Being a Runner in Isolation

As a Physiotherapist observing the world right now I have decided to write down some thoughts with regards to the life of a runner during these times of restriction. The uncertainty of when these restrictions will lift and when races will resume are all questions no one has exact answers for but, regardless of this, I see runners pushing boundaries in the confines of their gardens, pushing the limits of that savored once a day exercise and racing themselves for that Strava segment or 10 km PB. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t done this. One session I went out with the sole purpose of trying to get some segments but later questioned what I was doing. I am returning from injury, stuck in a period of isolation with no immediate races and goals so why am I doing this?

The mentality and mindset of a runner is one that is only understood by a runner and, as a Physiotherapist who treats a lot of runners, this is a fact that always needs careful consideration, especially when trying to rehab!

I’ve taken a step back these last few weeks to review my own training and consider right now, what is it that is important? I know my injuries are probably 95% better now so why am I not striving to gain that last 5%, work on some form and build up that base level of fitness back to where it was ready to peak at the point I will need it, that point when I know that races are back on?! I’m not saying I’m not going to chase Strava segments, who am I kidding, but perhaps I am going to do this in a more structured and meaningful manner.

A great resource in understanding your aerobic base is the book ‘Training for the Uphill Athlete’ by House, Johnston and Jornet (https://www.uphillathlete.com/ their website also has some free training resources) who explain in great detail, in a way that is easy to understand, how important it is to have a great aerobic base as this will provide a huge amount of capacity then to get fitter and stronger in the long term. Personally this is most definitely something I have overlooked since returning from injury, sometimes my Physio brain and runner brain do not collaborate and my running brain is far more powerful, why can’t I just return to what I was doing before?

If we also consider the following 2 images which were taken from research by Dye in 2005. He describes tissue capacity as having an ‘Envelope of Function’, there is a fine balance between load and capacity and if we do too much too soon the result often presents as injury. Considering the current climate and not in terms of being injured, our tissues still have a capacity and, perhaps due to this extra time and being at home we all of a sudden are teetering on that fine line of overload. It is a genuine concern of mine what the levels of overload induced injury we might see as Physiotherapists post isolation. Tom Goom is an Physiotherapist and works primarily with runners and his website https://www.running-physio.com/ is a great resource. The following images are taken from an article in relation to load and capacity:

Envelope of Function
During Isolation lets keep it in that manageable area

Finding the balance

So my thoughts on how we might manage our time training to reach the best outcome over all. These are simply my views guided by my career as a Physiotherapist but also as a runner myself.

1. The first step for me was understanding what it is I want to achieve during this time?

All of a sudden we have time, this is something we should be embracing as for a lot of people having time to sit back and think is a rarity. For me, I need that base back and with the few races left in my calendar that are the most likely to still go ahead I have about 2 months to work on this and then 2 months to get ready to peak and build in race specific training.

2. What could be or is potentially stopping progress at the moment?

This is going to be individual for everyone. Here are few considerations:

  • Are you recovering from illness? This is probably the most important point right now. If you have had Covid 19 you need to be extremely careful in your return to running. Return too soon and you will prolong the illness further. Equally we don’t fully understand this virus so even more care is required than perhaps if it had been flu as we know it. It is also important to remember the effect of a hard session on your immune system and the risks therefore associated with this.
  • Think about about any niggles you have had or are noticing at present. Now is the time to address these and get on top of them once and for all. If you are not sure how to manage them, most physios are running remote sessions and will be happy to talk this through with you. Also stop that foam roller from being an ornament and get it used!
  • Consider other ‘stresses’ at the moment be them financial, work, home these are important to consider and a hard session is probably not going to help your immune system during a time when stress levels have peaked. A nice steady session however will probably be quite therapeutic. I, like a lot of others run to manage stress. It is important to be aware of this as this is when it can become tricky to manage load.

3. You feel at a loss about what to do?

This is quite normal and probably on a personal note along side managing any stresses I have had, why I started going out running too far and too fast (for me) each day, everyday. Look back over your last months training and compare it to the previous months training. Then consider point 1 and work back from that end point. Remember, every goal should have some sort of time associated with it (long term and short term goals for example) and be appropriate and realistic for it to be effective and achievable.

4. You keep checking Strava and see what everyone else is doing

This goes without saying isolation aside, never compare yourself to anyone else. You are you and have your own body that will respond to everyday stresses and training stresses in an individual way. Everyone has a different beginning in their development into becoming a runner. They may have done it since they could walk or they could have come to it at a later stage in life. These factors play a huge part on their tissues ability to cope with different stresses placed upon them. Equally, it is too easy now to see what the elite are doing through social media, remember they are elite and again their tissues will work differently and recover differently.

Equally, you don’t know what others plans are, you don’t know what they might be going through and you don’t know if they have niggles that they just keep pushing on through which could ultimately lead to a period off the running. This leads me on to any social network platform…remember, no one ever/rarely posts about how ‘rubbish that run was’ because they were tired or all their niggles were presenting themselves or ‘how hard work it was and they might as well have been going backwards’!

Last but not least….

Lastly in my thoughts about running during this isolation phase, strength training is a factor a lot of times missed. Runners don’t want a huge amount of muscle mass but they do need to be strong and powerful which will help with injury prevention and make you an overall better athlete. In my opinion the areas that should be worked on as a minimum are:

  1. Powerful arms – you will be surprised how important your arms are in driving you forward. Think about that race finish and there are seconds between you and the next place, you drive forward with those arms to push yourself that little bit more. You need that endurance and power in these especially for these moments. Equally try running with your arms by your side, it suddenly becomes a lot harder!
  2. Trunk rotation – this will help with point 1.
  3. An awareness and strength in those pelvic floor muscles to work with the outer pelvic muscles in which we rely heavily upon when running.
  4. Good Gluteal (bum muscles) strength especially in Glute Medius (bottom muscles on the side) which can help with knee control but also eccentric Hamstring (back of thigh) strength and Quads (thigh).
  5. Calf Strength made up from Soleus and Gastrocnemius (muscle with 2 heads you can see). An aside here about Soleus as it is quite an amazing muscle. Soleus is often the key in development of Achilles injuries that runners are well aware of. Soleus, on average generates 50% of your peak vertical movement to elevate your center of mass upwards (Dorn et al. 2012 and Hamner et al. 2013) and generates approximately 30% of your forward propulsion force (Hamner et al. 2012). Now think about running and how hard this muscle has to work! As I am mainly a fell runner, fell runners now think about those forces in running up and down hills…it is huge. Soleus is primarily made of slow twitch fibers so it is that repeated load, doing too much too soon which is likely to affect it.
  6. Lastly, all of the above need to be able to be used effectively when running so running specific drills are critically important for that carry over.

Me doing Running Drills

This is not an extensive list but I have tried to keep it to a minimum focusing on key groups. There isn’t much evidence to say you should be doing some sort of running specific strength session more than 2-3 times a week and I personally would pick 3-4 things to focus on each time. Consider in this session some plyometric and dynamic work that will help improve running form such as the use of ladder drills, mini hurdles, hill repeats, bounding, strides etc you get the idea.

I do hope you find this a useful read and if you have any questions please do feel free to contact me. Like I said at the start, these are simply my thoughts and if it helps reduce just one incidence of a potential overuse injury I’d be happy.

Use this time wisely, go explore new paths and trails from home you never knew existed and go and enjoy your running.

The Bay

Running the GR 20 in 2018

This was a post I started to write back in 2018. Life happened and I never got it finished. During this time of isolation, I have been reminiscing about some of the amazing trips John and I have had. It was about time I got this published!

I was introduced to the GR 20 by a friend and the moment I started to read about it I instantly wanted to run it. The record for the route being 31 hours and 6 minutes by Francois D’Haene in 2016….having now run it, an amazing achievement.

For those unfamiliar with the GR 20, it is a long-distance trail across the mountains of Corsica, mostly completed by walkers over anything between 14 days to 3 weeks depending how long they wanted to be out for each day. The route is generally split into 2 sections, the northern being rockier, slightly more technical and generally has more ascent. The southern section is just overall much easier. Historically going north to south was the way to go however there seems to be more and more people opting to go the other way.

Following an ‘incident’ in 2018 which made me stop a while and consider life, I decided that life really is to short and I decided to get Corsica booked.

We had 9 days to complete the GR 20 and instead of thinking lets have some relaxing days at the end of the trip I utilized everyday so we could experience as much as possible out in the mountains. The plan was never to attempt to go as fast as possible, I wanted to enjoy every moment. In hindsight however, as much as this was lovely, 7 days would have been more than achievable given we finished most days by midday and would have given us some time at the end to relax a little before the trip home.

Picture 1

I could go into the stats for each day, where we went, how hard it was, but quite frankly this would probably make for quite boring reading. If anyone does however want a copy of our itinerary, kit list etc. (it really did surprise me how much some people carried!) I am happy to share however, for the purpose of this article a few key points for each day!

 

Day 1 – Calenzana to Refuge de Carrozzu

Start of the GR20
The Start of the Trail

The introduction to ‘Rainbow hills’ …when you think you are at the top, you really need to think again. Not only that, you most probably have the most epic of descents coming up…steep lessons for day 1. To top it off, those blogs you read before hand that warn you of beg bugs. They really weren’t making that up. A night of terrible sleep and dreaming of creepy crawlies…It will be a while before I consider staying in a refuge again!!

Picture 2
Rocky steep descents

Day 2 – Carrozzu to Refuge de Tighjetti

Day 2 included not one vertical kilometer but 2 with a little stop in-between for chocolate crepes and coffee. When I planned this day I hadn’t really considered how hard this might be over the rocky terrain. It was quite a tough day with Via Ferrata and scrambling thrown in too.

It was a claggy and windy day and the epic amount of scree, chains and scrambling made for a pretty big day to get to the summit of Corsica’s highest mountain, Monte Cinca.

Monte Cinto Sign
Typically couldn’t see a thing!

PIcture 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed in a refuge called Tighjetti with one of the coldest showers I have ever had in my life, the only silver lining was the view across the valley, it really was something else.

Picture 4
Spot the hut!!

Something that really amazed me throughout this trip was the cooking in such remote places. Here we had cured meat…they love cured meat and spaghetti which was then followed by a dessert of what I can only describe as apple sauce. It was however home made and simply delicious.

View on Day 3
View from the hut

Some of the guide books miss out this hut in their itinerary but when we were planning our trip this one fitted better. It was such a fab hut, slightly different to the others, made of wood and slightly suspended meaning it swayed if it was windy. The hosts were also bonkers. At the end of our meal, they brought out a cleaning bottle, I presumed to wipe down the tables until he demanded you opened your mouth in which he then squirted grappa! It was quite hilarious, I am sure he probably does it every evening but it made for a lot of fun and there was no point in trying to avoid it, you would just be covered in grappa!

 

Run out of Tighjetti
The start of Day 3

Day 3 – Tighjetti to Castellu di Vergio

A fab start to today, beautiful woodland trails and the sun had made another appearance. The terrain up until this point had all been really rocky and really quite challenging so as we headed in to woodland we really stretched out our legs and ran. It doesn’t really matter where I am in, it always pleases me to pass people and we passed a lot of people today.

John was constantly reminding me that we still had a long way to go and this wasn’t a race!

 

Picture 5

Runnable section

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 6After the runnable section the climbing started again to reach a col. We arrived to be greeted by some pretty strong winds so layered up and took shelter to get some food in. It was at this point we discovered our kitten that I had rescued had teethed on John’s waterproof!! Not ideal, the zip at the bottom was unusable and so John spent the rest of the trip marginally concerned that if the weather really did get bad… the cause of his demise would have been a kitten!

 

During this section we came across beautiful clear rock pools to cool down in and crazy mountain cows randomly roaming around… they would just suddenly appear on the side of a mountain that you would never once think possible for a cow to be standing. We never quite understood how those cows were there.

We arrived at our destination in good spirits and enjoyed our first beer.

 

Day 4 – Castellu di Vergio to Refuge de Petra Piana

I woke up tired on day 4. I think we had completed about 6,000m at this point. I reckon it took me about an hour to get going but once we were off we were off. It probably hadn’t helped that we set off super early and both thought we would be ok on a cereal bar and a banana… this was most definitely not the case.

We were both pretty silent for that 17km and as we arrived at refuge de Manganu decided that we really needed to sort out our nutritional strategy…basically we needed to eat more! The host at Manganu made us probably the best omelette and cup of coffee I have ever tasted and we were fortunate to have made it there just as we had our first proper storm.

Climb out of Manganu

We sheltered for an hour with a guy in a straw hat before starting off on the rockiest of ascents out of the valley…just another vertical kilometer out the valley. The guy in the straw hat slowly disappeared, we never did see him again, we presume he turned around and went back… failing that, he may still be out there!

 

We appeared at the col and then contoured around a basin with beautiful lakes far down below.

View from Col top of Manganu

As per most days we thought we would just pop over another col and be at Petra Piano but this would not be the case and there was more scrambling to be done. It was here that I was amazed to pass a lady having a real epic on some of the terrain. There were huge boulders to hop along with steep descents either side to some degree so I suppose there was some exposure but she was having real trouble. I was just amazed given what she will have covered in the days before, they must have had some really long days.

Steep descent en route to petra piano
Steep Descents

It was at this point we looked back and could see the clag coming towards us. We made a swift move and carried on quickly to the refuge. Petra Piano was the first refuge we came across that had actually shut due to the bed bugs. We did however note that later that day when all the tents had gone, people were then going into the refuge which I thought was pretty bad…no wonder they were spreading to all the huts!

Day 5 – Petra Piano to Vizzavona

View from camp Pietra Piano

This was probably my favourite day. I woke up snug in my tent, I opened the tent door and looked out to a stunning sunrise. We were pretty high up at Petra Piano (1842m), and as I sat there looking out across the mountains with a coffee I felt pretty content with life.

That day we were off to Vizzavona, the half way point. There was a lot of rocky climbing again but as ever, this was awarded with stunning vistas.

Views of to Vizavona

There was also beautiful woodland trails and this is where you started to see the landscape slowly change from the northern harsh and rocky terrain to the southern rolling hills.

En route to Vizzavona we stumbled across this small farm where we were sold some local cheese and freshly baked bread which set us up for the rest of the journey that day before plunging into some rock pools on the descent.

Woodland Trail after Petra Piano
Food stop en route to Vizzavona
John enjoying some much needed bread and cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We treated ourselves to a hotel and paid to get all our clothes washed. Its funny how happy this made me, a whole rucksack of clean clothes…bliss!

Day 6 – Vizzavona to Refuge de Prati

I sat there at breakfast on day 6 and looked around at the room of fellow GR20ers and found it somewhat amusing. Everyone looked utterly dazed and beat, I guess for some of them they had been on the go for significantly longer than we had. We watched a guy put his arms through the straps of his rucksack, take a huge sigh, before then hauling his bag back up on to his back. Poor guy, he was clearly having a rough time and it highlighted again the importance of only packing essentials! I also noted everyone with knee supports on too or simply stuck together by tape… I guess the relentless rocky terrain was starting to take its toll on some.

huge salami sandwich en route to Pratti

We stopped off at the first hut we came across, ate possibly the biggest salami sandwich I have ever eaten, before heading off again to the final hut of the day, Pratti.

On route we had a few rain drops which got heavier and heavier. We decided to take shelter before we got utterly drenched. We found shelter under a derelict hut with a few others to wait out the storm.

Caution due to Salamander
Exercising great caution…I am such a wimp!

It was here we came across what we now know was a Salamander. I was convinced it was out to get me. It was black and yellow and as I kicked dirt at it to scare it and hope it moved, all it did was turn its head and then slowly returned it to look back at me, I was getting ready to run. To put in to context this creature was only about 4 inches long!

 

Eventually we made it to Pratti, there was the usual climb to get to but now this climb was easier going that the first half of this trip, and we were greeted by the host. Lovely guy but I could have been in the depths of Salford. A Chelsea smile, tattoos on his hands and a T-shirt saying ‘f**k off’….I most definitely made sure I ate all my dinner that evening!

Vista at Pratti

Day 7 – Refuge de Prati to Refuge de Matalza

After spending most of the night trying desperately not to slide away…it appeared our tent was on a bit of a slant. We were greeted with another stunning sunrise and for breakfast the usual dry bread, jam and the most unspreadable butter you could ever find making the use of a spork very difficult since I had snapped the knife bit off!

Leaving PrattiThe run started with some scrambling and of course, climbing before opening up into some small, rocky, runnable sections. We came across a small hut in the woods which we thought was the next stop but on closer observation wasn’t the hut at all and looking at the map noted we probably had a few more kilometers to run. I was quite hungry at this stage but as we weren’t so far away I didn’t really think much of it.

From Pratti rocky climbing

Those kilometers however were relentless, still beautiful but I needed fuel…I had the worse bonk I have ever experienced half way up. We had to stop so I could eat a load of nuts and sweets in the hope it brought me out of it and on top of this it was an absolute scorcher of a day… progress was slow! John got me moving again referring to a group up ahead as another ‘rucksack train’ to motivate me to get moving and stir that inner competitive edge and off we plodded… we needed to pass them.

running from Pratti

On arriving at the hut we ate an almighty amount of bread… a whole loaf in fact, a huge block of cheese and some cured meat… for dessert a huge block of chocolate! I was ready to go! The rest of the trail was beautiful, a bit more scrambling, a traverse and then a lovely forest trail. We had a swim in some rock pools then headed off to Refuge de Matalzza. Matalzza was again very different in terms of landscape and reminded me of the terrain a little back home in the lake district. We had warm showers, a beer and a chill out in a deck chair…amazing!

What made me laugh here was that we were fenced in and the cows and horses around us were roaming free. There were a lot of them about now and it was another difference to the start of this trip, we had a lot more wildlife.

A cow did break in and was very insistent he joined us despite being run out numerous times by the host, it was quite entertaining. We also stopped to chat to a German guy in Matalzza who was walking the trail at the age of 69 having previously completed it 30 years earlier. He was an absolute legend, not a dry bag or waterproof in site just plastic carrier bags and his things were just randomly stuffed in a rucksack that had definitely seen better days. When we asked how long he had been walking for he had absolutely no idea!

We don’t actually have any pictures of Matalza. When I asked John about this I described it as the place where the German guy had his off white Y fronts drying outside his tent, John explained this is probably why we don’t have any pictures!!

Day 8 – Matalza to Village de Bavella 

Rocky descent to Bavella

It is funny the GR20, you look at the map before setting off and note that the second half definitely has less ascent and in my head was clearly going to be much easier and therefore mean much quicker days. How very wrong I was as I had clearly failed to consider that we would have been on the trail for 7 days at this point. Day 8 involved more undulations, more scrambling but not as hard as the first half and more of those beautiful woodland trails that suddenly open up to the most amazing views. It is these views that keep you going and moving.

We arrived at our final destination for that day in Col de Bavella. Bavella is a tourist hot spot and it was strange to all of a sudden be surrounded by people… All of a sudden became acutely aware that we probably looked and smelt pretty bad! I had booked us a hotel for this evening and we treated ourselves to a lovely 3 course meal and had an amazing storm to watch….I was glad we were in a hotel that night!

Bavella
Tourist viewing spot in Bavella

A treat in Bavella

Day 9 – Bavella to Conca – The penultimate day

Another gorgeous sunrise to start the day, I miss those sunrises, they were really something else. My knees had started to ache a little by day 9 but that was ok, I had prepared for some aching given the challenge and was quite happy that I had got that far before having any issues. I was pretty disappointed this was the last day, I was tired and the climbing was becoming a little relentless but it was amazing and everyday really felt like an adventure. I really didn’t want it to end.

Food stop on the way to Conca
Food stop on our last day

A forest trail started the day before opening up on to more rocky terrain. This however was very runnable and we loved rock hoping and watching the kilometers pass freely compared to those earlier days.

John running to Conca

Out of all our days in Corsica this was probably the most actual running we had done since we started. We arrived in Conca and had a celebratory photo:

Picture 21

John with big beer

 

 

We then had a massive beer…we had made it! Conca is a little unassuming village and as the guide book said, locals really were not that interested, they had seen and heard it all before!

 

 

 

This type of trip, running between huts, travelling light was amazing. As I said at the start, 7 days would probably be sufficient but the whole adventure was a lot of fun.

The biggest thing I would change if we did it again would be to take our own tent…I really hadn’t appreciated how bad the bed bug situation would be. I would also definitely factor in more food stops, I definitely underestimated how much fuel we were going to need!

Our stats: 132 miles, 13,112m Ascent in 55 hours and 5 mins.

 

Otillo SwimRun World Championships 2017

When an adventure such as this comes my way I find it very difficult to turn it down. However this was going to be perhaps the toughest adventure I have undertaken so far.

Unfortunately due to injury a friend, Jenny Rice, found herself looking for a partner to take part in the Otillo Swimrun world championships, something Jenny and Claire had worked hard for and achieved a place at.

I don’t really know why Jenny thought of me and the text message made me intrigued when I was initially asked if I could swim and before I could answer she had found some results from a triathlon I had done over 2 years ago!! Swiftly came details of this epic adventure across the Swedish Archipelago and it sounded utterly amazing. I was immediately interested, I had been intrigued by these events and had thought about taking part in one perhaps next year…this was something else. 75Km including over 65Km of running and 10Km of swimming. Of course I am not totally crazy and had a few conditions before I went for it:

  1. I could swim at least a mile and feel good after…not totally wrecked.
  2. There were no jelly fish and
  3. The water wasn’t too cold

I was assured of these things and managed a mile swim in Windermere and felt pretty good after….perhaps this was possible. Treat the swimming as recovery from the running….I would basically just have to keep my arms moving and draft behind Jenny….I was in…well as I said to Jen, I was in as long as there was absolutely no one else!!

So 2 weeks before the world championships I was quickly introduced to the world of swim run, 4 crash courses in various waters of the lake district bungied to Jenny, looking the part as Claire very kindly lent me her wet suit and pull buoy, learning how to get the pull buoy from between my legs and back again during transitions from running and swimming with out getting tangled up, trying to deal with feeling drunk as I stumbled out of the water and start running desperately trying to not fall over.

We flew out to Sweden and I was full of anxiety. That week I had spent evenings writing down all 52

The Journey!

transitions trying to memorize the longer sections, Jenny had printed the whole route out on a map which I studied each evening….it all started to sink in how big this event was going to be, fortunately I have an amazing partner who for whatever reason I think believes I can do anything if I put my mind to it and most of the time I would tend to agree, I am too stubborn and proud but this for me had DNF written all over it and I desperately didn’t want to let Claire and Jenny down.

 

We had a lovely relaxing day in Stockholm but the next day we woke up and it was off to board the Otillo boat that would take us to Sandhamn. I looked around and I suddenly felt totally ridiculous…what on earth was I doing here! Jenny introduced me to a few people and the standard first question, particularly as I was a new face was ‘how long have you been involved in swim run for?’. ‘New to it’ sounded like a totally ridiculous answer and I could see peoples faces full of disbelief…particularly when I then went on to say I had never swam in the sea before and neither had I ever swam more than a mile!

Again, seriously what was I thinking!!

We arrived in to Sandhamn where we registered, got the keys to our hotel and then received a whole host of goodies. We took a wander along to the start of the route to the first transition and looked across

Spot Jen!!

the first swim, the water looked relatively calm and I was somewhat reassured. Jenny took her swimming things but I decided to save myself. As Jenny got in the water and went for a swim….with no wet suit, the gasps from around me were hilarious…there was no one else going in for a swim and particularly with no wet suit!

 

 

The briefing was in depth and informative however there were key details that started to fill me with dread:

  1. There were going to be lots of jellyfish…not dangerous but equally…jellyfish none the less
  2. The water temperature was somewhat chilly
  3. There were gales forecast and
  4. There was as a result the high possibility of waves and currents

I left the briefing to go and eat and I have simply never felt like that before an event, under prepared, out of depth, full of anticpation, anxious, sick…..and then I read this:

‘ÖTILLÖ is ranked as one of the toughest endurance races in the world by CNN’

‘The Kona of the swim run world’

Again…what had I been thinking and there was no going back now. Deep breath.

Jenny was amazing, she filled me with reassurance and confidence as I lay there trying to sleep with a howling gale going on outside the bedroom window.

We woke at 4am, I would love to say ready and raring to go but honestly, I was petrified. I managed to get a coffee and a yogurt down me then off we went to the start line. Thankfully, a lady Jenny knew lent me a rash vest so at least I had another layer to put on as it occurred to me, it may get a bit chilly out there. This top saved me! There were a lot of anxious looking faces around, the conditions were less than ideal and I think everyone was starting to feel a little on edge.

The race started at 6am and I was grateful to have a bit of a run to start with to help get rid of some of the pre race nerves before the first swim. The first swim was one of the first long ones, 1750m, thankfully that would be over early on. It was a relatively easy ish swim and I started to settle in to the race. The first few transitions are a bit of a blur now, I felt I quickly got in to the swing of things and I was thankful that the drunk feeling started to disappear the more I was in and out of the water. However, I suddenly started to get cold, my teeth chattering and I started to feel a bit scared. I had to get back in the water and keep moving but the thought of getting back in made my stomach turn…every time I got in it felt like I was being hit by a brick wall, the icy water really took my breath away and it did make me panic a little. The water temperature really hadn’t crossed my mind as being an issue. However, there was no choice I had to get moving and weirdly, the next swim actually felt a little warmer.

The race continued on, we made sure we kept eating as much as we could at every aid station but trying to get any food in has never been so difficult. It took me a flipping long time to force a sandwich down! Its really hard during endurance events sometimes, you know you must eat but you really don’t want to and so swallowing anything becomes effortful but those first few aid stations where we really made the effort to eat as much as we could really helped us. During ultra runs I tend to eat little and often so this was again a challenge for me, just eating at the aid stations. Thankfully the aid stations were actually amazing, full of homemade energy snacks, bananas, soup…they had managed to cover all bases so there was always something I thought I could tackle.

As the race continued on we came across a lot of hyperthermic people that got pulled from the race and I think the one reason this didn’t happen to us was the effort to keep on top of our fuel and fluid levels and we made a reak effort to kept moving, we really didn’t hang around too much. We made a really good team, and in this event I learnt that this is so important. Keeping an eye out on each other, making sure we were both ok and doing quick body checks all the time….was there anything troubling us that needed sorting.

Next up the Pig swim….called so as it is an unprotected, tough, mile swim. We clambered down to start the swim….I looked across and all I could see were these huge waves, engulfing the swimmers already in the water. The next island seemed a long way off. I was scared…..like really scared and I think Jenny realized this and if I had said so, that could have been the end of our swim run adventure. However, I was with an experienced, strong swimmer, there were boats dotted around in case you needed pulling from the water…I needed to get myself together, think strong and go for it. There were tears I am not embarrassed to admit, sometimes I cant control this but I was seriously petrified, in no other circumstance would I EVER choose to get in this type of water. I swam as strongly as I could but half way across cramp started to set in….oh god…what do you do when you get cramp in wild water! Jenny must of sensed something was up and came and grabbed me whilst I flung around with my calf, thankfully it seemed to settle quickly but I had to be careful when kicking with that leg. We made it across and I have never been so happy to be back on land.

 

The pig swim was the turning point for this event for me. It was tough but we were through it. Pride and stubbornness kicked in and it was evident we would be finishing this event unless something major happened. There were a lot of transitions but we kept moving through each section ticking them off as we did so, and along the way came across more and more people injured having slipped on the rocks and hyperthermic waiting for boats to come and get them. Unfortunately because of the sea conditions the boats were having a real tough time getting to people. They did an amazing job, I think the boat teams must have had a really tough day out there too!

The comedy phrase of the day became:

‘It wasn’t like this last year!’ (Jenny)

As we entered swampy water, boggy trails and slippy rocks…it made running very difficult. Thankfully wet rock is something I feel relatively confident over so I got a little frustrated at some bottlenecks when I finally felt I could make up some ground. We would then get to another body of water to cross and it would be wild, again….Jenny would declare that last year it was calm and a recovery swim! It was very apparent this was a very different event from the previous year!

Later in the race Jenny ‘bonked’ mid a 970m swim…less than ideal and after the event she said she had considered asking me to lead the swim….then we would have had real fun with me spotting! She somehow managed to get us across though and swiftly got a gel in to get the sugar levels back up again.

The rest of the event was simply a battle against nature. The half marathon island should for me have been my strong point but because I had been working so hard in the water I didn’t feel quite as good as I hoped for and found I was having massive highs and feeling strong then massive lows again, there was clearly a fuel issue going on and I started giving myself a bit of a hard time. Jenny had got us through all the swims, the least I could do was get us through the runs.

 

There were always still smiles!

The last few transitions totally broke me. We were in and out the water constantly so never really getting chance to warm up, I have never not wanted to do something, i.e. get in the water, so much in all my life. Not only because it was cold but there were really strong currents going through them. We stood looking at the water each time, planning the route across. I kept seeing couples that had been pushed out by the current and were fighting their way back to land. I wasn’t sure I had the strength left in me to be able to fight those currents if we ended up in that situation. Thankfully, Jenny was again amazing, I was to swim as hard as I could and she got us across. I panicked on one of them as we got 3/4 across and then felt like we weren’t moving anywhere, the current was really strong and I could feel myself tiring. Not only that there were waves going in the opposite direction too, I just felt hopeless but Jen reassured me again and we made it.

Running in to the finish of this race was simply the happiest, proudest moment I have ever had at the end of an event. I was shocked and in disbelief that we had made it, elated to cross the line, excited for a beer and absolutely exhausted. Never have I felt like I had battled with the elements for so long but I guess that is the nature of swim run. As the one of the directors of the event gave me a hug (everyone that crosses the line gets one and it is very much needed after a day like that!!) Jenny revealed to him that this had been my first ever swim run event and that I had never swam in the sea or swam more than a mile before. He just looked at me, he probably thought I was totally mental, but he smiled and congratulated me.

We flipping did it!

I have to thank Jenny for inviting me along, although I think I was traumatized from the swimming, that is starting to fade and I feel so grateful for being invited to be apart of it. It has been the biggest achievement ever for me as I had to face so many fears and I simply couldn’t have done it with out the support from Jenny. What an absolute legend, she spotted and took the brunt of all the swims, provided reassurance and installed confidence in me when I was struggling, it really was an epic adventure. I am constantly amazed at the power of our minds and what we can achieve with a bit of grit and determination.

Out of the 143 teams that started the race, only 120 finished and we came in 95th and the 15th female team!

 

 

 

 

An English fell runners trip to the Alps! 

Chamonix….what a place!

John and I decided to take a trip to the Alps this year with the ultimate goal of trying to get up Mont Blanc. We knew it was going to be a big ask as we had two weeks to acclimatize and then hope for a weather window to get up there. We were up for the challenge!

I’ve been up at altitude in the past completing the Annapurna circuit but I had suffered a little. Looking back we probably ascended a little too quickly the day before summit day so I was quite apprehensive about this trip. Equally, I have never worn crampons before, used ices axes and the more I read the more I started to panic about crevasses, crevasse rescue and self arrest with ice axes!! Needless to say,  John spent the weeks before going through as much as he could with me, we spent weekends in his back garden practicing how I’d get him out a crevasse (worst case scenario!) and how I would try and save myself. With the practice along with homework in the form of watching the BMC Alpine Essentials DVD, I started to feel slightly better. What made me slightly concerned was that I had come to the decision that if someone was going to fall down a crevasse I just hoped it would be me!!

Top tips for newbies to Mountaineering:

1. Practice self arrest with ice axes….BMC have some fab videos

2. Crevasse rescue….practice, practice and more practice

3. Rope work….

4. Practice wearing crampons where possible…..walking and particularly climbing on rock….a favourite of mine!!!!

We drove to Chamonix and on arrival we got straight in to it. Day one, we would climb Cosmiques ridge! John pointed up to the climb from the valley…my response ‘really? My first climb?’. I’m pretty open to new challenges, the full extent of this challenge however I massively underestimated!

Apprehension doesn’t quite cover the way I felt waiting at the bottom of the Aiguille du Midi cable car station. The altitude, the height, the crampons/axes, crevasses, the climbing….I was just about holding it together and keeping the nerves under wraps.

Aiguille du Midi = Needle of the Midday

In to the lift and up we went to 3,842m. On arrival to the top station I decided to nip to the loo before we started and jogged over. I instantly had to slow down as the altitude suddenly hit me. I had temporarily forgotten how high I had just come and I think many of the tourists up there on day trips also forget as you see them all lying down with their feet in the air! Then, the crampons went on and on to the midi arête. ‘Oh dear god that’s steep!’ I steadily went down the arête with John behind me…..one step at a time.

‘Crampon advice: high, purposeful steps with your legs slightly further apart than normal!’ advice from John Mason!

The relief to get to the bottom of the arête was something else….I’m not sure I took a breath coming down. What I didn’t know until much later was that John was equally as petrified….if I went, its was John’s job to stop me…..I’m just so glad I didn’t know this before!!!

To get to the bottom of Cosmiques ridge you take a steady plod through the mountain range and I thoroughly enjoyed this bit. The scenery was something else….simply breathtaking. You get a little gentle reminder though of the enormity and power of the mountains as every now and then a rock falls some where and all you can hear is it bellowing down the side of the mountain!

Cosmiques ridge is a classic climb with relatively low difficulty, something I had initially felt achievable for me until I saw it and got up there! My nerves were slightly heightened as a few days earlier a couple had slipped and fallen off….there were constant reminders of the dangers of the mountains, something I think is really important to always keep in the back of your mind.

If you become complacent in the mountains….it’s then time to be worried!

It was a steady day and I was doing ok except for the bits on rock. Trying to climb in crampons on rocks is not something I have found to enjoy. I felt like Bambi on ice and not trusting my feet was driving me crazy and intensifying the fear I already had. Keeping a level head was hard! We did well and John was really encouraging all the time, he has the patience of a saint!

Steadily making my way up the ridge….stunning scenery!

We got to the crux and over that with little difficulty but then for whatever reason my nerves started to surface and I started to lose my composure….it had been a long day facing a lot of fears so whether I was starting to fatigue I don’t know. I ended up banging my head (I had a helmet on so all was ok) but this was all that was required to push me over the edge and I had a moment, stood there on this exposed ledge looking out in to the Valley.

There isn’t much to be said, what can you do as you have to keep going, I certainly couldn’t stay there forever so I basically had to get a grip and get myself together again. I’m proud of myself as this is exactly what I did and completed the climb in good time with no further melt downs. I think John was secretly relieved too!

I don’t think I have ever had such a sense of achievement. Cosmiques ridge pushed me way over and above my comfort level and challenged me in every way possible. It is an epic climb and I totally see why it’s a classic. And the altitude….no problem…I definitely hadn’t needed to worry!

I keep being told these experiences make you a stronger person…..I’m starting to see why!

After Cosmiques we then decided to go for an easier day but to still head high to keep working at altitude.

We went rock climbing on L’index and climbed the South East Ridge. It was a beautiful day and I was feeling marginally confident for the first time ever I think. I guess your perception of fear changes as you challenge yourself more and more and this holiday, with the way we did everything, certainly did this. After Cosmiques this felt, dare I say, almost easy and it was a great idea to come back to something more familiar before heading back out on the snow again.

Top tip: gradual exposure to the mountains really helps with confidence and understanding of alpinism for beginners. Having these ‘less epic’ days allows your nerves and fears to be more manageable.

Next on the agenda was the Petite Aiguille Verte. Same grade of climb as Cosmiques but with supposedly slightly a less ‘out there’ element! I needed to get back out there to face my fears again and after L’index I was feeling ready to have another go. The Petite Verte stands at 3,512m therefore allowed us to continue to work on our acclimatization.


On arriving at the base of the Petite Verte I was feeling slightly more confident. Yes it was still high and all the risky elements still featured but, as I knew what to expect now it just didn’t seem as daunting. We got our kit on and started the climb up. The first section just involved switch backs of steady plodding up until we reached a bergstraunde. It was at this point John set up a belay (first proper use of an ice screw!) and I completed my first proper ice climb. It wasn’t steep but for me it was steep enough to allow me to get used to using the crampons and ice axes. I actually quite enjoyed this bit, woke my triceps up that’s for sure!!

At the top of the climb it then went on to more mixed rock and ice to the top…great!! Unfortunately it felt like the world had decided to go up that day too and I was getting immensely frustrated with French guides insisting they stand on me or climb over me. Less than ideal when your trying to manage your fear and then it feels like some French guide is going to push you off the edge!!

Apparently this is common in the Alps!

Top tip: Watch out for those pesky French guides and don’t be surprised if they decide to climb on top/over you!!!

Over all my experience on the Petite Verte was a far more enjoyable one but given the grade was the same as the Cosmiques it could be that I now knew what to expect. It was a steady day and although I still had to try and climb on rock with crampons I felt marginally more confident. Johns plan was working.

We then had another easier day doing something I was more familiar with and went cragging. We went sport climbing at the Brévent Crags.  However we didn’t get a huge amount done as the weather came in and we had to get down. It was interesting up there as there was still a significant amount of snow on the ground….so much so that the first bolt for the climb was at your feet!! Although we didn’t get a huge amount of climbing in it was a fun day. Just to note in case you consider going,  we did find the routes slightly tricky to work out but that might have been because the snow came so high up.

The weather is Chamonix decided to go slightly downhill at this point limiting what we could do. We decided therefore to take a trip to Italy, after all, we didn’t have a huge amount of time to get everything done we wanted too and the weather in Italy looked much better. The Mont Blanc tunnel was somewhat frustrating though taking us 3 hours to get through. It was however definitely worth the trip.

Top tip: The weather can be better towards the Grand Paradiso National Park when the weather in Chamonix looks a bit iffy.

Driving through the Grand Paradiso National Park we came across this tiny local restaurant. As it had taken us so long to get through the Mont Blanc tunnel we stopped for some food in Degioz on route to Pont. Wow, the lasagna from this place was something else, the restaurant was called Ris’Orante Pannoteca. It was about 40 minutes before we reached the car park in Pont to start the climb.

We arrived at the car park around 3pm and at the time I was a little annoyed we had arrived so late but in hindsight this was quite a good time to start the 3 mile walk up to the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele hut.


Doing that walk in mid day sun would have been horrendous, it was bad enough at that time. We arrived around 5ish which meant we had time to get settled in our room and head off to recce the start of the walk the following day. This was something I’d definitely recommend as it would be dark starting the walk so it was good to know what to expect as the first part is across a massive boulder field. There are little cairns to follow which John initially totally missed and came across loads of massive spiders so if you have a fear of spiders, stick to the cairns! We then headed back for our evening meal which was provided by the hut and considering where we were the food was amazing and there was so much of it I could barely finish my dessert! Early to bed after dinner ready for the 3.30am start!

My alarm went off and we went and joined the hustle and bustle for breakfast, everyone looking a little dazed given the time but excitement was in the air for a day out in the mountains. John and I got going pretty quickly to miss any chance of being in a group and set quite a speedy pace for the day. The first part of the walk I barely remember as I think I was still half asleep but then we hit the snow and the crampons went on and we really stated to gain some height. It was at the point the sun started to rise across the mountains and this is probably up there as a highlight of the trip, it was simply breath taking and made that early get up totally worth it.


From then on in it was a steady plod with lots of switch backs steadily climbing higher and higher. The views were amazing and there was actually quite an obvious trod up the mountain, I absolutely loved this climb! John was in front of me for the majority of this and on the final climb up to the the base of the rocky section of Grand Paradiso it got significantly steeper. John made me laugh as I had my head down plodding up and all of a sudden I was greeted by 3 jelly babies looking up at me in the snow ha ha!

John was leaving me a trail of jelly babies to help keep up my energy…..it didn’t half make me laugh!

We then hit a small section of rock to climb up to get to the summit to be greeted by a statue of Madonna, I was thankful John and I are relatively fit as we got up there quite quickly and missed the crowds which meant no one trying to climb over me and we got to appreciate how awesome the views were up there.

The descent as always was pretty rapid arriving back at the hut just before mid day. We celebrated our efforts with a beer and some awesome apple strudel before then continuing down the rest of the mountain to get back to the van.


This bit was pretty tedious to be honest, I certainly hadn’t remembered how many switch backs we had gone up on the way up!

All in all Grand Paradiso is up there as a favourite achievement of mine out of everything I have done, I just enjoyed every minute of it, it is a must for anyone.

On arriving back in Chamonix that evening we started to make a plan as next on the agenda would be Mont blanc….I was super excited. However, we slowly started to realise that it possibly wasn’t going to happen. The weather was due to close in again and if we were going to make the attempt it meant no rest day and a summit day from the lower hut, the Tete Rouse Hut as we couldn’t reserve a space in the higher hut, the Gouter Hut. It meant an epic summit day with the risk of the weather changing and no rest day. As much as it frustrated me we definitely made the right decision as the  warnings about the weather weren’t wrong and it came in quicker than I think anyone had expected. After all, Mont Blanc will be there again and it just means we have to go back.

Top tip: Book the Gouter Hut well in advance to your trip!

So we had a rest day and planned to go rock climbing the following day up Papillon Ridge.

The day started early as we decided to go para gliding off the Brevent back into Chamonix.

When we finished paragliding we then went to get the lift up to the half way station on the Midi where we were to start the climb, only to find that we then had a two hour wait to get up there with the lift as there was so many tourists. It meant that we didn’t get to start the climb until about mid day.

It was an easy climb but the exposure was pretty out there. We were having a lovely day although we got stuck behind some other climbers and the woman was having a bit of a nightmare. We asked nicely if we could pass them but she started to freak out a little so we thought it best to just wait, after all the weather was good and we didn’t have any major plans to get back for. However, it started to get a bit ridiculous and we realised time was ticking on and actually, we did have something to get down for…the last lift down in to the valley. So we took the decision and speed climbed straight past them much to her horror. Her partner was pretty relaxed and we explained to him that it was getting quite late.

We powered on then and we were making great progress until we got to part of the climb called the ‘letter box’. It was at this point I looked up to see this dark, thundery cloud moving towards us at quite a fast rate. Then all of a sudden the biggest rain drops ever started to come down and all of a sudden our lovely day in the mountains started to become quite scary. This weather front wasn’t due for at least another couple of hours and as a result we had climbed straight past what the guide book described as a ‘possible’ evacuation point. John wasn’t keen to use this anyway as the word ‘possible’ hadn’t filled him with much confidence. However it was no use, we needed to get down and quick so we down climbed back to this ‘possible’ evacuation point which involved about 6 of the quickest abseils I have ever done. I don’t think I have ever been so scared but I did everything that was asked of me and we got to the bottom of the abseils and onto a boulder field to then see the last lift coming down with the staff on that work in the lift station.

We had missed the last official lift down by an hour. It was raining hard by this point so we both just ran as fast as we could to the station hoping they would let us on otherwise, we had a very long walk back down in the valley in less than ideal weather. The storm had really come in by this point. John got there before me and a lady refused us on, I arrived and pleaded too and eventually a bearded angel took pity on us and let us on. He has obviously been in that situation before and I could of kissed him!

The storm that came was the biggest I had seen and I was happy watching it in the safety of a pub with a beer in hand to settle my nerves!! That storm came from no where and it came quickly and I think we weren’t the only ones to get caught up in it that day. It was another reminder to always be prepared for anything and that things change quickly in the mountains!

This trip was epic and I loved every bit of it. I am keen to get back out there and learn more as I feel I have barely scraped the surface on the possibilities and adventures out there.

Not making a definite plan for this trip really worked so we could work round the weather. We just had an idea in our heads of the kind of height gain we needed to achieve at certain times to  make sure we were acclimatizing ready for Mont Blanc. The one thing that would of been of benefit looking back was booking the Gouter hut as you can book and then all you need to do is confirm 3 days before you go to guarantee you have a spot. That being said, with the storm that came I’m glad we hadn’t gone for it that day, I guess they say things happen for a reason! Mixing the rock days with mountain days really helped ease me in to the mountains and I would highly recommend this for anyone thinking of going out there who hasn’t done much high altitude, alpine type walking and climbing.

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2016

2nd-3rd July 2016

This was the first navigational event me and John did together a year ago and we absolutely loved it. We made some crucial mistakes last year….lack of concentration resulting ending up on top of the wrong fell resulting in a 6 mile detour and ‘dibbing’ the wrong checkpoint right at the end resulting in a disqualification!! Some hard lessons were learnt and when entries opened for this years event we were both keen to give it another go!

That sinking feeling when you emerge from the Clag and find yourself on top of the wrong fell – Hard lessons learnt!!!

Returning back from injury meant I was a little apprehensive about my fitness plus John has been training hard recently ready for the Lakes Sky race and I was worried I’d struggle to keep up.

We made a team decision to just go and have fun and see how we got on.

The week before involved the usual faff. Two day events always seem to require so much more deliberation when packing….at the end  of the day, what ever you take you have to carry for two days. Weight means everything….particularly with John who gets the scales out and starts weighing everything! This year we bought our own tent as we have always borrowed one before. We went for the Terra Nova ultra 1…..it was a cosy night on the Saturday night but we were warm and more importantly dry. I never sleep well in tents anyway so it did its job and more. Its a pretty epic tent.

We arrived in to Pooley bridge the Friday night to get registered and park the van up for the weekend. We over indulged in fish and chips and some cake….after all, fuel was going to be needed over the next few days! John was slightly disappointed in the lack of close pubs near by but I think the cake helped :-).

Our start time for Saturday was 9:11. Not too early so gave us plenty of time to get ready although we still had to do a little jog to the start line. Miss your allocated start time and you go to the back!

You cross the start line at your allocated time and it is then that you are handed with a list of coordinates and descriptions of the check points you have to find. We sat down and jotted them down on our maps individually so we can compare to prevent errors and start planning our route….one check point at a time. This proved vital on day 2 when John realised he had missed a checkpoint!!!


The forecast for the weekend had everything….heavy rain, showers, wind, lightening, dry spells and the mountain weather forecast actually said it would be difficult conditions to walk in!! Sunday was due to be dryer but looked like a fun day in the lakes was to be had on the Saturday! The weather didn’t fail us, it progressively worsened over the course of the morning on the Saturday and I finally succumbed to waterproof trousers towards the end of the morning as my legs were just freezing! We had bought new innovate ultra light weight waterproofs and they were perfect. Light and instantly I felt warmer. My only frustration with them was as I got more and more soaked they started to fall down which became annoying and further more dangerous as when running down hill I was at risk of catching my shoe on them and tripping! Nothing will beat the weather for the Helvellyn ultra back in December though so I was relatively un deterred by it!

 

 

A tad wet…thankfully instantly warmer and dryer with the Innovate Ultra light waterproofs!


Saturday was an epic day, navigationally we were on it. I think we were both so focused on not making the same mistakes again we checked and double checked our routes just to make sure! Mentally however, I really struggled. I’m not sure whether it was because I hadn’t done any training or because I was worried about my knee but I reckon it took me about 10 miles to really settle in and feel like I could run. Up until that point I had found it really tough going.

We arrived at the over night camp in a pleasing and shocking 9th position and we had a much appreciated break in the weather. Some one was looking out for us! It gave us the opportunity to get the tent up and get changed in relatively dry conditions. It stayed on and off for the rest of the day and over night I seem to remember it pouring down.

During Saturday, we both fell asleep for an hour or so and when we woke there was a lot of commotion outside. We discovered that a team had taken a fall and mountain rescue had been called. Due to the camp being in a Valley it all happened in front of us, it looked like they had fallen down a gully. Mountain Rescue came and did what they do best and got both members to safety/hospital and we were informed the following day a lady had broken her arm. Luckily nothing too serious but it does highlight the dangers that you can be faced with in the hills and what an awesome job mountain rescue do! They have a just giving page if you would like to support them:

Patterdale Mountain Rescue

The start of day 2 involved 2 miles of climbing…..what a way to start on tired legs. I was feeling remarkably strong going up though and I was really enjoying myself, a total contrast to day 1. It was almost like I needed day 1 just to get me going. As a result we totally missed our first check point but thankfully realised in good time and only had a minor detour to make. A little reminder to not get carried away! We were flying on Sunday, John had resorted to descending the fells on his bum as his fell shoes were like road shoes as all the treads had worn away or torn off!! We were ticking off the check points which were slightly trickier I felt to find on day 2 and before we knew it we were on to the last check point and sprinting in to the finish. What a feeling!


John really pushed me as speed is something I’ve lost since my injury but I managed to keep up and we stayed together to cross the line. We also maintained our 9th position out of the 71 pairs that ultimately finished!

Sprint finish!

My feet were swollen and blistered, I think they had got soft since my injury and because they got so so wet on the Saturday! My muscles were tired and tight but you know what? it was the best feeling ever. We had made it through both days, I had had no knee pain what so ever and to top it off we came in top 10! Pretty pleasing for no training!

 

We celebrated with a beer and some food and now…..now I think I’m ready to start training again and look for the next challenge :-).

Mizuno : Endure 24

11th/12th June 2016

A 24 hour running event has always been on my agenda to do at some point so when my brother Chris, asked me if I would like to take part in Endure 24 a year ago I jumped at the chance!

Endure 24 is a 24 hour running event starting mid day Saturday and finishing mid day Sunday. You can complete it in a team or as a solo runner and the aim is to basically complete as many 5 mile loops with in the 24 hours as you can..simple.

Now, the last half year has been some what challenging with me sustaining a knee injury at the beginning of March and therefore very little running has been done, so I made a point of letting Chris know asap. ‘Not a problem’ he said ‘just do what you can!’ Now, had we had the planned 5-6 people in the team, that would have been ok however, there were the inevitable drop outs resulting in us being in two teams of 4. Maths has never been a strong point of mine but I soon realised as I was travelling down on the train….2 laps was simply not going to be enough!

24 hours of running? why not!

I was in a team with some of my brothers colleagues, Sarah who has just completed the London marathon, Tim who was just one of those people…energetic, keen and naturally very good runner. He was suffering with a few niggles too but that didn’t put him off. Finally Makoto….furthest he had ever ran was 6 miles and when he asked if he should run in football boots…I soon realised this was going to be a interesting 24 hours.

I arrived the Friday night and we all went to the pub for dinner and discussed tactics…I may have had a sneaky pale ale too :-)….it was after all a trail event and if experience has taught me nothing else, this is an integral part to pre race preparation!

Glastonbury for Runners!

Accommodation was camping. Actually the organisers of the event had done a good job, relatively nice toilets and even showers despite being in the middle of a field! A few more toilets wouldn’t have gone a miss though and the organisers have sent out apologies for those in that particular field. Apparently the event was much bigger this year.

I can’t say I slept particularly well but I rarely do camping despite being in a fabulously big tent and having a nice down mattress. So I was up early and keen to get going. We planned the order we would run in and wrote down some rough times we thought we might complete each lap in to try and help at night with the swap overs, I then had the usual faff about what to eat, when to eat, what to drink, when to sleep etc…

This event was not just a running event. It brought with it for me numerous conundrums in terms of food and drink, I just didn’t know what to have and knowing that the break between laps would only be a couple of hours it was important to get something energy dense in that was easily digestible. Initially I stuck to my usual race diet however as time went on I found I just wanted to eat some ‘normal food’. Thankfully, Tim who was on my brothers team had made some spicy tomato based quorn  and cous cous….it was just what I needed, it tasted amazing!

I was second to run in our team and as the first runners set off I got that feeling in the depth of my stomach, excitement and nerves all rolled in to one. There was an element of anxiety too as I had no idea how my knee would hold up. Normally I hate those feeling that knot up my stomach but its been so long since I have had them it just made me even more excited.

The first runners were off with this guy sprinting to beat the tank, it really did feel like the start of something epic, the atmosphere was just electric with people cheering and whooping. I was so excited!

My turn was coming up so I got myself in position in the transition pen ready to get the yellow band off Tim. The yellow band gets passed between team members to who ever is out on the course. The pen was chaos initially but as time went on it did get quieter and easier to see who was running in. People were cheering and as a runner came in runners would ask who they were looking for and then all start chanting the name…I found this quite funny as the persons name got echoed around the pen until someone suddenly realised it was their turn to run.

I set off and I felt like I was on cloud nine. The buzz of the day had really got to me and I set off at a pace that I hadn’t ran at for some time. After a few miles I realised I had no pain, this was just amazing! My legs felt free at last as they stretched out and kicked up the mud and dust of the trail. My heart beat getting heavier as I pushed on up the hills. It just felt so good to be running. I flew in to the finish of that lap 23 minutes quicker than I had planned…..

YES!!!!! Photo courtesy of epic imagery.

I was feeling pretty good but I knew I would pay for running that quickly on the first lap….after all I still had another 22 hours to go! In between each lap it was a constant battle to get back to camp, get some food and water in and get some stretching done. The worst thing would be to come back and sit down as you inevitably started to tighten up, but as the night drew on this became more and more tempting as you were starting to become more and more tired. The day was also really humid and I was paranoid about getting cramp so I was constantly trying to get extra electrolytes in.

On my second lap I managed to pace it a bit better although I was still 15 minutes off my targeted pace. It was after the second lap I started to feel some twinges in my knee. Its a difficult one as I knew I would feel something at some point, after all it had been a nasty injury and I had been out of action for 3 months. So decided they were just twinges and took some ibuprofen to help. This is probably the one thing I would tell any body NOT to do as all it does is mask the injury. However, I thought i’m running in stints of 5 miles so it should be ok. I missed the next lap of mine too to give my knee a longer rest and Tim did a double (2 laps!). Tim came back looking a little broken and made the error of sitting down which provided everyone with the entertainment of watching him try and get up to go and use the foam roller.

 

By the time it came round for me to run again it was after 8pm. Rules stated that everyone had to be wearing a head torch after 8. I felt a little stupid as it was still sunny however rules are rules. I was feeling really good again and decided I would run a double. There was more chance of getting some sleep if we all did a double. I just asked Tim to come and check on me after my first lap in case the knee had flared up again. 1 lap down and I was running really well, pain free so off I went for round two. By this time it had started to get a little dark and this was when the fun really started. There were fairy lights, neon glow sticks and to top it off as I ran through the forest there were two fairies wishing everyone luck and sprinkling fairy dust everywhere. I absolutely loved it although there was a little part of me that wondered if I was hallucinating!!

 

Two fairies and the Crazy Hippie Dude!

The Vdub bar was positioned at the bottom of the biggest hill on the course providing shots of electrolytes. I’d like to say as a fell runner this at first wasn’t much of a hill but give it 20 hours later and it suddenly feels like its vertical! The Vdub bar was playing some classic tunes throughout the whole event and really gave you that little bit of motivation before hitting the hill. Come night time it was glowing and blasting out the tunes with this guy dressed as a hippie dancing and cheering you on. It was awesome. On my last lap round he was playing ‘Lets go round again’ which made me chuckle.

As a team we made the decision to have a couple of hours off over night to try and get some sleep. 4 in our team just wasn’t enough especially when carrying someone with an injury, even then I still managed to get round 6 times. I think I managed to get about 3 hours of sleep before we were up and off again. During this time Makaoto, the legend, managed to run a double. For someone who has never ran more than 6 miles before he managed to run 35miles in total! As did Tim with myself and Sarah managing 30 miles each.

I hadn’t planned on running again but decided to go out and run another lap with Debs from my brothers team. As we came in to the finish we held back as we were supposed to be meeting everyone from the two teams to run over the finish line together, however…they were no where to be seen. We had clearly ran to quickly so had to leave the course, find everyone,re join the course and then we were off again to the finish but all together as a team. Video by Makoto!

 

It was an absolutely awesome event, we didn’t break any records but I was just so happy to be apart of it coming back from injury. I am definitely keen to do it again next year and hopefully be a bit fitter than this year. There was so much team spirit and laughter that I almost forgot it was a running event. It pushes you to run further than you would probably normally ever run as you think ‘oh I can run 5 miles….why not do another!’ You almost forget you have already ran 20+ miles already.

I was truly amazed and had the uttermost respect for those running solo, that really must be some mental challenge and the guy that broke the record…what a guy, he ran 27 laps…135 miles….and when I saw him he was looking good, he most definitely didn’t look like he had just ran 135 miles! Totally inspired!

Marathon Playlist

This Playlist has been kindly sent to me from Nicky Mason, my boyfriends brother. He was asked to put something together for his friends who were about to embark on their first ever marathon! Personally, I think its awesome.

 

Feedback from the runner who ran a 4 hour and 2 minute marathon, an amazing achievement for a first attempt:

‘There was a definite high point in the first half (of the run) when The Village People came on!’

‘(I) was very distressed when it abruptly came to a halt at about mile 19, just when I started to need it!’

Perhaps if you are going to use this playlist it may need tailoring to how long you think the marathon may take you, I guess this is difficult when you haven’t ran one before.

‘Low point of the playlist was the unbelievably long instrumental in Bonnie Tyler’s Holding out for a Hero…’

If anyone else has any playlists they would like to share to help others get motivated when running, send them to me via the blog and I can get them on here. Nothing like a good tune to get you going :).

The featured image is of a band I love to see live called Vintage Trouble. If I had an ounce of their energy I would be on fire ha ha!

 

 

 

 

The Marathon – The First Time…

Running a marathon is a daunting affair and I am always intrigued as to what initially draws people to it and, whether like me, they get hooked.

My first marathon was Manchester back in 2012 and it was an ‘interesting’ experience. I never wanted to run a marathon but was coaxed in to by my brother. It was the first time the marathon was being run in Manchester after 10 years and having grown up there it seemed like the one to do if I was going to one. Training was…well totally unplanned, I didn’t really know what I was doing and as a result I picked up an injury very early on. I was a keen hockey player at the time and this was my priority. I used to run nearly every day and on top of that then try and fit in hockey training and matches. I remember one Tuesday night going out for a 10 mile run and then heading to hockey training for 2 hours…no wonder I got an injury!

Not got a clue!

The day itself was miserable. I know Manchester is renowned for its rain but this was something else. We decided in our naivety to wear bin bags to start the race in to try and keep us dry. This probably would have worked had we taken them off straight away but we didn’t, we kept them on for at least 3 miles meaning we probably sweated more than ever and as a result we became very dehydrated, very early on. We both however did make it to the end somehow.


I remember being handed a banana at the end and almost crying as I so desperately wanted to eat it but I had fat, swollen,  numb hands because I was so wet and cold! On top of this we crossed the line to a field of mayhem.

 

 

It was like a war scene from a movie!

The bag drop had been abandoned as something had happened earlier on and we were presented with a scene like something from a movie…bags scattered everywhere, people knelt down crying as they couldn’t find their bags…it was just chaos. All we wanted to do was find my bag so I could get my car key, and get out of there to go get warm. Thankfully this didn’t take too long but the end was less than ideal. Things have changed some what since then, I guess that race provided a learning experience for everyone involved and not just for the runners!

Its a long learning curve running a marathon and one which is never ending, there is always something new to learn. I feel now relatively experienced in what works for me and most importantly what doesn’t but every race I do offers more insight. Experience is invaluable, both your own, and from learning from others experiences too.

I thought it would be lovely to get some first hand experiences from people who have recently under taken the Manchester marathon as their first marathon. I wanted to find out about their experiences, how they trained, what they learnt and therefore what their advice would be for others out there contemplating it.

I hope you find this as inspiring as I have…..I swore I would never run a road marathon again….

 

Teddy Middlebrook

Manchester Marathon 2016 – Time 04:02:31 – Awesome time!


1. Why did you enter?

A group from work decided to enter the Greater Manchester Marathon to raise money for charity. They knew I was sporty so signed me up (much to my surprise!).

2. What was your previous level and experience of running?

Zero – I did a 10k Race for Life once… but I play hockey and cycle regularly so I am reasonably fit.

3. a) How did you put together a training plan if you had one? If you didn’t what did you do?

I used the training plan available from Asics who sponsored the Greater Manchester Marathon. You put in some details about yourself and your running ability and it suggests a plan. I then had to tweak it a bit so that it fitted in with my schedule and other sports. It basically had two shorter runs in the week and one longer run at the weekend.

b) How long did you give yourself to train for the marathon?

I went on a few ‘unofficial’ jogs and then started the training plan 16 weeks before the marathon.

4. a) What did you find the hardest about training?

Willing myself to go for runs after a long day at work was pretty hard but the hardest thing was getting injured, I tore my hamstring playing hockey 5-6 weeks before the marathon.

b) How did you deal with this?

I had physio on the injury which really helped, had nearly two weeks off and then started to build my miles back up again. It was tough and felt a bit like starting from the beginning when I was already 10 weeks in… It meant that the longest run I’d done before the marathon was 16 miles (the race itself came as a bit of a shock!)

5. Can you give me 5 top tips you would give someone reading this thinking of signing up to a marathon?

  1. Get yourself to a reasonable level of fitness first. You need to be comfortable jogging 5 miles before you even think about signing up!
  2. Find a BEGINNER training plan and tweak it if you have to so that the runs fit in with your weekly schedule
  3. Stick to it! And if you have a bit of a mare and don’t do one or two of the runs don’t panic and just make sure you do the long run for that week
  4. Don’t run on an injury, get it sorted and rest! You’ll only be out for longer if you do
  5. Have enough to food and water before any training runs and take something sugary with you if you’re running for more thab an hour (jelly babies are great..)

On Marathon Day:

6. How did you prepare for the big day?

I finished my training with an 8 mile run the Sunday before the big day and then rested for a week. I cut out any alcohol that week and made sure that I ate lots (of good stuff).

7. How did you feel?

I was equally nervous and excited. The second half of the race was a complete unknown as I’d only got up to 16 miles in my training.

8. How did the actual run go?

The first 15 miles were great – the sun was shining, I was running at a good pace and my family were cheering in the crowds.

“I felt invincible!”

I started to slow a bit after that but it was still all good until about mile 20 when I started to go really slowly! I had a low point at mile 22 when I had to stop to stretch and realised I was too stiff to stretch without cramping something else! The last few miles were very very long, painful and slow!

9. What was your favourite bit of the run, if there was one! And what was your least favourite bit?

Favourite part was crossing the finish line – I had an amazing sense of achievement (and probably equal amounts of relief that I didn’t have to run any further!!). I was pretty dazed as I got given my medal!

Least favourite part? Somewhere between mile 22 and 23 when I realised that 3.5 miles is a long way to walk so I had to keep going (however slowly!).

10. For race day, is there any advice you would give to people new to the marathon?

  1. I wouldn’t recommend being late…
  2. Don’t set off too fast
  3. Do your own thing at your own pace and try not to get too competitive – 26 miles is a long way to chase somebody!
  4. Have plenty of water and sugary things (sweets, gels, Lucozade) so you don’t run out of energy mid-way
  5. SMILE and high five everyone in sight!

11. Finally, would you do it again? And if you did, what, if anything would you do differently?

I’m not sure. The first thing I said when I finished was I’m never doing that again! But now (just a few days later) I can’t really remember why! I’d probably follow my own advice next time…!!!

If you would like to support Teddy and her colleagues, please see the link: https://www.justgiving.com/SagacityMarathon

 

Joy Eccles

Manchester Marathon 2016 – Time 04:40:46 – Another cracking time!

1. Why did you enter?

I have completed a couple of half marathons half-heartedly with minimal training and kept talking the talk about completing a marathon.  My brother kept pushing and telling me to apply so I did! (It seems brothers have a lot to answer for!!) More importantly I lost my father to cancer last year so I did it to raise lots of money for the charity that prolonged his life. Another reason I entered was someone doubted me saying my life was that busy and chaotic I would not find enough time to train.  They also gave me the impression that I was not fit enough and I would injure my body!!  This fuelled my desire to do this and prove them wrong!

2. What was your previous level and experience of running?

I enjoyed running to keep fit.  Nothing consistent.  I ran every now and again, the maximum being 6 miles. I completed the Great North run in 2010 (Pre children) and Fleetwood Half in Aug 14.

3. a) How did you put together a training plan if you had one? If you didn’t what did you do?

I started my training on Jan 2016 and I followed a free training guide from the internet, Hal Higdon Marathon Novice 1.  I trained on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and I tried to swim or cycle on a Saturday.

b) How long did you give yourself to train for the marathon?

4 Months.

4.a) What did you find the hardest about training?

At 4 weeks in I decided I couldn’t do it and seriously doubted my ability. After a stern talk from my brother I got in the Zone.  After that I remained focused, I knew what I had to do and got on with it.

b) How did you deal with this?

I watched the Nike rise and shine video on u tube a lot to inspire me.

 

5. Can you give me 5 top tips you would give someone reading this thinking of signing up to a marathon?

  1. Apply no time like the present
  2. Give up alcohol (temporarily)
  3. Eat heathly
  4. Be strict and organised
  5. Never give up

On Marathon Day:

6. How did you prepare for the big day?

I got an early night and made sure I was well rested. I tried to relax as much as possible throughout the 24 hours before the run. I tried to be calm and organised.

7. How did you feel?

I felt very very nervous and sick, doubts kicked in!

8. How did the actual run go?

I feel very proud and pleased. I was a couch potato at New Year!  No one likes running after a bad day.  No one wants to go running when it is dark.  No one wants to go running when it’s rainy.  All individual effort.

I proved my doubters wrong!!

My aim was to do sub 5 hours which I did. I did try to do sub 4.5 but I hit the wall at 20 miles.  I managed to never stop running but looking at my splits I slowed down at 20 miles.  I was just so pleased I completed it.

9. What was your favourite bit of the run, if there was one! And what was your least favourite bit?

My favourite part was the starting line!  And then obviously crossing the finishing line and receiving my medal!  Seeing the finishing line in the distance was amazing.  The worst bit was at 20 miles when I hit the wall.

10. For race day, is there any advice you would give to people new to the marathon?

  1. Early night, rest the day before, be calm and be organised. Relaxing as much as possible the night before and in the morning is really important. 
  2. Watch the Nike rise and shine video several times in the morning
  3. Never quit
  4. When it gets tough dig deeper be ruthless with yourself inside your head
  5. Do not stop running
  6. Train hard, race easy! (ish) I stayed focused during the run. I didn’t really engage in conversation with others I just ran my own race.
  7. During training use gels to see what effects they have on your stomach. Don’t try new things on race day. 
  8. Pace yourself don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, race your own race and you’ll catch them.
  9. Just remember no matter how much you are hurting everyone behind you is hurting more and they are behind you so keep going

 

11. Finally, would you do it again? And if you did, what, if anything would you do differently?

When I finished I said never again but now I’m considering running the London Marathon next year if I can get in!  Since doing the marathon I’ve already got back in to it and I have done a couple of small runs.

Any other comments:

I have black toe nails!!!

 

If you would like to help Joy raise even more money for this awesome charity, go to:

https://www.justgiving.com/Joy-Eccles?utm_source=email&utm_medium=emails-from-eua&utm_content=shorturl&utm_campaign=eua-email-sponsorshiprequest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salomon S-Lab Speed Shoe

Previously I have written a kit review about some Salomon Fell Raises I purchased and had to have some new ones due to the soles of my first ones coming off after running the Hellvelyn Ultra. I was hoping I had just been unlucky needing some replacements but unfortunately following the Wadsworth Trog the same thing happened again. I don’t know if it was a faulty batch however I have lost all faith in the Fell Raisers now which is a real shame as from a comfort perspective they fitted like a glove. I decided therefore to change them to the new Salomon S lab Speed shoe.

I was in two  minds in the shop as to whether to go for the trusty Innovate X Talons which I had the previous year and loved so much or to try another pair of Salomons.

Decisions decisions…which shoe???

After various runs around the shop and running up and down the stairs in both I came to a bit of a standstill with my decision as I really did like them both a lot. There wasn’t much in it from a fit perspective, both fitted really well and felt comfortable enough and the grips on both were very similar, but what finally persuaded me to go with the S Lab is the feedback so far from others and the advice from the shop (Kongs Adventures). Feedback suggests that they last a bit longer than the X Talons and I do remember thinking my X Talons only lasted approximately 6 months before they started to fall apart, they offer good grip and are really comfortable. One important aspect too is that they are tested on the British fells which is where I do most of my running making me more confident in their ability to perform when I need them too!

‘Speed Shoe’ – Drawn in by the name…I have high expectations!!

So far they have been again really good, comfortable and they seem to have a much firmer base which makes me hopeful they will be great for pursuing a Bob Graham and the Lake District Sky Race  potentially later this year all being well with injuries and training. Admittingly I have been unable to test them on some longer routes due to injury therefore I will feedback when I can. It has been a frustrating time trying to get the right shoe that will last me as I need to break the shoes in ready for some ultra action!!

I would like to thank the staff at Kongs Adventures in Keswick where I purchased these shoes as they have been really helpful. I would recommend this shop to anyone wanting some good advice as they are very knowledgeable with lots of personal experience in their products.

Kilian Jornet wearing them at a recent talk at Theatre By the Lake in Keswick (link below) following the Salomon Advanced training week….this gives me great confidence in this shoe if he is wearing them!

Theatre By the Lake

If you have tried this shoe what are your thoughts?

 

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