Lockdown 3: Carry On Running!

Well, here we are again – back in lockdown with all events cancelled and no idea when they can start up again. Obviously in the grand scheme of things there’s far more important stuff to deal with just now (like an ongoing global pandemic!) but for those of us who love running and racing it’s a sad time in some ways. Thankfully we can still have our daily outdoor exercise though, and I get the impression that’s keeping many people sane at the moment. Since my training plan for the (postponed) Hardmoors 30 finished I’ve been trying to carry on running four days a week and do two strength sessions a week to keep me ticking over, but not doing any really long distances.

I was supposed to be doing the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra again at the end of February, but that has now understandably been postponed until the end of May. So I now have nothing in my diary until the Hardmoors 55 at the end of March. In my heart I know this probably won’t go ahead either, but I want to train for it anyway; there’s an outside chance it will happen, and a good block of training is never wasted. I ran the 55 last year (it was postponed from March to October) but the weather was so wet the course turned into a mudslide for about the last 20 miles and I’d love to have another go in better conditions. So I recently had a catch-up with Kim Cavill of Cavill Coaching and she’s created me another training plan for the next eight weeks to take me up to the event. The basic structure is the same as my previous Hardmoors 30 plan, but as the 55 is a much longer, harder event so there’s more mileage.

The major challenge I face during this cycle of training is that the 55 is a very hilly event and here in York we don’t really have any hills. Normally when training for an event like this I’d be heading out to the Cleveland Way or the Wolds Way for long, hilly Sunday runs, but with current restrictions in place I don’t feel that driving somewhere to run is the right thing to do. I know others think otherwise, but each to their own – I’ll be running from home until lockdown has ended. However, Kim has adapted my new plan to take account of this, with specific strength work and, from next week, a weekly session called tempo hills; this is to be done on pretty much the only decent hill I can run to from home and sounds a bit tough! But hopefully it will do the job.

View over the Three Sisters on the Hardmoors 55 route.

I’m optimistic that trail races will be able to run again soon in the socially distanced way they did for a while last year, although I can’t see mass participation road races happening for a good while yet. Our Yorkshire summer 10K road race league has just been cancelled for the second year running, which is a shame as they are such fun inter-club events. I have a solo place in Endure 24 in July, deferred from last year, but will have to wait and see whether that will go ahead. As I write this I’m waiting to find out whether I have a place in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc OCC race in France in August. I’ve entered the ballot for this twice unsuccessfully, so there’s a good chance, and if I get in that will determine my training schedule between now and then. In the meantime I’m just trying to stay positive and hoping to come out of all this madness a stronger runner.

Hope everyone is still managing to enjoy running despite these crazy times. At least there is now light at the end of the tunnel. Keep on keeping on folks!

Race Review – Hardmoors 55 Ultramarathon 2020

The Hardmoors 55 is billed on its website as ‘one hell of a race’, and that’s no exaggeration! Following the Cleveland Way for 55 miles from Guisborough to Helmsley, it has over 2,000 metres of ascent (including some pretty brutal hills) and takes in the highest, most exposed section of the North York Moors. Because of this, and because it’s usually in March, the weather always plays its part in the proceedings. In 2018 the race took place as the Beast from the East swept the country and was officially stopped halfway through during a blizzard. Last year featured torrential rain, freezing gale force winds and horizontal hail, and many runners dropped out – including me! The wind was so strong we couldn’t even run on some flat sections. Soaked to the skin and dithering with cold, I’d had enough after a horrible 20 miles that took me six hours. It was the first time I’d ever DNF’d in a race, and afterwards I felt really annoyed about it, even though I know it was the right decision at the time.

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Race Review – Hardmoors 60 2019

I was really excited in the run-up to the Hardmoors 60. I’d done several of the Hardmoors marathon series over the last couple of years, but had never completed one of the ultras. I did start the Hardmoors 55 in March, but DNF’d due to the horrendous weather conditions – you can read about that here. But the weather forecast for the 60 looked great (if a little too warm!) so it looked like it would be a grand day out. The Cleveland Way national trail in Yorkshire runs from Helmsley to Filey. In a nutshell, the Hardmoors 55 follows this along the North York Moors from Helmsley to Guisborough, then the 60 takes in the second ‘half’ from Guisborough to Filey, mostly along the coast and featuring around 3,500 metres of elevation. There’s also a Hardmoors 110 for anybody brave enough to do it all in one. These are all miles by the way, not kilometres!

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Back on the Blog!

I’ve been a bit slack on the blogging front this year because life has been really busy. Between work, training, doing up a house and studying sports massage therapy at college, there hasn’t been much time for writing. But I’m still here and still running! So here’s a bit of a catch-up post. I haven’t had time to blog about most of the races I’ve done this year (although some I have reviewed in the past), but if you have any questions about any of them, please feel free to shoot them over.

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Race Review – Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra 2019

Last September I spent my birthday at the Endurancelife North York Moors Ultra. It had lots of climbing, but was a great event and we were blessed with fine weather. I enjoyed it so much I decided to enter the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra the weekend before last. I’d been following a 20 week training plan for the Hardmoors 50, and this was the perfect distance at the perfect time to be my longest run before my taper for that.

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Race Review – Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones 2017

Wow. Race to the Stones. I’d been looking forward to this one for so long and it didn’t disappoint! This is quite a long post, but lots of people have asked me questions about RTTS because they’re thinking of entering, so I don’t want to leave anything out. I’ve been interested in RTTS ever since I became aware of it two years ago. It’s a 100K ultra that starts in Lewknor in Berkshire and follows the Ridgeway path, finishing at the ancient stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire. Some people do it in one day and some do it over two days, camping at the halfway point. Some run and some walk. I had no idea whether I could run 100K – if I could keep going for the amount of time that would take –  but I became a bit obssessed with it; the rolling hills, the Field of Dreams… it looked amazing! I took a charity place with Cancer Research UK, partly because it’s a great cause, but also because I thought I’d be more likely to keep going if people had sponsored me to do it. You can read about my training in previous posts. After all the months since I’d entered last December it was hard to believe the big day was finally happening!

Steve and I travelled down from Yorkshire the day before the event and stayed nearby at Stokenchurch, about five minutes’ drive from the start at Field Farm in Lewknor. There was a great chippy nearby, perfect for carb loading! I was too nervous/excited to sleep well and woke up at about 4am. I had a tin of rice pudding for breakfast and we headed to Lewknor at about 6.45. Participants were started in waves to ease congestion, and I was in the second one at 7.45. There were no queues at registration and hardly any at the portaloos. Unlike most ultras RTTS doesn’t have a mandatory kit list, so it’s up to you what you carry. The weather forecast was dry, but ominous grey clouds were looming, so I did take my rain jacket and hat. There was a great atmosphere at the start. I couldn’t quite believe I was actually about to attempt to run 62 miles, twice as far as I’d ever run before. I decided just to approach it as a big day out and take it one mile at a time. We set off on time in a blaze of coloured smoke!

The first couple of miles were pretty flat, which was a good warm up. But there are lots of hills! There were pit stops approximately every 10K on the course, and all were really well stocked with a wide variety of snacks and drinks. I’d only brought one emergency Clif Shotblok in my backpack and I didn’t even need that. There were High 5 gels and electrolyte or energy drinks at each stop too. When I arrived at each pit stop I had a cup of Coke and made a High 5 Zero drink to take with me, because it was a warm day and I wanted to minimise the chance of getting cramp. I had in mind Nicky Spinks‘ advice on ultra eating, which is to eat lots and start early, so at Pit Stop 1 I had half a banana and took a Perkier quinoa bar to eat on the move. I’d heard many tales of how it gets harder to eat as time goes on, so I made an effort. I had various snacks along the way, including Mini Cheddars and chocolate, but I found that crisps, Perkier bars and Jelly Babies worked best for me. My strategy was to eat something whenever I was walking uphill.

The weather forecast turned out to be wrong and it actually rained quite a bit in the first half. I put my hat on but not my jacket, as it was really warm. The route flattened out a bit as we ran alongside the Thames for a while and also went through a couple of villages. People say that in ultras you go through good phases and bad ones, and that both pass. I felt great in the first quarter of RTTS, but towards the end of the first half I started to feel a bit nauseous. I think it was because I’d taken a couple of High 5 gels and they didn’t agree with me. But I focussed on the beautiful scenery and was grateful that my legs and feet felt fine; and I knew that Steve was waiting for me at the halfway point and that give me a boost. Just before halfway I also saw Shona from Run Mummy Run, who was out supporting, and she gave me hug even though I must have been very smelly, which was lovely!

I arrived at halfway after six and a half hours and couldn’t imagine how I was going to cover that distance again, almost certainly taking even longer. I saw a huge inflatable gantry with Finish on it, thought “But I’m not finishing yet” and ran around it, then had to be directed back through it to cross the halfway timing mat! I took a break here of around ten minutes. You can actually have a proper hot meal at halfway, but I couldn’t face that and certainly didn’t want it jiggling around in my belly throughout the second half. To be honest I didn’t really want to eat anything. There was a huge table of cakes (one of the event sponsors is Ministry of Cake), which I would normally have been all over, but I just didn’t fancy any of them, even though there was carrot cake, my favourite! But Steve told me (quite rightly) that if I didn’t eat something I’d bonk and practically forced me to eat a slice of Victoria sponge, which I actually think did me a lot of good. I also changed my top and socks, which had become a bit damp with the rain. I set off feeling refreshed, more optimistic and no longer nauseous.

After the halfway stop I felt good for quite a long time. I’m not saying it was easy by any means, but it was less hard than I’d imagined for about 20 miles. At mile 36 my Garmin bleeped and I thought “Only a marathon to go now” and then laughed because that seemed so ridiculous! I mentioned it to another runner and we both wondered how, over the course of a few years, we’d both gone from doing a bit of jogging for weight loss to running 100K for ‘fun’. It is bizarre really. Anyway, it seemed to me that there were more short, steep hills in the first half and more gradual inclines and tough terrain in the second half. A lot of the Ridgeway consists of hard, stony path that’s very harsh on the feet and more likely to cause underfoot problems than softer trail. Gentler inclines may seem easier on the face of it, but whereas you’d walk a steep climb you’re more likely to run a gentle one, which becomes quite energy-sapping after a long time.

At around 52 miles I was finding it hard to eat again. I took a mouthful of a peanut butter sandwich at a pit stop, just to have a change from crisps, but found it so hard to chew and swallow I had to bin the rest. And I love peanut butter! The going seemed to get a lot tougher after this point. I kept telling myself “It’s only ten miles now, only nine miles now, single figures now!”, but it became more and more a case of run/walk. At times, even though I wasn’t going uphill, I just had to take little walk breaks. A friend of mine who’s an Ironman had advised me to try and enjoy the whole thing, even the tough bits, and I did my best. When I got to the final pit stop I looked at the food and felt that all I could manage was a biscuit. I sighed and set off to cover the last eight miles. I rang Steve to let him know I was on the last leg, as we’d arranged. He was having his dinner in a pub and I so wished I was with him! It was 8pm by now. I knew this was the time I had to dig really deep. I reached into my Camelbak and got out my CRUK wristband. I put it on to remind myself of why I was really doing this and thought about all the lovely family and friends who’d generously donated to my fund or had been affected by cancer. The last few miles were definitely for them. The hills continued mercilessly for about the next five miles. On the plus side, the scenery was quite spectacular at this point. At around 95K my Garmin died so I had no further idea of time or pace. I was in the Twilight Zone. And then I binned it! I’m not sure how, but I managed to trip on one of the stones poking up through the path. In a split second I thought to myself “If I go down on this rocky bit now, this could be it. It could all be over so close to the end. I’m not having that”! I’ve no idea how, but I managed to launch myself onto the grassy verge at the side of the path for a soft landing. My left calf cramped up as I did so, but at least I wasn’t injured. A couple of other lovely runners stopped to see if I was OK and luckily I was. A bit of a stretch and I was off again.

Those last three miles were so hard. At that point I really wanted it to be over. It’s actually mostly downhill near the end, but the irony is that the path is like a really rutted cart track so you can hardly find a good line to run down. At least it was still light at this point – I can imagine it would be even harder in the dark. I told myself “It’s only a Parkrun now” but when you’ve been on the go for over 12 hours it’s a big ask. I felt like I might be getting a blister but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it as the end was so close. Then you take a right turn and see the lights of the finishing area in the distance – yay! But, as a final cruel twist, when you run into Avebury village and through the stones, you haven’t actually finished – you have to run about another mile back the way you’ve just come, across a field and down another road to the end! I’d really had enough at that point. “Christ” said a man I was running near, “Nobody said it was Race to the Stones and back again”! I had to laugh, despite everything. I walked part of the field, but just managed to summon up my last bit of energy to trot down the road to the finish. It was a great welcome though; lots of people cheering, pumping music, and I could see Steve waiting as I approached. And suddenly it was all over! Someone hung a medal round my neck, someone else took a photo and the job was done. I was so happy just to stop moving forward.

 

The finish area was great. There was plenty of hot food and a place to sit. I still couldn’t really eat though. I took a sausage in a bun, but could only manage the sausage. I can’t believe I couldn’t even eat a doughnut! I went to get a printout of my results and my chip time was 13:36:21. I’d come 275th out of 961 overall, 48th woman and third in the V50 age category. That surprised me, as I’d felt pretty slow most of the time! I felt a bit dazed to be honest. It was dark by the time we left and we could see a procession of head torches up on the hill. It was only as I lay in the bath a bit later that it began to sink in that I’d covered 62 miles on my own two feet. It hurt (and it would hurt even more the next day!), but it was worth it – and, even better, donations were still coming in. I was a very tired but happy bunny.

So, would I do it again? Probably not, but only because it’s so far from Yorkshire. However, I would definitely recommend RTTS, especially as a first 100K, because it’s so well supported. Organisation and logistics are great. There are shuttles between the start and finish, and the halfway camp looked like a lovely spot to chill for the evening. Also, everyone is really friendly and helpful. At the last pit stop somebody even took my water bottle and filled it for me. I got the impression the people there were having a good look at everyone to make sure they were OK. I was asked at several pit stops how I felt. Everyone was fantastic. Although I did think playing Jump Around by House of Pain at one pit stop was taking the Mickey a bit! The countryside is fantastic, with amazing views throughout and the free photos that upload automatically to Facebook are a real bonus. If you’re wondering whether or not to do it, I’d say go for it. It’s amazing what you can pull out of the bag when you have to! Below is a geeky bit about kit etc for anyone who’s interested. If you have any questions about RTTS please feel free to give me a shout.

If anyone would like to donate to my CRUK Just Giving page it’s still here. Every little helps! 🙂

 

The Kit Bit

Shoes:  Inov8 Trail Talons. Cannot praise these highly enough. They are specially designed for hard trails and performed really well. They were recommended for me by Stuart at Accelerate in Sheffield, to whom I am very grateful. I did have one small blister on my right big toe, but that’s all. Toenails all present and correct as I type!

Socks:  Inov8 All Terrain. It was well worth changing them at half time.

Shorts:  Ronhill Aspiration Twin Shorts. So comfy! No chafing at all despite much sweating!

Tops:  Ronhill and Saucony sleeveless tops. I’ve had them so long I can’t remember what they’re called!

Bra:  Moving Comfort. I put a bit of K tape under my front strap as a precaution.

Backpack:  Camelbak Marathoner. I took out the bladder and put stuff in the space. It’s amazing how much you can get in there if you pack it carefully, and not a hint of chafing over the whole day. For drink I used my Camelbak soft bottle in my front pocket.

Waterproof:  Inov8 Race Ultra Shell. This is the most expensive but least used item of clothing I own apart from my wedding dress!

Head torch:  Petzl. Steve had bought this for me and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t used it!

Watch:  Garmin Forerunner 35. I replaced my ancient 210 with this just a couple of weeks ago and it has a much longer life – it died at about 12:30.

Hat:  a Brooks sun hat I bought in a sale ages ago, but it did pretty well in the rain.

I also carried (but didn’t use) Saucony arm warmers, Compeed, a couple of strips of K tape, a tenner (just in case!), spare socks, spare top, ibuprofen and a spare hair elastic.

THE END!