Running has always been a part of my life, back to school days, when I discovered that I was one of the few who actually enjoyed cross country – even wearing bottle green knicker shorts and a red aertex top! If you grew up in Pembrokeshire, like me, you may even be able to identify which school I went to.
I also loved the 800m, 1500m and 3000m at sports day, less so the 100m relay – sprinting has never been my thing.
In addition to running, I always played hockey at school and when I went to university to study medicine, carried on with this, playing for the mixed medics hockey team for the 6 years I was in Sheffield. Playing with boys was a revelation – they were less likely to hit you with the stick than the girls and it was a great source of boyfriends, but that’s definitely a subject for a different blog! I did run as part of hockey training but it took a back seat during my student years and when I was a junior doctor – a 1 in 4 on call rota, and 60–80-hour weeks put paid to most exercise!
When I moved to Cardiff in 1996, I joined a gym, so only ran short distances on a treadmill. I continued my medical training, still working long hours. In 1999, I met Rob and we moved to Edinburgh in 2000 for 2 years, where I was a research doctor in the National Creutzfeld -Jakob Disease unit there. Some of you will remember the BSE crisis in cows and the new variant of CJD which is the human equivalent of BSE. I spent two years travelling all over the UK to see suspected cases. It was exciting and depressing in equal parts, and it was during this time I rediscovered running. Rob and I started to run together and I did my first ever organised race, the Edinburgh 10km in 2001 in 59 minutes. I was so pleased with myself but Rob had just pipped me by a minute!
We returned to Cardiff in 2002, got married in 2003, had Iwan in 2004, Dylan in 2007, I finished my training in 2006 and got my Consultant post and we moved to a new house, so running took a back seat and I didn’t really get started again until 2016.
I had a couple of aborted attempts to get going due to knee pain preventing me from running more than 2km and will admit to a degree of jealousy when Anna-Jane Thomas embarked on her running journey much more successfully and ran the Snowdonia Mountain marathon!
Unfortunately, it was some very sad news from other close friends that finally got me back to running regularly. Their daughter was diagnosed with a bone marrow condition and needed a transplant. It was difficult to find a match for Hollie, so her parents joined forces with the Bone marrow charity Anthony Nolan and started their own campaign, ‘Help Hollie’, with a memorable ‘wear your knickers on your head’ theme. They also launched ‘Hollie’s 100’, a group of 100 of us who all ran the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon in aid of Anthony Nolan and to increase awareness for Hollie. I was determined to run it, so I trained hard. I had lost my baby weight by then and my knee seemed better, so I booked the Cardiff 10km in September as a tester before the Half in October.
Training went well and I completed the 10km in a PB of 57 minutes but unfortunately my knee started to hurt at 7km and just didn’t settle down.
The day of Cardiff Half dawned and I just decided to go for it and get round, no matter how long it took. It turned out to be a rather eventful day. I ran with Anna-Jane and another friend. My knee started to hurt at 4km and continued to get worse with every km that passed. I ignored it as best I could. We got to Roath Lake; the end was almost in sight when AJ had an altercation with one of the speed bumps. She fell, and we all stopped. She sat up, with her face covered in blood but made the two of us carry on. Reluctantly we did, leaving AJ with her husband who was spectating and some St John’s ambulance men.
We got going again, but after a few minutes my friend felt unwell and we stopped again, spending the next few minutes with her hyperventilating, clutching the railings before we managed to continue running. Amazingly we finished in 2hrs 24minutes and AJ continued her run, finishing only a few minutes after us.
The following day, I could barely walk, and both my knees were swollen. I went to work, had to go up and down the stars sideways like a crab, and get the nurses to fetch my clinic patients from the waiting room whilst I did my best to just move around my clinic room on my wheelie desk chair and not have to stand up! Never again, I thought.
However, I had been on course to run amuch nearer to 2hrs in my training and after a few weeks I got back to running and signed up for the Cardiff Half again, competing the 2017 race in 1 hr 57.
I carried on running, just for me and always by myself after that as I had noticed so many positives – it helped me keep my weight in check and has so many benefits for my mental health and wellbeing. Working in the NHS is hard! Running definitely stopped my alcohol intake from creeping up too.
I did not enter events and just ran for me, 3 times a week, 5-10km at most.
Then in 2019, I joined a female running group and met some fantastic ladies. For the first time I was enjoying running with others as well as on my own.
In October 2019, I was one of the founding members of SRC and have continued to run alone, with friends and SRC since.
Everything was going well, and spurred on by other members of SRC, I decided to enter some races. In 2020, I had lined up Buff 10km trail race, Cardiff Bay 10km, Swansea Half, Cardiff Half, Castle to Castle and Cardiff trail half. I ran the Buff 10km with lots of other SRC ladies and loved it.
By the end of January 2020, it was clear that COVID-19 was going to be Public Health crisis like nothing I had experienced and the NHS was frantically planning. I carried on running.
In March, we had our first National lockdown. SRC had to stop, and we couldn’t run with friends anymore but I carried on running on my own. I went to work, ran, looked after my family and did very little else.
Redeployment loomed….and finally happened for me on Easter Sunday. Working on a COVID ward, definitely out of my comfort zone, was really frightening. I carried on running more than ever. My weekly distances increased from regularly running 25km to now 50km, as I couldn’t meet friends, see family, go to my Barre or Pilates classes so the running took over.
When I run, I can think and process everything that has happened, at work and at home. I shut the rest of the world out to a degree and sort my head out. COVID made life and work so much harder, the processing time went up and my need to run did too.
I have run through the rain, snow and summer heat. My running wardrobe has significantly increased in size and I have gone through 4 pairs of trainers. I have discovered Tikiboo, Lucy Locket Loves and Sweaty Betty. I have run every path and street that I can from my door, exploring places on my doorstep I have not been to before.
I have managed to hang onto my mental health, by a thread at times, but without running, I don’t think I would have. I am also lucky to have some great friends and an absolutely amazing Multidisciplinary team at work, and we have supported each other through redeployment, working in PPE, outbreaks of COVID in patients and staff, and countless new rules, regulations and ways of doing things, which at the beginning changed daily. I am now proficient at phone and video consultation as well as seeing people face to face, so maybe something good for the NHS long-term will have come out of this pandemic.
SRC virtual runs and challenges really helped keep me going. In brief respite periods when we could run with friends, I explored bits of Cardiff I had never been to, inspired by Run around the ‘Diff and the Bingo boards and was also encouraged to look after my wellbeing. The virtual runs encouraged me to get out every Wednesday and Sunday and I have hardly missed any of them, especially since I returned to my usual job.
I have run to the Bay and Caerphilly Castle with AJ, clocking up my longest ever run at 25km. I ran the Virtual Race to the Stones, clocking up 100km in a week. I resisted the urge to run the VOGUM but have signed up for the Virtual London Marathon. My 2020 races have been rescheduled so many times, I have now totally lost track but luckily someone in SRC usually knows, posts something and changes the date of the event!!
Coleen and I, as SRC Welfare Officers, had a change in role we had not anticipated, which at times felt a bit like the COVID police, but we have done our best to keep everyone in the group informed regarding the restrictions on running with others, and we are both less scared of videoing ourselves. I have also never taken so many selfies, nearly always sweaty with no make-up, grey roots and terrible hair!
As we are approaching the restarting of our SRC ‘in person’ runs, I am looking forward to being able to run as a group and support the amazing women that make SRC what it is, albeit in a different way for a while.
Vaccination has given me hope that there will be a way of living with covid and I continue to run. I have been so lucky not to have been injured, to have had secure employment, to be able to work away from home in a great team, have kids old enough to home school themselves, good friends and SRC to get me through what has been definitely the worst year of my career (I qualified as a doctor in 1995 so have been doing this a while) and likely the worst year of my life.
I am so grateful for a healthy body and the ability to run and am hopeful that 2022 will be better. Might even sign up for that ultra-marathon after all – I am 50 this year so might be a way to celebrate – we will see…….
And my school was Tasker Milward in Haverfordwest, for those of you that may have guessed.
Over a Zoom call last night, the final preparations for our return to group runs were made! Behind the scenes over the past few weeks our Run Buddies and LiRFs (Leader in Running Fitness) have been very busy doing reconnaissance runs and risk assessments on various locations around Cardiff.
From this Sunday, 9th May, we will be holding runs in 5 of the 7 locations we have been risk assessing. Each run will be for a maximum of 13 runners, to include 1 qualified LiRF and 1 Support Run Buddy. Covid guidelines will be strictly adhered to and every runner will be required to book in advance online and complete our Covid survey before attending each run. We hope, if demand dictates and Leader/Buddy availability allows, to provide more runs as time goes by.
Given the limited number of spaces available, we have agreed to request that everyone books a maximum of one run per week at the present time. We are so very excited to be able to run together again after so long and we’re looking forward to seeing you all!
Keep your eye on our Facebook Group on Wednesday evening for information on how to book onto Sunday’s run. Meanwhile, here’s a little taster of the routes we have been recce-ing in preparation…
A year or so ago I would have turned up my nose at the idea of listening to an audiobook. For me, part of the joy of reading has always been holding an actual book in my hand, feeling the turn of the pages, and seeing how the words look on the page.
But then, during the first lockdown, my son’s teacher suggested we download Audible – a monthly audiobook subscription service from Amazon – to listen to the book they would be studying as a class. “You can have your first book for free – but don’t forget to cancel,” he told us.
And, of course, despite setting a reminder on my phone, I forgot to cancel. The next month I was billed £7.99 and got my first monthly ‘credit’ for any audiobook of my choice. “Oh well,” I thought to myself, “we’ll use that credit to download a children’s book to listen to in the car when we’re on long journeys.” We’d had audio books on CDs previously and my children had always loved them, so this would be a lovely treat. Except lockdown didn’t lift any time soon and we didn’t go anywhere in the car for months and months. My one credit soon turned into two credits and when I tried to cancel, I realised my best option was to pause my account for three months, use up my existing credits rather than lose them completely by cancelling, and then cancel.
What I didn’t bank upon was falling in love with listening to audiobooks, using all those credits on me and not my children, and continuing my subscription willingly in the months to come. My love of audiobooks happened quite accidentally.
It started with Caitlin Moran’s More Than A Woman. Ever since I saw Caitlin speak at a conference way back in the early days of my career as a journalist, she’s been someone I’ve admired and resonated with. I’d heard really good things about the book and, with Caitlin herself narrating, it seemed like a good choice.
I loved this book. If I’m honest, it’s aimed at a certain type of woman (mostly middle class, straight, working mums) so won’t appeal to everyone but I found so much of it relatable.
There were chapters when I actually laughed out loud while running in public (the one on married sex and the one on the vulva… if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean!) but also chapters that filled me with such emotion I needed to stop and pause mid-run (her daughter’s eating disorder). She really made me think with her chapters on parenting teenagers, being a working parent, and one about the pressures on boys and men to conform to masculine stereotypes, which as a parent of two boys really hit hard.
Running has always been ‘me time’ for me. Reading has always been ‘me time’. Listening to a book while running made me feel like I was getting double ‘me time’. Having my mind filled with someone else’s thoughts – and those thoughts being ones that I really related to – helped me to switch off from the effort of running. My mind was busy processing what it was listening to and the running felt easier somehow. It also helped me slow down on my longer runs. Upbeat music often makes me speed up to a pace I can’t sustain but listening to a book helped me find a more gentle rhythm to my run.
When I’d finished More Than A Woman, I still had one more existing credit to use. There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be Becoming, Michelle Obama’s autobiography. I’d wanted to read it for a while but as it was only available in hardback at that point, the price was putting me off. The audiobook costs more than £20 to purchase but as you can use your one monthly credit on any title regardless of price, I felt like I was getting a bargain.
I admit I didn’t love this book straight away. It took me a while to get into it, as I found Michelle’s reading pace a little slow and monotone and difficult to match with my running pace. After the passion and enthusiasm in Caitlin’s narration, I wondered if my successful audiobook experience had been a once-off. Luckily, I discovered that you can change the narration speed to be slower or faster – and a tiny adjustment to speed it up made all the difference. It’s a long book – 19 hours, in fact, so I felt like I was listening to it for weeks and weeks. But I loved having Michelle accompany me on so many runs. It was fascinating hearing about her working class upbringing, her time at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, the early days of her relationship with Barack, her thoughts on motherhood, her career highs and lows, and her role as First Lady of the United States. The chapters on gun crime were especially powerful.
By this point I was an audiobook convert. I unpaused my membership and waited for my next credit to land so that I could download Limitless by astronaut Tim Peake. I had listened to an interview with Tim on Jenni Falconer’s RunPod podcast a few months previously and found hearing about not only his astronaut adventures but running a marathon in space absolutely fascinating. I loved Tim’s voice, so soothing but with dry sense of humour too. I’d always imagined anyone who ended up as an astronaut would have been the brainiest kid in the class, but Tim didn’t do especially great in his A-levels. His route in was through the Army Air Corps and being a test pilot. Some of the training exercises and expeditions he went on were brutal and this book made me think a lot about mental resilience. His account of running a marathon on the space station while the London Marathon was happening below on earth came at the perfect time for me – when I was struggling with a 15 mile run. It definitely helped me keep going when I wasn’t sure if I could.
My latest choice is Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which had been recommended to me by so many people. I’m just over half way through and it’s incredible as Glennon draws on her own experience in finding the joy and peace when we stop striving to meet the expectations of the world and instead listen to and trust the voice deep inside us. In the opening chapter Glennon talks about a cheetah who was born in captivity acting differently when the keepers weren’t looking. “Mommy, she turned wild again” says her daughter, as they sense the cheetah somehow knows there is somehow more to life than the only existence she has ever known. It sent shivers down my spine and I feel so inspired listening to her stories of how she fought back against convention to find her true self. How she ‘untamed’ herself against the choices she had made previously that have been imprinted into her by society. Who were you before the world told you who to be?
Several times while listening, I’ve stopped my run to make a note of something inspiring she has said. She has some inspiring thoughts on motherhood – notably on the tendency of many mothers to become a martyr to their children and to lose an essence of themselves. This is something I struggled with when my children were young and it’s through running that I’ve found ‘me’ again. “What if a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies and calls that love? What if a responsible mother is one who shows her children how to fight to stay wildly alive until the day she dies?” And on bravery (I’ve said before how running is helping me to become more brave) she says it’s not about being scared and doing it anyway but about forsaking all others to be true to your self.
I’ve noticed that – perhaps subconsciously – all the books I’ve chosen so far have been ones that have inspired me, not just as a runner but in other areas of life too. Running through lockdown, staying motivated, and coming back from injury has not been easy. It’s also been a hard time for me career-wise to be so adversely affected by the pandemic. But these books are full of such powerful stories of strength, determination, resilience and overcoming the odds that it’s had an amazing affect on my own confidence and ability. In Glennon’s words, “I’m a god damn cheetah!” (Admittedly not when it comes to running speed!)
I’m unsure what my next read will be. I struggle to listen to fiction audiobooks – I find myself losing track of the plot. Maybe a running-related book or maybe another memoir/autobiography.
If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them. I’ll keep you posted what I choose in my posts in the She Runs Cardiff Facebook page.
As if running a marathon was not enough, on 12th September 2011, eight days after completing the Wye Valley “adventure” marathon, on a balmy, windy evening the first miles towards an even greater challenge were ticked off. Those running it on that evening (a tough run up Leckwith Hill to the “five bar gate”) might not have realised its significance to me.
Early March 2012 seemed so far away, well it WAS far away, not only were the straightforward (!) miles of training need to be invested week in week out but the chilling jabs of of yet another severe winter would have to be ignored if any sort of success in completing the 100 miles was to be achieved.
For any serious race planning is a pre-requisite; ensuring flexible options are part of it ….after all Christmas, New Year, let alone the chance of injury, illness or simply the unexpected could so easily interrupt the best of training plans! But on paper, my plan looked simple. As it transpired, we were blessed with a relatively mild winter but with some inevitable bitterly cold periods; the sensibility of my mileage increases, week by week combined with the balanced sessions at the gym resulted in five months training with an accumulated total of 1100miles. Throughout the period I ran five days a week, all except just two weeks before the actual race when I developed the worst cold I had had for many years. Minor niggles with knees and ligaments were attended to brilliantly in the Aspire gym, so much so that “back to back” runs were carried out regularly, the most significant being the highest mileages of thirty miles one day followed by twenty the next day. These “back to backs”, often as early as 2.30am in the morning to replicate the “feel” of running when you should be sleeping (!) have been identified as a basic requirement for ultra marathons. During the darkest days of winter it gave opportunity for practising night time running as often as possible, using head torches on local trails even for short distances..the hundred miler would be nearly eleven hours in darkness on the narrow towpath along the River Thames.
With the weekend of the race approaching, the other elements of planning began to be spread about my lounge floor, expedition like! Putting together “drop bags” with gels, electrolytes, food (yes food!!)..pasties, hot cross buns, crisps, flapjacks…change of clothing, first aid stuff.. thinking about every eventuality. These bags were dropped at strategic aid stations along the route where hot food and water was also available provided by support teams. The last drop-bag was to be at the ninety-one mile mark, one which I chose not to make and looking back, might have been my only strategic error!
As in all races the jangling of nerves is helped along by the dramatic stories of the elite. In these “ultras” there is a huge feeling of camaraderie with recognition of names from internet forums and here we were, nearly two hundred of us being primed about route diversions (how would I remember these?!) and waiting for the 10am gun!
We’re off! A false start (just for fun!)…no whizzing off “I’m in the lead” runners here. Light drizzly rain for the first forty five minutes, just the British weather making its point. Forty five minutes! It doesn’t seem long ago when forty five minutes running was at the top end of my ability!! The day then turned out to be fine with temperatures of 9c and at times feeling quite warm, what I would consider to be ideal running conditions.
Discipline in such distance running means keeping a pace that can be maintained; in using my Garmin for the first daylight half of the race ensured that my pace kept at a steady 10.30-11.00 minute miling, this was well within my comfort zone. As I past Hampton Court Palace, with its golden gates at about twenty miles I felt that everything had physically and mentally come together.
The first marathon distance passed, at Windsor (28miles) I had the opportunity to replenish my camel-back bladder with “High 5, 4:1” recommended to me by George and Joe of Aspire, which certainly ensured adequate hydration during long training runs and on my recent Brecon to Cardiff fifty miler. Shortly beyond Windsor and towards Cookham, in a zone of my own, I became aware of two people shouting and whistling to me from the other side of the river! Those who know of my erratic sense of direction will not be surprised to learn that this was my first of three occasions of taking the wrong route! In fairness I had simply missed a sign guiding runners over a bridge and was jogging off towards a different sunset. Damn it, an extra mile onto the total distance but again the importance of discipline, refocus and no panic. At about thirty five miles soreness in my hip-flexor joint had to be put firmly to the back of my mind, it was a niggle brought on by constant use and definitely was not going to interrupt the run. Ok when running but a bummer when re-starting after the aid station check points!
Back on track, or path, I joined two rather good looking young men; (easy to get pulled along in such a situation!) but realised that these two were 2hr 50 min marathon runners. I was on a high enjoying the whole experience, the scenery, the wildlife, running with others with the same goals but I had to check back on my pace. This was the race of my life!
Checkpoint four, a “drop bag” to open. 6.30pm. Running for eight and a half hours had passed seemingly so swiftly! Darkness. Change of clothing, but despite initial ideas about changing running shoes, advice from other runners erred me away from this. If the feet are ok then stay with the familiar. Chicken soup and ham sandwiches were handed out by the support volunteers as well as their overall help in getting things together. Who says that you don’t get your money’s worth from race entry fees?! Apprehension! Concerns about the chances of getting lost were allayed however by the brightness (170 lumens) of my head torch. The night time turned out to be even better, more focussed and exciting than running during the daytime. I set off from the aid station with two guys, Fabrice and Simon who were struggling at the time. Ticking off Henley (famous places!) at 51 miles, Reading at 58 miles (where I had changed trains on route to the event just twenty four hours earlier) and Whitchurch at 67 miles. Feeding station! Baked beans were enjoyed but repeat is a term best used in the negative here, suffice to say that I would not recommend them to anyone during a distance run!
On the outskirts of Streatley at 71 miles and at 2am on Sunday morning I began running alone; I had thought that running along pitch dark towpaths along a river would be daunting but there was company with the sound of geese on the river and I felt liberated and free of all life’s worries. It was just about putting one foot in front of the other and “being there”.
There was no wonderful sunrise to view, the night had been dry yet clouds had drifted over. At 82 miles and 6am, despite the cloud cover, the temperature dropped dramatically over the next hour and a half. With it came heavy rain, wind and eventually snow with a temperature of 1c. With the freshening wind the wind chill factor began to be cause for concern at exactly the point where the towpath became a quagmire of mud! Unable to run because of the depth of the mud and uneven surface, the chilling effect of the weather and only now able to walk allowed my body to cool down far, far too much. I learned later that this was the case with many other runners. I took a hot cup of tea at the 91 mile aid station realising that with my soaked through clothing the last nine miles was likely to be a killer. The situation was highlighted by runners who had pulled out and who were sitting, huddled with duvets wrapped around them! I had run ALL the way up until 86 miles and felt that I was on the way to completion. At 91 miles I was well on target to finish within 24hours…if only I had been able to continue to run through the mud!
Pushing on through Lower Radley at 95 miles I checked in my race number, it was now snowing heavily (if only I had had extra clothing at the 91 mile drop bag point..the bag I had decided not to use!). I was becoming even colder but mentally able to realise that I was physically approaching a dangerous condition though still continued to what was the 100 mile point (due to diversion). I turned to look behind and saw two runners approaching and made the decision that I needed medical assistance; I needed someone to use my mobile phone because I was shivering so severely I was unable to use it. One of the runners altruistically stayed with me until I was taken away by ambulance.
The total official course had been re measured at 102 miles, so in having to withdraw at this point meant that (due also to my own diversion!) I had completed a total of 103 miles in 25 hours thirty minutes.
In the local hospital I was informed that my core temperature had dropped to 34.2c and that the race had been abandoned on medical and safety advice.
Getting back home to Cardiff would not have been possible if I had not have had the support of Sian England from the Aspire Running Group. She saved my bacon!
As someone who was brought up knowing that littering was abhorrent, and being passionate about animals and the environment I got super excited when Tanya mentioned a weekend dedicated to litter picking.
I borrowed a litter picker from a friend and I purchased a mini picker for my daughter so that she could join me. We chose to do just ten minutes whilst walking to the playground and then whilst my daughter played I scurried around for a few more minutes. I managed to fill a recycling bag and a black bag in no time at all. I was really shocked at the sheer volume of litter.
It was strangely therapeutic and actually quite a giggle trying to prise objects out of brambles or wrestle them through fences and into the bags! I am super excited to get involved properly with some support from Keep Wales Tidy and my local litter picking group.
Equipment you will need: * Gloves- gardening gloves or latex gloves if using a picker * A litter picker (either borrowed from a local litter picking group or bought online for a few pounds * Some alcohol hand gel for sanitising your hands afterwards * Some bags – any bag will do or you can get specific litter picking bags (red in colour) which you can then leave by any public bin for collection by the council. Contact email@example.com for Cardiff.
I would suggest it is easiest to do it in pairs so one of you can take a recycling bag and one hold a general waste bag as I feel it might be tricky to hold both! Always thoroughly clean your hands and wash your gloves after litter picking and dispose of anything you pick up properly.
I was really chuffed with what we achieved after our first litter pick in such a short amount of time and I am already planning to do it again! It felt really good to be doing my bit to clean up the area and potentially stop wildlife and the environment being further harmed. However, I did feel like it was a ‘drop in the ocean’ so I want to encourage all my family & friends to do a litter pick when they can. If everyone picked up just one bit of litter on all their runs and walks Wales would be a much cleaner, tidier place!
Keep Wales Tidy are doing a nationwide Spring Clean Cymru (28 May – 13 June). You can simply register your support by pledging on the page and stating how many minutes you are going to give to the campaign. You could pick up litter whilst on a run, walking the dog or on the walk to school.
As usual, and for most participants of any event, it all begins in earnest the moment I leave the house to travel to the venue. Public transport from Cardiff to Plympton is amazingly straightforward with one train change at Bristol to continue the journey south. It is no surprise to many of those who know me that my sense of direction and observational skills leave something to be desired but “south” is obvious enough. Isn’t it?!
I hugged my huge red hold-all close to me in my reserved seat on the train – this is no “girlie” bag; a peek inside would reveal an ultra runner’s survival kit and more, weighing in at about a third of my body weight. Big, thick and cumbersome to handle!
“The train shortly departing from platform 4 is the 12.30 pm express from Cardiff to Dundee”.
In seconds my brain had reasoned that Dundee was north…and certainly not south… in a scene not unlike that in the film “Clockwise” I had mere seconds to disembark. Using my big red bag as a battering ram to push aside the hoards of Scots travelling north to celebrate their nation’s SNP victory in the General Election the day before, I was still able to spill enough choice words to startle those who hitherto would have been my traveling companions!
By the time I had fled the train I was as breathless as if I had done an interval session around the fields adjoining the Aspire Gym!
If ever there was a case for using alcohol as a relaxant this could well have been the day. I arrived at my B&B four hours later to view a mass of scaffolding around the building and several burly men drilling the rendering from the walls..but “Thank God It’s Friday” chorused in my head as their 5pm finish heralded a downing of tools, the evening was to be quietly mine with thoughts and strategies for the weekend to eventually lull me off into a restless pre-event sleep.
Hardly any need for an alarm clock then, the dawn chorus was barely at the end of its first verse when I looked out at what was a rainy start to the day. Let’s face it, it is seldom “just perfect”- being either too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too humid but as the next few hours past by a much better day emerged. Arriving at Race HQ the atmosphere was buzzing with general excitement: music, competitors, supporters (loads of them!) and tents pitched randomly as if waiting for the main act on a Saturday night at Glastonbury. “Hope 24” already had the makings of an event to be celebrated.
I didn’t know though whether to laugh or cry when a novice looking competitor asked me how long I thought it was going to take me to do 24 miles! He surely was in the real Hope category! Luckily I was able to drift off into the throng as Danny Slay (the Race Director) began his race briefing; he informed us all that in order to spice things up this year the five mile laps were to be run in reverse. Hmm..in my mind I knew that it was still going to involve two steep hills! Who cares in what direction we go? (er…no comments about me at this point please!).
For those who are unfamiliar with the principles of such events the aim is to complete as many laps of the course within the twenty four hour period; at any point a competitor can chose to call it a day..or a night..or even stop to sleep or eat! The chipped times and distances recorded included data from solo runners like myself as well as teams (varying from 2-8 members) doing their laps in relays. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that yes, there were team runners relatively sprinting along and passing many solo runners who had to ensure a discipline so as not to crash out having exceeded their long distance pace ability. After a 12 noon start reaching the end of the first lap in 51 minutes proved not to have been at all bad, my self talk of “not bad Vicks” a purposeful attempt at self hypnosis and a denial of the impact of the hills climbed just the once! The impact though of the 600 ft elevations, lap after lap soon resulted in them feeling like the climb up Pen y Fan (for those geographically disinclined…yes…a deliberate pun… this is the highest mountain in South Wales). We walked them!
I came to the event carrying an injury which emanated from my glute muscle and causing piriformis syndrome. However, having tested it out before race day and having had some physio work carried out it seemed likely that I would be able to perform reasonably well– I felt sure that I could more than survive without using up my whole prescription of pain – killers. Pain after all is part and parcel of ultra running (what a strange delight!). It wasn’t long before the discomfort reared its ugly head, I hadn’t anticipated or planned for this happening quite so soon it was going to be a long period of… well…acceptance.
I ran the event as a non crewed solo runner, running as planned with Ernie – the aim was that we would support each other for the duration of the event. We discovered that we wasted a lot of time queuing for drinks, water and food at the “food bus” and where we ended up in line with supporters and friends queuing up as well. As positive as one can be in such situations we used these periods as “rest times” before starting the laps again and again.
Thirty miles and six laps completed , hot food beckoned. Who would imagine that you could enjoy spicy potatoes and curry before jogging (jogging?!!) off into the evening sunshine? The smell of veggie burgers wafted through the air and even though fancying one we had to make our way onward into the evening, the ten minute wait was just too long to take out. I carried the thought for another five miles or more while thinking about cheesey jacket potatoes, soup..who says you can’t eat when you run?! The intake of calories on ultra runs is a priority, even though gels and electrolytes reach some necessary spaces they simply don’t cut it when day turns to evening turns to night.
Somewhere around midnight my body was indicating that it was not a happy chappy; some parts were beginning to complain. Ernie, my running mate as well as being a physiotherapist and trainer taped my nagging calf before elbowing firmly the glute, the site of my injury, while I sat uncomfortably on a rock. Imagine the scene and what it looked like to passing runners, “It’s just a piriformis” shouted Ernie. Hmm!!
The goal of the race was to complete 45 miles in the first twelve hours and to have achieved this in just eleven hours indicated that the overall goal of eighty miles was well within grasp. I felt that I was really in my element despite the earlier discomforts, I always say that I feel at my best when I am running well. At this stage the calls of the resident peacocks had ceased while they settled down with the pea-hens for the night. Head-torches had been lighting up the route for about two hours, bobbing lights and beams behind and in front of us, my favourite time had arrived, running through the night.
Despite increasing physical discomfort the atmosphere carried me along as each lap was ticked off. As well as the darkness a fairly dense fog had fallen on the course and surrounding countryside but which was lit with coloured lighting at every five mile mark, flashing across the grass raising everyone’s spirits in such a small but in the event, a meaningful way.
The hours awake have never particularly bothered me in ultra races, sleep deprivation being something I have been well able to handle–the only difficulty comes in trying to calculate miles done, laps completed and so on when the faithful Garmin has ultimately and inevitably run out of gas quicker than a runner! On this occasion at 3am, fifteen hours into the run, things took a turn for the worse when I began to feel nauseous and began to wobble uncontrollably as if I was intoxicated. Knowledge has taught me it’s important to act upon such situations sooner rather than later…. (heck..I hope I’m selling Ultras to you here!) Ernie was suffering from extreme tiredness too, leading us to the decision to take a tent rest..spiders or no spiders! (Yes, I just don’t like them!). Lying down proved to be the most painful thing for my injury and I couldn’t relax so, while Ernie literally hit the sack, sleeping for an hour, I sucked and chewed on ten wine gums until we were off once again.
The downhills that had previously been a blessing now became something of curse. It had been possible to fairly sprint down them making up precious time during the early miles, but no more, the up hills and the chance to walk to what seemed like a summit at this stage almost…almost..became something to relish.
Mentally I continued to be up for the challenge and doing what I feel I do best. Until a few weeks before the event I had been struggling with low energy, mood and motivation yet now I was again at a high point and felt that my training and involvements in races had come full circle. Happy Days!
Other competitor’s crews and race organisers were phenomenal in cheering us on as we continued to surge onward, best foot forward into the dawn again. I have no recollection of what time I reached the sixty mile mark but all I know was that I was moving (rather than running!) and it certainly didn’t look pretty.
God Bless the Mobile Phone! I was able to call Steve, my partner and George from Aspire Gym in Cardiff during my 70th mile lap to discuss the options for the remainder of the event..I like to think and it has been affirmed (!) that I sounded upbeat and focused. I was mulling over the logistics of the distance left to be covered in relation to the time left available and having to travel home by public transport. It felt good that I knew that I was easily able to complete 75 miles…..
…and so it was that at 10.20am after 22 hours and twenty minutes I decided to call it a day. I felt more than content with my achievement having felt in control and fully able to walk away before the actual finish time, mentally and emotionally intact albeit with some physical soreness. I was easily able to walk the mile odd to the Gym and back the following day! Although I know that I could have reached the original goal of eighty miles (which Ernie DID achieve), on the day I did not feel as though I needed to; in the past I would have berated myself but now see a major change in my approaches and attitudes, I have definitely changed as a person.
I have to say a big thanks to everyone who gave me support in the approach to and during the event; my family, the staff of The Aspire Gym in Cardiff, Ernie Jewson and the Hope 24 organisers. I will be back to do it again!
Malin Head to Mizen Head 12th Sept -22nd Sept 2012
by Vicky Luffrum
344.49 miles or 574km in “new money”………a long way! (Plus extra for road works and getting lost!
For those who are geographically challenged, Malin Head is the most northerly point in Northen Ireland and Mizen Head is the most southerly point in Eire. I only knew myself through reading Jen Coleman ‘s blog in 2011 as she ran it to break the record for the run , until then it could have been anywhere in earth!
On 29th May 2012 after having followed the blog, and whilst out running a 22 miler, the embryonic seed that had been planted began to grow. As always, my most outrageous decisions seem to form somewhere on a training run and on that Friday during the dawn hours, I decided to undertake the “M2M” challenge!
Inevitably, as my mind allowed the thrill of the thought to grow, I realised that there a few obstacles to overcome – most notably getting my partner …….luckily a distance runner too……and family tuned into the idea.
Having to fit around working hours the challenge after all would impinge on everyday life at home for many weeks with very early dawn training runs becoming the norm! The not so small matter of the financial side of the challenge was however quite easily balanced on the basis that this would actually be a holiday(!), a novel way of seeing Ireland in the rough (for me!) as those of you who might have read the daily blog of the event would have gleaned.
On 7th June the anticipated email from the organiser Rory Coleman , arrived, welcoming me aboard “the purple bus” that would become home for each competitor during the challenge. Somewhere between the two “Ms” purple haze was something I slipped into (more on that later!)…..
Only thirteen weeks separated me from reading that email and standing on the start line, not to mention a 100 mile run that I had already committed to and which I completed on Friday 13th July. The omens sure looked to be on my side. For now.
It was clear from meeting with Rory and Jen, that if I was going to succeed in completing the challenge, my training would have to step up a gear. Did I have any more gears to engage? The advice was that every other week, in addition to relatively short runs, I would build up to three consecutive 30 mile runs followed by a week with three consecutive 20 milers. I found the gears! And two weeks before the event my mind turned to packing. This turned out to be as challenging as the training runs as the list grew bigger and bigger…..and bigger! With so much to think about I was lucky to have had previous lists from other ultra runs, however, this being a multi-day event my “kit” had begun to grow to expedition like proportions! As it transpired and much to everyone’s amusement during the event, I probably took three times as many items as everybody else and the top bunk I occupied on the purple bus reflected a Girl Guide’s motto (be prepared) on the one hand but a teenager’s room on the other!
With the training and packing done on 10th Sept, and fortunately living locally to the organisers, Rory and Jen and their dog Rocky arrived to pick me up at 10.30am to begin the drive to Pembroke and the ferry to Rosslare. I remember thinking to myself that I was sitting in privileged company – a guy who I had read about many times in various running books as a games ultra-runner and a female G.B. team ultra-runner with a world record under her belt. How lucky was I! Just how long that luck would run for remained to be seen!
Onto Ireland, meeting the other participants Cathal, Craig, Jenni and Anneke (who was to cycle the whole route) there was an immediate feeling that we would all get along well; we helped each other and became a “team” on the eve before the start of the run. We were each handed a BOOK ……. which, horror of horrors was a 1:50 OS map with which we were to navigate our way south! At that stage realised that the only compass (Steve had told me to take a compass!) I had was the point of my nose and personal sense of direction! Know how was I going to know “south”? As it turned out the rising sun and it being Autumn too, allowed me to trace the routes of migrating birds so much so (yeah yeah!!) that I only got lost three times in the whole of the three hundred miles. I was assisted by non-permanent spray painted signs, with ☺☺☺ smiley faces and my name, on the more difficult parts of the route. It was not until the fifth day however that I actually plucked up recourse to take the maps with me and my tracking and educating skills are now second to….well….Much better!
Accommodation for the duration of the event was a Galaxy Cruiser Your Bus which had the capacity to sleep sixteen people in the upstairs quarters and with raining area, kitchen and small toilet below deck . Toilet facilities were ummmmm….. basic but of course quite adequate! Overcame another challenge in itself to place a plastic bag in the bowl to catch……yes, catch one’s excrement and dispose of it sensibly somewhere off the bus! The alternative, which I tended to prefer , was to do a “Bear Grills/ Ray Mears”, a skill I had honed reasonably well during the training period! Of course there was the luxury of real toilets at the various stop off points en route so this arrangement really added to the fun of everybody mucking in together.
Paul the owner and driver of the bus had carried many personalities on tour schedules using the purple bus over the years, including Status Quo and the Stranglers. What a difference to be now enduring the daily aroma of well used kit instead of guitar riffs and maybe, certain herbs!
We had a cook, even though the kilogrammes of gels, energy bars and the like overall could have enabled us to survive for god-knows how many days in the wilds. She was a complete star and catered to each individual need; anticipation of such delights as spicy chicken and jacket spuds, bolognese….chilli….was enough to drive me on to the end of many a day’s gruelling stages. There was no way we were going to be hungry; she insisted on putting up with only a few hours sleep and to rise at 2am to make sure I had breakfast on more than one occasion.
Back to the race: We were off! At 09.00 hours on 12th September. We had “glory photos” taken of us standing together on the rocks before we towed the painted start line at Malin Head, with sunshine and a chilling wind. 37 miles to Brady lay ahead of us. Was it Murphy’s Law coming into effect that we encountered a road diversion during that day’s run that added an extra 3 miles to the distance? The stage had gone reasonably well, despite not flowing as well as I would have hoped between miles 10 and 20 when, as can often happen, the bad patch lifts and running becomes relatively easy again. Having a power shower at the local GAA Club at the end of our first day was utter luxury compared with buckets outside and on board the bus that became our washing arrangements on many other days.
Stage 2, 32.9 miles to Dromore. Was my early luck running out already?! A vague pain in my right shin. Was this the beginning of anterior compartment syndrome or runner’s hypochondria?! Rory’s response was positive but still with an “oooh” ….being only the second day this had me slightly worried although tucking into tuna and brioche sandwiches at the checkpoint quickly lifted my spirits. As I finished the second stage in 6 hours 28 minutes I was able to put my arms out and mimic a soaring aeroplane as I crossed the finish line of the day, feeling quite fresh!
Injury talk during the evening revealed that Craig too was showing signs of what seemed to be a similar injury; we decided that we would put ourselves under less pressure with regard to pace and we started earlier the next day – together – with my thoughts too that I would be less likely to get lost with someone else running with me. Two heads are not always better than one – we did spend an inordinate amount of time faffing about en route and added an extra mile to make it 32.5 miles for stage 3 to Corlaugh.
The anticipated twosome failed to continue past the first checkpoint stage 4, the 31.6 miles to Ballymacormack. Craig’s injury was slowing him down and he insisted I go ahead. The separation was tough – it’s surprising how quickly you become attached to company and added to my woes. Nevertheless, there I was running down a long straight road, map in hand. Way to go! As it happened and with necessity being the mother of invention ( or something like that!) I discovered that I could actually read a map successfully. A really proud day (orienteering next?!).
S***, my injury was worsening; the end of the stages from now on would see me plunging my injured area into a bucket of cold water to reduce swelling, often sharing this intimacy with Craig , you can’t beat four blistered feet in a bucket of chilled water to bring in that special closeness! In addition, my close friends had become necessary partners! Pain killers with anti-inflammatory tablets were drilled down with electrolyte drinks and gels….all part of a healthy running lifestyle!
The next day was a so called “easy day” of 28.1 miles, something of a jaunt in the Irish countryside. The run to Ballinahown proved too much for Craig and he had to DNF. I was now struggling to complete this challenge on my own, I literally hobbled to the finish in a little over 6 hours.
Following what had become my daily foot clinic with Rory, with all toes taped to prevent further blistering, stage 6, 29.6 miles to Borrisokane, my body was rebelling in unfamiliar ways. Other parts of my left leg began to hurt as I now dramatically compensated for the problem in my right leg. At checkpoint one Rory massaged my painful glute and accepted my thought that I “needed to get a grip”! He threw in another solution too, that “food was mood” – keep the body fuelled up and the mind can stay strong during such events. And so I tucked in! But each stage became increasingly tough to deal with in respect of the pain in my leg, so much so that five miles from the finish I telephoned to have someone come pick me up. I was throwing in the towel. Instead of a ride back to the bus I had Rory’s support to complete the stage with me but it was even more clear now that I was no longer running but was hobbling and limping. That evening I sent a text message to Steve (my partner), to say that “this will be my last stage”. Talking through it later with him I decided that I would sleep on it and make a decision the next morning. I also had an inspirational text from Mark Drew aka George in “Aspire Fitness” who exhorted me to simply….. ….”walk, walk, stagger, crawl then drag your carcass” to the finish! My reply to George was “It’s time for me to shut the f***up and just keep going. Thanks George! ” . Sometimes we just need some kick ass when the going gets that uncomfortable.
And so I awoke deciding to continue and with a new strategy – I would run a mile and walk a mile to cover the rest of the whole event. Day seven, stage 7 was 28.7 miles to Mirror yet the running part of the strategy quickly became an obvious impossibility. My leg simply would not take it. Despite that my spirits were high, we were to be staying in the grounds of a “pitch and putt” club with Anne’s beef and mash to look forward to. There was to be no further running; my absolute goal was to run the event and I had not contemplated the idea of walking to the finish – another 140 miles but this was to be the only way that it could be done for now. Even walking was painful and yes, that initial good luck and good omens had now drifted away from me. Would I get to the finish in this condition? Was this now “guts” or just “nuts”?! As the days passed, the purple haze of pain and pain killers began to blend well with the joy of getting to the purple bus at the end of each day!
A 6am start to complete the 34.9 miles to Dromina might ensure that Cathal and Jenni would not pass me too early on as they continued their running together along the route. There was a psychological element to this, now being in the position of playing “catch up” and struggling to maintain any momentum, if I was able to at least cover a larger chunk of the distance before they caught me up then I would continue to feel that anything was possible! I was relieved and amazed that I was able to reach the half-way point before they came past. This was in a small cathedral town called Killmallock, we spoke briefly before they disappeared around corners and into the distance. They would have seen the purple bus a lot sooner than I did that on that day, I remember the enormous sense of relief as I turned the last corner in Dromina to see the bus calling me home! It had been a tiring, strength sapping day of almost twelve hours in my feet. My mind kept turning over how much quicker I knew I was capable of, if I was running; there was indeed a mental struggle going on now in equal proportion to the physical one.
Dark, dawn starts were now the only way to continue . It was a head-torch beginning the 34.9 miles to Macroom. The ankle and foot strapping I was having to pull on each morning was an endurance fear in itself, it seemed to help in a psychological way, yet by the end of the day’s walking my leg above was still swelling. I was under no illusions that the next three days on foot were going to require me to dig even deeper into my determination. I had been working mentally as well as physically for the challenge for a period of months and had assigned myself cupboards to carry me through any difficult period “dig in” to ensure that my body responded to the rigours of the physical and ” tranquillity ” to keep mind and body as relaxed as possible throughout. Well, in any event the tablets worked better 😀😀😀! What next for sports psychology?
Even though I was well used to night running and wearing a head -torch I did however talk through a strategy with Steve to pass away the dark hours in the road, we explored singing well known songs to the degree that I was eventually singing the song “if I could talk to the animals”. Here I was, in the pitch darkness of an Irish country lane, in the early hours of the morning singing at the top of my voice , not an exactly inspirational song except for the somewhat obscene lyrics I unexpectedly added! Was this because of disorientation, paint the pain killers? Well, they are my excuse!
Surprising simplistically too, I found that counting my footsteps from 1 to 100 and then repeating the sequence over and over got me through the thick of the night and early hours into the daylight.
By now the level of pain that I was experiencing had increased from a manageable 7/10 to 8/10. I was struggling to maintain any flow to my locomotion or forward momentum. With the daylight came the mountains, spectacular to view but a bigger to travel through in the way that I was moving. Downhill was particularly painful so descents have me the opportunity to practice yet another talent, that of walking backwards! This took away the pressure from the front of my shin . So, what with walking backwards and also having loud conversations with myself, I can appreciate why do many people asked me if I was alright and whether I wanted a lift anywhere! From then until the finish as many as 20 people a day offered me lifts in their cars – a hobbling, pain ravaged woman wearing a bright 🌞 yellow m2m tee shirt with a camel back! Attractive huh?!
Amazingly I suppose, considering the pain, this was the only day when I shed some tears briefly as I met Rory and Jen as I walked down from the mountains. (There was one plus to that day, I found a 50 Euro note which despite being in an awful state, paid for our fish and chips as we rode the ferry home!).
The tears of relief about three miles off the finish line for that day were also tinged with my concern as to whether I could repeat the same sort of task the following day and the following day…..Jen and Rocky walked the final miles with me as I completed the day just before 9pm. It had been a helluva long day of thirteen hours on my feet. I’m not entirely clear if that was the day Jen met me en route for a pep talk and a complete packet of malt loaf😉😀😀😀. She told me to eat it all. Let me say here , it certainly didn’t last for long!
The penultimate day was to be quite a long one of 35 miles; to add to the challenge I somehow took the wrong route, ending up in a remote farm (spooky) with no-one around and having to re-trace my steps adding 3 miles to what was already going to be a more than arduous day. At the twelve mile point , in a world of my own, singing a ditty about needing some water to swallow my pain killers , a man from a house that I was passing came out to offer me a cup of tea. He had heard me singing while he had been in his front garden and actually heard my lyrics of water, pain killers and all! I thanked him and was touched by the generosity that seemed to be abound in the country. I love Ireland!
Along the route I felt uplifted to pass Jen’s road: marking that we had now completed 300 miles on foot, and there in the distance I had a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean – we had left the sea at the northern most coast and at last, on the tenth day we were moving towards the final stretch of the challenge. The two runners Cathal and Jenni passed me with 12.4 miles to go and I realised that at my now, slow pace I would be on my feet for another 5 or 6 hours. Towards the finish of the stage I was spurred on by Rory and then a surprise arrival of my brother Pete, who accompanied me for the final three miles. The next day he told me that his legs were killing him! I had started very early that day at 3.30am to make sure I was back at the bus to celebrate Anneke’s 60th birthday, with chocolate cake and red wine. After 38 miles and over 14 hours on my feet, mixing a little red wine with the rest of what I had taken didn’t seem to matter at all!
There were times when I had not expected to be starting off on the Final Day . Day 11 from Muintir Bhaire to Mizen Head was to be a mere 20.4 miles. Normally this would have been something of an easy-ish training type of run yet here I was now hoping that the final miles walking in pain would not prove to be impossible. There was an immediate pressure , I would have to complete the distance within a certain time frame in order for everyone to catch the ferry back home! It was decided that I would set out at 3am with an alarm call at 2am. Sleep deprivation coupled with continuous pain were now my two companions so it was hard to really imagine anything different even though I craved a completion of it all!
For most people there would be an adrenalin rush at such moments of an event but for me, the effort was as tough as ever. Walking alone at night for hour after hour along unfamiliar country roads, with the occasional “roadkill” to fire the imagination and being obviously affected by pain killers is not the best way perhaps to choose to complete a “holiday tour of Ireland”. I found myself wandering quite dangerously from one side of the road to another so I called Steve (my partner in Cardiff), for words of encouragement who, as usual, ended our conversation with the time honoured runner’s words “dig in”.
It would no take too long now.
The only check point of the day saw me lying on a stone wall having my glutes “seen to” by Rory before being sent on what had become my messy way!
With 7 miles to go my brother Pete joined me for a few miles; I needed anything to distract me from the shooting pains that were increasing with every step I took, so much so that I was forced to stop and hold my leg tightly until the pain subsided. Now I was directing my angst at Rory (sorry Rory), calling him a scumbag and much worse for even organising the event! My phone bleeped with a text message from Ben, George and Joe from Aspire fitness reminding me that I had completed 339 miles and that I had only 4.7 miles to do, not the 5.2 miles I had thought……yeah half a mile at that stage truly meant such a lot. Without pain killers the last 2.5 miles seemed an unlikely conclusion, so near and yet so far. Pete called Rory to ask if there were anymore left to take; the deal was presented! Two cocodamol or Pete’s presence?! I was going to complete this challenge as I had intended – on the road, on foot under my own steam. At that point Cathal, Jenni and Anneke passed me by , cheering me on, I was overcome with emotion and cried; after still what seemed an age the purple bus (oh my friend!)came into view, Anneke rode back wheeling her bike with me I kept repeating to her with tears in my eyes “there’s the finish, it isn’t long now is it?”
400meters left; over 344 miles completed, the challenge was coming to its end. Pulling off my bright yellow m2m tee shirt I held it aloft while I picked up my hobbling pace and crossed the finish line! Of course, there were tears in my eyes and I was crying while I was hugged by everyone. The waves of the southern – most point of Ireland crashed as they had in the north. I had done it!!!
Despite losing out on the initial luck and being unable to run the whole route, I had completed what I set out to do. Rory and Jen handed me the awesome Tankard presented to all those who complete the distance which we immediately filled with champagne. This had been a massive, personal life changing experience…….and I have a fractured tibia to prove it too!
Lisa is known in our group as an accomplished trail runner who knows all of the trails around North Cardiff like the back of her hand! But how did she get to where she is today? Here she tells us her running journey:
I was asked to write something about running. And I got stuck. Because it’s not something I think about. So I pondered on it, and still couldn’t come up with anything. I think it’s because I don’t analyse the things I do – or I would lose my mind. I have always been involved in sport (throwing myself fully at whatever sport from the age of 8).
Skip quite a few years of martial arts and then running was added to my training week, following a bet when I was 18 to run the London marathon (I actually hated running & only ever did 1500m in school). Anyway, thinking I wouldn’t get into London, I wasn’t too worried – until the day the envelope landed on my doorstep saying I had a place. So that was the start – but even then I didn’t really think about it much and just went out running with no plan, no phone, no idea of how far I was running, no watch (although I did look at the house clock when I left and when got home just so I knew how long I’d been out of the house).
My finishing time was 5hrs 40. I was ok with that as I’d raised money for charity (always a bonus), until someone said “I thought you’d have been quicker than that!”. So the challenge was set. I entered again via a charity, but this time raised the bar. I wanted a quicker time. I got 4hrs 30. Again I was happy with that, but my own stubbornness kicked in – I wanted a certificate with under 4 hours. I tried again. 4hrs 8. This time I was gutted. So I tried again and focused on speed work and reduced distance (partly because I couldn’t face long distances week after week). I finally got my certificate (3hrs 48). Job done.
That opened a very different door and another bet. To do an Ironman (I was very drunk when I agreed to do it!). I didn’t actually know what one was. But again, challenge set, Ironman completed! Job done. But, the training turned me off road running forever. So the trail running started as someone said it was easier on joints. I liked the sound of it. I love woodlands, farmland and paths. They change all the time, with the weather, with the season, with the wildlife. It’s never the same. Trail running / cycling (I now do both) can be like a sensory overload if you let it! I never run trails with headphones, partly safety but because it’s about what you hear as well as see. There is always a different smell (especially around farmlands 😂), always less people. It just lets you in! I’ve grown up in Cardiff and we are so lucky to have the miles and miles of trails to link together on our doorstep. You just need to get out there and enjoy.
“RUN every day? You must be insane Claire”, these were the words on my husband’s lips in March 2020. He was the first person who I shared my harebrained idea with. I had been quietly watching a few other run streakers on Facebook and was intrigued to give it a try for myself and see how far I could go.
I like to challenge myself and in one way or another I always have some goal I am striving for. Whether it’s training for my latest marathon, planning my next fundraiser for charity but a run streak; that was new and something that even shocked my husband.
When I told some friends a few told me I wouldn’t go beyond a month. One even said, “I give you 50 days max”. That was like a red flag to a bull.
We were about to go into a national lockdown for the very first time; scary, uncertain times were ahead. I was a keen runner and already running four times a week. I had suffered with my mental health in the past. Running always helped lift my mood and gave me those feel-good vibes and so I knew that I needed to use it to help me through this testing time. I invested in a treadmill as I was worried that outdoor exercise would be restricted and as I have dogs my daily outdoor exercise slot would be allocated to their walkies.
On that first day of starting, I made a promise to myself that I would run every day during lockdown until it ended. I had no idea how long that would be but didn’t for one minute expect it to go on anywhere near a year. I set up an Instagram account @thevoguerunner and used that as a daily diary and for my own accountability purposes. I also joined some streak runner support groups online.
The first few months were challenging, I won’t lie. I was running on average 5k per day and some days I was doing a little less. My body was adapting and I felt tired a lot. I started to look at my hydration and food and increased both to accommodate the increased exercise. That helped.
There were days I didn’t feel like running but I kept reminding myself of that promise to myself and so continued on putting one foot in front of another and one these days when I felt tired I listened to my body and just did less and at a slower pace. To keep a streak alive you need to do at least 1 mile continuous run and so some days I did that.
My runs were a mix of treadmill runs and outdoor runs. Where possible, I got out to run as that really lifted my spirits and broke the monotony of being indoors. Before I knew it my first milestone of 50 days was approaching and I secretly felt excited and proud. Then, it was nearing 100 days…. Lockdown seemed do be everlasting and there was no end in sight.
My fitness levels were starting to improve and I managed to get a new PB for my fastest mile of 8min 10s. I was also noticing that I was able to go further every day and by this time I had increased my mileage to around 5 miles most days with maybe a 4 miler one day a week in between. I was no longer as tired and felt really good.
I decided that with every 100 day milestone I would do a virtual celebration, and so on day 100 lots of people from all over the world joined in with me to run virtually . The virtual running community is so supportive and that helped keep me motivated and spur me on.
All run events had been cancelled and my place in the London marathon and New York marathon had been deferred. I had the option to do a virtual marathon . I mulled over whether I could do that during my run every day streak . Training for a marathon is testing enough but doing that while on a run streak is even more of an ask. I was secretly nervous at how my body would cope but I was determined to use it as an opportunity to raise more money for my chosen charity (plus I wanted to see if I could do it!)
Another harebrained idea followed. I decided that I would challenge myself further and upgrade my virtual marathon to my first ultra marathon of 50km! On a very wet day on the 4th October 2020 I achieved my goal. I managed a 34 mile trail run up through the Afan forest. I will never forget the day after my ultra. I felt like the tin man as I ran a 5k. Nevertheless, after that first mile I loosened up a lot and the run really helped my stiffness.
By this point I was probably around day 250 of my run every day streak and I knew that I was going to aim for 365 days. I believed I could do it, especially after having done the ultra. Self belief is everything. How you speak to yourself is key. Tell yourself you can and you will. Tell yourself you can’t, you won’t.
Throughout my streak I have had ups and downs. There have been times when life got in the way and the thought of squeezing in my run seemed impossible but like with anything in life, if you want something badly enough you will make it work for you and find a way. I have run at 1 am in the morning and at 10pm at night on some days to get that run in. I’ve had days when I felt under the weather, I’ve still got my run in, albeit a slow, gentle mile.
I’ve run through family illnesses and death. Those were the hardest, most challenging runs which almost made me quit the streak. At the end of January 2021 I lost my mum to covid, and within two weeks of that we had to put our furbaby Oscar to sleep after 11 yrs. I nursed both in the lead up and was with both at the end. After losing mum I had to self isolate for 10 days so relied on my treadmill, along with doing hundreds of laps of my garden for my fresh air boost! These were the hardest times of my life and I often cried while running but I was determined to run on in their memory, and to hit my personal goal. On the day of mum’s funeral I did a midnight treadmill run as I knew it wouldn’t happen otherwise.
I hit my 365 days run every day on Tuesday 23rd March 2021. I celebrated with a 5 mile run with a friend. I also did a virtual celebration again of colour and life and called it Rainbow Child. (the name of one of my favourite songs) Over 100 people joined in virtually from as far away as Canada and Colorado USA, as well as the lovely ladies from She Runs: Cardiff.
After reading this you may think I am mad doing what I have. Starting my streak was one of the best things I’ve done and also something I am incredibly proud of. I have learned so much about myself in the process. Not just my body and how much it can achieve but also my willpower and strength. I never realised how determined I am until I started the streak. With dedication and hard work you can achieve anything in life, running related and otherwise.
I am still running every day and haven’t stopped yet as it’s become a habit and a lifestyle for me now. I look forward to my runs. I have achieved my goal and so if I feel like a day off I will. I am just going to see what happens.
My top tips for anyone thinking of starting a run streak:
1. Listen to your body and never push when tired or if you’re really ill. Health always comes first and never jeopardise that or risk injury. On these if you feel you can and want to continue do less and at a slower pace. It takes just 1 continuous run mile to keep a streak active. If you feel really bad don’t go….
2. Train smart and mix up terrain to avoid too much impact on tarmac. Where possible train on trail or wet sand as these are kinder for the joints.
3. Self care : foam roll and when able to, get a deep tissue massage. Always warm up before and stretch after runs.
4. Hydrate and fuel to accommodate your new exercise levels
Mum and daughter Run Buddy duo Beth May and Zoe Morgan recently took on the challenge of running their first ultra. Read on to find out how it went!
The Why? I guess the first question to answer, which is often the first thing I am asked, is why? Why put your body through that? Why an ultra? Well, I guess for me the simplest answer is I can’t say no! A marathon had always been something I wanted to achieve. It was on my bucket list to complete a marathon before I am 30. I’d read articles and books from some fantastic ultra runners but always thought it sounded too far and for the fittest of fit. Then one day, my mum mentioned she’d read an article on how veterans do better in ultras because it’s about stamina and less about speed. She’d recently finished, ‘Beyond Limits’ by Lowri Morgan and I could tell she was inspired. I could see the cogs working in her mind…. So then she said it, “You fancy it?” I paused, thought about it… did I? Did I want to? Then she said, “see I’ve been looking at a few races online and I’ve found a nice one from Brecon to Cardiff along the canal path.” That was it, I knew she had already decided she was doing it. So, as on several occasions before, our first 10k, our first half, I said yes to my mum’s latest crazy idea! I felt that familiar bubble of excitement, nerves and anticipation. Could I really enter the realms of those runners I had read about and become an ultra runner?
The Training Next came the hard work and the realisation. How was I going to train for this? I work as an emergency department doctor so my schedule can be pretty intense but I’ve taken some time out of training this year, working 30-40 hour weeks versus the usual 48-70! So no excuses, plenty of time to train. So the next question I asked myself was how? I’ve never run more than 13.1 miles, how do I prepare my body to run 40! So like all millennials, I turned to google. After a few weeks of searching we found a plan. The plan became famous among the She Runners, if a run wasn’t on the plan we weren’t doing it. We followed the plan religiously. There were times when, after a 10 hour shift, I had to squeeze in an 8 mile run, that I wondered if I could ever do it. But with around 500 miles in the legs, the day of the ultra arrived. I’d done my first marathon in training, in the snow, and I felt ready. Nervous, excited but ready.
The Big Day Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our official race had been cancelled. However, we had already started our fundraising for the wonderful Velindre cancer centre. So, there was only one decision that we could make, how could we still run the distance within the guidelines. So, on Saturday 6th February 2021, we left our home in Treorchy carrying enough water, food and supplies to sustain us and started the ultra. We ran from Treorchy to Velindre Cancer Centre and back home to Treorchy.
The weather was kind. The week leading up to the event had been wet and windy but the weather gods were with us. A cold and dry day. The first 10 miles to Pontypridd flew by. My legs felt strong, my pack felt stable and I was filled with excitement. When I made it to the taff trail, I was greeted by some beautiful chalk drawings that brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat. One of our wonderful She Runners had drawn rainbows and messages of support onto the trail. It came at just the right time. Boosted my spirits and reminded me of the purple army of support behind us. I caught the wonderful Dani just down the trail and she gave me a cheer and a wave. Another mile and another familiar face. The next few miles passed with ease as so many of my wonderful friends took their daily exercise to come and cheer us on. It meant so much that so many She Runners walked, ran and cycled to support us.
I was approaching the halfway point at Velindre where I knew I’d get to see my sister and my niece who had come out to support us. My sister ran out to meet me and we covered the last half a mile to Velindre together, picking my niece up on the way. I arrived at Velindre to a round of applause and the whoops and cheers from more wonderful She Runners and friends. Again, tears flowed and I realised just how lucky I was to be part of this club. I spent a few moments chatting and having photos and then about 15 minutes refuelling before I set out home. Gem ran with me until we met our mum on her outward leg in Radyr.
A friend of mine had set out on her run to try to find me on the route but had found my mum instead! I continued homeward with Lowri and my sister continued to the halfway mark with my mum. I struggled a little for the first few miles, I’d indulged a little too much at the halfway mark and the food was now sitting heavy in my stomach. But thanks to the support and encouragement of my support crew, I got through and soon was running comfortably again. A few more familiar faces had come back out to support us and a lovely few miles with Dani and her family meant I reached the 26.2 mile mark in record time. A marathon PB!
The next leg was tough. Uphill home with no more supporters planned on the route. And then it happened. My tired body tried to step aside to give a walker a 2 metre social distance and I failed to notice the edge of a curb under some muddy leaves and felt my ankle roll inwards. I felt a pop. A searing pain in the side of my foot. I recovered my gait and kept going. The adrenaline kept me moving for another mile or so but the last 10 miles were a struggle. I put my headphones in and blasted the She Runs playlist which got my through the last few miles. I remembered all the people we were running for. All the money we had raise. My great aunt was there with warm words of encouragement for my last half a mile and then I saw it, the Parc and Dare lit up in Velindre green, a complete coincidence but then I couldn’t stop the tears running down my face. I made it back. Phone calls from my sister and my mum who had about 9 miles to go and my step dad waiting with a cuppa. I’d done it. I was an ultra runner!
On reflection So, now I’ve had a chance to sleep, rest and reflect what have learnt and what would I tell someone who wants to do a ultra? 1) be prepared to bore everyone you know with running chat. It will become all you talk about. 2) you’ll spend money on kit that won’t work or you don’t need. Everyone is different and you may not get it right straight away no matter how much you read. 3) even if you don’t think you need supporters, you do. They will keep you going. 4) find what makes you really want to run an ultra. Find it and treasure it. Use it as a mantra. When you want to give up, remind yourself of why you’re doing it. 5) practice nutrition. Everyone said it to me and they were right. Getting the balance between getting enough calories in and not messing with your GI tract. Finally, 6) If I can do it then anyone can! Don’t let the fear stop you from striving for what might seem impossible. You can achieve it!
The Why? In October 2019 I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon. I was amazed to have run that far and thought that was as far as my distance running would take me. Couch to Half Marathon in 18 months felt like a pretty decent achievement. And then, during lockdown 2020, Lowri Morgan spoke at one of the She Runs Book Club sessions. I couldn’t make the session itself, but I did read her book ‘Beyond Limits’. I posted on social media about how inspiring I’d found it. And one of my friends commented, half-jokingly, ‘Your next challenge, Beth?’ That planted a seed, which soon developed into a plan to use lockdown to train for a forty mile ultra marathon. All that remained was to convince Zoe that, instead of doing a marathon before she was thirty, she could do an ultra instead! We recognised quite early on that there were going to be times, both during training and the event itself, when we were going to need a reason to keep going. So we decided to use the ultra to raise funds for Velindre Cancer Centre, where my Dad had received treatment, and to ask people to dedicate a mile to someone affected by cancer.
The training Zoe and I love a plan. We found a sixteen week Runners World one on the internet ( not very scientific , it just seemed the best fit for us), which involved four runs, a strength session and two rest days each week. We followed it religiously. I knew, as an older runner with dodgy knees , that I’d have no chance of completing 40 miles if I didn’t put the work in.
I really enjoyed the training. One of the things that we knew about ultra training was that you should get used to running on the type of terrain that you’ll be on for the event itself. So, when COVID restrictions allowed, we travelled to different sections of the route for our weekend runs. I loved exploring parts of the Welsh countryside that I’d not visited before. The event route ran from Brecon to Nantgarw along the Taff Trail, so a real mix of scenic, steep forestry trails followed by tarmac paths through the industrial heritage of South Wales. There were adventures along the way- I ended up wading through a stream in the Brecon Beacons because a foot bridge was down, and on one long run I experienced ‘digestive issues’ many miles from a toilet and had to find a bush!
We’d just about covered the whole of our ultra route over different sessions, when the official event was cancelled due to the pandemic.By then, we were well into our training plan and had already raised several hundred pounds for Velindre, so neither of us were prepared to back out. And so we kept on training and formulated our Plan B.
We worked out that the distance from our house to Velindre and back would be approximately the same as the ultra we’d entered. It would be a much less picturesque route, and would be almost entirely on pavements or tarmac paths. But there was something very meaningful to be running towards the hospital that we were raising funds for.
As this wouldn’t be an official event, there’d be no aid stations, so we got used to carrying the food and water that we’d need. Most ultras have compulsory kit lists, so I’d encourage anyone training for one to get used to running with a back pack early on; as well as the extra weight to carry, it can alter your sense of balance and running gait.
Given my earlier digestive problems, I also needed to identify public toilets along the new route ! These are already in short supply for women, and due to the pandemic our council had shut some others. Fortunately, we would run past several larger supermarkets, and these were my saviour on longer runs, as well as on the day of our ultra.
The training plan incorporated back to back long runs, which helped us build strength and endurance, whilst reducing the risk of injury. I was amazed at how soon I was able to cover longer distances. I took a photo of my watch face every time I achieved a new ‘longest run’, and felt a great sense of achievement when that happened.I was especially proud of our longest training run – a marathon distance of 26.2 miles, when we woke up to several inches of snow, and still managed to complete the session.
The Big Day Right up until the week before our ultra , we weren’t sure if there’d be another change to the regulations that would require a Plan C- in Scotland and England people were unable to leave their local authority area, and we were due to leave Rhondda Cynon Taf and cross into Cardiff at Tongwynlais.
As it turned out, the exercise regulations on the day of our ultra challenge didn’t place any restrictions on the amount of exercise, as long as it began and ended from home. We’d resigned ourselves to completing the whole distance alone; our paces were so different that we wouldn’t be able to run together. We were running an unofficial ultra in Tier 4 lockdown. It was going to be difficult.
In the week leading up to our ultra, the amount of online support was incredible, including a lovely video (see above) from She Runs: Cardiff, wishing us good luck. I knew that my elder daughter Gemma was planning to run part of the route with me at the Cardiff end; lockdown had meant weeks of not being able to see her, so I was really looking forward to that part of the run. What we hadn’t anticipated were the number of other friends, and wonderful She Runners who timed their runs, walks or cycles, so that they could see us out on our route, and offer support and encouragement. Or the colourful chalk messages that Dani had gone out to draw on the cycle path at Glyntaff, as a cheer station. It meant so much to us that people, most of whom we’d never met in ‘real life’ before, came out to see us. For me, bonds were forged that day which typify the strength of the She Runs community – and will be something that I’ll never forget.
I’d covered over 480 miles in 16 weeks of training, as well as numerous strength sessions. In terms of the distance, I’d say it really got tough for me after about 30 miles . Because we live near the top of the Rhondda Valley, the homeward stretch was uphill. It got dark when I was at mile 31 and the temperature dropped quite sharply. The valley was submerged in freezing fog. It became more and more of a struggle the closer I got to home. It really was the cause I was running for, and the thought of the family , friends and our wonderful purple Cheer Squad who were following updates from Gemma online , that kept me going.
It was more of a shuffle for me than anything resembling a run by the end. I was cold, I was aching and I felt sick. But I’d done it! Less than three years since I started my running journey, my 54 year old legs had carried me just over 40 miles!
On reflection I still can’t quite believe that I’ve completed an ultra. But it’s on Strava, so it must be true! At the moment, I’m in the ‘never again’ phase in terms of attempting another one. I do wonder, though, if it’s like child birth and you forget the painful parts and focus on the end result?!
The level of training needed was a significant commitment. I’m a slow runner, an enthusiastic participant of the Party at the Back, and I relish that. But there are consequences if you’re going to do an endurance event. My long runs took a lot longer than Zoe’s long runs! Lockdown offered me an opportunity to commit to this distance, without impacting on other aspects of my life in the way that it usually would have. In many ways, it’s been a real privilege.
Whether I’ll ever find myself in a position to do that again, remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’m going be part of the support squad for other She Runners tackling their ultras, take satisfaction from the fact that we’ve raised over two thousand, six hundred pounds for Velindre, and be proud to say that Nanny Beth ran an ultra.