Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Day 2

Two days into the training plan.

It feels good to be turning the legs over at a reasonable speed. Yesterday I managed a 2 hour run at around my ideal marathon speed. Ideal because having minimal experience at 26.2 I don't really know what my pace is! Today I chickened out of the cold and wind and did an hour on the treadmill. It's not something I enjoy but if nothing else it's good mental discipline. Not sure I quite got the pace right- I averaged quicker than yesterday but think I should have pushed it a bit more since it was just 60 minutes.

The actual plan suggests 3 runs of 3 hours each at an honest pace. That kind of volume is more than I would normally do so I'll see if it's something I can build up to. For now I think something like one run of  2 hours, a couple of 1 hour and then a weekend run of 3 hours. Or perhaps making some weekends back to backs.

The strength work is a mix of stuff I do already and new things so again I'm easing myself into it this week, working with little or weight so I learn the movements. For now it's just a matter of getting through it all each week but I'd like to have a more systematic approach to it once I've worked out the effect the leg work will have on running- I don't want permanently trashed legs!

The only other thing I need to do is get the diary and work in easier weeks every 4th week or so. It won't be exact as I have some races booked the first part of this year which likely will get in the way a bit, but perhaps I can use them as indicators of how things are going and as opportunities to practise carrying kit and trying out different race foods.

It's only two days in but it feels so good to have begun on a positive note!

Monday, 15 January 2018

It's been a long time

Hello, good evening and welcome.

It's been a very long time since I last wrote. I'm sorry. In my defence there's been a fair amount of crappy stuff going on both in running and personal life and that's always boring for people to read about. To summarise a few key events of the last while:
  • I've more or less retired from running then unretired myself; 
  • done a couple 100km races; 
  • had my first DNF (due to hypothermia and being shit at running mountains)
  • been crew at UTMB
  • paced in a 100 miler
  • put on weight
The personal stuff you don't need to know about. Except I think you didn't know that I was eventually diagnosed with a fracture to L4 or L5 which is why all the pain and not running and not being able to move much happened. It has never been treated because the diagnosis came too late, but I have regained some spinal mobility and the pain is now generally significantly less than it has been over the last couple years.

I also gave up kniting and gave away almost all my yarn stash and needles, but now I can sit for more than 10 minutes at a time without pain I'm starting up again. Here are a couple of recent knits:

Tiny Kitty brooch

Anyway, this year I actually have a 'proper' running challenge. It's quite ambitious but it wouldn't be a challenge if there wasn't a real chance of failure. And I want to use this blog to chart the journey over the next 9 months. The challenge? To complete a 100 miler, specifically the Centurion Running Autumn 100. I even have a proper training plan, put together by a friend who happens to be a former PT, but is also one of my senseis and a power lifter. It's far tougher than anything I've attempted before and I'm going to have to ease myself into it as even this base period is way more training than I'm used to, but it's exciting and I'm looking forward to the journey.

Friday, 27 May 2016


A few more days post-Ox and it feels like recovery is happening.  I've been off work for an unprecedented 4 days in a row now as I picked up a stomach bug either from falling in cow-shitty mud and eating with dirty hands during the race, or simply from a depressed immune system post-ultra. It's been pretty gruesome, especially as I don't think I've had a stomach bug since I was a child and this has absolutely floored me. Not being able to keep food in has been awful although I guess the enforced rest from being poorly has been good for me.

So now I'm skin and bones, a bit wobbly but less tired and mentally in a better place too. I managed to eat a bowl of pasta last night which has more or less stayed in, and the stomach cramps are far fewer. I even really want to get out and train again! As far as training goes though, this is stopping me:

It doesn't look much but I think there must be a lot of bruising or blisters around/ underneath my big toenail because any pressure on it is excruciating- wearing shoes is just awful!

Mentally I don't feel so bleak and can now contemplate Giant's Head marathon in 4 week's time with equanimity. It was never going to be a race for me, just some fun. The cut off is really generous and I'll walk as much of it as I feel like; unless you're an elite or a top club runner it's never only about running. After Giant's Head there's the Invader in July (another marathon) and then the SVP100. At the start of the week I really thought I would pull out of that one but now I feel like it is manageable. I will have someone to run with which will make an enormous difference, but I still need to organise for someone to be there at the finish for me.

I am also thinking about how to keep running sustainable for me. As well as getting my GI issues checked at the doctor's yesterday, I got the results for my latest DEXA scan. The news isn't good. My spine is already deteriorating from last time it was looked at and now my hips show signs of bone loss too. It's scary- I'm only in my mid-40s and the thought of a future where I could sneeze and fracture a vertebrae is absolutely terrifying. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't get outside and run and hike and just move around freely. And I'm so scared of losing the people I care most about because of this stupid illness.

It's so incredibly frustrating that I'm finding out what my body is capable of achieving just as I'm finding out that I have an illness that will at some point stop me doing the things I love. I can't describe the rage inside me, both about what I will lose and also about all the years wasted, not trying things because of other people- other people's belief that I couldn't do sport, that sport wasn't for me, their worries about what I might do...

My girls might thing I'm a tough mummy, too driven, too determined, but I badly want them to see what you can achieve if you really want to; that it's so important to live NOW, to do things before it's too late.

Although the future feels bleak, at least I can say I survived Ox and I will run again.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Blood, sweat, mud and tears.

This is NOT a race review. It's more of a ramble with big chunks of race details left out. It's a ramble written still in a state of shock, exhaustion and numbness. Try to stay with me as I struggle to find words to describe what happened on Sunday.

What did happen? At 8.40am I stood shivering on the start line of my first ultramarathon. The www.whitestarrunning.co.uk Ox Ultra to be precise. Just a little one, only about 36 miles, but still considerably further than I have ever run before. I had no idea what to expect, what might happen, what it might be like. My only race plan was to keep putting one foot in front of another until it was time to stop.

I knew it would be hard, I knew that I wasn't as running fit as I wanted to be- this year has been full of a frustrating niggle that has really affected my mobility- but my general fitness was pretty good and I'd managed to gain a little weight going into race day against the chance I wouldn't manage to eat whilst running.

What happened over the next 7 hours, 47 minutes, 24 seconds and 36.3 miles is a bit hazy really. Even at the time there were chunks of time and miles that just disappeared. I think that even 3 days after the race I'm still numb and in shock.

I do remember starting to run, feeling immense relief to be moving and to find myself pain-free. It was a strange experience to start a race so slowly (although it was still too quick really) and looking at a video someone shared in facebookland it does look odd watching a race start at such an easy pace although of course that's what you do in an ultra. I also remember that even before the 1st aid station I wasn't running in pace with anyone else. That bothered me a bit because I'd rather expected to find myself running with other people much of the time, and in shorter races it has always been a comfort and a source of motivation to be around others when the going gets tough. This time there were many miles when I couldn't even seen anyone.

The thing that really shaped the race for me was around mile 17 when I took a big fall. Either I didn't see the flint rock my left foot caught, or the tightness in my left hip meant that I wasn't able to lift my foot high enough to step over it. Either way I went flying and landed hard. I lay on my back in the mud staring up at the rain pouring out of a sky as grey as the flint on the ground with no idea how I was going to get up and carry on. I think it was at that point I suddenly realised how fragile my body is. What the heck am I doing putting my body through this? Should I be doing this at all? What do I think I'm doing putting myself at risk like this? It was a miracle no bones were broken. But there was quite a bit of blood. Maybe I should quit now, before something does get broken...

Here's the aftermath 2 days later:

 No, I haven't got 3 legs! Just the one above is a better view of the cuts and scrapes. Both hands were cut too.

Luckily there was a lady running not too far behind who, in true ultra runner fashion, helped me up, gave me a dressing for the biggest cut and walked with me a while to make sure I was ok. When she went on ahead I think she must have tipped off the people at the  next aid station as they checked to see if I was ok to continue. Unfortunately they didn't have any plasters or antiseptic wipes so I just hoped all the blood streaming down my leg and out of my right hand was enough to keep things clean.

From that point it all went downhill. Well, downhill in a metaphorical sense because a WSR event is mostly about going up hills. Up lots of hills. Except about 5 miles (??) from the end when there was a steep and slippery downhill where, for the first time ever, I had dreadful knee pain as well as quads smashed from so many uphill climbs. I literally hobbled my way down cursing every step.

I guess the fact that I continued and completed the race well within the cutoff means it wasn't really all downhill. Mentally I didn't recover from that fall- the next 19 miles were nothing but teeth-gritting and a bloody-mindedness to match my bloodied leg and hand. Keeping moving became almost an automatic response even though there were times when the moving was little more than a shuffle. But I suppose it shows a level of determination and resilience, a deep drive to keep going and not admit defeat, and that can only be a positive thing to take from the experience. Even a landscape as gentle as the Wiltshire/Dorset downs can put you in your proper place in the world scheme of things- we are as tiny, feeble specks on this earth. At least, that's how I felt with the leaden sky pressing me into the mud.

And that's the other main thing I remember from the race. The mud. Mile after mile of nasty, slippery, sticky mud. The special sort of mud you only get on chalk. It sucks the strength from your legs and the will to live. I started having flashbacks to the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon last December. You can't look up and out at the scenery because you have to take care with every step. Even with my inov8 X-Talons I struggled to get grip in places. Then there was the muddy hill. For those of you reading this who took part in the Ox races you will know which one I mean. That brute of a garlic-stinking, steep, mud-treacherous climb at some point after the Love Station where it was a struggle just to stand let alone walk up it. I started it walking, then the walk became a trudge. Finally it was just a determination not to crawl up the rest of it.

If I'm honest I can't really remember finishing. Or rather, I can remember that I crossed the finish line at a slow, slow run not a walk or crawl, but I can't remember what it felt like. Perhaps I didn't feel anything. I think it was lonely. There was no one at the finish for me. I got my medal and T-shirt and then that was it. I wandered aimlessly for a few minutes then it was back to the car and a long struggle to get my wet and stinking shoes and socks off and something drier on so I could start the 3 hour drive home. I also remember really desperately wanting to curl into a ball and sob my heart out but I couldn't let myself because if I didn't hold it together I wouldn't make it home.

I do want to say a few things about the aftermath. I expected to ache. I assumed I'd probably get flu-type symptoms. Sunday night and Monday I ached badly. Tuesday- no DOMS at all. But Monday afternoon my tummy began to complain. By Tuesday morning it was bad enough that I knew I couldn't go to work and I had a temperature too. I had stomach cramps and every time I ate or drank something it just went straight through. Horrid. Tuesday evening things had settled enough so I could take my children to karate but this morning it was back to food not staying in. It's been miserable and I've lost at least half a kg since the race. This I was not prepared for.

Emotionally I'm still trying to process the race. I have moments of sudden tears and bleakness and I'm definitely not ready to examine the thoughts about whether I'll race or even run again. A bit more time is needed before I can make a balanced decision about that. It's odd, because other than the GI distress I'm physically in really good shape. But I think that running an ultra was a far bigger challenge than I had imagined it would be and whilst I prepared the best I could, nothing could actually prepare me for the journey to becoming an ultra runner.
First aid station I think.

In pictures the journey was along these lines:

Show time.

There were a few smiles along the way. I did run quite a bit too.

Love Station, about 29 miles. Had a cry.
Fallen apart. All I wanted was to see my fella

I wish there was a picture of when I crossed the finish line. 

I know I've missed out a lot. Perhaps another post on the Ox is needed, but for now this is all I can manage. It's been an incredibly difficult and painful journey. I am very grateful for the experience but I feel no elation or pride or sense of achievement. Just weak, wobbly and exhausted from being so poorly. The physical and psychological bruises from Sunday hurt too. A lot.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

A dark place

It's been quiet here and I've neglected the blog. Partly intentionally and partly because so much has been happening. Here's a quick catch up:
I sustained a random injury in karate towards the end of Jan and had several weeks where I could barely walk and my lower back or glutes kept cramping severely. Awful. I lost a lot of fitness but was able to run the Larmer 20 on 13th March. Hardly a stellar performance but I really enjoyed it and was happy with 21 hilly, off-road miles in around 3hrs 38min.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Since then I've been attempting to get the mileage up ready for Ox Ultra on 22nd May and having a constant battle with the aftermath of January's injury. I'm really struggling with tight back, glutes, hips and hamstrings and am really only managing the worst of the symptoms. No one seems to be able to actually fix me. It's having a big impact on my running and is making karate impossible some weeks. I feel a shadow of myself compared to this time last year.
Other stuff that is making me unhappy has been going on too but it's not for this blog. Suffice to say that when I took a really bad fall on the trails on Wednesday I was at my lowest ebb and in the darkest of places. I sustained loads of bruising everywhere and it's taken until today for my left hand to return to normal size.
It was one of those days when really I shouldn't have run- I was so tired physically, and mentally in a very bad, dark place. I lay there face down in the sand and mud and just cried and cried. At that point I really didn't think I could do anything any more. I didn't want to run again, didn't think I was good enough to run and I hated that now I'm always the tail runner when last year I was the speedy one at the front. I've not been so low or so filled with self-doubt for a very long time.
Getting up from the mud I was in pieces. It's hard when something that is an integral part of your life turns around and becomes the thing that breaks you, that you almost dread because you don't know if you can really do it any more. As well as that there was the fear that I'd broken bones. I hate living with that uncertainty and I don't want to be limited by that fear. Luckily though, I wasn't on my own; my fella got me up and once we were about 80% confident nothing was broken I limped my way back to the car.
I kept saying that I couldn't do it any more. Couldn't run and actually couldn't do life either. So we left it that maybe I wouldn't run for a while. And if necessary wouldn't do Ox or SVP100 or any of the other races I'd planned for year. Even in pieces and hurting that wasn't an easy decision to make because it felt like I was failing, that I wasn't being tough enough. And I didn't know what I would do or what would happen to me if I stopped running.
It's made me question why I run. I say I do it for myself, because I like it, because I'm a fidget and find the constant moving soothing in a strange sort of way. I say that what speed I run at doesn't matter, that I run to suit myself and don't care what others do. But it's not true. I hate and am dismayed by the loss in pace; I need to run fast.
Right now I'm in a very uncomfortable place. If I want to complete any of the races planned for the year I need to fix my head at least as much as mend my body. I don't know if I have the strength to do that...

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Long time no see. But here is a fab recipe

I have miserably neglected this blog due to work, injury and just life but will get back on it this weekend. In the meantime here is the malt loaf recipe I've been going on about in twitterland!

Malt Loaf

  • 180ml hot, strong, black tea
  • 160g malt extract
  •  60g dark muscovado sugar 
  • 300mg mixed: raisins, sultanas, cranberries, chopped prunes, chopped dried pears, apricots & peaches (or use whatever dried fruit you prefer) 
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 250g spelt flour (recipe says plain flour but I prefer spelt)
  • 1tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp bicarb

Grease and line the bases of 2 smallish (1lb) loaf tins and turn on oven to 130C fan/gas 2.

Put the dried fruit, malt extract and sugar in a large mixing bowl and pour over the hot tea and leave for about 15 minutes (longer if your fruit is a bit tough).

Then add the eggs and beat together. Lastly sift in the flour and raising agents and combine all the mixture.

Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 50-55 min until risen and firm to touch. Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes then turn out to cool on a wire rack.

Malt loaf will get stickier each day so don’t eat it all at once!

Note: you can leave out 1 egg and add in 1 mashed banana instead.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

To run or not to run?

The last couple of weeks I've hardly run at all. The desire to run is there but my body hasn't been up for it at all. Oddly, reducing the volume and intensity of all my training has resulted in niggles becoming much worse and increasing fatigue. I don't understand that at all but later on today I'm going to see a guy who specialises in treating runners. I'm apprehensive in case he finds some major injury, but at the same time seeing him will ease my mind because either there's not much wrong, just a few better targeted exercises needed or there is a significant injury in which case I can get it treated.

I wrote a while back about how running has gotten under my skin, how it's no longer something I do as part of a lifestyle or fitness choice but how it's become part of life itself. I love how this relationship with running has developed but it leaves me vulnerable and exposed. Whilst the highs are amazing and even the every day bimbling along is life-enhancing, the lows really rattle me. My brain knows that there will be lows: running won't always go well, there will be times when resting is more important, sometimes niggles will surface. The frustration of not being able to run when I want to and when I do manage to run feeling clumsy and slow is unbearable.

This was always going to be an easy month as far as training goes but I don't think I'd really appreciated how hard it would be taking a rest month when everyone else is 100% committed to new training plans and full of excitement at their running goals for the new year. I've always been vulnerable to the 'you're only worthwhile if you work your hardest all the time' kind of mind-set, that my value as a person is measured by what I achieve, so having a month where I actually need to not achieve and not train hard is really challenging. Despite knowing that rest is an integral part of training and that sometimes the best thing to do is to back right off it's still very hard feeling like I'm being lazy.

Social media really doesn't help sometimes. For someone like me Facebook in particular can be a great way to feel inadequate seeing everyone posting up how many miles they've run already and how fast. That's one reason why I stay away from Strava and am only half-hearted with the #UKRunChat Endomondo challenges. On the other hand I've had some really lovely messages of encouragement from twitter-land friends; I guess in a way running is also family. There are some truly lovely people out there- most of whom I've never met, maybe never will meet but the sharing of experiences and advice, the friendly support is just wonderful and I really do appreciate my virtual running family.

And I have to mention my fella.  He is being awesome. That's especially impressive as he found out this week he has a place to run UTMB and (quite rightly) it's really all he can think about.

Normal service here will resume at some point. I'm looking forward to having some happy running stories and adventures to share with you.