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.
Whenever I get asked about why I love running so much, I usually answer with “it’s my ‘me’ time away from everything, a chance to lose myself in my thoughts and to put things right”, and if I’m honest it’s time away from being Mam! I’ve been running since I was 15, over 20 years now and I started because I just fancied going for a run as I always enjoyed cross-country at school which is an odd thing for people to hear when I say that I was often last, but that didn’t bother me, I just enjoyed being out and seeing what I could do. Running has been a constant in my life ever since and has taken me on some amazing adventures by running several marathons as well as an ultra. Having the support of friends and family at running events is such a motivation boost, and I love nothing more than when my two daughters come and watch me run, waving banners and shouting support at everyone they see; with a beaming smile and a hug I get as I plod past being the ultimate energy boost.
Having two daughters has made me think about how they see me as their mother and what kind of role model I can be for them. I’ve always loved exercising, from being part of different teams at school and university to running, weightlifting and crossfitting now as an adult. I’d like the girls to also grow-up enjoying and feeling the benefits of an active lifestyle and as a family we’ll often go for walks, bike rides and swimming together
A couple of years ago, I was lacing up my trainers and getting myself sorted for one of my usual runs, when my oldest daughter Mari asked if she could come running with me one day. She was 6 at the time and I felt such pride in the fact that she wanted to join me running. I said that the next time I go out, she could join me and that we could plan a nice route to run together. After I got home from my run, we sat down and planned when and where we could go together. Having not taken a child running before, I wasn’t too sure what to do or where to start! I knew that the girls did the daily mile at school and so knew that she could do a mile without too much fuss.
We decided to go around Roath Park Lake as it’s flat with plenty to see and a nice loop that would be achievable for little legs! Mari was so excited that first time, getting dressed in her leggings and t-shirt and popping on her trainers. When we first set off, she shot off like a whippet and turned around after 10 seconds to see where I was!! It was quite funny that first time out together, she kept sprinting off and then stopping in a heap, huffing and puffing but beaming and just loving being out running with me. It was the start of our running sessions together and I too loved it just as much as she did.
Alys then decided that she too wanted to join us on our next running expedition and two years later, we still go out together – sometimes all 3 of us, but more often it’s just Mari and me, and I have to say that although it’s my ‘me’ time to escape from the girls – I love running with them and I hope it’s the start of a love for running that they too will take with them throughout life.
My top tips for running with kids is to make it fun! You are not going to get a PB and don’t expect to be able to do your usual running training session. The one thing that running with the girls has reminded me of is just how much fun running is and to not worry about what you look like! I usually try and keep a steady pace for the majority of my runs, unless I do some hill repeats or speed intervals, but with Mari – one minute she’s jogging along nicely then she’ll dart off to the next lamp post as fast as possible, so I do exactly the same! We challenge each other and race each other the next park bench, but then we’ll also slow right down and walk and have a chat. It’s great to challenge her too, by encouraging her to keep running a little longer or seeing how a new route works for her and her little legs. Don’t push their distance too much to start and be mindful that they will be achy the next day – a nice hot bath does the trick to help ease those achy legs.
I’d love to one day run a marathon with the girls, that’s a long way off at the moment, but I’m clinging onto that dream. In the meantime, I’m just going to continue to encourage and enjoy running with my girls and support them in their new found love of running.
It’s Saturday March 31st 2018. I’m sitting in a SlimmingWorld group in the Rhondda. I’m 51 years old. Following a hysterectomy for very early uterine cancer in 2015, I’d gained a lot of weight. And although I’d lost most of it, the last half a stone or so was proving quite difficult to shift. I’d got into a bit of a rut with my gym routine, doing the same cardio programme a few times a week, and was aware that I wasn’t pushing myself as much as I could have.
Our regular SW Consultant was on holiday and Mel, who was covering, was more direct than we were used to. ‘So, Beth, what are you going to do to change things then?’ Feeling put on the spot, I responded ‘I’m going to start running’. I still don’t really know why I said it- but I had. It was out there and I knew that saying it out loud in group would make me accountable.
Someone in the group mentioned the NHS Couch25K app, and said that the first week involved only having to run for one minute at a time. This was music to my ears! I’d tried to become a runner twice before, and only lasted for one or two sessions. This was mainly down to my strategy of going off as fast as I could, getting out of breath, and then having to stop. Later on in my running journey, when I did my Leadership in Running Fitness course, our trainer told us about ‘Chatty’ versus ‘Sparkly’ running- ‘Chatty’ being a sustainable pace when you can still hold a conversation, and the ‘Sparkly’ bit being a short burst of speed that you can only manage for a short while- great for a sprint finish or for intervals, but not for the majority of your run. So my previous attempts had fallen down because I’d gone off at a Sparkly pace and then come to a grinding halt.
Back to March 2018. I went home from group, downloaded the app, chose Sarah Millican as my coach and headed for the gym. I can’t say that it was love at first run- I remember looking at my phone and willing the seconds to count down to the next walking break. But I did it! Sarah told me how well I’d done, and to go and have a banana (to which I mentally told her to bog off, I was having some chocolate). My daughter Zoe decided to join in with me, so I repeated Week 1 Run 1 and we went from there.
There were definitely times during the first few weeks where I’d have given up if Zoe hadn’t been following the plan too. The turning point, and the session where I fell in love with running, was a Sunday morning at the end of Week 3. Zoe and I turned up at the gym, and there were NO TREADMILLS FREE. I was all for going home, but Zoe insisted we were going to run around the park instead. Outside. Where people might see.
But I LOVED it! From that point, there was no stopping me. I was determined to complete the programme, and keep on running. I really enjoyed being outdoors, instead of in a sweaty gym. The transitions from running to walking were so much smoother than on the treadmill, and so much better for my joints, which had been quite sore. It didn’t help that I was wearing gym trainers rather than proper running shoes. Getting a gait analysis done and finding the right shoes was another game changer.
When an injury meant that my elder daughter Gemma couldn’t do her usual wrestling training, she started running too. And so running became a real family affair for us.The three of us completed the C25k plan, and then progressed to running 5k (the plan takes you to running for 30 minutes, which still isn’t 5k for me). We did our first parkrun together in Hackney Marshes in September 2018 and then completed the Cardiff 10k the same month. We ran that one together, with the girls pretty much dragging me around the final turn. But the finish line photo, of all of us crossing together, is probably my favourite running photo.
At that point, I had to concede that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with two women who were half my age. Ever since then, I’ve been happy running my own way at my own pace. Running has become a regular, and necessary, part of my routine. Much more than helping me maintain good physical heath, it supports my mental wellbeing. I now run 3-4 times a week, and feel really unsettled if I’m not able to.
So, what have I learned along the way? Firstly, it’s never too late to start running! Of course I wish I’d started years ago, but I didn’t so I’d just as well get on with it now. Secondly, it has to be your run at your pace – don’t bother comparing yourself to others, that produces a whole load of negative energy. And thirdly, the best way to keep going is to link your running to your ‘why’. For me, that’s about being the best version of myself that I can be; the fittest Nanny Beth for my family, the most resilient manager for my teams, the most encouraging voice that I can be for other women. Find your running ‘why’ and you’ll never look back.
Today I ran for the 60th consecutive day. I have laced up my trainers every single day since New Year’s Eve and gone out for a run. I’ve run in the wind, the rain, the snow (three times), the sunshine. I’ve run in the morning, at lunch time, in the afternoon and the evening. Every single day I have run on my own.
The RED January challenge helped kick start things, even though when I initially signed up I was planning on it being ‘regular exercise daily’ rather than ‘run every day’. When I got to the end of the month, I wasn’t ready to let go of the run streak… and so I continued for February. As I’d also run on New Year’s Eve, this meant 60 consecutive days of running.
It’s been hard at times. There have been ups and downs along the way. But I’ve absolutely loved it. It’s taught me a lot about myself, about running, and about how vital regular exercise is for my mental health.
I never intended to run every day for 60 days. But I’m really proud that I did.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. I am capable of more than I think
I never intended to undertake a 60 day run streak… it just kind of happened. If I’m honest, I never would have believed I had it in me. If someone had set me the challenge, I woudn’t have accepted it. If you’d told me at the start of the year I would run every day for 60 days I would never have believed you. I never, ever thought I could manage something like that.
But, as I keep on discovering with running, I am more capable than I think. With every running achievement I slowly grow in confidence. Not just when I’m pounding the pavements but in life in general. It’s one of the best gifts running has given me.
I didn’t think I could run every day for 60 days. But it turned out I was wrong.
2. It very quickly became part of my routine
I used to think I didn’t have time to run every day. What I’ve realised is that I have the same 24 hours as everyone else; for me, it was about making the time for running. Granted, it’s much easier to do that in a global pandemic when we are spending so much time at home, when my life is a much slower pace than usual, and with my husband working at home meaning childcare has been way easier. But within a few days my daily runs became a part of our family routine. Everyone in my household knew I would be going for a run and we worked around it. After a week or so, even my Strava would beep at around lunch time with a suggestion that I should start an activity right now.
3. Running daily meant doing less of other things
I haven’t done as much yoga these last two months as I usually would. I haven’t read as much as I usually would. My lunch time running meant I had to find a space in my schedule to catch up on the life admin I would usually have done in that time. I’m okay with that in the short term, but long term I’m looking forward to a bit more balance.
4. Getting out the door is often the biggest battle
I remember one day when I really didn’t want to run. I was feeling tired from not sleeping very well the previous night, it was cold and wet outside, I’d done a lower body strength session and my legs were sore. I was very close to not going. But there was a little voice in my head telling me I’d regret it if I didn’t. I decided I would just go for a one mile run streak ‘saver’. However, I did my mile… felt okay and managed another two. Sometimes the biggest battles are in our mind and getting out the door is the hardest part.
5. I spent more time in sweaty running kit than my regular clothes
I often ran at lunch time as it seemed to be the easiest time of the day to fit it in amid the homeschool/homeworking juggle. I would put my kit on in the morning because I knew if I showered and put on regular clothes, I’d be less likely to go out. When I’d get back from my run I wouldn’t always have time to eat my lunch and for a shower… and so I’d often be in my kit until late afternoon. This is where being in a global pandemic was useful because no one could smell my slightly sweaty aroma! On the occasions when I did run earlier in the day, my family would jokingly ask why I’d made such an effort to dress up.
6. I let go of distance and speed and embraced running for the sake of running
I soon realised that if I wanted to run every day, I needed to let go of any expectations of speed and pace and I needed to let go of the long distances. My shortest run was less than two miles. The majority were between 3 and 4 miles. It’s only the last two weekends I’ve added in comparatively long runs of 6 and 7 miles. I walked and stopped when I needed to. I ran slowly when I needed to. I tried not to look at my running watch to check my pace and instead let how I was feeling determine my pace. Like a lot of runners, I’m usually working towards a specific distance for a race, or trying to improve my pace. There’s nothing wrong with that, but one of the things I loved the most about this challenge was not thinking about any of that at all and getting back to the basics.
7. The daily headspace helped my mental health so much
I’ve long been aware that regular exercise is vital for my mental wellbeing and it’s a huge priority in my life. In ‘normal’ times I run regularly, I go to the gym and I practice yoga. As a family, we go on long walks and cycle. However, even I was surprised by just how good running outdoors every day made me feel mentally. I was more alert, more patient, less stressed, less anxious calmer. It definitely had a positive impact on my life.
8. I’m ready for a rest
My body is feeling tired now. My legs are heavy and my hips are feeling tight. I’m ready to stop and rest. I know I need to before I do my body any damage and rest is enforced upon me due to injury.. I’ve been there before and it’s hard. This time last year I was injured and couldn’t run for 17 weeks. It made the already-hard lockdown even harder and definitely had an impact on my mental health and self-confidence. I will never take running for granted and I feel so grateful to have been able to have run for so many days in a row. But I also know it’s time for me to stop and recharge.
9. I’m going to miss it.
Having a daily half hour to myself – and, importantly, having this time outside in the fresh air every single day whatever the weather – has helped me in so many ways. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs time on their own and I enjoy my own company. As much as I love spending so much time with my family during this pandemic, I know I am a better person, better equipped to deal with everything everyone else needs from me, when I get a little bit of space to myself. It will be really strange not going for a run tomorrow but I’m hoping now that the routine has been established, I can find the time for a walk on my own instead.
How I learned not to be limited by my chronic illness.
by Myfanwy Thomas, Run Buddy
Long before I was ever a runner (a recent change to my life in the grand scheme of things) I was an arthritic person. It seems as if there should be a noun for it. Arthritic? I am an arthritic.
The Early Years
Diagnosed at the age of 2 I have had arthritis for as long as I can remember. As a child I didn’t notice it very much, only that I couldn’t kneel like other children (still can’t, never will.) I don’t remember it ever stopping me doing anything else, and I don’t remember it hurting. But perhaps that was just down to childhood resilience. Children seem to be able to withstand or cope with much worse things than adults. My mum has reminded me that I slept with a splint on my leg at night for a while. Now she’s reminded me I’ve remembered how much I hated it!
I have always been keen on sports and physical activity. PE was one of my favourite lessons throughout primary and secondary school and I joined in with pretty much every sport I could in high school. I started going to the gym in my teens and doing aerobics classes. I knew I had arthritis but it didn’t really affect me at the time. I didn’t take any medication and didn’t feel any pain.
I had been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and it was suggested that I had grown out of it. Great!
Then when I was 16/ 17 a number of things happened around the same time. I left school and went to college and left all my sporting and fitness endeavours behind. I had new hobbies – drinking, socialising and generally being a nightmare to my parents. I caught Glandular Fever which knocked me sideways for a few months. Then I got hit by a car. Nothing broken but I was just one big bruise from my neck to my foot.
And another thing happened: my arthritis came back, and this time it meant business.
Was it just a coincidence or was it linked to any or all of the above events? I will never know, and if it was there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
I had actually been discharged from the hospital a few years prior as the arthritis was deemed to have gone so I saw my GP and he prescribed me ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is fine for a headache but I can tell you, against full-on arthritis it does basically nothing. The weeks (months?) waiting to see a Rheumatologist were hell. Stiff, swollen achy joints, especially my knees.
I eventually got to the Rheumatology Consultant and to my surprise I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I didn’t even know I had psoriasis but apparently the itchy scalp I’d had as a child was exactly that. So it wasn’t juvenile arthritis it had been psoriatic arthritis all along. It had just been on a little break… Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic auto-immune disease with no cure; but as I’d always had arthritis as far as I was concerned I pretty much took it in my stride in typical teenage fashion. I was prescribed a DMARD (disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug) which helped to a point and that was that.
“PsA (like psoriasis) is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain and resulting in damage. Researchers aren’t sure why some people develop PsA. They think it’s a combination of having certain genes, which makes them more likely to develop the disease, and being triggered by something in the environment, like an infection, stress, physical trauma or another factor.” (arthritis.org)
Over the next few years my arthritis was up and down. I resumed my fitness activities going to the gym and swimming regularly as my dad paid for a gym membership for me. Running was something I only ever did to warm up at the gym – I used to think 20 minutes was a long run! (That really tickles me now.)
I had occasional flare ups. One bad one I remember happened when I went on a fly-drive holiday to California. My knees swelled up and I had to sit in the back of the car with the front seat down and my legs up as if my boyfriend (now husband) was my chauffeur. My Rheumatologist eventually persuaded me to try a steroid injection in my knees. I was terrified but once I realised how much it could help I quickly got over it. A few moments pain usually provides relief for a few months.
A year later we returned to the US for an epic 6 month tour in a camper van. I was really paranoid that I would have another flare – and had persuaded my doctor to give me enough anti-inflammatory meds for the entire trip – but for those 6 months I felt incredibly healthy! The outdoor life agreed with me – endless hiking, fresh air and healthy eating. I have never been so slim before (or since).
My life was to change forever a couple of years later with the birth of my first child. It is a well-known fact that pregnancy hormones can ease many illnesses and diseases and this had been the case with my pregnancy. However, after the birth I had one of the worst flare ups of arthritis of my life. It took a long time to control the flare and within a few months I was pregnant again so I didn’t lose the weight I had gained. After the birth of my second baby I was ready for the flare and resumed my meds more quickly (I had waited for 3 months after my firstborn as I wanted to breastfeed; my 2nd only got 6 weeks.) I also started exercising more seriously when I discovered the local leisure centre had a creche a few mornings a week. But my Rheumatologist was concerned that the disease was progressing so he prescribed me what is called a Biologic anti-TNF medication called Humira, which targets and blocks certain chemicals or molecules in the inflammatory process. This was like a miracle cure from the first dose. I can only describe it as like a switch. Sometimes you don’t realise just how bad you are feeling until you suddenly aren’t feeling like that anymore.
It’s funny but instead of looking at my life like “pre-kids/ after kids” or “20s/30s” I think of it as “pre and post Humira”. It was that life changing for me. The constant ache had gone. Suddenly there was the realisation, “This is what it feels like to be normal’ (although I still couldn’t kneel!).
A few years down the line we decided to have a 3rd child. This became a traumatic process. I had to stop all medications a few months prior to trying to get pregnant and it was horrendous. By the time I actually was pregnant I was struggling to walk. This was just nature reminding me that I wasn’t actually a regular person, I was a person with chronic arthritis. I was prescribed steroids as a ‘safe’ medication for baby and waited hopefully for the magic pregnancy hormones to kick in. They took their sweet time. I had barely been able to exercise at all during the pregnancy and by the time I gave birth I was huge.
My baby was nearing a year and I was still bigger than I wanted to be. I was taking my boys to a dance class each week for an hour – too far away to go home again and pick them up so I was just sitting around chatting. A couple of the other mums started going for a run during the hour and asked if I wanted to come along. “No’ I said, “I can’t run.” It had never occurred to me to even try, as clearly I couldn’t? People with arthritis can’t run. It’s bad for your knees!
But my friend Charlotte persisted and eventually I gave in. I don’t know how far we ran or how long we took on that first evening. I didn’t track it. I had on some old trainers I’d been wearing for years, some leggings which fell down and a coat into which I put my phone (that would annoy me so much now!) Looking at the route which became our regular I think it was about 7k. Not bad for a first run! And running was of course not that different in terms of impact to aerobics which I’d been doing for years.
I continued in this way for a few months. Only ever running with my friends about once a week during the dance class. I was enjoying it. My friends Charlotte and Katrin were training to run a marathon and their enthusiasm for running was certainly infectious, I went along with them every week and started to miss it if I didn’t. This was in the autumn. In the New Year in 2016 I decided it was really time to shift the baby weight as my daughter was nearly 2. I watched what I ate and decided to up my running. I went for my first run by myself which felt like a huge turning point. I was soon running a few times a week. It was also around then that I started to run during daylight. To me that seemed quite a big thing as it meant people could see me!
My first race
For most people their intro to racing might be a 5 or 10k race which they’ve trained carefully for and built up to gradually. Although now I’m a huge fan of a good training plan, for my first race in March 2016 I decided to sign up the week before. It was the World Half Marathon and I’d only ever run 6 miles. Charlotte and Katrin were running it as part of their training for London and Brighton marathons and I became completely caught up in their excitement and decided to just do it. A bit gung ho, but I was confident in my fitness levels even if I didn’t know what it felt like to run anywhere near 13 miles. Despite it being a hideous weather that day I absolutely loved it. I ran every step with Charlotte who supported me the whole way round and we came in at 2:18. I was pretty chuffed with that.
Six months later after following a training plan I ran the Cardiff Half in 1:59. I had never felt so well or so fit in my entire life. Instead of making my arthritis worse as I had always feared running might, I actually felt better. I could run despite my arthritis, and it turned out I was reasonably good at it.
In April 2016 I tracked Charlotte as she ran the London Marathon. I managed to watch her cross the line on a webcam – it was such an emotional moment. I wouldn’t say that’s when I decided I wanted to run a marathon but I did enter the ballot when it opened soon after anyway. I think my desire to actually run a marathon took a bit longer.
I credit Charlotte for getting me into running (Thank you Charlotte!), and in turn I credit another friend, Tanya for my running going to the next level. My son and Tanya’s son were in the same class at school so I knew her but not very well. Tanya says she didn’t speak to me very much as she wasn’t sure how to say my name! I’m not sure exactly how it came about that we first went for a run together but I think there was a group of us and we were doing sprint intervals around Roath Park Lake. There were a few of us who had signed up to the Llanelli Half Marathon so we decided to train together. The race came and went and Tanya and I became regular running buddies over the next few months.
My first Marathon
I’m not sure exactly whose idea it was, (probably we both egged each other on) but Tanya and I decided to run the Newport Marathon together which was to be held in April 2018. In December 2017, much to my surprise, I found out that I had won a place in the London Marathon with the sponsor New Balance. I didn’t even remember entering. London Marathon was a week before Newport Marathon. Obviously I wanted to run London as I knew how hard it was to get a spot so I decided I would run them both. After all, it would only require one training block, and I knew I wanted to run Newport with Tanya.
Training went brilliantly. I can vividly remember the weather was particularly good. It seemed every time we had a long run planned the weather was glorious – cold, crisp and sunny. All was going well….too well perhaps. To control my arthritis I am on quite a serious immunosuppressant which is not to be taken lightly.
A slight setback
I went for a birthday weekend away for my friend Sara’s 50th a few weeks before the London Marathon. I had a bit of a cold but I was looking forward to celebrating. I had quite a few drinks on the Saturday night (but not that many.) On the Sunday morning I felt like death warmed up and I admit I spent the journey home heaving into a plastic bag in my friends car. All very embarrassing but I just put it down to drinking too much and having a cold. I was under the weather for a couple of days until the Thursday. My husband was working a late shift and I remember thinking to myself about 6pm that I had to go to bed. It was as if a wave hit me and I could barely stand up. Somehow I got my daughter into bed and told my sons to sort themselves out. I spent the next 36 hours in bed, sweating and occasionally crawling to the bathroom to be sick. It was all a blur.
On the Saturday morning I got scared. I couldn’t even hold water down and I have never felt so ill in my life. My husband phoned the out of hours surgery for an emergency appointment, and my mum to come to take me there. I staggered to her car in my PJs and dressing gown, I was beyond caring. The GP took my medical history and as soon as I said I was on Humira for my PsA he nodded his head. By a miracle he had done some of his residency under my own Rheumatologist so knew the potential side effects to the immune system very well.
“You have the beginnings of sepsis so I’m going to get you admitted to hospital right away.” I was sent to the Emergency Assessment Unit at the Heath and admitted immediately. I can’t remember my mum’s reaction but this is what she said about it “I thought you were going to die in my car on the way, it was the most terrifying couple of journeys! And even when we got to hospital everything seemed to happen so slowly, you didn’t start to rally until the evening….”
Blood tests at the hospital revealed my CRP levels were over 400mg/l. Normal levels are around 3mg/l. I was given IV antibiotics and kept in for 2 nights. They would have kept me in for longer but I was keen to get home to the kids.
Crazily, three weeks later somehow I ran the London Marathon, with the support of my family, Tanya and her son cheering me on all the way round. It was an amazing day. The hottest London Marathon on record and my goodness did it feel like it. I did well for the first half then it was run/ walk all the way, alternately throwing water over myself or drinking it every mile. There was absolutely no way I was going to give up though. I knew my husband and kids were waiting at about mile 25 and I just had to get to them and then I would be nearly finished. My husband anxiously phoned me when I was a couple of miles away. “Are you ok? It looks like you’ve stopped on the tracker?” I hadn’t stopped but I was continuing very slowly. I found them at last, gave them all a sweaty hug and plodded on. Coming around the Mall past Buckingham Palace was an incredible experience. I was completely exhausted and staggered across the line. Then the tears flowed. I had run a marathon! It had taken me 5’27”.
Just one week later, on a rather chilly and overcast day Tanya and I lined up for the Newport Marathon. What a completely different experience. No sunshine or huge crowds but my running buddy with me for every step. We both had periods of wanting to walk but we kept each other going. Our families rushed around and appeared to cheer us in the middle and at the end! If I’d been alone I would’ve happily walked the last 3 miles but Tanya wasn’t going to let me give up. “If we keep going we can get that sub 5 hours.” We did, we crossed the line in 4’50”. What a high!
So that was 2018. In 2019 in addition to completing 2 more marathons (Manchester and New York – but that’s another story!) I added a new string to my running bow – running with a social group!
In March 2019 I went along to the first run of This Mum Runs (TMR) Cardiff. Although I ran with a small group of friends regularly I had never joined any kind of official club or group, feeling as if there would be too much pressure to run at a certain pace. A women’s social running group seemed ideal. To run at a chatty pace and make friends – it sounded great. And that is what we did for 6 months. Very sadly, something happened which meant that I and some of the other volunteers who lead the runs felt they had to leave TMR Cardiff. We were bereft. This group of women had become a huge family, a group of friends to rely on – a lot more than just being people we ran with.
And then, from the ashes of this experience She Runs: Cardiff was born. A running group for all women, regardless of pace, experience, fitness, age or ethnicity. A supportive, inclusive community run by volunteers. The group started with around 30 of us and we’re now at 1,400. It has literally changed my life.
Fast forward to now, a year on from establishing SRC. We have recently won the Run Wales Group of the Year 2020 award from Welsh Athletics. I know that, however I am feeling, wherever I am with my running I have the support of an amazing group of women. I have made so many new friends. Everyone knows my struggles with my arthritis and is incredibly supportive.
2020 was not good for many reasons. For me the Covid-19 pandemic coincided with my meds stopping working. It all stemmed from being switched to what’s called a ‘bio-similar’ medication (after the patent ran out on my original treatment Humira). I never settled whilst on the generic version and once I was switched back it was too late. It is known that the body can develop anti-bodies to the biologic medications and it appears that is what has happened to me. I had 10 great years on Humira, now is the struggle to find the next great medication so I can get back to what I love – running free! I have ambitions to run more marathons, to run my first ultra marathon, but before that happens I need to re-stabilise my disease. (I’m not allowing myself to contemplate that it might not happen.)
Nevertheless, I did achieve a couple of things running-wise in 2020. I ran a virtual ultra marathon – the Race to the Stones – 100k over seven days and I ran the virtual NYC Marathon solo (with Tanya popping up at various points to spur me on). Both completed through sheer determination rather than fitness or running ability!
That’s one thing essential to running that I have an abundance of – stubborn determination. Inherited from my late dad. Registered blind, he never let it stop him from doing anything he wanted to do (except maybe driving!) Today I may not be able to run, but I can walk and tomorrow is a new day. 2020 was the year that I accepted my identity as an arthritic runner. It’s no longer an oxymoron to me, it’s part of who I am.
It’s not running that’s bad for my knees, it’s arthritis. I am a chronic illness warrior and I will prevail!
I really got into podcasts the summer of 2019, when I had a long drive to work every morning. My husband had listened to podcasts on and off for a while and made some suggestions for me; I found they helped me actually look forward to my commute instead of dreading it.
By the end of 2020 I had started to regularly listen to a variety of podcasts. When I heard that Run Wales were releasing a podcast and had asked someone from She Runs: Cardiff to record an episode I jumped at the chance!
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when I found myself nervously heading up the A470 in possibly my most festive outfit (and she runs bobble hat of course!) to a Merthyr Tydfil industrial estate… in the dark! I phoned Hannah when I arrived, as honestly it was the perfect opening scene to a horror film.
A battered old industrial building from the outside, and a labyrinth of doors and staircases inside, concealed a state of the art recording studio. It turns out that the system of doors was all part of the design to ensure the room was totally soundproof. It was all super exciting; the studio was very high tech and we even had our own sound engineer! It was nothing like I had imagined it when I listened to podcasts at home.
I was very nervous to start with but I soon settled in with Hannah & Drew constantly making me and each other laugh. The conversation soon flowed – even if I did have a complete mind blank at one point when Drew asked me a question! We had to do a few takes at various points due to blips in sound quality and me taking a bit too long to answer a question; but there must have been some clever editing as you definitely can’t tell when you listen to it back! We were recording for about 45minutes in total and the time absolutely flew by, and before I knew it was time to head home.
I knew it was due to be released in the New Year (to coincide with lots of people starting to run for their resolutions) so I had a few weeks to eagerly wait and listen to the other episodes that came before me. All the other guests were really good: it made me more and more nervous for my episode to come out. I suffer with social anxiety anyway, and the day the podcast was released I was quite overcome with nerves. I worried how it would be received and how I would come across, especially as I was representing the whole running club. I needn’t have worried as all the feedback I have had has been so lovely – I really am so grateful for every single positive comment and message I received.
The experience has definitely whetted my appetite and I’d love to do another podcast if I had the opportunity! (Especially now that I know what to expect!) It’s definitely one of the coolest things I have had the chance to be a part of! I will be forever grateful to Run Wales, Hannah & Drew and of course my She Runs: Cardiff tribe for letting me loose!
To listen to the Run Wales Podcast with Gemma, and all the other great episodes click here Run Wales Plodcast or type Run Wales Plodcast into any good podcast provider. You can also ask your smart speaker to play it!