The trials and tribulations of one hundred miles

Cotwold century 001

For what seemed like years I had been surrounded by people knocking out 100 mile ultras on a weekly basis and yet here I was, still having not completed one.

I’d chosen the Cotswold Way Century on the basis that the area was picturesque and not very hilly. I thought this, despite never having been there, or even knowing anything about the area. Famous people get married there, don’t they? In my mind this conjured up images of picturesque towns and a forgiving landscape. My friend, Dave, went to check out the area and came back describing the Cotswold Way as ‘easily marked’ and the hills as ‘rolling’. I allowed myself to feel smug about my race choice.

But then reports started coming back from people who attempted the race last year. Extremist time cut offs were mentioned. Ah. Wandering 10 miles off route having lost the trail. Hmm. How that person went on holiday as a child and the severe hillyness had been burnt into their psyche even years later. Oh.

I checked out last years race results: only 25 out of the 58 entrants completed it. Needless to say the smugness was fading. My complete lack of knowledge of the area was suddenly a glaring weakness, and so I frantically printed out maps and altitude charts, diligently highlighting checkpoints, cut offs and mileage.  Annie sent me advice to go slow and push in the last 20 miles. This was my only game plan.

I don’t want to bore you all with the lengthy blow-by-blow description of what happened so I’ve broken it down by highlights and lowlights. Not all of which are mine.

start- Chipping Camden

Nice sunny day. I’m at the back of the pack and taking it slow as we’re going straight up a hill but the views are lovely and I forgot that I actually like hills. I’m enjoying myself. After a while I start singing to myself. People give me lots of space.

7 miles

My right Achilles has started hurting. This is a low point. I can’t believe I’m having such a nice time and now this has happened. I realise that I may not have allowed enough recovery time between my ultras this year and now I’m paying the price. Shit. I’m not quitting now. And then I think: ‘Well,  if I’m not going to quit because of this now, I’m not going to quit because of it at 30, 50, 60 or 100 miles in.’ I realise I just have to accept it, but ease up a little in order to avoid any worrying snapping noises.

10 miles

Despite my Achilles hurting I find it’s not getting worse and I can still run so that’s ok. Feel a bit better and start taking an interest in my surroundings again. It really is very beautiful here: not the rugged landscape I prefer but scenic none the less. Other runners aren’t talking very much. I realise that a lot of people are back again for a second year with a score to settle, or they’re like me and it’s their first 100 miles. I go back to my little solo singing session.

20 miles- Belas Knap

The worst thing has happened. I’ve stopped for a sneaky pee to discover that I’m having a cystitis attack. I’d been feeling the dragging sensation in my lower abdomen for the last half an hour, and when I pee’d it was accompanied by the severe burning that didn’t go away when I had stopped. Sorry if that’s too graphic. Just to prep you: this race recap is going to get a lot worse. Cystitis and kidney ache is a recurring issue for me since I had a kidney infection in my early twenties and the only way of dealing with it is to flush it out with lots of water. Trouble is, I don’t have that amount of water. It’s so early in the race for things to be going wrong. I can’t face the idea of dropping out now, after just twenty miles. I mentally slap myself around the face a few times and pull myself together, and set about looking for a water source. Fortunately there is a stream at the bottom of the hill where I can fill a bottle and it just means I have to take it slowly for 30 minutes while the purifying tablets kicked in. I walk it out and then down the water. After a bit I feel much better and am able to run again.

27 miles- Aggs Hill checkpoint

The first cut off. Things must have come together because I have loads of time before I hit the 7 hour cut off. I meet a girl named Emily and kept pace with her for a bit and discuss my low point. She’d had a low point even earlier with blisters but had sorted it out and was back on form again. I like her a lot but lost her at the checkpoint.

30 miles

Meet a guy who had done loads of awesome races abroad including Leadville (altogether now-ooooh!) but he was impressed with me as he had done the 10 Peaks short route and I had done the Xtreme. Feel all buoyed up with my own athletic prowess.

33 miles

Nearly go the wrong way in the dusk, but am shouted back in the right direction by a local runner, who is with my friend, Dave. Thank them and say my hellos, but my pace is a little bit faster so I lose them again. Somehow manage to get lost in some woods so give in and check my GPS since I don’t have a bloody clue where the trail is. Vince has sent me a text asking how I am and, as I’m standing in the woods in the dark doing nothing, I text back to say I’m fine. Small lie. My GPS says I’m on the trail which is obviously bollocks. I stand still and in the distance can make out what looks like pin pricks of light spiking though the trees. I make my way toward them, climbing back down the hill. When I hear their voices I call out  ‘People!!’ And I hear them say ‘There’s a person up there!’

‘Yes, it’s me!’  I forget that they would have no idea who ‘me ‘ was.

It turns out it’s Emily and some others who I decide to stick to for the foreseeable future. Emily is using a superior GPS which actually keeps her (and us) on the trail. Phew.

38.5 miles- Birdlip Car Park checkpoint

This car park is apparently a renowned dogging spot but we don’t see anything. (If you don’t know what dogging is and your curiosity is piqued try Googling it!) I see Dave again at this checkpoint, who is highly confused as to how I have ended up behind him. God knows how long I was lost for but I think it was only about 15 minutes. I look around and Emily is gone, which is a reminder for me to get my arse in gear.

42 miles

Lots of cool wood running. Meet a nice girl named Michelle and a local guy named Craig. I vow to stick with Craig since he has some idea where he is. Sadly Michelle drops back but Craig and I fall into a companionable silence with him knowing the way and me pushing the pace. Bump into another runner I know, Ferg, and someone else. Hellos are exchanged. All is good.

47 miles Painswick checkpoint

Change my socks and eat chilli. I had chilli at the indoor checkpoint on the 10 peaks Xtreme as well. Whoever thought of this as checkpoint food needs to be applauded. We’re about ten hours in now and the cut off for Painswick is 13 hours so I am pleased with how things are going. And then my filling comes out of my tooth: oh no! Still, there’s no pain and there’s worse things than only having half a tooth. My new buddy, Craig, and I leave together after about 15 minutes.

50 miles

We’d been told that there would be a person taking our number on a golf course to make sure everyone followed the trail all around and didn’t cut off 3 miles by going straight over. Craig and I get lost a bit and then find the tent with a Cotswold Running T-shirt hanging on it.

‘Cooooeee!’ We call. ‘We’re here! Do you want our number?’ No response.

‘Helloooooo!’

We go up and shake the tent for good measure. As we do this I suddenly realise the t-shirt isn’t a Cotswold Running shirt after all. I point this out to Craig, and it slowly dawns on us that this is just some poor person out camping. We guiltily run off as quietly as possible and find our chap half a mile on, but I wonder now how many other runners did the same as us. Oops.

53 ish miles

Bump into Ferg and his mate again and run through cornfields. I point out to everyone that it’s a bit like in the film The Signs, (which was a rubbish film, to be fair),  and there was the cool bit where they were running through corn at night and there were aliens running through them as well. Anyone? No? No one else is interested either so I just have to pretend by myself. I sense that I’m in a better mood than the others at this point.

58 ish miles.

Still pitch black and Craig and I have lost the others. We’re in the woods in the middle of nowhere and have stumbled onto an illegal rave. We first knew of it by the persistent ‘doof doof doof’ of the bass and the white light streaming through the trees (‘Aliens!’ I thought). Now we have come across people stumbling around like it’s the night of the living dead. I make Craig walk so they won’t realise we’re different and stick us with knives. We start running again and suddenly turn a corner to find a group of ‘yoofs’ who seem pretty wasted. One of them is a girl crying, mascara tracking down her face.

‘Excuse me, guys, can you take her back to the main road?’

‘No!’ I shouted back as we run past.

‘We’re lost!’ shouted Craig.

In the background I can hear the girl wailing ‘Why don’t you love meeee, Stan?!’  Or whatever his name is. We leave them in the darkness. Very surreal.
68 miles

F@*#ing torch not working. Cue panicked exchange of batteries from broken torch to other head torch. Bastard thing. Bring on the daylight.

74 miles

Daylight! Praise God. I’ve spent the last two hours running through woods trying to see by the light of Craig’s torch. Craig has had a couple of low points, but I’ve paid him back for his local knowledge by pushing him forward and keeping up the pace. I’m pleased both of us have come through the night, 12 hours of darkness: yeeesh. There’s an unspoken agreement that we’ll stick together. I keep pushing the pace.

80 miles Horton checkpoint

I’ve told people about a bacon butty rumour I had heard about Horton. Turns out it’s the next checkpoint. Sorry, guys. Change my socks again and push on. I’m having serious, serious issues with chafing between the buttocks. Yeouch. This has been a problem for a good while but I had been keeping it at bay with liberal coatings of Vaseline. It’s now got to the stage where Vaseline isn’t even touching it. Just 20 miles to go. We set off again and I push hard to cover as many miles as possible. I remember what Annie said: push in the last twenty miles. So that’s what we do.

87  miles – Tomarton picnic area checkpoint

Yes! The bacon roll! Plus a marshall gives me a giant piece of his wife’s homemade cake. It’s bloody amazing. Yum. We have a little sit down in the sun with a cup of tea before moving on to the next checkpoint 5 miles away…

92 miles Cold Ashton checkpoint

Now, I’m sorry if I seem a bit gloating here, but Craig and I covered the last five miles, in the heat, over the hills, and with my chafing ass, in an hour. That’s pretty  gosh darn fast. At the checkpoint is Nicky Taylor, a super speedy ultra runner. She’d pulled out earlier due to injury and is now cheering everyone on. ‘Are you Becky Morgan?’ She asked. ”Yes, are you Nicky?’ I ask- as if I didn’t know. I’m very chuffed to meet her.
93 miles.

Ok, so I can’t run down steep hills anymore. And for the love of God, will someone tell me how to stop chafed buttocks. I know about Vaseline. Craig, who has never met me before, now knows all about vaseline and the various graphic details in which it can be applied. Vaseline doesn’t work after 80 miles on a hot day. It just doesn’t. I’m seriously considering taping my bottom next time. Consider this point a definite low.

 95 miles.

School children. Blocking the stiles and the path. ‘Stand aside for the nice runners!’ They don’t. I will smite you down. I despise small children and their grubby getting in the way-ingness.

97 miles.

Sun. Hills.

Craig: ‘How much further?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What mileage are we at?’

‘I don’t know’.

Neither of us have any real idea how much longer this is going to last. We are still overtaking people. Other than general fatigue I feel ok, except for the burning shards of glass that someone has apparently snuck into my pants.

99.5 miles

We’re at the final checkpoint in Bath. As we leave Craig tells me that the marshalls said we looked a lot fresher than some of the other runners. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Good joke. Now we’re near the end Craig is coming up on a high and sets the pace going up the hill (with steps. Steps!!). He’s talking about running at the finish and I’m like: ‘Mate. My ass. It’s too much.’ He tells me its a running race and we should run at the end.

100 miles

We’re trying to cross a road. The lights are red and the green man is on but a car still insists on trying to drive through the pedestrians. There is gesturing and swearing on my part. He stops and looks like he’s going to try giving it back, but I’ve already moved on. Tosser.

102 miles

So many people. We’re running through the centre of Bath now -running! With my chafed bottom! And there’s about 8 million people getting in my way. I hate them. Can’t they see how far we’ve come?! God tries to balance out my severe negativity by sending Henry Winkler aka The Fonz to the people of Bath (he’s sightseeing, apparently). I don’t see him. It’s probably just as well.

Finally, finally, we see Bath Abbey, and I can see Vince and Daisy the dog! We’ve done it! 102 miles. We get our medals and Vince takes a photo of me and Craig and I thank Craig for the company for the last seventy miles. Then the pain kicks in proper. Then I start crying.

The aftermath

Turns out the race headquarters is quarter of a mile down the road. Weep. Stumble. Turns out the gym and showers are up a flight of stairs. (‘Nooo! I can’t do it!’ More crying). Turns out the shower is set a foot up from the floor. Yes, I get in it ok, but there follows more crying and ungraceful crablike positions as I try to get out of the flipping thing. Then I attempt to go back down the stairs to Vince and Daisy. Turns out Vince came in on the Park and Ride and it’s a mile’s walk back to the bus stop. Cue me shambling through Bath with tears tracking silently down my face as the pain increases its vice like grip on my lower body.

We get on the bus back to the van where I can lie down. Finally, it’s over.

Still,  all in all, except for a few low points, it was great. The checkpoints were every ten miles or so. The marshalls were lovely; I’m going to marry them all, and each table was a full on buffet. The whole race was like one long street party. Or trail party. I was 30th overall and came in at 26 hours 45 minutes- well within the 30 hour cut off. Also I was 4th female and remember Emily? She came in third female, just over half an hour before me! I liked her, she was cool. 32 people didn’t finish it though so I suspect there’ll be a few more returning again next year to finish the course.

Thanks(again!) to Vince- another pricey trip away where he has to hang around doing nothing for a day waiting for the inevitably broken and weeping girlfriend.

Well done to Craig, who also finished despite having to hear about my chafing issues for the last few miles.

And thanks to Cotswold Running- it was a great event. If you’re looking for a 100 miler do this one!!

To be honest I still feel completely overwhelmed by the fact that I have ran over 100 miles. I know it’s not a big deal for everyone but it is for me. Would I do another 100? At the time I said no, or maybe only one a year. Now I’ve had a few days recovery I’m already looking for the next challenge. For the time being I’m going to take a month off running before I start my gruelling endurance training over the winter so things may go a bit quiet on the blogging front.

Take care everyone!

Becky 😃

The Plague: 64 miles of ups and downs

Here is part of the infamous section between Pentewan and Porthpean.

Here is part of the infamous section between Pentewan and Porthpean.

11pm on Friday night found me sitting on the floor of the registration hall at Porthpean, surrounded by other restless runners, waiting to be called for the safety briefing for The Plague. Most people were sorting through their packs, putting on and taking off clothes and generally getting themselves ready. The floor was carpeted with Salomon Race vests.

This wasn’t an issue for me, since I had been dressed and ready to go since about 7pm. This is how I like to deal with nerves. Unfortunately it also meant that I had nothing to do but sit there getting in the way of everyone as time trickled by with glacial slowness. Finally we had the briefing, and I just about had time to sneak off for a quick toilet stop before the race start.

We set off just after midnight all shuffling into line to get onto the narrow path. The first section was tough, a single track path riddled with badger set holes, roots and stones. The silence of the night was broken by warning calls of ‘Hole!’ ‘Branch!’ ‘Rock!’ with the occasional ‘Aargh!’ thrown in for good measure. We reached the first set of steps, all of slightly different heights and widths, which descended down toward shore level before abruptly climbing back up to the top again. This would be the first of many times the path would do this.

At this stage everyone was trying to figure out their pace. I had a sneaky suspicion that I was going a little bit too fast but I felt comfortable enough. I was a bit more experienced with night running this time round as well which helped a great deal. We finally ran down the hill to the small village of Pentewan where the first checkpoint was. I had spent the first section focussing on the mini target of reaching Pentewan under an hour and got there in 59 minutes and 59 seconds. I can’t actually remember going through the checkpoint so I must have not stopped except to dib in.

After Pentewan it was a relatively short stretch until Mevagissey. I won’t keep going on about all the hills since it’ll get pretty descriptive later on, but take it as read that there are no flat sections on The Plague. There are different variations of incline, so you often find yourself saying. ‘Ah, bliss. A bit of path that isn’t quite as steep as the previous bit.’ You learn to appreciate the small wins.

We dropped into Mevagissey at about 1:30, to be greeted by some lads high fiving us as we ran down the steps to the harbour. It was all very jovial, albeit the cheering was done in hushed tones so as not to wake the local residents. As we ran up and out of Mevagissey we were starting to spread out a little more, we hit the second checkpoint at Gorran Haven just over two hours in and by the time we started the climb up to Dodman Point I found I was running with only a couple of other guys.

I was being really careful to keep my stride short, especially with all the hills, as I didn’t want to fatigue my legs. The run up to Dodman isn’t too bad really, since the path is pretty smooth and you don’t have to watch your feet so much. The only thing bothering me was a slight cramping in my stomach. I’d had a slight tummy bug at the beginning of the week but had thought I was over it, but it seemed like running had reawakened something.

Still for the time being I felt like it wasn’t really affecting my running, but the idea of food made me feel ill. I knew that was going cause problems. I made an effort to drink more of my juice drink in an attempt to keep some calories down.

For a long time at the beginning whenever I looked back I could see a long train of headtorch lights feeding back over the cliffs behind me but now, coming down off the Dodman we had turned 90 degrees and the lights winked out. The only sounds were the waves below us, my breathing and the odd curse as I stumbled or tripped. The drop down to Hemmick beach is very steep and I lost ground to the two guys that were in front of me but I caught up with them again on the climb back up. I’m still not so fast on the steep downhill paths.

Somehow we lost one chap (he dropped back I mean, he didn’t die or anything) and I ran on for a while with the other man. He was quite a good pacer for me and clearly experienced so I was happy to just hang on. Conversation was, of course, all about running. Porthluney passed us by, and then we were at East Portholland where we had to climb over the rocks to reach West Portholland. Our lost man was back with us (or maybe he never went away?) and as he was stuck behind me I held him up as I was ridiculously slow. Sorry, un-named man.

The next check point was at Portloe, the next village along the coast. It’s a great bit of path- one of my favourite bits, I’ll dig out a photo from somewhere- but unfortunately it meant that I had to be carefull with the terrain in the dark and not risk breaking a leg. Again this meant I had to drop back a bit but there was a first appearance for my child alter ego who got all excited about the rocks and the night-time and the moon. The moon had been there the whole time, of course, but I just re-noticed it now. The sea was dead calm. I decided I liked night running a lot. (I decide this every time I run at night.)

After a while I dropped down the steps to the village of Portloe and the third checkpoint at twenty miles in. I was 4 hours and 9 minutes in which, for me, is something special. I’m normally slower than that during the day time. I gave myself a pat on the back and looked to see what I could eat. The aid stations had nearly every kind of food you can think of, and if I hadn’t been feeling pukey I would have gone to town and pigged out. The marshals were all lovely and took my bottles away to refill them while I stood there looking mournfully at a banquet I couldn’t eat. The only thing I could face was fruit so I grabbed some tangerines and a bit of banana and made my way on again.

Next stop: Pendower where Vince was camping out in the van. I ate my tangerines and they seemed to go down okay, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I forced myself to eat one half of a sandwich but my gag reflex began kicking in immediately so that was a no go. My stomach was cramping again, not badly- but just enough to let me know that it was there and awake. I’ve never had nutrition issues before and to be honest, I just didn’t know what to do to deal with it. I still don’t. I expect I shall google this to the extreme in the next few days. For the time being I just forced myself to take on water and electrolyte as frequently as I could.

Other than that, the run to Pendower passed quite smoothly. That’s how I was running this at the moment, small, quick steps and only ever thinking about the next village or beach. At Pendower beach I went into the public toilet to see if anything would happen. Weirdly, I kind of wanted it to. I wanted whatever was in there causing trouble to depart and leave me in peace. But there was nothing except a tiny hot trickle of pee. My first since the start. I thought I’d been drinking enough but clearly this was not the case. When I left the man I was with was still in the gents- nausea issues as well I found out later. I considered waiting out of politeness before deciding to press on. As I ran through the car park I could see Vince looking in my direction. I waved, but he just looked at me as though he’d never seen me before in his life. It was only when I got right up close he said ‘oh, it’s you’ which makes me wonder who else he was expecting to see at 5:30 am running through a remote beach car park. There was a quick ‘you’re doing well’ before I ran on. My plan was to stop for a bit longer on the way back.

It had been getting lighter for a while now and before I reached Portscatho I was able to take my head torch off. The sky was cloudless and the sun already felt warm, even at this hour. It was going to be hot later. I got to Portscatho, where I realised that my friend Sharon was one of the marshals. She filled up my bottles for me while I  searched out all the fruit that was available for me to eat. I forced myself to eat some tortilla chips as well for the salt. There was hot food here but I could barely look at it.

One more stretch until the turning point at St Anthonys where we would head back the same way. I waved good-bye to the marshals. It only occurred to me half a mile down the path that they were all dressed as super heroes. Clearly tiredness was starting to set in.

The man I had left at Pendower had caught up and explained his delay. I’m embarrassed to say that I never asked his name. We’ll call him Frank for now. Frank and I ran along the path and soon caught up with three other runners. It was too narrow to overtake and besides I felt comfortable for the time being just following behind them. They weren’t very talkative. Frank mentioned to them that it was a lovely morning and got no response, so I agreed with him on their behalf. Awkward. Maybe they didn’t realise he was talking to them.

Something amazing happened on the way to St Anthonys. The two leaders were already doubling back past us and (drumroll) they were both women! Sarah Morwood and Charlie Ramsdale just running along all casual, chatting away and shooting the breeze. They were miles ahead of the next guy. They smiled hello and well dones and I’m pleased to say they came in with a joint first. 64 miles in 12 hours 34 minutes. I  was completely inspired. How do you get that good? I have actually googled that question but  the only advice I can find is how to train for your first ultra, not how to be amazing at them. Oh well.

We reached the half way point at St Antony’s in just under 7 hours and I was happy with that. I then proceeded to get myself in a right muddle by trying to take off my coat which I had run through the night in and tie it around my waist. One of the marshalls was Izzy Wykes who I admire a lot as she is a phenomenal ultra runner. She helped me sort myself out, filled my bladder and was concerned about what I was eating. I got tangled up in my own coat. I can’t help but feel that she left a better impression on me than I did her!

While I was at the checkpoint my friend Dave appeared and was gone again in a blur. It was a reminder that I was spending far too much time here and so giving yet another shout of thanks I left. Frank had gone already but I didn’t mind since I knew I wouldn’t have been able to maintain his pace.

50 minutes later I was back at Portscatho. ‘You’re dressed as superheroes.’ I told Sharon. ‘Yes, we are.’ she replied reassuringly. Good. I wasn’t hallucinating yet then. I needed the toilet again so I nipped to the public loos and was dismayed when barely anything came out, and what did was starting to feel burney. (Real word.) How much more water did I have to drink? A lot more it would seem. I was also starting to worry about my calorie intake. I was less than 40 miles in and my legs were starting to feel tired.

On my way out of the toilets I saw that I had just missed my friends Stu and Beth and gave them a shout and a wave, and the two minutes later ran into another friend Paul. It was turning out to be quite a sociable checkpoint. He told me that I wasn’t far behind  the third lady. My first thought was ‘Good for her. Hope she wins.’ ‘Nooo, don’t tell me that’ was what I actually wailed.

The problem I have is once I have that a piece of information like that, my brain won’t let it go. It starts thinking treacherous thoughts like ‘if we press a bit harder, precious, we could catch her!’ And so on. I accepted defeat and switched to The Predator mode.

Back at Pendower I was cross to find that Vince had drunk all the coffee. He reminded me that I had told him earlier to drink it all and that I wouldn’t be wanting any. What’s wrong with me? I changed my socks and swapped my Salomon Speedcross for my Sense Mantra pair. God, I love Salomon shoes so much. I only wish I was a better runner so I could get them gifted to me for free. Vince and I had a quick study of my feet during the shoe change, they weren’t in bad shape. My foot care strategy was working. Vince said he would drive on to Porthluney and get me a coffee there. I ate another tangerine (my new staple foodstuff) and carried on.

I didn’t see anyone going up to Nare Head, and in many ways it was like a normal training run on my ownsome. The morning was dazzlingly bright. During the infamous coat removal I had also swapped my buff for a peaked cap which helped keep the sun out of my eyes a bit, but I was worried that my sun block wasn’t going to hold out. It was only 9am but I was still inspecting my arms frequently for signs of pinkness.

By the time I reached The Portloe checkpoint the fatigue was a little more pronounced, plus I was getting increasingly concerned about fuelling. I was still feeling chirpy though. A couple of the marshals saw me coming up the hill and shouted encouragment and I waved heartily back…before stepping in the path of an oncoming car. Oops! Lets be thankful for slow drivers! Anyway it didn’t hit me and I managed to survive the rest of the road crossing to the checkpoint. Again, there was an array of food but I only wanted fruit. I found some grapes and began happily munching on them, while an angel in marshal form went to get me some tangerines. I noticed the third lady sat down on a chair. Tangerine Marshal (possibly not his real name) gave me my fruit and basically told me to get moving if I wanted to slip into third. And so I did.

On and on….running and running. It was getting hotter by the minute but I don’t really mind running in the heat, not English heat anyway, providing I don’t burn and I remember to drink enough. And I was drinking all the time so surely the next toilet stop would be more successful.

I ran my favourite bit of path again and then dropped back down to West Portholland and the rock crossing. Between East Portholland and Porthluney I felt the urge to relieve myself again and dashed down the hill, I gestured to Vince (who was patiently standing with a coffee) and disappeared into the cool darkness of the toilets.

Found the photo! This is my favourite bit of the path

Found the photo! This is my favourite bit of the path

Nothing. I was getting really worried now. I could feel the water sloshing in my stomach when I ran but it wasn’t working. I went outside and quickly drank my coffee, but didn’t tell Vince my worries. What could he have done? As I stood in the car park with him I saw the first large group of the Black Route runners going by – the 32 milers. I wasn’t competing with them but it was a reminder to press on.

I was starting to feel pretty tired now, though lack of food and just general fatigue. I knew now that my pace going out had been a little fast for me but I didn’t regret this now. I didn’t want to walk this one in. I always knew it was going to hurt.

I caught up with Dave just before Hemmick Beach (the guy who was in and out of the checkpoint at St Anthonys like Speedy Gonzales). He looked pretty spent but was still going. Truth be told, I was feeling rough too. I thought about sticking with him for a bit on the way up to Dodman Point but I didn’t have the emotional energy to carry on any kind of conversation. I wished him luck and carried on.

Climbing up to the Dodman was the first time I had to stop for a couple of breaths to let my heart rate calm down. I could feel it thumping in my chest, and now the quads were starting to hurt as well. And they’d been doing so well!  I remember reading once about an ultra: the first third should feel easy, the second third should feel hard, and the final third should be hell. Well I was in the final third now and I had a sneaky feeling that Hell was catching up with me.

I felt better when I reach the top and began the run down to the check point at Gorran. The sickness was getting progressively worse, although I didn’t have any more stomach cramps. I really, really didn’t want to throw up. I don’t know if I would have recovered from that. I had been setting mini time goals throughout the race, aiming to be at the next headland, beach or village by a certain time. At Dodman Point I checked my watch and decided to get to Gorran for 12:15. I just made it.

As I came down the hill I could hear a mass of people cheering, I had forgotten that the White Route started here – the 11 mile course. That meant 11 miles to the finish for me. I reached the checkpoint before I saw the runners though, they were gathered near the starting place a little further on. I heard someone shout my name, and saw that it was my friend Debbie who had come to cheer everyone on. I waved back at her and climbed the steps up into the hall? church? where the checkpoint was. While one of the marshals filled my bottles and I found some watermelon Debbie appeared at my side, all smiles and energy. I’m ashamed to say that I nearly started crying. God knows why. Just having someone be nice to me suddenly threw into focus how bad I was feeling, and how in denial I had been about my state. I thought about people saying to the next girl in ‘oh you can catch third, she looks like shes’ on her last legs’.

I swallowed back the lump in my throat (just about the only thing I could swallow that day) and said thanks and bye to Debbie, strongly resisting the urge to go and sit in a cafe with her and drink enough alcohol so that I would pass out.

In this delicate emotional state I ran down the steps to where a waiting crowd of 134 White Route runners and their supporters just erupted into cheers when they saw me. You build up a bit of a celebrity status when you wear the bright green Plague vest. The noise was like running into a wall. I tried to wave my thanks as I ran through them but there were so many faces I became completely overwhelmed. I started to cry proper, but I was so dehydrated there were no tears. So I just whimpered instead. Even now I feel moved when I think back to it, except now that I’m sufficiently hydrated I do actually well up. Thanks White Routers, you gave me a real boost just when I needed it.

The boost didn’t last long. I was now feeling sick even with water, and my left kidney was starting to ache. Despite the heat, when I touched my face and skin it was bone dry. I forced myself to drink even more, and breathed deeply to try to fight the gag reflex. This was the first race I have done where I was actually concerned about the impact on my long-term health.

I tried to go to the toilet again at Mevagissey, with the same results as before. And then, the worse thing happened. At the top of  hill coming out of Mevagissey I heard someone behind me say my name. I looked round and saw Emma, another ultra runner doing the Plague. I’ve run with her before and know how strong she is. In that instant, I knew it was over. On one hand, I was pleased to see her because when I met and ran with her at the end of the 2013 Classic Quarter she was great company, but on the other hand I was all ‘Nooooooooooo! Not after so much pain!’ It was ridiculous really. I asked her how she was, and she said she was feeling a bit sick. To which I replied ‘I know that feeling!’. Yeah, and the rest.

She didn’t overtake me though so I kept running and we arrived at the Pentewan checkpoint together. The next stage, the final stage, was going to be the hardest. All the steps up and down the cliffs which seemed so easy the night before now loomed ahead of us. I ran past Vince who told me to keep going. I could only say ‘I’ve got nothing left, I’ve got nothing left’ but I kept going. All the while I knew Emma was only a minute behind me. If that.

I was pushing harder again now I knew she was there, but I was paying for it. The ache in my kidney had become a throb, and with every step I was fighting the urge not to vomit. My quads were just permanently hurting now, and my peripheral vision was fading in and out. I was worried that Emma would see me taking my rest breaks on the steps and steeper inclines and interpret correctly how weak I was getting. I got my rest under the guise of stopping to let the fresher black, red and white routers go past. I relied heavily on the surging strategy, just push to that tree and then let up a bit, now push hard to that set of steps. I also turned to my counting technique that I used on Skiddaw during the 10 Peaks. Count to a hundred and then have a break. With more than a touch of paranoia, when I did take a break I stopped with one foot on the next step so that if anyone behind were to glance up they may not realise I’d actually stopped. This is how craziness starts.

It was hellish. I was forever looking back but there were so many runners now on the single track path Emma could have been 10 feet or half a mile behind. I just didn’t know. At one point I heard some people shout hello to a girl behind me and ask if she had seen Emma ‘oh yes, she right behind us’. Aaaaargh!

At a water station the same girl chatted to the marshals and it was clear they knew each other, so then as I ran on I was listening for the cheers as Emma would inevitably follow but with all the people running now it was too confusing. I was so tired and in pain that I had resorted to using my hands to climb the hills, grabbing on to trees and nettles to help pull myself up.

Finally I ran down the last section of path to the beach at Porthpean-I was still forcing myself into a limping run whenever it wasn’t uphill- until I hit the road that climbed up to the race finish. A nice, steep one too. I counted 100 steps, looked back to see if Emma was there, and rested a few seconds. This continued until we reached a bend in the road and were directed up a footpath. ‘Just 400 yards to the finish!’ I was told. I’ve been lied to before about distances to the finish, so I was sceptical. ‘We’ll see.’ I thought, and went back to counting steps.

Well, he was right. I stopped counting at about 350 steps because I emerged from some trees and was suddenly engulfed in cheering people. I’d love to say all my pain was forgotten but that would be a lie. I was still absolutely convinced that Emma was going to sprint past me so I limped/ran to the finish line. A man on one of the other routes ran by saying ‘you’re not going to let me overtake you at the end are you?’ I told him to bugger off. Such a joy to be around.

And then I was there, dibbing in at the finish with the happy little bleeping sound. I waited for Emma to come in, which she did a few minutes later. I told her well done and how much I hated her, and she was very nice about the whole thing.

So that was that. 15 hours 7 mins and third female, 13th out of 78 starters. At the moment I can’t really feel happy about it as I’m still tired with the ultra hangover, and everything hurts. The main reason this post is so long is because I’m sat on a bean bag and it hurts too much to get out of it.

I was pleased with a lot of my planned strategies (see previous post), the small fast steps really worked at holding off fatigue despite the faster pace, the surge strategy was a great help at the end when everything was awful and the alter egos had a great time. Plus my feet aren’t the rotten mess they were last year.

I just wish I didn’t have the stomach problems, but I don’t really think that affected my time or speed. I said in the last post that I wanted sub 14 hours, but I suppose the truth is I’m not that good a runner yet. I think part of the problem is that my usual fuelling techniques are fine for when I’m running an ultra at a more relaxed pace, but when I start pushing the speed my stomach just can’t handle solid food. I can’t believe I’m saying this….but I may have to start experimenting with gels. And liquid intake.

Well done if you got this far into the post, reading this is an endurance event in itself! I have to mention how great Vince is, spending a night in a van, putting up with my crabbiness (‘but you said you didn’t want any coffee!’) and, perhaps worst of all, helping me change my socks after 35 miles of running.

Thanks to all the marshals who may have actually kept me alive with fruit and kind words. Especially those that hugged me at my most toxic.

Well done to all the runners on all the routes, even those that didn’t complete it its still a huge achievement and more than most people will attempt to do. Sorry to those that I just grunted at toward the end. What I meant to say was ‘thank you, kind person, for your concern. I am a bit tired but I’m sure I’ll be fine. You’re also doing fabulously.’

Thank you for the company and well done to Frank. Whoever you are.

Thanks to Emma, who I don’t really know very well, but pushed me to go hard on that last section when I had thought I had nothing left.

And finally thanks to Mud Crew for laying on the event, having the foresight to ensure burger and pizza stalls at the end. Along with coffee stands. And a bar.

I’m just dithering now because I’m still stuck on the bean bag. I might try just rolling off it.

Bye for now!

Becky :)

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Ultra Strategies

 

The lead dog is Cookie, who is the queen of endurance.

The lead dog is Cookie, who is the queen of endurance.

It’s been 6 weeks since the 10 Peaks Xtreme and I’m now in the final week taper for the next ultra: the 64 mile Plague. It’s a local event to me, and is pretty good fun as the first half is run at night (it starts at midnight) and is nearly all trail. The terrain is coast path on multiple steep hills.

This is also my first event this year where I’ll actually be pushing hard to get a fast time, as opposed to others where I have been glad to just complete it (10 Peaks) or am too busy enjoying the view and taking photos (Imerys Clay Trail marathon).

But I completed The Plague last year, I’ve run that trail about 8 million times and my pride wants me to beat last years time: 16 hours 21.

This year I’m aiming for sub 14 hours. The hope is that I’m a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger and a bit better at maintaining focus. It’s too late to improve physically now, but I’m going over and over my mental strategies with the idea that this time I’ll be able to keep it together for the whole 64 miles. These most likely won’t work for anyone else but I tend to have some success with them:

1. Start slow

If I start fast I can’t maintain it, and then to find myself being overtaken by the world and his grandma just does my head in. Psychologically, it just makes me feel like quitting. Also, it takes me about 5 miles to hit my stride. I much prefer to start at the back, gradually get comfy and build up speed….and then chase everyone down. That’s the plan for the start of the race.

2. Small steps

My stride has a tendency to be too long which over the greater distances causes massive fatigue in my quads- especially on the steeper climbs. Small and quick steps will help me cover the ground without tiring. Much.

3. Small distances

I try to never think further ahead to a point I cannot see because then I find the distance too overwhelming. Instead I’ll project forward to the next headland in sight and aim to be there within a certain time, but never think beyond that.

4. The surge

I’m expecting to start flagging at some point in the race, where I used to find myself slowing down to a walk. A new thing I’m trying is to surge forward and push the speed for a very short distance, maybe 20-30 metres, before dropping speed and walking for 20 metres. I’ve found this works pretty well in shorter distances but I’m not sure how well this could be maintained over 100+ km. This is still experimental so I’ll let you know.

5. The alter ego reset

Ok, this is the mad one. For ultras I have created a number of alter egos that I use when the normal ‘me’ is getting fatigued. Think Beyoncé and Sasha Fierce. These alter egos are similar to myself, except that when they step in they are fresh to the race. I pretend that the person taking over is like ‘why am I so hunched up? Whats with all the tenseness?’ And they make the natural adjustments that anyone would do at the beginning of the run. As that worked well in the past it has evolved further: I now have the childlike ego is full of enthusiasm about what’s happening and is completely happy to run another 50 odd miles as long as there are puddles to jump in and rocks to climb over.  The predator: good for chasing the next person down and pushing the speed. Finally, there’s the hippy, who is completely at one with the landscape and is just enjoying the connection with the Universe so that all pain and tiredness are forgotten. Because we’re all just children of light, man. Feel free to unfollow me now.

6. Take care of the feet

Last year I got trenchfoot and that’s an experience I don’t ever want to repeat. Luckily I only had it on one foot, if I had it on both it would have been a DNF. As it was it was like hobbling along on razor blades. Since then I have been majorly paranoid about my feet but I’ve hit on a technique that (normally) works. I start by liberally covering my feet in vaseline at the beginning and then putting on Injinjis (thanks to VTtrailgirl for the recommendation). I then take at least two pairs of socks in my pack, plus extra vaseline and sports tape to deal with any hot spots. Even a hint of pain means I stop and deal with it immediately. I’m too scared of this happening again.

So many happy memories.

So many happy memories.

 

7. Caffeine pills…

…because I struggle with sleepiness. I’ve not tried this before as this is only something I’ve been told about recently but heavy eyelids and a muzzy mind are enough of an issue for me to give it a go.

Of course the irony will be that I do abysmally on Saturday, in which case this can read as a list of how not to do it. If anyone has any other ways of maintaining focus and pace let me know…I’m happy to try out other things too. In the meantime I’m going to get my zen on so that my brain is in the right place at the race start. So far this weekend I have been in awe of bees….hence I have been taking the photos below. This is an example of the strange type of obsessions that I get when I’m tapering. I’ll be back to normal next week.

Happy running everyone

Becky :)

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Clifbar 10 Peaks Xtreme

 

 

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I mentionned to a friend earlier in the week that the trouble with blogging about ultras is that they take so much longer to write up. It turns out that writing the post about the longest ultra you have ever run, and then accidentally deleting it without saving takes considerably longer.

So here I am starting again.

For the last few years the Clifbar 10 Peaks have been my main summer race: its always the main event that I’m training for and the last twelve months have been no different. This year I was signed up for the Xtreme, 100k and 8000m of ascent. The challenge was to complete it within 30 hours. There are two other races as well on the same day: a long route and a short route.

Initially my post included a step by  step narrative of all 21 peaks and checkpoints but then I thought: maybe fate deleted that post so as not to inflict tedious suffering on all the poor innocent people who are going to read this.

Instead there is going to be a condensed version. (And even now its pretty long. Sorry.)

04:00 start at keswick

29 people started on the Xtreme route according to the results. My friend Annie and I took up residence at the back and began the easy run walk up to Blencathra.

05:37 Blencathra

Blencathra had been a steady, easy climb. We took Halls Fell down to the valley and the next checkpoint which involved some scrambling at the top. At the bottom we saw two guys coming down another part of the hill.’which way did they go?’ I wondered, little realising that this was going to be a common theme for the rest of the day. We made our way through Threlkeld with the two lads pulling away from us again. Checkpoint 2 was made at 06:21 and we set off toward Clough Head.

07:21 Clough Head

It’s a steepish climb upto Clough Head but we were still fresh so we were OK. We could see the two guys from before ahead of us and another man as well. Annie and I were running comfortably between the peaks. Stupidly I was running a little too fast. Annie asked me if I wanted to go on but I slowed down instead. I knew it was going to be a long day and I trusted her greater experience more in setting the pace.

There were a couple of peaks along this ridge that we didn’t have to visit. As Annie knew this part very well we overtook the two lads a couple of times (we nicknamed them the Amigos) since they often chose a slightly longer route but they would then overtake as they were faster and stronger. Likewise we bumped into the other man (who we referred to as DJ since he was listening to music) but again he would quickly pull away. There were a couple of people behind us but we couldn’t see them.

08:25 Raise

08:58 Helvellyn

We had cleared Raise easily and then began the steeper and longer climb up to Hellvellyn. The clouds were parting slightly and every now and then we would get flashes of view down to the valley floor below. As always I though we had reached the peak before we actually had- oops! After the peak there was a great little run down to Grisedale Tarn where we saw the Amigos climbing straight up the scree slopes of Fairfield opposite us. Amazing, but there was no way I was taking that route since I’m such a coward. Annie pointed out how we could cut diagonally across the slope and then we could join onto the path that led to the top.

10:11 Fairfield

The path up to Fairfield was rocky, step and harder than I expected. There was no sign of the Amigos up there, although we had met DJ on his way down. For a while we had thought we had beaten the Amigos to the top but then on the way back down we saw them scooting along the bottom to the start of the climb up to Seat Sandal. They must have been fast going up the side of that hill. I would have still been floundering around clinging to pieces of scree.

I had been snacking on fruit, nuts and cereal bars so far but now I ate one of my sandwiches, ham and cheese, and felt instantly revived. We reached Grisedale Tarn again and looked up toward Seat Sandal. We could see DJ but no sign of the Amigos who had zoomed off again.

10:44 Seat Sandal

The path up to Seat Sandal was rocky and steep but seemed easy after Fairfield. At the peak we caught up with DJ who wasn’t having a great time. He told us he was in training for the UTMB but hadn’t done much recently on this sort of terrain. He had decided to pull out at the next checkpoint, which was a real shame. He was out of water so Annie gave him some of hers, and she asked him to consider changing to the long or short route instead. We pulled away from him before the next checkpoint so I don’t know what his decision was.

On the way down from Seat Sandal we spotted the Amigos again at the bottom of the hill and wondered if we would catch up with them before the next checkpoint but it was not to be. We rolled into checkpoint 2 at 11:34 with no sign of them, and began our journey up the valley toward Greenup Edge and High Raise.

13:17 High Raise

It’s a long old trek from the checkpoint at Steel End car park to High Raise, but its very scenic and I like it a lot on this part of the route. It starts as a long winding path following a river (with waterfalls!) up between steep, enclosing hills, and then opens out onto a large basin with the peak of High Raise ahead of you. Crossing the basin reminds me of Telly Tubby land due to the small green mounds dotted here and there. If you’ve never seen this children’s program you won’t know what I mean but its very similar.

The map refers to this area, with an amazing degree of accuracy, as simply The Bog. There is no set path across and up to Greenup Edge, its just a case of accepting that your feet are going to get wet and there’s nothing you can do about this. On the plus side I didn’t go in up to my waist, like I did last year, and also I thought I saw a panther. Since panthers don’t exist in the UK Annie was able to convince me that it was just a black sheep that I had seen. I’m sure she was right but it didn’t stop me looking back hopefully over my shoulder to check. Unfortunately it had quickly disappeared from view behind a mound but it took me tripping up to convince me to keep my gaze pointing forward.

The view ahead was quite extensive but there was no sign of the Amigos anywhere. Gosh those boys could move fast. We gradually started the climb up to Greenup Edge (with Annie stopping to give directions to an American school party out hiking) and then trotted along the edge to the peak of High Raise.

14:57 Bowfell

I won’t say much about the route to Bowfell except that I may have led us slightly off course on our way to Angle Tarn. This is what happens when you get cocky. We adjusted our route and arrived at Angle Tarn without too much harm done (sorry, Annie!) and then we started the climb up Ore Gap towards the peak of Bowfell. Now we were moving into the higher peaks we were coming across a lot of walkers and daytrippers. At the top of Ore Gap its a  left turn to Bowfell before doubling back to climb Esk Pike.

On our way up to Bowfell we ran into the Amigos (yay!) who were on their way down and we exchanged hellos and how are you feelings etc etc. Further up we found more Xtremers. After being on our own for so long it was starting to feel very sociable.

15:25 Esk Pike

I’ve done this a few times but for some reason the path to the top seemed to take longer than usual, and it felt longer climbing down as well. From Bowfell onwards the terrain had become very rocky,  not possible to run on. All you can do is jump from rock to rock. Still, I didn’t feel tired yet and my legs still felt strong so I was quite happy. At the bottom we reached Esk Hause, checkpoint 3, where a marshall told us we had competed half the distance. This would have been something to celebrate except I know we still had the majority of elevation ahead of us so really we would be lucky if we  were a third of the way into the race.

It didn’t matter though. We were still feeling chirpy and besides, the Amigos had gotten ahead of us again so it was time to press on.

16:03 Great End

We’re now 12 hours in. The next few peaks sit close together so we knew we’d tick through them pretty quickly, and focussed on skipping as quickly as we could across the rocks.

16:25 Ill Crag

…but no matter how quickly we skipped…

16:39 Broad Crag

…no matter how smart our route choices were…

16:56 Scafell Pike

…those Amigos pipped us to every peak each time. The only reason we just about kept up was due to their illogical route choices. On the way down from Scafell Pike to Mickledore we finally joined up with them for a while. We told them about their nickname Amigos (turns out we were simply ‘the girls’) and they confessed that their death defying routes had been by accident…they were simply following the point to point route on GPS.

17:56 Sca Fell

Our intention was to turn down from Mickledore and go up to Sca Fell via Foxes Tarn. The Amigos had gone via Lord’s Rake on a previous event and decided to take Foxes Tarn as well today for a change to see what it was like. I knew they would get ahead of us so I pointed out the gully entrance that marked the started of the climb and told them to bear right at the top of the gully, going up a scree slope which would then be an easy climb to the peak.

I had developed a hot spot on my big toe so sat down to tape it up and change my sock. After that I scooted down the hill to the gully and began the Foxes Tarn route: climbing  up the stream that ran down through the gully. I caught up with Annie at the base of the scree, where we stared for a moment at the Amigos who, for some reason, hadn’t turned right but were now directly ahead of us climbing straight up an almost vertical slope to the peak. ‘those guys are amazing’ was all we could say.

That wasn’t the path for us though. We turned right and quickly scrambled up to the higher ground, where it was easy to then turn left and make our way to the peak.

After that it was a case of making our way down over the stones and rocks to the green grassy slope of Green How which would take us down to Wasdale in the valley floor. I’ll be frank: we were getting a little bored of the rocks and stones by now, and it was slow going picking our way down the side. I’m afraid poor old Sca Fell had some abuse thrown at it here. We passed one of the Amigos sat down with his head in his hands. I knew how he felt. Bloody rocks. Normally I really like Sca Fell but I was just bored of all the rockiness that had preceeded it; I was ready for a change.

Fortunately, a change was not long coming. We had finally reached the steep grass slope of Green How where Annie had a stroke of genius. She sat down and bumped down the grass like a child going down a slide. I was quick to follow; a slightly unconventional approach to fell running but one that was entirely successful. I’m sure we got down faster than if we had carried on by foot, plus we saved our poor old knees. Another advantage was the nice massage our glutes got on the way down.

Still, it must have been a sight for the confused sheep watching us silently as we bounced past them, laughing like crazy people.

And so we turned up at the 4th checkpoint in Wasdale where -joy! They had sliced soreen malt loaf. I took two slices and asked if I could have another two. The lovely angel in human form said yes so I took them. One good thing about being an Xtremer is that being one of the last through the checkpoints meant that the marshalls weren’t so worried about giving all their food away.

One of the other marshalls asked if we had seen anyone else still to come, -yes, the Amigos coming down the hill, and then they told us that they were still waiting on 11 people to come through. God knows who they were. The only people Annie and I knew of were the Amigos, and two others that had fallen behind us nearer the start.

But it was time to press on. The sweeper was at wasdale and he told us he would be starting out in 3 hours…we didn’t want him to catch us. Our next peak was Red Pike, but first we had Yewbarrow to climb.

21:17 Red Pike

We came out of Wasdale just after 7pm as we wanted to climb as much as possible in daylight. Ironically, as it wasn’t a mandatory peak, Yewbarrow was the climb Annie and I had been dreading all day. It rises straight up from the lake, and from the bottom it looks almost vertical and very difficult to climb, but when you looked carefully you could just make out the route to the top which wouldn’t involve much scrambling. Annie and I started to make our way up, and then voices below signified the arrival of the Amigos who had been joined by another man. They caught us up and we stoicly plodded upwards in silence. I was singing my hill climbing song, with a lyric for each step: ‘And. On. That. Hill. (Gasp, puff) There. Was. A. Bog. (Wheeze)’ until I reached the top. Singing in my head, I mean. I wasn’t so delirious yet that I was singing aloud.

We all crested the hill and then began the next climb up to Red Pike. The Amigos dropped back and it was just me, Annie and the other chap, Jon, who Annie knew already. When we were on our way up to Red Pike a group of fell runners ran past us at an astonishing rate, one of whom was stripped to the waist just zooming on. One of the others told us it was a Bob Graham record attempt, although I can’t remember the name of it now. They had two dogs lolloping alongside them making it look easy. You gotta love dogs and their ability to make a human feat of endurance look like a walk in the park!

22:00 Pillar

I really like the section between Red Pike and Pillar. Its nicely runable and it didn’t seem that long before we reached the peak. We stopped to put more warm clothing on as the wind was picking up now, and it was likely to feel much colder as night wore on.

23:14 Kirk Fell

I was still with Annie and Jon when we started the climb up Kirk Fell. In the fading light and increasing wind we mistakenly took the wrong route up: climbing a steep gully. It was a struggle, and slightly dangerous but we all survived so no harm done. Jon apologised later for pointing us in that direction but it wasn’t his fault really, we’re all responsible for navigation.

At the top we had to switch on our head torches. It was much windier now, I hadn’t noticed on the way up becuase I was concentrating on the climbing. We had to use GPS to find the peak. Annie told me to switch my GPS off and we would just use hers in order to save the batteries. Physically I still felt  fine but I was feeling increasingly sleepy, as though my eyelids had weights on them. We dropped down to the 5 th checkpoint at Beck Head and the marshall invited us into  his little one man tent for a few minutes to get out of the wind and have some hot tea.

I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for four adults with packs to fit in that tent…it was like a start of a joke- how many nuns can you fit in a phone box? But instead, how many runners can you fit in a tent? We could have got more in, I’m sure.

We had lots of nice hot tea and sweets (and chocolate!) and we promised to stick together until we got to the checkpoint at Honister. He also told us that a severe weather warning had been issued for Dale Head, but that was too far away for me to think about then. And with that we set off into the night (and wind).

00:19 Great Gable

The climb up to Great Gable was easier than expected, although the overwhelming sleepiness hadn’t left me. I told myself that if this was the only thing I was suffering with then I was getting off easy. We reached the peak and Annie checked her GPS for the path down to Windy Gap. We climbed down together and then picked up the bearing for Moses Trodd and onto Honister. I’ve done this route a lot in daylight but it looked different in the dark and I asked Annie a couple of times if we had the right bearing. She assured me we were going in the right direction but I still checked my GPS. We were going in the right direction. So much for my gut instinct! We reached checkpoint 6 at Honister at 01:55: the first indoor checkpoint! The guys manning it were fantastic, rushing around refilling our water bottles, making us coffee and sitting us down with hot jacket potatos, chilli and cheese. Bliss. This was our chance to to recover a little, rest and refuel. It was the first time I had sat down in over 22 hours. I’m not counting taping my toe as ‘sitting down’. Or the three minutes inside the tent!

With the coffee the sleepiness finally started to leave me. Another man came in that we hadn’t seen before, he was an Xtremer that had come down the wrong way off Great Gable and had had to climb back up to re-start the descent to Honister. He had developed a hacking cough and said he couldn’t go on. The marshalls asked him to rest a bit before making the descision but even after something to eat and a rest he still felt he couldn’t continue. His cough was bad so I think he made the right decision.

Then the door opened…the Amigos! Annie and I were pleased to see they had made it…but sadly one of them had picked up a knee injury and so they had made the decision to pull out. I felt gutted for them, no one could say they hadn’t approached the course with spirit and with all their random routes they had probably covered more ground than any of us. Hopefully they’ll give it another go next year.

03:22 Dale Head

Annie and I left Honister at just after 2:30, with Jon saying he would catch us up in a bit. The severe weather we had been warned about wasn’t there, and the climb up to Dale Head was eerily calm and quiet. I thought of my friend Julia who would have come down this track the week before as part of a Bob Graham relay, and said a ‘hello’ to her in my head. There was some cloud cover on the peak which meant that the light was reflecting back from our headtorches making everything seem surreal. The path down from Dale Head to Dale Tarn was a pain, steep and slippy with the dew and I was glad to reach the bottom. In the east the sky was turning pink. We ran around the tarn and started the climb upto High Spy and our next peak on Maiden Moor.

04:29 Maiden Moor

Climbing up to High Spy it became clear that I was struggling to keep up with Annie. I didn’t want to feel like I was holding her back so I told her to press on. She seemed unsure at first but I convinced her I didn’t mind.

Once she had pulled ahead I started to feel stronger; it was as though my worry about keeping up with her eclipsed any postive focus I had, now on my own I was able to start pushing the pace again. I still wasn’t as fast but I felt happy that I was covering the ground. At Maiden Moor I realised I was 5 and a half hours from the 30 hour cut off. Throughout the whole race my aim was just to finish: now I suddenly realised that I could actually do this within the challenge limit.

I would need to get my ass in gear though. I pushed forward and decided to try and get to the checkpoint on the lake for 05:30. I made it for 05:33. ‘How long ago did my friend come through?’ I asked and was told it was just minutes ago. I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch Annie up but, well, it seemed like a fun thing to try.

The final peak, the killer, was Skiddaw, looming ahead. The base was two or three miles away and I was determined to reach it by 06:15.

07:57 Skiddaw

Well, I got to the base at 6:20 so not too bad. I could see Annie about 200 metres above me but I wasn’t fussed about catching her now. All my attention was on reaching the top: then I would know that I would complete the challenge.

I broke the climb up Skiddaw into three stages: an initial steep grassy stage, the stony path, and then the scree slope path up to the top. I paced myself by taking 500 steps and then allowing a break for 30 seconds. About half way up I stopped to eat an orange and to send Vince my first text of the race: that I was planning to finish before 10 am.

I scrambled to the top of Skiddaw at just before 8am. I was very pleased, I had climbed it much easier this year: last year I found Skiddaw difficult and a struggle when pressing 20 hours. It was closer to 30 hours this time and it was OK. I mean, I didn’t skip up it or anything, but it was OK.

I said hello to the marshall who was camped out at the peak and he wished me luck for the downhill section to the finish. ‘I’ve done it!’ I thought as I dibbed in.

It was as though that thought flicked a switch. Suddenly my feet were really sore and the strength went from my legs. I broke into a stumbling run, but there was no speed there. Every step down from that hill hurt bad. I knew it was psychological, I had spent so long telling myself that once I had reached the top of Skiddaw I had as good as finished. As far as my body was concerned, the job was done.

I spent the remainder of the route mentally backtracking, telling myself to keep it together until the end. I ran when I could, but even with it being downhill it took me well over an hour to reach the bottom.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I found myself running into Keswick and into the park where the finish was at the football club. Ironically I managed to get lost on the grass bank above the club house; I could see the white building below me but couldn’t figure out how to get down. I could hear someone shouting  but it was only once I made it onto the path I could see it was Vince!

I’d made it. I jogged along the path and into the clubhouse, waving at Annie who was sat looking fresh and apparently unscathed by a day and night in the hills.

09:17 Finish.

So I completed it in 29 hours and 17 minutes. My goal was just to finish the thing, so to do it in under the 30 hours was pretty good. Annie came in at 28 hours 24, she just kept getting faster toward the end, hence her super speedy ascent and descent over Skiddaw. At the end only 14 people completed the Xtreme event and, even better, it was won overall by a lady! Nicky Spinks did the whole lot in just 18 hours 26 minutes, nearly two hours ahead of second place. That just blows my mind. What an inspiration.

So that’s that. I was crazy stiff for a couple of days but managed to squeeze out a few more hill walks- albeit aided by walking poles. I’m taking a week off from running now before resuming my training for the Plague next month and the Cotswold Century in September.

The Clifbar 10 Peaks was a great event, as always. This is certainly my favourite race, even though its harder than any of the others I’ve done due to the ascent, terrain and the need for navigation. The climbing and varying weather conditions make it feel more dangerous. I think that’s why I like it: it’s a real challenge, a proper adventure.

As always, the marshalls were wonderful and heroic, hanging around on the peaks dishing out water and food, smiling into the wind. We love you.

Anyway, I’m going back to the giant cake I was eating…have fun on the trails everyone!

Becky :)

 

Giant steps are what we take..

Yesterday was the Imerys Marathon which, considering I had accidentally scalpelled through my big toe earlier in the week, went brilliantly. The race is nearly all trail, running up, down and around the clay pits north of St Austell.

I had signed up on the basis of a race description ‘Like running on the moon’ and also I was keen to have a nosey around since this area is usually closed off to the public due to heavy machinery, explosives etc etc. There was a total elevation of around 1000m and even better- it was only £18 to enter.

The course was fantastic, at times it felt like we were running in another country, especially as it was so warm. Since my main race is next month I didn’t want to impact my training too much with recovery. My strategy was to run the whole course at a very relaxed pace, keeping my perceived effort at around 50%. This helped me manage the heat as well. I kept a focus on hydration, as well as stopping at water stations I had my bladder filled with orange squash, water and electrolyte and made a point of drinking a little at the top of each hill.

I felt pretty good throughout the whole race and enjoyed it immensely. By reducing the effort level I still felt ok at the end, and the trails were interesting enough that I would have been happy to carry on for another few miles. My finish time was 4 hours 19 mins and I was 5th female overall so I was pleased with the whole day.

On a slight tangent, only 27 women entered the marathon. I read an article recently which stated that over increased distances (i.e. 100 miles and above) women and men actually compete at the same level because women have higher fat reserves which aid fuelling. For some reason I see a lot more men at trail marathons and ultras and I’m not really sure why. I mean, there are equal numbers of men and women at other types of races so women clearly enjoy running and competing. It’s a mystery.

Back to the race recap! The Imerys Marathon has jumped into one of my top three races. The strategy of keeping to a perceived effort percentage worked well for me. I’ll keep doing that in the future. My intention is to get faster by upping the intensity of my training sessions so that my comfortable pace increases.

Here’s the photos!

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Becky :)

Race recap: Trevornick 10

View from the holiday park at the race start: looking over to the coast and dunes on the race route

View from the holiday park at the race start: looking over to the coast and dunes on the race route

First race of the year! I entered the Trevornick 10 purely on the basis that it was a local trail race, 10 miles consisting of coast path, grassland and sand. Plus there’s a cheeky total elevation of 400m. Since I’m allergic to flat, road races I thought I would give it a go.

My PB for ten miles is  1 hour 15 minutes but that was a less hilly road race. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere near that for a cross country run with considerably more elevation. Combined with an aggressive wind I figured I could get around in 1 hour 45.  I made the decision to carry fluid in my pack rather than rely on water stops since I do better drinking little and often rather than stopping to drink a whole cup of water every three miles. I put some fruit squash in it too for the sugar.

Milling around before the race start

Milling around before the race start

miles 1-3 I’m the slowest starter ever. After the usual ‘3-2-1-go’ or whatever they say, I may as well have just stood still while a mass of people surged ahead of me. I don’t mind this in ultras (because of my chase them down-predator mode strategy) but on a 10 miler I panic that I’ll be last and always try to commit to a start pace that is too fast for me.

The wind was ridiculous and my nose responded in the only way it knows how, by producing bucket loads of snot. Within 500 metres it was pouring down my face: I tried to clear it via the old snot rocket technique but this just seemed to anger my face into producing more. Also the wind meant that I was inadvertently snot bombing the people around me. No one deserves that. In the end – this is gross- I resorted to wiping it over my arms and legs. This continued throughout the rest of the race.

The first three miles covered grassland and felt pretty jam-packed with people. I knew it was going to be tough running at the faster start pace but it was only ten miles so I just got on with it and hoped my body would catch up with what I needed it to do. I struggled to get my breathing right for some reason which made it difficult. I think this was because I was subconsciously trying to match the differing rhythms of people around me.

People who run so fast they blur. I'm not in this photo, obviously.

People who run so fast they blur. I’m not in this photo, obviously.

 

miles 4-5  Mile 4 was the first major uphill. Very steep. The pack slowed drastically as we hit it. No one walked. (Damn them!) Pretty much everyone was a local runner so we are all used to the terrain here. I used my normal hill mantra ‘hills are my strength, hills are my strength’ to get to the top. It sort of worked.

At the top of the hill people seemed relatively slow to recover but a number of us were able to start pulling away. Finally I was starting to hit my stride and feel more comfortable. We were now on the coast path and the views were fantastic. For the first time in the race I was starting to feel good. My pace hadn’t slowed but I felt much better.

miles 5-8  Some nice, solid running. The route still followed the coast but was up, down, up, down. The changes in elevation here weren’t that much but each time we turned uphill we were running straight into the headwind. This slowed us down a bit but it was ok really. After the winter we’ve had I should think everyone is used to the wind. The trick is not to fight it. I find if I get pissed off about the wind (or whatever is out of my control) then I may as well kiss the good race experience goodbye. I can’t change the fact that its windy. I relaxed and kept pace with those around me.

I’m not a running buddha yet though. The snot situation was getting seriously out of hand. I was rehydrating at the top of every hill not just to deal with sweat, but also for the masses of fluid that were leaking out of my head. Why didn’t I remember a hanky?! There may have been swearing and cursing. My legs and arms were sticky with it now (I’m know, I’m sorry) and when I could I was trying to fling as much of it away as I could. This was risky since the wind had a tendency to pick it up and throw it in random directions. I prayed it wouldn’t land on anyone and tried to only fling when there was a space around me.

miles 9-10. Easy. My body had now reached that stage of ‘Oh. Are we going for a run? Oh ok.’ Which meant that everything was moving easily. Do you ever get it when you’re running and it feels like the motion is completely fluid, as though your joints and muscles have been oiled? This was how I felt now. I was now starting to move through the pack. It struck me as funny that most people would be glad it was nearly over, whereas I was now in my ultra mode!

Running up to the finish. Thanks to Vince once again for tagging along to all these things and taking photos!

Running up to the finish. Thanks to Vince once again for tagging along to all these things and taking photos!

Finish: I maintained a steady pace to the end. Someone sprinted past me at the start of the chute but I didn’t try to fight him for it. I had no idea what time I had done since I didn’t have a watch so this was a shock result: 01:23:08. Full results are here. I was gobsmacked. Considering my struggle at the start, the fact that I didn’t push hard hard during the rest of the race, the terrain, wind and snot, that’s an amazing result for me. It’s less than 8 minutes slower than my PB , which was on a less hilly road race in calm conditions. And in that race I struggled to maintain bladder control and did some sick in my mouth due to the exertion whereas I felt comfortable the majority of this race.

It just goes to show that my winter speedwork has paid off a bit. I know I can get stronger and faster but I’m going to take my time with setting new goals. My focus for this year remains with the 10 Peaks Xtreme next month and the 100 miler in September.

I’ve got a trail marathon on Sunday that I’m looking forward too, however since Sunday I’ve had a minor foot related accident so we’ll have to see how that goes.

But that’s another post!

Becky :)

Happy days :)

Happy days :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missing in action…

CreekWalk.jpg

One of the many creek walks we have had this weekend

…one ultra training plan. I’ve been taken over by the joys of spring and visiting family. Somehow I’ve stopped being a runner and have turned into a tourist instead. And yes, that does include all the cream teas, cakes and ice creams you can eat. Continue reading