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 😀

IMG_2701

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:

IMG_2661

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.

IMG_2663.JPG

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!!

IMG_2679.JPGfullsizeoutput_25a6.jpeg

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!

fullsizeoutput_2571

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.

fullsizeoutput_2574.jpeg

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 🙂

IMG_2766

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!!! 😀

Why I really need to start running properly again!

Over the last few months, I’ve really got out of the habit of running every day which is something I definitely need to change.  It’s partly because of feeling rubbish and unmotivated and general ‘can’t-be-botheredness’, partly because I’m feeling exhausted and drained all the time, and partly because (to be honest) I’m just really lazy at the moment and it takes enough psyching up to actually go out of my bedroom and go to work let alone go for a run!  But I think that really isn’t helping my mood either and I’m pretty sure it’s a cycle that’s going to keep repeating unless I actually do something about it…

This weekend was the first Ultra Festival organised by an awesome ultra runner called Andy Nuttall, and it was basically a chance for lots of ultra runners to meet, discuss ultrarunning and listen to talks by experienced ultra runners.  I really, really wanted to go and booked tickets but when it came to Friday night and actually driving to Bristol, I got really anxious about it and talked myself out of going because I was scared of camping on my own, the cold and spending a weekend with people I don’t know.  I felt really bad about that yesterday and had a pretty shitty day (see yesterday’s post Opposite Action in action- more DBT!), and decided last night that I would set my alarm for really early this morning and drive down for the day.

When my alarm went off at 6am, I was exhausted and really didn’t want to get up which really isn’t like me (I’m usually awake at 4/5am and NEVER sleep in).  I was so, so close to going back to sleep but I forced myself to get up and have a coffee, reminding myself that I could always go back to bed afterwards.  I spent the next 30 minutes arguing with the slightly paranoid part of my brain which was telling me that it was too far to drive for one day and I’d probably have an accident on the motorway, I’m not a ‘real’ ultra runner anyway and people would wonder why I was there or laugh at me, I’d be totally wiped out for college tomorrow and probably get into trouble for being rubbish at my job…  Then I saw some posts on Facebook about the event and felt really jealous of people there and annoyed with myself, so I took that as an opportunity to make myself get in the car and start driving.  Unfortunately that meant I completely forgot to take water or diet Coke but I rationalised that I could always stop and get some on the way.

The drive down was weirdly OK- no major panics, not much traffic and found the Ultra Festival OK.  When I arrived, I was so, so nervous and really close to driving back home again but then I saw Mimi Anderson who is an amazing, amazing ultra runner who I’ve been following online for the last few years and who is my running inspiration and semi-idol, and I suddenly went all fangirl-y and nervous for a totally different reason.  So I got out the car and kind of hung about watching people because I had no idea where to go.  Then, AMAZINGLY, Mimi came up to me and introduced herself, and she recognised me from Facebook!!  It felt SO WEIRD to be actually talking to someone I really look up to but she was so lovely and showed me where to go, then introduced me to a few people which was so nice of her.  Everyone was lovely and really, really friendly which made it a lot easier although I was still very shaky and terrified.  But I could speak!  Usually when I’m that nervous, my throat seizes up and I can’t say anything but people were so nice and accepting that amazingly that didn’t happen.

The talks were incredible!  There was a really interesting one about the biomechanics of running and running form which I found really useful because I’ve never actually thought about my running form before- I just run.  Then Sarah Morwood did an amazing and really inspirational talk about injury and recovering from that, and how to deal with it.  She gave a lot of really good advice about taking things slowly, focussing on small achievements, finding other outlets like drawing or blogging, and lots of other really useful advice.  I was talking to her afterwards and she is so, so nice and friendly.  She was one of the easiest people to talk to I’ve ever met and was so nice to meet her- thanks Sarah, made the ‘lunch’ part of the day so much less scary!

Then James Adams did an equally interesting talk about his running career and various amazing races he’s done via ten things he’s learned from ultrarunning.  They were all really useful and humourous, and I especially loved the ‘Be More Zebra’ one which (apart from a slightly traumatic photo of a lion attacking a zebra) was really useful not just for running.  He said that zebras are the least stressed animal in the world as they’ve been measured to have the lowest level of cortisol even though they’re constantly in danger of being attacked because they only focus on the present moment and don’t worry about things they can’t control.  That links a lot to DBT mindfulness skills (thought defusion, observing thoughts without fixating on them etc) and is definitely something I really need to work on.  So thanks for the new mantra James, I will definitely try to ‘Be More Zebra’…!

After James’ talk, Mimi gave an incredibly inspirational talk about her INCREDIBLE adventures, world record attempts (and successes) and frankly mind-blowing races she’s done in every condition from Arctic ice roads to the Peruvian jungle.  I came across Mimi’s blog a few years ago and was completely blown away by the incredible events she’s taken part in- the woman is superwoman!!  And she didn’t even start running until she was 36 which is pretty incredible and so inspirational to people like me who really weren’t runners or into sports at all at school.  I’ve used her as inspiration on so many runs before- when my brain starts telling me I’m rubbish, I haven’t looked after my body well enough to do long runs, I’m selfish etc, I think about the amazing things Mimi’s achieved and try to channel at least some of that.  It was so interesting to hear her talk about starting running and how her mindset was ‘if other people can do it, why can’t I?’ which is definitely how I try to think of ultras, and I find it incredible that she managed to run the Marathon des Sables having only run a half marathon before!  AWESOME woman.

The whole day was amazing and really reminded me why I love running, and why I really need to start running properly again- it’s the freedom of it, the amazing feeling of oneness and connection with yourself and with the world around you, the ultrarunning community, the amazingness of pushing your body to its limits AND REALISING YOU CAN.  There were people there who had run multi day events of hundreds of miles, had pushed through any limits, and who were so amazingly inspirational.  And, to paraphrase Mimi, if they can do it why can’t I?  Feeling rubbish really isn’t an excuse and I know that in reality, running would probably make me feel more real and help to get rid of the pretty much constant vertigo and vacuumness that comes with feeling low and not doing enough to get rid of it.  So, I REALLY need to start training for the 100 mile race I’ve signed up for in July… 🙂

Thanks so much Andy for organising it and thanks to everyone who gave talks, and to the people who chatted in between talks- you are all amazing people!!  DEFINITELY coming again next year for the whole thing… 😀

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.

IMG_6982

 

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…

IMG_6934.JPG

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!

IMG_6966.JPG

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!!

IMG_6992.JPG

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.