John Muir Way Ultra

John Muir Way Ultra

‘Your mum looks like she’s about to cry’ he says to Oliver.  This is met with a sharp look and the sternest of cold replies ‘Don’t!’.  He grins.  I leave the room.

I don’t know what it is but at certain races – typically the bigger ones that mean something to me – I have to fight back the tears.  And it’s been 4 years!!  I didn’t cry though.  Not this time.  But it did make me realise how much I wanted this.

I had decided to stay overnight near the race even though it was only 2 hours down the road if that.  Being 5 years old Oliver sees this as a little holiday so it makes it more fun for him.  Being only 10 minutes from registration made for more time in bed too.

Registration was pretty straight forward.  Are you running the half?  ‘No, full’.  This is your envelope.  Inside it is your bib and your chip.  Here’s your map.  Bus is over there.  I got on the bus, pulled my hat as far over my eyes as I could and concentrated on not letting the nerves get the better of me.  The chat on the bus was casual and not running related which was weirdly relaxing.  And I received a few good luck messages on my phone which made me smile.  A small gesture that goes a long way in times like that.

All the runners were bussed to the start which is on the promenade (because where else do you want to be in shorts and t-shirt other than a beach front in the cold wind?!?)  Luckily there was a bag drop so I kept my hoodie on until the very last minute.  Waiting in the queue for the bathroom I got chatting to 2 other ladies running.  They looked at me and asked if I was running the half.  Again I said no to this question.  ‘Oh’ was the reply.  ‘Have you ran this distance before?’.   ‘Just a couple of times’ I said.  Conversation was then cut short as the bathroom became free.

At the start line and we were told to get in to our waves.  How did we know what wave we were in?  ‘Competitive runners at the front, leisurely competitive in the middle and those out for a good day at the back.’  Leisurely competitive – I love it!!  Best comment of the day!  Squashed in to the crowd and the conversation around me turned to expected time.  Most were aiming for about 9 to 10 minute miles and a good day.  I relaxed some more, thankful it wasn’t a case of sub 7 min milers.  Then an older man turned to me and asked ‘are you running the half?’

What is going on??  Do I not look like a runner?? (What ever a runner looks like).  Why am I being asked this question so much?  I picture my reflection in the mirror from that morning – trainers check, shorts and t-shirt check, hydration vest check, proper running jacket check, running cap check, fear of god expression on face as if I’m about to die – oh wait, that might be it.

Very quickly we are off and I start slow.  Within just a few hundred metres I’m already warm enough and strip off my jacket and put it in my bag.  Whilst still running might I add.  Quite proud of this.  Ha ha.  And yes, I have been practising.  I’m wearing road trainers mainly because I have been training in them but also because someone from the club had said road were fine if it hadn’t been raining too much.  We start on tarmac but are soon on the trail and then on the beach.  When I first see the beach I naturally have Chariots of Fire playing in my head and I almost begin a slow motion run.  However once I have taken a few steps on the beach I am no longer in ‘let’s have fun’ mode and quickly move to ‘how the f@ck do you run on sand?!’.  Answer?  You don’t really.  You find the most solid looking bit and then miserably make your way to the end.  Thankfully it wasn’t a long patch and we were back on trail once again.

Then we were on gravel.  Then we were on tarmac.  Then back to trail.  I’ve never noticed the cushioning on my trainers other than on day 1 of a new pair but this route was giving me an education in foot wear let me tell you.  You want to learn the difference between trail shoes and road shoes?  Run the John Muir Way Ultra.  (Probably a bit extreme to run 50km to learn that but you get my point).

By now I’m at 8 miles and I am cheekily grinning to myself as I am only just feeling a slight twinge in my hamstring.  This is good for me.  I am happy with this.  I fully expected it to kick in at about 3 miles and be torture from the get go.  It has however started to rain but I know the aid station is at 10 miles so decide to stop and put my jacket on there.  I may be able to take it off whilst running but putting it on is a different challenge altogether.  As I reach there I see Joe and Oliver so I get a nice cuddle before sending them back to the car as they are cold.

My goal at this point is to get the half way point before cut off which is 3 and half hours from the start.  A goal which is, in reality, not really a goal as my pace has never indicated that it could be an issue but in my head, it was.  So when I saw Joe and Oliver again only 500 metres before the halfway point I couldn’t bring myself to stop.  Not even when he asked if I wanted the jelly babies I had asked him to get for me.  Karma got me straight away though as I had to run on the beach again straight after that to get to the life boat station.

Having learnt my lesson from The Stones I knew not to waste too much time there.  I waited for a little bit to see if Joe would make it there but I wasn’t surprised when the text came through to say he couldn’t get parked so he would see me further up.   My legs were hurting now and it wasn’t getting any warmer so I had some banana and headed back out, wishing I had remembered a spare pair of socks as there was a definite ‘feeling’ going on down there on the soles.

As soon as I left the life boat station I was back on the beach.  Good old karma just making sure I felt bad for not stopping to speak to Joe and Ollie.  I pulled my hat right down so I could barely see a foot in front of me and grumped and groaned for every step.  Every step that is, until I stepped in something I really didn’t want to see.

What do you get at a beach?  The sea.  What is the sea made of?  Water!  Instead of being focused on where I was going I was focused on being a moaner and so had gone off track and ended up in the sea!  What the actual hell! Good thing I hadn’t changed socks as that would have been pointless.  Needless to say the grumping and the groaning just hiked it’s way up another level after that until I reached tarmac again.  Bloody water.

Unfortunately though, as soon as I was back on the road, it was a hike up a little hill.  I say ‘little’ but it was bloody steep.  And not welcomed after what had been quite a gloriously flat run so far.  Still.  Shouldn’t complain.  (But of course I did ha ha).  By now I was breaking it down to 5 mile blocks.  10 miles was my first quick stop.  15 miles was ‘halfway’.  Just another 5 to 20 miles then it’s only 10 miles to the finish from there and I do 10 mile runs all the time.  It’s only 10 miles to my mum and dads and I run that quite a bit.  I am of course ignoring the fact its actually a 31 mile run but the last mile doesn’t really count does it.

Maths.  Running is all about maths.  Fact.

At 20 miles I am going round a loch and I have entered the hurt locker.  The infamous hobble has appeared (or should that be hobbit given my size?) and I am zig zagging my way up every mount everest/mole hill thrown at me.  In truth, I look like I’ve pooped myself.  But I’ve still got 10 miles to go and I am not giving up.  (I do occasionally wonder if I have indeed done the deed but rest assured, I had not).  By about 23 miles I am running just behind a man with a Leven Las Vegas t-shirt.  This running club’s name makes me laugh as I think it’s a pretty cool play on words.  I go past a couple of girls I have seen a few times and they shout ‘love your tattoo by the way’.  I’m grinding my teeth at this point because of the pain so this couldn’t have come at a better time.  It’s amazing how the little things get you through.

IMG_2423

Rounding the corner and it’s back on road.  I see Oliver at the bottom of the hill and he runs up towards me with a much needed cuddle.  He runs down the hill with me and asks why I’m going so slow, pointing out he can run faster.  Ah kids.  Don’t you just love them?  Joe tells me the aid station is just at the bottom of the hill so keep going until I get there.  Which I do.  Gravity has a way of pulling even those who hobble towards the bottom of a hill.  At the aid station the lady behind the food asks me twice if I am ok.  At this point I am just staring at her.  You see, I was trying to make a very, very difficult decision.

Should I eat the flap jack on the table?

This could have some quite serious consequences.  I already look like I have pooped myself.  I had no intention of actually doing that.  But then, it could also help.  Give me a bit of a push.  It’s a very hard call.

I take a tiny bit and set off again.

I’ve only taken about 5 steps and I decide to turn back round and grab some more.  ‘That’s right, get a sugar fix love.  Do you good.’  She understands.  I wasn’t being rude.  I’m just not all there at this moment.

Back on the track and I see Leven Las Vegas man again.  He steps to the side to let me past and offers some encouraging words and I say some back.  And thus begins the final stretch and a beautiful running friendship game of cat and mouse.  He would run past me and then stop to walk a little further up, then I would run past him before stopping to walk and so on and so on.  Always exchanging comments of ‘I will be seeing you soon’ and ‘well done, just you keep going’.  We walked together at one point and I found out he had run this route as a relay last year and this was his first ultra.  I told him the ones I had done before.  ‘You like the hills then?’ he asked.  ‘God no, hate them’ I laughed.  He thought I had sprained my ankle from the way I was hobbling but I explained the pain was further up.

Then we were down to the last 2 miles.  I was determined not to lose him.  I used him to keep me pushing and eventually I reached the marshall who said those blissful , magical words ‘It’s only 1.5km from here’.  He was a fantastic marshall.  He was either a triplet or he had been moving places around the route, helping out and always, always cheery and happy.  But not your usual ‘not far now’ kind of encouragement’.  More ‘I don’t know what to say.  Well done guys you are awesome’.   He deserves a medal.

I see the 400 metres to go sign.  Relief waving over me.  I’m back of the field but there’s still a cheer for me as I cross the line.  I make sure I high five the kids at the side too.  At the finish I turn round and wait for Leven Las Vegas man to come across.  He had kept me going in those last few miles and I was very thankful.  What a lovely man.

PHOTO-2019-03-31-21-45-54

The finish is at a lake – strange given the name of it is Fox Lake…..  Joe was playing with Oliver at the play park whilst I was gathering my things and I saw 2 people wade in.  I love an ice bath.  It was amazing at Manchester.  So I limped over and peeled off my socks and trainers.  It was slippy.  Not ideal.  It was also freezing.  Absolutely blood freezing.  Nope, nope, nope I’m getting out.  Possibly the fastest I had moved all day not a word of a lie.  My ankles have never been in so much pain.  But oh man it felt so good.  Ok.  Deep breaths.  Huff, puff, huff, puff – back in I go.

And straight back out.  Too much.

PHOTO-2019-03-31-21-45-54 (1)

I would definitely recommend this race.  From the marshalls to the aid stations to the route itself.  I really liked it.  I’m very tempted to go back next year if I ever get rid of this pain in my legs, just to see how well I could do it injury free.

IMG_2409

Advertisements

Ever Changing

Last week it was snow and ice. This week it was sun and more sun. Does anyone still not believe in climate change?

Last week was brutal at work – the dreaded middle shift. Everyone hates it. I had a minor pro-lapse when I forgot I had swapped a day for a late to cover SLA but many apologies later to Joe and it was sorted. I also banked a few more hours teaching. I seem to always get the kids who talk about death. ‘What happens if you don’t turn your head to breath’ I ask them. ‘You die’ comes the rapid reply. I’m still unsure how to answer that when it instigates flash backs for me. But on that cheery note…..

Monday didn’t go as planned as the latest infusion has knocked Joe about. So Lucie did the cooking and I did the rest of the adulting. (We don’t need food poisoning on top of everything so best letting someone who knows what they’re doing handle the food). He had a bit more energy Tuesday and used that to shove me out the door with an order of ‘an easy 6 to 8’. Weather was amazing – just the right level of cool – and I loved that run.

img_2380

Wednesday. Third day of a middle shift. The plan was to run home from work. Joe was meant to have a quieter day at work (meant to, but I don’t think it’s been happening) so he had the car. He gave me instructions of when to eat – not that I need an excuse to shove a biscuit in my face – and he would see me at home. However, when finishing time came it was clear I wouldn’t be able to run with ALL my stuff so the plan changed to a short run then a walk home.

‘You need to do hills’ came the text.

I’ve just done 25,000 steps, I’m not running up and down no hill.

‘Get it done’.

‘It’s dark!’

‘Stop being a @*#${% and get it done’

The thing with this new found interest that Joe has taken is that I feel guilty that I can still exercise and train. He can’t. And it’s killing him. Obviously he has no interest in what I do – he’s more go hard or go home and I’m more oh let’s take a photo, finish line will still be there in an hour – but it’s not easy.

So off I go. In a complete mood don’t get me wrong, but I’m doing what he says. I get to the dreaded hill and I have to walk to the start point. Great bloody start. I have to remind myself everything’s changed in the last year and it affects my body greatly.

Off I go. Grumbling away under my breath. Just get it done. Come on. A couple of cars crawl past me and I mean crawl. Oh yeah, they’re having a really good look at the crazy lady running up and down a hill. Joe said do 3 repeats. I’m not coming all this way to just do 3. I’m doing 6. As I force the last one out, telling myself if I walk it doesn’t count, I realise what’s just happened.

He. Has. Played. Me.

How did he get 6 hill repeats out of me when I was only going to do 3 easy, flat miles??

I run back to work and text him. I’m not walking home. He can pick me up.

Which he does. With a grin slapped on his face.

img_2383

 

Thursday and Friday involved more ‘normal life’ and it was then big run Saturday. I say big run but it wasn’t really. ‘You need at least 12’ he says to me. Well that’s alright as I’m aiming for 14.

The plan was for Joe to cycle with the kids and chase me down then keep me company until their moans of child abuse got far too close to becoming a reality and he would head home. I set off, fully expecting to be caught within the first mile but put my music in to try and up my pace.

Mile 1 clicks by and they don’t so I aim to get to 2 before I’m caught. Still nothing. Ok. Let’s go for this. I know exactly where 3 miles is (having previously had to stop and vomit there before) so I set my sights on an impossible task. Every second rocking by I’m expecting to see my daughter sail by.

But. Nothing.

There’s absolutely no way I’ve out run them and realise there must have been some tantrum going on. Could have been from any of them – could have been all 3. By the time I get to 7 miles I’ve seen my first bumble bee (entirely relevant to my story) and I get a text saying ‘we will just see you at home’ with a laughing face. Can’t be too bad then.

My stomachs starting to go now so I make my way to Rodney to use the bathroom. I’m having to ‘pause’ every now and then and I’m beginning to think a walk might be in order. Then I check the time. Is 2:57pm. Rodney shuts at 3pm.

Thus commences the ultimate runners battle. Have you ANY idea how hard it is to run fast whilst also stopping dead for a wave to pass? Honestly – it’s like 3 steps forward one mighty lunge backwards in to the bushes.

The musics up full blast in an attempt to distract me from the potential volcano and I all but burst – as in person, not bodily fluids – in to the reception and beg to use the toilets, far too loudly thanks to my headphones. They are locking up but this is a case of life or death and thankfully they understand. Although I may pay for it next time I’m on shift there ha ha.

I manage a good few miles more but the hamstring and glutes start their ever reliable screaming so I call it quits at 16 miles.

16. I’m happy with that. I’m also happy with the pace. (Yes I did pause my garmin for the toilet saga). And I find out the reason they didn’t catch me was all down to a flat tyre. It was nice to think I had out run them for a little bit ha ha.

I’m not expecting miracles this weekend. I will be happy with a better time than Glen Ogle given – as far as I’m aware – this route is a lot flatter. However, this route requires more navigation. Could be a very interesting run!

Quite a bit has been happening over the last few weeks, and I’m not just talking the apparent change of seasons every day.  Let’s start with something uber exciting.

Couple of weekends ago it was the Scottish Cycling and Running Outdoor Pursuits Show (seriously, what a mouthful, couldn’t just call it a fitness show no?).  The weather was depressingly wet so spending the day wandering around stalls of trainers, bikes and gear was an attractive choice for a rest day.  We went with good old Frazer who had tagged along previously and can always be relied upon to come out on the bike with me.  After I whipped his ass on the travelator (I fell and I still beat him!) we were looking for somewhere to eat when we wandered past a small stall that only had one stand in the middle of it with some nutrition bars.  Now perhaps unsurprisingly I leave all the nutrition up to Joe as lets be honest, I don’t have a clue on that front.  As I go to walk past my eye catches something though.  Is that a Marathon Des Sables top up there?  Nice.  I look to the right and my jaw hits the ground.  I do a double take.  On the other side of the wall is none other than a Barkleys Marathon booklet, ripped out pages that clearly have been collected en route and a t-shirt.

‘Have you spotted the Barkleys t-shirt?’ a voice says to me.  I instantly turn in to a babbling teenager and ask stupid questions like have you actually been? Oh my god!

It’s clear I won’t be moving from this stall for a while so Joe and Frazer leave me in my awestruck trance and wander off.  The owner is selling a nutrition bar that he and his wife have devised and I learn that they are made not very far away from where we live at all.  I chat to the wife for a while and discover that she has taken up running as well and is down for a big race this year which is on my to do list.  I could have talked to her all day she was lovely.  I talk to James when he is free and he tells me lots of things about his adventures at the Barkelys.  Truly amazing.

IMG_2260

Joe comes past again and he tries the bars.  Unfortunately there are none to buy at the stall as they are just starting out so we go online to MACEBAR and order some.  Needless to say Joes already been diving in to them!

Now.  I don’t know if it was meeting someone who has actually done something as amazing as MDS and Barkleys, but I’ve managed to re-focus my attention to running.    I’ve been struggling with accepting that I am running slower right now and that I am still in bloody pain.  I’m signed up to an ultra at the end of the month which I want to complete as well as I can and enjoy.  Joe has also turned round and said he wants me to do well in it so together we have been planning my sessions.  He wasn’t keen on me doing the half marathon I had signed up for and I wasn’t really feeling it so when an opportunity at work came up it was a no brainer really and I didn’t go.  (It’s not like my new career plan ends with being a lifeguard and doing gym inductions so that was obviously going to come first)

So instead of running races I’ve been picking up extra shifts at work and we have been going for a nice family walk up a mountain and then Joe has been kicking me out of the car on the way back and telling me to run the 10/12 miles home.  No word of a lie.   Do you know how hard it is to run after walking up a Munro? (A Munro being a really big bloody mountain in Scotland).  Very hard!  This new style has been working though.  He has been telling me what to do and naturally I have done the opposite.  In a true happy marriage style.

Only joking.  It has been pushing me on.  And I have found that my mileage is back up and I am not caring about anything else.   We have even been out for a run together.  It was a very slow 5 miles before his hospital appointment but it was something.  And I didn’t even take a photo!  (Did it even happen then? It’s on Strava and Garmin – don’t worry, it did).   But it was only 5 miles and he claims I procrastinated too much so what did he do?  He sent me out on the ONE day we had snow and ice pelting down insisting I run for 2 hours!

THAT ladies and gentleman – is marriage!

Sod was sat at home in front of our lovely wood burning stove in the warmth with a green tea and gluten free bacon sandwich whilst I was being drenched by bloody boy racers recreating Frozen by spraying me with the slush puddles!  There were no Disney PG 13 glistening white snow phrases coming out of my mouth when they did that let me tell you.  I definitely let it ALL go!  This was then followed by a change from my pod cast to some solid angry girl music and my pace picked up.  Pink will forever be my go to ‘I hate the world’ soundtrack.

IMG_2368

11.5 miles I managed in that.  Less than Gestapos instructions of 2 hours but it was a good effort and I value my fingers and toes too much to take the frost bite risk.  Must remember 2 pairs of gloves next time – or at least some form of tissue, eugh.

So now I am 2 weeks away from my first proper ‘training’ race.  A 50km laid back trail run – just how I like them.  I have no intentions (read that as ability) to try and whack out a good time.  My goal is my mindset.  I want to run this race with a positive attitude and the occasional push saying ‘little bit further, just a little bit further’.   Maybe one or two less picture stops too – there is no viaduct to run over this time.

I do though know exactly what’s going to happen after it.  Joe is going to scrutinise every detail of my ‘performance’, including every sip of water and bite of flap jack, and then come up with a training plan for The One this year.   He’s already insisted on a 30 mile run by the end of April.

I like this though.  It’s motivating me.  Telling me I can’t do something does nothing for me.  I’m not one of those that turns round and says ‘watch me’.  I bloody hate being watched.  Hence why I hide behind a keyboard and my water logged antics aren’t on YouTube.  But someone telling me to do something – that I will do.  Obviously I’m not talking ‘jump off a bridge’ – although ironically my brother told me to do that and I did last year ha ha.  Single most STUPID thing I have ever done.  Only time I have seriously thought ‘this is a very bad idea with your heart Ella’.  Didn’t die though so, you know, all good.  Sorry Mr Cardio.

IMG_0223-(ZF-9281-42487-1-016)

Let’s see what the next two weeks brings and what happens on this training run.  Taking bets now to see how the element that is water will try and take me out.  We all know it’s going to happen.  Must remember to pack my arm bands.