my quite effortlessly. The sun had reappeared, so jackets were off and drying, the steady pace was meaning we weren't over doing it. I wasn't needing much in the way of fuel or water and so far, no arguments!

By the time we got to the CP, in a not bad time of about 4 hours. I was feeling pretty good again. So much so, I didn't really think about asking the repatriation situation and thought I would carry on.

We had a short stop to get some coke and a cheese sandwich before heading up the next hill. It's a bit of a monster, not technical but long and high. We climbed 100 meters or so and could see the clouds rolling in again so stopped for few minutes to put on our jackets (and my gloves)

I was beginning to think, I'm cold, I have no spare clothes, it's only 4pm.... I had an extra light weight wind layer (supposedly waterproof but it was soaked through just being in my bag). My only spare layer was my emergency base layer, only to be used if you weren't planning to finish (i.e. in an emergency)

We continued up the hill, I was coughing again. The wind was really aggravating my airways and it was beginning to really feel laboured on my chest.

We stopped and considered things for a few minutes.

I'd been reading the CP evacuation notes last night and been laughing at them, but only got as far as CP3 of the 100 so I had no idea what the times were to get taken off. Doug said he knew there was a note in one of them to say if you were in X and were thinking of stopping, don't go to the next place.... but we couldn't figure it out. We had no signal to check.

We acknowledged I shouldn't carry on. It wouldn't benefit me to smash myself round and I'd promised Robbie if I was coughing, I'd stop. So I gave Doug my emergency layer so he could upgrade his to his "spare layer" - we had both underestimated the weather. I gave him our spare batteries and we said our farewells. He offered to come back down the hill - "don't be silly, it took us half an hour to get up here"

So I turned back, Doug pushed on forwards, and almost immediately the biggest crack of thunder rumbled overhead. Followed at once by an insane hailstorm. Fortunately for me it was at my back but poor Doug had gone face first into it :(

Doing the walk of shame back down the hill I bumped in to Jenn, we had a hug, I gave her my skittles and I carried on to get myself back.

I reached the CP and explained I was stopping. Only to be told the waggon had just left, and the next one wasn't until 11pm (it was 5pm now)


The medic said I'm best to walk to the next CP where it's a building and get a lift from there. She recommended breathing through my buff - why the hell hadn't I thought of that!?? (It helped)

I could have cried. If only I'd known. If only I'd stopped before I'd be on the bus. If only I'd carried on with Doug (I'd be coughing my way into a storm) I stomped slowly back up the hill I'd just come back down and resigned myself to a steady walk for 6.5 miles. I wasn't in a hurry anymore. My "race" was over but my adventure was not.....

I reached the top of the hill and started the long descent back down the other side, jogging steadily, the wind still throwing me about a little but effort levels were low, legs felt really fresh and aside from some moderate lower back ache (I need to do more core) I was feeling in great shape (except when I intermittently had a spasmic coughing fit)

People walking past "are you OK" whilst I'm doubled over wheezing.

On the descent I came across a couple of guys, one was helping the other. I looked an could see A LOT of blood.

The guy being helped had fashioned a bandage over his nose and his beard was full of blood. I stopped to see what help was needed and said I'd stay with him until the next CP. The other guy continued and I stayed with the guy (Kenneth). I don't really know if he wanted me to, it wasn't a chatty walk, unsurprisingly. He said he had no head pains and could see fine. mostly he was just numb and bleeding a lot from his nose. We discussed that it was probably broken.

I didn't have much in the way of help to offer, he just seemed to want to carry on. So we continued mostly in silence, me checking now and then "are you OK?", "no head pains?"

Reaching the bottom of the hill we came across some camper vans, out of one jumper 3 folk supporting some of their friends. Fortune had it they were actually mountain rescue volunteers and had a lot of medical kit in the van, so Kenneth got in the van and they started cleaning him up. I was getting cold so they threw me in to the van too.

I waited while they patched him up. It was a right mess. His lip was split, his teeth had visibly moved in his mouth and his nose, probably broken and not wanted to stop bleeding. After about half an hour they'd steri stripped his nose, cleaned the blood up as much as possible and he was itching to leave.

So we went out into the pissing rain. I frequently checked on him. Blood dripping consistently from his nose. He wasn't really able to eat or drink because now the pain was starting to appear. I was worried how he'd cope. Suggested not having a hot drink at Kentmere.

It wasn't clear if he'd stop at the CP, he said he'd see how he felt. Coming into the CP we were greeted by a Marshal who had been sent out to check on him.

Still in good spirits, despite his mangled face he trotted down the hill into the CP.

We went in, I said, "I'm stopping here"

"no. Go and sit down, get some hot food. take 5 then come and see me"

I knew what she meant, but I didn't want to carry on. I'd made my decision. I knew it was the right one. I knew I could finish if I wanted to but I didn't want to jeopardise the Tor and I also didn't think I had enough kit to get me through til 1am!

I found Jenn and Richard and had a sit down. I wasn't hungry but had a couple of biscuits. I went back to the lady to find out the situation for getting home. "6 hour wait"


"You're better off getting to Ambleside

(8 miles away)

Kenneth came and found me, thanked me and said he was carrying on. What a tough guy.

While I was sat down, a guy Adam who was a friend of Jenn's said he was going to walk to the next one too. He'd just had his knee strapped up by the paramedic as he couldn't do any more than a straight legged limp. So I said, I'll walk with you. Again. I could have run. But I didn't really see the point. A nice easy walk isn't going to damage me, a run may do.

We left together and started the slow journey to Ambleside. Downhill was the hardest for him so it took us a long time to get anywhere. Fortunately he was a chatter box so the time passed quickly. The weather was lovely now too. Clear-ish skies and great views. He also offered me a lift back to Conniston from Ambleside from his parents who were waiting for him which was super kind.

A few miles from Ambleside we came across Simon, who was doing the 100 but was suffering similar pains to Adam. Knee pain caused by tight ITB. (also probably exacerbated by the cold). After a while of seeing him wincing along in pain I offered to tape up his knee to take some of the strain away. So we stopped on the side and I did what I could to strap him up with the strips of tape I'd packed for emergencies. His legs were pretty hairy so it made keep the  tension and stickiness difficult but we had a bash.

We continued the final 3 miles slow together to Ambleside, chatting as we went about naked German pools and the like - one thing I love about ultra running is that there seem to immediately be no boundaries to what you talk about. You think nothing of saying "I'll catch you up, just going for a slash behind this wall"

We reached Ambleside and Adam's parents were there. We got our dibbers cut off, saw Simon to the paramedic and went to the chippy. I still wasn't hungry but I bought some chips and an Irn Bru for Doug (being Scottish that's all he should drink, right) I ate about 10 chips and then we got driven back to Conniston.

My phone had switched itself off during the rain so I had no idea where Doug was, I estimated he'd take about 12 hours to finish all going well. Although the amount of time he'd lost waiting to get rid of me, and comparing  to last year a long way behind that time, I somehow thought that was optimistic.

Adam and I said our goodbyes, I went to get my kit and charge my phone quickly so I could see where he was last tracked.

The tracker estimated he'd be back in 10 mins..... what!? That's about 11 and a half hours!

I ran to the bar to get a beer for his arrival and minutes later his smiling face was there looking around for me.

I was so so happy for him, and proud for doing such an amazing time. Sad that we didn't enjoy the full day together but smiling so hard at how amazing he'd done. He must have smashed that last 30 miles. I just hoped he hadn't done himself a mischief ahead of the Tor... :-/

I got him into some dry clothes and got him fed then home for a beer, shower and snooze.

Overall, this weekend taught me a lot.

1) It's ok to have a plan B. Or C.
2) I really need to review my kit. It was a good timely reminder how the weather is so variable. Less isn't always more.
3) my health is more important than a medal

I'm very happy with the decisions I made, my legs felt strong, which gave me the confidence I've been lacking the last few months. I ran a strong 20 miles, and had a slow hike of 15 miles. Fuel wise, I ate very little, probably no more than 400 cals all day; obviously this needs to be considered. Though on this occasion I didn't feel like I needed it, my energy was steady most of the day and as I only walked for that last 6 hours, I wasn't consuming lots of energy.

My only regret is not stopping when I first got to CP2 and got straight in the van! However, I had an eventful day and hopefully helped some others get through their day with less misery - and as the saying goes, misery loves company.

So, today I was bouncing up the stairs at work instead of walking sideways. I had a lovely run on what were pretty fresh legs. The coughing has been quite bad today although it's changed a little. Feels more like there's sand in my gullet than snot. There have been a lot of choking episodes at work but only 2 significant ones during my run (when going uphill)

On the way home I asked Doug about next year. He's not keen, in light of the shit journey. I'm going to see if I can get a place (he'll probably get FOMO and enter anyway). Or maybe we'll have a look at what else is on. We've already discussed next year, and aren't planning any big "races" but hoping to have a more informal adventure.


Getting my excuses in....

As excuses go, I don't think the ones I've saved up for Lakeland 50 are bad ones.

If you read my last post, you'll know I've had some health issues lately. So, a bit of an update before I go on with my Lakeland report.

The weekend after I had these pains I went to Latitude festival with some friends. I had a terrible cough the whole week up to it, then totally lost my voice over the weekend from constantly coughing, combined with dancing, singing and drinking in a dusty environment. The cough still hung around.

Since then, I have stopped having chest pains and seen the Cardiologist. The night/early morning of my appointment gave me a bit of a scare though. I woke up suddenly about 2 in the morning, choking and completely unable to get my breath. Who was more scared out of me and Doug is unclear. But after what felt like 5 mins (probably seconds) I finally got my breath after some deep wheezing sounds in my chest, Doug trying to slap my back, me trying to slap him away. It was horrible, I have never experience that.

Doug offered to take me to A&E but I figured I was seeing the Cardiologist that afternoon, I'd mention it to him. I didn't really sleep much more after that, between googling whether I was having a heart attack and worrying I was going to die in my sleep.

Penny met me in Bedford for my appointment where I had another ECG and went through in detail the problems/symptoms I'd been having. He listened to my heart, read my ECG (decided it was wrong, and the lady had put the wires on wrong). He said there's nothing wrong with my heart. I told him about the choking incident, he said I probably just choked on spit while I slept.

When he was satisfied the ECG was normal, he agreed that running shouldn't be an issue and that 50 miles the next week should be fine if I feel OK. He recommended seeing my GP if the cough persisted. Relieved, but still not fully satisfied that I was "well" I went for a glass of wine and some lunch with Penny in the sun.

I was in Swindon over the weekend and did a lovely run on the Saturday on the Cotswold way, not too many coughing fits. Sunday I had a sports massage followed by a bloody awful run!

I should probably say now that every night, from that night, I woke up choking.... it was super alarming but I figured it was just normal, but not great for getting a good nights sleep as for a couple of hours after I'd be a bit unsettled by it.

Doug made me get an appointment with my GP but as I was in Germany with work for 2 days I couldn't go until Weds.

I explained the last couple of months to the GP and she examined me, listened to my lungs. All seemed clear. She seemed satisfied that she'd solved the conundrum.

"You have Whooping Cough" she said

"what? isn't that what babies get?"

"Adults too. I had it not so long ago"

"Oh. What does that mean?"

She explained that it was probably too late for antibiotics but gave me a script anyway in case. Booked me in for a chest x-ray (just in case) and a blood test to confirm her diagnosis.

I didn't really know what to do with this info. She said it is sometimes referred to as the "100 day cough" because that's usually how long it lasts.

Since then, I've done a huge amount of research and it sounds like it's actually fairly common but often misdiagnosed.

It is however, fucking horrible. I still wake up at least once a night choking. I feel fine in myself. I have no real obvious signs of illness except when I have these violent coughing fits, which have me gagging at times (but not passing out or vomiting like a lot of cases I've read about)

In my research, I've found out the following key pieces of info  - apart from it being highly contagious in the time before you have symptoms.

1) the disease is almost undetectable when the bacteria are doing their thing. Their "thing" is essentially destroying the Cilia - which are the little brush things that remove mucus and dust and germs from your airways. Irritate the fuck out of the airways and trick your immune system into not knowing they're there chomping away at these important little brushes and leave your airways sensitive and prone to choking fits.

2) Only when they've done what they set out to do you start getting symptoms, normally cold like ones. Mucus, coughing.

3) Once you are through this. You're pretty much locked in to be coughing and choking for the foreseeable future(100 day cough didn't come from nowhere) Most people seem to say it last a couple of months, some say it's lasted up to 8!  The main cause of alarm for other people this horrible insuck of air that creates the "Whoop" sound - a bit embarrassing when this happens in meetings.

4) the vaccine we're given as kids wears off after about 10 years.

What I'm not sure about is the damage I will do by running or how long these Cilia take to come back. What I do know is that I have 6 weeks until Tor De Geants, and it's highly likely I'll be coughing then still.

So I think I've brought you up to date to the few days before Lakeland and good news is I've not got a heart problem!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Take it easy for a little while....

This isn’t what you want to hear 3 weeks before your next big event or two months before the event of your life.

However, right now I know this is the right thing. Right now, I feel like shit. My chest hurts constantly and I'm coughing like I have been smoking 20 a day for the last 15 years.

About 6 weeks ago Doug and I were in the alps for a week or so training and working remotely. Whilst there I had a throat infection or something. Along with it was shortness of breath and some chest pains, which I’d put down to the altitude, harder than normal climbing and my sore throat.

From there I didn’t think much more about it. I had a bit of a persistent cough on and off and recurring chest pains, these escalated a little bit in the last couple of weeks, becoming particularly bad on a weekend training trip in Brecon. When I say particularly bad, I felt like I had a strong man sat on my chest. I'm not talking heart attack. I'm talking the discomfort you get when you on the bottom of a pile of "BUUUUNDLES" back when you were at school.

Whilst running and hiking, I was struggling for breath, and getting tight chested. I knew something wasn’t right, but I thought I was just unfit. I put it down to stress. Work has been unblievebale (whilst I’ve taken steps to make improvements there, I’m pissed of with myself having seen my post from November and things being even worse!!)

Anyway, despite my guilt for not working this weekend, we had a long day on our feet on the Saturday, made longer by not paying enough attention to the map and descending the wrong hill, into the wrong valley. I was having all sorts of pains and finding reasons for them. Chest - fitness. Back - new bag, and massage the day before. Knee - I'm carrying a bit of timber at the moment.  Ankle - rolled it running off Pen Y Fan.

Despite that we had a good day it. It was beautiful. You could see the black mountains and beyond. It red hot and finding water was a challenge but we enjoyed ourselves. When back off the hill, I had quite severe chest pains. They were bad for several hours, whilst it settled a little during the night there was still a grumbling there. The only way I can describe it is when you're super hungry and your tummy is rumbling - like that but in the centre of my chest.

In the morning they were still there. Doug suggested maybe acid reflux or some thing. Yeah probably that. What ever that is.

Sunday’s run was shorter, less intensive. Hike up run down. But after, and the hours driving home my chest was super sore.

I text Robbie to give him an update, I'd noted it in my training plan a few times the days prior about the curious pains. He suggested I visit the Dr.

Of course the next week involved 3 lots of 3am finishes at work and a trip to Germany so this didn't happen.

During the week my chest was tight still. Like someone was sat on it, I didn't have time to train. Thursday I finally got out for a run, I didn’t feel great but I put it down to how little sleep I was getting and the enormous stress I’m under.
Friday I had entered a race with a friend at work that was only a short 4 and a bit km run up and down Luton runway at 4am.

The race went well -  I won. I didn’t feel wonderful, didn't have any great turn of speed and I spent a lot of time afterwards coughing.

Saturday I planned to run the ashridge boundary trail. 16 miles of unchallenging terrain, climbs about 500m throughout, one of my favourite local routes. I got 2 miles in, I was wheezing. Double over, not able to get air in. I walked  the rest of the hill whilst texting Doug. My chest felt the worst it had felt before and it was a little alarming. I wasn't even putting much effort in.

I continued on at a slow pace with the pains constantly there, my breathing laboured when I tried to run up hill. I didn’t even attemp any pace.

I was committed to get back to the car now so that meant cutting short to complete a 10mile route. Getting back to the car I followed Doug’s advice to go home and go to the walk in clinic....

Which was closed.

So I spoke to a friend who is a GP who told me to call 111. They asked me lots of questions, and said they were sending an ambulance, I refused as this was a bit dramatic and agreed to go to A&E. I was visiting some friends near Peterborough so I decided to go to Bedford as it was halfway and Penny met me there with hugs.

I was seen very quickly despite the England match being on and there being quite a queue. I was quickly taken for an ECG, blood tests and other checks.

After a couple of hours the Dr came to see me and ask some further questions. He confirmed my blood test was normal, blood pressure fine. However, the ECG had shown some changes he wasn’t happy about.

He said  few things, that he wants to rule out some things, that it might just be a virus, that the area around my heart is inflamed

He made me an appointment with the cardiologist for 11 days time. Told me to take it easy “can I jog?”

"Not if that is what is making your chest hurt more"


He gave me some anti inflammatorieis - I assume to see if the inflammation goes and I have a normal ECG recording.

So, there’s we are. Waiting now to find out what happens next week. Waiting to find out if my summer of races is going to be cancelled. My coughing is persistent so I think it's probably just a bit of a sniffle. It's probably nothing.

Above anything else, nobody is more surprised than me that there is even a heart in my chest cavity!

Fingers crossed I'm well enough to run Lakeland 50!

To be continued......

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Might Contain Nuts 40 miler

Today I woke up with a very bruised and fat knee, grazed chest, cuts on my hands and the most sore triceps, I assume from where I'd caught myself. I felt like I'd been hit by a bus.....

I entered this race with some friends a couple of months ago. I've not really been training specifically for it, I'd expected it to be more of a social trip. Since Zermatt I've not run further than half a marathon but I've been getting out regularly in the local hills with friends for short - medium trail runs so have been ticking over.

Fresh from a 2 week break in Thailand I had been keen to get some fitness back and what better way than a 40 mile hilly race in South Wales!

The week running up to the event, I'd had a cold and even up to the day before felt pretty run down and hadn't decided whether to start the race or not. My friends had since pulled out for various injuries etc so I had no real pressure to go along. I'd already planned to be in Swindon on the Friday to see dentist and my family so I was half way to Wales if I did decide to go.

I decided that I'd set my alarm in order to do the race and see how I felt in the morning. Best case, I could do the original plan, there were other options - drop to a shorter race, or just stay in bed.

I found myself at the start line of the 40, map tucked in my race vest, lemsip dosed up.... so you know how that decision at 4am went.

The weather forecast looked good, fairly mild, low chance of rain, ice in places and generally no wind. I had opted to wear shorts but was carrying all the mandatory kit in case the weather turned.

My original target before I'd been poorly was to get in sub 9 hours and before having to use my head torch. This felt like a tough target on a good day looking at the results from previous years so I had to be realistic about what I could achieve in my current state, a finish would be a big achievement.

The race started really well. A little too well. With a few flat miles to start, I found myself trotting along at a good clip, trying to hold back a little, thinking I had gone off too quickly. Yet, I felt surprisingly good. Still it was a long way to go and 2700meters of ascent to get through.

Before long we hit the hills, I ran them to begin with, until they got too long, then I hiked as hard as I could. I just couldn't get any air into me, I was making sex noises as I climbed the hills and chugging down a gel. Safely up and over the first hill we got an awesome descent down the other side into the valley and first check point. I was feeling better off the top, getting my breath back. The CP marshals told me here I was the first lady through (which, I knew anyway as I'd left the other ladies behind in the first kilometre). I didn't take anything here, just scanned through and jogged on.

Nothing much exciting happened for a while, until mile 10 while I was on a nice piece of easy fire road, slightly downhill, simultaneously looking for somewhere to take a pee. Whether I lost focus for a second or what I don't know. My toe caught the only rock on the entire path and I took a swan dive straight into the floor. I remember as I hit the floor thinking "not my teeth, not my teeth" I can only assume from the injuries and pains sustained, I took on the form of a sky diver mid flight as both knees impacted the ground hard, my thigh skidded along the floor, followed my tits and hands.

I laid there face down for a few seconds, slightly winded. I crawled up assessing what hurt. I couldn't stand up straight, my knees were trembling, part in pain, part in shock. Blood trickled down my knees. My thighs were stinging, my ribs hurt. Ouch my boobs. Urgh, there's gravel stuck in that hand.

I brushed myself down, and hobbled on a little way. My legs not quite working yet. I was 2 or 3 miles from the next CP, if I had to hobble there I thought I could, so I wobbled on whilst the trembling and shock disappeared. A few minutes later 2 guys appeared and asked if I was OK when they saw my bleeding knees and I tried to jog on with them. I managed a slow jog for a while, whilst I loosened back up.

Reaching the CP, I was feeling OK. Sore, but OK. I decided it was probably better to keep moving rather than stop and seize up, on the plus side, my cold seemed to have improved somewhat! The CP staff asked if I was OK, I said yes, grabbed some coke and walked on out, stumbling around the icy rocks.

The next section took us up the biggest climbs, the Brecon horseshoe, the climbing was hard but I put in a strong hike, the stretch along the ridge is amazing, it was quite windy and icy in places, and the fog was down so I nearly missed the turning at the top. I set off on the descent, sticking to the grass beside the path to avoid the slippery icy rocks. The descent was great. Or it would have been had every single step not sent hideous pains shooting through my kneecaps. I gritted my teeth and pushed on as hard as was comfortable. I was a bit sad as I love this sort of descent now - it's taken some practice and bravery to get to this point but the pain was not fun.

I reached the CP at 20 miles thinking that perhaps I should pull out. I wasn't in the best state, what if I made things worse?

Clearly, I was looking for excuses. I was offered more excuses at the CP. "Are you OK? Do you want to stop? Can we clean you up"

"No, I'll just keep moving" - part of me thinking that it would probably take as long to get back in the sweeper truck as to carry on.

I had been thinking of what I'd tell my friends and family. I had some legit excuses. What I'd title my strava post. Stop being a wanker Anna was the overarching message to myself. What's the point in coming to do these events if you're going to shy away when things get a bit hard?

The next 5 miles or so were the hardest. The ground was a bit crap, slippy, muddy, icy, camber pushing me off my feet. I could hardly stand up. Texting my friends as I went helped keep me going. As I couldn't run at the moment, it helped motivate me. Their positive messages and knowing that I was over half way. I could hike back in 5 hours if I had to.

15 miles to go...

Nothing much exciting to report except following a couple of guys and descending the wrong hill, a really fucking horrible one which I had to sit on my map and slide down. I got my map out for the first time and correcting myself, kept it out so as not to make any more irritating errors.

The last 10 miles were fantastic. I was running more consistently, some road miles meant I got through some miles a bit quicker, I was walking the hills now, any hills, anyone who runs long knows the score when it comes to any incline in the latter stages of a race! Finally finding another human to run with was great too! A guy Tim, caught up with me around this time and we chatted and ran the last 6 miles or so together - he'd also taken a tumble and hurt his knee but we both enjoyed the company and agreed to stay together unless either of us fell over, in which case we'd leave the other to rot ;-)

It was quite clear we would get in around 8hr 30 so we were both pushing each other to keep going to achieve this.

We crossed the finish line, me in bang on 8:30 and Tim a few seconds before.

I was thrilled to a) finish, b) finish well within my target time and c) win the ladies race! I managed to beat most of the men too which was a good feeling. Even if I'd been last in that time, I think I'd have been happy. It's a tough but incredible route and mostly I enjoyed it. There were points when I was looking for a way out and other times I would have accepted them.

My knee immediately swelled up and I began the painful hobble around to get changed and find some food - I was starving!

Thanks to my friends back home for keeping me motivated, although I might have shaved off a few minutes if I'd not been taking pics and chatting ;-)

The Social Media friendly Injury Book:

Thursday, 2 November 2017

A bit of an update

I've been struggling lately. My running has been ticking over, I have been making time for it as best as I can. Work has been all consuming for several months now and it recently reached a point where I just couldn't cope anymore. My way of dealing with this was to erupt in an explosion of stress and emotion that has been building up since I'd say April time, with threats to quit and tantrums. Those who know me, know I love my job, I love the company I work for, have a great boss but lately the load has gotten too much, too many times in recent months I've hidden in the toilets crying, spent nights awake worrying how I will ever get through the ever increasing pile of work landing in my inbox constantly and as a result and the work life balance has become way off kilter and I've had to make a promise to myself to do something pro-active about this, which is easier said than done.

I've also been hyper aware of the effect it has been having on my mental state and as such have been trying to ensure that I get out running even if for 20 - 30 mins, I try to meditate daily, read a bit more, avoid negative situations. I'm not really doing any quality sessions at the moment, I'm just ticking over but I feel as though it is keeping me from sliding in to the abyss I know that I'm capable of, for those who read my blog on depression a while back, no fear. I'm still in control of things. Though, I won't lie, I have been a bit concerned and have been forced to revisit the tools I have in my toolbox, however the units of alcohol and cigarettes has reached a bit of a peak which needs addressing separately.

I recently set up a Wednesday evening trail running group round some incredible woodlands not too far from where I live which has turned out to be pretty popular and has created a firm commitment in my diary to 1) look forward to and 2) tell my boss (and myself) that I need to leave on time that one day of the week.
Every week, I look forward to this, Conrad is generally taking charge of planning the routes and each week we've been treated to something different. There have been castles (apparently - it was dark, no castle was seen), windmills, canals, spooky woods, doggers, naked hikers and lots of fun. What's more, I've met some really nice new people to share this with who also seem genuinely happy to have a group of people to run round the woods in the dark with!

The weekend just gone, Doug and I took a trip to the Lakes for this years' OMM. We had entered the Short Score course this year as there was no D course. The day before, we had incredible weather. Crisp and Sunny and bright. We had to wait a few hours for our bus to the camp site so we took a walk and had a few beers.

We had the big tent for the night before which was much more comfortable than the little one man lightweight one we run with. We had a pretty decent sleep, improved more so by the late start time we'd been lucky to have.

We woke up the next day to high winds, and low cloud with lots of rain in. We packed up our stuff, packed up everything we'd need for the next 36 hours and headed to the start.

Taking our map and being released into the Lakeland hills we took a few minutes to make a vague plan. On paper the terrain looked not too bad - lots of accessible trails, lots of controls to choose from. We made a small error on the first one, overshooting the stream and searching around the wrong one for a time. We then climbed up a big fucking hill. The wind was whipping up as we climbed, and the clag was down, reaching the top a couple were coming towards us. They'd decided to retire as the wind was knocking them off their feet. Once over the top, I could see why. I was getting blown around all over the place but as we descended the other side the wind dropped as we were protected more by the high hills around us.

We had 5 hours to get as many check points as possible and managed to get a couple of high scoring ones. We took a risk on a 40 pointer, knowing it would probably make us late back (you lose 2 points per minute) but hoping that the net gain would be worth it.

The terrain was much harder than anticipated. The wet rocks made it technical, the winds made it cold the rain made our clothes heavy.

We made it back 13 minutes late and surprisingly in 31st place out of 137 and 6th mixed pair - for us, this was a very good result. We searched for a patch of grass that wasn't an inch deep in water, but the rain had stopped now and it was still light putting up our tent, in the water logged field.

We made some dinner and had a couple of cans of G&T and got our heads down for an early night - there's not much to do once it's got dark in a tiny tent barely big enough for one. The clocks also go back on OMM weekend so it's actually the one night of the year I get more than 12 hours sleep!

During the night, the rain and wind shook our tent, I was praying it would stay up so we didn't have to get out and fight the wind to peg it down. Fortunately it stayed put and we woke up around 7.30 to some noise outside (no bagpipes this year), made some coffee and breakfast, re-packed and headed to the start once more.

The weather today was entirely different! Beautiful clear skies, but bloody freezing.

The map didn't really offer much interest for me, we could either go back over the side we'd explored yesterday, which I wasn't keen on, or stay east and adventure a new area.

Doug wanted to go west, I wanted to go east. East won. However, immediately we found ourselves wrong, in a bit of an argument and wasting 25 mins trying to get to a relatively simple control. We bagged one more after traipsing across wide high fells into some crags.

The next control, looked fairly easy. However, taking for granted the trail, or was it a sheep track, or was it rain water run off? We spent the next 2 hours searching for a control in a crag. We only had 4 hours today and had only managed to get 50 points. If we got back in time, we'd retain them at least but then we thought we found the right crag. Alas, another wasted 30 minutes and a hurried return to the finish, saw us with 28 penalty points and dropping down the results table to 73rd!

Still, we had a lovely day, made it back in time for the coach, a beer and some dinner in the pub and a nice train journey home.

What's next? 2 weeks in Thailand, a 40 miler in Brecon and Doug has apparently put an entry in for Marmot Dark Mountains which is going to certainly test our nav and patience with one another! Then I'm going to have a good crack at a good London Marathon time.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Bournemouth Half Marathon

It's not often that a race plan goes so well.

It was a Plan B of sorts mind.

I've been pretty under the weather the last few months, what I had thought was a "bit tired and run down" through excessive hours at work, limited sleep and general life stress had rung alarm bells with Robbie who sent me to the quack to get some blood tests.

I'd not lost my Mojo, not by any stretch. When I managed to find time to get out running I had a great time and had been getting out with lots of friends and loving it all. Just that I'd lost my get up and go, and anything more than an hour left me dragging myself along the floor with a sad face.

I got my blood test results back to find that my Ferritin level (which is some kind of precursor to Iron) was off the bottom of the scale. The doctor suggested this was why I've been feeling so shitty. She prescribed some Iron tablets and a recall blood test in 3 months to check my progress.

That was about a month ago now and already I'm feeling much better. I'm also making a conscious effort to  love myself a bit more, get more sleep, spend less time in the office, spend more time with the people that matter, pay better attention to my diet and lifestyle. You know. Grown up shit.

Swennyway. I'd entered this race only because Doug had entered the Marathon distance, I didn't really fancy a Marathon after the busy summer of mountain races and feeling quite crap. Having done Lakeland 50 at the end of July, followed by Ultraks Matterhorn at end of August, this hadn't really left much time to recover, do any kind of speed work and get "race fit" i.e. get a chance of a PB. At best it was going to be a nice weekend at the seaside.

We had a nice little mooch about Bournemouth on Saturday and watched the 10k race, then met an old friend Kris Duffy for Pizza and a catch up. He was doing the Marathon too.

We got an early night, although I took ages to get to sleep and had weird dreams. Probably from watching Stephen King films whilst going to sleep.

My race was starting at 8 and the others at 10. So unlucky for Doug he came to my start with me.

Earlier this week, Robbie and I had had a chat about goal setting for next year and discussed this race. Knowing that a PB was out of the question, he suggested that I aim or a negative split. I suggested that I do a progression run. (Meaning I would get faster over the course of the race.) Negative splits are the dream for any road runner. I've never achieved it. I've been crap at pacing forever. The closest I came was at Milton Keynes marathon where I ran an almost even split. So that was the goal. Of course, it can be achieved by walking for the first half but I still had some general time in mind (sub 1hr 40 would be awesome)

I hadn't fully decided what pace I'd set off at but that I'd increase my pace by 10 sec per km every half hour. I'd see what felt right on the morning.

Once I was at the start and nervous belly had settled I bounced around a bit and did some mobility stretches, the weather conditions were spot on and wind was low so I had no worries on that.

Soon we were off and I settled in to a 4:50 min/k pace. It felt really comfortable so I decided to stick to that. My legs kept trying to go a bit quicker but I kept an eye on my average pace to keep it at 4:50. Knowing that the next step would be 4:40, then entering the hurt locker at 4:30 and hanging on as best I could to the end.

As I hit the lap button and picked up to 4:40min/k pace it still felt *fairly* comfortable. I  let myself relax on any declines and tried not to knacker myself on the small inclines. I was overtaking people all the time now, the people who had set off too quick (how I normally do) and felt pretty smug!

Coming up to the hour mark I was around 8 miles in and knew there was a bit of a bastard hill coming up. I'd picked up the pace to 4:30, it felt fine on the flat but almost immediately it was time for the hill. Fuck me. It was a bastard. It wasn't that long - a few hundred metres but it near broke me. My pace dropped right off. I was gagging up over the top hoping that I'd be rewarded with a nice descent but it was a long flat/slight climb still so I continued to suffer and try to drag my average lap pace back to where I wanted it. It was dropping back gradually from 4:50 to 4:44 where it stayed. Damn it.

Finally I reached the descent. I let myself go, I'm pretty good at descending now after the mountain running I've been doing the last few years, took a few more places and managed to get my average pace back to around 4:32min/k and hold it there when I got back on the flat. But it wasn't entirely flat, it was about 1.5 miles of really slightly up. But it was an out and back so I was relying on it being a slightly down back. I only had a park run to go now, but it was hurting. Hurting hard. I tried to keep the pace on. I reached the first Pier and started down it, I  had dropped back to 4:33 pace, I relaxed a bit knowing that it was a slight descent to the next pier, come on, less than 2 miles.

Somehow I missed the last mile marker and was thinking that it was going to be a long half, I missed hitting the last 30 min lap split. It didn't really matter. I was trying to keep my form, trying not to piss myself, keeping my arms and legs pumping and focusing on getting to the end. I was struggling to keep the pace on but only had 0.6miles to go. I knew if I held on I could get in under 1hr 40. I rounded the end of the 2nd Pier and pushed hard for the last few hundred meters. I could see the clock time getting near to 1:40 and urged myself forward to get in under it. Knowing that my chip time would be a good minute or so better due to the delay at the start.

I got over the line, with sub1:40 on the clock and sub 1:39 on the chip. A decent negative split and almost the progression run I'd set out to do. The last split was 4:34 average pace.

I am over the moon. I've never run such a controlled and sensible half marathon. I normally do a massive positive split and hate myself for the last 10 miles.

I collected my bags, got changed and made my way to the beach to support Kris and Doug. Whilst I waited I took a little dip in the sea and enjoyed some amazing Autumn warm sunshine.

Doug and Kris both did amazing and we're all pretty happy with ourselves.

Next event for me is The OMM then a lovely 2 week trip to Thailand (naturally with a little adventure in it) to recharge my batteries after a crazy year.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

It's OK not to be Ok.

I saw this on a running vest yesterday.

This post is a bit different to anything I'd normally write. It's the most personal thing I've ever written and first time possibly spoken about in depth.

I've thought long and hard about sharing this post and it's taken a long time and a lot of, not courage, something a bit more personal than that to write this.

Those close to me, know me well. They know my past and some of the personal experiences I've been through, I'm not writing it for attention or sympathy or anything of that ilk, just that I want to share some of my personal experiences and hopefully give others hope and perhaps a little agenda behind my love of running and of being free.

Mostly, it's to highlight that no matter what people see, they don't really see what is behind the self indulgence or dare I say bragging (yes, I know how my posts tend to come across). Self deprecation is something I'm pretty good at but not that good. My close friends see through that of course. I don't generally analyse things, maybe I should, maybe not doing so keeps me sane. Who knows.

Often people say, "how do you run for so long? Why do you do this? I don't understand how you can spend your spare time doing this."

Truth is... mainly, because I can. I have the fortune that I have the means and capability to do so, and for the best part I genuinely enjoy it.

Sometimes I think I hate it. But deep down, I know it's the thing that has kept me happy and "sane". It's lead me to many amazing friendships that without which, I don't know if I'd be around today. It's the one place that I literally have no thoughts. Some people find that strange. Some people run to be alone with their thoughts. I enjoy the emptiness I get in my head when I run. The purity of just being alive, on my own or enjoying the company of others.

News flash.
I've not always been 100% happy, but hey, who has?  For me, running and fitness in general has been a therapy through some tough times and I imagine it will for as long as I can put one foot in front of another.

Depression is something that generally people don't like to talk about. Thankfully it's become less taboo to talk about, which for those suffering is a life line. Depression is a word that people have become afraid of. Quite rightly, it's a terrifying illness. For those engulfed in it, from their own illness or from watching a loved one suffer from it. I have been in both camps at various points of my life.

For me, running was a remedy for some dark times. I'm sure it still helps me from dipping into the grey. It adds sun and rainbows and hope to the days when I feel utterly despairing of the apparent crappy days. It adds perspective. It gives me endorphins that I crave.

Rewind to several years ago. I had an amazing family, living with a great guy, a promising career ahead of me, wonderful friends, a zest for life, a natural ability for running.

Yet that was the view from the outside. What you couldn't see was the crippling sadness. There was no one thing responsible. There never is. I didn't even know why I was so sad.  There's probably one tiny insignificant thing that tipped me over the edge, maybe I missed the bus one day, or burnt my toast?

All that I really know was that life got too much for a time. Even now I can't pinpoint one thing. Not even a group of things, which maybe makes it difficult to explain. I was just "down in the dumps" (yes, there I said it. I'd punch me if I could) Lots of those months/years are still a bit of a blur. Some of the incidents are blurry, maybe because I choose to keep them that way.

Aside from a few occasions when I was at College and pretty unsatisfied with life and a few incidents of what people would label as "cries for help". The time I really remember anything of significance was a few years later, that looking back should have rung alarm bells to my mental health was sitting in a meeting staring and picking at a cut on my arm. Not really thinking (or caring) what the other people in the meeting must have thought. Vaguely remembering that I did it to myself some days previously. Staring at it made me feel somehow better. Somehow in control. Somehow satisfied that I was doing something to control my feelings of being out of control.

Some months later and after several other isolated and mostly hidden incidents, after taking an overdose of various OTC and stolen substances, I was sat in occupational health with the nurse, who to this day, I sincerely feel I owe my life to. She advised me to take some time off work, they would give me time to heal. To take some time to rebuild my serotonin. Go and do some yoga, go and run she said. That's right. She encouraged me to be active. Not to go home and waste away in bed, go and see a councillor, see if medication will help, spend time with people who care about me.

Something I'll always remember her explaining what serotonin is (our natural happy pill) was it is like a tap, constantly dripping, keeping your levels topped up. But if the plug starts to leak, or comes right out, it can't keep up. It just leaks right out again, and the elements that are eating away at the plug are taking it too low to manage any kind of hope or positivity. Of course I couldn't have refilled them without some help. I had a short period on medication. For me, it actually made me feel worse. It made me numb. I felt a sense of nothing. I preferred "feeling" something. Not to say for those months it didn't help, as 100% it did. Counselling for me didn't really help either, mainly because I didn't know what was "wrong" - sadly there's no magic formula of X + Y = Z.

What worked for me was running, cycling, fresh air. Of course there were days, I didn't open the curtains. There were days, I did nothing but cry. Not knowing why I was crying. "What's wrong with me?" I'd wail at no-one, cuddle my cat until he was soaking with tears. But only having that to deal with for a time really helped.

Of course, this didn't end the cycle of self harm. Various ways I found of controlling what I thought was my "problem". I had tried on occasion reasonably successfully methods to prevent self harming, using plastic bottles rather than my person. If you're reading this and struggling - it does help with the emotional release.

"I'm fat." That's the problem. I'd tell myself. Which of course lead to an eating disorder and ultimately the end of a relationship and not engaging in social events for probably years.

There are two stand out occasions which to this day both haunt me and remind me of the depth of this illness but also are why I know that I'll never let myself get to that place again.

1) Whilst in the grips of eating disorders and depression - my then boyfriend who I'd made a life with. His father had been suffering from lung cancer. The day of his death. I'm still ashamed, whether I should be, is neither here nor there and perhaps it highlights how this illness can be very lonely. Instead of racing home to be there for him, I was concerned that I'd not burned off enough calories that day so cycled an extra couple of miles. Then after the wake. Rather than be there to comfort him, I was concerned that I'd eaten one too many sandwiches and logging them in my calorie counter.

2) I shan't go into too much detail, but what was intended as nothing more than a small cut to give me the release I knew it would, ended up grappling a knife with my sister who was trying to stop me hurting myself. Instead I hurt her slightly and gave myself a deep wound that would stop me running for a significant period of time and for a long time, locking all sharp objects in the shed.

That for me was the turning point. Laid in hospital being sewn up by a pretty pissed off doctor, my sister and mum sobbing next to me. That was enough. I'd hurt people close to me. Literally. It scared me. I hadn't intended on any of it. It wasn't easy coming out the other side but fortunately I did.

Of course, the relationship ended, he moved out. I decided to make a clean start, change jobs, create new opportunities. I took up cycling, and triathlon (arguably a new obsession of control).

Looking back, aside from hurting my loved ones, the thing that had the biggest impact, selfishly, was not being able to run. That's what hurt the most. I had lost my freedom. My outlet. Of course, it was good to learn new outlets, I re-engaged with lost friends, I spent time helping others volunteering, other things that would improve my wellbeing and mental health. This in hindsight was a good thing and I'm fortunate compared to others. It meant that whilst running has become a huge part of my life, I have other things that I can focus on. So even if now that is taken away, I have the ability to exist without that crutch.

I was lucky. I had an incredible support network, OK they didn't understand - why would they? It's difficult to explain why you're self destructing. The tendon healed and I was soon back to jogging slowly. I could cycle again. The scar and damaged nerves is a permanent reminder for me though. If I'm ever feeling like I could be slipping again, I just need to touch that visible memory and I remember how far I've come and where I never want to be again.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still susceptible to negative thoughts and have had relapses some years ago but generally I know how to take care of my mental health. I'm hyper aware of the things that could impact it. I know what situations to avoid. Maybe I can't hide forever. Maybe I don't need to?

Why am I sharing this now? Today is National Suicide Awareness day.

It's shouldn't be taboo anymore. There are people in my extended friendship groups who I know are battling depression. I'm not trying to glorify it. I'm hoping that I can reach out to someone who is struggling to see there is light at the end of the tunnel. Particularly with social media, generally speaking I don't care what people think of me, unless I'm being a bad person, then, tell me. I think sometimes people assume I'm very "normal". We all have histories, and skeletons. I honestly think I've never been more emotionally stable, clearly to be able to share this - whatever that is!  Running isn't the answer for everyone. It's my therapy. After a long day. After a break up. After a fatty meal! Just to be alone with nothing to think about.  There's no magic potion. We are all very different. I was provided with various tools to deal with my illness. I learned to use those tools. Sometimes the tools need oiling.

Sadly, depression is something that is here. It's real. For you maybe. For someone you love. For someone you don't know is suffering. Let's talk about it. Someone may not appear to be suffering, it doesn't mean they aren't. We are all guilty of painting a pretty picture of the outside. No-one wants to hear the sad tales, we tend to turn a blind eye to that.

If there's one piece of advice I could give, is, find what makes you happy. Not what society thinks should make you happy. That's the superficial stuff that ultimately makes you sad. Cliché as it is - life is short. Find something that makes you happy.

I hope this helps at least one person. I'll be back to blabbing about my latest adventures soon :)

About Me

My photo
This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)