Tuesday 3 December 2019

Florence Marathon

It was a pretty much perfect race, but why am I not jumping for joy?

This race is a weird one for me. I had entered this in order to try to get a championship qualifying place for London next year. I already have a GFA place but I really want that extra step up. This would be either a sub 90 minute half marathon or a sub 3:15 marathon by the end of December.

So having had a wonderful summer of adventure - two self supported runs - one through Corsica and one across Scotland. I was fit and strong, but full of hills rather than fast and flat. I had entered Swindon half marathon at end of September and Valencia marathon at the end of November. Both with half an eye on the prize.

I had a few weeks of specific training before Swindon where I focussed on half marathon pacing, making a surprisingly good transition from scrambling up mountains and running over hills to the fun of flat roads. I love the structure of road training as much as I love the freedom of Mountain running, so I'm fortunate to switch between the two fairly seamlessly.

Something happened (I'm a moron) and it turned out I'd not paid for my Valencia marathon entry so a quick Google search and I found Florence the week before so got my entry into that.

Anyway, Swindon half marathon was brilliant. I ran a great race on an exceptionally soggy day, and got a 3 minute PB, even with having to stop twice to re-tie my shoelaces that didn't want to stay done up in the puddles. Yet I was still a couple of minutes shy of that sub 90 - I knew it would be a big ask to ask for 5 mins off my best on a course that has a bastard hill at mile 11 so I was very happy with the outcome. It was a solid effort and coming in 7th lady and 3rd in my AG I had nothing to complain about.


My recovery out of Swindon was surprisingly slow. I was really struggling with my mojo, all my training runs felt laboured a few weeks later even. I felt completely off form and Florence was already coming up fast. I was sending panicking texts to Robbie on a semi frequent basis, him doing his best to convince me that it would all come together on race day and with a good taper - blah blah...

I was doing my training runs with sub 3:15 in mind, but really not feeling confident that I would achieve it. Three weeks out and I really wasn't feeling it. Comparing to how I felt coming in to London, I was a different person. Not at all excited, no confidence, tired. always tired. I just wasn't looking forward to it. Neither was I dreading it. Just a bit "meh" I guess.

It's an unusual time for me to be training for a goal race, normally I'd have done my big race of the summer and be winding down before Christmas, so I put it down to this.

Anyway, I tapered well, signed off from work and me and my friend Issy headed off to Italy for the weekend of sight seeing, wine and all the carbs. We had a lovely night in Pisa, with lots of walking and wine and gorgeous food.

We then got a train to Florence on Saturday, checked into our hotel and had a walk around the city, picked up my race pack, ate THE MOST AMAZING PIZZA OF OUR LIVES. Honestly. There has been nothing like it. We did some sight seeing then went back to the hotel for a lay down, back out for more food and some wine, picked up a sandwich for breakfast and had an early night.

Race morning, I wasn't excited, I almost couldn't be bothered. I started to feel a bit of the usual nerves as we walked to the bag drop. I said goodbye to Issy and went to my pen to start. The start was beautiful, right in the centre next to the Cathedral. Weather wise it was perfect. No wind, cool and sunny. The race got off to a start, I was in one of the front pens that took a minute to get through the start line, it was very narrow to begin with and people were jogging. Fuckers. Get out the way. Honestly, how people position themselves in the front to then jog off at ten min mile pace boils my piss (don't I sound like an arsehole!?)

I spent the first kilometre getting myself past joggers, finding some space then setting into my stride.
I did have a plan in my head before the start which was to start out at 4:41 pace (PB pace) then try to build in the last 10k to 4:35. What actually happened was I found myself bobbing around 4:30 - 4:32 pace for the first 10k. I knew I was going faster than i intended but it felt really comfortable so i just went with it.

I stopped for a wee in a bush about mile 6 which brought my average back to around 4:35 which would have secured me a 3:13 ish time.

My ITB had been giving my some gyp the weeks running into the race and I could feel it bothering me from the start.

Weighing up what my excuse would be when either my wheels fell off or my ITB took me out over the next 20k.... neither of which happened. At some point I was convinced I would realised I'd written a cheque my legs couldn't cash. What started going through my head was not "if" i went under 3:15 but "how much".... this was a new place to be in, yet I still felt quite comfortable, if not a few seconds faster than I ever expected to be going at.

I passed through 30k in around 2:16 I knew that even if I ran my "easy" pace I could get in, in around an hour.

I knew that at my current pace, I had nowhere to go so any ideas of picking up the pace over the last 10k were gone, if I could maintain this pace I'd do amazing.
Coming into the last 8k, thinking whether I could be bothered or not....  I was getting a bit weary and the cobbles we were now running on were beginning to tire me out with concentration, running through the city was annoyingly winding, slowing things down when I was already starting to tire. I was going to do it though! I was going to get in, in around 3:13 by my calculations. I was constantly re-calibrating when I'd get through the line. I had this! But why was I still not feeling elation?

I came through 40k, still on 3:13 target. I was going to do it. Yet I still wasn't feeling the love. Very quickly - too quickly, the 41k marker appeared. I looked at my watch, I'd only covered 400m since the last marker. My guts skipped. My face dropped. The course was going to be short. I was already so, so disappointed because I knew the course would then be recorded as a "Short marathon" and therefore wouldn't count as my qualifying place. My time was 3:11:01 and I was 42nd woman of 1600. I should be jumping for joy. My pacing was amazing. I had such consistency - I mean isn't that what I've been training for, for the last 5 years?

Distance Pace
5K 04:30
10K 04:35
15K 04:32
Half Marathon 04:34
25K 04:33
30K 04:33
35K 04:34
40K 04:35
Arrivo 04:31

I came into the finish, not really feeling the joy I should have done. Not pushing for the line like I should have done. Just kind of rolling through the finish, getting my medal and wandering off to find Issy, having missed her screaming her throat raw as I past her at the finishing corner.

We went for a beer and for some more of THE MOST AMAZING PIZZA and then celebrated with a nap.I text Robbie and a couple of friends that I'd got the time but the course was short so it won't count. I was gutted. Even though I know in my heart that even on a full course I would have been safely under the time, but I just felt so flat. I know it's ridiculous, I know it's completely irrational and I should be so so happy, as if I'm honest with myself, I had a near perfect race. Yet I feel a little cheated.
To be fair to the organisers and a race of 10,000 - they did a brilliant job in circumstance that couldn't be foreseen. A gas leak on the course at KM 42 meant they had to act quickly to divert the course and reducing the official distance by 600m. So I'm not blaming them. It was unfortunate and I'm positive if I contact VLM with my time they would have no problems in extrapolating my time and letting me run in the Champs pen, but I would feel like a phony.
I have one last attempt to get a sub 90 half now before the end of the year, which as long as I'm recovered, I'll have a bash. If not, I'm confident in my ability for London next year. Issy was a wonderful support crew as ever and Robbie as always was right. I'm not a bad runner ;-) I've made my peace with it and I realise I sound like an ungrateful brat.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

London Marathon and my head up my arse.

(I wrote this months ago but for some reason never posted it)

As usual my posts seem to be quite few and far between with a collosal life update leading to the latest race. I'll try to keep it brief..... ha! yeah right.

I'll keep it to this year in the very least.

So, I've probably not made it a secret that London marathon has been my A race for the first part of this year. Last year, I bloody loved it! It didn't go to plan as it was about 4000 degress Fahrenheit but it was one of THE best experiences any runner could have.

April 28th has been a date in my diary for 4 months. It's been the focus of my training for this time, and something I've been thoroughly looking forward to.

As per some of my previous posts, work has been quite consuming. The beginning of the year was no different. I'm not going to lie, it got pretty bad. I was topping 80 hours a week plus travelling to Germany twice a month - sometimes more. I was drinking a little more than I should and I was occasionally secretly smoking again.

However, I was still trying to focus on getting my training in. For the most part, I was succeeding. If I hadn't, I think I would have spiralled a bit further than I did. Robbie was brilliant during this time. Something he always nails, is understanding the need to balance several spinning plates in his clients' lives and never ever making you feel like you're failing.

I had a skiing trip at the end of January, where I managed to run most days - not far, but keeping the legs ticking over- mostly up and down the pistes at 2000m altitude. Coming to the end of the trip, I felt the impending doom of work and a rising anxiety I'd not properly acknowledged as a real mental health problem before.

The following weeks, saw my mental health decline to a state that I've not seen for maybe 10 years. I was sat at my desk at 1am tears streaming down my face, sliding an unravelled paperclip up and down my arm until it drew blood. A security guard doing the rounds of the building stopped by, barely noticed my snivelling snotty face, walked back out.

I got home at 2am, to be up at 4.30am to get a flight to Germany.


Later that week, I went to my GP. In floods of tears, I explained how I was feeling. She told me she wanted sign me off work for a month. I stupidly negotiated that we reduce my hours.

She said. "OK - 3 days".
I said "OK, so 30 hours"
"Aren't your contracted hours 37.5 hours?"
"Yes, but nothing will get done in 24 hours"
"Anna. That's not your problem"

Diagnosis. Get some counselling. Get some sleep. Keep exercising. See people.

(She was amazing over the next couple of months, went way above her duty, calling me to check in if I couldn't make my check in appointments -well done NHS)

Right after my appointment, I had a short visit from my friend Charlie, who was passing through on his way back north after some trip to foreign parts as he does now and then, from what I understand he just runs all day and takes selfies with his top off. We went for cake and he made me question my life choices as he always does when we see each other, which was exactly what I needed right now.

I went in to work and gave my boss my Dr's note. To be fair, he's been amazing. I'm very lucky to have him, he really gives a shit and he completely facilitated a reduced working solution whilst I tried to sort my shit out.

Sort my shit out I have. It's been a pretty tough few months and some hefty life changes with on-going changes that I'm managing. I've been spending time with a life coach to help manage through these transitions and it's the best investment I've ever made. The most important thing here is that I've acknowledged, I'm part of the problem - if I want to change my path, I need to change my behaviours (but that is an entire volume of books).

Training wise - the main goal has been consistency.

I take the piss sometimes about Robbie and the "C" word and after 4 or 5 years of training together, I feel that this last few months has been the most consistent I've ever been.

Yes. I missed the odd session. Yes, I never lost the 2kg I planned to lose. Yes, I've had a few too many cigarettes. But, I cut myself some slack. I've been hitting the main sessions. I've been resting when I should as well as when I need to. I've had 3 trips to the alps in the snow (I know - boo hoo) but I've managed to keep things going.

I've been totally neurotic though. One day texting Robbie that I can't possibly manage my target. The next day, over confident. How he manages me is worthy of a medal. I'm sure I'm his most high maintenance clients at times, but he's always there reassuring me. 100% understanding the demands of a busy career, stressful personal life changes and everything else that comes with being a normal functioning human being.

I've been really fucking boring with my training. Laps of the local lake. Running next to the dual carriageway. But deep down I LOVE this sort of structure and discipline for a time. About 4 weeks out, I really started to feel my excitement building.

With a few months consistent training under my belt, and 3 weeks to race day, I pulled off a fantastic half marathon performance. Everything went as I set out -  on the day the weather was hotter than planned so I adjusted some timings a little.

Initial plan:

3 miles @ 4:35/km
3 miles@ 4.30 / km
3 miles @ 4.25 / km
final mile @ 4:20 / km

With the weather forecast a a toasty mid 20s I decided after the first kilometre to adjust this to:

4 miles @ 4:35/ km
4 miles @ 4:30/km
4 miles @4:25/km
final mile hold on for dear life

I went to Hannover with my friend Lyndon, who was carrying an injury and he was keen to follow my plan. We had a nice meal the night before and were suitably prepared.

We ran together, chatting at times. He stuck with me until mile 8, where we parted company. Slowly I pulled away, I missed the 4:25 pace slightly and really hurt the last mile, the heat was reasonably tough and I crossed the line with a PB of 1:35 and a fantastic negative split and progression run.

I was very please with this - a 4th place in my age category in a large international field (32nd woman of close to 3000!). I went home feeling confident and started flirting with the idea of time goals which Robbie and I discussed.

I had two goals in mind. 3:21 - because it's a good number and 3.15 which was my initial A goal that would get me a champs place for next year. Being honest with myself, 3:15 was a big ask, so I kept that in the back of my head with 3:21 as my main target.

I stopped the smokes a week before the race and focussed on getting some good sleep, keeping my stress down, which for various personal reasons didn't happen.

Race week was filled with the usual maranoia - niggles that weren't there, weird dreams. Is that a sore throat? Urgh, I feel sick - shit, am I pregnant? All madness. Get. A. Grip.

By Thursday, I was literally bouncing in my chair at work, grinning constantly. On Friday, my legs felt like they had an electric current running through them. I had heard of this but never experienced it. I met Doug at expo to get our numbers - he was running dressed as an Emoji poo for a great cause, Bowel Cancer awareness. We had a chilled evening and bit of a lie in.

I spent Saturday hydrating and met a friend for a beer then another for a coffee in London then Ellen (my number one fan) and John came up and joined us for the evening for a pint and a pizza and we all stayed with Doug.

Ellen has travelled to America, Spain, the lake district and others to support me at events and I love having her around. She's such a positive force of nature and life would be a sad existence without her.

Early night, alarms set, race day was here!!!!

I bounced out of bed like Tigger and made porridge - I was half way through before I raised my concerns that it tasted stale. I went to the kitchen to check the packaging - sure enough it was out of date. So I left the rest. Doug sadly had eaten all his. Ellen didn't even start hers. I packed some immodium for us in case.

Dressed and ready to go, some pre race pics and hugs and Doug and I headed off to Greenwich.

The trip was hilarious. People asking for selfies with the walking turd.

At Maze Hill we parted company for our respective start points.

The weather was pretty much perfect - a little windier than I had expected, but a cool 10 degrees or so - much different to last years 26 degrees.

I found a discarded poncho to wear once I'd handed in my drop bag and coat to keep warm for the next 20 mins. Some groovy tunes playing to make me dance to keep warm.

All too soon we were moved into the starting pens, held there for 10 mins, quick pee in someone's garden (sorry!) and then not long later the count down begun!

5....4.....3.....2....1.... Good luck everyone! Enjoy!

It took 90 secs to get through the start, even in the 2nd pen of the small green start, but it flowed well.

Earlier that morning I'd read an article Robbie wrote about pacing, holding back, the net descent in the first 4 miles of the course. All this in mind, I got to my target pace of 4:40 and stayed there. My legs wanted to go faster, but I wouldn't let them. I knew they could go faster but I wouldn't let them - how very boring and unlike me not to go off like a bat out of hell! Enjoy the easy pace, I kept telling myself. The race starts later. My goal was to build on this and get a negative split..... the dream for any runner.

My pace felt so controlled. I felt calm. I was enjoying the crowds. the silly fancy dress costumes. The man running in a tent that was taking off in the wind - he was ahead of me!! Thinking nothing more than this being a 3 or so hour run... I'm not racing yet.

By 4 miles, I needed a piss. How long could I hold it before I had to go? another 2 or 3? If I went too soon, I might need to go again, so worked on my pelvic floor.

I got as far as 11 before I found my opportunity. Fortunately there was no queue so it was a 30 second diversion I reckon.

Running over tower bridge was AMAZING! The roar of the crowds, the incredible view was emotional. I grinned so big and bounced over towards the 20k marker.

Still holding my pace of 4:40. Feeling strong, feeling bouncy. Feeling controlled.

Runing into the half way point I got a bit excited on the descent. passed through half way, still on 4:40 pace and hit my lap button. From here I would try to build on my pace.

I aimed at 4:38 (what a numbers bore - but hey, I'm an accountant!). My watch kept telling me I was averaging 4:36. "Too fast Anna. Chill out you dickhead"

I remember a massive hill at 18 miles from last year so wanted to keep something back.

18 miles came and went - I powered up the massive hill (a short flyover) I'd dreamed up last year in the sweltering heat. It was barely a lump this time.

I felt like the race was going by so quickly. Were my wheels about to fall off in a catastrophic way? (probably.....wait for it).

I reached 20 miles, it was still feeling comfortable. I was chatting briefly to a guy to my left, who asked how I was feeling. "Great. The race is about to start now" with a cockey half wink he probably didn't see.

My watch and the mile marker were out of line - I guess the high buildings, wider racing lines create differences, I think I passed through 20 in around 2.31 or so. I knew 3:15 was unlikely now, I'd need to do a sub 45 10k - this wasn't entirely out of reach but I didn't want to dig too deep too soon, so I held the pace at what felt manageable.

Mile 22 came and went, Lyndon was there yelling and cheering. I was waiting for my wheels to come clattering off. Still they were playing along. Throughout the next few miles, I saw lots of people I knew which was so lovely. The crowds along this stretch were incredible, it was impossible not to bounce along getting giddy.

I passed the second crew of St Albans Striders as I was next to one of the 3.15 pacers from the blue start (not mine sadly)

I heard her first - Ellen Screaming! AMAZING! I waved an blew her a kiss.

I heard Lisa screaming and waved.

40km  marker appeared. I could feel that I was starting to slow now, my calves were a bit tight. I knew from training I could turn on the pace late in a long run. But could I now? I hit the lap button again to track my average pace over the last 2k. I was unable to turn it on. I felt like I was too far from the finish to dig in just yet. I knew I would get in under 3:21, but how close to 3:15 could I get?

The last km sign appeared, I still didn't feel ready to dig in. 800m, there was Sarah and little Henry screaming at the top of her lungs.... 600m....400m...... come on Anna, give it a kick. 200m, I glanced at my watch and saw that 3:18 was coming round, I pushed on for the line in an attempt to get under. Boom! 3:17:59.

A 21 second negative split.

My only regret? I still had something in me.... I could have shaved a minute off that last 2k if only I'd had more guts. I need to learn when to push myself into the pain zone. I don't quite feel comforatable doing that yet. I'm still a bit of a rookie at marathons.

I hung around after and met Simon from work who had done a ridiculous 2.52 or something crazy. We chatted. A guy passed out. I ran over and shoved clothes under his bleeding head while St Johns came to the rescue.

Soon after Simon's wife appeared in tears. She'd had a tough race on little training (still sub 4 hours!)

I had my phone back so was tracking Doug. He was storming it. My Dad had sent me a text to say he'd seen Doug interviewed on BBC... talk about stealing my thunder.

Doug came in, in a brilliant 3.55 - surely the fastest turd (and biggest sandbagger) out there! (including stopping for a TV interview and apparently High Fiving everyone on the course watching) - total legend and raised a huge amount of money for an amazing charity.

We went off to meet Ellen, John and Doug's friend Sinead. Doug was the celebrity of the day in his outfit.

We enjoyed some beers and food and celebrated our achievements.

What a day. What a result. What a support crew.

Thank you London. See you next year!

Obviously my mind is already entertaining that elusive sub 3.15 ;-)

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Post Tor Des Geants Update

I’ve left social media for a couple of months to focus on tangible things and be more productive. I have been feeling a little superficial lately, not really living in the moment and whilst I love that SM keeps me connected, I do feel as though I waste a lot of time on it and don’t get enough time to focus on the people I’m connected to in “real life” – after all they’re the ones who make the effort to see me physically, give me hugs when they’re happy to see me or I’m feeling blue or call me for a chat or text to make sure I’m alive. So I don’t really expect anyone to read these posts if I’m not sharing them anywhere.
So anyway, following the TDG, I had this annoying feeling of imposter syndrome and somehow felt guilty that the race didn’t mean as much to me as it did to other friends and that I somehow did it a bit of an injustice. I now feel like I should have tried harder – but really I know that in the moment, I felt like I was giving it all I had under some difficult emotional stress.

I surprised myself by the speed in which I bounced back physically. I was able to run later that week without any real issues, did some pace work, I even did a park run. I was hyperaware of not overdoing it as previously I’ve done this and suffered from it longer term.
Mentally, I’d prepared myself, in the only way I know how - by having a jam packed diary for the next few weeks.

Doug and I spent a few days in Italy to unwind after the race, which I’m so glad of. Monday I pretty much didn’t leave bed all day, Doug fetched baguette and butter and basically I just dipped bread into butter and tried to put on the 6kg I’d lost during the week. I’d taken a picture and I looked vile – like an anorexic boy so didn’t care what calories I put in me (it’s all gone back on and some more – fat bitch). Tuesday we went to an incredible spa just outside Courmayeur. I have a terrible habit of trying to fit in too much into a small space of time. I’d originally suggested we drive to the beach for a few days – he talked me out of this thankfully!


We got back on the Wednesday night, delayed and I did a little work on Thursday from home whilst I washed piles of stink kit. It was a few days before year end for me, so I knew I had a horror story for work coming up. I was supposed to be heading to Germany for a couple of days the following week but I received a call from my friend Kris Duffy asking if I fancied a free two day trip to Italy on Wednesday for some running promotional photo shoot thing with Alberto Tombo (of the Skiing fame in the 80s and 90s) – of course I did! On Friday, we drove down to Croyde for our annual trip with our friends to a gorgeous rented cottage where we ate and drank and surfed and ran and generally had a wonderful time. I can’t get enough of this group of people, most of whom I’ve been friends with for over 20 years, the others are acquired boyfriends and husbands that we’ve accepted into the group.
I returned to work on Tuesday for a day rearranged my meetings in Germany and headed off to the Emlia Romagna region of Italy with a group of total strangers. I was met at the airport by the lovely Francesco and Sona, from the Czech Republic and driven to a lovely quiet hotel in what felt like a remote part of the hills.
It was quite different to the previous week in terms of terrain and vista – still hilly but much flatter and panoramic. The weather was gorgeous, the hotel was great and the company brilliant. The crew were all super lovely and we had a great time, eating and drinking, I felt like I’d been sucked into someone’s family as we sat around chatting. My understanding of Italian proving far better than my speaking of it, I was able to laugh along to some of the chatter. Over dinner I chatted to Alberto, trying to learn more about his career. He’s quite a celebrity in Italy, so I felt a bit rude that I didn’t know who he was aside from some googling whilst I was on the train to Gatwick, so was probably confused why I wasn’t swooning over him.

We were all a bit pissed when I arranged a run at 7am the next morning – I’d like to say that everyone made it but I’d be lying. Still it was a lush morning and I got to see an amazing sunrise.

 I ate the most incredible food I think I’ve ever eaten whilst there – and waaaay too much of it. I think the hotel staff were trying to showcase it, and that they did!  

Returning from Italy was followed with year-end which went fairly smoothly, my analyst is off sick so I had several very late night/early morning finishes in the office but nothing I’ve not been used to over the last couple of years, and frankly I felt a bit bad that I’d not been in the office much lately. Over year end I had a bit of a post-race low that I knew would come at some point. So I allowed myself a couple of days of moping, where I let the self-destruct button compress a little. I spent a night alone, enjoying my sorry state, listening to Jonny Cash, drinking a few Gin & Tonics and chain smoking. Reflecting on the previous months, pondering the future, assessing my current frame of mind, how to maintain the healthy mental state I so often struggle with, generally spending a bit of time on myself - evaluating my worth which I don’t get time to do.

Year-end broadly done and there was another trip planned; a work trip to Croatia from Tuesday to Friday.
It was for the Group Purchasing business unit, which I’m not directly employed by but I’m Financial Controller for a really high profile project that is being delivered for them so I was invited along. The agenda was full. Tuesday involved 2 hours sleep, a 1am drive to Luton, bus to Gatwick, Flight to Pula, bus to Rabac where we checked in to the TUI Family life hotel – which was bloody amazing!

 It was the end of the season but it was kept open for us for the conference – I wouldn’t fancy it during the season when there are kids there but if you have kids, you should definitely have a look and Croatia is beautiful. It’s definitely one I intend to go back to.

We had welcome drinks on the terrace, and me and Brett went for a run. It was a super sunny day and I was so happy with the trails, I could have run them all day. Surprised that they were so rugged, pretty technical but not super steep – though getting 300m vert over 8k wasn’t to be sniffed at.

Back at the hotel it was lunch time so I joined some friends. They were planning to go mountain biking next so I said I’d join them. Some of you will know I used to compete at XC and Enduro so once upon a time was quite skilled so felt confident I could show the boys up on the jump park. Could I bollocks. I underestimated the terrain. It was bloody rocky. You just couldn’t get momentum and I kept grinding to a halt on the ascent. Which finally ended up in my getting stuck, falling sideways and really hurting my ass, arm and knee. I walked it off for a bit  but I’ve still got a huge bruise nearly a week later.

We had such a laugh and I really felt like I was living my life a bit more in the moment and making friends. We were all hopeless but it was really good to get to know each other better. We found a gorgeous little cove so dumped our bikes and went down for a swim. It was bracing and the pebbles really hurt my feet but once out on the shore the sun was warm and I found I’d cut the bottom of my heel  on something. It wasn’t big but it was deep and really hurt. I was convinced there was something in there but even now haven’t got round to checking – and it still hurts. I did some work where I could fit it in – which was usually in the middle of the night or at lunch time as I felt guilty that I was having a nice time networking whilst the rest of my team were finishing year end reporting.
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The rest of the conference was brilliant; lots of really interesting speakers, lots of networking, amazing food, fun evenings of drinking and laughter and really getting to know everyone better. The final night there was a big gala dinner planned, with a white theme so I finally got to wear a white dress I’d bought earlier in the year - everyone looked gorgeous and we had loads of fun.  
We danced to the Abba tribute band then until the DJ wouldn’t play any-more, I got to bed about 3.30 and did an hour’s work whilst it seemed some of the others were still up drinking at 5am. I wasn’t able to run the rest of the week because of hangovers and my sore heel but I was surviving on so little sleep lately I didn’t think it was a great idea anyway.
Sensibly, I’d only had one or two glasses of wine with dinner as I knew there was a 4 hour bus drive to Venice next morning and a race for me on Saturday. I worked solidly on the bus before my laptop died. I picked up a hire car and drove down to Lake Garda – it was such a beautiful drive. Not as nice as the Amalfi Coast drive me and Doug did a few years ago but it comes close. The temperature sitting around 26 degrees even at 5pm turning my non air-conditioned fiat panda into a greenhouse I sweated into the seats and enjoyed the route through tunnels  around Lake Garda that were carved out of the rocks - missed having Doug next to me nagging me to get off the car in fronts ass.

Which brings us up to date and to Limone Sul Garda, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Monday 24 September 2018

Tor Des Geants

I wasn't sure whether to write a blog about this for a few reasons but I'm not going to give you a blow by blow account as lots of it is a blur and lots of it I spent deep in thought.

I hadn't really expected to get into this event. I felt that I was a few years away from being ready for it. I'd put my hat in the ring expecting not to get through the ballot first time but to get a few extra tickets for the next couple of years. So imagine my surprise when I got in first time.

After London marathon the plan was to hit the hills hard, a trip to Chamonix for 10 days should have laid some good ground work.

However, you'll know from my previous blog that I've been pretty poorly for several months now. After being diagnosed with Whooping Cough, I accepted that what I had wasn't going to kill me. However, it certainly wasn't making me feel great. For months, waking up in the night unable to breath and choking has been pretty tedious. Training wasn't going to plan. Basically just getting easy runs in when I felt ok - nothing long featured.

I had a 24 hour relay race with some friends from work to get through the week after Lakeland, on the way there nearly vomiting I was coughing so hard, Lyndon one of my team mates had given me an inhaler to try out. Which to my surprise really helped alleviate the attacks when they were in full swing. I went into the race not knowing how many laps I could do, I said I'd see how the first one went and go from there. I'd had a couple of runs that week which had been 3 mins run, 1 min cough. Pretty miserable.

As it happened, running itself seemed to open up my airways enough to get through a 9k tempo effort. I was still reserved in my pace so I didn't over do it. As soon as I stopped however, I'd have impressive choking fits for 10 mins or so. The team did great. We won with a course record and 7 laps each all really consistent, no one dropping off the pace. My laps were all between 41 and 44 mins and despite getting literally no sleep (the cough is much worse laying down) I felt strong in my legs.

Anyway, we managed to fit in a trip to Brecon in the final weeks of training where we did 4 reps up the 450m climb. I felt great. I didn't quite understand how. But I was going to go with it.

The final week was spent, sorting kit, buying new kit, sorting nutrition. The race on paper is 330km, 24,000m ascent (it was actually 340k and 30,000m ascent!) a lot of which is at altitude, I wasn't sure how my cough would behave. It had seen some improvement in the last few weeks. Still running seemed to favour it slightly. The fits weren't so persistent. More like a fake attention seeking cough now.

My friends Jenn and Gary were doing the TDG too - it was return visits for them having completed or attempted it in previous years, we met some other return offenders who had lots of advice and spoilers of things to come. Which was a bit irritating at times. I don't recce routes because I like to be surprised by the route, so I didn't want to know too much. It's useful however to know which are the more technical or slow sections so you can be prepared for this mentally. The days before the race were spent hanging out with friends, eating pizza and ice cream - when in Italy! I was keen to get going now though.

Tor Des Geants - A la Trip Advisor:

Accommodation on the Tor is a mixture. You can find human alarm clocks, spa's, shower facilities and delightful eating establishments. A lot like Club Tropicana - the drinks are free.

Life Base 1 can be found in Valgrisenche - approx. 50k into the adventure. Having covered around 4000m ascent, over 3 major cols reaching altitudes of 2800m twice, you'll be ready for a break and refuel. One of the busier bases due to the volume of guests passing through at this early stage, finding a bed was not as challenging as expected - one room had a blast heater which for some would be unpleasant to sleep in. Recommendation would be to take a meal in the dining room before retiring for a short nap (I tried to take 90 mins here but only slept for 30 mins due to excitement). Food choice is wide. Hot and cold drinks, even local lager. Hot pasta and potatoes, with a choice of slop. Biscuits, cakes, and of course, as you're in Italy - CHEESE! More cheese than you can shake a stick at.

Life Base 2 may be found in Cogne. After a particularly challenging section over several thousand meters of climbing, technical descents, topping out at 3000m then a breathless 3300m. If you time your trek well you can be treated by an incredible sunrise over one of the high cols you will encounter. Once more, the facilities are well equipped. You will find hot showers and comfy beds, a similar abundance of food. By this point, you will have been up and down many mountain passes and spent little time below 1800m altitude. Your appetite may be reduced but the cheese is there to be eaten! I had taken a short nap at a previous CP of 45 mins so there was no here  (also there was a queue to use a bed) but I took advantage of a shower and some fresh knickers.

Life Base 3 is located in Donnas - at a mere 300m above sea level and very hot! Of course before you reach Donnas you have a long high climb to 2800m before a 30km descent - it sounds like it would be easy. It's not what your quads want after a few days trekking. However it did make this section go a little quicker and get some faster kilometres under your belt. There is a particularly challenging final 7 or 8 km into the life base that can take the wind out of ones sails if allowed, the route profile isn't very detailed  here. On the way in, we stopped at a gelataria for an ice cream and took an enforced 10 minute sit down on the scorching tarmac while waiting for a train to go past and the rail crossing to re-open. At the CP, i dined on Pasta slop, then laid on the floor while Doug visited the medics to have his feet taped and closed my eyes for 10 mins

Life Base 4 can be found in Gressonney. The section from Donnas is a tough one. After literally bounding out of here full of oxygen feeling incredible, forgetting to eat at the CP 1000m higher up the mountains. The next let's say 24 hours passed by very slowly and painfully, only during this time did i think that i may not finish the race due to timing cut offs. I assume someone dropped a tab of acid in my drink at the aid station as I spent several hours high in the hills, in the dark seeing things, having strong sense of De Ja Vu. I was convinced I'd been here before. I knew what was coming. There's a hill here. There's a drop here. I know this corner. But when was I here. The only time I'd run near here was UTMR in daylight.... (of course it was just my exhaustion, my brain not working fast enough to know that I hadn't been here before).
I sat on a rock for 10 mins trying to eat a gel. Put on some extra layers. Reaching the top i found Doug who had had a similar experience and seeing Gary later on also had a challenging section.  I recall descending a particularly technical hill. It took over an hour to cover 1.5km, thinking the whole way, I should slow down or I'm going to fall on my teeth. Reaching Gressonney was a relief. Though not without a long hike through town to get there.
I took a shower here and slept on some sports hall bleachers for 30 mins. I recall the food being excellent here, the check point was well managed and staff were very friendly and you can see many of the other guests coming and going.

Life Base 5 is located at Valtournenche. Here I took advantage of the spa facilities and indulged in a massage. The previous section had seen my quads throw me to the ground in disgust so I thought they would appreciate a rub. I was expecting only a 15 minute leg rub. What I got was actually a full body massage for 45 minutes, I can't be sure but my masseuse may have made some inappropriate touching. I wasn't in the right frame of mind for a happy ending but it's always good to know that this is an option at some establishments. After my massage I took an hour snooze before having a hot meal, filling up on biscuits and heading out into an impressive rain and lightening storm.

Life Base 6 is the final accommodation on the Tor located in Ollomont. It was surprisingly busy! There had been a long painful fireroad descent in and the night before I'd been particularly grumpy.  I was expecting it to be very quiet but it seemed like half the field and their enthusiastic supporters were here. Here I received table service, and a great selection of food and sustenance.  Sleeping wasn't an option here. It was daylight and heading into the final section I was full of energy. I wanted to get up over the next summit and down the other side before I lost daylight. I left this final checkpoint full of it. I went out with the intention of making up as many places as i could before darkness fell for the final time. Up and over i went to 2700m, running back down the other side. As soon as darkness fell, i was sleepy. So i took refuge in a check point for 23 mins. I woke up freezing, layered up. Ate some hot soup and went back out into the darkness. I was almost immediately too hot so de-layered and pushed on through to Bosses where there was an option for a decent sleep. I was very tired but this section was fast so i ran as much as I could. Feeling great I checked in, saw Gary asleep face down on a table, I'd received a text from Conrad not long before that he wasn't far ahead and to overtake him. Tempted to sneak on past him i decided on a whopping 2 hour sleep in an amazing castle type thing. (I think anyway). I woke up very confused being shaken awake by a human alarm clock.
We pushed on to the last refugio. I was really sleepy again. I needed to nap. Doug didn't. He pushed on while I took a 30 min nap face down on a table. There was only 15k to go from here. Only 2 more climbs. I wanted to reach the next major climb with the sunrise so I headed out into the emerging dawn.
As I hiked slowly up the last big climb, I looked back at the view of the sun started to rise and started to cry. I was so full of emotion. The week had been immense. The end was in sight. But I wasn't ready for it to end. I sat down for a few minutes watching the sky change colour, sobbing. I walked slowly up towards the col. I took a photograph and sent it to Robbie saying "I don't want to come down!"
I didn't want to be with anyone now, I needed this time for myself, I wasn't in a hurry now to finish. So let people slowly pass. Reaching the col, was a group of people taking photos, watching the sun breach the mountains in the distance. I stopped and sat with them and let out a big whoop of joy.
After the sun had risen i carried on. One long descent until a final 300m climb. It passed by too quickly. Coming through the valley with Mt Blanc ahead of me, i felt so small.

Crying again. Not with sadness, just overwhelming emotion that I've never felt before. I got changed from my warm clothes into skort and vest for the final 10k.
The next 10k was so much fun. The trail was lovely rolling single track, I was running properly. able to run the uphills feeling incredible. So full of energy. There were walkers out on the trails now as I started the final descent.
Shouting "Allez allez", "Bravissimo"
Their shouts making my laugh and cry all at once.
Running hard down the final few km i felt so full of life, Running through town, up the final straight and crossing the line I felt massive pride.
Some people I'd met on the trail were at the finish having just finished, hugs and massive smiles, their supporters brought me a beer and sat down.

Doug had been shipped to the bag drop, my phone was dead so after a while headed down to find him. Visit the spa for a massage, have a nap. He went off to eat ice cream with some others whilst i had a beer with a French guy (neither of us had a clue what the other was on about)

Entertainment and Activities:
Main activities on the Tor are hiking, running, trekking. It's best to commence these with enthusiasm and positivity. Leave your baggage at the start - physical and emotional and really get your head into the event.
The after party is unique. You will receive your finishers jacket the sunday after the race with everyone. No skulking off as soon as you finish. 3 hours of music, and announcements, a cat walk parade and a group photo. It's very special.

Things to look out for:
It's not abnormal to see other guests, laid out on the trail enjoying a few rays of sun. Or dozing quietly on a rock in the night.
I spent several minutes in the pitch dark just staring at the stars feeling very very small, watching the odd shooting star burn up through the sky. These are the moments that you will cherish.
You may be lucky enough to see an Ibex. Look on with envy at how the climb.
Enjoy the sun sets and sunrises. The sunrise can bring with it the most euphoric state. After the night trekking through the stars, the new sun brings with it such energy.

5* recommendation

I had a massive feeling of imposter syndrome all week. I got the impression people didn't expect me to finish, a few comments making me feel a bit small. Surprise that I got that jacket on my first attempt - I may have been imagining it. I hadn't gone into it thinking that I would fail, not through arrogance, just a confidence in my body and mental state to get it done -  I still had the utmost respect for the challenge. I knew there was nowhere to hide. Doug and I barely spoke all week, which sounds strange. Which was down to me. I had my head 100% in the race. I selfishly didn't want to share it. It was a strange week on many levels - personal, emotional, physical; the whole experience has given me a lot to think about. At some point it will sink in. But for now, I have a busy few weeks at work and a couple of trips in Europe whilst my body and mind recover and I decide what to do next.

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