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 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.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

"I am still learning"

My dad has this quote on a little plaque in his study. I think I get my willingness to learn, to explore, to reflect from him. One of the best things about running is you never stop learning. The most difficult thing about running is you never stop learning.

At the moment I'm in the middle of a lot of thinking, processing and reflecting. New running challenges this year mean I need to take a new approach to training, and what I've learned from last year has also given me a lot of food for thought.

I was feeling pretty upbeat after Portsmouth and was happy to run how and when I felt like it for a couple of weeks. This week my running just hasn't felt right. Nothing has flowed, I haven't enjoyed it. Yesterday in karate training I took a heavy fall whilst sparring and I feel too sore to want to run today. It doesn't really matter- I'm not thinking of serious training again until next month anyway- but it does feel odd not doing a LSR when my twitter and Facebook feeds are full of people already cramming in the miles.

More miles doesn't mean better training, faster miles doesn't mean better training. I know all that but it's still hard not to get drawn in and feel inadequate even though I'd planned this month to be easy. I guess it's because for most people January is full of enthusiasm for new fitness regimes and training plans whilst for me this is more like end of year than a new start. I also think that perhaps it's taken body and mind a while to really process the experience of running my first marathon and only now is the full impact hitting home. I've been too easily upset by things this week and I know now that's a sure sign of deep fatigue so cutting myself some slack at least as far as running is concerned will be no bad thing.

So it's time to concoct a loose sort of training plan for the Ox Ultra. The Ox is on 22nd May so the beginning of February means I'll have 16 weeks of focussed training. I'm going to take a risk and try something completely new: a plan based on a 2 week cycle of training. A fortnightly cycle will work around when I have child-free weekends, and I think it will make it easier to fit in all the different aspects of training: running, weights, stretching and injury prevention. It will also give me a bit of flexibility for when karate training is really tough and I need more recovery time. At the moment I'm only as far as planning fortnightly back-to-back runs but once I have some kind of a structure I'll post it up here and we'll see how it works out.

I'm late into this running lark so if I want longevity in it then the most important thing is to make my training sustainable. That means not overdoing it and paying attention to training as a whole so that running, strength, flexibility, nutrition and RECOVERY all have equal importance.

Watch this space...

Sunday, 3 January 2016

New year thoughts and dilemmas

Things are slowly returning to normal post -marathon and -Christmas. It's a different kind of normal, but I'm looking forward to life being a little more settled again. I'm also excited about the adventures and challenges that this year will bring. Yes, I'm actually embracing the start of another year with a smile!

I've gained a little weight since the marathon but for once I've been kind to myself- taken things easy, got up later than usual, and not thought twice about enjoying foodie treats. Running hasn't stopped though. Far from it! Two days post-Portsmouth I thought I might as well try a recovery run and managed 4 muddy, traily miles and enjoyed almost all of it. The first mile felt hard but by the end all was good. Then I ran with my fella and some other friends on Christmas Eve to celebrate his birthday. About 8 muddy traily miles. Hard going in places, especially up hills, but all good fun.

Since Pompey my running has been off-road (and all 30-ish miles of it more or less muddy) and just for the pleasure of it. I've lost all semblance of speed but it's probably still there, it's just been a while since I did regular intervals and faster tempo runs. And herein lies a dilemma. In order to be productive training needs to be specific, right? So if training for a marathon or ultra the focus needs to be on building the endurance, time on feet, finding a 'go to' pace that I can sustain hour after hour. And if training for a hilly, off-road race then add hills and trails into the mix. But I'd like to still be able to run consecutive sub 7 min miles.

The problem to sleep on tonight is how to organise my training to maximise fitness, be ready for the Ox in May and shed the post-mara padding. Weight training is already back on course, that bit is quite straightforward- lift heavy, lift regularly or else! It's the running that's problematic. Intervals- how long and at what speed? How often to do back-to-back runs? When to try out Oregon Circuits for general running strength and fitness? Hill reps?...The list seems endless and there's still karate training to factor in too. That's taken a back seat for almost a month now, just hoping that at tomorrow's training I won't have forgotten all of it! It's been a while since I performed a kata.

This year finding a balance is going to be challenging. Keeping all my training sustainable is another challenge. Now that life is about far more than proving I can run fast I need to look after myself and never lose sight of the optimism and joy that I have right now.

Happy new year. May it be one of many joyful miles.