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 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 not 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 :)

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Forgive me, for I have sinned......

It's been nearly a year since my last report.

That's not to say that I've been sat on my laurels. More that;

a) I'm not sure anyone really reads this bilge,
b) I've been pretty busy
3) Nothing spectacular has occurred.

A brief update of the last year in the world of my escapades.

After dining out on the Lakeland result for a good few days.... some recovery and plenty of downtime and frolicking. The next stop took me to on my first trip to Italy (if you exclude the detoured flight via Milan airport the previous year for my best friends Hen Do in Barcelona) and the brief trot through during the CCC.

At work a colleague had decided that TUI needed a running club (which was his way of getting some training in around a demanding job and having young children) and word reached him that I was fond of running so I and 2 others were engaged in completing a Leadership in Running Fitness (LIRF) course so that we could start our own running group and we would each be leaders. This meant that 2 days a week there was an option to run during lunch guilt free and block out an hour or so in our diaries to selflessly get others to love running! (this needs a blog of it's own)

Along with Doug and JZ, I'd entered UTMR a 110k very mountainous stage race in northern Italy. It was placed over 3 days over high altitude (for a southern lass) - there was an option to do it in one day, but if I'm honest, the 3 day option looked lovely. It was the 2nd year this event was run, and split into sociable chunks with actual hotels to stay in rather than camp sites it was luxurious! Doug and I had planned a holiday prior, where we started in Naples, and Sorrento and took an incredible stay/drive up to the Alps over a week, eating pizza, drinking Prosecco, visiting the most picturesque coastal towns I've ever seen, including the Almalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre (both of which I cannot ever unsee for their incredible beauty).

To be entirely honest, I can't recall all the events of the race, just that the three of us had the most incredible time. Generally we stuck together as a threesome, rooming together, enjoying banter and japes. The route was by far the most technical terrain over the distance and also the most beautiful, the mountains that just kept on giving, 1500m climbs topping out at 3000m and the longest most technical descents I've had to tackle. I've done the CCC round Mt Blanc previously and in comparison that is a race track of smooth trails this was rugged and challenging in new ways but also breathtaking and romantic....views of the snow topped mountains all around, the incredible weather we were blessed with, the wonderful company and finishers medals after 3 days were all that really matter. Also meeting the most incredible couple I've ever met, Russ and Delena from Canada, who were the most inspiring, honest and engaging people I think I've ever come across who were taking a sabbatical from their life in Canada to experience several months travelling around Europe running, cycling and generally loving life. I sincerely hope our paths cross again one day.

Whilst we were racing in Italy, the Lakeland 50 and 100 entries went live, and I think I mentioned before this event is like getting Glastonbury tickets so would sell out pretty quick (in under 30 minutes it turned out) and Doug and I had decided we'd do the mixed pairs if we could get a place. Sadly, as we were mid race we wouldn't be able to enter but our incredible support crew Issy and Ellen were on hand and there with auto-refresh and managed to blag us our slots for the following year! Hurrah!

Following UTMR Doug and I took our annual pilgrimage to The OMM, finally picking the right course for us - the D course where we got ourselves round with plenty of time to spare and placing 3rd mixed pair. We've come a long way from that first year we thought the B course would be a "piece of piss"!

A fairly quiet winter lead to a month of sickness, so the first race I'd planned in January (the rough and tumble back in my homelands) was sacked off. The next "A Race" was London Marathon.

I'd said to Robbie before Christmas that this year I needed to focus on my career so the plan was to focus on short good quality training so it didn't take up too much of my life. We met Robbie in Feb/Mar time for a 10k race in Goring where he joked that basically I was doing a 10k race plan (because I had to keep dropping runs short or doing more interval training than normal) - this seemed not to be too terrible after claiming 6th lady in a large field at Goring 10k. Some solid 5k times, a 7th place at a local 10k trail race and generally much more consistency than we've seen in a long while.

Early March saw the first official "TUI Trotters" outing at Milton Keynes Festival of running - there was a 5k, 10k, half marathon and 20 mile event which was great because it meant that it was inclusive for all of the gang in the running club. I took on the 20 miler and had a prettty decent day out, a nasty hill over the last couple of miles nearly broke me but running most of the race with Doug, Lyndon and Andrew set me up for a PB and a good target for London (2hr 39 and some change)

Mid March - and a month out from London Marathon and my 2nd longest run this year - I treated myself to a birthday 16 mile trail race near where I live - it was, let's say.... insightful! I text Robbie after to say how badly it went - but he called me up and gave me a pep talk - it was equivalent of the 20 mile road run that would normally be in a Marathon plan but without the hard tarmac impact and plenty of hills to add. Naturally I'd set out too hard, turned up hungover and underfed (getting my excuses in there)

Now, a few weeks out from London and about to embark on the taper... my friend at work who was also running London as about my start time - as I'd secured a good for age place from the previous year I'd seen lots of spam emails coming in to my inbox and being too busy left them to read at a later date.

Issy and Ellen were coming up to watch so I decided I should check start times etc. so I did a search in my inbox for London marathon details.... I found lots of info, about training about this and that.... i found my GFA acceptance - unread because I didn't need to read that, right??


My heart skipped a beat.

I opened the email to check the email from last June.

"Congratulations. You have been successful, click this link to complete your entry."


A phone call to London marathon confirmed my fears. I hadn't finalised my entry, I'd not paid. I was not in.

I text Robbie.

Pragmatic as ever.

Milton Keynes marathon is two weeks after.

A quick check of my diary. Hmmm.... Doug and I were entered for The OMM Lite.

"Doug..... how do you fancy doing MK Mara instead of The OMM?"


Long and short, we entered MK, The OMM transferred our entry to The OMM in October.

MK Marathon, went like a dream for me. The extra two weeks training clearly paid off. I smashed my target of getting a sub 3:30 and placed 7th lady.

Since MK, there has been park runs, a few track races (5000m, 3000m) some 10k races and a 10 miler where I've placed well.

However, now that Lakeland is coming round, there is a distinct lack of hill aptitude compared with last year. Work has become increasingly challenging and a Desk to 5k course with the TUI Trotters has meant that the lunch time running hasn't been as useful as I'd have liked.

So, with budgets due, a lot of long nights in the office, a few overeas trips this month - Snowdon race next weekend and Lakeland 2 weeks later, who knows what is going to happen! It might end up being a couple of nice weekends away hiking in the hills. Which in itself, isn't a terrible thing.

P.S I have DEFINITELY got my GFA place sorted for next year!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Lakeland 50

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" this is something my old swim coach used to say, which is profound and try to live by. I'm not someone who believes in luck. Weirdly, I was also a fucking awful swimmer, so some might say it's luck that I didn't drown during my triathlon days, I say I worked fucking hard for months at swimming, to still be a fucking awful swimmer (but not drown).

I've been bouncing around like a kid for 2 weeks (and the rest) looking forward to this race. I get like this when I know I've worked hard for something. I'm not just talking running. Anything. That satisfaction you get heading into something knowing that you're really prepared. That you've done all you can to achieve the best you can on the day.

I'd shared some of my goals with friends, one of them being Doug. With his only hill session in the last few months being Snowdon race he wasn't feeling too confident. I tried not to let his doubts rub off on me though. He was throwing around estimates like better than 18 hours but more than 12 he'd be happy. To which I was thinking, "Well, I'm not waiting for you. See you at the finish then punk!"

I know Doug well. We've raced and trained together for years. He was sandbagging of course (this is the man, that told only a few people he was doing an Ironman; until he came home with a medal and an exceptional time!)

I'm not sure he completely believed I'd achieve my goals but he is also pretty competitive when it comes to the two of us. If we're doing a half marathon or a 5k he'll totally disregard his goal pace and run just on my shoulder for a while before overtaking and staying just far enough ahead that I can't quite catch him.

Obviously we're also a fantastic team when it comes to expeditions and mountain marathon team events and are well matched pace wise and know how to look after one another when required.

Two of my oldest and dearest friends; Ellen, Issy and the gorgeous German Shorthaired Pointer, Milton somehow got talked into a "trip to the lakes". I'm pretty sure I told them what we were doing and that they wouldn't see much of us on Saturday but we'd have HEAPS of fun on Friday and Sunday. When the reality  transpired I'm pretty sure they felt they'd been missold PPI. 

Ellen, Issy and Milton were driving up from the West Country and Doug and I from the east, we'd discussed plans and thought we'd all be up there by say 3pm. In time to register, catch up with familiar friends, see off the 100 mile runners and have a jolly old afternoon and evening. 

What actually happened was an 8+ hour journey up the M6 with every other fucker that was deciding on a lovely northern summer break that same Friday. 

We found time to share some banter though.

It was stressful to say the least. Doug and I arrived just in time to see the kids mile race off(they're swift!) sadly we missed the 100 start, which was a shame as we had some friends running. We registered and I got a text from Issy saying they were still 2 hours away. *sob* .


We got our numbers, weighed in (one at a time fatty!) etc then headed off up to the B&B I'd booked us all into. I put the address into Google Maps as I received a tearful call from the girls (well Issy was tearful, Ellen was hysterically laughing in the background). 

They were still 90 mins away. We'd been trying to get hold of the b&b to let the, know we were late. But to no avail. So, stressed that the girls were upset, the B&B may have given our rooms away (had I even indeed got a booking!) and it was getting near to the kitchen shutting time in the pubs. 

Doug and I drove on a bit crabby at each other. Agreed we'd check in, get to the pub and order pizzas to take away for the girls. I tried once more to call the B&B and finally got through. "What booking?"
"Um.... 4 beds and a dog, under Buckingham?"


It's fine. We'll get there and it will all be fine. My battery was on 3%, Doug's was on 0% the car charger had stopped working.

Finally we found the B&B, Doug waited in the car whilst I ran in.

Only to be told, this was not the B&B we had booked. We were in Keswick. The place we should have been was not far from where we had been an hour ago, in Burness, Berwick, Somewhere beginning with fucking "B".

I sloped back to the car to Doug's hopeful face and told him the bad news. He was mad. I tried to make a call. To who? I don't even know. My phone died.

I got the map out of the back of the car and looked up where we should be.

We drove in silence back the entire way we'd come. Doug was seething. I was sheepish. Better to get the nav errors out the way BEFORE the race, right?

I suddenly realised my work phone was in the car and had battery so I waited for signal and tried a number from the CORRECT B&B. I got through eventually. She'd been trying to call us (on our dead mobiles)
I didn't have Issy or Ellen's numbers on this phone so sent them a facebook message to say we'd see them in the pub.

Anyway, long and short. We all managed to check in, and get to the pub for a right jolly old time before they stopped serving. All we could do was laugh about it. (well once we got a pint in front of us)

We ate pizza, caught up on our shitty travels and drank beer then walked back to the B&B to pack kit bags whilst drinking Red Stripe, some more dicking about and get to bed.

The race wasn't an ungodly start so we didn't have to get up too early, but it was too early to get breakfast at the B&B. There was a briefing at 8:30 which we were just in time for. Unfortunately the hall was overflowing (annoyingly supporters were in there taking up space of runners so we couldn't get in) so we fettled with bags, stuck race numbers on, went to the toilet again and again. Doug realised he'd lost his road book (mandatory) so after the race briefing I went in search of a spare. I bumped in to Conrad, from my running club, gave a quick hug and said I'd see him on the bus (I didn't)

Several buses were waiting in the car park to take all 650+ runners to the start at Dalemain. Just about to get on, I saw Richard Leahy. I had no idea he was running today. We'd not seen him since sharing a tent at Dragon's back. We all hugged and greeted each other and caught up on the coach until I felt a bit queasy and had to spend the rest of the journey pretending to sleep.

We reached Dalemain and I began to get excited. It was still an hour or so until the off so we had plenty of time to go to the toilet and even get a coffee and shortbread. The 100 racers were coming through their halfway point and about 1000 people were cheering them through. It must have been a great feeling for them (despite being 50 miles into a 100 mile race and having been up running all night!)

Before long we were being called into the starting pen. I bumped into Conrad once more with his friends (more on one of them later). Richard, Doug and I shimmied our way nearer the front of the pen and enjoyed the atmosphere and then before we knew it the countdown begun 10....9....


I shot off. I wanted to make a good start but not blow up. Before long, I could see that I was in the top section of the women, 3rd or 4th place. I tried not to get too exciting. It was only a few hundred meteres into a long day. Calm down Bucks. Even though I knew the route well from Dalemain, there was an added 4 miles round the estate to make the route up to 50 miles and it was far from flat.

I set a good pace for myself. Doug wasn't overtaking yet. After a mile or so Richard came past me, he kept intermittently stopping to fiddle with his calf guards, it later transpired he was getting thistles stuck in them.

The ground was uneven in places, thick grass like running through sand, the odd climb and descent. Before we knew it we were running back through the start area (also the CP area for the 100s) to huge cheers from the supporters and racers feeding and resting. I heard her first, then spotted Jenni in the CP pen (Jenni was doing the 100  miler. I'd been following her progress through the night and she was doing amazing, slowly picking her way up the rankings) I ran to her and gave her a big squeeze, she screamed in my ear and I was off again. Now on the route proper.

Doug had caught up with me about 2 miles ago and we were running together, ticking off milestones already "5% done... that's a park run"

Now out of the crowds I ducked behind a bush to go for a slash, letting Doug go off ahead. Also grateful to a bit of a breather. Not interested in pushing any harder (I already thought maybe I'd gone off a bit quick)

I ran back on, not worrying about catching up with Doug. I knew now I had gone off too hard. I love the section over to Howtown at CP1 and ran merrily in convoy of the 60 or so runners in front of me. I knew I was currently 3rd lady. Running through the single track before Pooley bridge I was grinning. These trails remind me of happy times mountain biking. I ran on through Pooley Bridge where huge crowds were cheering everyone through. I saw Rachel Ball yelling at me as I ran by, who I'd not actually met in real life until today. She was meant to be running but was injured but her partner was running so she was out supporting. I'd been watching her from afar on social media. We are of a similar standard and I had thought she'd be my closest rival and had been looking forward to running with her/against her.

Photo Credit: Rachel Ball

Already, I'd realised I'd forgotten to tape an area of my foot prone to blistering (which I'd told myself on my last recce to not forget to tape up) the inside of my right arch was rubbing. Do I deal with it now or hope it doesn't get any worse? It'll be fine. I'm sure. I don't want to waste 5 minutes so early in the race.

From here we met our first significant climb, on the road. Last time I was here I'd ran the whole way up and even managed getting a good Strava Segment position! I let myself have a walk when I felt I needed it. No point in blowing up too soon. I could see little dots climbing up across the fell to the right of the road and couldn't wait to be up there. Its an odd gradient, from below it looks fairly steep but when you're on it, you can run and run. I could see Doug not far ahead but still I didn't want to push to catch him. I finally reached the top of the road climb having overtaken several people, going past some of the 100 milers, cheering them on the way past. I was back on trail now and grinning once more. I ran on and on knowing the route well. Walking when it climbed steeply briefly, to catch my breath then running on once more. The route plateaued and started to gradually descend. Some mountain bikers were patiently waiting to get past so I pulled over to let them through.

I could see another lady on my shoulder as I started to run on again. I was pushing as hard as was comfortable on the descent and let her go by after a brief fight. She was much better at descending than me, even on this non-technical section.

Now, not far from the Check point, I dared to look at my watch. My pace was way up on any of the training runs at 5:39km/h pace which for this terrain was to me, really good. I rolled into the checkpoint in 1hr 35 having covered 11.5 miles and saw Doug stuffing snacks in his face and leaving the CP.

I grabbed a handful of sweets filled my cup with coke and went straight back out again. Before long I caught up with Doug.

The next section is pretty long through to Mardale Head, probably my least favourite section. A colossal climb up then a plateau (the bit I keep going wrong on) a steep descent down then an unexpectedly technical 6/7 km lakeside run. On paper the lake section looks like it should be easy but it's rough rocks, short steep ups and downs and ankle breaking cambers.

Doug and I were now together, we were feeding off each other's pace. We knew this next few k was going to be more of a hike and took the opportunity to get our heart rates down, get some food in and try not to lost any places.

It was much easier to follow the route with people in front than on my recces and found myself at the top pretty soon.

As we reached the plateau, I could feel my stomach tightening and the unpleasant feeling of needing the toilet (sorry!) I'd taken some shitstop before we started as I'd had a bit of an excited tummy! So that may have taken some of the edge off.

I was annoyed as the plateu was a lovely easy run, gradual descent but my tummy was in knots so I had to keep breaking into a hike. I was looking around for somewhere I could relieve myself but it was just open hill tops with people intermittently passing me by as I pulled my pace right back.

By now a few women had overtaken me, but I couldn't do much about it. I knew I'd gone out too hard to start, all I could do was slow down, and get some fuel in before I bonked. I tried to eat some malt loaf (which in training had been amazing) but it just stuck to my mouth and throat and I wretched. This wouldn't do. I had some bloc shots so managed to wash one of those down with water.

Before long the route dropped steeply towards the lake and I spotted in front a familiar slender shape. The long legs, long blonde hair of Jenn Gaskell. I shouted down to her, she didn't seem quite her normal cheery self but was trying her best to be upbeat I could tell. I'd been watching her progress last night too and she was doing amazing in the top 10 of the 100milers. She said she thought I was 8th or 9th lady or something and wished me well and I was gone down the tricky slope towards the lake.

Still I needed the toilet, my tummy hurt so much. Every time I thought I found a good spot, someone came past or I noticed a big drop off the edge of the trail I was bound to fall down.

We'd been going for 2.5 hours now, and I assumed Doug was far ahead. Despite my tummy ache I was having an amazing time. I was making good time, all I had to do was try not to shit myself and not run out of fuel. I wasn't drinking quite enough and the day was warm but not unpleasantly. Lots of people passed me during this section. I was picking my way over the technical rocks, me and another guy were competing for the worst descending award. (I won)

Finally the trail opened up a little and I could see farther ahead and the trail curving round towards CP2 in the distance. I thought I could see Doug too, but couldn't be sure. Around a km from the CP, I could definitely see Doug. He wasn't moving at all well. I became concerned. I was running a little better now and was gradually gaining on him. I caught him just as he entered the check point.

He was in a bad way. He'd bonked. He'd run out of water some time ago (annoyed that I hadn't caught him and shared mine) he'd run out of fuel and felt (and looked) like shit.

I left him getting sandwiches and cup after cup of coke, whilst I finally got to relieve myself as there was a portaloo at the CP. I felt better immediately. Also aware I was a bit low on energy I necked a couple of cups of coke. Checked Doug was OK, offered to stop a while here if he wanted to but he knew I wanted to crack straight on so he stubbornly left with me. I made him take a jam sandwich and took one for myself before thanking the CP staff and setting off up the next big climb.

(it seems to be standard practice to have a big climb after a checkpoint, which is good because you can stuff your face whilst hiking up it, I noticed this when doing Trans Wales MTB race too )

We chatted and Doug explained he'd bonked, totally run out of energy, gone off too fast (much like myself) run out of water and was feeling horribly sick and looking a bit unhappy and worried he might not be able to finish.

I hated seeing him like this, but despite my untrustworthy stomach I felt fairly good myself so didn't want to slow up too much, my legs were strong and mind positive. I led the way up the climb. Doug stopped to heave. I held back with him to rub his back (and hold his hair out of his face) but nothing came. We carried on a bit further. Doug stopping every so often to heave up non-existent bile. He asked if we could stop for 1 minute, so we stopped on a rock, I counted down with my stopwatch a minute, while Doug tried hard to be sick.

We started to move again, I started to push on ahead of him up the hill, stopping now and then to eat and check back he was OK. He saw and would wave me on. I knew he was trying desperately to keep up. He didn't want to be left behind and I didn't really want to leave him behind in this state.  I knew up over the top of the climb was a big descent down, Doug is faster downhill than me so I kept pace knowing he'd catch me.  The descent was tough. It was steep with lots of loose rock. The braking that my reflexes made me do hurt my legs more than the climbs.

The descending was jiggling my insides too much, my tummy was hurting again. I had to stop and find a bush. I found one. Whilst taking care of business Doug came past looking pretty worse for ware not seeing me, I shouted out and told him I'd catch him up.

Once more we were together, my tummy still in knots, Doug trying to force up some of his stomach lining. What a pair.

I knew the route well into Kentmere so felt confident leading the way. Just before Kentmere we bumped in to the legendary David Lee who we have met every year on the Spine sat on a wall cheering people on and taking photos.

Photo Credit: David Lee

We rolled into Kentmere and found Richard who had been there chilling out for about 10 minutes. We necked a smoothie, grabbed some biscuits, refilled water bottles, and were back on our way. My knees were beginning to ache alittle so we took a painkiller each up the next climb.

We were both beginning to feel better now and I was able to describe the next part of the route.  A climb followed by an amazing flowing descent into Troutbeck. My blister was getting pretty sore now so on the next steep descent I decided to stop and tape it up. I was just ahead of Doug at this point having reached the top of the climb ahead of him, and stopped on the side to deal with my ouchie. I shouted once more I'd catch him up. A few minutes later I scurried down the hill to him. We were on a painful rocky river bed. It wanted to be run on, but it hurt your feet so bad so we ran where we could. We reached a corner where I needed a wee. Doug took this opportunity to have one last purge. This one seemed to finally fix him. As we ran the next section in to Ambleside he was finally back to himself. Bouncing along, telling crappy jokes and singing me songs.

We ran through Ambleside full of beans and huge crowds, Once more Richard was there having been chilling for a while. A quick stop to refuel and we were back on our way. We walked for a while whilst we ate, and back up yes another hill before getting on to open moors.

I knew this next 15 miles was largely runnable. A couple of big climbs interspersed with lovely flat trails. Up the next climb, Richard joined us, and we all chatted. I led the way as I knew the route from memory, and we happily ran together through Chapelstile, finding a few minutes to play on a swing, before heading back on to the moor and a short sharp climb up followed by a wonderful piece of singletrack to a mandatory unmanned checkpoint (so you don't cheat and take the road)

We stumbled across a swing and I couldn't resist a little play (and also a sit down)

From here we were only a few km from the last CP. I had been watching my clock. I knew we could get in, in under 11 hours. But we had to push. I suggested this to Doug but he didn't want to entertain it. I knew on a good day I could do the last section in 45 minutes. So even if we left ourselves an hour we could do it.

We hit the final CP with 1:05 to spare to get that sub 11. We had a quick snack, and got back on with it.

It's a brutal finish, straight up a set of steps. The you climb up nearly 300m over the next 1.5 miles. I was watching my watch. The light had faded and we had our headtorches on. Mine immedeiatly flashed that the batteries were dying. I didn't want to stop to change them and waste time. I'd just manage with what light was left and the dim setting from my headlamp.

The descent is equally horrible off the summit and I picked my way carefully down in the half light trying not to get too left behind. Back off the rocks and on the final steep descent, I let myself go, catching up with Doug and both of us catching Richard.

I knew now we'd be under 11 hours for sure. (unless anyone face planted now) My headtorch was slipping so I carried it in my hand. We ran hard into Coniston euphoria beginning to fill us.

Round the corner from the finish, I could hear cheering and above all of that the loudest screaming!!! I saw some commotion to my left and heard then saw Issy and Ellen screaming and jumping around and vaguely gave them a hug as they ran into the finish with us screaming with joy and bouncing around like women possessed!!

We ran through the finish, dibbed out and received more hugs and screaming and the BEST EVER FINISH to a race!

We were ecstatic. We'd done well. We knew we had. We weren't ashamed to admit it.

What an incredible support team. What a team Doug and Richard were. I ended up 9th female and we were all in the top 100 out of 672 runners.

Team work makes the Dream work! Photo credit: Richard Leahy

After the race we headed back to the B&B, drank a couple of bottles of fizz and the girls filled me in on the day they'd had...

Incredibly happy runners

They'd had a wonderful day, walking around the lakes with Milton, Waiting at Ambleside check point, just missing out on seeing us through, but having the fortune of glimpsing "a really hot Viking looking guy, blonde, blue eyes and an incredible moustache and beard"  this ended up in a several day search on social media for him #findviking.

We found him, and it ended up being Conrad's mate.

They'd been in the pub,

chatting to the winners,

and Milton had been getting all the attention - hardly surprising - look at that beaut!

The next day we had a nice walk around Ambleside, refuelled and enjoyed the sunshine.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. If you discount the travel issues. (the girls ended up getting home via an AA van.... )

What an adventure, what a support team, what a result!

Could I have improved on this time? I don't think so. Had I gone off slower, I may not have got tummy probs for a while, maybe I still would have. Maybe that saved the race for me as I was forced to slow down. Really, I don't feel like I would have done anything differently. On the day, it all came together, we were blessed with perfect running conditions to boot!

Can't wait for the entries for next year to open!

Monday, 1 August 2016

Life after The Spine.

It's fair to say The Spine took it's toll on various aspects of my life. Not to say it's all been bad and knowing I've not got to go back to tackle it again is a great feeling but also somehow bittersweet. I've got January to look forward to doing Cross Country and normal stuff!

I've had a pretty good year so far, After the spine, Robbie and I agreed we'd work on shorter stuff through the spring and early summer and not rush back into things too hard and let my body and mind recover. I had some shorter event targets in mind, and with work becoming increasingly challenging and time consuming I felt it was time to put other things before running and focus on quality training.

I bounced back surprisingly well, with a win at the Might Contain Nuts 10 mile trail race in March, followed the next day by a birthday 10k road race with some friends where I placed well. I've been desperately trying to get my park run below 20 minutes too which is becoming a bit embarrassing now! I'm 11 seconds off, but determined to get there by the end of the summer.

I had a crack at a Vertical KM whilst I was at it!
May was a great training month with a trip to the lakes (more on that later) and an amazing week in
Morzine running up and down the trails there, Robbie also talked me into a hellish 15k mountain race whilst I was out there. It was so hard. It climbed 1000m and pissed down with rain. That and being at a decent altitude to make me breath extra hard - Of course him and Nats both own the mountains round those parts and both bagged podium spots. It was nice to see Robbie and Nats though and experience a proper mountain race.


I've been enjoying some track racing, 10k trail races and some club champs events and am loving the endorphins you get from the short fast events. I even won a 3000m race in Abu Dhabi round the F1 track which was an incredible experience!

Two weeks ago, I took part in the Snowdon Race, which I bloody love!

Look how happy I look!
10 miles straight up 1000m of Snowdon and straight back down. Again, I placed well in a very competitive field of international fell runners and really felt like I've improved my hill work (Up as well as down) and felt really confident, I felt a bit bad as this is kind of Chris' race which I've jumped on the back of and he's much more of a fell runner than me, and I snuck over the finish line just under a minute ahead, with Doug sneaking in the same time in front of me. The following day Doug and I spent the day hiking about Snowdonia.

My 2nd goal race of the year however has been Lakeland 50. I've been looking forward to this for months. I don't normally approve of reccying courses. It feels a bit like cheating. But I had some serious goals in mind so wanted to prepare myself by knowing the terrain, learning the route and preparing my legs for those 3000 odd meters of ascent and dare I say it, be competitive.

Over Easter Doug and I took a trip to the lake district with the intention of reccying most of the route over two days. This didn't go well. Neither of us took a map or a GPS with the route loaded on to it. All we had was a printed out road book. After 16k of hills in the pissing rain, we found ourselves lost, on top of the wrong hill with a handful of disintegrated papier machet. We abandoned the recce and spent several hours trying to find our way back to our B&B to drink beer.

Before I went to Morzine, I headed up to the Lakes once more, alone this time and got hold of the correct map, road book and took a compass! ON the Saturday I ran/hiked the 28 miles from Dalemain to Ambleside, briefly going wrong but righting myself and getting on towards Kentmere. Somewhere between Mardale Head and Kentmere, I took the most ridiculous wrong turn. I don't even know what I was thinking. I turned off the route and scrambled up a gnarly mountain. After 2 hours scrabbling about, I finally dragged myself through some shrubbery into a farm where I begged for some fresh water as I'd run out hours before in 28 degree heat.

The rest of the recce to Ambleside was uneventful and I rolled into the backpackers hostel, showered and went to get myself a beer and food. The next day, I drove to Coniston, dropped off my car, got the bus back and ran the 16 or so miles Coniston. This part of the route is really runnable on the whole. A few big climbs naturally but I was surprised to arrive in such good time.

I went home feeling positive. I'd heard terrifying things about this course. But it all felt pretty manageable. Don't get me wrong, there are some big long hikes where it's not possible to run but it was a pretty runnable route compared to the likes of say the Dragon's Back which I'd been expecting it to be more like. I tentatively suggested my goal to Robbie (a 10 hour something time limit). There. It was out there.

Four weeks ago I went back to recce once more. To fine tune the bits where I'd gone wrong, having done plenty of hill training, I also wanted to see if I could actually run up any of the hills now. To my surprise I could! (well the ones early on when I was fresh anyway) I had a fantastic time, apart from taking the wrong fork up over High/Low cop and being in the rain, couldn't be arsed to get my map out, then later to find I'd lost my compass and descended into the wrong valley and continued to go round and round and up and down the same hill twice. (I clocked an extra 10k in this detour!)

The rest of the trip back to Ambleside was spot on, and the weather was kind beyond that. Even with the detour I got back in a decent time. The next day, once more I made my way to Coniston. I really enjoyed myself, the weather was perfect, I was loving scampering over the last few km in the sunshine, and knowing I had to catch the bus back to get my car I had to put my foot down a bit.

Driving home, thinking about the times I'd take over the sections, I felt it was well within me to get a sub 12 hour race, the dream was to get 10 something. So I set myself a few options. Some  which I'd share with others;

To complete in less than half the time allowed (i.e. under 12 hours)
To complete in between 10 and 12 hours.
My quiet target - 10 something and a top 10 ladies position.

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