2015: Another Year Over

It’s that time again when I throw myself into a panic about the year nearly being over and how I haven’t actually achieved anything.  After a little think I realised that isn’t quite true and, upon reflection, 2015 has been a year that’s given me some great memories with some awesome people.  These are my highlights.

1. I ran my first* ultra marathon SBU35

On the 29th August I ran 36.8 miles and became an ultra runner.  It was a huge achievement for me, not least because it was a trail race that included a mountain in the middle (OK, technically it might not be a mountain but at almost 2,000 ft it’s described as ‘one of the steepest sections of track you’ll have ever seen…).  It rained, it was windy and it challenged me in ways I’ve never been challenged before but, with an ever patient and reassuring Chris by my side, I finished in one piece, albeit a slightly emotional wreck.

Learnings: Sometimes, mental strength is everything.  I don’t give up easily.  Chris is a really good friend.

*and very probably last

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2. I ran 4 other marathons in 2015

Brighton – the one where I barely ran the last mile, got overtaken by a dude dressed as a toilet, and was annoyed I missed sub 4 by 13 seconds but enjoyed it all the same.

Learnings: London isn’t the only marathon in the UK worth running. I have more bounce-back-ability than I thought.

London – the one that’s my absolute favourite, the crowds, the sights, the Chasers, it just leaves me high on life.

Learnings: Always run the London Marathon when you have the opportunity.  Shots of sambuka a few hours after running a marathon is a punchy move.

Vanguard Way – the one where I ran my first trail marathon, got lost and it was hot, hot, hot.  All ended well cause Jas and I had Coke, sweets and each other.

Learnings: When you’re running on the trails it really doesn’t matter what your Garmin says.  It’s OK to walk up hills.  Jas is awesome.

Medoc – the one where we started with a hangover, drank wine all the way round, had shots of whiskey at 20 miles, ate oysters, finished drunk and drank all the beer at the end (I don’t even like beer). Good times!

Learnings: Sometimes you should break all the rules.  Drunk running is fun.  I can’t beat rugby boys at drinking games.

Including SBU that makes a total of 5 marathons this year.  That’s kinda a lot for me!

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3. Thunder Run

In July a group of us headed to Derbyshire to run in a continual 10k loop for 24 solid hours.  In my team of 6, we took turns to run around in circles through mud, trees and woods, all day and all night. That’s 26 laps in 24 hours…  Why?  I don’t bloody know why but we had a great time!

Learnings: F**k it, who needs sleep?  Teamwork is everything.  As much as it hurts to admit, I cannot put up my tent without a boy’s help.

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4. 3 Peaks Challenge

Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon climbed and conquered in just over 24 hours.  3 mountains, 3 countries, 26 miles, 9,800 feet of ascent and 880 miles on the road, bloody awesome experience!

Learnings: I am really, really bad at climbing down mountains. Up? That appears to be no problem at all..

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5. Green Belt Relay

The Green Belt Relay is a 220 mile, 2 day running event around London’s Green Belt.  It involves early mornings, very little sleep, a brief stay in the hottest hotel in Essex, an obscene amount of time in a minibus on the M25, cider, banter and, of course, some running.  Having done it for the 2nd time in May, it’s become one of my favourite weekends of the year!

Learnings: Running the glory leg is as rewarding as it is nerve-racking.  Alex makes the best superhero ever.  I cannot drive minibuses

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6. I learned a little something

Recently I’ve learned it’s OK to take a little break from running, it’s OK to do something else and it’s even OK to even sit on the sofa all day.  Who knew?!  I’ve been running for about 15 years, a few weeks off doesn’t make me any less of a runner, in fact it’ll probably make me a better one.

Learning: When you need a break, take a break!

So that’s 2015!  I guess it’s time to start thinking about my goals for next year…

CTS Dorset: The Wind Battle

It probably won’t surprise you that the thought of a DNS next to my name horrifies me.  It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, or how sensible it might be, I don’t cope well with the mental anguish of feeling like I failed before I’ve even started.  When I woke up on Saturday I felt dizzy, sick and completely drained, but, worse than the thought of dragging my arse out of bed and into the gale force winds, was the thought of a DNS, I couldn’t be a DNS in the motherland.

Saturday was the Dorset CTS, one of the races in the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series.  There are 10 in total around the country, but Dorset is only one of 2 labelled ‘extreme’, meaning it’s utterly brutal on the heart, lungs, legs and, potentially, the soul.  Dorset also happens to be my home county, and World Heritage site Lulworth, on the Jurassic Coast, is one of the most stunning locations in the UK.

Durdle Door on a sunny day!

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Home to both Lulworth Cove, a remarkable landform that attracts swarms of tourists, and Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch that juts out in the sea, as well as rolling hills, coastal walks and cosy pubs, it’s a trail lovers dream.  As you know, I’m undecided on my love of the trails, but I do love Lulworth, Chaser weekends away and cosy pubs!

There are 4 choices of distance, a 10k, 16 miles (they call this a half), full marathon, 33 miles and a whopping 45 miles for the clinically insane (Russ did this one last year…)  I had entered the half but, having not run for 3 weeks due to a calf injury, I wasn’t sure how that would go…

I headed down with the usual suspects, Frankie, Albro, Russell and Lorraine, and the train journey was full of the usual banter, G&Ts and crisps.  Russ thoughtfully broke out the Scorpion Chilli Death Chocolate because, well, what else would you eat before an extreme trail race?

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On arrival in Wool, we dutifully headed to the pub to disturb the locals on a quiet Friday afternoon.  Frankie was running the marathon the next day but was still successfully sinking an impressive amount of beer!  However, after a pub dinner with the rest of the Chaser crew I started to feel really sick…

I’ll hold my hands up and say the alcohol probably didn’t help, but it usually takes a lot more than that to make me sick, and it certainly doesn’t make me shiver.  I sadly took myself home to bed whilst the others stayed in the pub of many ciders.

The next morning I truly felt dreadful and had zero energy, I had barely slept all night and could only manage a cup of tea and half a slice of toast.  I made a sensible decision to downgrade from the 16 miles to the 10k.  It’s one thing to push yourself through a few miles but 16 is actually quite a long way, the winds were crazy and the course was tough, as much as it hurt, 10k was more than enough today.

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Heading down to the start I realised just how windy it was, apparently the winds were up to 50+ mph when you got up to the exposed areas along the front.  I had made the right choice.  It was easy to downgrade at registration and, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one and bumped into a fair few other Chasers doing the same!

I met Mum and Dad who had come along for spectating duties and we watched the start of the half, the Ultra and Marathon had already started so Cat and Frankie were long gone.  I spotted Chris at about 12 miles in his 33 mile race looking, err, windswept, but strong!

The 10k got started after a race briefing at at 11.30 and the course took us straight up a stoney hill of steps, I started off jogging but quickly dropped to a walk, as did everyone else.  It got windier and windier as we reached the top and I spotted Albro, Russell and Claire taking photos, not sure how they didn’t get blown away…

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At the top the view opened up over the sea and Durdle Door and you could see the hills that were to come!  The first 3 miles is made up of 4 hills but, although the descents are more than runable (even for me!) it was a real struggle against the winds and you had to throw a lot of force into carrying yourself forwards.

On one descent down towards the sea, the wind was so strong it was blowing all the gravel straight into my face, I couldn’t see but, hey, free facial?!  The battle against the wind became comically funny as it literally blew you across the course, I was too scared to take any photos in case my phone blew away!

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At the 3 mile point, the course turned around and headed back on a pretty much continual slow descent.  Slightly more inland than the completely exposed front, and with the wind behind us, it became much easier to actually run, in fact, it became pretty much impossible to walk as the wind threw you forward.  We ran through a caravan park and onto the final descent down to the finish line, it was quite steep in places which was a hairy experience in the wind!

I got a big cheer as I rounded to the finish line and was really pleased to have finished my first run in 3 weeks, albeit with a slightly sore calf and out of control hair!

The folks were glad I dragged them out on a blustery day!

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I was a little sad I hadn’t been able to do the 16 miler, but I really don’t think I would have got through it and there’s always next year right?!  We had the usual Chaser success with a win in the half and numerous top 10 finishes as well as Chris facing his previous Dorset CTS demons with an impressive 11th paces in the 33 mile ultra!

In the evening nearly 40 of us descended on a wonderful little pub in Wool for celebrations, unfortunately I was still feeling a little under the weather so I missed the after party but I heard it was a success!

Dorset CTS is a fantastic event, it really is worth it for the views alone, it’s a beautiful place.  If you get the chance to go I would definitely recommend it, just don’t underestimate the challenge, it’s a tough course so choose your distance wisely!

The next day a few of us attempted a cultural day out with a trip to Lulworth Castle, which we did, but Frankie, Albro, Russ and I accidentally ended up spending the next 12 hours in the pub.  In our defense, it was a really, really great pub…

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A summary of important run-related learnings

  • It’s probably best to avoid alcohol the day before a 16 mile extreme trail race
  • It’s probably best to avoid Albro, Russ & Frankie the day before a 16 mile extreme trail race
  • It’s wise to eat 3 proper meals before an event
  • It is not wise to sub one of those meals for G&T and Scorpion Death Chilli Chocolate
  • Beautiful locations make even the toughest runs worth it
  • You should laugh hysterically in the face of 50 mph winds as you scramble up and down hills
  • It doesn’t count as falling over if the wind knocks you off your feet
  • You cannot walk with stormy winds in your back, you can only fly
  • Chaser support is rivaled by nothing

A summary of non run-related learnings (bonus life lessons if you will)

  • If you spend 12 hours in the same pub, you will name the barman Bubble Butt and he will let you choose the music
  • When Albro is choosing the music everything gets a little bit punk and a little bit weird
  • When the bar closes at 10.30 but you’re still there at 12.30 Bubble Butt will drive you home
  • In fact, he will insist on it…
  • And let you take another drink for the journey
  • And give you half a pint of milk for your morning cuppa because there are no shops open in Lulworth, ever
  • And let you keep the best pint glass in the world with a dinosaur etched on it
  • Bubble Butt is the best barman in Dorset

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What do you do when you fall out of love with running?

I don’t know how it happened.  I don’t know where, and I don’t know when, but sometime in the recent past I’ve fallen out of love with running.  And I’m sad about that.

I’m sad because I absolutely love being a Chaser, I’m sad because all my friends are having a great time running round London, knocking out PBs and loving every second, and I’m jealous that I can’t join in because, no matter how hard I try, the thought of going running mostly just makes me want to hide.

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It’s like everyone else is at the most awesome party…and I’m not invited.

A few weekends ago I didn’t run at all.  Not because I was really busy, not because I was injured, and not because a squirrel ate all my trainers (there’s a family of squirrels living in the loft so that’s actually quite plausible, I call them The Wilde’s), but because I just didn’t want to.  But, rather than being OK with that, I felt ridiculously guilty and spent endless hours trying to justify it to myself.  Probably not the sign of a healthy relationship…

Maybe I took on too many challenges in the last year.  6 marathons in a 12 month period is a little insane, I didn’t even realise that’s what I did until I counted them, but I enjoyed them all…except maybe Amsterdam which broke me pretty hard, and Brighton when I got overtaken by an actual toilet in the last mile and swore never, never, ever again…until I did do it again 2 weeks later, but, generally I enjoyed them.

After Amsterdam I was a physical and mental shadow of my usual running self, painfully slow and far from the form I was in at the end of 2013.  It took a lot of mental strength to bounce back and I’m still only half way there.  Did I learn anything from that?  Apparently not.

The problem is I do love running and I find it really hard to say no when someone jabs me in the ribs and suggests a weekend running round a new City/up ridiculous mountains/through vineyards in fancy dress.  They sell me sweet dreams of sweaty fun, post-race cider and 10 hour road trips and I’ve signed up before they’ve even finished their sentence.  I never claimed to be normal…

Running is a bit like wine, I love wine and it’s always a good idea to have another bottle glass, but you never quite know when you’ve had enough and then everything gets a bit hazy and weird and you wake up feeling rubbish.  Actually, running is exactly like wine, who knew?

My last marathon was 2 whole months ago, and that was Medoc so I’m not entirely sure it counts when you’re doing shots of whiskey at mile 20, so shouldn’t I be over it all by now?  Does running have a cumulative impact?  I don’t know.  I’ve tried having a break, going to the gym, spinning, yoga, bootcamps, but I still can’t get excited about running.  All I do know is that, right now, I don’t love one of the things I generally love the most in life, I feel a little bit lost and I don’t know how to fix it.

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When Chrissie met the Chasers

Meeting your heroes.  It’s always a risk.  How can they ever live up to your expectations?  You put them on a pedastool and marvel at their achievements, but, through no fault of their own, you may very well come away feeling just a little disappointed.

Chrissie Wellington is one of my heroes but, having met her before, I had no doubt she’d be as inspirational, funny and friendly as ever (she even came to cheer me on at the Rome Marathon….well, she was there…and she cheered!)  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Chrissie is phenomenal.  Not only is she 4 x World Ironman Champion, but she’s won every single one of the 11 Ironmans she’s competed in.

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It didn’t come easy.  Having battled an eating disorder, teammates who were often jealous of her ability, more than a few dodgy hotels the night before competition, wetsuits that made her sink, and numerous falls off the bike (one which left her with 3rd degree burns just 2 weeks before Kona…which she went on to win), she showed the world what it was to be a true champion.  I only wish more people knew about her journey.

Last week, we were lucky enough to have our very own session with Chrissie, I was soooo excited I bounded out of work on the dot, still on my conference call, because I really didn’t want to be late.  Absolutely could not be late for Chrissie….

…err, so I wasn’t late

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One of my favourite things about Chrissie is that she’s very down to earth.  She started by saying she had just come from an event with Prince Philip and had to get changed in a McDonald’s toilet on the way to us!  Apparently we’re much more fun than Prince Philip too 🙂

Growing up in Norfolk, Chrissie always wanted to be a tractor driver when she was little, she loved fancy dress and was always a sporty kid with a passion for swimming.  She went on to tell us about her life at uni where she captained the swim team, but was actually much better at drinking for them than swimming for them (which, if true, she must be one hell of  a drinker!)

When I was little I dressed up as a starfish and then I became a World Champion…

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After uni Chrissie started to take running a bit more seriously and knocked out her first marathon in 3:08, she had a knack for it.  With skills in both swimming and running, it was suggested that she try her hand at triathlon and, after a few sprint and Olympic distances, she became hooked on the activity that would see her become one of the most inspirational women in sport.

It’s important to add that, whilst Chrissie was so good at triathlon, she didn’t have the fancy equipment to go with it.  Far from it, her first road bike had 2 previous owners and her wetsuit was was second hand and didn’t fit, she didn’t care, and I think it’s this attitude that made her into such a strong competitor.

During a secondment in Nepal, Chrissie discovered the joys of mountain biking.  She quickly learned that running wasn’t an option, unless you wanted to get bitten by rabid dogs (which did happen), and swimming was totally off the cards unless you were prepared to be violently ill.   So, she bought a bike called Prem (Nepali for boyfriend) and developed the kind of mental and physical strength you only get from consistently battling sand storms and snow at altitude.

‘Silver Bullet Solution’

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After returning home, getting a coach, and making further improvements in triathlon, Chrissie made the brave decision to turn pro in 2007. No ‘what if’s’.  It wasn’t long before she made the start line of her first Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), smashed it, took the win, and qualified for the World Champs in Kona.

Following this, Chrissie Wellington became 4 x World Ironman Champion in Kona, as well as winning every other Ironman distance triathlon she entered, all the while remaining humble and fiercely dedicated to her training.  There was a lot we could learn from her!

Chrissie’s Top Tips

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  • People don’t become a champion, they act like one
  • You have to find your passion, what makes you happy?
  • Take a chance, don’t be afraid of change because if you never try, you’ll never know
  • Juggling balls is all part of the challenge but sport should be a good stress – your training needs to work with your life and other commitments

The Training Plan

  • Have a sensible, realistic training plan, it should be a journey
  • Consistency is key, but be flexible
  • Base your plan around 4 key sessions:
    1. Steady
    2. Strength – eg hills
    3. Race pace
    4. Intervals
  • Quality over quantity
  • Don’t faff, have your equipment clothes and food ready
  • Rest days are important…
  • …as are off seasons, have a break!

Make Marginal Gains

  • Incorporate strength & conditioning
  • Sleep
  • Massage & physio
  • Nutrition & hydration

Your mind in your most powerful weapon, train your brain

  • Train alone, some of the time
  • Remember your goals and motives
  • Use positive words & affirmations, have a mantra
  • Break the session or race into smaller, manageable segments and stay in the moment
  • Test yourself and recall your ability to cope

“Accept that you are not a professional athlete. The aim is to be the best in the context of your life”

We finished the session with a team photo in which Chrissie was more than happy to wear the Chaser vest!

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I came away from Chrissie’s talk feeling pretty inspired about sport again.  Maybe I can get that Boston Qualifier after all, don’t be afraid to take a chance right?  Huge thanks to Chrissie for sharing her top tips, her enthusiasm, encouragement and for simply being herself, you’re our favourite!

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes.  Don’t listen to what they say.

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Marathon du Medoc: The Boozy One

You don’t need to be an experienced runner to know there are a few basic rules to marathon running.  Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, get a good nights sleep, eat a hearty breakfast and make sure you’ve trained in your race kit.  Pretty simple.  So, when I turned up on the start line of my 12th marathon with a hangover, on 4 hours sleep, an empty stomach and a leopard print skirt, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line in one piece…

Marathon du Medoc claims to be ‘le marathon le plus long du monde’ (the longest marathon in the world).  And now I know why…

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Medoc is one of those races on every marathoners’ bucket list, quite simply, it’s the craziest marathon on earth.  Rather than the usual water and electrolyte stops, there are around 20 wine stations hosted by different châteaus around the beautiful Medoc region in France, proudly waiting to let you sample their finest red whilst you have a dance to a live band before you run along to the next one!

Gourmet food stops including oysters, steak, cheese and croissants line the route, as well as the usual banquet of fruit, crisps, crackers and fig rolls you seem to get at every European marathon, and everyone is in fancy dress.  Fancy dress is the Marathon du Medoc law.

Whilst it’s certainly a race with a difference, it’s now so successful, this year was the 31st event and it sold out within 24 hours!  In all credit to the organisers, despite its huge popularity they still limit entries to 8,500 to avoid compromising the race experience.

Gemma, Martin and I had been excited for months, we flew to Bordeaux (the nearest main City where we were staying) on the Wednesday, which would give our bodies a chance to get used to the toxic levels of wine that would be necessary for success (sensible training approach).

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Friday was registration day, so we headed to race HQ in Pauillac where they had set up a little race village with a few stalls and a bar (obvs).  Registration was a little chaotic but the queue was short so could have been worse!

We had a few beers (and maybe a champagne…hey, we were on holiday!) and walked along the river where there was some wine tasting and various food on offer (the snails did not look happy).  Martin and Gemma had a plate of oysters (my previous history with oysters is that they always make me throw up, today was no different but I tried) and we enjoyed the sunshine.

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Part of our race package included a pasta dinner party and, this year, it was hosted at Château Senilhac.  On arrival we were greeted with a live band and several tables of wine and crisps before being invited into the marquee for dinner.  The best way to describe the whole look and feel of it is exactly like a wedding!

Dinner was chorizo pasta to start and duck and pasta for main (not ideal if you don’t eat chorizo or duck but I worked around it!), and some kind of foamy meringue thing for dessert.  By this point, we’d made some new friends and all had way too much red wine (to add to the white wine, beer and champagne…) so Martin decided it would be an awesome idea to have a few games of ‘who can inhale their dessert the fastest?’. 5 desserts each, another magnum of wine, and a fireworks display later, it was definitely time to go home.

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It was a pretty long drive back to Bordeaux which meant we didn’t stumble into bed, a little worse for wear, until 1.30am.  With a 5.30 alarm it wasn’t ideal.  The next morning was a bit hazy and a bit rushed but we headed out in the dark and rain to get the coach back to Pauillac for the start.  The coach was 40 minutes late. The driver was lost. It was raining. We were not impressed, especially as we’d rushed out without taking breakfast (5 deserts might not have been a bad idea after all).

Finally, the rain had stopped and we managed to arrive hour before the 9.30 start.  We quickly realised our hangovers weren’t alone, but the atmosphere was thick with excitement as people buzzed around all smiley and wide eyed in their fancy dress outfits, it was a far cry from the solemn seriousness that usually graces marathon day morning.

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This year the theme was ‘dressed to the nines’ but there were a real mix of outfits from dresses, shirts and bow ties to a full on Moulin Rouge cart, if you were in regular running clothes, you really hadn’t understood the spirit of the event!

The entertainment started early – a giant silver ball suspended over the start line dangled acrobats on aerial silks as they twirled above the crowd and, before we knew it, we were off!  The start was slow going but we weren’t in any rush.  The official cut off time is 6 hours 30 so, for those who are serious about it, the ideal finish time is 6:29:59!

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It wasn’t long before we reached the breakfast stop at 2k, tables of mini croissants and pastries, I was starving!  Buttery pastries aren’t my usual choice of marathon day brekkie so I conservatively picked up 2 mini croissants and we ran on, I didn’t want to be sick in the first 30 minutes!

Wine was served from the 5k marker, it may have only been 10am but it was delicious! We knocked it back and jogged on.  The wine stations came thick and fast for the first 9 miles and we revelled in the novelty of legitimately boozing whilst running, what was technically, a race.

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Each station came with well dressed waiters in the château grounds, some with live bands, but all with plenty wine and snacks as we guzzled back glass after glass.  There was a section in the middle with fewer wine stops and this is when the rain hit us, there was a LOT of rain!  It was around this time we realised that a marathon is still, errr, a marathon and it’s still a bloody long way!

Around the half way mark I started to feel quite sick, probably not surprising, but I was seriously weighing up the risk of splattering the vineyards with the very grapes that had once grown there.  Luckily, the feeling passed!  The second half saw more fabulous châteaus, amazing red wine, entertainment and beautiful vineyards, but the rain wasn’t going anywhere.

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Our paced slowed as we spent more and more time at each wine station, we started having 2 or 3 glasses each time and, at 20 miles, we were even given a healthy shot of whiskey…when in France right?!  The gourmet food came in the last 4 miles, I guess they didn’t want too many people feeling sick when there was still a fair way to go.

We dined on oysters (kept this one down), cheese, steak (not me), more crisps, and (if they hadn’t run out by the time we got there), ice cream!

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I’m not sure whether it was the wine, lack of sleep or my post ultra legs (can I still use that excuse?!) but, by this point, my legs were feeling pretty stiff and all I wanted to do was walk.  Martin insisted we run so, giving it my best shot, I broke into a jog, but all I heard were fits of giggles behind me…apparently what I thought was an elegant jog was actually a very stiff shuffle. Drunk, soaking wet, and slightly broken, it looked like the Marathon du Medoc had got me exactly where it wanted me, a bit of a mess.

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We managed to jog the last mile or so and crossed the finish line together in 6:28:59, couldn’t have timed it better!  Tired and happy we headed to the finishers tent, obviously it was time for our free beer!  The beer tent brought more carnage as we bumped into a fellow Chaser, and we inadvertently got ourselves involved in one too many rounds of drink downing with a big group of rugby lads. Well, what else would you do right after you finished a marathon?!

The evening brought more wine, more champagne, more live music and a pretty spectacular fireworks display.  Another very late and drunken night, but an exhilarating experience with 2 of my favourite people!

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Despite the nature of the event, we only actually saw one person in need of medical attention which is far fewer than any other marathon I’ve run.  There’s plenty of water when you want it and, as long as you’re marathon fit and in good health, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a really enjoyable run and take advantage of everything on offer.  Do it with friends, do it in fancy dress, do it with a smile on your face and do it with a glass of wine in your hand, but make sure you do it.

It’s clear Medoc are very proud of their marathon and they certainly should be, it’s a beautifully extraordinary and unique event and they’ve found the winning formula.  We absolutely loved every minute of it (well, almost, Martin got stroppy in the rain at 15 miles) and I’ve already decided it won’t be my last time.

Medoc, you were glorious, until next time, merci et bonne nuit.

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The Day I Became an Ultrarunner

It was 4.20am when my alarm went off on Saturday. I felt sick. 10 minutes later, our temporary-static-home-by-the-sea started to creek as the 5 of us stirred. Today was the day we would be attempting to run the 36 miles of the St Begas Ultra. And I was terrified.

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It had taken us 9 hours to drive from London to St Bees, the North West Cumbrian coast, the day before (an event in itself when you have an Alex in the car) but we arrived in good time to relax in our caravan (yes caravan) which was located a few minutes away from where the race would finish the next day.

There were 10 of us in total, but for Frankie, Alex, Dale & myself it would be the first time we’d ever ventured more than 26.2 miles in our trainers.  It was pretty tense.  Alex handled the pressure well…

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I hadn’t quite got my head around the concept of running 36 miles, it didn’t really make any sense to me. How far was 36 miles exactly? All I really knew was that it was a bloody long way, it was off road, and it was hilly.  I wasn’t sure if I could do it, I wasn’t sure why anyone would even want to do it.

In all honesty I think I had my head in the sand for most of the summer, I tried not to think too much about it.  I trained as usual, putting in the miles, but I wasn’t convinced it was enough.  I struggled through my long runs more than I usually would and I had a heavy sense of foreboding that was difficult to shake.

I just didn’t know what I was doing.  How do you prepare yourself for that kind of distance? I didn’t really know, especially when it was a trail race.  Did I mention that I’m not good at trail running?!  You may be wondering why the hell I signed up for such I challenge. I don’t really know that either. I didn’t really know a lot.  But here I was, embarking on a challenge that genuinely terrified me to the core because some sick, twisted part of me really wanted to do it.  I wanted to be an ultrarunner.

Sensible race prep in a windy St Bees the night before

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Last Christmas, my friend Chris generously offered to run the race with me and pace me to the finish.  He made me a pinky promise.  This was a wonderful offer, with Chris by my side my chances of survival would double.  But it also worried me.  Chris is the ultimate ultrarunner, and he’s bloody good at it.

Amongst other crazy things, he’s spent 24 hours running round a 400m athletic track (over 100 miles) and, just recently, he came 13th in the 120 mile, 6 day Transrockies Run in the States. He’s pretty hardcore. And I am not.

I was hugely grateful for Chris’s offer, but I didn’t think I could take him up on it.  If he was willing to give up his own race to run with me then I risked letting him down, as well as myself.  I wasn’t sure what he expected from me – there was a real chance I wouldn’t even make the finish line.  Without me dragging him down he could have a really good run, and that thought really bothered me.

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As time went on, Chris continued to insist he wanted to be a part of my race and I became more mentally reliant on having him there.  There were so, so many things I was worried about, but those worries would be halved if I wasn’t alone.  My biggest worry was getting helplessly lost at 30 miles, but with Chris’s experience we’d never get lost, right?!

At around 5am we headed to the neighbouring caravan, where the others were staying, for breakfast. It was the middle of the sodding night and I was trying to force feed myself porridge, not ideal. Registration closed promptly at 6 so we headed down to race HQ to sign away our lives on the waiver and get our long list of mandatory kit approved.

SBU35 (annoying named as it’s actually 36 miles!),  is a point to point race that starts at Bass Lake, near Keswick, and follows the route of a legendary Irish princess who travelled between 2 chapels bearing her name (I’m damn sure she didn’t do it on foot though…) Simply, course takes you through the Lake District to St Bees, our little village on the West Coast, but of course it wasn’t that simple.

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On the coach journey to the start Chris and I discussed the plan (err, a plan?) The first thing he made clear was that pace was irrelevant, but we had to keep moving forwards and take advantage of the easy sections when we could. He also gave me 3 rules:

  1. I absolutely had to finish. No matter what.
  2. If anything happened to him, and he couldn’t go on, I had to go on without him (I couldn’t even entertain that one.)
  3. Some standard toilet protocol with a couple of sub-clauses.

The race was completely self-navigating, there would be no course markings at all.  We were each given a 34 page booklet we had to carry with us with a lot of instructions. Russell had done his best explain the route, but it all just blurred into one long, horrifying list of doom.

What I didn’t find out until last weekend was that Chris tends to get lost on every race he does, together with my navigational disabilities it could be a disaster.  Good thing we were all carrying a mandatory compass I didn’t know how to use…

Chasers ready to run…and run…and run…

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After a race briefing, 117 hardy fools were set on our way…we were running an ultramarathon!  The weather was dry, and a little cool, but after the recent bad weather I knew we would be very lucky to make it through the whole day without wind and rain.  I’d have to cross that bridge when I came to it.

We started on an incline which went on much longer than I expected, but the pace was gentle so we chatted away.  As we came to the first decent I encountered the first of many ‘what the hell am I doing?’ moments. It was steep. And slippy.  And I hated it.  I thought it might be the right time to confess to Chris how bad I was at downhill running as he patiently waited for me…

After the nail-biting slip n slide, the rest of the first leg was pretty enjoyable.  It was mostly flat on a mix of footpaths and road and we ran round a beautiful lake which made me feel instantly calm. Apart from a small detour where we ran up a stream (and a grumpy man who followed us and did not see the funny side) , it was a nice run up to check-point 1.

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At the checkpoint we dibbed our dibbers (so they knew we were alive), filled up our water and had a couple of Jelly Babies.  I really struggle to eat on the move but I knew I was going to have to take on a lot more energy if I didn’t want to crash.  I had a gel and some shot bloks and hoped I could avoid real food for a bit longer.

A couple of miles after we left the CP, things took a turn.  We were 13 miles into a 36 mile race and I was struggling mentally, I couldn’t see how I was going to finish.  It was the beginning of my first dark time and it would go on a while.

As we approached what would be the longest hill of the day, we spotted Adam and Liz waiting to cheer us on.  As happy as I was to see them, I just couldn’t bring myself to smile, their friendly faces would make me cry and I needed to be strong.

The hill was a beast.  From the bottom, all I could see were brightly coloured lycra-clad runners making their way up a grey mountain.  It was steep, and it went on and on.  We walked up and I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, head down, mostly worrying about what we would face on the decent.  As we started to reach the top the wind started to howl, I could barely hear Chris when he insisted we stop to layer up as the rain came in.  It was getting brutal.

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The ground was that awkward type, large stones everywhere, half hidden in grass, difficult to run on but also not steep enough to justify walking.  We plodded on.  As the decent came into sight my heart dropped, we were basically going down a mountain.  This was no longer trail running, it was fell.

The wind and rain whipped us from all angles as we (well, I, Chris could run)  scrambled and slid down the wet stones, climbing over rocks and slipping over.  I made slow progress. Obvs.

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This was my lowest point.  Not only did I find it really hard, but I felt awful for making Chris go so slowly when the weather was so fierce, I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom.  Russell estimated I’d finish between 8-9 hours but, after clocking a depressing 31 minute mile I was pretty sure I’d be a lot slower than that.  Perhaps my first introduction to fell running shouldn’t have been in the middle of my first ultra.

When we had finally weaved our way down, the wind dropped and the next 4 miles were on solid, flat ground all the way to CP2.  By this point we were on around 21 miles, I’d found my confidence again, and I didn’t feel too bad.  I had half a jam sandwich (why not?!) and a lucozade and we were on our way again.

After a couple of miles we reached another lake and there were some more flat sections we tried to make up some time on, but it wasn’t long before we were climbing again.  By this point we were over 25 miles and it was the start of another dark time.  I had some sugar, put my head down and concentrated on following Chris as he navigated us along the paths.

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I didn’t feel good.  I felt weak, tired, and emotionally unstable.  There was still such a long way to go and I knew there’d be another steep section coming up soon.  We plodded on.  I didn’t have much chat, I just tried to hold it together and not look at my watch every few minutes.

The scenery was beautiful, it really was, but it was difficult to appreciate.  The miles ticked by until we faced our last big hill, a very steep path through the forest.  It was tough, but I didn’t really mind, as we walked up we were inching ever closer to the final CP.  At the top, the path levelled out to a grassy section that was very boggy, one wrong move and you lost half a leg in the mud (Frankie actually fell into a bog up to her thighs and had to be rescued by Russell, there are no words to explain how gutted I am he didn’t take a photo!)

The downhill was steep, but grassy, I don’t remember it being awful but nothing could be as awful as the previous decent!  A short while later we reached CP3 and I had a piece of homemade flapjack and some sweets, sugar was the answer to everything at this point!  The marshals were brilliant, checking we were OK, filling up our water and sending us on our way.

I left in high spirits, 32.5 miles down and only 4.3 to go! I knew we’d be nearer 37 but I didn’t care, I just wanted to get to the finish.  My high spirits were short lived, after plodding along a lane (still running I might add!) we turned into some fields which forced us to run on a camber as we seemed to climb over stile after stile.  I was emotionally unstable again and Chris’s jokes weren’t funny.  I could see the school where the finish was but it wasn’t getting any closer.

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Eventually we reached the last field and the finish line was about 400m away.  I could spot Adam in the distance and, as we got closer, I could hear people cheering loudly and realised it was all my friends, I hadn’t expected them to all be there waiting.  As if I wasn’t emotional enough at the end, coming home to everyone cheering the only way Chasers know how pushed me over the edge.

After 8 hours, 36 minutes & 21 seconds covering a tough 36.8 miles, I had just become an ultrarunner and I was completely overwhelmed!

Photo: Sarah Peck

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In absolute bits, I have never been happier to see these guys and I was so pleased everyone had finished in one piece.  Not only that, but Alex had only gone and come 2nd in his first ever ultra, James had come 7th and Cat was 3rd lady. Everyone else had done really well and Frankie was also over the moon to join the ultra club after being paced by Russell (if finishing a little muddy…)

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The crew.  Sorry Frankie (she’s the one with the LAD pose), it’s the only finishers photo I have!

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The SBU35 was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It tested me in ways I’ve never been tested before and I honestly couldn’t have got through it without Chris.  He was more than just a pacer, he was a navigator, counsellor, comedian and morale booster, without him I would have gotten terribly lost, walked a lot more and broken down.  I most certainly would not have finished in little over 8.5 hours (which put us 60th out of 109 finishers!).  Thanks Chris, you were an absolute rock.

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The next day we went for a little walk on the beach, found some fish and chips and Frankie, Lorraine and I spent the rest of the day in the pub.  Not Alex and Russell though, no, they went and climbed Scafell Pike with Adam and Liz, what else would they do after running 37 miles?!

This is my friend Alex.  He had a few drinks on Friday. Came 2nd in his first ever ultramarathon on Saturday. Had a few more drinks. Then climbed Scafell Pike on Sunday. In his pants.

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Vanguard Way Marathon: Just a training run

With only 4 weeks to go until my first ultramarathon it’s probably an appropriate time to panic.  Since the London Marathon (over 3 months ago) I have only managed 3 runs over 13 miles with the longest at 17…and they were all on the road.  Ideal prep for a 36 mile off road ultra, right?!

Yesterday was the Vanguard Way Marathon, an out and back trail route in Surrey from Lloyd Park to Limpsfield.  I realised this would be an ideal opportunity to get some more trail experience and force myself to cover a good distance so, somewhat reluctantly, I signed up a few days before.

I was quite apprehensive about the distance, 26.2 miles is a long way and I had only run up to 17 in recent weeks, could I actually cover that distance?  After a very restless night, we were on our way to Lloyd Park where I would attempt marathon #10 and my first ever trail marathon…

Bryn (enjoying a day out with the ladies) me, Daisie (who was on her 2nd marathon of the weekend), Jasmine, Cat & Frankie

Clapham Chasers

It was a small field of around 100 people so registration was simple and we were on our way pretty swiftly.  Luckily for me, Jasmine had made a last minute decision to join us and, as she’s preparing for the NDW100 next week (errr, yep, that’s a 100 mile run along the North Downs Way) she was happy to take it easy and we agreed to run together.  This was the very best thing that could have happened!

Bryn, Cat & Frankie were planning to run together but there was no chance I could keep up with them so I had assumed I’d be running alone.  I had also (wrongly) assumed that, as an out and back course, it would be pretty straightforward.  The race organisers had posted a map but, as I was unfamiliar with the area, it just looked like a map that went through some green areas.  Relying on course markings, I didn’t pay much attention to the map or the 5 pages of instructions they gave out.

We took a wrong turn early, there were at least 15 of us at this point, but we knew we were off course.  After talking to some locals we eventually found a marshal and were back on track.  The route was pretty, we headed through shaded woods, along gravelly paths, up hills, down (some very steep!) hills, over turnstiles and through fields, including a field full of bulls.  Kinda wished my hydration pack didn’t have any red on it…although maybe being charged at by a bull was a legit reason for a DNF…

This hill was a lot steeper than it looks!

Vanguard Way Marathon

It was quite challenging, the sun was very warm and it was tough.  We took it easy and walked a lot of the hills but I found it quite hard to get into a rhythm.  By mile 11 I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through at all.  Having Jasmine with me was a huge comfort.  She’s an experienced trail runner, tough as nails and familiar with some of the route, I honestly think I would have given up and turned around if she wasn’t there and I most definitely would have got hideously lost.

We reached the turnaround with 13.7 miles on the clock, this would mean we could reach 27.2 miles before the finish line, not what I wanted to know!

Unsurprisingly, I felt mentally stronger on the way back but the miles were ticking by slowly.  The steep downhills on the way out needed to be tackled the other way and it was a tough climb! Jasmine started to bribe me with sweets… ‘let’s just get to the top and we can stop for a drink and some sweets’, it worked and Shot Bloks never tasted so good!

Vanguard Way Marathon 2

Plodding along, we adopted a ‘little old lady jog’ approach which was better than walking but sounded very gentle and easy, it was all a mental game by this point!  It wasn’t until around 26 miles that we weren’t sure where to go anymore, there were no course markings and the instructions weren’t helpful.  I didn’t really know how far away we were from the finish but I just wanted to get back to Lloyd Park.  A local pointed us the right way and I didn’t even care if we were off course, we just ran in that direction.

Eventually, after wasting about 10 minutes, we saw the finish and ran straight for it.  We accidentally took a short cut across the field but I was way over 26.2 so I didn’t care.  Grabbing Jas’s hand we went for the finish into the cheers of the others.

26.6 miles and 4,439ft of elevation gain, first trail marathon, DONE!  Thanks Jas!

Vanguard Way Marathon Finish 3Vanguard Way Marathon Finish 2

The point of this run was to give me some confidence ahead of SBU, some more experience on the trails and to learn a little something.  So, what did I learn?

  • Do not worry about the time on your watch
  • Be prepared to get lost
  • Getting stressed when lost does not help the situation
  • Be prepared to run further than the race distance (due to point above…)
  • Talk to other runners, trail runners are friendly folk!
  • But trust no one…make your own decisions & don’t rely on others to guide the way
  • Take lots of sweeties – ideally plan ahead and place sweets at the top of hills, but this may not be practical…
  • It’s absolutely fine to walk the hills
  • It’s absolutely fine to be a little scared in a field full of bulls
  • Look forward to the aid stations, they have smiley people and sugar and Quavers and cola
  • Having a friend by your side is one of the most valuable pieces of kit you can take
  • Do NOT worry about the time on your watch
  • Do NOT give up
  • Give your all on the sprint finish – people will be watching you!
  • Do NOT give a s**t about your finish time, it’s pretty much irrelevant
  • Going to the pub after makes everything OK again

It’s less than 4 weeks until the SBU35 and I either become an ultrarunner, or crash & burn on the trails of the Lake District.  It’s OK to be petrified.

Vanguard Way Marathon Finish

The Vanguard Way Marathon is not only a lovely, scenic run with friendly marshals, but an absolute bargain at £20 with a medal and technical t-shirt at the end – I would definitely recommend it if you like a bit of off-road hilliness!

Sometimes the most inspirational people are right in front of you

Like many people, I’m hugely inspired by those who achieve outstanding things, the likes of Paula Radcliffe, Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Kelly Holmes (the list goes on) are phenomenal athletes.  But they are professional athletes, and, for clarity, I am not one!

I often think real inspiration comes from much closer to home.  I only started running because my Mum and Dad were runners and, without that, I probably wouldn’t have much interest in the achievements of our nations elite to start with.

Mum & Dad coming to watch me run round the Olympic track

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David was always the sporty one when we were younger, I was quite the opposite.  Over the years, I was dragged out to all sorts of local races on a Sunday morning, rain or shine, and watched from the sidelines as he would take the outright win and come home with excessively large trophies.  I had no trophies.

 

I was always encouraged to take part as well, it would take me 15 minutes to run a mile and I would absolutely hate it (in fact, the only thing I hated more than running was shepherds pie, I still hate shepherds pie, there’s nothing to like there) but I enjoyed the sense of achievement afterwards and David would sometimes let me hold his trophies…

Actually, I have my own trophy now…that time when I came 2nd!

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Anyway, without that early support and encouragement I never would have taken up running more obsessively seriously when I was older and would never have even met the people who inspire me to push myself further and take on new challenges today.  In turn, I’m proud to have inspired several friends to take up running who have watched me progress from plodding round a 5k to breaking myself in marathon training (I mean, who isn’t inspired by a friend who refuses to wear anything but compression tights and Ugg boots to the supermarket after a long run?!)

The Clapham Chasers have introduced me to people who have inspired me and given me the confidence to tackle things I wouldn’t have even considered before, from Tuesday night track to trail running in North Wales to an ultramarathon in a few weeks (errr, maybe..)

A couple of months ago when Cat organised an evening of training advice for the girls, 3 of our very own Chasers bravely got up in front of the group and shared their experiences and words of wisdom.

Gemma

Gemma is one of my favourite people and when I met her I didn’t realise how relatively new she was to running because she was always so excited about it!  Within 3 years she went from a life of heavy drinking & smoking with just a pair of Converse for trainers to 3 x marathon runner.

Inspired by her boyfriends keen interest in running, Gemma invested in a real pair of trainers and went for a run. Red faced and out of breath she realised it was tougher that it looked and only made it up the road. Not one to give up, she persevered until she eventually fell in love with running.

Gemma stays motivated by picking out other runners in a race and trying and stick with them as long as possible to get to the finish line quicker.  She says you need to think about how you’ll feel when you’ve finished, when you’ve achieved it, and that’s what keeps her going.

And then Gemma said something that captures her spirit perfectly:

What’s the worst that will happen? If I don’t finish I’ll just get up and try again

Always smiling, always positive and rarely letting anything get to her, there aren’t enough Gemma’s in this world.

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Naomi

Next up was one of our successful GB Triathlon Age-Groupers, who started by saying, ‘when you’ve got your name across your boobs (of your trisuit) it’s a really cool feeling!’

Naomi believes women can achieve anything they set their minds to. She recognises that women can be defeatist, a trait not so common in men, and offered us her top tips for staying strong.

  • Surround yourself by ladies who inspire you, not only will you find it motivating but you’ll find you really want to please them with your own achievements
  • Get used to the pain in training so you know what to expect on race day
  • Have a carrot in front of you, whether it’s finishing your fist 10k or a new PB, dangle the carrot and go get it.
  • Make public declarations so you can’t back out if you get scared!
  • You’ll be surprised what you achieve when you don’t think you can so don’t say you can’t, just do it anyway.

Mel

Finally we had super-speedy marathon runner Mel.  Mel has run 4 really bloody fast marathons with her last one coming in under 3 hours, a phenomenal achievement she worked really hard for.  This is her advice:

  • Be brave enough to set goals that are challenging
  • Pressure in training, and on race day, can make you do crazy things like run through illness & injury…think about what you’re doing
  • Marathon training leaves you fatigued, try to benchmark progress against how you feel during a session rather than the numbers on your watch
  • Give your target finish time a range so you have a contingency to fall back on, flexible goals allow you to manage negative thoughts
  • When your legs hurt shift your focus to your breathing, remember you are actually OK and you can keep going!
  • Try to get excited about your race! Be nervous but use that nervous energy, don’t be fearful of racing
  • Be prepared to make decisions during the race, plan ahead and imagine what you would do if…
  • Finally, importantly, imagine yourself being successful!

I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who inspire you, whether it’s Olympic champions, your best mate or your Dad.  Hearing such motivational speeches from my friends made something I’ve known for some time crystal clear: The fabulous people who surround me inspire me every single day.

Chasers at the post London Marathon party. Photo: Shamir Patel

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Naomi finished with a quote she keeps with her and reads on race day, I think it sums up everything perfectly:

20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain

All’s Fair in the London Marathon Ballot…isn’t it?

The London Marathon ballot opened today, as it does every year a week after the big day.  But this time there has been a fairly significant change, instead of closing the ballot after 125,000 entries (which only takes a few hours), it will remain open for 5 whole days with no limit on entries.
If you thought your chances of getting in were slim before, they’ve just gone to near-on impossible. How many people will enter the ballot? 200k, 500k, more? Who knows, but I do know that the usual 1 in 7 chance has just been dramatically slashed.

VLM has come under fire in recent years for the way they operate the ballot system.  They never announce the time the ballot will open, which means people stay up until the early hours, and it can already be closed by 10 or 11 in the morning. That’s all well and good if you’re able to do that but if you’re a shift worker, a nurse, a fireman, you can easily be left disappointed at the first hurdle.  So I understand why a change has been made, and the new system is certainly fairer, but going from around an 8 hour window to 5 whole days is, in my opinion, a little excessive and a little silly.

I believe anyone can run a marathon, but I don’t believe everyone has the drive and commitment to make it happen, it’s a shit load of hard work. The problem is the ballot opens when everyone is still high on the smell of sweat and Lucozade and still moved by all the emotional success stories, they want to be a part of it.

Marathon day is glory day, and it certainly doesn’t come much more glorified than in London. But a marathon isn’t just 26.2 miles, far from it, a marathon is made of hundreds and hundreds of miles over months of training. It’s tough early morning runs, late night tempo and wet, windy long weekend miles.  A marathon is made of everything you don’t see.

What I don’t think is fair, and I’m aware it may be controversial, is that there are people who are lucky enough to get ballot places but, when it comes down to it they aren’t prepared to make the sacrifices and put in the time and effort to do the training.  I don’t subscribe to the ‘proper runner’ theory, if you run you’re a runner, and I’m definitely not not saying you need to finish in a super quick time, but I am saying you need to put an honest effort into the training and do the best you can to prepare, because there are thousands of people that are willing to do it.

Some people enter the ballot just for the hell of it.  They make a half arsed effort to get to the start line because they didn’t want to give up Friday nights in the pub, or give up their warm bed on a freezing January morning, and the people that are willing to do that are left on the sidelines cheering them on. Is that fair? I don’t think so.

I know I’ve run London more than once, and yes maybe it is someone else’s turn, but I’m sad I’m unlikely to be running next year and I’m angry with myself for not trying harder to get a GFA place. There are many people that would say I made a half arsed effort with training this year, that’s why I wasn’t good enough and I’m back in the ballot, maybe it is fair after all.

Quite frankly it would be a lot easier to score a London Marathon place by becoming a Z list celebrity for doing something ridiculous than through the ballot. Screw it, where are the reality show applications?  That might even be quite fun…

VLM Ballot

London Marathon: The Big Jog

I was disappointed not to run a London Good For Age qualifier last year but I was over the moon to be successful in in the ballot, it’s a rare occurance!  Last Spring, the Rome Marathon didn’t quite go my way so I made a last minute decision to enter Manchester 2 weeks later.  I ran better in Manchester, but it was tough knocking out that kind of distance again so soon and I believed myself when I swore I’d never attempt such a thing again.

Not expecting a place in London I had already entered the Brighton Marathon, but October rolled around and I came home to the coveted ‘You’re In’ magazine on my doormat…pain and consequence long forgotten, I wanted to do both.  Obviously.  Why It's Like A Dream

The London Marathon is hands down the best day of the year and if I’m not running, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than cheering on the sidelines.  I first ran London in 2011, it was my first ever marathon and is completely responsible for giving me the bug.  In 2013 I qualified for a GFA entry, I went off way too fast and suffered in the later miles, it was a tough run.

This year I really wanted to enjoy London for the spectacular 26.2 mile street party it is and I didn’t want my over ambitious dreams to ruin my enjoyment. The only way I could guarantee that was to make Brighton my A race because I really can’t be trusted!

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I’ve been in limbo the last 2 weeks, it’s odd trying to strike a balance between recovery and taper and in a shockingly sensible approach I simply listened to my body. There was a bit of running, a lot of rest, a lot of early nights and a lot of hand sanitizer, I was really fun to be around.

On Sunday I woke up to the best good luck message ever!  It immediately put me in a good mood despite the 5.45am alarm, how could it not be a good day? I was sooooo excited!

My new little niece Chloe. She’s going to be a runner 🙂

Girl Running Crazy

The weather was pretty damn perfect.  It’s been getting warmer over the last few weeks and London Marathon day nearly always ends up just a bit too hot.  But it was grey and drizzly on Sunday morning, it looked ideal!  Zoe, my housemate, was running her first marathon this year so she was an excitable bundle of nerves, we made our way to the start at Blackheath in a sensible, calm manner…

It was actually pretty cold when we got there but there wasn’t too much waiting around after a couple of trips to the toilet and dropping off our bags. I met up with Laura who was in the same start pen as me and then it was time to line up. Whhhaaaaa, good luck!!

Me and Zoe before her first marathon

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I usually know exactly what I’m going to do on marathon day – what my goal is, what my back-up goal is, what pace I’m going to start at, what I’m going to do if, if, if… What was different about today was that I didn’t have a game plan. I really didn’t.  Today I was going to turn up at the start line and see what my legs would let me do.

Could I pull off another 4 hour marathon 2 weeks after Brighton? Maybe 4:15?  4:30? A bit slower?  In my heart I knew I’d be disappointed at anything over 4:15 but I needed to be realistic that it was a very real possibility, especially if I was going to achieve my ultimate goal of enjoying every second.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I would deal with a disappointment though.

Suddenly, the gun went off and we were moving forwards!  It only took about 2 minutes to get across the line and there we were, running the greatest marathon in the whole world!!

The first few miles are always quite congested but not so much that you can’t run, if anything, being held back slightly is a good thing.  I just went with flow and enjoyed the atmosphere, we’d only got up the road before someone was shouting, ‘3 cheers for Paula, hip hip…hooray!’

I didn’t want to go off as fast as I did in Brighton, I wouldn’t be able to hold it and I knew I’d be in for a tough ride later, but, although today was about having fun, I still wanted to do justice to all the winter miles.  As Paula said:

You can’t come to the London Marathon and not give it an honest effort

With the image of little Chloe in her ‘Go Auntie Katherine’ outfit firmly in my head, all I knew was that I needed to be able walk away today knowing I did the best I possibly could.  I didn’t want to feel like I let myself down and I didn’t want to be embarrassed by my effort.

I started off comfortably, I was running under 9mm but wasn’t pushing it.  After a few miles I  could tell my legs weren’t fresh, but I was still hitting a fairly good pace and I was happy.  I remembered to high-5 a few kids and smiled at everyone who cheered me by name. Fun, remember, FUN!

By mile 10 I knew I was running slower but it felt much slower than the 9mm pace my Garmin was telling me so I was quite pleased. 9.04, 9.02, 9.04, they kept ticking by consistently, hey, I was doing OK and I was enjoying it!

The crowd support is pretty good in the first half, but it really thickens when you get to Tower Bridge between 12 and 13, you really know you’re in London when you turn the corner and see that Bridge!  Running across the river is freggin awesome, the atmosphere is buzzing and I remembered to look up and take it all in, I almost forgot we were nearly half way already.  My legs hadn’t forgotten though, they were starting to ache earlier than I would have liked…I ignored them.

I knew the Chasers would be somewhere around 15 miles and I couldn’t wait to see them, there’s nothing like a Chaser Cheer to give you a boost and I really needed a boost.  Luckily there’s so many of them you can’t miss them and they let out a huge roar as I trotted past.

Chaser Support Crew…complete with Ingrid the inflatable Chaser (I find it best not to ask…)

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Before I knew it I was at mile 16 and I re-evaluated how I felt, it was getting harder but I was still OK, it was the the flippin London Marathon!  I was a bit slower by 18 miles but I told myself I absolutely needed to get to 20 before I could even consider a walk…I kept going.

True to my word, my legs made it to 20 miles and I rewarded them with a timed 2 minute walk, trying not to make eye contact with the crowd.  They wanted me to run, they didn’t know about the deal I made with my legs, they didn’t understand, ohhh the shame!

I saw the Chasers again around mile 21 and they had split into smaller groups so there were more cheers (except Gary, Gary ignored me to talk about bananas with a stranger, even Ingrid gave me more attention…)

It’s all mind games after 20 miles.  I don’t like 20 miles, it means there’s still 10 whole kilometers to go, I like 21 miles because there’s only 5 miles left…make sense? Of course not!  But, by the time I’ve worked out in my head how exactly I feel about having 5 miles left I’m at 22, and, today, that meant another teeny little walk.  Don’t judge me.

The walk didn’t last long, the crowds just wouldn’t have it, ‘you can do it Katherine, you’re nearly there!’, they didn’t come out to stand on the streets all day to watch me walk.  People at home were tracking me, they’ll see my splits.  Chloe’s wearing a special outfit, don’t let her down.  There’s a sodding TV camera in my face, OK, MOVE.

The next few miles were a bit of a blur but I didn’t stop running, I couldn’t, not only was it too hard to get going again, at this point absolutely anyone I knew could be on the sidelines and I didn’t want to be seen walking, it’s the friggin London Marathon!  The crowds are totally wild by this point, they cheer and shout and yell ‘go on Katherine, you’re looking awesome!’  Errrm, I’m really not am I, I’ve probably never looked less awesome, but thanks!

It was really starting to hurt along the Embankment but my legs were ticking over and I was still enjoying the atmosphere, I just wasn’t sure why the miles were getting longer, why would they do that?!  Eventually I turned the corner to face the home stretch along The Mall, it was the best sight ever!

The flags were flying high, the crowds were roaring and I could actually see the finish line. Just. Keep. Running. I finally crossed the line in 4:05:52 and was totally overcome with emotion, I don’t know how I got through the last few miles, I just wanted to sit down.

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Collecting my medal and shuffling along I quietly reflected on what I had achieved. It was slower than Brighton but it was well within ‘you-can’t-be-disappointed-with…’ time.  So why was I a little sad?  I really didn’t know.  It wasn’t a bad time, especially after Brighton, but I have so many fast friends it’s hard not to think you’re a little bit rubbish.

I’d really enjoyed the run, enjoyed the atmosphere and loved the Chaser support, it had been a brilliant day.  Plus, I genuinely don’t think I could have put more effort in, I couldn’t have tried any harder today, I had to be pleased with that.

I slowly made my way to the finisher area to wait for Zoe and hoped she would come in under her target time. When I saw her she looked in much better shape than I did at the finish and was really pleased with her time. I reckon she’s hooked!

Then it was a quick turnaround and off to the pub for Chasers marathon celebrations with cider and some sensible sambuka.  Another weekend, another marathon and another London medal, that’s pretty awesome right?!

Whatever happens, the London Marathon is always a special day.  It won’t be the last time I run it, not a chance.

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