Here at last is my race report – sorry if it’s a bit garbled as I’m still recovering!

Training

Although I bought Krissy Moehl’s book on Ultrarunning I realised it was A Bit Much, with 5-6 runs a week and loads of strength training. Knowing I’d undermine myself if I tried to follow that and panicked, instead I booked a marathon for 6 weeks out, reasoning that I knew how to train for a marathon and could then bridge the gap with some surface-specific training. So I booked, trained for and ran the Liverpool Rock’n’Roll marathon at the end of May (report here). Then it was time to do the trail thing (argh!) – this was the thing that scared me most as I am very much a conservative road runner. Bernice and I did the Bumble Bimble trail 10 miles together on 16 June (report here) and although I spent a bit of time worrying about not having got a really long one in (Bernice did 18 miles that day running to the race!) actually it prepared me well for some of the surfaces. I ran on the canals where it goes non-tarmacked and round the back of the rugby club where it’s like cat litter and gravel, and we took a road trip to the actual route on 23 June (included in this post – have a look at the surfaces there, too) and did 14 miles out and back, covering 7 miles of the 31. This was excellent and prepared us very well.

I’d been really really calm all week, weirdly. Not worried, somehow. I knew I could do the distance, and the Bimble Bumble had used up a lot of my fear. So I thought.

Preparation

We went down to Swindon the night before and stayed in unfortunately not-great serviced apartments – Bernice and Mitch’s wasn’t ready when they arrived (they had spent some time at the half-way point cheering friends through) and they and their son had to camp out in our flat while it was sorted out. Not ideal. Then I had tuna pasta cooked by Matthew, but it was very hot in the flat and it was near a nightclub so NOT a good night’s sleep.

I did a kit-lay / Flat Liz the night before and sorted bags into on the day – food and clothes for Matthew to bring to meet us – food and clothes for the end. COMPLICATED!

The day

I got up at 3.15 am (hooray) and had a Shreddies and oats breakfast (brought in a portion from home) and read a bit of Vassos Alexander’s “Don’t Stop me Now” – in which he does the whole of what we were doing half of. I had a messenger chat with Cari, who sent me the book, who was up as she was in New York.

We met outside just after 5 and set off, avoiding drunk girls lying in the road! Thanks for all the driving, Mitch! I’d left my number off till we got there and promptly dropped one of the safety pins they’d provided.

Fortunately there was an info stand with many, many more. We were looking for clubmate Colin but he’d already set off, but we did see Ben from the 401 Foundation – it’s his fault I ran my first marathon but seriously, he’s a massive inspiration and when he told me at the Running Show in Jan that he was doing this, along with his fab mum-in-law Pat and other family and friends, it made me feel loads better about the race (see my review of his book and explanation of his influence on my own running journey here).

 

Gosh, I look scared. I WAS scared. Bernice is much better than me at doing The Things so as well as necking a Gu caffeine gel in amusing fashion … I got a photo at the start …

Photo by Bernice

… we did the thing with the frame (it wasn’t raining, just misty and a bit dimpsy) …

Photo by Mitch

… and the thing with the big square. I never did this in Liverpool and was sad, so thank you, Bernice, for getting me doing this!

Photo by Mitch

Then it was quite casual, you could just start. Said goodbye to the boys, had a small briefing from a nice man then we were OFF. All pics were sent to us free by the way – a nice touch.

And off we went, weirdly, trotting along. Well, I got a tiny stone in my shoe after a mile so we got rid of that. It was quite busy, with faster runners coming past us etc. In about 8k we got to Pit Stop 1. The pit stops were amazing, all the food (watermelon!!), all the water to top up with, nurses in a tent sorting feet out… Bernice had her old blister taped professionally here and we ran into Ben and had a chat, then I talked to a chap in a Help for Heroes vest before we carried on.

We got onto the bit we knew around the White Horse of Uffington. Here it fell apart slightly for me. We got on a downhill section where it was very rutted, the ruts weren’t straight but faded in and out in an alarming fashion, and lots of faster people were barelling down the flattest bit (as was their right, of course) and I ended up with some of them between me and Bernice (not her fault) and on the other, cambered, rut, getting more and more panicky. So of course I turned to a bush and had a cry. Immediately five or six other ladies were upon me checking I was OK and offering all the sweets and water, so, so lovely. And I was OK and carried on.

Here we also picked up a lovely woman called Tess who was struggling with her knee, and we took her with us and looked after her for a bit. And we’d asked the boys to meet us near the car park we’d used in our recce and there they were!! Bernice changed into her road shoes here as the trails were rubbing. I felt OK and stuck with the comfort of my Saucony Peregrines. They’re a hybrid shoe so a bit more cushioned and supported than a true trail shoe but with grippy lugs. I love them so much. Even if my heels hurt a bit now.

Me and Matthew, at the earthworks at Uffington.

At 10 miles in we were 3 hours on the road, so I predicted a finish of 10 hours plus (hoping for less but knowing we would slow down).

On and on we went, more pit stops, more watermelon, more wees, more topping up. At one point (and to be honest I’m not sure all these pics are in completely the right order now) we went over the M4, as you do …

We had long bits on chalk paths undulating away, all the other runners in front and behind, which was amazing. Here I am leading us on / holding everyone up (YOU decide) with Tess behind me and Bernice behind her. It was rare for Berni to be behind me as she was suffering with her hips and glutes and back, and running was more comfortable than walking. What an epic lady to battle through that.

Then we hit this. This was so horrific I decided to put a cry for help up on Instagram (then forgot to update that I was OK which Matthew had to do). So steep. The walkers with their poles click-clicked past us! This was almost half-way.

There was a sign (more on those later) that the view was better at the top – and there was a photographer to prove that! Don’t know who these other people are, but look at that view.

Yes, the signs. I got very cross with them!

Grrr. Bernice must have taken this one; she kindly took a pic of millions of them and carefully sent them to me because she knew how much I loved them …

There was a terrifying downhill steep bit somewhere around here. Oh my, I was terrified. But you know what, everyone around me, as I stepped aside to let tranches of people by, said, “You can do it,” “I don’t like it either, you’ve got this”. How lovely.

We then had a weird bit on the road where we went through this perfect village, all thatched cottages. Bernice took this one as I wasn’t feeling taking pictures of perfect houses but also wanted to remember them.

Anyway, here we are with the view a bit later on. This was a lovely long bit on grass. We were creeping up on some blokes who were walking and said we should play a song: This Girl is on Fire was my choice. “My feet are on fire” was the reply, so we sang along with altered lyrics! They asked for Something Inside So Strong too and we had a moment with two other walkers, too.

This was where we realised we were playing cat and mouse with two really tall guys, one with checked shorts, passing them as we ran on downhills, being passed as they strode along.

Another pit stop, the third, and the boys were there. Had a cup of tea and a plain bread roll as well as WATERMELON. We asked them to go to the finish as we had someone coming at about 26, we hoped.

We encountered our sore feet chaps again later (I think after the last pit stop) and one of them was clearly suffering. Bernice offered him an anti-chafing wipe, but apparently be was beyond that. I hope he was OK!

One more pit stop with a bloke telling us there were no more hills (a lie), there were higher up water taps which was good as I was struggling with operating a tap by now. On we went. At one point between then and seeing Angela Bernice opened up her London Marathon playlist and played my contribution, Hall of Fame by The Script. That was a good moment!

It was more chalk paths and we were coming up to A MARATHON. Well it was certainly not boring (“Sod colouring books, this is proper mindfulness” I may have shouted) and it seemed fairly OK at that point. Bernice put out a little Facebook video and a call for sponsorship (after being asked by a few people we decided to raise some money for Birmingham Mind). And I’d worked out that my friend from my photo-a-day group, Angela, was likely to be at about that point. And she WAS and she only blooming well stayed with us to the end! She had jelly babies and beans too. She’d waited a while giving out sweets and cheering people on. Bernice needed to run so Angela stayed with me and cycled when I ran. Perfect!

Photo by Angela – thanks again!

We then hit a great bit, although it was ruts and stuff you could run on it and you can see on the map and stats at the bottom we had a good long run downhill. My feet were aย  bit sore esp starting to run again but nothing too bad. It was so good to do that and felt special and proper. We came past our shorts guys at some point and tapped their shoulders as we ran through them.

We knew we would have to go to the Stones at Avebury then go back on ourselves. So it was up a road, round the stones and back. But you know what, this was like a Best Of of all the people we’d been with along the way, either going back down as we headed up or heading up as we went down. One last high-five for the shorts guys and we did beat them.

The stones bit was a bit odd, to be honest: we were told to pose by two photographers but liked the ones Angela took (thanks again). It was quite a small area with confused, dazed runners and walkers wandering around.

But we were pleased with this one, frolicking away!

Back the way we’d come, more people going up to wave and cheer on and I saw Ben’s Pat which meant a) he would be at the finish, and b) we could tell him they were on their way. Then we turned off, Angela rode round to the finish, and we had this (there’s Bernice in the background). She was hurting and apparently crying (oh noes!) and I did some awful attempt at scout’s pace, shuffling along trying to catch her. I couldn’t.

Then it went at right angles. Honestly felt like this. There’s the finish middle left but we had to go along then along. Wah! It was getting warm and I couldn’t catch up but we’d nearly done it!

On the last straight a man I’d last seen lying on a bench grimacing passed me so I said, “If you’re going to pass me you have to pass her, too,” as I was determined we’d appear next to each other in the results. I saw Bernice go through, the tiny figure of Danny running up to her to run her in (awww). It was quite quiet and chilled but I could see a wall of people at the finish and I blasted well burst into tears. And missed my ham moment! No!

Little me, big finish, announcer not looking, but see that arm bottom right? That’s Matthew. Look at the SHADOW! Aww! And he had a suede jacket on and he didn’t care.

Photo by Mitch

You don’t get a photo of yourself getting your medal very often do you? So it’s great to be sobbing! Look at Bernice hovering anxiously, bless her!

Saw Ben and was able to tell him the news about the rest of his party, then we waited to see them through, which was lovely. There was food and drink but I got a bit overwhelmed, and every time I tried to go in a dark hangar there was terrible stuff being done to feet in it! We eventually sat on the grass and had an ice lolly (calippo for Bernice, cider ice for me, just like last time).

The medal is nice!

I picked up my tshirt which I’d bought in advance, but very disappointingly, I’m afraid, although the medal has a 50k ribbon, the t-shirt just says 100k. And when I asked the bloke giving them out, he said, “Yeah, just 100k, you can pretend though, right!” Well, no. But I’ll customise it, it’s fine.

And we were done and Mitch drove us home (thank you!) and I ate stuff and I ate more stuff and had a big shower and SLEPT.

I was so pleased, we came in in 9:47 (8:18 moving time at an average pace of 15:55 which due to the hills and terrifying downhills I’m quite surprised by) so didn’t slow down that much. My pace was pretty even and my heart rate too, around 130 which was great. I was proud I’d conquered the surface but aย  bit discombobulated.

Aftermath

I am OK. I can walk! I have one blister on my big toe, a sore tongue (what?) and generally sore legs but not toooo bad. And tired and hungry.

So 6 weeks: a marathon I had to haul back from the brink of disaster, a 10 mile trail run I was so scared I had s tension headache before it, and a 31 mile trail ultra. I don’t think any of this has sunk in yet, to be honest. That’s a lot of races for a woman that doesn’t race much, and a lot of trail for a road runner. I feel a bit disconnected from it all, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and very proud of Bernice too and grateful for her poise and grit, but I feel a bit odd still.

What’s next? No more racing for a good long while. That’s not an idle statement. I don’t like all the rushing around packing, all the worrying about times (RTTS was good for that and if you’re worried about cut-offs I’d recommend doing a thing with walkers in it as it’s more relaxing). The reason I don’t drink any more is because I don’t like how it makes me feel afterwards, and to be completely honest it’s a bit rubbish feeling this achy and blistered and not being able to run it off! But there we go. So a phased return to running. Getting into the strength thing properly again. I’ve ordered a necklace with disks on reading Reykjavik, Birmingham (for the mara), Birmingham (for my DIY mara in 2018), Liverpool, Avebury and five marathons or more feels like enough for the time being. It really does. I’m looking forward to just running.

Thank you for all the support, so many people – Bernice, of course, Matthew, my non-running friends, my running club and wider running community friends (all the ladies who have done ultras before me especially who made me think I could do it), my co-Mental Health Champion, Maria, Phil my physio (and Fotios, my old physio), Paul and Lee for their coaching and horrible tables of terrifying things to make myself do, Claire and Dave for the yoga classes that have kept me moving, Ben for starting it all off by mentioning Reykjavik is a nice marathon, the official community for understanding when I couldn’t book two-day events while training, the lovely women in the Trail and Ultra Running Ladies Only Facebook group who are inspiring and kind, and all the lovely blog readers and commenters and fellow Sunday women link-up-ers and the ultra chaps who’ve given great advice too. And anyone else I’ve forgotten because I just ran a blooming ultramarathon! Thank you.

Those other race reports.

Reykjavik marathon 2016

Birmingham marathon 2017

Birmingham DIY marathon 2018

Liverpool Rock’n’Roll marathon 2019