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…

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 ❤

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!!

Hope24 2017

WOW!!  Ran the incredible Hope24 race last weekend and it was AMAZING ❤ just as awesome as last year (see Hope24: a 24 hour run in Newnham Park, Devon).  It’s a 24 hour race held in Devon and is my absolute favourite running event of all time- it’s got everything: day and night running, awesome scenery, woodland trails, bluebells, friendly and inclusive atmosphere, really well organised, technically challenging running but also suitable for beginner trail runners…basically everything you could want in a running event!  MASSIVE thanks to Danny Slay for organising it 😀

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Started off a bit of an eventful weekend and wasn’t sure I was even going to get to Plymouth!  Had had a bit of a rubbish week last week moodwise- several meltdowns, a pretty major paranoia attack and two panic attacks meaning that I hadn’t slept much at all during the week, and was really looking forward to 24 hours of just running.  I left the house Friday evening to get the train to Birmingham and then to Plymouth, but just as I got to Birmingham Moor Street I realised I’d forgotten to bring medication with me.  Sometimes that’s not a massive problem and I can manage a couple of days without it but given how unpredictable my moods and thoughts had been last week, I was a bit nervous about risking three days without quetiapine in particular.  Luckily I was a bit early into Birmingham and went to a pharmacy to ask for advice; maybe not the best idea because the pharmacist basically told me not to go to Plymouth until I’d gone to a walk in centre to try to get a prescription or A+E to see a mental health liaison if they wouldn’t prescribe antipsychotics without a psychiatric report, but I really didn’t have time to find a walk in centre before the train and I didn’t want to waste A+E time.  So I bought some herbal sedative tablets and some Nytol, and hoped that would do as a temporary measure until Sunday.  Running’s a pretty good mood stabiliser anyway and I was going to be doing A LOT of that in the meantime!

So I finally got to the station and tried to get my tickets via the mobile app but it wouldn’t open.  Don’t have the energy to go into it now and the whole thing seems a bit blurred and surreal because of panic, so am going to copy and paste my FB status from Friday night: “NEVER try to book tickets with Cross Country online!!!  Bought them in advance online because it was so much cheaper than the crazy expensive train fare, and it said I had to download the app to get the ticket in the ‘My tickets’ section.  So I did but the app wouldn’t let me sign in even though I reset the password, deleted and redownloaded it several times and tried two different email addresses.

Then I thought I could use the website to get the ticket texted to my phone but after nine attempts of ‘Sorry, your request cannot be processed. Please try again later’ I decided to go to the ticket office at New Street and ask them.  The first woman I spoke to and showed my phone looked at me like I was stupid (although to be fair, I probably looked ridiculous since I was shaking and trying not to hyperventilate or cry by that point) and said it wasn’t anything to do with her, she worked for Virgin not Cross Country and I had to phone the Cross Country helpline.

By this time it was 40 mins before the train and was starting to panic a bit, and I called the helpline.  The first person I spoke to couldn’t understand anything I said (I couldn’t breathe properly and was stammering) and I felt horrible, and he kept repeating ‘I need to know the best way to help you’ over and over which made me feel worse, and I said sorry and hung up.  Did some ‘breathe box’ exercises and tried again, but the next person couldn’t understand me either and put me on hold before I could try to explain properly.

Was really panicking by then and tried for a third time, but the guy on the phone said he couldn’t do anything and that I just needed to redownload the app.  I tried to explain that I’d done that several times and that it wasn’t working, but he kept saying that he couldn’t help and I had to keep trying with the app, then he put me on hold without warning, and the phone cut out.

Was so so panicky by that point, 15 mins before the train was due and went back to the ticket office.  The woman said she couldn’t help and that I needed to keep calling the helpline, and I was so shaky, hot and dangerously close to crying by then that I just said thanks and went out again.  Then I really did start crying and hyperventilating, and started doing the breathing again and pinging a hair tie on my wrist to try to calm down.
There was a woman standing with a Virgin uniform near the ticket machines and I went over to her, and tried to explain the whole situation which was pretty difficult since I was trying really hard not to cry too much, shaking and couldn’t speak properly.  Luckily she’d seen me going in to the ticket office a few times and on the phone, and she was so so nice and calm which REALLY helped and was so amazing of her.

She looked at my phone and said she would talk to the train manager and explain that the app wasn’t working, and took me down to the platform.  She was genuinely amazing and talked about her own experiences with trains/buses and how frustrating it can be, and made me feel like I wasn’t a totally weird freak for panicking like that which was so so nice of her. S he spoke to the manager who said it was fine just to use the confirmation on my phone, and I got the train OK. SERIOUSLY relieved and so so grateful to her!!

If anyone knows a woman called Sarah who works for Virgin trains at New Street station, PLEASE tell her how amazing she is and that she deserves a pay rise!!  Seriously don’t know what I’d have done if she hadn’t helped, and she was so amazing, calm and kind even though I probably seemed like a more of a weird, panicky freak than I usually do!  Am so so grateful and going to drop a box of chocolates into the station next time I’m there.”

So I finally got to Plymouth (!) and found the B+B I’d booked.  It was late so the woman had left a key in a plant pot for me which was a relief because I didn’t have to speak to anyone (still jittery), took some Nytol and went to bed.  Found it hard to sleep and I’m not sure if it was because of nerves, anxiety, excitement or lack of quetiapine (or a combination of all of them!) and semi-dozed until it was time to get up.  Then I started to get seriously excited about the run, ate porridge and packed my CRAZY amount of food for the tent:

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Had the usual ironic giggle at the fact that I always have peanut butter during ultras (MONDAY MORNING PEANUTS!!  This won’t mean much to anyone who didn’t happen to be inpatient at WB in the mid-00s, but the apparent normality of a bag of salted peanuts at 10am on a Monday morning before going to the gym is something I don’t think any of us can forget!), and waited outside for a running friend to pick me up and give me a lift to the event (THANK YOU again!).  One of the things I absolutely love about ultras is how incredible the people are- even people you’ve only met one at an event a couple of years previously are like family, and everyone’s so amazing and accepting.  Then I set up the tent with food stores and lots of extra layers (turned out to be essential!!) and wandered round to the start line.  There were a few people I recognised from last year and from other events which was really nice, and started to get really excited about the start.  The atmosphere was incredible 🙂 it’s the most inclusive race ever and people are so lovely, and the supporters are amazing without being overwhelming which is also incredible.

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The first mile was pretty much the same as last year’s course: a ‘gentle’ uphill to the top of a field, although it looped round and up this year instead of straight up which was a nice change and gave your legs more time to adjust.  There were sheep and lambs like last year, and the views from the top of the hill were incredible.  I was lucky to meet up with a woman I got to know during the run last year and who is incredible, and we ran the first couple of laps together which was really nice (thank you!!).  It was so nice to catch up and really didn’t feel like I’d only met her once a year ago, felt like we’d known each other forever!  Made the first couple of laps go past really quickly, and I decided to use the third lap as a ‘photography’ lap because the scenery was so amazing.

After the hill, the course went through a woodland trail with lots of bluebells which was so pretty and my favourite part of the course.  There was a short section where you run through tall trees and it feels surreal and magical, like running through an enchanted wood of some sort.  The path was easy to run on (at that point) and there was a heavy woodland air that you could feel as well as breathe, and the smell of bluebells was incredible.  Could run that part forever!  Then the path opened onto a short stretch across a field and back into the woods, although the second woodland stretch was more ‘busy’ and less magical stillness than the first one.  The trees were smaller and leafier with branches bending down towards to path or overhanging, and it felt like the kind of wood you’d make treehouses or go for long walks in.  It was a bit trickier to run because of roots and rocks but there were bluebells everywhere and it felt like you were really in spring.  So, so pretty!!

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After a mostly downhill wooded trail, the course looped back around a relatively flat pathway before back up onto wooded trail again and spilling down the hill towards the campsite.  I loved the last mile: undulating wooded path along the side of a hill with glimpses of the tents through the trees then running down an open hillside towards the campsite.  Really did feel like coming back home at the end!  After that lap, I made a quick pitstop at my tent (which felt like a sauna and my peanut butter had melted!), ate  few spoonfuls of PB and grabbed a few cereal bars for my water pack.  Refilled water then back out for another lap of awesomeness.

I was feeling pretty amazing by this point: getting into the rhythm of running, loving the scenery, connecting with God and my Granda Sam through bluebells and trees, and best of all the bitch in my head seemed to have taken a nap and was nearly totally silent throughout the whole run!!  The last few races I’ve done, she’s been a bit quieter but still annoyingly there, but for the first time in probably about six months she seemed to have shut up completely and my brain was relatively quiet for the first time in AGES.  It felt AMAZING; I could think more clearly, everything seemed slowed down and manageable, and I felt calm and connected with everything instead of jittery-hyped or detached.  It really was an incredible feeling.  I decided to put Bowie’s Lazarus soundtrack on my iPod (I saw the musical last year and it was the most amazing stage show I’ve ever seen, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense at the time) and ran continuously until the album had finished.  And then amazingly, the meaning of the music started to make sense and it felt like Bowie was actually talking to me through the lyrics and the way the actors sang the words.  Won’t bore readers with too much pseudo-significant Bowie, but some things seemed really important:

  • Your only reality is your own.  You just need to come to peace with your own thoughts and learn to accept them without having to react or act on them.
  • Sometimes the most helpful and influential people in your life only exist in your own head.
  • Judging yourself is so much worse than other people’s judgments.  People are selfish and inevitably caught up in their own lives- any judgment on you is a passing comment whereas self-judgment is a poisonous seed that can control your mind from within.
  • The only true way to escape the reality of life is to fully accept it.  Any attempts to escape or numb it only lead to more suffering.
  • “We can be heroes.  Just for one day.”  The second part of that quote is the most important part: anyone can be a hero in any given moment if you only focus fully on that particular moment and don’t have the pressure of trying to be a ‘hero’ for a lifetime.  The ‘we’ is also important: ANYONE can be a ‘hero’ if they learn to make peace with their own mind in order to escape its control.  And that’s pretty much my mantra for running: accept the run for what it is, try as hard as you can but don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve any particular time/distance, relax into it.  Metaphor for running and for life!

Anyway, Bowie aside…!!  It started to rain towards the end of that lap so I put on my first layer of waterproof, ate a cereal bar and carried on.  Unfortunately the rain got gradually heavier until by the time it was dark enough to need head torches, it was pretty much impossible to see properly and I was on my fourth layer of waterproofs.  That lap was genuinely terrifying :/ I could hardly see at all (my headtorch isn’t brilliantly strong to start off with but my glasses were covered with rain so really hard to see through, and it was very, very muddy).  The first part of the lap wasn’t too bad going across the field, but going into the woods was very, very muddy and hard to navigate.  I was slipping all over the place and trying not to fall by grabbing onto tree branches, and tiptoe/climbing rather than even walking!  It was so, so scary on my own, and started to panic which really didn’t help because I was genuinely convinced I was going to die of saturation, hypothermia or falling in mud.

Then halfway through the lap (and thankfully before the main downhill part of the route), I met a running friend who had walking poles and a VERY strong headtorch, and asked if I could stick with him for the rest of the route.  He was amazing and basically let me walk right behind him so I could see where he’d put his feet, and pointed out any roots or rocks with his poles.  Made such a massive difference and felt so much safer with someone else there.  I was starting to have a bit of an ethical dilemma about what to do: I REALLY didn’t feel safe carrying on with that amount of mud and poor visibility but I felt too guilty to stop until it got light, and I knew that if I took a break, I’d never get going again.  I was feeling really trapped and stuck, and still wasn’t sure what to do by the end of the lap but thankfully when we got back to the campsite, the race had been postponed because of the conditions.  I had genuinely never been so relieved in my life and felt like crying with relief!

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They said they were going to reassess in an hour, so I went back to my tent which was SOAKED- the inside was about as wet as outside with rain and condensation and I was FREEZING.  I couldn’t stay inside the tent any longer so I took my blanket and hot water bottle to where the friend who’d given me a lift had a gazebo and a FIRE with other runners from his running club.  I sat as close to the fire as I physically could in an attempt to warm up, and made some porridge which tasted amazing.  Then we found out that the race organiser had made the very difficult decision to postpone the race until it was light (5am) and would be safer for running.  It must have been a very, very difficult decision to make but absolutely the right one.  Most people went back to tents (or home if they were local) to get some sleep, but my tent was so wet and cold that even being in it felt like I was going to die of hypothermia and I couldn’t stop shivering so I went back to the main marquee.

Got chatting to some amazing people in the marquee including the race organiser’s partner who was INCREDIBLE.  She was lovely and so friendly, and we work in similar jobs so had a really nice chat about that (and I ranted a bit about fidget spinners which had been driving me up the wall all week at school!).  I was so so cold and she let me sit in front of the heater, then gave me a buff and said I could curl up on a mat in the marquee which was so so nice of her and amazing; I had my blanket so curled up like a hamster with the hot water bottle and the buff made such a massive difference to the amount of heat I must have been losing from my head.  Thank you so much!!!  Stayed there till the race restarted, then went back to my tent to drop off the blanket.

It was so, so hard to motivate to start up again because it was still freezing and wet, but I put on my hoodie (which was still damp but had been in front of the heater so not too bad), got a coffee and decided to walk a lap to see how I felt.  After a mile or so, I felt a lot better and started to get back into the running again.  Early morning is my absolute favourite time of day and the sky was so clear that you’d hardly believe the weather from the night before.  It was still very muddy and slippery (although I only fell over once!), but a lot better now you could see properly.  Running through the tall tree woods with early morning mist felt like a newborn Narnia, and the stillness was incredible.  The damp in the greener woods made it feel like the world was coming back to life, and you could hear birds tweeting and lambs bleating.  Seriously amazing feeling!  Felt so ‘real’ and connected.

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The hardest part about the enforced break was that the cold and damp had made my muscles seize up a bit, and one of my knees was a bit ‘creaky’.  It got better as the morning went on though, and soon it felt almost summer-like hot as the sun came out properly.  My body doesn’t deal particularly well with temperature extremes and coming up to midday, I was starting to feel a bit ill with hands and feel still freezing numb but my body starting to overheat, but I’m not sure how much of that was linked to two days off quetiapine (I’d had similar symptoms when I stopped taking it last year) so I took some paracetamol and Nytol, and that helped a bit.  The buff was amazing and really helped to stop my head from overheating!  Definitely going to use it again next ultra…

The last couple of laps were hard because by then, I was totally exhausted and feeling the effects of no sleep and the damp cold.  But I was also feeling amazing; my brain was still quiet, I hadn’t had any obsessive or paranoid thoughts for nearly 24 hours and I was feeling calm and connected.  I even managed to finish on 13 laps which would usually be an absolute NO for me (12 or 14; odd numbers are unlucky and 13 is about as bad as it can get) which meant that ironically I came 13th place out of 148 female solo runners which I was MASSIVELY happy with.  Feeling a bit edgy about the 13 laps now though and thinking it as 65 miles doesn’t help either because it’s still an odd number and it’s 13 x 5, but at the time I had the horrible thought that I shouldn’t finish on 13 and needed to push for 14 but amazingly it wasn’t a big deal and didn’t bother me that much, which was amazing in itself.  Although if I lose a friend or really upset someone this week without realising it, that will be why…  Need to be super careful and I am being; have taken my usual anti-paranoia precautions on social media so I *touch wood* shouldn’t do anything stupid or impulsive.  Still can’t believe I ran 13 laps!!  Also really cool because last year I ran 16 in 24 hours and we lost 6 1/2 hours this year because the race was postponed, so actually ran ‘more’ in the time than I did last year!  MEGA achievement for so many reasons 🙂

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MASSIVE thanks to all the organisers and marshals for such an incredible event, and to all the awesome people I met over the weekend and who were so amazing and supportive.  THANK YOU ALL and can’t wait till next year!!! 😀

Hope24: a 24 hour run in Newnham Park, Devon

Last weekend, I took part in an amazing ultrarunning event called Hope24 which was an event to raise money for a charity called Hope for Children, organised by an awesome man called Danny Slay.  WOW.  It was seriously the best organised and friendliest running event I’ve ever taken part in- the marshals were AMAZING, the route was clearly marked and easy to follow, the scenery was incredible, the tent area was accessible, everyone was super-friendly…  Such an awesome event!!  It was the most technically difficult event I’ve run so far- five miles laps with lots of steep hills (up and downhill, including one HORRIBLE incline that felt more like climbing than walk/running between miles 2 and 3!), uneven ground and the obvious darkness at night but it was so, so worth it for the scenery.  Bluebells, woodland, tall trees, morning mist, sunset and sunrise, stream, sheep and lambs, horses…it was like running in a magical fairyland!  AMAZING.

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Before the race started, I was really, really nervous and seriously thinking about pulling out.  I’ve not been feeling great recently after a friendship break up (which I’ve talked about a lot in other posts so won’t go into detail now) and not had a lot of motivation to run, so my ‘training’ had been sort of non-existent and I hadn’t run much more than a few miles in months and even that’s been a struggle so I knew that physically I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared as I should be.  But I’ve already pulled out of the London marathon this year (anxiety about crowds and being in London as well as ‘can’t-be-botheredness’) and I usually love ultras, and a friend mentioned a few weeks ago that running another one might help to get back into running again so I decided to go through with it based on the reasoning that it’s an ultra, not a marathon, and there’s no pressure to run any distance at all so you can stop after one lap if you want to.  So, having travelled to Devon and bought a RIDICULOUS amount of food (which brought back horrible memories of teenage binges and I nearly had a panic attack at the supermarket checkout), I didn’t really have much choice except to run…

I got there Saturday morning and set up my tent close to the start line so I wouldn’t lose it in the middle of the night (I was on my own with no support crew, so the likelihood of getting completely confused mid-ultra was pretty high) and walked around the campsite until the race briefing.  Right before an ultra is always the most horrible bit- the nerves kick in, you feel sick, there are SO MANY PEOPLE (although minimal compared to a road race), everyone seems to much fitter and more prepared than you…  The bitch in my head started up, reminding me that I’m lazy for not preparing, I’m way too fat to take part in any athletic events, people must think I’m delusional for even entering, I’m not good enough to be there and a million other things to make me feel even more nervous than I already did so I tried to ‘ground’ myself in the moment, counting the amount of people around, listening to voices, race announcements, cars and dogs, really focussing on smelling and tasting the coffee I was drinking for energy, squeezing marathon foot and my angel stones.  It helped a bit and the pre-race nerves started to overtake feeling guilty and paranoid, and I put on a Harry Potter audiobook to distract which really helped.  Then it was the (thankfully short) race briefing and, at midday, the race finally started.

The first couple of laps went surprisingly well- I felt OK physically, had my ‘mood stabiliser’ Spotify playlist on my ipod which has everything from Alanis Morissette and Disney to Pink Floyd and Green Day, the weather was nice and not too hot, and people spread out pretty quickly so there weren’t too many people running any given part of the course.  The course itself was awesome- there was a bit of a long hill at the start but the views from the top of the field were incredible and a beautiful run through woodland with bluebells (bluebells remind me of my Granda Sam who loved them, and I always try to channel his enthusiasm- he was one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met, loved dancing and kids and was just generally awesome, which definitely helped).  Then there was a steep downhill through more trees towards a stream then up a mega steep hill, down briefly through more trees and up towards the field again, awesome path running through the field with sheep and horses then back down towards the campsite, out into the woods again with another, less steep uphill and along a flattish path through trees to a field leading back to the campsite again.  Wow!!  Some seriously incredible scenery and I found that I actually really enjoyed the first few laps which was pretty amazing because I haven’t enjoyed a run in nearly six months.  So I’m definitely going to keep hold of that…

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Laps four and five were pretty uneventful- I met some awesome people including a lovely man I ran/walked with for a while without actually finding out his name who gave me some really good advice about managing anxiety around crowds and several people whose life stories and jobs seem way more interesting than mine!  Then, after running nearly six hours, I took a short ‘break’ to have a coffee and some peanut butter (I’d been a bit rubbish at fuelling up to then and had basically survived on Haribo) before setting off again.  It was definitely getting harder by that point- my legs had started to seize up a bit and my right knee (which I’ve injured in the past) was starting to twinge so I slowed down and started to walk a lot more of the laps than I had done up to then.  I switched back to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and tried to relax into it but it was so hard to get motivated and every part of my body wanted to stop.  I’d told myself I wasn’t going to have a proper ‘break’ until 10 laps (50 miles) in, but at about 10pm I was ready to quit and getting serious urges to fall off the high paths which scared me a bit so I decided to have a break, get some porridge and try to figure out what to do.

It was dark by this point which really didn’t help and it was getting cold so I put on some extra layers and ate the porridge which helped a bit.  I was a bit scared about running in the dark but there were people crossing the start line at regular intervals so I kept reminding myself that there would be people all around the route.  I really, really wanted to just quit and go to sleep and the bitch in my head was yelling at me that I was simultaneously too rubbish to complete the run and that I was lazy for wanting to quit so my head was like a whirling mess of confusion, so I put Harry Potter back on and forced myself to go back out.  The next couple of laps were- I hate running in the dark anyway and was scared of falling so I kept slowing to a walk but just after midnight, the ultrarunning paranoia and hallucinations kicked in (which is pretty usual for me mid-ultra) and I was convinced I could see Death Eaters hiding behind trees and that someone was going to kill me.  I got really freaked out and ran more than I probably should have but every time someone came up behind me with a head torch which added extra shadows, it was so scary and a lot of the time I was sure I could see someone next to me although logically I knew it was just my shadow from the headtorch.  Not nice!  And looking back, I don’t think listening to the end of OotP was a good idea running through woods in the middle of the night which is creepy enough anyway so I put on some Disney instead and tried to channel that.

But then my ipod cut out so I had a couple of laps in complete silence which really wasn’t ideal.  I did some stargazing which was pretty awesome- I couldn’t find Orion which panicked me more than it should have (especially since, thinking about it rationally, it’s nearly summer and Orion is a winter constellation so it’s much more likely it’s not visible in May rather than I’ve really annoyed God somehow and that’s why I can’t see Orion which is definitely mid-ultra paranoia!), but I saw the Plough, Cassiopeia and the Pole Star which did help to ground me a bit.  I love looking at the stars because wherever you are, the stars are always constant and that feels safe.  Orion’s my favourite because he was the first constellation I ever learned to recognise and I used to talk to him when I was little, and I still feel safe whenever I can see him in the sky.  Running through an open field under a clear sky of stars with minimal light pollution is pretty incredible and I turned off my headtorch so I feel like I was running through space.

Once I’d got back into the trees, I started to feel bit creeped out again and without music or audiobooks to distract, I decided to try Occlumency again (sensory grounding really didn’t seem like the best idea given that it was the environment I was in that was freaking me out).  I’d been running close to 14 hours by this point and my brain was a bit fuzzy which weirdly helped with trying to detach from emotion and stop the bitch in my head from being able to access my thoughts and feelings.  It felt very surreal but genuinely did help, and I think that the concept of Legilimency/Occlumency (the idea of someone trying to penetrate and alter your thoughts and emotions) is really, really powerful and can be relevant to so many mental health issues.  I started to think of the bitch in my head as Voldemort trying to alter Harry’s thoughts and emotions, and that was really helpful because in the Potterverse, there’s an actual technique you can use to manage that AND IT SORT OF HELPS!  That was one of the main things I realised during the run and, for me, it’s so important.  Definitely going to keep up practising Occlumency and I’m going to explore the link between that and the bitch in my head a lot more because I found it really, really helpful.

I finally got back to the campsite around 3am and decided to take another break.  I was FREEZING by that point- the temperature had dropped massively thanks to the clear skies and there was condensation inside my tent, so I wrapped up in my sleeping bag and fleecy blanket and tried to stop shivering.  It didn’t work so I put on three more long-sleeved tops and two pairs of gloves (four of my fingers were white and so were my feet), and curled up as small as I could to try to get some body heat.  It was SO COLD; my whole body was shaking and my teeth were chattering audibly.  My chest hurt and I could feel my heart painfully with every beat, and it felt like my bones were made of ice.  I genuinely thought I was going to die of hypothermia (more mid-ultra overreaction!) and it was so, so hard to motivate myself to actually going back out there.  Even though I was freezing in the tent, it was even colder outside and I was scared I’d collapse or die but I forced myself (literally- it was like forcing every muscle to move individually) to get moving and back out on the course.  I wore five tops, a puffa jacket and both pairs of gloves, and told myself I could walk the next lap because I felt too cold to move.  So, so hard to get going again but probably the best idea- staying in the tent would have been dangerous cold-wise, and moving did help to get my circulation moving at least a little bit.

Thankfully around 5am, it was getting light enough not to need a headtorch and that really, really helped.  There’s something about running through the night and the sun coming up which makes you feel surreal and connected with the world around you in a way I’ve never experienced any other time, and suddenly you realise that you’ve done the hardest part of the run and all that’s left is to just finish.  My ipod and phone were both dead by this point which was frustrating because I wanted to take photos of the sunrise, and the AMAZING marshall at the first hill (the awesome guy with the pink/purple beard called Kevin) was chatting to me when I passed and offered to charge my phone for me so I could take photos- SO NICE of him!  He was seriously awesome throughout the whole event and deserves a million thank yous for how enthusiastic, nice and just generally amazing he was.  I walked most of that lap, partly because I was still freezing and shivering and partly because I was totally bloody knackered by then, and I met an amazing woman called Vicky who I walked a lot of that lap with.  She was so nice and friendly, and was the lead woman at that point which was pretty amazing!  Was so nice to meet and chat to her, and really helped my motivation to not just quit after 50ish miles.

After that lap, I started running a bit again and picked up my now-charged phone from Kevin, and took lots of photos of the sunrise which was pretty incredible.  The light was amazing, it was starting to warm up and I was feeling a lot more real and alive than I had done over the previous 6-8 hours, and I started to realise that I might actually make it to midday without collapsing or quitting which felt almost achievable.  I put Harry Potter back on and thankfully the battle at the Ministry was almost over and I had the really emotional scene between Harry and Dumbledore at the end to listen to for the next couple of laps.  It’s a pretty emotional bit anyway but I was crying by the end of the book, partly because of Harry’s guilt and loss, partly from Dumbledore’s amazing strength given his own family history which he didn’t tell Harry and his real affection for Harry himself, and partly because the lambs had woken up and were leaping around in the sunlight, and the horrible realisation of why I’m vegetarian suddenly hit me in an intense wave of guilt.  Ultrarunning over-emotion!

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At about 9am, I took a quick break to have some more coffee and porridge before starting up again.  I was getting really tired and sore by this point, and the hill from hell really felt like it was killing my legs every time I attempted it so I took it really slowly and tried to enjoy the course.  I was chatting to a few more amazing people over the next couple of hours, some of whom had managed a mind-blowing amount of miles, and there was another amazing marshall near the bottom of the bluebell trail who put on rock music and was awesome and encouraging.  All the marshals and organisers were so nice!!  Made such a massive difference to the run.

The last couple of laps were HARD.  The sun had come up properly and it was getting hot which made it really hard to run, especially when all your muscles are so sore already.  I realised that I’d already covered 70 miles which was way more than I thought I would so slowed right down, took lots of photos and tried to enjoy the last lap.  It was painful, especially the horrible hill from hell, but worth it to finish on 78 miles which is weirdly only two miles less than the 24 hour run I took part in last year and which was much, much easier terrain.  Crossing the finish line at just gone 12.30pm was pretty amazing and everyone was so enthusiastic and encouraging even though most people had been awake and/or running for over a full day and night by then.  WOW.  Seriously amazing atmosphere!!

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I was pretty zoned out afterwards and didn’t really process it properly until later, but WOW.  It was an incredible event and thank you so much to everyone who organised and helped with it- you are all amazing people!!!  I found out afterwards that I’d somehow come 6th out of 76 female solo runners and I seriously have no idea how that happened but felt amazing, especially considering how hard I found the run and how unprepared I was.  But I learned so, so much over the course of the 24 hours which I’ve been trying to distil into some sort of coherent thoughts…

  1. The human body is amazing.  Seriously, it’s incredible what your body is capable of.  I don’t have the healthiest diet or lifestyle in any way whatsoever and I definitely haven’t looked after my body as much as I should have in the past, but it’s still capable of running 78 miles of hills without *touch wood* any major consequences.  Yes, I’m sore and tired and my ankle’s bruised and swollen, but that’s sort of expected after an ultra.  It’s AMAZING how resilient and strong your body actually is.
  2. Following on from #1, in some ways I’m glad my body isn’t smaller any more.  I don’t really know how to phrase this and what I just wrote isn’t technically true (I would LOVE to be a much smaller size but I know it’s not healthy or practical), but what I’m trying to say is that there are aspects of being a higher weight that mean that I can do things that wouldn’t be possible at a lower weight and ultrarunning is definitely one of them.  When I was underweight, I couldn’t run more than a few minutes at a time without going really dizzy or passing out and now I can run 24 hours.  That’s a really big achievement for me and definitely something I want to keep reminding myself of.
  3. People are incredible.  Having met some seriously amazing people during Hope24, runners, marshals and supporters, I know that there are so many incredible, encouraging and NICE people in the world and you just need to talk to people to find them.  And you can learn so much from people just by listening to them.
  4. The bitch in my head is bloody stubborn but sometimes she can be useful.  This was the first ultra she hasn’t shut up during and that was really hard at first, especially when she was yelling totally contradictory things about being too rubbish to carry on but that I’d be selfish or lazy to give up.  In the end, I learned to filter what she was saying without even realising it and used her skewed encouragement to keep going without getting affected by what she was actually saying.  That was HARD and it only really happened because I was practising Occlumency and thinking of her as Voldemort but it was probably the main reason I didn’t quit during the night.  And again that’s a skill I’m going to try to keep practising and hopefully it’ll work again even if it’s not mid-ultra…
  5. God is all around even if it doesn’t feel like it.  One of the things I love most about ultrarunning is the feeling of connecting with God, in the sunlight and stars, through  the trees and wildlife, and in the stillness of woodland air.  It didn’t happen as much as it usually does this time but there were a few moments when I could genuinely feel that I was breathing God in and that I was connected with Them through photosynthesis and respiration.  I have a slightly spiritual concept of God in that I believe that They are in everything as energy (energy can’t be created or destroyed, energy pre-existed the Big Bang, energy is a life force) and whether that’s actually divine or just a created concept, I can FEEL it and that’s what matters.  To quote Dumbledore (who is also an aspect of God to me), “Of course this is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” and that’s how I see my concept of God- whether it’s objectively real or not, it’s real to me and I can feel it and connect to it which helps me to feel safe, and that’s what’s important for me.
  6. Food is essential and when you’ve been running long enough, you NEED it whatever the bitch in your head says.  It’s amazing how good even food you’d never usually eat tastes 14 hours into a run- I was eating Haribo and peanut butter (together) at 2am which felt like the most amazing thing I’d ever tasted and the tuna salad I had after I finished was like magic angel food.  There were several times during the run where I felt dizzy, dissociated and nauseous and food was the last thing I wanted but after forcing myself to eat a banana or a cereal bar, it was like someone had fed me a reviving potion and suddenly I felt real again.  It’s like magic.
  7. You are capable of so much more than you think.  I didn’t think I’d even manage two laps let alone fifteen, and there is no way I thought I would have run 78 miles.  It still doesn’t seem possible.  But if you break it down and think of one lap at a time, focus on the present moment and don’t think about possible challenges or difficulties- just deal with whatever’s happening at the time, you’ll achieve so much without even realising it.
  8. Ultrarunning is a mental sport.  I don’t mean that in the (annoying) way a lot of people have said to me over the last couple of days (“are you mental?”, “you’re crazy”, “that’s insane” etc) which really, really gets to me because I don’t like the ‘normal v insane’ definitions because everyone’s different and mental health is a spectrum of illness and wellness anyway; I mean mental as in it’s more to do with your thinking and attitude than your physical strength.  Obviously you need to be relatively fit and healthy to run long distances but post-marathon, it’s more about attitude than fitness.  Your physical training stops around 30ish miles for most people and more than that’s about endurance and mental attitude.  If you can run 30 miles, you can run 100.  ANYTHING is possible.  I hadn’t run more than six miles at a time in about six months but I still managed to complete 24 hours relatively comfortably.
  9. Use challenges to your advantage.  I mean both physical and mental by this- use hills as a chance to walk for a bit and let your legs recover, and use negative thoughts or derogatory voices as motivation.  The second part is definitely easier mid-ultra when your brain’s fuzzy anyway and nothing really makes sense, but it’s a really useful skill I’m going to try to get my head around.  It fits with my attempts to make friends with the bitch in my head and it’s definitely something I need to keep working on…
  10. Connect with nature/higher power.  Yes, this is a DBT skill (which amazingly I’ve managed to avoid mentioning so far in this post!) and it’s a really, really useful one.  The idea behind it in DBT is that by connecting with something greater than yourself, it can promote a feeling of safety or calm and it’s a bit of a controversial skill because a lot of people don’t like the idea of God/religion.  It doesn’t have to be a deity though and for me, one of the most effective forms is looking at the stars.  I find it really hard to put into words but it really did help during the nighttime part of the ultra when I turned my headtorch off any really connected with the stars.  A few years ago, I wrote it as part of a story and I’ll finish with because I think I’ve probably bored anyone who’s read the whole post with enough…

I love the stars.  There’s something amazing about looking at an endless expanse of everything and nothing, something impossible to fully comprehend.  It alters your perspective somehow, fear mixed with awe in equal amounts and suddenly everything fits.  It’s the rush of infinity, the realization of your insignificance and contingence in the shifting universe around you.  A sense of vertigo in nature as the sky stretches endlessly into the vacuum of space and the vast ocean depths echo below.  It’s strange how sometimes the more alone you are, the less lonely you feel.  Floating in the ocean with the stars for company, there’s a sense of cosmic belonging, a sort of oneness.