Race To The King 2019

Race To The King 2019

What a weekend I’ve had!

Saturday was Race To The King – this years ‘A’ race for me. I had to do better than Race To The Stones last year. That race was my wake up call. A true learning into the world of long distance running.

The original plan was to start the 500 mile journey at about 4am on Friday. This meant I could pack Thursday after work and take my time. Then Joe threw a spanner in the works and suggested/decided we were leaving as soon as I finished on Thursday. Now. I may have had a list but I hadn’t checked it so this made me a little stressed (and naturally I spent all day moaning about it because that helps).

We rented the campervan we had used in Skye giving us ample room so I launched everything I could think of in it. Dropped the kids at my parents and started down the road.

Usually the kids would come with us but I was in such a state after The Stones Lucie was a little unnerved so we decided against it.

We drove a few hundred miles then kipped in the camper before setting off again. I had picked out a camp site for the night but hadn’t had a reply from them so I spent much of the journey on the phone talking to their answer machine. I knew they had to answer at some point though so I wasn’t worried.

Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race before now but noticed on the gps we were heading close to where his side of the family were. A couple of messages later and we took a slight detour to go and have lunch with them. Nothing quite beats seeing the youngest member of the tribe, a cousin on her birthday or a grandad who was on top form with his jokes. My face hurt from laughing so much.

It really was a flying visit though so after stocking up on chocolate biscuits (thanks aunty) we headed onwards to refuel the camper. At this point I eventually got through to the campsite. ‘Ah sorry we are full, there’s an event on’ they tell me. Oh no. ‘I can give you a number for another one though, it’s only 5 minutes up the road’. Phew. He gives me the number and the post code, a very helpful guy. I look at the post code. Hmm. I check the area code. Cambridge. I’m pretty sure Cambridge isn’t that close to Arundel. I google it. Shit. I’ve been phoning the wrong god damn campsite all day!! I quickly find the right one and beg for their last pitch. They agree to let it to us as long as it’s one night only. On to the campsite. The right one this time.

As we pulled in to our spot it was abundantly clear by the numerous tanned-to-an-inch-of-their (not very long left now) life’s other campers that not many younger folk stay there. Not that that bothered us – we weren’t exactly there for an all-night rave. Would have liked less staring though. God how they stared!

Early night before an early start though so it was roof up and curtains closed after our pasta and non-alcoholic apple and mango wine. (Not buckfast as someone thought ha ha)

 

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In the morning I had what turned out to be the most luxurious shower of the weekend (I actually had to shower at a service station!) It was already warm so I chose vest and shorts and got the rest of my gear together. I had as much of the porridge and banana as I could stomach and then we were off on the short drive to the start. Once there I made a bee line for the info tent. Last year I didn’t know about the temporary tattoos so this time around I was making sure I got them. I slapped the elevation one on my forearm whilst Joe kept slapping me with sun cream despite my protests of ‘its only 7:30am! I don’t need it yet’.

 

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Then it was over to the start line. The pen was already that full it was overflowing. I had no intention of trying to squeeze in so I ended up being one of the very last from my wave to go over the official start line. Unfortunately that made for a very slow first few miles. However. What’s missing from my story so far?

Tears.

There were no tears. Yes I was nervous but I hadn’t given myself enough time to get really worked up at the start. We had parked, walked in, tattoo’s and sun creamed up then I was off. No messing, no waiting.

Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race so he didn’t know where he was going to see me or where he could get to me. I had given him all the postcodes but with my lack of geographic anything I could have given him a postcode from the highlands! (I did spot the mistake with the camp site though!). The only thing I knew was he that he was going to see me at check point 2. The rest he was playing by ear.

The chat around me from the start was fantastic. I fell in step just behind 3 guys who were chatting away about anything and everything. One of them mentioned he had started cycling to work. Nice, me too. He had worked out it was saving him £8 in petrol but he was eating more than £8 in food because of it. This had me laughing out loud. But he made a fair point.

 

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Check point 1 and I had to put a blister plaster on. I could feel that burning starting already. And definitely not in a good way. What I haven’t mentioned is that my big toe nail fell off a few days before the race. Not what you need before a double marathon! So I knew I was going to have issues. I gave Joe a quick phone to see how he was getting on. He told me to get plastered up and eat something. ‘I’m eating my trail mix, I’m good.’ I told him. He proceeded to tell me I needed more calories than that and to eat something better. I proceeded out of the checkpoint and didn’t listen.

A mile later and I was getting light headed. Should have eaten something better than trail mix. Damn it.

Mile 10 and the hill was vertical. Why are all hills so steep? You never get a nice tumbling hill. It’s always a vertical climb. And this was only 10 miles in. Sake. Up to the top and it kind of evened out a little. That’s to say it was more smaller hills than vertical climbs. The terrain was really difficult and I lost count of how many people I saw trip and fall and roll their ankles. This was not a speedy run.

My calves were feeling tight already so I made a mental note to put the compression sleeves on at the next check point. Joe text to say he was already there. As I came down the hill towards it all I could see was the ruddy great hill behind it I would need to go up. Fantastic. Then ‘crack’. Suddenly my heart skipped a beat and I was falling to the side. Too busy looking at the hill in front of me I had misplaced my footing and rolled my ankle.

‘It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, doesn’t hurt, doesn’t hurt, does not hurt’.

I’m pretty sure that’s every runners mantra when they fall or hurt them selves. Tell yourself it didn’t happen! Thankfully, that seemed to work, and I was able to carry on running. I did then have a huge debate with myself about whether I had ‘heard’ a crack or ‘felt’ a crack and if I had felt it does that mean you subconsciously hear it too?

This ladies and gentleman, is what now goes through my brain on long runs. Crazy maths has now been replaced with just plain crazy thoughts.

When I got in to the check point I sat down to put my sleeves on and Joe started slapping me with the sun cream again. I protested at first but then he put it on my ears and since they were already burnt it hurt! Thing number 2 he was right about. Unusually for me I grabbed a caramel wafer bar. This was risky. Very risky! They have chocolate on them and Ella and chocolate do not go! No sir-ee. And out on a 54 mile run is most definitely not somewhere I want to be when I have a serious case of the runs! (Let’s not sugar coat this, facts are facts). Still. It’s what I seemed to be craving so I rolled the dice and took the chance. Hell my ankle had rolled and I was fine so maybe this will be 2 out of 2.

As soon as I got the sleeves on I was up and off again. Putting tight compression on elephant legs that are already sweating is not an easy job let me tell you! Mental note – buy the next size up – or, better still – put them on at the start.

Up the hill I went, all the time waiting for that ‘uh oh’ moment from the chocolate. It was bound to happen at some point so I kept scanning for bushes or rocks. Quite a good distraction as I was at the top sooner than I thought I would be. The last section I walked with a guy who was struggling with a stitch. He had been running with another bloke but was worried he was holding him back. He was in good humour though and gave very convincing cries of ‘go on without me. I will be ok. Think of me at the finish line. Name your first born after me’. By this time his friend was well out of ear shot but he was certainly entertaining me.

 

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Naturally, when we got to the top, we then had to run down. It was now my turn to provide the entertainment as I involuntarily started humming and singing my way down. I’ve come to realise when I’m nervous as hell, this is what I do to calm down. I don’t go full belt karaoke style – that’s saved for car journeys – but I sing a little tune to keep me steady. It’s usually met with some very weird looks and raised eyebrows. Plus the occasional ‘are you ok?’ Ha ha.

 

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And then back up we went. A steep mother of a hill at mile 20 is most definitely not what you want but this wasn’t even half way. Man up Ella you’ve not even ran a marathon yet! When I got the top I saw what you usually see at the top of corbetts and Munro’s. Have I just ran/walked up a bloody Corbett? Are you joking me?! Do you get corbetts in England? Or are they a scottish thing? Am I in England or Scotland? Or is this Wales? Definitely need to do the 3 peak challenge soon.

I’m telling you. Crazy thoughts.

 

 

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Once the hill had been sumitted (yes, sumitted, it was huge, it had a sumit) it was on to base camp. The plan was to be out of there by 1pm and I was well on track. Base camp wasn’t half way so I was very conscious not to treat it as if it were. I filled up my water, grabbed another chocolate bar (what are you doing???) and phoned Joe.

He wasn’t there yet. Hadn’t expected me to get there quite so soon. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little smug. He said he was just about to park up and get changed as he had planned to run a little with me. I took a few photos and waited around a little.

And waited.

10 minutes later I phoned him again. I wanted to get going. I knew the major mistake I had made at the Stones was the amount of time spent at the pit stops. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. He was just at the camper so he told me to carry on and he would catch up with me.

 

I was out of basecamp on track.

 

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Within seconds he caught up with me. Handed me a few things and seemed genuinely impressed I was doing ok. He didn’t run too far with me as he had to double back to get the camper but it was nice nonetheless.

Pit stop 4 was just after – you guessed it – another great big ruddy hill. This one was weirdly entertaining. I had fallen in step with a guy who was also running solo but was quite a character. He said that once we were up this hill it was pretty much flat or down hill the rest of the way. I looked at him. Then I looked at the tattoo on my arm. Then I looked at him again. And pointed to my arm. ‘Erm, I don’t think it is’ I said to him.

‘Yeah it is’. He said. Followed by ‘do you know where we are? I think we are on Butser Hill but I’m not sure?’. He then asked a couple of people walking down the hill. They laughed. Rather worryingly. ‘Oh no sir, it’s not downhill to Winchester. Or at all.’

‘Lie to me’ he begged them – genuinely begged them. It was hilarious. His comedy honestly got me up that hill.

At the pit stop I refilled with water and carried on. And no. It did not feel downhill after that.

At pit stop 5 Joe met me again. It was time for more blister plasters. Now I apologise if you’re squeamish but truth of the matter is my feet were in pretty bad shape before the run so 37 miles in they weren’t going to be a bed of roses! I had blisters escaping out of the plasters that were already there and many, many more making an appearance. I pretty much looked like I had 10 toes on each foot. I decided the best course of action was to DNF right there and then. You can’t run with feet like that. That’s just stupid.

Ha, yeah right! I slapped on more plasters, wedged my feet back in to my trainers and carried on. Ignorance is bliss. Albeit a little painful.

I also had another chocolate bar. I mean what more could happen right?

More hills. More heat. Another very, very, very close encounter with the ground and the fastest I had moved the entire run (don’t you just love that scary quick movement forward when you trip?) and I get to checkpoint 6. It’s at this point I’m thinking my goal of finishing in the daylight might actually be achieved. I need to keep going though. Usually by now I’ve developed an old woman’s hobble that gets worse with every walk break. Thankfully that hasn’t appeared.

Joe tells me he won’t see me at the next checkpoint as he’s going straight to the finish to park then going to double back and run the last bit with me.

 

 

Pit stop 7 and the only thing I do is stop to take a photo and carry on. I’m getting to that finish before the sun sets. I make a comment about the sound of the crickets to other runners around me. ‘They’re bloody loud aren’t they?’ I say. ‘Eh, that’s not crickets love, that’s an electric fence. Don’t you go touching it now.’

I’m honestly just there to provide entertainment at these things.

 

It’s not easy but I’m running so much more than I expected I would be. I’m wearing my garmin but I’ve not been obsessed with it and I think that’s helping. I’ve also been trying to track Kev and Gillian – the couple who gave me a lift to Glen Lyon. They are doing the West Highland Way which is 95-98 miles! Only in the world of ultras can you be ‘one upped’ on a 53.5 miler ha ha.

Joe is surprised at how quickly I get through the last pit stop. He thought the race would take me between 13 and 14 hours, maybe longer. I have slowed quite a bit but I’m still on a for a good time – at least for someone like me. I see him soon after and he falls in step with me quite easily. I had been worried that I would be really irritable by this point and get annoyed with him but it’s going great. He chats away to everyone around including the supporters at the side who had run past to come and meet me. In the last couple of miles I keep asking him ‘how far now? How far now?’.

Eventually I see the 1 mile to go sign – utter relief. He speeds off at the last little bit so he can catch me crossing the line.

A guy goes past me. I don’t care. Then we turn the corner and the finish is right there. Stuff it.

Sorry mister but I’ve somehow got a little left in these legs so I’m speeding up to the finish! I go past him and whisper ‘sorry’. It’s not exactly a sprint finish but it’s not a walk! Not a stumble!

Oh but it might be! What the hell are these?? Bloody STEPS right before the finish – what the actual hell!! I’m pulling a face before I can remind myself there’s a photographer there. Oh yeah. He got a right good one! I expect to see that on a wall of fame.

I’m done! It’s daylight! It’s still bloody daylight! 12hrs and 23 minutes. Yes sir I most definitely WILL take that! 8pm finish! Get in!!

 

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A quick bite to eat and we then hobble over to the King Alfred statue. I can’t not get a photo of that. I will show it to Albert on the Inch back home on my next run ha ha.

I upload my data and start to get messages through. I get a really nice one from Sarah who I ran with at the stones last year which is just absolutely lovely. What a difference from then though! No hallucinations, no freezing cold, no 25 minute miles because I can barely walk. Amazing.

This weekend was a blast from start to finish. Getting that extra boost from seeing family the day before, Joe being an absolute star supporting me through out, chocolate not giving me any ‘issues’ but giving me calories when I needed it and the fabulous people I met en route through out. I can’t wait to complete the trilogy next year at the tower.

 

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The Middle Of The Middle Of Nowhere – Glen Lyon Ultra

The Middle Of The Middle Of Nowhere – Glen Lyon Ultra

I have to admit, after the marathon last week I was feeling just a bit sore. I very much resembled a waddling penguin when attempting stairs for at least a day. Goes to show you don’t need to run a PB for it to hurt.

So it did cross my mind not to run my next race – Glen Lyon Ultra – which was 6 days later. However come midweek I had read a couple of race reports from it, looked through dozens of photos of the area and was now really excited to get out there. After all, there was a dam to run over!

Luckily for me a couple from the running club were also doing it and had offered a lift up. This helped me no end as it meant Joe and Oliver weren’t dragged out their beds at 6am and then left for hours in the inevitable cold, wet and windy countryside to entertain themselves.

Morning of the run and I was up and ready. I hadn’t slept very well the night before because I was, well, excited! This type of running I really enjoy. Middle of nowhere, clean fresh air, seeing things you don’t see on a daily basis (oh my goodness so many newborn lambs!) and a huge dam to run over. What’s not to love? Joe got up at 6am to make me breakfast – bless his cotton socks ha ha – and thoroughly enjoyed going back to bed. I meanwhile jumped in to Kev and Gillian’s car with what felt like enough gear for a weekend away. The race organisers had said to pack for all weather and had stressed several hundred times the importance of getting warm clothes on as soon as you finished. There was one place for a drop bag which was halfway and a couple of checkpoints with water. My drop bag? An actual rucksack. I kid you not. There were river crossings and it had been said you could change your trainers at the halfway point (if you didn’t mind being called a Jessie ha ha) so I thought may as well take them.

It was about a 2 hour drive to get to the start and the chat was good. Gillian is how I found out about Ultras. Shortly after joining the running club we were at a hill session and even though we had finished she was still running back and forth. Someone mentioned she was training for an ultra and proceeded to explain what that was to my blank expression. How far?? Not a chance am I doing that!

How things change.

Now she’s about to take on the West Highland Way along with her partner Kev so as you can imagine there was lots of running chat. Along with chat about the scenery and the animals outside – lambs, hares, no deer though.

Once we arrived I was quite shocked to see they had managed to get portaloos along that road but man was I grateful. It was straight to them. Probably the first and only race I will be at that has no queue for the loo. There were 193 signed up but you always get a percentage who don’t run on the day so it was a small field.

The race is more like a run of two halves. The first section is round the Loch and roughly 17 miles. My aim was to complete this in 3 hours. A number I plucked out the air if I’m honest. It’s undulating with some tricky paths underfoot and those infamous river crossings. I would be happy with 3 hours. On this basis I gave myself 3 hours for the second half. Two horrendous climbs but they came with the downhill so in my head, with Ella logic, 3 hours seemed a good goal.

I genuinely hate to think what my school teachers would think of my maths skills and logic.

Anyway. We were strictly warned to keep away from one section at the start as there was a lamb there that had been born the night before. And when I say strictly I mean they shouted at you over the microphone if you went anywhere near it. (Not me, I’m not that stupid). The race directors were taking no chances with their agreement from the landowners to hold this race and quite right. It was in spectacular surroundings.

At the start line and we were advised the river crossings were only ankle deep and we would have one gate that was locked so we would have to climb over it. Be careful of using stepping stones and don’t stray from the path. I did briefly wonder if I had entered an obstacle race and not an ultra but hey ho.

Once we were off it felt good to begin at a slow steady pace. Up the first hill and we were soon being rewarded with the gorgeous view of the dam from above. Many runners stopped to take a photo so for once I wasn’t the only one!

The track was what I would describe as quite ‘knobbly’ – you had to pay attention so as not to twist over your ankle. In reality, a proper trail track. It was very undulating but nothing too steep either up or down. I had started off in my water proof jacket, sleeved top and T-shirt underneath. After just 2 miles I was removing a layer. Having learnt from Glen Ogle 33 I had chosen to wear a middle layer I could strip easy. Yes I did give myself a small pat on the back for this ha ha.

Very soon after I stopped to remove my water proof jacket also. It was heating up quite nice in the sun. Another excuse for a quick photo.

The first river crossing was as they had said – ankle deep. If that. I managed to skip across the stones, just like I used to do as a child. Probably still looked like a child too. Just a bit more stiff jointed and bent over ha ha.

I had fallen in pace just behind a guy and a woman. They were chatting away but I don’t think they had come to the race together. Suddenly the woman tripped and fell on both knees. She sat up and went straight in to shock. We were only about 8 miles in and she feared her race was over. My job has many benefits, one of which being I’m trained in first aid so thankfully I was able to calm her down and get her back on her feet again. She seemed ok but I stuck with her for a little bit to make sure she really was. She kept apologising for falling and getting shocked and kept telling me to carry on and that she was fine. I think she just needed a moment or two to herself after that to regain her thoughts so I went ahead a little.

Shortly after this was a deeper crossing. I say deeper but in reality you could again use the stones or if you really insisted you could just plod through and possibly splash a little water on your ankles. I most certainly wouldn’t be needing my arm bands. (Yes I did have them in my bag, I was taking no chances with the element that is water that is quite clearly out to get me in races).

There was an aid station not long after that and I mentioned to the Marshall a woman behind me had fallen but had carried on so keep an eye out. Turns out she was hot on my heels and had recovered well. Good stuff.

By now the wind was quite seriously getting to me. I couldn’t hear what the woman beside me was saying, my nose was running faster than Bolt with no stop cock in sight and I had more than once been blown backwards when trying to move forwards. For f@ck sake!!!!! My jacket was back on and working well against it but seriously wind – BACK OFF!!!

Then all of a sudden it would stop. And the sun would blare down. So I had to remove my jacket. And just as I was thinking I probably should have worn my shorts, out would come gale and her wind of force. And on the jacket would go again. I lost count of the number of times this happened. More costume changes than Beyoncé. I did become quite skilful at doing this whilst on the move though.

Ok. Here it comes. The dam. The actual dam that I am going to run across. I’m excited!!

I’m also knee height to a grasshopper which naturally means I’m too small to see over the frigging wall!! Is this the water trying to get at me? It couldn’t drown me at the river crossings so it’s going to hide from me on this dam? Well ‘dam’ you water!

I try and take a video as I run across the bloody thing but no one needs to try and count how many chins are in my phone book so it was quickly deleted. I got one photo. And my face looks like Will Smith in Hitch when he takes an allergic reaction and it swells up. (Or maybe I do just have a really fat face – probably).

Tantrum over with it’s down the little hill to the ‘half way’ check point and I’m pleased to see I’ve reached it in under the 3 hours. However my watch is reading 15.6 miles and we were told it’s about 17 so this then sets me thinking the race is going to be short. No complaints from me about that though!

I go straight in to my rucksack and grab my bread and butter. Yes ladies and gentleman. My fuel of choice for this race was pure water and bread and butter (with a handful of emergency jelly babies). Some may say I was Moses – although I didn’t part any seas. But technically you could argue I walked on water as I used the stepping stones the majority of the time.

This little scenario of tales is what kept me going over the next 15+ miles by the way.

I was very conscious not to stay too long at the checkpoint and I didn’t feel I needed to change my socks or trainers so I filled up my water and carried on. I knew the first of the big climbs was coming and I would inevitably be walking up some of it so I could munch my ‘council sandwich’ then. As predicted, I did.

The thing with this first climb is that it was the replica of climbing a mountain. Every time you think you’re at the top, you go round the corner and you just keep going up and up again. It never seemed to stop. Obviously my legs were hurting by this point but not as much as they were at Stirling so I pushed on. Then came the down hill. Oh my word the down hill. That’s when the pain came and the realisation that there was a high possibility I wouldn’t be walking after this. I kept in my head that it was only going to reach 30 miles though as it was short at the halfway so get to 20 and you’ve only got 10 to do. 10 miles is a good number. You can do 10 miles easy. That’s a basic training run. Over in a jiffy.

Still going down hill and I see something you never want to see in a race. The lead runner coming towards you. But not just coming towards you on this vertical drop of a decent. He was running.

RUNNING?!?!?

UP this bloody hill?? Are you kidding me?? I can barely run down the dam thing! I’ve even passed people walking down it it’s that steep!

There’s another one behind him. Another one running up this thing.

It’s about this time I wonder to myself if this is the moment I should give Uber a call.

But then I remember you don’t get any phone signal when you are in the middle of the middle of nowhere.

This is worse than being taken out by an Arianna Grande song snipering your play list. Thankfully my music is not on for that to happen.

I then come across a turning to the right. Ok. Happy with that as it means no more front runners coming past me. But then I see it. Something no one wants to see when they are 19 miles in to a race.

‘8 mile loop’

I start dialling every taxi number known to man.

I’m now crying in to my emergency stash of jelly babies wondering at what point in my life I genuinely thought running 31.5 miles in the Scottish Highlands would ever be a good idea. Sure, I’ve made mistakes in the past. Worn a short white dress to a grungy pub when it was snowing outside, dyed half my hair an aluminous green colour looking like I had the worlds biggest bogey on my head, drank milk that was 3 days out of date when hungover (soooo much sickness after that one). But running? This far? Here? Why?

It’s at this point the woman I had helped earlier comes past me. I think she quite clearly spotted I was flagging (read that as having a mental breakdown) and said….

‘We head down just at that shed then it’s pretty much flat along the river.’

Words. Of. An. Angel.

However….

‘Have you ran this before?’ I ask her. Genuinely thinking what an absolutely ridiculous question. Who in their right mind would do this more than once.

‘Yeah. Hoping to get under 6 and a half hours this time.’

She’s nuts. She’s absolutely bloody nuts.

But she has a point.

The shed doesn’t look that far away. And it does look nice down by the river. She has somehow managed to encourage me on without saying those awful words ‘almost there’.

FYI – you are NEVER almost there until you are one step in front of that finish line.

It is as if a miracle is bestowed upon me as I manage to pick up the pace and get moving. It’s probably only by about 5 or 10 seconds a mile but I feel like I’m moving much better and faster than before. I’m still having the on again off again argument with the jacket but I don’t care.

And soon I’m hitting that hill.

Not a hairy chance am I even attempting to run up that monstrosity of a torture task. A brisk walk will be done.

Ok a walk then. Turns out I’m not that grand at walking fast up a hill. The woman who had the fall however is and she’s off up the hill on a mission!

It feels never ending. Mainly because it is. That’s a fact right there. That hill does not end. I’m actually still trying to reach the top.

Joking.

Obviously it ends. And it flattens out a little , just a little. I’m overtaken by 2 guys and a lady who – in true ultra runner fashion – check politely I’m still doing good and heading for the finish. That’s the best thing about ultras. Everyone speaks! Everyone says hello. Exchanges the silent ‘are you ok’ and encourages you on. That doesn’t happen in the road marathons.

Downhill now and it’s painful but more uncomfortable than ‘ouchie’. I’m telling myself the course is short so I’ve only got to get to 30 miles. I’m fine. I’ve got this.

30 miles passes by and I can’t even see the finish. This course is not going to be short. Dam it!

I plod on. Finish. Finish. Finish. Finish. Joe should be down there by now and he won’t be overly happy about having waited hours for me to eventually finish. Get moving, get moving.

Finally it’s over the small bridge and up to the finish line. There’s a handful of people on the hill. ‘Think happy thoughts’ they say. ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m thinking’ I laugh back at them.

I spot Oliver just before the line and manage a smile. It’s done.

Kev comes over and I’m not surprised to hear he managed it in under 5 hours. He found the last hill a killer too so that makes me feel better I wasn’t being a wuss. I grab my bag Gillian comes over the line shortly after. Both her and Kev are running the 15mile trail race the next day. Not a chance!

I head to the massage tent to get my legs seen to whilst Joe takes Oliver up to see the dam. She tells me she can’t feel any unusual tightness in my hamstrings. Given the issues I’ve been having with them I’m very happy with this. I almost jump off the table Tom Cruise style but I’ve just ran 31.5 miles. I’m not jumping anywhere.

So. In conclusion. Did I like this race? I bloody loved it ha ha. How could you not? The scenery is spectacular. The people are so friendly. The organisation is spot on. Even the t-shirt fits!

Would I do it again? Em… it’s tough. Really tough. I didn’t actually cry (that may have been a spot of poetic licence). But it was in no way easy. There’s a chance I would do it again. Maybe. If I can ever forget about that hill.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely!! It has reminded me what I enjoy about running. Not the constant eye on the watch run as fast as you can and throw up at the end. But the fresh air, the scenery, the friendliness of other runners enjoying it.

You can’t beat it.

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?

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.

Championship Has Begun

Championship Has Begun

Well aren’t we all just sick fed up of this weather? It’s an absolute nightmare. Lots of disruption for everyone in all walks of life. Someone seriously needs to apologise to Elsa!

Race after race has been cancelled and if I’m honest, I thought the first Championship race would be too. Loch Katrine half marathon was one I was looking forward to but if it wasn’t to be there was nothing I could do. I checked Facebook every few minutes and Joe checked the road cameras too. We decided to make an attempt to get there but if the roads were bad we would turn back. We dropped the youngest at his grampaws with a box of toys and central heating and off we went. Porridge and banana keeping my tummy warm at least.

The roads turned out to be ok. We’ve driven in worse. The race route seemed icy and slippy though so there was a lot of debate whether it was going ahead. It was an out and back route and you had the choice of 3 distances – full marathon, half marathon or 10k. A lot of runners had not turned up so it was quite a small crowd for each one. Joe debated several times whether or not to run but I don’t think he liked the idea of waiting about for 2 hours for me so got changed.

I had had a slight panic in the car as I didn’t have a buff with me but luckily Joe found one in the bottom of his bag. Needless to say it was stinking. Eugh – did I really want to put this on? I decided if it got too much I could put it in my bag. I was taking my hydration vest because this was a ‘bring your own cup’ race and I’m practising where I can with it.

Team photo done and we were soon off. I had been well warned it was an undulating course and some more honest runners had used the words ‘killer hills’ , ‘vertical climbs’ and ‘Mount Everest’. I was under no illusion for this race. Focus on the turn around and then you’re heading home.

I should have been a rocket scientist honestly.

It wasn’t long before I heated up and the wind was keeping to a minimum. I may even have seen the sun at one point but I may also have been delusional and wearing rose tinted glasses. A lot can be said for positive thinking though. The route was gorgeous. It reminded me a lot of Loch Ness marathon – the give away probably being the fact I was running next to a Loch. In Scotland.

Rocket scientist. I’m telling you.

4 miles in and I was feeling quite chirpy. I had taken my clif shot blok and was playing the game of trying to get it out my teeth (so attractive). A little further on and the first runner Duncan was coming towards me. How does anyone run that fast? It astounds me. But I’m too lazy to push for that kind of speed and I know that. I was just pleased to get to 5.45 miles before he went by. This was the only time I checked my watched during the whole race.

By now the hill I was on was steep. I’m talking the kind you need to be wearing a nappy if you’re cycling down it! With the ultra being next month I decided to walk. After all, I’m going to have to walk the hills in that one so may as well get practising. Naturally as soon as I did another road runner went by, chasing down Duncan. Did I care he saw me walking? Not really. Well, maybe a little bit. But it was a bloomin steep hill!

Realising Joe would be along soon I picked the pace up. Club members seeing me walk is one thing but the husband seeing me walk? Not a chance! He went past soon enough and shouted the headwind when you turned was picking up. Great.

On to the turn and I gave a cheery ‘thank you’ to the marshal. The wind had picked up (just as Joe had said) and it was getting difficult trying to climb the hills. Strange, I don’t remember much of a downhill on the first half! My breathing was getting unusually heavily so I tried another clif block and took a short walk break to try and calm it down.

As soon as I started running again I was wheezing. This wasn’t like me. My chest was now hurting and that never happens when I’m running. It wasn’t the implant, I knew what that pain was, this was a tightening. As soon as another hill came I walked. Gillian went past with her trade mark bright smile and sun glasses. She was on fire!

I got to 10 miles and I knew this hadn’t been the race for me. I was weaving all across the road, I couldn’t get a breath deep enough in to my chest and it was hurting bad. I began to wonder if I should text Joe but then figured I was on my way back anyway so what was the point. I pulled the buff up over my mouth hoping if I could warm the air I was breathing it might have a better chance of getting deep enough. It worked very slightly but my god, what the hell was that smell on it?!

This is it. You’re poisoning yourself Ella. Never mind your chest pain or the fact you’re struggling to breath. It’s neither of them that’s going to kill you, it’s this buff that’s going to do it! I can see the headlines now ‘Woman dies from poisoning herself trying to breathe through a buff soaked in her husbands sweat.’

Oh god…..

I was dry heaving now at the thought of this. Is his sweat on this? Is that what that is? I had to stop. I paused. I nearly threw up.

To be fair the distraction got me to mile 12.

Ok just a mile to go. Then you might need to get it looked at. Just a mile.

The lead runner from the marathon went by me.

Ok he is quite clearly non human! THIS weather on THIS course and he’s running THAT fast?!

He turned his head and said something to me but I couldn’t hear him. The negative in me heard ‘for crying out loud lassie it’s not that bad, if you can’t run you shouldn’t be here.’

Obviously that’s not what he said. I’ve never heard any runner say anything along those lines before. But I was in a very painful place by then and quite frankly embarrassed by my performance. It’s more likely he said something like ‘cup of tea waiting for you at the end love, you can do it.’

Last corner and I can see the finish. I. Am. A. Mess. I’m pretty sure I walk across the line. By now I’m giving an Oscar performance of Darth Vadar and I’m horrendously close to hyper ventilating so after sitting for a minute (and giving the poor race director a fright) I slide away to the car to try and calm it down.

I don’t know what happened. It is worrying me for my chances at Manchester but as I’ve always said ‘what will be will be’. Maybe it was just too cold for me, maybe the stress and anxiety of my redundancy is affecting it and maybe I should have taken it easier. Or maybe I just had a really crap day running. Who knows. The doctor did the usual tests and my ECG now has dips in a second chamber so it’s back to Mr Cardio (and thankfully this time I didn’t answer the phone thinking he was selling me something! I’m still mortified about that!).

With that in mind I rested completely the following day and had a more relaxed week. With Manchester only 2 weeks away now I should be reducing the miles anyway, and I can only stay positive about the other things going on (Easier said than done though – I am beyond bored!).

Loch Katrine was gorgeous and I really enjoyed the challenging route. Just because it wasn’t my day for running doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great race and I have every intention of taking the kids up there for a night. Just probably in the summer. When it’s a lot warmer.

The Devilla

I ran the Carnegie Harriers Devilla Trail Race last year and I remember being really worried I wouldn’t make the cut off.  It wasn’t the type of running I was used to so I had no idea if I could do it.  Thankfully, I did manage to cross the line before the sweeper so I duly signed up again this year – as you do.  Despite it still not being my type of running.

A 15km trail race doesn’t bring with it the same fears as it used to but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at running them now.  The aim was to beat last years time but the reality was it was unlikely.  I’ve found now I’m concentrating on distance my sub conscious refuses to let me go fast (well, fast for me, maybe not compared to everyone and definitely not compared to most but, fast in my terms).

A couple of days before and the weather returned to it’s usual troublesome self.  Jack Frost seriously needs to do one and let the Easter bunny make an appearance.  Shorts and a vest were unlikely.  But trousers could cause issues when caked in mud and at this race, that was a guarantee.  I decided to make the decision when I was there so packed both.  I also packed a towel for a shower after, congratulating myself on being organised.  For once.

Suitcase in hand I went along to registration where I was handed a bottle of beer.  Scheihallion to be exact.  I rarely drink but I do like this craft beer.  I briefly considered opening it pre-race, you know, for that extra boost.  That little drop of Dutch courage.  And if I’m honest, the only reason I didn’t was because it wasn’t cold (sacrilege).  The entire walk to the start line I was debating whether this had been a good decision or not.

I went with shorts – the cold was no longer keeping these cellulite enhanced legs covered up – and a long sleeve top under the club vest.  At the start I bumped into a few fellow road runners.  We had quite a few running the 15km and some doing the 5km.  No one was drinking the beer – yet.  I also saw a couple of people from our local tri club who came over and said hello, so quite a few from Perth!

We started talking about what was ahead and Catriona, who had also ran it last year, reminded me of the bottle neck section.  She mentioned she had been caught up in it last year and had had to wait to get through.  I remembered people just stopping in front of me and trying to go round them.  I looked up and realised we were probably starting a bit too far back and were likely to get caught in it this year.

Yet I didn’t move forward.

Big mistake.  Huge.

The whistle went and we found we were walking to the start line.  And then walking past the start line.  And then still walking.  Nope, nope, no.  This won’t do.  You’re meant to be running!  I veered left and tried to cut my way up through the pack.  I managed to get some room and then we went off the forest track and into the woods.

The path shrunk. We were no longer on a wide forest road but we were on a single track.

The mud didn’t bother me, it’s a trail run, you’re not going to stay clean, and the pre-race email made it very clear wearing brand new trainers probably wasn’t wise if you wanted them to stay looking new.  However, it appeared some people were determined to do all they could to stay pristine.

‘Come on man it’s only mud! Get in there!’

A fellow runner took the words out of my mouth.  I enjoyed this race last year but this part was frustrating like hell.  Who stops in the middle of a race? You just go for it!

We eventually came to a little fork and the path on the right slowed way down again so I went left.  Good move Ella, I thought to myself.  You’ll get round the ones not moving and be able to keep running.  Pushing forward I was still in my smug state when I glanced over at the fork on the right only to discover that the people I could now see where actually behind me before I had taken that turn.  No.  I was not so smug now.

We joined up with the original path and again I went to the left to try and weave my way through, crashing through the bushes and going knee high in the mud.  There was no way I was beating last years time now but I could still push for a good finish.  Back on the forest track and we had more space – finally.  Now it was up hill and I could spot Nigel from the tri club in front of me.  Slowly I creeped up.  Not in a stalker ‘I’m going to kill you’ kind of way, but more of a ‘this is a steep hill and walking would be faster but I’m stubborn’ kind of way.  As soon as I was within ear shot of him I took a deep breath and shouted out ‘Nigel, I’m coming for you.  Very slowly but I’m coming!’.  He didn’t turn round.  Oh my god is that not Nigel? Mortified I didn’t know what to do. The runner on my right turned to look at me, clearly wondering who I was taking to. Oh my god could this get any worse?

Ok do I slow down and let them go then hope I don’t catch up with them? No, they will get to the finish line first and therefore see me when I finish and no doubt point me out as the weirdo who thought she knew someone but didn’t and then was too slow to keep up.

Oh the pressure!

Ok. You’ll need to speed up and get past them. Then you’ll need to stay past them. Oh god I can’t run that fast for that long!

I put my head down and slowly, very slowly, get alongside ‘not Nigel’.

It IS Nigel! Oh thank god! He says hi as I go past and I oh so very briefly get the lightest of reliefs that it is him and I’m not quite that weird.

Then realise how stressed out I got about the situation – which lasted all of 10 seconds by the way – and have to admit defeat. I’m a bit weird.

Thankfully there are no further issues and I even manage to keep my hands to myself and not have the same intimate connection with the bush at the infamous plank as I did last year! The 10km sign is still in the wrong place but I’m ready for that. I do giggle as I remember the older guy from last year and his comment of ’10km my @rse!’.

Approaching the finish and I manage a little sprint to get it over and done with and I can hear some lovely people shouting my name as I do. I’m not going to lie. I love that.

Gillian is just seconds behind me and Nigel is just behind her. Poor Gillian fell over in the mud and as she shows me her completely covered right hand side she points out my leg is bleeding. Oh yeah, I picked up some more war wounds! My right leg is scratched like a cats post. Seasoned runner right here ha ha.

I head to the showers with my bag so I can get changed before the cold sets in. I pull out my clean clothes and my towel and……

It’s not a towel.

It’s a tiny piece of material you use for the turbo or spin bike when you’re really sweaty! I may be small but I’m not that small. Trying to get a wash and shower with that was not fun.

So no. I didn’t beat last year’s time. But I did feel I ran a better race. Excluding my little detour of and starting too far back. The beer is still in the fridge and I have great plans to drink it this weekend after my long run. There is every chance that one beer will have me drunk but hey, it’s worth it.