Saturday, 31 December 2016

The year I became...

...a fully fledged Primary School Teacher.
Tougher than any ultra, I have worked so hard to train and learn to become the best teacher I can be. I'm still learning. But, like most hard work, it was all worth it.

This year....

... I made it through several thunderstorms, whilst simultaneously being lost during the Liverpool to Leeds Race.

Did I feel nervous for this race? Yep, more than normal since I had bombed GUCR so bad, and dnf'd which I'd never done before and I can describe (just about) just how horrible that feels to do. I'd been lucky to escape that before last year. So, my luck changed during this year's GUCR...(not going to keep me down next year though!) I didn't want to get a taste of how it would feel to DNF at Liverpool to Leeds as well. However, I was a little unprepared and I also hadn't factored in the altered CP timings that reflected the amended lesser race time limit.

Surprisingly, all ran smoothly for a while. I got a good pace going and I chatted to some familiar faces. The weather wasn't too bad - was fairly sunny from what I can remember. But it changed.

The first sign that I got of an imminent thunderstorm was around the 70 mile mark. The thing is, at this point, we thought we had loads of time to play with. Wrong. Our pace became so slow due to the rutted, uneven ground which had now become muddy with rainwater.

There was sideways rain and wind. And I was getting a little bit scared of the lighting moving closer. I love thunderstorms, when I'm indoors. However, rather than dampening my spirits, I felt absolutely determined that I would make that next checkpoint. How dare it rain AND thunder? I legged it. And just made the next checkpoint with a bit of time in the bank. Although, I was sad to say goodbye to my running buddy thus far, who had been such fantastic company, but had decided enough was enough. Yet, I saw a familiar face from GUCR who had dnf'd at the same checkpoint back in May. Spoiler: we ran nearly the entire race together this time and both finished. Yey.

I didn't know at the time, but that was merely a warm up 'baby' thunderstorm. Just after the 100 mile point, we got horrendously lost. And I was annoyed at myself because I've done this race before, and I remember this tricky bit, but in the torrential rain that ensued, I couldn't remember the way.

We added on miles. And over an hour of time. And nearly our will to carry on. And my new iPod got completely water damaged and died. There were moments, though, when I envisioned a news story detailing how some runners had been struck by lightning whilst lost during an ill-fated ultra marathon. I have never seen rain so bad, let alone been so absolutely soaked to the skin in it and so close to lighting. Scary stuff. And yet it was all worth it.

To cut a long story shorter, my feet held up amazingly in injinji socks...until I changed them to some dry 'normal' running socks, and my shrivelled feet ended up covered in huge, deep blisters. I don't know...I've battered my feet more times than I can remember and I'm still learning. Don't change socks unless you have to - I had to deal with the worst peely feet for months afterwards.

Monday, 10 October 2016

I'm (not) a morning runner

Four months since I last wrote on here and a lot has happened. I now have a job as a primary school teacher and that is pretty amazing. And, since I have to get up early for work, I've started to make a real effort to go running early in the morning.

I have never been a morning runner. However, I have always admired those early morning runner types. What a great routine to get into,  thought... I find it far too hard to get up early sometimes. However, it finally started to make lots of sense, after years of thinking it'd be a good idea to run before work, I now try and get in a morning run as often as I can.

I had been getting up at 6ish, but I switched this to 5ish am. So, now I can get up, grab a quick coffee to wake myself up a little and be out the door by 5.30ish. The great thing is that I'm still pretty much too tired to complain that much about dragging myself our of the door or overthink it. And the hardest part is always dragging yourself out of that door! When I get back I feel so much wider awake and I can get on with my day then. It lets me be lazy later on. I don't have to do as much in the evenings as I would otherwise have to. So far, it's working really well. I'm actually out there training again!

Once a week, I also try to get a slightly longer run home from work in, with another teacher. In fact, tonight is run home from school night. I never feel too enthused about this at the end of a busy school day, but it's worth it once you're out there....

Friday, 3 June 2016

Overthinking it and sulking...

First run back since epic GUCR fail. I know, I know, 'fail' isn't a positive word to use, but it's what happened. I'm still over-analysing it of course. Any one who were to read this blog, who isn't a runner would have no idea why it even matters so much to me, but it does.

(Side-rant): I'm not a wealthy runner, I'm a nearly (but alas, still training) qualified primary school teacher, so money is tight and entering races is somewhat of a luxury these days. Ultras are expensive too, especially when you take into account the petrol to drive, possible accommodation costs, kit, food etc. I literally can't afford to fail... But, money isn't everything and I logically know this.

I'm going off-point and ultimately the money angle only matters in relation to how often I can race. And I would love to do it more than I do. I'm just venting. About everything. I put all of my eggs in one ultra-basket. Almost. I've got to remember I have a chance of redemption at Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race in August and I'm more than up for taking the opportunity to do so....although, I wasn't so positive about this when I called it quits on Saturday!

What matters more is that I'm still feeling a bit emotionally bruised. I wasn't able to see beyond the moment like I normally am. I wasn't able to transcend the pain or pull myself together. I wasn't able to use all the advice that I'm normally so eager to give out. I rely on that mental stamina normally. It's my rock that can often pull me through. It all feels a bit crappy and embarrassing. And I don't like not finishing things. I like to set out to do something and do it.

However, I know it's not all doom and gloom. Having trawled the internet for motivation and post-race affirmations, I have come across many words of wisdom...

You don't pass or fail at being a person, dear - Neil Gaiman:

So just keep going. Yes. :: 365 Days of Gratitude: Day 262 - Susa Talan: There is nothing more powerful than confidence. Here are 10 quotes that will make you believe in yourself again: Get motivated :-):

 : "You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be." -Marianne Williamson #quotes:  50 Life Changing Motivational Quotes for Entrepreneurs – as Awesome Posters – Design School:

You try, you fail, you try, you fail - the real failure 
is when you stop trying.

If you don't fail, you don't learn. 
If you don't learn, you'll never change.


Okay, you got me...I LOVE Pinterest!! And, I have no race photos ;-)

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Daring to fail - tale of a GUCR dnf

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts" - Winston Churchill

DNF and GUCR are words that I have been lucky enough to never have to use in the same sentence. Until now. And that's exactly what I did. I DNF'd. And it feels rubbish. For so long, I was so proud to say that I had finished GUCR 4 times in a row and never dropped out. Not bad for someone who doesn't look like a 'real runner'. I never really contemplate not finishing. I always think of that as one of my strengths, to keep going, no matter what. So, it was strange and actually heartbreaking to dial that Race HQ number and confirm that I wouldn't be carrying on.

From Mile 36 to Mile 53 is a tricky section. Despite having done this race from 2012- 2015, I had forgotten how tough I find this section. It's very rural, a lot of it looks the same and the ground is quite uneven. The ground is fairly hard to consistently run on during this bit. The scenery is pretty though... During this never-ending section, I felt both mentally and physically rough and I couldn't see the let-up. I became one of those 'negative Nancies' (a miserable, negative runner who you don't want to meet on an ultra) - one of those people who is so relentlessly miserable that you run faster just to avoid them.

As I finally neared the 'unreachable checkpoint', I burst into tears and had a word with myself. I just felt limp and my mental strength had wilted in the warmth of the day. I felt sure I must be right at the back, and I wasn't far off. But, as I got nearer and nearer to the CP, some other runners emerged from behind me. By that point, I had this strange feeling that I wasn't part of the race that I loved any more. I didn't feel a part of it. I had given up. 

I know we do these races and prepare ourselves for pain, both emotional and physical, but I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I normally think things like, 'pain is part of it, deal with it', 'pain comes and goes, get on with it' and 'expect pain', blah blah blah. I was so close to the cut-offs and if I'd have carried on and made it to the 70 mile CP after the cutoffs, then I would have been stranded in the middle of the night. I know that's my fault, because I was unsupported, but it's just something I've never fully had to contend with before. I've always had stubbornness on my side, but it had all but gone this time.

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." Henry Ford:

Ultimately, the best I might have hoped for on zero energy was to spend another 30+ hours down a canal. Imagining another 30+  down the canal wasn't hard to imagine, as it's something I had to contend with last year, when my feet well and truly ended up battered. However, at least last year I was further ahead of cutoff's at this point in the race. Psychologically, this really messed me up this time round. 

Depressingly, my feet were great this year. I taped my big toe, arch and the ball of my foot with Rocktape the night before and it worked amazingly. I experienced no rubbing and no blisters. It was 
my body that wouldn't play ball this year.

I can't really explain. Ever since Saturday I have tried to dig deep and really think about whether there was any way I could have carried on. I hate giving up and I hate making excuses. Yet, as much as I try to explain, I can't. My body simply had no energy. I felt like a rag doll. All of my energy had been zapped from me. I wanted more than anything to move forwards and yet, I felt like I was on a treadmill. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't run for long periods of time and the miles dragged on. I felt clumsy and a bit disorientated. On more than one occasion, I dropped something on the floor. I nearly dropped my map in the canal, but it landed right by the edge. However, I wasn't so lucky with my MP3 player - I looked down after CP2 to discover that it was no longer attached to my earphones and that I'd lost it. It was a bit demotivating and frustrating. Actually, it was more than a bit frustrating - music is such a useful tool to have when you're on your own down a canal, with lots of thoughts bouncing around your head.

It was a humid day on Saturday and I definitely think this contributed to the energy-zap I felt. However, I don't want to make excuses. It just wasn't my day. If I were to put it down to fate, I may point out that my boyfriend's car broke down the night before and we nearly never made it to the start. He went through all the trouble of renting an emergency car, last minute, to help me get there! I could also point out how I couldn't find my running rucksack or OMM up until the day before the race, despite looking for over a week [I can't afford to replace everything, so I kept looking and eventually found them]. And on the morning of GUCR, there was a shortage of technical t-shirts in Size Medium, and so I wasn't able to get the shirt I had ordered - a good thing, it now appears.

Success is a mindset. Leaders are created and when you have the right blend gret things happen for you and your business partners.:

I can't deny it, a big part of me did have a little bit of anxiety over possibly failing at this race. It means so much to me and as much as I know I have nothing to prove in some ways, I can't shake the feeling of still wanting to prove something to myself. That's part of why we do these races and put ourselves through the challenge, right? Aren't we all trying to prove something to ourselves; to prove that we can be better, go further, realise our dreams? But maybe, just maybe I needed to fail in order to face up to that fear of failure and realise it is possible for me to come back stronger next time. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

I run because...

I didn't start running because it was an extension of who I already was. Yep, I used to be better at running at school, because I have an ingrained fear of balls being thrown at my head, but I was fat when I started running. I was unmotivated. I was down in the dumps. I had low self-esteem. I was overweight and it was hard. It wasn't the most fun. I 'couldn't run for a bus', as they all say. I couldn't see ahead and picture myself running races, let alone marathons and ultras.

It hurt me when I first started running marathons (emotionally) and for a few years later, when marathon blokes would make comments about my weight. I'd come a long, long way, but I still wasn't what you'd call 'athlete thin'. I didn't necessarily look like a runner. I wasn't skinny, And yet, I was running long distances. It didn't make sense to some. So, I got little comments, mainly from male runners. They didn't mean to hurt or offend. I know that. But it did hurt and offend. I'm not an 'offended person', by the way. But I've come a long way and that's what some people don't see. I lost a lot of weight before I ever started running and before they ever knew me. I will always have a saggy stomach, unless I get surgery. I will always have flappy underarms. I always will have some loose skin. I'll never be one of those super-toned types. You all look amazing though, you super-toned types :)

My record got broken this week, which I'm all good about. Records are made to be broken and I truly believe that. Otherwise, what is the point in them? I was only ever in the right pace at the right time, at the right age. I didn't know all too much about marathon running or the running circuit before I became involved in it. I just saw all those '10 marathons in 10 days' runners and got inspired by some amazing 100 Marathon Club members and vowed to be like them. I did.  I just ran a lot of races. But, what will never be broken is the fact that I have run lots of ultras and marathons and challenged myself. That will always exist and I'm really proud of it. I want to challenge myself more. I know so many amazing runners who I aspire to be like. You know who you are. I have met many of you who have done some fantastic things.

I went to an 'interview technique' session the other week and I realised how bad I am at selling myself. I could have been in Runners World etc. haha, but I never have been. I love running for the sake of running, for the way it makes me feel, for the sense of self it gives me. Most of all, I like the feeling you get from knowing you have travelled so far on your own two feet. How awesome is that? You should probably have used a car, but you got there with your own two feet. I also like running at night, in ultras, when the world is asleep and you're still moving forwards.

Just some thoughts I decided to write down on this Good Friday. Have a lovely, long weekend everyone.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

It's out there, finally... Liverpool to Leeds Race 2015 ramble

Someone once told me (not so long ago) that I have a ‘slight’ tendency to hold on to things, to not let things or work go unless I think it is as absolutely good as it could possibly be. Obviously, nothing is perfect. In the case of this blog, I guess that is pretty true, albeit it has also been crazy hectic this year. But, now I’ve realised that sometimes you just have to get it out there.

It has been a massively hectic year, hugely hectic. I know, I said that already. I’ve not run as many races as I would have liked or was once used to, but I’ve run some good’uns that are important to me. The Liverpool to Leeds Race was one of them. So, finally, before the year is out, here is a ramble about that....

I hadn’t planned on running the Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race again this year. I figured I’d do a bunch of marathons and do GUCR and that would be my ‘big’ race. However, Grand Union didn’t go so well for me. I finished, but I finished painfully slow and my feet were a mess. I felt physically and emotionally bruised. I no longer wanted this to be my long run memory of the year. Because, quite frankly, I felt like a bit of a whimpering mess after GUCR and my PB attempt at this race actually became my slowest finish ever. I guess you can never completely plan for stuff in ultras. 

The start and supplies and stuff

So, I made it to the start in one piece and as disorganised as usual. I packed all the necessary stuff, such as plasters and emergency energy gels, Lucozade and ‘full fat’ Coke. I didn’t pack as much food as usual, as I feel that I have a tendency to overbuy for these races.

I had a natter to lots of the usual lovely faces at the start and picked up my t-shirt. I never normally buy a race t-shirt for these long ones. I guess part of me never wants to tempt fate. However, this means that I never end up owning a really cool race t-shirt with a huge map of a canal on the back and I actually really want to. Also, I reasoned that if, for any reason, I was unable to complete LLCR then it was all ok, because I successfully completed it last year.

So, t-shirt picked up. A kiss for the boyfriend. A big ‘class of 2015’ photograph and we were off!
I hadn’t trained for this.

Tummy troubles

Not to be graphic, but my stomach felt poo. I had to stop so many times on the Saturday, because my stomach just didn’t feel right. I felt so bloated and not particularly awesome. All I kept thinking about was where the next toilet or bush was.

I was very aware of how much I was slowing down and with this came a bit of a negative attitude. I knew that I would do it no matter what, because I would never go into such a long race thinking that I’d just ‘give it a go’. You can’t and shouldn’t do that. You should go into a race KNOWING that you ARE going to do it, no matter what it takes, giving it everything it takes. However, it doesn’t stop the negative thoughts that make it a little bit tougher, when you’re not feeling 100%.

I felt bad, because Jogging Jon had very kindly let me run with him. That was great because it’s nice to have the company on such a long run, but I felt guilty, because he had put in so much training for this race and I had put in little. His pace was amazing and I was being a bit of a snail. I’m so grateful to him for sticking with me for so long and for the lovely Mrs Sarah Jogging Jon who provided lots of awesome support and goodies along the route.

Into the night...

It must have been around 2.30am in the morning when my eyelids started to uncontrollably close and I must have spent approximately the next 3 hours, until day broke, agonisingly battling against the urge to fall asleep. It’s a horrible feeling when all you want to do is sleep, but you can’t stop and you definitely can’t go to sleep, so you end up stumbling along like you’re drunk. And it just doesn’t stop and no matter how much you wish for it, daylight just doesn’t come. It seems never ending as you focus on putting one foot in front of the other, very, very slowly.

The resurrection...

“The sky’s awake, so I’m awake, so we have to play...!” (Yes, this quote is from Frozen)
The sun started to rise and ‘just like that’ I started to wake up. It was pretty miraculous and I was surprised by how instantaneously I woke up. One minute I was dragging my heals (literally) and stumbling about all over the place and the next, I was running faster than I had in hours. I had let Jogging Jon slip away as day broke, as I know he was going at a faster pace than me and I was aware of how much I had held him back in the night section, but like a gentleman, he had stayed to accompany me out of fear that I might fall in the canal. I’m always struck by how beautiful this part of the canal is. You start to head towards Skipton and the canal meanders and winds.

Spoilt for shoes

Hokas. I bought some Hokas. I previously wrote about my search for Hokas and how tricky it was to decide upon which ones to get and where to start. I bought the Challenger ATR and I thought it had adequate room. This is still mostly true. They had enough room in the front of the toe, but they were a little too narrow at the toe, which meant that my niggly little toe got a bit snagged. It's funny, because my feet are surprisingly narrow for how long they are. So, it would appear that a UK 8.5 would probably have been best. I also started to over pronate a fair bit, especially on my right foot, after a while. They were great in terms of stones and cobbles and not being able to feel the ground, but after 40 miles I had to swap them for a trustier structured shoe.

I whipped out my Asics GT 2000s at the next checkpoint and I immediately felt so much more supported in my arch. I wore these through the night section and until I reached the 94.5 mile checkpoint. A few checkpoints later I changed these shoes to my well-worn-in Kayanos, because the morning dew on the grass had soaked my feet and clean socks. It’s good to have the variety I guess.

Random things you see by canals

I’m always looking out for random things by canals and during ultras in general. You do see some random things. Most notably, I saw some horses on a bridge. And I became a little obsessive with taking pictures of mile markers by the canal. I was so much happier when a stone mile marker informed me that it was 110 miles to Liverpool – not far to go – than when it said 99 ½ miles to Leeds...


I can never fault the check points on GUCR or LLCR. There was so much yummy cake. Lemon drizzle was my favorite and it’s so easy to eat when you’re finding it hard to get down anything else. I also enjoyed a really lovely bacon buttie just before the 100 mile mark and some pineapple juice at around 120 miles. I was feeling much better by then.

The End

Now I’m trying to recall it, I’m finding it tricky to recall everything. The last bit of the race was fairly pleasant, but painful. I do really need to solve the unsolvable problem of painful feet, but I’m not certain that this can be overcome during such a long ultra. This is a shame, because I'd like to think I could run even longer one day... Maybe it’s just part of the challenge? So, in the last bit, I found myself having to stop and take off my shoes a fair few times, as my feet were hot, sore and itchy. However, once I sensed that we were near the end and started to see all the tall buildings and hotels of Leeds city centre getting close and closer, I started to run faster and faster. I guess the bit that I’m most proud of is that I literally sprinted the last bit. I saw the finish and I legged it. I know it wasn’t just my imagination, I really did sprint it and most definitely ran faster than I had done all race.

I finished 3rd female in 35hrs 43mins – most definitely because there weren’t many women in it to begin with and also because the rest of the speedy ones dropped out. But, I’m happy with that. A really great memory from 2015. I better start looking ahead to 2016. Who knows what adventures will be had? (I actually don't know yet...I need to plan)