Monday 19 August 2013

A New Home.....

I've moved my blog! From 19th August 2013 all new content will be published here:

Please come across and visit.

Saturday 10 August 2013

UTLD Lakeland 100. It is done.

It is two weeks since I set out on my second attempt at the Montane Lakeland 100 and I wish I'd written this blog straight away because at this time I can't really think of what to say to sum up what a huge sense of achievement I feel.

My ever supportive family remind me occasionally by jokingly asking if anyone in the room has completed a 100 mile ultra marathon...I beam and play along...and I haven't stopped bringing my experience into every conversation quite yet (sorry supportive family). It feels like a big deal.

So 36 hours and 54 minutes after the start gun honked I crossed the finish line triumphant, ecstatic, holding back the emotion. I'd done it. At last, I could release myself...go back to running the way I wanted to, without distance or time or speed restrictions. Relief.

When I crossed the line after my first 50 miler, the Lakeland 50, I was overcome with emotion. I declared that it was the hardest thing I'd ever done and that I would never put myself through that again. A month later I signed up for the Lakeland 100 and I wondered if I would feel the same crossing the finish line at the 100, but I didn't.

Eighteen months before the Lakeland 50 I underwent treatment for head and neck cancer, so the relief of proving to myself and my family that I was not dying, and that I was back to normal...better than normal... through completing something that no one else I knew at that time had achieved, overwhelmed me and I broke down in a heap of emotion. When I received my medal I understood that I had strength and resilience I'd never known I had.

Now I know what I'm capable of, so the finish line never conjures up quite the same effect. But completing the Lakeland 100 is special, and a wobbly lip was present. This time the wave of emotion came down to pride. I stood along side my Dad. We had crossed the line together. His second Lakeland 50 success and my first 100. We had vowed hours earlier, as we waded through swollen streams in the lashing rain and icy wind, that this was it. No Lakeland 100 or 50 next year. We had nothing more to prove. Mission accomplished. It goes without saying that we are now both trying to plan carefully where we will be to allow us to sign up for the UTLD again on the 1st of September.

But why wouldn't I want to do it all again? I couldn't have asked for a better experience this year. The race went to plan and all component parts came together to form a favourable whole. There was nice dry, warm weather for the first 24 hours that suited the weather I had been training in and this made for good firm and dry conditions underfoot. Last year, the ground was wet and the boggy sections were thriving. I'd managed to injure myself pulling my leg out of a bog at Grassguards. This year, I reached Dalemain with dry feet. I didn't even bother changing my socks. I'd not had any training on the route since March either and had been missing the Lakes, desperate to run the trails again, so come race day I savoured every moment just glad to be there.

Nothing was going to prevent me from completing, but I knew this months before. I've read so many times that successfully completing an ultra is '90% mental and the rest is in your head', but I don't think I had really understood that before. Ahead of my first attempt at the L100 I'd read so many accounts of people's successful and unsuccessful 100 attempts. They were full of stories of sleeping on the fell side, hallucinations, mangled feet and suffering. The event had taken on mythical proportions in my head and I was not at all convinced that I was up to the task.

The DNF at the L100 last year due to injury left me with the resolve that I would not walk away from the event without a medal again and I had two encounters in the last 8 months that really consolidated my belief that finishing was within my capabilities. The first was reading Traildragon's blog that articulated exactly how I felt and reassured me that I wasn't kidding myself, and then I participated and completed the LDWA 100 where I met many wonderful people who were embarking on their 2nd; 4th; 11th; 20th; 22nd (etc) 100 miler. I sat next to a chap on the bus for whom this was his 21st 100. He told me in a quiet voice that it was 'all in the head. You just have to believe you can finish and you will'. I believed him. I believed I could, and I finished.

Of course, I did a fair amount of training along the way too, but the secret was unlocked and I couldn't fail!

One final, significant piece of good luck came my way and ensured my success. I had said beforehand that the perfect scenario would be for me to meet with my Dad at Dalemain and to run the last 45 miles in his company. I didn't quite manage that but as I sat in Dalemain glugging back slim fast, my Dad strolled through, just starting out on his journey. I shouted encouragement and told him I'd catch him up soon. From Dalemain I chased him and eventually caught him at Kentmere just as the rain started to punish us. I was with him as we entered the second night, and at my lowest point when I thought I would not finish because of severe cold, he marched me at an unforgiving pace home to Coniston. We crossed the line and agreed we'd be back next year for sure! Thanks Dad. x

Sunday 23 June 2013

Endurance Life: Ultra Trail South West (UTSW 60) 2013

After a disappointing experience at this event last year (see my post from last year), I decided to part with my hard earned cash to give the Endurancelife UTSW 60 one more go. After all, it offered me the right distance at the right time and on the beautiful north Cornwall coastal path. How could they fail?

...not forgetting the £20 extra to get to the start line

I was hoping that the Organisers would have listened to the feedback they'd received and acted on some of the criticisms that came out of last year's event. Perhaps, a year on, they had gained a better understanding of their customers, understood the sort of experience participants were seeking, what their requirements were, and appreciated that participating in such an epic challenge was a big deal that had likely been the focus that individuals had been building up to for many months before.

I had low expectations, but sadly, they failed to even meet these. This is of course my own experience, and I am coming from a world of doubt and scepticism, so no doubt some people would have had a great time and achieved their goals, but I saw no improvement in attitude or delivery.

At the briefing, the organiser glibly joked that they should probably have set out more signs along the course, but hey! Then he established that the mandatory £20 cash participants were required to carry in order to pay for their own taxi back to HQ should they need to retire 'was quite reasonable' in his view. This style of delivery continued on the start line where, moments before the start gun fired, we were told that some checkpoints 'might have been moved'. It was already reeking of disorganisation and generous dose of winging it, but I held onto some final shreds of faith because, after all, my cash must have gone to some good use. I looked at the check point plan I had made and wondered whether to just screw it up and lose it in my pack.

We started just 15 minutes late, but the evening before the bus arrived 90 minutes late for the 100 participants. The start time of 6pm was duly adjusted to 7.30pm...more screwing up of checkpoint plans no doubt.

But we did eventually set off on our way, from a windy cliff top heading south. Wagons roll! I was keen to sample the delights of the checkpoints. I joke! I had no expectation that there would be any nutrition of use to me available, and so I was not disappointed. Endurancelife have quite a reputation now for under providing at the checkpoints - everybody knows they will be crap, and everyone tells each other how crap they are. It's common knowledge and standard race chat.

So I was plodding along quite nicely averaging 4 mph enjoying the beautiful scenery and views, chatting with fellow runners and the wonderfully supportive locals and tourists along the coastal path. I was on track hitting my targets and in good shape. I didn't want to push it because I'm nursing a minor hip niggle at the moment so the plan was just to cover some distance in training for the Lakeland 100 next month.

The checkpoints were evenly spaced but a bit too far apart for me. 7 or 8 miles is nice, 10 to 12 miles can feel like a long time. So I built in my own mini checkpoints at 5 to 6 mile intervals to allow myself  a smaller marker to aim for. It helps me to stay positive and break down the distance into more manageable chunks.

After the 3rd checkpoint at Rock, the plan was to make up some time. The next 3 sections into Wadebridge, then Padstow and beyond had very little elevation and were routed along country roads and cycle tracks so very runnable. I had noticed when studying the maps of this area that the section coming into Wadebridge was not on footpaths that were represented on the OS map and this had logged with me, but I assumed that the organisers had local knowledge and all would be clear when we got there.

This section raised concerns for me before
the event

The blue line is the planned route. You can see
that it does not follow any visible footpath and is
on a block of otherwise private land

This is where I lost the will to continue. After a good road and track section we made contact again with the estuary coming into Wadebridge. The Ennduarncelife signs were present but pointed towards the water! I had spent the last mile in the company of a couple of runners, one of whom was doing the 100 course, so we puzzled over what this meant. We reasoned that this must be a mistake, there was no way the route would take us into the water filled estuary?! So we had a scout around and found a path through a crop field which edged the estuary and decided to take this with the aim of rejoining the 'path' once we'd got beyond the waters. We left the fields and did another recce along the estuary but didn't get far before the water stopped us in our tracks.

By now I was in a group of six and we all tried hard not to voice our frustrations to avoid creating a  negative atmosphere. But we were walking around in circles on private land in rape crops that towered above us. It was a ridiculous situation. I had the gps out and am well used to navigating my way out of these situations, but what was so frustrating was that there was no where to go. There were no paths to pick up, just a road to the North from which we could hear the cars speeding along, and which presented a real danger as far as I was concerned.

We persevered through the crops and eventually spotted the track from the high ground at Burnier and rejoined the trail. We'd lost over an hour walking around in circles.

I'd had contact with my husband who was at the Wadebridge checkpoint and he had been relying advice from the checkpoint staff (just the 1 lady). They had not anticipated the high tide that had been predicted that day, and the path they had planned for us to use had been submerged by this exceptionally high tide. From what I understand they were advising runners to go back on themselves to find and join the busy A road, but at least 1 runner came in and complained about the danger they had been put in.

In itself, this was not a major catastrophe, but it really brought home the arrogance of the organisers, the complete disregard they had for runner's safety, and ultimately, that the organisation of the evnt, in my opinion, was complacent and flaky. I was thankful that I had been in a group. Had I been on my own I would have become panicked, I think. I would have felt very lost. If I had been running for 22 hours and not had my wits about me, it could have been very dangerous. Some of the 100 runners were in this situation and I think the organisers acted shamefully. How could they not have known about the high tide? How could they not have had a contingency? How could they have risked putting runners onto a busy A road without any signs warning motorists?

I didn't want to be part of this anymore. I was disappointed and angry, so I reached the checkpoint and dibbed out. Lesson learnt.

This incident captures the flavour of the event for me. I was at the finish line looking for my drop bag when a runner came in and and was greeted with "Well done! You're 2nd...or 3rd". This says it all!

Of course, I have heard from folk who had a great day so I'd love to know how others fared and coped with the 'diversion'. Would you do it again? I wonder whether the results will show whether the diversion had any impact on drop out rates? Perhaps it was just me.


Before i sign off, I wanted to just pay my respects to the family of AO who I was lucky enough to meet and run with at the UTSW last year. AO completed the 100 then was tragically killed in a car accident whilst driving back to the airport on his way home. 

Wednesday 29 May 2013

LDWA Camel Teign 100

 How would you describe your ideal event? Mine would look something like this...

- Weather: dry with some sun
- Temperature: warm 
- Ground conditions: dry, not boggy
- Route: linear, with hills, grassy, some tarmac here and there to make up time
- Scenery: varied. Sea, mountains, open moorland, rolling farmland, quaint villages
- Night time conditions: full moon, cool not cold
- Support: good food, smiling faces, encouraging words, banter, belief

I don't want to boast, but this weekend was special! The planets aligned, conditions were perfect. The LDWA 100 had it all.

The route took us from Wadebridge in Cornwall, past vineyards, through farmland, over rocky Tors, through pretty settlements, back into lush green valleys and towards the sea. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would complete this event. It was made for me.

From the start line, where the Brass Band sent us on our way to the 'Floral Dance', I was running back towards where my family waited for me at the finish - I love linear routes. My strategy was just to tick down the miles by running checkpoint to checkpoint, setting myself time goals for completing the leg I was on, and not really thinking too far ahead. I knew that I would be slow walking the uphills, but had confidence that I could make up time on the descent and the flat runnable sections. I ate small amounts of food at each checkpoint, but didn't really need any of the emergency rations I carried with me. Mentally I was strong and physically I was strong so I just had to get on and do it.

Of course, there are always minor criticisms that can be levied. I've done shorter LDWA events in the past and I'm a huge fan, but the 100 is the big annual event in the calendar and seemed to attract a small, unrepresentative, hardcore of LDWA pedants. I was quizzed in the loo queue before the start by a lady who refused to accept that the mandatory kit had fitted into my pack. She had never seen soft shell waterproofs before and refused to accept that they met the criteria. Along the route, concern over obeying the rules was clearly occupying the minds of a minority...not that I saw anyone flouting them (apart from a group who conveniently went off course to avoid a boggy field). I reached CP 2 early and the marshalls refused to open it until the official opening time, so our small group of 5 grew steadily in numbers until, 45 minutes later, when almost the entire field had turned up, the race was practically restarted when the official checkpoint opening time had been reached. These are the negatives that provide amusing stories more than anything else, but are certainly not significant enough to mar the event.

Apart from this hardcore, and an unpleasant chap named Jeremy, I met some smashing people who offered great company a big laughs along the way. I ran the night section with a chap named Keith who was excellent fun and great company in the dark hours, but after the breakfast stop at 1:30am, our paces altered and our requirements changed, so I didn't see him again, but I hope he finished well.

As is always the case with any event now, I met up with a fellow Lakeland 100 runner, a man I'd run with coming out of Blencathra last year. Duncan was timed out at Ambleside after running 90 miles at last years UTLD, but he got round the LDWA course this weekend in 28 hours and I'll see him back in Coniston in July.

The ground conditions were exceptionally dry. I managed to keep my feet dry for the first 57 miles! I've never done that before, ever. My feet are usually wet within 5 miles and then stay that way until the end. This freakish dry foot scenario ultimately caused me problems and I rubbed a massive blister on the ball of my right foot which slowed me down in the last 20 miles. I ran the full 100 in my Hokas Rapa Nui and they did the job nicely. I don't think they were the cause of the blister but I think they probably contributed. I managed to control the pain ok and kept a pretty positive outlook throughout. Tiredness on day 2 made it difficult to make decisions, and on a couple of occasions I sat with my head in my hands, tears rolling down cheeks, paralysed by indecision over route choices. On the hills above the River Dart I was revived when Jez Bragg and Paul Chapman ran past me and offered words of encouragement. I was stopped in my tracks and asked those around me if I had imagined it or was that Jez Bragg - blank faces...'who?'..!

On the final descent into Teignmouth, running down a steep tarmac road, meters from the finish line, I planted my foot, and pain brought me to another dead stop. My little toe had exploded and drenched my sock in bloody puss and I limped over the line in 31 hours and 20 or so minutes. There were points during the event where I was confident of a sub 30 hour finish, and at 57 miles I thought that 28 hours may even be within my grasp. But this is how ultra's go - up and down.

A couple of days on and I'm still on a high - I ran 101 miles mun! Legs are great - no DOMS, blisters healing nicely and I'm almost walking like a normal person again.

Next year the LDWA 100 is on my patch in South Wales. If you are looking for a well supported, challenging 100, I don't think you can go wrong and I can't recommend it highly enough. I think I might have said that next year would be quiet - no big events. We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Walk! Don't Run...

I've never really bothered with the idea of the taper, although in the week or two prior to a big event I do allow myself to run as I fancy, without routine or regime. Just for the love of it.

This weekend, Martin and I took our annual weekend trip to the Lakes to coincide a) with our wedding anniversary and b) the Keswick Mountain Festival. When we did the trip last year I spent a day running the 50 miles between Ambleside and Keswick, but this year with just a week to go until the LDWA 100 I enjoyed a few shorter runs on the L100 course and longer walks over some high tops. We still managed to cover around 40 miles over the weekend.

We had glorious weather and I was reminded how much I love the summits. When the L100 is over with this year I resolve to focus on the high ground for a while. Without time pressures and having given myself permission to amble along gently I had an opportunity to properly try out my poles which were a great success and will be with me on all major events over the summer.

So, I am now very excited to get going on the 100 this weekend. I know not one inch of the course which runs from Wadebridge on the Cornish coast to Teignmouth on the Devon coast:

Navigation is therefore going to be the biggest challenge for me. I'm not great with a compass and rely far too heavily on my gps, but I am prepared. I have the route description ready, my map is marked and my gps unit(s) charged. The cut off is very generous at 48 hours to finish as this is primarily a walking event, so i just need the mental strength to keep pushing forward. My plan is to take it easy, to run the sections that allow, and to walk those that don't. My goal is to finish.

I've been absorbed in all the organisation and prep this week. I've rigged up a light on my poles to use in conjunction with my headtorch for the night sections and I'm pretty darn chuffed with it - I've used my bike light and attached it using the helmet mount...

I've started organising stuff into 'day 1' and 'drop bag piles', got some emergency rations ready, compulsory kit ticked off, playlists prepared, radio shows recorded, but I just can't decide on what to wear! I don't want to go in full ultra girl kit because I understand that runners are not held in terribly high regard by some militant LDWA members - I'm sure this is a minority of folk. I've never met any, but I've read the forums where some berate the runners who chase their PBs and cover the course as quickly as possible instead of enjoying the navigational aspects and just the joy of participating in the annual highlight of the associations calendar. So I wondered whether to avoid the full compression gear!

I've been watching the YouTube vids of previous LDWA 100 events and these have raised my hopes that I really can finish!

Some photo's of our weekend in the beautiful Lakes this weekend:

...and one thrown in from Saturday night in the sunshine at the Talybont-on-Usk campsite

Sunday 12 May 2013

Might Contain Nuts Summer 40

Okay. Before I start, summer running in the Beacons probably conjures up images like this...

Photograph by Muen Photography


Now think horizontal ball bearing sized hail stones, gale force winds, lightening strikes. 

Something more  like this..

Picture from training run to give a flavour. Now multiply by ten.

Good. This is the reality of summer running on the Beacons.

I was thinking just a few days ago, when the forecast was warning of bad weather, that nearly all the events I have ever taken part in have been done in horrible conditions. Recent exceptions being the Black Mountains Roundabout (2010) and the Lakeland 50 (2011). Yesterday's conditions come top the 'bad' list. 

Given the history, it is clear that I never learn. When it comes to the weather I am a blind optimist. Early yesterday morning, at the Might Contain Nuts event HQ I chatted with friends, old and new, about how unexpectedly mild it was as the sun shone down, and believing that spring had truly bedded in I shed a few layers and stashed them back in the van. 

Fast forward 40 minutes and atop Tor y Foel, having tackled the first climb, my error was realised when the weather turned nasty. Forward another 3 hours and I was considering pulling out as I donned my waterproofs for warmth and huddled round a cup of tea at Storey Arms wondering if my swollen hands were a sign of mild hypothermia.

The course is particularly tough. It's the sort of course I would never plan for a training run because there are detours off ridges for no reason other than to punish you with climb back to the top, the worst of which comes at mile 30. The North face of Cribyn. This is a climb I have never considered doing before because it has never seemed a reasonable or attractive thing to do. But it had to be done yesterday. It had to be done whilst clinging on to tufts of grass to avoid being blown off the ridge, with hat, buff & hood exposing only enough eyeball to allow me to see where I was placing my foot.

But after 8 hours of crazy weather you become conditioned to it. The sting of the hail becomes invigorating, the contrast of rainbows and dark skies enhance the beauty, and the flash of lightening provides a much needed shot of adrenalin to enable you to fly down the sharp descents. It occurred to me that I had grinned like a maniac through all of this for the final 6 miles. It was just great fun.

As with the other ultra marathons in their portfolio, this MCN event requires the participant to take care of their own nutrition whilst they provide water and gels at selected checkpoints. Support at the checkpoints from the team is abundant and this being the third MCN event I've done, I have nothing but praise for the organisation and support they provide. 

I clocked just short of 41 miles and 7850 foot of ascent covered in, I think, 11 Hrs 5ish minutes. Not bad for me and given the conditions I am very happy. My aim was to do the round comfortably; not to wear myself out; to finish feeling like I could do more, and to be able to run my 15 mile road run on Sunday. I achieved all of these.

Some photos from the day....

 Race HQ: The Start

 Tor Y Foel
Slowly, slowly catchy monkey

 Fellow L100 folk

 Enjoying the downhills

 Rainbows and dark skies


 Sunshine on the Black Mountains

Thank gawd for that!

Monday 29 April 2013

Blah blah blah!

It's been ages since I last updated the blog. I think I put myself under pressure a couple of posts ago when I publicly promised to stop writing boring drivel about running, and to come up with something a bit more interesting, thoughtful and engaging....!

Two months have passed since then and having not been able to achieve the higher standards I set myself, so I've decided to return to writing boring drivel about running again. After all (I've reminded myself...actually!), this blog is for me. A reminder to myself. A memory jogger for when I'm older with dodgy knees and want to look back and say...'I used to run 30 miles across the hills on a Friday just for fun'.

So, just because I haven't been writing doesn't mean I haven't been running. I've been training fairly consistently. It's not been great, but giving time to the other stuff in my life is important too, so what I have achieved in training is good enough. When someone decides to pay me to run, I'll do better :-)

It has to be said that the weather has been rubbish this early Spring. I've cancelled 2 or 3 trips to the Lakes because I'm not really equipped for the snow and icy conditions. I've missed 2 events due to snow. Crampons and ice axes have been the order of the day in the higher hills until very recently, so I've been keeping myself busy on lower ground here at home, trying to rebuild stamina and strength ready for the late Spring and Summer events.

Just last Friday, I left the house lathered in sun cream only to find myself, 90 minutes later, standing on Fan Llia, in the middle of a black thunder cloud being lashed by spiky hail stones, million mile an hour winds (!) and making a bee line for lower ground. The weather still takes me by surprise, but an hour later I was back down to shirt sleeves and wishing I'd brought the sun cream with me for a top up.

I've had some lovely runs around the Beacons, finding new routes and trails and have consistently been covering 25+ miles in my weekly long run since early February. I did the Black Mountains Roundabout for the 4th year running and got lost a lot due to the poor visibility, with a group of others tagging along behind the lady with the GPS, as I led them around in circles for a bit, following the arrow!

I had a great weekend running from Keswick to Ambleside with Annie and Sarah in early March. We stayed at the half way mark in the Pooley Bridge Inn with its welcoming fires and plentiful cider, and I came back on the high road, over High Street in the driving snow. We covered 50 miles at a leisurely pace that weekend over the 2 days, but due to my detour over High Street I've still only done the Lakeland 100 section around Haweswater once whilst doing the Lakeland 50 back in 2011. I'm heading back up in May to shake that monkey off my back!

I've recently started building up my road miles too. I think of myself as a runner, so when all my training is off road, slow, and uphills are walked, I begin to lose confidence in how much running I am really capable of. So it's been necessary to remind myself that I can cover distance by running.....without walking the tough bits. The routine at the time of writing is that I aim for 30+ off road miles on a Friday followed by 15+ on the road miles on Saturday with Martin. It's going well. I try to throw in some shorter hill or speed sessions and a mid distance faster paced run in the week, and I've been cycling the 10 mile round journey to work. I think I have built a good base, and the real tests are about to start.

In 2 weeks, I have the MCN Summer 40 over the Beacons, then 2 weeks after that I'll be starting the LDWA 100 which runs from Wadebridge in Cornwall across in Devon and finishing in Teignmouth. There is a 48 hour cut off for this, so the plan is to take it easy and complete regardless of time just to get the distance under my belt and build confidence for the UTLD in July.

So back to the drivel I'm afraid.

Here are some photo's to distract you...