Sunday, 11 October 2015

48. The One Where I Have Tips!

9 October 2015

This is my last post on this blog!  How exciting ... and yet also how sad, because it means that the focus of the last ten weeks is truly over.  Ah well.  Better start planning for the JCC in March then eh?!

Like I keep wittering on about throughout this blog, every person's experience is so different that you can't learn loads from other people.  However, here's what I've learned through this process in case it helps anyone!


  1. You spend A LOT of time with yourself training for an ultra.  Seriously a LOT.  Six or seven hours at a time, just in your own head.  Be prepared - if you're anything like me, it's a strange place in there.  
  2. You also spend a lot of time thinking about being tired.  I found that I was constantly either knackered, or worrying about being knackered.  
  3. People all have an opinion ... ranging from "You're a total idiot" to "You're amazing" to "Stay where you are, I'm having you committed".  Most of these things have a little truth, but they're all tempered by the side of the coin that people don't see.  I'm not that stupid, and I'm definitely not amazing.  I probably should have listened to the ones who tried to have me sectioned though.  
  4. You can't really follow someone else's training plan for an ultra too slavishly.  Either it doesn't work with your body, or it doesn't work for the event, or it doesn't work with your life.  You kind of have to mix and match to make it work, otherwise it's way too overwhelming.  
  5. Having said that, listening to other people who've done ultras or other endurance events is amazing!  Anyone who's done an endurance event will have something to say that will resonate with you and which relates to your own experience in training or can set you up for what you will experience in the event.  They also have a lot of ideas which would never occur to you.  I quizzed a lot of people during the course of my training (most of whom I'd only just met, the poor things ... and one of whom I'd never met, just sent the poor girl a random email out of the blue.  She was AMAZING and gave me so much useful information.  Cheers Michelle).  
  6. If you're going to listen to music, make sure you like it quite a lot before you start out.  Because by the time you've listened to it for a few hours straight, unless you really liked it to start with, it will fill you with an incendiary rage every time you hear it thereafter.  Let's not talk about what happened when Bryan Adams came on in the gym the other day.  
  7. You can walk a lot on an ultra and it's okay!  No-one cares!  There is no time pressure, because you are going a really really long way.  
  8. Speaking of, 135km is a really really long way.  So is 45km.  It took me a while to get to be able to do it and it also nearly wiped me out the first time I did manage it.  
  9. You eat funny when you do an ultra.  I like to eat whole unprocessed foods the vast majority of the time ... but that isn't practical on long runs like this.  You sort of have to have the rubbish in there too, otherwise either you hit the wall in training and wipe yourself out, or you spend forever rustling up all natural nutrition (which probably doesn't have the right carb/protein/fat ratio anyway).  You just have to go with the best you can get.  
  10. Speaking of food, you will constantly be told that "at least you can eat whatever you want!".  Sadly, this is another untruth ... mostly you become obsessed with eating the right things because you learn super-quick that if you eat a bunch of junk, then running becomes a LOT harder the next day.  Like, a lot.  It's like running with diesel in the tank instead of petrol ... and it's hard enough without that!
  11. It can consume you, because it is so scary.  It's always there in the back of your mind ... you're never quite free of it.  It is for this reason that I'm glad I did only ten (cough cough - okay nine.  Nine days of which were in Ibiza) weeks of training.  I wouldn't want it to take over any more of my life than that.  
  12. KIT!  It's expensive!  But you can justifiedly buy loads of it!  Because it's for an ultra darling.  It's like a licence to spend.  Luckily you've got no social life due to items 2 and 11 above, so you save all the money back anyway.  
  13. Kit is not the only thing that is expensive!  I might as well have just sent half my salary direct to Southern Trains and cut out the middle man (it would've been both more convenient and more tax-efficient).  If you don't have somewhere in your region that is similar to the terrain for the event, you'll need to spend a lot of time on trains/in your car getting to training ground that works.  London is flat as a pancake so I was lucky that I had the South Coast so close to me - it's only 52 minutes to Brighton, and about 90 minutes to each of Seaford and Eastbourne, and they had the closest thing to the terrain I needed to train on.  However, even when I was booking tickets in advance it was at least £16 return to Brighton or Seaford and anything up to £31 return to Eastbourne ... which doesn't sound like much, but once or twice a week and it becomes a lot!  This meant that I couldn't train in some areas that I wanted to like Yorkshire (I was dying to do the Three Peaks as part of my training).
  14. You can't just run in your training or a) you'll be bored out of your head in no time; and b) you'll get injured.  I have a strange liking for running, but my body would never be able to cope with it without all the strength work and stretching I did as well ... plus it kind of broke it up a bit. 
  15. Blogging is amazing!  It really meant that when I thought I hadn't made any progress, I could look back and think "Oh actually ... that's cool, I have gotten better".  And that's massively encouraging! 
The event

  1. So it turns out that you can train for an ultra in nine weeks, even if you've never done a marathon before.  Ignore the side-eyes, the flicked-up eyebrows, the head-shakes and the sharp intakes of breath.  It's totes doable.  In fact I don't think I'd have wanted to train for much longer 'cause it was totally taking over my life.  
  2. In a multi-day event, for me the absolute worst was the middle day.  You're already knackered and in so much pain and all you can think is "OMG there's another chuffing day of this"
  3. Food will be the making of the event - either in a good way or a bad way!  I practised with loads and loads of different kinds of foods.  I will never eat another peanut butter wrap.  EVER.  But other choices were good and I'm glad I tried loads of different things (with varying degrees of success)!  
  4. On the subject of food, I wish I'd known what would be at the checkpoints because I would've practised with those too.  For the record, it was mini-cheddars, crisps, peanuts, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, Marmite sandwiches, cheese and pickle sandwiches, tuna mayo sandwiches, coke (vomrocket but people like it), gatorade, water, and tea and coffee.  For me it was all about the salt, so I mostly stuck to the Marmite sandwiches, crisps and mini cheddars, although jaffa cakes were also high on my list.  I didn't even like jaffa cakes before this event.  Now I consider them manna from heaven.  In future I'll contact the events organisers and ask what they have at checkpoints, but I didn't think of it for this one.  
  5. Eating was a bit weird at night.  I was totally not hungry but I forced it all down (luckily it was delicious) ... probably a good thing but it's weird to be so unhungry when you've been running all day.  
  6. The culture is completely different from any other event I've done.  I had been told that an ultra was totally non-competitive, but I really didn't believe it because I am from a triathlon background and triathletes are the most competitive people on the planet.  Oh apart from marathon runners.  Let's not talk about marathon runners.  So when people said "No honestly, it's just about finishing" I didn't even think about believing them.  But honestly - even though some people are chasing down really good times, it is all about their own achievement, not about competing with others.  Everyone is pushing himself or herself to the limit and everyone recognises that, and God, the friendliness!  People clap each other and genuinely mean it!
  7. Speaking of that, in a multi-day event, a massive part of the skill set is knowing exactly how hard you can go and still have something in the tank for the following day.  I was so glad I'd practised doing back-to-back days in training, but I wish I'd been able to do three days back-to-back because I was scaaaaaared after the second day that I wouldn't be able to do the third day.  I do think back-to-back training is massively important for your mental state if you're doing a multi-day event.  Now I know I can do it, I feel a million times better about signing up for the JCC.
  8. You'll make good friends!  Mostly because it's a gathering of people as certifiable as you are.  That's cool 'cause the general population regards you as insane and amazing, neither of which is true (as per point 3 under training).  I had to do all my training by myself, so having people to run with for three days was awesome.  
  9. There are high points and low points ... the middle part of the second day for me was the lowest point (kilometres 20 - 28 in particular) but I was absolutely fine at the end.  I even did a bit of a sprint finish.  No idea why.  It just goes in waves like that.  
  10. Sometimes your stride can be off and I am pretty sure that's what leads to injury and over tightness.  I am used to short distances so my stride length is longer, my pull-through on my hamstrings is stronger, and I forefoot strike.  However, because I was running with others, my stride length adjusted to theirs and, as a result, I began to midfoot or even full-foot strike (never quite a heel-strike, but almost my full foot would land).  That put huge pressure through my quads, calves and knees.  The reason that I think that this was as a result of my altered stride was because whenever I was leading, my stride would noticeably stretch out again and my knees didn't hurt (as much) any more.  I don't really know what to do with that information because I would not have given up running with Bernie and Elaine (and then later Antony and Ben and Craig) for anything - they totally made it, and I could not have done it any faster even if I'd been striding at my normal stride-length.  But I know that I'll need to find some way around this issue for the JCC.  
The aftermath

  1. I thought I'd feel amazing once it was over - you know, I would be amazing like people kept telling me, I'd have done an ultramarathon!  I didn't feel amazing.  I just felt exactly the same but with two dodgier knees and one less toenail.  This in no way detracts from the fact that I'm really really happy to have done it; I just didn't feel the massive high that I thought I would.  Truth is, I am still the same person.  I just transported myself for eighty-two miles.  
  2. OMG I was so swollen and bloated after the event.  Even now, five days later, I'm still bloated although it's going down every day.  My feet were too swollen even to put into shoes - I had to drive back with my slippers on!  I did not expect that!  I've googled it and it's normal, but jeez.  No-one warns you of that one.  
  3. Sayonara toenails.  I got lucky; I've only lost one, but four others are a gorgeous shade of black.  Antony had to have three of his surgically removed!  They don't hurt but I'm happy I can cover them up with nail polish.  Hooftastic.  
  4. Really, no-one gives a shit that you've done it, so you better be happy with yourself!  My boss's reaction when I came back and said "Oh I did an ultra at the weekend" was "Oh God, here we go ...".  Cheers Charlie!  No-one really wants to hear about it.  A few friends have politely liked my album on Facebook.  But I am happy I did it so I am okay with that.  
So that's it lovers!  I'll miss this blog and y'all - thanks for reading and if you do the event, GOOD LUCK! xx

Thursday, 8 October 2015

47. The One Where I Gave It Marks Out of Ten

8 October 2015

So the challenge is finally over ... and it almost feels like it never happened!  I really can't believe I have already done it and now I'm back to reality.  To be honest, if I had one more toenail and a pair of less dodgy knees, I'd really believe it'd never happened.  Lucky I took so many pictures to prove it huh?!

So here are my overall pros and cons of the event and my impressions ... my brain is still somewhere on the SW Coast Path so I'll keep it to bullet points!
  • Atmosphere:  10/10!  This could not have been a more friendly event!  This was definitely my favorite thing about it.  I was petrified when I turned up and ready to turn back to London, but literally before I even made it to registration I'd met Francis and Penny and was a bit more relaxed.  Everyone was so friendly, from VoTwo's representatives to the other competitors to the spectathletes that came along to support.    
  • Other competitors:  10/10!  As above the other people were lovely.  There was literally every ability, from the nutters running the entire thing to people walking the whole thing in ten hours plus.  No-one ever asked anyone else about times, the only question about performance was ever "How'd you get on today?".  Even the speediest of speedsters took the time to encourage us as they came tootling past, throwing out some happy words.  One even stopped to take a pic of Elaine and me so we could have one together!  Even that first night when people were chatting about events they'd done before there was no question of anyone being all Judgy von Holier Than Thou or playing any one-upmanship kind of games.  This was so nice because at the last triathlon I was at - which was a chuffing SPRINT - I overheard a conversation where two guys were squaring off about the number of Ironmans they'd done.  Tools.  If nothing else, the other competitors would make me want to do another ultra.  
  • Accommodation:  6/10:  The caravans were cool if you had one to yourself or if you were in a couple.  I would have absolutely hated to share it though because the second bedroom is the most miniscule thing I've ever seen and it would have been so uncomfortable trying to sleep in one of those beds - you'd've been all cramped up and squished which I feel would not bode well the next day!  The caravans are also FREEZING - I had brought a hot water bottle for the purposes of aches and pains but I was so grateful for it because the temperature in the caravan was actually slightly colder than outside ... and that was with the heater on!  Having said that they fulfilled their purpose and they had a tiny but nice shower with lots of hot water.  
  • Food:  9/10:  I would give this a 10/10 because it was lovely, but there weren't that many vegetables and I love a vegetable.  Oooh get me all fussy.  Other than that it was absolutely brilliant - and there was LOADS of it, I ate almost my body weight in food each night.  Delish!  Plus the chefs were ADORBS - so nice. 
  • Course:  10/10:  I love the course!  The scenery was absolutely breathtaking - I'd never been to Cornwall before and I don't know what negative things you could say about it.  Literally every five or ten minutes one of us would jerk our right hand out and muster up the energy to grunt "wow" as some new amazing view hove into sight.  I also liked that every day was completely different - the first day had more rolling cliffs and beaches, the second day enormously dramatic hills and the third was the boulder day.  It was so varied, it was fantastic.  
  • CheckPoints:  9/10:  Hmmm so I feel bad saying 9/10 because the staff were so so lovely at the CheckPoints, they had loads of food and it was all really varied, and most importantly they had Marmite sandwiches.  However, the reason they've got 9/10 (apart from the tuna mayo sandwiches which, frankly, are a brave choice on any view) was because they were so so off where they were meant to be on the last day ... and when you're that knackered, having to go an extra 3 or 4 kilometres between CheckPoints really comes close to tipping you over the edge into pure insanity.  It also means that it's impossible to plan your own nutrition and hydration properly because if you think a CheckPoint is only a kilometre away, then you hang on for it and save your own food, plus you work out how much water you need to get you between CheckPoints and if the distance is wrong, you can run out with 30 minutes or more to go.  That massively increases your risks of hitting the wall, and it's a fine line anyway on that last day.  
  • Navigation and maps:  8/10:  The maps are amazing and the briefing in the morning goes through them really thoroughly which is fabulous - even I wasn't that scared of navigating (not, I hasten to add, that I did any at all; Elaine and Bernie and then Elaine and Ben did it all for me).  I'm grading them 8/10 because of the issue on the last day when the CheckPoints are not where they say they are, and there are five damned extra kilometres / three extra miles which are hidden in the map somewhere.  It would be absolutely fine if we were told about these.  It's the lies I can't stand.  THE LIES!!
  • Event staff:  10/10.  Everyone was LOVE.ER.LY.  
  • Swag and bling:  9.5/10.  I will even wear the tshirt (I'm wearing it now, in fact) and normally they go straight in the bin for me.  This is fitted and nice quality and I love the way it looks.  The medal is good and chunky.  Only small gripe about these is that they say 78.6 miles - it was 82 people!!  EIGHTY TWO!  Those extra three miles are the most hard-fought and won miles ever.  Please let us have the benefit of them on our swag.  We deserve them.  
  • Kit:  9.5/10:  I got the hoodie and the puffa jacket and they're both amazing quality and I love them.  Even if they do say 78.6 miles.  Haha!
  • Overall:  9.5/10!  For all the reasons above.  
All I can say is ... if you're thinking about it, please do it!  It's well worth it and I've already been bullied into signing up for the next one (go on then, twist my rubber arm).  You'll hate it and love it!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

46. The One Where It Was the Last Day

4 October 2015

I woke up this morning with my right knee proper annoyed with me!  My quads and hip flexors were as tight as ever and my calves were sore too, but they were both pretty predictable.  What was less predictable was that as well as my right knee, the underside of my right foot and extensors at the front of my right leg were so tight as to be all but immobile.  I gave it some thought and threw as much voltarol gel on as I could, then kt taped the entire lot, as well as my left hip flexor.  One can never have too much kinesio tape right?!  I also pulled out my trusty cho-pat strap again and packed an excessive amount of paracetamol.  I'm sure there's no limit on the amount of that you can take ...!

At supper last night, we were warned over and over again by people who'd done the event before that the course was 29 miles / 47 kilometres long and that the first checkpoint was about 16.5km away.  This was also the day that both Flora and Michelle had warned me about, and everyone who'd done it before seemed to agree that it was far and away the hardest day, so I was more than a bit nervous setting off.

Luckily I didn't have much time to think about it because all the taping took so long that I flew into breakfast about five minutes before the start, and ate my normal porridge and hash browns during the briefing.  We studied the maps along with the briefing and although the checkpoint timings records it at 14.3km, the first checkpoint most definitely was at 16.5km like we'd been told the night before by the experienced people.  However, the course itself looked then pretty normal, with CheckPoint 2 at 22 kilometres, CheckPoint 3 at 33 kilometres, and the finish at 43 kilometres.  In light of this, we weren't sure what to expect in terms of distance because the course could have changed from the previous years, but we didn't want to take too much for granted so we prepared ourselves for the worst!

The run started at Lelant this morning, which is only about a ten-fifteen minute drive from the campsite.  We got out and the three of us all set off together.  Bernie wasn't feeling that well this morning and we were well aware that we had to pace ourselves, so we set off slow and steady but got to St Ives in relatively good time after having enjoyed the most amazing sunrise EVERRRR  The best bit was that while we waited for Bernie on one occasion, we got to see a seal hanging out in the water below!  I was gutted not to have seen them yesterday so seeing one today was fab.

St Ives itself is the cutest place!  It's exactly like what you think a Cornish village will be like - lots of lovely galleries and artisan shops, all contained within cobbled streets.

We got a little bit lost navigating through but that kind of came in good because Bernie finally got to use the compass.  Seeing as we'd lugged our compasses around for three days it was good to get some use out of them right?!

After we'd made our way out, it was straight up into the hills and far and away the most technical, difficult part of the entire three days.  The course is littered with boulders and rocks, streams and bogs, stones and mud ... and is built on the side of a cliff with a sheer drop to the sea on the right.  We could see people ahead of us and behind us which was nice as we knew that we were definitely on the right track - just as well because otherwise we might've wondered if it was in fact the path!  In all honesty though this was definitely my favorite part of the entire challenge - I loved it!  It was so beautiful and although it was definitely really technical (and there was no chance of getting into a rhythm in any way) it was so different, and so wild and really felt like no-one had ever been there ever before (apart, obviously, from the lycra lunatics each year on the Atlantic Coast Challenge).  This impression was heightened by the cows that we came across from time to time who gazed at us contemptuously as we scrambled past, breathing at them heavily.

 Eventually - and I do mean eventually; it took us nearly three hours! - we arrived at CheckPoint 1 for our mini-cheddars, crisps and jaffa cakes.  I also performed a bit of blister maintenance and then we were good to go!

The route between CheckPoint 1 (which was at Zennor) and CheckPoint 2 (which was in the middle of nowhere) was supposed only to be 7km.  However, I thought it would be more like 8 or 10 based on the length of the course overall and the additional distance we'd taken to get to CheckPoint 1.  Sure enough, we didn't get there until my Garmin and MapMyRun had recorded that we'd gotten to just over 25km.  Luckily the course between the two calmed down a bit - it was still big ups and downs over the cliffs, but it was far less technical going.  Bernie left us at this point as he was feeling stronger than we were, so we didn't see him again after that, but Elaine and I enjoyed ourselves taking loads of pictures as usual and making our way up to CheckPoint 2.  The weather was starting to close in, but it was still absolutely stunning on the coast, and it wasn't raining so we could still really enjoy it.

CheckPoint 2 is literally on the edge of the cliff!  It was something else - right on the point in amongst the rocks and scree.  Disaster struck for me when I discovered that all the marmite sandwiches had already gone - nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!  I filled up on the crusts from a couple of cheese and pickle sandwiches (I hate cheese and pickle and I wasn't sure my stomach would handle the whole pickle business, so I skirted round the outside), together with crisps, mini cheddars and the omnipresent jaffa cakes.  We also picked up some new buddies at CheckPoint 2 - Ben and Antony, who had signed up together, and Craig, who was like me in that he'd only done a half-marathon before, but who'd thought he'd do the challenge because he came from just outside Hayle where the event is headquartered.  Ben and Elaine were feeling really really strong at this point, but Antony, Craig and I were struggling quite a lot more, so it was nice for the five of us to stick together because Ben and Elaine could basically tow the rest of us along!  I was a bit worried at this point because I thought that there was a chance we might miss the cut-off for CheckPoint 3, since we only had a couple of hours to get another 12km.  If the terrain had been similar to the first part of the course there was a real risk we'd miss it, but in the event it was far more steady over the next few kilometres.

We got a bit lost again just after CheckPoint 2, but actually it massively worked in our favor because, as it turns out, the path splits into three just after that.  As we got back onto the path (having only diverted a mile or so), we ran into a couple who warned us to make sure that we took the middle fork, because the bottom fork (which looked like the better option) was impassable a few metres on.  Armed with this knowledge, we struck out through the tin mines over the next section and then down another steep cliff and up the other side where CheckPoint 3 was waiting for us.  Unfortunately by this time I was really really feeling it in my left hip flexor and my left leg wasn't picking up properly.  Combined with my dodgy right knee, moving my legs at all was a challenge at this point!  That meant that I was falling over every rock on the path, and eventually the inevitable happened and I stacked it straight onto my bad knee.  For a moment, I really thought that that was it and my challenge was over, but I thought I'd carry on for a bit and see what happened.  It was painful, but I managed to get up to CheckPoint 3 for more sugar (hurrah) and a bit of a sit-down while poor Antony had four of his toes drained of fluid and re-dressed.

After that, we were assured it was only another six miles / ten kilometres.  The CheckPoint staff are lovely, but they are skilled liars - it was in fact another 12 kilometres to the end!  This started inauspiciously by going straight down an incredibly steep hill (impossible for Craig, Antony and me because none of our knees would bend!) and then up the other side.  After that it was far more steady - up the more usual kind of path and around the next couple of headlands, before we hit the boulder ... THE BOULDER!

I'd been told about this by Flora and also by another couple of people and actually, in the event, it really wasn't as bad as it looked.  Just as well for those of us who had frozen legs haha!  After we'd navigated that I led for a bit - because I'm used to sprinting, my stride is far longer than marathon runners so it's actually a lot easier for me to lead because I can stretch out my stride and fore-foot strike.  However, leading also means that I go too fast and can't maintain the pace for any decent length of time.  It felt good for a while though!

We finally hit the beach at Sennen Cove for the final push, just as it started to rain and the winds that we'd been warned about picked up.  Cruelly, you can see the point ahead of you - just across the sand-dunes and then through the town and up one final hill.  However, the path leads away from it for a bit before diving back down - the unfairness!  As we were heading through town, we consoled ourselves with the fact that we could almost touch the finish line ... just up the hill ... we got up there and guess what?  It wasn't the finish line.  Oh no, for one final Machiavellian touch, we had to go up one more hill and then half-way down it again to the actual finish.

The finish itself was emosh - the five of us linked up and ran over it together, though by rights Elaine and Ben as our speedsters should've gone over first really (they did go first, but only by seconds!)

L-R:  Antony, Elaine, Craig, me, the medic (in front, the only one who had the energy to smile properly), another guy who finished around the same time but didn't run with us, and Ben!
 Luckily the minivan had exactly five places, so once we'd been given our medals, had a finish line picture (photobombed by the medic), been handed our Cornish pasties and grabbed our bags, we could jump straight on and get back to the campsite.  That was brilliant because it was freezing by then!

We had a bit of an emotional goodbye at the end - by that time I was so spent that I couldn't really do much except shiver at people, but it was nice to be able to say goodbye back at base before we all disappeared off to our various places (Elaine back to Newquay, Ben and Antony to their alternative accommodation, me to my caravan, and Craig to his home just up the road).  After I'd had a shower (which took me some time to get out of, I can tell you!) I headed back for the final cooktent supper with Francis and Penny.  Francis had also found it tough going but he was absolutely buzzing, and Penny was just glad to be inside rather than waiting outside in the storm for him!

After another lovely meal - curry this time with pineapple pudding for dessert - I finally hit bed.  I'll wrap it all up when I've had time to reflect on it properly since right now I can't process it at all!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

45. The One Where It Was The Second Day

3 October 2015

Today was genuinely one of the toughest days I've ever had. 

I hadn't expected it at all – I woke up feeling really good, and the only really bad tightness was in my biceps.  I'd noticed that the day before and I'm pretty sure it's from pumping like a sprinter, but over 42 kilometres.  My knee was also really stiff again, but I'd expected that and slathered it up with voltarol gel before kinesio taping it.  I also chucked my cho-pat strap in my bag as a precaution. 

After a slightly later breakfast – a sleep in til 05:45, woooop! – we set off in three groups today.  I was in the slowest group, which left the earliest, and then there were two others after us.  

It was only a half-hour drive up to Perranporth to start the run and – luxury – there were proper loos there!  It was another absolutely stunning morning, but it was sooooo cold!  

I have never been happier to start running.  Sadly, however, the run started straight up the same hill on which we finished yesterday!  Cruel!!!  Quite a big group of us started together, including Elaine, Bernie, Laura and me, plus a few others.  

The terrain was immediately completely different to yesterday – straight up steep hills, with shingle and scree on the downhills.  This meant that we separated fairly quickly, although Laura, Bernie, Elaine and I stuck together for a while.  Laura – our handy local – explained that this part of the coast had all the old tin mines, so we had some beautiful views of them on the way up and down. 

For the most part, we had to go really slowly today.  The coastline there is super-dramatic, and even on the downhill you have to go slowly because it's so shingly.  Both Elaine and I fell – luckily on both occasions we managed to catch ourselves on our hands, but it was tough times.  However, it was so beautiful all the way from the start to CheckPoint 1 at 11km that we genuinely didn't really notice the pain too much ... well, I didn't, poor Elaine really hurt her finger but she was uber-hench about it and didn't complain once!

CheckPoint 1, at Chapel Porth, was at the most stunning beach.  We could see it coming down the hill and it really gave us something to aim for – especially as we could also see the steepest hill yet on the other side!  

Laura burned through CheckPoint 1, so we lost her at that point as we took a bit more time to brace ourselves.  Then it was up and over!  My knee was really really beginning to hurt at this point so I stopped and pulled out my ChoPat strap, which initially worked wonders.  However, as the hills got steeper and steeper and the terrain more and more dramatic (even the Cornish had felt the need to cut steps into the path at most points!) it began to hurt more and more.  

I was really really reluctant to lose contact with Elaine and Bernie and they were so good about waiting for me!  However I knew I was slowing them down, so I tried really hard to keep up.  I've never been so grateful for photo stops and/or stops to allow faster people to come through from behind!  We finally got to a flatter spot, and it was about three kilometres of pretty flat running before we headed down  the twentieth kilometre into Portreath for CheckPoint 2.  Just at the top of the descent I'd felt a blister forming on my left foot – I knew they were caused by my dodgy right knee! – and Bernie had a few rocks in his shoes, so we spent a good half an hour at CheckPoint 2 refuelling and doing a bit of first aid. 

Once we left, it was across a small beach and then straight up – yet another – steep hill.  At the bottom there was a sign warning that Shetland ponies roamed freely, and no sooner had we read it than we bumped into these guys!

They were perfectly chilled about us going around them, so we kept going and met our toughest challenge yet.  All I can say is that kilometres 20 to 28 were my absolute nadir – I really considered the edge of the cliff as a viable option (which was just as well, seeing how tightly against it we were at some points!).  After the two really horrendous ups and downs, we did hit a flatter point where we could run steadily for a while, but my knee was killing me so much at that point that I'd let Bernie and Elaine go ahead for a bit, then I'd run up to catch them before falling back again.  This worked because I could run faster, which meant that my stride was longer and the pressure was off my knee a little more.  Plus walking.  Walking was good!

Just before CheckPoint 3, I remembered a lifesaving point.  PANADOL IN MY POCKET.  I scarfed it down and, by the time we'd gotten into CheckPoint 3 – mmm marmite again – I was feeling like a whole new person!

I should say that part of the reason for the fact that it kicked in by CheckPoint 3 is that CheckPoint 3 is cruel ... you can see it from over the headland and it's maybe 200m away, straight down a nice easy grassy hill.  However ... you have to go all the way around the headland to get to it!

Once we'd gone through the checkpoint, my knee was still sore, but not nearly as badly and I managed to run down the hill to the next challenge – the beach.  Elaine was feeling it a bit more by this point so once again Bernie left us to it, and Elaine and I walked across the beach.  I say that so nonchalantly, like it was nothing … it was the most never-ending beach I've ever been on.  Sand sand SAND … for 5km … and then, finally, we waded across a little stream to head back onto the road.

After a very very quick dib in at 40km, it was the final push back to the campsite.  We met Matthew and Sophie at this point – both much quicker runners than us, but Matthew had broken his fingers really early in the race, and then, after carrying on for a bit, had fainted with the pain and fallen down the cliff.  He and Sophie were still continuing, however (HENCH) and the four of us fartleked the last three or four kilometres back into the campsite, where the run finished for the day.  I have NEVER been so happy to be home!  Even though I'd had a spurt of energy at the end, I was absolutely ready to be horizontal. 

After collecting a cup of hot chocolate and a massage token, I headed back to my caravan for the most blissful shower ever and a torq recovery drink before hitting my massage a little later.  Then it was supper time for the most enormous roast ever!  The food is amazing and we got to follow up with rice pudding.  Mmm rice pudding!  Sadly, the torq didn't agree with me (what a surprise) so I was a little sick, but the roast was still delicious.  To make up for being sick I bought an Atlantic Coast puffa jacket.  I just hope I now manage to finish up tomorrow so I can wear it and my hoodie – otherwise they'll be consigned to the recycling!

I'm now in bed with my hot water bottle and hoping for an amazing night's sleep before tomorrow.  Tomorrow is a full 50km and apparently it's incredibly technical (including climbing boulders, hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm).  However, it's the last day and it involves a Cornish pasty at the end, so we've just got to get through it and we'll be ultramarathoners!  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!

Friday, 2 October 2015

44. The One Where It Was The First Day

2 October 2015

So the big day is finally here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I woke up really early – predictably – but – less predictably – after a fairly good night's sleep .  It was just as well really as I had to be at registration by no later than 06:15 to get my number, be issued with my daily maps and emergency numbers, then have my kit checked, and then finally have breakfast before the race briefing and the hour-long drive up to the start.  I managed to get through registration and kit check with no issues, and then hit breakfast with Penny and Francis.  I have the best number ever.  Just sayin.  No-one's forgetting that in a hurry!

The breakfast was AMAZING!  A full cooked English jobby with bacon, sausage, fried eggs, beans and hash browns, together with porridge, cereals, fruit etc.  Since I didn't think it was the best idea to try a massive fried breakfast for the first time ever before running I stuck to a couple of hash browns and a lot of porridge.  It was the most stunning day so I could rock my best look of long compression tights and short shorts.  Oh yeah baby.

We had a really thorough briefing after breakfast, when we went through the daily maps and Andy instilled the fear of God in me by saying that Newquay was really hard to navigate.  Since I was pretty sure I'd be last overall, I was super worried about this because I wouldn't have anyone to follow and I know perfectly well how much I've lost the ancient art of map reading since Google introduced the blue dot.  However, I figured I'd deal with that one later!

After briefing, we all piled into the minivans to head up to the start.  There were two groups today – basically, fast and slow.  The slower group (which obviously included me!) started off a good couple of hours before the speedies, because it's a whole hour's drive up to Padstow so it was going to take the minivans that long to get back and pick up the fast guys. 

On the bus, I got chatting to the girl next to me, Elaine, who had also – HURRAH – come down by herself.  For the first part of the journey we got chatting, mostly about triathlon as she'd done Bolton Ironman.  She'd done lots of other endurance events but no multi-day ultras, so she was a bit more in the same boat as me.  The journey up to the start at Stinking Cove was loooooooooong and windy, and since I get quite carsick I fell silent after a bit and started listening to the people behind me.  To my massive relief, one of them (Laura) mentioned that she was planning on doing it in about seven hours, which is exactly what I'd thought I'd do, and she also mentioned that she was local and could navigate Newquay!  Woop woop!

I mentioned to Elaine that I was really relieved by Laura's planned time, and she mentioned that she was also planning on running in about the same time as me and so we decided we'd run together for as long as we could.  After a quick wee stop at the start (there are no loos, but a lot of bushes!) we dibbed in at the start and then set off. 

The start was really a gentle break-in … a nice undulating path down to a beach, which we crossed nice and slowly in order to save our matches for the rest of the day.  For the first six kllometres it was pretty similar terrain and Elaine and I were pretty much at a similar level.  We were having the best time, chatting away and really enjoying our strategy of running the flats and the downhills and power walking up the hills.  We'd been told by practically EVERYONE that this was the best strategy to take, which matched up perfectly with both my training strategy and also all the advice I'd had before the run, so I was happy to stick with it.  We also had the amusement value of passing through Booby's Bay.  Snigger. 

At six kilometres the course went inland slightly, but we managed to deal with that bit of navigation – and by "we", I mean Elaine, because I am totally incapable of that – and from then on it was pretty much the same sort of terrain til we crossed Tranance Beach up to CheckPoint 1 at about 12.5km.  We had to dib in at the checkpoint, but in compensation we got to EAT.  Jaffa cakes, crisps, nuts, MINI CHEDDARS.  Turns out that jaffa cakes and mini-cheddars actually taste quite good in the same mouthful …

After heading out from CheckPoint 1, we followed the path round for another eight kilometres or so, which basically consisted of more undulating hills and more sand, until we got to about kilometre 20.  One thing we saw from across the bay was Elaine's place in Newquay!  This was exciting because if the worst came to the worst we only had to get that far tee hee.

However, before we got there, we had to get ourselves to CheckPoint 2.  To get there, we had to leave the path and head up round the road.  We'd been told that the navigation was a bit odd at that point, but we had lovely Laura with us and she confidently headed up the road.  

However, the guy behind us (who proved to be Bernie) had downloaded the route to his Garmin and he was convinced we were going the wrong way.  After a bit of argument about it, we worked out that Bernie was right and we retraced our steps to Lusty Glaze (Cornwall has the best names) and CheckPoint 2.  CheckPoint 2 had even better food than CheckPoint 1 – including my new all time favorite (for now) – marmite sandwiches!  They were amazing; I'm definitely remembering those for training in future.  We also had crisps, jelly babies, coke, soda, hot drinks and water.  

On leaving, we hooked up with Bernie and Laura for the next little while and ran down into Newquay.  This was definitely the most challenging navigation for the day, but luckily we had Elaine with us, so she was able to get us through town.  

After a quick 200m detour to get a pic of Elaine's house, it was back onto the path.  For the next little while it was all very pleasant, watching the view on the one side and plodding up and down the hills.  Directly after Newquay is the cutest little white stone house that reminds me so much of Greece, my all-time favorite country:

Cornwall is absolutely STUNNING – it is massively underrated!  Every five minutes one or the other of us would point to the right and go ""WOW" as we saw yet another stunning view.  We were feeling really good at this point and we weren't putting ourselves under massive amount of pressure to get a good time – we knew we'd be happy with anything under seven hours, especially given that we had two more days to go. 

After running around Fistral Beach, we finally found some loos so had a quick pit stop, then headed up over the road to the Gannel.  This was definitely the most technical section of Day 1, with lots of rocks to slide down, but we managed it okay, then headed over the bridge across the Gannel and up over the last hill before CheckPoint 3.  The Gannel was a totally different type of view to the rest of Day 1 - a channel that is super wide across a deep, narrow beach set back from the harbor.  It would've been impassable without us getting extremely wet feet and legs, but luckily there was a bridge across it.  

Once we'd wandered over, we found ourselves in deep sand again on the other side, but not for very long.  Once we'd trudged over it, it was straight up another hill.  It wasn't a particularly bad hill all in all, and on the other side was CheckPoint 3!

Sadly there were no marmite sandwiches there, but there were cheese and pickle and tuna mayo, had that been your thing.  There were still loads of crisps and jaffa cakes for me though!  After filling up our water packs one more time, we headed over the last couple of cliffs before hitting the sand-dunes at about kilometre 33.  I can't say that sand-dunes are amazing.  In fact, I'd say they're pretty damn crap to run on!  We had pretty much lost our mojo by that point, so although we were enjoying it we were shattered and content to walk through the sinking sandy hills for a couple of kilometres, knowing that we wouldn't be able to keep going if we tried to run it.  

We did lose Bernie at that point, but we acquired Laura again which was nice.  From there, it was one final push up our last cliff and onto the beach.  The last four kilometres are all on the sand – deep, deep dry sand at that.  It is the most beautiful beach but oh man, it was sooooo tiring!  

Luckily it really was just about the end – just over the promenade and up a final hill to dib in for the finish.  We made it at 06:53 and we were so happy! 

After a nice cup of veggie soup, we managed to score a place on the first minibus back.  As soon as I got back I booked in for a massage and it was the best massage everrrrrrrrrr at the time!  After that it was supper and bed.  I couldn't even stay up for Bake Off Extra Slice!  That is the sign of tiredness.

I was on a massive high after today – can't wait for tomorrow!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

43. The One Where I Went To Cornwall

1 October 2015

Here I am, down in Cornwall!  I'm actually writing this in Word because I've got no interwebs down here, so sadly all my posts will be uploaded together when I get back to London.

I stuck to the plan this morning – got up, did a yin/restorative session off YouTube which was just what I needed (I'm currently finding Yoga By Candace the best channel to relax and stretch me).  After a quick breakfast of cheese scones (it was meant to be porridge but it turned out I fancied cheese scones instead haha), I set about loading up my car.  As well as my suitcase, which was brimfull, I also had a couple of those hessian Whole Foods bags – one with shoes, one with pillows and sheets.  With all that and my foam roller sticking out the top, I was not the picture of a lean mean efficient ultra machine!  Luckily my Mini has seen far worse so he took it in his stride (you can fit far more in a Mini than you might think, I can tell you!) and we set off to Cornwall. 

I'd been kind of dreading the drive – my car is fourteen years old and he's never driven as far as Cornwall before, and I hadn't ever been further west in England than Bath, so I wasn't sure how either of us would like seven or eight hours of driving down.  However it really wasn't that bad at all!  We stopped a couple of times enroute but managed to avoid getting stuck behind too many tractors, which meant that I rocked up exactly on time at 17:00. 

 Having driven almost as far again down the driveway (I swear it's a good couple of kilometres at least, if not miles), I finally managed to park up and get to race reception.  I was issued with my meal tickets and caravan key and hopped over to my new home to settle in.  

I tell ya what – I'm super glad I'm not sharing my caravan!  It's very cute but it's, um, bijou … shall we say …!  My suitcase just about fits in the "second bedroom" and the bed takes up the entirety of my room.  It does have a tv though which means – phew – that I can watch Bake Off:  Extra Slice tomorrow.  It's a big relief.  

I took a few minutes out to take some pictures of the sunset – it was gorgeous tonight so I'm holding the weather to the whole "red sky at night, shepherd's delight" thingy and if the weather isn't good tomorrow, I shall find someone to have killed about the matter. 

Once I'd unpacked my life, it was time for supper.  Supper was AMAZING!  Sausage and mash, meat stew, veggie stew and then apple and raisin crumble for dessert.  In the name of research – obviously – I tried some of each of them and I can tell you that they were LOVELY!  I am the only one that I've seen so far who's here alone – everyone else has brought reinforcements.  Luckily I've already met the most ADORBS couple called Francis and Penny so I've at least got two friends!  

We had a really nice time at supper, and Francis has done quite a few ultras before so he was really good about reassuring me and giving me tips.  Everyone else has done at least a marathon and mostly they've done multiple ultras and/or multi-day events, so I'm also the only one who hasn't done anything like this before, but everyone seems really lovely.  It was a bit unnerving though when everyone was chatting about all the events they'd done before (not, I have to stress, in a showy-offy or arrogant way, just simply chat with people in common) so I'm super-nervous about tomorrow!  I'm pretty certain I'm going to come in last each day, which is fine as long as I can get through it ... that's all I ask haha!  Initially my goals were to finish it and not to come in last, but I've readjusted that goal down after hearing about everyone's experiences at supper.  I'm definitely the least experienced person on this course judging by the slightly shocked looks I got when I said I'd only done a half marathon!

We all headed off early to mong though, so I'm currently sitting on my mini-sofa watching QI and trying not to think about tomorrow.  It's a 06:00 kick-off for breakfast and briefing so night-night!  

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

42. The One With All The Preparation

30 September 2015

I'm not actually running today - I did a stretch session from YouTube this morning.  However I took the day off work so that I could get all my stuff together, do any last minute shopping, clean my house etc (can you imagine coming back from an eight hour drive after three days of running to have to clean the house?!).  It was actually so nice to have a sleep in this morning because Susan, Julia and I went to Bobo Social last night in Noho - OMG it was AMAZING.  Obviously, since I'm carb-loading, I investigated the peanut butter burger.  All in the name of nutrition you understand ... from now on I shall be demanding peanut butter on all my burgers.  That is all.

So, you know how running is this minimalist sport right, where you just need a pair of trainers and you can head out the door and be on your way?  So I really shouldn't need that much stuff right?  Ummm ... well, so far I've filled my entire suitcase and I haven't even packed my running shorts yet because they're in the wash.  I have an entire bag full of food and water on the side of my suitcase, plus my duvet and pillows separately again (I could bring a sleeping bag I know, but it's not any more hassle to take the duvet and a lot more comfortable ... and comfort is soooo where it's at right now).  I have been to multisport events with considerably less STUFF!

Most of my stuff is of course for recovery - I have compression tights galore, plus warm clothes and my Ugg boots for maximum comfort each night.  On top of that I've got way, way, way too much emollient cream for aches and pains ... we're talking tiger balm, Neal's Yard warming balm, voltarol gel (for real injuries rather than aches), Deep Heat and Deep Freeze as well as the only one I'll actually use - AntiFlamme!  AntiFlamme is uhMAZing ... it's called Nature's Kiss over here for some reason which I will never understand (Nature's Kiss FFS) but to those in the know it's always AntiFlamme.  The NZ rugby team uses it, so not only do you have the most soothing, sweet-smelling, non-greasy, relieving emollient in the entire world, you're one step removed from this guy.  Need I say more?  Then there's panadol, neurofen, blister plasters, kinesio tape, band-aids ... who knows what I'll need?!  Then obviously God forbid I should go anywhere without an entire Currys PCWorld contained within my suitcase, so we're talking laptop, iPad, iPhone, Garmin, chargers ... more chargers ... I've also got my swimsuit in there because the holiday park has an indoor pool.  Obviously, the first thing I'm going to want to do after running at least a marathon each day is jump in the pool for a nice hard swimset.  Who wouldn't right?  I might take my bike too, what if I fancy a good bike ride as well?

The rest of my case is filled with compulsory STUFF.  Obviously, trainers are high on that list, plus three long-sleeve running shirts and three short-sleeve running vests, running socks, sports bras, my hydration pack, the compulsory safety stuff we have to carry (which includes warm waterproof clothes plus torch, compass and whistle which is a bit worrying, but also includes a chocolate bar so I think overall it's okay).

Basically, I'm pretty much prepared for WWIII so I think I should be good for almost eventuality.  I'll still have forgotten something essential like my toothbrush though ...

The one other piece of essential kit is the two gorgeous cards I received yesterday - one from Debbie (all the way from San Francisco!) and one which was hand delivered to work, along with magnesium flakes (ahhhhh so perfect) and emergency chocolate (for emergencies including ultramarathon).  I love that!  So lucky to have my friends!  I'll be taking them with me and also pics of them to get me through the bad times.  And also a mental image of the tiny potato.  Naturally.

Now that I feel like I'm 99% sorted, I'm off out to visit one of my tri-buddies who's got a new upgraded foot - she's been struggling with injury for well over a year and she's finally had an operation to sort it.  So my other tri-bud Susan (aka Ride Across Britain Susan) and I are going to visit, armed with chocolate and the new DangerMouse on iPlayer.  Good times!