I’m now halfway through my training plan for the London Marathon, so this seems a good time to take stock of where I am with my running at the moment.
After being injured for most of the second half of last year, I’ve only been back to what I’d term ‘proper’ running since I started marathon training on New Year’s Day (appropriately!). I usually follow an Asics Sub 4 plan, which has served me well in the past, and resulted in a sub 4 time twice; but coming back from injury I felt I should be a bit cautious and follow my beginner’s training plan, which is from Women’s Running magazine. However, I have been mixing things up a bit between the two. Possibly not the most scientific way to train, but it gives me options depending on how I’m feeling. I think it’s important to listen to your body when you’ve been injured to avoid a relapse, and bar the odd twinge I seem to be OK so far – fingers firmly crossed!
Despite turbo training, I definitely lost some cardio fitness and put on a few pounds while I was injured, so I’m trying to fix that in the run-up to London. I’ve done a few great events in January and February, which I think have definitely helped me to get a bit fitter and stronger; the Temple Newsam Ten, the Hardmoors Saltburn Half (a killer!) and the Harewood House Half – all hilly courses that I hope are building leg strength as well as fitness. I’m also paying a bit more attention to my diet, cutting out snacks and wine – well mostly anyway!
To help prevent my ankle injury returning as my mileage increases, I’ve invested in some super-cushiony road shoes – Hoka Claytons. They’re very different to my usual Brooks Pure Cadence in that they’re really bouncy, but they have a similarly small drop so have been easy to adapt to. I’ve always been put off maximal shoes in the past as I thought they’d make me look like an ageing Spice Girl(!), but I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how light and comfy they feel. Hopefully they’ll serve me well though marathon training and London.
I don’t have any more events on the cards until the end of March, when I’m doing the Daffodil Dash, organised by It’s Grim Up North Running. This is a great event held at Temple Newsam, where you can choose to do up to four laps of the course, with four laps being marathon distance. I’ve taken the 20 mile (three lap) option, as my training plan has a three hour run on it that weekend anyway, so it seemed a great way to do that run off-road in beautiful surroundings with support en route. And last year there was a fab goody bag too!
If you’re training for a spring marathon I hope it’s going well. I’d like to have a crack sub 4 (Good For Age) again at London, especially as I didn’t quite manage it last year, finishing in 4:05; but as I’m not at my best it currently seems a bit optimistic. I guess I’ll just have to see how I feel in a few weeks’ time. Never say never!
I did my first Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half, last summer and really enjoyed it. When I entered Hardmoors Saltburn I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to run it, as I was still suffering with my ankle tendon problems after Race to the Stones; but Hardmoors events are very popular – if you don’t act quickly when entry opens you don’t get in – so I took a chance, and I’m very glad I did.
The Hardmoors trail races take place throughout the year and usually feature a 10K, a half marathon and a full marathon. They’re famed for being tough and a bit longer than the standard distances – but that’s all part of the fun! On this occasion I’d gone for the half, as I knew I wouldn’t be fit enough at this point to tackle a hilly marathon. There was quite a bit of rain in the couple of days beforehand, so we were warned to be prepared for muddy conditions. The weather on race day was cold and windy, but gloriously sunny – unlike last year, when conditions were apparently Baltic! I was prepared for a tough day out, as I’m far from fully fit at the moment, but knew it would be great marathon training.
The races started and finished at Saltburn Leisure Centre, which also offered a good place to shelter from the biting wind before setting off. There is a mandatory kit list for the half and full marathons, and kit is checked and approved before you can pick up your race number. Spot checks apparently also take place at the end, so don’t think you can check in and then leave half your stuff in the car! The marathon started at 9 am, with the half at 10 and the 10K at 10.30.
We started with a pleasant trot through the Valley Gardens in Saltburn, then it was down to the sea front before the first climb up Cat Nab. Everyone walked this! Up on the cliff top – the Cleveland Way – the view was spectacular, with super-blue sky and sea; and the wind wasn’t too bad, coming from the right hand side.
At this point I felt hopeful that I might finish in about three hours, as the Wainstones half had taken me about 3:15. But the path gradually turned very muddy underfoot, and stayed that way for most of the race. It was quite deep and wet in places, really taking a lot of energy to get through and slowing us all down. There were some grassy and Tarmac sections, but the real challenge of the day turned out to be remaining upright. Somehow I managed not to end up on my backside, but it was a close call a few times!
After nearly 5 miles the route went downhill into the village of Skinningrove, where the first checkpoint was. There were three checkpoints along the way, each stocked with water, Coke, jelly sweets, peanuts and marshmallows – which are now my new favourite race food, by the way, so easy to eat! There were also Jaffa Cakes at the final checkpoint. After Skinningrove there was a huge climb that seemed to go on forever. Everyone I could see was walking this one too. I imagine only the top athletes ran it! Proper leg-busting stuff. At around the halfway point the route left the Cleveland Way and turned inland (although we could still see the sea in places) and we started to head back towards Saltburn along a path called Cleveland Street. We were now running into a headwind, which made things even harder! A few of us took a slight detour just before the second checkpoint, having missed one of the yellow markers – probably about half a mile in all – but in general the course is very well marked and marshalled, and all the marshals were lovely and encouraging.
There were ups and downs in the last few miles of the route, but nothing like the two big climbs in the first half. We approached Saltburn through the village of Skelton, and then headed back to the Leisure Centre with a climb up and down Valley Gardens again. We ran right into the sports hall to finish, where our times were clocked at the desk. My official time was 3:29:43 (including the little detour!) and I was 101st out of 187 finishers. I was fairly pleased with that, considering I’ve only really been running properly again since about Christmas. There was a great medal, and as a bonus the t-shirt is in my favourite colour!
There was some food provided at the end, but it wasn’t up to much. Maybe it would have been better if I’d finished quicker, but there were just a few cheese sarnies and some little bits of cake by the time I got there. But hey, it’s not about the food – Hardmoors events in general seem to be great value for money and well organised. I’ve already signed up for two more events later this year: the White Horse marathon in June and the Rosedale one in August. Entry for the Hardmoors 60 in September opens soon and I’m so, so tempted to enter, as I seem to have overcome my injury now (touch wood).
This was a tough but fab day, and (considering how much my legs hurt the next day) great marathon preparation. Onwards to London!
Happy new running year – hope yours is going well so far! My running year started with Week 1 of training for the London Marathon. Having been injured for pretty much the whole of the second half of last year, and not doing nearly as much running as usual, I feel distinctly unfit coming into this and am still unable to run much on Tarmac due to my tendonitis, but I’m giving it a go for now, as I can feel some improvement. I’m still doing all my runs on either the treadmill or trails for now, which isn’t exactly great preparation for a road event! I’ll see how things progress over the next few weeks and will defer my London place if necessary, as I don’t want to go there to just pootle round.
Normally the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would be my first event of the year, but last Sunday I had ten easy miles on my marathon schedule, so the Temple Newsam Ten on the same day seemed like a perfect training exercise. It was the first time I’d done any event – or indeed run up and down any hills – for about three months, so I rocked up with no expectations other than to plod round and enjoy it.
The TNT is organised by Leeds-based St Theresa’s Athletics Club. There are about 1,000 places available and the event was sold out. For those not familiar with Temple Newsam, it’s a country estate between Leeds and York consisting of a 17th century house set in around 1,500 acres of parkland including gardens landscaped by Capability Brown – a fabulous location to stage a race. Even though it’s about a half hour drive from where I live I do sometimes go and run there, as the undulating trails make for great training. However, because I’m horribly navigationally challenged I usually run an ‘out and back’ route, so was looking forward to running a ten mile circular route with direction along the way.
Race day weather was dry but cold, with a nasty chilly wind. The event starts at the very civilised time of 9.30, and there is plenty of parking on site. Race numbers are picked up on the day, and I was a bit concerned when I saw the length of the queue for this, but luckily it moved very quickly. The toilet queue wasn’t bad either considering we were just using the estate facilities rather than Portaloos. With both of these important duties out of the way I retired to the car to keep warm until about ten minutes before kick off; fortunately I’d managed to park very close to the start/finish area. At the start I met a couple of women I’d only previously known ‘virtually’, so it was great to meet them in the flesh and have a quick chat.
The route sets off round a huge flat, grassy area in front of the big house, then winds its way around the estate, with a mixture of trail, grass and a few short bits of Tarmac. The first couple of miles are pretty easy, then things get steadily harder. There are some stretches of single track, so don’t bank on gunning for a PB here unless you’re at the front, but as I was just using this for training I wasn’t bothered, and chatted to some lovely folk en route. There are a couple of long, draggy hills in the second half and a short, cruel one just half a mile from the finish. I’d made the mistake of wearing my Hardmoors t-shirt, and some random spectator shouted at me “Come on Hardmoors, this isn’t a hill to you!”. Harsh but fair – I was a lot fitter when I earned that t-shirt last summer!
The many course marshals were all cheerful and enthusiastic, and St Theresa’s had also provided ‘run buddies’ near the end, who offered support and encouragement as people started to flag – a great idea. There was just one water point at around halfway, but it was such a cold day we didn’t really need any more. I was pretty slow, averaging just over ten minute miles, but considering the terrain and my current state of fitness I was happy with that. At least I had plenty of time to admire the scenery!
There was a great knapsack-style goody bag at the finish, containing a really nice technical t-shirt and a fab medal (bling lovers take note), as well as crisps, chocolate and Haribo. I really like the TNT motto – Tough Not Timid! The whole event was well-organised and brilliant value and I’d highly recommend it. You have to get in early if you want to take part though, as it sells out fast. I’ll definitely be back next year!
I followed my usual Asics Sub 4 training plan for London. I wasn’t massively bothered about achieving sub 4, as I’d already done that, gaining a Good For Age time in the process, at the Yorkshire Marathon in October 2016. However, on the day I had a good crack at it, but struggled to take on fuel in the second half and paid the price, coming in at 4:05. It was still an amazing day though. You can read my review of London here.
Race to the Stones in July was EPIC! Having only ever run half of that distance before, I had absolutely no idea how it would pan out. It was hard work towards the end, but I was satisfied with my time of 13:36 and amazed to be third V50 woman. My review of RTTS is here. I also raised £1,000 for Cancer Research UK; you can read why I was running for them here.
During training for these two goals I took part in a few events for fun; The Temple Newsam 10, Brass Monkey Half Marathon, Harewood House Half, Temple Newsam Daffodil Dash and the Hardmoors Wainstones Half. I also ran up and down as many big hills as I could on holiday in France in June as training for RTTS!
So those were the highs. Unfortunately since RTTS I’ve been suffering with tendonitis in my ankles – tibialis posterior to be exact – so the second half of the year has been a bit less exciting! I shuffled round the Run For All York 10K in August and did the Cancer Research UK Tough 10 in Leeds as I was an ambassador for the event; but I also had to miss a couple of events I’d really been hoping to do, like the Yorkshire 10 Mile in September and the Leeds Abbey Dash. I’d really been hoping to knock a few seconds off my 10K PB there to go under 50 minutes for the first time, but it wasn’t to be this year. For the last few months I’ve been in rehab, doing some turbo training on the bike and yoga as well as some short runs. I’m now at the stage where I can run OK on grass or the treadmill, but stepping onto Tarmac seems to set my ankles off again. I’m really missing running longer distances at the moment!
So what’s on the agenda for next year? I have a Good For Age place in the London Marathon – but will I be able to train for it if I can’t run on the road? I guess I might have to defer, which would be disappointing – I want to run London with Mo! I’ve entered the Hardmoors Saltburn Half in February and also their White Horse Marathon in June, as well as the Snowdonia Marathon in October – all trail events. I would really love to do another ultra next year, but first need to work out how to do that without getting injured again. More strength work? Different shoes? I’m thinking of consulting a podiatrist for advice. I have enough UTMB points from RTTS to enter the ballot for the OCC, the (relatively) short race that’s part of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc festival in August. The course looks brutal but beautiful! I’m considering it, but only have a short time to decide.
So things are a bit up in the air for me at the moment. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how things develop over the next couple of months. I hope 2017 has been a good year for you. Happy Christmas and happy running in 2018!
As I explained in an earlier post, my late summer/autumn running hasn’t exactly gone to plan. I’ve been suffering from tendonitis in my left tibialis posterior since Race to the Stones in July (only correctly diagnosed about a month ago), which means I’ve done hardly any running since then.
The Not Running thing has been hard to bear as autumn sets in, because it’s my favourite time of year to run. Cool sunny days, trails awash with crispy leaves etc… If I’m honest, it made me a bit grumpy (sorry husband) and also drink more wine, because if you can’t run on Sunday you might as well! But now, after physio, lots of special stretching and some cross training (mostly yoga and cycling), I think I’m finally leaving it behind – fingers crossed!
After my fundraising for Cancer Research UK at Race to the Stones I was asked to be an ambassador for their Tough 10 series of 10K events, so was determined to do that a couple of weeks ago, come what may. You can read my review of the event here.
I was pleasantly surprised to come out of Tough 10 unscathed – I was convinced I’d need to start walking at some point – and have also managed three short runs a week over the last fortnight with no ill-effects. So now I think it’s time for me to get back onto some sort of training schedule! I have my Good For Age place in the London Marathon and ideally need to be able to begin training for that with 16 weeks to go, which starts conveniently on 1st January.
So basically I’m in training to be able to start training – if that makes any sense! I think I’ll be OK to build up the distance again gradually, but will really need to work on getting some speed back. Spinups on the turbo trainer are all well and good – and certainly a lot better than nothing – but somehow not quite the same as running intervals. I had a go at some intervals on the treadmill (soft surface) earlier this week and it wasn’t too bad, so I’ve now worked out a rehab plan. This consists of two days of running speed work a week (one of which may be Parkrun), one day with a slightly longer run to increase distance (ideally with some hills thrown in), two days of turbo training, one day for my Yoga for Strength class at York Yoga Studio and one day off.
Obviously training plans are never carved in stone – I’ll just have to see how the ankle responds – but at least I’ve got something to work from to give me a bit of structure. I’m sure the festive season will interfere with it a bit too! But that’s life. If I can be running comfortably a few days a week by Christmas I’ll be happy. One thing I have realised recently (mainly because my physio told me!) is that I need to do more strength work to prevent injury in future. I haven’t done enough of that in the past, so that will be an important part of my training going forward, even if it has to be at the expense of missing one of the weekly runs. If I want to become an ancient ultra runner it will be essential! If all goes well I hope to be at the York Yuletide Trail on 9th December and maybe some festive Parkruns. Oh, and I’ll be drinking less wine on Saturday nights from now on too!
So that’s where I am for now. What are your running plans a we head towards the festive season? I’d love to know.
I haven’t blogged about running for a while, and there’s a good reason for that; I haven’t done much running! I’ve had a niggling problem with my foot since I did the Race to the Stones 100K in July. Every time I’ve tried to run since then I’ve had pain in the arch of my left foot after about half a mile, and also around my left ankle. I was told it was plantar fasciitis and had been doing loads of rolling and stretching to try and relieve it, but it just wasn’t getting any better and I couldn’t run at all. I’ve been doing some turbo training on the bike to try and retain a bit of cardio fitness and slowly getting more and more frustrated. The thing that annoyed me most was that Cancer Research UK had asked me to be an ambassador for their Tough 10 event in Leeds after the fundraising I did for them in the summer and, while I was persuading other people to take part, I wasn’t actually sure if I’d be able to do so myself!
Then last Friday I went to see another physio (recommended by a friend), who finally diagnosed me with tendonitis. It’s in the tibialis posterior tendon, which apparently runs from somewhere behind the shin, round the ankle bone and along the bottom of the foot. I had some ultrasound therapy and was given a special stretch to do, which I could feel working the exact bits that hurt!
Apparently it’s OK for me to do a little running, as some light loading can actually help with recovery… so obviously I took myself off to Tough 10 the very next day! I reasoned that if my foot started hurting, I’d simply start walking. I just really wanted to complete the event for CRUK. The good news is that my foot was absolutely fine. Maybe it was the time off, maybe it was the magic ultrasound, or a combination of both. I don’t know, but I was a very happy bunny!
So what was Tough 10 like? Well, it certainly was quite tough (unsurprisingly), but I really enjoyed it. It probably felt harder than it should, as it was my first run for over two months! The event was in beautiful Roundhay Park in Leed. The course was a mixture of tarmac, woodland trail and grass, and featured some great scenery – and, of course, lots of hills! It was pretty wild and windy on the tops too. Participants included runners of all abilities, from speedsters who finished in well under an hour, right through to those who were clearly doing it for fun – a really inclusive event. And it was great to see and chat to various friends who I’d signed up as part of my CRUK ambassador activity, including the lovely Run with Rachel.
The last bit of the course was particularly harsh – up and down the same hill three times. I’ve never finished a race with hill reps before! But I didn’t mind walking a bit, and was entertained by a group of lads just ahead of me all running together in various hats. “Are they a stag party?” I asked a spectator who obviously knew them. “No, just idiots!” he replied. Great fun anyway. It felt sooo good to be running again, even though I could feel I’d lost some fitness. Inclines I would have run up three months ago during Race to the Stones were a bit of a challenge! But I was delighted just to trot round and finish pain-free. At the end we received the all-important bling, an energy bar and a bottle of water. Even though I was pretty slow I wanted to cheer and punch the air, I was so relieved!
I feel a lot more positive about running now. I’ve been injured before and I know now I’ll be back in action soon. I still need to be a bit careful for a while, but the only Christmas present I really want is to be able to start proper training for the London Marathon in the new year.
Well it’s been a funny old time since I last posted on here – in running terms anyway! I initially thought I’d recovered from Race to the Stones pretty well, but it seems I have a niggling little injury that just won’t go away. And all those plans I wrote about in my last post have gone a bit belly up as a result.
I took a week off after RTTS, then just had a couple of very short, gentle recovery runs to ease myself back in, which were fine. However, a couple of weeks later I went for what was supposed to be about an hour of gentle trails in Yearsley Woods, got a bit lost and ended up doing more like two hours – way more than I should have done. (Anyone who’s read my review of the Calderdale Way Ultra will know I’m a bit navigationally challenged!) My left foot was hurting by the end and has been a bit dodgy ever since. Four weeks ago I went to see my physio, who had a good prod and poke and said he didn’t think there was anything serious wrong with it; probably some irritation that just hadn’t had a chance to calm down yet. He said it was fine to run a bit if it felt OK, but it didn’t. After running for about 5 minutes I start to get a bit of pain going up the ankle. The right foot is absolutely fine! I had a couple of runs where I set off but ended up walking after about a mile. Then a friend recommended a sports therapist to me who’d helped him with a problem, so I thought there’d be no harm in getting a second opinion. She thought I had a bit of the dreaded plantar fasciitis and said I should massage the area every day and roll my foot with a spiky ball, which I’ve been dutifully doing. At this point I realised I had to stop fooling myself that I could actually run at the moment and take a couple of weeks off.
I’ve been doing a bit of cycling and core work since then, but (like most runners) I absolutely hate it when I can’t run; especially as autumn is my absolute favourite time of year to get out and about. I can feel myself losing fitness and muscle being replaced with fat and being a bit grumpy at times if I’m honest. It’s a good job I have an understanding husband. On the plus side, I’ve had plenty of time to support him at his cyclocross races, which are great fun to watch.
So my autumn aspirations are pretty much up in the air for now. I was supposed to be doing the Vale of York Half this weekend, but have given my place to a friend. I’m not entered into anything else this year at the moment, but would love to do the Yorkshire 10 Mile in October. I hadn’t entered an autumn marathon as I really wanted to have a proper crack at going sub-50 for the first time in the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K in November, but I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to get myself back to that level of fitness now. But enough moaning; there are people being killed by hurricanes this week. I’ll just have to wait and see how things go. I’ve come back from injury before and I’ll do it again!
On another note, two other things have been playing on my mind recently. Firstly, whether I should apply for the Boston Marathon when entry opens later this month. It would be great to do but a) it would be a very expensive trip and b) there’s no deferment option if you happen to get ill or injured. With my foot in its current state I don’t know yet whether I’ll be able to train for a spring marathon, so I might have to give this one a miss. I am entered into the London Marathon 2018 through the Good For Age system though, so I guess one solution might be to try and achieve sub-4 there to give me the option of entering Boston next year!
I was also really inspired by seeing all the amazing ultra athletes at the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc last weekend. The UTMB is the ultimate trail event – over 100 miles with around 10,000 metres of ascent/descent – and the cream of the ultra-running community takes part. The winners finish in around 20 hours, but the cut-off time is 46.5 hours; a gruelling test of endurance, which about a third of the participants didn’t finish this year! I became totally absorbed by the online coverage and amazed by what these athletes achieved. You can’t just enter UTMB, you have to qualify by gaining points in other ultra events. And while I don’t think I’d ever qualify or take part in a million years, I do have enough UTMB points from Race to the Stones to allow me to apply for one of the shorter events during UTMB week, the OCC, which is 56K and mere 3,500 metres of ascent(!) The course looks scary but fabulous. Earlier in the year there is also the Mont Blanc Marathon festival with races of varying distances. I did the 10K there on holiday last year and it was great. I’d definitely love to do more running in the mountains when I’m up to it – hopefully next summer.
By the way, for anyone interested in Race to the Stones, entry for 2018 has just opened. I’d really recommend it as a first 100K as it’s so well organised and supported. I had a brilliant day – you can read my review here. I said never again at the time, but you never know…
Well it’s just about a fortnight now since Race to the Stones and I’ve had some time to a) process what happened and b) recover (just about)! I still find it a bit hard to believe that I covered 62 miles (yes, I know it was really 100K, but I’m old) on my own actual feet, but I have the medal to prove it!
I felt a lot better after the event than I thought I would. Obviously I had DOMS of Doom for a few days afterwards, but nothing really hurt or seemed to be injured. The only lasting effects are on my heels, which still feel a bit stiff when I first get up in the morning. Maybe it’s a touch of Achilles strain? I’m not sure, but it seems to be easing day by day so I’m not too worried about it. I’ve taken it very easy over the last couple of weeks, just having a couple of very short, gentle recovery runs, but I’m planning to ease myself back into proper training from next week. I think it’s important to be kind to yourself after a hard event, especially when you’re no spring chicken. Training needs to work in cycles, including periods of rest, if you don’t want to end up injured.
So, what’s next? I’ve made very few plans for the autumn so far because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after RTTS. I genuinely thought I might be broken for a while! But it was important to really push myself to raise money for Cancer Research UK for the personal reasons I explained here. The York 10K is coming up in just over a week. I don’t think I’ll be gunning for a PB there as I haven’t done any real speed work since the spring, but I always love to do this event for sentimental reasons because it’s the first one I ever entered back in 2009. I’ve also entered the Vale of York Half on 10th September, but that’s it so far. I’d really love to crack a sub-50 minute 10K before I retire from the road (which I keep threatening to do, but hasn’t actually happened so far!). I came very close at the Leeds Abbey Dash last year, finishing in an annoying 50:26. It was a PB, but not quite good enough. I know I must be able to find those extra few seconds in my legs with a bit of appropriate training. I’ve never actually trained specifically for a 10K before, so it might be interesting to do that and maybe enter a couple of races to sharpen up before this year’s Abbey Dash. Some 10K events I’m considering for this over the next couple of months are Escrick, Richmond Castle and Tholthorpe. I’m deliberately not doing the Yorkshire Marathon this autumn to concentrate on the shorter distance, but I might be tempted by the Yorkshire 10 Miles on the same day!
Having said all that, I’ve really grown to love trail running this year. Ideally I’d love to do a couple of shorter trail runs over the autumn. Trail events currently tempting me include the Forest and Moors at Dalby Forest (10K, half or full marathon), the Hardmoors Princess Challenge (8.5, 17.5 or 31 miles) and the North York Moors Coastal Trail (10K, half, full or ultra marathon). There’s no way I can do all these road and trail events, due to both time and financial constraints, but I’d love to try and combine a bit of each.
I also have a huge decision to make this autumn regarding next spring. My Good For Age time gained at last year’s Yorkshire Marathon not only gets me into the London Marathon, but also counts as a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. So I’m thinking should I apply for that and defer my London place until 2019? I say apply rather than enter, because achieving the qualifying time doesn’t automatically get you into Boston; it also depends how many other people enter, and the better you are the more chance you have of being accepted! Obviously Boston is a race that every marathoner dreams of running, and this might be my only chance; but, as well as being expensive to enter, it would involve a transatlantic plane fare and a few nights in a hotel at the least. Would it be worth it? The idea of getting the special Boston Athletics Association unicorn medal and jacket is very tempting! It’s a real bucket list event. I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s run Boston. I have until September (when entry opens) to think that one through.
So that’s me for now. What are you up to this autumn? I’d love to know.
If anyone would like to make a donation to my Just Giving page for CRUK it’s still open here 🙂
Wow. Race to the Stones. I’d been looking forward to this one for so long and it didn’t disappoint! This is quite a long post, but lots of people have asked me questions about RTTS because they’re thinking of entering, so I don’t want to leave anything out. I’ve been interested in RTTS ever since I became aware of it two years ago. It’s a 100K ultra that starts in Lewknor in Berkshire and follows the Ridgeway path, finishing at the ancient stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire. Some people do it in one day and some do it over two days, camping at the halfway point. Some run and some walk. I had no idea whether I could run 100K – if I could keep going for the amount of time that would take – but I became a bit obssessed with it; the rolling hills, the Field of Dreams… it looked amazing! I took a charity place with Cancer Research UK, partly because it’s a great cause, but also because I thought I’d be more likely to keep going if people had sponsored me to do it. You can read about my training in previous posts. After all the months since I’d entered last December it was hard to believe the big day was finally happening!
Steve and I travelled down from Yorkshire the day before the event and stayed nearby at Stokenchurch, about five minutes’ drive from the start at Field Farm in Lewknor. There was a great chippy nearby, perfect for carb loading! I was too nervous/excited to sleep well and woke up at about 4am. I had a tin of rice pudding for breakfast and we headed to Lewknor at about 6.45. Participants were started in waves to ease congestion, and I was in the second one at 7.45. There were no queues at registration and hardly any at the portaloos. Unlike most ultras RTTS doesn’t have a mandatory kit list, so it’s up to you what you carry. The weather forecast was dry, but ominous grey clouds were looming, so I did take my rain jacket and hat. There was a great atmosphere at the start. I couldn’t quite believe I was actually about to attempt to run 62 miles, twice as far as I’d ever run before. I decided just to approach it as a big day out and take it one mile at a time. We set off on time in a blaze of coloured smoke!
The first couple of miles were pretty flat, which was a good warm up. But there are lots of hills! There were pit stops approximately every 10K on the course, and all were really well stocked with a wide variety of snacks and drinks. I’d only brought one emergency Clif Shotblok in my backpack and I didn’t even need that. There were High 5 gels and electrolyte or energy drinks at each stop too. When I arrived at each pit stop I had a cup of Coke and made a High 5 Zero drink to take with me, because it was a warm day and I wanted to minimise the chance of getting cramp. I had in mind Nicky Spinks‘ advice on ultra eating, which is to eat lots and start early, so at Pit Stop 1 I had half a banana and took a Perkier quinoa bar to eat on the move. I’d heard many tales of how it gets harder to eat as time goes on, so I made an effort. I had various snacks along the way, including Mini Cheddars and chocolate, but I found that crisps, Perkier bars and Jelly Babies worked best for me. My strategy was to eat something whenever I was walking uphill.
The weather forecast turned out to be wrong and it actually rained quite a bit in the first half. I put my hat on but not my jacket, as it was really warm. The route flattened out a bit as we ran alongside the Thames for a while and also went through a couple of villages. People say that in ultras you go through good phases and bad ones, and that both pass. I felt great in the first quarter of RTTS, but towards the end of the first half I started to feel a bit nauseous. I think it was because I’d taken a couple of High 5 gels and they didn’t agree with me. But I focussed on the beautiful scenery and was grateful that my legs and feet felt fine; and I knew that Steve was waiting for me at the halfway point and that give me a boost. Just before halfway I also saw Shona from Run Mummy Run, who was out supporting, and she gave me hug even though I must have been very smelly, which was lovely!
I arrived at halfway after six and a half hours and couldn’t imagine how I was going to cover that distance again, almost certainly taking even longer. I saw a huge inflatable gantry with Finish on it, thought “But I’m not finishing yet” and ran around it, then had to be directed back through it to cross the halfway timing mat! I took a break here of around ten minutes. You can actually have a proper hot meal at halfway, but I couldn’t face that and certainly didn’t want it jiggling around in my belly throughout the second half. To be honest I didn’t really want to eat anything. There was a huge table of cakes (one of the event sponsors is Ministry of Cake), which I would normally have been all over, but I just didn’t fancy any of them, even though there was carrot cake, my favourite! But Steve told me (quite rightly) that if I didn’t eat something I’d bonk and practically forced me to eat a slice of Victoria sponge, which I actually think did me a lot of good. I also changed my top and socks, which had become a bit damp with the rain. I set off feeling refreshed, more optimistic and no longer nauseous.
After the halfway stop I felt good for quite a long time. I’m not saying it was easy by any means, but it was less hard than I’d imagined for about 20 miles. At mile 36 my Garmin bleeped and I thought “Only a marathon to go now” and then laughed because that seemed so ridiculous! I mentioned it to another runner and we both wondered how, over the course of a few years, we’d both gone from doing a bit of jogging for weight loss to running 100K for ‘fun’. It is bizarre really. Anyway, it seemed to me that there were more short, steep hills in the first half and more gradual inclines and tough terrain in the second half. A lot of the Ridgeway consists of hard, stony path that’s very harsh on the feet and more likely to cause underfoot problems than softer trail. Gentler inclines may seem easier on the face of it, but whereas you’d walk a steep climb you’re more likely to run a gentle one, which becomes quite energy-sapping after a long time.
At around 52 miles I was finding it hard to eat again. I took a mouthful of a peanut butter sandwich at a pit stop, just to have a change from crisps, but found it so hard to chew and swallow I had to bin the rest. And I love peanut butter! The going seemed to get a lot tougher after this point. I kept telling myself “It’s only ten miles now, only nine miles now, single figures now!”, but it became more and more a case of run/walk. At times, even though I wasn’t going uphill, I just had to take little walk breaks. A friend of mine who’s an Ironman had advised me to try and enjoy the whole thing, even the tough bits, and I did my best. When I got to the final pit stop I looked at the food and felt that all I could manage was a biscuit. I sighed and set off to cover the last eight miles. I rang Steve to let him know I was on the last leg, as we’d arranged. He was having his dinner in a pub and I so wished I was with him! It was 8pm by now. I knew this was the time I had to dig really deep. I reached into my Camelbak and got out my CRUK wristband. I put it on to remind myself of why I was really doing this and thought about all the lovely family and friends who’d generously donated to my fund or had been affected by cancer. The last few miles were definitely for them. The hills continued mercilessly for about the next five miles. On the plus side, the scenery was quite spectacular at this point. At around 95K my Garmin died so I had no further idea of time or pace. I was in the Twilight Zone. And then I binned it! I’m not sure how, but I managed to trip on one of the stones poking up through the path. In a split second I thought to myself “If I go down on this rocky bit now, this could be it. It could all be over so close to the end. I’m not having that”! I’ve no idea how, but I managed to launch myself onto the grassy verge at the side of the path for a soft landing. My left calf cramped up as I did so, but at least I wasn’t injured. A couple of other lovely runners stopped to see if I was OK and luckily I was. A bit of a stretch and I was off again.
Those last three miles were so hard. At that point I really wanted it to be over. It’s actually mostly downhill near the end, but the irony is that the path is like a really rutted cart track so you can hardly find a good line to run down. At least it was still light at this point – I can imagine it would be even harder in the dark. I told myself “It’s only a Parkrun now” but when you’ve been on the go for over 12 hours it’s a big ask. I felt like I might be getting a blister but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it as the end was so close. Then you take a right turn and see the lights of the finishing area in the distance – yay! But, as a final cruel twist, when you run into Avebury village and through the stones, you haven’t actually finished – you have to run about another mile back the way you’ve just come, across a field and down another road to the end! I’d really had enough at that point. “Christ” said a man I was running near, “Nobody said it was Race to the Stones and back again”! I had to laugh, despite everything. I walked part of the field, but just managed to summon up my last bit of energy to trot down the road to the finish. It was a great welcome though; lots of people cheering, pumping music, and I could see Steve waiting as I approached. And suddenly it was all over! Someone hung a medal round my neck, someone else took a photo and the job was done. I was so happy just to stop moving forward.
The finish area was great. There was plenty of hot food and a place to sit. I still couldn’t really eat though. I took a sausage in a bun, but could only manage the sausage. I can’t believe I couldn’t even eat a doughnut! I went to get a printout of my results and my chip time was 13:36:21. I’d come 275th out of 961 overall, 48th woman and third in the V50 age category. That surprised me, as I’d felt pretty slow most of the time! I felt a bit dazed to be honest. It was dark by the time we left and we could see a procession of head torches up on the hill. It was only as I lay in the bath a bit later that it began to sink in that I’d covered 62 miles on my own two feet. It hurt (and it would hurt even more the next day!), but it was worth it – and, even better, donations were still coming in. I was a very tired but happy bunny.
So, would I do it again? Probably not, but only because it’s so far from Yorkshire. However, I would definitely recommend RTTS, especially as a first 100K, because it’s so well supported. Organisation and logistics are great. There are shuttles between the start and finish, and the halfway camp looked like a lovely spot to chill for the evening. Also, everyone is really friendly and helpful. At the last pit stop somebody even took my water bottle and filled it for me. I got the impression the people there were having a good look at everyone to make sure they were OK. I was asked at several pit stops how I felt. Everyone was fantastic. Although I did think playing Jump Around by House of Pain at one pit stop was taking the Mickey a bit! The countryside is fantastic, with amazing views throughout and the free photos that upload automatically to Facebook are a real bonus. If you’re wondering whether or not to do it, I’d say go for it. It’s amazing what you can pull out of the bag when you have to! Below is a geeky bit about kit etc for anyone who’s interested. If you have any questions about RTTS please feel free to give me a shout.
If anyone would like to donate to my CRUK Just Giving page it’s still here. Every little helps! 🙂
The Kit Bit
Shoes: Inov8 Trail Talons. Cannot praise these highly enough. They are specially designed for hard trails and performed really well. They were recommended for me by Stuart at Accelerate in Sheffield, to whom I am very grateful. I did have one small blister on my right big toe, but that’s all. Toenails all present and correct as I type!
Socks: Inov8 All Terrain. It was well worth changing them at half time.
Shorts: Ronhill Aspiration Twin Shorts. So comfy! No chafing at all despite much sweating!
Tops: Ronhill and Saucony sleeveless tops. I’ve had them so long I can’t remember what they’re called!
Bra: Moving Comfort. I put a bit of K tape under my front strap as a precaution.
Backpack: Camelbak Marathoner. I took out the bladder and put stuff in the space. It’s amazing how much you can get in there if you pack it carefully, and not a hint of chafing over the whole day. For drink I used my Camelbak soft bottle in my front pocket.
Waterproof: Inov8 Race Ultra Shell. This is the most expensive but least used item of clothing I own apart from my wedding dress!
Head torch: Petzl. Steve had bought this for me and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t used it!
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 35. I replaced my ancient 210 with this just a couple of weeks ago and it has a much longer life – it died at about 12:30.
Hat: a Brooks sun hat I bought in a sale ages ago, but it did pretty well in the rain.
I also carried (but didn’t use) Saucony arm warmers, Compeed, a couple of strips of K tape, a tenner (just in case!), spare socks, spare top, ibuprofen and a spare hair elastic.
I first heard about the Hardmoors events a couple of years ago when I started trail running, and to be honest I thought they sounded pretty scary. Just look at the name! Hard. Moors. Scary! I imagined wiry fell runners in vests and tiny shorts bounding up and down vicious hills like mountain goats. Not for the likes of me! But then a couple of friends assured me that they weren’t scary events at all; in fact they were very inclusive and varied in distance from 10K to ultra, so there was something for everyone. So when I started preparing for Race to the Stones I thought I’d give one a go for hill training purposes and entered the Hardmoors Wainstones Marathon. I thought it would be a good dress rehearsal for the big day. However, when my dodgy hamstring started playing up after the London Marathon I decided to play it cautiously and downsized to the half marathon.
The Wainstones events (10K, half and full marathon) all start and finish at Chop Gate near Helmsley. The drive over there from York on a sunny Sunday morning was beautiful and I was really looking forward to it. There was plenty of parking and I wandered over to the village hall to sign on. The marathon runners had just set off at 9 am. Participants had to carry mandatory kit of a waterproof jacket, hat or buff, a route map and the means to carry 500ml of fluid. Everyone’s kit was duly checked before they were allowed to pick up their number. This was all very quick, so I had plenty of time to get ready and went to the loo about three times, just because I could! The weather was perfect – dry but not too warm. We set off on time at 10 am.
We’d run no more than about 100m when we came to a stile that everyone had to climb over, so that held things up quite a bit! “Never mind”, I thought, “It’s not a road race – time and pace don’t really matter”. After the stile we started to climb up a massive hill straight away and everyone slowed to a walk. The track was quite narrow and lots of people seemed happy to stroll up, chatting and taking photos as they went. This was a bit frustrating, as one of the things I’ve been practising is walking uphill as fast as I can, so I wished I’d placed myself a bit further up the field at the start! But I tried to chill and take it all in. We gained a lot of height in a short distance, and some people seemed to be struggling a bit even at this early stage. We eventually got to the top and the track widened out so we could start running. I clocked the first mile at around 25 minutes! The descent from the first hill was great, a gentle gritty trail that gave me some time to take in the amazing view.
It wasn’t long before we were climbing up another hill. In fact there were five hills in all, so not much flat on the course. It was tough going at times, with a couple of rocky, technical descents as well as testing uphill gradients, and it was really windy on the tops! One of the hills had the Wainstones themselves perched at the summit, through which we scrambled with a gale force wind blowing us along – great fun!
The route went along some of the Cleveland Way, which skirts the edge of the North York Moors and is paved in parts. The views were quite spectacular, but there wasn’t much time to take them in going downhill, as you had to be really careful where you placed your feet. The last thing I wanted was to sprain my ankle – or worse – so I was super cautious. I wished I was better at descending as I stood aside to let various people fly past me. I guess it takes practice! But I did notice that I passed quite a few people walking uphill, so I must be getting better at that.
I went through halfway in 1:37 and couldn’t help thinking that if this was a road half I’d be nearly finished – but I know I have to lose that kind of mentality on the trails. There were two checkpoints en route offering water, Pepsi, jelly babies, peanuts and Jaffa Cakes. I took a couple of Jaffa Cakes at each point and they went down really well. I’d brought a piece of homemade flapjack with me, but the Jaffa Cakes actually sat better on my stomach. We had to check in at each point, and I kind of liked the old-schoolness of a marshal shouting out people’s numbers as they approached. For the last few miles we were on moorland trails, which were quite boggy. I tried to keep my feet as dry as possible, but at about ten miles we had to go through a stream, so that was that! The last mile or so was a really nice descent back down to Cop Gate, finishing actually inside the village hall to give our numbers to the time keepers.
We received a really nice t-shirt and medal, and there were savoury snacks, cakes and drinks on offer. Cracking! I haven’t seen any official results yet, but I timed myself at about 3:12 (I think – I forgot to stop my Garmin when I finished – possibly because I was distracted by the sight of cake!).
Just after I’d arrived back the first lady marathoner finished in what must have been about four and a half hours. This really impressed me, not least because the marathon course was actually 28 miles long! Apparently long courses are a Thing with Hardmoors events. That day’s 10K was actually ten miles(!), although the half was pretty close to normal at 13.2 miles. All in all it was fab event. People I’ve spoken to have all said they think Wainstones is the toughest of the Hardmoors courses – one described it as ‘brutal’! It was certainly very testing terrain, and my legs are still feeling it two days later; but it was great training for Race to the Stones. Hardmoors events do fill up quickly, so don’t delay entry if you fancy doing one. I’d really recommend it, and I’d definitely like to do more in future. Recovery fish and chips in Helmsley were a must on the way home!
This weekend I’m off on holiday to France for a fortnight, spending a week of that in the Pyrenees. Hopefully I’ll find some more great hilly trails to train on!