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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2019 – it starts again

Edinburgh’s New Years Day Tri was my first ever triathlon back in 2016.  I did it again in 2017 along with Joe but last year I decided to give it a miss.  Now.  Call me ridiculous, over-analytical or just down right weird but part of me kind of thinks that may have been the start of the downfall that was 2018.  Not over dramatic at all.  Not even slightly.  Believing I may have ruined my year on the very 1st day?  Slight exaggeration?  Some may say possibly.  But moving on…

So, obviously, I signed back up for 2019.  400 metre swim, 12 mile cycle, 3 miles ish (lies!) run.  Less than a basic training day right?

Oh how wrong can you be!  Even after all this time I am still making absolute rookie mistakes.  You have to wonder how I manage to get dressed in a morning some times.  (Although I did forget my shorts last month at work – long story, not a pretty picture.  It’s ok though, I at least had pants on.)

You see it may have been a basic training day, an easy swim distance, nothing I can’t do on a bike, and I am still running – but I forgot a fundamental part.  Putting it all together.  And maybe, just maybe, I didn’t really cycle that much.  Or, like, ever.  Until the night before.  (Scariest cycle ever!!  I go blind in the dark!  And before you even say it there aren’t enough carrots in the world that can cure that).

Yup.  I got cocky.  Well not really.  I always knew it wasn’t going to be an all world athlete performance.  But I probably should have made a little more effort to put it all together.

What I wasn’t expecting was the nerves.  My lord I hadn’t felt like that since the first time I was there.  I couldn’t look Joe in the eye for fear of crying, couldn’t really speak either (although pretty sure he loved that part).  It was bad.  Waiting in the queue to get my race number and timing chip there was nervous chatter all around me.  ‘I just hope no one dies like they did at Kyle’s race.’

Well that’s not bloody helpful is it!!  I moved away from them quick smart – which was probably the fastest I moved all day.  In the changing room I bumped into the fantastic physio who had got me through Race To The Stones.  Turned out it was her first ever triathlon.  She was giving it a try.  We chatted about tips and stuff and how it was just a better way to spend New Years than with a pounding headache and memory loss.  Then I headed out to poolside for the race brief – ever the stickler for the race brief.  Much to my mortification the man with the microphone decided to tell us to turn to the person next to us and wish them a happy new year.  My eyes went wide, my face went white, I visibly started shaking, nooooo!  Human contact with strangers!!  Please don’t, please don’t, please don’t.  The woman next to me eyed me up.  I knew what was coming.  It was like slow motion.  She looked, she saw the fear, she oh so briefly paused, then she decided nah, I’m going to do it.  ‘I know you don’t want to and this is probably the worst thing to happen to you but Happy New Year’.  I smiled back at her and laughed a little as I wished her the same back.  I had been too nervous to stop my reaction appearing on my face.  I had basically asked for it.

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I watched the first swimmers take off, truly in awe of their courage.  Many were breast stroking, there were not many swim caps and there were a few even without goggles.  But they were all going for it.  They may not have been the fastest but they were the most impressive.  I headed down and spotted a woman from the tri club sitting at the side.  She was doing a relay with another from the tri club and a woman I know from the running club.  She had estimated her swim time much better than me and was starting earlier than me.  I was very concerned about my estimate as we swim at pretty much the same speed.  It’s not a great feeling being over taken in the lane by a stream of people.  We chatted a little (very hard with swim caps on your ears) and she helped calm my nerves without even knowing it I don’t think.

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She headed to the queue and I lingered at the edge.  I knew the physio lady would be swimming down the lane soon.  Sure enough I spotted her and shouted out.  She paused and looked back.  Oh hell did I just put her off? Damn it.  I always get carried away cheering.  She was doing really good as well, looked comfortable.

Then it was my turn.  I remembered from last time not to jump in and head to the bottom of the pool instead of forward.  I didn’t get a push off the wall but it was ok.  All in all the whole swim felt ok.  I didn’t panic, my breathing was smooth, I may have hit my head on every single lane rope (I’m clearly way too attached to these things) but it generally felt ok.  I only counted about 4 people who over took me although I rarely saw anyone in the lane behind me which I found odd.  Climbing out I stopped my watch.  9 minutes something.  Appears my pace was not ‘ok’ then but more on the slow side.  Or did that say 8 minutes something?  Could be.  I would be happy with that.

In to transition and could I get my jumper on?  Absolutely not.  Had I swallowed half the pool and now I was carrying water weight?  This is a high possibility.  After much pulling and under the breath bad words I finally got it on and pushed my bike out with a quick wave to Joe and Oliver.  Could I remember what to do next though?  When am I allowed to get on the bike?  Is it straight out of the gate? Am I missing something?  I keep pushing it hoping someone goes by me to give me a clue.  I’m on the outside road now and convinced I should be riding the thing.  Am I going to push it all the way round the course??  I’m going to be mega embarrassed if someone shouts at me ‘do you not know what that things for love!’.  Finally I see a line on the floor and a marshall and it comes back to me.  This is whats called a mount line Ella.  Mount the bike.  Doh.

The cycle is uneventful.  The incline is hard and the downhill is fun.  I thank my lucky stars I went to the static bike sessions with the tri club as although there may only have been a few, it helped.  I consider my swim time and wonder again if it was possibly 8 minutes something and not 9 minutes.  I would find out soon.  The entire time round I am doing 2 things.  Praying I don’t get a puncture and wondering how on earth I managed to do a half ironman! Seriously?  You need to get your butt in gear lassie.  Get over your fear of the bike, do proper swim training and well, just keep running.

In to transition again and it’s out for the run.  I inevitably get jelly legs – did I do any brick training?  Can I walk out of a sports shop without buying a new running top?  – but I force myself up the hill and then back down again.  Not lightening fast but there’s the line and now my year has started right.

Caroline, the runner in the relay team, is just ahead of me at the water table.  She’s loved it.  I’m not surprised.  It’s been a great day.  I bump in to the physio lady in the changing room again and she’s hooked.  She’s definitely going to be at another one soon.  I grab some hot ginger from the Active Root stall and hold it very close to my heart – it’s the tastiest thing ever.  I may have even whispered ‘I love you’ in to the cup.  It was cold.  It heated me up.  Don’t judge.

So that’s that.  My year started the way it should be and a nudge in the right direction.  I’ve got some running races booked this year but I’m going to be doing more triathlon too.  Time to get back at it.

Oh and my swim time was most definitely not 8 minutes something ha ha.  Ah well.

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Oh hasn’t it been a while.  Over a month in fact.  Well.  Since I am sitting recovering from my last run I thought I would update this.

I joined the waiting list for the Glen Ogle 33 not really expecting to get a space.  It’s a popular event that I’m pretty sure sells out every year.  For someone like me I wouldn’t call it a race.  More of a ’33 miles of trail running just trying to survive and not die’.  And the reason I signed up?  You get to run over a viaduct!  These structures were probably made ‘famous’ by Harry Potter (not that I have watched any of the movies) but I really fancied running over one!  So that was it.  I signed up when the email came through.

Night before I drove up with my friend Lorner to go and register.  It’s just over an hour away and it would give our youngest and Joe a little extra time in bed the day of the race.  Leaving straight from work at 6pm I picked her up and she produced what can only be described as a bag full of heavenly goodness.  She had only gone and bought me a packed lunch box and filled it with loads of food – including red bull!     A-mazing!  Joe had also been to the shop to pick me up a new running jacket following the weather warning that had been issued for the race.  This would later prove to be essential!

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Finding out your friend is travel sick whilst driving through the winding, twisting country roads of the Scottish Highlands isn’t great.  I’m pretty sure she was eyeing up my new lunch bag wondering if she could get away with throwing up in it.  Unicorns poop rainbows Lorner – not puke.

Registration took all of 20 seconds.  My many questions probably took about 20 minutes.  No, I’m joking.  I only had a couple.  I had a quick look at the clothes on sale but since Joe had bought me a new jacket I knew I was good.  I had forgotten my drop bag though and I did consider trying to muster something up from the local supermarket  but the plan was to be at the start line in time to drop it off so we headed back (after she had a bottle of water and fresh air.  And yes, I took it easy on the way back).

It was drizzly and cold in the morning and we arrived just 10 minutes before race start so Joe dropped me off and stayed in the car with our youngest until I started then drove home.  It’s an unsupported race and a lot of waiting around  for a 5 year old so a dvd in the car is much more appealing.  I managed to locate Scott from the road runners about 20 seconds before we started so my nerves were put to rest after seeing a friendly face.  He had sore hips and was taking it easy but I knew he would still finish well before me.  I had a very unrealistic hope of finishing in 5 and a half hours so had said to Joe I might be back just after 1.30pm.  (Alright, alright, no need to laugh quite so hard!).

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I tried to keep my feet dry for as long as possible and I think I may have even made it 500 meters before they were soaking!  That’s impressive given the small river that was flowing down the up wards trail we were instantly on.  It was gorgeous though!  Autumn colours in all their glory as we trenched up and up and up.  All I could hear around me was ‘squelch, squelch, squelch’.  The real sound of a trail run ha ha.  One of the differences I have noticed between ultra and marathon running is that in a marathon runners are most likely to dodge puddles.  In ultras they are more likely to dive straight in to the bottomless pit of a loch!  I’m still haunted by that experience at the  Ochil Ultra

Up and up and up we went, and then we had quite a steep down.  At the bottom of the hill I was met with a very friendly face.  Robin from the road runners was marshalling.  Stood out in the cold, wet and windy weather that is Scotland this lovely man was all smiles and encouragement as we all went past.  I love it when I know a volunteer or marshall but when it’s someone like Robin it’s even better.

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Just a couple of miles on and I came across the viaduct.  The bit I was waiting on!  Naturally I took a video.  ‘I’m running across a viaduct!  Whoo hoo!’.  The excitement was short lived when 1.  I realised what a horrendous double chin I have and 2.  My hamstrings and glutes decided to play up.  I don’t remember them gradually working up the pain scale, I just remember them refusing to play ball.  They hurt that much I didn’t even realise how windy it was at points or how hard the rain was coming down.

I got to 8 miles and text Joe.  ‘My legs hurt, I’m struggling’.

I was in the Scottish Highlands though.  You don’t get signal.  I kept checking and trying to re-send.  The pain got more and more.  This is going to be it.  This is going to be my first ever DNF.  Well that’s rather fitting for the year I’ve had.  When have I ever not finished a race?  I can’t do another 25 miles on this though.  That’s practically a marathon.  I will keep trying to text him and hopefully he will come pick me up.

I trundled on, sometimes distracted by the gorgeous views, sometimes chatting to those around me.  The zig zag path downward was a potential ankle breaker.  Under different circumstances I would have loved that part.  Thank god I wasn’t going up it though.  Still no signal.  I saw a girl at the side of the road and checked she was ok.  Her water bladder had started leaking and I had a spare food bag so checked to see if she needed it.  Handy tip for next time!  She asked how I was doing and without thinking I replied I was struggling already.  Not the best thing to say to someone who was doing her first ultra.  But she was going strong and looked like she was going to finish well which I don’t doubt she did.

I started to focus on getting to the checkpoint as it was quite clear I wasn’t going to get a signal anytime soon.  I became obsessed with my watch and looking at the miles that were ticking by slower than the Brexit deal.  Eventually I heard noise and knew it was close.  I could hear a cow bell and shouting.  Yes!  I’ve finally made it!  I should get a signal now and can speak to Joe.  But…… no……..  NO…….  It was supporters at the side of the road, outside their house.  I couldn’t do anything but laugh a little inside and smile on the outside.  These people were standing in the cold and rain and encouraging us on.  They could have been inside with a warm cup of tea, sitting at a blaring hot stove, singing songs to each other all rosy cheeked.

Ok, I might be getting a bit carried away here.

Then I came across a bridge.  A bridge that moved.  A lot!  Hold on a minute!  I’ve been on this bridge before!  I don’t like it!  Code red, code red!  I almost dropped to my knees to get across it.  Clearly this was the infamous shoogly bridge.  I didn’t like it.  Nope.  I even stopped dead in the middle of it.  Never again.

The checkpoint was just at the other side and I desperately looked for shelter and somewhere to sit down.  There was neither options.  So I took out my spare food bag (the other lass hadn’t used it as it was the pipe that had come loose) and promptly sat on it.  Still no signal though.  What to do.  I very quickly began getting cold.  My legs were soaking and although the jacket was very good I was still cold up top.  Gloves were sodden and feet drenched.  I decided to change in to dry socks and put blister plasters on.  Oh yes, I had blisters.  I didn’t have anything to dry my feet though so the plasters didn’t stick.  My fingers were freezing so tying my laces was interesting.  I got my spare gloves out.  Definitely going to need them.  Then I remembered there was an Active Root station with their ginger juice.  My flasks were almost empty of my berry hydration.  If I was going to make it to somewhere with a signal I would need more.  I went over to them and cheekily asked if I could fill one of my flasks.  ‘Of course you can – do you want me to wash it out first?’.  ‘No, that’s ok thank you, I need it that much I don’t think I will notice.’  ‘Well you look really well prepared’ he said gesturing to my pack that had everything in bags to protect from the rain.  ‘and you’ve done the hardest part, it’s not bad from here’.

This made me think.   was just over half way.  Who gets to half way and doesn’t finish?  I’ve got dry socks on now and dry gloves.  I’ve got hand warmers I can technically stick anywhere if needed.  My hydration is re-filled and the short seat has helped my legs.  Can you really quit when Joe has given up his whole day for this – bit selfish to do that isn’t it?

So I got moving.  After the kind marshall put my flask back in my bag as my hands just weren’t letting me do it.

And naturally, it was straight up.  Up, up, up, up.  My legs hurt again within seconds.  It was probably this point I began wondering why I enjoyed running.  Eventually it evened out a little and I started the usual slog of cat and mouse with a group of 3 women.  They would slow down a little, I would go past, I would slow down, they would go past – your standard game on a long run, keeps it slightly interesting.  I was still absolutely loving the scenery despite the wind and rain so the phone was coming out for several photos.  And now that the field had really spread out it was quite easy to get ones without anyone seeing you and thinking ‘if she did a little more running she might be finished before christmas!’.  (I don’t think anyone is quite that negative on an ultra run, I’m just joking).

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I hit another hill (seriously HOW is there sooooo many??!! I will be on the moon soon!! Going to need Wonder Woman’s invincible jet to get back).  My phone pinged.  SIGNAL!!!!

‘Push through!!!  How far you?’  – text from Joe.  ’24 – I sent that at 8.’  ‘Well keep it up, we are on our way’.  ‘Don’t rush’ was my reply.

I phoned my friend Lorner.  ‘This hurts so much’  I wailed down the phone.  To which she replied with some nonsense about being tired after a few miles she had run earlier and was now cosied up at home slurping on a cup of tea.  Dry.  And not being battered by the wind.  No.  I wasn’t jealous.  Much.

Munching on some of Joes homemade flapjack I made my way up the vertical ascent.  Joe’s flapjack is the best.  It’s so tasty and yummy.  In fact, it’s probably the only reason I run.  It’s so full of unhealthiness you kind of have to run to work it off.  I could eat it all day every day.  But then if I did I wouldn’t be able to run.  And collect miles and medals.  Which I love.  Yup.  I’m getting this medal.  Third Ultra medal.  It’s mine.  I want it – I’m getting it.  Time to move.

And so the slow shuffle along the very long straight started.  Through several gates (where a cheeky wee ‘rest’ was taken for a few seconds.  I did not rush through them) and onward’s I went.  When I hit the viaduct again I did not give one flying monkey about running across it.  No photos this time, no filming.  Just some very rude words.

A short while later and it was the last check point.  This was one you just run through and they check numbers then you cross the road.  Just after crossing I heard a car beeping.  Didn’t think much of it but then I saw someone waving.  It was Joe and the kids.  He pulled up just in front and got out – kids stayed in the dry ha ha.  I was very tempted to ask if he had more flapjack but thought better of it.  He was heading on to the finish but I warned him I wouldn’t be there anytime soon.

With just a few miles to go I went past Robin again.  He was still out in this weather.  Absolutely incredible!  He told me it was only about 3.5 miles and there was only a few bumps to go, nothing like what I had already done.  A quick photo and I was on to the last section.

Glen Ogle 1

Just as Robin had said the last few miles were ‘easy’ compared to the previous 30.  Coming down in to the village of Killin we were back on the road and it’s an old village so the pavement wasn’t designed for more than one person at times but everyone gave way and let you past with no hassle.  Dodging the wheelie bins was interesting, you don’t react very fast after being on your feet so long.  On to the park where the finish was and I heard my youngest shouting and saw my daughter at the side.  A very slow bimble round the park and the finish line was there.  Scott who had finished well over an hour before me had waited about to see me finish with his wife Kathleen.  I thought that was really lovely.

So job done.  Glen Ogle 33 completed and the year has NOT ended in my first ever DNF – thank the running gods!  I’ve been wearing my finisher t-shirt which fits me perfectly every day since then and I have a lovely new running jacket that is most definitely waterproof.  Tried and tested.

Glen Ogle t-shirt.jpg

Glen Ogle elevation

On to the next one.

More Is In You

More Is In You

So many thoughts.  So many memories.  So many kilometers.

Race To The Stones was upon me.

I had spent the day trying to stay relaxed.  We couldn’t get in to see Windsor Castle thanks to a certain Mr Trump so we took the kids to the cinema instead.  As soon as the film was finished the panic set in though and I set off on a mission to find SiS berry electrolyte tablets I had purposefully left behind because they don’t work for me when running but now all of a sudden I just HAD to have them.  The staff in Decathlon did not help the situation when they didn’t know what an electrolyte was (isn’t this a sports shop?!).  Anyway, tablets found – thanks Tesco – and it was a dinner of pasta and pizza before trying to get an early nights sleep.

I woke up and my stomach was in bits.  Put it this way, I had no issue with the pre-race ‘poo’.  My body definitely knew how far I was about to run!  I was in Wave E and usually I am a stickler for the race rules.  I’m afraid to say though I had no intention of waiting until 8:30am to get started.  I tried to jump in to Wave B but got caught.  Another bathroom break and as I came back I saw someone from my wave just stroll right in.  So I stuck my nose in the air and acted like I belonged there.  Result!  This was the only part of the day by the way I showed any confidence – and even that was false.

Start to Pit Stop 1 – 10.3km

I had been pre-warned of the shuffle at the start.  From what I can gather they have a mix of walkers/joggers/runners in all waves to try and even it out.  This helped with ensuring I didn’t start off too fast.  First time ever!  A couple of guys from my club have told me a few times I need to start off slower, I know it’s a bit of a nemesis of mine, and I also had ‘the look’ from my physio in my head.  Unusually for me I also knew it wasn’t flat.  I know right!  Shock, horror ha ha.  But I was surprised at just how steep the first couple of hills were.  Close to hands on legs jobs.  I had kinda been hoping they weren’t going to be anything I would notice.  Should really lay off those pharmaceuticals…

It didn’t take long for me to notice that everyone around me was running in pairs.  I tried not to let it get to me and enjoyed listening to their conversations.  It was very strange hearing people chatting so early on in a race – usually all I hear is huffing and puffing.  Definitely never heard ‘At pit stop 3 we will get a bit of lunch, I’ve packed the sandwiches’ before.  Ultra running is a whole new world!

Pit Stop 1 to Pit Stop 2 – 12.6km

I didn’t stop long at the first pit stop.  I grabbed some ready salted crisps and some orange juice and got going.  I felt good!  Yeah baby I can do this!  The infamous ‘Field Of Dreams’ was on this leg and I knew the heat wave we had been experiencing would mean the crop (or whatever is in the field, I don’t know, I’m not a farmer) meant it wouldn’t be looking as grand as it could.  Didn’t really matter to me though I have to admit.  I was just concentrating on smiling for the camera at the end of it and getting a photo where I didn’t look like half my skin was falling off my body and I wanted to die.  I slowed down so there was space for the photographer to get (oh yes, I had thought this out!),  there was no one too close behind me so I didn’t have to fake a stop and get some space (I wasn’t lying about my thinking), ok, my turn.  Chin up, tummy covered, bib on show, thumbs up, smile and facial expression of ‘loving this’ plastered on face….

‘Oh don’t put your hands there!  It looks wrong!’

Where the hell was the guy behind me putting his hands???

Funnily enough I ran faster after that….

Pit Stop 2 to Pit Stop 3 – 10.9km

I don’t know why but I found 1 to 2 hard.  My hamstrings and glutes had started hurting so I took extra time at Pit Stop 2 to stretch them out – which helped for all of 5 steps.

Underfoot was tricky.  It was trail with tree roots everywhere.  So many people were catching their feet.  I only had one instance of catching my foot bad enough my body propelled forward in that comical way.  Well, it’s only comical if you don’t fall, which thankfully I didn’t.  I was getting annoyed though.  How am I tripping up so much!  For god sake lift your feet!  I let out a loud ‘grrrr’ at one point.  The guy next to me cautiously asked if I was ok.  Probably scared I might try to tear him apart if he poked the bear, poor soul.

Going down a hill and my stomach was now killing me.  I was struggling to drink or eat anything as I felt sick but I knew how crucial it was so it was a constant battle.  I was just sipping on the water when the woman right in front of me took a very bad tumble, landing on her knees then hitting her face.  Blood everywhere and a look of shock on her face.  I stopped to help her up with her running buddy and an american runner stopped too.  We washed her face down and could see a very bad cut straight up her lip.  It needed medical attention.  I could tell by her expression she needed a minute alone to cry it out with her friend so I gave her more bacterial wipes and told her I would let the medics know what had happened.  A local resident appeared and asked if she wanted a lift to the hospital which she declined.

This gave me a fright.  It was exactly what I was scared of.  50km each day was a very long way and I would inevitably be alone at some point.  As great as it is that strangers will help you it’s not the same as having the comfort of someone you know.  I tried desperately not to let this get to me, negative thoughts could end this run for me quicker than any injury.  They manifest and grow until they suffocate you.  Focus on the finish!  It’s not the end of the world if you fall, it’s just a graze.  Keep your head up!  Ok.  Positive pants on.

Shortly after I saw Joe and the kids.  Fantastic!  Sweaty cuddles all round and a comment from another saying how nice that was.  Then Joe told me there was ‘a bit of a hill’ coming up.  Positive pants came off.

Only joking!  I just shrugged.  ‘It is what it is’ I told myself.

Pit Stop 3 to Pit Stop 4 – 10km

I was finding the Pit Stops quite lonely by now.  I tried to make eye contact with a few people but the heat was that exhausting that everyone was already looking shattered.  I picked up some ready salted crisps and sat down to look at what the next section was when I remembered I had a cooling towel with me so looked in my bag for it.  That’s when I came across my little saviour.  I’ve always had a little ‘thing’ I become attached to that I use for comfort.  When I was pregnant with my youngest it was a stone I had found whilst hill walking.  Then it was a measuring tape I would wrap round and round my fingers.  And now.  It was my wonder woman keyring.  Comes everywhere with me.  I was no longer alone!  (Sort of).  Yes ladies and gentlemen.  I am 36 and I still have a comfort blanket.  Bite me.

I saw the lady in the medic tent who had fallen and went over to see if she was ok.  She was still in shock and she said she had ended up taking the lift here and was about to go to the hospital as needed stitches.  I didn’t know what to say.  What do you say? So sorry it’s ended your run for you?  I told her I had seen many people falling and it had been a really tough day before heading off.

The heat was blazing now and in my joy in finding wonder woman I had forgotten about my cooling towel.   Thankfully Joe texted to say they were at the next Pit Stop so that kept me going.  He also said he had my beloved red bull with him but for once I didn’t want it.  Oh my god the heat must be getting to me!  I better keep drinking the water.

I found myself running at roughly the same pace as someone with their music playing.  At first I quite liked this and was nodding my head along.  I hadn’t put my music on yet as wanted to try to talk to people so the bonus of hearing someone else’s would save my battery.  I was running along, humming away to the songs when I saw something I had to look twice at.  A man running in sandals.

Ok I need a medic – I am now hallucinating.

Nope.  He is actually running in sandals.  How??  Why??  He looked comfortable enough though.  I’ve seen many Vegan runners in specialised socks but not anyone in sandals.  Different.

I also saw paddle boarders with the most well behaved dogs on the boards too, chilling away.  I was jealous!  I wanted to be on the board.  Actually no.  I wanted to be in the water.  The cool water having a relaxed swim in this heat.  Hold on. It’s water Ella. Water is out to get you, especially when running. I moved along quickly, just in case.

Naturally there was another climb on what was becoming a very tricky track to run on to get to Pit Stop 4.  I could see Joe and the kids there though so it made it easier.  My eldest came in for a hug and I quickly warned him I was both stinking and sweaty.  He gave me a tap on the back ha ha.

Pit Stop 4 to Basecamp – 6.9km

Joe made me drink electrolytes at Pit Stop 4 and it took all my strength not to throw them back up. I didn’t get much down me.  The orange juice had ran out as well and I didn’t think I would take well to the coke that every one raved about so didn’t chance it – not with my stomach the way it was.  We discussed what the plan was.  I had already mentioned I may try to go straight through, it just depended how I was feeling.  Truth be told I wasn’t sure if I could cope being at base camp by myself.  It’s the strangest thing to be surrounded by over a thousand people but feel so alone.  I think he knew more than me that unless my legs were broken I was going straight through.  I wasn’t convinced.  The conditions were seriously tough and a lot of people were dropping out.  Experienced people with no injury that had crept back in.  Oh yeah.  That pain in my arse was back and the hamstrings were crying.  Best get a move on.

I quite enjoyed this section.  Probably because I was thinking that was it over and I was going to stop.  It was also going to be the furthest I had ever ran.  My previous ultra had been just shy of 30 miles.  This was going to be 31.  Happy days.

Basecamp

It was a bit strange crossing the line at base camp. It’s all very chilled and calm. There’s no cheering and whooping and high fives. You just…stop. I wandered over to the food tent and sat down. Too hot so I got back up and sat in the shade. I texted Joe to say I had made it and that my phone was going to run out of battery. He said he was coming to base camp. There’s no tracker at Race To The Stones so I needed my phone. I managed to book in for a massage without a long wait and he was there as I walked out the tent. I got myself some pasta and a slice of cake (which I knew I couldn’t eat but Lucie and Joe would) and pondered the decision of what to do. The massage had worked wonders and I was able to eat the pasta no bother.

Could I do another 50k? It’s a long bloody way! But it is getting cooler. Kind of. And Joe and the kids are going to have to go soon. But you could also just lie in the tent for hours on end and rest. The next 50k won’t be so hard after a rest.

Stuff it I’m going.

And off I went.

Base camp to Pit Stop 6 – 7.9km

‘We want to see you running as soon as you leave here and up there’ my eldest said to me as I left. Cheeky sod.

Underfoot was not great but 5 to 6 was probably the best I felt all day. Once you leave base camp you can’t go back. Decisions made. So you have to own it. And I did. For a few kilometres anyway. I got chatting to a woman called Sarah when we were walking up a hill but lost her when I started running again. Things were looking good.

Pit Stop 6 to Pit Stop 7 – 8km

Aware I had spent so much time at base camp debating what to do I knew I couldn’t waste too much time at the pit stops. My water was getting really warm so I poured it out and re-filled then sat down. For too long. Clearly forgetting I had to get a move on!

I saw Sarah again as I left and said hello as I ran past. Shortly after it was another hill and she caught up. This time I decided not to run ahead. It was getting late and we had been told to get in to pairs and groups and not be out there alone. I knew slowing at this stage would hurt me later but weighing it up I decided having company was the better option. She was glad of it too.

Not too much further up the road I saw a little boy running across the track. I knew instantly who it was. Definitely not a hallucination! ‘I think that’s my kids up ahead’ I said to Sarah. Yup. It was them. Signs in hands and more cuddles. Loved it. I didn’t think I would see them again as they needed to get checked in to the hotel. It had been a long day for them.

Pit Stop 7 to Pit Stop 8 – 12.6km

‘Spritz and melon, Pit Stop 7’ – quote of the entire race!

My favourite Pit Stop. Lots of melon, a quick rest, a chat with a few people (Sarah could talk to anyone) and we got back out there in good spirits.

However. My back was now hurting from not enough running. And the temperature was dropping. And we were losing light. Also, 7 to 8 NEVER ENDED!!

My god I hated that stretch. This was when the ‘seriously where is the pit stop, what km are we on now?’ started. The pain was immense and it was now dark. Dark brought with it the cold.

Cold?!? COLD???!!! Are you kidding me!! It was over 30 degrees during the day! I’ve done nothing but hear about people dropping out from heat stroke and now it’s cold?? How is that even possible?!?

No I did not have appropriate cold weather clothing with me. I had a top and that was it. I had even tried to tell Joe I didn’t need it but he had insisted. Thank god!

So it was no surprise that when we got to Pit Stop 8 (full of hate) that we saw several people shivering in foil blankets and 2 on the ground in makeshift sleeping bags trying to heat up. I briefly spoke to a guy who was dry retching. He hadn’t been able to keep anything down all day and he was now done. ‘I think it’s finally about time I re-consider some of my life choices’ he said in the most sincerest of tones. I felt incredibly sorry for him.

5 people called it a day in the 10 minutes we were at that pit stop. And we heard about 2 more jus minutes after we left. To get 80km in and have no more left in you, I just don’t know how you deal with that.

Pit Stop Hate to Pit Stop 9 – 8.8km

There is a ridiculously steep and difficult shirt section after Pit Stop 8. Doing it in the dark makes it almost impossible not to break an ankle. How we managed not to trip is a wonder. It took out quite a few at that section.

We passed a young lad who was with an older woman. She could have been his mum but I got the feeling she was more his running buddy from a club. His head was down, shoulders slumped and he never looked up from the floor.

‘This is your hard part. This is you hitting that wall. You can do this though. We just keep on going. It doesn’t last.’ In the dead of the night you can hear what everyone says. Her tone was soothing, she wasn’t forcing him, she was encouraging. You knew that she knew what she was talking about.

Onwards we went. Following the glow sticks. For once in my life I hadn’t gotten lost. This was beyond amazing. I always have that moment of ‘have I gone wrong’ but not once in this race did I have that. Hallucinations yes, route detours no. Exhaustion was making me see all kinds of weird things. I was convinced I had my sun glasses on even though it was early hours of the morning. Then I was imaging an old school Mickey Mouse playing about in front of me (shadows from my imaginary sunglasses). Took a while to realise it was the way the head torch was sitting on my hat. And yes, I may or may not have taken Wonder Woman out my pocket and do a conversation with Mickey.

A while later the young lad who had been struggling sailed past me. And I mean sailed. He now had 2 women with him, both with the same tshirt which made me think running club. He was in high spirits now talking away to them. I wanted what he had had! Amazing!

Pit Stop 9 to Finish – 12.9km

If I’ve ever had a near death experience it was this race. That’s what it felt like. I couldn’t feel my hands at all. My back was in absolute agony. I kept losing Sarah as I had to keep stopping. I had had MORE than enough of the god awful conditions underfoot where the path was chalk – CHALK – and the ditches weren’t wide enough for your god damn feet. It never ended. Ever. Like ever ever. Ever!

I had been getting messages from a few friends and family encouraging me on which I really appreciated and helped me going. The cat memes and the ‘your almost there’ when I still had 15km to go, well, not so much, but still. My hands were so frozen I couldn’t work the phone to reply. It was awful. I needed the messages to keep me going but I hated being rude and not replying.

Pitch black, middle of a field alone and I could hear a noise. Or did I? God knows at this point. Nope, that was definitely a noise. What was that? Actually, does it matter? If it’s something that could kill me then this torture will be over because let’s face it, I have no energy to fight back. There it was again. Is it….?

Oh holy crap I know what that is! It’s me! I can’t see anyone in front me so I turn to make sure no ones behind me. Bloody typical! Been alone for so long and now there’s a group of head torches! What am I going to do??

Decision was very quickly taken out of my hands. I barely made it to the side of the track. I definitely was not sheltered in a bush.

And the problem with head torches? They light you up like a Christmas tree.

‘Are you ok?’

‘Em, yup, I’m fine thank you. Just eh, couldn’t wait any longer. Had to go’.

I refused to look up. I don’t need to know who saw more than one moon that night.

Having proved that now there definitely was not ‘More in me’ (stupid tag line for the race) I trundled on. Joe had planned to try and run up the track to meet me and help me do the last few km but he text to say the marshals weren’t letting him. I’m really gutted about this because I’ve since learned that quite a few people did do that and I really needed it.

I eventually came to the infamous loop. It is at this point I really let rip. Not with ‘stomach issues’ but with temper.

‘You’re doing absolutely fantastic it’s just up to the stones, back down to me, then to the finish’

‘Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!’

It was out before I could catch it. That poor marshal.

‘I’m just going to …..’. I tried to apologise but all that was coming out was ‘What the actual fuck is this fucking nonsense, I’m absolutely fucking dying here. I’m sick of this shit. Absolutely fucking sick of this shit.’

It was barely a whisper due to lack of energy but I really hope he didn’t hear it.

Up the hill – obviously – to the ‘stones’, and another tirade.

‘I don’t give a fucking fuck about your lumps of stone, I’ve been walking and running on your shitty chalk paths and trails for god damn hours. I want to stop!’

My stones picture pretty much sums it up.

Back down the path and back to the marshal. He had to help me up the step to get in to the field. I couldn’t lift my leg high enough by this point. At least this was my opportunity to apologise. ‘Oh don’t worry, I’ve heard worse tonight.’

That field went on and on and on. And it was wet. Never have I been so close to a finish line and still not known if I was going to finish. So many times my legs had wobbled and I had thought if I go down I won’t be physically able to get back up. Even in the last 20 metres I still didn’t know if I was going to cross that line.

There was no sprint finish, no arms raised, no rush of relief. There was just a brief smile and a hobble.

The cold took over instantly and my entire body started shaking uncontrollably. I begged Joe to get me home. I didn’t want to end 100km in the medical tent. I just needed to get warm. Because of this I missed getting the race t-shirt.

Home

So that’s it. I actually did it. And I wrote war and peace part 2 to remember it! Ha ha. It couldn’t have been done without the support of Joe and the kids being there. I may have covered the distance but my god it was a long and hot day for them.

The lows were deep – lonely pit stops, large chunks with no one to talk to, the pain and seeing other people struggling. But there were highs too. The signs Joe and the kids made, the messages from friends and family, the massage at base camp and the eventual finish line.

Would I do it again? I lasted 24hours saying absolutely fucking not. (I’ve discovered that at certain times, I do indeed, swear like a trooper.). I would want to do it with a friend though. Doing it alone was too much. Yes you meet people but running through the cold night, you need a friend.

So it’s rest for a few days whilst I contemplate where my route goes next. And it’s unfortunately a very long wait for a t-shirt. Sunday didn’t quite feel right hobbling about with out the justification blazoned across me.

Wonder when I can get out for a run again though?

What a Weekend

I don’t even know where to start with this.

Last year I stepped up my running and had a really good year. I wanted to do more this year but for Joe to do what he wants to do it wouldn’t be possible so I took a step back as he cranked it up. (And then of course I got injured and just wanted to crawl under a stone for the first half of this year).

Ironman 70.3 Stafford was his first race and although he was fighting fit he had a mechanical on the bike and was sat for over an hour at the side of the road waiting for the support vehicle. He had a good swim though and he finished the race with a good attitude.

Edinburgh was the big one. It was the one he had been training for over the winter months. We had both done it last year but this year he wanted to really nail it. Plus there were championship slots available – it would be hard but not impossible. As soon as he had his plan he signed up and I put myself down for volunteering.

I didn’t see a lot of him in the week leading up to the race and I will be honest, some of that was my choice! I’ve never spent so much time in the kitchen. Not cooking, don’t be silly. More looking at the saucepans and wondering just how loud the noise would be if I actually did clunk him round the head with one.

We stayed over in Edinburgh the night before. I was marshalling at the swim and had to be there for 6am so it gave some extra hours sleep and time to relax. My favourite movie was on the telly and there was red bull in the vending machine so I was literally like a pig in sh!t. Joe got the best nights sleep he’s had before a race ever so it was a real win.

Down at the swim I kissed him goodbye and wished him luck. I was soon put to work stopping people entering the swim exit. Part of me wanted to be right down at the swim but to be honest, all areas were good to be at. I got to shout and whoop and encourage the athletes on as they were a bit more ‘with it’ by the time they reached me. I was marshalling a cross over point and the lovely girl I was working with was from China. She didn’t really know what Ironman was and had volunteered as she was doing Sport and Science at University.

I had a great position to see Joe coming into T1 and true enough I spotted him straight away. He was shoulder to shoulder with Barclay, another Perth Tri Club member. Unfortunately I missed Sarah who was Frazers relay team swimmer but I caught all the others from the club and also Steven Bonthrone. What I really loved about volunteering was the smiles on some of the athletes faces when they went past to my very loud cheers that just read ‘I did it! I did the first part!’ You could see it plain as day on their faces. I loved it.

I did not love the next part. Driving by myself in to Edinburgh city centre. Nope. Not for me. But I had to stay strong. Many many deep breathes and I turned the engine on. I clicked on the sat nav. I slowly pulled out of the car park. This part was ok. This road I kind of know as it’s the marathon route. The roads are also quiet – probably because it’s 9:30am on a Sunday morning. Ok. I’m approaching the centre now. This means more turns. I can do this.

‘Road closed’

What the f@ck!!!! Ok don’t panic don’t panic. I turn left, then left again, then left again. And yup, you guessed it, left again. Road still closed. Come on!! I then go up a ridiculously steep hill (what is that with Edinburgh?!?) and can’t see where I’m going. So naturally I pull out in front of at least 3 cars then brace myself for an almighty smash. Thankfully doesn’t happen but I apologise if that was you.

Eventually I just dump it down a side street, spend 20 minutes trying to figure out how to drop a god damn pin on my google maps to tell me where the hell I’m parked before realising that I’ve got about 15 minutes to get to T2 before Joe gets there. And I’m wearing flip flops.

I take off down the hill and almost fall off the kerb that in gods honest truth is at least a meter high, phone in hand with Mrs Google telling me to turn right (well it wasn’t going to be left again was it). I turn right and see Holyrood right in front of me. Result! And here wasn’t even any tears!

I’m desperate for a wee but there’s no way I’m missing Joe coming in. I check the tracker again and do a little calculation. I soon realise that I really should do a maths course as Joe is at least half an hour away. This allows me time to pee though so it’s not a bad thing. I pop over to the finish line (after I’ve been!) to see if there’s anything I can do to help and grab a bottle of water. Then I head to the Bike In. Tracker in hand. Sun cream on. I’m in a great position. So is Joe though. He’s in front of Barclay. I can only imagine the friendly rivalry going on between them right now.

I start getting really nervous. He’s having a great race and as far as I can see there’s no issues. Everyone around is cheering but it’s a dull cheer. I’m nervously looking between my watch, the tracker and the road.

Then I see him.

Had I not been jumping around so much I probably would have gotten a better video but I really can’t help myself. I run up to the fence and across to where he’s coming out on the run where I catch him again. He’s still strong but the sun is now so hot. This is going to be tough for him.

Barclay comes through just minutes later and I catch Andy too, who by the way, completed The Celtman just 3 weeks earlier!! If you don’t know what that is look it up!

The run is 3 laps and when Joe comes back down I know instantly he’s not feeling great. I shout to him he needs to take on water. I’m a bit concerned at how he’s looking so I head further up the route to try and surprise him at a difficult climb and give him a boost. Everyone’s struggling. The heat is relentless and it’s a hard run. I lose count of how many times someone comments on how hot it is. I see Andy coming back down the hill. ‘I spy a Celtman!!’ I yell out at him. ‘This is harder!’ He shouts back.

Steven’s wife messages to say she is at T2 and I head back down. I see her on the other side of the finish chute. Joes on his last lap and I’m not going to miss him on the red carpet. I’m gutted I haven’t seen Frazer at all but I couldn’t get him on the tracker. It’s the only problem I had with it. At the finish and I see Barclays wife and daughters. He comes in not long after all smiles. It’s an anxious wait for Joe. This is ‘A’ race this year. He wants a qualifier spot which we know is going to be ridiculously difficult but not completely out of reach.

I see him before the commentator does and I start banging like crazy on the boards. He’s had a much better race than last years and Stafford. And this is in more difficult conditions. As soon as he’s across the line I head to the finishers tent.

Where I wait patiently for over an hour for him to appear.

This is clearly a part of the day that needs more planning. That’s all I’m going to say.

He’s done a tremendous job. He really did have a good race. Unfortunately he’s not finished in the top 10 of his category but it’s a hugely competitive category. Still. I convince him to wait around for the slot allocation. If nothing else he will get to know what happens and what more he needs to do.

There’s a few hours to chill out before the slot allocation begins. Not a bad thing lying on the grass after thousands and thousands of steps. Then we head in to the marque. The awards are read out first and Alicjia from the tri club gets second in her category.

They then start with the World Championships South Africa slots. It’s a very confusing situation – at least it is for me, but it involves maths, so that probably explains that! Joe goes up. Did she say there are 34 or 36 slots? There are 34 people standing up there. Oh my god I’m so confused what’s happening?! Another guy goes up. That’s 35. No!! What does this mean?

Well basically this means HE’S ONLY GONE AND GOT A PLACE!!

This was the goal. It was THE goal and he’s done it! Holy cow!

I have a slight panic attack as I know we have to pay just now for it but they ask for credit card and we don’t do credit cards. I’m still a bit dazed when his coach comes over and says there’s a group going so it will be good and I won’t be on my own etc. Thankfully they take any card. Well, for that amount of money, why wouldn’t they?

So that’s it. Off to South Africa in 2 months time. I never doubted even for a second he could do it but I don’t think I realised just how soon it would happen. The next couple of months are going to be intense but I can’t get over just how awesome this is. He’s worked hard for it but what an opportunity.

Guess I need to stop joking at him now that it’s ‘still not a marathon or an ultra’ as you have to admit this is somewhat better ha ha.

Everyday I’m Shufflin

The third race of the Championship and after having practically every single goalripped from under me so far this year, there was nothing stopping me from getting to that start line.

The finish line was going to be a whole different story.

The race didn’t start until 1pm (which I found very strange) so the morning was spent doing every glute and hamstring exercise and stretch possible in the hope I would at least get 5 steps before the pain kicked in. I even had porridge and banana. Oh yes. I was treating this as an all or nothing race.

Being a championship race there were a fair few green vests. The team photo wasn’t exactly a close up…..

The temperature was soaring and I considered wearing my hydration bag. I wasn’t joking when I said all or nothing! However the Marshall outside registration said the first water station was at 4.5km and the second at 8km so I left it with Joe.

The start was up a hill and knowing my goal was the finish line and not a speedy time I kept close to the back. We were given a timing chip anyway so I wouldn’t really lose anything (more on that later).

Off we went and straight up the hill. As we rounded the corner I saw a car and thought to myself ‘oh that’s quite nice, a bit like ours’. Yup, you guessed it. It was ours! The heat was getting to me already. I wasn’t interested in what my watch was saying for a change so I didn’t check my mile splits as I went. This meant no crazy maths problems to work out so I put my music on. I’ve gotten used to running without it in a race but I knew I was going to hurt in this one so I had pre-loaded lots of motivational tunes. Of course the down side to this is that I tend to sing along as if I’m auditioning for X-Factor and before I know it in my head I’m no longer running but performing the latest number one to a sell-out crowd at Wembley.

This does not help you run. This indeed prevents you running as you can’t sing and run at the same time. Fact. So all those music videos with the perfect body women running in glittery bra and pants with no wobbly bits or muffin rolls singing about feminism and how they don’t need a man? It’s all bull shit. Fact 2.

Any hoooo ….. I get to the fourth kilometre (yes, kilometre, it’s a 12km race so the signs are in km. How I managed to find such self control to not do crazy maths is amazing.) It’s hot and I’m thinking the water station is going to be there any second now. The legs are surprisingly holding up well and I’m only ‘uncomfortable’ as opposed to screaming in pain much akin to giving birth.

I’ve had 3 children. I have earned the right to say that!

The water stations not there though and it feels like I’m running a further 5 km before reaching it. I stop to take on the water very cautiously ensuring I am looking after myself. My legs start hurting that bit more when I start running again but Christina Aguilera does a good job of distracting me by belting out that I am indeed, a fighter.

Kristen from the club is beside me now and so is Steph. Usually I would use this to try and push harder with the pace but not today. Today is just sticking to the simple goal of the finish line.

And trying to ignore my backside which I swear is now acting like I’ve sat on a bed of spiky nails followed by a sun bed for 6 hours followed by being used as a punch bag by every boxer in the U.K. Yeah. Bit more than ‘uncomfortable’ now.

Last section and I know it ends going back up that bastard hill. Kirsten’s long gone and Steph goes past trying to encourage me on. ‘Come on last push’. I try for one step and very quickly regret it. I’m shuffling just fine here love. Stick around long enough and you may even see me crawl up this hill but by god I will get that finish line! Thanks for the encouragement though. 🙂

I see Joe and he knows. He saw this ‘ elite athletic form’ at the end of Manchester. Ah well.

Ok. Job done. There’s no need to elaborate anymore on this one.

We make a ‘quick’ visit to the toy shop for Oliver – who obviously has to look and play with every single toy in there before deciding on a bubble producing gun. Which in truth is absolutely awesome.

So I’m still on track for a championship medal at least. I won’t get top 3 but at least I will complete the challenge. My heart rate was ridiculously high so I’m expecting a lecture and stern talk from Mr Cardio when we discuss my MRI results.

And the exercises for my glutes and hamstrings are finally working now – that’s the furthest I’ve ran in a very, very, very long time. So that’s a positive as well. Just got to take it slowly. And maybe stop when the pain hits child birth proportions ha ha.

Manchester and the failed GFA

Manchester and the failed GFA

Ok. Let’s get this over with.

Manchester’s done. And no. I did not get my GFA.

This time.

So here’s how it went…..

We travelled down on the Saturday and surprisingly for me I didn’t make a big fuss about not going to Parkrun. We didn’t leave until 11am so I would have had plenty of time but Joe and I have had lots of ‘discussions’ on how much I’m running and I didn’t want another one. He didn’t want me running a marathon right now anyway and Mr Cardio wasn’t exactly in agreement so I didn’t push it. I could get a few miles in at the hotel at a more sensible pace.

It was a relaxed journey down. Probably a bit too relaxed at some points as I had been forcing the intake of water for the whole week and my bladder was now having a fit every 30 minutes. This meant many, many stops for what was meant to be a five hour car journey! The youngest however was in heaven with his new DVD player. Best money we’ve ever spent!

We pulled up at the hotel and instantly the regret was clear that I had stupidly been allowed to choose it. The couple in front had a solid 10 minute argument with the receptionist over her refusal to let them use the ‘spa’ (a word I use in the loosest of terms for that place!) until she finally agreed to get them a manager.

We gave our name and took our key. The receptionist asked if we would be having breakfast (it’s food – is that a real question?) . I asked what time it was at and she said it started at 8am. Hmm, that might be too late to get to the marathon so I asked if she knew how far away the start was.

‘Marathon? What Marathon?’

It was then our turn to be stood at the desk for 10 minutes. Not arguing. Just dumbfounded. I still don’t know what to say.

I put my things in the room and headed to the gym for a gentle few miles. After much googling and phoning of NASA I eventually figured out how to use their lockers. The ‘spa’ receptionist clearly having went through the same customer service training as the hotel one. In to the gym and the smell hit me like a tidal wave. Excuse the pun but it was clearly ‘run down’. The treadmill must have been older than god himself, I’ve never seen such a thing. I made a mental note to let the receptionist know that air conditioning has in fact been invented.

A quick dip in the pool after with Joe and Oliver, a quick tea and it was an early night.

We parked at the metro/train/moving vehicle station and it was an easy ride to the start. No traditional porridge for breakfast for me as we had had to leave at 7:30am but I was lucky to find a burger van selling bananas. If I wasn’t already married I would be now! Life saver!

In true Webley style we were late getting to the start so I couldn’t get close to my pen. This didn’t bother me too much as the same happened in Stirling. I would just have to chase down the 3:45 pacer and then stick to them like glue. A steady shuffle to the line and I was off. Within just a few hundred yards I spotted a fellow PRR and instantly felt better. I ran up to Caroline and turned round to wave manically as I went by before quickly realising running backwards in a crowd of people is not a good idea.

The first couple of miles is a loop and I was pleased to see Joe and Ollie so soon after starting. I thought they had headed to a cafe to get food so wasn’t expecting it. Big smiles all round.

Now. I don’t know what it is, but, when it comes to marathons, I always seem to have a ‘wardrobe’ issue for the first few miles. This race was no different. I wear 2 layered Adidas Climates. I love them. They are perfect. I have many of the exact same pair I love them that much. However, on this day, the outer layer had decided to pull right up. And I mean right up. Many a mile was spent pulling it right back down! Then my vest decided to pull up – exposing my belly. Oh the horror!! Seriously!! Parents were shielding their innocent child’s eyes as I went past – and I couldn’t blame them! Thankfully I was eventually able to sort the problem but to anyone that saw this, please accept my most humble apology.

Photo 5

Finally finding my stride I was just beginning to settle into the torture of what was 26.2 miles when my old demon came back to haunt me. If you’ve ever read any of my race recaps you will know that the element that is water has it in for me. Hands down it’s truly trying to kill me. Now, being Manchester is a road marathon with no rivers, lakes, swamps or such in sight I thought I would be safe. It wasn’t even raining!! But alas, no. It got me. Out of nowhere as well. Hit me smack in the face. How?

Water station.

A man on my right decided to reach ACROSS MY FACE for a bottle of water. The poor volunteer didn’t know what to do and so bang – literally all over me. Up my nose, in my eyes, down my legs. You sir, are a twat! That was it. His race bib was marked.

Moving on.

Not long after the water incident I felt it. I knew it was there. I knew it wasn’t going to go away. When it was still there after my sports massage a few days before I knew I was in trouble. But I hadn’t wanted to say it out loud because it would be that that would make it true. Now there was no getting away from it. I had no choice but to admit it. My hamstrings were tight. And this was already painful.

This was also only the fifth mile.

Stay positive. You never know what can happen.

I saw Joe and Oliver again. Clearly he was going for a race record of how many cheer spots he could make! I was impressed. Another smile and high five. Nice.

Trying to ignore the hamstrings I battered on. There’s a section where you turn back on yourself and you can see who’s behind you so I concentrated on spotting Caroline. I couldn’t see her and just as I looked down at my feet, debating if I had 26 miles in me I heard her screaming my name. It couldn’t have been at a better time!

On to the section where the front runners are now running towards you I start looking for Garry, also from PRR. There’s a women on my left screaming every single name as they go by. It’s nice at first. For the first 2 to 3 minutes. Not for 5 minutes solid. I am now desperate to see Garry just so I can shout louder and longer than her! Game on love!

‘Jesus Christ, someone tell her to shut the f@ck up!’.

No that didn’t come from my mouth. But I did whole heartedly agree with him. As did many, many others. And unfortunately, I didn’t see Garry.

On I trundled and couldn’t help but notice the number of properties up for sale. It didn’t seem that run down a place, how odd. The signs were odd as well. Not like your usual For Sale signs. Must be an English thing.

Joes at mile 17 and as I see him I cross over to go say hi. I go to stop and very quickly realise if I do I may not continue on so I very, very slowly go past and tell him my hamstrings have gone. He knows this already of course. He just didn’t want to say it.

I round the corner and there’s a man with a microphone. I can’t hear what he says at first but then I hear him loud and clear.

‘Think about why you’re doing this. Think of the many, many people who want to do what you’re doing but can’t. Do it for them!’

At this point I well up. He has a very accurate point. I should be grateful I am here running at all. I was very close to being pulled from doing this. Just be thankful Ella.

Mile 18 and although I’m still in pain I’m feeling in good spirits after that blast of reality. Ok so I wasn’t getting my 3:45 but I had had time before coming down to accept it, even if I didn’t actually admit it. I could still get under 4hrs. That’s the new goal. I glance at my watch and do a quick calculation.

Hold on. 8 miles left to go. I’ve been running for 2hrs 45. I can do 8 miles in an hour.

I can do this!!

I try to push on harder whilst floating on this cloud that has now appeared under me. I might actually get my GFA – Oh My God!!

Somehow in my head the number 8 was being replaced with the number 6. I blame the water incident. It knocked the numbers around.

And don’t worry. It wasn’t long before I realised my maths was indeed wrong again.

Time to put the music in. (I skipped The Greatest Showman. This wasn’t his moment.)

Mile 25 and it just took forever. I swear it must have been at least 3 miles long! I reckon Manchester stretched it out ‘just to be sure’. Bastards.

Coming up to mile 26 and I start vibrating. Who the hell is phoning me? I look at my phone.

‘I’m a bit busy dad what is it?’.

‘The feeds not working – are you not finished yet?’.

‘No dad. I’m not finished yet. I’m at mile 26.’

If nothing else it gave the runners around me a laugh.

Jesus Christ where is that god damn finish line?!? I’ve been staring at the blue archway for 6 years! It’s NOT getting any closer!!

I hear my name being shouted at the side just as I’m debating whether or not to do a sit down protest about how long this final straight is. Just smile and keep going. Keep going.

4:14:08.

Yes ladies and gentleman. That is a SOLID 30 minutes behind target time. I give you, the failed GFA Run. *takes a bow

To add insult to injury I am forced to hobble a further 10 miles to collect my medal and finally a bottle of water.

Who’s doesn’t have water AT the finish line?!?

I waddle past a stand with a loud speaker, protein shakes and an ice bath.

Ooooh. Ice bath.

Should I?

No. You’re by yourself. You’ll look like a twat.

But….

I hobble back and join the very short queue.

I keep my socks on. The public has already seen my belly today, they definitely don’t need to see my feet on top of that! There are 2 separate baths so you go in 2 at a time. It’s only for 45 seconds but it’s ice. I gingerly step forward after watching all the grown men jumping about. I step in. Another guy steps in the other one.

We sit down and they start the clock. He starts shivering straight away and looks like he’s having a fit. I wait for it to hit me. I take a quick video before it gets too much.

But what is this? This is awesome! It feels sooooo good!!

The other guy jumps out.

’15 seconds’ is shouted out. ‘Can I take his spot’ laughs someone else.

I’m just sitting there. Relaxed. Loving it. This is almost better than…..

’45 seconds love, you’re done.’

I don’t really want to get out.

I walk over to my trainers and that’s when I crumple. ‘Oh my god it’s so bad when you get out!!’.

I grab my beer, get my photo taken at the wall, refuse to fist pump as let’s face it that was a miserable time, and find Joe and Oliver. Manchester done.

Eyes Open

So no. It was not meant to be. I didn’t do it. I failed. Woe is me and all of the other sad things that can be said. Reality is though that anything can happen and Manchester just wasn’t ‘my time’ (oh that’s cold!). I’ve learnt from it though and that’s what makes it NOT a failure. I also had no issues with my heart and that’s a huge bonus!! The words of the man with the mic rang clear as day – I’m lucky I can run. I’ve ran 5 marathons. No I didn’t hit my goal but that just makes my journey longer. Unsurprisingly I already have a plan to get there. And this time it’s not just me. I have enlisted some help. And I have no choice but to listen to it. I will get to London Marathon.

Oh, and just to clarify, there weren’t actually a huge number of properties for sale – the area was called Sale.

My bad.