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.

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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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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?

The Heart Will Go On

The Heart Will Go On

You’ve no idea how appropriate this title is!

After Manchester a couple of weeks ago I’ve struggled to run what I would call decent. My hamstrings are killing me, my bum has never been this sore in my life and I grew up with the slipper across my backside if I was bad! I’ve also been back to Mr Cardio who has now told me I need to be keeping my heart rate under a certain level.

Eh?? Thought the problem was that it didn’t beat fast enough? Now you’re saying it’s too fast at times?!? Somehow it’s now spiking and that’s not a good thing for me – apparently. Neither is disagreeing with Mr Cardio. He did not like my suggestion of ‘just stop doing ECG’s and there won’t be a problem’. (Although I am now becoming an expert on reading them. Silver linings and all that.)

So what’s my point here? Oh yeah. Basically my body is giving me a hard time. It’s being an actual pain in the arse. (Genuinely, never had this much uncomfortable pain before, and I’ve had 3 kids!). There’s also been other family stuff going on so I decided a trip to Northern Ireland to go and see something that’s been on my bucket list for 20 years was the way to go. Move over Kate Winslett, Ella Webley trusts Jack.

The original plan was me treating my mum to a little city break. This grew arms and legs – or rather full entire bodies – and ended up with my dad and my youngest coming too.

The running gear was the first thing to get packed.

After a short flight and a little confusion at the car rental place (no pal, I will not be leaving a £1000 deposit for a car that’s not even worth that!) we got to the apartment and then quickly headed out to the museum that was right next door.

I won’t bore you with details of the visit but we were there a good few hours and exhausted by the time we got back to the apartment. But I had a run to do. A run I very much wanted to do. My first attempt to get back out the door failed miserably as my youngest clung to my legs and well, I kind of need them minus a four year old to be able to run. Thankfully, I managed to settle him down and I was able to head out.

I got as far as the door.

Where do I go? I’m in a strange city, I have no idea where anything is, if there are any parts I should be avoiding – where do I go?

It doesn’t matter…….just…run.

So I did. I turned left along the River Lagan and just went.

And it was awesome. I absolutely loved it. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t speedy, there were multiple stops for photographs, but it was great. I ran back and forth across the same bridge 3 times – mainly because I wasn’t paying attention but also because I was trying to get a decent photograph of a statue – but I didn’t care. I may have slightly got lost but it didn’t matter, I found my way. And I saw so many things I would have missed had I not gone out.

Turning back I knew exactly where I was going. I knew what I needed to see, what I wanted to run past.

Yes that may sound really sad to so many people but I absolutely LOVE running past certain things. I can’t describe it! It just makes me so happy.

My names Ella and I am a bit of saddo.

(But I don’t care so there ha ha)

All lit up in purple against a dark sky there it was. The Titanic museum. Yes I had been there during the day and for quite a few hours but this was different. There was hardly anyone around, it wasn’t windy, the river was calm, it was so quiet.

I quickly checked around me to make sure a predator wasn’t creeping up on me. Just to be safe.

I really got caught up in the whole thing. I had been infatuated by the Titanic for over 20 years. The entire story and history enthralled me. I ran round the back and over the display that mapped out its sheer size on the floor. If you haven’t been you should go.

I headed back to the apartment and glanced at my watch. 4.3miles. I did a few circles round the outside of the building to make it up to 4.5, receiving a few funny looks as I did. Inside I was met with a content little boy who had had a bath and was ready for bed. I had a quick shower and we snuggled down together.

My legs hurt but my heart rate had stayed just below what Mr Cardio had ordered. Probably unsurprising given the number of stops I had made. It was still working though. My heart was still going on.

(See what I did there).

Unfortunately day 2’s run was not quite so successful.

After a very ‘eventful’ trip to Belfast castle that proved neither of my parents are any help what so ever when it comes to navigating I needed out. (yes I did advise my dad if he didn’t shut up I would make him and I meant every word! And I told my mum how unhelpful just ‘pointing’ at the sat nav was). Said trip also involved Oliver losing his trainer in a mud swamp and then absolutely screaming his lungs out because of it (thank god I had plastic gloves in my bag, that’s all I’m saying! Not to smother him in, don’t get me wrong, but to cover his feet in so I could get his socks back on him and then back to the car).

So yeah, I needed a run.

I headed out the same way as the night before as I just wanted to clear my mood.

I got lost.

Just a little, but I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up far away from the River. Using the old faithful google I managed to find my way back to the River and just as I was cursing myself for not sticking to going back and forth over the bridge I did something I’ve never done. Something caught my foot and I fell. I stuck my arm out just in time to stop my head smashing onto the hard concrete beneath me. It wasn’t nice. Standing up I automatically reached to my watch to pause it and could feel I had badly scratched it. Damn it! I picked up my phone to find the screen smashed. Bloody brilliant. Oh and talking of blood, I had scraped my arm too and had nice trickles all the way down it.

I headed back to the apartment completing a measly 3.3miles. I wasn’t rounding that one up.

And just to add insult to injury my heart rate had spiked before I had fallen. Great.

Back at the apartment I thoroughly checked my watch. A little bit of rubbing and the edges were back to being smooth. Luckily it was just the screen protector I had broken on my phone and the actual screen only had a small crack on it. My ankles were bruising up and my shoulder was sore but it was nothing really. Could have been a lot worse. Could have fallen in the River!! We all know how much water has it in for me! In fact, wouldn’t even surprise me if it was the River that somehow tripped me up!

End of the day I was still very happy. I really enjoyed going for a run somewhere new. Not looking for a good pace or a certain mileage just running. And I got to see something on my bucket list too. I also managed a very cheeky little run at the Giants Causeway but it’s not on Strava so it ‘doesn’t count’. (Yes it does!)

I need to sort my hamstrings out though so that’s my focus. And the whole heart thing. I don’t understand why I’m suddenly getting sharp spikes and I really don’t want Mr Cardio to say no more running so I’m going to slow it right down. Give it a few weeks and then plan for GFA.

I’m away again in a few weeks. This time for our wedding anniversary. But I know what the first thing getting packed will be.

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.

It’s All Lies

It’s All Lies

Who ever claimed ‘couples who workout together stay together’ clearly was not part of a couple!

We’ve tried, a few times, to do our training together. Not once has it been successful. It generally goes something like this – ‘slow down, you’re going too slow, you need to tell me before the turn, you should try it this way’.

It’s that last one. That ‘I know best’ attitude I find the hardest. Just NO!

We both ran round Loch Leven a couple of weekends ago. It wasn’t a great pace I admit. I’m finding speed really difficult at the moment and it’s getting me down. I told him the 13 miles was going to be about a 2 hour run at the start. It started off ok. He was ‘glowing’ in an aura of ‘I’m so much faster than you.’ I would liken it to running with a dog who goes here there and everywhere. Yes, that’s right, I just compared my husband to a dog. Deal with it.

I ignored it. Focused on my own running. My legs were really sore and tired so it was an easy distraction. I even managed to bite my tongue through his comments of ‘you’re rolling your left foot in’ and ‘you slow down so much on a hill, you should really try to go faster’. The last one almost gained him a swift kick but, like I said, my legs were sore.

Today we did the same route again but in reverse. His choice. Again it started ok. There’s heavy snow on the ground and conditions are difficult so it was single file at the start. I was actually in front. Shock. Horror. Obviously this didn’t last. He went in front and took off. After about a mile of having at least 100 meters between us he eventually waited for me to catch up. He then said ‘Are you not feeling well? You’re quite a bit slower than usual’.

The rage hit about an 8. I festered on this for the next few minutes. I was still trying to stop the steam coming out of my ears when he said ‘there’s a runner coming up behind us.’

What the bloody hell did he think WE were???? Freaking joggers??!! Are you ACTUALLY kidding me?!?

That was it. It was all guns blazing then. I’m talking tantrum central! It started with running related issues – you know the usual of you’re meant to be running with me not a couple of hundred metres down the trail etc – and carried on through every tiny little niggle possible. Including leaving his socks on the floor. (Although he probably didn’t hear that one as I’m pretty sure only dogs could hear my squealing by that point). He definitely heard the one about him using all of the cliff shots he bought ME for my birthday!

Of course, because I was letting off more steam than the Flying Scotsman, my pace slowed even more. He started arguing back but very quickly realised the only way out of this was to try desperately not to laugh and make the situation worse. And naturally when we came across other people on the trail I quickly switched from psychotic, screaming wife to happy runner woman who politely said hello with a smile on my face.

Couples are NOT made to work out together. Fact! They just aren’t compatible for that kind of pressure. Show me a couple who claim they never argue and never hate each other ever and I will introduce you to the current President of America.

By the time we finished our 12 miles of World War 3 the snow started up again – but I did feel better! Ironically so did he. Not that I cared about that at the time.

Will we go running together again? Well….. certainly not any time soon. Next Sunday I’m joining the club for their run and he can do what ever he damn well pleases.

Less chance of us wanting to kill each other that way.