2019, A YEAR OF LEARNING

It’s the end of the year, well it’s the end of November but in running terms it is for me. December sees me start a new plan with new goals for 2020. I’ve just had 6 weeks off plan, my off season if you will. I’ve been running, been to the gym, partied, chilled out and even raced a couple of shorter races. Mostly I have been reflecting on 2019 and what it has meant to me. It’s really hard to quantify so many experiences without it becoming an epic novel, which frankly I don’t have the time or inclination to write, right now.

If 2018, was too much, 2019 felt just right. These were my adjusted running goals for the year, in no particular order.

1) Enjoy myself

Enjoyment comes in many forms, for us distance runners.   For me, it’s about being out on the trails with friends, sharing stories, learning about each other in a non-competitive environment and enjoying the views. There have been adventures on the North Downs, the South Downs, the Surrey hills, the Peak District, the Chilterns, Chamonix, Poland and everywhere else in between. Some I have organised, some I haven’t. I want to thank everyone who either led, came for company or suggested we go for a run.

2) Race NDW50

When I came up with the idea of racing the NDW50, I didn’t really know what that meant to be honest. I’d tried to race Hurtwood but gained an injury and so couldn’t really achieve my personal goal. Stepping up to 50 miles is a different ball game though. This wouldn’t be a race where I would be larking about with mates. My training and focus would have to be on point and this is what Coach Maggie helped me with. She gave me the belief and the focus to go and run a trail marathon on my own, to dial in my nutrition and the fitness to allow me to push. As I said in my blog, I didn’t really come up with a time until the night before the race. When you race an ultra it’s more about placing as every course is different but to come in just over 9 hours made me super happy, and 47th was a dream.

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3) Find out what it’s like to run in the mountains

I’ve made no secret about my desire to go and run in the mountains, and I was lucky enough to get a place in the Eiger 51km race. Yes, I was scared, but also excited. So much so I planned a pre-trip to the Alps with my friend Lauren to get some experience. Coming back off a hamstring injury was hard though. I adjusted my goal back to no1, finishing whilst enjoying the experience and facing those fears. I won’t bore you with the details but I bloody loved it.  There is something so special about being up above the tree line, on edge, keeping balance on the ridges, climbing, running and stopping to take it all in. I can’t wait to go back!

4) Qualify as a run coach

In 2018 I completed my run leader course. I felt this was important as was leading more groups but in my heart I knew I wanted to coach. I have been a people manager at work for sometime now and the thing I want to do is help my team by inspiring, teaching and allowing them the space to grow. I knew I could bring these skills into run coaching. I had been coached for a couple of years myself, so felt I knew what it’s like being on the other side and could take these learnings into my own coaching. For me coaching is not a plan, coaching is understanding the athlete and working with them to help them achieve their goals. Doing the CiRF course has helped me with that. It is just the start though. Putting it into practice with Tony was a massive learning curve as he had injuries and personal problems to overcome. He had to defer his goal race and build back up. To see him cross the finish line of the marathon and get a PB was just amazing. I am so proud of this guy. I also took on a small number of people for 1-1 coaching in the summer as I felt this would be the best way for me to learn again, different personalities and goals. Some achieved and some didn’t but I think all have learned a lot about themselves as coaching is a journey for both parties and you get what you put in. That may be a cliché but I believe it’s true.

 

5) Find our what it’s like to run 75 miles

So what is it like running 75 miles? Well it can be fun. The Cumbria Way Ultra was the only race I started on my own but finished with a friend. Yes, I had a dear friend out crewing me on the course whose help I will forever be indebted to but this was a race for me. This one was to prove what I could do on my own. It was a long way and I was out for about 18 hours but I felt strong to the finish. I can only hope I feel this good 75 miles into SDW100 next June. This race is going to be a really, really long way and you have to respect the distance but I now believe it is achievable. I learned that my mental strength has really grown this year.

These goals really only tell part of the story though. I have learned so much this year and that’s the really interesting thing about the journey we make as runners. Trying to remember everything is hard but here are my key take outs.

  1. Pacing someone for 40 out of 100 miles is really interesting. You have to look after yorself, but your primary aim is to get that person to the finish whilst making sure they eat, drink, keep moving and don’t overdose on pain killers. I loved spending those 12 hours through the night and into the morning with Ged. Funnily enough, it was my first ever through the night run, so even though I was helping him, I was also helping myself, as I knew I had two races coming up which would involve night running. I should have taken Monday off work though, as I was bloody knackered!
  2. Don’t mix random food in your mouth at aid stations because you want to get out quickly, this will result in puking! The cheese and an oat bar on the Eiger trail is a case in point. Plan your aid station visits people! Some you can get in and out of quickly, others it might be worth you taking some extra time, even having a sit down and getting some hot food inside you. You’ll probably come out of it fresher and ready to kick ass on the next section.

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    Watermelon is King. do not mix it with other food!
  3. Always study the distance between aid stations, have a plan and write it down. Make sure you have enough bottles in your pack. I now always carry 3. The 3rd is either full if it’s more than 20km between stations or as a backup in case one splits. This happened to me in the Lake District and thanks to a quick thinking Becca, was fixed with a blister plaster.
  4. Coaching people for a world marathon major for a goal time is scary and has a lot of pressure but is so rewarding. Watching them grow in confidence is amazing. Tracking Lou and Elisa from the UK as they ran Berlin was one of the most nerve wracking things I have done. I may have shed a tear when then both came in on goal time.

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    Last Track session for Lou and Elisa before Berlin. 
  5. When you feel a blister starting, stop and sort it out. When your feet get wet and dry and wet and dry and wet and dry and wet and dry, silly things happen! Look after your feet, they are your tools to run.
  6. Always study the distance between aid stations, have a plan and write it down. Make sure you have enough bottles in your pack. I now always carry 3. The 3rd is either full if it’s more than 20km between stations or as a backup in case one splits. This happened to me in the Lake District and thanks to a quick thinking Becca, was fixed with a blister plaster.
  7. Help to build the community. Offer to go for a run or to a run someone has set up. Sometimes it can look a bit cliquey but most of the time it isn’t. London Burger Run was set up to be fun and I have really enjoyed seeing new people join this year. Yes, it’s a half marathon and that is outside of some peoples regular running, but there are other groups you can go to. Run Talk Run is one for example. They do many regular 5 or 10km runs. This is a group I also wanted to help but in a different way, so I set up free, monthly track sessions. Many of the runners who come to this group have never been on a track before and find it scary. My aim was to build confidence. Confidence that they could push themselves if they wanted to, confidence in running around in circles and in being in an environment which can seem alien. The same has been for the group trail runs. We set them up for the fun of it. To go and explore, whilst getting a bit of training in. I’ve met some amazing people this year.
  8. Now these can be controversial, but I have found the most annoying thing to be the people who use them. I knew about this from when Dai did the CCC last year. It seems some people have an inability to use them correctly whilst having no sense of the personal space of other runners. Now I am no expert by any means, but I had to learn quickly and feel that I am pretty responsible runner. The same cannot be said for about 60% of those who did Eiger with poles! I was pretty lucky to come out with just a few scrapes tbh! On the other hand the Polish runners are frickin awesome and their skills are very considerate. I’ll continue to use poles on the big climbs and I don’t care what anyone says.
  9. Linked to the above, practicing for long climbs is hard when you don’t have them nearby. What is literally 30secs from my front door is a gym with stair machines. Even though it’s boring as hell, I believe this has been a game changer in my training. It’s definitely something I am stealing from my coach to give to the athletes I am coaching for ultras. Sorry, not sorry. In ultras, we hike a fair bit, getting quick at it is a big skill to have in your pocket.
  10. Turning a race into a family holiday can help you. Having the support of those that love you is the best. Plus hitting the beach afterwards is great for the soul.

 

There are probably a whole bunch more but these are the ones that popped into my brain right now. Looking back I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve also achieved what I set out to do. Away from running it’s been weird at times. Finishing therapy but at the same time finding out I was going to be made redundant was weird, hard and liberating. Closing the chapter on part of my life is also an opportunity to change and try new things. I believe that taking on these Ultras has allowed me to grow as a person. The idea of running 50 miles, 100km or even 75 miles seems extreme to many and it is. I will always respect the distances and courses but I now see each one as a puzzle to solve. They are like extreme board games, there is planning and tactics but also elements of luck, both good and bad. It is how you react to each different situation that will eventually lead to a result in one way or another.

I hope to have 4 very different games to play in 2020, but for now I am pretty proud of 2019 and am not afraid to show it.

I couldn’t have done this without the support of Gillian, Poppy, Coach Mags, my mum, the Wild Tr Crew, the Cool Cats crew, The Burger Run crew, Lauren, Lou, Elisa, Tony, Tom, Becca, Ale, Krysia, Tommy, Yvette, Dai, Alan, Jana, Jakob, Daisy, Jen, Derrick, Claire, Jess, Helen, Ally, Ged, Kirsty, Gemma, Lizzie, Daniella and the rest of you lovely, amazing and inspiring people.

Thank you 💕

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