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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Punch To The Gut

Joe hasn’t been training as late due to not being well but now that we have a diagnosis for him and treatment has started things have been looking up for him.  So with that in mind I suggested we both go to the tri clubs swimming session last week.  To my surprise he agreed so I sorted child care (faithful Nanny to the rescue again) and searched for my swimming costume.  I couldn’t find the usual one I wear so had to grab my spare.  This would mean that instead of looking like an 8 year old little boy I was going to be paranoid over yet another camel toe situation.   The question remains – how can someone as small as myself have an ongoing issue with camel toes?

I don’t actually get a camel toe from said costume.  It’s just that, to me, it’s extremely high cut and therefore makes me feel very, very self conscious.  I reasoned with myself that once I was in the water it would be fine as no one would be able (or even want to) be looking in that area anyway.  I would just be the first in the water and the last out.  Job done.

On Wednesday’s the faster group swims first and the slower/not so fast/people like me who clearly have lane issues swim second.  So I sat at the side with another from my group – also called Jo but no ‘e’ – watching the first group and their coached session.

They swam a few lengths for warm up then headed down the deep end.  This is intriguing I thought as I babbled away to Jo about my stroking of another person on Monday, near death experience from ‘attack of the pug’ and the issues us women have of swimming costumes.  We chatted away occasionally glancing up at the deep end (we were monitoring but some of these swimmers are full Ironmen – not your typical parent I see at the pool holding their kids heads under the water to teach them a lesson (true story – you wouldn’t believe what I see at work!).

I’m talking away to Jo and as I look to the deep end to try and figure out what their session is I suddenly see the strangest thing.   Did I…..are they….no, I’m not seeing this right….really?

Yup.  I am indeed seeing this right.  They are practising floating.  I teach this to kids?  Really?  Well, ok, I can see some benefit to ensuring you are comfortable in the water and you get the feeling of being in control etc.  I find it quite tranquil actually so I begin to look forward to doing it in my session.

I get changed and jump in when it’s time to switch over and warm up.  The plan going well that no one can see my costume.  When I’m done I glance at the board.  It has been scrubbed and the tranquil session I thought I was about to have has been replaced with arm drills.  Hmmf.  Still.  Could be worse.  At least it isn’t leg drills.  We set off and complete the drills – hard at first until I get used to the feeling of swimming really slow but concentrating on my arms.  Drills done we congregate at the pool end again and the coach explains what we are about to do.

Get in to pairs and split the lane.  First person in the pair sprints 50m whilst the other climbs out and planks at the side until they finish.  She wants us to work on our core.  I hesitate, bearing in mind I’m wearing a costume I’m pretty sure would give a Kardashian a run for their money on inappropriateness.  This is uncomfortable.  I try not to draw attention to it and decide the best plan of action is to immediately get down in the plank position.  This however comes with it’s own set of issues.  A swimming costume does not hold ANYTHING in.  I try to ‘suck in my stomach’ but gravity clearly has the upper hand and starts messing with my head.  So now I am not only trying to prevent any wardrobe mishaps and end up looking like a desert animal who holds probably about the same amount of water as I am at this moment but I’m also trying to prevent my stomach from dangling down in a very slime like action.

How come the other group got FLOATING?!?!?  Bloody floating!!  Fat floats – I can float!!

Joes at the side in hysterics.  This is the last time I try and encourage him to get back in to working out.  Stuff it.  Let him get fat.  Then I won’t look like an oozing puddle of fatness at the side of the pool.

The planks turn in to squats and then press ups.  I turn in to a heap on the floor.  At one point I pretty much gave up and just had a nap whilst Jo pushed herself through what was now feeling like an impossible 50m sprint swim because all of our arms were dead.

They got floating!!

Session over and I now no longer care about any animal or Kardashian and just feel sorry for myself.  I thought my core was not bad but this just proved it’s not good.  The following couple of days confirmed this.  I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.  Although weirdly enough just on one side.  A colleague offered to even that up for me the next day.  I declined and stopped moaning about it so much ha ha.

So there you go.  Try and do a good thing by encouraging your partner to get back in the swing of things and you end up getting put through the pain mill.

I will of course be trying that session again.  Naturally.  I’m not letting basic exercises like that get the better of me.  I will however NOT be wearing the spare costume but will instead be covered neck to knee with the strongest spandex swim suit I can find.  Trust me, no one needs to see that ha ha.

 

 

The Belly’s Gonna Get You

Ok 10 days – 10 solid days.  24 hours in each of them and I didn’t run once.  Not once.  I even dramatically cut down my steps every day aided by the fact I was teaching and not on pool side for 3 of those days.  Surely that was going to be long enough to get rid of the issue in my butt.

The day was set.  Schools were off (are they ever on?!) and my mum was having Oliver so I could get out and get it done.  10 miles.  That’s my aim.  This is going to be BRILLIANT!  10 pain free miles, including hills, pushing on the down hill cause I love to scare myself and almost fall (not so great when a little pee comes out but hey, it happens).  The route was planned.  I would catch up on all the miles I had missed in those very long 10 days.

Then my mum said she was staying in town so running to her house didn’t really work.  Ok.  No problem.  Different route then.  Hmm.  Well, to be honest, 10 miles might be pushing it.  Probably not the best idea to push that out just in case it pushes me back and deem the rest completely pointless.  Ok.  Up the river then.  And it feels good I ‘could’ always add on the extra (and by could I obviously mean I’m 100% doing 10 miles but trying to fool myself that I am not).

Oliver happily waddles off with his Nanny having not seen her in a little while.  Lucie (my daughter) has only just got out of bed in that typical ‘I’m a teenager I need to sleep’ state.  Ok.  T-shirt and shorts.  Where’s my shorts?  WHERE’s my shorts! HOW do your clothes go missing so quickly when you don’t wear them?  For goodness sake!  Can’t find them and the other pair are currently swirling round the washing machine.  Sake.  Ok,  I will try out my new adidas leggings.  Oooohh these are nice!  Little bit camel toe but no one should be looking there! Really comfy though (not the camel toe part, I can’t feel that, just looks like that).

Garmin on and I opt for music instead of a pod cast because this WILL be a great run!  It’s going to be all flying through the air with grace and speed.  There may even be rainbows.  Off I go.  Yup.  It’s awesome!  I feel great.  Little tricky breathing but that will settle down.   Pants appear to be falling down though (thank goodness I don’t run in a skirt).  I discreetly try to pull them back up – and by discreetly I mean I ram my hand down and yank them up so I now have a thong to go along with my camel toe.  I’ve opted for along the river which is flat because I know I love it further up.  I get to one km (this used to be my original 5km route when I started running so I know where every kilometre is ha ha).  Hmm, stomach is a bit funny.  I did do my pre run visit though so all should be good.  Maybe it’s just the Trek bar I had last night, it had chocolate on the top.  I get to a mile and have to stop.  I have to stop!  Nope, this definitely isn’t just a bit of chocolate.  It’s one mile!  Come on!

Ok back off running.  That was just a blip, ignore it.  8mins 20 for your first mile is still better than what you have been doing.  Half a mile more and my stomach is cramping.  What the actual hell.  Nope nope nope I will run it off!  No no no you won’t Ella!  I’m stopped at mile 2 again.  Every single human in the world is now looking at me wondering if I even know how to run as I am spending more time resting than actually moving.  Even those at their desks working away can see me and are just staring.  Paranoid much.  Ok get moving.

Mile 3 and I have to sit down.  Head in my hands.  Curled up in a ball.  I check my phone to see if Joe is nearby.  Dunfermline.  He sends me a photo of the golden post box.  I choose not to tell him I am out running and in need of a lift home due to a sore stomach.  I consider phoning my mum but I know I could get home faster by myself.  Do I really want to walk though?  Am I honestly going to walk when I should be running?   Not a chance.  I stand up and realise I have of course sat in mud and now look like I have poo’d myself.   Just another thing to add to the list.  Fantastic.  What’s next?  My sports bra breaks?  Let’s not joke about these things.

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3.5 miles and it’s another stop as I’m convinced I’m about to throw up.  The smell from the abattoir is most certainly not helping.  Note to self, if you ever learn how to run again don’t come along the river anymore.  It is actual death.  Although if someone could kill me now I’m not sure I would object.

Onward’s I go in my camel toe, pants falling down, mud that looks like poo on my bum state of athleticism.   Aren’t I setting the perfect picture example to all around.  (Which thankfully is no one even if I do think I’m on the Truman Show – is that a camera on that tree?).  I’m stopping constantly but my goal is 4 miles and then I will walk home.  2 miles is too far not to run so I force myself to go to 5 miles switching tactics and putting a pod cast on.  It’s a guy that has walked across the Antarctic in 54 days unsupported.  Well don’t I feel bloody pathetic!  I’ve stumbled to 4 miles and am doing the whole ‘I can’t go on’.  Suck it up.  I plod along eventually making it to 5 miles, pace has gone out the window – obviously – and keep going to stop and walk but instead….just keep going.  Stubbornness.  Pure stubbornness.

I get home and lie down straight away.  Lucie asks if she should phone Nanny.  What a mess!  I tell her no it’s just a little sore stomach, nothing much.  ‘I thought it was your legs that hurt mum?’

My legs!  I haven’t felt my legs – or my butt – at all!  Well just a little in the hamstring but nothing really.  But then to be fair I wasn’t exactly running.  So it wasn’t really a good test.  Still, I’m taking that as a positive.

So that was that.  My first run after 10 days rest which should have been all rainbows and smooth flying but was instead cramping soreness with god only knows what going on with my bottom half – no leg or butt pain though!

Who said running was boring?

From Viaduct to Nelson Mandela

I’m currently sat with a chesty cough that I quickly learned you can’t run with by the way (pace was really slow yet heart rate through the roof – an interesting feeling for me ha ha).   So I’ve been doing a little ‘thinking’.  And yes, my head now hurts, but that’s just something else to add to the collection.

I’ve been thinking about adventure.  And as bad as I could claim this year to be – injured from March, bum still hurts, hamstrings still bad, didn’t achieve GFA, didn’t get London, a few DNS – there has also been a few adventurous experiences in there.

Manchester. Ok so it didn’t turn out to be the London qualifier I was hoping for but it was a marathon ‘technically’ in another country. It involved travelling and education as I learned that no I wasn’t running through an area where no one wanted to live and was selling up but an area simply called ‘Sale’. Still find that weird though.

Ireland. No official race but does it have to be? I got to run for fun past one of my Bucket List places to go – The Titanic museum. And thanks to that I discovered the back of the museum which had the layout of the magnificent ship. I also had my first proper fall there when running and returned to the apartment bleeding and with a broken phone. Good memories.

Race To The Stones. The initial plan was to run the entire 100km straight through. Then I was hit even worse with the injuries and couldn’t run a step without pain. Mr Cardio was not so secretly pleased. I tried every single profession possible to find a solution – including a podiatrist (lovely man, Alistair Dall). I reluctantly changed my entry to complete it over 2 days. Clutching at straws but I was definitely in the ‘go hard or die trying’ camp by then. Even my physio had that look of ‘it’s not happening’ but she gave me lots of advice and understood my need. When I reached base camp half way through the race I changed my mind and pushed through. My challenge was to do it in one day, not two. It was pointed out to me a couple of months later how insane it was to just decide to start another 50km running at 5’o’clock at night. I learned so so much from completing my goal that day.

South Africa. I ran the Nelson Mandela Fun Run. Never will there be a cooler name of a race. Enough said.

50th parkrun. 2018 was the year I hit 50, and I’m not talking looks. I teamed up with my friend Lorner for a few and I completely removed the stress of going for a PB. I don’t care if it affects my average or any of that, that’s not my focus. I’ve kind of fallen out of love with my local parkrun though so I’m going to try some tourism.

Aberfeldy Middle Distance Relay. Ginnie was the swimmer (4th relay team out the water I believe) Joe was on the bike (sub 3hrs!) and I ran the half marathon at the end. It took me 2 hours and was no performance to be shouting of – we dropped places once I started running – but we all had fun. Would definitely do a relay again. Wouldn’t attempt to make porridge in a flask again though. Nope. Can still hear the gloopy sludge of the spoon being sucked in.

Glen Ogle 33. Loved, loved, LOVED everything about this race! From speeding up to register the night before and discovering Lorner gets travel sick, the pack lunch she brought me, seeing a friendly face at the start line, another at the bottom of what felt like a waterfall I had just ran down to the surprise of Joe and the kids finding me on the trail with just 3 miles to go. My second ultra of the year. And I got to run over a viaduct! A viaduct!  Well worth it.

Did I get any PB’s last year? No. Did I get slower? Definitely. Did I die though? No.

I didn’t manage to complete any of the road runners series and I’ve not won any awards. (I did get a nomination for club personality which genuinely put a grin on my face) but no medals or trophies this year. I’m also not doing Marcothon because I can remember how miserable that made me feel. A Christmas Day run is on the calendar though.

Next year starts with a return to my first ever triathlon – the New Years Day Tri. That’s just for fun. It also has more ‘adventurous’ running. It would be very easy to feel depressed about what I didn’t do this year but what’s the point, it won’t change it. I will get London one day. I will continue to run past places on my bucket list. And I will continue to try and not drown and not fall off my bike.

xx

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?

Sticks and Stones

In just a few days I will be a broken woman.  (Nothing new there then for 2018!)

No, jokes aside, in 3 days I am going to be running in the only goal race that I have managed to hold on to this year.  But one is better than zero.  And it’s a biggie!

100km.  62 miles.  And it doesn’t finish at Stonehenge. You’ve no idea how disappointed I was when I figured that one out (much to Joe and my fathers amusement).

Q. Why call it Race To The ‘Stones’ then? Hmmf

The injuries lifting and I’m running again. I’ve lost so much speed and it’s really dis-heartening but at least for this challenge speed isn’t what I need. It’s discipline. The dreaded discipline of running sensibly, efficiently, listening to your body.

It’s been a long time since I did something that has had me this anxious and worried. But if it doesn’t scare you it’s not worth it? Well I’ve been needing a constant change of underwear every time I’ve thought about this so consider me well and truly scared.

I don’t know what it is that has me like this though. It doesn’t make sense. I’m back running. It’s an ultra so it’s got nothing to do with time, just the finish line. There’s no clock watching on this run. I’ve read many, many comments and the mantra is always ‘run the flats and walk the hills – conserve energy’.

Is it the fact I’m by myself for 100km? All my training runs are done alone. And I will admit, recently I’ve been feeling very lonely. I don’t have a ‘group’ or a ‘squad’ helping me along when it’s hard. And sometimes it’s been really hard. But most my running has been like that. I occasionally go out with Lorner (after which we congratulate ourselves with copious amounts of wine ha ha) but not that often. We have different running plans. I used to have my lunch time running buddy but then life changed. I like running alone, it’s my head space time, but maybe too much head space is bad for you?

As for the idea of camping at base camp over night by myself with hundreds of strangers, not knowing a soul? Well I would definitely say that’s a contributing factor. But it’s not it entirely.

It’s maybe the thought of failure. The very real possibility of hundreds of reasons why I could not make it.

  1. It’s bloody far
  2. My training has been to pot thanks to being bloody injured
  3. I failed at Manchester
  4. I had issues at Loch Katrine
  5. I have no speed in my legs at all
  6. I got pulled from the Highland Fling so what makes me think I can do this?
  7. It’s hot. So damn hot. Like the sun has forgotten that Scotland is a no fly zone, restricted area, do not pass Gretna Green, do not collect £200! Go back to England! (Oh wait, that’s where I am)
  8. I don’t know the area – bloody Stonehenge my arse

That’s just 8. There’s many more. And no doubt some that include water issues!

See if I drown doing this run!!

Truth be told I’m quite glad I have found something that scares me this much and is keeping me awake the last couple of weeks. It’s that weird thrill you get. That ‘oh my god am I actually doing this? I cry every time I think of it!’ But then a song comes on your playlist, or on the radio, or in a shop (it’s happened, don’t judge) and you just break out in a ‘hell yeah I can DO this!!’.

And that’s usually followed by being asked to leave the shop as your fist pumps and dancing is scaring the other customers.

However. The Greatest Showman is back on my playlist. As is my go to song (The Script – Hall Of Fame, chest pumps every damn time). And I’m picturing myself at the finish line. Not that I know what it looks like anymore.

Will I make it? Who knows at this point. I bloody want it though! How long is it going to take me? Absolutely no idea – have you ever ran 100km? Me neither.

But soon. I will have.