Hope 24 2021

I’m so sorry I haven’t blogged in ages! Been having a lot of sleep and energy issues recently and sleeping more than I’m awake, and haven’t had the motivation to do much writing. I’ve started a few posts and not finished them, and I really am going to try to keep up with blogging more…

Last weekend was Hope24, which is my favourite running event of the year. It takes place in Newnham Park near Plymouth and it’s all trail running, across a field and through woods and it’s so scenic. Every lap is five miles and you can set a tent up near the start/finish line to keep food etc, or to have a sleep. The atmosphere is amazing and the organisers are incredible. Such an awesome event!

I was a bit nervous going into the run because I haven’t been running much recently as I’ve been sleeping so much and had no energy. I’d also run London to Brighton a few weeks ago which was horrible- so, so hard both mentally and physically and I wasn’t sure another ultramarathon was a good idea. But I love Hope and didn’t want to miss my favourite race so I went ahead with it. I made sure I had lots of sleep the night before and stocked up on electrolyte tablets with caffeine to try to stay awake during the run!

The first lap wasn’t too eventful but was HARD. I genuinely think my body has forgotten how to run- even when I try to make running movements, it’s like forcing my body through sludge and I’m slower than if I were walking. At the end of the first lap, a guy I know asked why I wasn’t running and my reply was “I am!”; my running speed was so, so slow and I couldn’t go any faster. London to Brighton was the same and it’s so frustrating to consistently get overtaken by walkers. But I was determined to run as much as I could however slowly I was going.

Mentally, the race was really, really tough. I’m having a lot of issues with obsessive and distressing thoughts at the moment and it was really hard to distract from them. I tried everything I could think of- DBT skills like observing and describing my surroundings, turning the mind, radical acceptance (which I still can’t get my head around and which I’m planning a blog post about), half smiling, thought blocking, imagining thoughts on a conveyor belt, thinking of thoughts as firings of the brain… I even tried listening to Blackadder in the hope that laughing would help! But nothing seemed to make any difference, and it got worse as the race went on.

The scenery was amazing though and describing it (out loud) did help to distract a bit even though the thoughts came back as soon as I stopped. The route was so nice- up a hill and through some trees, over a field and up another hill, a long downhill through the woods then up the other side. No bluebells this time of year but there were foxgloves and thistles.

After 20 miles, I stopped for a coffee break as well as the caffeine tablets because I was starting to get really tired by that point. Had a cereal bar and a ten minute rest, then back to the running. I had a ‘photography lap’ where I took some more photos then it started to rain so I had to put my phone away.

By the evening, I was completely exhausted and finding the obsessive thoughts really, really hard to manage. I was also feeling upset and angry which didn’t help, and having a lot of negative urges. It had also started to rain which got heavier as the night went on, and by midnight the trail had turned to rivers of mud and it was really hard to run without falling over, especially when you’re already totally distracted and feeling horrible. At about 1am, I stopped to get more coffee and some food, and waited for the rain to ease off which ended up being two hours later by which time I’d tried to quit then asked for my timing chip back!

At 3am, the rain was more drizzly than deluge so I headed back out again. To be honest, I can’t remember much of the night apart from feeling really upset, crying a lot and lots of obsessive thoughts. When it got light, the rain was on and off which, along with the light, helped a bit but by 7am I couldn’t deal with the thoughts any more and decided to stop. It was the right decision, I think- I was so tired I couldn’t see straight and things were moving that shouldn’t be, and I felt horrible. So I handed my timing chip in and got my medal.

Once I got back to the B+B, I slept all day until 6.30pm, briefly tried to watch the F1 but fell asleep partway through and slept till 6am the next morning. Drove home and had DBT, then fell asleep again for the rest of the day! So I think it really was the right decision to stop. I feel rubbish about it though :/ it’s the first time I haven’t finished a 24 hour race and I feel like I should have been able to complete it. But I’ve realised that the people who keep telling me that I’m not well enough for ultrarunning are right- physically I don’t have the energy and mentally I can’t deal with the extended thinking time. But it’s yet another reason to fully commit to DBT and trying to recover!

What I learned from running 10 marathons in 10 days

Sorry I didn’t post last night; was completely exhausted both physically and emotionally but finished the 10 in 10!!  Honestly one of the hardest things I have ever done- I was just about prepared for it physically but really wasn’t ready for the mental challenge of getting to the startline every day for another marathon, keeping going when you’re too hot, everything hurts and you’re exhausted or (especially) the emotional overload every night after the race and occasionally during it.  But DONE 😀 probably not something I’ll ever attempt again but so glad I did it, really needed the challenge and good to have achieved at least one positive thing this summer.

The emotional side of the running was definitely the hardest bit.  Usually I run ultras where you have 24+ hours of just zoning out and running at your own pace which is totally different to running marathons.  Plus there are so many more PEOPLE which I know is good and motivating but sometimes I really just wanted to be on my own which was impossible on a lapped marathon.  The people were amazing though- everyone was so lovely and encouraging and without them, I probably wouldn’t have got past day two but it’s definitely a different type of running to what I’m used to.  There were a few days when I genuinely couldn’t stop crying and it’s hard when there are people all around you so spent a lot of time crying in bushes or anywhere people couldn’t see, and I hadn’t realised how emotional marathon running can be.  I think it’s because you’re having to push physically all the time to meet the cut off times and you can’t zone out in the same way as during ultras so you’ve got too much thinking time and my brain was going to some pretty horrible places without enough distraction.  Definitely not the kind of running I’d want to keep doing but definitely good for a challenge!

The other big challenge for me was being away for ten days on my own and managing the time in between marathons.  It was really, really hard and had some pretty massive mood crashes between the runs but I kept reminding myself that it was still better than how I’ve been feeling at home recently and it was a massive challenge.  I actually made some (for me) pretty sensible decisions- when I was having a really bad night and constant suicidal thoughts, I called a mental health helpline who contacted the psychiatrist I’m seeing at the moment so she called me, and I gave my medication to a running friend to look after so I couldn’t overdose on it which is definitely more sensible than I’d usually be.  But I really, really wanted to complete the 10 in 10 which would be pretty impossible if I did anything ridiculous or stupid and my whole focus last week was getting through the challenge.

The other unexpected challenge was the heat- it was bloody hot especially over the last few days!!  Running a dry, exposed course in 33 degree heat with no breeze is bloody tough and definitely made the challenge harder.  Even though I was dipping my cap in cold water every lap, drinking as much water and electrolytes as I could and wearing factor 50 kids suncream, I was massively overheated all the time which really wasn’t fun.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I ran into the petrol station near the course to buy some diet Coke and even ate a ridiculous amount of ice poles and ice lollies which I’d never normally eat because of the sugar and additives but it was so, so needed and was desperate for any way to cool down.  Never want to see an ice lolly again EVER and feeling a bit shit about how many I’ve eaten over the last ten days but it did seem to help stop the path from spinning so much.

Anyway, back to reality today :/ still on a bit of a high and trying to make it last as long as possible before the inevitable mood crash that people keep warning me about.  So I’m trying to get as much washing, blog writing and productiveness done as a I can now!  Felt a bit weird this morning not going to the Cyclopark for another run but definitely nice not to have to force down porridge with cornflakes and cereal bars when I’m already feeling sick or cover myself in green gunky suncream (because I hate white things) and feel yucky and greasy all day.  But it is a bit lonely without the amazingness of awesome SVN people and how bloody incredible and supportive you all are- THANK YOU so so much!!

Been a bit of an epic and exhausting week, and actually learned some stuff!  SO…

  1. The human body is AMAZING and is capable of incredible things.  Especially if you feed it.
  2. David Bowie is a lifesaver and playing Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide will make you feel alive even when you really don’t feel like it physically or mentally.
  3. Use the people around you- they are amazing.  I’ve met so many awesome and inspiring people this week and thank you all so much!
  4. Ice lollies are GOOD and can save your race.
  5. Just keep moving.  Even if you’re walking, you’re still getting closer to the finish line.
  6. It is possible to run, cry and breathe all at the same time and is actually kind of therapeutic.
  7. Sleep can completely reset your mind and is really, really important.  Even if you need Zopiclone to get it!
  8. You are capable of way, way more than you think you are and half the challenge is just starting it.
  9. Food is fuel and without it, you can’t even get past the first lap.
  10. I like icing even if I don’t like cake and it’s a bloody good energy boost!
  11. Whole albums are better than playlists because you actually feel like you’ve accomplished something when you run through a whole sequence of albums.
  12. Don’t listen to emotional audiobooks while running; you will cry uncontrollably.
  13. Listen to your body.  If you need to slow down, then slow down and enjoy the scenery.  Even the bloody rabbit bridge for the 160th time!!  Pushing through pain is never a good idea.
  14. Exhaustion is more mental than physical- your body can do pretty much anything, it’s your brain you need to convince.
  15. Mental and emotional exhaustion are two separate things.  You can push through mental exhaustion and feel accomplished by the end; never try to force through emotional exhaustion because you’ll spend the evening feeling rubbish, overwhelmed and not safe.
  16. A text message from a friend can literally save your day.
  17. Running is a bubble away from real life where you’re not really alive or dead and neither really matters.  It’s like being in an alternate universe where all that matters is that particular lap and that’s a pretty amazing escape.
  18. I am definitely more of an ultra person than a marathon runner!  But it is pretty cool to have ten rainbow coloured medals.
  19. Your worth isn’t defined by how many marathons you’ve run or how far you can push yourself.  Everyone has their own individual limits and that’s OK; it’s working within those limits and feeling OK about yourself that matters.
  20. People are amazing.  Even if you’re feeling shit and don’t really want to interact with anyone, they’re still there being encouraging and so lovely and it’s amazing watching people achieve incredible things.

Just want to say THANK YOU so so much to everyone for being so amazing and supportive this week, both in person and online and I really, really appreciate it.  Genuinely didn’t think I’d manage even one marathon and I probably wouldn’t have without the support.  Been a v v surreal and exhausting week physically, mentally and emotionally but also ironically one of the most ‘sane’ weeks I’ve had in months and really  want to channel that!

Day Six of the 10 in 10- definitely over half way!!

Six marathons down and definitely more than halfway through now!  These blog posts are probably going to get shorter and shorter, sorry, I’m absolutely exhausted.  Today was a tough one- didn’t sleep at all last night and was feeling over-emotional this morning which didn’t help and I was crying pretty much continuously from about 5am.  I was still a bit tearful at the startline and spent most of the first two laps crying while running which really wasn’t ideal!  I was listening to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane albums though which really helped and by lap four, the crying seemed to be easing off.  Definitely good because it’s hard to breathe, cry and run all at the same time!

Weirdly I’d managed to make up enough time to be able to walk/run most of the second half which was a relief because I was knackered by then from the combination of lack of sleep, crying and running on tired legs.  I put on Bowie’s Reality Tour album which is a nice mix of live tracks and slowed down into the run.  Laps five and six were pretty much zombie running and by lap seven, I’d caught up with a woman I’ve run with a couple of times before so we chatted for the last couple of laps which was really nice and really helped to keep my mood a bit more stable.

At the end of lap seven, I had enough time to run into the garage and buy a diet Coke which was definitely needed and tasted amazing!  It was really, really hot again and there’s no real shade on the course so hard not to overheat :/ apparently it’s going to get even hotter by the weekend which I’m really not looking forward to.  But only four more marathons to go!!  REALLY hoping I can last that long…

10 in 10 Day Five- halfway through!!

Five marathons down and halfway through!!  Today was a bit of a weird one- after yesterday, I didn’t sleep brilliantly last night and wasn’t in a great mood when I woke up but I noticed on Facebook that it was a purple medal day and purple’s my favourite colour so made an effort to wear all purple (not too difficult given that 90% of my stuff is purple anyway plus I have purple hair and nails!) which definitely helped put me in a more positive frame of mind.  Wish everything was that simple!

I hadn’t had much to eat last night because of feeling rubbish and I was genuinely hungry this morning so I added cornflakes to my porridge (weird I know but it doesn’t seem as much as having extra porridge) and had some hot soya milk as well as coffee.  I actually felt reasonably with it at the start of the run which was nice considering how horrible the last two days have been and once the run started, I seemed to have a surprising amount of energy.

The first couple of laps went pretty quickly; I was listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Division Bell, and the extra food for breakfast really did seem to have helped.  By lap three, my mood had started to drop again and was having a lot of pretty unhelpful thoughts about eating extra and not needing it, not trying hard enough etc but I kept running and tried to build up enough time so that I could ease off in the second half.  I stuck to the cereal bar strategy again which *touch wood* seems to be working OK, and ran most of the race pretty much on autopilot.

The weirdest thing was that I didn’t really feel sore or overly exhausted which is strange considering it’s day five and days three and four were really tough.  Physically, I felt the best I have done all week although mentally my brain was all over the place and that was harder to manage.  By lap six, I’d switched to Harry Potter audiobooks which is my go-to brain numbing strategy and that really seemed to help.  I walked most of the last two laps but I’d got enough time to be able to, and I was surprised at how the run seemed relatively OK compared to the last couple of days.  Big relief and really hoping it lasts!!

It was really, really hot and I realised after the run how dehydrated I must have been- mega headache and felt so thirsty even though I’d been drinking squash all day so I walked to Morrisons and got some diet Irn Bru which was the most amazing thing ever!! Had a salad and cooked chicken for tea which didn’t seem like too much for once (I hate admitting it but I am actually starting to get hungry) and some melon which was equally amazing.  Am absolutely exhausted now though and a bit over-emotional so planning an early night and hopefully sleep…  Five down, five to go!

Day Three of the 10 in 10

Today was TOUGH.  Managed another marathon but I’m really not sure how many more I’m going to be able to do.  Weirdly it wasn’t the running itself that was the problem though- I woke up feeling rubbish and tired (no idea why; I’d slept OK) and found it really hard just to get my running stuff on, eat porridge and even get to the Cyclopark.  It was like I had no motivation at all and really couldn’t be bothered which was weird because it was sunny and everyone was being so lovely and supportive.

I can’t remember much of the start of the run but it must have gone OK, the sun was shining and there was a breeze so not too hot, and I was listening to a mix of Bowie live music.  On either the first or second lap (can’t remember!), I caught up with the guy I’ve run with on and off for the last few days and ran the next couple of laps with him which was really helpful motivation-wise and to keep pace up so that I didn’t have to stress for the last half of the marathon.  After lap four, I was really starting to struggle so he went ahead and I plugged back into Bowie in an attempt to keep moving.

The path kept spinning and I felt like I was literally forcing my body to move which wasn’t a lot of fun.  I was in a bit of a negative mindset- really not sure the runs are worth the extra stress of fuelling and trying to keep distracted from brain shit, but I kept reminding myself that it was definitely better than feeling rubbish at home which would be the alternative and at least while I was running, I was doing something relatively positive even if it didn’t feel like it.  I’m finding the food side of running really difficult though :/ a few people pointed out today that a few grapes each lap aren’t enough to fuel a marathon but I’d given up with the cereal bar strategy for today because I was feeling so shit about it, and it’s bloody hard having to actually eat real food every evening to fuel for the next day.  Feeling really rubbish about the whole thing atm and no idea how I’m going to manage another week of it.  Total mindfuck!

During lap seven, a lovely woman I’ve run with before caught up with me and it really helped chatting to her to distract from brain crap and just to catch up.  The end of the lap was a bit eventful- sudden rain and hailstorm out of nowhere and got absolutely soaked and bloody freezing!!  I was v v close to pulling out at the end of that lap because I was so cold but one of my awesome running friends who’d finished lent me his waterproof and went out again for the last lap- thanks to people who literally forced me back out!!  Thankfully the hail eased off and the sun came back out so had dried off a bit by the end of the run.

I’m still feeling a bit weird and rubbish about the whole thing :/ I know I should be happy to have run another marathon (and I’m sure on one level I am) and it’s so nice to people to keep being so encouraging but I’m also feeling really horrible and shit about everything at the same time which really isn’t helping.  I know I can’t not eat and expect to be able to run marathons every day but it’s so hard to know what’s the right amount and what foods to eat.  The woman I ran with today gave me some dextrose tablets to try tomorrow (only 12 calories each and they have electrolytes in them too) so will give that a go if I start to feel dizzy or spaced out, and keep going with porridge in the morning and something for tea.

Today I bought a salad from Morrisons for tea and added cooked chicken to it for protein which I think is OK, but the really horrible thing about eating more regularly is that you start to get hungry and I’m already finding it hard not to eat all my cereal bars in one go!  Feeling really greedy and yucky about it (don’t usually get hungry and it’s a headfuck feeling) but I know that marathons need fuel and protein helps to repair muscles.  Just wish it didn’t also feel like I’m going to have put on about ten stone by next week!  So bloody confusing but determined to keep trying with it…

10 in 10 Day Two!

Marathon number two complete!!  Honestly didn’t think I was going to manage even one so I still can’t quite believe I’ve run two so far, and even if I don’t manage another full one all week I’m mega happy with two!  Today was SO MUCH better than yesterday 🙂 I’d slept properly last night which really made a difference (ear plugs were definitely a good idea) and had porridge before the run, and I think the combination really, really helped both with how I was feeling in general and with the running itself.

I was a bit nervous about running again so I decided to wear my Hope24 T-shirt for good luck and to try to channel positive Hope vibes (Hope24 is my favourite ever race and have written blog posts about it before- Hope24: a 24 hour run in Newnham Park, Devon and Hope24 2017).  It kind of worked and was feeling a lot more positive than I have done recently which must have showed because several people commented that I seemed better than yesterday.  I’m focusing on one day at a time so just wanted to get through today, and I was really nervous about not making the cut off time for a marathon but once you’re at the start line and people are so lovely, it definitely helps you to feel less nervous.  I’m really lucky to know so many awesome running friends who are amazingly encouraging and supportive which really, really helped- you know who you are and THANK YOU!!

The first lap felt OK; I wasn’t running particularly fast but I was running which was a definite improvement on yesterday, and my body didn’t feel as much like lead as it had done.  It started off warm and sunny which was nice, not as oppressively hot as yesterday and there was a bit of a breeze then it started to cloud over.  I caught up with the friend who’d forced me to run a bit faster yesterday and he was amazing at motivating me and getting me to actually stick with the running which was definitely needed.  Anyone who knows Nick will know that he’s a pretty good person to run with when you’re really not feeling it- he doesn’t hold back and is v direct when you’re not trying hard enough or getting too distracted, and he’s definitely experienced enough at marathons to know what he’s talking about (he’s the current world record holder for most amount of marathons in a year and runs them pretty much every day; often more than one in a day- check out his Facebook page Chasing World Records) and he basically dragged me round the first four laps which meant I had enough time left to “fuck around” (Nick’s words) for the last few laps which was a relief because I was completely exhausted by that point.  But thanks to him, I stuck to the path instead of veering off to the sides, didn’t get *too* distracted by a cat wandering across the path and actually made up some time so thanks Nick!

Laps three and four weren’t a lot of fun :/ the clouds turned to rain and got absolutely soaked.  I’d left my waterproof in the car which wasn’t brilliantly organised of me and had to keep running just to stay warm.  The not-helpful part of my brain kept reminding me that you burn more calories when you’re trying to stay warm so it wasn’t a bad thing; Nick also reminded me that if you’re burning more calories then you need to consume more to finish the race and my brain went into a bit of a tailspin at that point!  But he was right- you can’t run ten marathons in ten days while not eating enough even if you’re not exercising, and I stuck to the same ‘cereal bar every two laps’ strategy that I’d used yesterday.  At the time, it was easier because I was flagging energy-wise and I knew I needed some fuel but finding it harder to justify now especially thinking of all the extra calories I’m going to have eaten by the time I finish the runs.  Found it hard to eat tea tonight- most places are closed on Sundays so I went to Subway and got a chicken salad but it was MASSIVE and felt a bit nauseous eating it.  I didn’t manage the porridge last night but I’ve got some soya milk which I’m going to try to drink before going to bed so I’ve got a bit more fuel for tomorrow.  Marathons are so much harder to fuel than ultras!

The rain eased off during lap five which was a relief and it was nice to start to dry off a bit.  I’d had some caffeine (via paracetamol) after lap four which really helped too and I slowed down a bit, and started to relax into the run a bit more.  I was listening to David Bowie’s Lazarus album which I love (the cast recording so it’s like a story) and the scenery was really nice in the sun.  Then about halfway round the lap, something amazing happened and I started to feel like I was actually real and with it for the first time in ages!  No idea why or what caused it but it was a massive relief- I’ve felt like an emotionally dead zombie pretty much constantly for the last few weeks and even though I still feel rubbish, I’m definitely feeling a lot less dissociated than I have been which is a big shift.  Really hoping it wasn’t just a one-off!

During lap six, I started running with a lovely woman who I hadn’t met before and we spent the last couple of laps running/walking and chatting which was really nice.  Finished well within the cut off time which was a big relief and was great to see more running friends at the end.  Definitely a better day than yesterday and so happy to have run another marathon!  Shower and bed time now ready for another go tomorrow, fingers crossed it’ll be another positive one…

Viking 100

Sorry again for how sporadic my blog posts are recently, really need to get back into the habit of actually writing posts instead of half-planning them then never getting round to actually writing any!  But took part in the amazing Viking 100 SVN event over the weekend which was awesome, intense and mega tough in probably equal amounts, and definitely think it deserves a blog post.  It feels a bit weird trying to write about it because the whole event seems to be stuck in ultrarunning brain scramble and there are parts of it that I can’t really remember or that seem totally confused in my head so this might be a bit of a disjointed account but I’ll try to remember as much as I can.  I’m also still totally exhausted and physically and emotionally drained so sorry in advance if it doesn’t make a lot of sense!

First and most important thing is a massive THANK YOU to all the amazing race organisers and volunteers at Saxons, Vikings and Normans.  If anyone hasn’t come across them before, they are among the friendliest, most inclusive and generally awesome running events I’ve ever taken part in.  The race organisers and volunteers are amazing and the whole atmosphere is so friendly and supportive, and I wouldn’t have even got halfway through the 100 miles without the amazing encouragement and support.  All the runners are equally amazing and supportive, and I’ve met so many incredible and inspirational people through running SVN events- you are all awesome!!

The run started at 8am which meant there was lots of time in daylight to get used to the route and get into the run which was definitely a good thing!  Weather at the start of the run was pretty much perfect for running- not too cold or windy, no rain (yet!!) and even occasional breaks in the clouds to see some blue sky.  It was a massive contrast to the absolutely FREEZING Moonlight Challenge on the same course three weeks earlier which had temperatures well below freezing and was so cold that I lost all feeling in my arms from the elbows down even with multiple pairs of gloves and it literally took fifteen minutes just to open some hand warmers to try to warm up!  Three of my fingers were white and it was the most painful cold I’ve experienced in years, and it took over seven hours just to complete a marathon so I was a bit worried about the weather being the same for the 100 miles but luckily it wasn’t and temperatures stayed several degrees above freezing even overnight which was a mega relief.

Partway into the first lap, I was lucky enough to end up running with the awesome Nick Nicholson who is one of the most crazily inspirational people I’ve ever met running.  For people who haven’t come across Nick, he’s the current Guinness World Record holder for the most marathons in a year and most 50ks in a year and is currently improving on these, so he’s a pretty awesome guy to run with!  Definitely helped to keep me sane on the first few laps when I hadn’t totally processed the fact that I was actually attempting 100 miles and considering the crazy amount of running Nick does, 100 miles in one weekend really shouldn’t be that scary…

The first part of the race was pretty uneventful; bit of rain but nothing major and the course was awesome.  The first part was muddy which became more of a challenge as the run/rain went on (more about that later!) then it was uphill to the windmill farm, back down to run down a path between fields and a main road, up to jellybean junction then down to a hilly two mile loop around the farm and back past jellybean junction to the barn which was the base aid station.  Really nice course- lots of scenery, mix of paths and fields, up and down to break up the longish flat stretch from jellybean junction to the windmill farm and nothing majorly technical apart from the mud.  Also impossible to get lost even for me which was a big bonus!  Having an extra aid station in the 10k route was also really, really helpful especially towards the end of the race when you’re absolutely exhausted and need as many positive boosts as possible.

The first major milestone in the run was passing marathon distance and was still feeling pretty good by then.  I’d got Harry Potter on my ipod and was enjoying the relative brain quiet that you only really get several hours into an ultra, and was it nice to get totally immersed in Harry’s attempt to find the diadem of Ravenclaw while the rest of the school were preparing for the Battle of Hogwarts.  I’d forgotten how many genuinely hilarious moments there are even in the most intense parts of the whole Harry Potter saga and was laughing a bit hysterically at some of the lines which *might* have looked a bit odd to anyone who saw me!  Looking back now, I think this might have been the start of when I was beginning to get a bit too hyped which didn’t kick in properly till early evening but at that point, it was just awesome to relax into the running and enjoy it.

The hardest part of long ultras for me is the fuelling bit- I can never seem to get it right and I hate how ridiculously stressful it is.  I have no idea how people can just seem to ‘get it’ without even thinking and I’ve never managed to get it properly sorted.  It’s also the first ultra I’ve done since I came off medication which seems to have had a big impact on that side of running too- usually my brain has ‘shut up’ enough by then so that I can eat things that I’d never normally eat without feeling sick or horrible but it hadn’t happened this time and I had no idea what or how much I should be eating.  From talking to other runners, I know that you should eat little and often but that didn’t seem to have any meaning whatsoever and by about six hours in, I was feeling a bit nauseous and couldn’t work out if it was from not eating enough (I’d only been fuelling at the base aid station and that was causing so much anxiety that I wasn’t even sure if I’d eaten anything at all) or from eating too much because again I wasn’t sure what I’d actually eaten!  By about 50k though, I knew I had to eat something other than salted peanuts and had two rice krispie bites which caused brain overload but did help to stop the nausea.

The sun was starting to set by then and it was nearly headtorch time which always makes me a bit nervous but luckily the timing was pretty much perfect and the next lap coincided with Nick coming out for his second 50k of the day (!) to start the pacer event.  The first lap (or two maybe?) went pretty well and was nice to chat to Nick, and he is a pretty amazing person to have as a pacer because he’s bloody brutal and kept telling me to ‘get off my fucking phone and fucking run’!  It really did help though- I have a habit of checking/rechecking my phone during the night part of ultras because usually I’m on my own and it freaks me out, and I find nightrunning really hard because everything seems a million times worse and harder but an awesome part of this sort of run is that there are usually people around or not too far away so if something did happen, someone would probably find you.  Doesn’t stop you getting paranoid though!

When we got back to the base aid station, they’d ordered Domino’s pizza.  For some totally unknown reason, I decided to have half a slice of the vegetable one (although I didn’t go as far as the cheese) and weirdly it tasted amazing.  Won’t go into too much detail but that caused complete mental overload and confusion, no idea why I even thought that pizza would be a good idea but it did give me an energy boost…to the point of going full-on hyped by halfway through the next lap.  God knows what was going on in my brain- I genuinely can’t remember it properly but I know I was talking way too much and too fast at Nick (sorry!!) and kept running too fast so I left him behind several times when he’d offered to pace me which was a bit rude and probably defeats the point of having a pacer!  I realised pretty quickly that I needed to do something about it though (possibly the only benefit of having been in A+E after going hypomanic after ultras in the past is being hyper aware of it) so I stopped at the next aid station to take Nytol and a small amount of quetiapine which I came off a couple of months ago but had some with me just in case since it was because of getting too hyped after an ultra that I was prescribed it in the first place so I always have some with my emergency first aid stuff.

I was still a bit hyped for the next lap or two but thanks to Nick’s awesome pacing, I managed to keep a relatively consistent pace over the next few hours and felt pretty good going into the night section.  Thankfully the medication worked and the hypedness didn’t go into full on over-hyped chaos but I had a bit of a weird experience where I was still a bit hyped and definitely talking way more than I usually would or should do (especially to people I hardly know 16 hours into a pretty gruelling ultra) but was also starting to ‘crash’ at the same time which is hard to describe but it’s like being simultaneously hyperactive and wanting to crawl in a bush and disappear, kind of like when you’re laughing and crying at the same time.  I think a lot of it was mid-ultra exhaustion and was definitely more emotional than I usually would be which is unusual for me during a run but not particularly unusual for a lot of people during ultras so hopefully no-one thought I was too weird or annoying!  Apart from maybe Nick who definitely had to put up with more annoyingness than anyone should have to especially at midnight in the middle of an ultra.

Just realised I’ve forgotten to mention the mud issue!  At the start and end of the route, there was a particularly muddy stretch of grass which gradually got worse as the run (and rain) went on with standing water and people running through it making it more like mud sliding than even walking.  So about halfway through the event, the route was changed to avoid the really muddy stretch which was a massive relief- I’m not coordinated even running on normal terrain and it was definitely not my favourite part of the course.  Good experience to practise on it though, and was kind of fun even though it sapped a ridiculous amount of energy.  But by most of the night laps, it had was mostly road or paths which was a lot less risky.

Nick finished his second 50k around 1am and left to get seem sleep before driving to another one in the morning (!) which is crazy and amazing in equal amounts.  Definitely owe him massively for the pacing and for putting up with me over the previous few laps- without the relatively even times I’d managed to make over the laps I’d run with him, I don’t think I’d have even passed 50 miles given how erratic and inconsistent my running was by that point and it definitely helped that I had that as a ‘buffer’ when my knee started to play up later on in the race and I had to walk almost an entire lap.  Thanks so much Nick!  The next couple of hours went OK; I was still listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and it was getting to the real intense battle part which was an intense enough distraction from the dark, and chatted to a couple of other people at various points during the laps which was also really nice.  I was still having fuelling issues though and didn’t want to risk another pizza issue so was back to salted peanuts and jelly babies for energy which I was really starting to hate!  But coffee really, really helped and needed the heat and caffeine boost.

By 3am though, my mood had started to drop and the on/off rain in the dark probably didn’t help.  I can’t remember a lot about 3am-6am apart from really struggling, finding it really difficult to keep moving and being very cold and wet.  I know I definitely cried over someone at least once but can’t remember who it was or what I said to them but I’m really sorry- I’m not usually like that!!  Was having a lot of horrible negative thoughts which didn’t help and I’m not sure if it was exhaustion, cold, quetiapine (having not taken it in two months), residual pizza anxiety, sleep deprivation or a combination but it was seriously horrible.  I did at least one lap in my dryrobe to try to stay warm and switched from Harry Potter to Alanis Morissette in an attempt to boost mood a bit but weirdly the thing that really did help was when I got to the aid station after a particularly horrible lap and had a bit of a meltdown about what to eat- my brain was total fuzz and I couldn’t even speak properly, and someone suggested eating toast.  I didn’t even have the brain power to think about it at the time so I had toast and jam which must have done something magical because half a lap later, I felt relatively human again and started to get back into the running.  I can’t remember who it was that gave me the toast but thank you so much!!

The last 20 miles were HELL.  I was so so tired, my left knee was starting to get really painful and every part of my body hurt.  I walked/jogged a lap to try to get back into it which helped a bit to loosen up now it was starting to get light again, and it always helps when it starts to get light.  My brain was still a bit scrambled and I was totally convinced I wouldn’t finish in the time but one of the organisers pointed out that even if I was moving at 2 miles an hour, I could still finish before the cut off and I was determined to keep moving even though by then I wanted to hide under a dryrobe and never come out.  I was relying on coffee and sweets to function by then and I’d worked out how many I needed to get round a lap so fuelling for once wasn’t really an issue, I think maybe because I’d already fried my brain with pizza and toast!

The last two laps seemed to take forever but I had a knee support and was taking it really slowly, and it was weirdly starting to seem like I might actually finish which hadn’t seemed like a real possibility before then.  I was absolutely exhausted and felt like I was forcing my body to keep moving every step but was back on Harry Potter and compared to fighting Voldemort, getting through less than a half marathon in six hours should be totally achievable!  It was so, so painful though and seemed to take ten times as long as it should have, and the rain really didn’t help- for a while, it was horrible steady drizzle which soaks you even though it’s not that heavy but thankfully it didn’t last too long and once it stopped, it was pretty much ideal running conditions again which also really helped.

By the last few miles, I actually felt like a normal human being again which was a massive relief!  I kind of enjoyed the last bit- partly relief that it was nearly over and that I could actually finish it, and also nice to enjoy the scenery without the stress of ‘OMG I’ve still got XXX miles to go’.  I finished in under 29 hours which was 2 hours 40 minutes faster than Samphire 100 two years ago so I was massively happy with that!  The race organisers and volunteers are genuinely amazing- I could not have done it without the support and encouragement, and thank you all so so so much.  Also massive thank you to the amazing people taking part in the run- you all did amazingly and huge WELL DONE to everyone!!  Thanks so much for the encouragement, chats and hugs from everyone during and after the race- anyone who knows me will know that I’m not a hug-type person in any way at all but I really needed it during what was a seriously tough run and thank you all so much.  You are all incredible!!

I’m still completely overwhelmed and can’t fully process it, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention lots of awesome parts of the run so might end up editing this blog post at some point or adding to it but it really was an amazing event and such an incredible challenge.  100 miles is a bloody long way and it’s a really up and down experience for anyone, even people who have done it several times before.  MASSIVE congratulations to anyone who took part and to everyone doing the challenge runs- it wasn’t the easiest course and conditions, and everyone did so so well.  THANK YOU to Traviss and Rachel for organising it and to all the amazing volunteers who made it possible and made it such an amazing experience.  The atmosphere at SVN events is always awesome and I loved every minute of it however painful the run was at times.  Thank you all so much ❤

More SVN Challenge runs!

Hi guys, I’m really sorry I haven’t written a blog post in so long; haven’t been feeling great recently and getting really frustrated with (lack of) mental health support, and I don’t like posting non-positive writing so thought it would be best to give blogging a break for a while.  Also haven’t been running much recently since I cracked a rib a couple of months ago but FINALLY getting back into it and ran two awesome Saxons Vikings and Normans events last weekend which were, as usual, amazing, well organised and massively supportive.  Thanks Traviss, Rachel, Karen and everyone else who helped to organise and run the events!

I was really nervous about running the events because I hadn’t run properly in over two months and I tried to run an ultra event a couple of weeks ago but only managed 16 miles due to rib pain and cold weather, and I drove down to Kent half-expecting this weekend to be similar.  I’d had a busy week at work and was exhausted before I even got there but when I arrived in Deal and went to the B+B (which I’d booked because it was the cheapest), I was mega excited to find out that it was on the seafront!  The sunrise walk before the runs and moonlight afterwards made the trip to Kent worth it even if the running didn’t work out at all, and I was looking forward to seeing friends from other runs who were also taking part so I started to feel a bit more optimistic although still very, very nervous.

Saturday was the Betteshanger Challenge and I kept reminding myself that some (crazy) people were doing 10 marathons in 10 days and this would be their 9th so I didn’t really have anything to complain about!  I still wasn’t sure if I should aim for a marathon or ultra so I channelled my inner teen and asked the collective wisdom that is Instagram via an insta poll and the results came back as 70% ultra.  So that pretty much decided that!

One of the things I love most about SVN events is how friendly, accepting and welcoming the people are.  It’s amazing when people not only recognise you but also seem happy to see you, and it’s like you only ran with them last week instead of months ago.  And everyone is so inclusive that even though I’d one of the slowest runners on the planet, it really doesn’t feel like it and everyone is equal even though there are people there with crazy records!

When the run started it was FREEZING and I ran the first lap wearing pretty much the amount of layers you’d wear on a ski slope.  It warmed up *slightly* by the second and third laps though so I swapped my ski jacket for a lighter windproof running one and took off one of the pairs of gloves, still cold but definitely better than running like I was doing some sort of polar marathon.

The course wasn’t the most exciting in the world; it started up a hill past the visitor centre then followed a two mile cycle track and back to the start which was a bit monotonous after a while but at least you couldn’t get lost and the views weren’t terrible.  It was also really, really cold (although I was told it was much colder during the week) and my temperature regulation is a bit rubbish so I was really feeling it as the race went on.  I couldn’t seem to get into the usual rhythm but managed to settle into a relatively OK state of half-jogging and brain slowedness if not totally quiet, which seemed about as much as I could hope for.  So I carried on longer than I thought I’d be able to and started to connect more with the run as the time went on.

Part of the reason I didn’t quit at half marathon (which I seriously considered) was that I was fortunate enough to run into the awesome and inspiring Nick Nicholson who I’ve run with before on previous races and who never fails to amaze me with his pretty much constant running and amazing world records.  I’d been feeling a bit demoralised and exhausted but Nick put up with several laps of me talking pretty much random crap at him (until once again, I ditched him for coffee- I promise it’s not personal, Nick!) and decided to go for the ultra after all.  Then the sky decided to showcase its awesomeness and there was one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen which, coupled with David Bowie, made the last couple of laps feel like a sort of religious experience.  Amazing!!

As anyone who’s ever seen my Instagram page (@ultrarunning.geek) will know, I’m a bit obsessed with taking pictures of the sky and nature but this was seriously incredible.  It made the freezing start and icy wind absolutely worth it and I almost didn’t want to stop by the end even though I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained.  There’s something magical about running when the light’s an intense gold and the world seems strangely magnified and detailed, and that’s the point when I start feeling fully connected with the world around me and with God.  Took way too many photos so here are a few more!

I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got back to the B+B and after porridge, coffee and a hot shower (because my body felt like I’d spent the day in a walk-in freezer!), I was ready to go to bed at about 7pm!  I forced myself to stay awake for a few hours though, did some drawing and wrote in my diary (because I really am a throwback 90s kid!) and went to bed finally about 11pm in the hope that I might actually get some sleep.  As usual for the moment, I couldn’t get to sleep and had several fights with the duvet in an attempt to get warm (even with hot water bottles and blankets!) and it seemed like ages of listening to Harry Potter to actually fall asleep but I must have done because next thing I remember it was 3am and I was awake again.

The second day was much harder than the first.  I was physically tired even after three cups of coffee and achy from the day before, and I’d started to get a cold which didn’t help (apart from the amusement of being IDd for Lemsip!).  My mood was also pretty rubbish for no particular reason and I kind of wanted to crash and hide in Homeland DVDs for the whole day but obviously that wasn’t an option.  So I used my usual strategy of using Instagram for accountability and asked via a second insta poll if I should aim for marathon or ultra.  THANKFULLY the vote was ‘marathon’ at 57% to 43% so I set that as my target and it gave me a legitimate reason not to push for an ultra.

Sunday wasn’t quite as cold as Saturday and I didn’t have to start in a ski jacket and two pairs of gloves which was a relief!  The course was also nicer- it was a 4.3 mile loop with undulating footpath and trail which was really good to run on and again, you couldn’t really get lost.  So on one level I was enjoying the run much more than I had the previous day but I was also physically exhausted, still cold and irrationally anxious which made it really hard to settle into the running.

Then the weather decided to make things even harder with icy rain and wind.  I had a waterproof with a hood and several layers but it was that horrible smeary rain which seems to penetrate through every layer you have so it was pretty much cold and wet whatever you did.  I was literally shivering as I was running which wasn’t fun and I’d also started to feel a bit dizzy and nauseous with tiredness which I tried unsuccessfully to combat with chocolate and Haribo- you know the run’s not going great when Haribo doesn’t work!!

One of the things that really does help when you’re feeling rubbish when running is supportive texts because it makes you feel more connected and like you’re not totally on your own running in the middle of nowhere, and thank you so so much to everyone who sent messages.  I was ready to quit at halfway again but I’d got some lovely messages from close friends and really wanted to get to at least marathon so carried on with the help of lovely friends and family.  Thank you!!

I didn’t take many photos on the second day, partly because I was exhausted and partly because it was so cold and wet that I didn’t want to take my gloves off to take a photo.  But I did get a few good ones in between rain showers and it really was a typical, damp autumn run in beautiful scenery.

By the end, I was so tired that I could hardly run straight and shivery cold, and I just wanted to finish.  The last part of the lap was a bit hilly and I could really feel it in my knees as I tried to complete in under the time limit, and the last stretch seemed to last forever.  But finally it was over and, being a Lucky Dip Challenge, there was a choice of random medals.  I didn’t really have much of a preference and couldn’t decide, and then one of the race organisers asked me if I wanted a Formula One medal!!  I’m a MASSIVE F1 fan and said yes if there was one, and she said that she’d saved me one because she knew I liked F1!  It was so so nice of her and I got a bit over-excited, acting like a ten year old on Christmas Day, jumping up and down and showing random people (ridiculous post-run emotions even for me!) then I suddenly wanted to cry.  I was still absolutely freezing which might also have contributed to the over-emotion so I went into the visitor centre and got out my blanket, hot water bottle and hand warmers which were an absolute godsend!

Once I’d warmed up a bit, I could drive home and after nearly 5 hours of driving (M25 traffic then accident on M40), I was ready to crash out.  I had a quick shower and some porridge (with blueberries, thanks to a friend’s suggestion) then went straight to bed.  Amazingly I actually fell asleep relatively quickly but that meant that I woke up ridiculously early so you can’t really win…  So worth it though!!  Was awesome to see so many people I knew and to catch up with people, and can’t wait to see you all at another SVN event soon!

Insomnia 24

Sorry this blog post is so late!  I ran Insomnia 24 back in August but have been so busy with going back to work, sorting out stuff for Open University and trying to deal with a pretty persistent mood crash that I haven’t had the energy or motivation to write a post after the race.  But it was such an amazing, magical run that I can’t not write one so going to attempt to use photos to try to channel the amazing feelings and moments over an amazing 24 hours…

The run started at midday and was in Leicestershire so for once, I didn’t have to travel too far.  I drove there on the Saturday morning and set up my tent with two hours to spare, so got chatting to some other people doing the run who were lovely as always and started to get excited.  It was hot already so I decided to leave my backpack by the start line instead of in my tent (because everything would melt) and put on sunscreen- REALLY didn’t want a repeat of last year’s ridiculous sunburn from a summer 100 miler! I wasn’t too nervous about the run because it was my fourth ultra over the summer holidays, I didn’t have any specific goals or targets and just wanted to enjoy the weekend of running.  So as midday got closer, the pre-run nerves never really got past the jittery stage and I was definitely more excited than terrified.  The course looked awesome, it was a six mile loop and the weather was amazing which is pretty miraculous for an August bank holiday weekend!

The course genuinely was amazing!  It started with a gentle downhill run across a field with a windmill then looped back behind some woods, through the trees, up the other side of the field, through more trees, over a pumpkin field, past farmland with strawberries, blackberries and probably more crops that I didn’t recognise then down through some more woods and back up to loop round yet another field.  It was undulating but not massively hilly although it was one of the most technically challenging courses I have ever run- very uneven ground in a lot of places, overgrown nettles and (obviously, since it was an ultra) mud.  But the scenery made it worth it a million times over and it was so well organised that even I couldn’t get lost!

It was HOT!!  It took a while to get used to running in the heat and was drinking a lot more than I usually would even during an ultra, but it was close to 30 degrees and hardly any clouds in the sky so definitely needed.  I’d thought ahead enough to bring a cap and sunglasses (super organised for me!) and had electrolyte tablets so was about as prepared as I could be but was still tough running across exposed fields in the heat.  But considering the last 24 hour ultra I ran was postponed overnight because of torrential rain (see Hope24 2017), this was definitely preferable and once my body had adjusted, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as previous hot races I’ve run.  Possibly because I’m not taking risperidone or quetiapine any more but it’s amazing the difference it makes!

The first few hours passed pretty quickly and it was awesome to listen to Harry Potter with no interruptions or distractions apart from amazing scenery which made it feel like I was actually running through the story.  I started to feel more relaxed than I had done in weeks (it was the last week of the summer holidays and my stress/mood levels were pretty much at breaking point by then), my brain was finally starting to slow down, the bitch in my head’s voice was less intense and I was actually beginning to feel ‘real’ and connected again.  After a couple of hours of magical running, I met a guy I’d run with on previous races and ran a lap with him which was awesome as always (thanks Nick!) and crazily inspiring given that he’s currently holding the Guinness World Records for most marathons and most ultras in a year.  By then, I was getting seriously caffeine-deprived so ditched Nick for coffee after the lap and took a quick caffeine break to fuel up for the nighttime part of the race.

After an energy boost of coffee and peanut butter, the sun was starting to set so I set off on a ‘photography lap’ which is my version of a recovery lap- slow running and lots of walking to take photos, and basically just enjoying the incredibleness of nature, God and calmness.  It was a seriously amazing sunset- genuinely one of the best I have ever seen and that’s including Aberystwyth!  The only word to describe it is MAGICAL ❤ clear skies with horizon clouds meant that the whole sky turned orange and pink, and you could connect with everything around you in a way that I’ve only ever felt mid-ultra when nature’s doing something incredible.  Can’t find the right words to describe it so I’ll stick to sharing photos instead (photos still don’t do it justice!).

After that, it got properly dark so headtorch and layers time.  Given how hot it had been during the day, it was a bit of a shock how quickly the temperature dropped thanks to the clear skies and pretty soon I was running with a growing amount of layers culminating with two long sleeved tops, a fleece, an anorak and a fleecy blanket towards dawn!  Nightrunning is my least favourite part of ultrarunning :/ not because I don’t like running at night (I actually love some aspects of it) but because I get scared and a bit paranoid on my own in the dark, especially on a course like this which was all trail and a lot of wooded areas.

I’m really lucky though that I have some seriously awesome ‘text buddies’ who are AMAZING people who don’t mind random (usually over-excited or panicky) texts during ultras and who always reply with encouraging or inspiring words, and which sometimes have been the only reason I’ve completed some of the runs I’ve taken part in.  It’s weird, even though I know that they’re nowhere near me and that even if something did happen it’s seriously unlikely that they’d be able to do anything, it feels infinitely safer to know that they’re ‘there’ even if just through a Nokia 3210 (or running in spirit if you happen to be an awesome inspiring running guru!) and it makes such a massive difference to running on your own at night.  Can’t express enough how much it helps and how amazing it is to get those texts especially when I’m physically and mentally exhausted- you know who you are and thank you so so much!!

One close friend texted some quotes about darkness which really resonated with me and helped so much with running on my own in the dark: “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must also be present”- Francis Bacon, and “I used to be afraid of the dark until I learned that I am a light and the darkness is afraid of me”- Ephesians 5:8.  Can’t put into words how much that meant when I feeling nervous running on my own through trees at night and it really, really helped.  Another amazing friend texted to say that she had run two hours and so I wasn’t running alone, and that also really, really helped because it really is scary and lonely on your own at night!  Even though there are other people doing the run, you spread out so that you don’t really see people especially on the nighttime part so feeling connected to people in any way makes a massive difference.

I can’t remember a massive amount about running overnight apart from a few, very vivid moments which made the run probably the most magical run I have ever taken part in.  The clear skies meant that the temperature dropped quickly and it was like running through Narnia with more stars than I’ve ever seen outside of a dark sky park, cold, clear air and absolute quiet.  The stars were incredible.  I saw Orion for the first time this year which was pretty special (Orion is my all-time favourite constellation and I always use him as a ‘grounding point’ because whenever you are, you’re always looking at the same stars and he’s always roughly south-west which makes me feel safe because it helps you locate where you are, and west leads to Aberystwyth), the usual constellations like the Plough and Cassiopeia and could even see the Pleiades.

The most magical moment was when a shooting star shot across the sky so fast that I thought I’d imagined it.  It was seriously amazing- I was listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar album while running across the open field and it was totally unexpected.  Then not long after, there was another one and I could feel the amazing, infinite oneness that I can’t describe fully in words- it’s like you’re connected with God and the world around you with an intense energy that makes you feel real and safe and connected all at once.  It’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced.  The rest of the night passed in a bit of a blur and pretty soon, the sun was starting to rise and it was time for another coffee/porridge break!

If I’d thought the sunset was amazing, the sunrise was even more incredible.  It happened as quickly as the evening- quiet pre-dawn seemed to morph straight into flaming sun and morning mist.  It was equally magical as running across the stars but in a totally different way- this was surreal and unnerving, and it was a relief when the sun cut through the fog like a flaming dagger.  My absolute favourite part of a 24 hour run is the sunrise especially on a midday to midday race because the start of a new day seems to ‘reset’ any tiredness or negativity, and I could feel the underlying nighttime fear and tiredness start to ease off.

Physically though, I was starting to feel the impact of running for God knows how many hours (my brain was mush by then) and was feeling exhausted, dizzy and nauseous.  I was 10 laps in and needed to decide if I was going to stop at 12 laps or try to aim for 14 by the end of the 24 hours (I can’t stop on 13 laps because it’s bad luck).  It was pushing it a bit tight to aim for the 14 laps and I was feeling physically horrible but mentally I was feeling better than I had done in months and I really, really didn’t want to lose that feeling.  So I decided to go for the 14 laps and see how far I could go.  The dizziness was a pretty big problem though and I walked the remainder of that lap to see if it would help.  I tried to eat a cereal bar but immediately felt more nauseous, and ate some Haribo in mild desperation and amazingly, I felt better almost straight away!  It was incredible so I ate some more Haribo then started to run slowly again, and pretty soon I was feeling like I’d just started the run instead of being nearly 20 hours in!

The temperature rose almost as quickly as it had dropped the night before and pretty soon I was running in just a T-shirt and shorts again.  It was so hot that the Haribo had melted which made it taste like food from Heaven (seriously- melted Haribo is actually the most amazing food ever and even beats peanut butter!) and that fuelled me of the rest of the race.  I didn’t want to stop running ever- the light was like golden syrup, the mist was like running through somewhere Gothic and magical, and the whole world was amazing.  I was seriously hyped by that point (probably Haribo-related!) and having the most amazing run of my life.  It passed way too quickly though, and suddenly it was midday and I was finishing my final lap.  Really, really didn’t want the race to end!

Then the weirdest thing of the whole race happened: I was first female!!  That was so, so strange and felt totally wrong- I had to get it checked several times over before I could believe it.  I have never won a race in my life, and definitely not running!  The closest I’ve ever got was 3rd in hoop skipping on sports day in Year 2- every running race I ever took part in at school, I was last or close to last and I am really not a natural athlete.  But I actually did come first female in this one (still can’t believe it!) and got a £50 voucher for a running shop which is amazing given that nearly all my money goes on running stuff!  Such an incredible feeling, and really does show how positive and inclusive ultrarunning is.

THANK YOU so so much to everyone from Go Ultra events for organising such an amazing race and can’t wait to take part again next year!!  INCREDIBLE running event, so well organised, so friendly and amazing people ❤

Escape from Meriden- channelling my inner Shell Dockley!!

Sorry I haven’t updated this in a few weeks; had a few issues logging into my account for some reason so haven’t been able to access it to update but *hopefully* sorted now!  Which is good because I’ve been wanting to write this post about a run I did last week ever since I finished although maybe it is a good thing I’ve had to wait a bit because I was seriously hyped after the run and maybe the blog post wouldn’t have made a lot of sense.  It was an amazing run though!!


It’s a run I’ve done before called Escape from Meriden and it’s a jailbreak-style run- you get 24 hours to get as far from Meriden (near Coventry) as you can on foot starting at midnight.  Last time I did it was in November and it was FREEZING, dark, foggy and pretty scary so I was really nervous about doing it again but summer’s definitely a way better time to do it, and it went so much better than the winter version.  It starts in a village hall and I got there pretty early because I was so nervous, and got chatting to a couple of people who I’d met on runs before which is always nice.  One of the things I really, really love about ultras is how friendly and accepting people are, and how they make you feel totally ‘legitimate’ for being there instead of a complete amateur which is how I always feel.  It was raining pretty heavily outside so nice to wait indoors until midnight!  Quick pre-race briefing (basically: don’t die and remember to post back your tracker) then headtorch and waterproofs on and out to the Cross to start…


I’d written the first part of my route on a post-it note sized piece of paper which I had in my pocket and luckily I live close to Meriden anyway so know most of the country roads around there.  I was heading for Warwick down back roads to avoid cars as much as possible while it was still dark and rainy (although God knows why anyone would be driving country lanes at half midnight on a Friday night!).  At the beginning, there were quite a few people headed in the same direction but pretty soon people started to split and I was running on my own towards Balsall Common.  I was feeling physically pretty good- the coffee I’d downed just before I left the house seemed to be kicking in and although it was wet, it wasn’t cold at all which coming from me means it must have been practically summer!  The rain was a bit annoying because it was covering the lenses of my glasses making it hard to see, so I took them off for a while on the basis that I’d probably see better without them given that it was dark anyway.

It’s a really weird feeling running on your own down country lanes at night, and I don’t think I’ve really experienced it fully totally on my own before.  I’ve done off-road running at night and organised events, but never totally alone down narrow roads with no streetlights or pavements and the nearest village a few miles away.  It was pretty scary but not in the same ‘OMG I’m going to die’ was as the November version or the rainy, muddy nighttime trail running from Hope24 2017.  This was more of a creepy, surreal scariness like you get playing horror games on consoles- like a jumpy, nervous adrenaline but slightly detached like you’re not really ‘there’ at all.  I was definitely relieved to get to the streetlights of Balsall Common although there was about 7 miles of lanes to get through after that till I reached the canal at Warwick which was my first real ‘checkpoint’.  I was hoping to follow the canal as far as possible on the basis that I couldn’t really get lost which felt a lot safer!


By the time I got close to Warwick, it was raining like a deluge shower and I was absolutely soaked.  For the second ultra in a row, I was realising that my ‘waterproofs’ really aren’t and even my spare clothes were damp in my backpack.  So I decided to take a quick detour and go via my house to dry off a bit, change socks and put on some dry clothes.  I knew they would be wet again within ten minutes but it’s worth it just for the slight warmth that comes with drying off and dry feet for as long as possible helps to prevent blisters.  I spent a bit longer than I’d planned to giving my cat some attention and refilling my water pack, and found it pretty hard to get going again even though I was only a couple of hours in!

I finally psyched up to going back out in the rain and headed towards the canal.  It’s the part that I run on an almost daily basis so I know it pretty well but even still it’s scarier on your own at 3am.  The rain had eased off a bit which helped and I tried to relax into the rhythm of running in absolute quiet of pre-dawn darkness.  It felt really surreal and I put on some more upbeat music than I’d usually listen to but which really helped to start enjoying the running again even though I was still pretty scared.  By the time it started to get light at about 4.30am, I’d run through Warwick and out of Leamington and was starting to feel like I was actually getting somewhere!


Sunrise (or more accurately, just before) is my absolute favourite time to run and the rain had stopped completely by then so I took my waterproof off, switched to David Bowie’s Lazarus soundtrack and started to really connect with the run.  It sounds really weird and spiritual to describe, but there’s this amazing feeling you get sometimes when you’re running and everything seems to ‘sync’ and you feel totally relaxed, connected and calm in a way I’ve never experienced outside of running.  Sunrise is always pretty magical but especially when it’s a ‘slow’ sunrise because of clouds or mist and you get a gradual lightening of the air around you then an orange-purple tinge to the clouds before it actually starts to get light.  There was a lot of mist on the canal and it was so still before the birds started up, and I stopped briefly to really breathe in the morning before relaxed running again.



By 5.30, the sun had started to come up properly and it was feeling like daylight again, and I had a sudden realisation that I’d made it through the scary night and could be anyone out for a morning jog by the canal which felt suddenly a lot safer.  I got a weird burst of energy from that and hardly noticed the next few miles.  I’d started to get hungry so ate a cereal bar from my mammoth stash in my backpack (had enough food for 24 hours in the form of cereal bars, salted nuts, dried fruit and dolly mixtures!) and drank some more water.  It was exactly 6am by then and I made a ‘rule’ to eat something every hour even if it was just a small amount because I’ve had too many runs recently where I’ve felt sick from not eating enough but feeling too nauseous to eat anything which is the worst thing running ever.

The main issue I had once I’d left Leamington was that I genuinely had no idea where I was.  I knew that I was heading past Southam and towards Daventry but my geography knowledge really isn’t great and I didn’t really have any idea where that was, and there wasn’t enough phone signal to check Google maps (the ordnance survey map I’d borrowed from a geography teacher at school only covered as far as Leamington) so I carried on running and hoped I’d see some sort of map or sign soon.  At about 7.15am, I ran past a boat where someone was on board and I asked him where I was.  He probably thought I was really stupid but said I was leading towards Napton which I’d seen on some online maps so thanked him and carried on running.  I had a bit more signal so risked using my iPhone (which I usually have turned off for ultras to save battery for emergencies) to check Google maps which said there was a reasonably straight road from Napton to Wheedon Bec which would mean I could hopefully refill water and get coffee from somewhere so I started to check every canal sign for that.  Much as the canal really was pretty, I was getting thirsty and caffeine-deprived!


So at about 7.30, I left the canal to run to who knows where.  The road had seemed pretty straight on the map but LONG (about 12 miles) which really wasn’t the most fun running I’ve ever had a pretty scary at times where the road was busy, but after about an hour it turned into rollercoaster-style country lanes which are pretty fun to run and you get to walk the inclines so double win!  I’d filled up water just as I left the canal but it was started to get warm already and I was starting to worry about when I’d next get a chance to fill it up.  I was also starting to get pretty tired by this point and really, really wanted to find some coffee.

By 8.15, a sign said I’d reached Northamptonshire which was a relief because I was starting to think that Warwickshire was the biggest county in the world!  The lanes near Daventry and Newnham were really pretty but it was definitely a relief to get to Wheedon Bec where I was going to rejoin the canal.  I got a take-out coffee from a cafe which was AMAZING and took a quick break to put on sunscreen as the sun really was out by now, then ran down a lane and saw lots of lambs which was really nice, and I rejoined the canal pretty soon after that.  Saw lots more wildlife- swans and cygnets, and a cow drinking from the river- which was awesome after too long on roads. So I followed the canal for a while; nothing majorly interesting to write about but really, really peaceful and scenic.



Once the coffee had kicked in, I started to relax into the running again and realised how lucky I am that my body is capable of running for hours at a time and really connect with and enjoy it, and that’s something I need to keep reminding myself of more often.  Genuinely can’t put into words how amazing it is.  And for me, the most amazing part of running is that the ‘bitch in my head’ actually shuts up for a while and I get hours of relative brain quiet which is the most incredible thing ever and it only really happens when I’m running ultras which is a big reason why I run so many of them!  I am so thankful to my body for being able to run ultras, and to the person who got me into distance running in the first place (you know who you are).

I’d totally lost track of where I was by then and to be totally honest, the next few hours are a bit of a blur.  I know I was heading towards Oxford and that I passed Kettering (got chatting to an amazing woman with purple hair whose partner was in the Marines and still said there’s no way he could run 24 hours!), and the canal blurred into a green heat haze of summer running.  There were taps at some of the locks to fill up water which was a relief because it really was hot during the day, and I met some awesome people on canal boats some of whom offered to fill up water from their supply which was really, really nice of them.  At some point, I reached Stoke Bruene (I think that’s what it’s called?) which had a cafe and toilets which is a massive plus as anyone who’s ever run an ultra will realise!

So I got another coffee which was definitely needed, and completely impulsively bought a Magnum.  Anyone who knows me will know that this is completely out of character- I hate milk, haven’t eaten any form of ice cream in over 11 years and usually the idea of mixing protein (ice cream) with carbohydrate (chocolate) would send my brain into total meltdown with which bit I’m meant to eat first and how but weirdly none of that mattered and I just wanted something cold and minty because it was so bloody hot.  And at the time, it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever eaten although the idea of eating another one now makes me physically retch!  Weird how running totally changes your perception of EVERYTHING.


By mid-afternoon, it was too hot to run properly so I jogged-walked for a bit until it started to cool down a bit.  I was getting through most of my water pretty quickly and added some electrolytes so I wouldn’t get too dizzy, and ate some salted peanuts for extra sodium (and the inevitable giggling about the irony of salted peanuts before exercise definitely gave me a boost- WB friends will get that!).  This was probably the part of the run I found the hardest because of the heat which also meant that tiredness started to kick in, and I was really glad when it started to get cloudy at about 5pm and less humid.  I got a diet Coke and started running more again, and I genuinely couldn’t believe I’d been running for 15 hours!

I knew I was headed towards Milton Keynes where I’d planned to leave the river again and run down roads towards London to see how far I could get because I didn’t want to be running parts of the canal I didn’t know on my own in the dark, and it really felt like I was actually travelling away from the midlands finally.  I got to Milton Keynes about 7pm and started to try to navigate the subway system which is an absolute maze and got lost so many times!!  It was started to get darker now and I really didn’t feel safe running through underpasses I didn’t know when I was totally exhausted and not sure I could outrun anyone, and I started to feel really anxious.  Then, totally randomly, a guy on a bike asked me if I wanted to go for a drink later (?!) which was v v strange considering I’d run 18 hours by then and probably looked absolute sh*t but made me laugh which was definitely a good boost.  I said I couldn’t and carried on running, but couldn’t stop giggling at the irony that the only time I’ve ever been asked out in my whole 30 years of being alive is 18 hours into a 14 hour run!


I FINALLY made it out of Milton Keynes just as the sun was starting to set and was feeling really anxious and panicky by then.  I was also feeling jittery-high which is a weird combination that I haven’t had in a while, and started to feel like I was connecting with God in an amazing way that probably sounds really stupid and ridiculous but I’ve felt it running before and it really is an incredible and literally awesome feeling.  I know a lot of people will say it’s just endorphins and coincidence or that I’ve gone too ‘high’ but this time it really did feel like God was helping me and I’ve even got photographic proof!  At first, I just needed some inspiration and connection, and there were the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen in a really, really long time.  The sky looked like it was on fire and the photos really don’t do it justice.  I felt so amazingly connected and ‘oneness’ which is really hard to put into words.


Then the road changed from how it was on Google maps and I had to try three different directions until I was finally heading south-east again, and I started to get really anxious again. Then out of nowhere, there was a cloud rainbow in a sunset sky which is one of the most amazing and rare natural phenomenons possible and something I’ve never seen before in my life. I’ve seen cloud rainbows three times before but never at sunset, and it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I could really feel God with me as I was running and I kept thanking Them as I kept going and it felt like I was breathing in some of God’s greatness. I was running faster than I usually would at that point in an ultra but I was still scared especially as it was getting really dark now and I had a weird energy that meant I could keep running even though I was physically exhausted.


The last couple of hours was down an A road which I couldn’t really avoid and there was no real walkway beside it so I was running just outside the white line which was absolutely terrifying. I was convinced I was going to get hit or that someone would stop their car and pull me in, and I tried to focus on just getting past that stretch of road. Then, amazingly, a pathway opened up by roadside separated by a barrier which was so so incredible and made me feel so much safer even though it was still pretty scary running. It genuinely felt like God was looking out for me which sounds stupid I know, but that’s what it felt like.  


And at the same time, I got some texts of encouragement from AWESOME people (you know who you are!) which made a massive, massive difference and really helped to feel safer because it was like people were there running with you so THANK YOU!!!!! I can’t really remember much of the last bit of the run except that I made it to Dunstable *just* (literally got there exactly as my watch hit midnight!) and I was feeling super-hyped, amazing, jittery, scared and thankful all at the same time. 62 miles as the crow flies but amazingly 96.67 miles actual distance!! I met my dad who was driving back from the Isle of Wight and had really kindly offered to pick me up on the way, and slept the whole way back in the car. Total crash but amazing run!


This blog post REALLY doesn’t do the run justice- it was amazing, magical and had so many different moods that I really can’t put it into words.  I am so, so grateful that my body is capable of running that far and that I have amazing friends who send incredibly supportive and encouraging texts when I really need a boost (or if I’m irrationally panicking about nothing), and thank you all so so so much!!