Friday, 8 December 2017

2017 in reflection - I wanna get lost with you

“You can never leave a place unless you leave that place in your mind!”  - Mehmet Murat ildan

Think I've stated enough elsewhere, I'm relatively new to running but like to share my experiences of ultra running with others wishing to test the waters.  I'm not fast and my main aim is to finish each race without dying - that's always a bonus.  It's not easy to get started at ultra distances and keeping up the long runs can consume time, but you begin to relish the long hours running on trails regardless of the weather and time of day.  Ultrarunning is a lot more sociable than road running, there a lots less snobbery about pace and PB's, it's more about the journey and friends you make on the way.

I had decided to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer UK during 2017, supporting Lucy Jillings in her battle.

I entered the new year on a high from my races and achievements of 2016, I had also finally started to lose weight and no longer felt uncomfortable running 26 miles or even more.  Matt had run a lot of miles with me through 2016 but had decided to take a year out of long runs/races so trained solo a lot more.  I put in lots of hours running along the Ridgeway from West Overton, watching the seasons change through every weather.

Pilgrims Challenge with Mina

In February 2017 I ran the XNRG two day Pilgrims Challenge along the North Downs from Farnham to Reigate and back the next day after spending the night in a school hall, a total of 66 miles in muddy, freezing, soaking conditions.  Due to circumstances well beyond my control, I had issues going into the race and by the time I finished I had started to suffer the onset of depression.  Meeting and running with Mina was one of the highlights of the two days.  We pushed each other on most of the second day and laughed our way over the last few miles.  March came around and I stood on the start line of the Imber Ultra, on a massive low, knowing full well I shouldn't be there but the stubborn squaddie in me wouldn't back down.  The weather was dire, as a storm pushed across the country and whereas I would normally smile and relish the challenge, I struggled and only seeing Matt waiting for me at 30 miles, with his big grin, got me to the end.  I collected my mug but didn't hang about long after the race.

I kept training and kept pushing myself on.  April arrived and the week before the Vale of Glamorgan ultra Matt asked if I was going to be okay to run the race?  I assured him I was okay and ensured I packed my phone, just in case.  At the start, I met up with Gareth from Chippenham, running his first ultra, who was also raising money for Team Lucy.  The night before it rained hard, almost biblical, and we were warned to walk from the start on the pier as the boards were too slippery.  The race went well, slow because of the copious amounts of mud, but well.

With Gareth at the start of the Vale of Glamorgan Ultra

May arrived and with it a new lease of life.  I had managed to secure a place in the new Gurnsey Ultra, a 36 mile run around the island, and what a race.  I travelled by ferry to the island with Tina Vivian and Denise Ellis on the Friday before the race, giving us a few days relax and recce the route.  The hotel was on par with Fawlty Towers but the staff tried hard and came good with the early breakfast bags.    We drove around the island in awe at the beaches and steep cliff paths that we would be trying to conquer in the next day or so, we ate chips, talked rubbish and relaxed with a few drinks.   The sun shone brightly and any tree cover soon disappeared as we got a few miles into the exceptional race. 16 miles of cliff path followed by 20 miles of completely flat was a real test.  I enjoyed every step and felt amazing, although shattered, at the end.  My running partner for most of the way was Beth, a powerful and experienced runner who I'll be seeing her at the start of the Thames Path 100.

Gurnsey - Wow!

June saw the annual London to Cardiff relay with a much-revised team, clocking in under the 24 hours again with a little time to spare.  In June I also ran the Giants Head trail marathon, finishing stronger than I had ever wished for, almost treating the last 3 miles as a parkrun.  In July I ran Race to the Stones 100k with Phil, this time we ran the whole distance in one go.   The day started with a light rain that didn't dampen our spirits.  We stopped briefly at the halfway point to eat pizza and pasta with Matt, who even managed to photobomb our photos on arrival there.  As the sun set, I came to life and enjoyed pushing on in the dark as many other competitors decided that to walk once the light had faded.  I finished strong, feeling alive and in control.  

Race to the Stones with Phil, what a hero

I ran the Salisbury 54321 50k in August, just using it as mileage.  I love the route and it can be a fast course, but I took it easy and stayed with a couple of FACC OFF friends, Becky and Lucy who were both running their second ultras.  The sun shone, the surface underfoot was good and the company excellent (maybe a little swearing from someone).  Again I finished without feeling depleted of energy.  Massive thanks to Roger and Marcus for crewing.

Becky, me and Lucy on the 54321 

The Butcombe Ultra in September was a different beast to many of the long races I had yet run, the elevation around the Mendips made it more of a task (Total Ascent: 5139 feet. Total Descent: 5134 feet).  I met up with Richard from FACC OFF and with the wonderful Emma crewing we set off around the Mendips.  The views are stunning and it is a very runnable course but you need to either recce the route or have a GPX and follow it closely with the maps, as it is easy to lose your way and add extra miles.  The official route is 48 miles but by the end, I had managed to clock up 50 and finished in the dark, hurtling downhill with just my headtorch illuminating immediately in front - an exhilarating way to finish a grand day out.

Running the Mendips with Rich Corp

October was damp and the Downslink Ultra started up in the misty hills of Guilford, dropping down and then following a disused railway line all the way to Shoreham-by-Sea.  For the first time, I was running an ultra with my own dedicated crew in the shape of Maria Harryman and we travelled down the Saturday afternoon, driving to the start early on Sunday. The initial hills soon gave way to a continual corridor of trees along the abandoned track (now a cycle path) until the outskirts of Shoreham where it followed the River Adur and alongside the airport.   At around 25 miles the rain became more persistent and within no time we were soaked to the skin, the mild day saved us from chilling too much but I still put on an extra layer in the last 6 miles.   I completed the 38 miles in 7:04:31, I also ran my second fastest marathon time during the race.  I took my time in the showers, a luxury not normally offered, and treated Maria to pizza for tea on the journey back.  A brilliant weekend.

Getting damp on the Downslink

The final long race of the year was the Gordano Round marathon, starting from Portishead.  The race is a "long" 27.8-mile marathon, but not quite an ultra.  The rain stopped as the race started and we set off on the first of the two loops along the undulating cliff path for 5 miles and then turning back in and crossing the M5 at the split for the full and half marathons.  Around here I met up with Dean and we ran the rest of the way together.  The course is lightly marked and mostly self-navigation, but it's a well-organised race with some magnificent views, and hills - but not for the faint-hearted, this is not a beginners trail marathon and there are cut off times to be adhered to.  Showers at the finish topped off the day.

Gordano Round hills - this is a walker!!

I have run a few shorter races this year including a single park run (in a tutu), Rough 'n' Tumble, Hilly Helmet Challenge, Herepath Half, AVR half and a return visit to the Full Monty Cute.

On 2 November Lucy Jillings lost her battle with pancreatic cancer and I was among her friends at the funeral, she will be missed.

I won't deny, I have struggled this year with a few issues - some a lot larger than others.  But I've learnt a few things about myself on my ultra journey so far.  I try to clear my head of people and situations, take in the surroundings and aim only to beat my own expectations, I run for therapy as much as the love of distance running.  I've tried to stop relying on people or trusting in props to give me mental strength - in the end, you are the runner and only you can run your race.    I'm still learning to run without fear, but it's a tough course.

Massive thanks to all those that have supported me in this busy year, especially The Warriors for putting up with me.  2018's list of races is already starting to scare me!!  Decluttering my mind and life seems easy in comparison but I aim to achieve both next year.

"She's running out again" - Radiohead

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